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Chapter 3: Down the Rabbit HoleCentral Hill; aptly named as it was the location of the Central 46 Chamber, as well as where the members lived with their families and even had housing for Central 46’s own guards. The hill was large enough that the top of it could overlook all of the Seireitei. It was at the top of this hill where all of this was; so needless to say, Akio had a large flight of stairs to walk up to get there. At the base of the staircase were two men dressed in white shihakushos, with Zanpakutos on their hips. The guards of Central 46, all of whom had a Bankai, and protected all of Central Hill. There were some Shinigami who thought it was more honorable to serve Central 46 then stay in the Gotei 13, and so would enroll for the position. The two men nodded at Akio and he waved at him, no words between him and the guards as he made his way up the large staircase. When he got to the top of the hill, he still had to walk past all the housing to get to the Chamber. The housing was the same as it was for the Shinigami in the Gotei 13; traditional old-style houses, and each house having enough room around it for children, if any lived there, to play in the yard and the parents to have their own stuff around as well. The walkways were made with a white colored concrete; and the paths were all straight and organized. The Central 46 chamber could at least be seen once you reached the top of the hill as it was a straight path to it; but was past all the housing. It was about two to three stories high, cylindrical in shape, and made of the same material as the pathways. As Akio made his way there, he passed by a few people and at least said hello, but did not start any small talk at all; he just wanted to get this all done and over with. Along the way he saw a few more of the guards, and still no words were exchanged between them and the Commander. For the most part Akio never did like guards up here; as for some reason when they got up here, they thought they were above the whole Gotei 13; Akio included. Though he would love to one day prove them all wrong, he of course stayed professional, and at the least courteous by staying quiet. As he made his way to the chamber, what Haruki said was still bothering him though; as it presented a lot of questions. How could they even fight against the Captains; or at least people who had Bankai? The Katsumatas were a noble family yes; but Ryoichi is the only one to become a Shinigami so they had no idea how strong the rest of the family was. So, did they possibly have some outside help; and if so, how big of a threat are they? There weren’t many well-known rogue Shinigami groups that were powerful except…no, no. He shrugged the idea off; THEY haven’t been seen or heard from since the Gotei 13 were created, when Akio was just a baby. His mind went over those questions again and again, as he now went past all the housing, and headed towards the chamber. The pathway opened up to be about fifteen feet wide, and on both sides of it were open fields of grass. As Akio walked up to the chamber entrance there were, as always, two more of the Central 46 guards standing here at the ready; one male and one female. The Commander walked up to the two and they both put up a hand to motion Akio to stop. “I’m sorry Commander,” the women spoke. “They are in the middle of a very important meeting. You’ll have to-” “I didn’t come for a social greeting,” Akio said interrupting the guard. “I have incredibly urgent news that I need to discuss with them and it can’t wait.” The two guards looked at each other, and then back to the Commander. “They’ll have your head for this,” the male guard said. “I’m sure they will,” Akio said not being frightened by the statement. The female guard then turned towards the structure, and opened up a large wooden door, and walked inside. The Commander knew he at least had to wait for the guard to announce his arrival, and his intentions to the bureaucrats. The wait was a little longer than normal, but Akio understood as he was sure the guard was getting a bit of a tongue lashing from Central 46. She walked out a little bit later and nodded her head to let Akio know he could enter; keeping the door open for him. Akio simply nodded back at the guard and entered the chamber. The chamber was well lit, as there was sunlight coming in through windows, and several scones lit to provide light. There were two separate rows of desks, each of them elevated from the floor and one higher than the other. Forty-six people came here every day, and Akio could see all of them clearly. He knew pretty much all of them, but there were only a few people in this group that he actually fully trusted. It was for that reason alone he never did like coming, only doing so when he absolutely had to; and with what he had heard this was something that definitely warranted a visit to the bureaucrats. “You’ve got quite the nerve to interrupt us Commander,” He heard an older female voice. “Never in all your visits here would you show us such blatant disregard for-” “Now now then Io,” a different member said. An older man, and one of the few people Akio actually did trust here. Susumi Yoshida, the original Captain of Squad 10, who retired his position and recommended the now active Captain of Squad 10 Kana Kondo. His hair was white with age, and he had some wrinkles on his face. The man’s eyes were still as bright and vibrant as ever, giving off that usual blue sparkle. He still wore his Shihakushou from his days as a Shinigami; a simple reminder to the rest of the council of what he was. “I know the Commander well enough to know that his reason for coming to see us