The tower shook.
Inside, Ichigo and Urahara both looked up automatically, Urahara’s eyes going unfocused as he took in what his wards were saying.
“Aizen,” he said, standing up as the tower shook again. Urahara’s mouth was in a flat line, no signs of the relaxation or amusement that normally crossed his face. “Ichigo, you should probably stay here.”
Before Ichigo could even protest that, Urahara was heading for the door, snatching up his blade as he went. That was when Ichigo knew it was really serious. Urahara prided himself on not having to use his blade with most spells. That he was already preparing to use it was a horrible sign.
Ichigo scrambled after him, only to hit a barrier across the front door. That….
Snarling to himself, Ichigo turned and bolted towards the stairs. Urahara would have set the wards on all the windows and doors of the ground floor and the one above. The basement would still have several ways out, but Ichigo went up instead. He checked on the third level, and did not see the shimmer of warding over those windows.
As he bolted to the window, he felt the tower shake again. Shoving open the glass and shutters, he looked out onto a magical battlefield.
Lightning tore down from the skies as Urahara called it down, striking at Aizen’s shields. There was a flare of light, even as Ichigo rocked back from the rush of air pushed aside by the violent assault. He blinked the glare away, shaking his head, and saw Aizen’s answer of a giant serpent. Even from there, so high in the air, Ichigo could see the venom dripping from its fangs as it lunged for Urahara.
The blond danced back, a crimson shield coming up to block the attack, his blade slashing forward, only to be blocked by Aizen’s staff.
They were so close to each other. Too close. Wizard battles did not get to the point of hand to hand. Not normally.
But, Ichigo realized, looking down at the pair of them, they were not normal wizards.
The amounts of power they threw around left a taste in the air that burned the back of his throat, like he had inhaled too hot steam. There was the smell of ozone and blood, so strong he could taste it on his lips as he licked them.
More than once, he had to duck down as a spell splashed against the walls of the tower itself. The crawl of power shattered the glass in the windows, and he covered his head with his arms. At least until the shards stopped falling on him. Then he was up and watching again.
Outside influence in a wizard duel was, usually, bad. It was the only reason Ichigo hadn’t flung himself into the fray yet. He had to find the pattern to step in, or else he might distract Urahara at the wrong moment.
As he watched, Aizen somehow summoned up a sandstorm, which was deflected with another shield. Behind it, Urahara was working on a return strike. Then Aizen did some gesture, and the world around him shimmered for a moment.Ichigo wondered what spell that was, even as he had to pause and rub his eyes.
Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to do much as Urahara’s flame dragons tore through the sand. They went straight for Aizen, who used his staff again to make a shield, stumbling back as they rammed it.
Then he vanished.
Ichigo stared as the man popped, like a bubble of soap, dissolving into a spray of shimmering color that faded into nothing. Below, Urahara paused, eyes wide as he searched.
Foot already in the window to jump down, Ichigo saw Aizen a moment before Urahara sensed him, the blond already twisting. But there was no time for more than a yell as Aizen’s own blade, appearing from nowhere, sank into Urahara’s chest.
Ichigo instinctively reached for his new skill, anger overriding sense as he saw Urahara stumble and fall backwards limply, blood pouring from his chest.
He screamed in pure, unadulterated rage.
He was working on the binding spell to trap the man when he heard Ichigo scream.
And then that scream changed to something that chilled his blood.
Coughing as he sucked in too much air, he looked up, even as a blur of white and orange slammed into Aizen. It was so fast he could barely see what it was.
The creature was tall and lean, white skin with crimson fur curling around wrists and ankles, a great mane of it around the base of the neck. Black claws and designs traced the skin of a mostly humanoid figure.
The great horns that protruded from the bone face were definitely not human. But the hair that bone cap covered told him who this dragon-man was.
It flowed brilliantly orange in the light, so long it dragged on the ground as Ichigo attempted to gut Aizen with his claws.
Aizen, who seemed just as startled as Urahara did, scrambled to recover his balance in the face of this… creature he had helped create. Because this could only be a result of Aizen’s shapeshifting spell.
Had Ichigo used it on himself?
That idea horrified Urahara. He had no idea if this was something that could be reversed. Some part of his mind was madly laughing that dragons were as likely to be found around towers as maidens with long hair.
Shoving those thoughts away, he took advantage of the fight that was now much more physical than before. Other than great glowing orbs of pure magic that Ichigo was producing to fire at Aizen, he mostly fought with claws and a long black blade.
Aizen was struggling to keep up, protesting all the while.
Ignoring his words, Urahara threw a quick spell on himself that would keep him from bleeding into his chest too much. Then he focused on the spell he had been trying to do.
Aizen already carried the first parts of it, tagged onto the edges of the smaller spells he didn’t bother dodging. They slipped through his shields as if they were nothing, settling onto his body. Now Urahara just had to finish the last ones.
He chanted to himself, using his fingers to sketch out the designs in his mind. This sort of thing took time, and energy. Both of which he was losing quickly.
“Ichigo,” he yelled, hoping to draw the other’s attention. And was soundly ignored.
Urahara hoped the spell was as finely aimed as he tried to make it, and let loose.
The first sign it worked was the grey that started to spread over Aizen’s skin. It wasn’t noticed at first, not until the grey grew thicker, growing over his skin. It was almost scale-like, getting darker as it grew, spreading up his arms first.
“What?” Aizen noticed it then as there was a crack as he tried to deflect another strike of those claws. His wrist locked into place, Urahara was pleased to see, chunks of bark flying off as Ichigo hit home with the next strike.
Urahara poured his magic into the spell, pulling on all the reserves he had been building since this entire thing with Ichigo started. Only right to use the magic Aizen had helped create in binding the man.
With Aizen fighting it, the spell slowed, but did not stop. Bark continued to grow on the man’s skin, slowly his defenses from Ichigo.
The great creature that had been Urahara’s partner seemed to realize that something was going on, as he backed off on the attack, head cocking as the spell continued to work.
Aizen tried to back up as well, but only one foot moved. The other had rooted to the ground.
Angry eyes found Urahara. Urahara stared back, his own expression calm. Perhaps, with Aizen dealt with, his curses would fail as well.
Then Aizen’s eyes lit with a kind of mad humor, and he turned to look at Ichigo and opened his mouth to speak.
Urahara knew that magic. Had seen it before. Death was what was on Aizen’s lips, curling off his tongue. Urahara’s spell would not have killed the man. But Aizen apparently assumed it would. So he would use his magic to get his own vengeance. The power around him rippled in a way, pulling everything from Aizen the man had to offer. Everything he was in exchange for one final strike against a foe.
There was no real thinking involved in what Urahara did. He wanted to live. Everything alive wanted to live, usually.
But he wanted Ichigo to live more.
What words Aizen said, he didn’t know. It happened too fast. One moment, Aizen was looking at Ichigo and opening his mouth.
Then Urahara was between the pair, his eyes locked on Aizen’s, his blade in Aizen’s throat. He couldn’t stop the other from casting the curse, but he could lock Aizen’s attention on him.
Aizen smiled, blood poured from his mouth, and clawed hands grabbed his shoulders from behind. That was the last thing the blond felt before the spell hit.
Then Urahara fell into nothingness.