Flames crackled and licked up the walls. Floorboards smouldered and glowed. Wood snapped and gave as the heat ate away at joists and support beams. The collapse of sections of shingle rooftop could be heard across the Shin'o Academy. Billowing towers of smoke rose into the sky, clear enough to stretch across the ever-expanding Rukongai. The rapid, thundering footsteps of animals could be heard in all directions.

Throughout all the halls and corridors, not a single silhouette that flashed by looked human.

The day began like any other. Some students were out of the Academy, on heavily-escorted journeys to Earth for field exercises. Others were in classes that ranged from the pillars of the Gotei to calligraphy and even flower arrangement. Students milled about the halls, chatting, Asauchi at their hips as their souls were gradually poured into the weapons -- a practice just over a year old.

It all began not even ten minutes ago. Hollows -- of common variety, the size you would find on Earth after a few years gorging on the souls of the dead -- ran and flew out of ripples in the air surrounding the Academy. They struck from all directions, breaking through walls and tackling students to the ground. As panic spread, more walls collapsed, crushed underfoot by Hollows the likes of which were rarely seen on earth, taller than most man-made structures in the world of the living. Teachers, staff of the Tenth Division and other visiting contributors to the curriculum of the Shinigami Academy, were plucked from the floor, crushed in-hand, and thrown into mask-covered, gaping maws.

In that short time, nearly every student present in the six-year Academy perished.

Within a single hall of the Academy, a pile of bodies laid up against a sliding door. Fires burned further down in one direction, while there was a hole in the ceiling down the other. Some of the bodies yet breathed, others gripped their as-of-yet hollow Asauchi. Seated next to the pile, a Hollow, stronger than all but the finest Academy students in even the later years. It was tall, thin, little more than skin, bone, and sinew except for its oversized, masked head.

"Sword, sword, sword, sword..." It echoed the words nigh-mindlessly and in a hoarse tone, not yet devoid of rationality like its far larger counterparts. As it rambled, it grabbed at a body and tore its head from its shoulders with a single bite. Then, it grabbed at some of the Asauchi scattered about, and threw them in to join the flesh.

Bone, flesh, and spell-forged steel cracked and tore all the same between its teeth.

"Sword, sword, sword, sword, sword, sword, sword, sword, sword, sword..."

The beast's droning continued as it filled itself with the dead and dying, obsessively adding even fragments of their power to its own. Heated breath came out as steam each time it finished and, lost in the feast as it was, it never noticed who crawled above its head.

With a quiet thud, a black-clad survivor landed atop the Hollow. With a feminine grunt and a swing, her steel met with the side of the creature's neck. It roared, started to lifted, but she kept her balance. Her grip twisted and just as it reached for her, she forced the blade the rest of the way through -- a spray of blood coating the already-stained walls, bodies, and floor as the head fell.

The body toppled next.

With a pant, the woman landed next to the body. In her hand, a pink-bladed sword with a guard the shape of a cross petal. Blood dripped from the steel, and she quickly laid the weapon down and kneeled beside the bodies.

She mumbled as she took in each face, her own twisting as she found death staring back at her again and again. She pushed one aside, a second, a third, and even a fourth, before she found her:

A single, wide-eyed young woman wrapped in the red and white of a female Academy student. Her flaxen-blonde hair was soiled with blood and other detritus from the slaughter, but as the woman uncovered the student, saw she was unharmed.

"Hildr!" She gasped, recognizing a student who had excelled in her many classes for those in the accelerated Zanjutsu course.

She pushed the last body aside and fully revealed herself to the young lady. Rich, shoulder-length, red hair hung down in twisting waves. Matching eyes stared down at the young woman as she reached forward with fair-skinned hands to embrace the young woman.

The Third Seat of the Tenth Division, Nobuko Tachibana -- a figure of fascination for most of the male students who spent any years within the hallowed halls of the Academy.

Nobuko just held Hildr for a moment and took deep, chest-shuddering breaths. She prayed under her breath, too, before she released Hildr and set her stern, fiery gaze on the young woman, strong hands still on her small shoulders.

"Are you able to walk?"
Shin'o Academy
"How was your field assessment?"
"Were there any Hollows?"
"How may died?"
"Don't say something so dark!"

The excited prattling of the students started the moment Hildr had returned to the Academy from her final assessment. The final test of courage all students were expected to participate in before they were considered ready to graduate. Especially for those who's eyes were on the Eleventh, or similarly Earth-focused divisions, such as herself.

Truthfully, the entire endeavor had been a huge letdown. She, and her fellow final-year classmates, were guarded by seasoned warriors from the Eleventh, and only saw Hollows from a distance. The closest thing to any real excitement that they got a taste of, was when a lesser creature had gotten too close to the group. A Shinigami specializing in ranged combat was (unfortunately) able to snipe the beat before it proved to be any level of threat.

Yet, Hildr smiled and basked in the attention. Wide, worried eyes were just as enamored as the sparkling, naive ones as they all tried to pry out any relevant information to help prepare them for their own, future assessment. Like a flock of buzzards, they hovered around her desk, gleefully taking advantage of a break between classes to sate their endless curiosity.

Though no matter how hard they tried, Hildr only grinned and spoke in foreboding riddles.

"Nothing at the Academy had truly prepared me for what we were forced to endure," she had said gravely, a serious frown painting her eyes a few shades darker. "The sights almost made me give up on--"

A sound pierced through their conversation. High pitched, shrill, like a woman's voice, but distorted beyond comprehension. The students had only a moment to look towards the door with furrowed brows and pale skin before the ground shook under them. The entire building quivered and wiggled, as if shifting away from its very foundation, and then the sounds of splintering wood joined another feminine howl.

By then, everyone was on their feet, hands falling to their weapons -- all of them empty swords beside for Hildr -- and some had even begun to back away in horror.

Suddenly, the paper door burst open, and a woman was sent tumbling forward. Bright red hair spilled out around her like a cape, fluttering in the breeze and concealing much of her of body as she twisted in the air and then crumpled to the ground. It was only when she settled there, now motionless, that all of the students made a grave realization.

The woman had blonde hair, not red.

Everything beneath her ribcage was gone. Fleshy bits torn ragged at the edge, like someone had cut a piece of paper with a dull blade. Blood poured from her bruised face, expression perpetually trapped into a horrific, gaping-maw scream.

One of the students screamed, and scrambled backwards. Others, such as Hildr, already had drawn their weapons, but were too caught off guard to act. While a couple of them turned to run towards the windows, one or two stepped forward to check on the corpse. But, again, they were stopped by another, building-shaking crack!

What happened next was a blur to Hildr. A looming, white beast with black, paper-thin skin stretched over exaggerated bones burst into the room. It moved awkwardly, shambling to and fro with seemingly no coordination until, just as suddenly, it was upon them. More screams filled the room, red spilled everywhere, and panic consumed them all.

She wasn't even sure if she had tried to fight back.

