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Extinction

The Lesson

Shigenaga had kept his promise, as he always did, although the price he'd have to pay still left a bad taste in Kazuya's mouth. He'd been forced to relinquish a Kuchiki heirloom to the Northern King. His cousin would not be pleased, but he'd cross that bridge when he got there.

The Headquarters which Shigenaga had promised them had turned out to be a small edo-style castle on the outskirts of Karakura town, one might have wondered how it had managed to stay hidden for so long, but powerful wards and enchantments had successfully kept it hidden for several centuries already. He could only guess that it previously served as an important center of business for Shigenaga up until this point, there was no telling how many lives had been ruined here. It was common knowledge in the Kuchiki clan that the Northern King had no remorse for his actions, and that he'd terrorized the northern districts for more than a century already. Unfortunately, Shigenaga's wealth and influence rivalled that of the Kuchiki clan. Were they to make an attempt at stopping him it would most likely prove ultimately fruitless, and then they'd lose a valuable business partner and customer.

He and the task force sent from Soul Society were currently located in upper wing of the castle, in a large room lined with red carpets and adorned with pictures of their host. He'd gathered them here to teach them how to fight against this newly surfaced threat, as always, the noble art of Kidō was the solution they required, and he had been disappointed to learn that most of his subordinates seemed to only have passable skills in the artform, relying upon less worthwhile forms of combat such as Zanjutsu or Hakuda. A notion among Shinigami which he simply could not comprehend to this day.

Before he begun his instruction however, there was one thing he had to introduce into their arsenal, this one a gift from the Kidō Corps themselves. They were seeking additional members and had thus provided him with a magical object which might simultaneously increase their interest in magic, and be of massive help in this mission. Reaching for a nearby table, Kazuya picked up a four foot rod of polished wood, topped with what appeared to be an ornamental wood carving in the shape of a wolf head. He let his subordinates have a good look at the unusual implement before raising his voice.

"Before we get down to the lesson itself, I'll introduce a tool to your arsenal. This is a Hitotsue, more commonly known as a condemning rod. To you, it might appear as little more than a lovely piece of art, but there's a secret to this weapon, and it's a secret I'll share with each of you for the purpose of this mission. Far from being an ordinary piece of wood, this rod contains the essence of an Okami, an Okami with seven tails to be precise, and a part of their royalty. This is an immensely powerful spirit, easily more powerful than all of us in this room, treat the rod with respect for that very reason, it's got enough power to destroy a small city such as this were it to be misused."

Takashi felt a twinge of unease at Kazuya’s words. Destroy a whole city? They had already done that. Countless souls had perished. It still burned in his mind as a deep, painful failure, and he could not shake the feeling of absolute numbness that had come over him since the destruction of Osaka. You are letting your mind wander again. Kohaku pointed out. You need to focus.

Takashi nodded at the last part of Kazuya's brief overview. “How do you intend for us to use this power?” he asked the Captain, whom he trusted had some purpose in showing them the unusual object.

Kazuya replaced the rod on the table before turning back towards Takashi. As he spoke, the disgust quickly wormed it's way into his voice.

"Mortals though they might be, Quincy regrettably have a greater pull on spiritual energy than most Shinigami, it's because of this that they're capable of defending themselves from our magic. Individuals such as myself are exempt from this only because our mastery over the noble art leaves us similarily attuned to the formless energies that permeate all of our worlds. You however, will be hard pressed to fight a suitably powerful Quincy on equal terms, and the one we're up against is exceptionally powerful. Naturally, if everything goes as planned I will deal with him personally, but if it doesn't, then this rod provides an alternative. If you wield this rod and channel your energies through it, not only will all of your spells be empowered tremendously, but they'll also be out of reach for even the greatest of Quincy."

It would all come down to magic, as it always did, primitive swordsmanship was never the answer to their issues. It was truly a pity that it was so popular among Shinigami. But now was not the time to worry about their poor taste, he had a job to do, a role to fulfill.

"With this out of the way, I'll teach you a simple ritual often used by the Corps to banish forlorn spirits and Yōkai. It's not an ordinary spell, as it requires no incantation to perform, but instead requires several gestures and movements to be performed perfectly, like a dance of sorts. It cannot be accomplished on your own, you need to be in touch with the spirit of your Zanpakutō to perform it correctly, through your mutual bond you force the unwelcome spirit away, dismissing it from the face of this plane."

Wasting no more time, Kazuya freed Gin'Iro Odoruchō from her sheath and danced with her, a series of slow gestures, a short steps at a time, and every time he made a sudden turn a gentle hymn reverbated through the air, as though his Zanpakutō was actually singing. His movements were flowing, soft and evoked imagery of weeds bending in the wind, it wasn't pleasant to watch however, it was bizarre, strange and otherwordly. At the final step, his katana sung one more time before it became silent, and a gust of energy blew through the room.

Takashi watched Kazuya closely, observing every minute detail of his movements. He could understand the method behind it: it mimicked reeds swaying under a breeze, but at the same time he found the gestures to be jerky, unnatural almost. Still, he appreciated the fact that spell required a drawn sword, as he could identify more easily with it as a result.

“This will channel the power of Hitotsue? Please excuse my confusion Captain, as you have already surmised I am not as skilled in spell casting.” Although his words were rather obsequious, they were spoken without a hint of emotion. The scorn had been evident in Kazuya’s voice, and Takashi felt the smallest sliver of doubt concerning his leadership creep into his mind.

Ironic how he hates swordsmanship, considering this spell requires synchronization with a Zanpakutō. Kohaku noted dryly. Now it is you that needs to focus. He reprimanded. Yes 'sensei.' She retorted, and Takashi smiled a little at that. It seemed Kohaku was trying to lift his spirits, but a grim heaviness still rested on his shoulders.

Nisshō had never been skilled in Kidō, which made his fur stand on end out of pure nervousness. He hated to fail in front of his Captain and he was still dealing with the failure in the mission to the Human World.

Naomi, skilled in Kidō as she might be, had always wanted to learn more of the art from arguably the best spellcaster in the Gotei 13, and while this would normally be a prime and exciting day for her, she couldn't get over the sick knot that had been in her stomach since yesterday. Kazuya may have healed the wound in her shoulder, but for some reason she could still feel it's searing touch. It wasn't an exterior pain as one might expect, but it was much deeper; she and Takashi had been so close to losing their lives at the hands of a maniac, a horrid way to go... but not one as horrid as what had transpired at Osaka.

Simply thinking of the event made her nearly want to vomit. Thousands, possibly millions of lives were obliterated in just a handful of seconds, and what did she do? Sit and stare helplessly like a deer in the headlights, like a scared child. The fact that her Captain simply disregarded such a massive loss of life made her almost just as sick; as much as she admired him for his Kidō mastery, she couldn't possibly stand by his decision to ignore what had taken place.

Nevertheless, she stood calmly and quietly, watching and listening to everything that Kazuya had to offer them. Meanwhile Aiken, off to the corner had been in his own little world.

While his esteemed grandchild delivered his lesson, the elderly Shinigami remarked on the one that had been given to them by the events that had transpired, it was a lesson about a lack of control, patience, and the resulting chaos. Their team had no cohesion, its members were farflung in their own little trials before the mission had even truly began and now thousands of Humans, possibly millions, were dead in a far off city. No doubt the machinations of a single man that continued to flare the flames of the unending grudge between Shinigami and Quincy. Aiken knew what came next after such an event, he could still remember the day where his Division was tasked with fixing the balance after a major catastrophe tipped the scales.

He could feel the grip on his sword, the overbearing pressure of his former Captain, and the screams of each and every soul in the Rukongai that had to be cut down. His only solace was the affirmation that this too was for the sake of Soul Society, though the words never felt all that honest. Telling himself that once again, the Kuchiki retrieved himself from his thoughts as he felt a tingle from his arm. Or, rather, the apparition he had conjured in the previous battle. It shone dimly, and emanated a wistful hum before it faded into the air. His nerves twitched with burning sensation for a moment before they too went quiet. His eyes remarked upon it with a steely, clear gaze and he turned his attention to Kazuya's teachings without a word.

Slowly and meticulously, Kazuya drilled into the task force how to make use of the Hitotsue, he taught them how to harness it's power by channeling Kidō spells trough it, and he continued to drill into them the rite of banishment as previously demonstrated, instructing each and every one of them to memorize it to their best ability, for it would surely be required of them later. He then handed over the Hitotsue to his grandfather, entrusting him with the powerful artifact because of his wisdom and experience, surely he would know when to make use of it if Kazuya wasn't around.

After he had finished instructing his team on rites of banishment and using a Hitotsue, Kazuya beckoned Aiken, Naomi and Takashi to step forward, and as they did, he commanded the remaining task force members to continue their practice in peace, he suspected that those three had already more or less memorized the movement, Aiken and Naomi due to their intimate grasp on the noble art, and Takashi, due to his mastery of the blade. There's were still two spells he needed to teach to members of his task force, but among everyone assembled in the hall, these three were the only ones who could reasonably use them.

