Are you shocked? You better be, because I am. XD Also, it has been two years since the last chapter for this on-hiatus fic.

No idea why I decided to update, I suddenly felt a random pressing to write a chapter and so I did today. This is not a return to frequent updating of fanfic stories for me – I just wrote something today because I felt inspired to. And I felt inspired for this fic instead of Demons or Death God, so I wrote the chapter for this story instead. I hope you enjoy it for what it is, I myself had some fun writing this up.

As always, I would like to take the chance to thank all readers here who continuously support and wait for my stories – I am sorry that I do not write so much anymore, owing to work and family matters. I am actually on holiday now, and that explains the leisure time that allows me to feel inspired XD

Hope you enjoy it, however short this chapter may be.

*** NOTE (and maybe SPOILER if you don't read the manga, but I don't believe you haven't finished by now): Hitsugaya Toshiro in this story is the tall adult (ultra-handsome) version, not the cute short version. XD

DISCLAIMER: I don't own the Bleach series or its characters, but I own this plot and story.


It all started when he had won the Kendo match, and emerged as first-rank in the competition. He had given his all – defeated all the opponents – and faced his most grueling match in the final competition. But still, he had beaten the last opponent in the end. He did not receive cheers or celebrations, only negative whispered gossips and condescending looks.

"How could he do that?"

"Is he out of his mind?"

The young adolescent boy did not mind, he was used to all the negativity. He, who had been taken in from the streets as a very young beggar boy – he, who had been training every single day into the late night in the barracks – just to find his worth, to prove that it had been the right choice to have been chosen into the palace as a young guard.

"Hey you!"

The young boy looked up, and his eyes widened. He immediately dropped to his knees. "Your Highness, your servant as you command."

"What is with this humble demeanour now? You were the complete opposite on the match floor just now."

The young guard kept his head bowed, he could already feel the taunting looks of the people around him.

"No words to say? If I were to beat you up now, you would lie down and take it just like that?"

The young guard kept his silence, and his head bowed.

A sharp boyish laughter cut the silence. "HAHAHA! But luckily for you, I am no such lowlife. Losing is losing, and I concede my defeat, you were certainly better than me!"

His eyes widened in surprise, but he dared not look up.

"Raise your head now, and look upon your Prince."

The young boy raised his head and looked at his opponent in the final match that had just passed, the opponent he had defeated to become the palace first-rank in Kendo.

Prince Kuchiki Byakuya, grandson of the current Emperor Kuchiki Ginrei and son of Crown Prince Kuchiki Sojun.

After the Kendo match, the young Prince Byakuya declared that he was looking for a personal secret guard and he wanted to determine the capability of the young guard who had defeated him in the match.

The young guard had been caught by surprise – after all, everyone had known of his Kendo prowess – they had advised him to lose on purpose to royalty ('Do you want to loss your head?') but he had fought his hardest and so had the young Prince. The Prince's reaction after the match was certainly not what he had expected of typical egoistic royalty.

"I want you to tail me for one full day." The young Prince had told him one day. "If you can accomplish the task of remaining by my side till the end of the day, I will appoint you my secret guard."

The young boy had been shocked, and elated.

They began the challenge the very next day.

By midday, the young Prince requested a game of hide-and-seek. Bemused but not completely averse to the eccentricities of royalty, the young guard complied. He kept his eyes hidden under his hands for sixty counts and when he had finished, there was a white piece of writing paper stuck to his back with the kanji word for 'Fool' written on it.

Young Prince Kuchiki Byakuya was gone – he was nowhere to be found, not even in the Palace. Everyone erupted in a panic. It was winter, and a very dangerous time to be outdoors.

The young guard was the most worried, panicked.

The young Prince returned nonchalantly by nightfall, well and unscathed but missing the royal heirloom amulet that he calmly told his family he had dropped 'somewhere in the outdoors'.

The young Prince came to find the young guard in the barracks field, where he was running the perimeter in a continuous perfect circle.

"What are you doing?"

"Your Highness!" The young boy dropped to his knees, disheartened but nevertheless relieved to see the young Prince happy and safe. "Your humble servant begs you please to not do that ever again!"

Prince Byakuya chuckled. "I was waiting for you to catch up, but you never did."

The young boy said nothing, miserable.

"What are you doing?"

The young boy kept his head bowed, his knees on the ground.

"Do not make me ask twice."

"It is my punishment, Your Highness, for losing sight of you as I was the last in your company. I am to run the barracks till dawn and never stop, that was what my commander had ordered me to do. I am grateful for not getting thrown out, it is my fiftieth round now and I can still do many more."

