(Author's note: Overriding, prefic-banter)

So we've come a rather lengthy way into the story. Which brings me to this make or break part in the story. Namely this chapter. Originally, I was going to ask you all for a little trust in getting through this part…but trust is earned not given. So, I won't ask for it; instead, I'll ask you all to read on and then make the decision of whether you wish to stay or not. This chapter will explain why I said this would be kinda A/U and A/T back in my first announcement, in chapter one, 3 years ago.

Now you may wonder why I'm bringing this up and the reason is: I personally felt this chapter is going to push suspension of disbelief both on context-stand point within the story and because at the time of writing this story, I was unaware of later events in Canon Bleach (books are expensive and I didn't always have internet access.) and I'm the methodical plan sort of guy, so I just plan to stick to…what I had planned, that is.

Which brings me back to the first point I made about trust. I cannot…well 'unable' is a better word, to know how much trust I have earned from the small crowd of viewers I've gotten over the years. I know I've got some good standing with some like Mako-hero, Grinja, xXxmidnightoverturexXx, Zathol, Cittyno2, I-am-cmpunk, batman, prayzius the king of rejects, batla, flair the dragon king, the man of many faces (aka unknown reviewer: the man), and many others who I can name off the top of my head and have been around since the beginning in contrast with the latest fifty to one-hundred people who've favorite/followed the story recently.

Anyway, despite how I portray myself here, I'm quite different, and I wanted to get down this epiphany, before it kind of fleeted away to be forgotten. I think I also said it back in chapter one, but I do want to be honest to you all, whenever I can be; hence, this little spiel about earning trust ,and how this being maybe a breaker chapter for some. So...yeah, don't want to eat up any more time, so please read on and enjoy.

Sincerely,

Jeanluc Ocasio, aka Blackout2010

PS: This chapter is the longest one yet, at nearly 50K. So, if I recall correctly, someone once told me that chapter 16 took them nearly 1.5 hours to finish. Yeah...Sooo, kinda be ready for the long haul. One last thing, there are mention for previous events in the fic, so for your convenience, if you find one you're curious about, just open up another a tab and jump to the chapter mentioned, you'll find it eventually.

Okay, for-realsies, you can ignore me now and go on.


Chapter 29: Temperance and the Hanged man (1)

(Shino Academy: 50 years ago, two years after Yoruichi's betrayal)

"Man, I can't wait for tomorrow." Said a not noticeably younger Shinjiro, as he walked down the hallways of Shino academy, his arms stretched out behind him in excitement at the prospect of gaining his Zanpaktou Shikai. "We'll be one step closer to joining the ranks of the Shinigami Corps and assist in bringing much needed peace to our fellow man in Rukongai and on Earth.

"Too true, we've had to do another three years, but were finally here. I'm glad it's over; because, now were one step closer in assisting Shaolin-sama in finding much needed peace of mind after what happened to her." Subaru agreed, as she kept pace with her husband, also very eager to gain her Zanpaktou and join the Gotei 13 army, specifically squad 2 and her captain.

"Oh, by the way Shin-kun, do you know whose going to be your Shikai example, before the awakening ceremony begins?"

"I got the great captain of the seventh division: Sajin Komamura-san." He informed with a thoughtful smile, "From what I hear, he's a little odd for always wearing that strange helmet of his, but his dedication and loyalty is undeniable." The man looked to his wife with the same inquiry. "So what about you? Who did you get Su-chan?"

"I got Unohana-san of the fourth division." She replied with a smile, "Although…" she brought a hand to her lip. "I do wish I had gotten Aizen-san."

The samurai nodded understandingly. "I hear he's popular, once taught here too."

"He did, and even after leaving for the Gotei 13, he's still extremely popular..." a dreamy eyed expression crept unto her face. "And he's really cool, and really smart, and very helpful, and very inspiring, and extremely eloquent, and very handsome-"

"AHEM!" Shinjiro coughed, interrupting her schoolgirl fantasy. "SORRY for not measuring up to his virtues." he loudly complained, earning an apologetic look from the girl.

"I-I was only kidding, ahaha…" she tried to play off as a joke; although, it was sorely lacking in the persuasion department. "You've got your good points too…you know…"

The man crossed his arms skeptically, "Like?" he asked.

"L-like?" the woman stumbled, not expecting that. "O-Oh, ahaha, of-of course. I mean OF COURSE I know your good points. You're…umm well…you're like ahh, ehehe, y-you know what I mean, s-shin-kun."

"Mmmhmm…" Shinjiro glanced away unamused, as his beloved sweat dropped. "I wonder if this is how it feels to fight for someone's affection?" He asked himself.

"Maybe, Shinjiro." She then wrapped her arms around his and leaned against his shoulder. "But you'll never have to fight for mine."

"I guess that's fine then. As long as you still love me at the end of the day; I can deal with not being perfect like Aizen-Taichō or having to fight the man to win your favor." The man grumbled, garnering a wry smile as they returned to their dorms for the evening.

"Guess I'm one lucky girl then." The woman half-heartedly considered, as they came up to the fork that separated the male and female dormitories. "Well, here's where we part ways again. Shin, I know you've been diligent in trying to contact your spirit, so I hope you're able to get a Shikai tomorrow. It'll help with placement in the captain's sortie next month."

The smiling man shook his head in disagreement. "Don't worry, I'm gonna be fine, Shikai or not. Wherever I'm placed, I'll be able to do some good for humanity. You're the one who needs the luck since you're trying to get into the Special Forces unit. Shaolin won't pull any punches in assessing you even if she does like you."

The woman chuckled to herself at the truth in his words "Very true. She's the epitome of meritocracy. So, let's just hope that the both of us do as best we can tomorrow."

"Of course, milady." The samurai replied as he leaned in and kissed her goodbye. The only token of luck that the other needed.

(Next day: Subaru)

After the student's watched their example, Retsu Unohana, release her Shikai, they were all in awe at it's beautiful verdant color, strange shape, and most importantly the increase in the captain's spiritual pressure; even the ones who held an aversion to possible being placed in the rumored 'weak' fourth division couldn't help but feel excited at maybe getting placed under her guiding hand.

Seeing that she'd done her job, the serene woman then returned Minazuki back into its' scabbard and wished everyone well, congratulating them for coming so far in their studies, and promised that Shikai or not, she would consider every student equally into her division on the merit of their dedication to humanity; a trait any good Shinigami needed.

When the 'Smiling Angel' departed the room, the teacher of the class returned to the front of the room and began to call the names of students.

Once the roll call had started, the room regained the feeling of nervousness that was prevalent prior to Unohana's arrival. The students who were called grabbed their Asauchi, and went into the monitored safety room in the back, to try to awaken their Shikai state.

In the meantime, the rest of the students were either sizing up the competition and who they thought would pass or were quietly chatting with nearby desk mates for last minute pointers; but no matter how meek, confident, prepared, or worried, the general thought on everyone's mind was: how best to achieve the coveted status of attaining Shikai.

Everyone wanted to go into the backroom with an Asauchi and come out with a Shikai, but as the names of individuals were called, and one by one entered in, it seemed that for every five to ten students who tried, only one or two came back with their confidence intact and exotic weapon in hand.

Near the back of the room, Subaru was casually glancing outside the window wondering to herself what she had to do in order to succeed where most had failed. It had been close to two hours since the ceremony started and she still felt no closer to a promising result, since this wasn't a task where the correct answer could be located in a textbook. Like the many Senior Shinigami who came and visited the school attested, the only concrete things that she could take in knowing wouldn't change was:

One: That each person's trial to awakening Shikai was as unique as the spirits themselves. Ranging from simply asking, to jumping through hoops to even humiliating oneself.

Two: That by constantly trying to communicate with their respective spirit and gain not only their favor, but also an understanding of their character and how they thought, would serve to better prepare oneself.

Sadly, from the results Subaru was seeing, that advice only really went so far, as a trial by fire conjured up by a particularly whimsical spirit could throw off anyone's preparation.

The girl grimaced at the thought. She wanted to get into the second division's Onimitsukido, and needed to make the best impression possible for that to happen, but since she had never met her spirit face to face, only ever hearing it's voice echoing back in her inner world, she knew that her chances weren't looking very good and would need either a particularly merciful or compatible spirit.

She glanced around the room to take in the people who had returned from the trial victorious and tried to recall their nature; perhaps, it would help provide a clue for her. As she scanned the room, trying to find her answer, she saw the guy two seats in front of her shaking terribly, for some reason her eyes darted downward and found a puddle of water underneath his chair.

A disgusted groan left her lips at the display. That kind of fear was something that shouldn't be expressed about this trial. This was as if meeting someone you'd spoken to on the phone, but never met, not a fight to the death…well…probably.

Even then, it wasn't as if the instructor was in the next room to save a student's life if things went that far south.

'That's it!' she mentally exclaimed at the realization 'I should just treat my Zanpaktou like a person and not be afraid of meeting it or it's challenges.' she then leaned back confidently in her chair, giving quiet thanks to the cowering guy in front of her for giving her some resolution. 'I wonder how Shinjiro did…' she wondered to herself as she went back to look out the window awaiting her turn.

After another hour of waiting, Subaru stood up from her desk at the annunciation of her name. She walked to the door and after receiving a fond 'good luck' by the teacher was allowed into the backroom like the previous fifty occupants.

Upon entering the room, a powerful kido barrier sprung up trapping the girl inside the room. Ignoring the barrier, and doing her absolute best in suppressing her excitement, she made her way to the center of the room.

Setting down upon her knees, she placed her sword in the Jinzai commutative fashion, and began to meditate, to reach into the depths of her inner world. After sitting in silence for a few moments, she opened her eyes to see a slab of wood in front of her face. Uncrossing both her legs, she let her feet touch back against the floor, before pushing the chair she was sitting away from the wooden desk that rested in the epicenter of her inner world.

As she got up to look around the central circle, she was surprised to see the once empty library, or at least that what she had assumed the world took the shape of, since even after climbing the bookcases it stretched out as far as the eye could see, was now stock full of books on the shelves, but upon closer inspections, all of the books didn't so much as have a title on the spine.

Turning her eyes away from the new items, she walked back to the desk in the 'study' "Alright, this is new, so now what?" she scratched the back of her head, since she knew this was going to be a much different experience than normal for her. So, deciding to play it cool, she re-took her chair, awaiting the arrival of her guardian spirit to start things.

After two minutes of silence, Subaru pressed her hands together and started to twiddle her thumbs as she took note of the decorum of the library. After three more minutes, she started to quietly sing the lyrics of one of the songs from one of plays she did. Five more minutes ticked by with nothing, she decided to try to see if the new addition to her soul scape would produce a result.

Walking over to the bookshelf, she grabbed a colorfully designed book and examined the cover before looking at the back. Despite her hoping against hope that it might contain a clue, or preferably some kind of Zanpaktou summoning chant in it, she open it up and found it to be as blank as the outer shell. Still undeterred she started to flip through the pages rapidly, trying to spot any page with some kind of distinct marking, no luck unfortunately.

The woman furrowed her brow as she thought on what to do. There was simply no way she was going to be able to check through all of these books, trying to find some kind of hint as to what to she was supposed to do. Even if time flowed differently from the outside world in comparison to here, she'd be in here for months, years, decades even, before making some kind of headway with this approach.

"Just my luck." She muttered, and was about to close the book and put it back when she stopped herself, and took a moment to view her circumstances from another angle.

The act of trying to awaken Shikai –an upgrade for a weapon forged from your very soul- was by most definitions an 'unusual event'…maybe this required an 'unusual' solution.

So throwing away all common sense and cool logic, she decided perhaps the best solution was simple. Ask and you shall receive.

"Hello, book…ah san. I'm Subaru Kujo, thee ahh 'owner' of this library. Can you ummm tell me what to do?" she asked, before and epiphany occurred to her "Actually let me clarify: 'I'd like to know what it is you want me to do to advance' this…ahhh 'trial' not that 'I want to do whatever you tell me to do'…just…you know…for your information." Her voice started to weaken near the end, as she felt completely stupid for asking an inanimate object what to do, even if she was desperate for a sign.

"It's ok. I won't bite. Just tell me what I should do. However…if you don't want to talk…that's okay. Since you're a…blank book." The woman clenched her teeth, "Perhaps, you could put all those…blank…pages to work…I guess and just have the instructions…ummm…will themselves unto the page?"

The girl started to hang her head; even she knew this was getting ridiculous. "Or if that's too much trouble, you could just magically fall out of my hand in the direction I need to go in." Once again, the book remained silent as ever while Subaru became more flustered "P-please do something? I…uhh…I'll-I'll be your best friend?" 'Gods kill me…Shaolin you better appreciate what I'm going through for you!'

Once again, the girl didn't get a response, and was actually thankful nobody was around to watch her 'conversation'. Placing the book back to its spot on the shelf, the girl sought another avenue to move ahead; sure enough, out to her leftward peripheral was a movable shelf-ladder used to reach the higher placed books. Deciding to call out from the top of the bookcase, she began to climb up.

When she reached the top of the thick shelves, she was met with the same expansive view of the library that she'd seen several times before. "Please, god, don't make me have to go in there and find my Zanpaktou." She earnestly prayed before she cupped her hands around her mouth. "Excuse me? Hello? Anyone out there?"

She continued to call out for several minutes, each attempt ending in failure and only serving to frustrate her more. She seriously could not fathom what in the hell she was supposed to do and took it out on the trial "GOD DAMNIT IF YOU'RE OUT THERE GIVE ME A DAMN SIGN!" She yelled again this time stamping her feet in anger as her patience started to hit the breaking point. "IT'S NOT LIKE I CAN LEAVE WITHOUT SEEING YOU!"

"If you wish for us to arrive in a timelier manner, we suggest you start by saying please." A dull monotone like voice called out from the floor level. Its owner appearing a moment later from behind one of the entrances that led into the labyrinth of an archive.

The creature that spoke was some kind of floating clock statue-thing. In the center of the creature was the body of a clock with black background and white numbers and arrows, but a crack was going through the glass, and around the edge of the golden clock were statues of three identical women. One was laying horizontally on top while the other two were clinging on the bottom as if holding it up.

The student hung her head in shame at her loss of composure, "I'm sorry about that. I'm not used to such fruitless endeavors especially on important tasks." She said as she started down the ladder to speak with the creature. "I do apologize for my manners, but I hope you can understand my frustration."

Once she was down to the ground floor, she bowed respectfully to try and not only appease the construct-like creature but return to a level of civility. "My name is Subaru Kujo. It's a pleasure to meet you formally."

The three statue's mouths all spoke together as they addressed the girl "We know this already as well your attempt to make amends and while we forgive you, we ask that you do not try to deceive us to win our favor. Knowledge is power and we know everything about you. There's nothing you can hide from us, simply remain true to yourself; that is all we ask. "

Now Subaru was both interested and confused by what the creature was saying, "Umm…what exactly do yo-"

The statue barely blinked as it cut her off "Waste not your time upon it curious Kujo. You will not comprehend now, but in time, you shall. Therefore, let us refocus on the topic at hand: this meeting. We know why you are here; however, we would like to hear it from your lips: as to why you are here, what it is you seek."

The woman nodded her head, her curiosity satiated, at knowing that at least she wasn't going to be in the dark forever, so she continued with the purpose as to why she was here, instead of personal pursuits. "Yes, you are correct. Assuming that you are my Zanpaktou spirit that I've spoken with…I was hoping that today you would tell me your name and allow me to use you whenever the need should arise."

The faces of the statues remained impassive as it eyed the girl "You have been adequately diligent in contacting us, so even if we have never bothered to show up, perhaps you might hear our name."

'Talk about unconcerned…' The girl thought flatly "Before we begin may I ask why you haven't shown up till now?" Subaru asked the floating creature who merely turned to the nearby bookshelves

"We have our duties to this library: from categorizing and alphabetizing the books to sweeping, moping, and any other actions to keep everything in working condition. This area is our home we must take care of it with the same care that you take care of your physical body from deterioration and harm." They explained, "Now let us see if you are worthy to wield us."

"I am Clotho. The beginning." Said the head on bottom right

"I am Lachesis. The middle." Replied the woman on the top end

"I am Atrophos. The end." The final statue opposite of Clotho stated

"And together we are collectively known as your Zanpaktou: Norn."

As the words left the creatures mouth, a small rumbling echoed throughout the library. Mercifully, it wasn't the sound of the bookcases falling over; otherwise, it would no doubt be the end of all of them. Once the rumbling stopped, Norn spoke again, "It seems that you are worthy; however, judging by your expression you have questions. We have your answers, so speak."

Barely able to keep up with the seemingly detached nature that Norn had, it took nearly a moment to realize the creature was talking to her and not musing over the rumbling. "Do you know what that was?"

"The books." The golden clock answered, "We will speak more of it at a later time. No need to overload you."

"Okay." She said silently noting that at least she was not the only one with a secretive nature "I guess I'll just ask the obvious question. Since you all called yourselves different names am I to assume that you're three different Zanpaktou?"

"You are strange curious Kujo. You ask a question that you already know the answer to."

"So no." she admitted flatly, as she glanced away feeling stupid for even considering the conclusion.

"One person with one Zanpaktou is almost natural, to have a dual command is uncommon, to gain a pair of blades is a rare sight, to wield two separate ones is an extraordinary gift, but to obtain three or more is an event found only in the realms of fiction. No such thing will ever happen outside of that fact…we would know." The creature stated in it's emotionless tone.

The creature closed their eyes patiently and clarified "However, we understand the nature of your question, and what you are trying to say. We shall clarify with a metaphor. We are known as Norn, a collective; it would not be so different as to call us an organization. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atrophos our individual names would be akin as to call us workers in the organization known as 'Norn'. So while it would be accurate to call anyone of us 'Norn' it would not be to call the collective 'Clotho', 'Lachesis' or 'Atrophos' when addressing us."

"I see. So you make a consensus as one, but each has individuality within the whole of my Zanpaktou." She asserted based on the facts told to her 'Explains the "we" if I am right.'

The three heads of the statue nodded as one "Correct. We are as a one as we are as many. Just as you would be powerless without our spiritual energy, and us, so to would we become impotent if your life were to end. One of us is an intricate part to the success of all of us. Any further inquiries?"

The woman thought on the matter and upon seeing the broken glass of the clock and the hands moving in opposite directions from each other she decided on what to ask next, "The shape you take is of a clock, but why are you broken? Is there some kind of significance?"

Norn's eyes turned to the center of its mass, lifeless and sad "Yes. There are many reason but we will give you the one that pertains specifically to you. We are a manifestation of your power and heart however…" the creature stopped as if to consider what to say, "However…you have led a hollow existence for a long while."

"What do you mean by that!?" Subaru said defensively

"You lived an empty hollow life when you were alive up until the day you met Shinjiro. The days when you sought no more than your own end still live on inside you. Just because the negative emotions you felt did not turn you into a Hollow upon your death, does not mean that the momentary happiness you had attained washed away how you had lived."

"So it's a reminder how I used to be? But how could that have made it so dysfunctional now?

"This void has been further supplemented by all the things you've done on this side that went against your conscience: All the lies you've told, all the cheating and back-stabbing you've committed, all the things you've stolen from others, and all the actions that have led to the misery of the undeserving. Every single thing you've stopped to wonder 'if it was right or not' has cracked the glass of my center as I'm sure that it has done to you." The trio spoke truthfully seemingly uncaring that it was darkening their mistress's mood

"Is there any way to fix that?" the woman asked somberly, quietly yearning to find a way to erase any reminders of all her crimes she'd done to get to this point.

"We believe it may heal on its own eventually. After all, people have been known to forgive and be forgiven of the things they feel they should be punished for. The most you can do is to continue to move forward with your life: Relishing the good situations and make the best of the bad."

"I…see." The woman responded absent-mindedly not at all comforted by her words.

"Very well, that is enough questions from you." The creature turned its back around to head back off further into the library "I will contact you tonight, there is something we wish to show-nay, something we wish to hear your verdict upon."

Subaru was caught off guard by how swiftly the creature was going to kick her out, and didn't so much as get her mouth open, before being forced back into the real world.

Returned to reality, she was laying on her back staring into the bright lights that hung from the ceiling of the room. Shielding her eyes, she blinked rapidly to readjust herself before she pushed herself off the floor, glancing around dazedly, unsure of how long she'd been out. The small clatter of something hitting the floor brought her attention to her side where a small hand held knife with a curved black hilt laid.

Picking it up with her hand, she couldn't help but frown. "This is my Shikai?" she said examining the dagger carefully "My Asauchi was bigger by at least five fold. I know I didn't want anything flashy to hurt my chances with Shaolin and the Special Forces, but this is just…" Shaking her head of the negative thoughts, she tried to think positive about the situation.

She was light on her feet and quick; maybe not goddess of flash fast, but still pretty fast and she knew her way around a knife thanks to her thieving days; so at least it was something she could use and didn't turn into a weapon she wasn't skilled in; especially long range weapons like bows or javelins.

She had already proven to be a horrendous shot with long-range weapon with the exception of throwing knives and kido. "Well could be worse." She then got up to her feet and started towards the door, the barrier having already lowered since she was finished with her task.

Stepping back into the classroom, she walked back to her desk and sat down. It was only after she sat down did it seem that the teacher actually start in trying to congratulate her, even though he was facing the door that she just walked in from while she was already in her desk. She glanced out the window no longer interested in things, but when her fellow desk mate poked her in the shoulder she turned to him.

"Hey, put your Zanpaktou away. You don't want to get in trouble." The brown haired man whispered seeing the teacher's mouth move and the words poured out in a slow tone as if he was trying to talk to a person who didn't understand Japanese.

Still catching his point, the girl lazily put her weapon back into its sheath. As she did the teacher in the front finished speaking "-Done. Hmm?" he quizzically looked around for the girl who emerged from the special room. One second she was there and the next gone.

Moving his eyes around the room, he saw that the violet haired girl was already back in her seat. The man assumed the woman had flash stepped back to her seat out of frustration that the ceremony didn't go her way, like so many others.

"I would ask Kujo-san that if you are not pleased with your results that you do not take your frustration out on others." He said not seeing the confused look on her face "Never the less, I wish you the best of luck with your new partner. (Ahem) Now, number 47, Arisu Reiji please proceed-"

Tilting her head oddly at the display, she shrugged it off not a moment later. She was going to be seeing Norn tonight anyway; she could just ask what happened.

After several hours, the class dismissed, allowing the students to enjoy their evening. Subaru was thankful, since she was one of the people called today, she wouldn't have to go back and wait in the pool to be drawn again for a chance to awaken her power. The sun in the sky was sinking slowly overhead, creating a calming red and purple horizon.

As she started to contemplate what it is she should do before curfew, a swift movement caught her eye. She darted her head around trying to spot the object, but the sun's glare made it hard for her. Bringing her hand up to shield her eyes, she went rigid when she felt something pressed against neck.

"I take it that something must have happened, if you dropped you guard so easily, Subaru." The voice behind her teased; when the thing pressed against her neck was lifted away; the woman quickly turned around and saw Shaolin looking rather bemused, the scabbard of her sword clenched in her hand.

An elated smile graced her lips "Shaolin-sama." She muttered warmly at her friend

The commander's eyes drifted down to the girl's side "So, I take it that you've gained your Shikai?"

"Yes. I was really worried, but I managed." She then tilted her head curiously "What are you doing here exactly?"

"Wow, someone obviously doesn't want me around." She said with a sarcastic shrug

"No, I didn't mean it like that. It's just you must be so busy with reforming Onimitsukido and the work load as acting Captain of the second division."

Soifon smiled quietly "You're right. I am very busy, but I figure that it can wait one night. You and Shinjiro are very important to me and today is a very important day for the both of you. The two of you have just made a very big step forward into becoming fully-fledged Shinigami. I think that warrants a little celebration, don't you think?"

Subaru was very flustered at what she was saying; because, while it was a very endearing gesture, she also didn't want her to get in trouble too. Sparing another glance at her, she started to lean towards accepting the invitation, since it had been quite a while since she last saw her. "You're right. Let's go get Shin and forget about things for a while."

The captain laughed, "You're a little behind on that Subaru. He was done with his Shikai exam way before you. He's actually waiting for us at the ramen stall."

At the mentioning of the ramen stall, Subaru's eye brows furrowed "We're going out for ramen? Geez, I thought this was supposed to be a celebration! You know, fun activities, beautiful music, good food, why so stingy, Princess Fon?" she joked airily

The captain gave a playful scowl "Watch it, Vassal."

She held her hands up defensively "Okay, okay, but seriously, why there?"

"Well, I could get away with us eating at a ramen stand together, but if I were to take you guys out to some fancier place, I'd certainly hear about it later on in the gossip columns. I don't want the school to think you had help in your scholastic examination and hold you back." She explained stoutly

The student fell silent as she nodded her head in understanding. While it didn't have any underhanded intent, it would certainly raise questions if word got out that a captain was buying dinner for graduating students at some big name restaurant. A simple ramen dinner with friends would be less conspicuous since a good portion of students would be doing a similar thing with friendlier reapers the next couple of days. "So when do we leave?"

Soifon smiled before vanishing in front of her eyes. Quickly scanning the area, Subaru saw the woman on top of a nearby corridor. "Right now, I hope your flash steps are up to par!"

With that, the woman vanished, leaving the other to play catch-up. For Subaru, it was a welcome change to forget all about stress and the tests involved in student life and just enjoy herself. The two raced across Soul Society, while staying under the spiritual radar, the chase continued for another five more minutes, before they came across a small little shack.

The delicious smell of ramen filled the air and it seemed that one of the patrons, who was probably Shinjiro judging by the sound of his voice, was talking with the owner. Pushing aside the tarp, the conversation came to a halt. Shinjiro, who was looking over his shoulder, turned out of his chair and gave a warm hug to his wife. "Hey Su glad to see that you could join us!"

"Hey Shin." She returned lovingly before she took a glance at the near empty stall "Where is everyone? I thought people would be out celebrating."

Shinjiro laughed as Soifon took a seat beside him "I may not look it, Subaru, but when I need to find something, or somewhere, I'm pretty tenacious."

"Must've come from all those months running around Rukongai. You couldn't find your way around three street corners before getting lost." Subaru joked

"I wasn't lost! I just…needed extra time to reorient myself!" the samurai declared hotly "I'm a guy who learns thing by hands-on repetition: A kinesthetic learner!"

"Kinesthetic learner?" Subaru repeated appraisingly "That's a new one."

Shinjiro crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow "Hey, you're not the only person who can use big words at the drop of a hat." he defended

"Oh?"

The man smiled brightly "That's right, I can I also use words of hefty; words belonging to a finer class of individual. (2)"

The woman crossed her arms "Such as?" Now she was curious

"Longitudinal."

"Longi…tudinal?" The woman repeated a small smile cracking unto her face

"Yes, the abdominal muscles are a group of muscles that stretch in a longitudinal fashion from the pelvis up to around the lower end of thoracic cavity." The man phrased

"…" the woman looked pensive 'Okay that was pretty good.'

"Or another word: Dynamism."

"Dynamism…?" that one threw her for a loop, was it anything like dynamic?

The man nodded his head and continued, "The dynamism and strength of an economy will determine whether or not a recession or economic boom will occur within a predictive future."

"…" the woman merely raised her eyebrows at that one. Despite his calm outward demeanor, she could practically hear the underlying smirk, and in her opinion, it was well earned.

"I got another one. It's called: TRANS-DIVERSIFICATION!" He declared proudly, a winning grin on his face.

"Trans-diversification…" She was barely able to hold in her laughter 'Hehe…What…the hell does that even mean? Ahahaha…'

"Mmhmm. I'm capable of using these and many other archaic words to great effect." He replied forcing the girl to stifle her laughter.

