crane

Winter War: Retaking Seireitei, Part 2

Title: Ensemble: Retaking Seireitei, Part 2
Authors: incandescens and liralen, with sophiap as beta
Series: Winter War
Characters: Kuukaku, Chad, Soi Fong, Kuchiki Ginrei, Jidanbou
Rating/Warning: PG-13, generalized violence
Summary: Soi Fong and Kuukaku lead two different teams into Seireitei to retake the city.
Disclaimer: We do not own Bleach or its characters. We make no money from these writings.
Authors' Notes: This is a chapter in the dark Bleach AU that incandescens, sophiap, and I are writing. In this AU Aizen won the war in Karakura, and it diverges from canon somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs.

"Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."



Soi Fong didn't wait for the celebratory fireworks to finish exploding before she went to find Jidanbou. She frowned, watching one of the medics dress a slash in his shin. The little man ran around the tree trunk thick limb repeatedly. On seeing Soi Fong, Jidanbou got up only to drop to one knee before her, ignoring the impassioned pleading of his medic.

"How may I serve you, Captain?"

"I need you to be in charge of all four Gates and the crews I will leave you to hold them."

The giant frowned at her. "You sure, ma'am?" he asked.

"Yes." Soi Fong spoke decisively to encourage both of them as to the merits of her plan. "You know the Gates and are man enough to handle the roughnecks I'll be giving you."

"But I was relieved of my duties." Jidanbou sounded plaintive, nearly sullen.

"By those who didn't have the good of Serientei at the forefront of their hearts," Sasakibe asserted quickly, and Soi Fong grinned at his tone of a lord conveying dispensation. It was good to have allies who knew what they were doing. Jidanbou smiled at the implied compliment, chest expanding.

"And you're the only one that can lift them when the time comes," Soi Fong added more practically. "You have to be by them when the messengers come and go. I need to know that our communications will come through and theirs will be stopped by the gates themselves."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good. You're excused, then."

After the gates were settled, Kuchiki Ginrei, trailed by half a dozen of the other Clan leaders, approached their small group. Soi Fong wondered how much it rankled for the Lords to come to a commoner like her; to Ginrei's credit, however, none of that showed on his face or his power, and he gave Soi Fong a gracious bow.

It was another of the nobles that pushed his way to the front before Ginrei could even say a word.

"You must rescue our loved ones," Kasumoiji Kouki demanded. "They've kidnapped them and held them in the Tower of Penitence."

Soi Fong looked around, as there was nodding and a low rumble all about her.

"With the Sekkiseki Stone throughout the buildings, we cannot do that job," Kuchiki murmured. "And while we would like to go with you..."

High-reiatsu nobles on Sekkiseki stone would be worse than useless. They would be a liability. That was what the Tower was made to do, and Soi Fong had seen far too many noble prisoners brought to their knees, confessing everything they'd done, simply by stepping onto the gray surface. Being denied the powers they relied on, the capabilities that all their nobility was based on did things to mind and soul that were far worse than just losing a few power blasts or a shining blade.

Much to Soi Fong's relief, Sasakibe stepped up to face the beautifully dressed crowd. "No. I will need to you help me take control of the Barracks. There are a great number of lower ranking Shinigami who would be very glad of good leadership again. I need all who have ties with the misled ranks."

They agreed, and so Sasakibe and the nobles, in all their public finery, paraded off to the Barracks. Soi Fong couldn't help but grieve over fact that Yoruichi-sama was still stuck in the living world. Her Lady would have been both striking and efficient in the takeover. In Yoruichi-sama's honor, however, she sent Kage with Sasakibe and the nobles to make sure that everyone there would be safe when they were done. Kage would know what to do with traitors that tried to hide among the sheep.

Kuukaku decided to clean out the Palace and all the grounds along the way. On being informed of that decision, Soi Fong asked her to just take everyone other than the former members of Soi Fong's command. Graciously, Kuukaku did just that, and Soi Fong was free to do her job as she saw fit.

With the remnants of the Onmitsukidou loping and leaping across the roofs ahead of her, Soi Fong padded through the maze of walls and passages, toward the looming presence of the Tower of Penitence. The finger of shadow from the long tower made her frown. There were many traps about the Tower for the ignorant, and conflict within the stone walls would be different than a fight on fairer ground.

The canals all ended before they reached the Walls to the Tower, so with proper precaution, Soi Fong's team slipped into the underground passages.

Dank and dark, the cold stone pressed against them, and much of the network was neglected. A few of the walls had fallen in, but this was their bailiwick, and the center of their responsibilities, so they knew their way around the ruined areas. The five Units of the Onmitsukidou were Executive Militia, the Patrol Corps, the Detention Unit, the Reversal Counter Force, and the Infiltration Unit, each safeguarding the internal integrity of the Gotei 13. Much good it had done them with Aizen's betrayal.

Soi Fong frowned as the pang of old wounds gnawed at her heart.

"Kawate, I need to talk with you." The old head of the Detention Unit moved up to keep pace with Soi Fong. "What do you know of the present contents of the Tower?"

