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The Compass that points North

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Kirigari left the dorms 12 minutes before his next class, plenty of time to get there. He had grown used to having both his Zanpakuto on him, both usually sheathed at his side. However, since this was still the introductory classes of Zanjutsu, his class had been instructed to arrive without their bladed weapons, as they would be training with hardened ash poles for the time being. Kirigari felt weird, he had grown used to the weight of his weapon, and usually rested one of his arms on the hilt of his weapon while moving. He already disliked this class... Besides, who needs to be taught how to swing a sword?! You swing it! Kirigari rolled his eyes as he continued to walk, toying with the silliness of it all in his head. The previous classes had been going over the basics of form and grip, however the students had been assured they would get the chance to actually spar today. Kirigari was excited about that, he hoped he could distinguish himself and maybe move to a class where the training was actually beneficial... 

Kirigari arrived early, finding his spot and kneeling as the rest of the students of his class trickled in. The instructor arrived shortly thereafter and began having some 2nd years pass out the ash poles they would be substituting for their Zanpakuto's today. Kirgari accepted the weapon as his senior brought it to him, and grimaced slightly. It was heavier than his actual sword, which he found hard to believe. It was only by a small amount, but it would slow him, and it didn't matter how much it slowed him by, a fraction of a second is always the difference between life and death. The instructor of this class spoke up, bringing the attention of the class to himself. 

"Today we will be sparring in pairs, if you lose your spar, you are eliminated. The final 5 of you from this class will be allowed to go with the 2nd and 3rd years on tomorrow night's Hollow Extermination mission! Make no mistake though, trainees! You will not have clearance to engage said hollows! You are only to observe how the older recruits work to defeat them! Is that understood?"

A resounding "Yes Sir!" came from the academy students kneeled in front of him. At his signal, they began separating into pairs. Kirigari was paired with Yurame Sese, a young woman who had enrolled in the academy in hopes of saving lives from hollows in the world of the living. Apparently her younger brother had been killed in a hollow attack while she was human. Kirigari knew she studied hard, not to mention she was significantly taller than him, probably 8 or 9 inches, which would only influence her reach...

Bowing to each other, they both took grip of their training weapons. Yurame held hers straight ahead, in both hands, as instructed to do. Kirigari did not. Kirigari had an open stance, his pole in his right hand, pointed down and to the side. The studying Yurame did would work against her here, because Kirigari knew exactly what her first move would be due to the difference in reach. Surely enough, her feet shifted and she made a thrusting attack. Typical... he thought to himself as he brought his own weapon in an arc into the side of his opponents pole. The force shifted the attack off course enough for Kirigari to step in, rendering the difference in reach negligent. Thrusting forward with his open hand, his palm strike caught Yurame's forward momentum directly to the sternum. 

Following through with the attack, Kirigari sent the young girl sprawling backwards head over heels. A whistle blew and the duel was over. The instructor came over to check on Yurame before addressing Kirigari "Trainee Yomune, you understand this is Zanjutsu, not Hakuda, yes?" Kirigari wanted to roll his eyes, but fought the urge to do so. What did it matter if he won? "Yes sir." He simply answered, his voice even. "Very well. Good job. Go wait for your next sparring match."

WC: 684


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The next spat of bouts went on without issue. At this point, half of the class was eliminated, and it would be cut by half again, and again, and again until only 5 of them were left. Kirigari waited for his next opponent and fight, which ended even faster than the first. It was clear to most in the room that Kirigari was a natural with a weapon and would be one of the 5 who got to accompany the upperclassman on the trip. As the rounds passed and Kirigari progressed father through the elimination, it finally narrowed down to 20 of them left, the past several rounds had been significantly more challenging for Kirigari but he had still succeeded in victory. Standing in front of him however, was his first challenge that led doubts into his mind. Before him was Yokuro Saggito, someone who even as a first year, had already attracted the attention of the Gotei 13 due to his overall combat ability and promising leadership potential. The two did not get along, but shared a begrudging respect for each other.

Facing off against his opponent, Kirigari blocked a downwards slash and parried, sending his opponents blade wide and then counter attacking with a vicious side swipe. Neither attack hit, by the time Kirigari's attack was where Yokuro had been, he had already flipped out of reach. The two crossed swords again, and again, and again, each time, countered or parried or blocked. It seemed the two were as even as they came, but unfortunately for Yokuro, Kirigari was faster. He had barely begun learning the art of Hohō, but he tried his best to pull off a flash step. His entirety of his form flickered for a half second before disappearing, reappearing half way towards Yokuro. Kirigari dropped to a slide, spinning as he came closer in order to knock down his opponent. 

