Tite Kubo owns Bleach. I just borrowed the characters. I make no money from this work.
The surprise on Kurotsuchi's face gave way to disdain. It was pretty well expressed but Zaraki felt he could take some lessons from Kuchiki who seemed to have the expression perfected and on his face most of the time. Disdain with a hint of ennui, disgust, superiority? All of them? It didn't matter. Kuchiki couldn't help it that he always looked as if he smelled something bad. Zaraki thought it might be something to do with being a noble forced to interact with normal people and he thought the expression was better than the grimace a lesser man might wear.
"As one of my senior officers, you should be well aware of the importance of my research and the valuable information we all gain from the work," Kurotsuchi said stiffly.
"The cost sometimes exceeds the value. The work done here provided little information except on how to create monsters," Akon continued. "You ignored my advice and ridiculed my suggestions. When I reminded you about this before the hearing, you told me not to bother and each time I tried to metion..."
"Your opinion doesn't matter because that is all it is. An opinion. Not based on empirical evidence of even researched theory," Kurotsuchi said. "Why should I pay attention to your opinion when I know it is incorrect?"
The disgust on Akon's face was palpable, as he gave a bitter laugh. "Empirical evidence? If you have any, you haven't shared it with me. Most of the time you share no findings with me but are quite happy to claim my work as your own."
Captain Kuchiki cut through the exchange of words with one cool comment. "While you converse the creature you created may decide to cut the conversation short."
Looking up, Kurotsuchi paled at the scorpion sting dangling inches above his skull. "Do something," he ordered through gritted teeth. It wasn't obvious to whom he was taking, but Zaraki thought he heard Akon snort.
"What would you have us do, Captain?" Yamamoto asked. "Originally you wanted these creatures preserved until they began to attack and now you are facing your creation. It appears unhappy with what it has become."
Tearing his eyes away from the tail, the 12th Division Captain looked around at his companions. Akon had his arms folded and his head inclined, watching his superior with interest. Madarame and Abarai were leaning on each other, staring at the sight and making quiet bets on the result. Kuchiki was watching, his hand on the handle of his blade but remaining still and calm. His face showed the usual expression but Zaraki thought he saw a flicker of cold amusement in the eyes. Body, bent over his stick, concealing his strength, Yamamoto showed nothing. Not interest, concern or even amusement.
Yachiru leant down and whispered, "No one seems to want to help him Ken-chan. I wonder why?" The tone of her voice indicated strongly she knew exactly why no one wished to help.
" Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.," Atonomatsuri said, making the words longer than normal. He detected a fair amount of glee in her voice.
"Save me," Kurotsuchi shrieked as the tail inched closer.
"But, Captain, you have always told us that you required no assistance and were able to handle all situations," Akon stated firmly. "How have things changed? You still have your zanpakuto and your ability to use bankai. Why do you hesitate?"
"Draw your blade man. Fight it," Zaraki felt compelled to add. "It wouldn't fight me, just wanted to talk and go on about how it wanted to die."
With the authority he used when angered, Yamamoto spoke. "You fight the creature, Captain. You created these flawed beings for your own reasons and they pose a threat to the security of the Seireitei. Two of them have been dispatched by Captain Zaraki. It is now your turn to act."
Zaraki flinched at the hard tone in the voice and for a moment was pleased it wasn't directed at him. Normally the Old Man's anger didn't affect him, but at this time, in this situation, it was obvious his ire was roused. There seemed be a shadowy fiery nimbus surrounding the man which Zaraki had seen rarely and he knew it meant the man was not to be ignored.
Kurotsuchi, stared at the Captain, the white paint of his mask again showing the perspiration which indicated his anxiety. Opening his mouth, possibly to complain, it was evident he noticed that any complaint would be futile and possibly dangerous.
"Justice, at last!" Sasori said.
Kurotsuchi looked shocked. "You spoke."
There was a silence as Sasori and Kurotsuchi looked at each other.
"How is it possible the Captain didn't know his creation could talk," Atonomatsuri wondered. "Justice may be blind, but she is not deaf."
