Introduction:This story takes place in an alternate instance of the Bleach universe as created by pago and branches off during the Arrancar Saga.

Characters and pairings:The story centers on my OC and his mentor, Lieutenant Iba. Romantic pairing with another OC which will be introduced later. Cameos by other canon characters (Ikkaku and Renji mainly) and guest appearances by Anrak Ushii, an OC created by pago.

Road to War

Chapter 1

It was just a dojo, nothing more. The hardwood floors shined from the sweat of bare feet and the light oil that was applied weekly. The screens set in the walls were decorated with drawings of vast landscapes, while wooden bokken and bamboo shinai were held by racks along the northern wall. There was nowhere to sit and simply observe the exercises performed inside; if you were there, it was to practice.

Enjeru Masamune was alone in the dojo, having waited till late at night when the rest of Squad 7 would be asleep, so he could practice uninterrupted. Bringing his feet together and simultaneously clapping his hands to his thighs, he bowed, letting the sandy blonde ponytail he had been growing for some time dip over his head before bringing his torso back to a vertical position. Stepping out into a ready stance, Enjeru selected a kata from the many he had learned and began the prescribed set of movements that particular exercise entailed.

He moved with crisp, precise movements, each technique delivered with the intent to inflict harm on the imaginary opponents around him. As he started to flow from one series of strikes to the next, he found his mind focusing more and more on the movements and driving out the rest of the world. Two hours later, he decided to stop and take a breather. Collecting the towel he had draped over the rack of practice weapons, Enjeru started to pat down his brow and catch his breath.

Returning to the center of the floor, Enjeru once again bowed and took his ready stance. This time, however, he did not start out with an empty hand technique. Taking a slow, controlled step forward, he brought his left hand down to his side and grasped the scabbard at his hip while his right hand came down to rest on the hilt of the kodachi sheathed within. His fingers had barely closed around the handle when he drew the sword in a deadly flash and ended his swing in a horizontal cut across the neck of an imaginary opponent. But he wasn't finished there, indeed it was just the beginning. A series of short katas followed, not as long as the empty handed routines he had been doing, but just as deadly if not more so. After going through several katas, Enjeru slid the kodachi back into it's sheath and gathered his towel when he felt another presence.

"Little late for practice don't you think?" The voice was gruff with a slight accent to it. Turning towards the voice Enjeru found Lieutenant Tetsuzaemon Iba, his commanding officer in Squad 7 standing in the doorway.

Enjeru gave a slight nod of his head to the Lieutenant. "It's an old habit from my time in the Detention Unit, sir. We kept such odd hours guarding Maggot's Nest that you used whatever time you had to practice. I'm sorry if I disturbed anyone."

Tetsuzaemon laughed and entered the dojo, clapping Enjeru on the shoulder as he walked past towards the racks of shinai on the far wall. "Nothing of the sort, Enjeru isn't it? I used to spend hours in here, quietly honing my skills until the break of dawn and dreaming all the while of one day being promoted to Lieutenant." When Tetsuzaemon reached the far wall he selected a full-sized shinai from the wall and took it, also taking from the wall a smaller shinai about the length of a wakazashi. Stopping at the center of the exercise floor, Tetsuzaemon held the smaller shinai out to Enjeru with the handle pointed towards the young Soul Reaper.

"Want to spar?"

Enjeru looked down to the kodachi on his hip. A kodachi was a sword with a blade the length of a wakazashi but with the full handle of a katana. Lieutenant Iba was quick to notice the difference in my Zanpakuto. Most Soul Reapers don't notice until I draw it. Bringing his gaze back to the Lieutenant, noting a glint in the man's sun glassed eyes and a slight curl of a smile. Enjeru bowed his head to the Lieutenant and took a position across him on the exercise floor and accepted the offered weapon. Both Soul Reapers took a ready stance and bowed their heads to each other, and the standoff began.

Most duels between Soul Reapers begin with each observing the other, looking for a hole in their defense in which to press an early advantage. Lieutenant Iba, it seemed, didn't care much for that part of the duel. He rushed Enjeru almost immediately, bringing a powerful swing down aimed at Enjeru's collarbone. If the Lieutenant were using his Zanpakuto and not a bamboo shinai the attack would cut Enjeru in half if it landed. Enjeru had no intention of letting the attack land and sidestepped while bringing his own weapon up in a horizontal block. Bamboo weapons met with a loud CRACK and Tetsuzaemon's blade traveled down the length of Enjeru's and sailed wide of the intended target.

