This article, Whispers of War, is property of Northstar1022 and cannot be utilized without the creator's permission.

PLOTLINE: This story deviates from the main storyline immediately after the war against Sōsuke Aizen, creating a parallel timeline where the Thousand-Year Blood War does not take place. As such, there will be inconsistencies.

Whispers of War is the introductory story arc to Bleach: War of Souls. This arc takes place approxiamately 1000 years after Ichigo fought against Aizen. During this time, the Human World suffered a catastrophic event leading to millions, if not billions, of lives lost. Soul Society is in the process of rebuilding their forces after a brutal war, as well as dealing with the overflow of souls that came into the spirit world.


Sweat poured down the sides of the three Shinigami as they frantically ran through the Kurohikage-rin (黒日陰林, Black Shade Woods), a large area of dense forests and deep swamps that spans several hundred miles at the edge of the patrolled zones of Soul Society. The cool night air whipped past their faces and small clouds of hot air escaped their mouths. With the thick canopy above their heads, even the moonlight couldn't light their way. Instead, they ran with what little visibility they did have and relied on their senses to guide them. The shadows behind them obscured what ever it was that was causing them to run so fearfully.

"C'mon! Move it!" The leading male Shinigami yelled back to the other two trailing behind him. His long jetblack hair blended in to the shadows around him. They ran hard and fast, their lungs burning and an unmistakeable expression of terror permanently etched on their faces. "We have to get back to Seireitei! We have to warn the..." His exclamation was abruptly interrupted by a black shadow wrapping itself around his waist and pulling him into the darkness with such ferocity that it caused his body to jerk violently in the air, snapping backward with a sick bone cracking sound. The other two Shinigami dug their heels into the ground and slid to a complete stop, calling out to their vanished comrade. They screamed his name several times and when their calls were met with silence, they unsheathed their swords, standing back to back in a defensive stance. Their swords shook in their trembling hands as the shadows around them grew darker to the point that no visible light could be seen and all was left was pure blackness.

"We're not going to make it." One Shinigami said frightfully, a young looking man with short brown hair combed to one one side. His voice cracked when he spoke and his lips trembled. Clearly, this Shinigami was afraid.

"Stay calm." The other Shinigami responded with a stern voice. "Keep focused. We have to make it." He said, feinting what little courage he could muster. Older looking than the others, this Shinigami seemed more seasoned or experienced, probably denoting a longer time in his profession than the younger looking one shivering next to him. With close cropped brown hair and a widow's peak, he attempted to encourage his comrade from the loss of their leader.

Suddenly, another tendril of shadow came down, wrapping itself around the neck of the more composed Shinigami. It tightened and snatched him up into the trees in an instant. A moment later his sword fell to the ground and large drops of blood stained the dirt. The other soldier, sweat now rolling down the sides of his face like rivers, immediately gave in to his fears and broke into a frenzied dash. He ran further into the woods, leaving behind the fates of the other two soldiers to the shadows. Before he could make it any further, he was instantly struck in the chest by another shadow, piercing through the Shinigami's chest with ease and blood flooding out from the entry and exit wounds. The force lifted him off his feet and pinned him against a nearby tree so hard that it shook leaves free from the branches above, his body going limp as it hung suspended from the ground and the foliage raining down slowly around him. He coughed up a large amount of blood and gasped for air, trying desperately to catch it but only made sickening gurgles with the liquid filling his lungs. He tried hysterically to remove the object through his chest but his strength has slipped and his body gave in to the injures. After one final weak attempt to say something, his arms fell to this side and he slouched forward dead.

The shadow pulled itself free from the tree and out of the shinigami's lifeless body. As the soldier slid down to the ground, his blood left a thick trail against the bark of tree and fell directly on its front with his face in the grass. The shadow simply slid backwards into the surrounding darkness. Then from the black stepped out a gauntly figure with large white glowing orbs for eyes. He was wrapped in the very same shadows that were all around him. It came off his body like black smoke before it finely settled into something that resembled a long black cloak. He said nothing and merely stood still in the night, observing the body of the prey he had just killed.

"Such a shame." The words broke the silence and another man stepped into the moonlight. This one man was more well dressed, wearing a finely pressed grey suit and white gloves. As he walked, he took each step with a long black cane to his side and his hand gripped its silver handle. He walked past the other and towards the fallen shinigami. "I thought they would have put up a better fight." He raised his other hand to his face and used his middle finger to push his rectangle rimmed glasses up to the indent of his nose and brow. "Pity." The silver-haired man said with a grin. He turned back towards the shadowy figure behind him and made a straight line towards the darkness he came from. "Come now, we must return." He stated and the other man turned to follow. The shadows seemingly enveloped both as they walked further into it and before they vanished completely, the silver-haired one said "Hopefully, Seireitei will have more entertainment." And the two individuals disappeared into the night.