"Have you had your night meal?"

"I – No, Your Highness."

"What sort of punishment is that then? If you were to run on a hungry stomach and collapse, you would not have completed the rounds till dawn."

The young boy did not know if the young Prince was teasing or not, and chose not to answer.

"Up on your feet. And I will not order you twice."

The young boy was already obediently standing in silence, before the Prince looked up. Pleased, the Prince smiled and then he uncovered a small white package he had in his left hand. "Take one."

It was a hot steaming dumpling, delicious in scent and sight.

The young boy heard his stomach growl, but he resolutely shook his head. "Your Highness, you are very kind but I am afraid I cannot take this."

"Take this, or I take your head."

The dumpling was in his mouth in a blink.

The Prince chewed on a second dumpling. "I sneaked them off the kitchen just now. They are good, are they not?"

The young boy nodded emphatically, chewing.

"What is your name?" Prince Byakuya asked curiously as they finished the food together.

The young boy bowed. "I have none, Your Highness."

"What, you do not have a name?"

The young guard shook his head, head still bowed respectfully.

"That is utter rubbish. Everyone has a name." Byakuya folded his arms over his chest, looking haughty. "Are you trying to make a fool out of me?"

The young guard bowed even lower, flustered. "I could never do that, Your Highness. I must have had one when I was young, but I was an orphan and children without parents are like the strays dogs roaming the streets, we slowly lose our names over time."

"Hmph." Byakuya frowned slightly. When the young guard remained in the same position without saying any more, the young Prince huffed in impatience. "Does your neck not pain you? Look up."

"I could not do that, Your Highness, it would be disrespectful by law."

"And the law would soon be written by me, when I come of age. I say, look up and straighten your neck."

The young Guard had no choice but to abide by the orders of the willful young Prince.

"You really do not have a name?" Byakuya peered at the young boy, who was not so much older than himself.

The guard shook his head once more, but kept his head straight as told.

"You must have a name, as my secret guard… or perhaps… I shall name you!" Byakuya declared suddenly. "And now what would be a good name…" The young Prince strode off in thought, and the young guard slowly but dutifully fell into step behind him. Byakuya looked around the field as he walked - the grass, the trees… he unfolded his hands and let them fall to his side as he deliberated, and his left hand grazed the blade hanging by his side. "Oh, or… how about…" The young Prince slowly drew his blade from its sheath. "What do you think of Senbonzakura?"

The young guard's eyes widened. "Senbonzakura?"

"This is my sword and it is named Senbonzakura. It is the finest blade carved by the royal master forger of weapons in the palace, Komamura-sama. It is said the blade took three months and seventeen days to forge, and tens of thousands of ounces of silver and steel. I have heard tales that Komamura-sama added gold dustings and sealed the final forging of the blade with enchantments."

The young boy's eyes were round as saucers as he listened to the Prince talk.

"So what do you think?"

"I apologize, Your Highness. What do I think of what?"

Byakuya huffed impatiently. "Of taking the name of my blade Senbonzakura."

"I-I could never do that, Your Highness."

"Why not? You dislike it?" Byakuya's expression darkened considerably.

"I meant no offence, Your Highness. The blade is too great, I could not possibly take its name and live up to its expectation. The fame of such a-

"Oi, I was not asking. You are to be named Senbonzakura – and as my secret guard, it is only fitting that you take the name of the blade that is constantly by my side. You will be like so, always with me as my protector and guard." Byakuya smiled. "Now come, hold it."

"Your Highness, I could not-

The young Prince took no heed of the protestations, and impetuously flung his sword toward the young Guard, who was forced to react and catch it in his hands. The blade was light but very sturdy and with a powerful sheen in the blade as it caught the moonlight. As the young guard handled it, he sensed the wind catch around him as if the sword was cutting the air right along the edges of the blade.

"It is a very remarkable blade," he spoke without thinking, his tone filled with reverence and awe.

"Is it not?" Byakuya smiled proudly. "I am very happy with it, Father said they began to forge the blade on my birthday and I was to use it once I was deemed old enough."

"The Heavens have seen that this blade made its way to you, Your Highness." The guard knelt and presented the blade back to its master. "I thank you for bestowing me the honour to touch it."

"You will do more than touch it." Byakuya lifted his sword. "You will wield it."