Turning his attention to the three he had selected to learn these spells, Kazuya raised his voice gently. "I'm confident that most of you witnessed, or at least felt the spell I cast earlier. That spell is called Meiyu, and it's a spell not taught or even touched upon in the Shin'ō Academy, due to it's complexity and required expertise. I will admit that I'd not thought a Quincy capable of such destruction, I've made the mistake of underestimating our foe, and that's something I'll have to answer to eventually, but for now, I shall teach you how to preserve the lives of not only yourself, but our allies. Abide by the following teachings, and practice diligently with this spell in every spare moment you have on this journey, and you may ensure that what happened to Osaka doesn't happen to your friends and allies." There was a slight grimace to be detected in Kazuya's features as he admitted that he'd underestimated their foe. It cost him dearly to admit it.

He regained his composure and continued "I'm going to teach you not only Meiyu, but it's less complicated sibling, Keikatsu for use in emergencies, these spells can be used on yourself if you wish to, but the effect will always be significantly lessened. I'd advise against it unless it is to prevent yourself from dying. It's intended first and foremost to aid others. When cast by a true master they're both capable of restoring a subject to their peak strength, but this is unlikely in your case. Watch me closely, I will now perform the necessary somantic gestures to cast Keikatsu, attempt to mimic my movements to the letter."

With that Kazuya reaches out with both his hands, slowly, before turning his wrists so that his hands were positioned back to back, with their fingers stretched out to either side, mirroring the other. He repeated this gesture several times while closely watching his subordinates attempting the same. Once he was sufficiently satisfied, he lowered his hands and spoke aloud, his voice was gentle, beckoning and sweet. The incantation itself was always very important, but in many spells, especially those of higher complexity, the tone was also of vital importance, you needed to ensure that the incantation conveyed precisely what it should, otherwise the spell might backfire.

"O maiden of rice fields, thread and rope, a knot untied. Three raindrops I bring to thee, of blessings giveth, as with water taketh. A wheel of silver I turn by moonlight, the thread white as white can be, the rustle leaves is heard in the swaying breeze" He spoke each word slowly to let it sink in, and he ensured not to channel energy while he did so, to prevent an accidental casting. Once he'd finished, he awaited for his subordinates to attempt the same.

Naomi had followed Kazuya's motions as carefully as she could. The passion he displayed for the magical art had managed to help her spirits rise in spite of the tragedy they'd witnessed. Kido had been her favored class while studying at the Academy, granting her numerous paths to grow and learn, to become stronger than what she was before. And now, one of the most well regarded Kido users in all of the Gotei 13 was now teaching her and the others a spell that the Academy itself had not seen. The last thing she wanted to happen would be to fail in her instruction, especially at such a critical point in time.

Takashi pushed whatever distractions had been in his mind aside and focused on the task at hand. While his skill in Kidō may have been lacking, especially considering the fact that he was a Lieutenant, he found that he could easily fall into the rhythm of movement for Keikatsu. Not only that, but he took a personal interest in the spell. It was one that could be used an urgent situation, and was thus practical despite the drain it would no doubt impose upon Reiatsu levels when used. He recalled his numerous training spars against Kazuo Hanazawa, and wondered if his fellow Lieutenant had already been aware of the spell. Naomi at least did not seem familiar with it, as she too was doing her best to learn the new Kidō. Takashi had repeated the words of the incantation in his mind until they were firmly embedded into his memory, and he now recited them carefully, hoping he had successfully imitated Kazuya in the spell.

Aiken couldn't truly replicate the spell as it had been performed in his condition. His missing arm left him mirroring the gestures more to memorize them than truly move through them. It was something he was used to, and something he had grown able to accommodate. He could feel each motion of his muscles, each tingle of the nerves as he did his best to replicate what had been shown to him. It was a necessary step, something he had learned in the past when he was graced by the opportunity to study under Ichibē Hyōsube. Then came the chant, an easier feat to accomplish as his memory remained strong in spite of his advanced age. A small smirk broke through his previously serious expression as he thanked the stars that he had yet to go senile.

Mystery Abound

Their lessons were hopefully going well as they trained under the illustrious Captain Kuchiki of Division Nine. However, things would not remain so peaceful in this calm before the storm for much longer. In the shadow of the large castle, hidden away from the view of mortal eyes, where they had been based out of, two individuals began creeping along the pathway; closer and closer, making their way for the large structure.

"I can sense something faint in this direction... This is where Captain Kuchiki told the Captain-Commander that they would be stationed, but I don't feel anything." spoke one of two individuals cloaked in black. These were clearly Shinigami officers; not just any officers, but the very same that came to the human world with Ichigo Kurosaki. After being threatened by the latter to head for the rendezvous point, they chose to do so. Of course, this was roughly twenty minutes ago. Given the intricacy of the location where Kazuya arranged for the task force to regroup, it was no surprise that it took them quite a while to get any sort of bearing. Even as they were approaching where the large castle stood, they could not truly perceive its existence; rather, all they could feel was some faint spiritual pressures leaking out in the area around them.

Naomi's posture had softened as their lesson had gone on. She may not have been able to understand or accept Kazuya's mannerism's on missions, but she had to admit that he was a great mentor, especially for something as interesting to her as spellcraft. He had just as much passion, if not more, for the art than she did, and she could only dream to ever reach his level of talent. She'd become completely focused on the lesson at hand when she felt the presence of the two nearby officers on the outside of their hideout. Reinforcements perhaps? Initially she didn't think Shunsui would see a need to bring in additional aid for a mission like this, but then again, an entire city had just been destroyed under their watch. She didn't want to interrupt Kazuya's lesson, but the two officers could be there for something important. "Captain, forgive me for interrupting you, but..." she started as she looked towards the direction of the visitors. "...but I think we have company."

Kazuya nodded at Naomi, he'd felt it too, and it was his duty to see to the newcomers. He didn't feel any hostility from them, and judging by their spiritual signature they were Shinigami, which meant that they were likely allies. Instructing his three students to keep practicing their spell, Kazuya excused himself and left to greet the newcomers. Outside, to the eyes of the recently arrived Shinigami, the very air would seem to split apart at the seams, revealing a large path between the trees that lead to a set of massive doors. Out of which the 9th Division Captain calmly stepped out to greet them.

Walking along the path, Kazuya turned his attention to the two Shinigami, hand resting carefully on the hilt of his Zanpakutō, he would not be caught off-guard again. Clearing his voice, he spoke with authority. "I am Kuchiki Kazuya, Captain of the 9th Division in the Gotei 13. Who are you, and what is your business here?"

Both officers reacted with slight surprise at the appearance of these large gates; that being said, they knew the location was hidden by a powerful spell and whatever it was hiding had to be quite ostentatious. Noticing Kazuya making his way down the pathway leading away from the gate, both officers held their arms by their side and lowered their heads in respect. "Fifteenth seat of the Tenth Division, Yamato Hoshigawa." spoke the brown-haired male on the right. "Nineteenth seat of the Seventh Division, Shira Naki." answered the black-haired officer on Yamato's side.

"We were... sent here..." began Yamato, a bead of sweat fell from his forehead. He seemed to feel a bit tense, though even he could not explain why this was. Perhaps in the presence of Kazuya's immense power coupled with the honor of being sent to report directly to a Captain, he felt a bit lightheaded. Shrugging it off as such, the boy shook his head briefly and composed himself. Reaching into the sleeve of his shihakushō, he pulled out what appeared to be a scroll taped up with a seal; one that had the character for "Captain" etched onto it. "We arrived above Osaka along with Ichigo Kurosaki, on the orders of the Captain-Commander, to gather intelligence on the events that have transpired in the hopes of reporting said information back to the Soul Society to make appropriate revisions to the plan of action." he explained, his manner of speech was a bit nervous as he tried to sound as sophisticated as possible; it was Yamato's first time directly reporting to a Captain and he wanted to make the proper impression.

Extending a hand for the scroll so obviously meant for his eyes only, Kazuya nodded solemnly to the two Shinigami officers. "You've done well, although your further assistance won't be necessary. We're facing enemies that the two of you are ill-equipped to handle. I'll be providing the Captain-Commander with intelligence personally through my magic." They'd done well to come all this way, he was impressed, and it was only fitting that their efforts be rewarded, they would not need to risk their life anymore than they've already done. Gently touching the air at his side, he let the very fabric of reality peel apart to reveal an ornate pathway through the air itself - manifesting as several sliding doors that gradually opened to reveal a bright white light.

