(Note: This is Chapter 7 of the Return From Exile story arc.)
“Today’s the day, brother!” he says happily. “Today you officially become a Captain of the Gotei 13! If Grandfather could see you now, he would be so proud.”
“Please little brother, do not forget that if our grandfather could see me then there would be no need for this promotion,” Byakuya said in a reflective tone. “Losing him as a Captain was a great loss to the Seireitei and I can only hope that my leadership will honor his memory.”
“You will, brother,” Akashi said a smile on his face, “If anyone in all of our squad deserves this position it is you. I say that as a proud member of the Squad Six.”
“Thank you,” Byakuya said placing his hand on his brother’s shoulder, “that means a great deal to me. Now we are about to enter the Captain’s meeting, we should both be quiet.” With that he knocked twice on the door.
The doors slid open to reveal the Captains lined up with Captain Yamamoto at the head of the group and an open space where the former Sixth Division Captain Ginrei Kuchiki had once stood, and the empty space where he had once stood as a Lieutenant. Byakuya recalled once being a joint meeting of the Captains and Lieutenants that he had attended; he still couldn’t believe that he would soon be standing in the place of his grandfather.
“Byakuya Kuchiki,” said grainy voice of the Head Captain. “Come forward,” Byakuya did as he was told kneeling before Captain Yamamoto. “Today you have come here to join our ranks as a Captain of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. This is not only a great honor, but a great responsibility. Are you willing to take up this task?”
“You bet he is!” Akashi yelled out with an enormous grin on his face, “My brother is the best there is.”
“Akashi Kuchiki,” Yamamoto grumbled, “We have allowed you here at your brother’s request, but if you don’t control that mouth of yours then I will be forced to send you away. Understood?”
“Yes sir,” Akashi said dejectedly.
“Now Byakuya,” the Head Captain began again, “I’m sure you are well familiar with the responsibilities of your position since you were a lieutenant under former Captain Ginrei Kuchiki, your grandfather. As such we will not repeat all of those duties here. Will you take on these responsibilities Byakuya?”
Byakuya gave his answer. “With a heavy heart I take upon myself the weight of the responsibilities of this office, Head Captain.”
“And will you not only obey, but seek to enforce in every way, the laws of the Seireitei and the orders handed down to you?”
“Yes sir with all that is at my disposal,” Byakuya said.
“Then I hereby confirm you as the Captain of Division Six of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads,” Byakuya stood and turned as the traditional white tunic was placed on him, “Congratulations,” the surrounding Captains gave polite applause.
Akashi, however, began to hoot, wail and whistle loudly as he hugged his brother tightly, “Yeah, wahoo, way to go brother!” The Captains all gave a stern look at him as his cheering subsided. “Seriously look at that Captain’s tunic!”
“Now, Captain Kuchiki,” began the Head Captain once more, “have you selected a successor for you previous position as Squad Six’s Lieutenant?”
“I have, sir,” Byakuya said quickly, turning to face him.
“Who?” Akashi asked with a puzzled look on his face, “It better not be that lay about Kai, he may be the Third Seat and a good fighter, but he’s worthless in the day-to-day and we both know it.”
“Head Captain, I have selected our- I’m sorry- ‘my’ current Fifth seat, Akashi Kuchiki to be my Lieutenant,”
“Me?” Akashi said dumbly.
“And do you accept Akashi?” The Head Captain asked.
“I- uhm…” Akashi stared dumbly, “Oh uh, yeah I do, I mean, yes sir, Head Captain, sir,” he cut his eyes at Byakuya standing there nobly with his new marker as the head of Squad Six joining the kenseikan in his hair that marked him as the Leader of the Kuchiki Clan. “Thank you, brother. I will not fail you.”
“I know you won’t,” Byakuya said to him.
A few months later the two brothers are in a meeting with the Head Captain…
“I have a request to make of Squad Six, Captain Kuchiki,” said the old man. “It appears that in the there is something in the living world that is of particular interest to the Hollow. They have been arriving in great numbers near this temple.” Pointing to a map of northern Japan on which there is a picture of a large stone temple that appears very old.
“That thing is a temple?” Akashi said in disbelief. “It just looks like some old ruins to me.”
“Akashi, remain silent,” Byakuya snapped at him, “Unless I or the Head Captain address you directly. Please continue, sir.”
“The Hollow have been appearing in significant numbers over the past few weeks,” The Yamamoto, “The appointed Shinigami for that region, disappeared toward the beginning of the appearances and though we have sent three separate detachments of reconnaissance troops none have returned.”
“Have we gained any new information on this matter, sir?” Byakuya asked.
“I’m afraid not,” the Head Captain replied.
“What does this have to do with us?” Akashi blurted out. Byakuya looked at him sharply.
“I am dispatching the two of you to investigate this,” Captain Yamamoto responded.
“Why us?” Akashi asked in an irritated voice.
“Because,” the Head Captain spoke gruffly, “Your Captain requested this mission when it was mentioned at the Captains meeting.”
“Why didn’t you mention this to me before now?” Akashi whispered sharply.
“It didn’t seem necessary, too. You were going to find out here,” Byakuya responded coldly.
“Now the gate to living world has been prepared, and the necessary limits shall be placed on the two of you-“
“Both of us, sir?” Akashi said.
“I am given to understand that you have recently completed the first stages of Bankai training correct?” The room was silent. Akashi cut his eyes at Byakuya nervously. “Lieutenant, are you able to call upon your Zanpakto’s Bankai, even briefly?” Byakuya made a slight nod to his brother.
“Er, Yes sir,” he said dutifully, “I have certainly done that.”
