I do not own either One Piece or Bleach.

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Beta read by the wonderful lincoln time, mellra, BlantonM, and MasterQwertster. Could not have done it without you!

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Guest Review answers :-D

Love this

Sorry, I have a lot of ongoing stories happening. But here is the latest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

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Guest (please choose a name/nickname next time)

Zoro may end up training Ichigo, but currently there are a lot of others available as you will see here in this latest chapter. Hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

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Dotty

Awesome to hear it was worth the wait, and hope this one is the same! And always happy to respond to those who leave a comment :-) Also, I do not have an update schedule. I try to rotate through my stories, but some chapters take longer than others, and sometimes I break the pattern because I am feeling particularly inspired for a different story.

Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

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Evil Reviewer

I expect my newest Self-Appointed Arch-Nemesis to put in some time to our relationship! My previous one did! Sometimes I feel like I'm putting all the work in here! What about my feelings!?

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Guest (please choose a name/nickname next time)

LOL thanks for noticing that yes they even took the kitchen sink with them! X-D Also glad to hear you enjoy "Justice" as well :-)

Here is the latest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

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Guest (please choose a name/nickname next time)

The Straw Hats are already very powerful. More details on the accompanying Encyclopedia I also published as a separate story.

Here is the latest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

.

Guest (please choose a name/nickname next time)

Here is another chapter! Alas, no wish granting jewels for Luffy to chow down on here ;-D

Here is the latest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

.

90chanceofADHD

Unfortunately no Chad in this chapter, but I do indeed have Plans for him. As noted already, his own power growth is considered ridiculous by Shinigami standards, even if not as much as Ichigo's.

Here is the latest chapter, and I hope it was worth it! Looking forward to hearing your newest thoughts! :-D

Thank you for your Review and Support! :-D

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Just to clarify further on my comment in chapter 10 about changes to previous chapters to accommodate a possible new Straw Hat in the manga, only a few extra things were added, and some stuff adjusted. Nothing major has changed, and all new foreshadowing added will be foreshadowed again to be sure all readers get a chance to see it.

If you were planning to do a reread however, the story has been edited so it's now higher quality.

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Seas of Souls

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Chapter 11: Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck

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Previously:

In the Seireitei, the Shinigami struggle to adjust to the departure of Aizen, and the harm he caused, which was far greater than canon. The Fukutaichou in particular are all uncharacteristically active; those who are healthy enough to get out of bed that is. Meanwhile, back in Karakura Town, the Straw Hats continue to settle in. Looking over Szayelaporro's captured files, Robin realized that Nel Tu is actually Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck, having been forcefully turned into a child.

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"Hey guys, guess what!?" cried Luffy as he bounded over to where a bunch of the gang were gathered around the gigai Franky had produced so far. "Nel used to be a grown-up!"

"GAAAAH! That was supposed to be a secret!" Pesche angrily yelled from where he and Dondochakka had been quietly talking with Robin.

Arms folded, Luffy asked "Why?" with his head cocked to the side in confusion. The rest of the Straw Hats wore expressions of varying degrees of surprise themselves.

"Why?" asked Luffy quizzically.

The former(?) Fracción sputtered, only to stop as his companion put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Where is Nel?" the tiki-masked Arrancar said.

"Sleeping," said Robin, gesturing to where the tuckered-out little girl was resting in Jinbe's lap. Although now he was visibly wondering if he should be treating her differently. "That's why I chose to talk to you about this now."

"You lied to us," said Zoro. It was a simple statement of fact, with no scowl or angry words, and the duo realized the Vasto Lorde had already suspected they had been omitting some truth. Indeed, given some of the looks the smarter Arrancar were giving them, he had not been the only one. Yet the duo still flinched slightly before stiffening their spines and standing straight. Defiant, if not provocative with aggression.

They might like and trust the Straw Hats, even trust them with their lives, but not Nel's life.

Unfortunately they also had a good idea of the power imbalance here.

"It was to protect her," hissed Pesche, and gone was every trace of the goofball who made Nel laugh.

"Technically," said Starrk, laying off to the side with one arm thrown over his eyes, "they never actually lied. Except maybe in saying they were her brothers, but we never thought they meant by blood."

"Yeah, that's just another way to say 'nakama,'" said Luffy. He was now sitting down on a box so he was eye-level with most of his taller friends, arms and legs loosely crossed.

Everyone else turned to look at Starrk in confusion. Feeling their stares, he huffed, "I reexamined all our conversations with them. Or at least the ones I was present for."

Of course he had a photographic memory.

Unfazed, Zoro nodded without having taken his eyes off the two 'brothers,' and said "What was she to you?"

"Master Nelliel was the one we swore to serve above all else," was the calm and even answer. Nonetheless, the vow to protect her against even the Straw Hats was heard by all.

"Shi shi shi shi! Big Nel must've been pretty awesome then!" grinned Luffy.

Unspoken for all of them, was the knowledge that the vast, vast majority of their race would have devoured Nel if they found her vulnerable. Regardless of past loyalties. Even now she leaked massive amounts of Reishi to be empowered by. For these two to hold true to their vows to her, was nigh unthinkable for any other Hollow. The Straw Hats were also most likely the only other members of their race to realize how precious that was.

Anyone else, Shinigami or Hollow, would likely call Nelliel unnatural.

Seeing the open respect and smiles from the others, Pesche and Dondochakka let themselves relax a little

."That said, that was back in Hueco Mundo," said Sanji. "She doesn't need protection as much anymore. She has all of us now too. Besides, it's not like there's any threat here in the World of the Living."

"That," Pesche cagily said, "might be true. Or not."

"From what we learnt in Los Noches," began Dondochakka before pausing, "Wait, we did mention that Nel and us used to work for Aizen, right?

"We'll touch on that later," Usopp diplomatically offered, wanting to keep on track.

"Right, well, we would've expected to see some Shinigami by now. We probably could've handled them, but we assumed there'd be somebody by now!"

"Instead there's only a scattering of fairly weak reiatsu," said Halibel calmly.

Off to the side, Luffy softly whistled while pointedly looking away from the others. Only by sheer luck nobody noticed.

"Yeah, what gives with that!?" snapped Apacci. "We've all lived in fear of Shinigami, only when we get here they're a no-show!"

