Kurohyou Keikan

The Shiba Clan

The only table in the room was low to the ground and scattered across its surface were brushes, blocks of ink and even what looked like charcoal in long thin sticks. Taking Kūkaku's lead they gathered loosely around the table, but not as close as Kenchikuka who was bent over a large roll of pristine white paper half-unrolled across the table, curling over the edge and coming to rest on the floor.

"Sumimasen, Shiba-dono," A soft voice intruded at the door, behind the screen. "Ganju-sama said you wished tea service?"

"Hai!" Kenchikuka gave an absentminded nod, eyes on the paper, training over what looked like squares in very fine black lines.

The servant left as silently as she'd appeared without another word, closing the shoji door.

"Kenchikuka," Yoruichi saw the rapt attention Kisuke paid to the blueprints on the table, it was almost as intense as Kenchikuka's . "My friend Kisuke-kun -"

"Is curious about the…" He paused and glanced toward the closed shoji door before whispering. "The Shiba's Famous Hidden Palace?"

Kisuke looked around as everyone laughed softly at the architect's phrase (even Ryūken!) and he leaned in as far as he could to peer at the odd drawing of Kenchikuka's.

"Who wouldn't be?" Ryūken murmured, face indifferent again but Yoruichi knew the Quincy had yet to hear the secret.

Not that it was all that big a secret, Kenchikuka had no problem explaining his ability, it was just that it was one of those things that sounded simple but was totally impossible to truly explain.

"Come up here and get a proper look before you break your neck Hara-chan," Kenchikuka ordered in a stern voice, indicating the other end of the long cushion he sat on.

Kisuke sighed in relief, purposefully didn't look in Ryūken's direction avoiding his disapproving look as he scrambled to sit next to the noble. Eyes scrolling across the fine lines, dotted here and there with an "X" or a small colored-in rectangle.

"Can you tell me what this is?"

"A map of this palace?" Kisuke guessed tentatively.

"Very good!"

"Except…"

"Hm?" Kenchikuka's lifted a dark eyebrow.

"If this is the floor we're on," Kisuke's hand reached over to indicate a small collection of small rectangles which he took to be a representation of the stairs, making sure not to touch the paper. "Then this room is too small and there are more rooms…plus another staircase…" He turned to point at a blank wall behind them. "Over there."

With a chuckle Kenchikuka nodded, a pleased grin on his lips. "That's because I've not finished unpacking."

"That's what Yoru-chan said," Kisuke looked over at the girl to see a similar grin on her face…only on her it seemed strangely reminiscent of the woman from his dream, he swore he didn't imagine the peek of pointed canine either!

"A door and a small hallway aren't all that spectacular so…" He caught his daughter's bright gaze. "Get me a fresh piece of paper Kū?"

Kūkaku gave a vigorous nod and quickly left the room.

"Unpacking is easy," Kenchikuka reached for a small pile of parchments rolled into scrolls as skinny as Kisuke's smallest finger. "I find the corresponding scroll for the next room."

Kisuke peered at the small white scroll as Kenchikuka carefully broke the red wax seal over the small labeled holder, and unrolled the paper for him to see. It was a larger scale drawing of the next missing room, this version, however, was strewn with small, very intricate drawings inside.

Kenchikuka placed the drawing over the smaller rendition before weighing each curled corner down.

Although the noble had kept his reiatsu contained Kisuke found – like in his dream – he could feel Kenchikuka's reiatsu like a prickling pressure on his skin. Thankfully this was a gentle pressure and not aimed directly at anyone.

They watched as Kenchikuka picked up one of the small polished stones from a bowl no one had noticed in his lap and rubbed his hands together like they were cold, back and forth over it. He did the same to three more stones, casually examining each one, picking through the collection although each one was nearly identical in size (small), shape (circular and flat) and color (black).

As soon as he placed the last stone his reiatsu pulsed, and the stones seemed to echo with a dull yellow light from within. While they looked on transfixed at the stones Kenchikuka started tracing the lines with the finest brush any of them had ever seen.

Kisuke leaned over the edge of the table to watch the black ink glisten in the lantern light. As the last line was retraced the prickle momentarily became sharp needles and the fresh shiny black ink pulsed with the same yellow light.

