[3rd] Volume 58 - The Siren

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Kishyotai

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Chapter 170 -- The Gathering
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Nifuji's mind went wild.

"We're here."

There's more of them?!

His senses, however, didn't let his mind process any more information. The overbearing mush of reiatsu poured over the young healer, steely boulders of spiritual essence holding him to the ground. His breath came hard, sweat pouring down on his body as he consolidated his reiatsu in an effort to shield against the cascade of power.

His breaths coming no easier, all Nifuji could do was see through the reiatsu-based cataracts in his eyes and make out who stood in front of him. Though he couldn't see details at first, he saw they all stood on either side of Yukihime. All of them had a cold glint in their eye as they looked at him, as if disgust for a lower being was contaminating their judgement.

Nifuji started his observation on Yukihime's right. A young man, with dark flowing black hair in a ponytail, was dressed rather oddly. A navyvest, perfectly fitted at the shoulders, hung down to the man's thighs with a silver hem, nicely complimenting the similarly colored and hemmed pants. A large daikatana was buckled to the back of the man's shoulder, its sheath barely an inch off the ground. He had cold eyes, Nifuji noted, and wore no expression on his face as his Zanpakutou pulsed somehow.

His eyes lingered on the man but moved down the line. Two twins now stood side-by-side, though one was a full head above the other. A female and a male, the male a full head taller than the female, stood side by side. The male had a good tuff of hair on his head, falling a little past his ears and winging out at the bottom. It was brown, and the kid's eyes were a vicious brown as well. The female's hair was long and pink, in a low double-ponytail that was formed just above the end of the hairline.

Nifuji blinked twice, suddenly realizing their young age. Though they weren't as young as he, they looked not a day over 15, 16 at the oldest. Both of them were fairly short, the boy standing at 5'8" and the girl at 5'4" or so. Nifuji frowned, despairing suddenly at how much taller they were than him. He grumbled something to himself as his eyes passed over Yukihime, falling to Ceer.

Ceer wore a pink vest with a white shirt under that, black dress pants and dress shoes completing the Earth-like look she carried herself with. Nifuji's eyes fell upon hers, and they locked for a moment. Hatred sparked between Ceer's eyes and Nifuji's. Wincing, Nifuji immediately averted his gaze, which earned a small chuckle from Ceer.

"...so...there are four of you?" Nifuji asked softly to break the silence, unable to squander anything above a whisper in this suppressing field of reiatsu.

"Well, there are actually two more." Yukihime stepped forward, spreading her arms wide, "But one of them has no wish to join us, and the other's temporarily inconvenienced."

"I wonder which one Sanakame is." Nifuji said dryly, rolling his eyes

"Yes, Sanakame." The taller of the two twins, the male, responded. Nodding his head serenely, Nifuji noticed the thing had an amount of reiatsu far lesser than any of the other combatants, except for his sister, who had a little over the boy's, "She's rather stubborn and wishes to have nothing to do with us. It's a little annoying, really, to have a Promethean oppose us so vehemently..."

"...Promethean...?" Nifuji repeated, blinking, "...what's that?"

"Well, since you don't know what a Seraph is, we'll start there." Yukihime took the conversation's head again, much to Nifuji's thanks. Everyone else was creepy, except for Ceer, who was just annoyingly arrogant, "You know about your father's plans to create Vizards out of the Bantenfuu, right?"

"...no." Nifuji shook his head, "What was the Bantenfuu?"

"The Bantenfuu was a training program that, officially, was designed to find and improve candidates so that they could be initiated into the Army of Masks." Yukihime dictated, as if lecturing a history class, "The Bantenfuu found pluses with powerful energy realizations and, estimating their potential, swiped them. We also acted as a 'dead cell' of sorts, assassinating those who would pose great threats to the Army of Masks, or even to their interests. Mainly, we were used for killings of Hollows, but a few pluses were deemed 'unusable' and were forcefully dissimilated through various tools that Sessha had created."

Nifuji pursed his lips through all this, knowing just how very little he actually knew. Nodding his head as Yukihime paused, she continued.

"It's not easy to believe that Vizards were behind the orchestration of all of this, including a fortress in Hueco Mundo, a hit group, and a group of this size. Really, the support staff was nothing more than a few captives of war or subservient souls. We never really knew them, and there was a designated reason for that. Some were even Vizards themselves, undercover of course, to check up on the Bantenfuu's progress." Yukihime sighed, "They never really trusted us, and for good reason; Sessha betrayed them the moment that he could.

"Sessha had, actually, created an ulterior motive for the Bantenfuu; the completion of the Seraphic Genesis Interest. Originally started and founded under the strict supervision of key Central 46 members during the Great Hollow War, it was Sessha's goal to be able to create artificial shinigami from raw pluses that had enough spiritual power. By extracting key elements, he hypothesized, one could force a plus into a shinigami, ranging from weak level to medium level, in a type of constription."

"...that's horrible." Nifuji whispered, "No one can be forced...to go through the pain we felt during the Siege..."

"That's not even the start of it, but you have to understand what time they lived in." Yukihime shook her head, "When Sessha started this, they were easily in the hardest part of the Great Hollow War. Numbers and hope were dwindling, Hollows multiplying. There wasn't a day when the Gotei emerged both victorious and lossless, and so conscription of sorts was of great interest to those who didn't wish to see the afterworld ruled by Hollows."

Flashes of pain, destruction, death, all of these, entered his mind. What Seireitei would be like, if the Hollows had won during the Siege? This question haunted Nifuji as Kanie's wild eyes entered. Would...Seireitei be filled with possessed resistance? He shook his head, unable to properly speculate without Kanie becoming involved.

"Whatever you're thinking, that's what they feared the most." Yukihime nodded, understanding the reason behind Nifuji's vehement opposing of his memories, "They didn't want the world to fall apart; the men of Rukongai were eager to become shinigami, but didn't possess the means.

"Sessha estimated that a mean 33% of the Rukongai population could become shinigami, and a good 6% of them shinigami of decent power. This excited the Central 46, and they kept it underground. As Sessha's research progressed, he become dangerously close to an answer before Masaru returned.

"When Masaru returned, everything went haywire." Yukihime sighed, "Sessha's program was put on faster-track so that Masaru could have decent bulks of reinforcements, but he hit a brick wall. Unable to continue, Sessha gave up the experiment and went to fight himself in the War to escape political pressure. It worked, and he returned a Seated Officer of the Gotei.

"...then where do all of you come in?" Nifuji questioned as Yukihime paused

"Us?" Yukihime snickered, "Haven't you figured it out yet?

"We're the Seraphs. We're the end product of the Seraphic Genesis Interest."
 

