Mission Received Edit
"... That's the jist of it," A long-haired woman with clear blue eyes and a nice tan said from the opposite side of her Captain's desk, dropping the paper-work on the shining varnished top. Her back was straight, her posture professional; but her eyes failed to mask the tiredness she was feeling.
"Send up the witness... and afterwards you can go and get some rest," Zieg said, waving her away; the young woman nodding her head in thanks and respect. This was the last thing he needed, he thought with a quick shake of his head. Unknown figures and strange creatures stalking the lands near Horiwari? It sounded like a nightmare, and if Zieg had come to expect anything after serving for a time as a Captain in the Order, it was act on mysteries fast and ask questions later.
"Are we going?" A deep voice laced with serious undertones sounded to Zieg's left, the figure in question tall with silver-grey-colored hair, piercings on his ears and eyebrows and a light skin tone. He wore the average Shihakushō of the Shinigami and a white Captains haori draping his shoulders. The man was Kensei Muguruma, former Captain of the 9th Division of the Gotei 13 and now full-time member of the Ryū Order; and Zieg's trusted partner.
"Yes. We can't let this go unchecked." Zieg replied with a casual tone without the hesitation many showed the serious ex-Captain, showing he and Kensei were well used to one another. He gave Kensei the report who scanned it briefly, getting the basic idea before handing it back again. His features betrayed nothing except for the aggressive set of his shoulders that was always present.
A knock came at the door and a small, lean-built young man with shoulder-length black hair and brown eyes stepped in and saluted with fist to heart at Zieg's okay. "Captain. Sensei," He remarked formally, with a brisk nod that indicated some form of familiarity with those he addressed. "You wanted to see me, Captain?" Slight nervousness filled his tone and danced across his features.
"Yes. Sit." Zieg beckoned, returning to his own armchair. The brief comment sounded very much like a whiplash. "You were the last person to see these... walking corpses," He said the word carefully, not really sure of how he was to refer to the things the previous Shinigami had reported. "So maybe you could shed some light on what it is we are dealing with."
Kensei sat expectantly, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees as he inspected the man as though he were a soldier and he were the drill sergeant. What he saw didn't impress him, though few things tended to. The look Kensei shot him was the type that made most go lose tongue, which was exactly why Zieg had wanted him here. The ex-Captains commanding and no-nonsense presence worked its magic quickly on almost anyone Zieg ordered to his office in the upper heights.
"T-they looked like the walking dead, sirs. Slow and cumbersome, but somehow... aware of one another. They didn't bump into each other once, and the group I observed were a h-hundred strong at least." That got a raised eyebrow from both Zieg and Kensei who shot one another a quick glance before focusing the full weight of their stare on the young Shinigami. He gulped visibly before continuing on at their impatient nod. They might as well have shot the ground near his foot for the way he jumped in place. "They were chasing someone up the slopes of Monte Rosa, as I recall sir." Sweat beaded on his forehead and his voice was a stutter from nervousness.
"And you didn't help?" Kensei snapped. "If they were as slow and cumbersome as you say you could have helped this stranger escape and then questioned him yourself! We wouldn't be in this predicament then!" Zieg forestalled his allies next question with a brief shake of his head and a slightly raised hand, making it look like Kensei obeyed him. Their act was working wonders, for the little man; while scared half to death of Kensei, felt a greater desire to answer Zieg's questions to ensure his continued protection.
In no time at all the young man had spilled everything he knew, with the classic bad-cop-good-cop scenario working fantastically. He even admitted to be the one stealing the female squad members underwear off the washing lines, which earned him a vicious reprimand from Kensei about "idiotic jokes" and how much he hated them. By the time Zieg and Kensei had allowed the little man to leave - Kensei practically hurling him out the door bodily - they knew exactly where they would need to go and the general area they needed to investigate. Zieg was surprised it wasn't the nearest window the little man had gone through. "That was fun." Zieg remarked with a fool grin.
Kensei only harrumphed, still hating jokes as much as he had in the past. It took the two little time to organize themselves and set out with fifty-nine others of Squad 6 and Squad 8, the column headed by the familiar figure of Shuhei Hisagi. He was the same as usual. Confident and in control, every inch the Captain Kenji had appointed years ago. His white haori billowed in the wind behind him and his hand rested lightly on the hilt of Kazeshini with none of the hesitance he once showed over his zanpakutō. "We're ready," He said simply, acknowledging Kensei with a respectful nod the ex-Captain returned in kind, expression still the serious mask he favored.
