Koichi eased his zanpakuto - a constant release type - onto his hands and took a ready position, leaning more to defense than offense. His Shikai took the appearance of two trench knives that covered his fingers in a manner similar to knuckle dusters; and spiritual energy swirling with the intense cutting power of amplified wind danced around the blades. Ryouta set his gray-colored metal staff on his shoulder and scanned the area attentively as they closed on the origin of the noise which had set them racing.
The scream that was so loud only seconds before was silenced so quickly, Koichi actually doubted hearing it in the first place. Coming to a small alleyway, the two froze as though all movement had been stolen from their legs! What their eyes showed them there drained the blood from their faces and left them both as pale as ghosts! Who? Koichi though desperately. A woman lay dead at their feet and a shadowy figure with one crimson eye burning brightly in the night, the other hidden behind his shadowed brown or black hair disappeared across the rooftops with a level of speed that marked him as a higher echelon Shinigami...or something else entirely. Ryouta gave chase almost immediately, leaving Koichi behind with the woman. "C'mere you!" Ryouta called.
"Unh..." Koichi looked down and breathed out as he shook his head. The woman, thought to be dead, was clinging to life, although only barely and wouldn't last long, even if he had the skill to heal her. "Chi-" she began, but her voice quieted and her eyes closed as the last thread of her life energy that so bravely hung on, snapped like a twig underfoot.
Ryouta returned quickly and moved to the rooftops silently, shaking his head in anger, "Whoever that was, Koichi, they're good as gone now. That's probably one of the most impressive Flash Steps I've seen in a long time," Even though he was complementing the shadow, Ryouta radiated readiness like a fire radiated heat. His voice was level, his gaze firmly fixed on the horizon. "...Wait, do you hear that?" He breathed in a whisper.
Now that you mention it...Koichi strained his ears for the slightest sound. A bird chirped somewhere overhead and the wind was howling much like before. It was faint, but there was definitely something...is someone crying? He though with great surprise. The woman's dead, he didn't need to check her pulse, because he felt her passing, although only faintly. "Ryouta, it sounds like someone's crying." Koichi rolled the woman aside gently, trying to show her some degree of respect. Ryouta touched down gently to Koichi's right, shoulders shaking with rage, his face barely hiding his feelings of anger and frustration. "I should've caught him..." He said quietly, and the wall closest shook as he struck it with a closed fist.
A child, no older than maybe a month, sniffled before meeting Koichi's eye. Those aqua green eyes met Koichi's brown, and the Shinigami felt his own anger rise anew. This is only a child, for God's sake! What monster attacks a child!? The child had black hair, and what appeared to be a tattoo on his right arm. Rising to his feet, Koichi began wrapping the trembling infant in the white sash he always wore, with the kanji for Fire sown into it. Koichi kept his gave fixed on the child and spoke quietly to his comrade, "Ryouta, we have no idea who this kid is, or where he belongs. I'm guessing the woman is either his mother, or his nurse." I just hope its the latter, for the boy's sake... His voice was quivering with rage though, and he struggled to keep it down. "What are we going to do, Ryouta? We can't leave him here, can we?" Addressing the child, Koichi smiled. "No we can't, can we little guy?"
Shaking his head, Ryouta tickled the youngster's chin and smiled, easing his anger slightly, because the tension left his shoulders somewhat; but not completely. "...Take him with you, Koichi, or you'll regret it. I know it doesn't seem ideal, and it goes completely against the rules, but..." Koichi knew this was a special case, especially if Ryouta Hachirou, the man known primarily for his continual upholding of the law and rules, would suggest breaking them. Koichi looked at the child, currently wrapping his entire hand around one of Koichi's fingers, and he smiled.
A single tear fell down the hardened Shinigami's face as he spoke, "My wife has always wanted a child. We don't know your name, little guy, but I think...yeah, Kenji Hiroshi will suit you fine." That smile spread further, and Koichi looked to the heavens, muttered a short prayer and returned his eyes to the child, who looked at him oddly. Surprised you ain't cryin'. Most kids either laugh at my beard or start ballin'.