The young Guard shook his head, eyes wide. "Your Highness, I could never do-

"Cease your nonsense and listen to me first. I do not mean this sword here, this one will remain mine. It is said that Komamura-sama forges twins for every sword he makes, and presents the one he deems finer to the Emperor. I will have the other twin sword brought to me, and I shall bestow it upon you. You will use that sword as my secret guard."

His heart leapt into his throat. Such a fine blade… and to be bestowed to him, the twin blade to the young Prince's sword? The young Guard felt the happiness, elation, hope flood through his body - something he had rarely felt, not since the day he had been taken into the palace to train as a young combatant. But then, he remembered his place.

"I thank you very much, Your Highness, but I could not be your secret guard. I have failed the most basic task itself entrusted to me – I was told to watch over you and I lost track of you, Your Highness!"

Byakuya waved his hand dismissively. "That was because I tricked you. If I did not want to be found, you could never have found me anyway." Byakuya smirked. "You proved more competent than me in battle, and what stupid King would I be when I grow up if I did not choose the strongest to protect me, but instead the one who flatters? Of course the secret guard has to be better than the King in combat - if the King was good enough, then he needs no guard. And I was never in danger today anyway – I was with a girl."

"A girl?" The young guard was shocked.

"Keep your voice down and stand up now." Byakuya whispered conspirationally, and the young guard nodded and stood up. "I ran out of the palace and came across a young girl in the countryside. It was snowing and someone was going to kill her, I do not know why. She seemed like a poor country girl, she did not even have shoes on. She did not look like a bad person and she was in trouble so I saved her."

"Oh." The guard nodded. The young Prince had been known to be an arrogant brat, skilled but arrogant – but the guard had always believe the young Prince was very mature for his age with an empathy he chose not to disclose openly.

"And I asked her for a kiss." Byakuya chuckled.

"Your Highness?" The guard was shocked. Maybe not so much of empathy, after all. "So, y-you-"

"No." Byakuya shook his head, an odd tinge of blush on his cheeks. "One of the old servants found me just at the moment. That is when I gave her the heirloom amulet of the Kuchiki royal clan. I did not drop it as I told the elders and Father, I gave it away."

"B-But why, Your Highness?" Senbonzakura was in agony, this was all his fault – if only he had watched over the young Prince properly, this would never have happened, the heirloom amulet would never have been lost!

"I do not know – I just did it in the moment." The young Prince was now smiling. "If she realized the value of the trinket, she could sell it and make her life comfortable. I have plenty of trinkets like that here – and can have one made anytime."

The young guard's eyes widened. It was true – this young boy certainly was remarkable. He would make a great Emperor one day.

"So enough about that. Down on your knees."

The young Guard obediently did as he was bid. He felt the blade touch his right shoulder and looked up at the young Prince, who was smiling.

"I name you Senbonzakura, the one and only secret guard of Prince Kuchiki Byakuya of Seireitei. You shall protect me with full measure of your skill and life from this day onward, never betray or intend or execute any form of harm on me. In return, I shall bestow the finest of protection and comfort I can give you, in all my power as the future ruler of Seireitei."

The young guard rose that day, as Senbonzakura, his heart filled with immeasurable joy, duty and a sense of purpose unlike he ever had in his life. And from that day onward, his fate was bound to his master, the young prince and future Emperor of the kingdom.

They ran together in the barracks till dawn that night.


It was night now, as it was so many years ago when they were adolescent boys. Senbonzakura stood silently over the bedside of the Emperor, looking down at the one whose life he protected with his own and his blade.

The Emperor appeared guarded even as he slept, the invisible cold stiff mask he had put up, a mask so similar to Senbonzakura's samurai mask, unyielding even as he slumbered. The Emperor's secret guard felt a wistful sadness as he looked upon his beloved master – the weight of the world rested upon this one man's shoulders and he took it everyday, in every single breath he took. The guard had watched the young Prince grow up, the loud impetuous little prince so many had deemed a brat, mature to a grown man wiser beyond his years. He had to deal with the death of his grandfather, and then the untimely death of his sickly father whose short-lived reign ended with Byakuya's unexpected ascent to the throne.

He had not been ready to rule, even if he had the mind and body to.

But Byakuya had rose to the demands of the throne and the entire country magnificently.

At great personal price.

He was the regal, cold, unyielding Emperor to all who laid eyes upon him, but Senbonzakura had been there when he had shed the first tears upon the late Emperor Ginrei's death and then Emperor Sojun's, and when he first struggled with matters of the court. He had cried by himself with Senbonzakura by his side, until he had finally stood up and told Senbonzakura that 'Tears are not something shed by royalty'. From that day on, Kuchiki Byakuya was a changed person – one who no longer acted on impulse or freedom. The disguised, closed empathy that had endeared Senbonzakura to this man remained the same, but he had become a rigid person bound by rules and principles.

