CH. 7: INTERLUDE 1
It was the end of the first day of matches, and everyone was trolling around Seireitei having a good time. The citadel got stodgy and boring pretty quickly, and so the fresh arrival of unhinged eccentrics was greeted as a welcome change by local fodder shinigami, who treated many of the future combatants to rounds at soul-pubs. The Fullbringer gang in particular was a riot when liquored up.
Ginjou, his limbs regenerated, had managed to convince his executioner-medics to take him to the best restaurant in town for a final meal to remember, and the rest of the erstwhile members of Xcution followed him there to the acclaimed Cicada Bar and Soul-Eatery (including Giriko, who needed some booze after contemplating the strangeness of drafting a contract with the god of time to eat a pot roast that used to be a yakuza forcibly stuffed inside a plush pig in order to train Ichigo to channel his soul into the substitute badge that his former leader despised), so named because of Tousen's legendary drinking prowess.
And who should be inside enjoying a pint with friends but Ganju and Hanatarou!
"This time--no water. Take it straight," Ganju dared.
"Uhh... I don't suppose hangovers also make you more courageous?" Hanatarou hoped. He was not looking forward to his fight with Hinamori the next day.
"Peach-flavored, just for the occasion," Ganju chuckled, red-faced and leery-eyed.
Ginjou always liked to put his best foot forward, and he always used the following foolproof icebreaker.
"Shiba Ganju... Are you quite certain your father isn't an evil manipulator bent on deceiving and exploiting you?"
Ganju drew back a seat beside the counter for Ginjou. "You want to talk evil, let's talk about my sister. Barkeep, five shots of soul brandy for my buddy here!"
The barkeep--a brawny, scraggly outdoorsy type with an apron and without teeth--took one look at Giriko and blanched. Never would he look so perfect for the job as he.
Giriko felt an animal instinct to grab the rag and start wiping mugs, but the barkeep swiped the rag and ducked out of sight.
Meanwhile, Riruka was glomping a cadre of quite inebriated shinigami and showing them her absolutely cuteriffic plushy collection!!
"And this, is Mr. Pterodactyl!" she simpered, retrieving each of her collectibles from the hatch on her chest. "Wouldn't you just adore being embraced by Mr. Pterodactyl fowever and ever!?"
"Uhh... maybe not forever and ever..." said the flustered shinigami in whose face she was so casually shoving the plushy.
"Wouldn't you... like, oh my god, just beg for the chance to live inside Mr. Pterodactyl?" she suggested brightly. "I bet everybody would find living inside plushies just, the best!"
"Better than Soul Society," Jackie joked as she passed by Riruka's table (full of shinigami both male and female who were edging slowly away) to deliver a dirty boot to Yukio's skull.
"OW!! Is that any way to treat your future employer!?"
"Shut up and start drinking, or I make my boot even stronger grinding that stupid PSP under my heel."
"But, but... Ridge Racer!" he objected.
"Jeesh, where's the barkeep when you need him?" asked Jackie.
"It appears he is cowering behind the counter," said Giriko.
"Why don't you set a timer or something: if he doesn't give us all free drinks, he bursts into flame."
"Relax... time tells no lies," he replied, spinning his stopwatch. "Isn't that right, Barkeep?"
Suddenly, a demonic chill.
"As Soul King, my first stake is... this bar!!" His Arrogance hiccuped and swayed, drunk on... water.
The establishment froze in abject terror.
Wreathed in darkness and radiating necrotic majesty, so called the reaper of reapers: "I'll take your cheapest wine!"
"Behold!" Barragan exercised his power and aged the bottle. It was now roughly six hundred years old.
The ka-ching in Yukio's mind was virtually audible. "Say partner, art thou amenable to a business proposition?"
"Will I get to drink?"
"Only with me!" said one lonely god to the other.
And as Giriko and Barragan clinked frothing mugs of ale and argued well into the wee hours over who here was the real time god, Ginjou pathologically lied to everyone about things he had no reason to lie about, and Riruka continued to pitch the idea of living inside plushies, and Ganju exhorted Hanatarou to go on, break that bottle RIGHT OVER MY NOSE, Jackie could only marvel at how everyone was having way too much fun to notice that the Barkeep was trailing behind her boots furiously wiping the floor.
