A/N: Well, here's another chapter, as always: enjoy!

1. Speech/Thoughts Key:

"So how the hell are you going to get out of this one?" - Zanpaktou Spirit/Biiju/Summoned Creature Speech

Oh, so that's how you're getting out of this, well... that is an interesting idea... not what I would have done, but okay. - Zanpaktou Spirit/Biiju/Summoned Creature Thoughts

"Is that a problem, after all, it worked, didn't it?" - Human Speech

Maybe not the way I was intending, but hey...who's to argue with results? - Human Thoughts

2. In no way, shape, or form am I lucky enough to own Bleach, Naruto, Naruto Shippuuden, or Rurouni Kenshin.

Enjoy, and as always: review, ask questions, and so on and so forth!


The Dragon and the Cherry Blossom


Four Days Later

Byakuya

Byakuya and his team had arrived at the tower in the middle of the second day, a full day after the Shihoin kid and his team, which truly annoyed Kuchiki a great deal. Now, a full three days later and just after the time limit had expired, Kuchiki, his team, and nineteen other teams, including the Shihoin kid's team, were standing in rows in the middle of a large room that had a raised dais at the end that all of them were facing with a large statue that was shaped like the Konoha Will of Fire statue that represented the spirit of all samurai and shinobi born in the village. Byakuya's gaze again drifted towards the Shihoin kid when movement at the front of the room caught his attention as the Sandaime Hokage came into the room followed by the two Shihoin captains, the sensei for all of the teams that had made it to this point in the exams, as well as a few other genin and unranked samurai who were held out of the exams but had teammates who had been allowed to compete.

The Hokage spoke, "Good morning and congratulations to all of you for making it this far in the exams. As you should have realized by now, the first exam was all about how well you could discretely gather intelligence from available sources while the second was about how well you could follow orders as well as a test of how well you worked together in teams. Now the final exam is all about individual combat prowess. Now the actual tournament will occur in a month, however, because more of you made it through the forest than anticipated, we will have to have preliminary matches that will begin as soon as your proctor has told you of the rules regarding the matches," he then looked at the man who came in with the other proctors, "Yoshio Abe, please take charge."

The man, who wore the standard Konoha shinobi with his hitai-ate tied in its normal place on his forehead below a mop of dark brown hair, over black eyes and plain features, stepped forward, his appraising coal-black eyes sweeping over Byakuya and all of the others standing in ranks to either side and behind of Byakuya, and when he spoke, it was in a deep and gravely voice, "As the Hokage-sama said, this part of the exams is to test how well each of you perform in single combat. Since there are more than sixty of you who have made it through the forest, congratulations on that by the way, we have to cut that number at least in half for the final tournament in a month. Just so you know, you may have to fight your own teammate during this, either here in the prelims or in the finals. So, if there are any of you who feel that you cannot fight, for any reason, please step out of the ranks and go join your mentors on the balconies to either side. Just know that if you leave now, you will not be able to participate in the final part of the exams."

Byakuya looked around as about ten kids left to go join their mentors. Byakuya's attention was again directed at Yoshio-sensei as he smiled an almost predatory smile at everyone who remained in the ranks, "Well, at least we have a few honest people in the crowd. Now, for the rest of you, the rules: First, you can go all out and use all of your abilities and tools, just know that I will step in and stop any blow that I determine to be a lethal blow against an opponent that is obviously incapable of fighting back. Second, if any of the other instructors in here intervene on behalf of one of the fighters, the match is immediately over and that genin is eliminated from the tournament. Other than that, have fun and fight hard. Now, everyone look up to the big display board for the first match participants."

Byakuya and all of the others watched as the lights on the board flashed names too fast for Byakuya to catch any of them until the first set of lights stopped, and he felt a jolt run through him as he saw his name being displayed while the other half of the lights were still flashing names too fast for him to see. He was fighting first, that was good for him, it meant that he would have the most time to evaluate his competition, but looking around him at the other samurai, he didn't think that that would be the case, after all none of them looked powerful enough to fight him. His musings were cut off as he heard a collective gasp from all of the Konoha shinobi and samurai in the room so his eyes shot back to the board which said 'Byakuya Kuchiki vs. Kenshin Shihoin'.

If Byakuya didn't have the self control that he did, his jaw would have been on the floor: fighting Kenshin in the very first fight, no way, there has to be a mistake. Then he thought about it, this would allow me the perfect opportunity to prove to everyone just how weak the Shihoin line really is with all of their talk about 'strength'. Now I can show them that the Kuchiki Clan truly is the superior clan of samurai in the village, nay, the country.

