"Captain Kuchiki, Captain Kuchiki!" Taska's frantic voice echoed through the halls as she burst into the captain's lounge. Immediately dropping to her knees she placed her head on the ground, desperately trying to catch her breath as she waited for her leader's response. Bursting in was a major breach of protocol, not to mention rude. Both of which the captain frowned upon. After several moments, a calm voice spoke up from the desk. "Speak, Taska."
"Captain Abarai called for an immediate meeting with him! He wants to see you as soon as possible."
"I have not yet finished my report."
"But, captain, it has to do with… him!"
The sound of the pen scratching stopped. Captain Kuchiki turned and looked at the lieutenant through strands of black hair, narrowed eyes that bore that tiny hint of anxiety. The hint that appeared only whe the captain was honestly shocked. Kuchiki Rukia stood, her white captain's garb flowing behind as she marched out the door, her spirit pressure increasing almost by reflex as she passed her lieutenant. "Ichigo." The word sounded more like a curse than a name.
"I don't know, ma'am. Members of the 11th division gave report of something very important, something that needs your immediate attention. Something happened at the ruins of Karakura, and it doesn't sound good."
"Damn it! This can't be happening now, not with a new 1st division captain being selected! As always that fool has shown himself to bear the worst timing imaginable."
"What does this mean, captain?"
"I don't know, but if it has anything to do with Karakura you can be sure the name Kurosaki is spelled all over it. Damn that boy."
"But, the war is over!"
"The war is never over, not as long as he draws breath. He swore it himself." Rukia closed her eyes, painful memories returning by simple mention of his name.
"Stop this! You have to stop!" Rukia shouted against the roar of the storm; tears streaming down her face and mixing with the rain as she kneeled among the bodies of dozens of dead shinigami. In the distance, the blood-drenched figure of a tall man stood over his last kill. He pulled his sword from his victim's chest, his eyes turning to regard Rukia with darkness she couldn't even imagine. There was rage there, a fury so alien it did not even seem possible. His spiritual power alone was suffocating her, and now that he had her in his gaze her very bones refused to move. "Go ahead and stay there, Rukia. Cower there and cry. Move, and you'll join the dead."
"This isn't you! The Ichigo I know wouldn't do this!"
"The Ichigo you know?! The Ichigo you know would never stand by and watch every person he ever loved get slaughtered! The Ichigo you know would have fought! He wouldn't have allowed his own allies to trick him, than stab him in the back! The Ichigo you know is DEAD! I swear, now and forever, I will make all of soul society pay dearly for this. I will make you pay." The memory went dark with the swing of that black, bloody sword. She still had the scar from that wound. It had taken Rukia nearly a year and a half to recover from the injuries she'd received in that battle. After that day Ichigo had vanished, hidden away behind the walls soul society had erected to cage Hueco Mundo and all within it. Twenty-five years those walls had held everything within that desolate land at bay, and now talk of those walls being breached. The timing definitely could not be worse.
Taska followed after her captain, trying her best to keep up despite the woman's swift stride. Even though she was a head and shoulders taller than her superior, the woman seemed to always be so quick, even while walking. It was the worst when she was upset, or deep in thought. Captain Kuchiki lost herself so easily that she never noticed those around her. Approaching 11th division's headquarters, Rukia slowed her pace a moment before coming to a halt. This was most often a place where men were bashing each other silly, shouts and cries and whooping laughter always echoed from its walls. Right now, it was eerily quiet. "Something has happened. Captain, we should hurry." Taska ran ahead, but for a few more moments Rukia remained motionless. She couldn't help but think back, when a vice-captain's badge was fitted to her arm instead of a captain's cloak on her shoulders.
"Come on, Rukia! Stop being so slow!" She could still remember his voice, that stupid boyish voice.
"Ichigo, slow down! You're too fast!"
"Lieutenant Kuchiki, you will obey your captain and hurry along, there is drinking to be done here! Shunsui! Break out the cups, old man!"