“Say, now that a literal god of death has joined our numbers,” Ginjou told his executioner-medics, “I don’t suppose you shinigami would eschew my execution in favor of Xcution?”
Slurred one of them, a rather mousy middle-aged woman: “Surre, why not? Soul Society hasn’t exactly been the most exciting place on Earth.”
“Yeah, and when it is exciting, it’s the wrong kind,” complained another of his executioners, a bald man who due to immoderate drink had let slip he found Jackie rather attractive.
“Don’t forget the benefits—Soul Society has!”
The fourth executioner raised her mug, hip hip, “FUCK SOUL SOCIETY!”
And so the new Xcution was formed.
Urahara's training space in the mountains. The black cat called Yoruichi purred on Tessai's lap as he meditated, and Isshin pored over his Sudoku with his reading glasses.
"Jinta, this is Shishigawara-kun, and he's going to be working with us. Say hi, Jinta." Urahara nudged him with his cane. "Say hi, Jinta."
"Hi," said Shishigawara.
"Heh--hi," Jinta mumbled.
As delinquent punks, their adrenaline shot straight through the roof whenever they so much as acknowledged each other's existence. Therefore, having to formally introduce themselves was akin to torture, but the alternative was getting pummeled by Ururu.
"Shishigawara-kun's here to help us with our new business, Fast Track Upgrades!"
“’Fast Track Upgrades’? What does that mean?” squeaked Ururu.
“My old buddy Isshin and I have been talking, and we’ve come to the conclusion that maybe all of Soul Society’s crises shouldn’t be piled on a 15-year-old boy’s shoulders quite so… 100% of the time.”
“He’s 17 now. I think,” corrected Isshin.
“So we’re launching an affordable business model that’ll have every shinigami in Seireitei as ‘transcendant’ as Ichigo in just a couple of years!” Urahara opened his fan in fevered anticipation.
“I keep telling them, Soul Society isn’t exactly an entrepreneur’s dream market,” purred Yoruichi. “It’s about as dead here as it gets.”
“We’ll expand to Earth eventually,” said Urahara.
“And where does this kid fit in?” shouted Jinta. “I thought Ururu and I were the brawn of our operation!”
“His ability, Jackpot Knuckle, is something of a guarantor of our success.”
“We could always advertize,” piped up Ururu diplomatically.
“Actually, I thought Yoruichi might help us with that,” said Urahara.
Yoruichi transformed while still on Tessai’s lap, causing him to jolt out of his meditation to find her cross-legged sitting on his crotch. “Sex sells,” she said, indicating Tessai’s blush with her thumb. “At this rate I’m these buffoons’ only hope to give Soul Society a little rigor mortis.”
Shishigawara nearly jumped out of his skin. Briefly, he wondered whether punching himself until he knocked his teeth out would get him lucky enough.
Jinta could only roll his eyes. “I get it, you don’t need us anymore! Well that’s fine--”
“Hold your horses, tiger.” Isshin lifted Jinta up by the head. “Your input is very important. Without you, we can’t get up off the ground!”
Jinta let his bat clatter to the floor and crossed his arms. “I’m listening.”
“What our company needs from you, Jinta, is a good, proper name.”
Ichigo coughed—it was the only thing he could do. As the holding cell began to drench with gushing torrents of his mother’s blood, he realized he might have overestimated the power of total darkness to finally grant him peace of mind.
Then, a smirk broke through—Aizen must be getting it a thousand times worse, what with all his heinous crimes.
Meanwhile, in the holding cell adjacent to Ichigo’s, Aizen was chilling like a villain. His eyes were assailed with a million Hinamoris and ten million stabbings, but to Aizen these were comforting figments. He was no stranger to illusions, and he could wait millennia if he had to, just as he’d always done.
He was getting a touch agitated, though. Not because all the Hinamoris skewered on his blade like dango were pricking his conscience, but because the promise of senseless betrayal made him all the more anxious to turn illusion into reality. In order to distract himself, Aizen thought he’d give Ichigo a mind-ring.
“Hello? This is Kurosaki Ichigo, is it not?”
