- - - World of the Living, Night - - -

A young man perches at the top of a large cooling tower, observing eight individuals moving through a long concrete drainage ditch. They move slowly, carefully with Zanpakuto at the ready, carefully scanning their surroundings. With a soft sigh, he raises his wrist, observing the hands on his watch and some small measure of concern. Caution is good but not when it borders on passivity.

"2-6, this is 1-6," speaks a voice through a hiss of radio static.

"Go ahead, 1-6," responds the man, keying into the radio.

"Have you got a status on second squad?"

"Second has passed Phase-Line Silver and is approaching Phase-Line Gold."

"Understood, 2-6. Keep an eye on them. Out." There's a brief hiss of static and silence in his ear once more. He shifts his position slightly and reaches into his sleeve to produce a small initiator. Watching the group progress down the drainage ditch for several more meters he finally presses the button at the top, and several soft pops reach his ears as half a dozen training Hollows appear before the group. Their lives aren't in danger, the situation is very much under control, but that doesn't stop the group from freezing in place...a fatal mistake. In an instant, the group is scattered, and eliminated and he rapidly presses the button again. Once more, a chorus of soft pops reach his ears as the Hollows deflate slowly.

"1-6, this is 2-6."

"Send it."

"Second squad eliminated at Phase-Line Gold."

"Understood, 2-6. 3-6 will collect them and return to the Academy. Forward your report to Onabara-sensei."

"Good copy. 2-6 out..."

- - - Soul Society - - -

A disorienting world of blurred grey scale, and muted voices sprawls out before him. Only the sound of his waraji scraping against what could possibly be stone rings out crisp as he passes through stone, wood, and even the occasional figure as if it were all thin air. With care, the man comes to a stop and removes his Zanpakuto from his obi before raising it and sweeping back the world of grey scale to step back into a world of color most would recognize. A white-haired man appears behind a desk before him and blinks in surprise before smiling.

"Ishioka Kenzo," begins the man, carefully sliding his Zanpakuto back into his obi before folding his hands behind his back. "Reporting back to the Thirteenth Division, Captain Ukitake."

"Welcome back, Kenzo," Jushiro beams. "I trust everything went well, then."

"Yes, Captain. The training mission proceeded without any obstacles."

"Did any students happen to catch your eye?"

"Several showed promise but were hesitant to act upon it due to lack of experience or indecision..." He pauses for a moment as if considering something. "...would you like for me to forward a copy of my report to your desk, Captain?"

"Sure. I'll take a look at it in the morning. For now, you should get some rest."

"If it's all the same, I'd like to volunteer for another assignment. As soon as possible."

"Are you sure? That is, we can take a look at the extra duty roster but...you've only JUST returned from assignment at Shin'o Academy. Before that you were assigned a month-long patrol of the Rukongai..." Jushiro shifts several stacks of paperwork, and folders about on his desk before finally finding what he's looking for and opening it. "...which seems to be a favorite of yours. In fact, it seems you've spent more time on patrol than you have here in the Thirteenth since your transfer...one might wonder if you find it distasteful to be here."

"My apologies, Captain. That was certainly not my-"

"Hahahaha~! Lighten up, Kenzo. I was only joking. We'll have a look at the roster in the morning now..." Once again, he shifts several stacks of paperwork before producing an envelope and holding it out in his direction. "...this came for you while you were on assignment at Shin'o." Kenzo steps forward, accepting the envelope from the man and staring at the flowing writing addressing it to him. His Captain had long since grown used to the mask of neutrality worn by the younger Shinigami and had since begun to decipher the smallest shifts in it. The slight cock of a brow, the subtle tightening of his jaw...Kenzo recognizes the handwriting on the letter. He recognizes it, and just that simple fact irritates him. "It was delivered several days ago."

"I see," responds Kenzo, still observing the paper in his hand for several moments before casually discarding it into the small trashcan by his Captain's desk. "Thank you for receiving that, Captain. I understand that my...situation can place an undue burden on you. In the future, feel free to deny receipt of or discard any communications from the Ishioka Clan not directly sent by my grandfather."

