Kara stood at the entrance to Rukongai's twenty-third district and carefully re-read the bounty she'd taken responsibility for. It was an impossibly vague description of a man believed to have made away with one of the lower royal family's heirlooms; a monkey made entirely of gold. The description read,
Male. Thief-like. Shinigami. Stole Lower Royal Family Heirloom. Golden Monkey. Apprehend Immediately.
Kara's brows knotted noticeably. Was 'Thief-like' even a word?
Notwithstanding, it was one of the duties of a Gotei 13 Captain to see to the troubles of the royal clans. And so Kara had taken the bounty and gone off, and now found herself scanning the faces of the people about around the entrance to the twenty-third district of Rukongai, where a wandering vendor of spirits (the sipping kind, not the ethereal being kind) had slyly implied a shinigami had been seen skulking around with something lumpy in his robes.
Okay, Kara thought, I'm carrying out an investigation. First, I need to question people. Spadework- yeah, that's what its called. I'll ask questions, cross-reference eye-witness reports, build leads ...
Kara's gaze slowly swept over the mass of decidely unfriendly looking folk. She sighed.
Spadework ... Let's get to it.
So she set about asking the people around if they'd seen anyone matching the hopelessly vague description of the suspect, and was very not surprised when none had seen the subject.
Despite her efforts to block out all but the task at hand, Kara couldn't help but notice how thoroughly beat-down the district was. This was her first time visiting any of Rukongai's districts, and while she'd heard by means of divisional scuttlebutt about how poor most of Rukongai was, Kara hadn't been prepared for the reality of it. She glanced down at a child curled on a street corner as she passed, and the blank hopelessness that met her eyes sent a sickening surge of guilt through Kara's gut. Kara paused and felt around in her clothes for anything- a half-eaten snack, a stray bit of money- to help the child, but she found nothing. Biting her lip and trying not entirely successfully to kill a second, stronger wave of guilt, Kara walked toward her next quarry.
The man looked at least eighty (though he was almost certainly older, being a soul) and sat behind the old, worn counter of yet anothet run-down liquor stall. Placid grey eyes followed Kara from under a heavily wrinkled brow as she approached. When she stopped at the counter, the old man's flat eyes turned away.
"Greetings, Sir." Kara began for the umpteenth time, putting on her most respectful and official air. "My name is Kara Masters. I'm a death god, and I'm searching for a man who may be involved in a crime-"
The old man harrumphed loudly, cutting Kara off, and spat at the ground.
"That's every other bastard on this street." The old man's voice was rough as old tree bark and very deep.
"Pardon me, Sir...?"
"If youse looking for a man what done ill, throw a bloody rock and be done with it." he didn't look at Kara as he spoke, his tone gruff and cynical. "Otherwise, you can stuff that grubby little sheet up your fancy-schmancy robes and beat it."
Kara felt slightly taken aback. While her earlier interviewees hadn't been overly friendly, they hadn't been as openly hostile as this old man. Kara opted for diplomacy.
"Sir, I'm sorry if I've offended you, but I'm only trying to do my duty as a member of the Gotei thir-"
Cutting her off with another loud and harsh throat-clearing, the old man's eyes swung Kara's way again, and the hatred in them was great enough to trigger a single-step retreat on Kara's part.
"Don't you dare..." He snarled in a low, menacing voice, "...spout that pigswill here. You robed hogs ain't welcome 'round these parts, y'hear me, cur...?"
Cur? Despite her characteristic level-headedness, Kara felt her guts curl into a tight knot with anger. She'd done nothing to deserve this man's scorn.
Kara's fingers curled into fists and she took an indignant step forward. But just as her lips parted in protest, a forearm dropped across her eyes, halting her.
"Hey, hey, little lady- take a beat. Ain't worth it."
The voice belonging to the obstrusive arm was low and cocky and male. Kara turned and saw a tall man in worn ochre-colored Japanese robes. He had messy dirty blonde hair, a narrow face and pinched blue eyes. The man dropped his arm, and Kara gave the old crotchety man a dismissive look.
"You're right, " Kara said to the blonde man, "it's not worth it."
With a scornful sniff, the old man turned away from Kara and spat.
The blonde man gestured for Kara to follow him, and he led her to a small dinghy alley between two large shops. A half dozen paces in and he stopped, leaned on a wall and nodded at Kara, his lips parting in a knowing grin.
"Greenie-Beanie, aren't ya?" he said, a chortle in his voice. "Black-cloaks with mileage know better than spouting the Protection Squad mission statement around these parts."
Kara cocked her head questioningly. "'Mission statement'?"
"You know," the blonde man raised a fist and shook it tightly, as though waving a flag, " the Gotei's 'justice and freedom for all' pitch. Folks down here've been sold that bill of goods too often to give it a chunk of crap anymore. You're more likely to catch a hanging with than line that a hearty cheer."
