Ryan pulled himself off the floor and took up his Zanpakutō once more. Echo and Yukimura had already given him a thorough beating and now he was required to face off against his surrogate father, Sōritsu once more. The two Kuchiki circled the battlefield without taking their eyes off one another.
‘It’s amazing he’s still standing.’ Yukimura remarked.
Ryan was covered in small, debilitating wounds from head-to-toe. His scalp had been sliced open, his hearing must have been damaged for blood trickled from his right ear drum, and the left side of his upper kimono had been ripped away. The injuries beneath bleed beneath the sun though Ryan still showed no sign of faltering.
‘He was always like that.’ Echo said. ‘Always standing again, refusing to be beaten. It was the same in our training and it was the same during the Vandenreich Invasion, too.’
Ryan readied his Zanpakutō by adopting a two-handed grip with his legs spread slightly apart and his shoulders slightly slumped. Was he going for the win? His stance certainly didn’t shout a defensive form. No… he was favouring a Form II opening stance with a high guard position angled towards the upper right. Echo would have recognized it anywhere! Was Ryan really going to try and overpower Sōritsu?
‘This is getting interesting.’ Echo noted.
‘Interesting?’ Miria asked. ‘Sōritsu isn’t holding back! If Ryan goes for the win…!’
‘There’s a good chance he’ll kill him.’ Echo confirmed. ‘Don’t you intervene, Miria. You don’t have the strength right now.’
Ryan waited until the last possible second before throwing himself to the left. A searing stream of molten metal flowed past him harmlessly, though Ryan was already moving, the stream forgotten about. Sōritsu wore a little half smile as he dragged more sunlight through the cord connecting him and his Zanpakutō to the dome of Taiyō no Enchōmaku. The result was another wave of molten metal! This one brushed Ryan’s shoulder, burning the skin horribly, though the Kuchiki family Head kept right on pushing. The gap had been closed and now Ryan came in swinging with sweeping heavy blows! Sōritsu gave ground as he defended but the moment Ryan’s offense lapsed Sōritsu uncoiled like a viper! It was Ryan’s turn to give ground! The two exchanged sudden offensive marches with pinpoint counters, dancing along to a tune of steel and death. Ryan performed a spinning blow and, with a momentum-fuelled strike, collided with Sōritsu’s blade! The elder slid back but immediately countered with a stream of molten metal! Ryan reacted instinctively by throwing up Danku, which held long enough for him to get clear and renew his offensive. By the time he closed again Echo was nodding his head.
‘Ryan’s beginning to see.’ Echo noted with a grin.
‘See?’ Miria questioned. ‘See what?’
‘You’ll have to watch Sōritsu’s movements closely.’ Yukimura supplied.
So she did. The elder Kuchiki dodged to the side and with a Shunpo-aided leap put some distance between himself and Ryan. Yet Ryan was in his face again before he even had his Zanpakutō raised to fire his signature Bankai attack. Unless she was mistaken then Sōritsu was beginning to tire! He was becoming sloppy, presented more openings, even though Ryan was the more injured of the two. But how could that be? Sōritsu was using his Bankai!
‘You look a little confused.’ Echo smirked. ‘Not surprising, really. You haven’t achieved your Bankai yet.’
‘The same is true with my Resurrección, so allow me to explain.’ Miria turned her attention to Yukimura, even as the battle raged. ‘Those kinds of release are powerful, but they tend to release a lot of spiritual power as well. Most Bankai, and Resurrección in my case at least, are simply too taxing to use for prolonged periods. A Shikai, however, is much less taxing on the wielder.’
Ryan and Sōritsu fled to the respective corners of their training ground, which had long ago been reduced to a smouldering shadow of its former splendour.
‘Ryan and I have mastered our Shikai to the point there is no energy requirement.’ Echo added. ‘That is why it is possible for a Shinigami to defeat a Bankai using only their Shikai. The Bankai user tire out long before the Shikai user will.’
Ryan fell back with a gash cut into his chest but he didn’t stay stationary long. The moment Sōritsu levelled his Zanpakutō at him Ryan was on the move. Sōritsu could only fire one beam at a time. He also needed his Zanpakutō to be levelled at his opponent before it could be fired, meaning a fighting pose was required as well. It was the reason the younger Kuchiki had studied Iaido. His drawing slash was swift enough to interfere with Sōritsu’s Bankai and it had also proven effective against his Kidō as well. Most Kidō required time as well as hand motions to perform. Iaido gave you two options: defend yourself at the expense of the spell you had been preparing, or be prepared to have yourself injured with the possibility of not even getting your spell fired.