"What would I do without you and the joy you give me?" the woman asked herself quietly, as she tried to put back on her game face, which kept getting ruined by her mirth. "O-hh hahaha, o-okay, so then Shinjiro 'Know-it-all' Taiga, would you care to inform your lowly wife, why you don't bother to use your 'words of a finer class' more often?" Subaru challenged, her opinion of her husband once again soaring by his occasional unpredictability.

"Because: If I were to talk like that every day, people would have trouble communicating with me. Sometimes it's best to just get to the point." He offered, "Sides it's a lot less to remember."

The man's wife immediately broke into a fit of laughter. That was typical Shinjiro right there, very brief moments of sophistication smothered in casual pragmatism with a side of human compassion and sympathy. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry." She apologized as she wiped away a tear of joy from her eye. "I don't give you nearly enough credit, my love. You still astound me." The grinning woman conceded as she held her hands up in defeat, while the man winked cheekily.

Soifon chuckled to herself as she had overheard them. Turning to the owner, she asked, "Tell me do you by chance sell alcohol at this establishment?"

The rough looking man smirked confidently "Only during this time of the year. What's your pleasure?"

The captain glanced to her left and right, seeing the two arguing playfully, she answered with, "Your best."

"Not a problem." He chuckled as he turned away and began to mix some drinks while the noodles cooked.

The merry atmosphere at the stand went on for hours, all of them joking about stupid things that other students or co-workers did, venting about how there was a clear lack of capable people, and their future aspirations once the current power vacuum stabilized more.

This continued until Soifon decided to ask about the one thing that brought this night together. "So, since we're all here, do you want to show off your Zanpaktous?" she asked, as she took another swig from her sake.

"Umm…I…" Subaru glanced down at her sword, embarrassed to show it off. "I don't think it's a good idea…" she whispered

"COWARD!" a drunken Shinjiro roared, from the far left side of the food stall, freaking the girls out. His enraptured conversation with his food about the meaning of life abruptly ended when the good captain brought up swordsmanship. "A REAL MAN NEVER TURNS DOWN A CHALLENGE! EVEN CHALLENGES INVOLVING FIGHTS TO THE DEATH!"

"F-fights to the death?" A bewildered Subaru asked, 'Wait…did he just call me a man!?'

"Yes! Especially fights to the death!" the drunken man reinforced much to everyone's confusion. He then swiveled around before hopping off his chair and walking out of the stall into the flat gravelly road outside.

"Samurai-san, what are you doing!?" Subaru couldn't help but ask, slightly trying to distance herself from him.

"How dareith you speak as if you know me! I am not just ANY Samurai!" the man declared proudly as he brought his foot back and hand towards the other side of his scabbard "I am the nephew of naval commander Ichiro Ogami! I AM THE SHINJIRO TAIGA!" he yelled, as he drew his blade and did a few ferocious swings, before bringing the blade back to shoulder height "THE GODS FEAR MY NAME! MY SWORD PLAY IS PEERLESS! (3)"

From inside the stall Soifon quietly leaned into Subaru's ear "You never told me Shinjiro got this hot blooded when drunk…"

The mortified woman sank further into her chair, quietly wondering if she was being set up by the two of them, using the sake to get her to loosen up. "I didn't know that either. He doesn't drink at all." she responded before sulking her head "…and after this he never will." She quietly promised

"You know. Just for this little display. You can consider this on the house." The stall manager said, as he leaned over the counter to see the drunken swordsman making all kinds of slashing motions with his blade accompanied by oral sound effects.

"Where are you going?" the captain asked the quiet girl, as she got up from her chair

"To bring him back to planet earth." She then paused "Or to die a quick, embarrassment free, death on his sword…I'm hoping the latter."

As she stepped outside, where her husband was having a life and death struggle against an invisible opponent, the girl quietly looked back at the two stall occupants, who just smiled and waved, reinforcing that she was in reality and needed to put a stop to this. "S-Shinjiro." She muttered weakly, half hoping he would violet turn around and end her embarrassment.

"Ah! Subaru-koibito you've come!" the elated man lit up, his ability to now recognize her more clearly coming from an obvious increase in lucidity, as opposed to his initial drunken high.

"I am most glad to see you've worked up the heart to reveal your Zanpaktou to us all. I exalt your efforts, so in return I will show you this Vassal's weapon that will rend worlds!" He then jutted out his free hand, which held…a belt?

"Behold! The Elysium Sky Dragon of Invincibility (4)! To know its name is to know true power Su-chan!"

"…" The woman's eyes cautiously moved from the man's beaming face to his belt before pointing at it. "That Shinjiro…is a belt." She then leaned in to get a closer look "Actually, now that I get a good look at it, that's the belt I bought you a while ago."

The man turned away from his sword hand and examined the object in his other hand "Are you sure?" the man furrowed his brow "It does look like the something-something of…something."

The woman closed her eyes painfully for a moment "How about we take a seat, dear?" she offered as the man nodded his head complaining of a slight headache.

Upon returning to the stall, the duo received a loud round of applause from the thoroughly amused patrons.

"Way to stop the savage swordsman, Miss. We can all sleep easy tonight."

"I concur. Your actions today are the stuff of legend."

"I hate you both." Subaru shot back as she helped Shinjiro into the chair.

"Ugghh…" the man groaned before shaking his head quickly "My head kinda hurts…what happened?"

'He sobered up already!?' "You got drunk, Shinjiro." Soifon informed quite surprised by his sudden lucidity "Are you…alright?"

"I think so…"

"Damn." The owner whistled as he cleaned a bowl "Never knew a guy who could drink that much and flush it outta him like you kid. You'd make a killing at a drinking competition."

Shinjiro glanced curiously at the man before turning to the two girls who nodded in confirmation to the owners' story. "Weird. Last thing I remember was us talking about the Shikai trial…"

"Yeah. Soifon was wondering how the two of us did and…well…"

"(Snort) 'Elysium Sky dragon', hmhmhmhm." the captain muttered

"I'm sorry?" the samurai asked unsure of what she meant

"Nothing Shin-kun." Subaru interjected with a smile, while Shinjiro was feeling even more locked out of the loop.

"So I never did get an answer to that question." Soifon reminded the duo "How did you do?" she leaned against the counter "Care to show me?"

Subaru felt the crushing weight of expectancy fall on her again. So doing what she would have deemed stupid, considering what had just happened, she turned to Shinjiro. "Since you're sober now, why don't you go first, honey?" She muttered, hoping that maybe if his was kinda lame too, she wouldn't feel so bad about hers.

"Okay." He said as he slid out of the chair. Drawing his sword, he cried, "Show them their humanity, Masamune!"

The onlookers watched, as the blade…didn't do anything.

Seeing that the people behind him were waiting on him, the man started jiggling his sword in his hand "Hey! Wake up! Come on, don't do this to me now!" he jiggled it again "Show them their humanity, Masamune! Come on. Go, go now! Do it."

The man sweat dropped when still nothing happened. "I swear it was working earlier!" he cried over his shoulders.

"Did you reseal your Zanpaktou back to Asauchi state after sheathing it?" Soifon asked, the embarrassed samurai

"Agghh…" the man lowered his head defeatedly "How…do you do that again…?"

Soifon let out a sigh, "Who would have thought that Shinjiro would be one of the few who doesn't know how to turn off their Zanpaktou." She muttered more to herself than the others "Shinjiro, starting tomorrow, you need to get in contact with your Zanpaktou spirit. He or She will tell you the proper way to reseal your Shikai into Asauchi state. From what I can tell, you've had your Shikai out this entire time, which is not a good thing for a prospective Shinigami. The other Taichō's might assume that you lack discipline or don't pay attention to important details, which isn't true."

"Yes, ma'am." The samurai muttered, as he quickly returned to his seat and desperately wanted to disappear.

"Alright. Your turn." The woman said, as she looked at the other graduating student.

"Huh? Uhh sure." She replied, before jumping out of her seat. She slowly slid her short sword out of its sheath in front of her audience and gripped the blade tightly. She closed her eyes tightly, praying for it to work, before opening her mouth to speak.

It was then that she drew the ultimate blank.

Unlike Shinjiro, who could at least make an attempt, Subaru realized she had no idea what the heck her Zanpaktou release phrase was. "I…ahh…" she floundered

'Lament your fate and change the outcome, Norn.' A voice said from inside her

'Is that you Norn?'

'Yes, it is us. We happened to hear of your predicament and we apologize. We were so caught up we had forgotten to tell you this.'

"We're waiting." The captain said as she folded her arms, while the other two wished her luck.

"R-right! Ahh…" she tried to stall

'Since my medium is out of the sheath, hold it over your heart and say the words.'

Quickly following the advice, Subaru held the weapon over her heart, blade pointing down. "Lament your fate and…umm change the outcome." She recited quickly. When nothing happened the woman quickly added the name of her Zanpaktou.

The gathered watched the blade curiously; but when nothing changed, the younger woman's eyes went down to her feet, underneath the gaze of her peers. 'Why aren't you working!?' she screamed inwardly, trying not to make the same display Shinjiro just had.

'There is no 'umm' in our incantation, Kujo. If you must blame someone for the failure, blame yourself. We were explicit in our instruction.' Came the cool rebuttal

"Ugghh…" the woman groaned, as she brought a hand over her face. This was going to be a very looong partnership. "Okay. I know what I did wrong. Give me a second." She informed them "Lament your fate and change the outcome, Norn."

This time around, the blade responded and the edge shrank down considerably; while the hilt gained a slight curve, bending into the young students' hand. When the weapon had finished changing; instead of the beaming pride at knowing she had gotten Shikai, she was burning in shame at seeing how lame her weapon must look.

Even comparing to Shinjiro's and Soifon's, the other two at least had length, if nothing else. Her's was a glorified butter knife compared to a gauntlet and katana. "T-tada…h-here it is." She said weakly, just waiting for the ridicule to come hurling her way.

"Why are you talking so fast?" Shinjiro asked as he just barely caught what she said.

"Probably just nerves." The captain answered before sitting up in her chair "It seems to be quite small."

Stab. Kujo felt the words dig into her.

"That's one way to put it missy." The owner commented, scratching his head at the sight.

Stab. The woman lowered her head dejectedly.

The man jutted his thumb over his shoulder "Hey kid! If you want I got a spare butcher knife in the back."

Stab. She flinched slightly, while Shinjiro shot a dirty look at the man

The perpetual cloud of negativity hanging over the girl darkened considerably with that little comment. Subaru had never felt more like a failure than this very moment. After so many years of struggling in Rukongai and then finally succeeding in an academy, that would give her the opportunity to turn her life around, all she had to show for was being the ass of a joke.

Seeing the obviously disheartened girl, Shinjiro walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder "Su. It's okay. It happens to all of us."

"I wouldn't care, if it wasn't important Shin." She argued her voice growing distraught. "This was my one chance to actually do some good over on this end and I just… (Sniff)…"

The man gazed sadly into her eyes before embracing her "Stop being so hard on yourself. No matter what happens I'm always going to be by your side."

"But Shin this is-"

"Just the first step." He chided, "Look, we're not even graduated yet, much less have a chance to prove ourselves when it counts, so there's no sense going doom and gloom over one underwhelming result."

"…"

"Look on the bright side. How many other students tried to get Shikai today and failed?" the man asked rhetorically "Way too many to count. You did something that most people don't get on the first try."

Subaru grunted demurely, since she could see what he was trying to say. Shinjiro stepped to the side and poked his thumb at Soifon. "She certainly doesn't care that your Zanpaktou looks lame, besides it probably takes a little practice before you learn what it can do. So cheer up."

Glancing back from her husband, the woman saw that Soifon had a friendly expression on her face, definitely not the scrutinizing image she had in her head. "Thanks Shinjiro." She muttered, as she felt the pressure in her mind begin to ease.

With a confident smile, Shinjiro stepped away and called out to Soifon "Hey! How about we pack it in for the night?"

"Really? You're tired already?" the captain asked mildly surprised

Subaru quickly turned to Shinjiro "No, it's okay. I'm fine." She said reassuring him that she was feeling better now "Soifon, how about you tell us how your Shikai exam went."

Instead of a look that seemed to consider the idea, Subaru and Shinjiro only saw a look of pure confusion on her face. Slowly, she turned to the stall owner "Did you understand what she just said?"

The owner shook his head "Nope. All I got was blahblurghblah. Does that girl normally get so fast at speaking?"

"What?" the married couple asked the other, gazing curiously since they understood what she said.

Being the specialist in speed, Soifon's discerning eye quickly went to Kujo's knife Shikai, which was still out. "I wonder." She whispered "Shinjiro." She called while the man looked at her "Kindly step away from Subaru." She then pulled out her Anken "I wish to see something."

Trusting her completely, the samurai took several more steps away from his wife, as she looked at Soifon quizzically. "Subaru, see these Anken." She raised her hand slightly "I'm going to toss them at you. I want you to focus only on these and catch them."

"Ohhhkaaay." Subaru answered unsure of where this was going.

Thus, it started with a single light toss that Subaru easy grabbed. She looked at Soifon who told her to drop it, and so she did. A few more seconds passed before Subaru jumped up and caught the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

Soifon kept her eye on Subaru's form, calculating that she was starting to get into a routine and was ready for the next. 'Now.' She thought as she raised her last Anken up and threw it barely a foot in front of her.

To the surprise of everyone, minus Soifon, Subaru appeared on her knees in front of the woman, Anken firmly in her grasp barely an inch off the ground.

"Wow, that was really good Subaru." Shinjiro praised, while the owner clapped his hands at the accomplishment, missing the bigger picture like the others.

Subaru looked up at Soifon "Why did you throw it there!?"

A cocky smile started forming unto the captain's face "I think the question is: How did you catch that?" she said which got a confused look "I measured the distance. There's no way you should have been able to catch this before it hit the ground."

Now Subaru's eyes widened. She was right. She remembered seeing the blade fall downward and that she tried to race over and dive for it, which she had. In all actuality, the blade should have hit the ground long before she got to it, using a flash step to try to cross the distance hadn't even entered her mind. "You're right."

"I think. You do have a Shikai with an ability that belies its appearance." She informed as she reached down and took the throwing knife "I do believe that it augments your speed, which would also explain why you talk so fast, because you can't control it and it's affecting the way you talk, hear, everything about you really." She stood up and looked over at Shinjiro, who was collecting the knives near him. "Although, it seems I can understand you, if I'm at extreme proximity to you. Perhaps, a side effect from your lack of mastery?"

"So…I do have a Shikai?" Subaru asked barely containing her excitement 'A not lame one…?'

The captain was momentarily confused, "I never said you didn't." She answered "but yes." Her voice warmed up "You have a Shikai from what I can tell."

"I have one." She muttered to herself "A not lame one?" A quivering smile started to form "A possibly useful one…?" She then quickly turned around and started skipping. "Yes. YES! YES, YES, YES!" she squealed in delight, as she ran over and glomped Shinjiro from behind. "Oh my god! Yes! Taiga Shinjiro, I love you so much!" she exclaimed, rapidly planting kisses all over his cheeks and lips, not caring in the slightest who saw her.

The startled man soon turned to mush under the woman's passion; basking blissfully, in the delight of his otherwise taciturn wife's now liberal abuse of her public display of affection privileges. Quickly wrapping his arm around his very special lady's hips; he shot Soifon and the ramen stand owner a huge thumbs up with his free hand that clearly said: 'Operation Wingman: Success. Thank-you for whatever booze you allowed her.'

Soifon sweat dropped at the waterfall crying man, while the bar owner flashed him a solid thumbs up back. Turning her back, the second division leader sat back in her chair. "Intimacy between two people of varying ranks is heavily frowned upon you two. So, you might want to consider cutting your habit of public display of affection, post-graduation."

"But we're married!" they pouted at the girl, who smiled knowingly.

"You are." She acknowledged serenely, before her devilish smirk widened "But I still don't need to see that."

Subaru scowled, before turning back to her lover. "Just ignore her Shin. She's just jealous." The man's wife stated playfully.

"What was that?" she asked dangerously, her reiatsu rising slightly at her joke.

"Subaru was just saying that as long as I'm here you won't have to accept the marriage proposal between you and Omaeda-san."

"Ugghh, way to kill my appetite, Taiga." The woman groaned from the reminded of her Fukutaichō's latest attempt to win her favor.

The woman would admit: The large nobleman was at least polite when meeting her and her father, and he was admirably persistent in his pursuit for courtship with her, but she just wished that he showed the same level of commitment at work; instead of blowing his duties, or getting crumbs in her hair. If he lost a little weight, actually got serious about work, and maybe slightly improved on his general attitude, he would certainly make a very good suitor to anyone in her opinion.

Contrary to popular belief, she really was not a hard woman to please; albeit, admittedly, apathetic and clueless to genuine romance. It also wasn't as if people lined up outside her front door, waiting for a chance to 'sweep her off her feet' as her friends put it; presumably, unlike the beautiful and caring Doctor Unohana, or the glamorous and friendly Lieutenant of squad ten, who people might hand and feet for.

Still, if prince tubby, or any other would be suitors, weren't capable of getting the hint that she wasn't gonna go along with them, she could rest easy knowing that Shinjiro Taiga was the best guard dog a girl could ask for. "Come on, you two. Don't leave a girl to drink her sorrows away by herself."

And so the two did. Rejoining the captain, having a few more booze, and sharing some more laughs. The good evening seemed to be cut all too short when the owner informed them that he had to close up shop, since it was nearly 23:48. So, with a slight wobble in the trio's step, they said their goodbyes and parted ways, Shinjiro making sure that Subaru got to her room all right, before lights out and then soldiering off in…hopefully the correct direction to his dorm.

(That Night: Subaru)

After what felt like several hours of undisturbed sleep, Subaru started to hear a noise; it was distant and faint at first, but with each passing second, it gradually began to grow, it sounded like numerous crisp pieces of paper being crumpled up into a ball, one sheet at a time.

The student did her best to try to ignore the noise that seemed to crinkle in her ear. First: by tossing and turning on her sides to put distance from it. When that didn't work: her arm reached up from behind her head and wrapped the pillow around. Again, to no avail.

Finally, she turned on her stomach and brought the pillow over her head, brought her arms over the top to keep pressed down, and nuzzled her forehead into her forearm.

The result was less than satisfactory, as the noise continued to prevail, and was now accompanied by a sudden almost unbearable swell in temperature.

'Ugghhh…it's like an oven in here.' The tired woman thought to herself, as she cracked open an eye under her pillow. "God, please don't tell me the Air Conditioning is out again…not now with a humid summer approaching…" the woman let out a tired groan, quickly coming to the conclusion that complaining wasn't going to fix the temperature problem, and begrudgingly got out of bed to open the window for a breeze.

Removing the pillow from above her head, she was surprised to find the area around her covered in a dim, flickering, orange light. That was certainly odd; she didn't own a hand lamp and the bathroom and room light were too bright to create this effect.

It was then that a moment of clarity came to her, as she looked down at the now illuminated area. Her bed was not an earth brown.

As she moved her arm against the dusty surface, she concluded that the substance was earthy brown because it was dirt. 'What the? Where's my bed?' she thought to herself, as she laid the pillow down beside her and pushed herself off the floor.

As she got up, the girl looked to her side and froze. Not even five feet from her was some large debris that was on fire.

Acting on instinct, the girl quickly rolled away from it. "Is the dorm on fire!?" she whispered to herself, as she looked around her and saw crumbled walls and lots of small bonfires. She was about to rise up and make a run for it, before she remembered that smoke rose upward and could be even more harmful than the fire around her.

Taking note of that, the girl started to crawl away in the direction that her door would be. After getting about fifteen feet, she looked back and saw that the blaze was making no effort in spreading. Glancing upward to check the ceiling to avoid any falling objects, she was surprised to find that the ceiling was gone, only the starry night sky remained.

'How is that possible?' she wondered to herself. She lived on the second floor of the dorm; if the sky was visible, then something must have happened to floors three through five and that didn't take into account where the other dorms were. The mystery just seemed to deepen as she stood up; no longer fearing smoke inhalation.

"Heeeellllooo? Is anyone out there? Shinjiro-kuuuuun? Shaolin-saaaamaaa?...anyone?" she called out, her voice getting fainter with each name. She felt really uneasy, when the silence was the answer to her calls. Diverting her attention away from the failure, she decided to get a feel for her surroundings. "Where am I?" she whispered breathlessly.

Large walls with faded white paint surrounded her, some of it broken revealing paths on the other side, while others had smoldering flames on the rafters above it. Looking ahead of her, the path seemed to come to some kind of four-way intersection, in the distance was a crumbled tower.

Though she could not put her finger on it, all of this seemed rather familiar to her.

Look back at where she started; she saw that aside from her pillow there was nothing else of hers. "Great." She whispered, as she shifted her body weight to one side, clutching her exposed shoulders defensively.

No tools to help her, or protection against the fire, or what caused them, no idea where she was or what was going on. She didn't even have socks or sandals to cover her bare feet; she had nothing, except for the flimsy, thin, sweat-damp and dusty, one-piece nightgown currently covering her body. "Juuust great."

Wiping the cold sweat off her face, she clenched her hands into a clammy fist and cautiously hugged the wall to get over to the intersection, where she could maybe find a safe haven. As she reached the end of the wall, she gazed down the path closest to her and saw a trail of blood that disappeared into an impenetrable darkness 'Not going that way.' She thought to herself, as she carefully started moving away from that road.

Stepping off the earthy dirt, her entire body shivered upon making contact with the cracked ice-cold tile floor. Once she was over her reaction, she looked at the tower in the distant path in front of her. It looked harmless enough, but a sense of dread was pulling in her gut and she felt inclined to listen for now.

Turning her eyes at the third choice, she could see that the path was filled with pockets of burning debris, small enough where it was certainly passable and numerous enough to illuminate her way. So without any more considering she went down the path, mindful of her step to avoid the fires, or any sharp broken materials like glass.

As she made her way through the warmer passage, a loud maniacal laughter exploded in the night air, the sound seemingly coming from all sides. What truly unnerved her was shortly after the laugh died down, the loud unmistakable roars of Hollows filled the night.

Automatically, her hand flung to her side and she once again came back to the reality that she was unarmed, and now, in hostile territory. "Oh, shit." She muttered to herself, as she raised her fists back up to her chest.

A feeble attempt to fight off her rising terror.

Looking ahead to her destination, she picked up her pace, while trying to keep the noise of her feet against the tile down, lest it give away her position. This was the ultimate test in finding the perfect balance between stealth and speed.

Once again, the loud laughter from before echoed into the night; however, this time, from a distance behind her, an explosion, probably from a now collapsed wall, reverberated through the corridor.

That sound was soon drowned by the loud booming roar that followed; even though there was perceptible distance, the sheer force and intensity was not only strong enough to make Subaru's hair and her thigh length sleeping gown flutter in front of her, but also blew out the rest of the patches of fire on her path.

Once her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Subaru automatically looked back in the direction she came, only to see all the once lit bonfires that dotted the corridor extinguished, and the sounds of lumbering footsteps coming her way; each step rocking the woman's body and nearby rubble just a little bit more than the last step.

Although she couldn't see it, she knew this was no ordinary hollow.

This was a gigantic monster-killing predator.

Despite her mind telling her not to, she threw caution to the wind and sprinted as fast as she could down the alleyway. Within a matter of moments, she came across another four-way intersection.

Her terror-consumed mind barely gave her a chance to gander at her options, all she could think about was the footsteps drawing closer to her. Another loud roar from behind her suggested that the monster seemed to have noticed the scent of prey as the sound of its steps turned into a rough four-legged charge.

Picking the nearest one, she continued her escape, not willing to wait around to give whatever was behind her a chance to catch her. She followed it all the way down and quickly turned the corner, pressing herself against the wall, desperately catching her breath in the shroud of darkness.

A loud crunching noise emanated above her as a white gigantic claw dug into the wall above, easily tearing into the material, grinding it into dust. The woman was shaking in terror. She couldn't understand how it had caught up to her so quickly or why she didn't hear it coming down the hallway. The even-paced rumbling of its approaching footstep brought Subaru back to the situation at hand.

Looking to her left, she saw a small corridor just a few feet away from her, quietly she sidled over to the escape. The large hand came down where she had been, crushing the tile flat before moving up to the rafters.

Subaru glanced back to see a large dinosaur-like set of jaws coming around the corner. As she slipped around the other corner, the beast finally got a view of the corridor it was sure it's quarry had fled down. Its golden eyes pierced the darkness as the beasts mouth let out a loud predatorial roar.

Subaru sank to her knees as her entire body shook upon just hearing the monster's thunderous shout from such close range. She clutched her hands over her mouth and pressed hard lest the sound of chattering teeth give away her position to her monstrous stalker.

She heard the creature take a few steps closer down the hallway, its large jaws now in her view. Triangular teeth the size of small televisions attached to a humongous white reptilian jaw.

She could tell that despite the darkness obscuring the finer points of this hollow, that judging it just by the things she had seen so far and inferring upon it being a correct proportional size, she could confidently say: The rest of the creature was easily large enough to rip her in half with a single bite.

Subaru sat against the wall in the fetal position, tears running down her face. Her soul consumed with despair that she might be trapped in this hell-scape, powerlessness in that she had no control of the situation or the means to gain a sense of security, and fear at the proximity between her and the Hollow and the prospect of a horribly painful and gruesome death just moments, a slight noise, away.

Her stalker waited patiently with a resonating guttural growl, no doubt trying to scare her enough to give away her position, like most of its previous meals, but after a few minutes of inaction the large monster's jaws retreated back around the corridor; it's owner turning around and returning the way it came for different prey.

As the sound of giant steps began to dwindle in the distance, Subaru forced her body to move. After a few unsuccessful attempts at moving her limbs, she managed to work out of her clumsy staggering crawl to running down the corridor she originally intended; within a few moments, she came to a brightly illuminated area.

The embers of the nearby rubble gave her a reassuring moment of respite. In the back of her mind, she knew that with these monsters around, she'd be much easier to see, but the comforting light was what she really needed after so narrowly swallowed by darkness.

Putting her back to a wall beside a corridor, she slid down to catch her breath and re-steeled her nerves. "Okay, calm down Subaru. You're safe. Safe…" She whispered to herself, as she wiped the sweat and tears off her face with her forearm. With another breath of relief, she glanced into the nearby fire and watched it dance listlessly. Her eyes started to feel heavy and cumbersome, so she closed them, no need to expend excess energy keeping them open.

After a minute or two, her breathing slowed down, while she started to lose feeling in parts of her body. Initial, she was worried, but when there wasn't a burst of pain, she relaxed; she stayed like that, just casually breathing with her eyes closed and listening to the fire.

However, it came to an abrupt end when she felt her head fall forward "No! No. Stay awake. Don't get distracted." She sputtered, as she tried to move her limbs, realizing what she was doing, what she had almost done. "Focus. Focus on the situation." The woman straightened her body back up to match her alert state. "Okay. Think. Think. Where am I? There are lots of Hollows and there are buildings here. I'm dead, so this isn't the human world, and Rukongai doesn't have these kinds of construction materials, so I've got to be in Seireitei."

The trainee Shinigami pushed her hair back with a dust-covered hand "Okay. So there has to be a Shinigami around, alive or dead doesn't matter. I just need to get a Zanpaktou. I might not be able to wield it due to differences in personality and spiritual weight, but if I can just get one, I can get access to areas I couldn't before and maybe…maybe I can survive this nightmare." Softly, she stood back up on her feet and dusted herself off, to prevent a trail leading to her and temporarily help fight her fatigue.

"Pull it together, Subaru. I can get through this. I will get through this. I just need to be patient and extra careful." Leaning against the wall that led her here, she listened carefully, trying to discern for any more Hollow noises like footsteps or roars.

