Author's Note: While this line of story has been done before, I thought I should give it a go.

Read and Review!

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.

"Rukia" - Regular Speech

'Ichigo' - Thoughts

*Kaien-dono* - Zanpakutō speech/thoughts

"Bankai!" - Spiritual Technique

Chapter 1: Metastacia and the Experiment

Somewhere in the Rukongai

The trees in the Rukongai trembled as three Soul Reapers ran through them. The obvious leader of the three was a tall, lanky man with white hair and a white haori, indicative of his rank in the Thirteen Court Guard Squads.

Flanking him on his right was a tall man with spiky black hair. His face, which seemed to be more accustomed to smiling than frowning, had an icy expression of rage upon it. The badge of a Lieutenant rested on his left arm.

The final member of the trio was a petite female with raven-coloured hair that was cut short, a single stand crossing her face diagonally. Her violet eyes flicked between the terrain that lay before her and the black-haired Lieutenant at her side, worry and concern written all over her face.

The spiritual pressure of a Hollow made the three halt at once, their hands resting on the hilts of their blades warily.

"Be careful. If this Hollow was able to kill 3rd Seat Miyako, it is no ordinary one." the Captain spoke in a soft but firm manner, directing most of the warning in his voice towards the Lieutenant, who ignored him in favour of glaring into the forest around him.

"Hai, Ukitake-taichō." the ravenette replied nervously, her hand tensing on the hilt of her zanpakutō as she spoke.

Ukitake flashed a gentle smile at her before sparing a concerned glance at his Lieutenant. Noting the rage still present on his subordinate's face, the white-haired man sighed and began to scan the forest himself.

'Oh Kaien. I know Miyako's death and possession by this Hollow hurts, but please don't be too reckless.'

Kuchiki Rukia was still mentally reeling from the recent events. Shiba Miyako, Squad Thirteen's Third Seat and Lieutenant Shiba Kaien's wife, had been killed and possessed by a Hollow.

Rukia wanted to weep in loss and frustration. Miyako had been someone she looked up to as a shining example of what female Soul Reapers could accomplish. Strong, kind and inspirational, she had been everything that Rukia, a former Inuzuri-district brat, had aspired to be. Her admiration for the Third Seat was eclipsed only by her admiration for Kaien.

Shiba Kaien had almost single-handedly rebuilt Rukia's shattered self-confidence, when she had lost it after failing to warrant a Seated Position in Squad Thirteen. She owed him so much it wasn't even funny. So when she had seen him racing after the possessed body of his wife, she hadn't hesitated to follow him.

Her mind snapped out of its brooding when she spotted the remains of a Soul Reaper's Shihakushō (Garment of Dead Souls) on a tree branch.

"Kaien-dono, Ukitake-taichō!" Rukia hissed as she drew her blade. "Over here!"

Using the Hohō technique Shunpo (Flash-Step), the two men were at her side in an instant. Ukitake frowned as he saw the ragged robes. Kaen on the other hand walked over to the robes and hesitantly reached out to touch them.

Suddenly, his senses screamed at him to MOVE! Acting quickly, he Shunpo'd out of the way just in time to avoid a trio of pink tentacles that lanced out of the nearby bushes and struck the ground where he had been standing not a moment ago. Kaien reappeared atop a large tree branch and was quickly joined by Ukitake and Rukia.

From their perch, the three Soul Reapers looked down and saw the true form of the hollow for the first time.

It was ugly, even for a Hollow. The body was moss green, with fur a lighter green growing from its shoulders. It was six-legged, unusual for a Hollow, but not entirely unheard of. The Hollow's Mask, on the other hand, was unusual. Vaguely resembling a warthog with four horns, it had orange flame-like patterns around its eyes.

The most prominent -and disgusting- feature of the Hollow was the nest of fleshy pink tentacles atop its back that twitched and writhed incessantly.

Rukia stepped forwards, her blade glinting in the moonlight.

"I'll attack first and attempt to scout out its abilities." she said, her voice justifiably tense. This Hollow had not only slain a squad of lower-ranked Soul Reapers, but someone with all the strength and skill of a Third Seat. Rukia, being an unseated member of Squad Thirteen, was in essence volunteering to do a kamikaze mission in order to allow Kaien and Ukitake to glean intelligence on the capabilities of the Hollow.

As she tensed to leap at the Hollow, Rukia was distracted by Kaien stepping forwards and speaking.

"Taichō." Kaien spoke, his voice trembling with barely-repressed anger, "I beg of you. I request permission to fight it alone."

"Kaien-dono?!" Rukia's head whipped around to regard her superior in shock. He surely hadn't asked what she thought he had just asked!?

"Very well." Ukitake replied quietly, making Rukia gape at him in shock as well.

The Hollow beneath them, evidently tired of waiting, started taunting Kaien, describing his wife's death in disgustingly accurate and gory detail. She had been eaten from the inside out, slowly and painfully.

