Chapter 1: Shift
Nanao wondered where her captain could have gone off to. Bad enough that Captain Kyoraku was under suspicion for the murder of Captain Ukitake—mind-boggling as that sounded, since those two were known to be great friends—but the man was going to miss the execution. And yes, she'd checked the barracks. The captain wasn't asleep.
She shook her head. She felt bad for Rukia Kuchiki, she really did, but there was nothing they could do. Central Forty-Six had already decreed it.
Couldn't be helped. With a sigh, she slid the door to her personal quarters open. She had to be at least presentable before she left for Sokyoku hill. Since Captain Kyoraku was doing his own thing, it fell to her to represent Squad—huh?
She frowned and looked at her futon. There was a folded piece of paper on top of it, along with one of those pinwheel hairpins the captain always kept. Strange. Those hairpins were actually pretty expensive, and Captain Kyoraku was really—really, really—protective of them.
"Humph. He was in my room again, wasn't he?" she muttered to herself. There were times when her captain's skirt-chasing got a bit... annoying. Even when he did it to her. The captain was at least respectful when she said no, though.
Ah, well. To be perfectly honest, she was pretty sure the captain acted that way around woman because that was just his personality. Captain Kyoraku was probably as interested in seducing a female as she was in seducing someone like... Shuhei.
Uh, okay, bad example. Someone like Marechiyo. There you go.
Anyway. The point was that if she starting stripping off her clothes and begging handsome, handsome Shunsui to do naughty things to her, Captain Kyoraku would turn around, tell her he had important captain business to attend to, and, once she couldn't see him anymore, the man would run away screaming. The act of flirting was what her captain was after, not... the stuff came afterwards.
Smiling musingly, she unfolded the paper. Hmm. Addressed to her in Captain Kyoraku's surprisingly neat writing. Started off with an apologetic introduction... like usual. Afterwards she usually found some inane little poem extolling her glowing beauty, or her fabulous intellect, or a plea to take off her glasses.
No. Never take off the glasses.
She grinned at that as she continued reading. Hmm. The note was... different somehow. Sure, it had the apologetic tone to it, but she sensed some genuine seriousness in her captain's words that she didn't see too often. She read more.
The note was asking her to... to...
Her eyes widened. The hairpin of Captain Shunsui Kyoraku slipped from her fingers as she clapped a hand to her mouth in shock.
"Bankai. Tensa Zangetsu."
There was a nigh imperceptible flash of reflected sunlight as a black-clothed young man blurred forward, past the storm of razor sharp shards that glittered in the sunlight. As the flurry of blades swept past, the young man appeared, his black sword leveled at another man's throat.
Byakuya Kuchiki's eyes widened in shock. Ichigo Kurosaki's eyes met the Soul Reaper captain's in a harsh glare.
"You wanna talk about pride? Your so-called honor demands that you kill Rukia." Ichigo's eyes narrowed coldly, belying the hot anger that seethed in his heart. "Sure takes a lot of honor to kill your own sister, doesn't it? Well, if that's the kind of pride you're talking about, you can bet your ass I'm gonna mess with it."
"Momo, stay close," Sosuke Aizen said to his lieutenant, Momo Hinamori, as they approached the locked-down chamber of the Central Forty-Six.
"Yes, Captain," the girl replied. "Er, what are we doing here, Captain?"
"I'm not sure, really"
And to be perfectly honest, it was the truth. It had horrified him when he'd found one of his mentors, Jushiro Ukitake, Squad Twelve Captain and one of the strongest Soul Reapers in the Seireitei, nailed to a pillar with his own zanpakuto. And then his other mentor, Shunsui Kyoraku had begun to act suspiciously. During an... altercation with Lieutenant Kaien Shiba, Kyoraku had even suggested that he might have had a hand in Ukitake's murder. Shiba would have ended up dead if Captain Hitsugaya and Lieutenant Matsumoto hadn't intervened.
And Central's puzzling behavior. First the death sentence of Rukia Kuchiki for what should have been a non-capital offense, and then the lockdown and subsequent speeding up of the execution process. Something was nagging at him.
Ah, that was for later. Work to do.
He rapped his fist against the chamber door. Not only was it well-engineered, it was reinforced with reishi-absorbing/nullifying sekkiseki. Going to be tough. Hmm.
"Momo, I need you to move back a few yards and erect the strongest barrier you can manage," he said to his lieutenant. He heard a faint whooshing sound as Momo flash-stepped backwards a safe distance. He heard faint muttering as the lieutenant recited the incantation for a defensive spell.
"Bakudo number thirty-nine, Enkosen." He heard a faint cracking sound, and when he looked behind him a circle of glowing energy was covering the upper half of Momo's body. He nodded, and with a burst of gathered reishi flash-stepped to his lieutenant's side.
He channeled his spiritual energy into his hands.
Bones of beast, scattered far and wide...
"Hado sixty-three, Raikoho," he muttered, unleashing the pent-up energy as he finished his mental chant. A streak of golden lightning streaked out towards the door. Immediately after releasing it he moved behind the Enkosen shield and helped Momo bolster it. The girl could probably have held it all by herself, but why not?
There was a thundering boom as his spell met the sekkiseki, and quite a bit of the hado spell was reflected and dispersed, splattering against their shield. The rest of it hit the door squarely.
The smoke cleared. Hmm, probably could have used a slightly lesser spell, since he's just shattered the door and about three feet of wall to either side to dust. In any case, they had access. There was a pop as Momo let the bakudo barrier dissipate.
"Right behind you, Captain."
Kaien groaned and opened his eyes. A female Soul Reaper with the medical pack of a Squad Four member peered down at him.
"Lieutenant Shiba! How are you feeling?"