"Are you sure? What if it's important?"

"Then it will have been addressed by way of my grandfather."

"If that's what you'd prefer. Get some rest, Kenzo." He responds with a simple bow before turning on his heel and exits the office. His steps are measured and even as he calmly strides in the direction of the barracks, hands once more folded behind his back. As a member of the Thirteenth without a seat, he'll be bedding down in the men's barracks...truthfully, in the last decade, he can count the number of times he's slept with a roof over his head on the fingers of both hands; the number of times he's slept in the same bed consecutively on the fingers of one hand. This is, of course, by his own doing as he's quite aware of just how uncomfortable his presence can make others. Rubbing shoulders with a member of one of the Four Noble Families can make nearly anyone uncomfortable.

Kenzo slowly turns his attention from his path to the full moon in the sky, coming to a stop as he does. He stands, observing the low hanging orb in silence, allowing crimson eyes to slowly drift closed at least until the light scrape of sandals across wood reaches his ears. They're light, measured carefully, and frequent in stride...a woman's footsteps. Kenzo turns his attention forwards once more, observing the blades of moonlight as they cleave through the gloom of his path. The footsteps continue, and the shadows themselves seem to shudder for it as this unseen figure approaches.

Tiny pin pricks of light flicker to life in the shadows before him, and what crickets had been chirping harmoniously grow silent...a dead night but for the footsteps. Then, as abruptly as they'd begun, they stop, and the sweet smell of tobacco fills his lungs as a rush of smoke escapes the gloom several meters in front of him. Kenzo closes his eyes slowly for several long moments before opening them once again. No longer is he standing in the Thirteenth Division, but a complete darkness pin pricked by flickering lights. He turns in place, finding himself confronted by a woman seated at a small table occupied by a tea set.

Beyond her, some unimaginable distance away, an orange halo dominates the inky black that surrounds him. Kenzo approaches the table, regarding the statuesque woman calmly before kneeling down, and folding his feet under him. With elegance and precision, she pours both of them a cup of tea, though her eyes remained firmly closed throughout. Her dark hair is held in ornate pins, and she wears a luxurious kimono of dark purple boarding on black, a stark contrast to the near porcelain skin on display by the low cut of the cloth. This woman...his Zanpakuto, Hoshi Kyo.

"You should remain at the Thirteenth Division for the time being," speaks Hoshi Kyo, her voice smooth and dark but with a bite as cold as the darkness surrounding them.

"Hmph," Kenzo snorts. "May I inquire as to why?"

"Given the volatile state of the Soul Society, it would be in our best interest to request special dispensation to release our Bankai. As Central 46 has yet to be properly replenished, such a decision would surely fall upon the Head Captain..."

"And he would be unlikely to refuse such a request...at least until you consider the indiscriminate nature of our Bankai. It's as likely to harm as help."

"The Void is neither benevolent nor malicious by nature."

"Yes, I'm sure those caught within it would agree."

"Sarcasm is unbecoming of you, Kenzo."

"I'll certainly bear that in mind." Kenzo slowly stands and steps back from the table. "We'll speak more in the morning." With those words, he turns away from the table and as finds himself standing under the glow of the full moon once more. He glances down at the Zanpakuto hanging at his hip, the orange wrapped tsuka almost seeming to vibrate in displeasure at his abrupt departure. Regardless, he ignores it as he heads for the barracks...

Awakening early the next morning before the other members of the barracks, Kenzo takes the time to complete his reports for Shin'o and Captain Ukitake before making ready for the day. By the time he's leaving the bathhouse the rest of the Division is rousing from sleep as well. Numerous members spare him strange glances as he passes, unsure of his presence in at the Thirteenth. This is, of course, to be expected given his long absences for long range patrols or extra duties at Shin'o Academy. Those that recognize him, however, step out of his path as he walks down the hall...not out of respect for him personally but the Ishioka Clan, one of the Four Noble Families.

