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Bleach: Shihai no Tsumi: Old Stomping Grounds is an article created by Achrones150. Use is allowed with the permission of the owner, with the exception of collaboration-created articles.

This article, Bleach: Shihai no Tsumi: Old Stomping Grounds is the property of Darkrai.
It may not be used by anyone but the author or the co-author's in question.

"I've taken the liberty of taking ol' Kurosaki-san off your hands. Don't worry, I'll make sure he doesn't end up dying or anything like that during training. No promises though.

P.S. "If you originally thought this was from some serial killer who slowly kills off each hostage he kidnaps, then you watch way too much television."

This message, written in what looked like blood, was found dripping on the wall of the Kurosaki family kitchen when they all awoke in the morning.

"Someone.... has a sick sense of humor."

At first, Megami had been alarmed at the fact that her husband had been kidnapped from the home. However, once she understood what had happened via the message, she was left with a rather disturbed expression. It wasn't at the fact that the kidnapping was supposed to be normal, but the fact that someone had written the message in blood-like material. Seriously, who does that unless they're aiming to scare the viewer?! Either way, it was working to great effect.

Miharu appeared next to her mother, hanging upside-down from the roof. The message had disturbed her when she had walked downstairs for orange juice, but she had been only half awake at the time. "Is it possible Tō-san wrote this to scare you?" She asked curiously.

"My husband knows I'm not used to stuff like this. He wouldn't dare-- wait a minute...." Immediately, Megami's eyes shot up towards the roof. "Miharu! Get down from there this instant!!!" She demanded, folding her arms across her chest. "I already just got over you sliding down the stairs and risking your head being cracked open like an egg!!!"

Miharu's feet unhooked from the ceiling with a POP and she flipped, landing on her feet. "Kā-san..." She sighed. "You worry waaay to much." She said, walking over to the message. She placed her finger on it, getting the red material on it. She was about to lick it off...

SLAP!

In a disciplinary manner, Megami slapped the girl's hand before it could reach the stuff. "For Kami's sake!" She scolded. "You don't just carelessly taste anything that looks like food. One of these days, you're going to eat something that's going to turn your insides out!" She directed her attention to the message, placing her hands onto her hips and sighing. "But.... at least the words themselves aren't threatening...."

Miharu frowned. "Kā-chan!!" She whined. "It could have tasted real good! Why'd you do that?"

"For your safety, dear. One day when you get older, you'll understand...."

Miharu sulked, and at that moment, the doorbell rang.

"Hm?"

Megami stopped looking at the message to turn her head curiously towards the door. She briskly walked towards it, bringing herself close enough just to hear the voices outside. "Who is it?" She called out - common policy for letting in someone into her house.

"Rukia Kuchiki!" The well known voice of Rukia rang into the house.

"Come in...."

Rukia opened the door and it creaked. As she entered, it was seen that she was wearing the standard Shinigami Shihashukō, instead of the normal modern attire she wore around the Yūrei Ōkoku. "Good morning Megami." She said, smiling. "Good morning Miharu." She called into the kitchen.

"Goo' m'nirf!" Miharu's muffled voice called back. Apparently, she was now eating a bowl of cereal.

"How come you're in your uniform?" Megami asked, looking over with a questioning eye. She stepped aside to allow Rukia to enter the home, hands folded in front of her.

"We, that is, the special ops and I, are going to be heading into the Seireitei." Rukia explained. "We have to warn that section of the Soul Society about Takahashi." She paused. "Why don't I feel Ahatake's spiritual signal?"

Megami's expression turned sheepish. She raised a thumb behind her to point at the message Ahatake's kidnapper had left for him. "Well...." She trailed off at that word, not really having much to say.

Rukia read it, her eyes growing narrower and narrower as she did so. "Oh Lord." She said, sighing. "Don't worry about a thing. This is just a message written by Kisuke Urahara. Ahatake will be back sooner or later."

"I know...." Megami acknowleged, frowning as she turned towards the message. "But, still.... writing messages in such a manner?"

"Kisuke has a twisted sense of humor." Rukia replied dryly. "You get used to it after awhile." She sighed. "I think it's time I got going." She said, her tone suddenly businesslike. "Your family will be alerted when we need your assistance. Let's hope Ahatake is back by then."

"Of course...." Megami gave a short bow in Rukia's direction. "Good luck."

Rukia smiled. "Thank you." She said, before vanishing out the door with Shunō. There was a some clanging in the kitchen, enough to warrant Megami to walk into the kitchen in time to see Miharu, getting up from falling over some pots and pans, to try and taste the "blood" on the wall again.

"Young lady...." Megami said sternly, folding her arms across her chest and fixing her daughter with an even stare. "What do you think you're doing?" She walked slowly towards the girl, keeping her pose. She would have to clean up the message, now that they knew what had happened to Ahatake.

"Snack time?" She said, smiling at her mother.

"Get out of here! And bring me some a cleaning spray bottle and a washrag. I need to get rid of this...."

"Yes Kā-chan..." Miharu said, slinking out of the room.

Setting out[]

Rukia landed right in front of the palace, where she had been told to arrive. All that remained was for the others to arrive.

There wasn't much activity within the area. The spot where she had landed was a place reserved for the diplomatic squad, a shuttle a few meters away. It was here that one of the soldiers was standing guard while three figures boarded. One looked like Yuusuke, the man Rukia had seen from before. However, the other was a slightly younger man wearing some sort of cloak, a uniquely-shaped mask over his face. Another was someone she would not recognize that stood guard with the other foreign soldier.