"Now the door," Kenchikuka gently painted over the small rectangle.

Instead of watching the sure hands of the architect Kisuke's eyes flashed up to the blank wall.

"It doesn't work when you're looking," Yoruichi chided, as if she herself had heard the rebuke plenty.

It was enough to distract the boy and in the moment he looked away to meet those golden eyes the noble's reiatsu stabbed like needles again. When he jerked his eyes back to the blank wall there was a small shoji door in it. "You distracted me!" Kisuke whined and Yoruichi only laughed softly.

"She's right Hara-chan," Kūkaku's voice came out from behind the screen.

"I'm done for the moment Kū," Kenchikuka announced and the shoji door opened before Kūkaku came in with a short but thick roll of paper, this not nearly as pristine a white as that on the table. "Very good!"

The new roll of paper was large enough that Kūkaku stood the cylinder on its end before moving to sit.

Right behind her was a trio of servants, one with a tray of tea, the next a tray of sweet rolls and the last with another table for all of it, since Kenchikuka's was full. Everyone was served before the three girls left.

While they were distracted Kisuke got up and moved for the new door. The room inside was dark, and a beautiful bamboo scroll hung on the wall on which an odd poem had been inked with a rainfall of thousands of plum blossom petals, above and to the left black gnarled branches were "reaching after their colors" as the poem bemoaned. Kisuke squinted in the little light that made it from the other room.

The door hadn't been there before; his eyes had to be playing tricks on him. He was joined by Ryūken who was adjusting his glasses as if they weren't doing their job properly.

"Yoru-chan told me he packed and unpacked his whole palace but I-I…" His eyes scanned the inside.

"How!" Kisuke spun to find everyone looking their direction, tea and cakes distributed. "Kenchikuka could you please…"

"Both of you come back over here," Kenchikuka chided. "All of you move a bit closer if you can't see."

All the kids bunched cautiously around the table so they wouldn't disrupt the delicate set-up of the architect. "Netsuai and I worked on it together in secret for decades in scrubby hovels in Rukongai," Kenchikuka lifted one of the unused ink blocks, holding it out to Kisuke. "No reiatsu please."

Kisuke nodded and focused on the black block in his hand. He couldn't control it, once he started thinking about his reiatsu it answered. He hoped Ryūken would show him how to hide it as well as him…at all really.

"Not only the reishi of the ingredients of ink, but both mine and hers with an intent to make a happy home out of nothing," Kenchikuka handed him a different block, also unused in what looked like a muddy brown color.

With a glance at the neatly arranged, misshapen (out of use) blocks on the table Kisuke figured the ones he was examining at the moment were destined to be used next once the others were all used up. He could hardly tell there was a difference in the dark colors since the lines on the paper were so delicate. After a moment he found the larger-scale drawing of Kenchikuka's newest room had a brown rectangle to symbolize the door.

Just as Kisuke noticed Kenchikuka rolled the stones loose to let the paper curl as it wont. "What?"

"A kidō?"

Kenchikuka's eyes were bright with excitement; the two boys were just as sharp as his cubs. "Not exactly, but that's the closest thing to it. We'll say yes, so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about."

"The paper too?" Kisuke watched the small paper get rolled into a tight scroll and sealed closed once more, this time the Shiba symbol was pressed into a murky black wax.

"Hai Hara-chan, so smart," Kenchikuka nodded and the scroll joined a stack of similarly sealed scrolls in a large metal container painted like the front of the shōten, vibrant and possessive. A Shiba Box if the strange reiatsu it possessed echoing the architect was any indicator.

"My spiritual energy alone couldn't make such a grand palace, and I definitely couldn't take both the rooms and all the cherished belongings we've gathered inside them over the centuries alone," Kenchikuka pated the basket fondly.

"So my Okaasan helps, she's the one that really takes the reishi and makes the inks, paper, brushes," Kūkaku explained with a smile, holding her hand out to Ryūken to accept the ink block he was currently peering avid at, as if he could read secrets on it. "Even if you figure out the incantation there's so much more to it…And only the reiatsu used to make it can use it."