Ryouta looked his friend levelly for a moment and then relaxed before nodding his head in agreement. "After your father, eh? If he grows up to be half as strong, we'll have to be careful." With a laugh, Ryouta walked from the small alleyway and looked around quickly. "Okay, there's no sign of our shade, so let's go. I think I'll kip at your place tonight, just to be save. Wouldn't want him comin' back to hurt little Kenji, now would we?"
It was all Koichi could do for the child. At least this way, he'd have a chance at a good life, maybe make something of himself. And if he proved to have the skills, maybe he could make an excellent Shinigami. Yes, this was the right decision, and not just for little Kenji.
Ryouta led on, but kept his senses tuned. He had no idea who...or what that person was; but one thing was clear. He was powerful, too powerful for Ryouta's liking. He outran me easily, and being tired is no excuse. I should've been able to catch him, see his face at least!
Koichi sighed before speaking calmly, "There's no point beating yourself up, Ryouta. C'mon, don't give me that stupid, dumbfounded look. I trained with you for years, went through the Academy side-by-side and you don't expect me to know what your thinking? You're wondering what would've happened had you caught him, aren't you?" Koichi explained calmly, voice low; a near whisper. "I know how you feel; I couldn't save the woman anymore than you could've caught our assailant. Move on, pal, or you'll destroy yourself. Concentrate on the now instead of finding fault in the past."
Ryouta heaved a sigh, as though he were actually lighter. "...You know what, Koichi? You are right, as usual. I wonder what Jiro would've thought about that little speech?" Ryouta said with more than a little question.
"He'd probably call me an idiot, and say something like "only by knowing the past, can we know the future too!" Both Shinigami laughed at that, and the kid looked at them curiously. He probably though both were half mad. Well, Koichi though with a goofy grin, at least ya ain't cryin' the walls down!
Their laughing was cut short, however, when the two came up on Koichi's house. It was a medium sized home, bought by Koichi's father-in-law upon his marriage and was styled like most of the houses in Soul Society. The light by the door was still burning and a small woman, with a warm smile and long, red hair, welcomed them both; Koichi with a kiss and Ryouta with a hug. "I'm glad your home safe, Koichi. Are you staying tonight, Ryouta? Give me a second and I'll set up the guest room." She spoke politely and gracefully, like the noblewoman she was.
Koichi caught his wife by the arm gently and nodded to the bundle wrapped in his sash, "Anora," Koichi began slowly, "we found the little guy on our way back, near the mouth of an alleyway about twenty minutes away. The woman with him was dead, killed by someone we scared off. We don't know who he belongs to."
"Nor why they were targeted," Ryouta added quickly. "I gave chase, but the guy was too quick. I didn't get a look at him at all, nor did he have anything that set him apart. He was a Shinigami....or at least I hope he was." Ryouta being doubtful was a bad thing, Koichi knew that much. The question is why? We find that out, we may find who attacked little Kenji here.
Anora cut in quickly before either could speak again, however, and took the now sleeping child and cradled him gently. "....Koichi, Ryouta, none of that matters now. The child is save, that's all we need care about. You said you didn't know who he belongs to, right?" A light sprang into Anora's sapphire eyes; one of happiness and sadness.
"Yes," Koichi confirmed. "I thought, well, since you've always wanted a child, we could keep him." Koichi put his arm around his wive and looked at her cradle Kenji with a proud smile.
Ryouta grinned and nodded, "It really is the best thing, Anora. This way, the kid gets a shot at life, and protection from the only two people who glimpsed our would-be-child-killer. What you think about it?" Ryouta stopped abruptly and tensed visibly. Okay, he thought slowly, why do I feel like we're being watched?
Anora looked down at the child, tears welling in her eyes. "Of course we'll look after him. Does he have a name, Koichi? If not..."
"Sorry, Anora, but I've already given him a name. Kenji Hiroshi, and the little guy seems to like it." Kenji grabbed Koichi's finger and looked up with his all-to-clear baby eyes.