would be no small matter; let us hear him out.” “Thank you, old friend,” Akio said as he smiled at Susumi. The retired Captain was not only the original Captain of Squad 10; he was also one of the closest friends of Akio’s father Haichi Yamamoto, and someone who was a bit of a mentor for Akio. The Commander then addressed the whole council, “I’ll get straight to the point. Earlier today a group of Shinigami were attacked in the Rukon District by people working for the Katsumata Noble Family. Now thankfully, there were no casualties on either side, and we even managed to capture one of the men involved. “Now, we were able to question him about why the Katsumatas were attacking Shinigami and his answer was…disturbing.” Akio paused himself for a while, and then continued. “He told us that the head of the Katsumata family has an informant, and this informant told him that we intend to attack his family…and so they are attacking us first instead.” That brought mixed reactions from the council; as hushed whispers, and even bursts of anger could be heard throughout the chamber. Regardless of those reactions Akio continued, “Which is why I came here. I need to know for certain that you didn’t suddenly decide to wage war on them.” “Absolutely not,” a female voice said. “We would never fathom the idea of attacking the Kastumata house. You Commander, of all people, should know we want nothing more to improve relations with them.” “Well I’m sorry that I’m just being cautious,” Akio was quick to retort. “No offense intended but it wouldn’t have been the first time you pulled the wool over my head…or my dad’s.” From that statement alone, the building went terribly silent; the majority of the council not believing that Akio would dare say such a thing. Akio continued without waiting for anyone to say anything, “Now I also asked this because Co-Captain Kiara has been hard pressed with her job lately, sending Shinigami in her Squad out to patrol the Rukongai, and it’s because of the Katsumata family.” “If I may,” a female voice said. She stood up from her seat, and Akio immediately knew who it was. The woman had deep purple hair which was mostly up in a bun, and the rest of it that wasn’t in the bun went down to her shoulders. She wore an altered kimono, that showed all the skin above her chest and had side straps. It was purple in color and had several flower patterns and had red edges. Akemi Toriazu, the second oldest child of the Takahashi Noble Family smiled and then said, “Dear cousin; I can assure you that we never once talked about attacking the Katsumata family. It has always been in our interest to try and improve our relations with the family.” Akio seemed to sigh in relief as he heard his cousin say that, but then that presented another problem. Someone on the council beat Akio to the punch and said, “If this ‘informant’ of theirs told them something like that, then they are obviously giving the family false information to increase tensions between us. “For what purpose though?” Someone else asked. “Who on earth would want the Katsumata House to wage war on us?” “Who can say,” Susumi said brining himself back into the conversation. “Regardless; we thank you for this information Akio. We will definitely make this our number one concern.” “Alright everyone let’s not bore the Commander with our business,” Susumi pointed out. He looked at Akio and said, “I would suggest you don’t have any Shinigami go out into the Rukon District until we get this all figured out.” Akio stood there, thinking about that last part. That would definitely be smart…but what if a hollow attack happened in the Rukongai? He decided to shrug it off for now, “Thank you everyone.” The Commander then turned around and exited the chamber. As he walked back towards the housing and the staircase, it all still nagged at him, sitting in the back of his head. When he got down to the bottom of the hill, he started to make his way back home; but unfortunately, his phone started to ring. The Commander saw who it was, sighed, and answered. “What is it Minoru?” “Come to my lab Commander,” the scientist answered. “I have something urgent I need to show you.” “It can’t wait?” Akio asked, wanting to go home to his wife. “I’m afraid not,” Minoru replied. “I’m sure you know by now I would not call you unless-” “Alright, alright,” Akio said interrupting the Squad Twelve Captain. “I’ll be there right away.” Ryoichi finished telling his Captain about what happened, and Kana just sat there in her chair taken aback by all of this. She sat in her office chair and stayed silent for a while. Kana would definitely chew out Kenshin and the Commander later taking her Lieutenant without telling her. The young Captain finally composed and collected herself and smiled, “Thank you for telling me about this and being honest about it. I’m sure it was…fairly difficult for you to do.” The Lieutenant was about to say something but then stopped; not sure what to say to his Captain. He then smiled and said, “T-thank you Captain.” He honestly felt a bit relieved that he could at least tell his Captain about it. “Don’t mention it,” Kana said with a smile on her face. “Now then,” she said as she got out of her chair. “Go home and get some rest Ryoichi.” Akio made a straight march for the Squad 12 barracks; wanting this to be done and over with. The sun was starting to set, the sky now started to have hues of purple and orange. It was quite the distance from Central Hill to Squad 12, so the Commander moved with a quickened pace. It took him a good fifteen minutes to reached the R&D Squad. The building was very different from the other barracks, as the majority of it was underground. Everything on the ground floor was