"Captain, we've located the target. North-east quadrant, on the roof of the Sixth Squad laundry building."

Soi Fon raised her hand to the receiver, only the slightest tremble revealing a trace of her feverish excitement. "Good work. Keep her in sight, but do not engage. Repeat, do not engage. I will deal with her myself." She rose from her position. North-east quadrant. Perfect. According to the second team, Hitsugaya was the only one in that area. Soi Fon sprang straight into flash step. On pure speed, that boy would never stand a -

Slam.

A few seconds later, she looked up, still slightly dizzy. An invisible wall? But she hadn't sensed any kidou whatsoever. Then she heard it, that familiar I-always-knew-you-were-an-inferior-specimen-and-yo u-just-proved-it chuckle, and things clicked into place. "Kurotsuchi..." she growled, raising her hand in the execution commencement position. But he was already gone.

Soi Fon stood up, taking control of her breathing in order to restore the mental clarity needed for flash step. So the long-nailed freak had got a few seconds' lead? Little good would it do him, for she knew the target better than anyone, could anticipate and intercept her with the merest -

Slam.

As Soi Fon looked up from the ground, feeling her entire back ache from the blow, she saw a brief glimpse of a wide captain's haori, with a pink dot on one shoulder, disappear into the distance. She didn't need to hear a faraway "what was that, Kenny?" to know that the game had just become a lot more difficult.

Never mind. No price was too high. Not after what she'd heard at the unexpected captains' meeting that morning.

-o-

Captain Commander Yamamoto had held up a notice and read it out loud, and suddenly the Court of Pure Souls turned into a maelstrom.

"For the attention of the Thirteen Squads. You have twenty-four hours to find me and catch me. The reward will be one day in the Shihōin Clan, beginning with a tour of the libraries and clan armoury in the morning, followed by a visit to the Shihōin wine cellars (with tasting) in the afternoon, and finishing with a date with myself in the evening (Shihōin vintage wine and meal provided).

Anything goes, as long as you catch me before midnight.

Signed,

Shihōin Yoruichi

P.S. Rare candy will be provided."

Byakuya frowned (that is to say, his expression did not change at all whatsoever). "Is this some kind of jest? Does that woman intend to turn the Court into a playground? I trust we will disregard this preposterous offer."

But the Captain Commander shook his head. "On the contrary. I believe this will be an excellent opportunity to compare the strengths of the different squads, and to practice capture of intruders - or have you forgotten our collective performance during the last two ryoka invasions?"

At this, there was silence.

Yamamoto struck his walking stick upon the ground. "Then go! You have only until midnight."

Within seconds, the hall looked much emptier.

"Sir, not that I mean to question your decisions, but are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Heh heh heh." Even the lieutenant had not heard Yamamoto laugh often enough to get used to it, and he felt a sudden sense of foreboding.

"As I said, it is an excellent training opportunity for those hot-blooded youngsters. And besides, Urahara promised me an excellent deal on the camera recordings. Not to mention...well, you'll see."

-o-

Kurotsuchi sighed, and waited for the side-effects to wear off. He did not enjoy admitting it, but he'd had a narrow escape. Of course, that muscle-bound lout would have no interest in Yoruichi's offer, but the woman had mentioned candy, and everyone knew that the pink-haired brat on Kenpachi's shoulder was the way to his heart (should that beast be evolved enough to possess such an organ).

Well, he wasn't beaten yet. Of course, in a sensible world, a superior scientist such as himself would have unfettered access to all research in Soul Society, but until such a time came, he could not pass up an opportunity to browse the Shihōin Clan library (and perhaps "borrow" a few of the smaller volumes). The sacred armourer clan! Just think what secrets of material composition and spirit particle manipulation those tomes could hold! Rare candy indeed.

Yoruichi was a sly one. Of course, his spirit pressure detectors could find a captain-class like her in a flash, but that blasted cat form had peculiarities of its own, and he simply hadn't had time to make modifications. Not when that broad-shouldered beast, or the pink-coated wonder (who, what a surprise, was after the Shihōin wine cellar) could stumble across her by sheer dumb luck at any moment.

"Beep! Beep!" Ah, here was something. A captain-class - oh. " Captain Kuchiki, what a surprise!"

"Kurotsuchi."

