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Role-Play

Role-Play Name: Across the Line

Date Started: December 18, 2017
Date Completed: May 22, 2018
Previous Role-Play: Stronghold of Justice
Users Involved: User:DazzlingEmerald, User:DamonDraco, User:Ash9876, User:Jakyou, User:Dal101, User:Berserkchart486, User:GalaxiaWW, User:Njalm2
Setting: Bedina
Characters Involved: Apu, Draco D. Damon, Montblanc Burling (flashback), Foxpack, Fukuoka Soren, Fukuoka Mirai, Al Rauf Najeem, Barney Kettle, Grape, Gilbert D. Bertram, Daryal, Daddy L. Legs (mentioned), Kosaka Isshin (mentioned), Lieselotte (mentioned), Dante D. Korag (mentioned), Catrina (mentioned), Cazzar (mentioned), Killer Jones (mentioned), Worden Luhr, Katashi, Benjamin Tabart, Genjo Sanzo, Swain Zander, Mengis (flashback), Raptor D. Baron (flashback), Aoshin (flashback), Diastraea D. Diana (flashback), Elias Mirio (flashback), Elias Zachary (mentioned), Trickshot, Regin (flashback), Baghatur Atraxias (flashback), Ibrahim (flashback), Bilqis (flashback), Lockhart Phantasma (mentioned), Scratch, Bon, Vita, Kane, Warren D. Ralph, Roo Jackson, Michael D. Shiguma, Armada, Grimoire Artis

With a Cherry on Top

"Way hay and up she rises, way hay and up she rises, way hay and up she rises, early in the morning!"

The seas of the New World were as fierce as ever. The weather was virtually unpredictable, and so in a matter of seconds since leaving Dressrosa, the ship of the Titan Pirates' Fifth Division was caught up firstly in a twister, and now more currently in the midst of a brutal storm. "Shave his belly with a rusty razor, shave his belly with a rusty razor, shave his belly with a rusty razor, early in the morning!"

The ship was tossed around, forced to angle left, then right almost immediately to avoid the forthcoming onslaught. And even then it was caught by the miniature tsunami, only to be spit out seconds later as a jagged bolt of lightning narrowly missed the front deck.

"What will we do with a drunken sailor? What will we do with a drunken sailor? What will we do with a drunken sailor? Early in the morning!"

But even so, those upon the ship were in as joyous a mood as ever. And why not? Surely a lost captain was no way to celebrate an expedition from Dressrosa! Surely the promise of a terrifying battle was no way to appreciate the food, the culture, and most of all, the women they had seen in a kingdom lush with dandelions!

"Stick him in a barrel with a hosepipe on him, stick him in a barrel with a hosepipe on him, stick him in a barrel with a hosepipe on him, early in the morning!"

Yes, the sea shanties were as loud as ever aboard the The Good Burger, as members of the Fifth Division of the Titan Pirates, led by second in command Foxpack, swarmed the seas with the island of Bedina held closely in mind. But that was a matter of several days even still; and so what if the Xros Pirates awaited an inevitable duel with them? For now they were free, for now they were well fed and for now they were content with the ways it all had went!

"Hoy, hoy! Keep that junk away from me-gara!" Foxpack barked, as a tipsy subordinate of his bumped into him, nearly spilling his alcohol over his coat, "and for god's sake, put on your clothes already! It's been over a day since we've gone and left Dressrosa-gara!!"

From the front of the ship, a large man could be seen flying through the air, almost as if he had been launched by the waves lurching the ship up and down. Many crew members yelled at him to come down, some drunk in their merriment, some legitimately concerned that he was about to fall off. Then seemingly as if it was trying to catch him, the mast swung between him and the edge of the ship he was heading for, moving as the ship rocked back and forth. Flipping in mid air, Katashi landed feet first on the mast, before shooting off towards the deck below.

“THERE’S A BANANA IN THE OCEAN VICE-COMMANDER!!!!” could be heard above the storm from the man in the air as he rocketed towards the deck, slowly spinning forward before he crashed back first into the deck. Using the last of his momentum, he rolled forward before flipping over his commander, to land about four feet in front of the mink.

Katashi straightened to his full height of seven feet with a salute before looking down at his shorter commander. “Foxy-Vice-Commander Sir, there is a banana in the ocean directly in front of us. I felt you should be made aware Foxy-Vice-Commander Sir.” he informed the mink with a serious expression.

As the waves consumed his boat, Tabart inhaled deeply, and grabbed the sides of his banana-based vessel tightly to avoid being cast away into the ocean. Though the salt-water passed quickly, the inside of his small ship had been drenched in water that now rested up to his ankles; Tabart could feel his strength being siphoned away, and he expected it to get worse as he hit more waves. Simply put, the situation wasn’t good, not that any other situation he had been apart of in the last few months was good at all either.

Tabart’s eyes fell to his side, noticing a large vessel that treaded the waters without any signs of struggle. His face lit up in excitement, if not utter desperation.

“Hey,” he called out loudly, grabbing a paddle from beside himself. He slammed it into the violent waters, mustering his strength to battle the wrath of the seas itself to get to the boat.

“Hey! Please, help me, I’m—” a wave crashed from behind him, nearly carrying him into the waves. He had managed to grab onto the boat quickly as it tipped over, and through sheer luck, he had pulled halfway onto it. However, as lower body rested in the waves, he felt every ounce of strength that he did have depleted. He barely managed to drag himself to the top of it and out of the water before the ocean had stolen all his energy. However, as the next wave in the distance approached, Tabart knew that he wouldn’t be able to survive it. He looked to the ship.

“I’m going to die out here if I don’t get any help! I swear, I’ll pay you if need be. Just help me!”

"Hoy!" Foxpack barked, seeing Katashi flop around the deck like a fish right before his own eyes."Get up and pull yourself together-gara! Is that any way for a pirate worth Beli Small84,000,000 to behave, Katashi?!"

Foxpack's ears twitched at the thought of a banana boat. Had he heard that correctly the first time? The storm was loud, but his hearing was far too acute to doubt. As Katashi straightened himself out, towering over his petite frame, Foxpack received the conformation he had been looking for.

"Hoy, just once is enough-gara," he spat, grasping the pommel of his sheathed meito for no reason in particular, "now what is this about a banana boat?"

Foxpack stormed ahead, nearly creeping over the figurehead as he looked yonder at the devilish seas that awaited them. And good golly, what he saw greatly surprised him: a man sailing on a piece of fruit!

"Hoy!!!" he hollered aloud as if scolding the man for his idiotic ventures, "what are you doing out there-gara?!?!" Help? That man needed help? Yeah, no kidding! Foxpack turned back around to Katashi and the rest of his crew. "Hoy! That man needs help out there! Fetch the rope-gara!!"

A rope? He didn't think a rope would be nearly enough to save that banana. But he needed preparations to be made, in the least, to save that man's life before the sea consumed him as it did so many countless others!

“Right Away Foxy-Vice-Commander-Sir!” Katashi responded sharply while he looked around for something that would be helpful. A light could almost be seen lighting up above his head as he saw the front anchor, chain attached and all. He jumped over to it, reaching it within a single bounce. Grabbing the first link of the chain, he stared intently at the front of the ship, waiting. He had to time this perfectly.

As the ship crested the wave that had almost sunk the banana boat in front of them, the front end dropped, severely. Leaving Katashi with a perfect view of the boat about to be consumed by the next. His muscles bulged as he pulled with all of his strength, whipping the anchor around his body before he let it fly forward, arching up towards the sky at a breakneck pace before coming back down straight at the boat and it’s single occupant. A large splash could be seen from the deck of The Good Burger, even from this distance, as it impacted the water directly next to the boat with aplomb.

“COME WITH US IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!!!!” could be heard by all around as Katashi yelled it to the heavens. “WE HAVE COOKIES!!!”

"Oh thank the gods!" Tabart expressed dramatically, leaping from his boat onto the anchor directly, clutching the anchor in his warm embrace. "Pull it! Please, for the love of the gods, pull it before that wave hits me right in my freakin face!" Tabart screamed towards Katashi.

Foxpack looked over his shoulder at Katashi's bizarre promise of cookies. Technically he wasn't lying. But what a way to convince a man to remain with his life intact; as if the banana man was going to come for some chocolate chip infested dough!

"What are you waiting for?" Foxpack barked again. "Pull him in-gara!!"

Katashi grunted, throwing the chain up in the air for a moment, before stretching his arms out forward. Twin spikes formed out of his arms, one at where each of his elbows were. He had consumed the Supa Supa no Mi, making him a bladed human.

As the chain dropped back down, he brought his right arm back, shoving the spike inside the center of one of the links. Continuing with his backswing, he pulled on the chain to draw the anchor closer. Then once his arm was pulled all the way back, he punched his arm back out as he ducked to the right under the chain. Where he repeated the process with his left arm. With a rapid series of punches and elbows, the anchor started reeling back towards the ship, dragged by the force of the man who had thrown it.

“SUPA PULLING ELBOWS!!!” he shouted as he went through the storm of elbows and fists.

The ride was somehow bumpy as the anchor skidded across the water effortlessly, pulled by the man that had launched it hundreds of feet out from their ship. He looked up, but everytime he did, water would slam right into his eyes, so, for the most part he kept them closed. The next time he did open them, he was sitting upon the deck of their ship, his turban drenched in water. He coughed as he gathered his breath, and prayed as he sat upon the deck of a much larger ship. He looked up to Katashi.

"Thank you so much! I have no idea how I'm ever going to repay you! You must be the captain of this vessel, I suppose! I mean, you're huge."

Katashi just rubbed the back of his head with a smile as the smaller man thanked him, slightly tired from the force of his efforts "I'm glad you think so, but I'm just in charge of the preperation crew." he explained before pointing at Foxpack. "Vice-Commander Foxpack is the commander of this ship."

Drawing out his sword the moment Tabart's bottom had slammed against the deck of The Good Burger, Foxpack pointed it toward what he was forced to assume was an intruder for the time being. Yes, it was by his command that Tabart's life had been saved and yes it was through his command that Tabart was let onto the ship in the first place, but even still, as the stand in leader of the Fifth Division, he couldn't let his guard down. Especially not as they were drawing closer and closer upon Xros territory.

"Explain yourself-gara. What were you doing in the middle of nowhere on that... banana?" It took Foxpack no more than a few seconds to comprehend just how utterly ridiculous that sounded. Oh why was he surrounded by idiots?

His brow narrowed and he flexed his face along his eye-patch as he studied Tabart's drenched frame. "Hold on a second. You seem familiar-gara. Where have I seen you before?"

Tabart looked at Foxpack, and squinted as he made eye contact. "Oh wait, it's you!" Tabart jumped. "Y-You were on Elbaf during the wedding! Foxpack, the dude that murdered that one marine! Er...what was his name?" Tabart continued, snapping as his attempted to remember. "Dario! Yeah, that's his name. I don't know when we actually met, but it's possible you saw me there."

Tabart stood up slowly to ensure he wasn't interpreted as a threat. "But, after Elbaf, I spent time running from the marines and everything! Then, I got...er, kidnapped by some crazy people on Dressrosa, and I finally escaped their clutches!" Tabart's truth was only a half truth. He was saved by the Dressrosa Royal Family, but made forbidden to leave the island under the command of his mother, the King: Longinus Niu. However, revealing himself to be royalty to a band of pirates, no matter how helpful, was still dangerous. Especially someone with a bounty like Foxpack's.

"Anyway, I couldn't steal a boat, so I made my own, but as you see, it didn't hold up well."

"Elbaf...? Oh, now I see-gara!" He sheathed his weapon at once. Yes, now he remembered. Though they had never formally met, there was a certain character known as Benjamin Tabart that had grown in popularity since the events of the royal wedding. A bounty of nearly half his own, it would have been odd to not have remembered seeing Tabart in the newspaper that very next day, at the very least.

Foxpack quirked his brow. "You have my confused with someone else-gara, for I did not take a single life during my time on Elbaf." He recalled the events leading up to the royal wedding. His bout with Salazar, his bout with Catrina. His eyes narrowed.

"The only death I recall is that of Jack Stalkman's!" His tone became fierce. Veins bulged around his eyes. "That rotten wench of the Fire Rocker Pirates... it was she who took his life! And I shall never forgive her for as long as I live-gara! I will see to it that even now she is slain by my blade!"

Foxpack, of course, had no idea that Tabart was the one truly behind the death of the legendary giant war hero. "Eh? You made that banana yourself-gara? Just how did you manage that?"

Tabart gulped nervously. "Yeah, that stalkman incident was soooo terrible ya know, hehe?" A sweat dripped from his brow as he nervously wiped his forehead. "Anyway, it's the power of my devil fruit!" he changed the subject quickly. "I ate the Mosa mosa no Mi and became a Plant Human! I can generate and manipulate all known plants! I call that boat thing a banana boat, haha! Get it? Like the ice-cream snack thing?"

"You can what?!" Again, did he hear that right? Foxpack's eye widened. This boy could grow crops of that magnitude with his ability? Imagine the tandem he and Katashi could join forces to create! The dicing of unimaginable vegetables and fruits that the Fifth Division could use for the rest of their culinary needs!

"So what are you up to now-gara? I recall the staggering bounty you have over your head... do you belong to any crew at present?"

"Technically, I am the First Mate of the Purple Pirates! But, it's been a long time since I've seen them; in fact, the last time we had actual contact with one another was when were in Paradise," Tabart reflected, his tone growing slightly solemn. "I'll see them again, I know that, and we'll go on adventures like we always have. But, for now, I'm just trying to survive until they find me, and to avoid the marines and whoever else is after me."

He looked at Foxpack confusedly. "Why? Don't tell me you're going to turn me in!"

"Turn you in? Don't be silly-gara. What I see within you is the potential to become a member of our forces. Just imagine, an invitation to serve under one of the Yonko, the mightiest of the pirates across these seas! What an offer it is! Surely one that you cannot deny?"

"Uh! Me? Yonko crew? I-I don't think I'm good enough for your ranks honestly," Tabart admitted. "Most of my bounty is made up stuff! Especially the Ashley bit. Nothing ever happened between me and that woman; I promise. I'd only be a detriment, I think."

"At least consider it-gara! Who's telling you to fight for us? We're the culinary division after all!" He pointed toward Katashi. "Take him for example. To you take him to be a chef? Most certainly not-gara! The boy can't make a damn sandwich on his own, but he has an important role within our mix nevertheless.

"Now, that's not to say that he won't become an extraordinary cook in due time. Matter of fact, I'm almost certain you'd find his cooking to be excellent now if you were to try it, but that's aside from the point. The fact of the matter here-gara, is that your ability is simply to fitting for our needs. Do you have any idea as to how much easier you'd make our work?"

Foxpack was somehow surprisingly intense for his small stature, and while Tabart truly had no desire to join their crew, per say, he did somehow fear that he would be thrown off their ship if he denied. Or, he feared that Foxpack would learn he killed Stalkman-sama and be furious. In fact, if that happened during this ride, being apart of his crew might make that a tad bit more lenient. Tons of thoughts ran rampant through Tabart's head, and in the end, simply saying yes seemed the better option.

"Ah, yes!" Tabart responded, putting his hands up defensively, "If you think I can truly be of help, I have no problem joining the crew, of course. My main worry is that; but how exactly, am I going to be of help?"

Foxpack smiled, for once. It was assuring to have someone with such a useful ability with them at long last! "We'll get a garden of your design going here right on this very deck-gara, that's how! I can see it now: the amount of ingredients that we shall have at our disposal with you on our side!" Foxpack's tongue escaped his mouth and licked around his snout.

He was enjoying himself all too well when one of his subordinates called out to him in angst. "Foxpack-sama! An Xros ship has been spotted in the distance!"

At once Foxpack regained his conscious mind. An intense composure possessed his mind, like that of a natural born leader. "Avert this ship in the other direction! No matter if Bedina takes another day's trip; under no circumstances are we to engage that ship in combat! Hurry before they set their sights upon us-gara!"

Now among their ranks, even if only temporarily, Tabart was going to have to experience the horrors of the Yonko wars from up close and personal. "Arm your stations, men! Turn this ship around-gara!!"

Katashi heard the command of his leader, before quickly turnng around. He crouched down, before leaping through the air once more, heading towards the central mast. It was a leap he made within a single bound. Katashi's combat post just happened to be in the crows nest, far up into the sky. He was a member of the rigging team when it came to combat, though he was regularly told to participate in boarding actions. Reaching the base of the mast before many members of the crew had even fully reacted to the order, he grabbed the side of the mast. He quickly scaled up the mast itself, not bothering with climbing up the rope rigging, reaching the crow's nest in less than a minute from the moment that Foxpack gave his commands.

As he tied himself off to the nest, to prevent himself from being flung off by the force of the waves, he simply said to his nestmate with a hint of sadness, "We should probably just take out the ship... but orders are orders..."

Tabart gulped and looked around confusedly. As everyone scurried around, his eyes fell from one spot to another. "Um, excuse me sir, but..." he paused as he looked at the Xros ship. His eyes froze. "I-I..." Tabart swallowed his fear, and pulled his eyes away from the enemy vessel. He looked into Foxpack's own, his resolute will made evident by intensity of his eyes. "Where would you like me to go?"

Foxpack looked back into Tabart's with a certain degree of intensity. "We're off to Bedina: we're headed straight into their territory."

He reached into his pocket, clutching his Den Den Mushi. He made to call Apu immediately. There was no looking back now.

Burning Chains

Within an underground training center in Wano Country were 5 masked individuals, of varying heights and builds, lined up in straight rows and columns, looking directly towards a leader on a podium. They were a smaller individual, with long purple hair and wore very large robes and a long white mask. As they spoke, all movement within the crowd desisted as they listened.

"Fellow members of the Night Parade," the leader spoke with an echoing voice, "War with the Xros Pirates is nigh. We require information, and thus we will send a single operative to confirm or deny recent rumors, and gather more combat intelligence, for the sake of our Empress. The member we send shall be decided by tomorrow at dawn. Reconvene here. You are dismissed."

Almost every individual present in the large hall had nigh-instantly disappeared, leaving not a trace of their existence behind, sans a single person. They wore a grey mask with two horns and were seen with a white mane. They took said mask off, revealing their face. This was Fukuoka Soren, the normally cheerful apprentice of Kosaka Isshin, appearing quite frustrated at the recent turn of events.

"...They won't send me...I'm an apprentice, and this stuff is important for the Black Widow Pirates..." The man grumbled, his gaze peering down. "But..." Visions of two children smiling with a blue-haired parent came into his mind. "They're always there! With her! It's annoying!"

He disappeared from the training hall in an almost gliding-like fashion, before appearing in a smaller room. He began to pack his baggage, and wore his mask. He looked towards the horizon, and departed without hesitation.

He reached the port, and noticed a small ship with a crew that were about to depart with supplies. Without the crew noticing, he made his way onto the ship and hid himself in one of its many bags. Soren overheard the crew talking, saying that their ship was sailed towards Ishitani, an island that the Titan Pirates recently made their debut upon.

In approximately a week, he had appeared on Ishitani's port. He noticed its barren terrain, but kept himself well-hidden. He found a vantage point on one of the few buildings in the area, and scanned his Kenbunshoku Haki outwards. Rather than focus his Haki through his eyes, he instead used his ears as the sensory medium. He began to pick up on the faraway sounds a normal human could never hear, and managed to find one of the ships that were sailed to Beldina. It was another supply ship, so it'd prove relatively simple to infiltrate.

Soren once more hid his presence by moving with the wind and shadows. Eventually, he found his way onto the ship and hid once more within the cargo. His ability to survive in low-oxygen conditions had been enhanced due to his training with the Night Parade, which note that the most confined places are the easiest places for a spy to hide.

In a couple of days, the supply ship from Ishitani had reached Beldina to retrieve supplies. In the process of their unloading, Soren had sneaked past the senses of the crew by sticking to the shadows of the ship, before moving into the plain town without anyone noticing him. Fukuoka Soren had now reached Beldina, and would now look for information on the Xros Pirates.

"I will be acknowledged," He said to himself, as he changed out of his Night Parade uniform. "More importantly," His eyes grew fierce, "I will help the Black Widow Pirates win!"

Some days had passed since Soren's arrival on Bedina. He had been forced to keep his movements around the island to a bare minimum due to the sheer number of forces the Xros Pirates had around. Simply put, it was a staggering amount; even some of the more well known officers of the Yonko crew had made their presence felt upon the island.

Home to countless natives, along with intelligence pertaining to the Xros Pirates, Soren had come to know about the immediate culture of Bedina's people. And, for the last few days, word encircling the premier of a new film had stolen away the interest of many.

The hype was real. The island's locals couldn't wait to see their beloved star, Nectar Ellis, on the big screen. He was a man who had been brought up in Bedina's very own soil; now, he was a movie star, one who was on the rise and could potentially take over the movie industry with his brilliant work. His new film was a much anticipated one, and tickets had been sold out a week prior to the film's premier.

That day was today.

Hundreds stood outside the line of Bedina's movie theatre. Their hearts were racing. Children couldn't hardly contain their excitement and the women… oh the women, they nearly lost consciousness simply at the thought of seeing Ellis on the big screen. What a man he was!

Ticket after ticket, ticker after ticket. The bouncers did their very best to maintain the wild crowd outside of their theatre. And as the hour came upon them, there were still hundreds left fighting for a chance to see Nectar Ellis' new movie.

Soren, who had utilized his skills in some capacity to obtain a ticket, was among those fortunate enough to be let inside. Of course his intentions were most peculiar: he closely anticipated at least some officers from the Xros Pirates to be present for the showing. But as he sat down and the film started with a fludder of cheers, he was surprised to see that not a single one of them had bothered to show up. Not yet at least.

The moment Nectar Ellis' charming face appeared on screen was the moment the projector went black. The crowd erupted into a bitter rage. That is, until the doors to the theatre which had been locked up until now, swung open, light flooding into the dark auditorium.

"Alright, alright, get out, every last one of you!" a man with long red hair announced, hands in his trouser pockets. He was a most sheepish looking man, with glinted eyes that glew in the dark, a red jacket unbuttoned to unveil his musculature, and a pair of yellow pants that were tight to his skin and folded above his ankles. He cleaned his ear with one hand while the other held a sheathed katana over his shoulder. "As of three minutes ago, I've decided to rent out this theatre for myself. The rest of you can watch this movie some other time."

The crowd groaned. But they knew better than to challenge a member of the Xros Pirates. As if on cue they all rose up from their seats and climbed up the theatre isles, departing from the movie theatre without a refund.

Soren identified the man as Al Rauf Najeem, a member of the Xros Pirates with a bounty of Beli Small320,000,000. And, oddly enough, by the designation of "Omega', whatever that meant. Since his arrival onto the island, Najeem had amounted in nothing but trouble. He was as self centered as they came.

Najeem stood lighting a cigarette as the public poured out of the two exits of the theatre on either side of him.

Soren was frustrated, undoubtedly. But he wasn't an idiot. He was trained to be a Ninja, and a Ninja did not reveal their identity so quickly. Especially during this crucial moment. So he followed the crowd and left the theatre from the left. Although his eyes made contact with Najeem's, he soon acted the part of the frail victim and shuddered, turning away and hiding his head.

