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Midnight Confrontation

The sprawling settlements of the West Rukongai slept soundly in the thick of the night. Clouds had begun to cover the face of the moon, diluting its light and causing the watery shadows to embrace the world below. Above the wind and through the sky two figures shimmered into view, one closely behind the other, before disappearing again. A wave of their travelling Reiatsu rushed over the ground behind them, causing dogs to bark and one lone farmer on the path back to his house to lose his straw hat and stare up at the sky in wondering dread.

But the signs of civilization ended at the feet of rolling hills that marked the fringe of the wilderness. A silvery thread of river snaked through slumbering boulders, and here they came to a stop.

The chosen location was a flat meadow of tall aquatic grass, although now it was dry and the mud hard in the late season. The river flowed to one side, the forest edged them in on another, and all about them the hulking shapes of stone stood as witnesses to the two Captains who now faced each other.

The silence was broken by the sound of dying crickets and the brush of wind over hollow reeds.

“Well then otchan. Was there something ya were wantin’ to say to me, or were ya just spoilin’ my dinner date with those scrappers back there, or such-and-such?”

All through the night, Rikuri had never once let go of the hilt of her Zanpakutō. As she came to a sudden stop, Hein once again became visible before her, and the very sight of him drove her insane. Leaving little time for conversation, a pillar of light composed entirely of her reiatsu exploded from her being and shot up into the sky, causing the clouds to spread apart. The terrain beneath them gave way to her tremendous might and began to quake every so slightly. Oddly enough, judging by the new found expression plastered across her face, Rikuri no longer appeared as agitated as she once was; she was now much more relaxed, the result of being exposed to her own spiritual energy. At last, she drew her blade from its scabbard, and as it awoke, it howled into the star filled sky, sending a crescent shaped beam of her concentrated reiatsu toward him in a hurry. In case he had not yet realized, there was not much else she wanted to say to him.

“Terrible indecent way to start a conversation, if ya ask me.” Hein growled as he widened his stance. He could feel Rikuri’s Reiatsu as it flooded his senses and felt his body relax, the minor muscles under his skin were the first to yield. This only served to irritate him, however, as he had come to blow off steam, not be comforted, and he released his own spiritual pressure to counter it. As the beam of Reiatsu shot towards him he threw himself to the side to dodge it, and landing on the balls of his feet barely paused to readjust his direction. In one flickering step he had reached her and, dodging the path of her drawn sword, launched his attack. It was not complicated. His shin moved on its own accord, the speed enhanced by Hohō and capable of delivering tremendous force. As it travelled on its path to connect it seemed to ignite in the dancing, flickering tongues of flame that imbued the strike with the power of a pacing dragon. Most of his strength was concentrated in that attack, and he aimed for her abdomen.

By arriving within close quarters, he had fallen into her trap: the very same spiritual pressure she had released earlier before. Rikuri's reiatsu was extremely potent, in that it caused everyone around her to relax, both in persona and muscle tension. He may have felt it earlier before --during their initial meeting-- though now as he was but mere inches away from her, it would have become all the more apparent, almost impossible to resist. The relaxation of his body would have slowed down his movements enough for her to read, and with that, she merely moved her own blade to counter his attack, holding it there in place, keeping it at bay. The pillar of reiatsu all around them grew larger in both size and dexterity, working to carefully negate the man's own. Hein would begin to experience an urge to settle down, if not to take a nap altogether. Being exposed to it now would slowly eat away at his senses, especially being so close to the queen within her own kingdom.

Though he could not see it for himself, Rikuri smiled warmly, regaining her customary posture. Her eyes dazzled beneath the starry sky once more, and she inched closer to him, so that her lips just barely grazed the side of his ear. Parting them softly, she spoke into his ear, alluding to the paradise through her own alluring mechanics. "You seem tense," her voice appeared passionate, as if worrisome about his own well being. "You know, I always sort of had a bit of a weakness for men with white hair."

She giggled seductively into his ear, as her "castle" of energy spread out around even more so, so that even in the off chance he made to get away, he would still be caught within it, the muscles in his body slowing down once more. She aimed not to punish him, but rather please him. Her energy carried a very addictive property, that only grew stronger with each passing second. Once more, her spiritual pressure erupted from her being, attempting to negate all killing intent within Hein. She kept her blade pressed tightly against his shin, feeling for his loosening grip.

Hein was confused more than anything else at Rikuri’s sudden change in demeanor. He did not trust her in the slightest, and even more so as he felt his body being pulled by the effects of her encapsulating Reiatsu. Damn it all. he though as she spread it out in a thick blanket all around him. He would not allow himself to be shaken from his own presence of mind. It was somewhat of a curse, as his senses were working in overdrive, finely tuned to everything the woman before him said and did to attract him. It had happened in a moment, and he was disgusted with himself.

“'S that so?” he murmured absently as he searched for a way to escape. He pressed herself towards her, pushing himself against her sword until they were nearly touching and he could feel her heart beating in the surprisingly still atmosphere. Hein allowed himself to be pulled in, and in that he was skirting danger. In reality he was suppressing his own Reiatsu, drawing his spiritual energy into himself and concentrating it in order to be released in one singular moment. He knew the fight hinged on the effectiveness of his next movement, and even as the calming aura flooded his mind he found himself. There was a point of hatred still, burning hot and bright, and there he receded.

“Smolder,” he whispered as the corner of his mouth turned upwards in a smirk. “En-moeru.” There was a sudden release then, his sword pulled from his scabbard in one fluid motion and sent towards the side of Rikuri’s neck, flashing through the night with inexplicable speed. It should not have moved as such, his movements should have been dulled, but now his own powerful Reiatsu was expanding, working to counter that of Rikuri’s. Still it was not enough, but it had afforded Hein enough clearance to regain control of his own senses. If there was one thing he hated, it was to be controlled. The intruder who had arrived in the Soul Society a short while ago had called him a soldier: someone who followed and obeyed. Now the Captain of the Fourth Division was trying to manipulate his emotions regardless of his own will. And that had been a mistake. With the sudden ability to move at his normal pace, his anger seemed to boil over all at once, fueling his Reiatsu into an inferno that enveloped his entire body.

And there was more.

The dry grass the two were standing in caught on to the flames, and expanded rapidly. Hein recognized this the instant it occurred, although it had happened somewhat inadvertently, and he channeled his spiritual energy to provoke the flames and speed their effects. In a flash the field ignited, and the pressure in the atmosphere began to increase. Rikuri was not the only one capable of manipulating the release of Reiatsu. As the heat wrapped around them Hein forced it to remain close to the ground, dragging Rikuri’s Reiatsu down with it, and as the pressure began to grow the ground around them started to vibrate, but only slightly, and he hoped the eerie suppression of energy around them would distract his opponent from the blade that hungered for her flesh.

The incantation of Hein's sword release served as a wake up call for Rikuri, who would have never imagined for her reiatsu to fail her in such close quarters. It had begun to succumb to Hein, and before she knew it, the world around her had been ignited by his intense hatred. Her eyes widened, and the heat of his blade was felt by her momentarily, digging into her soft flesh. She made to move away quickly, though not before it had left behind a meaningful scar. She had dropped her guard foolishly, displaying too much confidence in her own lust. Backing away now, she formed a small blanket beneath her feet to protect her from the ensuing flames.