The elderly woman bowed her head. "It is as the noble ones said, Captain. There are many helpless spouses and children within the cells, along with many who are too powerful and dangerous to be kept anywhere other than on the draining stone."

"And the standing orders?"

"Kill them rather than allow them to escape." The cold words fell like pebbles on ice. Soi Fong nodded. This was as it should be for the Onmitsukidou. As heartless and bloodless as the stone itself.

"Then we will kill their captors quickly and silently."

The low murmur of agreement spread through like ripples through a pond.

"They have pole arms, reiatsu binders in all shapes and forms, and little kidou or reiatsu to affect. They've been chosen so that they are unaffected by the stone or by the nobles they've caught."

Soi Fong nodded. Of all her people, she would be the one most crippled, but she practiced on Sekkiseki stone on purpose, working on how to ignore the slow suck of her soul energies and not rely on the powers that could not work in that situation. Hand to hand combat was the Onmitsukidou's specialty for many reasons, but the most important was that one’s body and hands worked even when all else failed.

The irony of now only having one hand wasn't lost on Soi Fong. She smiled, and saw three of her people stumble in the rise of her reiatsu.

"We have to work fast," Kawate continued. "We know the location of all the alarms and intercoms through the Tower, and have to keep people from them. If they get word to the upper parts of the Tower before we reach them, they will destroy the true prizes."

"True prizes?"

"Objectors or troublemakers with power are kept in the top levels."

"Who?" Soi Fong asked, frowning.

"Some of the Division members that objected to what Gin was doing, like Akon and were upfront enough about to be captured. Some of the nobles that were foolish enough to shout in Gin's face. One or two that were caught trying to bring Gin down." The pinched look in Kawate's eyes made Soi Fong nod. So some of the Twelfth had stayed loyal to Soul Society. "They are bound and kept helpless so that they can be destroyed by their guards if there is any hint of a take over from below."

And that was the price of public loyalty. It made Soi Fong bite her lip. It was nearly worse than the betrayals to know of such straightforward loyalty. She brought herself back to the plan at hand. "Who knows the exact locations of the shout outs?"

"I do, and Hattori, Bando, and Itagaki have all worked the entry level security."

"Each of you take what people you need and intervene bodily at each of the sites."

"Hai, Captain." Groups formed quickly about those that knew what they needed to protect.

"Those who are not assigned to a specific communication location, come with me." Soi Fong smiled. "We're going to kill everyone that doesn't surrender to binding."

"Good, clean fun," murmured Sato. "I love straightforward orders, Ma'am."

"It's nice to be able to give them." Soi Fong showed teeth at the grim chuckles all around her. These were her people. "Let's go."




One good thing about being tall, Chad reflected, was that he was actually able to meet Shiba Kuukaku’s glare, eye to eye, rather than have her increase her glaring power by being able to stare down at him. She’d already been through a good selection of insults, and it was a pity that he wasn’t the sort of person to use that sort of language, because it had been very educational.

“You were supposed to be back at the mansion!” she snapped. “Which part of that did you not understand?”

Chad shifted his feet a little to brace himself. It had only been a few days, but he felt so much better that there weren’t words for it. Part of it might have been food, or the lack of probing scientific tests, or just the security of a quiet bed at night and a door that he could lock, but most of it was the knowledge of friends, and the possibility of hope. He could feel the strength in his arms again.

He wasn’t going to be left behind when his friends were going out to fight.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and didn’t bother going into details about why he was sorry, what he was sorry for, or how he’d managed to mingle with the second wave of shinigami coming in, and avoid Shiba Ganju or Shiba Kuukaku or Soi Fong-taichou or anyone else who might have recognised him. “Can I help?”

Shiba Kuukaku looked at him for a moment, beat out a few sparks smouldering on her shoulder, then snorted in irritation. “Well, at least you’ve got your priorities right. How recovered are you, boy?”

“Pretty well,” Chad said. He rolled his shoulders demonstratively. He was wearing a spare shinigami uniform, one that had been passed down from someone else, and it was too short in the sleeves; his wrists stood out bare, the muscles and bones firm and prominent. He could feel the power in his fists waiting to be used.

“Right.” She considered a moment longer, then gave him a nod of acceptance. “You’re with my group, then. We currently have control of the gatehouses. Soi Fong’s group is hitting the Tower of Penitence, Sasakibe’s is taking the main barracks and rallying support. We’re going to be clearing the main prison area and probably picking up some recruits there. Ichimaru put his ‘palace’” – her tone made it quite clear what she thought of anyone building such a thing, and Ichimaru Gin even more so – “right on top of it.” Her eyes darkened, and she shifted her weight a little in what might have been uncertainty in a less definite woman. “I have to warn you, Sado, it’s not going to be pleasant. Would you rather go with a different group? Ganju could use you –“

“I’ll be all right,” Chad said. He could have said, I don’t think it will be any worse than what I saw in Hueco Mundo, but why hurt her feelings? Why, indeed, even bother saying that much?

He did his best to project the adult and manly air of one who would not be troubled by such things and therefore absolutely did not need to be handed off to Ganju or anyone else. He had – well, it wasn’t quite a hunch, but a feeling that he could be useful here. The mere fact that she hadn’t packed him off home on the spot for disobeying orders showed that she did need more troops.