Monte Rosa Climb Edit
The trip and subsequent climb was relatively uneventful, Zieg found with growing annoyance. When anyone opened their mouths to complain about the cold, harsh winds blowing down from the mountain peaks, Kensei was there to deliver harsh reprimand in a tone that brooked no nonsense, which did enough to bring a smile to the Arcanist's face looking on from up ahead. Off at the head of the sixty-man column walked Zieg and Hisagi, talking quietly about the creatures mentioned in the reports and the unfortunate soul who had been sighted fleeing their numbers.
So far they'd come up with little that would have shed light on his identity, but it was quite clear that whoever the individual had been, they were mixed up in something dire. Or they just happened to have the worst luck in the world. The sun was past its peak, yet it still managed to offer a sharp contrast to the snow-filled slopes and icy peaks all around, as well as some much much needed heat. Shielding his eyes from the glare of the light reflected off the snow, Hisagi brought a momentary halt to their movements, expression caught between a blend of seriousness and simple caution.
Having spent his time following the winter war as a Patrol Team leader within Hueco Mundo itself, it was safe to assume that the former lieutenant of the Gotei 13 had a healthy sense for incoming danger. Now he was surveying the surrounding slopes, his eye taking in the upwards slope, his senses scanning what his eyes could not. His knees were bent as if he expected an attack, hand hovering over the hilt of Kazeshini for easy drawing should it be needed. The others, now noticing one of their leaders acting as though they were going to be under attack in no time at all, mimicked his example; their own postures going rigid in anticipation of what was to come.
Zieg was beginning to smell something... off. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but it definitely seemed out of place for a mountain slope. Overall, his nose told him that something was... well... decaying.
"Do you smell that?" He asked of Hisagi, who only nodded his head in agreement. He moved then, three quick steps taking him into the sky where he gained a good vantage over the uphill slope and, more importantly, what lay beyond it. Carcasses beyond counting were heaped in a large line, mostly obscured by heaps of snow.
"Was there an avalanche?" One of the Shinigami asked of Zieg after the group had moved closer to inspect. She was a relatively beautiful young women with short cut scarlet hair that offered almost as much clash as the sun did to the surroundings.
"Looks like it." Zieg replied, somewhat casual; but relatively distant besides.
Kensei swept aside some of the snow simply by activating Tachikaze's shikai state and creating and sustaining the wind currents so it formed into a small tornado-like vortex. The carcasses, dead and rotting long before they had been discovered, were lifted from the snow and dropped as Kensei simply deactivated his power and began twirling the combat knife in his hand.
"Aren't these...?" Hisagi began, only for Zieg to interject with a sharp nod of his head. They had found what it was they had been sent to determine, but even with their discovery they were no closer to knowing what it was they were in the first place.
"They look like animals," A bald-headed male stated, motioning with a finger towards one of the creatures with a beak-like nose sticking out prominently on his face.
"They smell like... corpses." Another observed, covering their noses from the smell which Kensei's Tachikaze had only half removed.
Other questions, all atop the other and in quick succession of each other, helped drown out the sound of people vomiting in the background.
Even as night fell and the moon replaced the suns position, they were no further on in their investigations of who or what these corpses were. It was clear they weren't created by natural means, nor by any divine being. They each had their own unique spiritual signature and a fluid dripping from their cold, dead fingers that Zieg could only guess was poison. That they had found out to their own peril, and at the cost of one of the members of the their dispatch team who strayed too close and decided to "have a closer look". Now he was lying dying, the healers present not knowing what it was that ailed him to offer a salve.
"This is getting us nowhere." Zieg confided, turning to look at Kensei; hoping to see something in the others features that might help him make a decision. Kensei had been involved in the crisis that had created the Vizards, so he had his fair share of experience in mysteries, Zieg hoped. Yet nothing showed on his face excepting the usual seriousness that was always present.
"Worry about it in the morning." Kenji replied, as he turned to leave, giving instructions for a watch to be made and maintained throughout the night.
"Sir?" The red-haired woman from before asked. At Zieg's nod she continued. "I don't know if you've ever heard the stories about Garian Shinjo?"
"I know he helped found the Soul Society. Why do you ask?"
"He was also... well believed really... to have dealt with something similar to these. Its mostly a story used to frighten children-"
"You mean Hakyoku, right?" Zieg interjected, though not rudely. "I've heard the story a few times in my own youth. And I think I know where your going with this as well. You think these creatures are the followers rumored to follow the black mist?"
"Its a foolish thought, I know. I shouldn't have said anything." She replied, shaking her head as though embarrassed.
"Don't worry." He knew there may be a sliver of truth to the tale though. Because right now, the black mist was sealed within none other than Meian Shiba. "But thanks for reminding me regardless. Go and get some rest." And so Zieg was left alone to his thoughts...