18 Chapter 18: Getting the ball rolling (3).

Riku's POV.

"Officer Riku, your transfer has been approved. Once you have vacated your assigned room, proceed to report to the Vice-Captain's office. Vice-Captain Rangiku has mentioned that she would like a word with you." The messenger finished his announcement with an indifferent expression. His monotone voice and plain facial features led me to question whether he chose his career or his career chose him.

Before the pause between us could get awkward, I nodded in acceptance and promptly shooed him off. Judging by the protruding temple vein he was sporting, I reckoned he did not like that. But it matters not. He won't have to see me for the rest of his seemingly boring life.

Turning around, I shut the door and focused on packing my belongings. Admittedly, I did not have much; just a few books and a pair of dark khaki leather sandals. Any toiletry I needed, I could create. And I never need to replace my clothes, as every morning, I simply decompose all the dirt and grime that accumulated on me or my uniform into pure reishi.

Essentially, living every germophobe's wet dream.

Chuckling a bit at the thought, I willed some of the atmospheric reishi in the room to construct a simple woven sack. As usual, I checked my surroundings. There was no one within a 20m radius of me, and no strange reishi fluctuations were revealed by the scan.

In front of me, blue strings of energy coalesced into a hollow sphere. The sphere stretched and bent, with one side becoming lopsided. Eventually, the sphere unravelled while maintaining its shape and the energy strings slowly treaded themselves into a fine mesh.

Not wanting to carry around a bright blue, glowing bag, I willed the mesh to dull and take on a more normal brown colour.

I no longer had any nostalgia for this place, and the few people I got to know, were never more than passing acquaintances. Leaving the cramped room, I was met with a busy hallway. It's no surprise since its around midday.

I exchanged a few polite greetings with the passing officers. The few officers I was familiar with each took a moment to say goodbye, although some Seated Officers were a bit too enthusiastic. It wasn't a secret that I applied for a transfer, and I suspect a few insecure Seated Officers breathed a collective sigh of relief when they found out. Even if I was, in their perspective, severely weakened, a glance at my records should show them I still pose a significant threat to their positions.

However, none of that matters today. Ignoring the busy atmosphere of the division, I whistled a happy tune as I made my way to the Vice-Captain's officer. I didn't know which tune it was exactly, but I remember it was one of my daughters' favourites. Assuming those daughters were real...

Narrator's POV. Tenth division, Vice-Captain's office.

Vice-Captain Rangiku, sat behind her desk with her hands folded under her large bust, her eyes fixed on the transfer request in front of her. She had seen many requests like this before, but this one was different. This one was personal.

The rest of her desk was filled with random paperwork she would have completed ages ago if not for this single transfer request hijacking her entire focus. A knock on the door awoke her from her dazed state. She immediately recognized the reiatsu outside her door.

It seemed it was time to confront the guilt that's been eating at her for the past few months.

Riku's POV.

Knocking on the office door, I took a moment to use my enhanced senses to thoroughly scan the room. Nothing was a miss, so I relaxed a bit and stood there silently, waiting for a response. This part of the building was surprisingly empty.

I've learnt to deal with silence over the decades but it doesn't mean I find the quiet corridor endearing. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait for long.

After what sounds like the noise coming from ruffling paper and the shutting of cabinets. I got permission to enter. Sporting a bit of a strange face, I entered to see a visibly stressed Rangiku, seemingly drained of energy and surrounded by large piles of paperwork. I'm sure a part of her fatigue stems from her increasing workload, but her guilt-ridden eyes weren't fooling anyone.

I'm truly surprised she took my situation to heart for so long. I would've expected a regular person to feel a bit of guilt for a time before promptly moving on with their life. However, it seems her compassion is a burden in this case.

What a shame.

Glancing at some of her paperwork, they revealed themselves to be new training instructions, logistical inventories and all the tell-tale signs of a massive military deployment. I knew that the Quincy were making themselves a nuisance to the Shinigami, but as a low-level officer, there was not much impact on my day-to-day activities.

In fact, the only updates I got on the situation came from my spying on some of the Isshin and Rangiku's conservation in the division, or when other Captains visited.

Although, I learnt to keep clear of Unohana whenever possible.

I immediately felt the unsettling reishi around her the first time I observed her. It reeked of blood and utter insanity. The type of which definitely doesn't come about from the occasional bout of murder, but from indiscriminate slaughter and madness.

Worse still, she almost instantly pinpointed my location once she entered my domain.