The act didn't have to be convincing, for he had already exited Najeem's range of sight — or so he hoped. As opposed to completely call off his reconnaissance, Soren instead patiently waited for the crowd to disappear from the theatre's entrance. The moment Soren confirmed that nobody was in his range, he quickly hid into the shadows.

He identified the closest air vent and approached it. In the next second, Soren used the power of his Koru Koru no Mi, a Coal Logia, to deconstruct his body down into a black ash-like material. He travelled into the air vent without the need of breaking in. Without a sound, his whole body had made its way into the air vent and traveled to the theatre room's vent without an issue.

Returning to his standard human form, Soren used his trained flexibility to ensure that his body did not make unnecessary noise. To do so, he made sure he didn't collide with the ends of the air vent. He looked upon the self-centred Xros Pirate with disdain, but paid close attention to whether he would continue speaking of the operations of the Xros Pirates, knowing this was an opportune time to gain intel.

When Soren looked through the vents and into the auditorium, he did so to the sight of Najeem sitting in the middle row with his legs kicked up on the seat in front of him and his arms resting behind his head. His sword was aligned with the pommel against his shoulder and the sheathed blade standing up against the carpet.

For the longest time, Najeem didn't do much of anything, save for a small chuckle here and there. He appeared to be very concentrated on watching the film; he ran threw no less than two packs of cigarettes by the time the film had reached its intermission period.

It was during this interval that Najeem's Den Den Mushi began to ring. He was hesitant to answer it, but did so nevertheless, placing the snail on the side opposite to his sword on his shoulder, so that he could tend to more important matters with his hands: his lighter and another cigarette. "Hello?"

"Hoy, Honey Boo Boo."

"What is it, Kettle? I'm in the middle of something here."

"What could ye possibly be doin' that's so important, eh?"

There was a long silence. Najeem inhaled the fumes from the cigarette into his lungs with a long flare of his nostrils. He grew impatient of his comrade's pointless banter. "I'm watching Ellis' new picture and I'd rather not be disturbed right now. We'll talk again later."

"Hoy, wait just a second ye damn!-"

Najeem turned his head to the side, facing the transponder snail. And then, opening his mouth, he bit into the snail's throat, until its eyes faded into a blank canvas. He puffed a red smog from his mouth, intertwined with blood and ash. Just in the nick of time too, for the interval had subsided and the movie had returned to the screen.

"..." Soren did not open his mouth, but on the inside he was infuriated. However, when he heard the name Kettle, he instantly realized who was on the line. "Black Hand" Barney Kettle, a dastardly Slaver to say the very least. But what did he have to do with the Xros Pirates? He couldn't determine that from the information given to him. He continued to wait patiently until Najeem finished watching that new Ellis movie.

On that note, though. He wondered why Najeem was so entranced with the movie when it seemed so lackluster. Perhaps Najeem just had bad taste.

In time, the movie ended. But rather than leave, Najeem remained in place long after the credits had subsided. He had found the theater's seats to be most comfortable, and even despite the fact that there were hundreds of people outside waiting for him to leave so that they could watch this incredibly hyped film for themselves, he decided that now of all times was the best time to take a nap.

And so to sleep he went, snuggling his face against the grip of his sword.

Najeem didn't plan to leave anytime soon. And most of all, he truly didn't plan to return Kettle's call.

"He's a tough nut to crack, huh..." Soren thought to himself, wincing at the fact such laziness existed in the Xros Pirates. But, if he was actually this lazy, he wouldn't have such a high bounty. Soren had assumed that Najeem was aware of his presence somehow and was waiting for him to leave, but Soren had no plans of doing that. Sleepless nights weren't new to him.

The Xros Pirates would be well aware to not underestimate the intelligence gathering skills of the Night Parade. As a matter of course, Soren stayed within the confining air vent and continued to wait for Najeem to say something of value. Simply learning about Kettle's involvement in this conflict was not enough. Just what was he contributing to the Xros Pirates' forces?

Ten hours. That was the duration of Najeem's slumber.

At the ten hour mark, he sneezed himself awake, looking around the room as if he had forgotten where he was. The odor of the dead snail on the seat beside him had rung its way into his nose, and he grimaced at the sight of it. Flicking it onto the carpet, he stepped on it as he stood up, taking his sword into his hand and hauling it back over his shoulder.

Lightning another cigarette, he figured that it was time for a proper meal. He took his sweet time to depart from the theater, and as his figure came into view in the lobby, the crowd did its very best to be patient, waiting until he had exited the whole of the building before rushing into the auditorium to claim seats, where parents fought their own children for the privilege of seeing Nectar Ellis.

Into the morning sun of a fresh new day went Najeem. He had a certain destination in mind as he walked through the streets of Bedina.

As Najeem had finally left the venue, frustration was evident in Soren's eyes. But he restrained himself. Even a slight misstep was fatal here. "He pisses me off...so...damn...much!"

Soren suppressed his frustrations again, instead turning once more into a black particles and exiting the theatre within moments. Najeem had walked along a path on the ground, so Soren had decided to traverse across the buildings. He kept to places with a lot of cover, and as opposed to jumping, moved around with the help of his Devil Fruit to avoid any excess sound. He had hoped Najeem was a little more dutiful this time, lest he leave without obtaining any intelligence at all.

Where Najeem ventured next was a small shop with a big line. The shop itself was a small building dedicated to a kitchen, with a small counter created on one wall to allow for customers to contact the cooks inside. A child stood in line, awaiting his meal after having paid his dues.

However sad, he would have to wait for his food a moment longer. For Najeem had come into town, which meant that now he was suddenly second in line, to him. Najeem expressed absolutely no remorse whatsoever as he simply walked up to the line, fetching the meal from the cook that was meant for the child. No one said anything as Najeem walked away and took a large bite out of the sandwich. No one but the child.

"Hey! That's mine!" he cried, his father a second too late in covering his mouth. Najeem turned around, feeling suddenly threatened. He took another bite of the sandwich and walked up to the boy.

"Oh, I'm sorry little guy. I didn't know this was yours." He bent over to be eye level with the boy. He offered him the sandwich. "Here, take it."

When he reached for it, Najeem threw it onto the ground and grabbed the boy by his hair. "Come on, eat it!" He smashed the boy's face against the sandwich, his father left with no choice but to watch in horror as this pirate brutally fed his child in an all too derogatory manner.

"Eat it, bitch! I thought you were hungry?!"

As Soren saw Najeem brutalizing the child, his eyes began to widen in anger. As he was about to move in to rescue the child, he stopped himself. Soren wasn't anywhere close to his optimal condition, and trying to rescue that child in this situation would do nothing more than cause his own capture.

Instead, he broadcasted his Kenbunshoku Haki outwards to try and find a figure that could fight against Najeem at this point in time. He located Marines a few blocks away, and quickly moved across the roofs in town to reach the base. As he reached closer to the base, he began to play the part of the helpless victim.

"I-is anyone there!? T-the Xros Pirates...they're terrorizing the town again! They're even hurting the children! P-please h-help us, Marines!!!" He cried, hoping that he could draw the Marines attention towards Najeem and, should the Marines prove powerful enough, draw some information out of him.

The scene inside of the Bedina's marine base, which Soren walked into, was one of complete bewilderment. In fact, it was an oddity in itself that a marine base even existed at all on an island that was believed to be apart of the Xros Pirates' territory.

What Soren witnessed as he came into the base was a man around his own age, with bright purple hair that was neatly trimmed and groomed --suspiciously so-- lounging on a chaise between two voluptuous women. The woman on the right was feeding him grapes directly to his mouth while the one to his left was at work fanning him with the use of her own hand.

By his uniform, the man was a marine officer, and seeing as though there was not another one anywhere in sight, likely in charge around here. He regretfully lifted up his head at the sound of Soren's frantic banter. The last thing he needed now was someone interrupting his precious moment. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had bothered to so much as step inside his base and here was this man all of a sudden complaining about… the Xros Pirates?

"The Xros Pirates? Terrorizing the town?" the man said aloud, standing up rather dramatically to his feet. "Not if I can help it!"

The two women cowered at the marine's bravery. They stuck their hands to their heads, struggling to retain their consciousness, being in such awe of his authority that were it not for Soren, they would have most certainly bed him at once! "Oh, Grape-kun!"

"Please, excuse me, ladies! For this is something I simply cannot tolerate! No pirates will be making a ruckus in my town! Not when I'm here to stop it!" He rushed forward, leaving the women behind on the chaise lounge.

He turned dramatically toward Soren, walking over to the man and setting his hands down upon his shoulders to quell his panicked state. "You! Don't you worry a second longer! I assure you, I will see to it that those nasty pirates are dealt with. Believe me!

"In the meantime, why don't you come along with me to file a report?" He winked at Soren. "That way the credit of reporting the crime will go to you. And let me be the first to tell you that the ladies are absolutely going to love you for it."

As if the promise of getting girls was convincing enough, Grape motioned for Soren to come along with him into his immediate office, where he further had him accompany him down the ladder of a trapdoor. Leading Soren a ways into a dark basement, Grape used his lighter as a source of light to illuminate a metal door.

"You seem like a smart guy, so I'm sure you probably already know. But this is normally where we bring criminals in for questioning and the like. However, since our base is one of the smaller ones out there, this room doubles as a waiting room." He inputted a brief series of codes, unlocking the door and gesturing for Soren to step in. "Why don't you go inside and make yourself comfortable for the time being? I'll bring the paperwork down and be right with you momentarily."

The room was entirely blank, with no furniture whatsoever. Only walls made of pure steel on each side, painted white. And as Soren stepped inside, Grape gave him one final nod, before shutting the heavy door.

Lights from the ceiling flashed on. It was as though Soren were staring into a blank canvas. Well, on the bright side, at least he only had to wait a few minutes before he could continue with his espionage. That was what he initially thought. And then a few hours went by.

Soren was noting the oddity of the Marines' attitude. And as he observed the room, he was suspicious considering the lack of lights. However, when he was caught into the room, his exhaustion seemingly caught up to him. Despite the bright lights, he ended up falling asleep regardless.

A few hours passed before Soren's eyes flashed back open again. "...Shit!!!" Soren recollected all that happened to him before he slept. He was angry at himself and punched the ground, but to no avail. The material was surprisingly hard. He found it strange, however, that there was no seastone used against him. But he decided to use this to his advantage.

He conserved his strength for now. There was likely something the Xros Pirates wanted with him. His powers should have been restored enough to escape at any moment he'd like, provided he wasn't assaulted by someone with greater power than his own. "I hope I get outta here alive..."

The locks clicked and clacked one by one until the door at last swung open. But the person on the other end wasn't the Marine Officer that had led Soren inside of there; no, it was a much larger man, and by comparison, far more intimidating.

He was a man two stories tall, over twenty feet in all. He was a man whose face was covered by a red handkerchief, a man who wore a brown leather hat on the top of his head, and a man who was so large that he had to walk in sideways with his head tucked against his chin in order to fit through the doorway.

The tough looking man was dressed in an open waist jacket, fashioned with a skull pattern that showed off his massive physique. Tight pants tucked inside of hard boots with spurs completed his attire, giving him an all too menacing appearance in all.

Judging by looks alone, there was no mistaking it. Even someone without as much intel as Soren would have little difficulty recognizing this guy; as if the "D" tattooed on his forehead wasn't evident enough, this man was none other than Gilbert D. Bertram, member of the Xros Pirates with the designation "Lambda": a pirate with a bounty of Beli Small686,000,000.

"Well, well, well, looky what we have here…" he chimed, his voice muffled by the cloth in front of his lips. Flicking his index finger against his thumb, the monster used his ridiculous physical strength to slam the metal door shut. "...Another bug needing to be squashed by my boot."

---

Above the metal cellar inside of the basement, Grape had taken the women from earlier before into his private "office". With his back against the rail of the bed he sat, his uniform in a pile on the floor.

"That guy will never live it down," he said, speaking to no one in particular as the women began to strip themselves in front of his eyes. "Do you ladies know why they call that man the 'Birthday Boy'?" He knew telling these women anything wouldn't make any difference at all. "It's because he absolutely dominates every fight he's ever in, making it all about him. Everytime he fights, he's the center of attention, the middle of the spotlight, just like a boy on his birthday!"

Grape bursted into a loud laughter as the women leapt onto him.

Man of Steel

Soren's body shook up as he noticed the man in front of him. Gilbert D. Bertram was allegedly one of the heavy hitters of the Xros Pirates, and was no doubt an opponent to be feared. Especially in this situation, where Soren was incapable of mustering his full strength, nor make use of his sword.

If Soren was coal, then the man before him was steel. Soren had not reached that level yet. But...he had no choice. "I am a Black Widow Pirate..." Soren thought to himself, as determination framed his face, "I am the child of "Blade Thief" Kosaka Isshin and "Black Widow" Daddy L. Legs! I will fight!!!!!"

As his thoughts echoed in his head, fear had left his body. Instead, he was fueled with a surprising determination that was echoed through his body. He was poised, his legs stretched somewhat outward with his knees bent, right arm in a knifehand position in front of him, while his left arm was above his head, clenched in a fist.

Mustard eyes without the basis of a brow persed unto Soren's frame. Bertram stretched out his neck, touching his ears from shoulder to shoulder. The sound of his joints snapping echoed against the steel walls.

One step at a time, the massive man slowly walked toward his prey.

Soren heard the noise of his joints cracking, as Bertram's imposing figure came moving towards him. Rather than give Bertram any opportunity to fight, Soren decided to try and steal it all from the beginning. However, he had very little energy left. This fight had to be short.

Without delay, Soren released a wave of black ash from his body. The ash flooded the room and made it difficult for his opponent to see with conventional vision. Using the small opportunity given to him, Soren pinpointed Bertram's position and appeared behind him without making a single noise.

He gathered his strength into his right hand, which had now clenched into a fist. He began to rotate a large mass of coal around said fist, dispelling the makeshift smokescreen. The spiraling mass of coal intensified in its rotation speed, before sparks began to ignite. At this very instant, Soren yelled, "Spiraling Coal Fist!" He released the coal by lunging his fist outwards, sending the rotating mass of coal towards Bertram's neck.

Upon collision, it would ignite and smother Bertram in an explosion that would no doubt engulf the room, and force both Bertram and himself to sustain considerable injury.

Bertram stopped dead in his tracks the moment he saw Soren release a torrent of ash from his body. He persed his brow further, not having thought much of the lad from the moment he had walked in. So now apparently this guy was a Devil Fruit user; and not just any old Devil Fruit, by the looks of it, he was a Logia.

But Soren was much too naive to imagine that his skills as a Shinobi would do him any good in a battle where there was quite literally nowhere else to run to. Normally, a tactic like Soren's was juvenile, if not altogether idiotic. To produce large quantities of your element was no different than expanding your own body, thus expanding the region an opponent could target for attack. However, in this stead, spreading himself out across the whole of the cellar confused Bertram's Kenbunshoku Haki.

Well, almost. He wasn't one to openly boast about his skill with Kenbunshoku, but more times than he had to guess, his enemies normally showed up behind him, on his flank. A common principle of battle, to target the part of an opponent's body they had left uncovered. But poor Soren had rushed himself into attack long before he had even learned of Bertram's ability.

In the moment Soren had flung his fist forward, Bertram's upper body contorted as if made of a thin, fabricated cloth. It distorted itself like a ripple, fluttering quickly out of the way while Bertram's lower body remained entirely still and in place against the floor. This led the coal to instead fire straight forward and into the metal wall ahead, leaving Bertram largely unhindered.

The man twisted his upper body around, while his feet remained facing forward. It was a phenomenon not unlike the Rokushiki technique "Kami-e", yet on a different scale, being the result of a Devil Fruit.

"So yar a Logia, are ya?" he said in a muffled voice through his handkerchief. "And here I thought ya were any ol' lad runnin' 'round our parts."

He contorted his body again, snapping his lower body into place to align with his torso. At the very same time, he flung himself forward, his body incredibly flexible yet hardening at once with the application of Busoshoku Haki. He sought to slap his upper body against Soren, a sensation not unlike being slapped by a towel, yet many, many times harder.

With no time to react, Soren barely managed to make use of Busoshoku Koka to defend against the attack. That being said, the attack was still plenty strong, and despite his black, hardened skin, it penetrated through him and caused him to fly into the opposing metal wall.

He panted, and beads of sweat dropped down his face. "That ability is tough as nails..." Soren said out loud, noticing how easily the man avoided his Spiral Coal Fist. His stamina was depleting, but any offensive tactic he could make seemed to be completely irrelevant here.

As opposed to expand his own body, he instead created coal separate from himself. Unlike before, he molded the coal around his fists, and then subsequently turn them into a lustrous black by applying his own Busoshoku Haki over it. Close combat seemed to be the only possible option here. A single, deadly strike when an opening was revealed...if even that was possible.

How lovely. Bertram had his opponent up against a wall, literally. And better yet, he appeared exhausted. As if ready to bite the dust sooner than expected. Bertram grinned under his handkerchief at the sight of Soren readying his hands for combat.

"Yar tirin' out quick, wouldn't ya say?" He stood up erect, hands gripping the sides of his waistcoat and parting them towards his hips. He puffed out his chest, as if to show Soren something. "Lookie here. I want ya to see this with yar own eyes."

Trickles of sweat, whole beads of it had been spilled from Soren onto Bertram's chest. And, in a matter of seconds, they seeped into his flesh, dissolving entirely.

"Did ya see that? I can absorb the moisture from yar body into mine. I'm a Towel-Man who ate the Moku Moku no Mi." He flexed his muscular arms over his head, veins pulsing from body. "In other words, yar sweat replenishes my stamina. The more we fight, the more ya get tired. The more we fight, the more I stay just the same.

"Ya can't outlast me. Not yar nor anybody else. No one can outlast a Towel-Man!"

"...You...can't be serious..." Soren grunted, he could barely stand at the moment and then there was this guy who used all his blood, sweat and tears as an energy source!?

Soren was pissed beyond belief, but even more than that, he felt helpless. What he was about to do would be his last move. Whether he survived or not...Soren did not care.

"Black Dragon." Soren muttered, his entire body transforming into a black dust. The black dust spiraled continuously and became like a typhoon. Soon, his entire body had turned into the shape of a spiraling dragon, sparks igniting through his body.

"RRRAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The boy screamed, his voice no doubt reaching the room above where that bastard Marine was. He pushed forward with incredible force, the sparks becoming more and more frequent. There may have been no escape for himself, but there was no escape for his opponent either.

He would crash into Bertram, and with all his power, explode, and go out with a bang!

A large, resounding blast erupted inside of the basement cellar. Bertram was sent flying toward one end while Soren was sent flying toward the other, out cold. What had happened to Bertram had yet to be seen.

A large smog of ash and dust surrounded the room. Bertram's large frame slamming into the steel wall with such incredible force had left a small dent in it, an impressive feat that only spoke volumes of the stellar attack. However, while it had been enough to push him back, the attack in itself hardly damaged Bertram, with regard to his Busoshoku Haki protecting him from any major damage.

Even so, Bertram was slow to get back up onto his feet. And when he did, he felt some soreness in his chest --nothing that couldn't be fixed with a little shower.

One step at a time, Bertram made his way over to Soren. The boy may have been rendered unconscious, but at the current moment, there was still some life in him. He was not entirely fatigued, and so he wasn't in a state Bertram was yet content with.

The Xros Pirates didn't bother to kill their enemies in a private setting such as this. In a cellar in the deep of the basement… here there was no one present to acknowledge their might. Here there was no one to witness their superiority, to fear their greatness!

That was why the Xros Pirates were firm believers in public executions. There wasn't anything they cared for more than to show off their strength, to show off just how better they were than everyone else. They were the most feared crew on the seas and they were going to stop at nothing to show that!

Bertram was the single best member of the Xros Pirates when it came to stabilizing his prey's physical condition. Most members fought defensively so as not to accidentally kill their opponents, but Bertram on the other hand had a very sound degree of control over how close his enemies were to dying. And he had nothing else to thank than the powers of his Devil Fruit.

Lifting Soren up effortlessly with a single hand, he fitted one hand around the lad's wrists and another around his ankles, hauling him high overhead. As an awakened Paramecia, Bertram had the ability to expend his powers over matters separate from his own likeness. In other words, at his command, Bertram could make various objects --including other forms of life-- take upon the properties of a towel.

And that was exactly what he did with Soren. He turned and churned the lad's body while it was within his grasp, Soren's flesh and limbs spiraling into a helix. Like a waterfall, sweat poured out from Soren's body, spilling on the metal floor.

In the same manner he absorbed sweat, Bertram could also expel it. Forcibly relieving Soren of whatever energy he had left inside of his body rendered him completely fatigued, to such an extent that --while still breathing-- it became increasingly difficult to so much as open his mouth. It was a phenomenon not unlike being paralyzed, yet with all his bodily functions still intact. That way, his internal organs could still be meshed with on the day of the execution.

Tossing the smaller man over his massive shoulder, Bertram carried along with the rest of his day.

Hitch-Pike

It was silent. Awfully silent.

It was peaceful. Awfully peaceful.

Two elements that didn't quite ever work in unity. Not on the seas of the New World.

Was it luck? Or perhaps it was the doing of another. Whatever the reason, they had been lucky. Fortunate even, to not have encountered more than a few Sea Kings following their departure from Ishitani.

Since leaving, Draco D. Damon had fallen into a deep slumber. As was to be expected, of course. The lad had only partaken in a battle against Mengis, a mink of such incredible fortitude that the Navy as a whole had refused to let retire his services, no matter how many times the bloody fool had gone against their morales. As a result of his last encounter with Asura, the tiger mink had been demoted… again.

This wasn't the first time such a thing had occurred, and it most certainly wouldn't be the last, either. The 44 year old had been a Marine now for well over 20 years; the fact that he was a Captain in rank at current only went to show for how little he cared for honorary positions. Ten years, ten years ago he had held the rank of Vice Admiral, and ever since then everything had gone downhill. He had seen all the ranks a Marine could ever possibly see, except of course those above that which he had reached, and seen them more times than any other Marine should see fit.

He had managed to become a Vice Admiral no less than twice; a Rear Admiral no less than ten; a Commodore fifteen times; a Captain now for the twentieth. And should he be demoted any further, then he would see it be his twenty-sixth time that he had been demoted to the rank of Commander. Demotions were nothing new to him. At this point, he was so used to it. At this point he had forgotten what rank he even was; hell, by all means, if things carried along as they did, he was just as good as any other Ensign!

In light of his opportunistic thinking, Apu had the luxury of an entire household at his disposal in his taking care of Damon. The house he had ripped from Ishitani's foundation was one of three complete stories; he had lain Damon to rest up in the master bedroom on the third floor, while he worked the kitchen on the first. And my was he a sight to see.

The Titan Pirates' Fifth Division was in charge of the Yonko crew's meals; they were a division comprised of the very finest chefs and cooks the crew had to offer. Apu was of no exception. Even in his time on Fishman Island, he had operated under the banner of his own restaurant, the famed "Bubba Gump", and his craft was admired by many on the face of the island.