Rukia used Shunpo to make it over to Yuusuke, who was the last of the three boarding. "Hello, Gouto-san." She said, by way of greeting.

If Yuusuke hadn't been interrupted, he would've gladly responded.

However, one of his subordinates had to just cut him off. "Hey, sir!" He called out, turning his head and cocking an eyebrow towards the Shinigami female. "Who's the midget?" Instantly, he was earned a smack on the head by Yusuke, who was giving him a rather annoyed glare. "Ow! What was that for!"

"This midget just happens to be the ambassador for Yūrei and the feudal Soul Society, Kuroda-san!" He scolded, sitting himself down in one of the seats. "Have some respect, Captain!"

"Sorry, Colonel...."

Rukia chuckled. "I can only assume this is the vehicle we'll be using to get back to the Seireitei?" Rukia asked, looking at the shuttle with amazement.

"That'd be right."

The hooded figure spoke with a professional level, yet his tone came off with a relative ease. "We're going to be using this vessel here to get to the Soul Society and get right back without any trouble, considering we don't have any problems on the way." He explained calmly, turning his back onto them and walking into the cockpit. "In the meantime, fasten up your seatbelts. This's going to be a bumpy ride."

She boarded, looking around with every growing amazement. She had never been in something like this before. She took a seat, looking around for the "seat belt" Yuusuke had mentioned. She wasn't sure what it was.

"Uhm... the seat belt's right beside where you sit at."

The final stranger had spoken up, looking at her with a questioning expression. However, he also pointed in the direction of where the belt parts were.

Rukia looked up, and found it. She pulled the seatbelt down, but when she let it go, it slid back up. "Um...how does it stay?" She asked curiously.

Immediately, snickering could be heard from both Yuusuke and the young man sitting beside him, both of them nearly unable to hold back their laughter. Even the man who was helping her couldn't help but smile a little, but he lifted a finger to point at the insertion device. "You have to plug that into the buckle slot." He instructed, sitting back and looking on.

She looked down, and saw something black and red protruding from the seat. She moved the seatbelt clip into the buckle and it fastened. She was surprised. "Thanks."

"No problem."

"Hey, Shogo!" The Captain said enthusiastically. When said Shogo looked up, the Captain immediately raised his hand up in a "thumbs up" gesture. "That's what she said!" Both he and the Colonel burst out in laughter, each one turning towards the other to give him a high five.

Rukia looked around puzzled, her face clearly saying "What?"

"....just ignore them."

Rolling his eyes, Shogo sat back in his spot, buckling up his seat belt calmly. As soon as he did so, the vessel launched off of the ground and into the air within seconds, taking high to the skies. The buildings quickly became dots, and the city now looked like it could fit into a box.

Rukia looked out of the window she had, and gasped at the sight. This was something else she hadn't seen.

Yuusuke smirked. "This your first time flying?" He asked, looking over his shoulder to view his own portion of the ground. "I know how you Seireitei Shinigami are with your preference to that Shunpo crap."

Rukia chuckled. "Yeah. This is my first time in something like this. We don't have anything like this in the Seireitei."

"Hopefully, you'll get used to it. You'll probably be doing it a lot, since you're the ambassador and all...." He remarked, turning his head back towards her. "In either case, you might as well sit back and relax. It's gonna take some time for us to go all the way from the city to Soul Society, at least a few days."

"A few days?" She asked, puzzled. "I thought something like this would move faster than that."

"Hey, this ain't instant teleportation we're talking about here." Yuusuke said, shooting her a slight glare. However, it was in good humor. "Sometimes, people prefer to take things nice and slow."

"Taking it slow?" Rukia asked. Did they actually have the time for that?

"Yeah, you damn parrot." With that, Yuusuke turned towards the area where the hooded man had entered. "Hey, General!" He shouted out. "Has the turbulence cleared yet? I wanna get out of this seat already!"

"Yeah! We're clear of turbulance. This ship's hovering straight and true!" Was the reply. The Colonel sighed in relief, unbuckling his seat belt and standing up. Despite the fast movement of the ship, he didn't seem to be affected at all. "I'm going down to the lower deck in order to grab a drink. All of this has gotten me thirsty!"

Rukia looked around. A few days? What was she going to do on this thing for a few days?

Black Moon Rising[]

It was quiet, the room lit dimly. Torches were on the walls, giving off the dim orange glow. Takashi sat on his throne, his cheek resting on his hand. His thoughts were of the event soon to take place. Though his face did not show it, the thought excited him to his very core. He heard the door creak, but didn't move. Nabiki Saotome entered the room.

"Takahashi-taichō." She said, bowing slightly. "She's returned."

"Let her in." Takahashi said dismissively, and Nabiki went back to the door, which creaked open.

Angelika was the first one to step in through the door, hands in her pockets, and a cigarette into her mouth. She had a rather calm expression on her face, eyes closed as she walked confidently into the room. However, right behind her were her two remaining colleagues, both of them with their rifles in hand. They acted like bodyguards, stepping into the room and sticking to the doorway. Angelika herself approached Takahashi as close as possible, stopping once she was in talking range.

"Angelika." Takahashi said lightly. "You've come to report?"

The German woman nodded. "Affirmative, Herr Ishikawa." She responded, folding her arms across her chest. "The mission was a success. 122+ civilian and police casualties - a good enough message that will present a clear warning to Yūrei. They won't dare to interfere, now that they've understood the devastation committed to your name." Behind her, Oliver rolled his eyes at the words. To him, it was nothing but a load of bullshit. Angelika was probably just glorifying the bastard....