She studied him, then jerked her right shoulder. “Stay behind me, but in front of the men. You can throw force blasts, right?”

Chad nodded.

“All right. You see someone coming at us, take them down. If they’re surrendering, they’ll put their weapons down first. If they’re still hanging onto their weapons, then we take them down first and apologise later if an apology’s needed. Keep an eye to the left and right. They’re likely to spring an ambush on us. Got that?”

Chad nodded again.

“Right,” Kuukaku said. She turned to her men, a mixture of Shiba servants and shinigami, some with bows slung across their backs, and singled out two older men. “Kaku, Eisaku, you two are watching Sado’s back. If he starts flagging, you’re in charge of getting him to safety.”

“I’m much better,” Chad began to protest, then bit his tongue and fell silent at the look she gave him.

“You’re better when I say you’re better,” she snapped. “This is not going to be pretty, nor is it going to be easy going, and if I say that this pair is watching your back, the correct response is yes ma’am thank you ma’am. Clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Chad said, eyeing the two men out of the corner of his eye. They looked like typical aged retainers. He could probably carry one under each arm if he needed to. “Thank you, ma’am.”

With a few brisk shouted commands, Kuukaku had the group moving out and on their way. True to her word, Chad had the position immediately behind her. It gave him a chance to look around at Seireitei without gawping too obviously.

The place was . . . he looked for words, and the one that came to mind first was dirty. Previously, even if it had been enemy territory, it had been clean. Bright. Alive. The towers had been white marble, the brick and slate of the smaller buildings had been crisp and clean. People had been living there, working there.

Now people were just hiding there.

The main street they were advancing down was empty. It wasn’t the emptiness of the time before, the feeling of a street that was built for use but just didn’t happen to have anyone there at that precise moment. It was the emptiness of a street in an old cowboy movie – the only example he could think of, and he knew that it was a poor one, clichéd and inappropriate, but it was the best that he had. The emptiness of a place where people had run away and were watching from the windows, too afraid even to cheer for the people trying to save them.

Could any place be like this? he wondered. He wasn’t sure he’d like the answer if he tried to follow that thought to its logical end.

He kept a careful eye on the roofs to either side, but he didn’t manage to spot any snipers. This either meant that there weren’t any snipers, or that he couldn’t see any snipers. Maybe Soi Fong-taichou had already been through the area and dealt with all the snipers.

The road ahead to what looked like a big pair of prison gates (it was the big sign saying Prison that gave it away) was clear.

Chad waited for something to go wrong.

Kuukaku halted the group at a distance from the gates. Chad wasn’t sure how to measure it, but he suspected it was along the lines of “just out of kidou shot distance”.

“We can’t go over the walls,” she said briefly. “We’re going to go through the front gate. Noro, you’ve got the bombs. They go on the front gate with a two-second trigger, like we planned. Sado, you weren’t briefed on this, but what I want you to do is to keep the area above the gates clear. If anyone sticks their head up and tries to get out to move the explosives, you persuade them that’s a bad idea. Can you work from this range?”

Chad flexed his fingers and looked up at the walls. “I can’t bring the stone down,” he said slowly. “I think. But I can throw a blast that should knock down anyone who I see up there.”

“That’ll do,” Kuukaku said, looking happier than she had been. “See, boy, Ichimaru’s been fortifying the place so hard that a mouse couldn’t creep in through cracks in the walls. This is why we’re using the time-honoured method of taking a damn big hammer to the front door. Noro? You ready?”

“Yes, Shiba-sama,” one of the retainer-types said with a salute. He had a heavy backpack across his shoulders, with a quick-release strap on it. He reached into his jacket and pulled out something that looked like a cigarette lighter, only made of ivory and with carvings. He positioned it between his fingers, watching Kuukaku intently.

“Sado?” she asked.

Chad settled into stance, hands curled loosely into fists. He looked up at the prison walls. Someone flickered out of cover as he glanced down at them, then retreated again. “Fire at will, ma’am?”

“You got it,” Kuukaku said. “Noro, fire now.”

Noro snapped the ivory carving in his hand. Flame leaped from the end of it, blue and jumping like the burning brandy on a Christmas pudding. Chad noticed out of the corner of his eye that Noro was being very careful indeed to keep it away from his backpack.

Someone else came into sight, up on the wall and behind a crenellation. Chad saw the flicker of light on what might be the steel of an arrow or a sword. Without waiting to be told, he raised his right hand and threw a very basic blast at the figure. It didn’t properly connect – they ducked too fast for that – but it did force them back, and the wall tiles shivered under the impact.

Hm. Perhaps he could do something useful.

“Noro!” Kuukaku snapped, and the man was away, dashing down the street with a shinigami’s speed to flatten himself against the gates. His hands were a blur as he pulled the strap on his backpack, dumping packets out and slapping them against the gate. They stuck there like lumps of chewing gum.

Behind him, Chad heard the twang of bowstrings. He threw another blast up at the tops of the walls, and arrows followed, swooping over in a whir of goosefeathers. There was something far more graceful about their flight than the brute force of his punch, and he felt obscurely saddened.