"Whatever might you be doing here today? Surely a nobleman such as yourself has no need to beg for access to the Shihōin compound?" That's right, for now I must be obsequious. But wait, Byakuya. One of these days I'll figure out the trick to your Senbonzakura, and then we'll see if your noble blood matches up to a real intellect.

"Of course I am not participating in this childish challenge. A captain of the Thirteen Guardian Court Squads should set an example of duty and maturity, rather than chasing after ephemeral rewards. Surely-"

There was a shout from the distance. "There she is! Get her!"

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have pressing business to which I must attend." And before Kurotsuchi could reply, Captain Kuchiki was gone in a flash step.

Duty and maturity indeed. That so-called nobleman just wanted to beat Yoruichi at flash step once in his life. Not that he was even on the right track - for the detector had briefly displayed traces of the woman's spirit pressure in the South-west quadrant. And the South-east. And a couple of places in the North. Hmm...perhaps some fine-tuning was necessary.

-o-

It's been two hours since Captain Unohana summoned Minazuki and left. We've been doing our best to deal with the tide of the injured and unconscious, but frankly we might as well rename this place the Eleventh Squad Barracks the way things are going, except that half of the rest of the Court of Pure Souls seems to be in here as well. What were they thinking, making this silly game of theirs open to everyone. I swear, the high-ups just don't have a clue anymore.

And I'm stuck here while the captain and Miss Kotetsu are off having fun. Oh, sure, she says "stay here, I'm going to end this foolish contest the only way I can", but you know what I call this? Dereliction of duty, that's what. Just wait, the second I can find someone to take over for me, then we'll see who gets the grand prize. Tsk. I hope she falls off that flying ray thing and lands bottom-first on Captain Zaraki's spiky hair - they both have it coming.

"Ah, Iemura, you've finished today's log entry? Here, let me take it to First Squad - the Captain Commander asked to have all reports collated for evaluation purposes."

"Wait, no, stop, give that back, Yamada!"

Oh, bugger. He's gone.

Dear Captain Unohana, it is with deep and lasting regret that I would like to announce my resignation from Fourth Squad, effective immediately. I apologise for being unable to present it in person, but...

-o-

Kyōraku gave something of a goofy grin. Nanao hadn't taken him seriously for some reason, and had elected to stay behind and file reports, but here he was, and there was the feline Yoruichi-san, trapped with no escape from any angle. Kyōraku adjusted his hat (the epitome of style, of course, but sadly not quite suited for high-speed chases), and leapt forward. His hands were inches away from the startled cat...

"Sit upon the frozen heavens, Hyōrinmaru!"

Embedded in ice up to his neck, Kyōraku could only sigh. "But why, Hitsugaya?"

"Matsumoto promised to be the perfect lieutenant for a month if I gave her the prize. It's nothing personal."

Alone again, Kyōraku pondered his options for a few minutes. None presented themselves. And he'd so been looking forward to trying to out-drink the legendary Second Squad Heavyweight (especially after the disappointment of the new Third Squad captain).

At long last, he saw a familiar bespectacled face rise up before him. "Nanao? Didn't you stay in the office?"

"I somehow knew you were going to get into trouble without me, Captain. Now hold still while I dispel the ice, and pray that none of your extremities go with it."

-o-

Smash! Another wall departed Soul Society for a better place.

"Hah, you call that a hit, Tetsuzaemon? You're getting old."

Iba rolled past a deadly spear thrust. "This is all well and good, Ikkaku, but you know the cat is long since gone?"

"What cat?"

-o-

As evening came, Urahara cheerfully shared another jug of sake in the back of his shop.

"Ooh, look at that one. All those hours spent quietly modifying the hell butterflies to transmit visuals to the real world were definitely worth it."

"Yeah, good work, Kisuke."

"But I have to ask, Yoruichi-san, where did you find so many of them?"

"Well, you don't spend the best part of a hundred years as a cat without picking up a few contacts. Though all those black cats will want a heck of a lot of fish for their trouble."

"Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Jinta? Shouldn't you be sorting the inventory?"

"Ehh, there's some gnarly old dude outside asking to see you. Shall I let him in?"

At a nod, Jinta vanished, to return a few seconds later.

After Urahara had finished laughing, he stood up and bowed.

"Well, hello, Captain Commander-san. I guess you win. Jinta, go and fetch our guest a bowl of rare candy."