Byakuya turned to face Kenshin as all of the other contestants moved towards the balconies that lined either side of the room and were accessed by stairs that where on the ends closest to the statue at the front of the room. It was then that Byakuya noticed that Kenshin didn't have his otachi shaped zanpaktou strapped to his back anymore and instead had a pair of white-over-black hilted zetsurin sheathed in a double-wide bandoleer that encircled the boy from right shoulder to left hip. That was also when Byakuya noticed that the reiatsu of the black duster clad samurai in front of him felt a lot smaller than it did before, as if he had lost his zanpaktou. Byakuya sneered at the Shihoin brat and said to the proctor as he stepped between them, "Sensei, how can he fight when he has lost his zanpaktou, shouldn't that by law disqualify him?"

The brat spoke before the proctor could say anything, "Who says that I have lost my zanpaktou? What's wrong Kuchiki, afraid to lose to a filthy Shihoin?"

Byakuya felt the anger boil up inside of him and spat back, his voice dripping acid, "As if, I will never lose to you or any other Shihoin. I will prove that the Kuchiki Clan is superior."

Byakuya grew even angrier as Kenshin gave him a winning smile, "Then why try to have me disqualified? Or, do the Kuchiki have to stoop to trying to get their opponents disqualified to claim a victory?"

Before Byakuya could respond the proctor stepped directly between them, "That's enough, you two!"

A couple of minutes passed before Byakuya could bring himself under enough control to not kill the Shihoin brat outright. When the proctor was satisfied, he stepped back, still standing halfway between the two of them, but off to their left a couple of paces so that he would not be in the direct line of fire when the match started. Before the proctor could say anything else, the Shihoin brat spoke up again, "Sensei, I think we should move this fight outside."

The proctor and everyone else in the room looked at the Shihoin brat as the proctor asked, "Why is that, Kenshin?"

The Shihoin brat spoke again, "Because Sensei, I don't think that you or the Sandaime want Kuchiki and myself to bring the building down on top of everyone here."

Kuchiki scoffed, "As if you could do anything more than scratch the wall with how small your reiatsu is now that you have lost your zanpaktou."

The Shihoin brat turned his attention back to Byakuya, a frown crossing his face, "Again, why do you assume that I have lost my zanpaktou?"

Byakuya spoke with an authoritative tone, as if it was obvious to everyone except the child that he was trying to explain it to, "Because, the shape of your zanpaktou has reverted to it's original unawakened state, hence the pair of plain katana on your back, the fact that your reiatsu is far smaller than the last time I saw you, and the fact that you are a Shihoin," he then turned his attention to the proctor, "grant him his choice of battlefield, after all it will not matter. The fight will be over in a few minutes."

The proctor spoke again, annoyance coloring his voice, "If you two are done measuring dick sizes, I would like to speak."

Byakuya bit back the reprimand he had ready and waited for the proctor to speak again, "I have decided to move your fight outside per Kenshin's request and the Hokage's okay."

Byakuya saw the Hokage give the proctor a small nod and the proctor returning the nod. After a moment, Byakuya watched as the proctor looked from him to the Shihoin brat, then to everyone on the balconies on either side of the arena as if considering where in the forest the fight should be moved to so that everyone could watch. A few seconds later the proctor spoke aloud, "Alright, everyone we are moving this fight to a clearing a couple hundred yards south of here that should be large enough for these two to go at it."...


A Few Minutes Later

Byakuya

After everyone had arrived at the clearing and the spectators had arranged themselves in the trees along either of the long sides of the large clearing that was several hundred yards long by a couple hundred wide, Byakuya was standing across from the Shihoin brat in the center of the clearing while the proctor was off discussing something with the Sandaime Hokage. Byakuya wished that the proctor would hurry up and start the fight already so that he could crush the Shihoin brat and get this over with.

The Shihoin brat spoke for the first time since they had moved outside, causing Byakuya's attention to be drawn back to him, "You know, you should really learn to be patient with those of us you see as 'inferior' to you. After all, how can you expect us to live up to the great Byakuya Kuchiki? Maybe you should tell him to beg for forgiveness for delaying the match so long when he gets back over here."

Byakuya looked at the Shihoin brat as if he were something to be scraped off of a sandal, "Just because I come from a superior and pure samurai bloodline is no reason to try to put on airs as if you are my equal."

He saw one corner of the Shihoin brat's mouth quark up into a half smile as he chuckled, "You're right, I don't come from a quote-unquote "Pure" bloodline, but you know what? I am proud of that bloodline that leads from the founder of my clan and is unbroken all the way to me. I wish you knew how that felt. Oh, and by the way, we are equals."