Yokuro hit the ground with a thud, and Kirigari brought his training weapon down in a vicious arc, bringing it to a dead stop inches from Yokuro's throat. They were both panting hard, dripping in sweat. It had been the longest spar, by a wide margin, and had attracted the attention of all those in the class. Kirigari offered his downed opponent his arm and pulled him up. The two smiled, it had been a good fight, despite their differences. Kirigari made a note to request that Yokuro could join them if he was one of the ones selected to go on the Hollow Extermination mission. Kirigari had already figured out the true reason for these sparring contests, it was nothing more than to ensure only the strongest first years, with some measure of a way to protect themselves, were allowed to go. Yokuro certainly made that cut. 

Kirigari returned to his seat, resting with his back against the wall and his legs splayed out in front of him, his breathing ragged. If he won his next fight, he would be allowed to attend the mission with their elders. It was definitely something he was looking forward to...

WC: 514

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Due to the small number of people still vying for a spot, and since the whole room had stopped to watch Kirigari and Yokuro, it stayed that way. The last 9 fights all followed form, with the entirety of the crowd watching, Kirigari included. Of the 9 others who passed, 6 of them got into the Academy on recommendations from Shinigami within the Gotei 13, 2 others had already attracted the attention of Squad 7 as well. That left Kirigari and the small quiet girl who seemed afraid of the very weapon she held. Kirigari thought that was foolish. From the very first time he had been handed his Zanpakuto it had felt as if a normal extension of self, nothing more than a longer arm. What was there to fear from your own blade? He watched the girl curiously, surprised she had made it so far. Her fight had been the one immediately following Kirigari's, and Kirigari had still been recovering, not really paying attention. That wasn't a massive issue though, he'd watch her in this next round. 

The instructor stepped forward, and called forward the 10 remaining students. He examined them all as they lined up in front of him. Of every person in the room, the instructor had been paying the most attention to the duels throughout the day. He paired off the fighters with who he thought they would struggle the most against, after all, if he were to recommend them to the Hollow Extermination mission in the world of the living, he needed to be sure they wouldn't crack under pressure. The instructor finally arrived to Kirigari's side of the line, and introduced his opponent, the only other person in the room who could look him evenly in the eyes. Of course... Just my luck I get to fight the one person I didn't watch... What a bother.  Kirigari rolled his shoulders and bowed to his opponent, it didn't make a difference to him, and it didn't change what he had to do. He would not be in this Academy for 5 or 6 years. While it seemed like such an insignificant amount of time in his existence, the past century wasted still ate at his soul. He would get the attention of the Gotei 13 by any means necessary. He would excel in absolutely everything.

He'd be in the Gotei 13 before his 3rd year.

Kirigari took to the middle of the room, his ash pole held at his side. He swung it around a couple times, still loosening his shoulders. He didn't have any more tricks up his sleeve at this point. The pseudo flash step he had managed against Yokuro had been his ace in the hole, and there was no doubt if his opponent had made it this far, they would be on guard for it now that they knew about it. Kirigari cleared his mind, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He discarded his previous thoughts on his opponent, arriving at a blank slate. This was not the floor for underestimation. 

He faced his opponent. The room was quiet, everyone's breath was held at this point. The static in the air was palpable. For the first time, Kirigari took an actual stance with his weapon, facing his opponent, he leveled the ash pole at her, his left hand gripping the lowest part of the hilt, his right hand was opposite at the highest point. The juxtaposition of his hands would create force that his reach couldn't compensate for, which may be the difference against an opponent of similar reach. His right foot inched, but he didn't want to make the first move in such a tense situation. 


A large question mark bubble appeared over all the other occupants in the room as they tilted their head in unison. Snapping out of the manga panel, Kirigari pointed the ash pole at her from where he stood. "What kind of start is that?!" He demanded, an irritated scowl on his face. Did she have no social awareness? Could she not feel how tense the whole room had been? "I'm Kirigari Yomune. I'm going to become a Captain!" the boy declared confidently. 

It happened before Kirigari could react. Suddenly, she was gone. He hadn't lost sight of her, she had just simply vanished. "Well, Mr. Captain. Hasn't anyone ever taught you to keep your eyes on your opponent?" It was a near seductive purr that was whispered from behind him as he felt an attack slam into his back with more force than she could ever possibly produce. He went sprawling forward, vomiting stomach bile across the floor from the impact of the attack. Blood leaked from his lower lip as he rolled onto his knees. The instructor had raise the whistle to his mouth and had been prepared to blow it when Kirigari rose back to his feet and swung his sword around a couple more times, stretching. The pain in his back was immense, but he had come to terms with pain long ago.... He remembered the saying that had been hammered into his brain as a human. A Warrior must face the inevitable truth that pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. 