The next thing she knew, her back was pressed into the wall, and an immovable mound of... bodies? surrounded her. Only through a tiny window between a pair of arms and legs, both dripping with blood, was she able to see that same beast. It uttered incomprehensibly as it dragged bodies from the very mound she was trapped within, chomping on them mindlessly.

What do I do? What do I do? Panic crept through her, paralyzing the student once more. Did she try to leave and risk earning the attention of the Hollow? It seemed content to eat, maybe it wouldn't even care if she slipped out. But what if it attacked? Could she take it, now that she was prepared? What if--

Blood sprayed from the monster's neck and face, and then it slumped over, motionless and still. From the tiny peephole, Hildr couldn't see how or why, and so trapped in her panic, she couldn't even speak. She just sat there, silently gulping down air as she watched the bodies move and shift around her. She expected to find another Hollow now snacking upon the feast. Her hand tensed around the hilt of her blade, ready to--


Relief washed over her like a cold shower the moment she saw a pair of familiar eyes staring down at her. She wriggled out of the bodies, aided by the teacher removing those atop her, and then flung her arms around the woman. They hugged tightly, if only for a moment, before they separated. The teacher placed her hands firmly on Hildr's shoulders, looking her over.

Covered in blood and gore as she was, even Hildr herself wasn't sure if she was fine, but a few flexes of her fingers and a mental check confirmed.

"I'm uninjured," she said as she pulled herself to her feet. Yet, her knees trembled and her gut churned as sh got her first proper look at the mess around her. "What... What's going on?"
Overhead, the deep, static hum of a Cero vibrated the very floor of the Academy. Red glowed through the holes in the ceiling that stared up at the black-torched sky. A rumble followed, with the sounds of a distant explosion. Another Cero followed, and another, each met with another, rumbling explosion just a few moments later.

Nobuko pressed her palm into Hildr's mouth and looked up. Her eyes darted about, but went back to one of the holes to her right, partially obscured by the smoke that ran along the ceiling above her and her student. Outside it, she watched as the hall began to rattle and shake, and a towering mass of black began to slowly lumber by. On its face, a white, bony mask with an elongated, pointed nose.

With a sharper gaze yet to her eyes, she looked back to Hildr. Her grip softened and she let go.

"I don't know where they came from, Kawasaki, but they're all Hollows. Dozens of them," she explained to Hildr, more quietly.

She looked back to the hole and the tower of black that slowly walked past, each step still shaking the ground.

"I've never seen a Gillian before," she breathed the words even quieter than the last.

Her chest swelled with a deeper breath and her jaw visibly tensed before she turned back to Hildr again and spoke more sharply:

"It's hard to tell who else is alive," she confessed, reluctantly. "I pray the Ninth is already on the way."

She shook her head, squeezed her eyes shut, and then forced them back open.

"Stay with me or hide, Kawasaki," Nobuko told her. "I can feel something happening not too far from here. A courtyard, I think. I need to go look, but you don't have to. There's a storage cellar nearby -- you know the one?"

A pause.

"Kawasaki," she repeated. "Do you know the one? Your alternative is to come with me; but the cellar may bring you more luck, gods-willing."
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Shin'o Academy

Hildr's brain moved slow, and she could only barely keep her expression level as Tachibana hurriedly spoke of a place to hide. Then, just as quickly, something about the courtyard.

The woman snapped, her voice jarring Hildr from the stunned state and had the young girl finally wide-eyed and showing a bit of her fear. Though, just as quickly, Hildr blink and forced her lips into a fine line. Her eyes sparked to life, finally grasping the situation even if her stomach still felt tight and uneasy.

"I'll cover you, Tachibana," she said with renewed strength, though still certain to keep her voice low. "I'll not sit idly while everyone around me is being slaughtered."

Spoken like a true Shinigami, Hildr naively thought to herself, and she felt her chest swell with courage.

"Lead the way."
Nobuko took Hildr by the shoulder again, her grasp firmer than before.

"Avoid the largest Hollows and run if you find yourself outnumbered," the Third Seat insisted. "I can feel some of the common Hollows, you could manage one. You've learned well. But not more than one. Understood, Kawasaki?

"That's an order."

Students of the Academy obeyed any member of the Tenth like their own, commanding officer -- Unseated or not. It was certainly not the first time Hildr heared Noboku speak in such a way, or speak to her in particular in such a way.

Only after another, sharp nod did the Third Seat pick her blade up from the floor. Still transformed, she kept it tightly in her grip and made her way down the hall with Hildr close behind. Together, they both moved through the halls and corridors swiftly. Throughout, they found Hollows devouring the dead or dying, and Noboku passed without so much as a glance -- such was the training and lessons of the Academy.

Through, both Hildr and Nobuko saw enough to confirm: if any other students within the Academy yet lived, they numbered perilously few. Pools of blood ran where fires didn't burn. Limbs twitched in death throes. Dead and empty eyes stared into the two women as they hurried through corridor after corridor, hall after hall, and avoided any Hollow that didn't appear to be distracted.

Until the both of them came by a stomp next to a destroyed wall, the stone, the floor, and even the dirt outside it, all crushed down into the same of an animalistic footprint. The both of them could have laid down within it, side by side, and added a few more, such was its size. Nobuko held out an arm before Hildr's chest, her Zanpakutō rattling quietly under the strain of her grip on the lavendar lacing.

She peered around and, immediately, spat a curse under her breath.

"It's Tsukimiya," she told Hildr with a glance. "She's alive, but..."

While her voice trailed away, she looked back around the around the corner. She lifted a hand and gestured for Hildr to remain in place, only to vanish, with tell-tale sign of a Flash Step carrying her to the other side of the collapsed wall. From there, she peered around, and her eyes flicked to four different locations.

Able to peer herself, Hildr saw it:

Standing on destroyed portions of the Academy, and some feet within the grass-and-stone courtyard on the other side, towered three Hollows of gargantuan proportions. None were as tall as the Gillian that had passed earlier, yet each outsized even some of the earthly castles illustrated in Academy lessons on the world of the living. One seemed to be an oversized primate, drool running over its lip. Another, some kind of bulky insect with antenna. A third, single-eyed with hair of thick vines and spikes for arms. A fourth floated in the air with beating wings, limbs thin and bony, with a long, protruding mask, devoured what appeared to be a mix of Shinigami and students gripped between its long fingers.

Each of them possessed no less than two Hollow Holes, the absolute strongest class of Hollows commonly found on Earth.

Before them -- the drooling, primate Hollow gradually approaching -- stood Hazuki Tsukimiya, blood running down half her face from what looked to be a head wound. Further beyond them all, standing on another portion of the destroyed Academy, yet another Gillian. Two others were within sight, all of them staring about, paying no mind to the Shinigami cornered by other Hollows. Most possessed of an identical mask, while one seemed to have a mask that reached over its head to connect to a second mask on the back.

Nobuko looked back to Hildr and silently shook her head.