Kaien responded by slowly drawing his sword and unleashing his Reiatsu in a red aura of intimidation before he vanished in a Shunpo, reappearing crouched in front of the surprised Hollow.

Lopping off two of the Hollow's legs with a single cut, the Lieutenant then grabbed one of the Hollow's tentacles and squeezed it hard.

"Rankle the Sea and Heavens, Nejibana!" Kaien roared as he held his zanpakutō aloft while he glared at the murderer of his wife.

For just an instant, Nejibana glowed a light golden colour…then it dissolved into nothing, even the hilt vanished from Kaien's hand. The Lieutenant's eyes widened as he felt the link between Nejibana and the Asauchi, the blank blade used as a medium to manifest his zanpakutō, simply vanish and fade to nothing.

"What the…!" Kaien exclaimed in shock.

"Hehehehe…you fell for it, boy." the Hollow cackled "Once a night, the first Soul Reaper to touch my tentacles is treated to the sight of their oh-so-precious Zanpakutō being destroyed!"

The Hollow smashed a tentacle into Kaien's body, sending him flying across the small clearing with a grunt of pain.

'Impossible! There has never been a single report -ever!- about a Hollow possessing such an ability!' the Lieutenant thought as he staggered to his feet. 'Hell, I've never even heard of any Soul Reaper being capable of such a thing!'

"Kaien-dono!" Rukia yelled in horror. She began to raise her own zanpakutō in readiness to strike, but Captain Ukitake gently forced her arm down.

"C…Captain?!" Rukia gasped in shock. The reasons for her shock were twofold. The first was that he obviously didn't want her to interfere with the unfolding fight.

The second reason was that he was touching her Zanpakutō! Even freshly-issued Asauchi in the Shinōreijutsuin (Spiritual Arts Academy) were regarded as being sacrosanct. No one -not even Head-Captain Yamamoto himself- was allowed to lay their hands on another person's Zanpakutō without its wielder's express permission, barring very serious criminal charges.

"Rukia-chan, we cannot interfere." Ukitake told her solemnly.

Rukia gaped at this. "Taichō, Kaien-dono has just had his Zanpakutō destroyed! He's been disarmed! If we don't interfere, that Hollow might kill him!" the petite ravenette argued with her captain, a trembling note of desperation in her voice as she spoke.

"But what would become of Kaien's pride?" Ukitake countered softly. "Even if, somehow, you are able to intervene and save Kaien's life, his pride would die, Rukia-chan. It would be lost forever."

"That makes no sense!" Rukia almost yelled at her beloved captain in sheer frustration. "What good is pride to a dead man?!"

Ukitake's usually kind face was grim and serious. "For those of us who are warriors, there are two types of battles; battles to protect lives and battles to defend ones honour. Remember these words, Rukia-chan."

Rukia's face twisted in agony as Kaien was battered further by the tentacle strikes of his foe. He counterattacked with an Eishōhaki Hadō #31: Shakkahō (Incantation Abandonment Way of Destruction Number 31: Red Fire Cannon) that the Hollow seemed to shrug off like a fleabite.

"Right now, Kaien is fighting with everything he is to defend his honour, the honour of his men who died and, above all," Ukitake continued grimly. "He is fighting to defend the honour of his beloved wife, Miyako."

Rukia flashed back to seeing Miyako-sama -no, Miyako-sama's possessed body- standing over the corpses of members of Squad Thirteen. She remembered the horrified realisation of what must have happened to Miyako-sama and felt again the desolation and rage she had first felt. She couldn't begin to guess how Kaien-dono had felt, seeing the same thing.

With obvious and visible reluctance, Rukia sheathed her blade and took her hand from the hilt of her zanpakutō.

Down on the ground, Kaien was panting hard. His head had a wound across it that was bleeding freely just above his right eye and his body was battered and bruised from all of the blunt-force attacks that the Hollow was dishing out with its tentacles.

In short, he was in trouble.

Even with all the disadvantages he was faced with, Kaien refused to call out to his two companions for aid against this monster. He wouldn't, couldn't, ask for help! Every cell of his body was burning with the desire to slay this Hollow by himself. And by Kami, he would rip the monster apart with his bare hands if need be!

"So boy, are you too stubborn to ask your companions for help?" the Hollow sneered at Kaien. "Or is it that you are just too full of yourself?"

"I…don't need…any help to…deal with scum…like you!" the Lieutenant panted out angrily.

"Hehehe…is that a fact?" the Hollow mocked him. "Because now, little boy, I'm about to do unto you exactly what I did unto your delicious wife!"

Kaien silently glared at the Negative Spirit in defiance.

With an almighty roar the Hollow launched all of its tentacles at him with a speed previously unseen. Kaien tried to dodge, but they caught him, opening a hole in his arm and pouring themselves inside of him.

