Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Fortune's Arrow ( Chapter 48 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Tite Kubo owns Bleach.  I just borrowed the characters.  I do own Atonomatsuri (the bird) and Piecrust (the jerk).

Fortune’s Arrow

« I wish she’d hurry up, » he thought.  « I want to find out if I can finish this and get onto the next one. »
« Just tell us who won, » one of the observers yelled impatiently.  « You can explain later. »
Ise raised a carefully shaped eyebrow and stared with disdain in the direction of the voice.  « There is a correct procedure to follow and I will do so unless advised to do otherwise by the Captain-General.  Any further interruptions will result in further delays in the announcement. »
The silence that fell on the crowd was a clear sign that all members of the audience were keen to discover the result, even if it meant waiting.  It was almost as if each member was holding their breath, fearful that the announcement would delayed if they exhaled too loudly.
« The very beautiful and valuable bonsai is owned by the Captain of the 4th Division, » Ise said after permitting the silence to stretch for some time.
Retsu smiled sweetly and bowed her head in acknowledgment.   A very small buzz of conversation greeted this announcement.
« Another one right. » Atonomatsuri sounded pleased.
He nodded as if to confirm the observation, but still felt that he would lose.   Making the bargain might prove costly if it meant that Kurotsuchi won.  Determination filled him.  If he lost this, he would lose no other.  There was no possibility that he would lose to the clown who despised everyone.  What made him so certain of his superiority?
« The origami swan was found amongst the possessions of the 5th Division Assistant Captain Momo Hinamori.  The acting assistant captain found it on her desk and submitted it on her behalf. »
He heard an impatient sound from his left where Kurotsuchi was standing.  He ignored this indication of possible error, reflecting instead on his own error.  The vulture was quiet and he hoped she would stay that way.  Any words she offered now would only serve to underline how imprudent he had been to trust her .  All the same, when she next reminded him of his stupidity or insulted him, he could mention her mistakes.  The thought brought little consolation to him, but there was nothing else he could do.
« We now come to 6th Division. »  Ise stood straighter and held sheathe or notes more firmly.  « The cup is a family heirloom of the Kuchiki clan. »
His thoughts whirled.  3 out of 5.  The odds were not very good and he was certain that at least one more of his choices was incorrect.  That would mean the total, if all the others proved correct,  totalled at 8 out of 11.  As he’d only heard the disgruntled exclamation once, it seemed likely that Kurotsuchi had guessed the other items correctly.  Resolutely he tried to keep his eyes on Ise, but they wandered involuntarily to Yachiru.  She smiled and waved, but her actions were noted and she quickly ceased after receiving a stern frown from Soi Fon.  Even so, the brief eye contact soothed him.  The smile she’d given him didn’t indicate he’d won.  It was a smile between friends, but it made his spirits lift slightly.
A disgusted sigh from his side made him think that the 12th Division Captain was displeased to witness this display of friendship.  The man could get stuffed.  If he couldn’t maintain anything like a friendship with anyone, including his own daughter, he should seek some sort of counselling, not try to sour the relationships of others.  The man had all the charm of a threadworm with dysentery.  He had been well placed when he had been incarcerated in the Maggot’s Nest.
« Speed it up woman, » Kurotsuchi said, his voice as forceful as he could make it.  « You might find this amusing, but it’s my honour that’s in question. »
Zaraki’s fists clenched involuntarily as he fought the impulse to thump the man.  Once more he’d proven his conceit and inability to listen to simple instructions.  Ise would quite likely decide to withhold the results due to the additional interruption.  Zaraki hoped she wouldn’t.
Ise stared at the 12th Division Captain and raised an eyebrow as her lips narrowed.  « I warned that further interruptions would delay the announcement of the results.  You are not exempt from that warning. »
« Hell, » thought Zaraki.  « She’s going to actually carry out her threat. »
Glancing at Yamamoto, he hoped that the man would order her to continue.  The man stood there, leaning on his stick and he thought he saw him nod in agreement.  
« You can’t do that! » Kurotsuchi screeched, his hands forming into claws as he reached in the woman’s direction.  « I have to know that I won.  Tell me now.  As your superior officer, I order you to continue. »
« Shut up, » Zaraki said, unable to control his tongue.  He wanted to say more but the chances were that the man would not listen to him and would continue to gibber about his importance.
« The Assistant Captain is within her rights to delay the announcement.  A warning was clearly pronounced and you ignored it, » Yamamoto was now standing next to Ise.  