Stay, Nobuko mouthed to Hildr.
Fifth Seat,
First Division
It had been very sudden. Something had shifted in the air, an oddly metallic taste and feeling of shearing. Difficult to put into exact words, there was a deeply unsettling quality to it, like a dislocated joint or sharp cutlery being noiselessly scratched across the surface of stoneware. It had made Hazuki’s skin crawl instinctively, and one hand had dropped unbidden to the pale sword belted at her hip as if by reflex.

She still hadn’t been prepared for what had come next.

For Hazuki, Hollows were an almost academic subject. She was well-read, knew the theory—such as it was—and had an understanding that stretched well beyond what was taught in these halls. But all of that was confined to the theoretical; her real-world experience with them was sparse and unfamiliar, whatever memories she had of them dulled by time. The feeling that washed over her as they began to pour out of thin air around her was therefore a novel one, and entirely unwelcome.

Hand on her sword, she had watched, transfixed, as one specimen had leapt out of nothingness into a group of students, immediately tearing them to shreds in a whirlwind of gnashing teeth and claws. Something at the back of her mind protested faintly, not, strictly speaking, out of concern but rather out of propriety: that wasn’t supposed to happen. Academy students weren’t supposed to be torn to shreds by rabid Hollows in the middle of Seireitei.

And yet she couldn’t deny what she was seeing—nothing short of a bloody feeding frenzy in whichever direction she looked. Some resisted, few with success. Most were simply... Devoured.

That nagging feeling grew steadily into a shout, except now it wasn’t a protest so much as it was a demand to do something, and she lifted one hand and begun reciting Kidō number twen—

The wall next to her exploded, showering her in white plaster and splinters, all of which despite its force bounced harmlessly off her skin. She half-turned, spell interrupted and Hazuki silently swearing to never bother with the Demon Arts ever again, managing to catch only the slightest glimpse of something vaguely feline in shape hurtling through the air at her, impossibly sharp claws extended menacingly.

Adrenaline-fueled reflexes took over and she spun with and away from it, barely registering the cacophonous heartbeat booming in her ears, turning enough to avoid its grasp but not quite enough to avoid its outstretched claws. They raked her—high, far higher than she would have liked—and pain shot through her scalp as it tore open a gash somewhere above her hairline. She winced, but her sword was already halfway out of her scabbard by the time the Hollow landed just past her, quite obviously upset that it had missed its meal if the wail that escaped its horrifying porcelain mask was anything to go by. It rounded on her, eager to try once more, but Hazuki’s sword found its mark first. Too close—far too close, thought Hazuki—to cut, she opted for the next-best thing. Following through with the momentum of her pirouette, eyes flashing menacingly with a grim snarl across her lips, she brought the opposite end of her sword to bear: the pommel of her zanpakutō made a sickening crunch as she drove it violently through the Hollow’s mask with both hands firmly gripping the pink silk, and the monster fell, twitching, to the ground.

Equal parts brutality and elegance, Hazuki held her stance for a moment or two, catching her breath, unclenching her jaw and feeling her heart rate slow just a fraction. She had to—she had to... What, exactly? There was no way she was taking on all of these Hollows herself, that much was certain. She was good, but the situation had spiraled wildly out of control, far beyond her own capabilities. Something like this would garner attention from all of Seireitei, and it wasn’t unreasonable to expect more than just the Ninth to make an appearance. She had to survive long enough to see them make it here, and she would have to do what she could to make sure the loss of life was adequately curtailed until then.

She probed delicately with trembling fingers at the wound on her head—wide, but shallow, would heal nicely—as she took stock of her surroundings. The adrenaline was still coursing through her veins but for now she seemed to be decently positioned, so she locked it down just as she had been taught, keeping a lid firmly on the panic. Strength in numbers, she thought, as her consciousness spread outwards, probing the area with her spiritual sense. She needed to find others.

It proved more difficult than she had hoped. The chaos saturated even that sense, and her ability to sift and filter through the emotions, terror, and hunger that so heavily permeated the air was sketchy at best. She couldn’t see them from where she was standing, but her sixth sense was able to make out something vague and hazy in the distance: several beings of unimaginable power and size. That worried her.

In the end, it was instinct that decided. Hazuki set off, sword in hand, through the hole in the wall that her assailant had made. She picked her way across piles of rubble and around what remained of bodies, hastily consumed then discarded, and eventually found herself in a clearing—a space that had once not all too long ago been a quiet courtyard, but now looked more like a charnel house.

Unfortunately, it had visitors. They hadn’t noticed her yet, and Hazuki steadily counted each gargantuan Hollow, eyes sticking briefly to the holes through their torsos. Not a good sign, and she certainly didn’t favor her odds against them all at once. Her grip tightened, and she caught a glimpse of something towering in the distance almost by chance. She had been so focused on what was right in front of her that she had almost missed it. Her eyes widened in silent shock as she processed what exactly she was seeing. Half in awe, half in horror, it dawned on her that those things—clearly the same beings she had sensed earlier—were Menos. Somewhere, deep down, she was thrilled. This was exactly what she had been yearning for ever since her zanpakutō had first manifested. The rational parts of her brain were urging—no, screaming at her to remain cautious, to not take stupid risks but another part of her felt that this was it. Her time had come at last. And to top it off, she had the distinct impression that her sword was aching for it just as much as she was. She could feel the excitement coursing through the blade, the urge to be put to use for what it was truly meant for.

One of the nearby hollows noticed her, an ugly creature with a drooling, simian-looking mask, and she was struck by its sheer size as it began to approach, something feral in the deeply recessed eyes. She weighed her options as she slowly readied her stance, carefully feeling out and gauging the situation. The others didn’t seem to have noticed her quite yet and it wasn’t too late to escape, but still the exhilaration persisted. She squeezed her sword, and its whispered encouragement echoed back at her.

Her flash step was silent, just as her mother had taught her, and she rotated gracefully in the air as she sped toward the gorilla Hollow. Her blade, accelerated by both shunpo and rotational force, glinted in the sunlight above the smoldering Academy ruins, painting an arc of light that was about to terminate squarely in the chalky white mask of the invader.

And it felt like waking up.
Dim, yellow eyes stared back at Hazuki as the Hollow slowly approached. Its knuckles left man-sized gouges in the earth as it took one, slow, lumbering step after another. With its size, only a small few were needed to reach the young, Shinigami woman.

She never gave it the time.

Its eyes remained fixed on Hazuki’s spot in the courtyard, grass crushed beneath her tabi. Even when she vanished, its gaze remained fixed. Only after she appeared before its face, her entire body small enough to fit into the eye-hole of its bony mask, did its eyes move and suddenly snap to Hazuki. First, it looked to her face, and only too late to her blade.

Nameless as it yet was, the Zanpakutō carved through mask and flesh alike. The force of the swipe—practiced relentlessly, reliable when finally needed—carved through the full length of it, between the eyes and the jaw. The mask slipped, as if about to fall, and the Hollow roared such that all that remained of the Academy shook, another section collapsing off in the distance, leaving only a cloud of embers and hot dust.