Turning his attention back to the two officers, he took the scroll from their grasp before gesturing towards the Senkaimon, a mote of black energy appeared and soon assumed the form of a Jigokuchō, the black butterfly danced about in place, as if beckoning the two officers to follow it back to Soul Society. "Well delivered, now head home and rest. You're dismissed"

A brief moment of silence filled in the air as Yamato handed the scroll over to Kazuya, leaving his hand on the scroll while the Captain had grasped onto it. In that moment, Yamato's eyes twitched a bit as his pupils began to dilate; almost as if shook into a trance. After letting go of the scroll, his hand jerked forward in that instance he was close to Kazuya and gripped the Captain's wrist. The seated officer wasn't anywhere near as strong as what it would take to restrain a Captain, much less Kazuya himself, but it didn't appear to be that sort of attempt. "C-C... Ca-... Captain... I..." uttered the rather frozen boy as his facial expression did not bear any murderous attempt yet this grip was one being performed by someone that was trying to hold this Captain in place. The mind and the body were in a state of disconnect.

It would seem that in the same instance Yamato reached out for Kazuya's wrist, the seated officer Shira had held his hands up aimed directly at Kazuya whom was no further away from him than Yamato was; save for a couple inches or so. In his hands, a massive orb of red fiery energy began to form. Right from the start, any Shinigami worth their salt would recognize this as Shakkahō, but only a refined master such as Kazuya would see that this was a very unstable spell. Too much power was being fueled into it, along with an ever-growing rage flooding into these flames as the spell grew, but there was no control; the end result was this Shakkahō, forming in Shira's hands, rapidly growing larger and greater in intensity without control, leading to only one possible result.

Everything took only a handful of split seconds to go down; the gripping of Kazuya's wrist, Shira forming the spell, and then... the explosion that followed. A torrent of smoke and flames erupted from Shira's hands, completely overtaking his body and ripping away at his flesh horrendously as the spell's power raced to consume Kazuya and Yamato too.

The Captain's reaction was immediate, without even acknowledging the hand on his wrist he immediately turned to the spell being woven. He could feel the telltale signs of magic with ease, whenever a spell was cast there was the faintest of disturbances in the ambient energies of the environment, as they rushed to assume it's form. Shakkahō, it was one of the most basic spells taught in the academy, and only the fewest of students graduated without being able to cast it by name and number alone, it was simply too important in the early stages of their career, where their Zanpakutō could only do minimal harm to a Hollow. This one was evidently intended to destroy all of them, Kazuya, naturally, was never in any real danger, his wards would render a spell of such magnitude nothing more than a bother - but these were his subordinates and he would protect them.

Before the spell was even halfway completed, Kazuya's free hand was up in the air and directed towards the growing orb of flame. With a swift yet oddly intricate gesture of his fingers, he cast his own counter spell - as the red sphere immediately began shrinking at an accelerated pace before abruptly vanishing into a puff of pink smoke. His reaction hadn't been quick enough to prevent Shira from suffering aggravated burns from his own spell; much of his skin was burned away entirely, and he was covered in soot and lesser burn wounds. He'd live, he concluded, but just to be sure he invoked the spell Keikatsu upon him all the same, healing the most serious of his injuries while leaving the lesser ones, the fourth division could handle those. Even though he consciously restrained his spell, he could still feel it taking a toll on his reserves - for all it's uses, it was certainly draining. Letting out a short sigh, partly out of fatigue, but also to convey his exasperation, the nobleman turned to his subordinates once again.

This had not been their doing, they were being controlled somehow, he could sense the anger and rage from the Shakkahō; but it didn't belong to Shira at all. Could it be this Quincy, this Kraven? No, he'd demonstrated his skill at Kidō before, and he was absolutely certain that if he were to attempt to assassinate him, he'd do so the old fashioned way, and not waste his time with magic. Whoever it was, it would appear they were misinformed indeed. Commanding the two Shinigami to remain put just as they were, he extended an arm out to his right, palm upright and fingers facing upwards. Following this gesture, black markings appeared across the extremity, drawing intricate symbols arranged perpendicular to one another in five long lines. Tenteikūra was the spell he cast, ordinarily it only permitted the user from speaking to individuals inhabiting the same world - but a Kidō Master such as him could use it to traverse the dimensions. Albeit, judging from the sweat that formed on his brow, this was a significant exertion, even to him. He could only maintain the connection for approximately a second, and to converse time, he had to connect with two people; Mayuri Kurotsuchi and the Captain-Commander. Within a moment, they were within reach and he concentrated upon the connection, transmitting his voice as best he could.

Without leaving out nary a detail, he relayed what had happened since they arrived in the human world as accurately as he could muster. He spoke of the meeting with Kraven, the actions they'd taken and the destruction of Osaka. He also briefly spoke about the deal they'd made with Shigenaga, just incase it might become of relevance later. He gave further notice about their present location and the status of their team. At the end he relayed a report of the most recent events with the two controlled officers, and requested that Mayuri send some of his people to fetch the two Shinigami, reminding him to send someone capable of holding their own just incase they might resist. They'd need to get to the bottom of this mystery, there was too many enemies, if they didn't learn of them soon they'd be in trouble. Despite being in a hurry, he managed to make one last interjection with Mayuri about ensuring the survival and safety of both Shira and Yamato. He'd brook no injustice done to them in Kurotsuchi's care.

The spell then broke, the window-like symbol shattering like a piece of stained glass before discorporating into energy fragments and returning to the ambient atmosphere as before. At this point, the mage was panting visibly - he'd have liked to say more, but that was his limit with the spell. Hachigen Ushōda could most certainly have maintained it longer, but not him, Bakudo had never been Kazuya's true forte.

---

In the far reaches of Soul Society, deep in the office of the Captain-Commander, the brown-haired leader of the Shinigami had been seemingly napping. Quite a class act, he was. Not a care in the world, even in the midst of all the chaos plaguing the human world, but that was to be expected. This man was present during some of the worst times in the Gotei 13's history. Wars and conflicts were more common to him than peaceful times, so he was the kind that dared to wind down during quiet times such as this, but his calm slumber was quickly awoken by the sudden mental connection created by Kazuya's Tenteikūra.

For a moment, he had to compose himself in order to hear what the Captain had to report. The news about Osaka caused even this composed leader to widen his eyes in shock. Never before, even during the dread of Aizen's revolt, did such destruction befall the human world. To have lost an entire city... This was horrible news. And the report wasn't getting any better, as Kazuya went into detail regarding the fights between his men and the yōkai in Kraven's employ, as well as the brainwashed officers that attempted to attack him, and now, the sudden disappearance of Ichigo who was sent into the human world under extreme restrictions. At the end of the report, and Kazuya eventually breaking the connection, Shunsui stood there in solitary silence. And making a couple steps closer to his desk, he placed his right hand against it, his solemn expression portrayed his current thoughts on the situation.

"My, oh my... What to do, what to do..."

---

Even after Kazuya stopped the attempt and healed the officer of the self-inflicted burns, the controlled duo of Shira and Yamato charged to make yet another attempt on the Captain's life at the risk of their own. But their lifeless eyes were suddenly filled with a bright blue light as electricity pulsed around their heads and down their bodies, causing them to freeze mid-action. Standing there for a moment, both had collapsed onto the ground, that brief light in their eyes vanished as though their very lives slipped away.

Still momentarily exhausted, Kazuya nevertheless made another attempt at saving their life, it would seem as though whomever had used them had not yet relinquished their grip. Moving quickly to their side, he wove two kanji of a pale pink light in the air above them, before uttering the name of the spell "Kokkai".

The energy suffused their being, purging their bodies of the foreign influence, he could feel the hostile energies suffusing their cores like sparks of electricity; the power of whomever had done this was considerable and it was not without effort that he erased the last vestiges of their influence from the bodies of his subordinates. They were free now, he'd saved them, it made him happy that among all this death and destruction he could at the very least save the lives of his own subordinates. Casting another spell, Kazuya carried the two unconscious Shinigami into the castle; floating on soft currents of air, he wouldn't let their enemy get to them before the 12th Division came to research the origins of their current condition.

Once inside, he deposited them in the infirmary of the castle and assembled the entire task force to begin briefing them about what had happened. He was factual as always, and despite how much these things bothered him, he did his best to convey the visage of a true Kuchiki, cold, unfeeling and serene.

A Defining Moment

Decades had passed since Raian Getsueikirite had last stepped foot into the office of the Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13. War and his duty in the Rukongai had kept him away from the capital of the Soul Society, but today that all was to change. The Shinigami weren't the only ones with eyes in the Human World. Raian had several allies of his own in a secluded city in the Americas: Rider City. Already, the events of Osaka were circulating the globe in the world of the living. Raian had no doubt that the Captain-Commander had already been informed of the tragedy there as well. A grim look crossed the former captain's face.