A smile crossed Takahashi's face and he actually sat up straight. "Excellent. Did you encounter any resistance, aside from the police themselves?"

"Not much." Angelika replied honestly. "There was this girl, what looked like a Shinigami from the Gotei 13, a silver-haired boy, and a police officer who managed to survive the attack. He managed to shoot one of my works in the shoulder, but that was the only injury we had. Shou stayed behind in order to fend them off so we could escape."

"Shinigami?" Takahashi thought. His smiled widened. "Excellent. By now, the Shinigami has reported this to her superiors."

"And how in the hell is that excellent?" Oliver remarked skeptically. Through the Japanese he was speaking, the American accent could clearly be heard.

"If I am correct, she will be on her way to the Seireitei." Takahashi replied simply. "This is proceeding as I thought."

Angelika smiled coyly. "You and I think alike, Herr Ishikawa." She complimented, closing one eye. "Would you like us to continue our services for you?"

Takahashi nodded. "Of course." Then his expression changed. "Angelika, if you haven't any immediate business, there's something I'd like you to see. You'll need to be aware of them later on."

"Hm?" Angelika's expression changed to a more curious one. She raised a hand, pointing a finger towards the door. Oliver and Anton took it as their cue to exit from the room, slowly walking out. Anton shut the door behind him promptly. "What is it you're wanting to show me?"

"Give me a moment." Takahashi said. "Nabiki." The woman appeared next to him so fast it was if she had teleported.

"Yes sir?"

"Fetch Shikaku. I told him I'd show him this." Takahashi told her.

"Of course." Nabiki exited, walking down a hall. She reached a room with a shut door. She knocked on it.

"Go away, you brat. Can't you let an old man nap?"

The rather snappish (and traditionally grumpy) voice of Shikaku answered from behind the door. He himself was lying on the bed, arms folded across his chest, and eyes closed.

She pushed open the door anyway. "What would you have done if I had been Takahashi-taichō at the door and you had said that?" She asked.

"Takahashi-sama would not have bothered to walk down here." Shikaku retorted bluntly, opening his eyes and rising up slowly from his prostrate position onto the bed. He turned his gaze towards Nabiki. "What does he want?"

"So true." She thought to herself. Her Captain was content on his throne. Removing himself from his seat was not something he did often. "He has something to show you." She said. "Come."

Without question, Shikaku shoved himself out of bed, folded his arms across his chest, and approached the young girl immediately. Once he was at his spot, he stood, waiting for her to lead him out of his room and back towards the main area.

She led him out of the hall, and up towards the throne room. As she entered, she saw that, much to her surprise, Takahashi was off his throne. He looked over at Shikaku.

"Greetings, Shikaku." He said airily. "I take it you've rested?"

"Of course, sir."

"Alright. Angelika, Shikaku, come stand next to me." He motioned them both over to where he was standing.

Both of them were quick to oblige. The two walked over to where he was standing, Angelika on the left, and Shikaku on the right. The German woman couldn't help but raise an eyebrow towards the Arrancar, who in return stared back with a casual and indifferent look. She folded her arms across her chest, directing her gaze towards Takahashi.

"Nabiki."

"Sir!" The woman stood next to him and pressed her hand to the ground. A small light formed and spread around them in a circle. Instead of falling straight through as one would think, they began to descend down into the lower floors like a elevator. They landed on the ground softly, and Takahashi stepped off the lift, followed by Nabiki and the remaining two. He lead them through a hall, and they reached a large, empty chamber. As he reached the end, he stopped, and pointed. "Look on down." He said. When they did, they were greeted by a sight of huddled black masses, motionless like charcoal statues.

Both Shikaku's and Angelika's eyes widened, Shikaku out of shock, and Angelika out of interest. The woman was the first to walk forward a few steps, looking around. "What is this?" She asked.

Nabiki turned on the lights, and it was revealed to be dozens and dozens of the same Hollow.

"A project of mine." Takakhasi said simply. "Have either of you ever met the Hollow Shrieker?"

"No, sir...." Shikaku muttered, directing his stunned gaze towards his master. "What was it....?"

"A Hollow who attacked a young Shinigami many years ago. I was able to collect some "data" of the attack for my purposes when I visited the world of the living after that attack." Takahashi explained. "After I left the Soul Society, I was able to construct multiple copies of Shrieker, thanks to Nabiki's assistance here."

Nabiki smiled.

"I show you these because I've constructed them for the purpose of crushing the Seireitei. You will need to be aware of their abilities to avoid them. Like the original Shrieker, these copies can produce smaller beings that produce leeches called "artillery" by the original Shrieker. With a sound made by the Hollow's tongue, they explode like bombs. As these copies are my own creations, I've strengthened their explosive powers. Even your Hierro will not allow you to come away unscathed Shikaku."

"The Shinigami won't be able to defend themselves properly against these types of Hollow...." Shikaku said in astonishment. "If multiple numbers were sent to Soul Society, it would create chaos among their masses!"

"You catch on." Takahashi nodded. "Angelika, what do you think?"

The German woman turned her head towards Takahashi. "So you're sicking a bunch of animal clones onto the Soul Society. What am I supposed to think?" She answered coolly, taking the cigarette from her mouth to exhale a cloud of smoke.

Takahashi let out a chuckle. "I can see you don't take well to the idea."

"It matters little." Angelika dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "As long as this is efficient enough, it's fine enough for me."

"Excellent." Takahashi said, sounding truly pleased. "That's all I have for you to see." He said, leading them back up out of the hall. "If there are any questions, please ask before we return to the throne room."