Using the kitchen of the house to his complete benefit, and having left it in pursuit of that which lay below, Apu had prepared an absolute feast for his wounded ally. Trays and trays of seafood were aligned along the table, ranging from soups and salads to fish and meats. Not only was it a glorious sight to behold, but better yet, each of the foods were heavy with nutrients that would ensure a fast recovery for Damon.

Carrying up a tray filled with everyone of those dishes, Apu made his way up the flight of stairs until he had arrived in Damon's room, to see the injured man still fast asleep with a newspaper over his face. What's this? Where had it come from?

Setting down the tray, Apu peeled it off of Damon's face. And his expression was one of astonishment when he had seen that Damon had made the front page. Entitled "Demon of the West" it featured Damon in a state that Apu hadn't quite seen in its entirety: a number of additional arms sprouting out from his backside.

What stood out to him immediately was Damon's new bounty of Beli Small170,000,000. A smile formed on his fat, fishman lips. "The bastard's gone and surpassed my bounty."

He narrowed his eyes as he read further along the lines. "The culprit behind the murder of the Asha Kingdom's King?" Apu read aloud softly to himself. Perhaps there was a darker side to Damon than he had known. Or maybe, just maybe, this was what Damon had been mumbling about in his sleep all along. Maybe this was what he had been having nightmares about, maybe this was what he had been framed, accused, and marked for having done, when in reality, he was innocent.

Just as innocent as he was.

---

"Kresha!!" Apu screamed, his face in his hands. He was currently in hiding, but his heart ached with such intense agony that he could not help but give away his location to his pursuers. "Kresha!!" he screamed again, feeling so lost. Feeling like he no longer had any other place in the world to be, nowhere to belong to.

He was squatting down in the crevice of two buildings, his figure obscured by two barrels of garbage. He had hoped that the stench would keep the humans from chasing after him, but he was wrong. The moment he screamed was the moment they were able to find him, having followed the long trail of blood that was seeping out of him.

"There he is!" a human from the mob of over fifty hollered, igniting the rest of his human friends and pals to roar wildly. Torches and spears and pistols and swords in hand, the mob angrily charged toward Apu, a bullet running through the barrel to his left and causing feces that had been stored within to funnel out like a volcano.

Apu had no time to sulk, even when the dung had spilled into his wounds and entered the insides of his body. Only one thing came to mind and that was to run. To run and run and run, all the while screaming Kresha's name. Maybe, just maybe she was there on the same island as him.

Maybe fate would see to it that they would meet again very shortly and that it was just a cruel dirty prank the world had played on them. He lost his footing on a puddle of his own blood and rolled down a hill, straight into a pool of mud. By now the mustard fishman had been turned all brown, brown with mud, brown with dung, brown with fear.

When a human tossed his torch into the mud and it burst out into flames, Apu had no choice but to use his Sudden Burst to thrust his way out of the there quickly. His shirt had been caught in the flames, however, and so he had to discard it quickly as the fire torched his fishy flesh.

Tears in his eyes, he was forced to a slow jog as his fatigue caught up with him at long last. His mind nearly snapped as he felt the force of a bullet skim his ankle. "Kresha…!" he hollered again, this time as he tripped on a loose liquor bottle. Falling onto the brick road of the town, he found himself unable to move. He found that his arms and legs had finally given in to the days he had been running; it was over. It was all over.

And that was when he turned his head to the left, to look away from the ensuing mob. But instead what he found on the other side of his body was… another human. A large human, so large that he made Apu, as a fishman look small by comparison. And of all things, this man, this bald man had a chestnut on the top of his head, oddly enough.

His cheeks flush with a blush, the man was laying in the middle of the town with alcohol dripping from his lips. He was so drunk that perhaps he hadn't the slightest of clue where he was. And as the man sat up, Apu prepared himself for the worst. "Ehhh?" the man flashed his wobbling gaze at Apu. He itched his long, black beard with one hand while the other tightly grasped a bottle of some liquor Apu had no interest to identify. The man clogged his lips with the bottle, taking a long swig as the mob appeared in sight.

Apu clenched his eyes shut. "Y-you probably want to kill me like the rest of them, don't you?!" Apu hollered, his mind and body, his soul too, tense with stress and agitation. "So then do it! Just do it already!!"

The man's brow narrowed into a glare as he drank more and more of the rum, emptying it down into his throat.

"What are you waiting for? Kill me! Just kill me!!"

The mob appeared before the two men with renewed brutality. They had no interest in the chestnut headed man, but should he get in the way of their justice, then they had no qualms trampling him along with the monster.

It all clicked in his mind. The chestnut headed man met the mob with a powerful glare. And in that moment, the bottle shattered in his grasp. It was as though time itself had froze, for a mysterious force emanated from within the man's figure, and in the next moment, every last person that had made up that mob, fell to the floor, unconscious.

Apu's eyes widened. He looked over at the man, not knowing what he had done. Not knowing what awaited him. Not knowing that in the coming weeks and months, he would forever and always swear his allegiance to him; forever and always swear to serve under the great Montblanc Burling.

---

Folding the newspaper neatly, Apu set it aside on the counter beside the bed. He had no idea what Damon could turn out to be, but if he matched his potential in the slightest, then that newspaper could end up being a vital artifact serving as a humble reminder as to where it all began.

Placing the tray of food down onto Damon's lap, Apu shook the man awake. He had changed his bandages every few hours over the course of the now three total days that Damon had been asleep. "Hoy, wakey, wakey."

When Damon didn't get up even after all that, Apu resorted to slapping his face subtly. "Hoy, wake up already, come on now, Damon!"

"Huh huh huh, what?! You guys dumped tar in the pot-" Damon blinked rapidly turning his head around. "Oh." He settled his eyes into Apu's figure and they softened, as he smiled. "It's you, sorry for that." Damon rubbed his head with his left hand and finally saw the food in his lap. "Oh, this- I could've helped you, y'know." This had happened the first time Damon had fallen asleep, though he was sure this was the second time, Apu went and just prepared some meal for him, and it was delicious, he wouldn't lie.

Properly sitting up, Damon munched on the food gently, savoring each bite as best as he could. He looked up to Apu and extended his arm. "Do you want some?" He said while using his other hand to hold the food he ate. "Have we arrived anywhere?"

Apu pulled over a chair and sat down beside the bed, folding his arms as he watched Damon eat. He shook his head and showed his palm to the man, refusing the food. "No, no, I made it all entirely for you. Besides, I've already had plenty to eat for myself."

He shook his head again after. "I got out a few times myself to ask for directions along the way, docked the house on some few islands. I have a good idea as to where we are, now, but I don't think it's a very good idea to get off here. Matter of fact, that's why I didn't wake you up when I left."

He motioned towards the window. "...We're not exactly in the greatest of spots, right now. We're in enemy territory, to be more precise."

"A'right, next time, it'll be my turn." Damon replied between munchs, having a blank expression as many ingredients drifted through his mind, it had been so long since he had last cooked something. "Some few... islands? Um, how much did I sleep?" He swallowed a piece whole and cleaned his saliva, continuing to listen, Damon hadn't left Asha for quite some time, most of the missions were on nearby islands.

With Apu's gesture, Damon then looked at the window and his eyes widened, taking in the visage of the sea and an island. "Enemies- Marines?!" He moved abruptly in the bed, his veins showing up. Part of his pants could be seen, the same ones provided by Princess Mariel back at Enji, though, they seemed to be cleaner now.

"Yeah, quite a few islands, actually. I lost track of time, to be completely honest, but if I had to guess... I'd say you've been out for at least... at least three days. Maybe four, maybe more." He chuckled. It was hard to remember much of anything when you were too busy being chased by humans every time you stepped foot on land.

"Oh yeah, you mentioned being a cook yourself, right? Gee, that's really convenient. You see, the division of the Titan Pirates that I belong to, the 5th Division, actually is in charge of preparing the meals and everything else for our crew. We're a crew full of cooks and chefs; of course we do lots of other things as well, but that's our main priority."

He looked at Damon with a proud smile. "You've had my cooking so many times now. I'd love to eat by your hand someday."

Apu's expression became more fierce after that, following the mention of being on enemy lines. Unfortunately, it wasn't as simple as the Marines this time around. "No, not the Marines. If that were the case, I could just bring up Captain's name and maybe, just maybe they'd let us slide by again. But no... it's much worse than that."

He moved his eyes toward Damon. "Ever heard of the Xros Pirates?"

"Holy shit-" Damon mentally slapped himself and cut short his words. "I-I see then... seems like that Tiger man really got the best out of me..." He wouldn't want to confirm it again, but, Mengis' amount of aura was similar to that of Damon's teacher, Bambina. He wondered if they had even met, considering both were Marines.

Damon frowned at Apu's words, he shouldn't be surprised that a crew needed chefs, but... not so many chefs. "Your bandana does remind me of a Chef's Trademark... don't tell me you're sorta' Self-Taught too?" He scratched his chin, as if to increase his observation skills while looking at said piece of clothing.

His mother, who is named Helena and is the one to have gotten him into the cooking ways, has told him that Chefs would dress differently to prepare food, depending on their methods and teaching schools. She pushed Damon through the first steps, he was just 8 back then, but had to leave the island soon after, going back to work at a a large bar or something. He wasn't approved to be a Soldier of the Kingdom, at first, but was elected as one of the new cooks after someone tasted his meals. He just had to improve from there, and, Damon would never say he was unhappy.

Damon was snapped out of his thoughts by Apu, once again, and smiled at him. "I'd gladly offer my meals to you!"

That smile soon faltered, as the Fishman went back to the true matter at hand. "Much worse... do you mean..." His hands felt to his now empty lap, and Damon gulped, hearing the name of the crew. "Xros... my old master has told me that those are supposed to be one of the four strongest Pirate Crews around..." The information had slowly sunk into his mind, Bambina had a deadly serious tone when speaking about it, these people weren't ones to be taken lightly, and Apu's reaction just cemented it. "That's the single thing I know..." He shook away his shuddering, this wasn't the time to fall back.

"Self taught?" Apu probed his chin. "I mean, not entirely, I guess. Well, definitely for sure not self taught anymore. Back home on Fishman Island, I only really did one of two things: train and eat. I didn't have the money to buy any food, so I really just ended up making my own. And I guess that gave me a lot of practice.

"It wasn't until I met Captain Burling that I became as good as I am now, though. That man... aside from saving my life, he's taught me so very much. His cooking is easily the best I've ever had... my mouth is watering now just thinking about it!" He wiped his mouth before proceeding.

"He taught me how to use Haki, too. Boy, I didn't even really know what that was before then. And I'm not the only one, either. He's taught us all, everyone in our division has the luxury of training with him. That is, whenever he's around." Apu chuckled, thinking about how he had even managed to run into him in the first place. Maybe it was a good thing that Burling was always lost. If he wasn't lost when he was, Apu may have been as good as dead. "Great! I'm looking forward to seeing how you are in the kitchen, Damon!"

He chuckled. "So you didn't know about the Titan Pirates, but you've heard about the Xros Pirates, huh?" He smiled. "That only goes to show what a force those guys are... they're not to be taken lightly. They're a gang of brutal pirates, the most brutal these seas have seen in quite awhile. Like I said before, we're not in the best of spots right now. We've been lucky enough not to encounter anyone yet."

"Oh." Damon briefly dropped his gaze, many people had a good life, but there was also many who had a bad one. His glare lowering, though, made him see his right arm and finally pay attention to it, noticing the black tattoo which was on it. "Seems like I really slept long, even the skin I sprouted disappeared" He mumbled, feeling as if he could shoot down the mood, Damon quickly snapped up. "Fishman Island? I've heard of it, all of you guys come from there 'n all that. I'd like to see it, one day." He glanced to the window, imagining what it would look like.

There it was, about that Burling again. Damon could only imagine the kindness of this man, to take in so much people under his wing. "Dorahaha, I can only imagine! I'm glad even Pirates got bonds, though, like a tribe of yellow meerkats in the middle of a savana." He shoved the sheats away, feeling as if his legs were too suffocated by them, and sat on the side of the bed. "Haki, huh..." A brief pink aura appeared on his left hand as he looked at it. "He sounds like a damn good grandfather to y'all." Damon chuckled.

Then, he realized that was why the Titan name felt so familiar. "Wait, you guys are one of those crews too!" Damon waved his hands around, almost slapping himself for not recognizing it earlier, Bambina had mentioned all of the Yonkos' crews to him. "Goddamn... I guess so, I haven't seen much... but, what are we gonna' do then?"

His gaze sharpened suddenly and he looked to the window once again, and to the island. "I could use Haki to sense around the island and we could sneak in? I managed to, last time... I mean, we'd have to do something anyway." Despite saying this, Damon knew there was a difference between a territory and a simple kingdom. "Depending on the amount of auras I feel, we might be capable of fighting back. Either way-" He glared at Apu and stood up from the bed. "I won't be falling back." His right hand tightened into a fist.

Apu carefully observed Damon. He wasn't a doctor, but in the time they had left Ishitani, Damon had a lot of time to rest. More than that, he had been fed food that was rich in nutrients responsible especially for stabilizing one's health. Traveling into a Yonko's territory ascertained battle. Apu only hoped that Damon was ready for whatever awaited them next.

"I plan to find Captain Burling before anything. He is my Captain after all, and whatever he says goes. That's my top priority, and unfortunately, so long as you're here with me, I have no choice but to force you along the path. My apologies for getting you involved in all of this, Damon."

His eyes ran down Damon's figure, to his hand as it clenched into a fist. "...How are you feeling now, Damon? If a fight were to break out... how would you suffice? Are you anywhere near your top form?"

Damon nodeed at Apu's statement, it wasn't a surprise, he had left it clear ever since they left Ishitani. "I'm fine with that. You don't need to worry on apologizing me, maybe, somehow, I will also find some information about whoever really tricked me back in Asha." He ran his finger along his nose, smiling once again and flashing his right arm at Apu. The tattoo was much more easy to see now, having a dark color to it and a rather strange shape. "I just figured I didn't tell you. I'm from Asha, a former member of theKingdom's Elite warriors!"

He felt like he should demonstrate it, not out of arrogance, nor out of pride. Damon, sometimes, felt like words were better than actions. The key word being sometimes, and this wasn't one of those times. However, they were admist enemy territory, and his mind had been much clearer than ever since he left Asha.

Apu truly took care of him and he couldn't thank him with words. "Enough to make the both of us survive!" The fishman, too, was in top shape, he could tell. Damon glanced at the island again. "I suppose we should clear things, dock this somewhere and go... what is it called?"

Apu was glad to see that Damon was in high spirits. It made things a lot easier when you had a powerful ally to count on. He noticed Damon's tattoo at last. "Asha? No way! I've always wanted to go there, I heard so much about their Five Sins." He quickly corrected himself. "Seven Sins, rather. Matter of fact, I was on my way there when I ran into you. Ishitani isn't very far from Asha at all; I thought maybe I'd use Captain's absence as an excuse to pay it a visit."

Apu clenched his own hand into a fist. "Right! If we don't believe it, who else will? We can take on anyone so long as we think we can!"

As the two pirates shimmered their pride, a transponder snail in Apu's pocket began to ring. Apu looked up at Damon as it rang, not having expected another call from anyone so soon. At least not until someone had found a lead on Captain Burling. Maybe that's what it would be about?

The snail took the appearance of a fox with an eye-patch. And as Apu flipped it on, his vice-captain's voice roared on the other end.

"Despite what the fuc- what happened, Asha is a really nice place to live in!" Damon smiled and rubbed the back of his head, though, he didn't know that these places were close. Maybe that's why he survived reaching Groot and Ishitani. He moved to the window, openning it to look at the skies."Maybe, after all this shit show, you can visit it or something." He turned to smile at the Fishman, putting his right foot over the window's base.

He liked that determination. According to himself, Apu had been through some heavy things, but he was still up, he was still fighting. Damon felt like he should be more like that. He clenched his fist and simply shook it all away, again. Damon was about to say something when a ring sounded off.

"Hoy, Apu! Are you there-gara?" Foxpack's voice roared through the Den Den Mushi. His vice-captain's fierce tone caught Apu by surprise. Had something happened to the captain?

"Y-yes, Foxpack-sama! I'm here. What's the matter?"

"Listen closely, and listen well-gara. What I'm about to relay to you is urgent news."

Apu looked up at Damon. This information was meant for and only for a member of the Titan Pirates. But somehow, Apu felt as though he could trust this man with their secrets and intel.

"Hoy-gara. Are you listening, Apu?"

"Yes, Foxpack-sama."

"Good. Now listen: we've obtained a very thorough lead on several members of the Xros Pirates. It has been brought to our attention that Sengoku is calling forth a meeting between his top executives, however not all of them will be able to attend due to certain circumstances. Out of them all, only a single one of his biggest guns will be remaining behind, and that is Reach, who is in charge of looking after Bedina.

"Bedina is among the most important of islands within the entirety of the Xros Pirates' territory-gara. Seizing control over it and eliminating Reach from the equation is the first step to ensuring Sengoku's demise."

Apu couldn't think past the whereabouts of his captain. "But what about Captain Burling?"

"Burling-san will be just fine, you know that just as well as I do, Apu. The fact remains that this is too good an opportunity to let slip away. If we don't act now, we may never get this chance again!" Foxpack's tone grew even more fierce. "As powerful as Reach may be, if we're able to corner him, there is no way for him to call for backup. Not now, not when the Xros Pirates are in a bundle. The time to strike is now, with or without our Captain!"

"I understand…"

"We await your arrival, Apu. Me and the rest of the crew arrived here last night. We will plan our invasion for three days from now. Be careful not to give yourself up in the meantime. I'll see you soon-gara." The transponder snail flipped off.

Pocketing the Den Den Mushi, Apu stood up. "Damon… I must ask you for your help. We are gravely outnumbered as it is, but our 5th division isn't to be underestimated. We are a proud bunch of pirates! Please, won't you assist us in taking down our enemy?" Apu got down upon his knees, jamming his fist against the floorboards and bowing his head before the wounded figure laying in bed. He knew how much this meant to Foxpack, and so he was willing to throw away his ego entirely to raise their chances, even if only by a little.

"Even with you aboard, our chances of victory are slim at best. I cannot force you to risk your life for our sake, so I will leave it to be your decision to make."

It was that funny-speaking guy again, Damon found out. He took in the information they begun to discuss, it seemed Yonkos clashed way more often than he thought they should do. Damon chuckled at the name of the Executive, somehow finding it funny, he had to make a joke of it later when they meet the guy. Indeed, even before Apu had asked him on it, Damon was willing to go and help them out with this. After what had happened at Asha, he figured that, sometimes, people couldn't pick sides.

There was no right nor wrong in this conflict between Yonkos. Apu was too kind to him, and he would willing help him. Which is why reluctance showed up in his mind once Apu's gaze dropped at the mention of Burling, Damon didn't like this, how the man got down so fast, but, he understood it.

"Nope. NOPE. NOPE!" Damon lowered his body to tap both his hands on Apu's shoulders. "My answer is no, but it's not the answer for the help." He snickered a bit. "NO, that's not what you should be worrying about, I'm itching myself to go and help you guys. You should be worrying about this damn island's name, like, what the hell? I get a territory and give it a name like that? Feels like those shitty dog owners who just get them to defend the house or some shit. Yeah, you guys need to conquer this one, I don't like this name." His eyes widened as his mouth moved in several shapes. Damon was, indeed, trying to complain and cheer the Fishman up.

Damon rose Apu, still tugging at his shoulders. He then let go and went for one of the wardrobes on the room, he figured he should get a better cloth for himself, having seen one on their first day in the house boat. Damon found a pair of black pants, which had odd white belt-like accessories on the legs, they crossed over and around the thighs. The boots were dark, tight and reached to the middle of his lower leg.

He didn't even wait, and instantly got himself into them, using the belt of the previous pants to hold this one up. "Now, let's do this, regroup with these compatriots of yours and get into action-" He was about to head out for the window, but looked back for a second, scratching the back of his head. "-Um, they don't know about me, do they?"

Apu smiled. It was a relief to officially have Damon on their side. Still, the real challenge awaited them. Nothing was promised, not even their lives.

"You placed the world on notice with your antics in Ishitani. There's a good chance they've recently seen your name in the newspaper. I think we should both preserve our identities as best we can for the time being."

He walked toward the window, moving the curtain to gaze out at the sea. It was going to take them a few days to arrive at Bedina. Apu and Damon were going to need every bit of that time to rest and prepare for what lay ahead of them.

It was time for two Yonko crews to clash.

Under the Estimate

It was a certain kind of silence, a very painful kind, that upheld the inner chambers of the Bedina dungeon. This was an area separate from the one in which Fukuoka Soren had been kept inside of earlier, yet with much of the same pretext. It was an area that was still designed to entrap him, to keep him from going much of anywhere with its seastone pillars.

He had been awake for some time now, his eyes open to the cold, dark world around him. And yet, he had yet to speak a single word. There was someone else there with him, someone else who unlike Soren --who was left laying on the floor-- was chained up with his back against the wall in a seated position.

Blood spilled from every inch of this man's flesh. Snot oozed from his nostrils; from his armpits there was sweat; from his trousers there was fresh urine and bool. How he was still alive was anyone's guess, but every hour or so he kept on calling out to Soren, hoping to make some bit of conversation with him. And yet, every time he was left empty handed.

"You know you can talk to me-wa yo!" he beamed again and with a suspicious sense of enthusiasm given his current state of being. "I'm not going to biiite!"

Soren had struggled to even look towards the man because of the exhaustion he was put under. Every ounce of energy within his body had been sapped, but somehow he had to continue fighting. If he could gain an ally under a common enemy, then he had a chance to turn this situation back.

"H-how a-a-re y-y-o-u a-live...?" Soren spoke, albeit in fragmented letters, panting as he completed the single sentence. The situation that damned Bertram put him in was unforgivable. But Soren needed to speak, it was his only way of communication...the only movement he could make without his entire body searing in pain.

The man fluttered his elongated eyelashes as if in surprise. He was taken aback by Soren's inability to speak. There wasn't enough damage on him, from what he could make out visibly, to suggest that he was in such an intense situation.

But as much as he was worried for Soren, just as much happiness filled the man's hear to finally hear the voice of another. How long had it been since he had heard someone else's voice aside from Najeem's?

"Us Fire Rocker Pirates are tougher than we look-wa yo!" he cheered. "People don't seem to want to give us any credit, but we're among the New World's besssst!" He batted his eyelashes, a hint of a blush escaping both sides of his face as he admired Soren on the floor. If only he wasn't chained up..!

"Allow me to introduce myself-wa yo! I am Daryal, member of the Fire Rocker Pirates." He blushed again at how much he was about to boast himself. "There's a good chance you've heard of me, I have a bounty of Beli Small101,000,000 on my head!"

"I-I...d-don't know..." Soren struggled to say once again. But as he continued to move his muscles, it became ever-so-slightly easier. "A-a-nyways..." Soren tried to say, his body still hurting as he did. "W-w-what....d-do...t-they w-want...t-to...d-do...w-with...u-us..."