Byakuya felt anger shoot through him as an electric current and his left hand unconsciously tightened around the throat of his zanpaktou's sheathe, his knuckles turning white, his voice acid as he spat, "Equals? You dare to consider us equals when your mother was so low borne as to be the only samurai born into a family of shinobi and your father, a lord and head of a samurai clan in his own right, stoops to call men such as Shunsui Kyoraku, Kisuke Urahara, and Junshiro Ukitake friends instead of traveling society in the company of those of the same rank..."

He lost his train of thought as the Shihoin brat was obviously trying very hard to hold back a fit of laughter that was causing his body to shake with mirth and stoking the flames of Byakuya's anger even more, "Did I say something funny?"

He was kept waiting a moment as the Shihoin brat fought to regain some semblance of control over himself. Once he did, the Shihoin brat spoke, "Why shouldn't my father be friends with Kyoraku-taichou, Urahara-sensei, and Ukitake-taichou? After all, they were on the same team when they were our ages, they were all promoted to captain at the same time, and all four of them bear that rank even now, so again, why shouldn't they be friends? Is this your flimsy-as-rice paper way of trying to say that my father is slumming it with three fellow captains? I don't see that as slumming, I see it as the fact that my father has gathered good people around him; all five of them, my parents included, are loyal to each other and are willing to lay their own lives on the line to protect one another and their subordinates as well as the village. Can your father say the same with the crowd of simpering knaves he socializes with, each of them always looking for a way to make themselves appear better than their supposed 'friends' in front of the village elders and are always looking for ways to put others down?"

Byakuya answered, "Each of them seek to further the wealth and prestige of their clans. The method matters not. If we have to stand on the backs of lesser samurai so that we may rise to the heights that our clans should be, what's it matter who we hurt?"

The Shihoin brat frowned at him, disappointment coloring his voice, "Is that really how you quote-unquote social elite think? So, if that is the case," he paused seemingly for effect, "how does you marrying Rangiku factor into that philosophy?"

Byakuya answered matter-of-factly with a flippant tone, as if the answer should have been obvious to the Shihoin brat, "My marriage to Rangiku is the exception that proves the rule of our clan's marrying high borne samurai. I fully expect that our children will not possess one-fifth of the natural talent that I possess."

The Shihoin brat scoffed at that, "So, you would marry someone who, by your own words, is of such inferior bloodline that you expect your kids to be stupid just to follow your father's wishes. I could never do that."

Byakuya gave him a cold smile, "And that is why your clan will always be considered inferior to my own."

The Shihoin brat answered his smile with a predatory smile of his own, one that slightly unnerved the Kuchiki heir, though he would never admit it, "So if my clan is as inferior to your own as you claim it to be, does that mean that this fight is already decided?"

Byakuya said, "Yes it is: you will lose and I will prove once and for all that the Kuchiki Clan is superior to the gutter trash and harlots that comprise your clan that has been surviving on nothing but its name."

Byakuya watched as the Shihoin brat's mirth vanished from his voice, eyes, and smile as he inquired, "So what happens when I defeat you while you are using your bankai?"…


Tier

Tier shifted her weight from one foot to the other and leaned against the trunk of the tree that she and the rest of her team as well as the combined teams seven and eight were standing in. As they stood there waiting for the match to start, Tier looked down at Kenshin, studying him. Four and a half days ago, before she and her team had met up with Kenshin and the others from the combined teams seven and eight that had entered the exams, before he had singlehandedly slaughtered a team of Kumo samurai to protect her, she would have thought that she that she knew Kenshin, but after their teams had met up, she realized how little she actually knew about him. It all started when she had offered to spar with him after he had spent a day and a half locked away with his father in one of the sparring rooms in the tower and had come out much calmer, and he had said that he was concerned that if she pushed herself too hard after how injured she had been following the fight to protect her team that she wouldn't be able to fight in the third part of the exams. She thought that it was kinda cute that he had forgotten that her team had been eliminated because of their failure to gather the requesite scrolls and arrive at the tower without being beaten to a bloody pulp.

Tier had never seen that side of Kenshin before, the gentle and considerate side that he always kept hidden away behind the calm exterior that kept all except those who knew him best, Kakashi and his family, at arm's length. Even during all of their time training together before the exams, Tier had never seen any evidence of that softer side, always working with Kenshin the Warrior. She had only ever seen that psychotic smile that he wore whenever he went into that battle frenzy that his clan was known for during their more intense training sessions, but over the last couple of days she had caught glimpses of a far softer smile, a smile that she had seen when he thought that she wasn't looking at him or when she had said something funny or when he was poking fun at her about something she had said. Tier didn't know why, but she wanted to see that side of him far more often in the future.

Movement to her right caused Tier to break off her examination of Kenshin. She turned her head and was about to straighten and bow to the person she saw there but Retsu-sensei shook her head, "Formal greetings aren't necessary at the moment, Tia. So, what do you think of my son?"

