The day was still only halfway through completion and it would be a long day until its completion. Shinigami of the Rukon Patrol Teams barely had time to rest beyond the momentary time span between battles. Kentaro Hiroshi, son of Kenji Hiroshi, sat in a crouched position with his knees bent over the corpse of a young Shinigami who’d attended the Shinō Academy alongside him. He was sure he would have been ready to fight beside people he considered a friend and be fit to watch them die should he not be able to help them. But the reality of the situation was harder to deal with than the youngster had expected. How could the Omnisukidō bare surrendering their friends to strike down an enemy? The entire notion made no sense to Kentaro.
Saying a short prayer for his friend’s soul, Kentaro stood and wiped away a tear from the corner of his eye as he turned his gaze towards his father; the man he loved and hated, respected and scorned. His father was everything he wasn’t. Calm and composed, strong and courageous, fair and understanding. It was infuriating for him to always be compared to the accomplishments of his father, no matter how trivial the comparison. Couldn’t they see that he was his own man, with his own goals and dreams separate from his father’s legacy? But that was one of the prices that needed to be paid for being the son of a hero, whose knowledge of the future made him a hero among the Gotei 13. He possessed hollow powers, but no one so much as glanced at his father. No. The harsh words and stares were reserved solely for Kentaro.
It hadn’t been the death of a friend that brought him close to tears, not solely anyway. The hollow, with their reckless use of Cero often started fires and a great deal of the homes within the Rukon District were either burning or already burned to smouldering heaps of ash that scattered easily in the too warm breeze. The smoke and ash stung his eyes and set small wounds he though healed ablaze anew. "So… this is war?" Looking around, the youngster took in the scenes of devastation; drank them in deeply and burned each and every scene into his mind for fear they may be forgotten in the near future, so, at least, he would remember and mourn their lose. Regret for those who’d lost their lives in the defense of their homes and of the Soul Society filled his heart near to bursting; but he put on a strong front for those who still lived. Morale was important in groups as small as these and one showing sadness or fear could reflect easily on the others.
Harumi Kazuki, known to many in Soul Society as the Black Haired Angel worked to heal the injuries sustained in their last skirmish. That was the fight in which he’d sustained the injuries on his arms, received when a hollow struck him through a wall and dazed his straight for several minutes. He’d been saved then, by his father who sustained his own injuries in the hasty defense. Watching his father place a hand on Harumi’s shoulder and her sudden smile of confidence brought a quickening to the youngster’s heart. That always happened when he saw Harumi smile, but today, in this bleak scene of death and devastation, it was even more special to him. How could she, in the face of all this, show a smile of such warmth? He truly respected her for her strength; strength he did not think he possessed.
“You okay, son?” Kenji asked, worry entering his tone. It wouldn’t be long until they moved again, this time to flank a slightly larger group of hollow moving closer to Kusaka Kori’s troops. His father’s gaze took in the dead body of the young Shinigami, and he shook his head in anger and frustration, a sudden twitching of his right eye betraying his feelings despite the fact he tried hard to maintain a level of distance between himself and his troops. “Don’t push yourself too hard, you hear?” He said, rising and staring off into the distance. “Ino doesn’t like you, or Harumi, being here... and truth be told, I’m not too hot on the idea myself. Just promise me you’ll be careful, and I might breathe a little easier.” He grinned, and ruffled his hair as he always did, Kentaro squeezing his father’s hand tightly before he walked off, giving commands which the others followed without complaint or the slightest show of hesitation.
Standing up and falling in beside his squadron Commander; an angular faced Shinigami by the name of Zero Ukitake with a band of leather worn on his head; Kentaro awaited the briefing of their next mission, which of course, he’d already heard from his father. He was a member of the low-aristocratic Ukitake family and was a fair and well-respected commander among the Rukon Patrol Teams. “Prepare yourself well, Kentaro.” The aging man said, voice betraying no emotion. His angular face may as well have been carved from stone for all the emotion he showed, but suddenly and completely uncharacteristically, the man smiled as he regarded Kentaro with a set of gray eyes. “It is difficult,” His tone was now respectful, “watching a friend die and being unable to do anything. It is not a nice feeling, but in war, an inescapable one.” He looked around, and when he was sure no one was looking – Zero showed little emotion, except to those he either mentored or thought highly of – before continuing in a quieter tone. “Your fathers busy as you know, but I know more about this stuff than he does, lad. I’m here if you want to talk about anything.”