‘I’m going to end this.’ Ryan maintained.
‘Then show me your resolve!’
Ryan’s spiritual power rose in answer! White spiritual power surged along his limbs, shot into the sky and reverberated through the air. The very atmosphere became heavy! Then Sōritsu answered him. The scarred elder exerted his own vast torrent of power which caused him to glow like the sun. The two entered a contest of wills before Ryan raised his right hand.
‘If you can remain standing after my next attack, then I’ll admit my defeat.’
‘You’d best make this count, boy. Come!’
‘Ye lord! Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Sin and spite, the pinwheel turns.’ A fierce sphere of raging flames, like the maw of hell itself, awoke in Ryan’s right palm. At the same time an equally intense sphere of fire formed at the tip of Sōritsu’s Zanpakutō. ‘Converge, repulse and flicker. In the dark abyss of anguish, destroy the chains of fate that bind! Zaiten Sōkatsui!’ Both forces collided with a fierce crescendo that caused an immediate depression! Half the training ground was levelled, yet the two Kuchiki continued their tussle. ‘I… will not… lose!’ Ryan narrowed his eyes and pushed forward with his palm, all the while pouring spiritual power into his spell. He raised his left palm high and began to chant anew. ‘A drum roll sounds the wind that ignites the embers blow. Spinning wheel, orchard sky, dancing daggers! Fluttering wings, bloody sacrifice! Unify and converge brightly when fired! Norowa Shukufuku!’ A purple wave converged with and joined Zaiten Sōkatsui, creating a darker shade of purple.
‘What was that!?’ Yukimura asked, surprised.
‘Ryan was always skilled in spell combinations.’ Miria supplied.
‘Skilled?’ Echo asked. ‘Please, Miria. The man is one of the foremost Kidō practitioners within the Soul Society outside the Kidō Corps. Calling him “skilled” is an insult to someone of his extensive mastery.’
The group was alerted to a mighty explosion! The remnants of that mighty clash of wills speed towards the three onlookers with incredible ferocity, though Echo walked forward calmly and without fear. He drew his Zanpakutō and declared aloud: ‘Burst, Onkyō.’ A concussive sound wave was loosed from his blades edge, which struck and pushed back the fiery explosion, leaving charred ground in its wake.
‘Yukimura, if you would?’
When the dust and smoke settled Sōritsu was standing albeit it barely; he was using his Zanpakutō as a crutch. Ryan hadn’t fallen either, though he too was using his Zanpakutō as a crutch to keep himself upright.
‘Be proud of yourself.’ Sōritsu said aloud. ‘You have triumphed. Your resolve, my son, is impressive. You have everything you need.’
With that Sōritsu flash stepped away. It was only then that Ryan allowed himself to fall, though when he did so, he was stopped from falling by Echo. The Corps Commander of the Patrol Corps caught what remained of Ryan’s kimono, keeping him upright. He then held out his free hand, causing countless Blanks to swirl around him. He injected the Blanks into his own body, using them as fuel for healing. Echo then laid the hand on Yukimura’s shoulder. She proceeded to cycle the Blanks energy from Echo into Ryan, mixing it with healing Kidō in the process, healing his wounds at an incredibly rapid rate. His clothing was also restored.
‘We can’t have you walking around that banged up.’ Echo remarked snidely. ‘Your family might realize how much of a brute you are.’ He then looked at Miria briefly. ‘Besides, Miria looked to be enjoying the view a little too much.’
The next day and Ryan felt awful! His body protested at every small movement, despite the worst of his injuries being healed already. His left arm especially was pained. The burns Sōritsu had inflicted would take time to heal so that no scarring was left behind, though to be honest, Ryan didn’t have the time. It was high-time he was looking for these Quincy anyway.
A knock sounded at his door. ‘Are you in there, you moron?’
It could only be one man. ‘No.’ Ryan answered.
Echo stepped into the room with a scarf in his left hand. He himself wore a white kimono dress complete with long sleeves tied to his wrists by pieces of string. From his ōbi hung his dual Zanpakutō, one of which was gripped by his right hand. As usual he sported a serious expression that meant this wasn’t a jovial visit to see how the sickly where coming along in their recovery.
