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"Zaius! You cannot sleep all morning. You know your father has chores for you to do and you WILL NOT find some clever way to get out of your responsibilities, young man." The youthful soul rolled his eyes as he proceeded to retort, "I know, mom...I know." The restless adolescent begrudgingly sprang from his bed and proceeded to get dressed. Zaius exited his room and made his way into the kitchen; standing there was the progeny's mother, who was in the process of cooking breakfast. "As soon as you're finished eating, it's straight to completing your chores, understand?" the youthful soul's parent aforementioned. The young adolescent peered in his mother's direction just as she was turning her attention towards her son. The startled progeny gazed upon his parent's face, which was translucent and its features indiscernible.

Bewildered by what he was seeing, Zaius was about to inquire about the woman's appearance. It was at this moment when the youthful soul's father strode into the kitchen from a side door leading into the backyard. The flustered progeny surveyed his father's face as he spoke, horrified that it appeared both of his parents were faceless, "Good morning, my son. Make sure you get plenty to eat; you will need your strength if these chores are to be done." In a complete state of disarranging, Zaius observed his kin interacting with one another unaware of what their son was seeing. It was at this point at which the puzzled soul would endeavor to find out just what the hell was going on. Nonetheless, before the young adolescent could utter a word...the confounding scene vanished and Zaius awoke.

"That damn dream again," the youthful soul thought to himself. Releasing a beleaguered sigh, the exasperated youth reposed against the slatternly wall he was fettered to. The youth's hands were bound by a thick chain that was connected to the ceiling. Moreover, Zaius' feet were also delimitated by a broad chain that was connected to a sturdy steel plate on the floor. Furthermore, the youthful soul's neck was covered by some sort of odd collar which housed a tiny box with a green flashing light. Two things were painfully evident: the unquestioning youth was being held captive here. Additionally, whoever was detaining Zaius in this basement did not want him to leave. It was at this point that the youthful soul's mind began to wander, landing on the day in which he became imprisoned in this place.

The impassioned adolescent had no family that he was aware of, no place of residence, no money, and a temper that would rival the highest level of anger possibly attained. Due to these indisputable facts, Zaius grew up with no sense of right or wrong. The youthful soul had no parents to chastise him when he broke the rules or made a mistake; the energetic adolescent did not even know what the rules were. Zaius' existence was governed by one rule and one rule only: do whatever it takes to survive. The youthful soul was without a home, so his day usually consisted of pickpocketing Rukongai citizens, hoping to acquire enough kan to procure a room at a very seedy motel lying in the slums of district eighty.

The young adolescent did not have the greatest sense of time. However, he was aware that years and years had passed as Zaius spent the better part of each day endeavoring to get enough kan to keep from having to sleep in an alley on the frigid concrete. When the brazen soul first injected himself into a life of crime, his attempts to unknowingly pilfer money or belongings from unsuspecting people rarely went as planned. Many times, the youthful adolescent would have to swiftly egress and for those who were quicker on their feet, a chase would lead to an altercation more often than not.

As time continued to pass, Zaius became more and more proficient in his thievish ways. When attempting to pickpocket someone, most would consider acquiring the items they were venturing to misappropriate without incident or their victim's knowledge a success. Despite this, the young soul found that as his disputes became fewer and farther between, the youthful adolescent came to the realization that he was constantly craving battle; Zaius' fighting skills were also continuing to ameliorate over time. The young soul's hunger for dispute would eventually overtake his desire for a roof over his head. The youthful adolescent's talents continued to grow, along with a fervent and unequivocal belief in his abilities. With that in mind, Zaius' goals had shifted; instead of making money being his main motivation, the young soul would now seek out opponents deemed worthy of his exponentially growing skillset.

Unbeknownst to the youthful adolescent, the decision to indulge his desire for a contest pitted against a strong opponent is one that would swiftly shift the path his existence was currently on. The young soul would scout out someone deserving of being his opposition. The focused adolescent would use all abilities at his disposal to find a suitable opponent. After close to a year of the day after day reconnaissance, the eager adolescent had refined his ability to seek out particular individuals based on their presence or the pressure they would emit. Aware of his spiritual pressure, all Zaius would have to do would be to seek out someone whose spiritual pressure was comparable to his own. Notwithstanding, the young soul wanted a challenge. Therefore, it was his decision to find someone who was not only as powerful as himself...but stronger.

With a clear goal in mind, the budding adolescent commenced the process of elimination; at the end of this process, Zaius would likely find himself in a predicament where death was a good possibility. With all that in mind, Zaius proceeded to begin scouting the competition at dawn the next morning. The amount of skirmishing the young soul had been subjected to over the past few years had bolstered his spiritual pressure to the point where it was becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone amongst the wandering spirits who was in the arrogant youth's league.  