"Ishioka-san!" calls a sudden voice, shattering the otherwise quiet morning atmosphere of the Thirteenth's morning. Kenzo stops immediately and glances back in the direction of the voice as Kiyone Kotetsu sprints in his direction. Running in tandem with the woman is a burly man bearing a white headband, Sentaro Kotsubaki. The current two Third Seat members that are serving as acting Lieutenants of the Thirteenth if recalls correctly. An interesting chain-of-command given the rigid state of the other Divisions. The two come to a sliding stop in front of him, appearing a bit more than sweaty...it seems that they've been searching the whole Division for him. "H-How do you walk so fast?"

In spite of her light huffing, the woman places her hands on her hips and cranes her neck up to stare into his eyes. Though given the fact that he stands at one-hundred and ninety-eight centimeters, in comparison to her perhaps one-hundred and fifty, it doesn't have the intended effect. Instead, it reminds Kenzo of a feral kitten he'd taken in as a child that would occasionally hiss, spit and raise it's hackles at him in an attempt to frighten him, if such a thing were possible. It's almost endearing, and for a moment he considers whether a pat on the head might calm the young woman before deciding against it as it had the kitten before deciding against it.

"My apologies, Kotetsu-san," Kenzo says calmly. "I was-"

"When did you get back?" demands Sentaro. "You've been completely radio silent for the past month and it worried Captain Ukitake!"

"My apologies, Kotsubaki-san. I arrived back at the Thirteenth last night and reported in with Captain Ukitake." He pauses to reach into the folds of his kosode and produces a folded paper before holding it out in offer. "A copy of my report regarding the students I supervised at Shin'o Academy. I promised to forward a copy of it to-" Before he can finish it's snatched from his hands by Kiyone, who presses it to her chest in a very guarded manner.

"G-Good job!" Kiyone says quickly. "I'll make sure to deliver it personally to Captain Ukitake!" Before either Kenzo or Sentaro can react, the much shorter woman is sprinting down the hall and quickly disappears around a corner, nearly bowling over several members of the Division before they can clear a path.

"H-Huh?! Wait a minute, Kotetsu!" cries Sentaro, quickly chasing after his wayward partner. "Why do you get to give it to Captain Ukitake...?!" With crisis seemingly averted, and peace more or less returned to the Thirteenth, Kenzo continues on his way. He has several things to accomplish for the day...firstly, if he's to overturn the restriction of his use of Bankai within the confines of the Seireitei, he'll need to gather support for that motion before bringing it before Head Captain Yamamoto.

A request for a meeting from an unseated member of the Gotei Thirteen is not likely to be granted...but a written petition for a meeting signed by several Captains carries weight difficult to ignore. With that thought in mind, Kenzo makes his way towards Captain Ukitake's office. It's a short walk to his Captain's office which he finds to be suspiciously quiet given Kiyone and Sentaro's intent to deliver his report. Kenzo announces his presence at the door and after being bid entry slides open the door. Captain Ukitake sits behind his desk, appearing a bit more than slightly exasperated but otherwise fine.

"Good morning, Captain Ukitake," Kenzo says, offering a small bow.

"Good morning, Kenzo. I...received your report." He indicated a crumpled and slightly torn bit of paper sitting on his desktop, and Kenzo smiles a bit before reaching into his kosode and producing a second folded piece of paper. He places it on the desktop before clasping his hands behind his back. "Thank you. I can see your morning has been as eventful as mine. Now...you wanted to volunteer for an additional assignment." Jushiro moves several things around on his desk before eventually pulling out a small folder. "Alright. There's a patrol of the Rukongai scheduled. The North Districts fifty through sixty to be exact."


"Two weeks."

"Number of personel?"

"Ten including you."

"Step off?"

"Tomorrow at 0900."

"Understood, Captain. I'll gather some rations and-"

"Hahaha~! Hold on a minute. I wanted to have a ceremony and do things right but..." He places the folder down on his desk and opens a drawer to his desk to retrieve a piece of paper before handing it over to Kenzo. "...I guess we'll just have to do this informally. In recognition of your years of valor, fidelity and selfless service to the Thirteenth, I hereby promote you to Ninth Seat effective immediately." Jushiro stands and extends a hand in his direction with a smile. "Congratulations, Kenzo."