Tier wasn't surprised by the question and gave her the truth, "Retsu-sensei, I had not expected your son to be a gentle person, after only ever seeing the fighter part of him during our training sessions and what he did in the forest to protect our team," she paused as she looked back at Kenshin, "I had no idea that he possessed the gentle kindness that he has shown me over the last two days under the warrior's exterior that he always seems to show everyone."

She saw Retsu-sensei give her a knowing smile and a small nod, "Kenshin, for all his posturing as a hardened samurai who is ready to fight, kill, and die for his village, really is a gentle soul that abhors needless violence, even on missions he exerts only the force necessary to defeat his opponent, only killing when it is completely unavoidable."

Tier nodded, "I have heard of him sparing enemies that he was fighting during missions on a few occasions. I never thought about it and I had always heard other samurai say it was because Kenshin was weak that he spared the lives of our village's enemies."

Retsu-sensei gave her an even bigger smile, "Kenshin is very different from his father and me in that he doesn't take a life unless it is absolutely necessary for the defense of the village or his team. He always comes home after the particularly hard missions, the ones where he did have to take the lives of the enemies that his team faced, with darkness in him, a brooding silence that made most of the clan want to avoid him. When he comes home like that, he always takes his now-sister, Soi Fon, out for some fun so that they can spend time together so that he can find a measure of peace with what he had done and come down off of the bloodlust that is always just under the surface."

Tier looked at Retsu-sensei, "I saw him fall to the Ryuu no Chiyokubō in the forest and I was powerless to do anything to help him."

Retsu-sensei nodded her understanding as she continued, "That is not a surprise, our clan's Battle Psychosis has an unfortunate side effect: a nearly insatiable bloodlust that can cause us to lose ourselves and become nothing more than naked swords to be pointed at the enemy. It is known as Ryuu no Chiyokubō, The Dragon's Bloodlust, and in the case of my son, his is far more potent than even mine or his father's because of who the spirit of his zanpaktou is.

"To combat the Ryuu no Chiyokubō, we do not tell members of our clan who they can or cannot fall in love with, hence Kenshin's father marrying outside the clan to marry me. We only tell them that the person has to be able to bring them back from that emotional abyss that the bloodlust can put them in and get them to reconnect emotionally with those around them. In other words, that person has to be their light in the darkness, their safe harbor in the storm that is the emotional high of the Battle Psychosis, in essence: their emotional sheath, for an unsheathed sword becomes dull and rusty."

Tier frowned behind the high collar of her white half jacket as she thought about what Retsu-sensei had said, what she had seen during his battle against the Kumo samurai team, the lesson that had been beaten into her head by Tensuga, and was about answer when she saw the proctor moving back to where Kenshin and Byakuya were waiting…


Byakuya

Byakuya was still stunned into silence by the Shihoin brat's latest question when he saw Abe-sensei approaching. He could feel the anger rising inside of him, his thoughts turning dark, I am going to enjoy breaking him.

Motion to his right caught his attention, Abe-sensei arriving to start the match. The sensei looked between the two of them, "Now, the rules are as I said they were inside: any killing blow will be stopped by myself or one of the other sensei. The boundaries for the purpose of the match will be the tree line forming the edges of the clearing," he took a moment to look between the two of them, "Any objections?"

Byakuya watched as the Shihoin brat shook his head, "No sensei."

As the proctor turned to him, Byakuya shook his head, "No."

Byakuya took a bit of satisfaction in the flicker of annoyance he saw in the sensei's eyes at his ignoring of the most simple sign of respect towards the proctor. The proctor said in his gruff voice, "Very well."

He raised one of his hands up in the air over his head and said as he brought it down, "Fight."

Byakuya immediately went into shunpo, causing the world around him to almost appear to be standing still, to try to get behind the Shihoin brat and end the fight in one move, the Senka (Flash Blossom). As he moved behind the Shihoin brat, there was a sudden blur of movement in front of him and stars exploded in his vision as Byakuya was sent flying sideways to land hard several feet away and slide on the ground, dirtying his shihakusho. Byakuya quickly regained his feet and stared back at the Shihoin brat, who was standing there as if nothing had happened except for the fact he had turned to face where Byakuya had landed. He looked at Byakuya with a bored expression as he scratched his left cheek with the thumb of his left hand with his fingers half curled next to his mouth as he said, his voice thick with sarcasm, "Hey, Kuchiki-sama, I think you have something on your pretty face."

As the boy said this, Byakuya suddenly felt something wet on the left side of his face. He curiously brought his left hand up and had to bite back a gasp of pain as he touched the side of his face just below his left eye, causing tears to spring to his eyes and his vision to go blurry and double for a moment. Byakuya felt broken bones grind against each other under his skin and a sticky wetness there and as he brought his hand away, curious, all he saw on his hand was the crimson of his own blood. He was astonished, how the hell did that happen?