Part I: Rumors Spreading

It had been two days since the mysterious disappearance of three patrolmen in the eastern edges of Soul Society. The news of this had began spreading through the ranks of each division, rumors of potential threats and increased security taking effect. While each captain of their respective squads tried as they may to stem concerns arrising from these rumors, they could not prevent the whispers of the more concerned in the halls from continuing.

Sitting at the heart of Soul Society within the 1st Division's headquarters is the office of current Captain Commander Yoshirō Nobuyuki, a Shinigami of over 1,500 years of age and the only living soldier from the Great War that saw the death of the second generation of the Gotei 13. Sitting quietly behind his plain wooden desk, he held his hands under his chin and his elbows resting on the wooden surface. The warm air blew through the office from the openings leading to the balcony. It glided across his pale wrinkled skin and long bushy gray mustache. His hair danced feintly from the wind but overall kept its bushy appearance. He listened intently at the tall Shinigami captain in front of him.

Captain Takehiko Satō of the 8th Division is a seasoned soldier and one of the captain-commander's most trusted military advisors. Standing at an imposing 7 feet tall and an equally imposing muscular frame that could cause any in front of him to shrink in his presence, he speaks with a deep voice. He stood tall with his arms crossed over his midsection and hands tucked into the loose sleeves of his black robes. His white sleeveless captain's robe draped over the traditional uniform of a seated officer and his division's insignia printed in black on the back.

"This is the second patrol unit we've lost in the eastern regions." Captain Satō said. "I believe we should prepare a larger group headed by one of the lieutenants to investigate further. This should be sufficient strength to handle it and gather additional information."

"Who do you suggest?" Captain Nobuyuki asked.

"I've spoken with Captain Matsunaga and he believes Lieutenant Tanaka is able enough, with several members of the 6th Division as reinforcements." Captain Satō responded to the captain-commander question.

"Very well, relay that to the captain and wait for my order to investigate." The older Shinigami leaned back on his chair and took a deep breath. He placed his hands flat on the desk with his wrists leaning over the edge. Even with the appearance of an old man with an ever increasing number of wrinkles on the corners of his eyes, he's undisputed as the strongest Shinigami of his generation, succeeding to the position of Captain-Commander after the death of former Captain Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto. "We need to keep this investigation quiet, reassure our soldiers that we have the situation under control and there's nothing to worry about. I'm worried with the increasing chatter among them." His voice was much softer than Captain Takehiko, and his concern for his soldiers was evident with the way he spoke.

"Agreed, Captain Commander." The 8th Division captain responded quickly.

"These are young boys and girls. We have to show them that we value each and every one of them, and that we will avenge any of their fallen comrades." He paused for a moment, holding his breath while he looked at Captain Satō.

The 8th Division captain immediately took notice of this and asked what was the matter.

Breaking his silence, Captain Nobuyuki began speaking once again. "This brings me to another matter."

"What is it?" Satō seemed worried with the tone in which the superior officer spoke.

"Once I had learned of another group of soldiers lost, combined with the increased Hollow activity happening in both Soul Society and the Human World, I sent orders for any soldiers outside the walls to return to base. This included our 13th Division captain, Captain Ojima, who was conducting his own investigations in the Human World." He paused once again, allowing himself time to choose his words carefully. Satō, a close friend of the 13th Division captain, grew more worried with this. Captain Nobuyuki looked at the other with a serious expression. "We've lost communication with Captain Ojima."

"What?!" Satō let out a burst of emotion when he heard the status of his friend.

"This is very unlike Captain Ojima and I'm afraid the cause is much more dire. His disappearance and those of the patrol units cannot be mere coincidences. Its imperative that we have all our personnel return to their respective divisions and await further orders. Send word to the captains that there will be a meeting this afternoon to discuss our current situation further. Right now, the safety of our soldiers is of the utmost importance."

"Yes, Captain Nobuyuki." Captain Satō responded, bowing his head as he did so. "But we also need to think about Captain Ojima. I suggest sending someone to retrieve him."

"I understand your concern and agree with your suggestion. While we want our soldiers close, I cannot stand by and leave one of our captains stranded if they are in danger. Gather a small unit to send to the Human World."

"May I make another suggestion?" Captain Satō asked and when he was given permission to speak he said, "We should send Lieutenant Takeshi. He's experienced with travels into the Human World, as well as a formidable Shinigami should the need arise."

Captain Nobuyuki smiled, the first instance of levity brought to a serious conversation, as he knew there was another reason for suggesting the 11th Division's lieutenant. "I trust your judgement, Captain Satō. You may send word to him on his mission and to attend this afternoon's captain meeting, as well." He raised himself from his chair and walked to the balcony. He stared off into the distance, the sun shining down on Seireitei with it's noon rays. His smile faded. "Speaking of the lieutenant, have you gathered all the votes?"