« Interesting, isn’t it, Kenny?  The man baits you about having no self control and he has even less.  So often people accuse others of the less than admirable traits that they themselves possess.  People are a mirror in which we see imperfect reflections of ourselves. »
Again it seemed that Atonomatsuri was giving him a backhanded compliment.  The excitement was affecting her.  That was the only reason he could think of for her statement.  But while he thought about that, it came to him that they were more often in agreement now than previously.  The bird sniped at him constantly, but she interspersed the complaints, bitter accusations and damned adages with these occasional observations that were not detrimental to him.  She’d even tried to help him and then proved her shortcomings.  It was hard for him to work out how he felt about her.  The original hatred and loathing with which he responded to her had been tempered and was not nearly as all consuming as it once was.  
These thoughts were not ones he wished to have, especially not now.  The uneasy truce he shared with the bird did not need consideration.  It existed, for this time and might not last past the challenges.  When they were over he’d think about it then, but only if it was necessary.   Until then it wasn’t important.  He didn’t believe is spending too much time on things that might never happen.  Since first talking to the spirit of his zanpaku-to, he had considered those things more than normal, but he wasn’t about to let it become a habit.  
Her observation did not blind him to the fact that she had argued with him and made him agree with two wrong decisions.  If the results of this were delayed and he managed to win the other challenges, it wouldn’t matter.  While he was interested in the ownership of the other items, it was less important than finishing this and proving that the 12th Division Captain deserved to be replaced by, if not a more competent officer, one who recognised privacy and would share the benefits that the 12th Division’s research provided with the whole of the Seireitei.
« As this result is deferred, we will now move to the next challenge, » Ise announced after conferring with the Captain-General.  ‘You have both rested, so it will commence immediately.  I call forth the new judges: Captain Unohana, Assistant Captain Kira and Third Seat Madarame. »
The former judges bowed and left the table returning to the seating for all potential judges.  Yachiru waved cheerily at her captain and gave him a broad grin and wink.  
Ise waited until everyone was seated before she took two folded papers from the desk.  Opening one she glanced at the contents and nodded her head thoughtfully.  « This challenge will be a little different from the previous ones as it relies on strength, skill and hand and eye co-ordination.  It is a physical challenge. »
Hearing those words made Zaraki’s spirits lift.  There was little chance that Kurotsuchi would beat him at a purely physical challenge and if it was fast, they might be able to complete at least one more during this, bringing the whole thing to an end that much sooner.  He almost asked what the challenge was, but decided not to interrupt.  Ise would tell them when she was ready and not before.  The man standing beside his was seething noticeably, but didn’t speak.
Ise gave a small smile and announced, « The next contest will be about accuracy in archery. »
Wondering is his ears were working correctly he stared at Ise.  « Archery?  That’s bows and arrows.  Does someone think we’re bloody Quincy’s, or something? »
Archery was a no-contact way of fighting.  How could he feel like he was winning if he couldn’t feel his blade slice into unprotected flesh, feel the impact of steel against steel?  Instead he was expected to ponce about, shooting arrows.  What would they be shooting arrows at?
« The Captain who gets closest to the centre of the target with his three arrows will be the winner. » Ise continued after permitting the hubbub of conversation to die down.
« Arrows, targets.  This is like some lame kids competition, » Zaraki thought.
He had used a bow and arrow once, because Yachiru had insisted on trying to teach him.  « Archery is a noble sport, » she’d said.  « It’s good for hunting. »
He’d grinned at her and replied, « I only like to hunt people, with a sword for a bit of fighting. »
She’s shaken her head sadly and entreated him further.  « Please, Ken-chan.  I know you can do it.  You can do anything. »
He’d tried to dismiss what happened from his memory.  He’d hated the way the bow felt in his hands as it didn’t seem natural.  Holding it meant precision and concentration as he aimed at the target.  Now he was expected to aim at a target with an unfamiliar weapon for a competition that could mean dishonour if he failed.  Not that he was worried he’d fail.  It was he didn’t want Kurotsuchi to win, that was all.
If he was lucky the bow would slip and he’d shoot his competitor, but while that might be fun, it wouldn’t be totally satisfying.  The man would probably run around squealing and begging that the arrow be removed which would pass the time, but he wanted to finish the guy off with his zanpakuto.  Atonomatsuri would never let up on him if he kept her out of the fight.
While he was thinking, some Shinigami set up the target butts while all the people sitting in that area were moved to the already crowded alternative seating.  He overheard the explanation and it made him smile grimly.
« We don’t know if either Captain has ever held a bow before and we don’t want any accidents. »
Hope rose a little.  Kurotsuchi might not know how to use the weapon and that might even the odds.  He became aware of an annoying twittering going on in his head and realised the bird was talking to him and he’d been ignoring her, caught up in his thoughts and considerations.