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Chapter 171 -- Siamese Dream
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"...so that's what you mean by Seraphs." Nifuji's forehead was suddenly creased as he frowned, biting his lower lip, "Seraphs. Do you know the implications behind the word, Yukihime? It seems like a word one wouldn't choose without really needing or realizing it's true implications."

"I know what a Seraphim is, Nifuji." Yukihime waved it off, "It's a rank of Angel. You may think it arrogant, but that was what Sessha invisioned when he began this project. A million angels, all formed from Rukongai's willing conscripted, falling upon the enemy with Masaru's return. Even moreso, angels to shine the light of hope where there previously was none."

"How can such a project give so much hope?"

"Don't you realize?" Ceer snickered, "Man. 6% of Rukongai doesn't seem like a lot; but it easily is. You've got to think how many people live in there; something proportional to the number of souls on earth. You think about that, say there are six billion living on Earth, that's six billion here, which means thirty-six million new shinigami of decent strength, something like two billion of those simply turning into shinigami."

"...the Gotei's barely three thousand." Nifuji whispered, "Even at its peak. That means...the Gotei's size would be bulked to an incredible amount. No wonder they were fretting about it..."

"Sessha's calculations were off though." This time, the man on the end spoke. His voice was soft and timborous, like a resonating tree that stood tall amongst the forest. It vaguely reminded Nifuji of Masaru, which earned a small smile from the even smaller healer, "Really, 1% at max could even be tested, and at most, .001% turned into a shinigami capable of Shi Kai."

"That's neither here nor there, Travesty." Yukihime interjected, holding up her hand, "Either way, you obviously see that we're not only capable of Shi Kai, but something far, far more powerful. We're all the only living members of the Seraphs, and therefore the Bantenfuu. Four of us, left from a total of fourty-nine."

"But didn't Aoyaku and Tenyu kill a lot of you?" Nifuji blinked.

"Ah, but you don't understand the process behind becoming a Seraph." Yukihime smiled, "Let me finish my story.

"Sessha continued his research even after the war, all in the sake of the name of Shinde. Knowing the project could be an incredible boost towards both the family and him, perhaps propelling them towards an official status as one of the Noble Houses, Sessha pursued it violently. Yet, again and again, he found himself slammed against the wall that he couldn't fix during the war.

"The problem was he didn't have enough catalyst." Yukihime sighed, "the Seraphic Genesis Interest generates a Seraph by awakening their reaitsu and exploding it outwards with a type of catalyst. Somehow, you mix something with the inborn reiatsu of a plus that creates a larger amount, giving them the power to use and look over that power, which is the basis of shinigami power. However, he couldn't find anything that could mix with that reiatsu for the effect.

"Lacking the key ingredient, Sessha despaired. A lot of people had put their faith, and their wallets, into his hands. The status of the Shinde family was lowered, but Sessha took all of the blame. While that was a bad political move, it was good for the family. Then, he married Hatorai of the Misagawa clan. She was esteemed as an incredible kidou user, and that bolstered the family's reputation.

"Sessha appeared to give up the Seraphic Genesis Interest, but instead pursued it even more. Sometime between his marriage and when he left, he joined up with the Vizards. Sessha had been contacted by a 'Mamori', whom I haven't met, an-"

"Did you say Mamori!?" Nifuji hissed

"Yes." Yukihime blinked

"Shimatta." Nifuji spat

"What?"

"I fought with him. Barely drove him off." Nifuji recalled the equally short Vizard, "I beat him by bare luck; he almost killed me."

"Heh, chances are he was suppressing his power like he normally does." Yukihime shook her head, "Sessha said that Mamori was easily above, or on par with, many Captains. But again, we stray. Sessha eventually became a Vizard and somehow found the catalyst within his Vizard-ness, whether it was by new technology or his scrambled reiatsu from the hybridization. Regardless of the actual catalyst, he then fled the Gotei to delve deeper into the Seraphic Genesis Interest."

"Which is why he left." Nifuji scowled, "Killing my family."

"Apparently, he was bad at assassination." Travesty commented.

"Then, he came back and tested his theory on two people; Sanakame and his brother." Yukihime paused, letting this sink into Nifuji's ears, "These two are called the Promethean by us because they are the first two Seraphs. Prometheus was, by Greek legend, a god who gave fire to the humans and paid eternally for it with pain. These two brought light to our existence by pulling through the process, but have incredible pains to live with the power they were given."

"....so you said there's another? Where is he?" Nifuji remembered what Yukihime said earlier, "You said he was unable to join?"

"Sadly, the pain often drives many insane." The male twin said, "Adam is currently sleeping; he went insane and Eve was forced to fight him. Eve was slightly more in tune with her Seraphic powers right after the Initial Genesis, so she won and sealed him in a coma for a few centuries."

"...eve?"

"Our names for Sanakame and your Uncle." Yukihime explained, "Omega came up with it; Adam and Eve from an old religion, the two humans who started the entire race in the Garden of Eden, though they were exiled by a snake. Paradise was thrown out when they took the Apple of Knowledge. It seems to fit in a few ways, and Omega likes it."

"...so why am I here?"

"We want to talk with Eve, so we talked to you." Travesty cut in, "Now, you need to deliver a message to h-"

"Like hell I will." Nifuji spat, "I'm not letting you touch Sanakame."

"Too bad." Travesy hissed, "You're going to do as we say."

"I don't need to d-"

"You seem to be forgetting your position." Yukihime's voice whispered to him. A moment later, he was being held by his collar and choked by Yukihime's hostile reiatsu. His small hands clasped Yukihime's wrist as he struggled to get free, flailing madly.

"...Heki..." he breathed out, but Yukihime simply swatted the kidou aside. Pulling Nifuji in, she tightened the grip on Nifuji's neck in a sudden bit of anger, her eyes swirling with fire.

"Grow stronger, Nifuji..." she hissed, "And then come see me for training."

And that was the last thing he heard before Nifuji's world was tossed up-side down.
 

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Chapter 172 -- Pure White Messenger
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"Futorame-sama." The two words were strong, meaningful, now. Before they had been nothing but an idle title given to him. They held no power, no strength, when people called him that. He had commanded no respect when he had first been guarded by the Quincies, upon his father's slaying.

The Head of the Futorame Clan opened his eyes softly with the invasion of his privacy. It wasn't the words that had invaded his privacy, but instead the sunlight that intruded upon his private realm. The room was a mess, though the nuclear apocalypse had been constrained to the half of the room the Clan's members never saw.

The words were right on time; dawn was coming and so the Futorame-sama would preside over breakfast. Especially on this day; when all days before it had been construed towards this point. Whatever machinations had been put in place by his father were now considered moot and void. The world was different, and the arrival of those they called 'the Catalyst' had shown that.