Noro swept the open flame in his hand across the uneven line of packets on the gate in a slow, controlled movement. They caught fire and blazed up, burning with the high controlled whiteness of magnesium. Noro turned, and sprinted down the street towards Kuukaku and Chad.

An arrow blurred down from the wall towards his back.

Chad threw a blast of force which broke it in half, and the pieces fell shivering to either side.

The explosives burned brighter – brighter –

Should we be getting under cover?

He looked out of the corner of his eye at Kuukaku. She wasn’t moving. She was standing there, watching the explosives ignite with a look on her face of pure delighted rage and glory.

Well, she made the explosives, and presumably she’d be running away if we actually needed to take cover.

Probably.

I think.

He was conscious of an empty space behind him and the sound of feet running away as the retainers and shinigami got the hell under cover.

Brazo Derecha de Gigante!” Chad shouted. The shield came to him as though it had never been away, extending down to his right hand and along his forearm in a rush of red and black bone. He flung his arm up, pushing the shield in front of him and Kuukaku, and saw the light flare around its edges, fierce and merciless, an instant before the shockwave and the sound hit.

“Not bad,” Kuukaku said as the rumbling and crashes died away. “Of course, it would have been better if we’d had more time to position the charges, but I suppose this world is an imperfect place and full of disappointment.”

“But if anyone was hurt –“ Chad started to say.

Kuukaku snorted. “Anyone who was on the walls or defending the gate is fighting against us anyhow, Sado. And anyone who’s on our side and is in there is going to be safe in the cells. The problem’s going to be if they get them out to use them as hostages. Which is why we’re getting in there right now.” She surveyed the ruins of the gates. Behind them, the retainers and shinigami had come filtering back, dusting off the falling ashes and cinders. “Right. Everyone behind me. We’re going in.”

“Shiba-sama –“ one of the shinigami said tentatively.

Kuukaku ignored him. She strode down the road, ignoring fragments of masonry and the possibility of snipers with authoritative, aristocratic superiority. Chad quickly fell into pace a step behind her, glancing up at the roofs again. He wished they were moving faster.

“Don’t worry,” Kuukaku said out of the corner of her mouth. “I know what I’m doing. This is Rightful Authority Cleaning The Place Out, boy, which means that we can’t come sneaking round like Soi Fong’s people. We go in through the front door and act like we’re expecting them to be on their knees apologising for not having the place clean and tidy. Sasakibe’s doing the same thing over at the barracks, except he’ll have sent in a few of Second Division to lock down the troublemakers first. If people see you’re in control, they’ll act like you are in control, and then you are in control.”

“But what if someone –“ Chad began.

“Then we show them we’re in control,” Kuukaku snapped. She had that gleeful smile again. Chad was getting nervous of it. He’d been nervous enough when she’d been smiling that way when she shot them off in a cannonball, and it was only getting worse.

The gates were in pieces, scattered through into the prison entrance in a fan of shattered stone, and the archway was charred and cracked. The courtyard beyond was empty.

Kuukaku stepped through the archway and into the courtyard. “Ichimaru Gin is no longer in command here,” she said, in a perfectly normal voice that somehow carried through the empty space and beat against the walls. “The Gotei 13 are resuming control. I will speak with the governor of this place, and I will do it now.”

The echoes whispered round the shattered courtyard. Now, now, now . . .

And someone answered. A bulky figure stepped out from a doorway on the other side. He was in shinigami black, but wore a wide white sash diagonally across his chest, and a necklace of thick beads around his neck. His hair was short and smoothly trimmed, with little kiss-curls above each ear, and he moved with the arrogance of someone who thought he had nothing to fear. “I hear someone’s asking for me,” he snarled.

Kuukaku set her hand on her hip. “I am Shiba Kuukaku of the Noble House of Shiba. This place is now under the authority of the Gotei 13. You will surrender the keys of the prison to me and face due trial for any crimes which you may have committed during your command here.”

“Yes?” He raised both eyebrows, assuming an attitude of Amused Surprise. There was something a little wrong with his motions: he seemed to need to think them through first, rather than moving naturally. “Well, madam, I am Jirobou Ikkanzaka, also known as Kamaitachi Jirobou, and I serve directly under Ichimaru-soutaichou. I suggest that you surrender yourself and your servants now, if you want him to show you any sort of mercy when he returns.”

Chad frowned. That name was familiar. “Um . . .” he murmured.

“Yes?” Kuukaku hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

“I think Ishida beat this guy up when we were in Soul Society before. Inoue-san told me about it. He threatened her and Ishida beat him so badly that it took his powers away.”

“Right,” Kuukaku muttered. She turned her attention back to Jirobou. “You’re not looking bad . . . for a shinigami who was defeated and lost his powers a few months back. But if you think I’m going to surrender to you, then you must have had a bad case of brain damage.”

Jirobou smirked and took a few paces forward. “Ah, Shiba-san, that sort of thing can be fixed. That sort of thing can even be improved.”

Kuukaku raised an eyebrow. “You’ve had those lunatics experimenting on you? You poor bastard. Fair enough. I think we can get you a lower sentence based on reduced capacity.”

