A.N. New story, but not mine!This is written by my dearest friend))))
My input- translation (from russian), correction and publishing. Enjoy!
Emphasis on the word
The Highest Stake
In the room was the smell of the alcohol. The few men, that were not sleeping yet, but weren't sober anymore, tried to argue, and the arguments of each of them concerned different things, while none of them noticed it.
Above the heads rose the smoke of cigarettes. It was the dark, late night, and the room was lit by several lamps. From the nearby room a noise reached them.
No one paid it attention.
The door opened, and out of the room walked a boy. Some heads turned to him, and one man asked
-"Where is the chief?"
-"I won."-Answered the boy.
One of the men exchanged glances with his companions; he stood up and entered a room, which out the boy walked previously. There, on the floor was lying a man. He strode to the body, and carefully checked the pulse. The man was dead.
-"Everything was by the rules and the deal we made."-Spoke the boy; he stood still in the doorframe. His red hairs resembled the blood. He was serious and confident; not even a muscle moved on his face. The man closed the eyelids of the dead man, and watched the back of the leaving boy. One of his companions peeked inside the room. He was terrified, but after receiving the sign by the hand, he nodded, and followed the boy into the street, disappearing in the darkness.
End of flashback
-„...Abarai fukutaicho, it's time for us to go... Abarai…"
-"Let me try."-The bald head leaned to the left ear of the lieutenant, and shouted-„Abarai!! Aizen attacks!!"
-„What?!!!"-Lieutenant quickly jumped up, with the shikai prepared in his hand.
-„Enough with the daydreaming! I swear... 'I'll get a rest under the shadow for five sec' my ass!"
Somewhere in Rukongai, in the wide clearing, the snake was crawling on the grass burned by the sun. The heat was rising from the stones, and no animal had any desire to leave their homes; not even the birds wanted to fly. Suddenly the earth trembled, and from afar could be seen the strange cloud of dust. The group of officers was crossing these lands and fields in high speeds, and everything would be fine if not for the big' chested blonde stumbling and seeing the snake under her feet; she squeaked, freaking out the rest. The white haired captain kicked the snake away with his foot, and it flew some meters aside.-"Watch your feet, Matsumoto!"-He said tiredly, and with the same speed, they continued to move.
„In a day so hot like this, it is better to stay in your office, turn on the conditioner and read your daily horoscope…" thought Matsumoto, throwing glances at her workaholic of a captain in a misery. But with every glance at her captain she was losing her discontent and the wish of getting revenge, giving the space for the pity. Hitsugaya was choking, and losing his breath as his mouth was widely opened. He was sweating profusely, not used to that kind of weather… Inwardly, he tried to put in front of his eyes the picture of the cool waterfall or lakes and the caves, but the only thing it did was tease him, and he prayed for the cup of water at the end of the road. The captain Kuchiki seemed to stand his ground, even though his face was pink in color, especially his cheekbones and… nose. His lieutenant was moving ahead of him and Byakuya with all of his grace, and skills, imperceptibly was trying to hide in his wide shadow. The officers of the 11 squad had no shame. They took off their upper clothes, rolled up their pants to knees, and were taking the sun bath…
Yamamoto taicho informed them of the special, express mission. There was a possibility, that Gotei may not manage to stop Aizen, and he will create the 'key', that will give him access to the house of the king. But there are few artifacts, that could possibly prevent the gates from opening and they are hidden in the different sectors of the Soul Society. The officers formed the groups, and moved in different directions, to get it. Maybe they will have a chance to buy it, or maybe they will have to fight for it. Either way, they knew they will not be given it easily.
The group of the captain Kuchiki traveled to the north of Rukongai, to the farthest sector, where shinigami rarely appeared. The weather was cruel to them that day, and by the end of the road they were deadly tired. Their destination was surrounded by the high wall, and by the guards clad in black uniforms. The guard glanced at the tired, undressed and sweat covered group and blocked the entrance.
-"Who are you and what have you come for?"
Ikkaku tsk'ed, tilting his haloed head.-"And here it begins… Hey, bourgeois, can't ya see we're shinigami? Open the gates."