Muttering quick thanks, Kentaro found his opinion of the angle-faced commander change. He once thought him a stone with that angled face and no show of emotion, but he was like everyone else; a human being, albeit a complex one. “What’s the mission this time, Zero,” One of the others, a pale faced youth obviously unaccustomed to continual battle with few breaks to be had between, said in a high-pitched voice. “We are going to flank a group of hollow heading for Commander Kori’s position and then head towards the District of Zaraki.” Zero replied, all emotionless and distant as he so regularly was these days, “Reports indicate a growing hollow threat amassing for a potential attack and we’ve been called in to fill the gaps.” He stopped, and turned slowly to regard his small strike force of nine others including Kentaro, Harumi and the pale-faced youth who’d asked the question. “Some of you,” His gaze took in the latter three, “are new to this level of combat activity and may not be used to it.” Again today, emotion entered his tone and strangely, it was respectful as he swept that gray-eyed gaze over his troops. “That is alright, because you will learn quickly. Follow my lead and stay in groups of three, two at the worst. Never,” He put emphasis on that with an increase in tone, “become separated from the group. The hollow outnumber us, but we fight better than they do. That, ladies and gentlemen,” He used the phrase for Harumi exclusively as she was currently the only female among the group he commanded, “is the key to our victory. Commander Hiroshi,” Kenji raised his hand as one with the unit of Shinigami stationed behind him and nodded his head in agreement, “will charge in and form another flanking strike. That’s the plan, so get ready. We leave in five minutes.”
Walking off to get ready, Kentaro strapped on his zanpakutō and adjusted it so the blades handle sat at an angle over his right shoulder for ease of drawing before combat. Tieing his silver forearm bracer tightly, the youngster adjusted his ōbi sash, making sure he had a small pouch of salves and bandages encase he needed to dress wounds beyond his skill in healing to mend. His father always told him that those who entered battle unprepared never got the chance to prepare again, and it was a trend he was beginning to see by watching the growing number of dead. The veterans, who prepared well survived, while the new recruits who prepared had a better chance than those who did not, and the figures showed.
“Nervous?” Harumi’s clear, musical voice reached his ears and he turned to regard her with the warmest smile he could muster considering their location and company. The other Patrolmen gossiped at the slightest thing, and their close relationship was one of the hotter matters of debate. She was beautiful in every way he could imagine. She wasn’t tall, but her body was well proportioned and curvy and her smile was simply divine. Her long, black hair combed and kept tidy made his messy black hair look unwashed and un-maintained in comparison and her blue eyes shone like twin sapphires.
“A little,” He admitted, tone quiet. There were few secrets between them because she could worm anything out of him just by looking. She wore the average garb of a Shinigami today, black as the night sky and even managed to make such simple garb look stylish and appealing. “Just be careful out there,” He said, very worried, “okay? Stay close to me, and I’ll protect you.” He felt his cheeks heat at his own comments and the eyes from the others on him, but Harumi calmly took his hands in hers and smiled again. “I know,” And he pulled her into a quick hug.
“Hand it over,” Kenji said to Kazuma Nishiki, his student and most trusted officer. Reluctantly, Kazuma parted with a bag full of coins and sighed, the end of his blue jacket blowing in the breeze. “You and that son of yours will be my undoing financial wise,” He replied before returning to his position beside his allies. With a smile for his son and Harumi, Kenji ordered his men to move and they did so as one with a single shunpo apiece.
A Quick, Hard-fought VictoryEdit
Kentaro and the others followed old Zero, every quick shimmering movement taking them closer and closer to their destination. This close to the fighting, plumes of smoke rose into the sky at regular intervals and members of the Kidō Corps; whose main duty was to see to the defenses and put out flames, normally worked well into the early hours as they did just that right now.
“We’ll be arriving soon, so keep it together.” Zero called, making his voice be heard. Now that they were actually on the move, all notion of taking things easy and preparing was forgotten. The old veteran expected things to be done swiftly and effectively on the battlefield, and was one of the many of the old Shinigami who returned when Kenji had called on every available sword to stand and fight. His allegiance, however, lay with The Ryu Order; not the Soul Society although he had grown up here and had fond memories of it. Kentaro was honored to say that he was one of the few the grizzled old veteran spoke more than a few sentences to at a single time. Kentaro knew many of Zero's old battle stories.
As they moved through the billowing plumes of black smoke, Kentaro had to cover his mouth on several occasions to keep himself from coughing. Others were not as fast and a trail of occasional coughing followed them as they moved, earning a small and momentary grin from the angle-faced Shinigami leading the charge, though it vanished as quickly as it appeared. “Harumi, you are probably the most skilled in Kidō within this group,” he said, attention still directed towards the flashing, laser-like blasts jumping closer. “When we land, shield whoever you can. Kentaro, its your job to protect her,” The others suppressed laughs at that and Zero simply let them slide without comment, “but I don’t think I need to tell you that, eh? Okay, you others will follow me and stay close. Keep an eye on Kentaro and Harumi and be prepared to help should they need it. Swords ready!” He bellowed, and soon the echo of his call was drowned out by the sound of drawing swords.