Byakuya replayed the attack in his mind, he had begun to execute the Senka perfectly and he knew that no one their age could match his shunpo, so what happened? How did he end up with his cheek torn and flying several feet before landing and sliding a few more feet?

As he was pondering this, he heard a mirthless chuckle emanating from his opponent, "Let me guess: you're trying to figure out what the hell just happened to you. The reason you're thinking that is because you don't think that anyone our age is as fast as you are in shunpo. Me being faster than you has to be a fluke, right?" he paused for a moment as he spread his arms wide, "after all, you are the heir of the Kuchiki Clan, the most powerful clan of samurai in the Fire Country," and then adding as an after thought, his voice taunting, "isn't that right, Kuchiki-sama?"

Byakuya stared daggers at the Shihoin brat, "Are you mocking me?"

He watched as the Shihoin brat's face broke into a mocking grin, "Mocking you, nooooo. Why would I, a lowly Shihoin, be mocking you, the heir of the Kuchiki Clan?"

Uncontrollable rage colored Byakuya's vision red. His voice was full of ice as he spoke, "I wanted to go easy on you so that maybe you could save some honor, but now I am going to break you."

With that, Byakuya cut loose with his reiatsu, the pressure forcing many around edges of the forest, many of the samurai lieutenants included, to their knees as the air and ground vibrated under the weight. Surprisingly enough, the Shihoin brat wasn't forced to his knees along with the many others who were. Byakuya smiled at the look of surprise on the Shihoin brat's face at the pressure his reiatsu was exerting.

That triumph that he felt turned to something that Byakuya could feel twisting in his stomach but had no name for as he watched the Shihoin brat slowly reach for and draw one of the blades strapped to his back, revealing a pure black blade with the kanji character for 'Honor' engraved into the blade just above the throat and glowing with an inner white light as a slightly psychotic smile turned the brat's features sinister as he spoke in a quiet and icy voice that cut straight through the rumbling thunder of Byakuya's reiatsu, "I must complement you on the weight of your reiatsu, Byakuya-san. You have many of the lieutenants present on their knees and almost everyone here watching our fight is having a difficult time breathing under the pressure your reiatsu is exerting."

Byakuya frowned, "So, why isn't this amount of reiatsu forcing you to your knees since you are weaker than me? There is no way you should be able to stand there let alone function under this amount of reiatsu. So, tell me, how are you still standing?"

He watched as several things happened all at once: the brat finished drawing his sword and held it with the blade of the sword in his left hand paralleling his arm and the pommel pointed towards the ground, the tip above his left shoulder indiscernible from the black duster he was wearing, the blade of the sword in his right hand held off to his right in a traditional null stance with a slight downward angle to it, the kanji character for 'Sacrifice' burning with the same inner white light in the same location as 'Honor' was on the other sword, closed his eyes, and bowed his head. For a moment Byakuya thought that maybe his reiatsu was starting to affect the brat and when the hell did he draw the other sword, anyway, but that thought disappeared as he watched the brat lift his head back up, in place of the smile was an emotionless mask that sent a chill down Byakuya's spine and was perfectly matched by the brat's voice, "Because," the brat's eyes snapped open, no longer the dark blue that they normally were, but an inhuman black that consumed even the whites of his eyes with silver six-bladed stars centered over where the pupils of his eyes would be, "I am stronger than you, Byakuya-san."

When the brat's eyes had snapped open, Byakuya had suddenly felt like he had a thousand blades cutting through his body, so strong was the brat's killer intent that Byakuya suddenly had a name for the strange feeling he sensed twisting his stomach into knots: Fear, pure unbridled Fear. Byakuya was forced to take a step backwards from the brat, who suddenly seemed far more formidable than he did a few moments ago. The brat spoke again in a flat, matter-of-fact tone that sent a chill down Byakuya's spine, "You may want to draw your sword now."

Byakuya was about to ask the brat why should he when the brat disappeared in shunpo only to reappear in front of Byakuya bringing the sword in his left hand up in an upper cut, trying to bisect him from right hip to left shoulder. He only had an instant to react as the Shihoin attacked. The two blades met with a screech of metal on metal and a clap of thunder that sent a shockwave across the clearing and into the first few rows of trees. He was stunned by the force that the brat was able to put into the swing, even though he was only using his left hand on his sword's hilt as he was forced to grip Senbonzakura's hilt with both hands. Even then, the force of the blow caused Byakuya to lift off the ground and fly backwards several yards, forcing him to throw his body into a back flip to land on his feet and slide a few more yards to slow down and stop. He didn't have a moment to recover as the Shihoin lunged at him, this time slashing his right hand sword at an angle from Byakuya's left shoulder to right hip, forcing Byakuya to turn and bring his zanpaktou up to meet the descending sword.