How long had it been, 10 weeks? The world wasn't nearly what it once was. The Futorame Quincy clan wasn't in its state of perpetual and innocent peace, now. Everything had changed. The Futorame Head had asked for someone to analyze the growling hollow numbers in the past years, finding that a startling amount of new Hollows' nests had flourished near their spiritual pressure.

But, all of this held a token of hope for the Futorame Clan. Catalysts existed to make many chemical equations easier; and so their own Catalyst had. The Futorame's strength had exploded with the strength of its leader, ever since that fateful day involving the tiger-shaped key. The heirloom of his father, the newest heir now had the power that ordained him as the head of the Futorame Clan.

"Tohi-sama." The words called again. It was odd, having Tohi not respond. The man outside the door was nervous, earning a nod from Tohi. It wasn't fair to to the man to keep him waiting, force the man to intrude upon his privacy, simply because Tohi didn't want to get up today. Then again, when did he want to wake up?

"I'm awake." Tohi said curtly, standing to his full height of six feet. His right leg immediately cramped, his incredible jump in height giving him intense growing pains. Tohi stretched the leg as he ambled over to the door, cracking it open, "I'll be down in a little; my leg's cramping up again."

"Understood, Futorame-sama." The guard at the door immediately departed, his steps now powerful and deliberate, "I'll tell the cooks."

Tohi closed the door and watched the room flood with light. Beams of light pierced the haven of darkness his body refused to sleep in. Insomnia plagued him still, despite his large increase in mass. Earlier, it had been due to his amassing talent being far greater than his mass. He thought growing a full foot might have fixed that...but he had been sorely mistaken.

Besides, he surely hadn't gotten any weaker.

Tohi Futorame cast a long glance at the clothes he had long outgrown. He kept a small amount of them for Nifuji if he ever came back. However, there was an outfit framed on the wall. Not just framed, but sealed on the wall. It was what he was wearing when he went inside the room his father had directed him towards, and now the outfit was framed. No blood was on the outfit, a drop of his own tortured pain never having fallen upon the innocent children's outfit.

It was a symbol. A reminder. The days when he could wear clothes like that were long gone. Now, all Quinicy wore their crosses, their weapons, their chains, everything they needed for combat. They had been reluctant at first, but the dead weight was natural now. Any Quincy upon the estate could strike a Hollow within a few seconds of seeing it, even less if the reiatsu weapon was actually one of melee use.

With this preparedness came a loss of innocence. It was all around them, the forest that they had laughed in, the childhood memories. Yet, those were forlorn treasures. Weight that was far less valuable, to the average warrior, than any cumbersome warrior. A weapon they could strike with, but a memory was something you could only cry to.

Or, at least, that was the sentiment carried by many Quincy.

Tohi knew better. He knew that the memories were what drove people to fighting, what drove them to great acts. A mindless warrior could kill, but one who remembered could protect. Martyrs were not brainwashed robots with swords, but instead those who chose their memories as a high purpose. Placing what could be instead of what was, placing their dreams on the shelf above what is 'possible'.

That was why the clothes were framed. That was why Tohi wore the tiger key like a bracelet around his right wrist. It was dead weight, but it was a memory. His father's reiatsu pulsed within it, and with that reiatsu also swam the reiatsu of all the Futorame heirs. He could even feel his mother's reiatsu within it, swimming within the living testament to ages and memories.

"...I guess it's time to put the actions into motion." Tohi nodded. He looked at the letter within his hand. Gingerly putting it on the table, Tohi dressed quickly. With a click of his tongue, a small dove flew into his room. Smiling at the messenger bird, who had a fair amount of reiatsu shielding it from harm, Tohi gave the letter to the dove and smiled, "I need this to go to the Soutaichou of the Gotei, a Shinkou Masaru."

The bird nodded, settling on Tohi's shoulder as it gripped the letter in its right talon. The dove wasn't capable of inter-dimensional travel, and they would have to travel as a group.

"This home of ours is going to be left alone, Kasumi." Tohi talked to the bird, speaking his thoughts aloud as the bird coo'ed, "...and yet...I feel as if I'm going to a whole new home.

"One with Nifuji."
 

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Chapter 173 -- Which To Bury, Us Or The Traitor?
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"Futorame-sama." Once more, those two words. That title. They looked up to him now, bowing to their full extent. Tohi wasn't a child anymore, despite his age of fourteen. His eyes sparkled in acknowledgement of the Quincy who escorted him to his table. He noted the number of guards; there were six. Six, all arranged in a pentagonal formation with one in the middle. The pentagon's point was to the south south east.

This earned a frown from Tohi. Where he ate was a floor on the pagoda that was open air, no walls. Yet the pentagon's point to the south meant the main threat was from the south. With a pentagonal formation, the strongest two people flanked the third strongest person on the 'point'. This way, the two strongest guards could not only fight on other fronts, but also double-team the 'main' identified front.

The guard next to Tohi was extremely disciplined. Yusuke, who had always vehemently protested his name's misconception with 'Yuusuke', was a strong Quincy. He had no middle name, though on the battlefield he had somehow acquired the name 'Seino'. Tohi didn't know the reason for it, but had heard that it held no real meaning and was simply a misconception turned into a full-fledged inside joke.

The two men on the point, however, were a bit more antsy. The spiritrons around them were vibrating, showing either a lack of control or a powerful apprehension. Like how reiatsu can be rough, or mildly disturbed at times, the spiritrons around a Quincy often gave hidden clues to those who could read them. However, many shinigami lacked this aspect and found themselves unable to gauge a Quincy's power until becoming an eye witness.

That was fine with Tohi. He smiled as he wondered how Nifuji would gauge him now. He didn't really mind not having his strength known by the shinigami that sometimes ran into the estate. They never knew Nifuji, not bringing knews but instead investigating a new Hollow Nest. The shinigami's arrival always hallmarked when Tohi would make his move; sending out an assault team with the shinigami to eradicate the nest.

Many criticized this power, saying that action should be undertaken preemptively. However, Tohi had vehemently refused; a shinigami had explained the balance of souls to him. Tohi realized the delicacy of this situation after the intial explanation and had silently vowed to not upset the balance. It was a stupid move in many's eyes, but they simply didn't understand that if Quincies were to rebel once more against Soul Society, another war could break out.

Tohi knew of the war with the Hollows that Seireitei was having. He hadn't herd official tidings from the shinigami, but Nifuji had mentioned something similar to it in his stay. Also, the shinigami always seemed preoccupied, as if always yearning to go back to the White City. Tohi had never been able to guess the reason until he had been forcefully reminded of Nifuji's stay through the gate-located murder of one of his closets friends.

He had personally annihilated the Hollow responsible for that.