"I have one." The German woman spoke up once again, causing Shikaku to stare at her quizically. She paid him no mind. "What will be our role in this? In terms of the V-14...."

Takahashi looked back at her for a moment before turning his attention to the lift. "If it's not too much trouble, you'll be fighting. None seated and lower-level seated Shinigami shouldn't be too much trouble, should they?"

Angelika rolled her eyes. "You think too little of us, Herr Ishikawa. Killing such weaklings would be like stepping on ants." She remarked, folding her arms across her chest.

Takahashi chuckled. "I'm sure." As Nabiki used her power to make the lift go up, he sighed. "If you feel the need to take on a Captain, feel free. But the Head Captain is mine."

"Whatever you feel is best, Herr Ishikawa. Just remember to leave our reward on the table when this is over and done with."

Takasahi smiled. "Reward? Don't worry, you will be compensated considerably for your troubles."

"I look forward to it...."

Home Field[]

Rukia sighed as she looked out the window. The amazement she had when they first took off had ling since passed. All there was to stare at was open sea. The winds were beginning to pick up, and feelings of anticipation were rising, but she suppressed them.

"The storm's brewing up. Ugh..."

Yuusuke had to close one eye and shield himself from the brewing winds. He grimaced, standing up and forcing his way through the blurry air. "I'm heading down to below deck to take a nap. This is annoying the crap out of me...." He muttered in irritation, stepping away into another door that led down to the innards of the ship.

The Captain looked over at him with surprised eyes, getting up to follow. "Hey, Colonel!" He called out. "You mind if I check on the optics on this thing? Since the General's driving, I don't think he'd be able to...."

Yuusuke waved behind him. "Go ahead, Kuniumi. I ain't stopping you...." Kuniumi perked up immediately, grinning as the thought of finally having something to do raced his mind. He walked briskly after Yuusuke in order to proceed down to the lower deck, leaving Shogo and Rukia to themselves.

Rukia looked down outside the window. The sea was beginning to rage. "It wasn't as bad as this when I came to this region." She murmured, remembering her boat trip to the Yūrei.

"The weather changes over time, ambassador...." Shogo explained, his eyes drifting down to the sea. "One moment, it may be clear, and the next moment, it could be as terrible as a hurricane. It's quite unpredictable."

A hurricane? Rukia thought to herself. That could definitely prove troublesome.

"But, at least there isn't one...." His rather formal voice took on a slightly encouraging tone. "At least, not for a while. Other than this, I think we'll be having smooth flying from here."

"Good to know." Rukia said, though she didn't believe him. Looking out the window, she saw ominous black clouds gathering, and the ocean was beginning to churn more. This wasn't going to be comfortable.

"....or not."

Now, Shogo's words were seeming to be increasingly hollow as he stared at the danger they were literally flying into. He eyed the clouds with apprehension, wondering whether or not they'd be safe from the inevitable. They were flying awfully close to what would've been the haven for lightening. He tensed, his hands clutching the gun even tighter than normal. His eyes fell to the cockpit entrance. "Just stay calm...." He thought to himself, keeping his calm facade. "We've predicted storms like this. We're perfectly fine--"

BOOM!

The deafening sound of lighting shot through their ears.

And for a moment, Shogo could've sworn the heat from the bolt caused his skin to melt.

"GET DOWN!!!!" He shouted, immediately grabbing Rukia's arm and forcing her onto the floor of the ship. Above them, several lighting bolts crackled violently, streaking above their heads without control or restraint. The loud claps of thunder sounded repeatedly within their eardrums, almost to the point of rendering them both deaf.

Rukia's eyes widened. She hadn't expected this! The seas had been rough on her way here, but this storm had just started and it already looked like it was gonna kill them.

"What do we do in a situation like this?" Rukia asked. She had never actually been in a storm like this before. Exactly what to do was beyond her.

"Major, this is the Colonel!!" Yuusuke's voice blared up within his earpiece. "What the hell is going on up there?!"

"Sir, we've just run into a heavy current of lightning!!" Shogo's voice was almost swallowed up by the deafening sounds of thunder that was pounding their hearing ability. "General, initate evasive maneuvers!!!!"

"On it."

Immediately, the ship picked up speed, starting to fly in a much rougher pattern in order to punch through the violent storm.

"Are we just supposed to remain like this?" Rukia asked, sounding just the slightest bit irritated. Lying down on the ground as she was did not sit well with her, but at the same time, she didn't know what would happen if they stood up.

Shogo had to chuckle weakly. "W...well... if you want to be toasted, go ahead and stand up! You don't need my permission!" He remarked jokingly, though the shouting he had to use for saying the words stripped the humor from his tone.

Rukia looked up. Out of the window she could just see the flashes of lightning. Her eyes shut briefly. She was not used to this. Menos Grande she could probably handle better than being trapped in a contraption like this in a hurricane.

BOOM!!!

One of those lightning bolts finally managed to hit home.

A blast made contact with the engines, and the machine finally spun out of control with immense speed. "Mayday, mayday, we are going down!!!" Shogo shouted, immediately using his free arm to wrap around Rukia to ensure her protection. "I repeat, we are going down!! Brace yourselves!!!"

"Going down!?" Rukia repeated, her force bordering on slight hysteria. "All that's down there is the sea!"

"Well, you better learn how to swim!!!"

PLOOSH!

Instantly, they hit water, and all Shogo saw was nothing but blue murkiness. However, he was well prepared for the embrace of cold water. Instantly, he swam up towards the surface, his breath holding within his lungs. His arm was kept around Rukia in order to pull him with her to safety. Within seconds, he managed to break through, his head bursting through the water and his mouth gaping open. As he looked around him, he saw the partially submerged figures of Yuusuke, Kuniumi, and Shinji as they attempted to retain their bearings.

