He lived day by day, fighting and eating any Hollows that came his way. It was a rather dry and unfulfilling life, but Naruto was happy he could even enjoy the peace he was denied in his past. And it was rather interesting for Naruto, since he could actually remember his past. He reasoned that the trauma embedded it in his brain, and it wouldn’t be gone for quite a while.
Two centuries had passed by the vulpine Hollow’s estimation, and it was two quiet centuries. For a former ninja and a Hollow, at least. He didn’t bother hunting Adjuchas, because it was too troublesome, as Shikamaru would put it. They were resilient, ambitious and would pitch everything into a battle just to grow stronger. Much like himself when he was alive, but he had matured in his humble opinion. Gillians were far bigger and easier targets, and they made a tasty meal that would last quite a while. Gillians were also more commonplace, and more stupid. As every good Hollow knows, a stupid target is a sure target.
And then there were the Vasto Lordes. Naruto knew there were quite a few near the centre of Hueco Mundo, wherever that was in the endless desert. The former ninja didn’t approach them only because they were probably going to be troublesome, and he didn’t have the patience to go hunting one. Plus, they scared away all Gillians, which meant there would be no ready food source nearby if he fought and defeated one. So he was a rather unique Vasto Lorde, one that actually travelled around, as mentioned by a couple of Adjuchas which tried to attack him but found themselves torn to pieces just as quickly as they determined him to be a viable target.
Nothing in Hueco Mundo really intrigued him, since he was top of the food chain, and nothing could seriously threaten him unless it was something stronger than a Vasto Lorde. And few creatures were stronger than Vasto Lordes in Hueco Mundo, except for Arrancars. Now, from the stories he heard (and from the memories he got from eating Hollows), Arrancars were Hollows which removed their masks and became part Hollow, part shinigami. He knew the so-called enemies of Hollows, and he understood they had a greatly different form of combat. He didn’t even need Shikamaru’s intellect to tell him a combination would be highly beneficial for the Hollow involved.
But he wasn’t really seeking power. He had no need for it in the vast expanses of Hueco Mundo, populated only by Hollows. Arrancars were rare, rarer than Vasto Lordes…until rumours of a shinigami staying in Hueco Mundo surfaced. A shinigami, working with Hollows to destroy his old home? Ludicrous. But it was happening from what Naruto gathered, and the man had even commissioned for a massive palace to be constructed for his budding army and himself. An Arrancar army, to be exact. To find himself outclassed in power by dozens of previously weaker opponents left a bitter taste in Naruto’s mouth, but the best medicine is always the most bitter. He never bit off more than he could chew in this new existence of his, and venturing to find the elusive palace and the Arrancars within was just asking for trouble. And Naruto had enough trouble in his previous life, thank you very much.
So Naruto continued the peaceful life he led for the past two centuries, munching on Hollows and trotting the bleached sands of Hueco Mundo. Given his karma, he should have expected that trouble would find him again. But Namikaze Naruto had never been one to shy away from trouble, had he?
Neliel Tu Oderschvank didn’t mind recruiting missions. She was a proponent of peace despite her immense fighting ability, and absolutely hated conflict of any sort. Recruiting missions were normally docile, happy and not at all violent, with the exceptions of a few scuffles between her and the Hollows. Recruiting missions also meant she didn’t have to stay too long away from Las Noches, and by proxy, her two Fraccion Pesche Guatiche and Dondochakka Bilstin. Thus, she should have been delighted to get another recruiting mission instead of those eradication missions to remove overtly curious pests near Las Noches. But she was not a happy Arrancar.
Nnoitra Jiruga was her partner for this particular mission. She didn’t have any major problems with the Octava Espada, but he was a pain in the ass, to be blunt. And this is from the most peace-loving and least likely to swear Arrancar. Nnoitra was the antithesis of Neliel. She detested fighting; he lived for it. She hated killing; he reveled in it. She adored her Fraccion; he abused his. It seemed as though Aizen-sama wanted to have some fun messing with her, as it was evident even to the unobservant Yammy that the Tercera and Octava Espadas disliked each other immensely. And this dislike was far too easily materialised, with furious outbursts from Nnoitra and cool responses from Neliel even as they travelled.
