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This article, A Diabolic Preparation, is property of Kenji-Taichō. Permission is required to alter its content.

This article, A Diabolic Preparation, is property of Njalm2.

The sun beat down on the streets of a city unfamiliar to the blond-haired youth walking on the sidewalk, puddles from last nights rain slowly drying in the heat of the golden sphere in the sky. Raising his hand to shield his eyes from the glare, the youth made a note of his surroundings with a care his mentor had all but beaten into him during his teaching. People walked, some with backs straight and faces staring ever forward; while others still walked with a slouch and earphones blaring in their eardrums that left them all but oblivious to the world around them.

The youngster was Riki Nagakura, and he watched the scenes around unseen by the passersby, the tails of his black coat with golden buttons running up the center blowing calmly out behind him in the warm, gentle breeze that swept up the footpath. "He should be here any minute now," Rumors were annoying things, Riki thought with a snarl that briefly showed sharpened canines. Allowing his feelings of anger and frustration to show clearly, Riki flipped backwards and clambered up the face of a brown-brick building; using whatever handhold's he could find until he reached the top.

From his perch atop a chimney, he looked out upon a building site closed for the day - though he couldn't guess what holiday they happened to be taking. In the shade of the first floor, barely visible to his brown eyes, two individuals were chatting and looking around as though they expected someone to spoil their meeting. Oh, how right they were. Riki stood on his perch like a bird of prey, the wind catching his coat in such a manner that he would appear as though he had wings spread for flight. Chuckling at the though that he would no doubt scare his target and targets client shitless, the young Fōrun-juu descended as the meeting concluded; arms flailing like great swooping talons!

The customer fell to a quick jab between the eyes, unaware that a person in soul form had just broken his noes and blackened his eyes besides. Good. One less to disturb him. The other wore a Gigai, common city clothing that wouldn't draw attention and greasy black hair swept back across his head. His eyes were sunken and his posture slouched, though he too quickly fell to a punch in the gut. "I've been chasing after you for the better part of three days now," Riki said dangerously. "Your gonna tell me what you know about Kōhai Tochi, and if I'm happy with the info, you might keep your sorry hide. Speak!" The man spilled the beans like a young child might when reprimanded by a teacher, so Riki kept his word and allowed him to life. He did leave advice though, and told him to leave the sorry business of drug dealing and pull his life together or him and he would meet again.

With new information gleamed and the belief he'd helped someone as best as he saw himself fit to do, Riki made his way back towards the thin alleyway that would have taken him back towards the footpath. But he stopped and inhaled, extending his consciousness outward to touch the minds of the wolves. Not many where in the city or even around it, but one wolfdog answered and told him quite clearly "be careful".

No sooner had this been uttered before Riki's no doubt sensitive nose caught on to a foul and putrid stench, followed by an agonized yelp and the sound of something running, no more accurately "limping" closer to him - and after a few moments the stench became almost unbearable just as Riki spotted a deformed dog-like creature that limped into the snickelway; its fur was sickly black and covered with many warts and ugly appendages sticking out at random places; a good portion of the skin around the creatures mouth had seemingly rotten away - leaving most of its teeth clearly exposed.

The Barghest yelped with every step it took before it suddenly vanished in a blur - appearing almost immediately in mid-leap close to Riki himself, having instantly traversed the gap between them despite its horrible condition and mutilated body - and greenish teeth quickly descended down on the Fōrun-juu's exposed throat.

Riki felt as though an animalistic impulse coursed through his body, and coupled with his own confidence overriding his fear; the creatures gaze held no sway over him. Before he was truly aware of it, he had taken a step backward and to the side, where he proceeded to rotate his body in such a manner that when he slammed his straight jab into the creatures chest; it was sent hurtling backwards to crash against the nearest wall, cracking it horribly and dislodging some of the bricks and cement that held it up. Riki even felt like he'd heard bones snap.

Taking a breathe and extending his awareness outward, the youngster scanned the area intently; all the while growling much like the creature he had just killed, or at the very least maimed beyond recovery. His canines bared as he did so, giving him the appearance of a wolf, an image his black cloak served to strengthen. His eyes fell on the sickly sight that had probably once been a dog. He thought that no dog should ever look like that, even with diseases he knew they could catch; yet here before him, broken against a wall by his own hand lay a sight that brought anger rising to the surface quicker than he thought possible.

His blow hadn't killed it, he soon found when he closed the distance. He put it down to the fact he hadn't put his full strength behind his blow, though now he wished he had. Its pathetic whimpering, as it attempted to breathe for no doubt the last few seconds of its life, brought a softness to Riki's heart while at the same time anger and frustration anew. "I'm sorry," He said quietly as he ran his zanpakutō through its side. It shuddered for two or three agonizing seconds, then it was at peace. He sighed then, surroundings forgotten. Deciding to ignore the alleyway, Riki returned to the building site and maneuvered himself to the top of one of the steel beams, trying to get a half decent look out across the area to see if there happened to be anymore of those sickly creatures.

As Riki looked out across the area he noticed nothing at first, before his eyes fell upon the mutilated carcasses of three humans that lay in odd angles against the wall, pools of dried blood expanding from underneath them - they had likely been dead for several hours and flies had already began to swarm around the bodies; each of them looked as though something had been gnawing on them, like if they had been killed for food - it certainly didn't look like the work of a Hollow, judging by the bodies, there had been two men, and a single woman, hardly older than twenty-one each, all of them had been cleanly killed and Riki doubted that they'd ever felt pain, judging by their wounds.

There were no signs of the creatures whom had done this though; everything Riki could see were a couple of stray dogs that moved out of the snickelway and out in the streets - although they, to Riki's eyes appeared pretty much like normal hounds, and were a far cry from what he had seen in the beast earlier.

Feeling somewhat perplexed, not to mention annoyed; Riki descended from his perch atop the building site with little haste to be had. He couldn't smell anything yet, but the smell would soon filter to his nostrils and that'd be enough on its own to bring a downer to his so-far-bad day. But if there were signs the sight of bodies mutilated horribly effected him in any manner, they were hidden expertly. Only anger and frustration - present from when he had killed the sickly hound - showed on his face. Wondering what else today had in store for him, the young Fōrun-juu remembered the warning the wolfdog had given. "Be careful" it had said. He rarely listened to advice, but right here and now, with three dead bodies and diseased hounds out for blood, he began to think it might not be such a bad idea after all. "I only hope they didn't run into Ashni... For their sakes."

The figure of a girl with deep amber eyes and long brown hair that spilling down her back gracefully filled his mind briefly, before it dissolved into her angrily killing some of the dogs he had fought minutes before. Shivering at the mental image, the youngster leaped to the rooftops near the alleyway, completely ignoring the bodies. It wasn't a Hollow and it wasn't an Arrancar. It wasn't a Shinigami, or a Fōrun-juu that had killed them - the residual energy told him that - so he had no idea what it was and no desire to find out first hand either.

Riki heard steps behind him, but when he turned around it was the very girl he had thought of earlier, her Nodachi was dripping with blood and it was obvious that she had just returned from something similar of what Riki had imagined in his mind. But even looking so grimly she still retained her cheerful personality and she beamed at him friendly.

She then beckoned with her hand while she spoke "Follow me" and even though she said it like she always did. there was a slight hint of embarrassment within her voice; she then proceeded to walk towards a clearing in the surrounding woodland.

Riki followed without a second thought for the why, though the surprise showed on his face quite clearly. How'd she get blood on her zanpakutō without getting it on her clothing? He knew Ashni was a wild fighter and generally when she fought things, blood flowed freely. And another thing caught his attention as well. Since when was Ashni ever embarrassed? Angry, bloodthirsty and clumsy beyond all belief yes - but embarrassed? No that didn't sound right, but he didn't dare put words to his thoughts. That presented its own unique form of danger and he didn't want to become another Jinta anytime soon. He could still see him broken under her boot with countless wounds on his body just because he was acting the fool.

So he followed her quietly, for once his face and features schooled to stillness. Even the usual emotion which usually all but ruled his features was gone; replaced by a mask of concentration he rarely wore. "Ashni?" He asked finally, his eyes taking in the trees around. The branches and brush would give good cover, and the trees would let him - especially with his reflexes - make a quick getaway if things happened to go wrong. "Where are you taking me?" Her powers went going wild so she was still in control, he noticed quite quickly; but if he knew Ashni, a bad emotional reaction could set her off quite quickly. So he readied himself to act should he need to, with full confidence he could get away quickly enough and get word to Naibu.

Ashni moved in front of Riki with sure-footed steps until she, misstepped across a twig in the way, waved frantically around with her arms for a moment before falling face-first onto the ground with a resounding "thud" - she stayed on the ground for some moments before she rose up, dusting off of herself and walking away like it had never happened.

Once they came onto her destination, namely a clearing in the forest, she then turned around slowly, before her eyes stared deeply into Riki's own; before she suddenly vanished in an abrupt blur only to reappear in front of Riki, her arm raised as if to punch him before she abruptly lost balance, her punch missing Riki by an inch as she grasped onto his shirt-collar to prevent herself from falling.

"Whats the look for?" He asked, all confidence with zero tact. His muscles tensed and then contracted in preparation for a strike, but he let the air whoosh from his lungs and his muscles relax as she staggered and grabbed his shirt. "This is more like the Ashni I know," He thought casually, grabbing her arm to balance her. "Your a walking disaster, you know that?" Shaking his head he reached out mentally and touched the mind of a nearby wolf leading its pack through the woods. It relayed the same message the wolfdog had earlier. "Be careful" its voice echoed again, this time taken up by the entire pack. When one person told you to be careful, you brushed it aside with a shrug of your shoulders and told them to stop worrying. Two people and you might start listening. With a pack of wolves you obeyed, for they were surprisingly intelligent creatures. "But wheres the threat?" He whispered.

Before Riki could get the chance to think this trough properly, he heard Ashni's voice as barely a whisper muttering "Palmarum Agrestium" - as she attempted to slam her palm; which now gleamed with a faint red nimbus straight into his chest, it would appear that her clumsy movements had been meticulously planned in order to get him into a vulnerable location: The blow, should it hit would pack approximately the same strength as that of an Ikkotsu punch.

Realization finally dawned on him and anger covered his face like a mask. His spiritual energy was dormant and thus he was never at his strongest unless he was angry, but seeing Ashni - no, that wasn't Ashni. It was an impostor - attempt to strike him wearing her face and appearance drove his emotions to breaking point! Anger, rage and frustration burned in his veins like fire and his body moved and flowed through motions of its own accord; animalistic instinct prevailing.

He released his zanpakutō with a whisper as her palm came close before his surging spiritual energy broke her grip on him. Twisting around and away from her fist, his reflexes and speed utilized to their fullest extent; Riki coated his foot in the sand of his Shikai release and uttered "Sabaku Hīru". The rotational force increased the strength of his thrust kick greatly, to the point that when his foot collided with the impostors attack, both were repelled and sent skidding back across the forest floor, leaves scattering as the disruption. The sand had absorbed the majority of the impact and now flowed around his body unhindered, his mouth twitching to occasionally show his sharpened canines. "Don't give me some bullshit!" He shouted angrily. "Who the hell are you, and where's the real Ashni!?" He discarded his black cloak quickly, revealing a sleeveless red training vest over his muscular physique - an indication he was a hairsbreadth away from doing murder.