Days passed by and Zaius was growing increasingly frustrated due to the fact that locating a suitable challenger was becoming more and more arduous by the minute. The fledgling soul could not help the rate at which he was progressing, though perhaps he was taking the wrong approach. It never donned on the inexperienced being that maybe it was feasible for someone to possess the ability to disguise or conceal their energy signature; it was just a thought. All the same, if Zaius' hunch was correct, perhaps choosing his opponent could be simpler than even he thought it could be. After another hour or so of searching, the puerile soul's eyes locked on a tall gentleman through a large horde of ordinary citizens.

The man appeared ordinary enough. The stranger was garbed in all black and his clothing did nothing to make him stand apart amongst the crowd. That being said, there was one thing that turned the young adolescent's attention towards this being; a katana was tethered to the man's hip. "I do not witness ordinary citizens ambulating with deadly weapons. I do not feel much power emanating from his person. Still, there is something about this stranger...something I cannot put my finger on," Zaius speculated, a wry grin now creeping across his lips. "That's my target. If nothing else, the fact that he is brandishing a sword might make things interesting for an opponent that is unarmed," the eager youngster ruminated.

Following days of seeking strong opposition, the youthful adolescent had acquired his target. Much like a drug addict who feels a strong need for his substance of choice, Zaius' desire for conflict was equally powerful. The budding soul knew the area very well and when he witnessed the path the towering gentleman was taking, he sprang into a full sprint in order to cut the stranger off in an alley that was directly behind the structure the fledgling adolescent was standing before. Delighted at the possibility of a battle to the death, Zaius hastily dashed around the right flank of the building. The young soul was expecting to meet up with the katana-wielding stranger in the aforementioned alleyway. Upon arrival in the narrow passageway, the inexperienced youngster was taken aback; the man was already there, casually leaning on a large trash receptacle.

Now turning his attention in Zaius' direction, the gentleman spoke, "Well hello there...Zaius Koji." the youthful soul was now in a state of shock; not only had this stranger reached the alley before him somehow, but he also appeared to know the young adolescent. Hesitating slightly, Zaius began a dialogue with his would-be opponent, "I have never met you before today. How is it that you know who I am?" Wearing an ear-to-ear grin, the man responded to the young soul's inquiry, "While I do not know you personally, I know of you; you are a rather prominent figure amongst local law enforcement. Their lackluster effort in apprehending criminals amidst the more lawless districts has made this quite an advantageous situation for me."

Further confounded by the gentleman's comments, the youthful adolescent would retort, "What situation is that, exactly?" The stranger straightened himself out as he stood upright, moving off of the dumpster. "That is a simple question to answer; the situation, young man, is that I believe you can be of some use to me. Over the past few months, I have kept a close eye on you. While you are no match for me, I believe your skills could be useful to me and my business," the man disclosed. Zaius began to chuckle, which elicited a response from the gentleman, "I fail to see what is amusing here." the inexperienced soul entered a combat stance just as he was replying to the man before him, "While I appreciate the offer, the only reason I am still talking to you is that I am itching for a fight; so let's get started!"

The rangy gentleman proceeded to cackle uncontrollably. "Oh, so you are in control of the situation then?" the stranger interrogated. The man would then reach for his blade, presumably to assault the youthful adolescent before he had a chance to make a move. With that in mind, Zaius resolved to attack in the hopes of surprising his opponent. The boisterous being launched himself at the gentleman in black. When within 2 steps of the stranger, the youthful adolescent planted his right foot into the ground and swiftly circled the man in an attempt to strike from behind. Zaius would then cock his leg back to dispatch a roundhouse kick to his opponent's ribcage. Just as the inexperienced soul's attack made its way towards the gentleman's side, his opponent vanished.

Before the budding adolescent's leg could return to its original position, the stranger appeared behind Zaius and placed his still sheathed katana at the young soul's feet. "This is the only way you stand a chance in hell against me...take it," the man pronounced, just before precipitously vanishing and coming back into view in his previous position. The youthful soul was unsure if what his opponent had just done was an ability of some kind or if he was just that fast. In either case, the young adolescent had now come to the realization that this man was on an entirely different level; the fact that he was willingly handing over his weapon told Zaius more than words ever could.

Still, in a momentary state of stasis, the young soul endeavored to will his body into movement. Having never experienced genuine fear until now, the burgeoning adolescent was unable to move and did not have the faintest idea why. "Well, I was hoping to see some level of what you are capable of. Unfortunately, it would appear that you are now aware of your ineptness in my presence and that is understandable," the stranger expounded with a heavy sigh. The mysterious man spent a few moments in thought before continuing, "Still, since you will somewhat be in my employ from now on...I think it's best for you to see what a monumental mistake it would be to cross me."