“Tsukimiya!” Nobuko’s voice called out, but not from where she once stood. With her hair still flowing behind her, she stood atop that same Hollow’s head—carried by her own, well-practiced Shunpō.

With both hands on her blade, and the pink steel angled down, she plunged it into the Hollow’s skull.

Another roar and blood spewed forth from the new wound, rushing up and past Nobuko. She dropped down, hanging from the hilt of her own blade. With both feet on its lower jaw, she forced her blade down, slicing through bone, flesh, and mask, until the blade slipped free at the top half of the monster’s jaw. It trashed about and Nobuko leaped from its mask, over towards Hazuki.

“South entrance!” Nobuko shouted to her. “Get Kawasaki and run! I’ll-”

Nobuko’s tabi barely touched the grass before the foot of the Hollow crashed down onto her. The impact again shook the Academy and sent a tower of dirt, mud, and cobble into the air, dirtying the air of the entire courtyard. Yet, as it stood there for a moment, its foot was buried as deep into the loamy soil as it should have been.

Then, it started to lift, grunting as one hand covered its split and bleeding mask. Its yellow eyes, bright and alive now, flicked down just as it began to topple backwards, and Nobuko emerged. Blood ran down one side of her face, much like Hazuki, and her legs trembled as she shoved the Hollow up and over with her own blade. Covered in fresh dirt and mud, her attention snapped first to Hazuki, and then to Hildr hidden around the corner of the southern entrance.

“I’ll catch up! Go now!” She ordered them both—Seated Officer of the First or not—as the Hollow crashed onto its back, crushing another portion of the Academy.

Slowly, gradually, the Gillian direct to the north turned its head—and looked straight down at Nobuko.

Nobuko has sustained a Minor Wound.
Primate Hollow has sustained a Major and Moderate Wound.

Primate Hollow: Moderate, Major
Nobuko: Minor
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Fifth Seat,
First Division
Hazuki didn’t need to be told twice. Her blade flicked out like a whip as she turned, not wanting to waste the opportunity to land another blow while it still presented itself. The hamstring of the pillar-like leg would suffice for Hazuki’s parting blow, and she put enough force into her cut to elicit a thin-lipped grimace.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ she replied, the effort of the cut forcing her reply into a terse hiss. Somewhere vaguely behind her she felt the impact of the Hollow’s crushing stomp, but the reassuring flare of spiritual pressure from the Tenth Division’s Third Seat kept her focused on the task she had been given.

The follow-through blended into yet another flash step, this time back in the direction she had come from. She overshot her original position, and brought herself to a skidding halt just beyond the collapsing wall behind which she could sense her former classmate taking cover. ‘On your feet, Kawasaki,’ she shouted, the look in her eyes leaving no room for protest as she reached for the girl’s collar, ‘we are leaving.’ She threw her senses outward, trying to probe for the safest route, looking for either a lack of Hollows or someone else to link up with. A glimpse of Soukyoku hill in the distance, obscured by smoke and flame as it was, was enough for her to get her bearings, and her mind was made up. She heaved Hildr bodily in the direction she had chosen, pushing the girl out in front of herself and into motion, then silently prayed Tachibana would make it as she followed suit, sword ever at the ready.
Shin'o Academy
As instructed, Hildr remained hidden behind a partially ruined wall. The building she stood in was once a foyer with countless, grand windows peering out into the courtyard. Now, it was little more than a collection of precariously standing walls raining dust and cobble onto shattered floorboards.

Where a window had once been, Hildr dared to peek out, watching the feats of skill and strength displayed by Hazuki and Nobuko. Even in the face of beasts many times their sizes, neither flinched as they wielded power that Hildr could only hope to one day achieve. Their blades tore through bone and flesh in a coordinated attack, but Hazuki only got a chance to strike twice before she suddenly shifted.

Hildr lifted, beginning to rise from her crouched position, and dropped a hand to her sword. The blade hummed in her grip, shivering with anticipatory delight of Hazuki giving her the command to rush into battle -- at least, that was how Hildr perceived the ghostly feelings.

Instead, three words froze her in her place

"We are leaving."


A protest started, but it was silenced by a jerk on her collar. With a decisive shove, Hildr stumbled forward and found herself in a dead sprint before she could even make sense of what was going on. At her side, Hazuki matched her pace, if only a step faster to guide them both Southward.

"What about Tachibana?" Hildr finally found her words, and even glanced over her shoulder. Though, by then, the courtyard was far gone, and only the earth-shaking blows of their fight could be felt.

In a strange way, the consistent quake was comforting -- it assured her that her teacher was still out there, fighting.

Both of the girls weaved through the Academy, atop what few roofs were intact, darting across alleyways -- both familiar and those made by debris. Anything to avoid a direct confrontation with the seemingly endless Hollows that had invaded the Seireitei. Their path, although wild and often suddenly changing direction, lead them out of the densest part of the Academy.

They hunkered behind a building that was, miraculously, still standing firm. On the other side, a massive, multi-legged Hollow crawled along the streets. Its blood-stained mask chittered as it clacked its teeth together in delight, pitch-black eyes moving independently of each other as it prowled. Bits of flesh and vaguely humanoid shapes were skewered onto its raptorial leg. As it walked, it would occasionally take a bite from the corpses, and then let out a delighted chitter.

Once it had passed, Hildr finally tugged on Hazuki's sleeve.

"Wait, hold on," she whispered, brows forward as she glanced between Hazuki and the Academy gate they were obviously working towards. "Shouldn't we help the survivors? Are we really just leaving them all to die?"
One by one, the attention of the other, gargantuan Hollows turned to Nobuko as she toppled the primate. All ignored Hazuki as she escaped and even the Gillian above stared only upon the Third Seat. That last sight either Hazuki or Hildr beheld was that of Nobuko as she rushed up the body of the fallen Hollow and finished cleaving its mask in twain, jaw to brow. With it, the other three Hollows converged with unusual unity upon the red-haired officer of the Tenth. Academy-shaking roars, the now-familiar hum of Cero, and eardrum-rattling booms of some other technique filled the

Together, Hazuki and Hildr—through a combination of careful decisions and dead sprints—made it close to the main entrance of the Academy. Behind him, the collapsed remains of the main campus of buildings stood, still burning. Ahead, the distant sight of the rest of the Seireitei and the flicker of countless souls that, even now, they both could tell approached.

Ahead of all the rest, the closest were two more powerful than most—one far more powerful.

Before them both, the main grounds of the Academy. Broken trees and other destroyed landscaping decorated the main, stone-paved walkway to the primary Academy building. A gentle slope lead down to a staircase which connected to the rest of the Rukongai, the Academy built on a small hill that hardly compared to the ever-present Sōkyoku on the horizon.