"Yes I have." Captain Satō responded. "It was a unanimous decision."

"When you speak to him, let him know." The Captain Commander stated and crossed his arms behind his back, returning to his previous thoughts. "There is something coming over the horizon. Something we need to be ready for."

Part II: The Fierce Lion - 11th Division Lieutenant Kenzō Takeshi

Outside the 11th Division barracks stood two shinigami, one with a tall and slender frame and the other shorter and stumpier. The tall one sported a funny looking pompodour and rested a wooden bokken over his shoulder while the other arm was tucked into the opening of his kimono. He stood casually in front of the main gate to the compound alongside his short and stout friend. The other, completely bald and a chinstrap beard was picking at his ear with his pinky. One eye closed and the other staring down the street. It's widely known that members of the 11th Division are often viewed as thugs, with little to no mannerisms, Hitodenashi and Uji were no exceptions.

"How long you think the lieutenant's gonna keep us out here?" Uji, the shorter one and 5th Seat, said in a croaky voice finally pulling his pinky from his ear and examining whatever treasures he found.

Hitodenashi, 4th Seat, didn't open his eyes or move, "As long as he thinks it takes for us to learn our lesson I guess." A bird chirped in the background as they stood guard.

Uji was less patient and began moving his limbs as if restless. "I don't get why we gotta be punished for defending the 11th Division's name."

Hitodenashi let out a breath and spoke in his toneless voice. "Whatever, man. I just want this over with."

Uji swatted at a fly buzzing around his head, easily distracted by the littlest things. "You think the lieutenant would want us to step when people are talking shit."

"Granted, we did start that fight." Hitodenashi opened one eye and looked towards his friend without turning his head. "You gonna keep still or what? You're starting to annoy me."

"This fucking fly..." His voice trailed off at the end as his focus was solely on the fly he was desperately trying to smack with his hand.

Without difficulty, Hitodenashi pulled his hand from his shirt and launched his arm through the air, clutching the fly with his hand. He casually discarded it, again without moving his head. "And that's over." He ended with and placed his hand back into his shirt.

Uji simply grumbled too himself and went back into position in front of the gate, slouching over slightly with his arms folded over his chest. The two seated officers simply stood there quietly. Though the silence was slowly chipping away at Uji, who once again started to appear restless. Hitodenashi remained still.

"Ya know what?" Uji asked.

"Oh, c'mon." Hitodenashi broke out, irritated and finally turning his head to look at Uji. "We're here and that's all there is to it."

"Doesn't mean I gotta like it."

"And last time I checked, we're here because of you." Hitodenashi accused.

Uji turned to face Hitodenashi and the two quickly appeared hostile towards one another. "What did you say to me?" Uji repeated and his voice grew higher pitched with each repitition.

"You don't know how to keep your big mouth shut." Their bickering leading them to press their foreheads against each other as they tried to initimidate the other. When one would talk, they would push the other back. Their shouting match was eventually interrupted by this seemingly monolithic shadow casting over them. When the two turned towards the source, they saw Captain Satō towering over them as the sun was blocked by his massive frame.

"Good day, gentlemen. Is Lieutenant Takeshi available?" He spoke towards the two seated officers.

Hitodenashi and Uji instantly shifted into a straight standing stance, doing their best to seem professional. "Y-y-yes, Captain Satō." Hitodenashi's voice cracked at first. "He's currently training with the squad inside."

"May I enter?" The towering captain asked in a surprisingly gentle and soft voice.

"Yes, Captain Satō." Uji quickly responded and both seated officers stepped away from each other to allow the captain to pass through, bowing as he walked passed them and into the barracks towards the main courtyard.

A few minutes later, several Shinigami flew through the air before crashing into the walls next Captain Satō as he walked through a large archway into the 11th Division's training area. The center was covered with flat stone tiles arranged in a massive square shape. At the edges of this arrangement were numerous other Shinigami standing and observing the powerful lieutenant known as the "Unbeatable Lion" (無敵の獅子, Muteki no Shishi)

"I thought I trained you better than this." At the center of the training yard stood Lieutenant Kenzō Takeshi. He spoke with a booming voice to ensure that all those standing around him would hear him. While the other Shinigami dressed in their standard issued uniforms, the lieutenant stood there without his shirt. Simply perferring to wear the black hakama tied off with a long white sash, waraji and tabi footwear, the Lieutenant walked around in a large circle so that he could address everyone in attendance. Without his shirt, one could see how powerful the lieutenant is. His muscles were chiseled like stone, defined through years of training and service. Even without flexing, they were prominent throughout his body.