“Then you must have a limiter placed on you so that your reiatsu does not cause any damage to the living world during a battle,” Yamamoto said, “Your Captain is aware of the procedures for removing the limit in emergencies. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?” Silence again. “Good now go to the Spirit Gate and head to the living world.” With that Akashi and Byakuya left the Captain’s office.
“Why did you tell him I had achieved Bankai?” Akashi asked, “I’ve been training for years and I still haven’t achieved it yet.”
“Because,” Byakuya explained, “you will soon, I can sense that your time is close, and it will put the Head Captain's mind at ease.”
A spirit gate opens in a forest flowing with fog and Byakuya and Akashi walk out…
“How far away is the temple?” Akashi asked.
“A few miles, we should refrain from using our flash step until necessary no use wasting energy if we do not need to.?” Byakuya said calmly then smiling for a moment.
“Okay,” Akashi said happily. Suddenly they heard a rustling and a jingling noise to their left. Each placed their hands on their hilts.
A man in monk robes comes out of the fog carrying a basket of vegetables and has a shakujo on his back. He is of an average height, with a bald head and is somewhat chubby. As he walks he hums to himself, with a big smile on his face. He stopped in front of them. “Oh! Hello there!”
“You can see us?” Akashi asked.
“He is a monk he must have a heightened spiritual sense,” Byakuya said quietly to Akashi.
“Well of course I can see you!” the monk said, “I know the fog is thick around here, but who wouldn’t notice the two of you out here. By the way I’m just coming in from the garden would you like to come to the temple with me?”
“Certainly,” Byakuya began coldly yet politely, “Are you a caretaker there?”
“Yes, I am Kotsu, and I’m sad to say that I am the last of the group of monks that lived in this temple.” His gaze fell to his own feet, and his smile faded for a moment.
“The last?” Byakuya repeated. “And what happened to the others?”
“Monsters of a terrible sort have been ravaging us.” Kotsu began as his smile returned. “They’ve been attacking the rest of the brothers here and they’ve gotten them all but me.”
“And why haven’t they gotten to you?” Byakuya asked.
“Well they certainly did come close last week,” he said cheerily, “but then a group of guys- dressed a lot like you actually,” he pointed at Akashi, “well they showed up and chased the monsters off, but then…”
“Yes?” Akashi prodded, as they continued to walk.
“Well then some of them showed up,” He said the same stupid smile still across his face.
“Them?” Byakuya repeated
“They’ve shown up every time that the swordsmen have, and every time they seem to win.” He stopped for a moment and counted out three on each hand. “Yep the swordsmen didn’t seem to stand a chance against those giants. Those big black creatures with bones for faces, they were terrifying.” He said the smile not wavering for a moment.
“Menos Grande,” Akashi looked at Byakuya behind Kostu’s back “why didn’t they tell us that there were Menos in the area.”
“They haven’t done a thorough study yet,” Byakuya said, “most of their theories are pure conjecture.”
“Here we are!” Kotsu chimed. “The Temple of the Grand Heart, our- well I guess now it’s just my home.”
Before them loomed a massive temple, fog resting around its base. It looked like a great pyramid and there was no telling how old it was.
“Byakuya, I’ve been sensing Hollow since we got hear but I can’t seem to pin down a location, it’s like there are Hollow all around us.” Akashi said worriedly.
“Calm yourself Akashi,” Byakuya whispered. “Though their reiatsu may be disguised there are other traits to look out for, Keep your senses aware. Listen. Look.” Akashi nodded. “Kotsu,” Byakuya said loudly, “What do you remember about the appearance of the Hollow?”
“Hmm,” Kotsu thought hard for a moment furrowing his brow, “Nothing really,” the smile returned to his face. “I remember them attacking and causing all of that destruction but I don’t know when or how they appeared. My that’s weird.” He said rubbing the back of his bald head.
“I see…” Byakuya pondered this as they came upon the temple steps. “We’ll follow you up in just a moment. I’d like to talk to him in private for a moment.” He said gesturing to Akashi.
“Ok I’ll go on ahead, see you in a bit!” Kotsu said humming as he began the lengthy ascent up the steps.
“So what do you think is going on?” Akashi asked once Kotsu was out of ear shot.
“He’s possessed by a hollow,” Byakuya said plainly.
“Possessed? But shouldn’t we be able to sense that?” Akashi asked.
“Not in these conditions with so many spirit particles from Hollow being in the area we almost continuously sense hollow,” Byakuya raised his head to look at Kotsu climbing the steps, “as a result we can’t even detect one when it is standing right in front of us.”
“So what do we do about it? I mean we can’t kill him since he’s a member of the living world we aren’t allowed to do anything harmful to him. That’s part of the law of the Soul Reapers, Right?”
“Yes it is, and for anyone to break that law would mean extreme punishment,” Byakuya paused, “even in a situation like this.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Akashi.
“It means that this monk is possessed by the hollow that is responsible for the deaths of our fellow Shinigami,” Byakuya said sternly.
“So unless we can draw out the hollow from his body, we’ll be unable to do anything about it?” Akashi inquired
“Not quite, we might be able to cleanse the spirit while it is still inside of him. Once it is cleansed it should pass on.”
“If you say so,” Akashi said with a hint of doubt, “is there anything else we need to discuss before going and meeting him up there?”
“No let’s go,” Byakuya said. With that each flash stepped and met up with Kotsu outside the main entrance.
“Oh wow, I was beginning to wonder if you two were still coming.” Kostu said as they appeared on either side of him.
“Sorry we had to discuss some important matters,” Byakuya explained.
“Oh? Well I understand. Look, we’re almost to the entrance,” Kotsu said, and he was right.
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