Now, Senbonzakura stood helpless again as always, wondering how to smooth the hard lines over the face of the sleeping Emperor.

But the thing he could do, he would do to the best of his capability – your life is guarded fully by mine and my blade – and I will not fail you, not even once.


"GARRRRGHHHH!" Rukia's scream pierced the air, prompting her friends to rush into her room in concern. They found her sitting up, gasping for air and perspiring heavily.

"I-I am so sorry, I… it was a nightmare." Rukia tried to assure them shamefully, even as she gripped the blankets.

"A nightmare about the Emperor sentencing you to death again?" Shinji asked sympathetically, as Hiyori moved to pour her consort a cup of hot tea.

Rukia nodded and drank the tea with shaking hands. "He sentenced all of us to death. I was shouting at him that I was the only one responsible but he would not listen." The young consort shook her head. "I am so sorry for getting all of us into this mess."

"What mess?" Shinji waved his hand. "There has not been any repercussion from that garden trip, and it has been weeks and everyday you are apologizing to us. You need to learn to let it go, the Emperor does not hold grudges and he would not remember such a trivial episode for such a long time. We will all be safe and happy here. It is nothing, Rukia." Shinji moved forward and took her hand in his. "I promise I will not ask you to return to the West Gardens anymore."

Rukia nodded, as her heartbeat began to slow. She had been having recurrent nightmares after finally being exposed to the Emperor's true identity weeks past, and the fear that he would hurt all those associated with her continued to linger on Rukia. Rukia was not afraid of punishment herself, but she would not drag other people down with her. She had been selfish and carefree, and she made herself promise she would never be as foolish or open ever again – if not for her safety, then at least for those she loved and cherished.

She had had little ever since young, and now she had everything. A roof over her head, luxuries at her disposal, and most importantly, cherished friends who loved and supported her.

Rukia would not let any one of them down.

"Arigato, Shinji." She spoke gratefully.

"It is a small matter, my Lady." Shinji smiled. Her friends had taken to calling her 'my Lady' at times, in an endearing fashion and not as an honorific as the people in the palace do. They were all happy here in their little cocoon of warmth, and Rukia never wanted to ever leave their company.

"We are going to start working on the vegetable patch this morning." Shinji announced to the young consort.

"Really?" Rukia perked up.

"Yes. So please brighten yourself up, and then we will have breakfast and then get to work. Hinamori told me she will be fetching a special brand of tea from the royal kitchens today, but she has not returned yet, has she?"

Hinamori hurried down the path, paper bags of the dried tea leaves sitting in her woven basket as she made her way back to the Palace of Eastern Snow. As she crossed over a white bridge, she came face-to-face with a small entourage of ministers.

"Ah! My Lords." Hinamori bowed her head low and respectfully stepped aside to make way for the nobility.

"Is it Hinamori?" That familiar male voice made her look up, and Hinamori felt her heart swell with happiness.

"Lord Aizen!"

Lord Aizen Sosuke smiled, and he spoke to the other ministers softly for a while. Then the rest of the important men brushed past Hinamori and Aizen, leaving only both of them on the bridge.

Lord Aizen had always been friendly to her, even when she had first started work as a young maid in his residence many years ago. He had been very close to her, he would talk to her about his work and feelings, and he would sometimes take her hand in his while they were strolling in the gardens of his mansion at night. He was gentle, very sweet, and seemed to never have any bad thought or thing to say about anyone.

Hinamori had nursed a little hope of love at her attachment to Lord Aizen, and wondered if he had ever reciprocated her feelings. She was no closer to confirming this, when Lord Kyoraku Shunsui came for a visit to the residence one day. Hinamori had been terrified of him, he was a known pervert who was infamous for putting his unwanted lusty hands on women. He had taken long looks at her while at the mansion and after a week, Lord Aizen informed her that Lord Kyoraku had arranged for her transfer to his mansion instead.

Hinamori had cried, she had dared to beg Lord Aizen to stop the arrangements. Lord Aizen had been devastated, and he had lamented his lower position in court for his failure to override Lord Kyoraku's arrangement, so much so that Hinamori had felt guilty for even putting her own burden on her beloved master. Lord Aizen had then taken her into his embrace that day and promised her that he would take her back at the first opportunity.