"Who cares?" Mila-Rose shot back. "Are you trying to jinx us?"

"SHHHHHH!" hissed Pesche and Dondochakka, holding fingers to their lips with one hand at the woman's raised voice, while the other pointed at Nel.

Everyone stilled, watching the limp form, only for her to continue to breathe evenly in her sleep.

Releasing a deep breath, Dondochakka hunched over. "You're right. We're safer here, and we . . . do trust you guys. It's just that, she's . . . happy like this."

A slight scowl darkened Sanji's face, while he lit a fresh cigarette. "A lady deserves more than running around playing with Lilynette, and a bunch of idiots." He would have said more, if not for being hit by fantasies of what it would be like to have another adult woman around. Oh surely she would love him!

"Why did she join Aizen?" Robin smoothly interjected before anyone could react to the 'idiot' comment. Otherwise, knowing this group, a screaming match was imminent. Or be distracted by the perverted look on Sanji's face as he daydreamed.

They tapped their masks. "To become an Arrancar," answered Dondochakka. "To regain the rest of her sense of reason and sanity. For that she owed him her services, even if it meant still fighting."

Seeing their confusion, he elaborated, "She didn't like to fight. Now she is finally removed from the cycle of combat."

"Huh," was Sanji's intelligible and insightful statement for something so utterly alien for Hollows.

How on the endless sands had she even managed to survive to become an Adjuchas!? Because that sheer amount of power made it clear she had been a powerful one, which was only possible to achieve through an iron will, fierce savagery, and an innate sense for violence.

"Cool!" chirped Luffy. He cocked his head, "But again, she could do that now too if she was big. She doesn't need to fight if she's got us, and she's hurt right now. Why not help her?" His face split into a massive grin, "And imagine how much fun we can still have with her grown up?"

"Wait, Luffy," said Robin, looking intent, wondering what her leader had picked up. "Are you saying that if she became an adult again, she wouldn't feel compelled to return to Aizen's side?"

Thankfully they both nodded their heads rapidly when all the Straw Hats turned to them. "That's right," said Dondochakka even as he kept shaking his whole body with the motions. "He did nothing to help her when another Espada did this to us. We owe him nothing now."

"She gave him everything!" hissed Pesche, a hint of tears to his eyes. "The most loyal, the most dutiful, and he repaid her by doing nothing when this was done to her!"

"Maybe we should ask Nel what she thinks?" offered Usopp.

"You don't ask a child what they think about something like this," scoffed Nami. "They're idiots."

"Are you implying something?" demanded Lilynette, forehead vein throbbing.

"Well, if the shoe fits," huffed Mila Rose.

Deftly Brook reached over to snatch up Lilynette by the back of her shirt as she flew by, trying to attack the larger woman.

"Her adult self would be more able to make an informed decision," said Halibel. Personally, she was rather intrigued at the idea of meeting a Hollow who had inspired such devotion in her followers.

"Hey, Nel, what do you think?"

The Straw Hats whirled around to see a crouching Luffy poking Nel as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.

We should put a bell on him, the others all thought.

Nel Tu was staring at her brothers with uncharacteristic seriousness for someone who looked so young. One hand now pressed tightly to where the scar met her mask. "Thereth another Nel?" she asked. A spasm of agony crossed her face, and she grabbed her head. "Or wath it Nel but different Nel? What wath Nel like?"

Stiff as a board, Pesche fought to answer her in a way which would not actually trigger her memories. "Nel, she was... you, but different. I don't, you wouldn't, I—" he slumped over in defeat.

Patting him on the back, Dondochakka answered, "The best."

"Yes!" exclaimed the Stag-Beetle Hollow as he brightened up. "Just like you are. And no matter what, you are Nel, and always will be Nel."

"Oh," Nel's head bobbled in thought. "Well, Nel can give it a try!"

"It . . . might hurt," warned Pesche.

"No worry!" beamed the little girl. "Nel can handle it! Nel'th a mathochitht, 'member?"

There was a long beat, and then, "Alright, that does it!" snapped Nami, glaring at the child's brothers. "We're getting her back to an adult! I'm not putting up with a little girl saying that anymore!"

—Seas of Souls—

Back in the Seireitei, Shihoin Yoruichi, formerly the Taichou of the 2nd Division, former commander of the Onmitsukido, and formerly the twenty-second head of the Shihoin clan, continued to lay in bed, seething in frustration. Apparently losing just one leg made your whole body try and rebel, leaving her exhausted. Sure, Unohana-taichou could have done something, but she remained busy keeping other Taichou from dying.

While I'm just lying here like an invalid! she lamented once more. Then just to make everything worse, she sensed a familiar reiatsu signature. Ugh! I was hoping to avoid this!

Before she could manage to leverage herself up and out a window, the door to her recovery room slammed open, and a brown missile threw itself at her with some decent speed.

('Decent' by the Flash Goddess' standards at least.)

She tried to dodge, only to be choked off by her body's resistance, forcing her to endure the hug as willowy arms wrapped around her waist.

"SISTER!" sobbed the girly-boy, Shihoin Yushiro, the twenty-third head of the Shihoin clan, and her annoying little brother.

Her head-butt sent him flying to the ground.

"What the hell are you doing here in a hospital disturbing people?" she snapped.

Without any appreciable pain or damage, he popped right back, tears in his eyes. "I heard my sister was hurt, so I came to make her feel better!"

"Oh for goodness sake," she said. "I'm fine." Lie. "And even if you thought to come, you expect me to believe you were too busy to notice I was back?"

Honestly, she had been looking forward to a game of tag with her clansmen as they tried to approach her.

"Yep," he beamed. "There was so much paperwork to take care of with the damage done! Nobody even told me where you were until now!"

Ugh. It completely slipped my mind . . . He's so dense, the concept of sarcasm is completely lost on him.

He started to babble on about how their various relatives were doing, and who had married who (she thought Yatsuda had better taste), and various other gossip as if she cared. Honestly, she already knew all this stuff thanks to Kisuke.

Finally, after hours (twenty-three minutes), he said, "Well, I should let you get some rest. You'll be out of that bed in no time, Big Sis!"

"That's what I said!" she hissed.