When his back faced Captain Satō, he could see the lieutenant's signature tattoos located there. On his back is a large black tattoo composed of three circles, each one resembling a gear or cog and are arranged one inside the other from largest to smallest. These tattoos aren't just for show. They do serve a purpose and were created from a special ink crafted within the 12th Division Science Division. The lieutenant has always been known as a powerful combatant, a Lieutenant in name only with staggering levels of spiritual pressure. To help contain such massive reserves, these tattoos were engineered to lock away portions of that power to manageable levels. Each circle acts as a seal that when the lieutenant chooses to can unlock to release a certain percentage of that power. This causes drastic increases to his already amazing power.

Another unnamed Shinigami rushed at him with a punch, which the lieutenant immediately caught and twisted his body to execute a basic hip toss, causing the Shinigami to crash to the floor on his back. Two other soldiers jumped onto the yard, coming at Kenzō with a combined attack. But once the two were almost an arm's length away, he stood back, spun his body around and swept them away with a spinning kick. His heel dug into one side, pushing that Shinigami into the other and launching them across the yard and sliding to a stop.

The lieutenant often held classes like these with his unit. Teaching them the art of unarmed combat, as well techniques found within Hakuda. He didn't have a particular order in which his opponents would fight him. Instead, he ordered his soldiers to attack him whenever they wished, trying to catch the lieutenant by surprise. While they could attack in single order, he also wanted to train to also fight effectively as a single unit, trying to exploit potential openings or weaknesses within their target. Today, unfortunately, he was not impressed with his comrades.

"All of you are attacking wildly." He said sternly to the remaining Shinigami standing around the yard. "None of you are thinking." The lieutenant tapped his head as the words came out of his mouth. "No follow through. No follow up plan." He continued to circle the yard, addressing the shinigami as they gazed up at him. "You aren't going to win fights by blind aggression. You need to remain focused. Need to think, to anticipate, to react." Each Shinigami took mental note of their lieutenant's speech. "But you also need to start thinking about fighting as one. All of you need to learn how to fight alongside one another and not step on each other's tactics. Even coming at me as a group fails if none of you know what the other is going to do. This comes from developing that sixth sense. That fighting spirit that allows you to anticipate your opponent's movements, to adjust automatically to every scenario."

The lieutenant could feel someone other than his soldiers watching him and peered over his shoulder, looking back at Captain Satō as he stood near the doorway. Immediately, Kenzō stood at attention. "Fall in!" He yelled out to the rest of his unit and they instantly rushed the yard, forming perfect rows behind one another. And in one simultaneous movement, they all bowed towards the 8th Division captain. Captain Satō smiled and politely bowed in return.

When they returned to their nomal standing position, Captain Satō looked at the young lieutenant. "Lieutenant Takeshi, may I have a word with you?"

Kenzō looked back at his unit and ordered them to continue their training. The rows broke apart and the Shinigami soldiers paired up to continue their training. "Captain Satō, what brings you to our barracks?" The lieutenant asked as he slipped on his vice-captain's haori. Kenzō didn't wear the traiditional top of a Shinigami soldier. Instead he wore something that signified his status as above lieutenant but not quite captain. Without one leading his division, the responsibilities of both captain and lieutenant fell solely on him. The haori looked very much like a captain's but with the colors inverted. It was a long black sleeveless cloak with the 11th Division's insignia painted in white on the back. The diamond pattern at the base of the cloak was also white and Kenzō wore it open, keeping his chest exposed in the process.

"I'm here to notify you of a captain's meeting that will be held tonight. Can we expect your attendance?"

"Of course, Captain Satō. But was it necessary that you yourself needed to come all this way to tell me?" Kenzō always wanted to appear humble to the other captains since they were his superiors even if some of them treated the lieutenant more an equal than a subordinate. "Surely, a messenger would have sufficed."

"Well, there was also something else that I would like to discuss with you... in private." With that last part, Captain Satō nodded towards the main hall of the 11th Division barracks, away from the group of soldiers training behind them.

Kenzō, slightly curious with the tone in the captain's voice, complied and both headed towards the hall. "May I ask what this is about?" He asked, waiting until there was no left near them.

"What I am about to share with you is something that must be kept secret. There has been an incident in the Human World that we would like for you to handle. Captain Ojima of the 13th Division has been scouting that area for any possible threats that we may have not seen..."

Kenzō continued listening as the seasoned captain spoke.

"...And recently we have lost communication with him." Kenzō could tell the concern in Satō's voice as the lieutenant's face lit up with shock. "I would like for you to go there and investigate his disappearance."

Kenzō was taken back by the Captain's request. "Of course, Captain, I will do everything in my power to retrieve Captain Ojima."

Captain Satō smiled at the lieutenant's eagerness and dedication. "Excellent, Kenzō. You've been to the Human World and know the city in which he was stationed in. Once you've located Captain Ojima, you will escort him back to Seireitei."

"Yes, Captain Satō." Kenzō said without hesitation, bowing instantly.