Rukia's head broke the water, and she gasped in air. "Thanks, Shogo-san." She said gratefully. He had helped her. Not thanking him would have been rude. She looked around, almost nothing but churning water.

"Oh, that's just great!"

That snappish voice came from Yuusuke, who had swam near them and glared at the water. More particularly, he was glaring at what was around them - absolutely nothing but water! His mood was only worsened by the fact that rain was now pouring down on them in a heavy and torrential manner "How are we supposed to get out of this?! We aren't even near the F-Soul Society yet!!" A lazily floating Kuniumi caught his chagrin-filled attention, and he stared evenly at the young man who had his hands behind his back.

"Gee, I d'no, Colonel.... this is a good day for a swim, don't you think?"

"Oh, shut the hell up, Kuni!" Immediately, Yuusuke reached over and shoved Kuniumi under, the latter only managing to yelp in surprise as he was promptly dunked underwater.

Rukia was doing her best to stay afloat, breathing in air. Her eyes widened at what Yuusuke has just done. "Actually, I think he's right. Unless we want to float around here for the rest of our lives, swimming for a bit may help."

"...What?!" Yuusuke immediately raised his head up to stare at Rukia incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me! I'm an old man, I'm not built for swimming for who knows how long!" He protested, even as Kuniumi splashed up to the surface to fix his Colonel with an even glare.

"Can you swim?" Shogo questioned Rukia. He was still supporting her, keeping his arms around her in order to keep her afloat.

Rukia nodded. "I can manage." She looked over at Yuusuke. "I'm banking on some luck here Yuusuke-san. We're out in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of a storm, and there's no one who's gonna look for us. The longer we stay out here, the higher chance we have of dying or becoming shark food. If we start swimming, we may reach land, even if it's not the Seireitei."

"Oh, give me a b--"

However, Yuusuke was immediately cut off by the sound of Shinji's own movements. Looking around, he was stunned to find the Colonel swimming away from him. "Stop complaining, Yuusuke...." He chided calmly, even as he moved his body forward. "This will prove to wake you up after all the sleeping you do, old man."

Rukia chuckled. "If you don't want to swim, Yuusuke-san, do you have any ideas?"

"Yeah, I'm with them on that one!" Immediately, Kuniumi followed suit and swam after the General, ignoring Yuusuke's protests.

"Oh, god damn it...." Yuusuke muttered, however he did not hesitate to swim right after. Slowly, Shogo released Rukia and followed them, sure that Rukia would follow.

Rukia began to swim after them, looking up at the sky as she did so. Lighting was flashing amongst the dark clouds, and the loud BOOM of thunder could be heard. She dove underwater for a minute, speeding up, and then surfacing, taking in deep breaths of air as she kept swimming. Would they actually reach land? She had said she they might, but that was just a speech.

"I bet we're making Beowulf so fucking jealous right now."

"Beowulf?"

"Of course, sir. Haven't you heard of that tale? The one where Beowulf and this other guy are racing across the ocean? Then this huge fucking sea dragon comes and attacks Beowulf, but--"

"All right, stow it, Captain. I don't need a...fable lesson.... right now....Ok?"

"Yes, sir."

This exchange was between Kuniumi and Yuusuke, even as they pumped their muscles to swim across the raging waters. Even as their bodies were forced against raising waves, they were still conversing as casually as they would've been if they were out of the situation at hand.

As they kept swimming, the ocean was still churning, and waves were beginning to rise. A particularly large wave rolled up and began to crash down, sweeping Rukia down under with it. After a brief moment, she surfaced, gasping. "This isn't going as well as I'd hoped!" She said in between gasps for breath.

"Let's...stop...." Shogo immediately agreed, stopping his swimming pattern to trade for a floater's glide.

Immediately, Kuniumi and Yuusuke followed his lead without any complaints. However, Shinji himself was looking them over with slight disappointment and amusement. "You all are such wussies...." He remarked teasingly, not looking at all tired. "I think we all have done things much harder than this, haven't we?"

Rukia swam over to catch up to them. "I'm not tired." She said, her breathing evening out. "This storm, we're not going to get very far." She sighed. "If I knew which direction we were headed, getting there would be no problem."

"Well, you don't." Yuusuke drawled, rolling his eyes as he floundered in the water. "So we're basically fucked."

Sode no Shirayuki (spirit)

Sode no Shirayuki

Rukia unsheathed her blade. "I have an idea, though it's a long shot." Her blade began to glow, and a beautiful Yuki-onna dressed in white and light blue clothes manifested itself, floating above the waters. She looked down.

"....huh?"

The three men immediately caught their gaze towards the white-haired woman. Kuniumi allowed himself to whistle. "Well.... it appears as if you've called an angel to help us." He remarked, throwing his hands up in the air. "Kami IS real--!!!" However, his arms were only keeping him afloat, and the new action caused him to sink underwater immediately.

"What's this, Kuchiki?" The General questioned, cocking an eyebrow.

"This is my Zanpakutō spirit, Sode no Shirayuki." Rukia said, looking at Kuniumi in surprise before turning her attention to Sode no Shirayuki. The Zanpakutō spirit looked down at her.

"Rukia, how exactly did this happen?" She asked, spreading her arms to gesture over the lot of them.

"It's a long story." Rukia said hurriedly. "I'll explain it later. Would you be able to help us out? We have absolutely no idea where we're going, and if we swim any farther, we may wind up lost at sea. Would you mind going out for a bit and searching for the Soul Society or some form of land?"