"What happens when reiatsu from a different person touches it?" Ryūken looked at his dark smudged fingers.

"Ruins the charge of reiatsu in the ink. The paper – this paper especially – will soak it up, it's made to hold things so…"

"Especially this paper?" Ryūken adjusted his glasses as he peered at the roll of paper near him that Kūkaku had brought in.

"This roll is still untreated with my spiritual pressure," Kenchikuka reached over and unrolled a small bit of paper. "I like to do it a piece at a time since I don't use it very often…Unless I'm making new rooms."

"And he only makes 'em to show off," Kūkaku teased and her father laughed with a nod.

"So true. Oh and I also do it when I'm trying to teach at least one of my cubs the skill," Kenchikuka countered and Kūkaku stuck her tongue out at him. She was close enough that he reached out and tousled her unruly black hair in retaliation.

"I can handle the reiatsu part!" She mumbled as she lowered her eyes to the floor.

"Huh?" Yoruichi poked her with a gentle elbow.

"I can't draw."

As they spoke Kenchikuka's spiritual pressure grew, impressive but still only a fraction as he pressed the paper between his hands. The quality of white seemed to be acquired with the treatment of another's reiatsu.

Kisuke didn't want to attempt to sense the intent of the reiatsu already in the paper and whatever Kenchikuka was putting into it as they watched. Well he wanted to but for once thought first and realized how dangerous it could be.

The idea of being capable of so much, only limited by the intent you could muster up, had Kisuke's reiatsu bubbling with excitement past it's boundaries. "So-so you draw with special ink, on special paper…" He prompted eagerly and Kenchikuka laughed, not only at the boy's exuberant words but by the other three sets of equally bright curious eyes leveled on him.

Paper now a pristine shining white, Kenchikuka weighed it down after hand-picking the stones to do so. "Whenever I do a new room I use a different ink…This one…" He indicated with a vague point to the nearby collection. "It ties them together."

"Them?" Ryūken this time.

"The rooms…The spell wouldn't know which order to string them together," Kenchikuka gave his head a shake. "I'm silly. To understand the how you at least need to know the what…"

"That's harder than you'd think," Kūkaku said in a sing-song.

"Well Kū always reprimands me for not asking what you think first," Kenchikuka gave each boy a hard stare; expectant.

"Somehow creating a palace out of a few pieces of paper, ink and reiatsu," Ryūken murmured in a baffled tone.

"Hai," Kisuke agreed, looking back just as expectantly at the older man. "A palace you can pack into the paper and put wherever you please."

Kenchikuka (along with everyone else) noticed the play of curiosity on Kisuke's face. "So many questions in that expression Hara-chan!"

"Please Kenchikuka explain and I'll ask if I still have to at the end," Kisuke glanced Yoruichi's way and she was still smiling but her golden eyes were waiting to catch her new friends.

"This paper contains a complex weave of powerful Shiba reiatsu – put in with intent – then a reiatsu tempered brush and ink are put on the paper. The drawing itself is done with a weaving…um…" His mind tried to think of a word, but then remembered, "Kidō…spell…"

"Kinda like a binding kidō and inside it, is where the room is!" Kūkaku made a cup with her hands. "Like a pocket of space where size is meaningless."

"Kū…" Kenchikuka chided when her excitement made her words a blur, never mind their original ability to confuse the other kids no matter their speed.

"That's how you explained it to Ju-chan!" Kūkaku protested.

"Ah, true," Kenchikuka gave a sheepish grin and Ryūken was struck with the sudden morph of features. The expression made him appear an older Kaien, without the startling eye color and much longer hair.

Kisuke looked at the paper, knowing it was the same thickness as regular paper. The change in color had him itching to touch it.

"But you misspoke," Kenchikuka said gently to Kūkaku. "The pocket of sizelessness…" He chuckled and shook his head at the word. "It is not in the paper, this page only contains a gateway to it…To the exact spot where the room is built."

"But.." Kisuke's mind worked at the idea, something begging for attention he could quite place. "Hoh…um…" He looked away from Kenchikuka and down at his hands where they were twisted in his lap to keep them from touching the paper.

"The paper is only a gate to the space," Ryūken murmured softly. "And the room is there."