"I...Thank you, Captain." Kenzo shakes his hand with a firm nod. "I will do my best."

"I have no doubts." Jushiro sits down and Kenzo offers bow before turning on his heel and heading for the door. "Oh! Before you head out on patrol, make sure you transfer your personal belongings to your new barracks room, and do me one favor...please see Captain Unohana. She tells me it's been quite some time since your last physical, and she's worried about your health going on patrols like you are."


The walk to the Fourth Division was a fairly quiet and enjoyable one as far as Kenzo was concerned. Undoubtedly it would be quicker to use Hoshi Kyo to make his way there but sometimes a longer stroll through a world of color is a far more enjoyable task. Taking the stairs to the Fourth Division, he's offered the occasional greeting by those being released after treatment or those members carrying out their duties for the day as he enters. Having spent time in the World of the Living, he's aware that the treatment center of the Fourth Division is laid out in a manner similar to the hospitals therein. So, he approaches the young woman at the front desk in order to check-in but before he can even speak with her, he feels a strange sense of foreboding and comes to a halt.

"My, how nice of you to finally turn up, Ishioka-kun," speaks a voice from behind. Kenzo turns to confront the voice calmly and finds himself staring down at none other than Unohana. Though the woman is forced to crane her neck up to meet his eyes the feeling is distinctly different compared to speaking with Kiyone.

"Good morning, Captain Unohana," Kenzo says. "Captain Ukitake requested I visit the Fourth Division for a physical before setting out on patrol."

"Is that so? Well, it just so happens that I have some free time and given how overdue you are I'll see it myself." She motions down the hall with a gentle smile on her face. "If you'll just follow me." Kenzo follows the woman through her Division into a small examination room. "Please have a seat." Kenzo does as ordered, removing his Zanpakuto and taking a seat on the examination table while Unohana closes the door behind her and produces a small folder from somewhere. "It's been quite a while since your last physical. The last I have on record is immediately following your transfer to the Thirteenth Division...one-hundred and ten years ago. Before that was your appointment to the Second Division under-"

"Captain Shihoin. It was ordered before my entry to the Onmitsukido."

"So I see. Well, it's inadvisable to go such long stretches inbetween appointments. Especially if one considers that such examinations are a yearly requirement, Ishioka-kun."

"My apologies, Captain Unohana." She closes the folder and places it on the table beside him before stepping closer.

"Well, let's begin, shall we? Firstly, I'd ask that you remove your kosode and shitagi so that I can have a look at your ribs." If Kenzo is surprised his face does not show it and he calmly slips the garments from his shoulders, allowing her to see the dark bruising on his ribs as he raises an arm. However, it's not the bruising that gives the experienced Captain pause but the patch work of scars that make up Kenzo's torso and arms. It doesn't seem as if there's an inch of skin untouched. With a feather light touch, Unohana carefully examines the area. "May I ask what happened?"

"Field training at Shin'o Academy. A Hollow was drawn to the new students Reiatsu while in the World of the Living. I was fortunate enough to get the students out of danger but at the cost of some bruising."

"Forunate indeed both for the student and you, Kenzo-kun. It doesn't seem as if you've broken anything, however..." Her attention travels down to several neat stitches just above his left hip. "...in the future, I would advise you to come to the Fourth Division for proper medical treatment." He nods in understanding and Unohana immediately begins treating the brusing. Kenzo watches the brusing disappear as if it were never there under the effects of her Kido, and when she steps back he lowers his arm. "All finished. Based on my observations, it's my opinion that you're doing fine physically...of course, that's based of information from over a century ago. Please make sure not to go so long inbetween visits, Kenzo-kun."

"Yes, Captain."

"I'll send Isane in to remove your stitches so please wait patiently..."

Drowning in a shifting world of blurred greyscale, and muted jumbled voices...a world 'straddling the line between the Void and Reality' as Hoshi Kyo had once informed him. A thought to propel you towards to destination, a murmur to stop you in your tracks. Kenzo raises a hand, gently pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to assuage the throbbing of his temples. The place between places is not meant for the living, and to linger over long, even when he possesses the power and the 'Right' to do so takes a toll on him. The jumbled voices are silenced by a loud chorus of chillingly warped howls pounding against his eardrums.