Sode no Shirayuki nodded. "Alright. I should be back in a while. Wait patiently."

Rukia smiled. "Thank you." The Zanpakutō spirit flew off.

"...well...." Shogo muttered, watching the spirit take off into the direction. "That was rather quick."

Yuusuke sighed heavily. Even as his face was getting pounded by rain, he simply allowed himself to tilt back and float on the water as if he was lying on a bed, hands folded behind his head. "I suppose we just have to relax, since we're stuck waiting...." He announced, his voice barely heard due to the torrential downpour and claps of thunder.

"Something I find amusing." Rukia said, looking up at the sky. "I came to the Yūrei Ōkoku in a little boat that endured more than the fancy shuttle we were using."

Yuusuke's lip curled. "I'm pretty sure your boat wasn't at point-blank range of lightning, was it?"

"True." Rukia thought back. She began to swim around, to keep her body moving. She hoped Sode no Shirayuki could find the Seireitei. "Do any of you have a back-up plan is Sode no Shirayuki doesn't find land? Don't you have some gadget that can help?"

"....."

A moment of awkward silence, as the three men looked away out of embarrassment. It was clear what their answer was.

Rukia's eyes widened and she let out a sigh. Their only hope now was Sode no Shirayuki.

Over on the Zanpakutō's side of things, she was moving quickly through the sky, against the rain and fierce winds. Her eyes were squinted shut as she looked out over the roaring sea. Her master had gotten herself into one hell of a predicament, that much was certain. Looking out into the horizon, she thought she saw a dark figure. Could it be land? She sped up. All that remained was to check it out.

Rukia was still floating. It had been 20 minutes since Sode no Shirayuki had went off on her search and she and the group had remained rather quiet. But a thought struck her, and, just for the purpose of breaking the ice, she figured she'd ask them all.

"Everyone." She said, swimming closer to the group. "Is there a plan in case Sode no Shirayuki doesn't spot any land near here?"

"We drown?" Kuniumi suggested immediately, prompting the other two to give him an annoyed glare.

"Yeah, how about no?" Shogo quipped, wiping futilely at his face in an attempt to dry off, only to have even more rain splash onto his face. "Ugh... the only thing we can do is catch a cold for staying out here for too long. This water's....freezing....!!!"

Rukia chuckled for a moment. She hadn't noticed the temperature of the water, at least, not until Shogo had mentioned it. Must be from possessing an Ice-type Zanpakutō. They were quiet for another five minutes, before the air around them seemed to get cold, as Sode no Shirayuki returned, floating over to them. Rukia turned as she saw her Zanpakutō spirit returning.

"Sode no Shirayuki! Did you find anything?"

The Zanpakutō spirit floated down until she was floating just above the water. She smiled. "Yes Rukia, I managed to find land. Whether or not it is the Seireitei, I cannot be sure. The winds were interfering with my sight."

"Can you lead us?" Rukia asked, relief washing over her.

"Yes."

"And hurry up!" Yuusuke added, throwing up a hand to promptly splash the back of Sode no Shirayuki's dress.

She rose up, the splash of water missing her.

"It would be much easier for you all to walk than swim." She said as she rose.

"Right." Rukia nodded. She turned to her companions. "Can all of you use reishi to create platform under your feet that you can use to walk?" She asked hopefully. If they couldn't, they were sunk. In every sense of the word.

"....I think you're just making up these questions to embarrass us." Kuniumi spoke up immediately, giving the girl an annoyed glare. "None of us know how to mold reishi like you Seireitei Shinigami do!"

She frowned. "Seems I'll have to make up something for you to walk on." She pressed her hands to the water, creating a platform of reishi to push herself up. As she shot into the air, she landed on thin air. "Sode no Shirayuki, could you?" She asked, gesturing to her team.

"Of course." She said, waving her hand. The water began to rise up and freeze, forming steps that rose up and flattened, forming a path.

"Sode no Shirayuki will lead us, and she'll create a path for you all to walk on." Rukia said, seeing this as a fit solution.

The men didn't see anything wrong with that.

They immediately climbed up, careful not to allow themselves to fall off. The General looked up at the two, giving a respective two-fingered salute in their direction as well as a smile. "Thanks for the assist." He said, nodding and folding his arms across his chest.

Rukia smiled and her Zanpakutō nodded, before turning and floating off slowly, Rukia following after. "Just so you all know, when we get to the feudal Soul Society, we won't be entering into the Seireitei directly. We have to pass through the Gate. Be sure not to anger the Gatekeeper."

"Gate?" Shinji questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"The Seireitei is a circular shiro with four main entrances, ten days walk apart,, each guarded by a Gate Guardian. These gates are called the Black Ridge Gate (in the North), the Blue Stream Gate (in the East), the Red Hollow Gate (in the South) and the White Way Gate (in the West)." Rukia explained. "With the proper authorization, getting past the Gate Guardian is no problem. Without it, the Gate Guardian is normally required to battle. If you win, he may or may not let you pass. Also, THE walls of Seireitei are made of Sekkiseki, a rare type of stone known to negate all Reiryoku, similar to magnetic lodestones. The stone also forms a spherical barrier around the city, extending above and below, stopping anything spiritual from breaching it from ground level, from the sky or from underground. Breaking through is not possible."

"That should be no problem for us." The General said calmly, raising his shoulders in a light shrug. "After all, we are allies with the feudal S. The only thing we need to worry about is the Gate Guardians. This "authorization" is something I have yet to hear of, Rukia. How do we know we've got it?"