Tohi's spiritual sense immediately flared. The Futorame clan leader stood up immediately, knocking his chair back. The floor groaned as the heavy western chair, which was brought in to keep Tohi above all others even when eating, gave a heavy 'thunk'. Yet, no one was there to listen. The entire room had emptied in that split second between standing and noise.

Tohi landed softly, setting down unceremoniously. He walked forward nonchalantly as the others trailed him by a few seconds, all of them slamming into the ground. They had shot across the estate to meet someone whom Tohi had been very, very anxious to see.

The seven Quincies stood at the gate as the solitary figure meandered over to them. Tohi's eyes narrowed and his fist clenched at the sight and feel of the thing's reiatsu. The guards around him all visibly tensed, all of them waiting for the word to attack. Yet Tohi restrained himself, holding his head high.

Shadows merged upon itself like a cape around the figure, refusing to reveal anything about it as it walked nearer. Its reiatsu was devilish, abraisive. It was matching the vibrations of the spiritrons that orbited the group of seven. Equal hostilities, open and half-revealed, matched each other as the figure stopped an even one hundred paces from Tohi and the gate.

"It's done." The figure said softly, "Your Senkaimon gate will only work once. It will bring you to a remote area of Rukongai, just in case the battles in Seireitei are raging even more than they had been. I will offer you no escort, Quincy Futorame, once you reach there. It is up to you and your clan to forage your way to Seireitei and establish a presence to the Soutaichou, Shinkou Masaru."

"As we discussed." Tohi nodded, "Now, you demanded that your payment be given now, after you crafted your Senkaimon gate. I'm waiting for it."

"My payment will be given upon your return, after reconsideration." This made Tohi nervous, but he concealed it, "Once you return, we will discuss. If you do not return within a year, I will be taking your mansion and all proceeds within your grounds. Do you agree?"

"I have no choice." Tohi nodded, "You said you possess a key. I will need that."

"Since you payed." A flash of alabaster was all they saw before Tohi's left hand sprung to his right wrist. The tiger key was white-hot, as if on the verge of melting. Yet it cooled after a moment, "What you need is within that key now. You require nothing more of me."

"I'm not sure who you are, but you have my thanks."

"Who says that I am truly leading you to the Gotei?" the figure asked, its purposefully garbled and subdued voice hiding any gender, "Are you sure this isn't a portal to Hueco Mundo?"

"If it was, I would simply wreak havoc upon the Hollows." Tohi smiled, "There is no balance of souls where the devil himself resides."

"Indeed." With a quick turn, the shadows seemed to invert on themselves. This phenomena happened when the figure turned around, "Keep the unrest in Seireitei to its maximum, Quincy Futorame. Then, you will accomplish my goal."

The figure disappeared, its reiatsu with it. Tohi immediately felt a Hollow spring up by the man, but held his warriors back. The figure would be able to handle itself. They stood at the gate, silently bearing witness to the conflict within Tohi as he decided the fate of his clan.

"...we're going."
 

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Chapter 174 -- School-Wide Assembly
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"You know why we're here today."

The sentence was strong, powerful. The man who stood at the podium was strong, powerful. The words carried the innate power of the man, and in this case, the power was strong. Nothing was quite like the air that hung about now, refusing to move as all of the Quincies kept their collection under the tightest constriction possible.

There was a disciplined silence as this sentence bounced off the walls, crashing into ear bones and reminding others what was just said. They did know; it had been planned for weeks. In two and a half months, a hasty plan had been thrown together. Tohi had sponsored it, officially telling the clan that it would be hard.

Indeed, it had been hard. Everyone in the Futorame clan was leaving for Soul Society. It wasn't an easy feat, getting the women and children to a respectable situation with their health so that the Clan could move as a unit. On top of that, every warrior who was able to had trained non-stop for those ten weeks, pushing themselves to the brink of blood and sweat when Tohi had come back.

He had come back a foot taller and thousands of millions of times stronger. No one understood his power until a full month after. They had thought he had grown, though not substantially so; yet they hadn't probed his control. It wasn't until Tohi callously slaughtered sixteen Hollows with his bare hands that they started to realize the young man's inner power.

"And you know that our own Futorame-sama will tell you why we are going; why we are doing what we're doing." This sentence was new; creating a little bit of tension. Tohi had never been a speaker; and now he was going to address the Clan? People snickered, wondering if the young kid would be able to read the speech, much less aloud.

Tohi strode in front of the Clan, earning a full bow. His eye visibly twitched at the formality, a hypocritical gesture considering his own stiff behavioral code. He bowed back, his flowing Clan Head robes shimmering in the light. He took out a piece of paper and set it on the podium, taking a small breath. Another snicker slipped out of one of the younger Quincy's mouth before Tohi spoke.

"I hate speeches."

Well, that certainly wasn't what anyone in the Clan expected. And neither, for that matter, was the fact that Tohi took the piece of paper and threw it into the air, shooting it with an unseen arrow. A majestic explosion of paper shreds over the crowd let them bear witness to the fragments of a thousand cross-outs and corrections to a paper. This hushed the crowd, all eyes upon Tohi.

"I hate speeches because people are often self-willing and only care about what they talk about; like I'm about to." He shook his head, "As you know we're going to Seireitei. The shinigami haven't asked for our help, but we cannot let another Great Hollow War happen. If Seireitei is once more sieged beyond their skill level, even the Quincy may be hard-pressed to help them out of that situation.

"But you're all probably wondering if we should trust this whole plan." Tohi nodded, "It's true; this plan was a short draft made up by me and two of my friends. Not the clan advisors, but my friends. They're still five foot two, but I came out of the tiger's womb at about six feet. So why should you trust this whole plan? Simple, for one reason;

"Because I trust you to trust me."

Tohi took a moment to pause and let this sink in before continuing, "Right now, Hollows are amassing. You all know; the number of Hollow Nests has skyrocketed in the past few days. That's why we're taking the time, right now, to go to Seireitei. Not where it's safe, but where we can do the most damage. Not where it's a sanctuary, but to make a sanctuary.

"The shinigami and the Quincy have long since abandoned their disputes for the greater good, members of the Futorame Clan." This was said with a direct emphasis on 'long', which quickly alienated any of the members of the audience who didn't like the shinigami, "Holding onto those ties will not get you killed, but another shinigami. To me, that is unacceptable.

"You all know who the Catalyst is. Lord Nifuji Jinte, to whom I have given peerage." The crowd murmured at this, mixed signals of agreement and disagreement, "You all hold your views on the matter; I respect that. However, these shinigami are men that Nifuji worked day and night to heal. These shinigami are those that hunt Hollows like us; that bear weapons, that put up with the pain of facing the most corrupted incarnation of man that has ever been borne on a plane of existence.