‘Come in, why don’t you?’ Ryan jibed.
‘You look so busy.’ Echo shot back.
‘Touché,’ Ryan replied whilst motioning him to sit.
‘Anyway, you asshole, this is for you.’ Echo handed him the scarf. ‘That’s a Ginjōtan,’ Echo noted. Not a scarf then. It was a piece of protective material worn under armour or, in a Shinigami’s case, their kimono. It made moving really fast difficult though it sported impressive protective qualities. ‘I want you to have it.’
‘Why?’ Ryan asked. ‘I appreciate the gesture, but this makes it hard to move, right?’
Echo threw it at him. ‘Do I need to spell it out for you, dick? Your Bankai has tremendous cutting power. This might just save your worthless ass.’
‘So nice to see you care.’ Ryan replied with a grin.
‘Shut up.’ With that Echo left. He met Miria at the door who stepped aside to let him leave.
‘He looked as happy as ever.’ Miria said, giggling. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘I feel like I’m ready to kill some Quincy. How long before I’m given the clear?’
‘The medics want to monitor you for a couple more days. What will you do in the meantime?’
‘Meet with my Captain and get some leave.’
Ryan looked out across the Seireitei from a hill in the First District of Western Rukongai. All he needed to do now was wait... though he wasn't looking forward to meeting the woman herself.
While Ryan directed his attention towards the scenery before him, he did not notice the strange mass of darkness that slowly formed and crept up behind him. It steadily grew in mass and height, eventually taking up a Shinigami-sized shape. In a matter of seconds, the Darkness soon dissipated, revealing the form of a young girl. While most people didn't take a young girl seriously, this young one was something else entirely. She was Yuuna Tomoko, Captain of the 5th Division and the Superior to Ryan Kuchiki. And by the looks of her face, Yuuna wasn't happy.
"Ahhhh... My lovely Ryan. Why did you call me out here? Did you wish to ask me something outside the confines of our barracks? Or are you going to declare your eternal love for me and ask me out on a date?" Yuuna mockingly called out, hoping to catch her Vice-Captain's attention.
"Wah! How does she do it!?" Ryan hated how his Captain always managed to sneak up on him like that! The moment her voice reached his ears he gave a slight jump, followed by him turning to face her. The surprise was written plainly across his face, though a playful sparkle entered those brown eyes.
"You know I love you, Señorita Capitán, but my family would never accept it without us marrying one another first, and we're both much too young for that." He then chuckled the comment off. "Sadly, I wish it was something less dire: I know you aren't going to like what I'm going to ask." He took a deep breathe to focus himself before fixing his Captain with an expression more befitting of an underling addressing their direct superior. "You recall the report I handed in, about the Quincy Lieutenant Fujibayashi and I uncovered in the Shinō Academy?"
"Oh??" Yuuna said with slight, mischievous smile, all the while crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow. "Am I not a suitable enough woman for you Mr. Kuchiki? If its the appearance, blame Captain Nobu. That bastard of a scientist made me like this. Do a favor my ass." She finished in a snarky manner, her lips trembling in barely controlled embarrassment and anger. Even then, Yuuna continued, waving her finger at Ryan. "Just so you know, I'm still available in the market, if you're ready for a gander. Huehuehue"
Passing by the pleasantries with her words, Yuuna intently looked into Ryan's eyes with an intense yet teasing glare. "Of course not, you know I'm not much of a reader. Especially for reports. That's your job!" She stated with a blank expression.
"Yeah!" Another voice chimed in. It sounded incredibly close to Ryan. As the Vice-Captain turned to see who it was, his eyes widened. Right next to him was Yuuna. But wait. Yuuna was in front of him, so who was this? "This is still me by the way," the Clone reflexively said. "So what is it you wanted to tell me? By the look of your face when I arrived, it seemed like I won't be happy. At all." The Clone continued on, while the Yuuna in front of him looked at Ryan with a vague smirk.
"This explains so much." He whispered while a look of realization donned across his face. "You never cease to amaze, you know that? Tell you what though, you convince my family, I'll gander till your hearts content." He followed that with a playful smirk.
"It does, doesn't it?" The Clone replied with a wry look on face, having apparently heard Ryan's quiet retort. "Oh no my dear Ryan, I prefer you to be the one who chases after me. Not the other way around." She said with a snicker, slightly punching him on the shoulder.