"You really are a devil," she declared, as her reiatsu altered in color, turning pink. Hearts made of her own energy began to flow around her, climbing upward towards the heavens. The scar on her neck began to heal itself instantly, all without so much as her command. She eyed Hein with a natural gaze, before lifting her katana and pointing it in his direction. He had been caught earlier in her reiatsu; the time he spent within it could not be discredited. It carried an intense addictive property, that was bound to factor in to the equation no matter how greatly he had managed to resist it before. He could have even hated it, though it would not change the mere fact that his entire body had been exposed to it. Sooner or later it would crave that very same pleasure, and she would be there to provide it.

Raising the sword above her head, Rikuri sent another pillar of her pink energy towards the skies, invoking light momentarily. The mere presence of it would speed up the process of the addiction kicking in, whilst additionally enabling her to fend off the fire released by his own.

Hein was in his element. Surrounded by the smoldering heat of subdued flames that bowed all around him, he chuckled to himself, threatened by the euphoric intoxication of his own power. He turned his attention towards Rikuri, however and replied calmly in the face of her impressive release of Reiastu:

“Better a devil than a slave, ‘specially one who’s loose with their own will, wouldn’t ya say otchan?”

He was preparing another attack, but the veil of Reiatsu around his opponent was troublesome. It called him towards itself, enticing him, offering a salve to meet the terrible thirst of his own anger. It was a drug toying lasciviously with his mind, and gradually his hatred began to mix with his lust. He wanted to fight. He wanted to dominate and conquer. He wanted to leave his opponent, whom he was beginning to see as the source of his burning desire, in torment and agony. He wanted her. And he would have her, regardless of the destruction that might entail.

From where he stood he could feel the magnetic pull of her Reiatsu, and while he may have been affected by its heady addiction he was not so easily manipulated as to rush into the realm of her spiritual pressure. That, in his mind, would be “terrible dull.” Instead he concentrated on building the pressure that was steadily rising beneath his feet. He appeared to cave into its weight, crouching low to ground amidst the embers. It seemed Rikuri had recovered from her injury, and he grinned, feeling a thrill at the challenge she presented him.

The next instant he launched himself into the sky, and as he tore through the ceiling of Reiatsu there was a spark, a bright flash, and at once the world was thrown violently upwards in the powerful explosion. The skies were drowned in an orange glow as the sphere of energy expanded, its sheer force eliminating the dirt within its radius, which would leave nothing but scarred boulders and a crater in its wake.

“What do ya say, obahan? Ya feelin’ rough?” Hein jeered above the roar. While he may have been immune to the effects of his own flames, Hein knew that it would have been doubtful for even he himself to escape such a force unscathed. The heat of it pushed against his face as he stood in the air above the field and waited for Rikuri to emerge.

The aura that had been around Rikuri aided the pneumatic woman in dealing with the first breaths of the flames, as her opponent took to the skies. However, the eruption was a different story. She had very little time to react, though with her reiatsu already flowing about her in the form of hearts, she utilized it to translate into her next move. Yielding energy in the palm of her hand, Rikuri summoned forth a dark black spiritual coffin that surrounded her being, creating a protective pillar. Better regarded as Kidō #90, Kurohitsugi, it was known more so for its offensive capabilities; however yet, Rikuri was demonstrated a rare usage to defend herself against Hein's wrath. Even without incantation, the might of such a high level spell could not have been discredited. Instead of emerging from within the coffin after the attack, however, Rikuri elected to remain inside, possibly to stall for more time.

As the flames gradually dwindled down to a resigned state, fringing the edge of the field but otherwise having burned out, Hein studied the box of kido below him with annoyance. Somewhat removed from Rikuri’s maddening Reiatsu as it was contained within the boundary of the spell, Hein was able to order his thoughts a bit more clearly.

“Terrible indecent of ya, exceptional way to kill a conversation.” he yelled, unsure of whether or not she could hear him. He was not familiar with the spell she had used, but it seemed like a normal barrier to him, despite its concentrated power. And barriers could be broken. He snarled and spat to the side before throwing himself down to the ground. He began to pace over to the dense construct of Reishi before him, his geta stirring ash into the air as he walked. Hein had already been containing some of his Reiatsu into his arms and legs in order to increase his physical power, and now he simply gathered the rest around him and restrained it within his own being. It was similar to what he had done within the atmosphere only a short while ago, but now that it was confined to his own body, the building pressure presented a very personal threat. In many ways it was a risky technique, but he was at this point rather heedless of endangering himself, and was simply obsessed with reaching his target.

Hein slammed his hand into the wall of kido, and rather than harmonize with the amorphous mass of wills that composed the fabric of the spell, he forcibly imbued the barrier with the energy he had amassed. The wall before him resisted at first, and there was a brief struggle of wills until, at last, he sensed it waver. A weak point had begun to cave in, and he focused everything towards it. And then the wall crumbled, coming apart in black shards that dissipated and floated away into the sky.

The sudden exposure to Rikuri’s spiritual pressure drove him into a frenzy of motion. Without pause he rushed towards her, his sword aiming to cut straight across her abdomen. But at the last second one of his steps faltered, intentionally, and he dodged to the side, shedding the afterimage as he opted for another route. The diversion continued forwards but he appeared behind, and his blade had been switched to between his teeth. He swung his fist instead, directing the attack towards her left lung. But his hand was no less dangerous than his drawn sword, as it threatened to pierce straight through flesh and bone. Needless to say, whatever Hein’s notion of “attraction” was, it seemed to be a brutal one.


The time spent within the black coffin had enabled Rikuri to accomplish several things, all of which were about to go on display shortly. Her mastery over healing Kidō was unmatched within Soul Society, though she had little opportunity to utilize any other variants in the past due to her passive nature. Here now, she was about to make good use of them, and if executed properly, this little battle may have very well been over.

The after image was more or less a sad excuse for a bluff, as Hein had established the clone right before her eyes; while it could deliver a single blow, it would not be able to retain any properties beyond that of the original, meaning it was surviving off of borrowed time alone. a green light that had been kept irrelevant for some short period of time suddenly emerged, reflecting Hein's attempt at striking her. In this same instant, the after image dispersed, and the trap card Rikuri had set below had been triggered, like a fly caught in a web.

As he had confronted her, Rikuri had not moved so much as an inch; instead she had waited for his arrival, knowing all too well that his impatience got the best of him, more often than not. He had nothing to blame now, other than himself for rushing in without a plan to fall back upon. An arm Rikuri had kept out behind her, anticipating the original to strike from behind, glew with an aura, calling forth a large, green barrier that surrounded a large vicinity. It had been charging ever since she had stowed herself within her earlier "barrier", and as he made his attack, it had been activated. Rikuri turned her head, looking at Hein, with nothing more than her arm inside the barrier, along with him.

She knew not if he had control over his senses any longer, for he had rushed her yet again, after all. Even now, he was so close to her; though they may have been separated by a barrier, it did not change the fact that he was exposed to her reiatsu, especially being surrounded within her well timed barrier. She looked at him with a calm expression, before a single vein within her arm turned dark, emanating a red aura. Like a crack within a volcano, the arm began to tremble, before eventually giving way.

With her off hand, Rikuri sheathed her Zanpakutō, before moving it toward her lips. Blowing the man a kiss goodbye, her arm exploded, unleashing a blast that consumed the entire space composing the barrier. To make for even more impact, the barrier actually condensed it size, so that Hein would encompass an even greater array of destruction; it was the art of sacrifice, and how swiftly she managed to get it off, there was most liking no escaping it now.