I'm glad all I got as a response was an ominous smile and a slight tilting of the head.

To this day, I'm still not sure how she located me. My reiatsu is always blended into and disguised by atmospheric reishi, so theoretically, I should be undetectable.

Clearly, that's not the case.

Seeing that Rangiku was done sorting out whatever required her attention, I turned my focus to her. She sighed softly before clearing her throat. "Riku-kun... Can I call you Riku-kun?" Nodding lightly to her uncertain tone, she continued. "I know that you've likely retained your strength-"

Raising an eyebrow at that statement, I kept quiet. There was no need to proactively confirm her assumptions.

"It doesn't matter how. It's not my business. I'm just thankful that not everything was taken from you." My eyes gained a bright brown shine momentarily.

Ordinarily, I keep a sort of reishi contact lens covering my eyes. Among the functions of these is to mask one of the few uncontrollable manifestations of reiatsu every Shinigami and I have.

But as one would expect, these lenses need me to dedicate some of my attention to them, which is why I regularly deactivate them for a time, as I don't always need their primary analysis function. This was one of those times.

Ironically, a clear oversight on my part.

The eyes of powerful Shinigami tend to shine ever so slightly with power when we experience intense emotions. When those Shinigami die, they literally lose the light in their eyes. This fact is one of the few useful pieces of trivia the academy teaches.

Luckily I calmed down immediately. I knew that I needed to deal with this hatred at some point. It's not serving me, and honestly, it's just not healthy.

She tacitly ignored my reaction, which all but affirmed her assumptions, and continued with a sad smile. "I've reviewed your transfer and approved it. It was silly to assume you would stay in our division after everything..."

"Vice-Captain Ran-" Before I could fully respond, she interrupted my planned polite platitudes.

"It's fine, Riku-kun. But allow me to do one thing for you." Pausing for a moment, she turned to look at a wooden cabinet hanging from the wall. A closer look revealed to me that energy flowed throughout the cabinet in tiny 'invisible' channels. I immediately recognised the pattern as a seal.

Getting up and presenting her back to me, she continued her speech as she started slowly making her way to the sealed wooden structure. "I owe you a debt, and hopefully, this gift goes some way to repay it."

She pushed a fraction of her reiatsu into the seal entry point. I quietly memorized the outer matrix structure and infected the matrix with my own reiatsu. I made sure to disguise my reiatsu within Rangiku's, thus bypassing whatever defensive measures the seal likely has. As Rangiku's reiatsu worked its way through the matrix, I got real-time information about the seal's internal structure.

After two or so seconds, all the necessary nodes within the seal activated, causing the front panel of the cabinet to dematerialize. Showing that the 'wooden' cabinet was, in fact, an intricate energy construct.

No, it wasn't. At least, not completely. My eyes narrowed dangerously when I realised that.

I was sure that the object was made up of wood before the seal unlocked. Meaning somehow the seal, either transmuted the wood into energy, which I don't think is possible without a special ability, or the seal forced the concept of 'wood' onto at least the outer layer of the reishi that composes the cabinet.

The latter suggests that seals can be used to terrifying effect. Imagine trapping the concept of pain onto the skin of an enemy, or the concept of loyalty into the minds of your subordinates.

However, the fact that these seals aren't everywhere also suggests that maybe there are significant restrictions to them. One more thing to explore when I arrive at the Kidō corps.

Ignoring the rabbit hole that the seal welcomes, I focused on the contents of the cabinet. There were a few books and some unidentified objects, but more importantly, there were zanpakutō clumped together at the very rear of the chamber.

My eyes widened as they landed on a blade at the bottom of the pile. I would recognise that blade even if it was reduced to atoms...

The sheath of the blade was a beautiful bright blue with white accents forming swirling patterns across the entire sheath. The handle was an unblemished white, while the guard looked like a rectangular piece of blue topaz with pulsating soft white light shining from within.

Sōten ni zase, in all his glory.

I had to suppress the desire to free him immediately. There was no need to trip at the finish line. My twitching index finger showed that I wasn't entirely successful, though. Rangiku held up a hand to lightly cover her mouth as she chuckled at my predicament. A few embarrassing moments later she continued her explanation.

"I had to petition the Captain to allow me to do this, and at first, he didn't quite agree, but after some drinks, he folded like the big softy he is."

She started lightly stroking her own blade and put on a loaded smile. "Being separated from a part of you is one of the worst punishments around. It can leave you feeling so hollow..."