Ichigo reeled in his chains as his consciousness melted into his inner world. Aizen’s voice crackled from nowhere and everywhere; a light drizzle streaking across the windows from the vertical axis of clouds.
“It’s raining again,” said Hollow Ichigo, but not without a slight smirk.
The droplets soaked a single side of Ichigo’s garb—it was quite a bizarre sight, this sideways rain. No amount of therapy would ever help him if his head was this weird. But then, this realm certainly beat sensory deprivation delirium.
“Trust me, man, just this once you don’t want to take over,” he told his Hollow self.
Aizen’s voice resonated clearer. “Your inner world is quite interesting. These are called ‘skyscrapers,’ aren’t they?”
Ichigo took a step back, but neither he nor his pale counterpart had Zangetsu in hand.
“Sorry, Zangetsu’s a bit skittish to come see Sunshine over here,” said Hollow Ichigo, pointing to Aizen’s hazy figure sashaying towards them. “Last time you faced Captain Wonder Wings, you used a move that reduced Zangetsu to a shred that’s only now rehabilitating since you reignited your shinigami spark.”
“Yeah, well now it’s my turn to protect him,” bragged Ichigo. “We’re still immune to your illusions, or did you forget, Leotard with Legs!”
But as Aizen came into view, it became increasingly obvious that he was not, in fact, wearing the pure white cocoon getup Ichigo so loved to mock. Or anything else, for that matter.
“I’d come up with some nasty names if you weren’t so boring, Kurosaki.”
Ichigo so wished he weren’t immune to his illusions.
“Puking already, Kurosaki?” Aizen clucked. “I haven’t even raised my spiritual pressure!”
Hollow Ichigo, on the other hand, merely whistled. “Not bad for 10,000 years old.”
“I have reached the maximum potential in every field of shinigami performance.”
“How did you even—“
“Your dearest confidant ratted out the secret of entering you,” said Aizen.
“Oh, get your mind out of the gutter.” Aizen covered his pride with a spontaneously generated butterfly wing, which would serve as a loincloth for the time being.
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t tell him shit. He blacked out the same time you did,” shrugged Hollow Ichigo.
“Oh, is this your Hollow half? Enchantť. I’d have brought my own, but he’s so pale I’m afraid he’d blind us all.”
“I don’t take hands unless I’m ripping them off,” said Hollow Ichigo.
“Are all your confidants this charming, Kurosaki?” asked Aizen.
“You bastard, just which of my friends did you—!!“
“Oh, the small lion modsoul you call ‘Kon.’ He gave me the passcode to enter your mind.”
Ichigo breathed a sigh of relief. Kon could rot in hellfire for all he cared. Then:
“…There’s a passcode?”
“I’d tell you what it is, but it’s not fit for polite company. Or--” He looked at Hollow Ichigo. “Mixed company.”
Ichigo gritted his teeth. “What do you want with me?”
“I’m here to implant in your mind a subconscious trigger to stab one Hinamori Momo. You see, I’d like it best if she were impaled from every conceivable angle by everyone she trusts. I think I’ll have you stab her in the eye, but only one, I want her to keep her other eye so she can see all the friends who’ve stabbed her.”
“Ha! You’ve gone nuts. There’s no way I’d ever do that.”
“Yeah,” Hollow Ichigo agreed. “Stabbing’s not my style, I prefer slashing.”
Ichigo supposed he would take that for now. “How did you escape the prison?”
“It’s just my body that’s bound, my mind can wander freely. If my body weren’t bound, well then, there simply wouldn’t be any concealing my glory.” Impossibly, Aizen’s smile, smiled. “Say--What’s a longer word than ‘skyscraper’?”
Too much information. Ichigo wringed his hair. Too much information. He fell on all fours.
“Anyway, let’s put your determination to the test, Kurosaki Ichigo. I bet the lives of all of Karakura Town that you’ll succumb to my subliminal command to kill Hinamori Momo.”
As was now typical of Ichigo, he recovered from his mire of despair immediately and assumed a cocky grin.
“All right. And if I win—when I win—you’re going to live the rest of your eons as a law-abiding employee of Unagiya, and you’ll be working under me.”
“I imagine you do take hands?”
“In lieu of other body parts.”
