Block and Bridle
Twisting and turning, meter and rhyme
Running on empty, hungry for time
“Are you done yet, human?” The childlike Arrancar pouted, her pale arms crossed at her chest, red eye glaring up at the orange-haired woman above her.
Orihime stretched her fingers, a warm glow emitting from the turquoise hairpins on her head and enveloping around her hands. She glanced down at Trigger with a slightly uneasy, nervousness about her eyes.
“No more than I was a minute ago,” She squeeze a smile across her face; it was clear she was less and less thrilled with being asked this repetitively.
Compared with her near-experience as a human sacrifice only hours earlier, this was the second most bizarre gathering she’d ever attended. They were sitting in the ruins of the Las Noches palace; Karin had found a white concrete block to sit on, Toshiro on a block near her, sharpening his sword against the side of it. While Orihime stood over Trigger, trying to heal her mask, Nel had ran off and returned with several swords and a large leg of some hollow meat shoved in her mouth.
“Want a bite?” Nel waved the hollow leg toward Karin’s face, causing her to fight back a quick gag.
“No, no,” Karin choked. Toshiro frowned, his brow furrowing in disgust. “I’m fine.” She was hoping that Nel wouldn’t go into any more detail about how she acquired her meal.
“This process is taking a bit longer than before,” Toshiro decided to change the subject, wiping his chin as he glanced from Karin to Orihime, “Why?”
Orihime sighed, her face grimacing more than smiling now, “I’m not sure…”
“Probably because there’s more reiatsu to repair with my mask,” Trigger let out a louder sigh, unimpressed with the both of them, “It would seem obvious, anyway.”
“How long until Leviathon reaches the Soul Society?” Karin turned to Nel, dreading answer she was seeing form on the Arrancar’s face. Nel’s mouth tightened and she looked at the floor.
Trigger gave Karin a dramatic roll of her eyes, “The better question is...how long will it take us until we meet Leviathon in the Soul Society?”
Ichigo flung his face from the ground, spitting up a mouthful of black soil. His Shinigami reflexes were out of tune with the newly forged Vasto Lordes’ body. “Don’t you think it’s a bit unfair,” He spat, “You getting the upgrade and not me?”
Grimmjow’s mane of turquoise hair flickered in the sun, “Not my problem,” He sneered, crouching on his flexed calves, “Now, quit with the excuses and fight!” He lunged at Ichigo, who rolled out of the way and quickly to his feet.
Layla offered the two an incredulous look of shame, “A time like this and you’re bickering with one another,” She shook her head, “I’ve never seen such ilk.”
Yoruichi was already high in the air, bouncing off Menos’ heads and slamming her feet hard into others, cracking their skulls down the middle and across their black bodies. She flipped her hair to the side as one disintegrated.
“Byakuya,” She called down to him, “More troops this way!” The Menos Grande were wiping out the first wave of Shinigami. Byakuya waved more up to her.
“Grimmjow, shouldn’t we be helping them fight back the hollows?” Ichigo raised his arms and blocked the Vasto Lordes’ claws, which swiped down and left red jagged lines on his forearms.
“You think I care about some basic shit like that?” Grimmjow hissed, kicking his leg against the Shinigami, who was already ducking out of the way. “Let them get trashed by the Menos; I came here to fight you, and no one else!”
“Selfish, much?” A blast of red light rushed past Grimmjow’s face, barely knicking it. The cat-like Vasto Lordes barred his teeth.
Renji touched down beside Ichigo, steadying him by grabbing the orange-haired Shinigami’s shoulders. Ichigo noticed the fur cape on his shoulders and realized the crimson beam had erupted from his Bankai, which was currently firing at the Menos army approaching them.
“Who asked you?” Grimmjow spat, eying both Renji and Lyall, who was rushing up from behind them to join the fray. “I hate to ask you to leave this little party, but I don’t have time to fight with half of the Soul Society. Shouldn’t you be focused on other things?”