The stranger could then be seen beginning to focus, as he closed his eyes and bowed his head. Like an explosion in close proximity, Zaius was instantly brought to his knees as his opponent released his complete reiatsu. The surrounding area began violently shaking while the youthful soul was pinned in place by the immense spiritual pressure. "I...can't...move," the young adolescent thought to himself. Now standing over Zaius, the mysterious man slightly raised his hand. "Now...take a little nap for me," the gentleman ordered. The stranger then brought his hand down in a chopping motion, landing a swift blow on the back of the young adolescent's neck; the force of the blow knocked Zaius unconscious.

The strange man reached down and retrieved his scabbard, attaching it to his hip once more. Afterward, the gentleman picked up the sleeping young soul at his feet and draped the youthful adolescent over his shoulder, and began walking. "Well now, it would appear that my manners have escaped me once again," the mysterious man stated. Despite Zaius' state, the stranger continued to speak, "You are always supposed to introduce yourself to your opponent as a sign of respect, are you not? I will forgive you for attempting to sneak attack me and show you this courtesy. My name is...

 

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

WC: 2,266

 

 

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The young soul sat upon the unforgiving concrete floor of this dank dungeon he now found himself in. The walls were comprised of brick and mortar, reinforced with rebar. A single lantern burned overhead, the flame within flickering periodically. The air was heavy with the smell of dust and blood. Upon inspection of the foundation, one could see several pools of dried plasma all around the expanse; much of this vital fluid came from Zaius himself. The youthful adolescent had spent years in this hell; if he was being honest with himself, the inexperienced teen's spirit had been partially broken during his years in captivity. Moreover, while the budding soul still clung to a minuscule aspiration of possible liberation from this nightmare, he had largely given up on the notion.

The solitude alone would be enough to shatter the spirit of just about anyone. However, Zaius preferred seclusion. The green youngster made his best attempt to prevent his mind from re-living the horrors he endured in this prison. Nevertheless, dead silence and extreme isolation made it nearly impossible for one to distract themselves from their thoughts. With that in mind, the young adolescent could not help but remember the atrocities he experienced.

There was one way into this basement and there was only one way out. A single stairwell in the northeast corner of the room led to a bamboo door; if the inexperienced teenager was to be presented with an opportunity to make a break for it, this would be his pathway to freedom. As Zaius was in the process of assessing his situation and a potential escape from it, the mysterious man who brought the youthful soul to this place entered the room. Withal, the lanky stranger was accompanied by two other individuals; this was the first time the strange man did not arrive in the cellar alone. The small group proceeded in the budding teenager's direction until the trio was standing over him.

The enigmatic figure addressed the imprisoned youngster, "Mr. Koji, I am pleased to see that you are awake. I apologize for the manner in which you were brought here; I sincerely doubt you would have come along willingly, so I simply did what needed to be done..." Cutting the strange man off mid-sentence, Zaius discontinued as he deliberately rose to his feet, "Who the hell are you and what the fuck am I doing here?" An evil smirk enveloped the man's mouth as he chuckled slightly, just before answering, "Well now, that's quite the filthy mouth you have, is it not? Come to think of it, you were unconscious when I introduced myself before."

Placing a hand upon his chest and bowing marginally, the stranger continued, "My name is Umekuda Ashiharu." Ashiharu then moved his hand onto the shoulder of the gentleman to his left. "This is my assistant, Haragita Motonoru; he is here to ensure that you do not die on me," Perplexed by his captor's statement, the young soul wanted to know what he meant. However, the youthful adolescent would remain silent and listen for the time being. The stranger would then turn his attention to the remaining member of the triumvirate and proceeded, "The gentleman to my right is Enaza Kanore; this young man is in training at the Shinō Academy to become a Shinigami. Enaza has begun learning the process of communicating with his Zanpakuto and was hoping to engage in some additional training using his Zanpakuto abilities. For a nominal fee, I provide this service."

Much of the information being presented to the inexperienced youngster only served to further confuse him. Shinō Academy? Shinigami? Zanpakuto? What was the meaning of all this? Moreover, how am I supposed to aid in someone else's training while I'm bound by these chains? For the time being, Zaius would remain in the dark as it pertained to obtaining answers to his queries. On the other hand, using his deductive reasoning, the youthful soul finally understood the situation he had been thrown into; it would appear that the budding youngster was nothing more than a training dummy for those willing to pay Ashiharu's price. Furthermore, these chains made it impossible for the young adolescent to defend himself. The gravity of this hellish plight was not lost on Zaius, though he was in no position to do anything about it presently.