Kara's brow creased in puzzlement. "But the Thirteen Protection Squads serve and protect the people of Soul Society. That includes Rukongai."
The man tipped his head back slightly, a somewhat patchy eyebrow lifting in puzzled disbelief, the way one might react where a person to declare confidently that the world was flat. Finally, he gave an amused smile and shook his head resignedly.
"Sure. You go with that." Coming off the wall, the man drew closer to Kara, and his voice dropped conspiratorially. "I heard you've got feelers out for a pincher swiped a gold monkey from one of those royal folks."
Kara instinctively dropped her own voice to match his as her heartrate rose in excitement and relief. "I am. Do you know something?"
The man nodded. "Caught word about this fella, name's Jinjo. Apparently he put out word he's got some big loot he needs to offload. Jinjo's got a rendesvouz with Potty Po, biggest fence around these parts, and a nasty piece of work..."
"Guy buys ... high-risk articles off people. They meet in a few minutes on the outskirts of the district, an old butchers place. I can get you there, but you gotta know... Things could get real messy, lady detective."
Kara barely needed to mull it over. Her first case and she already had a solid lead. She could solve this in no time! The monks had been right about this, at least. When you put in the work, the universe noticed.
"I can handle myself." she said, sticking her chin out confidently.
The man shrugged. "Okay, then let's beat feet. Sun's getting low..."
Kara held out a hand to stop him. "Wait- I never got your name, Sir. Mine's Kara, Kara Danvers."
The man smiled crookedly. "And I'm Quinn. Just Quinn."
* * * * * * * * * *
The sun hung low over a ridge of craggy mountains in the distance. Crouched at the edge of a nearby building, Kara and Quin scoped out the large, abandoned abbatoir where the exchange was taking place. Shadows stretched far across the dusty ground strewn with detritus and random patches of brown grass.
With her high-level energy sensing abilities, Kara was quickly able to determine the number of potential hostiles in the area- seventeen, including the two burly, square-jawed henchmen stationed at the rickety front doors. Kara surmised that Jinjo- the thief- and Potty Po- the guy who was going to buy the stolen royal object off Jinjo- where among the fifteen spirit energies within the old building.
"I need to get closer," Kara whispered to Quinn, her eyes fixing on the abbatoir's roof. "Close enough to confirm the exchange. Once the Golden Monkey changes hands, I'll drop in, grab it, and neutralize any hostile..."
"Whoa there, firecracker!" Quinn nodded over at the abbatoir. "There's gotta be at least a half-dozen guys in there. Maybe call for some backup?"
Kara smiled. "Not necessary. It'll be over quickly." Kara stood and lowered her weight, priming for a jump. And then she looked back at Quinn.
"Also, there's seventeen guys."
Before Quinn could respond, Kara had leaped across the intervening space and landed cat-like on the abbatoir's rooftop, dropping into a crouch immediately. At once, through a hole in the ceiling, Kara caught a conversation well into its stride.
"...know yer hustling me, aren't ya?"
"Got no reason to, Jin. You know I've always been a man of ... particular integrity."
"Big words only make yer sleaze shinier. Better bulk up the bucks, or I'm off."
"Hehe ... I ever tell ya how've I've not missed doing business with you?"
Dropping to a belly crawl, Kara made her way to the hole and peered down. Two men stood directly below, three paces apart. One was big and rotund, the other smaller and lean. It didn't take Kara more than a blink to figure out who was who.
"Okay, Jin. You've got yourself a sale." It was the big guy- Potty Po- who spoke.
Jinjo, the smaller guy, responded with a sly chuckle. "There's the spirit."
Next, Potty Po handed over a small bag. From the rooftop Kara picked up a low jangle, and guessed the bag was full of coins. She felt her heart catch slightly.
Here we go...
Jinjo took the bag, and Kara felt a smile spread across her face as he produced the stolen object. The Golden Monkey gleamed brightly even in the dim lighting of lamps below as Jinjo held the Monkey out to Po.
"Here y'are, Boss." Jin said.
It was what she'd been waiting for.
Propping up on her hands, Kara swung her lower body over the edge of the hole and dropped down, landing in a second between Po and Jin, whose faces scrunched up with a mixture of shock and anger.
Shooting up to her feet, Kara grabbed the wrist of Jin's outstretched arm with one hand and drove a palm into his elbow. Jin gave up a sharp, pained grunt and dropped the Monkey. A forward heel kick to Jin's rib sent him clattering down to the ground. Kara caught the Monkey, swivelled around, and slammed a foot into Po's ample gut, eliciting a grunt and sending the portly criminal stumbling back into a pair of his henchmen, who yelled in surprise.
Jinjo- face contorted with anger- jabbed a finger at Kara as a pair of henchmen helped him to his feet.
"Yer just writ your own obituary- pintsize!"