"They.." Daryal began with a smile. "Th-they.." he repeated again, but it was clear as day that the persona he had been creating up until now was no more than a facade. His smile shattered into a million broken pieces as he was forced into the realization of the cold reality about them.

Tears began to flow from his eyes. He sniffed up the blood leaking from his nostrils to make himself more audible. "Th-they're going to execute us. They're going to kill us in front of a large crowd." He clenched his eyes shut tightly as the emotions roared out of him. He couldn't fight back the tears nor the screech from his throat as he yelled aloud. "J-Just as they did my nakama!! Just as they killed them in cold blood-wa yo!!"

"..." Soren kept quiet. His response was evident, even if his expression was motionless. The Xros Pirates were cruel, very cruel. To think they would dispose of their enemies in public executions as opposed to battles of life and death.

"They are completely different from Mom and Dad...from all of the Black Widow Pirates...Only to boost their reputation, they do public executions? Grrr...." Soren tried so hard to grind his teeth, but even that movement was proving exhausting to him.

"I-I...m-m-ust...r-r-est..." Soren told his comrade in prison. "I-I...a-am...s-s-orry..." Soren muttered, before his body had been almost completely still. No energy was used to maintain his current position, as he was seemingly trying to build it all up once again.

Rest was what Soren's body desperately required. It differed greatly from what Daryal's mind needed: salvation. He simply couldn't stop himself from weeping. He had expressed his remorse to the darkness for the past week. Now there was finally someone to hear him and he needed to capitalize in this moment.

"They're going to kill us.. they're going to kill us..!!" he continued to weep. "But I'm not ready to die yet.. I can't die yet..! Who other than myself can relay what has happened to Captain Korag to the others? Catrina! Cazzar! Don't you know what befell Korag-sama?! Jones, you bastard! Shouldn't you know the fate of the Fire Rocker Pirates?!

"It's my duty to tell them, mine! Oh if only I had access to a Den Den Mushi!" Memories of his allies flowed through his mind as he spoke of the Fire Rocker Pirates. And what of the Okama that he had left Kamabakka with? How would he face Lieselotte-sama after he had failed to protect their lives? He had to know that they had been slaughtered by the Xros Pirates and that he was next!

Daryal's weeping came to an abrupt end the moment he heard footsteps coming down the dark hallway. Though he couldn't see for the life of him what was approaching, a certain tingle down his spine was all he needed to confirm that it was the very man who had brought him here to begin with.

Daryal went silent. Even as he tried to speak out and curse Najeem, he couldn't. The words just weren't forming.

Soon enough, Najeem came into view, dragging along a new body with him. A trail of blood led up to the entrance of the prison cell as he opened it up and tossed the blue scaled fishman inside.

Sword hung over his shoulder, Najeem looked around at the three inside. Pitiful sights they were. He was responsible for two out of the three, and it was midway in his reflection that he realized that the third, Soren, was not here by his design.

In a heap of anger, he hauled the blade into his hands and grasped it tightly. Though as he drew upon Soren, he didn't so much as move it from his hands. In reality, he was no swordsman at all. He had his reasons for carrying around a sheathed katana, but he had absolutely no experience in using it whatsoever. Kick after kick was sent upon Soren's body. Najeem's boot connected with ninja's face and arms, his neck and chest, his ribs and thighs. In his fit of rage, Najeem didn't care as to where he was swinging with his foot, just that it was making contact with him.

"You fucker!! So you were following me around the whole time, were you?!"

Kick after kick.

"You thought I wouldn't ever find out about it!? Well you thought wrong, bitch!!"

Kick after kick.

The fact that Soren was so weak that he couldn't so much as groan in pain only angered Najeem all the more. He went into a furious fit of rage, abusing Soren with no end in sight just as he had done with Daryal all those times.

"Trickshot told me all about your fucking Logia!! What is it that you turn into anyway, dung?! You flying heap of shit!!"

Kick after kick.

"There's nothing that could happen on all of Bedina that Trickshot wouldn't know about! He sees all!"

Kick after kick. Daryal clenched his eyes closed, and screamed aloud. "No!! No, leave him alone!! It's me that's next, isn't it?!! My execution is before his!!"

"You keep your mouth shut you faggot!" Kick after kick. "I'm sick and fucking tired of everyone looking down on us lately!"

Lifting up his feet, Najeem began to stomp them down upon Soren.

"How dare they?! How dare they look down on the Xros Pirates?!" Stomp after stomp. "What, they think we're just going to roll over a die?! They think they can team up on us and that we're no big deal?! They think that we're just a bunch of no good cock suckers who don't deserve to be a Yonko crew?!"

Stomp after stomp. "Well how's this, ya fuck?! The world won't be disrespecting us any further!! Not after we've killed every last one of you guys who dares team up against us!! What?! You think we didn't hear of it by now?! Of course we know of the rumors!! Bring on Raptor! Bring on Legs! Bring on that fucking moron Daikaku!! We'll slaughter all of them at once!!" He went on until his foot had went numb. At which point he just stood there, catching his breath. Najeem looked around at the three of them again before swimming through the pool of blood he had made on his way to Daryal.

"Let's go, the time has come," he declared, placing the sheathed blade against his shoulder again and unwinding the shackles from the chains so that Daryal would fall to the ground. Grabbing the man by his shirt collar, he began to drag him out.

"Banzai!!" Daryal cried as he was dragged out against his will from the cell. "Banzai, Korag-sama!! Banzai, Lieselotte-sama!" He continued to cheer until his physical likeliness had vanished into the dark, and until his words themselves were swallowed away by the blackness. Najeem hadn't bothered to close the cellar door. He knew of the state the two of them were in: they could barely make to speak. Escaping was beyond their imagination. Leaving the door open was the ultimate mind trick: his way of messing with their sanity. So close to escape and yet so far away. To see the door open ahead and yet to be unable to so much as rollover of their own accord.

Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. All that Soren could feel was pain stomping upon him. But he wasn't capable of reacting to the pain. Not even a single word, nor groan came out of his mouth. He was so exhausted that his body simply refused to react to it. Bleeding be damned, so it seems.

He looked at Daryal being taken away, he heard his cries, but ultimately it amounted to nothing. He was going to die. Soren knew that very well. But...Soren could not let himself die. Soren had to stay alive. Not just for himself, but for everyone he owed it to. "Mom, Dad..." The young man thought in his mind, even as his consciousness was fading.

That open door was aggravating. Soren couldn't even move! He wanted to burst free and move into the free air! Rejuvenate his strength and destroy Najeem and Bertram! But he couldn't. Not yet...somehow, someway, he had to restore his strength. But in these conditions...just what could he do?

Grunting out slightly as the all loud noises disappeared leaving a numbing silence, Worden Luhr Luhr slightly opened his right eye which in it self was a struggle seeing as his entire body was screaming in pain. Glancing around the area all he could clearly make out was walls signalling he was in a room of sorts but judging by the cold and uncomfortable feeling against his throbbing back he could only guess he was in some sort of cell or prison, which in itself wan't anything unusual for him having spent the majority of his teenage life in a cell.

Slightly shuffling about which proved harder than he anticipated Luhr just barely managed to turn his head catching sight of another body beside him and judging by the shallow and pained gasp was in a similar situation as him. "F-f-fuck,". Grunted out Luhr painfully as he tries to will his body to move and ignore the pain that was running thought it.

Through the Grapevine

She had come to him out of desperation, fearing the consequences behind her husband's actions. Little did she know that he was as good a man as they came; he hadn't explicitly done anything wrong at all. In fact, the only crime he had ever committed was marrying a woman as beautiful as her. So beautiful that Grape had exerted his authority as the Marine of most significant rank upon the island to warrant her husband's arrest, knowing that it would have brought her closer to him. And closer to him it did.

Grape titled his head from side to side, capturing her mouth with the hunger of an endless supper. His hands shifted around her waist, feeling firmly around the happenings of her larger than life glutes. Breathing into her mouth, he pulled her over himself as he laid back down on his office desk. And as she began to descend lower, unlacing the buckle of his belt, he tightly gripped the sides of her head with his hands, issuing a powerful kiss to her forehead, anxious to see her go to work.

Oh how he had been waiting for this day. For days he had been slapping around her husband while he was within his custody. And now here he was with his wife, seducing her into the ultimate act of betrayal.

"Oh you are just so fucking wonderful," Grape managed under a weakened breath. He was so aroused he could hardly think straight. His pants were right about to come off when the door to his office, thankfully locked, was met by a knock.

"J-Just a moment!" he called out, standing up quickly to his feet and tucking his uniform back into his pants as he pulled them up. He grabbed the woman by her neck and slammed his lips to hers, pulling her toward an open window and motioning for her to escape.

"I'll be right there! Just… just finishing up some last bit of paperwork is all!" Shit! How could he have forgotten? The inspection was today! It was now that he realized how powerful a beautiful woman could truly be. He was so lost in her curves that he had forgotten all about the Marine Captain that had been sent from Headquarters to inspect his beloved Marine Base.

Fixing his hair as he stood before the closed door, Grape took a deep breath and turned the knob, opening it up. "Oh, w-welcome! Welcome to Bedina!"

At the other side of the door, a man seemingly alone standed. He dressed like a monk, with a black robe covering his body with more cloth than needed and the Marine coat on his shoulders like a cape. His arms where nowhere to be found, until he moved his right hand in the Officer's direction, flapping the long sleeves of his robe in the process.

He was taller than Grape, looking him from above with an extremely serious expression. His bald head shined with the light reflected on it. "You must be Grape." He said. His voice was deep, but oddly comforting. "I'm Captain Sanzo. I'm here for inspection." He kept his arm suspended in the air, waiting for Grape to grab his hand. He was wearing white gloves.

And Grape in fact reach over to shake the Captain's hand, albeit very slowly and with equally as much caution. If first impressions meant anything at all, then man was this guy weird. For a guy like Grape who did nothing but womanize all day long, this tall, bald-headed, robe-wearing Marine was anything but pretty. Heck, Grape even felt bad just looking at him. How did this guy ever get any type of pussy?

"R-Right, that's me. I'm good ol' Grape, haha. It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain Sanzo. Why don't you come on in? I've been keeping an eye on everything around here so I assure you, everything is in tip-top shape!" Oh god. Couldn't this guy just leave so that he could fuck that woman already? Hurry up and finish this stupid inspection! Grape's cock was practically throbbing. What a cockblock this fucker turned out to be!

Granting Sanzo entry into the base's office, Grape lightly closed the door behind him. "Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Maybe some wine?" Maybe some bleach?

"A cup of water would be nice." Sanzo walked through the room with long, but slow steps. It was almost like he did it on purpose to piss off the Officer that was with him in the room, but, it was, in fact, just part of his calm nature. However, Sanzo wasn't someone to be taken lightly. His eyes followed every move that Grape did; from the handshake to the way he opened the door, the way he talked and the way his body responded to the situation. Sanzo acted like a predator, just waiting for the right moment to kill his prey.

"You don't need to be nervous. It's just an inspection." Sanzo approached the window, touching the frame with his index finger. Pushing it, he opened the window, feeling the pure air fill his lungs in a deep breath. "This place is filthy. It's smells like..." Sanzo couldn't find the word.

"Nervous? Who's nervous?" Grape shrugged. But then he almost began to panic when the Captain addressed the smell in the room. He didn't expect the bald man to know what semen smelled like at all. In fact, he didn't even expect him to have a dick of his own altogether.

"Uh, let me go get that cup of water for you. I'll be right back." Retiring into the small kitchen that was there in on the main floor of the base, Grape began to pace around as he searched the cupboards for a glass. He needed to drug this man, to slip something in his drink and knock him out. Yes, then he'd call up Najeem or Kettle or better yet, Bertram, and this guy would be out of his hair for good.

But no, that simply wouldn't work! This man had to report directly back to headquarters. If, for whatever reason, he failed to do something, then they'd only end up sending even more Marines onto the island, and that was the absolute last thing that Grape needed right now.

Bringing with him a pure cup of water, Grape stepped back inside of the office. "There you are. I hope I'm not in your way? If you'd like me to, oh I don't know, step out of your way and go on a walk, don't hesitate to let me know..."

Sanzo was found sitting on Grape's chair when the man arrived in the room. With a straight posture, without even touching his back in the backrest, he passed his fingers through the many papers he carried in his hands; not only his hands, but the entire desk was covered with reports and the drawers of the cabinets were open. "I took the liberty to look into your reports." Sanzo said, without even bothering to look into Grape's direction. "You can leave the cup on the desk."

Fuck. He looked through his papers? Well, maybe he could somehow managed to play this one off. Grape walked forward, setting the cup down on the desktop. "Okay, and...? What're you trying to say exactly, Captain?"

Sanzo sighed. He got up from the chair, leaving the papers on the desk. "There's nothing wrong with your reports and, apparently, everything is in good conditions." Sanzo walked past Grape, ignoring the cup of water and heading to the door. He opened it completely, stopping before he could leave. His back was turned to the Officer, but he adressed him anyway. "Just be aware of who you bring to this room. The place is impregnated with the scent of women." Sanzo turned to Grape, grabbing the door knob and slowly closed the door as he talked. "If you don't mind me, I have business to take care of."

The smell of women? So what, did it smell like perfume? Grape had gone nose-blind to all of that. He couldn't tell. "So I'm supposed to apologize for having mostly female clients?-" He was cut off as the door closed. He sighed in relief.

At least that was over and done with. Now, he hoped, there'd be no more interruptions. But how was he going to get that woman to come back? He had invested day's of effort into ensuring that they made love. And now because of this bald headed buffoon, he may have lost his only chance.

Walking up to his seat, he slumped into it, thinking things over. What business was that guy going off to do now? He reached for his Den Den Mushi. "Hoy, Kettle-san. This is Grape speaking."

---

Sanzo wasn't sure on who exactly he had to do business with. The only things he knew were the man's name, his rank in the Marine and what he had to deliver. Any information about his appearance wasn't revealed and Sanzo didn't even have a photo or something that he could use to tell apart the man from the rest. It was a tough task, but it didn't concern the Captain that much.

While leaving Grape's room and heading to his ship where the package was left, Sanzo realized how many years he worked as a Marine and how much its strucutre changed since his time as an Ensign. Since 16 years old, bringing peace and justice to the world. And now, 20 years later, he couldn't be more happy for what he achieved. Lost in his delusions, he had reached the base's entrance without even noticing.

In the docks, he could see his ship from afar. It was just like the others near it, with the exception of the crew that adressed him formally. "Captain, it is nice to have you back." A man said, wearing the usual marine uniform, as Sanzo approached the ship; which he replied nodding. Already on board, he entered his room. It was small cabin with a chair, some cabinets and a desk; on it, a casket. Inside it, it was the object to be delivered: a devil fruit.

Sanzo carefully picked the casket and walked out of his room with it on his hands. He sat on the deck with his legs crossed, putting the casket in the middle of them. In a proper meditation position, he closed his eyes, waiting for Swain to arrive any time soon.

---

The door to Swain's personal quarters slammed open as the newly promoted Ensign Yed rushed in, clumsily saluting at his superiour officer as he made his announcement: "Commodore Swain-san, we have just docked in Bedina. We are ready to disembark upon further notice, Captain Sanzo-san is waiting aboard a neighbouring marine vessel for your arrival!"

In his hurry to present himself as worthy of his newly assigned post, Yed had somehow failed to note that the Cabin was at first glance, quite empty. Zander had gone and vanished again, without leaving word of his errand to anyone, but Yed had faith in the Commodore, he was a great man. Surely he was away chasing pirates and making the world a better place. After all, the Marines would newer elect a sleaze to a position of authority, that'd be absurd. Yed chuckled to himself and went about arranging the paperwork on Swain's desk for his return.

Zander's fist slammed onto the counter with significant force, causing the brothel madame to take an involuntary step backwards. "What do you mean that this brothel doesn't run towards my tastes, you mean to tell me that there's not at least one desperate single father or concerned big brother to be had here in this establishment? I've been at sea for so long now that I'd even settle for a disgraced ex-pirate!"

The madame regained her composure quickly, Swain look her in the eye like a mad dog inches away from biting. He supposed she had what ordinary men called "curves", hundreds of them even, with how her obese form struggled within the constraints of her garish pink evening gown. If a snail had somehow grown to human-size and managed to squeeze its way into a pink piece of sausageskin, it would likely look identical to this morbid woman.

Nevertheless, the madame leaned over the counter in a manner that was probably meant to seem seductive and alluring, but which to Swain simply looked like a drowning woman desperately clinging to a piece of driftwood. Each movement likely took extraordinary effort on her part, it was kind of inspiring really.

Swain turned around, dejected at the lack of male company for the evening, as he uttered to the group of marines behind him. "Well lads, it seems this was a waste of our time, this shitty establishment isn't worth our whi--" Zander's eyes thundered when he saw that each of the young men had found a buxom beauty to entertain them for the evening, and the Commodore cursed at them underneath his breath as he pushed them aside and left the establishment.

"Traitors, the lot of them." abandoning their brother for some women, an outrage. But not Swain, oh no, he was man who knew to quell his urges for the sake of his comrades. It was after all why he had been made a Commodore, for his stellar chara--

A young handsome man came into view, carrying a bag of groceries, the light illuminating his features and hazel eyes. His shapely physique, his long legs and a shirt kept slightly unbuttoned because of the heat. An extraordinary specimen, a bronzed god in the flesh, an exotic delicacy from the farthest reaches of the grand line! Oh what joy, oh what excellence!

Swain's nostrils flared, and some passerbys might've sworn to witnessing a release of hot steam from them in that moment. As the Commodore's eyes seemed to turn into pink hearts. "B-Bellorine!" Swain shouted at the unfortunate man as he dashed across the town square to meet him, seizing ahold of his hands as he spoke darkly... "Roses are red, violets are blue. All of my naughty thoughts involve you!"

---

Roughly an hour later, Swain climbed aboard Captain Sanzo's ship and approached the man at last. Much had happened in the past hour, some of it really REALLY good, but most of it not. He'd gotten used to rejection, but that first guy had rather creatively smacked him across the face with a baguette with enough force to leave a long thick diagonal red mark on his face. He approached the meditating Captain and hollered.

"Oi! I'm Commodore Swain, are you Captain Sanzo?"

Sanzo took some time before answering Swain. He was too concentrated meditating that he lost track of time and space; he was, in fact, sleeping for over an hour without interruption. But, hearing a strange voice invading his dreams, he woke up. Sanzo stood up, picking the casket with his left hand. He was much taller than the Commodore, but wasn't as big as an oversized human, just above average.

"Yes, I'm Captain Sanzo. Nice to meet you, Commodore Swain." Sanzo extended his right hand to greet the man. He was much different than Sanzo thought. He looked like a delinquent and not a Marine; but Sanzo himself didn't look like a Marine either. He put these thoughts in the back of his mind, prefering to not judge the man by his appearance; he was his superior in rank, after all. "I was assigned to deliver a package to you."

His interest piqued, Swain addressed the Captain personally. "Oi! A package, from who? Is it from Sam, Rudolph, Thomas, Chrisopher, Hans or Roberto? Wait, don't tell me its from those fine but oddly-named triplets, Dewey, Lewey and Huey? What fun that was.."

Folding his arms across his chest, Swain tried his best to hide his excitement. And he did a modestly good job of it, it was difficult to make out whether he was jesting or being serious, only he knew the truth.

Sanzo recoiled his arm, holding the casket on the palm of both his hands. "To be honest, I don't know who sent it to you." Swain's excitement was something that Sanzo didn't expect from the Commodore; he looked like a delinquent, but his expression remembered him of that of a kid. "The only thing I know is that I'm supposed to give it to you." He extended both his arms, approaching the casket to Swain.

As the two marines exchanged greetings, a literal house floating on water drifted ever closer to the docks of Bedina. From inside, Apu peeked through from behind the curtain, identifying the vessels for their affiliation with the Navy immediately.

"What's the Navy doing in a place like this?" he thought aloud, hand reaching for the Den Den Mushi in his trousers. "Hopefully we can avoid a confrontation with them. There's no telling what'll happen, but in the meantime, I'll notify my crewmates that we've arrived."

"Fucki- Damn, I knew they would be here." Damon muttered and his teeth grinded against each other. "Just because I wanted to feel the breeze..." He observed them along with Apu, waiting as he prepared to call that Foxpack person once again, or so he assumed. "That's a'right." Damon felt a bit uneasy. "These auras though... damn." He cocked one eyebrow, he felt the full blunt of these auras, but, made sure to try and hide his presence.

The Den Den Mushi rang and rang, until Foxpack finally picked up. What had taken him so long? "Hoy, Apu! Where are you-gara?"

"Uh hey, Foxpack-sama! I thought we agreed to meet along the west coast? There's two marine ships docked right here!"

"Nay-gara! We agreed to meet on the east side!"

"...Oh, well that changes things a tad bit. Either way, I'm here now. It might take me a moment to locate you, though."

The house drifted into the small space that existed between the two large ships, squeezing in like a hot dog between two buns. This of course stopped the house from moving any farther, and grinded its stone body against the wooden hulls of each ship, charring pricks into the waters below.

"Shit, shit, shit! I did not mean to do that!" Apu hollered. "Uh, I'll catch you back in a bit!" He switched the snail off, tucking it away into his pocket.

Grabbing his dreadlocks with his hands, he tied them into a ponytail behind his head and turned to Damon. "How you feelin', dude?"

As the two exchanged talk, Damon realized he knew something had been wrong. They took off to the wrong side, nothing that some sneak skills couldn't fix. Or so he supposed, assuming that the Marines wouldn't notice them.

Damon felt chills at how nicely the house fit between the ships, almost like a... he shook his head. Only then, as it got stuck, Damon nearly fell to the side and tried to sustain himself, waving his arms around. "Woah woah, I'm okay, you seem okay." He looked around, and then at Apu. "Let's pretend this didn't happen and sudden burst out of here, okay?" Damon made weird gestures with his hands.

The sound of stone grinding against wood and the resulting tremors throughout the ship was unmistakeable, Swain rushed towards the railing and looked down to see the most unusual sight of a floating house. Simultaneously intrigued and amazed at the same time, Swain hurled himself off of the railing and landed onto the balcony of what might with some generosity be called a 'Boat' he supposed. He looked through the window and spoke up immediately.

"Oi oi, what is the meaning of this? Look at this, you've just damaged marine property you hoodlu--"

Swain's eyes turned into fluttering hearts the moment he locked eyes with Damon. "B-B-Bellorine!" He squeeled before he shook his head wildly from side to side, he recognized that face, those sculpted abs, the gentle jawline and those firm hands. "Well. I'll be damned, it seems the convict to be has run right into the arms of his executioner... Draco D. Damon..."

Damon stiffened at the sound of something landing outside and shuddered even more when the figure made itself known by entering. What followed next was really unexpected by him, however. "What the fuck?!" His eyes and mouth... widened at the scene before him, to him, this guy acted like a paparazzi who had found his celebrity. "It's Damon... but, who are you?!" Damon assumed his stance and stood partially in front of Apu. He really hoped Apu had a plan now.

Sanzo heard the weird noises, but just moved after Swain ignored the package and jumped from the ship. He hid the casket inside of one of his longs sleeves as he walked through the same path Swain did, but, instead of jumping, he just watched the scene from above.