He jumped off her bed, but instead of leaving, he tapped his chin. "Oh, and I'll have to stop by to see those Ryoka of yours. They must be pretty neat if you thought they were worthy of your time!"

"Tch, leave them alone. They don't need a pest like you bothering 'em."

"No!" He planted his hands on his waist, and tried to look stern, except it just made him look as if he was pouting at her. "If you were helping them, then it's up to me to do it now that you can't!"

"Who says I can't help them!?" snarled Yoruichi. "I can still beat them all up with one leg, and one arm tied behind my back!"

"I'll wait to see how you do then," he said with an innocent smile. "I'm looking forward to it!" Without saying what 'it' was, he then scampered away.

As her brat of a brother left, Yoruichi could not help but frown a little.

For all that Yushiro is a ditz, he is also the one who kept the Shihoin as one of the Great Noble Clans. Despite the absolute disgrace of the previous clan head, her, turning traitor, along with Kisuke and Tessai, who had both grown up with the Shihoin. To say nothing of how Kisuke had been framed for what had happened to the other Taichou and Fukutaichou Aizen had gotten his hands on.

The sheer scandal of it all should have broken her family. Forced them into exile like the Shiba. Certainly none of their Clan Elders or other leading members could have done anything.

(Honestly, she had figured it would do them good in the long run.)

(Maybe even grab her brother in the chaos, so she could take him off to be raised right. Not that she loved the little idiot or anything.)

Instead, they had only lost control of the Onmitsukido.

Except Yoruichi had a deep suspicion, given Soifon's reaction to seeing her, that her former apprentice remained putty in the hands of the very 'ditz' who had just walked out that door.

The young man who had kept the Shihoin clan together against impossible odds, and retained their status within the Seireitei.

That was who was now taking an interest in her students.

Well, probably better him than the Taichou. No. At least it will be him and the Taichou.

Besides, given the speed he came at me, and got back up, he could probably beat up Ichigo as he is right now. Would be good for him if his ego was taken down a notch or three.

—Seas of Souls—

Even with Nami's order, it still took a little longer to get things moving.

Most of the Straw Hats moved off to the side, and were sorting through all the remaining bags of stuff they had taken. Nothing major by this point, as they had been sorted through several times already, just seeing if they could store them more efficiently. Also, try and figure out more of what they had stored here, since they had just grabbed whatever they could from Las Noches without stopping to figure out what they were actually for.

"This is going to be pretty neat," admitted Lilynette, folding up some shirts which somehow got put with the packs of tea. "Seeing someone change and all." They could tell she was wondering if she would like to become an adult or not.

"Life is full of surprises," said Jinbe, stroking his little beard in thought, as he did his own chores beside her. In his case, he was sorting through a box where cutlery and medical scalpels had all been dumped together because they had looked too similar to whomever had packed them. Or, more charitably, because of the rush in leaving Las Noches. Regardless, it was best he do it instead of the chef or doctor, lest they take grave offense.

"Oh my, yes," said Brook to Lilynette's left. He was organizing some of the books they'd stolen. Truthfully, Robin would have loved to do this, but her research duties kept her too busy, so he had volunteered to do it. He too was curious as to what was available. "This is so exciting, my skin is crawling. Oh wait, I don't have skin! Yo ho ho ho~!"

He stopped, and looked down at himself while the others stared at him in confusion.

"Oh wait . . . I do have skin." He tapped his chin in puzzlement. "Hmmm…"

"Uhm," volunteered Usopp, holding up his sketchpad. "I think that's something from when you were alive." Flipping open the pages, he showed some pictures he had been working on, including a skeleton with an afro. However it was less detailed than some of the other ones.

"I've found that drawing things is helping my memory. Except I find starting with the older memories helps more."

The first picture was of three little kids drawn by what looked like a younger Usopp, in coveralls. This one was much more clear and sharp, as if to symbolize how he was able to visualize the memory.

"Huh," said Luffy, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and leaning over Usopp's shoulder to get a closer look.

Last Usopp checked, he was helping stack some of the finished boxes across the room in the storage pit Franky had dug up.

"Fascinating," murmured Robin, stepping forward as well from where she had been (as always) eavesdropping. "I now seem to remember liking to draw as well."

"We should start with pictures of how we first met!" beamed Luffy, which all the others enthusiastically agreed to. They could not shake the feeling though, that they were missing something.

—Seas of Souls—

"Ah, Ichigo!" cried Yamada Hanataro. "What are you doing?"

"Oh, Hanataro!" he grinned at the sight of a nervous yet kind guy, while hefting his sword onto his back. He had just left his room at the 4th Division when he ran into his friend. "How's it going? Glad to see you're alright!"

Ichigo had been a bit worried about him, since the Shinigami medic had helped him and his fellow Ryoka so much in saving Rukia. Honestly, the Substitute Shinigami probably would have been dead by now if not for Hanataro.

"What're you doing out of bed?" Hanataro said, refusing to be distracted. "You're still recovering!"

"I'm fine!" Only a partial lie. "Get some fresh air." And maybe a spar, he thought to himself.

Sure, it was not like Aizen was going to be bothering him and his nakama anymore, and Ichigo could probably trust the Gotei to handle the sociopath. Still, he could not shake the feeling he needed to keep getting stronger.

That fight between Aizen and all the other Taichou . . . with the Soutaichou . . .

Well, Ichigo now had a better idea of how much farther he could go.

Besides, he really was going spare just lying about. Would it kill them to have some reading material for patients here?

—Seas of Souls—

In practice, curing Nel was actually surprisingly easy. Barely an inconvenience.

Well, for this group anyways.

First of all, they had the notes of the mad scientist who had helped do this to her, and some follow-up experiments on other Hollows in attempts to replicate the process out of idle curiosity. He had been unsuccessful, and scrapped the project in favour of mutilating Hollows in different ways, but it had still provided the necessary theoretical background.

Second, they had Franky's genius to get some of Szayelaporro's equipment, as well as to make a few slight adjustments.

Third, Luffy and Starrk's frankly ridiculous amounts of reiryoku.

But the main thing in their favour?

Tony-Tony Chopper

One of the properties of his Resurreccion form was that he produced a special oil which promoted healing. Shortly after they had become Arrancar, the Straw Hats had taken to fashioning little jars out of pieces of other Hollows for them to carry some of it for an emergency, so he did not even have to transform here.