Kara analyzed the situation. She was completely surrounded, and even as she watched several of the men drew out sharp weapons. Kara knew instinctively she could take them, but wanted to avoid needless violence. Holding out a hand palm out, she turned slowly, letting her eyes fall on each snarling criminal.
"My name is Kara Masters of the second division," She said in a clear, firm voice, "and under the law of the Gotei, you are under arrest for grand larceny, and ...uh ... selling stolen goods. I implore you all to come quietly, and...well ... I give you my solemn assurance you will be punished only according to your crimes..."
Kara stopped, and her eyes fell on Potty-Po, whose small, pig-like eyes fastened onto Kara with a sneering malevolence.
"We ain't going nowhere, little birdie." Po hissed. "You, on the other hand ..."
Suddenly, Kara felt a frisson of unease. Po's hateful eyes shifted over her shoulder, and Kara began to swivel around...
The sensation was sudden and overwhelming, like a million white-hot needles ripping through her from behind. Kara felt her world upend, and her vision filled with exploding black dots that quickly became a black, swirling fog. She didn't feel herself hit the floor, and then she was gone.
Kara heard a gurgle, and felt fog- dark and heavy- swirl around her. The gurgling grew louder and louder, like water cascading down a trough towards her, and then it turned to words.
"...get her down to Sakahone, East Rukongai. That's the drop point. The Doctor's legman will pick her up, along with the others."
The voice was familiar, and through the dark fog came a bolt of comprehension and disbelief.
The bolt caused the the fog to lighten, and slowly Kara began to settle back into her body. She felt pressure beneath her upperarms, and felt her toes scrape against bare dirt. Her back felt raw, like it had been burnt. Kara, conscious of eyes on her, cracked her eyes open only slightly, and lifted her head barely an inch so she could peer in front of her. Ahead, some twelve paces away, was a large box with its front open, big enough to hold her.
The others ...? Kara thought, the words flowing through her mind like heavy syrup. No way. Was this ... a setup? Quinn's in on it? Who... doctor?
With each thought, Kara felt anger well up in her guts like molten steel, and the heat seared away the fog shrouding her mind. In moments she was herself again, alert, the muscles in her body tensing for action. Kara took a deep breath. She counted eighteen energies- including Quinn's. She was being held up by two henchmen- one on either side. Their grips were loose, probably because they still thought her to be unconscious. Good. It would make things much easier.
Something had hit her, knocking her unconscious. That thing- or person- was most likely still around. She would have to neutralize whoever or whatever it was first, or run the risk of getting hit again.
With considerable skill and speed, Kara dropped her weight and upper body; the men holding her let out surprised grunts. Kara let the heels of her feet press into the ground, and then she pushed off into a reverse somersault, wringing her arms free of her captors in the process; mid-somersault, she struck both men on the sides their necks with the edges of her hands, and they both crumpled to the floor, out cold.
Angry cries filled the air as Kara landed on her feet. She spun around, her gaze cutting keenly through the air from one man to the next, until they landed on Quinn. His eyes were wide and fixed on her, his expression one of mingled anger and unease. But it wasn't his face Kara's eyes lingered on, but his hands, in which he held a rifle the likes of which Kara had never see before- with a lightweight-looking white frame and bright blue lines on the sides.
It had to be the weapon that had put her out. Jinjo turned to Quinn and jabbed an accusing finger at him.
"Why the shit's she still kicking about!? That stinkin' gun o' your's is s'pposed to knock out low-ranked officer's, ain't it...!?"
Quinn seemed at a loss for words. Kara smiled.
"I guess I should have better introduced myself." She said, dropping her arms and looking Quinn dead in the eyes. "My name is Kara Masters ... Captain of the Second Division of the Gotei Thirteen, and Commander-In-Chief of the Special Forces thereof...and you, Quinn, just made a big mistake."
Several of the henchmen let out sharp sounds of fear and disbelief, and Quinn looked like there was a large onion stuck in his throat.
From behind her came Potty-Po's shaky, angry voice.
"G- get her!"
Even as Kara started at a run towards Quinn, he raised his weapon, lining the sights up with Kara; the lights along the sides of the rifle shone brighter, and it gave up a thin, high-pitched sound that Kara instinctively knew was the gun powering up to fire. Kara wouldn't give Quinn the chance.
In a beat she was in front of Quinn, who squawked in surprise. A drop-heel kick sent the gun clattering to the ground, and Kara dropped Quinn next with a hard, vindictive roundhouse. A quick 'sensing' of Quinn's reiatsu told Kara the green snake was out cold.
Kara brought her heel down hard on the strange gun, splitting it in two, and from the broken parts came bright arcs of electricity that soon died out.
Now, for the rest ...