Their one-sided bickering could be heard from miles away easily, and it sent any potential recruits running. Finally exasperated (which was practically impossible for the normally patient woman), Neliel stalked away from the taunts Nnoitra was spouting as she moved further away. Her walk took her far away from her fellow Espada, and her frustration led her to trip over something. It was, in fact, a rather easy thing for even the much vaunted Arrancars to trip over something in Hueco Mundo. Hueco Mundo was basically a desert, and there wasn’t much to trip over besides one’s own feet. So to trip over something on the ground when not paying attention was somewhat of a norm.
Neliel tripped over something that felt vaguely like a body, and fell on the ground in an undignified oomph. Growling, she was about to give the thing a piece of her mind just to relieve her frustrations, when it stirred. Blushing in embarrassment, she realised that she was about to scold a sleeping individual for causing her to trip. Her bad mood abated for the moment, she waited patiently for the Hollow to wake up. “Urgh…is it morning already?”
The green-haired Espada couldn’t help but giggle. “There’s no morning in Hueco Mundo.”
“Am I hearing voices in my head, or is there really someone else talking to me?” the Hollow wonder aloud as he sat up.
“No, you’re not hearing things,” Neliel affirmed.
“Okay. I’m not supposed to attack whoever is talking civilly to me right now, right?” the Hollow continued, rubbing his chin awkwardly with his claws. It made an amusing sight for Neliel, who giggled again. “Nope.”
“Then can I enquire the name of the beautiful angel sprawled to the right of me?” the Hollow turned his head sideways to stare at Neliel. “Damn, my hot babe instincts are still working. Never thought it would work when I am a Hollow, but it sure as hell is ringing right now.”
Neliel blushed. The closest compliment about her looks she ever got was the perverted leer from Nnoitra when he thought she wasn’t noticing. The vulpine Hollow grinned foxily. “So, what brings a beauty like you to these parts? Not that I mind a beautiful woman falling for me, but I doubt I’m the handsome devil I once was.”
“Aren’t you the charmer,” Neliel remarked, willing her blush to go away. You’re the Tercera Espada, damn it! Act like it! “I’m actually recruiting for Aizen-sama’s army.”
Before Neliel could continue, the Hollow stopped her with an open palm. “Before you go into the ‘Aizen-sama can promise you great power’ spiel I know you have, I’ll let you know I have no interest in gaining more power. I’m happy being a Vasto Lorde. Being an Arrancar doesn’t interest me.”
Neliel was dumbfounded by the answer the Hollow gave. “You know, I’ve never met a Hollow that didn’t want more power, even when offered.”
“Well, now you have,” the Vasto Lorde shrugged. “I’ve had enough episodes of power-hungry bastards trying to take over the world in my past life, so I’m a bit apprehensive about power.”
“Past life? You remember your past?” Neliel blinked, stunned.
“Yea, but that’s not the main point. What other benefits besides power do I get if I become an Arrancar?” the Hollow asked.
Neliel thought carefully, but really couldn’t find anything that would seem attractive for the rather unique Vasto Lorde to be convinced. Hence, she decided on a more unorthodox approach. “Well, you get a bed and your own room for one. The rooms are large enough to even do light training.”
“Hmm…go on,” the Hollow gestured.
“You get regular baths, and gain human looks, except for a piece of your mask,” Neliel continued.
“Not a bad idea,” the anthropomorphic fox stroked his chin once more. “I could become my dashing self once more.”
Neliel wracked her mind, before a brainwave hit her. “You get to see me everyday.”
“Oh boy, a beauty like you in my sights everyday,” the Hollow sighed dreamily. “The stuff of dreams…”
He squinted at her suspiciously. Neliel found the gesture rather cute…for a Hollow. “You’re not lying to me, are you? You aren’t a hallucination?”
“Nope,” Neliel shook her head, amused at the way the conversation was going. Normally, she would have to beat the Vasto Lorde into submission, or have him follow at the first mention of more power. But no, she was talking about beds and baths to try and convince a Hollow to become an Arrancar. The next thing she knew, Nnoitra would be a docile rabbit.