"In all honesty, I don't know." Rukia said to them. "I've only entered or exited the Soul Society via a Garganta or a Senkaimon. But, I am a Shinigami. Perhaps that will be enough."

"Key word being perhaps...." Yuusuke muttered, shaking his head skeptically.

"If they don't let us through though, we may have to fight." Rukia said gravely. "I don't like the idea of injuring someone who protects the Soul Society, but I don't know another way in."

"And just how tough are these things?" Kuniumi piped up.

"Another thing I don't know." Rukia replied. "I've seen them though, and they are literally giants."

"Terrific...."

"Well, we're not going to solve the problem by just standing here out in the rain...." Shinji said, folding his arms across his chest. "We've got to get to land quickly. Where are we supposed to be headed?"

Sode no Shirayuki called back in a light voice. "It will take some time, you must be patient. Even while flying at full speed, it took me over half an hour. And we're lucky. It's a straight path from here."

"What's our mode of transportation? You gonna make a path for us to walk on, or are you gonna float this little glacier over to where we're going?"

"You'll be walking, or running if you can." Sode no Shirayuki replied, not turning back to look at them. She was already moving, Rukia following behind. "The path will extend for you as you move. Try not to fall in the water."

Despite Sode no Shirayuki's words, the men now had to run in order to catchup thanks to the sudden headstart they had. "That damn wench...." Kuniumi whispered heatedly, even as he moved up with the rest of the group. "Trying to leave us to freeze out here!"

"Shut it, Kuni, and keep runnin'!" Shogo reprimanded.

Rukia was dashing ahead, but she kept turning her head back every now and then to check on them. If one of them fell in the water, she'd alert Sode no Shirayuki to create more steps. The winds were getting stronger, so the likelihood of one of them falling in was probably going to increase. She hoped Sode no Shirayuki would get them there fast.

"Ah!"

SPLASH!

Immediately, the General was the first to fall into the water, taken off-guard by the sudden increase of wind power. He found himself once again submerged in cold water before forcing himself up to the surface, gasping for air. "Damn it!" He cursed, the chill shooting through his nerves.

Immediately, Yuusuke grabbed his arm and forcefully pulled him back up. "No time for a swim, sir! We gotta keep moving!"

Rukia's eye twitched just slightly. It was surprising. No sooner had she thought about someone falling in than it had happened. She frowned. "Are you alright?" She called out to the General.

"Freezing my ass off, but otherwise, I'm A-OK!"

"Good to know!" She said turning back around to continue following after Sode no Shirayuki.


After a good run for about twenty-five minutes, and no one had fallen into the water since, Sode no Shirayuki began to see signs of land. The storm was even beginning to clear up.

"Good fucking god...."

Of course, as they were reaching it, Yuusuke was the first to start complaining again. "How many more steps.... do we have to go.... to get to this goddamn place?" He snapped tiredly, barely managing to keep up with the group as they padded across the ice. He was panting for breath, sweat running down his face.

Rukia turned around. "If you're that tired, you can stay and just flop around in the middle of the sea." It wasn't harsh, more matter-of-fact. "We're about to enter the Soul Society, and if those Gate Guardians do choose to attack, a tired soldier will only get killed."

It didn't matter how Rukia put her tone. The words were still rather harsh... and Shogo was the first one to defend him. "Woah, woah!" He insisted, raising a hand up for emphasis. "That's just a bit too much, ambassador. It's not as if a constant twenty-five minute run is going to be a perfect, smooth run for some. The storm is clearing up, the least we can do is slow down a little."

"I'm sorry." Rukia apologized quickly. She was used to working with people who could keep up with her, so what she had said slipped out. Sode no Shirayuki stopped, and Rukia stopped right behind her. They were at the shore, the waves lapping against the side of the land. The ice path continued forward and formed steps onto the ground for the soldiers to get off. "We're here." She said.

The three soldiers stepped off, and Kuniumi looked around the area. He let out a low whistle. "Nice place...." He commented, smiling a little. "Any chance we could stay?" This earned him a whack on the head courtesy of Shogo. "OW!"

"We're right on the outskirts of the Rukongai." Rukia said as Sode no Shirayuki returned to Rukia's Zanpakutō after a thanks from Rukia. "This is the largest portion of feudal Soul Society and also the most populated. The Gate is clearly visible from here." Rukia pointed far over to the Gate, which was far away but visible as it was towering over the area.

"C'mon, sir...." Kuniumi encouraged, staying by Yuusuke's side and ushering him a little bit. "Just a little bit further...."

Rukia turned to look at them. "Is Yuusuke gonna be alright to keep moving?" She asked.

"I'll...be fine...." Yuusuke, because of the earlier statement, did not hold back the irritation in his voice.

"Alright." Rukia said, turning her attention back to the Gate. "We'll have to pass through the Rukongai to get to the Gate. We're close to the Hokutan district right now. We'll have to pass over Mt. Koifushi, but if we move fast, it shouldn't take too long."

"You think this is going to appear a bit suspicious?" Shogo questioned. "Yūrei soldiers moving through Soul Society territory such as the Rukongai...."

"Suspicious to the residents most likely." Rukia nodded. "But the spirits in the Rukongai tend to stay away from stange souls, especially those who have not arrived by way of a konsō. Souls like that are called Ryoka, souls who are not aligned with Soul Society, either allies, rebels, intruders, deserters, or invaders. But, as I said, we'll be passing through Mt. Koifushi first, so we won't have to worry about that for the time being."

"All right.... then let's take this.... nice and slow...."