An open area, with little room for cover, and the presence of still-countless Hollows roaming the grounds. Through their entire escape from the main campus, both women heard the interrupted cries of other, unfortunate Shinigami, finally discovered by the monsters that prowled. The two Shinigami hid behind one of the few buildings that lid off main path, a storage shed that held tools to maintain the grounds themselves. From here, both could see how at least half-a-dozen Gillian, and maybe more, dotted the land around the Academy, heads pivoting.

Above, as Hildr spoke, another Cero vibrated everything beneath it. The streak of red split the sky, followed by the cries of one of those colossal Hollows flew above. Attached to its Mask, holding onto an eye socket with one hand, returned Nobuko. She plunged the pink blade of her Zanpakutō into its other eye again and again, her grip twisting as she put its back to the ground. One of its wings was tattered, leather-like flesh flapping in the wind, as it crashed into the grounds between Hildr, Hazuki, and the entrance. Dust and dirt rushed over them in a wave, momentarily obscuring the sight of the oversized beast.

When it thinned enough to see, it laid on its back, body large enough to stretch its wingspan across most of the main entrance. Atop its chest, both hands gripping her blade, stood Nobuko. The beast tried to lift an arm, only for the Third Seat to stomp its limb back into place, shaking the Academy yet again. Then, with another swing, sunlight glinted off her blade, flashed across the grounds, and she drew a line clear across the Hollow’s neck—and separated its head from its shoulders.

Blood sprayed and, almost immediately, the body of the Hollow began to disintegrate. Nobuko leaped from its oversized corpse and stood on the grass beside its hip as it evaporated away. She leaned forward, gasping, and the pink of her blade slowly began to retract. With it, even the sakura-petal-shaped guard transformed and twisted back into a more traditional design. Burns were visible across her now-tattered Shihakushō, half her face swollen with an eye nearly shut, and pieces of her clothes fell away, still smoldering from what appeared to be another encounter with an earlier Cero. As she turned to inspect the dying Hollow, a scrape of oversized claws dug into her back, staining the robes and her hakama below in red.

Yet, all the blood on her Zanpakutō slowly evaporated away until there was nothing left but steel.

One of the exterior walls of the Academy suddenly exploded, crushed underfoot as one of the Gillian stepped forward. All around the Academy, each of them turned their attention upon Nobuko, and only upon her. The one that stepped forward, through the wall, wore the same mask as most of the others—yet not a single soul present could not feel the advantage in power it wielded over the other Gillian.

Nobuko turned towards it as the last of the corpse vanished. With a huff, and a hesitation, she raised her sword before her and took a direct stance against the towering monstrosity of black. High above her, the jaw of the Gillian rattled. Then, suddenly, it popped open, as if unhinged. Everything across the grounds began to swirl as a breeze flowed over everything, spiraling into the mouth, with traces of crimson, spiritual power. An orb of red appeared between the mask’s twinned rows of teeth, until, sudden, it vanished, as if swallowed.

The Gillian turned its attention, sharply, from Nobuko, but none of the others did. It looked, instead, directly at the storage shed Hildr and Hazuki hid behind. A weight abruptly fell across the Academy as the full bear of the Gillilan’s abnormal spiritual pressure crashed onto it, and the storage shed, as well as the soil and stone around it, was torn from the ground with a ripple of air.

Once exposed, the Gillian narrowed its attention on the two women—Hildr in particular. Nobuko’s attention turned and, again, she saw the two of them together. Her eyes widened and seemed to sink into her skull as the realization struck. She started to move, but it proved too late.

That alien reverberation of a Cero sounded first and bore down upon Hildr.

Gillian appears!
Nobuko has sustained many wounds.

Gillian’s Cero @ Hildr (70 SPI/Journeyman)

Nobuko: Menial x6, Minor x5 [Severe]
Fifth Seat,
First Division
‘Tachibana is perfectly capable of taking care of herself,’ replied Hazuki, not matching Hildr’s glance back to the Tenth’s officer. Her attention was focused forward, only on what was to come, though she could feel the clashes of spiritual pressures behind the two of them. She had confidence the Tenth’s officer would make it out alive; all the more reason for Hazuki herself to do what she could to keep Hildr the same.

The grounds were worse off than she had thought; the carnage stretched much further and was far greater than Hazuki’s initial impressions, if such a thing were even possible. In the space of a few short moments, the Academy had practically been reduced to splinters and rubble, strewn with the corpses of students and instructors alike. Somewhere, a Cero cut through the air above them, and Hazuki could feel the hum and hatred emanated by the blast deep in her chest.

A moment’s breather was all they had time for, hidden and—relatively—safe, and Hazuki’s response to her junior’s question was interrupted by the Third Seat returning with Hollows and more destruction in her wake. She had attracted the attention of the Menos now, and Hazuki peered out from behind the shed, her grip on her sword tightening as the Gillian loomed over all three of them menacingly. The Cero it was charging was unlike anything Hazuki had ever seen or felt, and she could sense its monstrous power sucking the air from its surroundings even as the Gillian charged it, wondering if Tachibana would be able to withstand such an assault.

She was never given an opportunity to find out.

With a jerk, its neck twisted and its gaze bore down on the two of them in their hiding spot, the immense spiritual pressure following suit immediately as it settled like a tremendous weight on Hazuki’s every limb. The shed simply disintegrated, and with their cover gone, Hazuki found herself reaching for Hildr once more, but there was no time.

The Cero cut through the air at them—at Hildr, and Hazuki moved without thinking, bringing her blade to bear in an instant, roughly shoving the other girl out of the firing line. Sword up, the Cero slammed into the steel, and Hazuki’s feet sunk into the grassy soil as the earth around her was scorched by the sheer power of the blast. She held it for a second, the tip of her blade seeking out whatever weakness it could find in the stream of pure anger directed at her, and then the red beam overwhelmed her. She turned away from it, trying to avoid the increasing heat, but to no avail: wherever she turned, the heat and pain persisted, until at once it was over. The tip of her sword glowed a dull orange, the edges of her uniform were smoking, and a massive hole had been torn through the fabric at her left shoulder, leaving the angry red burns on her skin underneath exposed to the air. She gritted her teeth—to say that it stung would have been the understatement of the century—but it wasn’t the burn that really hurt. It was her pride.

A primal urge was welling up in her chest, a base reaction to being slighted and humbled by a monster that possessed neither grace nor elegance. Anger bubbled forth and she did her very best to keep it buried, keep it contained, but more than anything, she wanted to smash something. Whatever unearthly patience she otherwise possessed, it had now evaporated. She rounded on Hildr, eyes blazing, and heaved the diminutive girl over her unburnt shoulder, firmly set on ignoring any protest. ‘Can’t take responsibility for everyone, Kawasaki,’ she muttered, settling her weight and grimacing as pain shot down her left arm, ‘Going to have to settle for just you.’

A final, baleful stare is all she offered the Gillian before she flash stepped away.