“Does this mean I can seduce you with my manly charms and my witty words?” the vulpine Hollow winked.
Neliel laughed, a melodious voice that enraptured the Hollow. “You can try, but I’m not that easy to seduce.”
“I’m in,” he declared. “I love a challenge more than anything but beautiful women like you.”
Neliel blushed again.
Neliel collected Nnoitra from another one of his killing sprees, and they set off back for Las Noches. Of course, Nnoitra was unhappy his fun ended so quickly, and made sure to send all forms of taunts at the Vasto Lorde. Naruto (for obviously, it was he) took it all in his stride, sending his own retorts back at Nnoitra. It kept Neliel amused for the rest of the trip, having not been targeted by Nnoitra’s words, and watching the tall, lanky Arrancar lose terribly badly in a war of words against a being that was supposedly less intelligent was just plain hilarious.
“I’m telling you, sexism holds no place in today’s society,” Naruto said patiently, in a tone that teachers used for children who couldn’t understand what they were teaching.
“And I’m telling ya, women are useless!” Nnoitra ranted. “And stop mocking me with your tone!”
“I’m not mocking you, Nnoitra,” Naruto stated slowly, causing the Espada to grind his teeth in indignation. “And women are not useless. Don’t you know that in the human world, ninety percent of all top assassins are women? They can do whatever men can, and do it better. Just take Neliel-san here. She’s obviously stronger than you are. She takes combat to a whole new level, and can even be humbler than you about it. That’s why women deserve our respect.”
“You shut your trap!” Nnoitra roared. “Women are a waste of space, and that’s final!”
Naruto shook his head, giving Nnoitra a pitying look. How he pulled it off with limited facial movements and a fox muzzle, Neliel would never know. “They are much more efficient than men in whatever they do, and they are required for reproduction biologically, for every species of animal in the human world. Without women, we’ll never have animals, let alone humans, and Hollows would thus never exist. Besides, men are, on average, larger and heavier than women. So if any gender is a waste of space, it’s men. After all, for humans, the females have all the resources they need for asexual reproduction, while males don’t.”
“What the hell! Stop talking about humans, you retard! We’re Hollows!” Nnoitra howled, barely restraining himself from lunging at the Vasto Lorde.
“The similarities between us and humans are endless. Why, we originate from humans. That makes them our ancestors in a sense. You start analyses from the roots of the problem; humans are our roots, and so obviously I’ll talk about humans,” Naruto justified.
“You…you…we’re nowhere like humans! And where the hell do you get all this bullshit!” Nnoitra retorted weakly.
“It’s basic knowledge, Nnoitra, which every decent individual should know. Obviously you are not well-read. You should start reading. It’s good for the mind to be active and it always good to have a wide array of knowledge about everything under the sun…or moon in Hueco Mundo,” Naruto advised.
Before Nnoitra could shout something, Neliel cut into the conversation. “As much as I would like this interesting debate to continue, we’ve arrived at Las Noches.”
“Oh my,” Naruto remarked, as he gazed at the super-structure that was Las Noches. “The rumours don’t do it justice.”
“Impressed, eh?” Nnoitra gloated, finally knowing something Naruto didn’t seem to know. “It’s as big as-”
“Seireitei? I’ve heard,” Naruto nodded sagely.
Neliel quickly ushered Naruto into the palace, avoiding any potential bloodshed. She made her way to the throne room, as the Espadas called it. It consisted of a throne…and nothing else. As expected, Aizen and Gin were already waiting, Aizen seated on the throne. He had the amused expression going for him the past few years, always smiling as if he was watching a not particularly funny comedy. Gin, on the other hand, was smiling like everything was a joke. Neliel had come to respect the way Gin hid his emotions; it was effective, and it scared the hell out of greener combatants.
“Welcome back, my dear Espadas,” Aizen smiled, standing. “I see you’ve brought a guest.”
“Can we just cut the bullshit and get on with it,” Nnoitra grumbled, his mood sour.