"After your father, right? That's perfect! Kenji Hiroshi. From now on, you'll be staying with us. Now, let's get him inside and off to sleep, or he'll catch his death of cold." She finished abruptly, and set off towards the door, setting a quick pace; probably scared someone would arrive and take the child away.
Ryouta heaved a sigh of relieve and patted his friend on the back. "Well, that takes care of that, then, pal. We should get goin' before...hold on. Get back!" Ryouta's open palm caught Koichi in the shoulder with just enough force to knock him back from the Sōkatsui blast that struck the ground were he was previously. Looking in the direction the blast came from, the two Shinigami looked upon a man wearing white robes. Ryouta made shape to go straight for the attack, but Koichi stopped him with his hand in a stop sign, "Don't Ryouta! I can't sense a lick of Reiatsu from this guy!"
"Huh, I missed? Not bad, not bad at all." The man whispered with a grin. Messy brown hair cast a shadow over his face that the hood didn't cover and the darkness of night helped disguise his appearance even more, but he was a Shinigami. Koichi was certain of that after witnessing him use Kidō. He held two curved blades, one serrated and one not. "I'm afraid the child will have to die. No hard feelings, alright? In fact, you leave right now, and I may forget I even saw you." As he spoke, he leveled his swords at the Shinigami, one at each.
Thankfully, Anora had the sense to remain inside. "Ain't you a tricky little blighter!" Ryouta said angrily. "I could've sworn someone was watching us, but I didn't wanna say anything with Anora around, and then you surprise the hell out of us with a Sōkatsui! I think I'll call you The Trickster." Ryouta grinned broadly and readied himself.
The man laughed, "The Trickster, eh? Very well, you must have some name to fear me by," and he delivered the comment with a level of snideness that was evident.
Koichi looked the fellow dead in the one crimson eye that was visible, and felt his entire being was being weighed. "...Ryouta, I'm going, alright? Watch my back," Koichi said quietly.
Shaking his head and stepping in front of his comrade, Ryouta patted his shoulder with his steel staff-like zanpakutō. "Sorry, Koichi, but you've got more to lose if this fight goes awry. You've got a family now, right? Can't adopt the kid then leave him fatherless all over again, now, can you?" Although friendly, Ryouta was clearly commanding. "Now watch this fight; analyze his every move. Now, let's go!"
The white robed man was surprised and noticeably taken aback, because he nearly didn't lift his blades to block Ryouta's fast, brutal strike! Ryouta grinned, drew his arm back, and delivered a quick punch to the fellows jaw and then swept his staff through the air towards the fellows right temple! Falling back and ducking beneath the sweeping motion, The Trickster charged a small mass of energy and released it. Koichi growled lowly in his throat, that wasn't a Byakurai! That was Hado 26: Yariawai! Ryouta avoided it rather easily, but was forced on the defensive when the fellow nearly beheaded him. This is not good, not good at all! Koichi thought, anger building.
Ryouta was on the back-foot all right. He parried blows, dodged strikes to precise for lower echelon Shinigami and generally kept himself alive through his speed. Calm down! It's not as if you can't see his attacks. You can follow them, you can react. There must be a weakness. Ryouta studied the quick movements, the flowing grace behind each strike. The Trickster was using a piercing maneuver which required him to draw his arm back and then throw the other forward. The weakness has to be there. The interval between his right arm drawing back and his left arm going forward. His rights faster, his left slightly slower. There! Ryouta dodged as The Trickster's right arm drew back and his left came forward and slammed his staff-like zanpakuto into the ground and grinned, "Let's see how you like this!" Steel spikes shot from the ground quickly, forcing the man back and allowing Ryouta a breather and a chance to launch a few attacks himself. The Trickster parried blow after blow, a cocky smirk upon his face, but unlike Ryouta who was already weary from a previous fight; the mysterious fellow showed no signs of slowing. To an outward observer, like Koichi, it looked like The Trickster hadn't even broken a sweet yet! But then, Ryouta's spiritual energy, the lifeblood of any Shinigami and the source of their power, rose!