That being said, the three soldiers started to slow their pace, not in any hurry to rush anymore. This allowed Yuusuke the freedom to catch his breath in an easier manner - energy needed for 'Plan B' if negotation failed.

It was quiet as they walked, Rukia leading. This trail was familiar to her. Kaien had taken her here for training before, so getting through here would not be that much of an issue.


The group entered the bustling city area of the Rukongai after an hour's worth of walking. Rukia looked around, seeing various souls either walking through the area, or doing business in the various marketplaces. They continued walking, and Rukia looked up. From where they were, the gate was even larger. "We're getting close. From where we are, the closest Gate is the Kokuryōmon."

Now, the three soldiers had their rifles out in a holstering position in front of them. However, their stances were much more alert now that they knew possible danger was afoot. Even though they all were Shinigami, there was still the fact that they were different types of Shinigami. Whoever the Guardian was could use that as an excuse to identify the soldiers as hostile and deal with them as such. However, even that seemed unlikely: if the Guardians were under the direct service of Soul Society, the treaty would have been taken to their minds.

They walked some more, until they reached a Gate. The Gate look slightly different from the rest of the Gates wall, it had black bars and bolts screwed into it. Standing in front of it was a giant of a man. He was dark-skinned, his head either bald or shaved, with tattoos on his head and spiky grey eyebrows, and was dressed in the standard Shinigami uniform.

His voice did not greet them with kindness.

"You, who dares to approach me!!!" He bellowed, standing tall. His bulk overshadowed the four alone, and his immense size caused a jolt to spark up within the three troopers' hearts. Instinctively, Shogo and Kuniumi raised their rifles at it. "This is unauthorized ground. Leave now, or suffer the consequences!!!"

"Put those down!" Rukia hissed. She didn't want to have to fight this Giant, wanting to get in as easily and peacedully as possible. She cleared her throat. "Excuse me! I'm Rukia Kuchiki, former 5th seat of the 13th Division, current Yūrei Ōkoku Representative. I'm here with these soldiers on business, and we'd like your permission to pass through this Gate."

The guardian was not convinced so easily.

His glowering gaze drifted down and focused on Rukia. "Hmph. A likely story!!!" He growled. "But I will not be fooled by appearance alone. You must prove yourself to me, so-called 5th Seat!!!"

"Alright." Rukia complied, opened her Shinigami uniform slightly to reveal the 13th Division's insignia.

"WHAT THE FU--"

Instantly, Kuniumi was silenced by a blow to the stomach, courtesy of Shogo's gun.

Immediately, the guardian's eyes widened in recognition. "The 13'th Division's insignia.... and the look of the deceased Hisana...." He said observantly. "There is no question about your identity. Very well, Kuchiki Rukia.... I will allow you and your escorts to pass." With that, he turned around and grasped the bars, wrenching them open and stepping aside.

"Thank you." She said, bowing slightly and walking into the Gate, motioning her companions to follow.

Shogo and Kuniumi immediately lowered their guns back to the holstering position, and the three followed closely behind Rukia. Kuniumi was fixing a skeptical glare at Rukia's back. "And what exactly were you showing him....?" He asked slowly, at the risk of being hit again for being so...well.... Kuniumi-ish. He hadn't seen the insignia, and from the angle, it looked like the woman was flashing him!

"On the inside of every Shinigami's uniform is the insignia of their division. I used to belong to the 13th Division, so I still have it's insignia inside my uniform." Rukia explained.

"Right...."

"Kuni." Shogo quiped. "Has your parents ever taught you the meaning of the words "Shut up"?"

"Nope. Mom and Dad were too busy ignoring other people that were telling them the same thing."

"So, now that we're inside, we'll go to the Head Captain's barracks." Rukia explained.

The General walked right up beside her. "You and me will be doing the talking once we get there." He instructed, eyes half-lidded. "I hope you can talk real well, because if we slip up here, we're going to have to solve this problem all on our own." He looked back towards the three. "Kuniumi, Yuusuke, Shogo.... you keep the door guarded in case we have unseen problems."

"Yes, sir!" They all answered in unison.

1stBarracks

The 1st Division Barracks

Rukia led them through the soul society, until they arrived at the 1st Division Barracks. They were taller than the other barracks, and easier by far to spot. In front of the entrance, two Shinigami were standing on either side, motionless. Rukia walked up to them. "Excuse me. I'm Rukia Kuchiki, former 5th seat of the 13th Division, current Yūrei Ōkoku Representative. I'm here with these soldiers on business, and we'd like to speak with the Head Captain." She almost repeated the exact same thing she had said to the Gate Guardian.

This time, there was no resistance. Seeing who she was, the guards were immediately to step aside, one of them speaking while giving a polite bow. "Of course, noble Rukia." He spoke formally, slowly rising up.

Rukia opened the door to the barracks, walking in, the soldiers following her. There was a small flight of stairs to ascend, which they did so, finding themselves facing a large room, empty except for a desk. A large chair was in front of it, it's back turned from the entrance. The room had an excellent view of the Seireitei, the Head Captain could see everything.

If one looked, she would've spotted a Rubric cube laying on the table carelessly, unsolved. Strangely, there were also a few childrens' building blocks in a small pile on the opposite side of the desk. Slowly, the chair turned around, exposing the face of a young boy with black eyes, white hair, and a rather youthful look about him. His eyes, although seemingly indifferent to their presences, drilled holes through them as if inspecting them for any sign of weakness. He sat rather lazily in the chair, but not too lazy as to look like nothing but a slob.

He would be one out of the many they would need to convince.

And he was anything but a gentle judge.

The End

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