“Don’t be so impatient, Nnoitra,” Gin said good-naturedly. “It’s a momentous occasion to have a Vasto Lorde join our ranks, ya know.”
“Indeed,” Aizen’s smile widened. “Good work, Neliel, Nnoitra. Would you please be so kind as to call upon the rest of your colleagues? They should witness the birth of another one of their brethren.”
“As you wish, Aizen-sama,” Neliel bowed, leaving the room. Nnoitra followed suit, grumbling all the way.
Soon, the two Espadas returned, along with more Arrancars. Naruto was already swathed in bandages, and encased in a cube awaiting shinigamification.Gin retrieved the Hōgyoku, and passed it to Aizen, who held it rather reverently. “My dear Espadas, we have a new member joining our ranks today. I believe that he will prove to be an important asset for us in the future.”
The brown-haired shinigami placed the small gem against the cube that held Naruto, and released his massive reiatsu into the artifact. Activated, the Hōgyoku glowed brightly, and Naruto was engulfed in a bright light. Used to the light display, the Espada watched on silently as the cube shattered. The glow took a while to dissipate, and when it did, Neliel couldn’t help but blush. Naruto had grown, and was 6’6” tall. He had sun-kissed hair that spiked up in all directions, and cerulean eyes that held a hidden mirth within their depths. His skin was tan, and it meshed well with his bright hair colour. The remnants of his Hollow mask was a forehead and cheek guard which framed his face. His body was toned, wiry muscles hiding great strength. His Hollow hole remained dead centre of his abdomen. A red, nondescript katana lay on the ground, with a nine-point star as the guard. He was, of course, unclothed.
Naruto studied his new features for a moment. He turned towards Neliel, winking at her. “So, how do I look?”
Gin chuckled at the flustered expression of the Tercera Espada. Aizen’s smile widened. “Tell us your name.”
“Uzumaki Naruto,” Naruto said clearly. “Not the most common of Hollow names, I know.”
“You seem very accustomed to your new form already,” Aizen commented. “That’s very rare for even a Vasto Lorde.”
“I am rather unique, even by Hollow standards,” Naruto shrugged.
“Then don’t mind me if I get straight to the point,” Aizen said. “The Espada is missing a member currently. The Quinta Espada was recently killed by unknown forces, and we need a fitting replacement. And I believe you will be suitable to such a position.”
“I’m still new to this Arrancar thing, and you’re making me one of your top generals already? I’m touched,” Naruto bowed, the sarcasm lightly veiled.
“How did you know the Espada are the top guns in Las Noches?” Nnoitra sneered. “We didn’t even tell you a single shit!”
Naruto rolled his eyes. “I’m rather observant, unlike you.”
Nnoitra was about to launch himself at the smirking Naruto, until Aizen raised his hand, stopping the Octava in mid lunge. “Enough. You have raised a relevant point. Neliel, please guide our new Quinta Espada as he learns the ropes.”
“Understood, Aizen-sama,” Neliel bowed.
“So, who are all those people back there?” Naruto gestured with his thumb, pointing in the general direction of the throne room.
“They are the Espada, all of them the strongest Arrancar in Aizen-sama’s army,” Neliel explained, as Naruto searched the massive walk-in closet for suitable clothes. “We are numbered from zero to nine. Stark, the bored-looking male, is the Primera. Barragan, the one with the crown-like mask, is the Segunda. I’m the Tercera, while Ulquiorra, the one with the half-helmet is the Cuarta. You are the new Quinta, and Grimmjow, the blue-haired male, is the Sexta. The Septima is Aaroneiro, one of two natural Arrancars in the Espada currently. He’s the one with the frilly collars. The Octava is Nnoitra, and the Novena is Dordonii. He’s the one with the forehead plate, rather similar to yours. The man is a bit eccentric, but a good combatant nonetheless. He’s also the other naturally-created Arrancar. Finally, the Cera Espada is also the Decima. Yammy is the weakest of all Espadas in his unreleased state, but when he’s released, he’s the strongest. Hence his numbering. He’s the hulking individual always with Ulquiorra.”
