Three weeks had passed since the last attack. The Sereitei was slowly rebuilding. Kisuke Urahara and Ikumi Karazuka had been working together, creating a massive kido barrier around the Sereitei and Rukon District, in order to prevent any further interruptions.
Renji came up beside Ichigo.
"Still can't believe it. We're captains now, huh?"
"So, how's your sister? Yuzu, I mean?"
"She's fine. Ikumi has taken her into his squad to continue her training."
"What about Karin? You didn't leave her on her own in the Human World, did ya?"
"Hell no. Dad had her and a few of my friends moved into the Sereitei. Uryu is the only one who refused."
"Anyway, Renji. You heard about -TWACK-"
Ichigo was interrupted by a kick in the face from Hiyori Sarugaki. Coincidentally, his new lieutenant.
"ICHIGO, YOU DICK, YOU PASSED RIGHT BY ME AND DIDN'T EVEN SAY GOOD MORNING!"
"WHAT THE HELL?! I DIDN'T EVEN SEE YOU! IS THIS THE THANKS I GET FOR CHOOSING YOU AS LIEUTENANT!"
"GET REAL! YOU ONLY CHOSE ME BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE YOU WANTED WAS ALREADY CAPTAIN!"
The two began a comical scuffle and argument.
"Hey, Captain Abarai! How are things?"
"Kisuke, you know you can call me Renji, right?"
"Eh, formalities. Anyhow, have you heard about the 2nd half of the Royal Guard coming to help us rebuild?"
"No, I haven't."
"HEY! I was just about to tell him that." Ichigo stood up, his nose bloody. "Yeah, there's apparently a second Royal Guard, said to guard some kinda prison. They're apparently coming sometime in the next two weeks, and we're set to go meet them on Sokyoku Hill."
"I see. Well, I better get back to the Eighth. I'll catch ya later for drinks?"
"Why not?" Ichigo replied.
Hiyori began walking away.
"What do you want?"
"You aren't taking Shinji's death too hard, are ya? You know you can talk to me, right?"
Hiyori walked up to him.
And kicked him in the groin. Ichigo didn't go down as Hiyori walked off.
"Are you insane? Why the hell would I talk to you?!"
Ichigo breathed out.
When she was far enough away, Hiyori grabbed her foot. "What the hell is he wearing under those pants?"
She stood up and frowned somberly. Goddammit, Shinji. You didn't have to go and die on me, ya dickhead.
"I suppose you all know why we're here. This is first Captain's meeting we've had since the battle. I've called you all here to give a progress report. I'll start with the progress of the Kidou barrier. Will the Captains of Squad 5 and 12 please step forward and debrief me?" Toshiro opened his eyes, as the two Captains stepped forward.
"It's almost fully formed. Captain Karazuka and I have been working on it for most hours of the day."
"It should be completed in about one week. It should prevent anything from happening that would interfere with the activity of the Sereitei, including invasion, replacement of all buildings with a city from another world, and common household pests." Ikumi replied with a salesman-like voice.
"Excellent work. What about Yuzu Kurosaki? Is her training coming along well? I'm certain her father and brother wish to hear of her progress."
"It's progressing. Basic sword skills, reflexes, and even mild proficiency with Kido seem to come to her as natural as breathing. She trains a good portion of the day and already developed Spirit Energy equivalent to a 6th seat. Last I checked, she was on the verge of achieving Shikai."
"Thank you. Stay where you are, both of you. Will the Captains who did not have lieutenants step forward?"
Isshin, Ichigo, Rukia, and Renji stepped forward.
"Have you five chosen lieutenants yet?"
"I chose Hiyori Sarugaki." Ichigo responded. Rukia stepped forward.
"I made arrangements with Captain Tsukibishi, and have selected Hanatoro Yamada, Captain-Commander." She stepped back, replaced by Renji for the next systematic report.
"I made arrangements with Captain Ichigo Kurosaki, and have selected Mihane Shirogane."
Isshin stepped up, a smile on his face.
"I have selected Shūtetsu Nagamoso as my lieutenant." Urahara was next.
"I selected Rin Tsubokura."
And finally, Ikumi. "Well, I selected Nimina Taikomi. My old lieutenant from 200 years ago."