"Nel jutht rubth it on Nel'th thcar?" she asked, looking at the oil dubiously. She had changed into a large dress, which was meant to accommodate the anticipated growth of her body.

"Yes," the reindeer Arrancar reassured her.

She gave him a suspicious look. "That eathy?" she said.

"Yes," Chopper cheerily nodded again, overlooking her gross oversimplification. There really was some interesting medical stuff involved here, as he helped Franky make a few more adjustments to the machines surrounding her.

Without anything better to say, Nel started to smear the oil on her scar, and where her mask was broken.

Also over a good part of her face, leading an impatient Lilynette to stomp over to try and help. Giggling, Nel flung some of the oil at the older girl, at which point Jinbe and Starrk intervened to separate the two.

Ignoring Luffy's snickering, and how entertained the others were, Chopper got onto the next stage.

While Franky's machines were used to both monitor Nel's progress and compress some of the energy she was leaking, and a bandage wrap around her head, Luffy and Starrk used other pieces of equipment to begin channeling their own reishi into the little girl.

According to the notes, Nelliel had been a very powerful Adjuchas, except those two Vasto Lordes were in a class of their own. To say nothing of the fine control they had over it.

Everyone was in a loose circle around the group, eagerly waiting to see what happened. Honestly, they did not even know what Nelliel looked like, as Robin had considered the computer files on her to be a private affair. All of them were looking forward to meeting someone new though, even if she was still the same old Nel Tu who made them laugh so much. That said, a more adult figure would be appreciated to talk to. As well as other things.

Zoro for one was hoping for a fresh sparring partner. Franky hoped she would like robots. Brook wondered if she would like to join him in remembering songs from when he was alive. Sanji was having fantasies over her loving his cooking, and wanting 'private lessons' with him.

"Nel feelth tingly," she said, as she kept trying to rub her head, and Chopper kept tapping her hands to remind her not to do so. It was very important she let the oil—

BOOM!

The explosion sent him flying headfirst into Sanji's gut, bowling him over, and sending him from giggling to gasping for breath.

Halibel skittered back awkwardly, while Jinbe had to forcefully brace himself. Zoro had drawn one of his zanpakuto and cleaved the blast, leaving him fine, but everyone else was sent flying.

The whole warehouse was a mess again, while they hacked and coughed while trying to dissipate the smoke. Thankfully the door had been left open, which cleared the air, letting them see the epicenter.

Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck.

Hazel eyes, red line horizontally across her face, which was now free of her ragged scar. Long, wavy green hair, and the large, billowing dress did nothing to hide her perfect curves, and well-endowed figure. Her now-intact Mask had grown to resemble a goat skull, with the horns curling in alongside her head.

She ignored them, staring at one of her hands. One slender and graceful, and unmarred by any scars or calluses. Back and forth she turned it, comparing it to what she had known just seconds ago.

In the other was her zanpakuto. Plain, if elegant, with green colouring and a hilt of two crescent moons back to back.

Her beautiful face was impassive as she stared, so still they could not even tell if she was breathing.

"Master Nel," whispered Pesche as he and Dondochakka crawled up from where they had been thrown.

Fighting back tears, Dondochakka said, "We—"

Strong arms pulled them into a hug, as Nelliel crossed the room in a breath, and held them both. "Thank you," she softly said. "You protected me. Made me happy. My brothers."

"Ah, M-Master Nelliel!" stammered out Pesche.

"No," said somehow both sharply yet still gently. "That isn't what you've been calling me all this time, and we no longer have to do what Aizen wants.

"Like you said before, I'm your brother."

For some reason that tweaked the memory of some of the Straw Hats. Mostly though, they were finding it both sweet and humorous that she insisted on being called that still.

Luffy felt a phantom stab of pain where his heart was supposed to be, while Franky fought to hide his tears as he sobbed about the bonds of brotherhood.

""NELLIEL!"" Pesche and Dondochakka sobbed together into her shoulders.

BANG!

They broke apart and raised their weapons, looking up in shock as flashes of fire and light came screaming at them.

"WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"

—Seas of Souls—

"Ichigo!" yelled a familiar voice, as the teen in question was walking down the street, trying to figure out where to go. It was nice though to be able to take his time about it, without any running for his life, or moving through the sewers.

Although why did they have to make everything look the same throughout the whole Seireitei?

"Oh hey, Rukia," he grinned as he turned around. "Wh—OW! What was that for!?"

"What are you doing out of bed!? You're still recovering!"

"So you decided to hit me!? What's wrong with you!?"

It felt surprisingly good to fall back into the familiar rhythm of them snapping words back and forth with each other. Or maybe it was just the proof she was alive and fierce as ever.

With a huff, Rukia broke it off, arms crossed. Maybe she was feeling the same way?

"Alright, so what made you think it was a good idea to skip out on the 4th Division?"

With a roll of his eyes, Ichigo opened up his shihakusho so she could get a better look at the bandages beneath. "Like I said, I'm fine. I know my limits."

She smiled in relief, glad to see he was doing better, and taking things seriously—

"So I thought I'd head on down to the 11th to see if there was anybody I could get in a light spar with."

Nope. Never mind. He was as much a dunce as ever.

"Idiot!" she snapped, hitting him again. "Why would you ever think they'd give you a light spar!?"

"Well," he said awkwardly, rubbing his neck. "Ganju and I did beat them all last time."

Rukia puffed up to prepare to get some sense into his thick skull, verbally or physically, when a different idea hit her. "How about I treat you to lunch instead," she offered. "Then you can fill me in on what exactly happened since you first got here? Orihime told me some of it, but obviously she wasn't there for a lot of it."

"Huh," Ichigo intelligently said, before deciding that sounded nice. "Sure!"

—Seas of Souls—

"So what have we learned?" asked Nami sweetly, even as a chorus of devils and demons chanted ominously behind her.

"Read the safety instructions," moaned Usopp, plastered against the floor.

"Don't set off fireworks indoors," huffed Lilynette, hanging by the scruff of her collar as Starrk held her. While he had not let Nami hit his other half, she was definitely on a timeout, and he was enforcing it. A slight furrow to his eyebrows highlighted just how irritated he was.