Nineteen million, his thoughts throbbed with anger. Nineteen million souls, gone…

There was anger in his gut, but he did his best to contain it. Even with his best restraint in place, however, he shoved the doors to the Captain-Commander's chambers open with such force that they slammed against the wooden walls of the office even as he marched in.

Shunsui, the man in charge of the Gotei, stood solemnly by the desk that had once belonged to Genryūsai Yamamoto. His hand bore against the desk, as though he was depending on it for support. Finally, the pent up fury broiling in Raian's gut surfaced in an expression of disgust across the former captain's face. His Reiatsu crackled beneath his skin, demanding to be let free in an open expression of his outrage, but he contained it with an iron will.

"Really, it is shameful." his voice was low and rough, yet still echoed through the spacious office. "That the Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13 would be here in his office after nineteen million human beings were just exterminated in the Human World. By Quincy, no less. How you've fallen… Kyōraku Shunsui…"

Kyōraku's face remained stoic, riddled with a grave expression as he faced the enraged former Captain. It had been not more than a couple hours that he himself learned of the news from Kazuya directly, and it wasn't long before Raian came into the halls with a distinct unease surrounding him like a fierce spiritual pressure. As Raian came toward the desk, standing naught but a couple feet away from the Captain-Commander, Kyōraku chose to address him by maintaining some level of decorum. "Raian-san... I take it, by your sudden entrance, that you've been made aware of Osaka." Taking a step away, he gestured toward an empty seat. "Please, have a seat. I'll pour us some tea." he continued, picking up a tea pot stationed at his desk beside multiple cups.

Raian's fist came crashing down on the wooden desk with a sound like a gunshot—the wood splintering slightly as a result. In a short matter of seconds, the former captain's expression had gone from that of disgust to one of unadulterated outrage. The sudden display of anger was out of the ordinary for a Shinigami known for keeping his cool, even in the most despairing of situations. The black-haired Shinigami felt the heat, now burning like hot coals, beneath his skin and he embraced it. He had known Shunsui since childhood; the Captain-Commander could not hide his feelings around Raian as well as he could his subordinates.

"Now is not the time for tea!" Raian hissed between clenched teeth. "Nineteen million… Nineteen million, Kyōraku! Is no amount of human lives enough to force your hand?! These damned Quincy have been allowed to proliferate for over a thousand years. Yama-jii failed to stop them twice, the second of which was almost the end of reality itself. Now they're back again and an entire human populace has be slaughtered!" Raian's fist, still firmly attached to Shunsui's desk, clenched, further splintering the wood. "I will sit by and watch this no longer, Kyōraku! Soul Society has become far too complacent."

The Captain-Commander merely faced the outburst Raian demonstrated with a momentary silence. Choosing to merely turn away from Raian's view in that instance, once the former Captain completed his tirade, he proceeded to pour tea into one of the cups and then continued onto the second cup. His silence on the matter was a rather dark one. He understood Raian's frustrations all too well and it wasn't something he was taking well either. But as he did with all things in his life, he internalized matters instead of expressing them outwardly. Shunsui did the same with this destruction of Osaka. He had no choice in the matter, after all. He had to show a strong front to those who served him. Showing any emotional instability now would only lead to chaos in the Seireitei as well as the human world; disarray he could not afford.

Taking a seat in front of his smashed desk, Kyōraku cupped his hands together and looked at the enraged Raian. "What do you propose then? Some... full-scale assault on the human world? A manhunt for any and all souls that could be Quincy? I shouldn't have to remind you of what happened over a thousand years ago, during the first conflict with Yhwach." he stated, referring to the first Quincy Blood War. "We have a task force handling the matter... led by Captain Kazuya Kuchiki." the man explained.

To say that Raian was flabbergasted would have been a grave understatement. The former captain blinked twice before reigning in his temper. Outbursts, he told himself, weren't going to move Shunsui. No, perhaps nothing would. He glanced sideways at the tea offering but continued to ignore it. He maintained that there were far more pressing matters facing both men than a mere pot of tea.

"A task force?" Raian resumed. "A task force is your response? Might I remind you, Head Captain, that souls killed by Quincy attacks do not enter the cycle of reincarnation. Nineteen million were just removed from that cycle and the best response you can give is that you have a task force overseeing the matter? Mobilize the whole damn army! The people of the Rukongai are already spooked." The former captain's face darkened considerably, which conincided with a lowering of his voice. "They remember the atrocities that were committed the last time the Quincy messed with the reincarnation cycle. They see the Gotei 13 sitting on its thumbs and now Osaka is gone. It is time to stop sitting on the fence, Kyōraku. If you don't act sufficiently, we'll have another Yhwach on our hands."

Raian remembered, with a great measure of bitterness, the bearded man who had been the monarch of the Quincy. He had fought in two wars against the man before he had finally been put down. As the memory ended, Raian's countenance finally returned to its more usual appearance: cold indifference. What he had to say now pained him. He considered the man sitting across from him a friend, despite his recent failures (from Raian's point of view, at least), but the Captain-Commander had left him no choice.

"I'm going." he declared plainly. "I have ferociously defended the Human World in the past, even when Soul Society protested. If you refuse to measure your response in proportion to the offenders of this atrocity, then I will. They will know that they cannot eradicate a human city and get away with it. A task force you say…" Raian's eyes narrowed. "I will bring an army."

Hearing Raian's remark end with him bringing an army already caused multiple thoughts to cross the Captain-Commander's head. And all of them were none too pleasant. Doing what he always did, the wizened Kyōraku picked up his cup and took a subtle sip of his tea. Upon finishing, he placed the cup down and rose his head to face Raian. "Mobilizing an army to deal with an enemy we know nothing about... All we know is that a Quincy named Kraven orchestrated this situation. And under his command, he has multiple strange creatures with unusual abilities at his disposal. We know naught his location nor his intentions... nor how far he is willing to go to get what he wants." the Captain-Commander responded. He took stood up straight from his chair and placed his hands calmly against the desk surface. "I understand your frustrations, Raian-san. But no benefit comes from gathering together other distraught individuals, led by a even more distraught individual such as yourself... and leading some kind of savage assault on a world that is already teetering on spiritual instability. Captain Kuchiki and his task force are all seasoned officers, we need to put our faith in their efforts." Shunsui went on to explain. No matter what, he wanted to prevent Raian from attempting any sort of reckless defection.

"I don't mean to—what is the phrase?—beat a dead horse, Head Captain, but your task force just allowed an entire city—and no small one, at that—get wiped off the face of the earth. Hardly men I can put my faith in." Raian snapped. "Bringing an army to bear will make our enemies think twice about trying to preform a similar feat in the future. The only reason they did so now is because the Gotei 13 has been biding its time for too long. They're testing the waters. First was a city, but next might be a province. Then a country. Then a continent… I will not put anymore human lives at risk for your foolish game of chess." For the first time since his outburst, Raian removed his fist from Shunsui's desk, casually lifted the tea that had been offered to him, and took a slightly sip; his eyes never left the sharp gaze that Shunsui was returning at him. "We are Shinigami and our job is to protect the world from monsters that wipe out life without rhyme or reason. Perhaps, in all the bureaucracy, the Gotei 13 has forgotten its role, but I have not. 'Defend the Soul Society and protect the World of the Living.' Surely you remember that man's words, yes? In the end, my answer to you remains the same. I don't mind whatever rumors you start of me or what the world will know me as. The human world needs defenders and I will happily rise to their aid. And if you, deciding that you will stop me, point your blade at what I hold dear…" Raian's voice dipped low and sharpened. "…then I do not mind overthrowing something like a government."

Kyōraku's only good eye, not closed away by an injury and hidden by his eyepatch, narrowed in discontent. He, more than anybody else, valued the teachings of his late mentor greatly. Yamamoto stood as a beacon of justice and one of balance; he was a true Shinigami and a true leader in every sense of the word. Raian reflected Yamamoto in many ways when Shunsui looked at him. But he didn't see the Yamamoto from nine years ago, that fell by Yhwach's hand in the previous war, but rather the visage of the sword demon from a thousand years ago surrounding Raian. At that time, Soul Society needed a leader like that. Ruthless and enduring, willing to slay innocents that stood in his way so long as the greater good was upheld. And his methods continued to permeate Soul Society leading up to his death and the eventual reconstruction of the Gotei 13. They ensured that the Shinigami stood at the top, protecting the world, but in the process, it was their belief that only they were the ones who could protect the world that caused enemies like the Quincy, who had to watch their loved ones die so a "greater good" could exist. And this led to the Quincy taking actions to destroy the world's own balance simply to protect their own loved ones. But it was no longer those times. It was a chance at renewal, to bring forth a new era where all beings could find peace with one another.

In response to Raian, Kyōraku merely let out a deep and disheveled sigh. "I lack the strength to stop you myself, Raian-san..." A coldness filled his only good eye. "But if you turn your sword on us, we will have no choice but to eradicate you." he finished.