"Good, all of you. With those formalities out of the way, I best inform you all of how things will run. As you know, many of you are actually much more experienced than I am, having been captains some time during the past two centuries. That said, I do not look at any of you as subordinates. You are still fellow captains, as far as I am concerned. I want to work together with you."
"That's what we do. You lead, we advise."
Chizuru spoke. "Look, Captain-Commander. You reinstated our positions, but the fact that you were the only captain to survive that battle wasn't sheer luck. We are more experienced, yes; but that doesn't really mean anything. We are leaders ourselves, but you are the one with the final decision. We cannot make that for you."
"I see. I understand. You're all dismissed. Meet me at the Sokyoku Hill at 1500 hours two weeks from now; we'll need to meet the Prison Guard."
The captains bowed, leaving the barracks. Renji came up beside Ichigo, walking beside him.
"I have to admit: that was more boring than I thought it would be."
"Yeah. Too much formality. Hey, Renji."
"Have you seen Hiyori? She seems to have been gone for the past week."
Renji scratched his head. "I actually haven't. Sorry about that."
"Wonder where she went..."
Shinji, you dick. I wouldn't have to get stronger if you didn't die. Hiyori thought to herself. She raised her sword as a voice came from beside her.
"Are you ready, Hiyori?"
"Who said I wasn't?! Hurry up already."
"Hiyori." the man walked up to her. He was wearing a dark gray mask, donned in what appeared to be a dirty double-breasted trench coat. In his hand was a large cleaver-like sword with a serrated edge. His voice held a hiss to it; and he had no legs. He was slithering on a massive tail that stretched behind him. "We cannot rush this."
"I know, I know." Hiyori replied impatiently. "I guess I didn't think it would take this long."
"You underestimate me, girl. Release my shikai, and allow the true battle to begin."
Hiyori held up the sword. "Chop Cleanly..."
Her spirit energy rushed to her blade as it transformed into the same cleaver-like sword the serpentine man in front of her wielded.
"It's time for lesson 2. I'm going at you with full strength, this time, Yuzu. Here's a little clear condition for ya." Ikumi stuck an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
"Huh?" Yuzu looked at him briefly.
"Your blade is nothing to me at full strength. There is a form you can achieve, and that's what we're going for. First though," the Fifth Squad captain lit the cigarette and breathed out the smoke. "If you can knock my cigarette out of my mouth, Lesson 2 is clear. But, it takes about 10 minutes to smoke a cigarette."
He looked at her, his eyes betraying the seriousness of the situation.
"That's all the time you have."
Ikumi came at her. She stuck her sword up to block.
And his signature pair of scissors cut it in half like butter.
"Eek!" Yuzu squeeled and took off running the opposite direction.
Damn... He cut right through my sword like it was nothing to that pair of scissors. Has he really been taking it that easy? He hasn't actually hurt me before, but now he's actually trying! the girl thought to herself. Suddenly, Scissors-and-Cigs appeared directly in front of her. She blocked the scissors as they came down. She took notice of her blade starting to split.
"Your zanpakuto is really nothing but a blade. It doesn't have any spirit energy. The effort you put into meditation must be terrible if you haven't even figured out its name. That's why it's so easy to cut through it.
She took running again.
Wait a moment... he's using a pair of scissors! A zanpakuto is a sword, isn't it? That means... Even as a Captain, he can't hurt me!
She turned around.
Her cheek was bleeding as she stood there, shocked. Her sword fell apart the rest of the way.
"Let me guess; I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you thought that because I was using a pair of scissors, I couldn't hurt you; because a pair of scissors isn't a zanpakuto, right? You let your guard down, and now you don't even have a blade. But, you are wrong about one thing: Snip, Burakkuseibāzu."
The scissors extended into a rapier. He held it to his face and stabbed the ground. Yuzu barely jumped in time to dodge the sheer number of blackish colored blades that extended from the ground.
"That pair of scissors is my Zanpakuto. That said. You don't even have a sword to fight with. You could use the hilt to knock my cigarette out, but..."
He looked her in the eye.
"... If you underestimate me so much as to even think of taking me on with that pile of crap, I will kill you."
She took off running again, certain he was serious. Had she always been this pathetic? She was always shy, gentle, kind and playful. But a battlefield was none of those things. What did she need? What could she do?
A world suddenly opened up around her.
"Resolve, Yuzu." a female came from cloud surrounding her.