Kentaro eased his zanpakutō free and held it tightly in a reverse-grip style as he and Harumi moved from the main strike force. Exerting spiritual energy consciously, the clouds of smoke parted around him and his companion, revealing a scene of destruction and carnage below that he really should have expected. "Why do I always expect things to turn out alright?" Why hadn’t he heard it? Hollow roars rose and fell and explosions from various different Kidō spells sounded regularly as they descended from the skies to the ground.
As ordered, Harumi began with Kidō barriers. On three separate occasions those barriers saved Shinigami from a blow that would otherwise have proved either fatal, or incredibly damaging. Landing lightly, Kentaro launched himself into the fray almost immediately, the blade held backwards in his hand weaving through anything that got too close. Soon, a ring was cut around himself and Harumi, whose forehead was furrowed with the intense concentration required to weave Kidō without name or incantation.
“Don’t push yourself,” He reminded, twisting his body around a hollows cruelly shaped, sickle-like appendage. As his feet came to rest, he bounded upwards and removed its head with a horizontal slash that sprayed blood as he cut it beneath the eyes and across the nose. Half its head gone, the bulk of the hollow fell with a simple thrust kick before disintegrating as it struck the floor.
The other members of his squadron were striking out as well, and when they joined with the advanced members of Kusaka’s squad, the hollow began to retreat. Giving them no chance to target Harumi, Kentaro turned to face one of the hollow obviously commanding the others. "That’s an Adjuchas," He thought calmly, the grip holding his zanpakutō tightening as his anger began to boil. These were the things that commanded the hollows to burn as they pleased, to kill at a whim and cause as much destruction and death as they could before they either died or fell back. He would not let it away alive. Any blow against the leadership of Averian’s forces had to be taken.
This Adjuchas in particular was an awful sight of the twisted forms hollows could take. Strangely humanoid, its body was cloaked in searing red flames seemingly held in place by various length of chain looping his arms, legs, torso and neck. Its eyes burned a bright yellow hue, like torches in the night and floated in black sockets that seemed hollow; further adding to the strangeness of the floating yellow flames that were its eyes. It moved with a deadly assurance, a hooked blade coated in blood – Shinigami’s blood, which only served to anger the youngster all the more. The outside world suddenly felt very distant. Only he and the Adjuchas existed, and he began moving towards it.
A pained cry snapped him back into alertness and the pale-faced youth from earlier was lifted clear of the ground by that hooked sword and flame wrought hand. “The time of the Shinigami is over,” It hissed, tossing him aside. Landing with a thud, the Adjuchas showed the brutality of the hollow Kentaro once thought exaggerated by decapitating the youth there and then. Rage and anger, previously held back behind a wall, broke free and Kentaro rushed forward at a near run, zanpakutō gleaming in the moonlight!
His strike missed and only a flicker of flame on the extreme of his vision told him his foes location now lay to his left, away from his zanpakutō. Cursing himself, Kentaro leapt backwards, but the Adjuchas was quicker than he would've given it credit for. The chains looping around his arms began to show their use, being spun in wide arcs to unbalance him and knocking aside, or tangling his sword as he struck or parried. "Damn! This thing is quick! No wonder it’s killed so many of us. No one fresh out of the Academy would have a hope of defeating this thing!" He thought, as the hooked sword cut his already injured arms and re-awoke the pain he had once again buried so deep. His leg, his right arm, and a diagonal slash across his chest were only some of the wounds he suffered in their next brief exchange; but then, like a well of fire awakening within; Kentaro stepped aside, instinct taking over.
This happened from time-to-time without his control. His father attributed it to his hollow powers and how a weaker hollow with no personality of its own survived through instincts alone. Sometimes, it was life-saving as it was this time, but others it caused him to bear even worse injuries. The experience was short and un-lasting, the opening created exploited! Kentaro’s zanpakutō cut deeply into the side of the Adjuchas and with a battle cry that echoed in his eardrums, the youngster pulled the steel to the side with all the strength he could muster; spilling blood on the ground and over his Shihakushō. Breathing labored from the quick exertion, Kentaro withdrew his sword and took a safe step back as he saw the Adjuchas disintegrate into the wind. “There,” he said through gasps of smoke-filled air, “you’ll kill no one else. Rest easy friend,” He looked towards the pale-faced youth and said a short prayer, “may you find peace.”
The battle was beginning to wind down, and Zero appeared at Kentaro's side with a smile very close to being proud plastered across the angled features of his face. "You did well lad," He said, scanning the hollow in retreat. "For now, we treat the wounded and rest for a bit. We've got a long few hours ahead of us before we make our way to the Zaraki District," He looked around, making sure no one else was watching, "so have yourself a rest. That, my young friend, is an order." And he swept away, his cloak billowing out behind him; the material untouched by blade or talon, save for a few spots of dried blood covered by new.
Next Story > The Battle of Zaraki District