The Captain and the lieutenant spoke for a few minutes more about the upcoming mission, careful not to speak too loudly in front of others. The Gotei had wished for this incident to remain a secret until more information could be gathered. And now it looked like Kenzō would be the one gathering that information.

"There is something else that we need to discuss." Captain Satō said ominously and reached into his shirt.

Kenzō couldn't imagine what else they could talk about but he waited patiently for the captain and watched him pull out a small white piece of paper folded in half.

"This is for you." He finally said and parted the 11th Division in the politest of ways, something that the older captain was known for. That left Kenzō standing in the barracks, holding this small piece of paper. It felt heavy in his hands, and instinctively he knew what was written inside it. He didn't open it. Instead, he walked towards the end of the pathway under the roof of the small building. He gazed out into the training yard, his unit continuing their training. Kenzō began to lose himself in thought. It was one of the few times he would actually let his mind wander. What he thought about was...

"Lieutenant?" A distant voice said softly.

Kenzō immediately snapped out of it, turning to face the source of his interruption. The shinigami was a tall man, slightly taller than Kenzō himself with a similar muscular build with chin length black hair. He wore the traditional shinigami robes with a black handled tantō sticking out of his uniform. He stared at the lieutenant with his brown eyes.

"Rock..." Kenzō managed to start the sentence, but his thoughts were still lingering. He shook his head in an attempt to regain his concentration, letting a friendly smile form on his face. "Apologies, you caught me daydreaming."

"Is everything alright?" Rock Tsunoda, 4th Seat and one half of the "Terror Twins", asked in a gentle voice. Although he appeared intimidating due to his size and physique, he spoke softly, often catching others offguard with his gentle giant persona.

"Yes, everything is fine. You're not training with the others?" Kenzō asked as he motioned his head towards the training yard.

"Mari and I were training in the weapons yard."

"Ah. Trying to surpass your sister?" Kenzō began to walk, gesturing Rock to follow.

"Maybe one day, Lieutenant." Kenzō, Rock and Mari had all attended the Academy together and eventually were put into the same squad after Kenzō was sent from the 2nd Division to lead the 11th. Kenzō was originally its 3rd seat at the time, but was promoted to Lieutenant, while Mari became 3rd seat and Rock became 4th. They remained good friends, though Rock was more polite than his sister, almost always addressing Kenzō as Lieutenant.

"Keep at it, Rock." Kenzō said as they approached the door to his office. "But until then, you're still better at hand to hand combat." He said as he looked back at Rock. He slid the door open and stepped through the doorway. Kenzō kept his office neat and clean, the opposite of some of the other barracks around the yard. All his paperwork was organized into piles on his desk next to his ink pens and brushes. "Listen, Rock. I will be attending a captain's meeting tonight, and after that I will be leaving for a few days on a mission. Until I return, both you and your sister will be in charge. Divide up the training sessions and tasks, and make sure things continue to run smoothly." Kenzō placed the small piece of paper in his hand on the desk and gathered a few others. He handed Rock a few papers with the week's training schedule on it.

"A mission?" The 4th seat asked as he grabbed the papers.

"It should be a few days before I return. Unfortunately, that's all I can discuss at the moment." Kenzō said as he walked over to his desk. To his right, against the wall, was a shelf unit containing various texts and books. The middle shelf was completely empty, minus a broken sword with a guard that extends inward from its center similar to a shinai. It's hilt was white and mostly covered in tattered bandages. Next to that was a black box with a cushion inside. Sitting on the cushion was a single black eyepatch, its straps torn at the ends. Kenzō gave it a brief look as he walked past it to his seat behind the desk.

"I will notify Mari of our tasks while you are away." Rock said and bowed before exiting the room, leaving the lieutenant staring at the small piece of paper laying flat in front of him. He paused for a moment, staring at it as if whatever was written would appear on the surface. Kenzō lifted the paper and carefully opened it and revealed its contents. Inside was a single line of text written in black ink at the top of the sheet: Kenzō Takeshi has been promoted to the rank of Captain of the 11th Division.

Part III: Sparring between Lieutenants - Eiji Maruyama vs Kiku Maeda

Their swords clashed against one another as the two lieutenants fought on a large flat outcropping on Mt. Koifushi (鯉伏, Carp Slope) in Hokutan (北端, North End), located in West Rukongai (流魂街, Wandering Soul City). Eiji Maruyama of the 8th Division and Kiku Maeda of the 9th Division often trained here in isolation. It had been a few hours after Captain Satō had left the 11th Division, and the two lieutenants were engaging in conversation as their swords met.

"So... do you know what this meeting is about tonight?" Kiku asked as she appeared in mid air above Eiji, her sword coming down in a quick two-handed vertical strike. She was an attractive young woman with long flowing jet black hair kept pinned back that whipped up in the motion.