Once all the tentacles had entered Kaien's body, the shell of a body that was left behind by the Hollow crumbled and collapsed.

"Kaien…-dono?" Rukia called out. She was in shock. This couldn't happen. Not to Kaien. Not to him.

"Hehehehe…what is it…Ojou-chan?" 'Kaien' asked as 'he' turned around to reveal the face of what had once been Shiba Kaien.

Ukitake and Rukia blanched in horror. Kaien's skin had turned the same colour as the Hollow's fur, a dark moss green. Kaien's eyes were now as black as pitch and were surrounded in the same flame-like pattern that the Hollow had possessed on its mask.

"Kaien-dono!" Rukia whispered in horror.

The thing that had once been the man she had admired so much lolled its tongue from its mouth and licked it across its face in a snake-like manner as it spoke.

"What's the matter Ojou-chan? Why do you keep saying my name? Are you that worried about me?" it asked. "Or could it be…that you love me?!"

The Hollow-possessed Kaien leapt up at her. Rukia was frozen, paralyzed with horror at what had become of Kaien.

"If you love me that much, I should eat you first!" it sneered mockingly at her as it reached out a hand to grab her.

In a blur of motion, Ukitake Jūshirō Shunpo'd in front of Rukia and blocked the Hollow from grabbing Rukia with his drawn zanpakutō.

"T-Taichō!" Rukia gasped out.

"Rukia-chan…get out of here!" Ukitake said firmly as he held the Hollow at bay with his sword.

Rukia hesitated for a moment before turning and fleeing the scene, tears flowing down her cheeks as she did so.

A single question ran through her mind as she ran blindly into the forest.

'Why?! Why is this happening?! Oh, Kaen-dono!'


Back with Ukitake…

"Why aren't you attacking me, Soul Reaper?!" the Hollow snarled as it ran across the clearing. Ukitake mirrored it, his face grim and determined.

A knowing smirk crept across 'Kaien's' face as an idea occurred to it.

"Ahhh…I see. You're trying to figure out a way to save your precious subordinate, aren't you?" the Hollow sneered. "Well that's just too bad! Unlike when a Hollow possesses a human, a Soul Reaper is a Spiritual Being! Kaien and I are now one and the same! We cannot be separated anymore!"

The Hollow was smug at its announcement, right up until Ukitake flashed by it and slashed at its neck, leaving a deep wound. Screaming in pain, the Hollow clutched the wound as it whirled around to glare at a sad looking Ukitake.

"I see." the white-haired captain said gravely as he pointed his blade at the possessed body of his Lieutenant, "Then I shall kill Kaien's body…and you along with it!"

The Hollow started to curse in its mind. This wasn't supposed to happen!

"What kind of Soul Reaper would kill his own subordinate!?" it screeched in anger at Ukitake.

"You just told me that there was no hope of saving Kaien." the white-haired man said softly. "You slew his wife, destroyed his Zanpakutō and now, you desecrate his Soul with your presence. I'll be damned if I allow you to use his body! Now DIE!"

With that, Ukitake lunged forwards into the attack, scoring a shallow cut across the abdomen even as the Hollow leapt away from him.

"Come back he-!" Ukitake started to shout as he prepared to pursue the Hollow, before his chronic illness chose this moment of all times to act up, making him cough up blood.

'Now, of all times!' Squad Thirteen's Captain thought in frustration as he helplessly watched the Hollow leapfrogging towards the trees. He stiffened in shock as he saw a familiar head of raven-black hair emerge…right in the path of the Hollow.

Cursing himself for his inability to move because of his thrice-be-damned illness, all Ukitake could do was pray for her safety.

'Be careful, Rukia-chan…this Hollow is not an opponent to be taken lightly!'


With Rukia…

The ravenette Soul Reaper stood with her zanpakutō drawn and ready to use. In all honesty, Rukia didn't know why she had come back, just that she had had to.

She barely heard Ukitake-taichō's shout of warning. She barely paid any attention to her surroundings. All she could focus on was the monster that had once been Shiba Kaien.

Small tentacles poked out through his now green skin on his right arm and his tongue lolled out from his mouth as the Hollow cackled madly. This…this abomination was not Kaien-dono.

In a single instant, Rukia made up her mind on what she had to do. When the Hollow drew close enough, she let her body react instinctively to fulfil the purpose she had returned to complete.

Her blade pierced the body of Shiba Kaien in a single, smooth thrust. Blood erupted from the wound, gushing over her abdomen and torso, some reaching as high as her cheek.

Frozen in shock by what she had done, Rukia ignored the rain that had started to fall upon the forest. She was jolted out of her paralysis by the body impaled on her blade speaking.

"U-Ukitake-taichō…" the unmistakable voice of Shiba Kaien made Rukia's eyes widen in shock. Across from the two, Ukitake stood facing them. He took in Rukia's stunned expression and cursed the illness that had only now ceased its attack on his body. The white-haired captain was full of sorrow as his Lieutenant spoke what would almost certainly be his last words.