“Who said we weren’t?” Renji leapt past Ichigo and side-stepped around Grimmjow to bound into the air, his red hair swishing out of his face as he turned to look down at them from above, “Can you keep him occupied, Ichigo? It may take us awhile to sort through these Menos.”
From behind Renji, Lyall was sailing in midair, and behind them were hundreds of Shinigami, both from the 6th Division and the 8th, as Ichigo noticed the Vice-Captain Iba Tetsuzaemon leading his Division in the rear. He gave the red-haired Shinigami a flash of a smirk,
“I think I can manage that--” his words were cut short as Grimmjow advanced, his clawed hand meeting the end of Ichigo’s sword.
“Maybe you weren’t taking me seriously enough,” The Vasto Lorde’s eyes were flashing brilliant blue against black, “Less talk, more THIS!” He raised his elbow into the air fired three razor-sharp shards at Ichigo, connecting with his chest and sending him flailing backwards.
Ichigo caught himself and for a second his hand flew to his face, about to summon his hollow self which was no longer a part of him. The moment clutched Ichigo by the throat. I--I wanted him to be there--
Grimmjow, taking advantage of the situation, kicked Ichigo straight in the chest, propelling him backwards and into the dark soil.
“Geez...what’s with you, Kurosaki? You’re not even fun, anymore.” His eyes narrowed coyly. “Can you at least try to intimidate me?”
Ichigo spat out a mouthful of dirt, “Shut up,” he growled, rising to his feet, only to meet an elbow to the face by Grimmjow.
“If I’d known you were going to be this boring, Kurosaki,” Grimmjow licked his lips, “I would have just stayed back and settled for that morsel of a sister--”
This had jolted Ichigo alive; blue flames of reitsu around him, he yelled into the cold air and grabbed Grimmjow by the neck, hurdling him toward a boulder of debris, which he smacked his side against and rolled behind with a hissing groan. Ichigo’s blood was boiling,
“Don’t you dare refer to my sister as that.”
“Oh,” Grimmjow quipped amusingly, though with a slight exasperated gasp as he rose from the rubble, “Did I strike a nerve, Shinigami?”
Ichigo launched himself toward Grimmjow with a roar of anger.
The Vasto Lorde cat smirked, “Apparently.”
Byakuya gave Senbonzakura a strong wave with his arm, scattering the Menos amongst a flurry of pink petals. Yoruichi hopped onto Byakuya’s shoulder, much to his surprise and dismay, and bounded higher into the air, flipping and twirling onto the backs of the Menos. With a crushing blow of her fist into the hollow’s side, the Menos cracked with the implosion from within and crumbled from the air.
“Was it necessary for you to defile my shoulder with such an act?” Byakuya sneered.
The feline femme looked surprisingly all but amused, “About as necessary as you waving around your sword carelessly. Let’s hurry this process up before more Menos show up...or worse.”
“Worse?” A cold, deep voice filled the air, causing Yoruichi to flinch and Byakuya to shift his gaze. The members of the Sixth and Seventh Divisions shook as the crack in the sky opened wider, releasing more Menos and two figures walking slowly in the sky above them.
The voice came from the skinny, pale skeletal hollow, who was tapping his spidery hands on his cheekbone, “I do believe that’s us. Can you believe such talk, Gullo?”
The obese hollow beside him chortled, the orangish flesh slapping against itself. Layla grimaced,
“More Menos?” She shuddered, sweat forming on her brow.
“No,” Yoruichi’s eyes were wide and pale, “Much, much worse.” Her voice was almost a whisper, “Stay where you are, Layla...this is a Vasto Lordes.”
“Oooh, clever girl,” Leviathon smiled wide, the sharp smile tinged with pink bits of flesh. “You’ll have to die first. Gullo?”
“CERO!” Gullo emitted an enormous beam of yellow light that Yoruichi had to quickly dodge as it vaporized a the unfortunate Sixth Division members who did not get aside fast enough.