Jirobou’s hand fell to the hilt of his zanpakutou, and he dragged it out of its sheath, snarling. “Madam, you’re going to pay for that insult.”

There was a rustle of steel behind Kuukaku and Chad as her retainers drew their blades.

“Leave it to me and Sado,” Kuukaku said over her shoulder. “You lot spread out, clear the cells. You know the plan. Sado? Are you with me?”

Chad grunted in affirmative response. He shifted his feet to settle his stance, moving his right arm forward in readiness to shield.

“Take flight!” Jirobou shouted, positioning his palm above the tip of his zanpakutou. “Tsunzakigarasu!”

He thrust his hand downwards as if he would impale it on the blade, but instead the zanpakutou seemed to fragment, leaving him holding the hilt of the zanpakutou with a hundred tiny things whirring around him in the air, curved blades spinning round and round, each cutting its own arc in the air. Chad squinted at them, but he could only make out the blurred flash of metal and the white of bone.

Jirobou himself seemed to slump, as if his body was somehow contracting into his clothing, his skeleton too weak to support him. His sunken eyes glared at them. “They talk to me, you know,” he said. “They tell me things in the night.”

“Excuse me,” Chad said politely to Kuukaku, then threw a blast at the spinning blades. It was more of a testing shot than anything - or at least, that was how he decided to think of it, rather than proof that he still wasn’t back to form – and he wasn’t too surprised when most of them managed to avoid it. A few were caught in the blast’s nimbus and shattered, but the others dived in all directions, then hovered, still spinning.

“Let’s try to take him alive, Sado,” Kuukaku said quietly. “For his brother’s sake.”

“His brother?” Chad kept an eye on the whirling blades.

“Jidanbou. You know Jidanbou.” Kuukaku frowned. “Can you keep Jirobou’s attention while I work round behind him?”

Of course Chad remembered Jidanbou. The keeper of the West Gate. A decent man. Someone who deserved better than to have his brother killed. Someone who deserved better than to find out his brother was serving Ichimaru Gin, too, but he supposed you couldn’t fix everything. But it was disappointing, and somehow frightening, to think that one brother could have done everything that Jidanbou did to help, and that the other brother, this man, could have . . .

He put aside the thought, and gave Kuukaku a nod. There was just a fraction of justified pride to it. If Ishida had handled this man, then Chad could certainly do it too.

That was another thought, one he could barely stand to touch; Ishida had died. The Espada Szayel Apollo had barely commented on it, except for a disgusted reference that “the Quincy hadn’t lasted long”, and Kurotsuchi Mayuri had only brought the subject up when raving to one of his subordinate surrounding daughters about how he should have been given full custody of all the prisoners, all of them, all the time, and Aizen should have seen that right from the beginning, and it was enough to make him rethink this whole alliance, and let Aizen disappoint him just one more time, just one more . . .

Chad had usually tuned out during those rants, trying to put his mind somewhere that couldn’t be touched. He’d known that there might be a chance for escape, for vengeance – no, a chance to set things right. That would have been what his grandfather would have said. Not to use his hands, except to protect others. Not to fight, except to set things right.

Kuukaku grinned, that reckless grin again, and leapt into the air, skimming to his right as smoothly as a skater and swinging round in a wide loop. She wasn’t as fast as Ichigo, or some of the shinigami Chad had met, not as fast as Kyouraku Shunsui had been, but she was still quicker than any normal human could have been.

A few of the blades whirled to follow her, but Chad threw a quick blast at them, then another at the main body of the zanpakutou swarm. That got their attention. They shifted like a swirl of wasps in the wind, then came at him.

A blast of force obliterated a dozen of the things, but the others swerved to either side, spinning like tiny helicopters or sycamore seeds. They looked like throwing knives carved out of bone, but there was an unsettling jaggedness along their edges. Chad couldn’t see them close enough to judge yet, but he suspected they were barbed. They might not have mouths, but they certainly had teeth.

“I can make more,” Jirobou said, and sheathed his zanpakutou, then drew it again. More whirling blades leapt from the scabbard in a long fluid whip of motion, like a woman’s scarf shaken out in the wind. He slumped in on himself, but his eyes still flared like mad coals in the fatness of his face. “Lots and lots more.”

The blades began to spread out to encircle Chad, and he made a strategic decision that while he preferred to fight by bracing himself and throwing punches, simply standing there and having them come at him from all sides at once would be stupid. He stepped back, then back again, till the shadow of the ruined archway fell across him and momentarily cut the sun from his eyes.

Right. He could use that. He didn’t have to keep on batting all these things out of the air separately. He just had to get them all in one place and then smack them down.

A few dozen of the blades slid upwards, suddenly shifting their axis from horizontal to vertical and sliding through the dusty air like revolving saw blades. He tracked them out of the corner of his eye for a moment, letting the other blades drive him back another few paces until he was standing directly under the archway, tossing the odd blast to still look as if he was fighting. From what Orihime had said, Jirobou had always liked attacking people from behind, even when he was still a proper shinigami. He wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to send his blades over the wall and have them strike Chad from behind. It wasn’t even the common-sense impulse to strike a weak point or to attack when the opponent was distracted. It was a sort of nastiness that Chad disliked.