« You’re useless with a bow and arrow, » he heard her say.
« Yeah, and I can imagine that you’d have a talent for it. »  It was easy for her to criticise but he was pretty certain that as she was a bird she wouldn’t be able to hold a bow, let along aim it.
« I’ve never had the opportunity to try, » the bird replied shortly and he heard a terseness in her voice, indicating she was not in the mood for his observations.  « The one time you did you made a complete ass of yourself.  You had trouble distinguishing the bow from the quiver. »
« You really know how to help, » was his reply while he inwardly seethed at her words.  He was an ass?  The only completely stupid thing he had done was listen to her and let her persuade him to use her suggestions.   For a second he thought about mentioning it to her, but didn’t need her to become increasingly objectionable.  Her words and tone indicated that she was well on the way to causing problems rather than assisting him in solving them.  He felt a sigh welling inside him.  
Instead of all the insults he could have levelled at her he simply said, « Let’s see if we can beat the Clown. »
She replied immediately. « Together. »
How she could help him, he wouldn’t even begin to try to guess.  
Kurotsuchi was mumbling and he listened intently.   « Bows and arrows.  Weapons used by the Quincy’s who were a bunch of feeble vessels.  My experiments on them hardly provided enough entertainment or new information.  How they thought they were the equals of even the weakest Shinigami is a question that I will never answer. »
The words were a definite indication.  The derision in the man’s voice made it appear that he his disgust at the Quincy’s spread to the weapons they used.  This contest might be more equal than he thought.
« Select your bow, » Ise said indicating some that were standing in front of the judges table.  Zaraki and Kurotsuchi arrived at the same time.  Zaraki picked up one bow and looked at it.
« I want that bow, » the Clown Captain said.
« Here.  Have it, » Zaraki said and gave it to him.  All the bows looked similar and he didn’t know why the guy wanted to make a big deal over who had which bow.  They only had to shoot three arrows.
Picking up another bow, he pulled the string, or whatever it was, back to test the strength.  He only exerted a little pressure, then a little more and heard an ominous cracking sound as the bow spilt in two.  « Bloody thing, » he muttered and tossed it to the ground.  « Must be faulty. »
He selected another bow and again tested the strength of it.  He exerted much less pull but it seemed so fragile that he wondered how soon it would come apart in his hands.  « Don’t you have anything stronger?  Something that might not break? » he asked the woman.
« These are adequate, » she said, while staring at the ruins of the first bow.  « You have to use the same equipment in order for the competition to be fair. »
While he stared at her and the bow, he thought furiously.  « Can I use  a new bow each time, if I break one? »
« I don’t think that would be correct, » Kurotsuchi joined in the conversation.
« How am I supposed to shoot a target with a broken bow? » It wouldn’t be possible. Zaraki had a feeling that the man was going to try to work this possible issue into a way of gaining a possible benefit.
« If you break the bow then you should forfeit the rest of the shots, » his foe said and then nodded his head as if pleased with the idea.  « You should be penalised for your lack of finesse. »
Reaching down, Zaraki retrieved one large piece of the broken bow.  He’d prefer to use his zanpaku-to, but it had been taken from him before the competition.  If it were anyone else he’d try to wrench the person into pieces, but he didn’t want to touch the man.  The wood would allow him to keep a distance and the one end of the wood looked sharp.  It might not kill the guy, but it might shut him up for a while.
A gasp indicated that Ise might have guessed his intention.  « Please put the piece of wood down, Captain Zaraki.  Captain Kurotsuchi, what you suggest is unfair.  If you accidentally broke your bow during the first shot, you would expect to be given another chance. » She was being reasonable with an unreasonable being.
« But I won’t break the bow, » Kurotsuchi said.  « I know my own strength and how to moderate it when it will destroy something I need to use, » his arrogance rang through his words.  « The fact that this man is prepared to assault a defenceless person with a piece of wood is only another example of his inability to reason. »
Ise’s mouth twisted, almost as if she was attempting to prevent herself from laughing.  It took a few seconds but she managed to say, ‘No one would call you defenceless, Captain Kurotsuchi.  We are all well aware of what your capabilities. »
Zaraki almost laughed at the emphasis placed on the words.  The woman was definitely conveying an delicate insult but if Kurotsuchi said anything, it would only reinforce the earlier proposition that the man was paranoid and had a persecution complex.  The man’s face darkened and Zaraki decided to intervene.  The assistant captain didn’t have to fight his battles for him.