Again the two swords met with a screech of steel against steel and a clap of thunder accompanied by a second shockwave. Again Byakuya was forced backwards, this time sliding backwards a good fifty feet before putting his left hand down so that he could halt his slide and prepare for the next assault which came almost immediately. The Shihoin brat came at him for a third time. This time he swung with the sword in his right hand in a wide horizontal arc from Byakuya's right to left. As Byakuya moved to block the black blade, he felt the barest of tugs along the right side of his rib cage from front to back. This time, Byakuya used shunpo to avoid the horizontal attack and watched as the brat's horizontal slash ended with the tip of the blade pointing off to his right. He was stunned as he watched an almost visible arc of air sail all the way into the trees on the opposite end of the clearing, cutting several of the ancient trees in half before the shockwave died a couple hundred feet into the forest. Byakuya felt a chill creep down his spine as he visually estimated that the path of destruction had to be a few hundred feet in length and some fifty feet wide at its narrowest point and just widening to what must be a couple hundred feet with the arc of air died. He thought, how could anyone produce that kind of shockwave just by swinging their sword?

Byakuya's musings were cut short as cold steel kissed the side of his neck and he heard the brat's voice behind him even as he still saw the brat standing where he had been with his sword off to his right at end of the long gash he had just created, "I told you Byakuya-san: to have a chance in this fight you need to release your bankai. Also, you might want to get that cut looked at."

He was about to ask what the brat meant when he felt sudden relieving of built up pressure along the right side of his rib cage, causing him to look down just as the spurt turned into a slow waterfall of blood commencing at a shallow cut on his right side.

Byakuya watched as the image of the brat in front of him seemed to disappear in shunpo. He heard the brat chuckle mirthlessly behind him, "Well, that's the longest one of my shinsoku after-images has lasted, I must be getting faster."

He used the brat's moment of distraction to flash step away from him and turn to face the brat again, his left hand reaching across his body in an effort to staunch the blood oozing from the intentionally non-lethal cut on his right side. As Byakuya looked at the brat, he noticed the cold glimmer that danced in those inhuman eyes and realized that the brat was enjoying this fight. He thought, well, of course the brat is enjoying the fight, he has the upper hand at the moment. He won't have it for long, though.

Byakuya smiled at the Shihoin brat, "You want to see my bankai so bad, fine. I will show you my bankai. Just remember when you are standing before whatever gods you pray to: you wanted this."

Byakuya then straightened up to his full height and squared his stance into a typical null stance with his feet shoulder-width apart and brought his sword up in front of him at arm's length with the blade pointed towards the ground. He held that stance for a few moments before he released the sword, dropping it towards the ground and saying in a matter-of-fact tone, "Bankai."

Byakuya knew what the brat was seeing: the world around them going dark, Senbonzakura falling in slow motion, the sword disappearing into the ground as ripples like on a pond's surface radiated from where the sword reached the ground, and the twin rows of five hundred twenty-foot tall katana blades rising from the ground in slow motion. Byakuya said, "Senbonzakura Kageyoshi (Vibrant Display of a Thousand Cherry Blossoms)."

As he said the words, the twin rows of swords glowed with a pinkish light for a moment before all one thousand blades shattered simultaneously into millions of cherry blossom petal-like blades floating in the air around him. He smiled, his confidence rapidly returning, "You wanted to see my bankai. Now I will etch its existence into your very bones and prove to all that the Kuchiki Clan is superior."

With that, Byakuya brought his open right hand up and directed it towards the Shihoin brat. He felt Senbonzakura's petal-like blades respond instantly as he heard a rushing sound that accompanied the massive, almost solid tendrils flow past him and towards the Shihoin in front of him. He mentally had the blades surround the Shihoin to form an almost complete sphere over ten feet in diameter so that there was no escape for the brat and said in a superior tone, "Now do you see how I am superior to you in every way."

Byakuya didn't wait for a response as he closed his right hand into a fist, causing the globe of pink petal-like blades to constrict inward instantly towards their target. He watched as just before the first blade reached the Shihoin brat, Byakuya heard the brat whisper something above the sound of the blades rushing inwards, "Hiten Mitsurugi: Ryuumeisen (Dragon's Howl Flash)."