Raian's lip curved upward in a smirk, the likes of which would rival that of Zaraki Kenpachi's own. A hellish smirk that denoted just the opposite of what Shunsui intended with his remark. Raian's eyes glinted ferociously and, in that moment, the veil tore and the spiritual pressure he had been holding back throughout the meeting fell upon the Captain-Commander's office with such force, those who felt it from outside would surely have the breath driven from their lungs. The former captain turned, so that his back was to the Captain-Commander, and took a few measured steps towards the center of the room. Pausing momentarily, Raian glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes now radiating with the spiritual energy that was presently flooding the room in intense waves of Reiatsu. A slow, menacing chuckle rose from the depths of his throat and, standing in that posture, it was no longer the sword demon Yamamoto that Kyōraku could see. Rather, the image of the man who once brought Soul Society to its knees.

"I'm trembling," Raian hiss sarcastically. "Truly."

An explosion from above sent wood and other debris flooding into the room as a myriad of shadows descended from the smoke onto the floor of the Captain-Commander's office. When the smoke cleared, the forms of Jiraiya and Yoshida—along with other members of Raian's student body—occupied the central space of the Head Captain's office. Yoshida looked indifferent despite the spiritual pressure radiating out of the room in plumes. Jiraiya too looked unaffected, merely directing his attention towards his mentor.

"Sensei," his voice was reasonably more measured than his mentor's had been. "We should go."

"Indeed." Raian replied, his gaze still shredding into Kyōraku. "Our time in Soul Society is at an end, for the moment." About this time, a Senkaimon was forcibly ripped open behind the gathering and Raian finally pried his eyes off of the Captain-Commander, joining his students in approaching the portal to the Living World. "Kyōraku Shunsui… No… Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13," he glanced back again briefly, eyes full of malice. "When we meet again next, it will be as enemies. For now, I go to do what you will not. To protect human lives with my own. Farewell…"

The gate closed, and he was gone.

"C-Captain!" came the roars of two disheveled seated officers — one male and one female — who came rushing into the devastated office space only to lay eyes upon the Captain-Commander who stood silently among the wreckage. "What happened here?!" asked the female officer as the male officer rushed to Shunsui's side. "Are you alright, Captain?" he asked, but Shunsui would not answer. His gaze was focused mainly on the spot where Raian had departed. Shunsui's eye shut as a memory flooded his thoughts.

---

Following the invasion of the mysterious hooded individuals and the declaration of war, Yamamoto had officers left and right — Captains and Lieutenants — all making preparations for battle. All were scattering about across Seireitei, going about their distinctive duties to make sure they were ready to deal with the threat of the pending Quincy army. However, Kyōraku stood in the elder's office which overlooked the busy streets of Seireitei.

"Do you have something you wish to say, Shunsui?" asked the bearded Captain-Commander with his usual stern voice.

The man merely shook his head. "Not really much to say. But I suppose, there is something I want to ask. And it has to do with what you and Captain Kurotsuchi discussed... earlier."

"Ah... So you heard?" Yamamoto replied, his tone softening a bit.

Kyōraku let out a sigh. "I was a child back then, but there's no reason why you wouldn't have been able to kill the Quincy King Yhwach with your skills then. I knew that then, and I am sure of that even now. And you were far more harsh with enemies than you are now, Yama-jii, which is saying a lot... So then, why? Why didn't you kill him?"

Yamamoto could only express a brief release of laughter before he showed his age with a slight cough that followed. "Who knows?" the Captain-Commander mused.

However, Kyōraku, who remained composed, still presented a bit of a furrowed brow. "Is it really that you failed to kill him? Or that you chose not to...?"

For a moment, he took a silent look upon the streets of Seireitei, littered with officers. "Maybe we are to blame for what is happening now, in more ways than one. But we can't change that. Shinigami must protect the flow of souls, and Quincy... destroy souls in order to protect themselves and their own kind. Shinigami and Quincy will always be enemies because of that. Selfish they may be, but we hadn't realized it back then... that there was a point to it. We gained for ourselves a world to protect. People to protect. And I could see it from the Quincy's point of view. But how can we? We can't protect everybody and protect the flow of souls between worlds. Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, something that the Quincy couldn't understand, and it was their view point we couldn't understand. I had to make a choice, even if I disagreed with it, and in the end, it was a conflict within myself that made it impossible for my blade to kill that bastard." Yamamoto explained thoroughly.

But then, the elder Captain-Commander formed a rare smile at his former student; one that was never seen often within the walls of Seireitei.

"Who knows... Maybe, some day, that can change. Where nobody has to die needlessly." But then he gave off another wizened chuckle. "How foolish... Me, sprouting the very words as the man I killed, for having dared to state such words in the first place."

Yamamoto turned once more toward Kyōraku. "Hopefully, that same conflict won't dull your blade, like it did mine."

---

"Yeah... I'm fine. Ah, please tend to this mess, it's getting a bit breezy in here." the current Captain-Commander ordered, with both officers slowly nodding as they bowed in response; despite still finding themselves feeling confused and curious as to what actually transpired here that had their leader so quiet and unwilling to discuss.

Kyōraku stepped forward, beyond the wreckage that his officers began tending to, as he stared out onto Seireitei as his predecessor had once did. And a profound silence befell him as he was lost in thought. Changes were now coming, once again, and a storm began to brew that would truly put a strain on the Soul Society unlike ever before.

The Reinforcements

Weeks passed since Kaisei Ryūren had any significant tasks, nor even any bit of missions to fill in his free time. Despite all the empty hours he could use to doze off, leaving not a care in the world, he wasn't being his lazy, ignorant self; in fact, he was furious as of what happened. Honestly, as a Shinigami, a captain at that, he was expecting to get a direct order from the Captain-Commander himself to confront the enemy head on in battle alongside the other captains. But no, they had to wait for the enemy to make his move first, and now all he could do was to send in his lieutenant as a back-up for the task force in the World of the Living.

His eyes twitched quite a bit after thinking of what was happening, and how he along with the rest of the Shinigami could prevent the innocent souls from perishing into nothingness. His hands grew sweaty, his fingers began tapping onto the wooden table he was sitting on that echoed sincerely throughout the room, breaking the silence. The death of the Vizoreds, the mysterious enemy, the sudden loss of a large number of souls, and earlier he had sensed an ominous presence bursting through the office of the Captain-Commander. The captain still couldn't piece all these together. All he could do right now was to wait for his lieutenant getting ready. His eyes twitched once more. Honestly, she is taking too much time enjoying herself, and what is she doing right now? Probably perfecting her accessories as well as make-up to attract attention from all the people out there. It was that easy for him to guess.

A second later the lieutenant burst into the office, running and panting, without any proper greetings nor any knock on the door, but it was quite expected of her. On her face Alvin could see layers and layers of make-up, still all those make-up couldn't keep him from observing the lieutenant's awful and obviously distressed face. She had problems of her own, no doubt. Still panting, her hands touched down upon her knees, letting her high ponytail drape upon her left shoulder whereas her second, braided ponytail drape upon her right shoulder. She was quite special, he admitted, but her persona was much to everyone's disgust.

"You called, Vin?" She asked as she regained her footing, standing tall, while her hands began to attach her lieutenant armband at the end of her braided ponytail, then closing the door behind her. "Something the matter?"

Kaisei raised his eyebrows, expressing disbelief at the childish woman who looked way younger than she was supposed to be. "Yes, perhaps the ominous presence a while ago was not amiss for you?" He asked with a stern and cold-ish voice. "You should really pay a close attention to your vicinity...not just your blings."

Cynthia's lips curved into a frown. "I was busy, alright? And do you ever pay attention to me?"

"Your lieutenant armband is crooked," replied Kaisei easily.

The lieutenant raised her eyebrows before her eyes widened, pulling her braided ponytail to fix the armband. "Okay, okay, I get it. What's wrong this time?" She was somewhat furious at her captain, but that was before she got a clear look at her stressed captain. It was rather rare for him to be stressed in any way. Despite his weird and no-one-can-understand-personality, she knew he wasn't the type to get stressed over anything. "You okay, Vin?"

"Sharp as always, Succubus," the captain replied instantly. "Never mind that. You are going to the World of the Living to assist the task force us captains sent earlier on alongside an officer from the Seventh...a female. There seems to be a problem over there. I'll brief you once she is here," he continued, "Which is supposed to be any second now."

The sound of running feet was suddenly heard shortly before the doors into the room slammed open to reveal a very flustered, and out of breath, woman.

Bells, marbles, pearls and various other decorations hung everywhere in her loosely tied sash, small smileys were stitched onto the woman's sleeves and even the handle of her Zanpakuto had small sequins hanging from small, halfway invisible threads.