used for break rooms and meeting rooms. It was the underground laboratories that Akio found to be a maze, which he now descended into it as he found the staircase closest to Minoru’s lab. Thankfully with him going down this staircase it didn’t take him too long to reach Minoru’s private lab. He was passed by a few people along the way but most of them were too busy and in their own train of thoughts to greet him; which Akio didn’t mind at all. The entrance to it was a thick steel door; with a keypad and microphone next to it. He pushed and held down a button, “Minoru.” That was all Akio needed to say to let the Captain know to let him in. The steel doors opened up by themselves, and Akio walked in. Minoru’s personal lab was much bigger than everyone else’s; having a large open space; as well as plenty of different machines, counters and various other things. The Squad 12 Captain was sitting at a desk in front of a computer with a fairly large screen; looking at some paperwork. “Alright what is it-” Akio was interrupted as Minoru extended his arm out towards the Commander; with some paperwork in his hand. The Commander didn’t say anything as he took the papers and looked them over. Why on earth was this so important? “You brought me down here to look at a Zanpakuto sheet?” Every Shinigami needed to fill out this form after at least learning their Zanpakuto’s name; and give details about its abilities. “Look who it belongs to,” Minoru said and nothing else. So, Akio did as told…and he was left speechless. That man had a Zanpakuto; but how? It was Haruki; the man working for the Katsumata family. “Y-you’re sure he had a Zanpakuto?” Akio asked; wanting to make certain. “One hundred percent,” Minoru stated. “We ran several tests, and double, even triple checked ourselves.” The Captain pulled out what seemed to be a cigarette; which when lit didn’t seem to give off an odor or any smoke. He took a puff, exhaled, then continued, “The rabbit hole goes further…keep reading.” Akio fully believed Minoru and kept reading through the document. The more he read…the more he grew disturbed. He possibly had a Bankai…and to make matters worse they couldn’t figure out what its abilities were. The Commander stayed silent for a while; thinking about how to deal with this new information. He then handed the papers back to Minoru, “Make copies of that; enough for every Captain and Lieutenant to have one of their own.” Akio stopped to think a bit then continued, “It’s too late to do it tonight; so early tomorrow morning we will have a Captain’s meeting. I’ll get the word out myself.” “Very well,” Minoru simply replied as he went back to his work. Akio was about to turn and leave, but then remembered, “Oh, and have you made any progress figuring out that hollow Niara, Ryoichi, and Ichiro ran into?” “Working on it,” Minoru answered. “I’ll try to have something for you by the meeting.” The Commander understood and nodded; then moved to leave. Ichiro knocked on the door and heard footsteps towards it to answer him. The door opened to show Niara, and the two shared a greeting and a kiss as Ichiro walked in the building. As soon as he entered, he could smell food being cooked; and it was a welcome aroma. “Smells great,” Ichiro commented. “What’s cooking?” “Steak and chicken with teriyaki sauce!” A different voice answered. Ichiro looked and saw Niara’s twin sister Kiara standing there. Though they were twins they did not look the same and were easy to tell apart. Kiara still had their biological blonde hair and wore a much different outfit compared to her sister. Her top was a plum, purple vest, that was sleeveless and stopped below her chest, which showed her stomach. It also had a black zipper that went down the middle of it. For her lower body she wore black jeans and shorts and black boots that went up to below her knees and had small heels as well. “Heya Ichiro,” Kiara greeted him with, adding a wave of her hand as well. Ichiro showed a small smile and put up his gloved hand, “Hey Kiara.” “Food isn’t quite ready yet,” Kiara said. “So, you two lovebirds spend some time together while I get everything finished.” Ichiro happily complied as he sat down on a couch; he let out a large sigh as he did. Niara sat down next to him, sitting to his right and held his hand. “So…how’d you avoid boredom without me?” “Oh, I just walked around a bit is all,” Ichiro answered. “Really?” Niara asked; her voice made it seem like she didn’t believe his answer. “Really,” Ichiro answered back, “I just-” "You have blood on your forehead Ichiro," Niara interrupted him. "I just...hope it's not yours." He then took a hand quick wiped his forehead...and sure enough there was a bit of a red smear. In the heat of that moment Ichiro had forgotten about it...and was honestly surprised Daichi didn't say anything about it either. Ichiro seemed a bit ashamed of himself, as he stayed quiet for a while, then started to explain. "Ahh..no; it's not mine." He at least answered, "I started just walking around for a while, not really thinking about where I was going. There were some guys I ran into; who apparently had some grudge against me.” He paused for a little while then continued, “I didn’t want to fight them…I really didn’t. I warned them as best as I could…but they didn’t care and still instigated and attacked me. “They thought I was ‘lucky’ just because of how much Reiatsu I have…and well, let’s say I have anger problems.” Ichiro never once told Niara about his terrible anger problems; his problem to just suddenly go from calm to seething rage. He looked at Niara and had a smile on his face, “Hope you’re not too mad at me.” Niara sighed, she seemed disappointed in him a little. “What Squad