As soon as he finished naming the technique, a shockwave blew outwards from the epicenter of the globe that the blades of Senbonzakura had formed, carrying the blades of Byakuya's zanpaktou away as if on a strong wind. Byakuya was forced to open his right hand into an open palm with his fingers pointed to the side in an effort to shield his face an instant before the petal-like blade ridden shockwave reached him. When it did reach him, Byakuya heard a deafening sound that sounded like what he thought a dragon's roar would sound like, a piercing howl that seemed to cut straight through him and caused that almost forgotten feeling of fear to return. The dragon's roar that was carried by the shockwave almost distracted Byakuya from the fact that blades from his own zanpaktou were slicing through his right arm from wrist to elbow, reducing the lower part of his right arm into a useless and bloody mess of severed and slashed muscle and skin. The Kuchiki also felt several other blades cut him at various points of his person: his left cheek, shoulder, horizontally along the length of his left arm, the sides of his body, even a few blades piercing his chest and abdomen.

As the shockwave passed him, Byakuya felt his blood pouring out of the massive number of open wounds on his person, but he was not deterred as he brought his left arm up to direct the blades back towards his target. He sensed and watched as the petal-like blades of his zanpaktou responded instantly, reversing their course to attack the Shihoin brat again. Kuchiki almost felt a sense of satisfaction that he had such command over his zanpaktou until he realized that several thousand of the blades that had been blown past the tree line at the edges of the clearing were returning in such a way as to attack the tree where his fiancee and her team were standing along with Retsu Shihoin-taichou.

Before he could do anything, Byakuya heard someone bellow from the other side of the tree, directly in the path of the blades, "KAZESUGA TENSHO (Wind's Fang Heavenly Slash)!"

As the attack name was finished, Byakuya along with everyone else saw a brilliant white arc of reiatsu be released and impact the impending mass of Senbonzakura blades, causing their direction to change and avoid the people standing in the tree behind the black duster-clad Shihoin that had fired the attack. After a few moments, Byakuya felt the shockwave from the sword swing at the same time he heard the peal of thunder that was the sound that the boy's blade made when releasing the attack. He didn't have time to think about it as suddenly the brat was in the air several dozen feet above him, with 'Honor' drawn and held above his head in both hands.

Byakuya looked up and saw the afterimage of the Shihoin boy in the tree disappear, a clear indication that the boy had used shinsoku again. He was transfixed as the brat seemed to hang motionless, the bottom half of his duster floating around him in the air. Kuchiki didn't even blink as the boy suddenly appeared on the ground in front of him, kneeling with the tip of his sword a paper's width away from touching the ground at Byakuya's feet, the brat's duster hem settling to the ground around the brat. He heard the brat whisper, "Hiten Mitsurugi: Ryuutsuisen (Dragon's Hammer Flash)."

Just as the brat finished naming the technique, Byakuya felt an itching sensation that went from just inside his left shoulder all the way to midway down his left thigh at the same instant he saw a flash of black steel that went from where the now afterimage of the brat was disappearing in the air above him to where the tip of his sword was now, passing through the same area of his body where he felt the itching sensation. A moment later, a loud BOOM rang out at the same time Byakuya was thrown backwards, blood spraying from the wound that he had just received, and riding the shockwave of the brat's sword's passing. After a few seconds of flying backwards, Kuchiki felt his breath be driven from his lungs as his back hit a large boulder at the edge of the clearing. Stars exploded in his vision as his head connected with the boulder, also causing his ears to start ringing. His entire body seemed to go numb as he fell to his knees like a sack of potatoes being dropped from a worker's shoulder, his life's blood draining out of him at an alarming rate. Byakuya felt the hilt of his zanpaktou reform in his right hand and looked down to see the hilt with half of the tsuba and blade broken off and missing. He watched as in slow motion the half a sword fell from his nerveless fingers to clatter to the ground.

As he was watching his blood soak into the hilt of his sword thinking that he really needed to get it cleaned off before the stains became permanent, a shadow fell over Byakuya. He looked up at the figure standing above him and found his eyes met with the now midnight blue eyes of the Shihoin brat. Byakuya watched as the brat knelt down in front of him and while using a piece of cloth from one of the pockets on his pants to pick up Senbonzakura, carefully clean both the blade and hilt, and return the broken sword to its sheathe on Byakuya's side respectfully. The ringing in Byakuya's ears seemed to clear up after a few more moments.

The Shihoin brat spoke, "You fought well, Byakuya-san. I have to admit that your bankai is quite impressive. With some more practice, you could truly master it. It was an honor to cross blades with you today, Kuchiki-sama."

Byakuya watched in silence as the Shihoin heir rose and turned to begin walking away. For some reason, Kuchiki felt his anger rise again at the simple and final dismissal that he felt like trying to rise to continue the fight. As he struggled to rise, he watched the brat stop some ways away from him and say, a gentle warning in his voice, "Stay down Kuchiki-san. This fight is over."