"Ashni" clumsily straightened up from the ground, struggling to keep balance for some odd reason; before she spoke rigidly "Relax, I don't want to fight you, I merely wanted to test your capabilities I need you for a Bargain you see, and thus I'd like to ask something; would you be willing to sell your Soul to me in exchange for a wish? Ashni herself perhaps? I've noticed how you look at her, or well, me" Ashni made the uncharacteristic notion of smirking slyly.

His spiritual energy rose again as his anger began to climb and a low growl escaped his lips. "Strike one," The young Fōrun-juu said as he clenched his fists tightly. "If you want to piss me off, your going the right way about it." He liked Ashni. That was no secret. Jinta and Kentaro made more than enough jibes at his expense about it, but a complete stranger asking him to sell his soul so he could have her? He was just asking for trouble. His foot swept up behind him and sent his coat floating to hang on the branch of a nearby tree, the leaves disturbed earlier caught and swept away with the wind blowing through the trees. Every inch of Riki's body was poised to strike.

'Ashni' straightened herself up before her body began to change slowly, her female parts shrunk away unto flat chest and her legs and arms became thicker, stronger - her long hair seemed to snake its way back into her skull til the point that it was roughly the same length, if not slightly shorter than Riki's own hair - her torso then thickened and became much more muscled before finally the rest of her feminine features vanished and the impostor showed Riki who he was - namely a young man, probably between twenty and twenty-three with wild black hair - and, as he couldn't shapeshift clothing; wearing a blouse and a short-skirt which he oddly enough didn't appear to care about, unlike most other men in a similar situation.

A gust of wind flew trough the battlefield, opting the odd impostors eyes to widen in shock followed by a more neutral speech "Whoo what a nice breeze, so THAT is why lassies wear these skimpy little skirts, this must indeed be one of those moments of truth thingies - but don't worry wolfie; I've done nothing to that brown-haired beauty that yer drooling over" the impostor began to massage his legs and thighs in order to remove much of the stiffness that he always felt after shapeshifting, and he had seemingly forgotten all about Riki, that, or he simply didn't care one way or another what Riki decided to do. He spoke up again though "So its possible that she'll arrive to help ya out, and for yer sake I hope she does, because if that is the full extent of your Reiatsu you're going to need all the help you can get"

Riki's anger gave way to a one-sided grin that flashed his canines once again for the world to see. Laughter began to escape his lips, his fists tightening their grip at his sides; the wind causing his ridiculously spiked hair to blow from side to side in the ever changing wind. The sand encircling him though was strangely untouched. It wasn't the sound of a man who had gone mad, nor one who was overestimating his chances. A degree of fear was reflected in those deep brown eyes, but the sound of that laughter was altogether too confident for a man in Riki's current predicament. He had been lured here, alone and without aid, by a person impersonating one of the people he cared for. Yet he showed confidence.

"Poor last words," He said after a time, his emotions more in check - his reiatsu seemingly falling and rising in time with his feelings. Now it fell with his anger and hatred. The necklace adorned with several wolf claws hung loosely at his neck, shifting in the wind. Closing his eyes and cracking his muscles, Riki prepared himself. When his eyes opened, he appeared to move with a slight blur towards his foe, at the last second banking hard to the left where he placed his foot on the trunk of a tree and propelled off it, using that momentum to empower the strike he was aiming for his foes torso; though his stance indicated an intimacy with Hakuda.

His foe followed his movements with remarkable ease, almost as if he was accustomed to such raw speed - he had not predicted the orthodox way Riki attacked in however, Rutilus quickly registered the movement and as Riki came surging towards him at great speeds he simply side-stepped him, while this would be insufficient on its own having three centuries' worth of combat experience had taught Rutilus what to do in such a situation; and simultaneously as he side-stepped Riki he punched with his right hand towards Riki's jaw in a perfectly executed counter; attempting to not only wound the other man greatly with his own punch - but to use Riki's great momentum to his advantage as well - aiming to deal a grievous amount of damage to his opponent.

Training and harsh drilling had made Riki's skills in Hakuda quite advanced, to the point his mentor often forgot to hold back in their sparring sessions. To avoid getting hit with a blow that could shatter stone easily, Riki had learned to expect counters and maneuver himself in such a way to allow him to either evade, or at the very least block those deadly punches. He had changed his mind at the last minute during the initial stages of his attack, because he wasn't using any form of transference then to augment his strength. Now however, was a different story. He had gathered rotational force when he'd swerved to the side earlier and transfered that to raw power as soon as he propelled himself off the tree.

The mans blow would find nothing but a wall of hardened sand between his attack and Riki's body, while another stream from his still released Shikai state created a line between Riki's body and his foes. It was an easy matter then to direct the rotational force gathered earlier through the sand - using it as a medium as he attempted to release the accumulated force directly upon his opponents chest. The only warning the fellow would have would be the outside grains of sand breaking apart and snapping under the force of the energy being transfered through it!

Rutilus is hit straight in the chest as he coughs up blood, before his image begins to blur away quickly, revealing it to be one of those "Speed Clones" Rutilus then reappears straight behind Riki, deep crimson energy claws sprouting from his fingers as he attempts to quickly lean in and slash at Riki's exposed back, the claws slicing trough the defenses with great ease attempting to reach the flesh underneath.

Riki's Custode protested under the claws raking through his back, but the strength of his fortified skin allowed his back not to suffer extreme injuries by the time he managed to turn and put distance between himself and his opponent by using his sand to drag his body backwards across the floor and the scattered leaves. Flexing his muscles without too much pain or protest, Riki assumed a ready stance and exhaled - his nerves beginning to relax after their initial skirmish. "Your fast," He said in a complementary voice.

"Not quite fast enough it would appear" Rutilus appeared behind Riki once again; the place where he had stood just now still held on to the afterimage of his sudden movement, which could possibly confuse Riki, Rutilus then shifted three times as three tangible afterimages attempted to strike at Riki from three vulnerable angles at once, blood red energy claws forging trails of red light in their wake; Rutilus waited a single moment for Riki to adjust himself to the multi-pronged attack before he appeared in front of his adversary and attempt to rend his claws up from Riki's left hip all the way up to his right shoulder with his left claw, before he immediately attempted to follow up with mirror-image of said attack with his right one, aiming to get the right side of Riki's hip and rend a clear line up to Riki's left shoulder - in a cross-like attack.

"Front... back... left... and right?" He thought with a sneer as Rutilus moved in. It may have worked, but there was still one avenue of escape open to him, though it would hold its own risk. Bending his knees and inhaling, the muscles covering his body contracting to offer greater degrees of defense should things go awry, Riki leapt clear into the sky; the claws slicing into his calves as he moved. That unbalanced him and twisted him around. As he rotated through the air he finally came to a stop with a grunt as the ground came up too quickly, knocking the air from his lungs.

This wasn't good. He could barely keep pace with this guy as it was, and now his legs would only serve to slow him down. Rising slowly, the injury obviously effecting him, Riki exhaled and inhaled quickly as he considered his next move - all the while dusting himself off. "I've fought Vizard, Excavado, Shinigami and Arrancar... but your energy feels completely different to any of them! Just what are you?" He even managed to make himself sound and look afraid, so he hoped his foe put the fact his spiritual energy was rising down to his unpredictable emotional reactions.

Rutilus was somewhat taken aback by the question, and scratched his chin as he stared thoughtfully out into empty-space, seemingly searching for a fitting answer to his question - he paused for a moment before he spoke, his tone indifferent "Its kinda hard to explain, really - I suppose I'm the product of many conflicting emotions, desires and ambitions, humans know my kin as Demons and Devils - albeit our actual race is called Diabolus, or something along those lines - can't quite remember"

Rutilus then glanced back at Riki before speaking again his tone a tad more forceful, but still quite indifferent in its own way "You're a friend of dogs and wolves so I don't want to hurt you; there are much too few of your kind that actually care about such - though I request that you see the difference between us - I am clearly the Alpha male here, albeit I do respect your challenge"

Dropping to sit on the ground, his legs outstretched before him; Riki seemingly produced a fair amount of saliva that covered his legs. "Sorry about that," He said, a tad breathless. "Happens from time to time." Rising on legs that weren't as shaky as they had been a minute previously, Riki regarded his opponent with intense eyes and a confident stance. "It was the wolves who got me thinking something wasn't right," The youngster admitted. "They told me to be careful... I'm glad I listened. Its not just that I'm a friend to dogs or wolves. I can communicate with them like I'm doing with you now." He began pacing then, the wounds on his legs all but gone except a small white line that was gradually vanishing as well. "But just because your stronger or faster doesn't mean I should just give up. This is one cub who savors the thrill of the challenge and hunt a little too much." He made a wolfish grin then, his eyes reflecting the rays of light stabbing through the trees to make his eyes appear golden yellow. "The place I intend to break into and the person I plan to save demands I get stronger, so I can't fall at the first hurdle."

"I'm well aware of yer bond with wolves, I heard ya speak to them, and that they answered - truth be told I can communicate with them too; I was one of them once, after all - I am however sad to inform ya that the ones ya talked to were neither dogs nor wolves, but members of my pack, and the actual wolves have long since become prey to us; ya never found it strange that you only heard "one" and not several?" As if on cue, Riki sensed the presence of a multitude of strange wolf-like creatures step out of from between the trees, they appeared like normal wolves and dogs but upon closer inspection their eyes gleamed crimson, and their faces were distorted by malice.

They reached out to him then, as any wolf would have done but instead of voices they showed him a long stream of pictures about what they had done with the pack that had lived here previously, the poor creatures had never had a chance and their twisted counterparts had killed and eaten everything, even the cubs: They also relayed information about their past lives as abused animals whom had suffered great mistreatment by their former masters - Riki was then made aware of their collective specie; Barghest.

He closed himself off from their pictures, walls blocking out the sights. His nose picked up on their smell, like but unlike that of a proper wolf. As he gazed at those twisted reflections of life, Riki felt his anger flare to life anew; like the flames of a fire reduced to embers only to have its life rekindled. It suffused him, gave him strength. Made him sharper. "You call those wolves?" he said, casting an angry pair of eyes over the animals gathered. His eyes took a slight red coloration as his spiritual energy climbed and his canines drew blood on his lip as he bit down, barely stiffing the growl that he had nearly released.

"No, they're Barghests, not wolves - the only difference they have from what you call wolves however are their eyes; their mannerisms and everything else is akin to such creatures - how many wolves have not done what these creatures have? What makes them different other than appearances - you carry prejudices, I thought you to be more understanding; but you're just like their former masters, uncaring - you'd change their appearance if you could; like how some of their former masters mutilated them, cut off their tails, messed with their ears in order to make them "stand", I could continue but I can't bare the thought"

Rutilus' eyes gleamed red as well, as his Reiatsu flared out about him, crimson in its coloration, the color of the blood of the no doubt dozens that he had slaughtered based on his almost zealous interpretation of his "mission" - as he spoke his voice was but a growl "My name is Rutilus, but you may call me Red if you prefer - let us finish this battle like equal males" the last word seemingly losing a bit of its emphasis due to the fluttering skirt "Red" still wore - Red then simply vanished, not like he had before - this time it almost seemed like he ceased to exist, Riki's thoughts were abruptly cut off by the sound of howling winds which began to gather at the point of Rutilus' departure as something akin to a howling portal, and as it fully condensed Riki felt a great vacuum attempting to draw him onto the "portal" and likely entrap him there. Red soon reappeared some steps away from the mentioned vacuum point crimson claws glistening with Riki's blood, as he readied himself to strike when Riki came onto range, aiming to decapitate him with a single attack.