A house in the middle of the ocean was something new for him. Even after more than twenty years sailing, he never saw a floating house before. What really surprise him, though, was Swain's reaction; there was someone inside it. He heard the conversation, but didn't pick up its content. "Is everything all right down there?" Sanzo stood at the border of the ship with his usual serious expression.

Swain flashed a wicked grin at Damon, as he withdrew the dual tonfas from within his coat. The seastone encrusted tips of dark green standing in immediate contrast to the reinforced steel that made up the weapons in question.

"My name is normally withheld from the likes of you, Damon. Traitor to your own country, filfth that poisons the minds of the masses and here you are, in league with this frogman. Is there no depths that you won't sink to?"

Zander was momentarily brought up from his tirade by the shouting of Captain Sanzo. He didn't look away as he shouted back. "We have work to do, Captain Sanzo, it seems we've chanced upon two wanted fugitives. This demands a summary execution.. that is the order I give you, as Commodore Swain of the Marines!"

Damon looked above, he could feel another powerful person upwards. He gritted his teeth and looked back at Zander, who had now been using some sort of weapons.

Once the Marine began to say what had been typical now, Damon rolled his eyes and felt some veins on his head. "Yeah yeah, all that shit about Asha... don't bother, for real." He sighed and snarled at the rest of the comment. "Apu's no frogman, whatever-fish he is, he is a cool dude!" Fully entering his stance, Damon stood with both his knees bent and his hands in front of himself, opened into gripping palms. He hadn't expected them to run into trouble so soon, but this wasn't the time to complain.

Like before, Damon had stood in front of Apu and smirked at Zander, cocking on eyebrow. "Trust me! No one will be executed in here!" He swiftly dashed in a ducking manner towards the Marine, prepared to deliver an entrance right kick against Zander's right leg.

"Whatever he is, he is guilty by association with you. Those tainted by pirates are no better than pirates themselves. If he stands back and allows me to do my job however, I'll let him off with a warning, this once.."

Swain watched as Damon assumed a battle-ready stance and dashed towards him. He could tell that the other man possessed the spirit of a warrior, and obvious martial training. Fortunately, Swain had faced countless others just like Damon the past few years.

Zander's movement was so explosive that it could only be the result of using Soru. Employing it delicately in order to make the most out of even this enclosed a space, as the Commodore vanished from sight and reappeared behind Damon. With his right Tonfa, nicknamed Rudolph being brought down towards the Asura's back with force sufficient to crush regular bones upon impact, as he sought to pummel Draco to the ground and use the seastone to render him immobile by continuous contact.

"Tch!" Damon gritted his teeth again, he wondered if all these high-ranked Marines would know Rokushiki. He would get back at Bambina for this. Even so, his senses could keep up for now, and his Haki even more, his eyes flashing red. The man was fast, and while Damon himself hasn't achieved extreme levels of speed, he could predict movements and react.

Instantly, as Zander vanished, Damon used his free leg to execute a Geppo, even if he was at ground level, and push himself back to where he came from, ducking under Zander's punch. Not minding his body rocking against the wood, Damon quickly brought his left elbow back-upwards in order to meet with Zander's torso.

Swain's eyes narrowed when his quarry employed the Rokushiki. But impressed at its creative application, but not impressed enough to be caught off-guard. Everything went as Damon had intended it to do, as his elbow connected cleanly with Swain's torso. But instead of landing a direct blow, it instead met what seemed like a wall of compressed steel, as Zander employed another part of the Rokushiki, known as Tekkai.

Ordinary users could not move while using the technique, but Swain had grown to master the technique enough to the point that this limitation no longer applied to him. With purpose he raised a foot in an attempt to pin Damon to the ground while he raised a Haki-imbued tonfa overhead and brought it down with great speed and purpse with the aim of crushing his torso and putting an end to the legacy of Draco D. Damon.

Taking in all that unfolded before his eyes, Apu shifted ahead the moment Damon looked to be in any sort of danger. He had been responsible for the Asura's recovery after all; the last thing he needed was Damon out of commission again when they were in Xros territory.

Without announcing his arrival or the name of his attack, Apu dove in, halting to a stop as his heels slid across the wooden flooring of the master bedroom. Slapping two fists together, he aimed a very well placed blow intended for Swain's middle back.

Not only was the pike fishman's attack sudden and fierce, but more so, it was at an angle that was hard to defend from, even with the reinforcement of Tekkai or Haki. After all, even a master who was able to move around with Tekkai active couldn't do it at the expense of his true speed. Apu hoped that his attack would make direct contact with the marine and send him toward the opposite end of the room, freeing his ally.

"Madaronigawara Nijūgū'!" Apu exclaimed, though not until his fists had at the very least made contact with his enemy.

The Fishman's gamble was correct, if unnessecary, for Swain was so assured in the might of the Marines that he'd never even considered that Apu might raise a hand against him. Under these circumstances, the Fishman's attack connected cleanly and sent the Commodore hurtling throughout the room and into the wall on the opposite end.

Fortunately for Swain, his Tekkai prevented him from suffering any significant injuries from the attack. But the main objective of Apu had been a resounding success all the same, even so, his back groaned in protest. Rumors of Fishman Karate were not exagerrated, it had punched through most of his Tekkai. For now, Swain's attention turned towards Apu, evidently considering him the greater threat at the moment. But when he spoke, his words were directed at Damon.

"You know Rokushiki, Damon. It seems we have a traitor in our midst. I'll have a quick search conducted and so we might weed out and punish whomever shared the secrets of the Six Techniques with an outlaw."

Using Soru, Swain repositioned himself on the balcony in a sudden surge of prodigious speed. Before he kicked off of the railing and flew up into the airspace between the two marine vessels as he shouted for the Captain. Where he hovered quietly in place with the use of Geppo.

"Captain Sanzo, why are you still standing there like a blushing virgin about to be deflowered. Get down here with me and do your duty to the marines!"

Sanzo wasn't a violent man per nature, but he had a duty as a Marine that stood above his own desires right now. Although he had some concerns on taking someone's life, it didn't mean that he was incapable of fighting. Sanzo had spent many years training as a monk and learned how to use the force of his opponents against them. He was more of a defensive type of fighter, but he could easily bring someone to the verge of death if he wished to.

He was about to descend when Swain suddenly appeared hovering. Hearing his words, he didn't think much before acting. Sanzo moved backwards spinning with strange hand movements in a type of dance. He repeated it to the opposite direction, heading to the border of the ship once again. Stopping there, he extended his right arm in a brute movement. All the dancing allowed him to create "flow" with his body, transfering it to the air through the palm of his hand. With it pointed to the house, a sudden stream of concentrated wind left his hand like the bullet of a cannon, destroying instantly the upper half of the house.

Damon recoiled as Apu sent Zander flying, raising himself from the ground to stand alongside the Fishman. "Sorry for that recklessness!" He panted, reacquiring his fighting position while the Marine recovered, which happened rather quickly, and began to spoke at Damon. The latter rebounced: "Whatever you say! I've learnt there a long time ago."

Zander had then yelled for the other person's support, whom Damon learned was named Sanzo, not that it mattered at the moment. "Apu-san!" Damon yelled and his eyes widened, as he felt what would come next, and before the air or whatever... hit the house, he lowered his arms and tightened his hardened fists. "BUTTERKUCHEN!!!" Damon dual-punched the air-wave, creating an impact of his own, as both of them destroyed the ceiling.

Upon witnessing the peculiar powers of Captain Sanzo, something resembling a plan formed in Swain's mind. Black ichor extended from Swain's palms and seeped into both Nicholas and Rudolph. Turning the pair of Tonfa pitch black with a surrounding nimbus of purple, it was a strain on his haki to employ this technique to this extent, and under ordinary circumstances he wouldn't. Were it not for Captain Sanzo's unusual abilities which appeared to have the ability to manipulate air from what he could tell, which made it worth the significant drain.

Steadying his footing as much as possible with the use of Geppo. Zander issued himself into the required motions, as he employed the Rokushiki principles behind the technique of Shigan to his Tonfa, while employing controled bursts of Soru upon his arms to generate sufficient momentum. Geppo being used in order to fight against the recoils produced by his own attacks.

"Captain Sanzo! Empower my attack with your abilities!"

With a wordless cry, Swain's Tonfa punctured the air again and again in shrill cacophonous roars. Their movements enhanced by Soru and their striking power enhanced by Haki to immense levels. Zander's furious assault manifested as a continous barrage of vacuum pockets that threatened to rip the two men to shreds from afar, and annihilate the very house they resided in on its own, and he hoped that Sanzo would heighten the power of his technique significantly.

"Fine." Sanzo moved both of his arm in a circle in the front of his body, until both of his palms clashed together. The air around him followed the same pattern, moving in a big spiral that disturbed the current flow of the wind. He then moved both of his arms foward with his palms open, sending the "spiral wind" in the direction of the vacuum pockets. Upon reaching then, it deformed their structure and movement; they got bigger and started to spin, as well as their speed was significantly increased. They had about two times the strength and the same size of Sanzo's last attack. A single "bullet" would be enough to open a hole bigger than the body of their targets could fit, ripping them in two pieces of flesh and blood.

When the roof was ripped right off of the top of their heads and a round of air bullets were sent reeling in their direction, there was only one thing that came into Apu's mind. 

"Run!" he hollered, clasping his hand around Damon's wrist without any prior warning. If he succeeded in making contact with his ally, then the fishman went to quite literally dive headfirst into the wooden flooring beneath them, burrowing his way into the house's lower levels. 

As they escaped into the bottom floor, the two of them were allowed only a handful of seconds before the bullets would make their way down and consume the rest of the house. At current, they were ripping the bedroom and all that existed on the house's top floor to shreds.

"Listen, Damon! We can't risk exerting ourselves here! This isn't our main battle; this isn't the reason we came all this way. The Marines aren't our real enemies, not here on Bedina! If we allow ourselves to be hurt, then our deaths at the hands of the Xros Pirates will be sealed! Do you understand?!" 

A tinge of desperation filled his voice. "We have to get out of here while we still can..! You.. you're a Devil Fruit user, right? Well, you've got to trust me with this, but there's only one way I can see us getting out of here with our bodies still intact." But of course. Leave it to a fishman to elect the waters as an escape route.

He looked back as the bullets arrived into the lower levels of the house, tearing through the wall in front of them and leaving a large opening for some water to begin flowing in.

Damon's eyes widened as Apu yelled and took a grip of his hand. He felt the push and, as he trusted Apu, let himself get dragged by the fishman through way down below. "Tch!" Damon gritted his teeth, Apu had been right, as much as he despised some of the Marines... that's not why they were here, he had to think straight or else he would doom not only himself, but Apu as well... and maybe his comrades. "I DO!" Damon wouldn't allow himself to do that.

"Gotcha'! Don't explain, DO IT!" Damon yelled back, staring at Apu's very eyes, and waited for his plan. User or not, he had to survive and would trust Apu right away with this.

With no time to lose, with the air bullets breaking into the lower room, Apu clapped his hands together. When he began to spread them apart slowly, strings of gooey water, which looked all too much like saliva, connected his fingers together. He pulled his hands farther and farther apart, until what he created was a bubble the size of Damon himself. 

It was a carefully executed display of Fishman Jujutsu; while the art revolved around the basis of using the bodies of water made readily available to him, Apu instead used the small bits of water that were there in the air to create this bubble. The subtle fragments of water allowed the bubble to be as thin and portable as it needed to be, while also having the inside of it be filled with fresh air suitable for a Devil Fruit user such as Damon. It was no different than a Bubbly Coral, yet created through Apu's own skill.

"Quick, get inside!" Apu said. But just as soon as he did, a stray air bullet connected with his creation, popping the bubble just as it had come into fruition. "Oh for the love of-"

With no more time to waste, he shoved Damon into the water and dove in after him.

Few among the marines were as driven in their desire to exterminate outlaws as Swain, and his men could witness this demeanour of him from the railing of his ship. As large bullets of air were created with his raw physical prowess, blasting apart the house in quick order, sending debris flying throughout the immediate area and causing seawater to splash and surge all around the points of impact.

Some might call it zeal, others would call it madness. But as his technique began to dim and nothing remained of the floating house beyond an island of scattered flotsam and driftwood, Zander's expression turned into a triumphant smile.

Only, there were no pirates to be found with the rubble that was floating on the ocean's surface. No pirates in sight, but most definitely pirates still in mind.

Where had they gone? Recalling that one of them was a... "frogman", as Zander had initially professed, perhaps it was possible that they had escaped into the waters below?

Down underneath and safe from the eyes of the Marines above, Apu and Damon continued to sink lower and lower. For Apu it was a long awaited reunion with his home, but very much the opposite for Damon, who literally could not move so much as in inch.

"Don't worry Damon, I'm here!" Apu announced, speaking freely underwater without having to hold in his breath. He parted his hands, this time creating a more durable --yet less portable-- bubble through the water that surrounded them. 

Pushing Damon inside of it, he awaited his partner to collect his breath.

Despite the destructive power of their attack, Sanzo was sure that the criminals were still alive. The water was clean, except for the remaining of the houses, and there was no sign of blood or body parts floating. He looked in Swain's direction and could only feel the ingenuity in his smile. With a single hand movement towards his own body, a strong blow of wind forced Swain to fly to the ship's proximity, making him land safely on the wooden deck.

"They are still there. Do you plan to chase them?" Sanzo waited for his response before he did any action. He was sure that he could stop them from fleeing, but he wasn't there for this. He was assigned to deliver a package; and nothing more.

It was a weird sensation, for Damon had been unconscious the last few times he got into a large body of water. He could hold his breath for some minutes, but worry he did not, as Apu had quickly arranged another bubble for him. "GAH!" Damon gasped as he regained breath. "Thanks.." He held his chest and looked ahead. "Can this move forward...can they see us?"

Apu shook his head. "I don't think they're crazy enough to challenge a Fishman this deep underwater. It'd be suicide, even for them." Apu had the utmost confidence in his abilities underwater, but even so, now was not the time to showcase his skill. No, it was time to escape, to swim toward the opposite side of the island and meet up with his crew members. 

Without wasting another precious second, Apu turned to Damon. "Ready?"

He reached behind with his arms, positioning the bubble on his back. Arming it into place, he then concentrated heavily on the long road ahead of them. 

"Sudden Burst!" he declared as the two of them flickered out of comprehension, amassing a large distance between where they were previously and where they were now. The bubble, being made from the waters of the deep trenches of the New World, managed to sustain the short burst of impossibly fast movement. 

From there on, Apu swam on ahead as fast as he could, leaving the ruins of the house far behind.

"Well, Fishmen sure have some advantage over Users..." Damon sighed and smiled, feeling his surrounds with Haki, despite his vision seeing through the water.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

With Apu ready, Damon felt more than ready and braced himself, yelling at the top of his lungs. "BAAANZAAAAAAAAI" His eyes widened and all of his teeth could be seen as they burst through the water. Damon could already see that the ground was rising and they were close to it.

Ordinarily, Swain rather enjoyed being manhandled, but that was in an entirely different setting. When he was in the midst of meting out justice however he was less passionate about certain things. "We lost them the moment you decided to use your powers on me, as opposed to them.. the work ethic of marine forces are clearly lacking, it seems. Who do you think we are? I'll give you a standing order right here and right now, Captain Sanzo, the next time you see a pirate.. kill them immediately, or if that bothers your conscience, capture them and have them brought to Impel Down."

Zander turned his head halfway around as he peered into the distance, his hands tightening into fists in frustration at his quarry getting away. "Now then, what was it you wanted to give me again?"

Sanzo heard Swain complaining with his eyes closed. He was in peace with his own decision, but he acknowledge his negligence; he was a Marine, after all, and he was supposed to at least capture the pirates. He inhaled deeply, exhaling the air from his lungs before he answered Swain's question.

"Well, it is inside the casket." Sanzo put his right arm inside the left sleeve, taking the wooden casket that he hid before the fight started. How it was kept unharmed was still a mystery; the sleeve was so big that it could fit an entire body inside it, but he never tried to do so. Holding the casket on his palm, he approached it to Swain.

Taking the offered casket, Swain open it up like a child on christmas, expecting something juicy and amazing, the most recent issue of Muscle-Bara Magazines or maybe even Marines Exposed Volume Seven. Steam shot out of Zander's nostrils at that awesome thought and a tiny trickle of blood dripped from his nose onto the casket.

"I knew it would get here safely! I've always said that the mail delivery services of the marines is the best in the wo--" Zander's naughty hopes were dashed against the stony cliffs of fate when what he unveiled was not gorgeous pecs and sculpted abs, but instead a very peculiar looking fruit. It almost resembled that of an eggplant, but its stem was curiously twirled and its skin had visible spiral patterns.

Swain looked at the fruit and turned towards Sanzo. "Oi, what the hell is this!"

"It looks like a fruit; a devil fruit, to be more precise." Sanzo himself had eaten one when he was younger, which allowed him to do the many deads he showed up today. "I have eaten one myself; the Gare Gare no Mi. It's been such a long time, but I still can feel its awful taste in my mouth." His face wrinkled with the thought of experiencing it all over again.

"They are quite rare, even though every pirate seems to have eaten one these days... but whoever sent it to you must trust your persona." The usual seriousness of Sanzo's face was substitued by a faint smile.

Convinced by Sanzo's words, Swain took the Devil Fruit, guided it to his lips and gobbled it down all at once. He regretted it immediately. 

Describing the taste of the Devil Fruit was an impossibility, it was almost as though his mental faculties ceased to function altogether as his brain struggled to process just how terrible the fruit tasted. Swain's vision blurred, and he the grounded rushed up to meet him as he doubled down on all fours, coughing and hacking like a drowning man inches from death. Beads of sweat formed on his face as they fell to the wooden floor of the ship in short order, and the weakened Commodore looked up at Captain Sanzo in a face of utmost defiance.

"Y-You traitor!"

He'd been poisoned, he'd extended a hand to a fellow marine and the devious mastermind had taken this opportunity to do away with him. How clever! No one would think that the serene and gentle Sanzo was in fact a cold-blooded murderer who killed his teammates by offering them fake Devil Fruits. Zander howled with laughter at the irony of it all, causing the poor ensigns and subordinates aboard Sanzo's vessel to turn around and look at the madman who clutched the ends of the Captain's robes desperately, a strange fire burning in his eyes. Flickers of pink and burnt orange dancing amidst his pupils.

"P-people will l-look for me.. Lewey, Dewey and Huey will miss me when I miss.. our s-scheduled appointment.." Swain raised his pleading eyes at Sanzo as his knees began to buckle.. "T-tell them.. tell them that I love all of them e-equally.. but especially Dewey b-because he's got the biggest co--"

Swain Zander fainted before he got to complete that sentence.

Sanzo watched the whole scene in silence. He remembered the sensation of eating a Devil Fruit, but it was nothing near to the point of fainting. "Perhaps he ate too much?" Sanzo asked himself. As his crew approached Swain's body, he raised his left hand with his palm open; they instantly stopped advancing. "I can take care of that. Find a bed or-... a coffin would be better in this situation, right? No, no. He is still alive. Find a bed to Commodore Swain. We'll keep him on our ship until he regains consciousness."

Sanzo bended his kness, putting his big arms under Swain's legs and back, lifting him. He carried his body to the improvised bed made with a mattress and some barrels, laying him on it. The entire crew stood around, watching him. "Is he really alive?" said one of the soldiers. "We will know soon." Sanzo answered. "Now, go back to work. I'll report the whole situation to our superiors." Sanzo left the deck, heading to his cabin.

Although he wasn't concious, Swain could feel himself being drawn to a place.. somewhere. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was the afterlife. His eyes opened and within his dreamscape he stood up and looked around.

It was a sight he could scarcely fathom. As he stood within an enormous empty space, an endless ocean expanding from horizon to horizon, churning around the middle, whirling around him. Yet this sea was different from any sea he could ever imagine, it was not composed of water, but rather prismatic currents of raw energy, that shimmered and scintiliated between ranges of shocking pink to burning orange. Somehow he knew that all of this power was his.. all of this energy was now a fundamental part of who and what he were, like venom to serpent, like wings to a bird, or fins to a fish.

Without thinking he reached out to touch the colorful ocean and upon his touch it surged into his very being, filling him with a sense of power the likes of which he'd never felt before. With this kind of power he could easily annihilate the entire island if he wanted, to wipe the filth that resided therein out in a single gesture, why hadn't Admiral Fuyuki thought of something that simple. He'd just take the entire ocean into himself and bring justice to the entire world at once!

The powers of neon filled his entire being as he drew upon the ocean, but to his growing frustration he noticed that past a certain point he simply could not maintain his control over the raw energies. With the infinite energies reaching a point that they overflowed from him and returned to the ocean. Zander was like a chalice to his own power, he realized, a finite vessel to an infinite source. With training and mastery of his Devil Fruit, he assumed that one day his cup would expand in order to be able to command much more of its powers. But for now he was an infant in its use, and he could appreciate what it meant for some to denote themselves a Logia Master.

Sanzo's cabin was quite simple compared to the ones found in other Marines' ship. It had no chair, but a big orange cushion on the floor, and a low wooden table with some drawers and materials on it. He sat on the cushion with his legs crossed, one foot placed on top of the opposite thigh, and vice-versa. He slowly moved his hands, reaching the blank papers and the pen that were on the table, approaching them to his body. He started writing his reports: the inspection of the Marine' QG in Bedina and the whole situation with Commodore Swain and the other two criminals. Before officially reporting, he waited for Swain to wake up and confirm all the information he had written.

Within Reach

Along the east coast of Bedina existed a small underground cave. A cave lush with a rocky terrain, plastered over a swamp that reeked of days old discarded feces.

But in their time of desperation, it had become the perfect hideout for the members of the Titan Pirates' Fifth Division. Led by their vice-captain, Foxpack, the pirates had assembled here some days ago, awaiting the arrival of the rest of their allies. And now, finally, they had all gathered together.

"Seems everyone is now here-gara," Foxpack announced, walking into the center of the cave so that he was surrounded by his men. He lifted his foot, bringing it to rest over the top of a large rock. With a hard look around, he eyed each and every last one of his men with the one eye he had available to him. "The war draws upon us-gara. Today we draw first blood!"

In one corner of the cave was Apu, suited in a sleeveless gi with a sash tied around his waist. Noticeably absent was his usual bandanna; instead he had tied his dreads into a long ponytail. With his arms folded across his chest, he silently listened to what it was his superior had to say.

Even so, Apu couldn't help but think how fortunate they would have been to have their commander, Montblanc Burling, present there along with them. There was no doubting Foxpack's capability to lead --he did so even with Burling there-- but the level in their strength was all too obvious. Even with the addition of two undoubtedly sound allies in Damon and Tabart, Apu knew that they were still gravely undermanned against the Xros Pirates. Keeping his eyes sealed, he tried to find some sort of peace to ease his doubts over their mission.

“You okay, Apu?” Tabart inquired as he approached the isolated figure.