For once Zaraki didn't feel like clawing out his brain as Atonomatsuri spoke and uttered yet another adage. "He has ears, or something like ears but you have to listen and pay attention to what you are told," he replied thoughtfully. "If he had someone like Yachiru in his life he'd have no choice but to listen."
"Even in the Maggot's Nest he didn't listen," Atonomatsuri mused.
"Does Clowny know anything about anyone who isn't part of an experiment?" Yachiru said loudly enough for everyone to hear.
The shock of the name made Kurotsuchi freeze and his expression hardened. "My name is Captain Kurotsuchi and you should address as such or by the title, Sir. May I remind you that you are only an Assistant Captain..."
"You have matters more important that an insult to concern you," interjected the Captain Commander. "The creature..."
"The creature has a name, Shinigami. I am Sasori. It wasn't always my name but because of this one I was forced to change both my body and my name. The sins of his heart demand justice. Justice for his crimes against those who were powerless to protect themselves," Sasori's voice grew louder and higher with each word and his tail wavered menacingly over Kurotsuchi. "I demand Trial By Combat. If he wins he committed no sins, however if he loses..."
"He dies?" queried Captain Kuchiki with cool interest.
Sasori looked at the Captain and appeared lost in thought. "No. Death is too easy for one like him."
Yamamoto cleared his throat. "His fate is not your choice unless I agree and if you win. I cannot agree to death for him unless it were by execution by Sokyoku, but for now, that option is not available. If you win you may suggest his fate. Only suggest."
Kurotusuchi blotted his face with a piece of cloth he produced from his sleeve, careful not to smear the makeup. "Captain Yamamoto, you cannot be serious..."
"Of course I am serious. You have broken many rules and regulations and one of those who has suffered at your hands is asking for justice. If I disagree, you still have to complete the challenges and at present it seems clear that Captain Zaraki will inevitably win. This is not your choice; it is mine," the fire in his voice was reflected in the pupils of Yamamoto's eyes.
"I was winning..." Kurotsuchi protested, his belief in his abilities making him unaware of the mistake he was making.
"No, you were not. I know how each of you was faring and your actions through the challenges made me question why I did not return you to the Maggot's Nest when Captain Urahara disappeared. You were released on his assurance and it seems due to the disturbing events of the time, I overlooked the reasons why your liberty was removed," Yamamoto spoke with authority. "Do not contradict me again."
Kurotsuchi gulped. It was obvious he now knew there would be no redemption from the Captain Commander and his only option was to fight the creature he'd created. He looked at the tail poised above his head and backed away.
Captain Kuchiki moved elegantly between the creator and his creation. "As I am impartial in this matter, may I provide the rules and declare the victor, Captain Yamamoto?"
The Old Man didn't answer immediately and Yachiru whispered, "Do you think he's fallen asleep?" in Zaraki's ear.
Before he could reply, the gaze of the man, who obviously had not fallen asleep fixed on Yachiru. "I am not asleep, Assistant Captain."
Zaraki heard Yachiru gasp as she slid further down his shoulder so she was almost concealed behind his back. Then he felt her body shake as if she were giggling.
"I was considering Captain Kuchiki's offer. As he appears to be the most impartial of all those present, I will accept. However, your Assistant Captain will act as referee as you will need to observe without action," Yamamoto said with firm decision.
Zaraki looked at Abarai who looked startled at his new role while Madarame clapped his friend on the shoulder, appearing to congratulate him.
"Does this meet with your approval, Sasori?"
"Whatever," was the reply. "I want justice now and if you prove to be a fair judge I will not object." He dropped his tail and moved away for Kurotsuchi who appeared to relax the greater the distance between them.
"Sad, Kenny. You don't have the opportunity to kill all of them," Atonomatsuri said with a chuckle. The bird was chuckling? What was amusing her and why now? "He who helps the wolf kill, will be killed by the wolf later."