Rutilus would no doubt be surprised by the fact that Riki wasn't moving toward the vacuum or the claws that sought his head. In fact, he was standing perfectly still with a confident one-sided smile on his face! The sand of his Shikai had entwined his ankles and penetrated the floor, before stabbing into the ground below with hundreds of little tendrils to effectively hold Riki in place and stop him moving. But Rutilus would note that the sheer amount of sand at Riki's command had grown and multiplied suddenly, with grains rising from below leaves and from behind trees.

"The amount of sand my Shikai can use is proportionate to my levels of spiritual energy," He growled, indicating that his anger was truly growing well beyond what it had been. The streams moved to attack Rutilus as Riki continually rotated his arms to gain the rotational force needed. Whenever they neared his opponent, Riki transfered his power through the sand with a punch; using the sand solely as a medium, so he could still attack his foe!

Rutilus had predicted that the sand would be drawn in by the vacuum, and the mistake of his thought-pattern hit him really hard; and as the sand approached him he snorted before he attempted to run away like he had done before. Before he could do as he planned however he was hit dead-on by three successive "punches" the force of which resounded in his bones and sent him scuttling straight trough a tree before slamming violently into another one with great force, causing Rutilus' eyes to widen in shock and agony; it was very hard to get Rutilus to lose his composure, much less anger him, what had just transpired however coupled with the anger he felt towards the other man based on how he viewed his pack served to enrage him nevertheless.

Rutilus had closed the distance between him and his opponent almost instantly, and as Riki used the sand to cover himself up Rutilus simply enacted into an enraged flurry of punches; as he in his rage had forgotten to use his energy claws, but they proved to be unneeded as it didn't take long before his rage enhanced punches began to overwhelm the barrier separating them, as Rutilus fists were already bloody from the force of the impacts upon such a strong surface - he kept going however, and the look that he sent his opponent appeared to promise that once he was trough the barrier, he'd maim every bone in his body and eat him while he still breathes, and Rutilus comely traits were replaced by a mask of feral anger.

Riki was frightened. His brown eyes showed that fact quite well, though one thing burned in him that override that fear. His confidence. His foe was enraged and if his offensive was anything to go by, he was desperate as well. Riki's sand had stayed with him, protecting him thus far and was probably the only thing that had allowed him to last this long. Inhaling deeply, thinking thoughts that brought his anger to the surface - Riki finally touched the necklace covering his neck. He growled as he uttered the words "Shiro Ookami". The bones of his body gave a crack as he roared in agony, the pain his roars brought serving to fuel his anger. The roars lasted only a few seconds until silence stretched...

The wind howled through the trees, carrying green leaves on their current. Riki stood with a more muscular exterior, long white hair spilling down his back that looked somewhat similar to a wolves coat. His eyes were closed, but red marks extended outward from them, and when his eyes snapped open they were slitted and bore the yellow coloration usually seen in a wolf. Those eyes stared a challenge at Rutilus. The sand barrier was bolstered not only by Riki's anger raising his spiritual energy and the sands sheer quantity; but his new state seemed to empower the sand separately from his spiritual energy. Drawing his arm back, eyes flashing, Riki brought his fist forward and transfered the rotational force into the barrier in front; mixing the blow with his spiritual energy to maximize its power! The force traveling through the barrier caused some of it to snap under the strain, allowing Riki to stare into his opponents eyes. "Shīrufenriru," He whispered, a seal appearing on Rutilus's body that sealed away a small degree of his spiritual energy.

Rutilus was surprised by this and momentarily ceased his relentless assault before he quickly regained his cool, he then shifted four times as four "speed clones" immediately attempted an attack from all directions at once, with the actual Rutilus appearing above, energy claws gleaming as he let himself drop down towards Riki, in an attempt to burrow the claws in his adversaries shoulder-blades - his strength, speed and all physical qualities hadn't changed one bit, in fact - it almost seemed like he had gotten even faster, this meant that his strength and speed was completely natural and thus not tied to his levels of Spiritual Power.

Cursing aloud, Riki braced himself and inhaled. Four clones and the real deal was beyond him, and he knew it with a quick glance at his opponent descending towards him. Redirecting the sand to form a trail towards the clone moving behind him, Riki directed his rotational force through his body first and then barreled it into said clones chest; knocking him aside. The real Rutilus landed atop him with claws digging deeply into his left shoulder as he twisted his body at the last second. The three remaining clones slammed into him as one and with no clone coming from the back, Riki released the sand keeping him in place and allowed their collective force to send his skidding backwards into the trees - while at the same time the claws being rent out through his body as he did so, a strangled whelp escaping the youngsters lips that sounded altogether too wolf-like.

He had managed to contract his muscles to lessen the damage, but blood poured unhindered from his wounded shoulder as he turned and bolted into the trees. And his body still ached all over from the attacks of the clones. Aiming to lose himself in the woods, Riki skidded around a nearby tree-trunk, using his good arm to balance himself before running forward again. He leapt over logs and underbrush as he put distance between himself and his foe, his raw speed allowing him to take mighty leaps - though the small confines of his location served not only to hinder his movements, but also hide them from view.

Blood pumping in his ears, heart in his throat; the young Fōrun-juu cast quick glances behind to check his trail, though he couldn't possibly stop. Rutilus could follow him on his spiritual energy alone, and if he failed in that, the Barghest he scattered around the area would soon sniff him out. "Great, just great!" His arm hung loose, the movement all but gone save for the intense pain coursing along the limb as it swung like some useless pendulum with every slight motion he made. Riki made a quick dressing with his lacking skill in Kidō to put off blood lose, altogether to worried that Rutilus would sense the act, though it was far from perfect and hasty besides. The city was his only chance, and one way or another, he needed to reach it. Jinta and Ashni were there and with them to help, he may just stand a chance. Holding onto hope like a drowning man to driftwood, the youngster leapt again and took to all fours as though he were a wolf, his bad arm now tied to the base of his back with a small chain of Kidō.

Rutilus watched his adversary make a run for it and frowned, Rutilus was hungry and he had expected the other male to calmly surrender himself to him once he realized he was beaten, but no, he had to be such a coward as to run away! That pissed Rutilus off to no end and he was about to give chase when he noticed the state of affairs that was his current clothing; the blouse was seeped with dried blood, and was otherwise torn half-way to shreds, with the skirt in a similar state - while Rutilus couldn't care less about his physical appearance (being able to change it at will kinda induced that state of mind) he had at least a certain amount of pride and wouldn't want to chase down his prey while looking like one of those squeely school girls that were present in those perverted anime-videos. Rutilus thus decided to give his "rabbit" a suitable lead while he himself changed into his usual attire.

Undressing and moving to behind one of the trees in order to pick up his favorite pair of pants; Rutilus always hid them around at the place of destination while luring people such as Riki away from civilization. Once he had dressed himself up properly however he gave chase after the rabbit at great speeds, moving between the trees and along the forest-floor with great ease, and regularly leaping up into the air several meters in order to both track his prey and to cover a great amount of distance in a single bound, Riki was indeed his fast and running on all four only served to intensify that - while Rutilus was confident that he could apprehend him should he so choose, he decided to follow his preys example; as Rutilus approached the ground from his latest leap, his feet and hands changed into the paws of a great wolf and once he hit the ground he proceeded to dash after his intended dinner on all fours; Rutilus felt the thrill of the hunt as adrenaline pumped trough his body, as his crimson eyes gleamed with blood-lust and his lips formed into a psychotic grin, where it became apparent that his teeth had become noticeably sharper much like the fangs of a wolf, he couldn't stand it anymore he simply had to let the excitement out; and thus he released from his human throat a howl reminiscent of a pack of wolves in their adoration of the moon!

This called on two members of his pack however, whom appeared behind him before they, using their Umbra ability to relocate themselves to the shadows of a tree that was positioned a few yards in front of the running Riki; and just as the Forun-juu was about to pass the mentioned tree the Barghest leapt out of the bushes and attempted to bite themselves onto Riki's shoulder and waist respectively in order to pin him down: Rutilus smirked at this before he spoke "Quite the predicament, ne?".

"Not really," Riki managed, his tone still exuding confidence. His limbs morphed and altered as a white coated wolf appeared where Riki had been, the bloodstain on his shoulder still present as well as the wound itself. The change though threw off the Barghest lunging towards him and gave the youngster the opportunity he needed to rip their throats out one-by-one with two quick lunges one after the other, though they did succeed in opening his wound further and scratching his back enough to draw blood; which very nearly paralyzed him with agony there and then. "No! Keep... moving!" Pinning them to the ground and ending their lives, he turned his bloody maw towards Rutilus and done what was perhaps the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life to date. The cub turned on the leader of the pack!

His fangs glistened with still wet blood, though as he made the movement towards his opponent saliva flew from his mouth in equal quantities. Whatever landed on his shoulder served to perform a quick healing, though spots of blood and torn flesh still remained even as he closed on the larger wolf before him. Riki dug his three good paws into the trunk of a tree and proceeded to rebound off them in a zig-zag manner before he was abruptly in his human form again - strangely without a stitch of clothing from said transformation - his fist drew back; though instead of hitting his foe, Riki impacted the floor instead and sent an amazing amount of dirt, earth and leaves flying into the air - with the proceeding shockwave putting distance between him and foe once again, the force of which allowed him to skid and tumble before running once again. "I'm not that stupid," He maintained before he spat on his hand and rubbed the saliva onto his wounded shoulder as he bolted.

Even as the healing began to take effect, Riki was gone again in his wolf form as he began to feel the winds chill; using the creatures greater reflexes to his advantage as he continued his flight through the woodland. As he recalled the forest wasn't that far from the city. If he could even get to the outskirts, he could exert the full force of his spiritual energy - he was certainly angry enough - to alert his friends. It was a desperate idea and one that could very well backfire on him. So he prayed to whatever deity would listen and made a mental note that he'd never question Naibu again if his sensei ever told him to develop his speed more.

Rutilus contemplated whether or not to shapeshift into his own wolf form in order to better follow his opponent; but decided against it because he liked his pants and didn't find it too decent to fight against a foe stark naked, he thus simply decided to follow his opponent to wherever he was heading - as he had admittingly grown quite curious; He was however caught off-guard by the "naked justice" attack from his opponent, admittingly being very detracted by the lack of clothing, which was odd given how his own shapeshifting had the same drawbacks.

This befuddlement was in fact so great that Rutilus completely forgot to shield his eyes from the sand and dirt and thus got an unpleasureable amount of it in the eyes, growling in mixed anger and agony as he stopped his advance in order to get it out of his eyes - giving Riki a great delay, or if he were courageous enough, a neat opening.

Riki didn't attack. He bolted, was suddenly a man again with his shoulder all but healed as he came upon the final line of trees separating him from the city itself. Leaping up and grasping a sturdy-looking branch, the young man twisted his body around and around thrice before releasing; transforming again mid-flight to land on a winding street near some of the outer city slums that had all but been abandoned save for the more questionable members of society. He saw more than one person barfing onto the broken pathways in front of houses in a terrible state of disrepair.

