A rocky dome cracked beneath the pounding force of a bone-white fist, which rested at the end of a tree-trunk arm of rippling, tongue-red sinew. Dust and chips of stone flew outwards and upwards, striking a rich contrast against the midnight black of the Hueco Mundo sky as they bloomed into the empty void, a shimmering cloud of silvers and grays.
"Come on out, Shinigami. Come. On. Out."
The body at the end of the oversized fist, an Arrancar released into his Resurrección, slobbered as he spoke and barked his words from thick, rubbery lips. The drool that seeped and dribbled from his mouth rained onto the stone beneath his outstretched arm, staining its chipped surface with sweeping swatches of dark, moist brown that bubbled with froth and acid. And with each of his accented words, the massive arm struck down with enough strength to shatter bones.
More spittle flew across the surface of the slab, a shield made by a group of Shinigami who had been trespassing in his master's territory without an invitation, an offense punishable by horrible tortures for a Hollow. For a Shinigami, however, the sentence was death.
Urrg was beside himself with joy, having come across something that he could attack without getting permission from his master. To him, it was a chance to release his anger, which had been boiling in his blood from recent surgeries. The pain had found no outlet... until now.
The curved face of the dome shook beneath the weight of his strikes. He slammed down across its cracks over and over and over again, grunting and drooling as the cloud of dust bellowed out into the surrounding wastes of sand and salt.
It was a scene that could be spotted for miles in any direction, thanks to the Shinigami having been caught at the top of a particularly large dune. Combined with Urrg's grunts and the pulses of debris, the location begged for an audience, only to remain completely isolated out in the desolate sands of Hueco Mundo.
A large fissure appeared in the dome as Urrg landed a full-force haymaker, sending a shock-wave of power around its base that launched sand at gale-force speeds off of the edge of the dune. The tidal wave of particles rushed down its side as the empty expanse echoed from the sound of the violent strike.
"Gotcha," Urrg sneered with a lower lip full of drool. He looked into the wide crack that he had made in the stone, staring expectantly with a bulbous crimson eye.
What he saw was the palm of a hand, which struck him as peculiar. Then he heard the voice of a male Shinigami from within the hollow center of the dome. But it was too late to react, and his bulky body was far too slow to back away in time.
"Bakudō 7. Moua."
The palm exploded with a tremendous blast of light and sound, blinding Urrg's eyes and filling his ears with a piercing hum that seemed to rip apart the inside of his mind. The world around him became foreign and untouchable, and as he stumbled back from the dome, he found himself flailing wildly, clumsily trudging through the sand with his thick, heavy legs.
The horrible pain of deep gashes managed to find their way into his muddled perceptions like a hot swell in murky ocean-water. It felt as if a dozen blades were cutting at his torso and face, which were far less armored than his massive arm. It brought him back to the surgery table and the fearsome, controlled eyes of his master--memories that had haunted him for as long as he could remember.
Then everything went dark--a deeper and more empty black than Urrg had ever known in life.
Three Shinigami panted heavily, watching as the Arrancar's body fell to the ground, parts of its hunched form disintegrating into bright notes of light that trailed into the black sky and faded away. Their blades were covered in blood and their faces were twisted with the effort of killing a released Arrancar, a task that would have struck fear into the hearts of most of their comrades.
One was laying dead in the sand, the same Shinigami who had blinded Urrg and had allowed the surprise attack to succeed--the leader of the expedition group and the man who had erected the shield of stone that protected them from harm long enough to come up with a plan. His torso had been crushed by the Arrancar's heavy, numb fist during the flailing frenzy, killing him instantly and throwing his body ten yards across the top of the dune like a skipping stone. The only movement on his corpse was the settling of dust and sand.
"We have to get out of here," said the youngest Shinigami. He held his sword with a grip so tight that his knuckles bleached. "The Captain needs to know what we found. He needs to know--"
"Shut it, Tsaito," ordered another, older man with a full beard and a grey cloak wrapped around his shoulders. "We all know the standing orders for situations like this; we need to secure the area and place a beacon. It needs to be marked as hostile territory."
There was a ghastly silence as the weight of the situation fell on the shoulders of the three Shinigami. Despite murmuring protests by the young Tsaito, they managed to assemble a small green and silver orb from seemingly random pieces stored in their uniforms--a precaution against their bodies falling into the hands of the Hollow. They then buried it within the sand.
As soon as they had finished, the third Shinigami, a woman with long blond hair tied in a straight tail, walked up to the remains of the Arrancar that they had killed. Portions of its body had vanished into energy and had fluttered away, but the majority of the torso and arm remained intact.
"This is peculiar. Either it's still alive or something is stopping the purification from sending it through to Soul Society."
"What?" The older man wandered towards his teammate, dragging the young Shinigami with him as if he were a child in tow. "That doesn't make any sense. A Hollow can't be 'partially' purified; the soul is a single--"
A tide of spiritual pressure suddenly swallowed them towards the body as an implant activated within Urrg's lifeless corpse, placed there by his master during his first surgery. It had stopped the older soldier from finishing his thought, but it gave him just enough time to push Tsaito away, saving his life. The other two were swallowed in a vortex that tore their bodies apart, along with what was left of the corpse and a spherical portion of the dune.