The very next day, Hinamori was bundled off with her belongings in a little carriage on her way to her new working residence. She had been shocked to discover that the designated carriage had brought her to the palace instead, and that Lord Kyoraku had instead arranged for her to serve in a remote consort palace.

Maybe he had lost interest in whatever he wanted with her, Hinamori had told herself with relief. And when she had met Shinji and Hiyori, she realized this was the best place she had ever been in.

"Where are your duties at, now?" Aizen now smiled kindly at her.

"Ah, the Palace of Eastern Snow, my Lord."

"And whose palace may that be, do remind my old memory?"

"Ah, it is Lady Rukia's palace now!" Hinamori beamed happily. She was very proud of the consort she currently served.

"Lady Rukia?" Aizen tapped his chin. "Forgive me, but I have not heard of your Lady before."

"Oh, she is unranked as of yet, Lord Aizen." Hinamori smiled. 'Though if she truly had gotten to know the Emperor, I am certain the Emperor would be smitten with her, as are we all,' the young maid secretly thought.

"I see." Aizen smiled. "Are you happy with your current place of duty? Would you like me to put in a good word for you to the Madam, maybe have you moved to a higher-ranked consort's palace?"

"NO!" Hinamori shouted at him before she could stop himself. She thought she saw a flash of anger cross his usually soft brown eyes but then when she peered at him worriedly, it was the usual smiling gentle Lord Aizen she had always known. I must be imagining things. "I mean, I am sorry Lord Aizen, but that would not be necessary. I am very happy where I work now."

"That is good." Aizen nodded and smiled. "I wish you all the happiness in the world, my little one."

His smile truly took her breath away, even long after he had walked off.

Hinamori skipped along the path to the palace, her spirits reaching new heights of happiness.

"Oh!" Her eyes widened as the basket swayed from her big movements and the tea bags slid dangerously to the edge. "No no!"

A fair hand stabilized the basket at her side, and Hinamori looked up in surprise.

It seemed today's morning trip was filled with familiar faces.

"Lord Hitsugaya!" She beamed.

The tall, young minister with white hair stood back and returned the smile. This was Hinamori's childhood friend, she had been close to him as he lived nearby Lord Aizen's residence. As young children, they were of about the same age and he had always wanted to play with her despite their difference in status. Hinamori had cherished him for it and adored his company, despite his strange white hair at such a young age. She had always called him Shiro-chan when they were younger, but as they grew up, his shorter height clearly outstripped her own and he now ironically stood a head taller than she was.

"Hinamori, I have not seen you for some time. How are you doing?"

"I am fine, Lord Hitsugaya! And how have you been?" Hinamori smiled happily.

"You do not have to call me Lord, how many times have I told you so? I have been well, the financial court matters have been keeping me busy, though." Lord Hitsugaya Toshiro had first entered the royal ministry at the prodigal young age of sixteen, his prowess in arithmetic and financial assessment had been scouted and highly valued by Emperor Kuchiki Byakuya. "I heard you are living in the Palace of Eastern Snow now."

"Hai!" Hinamori beamed. "How did you know, Lord Hitsugaya?"

"I have heard it in passing somewhere, some time past." Hitsugaya smiled fondly at the young maid. "If it would not be inappropriate for you, maybe I could extend an invitation to you for a dinner at my residence in the near future? If you would be allowed to leave the palace?"

"Oh." Hinamori looked down. Hitsugaya had never minded their status difference, even up till today. "I would love to, but I will have to seek my Lady Rukia's permission first."

"That is fine." Hitsugaya smiled. "I will not keep you from your work."

"I hope you have a pleasant day, my Lord." Hinamori bowed and Hitsugaya shook his head in disbelief at the honorific. He turned and headed off in the opposite direction, as Hinamori watched him go.

After a few steps, he turned back and waved at her.

Hinamori smiled and waved back.


The black carriage sped down the lane, driven by two black horses and a single man out front. Inside the dark carriage, three figures were sitting comfortable as they talked.

"Who was the young girl on the bridge just now, Sosuke?"

"An old employee." Aizen smiled, his chin on his hand as he gazed out of the carriage between shuttered dark blinds.

His two companions laughed loudly. "We were surprised, you do not seem the type to fraternize with the lower class. Unless of course, she was one of your..."

"I never broke her." Aizen answered plainly. "Not yet, anyway."

His friends laughed again.

"Ah, here we are."

The carriage slowed to a stop, and Aizen and his fellow ministers stepped out in front of the large mansion, with the giant plaque mounted high marking the words 'Inoue Residence'. A manservant was already waiting out front and ushered the entourage in respectfully.