Moderate wound if I’m not entirely mistaken (it’s been a while), I’m also attempting a range change here to get away from that fat fuck.
Shin'o Academy
Hildr barely got her protest out before it happened. The Gillian, once fixated on the battered and bruised Tachibana, snapped its gaping maw in her direction.

The very air grew thick, as if trying to breathe through a stew. The ground trembled, as if to bear an unimaginable weight -- the very same weight that locked the Academy student's bones into place, and sought to suffocate her. In the brief moment that she realized there was an attack, it was too late. Her sword shift hardly a centimeter before--

Hildr tumbled to the ground behind Hazuki, bulging eyes simply watching as her senior's blade cut the mighty Cero in two. Streams of molten energy poured around either side of them, ripping asunder the ground, and melting anything that withstood the blade. Then, with a silent roar, the Cero was shoved aside with a heave. The inferno tore at one half of Hazuki, black cloth evaporating entirely from her body.

When the attack ended, Hildr could finally move. A shuddering gasp as she gulped down a thirsty breath. With knees bent, she readied herself to leap into action -- to fight, as there was no other option. Tachibana was going to di--


It was all she could stammer out as she was grabbed by the collar, and then thrown over the girl's shoulder like a sack. As Hazuki turned, Hildr was angled in just the right way to watch as the Gillian's eyes flicked back to Tachibana, still valiantly fighting among the hoard of Hollows that had begun to gather.

"We... Have to...!"

Hildr didn't even hear Hazuki, and yet her body knew not to resist. The sword she had managed to draw rattled in her grip, helpless to do anything. Right as her vision began to blur with hatred and dismay, the two of them vanished in a blur of speed.

Hazuki and Hildr escape!
Gods help you, Takahiro and Ichiro.
Immediately after the Cero split upon Hazuki’s blade and crashed, in part, against her, the Gillian snapped its head to the side. Without closing its black, gaping maw, another wave of red descended—this time, upon Nobuko. The Third Seat’s eyes widened and she, like Hazuki, readied her blade; only, faster. The blast collided with her, split as it had with the Fifth Seat, and seared across the Academy’s welcoming grounds in twin lines of flame and black smoke.

Steaming grooves were dug into the landscaping of the Academy behind Nobuko, crimson lightning crackling and arcing in the wake of the of the ear-rending power. Despite it, Nobuko leaped into the sky of Soul Society, and carved a gouge out of the Gillian’s mask. It roared and reeled back, as if to tip over, but remained upright even as fragments of mask and a spray of blood flowed from its new wound.

Yet, that Gillian never looked back to Hazuki and Hildr, even as they raced across the welcoming grounds, through the twinned paths of devastation wrought by the stories-tall monster, and over the front gates. All of them, even the Gillian they ran nearest by, ignored the two women and focused solely, and entirely, on Nobuko. Only one ignored the Third Seat: the Gillian which wore the double mask. It stood back up, after leaning down, face-first, into the broken Academy. As it rose, debris fell from its jaws.

Within, a small pile of swords, crushed between the teeth of its mask and swallowed away.

Another, Cero streaked across the fires-blackened sky and vibrated the bones and teeth of all below. It crashed into Nobuko before she landed, searing at her flesh and burning more of her robes away. Her screaming echoed across the Academy as it passed, only for a third to crash into her, carrying her into another direction entirely. A fourth came from the opposite side and pinned her between two blasts, crushing her, her screams turning into high-pitched squeals and shrieks, before the opposing waves of spiritual power detonated in a fiery conflagration.

From the bottom of the sphere of black smoke, a single trail plummeted down. It crashed onto the shingles that lined the top of one of the Academy grounds’ exterior walls. Some broke, others slipped and fell away to the ground below before they shattered. She laid there for a few moments, skin blackened, body steaming, before she pulled herself up onto a foot, whimpering. One of her eyes was caked with fresh blood, forced shut, while the other pried itself open, revealing the deep, red eyes beneath the bangs of her matching her.

Above her, the Gillian across the Academy that centered their attention on her—five, in total—each held their mouths wide. Wind whipped across the grounds yet again as swirling vortexes of red coalesced into spheres between their teeth, compressed down into tiny points before they became invisible.

Nobuko pushed herself up onto her feet, Zanpakutō lodged into the shingles atop the wall. She plucked it free and gripped it tight with both hands, fingers trembling as her burns ached and screamed—but it wasn’t the first time she felt such wounds. She hissed between clenched teeth and, for just a few moments, prayed.

“They’re almost there,” she spoke, seemingly, to herself. “Just a short while longer.”

Above her, from a myriad of directions and angles, five Cero descended simultaneously.

Nobuko raised her blade high above her head and, for just a moment, it glinted in the fires of the Academy and smoke-streaked sunlight.

“Blossom amidst the storm!” She cried out across the Academy.


Pink erupted back across her blade and the guard shifted, instantly, back into the shape of a sakura petal.

All five Cero crashed upon Nobuko together and, a single moment later, burst into a veritable sea of pink petals. They crashed like a wave against the wall that Nobuko stood upon, washed into the grounds themselves, and then some began to rush and tumble down the hill the Academy was built upon akin to a pink avalanche. The excess even spilled back towards the Academy, filling the grounds, covering its exterior walls, and burst out from the gate.

From it, an image burst free with the rush of wind. Petals trailed in its wake and Nobuko, entirely unharmed by any of the Cero, appeared again before the same Gillian that struck at Hildr. Her Zanpakutō remained tightly-gripped, cracks throughout the blade proper, yet still pink and alive. A flash of its very same color shined above the Academy like a beacon as the Third Seat carved another wound against its mask.

The Gillian roared, the elongated nose of its mask tipping upwards again, as Nobuko landed atop its head. She gripped the top of the mask, fingers breaking into the bony material for a self-made grip. Her free hand then plunged—as she screamed louder than she ever had before—the blade down into the Gillian’s head.

Its inhuman, reverberating shriek was only matched by the booming sound of its mask cracking in half, split asunder from within by a burst of pink.

Nobuko: Severe, Major, Moderate
Gillian: Severe
  • Based
Reactions: Ichiro Watanabe
Sixth Division
There would have been a procession. There was always a procession: The Academy found reasons to strut their nascent Shinigami before the Seireitei just about every month. When Ichiro had graduated, his class had all but disappeared within the vaunted halls for the duration of their tutelage: they had emerged only once, and that had been during their graduation. A student seen outside the Academy would have been treated for serious injuries, expelled, or both. Different times bred different men--and gave them different weapons, too.

"Then watch out and see if their swords pop out of their sheaths and start chopping people up", Ichiro and Takahiro's captain had said in utter exasperation after fielding the seventeenth complaint from his Lieutenant about the most recent technological advance in the hands of the Academy's students: the asauchi. It was a tired argument, and his Captain's frustration came as no surprise. Ichiro had merely bowed, very slowly, and pursed his lips thinly. Takahiro, for his part, had just been in the wrong place at the right time.