The final Shinigami scurried to his feet as quickly as he could, blade in hand. His mind raced as he scanned the horizon, looking for anything to blame for what had just happened--scampering for a rational thought that would link him back to his training in the academy. But even his time in the 6th Division failed to prepare him for the shock of this past hour, and his search came up as empty and bare as the sands.
All he could do was stare into the sky as fate abandoned him.
Red filled Tsaito's vision as a strange, pincer-shaped katana burrowed its way through his chest at incredible speed; it pierced both of his lungs with its unique shape, guaranteeing death in a way that few weapons ever could. His trained senses did nothing to predict his killer sneaking up behind him, and as his last thought faded into the black sky of Hueco Mundo, the young Shinigami drifted away to join his team in the balance of life and death.
A shimmer of black and white, hidden beneath a wistful, flowing cloak of gray, fell in controlled bursts down the side of a dune, delicately enough to flutter passively over shifting sands that might have betrayed its presence. It was a ghost of the desert--a man in foreign yet familiar territory--moving with intent and grave purpose.
The flesh beneath the cloak, Captain Kirinonai of the 6th Division, had lost contact with an elite group of his Shinigami over two hours ago, which was a dangerous thing, given the current tensions between Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. Each movement that he made was focused not only on avoiding a powderkeg incident, but on the well-being of those under his command. The urgency spun a web through his body that enhanced the awareness of his limbs, guaranteeing his full effort and focus as if it were an antidote to the poison addling his consciousness.
It was as much a diplomatic mission as a rescue one, and that was the reason for the emptiness behind his strides; it would have been impossible for him to have brought any reinforcements--not that he needed any, being the head of a division. The act would have been easily misconstrued as being a precursor to an invasion, and if a single Hollow reported a moving force that seemed larger than a scout team, the resulting fallout could have caused an all-too-real war.
The state of affairs had been unspoken but plainly recognized on both sides for quite some time, written on wax paper and held over a growing flame. Shinigami would continue to pacify Hollow that entered the human world and scout the sands of Hueco Mundo, killing when necessary. The Arrancar would consume those weak enough to be consumed, as was their nature. And in this balance, there would be no implications of full-scale war.
The killing of a scout team demanded a personal investigation and the elimination of the offending Hollow, but nothing more. There was too much at risk.
As he silently crowned another dune, the man felt his instincts grab hold of his senses. His chest pressed against the chilled sand as his legs slid from under him, causing him to take a prone position. His chin brushed against the dust and the dryness of the desert coated his tongue.
It was as if his body had realized something before his brain had registered it--an effect of being a Shinigami, able to sense spiritual energy through unconscious effort. It was something that he was still getting used to, having been a 'normal' human for the vast majority of his life. Yet he was taking to it quickly; it only took a moment for his brain to catch up with the rest of his senses, and as his all-white eyes--the most acute in the Gotei 13--regained their photographic clarity and focus, the cause of his sudden reaction became clear.
A woman stood plainly atop a tremendous dune in the distance, easily a mile down a series of sand-pockets and windswept flats that criss-crossed in a nauseatingly random pattern. The white light of the full moon and the bland features of the infinite desert made her colors pop vibrantly against the emptiness of Hueco Mundo: short golden hair with teal and red beads fastened to a loose strand; deep crimson polish on her nails; peach skin.
The white of her form was what betrayed her as a demon, however--an Arrancar. She wore a peculiar tube-top and a tailored hakama kept tight against her slender legs.
All of those data were implanted sensations that meant very little in the wake of the woman's surroundings, which drew Utsuro's eyes with terrible magnetism. The bodies of two Shinigami slumped lifelessly in the sand near the Arrancar's feet, bloodied and broken and discarded like trash. They stained the scene with circumstance and caused the bitter taste of 'too late' to wash between the Captain's teeth.
"Ein and Tsaito," he whispered, as if to confirm his own fears to an empty desert. He was certain it was them from the size and shape of the silhouettes.
The Arrancar must have been formidable to take down such well-trained Shinigami. Ein was the seventh seat of the division, with a stone-based Shikai that should have been more than capable of defending against any normal Arrancar; the broken dome at the edge of the scene proved that he had managed to use it, too. Tsaito, meanwhile, buckled under pressure, yet his senses were sharp and he had graduated with high recommendations from the academy. It would have been next to impossible for someone under Lieutenant-class to have taken him by surprise.
A litany of possibilities, situations, and procedures flipped through his head like the pages of some tragically important book. He considered every one with the methodical purpose of a sniper, his occupation back when he was a 'normal' human. But it was an empty feeling when his sights landed on a single, blackened word.
One word. One word that held such terrible significance.
Dredging with his senses, expertly tuned and halfway prodigal, Captain Kirinonai reached out to the woman on the dune. He poked and prodded with his mind for a sign of power--anything that would tell him what she was capable of.
There was little result.
It was clearly a ruse. She was a master of hiding her strength, of that he was sure; they were kindred spirits in this regard. Yet he could tell that there was a terrifying power hidden away inside of her, trapped within a plugged spout that held back a lake. His instincts told him so, and they were so rarely wrong.