When she heard none, she looked to the path ahead, 'I haven't seen any sign of Shinjiro or Shaolin...and with all these terrible monsters here….' Her face fell at the thought 'God…I don't know if you're really out there, but if you are please. Please. Let them be safe.'

Taking one last breath, she turned her stealth mindset back on. Quietly, she walked down the corridor, keeping a careful eye behind her, while the blazes around her allowed her shadow to creep the wall beside her. She didn't have to go very far before she walked into a courtyard. Looking around, she was pleased to find a landmark in the distance; not just any landmark, it was Sokyoku hill. She stared at the execution ground before it hit her.

The Seireitei was just one big circle and the angle and direction that the plateau was pointing in was telling her where she was in relation to it. With a grateful smile, she discovered that she was in the general area of the second division barracks. "Thank-you god." She offered, as she judged the distance and believed that she would have to move closer to the hill, to hit the station.

As she made her way down the open area, she saw a large pile of rubble with metal pipes and other sharp assortments sticking out of it, but what caught her eye was the person pierced by the metal. "A Shinigami." She steeled herself, silently weighing the chances that a Hollow could be nearby and feeding on it against her ability to get the Zanpaktou and continue her journey.

After giving a rough feel for spiritual energy, she quickly ran over to the dead body. The closer she got the more the girl's eyes started to make out more and more of the person who was on pierced upon it. Judging by the person's body mass she easily crossed out the possibility that it was a man; a point proven further by two long swaying bands of hair, a clear female trait, if it was protruding from the back of the person's head. Once she was in twenty feet, her running slowly came to a halt.

"S-shaolin-dono?" she mouthed in horrified disbelief at seeing her sister impaled through her stomach by a support beam.

The woman made a beeline to her side and clutched her wrist trying to find a pulse only to find nothing. "No…" Climbing up on some of the debris, she looked into her sister's face and saw the pained look of her eyes, wide in disbelief as a stream of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.

She was without a doubt gone.

"Shaolin-dono…why?" whispered the grief-stricken woman, her shaking hand cupping her friend's cold cheek

"Ah, so there was another." A mysterious voice called from above the shocked woman.

As the girl turned around, she saw someone about thirty or so feet in the air, slowly descending to the ground. His brown hair slicked back with only a single strand going across the bridge of his nose. The man was wearing a white jacket with his collar turned up, over from what Subaru could make out a Shinigami Hakama, in his hand rested a sword most likely his Zanpaktou.

"Who are you?" she asked of the man, who seemed oddly familiar by most standards; though, she couldn't place the name or face.

"Why, 'Sosuke Aizen'. Surely you Shinigami haven't forgotten that name?" the man said in an almost smug tone, though Subaru was ignoring it for some answers.

'Sosuke Aizen? As in the Aizen-Taichō? Certainly looks different.' she thought to herself 'But if he's here then I can finally know what's going on.' She looked at captain "Aizen-san. What happened here? Where are we exactly? And what happened," she looked back at Soifon "to her?"

The man let out a small chuckle as if amused by a joke she had just said, "What happened? Simple, I did a little remodeling." His smile widened as the woman's head slowly turned back to him in horror.

"I couldn't very well become a god with this eye sore of a place still in the way so I…did away with it. As for where we are in case you haven't figured it out yet, we're in Soul Society or perhaps I should say what remains of it."

"And did you do this to her!?" she muttered darkly, as her fist clenched tightly and tears threatened to escape her for what she believed this man had done.

The man looked at the woman, before his memory kicked in "Ah, you mean about Soifon-Taichō. Shame really, I admired her loyalty to her duty, coupled with her good work ethic and competency, she possessed many extremely rare quality that I truly value." The mastermind said with such delight, it made his opposite sick to her stomach.

The man shook his head disappointedly "But…she was a little too loyal to turn and her Nigeki-Kessatsu was a rather troublesome obstacle that needed to be overcome." The dark smile from before re-emerged on his face "I personally find that the way I killed her to be deliciously ironic, impaled, by cold steel, just like all her previous victims found themselves before succumbing to her Zanpaktou ability."

"YOU BASTARD!" she screamed, as she jumped from her spot to try and hit the man who did this to one of the only people she respected or cared about in this world.

"Sit down dog." Aizen commanded as he released a small fraction of his spiritual energy causing her to slam against the ground at high speeds, knocking the wind right out of her.

"I...wi…kil…you…" she wheezed trying to prevent herself from being crushed too little avail.

The man's smile grew just a fraction more, thoroughly amused by the fool before him. "You? Kill me? Ha-ha, such a laughable display, you are nowhere near the level of power Ichigo Kurosaki possessed. He is the only one to have any sort of a chance to defeat me." He said smugly while Subaru struggled to look up at him.

The woman didn't know whom this 'Ichigo Kurosaki' was but if he was the only man that could end this nightmare and avenge her sister then there wasn't any choice at all except find him.

Although, right now, that thought took second prize after staying alive.

Unfortunately for her, the conqueror took note of the small surprise on her face, and the fleeting of her eyes. It was the look of someone formulating a plan, her perseverance and determination to try and defeat him after he obtained true power left an impression on him; however, she was also extremely misinformed, a trait that he had no tolerance for in a person.

"Oh I'm sorry. How rude of me to have given you false hope like that." He said mockingly as he stooped down to get a better look at her "Allow me to enlighten you on the whereabouts of Mr. Kurosaki." He then pointed a finger to the floor "He's currently six feet under. I killed him shortly after I escaped the imprisonment that he and his fellow Shinigami put me in; however, with all the people I've killed, you can see why it's rather difficult for me to keep track of whom I've killed in recent memory."

His smile soon gave way to a frown as he leaned closer to the downed woman's face brushing a tuff of her hair away from her eyes so he could see the futile squirming more "But your hope is long gone." He then pulled out Kyoka Suigetsu and held it just above her eye "Sleep tight, Shinigami-san." He then raised his weapon and brought it down on her quickly

(Mindscape)

"AAAAAAHHHH!" the woman shrieked, as she jumped up from her desk inside the library of her inner world, her heart racing a mile a minute. Not even bothering to glance around her, she immediately patted her face and then body to find that she was in fact still alive and unharmed. "(huff) (huff) W…what…was that?" she questioned herself about that…nightmare world.

"That was a vision of the past." The monotone of Norn informed the girl as it approached from behind her. When the statue was met with a confused stare, the spirit elaborated. "That was merely a memory repeated of what has already happened once before and will happen again."

"Once befor- wait-what do you mean 'again'? When did this happen in the first place!?" the violet haired girl questioned furiously trying to gain some kind of answer

"Calm yourself Kujo." the creature, commanded sternly "You are being overtly emotional!"

Wrong words.

"Overtly emotional? OVERTLY EMOTIONAL!?" she screeched as her eyes began to water uncontrollably "You're my damn Zanpaktou spirit, so I know you must have seen that nightmare world! How can…how can you be so robotic!? So indifferent to the smoldering remains of Seireitei?! How many people died while I was trying to stay alive?" she asked which was met with a lifeless stare "Answer me!?"

The girl dropped her head as the tears dripped from her face to her feet. "If you're really a part of me, then I don't know how you can stay silent when Shaolin was impaled on a fucking building by Aizen or how Shinjiro's disappearance didn't spur you to action."

She raised her furious sorrowful gaze at the statue "Are you really my Zanpaktou, Norn!? Or are you just a Hollow, masquerading as one!?" She yelled at the callous spirit

"Perhaps, we were too heavy handed with our words." the golden clock replied in the usual cool apathetic tone "We mainly represent the objective logic you possess. We understand the concepts of emotions and signs of stress, but we cannot empathize with them. The world is black and white to us. There is only one thing that truly matters and it is simple: choices. That is why we want you to calm down, to rationally think, and make a choice."

Subaru's burning gaze seared into the creature before it fell away. The girl balled her fists, and tried to understand what the creature was saying, before turning around and slamming her fist into the wooden desk.

The golden clock watched as the girl sat down in the chair, and silently fumed to herself for several minutes, before returning back to them with a calmer expression. "What choice exactly?" she asked with understandable impatience in her voice.

"That which you saw is going to happen once again. Your friend Shaolin Fon is fated to die once Aizen has achieved his goals. To be more precise for your convenience, she will not survive the upcoming war…however, if you so choose to intervene, perhaps she might live, but who is to say what will happen to both you and Soul Society."

'Shaolin is going to die…?' the young thief now started to truly take Norn's advice and calm down to think carefully. "Is there any way to stop it!? Like a super weapon or event to avert it?"

"History is vast and ever expanding, all reason lost to the brittles of time only to be uncovered centuries later and renewed by knowledge and enlightenment. The only one who has a chance of beating the one who calls himself Sosuke Aizen is the one called Ichigo Kurosaki."

Subaru remembered that Aizen had mentioned that exact same name before he 'killed' her, which meant her first course of action was clear "Then I'll find him!" she declared, not seeing anything wrong so far with her plan, but was quickly interrupted by Norn again

"How unfortunate, you were not listening. As I said all reasons are lost to time: desires, ambition, even abilities. The path has been slightly altered by our creator so who is to say that 'this' Ichigo Kurosaki will be the same man as before. The one who had died before was a powerful and noble soul, but what's to stop him from being weak now, or being just as corrupt as Aizen himself?"

Subaru looked away as she'd never met the man before and didn't have an answer to either question. Seeing her glance away, the statue continued, "You're a smart girl, what's even the statistical odds of you ending up running into him or recognizing him, need I even begin on holding a conversation? The Seireitei, Rukongai, and surrounding areas are huge, vastly, unexplored places, only a single percentile is known to geography, as you were taught in school. Let's not even begin on factoring him perhaps residing in the human, hollow and hell domains, areas which I remind you, you don't have unlimited free access to."

The girl let out a deflated sighed at the very true astronomical odd of actually catching a glimpse of him. "You have a point. I don't know" she admitted however her resolve wasn't going to waver "but I can at least try to save Shaolin. She deserves better after being betrayed by 'her'."

"'Her'?" the spirit muttered confused for a moment, by the odd phrasing. "Oh, you mean Yoruichi Shihoin?" the spirit said with a hint of amusement "If you had actually made the second right turn, you would have ran into her as she lay dying. Had you asked the right questions you would have learned from her that she wasn't really responsible for leaving your sister figure."

"That a lie!" shouted Subaru refusing to believe that woman had any good intentions to her sister "She abandoned her in her time of need! Shinjiro and I were the only true sense of normalcy she had left!"

"Truly? Then let us see." The clock floated to the center of the room and called out a name "Shihoin, Yoruichi."

As the name left the deities mouth, the bookshelves started to move around, shifting in violently quick motions before suddenly coming to a screaming halt; while Subaru was looking around in confusion as to what she saw, the Zanpaktou wavered close to the bookshelf closest to it and grabbed the book that was slightly ajar from the rest.

Clearing her throat they began to read it. "Chapter 1: The creation of a Flash Goddess. Yoruichi Shihoin was born as the heir of twenty-first leader: Watashe Shihoin and his wife: Amane Hojo, a former noble clansmen princess. It was on January first at approximately 12:01.37 am that she was born…" she then looked up from her reading to the stunned girl "Should I go on?"

The trainee was stunned, even she only knew about half of that and it was mostly in part of Shaolin, Norn had just delivered pinpoint information from out of nowhere. "How…what is that information?"

"I am the keeper of fate to which even the gods our bound too. I am the chronicler of history. I can't lie as I provide the unbiased view of history by telling of each individual life that lived. Although, you will only be able to view those whom you have personally seen. This is the reason why this library is ever expanding. It is filled with the everyday life of people. People such as…"

She paused, as the books shelves rearranged themselves again, and she picked out another book and held it out provocatively. It seemed unassuming at first but the title written on the spine was what stuck out the most "…yourself." She stated as she cracked up the tome.

"Chapter one: Subaru's birth. Subaru Kujo was born in-" she would have continued on, if not for the fact that Subaru grabbed the book from her hands and started to skim through it herself, rapidly flipping through the chapters. However, with each occasion that she stopped, upon seeing some significant event, she did a thorough examination and found that it was all true.

Everything from the inane, like the foods she ate on a particular day, or the mood she was in after something happened, to important details, like her perspective on how her death in New York occurred, or the way she had spent her time in the Soul Societies Rukongai districts, or the day she said her 'I do' with Shinjiro. When she came to about halfway of the book, she paused.

"It's blank." She whispered; turning the page, she found that it too was blank. She quickly repeated the page flipping right until the back cover. "Why are these pages all blank, Norn?"

The statue didn't even pause, "Because you are still alive, and your story is not over yet, thusly I cannot spoil a conclusion, lest I be wrong and you cheat death. As for the question as to why your book is a different size like many others…well consider them to be written like an autobiography. Some authors prefer only the highlights of their life, or have small anecdotes that reveal their demure personalities, while others believe their every action -from taking a shower to eating breakfast- are prophesies foretold by the gods, let's leave it at that."

Putting the book back on the shelf, the woman walked back to the desk and sat down her leg twitching up and down in nervousness from all her excess energy. "This is completely insane, but…"

The statues shook their collective heads in disagreement, "Belief or disbelief rests with you. We are telling you only the facts. What you do with it is your choice. Which brings us back to what you wish to do? As things stand, you can pretend this particular nightmare and meeting never happened at all. You will wake up in your bed and can continue along blissfully unaware and live out the destiny that you must." The trio expanded for the woman "Conversely, you can try to do something about the situations around you, no matter how pointless it might become. But there is one thing you should know."

"And what is that?" Subaru asked quietly unsure of what this unchanging constant.

"Regardless of your choice: in the end everyone is going to die, it's just a matter of how painful their respective end is." The statue slowly turned around as it decided to go back further into the archives that served as the woman's inner world "Return whence you came. Live and decide, knowing that death awaits you no matter what you do."

(SS: Subaru's room)

With a small shake of her body, Subaru opened her eyes to see the darkness of her room. Forcefully pushing her body up to avoid falling back asleep, Subaru quickly glanced at the small alarm clock that read 2:48 am. Swinging her legs around, she quickly stood up and allowed her eyes to adjust to the dark environment, before finding her way to the light switch near her door.

After illuminating her room, she quickly went back to her dresser and put on her academy clothes. Done with her changing, she grabbed her door key and exited, locking the door behind her before maneuvering as quietly as possible to the entrance of her dorm.

When she reached outside, she quietly ducked down behind some bushes to check ahead and make sure there wasn't any patrolling faculty, who could make her out due to her bright white clothing. Sure that the coast was clear, she ran across the field and into the building over where a portion of the male students stayed.

Upon reaching Shinjiro's floor, she carefully walked over to his door and started to tap against it, keeping the noise level to a minimum. Not hearing any noise from the other side, she knocked a little harder, this time she was rewarded with the sound of something shuffling and a groggy groan. She waited a few more seconds, but when the door didn't open, she proceed to kick the door and barked the name of the Shinigami inside.

"Cumin', Comin'." The man inside called, as he started to undo the lock to the door. Opening the door a crack, he stuck his head out and yawned. "Who turned off the sun?" he asked tiredly

A quick look of relief flushed over the girl's face, before she schooled her expression back. "Marvelous, you're up." She said quickly, helping herself into his room without his permission.

"Yeah, sure, go ahead." Shinjiro said uncaringly, sarcastically inviting her in after she helped herself. With a quick yawn, he closed the door and locked it again, while Subaru flicked the light switch causing the samurai to wince from the sudden light. "Urrgh, so what brings you here so late? (Yawn) Achully whuug (groan) mmm what time is it?" he asked slowly waking himself up.

"3:10 in the morning." she said glancing at a nearby clock in his room

"'Kay, so what brings you here at 3:10-"

"Correction 3:11 am."

"-right 3:11 in the morning." He corrected, as he tiredly wiped his hand down his face from the needless information. "Look, I really appreciate the visit Subaru-koibito (5), but we do have to prepare for graduation in two weeks, and I have kendo practice in like four hours, or whenever the sun comes up, (yawn)."

As he opened his eye from his latest yawn, he saw Subaru's face seem pale almost afraid. He asked what was up only for her to tell him to sit down on the bed beside her. After taking his seat, his wife began to relay to him everything that had happened in her 'vision' as Norn had put it and what Norn had told her about things going to repeat itself.

Shinjiro remained silent through the retelling, when Subaru finished speaking, and looked to him for some kind of reaction, he promptly laughed aloud pissing the woman off.

"I'm telling you what I saw Shinjiro!" She argued. Furious that he of all people was laughing in her over what she considered to be a matter of great urgency. "Sosuke Aizen is going to betray and conquer Soul Society, he's evil!"

"Really?" he asked with undermining sarcasm, "Aizen-Taichō? Evil?" another chuckle escaped him. "Oh man, how much Sake did you drink at the stall, when I wasn't looking?" his hand darted up, telling her to stop when she looked ready to respond "Ehehe wait, wait, wait. Let me guess the next part: Shaolin's Fukutaichō…hehe…Omaeda, he, he became the spirit king afterward (snort) and he made it, aha, he made it rain rice crackers every day? Hehe, I'm right aren't I, ha-ha? Come on, I'm totally right aren't I!? Ahahaha!" The man busted out laughing so hard he started to cry.

As he started to calm back down, he wiped the tears out of his eyes, but most definitely not the smile off his face. "Ahhh~ man. But in all seriousness, didn't you say at one point you thought he was kinda cute, and basically the perfect man? What happened to you school crush?" The man joked trying to relieve the woman of her obvious nightmare.

His words however hurt the girl deeply. "Damn you, Shinjiro!" She snapped at him angrily at being told that he thought she had a bit too much to drink. "I'm not making this up! Why won't you believe me!?"

The man smiled casually "'Cause this is just downright unbelievable."

"Shinjiro…" the woman pleaded, her anger replaced by an unsettling fear. Never had Shinjiro shown such flippancy when it came to her making warnings. Deep down inside, she knew she couldn't fault him, but still…this…this hurt.

"P-please Shinjiro." She clutched his arm with her shaking hands and rested her forehead against his shoulder "I need you to believe me." She looked up and stared at him with a horrified expression he'd never seen before. "I may tell half-truths a lot, but I have never lied to you, Shinjiro. Never. Please I beg of you, I can't do this alone. I'm scared Shinjiro, I don't know what to do…please (sob) please don't turn your back on me now."

"Subaru." The samurai's expression dropped from jovial to complete concern. He knew it was a rare moment when his wife would break down and beg for something. The man gently stroked her face to stop her from crying and then pulled her into a tight embrace "Okay, okay, calm down Subaru." He whispered into her ear as he rubbed her back "I'm sorry for making you cry."

The two remained like that for several minutes, before pulling away so that the woman could steady herself. "Subaru, I'm not saying I totally believe you-"

"Wha-"

"Stop and listen." He commanded fiercely "What you're saying is a major accusation." He explained carefully "Treason in Soul Society is punishable by death and were basing all this off a dream after a night filled with sake." The woman's eyes fell dejectedly since he was right.

The man touched her cheek and gazed at her kindly "I didn't say we wouldn't do anything, but we both know we don't want to go getting any innocent people killed because of a misunderstanding or a bad dream. So, that being said, let's take things slow, and find some evidence to prove your claim. First thing tomorrow we'll try and find…Aizen-Taichō, right?"

His wife nodded silently.

"Right. We'll find him and see what he does; if it's possible we'll go through his things, IF we do find anything 'evil'" he air quoted, "we'll take the evidence and raise the flag to Soifon, as the leader of the secret police force and execution squad, she can do things we can't, if she's got probable cause. If we don't find anything, we can just keep it between us and joke about five years from now as the bad dream that turned us into detectives. Does that sound like a plan to you?"

Subaru nodded again and spoke in a hoarse voice "Thanks. I knew I could count on you, Shin." She then got up from the bed to return to her room "Goodnight."

However, before the woman could take a single step Shinjiro stood up and got in front of her "No, you stay here tonight. We don't have to go to any more classes, so we can leave whenever we want." The man smiled brightly, warming the girl's heart "Besides, if that nightmare of yours comes back, I'd rather have you close instead of back in your room."

"I'll be okay Shin." She muttered, "It was just a bad dream. Hopefully."

"Subaru Kujo." He said more forcefully, making her look at him and see his obvious discontent. "Stay here; if not for your sake," his hands shook in genuine fear, which the girl very rarely saw. "then stay for mine."

The ex-thief's hand grasped her lovers and held it gently, "Okay." She acceded with a warm smile before leaning in and kissing him on his lips.

Parting from the tender kiss, the girl slunk to the end of the bed and pulled the blanket over her, taking in the sweet scent of her husband that remained on the pillow. Shinjiro kept his eyes on her to make sure she was secure before walking over and turning off the lights.

As he laid his head down on his pillow, he lightly brushed the hair of his love. He scooted a hair and brought his arms around her form, protective in his embrace. The young woman lightly clasped one of his hands as his calming aura washed over her. "I love you Shinjiro-kun." She muttered, her heart once again captured by his actions.

To her surprise, the man heard her whisper "I love you too, Subaru-hime."

(Eleven days later)

"Well, graduation is almost here and still he hasn't done anything, Su-chan…" Shinjiro commented dully, as the pair walked through the hallways to the faculty offices, where Aizen was currently assisting the school under the table in exchange for a 'sneak peek' at the prospective graduate students.

Despite the fact the Sotaichō made it well known he was not in favor of such mercenary attitudes, it wasn't an uncommon thing. The faculty, wanting all the help they could get with the work related to the incoming and outgoing students, rarely reported them. The students got to meet the 'Celebrities' of the Gotei 13 on a more casual level, and nearly every Taichō, with the exception of ever-accepting Unohana and to the 'T' Soifon, was willing to pull discrete favors, from simple charm to teaching, anything, to get the best and brightest students into their squad.

Still, while Yamamoto was aware the practice persisted, he did his best to make sure it was much more regulated as opposed to days past and the punishment just as harsh. Those he caught in violation to his words would be brought to the Captain's hall, where he would sit them down and deliver a long, thorough, tongue lashing for their unethical behavior…as he stacked heavy stone brick upon their knees.

Yes, it was a wonderful working system of order and most definitely not instituted in response to the Soul Society having to deal with yet another lawsuit filed against Kyoraku for sexual harassment.

Still, the woman grimaced at the truth in his words, in the near two weeks that the duo investigated, the man just seemed to radiate his usual saintly aura, unlike the menacing Overlord like personality she had described.

The pair would alternate ways of observing him: Sometimes, they would do it the old fashion way, by having one who would tail him for a while before switching off to the other to avoid suspicion. Other times, they'd utilize their status as students and volunteered to help him out at his office with work; taking advantage of the situation in the hopes of spotting some odd behavior or find messages that could create a solid connection to what Subaru had claimed.

So far all they could convict Sosuke Aizen for was: Being an outstanding Samaritan, who showed true patience in the face of adversity. Having an understandable mild aversion to groups of women, who chanted his name in high pitch squeals, wanted a picture of him, or more boldly, as the pair quickly found out, his progeny. A strange, borderline obsessive, desire to consume large quantities of herbal green tea, and lastly, an uncanny ability to beat the two of them silly in roughly eighty percent of all known games; involving a board or movable pieces.

"We can hold out until graduation. Just to be certain." She tried to reassure; although, deep down, she was pretty convinced this might have just been a wild goose chase all along. "Come on, Shinjiro."

"Fine, fine." He shook off as they approached Aizen's door. Gently knocking on the door Shinjiro asked for permission to enter. They waited a second, but when no answer came, he turned the knob.

The door swung open and the pair saw Aizen-Taichō holding a piece of paper in each hand. It was fairly obvious that the man was concentrating so hard on its content to make a good decision that he hadn't heard Shin knock. "Ahem." The man cleared his throat to flag Aizen's attention.

The bespectacled man let out a quiet grunt, as he jerked his head from the forms, apparently startled to see his two student helpers. Setting them down, he gave an even look to the investigators. "My apologies, Taiga-san, Kujo-san. I've been so busy looking over my squad's budget that I must have lost track of time." He said as he leaned back in his chair. "Though…you two are rather early today."

The two exchanged a confused glance with each other before turning back to the captain "Sir. It's almost five thirty, if anything we're almost late." Shinjiro informed

Whatever the samurai must have said triggered a panic like reaction in the captain, who looked to the nearby wall and saw that the clock affirmed his words. "I- I'm sorry I have to go." He said as he quickly got up from his desk and began to sift through the piles of folders on his desk.

"Is everything alright sir?" Subaru asked since she'd never seen him lose his composure.

Aizen glanced up before shaking his head no "No, it's nothing. Just a school meeting I need to attend. But…I got so caught up in things and well, haha." he gestured to the clock with bemused smile "As you can see, not my finest moment."

Seeing his point, Shinjiro nodded his head, while he thought up a way to check his office today. "Sir," he spoke up, "if it wouldn't be too much trouble." He ran his finger between himself and his wife, "Subaru and I can take care of this mess, while you go to your meeting. You and all the other Shinigami help keep us safe at night. I think it's the least we could do to ease the burden off your shoulders."

The captain stopped what he was doing and warily glanced back at his desk. It was overflowing with paperwork he'd brought back from the division, it would take some time to get this in any decent shape, his eyes wandered back to the clock which was ticking away slowly, he had very little time, he needed to go.

'Nothing students couldn't sort.' He thought to himself "It's very kind of you to offer." The man said with a grateful smile "If you could just put it in a pile before clearing off my desk, I'd be most appreciative. And again, if there are any messages, please write it down and leave it in the usual area."

"Of course sir." Subaru offered a fake cutesy smile.

Shinjiro bowed his head. "Leave it to us, Aizen-Taichō."

With one final appreciative nod, Aizen left the room to go attend his own errands leaving the snoops' free reign. The young woman cast a glance at his desk, the only area that they could never check into, and figured it wasn't big enough to warrant the both of them staying in this room to check it. "Shinjiro, why don't you clean up the mess and check inside his desk, while you're doing that, I'll go see if Aizen-Taichō is going to be making any extra stops during his little outing."

Her husband nodded his head in agreement. "Good idea, but try to be mindful of your surroundings, and don't get to close to him. It's no good if he spots you." He warned

"Exactly. It's just like a practice run for Onimitsukido." She then leaned over and gave a peck on the man's cheek "Good luck. I'll do my best on my end."

Shinjiro opened the door for his wife before returning to the pile of paper work on the desk. Having done a prior stint in paper managing, the samurai had no problem sorting the mess into five stacks, organized by what each issue the papers regarded. When he was done sorting, he rotated his shoulders to work out any kinks that may have built up.

So far, he hadn't seen anything worth making a concern about.

Turning his chair slightly, he started opening the side drawers and quickly filing thumbing through the sheets of paper. 'Training regimen changes, Repairs and reparations, Morale evaluation report, Building expansion, Monthly budget report, Officer vacation schedule, Monthly KIA report, Another monthly budget report, SMA reminder.' He mentally kept reading as he sifted through shaking his more and more. "(Sigh) Nope. Not here." He closed the drawer and leaned back in the easy chair. "Investigating people sure isn't as easy as the people on TV make it look."

He placed his arm on the table and leaned against it, thinking on all the areas where Aizen might put any evidence that could prove that Subaru was telling the truth. He considered, on the one hand if it did exist, he would probably keep it in a secure place: like his office back in Seireitei or his home, wherever that maybe. Alternatively, if there was no physical evidence, the man simple kept small reminders and left the rest of his plan in his head, which made the investigation next to impossible to prove until it was too late.

Well…if it all wasn't just a drunken delusion Subaru conjured up.

Still, he had a duty to give his best, especially for his wife.

"Come on, Shinjiro, focus. You've overcome way more difficult obstacles with less than what I have now." He pepped talked himself up, since nobody was going to take this possible threat seriously, if he gave up now.