Though Tabart was among the newest recruits of the Titan Pirate’s fifth division, he had proven invaluable since he was pulled from the ocean. While the members of the crew waited in this underground cavern, Tabart had set up a garden to provide the men access to plants that could be used to make herbs, vegetables, fruits, raw materials such as rubber and latex should they desire to indulge in their desires. However, what he seemed to provide was a sense of security to many of the pirates. He was another body to be used in what seemed to be an impossible mission, and his bounty indicated that his body was at least somewhat useful. Yet, Tabart knew that his bounty, at least when it was assigned to him, was not a matter of skill but of sheer accident. Though, he made sure not to speak about such terms to the members of the crew, lest Foxpack figure it out for himself. He was worried about the fate of this crew, and for himself. “You thinking about how crazy this mission is?”

There was a long silence that followed Tabart's words. To be frank, Apu didn't know what he was supposed to say. Should he risk speaking his mind, the truth, and derailing everyone's morale all the more? It was true, what they were doing even now with the Xros Pirates' ranks diminished and out on duty was nothing less than suicide. Their chances of victory, while greater than they ever could be, were still next to impossible. What were they doing?

"...Yes. Something like that," Apu mumbled in response. He couldn't bring himself to shoot down their spirits any further. If they were planning to emerge victorious, then at the very least they needed to believe in their capabilities to do so.

"It is nice to make acquintance with you all!" Damon had said and bowed at everyone, donning the outfit he found earlier. Now, he stood quiet beside Apu, not knowing anyone who stood present on the cave. His arms were crossed, and one of his legs stood in front of the other, as he leaned against a rock close to the Fishman.

He, however, had recognized Foxpack's voice and almost panicked at how much crazy the... man looked. Reminded him of Mengis. He was surrounded by men, by Cooks, all of these guys were Cooks. Then, there was this Tabart, presumably part of the Titans as well, who had already helped them lots even before the battle began. As much as the man put Damon to shame, the latter already liked Tabart. He seemed to be a nice guy, even for a Pirate, and certainly cared about his... team mates. "Looks like he came straight out of some Desert Chronicles..." Even so, he had never heard of him.

Damon eyed Tabart and Apu as they conversed, feeling the uneasiness in Apu's words and the worry in Tabart's. He wouldn't lie that he felt uneasy too, more because of who they were going to face, but, also because Apu had been focused on somewhere else. Damon would not blame him though and moved himself, placing a hand on Apu's right shoulder, "Easy there, Fish-bro." Damon turned to look at Tabart and licked his lips. "I assume these plants have been your doing... erm, Tabart-san, right?"

"Two thousand four hundred and forty-two, two thousand four hundred and forty-three, two thousand four hundred and forty-four" came from the back of the cave, as Katashi worked out to pass the boredom, doing crunches as he waited for something to happen.

Continuing with his crunches, he merely spoke up. "We'll be fine. Sure, the Xros take pride in their crew, two thousand four hundred and sixty-three, but so do we. We'll win, because we're the Titan pirates, strongest crew in the world. Plus, with Foxy-Vice-Commander-Sir on our side, how can we lose?" he finished with a smile, continuing with his crunches before saying. "Two Thousand Five Hundred." he then paused for a moment, before rolling over to start with push-ups.

Seeing the large group that had gathered on one end of the cave, Foxpack opted to approach them himself. He eyed Apu first, carefully noting the fishman's demeanor. In the time that he had known him --a few months now-- they hadn't shared all that many precious times. Apu was far closer to Burling than he was to him. But as Foxpack learned time and time again, respect was earned with time, not acquired through position.

Almost as if he were looking through Tabart, Foxpack settled his eye upon Damon next. He stared long and hard at him, until his snout weaved into a gentle smile. "So you're the one I heard about on the news a few days back-gara. Damon was it?"

Waiting for Tabart, who had been busy with his plants, Damon looked oddly at the man who had been pushing himself up. Only then...

The approach of the Mink made Damon stiffen slightly, as he hadn't properly met Foxpack beforehand. He had been curious. This... man spoke in a funny way, sometimes. He didn't sound, didn't smell like the rest of this Fifth Division, much like Apu, although Damon attributed Apu's demeanor to Burling's non-presence. Burling's absence meant that someone else had to stay in charge, and Damon didn't ever need to guess to hard in order to know that this would be Foxpack. He faintly remember him from the Den Den Mushi, back at Ishitani, having been too tired to pay much attention.

Nevertheless, Damon felt an immense aura coming from him, greater than anyone present at the cave. But, that wasn't the highlight of it. Damon strangely felt at ease, since, as much fierce as Foxpack's aura was, it also possessed... order.

This was the other man that Apu respected. It amazed him how someone could stand so strong, after so much, maybe this man would serve as an inspiration for him. Damon had, in fact, presumed that Foxpack was a proper veteran, he couldn't guess if that eyepatch was due to a wound, yet, the Mink's aura told him not all, but many things. "Like... Captain Hook from the Neverlands..."

His head snapped to look at Foxpack's figure, due to his words, which made Damon even calmer. "News- Oh, right right! Yes, name is Draco D. Damon, pleased to finally meet you, Foxpack-san." He smiled at the Mink, quickly nodding as greeting as his arms uncrossed from over each other and he stood much much straight. Damon could do this, Foxpack looked like nothing he had ever saw, aside from Mengis, but, he wouldn't get freaked out.

Seeing Damon straighten himself out and become overly conscious of the way he was standing made Foxpack burst into a light chuckle. "Fufufufufufu!" It didn't take much for him to take a liking to the human.

"There's no need to be so formal with me-gara. Besides, if what I read on that newspaper is true and you truly did manage to defeat Mengis, then you must be even stronger than I am!" But of course. For the better part of their clashes, Mengis and Foxpack had always been even. Their fights had always resulted in stalemates and draws; they were about as even as it came. And basing what he had seen on the newspaper, if Damon defeated Mengis in a one on one battle all by himself, then boy was Foxpack glad to have him here on their side. Heck, he might even just have Damon be the one to challenge Reach.

"Glad to have you on our side-gara! I suspect that you'll be an even match for Reach if you didn't have a hard time with Mengis!"

Damon gave a happy sigh at Foxpack's laugh, relaxing his body a bit as he closed his eyes and smiled again. "It's because I've just met ya'... but, if you say so, I'll comply, like the quiet student who always nods at his classmates' remarks." Then, his eyes widened a bit at the mention of Mengis. Damon pondered on how Foxpack had even met Mengis, but then, it hit him. The Tiger was a Marine, the Fox was a Pirate, both of high ranks, so it was very likely that they have crossed fists before.

Damon would ask that later, as of now, he focused on the other aspect of the conversation. "Oh- OH, wait, I haven't beaten Mengis-san." His voice was calm and held no hesitation, that fight had no merit to him. They were fighting for something higher... and then, they just weren't. A part of him hoped Foxpack wouldn't be disappointed, he was looking forward to lending help and didn't want to throw the morale in the dirt. "...We had clashed indeed, but, he turned out to be a Monster-Eater." Strength, resilience, Damon certainly had it.

"Can't say he went easy on me, tho', his entire body had been sparking with that power of his... the whole island trembled at Blue Viper." He shuddered, tet, this made him remember how his speed had been lacking. Damon lowered his gaze to glance at his palms, and looked up back to Foxpack. This just reminded him that he ought to ask Apu about that ability of his, and maybe Foxpack, as he seemed to be the same as Mengis.

Even though he knew nothing about their relationship, Damon felt the urge to reassure Foxpack. "Mengis was insanely strong, both as a fighter and as a person... he wouldn't be defeated easily." These words held venom, but, not in the way that Damon was berating Foxpack for believing in the news. It was because the figure of Carter Pine came to his mind, yet, it was gone soon with a breath and a wave of calmness.

His eyes got filled with resolve and his right hand closed into a fist. "I'm not that strong nor fast yet, even so, let me help, let me be glad to stay on your side too, as a friend of Apu and a fellow fighter!!!"

I haven't beaten Mengis-san... his entire body had been sparking with that power... Mengis was insanely strong... I'm not that strong nor fast yet. As Damon spoke, Foxpack merely nodded his head. As much as he hoped he hadn't shown it, inside, a fire had went out in Foxpack's heart.

The hopes he had for defeating Reach... yes, of course it was too good to be true. Of course the media had lied about Mengis' defeat. They had been mocking him for years as he lost rank after rank after rank. Perhaps it was his hope alone, his desperation to believe that they had any chance, any chance at all at topping Reach that made him overestimate the situation. But even so, he could hardly blame Damon for the World Government's ploy of covering up their antics.

"But of course the government would find a way to cover what truly occurred. I know of that far too well-gara." Foxpack dropped his eye. So it would be him against Reach after all. Just as he feared.

Picking his head up just as quickly as it had gone down, the fox flashed a warm smile to Damon. "It's of no issue, Damon-kun! If anything, the fact that that tiger bastard had to employ his signature techniques on you the way he did is merit enough that you are a worthy combatant-gara! Believe me when I say that I'm very glad to have you among our numbers!"

Talk of Ishitani brought Apu back to recall the events. He couldn't believe it had already been a week since he had met Damon. The way the two of them had bonded so easily... it felt as though they had been friends for years.

Damon didn't know what to think of Foxpack's nods at his words, and merely continued into their conversation. Even then, it made him want to help even more, to reassure even more just how much they are capable of defeating this Reach, if they work together that is. It also made him ponder, if he had enough strength... power, for his revenge.

He agreed at the statement about the Government, having been victim to it once... no, twice. Damon bit his lip and his eyes got bloodshot for but a single second. A visage of Linster came to his mind. Friendly laughs, which soon became cries of anguish. A cell for two, men in black robes, loneliness. But, it got filled with orange hair, a rough encounter, but then... warm words, then touches, then kisses... In a blink, it was all gone into red, Heaven became Hell.

This was Bedina, not Linster.

Damon breathed, "We will all fight Reach." Said he simply, bearing a smile towards the Mink once again. "I'm glad too, of receiving such praise and faith, dorahahaha!" Damon ran his finger below his nose, "Do we know anything about him at all? Like, is the guy the only Officer at Bedina?" His eyebrows arched and his head tilted, while his arms crossed.

"Yeah," Tabart interrupted, stepping forward into the conversation, "I don't even know who the heck this guy Reach is." He looked towards Foxpack. "He sounds powerful, but if all of us are here, I don't think it's possible that we can lose. Afterall, he can't be stronger than that pink-haired transvestite that was running around Elbaf. We managed to push him back with a bunch of scrubs; I'm a very different man than I was back then too. If we can push that dude back, then I think we can take care of this fella named Reach."

I don't even know who the heck this guy Reach is.

We will all fight Reach.

I think we can take care of this fella named Reach.

Do we know anything about him at all?

Foxpack sealed his eye shut. As words of ignorance from a privileged generation loomed about him, the fox mink recalled his first ever encounter with Reach, more than ten years ago. Long before the seas had come to fear him under the name of the "Dark Knight".

---

The sun had crept high in the skies, stabilizing its place amongst the clouds per the perception of those whom admired its beauty from the earthen lands beneath. It was noon, and about as noon as it could possibly ever get, which could have only meant one thing: it was lunch hour at Marineford, the time of day where the vast majority of the marines stationed their at the Navy's primary base of operations were off duty. Well, most of them, at least.

"Fufufufufu! Aren't you forgetting something-gara?! Come on now, put it on!" Seated among countless other peers on a large table inside of a very, very crowded cafeteria was none other than Foxpack, clad in the honorary garb that upheld his position as a Marine Rear Admiral. He feasted both of his eyes upon the tiger mink that was the only one within the near vicinity who was standing, as opposed to being seated like the rest of them.

The tiger mink, who had recently received yet another demotion was now ranked Ensign. The Marines in the New World, in particular those who reported to Marineford, did not take lightly to the newbs. Hazing of all kind was methodized in all its glory, made all the more delightful when taking into account all but a single factor: karma.

Yes. This very tiger had once held the rank of Vice Admiral in the not so distant past. How he had been demoted to the utmost trenches of the commissioned marine officer ranks was the center of every marine's jokes, though none ever forgot the way he had treated them during his time of authority.

Simply put, that darn tiger was the worst! He ate everyone's food, forced marines that served beneath him to trim his toenails, and any time he saw a fish of any kind, it was game over. He'd abandon entire missions to see to it that he devoured the poor sea critter, perhaps that was why his career had panned out the way it did.

This time around, they would be the one to have the last laugh. They would make a mockery out of this darn tiger mink, and show him just how utterly ridiculous it felt to be humiliated in a public setting as staggering as this!

"Hoy, come on Mengis, put it on already!" a Marine Commodore tittered, while a Marine Captain who was seated on the same table added in, "yeah Mengis! We wanna see it on you!"

Grumbling some not so pleasant words under his breath, Mengis set down the pot of steamy soup onto the table, placing the large ladle spoon he had been wielding up until then inside of it. The former Vice Admiral was without his coat and even worse, without the prestige of his epaulets and badges; in their place he was dressed in an apron, under which he had been allowed to wear… absolutely nothing. Now reaching into the front pocket of the apron, he unveiled a hairnet, and as he pulled it over the top of his pointed ears, the entire cafeteria erupted into a siren of whistles and an uproar of laughter.

"Fufufufufufu!!" leading the laughter was Foxpack, of course. His fists slammed against the table in front of him countless times as he laughed the whiskers right off of his snout.

"Grrr… I'll get you for this, you damn fox!" Mengis grumbled, with no choice other than to lift up his utensils and return to work serving the rest of the marines.

Cackling with no end in sight, Foxpack purposely spilled the contents of his food upon the floor. "Hoy, I'm sorry Mengis, it would appear as though my hand slipped-gara… again!!" His fist connected again with the table. "Fufufufufu!"

Mengis snarled. Under ordinary circumstances, he'd have charged at Foxpack long ago and wiped that grin right off of his filthy snout. But at this point he couldn't risk another demotion. If he fell beneath the rank of a commissioned officer, then not only would he very likely be transferred into one of the four seas, but be stripped of his privilege to wear the kanji of "justice" in the name of the Navy. They could shame him all they wanted. But there would be no greater knock against his pride than that.

Another Ensign, one who was actually still fashioned in the way of an actual marine, charged into the table and stopped on the dime --exalting great form at that-- right before Foxpack. Tossing his hand up against his head, he greeted the fox mink with a salute. "Rear Admiral Foxpack-sama! I have been told to inform you that Admiral Raptor-sama requires your presence inside of his office!"

"Eh?" Foxpack lifted up his brow. Couldn't he see that he was enjoying himself here? It was lunch time for crying out! "Alright, alright. Tell him I'll be right there."

The Ensign puckered his face. Tension boiled along his cheeks and nose, sweat trickling down every pore as he held his hand against his head in salutation. "W-Well y-you see, Foxpack-sama-sir… in lieu of y-your frequent delays, the Admiral has explicitly requested that y-you…"

"That I what-gara? Out with it boy!"

"That you not take your sweet time getting there!" The Ensign gulped. He quickly covered his mouth as the laughter all around the cafeteria stopped at once. Only the sound of wind passing through Mengis' nostrils as he covered his mouth --so as not to break into a laughter of his own-- could be heard. Aside from that the cafeteria had gone entirely mute.

"...Is that so?" Standing to his feet slowly, Foxpack dusted off his epaulets with his paws. "Very well-gara." Seeing himself out, Foxpack departed from the cafeteria to the sound of Mengis' chuckles.

When Foxpack arrived within the "sanctuary" that was Raptor's office, he did so without knocking --they were far beyond the necessity for that-- and to the sight of the Admiral scolding his right-hand man, Marine Vice Admiral Montblanc Burling.

"You pissy drunk! Can you even understand what I'm saying?" Raptor jested, a hinge of youth enlightening his face. The admiral was draped in his coat, seated behind his desk. His hair was slicked back with a greasy pomade texture and his facial hair had been groomed into a handlebar mustache.

Burling was sitting fairly upright in his seat, which was a rare sight to behold, however with an empty sake bowl aligned over the top of his head like a hat. His eyes were rolling around every corner of the room and his face bore a crooked smile.

"Yeah, what?" Foxpack chimed as he walked into the room. His eyes drifted to the sight of the Vice Admiral picking his nose.

"Oh good! You're here. This puts as way ahead of schedule," said Raptor.

"Okay, okay, what did you call me for-gara? Come on, out with it!"

"No, no, like really. I don't think you understand. I honestly didn't expect you in here for about another hour or so. I can't believe my eyes right now. Is this a dream? Burling, pinch me!"

Burling flipped his head from side to side, puckering his lips together and playing with his hand, pretending it was a motorboat. "Brrr!!!"

Foxpack sighed. He turned around and made for the door. There was a damn tiger mink putting on a show in that cafeteria and he was here doing… whatever this was!

"No, wait!" Raptor called out. "Okay, my bad. There's actually something I need to talk to you guys about."

Foxpack turned back around. "I'm… listening-gara."

There was a long silence. Perhaps, too long. So long in fact that some of the dramatic tension was cut short. The fact that Raptor felt the need to imitate Foxpack's pattern of speech didn't help solidify the seriousness of his case any better.

"So, listen-gara-gara. That bastard Shiguma… he's been catching a lot of wind under his sails lately." Raptor narrowed his eyes. "And by that… gara-gara-gara, I mean he and his crew have been conquering islands left and right.

"They're calling him the 'Emperor' now. 'Emperor Shiguma'."

"The emperor?" Foxpack quirked forth a brow of his own. He calmly stroked his whiskers as he tried to grasp a hold of what the admiral was talking about. "What a silly thing to call him-gara!"

"Brrrr!"

"Yeah well, there's a bit of merit to it. Matter of fact, there's a strong bit of merit to it. If what we've gathered has any meaning behind it, then it's all the more likely that he'll be headed for Dressrosa next. And then…"

"Zou…" Foxpack intervened. His hand curled into a fist. Now this was personal.

"Exactly."

"But how-gara? Over the last several years, he didn't amount to much of anything! On the contrary, he was a rather shitty pirate!" Foxpack didn't see how any of this was adding up.

"Yeah, and I'm with you there, man, gara-gara-gara, I don't think I've ever whooped anyone's ass as many times as I've whooped his."

"So then how-gara? What is he doing differently now?"

"Well… and there's no way yet to confirm any of this… but what we're suspecting at this point is that Shiguma has been getting a great deal of help from an outside source. A source who isn't directly apart of his crew but very closely linked to them."

"Brrr-" Foxpack prevented Burling from making any further noises by flicking a wallop of hot caramel into his mouth, glueing his mouth shut. The Vice Admiral slouched back into his seat and remained silent for as long as required.

"Just think about it for a second, gara-gara-gara. There's no way, just no way in Davy Jones' locker that the Xros Pirates had the sort of manpower to eclipse that many armies in that short span a time. They should have ran out of ammo, ran out of supplies and the like a long time ago! Unless…"

"Unless-gara?"

"....Unless someone was supplying his crew with everything he might ever need. Someone who can create weapons, create equipment on a whim and nigh effortlessly. Someone who, ideally, would have to be living on an island around the Xros Pirates' ever growing territory, say… Liega? Someone who-"

"Reach!"

"Someone who-"

"Hoy, shut up already! It's Reach isn't it?!"

Raptor slammed his fist against his desk. "Goddamn it is! At least, that's what I'm thinking too. That greedy bastard will do just about anything for a good price. Did I ever tell you how much he charged me for a simple back-scratcher? All the ones I ever used snapped in my hand!" Raptor leaned over in his chair, reaching down into the lower drawers of his desk. When he sat up, he had something of a metal rod in his hand. "But *this* baby, gosh, it's really something else!"

The admiral put it to use right away, pointing his elbow up toward the ceiling and bending it on an angle over his shoulder so that he could reach his favorite spot. He let out a sudden groan, much to Foxpack's dismay. "Hoy…"

When the admiral moaned even louder, Foxpack was forced to shout louder himself, and the Rear Admiral did his best to stray from the sheer ridiculousness his superior was upholding himself to. "Hoy!! Should we go and confront him about it-gara? Should we head for Liega?"

"Oh, good idea!" Slamming the metal backs-cratcher against the table, Raptor stood up from his seat. Several joints could be heard snapping from the admiral's legs as he relieved his body of several hours of being in one position.

He leaped off of his desk in a dramatic fashion, stopping only to pick Burling up and toss the large man over his shoulder as he ran out the door. Foxpack followed along, yet was pushed aside when the admiral came running back into his office. Raptor glanced around the room before his eyes caught sight of it: the backscratcher he had shamefully left behind. Fetching it back into his hands and securing Burling in the other, he ran out of his office again, cheering, "gara-gara-gara!!"

The sun was dropping back down into the horizon. From the perspective of the three monstrosities that were currently lounging inside of a small, wooden hut on a beach along the coast of the island known as Liega, it almost looked as though the sea itself was devouring the blazing ball of chaos.

Cards in hand, cigars in their mouths, and countless liquor bottles scattered around the floor, inside sitting upon a table enjoying each others company were three boisterous men who would go on to reshape he history of the pirate world forever. However at current, they were a very, very peculiar trio. It was anyone's guess as to why and more importantly how they had even managed to come together the way that they had.

The objective of the game the three men were playing was quite simple. They each set down a card from their deck --drawn at random-- facedown on the table in front of them. Then, depending on their gut feeling, they had either of two choices: to bet and check, or to withdraw entirely.

It was a game meant to be circumvented almost exclusively on luck, and yet after over a hundred rounds, the same man had won every single match!

Sitting in the center of the table was the man who was at this point in time at the very center of the storm. He had the reins to the pirate world in his clasps. The way he had conquered island after island after island in such short a time.. it was an unprecedented event, and even if he were to die at this very minute, he would have already forever etched his name into history as a dominant force to be reckoned with. He was none other than the recently crowned "Emperor", Michael D. Shiguma.

"I just don't fucking get it!" Shiguma exclaimed, an all too familiar straw hat swaying from side to side upon his head as he shuffled through his cards. "How do you keep winning?! I just don't fucking get it!"

Sitting on his left side was a man on an impeccable win streak. A man so lauded that wars were fought over the right to name their children after him. A man that after a span of over two decades as a pirate was now entirely exempt from the bounty system the World Government had professed, for they deemed him so ridiculously ridiculous --in lack of a better word-- that they no longer bothered in issuing him a bounty.

This man had defeated the bounty system and no longer possessed a bounty because the World Government truly didn't believe he could ever be caught. A man so vulgar, so very shameful that he spent most of his day making love to his own hand. A man whose greatest skill was in swordsmanship and yet his most formidable weapon remained the very schlong that hung between his legs. A man so cheap, so disloyal that at current, he was not only cheating at this card game, but reading every word of this role-play.

"Yeah, jeez Daz, you might want to tone it down a little with my intro. Like why's mine so much longer than Sig's? People are going to rage about that. I guarantee it man, they're always bitching about something, am I right? I'm willing to bet everything I won from Sig that they're gonna bitch about it."

This man was the man whose presence perhaps could not be explained. For even the narrator has little as to no idea why he's here…

"Oh come on, you know exactly why I'm here Daz. It's what you always do, isn't it? It's nothing new! Of course you're going to have me, a character that you're really in love with, steal the show in a couple of minutes. I'm willing to bet on that too! Watch it guys, watch it I'm calling it. I literally have no reason to be here right now. This role-play is supposed to be about the Xros Pirates and Sigma and shit, and yet he's trying to make it about me!"