"I... I am so sorry for being late, sir!" the woman cried out, "You see, I overslept and therefore got into the bath super late, and then I had to get dressed, like, really, really fast so I forgot my sash halfway over at the Fifth's Barracks—forgetting my sash with all these cute things on it is a crime in itself, sir!—and then I had to run back to get it even faster, because the Lieutenant said that I needed to be there within the next hour if I wanted to get off in good time! So I ran home and got my sash, and then I hurried back to the Fifth's Barracks and, well, here I am!"

The woman drew in a large amount of air before looking at the two Shinigami before her with apologetic eyes, "Uh... anyways, Makinami Shiemi reporting for duty, sir!"

The captain's mood lightened up a bit, at least, allowing his typical frown to become a straight set of lips, almost becoming a slight smile, in fact. "Two beautiful ladies," he appraised, with an unusually warm voice, before glaring at Cynthia. "Both are late, unfortunately. State your position, Shiemi-kun."

"I'm the 3rd Seat in Division 7, Sir!" Shiemi squeaked, biting her lower lip as she glanced up at the two superior officers, "I hope that I will meet your expectations, sir!"

Regaining his footing after hours of sitting on his desk, the captain stood straight, his menacing blue eyes staring deeply into the officer as if he was angry or something. "Captain of the Fifth, Kaisei Ryūren. You may as well call me Alvin."

Apparently, the same, formal greeting didn't come from his trusty lieutenant; in fact, she was too busy expressing her surprise as well as admiration towards the sparkly things surrounding the beautifully decorated Shihakushō worn by Shiemi. Her eyes were sparkling as well, apparently.

Kaisei just had to elbow her just to snap her back into reality, but soon found out that the sparkling stars were still in her eyes. "Umm...Lieutenant of the Fifth Division, Cynthia Kazuryū. Call me whatever ya want, but where did you get those beauties?"

"That's not the case right now," the previously warm voice changed instantly into some sort of a stern tone. "This order was issued by the Captain-Commander himself, and I do not want any slacking around this time." Cynthia rolled her eyes in disbelief of how his captain could become someone like this. "I was supposed to send in experienced officers as a back up for the task force that currently resides in the World of the Living. One from the Fifth, one from the Seventh, and it appears that Ueda-taichō sent you in. Your mission is to go to the World of the Living and assist the task force in whatever they need; the preparations have been made, and the Senkaimon are open for you two to leave. Any questions?"

Cynthia shook her head; perhaps she truly understood what her captain just said earlier, her face says it all.

Shiemi's eyes widened at Cynthia's words, her cheeks turning a deep red as well, before she shook her head at Kaisei's words, "No, Alvin-taicho, I understand the situation! I promise that I won't let you down in this!"

Kaisei forced himself to form a slight grin to reflect upon his face; still, no matter how much he smiled or forced to do so, his features demonstrated the face of one who is under pressure. True, he had faith that his lieutenant is fully capable to do the job well, as well as Shiemi being the person who could stir Cynthia back to her tracks, if she did slack off, but he could feel something ominous is behind this; a feeling which beckoned him to accompany these two officers personally.

That instance he threw his awful thoughts away; was he really losing faith in his lieutenant? No, that couldn't be. The pressure was gone now, he no longer has to force the smile upon his face. "Succubus, you are in charge of this operation until you meet the members of the task force, so don't screw this up," his unusually warm voice returned. "Shiemi-kun, I trust that you are fully capable of doing this mission, and I also trust that you are fully capable of restraining my lieutenant if she ever acted strange." Again, Cynthia rolled her eyeballs in response.

"W-what?!" Shiemi squeaked at the Captain's words, her eyes bulging out, "B-but Kazuryū-san is a Lieutenant! I-I can't just haul her around!"

The black-haired captain was about to open his mouth before he was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a Jigokuchō; the butterfly swiftly made its way through the silenced room within seconds, and soon found itself standing on top of Kaisei's finger between the three officers, who knew right away that the sudden appearance of a Hell Butterfly indicates the otherwise trivial situation. The captain's mind soon merged together with the creature's, leaving the three silence for some time. It was then that the captain's frown came back, just as the creature flew away from the room.

"The Captain-Commander requested the appearance of the captains of the Fifth, Eighth and Eleventh Divisions," he announced, his voice being stern as usual.

He sure didn't like the sound of that. His gaze was fixed upon the floorboards of his office; what could happen so badly that the Captain-Commander needed three captains to gather? Letting go of his thought, Kaisei stretched his arms upward, allowing his bones to cause some sort of cracking sound as well as letting go of the restlesness that ached under his bones and, letting out a sigh, glanced over the two officers before him. It may seem that he has to find out for himself. "Focus on the mission you two. Go to the Senkaimon, search for the task force, then Kuchiki-taichō will give you his orders." Then, within the blink of an eye, the captain vanished into thin air.

Cynthia gave Shiemi an awkward look. "Well, shall we go?"

Shiemi nodded slowly, her eyes blinking as she stared at the spot where Alvin had been standing a few moments ago.

"Of course, Kazuryū-san," she said, a smile forming on her lips as she regarded the other Shinigami with excited eyes.

This was the first time ever she would leave the Soul Society, leave her Division, for more than just a few days. She would be in the World of the Living, using the skills she had desperately tried to polish off for so long, and this time there would be no room for awkward mistakes and banter. Shiemi's hand sneaked down to the handle of Shirokage, her fingers fiddling with one of the many trinkets hanging from the tsuba, and her lips tilted upwards even more as she felt the ecstatic hum from her Zanpakuto.

'No room for mistakes this time,' Shiemi mused to herself as she walked out of the room, 'I won't let Alvin-taicho down in this! Not him and certainly not the others!'

Deep inside, Cynthia was excited as well, and to be honest, a little overwhelmed by all this; this was also her first time she would leave Soul Society. She had the bravery to stalk hundreds of people around Soul Society, but this mission just seemed...a little bit overwhelming. Still, she couldn't coward her way out of this; she kept her cool before, she would have to keep her cool now. This is her time to shine.

She smiled to Shiemi, and waved her hand before walking swiftly towards the entrance of the room, signalling her to follow her. She had to close the doors of her captain's office before leaving, and soon found herself within her own quarters not too far away from her own captain's to pick up her Zanpakutō. She glanced over her shoulders to check if the officer was still following her, to which she did.

"Let's go, Shiemi!" said Cynthia, enlightened and happy; excited although somewhat overwhelmed. Usually she would prefer to go by foot, but as this mission progressed, she caught her energy and utilized Shunpo, jumping from roof to roof, before finding herself in the direction that leads towards the Senkaimon. Within a few minutes, there she stood before the giant gate.

The entryway stood where it always has been. Its bright red doors patterned with unique golden markings were swung wide open revealing its magnificent white wall shining upward to the skies of all the Soul Society, its large courtyard mounted atop both towers, casting shadows behind the gateway; one may even wonder how it stayed in perfect condition after having itself destroyed and rebuilt again over many conflicts.

Cynthia turned to look at Shiemi, and throwing her sudden fear away, she asked Shiemi once more, "Ya ready?"

"Of course I am, Kazuryū-san," Shiemi nodded, sequins and marbles jittering as she turned to look at Cynthia, "Although... Alvin-taicho wasn't serious earlier, was he? What did he mean by making sure that you acted appropriately?"

The lieutenant smiled upon the officer. "Vin is a very unusual guy, you're really lucky he cared about you or even acknowledged your existence at all. Like him, I'm kinda unusual, but never mind that. I feel like a different person right now," she said, her purple eyes momentarily sparkled in excitement. "Somehow."

Shiemi blinked at Cynthia's words, biting her lower lip as she fingered with one of the sequins on her sleeve.

"I... I think I understand it," Shiemi muttered, "Now then, shall we get on with it, Kazuryū-san?"

Cynthia nodded at her, before two black creatures with slight maroon tint appeared before them; they were the same creatures from before. It was then that Cynthia headed into the light of the gate.

Shiemi straightened her back and hurried after her partner, a mixture of excitement and worry dominating her face as she stepped into the gate as well.

The Witch and her Hound

Smoking a cigarette on the balcony of her glorious mansion, the woman in charge of the illustrious Abatangelo corporation enjoyed the feel of the evening chill. The time had come at last, as she had expected, that Quincy had proven unable to defeat the task force. It was only natural, they were gods of death, after all, engaging them directly had been a plan doomed to failure from the very beginning. Even had he succeeded in eliminating them it would've only resulted in them sending someone even stronger, that was the weakness of fighting a massive military force after all.

Suddenly they were two on the balcony, looking down, she caught a glimpse of her lovely dog. Spots, he'd been with her ever since she was but a little girl, confined to an ordinary life - her future would've been boringly plain were it not for him. She'd have grown up, gotten a man, started a business, had children, gotten old and then died. She'd been liberated from that life by his advice, he'd cared for her after she stabbed both mama and papa to death one late September evening. He'd given her power, fed her and done everything one might ever expect from a parent.