Zaraki rolled his eyes but made no comment. Which one was the wolf? The scorpion or Kurotsuchi? Was Zaraki the wolf? Did it matter? He stopped thinking about it as Kuchiki announced the rules.
"You may use any of your abilities during the battle. No one is permitted to interfere or assist either of you. Asking for assistance of using an observer in any way will immediately cause the opponent to be declared the victor," he announced.
It seemed fair and sensible so far.
"The battle will not finish at first blood. It will finish when either participant is unable to continue, or one of them yields the match."
Zaraki was a little startled. Kuchiki didn't seem the bloodthirsty type, but in some ways he was correct. First blood could happen by accident and a small accidental scratch seemed an unfair way to decide the victor.
"I protest," began Kurotsuchi.
"I will hear your protest after the victor is declared," Yamamoto said. "I will provide no further warnings, Captain. You are shaming the 13 Court Guards."
Another gulp indicated Kurotsuchi had decided not to continue his protest.
"Do you agree to these rules," Captain Kuchiki asked Sasori.
The creature thought for a moment and then nodded his head. "It is fair. I agree."
"I agree on behalf of the Captain," Yamamoto said before Kuchiki could ask for Kurotsuchi's agreement. "The rules are fair and only a fool or coward would protest them."
"Please stand there, Captain and Sasori if you could stand there," Captain Kuchiki said pointing to two areas facing each other, but some distance apart and also away from where the others were standing, "We can commence as soon as you are in position. Assistant Captain Abarai, will you kindly make certain they are in position?" He then turned and began to give some quiet instructions to his subordinate who nodded and asked a few questions.
It was evident from the way he moved to the indicated position that Kurotsuchi was reluctant to take part in the battle. He walked slowly, his eyes apparently searching for a means of escape while Sasori scuttled to his place as quickly as he was able. Eventually both were in position and Kuchiki stood between them. "When I move from here, I will count down from five. As soon as the number one is reached you may begin. Until then no preparations, for example drawing a blade, will be permitted."
He looked at both of them until they nodded they understood. Abarai stood near, not too near, but his blade was drawn and he looked from one opponent to the other, preparing the intervene if any of the rules were breached.
Kuchiki stood next to the Captain-Commander and began to count backwards, clearly and slowly. Abarai kept watch and Yachiru climbed on top of Zaraki's head. "I want a good view," she explained when he complained her legs were in front of his eyes.
"You have a good view from my shoulder. There aren't people crowded in front of you," he objected.
"Okay, Ken-chan," she sighed as she took her customary perch on his shoulder. "One day I want to be as tall as you."
Zaraki tried not to laugh. It was extremely unlikely Yachiru would be half his size, let alone as tall as he was. He wasn't going to say anything now to dampen her expectations.
Yachiru jiggled on his shoulder with excitement. "It won't be as good a watching you fight, but I can see that anytime," she said, slowly. "It was fun watching you fight the spider, though he was very strange. All of them are strange, Ken-chan. I think Clowny ruined their minds when he changed them."
Remembering his recent conversation with those he had spoken with, he nodded. As Hollows they may not have passed a mental health check, but these transformed creatures would definitely have troubled any psychologist. Briefly he wondered if Retsu would be able to help anyone as damaged as these creatures had become. He knew she would be very angry when she heard about this and thinking about being the one who caused the wrath almost made him feel sorry for Kurotsuchi, but not for long.
"One," Captain Kuchiki said.
Kurotsuchi's zanpakuto was in his hand immediately and he immediately stabbed out at Sasori, trying to stab behind the knee, where he judged the armour to be weaker. It was a well judged move and one obviously part of his strategy to paralyse the opponent before any real fighting was necessary, but Sasori adeptly moved, seconds before the blade connected with his armour.
Then Zaraki rubbed his eyes. For some reason he couldn't see the Clown Captain as clearly as before. He seemed to be becoming part of the wall.
He felt a touch on his shoulder and found the Captain Commander next to him. "Captain, may I use some of the generous amount of reiatsu you are emitting and make a protective shield around us. If the Captain decides to use his banaki, we will need some protection from the poison."