Renji, who stood behind his captain, made a step aside, when Byakuya, turning around, let his cold, piercing gaze fall on the third seat officer. Ikkaku fell silent. Byakuya turned to the guards and spoke calmly
-"I am a head of the Kuchiki clan, Kuchiki Byakuya. We are shinigami, and we came here under the order from the first captain, with this document.-He gracefully took out of the inner pocket a square envelope with a seal.-"This, I can give to your master only."
The guards exchanged glances and one of them left through the door, undoubtedly to inform their master about the guests.
-"Hey, come on, Byakuya? Maybe I just swing over that old thing once. We'll get in smoothly, take what we need, and leave. We'll only waste our time on the 'bows' thing."-Suggested Zaraki.
His tempting comment did not go unnoticed by Hitsugaya, but as a captain he couldn't let himself agree with it aloud. Captain Kuchiki did not react to this idea in any way. The guard, fortunately, came back before the situation got serious, and the gates were opened. They walked inside the walls of the compound, and came face to face with the different country. Overall, the clan is a small kingdom with its heirs, rules and the territory that belonged to it solely. The buildings in here were different from those of the nearby sector. The streets were clean, the parks looked after, and everything said about the wealth of the owner. Four guards led them to the centre where was the main house, which belonged to the master. Ikkaku whistled, Yumichika sighed in amazement, Hitsugaya raised a brow, and only Byakuya muttered-"Tasteless."
The house, or rather, a mansion, had enormous size. The sculptures decorated fountains, the roads were formed from mosaics, and the servants appeared here and there, fulfilling the orders of the not so patient master. They walked through the garden that smelled with any and every possible flower, and entered verandah. Someone ran to inform the master of the visitors, while the guards stayed to have the eyes on foreigners.
-"There was an attack on your master not too long ago?"-The question from Hitsugaya was casual, but the guards looked at him strangely.
-"What gave you the idea?"
Toshiro tilted his head in direction of the garden, where the camouflaged ninja were hiding.-"Lots of bodyguards."
Zaraki laughed loudly, a moment later his squad did too.-"If you ask me, I'd say he's just a coward with complexes."
Renji looked around at the walls, and crossing his arms examined the floor and the ceiling.-"He just doesn't know what to do with the money."
-"You are correct."-Agreed Byakuya.
-„In the beginning, the house was a lot smaller, and separate parts of it were added in the different times through the centuries. Here was what to look at, half a thousand years ago, but the new owner of this place, unfortunately, has no taste."
Byakuya was speaking calmly, almost quietly, so that only his companions could hear him. The guards observed them from a distance, so his words did not reach them. The servants brought the tea and other drinks. Hitsugaya sat down, and finally, with pleasure, was drinking the water. Matsumoto let herself have some coffee with milk and time after time she was glancing at the porcelain cup in her hands, examining it; its edges were decorated with gold.
-"Captain, what do you think, can I take this with me as a souvenir?"
-"Have you lost your mind?"
-"But, that plate at least!"
-"You disgrace me, Matsumoto..."
After some time, when everyone got comfortable on verandah and after Matsumoto, supported by 11th squad, complained about the lack of alcohol on the table, they were confronted. Byakuya stood up.
-"The Master is ready to see you."
Byakuya nodded. Hitsugaya stood up too; Matsumoto put the cup and the pastry away, willing to join them, but Toshiro stopped her by grabbing her shoulder. –"Stay here. Zaraki taicho, I would like you to stay here too; who knows, what may happen."
-"Do I need that anyway? Watching these fattass fools," - not bothering in his choice of words, replied the captain. And sleepily closing his eyes, he started to wave at his face with a fan.
Toshiro followed Kuchiki taicho, and the black haired man turned around for a moment to call for his subordinate. –"Abarai fukutaicho, you're coming with us."
Renji joined them with a smile, and Matsumoto mumbled in the mock jealousy. -"You're lucky! Remember to tell us later, how that wealthy looks."