Though, she now knew that he was not Spots, he had another name, a powerful one; Sagitanas. She didn't need to ask what was on his mind, she knew, the time had come to provide a distraction, something to keep the Shinigami amused while she prepared the next step of their plan. Wordlessly, she stumped the cigarette in the ash tray before venturing inside her lovely home.

Her office was arranged with a medieval theme in mind, banners bearing the mark of her corporation hung from the celling, giving the impression of a throne room to some - yes, she would be Queen one day. She'd arranged it to look like this to remind herself of that fact, never be satisfied with where she'd come to be, she was worth so much more - if anyone stood in her way she would crush them utterly, along with their entire lineage if necessary.

Walking till she reached the far end wall of her office, behind her high-backed chair, she made an occult gesture and gently touched the elaborate tapestry, which promptly spread itself apart to reveal a hidden passageway into a secret room, her arcane laboratory. The soft pitter patter of paws followed her, and she knew without looking that Sagitanas had seen fit to follow her, he'd always enjoyed this part.

The witch's laboratory consisted of a large empty space with no furniture of any kind; the only features were etched directly into the floor itself. Where she'd drawn up seven pentagrams, one massive pentagram in the middle of the room, surrounded by six smaller ones placed adjacent to one another in a circular pattern with the largest at the absolute center. Within each of these smaller pentagrams was a person, each drugged down to the degree that they could neither speak nor move. Just to be certain, she'd arranged for their limbs to be bound as well.

Walking into the middle of the circle, she raised her hands into the air as she chanted the incantation Sagitanas had taught her. Each word causing a ripple of red energy to arc across the room in response.

"Snaem eth rewop rouy dna laes eth eb drow ym, ecirp eth eb doolb rieht tel! Enod eb llahs lliw ym rof, eno nallef eciojer dna netsil, dnammoc ym ta egruocs a dlrow siht nopu reviled uoy dna rednusa tner eb yks eht taht ksa I nruter ni. Ouy ot ecifircac tsenoh siht reffo I, etihw morf kcalb edivid taht secrof o!"

The witch poured her concentration into the strange tongue, to most it would seem like total gibberish, but not to her. The words warped the foundations of reality, she could feel the pull - naturally, such a spell required a suitable price. In the adjacent pentagrams each of hostages began aging at an extraordinary pace, their faces, who'd been young at first now quickly approached the end of their natural lifespan as the spell systematically devoured their life force to pay for it's own effect. Once the last sacrifice crumbled to dust in her pentagram, the witch lowered her arms and looked at her mentor, whose muzzle now bared sharp teeth drawn into a grotesque grin.

The dog then spoke, his voice was as deep as his bark, and it seemed to suffuse the entire room, bubbling up from beneath the tiles like air in murky waters. "You've learned much, I see. Come, let's admire the fruits of your labor outside"

With that he turned and walked back to the balcony on gentle paws. Rosa couldn't help but grin, soon she'd be able to witness her own power, whomever doubted her would surely be crushed in the near future, none of them could stand up to her now. She followed Sagitanas outside and barely managed to contain a gasp of delight at her work.

The entire sky above Karakura town, which at this hour should be a dark cloudy blue, was now a vibrant crimson, as scarlet clouds dotted the sky and the very air sparkled with arcs of red energy. It had begun, she'd now weakened the fabric separating the human world from other worlds. It would now be significantly easier to summon reinforcements, the time to build her army had arrived. The dog hummed gently at her side, before he gave her a sideways glance and spoke again.

"Excellent delivery, my dear, with this we're one step closer to putting you in your rightful place. This phenomena should last for twenty hours from my rough estimations."

Sagitanas said no more, instead he added a pair of feathery black wings to his canine form, which burst violently from his back as he leapt off of the balcony and into the air, wings flapping as the devil made his way towards Karakura. Shortly after his departure all of the windows of the Abatengelo mansion burst open as a massive swarm of what appeared to be bats followed in the wrath daemons wake. While they assumed the shape of bats, their forms were typically larger than natural, and also sported several glaringly visible imperfections, including large warts, insectoid features and additional appendages - these were not animals, but imps assuming their shape.

Sagitanas had gone to kidnap more humans, the inhabitants of the small town were known to possess a much higher average of spiritual energy, and would make excellent sacrifices. By sacrificing them, she'd be able to build the army she needed to turn the nation into her personal empire. Admiring the sight for a while, Rosa clapped her hands twice. A gesture for summoning her retainer and butler: Kurozume. She had work for him.

With subtle steps resounding in the large corridors of the woman's residence, a lone shadow of an almost... beast-like hue appeared in the room adjacent to the balcony. It took no more than a couple moments for the figure to reveal itself as being Kurozume; a contracted spirit to the great witch herself, who served her in both domestic servitude and cold-cut assassination. He appeared as a man of average height, with jet black hair tied up in a similar hairstyle to that of Rosa herself, draped behind his back. Rather strange of a species such as Kurozume, he dressed in a manner quite befitting a human martial artist; complete with a black gongfu uniform that remained loosely opened on his torso. He also possessed some rather distinctive facial hair, matching the almost martial art master kind of appearance he may had been going for all along.

Despite seeming to be the type of person who would never lower his head to another person, Kurozume entered the balcony with his hands in his pockets but his head would slowly tilt downwards almost as if bowing to the woman in a rather casual way. "You called, Rosa-sama?" he answered with a clear voice.

The witch wasted no time with idle pleasantries, as soon as her servant materialized she clapped her hands together twice, while uttering a barely audible word. Two gaseous forms appeared on the balcony, like clouds of white smoke, after a while they solidified into two massive ogre-like creatures, each armed with a massive kanabō. Hovering in mid-air just outside of the balcony, they were easily three to four times as tall as Rosa and her retainer. They were Oni, one red and one blue, conjured muscle intended to stall their opposition. Although she'd just summoned them, Rosa didn't turn to acknowledge their presence.

"These are Aka and Ao, they're the leaders of a band of Oni mercenares which I've bound to my service, they will follow you to Karakura, where you will engage the task force and prevent any attempt to impede Sagitanas progress. As many humans as possible must be possessed and sacrificed. Take them with you, and fail me not!"

Abruptly, they were joined by ten other gaseous silhouettes, presumeably other Oni - it would seem like the witch intended to send a full warparty with Kurozume in charge. Rosa clapped her hands again, this time it was a gesture of departure as she strode back into the estate to complete the ritual. Leaving Kurozume behind to take care of his recently acquired underlings.

Peering over at the two newcomers that had joined them on the balcony, and subsequently adding to the party were the multiple oni floating in mid-air on and around the balcony. As Rosa took steps back inside, Kurozume made his way in the opposite direction toward the oni. He took his hands out of his pockets and held onto the metal railing, taking a gander at the demons summoned by his mistress. For any individual who has seen battle to become familiar with its rhythm, experience teaches a warrior how to tell the strengths and weaknesses of a person standing before them. And Kurozume was doing just that; gauging the power of the oni left in his charge by Rosa. Of course, this didn't take too long, as he merely smirked with a rather arrogant yet intrigued expression. These were no lightweights that Rosa summoned, and for there to be as many as a baker's dozen, she must have believed this task force of Shinigami to be quite the nuisance. Lifting himself up onto the railing, he kicked off and disappeared with a sudden flicker in mid-air, as the oni around the balcony immediately did the same. Off they went, to carry out Rosa's orders.

Into the White Sands

Before the Captain-Commander stood three figures, each dressed in the traditional Captain's garb signifying their status. His fingers were interlocked in front of him as his elbows rested on his desk, his grim expression looming over the tip of his knuckles out onto the three gathered before him. "With this in mind, please begin making preparations to leave for Hueco Mundo by tomorrow morning." Kyōraku concluded.

"At once, Commander," Captain Shiramaru bowed dutifully to Kyōraku before making her own crisp turn to leave her superior's chambers. She had only been a Captain within a short period of time and already things have spiraled out of control. Being deployed within a day's time to Hueco Mundo would determine her worthiness of her status and to see if she isn't simply wasting their time. She inwardly was thankful she had backup, less likely to feel solely dependent on herself and make less errors. 

Kaisei simply nodded in a slow motion as a response. His eyes closed, his hands were crossed before his chest, his right hand covering the entirety of his mouth as if he was thinking. But that is because he was thinking; something awful about this is bothering him, but he couldn't place what or why. Still, he was complaining how he never had any serious tasks, but now he got one, and he has to take it seriously as well. There are no room for errors, nothing that should bother him. "Consider it done, Captain-Commander."