"How does it get here?" Kisuke blurted out but Ryūken only gave him a barely perceptible smile and nod.

"It doesn't," Kenchikuka picked up one of the stones. "These and the design as a whole," he indicated the larger paper underneath of the entire palace. "Anchor each pocket in a specific order. I can change it a little, when the size of the rooms is similar, and I can swap them the next time I unpack."

"Put the pockets…" Kisuke frowned and this time looked over to Ryūken. Pockets?

"Poor Hara-chan," Kūkaku's voice grabbed his attention.

"I've got this ink here," Kenchikuka procured a block about half the size of any of the others, and an obvious bright red color. "And I only use it once or twice." The ink disappeared into a pocket and he leaned over the blueprint to the only entrance into the palace. Instead of a normal brown rectangle the entrance was a red oval.

"Like a senkaimon," Ryūken whispered after they had stared a few moments. "That's connecting the regular world to the pocket one."

"Hai!" Kenchikuka gave a surprising clap of his hands in the room's stillness. "But we can't really live in complete sizelessness", He went on. "The room can be compressed any size…I would only have to do the one room if it were just a matter of making a portal to that space," His finger touched his entry room with the blazing red doorway. "But I unpack it into a different…plane of this world…so we wouldn't feel too compressed going inside."

"So it exists but doesn't?"

"Not if you don't go through the front door…" Kenchikuka grinned smugly here.

Kūkaku cackled and teased, "Only one point of entrance to guard."

"A point of entrance you can't see," Kenchikuka gloated.

"Kenchikuka!" Yoruichi laughed as the man glared at something obviously in another part of the palace—since it seem he was staring at a wall otherwise. "I thought you two had settled for the Shrieking Fish?"

"We did!"

Kisuke watched the man actually pout and couldn't help but chuckle softly at his childish behavior.

"Kū-chan doesn't want to cook fish!" Kenchikuka whined.

"I like fireworks," Kūkaku sighed wistfully, as if she'd said the words plenty, and her father ignored her every time.

"Kaien went off to be a shinigami and now nobody wants to learn a family trade," Kenchikuka lamented.

"I can't draw," Kūkaku stuck her tongue out at Kenchikuka and left the room with a glower on her face.

"I'll…" Yoruichi started, only to bite her lip and quickly follow the dark-haired girl.

"Yoruichi!" Ryūken called, his own eyes going wide at his informal audacity before leaving only pausing a moment to close the door behind him.

Kisuke hesitated and when Kenchikuka met his gaze he saw the concern in the boy's gaze, but still the bright burning curiosity. "I'll be here for a while, don't worry. Kū's room is over here," He pointed to a room a floor up and on the opposite side of the palace.

"Domo arigatō!" Kisuke gave a small bow of his head and went to run after his friends. He used his reiatsu just in case, catching the barest traces of Kūkaku among the older traces of Kenchikuka, Ganju and a handful of others he didn't recognize.

The trail went up the nearest stairs and the opposite direction Kenchikuka had indicated the girl's bedroom was. He was okay until any fresh traces were lost at a junction of hallways.

"Hello!" Kisuke called, the empty halls echoing. He started checking rooms for any person that could be of assistance. The tiny lines of Kenchikuka's palace map were still fuzzy in his mind's eye, so he tried going back the way he'd come, still calling out for anyone listening.

"Oi, shut-up!"

Jumping nearly a foot at the snarling command, Kisuke spun in time to see a shoji door slam open, giving an ominous splintering noise. "Sumimasen!" He shouted as a horrendous soot-covered shape appeared out of the darkness on the other side of the threshold and made a beeline for the shaking boy.

"Who 'er you!" The raspy voice continued to snarl and growl. Closer now Kisuke saw large roundish goggles over the eyes with a strapped around the head, the lenses obliterated by soot.

"Urahara Kisuke! Friends with Yoruichi-hime, Ryūken-kun, and Kūkaku-hime!" Kisuke rattled off and his reply was another unintelligible growl and cruel black fingers digging into his upper arm to escort him forcefully back toward the still open shoji door.

"Sumenmasen! I was looking for Kū-chan and the others and I got lost I -" He coughed and choked as he found the inside of the room filled with some terrible-smelling vapor, much like the scent of burnt hair and skin.