Aizen glanced silently around the mansion compound and gardens as they walked down the polished wooden walkway. The Inoue family was well-off, not extravagant in visible wealth but they were an old established family with enough riches for a very comfortable existence. Inoue Sora was a young minister in the lower ranked ministry and he was head of his family, as his parents had died in an accident a few years ago. It was said only he and his sister lived in the mansion, before she was sent to the palace to become a part of the imperial harem.

"Aizen-sama, how very kind of you to drop by." Inoue Sora stepped out onto the walkway, a young man of fair skin and black hair, dressed in informal robes of blue and black. "Mito-sama. Fuya-sama." He nodded to the other two men.

"I wish to thank you for receiving us despite your busy work." Aizen bowed. "We would not take much of your time."

"This way, please." Sora gestured to a beautiful traditional verandah overlooking the mansion lake. "I had the servants prepare some tea, if you would not mind."

"Arigato, Inoue-san." The four men sat, and the servants began to pour the tea.

"I wish to congratulate you on your sister recently becoming the Emperor's imperial consort."

Sora smiled. "One of maybe thousands. But thank you."

"The matter of our visit do concern her." Aizen deliberated as he looked at Sora. "Me and my colleagues here, we wish to make a proposition to you."

"Please do continue." Sora smiled.

"The annual palace dance will be arriving in a half month, and as you may know, it is a glorious ceremony where the Emperor and ministers are treated to the skills and talents of the consorts in the imperial harem. It is also where the potential, shall we say, bidding of ministers begin to seek those consorts whom they feel are of potential to secure the Emperor's fancy."

Sora smiled. "To further power and influence in court through the women."

"Maybe." Aizen allowed cautiously.

"And this meeting today concerns my sister because?"

"Because I do not need to see the dance, to know of your sister's unparalleled beauty and charm. I would like to offer her, and you, my support both in the palace and in court. As you are well aware of, the consorts are left to fend for their own in the palace. They are given luxuries but there are certain access to items they may require such as better dresses, better cosmetics, better jewellery to further their charm - and inside information on the workings of the palace which may not be easily obtainable. But the backing of higher-ranked ministers will provide such access - in terms of the finance and accessibility. I am offering that to you today."

"Your faith and loyalty. And certain information on barracks that I may require."

"The lower barracks?" Sora asked.

"Yes, of course. The higher national defence information is very classified, and kept under close watch by Lord Kyoraku - and that I have no intention to even begin to explore. You are the minister in charge of the lower-ranked barracks, and there are certain information I would like from there, which you have good access to."

"And you will offer full backing and support to my sister?"

"But of course. Your sister could have been married to a General or Minister at the very least, but you instead chose to send her into the palace. You must be aiming for the highest possible rank for her in the hierarchy - and the next best behind the Emperor would be an Empress."

"Maybe." This time it was Sora who said the word.


"Another night with a consort?" Byakuya inwardly sighed as he pored over the state documents in his hand.

"Apparently so, Your Majesty." Abarai Renji nodded as he stood before the Emperor's desk.

"I thought there would be no more bedding until the annual palace dance, as per tradition," the young Emperor spoke.

"The witchdoctor has apparently received a heavenly divination that luck and heirs will follow should the Emperor spend a night with one of the lucky women in the harem, in some days or weeks before the dance. Which is not a very long period of time from now."

"At times, I do occasionally feel the urge to order Senbonzakura to perform a quick and silent assassination."

Renji chuckled softly. "And I would not blame you for it, Your Majesty. Though not many men would be as unhappy in your position. Your harem is well-known for the many beautiful and graceful women, it is a simple man's impossible dream... except of course if one were an Emperor."

"I must be a very ungrateful Emperor then," Byakuya replied without looking up as he pressed the royal seal into the paper he had been poring over.

"No, Your Majesty." Renji shook his head. "You are just a very dedicated one."

"So when will the date of choosing be?"

"When would you like it to be, Your Majesty?"

"Knowing your efficiency, I assume you would have chosen one for me, preferably on the day I am at my least hassled?"

Renji chuckled again as he bowed low. "It is three days from now, Your Majesty."

This chapter focuses more on the introduction and development of side characters - and what would a story be without side characters? :)

Hope you enjoyed reading this short chapter regardless.

A late happy New Year, and do review this chapter and let me know what you think about it, or what you think is going to happen, or whatever fun stuff you want to tell me. I don't come on this site often anymore, but my review notifications make it to my email so I will be able to read whatever you write. Cheers :)