The trio was led through the wide corridor, passing the rooms with expensive wooden doors; they entered the office, which had wide windows that let in the daylight. To the right side of them sat the Master. He was a brunet with short hairs; on his face started to form a beard, as he did not touch the skin on his face in days. His eyes were black, sneaking, and his nose was straight but aquiline. He wore the silky black kimono, and on his neck and hands was jewelry, gold, with expensive stones and metals. There were seen two unusual rings with the imitation of the checkmate board on the fingers of his right hand, and among the others a special pendent formed as a horseshoe on the golden chain around his neck. He uncaringly fell back on the pillows, and ate cherries. He spat the pests in the bowl, which was placed on the pillow by him, and he didn't raise his head, when the visitors entered a room.
The guard closed the door behind the trio. They stopped before the man, and waited. He ate one more berry, and uncaringly raised his hand. Byakuya looked at his palm and frowned. The Master looked up at him, and Byakuya in displeasure written upon his face, took out the envelope again, and put it in the man's hand. The Master ripped the paper of the cover, and pulled out the document. His eyes ran along the lines, and then he handed the letter back to the captain with words
-"I'm not giving it."
-"What do you mean 'you do not'?"- asked Byakuya before he could stop himself.
-"If I said I'm not giving it, then it means, you won't get it."
-"You have no rights,"-Stated Toshiro. –"This is the ownership of the Gotei, and you were in possession of it only temporarily, as this document states."
-"I don't really care," - replied the man lazily.-"You should have spoken with the man you gave it to."
-"Your ancestor is long dead," - coldly stated Kuchiki.
-"All right, fine. How much do you want for this?" - changed the topic Hitsugaya, taking the route number 2. He was counting in his mind how much it would cost, while examining the decorations on the walls, and he got terrified at the numbers, that formed before his eyes.
-"I want nothing." –The captains saw the hope in that pause, but he continued.-"I don't sell anything."
The captains looked at each other. The script was taking a third route, which Zaraki taicho was waiting for. They were giving each other the signs of readiness, when the Master spoke.
-"There is a way for you to get what you want."
The captains silently waited for a man to continue, but he busied his mouth with another cherry instead.
-"So, what do you suggest?" -asked Toshiro, tired of waiting.
The trio dumbly stared at the Master. That kind of offer was unexpected.
-"What do you mean?" - Byakuya had a bad feeling about this.
-"Simple. I'll put at stake the thing you're interested in, you will put something too, and we will play poker."
-"A poker?"-repeated Renji in a dry tone.
-"Kuchiki-san, do you play poker?" - asked Hitsugaya, disappointed.
-"We need to discuss your offer."-Toshiro was ready to put everything on the shoulders of Zaraki taicho, if the man could take it.
Hitsugaya pulled with him the representatives of the 6th squad, and using his memory, got back to the same verandah. Zaraki and Ikkaku already snored; Yumichika and Matsumoto were taking care of their looks, checking their reflections in the small mirrors that each of them had with themselves.
-"How was it?"- Not loosing her focus, asked Matsumoto. Totally ignoring her, Toshiro strode to the sprawled on the floor captain Zaraki, and kicked him lightly in the side. Matsumoto noticed that habit that appeared in her captain in the times of irritation; he has many times kicked doors in his office, and for his subordinates it was the first sign of his bad mood.
She kept quiet.
Zaraki opened his eyes, and unmoving, mumbled. –"What?"
-"Zaraki taicho, do you play poker?"
-"You need that right now?"
Ikkaku woke up too, and sat up, gazing at them and listening, not hiding his curiosity.
-"He doesn't want to give, he doesn't want to sell, but we can win it. How well do you play?"
-"Well enough to get his fatty ass back in its place."- Zaraki stood up, ready to smash and splash some heads into walls. In that moment the Master walked out to his guests, and placed his fists on his hips. "-So, have you decided?"
-"Yes," -Hitsugaya started.
-"I will play."
All looks turned to Abarai, who suggested his candidature as the opponent in the game.
-"I ask of you to forgive me, Zaraki taicho," - he continued, -"but that man plays poker better than anyone on this side of Rukongai."
-"Why do you think so?" -asked Zaraki, looking at the man and searching for the signs of him being a good poker player.
-"The horseshoe on your chest; I know who you are."-Renji spoke to the Master.