"Yeah, sure," Zaraki mumbled. People were always commenting about his inability to control his reiatsu but it seemed the Old Man had decided in this situation it was an advantage. It made him wonder why his reiatsu was needed. He'd believed that other Shinigami, Captains especially, controlled their reiatsu so that they didn't overwhelm the people around them, but now he wondered if they has as much to control. Even with the eye patch he knew that many people found his presence alone overwhelming. Yachiru and the others had become used to it over time, but he remembered the reaction of the Ryoka when they first met him. Even Abarai had winced the first time they'd met, but had pretended to stumble to hide the wince.
"We have a large group of people who may be under threat. The Captain's shika is poisonous and his bankai affects a large area. Using your reiatsu will make it possible that no one will deplete theirs to protect others," Yamamoto said providing an unexpected explanation.
Nodding his understanding, he continued to watch the fight. It wasn't his imagination. Kurotsuchi was fading from view. The wall he was standing near appeared to be reaching out to absorb him, but that wasn't possible. It struck him that he knew very little about other Captain's abilities. Most of them were reluctant to use them and his attempts to make the other Shinigami fight him had been partly so he could find out their abilities and develop new techniques for any different attack or skill.
"You could learn kido, Kenny," the vulture told him.
"No. The Clown Captain knows kido, or so rumours say. Another reason to despise the use of kido over fighting," he told her firmly.
The black makeup had all but faded out of the Captain's face, but then Zaraki noticed that the scorpion was less distinct as well.
Yachiru whispered in his ear, "I didn't know hiding in a wall was a fighting technique."
"It isn't," he grated out. This wasn't fighting. What were they doing? Preparing to jump out at each other and yell "Boo" loudly. Maybe they hoped the other would die of fear, which seemed unlikely. If each of them were using the same tactic, how surprising could it be?
"Um, Captain?" Abarai asked.
"They can use any techniques they have available to them. It appears a mistake was made in not setting a time limit," Captain Kuchiki said distantly, as if the error was not his.
It seemed there was an impasse. Both opponents were now invisible and nothing was happening. Tapping his foot with impatience, Zaraki wondered what he could do. Simply standing there trying to watch invisible people was not interesting. He stared at the walls, trying to distinguish where Kurotsuchi and Sasori might be and then idly wondered if there was a fourth "Super Hollow", or if there were only the sad examples he'd encountered so far. If there was another, the "Super's" he'd met hadn't mentioned them. If only they'd told him more rather than complaining about life, insulting him or trying to distract him.
He thought he saw a movement out of the corner of the eye, and turned in the direction, but couldn't see anything where he was looking. Then he thought he saw something in the other direction. This time he didn't turn to see if whatever it was stayed in his peripheral vision and it did. Due to it being out of his clear sight he could vaguely make out the white uniform of the Captain who appeared to be sidling toward the only exit he knew about.
Should he say anything? He almost opened his mouth when another voice spoke first. "Fighting, not escaping, Captain. Please return to your place." Captain Kuchiki said dryly.
It made Zaraki wonder. How was it possible that this skill did not conceal the person completely? He'd had trouble finding the chameleon and he imagined that both Kurotsuchi and Sasori had the same ability to conceal themselves. It seemed odd that they all shared the same trait and Zaraki wondered why.
An exclamation indicated that Kurotsuchi was not pleased at being noticed and he became partially visible as he returned to his original position.
A rustle of movement and Sasori appeared in front of him, tail poised. It was obvious he was taking advantage of the situation and decided now was the time to make his move. It he managed to sting his opponent, the paralysis caused by the venom would make it impossible for Kurotsuchi to move, unless he had taken precautions. As he had created these "Super Hollows" he might have brought a number of antidotes in case he was attacked.
Kurotsuchi noticed the movement, froze for a millisecond and then drew his blade again, countering the downward strike of the stinger. It was the beginning of what Zaraki considered a little bit of a fight. Not a proper one as it was mainly Sasori trying to get his stinger in place to administer the venom to Kurotsuchi, while the Captain kept deflecting the attempts but not making any effort to return the blows.