"Hoh, its Kū-chan now is it?" The door slid back shut, effectively cutting off the bright hall light. The lighting was sporadic, where it shown in the room it was directional and made circles of light on the floor, leaving outside the conical shape too dark to move safely through.

Kisuke mumbled apologies again and again, his gaze trying to stay on the ground now that he had been released to stand just shy of any uncomfortable-looking chair and a patch of light.

"How'd ya get in kid?" The snarl was gone, but the raspy quality made the shape androgynous.

"Kūkaku-hime brought us…Yoruichi-hime, Ryūken-kun and me," He remembered something Kenchikuka had said during his teaching monologue. "There's only one way in."

The human shape took most of his attention, but as it moved into a different light, not dimmer, but with a different tone Kisuke noticed what looked like – like a hand on a stick!

"Urahara Kisuke, eh?"

"H-h-hai," As Kisuke stuttered, and gasped like a landed fish as his kidnapper jerked the goggles off. "It's not real," The voice softened and suddenly a cloth dropped over the disembodied hand. "Kisuke!"

With a shake of his head Kisuke looked up as gentle hands guided him onto a large beanbag, which he'd never sat in before. "W-what was that?"

"Reconstituted paper pulp, wooden replica," Recited the voice.

"Does it feel like that?"

"Pretty much."

"Can I touch it?"

A very familiar cackle slipped from the sooty shape and it beckoned him closer. He didn't hesitate (didn't think) and closed the distance. "Careful."

"Of course…" Kisuke watched the cloth get plucked away and could only look a moment at the lifelike replica then his eye skittered to the side to meet blazing aqua eyes, staring right at him with perfect circles of clean skin around where the goggles had been. "It's so lifelike I-I still can't look at it."

"If you could really see the inside you'd know it's just a good carving," A wistful sigh. "So far the esthetics are all I can do."

"What…" Kisuke turned to look only after turning on his second sight to see the usual pattern of the pores on the skin, but just under the "skin" was nothing, dark and solid. He reached over using curiosity for a shield, pushing back the fear. "It looks exactly like skin my…my eyes treat it like skin not paper or wood."

"Like everything here in Soul Society its reishi. I started out making ink and paper; all with the same reiryoku mine…It wasn't far from there to skin…just a different intent used," A small shrug.

"Are you Kū-chan's -"

"Why would you say that?" Snarled out.

"I just…" Kisuke frowned as the hand felt like it was carved from wood, a little rough, not like skin at all.

"Careful I said! It's still drying," A grimy hand reached out to grab a large metal object, two pieces of funny-shaped metal hinged together like a book. "This is my newest cast…been workin' on it for weeks."

Now that he looked harder the indentation in the metal was shaped like a hand. "You're only got this?" he indicated the mold and the fresh hand.

"Huh! A moment ago you were in terrified awe."

"I meant…Where's the rest?" Kisuke could hardly contain the idea that had hit him.

"Grab that model then."

Kisuke grabbed the bottom of the stand instead and followed. There was a door into a room just as badly lit; anything with a spot light here was covered.

This room was free from most of the vapor but the smell stuck. "The hand is the hardest…on inside and the outside."

"Lotsa bones and veins."

"What do you know about veins kid?"

"If you tell me your name Sensei-dono," Kisuke made sure to show his honest curiosity as he met those bright eyes.

"Sensei-dono will do, if you're so great a friend with my Kūku ask her. Or even Ryūken or Yoruichi."

"Shiba-dono?"

"If you must."

"Kenchikuka told me he made ink and paper with Netsuai in the 'Great Shifting Shiba House!'" Kisuke watched in horror as the snarling angry attitude from the beginning returned at his words.

"It's the fuckin' fish," Came from between surprisingly white clenched teeth.

"Oh."

"I wanted it to be about the science, the fireworks…" Kisuke watched Sensei turn away and throw her body over a small futon. He wished that he wasn't so pleased in appeasing his endless curiosity about himself as he discover that the thick layer of soot didn't impede in his second sight at all. She was coated from head-to-toe it was ridiculous and getting everything dirty.

