The next sound he heard was a blood curdling scream. Stratus tried to pull the man's spirit back up. The strand that held him was given a strong jerk and pulled left then right. All the while the man was still screaming as something was happening to him beneath lake of darkness. His cries became muffled as if his mouth was being filled with water. The gargling sounds continued as the strand danced in the hollow's hand. Stratus gave a mighty tug, but the strength of whatever held the man was stronger than his own. The tension on the rope was too great and it snapped. What remained of slime strand whipped back up for Stratus to see. Below him the last of the spirit's cries were silenced. He stood there staring at he broken end as if it had the answers he sought.
"Hey buddy, what ya doing down here?" Came a voice from beside Stratus. He hadn't seen nor felt the long haired arrancar's arrival. He could only guess when Azrael had joined him. The slim man's hands were crossed over his chest as he sneered at Stratus."Fishing?"
Stratus narrowed his eyes. The man had caught him, but had he seen anything? Even if he did, could he prove it? So he returned the sneer, and dropped the remainder of the rope from his claws. "Nothing." he replied after a second. Azrael watched the rope as it dropped.
"Well if you want to fish you'll need better bait." he said as he flickered. Stratus' armor didn't have a chance to give it's usual rattle as the arrancar jumped forward. Before he could try to dodge the man had drawn one of his twin falchion blades. With a single swipe of this weapon he cut Stratus' legs right out from under him. Also in the same motion he had severed one of the hollow's arms. Stratus could only stare in utter shock at the arrancar before falling from the air into the pit of shadow.
There was little pain with falling to the ground below. To be correct there was some pain, but it was overshadowed by the loss of both legs. Stratus was screaming as it all hit him at once. He'd faced a variety of physical punishments, but this was just as painful as any of them. His screaming stopped as he noted the noisy rattling of his armor. Suddenly he remembered where he was. He was now the bottom of the pit alone. He could feel the blood rush from stumps. The new sense of panic overwhelmed the pain he was feeling. His sense alerted him of what he already knew; something was coming. Everywhere he looked it was pure black, there wasn't anything to see. And yet he could hear it moving, Without his command his armor divided and slithered around him. They didn't lock onto one direction the enemy was all around them. One by one they tried to strike out against the darkness, but it was as effective as trying to cut the air. They continued their futile attacks, but Stratus felt something cold touch his arm. Whatever was down there with him, it had him. The chill snaked it's way around his arm as he tried to pull away. It was as just as pointless as the tendrils' efforts. The same chill now touched what remained of the stump of his legs. With it's touch came a new kind of pain the burn of absolute cold rushed upon the open wounds. As he tried to scream he felt the chill move across his face and rush into this mouth. Stratus could feel the invisible chill push against his eyes. It rushed up his nose and poured into his ears. The invisible force was choking him as it forced itself into his body. There wasn't a thing he could do, his arm flailed and his tendrils whipped about wildly, but not of it stopped the onslaught. As the cold swept through him the pain from his wounds seemed to decrease. Stratus could feel any pain any more. This wasn't so comforting when you were being gagged by something rushing down your throat. His hands clawed at his throat. Wait. Hands? It was absolute darkness, but he could faintly feel both of his hands grasping at his face and neck. Somewhere during the struggle his arm had been restored. His disbelief would had to take a back seat as the forced continued to flow into him. More and more of it plowed it way into his body. As much discomfort as it gave him, he could also feel a rush of power flood through his every pore. It was then that he noticed that he wasn't laying down anymore, he was standing. Must like his arm, his legs had been restored. The pain had stopped and only power awaited him. And with that power came the delight, he could feel his body swelling with a new strength he could never imagine. Why had he not done this sooner? The energy that rushed through his veins could easily topple that damned Azrael. He could probably challenge Amago!
Then it hit him. His tendril that is. The blow stunned him, but then the second blow knocked him out of his stupor. But it was the next series of blows that rained down upon him that cast him back into a frozen state. His own tendrils were attacking him? He raised his hand to fend off the strikes. His power had increased so it was fair to say that they were stronger as well. But since they were a part of him there was no way for them to harm him. And yet, why were they attacking? Then he heard a loud *CRACK*from his face. Had the tendrils managed to damage his mask. No. His hands had protected him. The tendril had stopped, but the crackling noise continued. His hands sought out his face. Sure enough there were long cracks in the mask. He could feel the chill rushing into the breaks and they began to deepen. What the hell? More power shot through his body and the cold pushed at his mask further trying to wedge itself deeper. The bottom corner of this mask broke and fell. For the first time ever pare of Stratus' true face was exposed. Time seemed to slow as his hands reached up and felt at his naked cheek. The boney claws felt the withered flesh. Burns. Something clicked and gears started to spin. Burning A chill not part of the strange power that was consuming him. A vision flashed into his mind, he saw fire. Fire everywhere. It was coming for him. The cold was banished by the inferno that only he saw. A room filled with dancing flames. Walls covered in a blanket of fire. Whatever furniture the room once had was nothing but kindling. A sea of fire. There was a door Stratus reached for it and saw the burned flesh of his own arm. Weak human skin. Fire still clung to his body. His other hand felt at his charred face. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" His scream tore through the dream into the reality. The power he had been granted in the shadows responded to his rage. The numbness of his body faded as the fire lit through his body. The howling reverberated through every part of him. As the cold receded his thought patterns cleared; he had to get out of here. He leaped and pulled free of the whatever had held him. The change in temperature and air was immediate. His blind leap to freedom had sent him crashing into the stone wall of the pit. The collision rattled him, but he reached out. His claws dug into the stone and kept him from falling once again. Breathing heavily he looked around. Azrael was gone. He was alone at the bottom of the deep hole. His stomach churned and he suddenly felt very ill. Stratus' mouth opened expelled it's contents. In this case it was the black substance that had forced it's way in. He gagged as the smoke like substance escaped. Just like that it was gone. His hands felt at the mask once again. There were still cracks. His hands reached for the exposed cheek, but stopped. He didn't want to spend another moment here. Taking one last look he started the long climb to the top.