-"And why are you so suddenly familiar with me, ornamented officerie?"
The guards caught the tone of their Master and surrounded the guests. Shinigami gripped the handles of their swords, ready for any attack, but then, Abarai did something unexpected. He lifted his right foot, and took off the sandal.
Then the sock.
And then with individual, his own personal grace he ceremoniously raised his bare foot and stuck it in the face of the Master. The man grimaced, and pushed the leg aside, where for a moment it was seen by the rest of the officers; on the heel was a symbol for 'south'.
-"And what did you want to say by it?"-the Master asked without any interest.
-"Well... You have to know... Everything is by the rules… Or am I mistaken?"
Renji was lost. Maybe he really took him for someone else. But the man, after the long and unpleasant stare lifted up a palm, with which he ate the cherries before. There was a symbol for 'north'. With the same hand he gave a sign to his guard, and they lowered weapons. Shinigami did the same.
-"I can't believe my eyes. You were described differently."-mumbled the Master, now visibly in lifted spirits.
-"You weren't described at all."-added an insult Abarai.
That was the start of a cold war. The Master called one of his subordinates, and he, receiving the task, disappeared at once.
-"Everything's by the rules, just like you wanted."
The man retreated back in his house, and the guard left with him. Zaraki, realizing, that party was yet to start, lay on the fluffy pillows. Byakuya poured himself a cup of tea. Matsumoto was pushing a cup of coffee in a face of her captain, but he was openly pushing it away. –"And now what?"– He asked everyone, especially Abarai.
-"And that's all?" - Ikkaku got comfortable to listen to the interesting stuff.
-"And what else do you want?"- Renji turned away, confused.
-"Details, Abarai fukutaicho; what kind of compass do you have on your heel, when and where have you met with that man…"
-"I don't know him at all."-Renji cut him off and walked out into the garden, showing that he is not going to share with the details.
-"Ah? And what are we waiting for?" - asked Yumichika who was correcting his brows all this time.
The day was turning evening. Some of the flowers in the garden were slowly closing. The sun was setting, but it was still stubbornly warming everything with its orange rays. It was warm, but there was no wind, that would at least slightly shift the thickest of leaves. The officers were walking down the main territory of the compound. Closer to the main house was striding the blue eyed blond man with a heartful smile on his face. He had a white coat on; it had the red flames drawn on its edges. Renji was slowly moving in his direction, lost in his reverie, and he did not notice the new guest. The blond man, still smiling, questioningly examined Abarai, and then spread his arms widely for an embrace.
-"Rose-chan?" - He asked.
-"And if I am…?"
The blond warmly encircled him in his arms. -"I'm so happy! I've dreamed of that day for so long, but had no occasion to meet you. And here, finally, I get it!"
-"And you are…"
-"Namikaze Minato, the Yellow Flash. You may call me just flash."
-"Aha… The 'East'?"
-"That's right!"- The blond man lightly, with curiosity picked and pulled at his clothes.-"What an unusual uniform… Shinigami?"
-"I became an officer forty years after I was walking the streets of Rukongai with that name."
-"Oh, I understand. So, what is the reason for such an important call?"
-"The game starts, for the four."
-"Understood. The stakes are placed yet?"
-"The first one."
Matsumoto was walking in a garden hand in hand with her taicho; she tried to force him to relax, along the way taking with her all the flowers she liked. She noticed Abarai not too far from them, and another man by him. Placing a flower in her hairs, she asked
-"And who's that man, Renji's so familiar with?"
Hitsugaya frowned, remembering all the faces of Gotei shinigami, but he couldn't recall seeing that man before. His phenomenal memory did not have a picture of his face, just as of that coat…
-"What is going on here, would anyone finally tell me?!"
-"Shiro-chan, you should take from life what's the best!"-Caringly, Matsumoto pushed her captain's face in her chest.-"All the rest is of no significance!"-She waited, as he fought against her hold, until he calmed down, and then stroked his head.