'Pay it no mind,' speaks Hoshi Kyo. 'Echos of the Void...harmless to you.'

"Hardly sounds harmless," Kenzo mutters.

'If I say it is harmless then it shall be so. You have nothing to fear.'

"I'm not afraid."

'Words hurled into the Void innumerable times before...now, as then, they are a lie.' He hefts Hoshi Kyo up by her saya, gazing at the orange wrapped tsuka of the Zanpakuto for a moment before eventually lowering it with a soft sigh. He hasn't the mental energy to verbally spar with her right now. It's been a week since the start of the patrol, and so far it's been exactly what he's expected...a boring week of simple foot patrol. Although they're rather far from the Seireitei, the odds of them encountering a Hollow are rather low. Kenzo raises his Zanpakuto once more and with a motion similar to sweeping back a curtain, he steps back into a world of color.

Noise seems to return with a soft 'pop!' and Kenzo briefly squints his eyes against the afternoon sun. The laughter of children fills his airs, and the feeling of someone bouncing off his legs immediately draws his attention down. A young boy in a somewhat dirty yukata sits on his behind, craning his neck up to stare at the much taller Kenzo with eyes wide. A mixture of surprise and fear fill his dark eyes, the corners of which are already beginning to slowly moisten. Kenzo's brow twitches almost impreceptively and only then does he realize how he must appear to the boy, standing over him with eyes narrowed and Zanpakuto in hand and all in the safety of his own garden no less. With quick and practiced movements he carefully returns Hoshi Kyo to his obi and kneels in front of the boy.

"My apologies," Kenzo says, attempting his kindest voice. A strange feeling given the normally flat affect he maintains. Carefully extending a hand in the boy's direction, he goes a bit further and attempts a smile now. "Are you hurt?" That seems to be the final nail in the proverbial coffin, and as the boy breaks down into tears. His wailing quickly attracts attention, and upon hearing sprinting footsteps, Kenzo looks up quickly just time to see a tiny pair of sandled feet flying directly at his feet. He catches the offending party by the ankle with ease, stopping them in their tracks before rising to his full height as the boy scrambles to his feet and sprints towards a small house several meters away.

"Aaaah! Lemme go!" complains the little girl, wriggling and struggling as Kenzo hefts her with ease until she's nearly eye-level with him.

"Hello there, Emi-chan."

"Aah? Kenzo-oniisan!" The little girl with a shock of vibrant crimson hair flashes him a gap-toothed grin as she worms in his grasp, at least until he spins her around and deposits her on his shoulders. "Obasan! Obasan! Kenzo-oniisan is here!" Emi leans forward, one hand grabbing hold of his hair tightly while she thrusts her fist into the air. "Let's go~!" Allowing the child to steer him forwards, he approaches the house while hearing the thumping of multiple sets of feet on the wooden floor until at last a door slides open.

An older woman stands in the doorway, flanked on all sides by several children covering a wide range of ages. Though the years have streaked her otherwise black hair with grey, and the lines of her face are somewhat weathered she nonetheless stands bold and proud...the same as she'd been when he was a child. He stops several feet in front of her, carefully reaching up and removing Emi from his shoulders to place on the wooden deck in front of him.

"Tsumugi-san, I'm-"

"Welcome home, Young Master," she interrupts, offering him a warm smile as her stern expression is slowly changes to one of relief. He scans the faces of the children, all of whom but one beam at him brightly before charging forward to greet him. Well, nearly all of them. The boy whom he had accidently frightened stands behind Tsumugi, staring at his direction with slightly puffy eyes and a runny nose. It seems he still doesn't quite trust the young Shinigami. Unsurprising given Kenzo doesn't recognize the boy which means Tsumugi must have taken him in since his last visit to the orphanage. "Children, do not crowd. The Young Master has just returned for a visit, so-"

"It's fine, Tsumugi-san," Kenzo says, handing out treat after treat to the children who sprint off with their sweet spoils. Finally, only Tsumugi, Kenzo and the boy are left standing in the garden and he holds out a small tightly wrapped package in the direction of the child. "Here." Tsumugi looks down at the boy and offers him an almost motherly smile before motioning in Kenzo's direction.