Eiji effortlessly brought up his armored left arm to block the attack, sending small sparks as the sword scraped against the crimson metal. He was a tall man, taller than Kiku who was known to be tall for a woman, and possessed a lean build and piercing red eyes. He wore the traditional robes of a shinigami, and wore his lieutenant's sash over his right bicep instead of the left because of the armor.

"Maybe you should be more concerned with this fight instead of asking questions." Eiji said sternly, staring back at Kiku's hazel eyes with his red ones through the bangs of his medium lengthed black hair.

He pushed Kiku's blade to the side and brought up his blade for a quick thrust. Kiku twisted her body, Eiji's blade barely missing the elbow length sleeve of her uniform. Quickly, she landed on her feet and stepped back to open some distance between her and Eiji, but he was already on the move. Their swords collided once more as Eiji pushed against her. Kiku could barely keep her footing due to the stronger lieutenant. Her feet slid back as Eiji continued to press on, and using that strength, he knocked her off her feet. As Kiku was sent backward, she instinctively brought herself over, landing on one hand and throwing herself up into the air, landing on a branch in a nearby tree with great agility and grace.

Eiji quickly persued her, running up the tree before slicing the branch clean off and Kiku leaped once more to avoid the fall. Every time Kiku thought she had solid footing, Eiji was on her, forcing her to constantly remain on the defense. Parrying, dodging, disappearing and reappearing a distance away, Kiku could barely make a move without Eiji already being there.

"What's the point of these training sessions if you're not learning what I'm teaching you?" Eiji scolded Kiku and their blades struck against one another, sending sparks when they collided.

As they continued to struggle, Kiku squeezed the hilt of her sword with her hands tightly to reinforce her hold. "Oh, Eiji, I still have some tricks up my sleeve." Kiku said with a seductive smile. Eiji, slightly confused, pressed on and their blades briefly parted, sliding off one another and sending another wave of sparks into the air before quickly striking against each other once more. They pressed on, using their strength to keep each other's blade at bay. Kiku then began to bring her arms together in front of her rather large chest, the inner sides of her biceps framing her breasts and accentuating her cleavage. She was never one to hide her feminine features, choosing to leave her top much more open then the other conservative women of the Gotei 13. Eiji couldn't help but stare, even if it was for a moment, and that's all Kiku needed to counter. She grinned and used Eiji's momentum to let his sword swing past her as she spun her body around, positioning her directly behind Eiji. In one fluid motion as she completed the full rotation, she swung her leg and swept Eiji's feet from behind, causing him to fall directly on his back. "Ack" Eiji muttered and there was a loud thud from his body hitting the floor. Before he could get up, he was already staring at the tip of Kiku's sword hanging inches from his face.

Eiji scowled as he looked up at Kiku, the only word his could muster being "Cheater." He said it in a low voice, slightly upset at the result of this match and the carelessness of his actions.

Kiku simply smiled. "Oh come now, Eiji. A girl's got to use any and all means to win against a better opponent." And winked as she blew Eiji a kiss. She reached down with her hand, offering to help Eiji up who still had a look of disappointment on his face.

After a deep sigh, Eiji reluctantly reached up to her hand. She sheathed her sword as Eiji brushed the dirt off himself. "And no, I don't know what the meeting is about." He looked up at Kiku, confused why she was sheathing her sword. "We're not done yet." Eiji said as he continued to hold his sword. "We still need to practice."

"It's already getting pretty late and I think I have a better idea." Kiku said as she walked towards Eiji. "There's this really great place that we could go for dinner and drinks." She laid her hand on Eiji's blade, pushing it away from each other. "What do you say?" She asked playfully, her body only inches from his and stared up with hazel puppy dog eyes.

"We really should keep practicing. A shinigami must always be prepared for when they are needed." Eiji said back to Kiku, though his words didn't seem so authoritative as before.

"OR... you could have a night out with an amazing young woman such as myself." She said with an infectious smile, giving another wink and the end of her words. And with that Eiji couldn't help but smile himself. "That's what I thought." Kiku immediately added and she gave a light smack against Eiji's stomach.

Part IV: The Meeting of Captains

Kenzō stood quietly near the back wall where he normally stood during captain meetings. The Captain's Assembly Hall has polished wooden slats for flooring and red stained walls leading up to a high cieling. It is a long rectangular room located within the 1st Division barracks let into from a wide hallway outside. At the back of the room was a wooden chair with a tall backing, simple in its design, and is designated for the Captain Commander. Immediately behind that is a door that leads to Captain Nobuyuki's office. The rest of the room was occupied by the current captains of the Gotei 13, lined in two rows with each one alternating in division number, each row facing the other while leaving enough separation that it coud trace a path back to the door leading out of the room. The young lieutenant scanned the rows of captains, identifying each one in his head:

Facing the chain in which the captain commander sat, the first captain to his left is Captain Saizō Fujibayashi of the 2nd Division and Commander-in-Chief of the Onmitsukidō. Dressed all in black, save for the white sleeveless captain's cloak he wore, his face was always hidden under his mask. Kenzō had once been apart of the 2nd Division, serving as their 3rd Seat, and personally trained under Captain Fujibayashi in armed and unarmed combat. The captain's skills are considered second to none when it comes to hand-to-hand fighting, with only a select few capable of matching him in combat.