The infamous Black Panther, the man who fucked the world for well over 72 hours… Aoshin. "Haha, is that a Kendrick Lamar reference, Daz?"

To Shiguma's right was the very man who was responsible for the arrival of the other two, and the reason the marines, headed by a Navy Admiral, were headed in their very direction. A cigar held between his pursed lips --which were hidden by the massive beard on his face-- he held a rather dull demeanor when compared to the other two. He for one didn't care how many games he lost. It was Shiguma's money, after all.

This was the man the world knew at current as the so called "Greatest Blacksmith in the World", for his prowess in crafting weapons was so utterly unmatched that all others dulled in comparison to him. No matter the scope of success he achieved however, he remained as greedy as ever. There wasn't much of anything he wouldn't do for a quick buck. In recent times, his love for money had seen him become affiliated with Shiguma.

This bearded man who lacked any type of personality at all was Reach.

"Wow that took long enough. Seriously, Daz? This role-play was hyped up with Reach being the main antagonist and all, and it took 160,000 bytes to debut him? And holy shit, this isn't even real time; it's a fucking flashback!"

Shiguma quirked a brow at Aoshin as he kept talking to… himself? But he lost the right to insult the man fifty matches ago. Now all he could do was lick his freaking bung. Burying his face into his deck of cards, Shiguma professed one of his many, many tantrums. "Fucking bullshit! How in the fuck did I lose every game?!"

Aoshin was all smiles. Of course he knew why he was winning every game. He could see everything, including the unseen. He could see the past, the present, and the future. He could see through walls, through illusions all the same. He could spot an ant from over an island away and even see the dead. He could even see you as you're reading this, and Daz. Oh Daz. The things he could see in that man. He could see everything in Daz, except potential.

All that into account, to see what card Shiguma and Reach had face down was like taking candy from a little bitch.

"Hey, lighten up, man. It's not your fault that you're not as awesome as me." The level of generosity in Aoshin's voice was through the roof. The Black Panther reached over and ran his hand up and down Shiguma's back in a comforting manner. "Here, maybe I'll let you win the next game."

Shiguma lifted up his head. His straw hat slipped down his backside, hanging unto his neck via a loose thread. Hope, determination, and poise filled Shiguma's heart. "R-Really?" "No. Of course not. I'm just kidding dude, you really suck at this. Believe me when I say I have absolutely no idea why you gamble as much as you do. Seriously, you should quit, man. Know when to fold!"

Reach calmly smoked from his cigar. He looked between the two of them with nothing to add on. The fact that he scarcely knew either of them didn't help him much at all.

"But that's enough of that. Why don't we discuss your guys' next move?" Aoshin continued. He swiped the cards, chips, and bottles that had accumulated unto the tabletop over onto one side, so that the map that was engraved into the wood could be visible to them. This was Aoshin's forte: his prowess as a navigator.

Aoshin ran his finger along some blots on the map. "Alright so… this is us…" He circled his finger around and around. "You guys have already taken these islands, so up next would be…" As if he didn't already know. The Xros Pirates had come as far as they did for three reasons: for one, they had the absolute greatest weapon supplier in the world in Reach at their disposal. Secondly, they had a power house in Shiguma, whose Devil Fruit ability alone upheld him as an inconceivable threat to the rest of humanity. And third and perhaps most important of all… they had a member of the Black Widow Pirates, an incredibly proficient navigator who was so bored with where he was in life that he had gone out of his way to assist an enemy and damn well made his career.

"And there it is! Wow! Even I'm a bit shocked, honestly. You'd think Daz would have a limit to how much he's willing to troll the rest of you guys. But no! I'm literally only here because I have the biggest dick in the world!" Aoshin exclaimed.

"Huh?" Shiguma looked up from the map.

"Nah, nothing. Now pay attention here, alright Siggy? I'm tired of having to teach your ass how to be a pirate. You should have the common sense on how to do this by now."

Aoshin and Shiguma had always shared a very odd relationship, dating back over the last few decades. Shiguma was known as that guy who ran around and meddled into matters that didn't explicitly concern him, and demanded that he be let into all the exclusive things in life. Right now he so desperately wanted to be a Yonko that he was willing to do anything to acquire the title, anything.

Aoshin's motive in helping Shiguma was very simple. The Black Widow Pirates were simply far too ahead of the game; they were so much better than all the other pirate crews out there that Aoshin figured he'd go out and even the playing field some. At the very least, he thought, they should have some decent competition. But training Shiguma gave him more headaches than anything else. Mapping out every route he should take and literally detailing everything the pirate had to do in order to be considered a top notch pirate… Shiguma was being given everything on a silver platter.

"Alright yeah, so I guess at this point it doesn't even really matter whether we, I mean, you guys go after. Dressrosa or Asha, pick your poison. But just don't go after Zou, I think Legs wanted that or something."

"Wait, Legs wants Zou? Why?" But Shiguma wanted Zou!

"Dude quit being such a baby, sheesh. I literally gave you all those other islands. Be happy with what you have." What a fucking jock! And it was just as his statement came to an end that Aoshin's eyes suddenly widened. He snapped back in his seat and sat up. "Ohhhh shit."

"What?" Shiguma wanted to know. Even Reach, as silent as he was, expressed some sort of interest in the matter.

"It's a marine vessel. A rather large one, at that. It's headed in our direction… only a few kilometers now before it's visible in the horizon." Aoshin turned his head, gazing out of the hut and toward the sea, where the sun had been consumed by the sea and the moon had come out in its place. "In three… two… yep, there she is. Have a look at that one, boys."

Aoshin pointed out at the sea as a marine vessel came into view with his countdown. "Good luck with that one, you guys. Admiral Raptor is onboard. Which means my work here is just about done." Gathering the many bags of cash he had won from Shiguma into his arms, the Black Panther made like the wind and rushed out from the hut, leaving Shiguma and Reach to themselves.

"....What might they want?" Reach finally spoke aloud. He puffed a fat cloud of smoke into the room.

Inhaling the smoke by accident, Shiguma started to cough. It took him several seconds just to be able to speak again. "T-They must have caught on to what we were doing! Either that or that bastard Aoshin set us up! Y-You've got to cover for me, Reach! Tell them I'm not here!"

"...Tell them you're not here? Do you honestly believe that'll work?"

"It has to! It has to or we're screwed!!" Shiguma had begun to panic. Not only had he lost his precious money, but now he might just lose his career too. If he fell here, then there was no telling how it would impact his chances of becoming a Yonko!

"Tell them I'm not here!" Shiguma exclaimed yet again as he dove into some bushes behind the hut.

The large ship drifted ever closer to shore, docking along the beach. As three illustrious marines stepped foot onto the sand and approached the hut, Reach very calmly stood up from his seat and went to greet them all by his lonesome.

Raptor, for the time being, was all smiles. "Reach, my man!! That back-scratcher's been working like a charm!"

Reach was silent. Was that really why this buffoon had come all this way? For another one of those?

Foxpack growled. "Hoy, Raptor! Cut to the chase-gara! Tell him why we're really here." "Umm, oh.. Right!" Raptor cuffed his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. "Yeah, so… are you friends with Shiguma now or what?"

Reach was silent. His silence made Foxpack impatient.

"Is he here or not here-gara?"

Reach remained silent.

"Reach we… we stopped a ship a few days back that was headed for Dressrosa and we trailed it back to here. Do you have any idea what was inside of that ship?"

Reach puffed another fat cloud. The fattest cloud to date.

"There were tons of weapons aboard, Reach. Weapons with your imprint written all over them. Might I ask what your ships were doing sailing along the territory of the Xros Pirates without being shot down?"

Reach puffed another-

"Reach," Raptor said again, demanding an answer.

"I have a warrant from Admiral Kurama-san. The day I agreed to supply the marines with weapons and ammunition was the day I thought you all agreed to stay out of my business," Reach finally snapped back.

"Reach, I don't give a fuck about any warrant. I'm going to have to bring you in with us for some questioning. And I'll tell you right here and now… I don't need no damn warrant for that."

"Oh, he's here alright." Burling was surprisingly sober now. The voyage all this way had done the man some good. That and the fact that Foxpack didn't let a single cup of liquor onboard. Burling was the right-hand man of an admiral for a reason. His senses were as sharp as they came. Through his peerless skill in Kenbunshoku, he spotted the man whom they had come looking for hiding behind some bushes. He pointed towards the hut. "He's in there, Raptor. I can see him. He's right over there."

"No I'm not!" Shiguma yelled back. "I'm not here!"

Raptor sighed. He cupped his hand into his face. It really pained him to have to say what he was going to say next. Where else was he going to get another back-scratcher in case the one he currently had broke? But he had no other choice. Raptor looked up and out of his hand. "Reach, I'm going to have to bring you in-"

Thwak!

In the time he had shielded his face, Raptor had shamefully let his guard down. And before either of his two men could have thought to come to his defense, Reach's left hand had become a block of metal and connected hard with Raptor's gut.

The admiral grunted as he felt the wind in his cheeks gush out from his mouth. He went flying backward, only to break any further ascent through the use of Geppo. Rebounding off of the wall as if it were a wall, he caught himself before he traveled any farther and touched his hand to his lip. Blood.

Foxpack tried to quickly unsheathe his sword when it occurred to him that Reach was thrusting on over his way. However to his fortune, Burling had intervened in time and matched Reach's foot with his own, resulting in a triumphant clash of Busoshoku Haki.

Foxpack snarled as a surge of wind emanating from Reach and Burling pushed him backwards. The fox pink planted his feet into the sand to avoid skidding off too far and he was forced to hold up his sword in way of a defense.

He looked on over to the admiral. "Raptor! Are you alright-gara?"

Standing upright, Raptor didn't feel the need to acknowledge Foxpack. Nor did it occur to him that he should. A powerful aura emanated from the man, and his aloof expression was overtaken by one of deceit, one of pride.

He would teach Burling to make a fool out of him. "Move, Burling. This one's mine." As the struggle ensued, with neither Reach nor Burling gaining any sort of advantage over the other, Burling leaped backward, retreating. He landed beside the admiral. At times like this, even he couldn't joke around anymore.

Burling narrowed his eyes as he looked into the distance. "Shiguma is fleeing into the jungle, Admiral."

"Then go after him!" Raptor roared.

"Roger that." Burling shared a glance toward Foxpack, and upon nodding to one another, the two of them took off, leaving Raptor and Reach alone on the beach.

"I'll tell you only this once, Reach. Stand down."

Reach moved the cigar in his mouth to the end of one side, gnawing on it. "...Am I supposed to be afraid of you because you're an admiral? You humor me, Raptor."

"Fine. Have it your way. But tell me this, at least. Why? Why would you align yourself with a man like that? Were you not successful enough on your own without him? Did the Navy not give you as much as you wanted?"

"...Just as you may never understand my methods, I fail to fully grasp ahold of your own, Raptor. To me there is no such thing as 'satisfaction'. There is no being content. No matter all that I may have achieved, it's not nearly enough.

"Do you think a man dies when he's shot? When he's stabbed or when he's hung? Nay, a man dies the day he grows content with the fact that he's alive!" As the words exploded from Reach's mouth, bars and wires of metal sprang out from his skin, covering every portion of his body until what he was wearing was a full suit of armor. A helmet clasped shut over his face, shielding him from the admiral. In his hand dawned a warhammer and the other a broad sword, the perfect tools for cutting down a dragon.

Meanwhile, Shiguma was running for his life inside of the jungle. He had the lead he wanted when all of a sudden, he tripped on a loose vine and fell flat on his face. "Fucking bullshit!" he exclaimed as he quickly got up onto his knees. But as he looked up and faced forward, two marines were staring him right in the face.

"I've beaten his ass enough times. Do you want a turn at him this time?" Burling sincerely asked Foxpack.

"It makes little difference to me-gara. Just so long as he's dead."

"Wow! Will you just look at that! Daz is going to have me be a hero in this role-play too!" The marines looked around, puzzled by where this voice was coming from and who the fuck "Daz" was.

Emerging from within the shadows of the jungle, Aoshin approached the group, until he was standing behind Shiguma. The Black Panther was holding a small twig in his hand.

"Black Panther!" Burling exclaimed in disbelief. "What are you-"

"What am I doing here? I'm trying to figure that out for myself, to be honest with you. For whatever reason, Daz seems to think my being apart of this role-play will make it better than Operation: Elbaf." Everyone was confused. "But that's aside from the point. Where it may concern you is simple: I can't have this guy die just yet."

"And why's that-gara?"

"Oh, I have my reasons, star fox. Now I suggest you step aside… unless you want to be absent in the next super smash bros."

"Star fox?!" Foxpack unsheathed his sword. Its blade glistened under the light of the moon. "Who are you calling-"

But Aoshin was no longer paying attention. Instead he was looking up. Up at the moon. "Wait a second! Aren't you a mink?"

"...Just what are you trying to say-gara?!"

"Well, aren't you supposed to transform or something under a full moon?" And as if to add insult to injury…. "Hm? Gara-gara-gara? Oh wait, sorry. Does Raptor already do that?"

"RAH!!!" Foxpack raced forward, swinging with all his might to slay the beast that was the Black Panther. Numerous trees in the near vicinity were heaved in two, a spectacular sight to behold. But the most spectacular of them all was that of Aoshin blocking his blade with… a mere twig.

"Good job Vulpix! I really felt that one!"

Foxpack's eyes widened. "I-It can't be!!"

"Oh, but it is!" In the next instant, a tremendous killing intent escaped Aoshin's devilish frame and he lunged ahead, using Shiguma's back as footing.

But, just as he had earlier, Burling yet again intervened. He caused the ground from beneath Aoshin and Shiguma to rise up, higher and higher until the two were elevated into the sky. Missing its mark, Aoshin's twig swipe cut down nearly as many as Foxpack's own.

"B-Burling!" Foxpack exclaimed, relieved. Staring into Aoshin's eyes at the moment of his lunge was the most frightening thing he had ever known.

"Get your act together, Foxpack! Now's not the time to be counting stars! Get a move on!" Foxpack didn't need to be told twice. He sprang up, and just as he did, the ground beneath him opened up as if on cue, courtesy of Burling. With it acting as a platform, he rocketed high into the air, getting a good view of the pirates.

Aoshin was gazing down upon Foxpack all along as he shot up. He had a huge smile upon his face, the kind he normally had when a busty woman walked along his path. "Oh Shiguma, won't you keep Burling-san down there busy for a minute or two? I may not have brought along my pokeballs… but I'd still like to explore this Vulpix some more."

Back on the beach, a battle was brewing. And it didn't look at all to be in the favor of one of the Navy's top fighters.

With his hands tainted in blood --his own blood-- Raptor created some bit of distance between he and the armored Reach. He had done good keeping a calm mind up until now, but even he was starting to lose his patience. "I see… so you plan to have me tire myself out. Is that it?"

"...Who knows." Reach's voice had become muffled from behind his helmet, giving it a colder, more ominous projection. Unlike Raptor, he had conserved pretty much all of his stamina. He had yet to move an inch since their battle had begun.

Vanishing with Soru, Raptor appeared along Reach's flank. Aiming a Shigan for the knight's shoulder, he was forced to pull away at the very last second as a series of sharp spikes sprung out from the armor and in his direction. Leaping back just in time, Raptor sighed.

'Hoy, hoy.. I'm not making any progress here. Can't you at least move around to make me feel better, Reach?"

Though he didn't have to, Reach turned around in order to face Raptor. "...Happy?"

Raptor smirked. "Very." His body started to grow suddenly. His flesh was replaced by blackish scales and horns protruded outward from the top of his head. He grew into a serpent, one spanning several miles in length that he coiled around the entire island --though it were smile-- several times.

Looking around, Reach was puzzled. If he didn't know any better, he would think that Raptor was preventing anyone from escaping the island by blocking it with his own body. As astounded as he was by the admiral's dragonic transformation, he couldn't help but think that it was he who needed to retreat, not him.

"Prepare yourself, Reach!" came Raptor's voice from around the island, as it wasn't entirely certain where his head had ended up at this point.

Looking up, Reach noticed a subtle spark of electricity in a cloud.


"Oh! Who gathered the dragon balls?" Aoshin pondered aloud. "I have a wish! I have a wish!" Foxpack lay in a heap on the floor, inside of a pool of his own blood. Using the twig to sharpen his nails, Aoshin whistled away. "Hey, that Sulong thing you did wasn't half bad. But, don't worry. Since you managed to cut down more trees than I did earlier, I'll let you have this win. See, I can be a reasonable guy every once in awhile too!"

Foxpack grumbled some inaudible words.

"Hm? What was that?" Aoshin tried to deduce the mink's grunts. "Oh yeah, I know. Leave it to Daz to show your transformation off screen, right? I guess you have to have a dragon zoan in order to transform on screen!" Looking over his shoulder, Aoshin had a look at the other fight that was going on. "Oh Siggy! How's it going over there?"

So this wasn't exactly how Burling remembered it. Truth be told, he was having a rather hard time. Beads of sweat trickled down his face as he and Shiguma eyed one another in a deadlock. Shiguma seemed really happy, though.

"Fuck yeah!!!" he exclaimed, finally feeling useful for once. "I'm finally doing it! I'm finally-"

"Being useful for once?" Aoshin intervened. "Yeah I know, I'm really surprised too." Looking to make use of the dialogue exchanged between the pirates as a decoy, Burling summoned up a fist made of the soil below to attack Shiguma. But the soon to be Yonko amounted to the very same, quite literally using the Vice Admiral's attack against him.

The two earthen fists collided, canceling one another out. Another stalemate.

"Hahaha! Fuck yeah!!!" Shiguma cheered. "I'm the shit!!"

"You do realize that you've just been copying everyone of my attacks up until now, right?" Sweat trickled down Burling's face. He really could use a cold beer right about now.

"Yeah, so what? Do you want a fucking cookie?" Shiguma snapped back. "Who cares! In case you didn't realize, I have you against the wall right now!"

"Yeah, Shiguma has a knack of ripping off people's shit," Aoshin explained, "which is why there could be no greatest user of the Yabu Yabu no Mi. He might be unoriginal, he might throw around money until he's emptied all his pockets, and he may very well be the biggest liar you've ever come across, but Shiguma is the world's greatest conman. There isn't anything or anyone he can't rip off."

An incredible burst of light lit up the jungle, momentarily springing night into day. It was the result of a tremendous stream of lightning that had shot down from the sky, raining down upon the beach where Raptor and Reach were having their battle. Burling was surprised. "That was…"

"N-Neutrinos…" Foxpack coughed out.

Aoshin rose up his eyebrows. Time to google whatever that meant!

The serpent around the island uncoiled itself until only Raptor's ordinary figure remained. Before him was Reach, his precious armor shattered. His chest was torn asunder, a gaping scar left in the place of a once formidable defense. The blacksmith fell down to his knees, blood fountaining from his nose and mouth.

"Your defenses are most admirable, Reach. Even with an attack like that, I failed to break all of your armor. Incredible." Raptor had nothing but praise for the man. After all, he had done quite the number on him as well.

"..." Reach was silent. He managed himself for a long while on his hands and knees. And then at last he fell forward onto the sand, unconscious.

"Admiral!" Burling came running out of the jungle, Foxpack lugged over his shoulder. He stopped in front of Raptor's wounded figure. "Admiral! Shiguma has escaped. It was the work of the Black Panther."

"Aoshin? What was he doing here?" Raptor said in disbelief. "Either way, we have what we came for. Let's go."

Walking forward, Raptor stood over the top of Reach's defeated form. Opening up his coat, Raptor unveiled the back-scratcher from before. "Here. where you're headed, you're going to need it more than I do."

---

"And from there Reach was taken into custody by us for questioning, but he was even more silent then than he is on an ordinary basis. We got nothing out of him-gara. And but of course, he was released by popular demand. Kingdoms aligned with the government themselves scorned the Navy for keeping Reach for long. He was a man who simply meant far too much to the world. Even now, he is the man holding the legacy of the Xros Pirates in place."

"Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. I need to confirm something," Tabart started. "You're telling me...that the man we're working for...that you, Foxpack-sama, and even the commander of this division...you were all high ranking marines in the past? And even more, the admiral...our Yonko, Raptor-sama, couldn't even kill Reach upon fighting him directly?" Tabart's inquiries were confirmed with a silent nod. He smiled weakly, his voice growing tired. "Holy hell, haha. W-What are we even up against then? What IS Reach's weakness? How could the marines let him go in the first place? They have no qualms about lying in the newspapers, so why did they even care about popular demand!?" Tabart shook his head and paced around. "Okay...shoot...Okay, now I'm nervous. I'm really nervous now."

Damon himself hadn't shown much reaction to the report Foxpack had said, despite liking how these kind of stories were told. It was as Apu told him, Burling, despite his alcohol tendencies, seemed to be a great leader, and this Raptor person was very amusing to him. He would have never said they were Marines and wondered if they truly had cut all ties. Narrowing his eyes, Damon wondered if this other Yonko, Shiguma, was really much of an opponent, feeling that Reach seemed much more intimidating.

"Who the fuck names a baby Reach though?" His brows furrowed together and he shook his head.

As much as he disliked War, Damon constantly sat at locations known as Bonfires, along his many companions from the Ashanian Army, and listened to many stories. The Sin of Wrath before him, the late Sir Elias Mirio, had been a veteran in battle and loved to share his experiences with the rest of the squad. The Sins had been formed a long time ago, and many generations came and went. If only... no, this wasn't the time.

As Tabart spoke, Damon felt a pang and lightly clutched his chest, looking with a frown at Tabart. He really didn't know this dude, or even read anything up about him. If he was here, must have been strong though, and his attitude seemed interesting enough. Damonw was all up to meeting such different people, from different places, cultures and races, as odd as he found them.

He didn't, however, ponder much on the man ignoring him and quickly agreed with most of his words. Their morale had been on the ground, by now, it should have gone to hell, "It's like Allahu here said, if Reach truly is that strong... we better have a damn good attack plan to engage him." Only then, a thought hit his mind. "However, without meaning to offend your Captain... there is the factor that he was facing Reach alone." Damon looked at Tabart, Apu, Foxpack and everyone else, raising his fist, "Individual strength is only a sum when in a group... however, if we manage to build TEAMWORK, our strength will be multiplied instead."

It was a kind of phylosophy entrusted to him by Mirio, Zachary and Diana, "The power of trust." Damon met their eyes this time. "It won't guarantee victory, but, it will offer a path for it." Then, he approached Tabart a bit, wanting to help relieve the feeling, "Tabart, right? You should calm down dude, who are you, anyway?" Despite saying this, Damon pondered if he himself would follow his own advice, if he would stay calm during this entire conflict.

Tabart's eyes jumped as Damon asked him a question, as if noticing him for the first since his arrival. "Oh, you mean me?" He asked rhetorically, pushing his index finger into his own chest just out of instinct. Though it had seemed that he was broken from his slight panic by Damon's words, truth was that it was Damon's question that pulled him from his panic. Ever since his time on Elbaf, Tabart had run into hundreds, if not thousands of people that knew almost everything about him, and either wanted him dead, alive...and in the case of his time on Dressrosa: married. It was almost a relief to have someone who didn't seem to know who he was, who wasn’t trying to capture him for his bounty. Yet, even despite his ease, he wasn’t directly prepare for the question.