"Thank you…thank you, Taichō, for…letting me fight…to the very end." the Lieutenant's voice was weak and almost inaudible.

"B…But…Kaien-dono…does that mean you-!" Rukia's own voice was starting to crack with accumulated grief and shock.

"Rukia…" Kaien interrupted her. "…I have to apologise to you…for getting you involved in…all this…in the first place…"

He groaned in pain before continuing, "I know…that this was…painful for you…but thanks to you…I'm saved. I…can…still…leave my…heart…here...with you…"

With these last words, Shiba Kaien, Lieutenant of Squad Thirteen of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads, passed away with a smile on his face, not as a Hollow, but as a Soul Reaper, both slain and saved by Kuchiki Rukia.

When she realised that Kaien was dead, truly dead, Rukia began to cry, her tears falling again from her eyes to mingle with the falling rain. The wail of loss that she let out was truly heart-breaking and echoed mournfully throughout the forest.

Miles away in the Seireitei (Court of Pure Souls), inside the Captain's Office in the Squad Five Barracks, Captain Aizen Sōsuke looked up from his paperwork as a blinking light from a rock suddenly went out. He then gave a most evil smile that clashed with his usual kindly demeanour.

"That's Phase One, complete." he murmured aloud, "Gin can begin Phase Two tomorrow."


Twenty-Three Years Later…

Secret Laboratory, Unknown Location

The corridors of the Lab complex were dim and sparsely lit, not that there was much to look at it the lab in general. Or people to look, for that matter. It was almost entirely abandoned now, save for the cell block where the test subjects were imprisoned.

Three men wearing the Shihakushō and haori of Captains in the Thirteen Court Guard Squads strode into the cell block casually. One was dark-skinned, his hair in braids and an orange scarf around his neck. His sightless eyes stared out blankly, yet there was no sign of hesitation in his steps.

His name was Tōsen Kaname.

The second man didn't wear any special clothes with his captain's outfit, but his entire appearance other than his clothes stood out. His short hair was silver and his eyes were almost permanently slits, making him resemble a fox. He was tall and lanky, giving him a skeletal appearance. His mouth was in a mocking grin, which seemed to be the standard for him.

His name was Ichimaru Gin.

The last man was, for lack of a better word, ordinary. His brown hair was cut in what one would expect from a scholar or a librarian. He wore square rimmed glasses and, all in all, seemed to be a fairly mild-mannered kind of man.

'Seemed to be' being the operative phrase here. His name was Aizen Sōsuke.

"Kaname, how many remain?" Aizen asked. His words and manner, although unfailingly polite, were from the position of a superior to a subordinate, rather from one captain to another.

"Ten will not last past the next hour." Tōsen replied. "Several more will last until nightfall, but no longer. The Reiatsu of the rest, from the data gleaned from past experiments, are showing signs of Soul Suicide within the next ten minutes, Aizen-sama."

"Ahhh, man. We really are running through them rather quickly, eh, Aizen-taichō?" Gin remarked rather flippantly.

Tōsen ignored him and continued with his report. "I believe that we should dispose of the majority of the test subjects and focus our attempts on Subject group C-A. They have yet to be…altered…as the other were."

"C-A…isn't that the group of young Souls and New Souls we've been gathering up from the Rukongai and a few minor Noble Families in the Seireitei?" Gin mused aloud.

"Indeed. They have received some of the basic alterations and enhancements, but not the latest round we devised for the last group." Tōsen said indifferently, "The final implantation will have to be soon though, as some of them are on the verge of prematurely awakening their Spiritual Powers."

Aizen considered the matter for a moment before nodding. "Very well then. We shall proceed with the Final Implantation of Group C-A. Gather as many as are needed for the completion of the project, but no more than that."

An evil smile flashed across Aizen's face as he continued, "The other Project, codenamed 'White', is showing more promise than this one and we have to monitor his first outing tonight. We'll begin the final phase of this project once 'White' has been let out to play."

"By your command, Aizen-sama."

"Gotcha, Aizen-taichō."


Eight Years Later…

Cellblock, Hidden Lab Complex, Unknown Location…

The cellblock was vast, dark and damp. Once, it was filled to capacity with prisoners to be used as test subjects. Now, only one cell was occupied…by a single person.

Chained loosely to the wall by her hands and legs, the girl had the physical appearance of a five year old. Her long, red hair pooled on the floor that she sat on. She wore a filthy and dishevelled kimono that covered her slight frame with plenty of room to spare.

She stirred slightly, although she dared not raise her head, when footsteps approached her cell and a cold voice spoke up.

"She is the only survivor?"

The girl kept as still as she possibly could when she heard these words. She was the only one left? Everyone was dead? Rei, Masao, Misa, Tatsuya, Hibiki…they were gone?