The Arrancar seemed to look around for a second with calm, scrutinizing movements, betraying an incredible level of intelligence and cunning that was exceedingly rare for a member of the Hollow race. The expression on her face was thoughtful as she appeared to analyze the bodies of the two Shinigami, and her hands touched their cold faces with medical regularity as she examined their wounds.
She was saying something, too.
Captain Kirinonai's eyes may have been beyond measure, but his sense of hearing was only a speck above the average. The words the Arrancar said failed to travel the great, black distance to where he was laying prone in the sand, and her head was turned just so slightly that he could not read her lips.
A microphone, he thought to himself, assessing the possibility that she were reporting back to someone through hidden technology. it would mean that the Arrancar had developed advanced technology, a dangerous prospect to consider.
The woman then escalated her actions from intriguing to disturbing.
She took a hand to her hakama and ripped the left leg off, tossing it aside and into the sand. She did the same with the top of her uniform, tearing a gash that only served to bolster her already apparent cleavage. Her blade, a curiously pincer-like katana, dropped to the dune, where she nonchalantly brushed a cover of sand over its glinting metal. She then slammed closed fists across her collar-bone, legs, arms, and even her face, creating bruises that marred her otherwise perfect skin.
At the end of the demonstration, which was rapid and precise and clearly planned, the Arrancar sat on the ground. She placed her head into her hands and began weeping.
An act, thought Utsuro, who had watched intently with a calculating eye. An elaborate one. I can use this to my advantage.
Having masked his spiritual power during his trek through the dunes, the Captain was sure that he had remained undetected. The grey shawl around his shoulders reached the sands and blended in perfectly, making it difficult for anyone to have seen him with the naked eye. Both things considered, he found himself in the perfect position to use his sight and forewarning to his advantage; he had seen the trap being set, and he had full intentions of turning it against the trapper.
Utsuro stood up and discarded the sandy cloak, revealing the black suit beneath it--a thing he wore as a reminder of where he came from. He unpinned a folded white packet of cloth that had been attached to his waist and shook it out, removing a layer of protective plastic that had guarded it from sight and sand. It was his haori, the symbol of his rank as captain (a reminder of where he was now, both to himself and the Arrancar), and he swung it around his shoulders as he began the mile trek to the scene of the trap.
In order to quell any suspicion and let the situation go as 'planned', he let loose a moderate amount of his spiritual power, cutting a fissure in his mask in an uncomfortable way; he was not used to being so obvious. It was necessary, though, so he coped, and made sure that his approach was perfectly detectable in the most purposefully imperfect way.
It took him a very short time to make his way across the shifting tides of dunes and flat expanses of bleached sand. Before, when he had been focused on keeping a low profile, he had avoided the use of Shunpo, which could have disturbed the fragile soil and given away his presence through blooming clouds of dust. Now, he used it amply, feigning urgency and clumsiness and further announcing his approach.
There was no way that the Arrancar could ignore the ruckus.
As he crested the top of the final dune, the place where the woman sat crying, Utsuro drew his sword and flung himself forward in a dramatic yet strangely believable burst of Shunpo. He landed firmly in front of the Arrancar, sword pointed at her bucking, sobbing head in a way designed to draw a response.
The Captain's plan was simple: trick the woman into believing that he could be manipulated--that he had just discovered the scene of a massacre and was ignorant to her plan. Then, having assessed her strength and with the awareness that it was a trap, counter her unknown plan and discover her true intentions. If, in the process, he could prove the power of the Captain-class, then all the better.
"Arrancar, explain yourself," he said. His voice was devoid of emotion.
Secretly, Utsuro kept himself aware of the pincer-blade that she had buried, knowing full-well that, when the opportunity presented itself, she would attempt to unearth it and take his life. Its location was a beacon at the front of his mind, and the blade of his sword tilted just so slightly towards it in preemptive defense.
As the Arrancar looked up, tears streaming down her face, she seemed to pause as if the air around her had become semi-solid. Her blue eyes, reddened from expertly faked expression squinted for a moment as if she were focusing not on the tip of his sword, but on the entire world behind him. Her lips, which had just parted to form words of trickery, ceased quivering and closed slowly.
Then, with a heavy sigh, the emotions were stripped from her face in an single breath, replaced by a look of disappointment and frustration.
"Bastard," she groaned.
Captain Kirinonai saw the air around her vibrate as she vanished from her place--Sonído, and incredibly adept. The sand where her sword had been flowed upwards in a plume of silver and sparkling white as she grabbed the hilt of the weapon, pulling it free from its hiding place.
Utsuro was sure that this woman was an Espada. She moved too quickly to be anything else, almost blurring the lines of his spectacular vision. There was purpose to it, as well; her movements were planned steps in advance, evidenced by the trap as a whole and the fact that she had begun moving halfway unpredictably, darting across the top of the dune in a misleading way that likely meant that an attack was forthcoming.
It was a game of chess whose rules had been thrown away. The only move that could be made was one that stopped the fight before it truly started: a show of force and resolve that demonstrated what Utsuro was capable of; a check.