With his very own smile, Captain Kenpachi Zaraki, had formed various of his own thoughts in his head. He remembered back when he travelled to Hueco Mundo all those years back against the Arrancar. The journey back to Hueco Mundo would be interesting indeed, and he knew that he would have a ball with the beings there. The thrill of fighting made his adrenaline skyrocket. Refocusing his attention on the Captain-Commander, Zaraki spoke. "This'll be fun!"

The Shadow Looms

Invisible and dead to the world outside, the castle slept within the folded threads of the spell that kept it hidden from intrusion. Secluded and silent, the withdrawn atmosphere of the place did not match the tension brewing inside its main meeting room. There, Kazuya had succinctly explained to the task force what had happened after he had gone out. Although spiritual pressure could be felt from within the castle, it was muted, distant, and difficult to trace with any amount of precision. As such they had been able to feel the sudden spike of Reiatsu, but had not known who nor why there had been an attack. Now they did know, but this did little to put them at ease. According to what Kazuya had told them, whoever their enemy was could control Shinigami. “How” was not as important as the threat this implied. It was obvious that there was something more at hand here then a Quincy and his Yokai. Was there yet another adversary at large? It was impossible to say.

Takashi had listened intently to the briefing and like the others he had been pouring over each hint and factor they had encountered since entering the human world. It was hard to believe that only a few hours had passed since he and Aiken had rushed through the Senkaimon, with all that had happened it had seemed like days.

There was, however, something that had been nagging him, sitting at the back of his mind and refusing to be left there untouched. Now that the immediate threat had ended, and their training apparently completed for now, he recognized he had an opportunity to finally address it.

“Shirogane-san,” he caught Naomi by her sleeve. “I have something to ask you about,” he said in a low voice so the others would not hear. It would be best if he were the one to address the matter, and him alone. He motioned towards the door that led to the balcony and started towards it, quietly removing himself from the rest of the task force and trusting she would do the same.

"Hm?" Naomi quipped before she noticed that Takashi was motioning himself and her both towards the balcony door. This, along with his question, initially caused her face to turn a slight pink as thoughts briefly raced through her head, thoughts that no doubt had nothing to do with his intentions, but she could still hope of course. Once they had managed to slip away, she tried to keep her voice hushed as well, but also hoped he wouldn't notice the change of color on her face either. "What is it, Takashi?" she asked.

Takashi paused for a moment, trying to find a way to frame what he would say. But at the last he decided to cast aside diffusion or “softening” and instead cut right to the point.

“On whose authority were you sent to the World of the Living?” he asked. “The Captains specifically created a task force to handle the investigation, and you were not assigned as part of it. What were you thinking?” his tone was perhaps sharper then he intended it to be. “You could have jeopardized the entire mission, if circumstances had been different.” he said, repeating words he had seemingly often said to her before. But “what if you had been hurt?” was the part he left unsaid.

"Oh, well so much for that..." she thought to herself inwardly with annoyance. She'd expected him to have an actual problem with the mission that he needed to discuss with her, something involving Kraven perhaps, but of course, he was just reprimanding her for simply being there. "That's not really relevant anymore, is it?" she started with a raised eyebrow, crossing her arms. "But if you must know, this assignment of yours, and mine now, doesn't sit well with me. An entire team of Visoreds was killed by one Quincy, and the Captains deem a mere task force with one Captain enough to handle something like that? This guy just destroyed an entire city and yet the Captain doesn't even seem to register him as a relevant problem." she continued, trying to keep her voice down. "There's way more to this Quincy situation than just, well, one Quincy. I don't think he's normal by their standards, or even by ours; there's way much more to Kraven than what we've seen, and I intend to find out."

"First of all, I do not appreciate your deprecation of Captain Kuchiki's efforts. While it is true that I might not agree with his methods, there was hardly anything else that could have been done considering the situation. Or need I remind you that he saved both our lives?" Takashi paused before continuing. "The fact that you have so far evaded my original question only serves to cause suspicion. Of course the situation is grave, and that's why we need to be perfectly clear here: Who sent you here, Lieutenant Shirogane?" he asked again, this time emphasizing the word "lieutenant" to serve as its own point.

"Nobody sent me," she started to respond, her own tone of voice becoming somewhat frustrated. "I think you of all people know how I can get out and about on my own; who's going to punish me? My non-existent Captain?"

Takashi closed his eyes as he frowned deeply, stroking the scar that ran between his eyes in an effort to keep his temper in check. She's impossible at times. He complained to Kohaku, who only ruffled her feathers with indifference.

"So you took your own initiative in following us here." Takashi stated, "And if I may ask, how is one more officer going to change the situation? Is the task force now of sufficient strength to suit your fancy?" Despite his best efforts, the level of his voice was beginning to rise. "I am well aware of the fact that an entire city has just been destroyed... with all our numbers, and we could do nothing. Nothing. And thousands died for nothing. So tell me, Lieutenant Shirogane, what are your orders? What advice do you offer now that the facts have been taken into account?"

Now the frustration in her voice would become more apparent, and her volume would also rise, though it was likely not meant to. "Excuse me? This one additional officer kept your ass from getting skewered or ripped apart by that freak, and the moment I did you disregarded me entirely and nearly got yourself killed again. Then the task force would be right back where it started, and the Gotei 13 would be down an officer. Add to that, I'm the one that pooled the rest of the Task Force back in one spot and kept you from further killing yourself. And now you're questioning my judgment and decisions?!"

"I am questioning your motives for being here in the first place. What if something had gone wrong? We would have had two more dead then and for what? Nothing would have changed,” he said. "Death is always a possibility. You don't think I realize that? Why do you rush into these things without thought? You're only placing yourself in peril."

"I think that applies more to you than it does me, considering what I just told you." she remarked, her voice getting lower but the aggravation still apparent. "I'm not a child, Takashi; I know what the stakes are every time I enter the fold, every time I draw my sword. I know that death is just around each and every corner of this job, but I do it because I know that it can keep others from suffering fates like Osaka, or the Visoreds. Why can't you just accept that having me here is a benefit to you and the team, you especially?"

"Because so far you've trampled on the authority of the Captain's council, mocked the task force, and interfered in the investigation. If you are truly aware of the stakes and what is involved, then perhaps you should draw that sword with greater solemnity." he said.

After hearing this, Naomi's expression seemed to drop, and went from frustrated to almost hurt by what he'd said. She huffed, her head turning away from him and instead towards the door that they had previously come out of. "You know what? I'm not going to argue with you over this anymore." she started, making her way towards the door. As she put her hands on it, her head turned back towards him only briefly, her eyes appearing to tear up. "The next time Kraven gets his hands on you, don't expect me to come and pull you out of harms way again." she finished before sliding the door open to leave.

That was uncalled for, you should apologize to her. Kohaku pointed out. You need to calm down. Takashi heard her over the rushing of his blood in his ears. To say that he was stressed would have been an understatement, and as usual Kohaku was the more sensible one in this situation.

"Shirogane-san," he called after her, "Wait... I'm... I apologize." he stammered at first, then sighed and began again. "I'm sorry, I did not mean to become so upset, nor did I intend to upset you." He bowed deeply from the waist, lowering his head in humble remorse. "Thank you, for coming to my aid when you did. I would not be here otherwise."

She had pulled the door open nearly halfway when she heard him, her movements halted almost entirely. "Did he really just... apologize to me?" she thought to herself, knowing that in her experience, this was certainly a first for him. She quietly slid the door shut and hung her head low for a few seconds, contemplating how she was going to respond. "You know... you're not the only one that's stressing over this mission." she started, calmly turning around to face him, her expression more gentle than before. "But you don't have to be angry about it; you can talk to me at anytime, you know that, right?"

Takashi straightened up and looked at her a moment before replying. "Thank you for your offer, but I doubt there's anything to be done to relieve the pressure here. We have a calamity on our hands, after all." he turned and strode over to the edge of the balcony to get a better view of the horizon. "And there's no way of knowing whether another will occur or not. It could happen at any time." he said, and seemed to be mulling over something as he suddenly fell silent. Something had just occurred to him, and he berated himself for not noticing it sooner. Osaka had no doubt held enormous spiritual energy. If not from supernatural activity drawn to the area then for the sheer number of human souls that had resided there. That was the only explanation for why the explosion had wreaked such destruction. He remembered the battle against the Yokai, and how Kohaku had flown back to him from the east hard and fast. She had felt something, and he was just now beginning to realize what that was.

"This place..." he began. "Karakura could become another casualty,” he said. "Think about the amount of energy pooled here, it was the same as Osaka. Whoever destroyed that city obviously had reasons and the means for doing do, what's stopping them from repeating the same disaster here?" he asked. "I'm sure Captain Kuchiki has already come to that conclusion, we should consult him at once."

But as he started to move Naomi suddenly reached out and grabbed him by the arm.

"Wait, what... is that?" she asked.

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