Suddenly thankful he was in soul form and a wolf besides, Riki plucked an old battered green cloth from below an old rusted oil drum before he surrendered the freedom of four legs to enjoy that of two instead, testing the muscles of his shoulder he had loosened through his acrobatics. Content it would hold out until proper healing was received, he looked at the cloth in his hands with an appraising eye. "Waste not want not," It was a simple tarp one might use to cover cargo of some sort, long and dusty, with enough material to serve his needs. Fashioning himself a makeshift garment to conceal his modesty and then draping the remainder over his shoulders to ward off the coolness the wind carried, Riki finished it by tearing a slim length from it right down to make a belt.

Inhaling deeply and calming his racing heart, he ran over the battle in his mind in an attempt to feed his anger - his information gathering, the lone Barghest, the impostor, the fight itself; his shoulder being all but torn open and finally his desperate flight through the trees with his heart in his throat. His face went through the emotions: fear, rage, surprise, agony and finally fear again. That brought with it all the anger he needed to fuel the levels of spiritual energy he already had. Concentrating and harnessing the power to reach as far out as possible was his next task, and sweat covered his face both from his run and from the effort of doing what he was doing now. His control wasn't great, so it took him longer than he would've liked.

With his signal finally out, Riki looked around his surroundings to formulate a plan. The buildings were old and in terrible states of disrepair, but they cast long shadows and were quite high up; not to mention with lots of places to hide in and launch some pretty nice ambushes. And people thought that he rarely thought things through? "Death is a good motivator," He mused with a slight chuckle. Opting instead for stealth, Riki began to consider his options. His flight had been quicker than he thought, so it would take some time for the sand he controlled to catch up with him. Sealing and re-leasing his Shikai wasn't an option, lest he lose his zanpakutō in the woods. "Just my luck," He whispered before the shadows of the closest building beckoned him. "Oh, how you'd love to see this, Kentaro." Waiting for his prey, Riki bared his fangs and pulled out all the stops to ensure his success. He branded himself three times with his own sealing technique Shīrufenriru to lower his energy as much possible, so all he could hope for was that his friends had noticed; but now Rutilus wouldn't find him so easily either. His canines seem to gleam.

Rutilus arrived soon afterwards, walking into the district shortly after Riki had prepared himself, and as the youngster had hoped Rutilus seemed unable to track his Spiritual Energy, nor could he seem to find him visually either; the youngster could feel Rutilus getting more and more pissed before then he stopped up and spoke "You've hid yourself well, my little rabbit - though you've forgotten to account for one thing" Rutilus raised his nose as he began to sniff the air around him; luckily for Riki though, the dirty environment they were in, the wind-direction and perhaps most of all the "makeshift" garment that Riki had donned in order to conceal his manhood served to work in his favor; and several minutes passed before Rutilus finally caught on to his scent.

Grinning, Rutilus shifted a single time before he vanished into the air as he abruptly stood behind the youngster his claws raised to strike at the Forun-juu's vitals; and meanwhile the single speed clone appeared at Riki's side in an attempt to slam him against the closest wall and hold him there, so that the real one could finish him off more easily.

Rutilus would no doubt notice that Riki was now back in his original form, blond hair greeting him as opposed to the white of his Fōrun-juu form so he could maximize his performance without wasting the energy the sustainment of Culmine demanded. Although surprised eyes turned to regard the elder of the two, Riki wore simple happiness on his face like a mask. "I had more than enough time," He whispered. "I'm sure you already know, but a cornered wolf is more dangerous than some rabbit!"

Twisting in place even as his foes converged on him Riki was smiling one of those smiles that only covered half his face, yet the enjoyment and thrill of the challenge where quickly coming to the surface. His bare feet kicking up dust that hadn't been disturbed in years, his hands shielding his eyes. The speed clone found himself staggering with years of dust and ground stone filling his vision, which promptly stopped his advance short of his intended target. Stumbling backwards then to avoid the real Rutilus took effort - his lack of speed in said maneuver earning him a slash clean across his chest; blood spewing as Riki feel backwards, but the youngster was far from done. He'd bear injuries, but that was to be expected considering his opposition.

With his back now firmly on the floor, Riki grinned a predatory smile. Using the transference he had gained from kicking up the dust previously, the youngster released the force of that power through the floor immediately beneath him; demolishing it almost instantly with the straight line motion of his backside smacking the concrete! Falling through into cellar - or maybe it was basement. He wasn't sure. Landing on his feet, he performed a quick turn and built rotational force once again before he punched the wall closest to him, using the entire building they were in as a medium to direct the force of his blow towards two areas: namely the speed clone with dust in his eyes and Rutilus himself, honing in on both their scent and spiritual energy!

Rutilus and his clone was taken completely by surprise, and both of them were hit several times, although Rutilus quickly shapeshifted into the form of a mouse which served to avoid the rest of the blows and, climbing out of his own pants and moving out of the building he proceeded to shift back into his human form; this time however it was he that wore not a single stitch of clothing - at this point however Rutilus didn't give a damn what he wore and not wore and instead opted to raise his palm against the building Riki still hid within; as three projectiles of blood red spiritual power manifested in his personal space; each having the form of a wolf head, and with a single phrase "Cruor Bovis" Rutilus proceeded to release the projectiles onto the house, each of them detonating in a great explosion of great power; causing a great degree of debris, wood and cement to fall down towards Riki in an attempt to bury the other man alive.

Riki hit the floor and hunched in on himself as the debris and cement began to fall, one particular slab missing his head by mere inches! "Shit...!" He dodged and crawled, a sharp piece landing just between his legs which brought a cold sweat to his forehead. He would have certainly died in that avalanche of stone and rubble had it not been for several barriers forming between him and said rubble that had been erected around his person. The youngster recognized the oval-shaped barriers, colored yellow, as Bakudō #39: Enkosen cast in quick and rapid succession, with each barrier made stronger through a delayed incantation. Tears he quickly whipped away showed as he ran his senses over the barriers, feeling out the strength and spiritual energy that filled them. Help had finally arrived!

A young woman Rutilus would no doubt recognize from the disguise he himself had wore to trick Riki in the first place stood on the roof of a house with her arms stretched out, mouth moving in what could only be an incantation repeated and re-repeated until she finally stopped to inhale a fresh breathe. Her long brown hair flowed down her back like a waterfall over a cliff, and from deep amber eyes she watched the falling rubble with a degree of warmth and strangely enough, growing annoyance. Here Riki had made a clown of himself yet again, resulting in the destruction of an entire building and the anger of an individual whose presence was foreign to her and probably stronger than anyone of them save Naibu himself! The entire scene reeked of her companions stupidity and serious habit of leaping before he looked, and now she would have to bail him out yet again. As usual.

Her name was Ashni and the wind played with the folds of the black-colored Shihakushō she wore, her hair blowing out behind her as though it were a cape. After sensing Riki's little spiritual display earlier she had left her body in the care of a modified soul and came as quickly as her skills in Jikyuu would allow, knowing her friend to be an idiot who'd need to be bailed out one way or another. Now she stared daggers at the black-haired man below, her amber eyes meeting maroon for the briefest of seconds before she vanished to stand before him just in front of the rubble. With a flick of her wrist, the barriers rose high and burst through to the surface of the rubble, revealing a dust-covered Riki wearing a strange green tarp that barely covered his modesty, with claw wounds on his chest. She then became aware that her opponent wasn't wearing a stitch. Her embarrassment turned to anger at being embarrassed and she hauled Riki to his feet and deftly knocked him on his backside again with a blow to the ribs. "This is your fault."

"Nice to see you too," He groaned through gritted teeth. She had pulled her punch though, and soon he was back on his feet. Tearing off the tarp a little above the rope he had fashioned so that he was now bare-chest, Riki placed a stone in the garment and threw it towards Rutilus so the cloth would carry. "Not much, but it'll do." The one had become two, and now Rutilus might have an idea of why the young man had been so confident- and desperate to reach one of his friends. The two stood beside each other with a familiarity born through weeks in others company and if the sideway glances were anything to go by, an intimacy in how the other worked and planned in battle. Understanding passed between them with but a glance and casual nod. "You ready?" She asked, sparing a glance at his wounds. Nodding, the two adopted their individual stances as Ashni silently drew her nodachi from its sheath, while Riki spread his legs and raised his fists.

Rutilus frowned at the intervention; why were everyone so darn set on refusing him his well-earned dinner? Oh well, it didn't really matter one way or another as unlike them he could pretty much fight unrestrained for hours given how he used mainly his natural abilities and hardly ever his Spiritual ones. Shifting six times Rutilus directed the newly created "Speed Clones" to attack while he himself began to charge his Spiritual Power in order to prepare for complete obliteration; a large sphere of crimson spiritual power taking form before his palm.

The "clones" attacked in teams of three and had divided themselves evenly in order to attack both of the two at once, and like their enemies they too acted with a great deal of synergy as would be expected given how they were essentially one and the same person, all of them sported a pair of those red energy claws who Riki had become so painfully acquainted with.

Opting to stand back-to-back to increase their chances of defending and attacking, Ashni blinked; using her mastery of the Pesquisa skill to quickly pinpoint both the range and energy signature of her intended targets in a mere heartbeat. Locking those two things in her mind, she nudged Riki's back and the two began moving in a slow circle, the young Fōrun-juu quickly guessing her intentions. As they moved, Ashni's sword cut tiny slashes in the ground before Rutilus would no doubt notice that she was using the same transference skill that Riki had used previously, though instead of possessing the sheer destructive power his version favored, hers was more pin-point, the small diameter of the blade in question lending the strikes a greater deal of cutting potential. The entire floor beneath the two youngsters feet acted as a medium for their attacks, Ashni's transference-based attack taking two of the clones in each bunch of three as they completed two circles in the same place, easily cutting them clean in two at the waist. They were only clones after all. Hardly as durable as the real thing.

Flashing her a brief smile that she returned in kind, Riki locked his gaze on Rutilus' remaining clones, his breathing getting heavier from his various exertions. He sprang into the air and spun, one of the clones claws punching through his Custode skin and into the flesh of his right-hand side before he managed to dispel both clones with a transference blast from both his palm and foot that barreled into their bodies. Landing back beside her, his movements slowing and breathing somewhat labored, he tapped her shoulder for the sign to continue as he worked on concentrating his energy to generate more of his healing saliva. Ashni had seemingly taken his physical state into account as well. The way she stood said that she would cover his openings, and the 360 degree sensory range her Pesquisa offered would make her task slightly easier.

Turning towards Rutilus she finally noticed the attack the latter was charging, her gaze somewhat angry. Focusing on the orb along her line of sight, a horizontal slash appeared from a quickly opened and closed Garganta that caused the air around it to begin spinning like a pinwheel, tearing said attack apart through the increased wind speed before Rutilus even had a chance to fire; though the act caused a feedback of sorts that was akin to a punch between the eyes, causing her to stagger backwards, concentration lost; though her back only hit Riki's chest, who promptly switched their positions so he was at the fore of any possible counter.

Rutilus frowned at the fact that his attack was interrupted, although it had been a wise move, nevertheless though their chances hadn't really changed much the young lad was so weak that he could barely keep himself standing and the other lady she didn't seem to have much going for except for a rip-off the technique his opponent had been using up until that point; Rutilus figured that she likely wouldn't be bullied around so easily with Phasmatis Ingredior like Riki had been, calming himself down in order to focus for what he was about to do, Rutilus focused on gathering his Spiritual Energy in his palms.