So, putting his game face back on, he leaned back down to have another go at the lowest drawer. As he tried to reach without getting out of the chair, his other arm accidently knocked the stapler off the table and whacked on back of his head. "Damn it, Oww!" the man cursed, as he clutched the spot the office tool had struck him.

After rubbing the spot to dull away the pain, he pushed himself out of the chair and got down on his stomach to go underneath the desk and get the tool he moved. Once he grabbed it, he looked up to make sure he had enough clearance to not hit his head a second time. It was then that he noticed a small tassel barely sticking out from the far end of the desk. He placed his hand on it and was about to pull before he stopped himself. Pressing himself against the floor, he pulled the tassel and the bottom dropped down in an arc, which would have hit him in the face if he hadn't taken precaution.

Turning on his side to look inside, he saw a small sticky note with a time stamp for today's date. 'Finally.' Shinjiro thought to himself, a broad smile emerged on his face. Finally, he actually found something that could be useful. Memorizing the time, he quickly put the false bottom back and returned to his seat.

Once he was sure that everything was the way it was, before he messed with things, he looked around the room for some paper. Spotting a nearby stack on shelf, he checked it and once affirming that it was blank, he grabbed a pen from the desk and wrote down the information, before folding it up several times and pocketing it.

As he finished his task, he started to walk back to the desk when the front door opened. The man froze, paralyzed with fear until he saw Subaru slip back inside. "I'm back." She announced.

Quickly settling back down, Shinjiro sat down in the office chair. "Anything on your end, Su-chan?" he asked as he interlocked his hands.

Subaru raised an eyebrow at the man's sudden assertiveness but complied. "Nothing out of the ordinary. After I left, I found Aizen-Taichō leaving from the faculty offices and heading straight for the general administrative building. On the way there, he bumped into another Taichō. I think it might have been Gin Ichimaru, but I'm not sure, it's rare to spot Taichōs just roam the campus aimlessly, after all."

"Did they say or do anything unusual?"

"Noooo, they just talked. Of course, I was too far away to hear what they were talking about, but Aizen seemed to have a serious expression on his face." She reported before shaking her head. "But that's hardly surprising, if two Taichō's are talking to each other, in a serious conversation, it must be important Court Guard Squad business, like orders from Yamamoto-Sotaichō."

'That's just coincidence and even if it wasn't that would give a new definition to "flimsy evidence"' Shinjiro thought to himself "Okay, that not really helpful."

"Well after that he attended the meeting he told us about and gave a small pep talk to a group of passing students about living to your full potential, before heading to the cafeteria for dinner and that's it before I left."

The man in chair grunted unhappily. "How about that library in your head? Norn said it documents others or something, right? Have you found anything?"

The woman sighed equally flustered. "Don't go expecting instant results, Shin. There are frustrating limitations that make the search difficult, like encountering the person for one."

The man quirked an eyebrow "Okay, but you know him, what's the problem?"

"Let me rephrase that: I just need to SEE a person to be able to access information on them. Now this wouldn't be a problem if I knew their name and this wasn't the afterlife, aka the place EVERYONE GOES TO WHEN THEY DIE. So I have a lot of names with no pictures or search criteria to filter through." The woman answered, grinding her teeth in frustration "I mean did you even know that there are two-hundred and thirty six 'Sosuke Aizens', whom we've encountered over the years? The size of their documents in the library range from the average school textbook to a few that have taken up entire bookshelves by themselves."

"What!?" Shinjiro cried out as he got up from the chair. "Two-hundred and thirty six!? Th-that a lot! I know this is the afterlife but Jesus Christ! How is that possible!?"

"Apparently, early in the founding years of Seireitei and Rukongai, there was a man who went by the name of 'Aizen'. He was among the first Shinigami trained and he contributed to maintaining the then 10 Rukongai districts. Eventually his name was selected as possible district title upon future expansion."

The samurai furrowed his eyebrow "I know we didn't visit every district but I don't really remember an 'Aizen' district."

The woman nodded "Correct. The name was eventually selected; however, with the degradation of Rukongai's state, the Seireitei passed a law that forbade Shinigami names for being used as district titles."

"I know it's a little off topic, but why exactly?"

"According to our textbooks, the official reason was to distance themselves and not get attached to the people of Rukongai, who will eventually be reincarnated."

"And unofficially?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Some of the Shinigami believe the official story, mostly nobles and the idealistic, the more cynical say out of shame, quoting that barring extreme cases like Zaraki-Taichō, prospective Shino academy students and Shinigami have only recently started coming from there. Before we arrived, One-two hundred years ago, not coming from or having a connection to a noble family and becoming a Shinigami was basically an unheard of practice. You were stuck where you were unless Soul Society wanted you for their own ends. Although, I highly doubt that it's stopped others from trying to sneak their way in and better their situation."

She shrugged, unsure what to make of it "A classic case of the Shinigami abandoning their roots, after choosing to only taking in those from the noble families once expansion occurred."

"Hmm…"

"In either case, the district was renamed as the 'hanging dog' district in accordance with the law. I believed we travelled through there at one point or another."

"Ahh, okay." Now Shinjiro got it "Well, getting back to what we were talking about before, I suggest starting with the big books and working backwards. I'm sure Aizen's got a long illustrious career ahead of him."

"Already on it." she replied dully, certainly not pleased that she'd have to sift through another foray into the realms of documented dull everyday life. "What about you?"

"Well I-" he stopped when the door to the office opened and Sosuke Aizen walked in with his ever present smile. "Good to see you, sir." Shinjiro greeted switching persona up as he got up from the desk.

"And to you too." He greeted as he walked over and took his seat. The man eyed the organized stacks of paper "My, you two are quite the hard workers, I can appreciate that." He then looked at Shinjiro "Since you wife is so eager to join Soifon's squad, I'd be more than happy to take you in my division. I could use the help."

"Thanks, but no thanks. I would prefer to allow all the Taichōs a chance to assess were I would be best placed." He declined

"A pity, but a code of ethics should be observed."

"Think nothing of it sir." Subaru added demurely, as she glanced towards her husband. "We're just happy to do whatever we can to ease the burden on others." She coaxed, further adding to the smile on Aizen's face.

"Very magnanimous of you." He then slipped his hand into his pocket and held out a small sticky note. "I talked to the people at the cafeteria, and informed them that you two were busy doing a task for me, if you show them this slip they'll serve you some dinner."

Shinjiro grabbed it and bowed, "You're too kind, sir."

"We're honored you thought about us." Subaru added

The faker held up his hand and with his ever-charming smile said, "You deserve it. Please go."

So, with their dismissal, the two exited the office and started down the hallway towards the cafeteria. The two glanced around, making sure that no one was following them or listening in, before they picked up where there previous conversation ended.

"Subaru, get ready to take some extra food for tonight."

"Why love?"

"Because, I think I got us a lead." The man pulled out the small piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to the girl. "I found a false bottom underneath his desk with a sticky note that has today's date." He informed as she examined the copy "If he's really got nothing to hide-"

"Then why hide this?" Subaru added

"Exactly." The man nodded his head, before raising his hand over his mouth, a sign he was in thought. "Still, this doesn't prove anything. So I think if we tail him tonight we might just get some answers." Shinjiro suggested

"Do you think we'll get anything solid though?" Subaru questioned, "Catching a late night meeting with someone isn't going to get us much, Shinjiro. We need physical evidence, not hearsay."

"Well…we've searched everything that Aizen has here; all that's left is what's at the Seireitei. So far, he's been careful, let's hope whoever he's meeting tonight isn't." Subaru chuckled quietly.

"What?" Shinjiro asked his rather jubilant wife.

"I'm just glad we got a lucky break in all of this," She said placing both her hands behind her head. "I guess I can leave quite a bit to detective Shinjiro Taiga."

The man laughed as well "Don't you know it!" he replied, as the two entered the cafeteria to enjoy a good meal together, before they headed out.

(That night: Outside faculty dorm)

Shinjiro sighed as he exhaustively looked up at the moon in the night sky. The pair had followed Aizen, to affirm that he had returned to his temporary dorm room, before lying in wait in the nearby foliage, to keep an eye on the only entrance to the building. They had stayed in their spot since eight pm and it was almost pushing one in the morning.

The man glanced at his wife, she looked both anxious and tired, probably from sitting on the uncomfortable ground for so long. Although, every time he asked, she vehemently told him that she was fine, but her constant stroking of her Zanpaktou's hilt said otherwise.

"Maybe I was wrong." The samurai muttered to himself.

The other student however heard him "What makes you say that?"

"Su." He said wearily, as he shifted from sitting on his butt to being propped on one knee, "We've been hiding here since eight, the meeting was for 11:30. It's been almost an hour and half AFTER the scheduled time. Either I got it wrong or Aizen knows how to fly."

The girl looked down obviously shaken by his disheartened tone. "Do you…" she gulped not really wanting to say it, but… "Do you really think that this was all just a waste of time?" she asked. "I mean, we've been getting stonewalled for two weeks and the one lead we get just dried up." Subaru hung her head. "Maybe it really was just a bad dream."

Shinjiro shrugged. "Perhaps Subaru." He replied, "But at least this wild goose chase was just to make sure that Shaolin wouldn't get hurt again." He put a hand on her shoulder, garnering her attention "Nothing wrong with that in my book."

Subaru nodded her head agreeing, "You're right. Thanks for backing me up, Shin-koi." A smile flitted across her lips. "Let's go home and forget about all of this."

"Music to my ears." He said with a calm smile. Shifting his weight, he brought his other knee forward and was about to push himself up to offer his hand to his beloved, when she stopped him by pulling on the shoulder of his jerkin. "Something wrong?" he asked quietly

"I thought I saw…" she trailed off, before looking him in the eye. "Don't move."

Listening to her words, he stayed perfectly still, while she moved in a little closer to his shoulder. Pulling on the front end of his cloth, the shoulder portion of uniform shifted forward. As she had suspected, from the previously concealed location, something brown and furry stuck out. Tilting her head curiously for a moment she leaned closer to the shoulder, but went wide eyed when it suddenly shifted before her eyes, and a large brown spider took to resting on the still samurai's shoulder.

Feeling itself threatened, by the large alien-being, mere inches in front of it, the brown spider raised its foremost legs high into the air and let out a piercing hiss. Understandably, Subaru freaked out and let out a scream as she swatted the arachnid off the oblivious man's shoulder.

After hearing the hiss and narrowly dodging the hand, Shinjiro turned around to see what Subaru had hit off him and saw a tarantula struggling to re-right itself. Taking the initiative, he raised his foot up and crushed it under his sandal. Raising his foot up, he stomped again when he was sure the spider twitched. "There all gone." He said, as he scrapped his foot against the ground. "Thanks Su-hime."

The woman was laying on her butt, flustered with that close encounter with the spider. "That thing was huge! And it hissed at me!" She sputtered frantically "I-I didn't know they could do that!"

"Well-" Shinjiro's response was cut short, when the two of them heard the sound of someone's rapidly approaching footsteps. Panicking, since the two knew breaking school rules without some kind of reason was met with harsh punishment, he looked at the fallen and stunned Subaru and said, "Forgive me." Before shoving her unto her back and pressing his lips against hers.

Coming into the bushes was none other than Sosuke Aizen, who heard the scream as soon as he stepped out of the building. Lifting up his kido bearing hand, he was surprised to see the light illuminate his student desk secretaries. "What's going on here?"

Shinjiro removed his lips from his stunned silent wife, before looking back at the captain with a cheesy smile. "G-getting lucky tonight…?"

Aizen's eyebrow rose at that, while Subaru went from dumbstruck to completely scarlet in the face. "I…see. Then why Taiga-san did Kujo-san scream?"

Finding her voice, the girl pushed her body off the ground. "I-I-I ahhhh, was just ummm s-surprised by his err sudden passion. I w-wasn't expecting that." She answered, before quickly amending. "I mean it-it was consensual on both our parts, right, Shinjiro?"

"Mostly." He replied, trying to seem cheeky.

"…" The man looked over the both of them and sighed "And why are you out here exactly at this hour?" he asked clearly exhausted by their escapade.

"We…just wanted some privacy for…our actions tonight!" the man asserted fiercely, "We've been so busy with studying for tests, preparing for graduation, doing club activities and other things these past few weeks that we just haven't had any…ummm 'us' time. So…w-what better time than when no one's around!"

"A-absolutely Shinjiro-koi." She falsely agreed, trying to keep the lie going. "But, we took precautions, we brought protection with us!" her mind suddenly caught up to the words she just said, so she quickly pointed to their Zanpaktou. "I, I mean to protect us from hollows!" an uneasy smile broke unto her face, now that it suddenly seemed like their story was a lie due to the prior information.

"But, umm we brought the other protection too. L-Lots of it in fact! Just for the occasion! Y-ya know, just in case…" Now the previously frustrated Aizen was smirking, "Aaannnd yooou didn't really need to know that, sir." the girl turned her gaze to the ground wanting to die now. "I'mmmm going to just shut up now and pretend I don't exist." She squeaked

The good Taichō closed his hand dispelling the kido. Despite his earlier attitude, he was thoroughly amused by these two's antics. "I come in expecting to stop a heinous 'crime of opportunity' and instead find myself an observer to a 'crime of passion', I believe is the phrase." He said, which caused the two students to bury their head, lest their apparent shame be known any more than it was already.

"Rest easy you two. You have already told me about your relationship status, and considering your circumstances, I can certainly understand the necessity to be discrete, even though your choice of location about fulfilling your…urges is rather suspect. However, you two are out way past curfew, but I am not without understanding." He then helped the two up and took them out of the foliage and unto the main path.

"Now, while I am required to take you to my office and file a report, I am unfortunately very busy. So, since you two have been so useful to me and this is your first offense, I'll turn a blind eye this once and allow you to return to your dorms on your own."

Aizen's smile fell just a hair, but for Shinjiro and Subaru, the tiny release of his energy staggered them. It spoke volumes of how serious he truly was in scaring them away. "But, if I catch you two again, the principle will be the last of your worries."

The two rapidly nodded their heads and just like that, Aizen returned to his usual saintly self. "Marvelous, then I bid you both a pleasurable evening." The man then started to walk off, but the duo could have sworn they heard him chuckle about 'young love'.

The two remained stock still before letting out the biggest sigh of relief they had ever held. The pair was in an unusually ecstatic state; because, not only did they not miss their opportunity to find out if that lead was good or not, but they just dodged a silver bullet and now Aizen wasn't going to be expecting them at all. Things couldn't go any better for the two of them.

The two exchanged a silent nod with each other before giving chase to Aizen. The pair shadowed the man into the nearby park, following a small distance away and using the increasingly more plentiful vegetation to camouflage themselves.

After closely following, the pair saw a large clearing ahead with two other individuals waiting on Aizen. Shinjiro gave a motion for them to stop and dropped to his stomach, Subaru closely following his lead. They waited for a few seconds to let Aizen and whoever he was meeting fall into the lull of conversation before attempting to listen in.

"…La….mo…Ze…" one of the voices said to another.

"We…pr…tr…" another voice seemingly replied.

"Can't hear anything." Shinjiro muttered

"Me neither. We'll have to move in closer." His fellow spy suggested as she got up on her knees.

Shinjiro followed suit and together they both crawled forward, stopping every now and again to avoid arousing the suspicion of those they were eavesdropping on. Once they were near the edge of the forest, they stopped moving and began to listen in once again.

"It's nothing that can't be handled." One of the voices said, and when the pair looked through the branches, the voice seemed to belong to a tall silver haired man.

"Good and with that everything is going according to plan." Aizen said, which caught the attention of the two students.

The African man beside the silver haired individual nodded his head. "Yes, Aizen-sama. No one suspects your plan nor your involvement in 'that' incident."

Subaru looked at Shinjiro, who was returning her frightened stare, while they didn't know whatever they were talking about, the fact of the matter was: Aizen was leading a double life. The man who called him Aizen-sama, references to 'incidents', and the mention of plans just cemented what they sorely needed to know, that Subaru was not crazy and that they needed to check these other two individuals out for some evidence to stop this before it got out of hand.

"Beautiful." The now smirking Aizen replied to his cohort. He was about to continue when he noticed Gin staring past his face. "Is something the matter?" he asked sternly, hoping that he wasn't about to say 'he wasn't paying attention.'

"Yeah, got some rats." He replied, before flash stepping from his spot to where the two were hiding. The duo could only look over their shoulder and try to bracing themselves, when they were violently kicked from their hiding spot into the clearing, their bodies colliding against the ground and destroying small patches of the landscape.

"Hmm, familiar guests." Aizen muttered, as he took a few steps to go check on them.

From his spot, Shinjiro let out a pained groan, shaking his head as he got up to get his bearings, before turning to help his wife up. As he did so, he kept an eye on his attacker, knowing that if he turned his back it'd be over. "You alright?" he asked.

"Fine." She replied, as her hand went to her blade, as did Shinjiro.

"Lament your fate and change the outcome, Norn!" she declared, her blade shrinking in size.

"Show them their humanity, Masamune!" he also invoked, his blade flashing momentarily before a small vacuum-like suction echoed from his weapon.

From his spot, Tosen put his hand on his sword ready to deal with them, but before he could draw it, Aizen placed his hand unto his. "I had warned them I'd punish them. Allow me to keep my promise." When Tosen eased his stance, the leader drew his sword and whispered "Shatter, Kyoka Suigetsu."

The pair watched as a bright light over took them both briefly; although, unlike Shinjiro, who merely tightened the grip on his sword, Subaru winced and brought her free hand to shield her eyes from the lights intensity.

Aizen noticed the little reaction he got from the boy and tilted his head softly. His mind twirling about wondering why he seemed to have the near opposite effect on Shinjiro. When a possible theory emerged so too did his own devious grin. Desiring to test it, the man disappeared from where he stood and reappeared barely a foot in front of the surprised samurai, sword raised high above his head.

Shinjiro, seeing the rather telegraphed attack, quickly raised his sword up to block the slow arcing strike. As Kyoka smashed into Masamune, the man was sent skidding backwards with unimaginably intense force. After kicking up dust for about ten feet, friction overcame him, and he slid a few more feet against the ground on his back. When he stopped, his clothing was torn and dirtied, while his Zanpaktou, thankfully still whole, was riddled with cracks and ready to shatter in its entirety.

It was now that Subaru could see clearly again and instead of Shinjiro by her side, it was Sosuke Aizen with a critical look in his eye. Turning around, she saw Shinjiro struggling to move, as quickly as she could she flash stepped over to him.

Kneeling down, she tried to grab her husband's hand to pull him up, but stopped when he let out a pained yell. "D-don't." He muttered, as his fingers flinched closed around his katana. "I can't feel either of my arms or my leg."

Subaru looked at his arm and muttered, "This gonna hurt." Then squeezed his arm, electing another cry of pain, but confirm what she thought. "I'm no doctor Shin, but I think he broke most of the bones in your arm."

"I'm honestly surprised you lived." Aizen commented as he took a few step over to the pair "Even though I was holding back considerably, I had expected you to still be cut in half, and you saw me too, another interesting aspect of things. Perhaps the effects of your sword?"

"W-who wouldn't see that!?" Shin grunted out. "You even paused before bringing it down."

"I didn't see it." Came the chilly whisper from Subaru, who looked worriedly into her husband's eyes. "I-I didn't see anything wrong until you were gone."

"Very interesting." The man replied as he now started to put the pieces together "It seem that your Zanpaktou has some kind of negation properties to it; possibly in response to foreign spiritual energies located around or directed against your persons. Am I correct in my hypothesis?"

'Is that what my sword does?' Shinjiro's bewildered mind tried to reason 'I didn't even know that! How the hell did he guess it after just seeing it!?'

"Judging by your look of terror, I'd say my hypothesis is in the estimated range of certainty." He cemented more to himself than the others.

"You bastard!" Subaru declared hotly as she launched a mad anger-fueled dash at the captain. The captain quirked an eyebrow and simply waited when she was almost upon him, he quickly gripped his blade and tried to impale her through her jaw.

The man watched in slow motion as the woman's eye widened momentarily seeing what he had done, but he knew it was too late for her to do anything to stop herself. His eyes were about to turn over to the other man when he caught the girl doing the impossible.

Almost like the image of the girl shifted at a speed faster than his blade, and once her face was fully out of the danger zone, did he see that his blade rose up into the air while Kujo seemingly stepped around it and brought her knife around aimed at his throat.

Subaru bared her teeth as she swung with all her might at the exposed area. A loud cracking sound was heard and pain shot all throughout her arm, but she let herself bask in the small moment of triumph.

It was finally over.

Sure, she and Shinjiro were probably going to die anyway, and maybe the other two would pick up where he left off, but right now, she was at ease knowing that they had stopped a nightmare from becoming reality.

As she stepped away from the man, she glanced down at her knife and saw the blade was completely broken, only a small jagged edge remained attached to the hilt.

She supposed it was a small sacrifice, although it meant little for her now. Clutching her pain drowned arm she was about to return to Shinjiro when she heard a voice behind her.

"Tell me…where you trying to give me a shave?" The familiar voice of the ruler of that dark nightmare world chimed.

Subaru's body began to shake in genuine terror. 'Of course.' She thought to herself 'I was so caught up that I forgot…' she looked over her shoulder and saw him flicking the spot she had failed to cut into. 'the difference in our spiritual power.' The woman fell to her knees, her willpower broken. 'I just gambled Shaolin and Shinjiro life…and lost.'

As the woman in front of him collapsed, Aizen made a gesture with his hand and his two cohorts appeared next to the students, blades drawn and prepared to put them out of their misery.

"Another interesting phenomena." The traitor commented upon, as he walked over to the front of the woman and kneeled down. "Tell me how did you do that, Kujo-san?"

The woman remained there shaking in fear, but her eyes did wander over to Aizen, who gave a reassuring smile. "If you answer me honestly," the blade pressed against her neck nipped a little further, "I promise not to kill you or him."

Aizen watched as the girl's eye left him and went over to her fallen husband, an act he knew would occur due to their intimate relationship. "Norn…my Zanpaktou seems to manipulate the speed of which things occur. That's all I know about her abilities." Subaru uttered as she returned to the man in front of her.

"Intriguing." Aizen said to himself already coming up with a plan to deal with them. "Tell me how you found out about this? I have made nearly every precaution to avoid being caught up until now apparently. Care to illuminate?" he asked

Subaru's breath drew short. She couldn't tell him about her vision of the past; otherwise, Aizen would undo any mistakes he had made, by using her, yet at the same time, it seemed that there'd be no way to try and lie her way out of this.

Swallowing the lump in her throat she was about to speak when Shinjiro called out "We were following you!"

The woman's face whitened "Shinjiro!" Subaru tried to stop before he said anything; however, Aizen held up a single finger, silencing her.

"Please continue, Taiga-san." The man replied cordially.

The man took a breath before he continued, "I was cleaning up in your room today when I accidently dropped something. I went under your desk to pick it up and that's when I saw a note that had today's date and time stamp."

The man closed his eyes as a brief flare of pain surged in his arm. "I had conversed about it to Subaru, so we decided to follow you to see what kind of activities you liked to do when you weren't 'captaining'. You certainly didn't strike me as a conspiracy hobbyist."

"Shin…" Subaru muttered worriedly, while she was glad that he came up with such a good story, she wasn't sure if he'd buy it.

"I do not sense this man is telling a lie." Kaname informed his leader while the man nodded his head

"And he is a samurai. Lying is against the bushido code." Aizen considered, "Though, now that I think about it, you did fib to me earlier, outside the faculty dormitories."

"I didn't lie to you, sir. I told you a series of true statements that created a false premise." The samurai corrected, "In my defense, I do feel bad about it."

"Lied to by an honest man, who retained his honesty?" Aizen then smiled. "Well played." He then looked back to Tosen. "His story thus far is certainly plausible, in which case, from here on in there will be no more written time stamps for meeting or orders. It will be purely oral."

The blind man bowed his head "Of course sir."

"What should we do with them?" Gin asked his fearless leader

The man hummed to himself as he eyed them appraisingly. They were quite weak, but that didn't necessarily mean they couldn't be of use to him, they had potential to be good resources. The man narrowed his eyes, to which the two captain's pressed their blades closer to the two captives.

The man sensing the tension decided to provide an answer. "Simple. They will be coming with us." He said simply, garnering everyone's attention. Knowing that all eyes wanted an explanation, he opened his mouth and continued, "From what I understand they possess the power of negation and fragmentation of time manipulation. With a little creativity, they will help remove the security features no doubt placed on the Hogyoku by that man." He informed his fellow conspirators about their purpose in the plan.

'Hogyoku?' the foreign word repeated in the husband and wife's mind, while the other two nodded their head in understanding.

Sheathing his sword, but still maintaining his dominant position, Gin asked "And what if they decide not to do it? Won't they be a liability?"

"Certainly not. They are merely unseated academy students. Who would take their word over the word of three respected Taichōs: One allegedly from an extinct family, another brought in by said man, and the other found by Yamamoto himself. Who in their right state of mind would believe them traitors without any kind of proof whatsoever?" He answered in a clearly calculated manner, while the two trainees could only avert their gaze to the dirt they were being pushed into.

What was really sickening about it was that he was absolutely correct and they knew it from the get-go. "Also consider my Zanpaktou ability: any attempts at trying to dismantle my plans will be fruitless. They do not possess the power to kill me, nor will they, on that note, it is also impossible for them to try and bring my plan to light. Either scenario ends in their exile from Soul Society in which I win, or it ends in their death in which case I win, again. They're only living on borrowed time, Ichimaru. I'm just letting them be productive members in the solidification of my legacy."

Subaru, as she held her gaze at the floor, couldn't help but recall the words of Norn. 'Is this what she meant when she said I could look away and remain unaware?' her lips twisted into a morbid frown 'Is there really nothing I can do?' she then saw the mental image of the Sosuke Aizen in her dream mutter the name Ichigo Kurosaki. Her heart then picked up a bit, without a second thought she started to speak. "If I help you…will you not harm Soifon-Taichō?"

"Oh?" Aizen mused; curiosity peaked, as that little tidbit revealed a desire, which if maneuvered correctly could be a crippling weakness that would ensure their eternal loyalty.

"Subaru?" Shinjiro could only wonder at what she was working at.

"Me and Shinjiro will…do…whatever it is you want. In return, please don't bring any harm to her. She's suffered enough hardship."

"Surely, you realize that I am willing to break promises I make. If I recall correctly, Ms. Fon is a captain now and will likely come to blows with my forces. I will not stand for opposition; however, in light of your earnestness, I will not break this promise: The two of you will have more time with her and if the opportunity to capture her alive with minimal casualties arises, I will consider it as a course of action." The man expertly negotiated, slightly acquiescing in order to placate them, since it was a small price, before he instilled his uncompromising demands, to net a potentially larger gain.

"In exchange one of you will work under one of us directly, so we can keep an eye on you to affirm your good faith to my cause. The other will be used for a different means."

From his spot, Shinjiro spoke up, trying to smooth things over with his wife. "I'll work directly underneath Tosen-san." He then looked over at said man "If that's okay with you."

Tosen merely moved his head towards Aizen who nodded in acceptation and then turned towards the violet haired girl.

Tosen merely moved his head in Aizen's direction and nodded that he was in accord, while Aizen himself directed his gaze to the violet haired woman below him. "As for you, you spoke of an aspiration to be in Onimitsukido. Well, you'll get your wish." He then closed his eyes and elaborated, "That branch is privy to very specific information. You will infiltrate it and then provide access to everything I could want or ask of you. Am I understood?"

Subaru's eyes lit up at seeing an opportunity to find Ichigo and completely dismantle Aizen's plans. With a nod of her head she gave an 'alright' and waited for Aizen.