Byakuya chose to ignore the warning in both the boy's eyes, as he was now looking back over his left shoulder at him, and his voice. As he managed to get one foot under him, Byakuya heard the brat give him a slightly stronger warning, "Byakuya-san, stay down please. I don't want to hurt you any further."

Byakuya scoffed at that comment as he shakily rose to his feet, "How dare you order me what to do, Shihoin-scum? Do you have any idea who I am?"

Kuchiki looked at the brat as he slowly turned to face him again, a white fire beginning to dance along the brat's body, highlighting every little detail on the Shihoin's person. The look in the brat's eyes should have given Kuchiki a warning about what was going to happen if he continued to push the subject, but he ignored it and pushed on, reaching for the broken blade of his zanpaktou. The brat gave a cold chuckle that caused Byakuya's blood to run cold as he spoke softly, "Do I have an idea of who you are? I know exactly who you are."

With that the white flames that were dancing along the brat's body turned into a full blown inferno accompanied by a dragon's roar that turned into a low rumbling growl that everyone in the clearing could hear as the air became so heavy with reiatsu that it forced Byakuya into a prone position on the ground in front of the brat, he felt as if his bones were being ground into dust under the weight…


Tier

Tier gasped as everyone around her heard the dragon's roar and subsequent growl that continued as Kenshin released the full force of his reiatsu, forcing every captain, senior jounin, and even the Hokage to their knees, while forcing several of the genin and unranked samurai to pass out under the weight as the air became heavy with reiatsu and almost felt like it would scorch her lungs. The tree beneath her feet groaned under the force being exerted by Kenshin's reiatsu. She felt the killer intent, anger, and pain in his reiatsu. She looked at the young man she admired with concern, Kenshin


Byakuya

Byakuya was stunned at the force that this brat's reiatsu was exerting as the brat spoke, his voice ice cold, "You are nothing more than an arrogant, self-righteous pretty boy who believes that he can get what he desires by standing on others' backs. You believe that just because of your bloodline that you are more powerful than anyone else and that everyone else should bow to you. You use your clan's name to get whatever the fuck you want without regards to who you hurt or what you betray. I am tired of your type and have not patience for them."

Byakuya thought that the boy was done but the boy continued his rant, "You assume that just because someone does not flaunt their power that they do not have it in the first place. You place all the value in power without the understanding that power is only half of it, the tide without the moon. You want power for the sake of power and do not want the knowledge or understanding of that power that comes with training to use that power. You ignore the spirit of your zanpaktou and seek to only gain power for yourself without understanding that power is only half of what you need to be an officer let alone a lieutenant or captain!"

Byakuya watched in horror as the boy stepped forward, reaching to draw his sword again…


Tier

Tier watched as Kenshin moved towards the Kuchiki heir and reached for one of his swords, his killer intent and reiatsu rising to a fevered pitch. She knew in that instant that she needed to do something. Without thinking she acted…


Byakuya

Byakuya watched as the brat's left hand wrapped around the hilt of the sheathed Honor. The boy's smile broke into that trademark psychotic grin as he tensed his muscles in preparation to draw his sword when a blonde, white-clad female samurai with an unusually shaped zanpaktou strapped to her upper back appeared out of shunpo before the brat and wrapped him in a hug, burying her face in his chest as she said in a voice full of pain, "Kenshin, stop. You've already won the match. It's over. Don't let him force you to do something that you will regret. Please, stop this, you're scaring me."

He watched in stunned amazement as the brat wrapped the young girl in a tight hug and lowered his head to where his cheek rested on the top of the girl's head, the tension melting out of the brat's body as he whispered with longing in his voice, "Tia."

Byakuya was stunned again as the brat's reiatsu plummeted back to the level that it had been at before their match had begun. As he watched, the brat and the girl turned and walked away from where Byakuya lay broken. Just then movement to his right caught Byakuya's attention as Abe-sensei appeared out of shunshin. Byakuya watched as the proctor looked between the Shihoin heir and himself before declaring loud enough for all to hear, "The winner of the first match is Kenshin Shihoin!"

He watched as the Shihoin heir bowed respectfully to Abe-sensei and said, "Arigato, Abe-sensei."

The Kuchiki heir then watched as the black duster clad samurai and the blonde samurai then used shunpo to disappear from the field just as the medical team was reaching him. As they gently put him on the stretcher to carry him away for immediate medical attention, Byakuya turned his thoughts inward, Senbonzakura, can you hear me?

The answer was a quiet chuckle inside his mind, "Of course. The question is: are you willing to listen?"

Byakuya was about to answer as unconsciousness finally claimed him.


A/N: Another chapter done. Sorry for the wait. As always leave me a review and let me know that you think or if you have questions!