A second voice answered the first. "Yep. This little one's Reiatsu barely budged when the Implantation was made. Hardly any screaming compared to the others either."

The second voice was speaking lightly, like he was discussing something over a cup of tea. It pissed the girl off so much that the embers of anger within the depths of her Soul flickered back to life.

"Has she shown any signs of instabilities?"

"Nope. Well, I say that, but we can't monitor her forming Inner World anymore, so there might be, then again there might not be." the second voice replied whimsically.

The owner of the first voice sighed, disappointment clear from the way he did so. "I see…that is a shame. I had high hopes for this project, but it seems to have been in vain."

"Ya can't win 'em all, Aizen-taichō." the second voice remarked.

"This project will have to be erased…thoroughly." the first voice -Aizen- stated firmly. "I will deal with this…refuse…while you charge the complex's self-destruct Kidō, Gin."

A cold feeling came over the girl as the sound of metal scraping on metal came slowly from just outside the cell. Refuse…that's all she was to this Aizen person. Not even deserving the title of a person or living being.

Gin chuckled. "Nah. I'll take care of the girl AND set the Kidō, Aizen-taichō."

"And that would be because…why, exactly?" Aizen responded.

"Ya have a meeting with the Captain-Commander soon, remember?" Gin reminded his companion.

Aizen growled in frustration. The girl would later find out that it was rare for him to do that.

"Indeed." Aizen spat out. "With every meeting I have with that old relic of a fossil, the more I look forwards to standing atop heaven, with that old fool lying broken at my feet. Very well. Make sure she is dealt with."

With that, Aizen walked away, his footsteps receding until they were swallowed by the silence of the cellblock, leaving Gin and the girl in the cell alone.

"Oi, girl." Gin spoke to her quietly once the last echoes of Aizen's footsteps faded into nothing. "Look at me. I know that you're awake."

Slowly, the girl looked up and opened her eyes, revealing a pair of jade green orbs that gazed intensely at the silver-haired man before her. She took him in and made a snap judgement about him; He wasn't someone to cross. Not only was he a Captain-rank Soul Reaper, he had an aura of ruthlessness about him that practically broadcast that he would kill anyone who got in his way.

The man called Gin opened the door to her cell and walked in, stopping just short of her chained form.

"Ya got any questions?" he asked. "Ya were awake for all of our conversation, so you should have a few."

"Am…am I really the only one left?" the girl asked hesitantly, her voice hoarse from lack of use.

Gin sighed. "Thought you'd ask that. Yep. All of yer friends're gone. You are truly alone now."

He held nothing back in his voice. There wasn't a jot of sympathy or mercy as he said it, just a plain statement of fact.

A dry sob wrenched itself from the young Soul's throat as she took this in. She viciously suppressed her tears and looked back up at Gin, who watched her impassively.

"Why?" she bit out. "Why do all this? What's the point?"

Gin shrugged casually as he said, "Aizen-taichō wanted to do 'all this', as you put it, so I had ta go along with it. Nothing personal, girlie."

"Not what I asked." the girl shot back.

"Ah, ya want ta know exactly why Aizen-taichō conducted this experiment in the first place?" Gin asked. At her nod, he chuckled.

"Ain't no reason for ya ta know." he told her. "Suffice is ta say, he had the power to do it, so he did it."

That struck her speechless for a moment before she recovered and asked one final question.

"How many did you and Aizen sacrifice? How many Souls are dead from this…experiment?"

Gin blinked in surprise at this question, but answered it anyway.

"It's hard to be certain, but I'd estimate that, in this experiment, at least half a million Souls were either turned into Hollows or experimented to the point of Soul Suicide." he paused as he took in the girl's reaction.

Her eyes had taken on a hollow, empty look as she mouthed 'half a million' in disbelief.

Gin decided to continue. "Out of all of 'em, you alone survived. I dunno how or why. Fate…chance…destiny…it could be some or all of 'em. Alternatively, it could be none of 'em. Fact is, you're alive. Ya survived what killed almost half a million others."

Gin lowered himself to one knee and tilted her head to look her straight in the eyes as he said, "I'm gonna offer ya a choice, girl. Either die in despair or live for revenge."

The girl looked at him blankly. Gin reminded himself that she was actually the same age she looked, so it wasn't a surprise that she didn't get what he was saying.

"To be clear, Ojou-chan, I wouldn't blame ya if the despair you're currently feeling is so painful that ya want it all to end." Gin told her. "If that's the case, I'll gladly end your life mercifully.

"If, on the other hand, ya can make it past the pain and overcome yer despair, I'll give ya the chance ta avenge yer friends and all the other Souls that were experimented on here."

The girl gaped at him in astonishment as a question fought its way to the surface.

"Wha….why would you…?" she squeaked out.

Gin grinned. "Just because." he told her.