He stood like this for a while before his fists shone with a crackling red aura, the energy claws he had been using up til this point dissipating away into harmless particles; and in a blink of an eye Rutilus stood between them as attempted to lash out with his left palm so as to use Palmarum Agrestium at Riki but this was in fact only a feint for his true intentions; as when he'd throw this mock-attack at Riki he expected the younger man to back away, and from there on he'd attempt to immediately hurl Ashni up in the air before using his speed to intercept the girl in mid-air with Palmarum Agrestium straight to her abdomen; Years of experience having taught Rutilus to always go after the one who could protect her allies first; and Ashni had already shown her prowess at protective spells.

Understanding flashed across Riki's face, though in his condition he couldn't hope to stop Rutilus or what he intended to do. His sand was only a short distance away, yet it wouldn't reach them quick enough to form any form of defense. "Wait a minute!" An idea crossed his mind, though he'd probably pay for it later and risk her never forgiving him. He was the only one among their group that actually knew of her past to begin with, so his next action would tear asunder her weak mental state and expose the raw emotion hidden behind it.

"You know, I think I've finally figured out why he ditched you." The hurt that drilled into his heart at the words leaving his mouth would scar him for quite some time, though even that paled to the hurt that passed through Ashni's eyes. Time seemed to stop for Riki as those eyes stared, silently accusing; silently hating. Loathing him as she knew he betrayed her trust. But it was to save her from what Rutilus planned, he repeated in his mind. Training had given him a keen sense about Hakuda, and although the art was intricate and filled with detailed steps and maneuvers to an outside observer; anyone skilled in its use could predict to a degree what their foe was planning based on those motions.

Her scream was high-pitched and almost demonic, akin to that of a Hollow; enough to fill Riki with the usual feelings of fear he experienced when her anger hit its peak. Tears glistened in her eyes, though those tears soon gave way to flashes of pure emotion that was soon turned on her comrade, with Rutilus standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Energy arced from her body in concentrated blasts of pure energy, colored the same amber as the eyes that now sought Riki's blood! The range at which Rutilus stood would make dodging those arcs of energy difficult, even for someone as fast as he was. And to top it all, a white substance was forming on her face that soon solidified to reveal a Hollow Mask covering the left side of her face, which would've appeared lozenge should it have been a full mask. Black scelera and yellow irises regarded both Rutilus and Riki, hatred quite apparent. The mask caused her spiritual strength to sore, and right now it was comparable to a captain in sheer potency!

Rutilus' eyes widened and he only managed to utter a shocked "Wha-?" before he was hit straight on by the energy arcs and sent scuttling straight across the street and trough three buildings before he stopped; falling on his knees gasping for air Rutilus' looked in sheer surprise at the girl, growling in anger Rutilus attempted to stand up only to find out that his body couldn't handle the pressure and he fell back to the ground again - he'd recover quite soon though he began to grow worried whether or not his prey would be edible after the woman had had her way with him - at this point all Rutilus could do was to wait for his recovery.

Ashni appeared to rise into the air, the ground beneath her forming into a large crater by the arcing energy loosing from her body. Her back was arched, eyes blank save for the black scelera and fists clenched tightly at her sides; zanpakutō trembling in her grasp. Her expression went through so many seperate emotions, one after another and so quickly that it was difficult to determine the prevalent emotion from her face. The sounds she made though gave an indication that it was a mix of anger, sadness and simple pain. Riki watched the horror of the transformation and knew he was as powerless as a lamb before it, even if he hadn't been drained and battered as he was. Her spiritual energy alone had him pinned to his knees, but he made no attempt to break free. "All I ask is that you see why I did this," He then crossed his arms in an X shape, that small motion seemingly taking forever.

Her eyes seemed to flicker for a time, perhaps on the verge of her seeing reason. But no. Raising her hand, one of those arcing Hakuai blasts struck Riki's feeble defenses, pushed him through several buildings before twisting into the air where it proceeded to slam him through the roof of a building three streets over; forcing him through every floor before the energy dispersed to leave him lying in a pool of rubble and blood on the floor of the basement, his arms and chest lacerated by the energy! The earth was cracked from where he had landed. Whether he was dead or just simply unconscious was largely unknown, though it had been nothing short of a miracle that the building hadn't collapsed in on itself and crushed him for good measure.

Turning her look towards Rutilus, it was clear she was beginning to regain her senses. The arcing energy ceased then, almost as quickly as it had begun and the irises returned to her eyes, yellow now with her hollowfication but no less predatory. Her senses would tell her what she had just done and the tears flowed again, fueling her emotions all the more. "You idiot! Your reasons are-" She turned her head aside as a dust cloud rose from the building Riki had been blasted through. Seconds after a barrier with a yellow color scheme and box-like design, strong and durable, surrounded the building and held it firmly in place. "I'll see to you later," But whether she meant to heal him if he was alive, bury him in the event of his death, or kill him herself if he had survived was unclear in her tone.

This spectacle had given Rutilus more than enough time to recuperate from his injuries, and he had also noted where Riki had been thrown, the girls Spiritual Power had subsided down to her usual level of power and it just so happened that she had single-handedly defeated her only ally; this should be quite easy. Pushing himself up on shambling feet he proceeded to search for his center of balance, and once he found it he proceeded with his own offense; and in the blink of an eye Rutilus had already traversed the entire distance between him and Ashni; what he did next would have been impossible with any movement-related technique but for one such as himself, whose levels of speed were wholly natural it was indeed a simple feat; and with energy claws bared for the kill he attempted to, while he still moved attack Ashni at several vital areas, such as her abdomen, back, sides and chest, aiming to use his tremendous speed to his advantage and thus attempt to prevent her from reacting to his assaults in time.

With the return of her reasoning, so to did her ability to control her various powers. Her Hollow mask was still present after all, and its benefits were still very much active. With a sigh, the blasts of energy that had arced from her body previously returned, but in a noticeably different form. The energy suffused her limbs, covered them and caused them to glow; almost as though a suit of armor had formed along the lines of her body, hardening almost instantly to create a suit far more effective than a simple hardened layer of reishi over the skin like that of the Custode Riki favored. Though the armor wasn't complete, with several holes visible at her left shoulder, right-hand side of her stomach and the outside of her left thigh. Each hole showed the black of her outfit beneath, almost screaming "strike here".

The armor done its job, thankfully. Although the force of the blow and momentum his raw speed caused him to possess knocked the wind from her lungs and drove her back besides, those claws had failed to breach the targets Rutilus had aimed for, save for her back as her black-haired foe easily maneuvered that strike to lacerate the back of her exposed shoulder instead. Wincing under the pain of the claws tearing flesh, Ashni soon found herself moving again - her zanpakutō a feather in her hands as she spun and slashed! With a one-handed slash aimed at her foes head, the young woman muttered the incantation for Bakudō #52: Ekitai Kinko in an attempt to restrict her foes impressive speed.

Rutilus' eyes widened in surprise once again - though this time he had a backup plan so as to not be smacked by her abilities; and while still in mid-air he proceeded to shift a single time as another one of those "speed clones" appeared in front of him, as Rutilus darted backwards he used the afterimage of his own technique as something akin to a human shield - and Ashni's spell struck the mentioned clone as opposed to Rutilus himself; but Rutilus' trick while clever couldn't quite let him escape the onslaught of Ashni's Nodachi, whose sheer length proceeded to leave a long slash along his chest after it had decapitated his clone.

Still in mid-air Rutilus proceeded to conjure a projectile of red energy much akin to those he had used before in order to bring down that house on Riki earlier which he, rather than aim at her directly he proceeded to aim it at the ground in front of her; and as he did so he simultaneously used the force of the attack to propel himself out of the vulnerable spot he was currently caught in and by extension out of the great explosion of spiritual energy that followed soon afterwards.

Tutting as she completed the slashing motion, Ashni hunched in on herself - obviously trying to cover the exposed parts of her body as much as possible before the blast struck. When it did, the immediate area was engulfed in a red explosion that soon dissipated to reveal Ashni lying on her side, armor blown away and the areas that had been exposed to the blast - chest, shoulder and thigh - all bore burn marks that would no doubt hinder her movements.

"... Ugh," When Riki finally decided it was time to stop staring at the ceiling and do something, the young Fōrun-juu took in his surroundings with a degree of panic and barely restrained fear. Where the hell was he? Oh yeah. Ashni. His body was wracked with pain, his mind slow in formulating anything but basic commands; and his senses still told him of a battle raging outside - though it was clear who was coming off the worst. "Ashni...," He shook his head and rolled over, amazed by the fact his sealed zanpakutō with the sun emblazoned hilt was resting not a foot from him, probably fell with him before Ashni's barrier went up. The ripped clothing he'd shed earlier as well lay in a heap not far away, obviously brought by his Shikai's sand for some reason. Searching the pockets as quickly as his lacerated arm would allow, the young mans eyes bulged with what could only be called hope as a single pill dropped into the palm of his hand...

Rising slowly with a strangled groan, Ashni tested her sword arm carefully, and only after being sure she wouldn't need to switch, hefted the nodachi once again for battle. "Just what are you?" She asked simply, anger present. "Your not a Shinigami, and your not an Arrancar. I'd say your closer to a Fōrun-juu like Riki, but even then there's differences." She was bidding for time to plan her next move, though she hoped it wasn't obvious.

It was, though luckily for her Rutilus was quite the prideful man and didn't particularly care whether she planned or not; to him it was clear that none of them could hope to escape this battle without his say-so; the difference between them mobility-wise was simply much too vast for that, henceforth Rutilus decided to comply with her question and with an odd motion he sat down cross-legged and gazed at her; levitating a few feet above the ground.

Though, as the case had been before; Rutilus had to struggle for a while before he felt he could explain just what he wore, when he had formulated his thoughts enough he scratched his chin before speaking; surprisingly revealing that his voice was quite pleasant despite his brutality and appearance "Well, we are basically the embodiment of powerful emotions from those souls who've died - regardless of if they came to Hell or not; these desires, emotions and wishes resonate with the energies of Hell and give us our own form of life, we are Spiritual Creatures so obviously we have supernatural powers though those are very different from any other race - and you compare me to the Fōrun-juu based on my abilities, who like your little rabbit also comes from a canine; though in my case I was born from the soul of a poor dog mistreated and abandoned by his masters. The end result being that we have similar abilities". Rutilus finished as he glanced at Ashni.

Having took a set herself throughout his explanation, the two may appear to any outside observers to be enjoying a pleasant chat with one another. Regardless of appearances though, when he stopped and she thanked him with a thankful nod, the two returned to their ready stances, with Ashni once again favoring swordplay. Lunging forward with quick and pin-point footwork, her nodachi moving quickly and fluidly in the air towards his torso; she began muttering inaudible words beneath her breathe that was probably some form of Kidō.

Rutilus shot up into the air above Ashni, the sudden movement causing her attacks to miss, before moving backwards so that he could get a clear sight of her before he directed his palm towards her; a large red sphere taking form in his hand; Rutilus had been gathering and manipulating his own Reiatsu while he had told her his little story and now the red sphere grew to maximum size in but a few moments: Rutilus then proceeded to compress the immense amounts of energies created into the form of an incredibly powerful beam of Reiatsu colored as deep-red as his eyes; Ashni would no doubt notice with her incredible sensor-capabilities that the blast was several times the strength of even the Cero Oscuras, and it would undoubtedly wreak great havoc on the surrounding structures and people when it landed.