Next in the same row is 4th Division Captain Gennai Hiraga, Soul Society's greatest healer and leader of the emergency response and treatment branch of the Gotei 13. Sporting short black spikey hair with a single streak of silver extending from his forehead back, his eyes are covered by large circular glasses with black lens. His wore a modified uniform that resembled black latex and it covered his arms complete under his sleeveless white cloak. A high black collar buttoned in front of his face that covers the lower half of his face. He didn't speak very much, and when he did it was strictly professional and technical, but his skill in the healing arts is unmistakenable.

After the 4th Division Captain is Captain Masahiro Matsunaga of the 6th Division, the richest Shinigami of all the Divisions. He came from a wealthy family and one of the new Noble Houses of Soul Society, and is known as being the most handsome man in the organization. To mark his high status, Captain Matsunaga wears a pair of golden bracers etched with his family's crest. These valuable relics of the Matsunaga House peeked out from under his long sleeve captain's cloak. With long silver hair and soft features, their was a manly beauty to him. He's seen with a rather emotionless expression on his face, with his bright blue eyes staring off into the distance. Regardless of his physical features, Captain Matsunaga is a highly skilled combatant and regarded as one of the fastest Shinigami currently existing.

Captain Satō towered over all the captains and stood tall next to Captain Matsunaga, filling the space for the 8th Division. Aside from being an exceptional tactician and battle strategist, Captain Satō is also known for being one of the first Shinigami chosen to rebuild the third generation of the Gotei 13. A pillar of strength, courage and tradition, he is among the most famous Shinigami existing and a limitless source of advice, both on and off the battlefield. Aside from the Captain Commander and Captain Miura of the 5th Division, Captain Satō is among the few Shinigami who survived the Great War, and bares those memories as scars covering his body.

After him, appearing like a doll with her short 4'11" height, less than half of Captain Satō's own, stood 10th Division Captain Suzu Kakyoku, the youngest captain currently serving, and even younger than most seated officers. Hailed as a child prodigy, she often acts her age, perferring to enjoy herself and have fun than take things too seriously. If it weren't for her tremendous potential, it would be alarming to see someone of her stature and age serving in the most powerful military force in Soul Society. She's known for the vibrant colors she displays, such as the electric purple of her hair, blue eyes and pink blush over her cheeks.

Immediately after her and ending the first row of captains is the 12th Division Captain and head of the science division is Kenmei Hashimoto, a rather plain looking Shinigami with short well groomed brown hair and rectangular glasses. He was the only other Shinigami captain in that row that wore a full sleeved white cloak as oppose to the other captains. Brilliant, meticulous and incredibly organized, he can craft nearly anything for any given situation. What few know about this captain is that he is one of two currently married, and even has a daughter whom shares his passion for the sciences. Although he's the most intelligent man in all of Soul Society, common discourse is usually lost on him, and often makes jokes that only he seems to find humorous. Regardless, he's a humble man and a devoted father with a vast intellect in the field of sciences.

Beginning the row on the right is 3rd Division Captain Hikaru Miyazaki, a young captain promoted not too recently and a close friend of Kenzō. Like Captain Hashimoto, he is the other captain who is married and is greatly known for his sense of humor and good nature. Long spikey blonde hair tied back and electric blue eyes, Captain Miyazaki is a highly skilled combatant, possessing great skills in nearly every area of the Shinigami Arts. He's equally gifted with huge levels of physical ability, being among the fasted Shinigami and a natural talent in wielding the magical energies associated with Kidō.

The 5th Division Captain, following down the line, is another seasoned captain and formerly Captain Commander's lieutenant when he served as Captain of the 5th. Captain Tamaki Miura is known for her motherly qualities: calm, warm and inviting, she's greatly humble about her power and never excessively uses it. With emerald green eyes and blonde hair tied into a bun, Captain Miura is among the oldest Shinigami in Soul Society, though with a look one would never assume that. Underneath her youthful appearance beats the heart of a true warrior, forged through countless battles and another source of advice and guidance for many Shinigami.

Between the 5th Division and the 9th Division was an empty spot reserved for the 7th Division captain. Currently, there is no one leading that Division, its duties falling solely on the incredibly busy Lieutenant who is rarely seen because of his schedule. The lieutenant's schedule is so busy that he's rarely seen in meetings, needing any news pertaining to him messengered over to his office in the 7th Division barracks. There is talk of a few potential candidates that could be promoted to that position but that is currently speculation and rumors only, with no concrete word on who that may be.