"This is plain and simple, my fellow Futorame members." This time, Tohi put his emphasis on 'fellow'. It was a good move, to reel back in those who had been alienated by the remark about abandoning the disputes between shinigami and Quincy, "I am trusting you to trust me. You may not trust me, but having me trust you to trust me makes this a whole different game. This is a spider web, the entire world hanging upon whether or not it breaks. War is coming; will you be the weak link that disrupts the entirety of our defense?"

With 'you', Tohi had pointed his finger out and scanned the crowd, pointing to each individual in a grand sweep of the assemblage. This went on for a moment before he dropped his finger and smiled.

"Or will you help me carry on my father's dream?"

A roar of approval rose from the Clan. It wasn't deserved; Tohi knew his speech had been horrible. Yet it had been impromptu, not planned in the least, and they knew that. They knew he had hand-written it, shattered the plans, and then gone off on his own thing. It hadn't been just for amusement that Tohi had shot the paper; winning trust was key in this game.

"The Senkaimon seems to be working, Futorame-sama." A Quincy whispered into his ear

"Right." Tohi nodded, "Let's go."

Taking our first steps towards ending this War before it can start...
 

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Chapter 175 -- Seven, Six, Six
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Tohi smiled at the Clan as it moved through the forest. He would have to thank the Hollows, he noted. Profusely and without shame; he would put himself prostrate before them and thank them twice over. It was amazing what the presence of Hollows did to make the Clan change; before, many of them had been rebellious against any law, any decision they themselves could not change or did not make.

Now, however, it was different. The difference was staggering. So staggering that Tohi almost couldn't believe that this group of people was actually the Futorame Clan. Of course, the only buffer in this disbelief was the fact that he had helped instill all of these rules they now followed. Their stealth had all be learned under the ears of the Hollows, their cohesion founded with Shibenta's death and the devastating attack upon the Manor that followed.

This smile stayed put, even as one of the Quincies held up their hand. The entire Clan stopped. Tohi's ears rang slightly with a minor buzz; he was admist the children. Though their spiritual control wasn't bad, it wasn't anything near the level of stealth everyone else had. Therefore, he had placed himself in the middle of them so that he could pacify the spiritrons that the children were anxiously buzzing.

It was funny, because he was nothing but a mere child himself. His fourteenth birthday had never passed, but instead was coming up. Thirteen years old, with a body like he had. A lean, toned, muscular body for a twenty-year old. It was ironic, now that Tohi thought about it, that Nifuji (who seemed ageless in his mind) was stuck in a child's body, and he was placed in an adult's body.

He gripped his overly large hands, a sign that he wasn't done growing yet, around the sword given to him by one of the older members of the clan. It didn't help others much in a fight, with their spiritron-based weapons, but Tohi had found a way to use the destructive qualities of Quincy power with this sword. He found the sword useful to covering up his 'real' Quincy manifestation of power, one that no one around him had ever seen before.

The Quincy lowered his hand, and the entire Clan (as a unit, mind you) relaxed their bodies. Spiritrons buzzed still, but less anxiously. There wasn't worry in the vibrations of the gravitating particles, but simply an apprehension that even the best Quincy warrior in the Clan couldn't cover up. It was understandable, given the fact that some of them knew the shady business in which Tohi had engaged to get this Senkaimon gate set up in only ten weeks.

As they neared it, many people gasped audibly. It wasn't the sight; no one could see it except for Tohi the man had explained, but more the aura. They felt an innate power source, something hidden and ancient, exuding from an area. They also felt a signature similar to Tohi's and a third, masked signature. That masked signature was one Tohi and six guards knew very well, the one of the shadowy figure that had appeared with its odd instructions and wishes.

But as they neared it, many people actually murmured. It was silenced from the look of a pointman, a gentle nudge from another Quincy, or even a quick glance at Tohi. The site was maliciously incredible. After all, they knew that Senkaimon gates were pure, white structures with the occasional black tint. Like Tatami mat doors, many diagrams described...but not like this.

It wasn't the usual ebony, but instead a pure, midnight black. Black with accents of a beautifully dark purple. Not the royal purple that was vibrant and expensive, but the dark purple of dying sunsets and burning dawns. It wasn't like a Tatami mat door, but instead a Torii, a gate to a Buddhist shrine. Tohi's eyes narrowed at this, feeling a slight malicious aura slip between the gateway the gate created.

Tohi took a step forward and the entire Clan stopped. A path was created for him as everyone moved out of his way, his six guards moving up to meet him. An additional number of people moved forward as well, all of them Tohi's advisors. They usually gave him good advice, but the pretentious or worried looks on their faces gave Tohi the impression they would be useless in this particular quandary.

The quagmire before them was apparent; who do they send in first? They would obviously say him last, and the strongest people first. Even the women and children would go moments before Tohi. If a landing wasn't secured for him, they he may die, and the Clan may become just another aimless bunch of Quincies.

He knew they wanted him to go first; and he particularly planned to.

"I'm going first." Tohi said as they neared. They all winced; knowing that if they gave in without a fight, they would be publically shamed. However, one or two of them nodded. They were the smarter ones, Tohi noticed, "It's my responsibility to the clan, after putting them through all this, to make sure that they can move forward."

"But how will we know if it is safe to come?" one inquired

"We won't." one of Tohi's guards smiled, "We'll come in at fifteen second intervals, group by group, strongest to weakest. Cells of six will move in, and will help the ones who went before them. The first three groups will go immediately after another, however."

"Ninteen of our strongest Quincies, and then twenty second intervals." One of the advisors repeated, "But why must Futorame-sama go first?"

"Because I'm the strongest Quincy here." Tohi said, "Whether or not Mitan likes to admit it."

"I cannot simply l-"

"You don't have a choice."

An awkward silence was what Tohi excelled at creating, and this occasion was no different. His childish stubbornness, paired with an adult mentality and intelligence, made him an enigma that no one could reason with when he set his mind to something.

"Then go." One of them said softly, "And keep our prayers with you."

Tohi looked at his six guards and nodded.
 

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Chapter 176 -- Situation Senkaimon: Take 2
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His eyes were wide and green. He was really the epitome of a childhood. He had an unmarred round face topped with slightly messy black hair. Nothing really seemed to plague his eyes, despite the childish frown he now held on his face. It was heartbreaking to see such a frown on the child's face, but to the child, the entire scene was hearbreaking.

Futorame Yoshitomo was not a happy camper at the moment. He was fourteen, a full three months (or so they joked) older than Tohi Futorame. He stood at an elegant five feet and an inch, which he had never let Tohi Futorame forget. He had befriended the steel plated personality bearing boy over the years of their lives with simple courtesies, which Tohi had always payed back in full.