"Go ahead, Goro." The boy sheepishly steps forward and takes the small bundle of sweets from Kenzo before bowing and quickly running off. "He is such a sweet boy...truthfully, I often worry for him." Kenzo glances at the retreating boy before he disappears around a corner and smiles a bit.

"He seems like a good kid." He carefully removes his Zanpakuto from his obi and turns to take a seat on the edge of the deck while carefully lying Hoshi Kyo beside him well within reach. Tsumugi carefully sits herself beside him, folding her legs under herself. "How have things been here, Tsumugi-san?"

"There have been no issues."

"No...unexpected visits?"

"You worry too much, Young Master. A small orphanage like this is no doubt far beneith the attention of the Ishioka Clan." Kenzo nods slowly in understanding, reaching into the sleeve of his kosode and producing a small, thick envelope before placing it on the deck beside Tsumugi.

"For this month's expenses."

"That is far too much for such a humble orphange."

"Then hold the rest of it in safe keeping in case of emergency. If you don't wish to do that then burn it, or throw it away. Either way...I can always make more." Tsumugi glances at the envelope for a moment before picking it up and offering him a small bow.

"Burn it or throw it away? How could I do such a thing? I shall hold what is not used in trust, Young Master. You may find that you need it in the future."

"Money is not something so dear or so sweet as to cling to with all one's might..." The young Shinigami glances in her direction with a warm smile, a complete contrast from his normally austere countenance. "...your words, if I recall correctly."

"Mm. I have you and the children to care for...it is, unfortunately, a position that does not afford me the right of principals." Tsumugi carefully tucks it away within the folds of her kimono. "How have things been in the Seireitei, Young Master?"

"They appear to be more or less the same on the surface but even spending as much time away as I do I can see the tension amongst the Divisions."

"Betrayal sows a mistrust not easily dispelled. You should spend more time at your Division. In such troubling times, it is good to be seen as an ally that can be counted on."

"Extra duty pays more than idling at the Division...it's money that the children need." Kenzo suddenly stands and picks his Zanpakuto up to slide it into his obi once more. "I should be going. I've only finished half of my patrol, but I'll return to visit again when I have time, Tsumugi-san."

"I understand. Please, be careful, Young Master..."

"Ishioka Kenzo, reporting back to the Thirteenth, Captain Ukitake," Kenzo says by way of introduction, offering a bow to Jushiro. The patrol had been as uneventful as he'd imagined, in fact the most exciting portion of it had been nothing more than breaking up some drunken dust-up in the middle of the street. A kindness that had been repaid with an errant elbow to the jaw for his trouble. Such things were fairly common in the outer districts of the Rukongai and usually broken up by the bar staff but unfortunately it had fallen to the patrol...and on the last night, no less.

"Welcome back, Kenzo," Jushiro says, offering him a warm smile. "I see you had an..." Jushiro eyes the dark bruise on his jaw for several moments as if carefully selecting his words. "...interesting time." Kenzo motions to the small stack of papers on his desk before folding his hands behind his back.

"A druken brawl in the streets. Unfortunately, I was caught in the crossfire."

"Ahahaha~! I see. Well, as long as you're alright..." Jushiro opens up his desk drawer and removes a folder, and an envelope. "...I have a list of extra duties prepared if you're interested. Seated Officers are offered more difficult duties so take a look and let me know if you're interested. A letter addressed to you also arrived while you were away." Jushiro hands it over and Kenzo scans it for a moment before finally opening it. He scans the flowing writing on the letter for several moments before finally stepping forward and once more discarding it into Jushiro's trashcan.

"Thank you, Captain Ukitake."

"Is everything alright?"

"Yes. There is a small matter at the Ishioka Clan's manor that will require my presence but...I will be able to take care of it after the duty day." Kenzo offers his Captain a bow before leaving the office...