While awaiting his imprisoner's next move, the inexperienced soul continued to ponder the knowledge he had been granted, "So, there is an academy where these Shinigami are trained? Trained to do what? Is being a Shinigami a career? Is that why they are training? They all appear to be wielding blades; what kind of job requires sword to complete?" In mid-thought, the curious youngster was disrupted, "I have had my eye on you for quite some time now, Zaius Koji. You have immense potential; the street fights I have seen you engage in have told me as much. With that in mind, I would like to present you with a unique opportunity." The tall man hesitated, presumably giving Zaius a chance to acknowledge him. "I am listening," the youthful adolescent pronounced.

At this point, Ashiharu's tone changed and a very stoic look washed over his face as he spoke, "Before I utter another word, Zaius Koji, I ask you to bear one thing in mind...I will only make you this offer once." Following a momentary pause, the rangy being went on, "As I said, your potential intrigues me. At your age, the battle consciousness you possess rivals that of a seated officer amongst the Gotei Thirteen; while you appear unaware of the Shinigami and their ranks, I assure you that is impressive. Additionally, you are capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of punishment; I have witnessed opponents of yours exhaust themselves to the point of defeat, simply because they could not harm you enough. Given enough time, Haragita here feels your skills could rival his own; you should feel honored by his affirmation of your capabilities, for he does not hand out compliments lightly."

Haragita turned his gaze towards Ashiharua and cleared his throat, which caught the boss' attention. "You are correct, Haragita. On to business," Umekuda stated. The sinister being knelt before the young soul, now eye to eye with him, and went on, "I want you to join our organization here. We have grand aspirations, young Zaius and we want you to be a part of them. You see, Haragita and I were Shinigami ourselves at one time. I am a former Captain of the Fifth Division, while Haragita here is a former Vice-Captain of the Fourth Division; his healing skills are truly something to behold. At any rate, when the Captain Commander at that time learned of our plans to overthrow him and take over the Gotei Thirteen, he branded us as traitors and sentenced us both to death.

Luckily, we were warned of the Captain Commander's plans before he was able to carry them out. Haragita and I were able to escape. All the two of us wished was to see the Gotei Thirteen ascend to heights it had never previously risen to; with your assistance, I believe that goal is still attainable. I will reiterate, this is a business proposition; as such, for a business transaction to take place, one side gives in order to receive from the other. I am giving you the opportunity to train as a Shinigami at the Shin'ō Academy; you will go through the motions and conduct yourself as an academy student. However, that is simply your cover. Your true agenda will consist of two tasks. First: You are to seek out talented individuals such as yourself; those who will be an asset to us in our eventual war against the Shinigami.

Second: Closely related to your first task, you are to search out powerful individuals...yet not too powerful; those who we can use for training our true members. The reason for this is simple. With Motonoru-san's ability to heal humans and non-corrupted souls, we are able to batter them into a near-death state, restore them to health, then simply repeat the process. Do you not see the brilliance in our logic, young Zaius? We will have at our disposal, a constant regenerating supply of training partners. By the same token, the act of being wounded enough to be at death's door and being revived while in that condition will also increase the reiatsu of our 'training dummies', let's call them...making those in that position better opponents.   

This still works to our advantage; for if at any time, we feel that any of the training dummies are becoming a threat, we simply dispose of and replace them. All the while, our true membership will proceed with their guise as part of the Gotei Thirteen and will pursue the highest rank they are able to obtain; the higher ranking our members are, the easier it will be to carry out our plans when the time comes to do so. This is not an anime, Zaius Koji. This is not the point in the story where the villain reveals his dastardly plans, only to get apprehended or end up slain before those plans can come to fruition. We will take over the Gotei Thirteen...then, the Soul Society. In time, our rule will spread to the World of the Living...even Hueco Mundo. No one will be able to stop us."

Ashiharu pushed himself up to his feet and looked down upon his prisoner once more. Maintaining his humorless expression, the malevolent being continued his pitch, "Now, Zaius Koji, you have a decision to make; while I would certainly prefer that you choose to join our ranks, do not believe that you are in any way, an integral part of our scheme. I simply feel that having to dispose of you at some point would be a tremendous waste of talent. You have an incredible opportunity before you, young Zaius; I suggest that you seize it...before it's too late."

After having spent the last several minutes intently listening to Umekuda endeavor to acquire his allegiance, Zaius was prepared to respond in kind. The young soul had indeed been given a great deal to consider. The youthful adolescent still had significant questions that needed answering. Though, considering the information he had been given, those questions could wait. Additionally, the green youngster was no fool; he knew the response to the one question he wished to inquire about. Regardless, that would not prevent him from catechizing his captor.