"We wanted Kūku to choose but she picked…fish…because she can cook with one hand." Her voice came out muffled and petulant and Kisuke ventured closer wondering if she'd mind a hug. They did wonders for Kūkaku. "Go away kid."

"But I -"

"Scram!"

At the shrill command Kisuke spun and made for the door, trying not to trip on anything in the dark. He didn't slow until he was around the corner from the broken door and eerie laboratory, his curiosity whining desperately through him to go back.

Go back!

He stopped at a staircase down and looked back the way he'd come. He wanted to tell Sensei about his second sight, surely he could help and then…

"Hara-chan! Are you all right!" Kūkaku suddenly appeared from around a corner. "You've got soot all over the clothes I gave you!" She said, realizing it a moment before she hugged him.

"Gomenasai there was this lady covered in it…I think I either woke her up or interrupted her concentration shouting for you," He moved away from the stairs and toward her. "Are you all right Kū-chan?"

"That's my line!" Kūkaku grabbed his hand and started walking back the way she'd come, Yoruichi and Ryūken were nowhere to be seen. "Did Okaasan yell at you?"

"A little. I deserved it though! I was shouting and…Where are we going?" Kisuke noticed their progress as they barged into someone's bedroom.

"This is Kaien's room, don't worry he lives in the barracks most of the time. We keep his old clothes here, for Ju-kun when he gets older.

The room looked as if someone used it, or the staff (of which Kisuke had seen three) kept the dust from setting. "Are these Kaien's?" He asked plucking at the borrowed clothes.

"Something of Shiroganehiko's," Kūkaku moved to an ornate armoire with drawers in the bottom and hundreds of things hung up in the top half. "I think oniisan's got something simple like that. Do you know how to put on hakama?"

"Hakama…?"

"Pants like mine," She turned to show off the dark grey pants she presently wore.

"One leg at a time?" Kisuke murmured, pantomiming putting on pants slowly like it might be a trick question.

"Huh, no then," Kūkaku threw a sea green kosode and found a pair of matching pants, with only a drawstring at the waist, simple. "Shoes?" Kūkaku laughed and looked down at her bare feet instead of a half-naked Kisuke.

"I've never worn shoes, are they really necessary? I don't know all the rules here and Ryūken-kun's attitude tells me I'm…a savage," Kisuke turned away and kicked out of the old pants before putting on the new, the long kosode covering most of his body.

"Hara-chan you don't have a fundoshi on?"

"A…" Kisuke finished tying all the obi and turned with a flourish of his hands. "Fancy shoes?"

"No…um," Kūkaku shook her head. "Ask Yūk-kun."

Kisuke nodded and looked down at his feet as Kūkaku closed the armoire. "Your mother calls you Kūku."

"Yeah," Kūkaku grinned pleasured thinking of the love and familiarity of her okaasan's pet name.

"I thought Ryūken called you Kūku-chan to tease you," Kisuke remembered the questions that had arisen when Sensei said the nickname that he had kept silent until now.

"He does. He knows Okaasan owns that name, spoke it first. He hadn't admitted to such, but before today I wouldn't have called us friends," Kūkaku lead him out of the room, taking his hand firmly in hers. "And I know he has a stick up his ass about name honorifics, he sets everyone at his level of respect," She stuck her tongue out and made a face. "High and low."

"So he was teasing you," Kisuke tried not to frown. "In his own formal way."

"Hey, let's go to Sōkyoku Hill," Kūkaku suddenly suggested, pausing to turn and meet the boy's gaze.

"What about Yoru-chan and -"

"Just you and me..." Kūkaku shook her head with a sigh of resignation and released his hand. "They're a floor down with Otousan…Go ahead."

Kisuke watched her move away and cheat by using a secret door, hidden much like the one at the palace entrance. "Wait!" He moved after her as she held the door open for him. "I thought you couldn't go up there."

"You wanna go don't cha? I could tell earlier," Kūkaku closed the door. "Ichi-chan won't take you and Yūk-kun'll do whatever she wants even if he's just as curious."

"I don't want to get anyone in trouble," Kisuke followed her up out into the alleys of Seireitei.

"We can shunpo there."

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