That adage ended up being truer than Ichiro had thought.

The tall, thin creature roared in a two-toned voice of pain: its trembling, shivering, frenetic shake like a dog drying itself scattered its scorched climber to the roof of the Academy: the burnt missile, more browned than pink, crunched into the roof tiles and lay there for a moment, trying to force air back into her compressed lungs. Four of the five Gillian had turned to look down their long noses at something else, but there was one who had not forgotten the persistent thorn--would never again forget her, if it had a mind at all. Above her leaned down a bisected mask dripping strange, ichorous fluid: the split bone gave it something of a clown's visage. It grinned madly down at her and opened its mouth wide.

The horrible, dull-red orb began to coalesce, then shrink. Smaller, smaller, smaller, until like always it would hypercompress and fire outward in a beam of blazing, hungry flame. Its glowing red eyes fixed on Nobuko as if it already imagined her reduced to a scorched, tallow-grease spot on the blackened tiles.
A hand.
Four slender fingers made a sick, wet sound as they dove within the vertical crack in the mask. A few loose flower petals fluttered out, borne by the dark blood of the creature's internals. The fingers found their hold like a climber exploiting the eroded rock of a mountain, caught, and wrenched. The orb compressed and the beam fired out as the creature opened its mouth yet wider in a keening howl: instead of a sustained blast the reddish beam carved a line from the end of the roof along the once-pristine grounds, flash-boiling a Koi pond and burning a line through an ornamental garden. Maples caught fire and crackled distantly. The burning-red line wrote its signature up a wall, up the facade of a school building, and then found a softer target. Another Gillian arched its back in an open-mouthed shriek as the beam carved a glowing line up its black form and glanced off its bony mask.

The extreme angle the split-mask Gillian's head had turned afforded a view of the man manipulating it: thin-lipped, icy-eyed, Ichiro's black hair whipped in its tail behind his head. His severe face didn't so much as wince or scrunch up when his wiry arms tensed and turned the last few degrees in a vicious yank: a loud crack echoed across the Academy rooftops and the skyscraper hollow began to fall like a inflatable man with his oxygen stifled.

Ichiro landed next to Nobuko with a crunch of tiles beneath his sandals. "Where did they come from?" he interrogated her. Another man might have reached out a hand to her, burnt but beautiful, or soothed her bruises, but he did neither. Instead, incredibly, there was the odd feeling that his piercing gaze held blame in it--like Nobuko herself had let them in! He stood above her, kimono surely as old as the tiles he trod on, looking like he'd stepped out of a particularly staid and boring samurai's calligraphatic painting.

It was good for Nobuko he had come so quickly. But that speed came at a price: lost on the wind were the words of his slower but more perceptually gifted underling who had been left somewhere behind him on the streets of the Seireitei.
"Something big..." was all he'd been able to hear, and now all he could feel of it was the prickling at the back of his neck that foretold something wrong, the feeling of a prey animal fooled in all ways but one by the camoflauge of an apex predator.
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It was mid-day when the Soul Society's future set itself ablaze. Only moments earlier had Takahiro left a meeting with his Captain, one which had been rather unceremoniously interrupted by Lieutenant Watanabe, who had another of his many complaints to field. Takahiro had witnessed the whole exchange with pursed lips and a stoic stare. He could hardly blame the Vice-Captain for his gripes with the newest of the Academy's measures directed at combatting the ever-dwindling population of Shinigami. Ichiro was a man who espoused the importance of tradition, and the younger, more impressionable Fourth Seat admired that. Even so, their job was to uphold the law of the Seireitei without question. Soon, Takahiro found himself perhaps mildly irritated, wondering, could a man such as the Lieutenant forsake duty for the sake of mere ceremony? The law existed to uphold the Gotei, and the Gotei, the Sixth Division especially, existed to uphold the law. That was what he had taught him. There was no room for questions in that ideology Takahiro had so treasured.

So, when he'd followed his mentor and superior out into the street of the central Seireitei as they left the Sixth Division Headquarters, it was that very question which Takahiro had intended to ask. As he open his mouth to speak those perhaps crucial words however, they came to a crashing halt in his throat when the ear-piercing screech of a Hollow pierced the air, accompanied by the sound of an enormous explosion. Immediately, Takahiro's hand slid across his shihakusho to his Zanpakutō, a matter of instinct more than anything else. Over the tops of the white walls and tiled roofs, he could make out the beginnings of a plume of smoke, and the distant glimmer of flames.

His senses, more attuned than his superior's, caught the source's spiritual signature with a clarity deeper than he could have ever anticipated at this distance. Ten, no at least twenty standard Hollows, varying in strength, more than a handful of exceptionally large presences, and one acidic, putrid reiatsu that could only have belonged to a captain. But a captain it was not. A bead of sweat slid down the generally composed officer's face, and the Fourth Seat cursed internally as he felt his usually controlled expression morph into a grimace.

How in Rei-ō's name are there Gillians in the Seireitei?

Quickly, the earlier question faded into the back of Takahiro's mind as he called out to his captain with urgency.

"Lieutenant, it's coming from the academy! There are least four, no, five Gillians in the Seireitei, and I haven't a clue what it could be, but I feel something big- shit!"

A quick, stern glance back at him from his superior told him Ichiro had heard everything he needed, as the older man interrupted Takahiro's words by vanishing with the characteristic flicker of shunpō in the direction of the academy. Cursing more, Takahiro took off into a sprint and leapt from the street onto the rooftop nearest him before beginning to flash step in the direction of the Academy. His shunpō was lacking, and he was surely at least ten seconds behind the Lieutenant, who had long since vanished from view. Gritting his teeth, the Fourth Seat pushed himself further and further, his precision and distance varying greatly as he threw caution to the wind with each step. As he neared his destination and soared over the now ruined buildings of the once grand Shinōreijustuin, he surveyed the surroundings for survivors, and more pertinently, enemies.

Beneath him, he made out the forms of two women racing away from the wreckage, one with a significantly stronger spiritual energy than the other, certainly an officer and almost definitely a student. On a less disastrous occasion, he might have stopped to chastise them for running from the enemy, but this was neither the place nor the time to reprimand others when his own bravery was being put to the test. Ahead of him, he could spot the towering, dark forms of five Gillian, one of which his own Lieutenant appeared to be straddling and tearing at.

As his Lieutenant leapt down from the apparently grievously injured beast, Takahiro drew his sword with both hands and brought the blade to rest on his right shoulder. Then, as he arrived above the Gillian, smoke still billowing out from the mouth-like opening in its bone-white mask, he bore down on the monster with the force of gravity and momentum carrying him through the strike. With a deft yet shockingly brutal swing, he drove the cutting edge of his Zanpakuto down the side of the creature's gargantuan form, his fall slowing as he carved an enormous, gushing gash along the length of its entire body. He then planted both of his feet firmly against the enormous black Hollow, and pushed backwards, wrenching his blade out with a horizontal tear across its form as he leaped down to the dusty, rubble-filled ground.