Zaius slowly picked himself up off of the ground and stretched his extremities. "Umekuda Ashiharu...you have certainly given me a great deal to contemplate," the inexperienced soul proclaimed. The brash youngster briefly paused and began to scratch his head before he proceeded, "Alright. Now before I give you my answer, I just want to ensure that you and I are understanding one another. I will be granted admission to the Shin'ō Academy and trained as a Shinigami in order to do three things: you want me to assist you by recruiting strong warriors for your army that you will eventually use to take over the world, then I must pursue innocent beings for your warriors to essentially use as punching bags in order to gain power. Furthermore, you want anyone who either opposes you or presents a threat to your rule killed. If I do these things for you..." the young adolescent was halted mid-sentence as Umekuda had grown impatient hearing everything he had previously stated reiterated, "...then you will not spend the rest of your miserable existence in this place."

At this point, Zaius appeared to be seriously considering Ashiharu's offer as he stood silent for several moments. The former Shinigami was now growing more enraged with every moment the young soul spent in thought. "YOUR ANSWER, ZAIUS KOJI! I DO NOT HAVE ALL DAY!" The towering being indignantly bellowed. The precocious youngster sighed as he peered up at his incarcerator. "Alright. I have made my decision," the youthful adolescent declared. Motioning for Umekuda to move in a few steps, Zaius continued, "Come a little closer and I will give you my response." Ashiharu slowly moved in nearer to the young soul until their faces were a mere foot apart. The budding youngster bowed his head slightly and only momentarily. It was then that the youthful adolescent swiftly lifted his chin and spat directly in his eye.

Motonoru, now fuming as a result of Zaius' blatant disrespect, clutched his Zanpakuto with every intention of using it on the young soul. However, the former Vice-Captain was held back by his master. "Calm down, Haragita. It is quite alright," the former Captain stated. The brazen youngster would go on, "I will admit...I have done some pretty awful things in the interest of my survival. I have hurt others, I have lied and I have stolen. Having said that, the things I have taken are material objects...items that can be replaced; If you take a life, there is no replacing that which has been abducted. If you think for one second..." With exceptional alacrity, the lanky man unsheathed his Zanpakuto and brought his blade down a diagonal path from the youthful adolescent's right shoulder to his left hip.

The motion was so unbelievably rapid, Zaius felt the pain of the slash before he even witnessed Umekuda reaching for his weapon. The uninitiated soul collapsed to his knees, wrapping both arms around himself as he writhed in pain. Ashiharu knelt before the brave youngster, who was now bleeding profusely. "That is truly a shame. I had high hopes for you, Zaius Koji. The existence of power and riches was in your future, had you simply learned your place. Instead, you are going to die here...slowly...and extremely painfully." Rising to his feet, the former Shinigami Captain wiped the blood from his blade and placed it back into its scabbard. "Heal him, Motonoru-san," the rangy man commanded. Umekuda began casually strolling towards the basement door, before abruptly coming to a halt and turning his attention towards the academy student next to his assistant. "Enaza Kanore. Once this street urchin has been mended, feel free to begin your training whenever you are prepared to do so," Ashiharu announced. "Yes sir. Thank you, sir," the student replied, bowing to the former Captain as he left the room.

Haragita would then place the palms of his hands directly in front of the bleeding youngster's laceration. Motonoru's hands began to glimmer with a greenish hue, as did the youthful adolescent's wound. The gash on Zaius' chest proceeded to slowly seal itself and within seconds, the injury had completely vanished. The young soul was shocked; a few moments ago, he was bleeding to death and now it was as if the youngster had never been opened up. "On your feet, Zaius Koji," the former Vice-Captain mandated. The youthful adolescent stood as ordered. Haragita would then launch an uppercut directly at Zaius' abdomen; upon connection, the young soul tumbled back to his knees, gasping for air. "That was for offending Master Umekuda. You are incredibly lucky that he did not terminate your existence. Having said that, if you attempt anything like that again...I will kill you myself," Motonoru pronounced.

Shaking with rage, the exasperated youngster was in no position to change his fate; thus, compliance would be the order of the day until the time came when he was able to do so. The Shin'ō Academy student who had been standing in the corner of the room quietly was now being instructed by the former Vice Captain of Squad Four, "Enaza...presently, this urchin possesses a higher level of Reiatsu than yourself. Therefore, until your spiritual pressure is more comparable, we will refrain from allowing you to spar with him. Apart from one on one combat, feel free to use this trash as you see fit. In terms of injuries, there is very little I am unable to heal completely. Still...I am unable to repair fully severed limbs or major trauma to the head and neck area; any other damage you inflict upon him can be regenerated.  Understood?"