I don't think she is talking about her zanpakutō anymore, but I continued listening anyway. There was no reason to comment when it was not necessary. Handling Sōten ni zase with great care, she removed him from the cabinet and turned to present him to me.

Everything seemed to disappear as I put my entire focus on the blade in my hand.

My quiet partner seemed to come alive the moment I touched the handle. The reishi in the room immediately rioted at that exact moment.

Pure power coursed through my veins, leaving trails of blue energy crisscrossing my skin. Although I instinctively limited my leaking reiatsu to the confines of the office, I couldn't stop whatever was causing my current situation.

Sōten ni zase's electronic hums rang out throughout the room with increasing volume. Something was wrong with him. He sounded like he was in a trance. I had to further isolate the office from allowing the sound and light show to make its way throughout the division.

As the seconds ticked by, the transformation slowly reduced in dramatics. After a full minute, the transformation stopped. Although, remnant wisps of reishi arched around me and dissipated once they got roughly a metre from my person.

The resulting changes were very apparent. Firstly, I had blue circuits lining my brown skin. The circuits seemed to closely follow my circulatory system, seeing how it emphasised my blood vessels.

I already had an idea about what that was.

The tips of my hair now sported a lighter blue than the rest of my darker hair. The tips also seemed to emit tiny bundles of reishi from my body, allowing a trail of blue 'dust' to follow my head movement.

I'm definitely going to put a lid on that. It seems to have introduced an unnecessary weakness.

The last apparent change was a definite advantage. My domain of reishi dominance has expanded exponentially. I can't put an exact number to it right now, but I can already feel multiple Captain-level reiatsu in my sphere of influence. I'm sure my sensitivity has also increased, but I'll need time to study my changes before I really conclude that.

At this point, it is quite obvious what has occurred. I've unknowingly achieved a permanent Shikai.

In hindsight, it was a significant possibility. My connection with Sōten ni zase is extremely intimate. Far beyond what can be expected for achieving Shikai, and in fact, likely more than what is expected for Bankai. On multiple occasions, Sōten ni zase and I have contemplated fusion so as to free ourselves from the shackles of a zanpakutō. However, we always felt something was missing, so we didn't risk it.

Turning away from examining myself, I found Rangiku standing a good distance from me. She had a hand on her zanpakutō, with a half-completed Bakudō spell forming at the tip of her left index finger. She was clearly spooked by the transformation, and I don't blame her.

Luckily, decades of control training allowed me to keep the majority of my reiatsu contained inside my body. However, the little that leaked is enough to put me well above the regular Vice-Captain level from Rangiku's perspective.

Being the trained warrior she was, she likely noticed that I was restraining a good portion of my reiatsu.

Extrapolating from that information, it's reasonable to conclude that I might be a Captain-level individual. Although it is also likely that I don't know Bankai, since my zanpakutō was confiscated for such a long time.

The office fell into a tense silence as we watched each other's movements. I contemplated simply killing her and fleeing to a noble house compound I strongly suspect has a private Senkaimon. It would be reckless, but I have all I really need to live a decent life in this world.

The prospect of losing all that Kidō knowledge made me hesitate, but if worst comes to worst, I'll try getting the information from Aizen.

My process of triple-casting Kidō spells in an incognito fashion was interrupted by Rangiku dropping her defensive stance. Raising her arms in surrender, she seemed to want to reassure me of her lack of hostile intent.

In the back of my mind, I was glad she wasn't a particularly militant officer who would have tried to strike me down at my most vulnerable. But I wasn't fully allowing myself to drop my guard.

Slowly dropping her arms, her playful smirk cut through the building tension in the room. "Don't worry, Riku-kun. I've never been one to kiss and tell." Her attitude brought a small smile to my face. Technically speaking, I hadn't broken any rules by undergoing the transformation, and I honestly did not want to waste the chance to finally get the knowledge I wanted without having to essentially grovel at the feet of a monster. It helped that I knew Rangiku to be a person of their word.

Taking advantage of the now calm atmosphere in the room, I attached Sōten ni zase to my hip and started making my way to the door. This meeting was far too exciting for my taste. Rangiku's soft voice rang out a final time as I neared the door. "Take care of yourself, Riku. I truly hope you find what you're looking for at your next division."

Even with my back turned, I could see her warm smile lighting up the room. Leaving the office, I felt a sense of gratitude and closure I did not expect to feel. But maybe I needed.

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