Tatsuki bade Hisagi farewell; he’d cast his former captain’s teleportation kidou to take the young lass to Ichigo’s asylum.
“You sure you don’t want me to come help persuade them?”
“Don’t worry,” said Tatsuki. “I have my ways. Now get back to drinking with your blonde friend, he looked like he needed a good partner in boozing.”
Hisagi smiled, but then became stony-faced once more when he realized that when it came to Kira she was probably correct. “See you tomorrow.”
The penitentiary was an unassuming pagoda, actually rather shabby. She supposed it was rather unbelievable that she could arrive at an altogether separate plane of existence and still be less than impressed.
The receptionist behind the counter in the building’s first floor lobby was a comely old lady for someone so short, but her face was stern with thinly disguised envy as she peered over her glasses at a living human with her whole life ahead of her. “May I assist you,” she said evenly.
Tatsuki looked her dead in the eye. “Yes, hi. How are you? I’m here to take back Kurosaki Ichigo.”
“Your name?” Quill poised.
“Are you a resident of Seireitei?”
“No, but neither is Kurosaki Ichigo,” she said. “You have no jurisdiction over him, at least not in this capacity.”
“He’s been sequestered for his own health. Until the mental anguish that you inflicted on him is sorted, he’s a danger to us all.”
She wasn’t being referred to someone higher up than this woman, so Tatsuki figured she must be the one in charge here. She pulled her Earth card. “As a representative of the world of the living and Kurosaki Ichigo’s friend, I will take full responsibility for his recovery. If there’s anyone who can knock sense into him, it’s me.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to fill out the proper paperwork with—“
“He’s saved your hides like multiple times, and there are posters of him plastered all over the city proclaiming he’s changed Soul Society. Are you sure Soul Society can afford to tick him off once he’s freed?”
“I’m a bureaucrat, sweetheart. A bureaucrat in a world that’s already dead. No amount of bargaining, threats or appeals to reason will change the fact that you need to sign these papers. In triplicate, if you don’t mind.”
“How could you all treat your PR celebrity so awfully?”
“Use your head. Your trouncing him has proved he’s better as a symbol out of sight than as a person with which folks can actually interact. He needs to be an unqualified hero, not a flesh and blood human being.”
There was a single card left to Tatsuki.
“He’s both, isn’t he? A human and a hero.”
“I think heroes who are human are the most compelling. And the strongest. That fusion is at the heart of a hero’s strength. I admire that about Ichigo.”
“Ichigo’s also got more fusions going on, hasn’t he? And they, too, have made him stronger.”
She paused, but the woman didn’t respond.
“I mean, he’s a shinigami, in addition to being a human. And he’s even a Holl—“
At that the formerly quiet building was filled with caterwauling and gnashing of teeth shooting from every direction—How many of the poor saps held here had lobbied for Hollowification? She’d gleaned that Ichigo’s status as a Vizard was something of an open secret.
“To be honest, I wanted Ichigo to teach me. How to become like him. But I can always ask around elsewhere.”
The woman picked up her soul-phone and placed a very important call. Minutes later, clearance was given.
Ichigo emerged from his holding cell with a limp and, it seemed, a killer migraine.
“You okay, man? You had quite the episode back there.”
“Could be better,” Ichigo copped.
Tatsuki took him in arm. “C’mon, let’s get you some proper rest.”
“Rest is the last thing I need,” said Ichigo. “What I really want right now…” he coughed.
Tatsuki laughed. “How about we spar.”
“You said you came to Soul Society to get stronger, right?” asked Ichigo. “Well, I know just the man who can help you train up to my level in no time at all.”
Having consulted Nemu earlier on multiple interrogations (what he called their dates), Ishida thought he was prepared for anything Mayuri could throw at him, but he had to admit that a zombie shinigami with Yammy’s giant head attached to a tiny neck was a surprise.
Mayuri was out for a midnight stroll (you could tell it was midnight because of the four panels per chapter devoted to the moon, which was never any shape besides a crescent), with his hideous abomination lumbering along on a leash. Ishida, having donned Urahara’s handy pitch black concealing cloak, stalked his mortal enemy’s every pace, probing for weaknesses, openings.