"You need resolve. Why are you afraid Yuzu? Do you fear his power? He is one enemy with a single blade." A female figure emerged from the shadow. On the side of her head was a black tatoo of a crescent moon. Surrounding was a cloak, colored midnight blue, decorated with stars and patterns.
"But how... He's so strong..."
"Then become stronger! If you don't want to be hit, then hit him! If you don't want to die, then kill him first! Resolve that you will do this and your power is limitless! Now, shout my name and release me!"
"Resolve! Tsukikiba!" the world dissolved around Yuzu as her blade returned, becoming a blue colored, large katana. The guard floated around it in the shape of two crescent moons.
Ikumi swore he was looking at an entirely person.
"Good, now it's time for lesson thr-"
Yuzu disappeared, appearing beside him. She lifted her sword above her head in less than a second, and slashed.
Ikumi landed on the ground. "Good thing I used my flash step to get out of the way, otherwise I would've probably got cut in half. That's not very nice." He picked up what was left of his cigarette, which was nothing but a cleanly sliced filter. "I believe you've killed my cigarette."
He threw it down and lit another one. He looked at Yuzu, who was asleep on her re-sealed - and reformed - Zanpakuto."
"Heh." He smirked. "Lesson Three: Complete."
Izuru sat on his knees in front of the blue-haired captain. Her headphones were as loud as usual, blasting dubstep music into her ears. She opened her eyes and spoke.
"Izuru, what do you believe is the philosophy of our division?"
"I believe that it is despair and a dread for battle. We believe that there is nothing exciting about war. Our symbol, the marigold, represents this."
"You're an idiot."
"WHAT?!" Izuru was taken aback.
"You're an idiot." Akiza said again. "I was the one who made the marigold a symbol of our Squad, almost 200 years ago. To me, it has an entirely different symbolism. To me, it's the symbol of a deep musical rhythm. A rhythm of joy, not despair."
"Wh-What do you mean, Captain? Are we supposed to enjoy battle?"
"No. You're supposed to feel joy, in general. I see you, lumbering around with your head down in despair around the barracks. It's almost like happiness doesn't exist. Your beat is sad and somber. But," she looked in his eyes with an almost unheard of seriousness. "You can't protect anyone with despair. Despair does nothing, Izuru. It drives those you love away. It limits you. It places burdens of guilt that affect your ability to act. You can never help anyone when despair and guilt cloud your judgment. Now stand, and follow me."
He stood, and followed Akiza to the training grounds. He barely dodged out of the way in time as she almost bifurcated him.
"Release your Zanpakuto. You can't expect me to train you without it."
"Release it. Now. Your despair almost got you cut in half. You weren't expecting me to try to cut you down - your sadness clouded your judgement. Now, release your Zanpakuto." She held her sword up, her hand on the back of the blade. "Drop, Shindō Burēdo."
The blade took its form, the strings extending up the side.
Izuru withdrew his sword, silently. "Raise your head, Wabisuke."
The two began to clash in a spar. Wabisuke hit Akiza's blade 13 times. But... there was a problem...
She wasn't dropping it.
Blood dripped from his hand. Izuru stood, shocked. Akiza was a few feet in front of him, blood dripping from her sword.
"You think that you can keep slashing my sword and get anywhere? I'm aware of Wabisuke's ability. But let me tell you mine. My Zanpakuto controls vibrations on a subatomic level. I simply have to counter your Zanpakuto by having mine vibrate and essentially unravel the imaginary weight. In essence, every time you've slashed my sword, I've undone the effect."
Izuru could barely mouth his words. "But.. how?.."
"I'm able to do it because you don't even understand your own blade. The entire time you've fought with him, you've kept him chained on a ball. He isn't despaired because he represents you giving penance. He is penance, Izuru. Your zanpakuto is the very representation of forgiveness. Those who you immobilize with that blade aren't begging you for forgiveness. He represents your opponent forgiving you, and bowing in respect. 'The Penitent One' is you, Izuru. I was unaffected by your blade because I have nothing to forgive you for. Because I bear no ill will towards you, nor do I see a reason for you to feel guilty."
Izuru stood still. Was he hearing her correctly?
"I don't want to see you until you have discovered the true power of your Zanpakuto, Izuru Kira. Now leave me."
He sheathed his Zanpakuto. "Yes... Ma'am." He walked away, not in despair, but deep in thought.
Written by Senjumaru Shutara
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