"Ittō, Kasō!"

Time seemed to slow. Hein could sense the currents of energy around him and as they began to spiral inwards, creating an imbalance in the air around him due to the sheer amount of power gathered in Rikuri’s arm, he realized what she was about to do. Ittō Kasō was a spell he was intimately familiar with, and at that moment fear snapped into his mind, clearing his thoughts enough to halt his reckless charge forwards. He had always been a gambler, an aspect drawn out and heightened by his lust for battle, but this time it seemed as though he had lost miserably.

For a singular, corpuscular instant in time, the ground below his feet seemed to vanish, and he could feel the Reishi in the soil of the earth bend and fall away. He was floating in the eerie limbic state of knowing that what should have been was suddenly not, the last warning before atomic detonation. A pillar of flame emerged from the ground, the tip of a hellish sword. The stomach of the fire burned so hot it was white, and its force pushed him to the ceiling of the contracting barrier. There was a moment’s struggle between the resisting wall of kidō, the instant expansion of energy below, and his own Reiatsu that had become dense and close around his body under the pressure. Something had to give, and the barrier was first to relent. All around him a torrent of heat shot towards the sky, evaporating the barrier around it in an instant and sealing him within a prison of destruction. As the spell erupted he had extended his left hand and slammed it into the edge of the blade, and for a moment he was able to hold his own incineration at bay. The fire pushed him into the air, and there the struggle began.

His heart beat fast and his blood felt like it was boiling under his skin. While he continued to resist, eminent defeat loomed before him, and it was only the years spent wielding his own soul’s flames that had saved him from immediate extinction. The inferno drowned his senses, warred against his mind and threatened to extinguish his will to survive. At the same time it whispered to him and called him forward, embracing him with the insidious offer to surrender, to yield and become one with the fire. And this, more than anything else, made him afraid, because it was so similar to the way "he" acted. He remembered the last time he had encountered Ittō Kasō, and knew there was only one way to overcome the power of the spell, and that was to subdue it. It was ironic, as he considered his battle in the past, that it was now his turn to play the demon who refused to be beaten.

It was, as it always had been, a question of will.

The flames below him is continued to surge towards him, and he began to suppress them in turn, suppressing his own fear with it. He did not have much time. Hein began to exert his Reiatsu, suffusing and mixing the two flames and ferociously commanding them to assimilate. In retaliation the blast began to burn away at his arm as he forcibly tried to pin it down, and the balance shifted between him and the fire, fluctuating and pulsing with a dangerously high level of energy. For one heart-stopping moment he lost control, and there was a rush as the vortex he had created collapsed in around him and swallowed him.

But he refused to be overtaken by the fire. He was the master of flames, and he would not be bested by a casted spell. Kidō. The word would forever be a curse to him. He resolved to win, and as he did his wrath began to grow. He attacked the flames of the spell before him furiously, and eventually they began to change in form and color. Before the fire had been a singular wall of red, but now it was burning with bright orange and licking hungrily at the air in mass chaos. But this was a chaos he could control, and in fact one that he thrived on.

Hein began to bend the inferno according to his will, drawing the raging energy around him and forming the wall of flames into a spherical ring that circled around him. He lifted the mass of fire up above his head, and there fueled it with his own burning desire to destroy.

There was a brief pause as he held the condensed force at bay, and to provoke the annoyance of his adversary he took the time to casually sheathe his sword with his free hand, as if he would no longer be needing it. Wind spun wildly around them, having followed the rotation of the orb of fire, and it caught the remains of Hein’s tattered haori and whipped it back and forth. There was now very little resemblance between Hein and any honorable or self-respecting "Captain of the Gotei 13", and he grinned in cruel triumph at an adversary who should have been his ally.

“See this obahan? This is what happens when ya play with fire.”

The next second he aimed his now irreparably damaged arm at Rikuri and released the flames in a bright blade that speared towards earth at blinding speed, connecting with the ground before one could even blink.

As Hein struggled to subdue then overtake her Kidō, Rikuri did all but watch relentlessly. The sound of the barrier shattering was but like an alarm of the sorts to the woman; looking down at her left shoulder which no longer bore an arm, she gave a small twitch, forcing a medical procedure she had shamefully studied, replicating the sins of a hollow by forging a new arm. She looked onward, thereafter, before realizing that Hein, even in the slightest, possessed the ability to overcome her flames utilizing his own. Thinking back upon it now, she had grown careless in her decision to make him perish by his own element. It was a foolish act, though she had little time to feel sorry for herself. For once, she mustered her pride to the side and prepared herself as if he truly was capable of deflecting her spell; sure enough, the latter managed to do just that, and as he took his time --sheathing away his Zanpakutō ever so slowly-- Rikuri reached for her own, clicking it free from its scabbard.

As Hein launched his counterattack down upon the earth, Rikuri appeared behind him, going to pierce the blade through his chest. While she had made a mistake in her choice of Kidō moments before, Hein too, had made a mistake by taunting a fellow captain and allowing her with even so much as a "brief" period of time --which to her, or any other captain, for that matter, would have been more than enough time to prepare their next move-- in which she could utilize to catch him off guard. If successful, she would have coated the blade in a layer of Kidō so as to blow a hole through him, which would have been more than enough to cast him away at this point, or so she thought. Even though he had made yet another effort to speak to her during battle, she offered nothing in return, fixated on handling matters beforehand.

Hein had not needed to add much more input to direct the flames. Once released they had taken their own course, and he simply stood there as the attack hit the ground and blossomed outwards, obliterating everything in its direct path. And it had been at that moment when he sensed the movement of Rikuri behind him. He knew his aim had not faltered, but he was not upset that his attack had failed. Rather, he relished the fact that it had brought Rikuri in close. Close enough for him to drink in more of that exasperating, irresistible Reiatsu.

The blade neared him and he turned, shifting his position only slightly in order to take the attack full-on. He was now, more than ever, keen to the movements of his target and the Reishi surrounding her, and could sense that the sword was imbued with some powerful attack. It could have been a variation of Byakurai, or even a Shakkahō, but it did not matter in the end. It was Kidō, and he had had quite enough of Kidō. All her barriers and traps and hiding herself away, keeping herself away from him. And he would no longer tolerate such antics. It was an obstacle to be torn through, and he did not care how it was accomplished, only that he reach her.

The tip of the blade exploded, and a beam of combustive force shot through his upper arm, fortunately missing the inner half so the limb was not completely detached. But just before the attack had reached him he had thrust his right arm forwards and across his body to grasp Rikuri’s sword-arm, just at the wrist. She had been fully committed in her attack, and there had been no way for her to pull back at the last second. Now he had her, and a thrill ran through him, kindling his Reiatsu and causing the inferno still smoldering below to pulse upwards.

It was possible that he had already lost all feeling in his injured left arm, as he did not so much as flinch when he was shot through. Instead he bared his teeth at Rikuri, which was perhaps meant to be taken as a besotted smile, and in the same moment flames leapt from his entire body, channeling along the arm that held her firmly and clawing towards her in order to consume her. The heat rushed forwards ferociously, and threatened to incinerate her, charring skin and devouring her insides. Unless she found a way to break his hold, it seemed she was in for point-blank ignition.