Lieutenant Iba let his blade travel down towards the floor and spun his body with the arcing weapon and delivered another strike at Enjeru, only to have him parry it away. Time and again Lieutenant Iba pressed the attack with Enjeru deflecting each blow but never offering anything for an offense. It wasn't that Enjeru didn't see any openings in which to press an attack, but more due to the fact that the blonde Soul Reaper didn't use his Zanpakuto to attack. After what seemed to be hours, Lieutenant Iba halted his attacks and stepped back a few feet and grinned at Enjeru.

"You're not attacking, Masamune. What's wrong? Afraid you might hurt me?"

Enjeru smiled back at his Lieutenant and shrugged. "You used to be in Squad 11, sir. I doubt any attack I happened to land would do much damage. I thought we were just sparring using Zanjutsu, and my Zanpakuto is made more for defense and not very good at offense."

Lieutenant Iba readied his shinai in an attack stance and chuckled lightly. "Then by all means, Masamune, show me how you attack if not with your Zanpakuto."

Enjeru took his stance and waited for Lieutenant Iba to attack again. He didn't have to wait long before Lieutenant Iba rushed him again with a horizontal strike. This time, instead of raising his weapon to deflect the attack Enjeru waited until the Lieutenant's blade was nearly on him and spun to his left, letting inertia carry his body around and whipping a spinning heel kick at Lieutenant Iba's head. Foot met meat and a dull THUD filled the dojo as Lieutenant Iba went sprawling onto the hardwood floor. Enjeru gave a brief smile of satisfaction that soon turned into an open mouthed gape as Lieutenant Iba tucked into a forward roll before impacting on the floor and popped back up in a ready stance before bursting into laughter and rubbing the back of his head.

"Now there's the kind of spirit your unit commanders were telling me about. You pack a hell of a punch…or kick."

Enjeru stood there still in disbelief for another moment before he regained the ability to speak. "Sir?"

Lieutenant Iba walked over to the wall where he retrieved the practice weapons and replaced his weapon before turning to Enjeru and holding his hand out for him to throw his own weapon to him. "You've been in Squad 7 for what, twenty years now? You graduated from Soul Academy with excellent marks in Hakuda and Kido and above average marks in Shunpo. The only thing that kept you from the top ranks was your Zanjutso ranking. You should have been appointed to the Gotei 13 then, but for some reason you spent fifty years in the Detention Unit. When you applied for admission to Squad 7 you aced every test that was given and was offered a seated position on the spot but asked to be placed among the unseated. Why?"

Enjeru tossed his Lieutenant the Shinai he had been using and wiped the sweat from his face with his towel before meeting Iba's questioning gaze. "I wanted to earn my spot among the seated officers the same way they did, from the bottom up."

Lieutenant Iba shook his head. "There's more to it than that, Masamune. But for now I'll accept that answer until you're ready to tell me the truth. During your time in Squad 7 you've been part of several missions to the world of the living and have impressed your commanders with you combat abilities as well as your quick thinking and strategic thinking. From what they've told me, you mentioned that you study military history and tactics."

Enjeru almost beamed from hearing his Lieutenant praise him. "Yes, sir. I started back in Soul Academy. I've studied everything from The Art of War to The Book of Five Rings all the way to modern military tactics. It's something I thought might help once I joined the Gotei 13."

Lieutenant Iba nodded his head as Enjeru spoke, stopping when he finished. "Well, it did. Your last mission in he world of the living was proof of that. The report your commander filed mentioned you noticed a pattern in the hollows' attacks and helped formulate an offensive strategy that saved a lot of Soul Reapers. And now that I've had a chance to interview you, I think you are the right man to fill the last open spot on my team."

Enjeru's mind went reeling into a tailspin. "Sir?"

Lieutenant Iba clapped a hand on Enjeru's shoulder as the pair left the dojo. "I've had a few spots in my assault team open up recently. I've gone through enough requests the past two days my eyes are probably crossed. But when your commander submitted his report concerning your last mission he made sure to mention his recommendation that you be considered for a seated position in Squad 7. After our little…chat…I think you might make a fine seated officer given some time and mentoring. And I can't think of a better way to put you through your paces than by a trial by fire. What I am offering you is not a gift, Masamune, but a chance for you to show me and the rest of the squad what you're made of. What do you say, Enjeru? Do you accept my challenge?"

Enjeru turned to face his Lieutenant and bowed. "Yes, sir."

Tetsuzaemon offered Enjeru his hand, which the other Soul Reaper took. "Excellent. Training begins tomorrow. I suggest you get some rest. You're going to need it."