Summoning the armor of her Hakuai attack on instinct Ashni twisted so the forming armor would offer some degree of cushion, the armor reaching the floor and only covering her back successfully. She then strengthened the armor with the Kidō spells she had been preparing, namely Bakudō #39: Enkosen and #40: Mukō to aid in her defense. But the summoned armor and Kidō or the beckoning light of her opponents attack weren't what drew her attention. The building Riki had been blasted through earlier... shook. There was no other word to describe it, yet she lowered the barrier she had been sustaining and watched as the walls collapsed inwards too slowly to prevent the blond-colored blur that burst through the roof breaking free!

Riki landed a good hundred foot away, his landing forming a slight indentation in the concrete beneath him. His eyes were blood red, with no seperate color for the iris or scelera. The veins on his arms and chest were visible and his muscle mass had increased slightly, with a shifting aura of pure spiritual energy surrounding his limbs, caressing the flesh and empowering his body. He leapt as high as some of the still-standing buildings, twisted to gain the rotational force that had carried him through the fight and dropped down quickly; the momentum of his sheer drop mixing with his spiritual energy and transference energy as he released it through the floor and then from the armor attached to the floor that Ashni had formed, threatening to barrel into Rutilus and his energy attack with the full ferocity of Riki's usually dormant strength.

Ashni was transfixed, amazed her friend was still alive, let alone standing and attacking. "Did he? ... Riki, no!" It must've been the pills Harumi had made him, though the young brown-haired woman knew that the downsides were almost damming to the user. Fear was etched in those Hollowfied eyes, as well as sympathy and strangely enough, forgiveness as well. He knew the damage that the pills would do to his body, both inside and out, yet he still used it. She guessed he had about three minutes tops before he'd need medical attention, and afterwards he would probably die without someone to help treat his injuries. Shaking her head, mind back in the present, she quickly guessed his intentions. Ashni turned her body so she was facing the barrier she had formed and transfered that rotation into power which she soon joined with Riki's as she jabbed the defense!

Rutilus frowned as the duo by some miracle managed to stall his attack; but he guessed that they only managed to do so quite barely; the wind howled and the earth trembled under the force of his attack as he kept channeling the thick beam of energy at his adversaries and soon the earth began to give way beneath them due to the tremendous pressure that was applied upon it; Rutilus waited for that exact moment as the moment they'd lose balance even the slightest the energy blast would sweep them away almost instantly, Rutilus grinned in triumph, this battle would end in his victory.

Although the barrier had been erected and some of Rutilus' attack interrupted, the fact remained that there was little the two could do in light of what their opponent had used. And while the strengthened barrier of Ashni's making might ensure their survival the two youths would be beyond fighting - or probably moving - after it was fired. Watching with all hope vanishing from his eyes, his body causing him such degrees of pain that he barely stifled the growl building in his throat. It had been his stupidity that had led them into this situation, his inability to see through someone impersonating one of his closest friends. Even though he was scared as hell as the earth trembled around him and the wind howled in his ears, he was confident he could do one thing when he still had the power to move. His spiritual energy was at its max, and as he released his Culmine for one final time, he felt and directed the current that was his power. And his skin seemed to glow, the Custode growing in strength even as his hair changed from blond to white and extended down his back...

Ashni watched with the same horror filled eyes devoid of hope that Riki himself had wore, though hers were more wary. On the point of doing something. Anything! "Is this... where it ends?" As soon as the thought entered her head though, she knew it was over. Try as she might to move, the grim reality of the situation hit her like a stone between the eyes. They'd lost the fight, but they were going to lose a lot more than that. Thoughts of her comrades filled her mind in what she thought to be her final moments, and for once those images didn't cause her emotions to fluctuate in the least. Jinta and his stupid antics causing her no end of headaches. Naibu and his calm observations and willing ear to listen to her troubles; and then silver tongue and hypnotic tone to ease them and her fears. Harumi and the long chats the two girls shared that reached well into the early hours of the morning. The serious, angry and ever strong presence of Kentaro whose dedication to the goals he set himself served to make her more confident in her own abilities. And finally Riki, who strangely brought a smile to her face as he made the same stupid antics as Jinta, yet always seemed to- Her thoughts were interrupted as a shadow covered her.

The blast struck with all the intensity the state of the wind and the earths rumbling had foretold. The red blast engulfed the barrier first; which seemed to hold firm for a time before it, too, was swept away and annihilated in much the same way as the slabs of concrete and buildings that rose from the earth and were promptly reduced to mere rubble with its sheer intensity! Two figures blew through the air, a white-haired mane visible as he held his friend close; his own body the shield. He couldn't hope to shield from all of it, the beam was simply too wide and expansive for that. But his Custode burned under that blast and his roar was loud and determined, which lasted until the blast dissipated into the air; the trail of devastation clear. A straight line had been blown along the blasts trajectory, with everything destroyed that had existed there before. The dented cars long abandoned, the buildings themselves, and the people unfortunate enough to be in that line of fire.

Riki and Ashni lay unconscious along that line of destruction, neither moving, though only one was breathing. Riki lay atop his friend and comrade with his body smoking like a charred carcass, new burns visible; back a burned deformity of flesh that was very nearly black in color. Ashni was unconscious also, but her state was noticeably more healthy than Riki's. While burns showed quite clearly on her forearms and lower legs, the rest of her was altogether unharmed; with unconscious a more likely occurrence from the fall and weight of Riki landing on top of her. The both of them lay defeated and utterly defenseless.

Rutilus stood and looked down at his fallen adversaries with a look of, was it befuddlement? He scratched his chin and sighed as he realized that he hadn't thought farther than to defeat his enemies, one of the duo had used his body to cover his friend, albeit Rutilus knew that he thought of her as much more than a simple friend and he was quite obvious about it too, either the lass ignored his feelings or she was simply oblivious to them.

Descending down to the ground and walking towards the pair, Rutilus decided to bring them with him to meet his Mistress; she could decide what to do with them as killing them would serve no purpose at all; both of them were humans with great powers so couching one of them into making a pact with either he himself or one of his allies would be very fruitful.

Rutilus would see only a slight shifting of black-colored clothing as a man with equally black hair tied in a small ponytail by a thin length of red string was suddenly in front of him, blocking his path towards both Riki and Ashni. The man was Naibu Shizuka, and those strangely yellow-hued eyes would make many consider him one of those Hollow that had a habit of lurking about in shadows before they made a swift kill. He wasn't physically large by any means. Even Riki appeared more muscular, yet he exuded an aura of strength and calm authority, his face a cool mask of calmness despite the destruction of the surroundings around him. "Hello there, Diabolus-san." His tone was quite formal and polite. "As much as I'd like to think this Riki's fault," He cast an eye over the destruction clearly visible and then the burns on his students bodies, "I can't help but think he was lured, or perhaps goaded. Regardless, I'm afraid I can't allow you to harm these two farther, or spirit them away, either." Determination burned in those eyes then and his tone had an almost hypnotic quality to it.

A young woman with flowing black hair done up in two pigtails, clothing colored in peacock undertones and a soft green light surrounding her palms was busy treating the wounds on Riki; who inhaled weakly as the Kidō began the slow healing process of his inner and outer wounds. "He's alive," She said with a great deal of relief. First came the internal injuries, and even though it was only the beginning, her forehead was furrowed with concentration already, her teammates life the prize.

"Do your best, Harumi." Naibu said, his yellow-eyed gaze not leaving Rutilus' maroon. "As you can see, the girl is busy healing my students," He let that statement hang in the air before continuing. "So I would much rather avoid a confrontation with you and give the full measure of my concentration to those who require it. You may have defeated them both, but you sustained injury and expelled energy in the process. I promise you now that if you leave quietly, I will not give chase."

Rutilus really wanted to listen to the man before him; he was right in that Rutilus had sustained injuries as well albeit they were much lighter compared to the injuries his opponent had suffered; the newcomers voice and large amount of charisma would to most be irresistible, and Rutilus would normally be no exception - if it weren't for the simple fact that he couldn't disappoint Dorothy again, she had been so disappointed with him back then - while Rutilus didn't particularly fear her, he had sworn loyalty and to be her faithful servant and he had betrayed her trust.

Rutilus glanced at Naibu before then looking at the heap of bodies at the mans side, as he spoke reluctantly, genuinely saddened by his own words "I'm sorry, but that I simply cannot do, I must deliver these people to her, I don't have much of a choice otherwise. And I have to bring her results" Rutilus' maroon eyes flared to life anew; determination much akin to what had earlier been shown by his now felled opponent - and in a burst of speed Rutilus, though with great strain shifted nine times as nine "speed clones" appeared around him, attacking as if in a legion!

The first five appeared in a pentagram-like shape around Naibu, as they dashed forth from each of their respective positions, energy claws bared for the slaughter; the four remaining clones immediately followed suit albeit their objective was a platoon-like formation and a large assortment of well-coordinated attacks - Rutilus himself had moved away from the other and began to charge up another one of those energy spheres in-between his palms..

"It seems I have no choice." He looked disappointed. "I can't afford to give up these youths, both for personal and other reasons; so it would appear we have come to an impasse. But know that the offer of flight still stands, should you wish to take me up on it." Naibu's calm mask remained and the simple look of determination in those yellow pools that told in volumes that he would not waver, never lessened a hair either. What use was power if one allowed their emotions to drive their actions? Calmness was Naibu's sword, his armor and the very core of his believes; and even as he drew his twin zanpakutō from their sheaths, one an iridescent silver-edged katana that reflected the light almost majestically, while the other was as black as the night sky; Naibu exuded calm as an aura. He didn't give any inner or outward sign of raising his spiritual energy, he just seemed to spread his legs a little. He simply spun and struck in a circle, his blades carrying such raw force that the first five clones were bisected at the waist as Naibu completed the circular strike.

Looking into his opponents eyes then as he and his remaining clones closed in, Naibu's face revealed a brief smile. "Bring your sins into the light, Jōzai." Nothing outward on the black-haired mans body changed, though his zanpakutō melded together to form a single katana with the same iridescent silver blade as before, with the hilt and guard being entirely black. Discerning his opponents words about his mistress to be based around loyalty or strong respect, Naibu played on the pride he would hold in serving someone he considered of great personal worth and invoked the power of Hokori. "Take a look around you," Naibu said, his tone once again hypnotic. "I can sense your spiritual power, and judging by your motions, your like me and rely more on the physical than the spiritual. Yet even so, my students managed to cause you this amount of trouble. Hardly an excellent display on your part," The effect of the technique would cause Rutilus and his clones to feel a degree of inadequacy in themselves and their abilities, as though they were being constantly measured against someone on a higher plain than they, and always falling short. And when one started doubting their power, they done not but damage it.

Rutilus' eyes widened in shock, the clones dissipated into empty air as he fell to his knees in despair; the words had struck him like a hammer and having recently acknowledged his own inadequacy made the effect much stronger still - Rutilus thought of how he had failed Dorothy up til now, he should have been capable of destroying Ashni and Riki much sooner, they were so young and inexperienced and he had lived for centuries!

She had told him "If you ever fight like a whipped puppy again, I will kill you!" Rutilus had thought he had done a good job so far, but he now understood that he had only been decent - hardly worthy of her command, Dorothy wanted the best, and he had only been passable.

