A sad smile appears on Li's face. "Don't rush ahead, my apprentice! We can talk of my suggestions once I've explained the rationale behind them. But as far as executions go, you were spot on."
"Like I said, we Shinigami are free of karma. No matter how virtuous and good, or corrupted and evil, our fate upon our second death is the same: our bodies rot back to Reishi, our selves are destroyed, and our souls travel back to Earth where they are reincarnated."
"But like I alluded to before, this process is not perfect. Someone who has once been a Shinigami, is very likely to be one in later lives as well. Sometimes memories, even abilities, pass on."
"We don't want to take that risk. The powers of spirits are not meant for Earth. Just one soul with great power and loose morals could throw human world into chaos. This is the same reason why giving our powers to humans is illegal and severely penalized. Shinigami are free of karma, but humans are not. Not only is giving them powers likely to cause disaster, it is almost certain to doom many of them to Hell."
Li's smile fades. "That's why we had our criminals devoured by Hollows. A soul absorbed by a Hollow does not reincarnate untill that Hollow is purified. But the practice was discontinued because it was considered 'inhumane'."
"Inhumane to the Hollows."
Li puts the paper away and pulls another parchment from between the book's pages. "This is from 400 hundred years ago: 'By degree of us Central 42, all execution by Hollows, as well as pitting Hollows against each other in gladiator fights, is henceforth deemed illegal. It is unethical and, frankly, against everything we Shinigami stand for to let lost souls keep suffering because it is convenient or amusing to us. Such enslavement of the deceased shall no longer be tolerated. All captured Hollows shall be purified at once and all executions put on hold untill alternate means can be found. Anyone who is found to keep Hollows as slaves after the end of this year shall be stripped of their rank and put on trial.' "
Li hands the parchment to Koutarou. "We don't fight Hollows because they're our enemies. We don't fight them to protect Earth - frankly, Earth is not our business, and the less we interfere with living humans or the Rukon, the better. We don't fight them, even, because they're a threat to the balance of souls. As long as even single Shinigami exists, all souls devoured by Hollows can be returned to the wheel of life." Li returns to Li's drawing.
"We fight Hollows to save them. That is our purpose. We exists for the benefit of all deceased souls, human and Hollow alike. That is what it means to be a Shinigami."
"So the question becomes: are the people we are fighting still Hollows? Or are they Shinigami?"
Li presents the drawing back to Koutarou. This time, a line has been drawn from Human, to Sho, to Shinigami, as well as from Hollow, to mock-Arrancar, to the uniformed Arrancar - and above the Shinigami and uniformed Arrancar, the lines converge in a question mark.
"Have you ever had a Hollow beg you to kill it? That occasionally happens. It happens because a Hollow with its Mask broken, even if temporarily, resumes its former identity and reason. For obvious reasons, they are usually horrified by what they have done. Of course, usually the Mask grows back, and the Hollow returns to being controlled by base instincts."
"But Arrancars are different. Their Masks never grow back. For them to stand before our walls and challenge us instead of begging means they have come to terms with themselves. They know something that we don't."
"According to Hishikawa Setsurou, Hollows have found to replicate this... let's call it Arrancarification. So far, this was only known to me and him. I've not told anyone else yet, and for a very good reason. I fear that if I had, I would have been pressured to attack this Hollows now."
There is a rather agonized look in the Commander's eyes. It's apparent the elder does not like being in this position in the slightest. "It is starkly evident that evolution of Hollows if convergent with that of Shinigami. If we are Shinigami born from Humans, Arrancar are Shinigami born out of Hollows!." With the pen, Li beckons to the pile of books. "I spent better part of last night collecting all reports on Arrancars we have. It wasn't much. Prior to Scarlet Garden, Gotei had encountered only 147 of them. That's one every ten years of our existence, roughly. 77 of them were 'sighting only'. Of the rest, only 19 specimens were slain and recovered for examination. That amounts to 13 partial and 6 full autopsies. Only three were conducted with full benefit from modern methodology - the rest were pretty much garbage. But those three were more than clear: morphology and biology of Arrancars more closely resembles that of Shinigami, than it does that of Hollows. Two of them even had functional Hakusui and Chain of Fate! That means they generate Reiatsu in the same way as we do. I do not know how that is possible, but it's the way things stand."
Li sighs, the elder's head drooping and eyes staring at the floor. "I can not, in face of all this evidence, consider these foes Hollows anymore. There are some of us, like Kiba-san, who think it changes nothing that these creatures no longer have their Masks. But it changes everything! We are not men fighting beasts anymore. We are men fighting men! This is a clash of two different cultures!"
Li lifts Li's head, giving Koutarou a haunted look. "This is not a clash between Shinigami and Hollow, it is a clash between two different kinds of Shinigami. If you've been following what I've said, you should realize how it changes moral weight of this situation, moral weight of every decision we have to make. That's why you can't let hatred guide your blade. Our blades. 'A Captain should raise his blade only out of duty - never out of anger.' That adage is what's been taught to every aspiring officer, but I feat it did not stick."
"Likewise is the motto of our Academy: 'Do not seek beauty in battle. Do not seek virtue in death. Do not make the mistake of considering only your own life. If you wish to protect that which you must protect... ...slice the enemy you must defeat from behind.' Few remember what this advice was meant for. It was not for fighting Hollows. It was given to Shinigami in case of civil war, so they would not give leeway for old friends. That it was also applicable against Hollows was just a bonus."
"But it was also given so you would know when to yield. Always sticking to your beliefs and never compromising... is utter lunacy if it leads to destruction of what you originally fought for!"
"That's why I do not wish for open warfare between us and these Arrancars at this juncture. Even in the best case scenario, it will be a pyrrhic victory, destroying this fledgling culture of new Shinigami and also sending us back to a new dark age where every Hollow is just a monster to be slain. Our best hope, is to turn this war from a hot to a cold one. I trust you are familiar with human history of last century? We must make both our troopers and these Arrancars to realize that open fight will lead to mutually assured destruction. The cost of failure is too great."