Standing diagonally in front of Kenzō is the breathtaking Captain Hana Ryusaki with her long flowing blood red hair tied into a braid and eyes that shined like rubies. She is known as the Blood Captain (血船長, Chi Senchō) because of these colors and can be quite frightening to face in battle. She's mainly serious at all times and has a difficult relationship with her lieutenant because of their contrasting views of how women should present themselves. Kenzō paused there for a moment, staring at the back of Captain Ryusaki's head. She turned her head slightly towards Kenzō, though her eyes still remained obscured and the lieutenant quickly threw his attention forward to the Captain Commander sitting in his old chair.

The last person on the line was reserved for the 13th Division Captain, Gan Ojima, but he was absent from the meeting. Not even his lieutenant was present, which made Kenzō believe the material in question was too sensitive. Instead, the spot remained empty and Kenzō ended the line.

The older Captain Commander sat there with his aged appearance, leaning forward in his chair with both hands resting on top of a crooked wooden walking cane. His face covered in wrinkles noting just how old he is, but also displaying a wisdom that could only be gained through several centuries of existence. Everyone in the room stood quietly and at attention, waiting for their commander to speak.

"By now I'm sure you are all wondering why I've called this meeting. I'm sure you are aware of several disappearances occuring at the edges of our borders. Combined with increased Hollow activity plaguing some of the lesser guarded districts, it has raised some concern." Captain Nobuyuki said in that elderly voice. His eyes remained closed as he spoke. The other captains listened attentively. "I do not want to raise any alarm, but I also cannot have this continue. We are still in a very fragile state and must retain safety and security in our world. As a precaution, I want all soldiers to return to their respective squads. Any patrols should be with groups of no less than 5 soldiers at a time and any suspicious activity reported immediately. No one is to engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary, and must notify their respective captains for assistance." He paused briefly and let out a longer breath. "I'm sure you're also wondering the whereabouts of Captain Ojima. His current status is unknown, our last communication with him being several days ago." There was some noises among the captains, but no one said a word. They simply shot looks at one another before returning their attention to their leader. The captain commander's eyes opened and looked directly at Kenzō. "Lieutenant Takeshi." And with that, Kenzō immediately stood straight. "You will travel to World of the Living and investigate the disappearance of Captain Ojima. I have full faith that you will be able to return our captain to us."

"Yes, Captain Nobuyuki." Kenzō added immediately and bowed his head.

Looking back towards the other captains, he stated "Those are your orders. Dismissed." With that, the elderly captain stood up, leaning slightly against his cane, and placed one arm behind his back as he walked towards the back of the room and exited through the door that led to the rest of the 1st Division's headquarters. The other captains waited until Captain Commander Nobuyuki exited completely before making their way to the door. As she made her way out, Captain Ryusaki glanced towards Kenzō. He didn't say a word. He simply met her gaze with his own before a male voice broke the silence.

"Kenzō." Captain Miyazaki spoke.

The lieutenant quickly turned his head to face the 3rd Division Captain. "Captain Miyazaki." Kenzō responded and his words were met with a smile from the captain.

"I've spoken with the Captain Commander and Captain Satō, and they have approved a request of mine. I would like for my lieutenant to accompany you on your mission. He's pretty lousy at following orders, but a capable fighter. Figured a chance with a seasoned warrior such as yourself might motivate him to taking his role more seriously." Captain Miyazaki nudged the lieutenant with his elbow at that last statement.

"Yes, captain." The lieutenant responded in kind, albeit more seriously than the captain.

"C'mon, Kenzō. We practically graduated the Academy at the same time. If you hadn't turned down the position of Captain of the 11th Division the first time around, you would've had seniority over me. I thought we were past formalities."

"Yeah, but you are a captain, and I'm a lieutenant. So I should treat things as such." The lieutenant responded as they both walked out of the meeting room. "It's a matter of respect for our traditions."

"Well, you're the toughest lieutenant I know. And just as strong as any captain." Hikaru interjected. They walked out the room and turned into the hallway. The other captains had already separated, leaving just the two alone. "I know you're being promoted."

Kenzō seemed surprised by Captain Miyazaki's statement. "How did you know?"

"Who do you think voted for you? And I know I'm not the only one, either." Hikaru patted the lieutenant on the shoulder. "You're strong, smart, and one of the most respected individuals in the Gotei 13. There aren't many that can argue those facts. This was long overdue."

Kenzō did his best to remain humble at the captain's words, but inside he was quite proud of his accomplishments. In fact, the only reason he had declined the first time was because he wanted to become stronger before excepting the title of "The Kenpachi". Now, unfortunately, there was no declining. He was being promoted and that's all there was to it. "Kenpachi Takeshi. Has a nice ring to it." He said jokingly and the two shared a laugh as they continued their walk.

Continued in What Once Was -->