He couldn’t help feeling just a little bit pleased that in this case, this time round, the nastiness might get some payback.

Assuming this isn’t because he’s been driven insane because madmen experimented on him, his conscience reminded him, in which case you ought to try to be sympathetic and knock him down quickly and gently.

Chad sighed.

There was no sign of Kuukaku anywhere, but there was enough power going off around the place to make the ground tremble under Chad’s feet. He snorted, settled himself, and looked up at the archway above him. Plenty of cracks.

He would have preferred to be doing this in Hueco Mundo, but a man fought where he had to, not where he wanted to.

A high whirring in the air behind him told him that the blades were incoming from behind, as well as the ones he could see in front of him. He raised both hands, and pumped a blast into the stonework above him. A section of it directly above him shattered into dust, quite simply vaporised, and fragments of stone hung in the air for an everlasting moment before tumbling down in an avalanche.

The shield sprang from his right hand, holding like a cliff against the wave of falling architecture, and stone and dust fell all round him on either side. It made a lot of noise, but above it all he could hear tiny screams and crackles.

He’d thought that those things wouldn’t be very good at reversing direction mid-flight. They weren’t.

The crashing stopped. With a new blast of power he flung the piled rocks back from around him, stepping out to face Jirobou again. The man was staring at him, tears running from the corners of his eyes and tracking in the dust that covered his face, that was falling all across the courtyard and around him.

“You could surrender,” Chad suggested gently.

“I’ll tear you apart!” Jirobou screamed. He began the gesture to summon more of the things, wrenching his arm across his body in a painful jerking motion.

Kuukaku exploded out of the ground behind Jirobou in a plume of sand and a burst of power. He went flying in a loose tumble of limbs and belly, his face contorted in shock and pain, and ploughed across several metres of courtyard face-first.

Chad’s own blast of power caught Jirobou on the chin and flipped him neatly. He went down with a thud, and didn’t move again. His motionless body seemed shrunken now that he was still, his arms and legs at odd angles, his chest barely moving.

“Not bad,” Kuukaku said, emerging from the falling sand and dust. “You seem to have got your act together, boy. Ready for some more action?”

Chad glanced down at the unconscious Jirobou. “Will he be . . .” he started.

“He’s alive,” Kuukaku said dismissively. “I’ll have him put in shackles. But he’s not going to be the only one around, not by a long shot. You think you can handle yourself, if we go looking for some more trouble?”

“Yes,” Chad said slowly. “I think I can.”




When they came up from the underground, the stone walls of Senzaikyu gleamed purest white. The Tower of Penitence had one entrance, an arch in the walls over steps up into the prison that seemed to stretch forever. They would be out in the open. The stairs were designed so that a single man could hold it, for a while, as Abarai Renji had held it against Kurosaki Ichigo, so long ago, when the ryoka had invaded. Soi Fong frowned. There were reiatsu detectors that would sound the alarm if they tried to use shunpo. There was no help for it: they'd just have to take the steps at a run.

The silent flow of black bodies made Soi Fong proud. She was even happier when they flooded into the administration levels as efficiently as an army of ants into a kitchen. It was faster and quieter to kill the guards scattered through the buildings than to try and restrain or keep them alive. If she were merciful, she would have to set guards on them to make sure they didn't escape and warn the others, and she just didn't have the people to spare. Soi Fong comforted herself with the thought that every guard in here had only gotten here by promising to kill the innocent who were imprisoned here.

It was a slow, grinding bloody process, but building by building, they moved up, silencing all the guards and destroying every weapon they didn't take for their own use. The ting of zanpakutou breaking sounded a final knell for each of the gifted dead, and Soi Fong wasn't surprised to glimpse tears on the face of two or three of her people.

Her Onmitsukidou were still people.

Then they came to the building at the mouth of the bridge that led into the Tower proper. The guards there split into two groups: one to try and hold them off, the others using their pole arms to hack at the prisoners in their cells. Kawate leapt in with her naginata and smashed poles with impunity. To Soi Fong's relief, the mothers knew enough to put their hands over their children's mouths as the black-clad figures sprung into action.

Blood flowed and splattered, but not a sound was made.

When they opened the doors, the mothers looked at each other and sat back down on the floor of their cells. Sato blinked at them from where he knelt with the lock picks. "You can go."

One tall slender woman with eyes the same steel gray as Kuchiki's stood. "No, we should not. If we leave the building and the grounds, those higher up in the Tower will see us moving free and know something is up. We will stay here until you come back."

"What if we do not come back?" Bando asked, a frown wrinkling his brow.

"If the alarms sound and we know you are discovered," the Kuchiki woman said calmly. "We will attempt to fight our way out."

"Do you have zanpakutou locked up somewhere?" Kawate asked. "As far as we know they were doing you that courtesy."

The regal woman gave a small smile. "Yes. We would be grateful if you could free the few zanpakutou that were captured. They're in a cupboard on the North wall of the guard room."

"Right. Sato, get on it."

"Hai."