were they from?” “Eleven,” Ichiro answered. “It’s fine though; Daichi got there before things ended up too bad. Thankfully he wasn’t that mad either and probably has already dealt with them." Niara crossed her arms and let out a sigh as she closed her eyes. She then turned to face him, and said, “Well at least you’re not hurt; that’s all that matters. Still…you shouldn’t be so reckless about this kind of stuff.” The Co-Captain put a hand to Ichiro’s cheek, “Remember…you’ve got a girlfriend now. Now go and quick get yourself washed up before food is ready." Akio finally got himself home as he walked the front door; he put his Captain’s haori on a coat rack and sat down on a couch, letting out a large sigh as he buried his head in his hands. It was one hell of a day today, and he was glad to finally be home for the night and relax. He felt someone sit next to him and knew it was Hikari, who wrapped her arms around Akio’s, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Welcome home dear,” she said softly. The Commander looked over to his wife; she had her hair out of the usual ponytail, letting it down for the night, and was already out of her haori and uniform, instead wearing a black nightgown. Akio had a smile on his face, as his arm that was held by Hikari moved so that he could bring his hand to her head, as thumb stroked her cheek. “Hope I didn’t make you wait too long love.” “Not at all,” she answered as a hand went to Akio’s hand that was on her cheek. “So…want to talk about what happened?” Akio shook his head, “I’ll be going over it in the Captain’s meeting in the morning.” “Well then I should also let you know that our son got into a small bit of a scuffle today,” Hikari told him. Akio’s shoulders visibly drooped as he heard that, “Was he-” “He wasn’t hurt at all; if that’s what you were wondering,” Hikari said, essentially answering his question before he even asked it. “Mizaku told me that three men from Squad Eleven stop in our barracks for a short visit; and that Daichi was with them as well. Apparently, they instigated Ichiro, even attacked him just right off the bat. Not to worry; I called Daichi and he said he will deal with them. But honey…Ichiro-” “I understand,” Akio said, knowing where his wife was going with this. “I’ll…I’ll talk to him after the Captain’s meeting tomorrow.” He couldn’t help but sigh, “You know…sometimes I wonder if I couldn’t have done any more for him.” “Don’t be ridiculous Akio,” Hikari said; a little shocked he would say something like that. “You know you raised him the best you could…with me there helping you the whole time. Ichiro got what you never had; both of his parents, AND you did your best to spend as much time with him. We both know there were times where Haichi just didn’t bother with you when you were growing up. THAT, is what makes you a great father; you are there for your son.” Akio processed all of what Hikari said, and just chuckled, “Yeah I guess you’re right.” He was silent for a little bit then realized, “Speaking of Ichiro…where is he?” Hikari showed a very playful smile, “He’s with the twins at the moment…says he might spend the night with Niara.” This made Akio show a large smile, as he then put his hands underneath her legs and positioned her so that she was laying down on her back on the couch. Hikari reacted by wrapping her arms around Akio’s neck; holding on to him. “Then we should take advantage of this opportunity,” Akio said. “Let’s,” Hikari agreed as the couple kissed. Haruki Kabayoshi exited the Seireitei and into the Rukongai; more specifically in the western side of it. The buildings in this part of it were well kept…but not exactly high maintenance either. Well, at least the Shinigami were true to their word; he had his weapon back and they walked with him up to the gates that led out to the Rukongai. Still…he couldn’t help but be wary of the Shinigami; how could the informant had given them the wrong information? He had said that the Gotei Thirteen were preparing for an assault on the Katsumata house; but he time he spent there didn’t seem to be anything to show that. He may have to talk to Master Ayumu- Haruki suddenly felt a sharp pain in his stomach, blood coming out of this mouth as he gagged a bit from groaning in pain; and started to cough uncontrollably. He looked down…and before his vision started to blur, he could tell that he had a sword run through him. Haruki then felt the sword twist inside him; which made him scream out in pain. Or at least he would have; if a hand hadn’t suddenly covered his mouth. “Nothing personal,” he heard a male’s voice said…or at least that’s what it sounded like. “But you found out too much.” The man stayed like this until he knew Haruki was dead. So, he finally pulled out his weapon from the corpse; which crumpled to the ground. The killer cleaned the blood off his weapon and put it away. He grabbed the body and walked towards an alley. Standing there at the alley’s entrance was his partner, “That was sloppy,” a female voice said. “If someone had seen you kill him-” “I would have killed them as well,” he replied back with confidence. He gave a smile, “You need to have more confidence in me Tsubame.” “And you need to be more discreet Jiro,” Tsubame was quick to retort. “We cannot reveal ourselves to the Gotei Thirteen just yet…you know this. If our cover is blown prematurely to them; you know better than anyone the wrath Nobutoshi will bring down on us.” Jiro had put Haruki’s corpse in a large bag and put it over his shoulder. “You don’t need to remind me. Now come on; let’s dump this body and head back to the Katsumata house; we can say the Shinigami killed him.”...
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