Kanore nodded emphatically. "Very good. I shall remain here with you, just in case immediate healing is necessary. I mean, accidents do happen," Haragita stated with a sinister grin. Afterward, Motonoru advanced to the southeast corner of the room and parked himself in a chair he had waiting there. The young academy student seemed hesitant; perhaps Enaza could be reasoned with. In any event, there was only one way to find out...

 

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

WC: 2,770                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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Enaza stood motionless, yet subtle attempted movements could be seen by those with sharp enough vision; it was almost as if something was holding the academy student back. Zaius gazed up at Kanore and spoke softly to the Shinigami trainee, endeavoring to avoid alerting Haragita who was parked in the corner of the room, yet still within earshot, "Enaza, what seems to be the problem?" the young man veered closer to the youthful soul and cautiously replied, "This is just...wrong, isn't it? I mean, when Master Umekuda approached me at the academy, he made it seem like I would be doing some specialized training that would help me get stronger at an exponential rate; I expected to be training against Hollows, not against a fellow innocent soul. Not to mention, I did not agree with Ashiharu's terms so that I could contribute to his plans for world domination. I...I cannot do this."

The imprisoned youngster sighed heavily and nodded. "You are a kind-hearted soul, Enaza Kanore; that much is indisputable. However, I need you to listen to me and listen well. You have witnessed for yourself what happens to those who do not go along with Ashiharu's plans. I do not wish to see you in shackles sitting next to me here or worse. Therefore, I want you to do whatever you have to do in order to survive; right now, that means inflicting as much punishment upon me as you are capable of," the youthful adolescent countered. "Zaius, I..." Enaza began to say, before Zaius hastily disrupted him, "I understand, alright? I do. Still, the moment you cease being useful to these two, what do you expect to happen? I can tell you with one hundred and fifty percent certainty that they have no intention of letting you go back to the academy if you are uncooperative. Their ambitions dictate that those who they recruit must maintain the illusion of training to become members of the Gotei Thirteen.

However, knowing what you know now, your only hope for survival is to get with the program. Or if nothing else, make them believe you have; appearances are everything in your particular situation." Kanore acknowledged the youthful soul. Curious as to why nothing was happening, the former Vice-Captain postponed his meditation and lifted himself from the chair in which he had been sitting. "Is there a problem here, Enaza?" Motonoru catechized. the brash youngster nodded at the academy student. Exhaling sharply, Enaza retorted, "No, Motonoru-san...no problem." Haragita smirked. "Master Umekuda mentioned that you just recently learned the name of your Zanpakuto; let us see what you are capable of," the former Vice-Captain stated, as he motioned Kanore to begin.

The academy student appeared somewhat confused. Scratching his head, Enaza expressed a concern, "This room is too small to be using release abilities, is it not?" Motonoru placed his hand upon the young man's shoulder and addressed his inquiry, "I thought you would never ask. This particular area is quite special; Master Umekuda has enchanted this area from ceiling to foundation, which allows for one to use the full power of their release abilities without fear of explosions, blowback, or elemental attacks damaging the structure. Perhaps a quick example will suffice to clarify things for you: let us say that your Zanpakuto uses fire abilities. Moreover, you possess an ability that is capable of producing a wall of flames three stories high; obviously, utilizing such skill in this enclosed space would prove very dangerous for any occupying the space, as well as the structure itself.

However, thanks to Master Umekuda, here is what would take place: your blade will become covered in energy or enveloped in the element associated with your attack. Then, you simply strike your opponent with the blade and they will feel the full power of your assault as if you had used the proficiency in a wide-open area. More to the point, he found a way to scale down the size of the ability without losing any of its potency in the process; it is quite ingenious. Now, unless there are any other questions...you may proceed when ready." Kanore nodded as he grasped the hilt of his katana and slowly removed the blade from its sheath. The academy student peered at the shackled youngster once more and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry."

Enaza rotated his weapon one hundred and eighty degrees before driving the tip of the katana into the ground. "Surge, Ikari no nami!" A buoyant cerulean aura began to flare around Kanore and his weapon for a few moments, eventually giving way to a much more cumbersome azure glow, which now had enveloped the academy student's blade. The confined adolescent could not help but smirk. Zaius could feel the reiatsu emanating from Enaza and while it was not yet on par with his own, the initial release made the gap between the two somewhat closer. Using his exceptional ability to perceive what might have been unseen to others, the young soul discerned a minuscule bead of sweat slowly trickling down Kanore's forehead. Furthermore, the academy student's hands were trembling slightly. "He is not yet in full control of the release and it stands to reason that Enaza's abilities more than likely do not pack the kind of punch that they would have he mastered them. Still, I do not want him holding back on my account; if he does, Haragita will surely notice and I cannot afford to lose the only ally I have in this place," the perceptive youngster internalized before deliberately rising to his feet.