And yet, now, once more he found himself separated from his very unchildish friend. After all, the boy (for he was nothing short of that, and nothing greater than that, in Yoshitomo's mind and heart) was the head of the Futorame Clan. The unprecedented age of thirteen was a curse that Tohi's body struggled to understand when it had grown a foot in under two weeks.

Yet nobody had struggled with this more than Yoshitomo. Yoshitomo had been separated both mentally and physically by his suddenly adult friend, the boy who he had cared for, and been cared for by. It had been heartwrenching, for Yoshitomo. Nothing had ripped him apart from Tohi so cruelly, not even the death of the boy's mother. Yet now, a simple room had unlocked the demon of growing up within the child.

Tohi silently cursed his pre-pubescent face. He wished to be there with Tohi, with the guards. Yoshitomo had often been measured up to Tohi in terms of power, though he always fell short by miles. Yet it always created hope when people blinked at him, surprised by his rapidly progressing powers. Nothing Yoshitomo had ever done was in vain, now. Everything was just a simple step forward to matching Tohi.

So it was with such melancholy regret that he looked at Tohi consulting the 'adults' (or 'boneheads' as Tohi confided to Yoshitomo). His hand curled into a white-crested fist as the young child's eyes narrowed. He didn't want to be separated from Tohi; not again. Not again, not ever.

"Oi, Yoshitomo." Someone behind him called. Yoshitomo turned around to see the eager amber eyes of one of his more trusted friends, Einiji. Einiji's fist was gripped, too. Yoshitomo smiled at the boy, who smiled back for a moment, "What are we going to do? Are we just going to let Tohi go?"

The 'we' referred to the children. Yoshitomo smiled as he remembered Tohi taking him aside and talking to him. It had been the second day since the day of Tohi's ascension. Tohi had confided in Yoshitomo that he was scared witless, didn't know what he was doing. For that reason, Tohi had asked Yoshitomo to start to get the similarly aged children, and anyone older, to get stronger.

"I'm going to rely on you guys in the future." Tohi said softly, "Even though I really don't like the idea of putting you in the line of fire. But the adults don't know what's going on in my head, you're probably the only one who would ever understand. But that's not the point; get the children ready. We need strength, Yoshitomo. I don't care how strong you guys are, as long as you get stronger. Get everyone to be close-knits friends, like a family. Because only family bonds will save our Clan if we get into a war."

"Of course not." Yoshitomo's grin was confident, planned, mischevious, "Listen, Tohi didn't tell us to band together so he could just leave us in the dust. I bet, even right now, he's stalling for us to formulate a plan. You see how he keeps calling them back in? That means we have about ten or so seconds before everything goes to heck."

"So what are we going to do?" Einiji's twin, Bachu asked, "You said we have a few seconds; we need to know what he's going to do if we're going to formulate a plan for what we're gonna do."

"Have trust." Yoshitomo smiled, "Listen; he's going to send in Quincy warriors; the strongest first. After that, he'll pause, and then he'll send in groups or ten or so, strongest to weakest. By the way they're planning, they won't have any means of communication. This means, simply, it's a blind rush in."

"A blind rush?" one of the children repeated

"Of course." Yoshitomo smiled, "We're going to rock this, and do you know why?"

No one had an answer

"Because blind rushing is just our style."

The children's energy exploded at this; not their spiritron energy but their physical energy. The adults around them were too preoccupied to notice that the children were ready to go. Yoshitomo kept his eyes on Tohi, waiting for them to go in. He would have to go in right after Tohi's group, if they had any chance of making it within Tohi's plan. He smiled softly as Tohi turned around and nodded to his guards.

"Let's do it." Yoshitomo said.

The children exploded forwards, set groups of six. The twelve of them were the Kyoudai. They were the closest knit of the children. The other children, of which there were about twenty, all knew what to do if the Kyoudai surged forward to help Tohi; they would follow instructions but take the first available moment to strike with the Kyoudai.

And so, Tohi took one last look before he walked through the Senkaimon, letting his guards go fist. Yoshitomo and his Kyoudai had already bypassed the bulk of the crowd. Adults frantically tried to cut them off, but the children were agile. Just as if they had stolen all the cookies from the cookie jar, they now slipped through every obstacle the adults threw up to go through with their prize.

Tohi locked eyes with Yoshitomo, the leader's eyes now widening. Yoshitomo smiled and waved as he slipped through the legs of an adult. Tohi mouthed two words, and Yoshitomo mouthed one back. Tohi huffed and shot through the Senkaimon gate, long knowing that Yoshitomo would rebel against him.

Go back.

No.
 

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Chapter 177 -
957 Words

"Yoshitomo, what do you think of the sun?" it was an odd question, especially considering who it was coming from. Yoshitomo, if not three days ago, would have wondered if something was wrong with his companion. He never thought in metaphors, as this statement clearly was, but instead working with cold hard facts like death. Yoshitomo turned his head to his companion, then back to the sunset, and blinked.

What did he think of the sun? Well, for one thing, it was currently dying as the mountains swept their ageless wonder in front of it. It was currently taking rest, displaying its multitude of colors across the sky. A plethora of multi-colored clouds reigned over the sky, the divine cloud that many poets spent their lives observing.

Yet these two who were present were mere children. They were nothing of the 'majestic adults' that ruled the world. He and his companion despaired of the situation of the world; knowing adults with their stupid pride and inflexibility often caused it. Yet, here they were, looking at a sunset. Yoshitomo's eyes flickered back to his companions as he narrowed his eyes, beginning to speak.

"The same thing I've always thought of it, Tohi." Yoshitomo answered. It wasn't so much a feeling of betrayal that plagued him and robbed him of free thought, but instead a feeling of wonder. How could his partner in crime, his aibou, have been so destroyed by the room that he was forced to mature? Then again, he had always been 'mature', but never to the core. At the core, he had always been a scared child. Yoshitomo as well, both of them simply pinned against a wall they didn't know anything about as they were beaten by the trials of life.

"I think that the sun is a metaphor for life and death, especially considering the existence of shinigami and Soul Society." He continued, carrying on with his usual speech, "The sun represents our life on earth, and the moon represents our life in Soul Society. Yet, the moon isn't always full, so you never know how long you're going to be in Soul Society before you're reincarnated back to Earth as a totally new person."

"I guess I would accept that if you were a philosopher, Yoshitomo." Tohi's newly acquired deep voice rumbled, "But I'm asking what you think of the sun."

"I think it's annoyingly bright and stupid for waking me up in the morning."