"You…" she seemed thrown by that reply. "You're part of Aizen's team! I'd include you in my revenge, you know!"

"And so you should." Gin told her with a shrug. "I have my own plans and agenda. If I fail, I'll wash my neck and wait for ya ta come for me."

The girl was silent for a moment. "It hurts. For as long as I can remember, my life has been full of nothing but pain and suffering day in and day out. Now I'm alone, the pain is worse. I want to end it here."

Gin sighed and reached for his zanpakutō. The girl looked him in the eyes and he stopped in mid-reach. Fire was blazing in those eyes, a fire that spoke of determination and a thirst for revenge.

"But, now that you've offered me the chance to live, I have to take it. I want to live, even if it is only for a little while longer." she said softly. "Aizen can't be allowed to do this to others. Taichō-san, I want to live!"

Gin then gave a real smile, not the fake one he commonly used. Unlocking the manacles that tied her to the wall he helped her to her feet.

"Well said, girl." he told her as he led her from her cell. "Well said indeed."


Fifteen Minutes Later…

Lab Private Senkaimon…

"You're sending me WHERE!?" the girl glared at Gin in bemusement.

"The World of the Living." he replied nonchalantly, utterly unfazed by her outburst.

"Why?" the redheaded girl was suspicious about this. "What's in the World of the Living?"

"Two things." Gin replied, "Safety and Allies. Here, in th' Soul Society, Aizen-taichō could easily track down by yer Reiryoku any time ya used yer Reiatsu. Not so much in the World of the Living. Captains can't just go there at the drop of a hat."

"And allies?" the girl asked warily. "Who do you mean?"

"Aizen-taichō manipulated events 'bout ninety years ago and had a lot of Captains and Lieutenants exiled from the Soul Society." Gin replied. "I'm hoping to send you to a place where we know that they are at. A place called Karakura Town."

"They're…your enemies?" the girl asked.

"Hmmm….yeah, I'd say so." Gin replied with an unconcerned shrug. "They'd try and kill me if I showed up on their doorstep, so take that as ya want."

"How will I recognise them?" the young Soul asked with a frown. "I still can't detect Reiatsu."

"If ya did at the age of five, I'd be very surprised." the silver-haired man told her wryly. "The ones I'm sending ya to are all Captain-class Soul Reapers, so even if ya can't detect Reiatsu, you'll still know about it when ya get near them. I can tell you their names and general appearances if ya like?"

"That would help." the girl said with a nod.

"OK then." Gin said with a grin. "First off, the only woman of the group. Her name is Shihōin Yoruichi, formerly the 22nd Head of the Shihōin Clan, Commander-in-Chief of the Onmitsukidō (Stealth Force) and Captain of the Second Squad of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads."

"What the hell?!" the girl exclaimed. "Why is the former head of one of the Four Great Noble Families in the World of the Living!?"

Then she frowned. "How the heck do I know that? I've never even heard of the Shihōin Clan until now."

The silver-haired man regarded her carefully. "I dunno…let me test something. I'll say a name and you have to try and give me the same info on them that I gave you about Yoruichi, OK?"

The girl nodded, looking a bit worried.

"OK. Urahara Kisuke." Gin said as he looked at her through hooded eyes.

She thought for a moment. "Former Captain of the Twelfth Squad of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads and Founder of the Soul Reaper Department of Research and Development. Accused of the Hollowfication of several Captains and Lieutenants ninety years ago. Currently in exile."

"Tsukabishi Tessai."

"Former Grand Kidō Chief of the Kidō Corps and former Kidō Corps Commander. Exiled ninety years ago on the same charges as Urahara Kisuke." the girl recited, looking worried. "This is scary. How do I know this stuff?"

"Hmm….I'd have to say that Aizen-taichō's experiment actually worked, to some degree at least." Gin mused aloud to the girl's horror. "The fact ya know info about people you haven't even heard of before I told ya their names proves that. Now it's even more vital that ya get to Urahara. If anyone can tell ya what's up with you, it's him."

Composing herself, the young redhead nodded. Gin searched throughout the room until he found what he was looking for.

"Here. You'll be needing this a few years down the line." Gin said as he held out a sheathed katana to her.

"Is that…an Asauchi?" the girl asked in disbelief.

"Yep. The only way for you to get strong enough to take your revenge is ta become a Soul Reaper yourself." Gin told her. "Keep this with ya every moment of every day and it'll become yer own zanpakutō someday."

An awed look came over her face and she took the sword from Gin with reverence. She staggered at the unfamiliar weight, but caught herself before she lost her balance.

Gin nodded before frowning slightly. "Now, Urahara will likely try and take it from ya if he knows it's a zanpakutō, so we should disguise it…hmmm…wrapping it up won't work…no, that shouldn't work, but…what the hell? It's worth a shot."