Kara turned to face her attackers. The remaining men- Jinjo included- rushed at her, machetes and knives raised, mouths twisted into murderous snarls. Over their heads Kara saw Potty-Po lumbering towards the exit, two burly henchmen in tow.
Lips draw in with determination and head tilted forward, Kara leaped over the onrushing men and charged Po and his bodyguards. The guards spun towards Kara and came at her with heavy sticks. A jumping, spining roundhouse sent the sticks flying; Kara lunged forward between the guards, driving a palm heel into each of their lower torso's; the guards fell back, and Kara leaped forward, dropping a furious heel onto Potty-Po's shaven head. The fat fence's eyes rolled up into his head, and he fell forward into the dirt with a resounding crash, his tongue slipping out from between his lips.
Kara landed with Po's head between her feet, and then slowly turned to face the remaining henchmen. They all stood with their weapons raised, faces frozen into expressions of shocked incredulity. And then, in unison, they all let out tired sighs, dropped their weapons to the ground, and raised the arms in surrender.
Jinjo, in front of the pack, spat to the ground, eyes downcast and disgusted.
"Never had any bloody luck..." He mumbled.
An hour later, a squad of lower-ranked members of the Second Division's Onmitsukido had arrived- summoned by Hell Butterfly- and had rounded up the criminals outside of the old abbatoir. Kara had sent a second unit of special forces officers to the eastern Rukongai district of Sakahone, where they were to search for a group of captive shinigami or other souls, and rescue them. The strange weapon had been sent by courier to the Technological Bureau, while the Golden Monkey was awaiting collection by its Royal Family's retainer, which Kara found strange but hadn't commented on.
Kara sought out Quinn. He sat against a wall, hands bound behind his back, head lowered.
"Tell me exactly what you planned to do with me and the other captives." Kara didn't bother to hide the anger in her voice, and it gave her tone a hard edge.
Quinn must have picked up on Kara's tone. His head snapped up, and his jaw bunched as he mulled over his response.
"Look, I'm strictly low-level. Don't know much." He ground teeth some more. "All I know is some low-ranked officer comes looking for the artifact, we drop and box him, send him over to Sakahone where he gets picked up by some goon works for a guy called the Doctor. They I get paid. That's all I know."
Looking down at Quinn, Kara felt an almost overpowering urge to slam her heel into his face. Inhaling deeply, she opted for something less aggro.
"You're a jerk." Kara said.
Quinn looked away with a miserable sniff.
Moments later the retainer arrived. He was a tall man, thin all around and with a sharp nose hanging over a straight, well-tended black mostache and beard. He wore a triangular orange hood and orange robes. Kara walked over to him. An officer handed her the Golden Monkey, and she in turn gave it to the retainer, who held it up for a quick, narrow-eyed appraisal before slipping it into a silk drawstring bag and dropping his straight, penetrating gaze onto Kara, who stared quietly back.
"You have done my house a great service, Captain Masters." The retainer said; his voice was as narrow as he was, with an undertone like the soft hum of silk threads sawing against each other. There was no emotional nuance to his voice, and this somehow disturbed Kara.
"I was only doing my job, Sir." She replied. "I'm grateful your precious artefact has been returned undamaged."
The retainer nodded, and then they stared at one another a little longer.
"Quite unusual, isn't it," the retainer remarked, "a Captain undertaking such a task? Grateful though I am, I do wonder if perhaps a lower-ranked officer would have sufficed?"
Kara felt her body tense up slightly, her mind catching sharply. She looked more closely at the retainer, and he seemed to feel her narrowed gaze. The retainer straightened up, nodding courteously at Kara.
"Of course, we all have our idiosyncrasies, do we not? Thank you again for your invaluable work. I will certainly speak favorably of you to the heads of my house. Good day..."
And with that the retainer turned and walked off, going around a corner and vanishing.
Kara stood where she was for a long time, mind working slowly, methodically. Was it even remotely possible that the royal family was involved in whatever it was Quinn and his cohorts were into? Could they- in fact- be the brains behind the operation, if there was an operation?
A Jigakucho fluttered onto Kara's shoulder just then, cutting off her ominous thoughts.
Captain, we have found and secured the abductees, seven in total, including two lower-ranked officers from the Fifth and Thirteenth division, and citizens of Rukongai.
Awaiting your orders, Sir.
"Escort the officers back to Seireitei for debriefing, and the citizen's as well; they'll be returned to their families once we've gotten their accounts."
The dark butterfly flittered off.
Feeling a faint unease, Kara turned and moved her gaze over the roof of the abbatoir, to the hills beyond. Did she just see something move? She could feel no spirit pressure. It must have been an illusion.
Sighing, Kara gave final orders and then made her way slowly back to Seireitei. This wasn't over.
For a moment, Kara wasn't certain which she dreaded most- digging further into this disturbing case, or digging into the mountains of paperwork she was certain would be waiting for her at her office.