But alas he had something he needed to do. "The Quincy, who was called Siegfried Adler by his ally, spied on the Gotei 13 from the relative safety of the student body within the Shinō Academy. I was tipped off by a fellow Kuchiki." Sōritsu knew that the Gotei 13 knew he was still alive, but the least they knew about how active he actually was, the better. "Miria and I flushed him out, though he posed much more of a threat than we initially believed." Ryan was pacing at this point. "Miria was quickly incapacitated and, when his ally, Aldric, joined the battle, I was forced to use my Bankai." He then tapped his Zanpakutō's hilt. "I'm sorry to report that my Bankai, Muhensai Satsuriku, was stolen by Aldric."
With his report condensed well enough that it contained the key points only, Ryan took a deep breathe. Now for the tricky part. "I hope with your leave, Señorita Capitán, to track him down and take back what was stolen."
The real Yuuna Tomoko in front of Ryan took all the information from the report with an unfazed look. After a few seconds, she clicked her tongue hesitatingly. "I see then. If that is the case. Do what you will then; you have my permission. But you are an Idiot for getting your Bankai stolen!" Her voice suddenly tensed up as she yelled at Ryan. "You could've been my replacement if things went well!" A flash of darkness enveloped her as Yuuna activated her Shikai form. The Child before Ryan disappeared and instead, was replaced by an Adult version of herself.
"You idiot! You fool! How could you?!" Yuuna continued to yell out as she lectured him, smacking the living daylights out of the poor Shinigami Vice-Captain. On the otherhand, Ryan was getting beaten around by a beautiful woman clothed in simple white clothing, her hair flowing in the wind as she gracefully slapped him around. Shouldn't he be happy?
Ryan was used to having woman around him his entire life. He had been raised by his mother as well as the female retainers loyal to the Kuchiki family. The only male he'd ever identified with growing up was Sōritsu. It was one of the reasons he didn't mind getting slapped around by his gorgeous Captain, despite the fact she was now strangling the life from him.
"Capitán... I... can't... breathe...!"
Only then did she let go. Dropping to one knee so he could catch his breathe, the Head of the Kuchiki Clan casually massaged his windpipe, as a smile spread across his face. Most men would have complained at such treatment. Ryan? He merely took it in his stride. There was no reason to get upset at his Captain. She was only telling the truth, after all.
"Echo told me the same thing." Ryan acknowledged as he scratched his head awkwardly. "But it shouldn't take long, at any rate. I'll be back before you know it, Señorita Capitán.'
Yuuna growled in response as she crossed her arms in annoyance. "I should tell your dear Cousin about this, but I'm afraid this news would hurt his health even more." She casually threatened. "Hurry on then. Or you'll face my unreleased wrath. With the help of your Cousin of course." Yuuna finished, turning her head, a hmmph escaping from her mouth.
Ryan quickly dropped the look of happiness for one of shock and fear at the mere mention of his cousin. The cousin in question was Daisuke Kuchiki -- the same cousin who was known throughout the Seireitei as the Sword Saint of Blossoms. A man Ryan certainly didn't want to disappoint. Or anger for that matter.
"Understood, I won't be away for long." Ryan stammered out, tone a little shaken. "In the meantime, Sanji will handle my duties. Right, Cloud Walker?"
A young dark-skinned Shinigami with unruly spiked white hair sporting a dark kimono with an accompanying metal forehead protector appeared on one knee, his head bowed in acknowledgement of his Captain and Lieutenant respectively. Across his back rested his sealed Zanpakutō.
"Sanji, reporting for duty, Captain!" You couldn't fault his enthusiasm.
Ryan took this as his cue to skedaddle. He vaulted off the edge of the hill and ran down the far side, where Echo and Miria Fujibayashi awaited him. Ryan gave his Captain a backwards wave before he, joined by his fellow Lieutenants, ran off in the direction of the Seireitei and the nearest Senkaimon gate. They reached the base of the hill before they vanished in unison with a single Shunpo step apiece...
She seemingly growled in what seemed to be faint annoyance. But with Yuuna, it could mean anything. "Until the Vice-Captain returns, you'll be the acting Lieutenant. Is that fine with you Sanji?" Yuuna questioned nonchalantly, having already accepted the circumstances presented towards her. "Who knows, if you play your cards straight, I might appoint you as Vice-Captain instead." She finished, a devilish smile appearing on her face.