Well, he felt like crap. Like what you would feel like after an elephant-sized Hollow mistook your body for a trampoline. It was like his body was one big ball of scrapes and bruises. And slashes. Captain Kyoraku hadn't pulled any punches at that one, and the Squad Eight captain was either the third or fourth most powerful man in the Seireitei, depending on who you asked. Luckily Captain Hitsugaya and Rangiku had shown up.
"Uh, Lieutenant? Do you need water? Can you hear me?"
The woman looked flustered. Great. He was going to give the medical staff a heart attack. He closed his eyes and willed the pain to go away. Or something. Still hurt like hell, but he could focus on not panicking the woman.
"I'm good, I'm good," he said, and coughed. Said cough sent spikes into his brain, but he tried to ignore it.
Hmm. Something was odd. He noticed that the hospital area seemed understaffed. "What's going on?" he asked.
"The execution of Rukia Kuchiki has been moved up to today, and we're getting reports that there's infighting among the various divisions. Everything is a mess, sir. Thankfully—"
Rukia? Today? His blood went cold. Had to do something.
He tried to struggle out of bed, but the room suddenly turned upside down and he fell back down—up? Argh—to the cot.
"Lieutenant Shiba," he heard a new voice say. He turned to the left and squinted. Yasochika Iemura, Squad Four, Third Seat. "You didn't let Machiko finish her sentence. One of the ryoka infiltrators managed to block the Sokyoku and prevent her execution."
Oh, thank God.
"On top of that, Lieutenant, you've taken a beating and lost way too much blood. Contusions and slash wounds all over your body, and bruises everywhere else. You try getting up again and you're going to open up every wound we've managed to stitch shut with kido."
"Fine," he said. Defeated by wounds, dammit. He had to get to Rukia. Besides his siblings, the young woman was all that he had left. Miyako was gone. Ukitake gone.
Hopefully this Ichigo Kurosaki person Rukia had mentioned would be able to do something.
Gin Ichimaru fanned his hand over Kaname Tosen's face. The dark skinned man groaned and slowly sat up.
"How long was I out?" the Squad Nine captain asked him without preamble.
"Well, about half an hour. Impressive, considering Zaraki had just punted you around like a soccer ball. Well, except you don't stab a soccer ball, but you know what I mean."
"Yes, yes," the other captain said woozily. "Where's Sajin?"
"After that ryoka kid blocked—and destroyed, believed it or not—the Sokyoku, the Head Captain made it his business to incinerate that little upstart. I, uh, tried to stab Yamamoto in the foot. Yamamoto took offense to that and released his sword. Apparently, after that happened Sajin moved you a safe distance from Zaraki and came to help out—"
"You tried to what!"
"Yeah. So, I suppose it'd be a good time to go, don't you think? You know, before an angry old man figures out where I went and torches a rather large portion of real estate."
"Why would you—"
"You remember what Aizen said, don't you? Things aren't adding up, and he told us to make sure that ryoka kid didn't get turned into a charred statue."
"I remember what he said. Help me up. And please stop smiling."
"You're blind. You can't see me smiling."
"Gin, you're always smiling."
He grinned wider. He did like to smile. Maybe it was his default facial expression. For some reason it threw people off guard, which wasn't a problem at all. One time he squinted his eyes nearly shut and walked around for a day. He'd made people really uncomfortable with that, which was even better.
Of course, Rangiku had taken one look at his squinty-eyed self and walloped him across the face. So that had been the end of that.
He felt a hot, stifling breeze wash over him. Uh-oh. Yamamoto's spiritual pressure.
"Time to go," he said, heaving Kaname up. He focused reishi around his body and flash-stepped away.
"This is bad," Momo heard her captain say tightly.
She swallowed. "Bad" didn't really cover it. Every single member of Central Forty-Six was lying slumped over their benches in pools of their own blood.
Dried pools of blood. They'd been dead for some time. Which meant that a lot of orders that had been coming from the Central Forty-Six... hadn't.
She swallowed again and moved her hand towards Tobiume's hilt. If whoever had done this was still lurking around, she was going to defend her captain.
She watched Captain Aizen stand up from where he had been kneeling. "I'm trying to detect the reishi of the person who did this, but I'm not coming up with anything."
"They had to be good at hiding their presence then, Captain," she replied. "But that doesn't make sense, right? This place was sealed off, so why would they go through the trouble of masking themselves?"
"You have a point there, Lieutenant."
They examined more the council chamber. She couldn't detect anything either. Maybe Captain Aizen could—
"Sosuke," she heard a voice say from somewhere. She jumped and almost drew out her zanpakuto. That voice... she recognized that voice!
"That's impossible," she heard her captain gasp. "You were—"
"You'd be surprised what a good corpse doll can do," the voice cut off her captain. She say a figure step out of the shadows. Captain Ukitake!
She noticed Captain Aizen's hand had dropped to the hilt of Kyoka Suigetsu. "Explain. Everything."
She saw the other captain's lips arch up into a smile. It looked perfectly genuine. Considering it was Ukitake, it probably was.
"If you were anyone else, I wouldn't. I'd have killed you the moment you entered the chamber."
Her captain cocked his head. "And why would that be?"
"Because I have hope that you'll join us."
"Who is not important right now."
She stepped up next to Captain Aizen. She could almost see the gears turning behind the captain's eyes. The light from the torches illuminating place reflected off Captain Aizen's glasses and swept-back hair.
"Then what is it you hope to convince me of?"
"The Seireitei must be destroyed."
The breath caught in her throat. Captain Ukitake wanted to what? Captain Ukitake, one of the oldest captains of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads?
"Why?" she heard her captain say sharply.
"Unless the Seireitei falls, the entire Soul Society will be wiped out."