“Sounds confusing, but it’s not going to affect me unduly, so what the heck,” Naruto remarked, pulling on his jacket.
Naruto was dressed in the regular Arrancar garb, and the only difference was his jacket, which had high collars that reached his chin in height. He left the zipper hanging at his sternum, revealing part of his midsection. Neliel smiled. “Come on, let’s get you your number.”
Naruto opted for his tattoo to be placed on his right shoulder blade. He found no point to put it somewhere highly visible. Nnoitra was one to show off his rank by putting the tattoo where it could be easily seen (namely, his tongue), but Naruto had no qualms about hiding his strength. It was one of the biggest lessons he learnt as a ninja, and he wasn’t about to forget his training. Speaking of ninja, I wonder if I can still pull off some of my ninja tricks?
As Naruto pondered the possible ramifications, Neliel subtly observed the blonde Arrancar. He’s a Vasto Lorde turned Arrancar, which means he’s rather powerful. His reiatsu levels are not very impressive, but it could be that he’s hiding his strength. I highly doubt his reiatsu is actually so low, almost down to the level of Aaroneiro. Aaroneiro, after all, is a Gillian-class Arrancar. From the way he walks, he’s definitely one with lots of experience fighting, no doubt from his time as a Hollow. Being a bipedal Hollow helps I guess. I still remember the time Nnoitra found it hard to walk on two legs. He’s got a quiet confidence in his abilities, and no swagger like Nnoitra or Grimmjow does. Overall, someone often underestimated, and highly dangerous.
“You know, Neliel-san, if you continue staring at me like that, I’m going to think my seductive charms are getting to you,” Naruto commented amusedly.
Neliel swatted his arm playfully. “Dream on, Naruto-san.”
Neliel introduced Pesche and Dondochakka to Naruto, who was greeted rather enthusiastically by the two Fraccions. Dondochakka even burst into tears at the sight of the new Quinta. When Naruto finally managed to calm the Fraccion down, Pesche commented that Naruto would make a good life partner for Neliel, seeing as Naruto seemed like the caring type. Dondochakka’s waterworks started up again, this time from the sheer joy that came from such wondrous news. It took another five minutes for Naruto to calm the polka-dot Fraccion down, and to deny all claims that he was romantically involved with Neliel.
Neliel took him around Las Noches next, showing him the massive palace. As she did, she listed off the various rules the Espada had to abide by, which weren’t too many. Naruto guessed the freedom granted to the Espada was to keep them more loyal. Naruto absorbed the sights, memorising every nook and cranny of the place. It was ingrained in him from his past, that his surroundings could have a massive impact on battles, depending on how he used it. He made a mental note to explore the place more thoroughly when he had the time.
He was assigned a room beside Neliel’s, since she was supposed to guide him along. Hence, he was invited for dinner by the Arrancar, and he accepted. Pesche was, for his goofiness, a wonderful cook. Maybe that’s why Neliel-san adores her Fraccions so much, Naruto mused, as he scrapped his plate clean. Not as good as Ichiraku Ramen, but good nonetheless.
“Naruto-san, tomorrow, we’re going to start your training,” Neliel informed. “I’ll teach you the basics of each Arrancar ability, and you can develop them yourself.”
“So we’re going to be doing intense activities that will get us hot and bothered, just you and me?” Naruto quirked an eyebrow, before grinning. “I’m in.”
“I told you Nel-sama likes him,” Pesche whispered to Dondochakka, who nodded in agreement. “See, she’s blushing! Normally, if some guy says that, she would have decked him already.”
“I heard that, Pesche,” Neliel said, annoyed.
“I’ll be doing the dishes now,” the Fraccion said hurriedly.
“I challenge you to a duel!” Nnoitra yelled, landing in the soft sands near Neliel and Naruto.
Neliel sighed exasperatedly, which had Naruto cocking his eyebrow. “Does he do this all the time?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Neliel muttered. “I’m afraid our training will have to be cut short, while I deal with Nnoitra.”
“Why not let me try?” Naruto suggested. “I’m itching for a workout, and a fight is the fastest way to learn the ways of combat for Arrancars.”