Rikuri's eyes widened, as Hein confirmed a tight grasp around her wrist. It was a risky maneuver, considering how close he had gotten to her once more. The addiction should have been eating away at him by now; what began as a mental obsession would have since translated into a physical dependency. However, for the mere moment, that was but the least of Rikuri's concerns. Hein, for all means and purposes, was the sheer embodiment of fire, so much so that his body literally leaked of flames. She could feel it now, coursing up her arm and trying its very best to incinerate her on the dime. However, there came her own reiatsu, to her defense, pitting itself within an endless struggle against that of Hein. The two forces clashed against one another; with each passing instance, Rikuri was burned, and Hein hypnotized.

More and more flames crept about from each side, forming a wall around the two, just as Hein had instigated. There was no escape, not when he had such a meaningful grip around her wrist like that. For a woman who lacked physical determination --in the form of raw might-- Rikuri was at a complete disadvantage in this circumstance, though then it hit her. Through the flames was born an idea that possibly shimmered even brighter than all the radiant light created by the heat. With the flick of a wrist, Rikuri twirled her Katana upward, causing it to spin several times, before finally catching it midway with her offhand --her one free hand. With one fellow swoop --and without the slightest bit of hesitation-- she brought down the blade upon herself, severing her arm from her shoulder and pulling away swiftly, into the scorching flames.

If it had not been for her aura, the woman would have certainly been baked, literally, beyond belief. However, even with such a power, she did not escape the assault unscathed, as evident by the many fumes still encompassing her physique. Even as she pulled further away from the ensuing trap, she could feel the burns lingering about her entire body --many of which had managed to tear apart her shinigami attire; in particular, her captain's haori was no more. Her hair had also been tattered, much to her dismay, and Rikuri's body began to heal away at all the damage she had accumulated. Using such magic was certainly taxing, and springing another arm was going to take a toll on her.

However yet, her ambition to continue the onslaught pressed her further, and though she knew whether or not her opponent had any more sense left within him --as he had now, for the fifth time, sprung into her presence-- she still sought to emerge victorious, however pointless it may have been. Another arm was birthed anew, and a rainbowy aura festered with hearts shot up towards the sky. The world around became silent, without even the sound of the rippling flames seeking to interrupt it. With her eyes laid open, the angel parted her soft lips to announce her battle cry.

"Sing, Hanamaru."

Hein paused as she spoke, seemingly entranced by the sound of her voice, or at least completely focused on it. It took him a moment to realize he still held her severed arm in his hand, and he cast it away with an air of disinterest.

“All right. Don’t ya move obahan... I ain’t finished with ya yet.” He took a step forwards as if to approach her, and without warning stumbled and nearly fell, barely managing to grind to a sudden stop. His body convulsed against his will, his spine rigid in a spasm of pain, and a fiery weight was pressing against the center of his chest.

Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

There was another spasm, and blood filled his mouth and nose, drowning out all other scents, even that of Rikuri. He cupped his hand over his face and the red, warm liquid seeped from in between his fingers and dripped to the ground.

“What the... hell did ya do to me?” he snarled, speaking with some effort. The next instant it felt as though his skull had been split open with a butcher’s knife, and he screamed, clutching his head in an attempt to relieve the pressure.

As Rikuri had pulled away from him, he had been stripped of the intoxicating exposure to her Reiatsu, and now he was left bereft of any sense of pleasure he had once had. Only pain was left in the vacuum, so intense that the world was swimming around him. But he had lived through worse, much worse. Through the haze of his thoughts, he wondered if it had perhaps been that which had triggered such a reaction, but whatever the case was he knew he needed one thing, and that was to get close to her. He needed that flood of dopamine to his brain, he needed to feel the excitement and energy that came from being in her presence.

Hein acted as though he would force his way through his anguish, but his steps faltered and he caved in, dropping to his knees in defeat. He could feel every heartbeat pounding away at his chest, as if trying to break through his ribs, and he dug his hands into the ground like it would somehow help him to find strength there. Dead ash rose and drifted all around him, and a certain fatigue weighed upon his shoulders, dragging him down. His Reiatsu smoldered and died down, as if it were suddenly smothered and under the threat of being extinguished. And he did not move. Rikuri had just released her Shikai, the fight was meant to now be in full sway and yet, for all intents and purposes, it seemed as though she had won.

But Hein would not give up so easily.

The embers were thick all around him, still warm from his earlier attacks. Now he simply had to channel that resource, and use it to his advantage. His hands were already buried in the scorched earth, and while the Reiatsu seemed to fade around his body, this was simply because he was focused on charging it into the ground. He was still locked on to Rikuri, fighting through his pain to keep her position clear in his mind. Whatever happened he would reach her: he had to.

Fueled by desperation and completely feral from the chaotic state of his mind, the release was sudden and destructive. All around them the earth was bathed in a sea of hot, orange fire. It wholly swallowed Hein, and yet he hid deep within the folds of the inferno, either unconcerned or entirely heedless of the danger. The next instant a wall of flames erupted in front of where Rikuri stood. It roared up into the sky before its own heat caused it to collapse and curve downwards. Hein simply projected the force forwards, and the wall of flame descended upon her. The extent of the construct was vast, tall, wide, and dense; and it moved with uncanny speed. It would obliterate everything in front of it, and it seemed Hein’s intention was to immobilize Rikuri by harming her— severely. But from the sheer intensity of the attack, he seemed reckless. No doubt it had required a draining amount of Reiatsu to create such an affect. Already he was feeling exhaustion or even worse, numb paralysis wear at his limbs, and he knew he had to come in close to her as soon as possible. But for now, the raging flames and his own inner pain drowned out any other thought, and his mind was empty. He was acting, it seemed, on instinct. The instinct to destroy.

A tsunami consisting of scorching flames was presented before Rikuri. There was very little room for an escape, if any at all. As it came roaring down upon her, a rainbow shroud sounded from her weapon and shielded against it, preventing her from being scorned for a moment's notice. It appeared as a result of her ascension, the release of her shikai. It was a potent energy, and while it eventually began to lose ground against the torrent of fire, it opened all but a measly opportunity for her to fall back upon. Using the rainbow like a shield, Rikuri created space between her and the mass of red aura by flashing backward, effectively distancing herself. However yet, the wall of flames did not give up without a fight. Time and time again it sought to devour her, only to miss completely, by a hair's breadth.

The voluptuous physique of the fourth division captain reappeared quite some distance away. Her haori was no longer existent, having been sacrificed to the hell fire. Even her Shihakushō was dreaded beyond belief, with several holes all across. An especially noticeable tear was present along her left waist, leading up towards her chest and revealing some of the delicate softness of her alluring breast. In her hands was now an instrument, in place of her katana. It retained a blade, though as Rikuri carefully balanced it upon her thumbs, it was evident that its true power relied within an entirely separate element. As she continued with her preparations, the woman's body spewed a rich, creamy rainbow aura, and steam could be seen appearing over the burns she had encountered as a result of Hein's flames.

Hein straightened up, still struggling to remain upright as he swayed back and forth. He was breathing heavily, and sweat dripped down his bare chest, mingling with the gray ash in black streaks across his skin. There was a weight across his shoulders still, and despite his incredible stamina he felt drained. Perhaps it was because, even though his mind craved Rikuri’s infectious Reiatsu, his body recognized it as the foreign invasion that it was and was still attempting to fight it off. It was a cruel imposition indeed.