Turning to the girl he asked her, "Alright then kid. Ya know what a bokken is?"

"A wooden sword." she replied promptly.

"Good. Now, I want you to hold that Asauchi tightly and imagine it becoming a bokken. You have to imagine every detail. The feel of the wood, the form, the weight, even the smell. Try that for me." Gin encouraged her.

What he was asking her to do was something that almost every graduate of the Shinōreijutsuin could do, but very few actually ever used. A zanpakutō could look like anything its wielder wished it to look like outside of combat, so long as it was of similar proportions to the zanpakutō in question.

In theory, it didn't matter if the zanpakutō and its wielder weren't in sync with one another for the purposes of this technique, as it had nothing to do with either Shikai (Initial Release) or Bankai (Final Release). That was the theory, anyway. It had never been attempted with an Asauchi that had just been given to someone, but there was no actual reason why it shouldn't work.

The redheaded Soul closed her eyes and focussed on the image that she had of a bokken in her head. How it felt to touch, how it hefted in the hands in the memory, the texture of the wood…all of it. Then, she focussed on the sheathed sword in her hands becoming that bokken.

Inside of her, she felt something shift and flow through her hands and into the zanpakutō. Opening her eyes, she saw that she no longer held a sheathed sword, but a bokken, identical to those found in almost every practice dojo in Soul Society.

"I did it!" the girl cheered.

Gin grinned. "Well done. Reversing the process is actually more simple. You just have to picture it reverting to its original form and it'll happen as long as you're holding it. Ya can practice later. The World of the Living awaits."

Gin strode towards the rectangular Senkaimon standing in the middle of the room. After checking to makes sure that the Kidō powering the Gate was working properly, the silver-haired man unsheathed his Zanpakutō and seemed to insert the wakizashi-sized blade into mid-air, most of the blade disappearing into nothing before Gin turned it like a key, opening a door in mid-air that was shrouded in darkness.

"This ain't an official gate and I don't dare use a Jigokuchō (Hell Butterfly) ta guide ya through to the World of the Living, so yer gonna have ta risk running through the Dangai (Precipice World). This means you will not only have to avoid the Kōryū (Wrestling Flow), you'll probably have ta outrun the Kōtotsu (Wrestling Surge) as well."

"But I'm way too small to outrun that thing!" the girl protested.

"Yep. That's why I'm gonna use a special Kidō in order ta help ya out." Gin told her as he placed a single finger on her forehead, "Shinrai no Jūni Basha. Hikari no Nijūyon Ha o Muku Kemono! Zehi, Tasogare no Naka Atsumaru! Ten Kara Rakka Shi o Fukoku! Bakudō #50: Tenjō Yusō! (Twelve Carriages of Divine Thunder. Twenty-Four Snarling Beasts of Light! Come and gather amid the Twilight! Herald a fall from the Heavens! Way of Binding Number Fifty: Heavenly Transport!)"

Gin's finger glowed blue for a moment before the redheaded girl as surrounded by a sphere of blue energy created by the Captain's Kidō. It floated in mid-air a few inches off of the ground and seemed to only be held back by Gin's finger on the girl's head.

"This little gem of a Kidō was invented by Aizen-taichō for sending unwilling subjects to one of his labs from the World of the Living to this lab. Obviously, it works in reverse." Gin told her. "I'm not nearly as skilled with it as Aizen-taichō is so I can only get you about three-quarters of the way there before the Kidō gives out. Once it stops, run like yer life depends on it, cause it will."

"R-Right!" the girl nodded. "What should I tell the ex-Captains about how I got to the World of the Living?"

"Tell 'em that I threw you into the Dangai to dispose of ya." Gin replied. "Just being chased by the Kōtotsu causes a minor distortion in time. If yer caught by it, yer gonna be sent hundreds of years into the past…or maybe even the future. Either way, you'd be outta the way of Aizen-taichō's plans."

"OK." the girl replied.

"One final thing. Tell 'em I bragged when I took ya along here and told you this; the experiment Aizen-taichō performed on ya was the insertion of the Reiatsu of a Soul Reaper who had been possessed by a Hollow into ya."

The Soul looked appalled by this. "H…How did I…?"

"No idea." Gin shrugged. "Anyway, Aizen-taichō wanted to create a perfect Soul Reaper/Hollow Hybrid. A being that combined the positive energy of a Soul Reaper and the negative energy of a Hollow. A perfect, superior being. Out of the entire half a million test subjects, you were the only one not ta Hollowfy, commit Soul Suicide or simply die after the foreign Reiatsu was inserted inta ya."

"Who…who was he?" the girl asked in a whisper. "Who was the donor of the Reiatsu inserted into me?"

"He died over thirty years ago." Gin told her. "A victim of another one of Aizen-taichō's experiments. His name was Shiba Kaien and the Hollow's name was Metastacia."