« Yeah.  You talk like you know what you’re doing, but let’s see you bend a bow. »
The 12th Division Captain turned to him, astounded.  « You don’t think I can bend a bow without breaking it? »
« Can you? » Zaraki shot back.  « Here, try this one. »  He handed the man the one he’d tried and hadn’t broken.  « If you have such great control, bend this bow without breaking it. »
It might not have been completely fair as he had possibly weakened the bow earlier, but at he didn’t care.
Kurotsuchi opened his mouth to protest, but it was apparent he was fighting his urge as his mind calculated the probabilities. His own words had bound him and made it essential that he try to draw the bow that Zaraki was offering.
« Very well, » Kurotsuchi said sullenly.  He hefted the bow and with care slotted in an arrow.  Frowning, he pulled back as he sighted along the shaft, taking aim at the butts.  He pulled back further and with a sharp crack the bow broke.
« You weakened it, » he squealed as he turned angrily to Zaraki.
Zaraki didn’t bother hiding the smile on his face.  « You said you know your own strength and how to moderate it. »
Ise intervened before the situation could get uglier.  « These bows might be faulty.  » She nodded at one of the attending Shinigami’s.  « More bows, stronger ones, » she said.
Kurotsuchi was still glaring at Zaraki.  « You tried to make me look like a fool. »
« I didn’t try, » Zaraki said, leaving the final part of what he could say unsaid.
A sly chuckle in the back of his mind told him Atonomatsuri had heard and enjoyed the joke.  « No, you didn’t try, Kenny.  You succeeded and he was the one how made himself look like a fool. »
For a moment  it was almost like Yachiru was talking to him.  He felt a small strange warm feeling in the pit of his stomach and realised  he had never expected to hear anything approaching admiration in her voice.   
The new bows arrived and Ise handed one directly to Zaraki. « Please try this one, Captain. »
He took it and exerted a small amount of pull on it.  This time the wood did not creak and he pulled a little harder, then a little more.  It seemed that these new bows might be able to take a little more punishment before they broke.
« Kenny boy, you might want to remove your eye patch for this, » the bird told him.  « You’ll need both eyes to aim properly.  Men in the game are blind to what men looking on see clearly. « 
The suggestion made sense or so it seemed.  He pulled off his eye patch automatically and then heard a number of people gasp.  Why did they always  carry on like this when his reiatsu increased?  Hell, they should be used to it by now.  If they were so weak that they couldn’t cope with a small fluctuation, then what use were they as Shinigami?  Ise had staggered back and with a slight air of shame moved back, obviously struggling slightly.  
« Why have you removed your eye patch, Zaraki? » Kurotsuchi asked rudely.  He looked at him, a sneer of contempt twisting his painted mouth.  « Trying to impress everyone with your inability to reign in your reiatsu?  Even the most recent graduate knows how to do that. »
Even Zaraki could tell that the man was trying to anger him.  He thought anyone would notice.  Couldn’t he try a bit of subtlety?   When he realised what he was thinking he almost snorted with laughter.  He, Zaraki, was thinking of subtlety?  When had he ever considered the matter before hand?  Had he changed so much due to the bird, or were there other influences at work?    
“Answer him, Kenny.  Break him apart with words and then with your hands,” Atonomatsuri shrilled.  “Never let a bad deed go unrewarded.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.  But you’re mistaking me for someone who gives a damn,” he said.
He saw Ise’s hand quickly cover her mouth and heard Atonomatsuri ,titter in his mind.  That was the reaction he was aiming for.  Whether it made the 12th Division Captain angry was a matter of indifference.  He was deliberately needling Zaraki and he didn’t see why he had to accept it.  
“Get on with it, assistant captain.  We are here to observe the challenge,” Yamamoto was standing behind Ise and had opened his eyes.  They quickly swept over Zaraki and then settled on Kurotsuchi as if interested in his reaction.  
He heard an angry muffled exclamation and knew that Kurotsuchi was not pleased, but it made him feel like laughing.  There was still a kernel of doubt that he would manage to win the archery contest, but at least his opponent wasn’t well skilled either.
He picked up the bow again and pulled the string thinking he was exerting the same amount of strength as before.  The bow didn’t just break this time, it splintered apart with a resounding crack, the shards of wood flying apart.  The loud laughter in his mind indicated that Atonomatsuri had witnessed the incident and found  it extremely amusing.    
“I bet she bloody knew that would happen when I took off the eye patch,”  he thought.  “She did it for her own amusement.  I need both eyes to aim but my strength had increased.”
“Oh, Kenny.  You made my day.   He who is an ass and takes himself to be a stag finds his mistake when he comes to leap the ditch. ”
Once more he found he couldn’t quite understand how relevant the adage was to the situation.  There was no ditch he knew about, except the one Kurotsuchi seemed to be digging for himself.