5th division captain, Kurosaki Ichigo. How that squad was a scourge to soul society, all its captains seemed to turn against the very system they had sworn to protect. Sosuke Aizen, and now Ichigo. "How fates plays its games. How I hate it for that."
"Captain Kuchiki! Are you coming?" With a single step Rukia was already at the door to the meeting hall, once again leaving Taska to catch up. Once inside, she could see the halls were empty. All the doors were shut, and no sound but the footsteps from Rukia herself echoed through it. She walked faster, marching towards the corner at the hall's end and entrance to the meeting area. With a forceful hand Rukia pushed the doors open and walked inside. A small team of 4th division members were seeing to someone lying on his back in the center of the room. Rukia could not see who, but there was blood, lot's of it. "What has happened? Who has been attacked?"
"My lieutenant. The rest of his team was massacred. Grand way to start a week, hmm." A voice spoke up from the wall, the cloak of a captain set upon broad shoulders as the red haired man stared out a window.
"Renji, you called me with word that something happened, possibly having to do with Kurosaki. What do you know? Has Hueco Mundo reopened?" Captain Abarai moved away from the window and strode towards the wounded man, his face was set in a stoic expression that hid frustration and anger. Rukia could always read him, even when he was like this. Waving a number of the healers away, he kneeled and looked down at the patient. "All I know is what he brought back with him, and what he didn't bring back. Madarame has been my lieutenant ever since Captain Zaraki vanished. I've never seen him lose a fight when it truly mattered."
"Renji, why did you call me here?"
"Take a look for yourself." He tossed something into the air, which Rukia snatched with a quick hand. Looking down at the item, Rukia's eyes widened. In her hand was a substitute soul reaper's badge with a hole through it, one that would fit a sword perfectly. Her hand shook slightly as she saw the little hang of beads on the side, she recognized this badge. "This was Ichigo's. You said something else, he didn't return with something."
"His zanpakutou. It's gone."
"He hasn't regained consciousness, so I can't ask him what happened. It isn't like we can just… Rukia? Where did she go? Rukia, come back! Where'd she go?" Taska just shook her head with a shrug. "She's always running away. Rukia! You're her lieutenant, how can you not... Errgh. Follow me!"
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to stop her before she does something stupid. Rukia! Damn it."
The gate stood before her, as tall and ominous as it always seemed to be. She'd been through it countless times, and still it held that flicker of awe to her eye every time she saw it. The doors were opening slowly, too slowly. Impatience was already setting in, even though she'd only been there a few moments. It had taken three flash steps just to reach it, which meant she had little time to lose before a certain red-haired man would follow. "Rukia, stop!" Too late.
Renji landed hard and almost slid as he stood in front of his fellow captain. "What do you think you're doing?"
"He is giving me a message, only I would have recognized that badge. Only I would have known it was by his sword that hole in it could have been made. Nobody else in soul society knows him like I do!"
"And he'll kill you the next time you two lay eyes on each other! The last time we encountered Kurosaki it took three captains, including your own brother, just to push him back into Hueco Mundo! Captain Hitsugaya DIED forcing him back! If he, or any of his are still there you won't come back like Madarame, you'll come back in a bag, or several! Don't be a fool!"
"Get out of my way, Renji. Don't make me push you out of the way."
"If we fight over this, you'll lose."
"Never test a woman's resolve. Taska!" Rukia turned to regard her lieutenant who had been standing back a ways, catching her breath from the leaps to reach the gate. "Do not follow."
"(Huff) Sorry ma'am, I can't do that. Someone has to watch your back."
"That's why I'm here." Renji said, though his words more sounded like a complaint than a reassurance. "Go and tell the other lieutenants what's going on. I'm sure their captains will love this."
"You didn't tell the others?" Rukia asked as she moved past him towards the open gate.
"I thought I should tell you first, and I can see what a great idea that was… Rukia! Damn it, Rukia! Urrgh, that woman… Fine. Vice-Captain Shinataya, I believe you have your orders. If I end up dead on this, make sure to remind my division to file a formal complaint with 13th squad. And I want it in writing! Rukia wait for me! Damn it, woman!" And they were gone.