The man smiled most pleased with himself "Very well, we are in accord. Anything you need to know will be just that: on a need to know basis. Till then you are free to do as you wish." He then released a bit of his spiritual power "Do not fail me." The man then turned around and left with his cohorts.

When the trio left, Subaru placed her arm against the ground and breathed a sigh of relief. She brought her good arm over her to her bad one and muttered a quiet healing kido to repair her damage before assisting Shinjiro to the school infirmary.

Never before had she been so sure she would have died, then speaking with that man, and she was also sure, she and Shinjiro might have just sold their souls to the devil, but at least they had time to recover and plan something. "Are you okay Shin?" she asked as she crawled over to him

"Broken bones and lots of pain, agh!…but ehgh nothing lost." He grunted, as the woman slung his arm around her shoulder and helped prop him up for the long journey home. "So genius…gotta a plan B?"

"Plan?" she repeated, "I'm not really sure." She answered dismally. "All we can pin our hopes on is a single person, and there isn't any guarantee that we'll find him."

Shinjiro ended up surprising her with his answer. "Then don't actively look for 'em. Let's just focus on what we can do. I say that we keep our heads down and try to learn as much as we can about their plan, so we can leave hints for someone else to find."

Subaru nodded her head "And if we do find the person?"

"Well…" the samurai scratched his head, having not really considered it "I'll try to train him or her and you find a way to get 'em to learn about what's going on. We need to keep them away from Aizen at all costs." The man looked down dismally and spoke softer "I mean assuming he or she isn't working for him in the already."

"We can't fail Shaolin, Shinjiro…we can't." Subaru replied just as mournfully.

(Aizen and co.)

As the three traitors came to an intersection, the leader turned back to his subordinates "I want the both of you to keep an eye on them. Gin you will monitor Subaru and Tosen you will monitor Shinjiro. If all goes according to plan, the two of them will no doubt work hard so as not to arouse suspicion, while trying to find some kind of evidence against us. Evidence, that no longer exists. You will also not tell them anything unless I tell you to tell them about the plans."

"Aww, it's so boring when everything goes right and there's no improvisation. Where's the zest of life?" Ichimaru pouted

Aizen smirked, he knew how to use his tongue to keep people happy and in line. "Then look at it this way. It keeps an element of danger at all times. One false step, one moment of misrelated information, and all of Soul Society descends down, it reminds me of my days in the war of Hueco Mundo, where you slept with one eye open. Rather exhilarating, don't you think?"

"You and your war stories." Gin patronized though he was noticeably happier.

"Anyway, I need to keep them in the dark and within arm's reach at all times. Once the Hogyoku has been utilized to its full power and my army is set, then and only then will I dispose of them."

"Why don't we go procure the Hogyoku now? It should be easy to find Urahara, Aizen-sama." Tosen asked respectfully.

"It is true that he must be somewhere on earth, since he hasn't entered the kingdom of Hueco Mundo, however it is still vast and will take time to pin point his exact location. While he has probably stabilized it from its previous incarnation, he will no doubt have created a powerful seal that will resist abuse. Obtaining it will not do any good until we bypass that obstacle, though I had considered it for some time, the piece for the awakening aren't yet complete."

He stopped and glanced back at his fellow "We need to ensure that those twos growth will be complimentary to my plan, while at the same time locating the third and final piece: A reliable power source to allow me to use the Hogyoku quickly to empower my soldiers in the shortest time possible. I was careless the first time around with those other Shinigami and nearly paid for it, but now I know it takes considerable spiritual energy, so I'll utilize discretion and patience." He explained to the man.

"So once we've located it, I will need to begin creating a specialized hollow to house my renewable energy source, so that I may call it out when I need it most; while ensuring it has absolutely loyalty to me alone. While it will cross the barrier and gain additional powers, I will not risk creating a hollow with enough free will to have unregulated thoughts or actions. Kisuke is the type to prey on weaknesses exposed to him; giving him a chance to ruin everything by one oversight, is a non-negotiable."

The man looked up into the sky spying the crescent moon hanging lazily, the same one that he always saw when he started his journey to become great. "There is no need to rush." The bespectacled man muttered reassuringly, "The best laid plans are the ones that take time to construct, and so long as the bounty on Kisuke is not rescinded, we have all the time in the world."

(Flash back end: Present)

"Wait a second." Ichigo interrupted "If that story is true then why didn't you try to intervene in other ways? I can't think of anything that you've done that's inhibited Aizen's plans."

Shinjiro sighed, since he had expected the reaction, but was still moderately hurt. "We did try." He stated, as he looked over the trio mournfully. "But arousing your guard without gaining Aizen's or your suspicion was a near impossible task."

"'Near impossible' so then you found away." The captain said more as a statement than a question.

"We couldn't make a big showing of it, but we did whatever little things we could, in the hopes that if we piled on enough, we could get a decent change." He answered, though his body language betrayed his supposed optimism. "But that doesn't mean we always succeeded; in fact most time, it still felt like a slow downhill slide."

(Flash back: 3 years after Yoruichi's betrayal [49 year from present])

Sitting on the benches in the training field, Shinjiro watched as Soifon drilled everyone into the ground…again. A depressed sigh escaped his lips, since he knew why the cold temperamental Taichō was in such an explosively irritable mood.

It had started with how they learned the truth behind Yoruichi's sudden departure from Soul Society. While they were still a little miffed on certain aspects, they acknowledged it was easy to criticize when you weren't in the moment and forced to make a decision. So, after a small debate between them weighing the pros and cons of bringing up the understandably touchy subject, they decided it would be for the best to try and curb Shaolin's now technically unfounded animosity towards her former idol and friend.

The man grimaced when he remembered how that had gone. When the duo had brought up the prospect, that maybe perhaps they were wrong about Yoruichi, Shaolin had completely stopped what she had been doing and just gazed back at them with a glassy stare, as if having trouble comprehending what they were saying.

He couldn't blame her, since they were her staunchest advocates for Yoruichi's destruction, or in his case, her apprehension and subjection to the law, so to hear them even lightly muse that they were in the wrong was enough to put her in a foul mood.

After recovering herself, she had them informed them to 'not joke around' or 'insinuate such a notion'. When they tried to persuade her otherwise, she snarled at them. Ranting vehemently, of the situation at hand, before in turn providing an ever painful detailing as to why 'that Bitch' as she said, was nothing but a traitor, along with a laundry list of other expletives, even rattling in that the only good thing that ever happened between them was that she got captainship and her stinger missile Bankai, that she was personally going to make Yoruichi choke on as she shoved it down her throat before exploding it out of her ass.

However, the hurt woman was not done there; instead, she took it a step further. Coolly telling them that 'she wasn't really angry' and that as soon as the Haori touched her shoulders, her personal vendetta, was no longer the reason why she was maintaining her stance on the matter. Instead, she was faithfully carrying out her orders, in the interests of both 'justice' and 'her duty', like a 'respectable Taichō' should.

The two had winced at all the transparent lies, and overtly brutal tone the girl was addressing them with, but still the duo tried to cling to some kind of hope they could mitigate the damage Aizen had caused and they had salted. Until it then led to Subaru asking the question that brought the punishment of both her and every other Shinigami of two.

"Alright, we, we get it, but we're just trying to say, have you thought that just maybe, MAYBE, there was a good reason for why she left the way she did? She was our friend, Shaolin-sama. She helped you excel as a Shinigami before you met us, she didn't turn us in after Shinjiro and I broke into Soul Society, and she tried to be the best role model for us for the five years we've known her. She took us all in and gave us a second chance. You of all people can't have forgotten that, it's just not like her. Don't you remember?" she had presented in the most innocent, non-threatening, way possible; trying, at the very minimum, to plant a seed of doubt, so the woman might entertain the idea of changing her stance on the matter at a future point in time.

However, it wasn't meant to be…

Shaolin had immediately flipped her lid and accused them of 'sympathizing' with 'her' of all people. Without so much as second glance, she turned around and stormed off, ordering Subaru to rally all second squad Shinigami to meet in the field mid-departure.

The cold captain had been drilling them for the last two hours at a pace they never knew existed, her unfiltered anger giving her near superhuman endurance, as she led them through each painful exercise, one right after another. No rest. No breaks. No mercy.

Some like Omaeda and a few of Subaru's fellow low ranked soldiers had looong since passed out in their own vomit, which the clearly unwelcome eleventh seat kindly moved the bodies to the side, so they could recover somewhat.

Although, his altruistic actions were felt underneath the crippling death glare of the captain, while other seemed to be greatly slowing down and stumbling in their movement, trying to keep pace for fear of their angry captain's after-training attitude.

The guilty one, Subaru, seemed to be on her last legs, as water was streaming from her eyes, her limbs were shaking as she gasped for air, and she was requiring no small amount of assistance from a fellow operative just to keep on her feet.

Shinjiro let out a pitying sigh, when he saw Subaru finally collapse from exhaustion, quickly followed by five other operatives eating the dirt. As he got up from his seat again, he immediately felt the spiritual pressure of Soifon, pressing against him much harder than before; although, he worked through it, and went about his repentance job, starting with the nearest.

He made a mental note that, once the 'session' was over, and he dropped off his wife at four's intensive care unit, he would have to recant on both their behalf…once the furious teenage captain had calmed down of course.

As he reached down, and slung the man's arm over his shoulder, he couldn't help but feel an extreme sense of failure, as a trusted confidant…as a human being.

The fires of anger that they had helped nurture in her to keep her focused, that served to bring the three of them closer together after the betrayal, a solidifying front for all of them, became a mistake.

A mistake born from misinformation, misappropriated judgment, and misery.

A mistake the concerned pair could never rectify under their own power.

(Flash back: 13 years before Chapter One [15 years from present])

"Ninth division sixth seat, Shinjiro Taiga, what is your position!?" echoed the voice of Soifon over the communicator.

"Moving through district 19 of South Rukongai. Currently on route to last known position of relief squad 82, Ma'am. I've got three confirmed KIA and four wounded due to environmental hazards. I've sent twelfth seat Nataku Kuroda and unseated officer Joseph Walker to get them back to CCP (6) 'Hisagi' over in South East Noble District 4. I'm on my own, I repeat, I have no support, I am on my own."

"What about the Subaru's group? Have you made contact?"

"Subaru is on her way to evacuate nearby souls in districts 15 through 18, but this damn blaze is slowing her down. Unlikely she'll be able to intercept them without back up." He yelled into the communicator as he quickly jumped to the side and avoided a collapsing rooftop.

"Damn it." Cursed the woman, as she tried to run through her options.

He was about to continue when out of the corner of his eye he spotted an orange haired woman leading a group of people. "I've got some survivors. Moving to rendezvous."

"Roger, Shinjiro. Move them to West district 26, Captain Hitsugaya's Bankai has the fire controlled in that sector; I'll relay your orders to TOC (7) and possible Tosen or Aizen, whoever is closest to provide support for the eighty-second."

"Copy that, thanks!" he responded, as he hurried over to the group, his eyes dropping to the side of the lead woman, who was carrying an unconscious child in her arms and had a Zanpaktou at her hip. 'A fellow Shinigami?' he pondered, since she wasn't wearing her Hakama 'What's she doing in civvies? Was she on leave when this happened?' The man shook his head 'No, I gotta focus. This isn't the time for distractions.'

"Hey!" he yelled catching the lead woman's attention "This way! Over here!" he waved his hand beckoning them to follow.

The swordswoman stopped running and turned to the group. "Everyone, hurry that way!" she directed, trying to usher them to move it. She kept barking encouragement; however, despite her best effort, a few stragglers were crushed by the falling infrastructure, killing some of them instantly while others were burned horribly.

The woman mentally had to restrain herself from going over to help them, because that would mean putting down her son in such a dangerous environment, chancing that the same thing didn't happen to him.

Something she wouldn't allow to happen again.

"I'm sorry." She muttered as she raised a finger. 'Sōren Sōkatsui…' she mentally commanded.

A condensed pool of spiritual particle channeled through her extended arm and formed into a sphere barely a centimeter away from her fingertip. The pale fireball expanded rapidly before shooting forwards, engulfing the entire street and all the suffering souls trapped, sparing them the lengthy painful death that would have awaited them.

Turning her eyes away from what she did, she caught sight of the last member of the group turning down a nearby street. Using her flash step, she quickly caught back up to the leading Shinigami. "Thank-you for coming." The grateful mother thanked "Are there more of you? Has Seireitei taken action?"

Shinjiro nodded. "Yeah, most of the squads and the Kido corps are mobilized to contain the blaze, but its city wide. Squads 1, 12, 13 and most of the captains are acting as coordinating support to minimize casualties and keep things organized. The fours are doing their job with 2 getting medics and patients to each other, Squad 8, 11 and their captains are digging trenches to curb the fires spread. The tens and their captain as well as the sixes and the Kido corps are dealing with the fire personally. Squads 3, 5, 7, 9 have been dispatched to brave the fires on rescue and relocation duty, which is why I'm here. I promise to get you to the nearest safe zone, West Rukongai district 26, as quickly as possible."

The woman looked behind her to the group of refugees then turned back to the samurai. "There are more people back in the higher districts as well as Hollows, Shinigami-san." She shifted the boy in her arms to him "Please take my son and get these survivors over there in one peace. I'm going back to do what I can to save others."

"No, I'll go." He tried to dissuade, his eyes flickering to make sure the area ahead was clear before glancing to the boy "Your son is going to need you when he wakes up. How do you think he'll feel when he opens his eyes and doesn't see his Mother? I know you want to help, but you've done enough already. The best thing you can do is stick together and help the Shinigami treat anyone with burn injuries at the evacuation site."

A quiet grunt escaped the woman, as she brought her child back close to her body, his words hitting her core. "You're right. If I release my Zanpaktou, it would increase my power but it will do more harm than good. The average Rukongai inhabitant wouldn't be able to survive being near me. Which only leaves my Asauchi and Kidos, but a stray attack in this unstable environment could collapse a building on top of us. I can't fight while putting my son in danger." A frustrated sadness marred her face "Damn it…what's the point of having power if you can't help people when they truly need it?"

Shinjiro knew that look on her face. It was a look for sacrifice and loss "You left some important people behind, didn't you?"

The woman spared him a glance before nodding her head, "Yes…my three-year old daughter and my husband."

That stung the samurai. "I'm sorry for your loss. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a child." He paused and swallowed the lump in his throat "Pardon my forwardness, milady, but maybe if you spoke on it, it might ease the pain."

"Perhaps." She answered back "Last night, I got into an argument with my husband. I found out a secret about him. A secret that threatened the livelihood of myself and more importantly, our children."

'A cheating spouse huh? That's pretty rough.' Shinjiro thought to himself coming to what he believed was the only conclusion. "How did you discover the secret?"

"During my life, I've met my husband in many strange places. The first time we met was in Hueco Mundo, he cried, he said I looked so much like her, and then he asked my name. Shortly thereafter, I would see him around the human world, but most times Rukongai."

The woman exhaled while her ardent companion listened on "He was a constant flirter and boaster, saying he was a powerful Shinigami from a noble family, I never really bought it though…at least not all of it. Later on, after we had gotten together, I noticed that whenever he wasn't looking at me, or perfecting his super-secret 'ultimate family vacation gift' outside of the Rukongai, he would always be searching for something. Some kind of great fish. I always though he was odd since he had a weird 'o' on his cheek, but I couldn't quite place why, until I noticed his earlobe. Then I remembered our first meeting and for the first time, I truly felt afraid."

"I see." Shinjiro muttered, though he was still a little confused, did it mean he was with a chick during her deployment in Hueco Mundo and was subsequently two-timing her throughout their friendship, or did he jump to a wrong conclusion. "So what happened next?"

"I confronted him about it. I yelled at him saying that 'I loved him and that if he trusted me like he said he did then he would have told me'. The only reason I came to live out here was to be with him. Sure, I believed him when he told me he wanted to help the people of Rukongai; I always wanted to ease the burden on them as well since most Shinigami have…changed over the years." She explained, re-solidifying the vile two-timing theory for the samurai.

"I finally was gifted the chance to follow my heart after I had a…disagreement with someone I cared about. We argued about the way to treat and accept others, but we had irreconcilable differences. He always said I had my heart on my sleeve, so I called him a monster and told him that if he wanted to stop me from doing what was right, he was welcome to try. Which just left me with him…and that was enough for me."

A sad reminiscent smile flitted across her lips, "I was drawn to him, each time we met over the years, I couldn't imagine another man who so captivated me. I gave him the weirdest compliments like saying he looked cool when he smoked or that his frumpy face made me want to kiss him until he was all better."

Her eyes narrowed as they turned another street, "I forgave him for a lot of things too, like when he told me couldn't go to Seireitei with me when I needed to give birth, but given his past and what I know now it makes a little more sense to me, only I know who the father is."

Shinjiro gritted his teeth distastefully; he honestly never met someone who was so fiercely loyal to such an emotionally abusive person. It saddened him and made him wish a thousand curses upon the man. "But, despite all that you sacrificed for him, you still went separate ways…"

"No." The orange haired woman shook her head, seeing where he was going. "Not with intentional finality. I love that man. I wanted to believe that we could have worked through it, so I sent him away that night. That way we could both figure out what to do with clearer heads. I didn't want us to lose what we had because we were caught up in the moment…or in my case the feelings of betrayal. I didn't want a repeat performance like that disagreement I mentioned before."

She gave a tender smile to the young man. "I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me. Burdening a young man like yourself with my troubles."

Shinjiro however didn't really hear her as he was caught up in his thoughts. 'Betrayal huh…' The sixth seat thought to himself reminded of Shaolin and his failure. The man looked on ahead taking the next turn towards their destination. Even after all this time, he still felt like he had failed her and now he was inadvertently working against her for her own good. An undermining knife to the back in exchange for a friendly shoulder for her to steady herself on.

It was a token sugarcoated betrayal…

…the worst kind of betrayal.

"Are you okay?" she asked breaking him from his thoughts.

"Yes, yes. Sorry. Umm, you mentioned a daughter didn't you? What happened to her?" he asked trying to work his mind off the subject of betrayal

"Before the fire broke out, I went out to go get some food for breakfast. It was supposed to be special since they both turned three today." She placed a loving hand on her orange haired son. "Unlike his sleepyhead baby sister, my little boy here is an early riser. So together we had a mother-son trip to the wealthier districts, that way we could surprise our favorite little girl with a beautiful spread when we got back." Her frown returned full force.

"When we were returning back, barely an hour or two later, we saw the smoke in the distance. I didn't think much of it at first until we got closer. Then I realized that it must have been coming from the direction of our home. I don't think I've ever flash stepped so quickly before in my life. When I arrived the entire area was covered in fire and smoke, but I didn't care. I set Ichigo down and busted into my house."

The woman hung her head and started to cry, "I checked the whole house. Her room, my room, upstairs. Everywhere. I wanted to check again, but the smoke was so thick my eyes burned as I asphyxiated. I stumbled out of my home just as it collapsed; only to see my son passed out from the smoke, I thought he would be okay in an open-air environment. I was so relieved to know my healing kido was enough to stabilize him. I almost lost my other baby because I wasn't thinking."

"You were worried and children get kidnapped all the time. You did what you had to…"

"Maybe…" she muttered, "Once he was okay, I grabbed him and got away from the area. That's when I ran into this group and have been leading them to safety as best as I could." Her eyes brows furrowed "We were attacked by Hollows that just came out of nowhere; they could breathe fire and had other strange abilities, of the fifty I started with, this small group is all that's left."

"What a horrific tale." The man lamented, his heart going out to the widow who tragedy after tragedy seemed to befall. Still he wouldn't let her lose heart. "Listen to me." He started, placing a hand on her shoulder. "You went back when others would've stayed away. You are a brave, kind, mother. And I know it hurts, and I know it feels hollow, but you saved not only your son's life, but those other souls behind us, so please…don't give up."

The woman looked at the young man and gave him a deprecating smile. "Thank-you kind sir. It's odd. Normally, I'm the one who helps others, not the other way around."

"Don't worry abou-" the man was cut off as his communicator blared

"IS ANYONE ON THIS CHANNEL!? I REPEAT: HOLLOWS COMING IN FROM ALL DIRECTIONS AND ATTACKING THE SOULS WERE ESCORTING! WE NEED ASSISTANCE AT ONCE! SOMEONE RESPOND!"

"Damn it." Shinjiro cursed as he wanted to respond but he still had these people with him. Whether the woman could sense his moral dilemma or not, she spoke "Go. I will lead them to safety."

"But-"

"You have done enough for me. I can keep us safe until we reach the evacuation point" A kind smile grew on the lips of the beautiful orange haired woman "Go! Help those who need you."

Shinjiro opened his mouth to protest, but closed his eyes "Thank-you and I'm sorry." He then grabbed his communicator as he made an about face, disappearing in a flash step.

Though the souls behind her made a clamor of panic, horror, and cursed the reapers for abandoning them again, the woman quickly reasserted her authority. "Everyone, listen to me. That man needs to go help others who are under attack! He told me where take you!" the woman looked over her shoulder and gripped the blade at her side "Don't lose heart! On my Zanpaktou, I swear, I'll get you all to safety!"

The tense crowd behind her started to ease up, believing in her words. Ever since she came to live among them, her name had spread throughout the Rukongai, the only Shinigami with a heart who cared for commoner and noblemen alike. The woman earnestly had come from the walled city of Seireitei to ease the hardships they endured.

She wouldn't abandon them.

Seeing the faces of the men, women, and children behind her light up, a smile graced her lips as well, as she continued to lead them to salvation, sparing one more glance in the direction the rescuing Shinigami went. 'I'm sorry he says…such compassion. I'm glad that even though I left because of what happened to the Quincy, there are still kind Shinigami in the Seireitei.'

(Flash back: 1 month before Chapter One [2 years from present])

Opening the door for his wife, Shinjiro quickly followed in and shut the door to Aizen's office. The two had no idea why they were being called in since they hadn't done anything worth disrupting of his plans. The pair saluted him to which he told them to take a seat.

When the two were seated, the would-be ruler leaned forward in his desk appraisingly "I thank-you for arriving on such short notice."

"Not a problem." Shinjiro replied with politeness instilled by bushido, while Subaru simple sat in silence and glared holes into Aizen's head. "You had some kind of announcement."

"Correct." The man said as he pulled out a picture and held it out to them.

Grabbing the image, the duo saw the center focus was on a young man with orange hair and brown eyes, laughing with some undescriptive Shinigami.

Looking up expectantly, Aizen continued. "This man will become a new addition to squad two at my recommendation to Hitsugaya-Taichō."

"Why squad two?" Subaru asked 'And what does this have to do with anything?'

Aizen smiled "I want the two of you to keep an eye on him. The man comes from a noteworthy lineage." 'And if I'm lucky Soifon-Taichō will destroy him to the point where he'll want to come to me.'

"What's his name?"

"Ichigo Kurosaki."

The man's answer shook the third seats to their core and while they made no visual show it, on the inside there mind was racing frantically trying to put the pieces together. They knew the name Ichigo Kurosaki was the name of the one who could oppose Aizen, but they hadn't actually expected running into the person, not only that but it was someone whom Aizen was entrusting to them to monitor.

"So you want us to monitor him?" Subaru asked quietly, intentionally lower her tone to hide her surging excitement. "Why us exactly?"

"Kaname, Gin, and I are busy planning the finer details of my plans on this side; as well as finding out about certain things in Rukongai. We simply cannot afford to take on an extra responsibility that may turn out little profit: Hence why it has fallen to you two."

The man smirked "While I appreciate all of your hard work and obedience, I am no fool. I know of both your animosity towards me and know that if the opportunity to betray me ever occurred, you would seize it and pile drive the Sokyoku itself into my back, not that I haven't thought of such things well in advance. Yet, instead of punishing you, as one would a conspirator. Not only do I tolerate it, but I continue to reward you, granting you the time you so dearly cherish with Soifon-Taichō."

The pair fell silent and looked away not daring to voice a defense. "I told you that I'd let you spend more time with her. Consider this a bonus for all of your hard work…unless of course you prefer that I rescind on our arrangement from before and proceed with what I originally had in mind."

Even though he really didn't want to, Shinjiro bowed forward, "You are too kind." He replied in a polite though notably sarcastic tone. "If I may ask something, before we undertake this assignment."

"And that is?"

Shinjiro looked the man in the eye, "You seem to be in a good mood regarding this Ichigo fellow. May I ask why?"

"Why?" the traitor mused as he leaned back into his chair. "Hmmm…why indeed?" he repeated, as he crossed his arms and stared into the ceiling, genuinely contemplating the issue. After a few minutes of thinking on it, the man surprised the two of them by smiling wistfully.

"Something draws me to him. When I first saw him…I saw a brief fragment of myself in him. He was determined to his ideals and was willing to cross whatever line to defend them. Call it a fickle of the whim, but he strikes me as a self-made man, a bird of a feather." He answered, having thought about his life up until now.

The other two traitors looked on mesmerized, having never seen such an introspective side to the man. Normally, he was always about what he was going to do and how best to go about attaining his goals, but this new side that had surfaced, it was a side that both worried and genuinely intrigued them about the man underneath the overlord.

However, before the issue could be pressed further, Aizen returned to his business state of mind "But that's enough of that. You have your orders. Failure isn't an option, dismissed."

(Flash back: Interlude between chapter 5 and 6: Shortly after Ichigo met with Aizen in chapter 5)

"So what's up, Kohai?" Shinjiro asked, as he rested his chin against the back of the chair he was sitting in. Watching the man he had helped train pace back and forth in Subaru's office.

Ichigo looked at his sempai and scratched the back of his head. "I was gonna ask Toshiro, or Rangiku, but they're probably busy with work, plus I didn't want to go all the way there just to bug them with my problems."

"It's cool. If you need to get something off your chest I'd be more than happy to listen." The samurai replied as a look of concern crossed his face. "But no one man is an island, Ichigo. It is okay to rely on others for help, when you need it."

Ichigo seemed to consider his words. "You're right. Thanks. I'll try to keep it in mind." He replied, "Anyway, back to what I was saying, I ahh, I don't really know how else to describe it, but have you ever…" the man gritted his teeth "…you ever get a weird vibe from someone?"

"All the time with you." Subaru quipped dryly to the freeloaders in her office, while she was busy doing work for Shaolin.

"Su." Shinjiro pouted disappointedly, while the girl just shrugged uncaringly, as she soldiered through more reports to present to the captain.

"It's alright." Ichigo waved off, slightly amused by their antics. "Back to what I was saying, I just felt like…something bad was gonna happen."

"Hmm, well, I guess my question is who gave you the feeling?" the man wagged his thumb between himself and his wife. "We've been in the Shinigami outfit for a lot longer than you. Maybe we can give you the inside scoop, Kohai."

"It's about Captain Aizen." He said and was about to continue when he saw their reaction. Shinjiro's grip on the chair seemed to increase exponentially and he seemed to stop breathing. His eyes widened just a hair, his freehand stopped moving, and his casual smile turned into a serious frown. Behind him, Subaru had actively stopped what she was doing and turned her attention over to the men's conversation, eye brows arched inquisitively and lips forming a small line.

All in all the sudden change in demeanor was most unnerving.

"Aizen-Taichō you said." Subaru repeated

"Yeeeah." He tilted his head cautiously to the side, eyes narrowed. "Is everything okaaay?" he worded slowly.

"Just. Curious." Shinjiro uttered just as slowly, as brought his hands back together and rested his chin on them. "So…what did Aizen-Taichō do exactly that made you feel sooo…oddly about him."

Ichigo crossed his arms. "Well, we had a conversation about how things are run, and about what things might be like twenty years down the line, you know, philosophical things. Then he was curious about Zangetsu here so I showed him, he seemed pretty impressed cause he then offered me my a position in his company, but I declined."