A shiver went down the young Soul's spine as she heard the name of the person who had been the source of her implanted Reiatsu. It sounded…familiar, somehow.

Gin grinned at her shocked face. "That is all I can tell you. If we meet again, I don't know you, and you don't know me. Got it?"

"Got it." the girl nodded. "One last question. Is it really only you and Aizen together on this…conspiracy?"

"Nope. One more is on our side." Gin replied. "Tōsen Kaname. Bye now."

Gin removed his finger from the girl's forehead and drew it out of the sphere, instantly allowing the Kidō to propel the girl at breakneck speeds into the darkness of the Dangai. Seriously, it was almost as if the sphere had used Shunpo.

After shutting down the Senkaimon, Gin activated the Lab complex's self-destruct Kidō and sauntered out with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.


In the Dangai…

The girl clutched at the zanpakutō in her hands with a death grip as she hurtled along the corridor in the Dangai at speeds which, frankly, terrified her.

'If this kills me, I'm going to haunt that silver-haired bastard until he dies!' she swore as she shifted uncomfortably inside the Kidō sphere. It was only barely large enough to hold her and she was starting to feel sore.

After who-knows-how-long, the sphere started to slow down. The young Soul started to panic, remembering that Gin had stated that it would only take her three-quarters of the way down the Dangai.

An image popped into her head of a Soul Reaper being caught by the walls of Kōryū and being sucked into it in a matter of minutes.

"What the heck is going on?" the girl muttered as another image flashed into her mind, of what she assumed to be the Kōtotsu, a giant black thing with a single glaring yellow eye in the centre, running over another Soul Reaper.

"What is with these memories?" she muttered. She could not remember anything about who she had been before Aizen had gotten his hands on her; hardly surprising because she had literally only been two years old when that had happened. Now she was getting flashes of other memories…memories that weren't her own.

"Kaien…" she whispered before shaking her head. This wasn't the time. The sphere had almost come to a halt and that meant it was time to focus on running as soon as it vanished…which it just did with a pop.

Hitting the ground running, her bare feet slapping on the…substance…that made up the floor, the girl heard a noise from behind her -thankfully a great distance behind her- that she identified as being the sound of the Kōtotsu approaching.

"I will not be eaten by an oversized, one-eyed snake-thing, damn it!" the girl screamed as she ran.

Being only five years old and unable to use the Shunpo, the girl grew tired after about five minutes. It certainly didn't help that she had been chained up for two weeks with Reiatsu-suppressing manacles, so she was more than slightly stiff, but she persevered.

With every step, the massive construct of the Kōtotsu drew closer to her, no matter how fast she went. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that it was less than ten meters away and closing!

"No!" she shrieked and found a hidden wellspring of energy within her to speed up fractionally. The young Soul was becoming desperate as the Kōtotsu drew ever closer.

'There's the exit!' she thought in relief as she saw the black square just a couple of meters away from her. With a leap, she sailed through it…

…and landed on grassy ground with a thump.

"Ow!" she said automatically as she used the bokken/zanpakutō to push herself to her knees. "I am definitely kicking that guy's ass when I get my hands on him."

She looked around at the area she was in. The World of the Living looked…strange. The buildings were all tall and made of something that looked like Sekkiseki and the air tasted funny.

Behind her, the pair of shōji (paper doors) that had disgorged her silently slid shut and vanished as if they weren't even there to begin with.

"Great. I'm in the World of the Living and I have no clue where to look." the girl muttered before she closed her eyes and reached out with her nascent Spiritual Powers, trying to detect any seriously large concentrations of Reiatsu.

When Gin had led her out of the cellblock, she had almost been crushed by the sheer concentration of his Reiatsu. He had reined it in with an apology, but she suspected he had done it deliberately to show her the quality of Reiatsu that Captain-class Soul Reapers possessed. The sheer amount was astonishing as well.

'Here? No…There…? No, nowhere near enough…' she thought as she tried to detect someone with out of the ordinary Reiryoku. 'Gah! This is pointless!'

Finally getting fed up, she yelled into the night sky, "Urahara Kisuke! Where the heck are you?!"

"Right here." a calm male voice replied from behind her.

Wheeling around in shock, the girl stared at the odd looking man. He wore a green and white striped hat, a green kimono-like outfit and geta sandals on his feet. He carried a cane in his hand as if it was a sword.

"Y-You're Urahara Kisuke?" the girl asked faintly as she started swaying on her feet.

"Hai, indeed I am." the man replied, his eyes locked on her. "May I ask who you are and why you are looking for me?"

"I'm…Kirika." the girl identified herself. "And I…need…your…help…"

Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed to the ground, the stress and exertion of the past couple of hours finally getting to her.

Urahara looked at Kirika in an utterly and genuinely perplexed manner.

"Ara, ara…this is a regular pickle." he remarked aloud, "What should I do here?"


Next Chapter: Explanations and Kurosaki