In direction of the house was coming one more man. His height was average, but he was built well. His right eye was tightly covered with the blue fabric, and in his ear was the earring with the sapphire. His kimono was blue too. He walked to verandah, and the wide shadow fell on his thin face. He didn't like the presence of shinigami, so he stopped and didn't make any step farther. Captains Zaraki and Byakuya checked his looks, but just like him, they kept quiet. Hitsugaya and Matsumoto walked out of the garden, and from the opposite direction appeared Renji with the new companion, and all of them stopped by the entrance to the house in verandah, where walked out the Master himself, now in a different, more expensive robe, with the bearded old man, that frighteningly resembled Yamamoto.
-"Well",-started the old man,-"that kind of thing happens rarely, but, by the rules, if one side starts the fight with the other, in that fight all the four sides must be present. As the permanent, and the main judge of Rukongai, I will make sure you follow the rules. I will not support any of you, but I will not be against any of you as well. Now, greet each other."
The four of them, Renji, Minato, the Master and the new guest with the covered eye, stood up in front of each other in a square. The last one was gazing at Abarai without sympathy; he thought of shinigami as his enemies. Minato stomped with his left foot and then disappeared for a moment, then, in his place was a yellow flash, and in the same second he was back in his place.
-"The Yellow Flash,"-he announced proudly.
-"Stop making a show and being a fool,"-the old man looked at him accusingly and in a warning-"Introduce yourself properly."
-"But I really am called 'Yellow Flash'! I was called like that my whole life! After all, I am the fastest shinobi among the five nations!!"
-"As you were! Who you were in your past life, isn't anyone's business. Behave properly, or you will be given a warning."
Minato disappointedly sighed, and with a lowered head took out of his inner pocket a small bowl for rice. The judge continued in his place.-"The Bowl of rice; has received his title, by beating the previous East with one stake, the bowl of rice."
The player in the blue kimono clasped his hands and took off the cloth that covered his eye. His right eye was identical to the left, but it was easy to see that it was artificial, and probably, made of glass.-"The wolf's eye, West. I received my title some three hundred years ago, and I don't remember how anymore."-He introduced himself.
-"You won the game of dice."-reminded the old man.
The Master clasped his hands, and took out of his pocket an old, broken and rusty till blackness horse shoe. Looking at it, he introduced himself too, with the sarcasm heard in his voice.-"The Black horse. I won the battle against the previous North, and received my title defeating and killing him with this horse shoe."
Renji stomped with his right foot. He took out of his pocket the bud of the red rose, and introduced himself to the rest.-"Bara (rose), the South. I defeated the Storm in poker, making one stake with this symbol."
For his colleges the meaning of the symbol stayed a mystery, but the judge nodded, satisfied, and the players entered a house. Matsumoto crossed her arms under her chest, raising it teasingly.-"Can we watch the game?"
-"You have a right to do so."-The old man answered-"But do not interfere."
One of the chambers was prepared for the game, or rather the war upon the table. In the middle was a square table, and on it, was a small casket. Around this table were pillows, chairs and mats. The players sat in the compass order, and the judge placed the cards on the surface of their battlefield. The North took the cards and started to handle one by one to the players; he was the first to take the cards in his hands because he was the initiator of the game. The West took off the earring, and placed it by the casket. The East placed on the table shuriken, and the South put a ring with a ruby. The game has started.
It was late, the opened door led from the game room outside, where crickets sang in the courtyard. The night brought the fresh air and the long awaited coolness. The moon gently shone on the pool with reeds. Everything breathed with calmness and cleanness. Shinigami got tired; they ate the late supper and were offered the rooms for the night. After lots of bottles of sake Zaraki, Matsumoto and Yumichika fell asleep, right in the main game room, and with their snoring they soothed the growing tension in the air.
-"You know Abarai quite well, Ikkaku,"-quietly muttered Toshiro. He drank the cool cocktail through the straw, intently observing the players. He, Ikkaku and Kuchiki taicho rested by the wall; they were not sleepy yet.-"Did you know… that he has some business there… on the South?"
-"I didn't even know he played; he kept repeating that he has never held cards in his hands."