He was feverish, almost delirious in his own tiredness, as he stepped towards Rikuri once again.

“I’ll finish it.” he muttered darkly, “Leastways it’s goin’ for nothing. I’ll finish it. Don’t matter after all, don’t ya know. Don’t blame me for the mess ‘round here, I’ll finish it. Terrible indecent… finish it.” It was the rambling of a mad man, and at this point it seemed as though Hein had lost any semblance of control he had once had over his mental faculties. He stopped, sized up Rikuri once more, and breathed in deeply. Then he threw back his head and laughed.

The next instant his level of Reiatsu spiked, and the level of pressure expanded even further. Coupled with the Captain of the Fourth Division’s spiritual energy, the Reiatsu rocketed to a nearly unbearable degree. Any normal soul would have been crushed beneath the sheer weight of it all, but what was most surprising was that Hein had maintained that deep of a reserve left to draw upon. A tail of flames shot into the sky, rippling across his shoulders and back and snapping hungrily in the air. He continued to forcibly drive Reishi into his limbs, and slowly felt his mobility begin to return. The one downside of using Shunko was that, if he was not careful, it could quickly eat away at his remaining spiritual energy until he had nothing left to fight on. But at this point he did not seem to care. He had acted recklessly from the start, heedless of whatever danger he threw himself into, as if he were impartial to whether he lived or died. In other words: he didn’t give a damn.

The flames roared when he moved, vanishing from sight as he rushed forward at an impossible speed. The next instant he had appeared, directly above Rikuri. And, turning almost gracefully in mid-air for one split second, he brought his leg down in a powerful, chopping kick. It was hard to say what he was aiming for, as he was still some distance outside of her range, but at the last second he stopped his strike midway through and pulled back. There was a back-draft of momentum as all the accumulated force of his Hoho was projected downwards. Coupled with his fiery Shunko, the result was a wide arc of destructive energy that slammed towards Rikuri, impartially ripping apart whatever it contacted as it tore through the smoke and particulate-choked air.

Third Stage

Rikuri's eyes widened, her form remained still. There was no questioning the level of attack which Hein presented; having fed off of the energy she had supplied him with earlier, the conflicting captain had entered the state of Shunko, embedding Kido within his own body. He was now within a league of his own, the likes of which Rikuri could have only dreamt of achieving. His raw speed interwined with shunpo placed him above her, dispelling a large constraint of energy her way. A difficult expression was etched across her face.

There was a terrifying detonation of energy, pleading a resounding clap of thunder. Flames spiraled about, rocketing every which way. The battlefield quaked, praying for the war to end. Finally, as a storm of dust began to dissipate, a being became once again visible --or two; no, perhaps even three. Lying between a vast crater was the retired form of the fourth division captain, her remains splattered across the dark material. Shards of her black dress were carried away with the ensuing breeze, her admirable physique masked away by a rich layer of red blood.

Complete and utter defeat; or so it appeared.

The surrounding universe shattered into a cold, hard reality, piece by piece. Ripples formed, distorting the very fabric of space. Akin to the door of a wardrobe opening to reveal its secrets, the world sufficed an alternate perception; one that Hein had been deprived off.

He had retained an almost unethical consistency within his battle strategy; from the second the two had drawn breath, spewing life into their duel, Hein had done only but one thing: attack carelessly. Without the slightest bit of forethought; without an ounce of hesitation, he had stormed forth, leaving several corners for Rikuri to weave her web. This had since amassed in the defeat of one of his arms, and evidently, his sanity. Only, this time was different. This time, it had been done by Rikuri's creation.

Little by little, during the course of the entire match, she had eaten away at him, robbing the man of his own free will. He had hardly noticed it to begin with, though as time went on, he became knowledge of its existent, of how it clung to his soul. He tried his very best to release it, to alter its objective to his own benefit; however, time and time again, unbekwnost to him, he returned to her, for one last glimpse of her drug.

In the last sequence, he had orchestrated his own demise. Pitted into an endless struggle with his own mind, he devoured her own energy along with that of hers in sheer desperation; under normal circumstances, his flames would have undoubtedly tarnished the evil of what was Rikuri's reiastu, only, they had come to not only accept them as a part of their own, but as the superior complex. His subconscious mind had betrayed him, if even for just a moment. As Rikuri's reiastu entered his body, it was seemingly a matter of checkmate.

Still, he would have appeared to be confused; that is, if he still had control over his own actions. There was a simple explanation behind the sudden turn of events. In the moment Hein had charged forth --as he so often did-- Rikuri made one small gesture in return, the subtle preparation of her shikai.

By moving a single finger to cover one of the holes of her flute, Rikuri had erected a powerful illusion. It was her one silent melody, and the one that, unfortunately, reached the least farthest; however, Hein rushing towards the spell's vicinity was like icing on a cake.

He had provided the flash, and she the clamor.

Rikuri offered one final piece of music. Closing her eyes upon the immobilized Hein before her, she attuned her fingertips towards her flute, performing another one of her melodies. This one, however, unlike the last, was audible, and especially that to a man with refined senses such as Hein himself. It was a sweet song, one that utilized the pent up energy within Hein as a further catalyst. The strength of the tune was far stronger than it ever had been, due to the connection that linked Hein to it directly.

Very swiftly, Hein would have fallen deeper within the constraints of the darkness, becoming truly blind, and oblivious. Abiding to the melody, his actions would falter into the hands of Rikuri, the puppeteer. Arriving before him, Rikuri went to plant the palm of her hand against his rugged forehead. She paused momentarily to look at him, the glare she had on across her face through the course of the battling waning away.

Had he been conscious, Hein may have recognized this as "Tanma Otoshi", a kido spell. As his body would have fallen to the earth below, Rikuri would have arrived beside him to rid him of her reiastu, and as if uncovering some sudden change of heart, begin with his medical procedure immediately.

To a certain degree, her plan had worked perfectly. Considering Hein’s naturally high senses as well as his excited state of awareness under the influence of her Reiatsu, he had of course been particularly vulnerable to her auditory-based technique.

However, his chief weakness also served as his greatest strength.

As one who had wandered through darkness for countless years, not only his auditory, but all of his perceptions had been honed in order to compensate for his lack of sight. Specifically, his tactile senses had transcended to the level where he could navigate through an invisible world by receiving the constant waves of energy around him as actual information. The nerves running across the surface of his skin inducted and transmitted billions of signals at any given moment, and he was keenly aware of what was, and what was not.

That was to say, that Hein knew his own body well. And while his perceptions may have been dulled by the lulling release of Rikuri’s hypnosis, he had realized a strange shift occur just as he rocketed towards her to release his Shunko.

Initially it was that the burning in his arm had nearly disappeared, although at first he attributed the phenomenon to the fact that the Shunko had probably flooded out the pain. But as the wall of energy contacted Rikuri, who had formerly evaded his attacks so effortlessly, he realized that a great deal more was amiss. It seemed as though he had wounded her, and yet something felt off: It was like she was not even there to begin with.

Where the hell are you? he silently growled.

And the moment he became aware of the incongruity was like the moment when one becomes aware that he is inside a dream, at which point the illusion is made obvious. Granted, it was not such a simple matter here. He knew that he had been tricked in some way, and that his senses had been played against him. But still his thoughts were clouded and, in his state of confusion and suffocating claustrophobia, he could not determine the exact nature of the deception.