"Is he trying to work out his tactics, Ken-chan? If he isn't, then he is just being useless," Yachiru said. "He's sneaky enough to watch and then do something low."
"Some might call it strategy," Atonomatsuri mentioned. "I don't like that kind of strategy."
Watching the fight, Zaraki wasn't impressed. In his encounter with Sasori, he had been fighting or arguing with two creatures and he hadn't been very impressed with how they fought. One tried to stab with the stinger, the other tried to bite or stab with sharp feet. It wasn't much of a fighting technique.
"You just try to hit people with your blade until you they give up," Atonomatsuri teased, or was she teasing? "Didn't Confucius say: 'Never give a sword to a man who can't dance'. Feel like dancing, Kenny? I wonder if the Clown Captain has two left feet or will he protest that the 'Drum is bad'?"
"What drum?" Zaraki asked. "Why are you talking about dancing and drums. They are supposed to be fighting, not dancing or playing drums, or maybe thinking about bongos is making you bonkers." He was quite pleased with the little joke he made.
In reply, Atonomatsuri groaned loudly and for some time. "Please don't try to make puns. Please. I promise not to use an adage for the next five minutes if you stop."
For a moment he was stunned. He'd thought the pun was clever and funny and the bird insulted him. The only positive was she might stop saying adages, but was it worth it? As he wondered what to do, he realised he finally had the ammunition he needed. If she said some mind numbingly boring adage again he could reply with an attempt at a pun and he'd make no attempt to be funny. Most puns were not hilarious, though he thought highly of the one he's made. "No. Every time you say an adage I will make a pun." The only threat he had, but it might work. Any release from the adages was worth it, even if he'd have to think hard to summon up any sort of pun.
He felt something odd in his mind; almost as if it were quivering, or was it the vulture shuddering at the threat. "You are not playing fair, Zaraki. That pun was truly atrocious and not funny in the least. It wasn't even worth the groan."
The bird had been stating adages for so long, even after he'd told her how much he hated them, but she wouldn't stop. He'd tried and nothing worked but now she was complaining about one simple pun? One pun and she was acting like he'd insulted her appearance, or something. It would be so easy to say something about how he found the decay off-putting (he was trying not to think of it too deeply), or that vultures were not normally considered the most beautiful of birds. Insults only encouraged her to talk more.
"You didn't find it very punny?" Why not make her feel the same sort of pain she had been inflicting on him since they'd started talking.
"Zaraki, please no more. I can't stand those puns. If they were even slightly funny, I might be able to cope, but they are dreadful. Each one makes me feel like ripping my wings off. Why not watch the fight, like a good Captain Kenpachi? I'll be quiet..."
She was promising quiet? He had won an argument with the bird? He looked around to see if the world had turned purple or there was some obvious proof that reality had changed. Everything seemed as normal except that instead of simply defending, Kurotsuchi appeared to be making a few offensive moves. Watching the scorpion and man circle each other, Zaraki surreptitiously pinched the back of his hand while biting the inside of his cheek to make certain he wasn't dreaming. The pinch and slight amount of pain indicated he was indeed awake.
He smiled widely. The fight might not be the most interesting he'd seen and the fights he'd had were pedestrian at best, but he'd finally found a way of stopping the constant adages. If Atonomatsuri and he could talk without the constant bombardment of sayings, which made no sense, they might eventually arrive at some sort of agreement where they could work together. The main thing was to hope the fight was over soon and Kurotsuchi was sent back to the Maggot's Nest. Once this was behind him, then he might start on the path of mastering the power of his zanpakuto.
An update in less than six months. Amazing. It seems time is becoming a little more plentiful and ideas are finally returning.
Yes, the puns are excruciatingly bad and they have to be otherwise Atonomatsuri wouldn't complain.
Apologies. The month of April was plagued with illness and other issues.
'He who cannot dance will say: 'The drum is bad'. African proverb.