Yamamoto raised his eyebrows and commented, “You only get three bows, Captain.  If you break one before the arrow is released, then that will still be counted as an attempt.  The same applies to you, Captain Kurotsuchi.”
The man made another disgusted sound.  Perhaps it was the way he communicated best.  It was better than hearing him talk, but then most things were.
“It is unlikely that I would break a bow through the unwarranted display of too much unnecessary might.  I know how to exercise control and moderation in all things.” Zaraki noticed the emphasis the man placed on his ‘I’s.  That was more subtle than he’d previously shown, but not much.  Or maybe it indicated how much emphasis the man placed on himself.
Selecting a new bow he automatically gave the first one he picked up to the other Captain not wishing to hear him argue that Zaraki had taken the bow he wanted.  He picked up another one and turned to face Kurotsuchi who was looking at the bow with the same expression he might look at a cockroach.  “I don’t want a bow you chose for me.”
“Choose your own,” Zaraki said easily though he felt his jaw tighten as he spoke.  
“I will,” Kurotsuchi said and threw the bow he’s been given to the ground and then chose another.  “This is much better than the one you chose.”
“Whatever,” Zaraki said, bored with the man’s antics .”Can we do this now?”
Ise nodded.  “If you are both ready.  I am certain I do not need to explain the principles of archery to you.”
Zaraki had an idea.  He knew that Ise and a few of the female Shinigami were adept at using bows and there was nothing wrong with learning through observation.  « Would you demonstrate? »
She gave him a startled look, but then nodded.  “I can see no harm in that.”
She took a bow and selected an arrow then stood the required distance from the target.  He watched as she notched the arrow into the string and pulled back with a smooth steady movement.  It was easy to see that she was standing in the required position and she ‘d angled the bow carefully, looking down the shaft of the arrow, taking careful aim.  She released the arrow and the arrow flew gracefully through the air, hitting the bullseye.
A small round of applause greeted her effort and a small, pleased smile appeared briefly on her face.  It seemed to Zaraki that Ise liked to receive recognition for her skills, but didn’t wish to call attention to them.  To do so would be considered impolite.
“You made that look easy,” Zaraki told her.
She stared at him disbelievingly, searching his face for some sign that he was making a joke.  He kept his face carefully neutral and slowly she nodded her head.  “I enjoy practicing.  I clear my mind and focus only on the target.”
“That’s good advice, Kenny.  But clearing your mind won’t take long,  will it.  There’s not much going on in there anyway.”
He had almost expected that type of comment from the bird, and shrugged it off.  “Yeah.  It’s a good thing I don’t listen to your advice all the time,” he replied dryly.
“Humph.  Only fools ignore the advice of sages.”
“I didn’t know you were a herb,” Zaraki flipped back at her without really thinking about it.  
“KENNY!  Your attempt at humour is not amusing in the slightest,” Atonomatsuri shrilled at him.  
“I will now toss a coin to see who will take the first shot,” Ise said before Zaraki decided if he wanted to reply to Atonomatsuri.  “Captain Kurotsuchi you may call.”
“Tails,” he said firmly as the coin spun in the air.
They watched as the coin landed on the ground, tails showing clearly.  Zaraki didn’t care.  Who went first or last didn’t matter, only the results were important.
“ I won the toss which indicates I will win the whole competition, he said smugly.  “You can give up now, Zaraki.  This is definite proof that I will be victorious.”
“Yeah, yeah.  Believe what you want to,” Zaraki said.  “Why don’t you prove it.”
Kurotsuchi stretched hi s mouth in a superior smile.  “I will.”
Selecting an arrow he strode to the position Ise had taken and prepared to shoot.  Before he could complete his shot, Ise interrupted.  “I’m sorry, Captain, but as you are a male, it is only correct that you stand further from the target.”
“Why?”  The man did not move, or lower his bow.  It might happen that he would let the arrow loose despite the protest.
“If you do not do so, no matter if you hit a bulls eye, it will not be counted,” Ise was in earnest.  “We are doing this according to custom and custom dictates that males stand a certain distance from the target.  You have to stand here.” She walked a number of paces further back from the target and Kurotsuchi reluctantly followed her.
“I can shoot from here?  You’re not going to change your mind again?” he asked acerbically.  The condescension in his tone made Ise wince but she nodded at him politely enough.
“This is the right place.” Her voice was tellingly even.  She was staring at Yamamoto for assurance and he indicated his agreement.

—————————————————- ————————————————————————–A uthor’s Note
It surprised me when Ise refused to provide the results.  Each rewrite had no effect, so it had to be left.  While the story is planned out, it sometimes takes me in unexpected directions.
Please review.
MS

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