But he could find out easily enough.

Centering his mind and projecting his senses outwards, he entered a state that he had somewhere along the way begun to call Shintō Jun, or “penetrating net.” A web of perception was spread out around him, with which he intended to draw in the flow of energy that was distinctively matched to Rikuri. Still he could not find it: it was like grasping at a spider’s silken thread. But what did happen was that as soon as he began to search out the inherent flow of Reishi around him there was a twist in temporal space. A crack in reality itself and the sense that the world around him was growing thin and pulling apart at the seams. There was a sense of vertigo, of floating in a dimension without thought or sensation. And at that moment he saw the overlap of two worlds and was suddenly aware of a distant reality he must reach.

The only question was how.

Several moments seemed to pass, stretching on into centuries perhaps. Time was irrelevant here in the mental in-between. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as though, despite recognizing the illusion in the end his efforts would be inconsequential, as he would remain trapped here in limbo.

But then his mind, searching frantically, stumbled across a chord of familiarity. An old woman skilled in the art of Kidō: one who had kept him on the fringe of reality for many, many years.

The answer was pain.

The corner of his mouth twisted into a strained smirk as he reached for the hilt of his sword. He drew the blade and turned the tip towards the center of his abdomen. Rikuri would pay for this, he swore it under his breath as he clenched his teeth and took the plunge...

There was a snap.

Blood flew from his lungs as he was forcibly dragged back into the real world, and there he found himself rooted in place with an immense buildup of spiritual pressure from his immobilized Shunko threatening to tear him apart from the inside-out.

It seemed as though, even though an entire battle had progressed in his mind, only an instant had passed in actuality. Truly it had been like a dream, as even in a dulled state the mind runs several thousand seconds faster than what is actually perceived in reality. As it were he found himself standing on the very cusp of self-destruction, and at the same time noticed Rikuri’s hand reaching towards him.

If she had been closely observing, she would have seen him take one, single step backwards. After that there was such an expulsion of Reiatsu that he was thrown back across the field, leaving nothing but a shed husk of his own body behind as a cast-off afterimage. He had been caught by her hypnosis a split-second after activating Shunko, which was incredibly fortunate. He did not know what might have happened otherwise, but he knew it was not something he wanted to think about.

As the involuntary distance grew between him and Rikuri, he noticed something strange begin to occur. The Kidō that was driven into his limbs was facilitating his movements, but more than that he felt what little self-control he possessed begin to return to him. Or rather, control over his own body. While it had not been his original intention, it seemed as though the Shunko were working to forcibly expel Rikuri’s spiritual pressure from his system. It was now becoming a question of will: whether he could resist the mental urge to drink in the Reiatsu that still throbbed in the back of his mind like an irresistible toxin.

The ground came up beneath him suddenly, and he skidded to a stop through dirt and then mud until he found himself in the river that bordered the field. The water around him quickly turned to steam, and he straightened up, barely managing to hold himself back against throwing himself recklessly towards his opponent for the hundredth time. This was not necessarily because he was concerned about endangering himself, but more of the fact that he was forced to pause and catch his breath. His Shunko was still spiraling wildly throughout him, and it was taking some effort to bring back under control. Blood continued to seep down from the edge of his mouth, and he knew he was running out of time. He must act quickly, yet he was hesitant to attack without knowing what, exactly, Rikuri had done to him.

Some form of hypnosis, most like. He had at last concluded. And it was at that moment that another desire began to form within him. He still craved her, that was true. But he was beginning to realize the extent of what she had done to him: she had tried, and in fact was still working to rob him of his own will. And that, above anything else, served to create a sense of hatred that burned in the center of his being. Her compassion, it seemed, would not be reciprocated.

He still wanted her. But, for the first time since the beginning of their battle, he wanted more than just to have her, to dominate her, or to destroy her confidence.

He wanted to kill her.

Hein’s attention was drawn to a few large boulders that were halfway submerged in the riverbed. Quickly he gauged the distance between them and Rikuri, then flashed over to where one of the stones protruded and, with an impressive display of strength, slammed his palm into it and sent the rock flying across the field towards where she stood. He repeated the maneuver with another boulder, then disappeared. Hein climbed into the sky and came to a stop far above where Rikuri stood, still attempting to resist the pull of her Reiatsu while, at the same time, pondering how he could get close to her. The lines of his face were hard, carved into a stone-cold smile of sinister intent. The desire to kill melded with his Reiatsu and darkened his expression, and he slowly redrew his Zanpakutō. The blade gleamed hungrily in the glow of his own Reiatsu. Then, he did something entirely unexpected.

Turning the tip of the blade expertly, he cut through the cloth that had until now had covered his eyes and allowed it to fall to the ground. It took a moment, but at last he was able to open them despite the heavy scars across the skin of his sockets.

He looked at Rikuri then, his unseeing, animalistic eyes completely masked with a crimson haze. It served as a clear threat, and he wondered how she would react.

"Well now," he muttured to himself quietly, "What do ya think of this, Ukitake-han?"

Rikuri took on the force of the boulders, splattering blood to her face. However, as they pushed her backward, her entire being flickered, then vanished.

Finding herself a position in the sky, Rikuri settled down, placing her flute beside her chin. "I'm thinking you've just about lost it." Her cold gaze ran up his physique, then towards the arm she had taken sometime ago. "Not your sanity, no, you never had that to begin with. I'm referring to the match. You're clearly in no position to continue this fight; it's drawn on long enough as it is. If you choose to continue, then I won't be responsible for what happens. Even if you've released the constraints to your full strength, in that condition, you won't accomplish much. Not against this." She paused for a moment, her fingertips dancing intuitively as she breathed life into another symphony. A true work of art, six wolves, each fixated into a humanoid form, appeared before her. Two swiftly moved at either one of her flanks, while the other four took small steps forward.

"As I was saying before," she continued, "you of all people cannot win against my Zanpakutō; not when you rely so greatly on hearing my every move. You'll find that against me, your own ears will work quickly to betray you. Though as always, you're welcome to try." Confidence was clearly evident in her tone; as a matter of fact, it was along the border of arrogance. For whatever reason, she was edging him on, maybe now more so than ever. Perhaps because she had something in store for him? Or was it all just a sad bluff meant for him to contradict himself into engaging her in close combat once more? She was playing with him, when she really should have been playing her damned flute.

The Curtain Draws

Hein turned to face her, and for once he was not smiling. His mouth was set in a firm line, his left-arm dangled uselessly at his side, and blood was plastered across his neck. Still his Reiatsu flickered and sparked from the intense pressure released by his Shunko, yet he remained motionless, exercising an uncharacteristic level of restraint.

“Real exceptional obahan. Share and share alike, wouldn’t ya say?” he asked, jabbing a thumb towards his bare eyes, “I’ve just shown ya something no one else has seen in this shit-show, now tell me something, Ukitake-han,” he pronounced her name like an insult and pointed his Zanpakutou in her direction, ignoring the wolves of shimmering energy that surrounded her as he continued.

“Ya dragged me all the way out here and still ya won’t tell my what it is that’s got ya in such a fightin’ mood,” his voice was strangely even, “Well, don’t matter leastways, I’d just figured I’d ask to be polite, if ya catch my meaning,” Hein shrugged. “Since I aim to finish ya, that is.”