Tohi almost erupted into his new, raucous laughter that Yoshitomo envisioned the boy turned man had achieved with his deeper voice. Yoshitomo smiled; something like that always got Tohi. Even before the Catalyst had arrived, Tohi and Yoshitomo had a series of jokes that would never fail to amuse the other. With a soft snicker to himself, a content Yoshitomo returned his gaze to the sun for another attempt.

"I don't know what to think of it; I don't know it." Yoshitomo said this with a bit more caution and reserve; this was no joke, "It's large and it keeps our planet alive through through a lot of ways. The moon's light wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the sun, and so the sun is the source of a lot of things for our planet."

"What do you think of me?" Yoshitomo understood the metaphor now. Tohi had been compared to the sun in a recent speech by one of the elders of the clan, the old fogeys neither of them truly trusted with the Clan's future. Yoshitomo sighed and laid his back on the ground; both of them were on a hill at the moment, at least a mile away from the estate. He ran his head through his hair and exhaled, nodding.

"I think you're changed, Tohi. I don't want you to change, even though you were sad before. You're going to be worse from now on, I think." Yoshitomo bit his lip, "But...like the sun, I don't know what to think, you're alien to me."

"You don't know me?"

"No, you're alien to me." Yoshitomo shook his head, "One can judge an alien by appearances, by strength. I can judge you all I want right now, but it won't do me any good. It'd be stupid for me to go any further; you have reasons for what you did and I just haven't heard them. A badger kills to eat, but the prey will never understand that until they talk with the badger."

"But they prey runs the risks of being eaten when asking. Are you...afraid that I'll 'eat' you, Yoshitomo?" Tohi's voice was soft now, precariously put between the ledges of despair and the unknown realm of 'true' maturity.

"Tohi, if you destroyed me and killed me, I'd never stop forgiving you." Yoshitomo smiled at his friend, "We were friends before this happened, we'll be brothers after his happened. I even started the little children's group you asked me to. Do you know what we twelve strongest call ourselves?"

"What?"

"The Kyoudai." Yoshitomo smiled, "And, your name is officially on our charter as one of us."

"Let me guess, I'm either #1 or #13." Tohi grumbled

"Actually, you're #8, right in the middle, just where you would be if you hadn't gone through the room." Yoshitomo said softly, "You don't have to be separated from us, Tohi. You may be physically gone, but if you'd just poke in every once in a while when we train by ourselves...everything would be normal."

"But I'm so much taller."

"I'm looking you in the eye right now, despite your apparent one foot growth." Yoshitomo smiled coyly, "Tohi, I'll always be an inch taller than you. Always remember that. You got me?"

"Yeah." Tohi smiled

"...I gotcha."
 

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Chapter 178 --
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"That was unnecessary."

"Yeah, but you should have known I was going to do it, Tohi."

"It doesn't make it any better." Tohi grumbled to Yoshitomo. They were now sitting around a small fire they had created a half mile from camp. The sun had sent, the moon and stars now reigning in the sky. They sat side by side, Tohi hunched forward and Yoshitomo laying down on the grass.

"I don't care about 'better', I care about 'right'." This earned a grumble from Tohi. He had said it a few days coming out of the door. He had proposed a stricter training regimen while secretly confiding in a few people (two days after he confided in Yoshitomo) his plan to move to Soul Society temporarily.

"But that's suicide!" the elder threw his hands into the air, huffing, "Don't you realize that doing that will leave us open here? What do you propose to do, move the whole clan?! I might as well die right now and get it over with!"

"Then do it." Tohi said levelly, "You don't realize that you have no say in the matter. I'm using the powers given to me by Shibenta, as Head of the Futorame Clan, to put my proverbial paw down. You can either struggle or submit and let me take my paw off. This move is already made in my head; there's a war coming in Soul Society. We're going to help stop it."

"And what if it's already in Soul Society?" another demanded, "What if the Shinigami are under Siege? We could have another Battle of Beiden Pass! Do you propose that we follow through with Beidan Pass again, Tohi Futorame?!"

"I propose we follow through with that we must do." Tohi replied, "And I propose that we be ready to move, so that when we do move we strike decisively. That when we strike, we make it our last strike. One strike, one move, and we'll be done. The War could very well be over after our strike, and then we will return to Earth."

"How do you propose that?" the first man demanded, "Do you propose we ask the shinigami for help when we may have simply done nothing but interfere with their battle plan? What if we simply go there and die, Tohi Futorame? What does that do to make our standard of life better?!"

"I don't care about 'better'." Tohi growled dangerously, taking a singular, powerful step towards his challenger, "I care about 'right'."

No opposition to the plan was heard after that night.


"That was cold and unneeded." Tohi sighed, "There wasn't really any reason for me to get angry at them. They're old, they don't know any better than Shibenta's way of ruling; make things easy, no matter the cost to the outside world."

"Isolationism was one of the things Shibenta was profoundly good at, Tohi." Yoshitomo shook his head, "That's not your fault, Tohi. You simply need to take steps forward as you see fit. You want to help Nifuji and his world like you helped him and his world. Though...he did it in some odd ways, if you don't mind me pointing out."

"Making me cry, fighting me..." Tohi recalled, "Yeah. Nifuji was a strange one. But really...if he hadn't been there, we would have been doomed when those three arrived. No one in the Futorame Clan could have stood up to that last person he managed to drive back. No one."

"That's different now." Yoshitomo smiled. He outstretched his hand, his fingers reaching for heaven, "Ten weeks of intense training; you'll be surprised what it's done to the Clan. The adults are strong but...we...the Kyoudai...we're the strongest."

"Are you serious?" Tohi asked

"Mitan powerful, but he's sluggish and slow." Yoshitomo explained, "That goes for most of the adults. They're used to fighting Hollows, which will help us in this battle. However, they're not used to fighting smart Hollows, cunning Hollows. The Kyoudai train by sparring with each other. Every day, we find new ways to fight each other. That's what a real opponent will do. We're as strong, we're as fast, we're as cunning as each other. It's much harder than slaughtering Hollows."

Tohi frowned, suddenly realizing one of the faults of his program, "Are you saying that all I did was effectively turn the adults into slow tanks of Quincy arrows?"

"But isn't that what adults are for?" Yoshitomo smiled, "You don't see the situation clearly, Tohi. Your training regimen was great for the adults, because it's what they used to do. If you ordered them to spar amongst each other, they wouldn't have gotten anywhere. It takes a while to realize that you can't simply sit on your thumbs, you have to innovate."

"But a bunch of children figured it out?" Tohi asked

"Don't call us a 'bunch of children'." Yoshitomo shook his head, "You know that I used to be only the smallest amount under you; I was just much more low-key. I could hold up to you, before the door. I hand-picked all of these children in the Kyoudai, Tohi. You may be stronger, but I'm smarter, and you know it."