“Maneuver!” Layla screamed back, as Yoruichi instantly appeared beside her, grasping the Kido Corps’ head’s arm.
“Hang on!” Yoruichi and Layla vanished from sight into the air above, right as Gullo’s next Cero cinged the air.
Layla let out a gasp, “That was almost--” The two jumped from sight again as the Ceros followed their movements in the air.
“Continue, Gullo,” Leviathon patted the fat hollow’s head, “I’ll take care of the rest of the vermin.”
“Byakuya! Move!” Layla’s piercing scream echoed through the battle, her eyes widening in terror.
Leviathon had shot into the air and flashing to the side of the Shinigami Captain. The pink petals of Senbonzakura scattering caused Byakuya’s eyes to turn toward the figure appearing at his side, giving him the millisecond to duck the razor sharp swing of the Vasto Lordes’ arm.
There was no time to react; Byakuya dodged as far in a leap as he could, but Leviathon was right behind him, ready to swing his arm down again and slice into the Shinigami. Just as the arm was at the crown of Byakuya’s head, a pair of brown hands gripped the arm and flipped the hollow into the air.
Byakuya stared in silent awe, as Yoruichi kicked the Vasto Lordes away from them. “Keep fighting the Menos,” her arms were sizzling with white electricity, “I’ll take care of h--”
But Leviathon had reacted, grabbing her face with his hand and crunching it into his knee. The feline woman let out a grunt of pain; the Vasto Lorde had his large skeletal hand wrapped around her neck, lifting her up in the air.
“You honestly thought you could ‘take care’ of me?” Leviathon gave a throaty laugh.
At that point, Yoruichi, her nose bleeding and near-broken, gripped his wrists as white lightning started to shoot through her arms and coiled, much to Leviathon’s surprise, around his.
“Yes,” The cat woman grinned a bruised smile, “I believe I can.”
The wind whipped strands of black hair against Karin’s forehead; the air was cool against her skin, which was slightly damp from sweat. They were flying in the air on the back of a hollow Nel had recruited to lift them toward an area she said was appropriate for making a gargantua into the Soul Society. The trip toward the sky had been a quiet one; a calm before the certain storm they were heading straight into.
“You’re sweating?” Toshiro asked, staring at her with an odd expression; Karin could almost swear it was a snort.
“I’m afraid what we’ll see on the other side,” Karin said quietly, staring at the gargantua entry forming in the sky above them. “What if--”
“Don’t,” Toshiro stopped her mid-sentence, his teal eyes levelly staring into hers, “Ichigo’s fine. I’m sure of it.”
Karin felt the twinge of tension loosen slightly around her shoulders, warmth spreading to her cheeks despite the cold, “I didn’t mean that alone. It’s just--”
“And we will save the Soul Society from Leviathon,” Toshiro’s face broke into a softer, yet determined smile. It was one Karin wasn’t used to, but seemed to make his face look years younger than it already was. “We owe it to Sonido.”
The mention of his name was a jolt through Karin’s body. “Toshiro, I--”
“I know what it’s like to lose a friend,” his voice was barely louder than the breeze whipping across their faces, to where only Karin could hear. “He saved your life...and mine for that matter. He fought to stop Leviathon and save both our kind. It’d be a shame if we didn’t repay the gesture.” His face broke into a sly smile, one Karin wondered if he’d ever showed to anyone else. She could feel a rise in her throat, a lurch in her chest. The wind seemed to slowly die down around them; the purple sky began to open up, as they could make out the gargantua’s outline.
Despite the ominous gloom that she knew could lurk on the other side of the crack in the sky, for some reason she suddenly felt a sense of calm spread through her.
“Are you alright, Karin?” She suddenly noticed Toshiro staring at her with slight concern.
“Yeah,” Karin exhaled, a smile breaking across her face as well, “I will be now. Let’s do this.”