The proud Diabolus seemed to become smaller for every insult he aimed at himself, for every thought that showed how pathetic he wore - unaware of the fact that he was gradually defeating himself; because to him, he had already lost: But then again, that was the genius of Jōzai's abilities. Rutilus continued like this before his thoughts came to a halt as he, influenced by Jōzai proceeded to do something that he'd likely never done without such an influence. Rutilus began to chant a phrase in latin "Fidelis Socius, Trucido Agna, Charitas Curator" and as he spoke, every syllable seemed to carry behind tremendous weight, and the earth seemingly shock with each phrase despite the fact that no one besides Rutilus' himself understood what they meant.

Rutilus' body shone up in vibrant flames who billowed out in a vortex-like pattern only to form into fiery phrases, illustrating the words he had just now spoken; and abruptly the vortex of words, phrases and brimstone retracted on itself and etched onto Rutilus' skin, the Diabolus opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out and instead his mouth and eyes were replaced by gaping holes of flames, flames who soon covered up his entire body in something of a cocoon-like form, entirely composed of fire.

The flames vanished as soon as they had arrived to reveal Rutilus, albeit his appearance had changed drastically; he retained a perfectly humanoid figure, but his skin had shifted into a shade of brown, almost red in appearance - his muscles slightly engorged as opposed to his previous form, but quite unnoticeably so; his hair had also changed from black to maroon and become somewhat spiky; the most noticeable however was that his ears had become slightly pointier and longer, given him an almost elven appearance: As he looked around, red sparks of energy danced along the surface of his flesh and running along the ground in sparks - while his Reiatsu had indeed decreased by a third, it felt much more dense and it was very heavy as opposed to before.

Rutilus didn't appear to be affected by his doubts anymore, how could he though; he felt power running from every vein of his body and his injuries had all but healed, similarly to a Resurecciòn. Contrary to what others might've done in a similar situation Rutilus didn't boast or taunt Naibu, he simply moved; and the instant he did so he saw the world and its many details "peel" away to reveal a colorless land, except for three colors, black, white and grey that is - Rutilus noted how the people seemed to all be black, whereas everything else was pure white, and the buildings and similar obstacles were colored grey: He could no longer physically see the difference between Naibu and his students, but he knew that Naibu was the only one still standing and as such he instantly moved at his side, as he attempted to stab his claws trough the other mans back and out from his chest - during this movement Naibu seemingly stood frozen to Rutilus' eyes, and even the slightest of movements seemed impossibly slow.

Watching the transformation with no outward change to his features, Naibu spread his legs farther apart and purposefully took a single step backwards so it would be easier to back up should the attack come from the front. And by the way his foot was now positioned he could quickly turn in the event of an attack from behind as well and respond accordingly. Those who prepared well lived to tell of their exploits. His foes transformation brought forth gouts of flame in his mouth and eyes and red sparks flickered along the surface of his skin. He had heard and read a great deal about various races when he had been a prisoner under Shūhen Kōhai some years ago. The Vizard, Fōrun-juu, Yakubyougami and even the species native to hell - the Diabolus and even the scarce Hiteiteki. He knew their basic characteristics and the prevalent emotions and traits those races tended to experience. Yet he'd never read or seen anything quite like this in the books that had proved to be his only distraction during the days and nights of mental and physical torture.

The transformation was suddenly over as quickly as it had begun and his foe was moving with renewed confidence in his own abilities, not to mention enhanced speed. The eyes he had when his clones had dissipated with Naibu's words were no longer as self-despising as they had been. It would seem his confidence had been restored. But that gave Naibu the one avenue of emotional manipulation that would effect almost all the Diablous. Their shared greed for a bargain to strengthen their powers. Invoking Hōshoku and thanking Shūhen for being too focused on his research to care if he read a book, Naibu played on his opponents sense of sight; creating optical illusions of humans and indeed his own pupils, Naibu not knowing about his foes colorless vision. But he was moving even as his zanpakutō took effect. His reflexes and sense of danger had been honed quite profusely since the day he converted the great majority of his spiritual might and Shinigami powers into raw physical power. His muscles seemed to react to danger instinctively and as he turned to meet his foes attack he saw nothing! He could only sense where his target was, and thankfully, it was enough for him to defend himself.

Raising Jōzai, steel meeting claw, sparks flew! It wasn't just speed Rutilus now possessed, but enhanced strength. Maybe it was just the form augmenting his physical power, or maybe it was the momentum gained from his speedy movement; but whatever the reason, Naibu was sent skidding backwards with an impressed look on his face as he calmly considered his next attack. He altered those optical illusions then and changed their appearance to match his own down to the finest detail, where he then proceeded to lower the small amount of spiritual energy he did possess to make discerning his location all the more difficult. "I take it that transformation would be akin to a Shinigami's Bankai and an Arrancar's Resurecciòn?" He shifted with three of his illusions then to better hide his location so his voice wouldn't give him away.

Rutilus became visible again, and just as he did a gale of wind rippled across the battlefield from his earlier position of departure, spreading earth, dirt and debris in all directions at once, the sudden gale having been created by the immense air friction of his movement. Rutilus was seemingly unaffected by Hoshoku due to the fact that Rutilus had no particular gluttonous emotions for it to increase, and those emotions he did have were so minor that they'd only serve to make Rutilus feel a little hungry, hardly useful in the context of battle.

Rutilus then proceeded to move once more; and when he did so the world became devoid of colors and detail once again; but unlike last time, his opponents were peeled away upon movement, which was odd - but then it dawned on him that his opponents had used optical illusions to gain the upper hand, but that since he couldn't see details and such while moving like this the illusions were dispelled to him. Looking around at the area he finally saw where his enemies had retreated to - appearing behind what he thought was Naibu, but which in fact was the healer that tended to the wounds of Ashni and Riki, Rutilus proceeded to slash at the girls back, unknowing that he had picked the wrong target.

It wasn't often that Naibu was forced to make the choice he was now faced with. If he moved now, he'd arrive to late to save Harumi. Her senses were too finely focused on the task of keeping Riki in this world that she wouldn't be fit to conjure a defense to give him the time he needed to intercept the blow. But if he did nothing she'd be cut down and all hope of rescuing the other two would vanish with her. Taking a deep breathe, Naibu seemed to war with himself for a time before sighing. Raising Jōzai to the heavens, Naibu intoned the phrase "Bankai. Tenrai Jōzai". Nothing outward changed. In fact, the release itself was very plain. Without the inclusion of the Bankai phrase, one would find it difficult to determine something had changed in the first place. Tenrai Jōzai's blade vanished completely and Rutilus and his blade ate not but air as Naibu looked on, the world around them that of Naibu's own making. "Welcome to my world," Naibu said plainly.

Something about the way the man held himself was different. As though the gloves were coming off, so to speak. The aura of calm he radiated hardened and the look in those yellow eyes was altogether too displeased as they took in Rutilus and his new form. "I don't like my Bankai," He explained. "But you gave me no choice by turning your blade on a defenseless girl. Have you no shame?" He meant every word of the comment as well and his tone carried the same hypnotic quality; his mission to rile his foe into a rampage that would open his defenses to exploit. He was in full control. The world of illusion was shaped just like the city they had just been in, with the same destruction and damage. The only difference was that Naibu and Rutilus were very much alone. The consistency of the world he had created was almost real however. The wind blew dust through the air as it had in the real world and the clouds moved like they always did, guided by that wind. "I never imagined you one to get your kicks through picking on mere children. Powerful children, but children all the same." Naibu's tone was as close to anger as one could expect from the man. "But then you Diabolus don't care who you make your bargains with as long as those you make them with serve the ends of increasing your power." It was a cruel avenue of emotional attack, but Tenrai Jōzai was cruel in and of itself and Naibu was simply using the means he had to hand.

The attack failed; Rutilus had been blissfully unaware that he had attacked anyone other than Naibu and as such there was no guilt to play on, it was as always very easy to throw your guilt aside when you felt that what you did was nothing you could've prevented - the fact that Rutilus knew that it was indeed so in his case served to grant him something of an immunity towards these particular emotional attacks.

Rutilus snorted at the offensive and then he moved once again; having closed the distance between and moved behind Naibu so quickly that it seemed like a form of teleportation Rutilus proceeded to slash at the man with his claws in order to pretty much test this new realm for possibilities and uses - among which would be the possibility that his opponent could not be harmed trough ordinary means.

Naibu silently commended the man for the control he had over his emotions and decided he would instead bide his time and wait for the proper moment to strike instead of wasting his time with guess work and vague assumptions. Now that Harumi was safe and in no immediate harm, the world surrounding Naibu and Rutilus shattered as Jōzai was once again in Naibu's hand; his Bankai dispelled. "I meant every word when I said I don't like my Bankai," He said as he turned with swift movements to strike one of those claws aside while the other raked across his chest - Naibu's skin holding up extremely well under the attack in question. His eyes flickered momentarily before he struck again much faster; succeeding in putting distance between himself and Rutilus once again.

"Harumi," He called to his student. "Erect barriers around yourself and the others and keep them strong." She did as she was told, a yellow box surrounding her, with yet another smaller barrier closing beneath its surface to further add to its strength. With his students safety increased, Naibu felt his senses easing. His muscles relaxing. Turning he moved forward with an impressive leap that took him above his foes head, silver blade gleaming as Naibu attempted to cleave his foe in half with a downward strike!

It was odd really, that Naibu's attack while very fast seemed awfully slow to Rutilus eyes and even before the attack had been made Rutilus already knew what would happen, mentally steeling himself for the attack and otherwise readying himself he stood at the same position as Naibu enclosed upon him at great speeds; when the man appeared above him however, Rutilus had already put his claws between the blade and he himself; as he with his free hand points the claws at the man now suspended above him, as the blood-red claws immediately extend at tremendous speeds towards Naibu's body like five spears of energy, aiming to penetrate his skin and inflict great internal damage.

Meanwhile, Harumi would discover great problems with healing Ashni and Riki, as no matter how much healing she applied the wounds only seemed to get worse! The skin around the wounds, in particular the slashing wounds from Rutilus' claws seemed to deform itself under her spell, twisting, churning and moving all on its own as if it were alive - and since she began her healing on Riki his body had been gruesomely deformed albeit he was no longer in danger of dying he'd never be capable of walking straight with these gruesome protrusions and bubbles spread across his body; and when he woke he would undoubtedly be in great pain. The horrific things seemed to grow on his legs as well, another place he had been slashed by Rutilus' claws; as well as anywhere else that the claw marks of Rutilus were visible - he looked nothing like he had done before.

Ashni was in a similar situation though because she had only really been glanced by the claws it was very insignificant as opposed to Riki's state, and Harumi could from this deduce that it must have been a secondary effect from being hit by Rutilus' claws.

Naibu wore a brief smile as he moved his left hand as though he meant to shield himself from the incoming claws. But instead of hitting flesh as Rutilus no doubt expected, those elongated claws struck not but steel! Re-sealing his blade and now wielding the previously seen black blade in addition to the silver, Naibu began his offensive anew. The black blade had formed in such a location that the claws struck its darkened edge and simply stopped. Now twisting his blade free of the claws that suspended him in the air, the force of the action snapping them in the process, Naibu dropped to his feet where he proceeded to make a single strike towards his opponents left leg with the silver-colored blade; with every intention of limiting that great speed with the injury he intended to inflict. His black blade hovered for use in a speedy defense should he require it.