In front of him, he could see his lieutenant, who appeared to be admonishing none other than what looked to be a greatly wounded Nobuko Tachibana, Third Seat of the Tenth Divison. The sight of this left his brow narrowed. Takahiro sprinted over to the pair, and interrupted Ichiro as he slid to a halt next to both Shinigami.

"Tachibana! What in God's name happened!?" He spoke with an urgent, yet genuinely concerned tone as he reached down to help the pink-haired Officer back to her feet. Then, in a show of defiance that he'd avoided for nearly fifty years, he turned to glare at his superior who he had gleaned so much of what it meant to be a Shinigami from. He uttered not a word, but in that moment, perhaps the only malicious thoughts he had ever directed at his superior beamed from his eyes into those of the ever-stoic Vice-Captain.

This is not the fight at hand.

Glancing around from Gillian to Gillian, he could see only one creature who's eyes were not trained directly to the trio of Shinigami. It craned downward, and from one of its two mouths fell what looked to be swords. The swords of fallen Academy Students, no less; asauchi. Snapping back to his two comrades, Takahiro spoke briefly with a disturbed, worried tone to accentuate one clear point.

"Lieutenant, Tachibana, you're both surely aware we cannot kill all of these monsters. And then there's the matter of whatever else I'm feeling."

Takahiro quickly closed his eyes as if to take a crucial moment of meditation as he reached away from himself and gestured to another, far-off section of the academy while he pulled at the surroundings with his spiritual senses. One power, that same disturbing, already gargantuan reitasu that he had felt when he was miles away, was not present among the Gillians. Then, the force of it truly hit the man for the first time. Its energy washed over him like an ocean, and accompanying it was a completely indescribably, instictual fear. In that moment, he felt as if he was drowning in an alien mass that clung to his very being. With a shudder, he staggered, his eyes fluttered open, and he clutched at his chest as sweat poured down his brow. With a terrified resignation, the Fourth seat turned to his immediate superior with a haunted, almost ghostly look about him.

"We need to get the Captain, Ichiro. I've never once felt anything this powerful; ever."

The words floated eerily into the chaotic nightmare the trio currently resided within. Not once in fifty years had either man encountered a threat that they thought demanded their captain's power.

And for that streak to have been broken terrified Takahiro.
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Blood spewed from the mask split by the pink light of Nobuko’s spirit. The Gillian roared and reeled its towering form back before it snapped forward. Nobuko flung from it, Zanpakutō still in-hand, and crashed back onto the wall she leaped from. Shingles cracked and the sea of Sakura petals was pushed away from the force of her impact. Stone crumbled from the walls and the pink of Nobuko’s blade once again retracted, the guard shifting, and it returned to its sealed state—now with cracks throughout the steel.

Roaring louder and louder, the Gillian cracked its jaw open. Another vortex of wind and swirl of crimson followed as it inhaled energy and air alike. It coalesced together, compressed down and down, and angled itself at the Third Seat as she struggled to push herself—burnt, hair more brown than red now—up onto her knees.

The familiar rush of a Flash Step lifted her head, just in time to see a black-clad figure above, right in front of the wounded mask of the Gillian. The man’s fingers plunged into the mask and wrenched it to the side, the newest Cero, on the verge of prepared, arcing through the sky before it crashed into another Gillian. It burned across its black flesh, steam rising from the other Gillian immediately, and its unintended victim roared just as loud.

That very same Shinigami then tore out a chunk of the already-bifurcated mask—and the Gillian screamed this time, as sure as if the Shinigami had struck a deathblow.

In a way, he had.

That scream grew and grew until it threatened to burst the eardrums of anyone unfortunate enough to listen. Already split, and wounded further, the mask fell away from the Gillian’s head, elongated nose and all. As it did, it revealed dozens of faces behind it. Collections of open mouths, wailing independently, a pair of eyes accompanying every pair of lips, cracked open and barely peering out into the world for the first time. Those moans and whimpering, fearful groans grew. The various faces seemed to float around in the flesh, akin to a black, viscous fluid.

Then, one by one, each face started to sink back into the flesh. The eyes and lips bubbled out of sight, as if sinking into quicksand, while another face grew larger and larger by the moment.

Yet, the Shinigami refused to relent. Another appeared and, as the faces continued to transform and twist, nearly unseamed the monster from its would-be shoulder to its leg. More blood spewed and stained the petals left by Nobuko’s Shikai, leaving them a shimmering and wet red.

Then, only one face remained, lips parted, suddenly silent.

Overtop of it, a mask appeared, forming as if made of its own, viscous fluid. It solidied in a single moment and formed Hollow Mask anew: one with angular eye sockets, a flat nose, and fanged teeth.

All around the Shinigami, the Gillian began to vanish. Rippling air swallowed them whole, while others lifted their immense arms—as if the black of the Gillian were but a cloak—and pulled open the sky and horizon as if they were no more than curtains. Other Hollow presences began to vanish as well, all over the hill the Academy sat atop, their numbers dwindling dramatically in a matter of seconds.

But not the freshly re-masked Gillian beside them. It remained.

Nobuko, barely upright, couldn’t even raise her head to face Ichiro as he landed next to her and all but openly blamed her for the attack on the Academy. With ruined hair still covering her face, an eye forced shut by her beatings and wounds, she croaked out a single answer for him:

“Everywhere,” she told him honestly, wholly, and fully.

Then, with a trembling arm, she lifted, and gestured in the direction of what they all certainly felt—the presence on par with a Captain.

“Something big…” she couldn’t finish the words, half-interrupted by the way Takahiro landed on the shingles of the wall next to her and Ichiro.

She swallowed, hard, to clear her throat—for what little good that would do.

“I can’t stand,” she told both men as she finally lifted her head and showed them the state of her battered and burnt face—nearly as bad as her red hair gone brown, with singed ends and missing patches.

She turned towards the gate. Hazuki and Hildr had gotten out, she could tell, but they had not gotten far. More importantly, however, was the approach of other souls—and at least one Captain among them.

“Captain Fujiwara is close,” she added as she looked back to the two men.

“You both must notice it,” Nobuko quickly added, her words suddenly hurried. “That more powerful Hollow you feel, I saw the thing, it—"

They spoke too long, asked too much of her. Above, the fresh mask of the Gillian all but unhinged yet again as it loosed a red wave of hate down onto the Shinigami. The first blast swallowed them, the wall, and the Gillian itself in a cloud of black smoke and orange fire. The remaining petals from Nobuko burnt away entirely or were thrown with the shockwave, scattering them across the Academy and beyond.

The second blast that followed, immediately after, was simply because it couldn’t restrain itself any longer.

Gillian: Severe, Moderate
Nobuko: Severe, Major, Moderate, Minor

Cero @ Takahiro (70 SPI/Journeyman)
Cero @ Ichiro (70 SPI/Journeyman)