She offered no response. It was unbecoming of a captain to waste efforts upon talking when it could instead have been spent preparing for their next move. Rikuri blew into her Zanpakutō, causing the wolves from her rear to capture positions in the front. Moving her flute closer towards her mouth, she balanced it carefully using the palms of her hands, with her fingers shooting up towards the sky in preparation for her final melody. Her eyelids sealed themselves slowly as she lifted her heel up off the surface, pivoting her ankle slightly. This next melody was silent and harbored awkward wisps of breath, forcing her lips to meet one another on several occasions. Her normally pink reiatsu returned, albeit was noticeably darker in coloration. Beads of sweat could be seen trickling down the sides of her face, and thick veins bulging out from her forehead; she was concentrating heavily, that much was certain. The pack of spiritual wolves placed before her growled menacingly, daring Hein to challenge them.

What little patience Hein might have expressed earlier had been stretched too thin by Rikuri’s off-handed response, and now it snapped abruptly. He no longer cared to deal with her at close range— he had learned his lesson from earlier in the fight. Still, his expression contorted into a look of seething hatred, and he transferred his Zanpakutō to his mouth as if, once again, he would rush-in head first. As always he was driven by his anger, and just when he thought he had reached its end he found there was still deeper malice that fueled the flames of his Reiatsu, his energy unnaturally heightened by raw emotion itself.

If he had examined his own motives he no doubt would have realized that he had, all along, been directing his general hatred for the Gotei against the particular adversary before him. She had become the embodiment of everything that had soured his mood in the first place, and while it was true that he now had personal reasons to dislike her, it certainly did not warrant the violent display of force they had so far shown. Any disagreement they might have expressed towards each other was punitive when compared to what was occurring in the Seireitei, after all: Now was not the time to be clawing at a comrade’s throat.

But the ecstasy of battle consumed Hein, and he cast aside all reservations as he proceeded along the path that would no doubt lead to eventual self-destruction.

Pushing his Reiryoku into the soles of his feet, Hein moved with such an explosion of force that a white line of energy pulsed outwards from where he had been standing a split second before. Without many resources available to him besides his own flames, he had decided to improvise, and was now utilizing the enhanced speed gained from Shunko to run literal circles around Rikuri. He made no move to attack her, instead weaving a tight spiral through the air that, in a few short moments, had begun to pick up wind from his own path of motion.

The slipstream was forcibly pulled along by his momentum, surrounding Rikuri with a vortex of wind. At the last moment he dived to the ground, allowing the pressure around him to cave inwards before launching himself into the air. The flames that roared into existence in his wake were caught by the tunnel of wind that enveloped Rikuri, and a tower of spiraling fire drowned the sky where she stood. Hein slid to a stop outside the blazing cyclone, and for a moment seemed content with the havoc he had wrought. But he knew she would not succumb so easily, and prepared himself for any countermeasures she might take. His teeth clenched around his blade, and he was tense with anticipation.

A lone wolf, by the command of Rikuri, leaped ahead of the rest of the pack, and using its own two paws, pushed both sides of the condensing vortex, creating a sliver of opportunity of what would normally have allowed its master to escape with a flicker, only, she remained still in her previous position. It wasn't long before another wolf came to her defense, aiding the other in ridding of the cyclone of fire. When the torrent of flames was defeated at last, there was now four wolves in comparison to six, suggesting that the two from earlier had sacrificed themselves for the rest of the team.

The majestic aura from before still skimmed Rikuri's frame; still yet, she appeared stationary for the most part, keeping her eyes sealed and her feet shuffled, much like a crane. Her fingertips returned to her instrument, and she rounded her lips gently before proceeding onwards with a new melody, one that boomed throughout the battlefield, rendering it quite difficult to ignore, especially for someone like Hein, whose sense of sound would have naturally increased on its own due to the absence of his sight.

Meanwhile, the four wolves formed a rectangular formation around Rikuri, each turning to face a different direction. The instant the tune arrived before Hein's hears, he would find himself growing increasingly more exhausted, to the point where sleep would have become —for most— inevitable.

But the instant her fingers had moved across the hilt of her Zanpakutō Hein had moved. There was an explosion of sound, and he had disappeared from sight, the only proof that he had even existed was a ripple of energy that radiated outwards from his point of departure. It was identical to the ring of white that had appeared in a similar fashion when he had used Shunko a few moments before, and now it was clear what had occurred: he had broken the sound barrier.

Instead of rushing away from Rikuri’s lullabic melody, he propelled himself towards it with immense speed, extending his hand in front of him as he travelled. With his palm flat against the current of air and the world slipping past him at hundreds of meters per second, he created a wave of energy that would slam into the incoming release of sound with opposite speed and force, recalling the technique known as Hanki as he moved to intercept sound itself. The two waves collided with an ear-splitting crack, and there was an explosion of pressure as the air slammed into itself like a hammer striking steel. Sound became visible: a cloud of white that formed a flat disk in the air, and the roar of the blast was so great that it caused Hein’s ears to ring painfully. He had, however, successfully drowned out the siren’s call.

He was forced to claw at the sky beneath him with his one, functional hand in order to slow his speed. His feet left wispy trails of smoke as he finally slid to a stop past where Rikuri stood. Hein straightened up and seemed visibly shaken, his face drained of all color.

“Why did you—” he murmured around his sword. It was as though something had passed between the two of them as he had rocketed past her. In reality he had sensed her Reiatsu bend and shift around her; the noticeable preparations for a high-level Kidō. But now he seemed even angrier than before, if such a thing were even possible.

“Were you patronizing me?” his voice seemed torn from his throat, and he snapped his Zanpakutō out to the side as the length of its blade was coated with burning flames. His Reiatsu skyrocketed to absurd levels, the final reserves of his energy. And it was immense.

“Did ya think I was weak? Did ya think I would lose to you?” he crouched low as he prepared to strike, “Who the hell do ya think I am?”

Without another moment’s hesitation, Hein threw himself towards her, intending to cut her in half with the fire rippling across his Zanpakutō. He ignored whatever danger he may have sensed earlier as he leaped head-first towards his foe, heedless of the consequences of his own actions.

If, in that moment, Rikuri had struck, there was very little doubt that the fight would have ended then and there, possibly from mutual destruction. And just as one of Rikuri's wolves charged forward to intercept Hein's assault, a streak of light traced along the battlefield before darting into the point of contact, coming to a stop just as both attacks came colliding with one another. A clatter ensued as Hein's blade collided with another's; with the interloper no longer in motion, her true figure could be plainly seen.

With her vanilla hair falling over her drenched face, the interloper, none other than Tenth Division Captain Ginkōgō Kusahara, struggled for breath as if she had given it her all to make a timely arrival. And to some extent, she had succeeded, if not as gracefully as she would have wished. With her left hand clasping the hilt of her sword and her right arm placed over the back of the blade to support her stance, she had guarded one side of her body and deflected Hein's illuminated blade with her final relic of strength, her prosthetic right arm borrowing the force of his swing and adding it to its own strength. Her blade flashed red from the excessive, smoldering energy it had absorbed from Hein's attack just before the impact, soundly warding its master from harm as an echo of the Quincy she truly was. Having made a split-second decision to intercept Hein with both arms, she could only hope the wolf would at least leave her standing on her feet.