Ten minutes later, a few of the ladies were armed. They didn't look particularly confident or capable, but Soi Fong didn't begrudge them at least that comfort. "Good," Soi Fong said. She gave them a nod. "Give us half an hour, unless the alarms sound." The Kuchiki lady gave Soi Fong a bow entirely too low for both their stations before leaving to talk with the others.

"You think they'll have a chance?" Bando asked, as they headed for the door.

"If we fail, no. Not a chance in hell, but they'll be happier going down fighting," Kawate answered, grimly.

All of them paused in the shadow of the front doorway as they looked at the slender expanse before them. The Bridge into the Tower of Penitence leaped an impossibly long gap.

"There are two guards up there, watching the span. They rotate in alternation, so someone always has their eyes on the walkway. We're not going to be able to do what we did at the staircase," Kawate murmured.

"Unless we blind them," Sato said mockingly.

That caught Soi Fong's imagination. "Or we make it so that they cannot see us. Make ourselves invisible."

"We can't use reiatsu or kido. There are sensors," Kawate warned.

"Then they'll be even more lax, thinking that their sensors will catch everything. If we do the Shadow spell before we're on the bridge and just maintain it while walking over, will the sensors detect it?"

"But there is no invisibility spell!" Sato objected, but when Soi Fong and the two older members of the group smirked, he frowned. "Or at least nothing they taught in the Academy."

"It'll be harder in broad daylight," Bando said, thoughtfully. "But with the Captain's power..."

"Ex-Captain," Soi Fong said shortly. "While I'm not short of power, I am short an arm for the passes. You're going to have to cover us."

Bando winced. "Right, sir. I'm not going to be much use..."

"We'll carry you."

"I was afraid you were going to say that." Bando drew the diagrams and did the passes, taking his time. Soi Fong felt the surge of spiritual power as the lines glowed. He collapsed, she nodded to the others, and they picked him up bodily.

The spell provided cover, but since it confused light, so that others couldn't see them, they couldn't see out from the cover all that well. The world swam and buckled, but the floor under their feet remained steady and sane.

"Let's go," Soi Fong murmured, and they headed out into the brilliant, open sunlight shining down on the slender finger of a bridge to the Tower proper.

Their shadows flitted by them, pale gray and fuzzy instead of black and sharp. Soi Fong counted the steps under her breath, and when they reached a thousand, she looked under the front edge of the spell. Using her good hand, she lifted it with her will, and saw the shining white door within touch.

"We're there," she whispered. "Keep it up just a little longer, Bando, we need to get in under cover."

The officer of the day and one full guard detail stood in the front foyer. Soi Fong led them right up to within a foot of the detail, hand signaled putting Bando down, and launched the attack.

Her people knew her priorities, and they took out the first dozen guards through their throats. Fierce hand-to-hand chaos filled the next handful of breaths. Impact on impact, all done in complete silence on the part of her people, and any opponent that went for an alarm or even took a deep breath to yell became the focus of everyone's attack. Sato took two stabs from silent solders while taking care of a woman about to cry out. Screams died bubbling breaths, lung shots ended kiyas with brutal efficiency, and Soi Fong pinned the hands of the officer of the day with kunai before he could hit the panic button for the upper level cells. She finished him with a single swift stroke.

They all thought they were done when the last body fell. Panting where they stood and dripping from wounds and from the blood of their opponents, they weren't prepared for the janitor, who burst screaming from a closet and ran up the stairs.

"Aw, fuck," muttered Sato.

"Head straight up," Soi Fong ordered, and they all burst up the stairs. Klaxons went off, so loud they battered the senses and all semblance of thought.

It became nothing but action and reaction. The sekkiseki stone turned every motion into something done underwater, made mere shunpo feel like as impossible as it might have been for a mere human, and the ice cold sucking of power made Soi Fong angry: truly angry, hornet and crazy wasp angry.

Bankai would only allow the stone to suck everything out of her, so she held back on that impulse. Instead, Soi Fong used Suzumebachi physically, startling opponents by running in, deflecting their first strike, and getting in close enough to touch them before stabbing them. Extended swords and pole arms that were doubtless good against people with swords or kidou were useless against the tactic. It bought her quick seconds of bloody mayhem.

They swept up the stairs, and when they found no resistance at all Soi Fong grew suspicious. The cries and thuds within the cells confirmed her worst fears. "Sato, Bando, save whom you can."

They split off.

"Kawate," Soi Fong said, and the woman took lead.

"Top floor first."

Two more bursts of stair sprinting, and they were at the top of the tower. Soi Fong was grateful for her physical training, as she was barely out of breath. The door stood ominously open, and the sound of a stone lock on stone keys grated out even on the landing. Voices and the sound of a number of feet made Soi Fong frown and signal who went in first.

Hatori, then Kawate, who might have a better chance at identifying whom it was they were supposed to save and whom to kill, and then Soi Fong jumped in the cell.

A huge body lay bound by dozens of reiatsu binders, the stones all alight with power, and it was bound to four wooden posts sunk deep into the floor. The person had been wrapped so tightly by chain and other holders that the five guards were having difficulty getting by the metal with their pole weapons. Even as Soi Fong bounded into the room, a naginata fell. She saw a shift in the mountain of flesh, the ching of metal striking metal, and two ends of chain flew into the air.