The youthful adolescent could also hear Enaza's breathing, which had become slightly more erratic and labored; Kanore appeared to be a bit frightened. Zaius did hold the edge when comparing the academy student's spiritual pressure to his own, though the difference between the two was not so much that Enaza's attacks would not cause him damage. The young soul wanted to put Kanore's mind at ease, if possible. "Enaza, come at me with everything you have. Remember, Haragita can mend me if need be. It's alright...do what you have to do," the intuitive youngster proclaimed as he dropped both arms to his sides.

The academy student gripped the hilt of his blade firmly with his left hand and lifted it towards the ceiling. With a slight grin, Enaza replied, "Be careful what you wish for...Kasukēdokurasshu!" Water began to encircle Kanore's sword, progressively swirling around the blade more and more violently. The academy student's voice blared as he brought his blade down across the youthful adolescent's midsection; the strike was incredibly well placed and sliced a broad lesion across the center of his stomach. Zaius was bracing for the attack, but Enaza's raw strength caught him off guard. Though he was staggered on his feet, the young soul remained upright. Kanore's attack tore the shirt the ensnared youngster was wearing and made the wound visible; blood was leaking down the youthful adolescent's pants and beginning to pool on the ground below him.

"Okay...that hurt......a lot...where on....earth...that power..." Zaius struggled to internalize, as he was now coughing up blood as well. All of the sudden, the academy student leaped back several feet and gripped the base of his weapon with both hands. Upon landing, Enaza turned the blade down and away from himself. "Takashio!" as his voice bellowed, activating the technique, the bottom of the blade was becoming bathed in a blue aura. As the energy began crawling up the steel, it spread out from the blade on both sides, creating a funnel-like emission. Kanore gripped the hilt of his weapon securely and swung it in an upward diagonal motion, discharging the energy collected around the blade and sending it in the young soul's direction.

The injured youngster had just enough time to brace for the attack, though that would do little with no method for actually defending against it. The mass of energy crashed directly into the youthful adolescent's chest and blew him backward to the end of his chains, just before Zaius was shot forward by the resistance of the shackles binding him and was sent face-first upon the foundation. From underneath the young soul, a pool of blood began to seep out and spread around him. The academy student casually strolled up to the battered youngster, stoic in his approach. "Zaius, I had to be convincing. I'm sure you are just as aware as I, that this is only the beginning," Enaza thought silently as he gazed down at the youthful adolescent.

Zaius writhed in pain as he attempted to bring himself to his knees, plunging his hands into the pool of vital fluid in order to brace himself. The young soul managed to lift himself to a kneeling position and proceeded to cough up blood as he did. The plasma-soaked youngster's shirt had now been sundered, revealing his entire upper body; Kanore's last assault left a massive laceration from the youthful adolescent's left hip to his right shoulder, which was also feeding the growing puddle on the floor below. "The last...strong...er...than...the...fir...st...ribs......bro...ken....bleed...ing....inside...dizzzyyy..." Zaius struggled to gather his thoughts amidst the massive blood loss he was experiencing. Nonetheless, with his legs wobbling and incredibly unsteady, the young soul gradually rose to his feet once more. The academy student was simultaneously stunned and impressed that the beaten youngster was able to get to his feet in his condition.

Clutching his ribcage and with his vision starting to blur, the youthful adolescent stood fast and addressed his attacker, "Is....that..." Zaius was disrupted, as he coughed up blood once again before continuing, "...all...you...got...?" The young soul grinned, for he did not wish to show even the slightest hint that he was defeated or discouraged. Enaza grinned himself and peered at the confident youngster before him. "Oh, certainly not. Having said that, I think you need to be healed before we continue in any capacity," Kanore stated, as he began motioning to Haragita, who was still meditating in the corner of the room. With blood continuing to pour from the youthful adolescent's wounds and mouth, he retorted, "I...am...fine......let's......see......" Zaius was cut off by the academy student, "Zaius, another undefended attack could certainly kill you. You have lost quite a bit of blood and continue to do so as we speak. Please, just let Haragita heal you. Once he does, we will proceed."

The young soul snickered slightly, which caused him to cough up more blood. "What's....the....mat....ter....are....you....sc...scared...?" the bloody youngster inquired. Enaza shook his head and sighed as he turned his blade towards the ground and angrily jammed his steel into the stone. "Jigoku no kanketsusen," Kanore uttered the words softly, so quietly that the youthful adolescent only heard part of it. Without warning, a blue ring materialized at Zaius' feet; just as he glanced down at the sphere under him, a torrent of water surged toward the ceiling, carrying the young soul with it. Once more, the beaten youngster was brought to the end of his chains. Still, the flowing liquid continued to push his body, bending his wrists against the metal shackles confining him. The young adolescent then felt both wrists snap simultaneously, causing him to scream out in agony.