Byakuya was watching the table and did not recognize his lieutenant. All the four players sat without the upper garments, their hands were uncovered so they could not use any tricks. Their hairs were loose, and they took off the jewelry in the beginning. Their behavior was restrained, and mockingly polite. On the table already were papers with signatures and seals made by the judge. The stakes were upped, and it seemed it was only start of the game. They didn't eat yet and didn't take a break. Their muffled voices reached him with incomprehensible words and by their reserved expressions it was hard to guess what they talked about. The cards were handled again.
By the dawn was announced a break. On the table, everything had to stay as it was, and there were several people who were responsible for the order of things; two slaves of the Master, one servant of the West and Ikkaku. The players left the room; the North said that he will take a bath, the West left to sleep, and the East vanished somewhere. Renji walked out and strode to the pool. There, hidden by the thickest from the curious eyes, he swam.
He lay on the shore, drying himself under the morning sun.
He fell asleep, and had a dream. He did not like dreams. They were always too much alike reality, but with important differences. In the dreams he found a lot more details and colors that stayed in his memories. These details revealed themselves in his subconsciousness, making him remember.
He didn't sleep longer than half an hour, waking up and sharply raising off the earth. He knew it was a dream, but even though he still wanted to rest, he refused to go back there. He stood up and jumped into the water, to drive away the memories of the past.
A few hours later Matsumoto woke up and sleepily looked around. She saw her captain, who sat by her and was watching her.
-"Captain, why are you looking at me like that?"
Blushing, Hitsugaya quickly turned around.-"I am not looking at you, foolish woman. You snore too loudly."
His blush was evident to her, and she opened her eyes widely.-"Taicho, you were looking at my breasts!"
-"I was not looking anywhere, Matsumoto!"
The players got back to the table. In the time of their absence they did not speak to anyone, and officers, as much as they wanted to solve the mystery, had to resign themselves to the silence of the lieutenant of the sixth squad.
After hours of the game, appeared the first misunderstandings. The West sharply stood and the East followed him to calm the man down.
-"Everything is right, I just chose the words wrongly, judge?"-Minato turned to the old man, waiting for him to speak.
-"The rules were not broken, continue the game, please."
The players got back to their seats.
-"The territory in the 22 sector has a good soil, are you sure you want to make that stake?"-the North did not care of anyone's business, but he did not like mistakes in such a serious case. The West answered with a turn of one eye, and placed his cards on the table.
-"I am not keen on manuring. Your stake, East?"
-"Five hectares in 21 sector. We can reveal our cards."
The players turned their cards to show pictures, and the mood of most of them got worse again, the East had the highest combination once more. Everyone graced him with the questioning, distrustful look.
-"Gentlemen, I swear, I hardly understand the rules of the game, I am simply lucky all the time."
The North turned to the judge.-"Is that acceptable, if he really wins every time, just because he's damn lucky?"
-"Even if it is so, it does not change anything. You are equal to each other, more so, you play against each other for a first time… and maybe the last. Continue the game, gentlemen, and please, no complains of that kind."
The game got harsher. The players started to sweat. Renji gathered his hairs into ponytail; the North was wiping his face with a wet towel. The West rubbed his bare feet and only the East felt no discomfort, curiously observing his companions. One more hour later, when it was dark outside and the light was turned on in the room, the North decided to take a risk.
-"I put my axe at stake."-He called his servant and the man placed in his hands the axe with the black handle. He placed his weapon, and it meant that to continue the game the other players had to do the same. The West did not plan to leave the table, so he pulled out his eye, placing it in the middle of it. The East was thoughtful, but he quickly made his decision and widely smiled.-"I pass."
He stood up and bowed.
-"Why do you quit? You are winning."-Asked Renji.
-"My kunai are too important for me, I do not wish to lose them in this, or any other game. I can easily become a winner, but to you this game is more important, than to me. If you don't mind,"-he turned to the judge,-"I will stay and observe."
The old man positively nodded, and Minato sat by Byakuya. Abarai turned to his colleagues. –"I have no right to make a decision like this. I need your permission."
End of chapter 1
A.N. Namikaze Minato is the character from anime/manga 'Naruto', but that does not mean this story is a crossover! Let's just say this character is a guest here, ok? Now, what do you think of this story?