"Well it's not like we could've known about it," she said in defense.

Nami lifted up one spent firework, which clearly said "DO NOT SET OFF INDOORS" on it. Her raised eyebrow was more than enough to quell any further protest. "And you, Luffy?"

(Joke was on her, since only Usopp even remembered how to read.)

(Well, sort of on her.)

Like Usopp, his head was all bloody from the punches she had delivered to him, except they all knew that he could have just activated his hierro any time if he wanted to. Of course he had also been the one to set things off while everyone had been distracted by the scene between Nelliel and her former vassals, now brothers. Right before ruining it all.

At first all he did was mumble until he pulled his face out of the ground enough to be heard. "Don't throw surprise parties without telling someone else."

"That's right," she cheerfully said. "IDIOTS!"

With a huff, she whirled around to stalk off, fists clenched at her side.

Off to the side, Nelliel was finishing off her last re-introductions with the others. Above her head dangled a tattered, singed sign, hanging from some sort of celebration ball, which said, "Welcome Again Nel!" to go with the balloons hovering in the air.

Where had they even gotten all that?

They definitely needed a bell on Luffy.

—Seas of Souls—

Later

"So we're tearing down buildings?" asked Lilynette curiously. Off to the side was Starrk, who was only here to keep an eye on her. As far as he was concerned, some manual labour was part of her 'time out' or whatever. Or he just hoped she would work off some excess energy.

For that matter, he was 'supervising' Luffy as well, being one of the very few able to keep an eye on Luffy, and (mostly) keep up with him.

"Just these abandoned ones," said Brook.

"Yeah!" grinned Franky broadly. "Gonna take these scraps, and then spiffen up our pad!"

He laid out some tools, and started throwing together some general directions on some pieces of paper Usopp had given him.

"You're not staying?" said Usopp.

"Nah, I gotta get back to work on the gigai. Get some for the rest of you, 'specially given how impatient some of you lot are getting!"

Leaving them to it, Franky turned to go, when a tear opened up in the air before them. Out stalked a Hollow on four legs, which looked like some sort of octopus with fangs. It was a minor one, at the very bottom of the evolutionary scale, yet full of their species' inherent bloodlust and capacity for violence.

It never even got a chance to notice the Great Ones in its midst before Franky crushed its head and Mask between his fingers. It dissolved without a word, along with the Souls which made it up.

"Tch," he grunted. "To think it could be so brazen."

"Maybe they think all of our reishi around the town means it's open season," offered Usopp, a slight frown on his face. "We'll have to keep an eye out for them."

"Yeah," grimaced Luffy, cracking the knuckles of one fist into his hand. "'Cause this is our territory, and we can't have 'em here eating people!"

The Straw Hats had all evolved past that stage themselves, and had zero tolerance for any who were not the same.

—Seas of Souls—

For the life of her, Orihime had no idea how it had happened.

One minute she had been taking a moment to herself in the 4th Division gardens. Getting some peace, and releasing some tension. They had survived the whole invasion, rescuing Rukia, and everything else that had happened. Sure, Kurosaki and the others had been badly hurt, but they had come out of it. All of them with so many injuries . . .

. . . while she did not have a single scratch on herself. Ishida had been so badly hurt letting her escape, and she had not been strong enough to really help them herself. Yes, she had saved some lives, and healed Jidanbo so he could help, yet it all paled before the others. Especially once she lost Tsubaki.

But despite everything, they were all alive. So she just needed a moment to breathe and relax, without needing to keep up an aura of cheerfulness to help the others relax and rest themselves. Then she would go back inside, and use her powers to help them heal up some more.

—That was the point she found herself being dragged along by the arm by a woman even more beautiful than herself.

(Yes, Orihime was well aware of how attractive she was. She just did not draw attention to it, because she disliked it when people leered at her. Especially without Tatsuki around to set them straight.)

The blonde bubbly introduced herself as Rangiku of the 10th Division, no rank given, but Orihime saw the Fukutaichou armband. Apparently she had been visiting to see her Taichou, and could not stand to see such a sad face, so was taking her out for some fun during the first break Rangiku had allowed herself in ages.

Or days.

Probably since those Taichou defected, figured Orihime.

Despite this though, it was a lot of fun, even if she had to inform the older woman she was underage.

"Oh, you're no fun," pouted Rangiku, putting away the sake. "I've got some tea though." Which she deftly put together, and it was delicious.

Seeing Orihime's face light up, Rangiku smiled sweetly. "There's a lot of tea enthusiasts here, particularly the Soutaichou and his own Fukutaichou. With how long shinigami can live, a lot of time can be put into inventing new blends, and perfecting them."

"Really," Orihime politely said, "how long have they been around?"

"Well," Rangiku tapped her cheek. "I know it's a thousand years for the Soutaichou—"

"A thousand years!?"

"I know, right!? He certainly looks old enough for it. Anyways, I heard a rumour that sourpuss Sasakibe, the 1st Division Fukutaichou of course, is as old as Yamamoto."

"That's the Soutaichou?"

"You broke into here without even knowing that!?"

"We weren't really told anything."

"Oh my goodness, this is embarrassing. And yet we still couldn't stop you. I'm gonna run my guys ragged with drills after the paperwork dies down."

"Sorry."

"Don't be sorry! You guys did awesome! C'mon, tell me how you guys avoided our people."

With a mix of embarrassment and cheer, Orihime explained how they had managed to disguise herself and the Quincy as shinigami, to which Rangiku praised her, while mocking the stupidity of the guys who had failed to recognize them as intruders. Particularly mocking the guy who had tried flirting with her.

Even better, it looked like the young Human's happiness was genuine as she laughed along to Rangiku's comments.

Moreover, it really was amazing what Orihime and her friends had accomplished.

Although, Rangiku thought, that just makes me wonder what they'd be capable of with proper training. Legendary ex-Taichou training them or not, there couldn't have been enough time for anything proper.

But what if I and the other Fukutaichou made some time for them?

Accomplishing that would certainly further justify taking this break from the very duties she was only lately really fulfilling. On top of what she had learnt so far that is.