The stream of water now having subsided, caused Zaius to come careening towards the earth once again. The academy student looked on, wanting to rush in and catch the young soul. Though he could not risk Haragita or Umekuda thinking that he and the injured youngster were friendly with one another or plotting against them in any way. With that in mind, Enaza knew he had to let the youthful adolescent hit the ground;  Zaius, barely still conscious, endeavored to brace his fall with his hands. While he did stop himself from falling face-down once more, the young soul shrieked in anguish. The accumulation of blood loss and pain he was experiencing from broken bones, powerful attacks, and lengthy falls had now caught up with the young soul; unable to keep himself cognizant any longer, the exhausted youngster fell out of consciousness.

Kanore genuflected to the youthful adolescent. With Motonoru never too far away, the academy student had to be careful of his words and his actions involving Zaius. If either Umekuda or the former Vice-Captain was to become aware of Enaza's intentions to help the young soul, they would surely kill him...at least. Even so, Kanore could not help but acknowledge the resilient youngster's ability to take a beating. The academy student nodded his head and reached his hand down to the youthful adolescent's neck, placing his index and middle fingers on it. "He's alright...just passed out, is all," Enaza announced, just as Haragita sneakily approached from behind.

Motonoru cocked his head to the side as he quickly examined Zaius. Turning his attention towards Kanore, the former Vice-Captain replied to the academy student's announcement, "You would say he is...alright? Another couple of minutes and he would have been beyond my ability to heal. Cutting it awfully close, hmm?" Enaza turned back towards the young soul and countered, "I told him to get healed after the second attack...he insisted." Haragita began to laugh as he placed his hand on Kanore's shoulder. "Lighten up, Enaza. Master Umekuda has been very eager to see what you can do; needless to say, he will be thrilled with what you did here today. So, relax," Motonoru proclaimed. Kanore nodded, as the former Vice-Captain kneeled at the unconscious youngster's side.

Haragita placed both of his hands over the youthful adolescent's body; they rapidly began to pulse with verdant energy, which moments after gradually enveloped Zaius' entire body. Following a short time under Motonoru's healing technique, the young soul regained consciousness, awakening with a large gasp and sitting up immediately. "Time to wake up, sleepyhead," the former Vice-Captain declared with a disingenuous smile. The budding youngster frantically checked his body for the injuries he had before passing out, unable to find a single scratch. "Am I...dead?" the youthful adolescent wondered aloud. The academy student stood and offered a hand to Zaius as he replied, "No. Still, you certainly could have been." the young soul extended his hand to Enaza, who subsequently pulled him up to a standing position.

"I should have been more careful..." Kanore proclaimed before he was delayed by the inexperienced youngster, "No, Enaza. I did egg you on a bit. If I am being honest, your power surprised me and I was trying to see what my limits were. If either of us should have been more careful, it was me." Haragita rose to his feet and acted as if he was about to regurgitate all over the floor. "Enaza, this filth is not your friend; do not treat him as such," Motonoru announced. Enaza retorted, "No, he is not my friend. However, he is, for all intents and purposes, my training partner. Whether he is hereby his own will or not, is he still not helping the prospective soldiers for your army become stronger? Furthermore, you have seen the punishment he is capable of withstanding. Even if he is expendable, he is still an asset...is he not?"

Staring off into space while he digested what Kanore was saying, the former Vice-Captain slowly began to nod in agreement before his reply, "I cannot contest your words, young Enaza; what you say certainly has merit. It is indeed a shame that this one could not be convinced to see our side of things. I believe he is an asset, as you mentioned. Even so, you are the cornerstone of the army we are amassing. While I believe your actions here today have shown where your loyalty lies, if either myself or Master Umekuda have any reason to suspect anything to the contrary, you will be destroyed...along with your mother, Tomita; your father, Naegi; and your three sisters, Kanda, Sugita, and Haruno. I assume we have an understanding?" The academy student remained stoic and aloof, despite hearing such terrible threats from Haragita. "Yes, Motonoru-san, we understand one another," Enaza countered.

"Very well. Now that we have that out of the way, feel free to proceed, Enaza," Motonoru stated, as he began making his way back to the corner of the room where he had been previously. With an affirming nod, Kanore swiftly reacted to the former Vice-Captain's statement, "As you wish, Haragita-san." The academy student leaped away from Zaius, creating a moderate gap between the young soul and himself. Enaza peered at the young soul as he took up an offensive stance once more, gripping the hilt of his weapon in preparation for an attack. "Are you ready for round two, Zaius?" Kanore inquired with a slight grin. Returning the academy student's grin with one of his own, the brash youngster answered with two simple words, "Bring it."

 

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

WC: 2,804

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