With a sigh of exasperation—a hint of a long-held frustration—Ginkōgō raised her head, looking at Hein directly even though he was the least of her concerns. Indeed, she could not have moved much to face the woman she begged for a glimpse of at this very moment, for Rikuri's bestial guardian had driven its fangs into one of the arms she had dedicated to meeting Hein's blade without injury. She briefly winced at the sight of her blood flowing freely into its maw before trickling to the ground in excess.

“Room for one more?” came her sarcastic mutter, her eyes burning with almost murderous rage. With what little of the skirmish she had seen, she could only assume betrayal on someone's part. Betrayal was once a scourge that left her frightened and mournful in her tumultuous past as a peasant of the Rukongai. But now it would simply leave her more livid than anything as a woman of her own high standing.

Hein did not respond at once, and it seemed as though he were entirely taken aback by Ginkōgō’s sudden appearance. He had not sensed her approach at all, as he had been focused entirely on Rikuri. Now he drew back as though he had been struck by venom, moving so quickly that he was forced to execute a sharp backwards flip just to regain his balance. One foot arced over the other and he sheathed his sword, its blade still blackened and steaming, in one smooth motion. He landed heavily on the air and glared at Ginkōgō,

“Ya’re interruptin’,” he practically spat. “Ya should think ‘bout makin’ yerself scarse, ‘fore I clobber ya.” Hein spoke from a stomach still filled with rage, but it was obvious that his Reiatsu had been considerably depleted, and he was breathing heavily. It seemed he had nearly reached his limit, and was thus in no position to continue attacking a fresh opponent. In other words, despite the bravado of his words, he was hesitant to face the other captain in a direct confrontation.

"This isn't your battle; it's mine," Ginkōgō firmly retorted as she lowered her right arm, keeping her blade in position with her left arm whilst it remained in sharp grip of the wolf. Even so, Hein's words had lightened her expression as they had somehow made the situation clear to her. "So... you've taken those words right from my mouth."

“S’ that so?” Hein said as he tried to keep his voice as even as possible, although his spite spilled over into his words, “Seems to be goin’ for nothing, if ya ask me. First come, first serve. If ya’ve got a bone to pick with Ukitake-han there, ya’re just goin’ to have to wait. See?” He was wary of Ginkōgō, however, as he sensed as though her presence there had been prompted from something other than concern for the wellbeing of her fellow captains. She wanted something, that much was clear. Although Hein was at a loss as to what it was, he assumed from her stance that it was something related to Rikuri.

"If it were anyone else, I would have done nothing at all; however..." Ginkōgō paused to throw the palm of her right arm before the body of the wolf clinging to her arm, releasing a portion of the energy she had siphoned from Hein to crush the wolf with a raw expulsion of force. The wolf's form entirely dissolved as its body was thrown from its head, leaving only the blood rolling from Ginkōgō's open wound as proof it had ever existed. With both arms free, Ginkōgō sheathed her sword and turned to face the women she had once considered of her own blood.

"However," she repeated, narrowing her eyes at Rikuri, "this is personal and significant. You have no right to die on my behalf, not as a Shinigami."

Hein laughed and sat down on the sky, allowing his feet to dangle precariously beneath him. “Ya know, the only skin ya should be worryin’ about here is yer own, obahan,” he retorted, perhaps insulted that she had assumed he would give up his life so easily. Ginkōgō, however, ignored him.

The irony presented within the transpiring events was exuberant; the pawn of Sagittarius had woefully played the role of a hero in the midst of it all, seemingly muddled by the belief that either of the two was of her blood, or any such relation at all, for that matter. Rikuri's tensions had come to a boil. Blood from an excessively tight grip around her hilt seeped into the patches of grass below, and judging from the narrowed expression running across her face, she was losing the battle in maintaining her temper, very much so.

"Lavish words, coming from a Quincy," she said at last, after having upheld her silence for the duration of Ginkōgō's tenure. The words written across Rikuri's lips echoed through the battlefield, and there was yet another long pause before she mustered enough tolerance to continue speaking again. "Tell me, girl, for what reason have you come all this way?"

Ginkōgō slowly lifted her arm as if to reach for the sword she had just sheathed before coming to a sudden pause. With an exasperated sigh, she returned to a neutral stance before crossing her arms in front of her, looking at Rikuri with disapproval and pity at the same time.

"I have no intention of bickering with you; I didn't come here to add to this... insubordinate mess," she muttered, her tone suggesting that she was very much prepared for a fight if mere words were not enough to control the situation. "Is that what this has been about this whole time? Your hatred of Quincy? If you had something to say to me... then just say it, right now. No one else needs to be involved in our affairs." Despite her courageous words, her sweat was prominent under her brow. She had acted solely on instinct rather than a reliable plan and could only hope that her abilities had finally amounted to Rikuri's, if a fight would indeed be her only recourse.

There was a moment of silence where neither of the two women spoke. At last Hein stood to his feet, having grown restless by the intent to harm that charged the atmosphere around them.

“Well then, so ya’re a Quincy Kusahara-han,” Hein chuckled. “Real exceptional, if ya ask me. If ya’re tryin’ to tell me that this shit-bad situation here is just between the two of ya, I’m afraid ya’re sadly mistaken. Ya made this my business the moment ya went and decided to show up,” Hein was, strangely enough, directing all of his attention towards Ginkōgō. “Tell me, Kusahara-han,” he continued, “Ya’re intendin’ to run off with that indecent bastard who threw the glove at us, ain’t it so?” he grinned unpleasantly as he waited for her response.

"I can't believe this," Ginkōgō muttered under her breath, aiming her gaze at Hein without turning away from Rikuri. "This is your business as well? Fine, then, I'll give you that much. But I have severed all ties with the Quincy, and—sorry—but any vendetta you have against me out of disbelief can stop right here, at least for now. Do what you want, but I'll say this once: I can't guarantee your survival if you choose to stand in our way." The tension had overcome her. She could barely keep her blade suspended in inactivity as her instinct threatened her to make a swing. Her lingering question was when, and against whom.

“Tell me, Kusahara-han, when did I ever say anything ‘bout ya rejoinin’ the Quincy?” Hein asked. “Don’t matter what ya decide to do leastways, but why don’t ya tell me what’s so ‘personal’ between you and Ukitake-han there that ya felt the need to throw yer indecent foot in where it ain’t wanted.”

After a moment of silence, Ginkōgō closed her eyes before taking a deep breath. "When I was first accepted into the Kusahara Clan, I was a defeated Quincy who had lost nearly everything in the war, including her life, too young and careless to even know what those things meant to her until it was too late. And even then, nothing had changed—I was just an unaspiring peasant living day-by-day, and I didn't even know why—what meant so much to me that I could live a life I should never have been given."

Ginkōgō glanced at Rikuri before finally turning to face Hein, her expression a plea for companionship. "But everything changed when I met her. I was accepted into the Ukitake Clan; I had wealth, freedom, and both a sister and a mentor. It had never crossed my mind to say anything of what I really was—or am—but I never thought it could tear us apart. If I had, maybe I would have run away, or maybe I'd be willing to die by her hands. But I'm not going to dwell on the past, not anymore. Right here, right now, I'm just looking for an answer, a way I can know... that I have the power to make someone believe in me. Then just maybe I can know for sure... I wasn't meant to die back then."

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