How exactly one probed for weaknesses and openings, Ishida wasn’t sure. But he didn’t have anything better to do. The only alternative he saw was Nemu’s invitation lie with her in bed, but he didn’t feel tired at all.
Finally Ishida followed Mayuri down several flights of stairs to yet another of his subterranean research and experimentation laboratories.
Mayuri spoke: “These are the Resurrection Tubes. I want to know how many of these Arrancar you remember.”
Yammy groaned dimly in acknowledgement.
“R-Resurrection Tubes?” Ishida blurted.
“Yes, Quincy boy,” Mayuri said. “And I wager you’ll be wanting your grandfather back, yes?”
Tatsuki in arm, Ichigo flew using that old bone-wing thing from way back (remember?) straight towards Urahara’s training grounds.
“I’ve never flown before,” Tatsuki schmoozed.
“Well, with all the times you knocked me on my butt, I thought it only right to balance the differential out a bit,” Ichigo joked.
“Will I get to fly? That’d be cool.”
“Nah, but you do get to walk on the air and teleport around. It’s basically the same.”
“I can see why you wanted that thing,” said Tatsuki ruefully, pointing at the flying device in Ichigo’s other hand. “If this isn’t flyover country, I don’t know what is.”
“Rather dull, isn’t it. Didn’t want to break it to ya.”
“I mean, Soul Society’s got a whole bustling…ish capital, but then it’s just barren. Oh, oh, is that them!?”
Ichigo thought he could see them, too. He screwed his eyes shut and employed his spirit ribbon radar.
“It’s them! Unless Urahara’s got decoy ants with their spiritual pressure or something. Wait… is that? That punk kid Fullbringer? And that petite Vice!”
“C’mon, Ichigo, even I know her name is Hinamori, and I only found out about all this, like, yesterday.”
Ichigo grunted and clenched his throat, the unspeakable megrim pulling on the corners of his consciousness.
“You okay, Ichigo? Oi, Ichigo!”
The flight wing slipped out of Ichigo’s grasp and Zangetsu materialized in its stead as they hurtled towards Urahara and company.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!” Tatsuki yelped.
The blade drew towards Hinamori’s right eye. Left. Right.
“Oh hi Kurosaki-san!” called Hinamori innocently.
“Whoa, is that your bankai or are you just happy to see us?” said Urahara.
“That looks fun,” said Yoruichi, watching as Tatsuki screamed until she was blue. “It’s been so long since a man made me scream like that.”
Ichigo snapped out of his haze, regained control of himself and veered off from his trajectory towards Hinamori. He set down Tatsuki carefully. Tatsuki tapped her foot expectantly”
Ichigo scratched the back of his head apologetically. “Guess I got carried aWUU—“
“GOOD MORNING ICHIGO!”
It seemed that even in shinigami form, Isshin’s preferred attack was his patented invincible Daddy Dropkick.
Tatsuki seemed pleased. “I’ll take it.” Then she addressed Hinamori. “Hey, what are you doing here? Aren’t all of you guys stupid strong already?”
“I’m here to learn to fend for myself,” she replied, with a steely edge to her voice. “I’m done with a certain captain class shinigami choking me with concern. What, may I ask, are you doing here?”
“Ichigo told me Urahara’s the best at training—I guess you agree!--definitely didn’t expect to see Ichigo’s dad here, though, what’s up Kurosaki-sensei?’ She knew him as the doctor at the Kurosaki clinic, so she referred to him as sensei.
Isshin took one good look at Tatsuki, then resumed his killer submission hold. “Is that anyway to treat your girlfriend, shit for brains!?”
Ichigo bade they continue their conversation, with a “dads will be dads” shrug of the eyebrows
Tatsuki scanned everyone around her. “Uhh, hi, everyone. My name is Arisawa Tatsuki. Nice to meet you.” She bowed deeply.
They introduced themselves in turn. She found the Shishigawara kid kind of cute, in an odd way.
“And Jinta, if you would do the honors for our very first customers!”
Jinta had decided he would Ururu’s spirit gatling cannon to blast the business’s name into a rockface. Fast Track Upgrades was now
HOME RUN HEROES AND HEROINES INCORPORATED.