Noticing the wounds not healing as she had intended, Harumi attempted several other healing methods she knew. At present she was simply using her own spiritual energy to attempt knitting the wounds together and ensure the survival of the patient. It was a quick method which afforded a speedy recovery. With the bubbles and protrusions at present, there was only one thing she could. With her own spiritual energy, she only seemed to make things worse. That she quickly found out, so it only left one method open to her. It would take longer and neither Riki nor Ashni would be up and about for some time, so they'd both need to cease their information gathering until they were fully healed. Deciding instead to use her friends own spiritual energy to accelerate the natural recovery of the body, she began forming the weaves required by tapping Riki's own reservoir, which had been drained quite close to being empty, though it was all she could for now.

Riki floated in and out of consciousness though; the brief moments the waking world brought him were enough to tell him he still lived and hadn't been killed as he thought he had been. There seemed to be a memory, fairly recent, of his staring into a white light and outright refusing to walk towards it. When his eyes opened it was brief at best, maybe no more than one or two seconds, but those moments of awareness served to hit home just how much pain he was in. A black-haired girl was leaning over him, her hair tickling his cheeks as the wind blew them across the lines of his face. "Harumi...?" Then he felt his power being drew on, but darkness once again took him...

Rutilus' confidence got the better of him, his Reiatsu was after all condensed in such a manner as to repel slashing attacks; this was partially true in this case as well - what he hadn't taken note of however was the great strength that Naibu had, and as the blade swung for his foot it resulted in a quite serious gash, and Rutilus was forced to retreat in order to avoid losing the precious limb, and like Naibu had intended this would likely limit the Diabolus' speed to some extent, although it was uncertain just how much.

Rutilus, taking note of his own foolishness proceeded to leap backwards in order to consider his next move; it didn't take long considering though as the second his feet touched the ground he was once again behind Naibu but this time however he made no direct attack but instead attempted to clinch onto the other man from behind, holding him in a firm embrace, Rutilus' own strength was admittedly little in comparison to Naibu's but from behind it should prove more than adequate for the purpose.

The moment Rutilus moved this close to Naibu the latter would quickly notice that it had become almost impossible for him to breathe, it was as if he choked on the air he inhaled; and from this knowledge he quickly deduced that Rutilus aimed to keep him in place long enough for him to effectively "suffocate" and then be incapacitated from air loss, allowing Rutilus to calmly take hand on his students unobstacled.

Harumi's quick thinking proved to be truthful as her attempts served to heal Riki, slowly but certainly seemed to succeed, although he'd likely not recover completely until he had regained his Spiritual Power; the deformities did not vanish however and a single skin-bubble began to grow quickly before it.. popped, revealing an even deeper wound than it had been originally; this began happening to several other skin-bubbles as well, roughly three and it became painfully clear that these aggravated injuries were too extensive to be healed by Riki's energy, and judging by Harumi's own intelligence Riki would be in mortal danger if those three were allowed to pop as well. There was a possible solution but she'd likely detest it due to the extensive damage it would do to Riki's body - but when she had administered her previous healing spell not a single one of the bubbles had popped, if she continued to use her healing spell it should buy more time for someone more competent to treat the injuries, even though it would further putrefy the Fōrun-juu's body, the question was however, would she do it?

Harumi was drawing a blank, though. If she attempted any form of healing with her own spiritual energy, the wounds only got worse. If she attempted to accelerate Riki's natural recovery by using his own spiritual energy, those horrible deformities only festered, stirred and eventually burst! There was little she could, but if she did nothing, he would be deformed for the rest of his life; and knowing Riki, he wouldn't want to life that way. "I could take him through the Senkaimon to Horiwari and get Ino to look at him," The thought was desperate and altogether too risky. She could get Riki and Ashni there and find that Ino could do nothing for them either. Deciding she'd prevent the deformities from growing farther only to burst by administering the healing she had attempted first and foremost, Harumi began sewing up the wounds only for them to reopen again as though it were simply there to mock her attempts. But her mind was working for a solution, and she would find one.

Naibu, unaware of his students shared predicament, took a gasp of air as his foes limbs closed around him and the air vanished from the area. But impossible as it may seem, even this situation didn't seem to outwardly phase the man. His expression may very well be carved from a stone for all the emotion it gave. One of his foes arms had closed around his waist and left arm, while the other had reached past his armpit to ensnare the free right. Effectively trapped in that state, Naibu could do little. He couldn't kick as Rutilus had positioned himself out of the way to prevent that, and in this stance, his physical strength meant little because he could barely move his shoulders a hairsbreadth. But Rutilus had made a mistake. His head was perfectly positioned for Naibu to escape. Mimicking an action Kenji had once taken to escape from a similar situation, Naibu leaned his head forward and brought it sharply back; smacking his foe between the eyes with the back of his head, grip lessening. His right arm came free and after raising it and drawing it back, Rutilus was sent skidding back as Naibu moved to an area that allowed hi to breathe. "You fight well," He said in a complimenting tone of voice, that carried no hidden meaning or weight.

Rutilus' nose had started to bleed due to the vicious impact and he looked somewhat baffled by the action as he had not quite expected Naibu to do something of that sort. Rutilus then re-collected himself slowly as his hands began to crackle with something akin to crimson electricity as he curled his right hand into a fist before he proceeded to slam the floor directly beneath him, resulting in a shockwave of red energy that was meant to throw Naibu off-balance; as Rutilus straight afterwards attempted to ram the other man straight in the chest with the full brunt of his Manus Trucido, an attack which would've been made much less likely to fail if Naibu lost his footing.

Harumi's efforts while fruitless to actually heal Riki did however keep the skin-bubbles from bursting, but in exchange the girl had to watch one of her closest friends deviate more and more from the appearance of a human being and becoming something of an amorphous blob - and certainly any other girl would've been reduced to emotional chaos by this experience; luckily for Harumi though she was by no means a normal girl, and her clarity of mind and level-headedness served to help her in this situation.

Sheathing his now active Shikai through his ōbi, Naibu waited as he calmly observed. Watching his foes actions and guessing his intentions based on the movements of his body and muscles, Naibu took a deep breathe before finally regulating every system in his body. His breathing slowed. Adrenaline ceased, making his heart-rate lower. His features became passive and blank, like a well worn stone that had bore the brunt of the elements for centuries. When the shockwave struck not a feature changed. Naibu remained balanced, his equilibrium reached, acting to counter the shockwave attempting to shake him and leave him open. Eyes finally snapping open, Naibu inhaled, chest popping out from the increase in air in his lungs. Muscles that were hidden by his kosode moments ago were now clearly visible, veins slightly pronounced - though not to the same degrees of Riki's earlier.

As Rutilus moved in on him, the black-haired Shinigami revealed a small smile. It wasn't cocky or even remotely superior. It was a smile one might turn on a friend they hadn't seen in a long time, though his eyes told an utterly different tale. Those yellow eyes were aflame with the mans indomitable spirit, burning so like the creatures many people though they mimicked. They screamed "I will not be overcome". He had physical strength that rivaled the late Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto, none of which was encumbered by advanced age, and Naibu could control it masterfully. Maki Zhijun had taught him fully before his training under his Sensei had ended. Skills he had brought further through his own years of training afterwards.

Dashing forward slightly, balance still kept, Naibu skidded to a halt and braced himself. His forearm connected with Rutilus' moving body, but instead of buckling of its own accord, Naibu cocked his elbow to absorb the impact, where he proceeded to drive his body forward once again. His elbow now rested in the center of his foes chest and with a mighty heave, Rutilus was over the latter's shoulder and sent flying towards the wreckage of a building nearby as Naibu exhaled; muscles relaxing. With his body relaxed once again, Naibu took a ready stance, his posture favoring defense and Hakuda. The way he held himself was a more refined method of how Riki had earlier, making it quite evident they were student and teacher. His right hand was bent at an angle towards the heavens, his left almost brushing the floor. His legs were spread apart and bent, with the left almost touching the fingers on his left hand; boot kicking up a small amount of dust as it came to a stop. His right foot was held at a slight angle that would make it easy for him to move forward at incredible speed by propelling himself off the floor; and the way he was positioned meant he could reach either Rutilus or his students in the blink of an eye should he need to.

Rutilus was sent scuttling trough the air as he twisted around aerodynamically so that his legs were positioned towards the wall of the building; but he had forgotten a single very important thing, he was wounded; and as his feet connected with the structure of the building a great jolt of pain surged up his back and elicited a long groan, that sounded suspiciously like that of a dog before he fell to the ground, his momentum having been handicapped by his injury, and the force of the attack having further damaged him.

Rutilus refused to give up though, and from a lying position he proceeded to procure three wolf-like projectiles out of the thin air which were shot out towards Naibu like a three homing rockets, in an attempt to turn the tables.

The projectiles sank into twin Kidō barriers summoned by Harumi, the action catching Naibu's eye. When the barriers vanished, the projectiles landed harmlessly on the floor with three clinks. "Harumi, whats wrong?" It was then that Naibu noticed the deformities across Riki's wounds, and to a lesser degree, those on Ashni. They looked like massive tumors sticking out of his skin, swelling with liquid and pulsing as though they had a life all of their own. It wasn't often that Naibu allowed his anger to rise, least of all show, yet his features were hate given form now. "Take him through to Horiwari." He could tell just looking at them those deformities of the flesh that the healing Harumi had been attempting would be no help, nor would anything the normal medics stationed in Horiwari would be fit to cure. No, this required something more potent. "If you can, take both through to Rika. But make sure Ino's close enough to heal whats left of them both. I'll be along shortly."

Turning again to look at Rutilus, Naibu managed to mask his anger and quell it. "Go." He said it with a whiplash. "I have more important matters demanding my time now than playing with you." Not quelled. Anger laced his tone thickly. "If you chose defiance, then I will destroy you. Your injured, Diabolus. Your speed will be effected with that injury and soon your confidence will be as well." He held himself ready regardless, shimmering momentarily before reappearing beside his pupils.

Rutilus got up on shaky legs as he turned on his heels and vanished tracelessly, he had no reason to stand around eitherhow now that his prey had escaped: Besides, his opponent was right - he had suffered heavy blows and wouldn't be capable of fighting a foe at this calibre in his present state. He just hoped that his mistress would be somewhat forgiving.

Meanwhile...

Kentaro Hiroshi watched the scene from a shadow on the rooftop of a building, said shadow cast by the rooftop exit positioned behind him; his cloak billowing out behind him in the breeze. His fists were clenched tightly at his side, his silver-tinged black hair blowing in the wind as surely as his cloak. He had already made the trip back and forth to Horiwari to alert both his mother and Rika that Riki and Ashni would need medical aid, and after giving them the name of the city, the district and the general description of the landscape around so they would find them easily enough, he had left to watch from a distance. He had felt like intervening, but the appearance of Naibu and Harumi had stopped any notion of giving that thought credit. He and Naibu's relationship had been strained quite a degree after the kidnap of Akiye and he couldn't bear helping the man who wouldn't help him. Yet he was still standing here gaping like a fool and wishing the man he still called his Sensei would win and turn to him with assurances that she'd be alright and that they would rescue her. But he didn't, so Kentaro didn't leap to his aid either.

So Kentaro turned his back on them, knowing that they'd be fine. His mental abilities assured him they would be. In fact, he had seen a vision of it earlier when he had clasped hands with the blond-haired man he considered his greatest friend in the world. Riki's twin had been bent over him, her rejection of fate powers curing the blemishes that Kentaro's keen vision could pick out even from this distance. His mother would be present as well. healing the wounds and scars the blemishes would cause and Riki's life would continue. So his wandering began again, his quest for knowledge taking precedence...

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