It was frankly criminal to involve children, Human children, in a war with Shinigami. Except the painful truth was that these kids had already proven more effective than a dozen squads of what were supposed to be the Gotei 13's best.

For crying out loud, the four of them were possibly equal to an entire Division in open combat! That was the sort of thing which could make all the difference in a war where the Shinigami were already badly off-balance.

Realistically, there was no way Aizen would overlook that. Certainly Gin was never one to leave loose ends lying around . . .

So Rangiku smiled and listened, and encouraged the young woman in front of her, and tried to figure out how to do this without being cruel to Orihime and her friends.

This pleasant talk really had started out because she could not stand to see a young woman, entering the prime of her life, trying to hide from her friends how upset she really was.

—Seas of Souls—

Back at the warehouse, Zoro had waited until all the others had finally settled down before approaching Nelliel.

It had taken a while, what with Chopper doing hourly check-ups, Halibel and Nami making sure to warmly and enthusiastically re-introduce themselves to someone they hoped would be another sane, sensible woman for the group. Finding a place for her to rest. Sanji brought her food samples to try out, to figure out if her favourites were the same as when she was a kid.

Not to mention letting her have some time alone to talk to Pesche and Dondochakka. He figured they were trying to iron-out their new relationship, what with her no longer being their 'master,' but not a hyperactive kid anymore either.

Plus the need to find her something proper to wear. You would have thought this was easy since all their clothes had been from Las Noches, which is where she had last had any. They should not have been surprised though, that she would be adverse to wearing the same sort of outfit she had worn when she was betrayed. So for now they had improvised a sleeveless shirt and pants combo, with promises of future outfits.

Nami had plans for the sort of clothes they would be getting here in the World of the Living. Something about 'bras' as well.

Finally though, they were all done, and he could saunter over to where she was sitting and observing the others going about their business. It was almost like what Robin tended to do, except she was busy again going through the computer.

"Hey."

"Hey," she smiled. Then giggled. "Sorry for riding you like that back then."

"Uh huh," Zoro said, disbelief clear, and she covered her mouth to hide her outright laughter.

"So, your brothers said you don't like fighting. You do realize your personality and philosophy make no sense for our species, right?" he said conversationally.

Her eyes glittered rather than hardened. "Are you saying I should allow myself to be defined by others?"

With a smirk, he acknowledged her point. "But since you got so strong, you definitely do know how to fight, and do so well. So," he grinned with his teeth on full display. "How about a spar?"

"Oh?" she said with a raised eyebrow. "Why would I want to involve myself in even a friendly fight? Why do I need to get stronger? After all, we can stay safely hidden from the Shinigami and Espada."

"Ethpada," he corrected.

"What?"

"We're calling them Ethpada. If they do something we can respect, maybe we'll change it."

With a huff of resignation and amusement, she let it go. Especially since she had a feeling the others would feel the same way. If she had still been a member, she would have aimed to 'correct' them for such a threat, yet after Nnoitra and Szayel . . . no.

"Besides," he continued, "both of them have a war to distract themselves with, right?"

"Yes," she cautiously agreed. "Except that if Aizen is really making his move, then he sincerely believes he will destroy the Gotei 13. He and his two lieutenants are of their thirteen Taichou, their military leaders. He would know better than anyone if they can win."

"Alright, so it's not looking good for the Shinigami," Zoro nodded in understanding. "Hopefully our raid tripped Aizen up a bit though, and even besides that, a war will take time. It's just a question of how much we have before they come looking for us. 'Cause fancy tech or no, how long do you really see a group like this will remain hidden?"

Then he went in for the kill with a knowing look. "Besides, even if you don't want to be actually fighting, think of it as making me stronger, so I can protect you and the others more."

Unfortunately she did not get it, looking at him with confusion and skepticism. So with a huff of irritation, he said "Look." He drew one of his zanpakuto, noting her complete lack of concern up to the point where quick as a blink he brought the blade down on his other arm.

"See," he said, showing the edge digging into his skin without breaking it. "So long as we don't channel any reiatsu into our blades, and keep our hierro, we'll be fine."

Still nothing.

With a sigh he tried a different approach. "Your brothers said you don't like to fight. I don't believe it. We're born from death and despair and a violent need to consume others. Even if you've regained your Humanity like us, that still sticks with you. Otherwise, you'd be insane. So I'm thinking it's not violence you detest, but killing. Why not give a fight a try where you're not worrying about anybody killing you? Nothing to lose or gain beyond the fight itself."

He held the gaze of the warrior sitting beside him for several minutes, only for her to break out in a pout. "You're really not going to let this go, are you?"

"Nope."

"Well, alright," she said with a touch of resignation. "If only to make up for riding you like that. Or pulling on your hair and ears to keep you from getting lost. Or biting you. Or—"

"Yeah, yeah," he said, eyebrow twitching. "Let's get on with it. The rules are just swords, and our feet on the ground. First one to be hit, loses."

She blinked in confusion. "Rules?"

"Tch, we're not fighting all out. We'd ruin the place."

"Ah, yes." Even in Lss Noches, a 'spar' was too serious to handicap yourself. Even whenever Nnoitra had challenged her, she had been fully ready to use every move she had.

With a glint of light, Nelliel drew Gamuza, and settled into a ready stance, while Zoro obliged by drawing a second Zanpakuto.

They stared at each other for a long moment, ignoring all the noise and distractions in the background as their wills beat against each other. Waiting for who would break and make the first move.

"Food in twenty minutes!" called out Sanji to all and sundry, view blocked from seeing what was about to happen.

Oh, well then. As much as Zoro would deny it, he did want to get to enjoy his meal, and she evidently felt the same given the look she was giving him.

As one they stepped forward let the dance of blades begin.

Leading with his right arm he swung at her sword, only for her to manage a deflection before adjusting against his left blade. The combo put her slightly off-balance for him, only for it to be a feint as her barefoot came all the way up to strike aside his arm and leave him vulnerable for a thrust.

Grinning, he sidestepped it, spun, and brought his swords around together horizontally for a double-strike to test how well she could block the strong blow.

In this fight, he was holding back the true strength of a Vasto Lorde, but seeing her actually leap over his attack while slashing at his head, he knew he could start holding back less and less.