“What?” Nnoitra drawled. “I’m here to fight Neliel, not you.”
“It won’t hurt, will it?” Naruto grinned, falling into a loose stance. It was only thanks to his photographic memory, that he could still remember all those taijutsu styles Gai taught so enthusiastically to him after two centuries. “If you beat me, you have bragging rights. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t even be challenging Neliel-san, who’s stronger than I am.”
“Fine. A fight is a fight,” Nnoitra sneered. “You’re a newbie, so I’ll go easy on you.”
“You sure you want that?” Naruto whispered, tapping Nnoitra on his shoulder from behind. The lanky Espada whirled around, to find only the slightest disturbance in the sand. Dumbfounded, he turned back, to see the blond Arrancar smiling and waving mockingly.
Growling, Nnoitra threw himself at Naruto, his massive crescent blade tearing through the air. The weapon slammed heavily into the sand, sending a cloud of sand into the air. Naruto was delicately poised on top of Nnoitra’s zanpakutō, smirking at the Octava Espada’s disbelieving expression. Naruto smashed his foot against Nnoitra’s face, sending the man flying. He followed up with a spin, landing another kick squarely against the left side of Nnoitra’s face. Nnoitra spluttered as he ate sand, but rose quickly, a wide grin adorning his face. “Maybe you aren’t so weak after all! This could be fun!”
He swung his massive weapon wildly, each swing stronger and faster than the last. Naruto dodged them easily, his reflexes not at all dulled from his time as a Hollow. Nnoitra got annoyed as Naruto continued to dodge, showing no signs of fighting back. “Where’s the fight in you? Are you scared of me? Draw your damn blade, asshole!”
The blond Arrancar ducked beneath another particular wild swing, and grabbed Nnoitra’s zanpakutō where shaft met blade. Pulling, he reeled the surprised Octava in, and he chopped the Espada’s neck painfully. Nnoitra gurgled, his grip on his weapon loosened. Naruto sent him flying with a kick to the sternum, and the ominous sound of cracking bones was heard. Nnoitra hit the ground on his back, his breathing laboured. Before he knew it, his weapon was stabbed downwards, his neck in the centre of the crescent. Naruto easily sunk the zanpakutō into the ground, such that the blade of Nnoitra’s own weapon rested just against his neck, trapping him.
“You are wild and unfocused, and too predictable despite all that. All you do is swing your blade around. Once someone gets past your weapon’s range, and gets into your guard, you are unable to counter effectively. I used my fists and feet, and I defeated you with nothing more than speed and tactics,” Naruto admonished.
“Kill me then,” Nnoitra gasped. “Kill me to prove your superiority.”
“No. You are important to Aizen, and I’m sure he wouldn’t like Espadas killing each other,” Naruto shook his head. “And I have nothing to prove here. It is you who had something to prove, and you failed. I won’t kill you, just as Neliel-san won’t kill you.”
Naruto turned to Neliel, who had a rather solemn expression on her face. “Sorry for taking so long. We can head back to training now.”
Neliel nodded, and the two Espadas left.
“You defeated him faster than even I would,” Neliel commented, as the two Espadas strolled to another deserted destination for training.
“I just used some rudimentary martial arts and a good dose of common sense,” Naruto shrugged.
“Rudimentary?” Neliel arched an elegant eyebrow. “That was far from rudimentary. Your movements were far too smooth to be considered rudimentary. You didn’t even draw your zanpakutō! When Nnoitra challenges me, even I have to draw my blade!”
“Geez, it’s nothing really,” Naruto rubbed the back of his head, smiling sheepishly. Huh, some habits still stick around after centuries. “Besides, I’m probably less effective if I do use my zanpakutō. I’m not really a weapon-using person.”
“Then swordsmanship is high on the agenda,” Neliel decided. “Shinigami prefer using their zanpakutō. Rarely do they fight without their weapons. It’s important to at least know some swordsmanship to counter them if need be.”
They came to a stop, standing in the middle of an empty desert. Neliel smiled, an amused and predatory glint in her eyes. “And our first lesson will be about defence.”
I know that look, Naruto groaned inwardly.