Urahara fanned away the floating dust and leaned a little on his cane.
“Featuring only the latest and greatest in fast track upgrade technology,” boasted Urahara. “100% guaranteed results by the end of the night or your money back.”
“All right!” Hinamori pumped her tiny fist into the air; she couldn’t wait to be uber.
Urahara was about to draw out a copy of the special sword they’d used to give Ichigo his power back until--
“I’ve got so much to live for!” shouted Hinamori enthusiastically. “I’m definitely never gonna get stabbed again!”
An awkward pause. Urahara secreted the sword back inside his robes.
“And I’ll DEFINITELY never get encased in ice. SHIRO-CHAN,” she clarified. Then she clapped her hands. “Okay, when do we start!”
The fan snapped shut. “Oh, right about now should do,” said Urahara. “Ururu, fetch the equipment!”
What state of the art soul gizmos could the mad genius have come up with this time?
Ururu whipped out a gigantic mallet and smashed Hinamori and Tatsuki into a 50-yard pit.
The shadow of Jinta’s head loomed large as he munched on a slice of watermelon. “First one to beg for a slice is a sissypants.”
Now that Tear Harribel found herself in Soul Society, she would have gleefully devoured as many shinigami as she could were it not for Orihime’s admonishment not to.
But there was one shinigami whom she had set her eyes on.
“And that’s everything that bastard Aizen told you?”
She strode with purpose atop the rooftops of Seireitei, her monstrous reiatsu stirring bad dreams in all the shinigami dozing in their barracks.
Kon held on to her hair for dear life. “Don’t tell me you’re headed straight for him!?”
Her shark mask clacked as she spoke. “Not yet. My revenge must be more grand.”
“You know, I might be inclined to give you more information if you nestled me somewhere more secure, on your person,” shouted Kon. “Preferably in front of you.”
Harribel ignored this. “You said the Espada who lost their lives in that bastard shinigami’s futile war are resurrecting one by one, yes?”
Kon gazed disinterestedly at his plushy nails as Harribel drew to a stop and her boobs stopped jiggling. “Yes, yes, or so I’ve heard. Does it matter, they’ll only get killed again anyway. If I were you I’d vamoose and hit a beach on Earth or something. I could be your guide to the human world, too.”
“’Resurrection.’” Harribel tasted the word. “Yes, that is what we are. Resurrecion. Our resurgence, our revenge, is at hand!”
“Wh-whoa, what are you doing with that? Hey, not so close!”
Harribel drew the wave sword from the scabbard on her back and lifted it to the sky for Kon to marvel at it.
“Tiburon!” she cried.
Her release flooded the citadel with crashing torrents of water.
“The resurrection tubes are in a subterranean laboratory. I’ll follow where the water sinks,” she reasoned.
The presence of a shadowy figure pulsed out and caught Harribel’s keen sense as the creature gorged itself.
“B-Barragan!?” she stammered.
“A million, billion years, nothing but desert,” Barragan rambled, water sloshing from his teeth.
“Cripes, man, even I’m not that obsessive,” Ginjou retorted. Each of the Fullbringers could walk on water.
“Damn it. My boots.” Jackie’s boots were now good as new.
“What are you talking about? Now they’re much cuter!” said Riruka.
“What have I gotten myself into?” Yukio wondered aloud. He thought he preferred stewing over how to off his parents than this strange “social interaction.”
Ishida’s jaw dropped.
“Tsk tsk. Really? You’re that shocked?” said Mayuri.
“How could you?”
Mayuri rattled his long fingernail on the glass of Ulquiorra’s tube as slowly, slowly, he regained consciousness. “How could I? Well, I’d go into the mechanics and science of it, but… suffice it to say that in this world, you’re never truly dead.”
“Is that how you live with yourself after blowing up and murdering and toying with so many innocent people?”
“Gibberish. I don’t live with myself, I live inside myself—though I am looking into alternatives.” And with that he resumed reading data screens and jotting notes.
Ulquiorra, as Espada #4, would be the next to fully recover. Next would be Nnoitra, and then Zommari.
“They should all be ready by matches next morning,” he said. “It’s actually rather lucky that there are two ‘Espada’ in hell and one—or two, if count the lovely little goat one—are missing, otherwise we wouldn’t have had enough time or energy to line them all up together on schedule for the Tournament.”