"Really?" asked Subaru, who was shocked that Ichigo had avoided his allure, especially considering him circumstances with prickly commanders.

The man cheeks flushed slightly. "I didn't want to cop out on Soifon. She was brutal for a while and I probably would have considered it if she hadn't eased up, but she's not so bad once you get passed her temperament."

The man glanced back at the pair, who gave a firm but understanding nod, prompting him to continue, since they needed to know what happened next. "But like I was saying after the proposal he then went to reach for his Zanpaktou to show it, but we got interrupted by Soifon-Taichō. Anyway, the reason I brought it up to you guys is because my…err…friend," he said, since he couldn't bring up the hollow within him, "said that something was weird, and told me to keep my distance, so what do you think, kinda out there, right?"

Before his eyes, Shinjiro and Subaru's aggressiveness postures eased considerably, as they returned to more relaxed stances. Shinjiro turned around in his chair and looked at Subaru, who was giving him an equally relieved expression.

Finally, Shinjiro turned around and spoke. "I think you should listen to your friend. It sounds like a lot politics are involved. That's something you don't want to get dragged into."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he certainly hadn't considered that but… "I don't know that doesn't sound right to me."

"Well…there's that. OOOORR he might suspect you of something." Subaru lied.

"WHAT!?" he shot back, reacting as they had hoped.

The girl nodded her head and turned towards him fully, "Taichō's are very busy, so for them to just suddenly take an interest, and offer a position, sounds like a hidden agenda to me, Kurosaki. Do you recall the conversation you had with him? It was about the future and the way things are being ran. You may not know it, Ichigo, but throughout history, we, human beings, have had our fair share of traitors, who let power go to their heads and started to question the future."

She pointed her finger at him, "You were jettisoned into the fast lane from the academy. From newcomer to fifteenth seat, skipping hundreds of possible -more experienced- officer candidates, from slot fifteen to a single digit number nine, then you solidified your stake of the tenths sixths seat by awakening your Shikai, and then finally you advanced to rank of fourth seat on your first day here. You did all that seat jumping in a fraction of the time it took Shinjiro, or I, to even reach third seat. Granted, in your case, Ichigo, there are unusual circumstances surrounding you, some of which you're probably not even aware of yet, but still you must see our point…" she trailed off, causing Ichigo to frown.

They all knew he earned his promotion to each rank. The only time that chain was broken was from when he was transferred over and jumped to fourth seat, since the position was available and it was easier on Soifon to just give him the open rank rather than drawing up an entire restructuring of her division's seated officer placement and allocation.

Though, no matter the reason, looking at the situation from an outsider's perspective…

Still, the duo knew that the idea couldn't be left hanging with listlessly concern; the lies and doubts they created needed to be solidified in his mind. "And if you look at his offer in another way: If you're in his company, he can easily keep an eye on you." She baited trying to get him to accept their message of caution.

"Really?" Ichigo asked, doubt and concern marring his face "I mean, he seemed like a nice enough guy, but I guess when you put it that way, it is kinda fishy." He covered his mouth with his hand and seemed to consider something "Should I bring it up to Soifon-Taichō or the Sotaichō? I'd like to know why I'm being investigated. I mean couldn't Soifon or Toshiro attest on my behalf?"

"Weeelll, you don't want to go that way about it either." Shinjiro answered quickly, knowing of how counterproductive that would be in keeping Ichigo safe from Aizen, "We were just kinda speculating a bit, you know, just tossing theories out there and rationalizing it. However, this could be a case that there is a legitimate reason for all the secrecy, and the reason why is waaaay above our pay-grade. My advice: just do what your friend said and stay away from him in the meantime. Once Aizen is done doing well…whatever it is he's doing, I'm sure he or maybe even Soifon-Taichō will tell you what's really going on." He tried to reassure, working the act over to his wife again.

"Yeah, waiting it out is definitely the best course of action, at the moment." Subaru answered, casting a friendly smile, further attempting to convince him, "Besides, if it helps ease your mind, you can just think of this as an opportunity to test your patience. Shin-kun, Soifon-Taichō, and myself all know that you have nothing to hide. It's just that the stupid investigators just need to confirm what we already know. So there's no need to be concerned."

Shinjiro nodded his head and smiled, "Yeah, worse come to worse, we'll gladly testify your innocence on your behalf. We know you, so don't sweat it."

"If you say so, then whatever. You guys haven't steered me wrong before." The orange haired man said with a shrug, letting the subject drop.

(Flashback: Interlude between chapter 5 and 6)

The couple sat in silence as Aizen continued to down his drink. The silent hope that he'd drown dashed when he placed the cup back on the coffee table. "Thank-you for your full report about the battle at Health Land." He thanked sarcastically.

"If you knew what it did, why did you ask for a report about the incident and the gem?" Subaru asked, slightly ticked about him being behind the gem and Hollow bait incident at health land.

Their 'leader' smiled, "It is always good to have a practice run to gather data and to spot the inconsistencies between controlled laboratory testing and actual field-based usage. Though, I was disappointed in the casualty count being so…low."

He took another sip of his tea, ignoring their disgusted glares. "Still, I am pleased to know the combined data regarding the gem will contribute to the perfection of the 'caja negacion' I've been developing. It will be quite handy for a separate task I have in mind, and more so, once I find a way to mass replicate them."

"We're honored to be your pawns." Subaru deadpanned, taken once again to the benefit of Aizen.

"You're very welcome." He replied back as he started to switch gears. "You mentioned earlier that Mr. Kurosaki will be sent on a mission in a few days to the human world. Care to elaborate?"

Shinjiro nodded forcefully, "Correct sir." he then gestured to Subaru. "As part of Onimitsukido guard detail, Subaru followed her captain to Hitsugaya-Taichō's. It was apparently in regards to a request of some kind."

"What kind of request?" the man asked, as he looked over to the woman.

"She didn't formally disclose it to me, but from what I overheard: she wanted to know if he was ever deployed to the human world. It was probably for a mission of some kind." The woman shrugged, continuing her appearance of a hear-saying informant, as she loosely summarized the event. "I think she's taking this 'cross-division training experiment' as a matter of pride. She's been going all out on it since day one and hasn't looked back, Aizen-Taichō."

The man shuffled in his chair at this information, biting his lip. This surprisingly unexpected opportunity would make up for the failure at Health Land. Which, despite the inside information these two provided, guaranteeing that he'd be there for the ambush he planned, was foiled by the appearance of two other Captains and a Lieutenant.

Still, while he had another chance to get the one who escaped Kyoka Suigetsu's hypnotic steel, before he became a problem to his place, it seemed the Spirit King and all those who'd impede his rise to greatness mocked him. While he did have the free time to take leave and finish this job personally, he was given almost the barest of information, making it impossible to get with any level of certainty the location of where this mission to the human world would be.

Hitsugaya, more than likely wouldn't know such information. Since the event and person in question was no longer under his jurisdiction, he didn't need to know either. The other person in the conversation, Soifon, was a vastly different lock that was just as impossible to crack. Soifon was very reserved and guarded of secretive information, which this mission apparently was, so she wouldn't speak of it, unless it was to the individual himself. However, due to him constantly being near her, he figured that either: he wouldn't know till last minute OR she simply used her presence instead of oral instruction to reinforce that if he performed poorly, the fourth division would be gaining a new ward.

At the same time, he believed that she, a believer in maximum effort, would not accept a minimum standard. Given Ichigo's current and projected ability, he would hazard to say that she would send him to an area where he could push himself, so a combat heavy environment teeming with hollows would be likely but still, the world of the living wasn't something that could be trivially accounted for in regards to planning interceptions.

This just left him with the couple before him.

He knew he had to take what they said with a grain of salt. Shinjiro only spoke the truth, but he wouldn't be able to tell him the information he wanted, and even if he could, he'd already proven quite sinister when giving misinformation, a mistake he vowed not to fall for again.

Subaru, on the other hand, had no lying restriction, but maintained a certain degree of truth to her words, but, just from what he had heard, it seemed she only knew of the meeting, but not the finer details of what was spoken.

Normally, he had ways of dealing with getting the answer out of them, or at least, the information he needed could be obtained much more readily from a secondary source, if it wasn't pertinent information all together.

Still, if taken at face value, this was troubling opportunity. If they didn't know the details, which they were asserting the stance of, then even if he were to presume they were lying to him, and threatened the two of them, it would still take weeks to narrow down the general area of operations the man could potentially be in.

He had a limited window of opportunity and only one more chance where he'd be vulnerable. He needed to be methodical and precise with his response to the situation.

The master strategist's eyes narrowed as he thought over the conundrum, desperately trying to find the answer that would secure his victory from the hands of uncertainty. 'If only I could be everywhere, expectant of his arrival.' he mused troubled, 'Wait. Something everywhere...and hostile to Shinigami.'

Then he realized, if he couldn't do it himself, what about others under his command? Barragan! Rudbornn! Any of his hollow allies in Hueco Mundo.

That was the perfect answer.

Issuing forth an order for a portion of his army, to temporarily take battle positions in the human world, to kill a Shinigami fitting Mr. Kurosaki's description, would exponentially increase the likelihood that the man would be killed, upon his undertaking of Soifon's mission. Plus, those two hadn't quite figured out his plan yet, so that meant his army wasn't on their radar; therefore, if Ichigo died via Hollow, they couldn't place their blame on him.

Even if the plan failed, it would harm Soul Societies forces greatly at barely a cost to him, since none of the soldier he truly valued had crossed the barrier, and he would still be given time to find another way to kill Ichigo without alerting Soul Societies forces, who kept an eye on him.

He could have Kaname send word to Barragan along with an update on his sleeper cell timeline, which would also leave him free to put the finishing touches on the caja negacion. Then he, Gin, and Kaname could perform the hardest part of the plan with his biologically engineered hollow.

'Yes, it's perfect.' The man concluded about his grand strategy, creating success from near disaster.

Everything had falling into place. The winds of destiny had changed direction, the goddess of victory was blowing her horn for him, he just needed to be as bold as always and answer her call.

Standing up from his desk with proud unshakable determination, he stared down the two of them, who shifted in response, bracing themselves expecting the worst. "Subaru, Shinjiro. Your task is simple: Bring me Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tosen within the hour." He ordered coldly, pausing briefly for them to relax their guard.

"Afterwards you will have 24 hours to use the Onimitsukido network and provide me with information regarding the functional patrol shifts of each squad, as well as a detailed schematic of the sewer system. Failure will not be tolerated, get out of my sight."

The pair panicked slightly under the hefty orders; while they were glad, they had given minimal good information to the man; they couldn't help but feel that it didn't matter in the slightest to Aizen or his scheme. With their new task, the duo quickly got up and made for the door to begin their assigned task and then keep a wary eye on Ichigo during his stint on earth.

The pair never saw the smile of Aizen, who had managed to distract them with a meaningless task, so he could perform his plan breaking two-fold assault.

(Flashback: Three months after chapter 8)

Walking into Aizen's office Shinjiro took his seat in one of the two empty chairs. Aizen's eyes narrowed asking the very question of where the man's counterpart was. The samurai bowed forward in his chair in apology.

"Subaru won't be able to make it. She got sick from the sudden influenza outbreak and collapsed in front of Soifon-Taichō. She's resting in the fourth division. Soifon is there as well, getting a check-up for once, so she'll verify it, if you don't believe me." He reported solemnly

"Mmm." The man acknowledged as Gin also succumbed to the virus.

Although; he was doubtless of the integrity of her stay, since unlike the man, who upon getting a surprise visit, was found milking the free hospital stay for all it was worth, an act he was definitely not amused to see. She had a legitimate reason to not piss him off, and obey every relevant command to the best of her ability.

"Very well. Then I will charge you with relaying my words to Kujo when she has recovered her strength." He then leaned forward in his desk and spoke.

"I have acquired the third piece to the puzzle and have also significantly narrowed down the locations of the Hogyoku. Therefore, we will be proceeding to next stages of the plan. Until next time your previous orders will still stand. You are dismissed."

"Yes…sir." the man replied back, knowing that time was now no longer on their or Ichigo's side.

(Flashback: During Chapter 9: In the Forest of squad 2)

"Are you ready for this!? Super Speedy Yachiru Kusajishi is gonna blow you outta the water Dark-chan!" the pink haired Fukutaichō exclaimed, as she hopped back and forth on her feet.

"I'm sure you will President-sama." The woman replied warmly, a carefree smile on her face, finally able to enjoy the way life seemed to be going for her and her friends. "I take it you remember the rules?"

"Yup! Gotta stay in the forest!"

"Corre-"

"-Aaand if you don't catch me in five minutes, I win and you'll owe me a jawbreaker." She interrupted with a satisfied smile.

"Corrrrrect…?" Subaru frowned, 'Did I promise that? I don't recall saying anything about a jawbreaker.'

"Hey! Can I ask you something Dark-chan?"

"I suppose."

The girl stopped bouncing and looked at the spy, eyes full of wonder. "Why are you so nice to me? You always seem to keep to yourself around others, except Soi-chan."

The woman thought on it for a second, before she kneeled down to eye level. "I suppose…it's because you remind of a little girl I once knew."

"Was she your friend?"

The woman smiled sadly. "Yeah, Mine and Shinjiro's. Her name was Roseita Aries. She was about ten when I met her."

Yachiru brought a finger over her lip and thought about what Dark-chan was saying. "So why are you all frumpy?" she tilted her head. "Did she die?"

"I…I don't know." She shook her head, "We died before her. If she were to still be alive, she'd be an old woman in her eighties or nineties." Subaru closed her eyes picturing the energetic girl in her mind. "I doubt I'd recognize her anymore or that she'd even remember me." She opened her eyes, which were slightly misty. "In a way…I feel like I've been left behind."

"Hmmm…" the girl thought hard, before suddenly feeling the light bulb flicker on. "I got an idea! You're a big girl right!? Doc-chan said babies come from big girls and their tummies! So can't you make another Rose-chan in your tummy?"

The spy shook her head sadly, "It's not that simple." She tried to explain, "I…work for someone who's really harsh. Me and Shinjiro, well…we wouldn't be able to have a child of our own…at least not while we still work for him. Besides Yachiru, even if I could, Roseita is Roseita, nobody can replace her."

When she saw that she was sort of losing the little girl with abstract thoughts, she decided to bring to a more personal level for her. Placing her hand underneath the girl's chin to make sure she was listening, she continued. "Zaraki Kenpachi. Ken-chan. Kenny. He's important to you, right?" the girl nodded jubilantly. "Do you think anyone could replace him?" the girl snapped her fingers. "Just like that?"

"No way! Kenny is Kenny!" she shouted, which the spy nodded her head agreeably, as she wiped her eyes.

"Now you get how I feel. I know you're not her, but…sometimes." She bite her lip. "Sometimes, I just want to forget."

"Oh." The young child whimpered. Before the spy could speak up, the girl ran and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. "Yachiru is really sorry for asking, so please stop being sad Dark-chan!"

"I…" the girl stopped and smiled gently. "It's okay. Thank-you for caring, Yachiru-chan." She thanked as she gently stroked the girl's hair.

The woman was about to continue speaking when she felt the familiar spiritual energy of Aizen approaching from the distance. Not wanting to involve the girl, she forced the girl to look at her while she schooled her features. "Tell you what: let's get back to the game." She pulled her mask back over her nose. "I'll be 'it' first. I'll even give you a head start before I start counting and if you win the game, I'll double your candy."

"WHAT!?" The small child lit up at the prospect "OH YEEEAAAAH! You're gonna regret those words Dark-chan!" she declared as she hunched over like a track runner "3.2.1! HERE WE GOOOOO!" and took off in a straight line.

Once she was sure the child was gone, she looked up and saw Aizen jumping down from the canopy of a nearby tree. "How kind of you to send her away so we could talk."

"I doubted it was something a child should hear." She insisted

"Quite right." He agreed "Now for the purpose of my visit. I wish for you to pass this on to Shinjiro when you meet him."

Subaru folded her arms behind her back "Very well."

"Things seem to be progressing better than expected, so I'll be moving my time tables up on my plan." He answered enjoying the squirming look in the woman's eyes "I will call you and Shinjiro at a later date to inform you on the changes relevant to you."

The woman nodded her head and he continued, "And as a casual reminder, keep in mind that your cooperation will directly influence the survival of Soifon-Taichō during a…certain adjustment period." The man smiled "I trust you will do your utmost in all of my endeavors."

"I will." The girl replied darkly. She was about to ask about anything else when she sensed the approaching signature of Ichigo. Fearing for him, she turned back to Aizen.

"I'm afraid I must ask you to leave Aizen-Taichō. I sense someone coming. If word gets out that I was seen with you here, Soifon will ask and then…" she stopped purposefully, desperately trying to make the man image a worst-case scenario.

Aizen stopped and considered. He had those two under his influence so long as they were afraid that Soifon would be hurt. However, if she were actively putting herself in danger by trying to interfere with his plans, his sway over them would loosen considerably and then he'd have to figure out a way to dispose of Soifon without alerting the other captains.

'No.' he thought to himself, it was far too risky a move just yet. He still needed the two third seats cooperation for just a bit longer and so would concede to her advice. "Very well, I will depart for now, until next time, good day."

The woman bowed "Of course…"

Once the man flash stepped off, Subaru took in a deep calming breath as she straightened up "…you fucker." She cursed, before proceeding to flash step after Yachiru, trying to get as far away from the spot she'd just been in lest Ichigo accidently run into a lingering Aizen.

(Flash back: Chapter 16: Shortly after the betrayal of Ichigo)

After walking down the stairwell that led to the rooftop, Shinjiro sulked to himself, mulling in his thoughts. Ichigo was a traitor, Subaru and his work went down the drain, the plan that Aizen had was well on its way to being a reality, and Shaolin and the rest of Soul Society was going to pay the ultimate price for one mad man's ascension.

The man absent mindedly heard the door leading to the stairwell open up again, his captain following barely five steps behind him. "Shinjiro-san." The blind man started, causing Shinjiro to stop walking and look back at him.

"I understand you are angry and distraught both by my words and your friend's actions; however, I did have a purpose in seeking you out. We have a meeting with Aizen in less than an hour. We must be on our way."

The man slumped his shoulders, before letting out an exasperated sigh; he was tired and most definitely not in the mood to see people, but he knew he had no choice in the matter. "Fine." He spat dejectedly, as he turned back to the vacant hallway. "But I'm getting Masamune first."

The Taichō nodded his head and they went to Shinjiro's room first before heading off to an open aired courtyard somewhere between squad 12 and 13. It was very late so they didn't need to be worried about others seeing them as they left.

Aizen was sipping from a can of green tea as he, Subaru, and Gin awaited their final two participants. Once they arrived at the meeting point, Shinjiro walked over to his wife and noticed the small horizontal gash on her cheek. When asked she just said it wasn't anything he needed to be concerned about; though, he did see that her eyes drifted over to a Haori-less Ichimaru, letting him know who the culprit was.

Gulping down the last of his drink, Aizen casually tossed the can to the side and started the gathering. "I'm pleased to see that everyone was able to get here on such short notice. I have come to inform you all on some late breaking developments; however, first I must turn to Kujo-san."

The man looked over at the lone woman as she hesitantly stepped forward. "Kujo, Ichimaru has informed me that you were on your way to Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya. To what was the purpose of your visit?"

The woman swallowed the lump in her throat, genuinely fearing he would cut her down if he didn't like the reason. "Captain Hitsugaya requested documentation from Captain Soifon. I was the one decided to relay the documentation to him."

"And what was the information about, Subaru-chan?" Gin taunted the woman, seemingly trying to get her killed, by making it seem like she was intentionally omitting information.

Her eyes drifted over to the man. "It was about Ichigo's past mission reports, nothing more than that." She answered, which brought a small smile to Aizen's face.

"And did he receive them?"

"Yes."

"Marvelous. I do so look forward to his meticulous pursuit and its benefits to me." The bespectacled man informed, "Even though I didn't get a chance to ask you, I thank-you for your contribution to that endeavor." He praised mockingly to the unwitting pawn. "You may step back." He dismissed, he was about to speak when he saw Shinjiro's questioning gaze. "Do you have a question Taiga-san?"

"I was just wonder what this meeting was truly about." He stated coldly, trying his best to hide his inner moroseness.

"Shinjiro." Tosen warned disapprovingly

"That's alright, Kaname. Shinjiro will always be a straightforward individual. So I will address that point." He replied as he straightened his form, as a commander should when addressing subordinates. "I have come to let you two know of when we will be departing Soul Society. You already know that the meeting ground will be Sokyoku hill, but for the actual time, it will be the third day immediately after I have given a signal. Fail to show up and I will shatter Soifon-Taichō with the truth; including your involvement in all these events, before dispatching her before your eyes."

"And what's the signal?" the heartbroken Subaru asked, knowing that their finite time with Shaolin was finally coming to an end.

"The signal will be a doppelganger of my body impaled upon my own sword against one of the buildings located in Seireitei. It is then that you will follow my words accordingly. No farewells. No notes. I have given you plenty of time to create whatever confiding memories you wish with your beloved Taichō. Now is the time that you truly work for me."

He then turned away as Ichimaru and Tosen stepped closer to Aizen. "If you have nothing else to say you are free to go. I need to address my fellow Taichōs on a different matter."

The two remained silent, still feeling utterly defeated and hopeless. Subaru turned and was about to walk away when Shinjiro spoke up. "Tell me something Aizen-san. Soifon-Taichō informed us that our friend Ichigo was a traitor. So…" the man raised an even look at the man, showing a weary, angry side just below the surface. "…what I want to know is this: His…betrayal…it was something you had a hand in, wasn't it? All part of your master plan?" he asked, accusing yet yearning for enlightenment.

"Soifon-Taichō informed you of this incident…how curious." The man replied carefully, eyebrows rising slightly at both that tidbit, since Soifon was notorious known for following instruction, penalty of death or not, this was a very rare lapse in judgment even for her, as well as his accusation itself.

He hadn't expected them to come to the correct conclusion so soon. He was almost certain that once word had spread, about the incident and the resulting civil war he instigated ensued, they'd join the masses believing in a hidden Kurosaki insurgency, only learning it was him once he had the Hogyoku from Kuchiki and they were safely in Hueco Mundo.

He allowed himself to dwell on this error momentarily; before, he concluded that it must have been because they remembered that he had asked them to monitor the man. Perhaps, they had grown used to such a state of paranoia and fear; they were willing to blame him for events, even if it had been something he had or had not done. He would have to be careful when trying to manipulate that factor again at a future time.

Still, right now, it was inconsequential. No matter how or what summations they arrived at, they allowed a critical error in their own deductions. It was simple: They sought answers from Aizen.

The man's question betrayed him to Aizen. He could hear the melodious undertone of desperation that coated it. Such an insatiable thirst for an answer and closure, left one constantly exposed to anyone with a position of authority, like himself. He could spin his answers so many ways it actually hurt.

Sometimes, people were just too easy to manipulate.

"No." he lied oh so smoothly, finding a small satisfaction in seeing the samurai grimace. "I had nothing to do with Mr. Kurosaki's current betrayal." The man placed his hands in his pocket. "In fact, I was the one who advocated that we send someone to go investigate the area they were stationed at, which Kuchiki-Taichō answered the call." He informed amicably.

"If I truly had foreseen such an event, I would have tried to eliminate him instead of recruiting him to my side at the first opportunity. At this latest juncture about a possible investigation, I would have at least sent myself, Kaname, or Gin to mop things up, with the interests of personal safety in mind."

The man closed his eyes and smiled, knowing his work was done. "Some people can lead truly scary double lives. I thought I would have been a shining enough example for that lesson to have sunk in Taiga-san, Kujo-san."

The man and the woman lowered their head obviously distressed; Aizen's smirk grew as he turned away. "You are dismissed. Enjoy the little time you have left."

The devastated pair stood there for a few seconds before backing away mechanically. Their minds were jumbled messes as they started to walk off, clouded with doubts. Their misguided hopes, violently twisted by the liar's manipulation. It just seemed like despite their best effort to undermine him nothing would go their way at all.

He would continue to acquire everything he needed to succeed again, while only defeat would greet them with open arms.

"Shin." Subaru mutter mournfully "I…I don't want to go back to Shaolin's barracks. It's always been hard lying to her, especially these past few week, but now…now I can't even look her in the eye anymore. She's so hurt that she's lashing out in anger, pushing people away. She doesn't say it, but I know, I can see it in her eyes and action. She doesn't just hate Ichigo. No, it's worse than that. She hates you. She hates me. She hates everyone. She think we're all going to betray her."

She wrapped her arms around his and laid her head against his shoulder. "I just…(Sniff)…WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY TO HER!? (Hic) I can't tell her it not true, our very existence is a lie that proves her words!" she started to cry, finally hitting her breaking point. "I'm out of answers…" she whispered quietly. "I don't know…(Hic) I don't know what to do anymore…"

The somber samurai absent-mindedly scratched the top layer of his wife's hair. "You still have me." The man tried to reassure; despite tearing up as well, he kept his voice as calm and as steady as he could. He could not, and would not, let her know that he was just as ready to give up as she was.

He needed to be her rock.

"Subaru, listen to me, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life." He admitted in caring whisper, "My biggest one was when I lost control to Nobunaga and…I killed you. I've regretted it my entire time here, but you've always forgiven me for it. I don't have all the answer and neither do you…"

He turned his face away when he felt his tears freely rolling down his cheeks, but he forced himself to maintain his calm reassuring tone. "…and that's okay. We're human, Subaru. For me, you don't have to be a genius, you don't have to be perfect, you don't always need to make the right choice. Just be you. Do what you think is right and don't worry about making mistakes."

The man used his free hand and wiped the water off his face before continuing. "I swore it to you when I married you and I will say it as many time as you need to hear: Subaru Kujo, I love you; and no matter what happens, I will always stay by your side and keep you safe, this I promise you."

"Sh…shin... (Hic)" the woman stopped walking and buried herself into his chest, letting out all the emotions she'd bottled up out.

The man clutched the woman closer "So please. Don't give up." He whispered raggedly into her ear, tears falling anew. "We're the only ones who can protect Shaolin. Not Yoruichi, not Ichigo, not even the Sotaichō. Us. Maybe…maybe we can't stop Aizen. But…if our actions…everything we've done till now can spare her, from what you say originally happened, then that is still worth fighting for. As long as we're still breathing, we can still do some good, but if we give up now Aizen wins. We can't give him that opportunity or satisfaction…"

The pair stood there for several minutes, so that they wouldn't have to face the stark reality that their world was a nightmare, a gilded mind-raking hell in which they held no power or hope to truly escape from.

Even this moment wasn't a genuine reprieve, but, for what it was, it was worth it. To express, to release, everything they had bottled up inside their hearts, over the long, dark, fifty years in servitude to Aizen.

"You're right." She muttered, as she had finally stopped crying and was now gaining an iota of self-control. She looked up solemnly and spoke in hoarse tone. "You're right. I'm just…sorry Shinjiro-koibito. Sorry for dragging you into this. For just everything in general." She lowered her head back against his chest. "I love you and I'm just so… (Sob)"

"I know." The man muttered, cradling her body as he stared off into the dark corridors, unsure of the future. "I love you too, Subaru-hime." He finished, gently applying a kiss to her forehead, before resting his chin just against her hair, his weary eyes finally closing. "I love you too."

(Flash back: Interlude between Ch.20-21: Nighttime)

Amid the rocky wasteland, that was Kisuke and Yoruichi's secret training ground, Shinjiro was sitting quietly with Subaru, who had a small-flattened paper bag laid out in front of them. The pair was a small ways away from the others so that they could talk about Aizen uninhibited.