Ryouta's eyes glowed a steel gray color, and Ryouta struck home, using the pole as a pivot, he hurled himself forward, ducked beneath The Trickster's dual swing, and kicked him square in the chest with both feet! Crashing through the nearest wall and then through another, Ryouta outstretched his free hand, "Koichi, I'll need cover after this! Ye lord! Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! On the wall of blue flame, inscribe a twin lotus. In the abyss of conflagration, wait at the far heavens. Hado 63: Sōren Sōkatsui!" Ryouta poured almost everything he had left and the doubled Sōkatsui blast struck the rubble, obscuring even more of the area in smoke and no doubt leaving a crater behind. "How's...that for ya?" Ryouta panted heavily.
Koichi looked on doubtfully though. Ryouta had used a great deal of energy earlier, and then used a great deal more during that entire offensive just now. He'd be tired, and open to attack. "It's now or never, Koichi. Time to move."
The Trickster burst from the rubble and delivered a powerful kick straight to Ryouta's stomach, hurling him back several feet! He was panting heavily though, his clothing singed, with pieces burning. Flashing forward, right sword raised and left in a defensive posture, Koichi moved! "I don't think so!" Koichi appeared between the two, trench knives at the ready, wind dancing beautifully around the blades, extending their cutting range and strength and he struck home! The wind energy cut into the man's side, drawing blood and forcing him back before Koichi could've tore his side open. "How foolish for someone as strong as you to attack out of rage. Rage leaves you blinded, because If you'd have taken time to analyze my run up there now, you would have dodged a simple attack like that; but now? Now you're wounded and weaker, all because you attacked in haste. You've taken damage, Trickster, and not only from me." Koichi continued in the same matter-of-fact voice. "I'd say Ryouta cracked a few ribs with his double kick, and I've wounded your side even more, but think of the internal damage." Koichi showed his Shikai blades, coated with swirling wind amplified with spiritual energy. "The wind is controlled by my spiritual energy. When I stab something, some of that wind is left behind, and continues to damage my enemies from within. Right now, you'll be feeling severe pain coming from that wound, and for a certain amount of time, the pain will spread."
Ryouta struggled to his feet and grinned broadly. "Now you know why I went first, Trickster. Things don't go so well when the Trickster becomes the tricked. Nice one, Koichi."
Koichi, however, shook his head and sighed. "But...from this moment forward, I've decided upon something. And that something is this: I will get incredibly angry whenever someone attacks my... son!" He clicked his fingers, The Trickster's side exploding in a fiery display of spiritual energy. "Oh, and my zanpakutō ain't a wind type. It's a dual one - fire and wind, Trickster."
"Tut, tut, this won't do at all." The Trickster muttered almost silently. "I'll leave the kid alone for now; get him when his protector's aren't around." And with that he was gone, and this time Ryouta didn't give chase. "...Thanks for that, Koichi. You really saved me there."
"That's what friends are here for, Ryouta. You would've done the same thing for me." The wind surrounding Koichi's blades vanished, "Just be thankful that I've got a constant-release type, or I doubt I'd have saved you. Now, let's get you patched up, that was quite a blow you took. We'll look for that guy tomorrow, this time with some help from Jiro and Garian."
"You got it." Despite the injuries, Ryouta was standing and walking on his own. Koichi led him to the door, where Anora was waiting with a medical kit...
And so it was that the child, now called Kenji Hiroshi, would grow up, training with his adoptive father and friend Ryouta Hachirou, who unbeknown to Kenji, doubled as his protectors. He knew nothing of the man who tried to kill him, only that the woman carrying him died from an illness before either Koichi or Ryouta could help her. The boy would grow up, causing mischief and mayhem for those he met, and challenging the Gotei Thirteen Captains to races, which he never won; but it didn't stop him from trying. But Kenji's tale begins years after, when he first enters the Shinō Academy, to take his place among the Shinigami...