Again he dodged, then again as she twisted to bring down her heel at him, which he met with one hilt while a cut at her side was blocked by her own Zanpakuto.

Definitely different than the others, he observed with pleasure, as they continued. What's particular about her style is how she's like a mixture of me and Curlybrow, using swords and her feet. He eyed her Hollow mask, and acknowledged that was not much of a surprise.

Sparks flew as they continued their spar, with her going for more conventional strokes now, along with the occasional thrust. Interesting, as that was not the best technique with her slightly curved blade, yet she made it work. He figured she was saving more kicks as a surprise.

Her sword was wielded with one hand, while her left worked more for balance as she performed assorted acrobatic maneuvers. Right now however, her left fingers were curled in a bit like claws.

Nelliel's eyes were the most intriguing part, as there was a touch of emptiness to them. Controlling her emotions by shoving them back.

For her, a fight is based upon calculation, not emotion, Zoro knew, even as he felt his own bloodlust rising. That also makes sense.

However, despite all that, as their blades met, he could still feel how she was enjoying herself. Releasing those very same emotions and tension in a safe and controlled manner, without any of the stress she would have felt with those Ethpada.

"You were right," she suddenly said, bringing her sword down with both hands suddenly, making him catch it with his swords in an 'X,' her coming in so close they were almost face-to-face as she tried to knee him in the groin.

"Oh," he asked as he stepped back, only to realize it had been a feint so she could try and cut his outstretched wrist as he retreated.

"This is fun," she grinned.

"Guess you're a masochist after all," he sneered a little.

She faltered at that, before her memories caught up. "Ugh," she groaned, moving her sword in a flurry as he retook the initiative with her distraction. "I'm not! I just, it was—" she cut off to concentrate under his assault, back to a single-handed grip.

"It was fun to let loose," he offered, switching his style to create a series of quick, shallow cuts to see if it confused her enough. "To exalt in it. Even just running around being chased."

"I prefer to call myself an adrenaline junky," she sniffed with feigned hauteur.

"Well, you'll fit right in," he said with his own excitement.

He knew that was right though, from all he could feel from her. Perhaps it was from her steadfast need to re-embrace her Humanity, yet there was a complexity to his sparring partner he had not found in most Hollows. None except the ones with them right now that is.

Layers and layers to her beyond being just an 'adrenaline junky.' There was that and more though. Including a hunger.

Except not that which consumes a Hollow. It was a need to grow, and become stronger.

To protect.

Words he did not fully understand came to him. That Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck was a samurai, a knight. That she strove to be ready for combat, but without seeking it out unless in defense of others.

Or mayhaps to deliver justice upon those who mutilated her and her brothers.

Personally Zoro was looking forward to when she met one Gilga Nnoitra again.

Unfortunately she was still pretty rusty after so long. Her impressive flexibility becoming increasingly strained, and movements fractionally slowing. After only a few more minutes she failed to properly cover her guard, and he caught her across the thigh, digging into the skin without breaking it.

Instantly he lowered his weapons, even as she flinched back at the contact before relaxing.

"Good match," he grinned, baring his teeth.

"Thanks," she said, panting a bit from the effort.

"I can't wait until you're back in proper—"

A black heel slammed into the flat of the zanpakuto he barely raised in time.

"You idiot swordsman!" raged Sanji. "How dare you attack her like a brute while she is still recovering!?"

Despite this act of aggression, Nelliel noted how Sanji had used the recoil of the block to get out of the sword's reach, and kept his hands in his pocket. A furious Zoro had also sheathed his weapons. While they were furious at each other, neither was risking any violence.

"You stay out of this, or I'll cut you up!" threatened Zoro. "She doesn't need to be coddled like a glass doll by a pervert like you!

"Why I—!"

Raising her hand, Nelliel tried to hide her grin and giggle behind her fist.

Yes, this was a much better life indeed. Far more civilized.

Oh, what was she doing standing around?

"C'mon you two!" she cried, leaping forward to hook the pair of their necks under her arms. Laughing, she dragged them after her towards the table, ignoring the Vasto Lordes' protests and half-hearted resistance. Well, Zoro was complaining. Sanji was flushed, with his eyes rolled back at the sensation of his face pressed against her . . . side.

Oblivious of how she was in danger of killing a teammate, Nelliel gushed, "Life's too short to argue!"

—Seas of Souls—

"Hey, Kisuke," said Shinji on the phone. "We gotta 'nother problem."

"Oh?" said the 'humble shopkeeper.'

"Yeah, some o' their reiatsu are starting ta disappear, and nothin's happenin' ta make us think it's from violence."

"You think they have stealth gigai of their own." A statement, not a question. Also no surprise he had picked up on that so fast. Likely had already anticipated that possibility.

"What I figure. Perfect ta skulk around the city fer whatever they're 'ere fer."

Maybe an ambush or somethin'? Plant sleeper units while whatever's going on ta keep the Gotei 13 from showin' up?

Guess we'll have ta keep an eye out for that chump assigned 'ere. 'Ow they kill that Shinigami should give us an idea of what they're after.

"Fer whatever reason, those three Fukutaichou ones are not gettin' it. Also, somethin' happened ta the one leakin' reishi like it were goin' out of style. You felt it, right?"

"Yes. It appears I was wrong in assuming it was some sort of food source Aizen made for the others. The leakage has stabilized, and they are clearly Taichou-class now. The only question is, why now?"

Agreed, and it was a real puzzler. Fortunately, it was only one Arrancar that strong so far, while the Visored alone had three Taichou-class without even pulling out their masks. No biggie so long as it stayed like that.

Still, all this weirdness and the inconsistencies were not lining up with what Shinji knew of Hollows, and it made him hesitate to act. What were they missing here?

Was it deliberate to throw them off guard, or something else? They simply did not have enough information.

The Visored would keep to their ambush plan though, if Aizen showed himself.

"We'll tell ya if anythin' else pops up," he brusquely said, and disconnected.

Tch, he did not need this sort of stress in his life. At this rate, he would be getting grey hairs.

—Seas of Souls—

With a sigh of relief, Abarai Renji lowered himself into his seat at the 6th Division.

(Granted, he may or may not have permission from the 4th to be here, but that was neither here nor there.)

(. . . His work was too important. He would risk it.)