"So why did you grab this blood packet from the fourth division?" The young man inquired, since all the other Band-Aids, wraps, and gauze were handed over to Kisuke, except for it. "I'm no doctor, but isn't it kinda useless without an IV or trained specialist, both of which we don't have on hand?"

"Back when we reunited with Ichigo after he proved his innocence, as well as shared his plan to free Rukia, I got to thinking that it would only be a matter of time before Aizen was aware of Ichigo continued existence."

Subaru looked at the packet in her hand. "Maybe, he even knew about it beforehand, but I still wanted to have a back-up plan to protect Ichigo, in case Aizen had considered this scenario."

"Right, back at Kukaku-san's you mentioned to me that Aizen's meticulous and resourceful, so the rendezvous and extraction point must bear some significance to another facet of Aizen's plans. Case in point Rukia's execution, we learned that she's got the Hogyoku that Aizen wants so badly."

The girl nodded in agreement "We can rest assured that Aizen knows that Ichigo is still alive, Shinjiro, and now we just got the signal to meet at Sokyoku hill, where Rukia's execution is going to be held two days from now. No doubt, there were slight adjustments, but so far, everything is going according to his plan." A tired sigh escaped her. "It really does suck to be left in the dark."

"Okay, I'm sensing a 'but we're gonna stop it' coming on right?" he insisted

The girl nodded again, "Ichigo is training for Bankai now and will probably be fighting up on the hill to keep the captains from chasing after Rukia. He's going to be killed unless we intervene."

"And this blood packet is gonna help?" he pressed again, still not seeing where this was going.

"Yes, but were gonna really need to sell the performance."

'Sell the performance?' Shinjiro raised an eye brow at that 'What does acting…? Wait…blood packet…bloody wounds…bloody wounds…dead body!' his eyes widened, as he now got what her bright idea was. "We're gonna attack him and make it look like we killed him."

"Bingo." She answered with a confident smile, "We'll flank him, and strike for real with our Zanpaktou's, that way we'll have real blood showing we hurt him. Then we'll go around the front, and you'll stab him again to create a visible wound no matter which way he falls down, while I speed myself up and cut open the blood packet, so it looks like I slashed his throat and that he's assuredly dead."

"Sounds like a pretty solid plan, so far." The samurai quietly affirmed, seeing no obvious holes that would tank the plan in an instant.

"Aizen knows we'll do anything to ensure Shaolin remains safe, even if it means cutting down a friend." She stated, basing everything on assumptions the man had of them, "But what he doesn't know is: that we know that Ichigo, the one I managed to read up on by Norn, is strong enough to kill him, given time. This Ichigo seem to follow in the previous footsteps to certain degrees."

Her voice dropped to a low but audible mutter "Though frankly, I wish I could just read up on Aizen, but none of the biographies I've glanced match his description or exploits. It's like he doesn't exist or even have a name."

The girl's smile fell, as she lowered head and spoke noticeably more somber. "Of course, this is only gonna work if Aizen doesn't hypnotize him, before we can act, and if we're not around long enough for Aizen to put two and two together. I'm just hoping his acquisition of the Hogyoku will distract him enough to not notice while we get out of here."

The samurai placed a reassuring hand against her cheek. "Listen Subaru. We are so close to pulling this off we can't lose it now. Aizen may have lied and deceived us," the man smirked brimming with confidence, "but I think it's time that he knows how it feels to look like an idiot after being played."

The woman's lip curved upwards just as equally. "Then we'd best stay alive to give him the performance of a lifetime." She then leaned back against the floor and stared at the ceiling. "Shinjiro, let's get some rest. We've got a lot to prepare for."

The man smiled to himself as he got next to his wife and kissed her on the lips, before wrapping his arms around her, ensuring that both of them could finally have a restful night's sleep.

(Flash back end: Present)

"That's the truth and why we did what we did. Believe me we tried everything we could, but our hands were forced multiple times. Still, if this ends with Aizen's death and the prevention of his plans, then whatever consequences afterward aren't important." He finished, leaving the silent group to make their own decisions on the matter of what to believe about him.

And consider they did; if what he said was true, then Aizen already knew a great deal, about when the best time to attack Soul Society would be, due to Subaru's spying in the Onimitsukido, and his many years to plan and refine his strategy against circumstances and squad habits, which lead to the sound trouncing of Soul Societies' forces.

However, even in the face of defeat, there was unseen benefits to the current situation.

Despite the severe hit Soul Society took in the personnel, facilities, and morale departments, Ichigo would be the first to say that the damage sustained during the secession could have been infinitely worse.

The Soul Society itself now had a true united front against a threat. He was still alive and still in Soul Societies army despite Aizen's earlier attempt to recruit him. Next was Senna, who not only joined the fight, but also could-be capable of channel hollow power like him. Shaolin being able to maintain a good relationship with those around her, instead of what would be fractured, tense, distrust with others, and those were just something off the top of his head there was bound to be many other redeeming qualities.

But, since he was thinking of the girls, he spared a side-glance at them to see how they were taking the apparent news. Their reactions were about what he expected: Senna was at a loss for words both due to her lack of closeness to Shinjiro and Subaru and wanting to respect the others around her whom were more intricately involved, the second squad captain's body was shaking lightly, her face ghastly as she continued to take in his words. Ichigo walked over, placed a hand on her shoulder, and squeezed it tightly.

He was gifted a haunted look of a woman who was ready to throw-up in disgust, cry out in anguish and explode in anger all at the same time.

Knowing that they couldn't afford for them to be in such a state with enemies in the area, Ichigo decided to press Shinjiro for more information and to divert attention from his earlier words. "What can you tell me about these soldiers Aizen has here?"

"They're Hollows who've gained the powers of Shinigami. They're called Arrancar; each Arrancar has a number tattooed on their body. I'm not entirely sure what else it means besides the hierarchy thing I was telling you about earlier. The top commanders of the Arrancar are called Espada."

"With the right kanji 'Espada' means 'ten swords' in our language." Senna commented

Shinjiro nodded his head. "That's right. The Espada are the first leading numbers in his Arrancar/Hollow army. And one of them is here in this city with his fraccion."

"Fraccion?" Soifon asked fearfully

"Fraccion are kind of like the lackeys of an Espada. They command the same authority level of their Espada, usually serving as their voice when not around, but do not go making the mistake in thinking them pushovers. Not all fraccion are created equally, while some legitimately are nothing more than fourth string 'yes men' to their leader, kind of like how Omaeda-san was, some are in fact former Espada themselves, given placement by their new leader having been removed from power. That is the purpose of fraccion system, to solidify a current Espada's authority while limiting casualties of strong hollows for Aizen. I think that's what happened with this particular Espada and his kinda-sorta friend Antenor."

"'Kinda-sorta?'"

"It's complicated. But I'm willing to say sort of one-sided…"

He paused momentarily, before he remembered something important regarding the system, "Senna." He said catching the girl's attention "Your father is in Hueco Mundo."

"What!?" she screamed both overjoyed that he was alive but angry about what it meant.

The samurai nodded in affirmation "Yeah, Subaru and I met him after the incident at Sokyoku hill. He…was worried about you, but once we privately informed him on Ichigo-dono's survival, he entrusted Ichigo to keep you safe."

"Dad…" she whispered "Shinjiro-san do you know why he's in Hueco Mundo?"

The man bit his lip, "Forgive me, Lady Senna. I would like to say he is there against his will but…he has free access in exchange for keeping some of the Hollows in line, a job he shares with another person, a red headed woman. There is also a rumor saying that he served as the inspiration for the Espada hierarchy system, and considering the power he's shown us in private, it's probably true. If we knew that back during the invasion I wonder how things would have played out."

"Father…" the woman's face twisted in fear, concern, and hurt at knowing her father was in a world of the damned, and had been keeping such a secret.

Seeing what his words did, he tried to make amends. "But I've talked with him and he has obvious contempt for Aizen and believes that Ichigo and Soul Society can take him down, so I'm sure he has his reasons for what he's doing. Though for the strength I sense in him, he seems unable to attack Aizen for some reason, but he is by no means helpless."

"So Aizen has the 'unknown entity' at his command…" Soifon muttered, perturbed at the prospect of what that meant for Soul Society.

"Then we'll trust him, just like we have to trust you." Ichigo said aloud, reassuring both women at the same time.

Soifon let the matter drop, since they had things that took more precedence, while Senna gave Ichigo a relaxed smile; although, she was now wondering if that meant the story her father told her was fabricated…which in turn…

In the distance, a huge explosion occurred and smoke rose from the area. Soifon looked on stunned at what she was seeing and more importantly what the explosion implied, she gave a quick glance at Ichigo who was clutching the radio in his shirt tightly. His eyes darting away from the victims in sector four.

Seeing that there was very little time left, Ichigo got back on topic and asked another question. "Can you tell us what they look like? We need to know what we're fighting."

"Arrancars are humanoid in appearance. The only telltale signs are the hollow holes they keep after transformation and the occasional bone fragments clinging to their body. Those fragments are the remains of their hollow masks; although, they don't always stick around the Arrancars head. Sometimes they take on different appearances like helmets, arm guards even accessories like necklaces or earrings."

The man stopped explaining when another explosion, much closer, caught their attention. While the Soul Society Shinigami were distracted by the blast, the other man scanned the sky and saw who had done it.

"If you really want to see one, there's one right there." He raised his finger and pointed to the buildings, which the three saw a humanoid shaped being strolling casually through the night sky, firing a red beam down at the street with each impact a loud scream was heard, no doubt by the poor soul whom was under this sadistic individual's gaze.

"PLEASE HELP!" the voice screamed, which seemed familiar to Ichigo, but before he could say anything, he immediately had to grab hold of Senna's arm as she tried to brush past him to go over to the individual.

"Ichigo! Let me go! That was Don Kannoji, he's in trouble!" the woman pleaded quickly, the terror evident in her voice. "I have to save him."

Before an argument could break, the quartet felt a heavy spiritual pressure fall over all of them. Knowing who this was, Shinjiro quickly said, "Ichigo, let her go. You're gonna have bigger problems in a couple seconds."

Taking the man's advice, after feeling that threatening warning burst of power, Ichigo let go of her. "You heard him. Shaolin go back Senna up and when you're done hurry back to help me out. Senna, if half of what he says is true, I don't want you anywhere near me. You'll get destroyed so make sure, Don Kannoji is safe."

"I understand, Ichigo, but be very careful! We don't know what they can do yet." Shaolin cautioned

"Thank-you Ichigo and don't be reckless!" the relieved sister replied

The team split off and went after the beam-chucking enemy just as another individual in white appeared in the sky above the two men. The blue haired man simply turned his head in regard to the flee individuals and while he respected that they at least had the common sense to rightfully be afraid of him, it would be a moot point; because, tonight he was gonna kill every single one of them.

Starting with the strongest enemy.

Sensing another spiritual power, much stronger than the one that the girls were heading to, Ichigo instantly braced his stance, while his free arm lightly wrapped around his Zangetsu's hilt. The blue haired man took a menacing step forward before he relaxed his posture. "What the fuck!? What are you doing here Boy Scout? I thought I told you and my fraccion to stay away from him, he's mine!"

"I don't work for you remember? Therefore, your orders didn't exactly apply to me. Besides, my actions have not compromised…whatever it was you were doing here, if that explosion earlier was you're handy work, Grimmjow." He shot back unapologetically.

Grimmjow scoffed, before turning his eye back on his target, and have to take a double take. "What the fuck?" he quietly muttered to himself as he sensed Ichigo again. Instantly, the man sonidoed over and lifted Shinjiro by his collar. "HEY! What the FUCK did you do to him!? His spiritual pressure was two almost three times as strong it was when I got here! Why is he so goddamn weak all of a sudden, cabrón!?"

Shinjiro said nothing as he struggled in the Espada's grasp, only now did he actually understand Grimmjow's misinterpretation of Ichigo's supposed spiritual power. Ichigo and Senna shared an almost indistinguishable spiritual signature and when combined together it drowned out Soifon's spiritual signature, so what the psychotic king actually felt was all three of them under one banner: Ichigo.

Grimmjow was about to ask him again when he got slugged in the jaw, the force breaking his grip on the samurai and sending him careening towards the guardrail. Before he could even raise his guard up, the Espada felt the force of a kick shoot him through the steel railing towards the street below.

Ichigo lowered his striking leg back down, walked over to the edge of building, and saw his opponent land on the street nursing the blows he sustained, but still looking ready for a rumble. He turned his head towards the fallen samurai and stared at him, his eyes showing no emotion as to what he truly thought of him. Without a word, the Onimitsukido soldier leaped off the building down to the street where his opponent was busy cracking knuckles eager for some payback.

"Cocky little shit ain't cha." The man in white said, "I like that. Got a name?"

Ichigo raised his hands up to defend himself "Kurosaki."

"Kurosaki? The fuck names their kid 'Kurosaki'!?" the man barked out a cold laugh. "You must have had some fucked up parents. I almost feel bad for ya!" he taunted

"You talk a lot." Ichigo replied as he settled into a martial arts stance. 'I better get a feel for him first before I turn things up. Don't want to waste all my energy.' he thought cautiously

"HA! You gotta have balls to make it where I'm from!" the man raised his hands up "Come on bitch! Let's see what you got."

In an instance, Grimmjow saw the Shinigami flash step in front of him arm barely a three feet away from his face.

A loud crack rang through the streets as Ichigo saw that his enemy countered the attack with his own. 'He blocked it from a dead stop with no movement?' Ichigo's eyes widened when he saw the man smirk. 'Espada, huh…'

The man didn't get much more chance to muse as he immediately had to jut his left hand out to catch the kick aimed for his side. The Shinigami felt his entire body shake from the strike, but quickly focused on his enemy as he swept his right leg around to take the man off his feet.

The smirking Espada didn't bate an eye when he immediately back flipped kicking the Shinigami in the chin to create some separation for himself. As the panther landed on his feet, he charged at the staggered Shinigami.

The blue haired warrior buried his fist into Ichigo's stomach, before hitting him again with other hand, and then upper cutting him into the air and kicking him away. The Espada watched with a little satisfaction at seeing the wannabe tough-guy being batted away; though, before he moved again, he saw the man holding his hands together in front of his body and his mouthing moving. 'What's the?'

"Hado 65! Isukumeru Hantei (Impaling Judgment!)" the men yelled as four bulky golden arrow-like pillars formed around his body and screamed toward Grimmjow who simply braced his hierro.

The piercing light collided into the man, stinging him much more than he originally anticipated. As the dust from the light settled, he saw the piece of shit Shinigami handspring off the street for more distance.

The only warning that Ichigo got about the Espada's attack was the slight flicker of spiritual energy both in front of him and behind him. The man quickly reached for Zangetsu as he glanced over his shoulder prepared to strike.

That quickly proved to be wrong, as Grimmjow appeared and sunk his hand through the Shinigami's lung. "Gotcha!" the sexta relished the sight of pain in the man's eyes.

His delight quickly turned to confusion as not a moment later, the man he had impaled suddenly vanished into thin air. "You sure?" Ichigo replied to the shocked Espada, who turned only to see Ichigo ready to cleave into Grimmjow's back.

Wasting little time, the man lurched forward narrowly avoiding the swing. He was about to launch himself forward when he felt a huge spiritual energy emanating from the butcher knife of a sword as the man brought it back around underhanded. "Getsuga." A huge bright light shinned in Grimmjow's face. "TENSHŌ!"

The radiant energy bean surged before Ichigo and coasted down the street, ripping up streetlights, cars, trees, anything standing in its way before detonating.

Ichigo eased his stance, though kept himself vigilant of his surroundings and movements of spiritual energy. He knew that if half the things that Shinjiro said were true this fight was far from over; sure enough, he then heard the sound of feet touching the ground behind him.

Turning around, he saw that Grimmjow looked absolutely fine, save for a small nick across an eyebrow. "You're pretty good to have dodged that at point blank range. Used some kind of hollow flash step?"

The Espada hocked before spitting out some saliva from his mouth. "Sonido, Cabrón." The man glanced at his bloody hand. "Now how did you survive? I know I got you."

"Cicada technique; learned it from my significant other."

"Heh." The man stuck his hands in his pocket. "Well, you ain't as much of a piece of shit as I thought, then again since you pulled out that weapon, means you ain't got anything more to show." The man scowled "Way to kill my joy, puta."

Ichigo narrowed his eyes, somewhat disgusted "So you like fighting, huh?" he stopped when he heard a static sound. Casting his gaze upward, he saw a green network energy-lining shake uncontrollably, 'Shit. Since that tower got attacked the barriers weakened considerably and this guy is stronger than he's letting on.' He brought his eyes back to the Espada before him 'Especially that sword of his. Better end this quick before it fails and thing get complicated.'

"How about a little tidbit? I'm not fighting at full power," he informed hoping to catch his interest to give him time. The Espada said nothing at first then became more aggressive in stance "Bullshit." He declared

"It's the truth." He replied with a confident smirk "I bet I kick your ass with my Bankai. Or are you just too much of insecure bitch to think someone's better than you."

Ichigo's smile grew wider when he saw the man's eyes widen and his fist begin to shake. Apparently, this guy didn't like being though little of, and was beginning to let it show. "Show me, Pendejo." He cursed burning the man's image into his head "Show me. Right. NOW." He roared, his spiritual energy exploding outwards.

Ichigo brought his foot back and swung his sword around, his spiritual energy flaring out just as fiercely against Grimmjow. "Bankai!"

(With Senna and Shaolin)

Skipping over the rooftops, the pair tried to stay ahead of the floating Arrancar.

Senna quickly looked down at the streets below to confirm Don Kannoji's location. "Shaolin, I'm going to get him to safety, please distract the enemy for me."

"Got it." she responded, as she waited for Senna to drop to the street below, before maneuvering behind the Arrancar.

Don Kannoji was still running like all hell down the street. He didn't know who this guy was, but after watching him descend down from the sky, he couldn't help but think about his friend and the way, he met him. However, unlike his friend, the man was immediately hostile and let him 'play' a game of sport.

Dodge the laser or die.

The spirit-channeler huffed to himself as his sides were beginning to cramp up, as he heard the sound of an oncoming blast, he glanced over his shoulder to see the bright red light through his shades.

Just then, he felt a rush of air over his skin as he was immediately on a rooftop of one of the building, completely shocked by the phenomena.

"Are you okay?" a voice called from behind him, turning around he saw the familiar form of Senna, looking back at him with obvious concern.

"Senna." He whispered gratefully "Thank-you."

Senna quickly gave him a once over, before looking to see Soifon descending on the Arrancar, who was looking around the street for Kannoji. "Stay here. I'll be right back."

(Soifon)

Turning in mid-air the captain brought her foot down upon the back of the Arrancar's skull sending him streaking towards the street. She then dropped the energy keeping her air borne and landed on a nearby lamppost, crouched and ready to move.

Spying Senna jumping down from a nearby roof top, Soifon rubbed her foot, her shin stinging after colliding with the rather tough helmet on the man's head. Once fully nursed, she dropped down to the street, and approached the crater where the Arrancar was in.

Looking to the hole, she wasn't surprised to see the man pushing himself, and rubbing the part of his head where he was hit. The Arrancar in question was a white haired individual with lightly tanned skin and strange helmet that engulfed his head, with one side wrapped in a cloth-like turban.

The man looked over his shoulder at his attacker and found a woman with blue hair done in a Chinese braid, with a black martial arts Gi and small white coat. The scowling woman looked down at him seemingly measuring him up, which pissed him off.

No way was he about to be looked down by a Shinigami of all people. Grabbing his Zanpaktou, he quickly turned around and jumped towards the woman, who merely jumped backwards expectantly.

The Arrancar didn't even so much as get within arm's reach before a powerful force slammed into him, sending him through the nearby guardrails. Biting back a growl, he looked over to see another woman with a golden staff, focusing intensely as she brought her spinning weapon to a halt.

Pulling himself up, he took a moment to pop his arm back into place, before turning to them. Now that he got a good look at them and feel for their spiritual pressure, he felt himself smirking. It seemed he got one of those captain's and her lieutenant.

The two girls braced themselves while he sauntered over to them. "Wasn't very nice to attack me when my back was turned." The man said with a slight lisp.

The captain narrowed her eyes as the man drew closer. "Senna." She whispered to her compatriot, "I'm going to try and gain a feel for these Arrancar. I want you to provide me support, but if I should die, I want you to run away."

"You can't be serious." Senna shot back, very worried by what she said.

"Senna, don't argue with me." She commanded quickly. "You and Ichigo are far more important than me. You two are the only ones who can defeat Aizen. We can't lose you. That's why I want you to support me, at least until I'm sure that normal Shinigami can finish them."

The girl frowned but nodded "Fine, but don't be reckless."

"I won't." she then turned back to the man. "So what are you supposed to be exactly? A pawn of Aizen's? You don't look like much. Do you even have a name or are you just an expendable tool?"

"Que tragona! You think you're so tough, huh, puta!? Me llamo Di-Roy Rinker and I'm the Hollow whose gonna kill your bitch ass."

The Arrancar quickly disappeared and reappeared between the two Shinigami. The two girls jumped back in opposite direction, while the Arrancar turned to the captain and gave chase. The captain quickly twirled around and threw her Anken to gauge the enemy as she settled into her stance.

The woman was moderately surprised when Di-Roy didn't bother to raise his arm up to defend himself, even more so, she was shocked to see her throwing knives bounce off harmlessly. Getting her head back in the game, she ducked underneath the Arrancar's sword swipe, and back flipped away.

When the man lunged forward, she whipped her leg around and slammed it in the side of his head. The man staggered a few feet, and was struck again by an elbow to the back, but then proceeded to vanish when she tried to reach around his neck and break it.

With the man disappeared, the captain raised her guard again, 'He disappeared almost like a flash step. Probably to bide some time.' The girl winced as she popped the bones in her hands. 'Something about his flesh. I know I'm not going all out but if feels like I'm hitting a tree.' Her eyes diverted to her discarded Anken, 'Those had no effect whatsoever ever after nailing him in the face.'

The girl scanned her surroundings 'What to do?'

"Shaolin, look out!" Senna cried from her aerial perch.

Sensing the minute flicker of spiritual energy, the woman turned around just in time to intercept the strike aimed for her stomach, and returned with a fist aimed straight for the his neck, knocking the Arrancar off his feet and back into a nearby car.

The car's alarm went off as the man's body crushed it. The sharp tooth man, groaned as pulled himself out of his metal pit. "Fuck. That hurt." Di-Roy muttered, as he placed a hand on the back of his neck. His fingers moving in tandem with the rotation in his neck to until a pleasing crack rang in his ears.

"How are you so tough?" the person in front of him asked.

The Arrancar glanced into the obviously confused face of the captain. He was tempted to not say anything, but he still lacked feeling in some of his limbs, and thought it would be to his advantage to stall. "That would be my Hierro." He answered, telling her just enough to get her to inquire and allow him a chance for reprieve.

"Hierro?" the woman looked at her arm "Is it something on your skin?"

The Arrancar smirked "Si! For Arrancar's like mi amigos y mi our spiritual energy can coat our skin and increase our resistance to your Shinigami attacks. In fact all of you attacks so far, I barely felt them." The woman gritted her teeth; while the man's smirk grew more, thinking he unnerved her "If this is the strength of a captain, it's greatly exaggerated."

"Never estimate a Shinigami, especially a captain." The woman shot back as she filed his words away. "My 'exaggerated' strength is enough to kick your ass."

The Arrancar laughed cruelly. "I'm not even trying here. I haven't even used my ressurreccion."

The Taichō went wide-eyed at what he was implying. 'They have more power than this? That's not good. Still…he's a chatty one. Let's see if I can get it out of him.'

The woman raised her guard. "What is this ressurreccion nonsense? Hollows have always been forced to use full power at all time; they don't know the first thing about sealing away their spiritual energy. Do you think me an idiot?"

"Sí, señora, sí." He then held up his sword. "Did you think my sword was just any old sword? Look closely and tell me what it is."

The woman's eyes focused on the steel, and for a moment, she was at loss, until she sensed the spiritual energy swirling around it. "A Zanpaktou?"

"Correcto. We Hollows who cross the barrier to become Arrancar gain a Zanpaktou that holds the beastly powers we used to possess which we can then unleash any moment of our choosing." Di-Roy brought his hand back and gazed over the edge of his sword. "But you look like a skeptical sort, allow me to show you."

Shaolin had to brace herself momentarily, as the Arrancar's spiritual energy spiked and the ground around him cracked under his pressure. "Pinch, Cangrejo Ermitaño (Hermit Crab)."

A vapor escaped the man's blade and began to wrap around his body, which started to rumble and expand. The captain watched in battle hardened curiosity as the being continued to lurch over until a large shelled figure stood before her.

The form of Di-Roy became much more rounder in size and his arms turned into a pair of claws, while his legs turned into six stumpy digits that held his large, armored body. Only his face was exposed, which even then was half covered, as a thick turban like covering wrapped around the top half of his head, and two black holes for eyes looked back at her. "HAHAHAHAHA! Don't look so cocky now do ya!?" he mocked, as his bellowing voice reverberated through the air.

Shaolin looked over the monstrous form of Di-Roy, but instead of having the expectant showing of fear, she seemed surprisingly calm about the situation. "So this is your so-called trump ability. I'm not impressed."

"Don't try to play cool, perra!" the creature roared as it stomped angrily. "My spiritual energy is much greater than your piss shit level. I can't believe Aizen was worried about you fuckers, I could take you all on!"

That seemed to get a reaction out of the captain, who looked surprised. "Looks like I was right." She said "You are just a throw away soldier if you believe that. Any real threat would have known I'm not even trying. Surely, you must have seen that I haven't even released my Shikai yet, besides…"

Before she continued, Di-Roy was immediately lifted into the air by a pillar of wind slamming into his body, tossing him into a nearby street sign.

As the tornado died down, the fraccion saw the second woman from earlier drop down beside the captain. "I'm not fighting alone." She informed the Arrancar, who was busy trying to right himself.

With the brief interlude granted courtesy of Senna, Shaolin turned to her friend. "I hope you were paying attention."

The teenager nodded. "I was. He was no match for either of us before his release, but if his release works the same way that a Shinigami does when using it then-"

"-then it would be safe to assume he is between two to five times stronger than before." She finished, as she pulled her sword out of its sheath. "Sting him to death, Suzumebachi." As her gauntlet formed the captain turned back to her friend, "We need to be sure of their strength in this new form. So I want you to fight with me."

Senna looked towards her with evident worry. "We can't delay helping Ichigo with tests you know."

"I understand your concern. However, this enemy is weaker than the one Ichigo is facing and I'm missing crucial information on these beings. If we don't have an accurate measure of them, we'll just be rushing to our deaths." The woman settled into her stance, but spoke much more softly. "Don't worry, he'll be fine. Besides, I'm not going to put his life on the line for this loser's attention. So trust me."

Senna nodded her head, while Di-Roy corrected himself and snarled at them. The fraccion indignant at the fact that not only did these two women blind side him, but had a conversation as if he wasn't there. It burned him to the core. He was above these Shinigami; he was higher up in the food chain. He wouldn't be looked down on.

With an anger fuelled Sonido, the crab tried to snip both girls in half with his powerful claws.

To his surprise, the smaller girl jumped into the air while the other leaned to one side and extended her staff, catching the pincer mid strike and preventing it from closing. Di-Roy was about to close his other claw and strike the immobile woman, when the other landed beside his shoulder.

In an impressive show of strength, the captain grabbed hold of the claw and lurched it back, jerking the fraccion off his feet and over her shoulders before being tossed into a nearby building.

Not one to repeat his mistake, Di-Roy corrected himself before he hit the building and dug one of his claws into the side of the building to anchor himself.