By luck, happenstance, or incredibly good skill, the ends hit two of the guards, sending both back two steps. The third raised another pole-arm, and Hatori landed on him with a satisfying crunch. Three-on-five wasn't at all fair in all the ways not-fair satisfied Soi Fong, and as soon as the guards were down, Soi Fong flung the command, "Help save the others. I'll take care of him."

Hatori and Kawate flung themselves out of the cell, and the sounds of fighting floated up from below.

Soi Fong approached the big figure cautiously and danced to the side as another turn of the big body flicked raw chain ends at her. She caught one in mid-air, helping it unwind.

The bound figure stilled, and when tiny Soi Fong pushed at the big form to get it to sit upright, it helped. A flick of her knives loosened straps and binders, lights on the binders went out, and muscles flexed. Under the layers of wrapping Soi Fong felt a breath drawn slow, deep, and sure. She stepped back out of the room, around the doorway, in sudden intuition. Something burst apart in the room: metal, rope, leather, and splinters of wood hit the wall between her and the prisoner and pattered to the reiatsu-sucking floor.

When she stepped back in, she found a big, pink man, literally pink of hair and mustache, with sad eyes. She walked up to him, tilting her head back to look up at him.

"You freed me?" he asked, with a voice rusty with disuse.

Soi Fong nodded.

"Why?"

"We're freeing everyone."

He nodded. "Good. Gin?"

"He is attacked in an extended position."

"Not dead?"

"Not yet. But I'm expecting news at any time."

The huge head nodded ponderously. "And his base?"

"Ours, all of it."

"I am..." The pause was startlingly delicate for such a huge man, as was the intelligence behind the small eyes.

Soi Fong's gaze narrowed as the man hesitated longer, there was something familiar about the face, the stance, and she searched her memory even as she introduced herself to prompt him. "I am Soi Fong," she said, "The former Captain of the Second Division."

The man blinked and then smiled, "Ah, thank you for your help, Soi Fong-Taichou. It may interest you to know that I am Ushoda Hachigen, a former Vice-Captain of the Kido Corp and the guarantee of someone else's good behavior. You might want to send news of my release to anyone you might have in Hueco Mundo."

Soi Fong gave a shark's grin. "I might, indeed."

>> Next Chapter

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Am I the first to comment? Am I? Am I? /whee!

Fantastic! The fight scenes and the whole description of retaking the rest of Seretei was really well written. It all made sense, everyone had their roles and fulfilled them perfectly. I really like Kuukaku's explanation for why she was acting like that, it made complete sense.

I so love this story and can't wait for more!
*grins* Yes! You are!

Cool that you liked how both sets of fights went, and how they fulfilled very different needs. I loved Kuukaku's explanation too. *grins*

Thanks!!
Thank you very much!

Yes, different roles for everyone, different responsibilities, but everyone trusting each other and working together. Yes!

Very glad you enjoyed it. :)
This is a great chapter. I love Soi Fong's efficiency, her total (and justified) trust of her people, the feeling of good plans working, and all of it. And Hacchi, of course!
*grins* And I love Kuukaku's quick assessment of what Chad needs as well as what's needed for her part of the job. Her flamboyant style is always fun to watch in action, especially with a shield like Chad's at her side.

Mm...
CHAD! He's so amazing, especially the way incandescens writes him. *happies*

It'll be interesting to see how Soi Fong and Hacchigen work together. *grins*
Thank you!

(It is nice to have our protagonists have their plans working out and them being competent...)
Yay! I love seeing Chad get back in the action, and also the reveal that Hacchi is NOT in Hueco Mundo.
She’d already been through a good selection of insults, and it was a pity that he wasn’t the sort of person to use that sort of language, because it had been very educational.

Heeeee!

And Soi Fong being wasp-angry is a lovely, lovely thing to think of.
HACCHIIIIII HELL YESSSSSSSS

How convenient, I was wondering what they were going to do about Barragan. Heheh.

Also, Kuukaku and Chad are a badass duo, Soi Fong is also a badass, and I can't wait to see Akon and other 12th division rebels. Awesome chapter, on the edge of my seat for more as always!
*beams* YAY! Yes. *laughs* I loved that you make the connection!!

It's fun to finally get to unleash people in their full capabilities.

Thanks so much!
(Anonymous)
Eeeee! They're making progress!

I believe I'm a bit in love with Kuukaku and Soi Fong as you've written them. While as distinct as two people who share the trait of deadly competence can be, they're both wonderful to read. And I love Chad's little "Should we be taking cover?" moment. (^o^)

-Maya.
They are making progress!!

I *do* love working with my co-authors... that we *can* make them distinct and equally capable in different situations with differing reasons. It's really fun to do.

Yes. I *loved* Chad's moment of doubt. *laughs*
Hachi! Awesome it's always good when u free the ties for others! I so believe Lisa will b happy to hear about this! Great strategy as always darlin'
*beams* It's really fun to do that...

All of us were in on the strategy! Love my co-authors on this.

Thank you!