Kirigari Yomune now used that mentality to mask the pain. He wiped the blood from his lip and swung it off his hand. The droplets splattered across the floor quietly. "Is that all you got?" he asked, a bored tone in his voice. His opponent was clearly surprised that he had shrugged off her attack. She smirked, the entirety of her personality feeling different from the quiet girl he had seen earlier. "I'm Rimiri." Kirigari smirked "Flashstep?" he asked inquisitively, surprised anyone else in the room could use it. She smiled and stuck her tongue out at him with a wink "I figured I would show you how a real one looks~"

That ticked off Kirigari. The fact that either of them could use any rendition of it this early on made them both geniuses amongst their peers. She knew that. "Try to hit me with it again then, girl." His taunt had had the desired effect. Rimiri vanished again. Kirigari acted purely off instinct, leaping directly into the air as the ash pole of his opponent cut a vicious arc where he had been a half second earlier. Rimiri followed the attack up with another at Kirigari. He wasn't in any position to dodge, so instead he blocked. Dropping his hold on the hilt, he shifted it against his forearm and caught the strike. Rimiri followed through, sending him flying into the air, but something was different. Kirigari's feet were finding traction. Standing high in the air above his opponent, he felt strange, however his control was shaky at best. Releasing it, he fell the 15 or so feet to the ground and landed smoothly. "Anything else you want to show me?" He asked, the same bored tone in his voice. She had no openings he could find, she and her attacks were lightning fast.

Both of them were out of breath, but kept their eyes on each other. Rimiri charged him, and for the first time their weapons clashed and held. Neither of them had noticed the hush that had fallen over the rest of the room, or the trance everyone was in watching them fight. Even the instructor had forgotten this was a friendly duel between first years. Both of these students were years ahead of the curve. Most students that passed through here couldn't solidify reishi under their feet until their 5th year. 

Kirigari pushed back against Rimiri's weapon, lowering the pressure of his weapon closer and closer to the hilt. "You won't disarm me with such an obvious trick, Mr. Captain." Kirigari wasn't so sure, as he completely let go of his own weapon, the force and pressure that Rimiri had been applying working against her and shifting her body forward. Kirigari grabbed the blade part of the ash pole, which might technically be illegal in this type of spar, but he had no other option. He followed up with a fierce kick to the womans gut, stopping her forward momentum and sending her sprawling backward, ripping the pole from her hand. 

Kirigari knew that wasn't the end as Rimiri rose to her feet with fire in her eyes. They charged each other and came to a grinding halt as the instructors whistle echoed loudly through the room. "That's enough. You have both shown extraordinary ability, but I can not have students engaging in fights emptyhanded. Rimiri has been disarmed and therefore loses!" 

"WHAT?" They both shouted in unison

WC: 1,450

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The two students sounded off about how unfair this was, it was clear that both of them were passionate about their duel, and rightly so, from their perspectives their were both the strongest in this class by a significant margin. Their arguments overlapped before the instructor put an end to it. "THIS IS ZANJUTSU, NOT HAKUDA." His voice echoed through the hall, reverberating off the walls and ears of all those in attendance, immediately bringing both Kirigami and Rimiri to silence. Neither were happy with the outcome, but they were just Academy Students, first years at that. The instructor retrieved both ash poles from Kirigami before leveling a serious glare at him, "Kirigami, you understand that move would have quite likely cost you your arm in a real fight, yes?" Kirigami's eyes shot straight to the floor. He had suspected some kind of reprimand, but it still stung. "Yes, sir." He said, simply. If he had learned anything in his time at the academy thus far, it was that owning up to your mistakes immediately was the best way to avoid serious punishments. The Instructor then turned to Rimiri "And you, young lady, understand that charging recklessly into battle without a weapon is a fast way to an early grave?" Rimiri mirrored the shame that Kirigami was displaying. "But it wasn't a real fight!" She argued, not wanting to back down, even against the instructor.

The Instructor didn't take much offense to Rimiri's outburst, and instead took this time to address the class. "Understand something here, students. You are not becoming Shinigami to receive personal glory, achievement, or success. You pledge yourself to the wellbeing of the Soul Society! Being a Shinigami means facing death to protect the Gotei 13 and Soul Society if required! YOU DO NOT GET TO MEANINGLESSLY THROW YOUR LIFE AWAY!" The instructor turned again and faced Kirigami. "Good job, Kirigami, you will be one of the students attending the mission tomorrow night. Please report to the courtyard tomorrow night."

WC: 334


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