With a sadistic smile, he drew in a breath before spewing out a black stream of bubbles towards the women. The wall of liquid homed in on the women and then exploded in a violent eruption, leaving a crater where they previously were standing.

Nudging his arm out of the building, the hermit crab Arrancar walked over to his handiwork to make sure they were dead. He looked into the hole and saw nothing. He was about to turn away in satisfaction when something caught his attention, a small dark circle.

With a growl, the monster looked up and saw the two Shinigami still alive. The one with the staff holding unto it in midair, while she used her other hand to grab hold of the captain, escaping the blast via the sky.

Senna let out a sigh of relief, having escaped the strange attack and gave a quick glance to Shaolin, who nodded her head. Directing her spiritual energy, her Zanpaktou dived into a hard arc towards the monster. Just before coming in range, Senna released her grip on Soifon, who kept her intense speed and drop kicked the monster in his face.

As the Arrancar lurched back, Senna dropped down behind it, her sandals helping her skid to a stop. Once Di-Roy fully turned around he couldn't do anything except brace himself as the other woman's staff came in overhead and crashed into the side of his head.

Stepping in tandem with her swing, Senna used her momentum and brought her staff back around in a vertical arc and struck him in the jaw. Turning the staff in her hand, she was ready to swing her staff again when the monster surprised her with his sudden recover and seized her staff mid-strike with his hard pincers.

Di-Roy gave a quick yank, forcing her forward, as he raised his other claw to smash her into the ground. As the large limb started to bear down on her, Senna removed one hand from her Shakujo and brought her forearm over her head to shield herself.

The claw slammed into the arm, driving the girl's feet into the tar slightly, but to Di-Roy's surprise, instead of continuing to press her through, it stopped; however, what really sent him reeling was a thin layer of white between her clothing and his claw. 'No way…' he thought to himself as he knew what that was. 'how does Shinigami have a hierro?' the black-eyed beast looked into the glowing gold eyes of the other woman. 'What are you?'

His momentary distraction was cut when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. A loud roar escaped him, as he looked down to see the captain standing to the left of his claw, that he was slowly pulling back to touch a spot where a strange red butterfly mark was. "What did yo-" he grunted again, feeling his strength fading.

The captain barely glanced over her shoulder to the defeated beast. "Arrancar are very dangerous enemies indeed. Now that I know a little bit about how to best engage you, I'll be sure to end these fights quickly." She then turned towards the other woman who eyes returned to normal "Just like you. Nigeki-Kessatsu."

Senna watched as the red butterfly mark shined in response to the command before quickly overtaking the man's body and erupting into a giant butterfly that destroyed his body completely. The young adult took in a breath of air to calm down, though she was still shaking on the inside from the adrenaline rush.

"Senna." Soifon said getting her attention "Are you okay?"

Senna looked at the woman before looking down at her hand, which was shaking, and understood what she was getting at. "No, I'm fine. He's a hollow, so he's been purified. We didn't kill him."

"Right." The captain reluctantly nodded her head to her statement before taking a few steps away. "I'm going back to assist Ichigo. I want you to go make sure that soul you rescued is still safe. Once that's done, I want you to lay low until this over."

Senna frowned but nodded her head. "Okay, but promise me you'll stay safe. I don't want to lose you."

Despite the tense battle going on, Shaolin smiled. "I will." She answered, as she placed her hand against the teen's cheek. "And I'll look out for Ichigo as well." She then removed her hand and switched back to captain mode. "Now go. We can't waste any more time."

"Okay." The purple haired girl confirmed as the captain departed. Turning around, Senna looked towards the rooftop Don Kannoji was at and spotted him looking over the edge. 'Was he watching the fight?' Despite the distance, she could sense his spiritual energy had calm biorhythm, as if he…wasn't so surprised.

It was odd.

Wanting answers, the girl used her flash step and crossed the distance. Appearing ten feet behind the TV star. "Kannoji-san." She said bring his attention from the streets below.

Hearing the sudden voice, the spirit medium was surprised by her sudden appearance behind him, he didn't think she cross that kind of distance in the blink of an eye. Though, he was quick to get over his shock. "I saw what you did down there Senna. You and that other one were incredible to defeat such a beast." The man crossed his arms in his trademark fashion. "Ein would be proud to see that you've grown into a strong defender of justice! So I salute you, Wahahaha!"

The man laughed for a few seconds, but when he saw the woman didn't share in his mirth, he grew concerned. "Senna, what's wrong? You always laughed with me." The superstar wilted a little more when the girl's eyes hardened on the man. "Are you alright, child?"

A distant glassy stare landed on the man. "Kannoji-san, you've known my family for a long time. I've wondered something for a while. You watched me fighting and you were calm about it." She paused slightly, as she thought how best to word her thoughts.

"When me, you, Rukia and the others were trapped in the hospital last year, the only thing that frightened you were the monsters, the Hollows, you didn't bate an eye when we fought and destroyed them, which means…you must have been used to seeing 'humans' doing such things before." She steadied her gaze on her friend, who wilted under it. "Am I right?"

The man didn't say anything, which unnerved her. "Don. You've been a family friend for as long as I can remember, but you're also spiritually aware, at some point you must have wondered where all these people were coming from, or what they were." She stated quietly. "Or maybe you did have an idea…"

"Like ghosts." The man flinched

"Devils." Then he stopped breathing

"Or…Shinigami." In response, the man inhaled deeply as he removed his glasses from his face, as he knew where she was going with her line of thoughts. "Father always told me that I was adopted. That's why I accepted never having a mother around, but now I know it's not true."

"Senna…"

"So, I want you to treat me like an adult. Tell me the truth, how did you really meet my dad? You told me he showed up in Karakura right when you were getting ready to make it big…what's the truth?"

"I never thought I'd see this day, nor would I be the one to tell you." The man placed his hands in his pocket. "I'm sorry, Senna, but that's something you should-"

"Ask my father?" She cut him off, "I can't. He's…trapped in the afterlife. A world I know almost nothing about." She then glanced sadly into the man's eyes.

And it pained him.

"Please, Don. Just tell me the truth. I've always respected you; don't do this to me now."

The TV star drew in a breath before exhaling deeply, "I don't know much about that world either, but I did know that you and your father weren't of this world. From the very moment I met him."

He slowly started walking over to the roof top railing and gripped it, "Sixteen years ago, I got fired from my previous job at an Osaka Radio station, so I was forced to move back here to my home town of Karakura in the old two story home my parent's left me. I was twenty-eight years old and already out of a job. For a time I sat at home watching TV, wondering how to get back on my feet, then I saw a reality TV show and it occurred to me. Ever since I was a kid I could see spirits, yet no one ever believed, but if I could capture something on camera or some other supernatural phenomena then I could turn it into a show and strike it rich. So for next year, I did all kind of odd jobs, saving up my money. My piddling earnings was just enough to interest an up-and-coming channel. They gave me two weeks to submit a five-minute skit, to see if I was worth investing in, but that was enough."

"How was that enough exactly?" she asked, as she walked over and joined him.

"Because…I met your father." He replied, "I was scouring possible shot locations at night when I went to check out the old abandoned hospital. As I was getting ready to enter, I felt a huge chill run down my spine. The area around me grew so cold; I could see my breath in front of me, even though it was in the middle of a summer heat wave. It actually hurt to breath."

'A chill and a hard time breathing. That's what happens when a powerful spiritual energy comes near a weaker one.' Senna recalled the basics from her Shinigami tutors. "What happened next?"

The man rubbed his arm with his free hand, to rid himself of the Goosebumps he felt whenever he thought about what happened. "I freaked out. I wanted to strike it rich, not die. So I turned around and got ready to pack my things up and try again a different night. That's when I saw him."

He nodded his head as he recalled it all with clarity, "He was descending from a black hole in the sky wearing a pristine white attire with katana at his side. I thought he was some kind of wingless…angel, but I noticed some kind of aura of heat was radiating off his form. He had two bodies slung over his shoulder, one looked like a child-sized mannequin, and the other was a carbon copy of himself, but what caught my eyes the most was what he had in his arms. Wrapped protectively in a blanket was a sleeping child."

"Me." She whispered quietly, though the man nodded his head in confirmation.

"That it was Senna. I remember being frozen on the spot at seeing him descend down. Then when he landed, his eyes fell on me, as if I recognizing me, before going back to you, Senna, to make sure you were okay from the journey. At first, I thought it was some kind of stunt show and that I was being set up, but he called me by name. When I asked who he was he told me he was the devil appointed by god."

The man shook his head back and forth, despite having a smile on his face. "I couldn't even believe what I did next. I thought he was going to steal your soul, so I tried to attack him to save you. He didn't have to move to send me splattered across the street. But the odd thing was, he said I hadn't changed; I was still the same dumb, courageous, spirit medium he remembered."

'Why would dad say that if it was his first time here?' the girl looked away to the street below. 'But if it wasn't then why doesn't Don remember seeing him? He's certainly old enough too…what's going on?'

The girl was brought out of her thoughts when the man tapped her arm "A lot to take in?" he asked.

"Yeah." She admitted, "But I need to know the truth. Could you continue?"

The man nodded, as he placed his glasses back over his nose. "I asked him what he was going to do. He startled me when he walked up and asked me for my help. So, I gave it to him, but only if he told me who or rather what he was. He agreed and I took him back home. He then told me that he was from a world that I could never reach, but was filled with people, who had power similar to his. He said they were invisible to the naked eye, but I could glimpse them due to my 'spiritual awareness'. I asked him if they were ghosts, and he said in a manner of speaking, they were Shinigami and other assorted Souls."

The man paused to catch his breath and let the girl process the information. "Frankly, I was surprised to hear it. A world beyond the grasp of human beings. Guess it's true what they say: you think you rule the world, but when you look down, you're just standing in someone else's hand." He quoted thoughtfully of the saying before continuing his story,

"He told me that he lived among them, staying just out of sight of the Shinigami except for one. He then told me that he and his daughter, you, escaped from a massive citywide inferno. He cried, when he told me that when he returned home he found the house ablaze, said he didn't sense his wife or his son, only you, he thought the fire got to them first. He wasn't going to let it claim you too, so he grabbed you and escaped the area. When he saw Shinigami pouring out of the 'Seireitei', or so he said, he turned around and fled to the outskirts of a 'Rukongai'. He apparently had some kind of underground hideaway; because that was where he got the bodies he was carrying over his shoulder."

'Father created the Gigai?' she wondered to herself, recalling what Kisuke had said about them. 'But those were special. He said it'd take centuries to make…' the girl's eyes widened as she started to derive a conclusion.

"After hearing his story and how he wanted a chance to live in peace with his daughter, I told him about my up-and-coming show. He was a ghost and I was a spirit finder looking for haunted lo-cals, I told him that if he helped me, I'd be swimming in money and be able to help him in return, I even offered him the deed to the place you two live in. It would help give him the second chance he wanted." The man smiled, "I also added in the stipulation that he couldn't take my soul either, but he just laughed at me, saying he needed the pick me up."

The young adult looked at her friend. "That means you must have set up dad with a fake name…does that mean his name isn't Ein?"

"When he was coming up with the alias of his first name, he glanced at his sword and then asked if 'Ein' was an acceptable name nowadays. I told I had a friend named Ein Shiratori, who died in a car accident some time ago." The man admitted, "I figured it wouldn't have hurt none if we gave him the last name of my cousin. Wanted to make it seem legit, and whose going to think to link the name to a guy rotting in prison.

"Thus Ein Takamiko was born." Senna aloud to which the man nodded. "So then you knew that the whole adoption story he told me was a lie?"

The dark man sighed, "Yeah, I knew, I helped him come up with it. He said that the people of that world would try to kill you, so he didn't want you to have anything to do with it. Senna, he just wanted you to live a happy, carefree, life. He was trying to do right by you, so please don't hate him."

"I…" she paused. "I don't. I've seen the world myself…it's not exactly pretty." She said sadly, as she leveled an even stare into the man's eyes. "I think I have a lead to his true identity and about who I am, so I have one more question to ask."

"And that is?"

"What was my father's real name?"

"He only told me once, I never forgot it. He made promise to never call him by it, but his name was Isshin. Isshin Kurosaki."

"Ichigo…" the woman whispered. 'I knew it! I thought Don's recounting of the story sounded similar to the one Dad told me and Ichigo before we went to Soul Society, but after hearing all of this, this clinches it.' The woman furrowed her eyebrows. 'But dad told him that I was in danger if I stayed there…could he…could he have known about my inner hollow?'

That had stumped the girl. How had her father known about such a thing, and why was it that he avoided the Shinigami, except for Masaki? From what she was just told, he had a Zanpaktou, the ability to cross over to the human world, specially made Gigais, and Masaki had always told Ichigo that his father was a nobleman to explain his absence, yet not a single Shinigami had apparently heard of him.

'Was he some kind of undercover Shinigami?' she shook her head. 'No, Shaolin definitely would have told Ichigo by now, and even if she didn't know Yamamoto would have imprisoned him when we invaded…'

Then had his mother lied to him as well about Isshin's past? But why? Had she suspected that he was more than he initially let on? If so then why have kids?

Something wasn't adding up, she had to be overlooking something.

Her epiphany came when she remembered what Kannoji said 'A city wide fire.' The pensive girl recalled; trying to create something that would explain the circumstances of her and Ichigo's separation. 'Could both Masaki AND Isshin thought that the other died, when actuality one went to the human world, while the other found refuge near the Seireitei?' she speculated. On the surface it sounded plausible, so working the theory she continued. 'Okay, that explains how we separated, but…then why tell Kannoji that our lives could be in danger?'

The voices of prior conversations on the matter came flooding back into her.

So what that means for you two is that you aren't entirely Shinigami.

So what you're trying to say is that Ichigo and Senna are part Hollow AND Shinigami?

Well Mirokumaru said 'I am her and she is me'

it's also a piece of your soul. But for that to be true they'd have needed to be inside you for a long time.

She was starting to breathe heavier at the implications, then her heart stopped when she remembered her earlier skirmish.

Di-Roy had a Zanpaktou even though he was a Hollow…and he was humanoid in appearance. Which meant… 'My mother was a Shinigami captain and she married an Arrancar…a Hollow.' She concluded, coming to the only explanation that made sense for her origins and unique heritage.

"Senna?" Don Kannoji called to her for the umpteenth time, as he saw the girl run the spectrum of emotions and now was settled in an uncomfortable place. "Senna!"

"W-what?" she started out of her daze, looking back at him.

"I asked: Are you okay?" he repeated solemnly.

The woman pursed her lips, "Y-yeah, why?" she asked.

The man lifted a hand and touched her cheek, "You're crying, my child."

"Wha-" the woman brought her hand up and upon touching her cheek found the water path of tears. When had that happened? Why had it happened? Was she sad? Or…was she happy?

Before she could move, she found herself in the arms of the TV star, hugging her tightly. "It's okay, Senna, just a lot to take in." the man leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, "You needed to know the truth someday, I'm just glad you are a strong enough woman to handle what it means."

"Don…" she whispered, as she looked up at the man who took his glasses off.

"Senna, I don't know about that other world, but your father has always wanted what's best for you. Same for me too. If you have to fight monster everyday…as long as it eventually leads to something that makes you happy, then you'll never lose the home in your heart."

The girl wrapped her arms around the man and smiled, "Thank-you, Kannoji-san. Thank-you for everything."

The pair remained like that for a few minutes until Senna broke away and grabbed her Shakujo. "I've got to go now. A lot of people need me; my power can make a difference."

The man nodded his head, "I understand. Be very careful Senna." The man slowly crossed his arms in front of him in X fashion. "The spirits will always be with you."

The young girl was taken aback, before she mimicked the action, a contented smile her lips. After a few seconds, she placed her foot on the guardrail and hopped onto her Shakujo, then took off into the sky.

The man stayed like that for a few more seconds, until he felt the tears pouring down from behind his shades "May the spirits… (Sniff) always be with you, Senna."

(Same time: Ichigo)

"Hrrrah!"

The opaque blade slammed into a large advertisement sign, ripping it in half, while the intended target dodged to the left and fired off a ragged doom blast that also missed the target, who disappeared in a flash step.

As Ichigo rematerialized in the night sky, he took a moment to wipe the blood trail that had covered his left eye. His breathing was heavy from exhaustion and his clothing was clinging to him due to sweat. Even though he had the upper hand now that he was using full power, it seemed that problems were beginning to arise.

The barrier had been failing for a while and he felt his strength starting to become more and more restricted, no doubt by the overseers back in Soul Society, who were trying to compensate for the loss of a tower. On top of that, it seemed that Shinjiro also wasn't exaggerating when he said than Espada were elites. No matter how hard his sword struck the man, he just seemed to grit his teeth and get back up, or would dodge it and try to follow it up with a deadly counterattack.

The Shinigami quickly turned around and blocked the Espada's sword with Tensa Zangetsu. The combat enthusiast scowled as he pressed his sword more against the blade, which Ichigo met just as eagerly.

While he was keeping his guard up, the Shinigami was sure that if he held out for just a bit longer, he could kill this guy in one good hit before things got too hairy.

The pair jumped apart taking a moment to re-grip their weapon. Grimmjow was breathing harder than he was, having received a lot more damage than Ichigo had once the former entered his Bankai state. The lower ends of his Jacket were torn off and he had plenty of shallow cuts across his sides and abdomen. His hair was disheveled and his arms were shaking from physical exhaustion.

"You fight well for kid with fucked up parents." Grimmjow taunted, trying to catch his breath. A smirk graced his lips when he saw Ichigo return a hateful scowl back at him. "What's the matter Cabrón? Got mommy and daddy issues?"

"Is that all you can do? Taunt me?" the Shinigami responded, "You're the one ready to drop dead." A cruel smirk gathered on his lips. "If this is the supposed power of the Espada, I think this war is as good as won."

"Usted arrogante hijo de puta!" The man roared, spiritual energy flaring along with his temper. "Don't you dare look down on me, Shinigami!"

The Espada then shocked Ichigo when he immediately placed his sword in his hand and slashed it, his blood fling into the night sky. The self-mutilation threw the man off guard just long enough for the Espada to gather energy in said hand. "No me jodas! Chock on this!" A compressed red ball of energy swelled before turning into a pale blue fire. "Gran Rey Cero!"

The thunderous beam of energy split the sky as it surged forward, only stopping when it collided against a huge green energy dome encasing the area around the city.

As the light died down, the Espada kept his guard up ready to fire another one should his target still be alive. Grimmjow's keen eyes had seen the man's body twitch just before it hit him, and after seeing the man's intense speed, meant there was a chance he might have dodged it.

Hearing a noise, he quickly snapped his neck to his immediate sides, expecting him to come out of another cicada, only to see a water tower careen over and collapse.

That's when he felt it.

A sharp spike in spiritual energy.

As he turned towards the battle-ravaged street below, he saw that fucking piece of shit snarling at him, gripping his sword in a two handed swing. A black aura cloaked his body and Zanpaktou, his eyes glowed gold as if taunting him in the difference in power. "Getsuga!" he yelled as he stepping tandem with the swing "TENSHŌ!" he screamed

The black energy returned, an even louder response that dwarfed the panther king's forbidden cero, but unfortunately, for Grimmjow, there was nowhere to go. No place to evade the attack that encased the entire area above the city street.

The Black Death engulfed the man as it screamed upward, colliding into the same energy field, but unlike before, the shielding dome finally collapse under the abuse, shattering as the attack pierced the sky.

As the dark reiatsu blocked the sky, he felt a panicked voice calling to him from inside his head 'This Seireitei observation officer Akon. The barrier has failed. Placing immediate max reiatsu restriction on all Shinigami in the AO. Recommend immediate withdrawal from all combat operations until we can re-direct power and stabilize it. Until then you are on your own! Repeat, you are on your own!'

The lieutenant immediately felt an insurmountably sharp drop in his strength, all his muscles locked up tightly before releasing, forcing him to his knees. He started to wheeze; he felt tired before but now was really feeling it. This could not have happened at a worse time.

"Buen…intento, fucker." Came a voice above him.

'Shit…really!?' he thought to himself, as he looked upward and saw Grimmjow heavily wounded.

The Getsuga Tenshō had done its job, despite the Espada curling his body up and trying to block the attack with his sword. A huge burn mark ran from the corner of his forehead over the bridge of his nose and across his chest. His left arm had been completely lopped off and his entire jacket was destroyed along with everything below his knees.

The Espada fell to his knees in pain, never before had he been so confronted with his own mortality then just now, and it stung to know it was a damn Shinigami that almost did him in.

'No.' he promised himself, as he gritted his teeth, trying to stand back up again. 'Not till I become a king amongst warriors! I won't die! Not to anyone!' Despite his shaking frame, he managed to get back up. 'Especially to this piece of shit!'

"You're a glutton for punishment, Grimmjow." hissed Ichigo, who readied himself despite his tide turning handicap. "Better run back home to Aizen or I'll take your other arm too!"

"I've had enough of you!" he yelled, as he brought his sword arm to around his chest. "I'm gonna carve your heart with my claws! Grind, Pantera!" he yelled ready to unleash his ressurreccion.

He waited for the transformation to occur, but went wide-eyed when nothing happened. 'What the fuck!? Why now!?' His question was quickly answered when he felt a faint energy beside him, turning to his left, he saw that tagalong samurai barely three feet away from him, his Zanpaktou drawn and a scathing look in his eye.

"You…" he hissed to which the samurai sighed in resignation.

Their confrontation was put on hold when the Espada felt more spiritual signatures to his right, but it was one in particular that made him want to groan. He knew exactly who it was.

Looking back around, he saw two Arrancar. One was Luppi who was following closely behind the one he loathed. The Arrancar was extremely pale with green eyes and black hair that was partially covered by his hollow mask.

"¿Qué quieres Cifer?" The fighting Espada growled.

"To save the primary objective that Aizen-sama asked of you from your blatant stupidity." His superior replied coolly, eyes closing with cold indifference. "You were sent to gather information; instead, you let the thrill of fighting get the better of you and over eighty por ciento of your fraccion are dead as a result. If not for the timely intervention of Aizen and Primera, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Luppi and I could have made it." He shot back

Ulquiorra disagreed again "Perhaps you haven't noticed the encroaching spiritual energies coming towards us." He informed, before pointing towards the street below as a female figure appeared from a nearby street, taking a stance next to the first Shinigami. "Or that soldier wearing a Haori. I believe she's a captain, how do you think it would have gone now?"

"Who asked you…" he shot as he eased his stance, while the other Espada opened a way back home. Looking down towards the recovered Shinigami, he raised his voice. "Love to continue to fucking with ya, chicken shit, but I've got bigger fish to fry!"

"Get back here Grimmjow!" he yelled, trying to goad him back into finishing it; though, it seemed he wouldn't bite, as he started to walk into the portal.

"I'll see you again, Kurosaki. On my number sexta. I'll see you again." He replied back, as he disappeared into the void, Luppi following closely behind, fretting over her leader's wounds.

The lone Shinigami amidst the Hollows looked back into the eyes of Ichigo and Shaolin, a fleeting sadness barely veiled by a resolution. "Ichigo-dekai (8)…I don't like burdening others, but I must make one more request: Please, look after Shaolin-gozen (9) and survive…together."

The pair's eyes widened at his words, but couldn't say anything in response as he too disappeared behind the dark veil along with the controlled Arrancar.

When the portal closed fully, Ichigo fell to his knees, as his Bankai finally gave out returning Tensa Zangetsu back into its cleaver shape. The woman beside him also began to feel light headed, from both a sudden flux of fatigue and the sudden re-tightening on her reiatsu, but she was still good enough to offer her hand to Ichigo. "Anything broken?" she asked, as the man pushed himself up and leaned against her.

The man panted slightly, before shaking his head. "No." he then turned his head down the street she came from to see Senna approaching atop her Shakujo. "But were really gonna need all the help we can get. If he was just the sixth strongest, we've got five more and Aizen to go. We were lucky tonight." The man glanced down at his wife "Are you and Senna okay?"

"Nothing a nights rest won't cure." She replied as the pair started to make their way closer towards the younger sibling who had gotten off her Shakujo, so they could use as emergency transport.

"Ichigo are you okay!?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine." He tried to easy the agitated woman. "Let's just go home. We need to see Shinji ASAP. This war just got complicated."


End fic banter:

Ichigo:…

Shaolin:…

Senna:…

Shinjiro:…

Subaru:…

Blackout2010:…

?: Hey you guys…

(All turn around)

Everyone (acknowledging): Aizen.

Aizen: I'd like to take this moment and say…

Aizen: (•_•)

Aizen: ()•_•)⌐■-■

Aizen: (⌐■_■) Exactly as planned.

Everyone:…

Ichigo (annoyed): Shut up, Aizen.

Ichimaru: YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!


PS3 BTAT: Silver trophy earned: An old story. {1+1=?}

Description: Hear both sides of Masaki and Isshin Kurosaki's story.


End fic announcement: Temperance and the hanged man.

Blackout2010: Okay so for the most faithful of viewers (IE the people who read the very first summary I posted of the story, back in 1-31-2011) you will recall why I had put AU/AT. The AU part comes from the many changes to the story, the AT (alternate timeline) comes in from instead of Aizen remaining detained after being defeated by Ichigo. He broke out and killed a powerless Ichigo [and subsequently everyone else], hence the reason why I was hesitant to post and keep the AT tag up, because I figured someone might make a comment on it. [Shrugs] Curiosity kills the cat and all that. Anyway questions or concerns feel free to leave it in review or PM, as long as I can respond back. Thank-you for your time.


Guidepost of the soul:

1. Refers to the Tarot card: Temperance: which relates to: Balance: Moderation: Stability: Peace and War: This relates to Shinjiro.

1. Refers to the Tarot card: Hanged Man: which relates to: Sacrifice: Enduring: Giving up: Suspension of life: This relates to Subaru.

2. For all those who've played 'Borderlands 2', you may recognize this section and a few lines below being quite similar to the echo logs of Handsome Jack found in the city of Opportunity, specifically the echo cast where Jack, during a conference meeting, was describing how Hyperion weapons were, "Weapons made by smart son of a bitches for smart son of a bitches" and better than 'Pisstal' Bandit and 'War-hippy' Maliwan. The urge to pass up that humor gold mine was impossible.

3. For those of you who played Fire Emblem 7: called 'Rekka no ken' in japan and just 'Fire Emblem' for the US GBA edition, you may remember 'Glass the mercenary' and his memorably introduction during chapter 2: Sword of Spirits. Enjoy your chuckle.

4. Again another 'Fire Emblem' reference. This time young Owain 'Dark', son of Lissa, from 'Fire Emblem: Awakening', and his ridiculous weapon naming. Again, for those in know, enjoy your chuckle.

5. Koibito: Similar to the ending of Koi, it means my beloved/Loved one, and is used in nature of 'my one true love' or 'my only love'. It is rather old fashion to use the full phrase, Koibito.

6. CCP is military acronym for Casualty Collection point. Typically rendezvous and retreat points for wounded and location of medical facilities.

7. TOC is military acronym for Tactical Operations Center. Typically, where high command and field command elements are located.

8. Dekai: This suffix is very old and roughly translates into 'your royal highness' and given Shinjiro's background, would be akin to the samurai calling Ichigo 'His lord'. Granted tono/dono would be a 'modern' equivalent, but I felt it that those wouldn't convey the gravity of the regard he's holding Ichigo.

9. Gozen: This suffix is also a bit dated it also translates roughly into milady or noblewoman, again in reference to a samurai calling his female leader, 'lady' or 'mistress'. The modern equivalent would be akin to 'Ojou', although Ojou's are typically identified as young women, whereas Gozen are typically grown, mature women. The more you know the better off you'll be.