For starters, Iba had left him a summary of what he had been doing while managing the 6th while Renji had been recovering. Good man. He owed his fellow Fukutaichou a drink or three for this.

On top of his inbox though, was a letter from Rangiku, which was a rarity in itself. For crying out loud, it was signed by Matsumoto-Fukutaichou, yet looked all professional. Not even any lipstick-kisses on it!

First Yachiru, now Rangiku. What next?

Not that all the Fukutaichou were generally given to sending each other notes in the first place, even for their work. Usually they just kept their attention to their own Divisions.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Renji unsealed it, and read her plan to give Ichigo and the rest of the Ryoka special training to make them even stronger allies.

That was . . .

With a grimace, he took in the details, noting some of the ideas she had in mind.

Honestly, the idea of involving Humans in Shinigami business, made his stomach twist. Handling Aizen was their job. Realistically however, after seeing the aftermath of Aizen's fight with the remainder of the Taichou, he knew they could use all the help they could get.

Ichigo was already as strong as a Taichou, or near enough, so he was unsure of what they could do there. The others though . . . okay, yeah, they should see what they were capable of. Or rather, how they had caused such chaos when they invaded. Word was that the big guy had beaten the 8th's third seat even.

The only question was how they were going to do this.

We'll need Rukia's help.

—Seas of Souls—

Softly the woman padded her way across the roof.

Today . . . had been an experience. The sudden rush of knowing who she was, assimilating memories of both Nel Tu and Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck together into one whole. Even now she was not entirely sure who she was.

Thankfully, she had a lot of friends, nakama, and a brand new world to find that out together. So far, it seemed they had even managed to slip beneath the notice of both Lo—Aizen, and the Seireitei.

Of course, not everything was perfect. Lilynette had been glaring at her a bit, but she suspected it was because she was feeling a little upset at 'losing' a friend who was now all grown up. And tall. She was pretty certain the 'younger' (that term did not really work for Hollows) girl was jealous Nelliel was now taller.

Except for the life of her, she was unsure why Mila Rose seemed unhappy. Which was unfortunate, as she rather liked Halibel. Especially after the woman quietly confirmed her suspicions of how there was no real hierarchy here like she was used to with Hollows, to say nothing of the Espada. There was also a lack of competition over status and pride, like she had seen earlier when Zoro and Sanji had clashed.

It was a relief all around to not worry about escalating feuds to be honest.

As for those two girls being upset, well, Nelliel gave a mental shrug, she would give them both some time, and see if she could figure it out herself.

For now, there was something more important to do.

The others were outside too, lazing around the warehouse, enjoying the pleasant nighttime air, but there was only one other person on the roof with her. How much had her nakama already suspected? Was this space deliberate to give her and him some privacy?

She padded her way over to Luffy, sitting on a corner, staring up at the moon.

"It's a different shape tonight," he said without preamble. "Fuller than it was yesterday."

Blinking in surprise, she looked up, and thought he might be right. How odd; a moon which changed shape with time. Definitely nothing like Hueco Mundo.

"You really did bring us to an awesome new home," she smiled, "Brother Luffy."

"Shishishishi! Y'know it!" He turned his own dazzling grin onto her. "What kind of fun stuff do you want to do tomorrow?"

Honestly, she should be helping the others go through all their 'loot' some more. Help them with the stuff she recognized. Plus there were some books she recognized from Aizen's personal library she wanted to take a look at. Although Robin had mentioned stuff to read from the World of the Living as well.

On the other hand . . . well, Zoro was right, they had some time. They would handle whoever came after them.

So all the time in the world, to see every corner of it.

. . . Did that saying mean the world was square? Something they could find out the hard way.

"Y'know it," she said back, sitting down to lean her shoulder against his side. "Besides, I bet I can beat you at Eternal Tag now!"

(She would help out the others with the more serious stuff before or after that.)

"Oh, you're on! We've got to include Usopp, Chopper, and Lilynette this time though."

"Don't forget Dondochakka and Pesche!"

"Of course!"

Onward for tomorrow's adventures!

—Seas of Souls—

The next day

Elsewhere, a fuming Kurosaki Karin finished (gently) dragging her twin sister along to their destination at the local park.

She was so upset, she had completely overlooked a much better way to get Yuzu here. Up until they saw who was waiting for them at least.

"Oh!" gasped Yuzu, before dashing forward so hard she nearly yanked Karin's arm out of its socket.

"Don Kanonji!" gushed Yuzu.

"Ah ha!" he loudly welcomed her. "So nice to see my cute little fan again!" Then he became his most deadly serious, making the little girl stand at attention. "Unfortunately this is no time for frivolity! Your sister has informed you of what's happening?"

"Yes I have," snapped Karin instead. "There's no point in staying home, and I'm not going to hide out for the rest of my life in that creepy shopkeeper's place. We need to learn how to fight!"

The TV celebrity soberly nodded. "It will be dangerous, as our growing power might draw these Hollows to us. Yet for the sake of the innocents here, we must do our best to protect them when the beasts finally begin to devour us.

"We can do no less as heroes!"

Yuzu had stars in her eyes at being an actual hero, while Karin scoffed and rolled her eyes. No matter what though, she would see to it that Yuzu only learnt what she needed to help stay safe. No way was the most innocent member of their family getting hurt.

"Where's Ururu and Jinta?" she asked.

"Ah, they couldn't make it today, but I found two new disciples to aid us in the fight against evil!" He flourished his hands towards the park bathroom he had told them to meet up by. "Ta da!"

With wild cries, two small figures jumped out from behind cover, and struck up poses as ridiculous as Don Kanonji's regular displays.

"Presenting," he introduced, "Lilynette Gingerbuck, and Tony-Tony Chopper!"

—Seas of Souls—

Author Notes:

Originally I had no plans for Yushiro. Indeed, I had honestly forgotten about him. But then I read "To Take a Stand," by Starrie_Wolf on AO3, and realized there was a lot of potential to be had for Yoruichi's younger brother who succeeded her as clan head, kept the clan from falling into disgrace at her treason, and is a prodigy himself by Shinigami standards. Not sure yet how much I will be developing him.

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Sayonara you infuriating lisp!

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Oh look, Pesche and Dondochakka getting credit for what they had done!

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