Tohi consented to this. Yoshitomo was, before Tohi had grown arrogant and aggressive, the genius of the Futorame Clan. Many expected Shibenta to abandon Tohi and take Yoshitomo as his eldest son; this fact had lead Tohi to train and find his astronomically immense power. After that, Yoshitomo kept a low-profile and they became the best of friends.

"If your Kyoudai are all you say they are, then why aren't you guys stronger than the adults in their eyes?" Tohi asked, "Surely they would have noticed in the training you guys are required to go to."

"Because we don't let them know." Yoshitomo smiled, "We're a lot smarter, too, but we keep our knowledge in check during the schooling. Tohi, we're not you, but we're pretty strong. We may not be you, but we're here for you. If you need us, the Kyoudai would be happy to oblige any wish."

"Then I have a mission for you." Tohi smiled, "One so incredibly dear to my heart I will require all of the Kyoudai to carry it out."

"And that is...?" Yoshitomo asked warily

"Find Nifuji."
 

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Chapter 179 -- The Dead Alive
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Takesou sighed, leaning back. He grumbled a fair number of half-hearted curses at the letter in his hand. He read it again and again, his eyes pouting over the ink. Anger spouted in his hands, so much that he unintentionally crinkled the section of the letter he was holding. His hand started to shake and Takesou sword, throwing the paper across the room.

"Goddammat!" He roared. Jera wasn't here today, so he could scream and roar all he wanted. Sighing, Takesou whimpered softly as he slumped back in his hand. He rested his face in his right hand, which supported him at the forehead, as he murmured to himself. It wasn't really anything, nothing but sweet secretive threats to himself. Sweet, secretive taints like you would whisper to a lover who betrayed you.

Because, that was exactly what Takesou had done.

Metaphorically, of course. However, Takesou held himself in that regard of betraying a lover. He couldn't function like he normally had. There wasn't any anger at stupidity now, simply thoughts of the gold-tipped fang that threatened to overwhelm him. His hand slowly found his pen as he scratched out a curt, polite response to the letter.

Finished with that, he stamped and sealed the envelope with his own personal seal and put it in the fully-filled 'DONE' box. Takesou sighed; it wasn't supposed to be full. There wasn't supposed to be a single letter inside that box. Takesou had been here for two hours and there existed nothing in the trash bin, only letters inside the 'DONE' box.

This was pitiful, and so was Takesou's current state. Jera had slowly but surely unraveled what was wrong, he imagined. She wouldn't act any more than she already had, though. For some reason, he knew that Jera knew that acting wouldn't do any good. Which was wrong, mind you, but that was the approach many took the problems of others that seemed to be this big.

The only person that he couldn't bear to see, in such shame, was Soranami. He didn't know why, but now whenever he locked eyes with the woman he found his chest hurt. He had ambled down to the health wing for a check-up, but they commented he was healthier than ever (which was, ironically, Setzujoku no Nibitou's doing). Takesou had thanked them and immediately taken the route that would avoid Soranami's post.

Why did he feel ashamed to see her? Surely he didn't understand, which meant that Soranami would understand even less. This made things very complicated, given the fact that they both knew that Soranami loved him. Loved him to death and back, Soranami's devotion to Takesou had been unraveled in a night following the attack.

He shuddered involuntarily, another thing he didn't understand, as he remembered the night.

"Takesou..." she whispered softly. They were both at Takesou's house, something that he had asked. She had been protecting him for three days straight, with little sleep, and he wanted to see to it that she enjoyed a weekend off with his assistants. He explained she was far more than a guest of the house; to consider her a member of the house.

He realized, right now, how bad it had been to say that.

"Yes?" He asked, his throat drying. He knew what she was going to say, but played dumb. Why did he play dumb? He didn't know himself well enough to simply deny what was coming, so why did he reject the entire motive behind the act itself? He hissed at himself mentally, which only sparked Setzujoku's presence within his body, "Do you need something, Soranami?"

"Only to say something." She gulped hard, and he mirrored her action. Both of them were on his porch, their legs dangling into a hot spring. Neither of them really wanted to go into the spring, Takesou not wishing for it and Soranami probably terribly embarrassed at the prospect.

"Which is?" he pushed her forward. He didn't know why he didn't want to hear it, but he wanted even less for her to feel that she couldn't say it.

"....things are weird around here and...I wanted you to know that..." Soranami's eyes were quivering, and so was her lower lip. Takesou gulped again, bracing for the impact as Soranami's mouth opened again.

"...that I love you."


And now, he was embarrassed to see her.

Embarassed to see her, to hear her name, to think of her, to even refle-

A knock.

Two.

Two curt sets of two knocks.

Soranami.

Takesou stood up and, against his intial urge, didn't put Setzujoku in his sash. Soranami probably wouldn't like seeing the two-tailed sword worn brazenly when he greeted her. No matter his apprehension, he knew that he couldn't let her feel hated or despised. That would only make things worse.

He opened the door to see Soranami, in her plain Aide clothes, standing sheepishly at the door. Without a word, he beckoned her in with an unusual politeness. She nodded and scurried in. Takesou sighed and shut the door after her, dead-bolting it.

"I'm sorry." They both said at the same time. An awkward silence reigned for a few moments, neither of them making eye contact before Soranami made a soft sound. Takesou, who found the wall to Soranami's right to be very interesting today, blinked as he looked.

A letter.

"This is for you." She said softly

"Is that all?"

"Ye-no." Soranami shook her head, "What's the matter with us?"

"I'm pretty sure we're both sane." Takesou blinked

"No. Us."

"I...I'm not sure." Takesou admitted, "Listen, I-"

It got particularly hard to talk with Soranami's lips on his.

It was a quick kiss, nothing more than a peck. But Takesou's world went wild. He didn't backpedal, not wishing to offend Soranami. He saw a great burden fall off her shoulders, and felt a heavier one fall off his (though a medium one seemed to take its place). She locked eyes with him and gestured with her head to the letter. He nodded and, with shaky hands, opened it up.

"What's it say?" she asked

"The Seraph stride to contact those who are within their ranks, but you exist beyond their boundaries. He awakes in time to match his own strides, but be wary of his path. The Promethean's eyes will never slumber again." Takesou read aloud, "A warning to those of revenge; don't find yourself on the wrong side of this blade."

"...who's it from?"

"...It's a warning." Takesou gulped hard. Not of apprehension, this time, not of anything but pure, untainted, concentrated fear.

"From?"

"Sanakame." Takesou shook his head

"What does she mean?"

"She means that things are about to get dangerous." Takesou sighed, "And we don't have time to waste being dead while being alive."

And for the first time in his life, Takesou found himself truly embracing a woman.
 

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