“Another reason is because I’d kill them all anyway.”
Mayuri was surprised. “And why’s that?”
“Chances are, one of the Hollows that ate my grandpa is now a part of one of them. And ifif I find I’m not satisfied with your death, I’d kill every last Gillian, Adjuchas, and Vasto Lorde until I’d wreaked revenge to my satisfaction.”
“And throw off the equilibrium of the worlds?”
“Soul Society’s gotta change somehow,” he reasoned. “Now can you or can you not resurrect my grandpa?”
“We’ve only tried Hollows so far,” said Mayuri. “But it should work. Pity that the process will be much longer; human souls are more complicated, they have funny little things called ‘hearts.’ I simply can’t wait to tweak and play with a Quincy who won’t resist!” he cackled.
At that moment, water began to rush down the stairway in through the entrance, ripping through the rain guards and inundating the lab up to their knees. Harribel, still in her released form, shot through the wave and, with an impossibly fast flash, tore Mayuri’s right arm clean off. The arm with which he’d been stroking the glass of Ulquiorra’s tube.
Mayuri no longer needed an injection to regenerate. “Really, was that necessary?”
“No. But it felt good,” she said.
Dayumn. “I can do that, too,” said Ishida, a bit impotently.
Mayuri threw up his hands. “Were I to fight you—Harribel, I take it?--you would probably win. However, you need me. Without me, the rest of your precious little subordinates will never come back.”
“All I need, shinigami, is to kill you and protect the resurrection tubes until my Fraccion—“
“Don’t be absurd. It’s not like anyone we don’t want to bring back will just appear. We may not understand the process perfectly,” Mayuri conceded, “but such is always the case in SCIENCE, and in any case we’ve got the process completely under cont—“
Tap, tap, tap.
Harribel turned to face the tapping, and blanched. Two resurrection tubes that had previously been vacant were now occupied by the floating forms of two very familiar shinigami. She blanched—a new experience for a Vasto Lorde.
“Ohh. Oho! This is most unexpected.” Mayuri dictated to his hell butterfly and sent it away to Yamamoto.
“Bye bye!” laughed Gin.
Of course, Gin would be the only one who could speak while inside the tube.
Meanwhile, Tousen’s insectoid eyes were bugging out (ahaha) at the figure forming in a third incubation tube.
It couldn’t be…!
Well, when did Tsukishima say he couldn’t come back from the dead?
“Let her in,” Yamamoto intoned.
The guards at the entrance to Yamamoto’s office stepped aside. Orihime gulped, but she hadn’t come this far just to give up now.
Yamamoto leaned his head on his palm. “What?” he asked flatly.
“I’m sorry, Yamamoto-san”—she saw no reason to pay him any higher respect than that—“but the violence of this tournament is pointless! And, and ‘fighting to the death’ is just barbaric!”
By this Yamamoto was more amused than angry. “And what would you propose in the tournament’s place? Perhaps a stage show with all the captains singing show tunes?”
“No, of course not, that’s silly!” Orihime shot back. “Not even I’d watch that!”
“What about a cooking competition? No violence, but just as much excitement!”
Yamamoto grunted hoarsely—his closest approximation of laughter. Orihime pressed on undaunted.
“With cooking, instead of seeing everyone’s ugly sides, we could see them put their hearts and souls into their cuisine, and, and enjoy labors of LOVE!”
Plus she’d get to sample more unconventional dishes as judge, but that thought would tend shop in her head for the time being.
“Love? Sweetie, I was a brat about your age during the Peloponnesian War, and love is just as alien and mysterious to me now.”
Just then, a hell butterfly flitted right on Yamamoto’s many-grooved dome.
“What!?” Yamamoto blurted as Mayuri’s hell butterfly relayed the message.
Orihime found herself standing upright at attention. Soul Society in danger again?
No reason not to fill her in. “Surprise new entrants into the tournament. Might as well rethink the whole match setup. And if you’re interested in ‘LOVE,’ then have I got the matchup for you!”
NEXT DAY, NEXT ROUND: ORIHIME VERSUS ZOMMARI!!