"I-I'm Benjamin Tabart, a lover of plants and stuff. What about you? Who are you?"

Damon nodded at Tabart's initial question, standing next to him. He noticed that the man seemed to be much at ease when thinking about something else, it made him wonder if he had any siblings, if he had any lover, if he had any home to go back to. Damon felt relief, that maybe he would suceed at easing this dude.

"Plants, huh?" Damon smirked and cocked one eyebrow, "What an odd taste, I assume this is the work of a Fruit. You look kinda' out of place here, dorahaha, with this appearance." The man must have come from a Desert Kingdom, there was no other explanation, and these seemed to be royal clothes, due to all the jewelry. Damon didn't know much about other Kingdoms' royalty, but the few he's seen were like that.

Quickly remembering his responding question, Damon continued: "As you've heard, my name is Draco D. Damon, you could call me a Martial Warrior. I hail from a Kingdom known as Asha, from these areas of New World." He crossed his arms in front of his chest, not wanting to go much further than this and figuring they might get to know more of another soon. Damon licked his lips and said, "How many battles like this have you fought?" He would have asked if Tabart had ever fought, but the man's aura had already answered that.

Across the Line

There was a large tower in the center of Bedina. A tower so large that one resting upon its top floor could see the bulk of the island, at least through a bird's eye view. Here lounged the Xros Pirates' immediate officers, at least those of whom directly reported to the infamous Dark Knight, Reach.

Within the central lounging area, slouching into the comfort of a bulky sofa cushion was the man the government knew by the name of Najeem and whom the Xros Pirates better knew as Honey Boo Boo. His sheathed sword lain up against the sofa, he calmly sat, smoking from a cigarette. On a longer couch towards the back wall sat a well endowed woman, and laying upon the couch with his head resting in her lap was Reach's most trusted subordinate, Bertram. His hat and scarf however, were noticeably absent this time around, unveiling an unpleasantly characteristic appearance.

Bertram was bald, save for a single strand of hair that was very, very neatly groomed and incredibly well taken care of. By the looks of it, it had been recently shampooed and conditioned, then blow dried and most bizarre of all, gelled. Aside from that single strand, there wasn't a single speck nor dot of hair on the rest of his head.

But most terrifying of all was the large man's chin. For there were two large lumps, two enormous spheres of solid flesh hanging from the lower fraction of his jaw! And worse yet, the woman sat there tickling it all, her finger sliding in and out of the vast cleavage in between. "Eeeheeehee!~" Bertram giggled, his face red and flustered with a strong blush on either cheek. "More..! More..!"

The woman smiled down upon the notorious pirate, using one hand to tickle his chin while the other scraped the surface of his bald head. When she ran the lone string of hair on his head through her fingers, his eyes nearly rolled back from pleasure.

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

At the tone of his new Den Den Mushi, Najeem reached into his pocket and made to answer it. Kacha!

"Hoy, it's Boo Boo. What's up?"

"Hello, Booooooo Boo," a new voice came from the Den Den Mushi. The transponder snail had magically elongated its neck to over twice its ordinary size, and dawned a large, bowl shaped hat over the top of its head in its attempt to take the appearance of the man speaking on the other end. "I take it everything is in place?"

"Oh, Trickshot, it's you." Najeem puffed out a fat cloud. "Yeah, we're about ready to begin. Those darn Titan Pirates won't ever see it coming. To think they thought they could get by your Kenbunshoku. What a joke! Rananana!"

Trickshot was the Xros Pirates' backbone. He was the greatest sniper of their crew and one of the greatest to hold such a position in all of the New World. His skills and observational prowess were essentially peerless; to such an extent that he had been keeping an eye on all of Bedina at virtually all times, not to mention that he was doing it all from a neighboring island. The sniper wasn't even on Bedina itself! It was no surprise that Trickshot had amounted a bounty of Beli Small672,000,000 berries.

"Goooood. I'll be sure to keep an eye out, per usual," Trickshot responded.

Najeem looked through an open window, and knowing damn well that he was currently being watched by Trickshot, he waved without aim in the air as he clicked the Den Den Mushi off. Puffing the last of the cigarette, he leaned over in his chair and grinned at the sight of Daryal tied up on the floor with his back sat up against the ground.

"Are you ready?" Najeem smirked, touching the lit end of the cigar to Daryal's cheek, watching it burn. "Your death is going to play a pivotal role in us killing the damn pests that ran onto our island."

Daryal's screams were overtaken by the sound of Najeem's laughter. "Ranananana!!"


Held within the confines of his inner dormitory, Trickshot didn't budge an inch after the Den Den Mushi switched off. He had been in the same exact position without fail for over three days now. Three days and counting without sleep, having his meals fed to him so as not to lose track of all that transpired upon Bedina. A second of miscalculation could spell great danger and he simply couldn't risk putting the Xros Pirates through that.

A member of the Snakeneck Tribe, Trickshot was something of a giraffe with his incredibly long neck. At current, his slender frame was hunched over his custom made sniper rifle, which enabled him to comfortably outstretch his neck as much as he pleased without any disarray on part of the scope. In other words, it was fitted to his longish form: a long rifle, perfectly suited for a long man.

While his Kenbunshoku surveyed the island as a whole, his scope had been drawn out over a single area on Bedina. Precisely three and a half days ago, a certain man, whom even Trickshot could not define, had arrived to Bedina, not by ship, but by sky. How this man had flown here was anyone's guess, but as this was the New World, it wasn't a truly surprising spectacle in the least.

Since his arrival, the golden haired man had sheltered himself inside of a pub, and while Trickshot could not entirely see what was taking place within, he could however make out a few bizzare qualities. For one, there was no one present, no bartenders nor waitresses around, to serve the golden haired man. Instead, the bottles and cups, the pipes and glasses, had all flown to him as he remained seated. How hadn't he cramped up by now?

There was a truly powerful aura emanating from within this man. An aura that was arguably the most fierce across Bedina at present; more so than Foxpack though unclear whether or not it eclipsed Reach's own. Whomever he was, it didn't seem as though he planned to make a move anytime soon. But Trickshot couldn't risk swaying his scope away from him.

"Is that lard still there?" an eerie voice scrambled from the doorway behind Trickshot. The master sniper didn't need to turn to know it was Barney Kettle.

"Noooooo, he's stayed right there. I don't knooooow what's with this guy." Trickshot tightened his eyes, as if to perplex his observational prowess all the more and see with greater clarity. But it was to no avail. Even for him, an island's distance was stretching it. It was unfathomable that he was even able to see as far as he was to begin with.

Taking a seat on one of the couches, Kettle treated himself to a bottle of liquor. "Fuckin' shit, man. Oi didn't think he'd be this stubborn. Ye think he knows yer lookin' at em?"

"Definitely. He hasn't elected to unite with our enemies, however, so I'm hesitant to place him in their category. Nooooo, this man may perhaps very well be here on an ulterior motive."

It was Kettle's job to make sure no one managed to disrupt Trickshot. He was their advantage in this battle. With him in the works, victory was their's without question. In this circumstance, however, there wasn't very much he could do. "The plan is goin' into action any second now, Trick. Shouldn't you be more focused on that?"

"Of coooooourse not. What sort of idiot brings only a single gun?" Held within Trickshot's other hand was another sniper. He was dual wielding them as if they were handguns; with their long nozzles hanging out separate windows, he kept one entirely fixated on the man in the tavern while allowing far more freedom with the other. "Thoooooose Titan Pirates will never know what hit them."

"Yeah…" Kettle sat back, his leg shaking.

---

It had begun. The roar of the crowd cascaded across the island as thousands of spectators gathered around a wooden platform in the heart of Bedina. A wooden stage, as it were, it held upon it a long metallic cross, which had been embedded through the planks and buried into the soil beneath.

With his arms and legs tied and a piece of cloth stuffed into his mouth, Daryal rested with his back against the cross like a backrest, yet to be hung up like the towel he was. Sharing the platform with him was the boisterous Gilbert D. Bertram, whose sullen chin and shiny head lay concealed by the use of some western garbs.

"As you lot know, we have gathered here for a single purpose!" Bertram announced, walking back and forth across the platform. At the sound of his voice, the crowd erupted into cheers. Hands were reaching out towards the stage, seeking to rip the throat of the prisoner themselves. "And that purpose is to lynch this faggot!"

Reaching down, Bertram retrieved the cloth from the vassals of Daryal's mouth, and so began the carnage. Looking upon the crowd with beady eyes, the Okama shivered at the thought of his opposers. An army of those whom resented his kind. An army of those who despised what he was and all that he had lived for. Terror was infused in his mind as Bertram cupped his chin and kneed his cheek.

Daryal's cries were accompanied by his long sworn pledge. "B-Banzai!" he hollered into the skies, his words devoured by the mayhem of the crowd, "B-Banzai Korag-sama! Banzai Lieselo-" Daryal's words were eaten away again, this time with another one of Bertram's hard knees connecting with his face. Blood from the Okama gushed on the wooden stage and he found that it had become increasingly more difficult to breath. But he did not waver. This was the least he could do now to honor his heroes. "B-Banzai!! Banzai, Korag-sama!!"

"Shut up, you faggot!" His hand like a claw, Bertram fastened it around the whole of Daryal's neck. He lifted the Okama up, grinding his spine against the hard metal cross behind him. He held him up higher yet, tightening his hands further until he heard the crunch of his voice box shattering. "Come on, say it! Scream again!"

It was no use. He could hardly yeep, yelp, or bleep. Daryal's face turned red as he exerted the very essence of his being into trying to form words. But the air did not formulate quite the way it was meant to down his esophagus. He wheezed, back and forth, to and fro, madly in his attempt to mutter something. Anything would do. He couldn't be dehumanized, not like this!


Not far away, the Titan Pirates had scurried from the crevices of their hideout and made their way into town. With haste they hurried through the long streets, blitzing past innumerable buildings.

Their goal had little to do with Daryal's survival. Truth be told, Foxpack didn't mind his death. He was no comrade and most certainly no ally. He was merely a decoy they could comprise in the moment to gain an advantage in war. He was but another life that was meant to be lost to claim that of a Yonko; what a feeble price to pay.

"Hoy, hurry-gara!" The fox mink exclaimed, his men on his tail. "We must not be divided under any circumstance! Our method of victory shall be achieved through our comradery!" The battle for Bedina had begun. The Titan Pirates planned to first and foremost assassinate Bertram, whom they identified as the most threatening enemy outside of Reach himself. With their combined forces, it should be a task they could very well achieve. That would place them in the best position going forth.

As the Titan Pirates traveled further along the incredulously long street, the sight of a red haired man came into fruition. At first they were uncertain as to whom it was, but very swiftly did the complexion of Al Rauf Najeem, one of the Xros Pirates' heavyweights, become clear to them.

"Halt!" Foxpack hollered, stuttering his feet into a sudden stop. Surely there was method behind Najeem's madness; no man would dare confront so many enemies by his lonesome, not when their group was comprised of the dangerous pirates that it was. Foxpack immediately grasped ahold of his swords --both of them-- as he glared at Najeem.

"Rananana! And what do we have here, hmm? Surely you didn't think we would be oblivious to your whereabouts?" Najeem chimed. "Oh yes, we knew about you all along!" Suddenly his expression turned morbid. Najeem glared intensely, the grip he had over the sheathed blade hung over his shoulder tightening fiercely. "Did you take us for fools?"

"We must not waver here! This is only the very beginning-gara! We shall shoot and cutdown any enemy that comes in our way on our way to victory!" Foxpack exclaimed to his comrades. "Apu, Katashi, take the front!"

Apu didn't need to be told twice. He and Katashi were among their best martial artists. Squashing this guy with their skill would be a piece of cake.

"I'm way ahead of you, Senpai!" Apu cheered. He glanced towards Katashi as he himself ran forward. "Come on, Katashi!"

Looking to coordinate his movements with Katashi, the pike fishman looked to land a devastating blow upon Najeem from the get go. "Madaronigawara Nijūgū!!"

Katashi had taken his stance from the moment that he had realized who stood in their way. His hands up by his face, elbows tight to his side, almost like he was doing the dinosaur. He bounced from leg to leg, a trait of his art that had given him his epithet. While Najeem was taller than him, Katashi himself dwarfed over most of the other people here. He was ready for this even before Foxpack howled his command.

So when he heard the fox say to go, he went. He went hard. Katashi surged into motion, charging headlong towards the big man along with his elder fish brethren. His guard was high, focused on the sword the man was carrying, as it was his most dangerous tool. He timed his movement with the Karate-man's blow, moving to attack at the precise moment the other man's shot landed.

"Ti Lan" He shouted as went low, dropping his stance before shifting into a slide, skipping across the ground to the swordman's side. His leg lashed out, steel gleaming from his shin as he looked to cripple the man's leg from the get go with a brutal kick to the back of the knee, or barring a direct hit he would at least allow the fishman's attack to land. A crippling blow either way.

The two fighters were very cute in the way they very cautiously analyzed Najeem's every move. Najeem loved just standing there, entirely motionless even, observing them as much as they observed him. It was not surprising for him to see them eye his sword; after all, it was one of great quality, and while most certainly comparable, not officially of Meito quality. But Najeem remained still. Long after the two fighters had closed in on him, Najeem… remained still. He showed no hint of a counterattack, revealed no such movement on his part. As if daring the two of them to challenge him while he himself refused to move.

But he would not make a mockery out of them. Apu and Katashi were renowned pirates in their own right; they would not be shamed by his scornful methods. They had been instructed to attack, and so attack they did, both dishing out named attacks and at full speed. With such speed, such vigor that perhaps they did not realize that neither one of them could back out now.

Coordinating his attack with his comrade further, Apu noticed that Katashi had slid towards Najeem's side and that he aimed to attack the enemy from below. To better compliment this, Apu instead dove towards Najeem's opposite side, attacking from above.

The improbable happened. Najeem did not dodge or evade, nor did he somehow manage to best their speed with his own and escape. No, he just stood there, laughing to himself as Apu's two fists phased through his head and Katashi's foot phased through his legs.

Apu's eyed widened. It was hard to comprehend within that very moment, but their attacks had somehow slid through Najeem as if he were a ghost. As if he were nonexistent, as if he were some form of illusion. There was nothing felt along their limbs; absolutely no connection made with anything. This was no work of a logia, for in that case they would have at the very least been able to make contact with his element through their use of Haki.

But none of that happened. Instead, their attacks slipped through Najeem's forms, and it was at that moment that the two fighters realized that they did not possess the fluidity nor opportunity to retreat. No, they had invested far too much into landing their attacks with the intention of crippling Najeem.

And now Apu's fists were ready to slam down against Katashi's chest, and Katashi's leg was ready to clob Apu across his neck and face, simultaneously. They had read one another so perfectly that they had intended for their attacks to land at the very same instant, and at the very same instant they would.

Katashi wished he was fast enough to move his leg out of the way before it would contact the fishman's head, but he knew he wasn't. It was all he had time for to soften his leg, removing the blade to weaken the power behind the kick somewhat before it came into contact with the smaller man.

The punch on the other hand, was going to hurt. Katashi flexed his pecs, his body hardening like steel under the influence of his fruit. That and his momentum away from Apu saved him from much more egregious injuries. The fists slammed into his chest with the force of a raging bull. The ground cracked underneath Katashi as for a moment he felt like his sternum was going to break. His steel body had held up under the impact, albeit barely.

He slid across the ground, ending up a good two dozen feet away as a trench of scraped up earth marked the force of the blow's passing. He shook his head as he gingerly stood up, patting his chest and the two fist shaped marks on it.

"I wish I had known he could do that..." was Katashi's only response as he straightened up to his full height, before settling into his stance again.

Any remorse Apu had felt over striking his comrade was stripped away the second Katashi's foot connected with his face. It was as if the pike fishman had run face first into a steel wall. Blood gushed out from his mouth and nose as his feet never touched the ground from his descent; instead he was elevated by Katashi's blow and sent flying backward.

"Oh my, now I did not expect that! Rananana!" Najeem chuckled. "Friendly fire between two subordinates of a Yonko crew? Who would have ever guessed!"

Thankfully for Apu, on his end, Katashi had been able to weaken the attack enough to profess a swift recovery from him. After a brief moment of losing control over himself, Apu twirled around whilst airborne and brought himself to land feet first on the ground. He wiped the back of his wrist across his nose while his tongue licked away at the blood seeping from his lips. Katashi was one tough bastard, just like he had always known.

"What the fuck just happened?" Apu panted out, still feeling the effects of Katashi's kick against his cheek and chin. He spit out a wallop of blood from his mouth. "Our attacks ran right through him..!"

Without leaving a moment to waste, Foxpack drew in upon the enemy. Yes he had seen what had occurred to Katashi and Apu, but he could not let this opportunity go to waste. A man was most vulnerable between the transition of each fight, and Foxpack had learnt this through experience.

Racing towards Najeem, Foxpack unclicked his swords in unison, unsheathing them both in the blink of an eye. "Ni-Ryū: Unari no Kitsune!!"

However, he too simply phased through Najeem's body and sword, as if the man were made of air itself. Foxpack's eye widened in confusion as he looked back, the dual swipes of his blades slicing through Najeem yet failing to draw blood. Clearly this was the work of a Devil Fruit, everyone present knew that.

"You seem surprised!" Najeem mused, "why is that? Did you expect your attack to land when you just saw theirs fail?"

Foxpack furrowed his brow, his whiskers quirking in anger. Something was amiss. As a consumer of a Logia himself, Foxpack knew better than to suspect it as a power of that variety. But then what could it be? How was it that their attacks simply slid right through him?

As if dismissing the existence of those whom had attacked him, Najeem looked yonder at the other two who instead had opted to remain still. He flashed a grin at Tabart and Damon, recognizing them both from prior meetings. "What a small world..!" He slammed the sheath of his katana against his shoulder. "To think I'd be running into you guys again…"

Najeem took a few steps forward, walking himself out of the crater that had formed beneath his feet. Flashing a grin towards Damon and Tabart, he soundly approached them.

If you’ve met him before,” Tabart begun speaking to Damon, his tone etched in a layer of seriousness that he had not yet displayed since his inclusion into the Titan pirates’ ranks, “then you will understand that as of right now we are in no immediate danger from Najeem. Relax your body, Damon. Our goal, as of right now, is not to piss him off, but to somehow convince himself to reveal his true location. That’s the only way we’ll ever find him,” he continued in a hushed mood.

“Najeem,” Tabart announced calmly, “What in the heck are you doing here? Don’t tell me you’re working for the Xros pirates right now. But, I guess, if you are, you could be a pal and help me out, for old times sake right?” A small chuckle succeeded Tabart’s statement. There was a level of awkwardness, at least from Tabart’s perspective, between the two men.

Damon had surely meant to warn everyone else before they had attacked, but, their hurriedness and Najeem's surprising appearance threw him off guard. "Apu, are you okay?!" Damon bellowed, holding out for him, only to see Foxpack attack Najeem as well, "Wait-" It was no use, he proceeded anyway.

It all made him remember of roughly two years ago, when Najeem tried invading Asha. His companions had drove him off, after struggling with his power. Those were the good times at Asha, and that just made Damon sadder.

A copy of his torso appeared before Foxpack, Katashi and Apu, "Are you guys okay?!" He asked, hurriedly checking them over. "If anything, I can make limbs to help you move for now!" They weren't that damaged, making relief wash over his body, while several limbs appeared should they need support.

Eyes widened when Najeem directed words at both him and Tabart, of course they knew each other, maybe that was why Najeem had a different name, they came from the same place. Damon felt like becoming a detective now, "A hell of a small world." He flashed a smirk and held a bored expression at Najeem. "Ya're the guy Xias scared off," Damon beamed, raising one eyebrow.

Snapping his neck to his companions, Damon noted, "It's as Bart says, it's no use attacking this idiot at the moment." He closed his eyes briefly, and they flashed red when opened, signaling his Kenbunshoku. Ready to proceed and search for the real Najeem, Damon stopped at the exchange between him and Tabart, wondering if they indeed hailed from the same place, or just were part of the same crew.

As that happened however, Damon didn't lose concentration, having summoned many eyes and ears to search for Najeem.

"I am sore, but will be fine," Katashi said to the disembodied torso of Damon. He then refocused his sight on the opponent in front of him. He listened to the exchanges, he just felt more confused as time went on, as if others knew something he didn't.

"Anyone mind telling me what is going on. I don't like ghosts..." Katashi said to the rest of his companions from over past the image. "And I am at least 62.3 percent sure that's a ghost." He paused for a moment before saying in a quiet voice. "I can't punch ghosts, I've tried..."

Najeem stopped in his tracks at the reactions of his opponents. He snickered. But of course. He was a man who had used his abilities countless times to conquer islands under Shiguma's name. Among the Xros Pirates, it could be argued that he and not Bertram nor Trickshot nor Kettle, was the very best at conquering islands. That was why he had been given the title of the "Desert Prince".

As he eyed Damon, Najeem thought back to the time of their very first meeting.

---

"RERORERORERORERORERORERO." Regin mouthed as he furiously licked a 5-ball vanilla ice cream, such a sunny day. Despite staying at the nothern beach of Asha, which was closest to the city of Tebas, Regin donned his usual outfit and stood alone, it was Market Day, so most people were busy. Tebas was famous for its many supplies, prompting many inhabitants to buy their resources from there. His outfit covered very little, making him feel not hot at all.

He sat in a tropical chair, his left foot touching the sand beneath him and being... connected to it. "Mmmmm! I can't waita' show this to the guys~" Regin smiled, looking at a large sand castle which stood much to his side, it had been done with the use of his Devil Fruit powers, allowing him to almost effortlessly craft it. The rest of the Wrath Squad ahd been in the city too, "I may have lost at Volleyball- BUT CASTLE MAKING IS MY SHIT!"

The castle was about thirty feet tall and had a typical medieval design, with towers and many windows. Having an idea, Regin munched the entire icecream and swallowed it, jumping on to the sand, "I wonder if there is a nice breeze up there!" He rose his arms and all of a sudden, disappeared into the ground.

Swiftly, Regin appeared once again, but, this time, at the top of the castle's center, "HDWIUHIUWHDQWIQW, this view is sooo nice!" He smirked as he took a glance at the city behind the beach, which extended for quite some distance. Regin moved to have a better look of the sea, wishing he had another icecream.

As he sanctioned a glance toward the sea, what came into detail within a span of a couple of loose moments may have gravely shocked the man. For it was a stupendous sight that would have surprised anyone, no matter their level of skill, array of experience, or matter of profession.

It was a glaring sight to behold, taunting the very nation it approached. Out at sea, rushing towards the very beaches Regin had built his precious sandcastle upon were ten ships. No, he had miscalculated.

Emerging from the fresh mist of the New World came another series of ships, totaling fifty in all. Fifty enormous, fully furnished pirate ships, all sporting the same crossed sails. But no, he had yet again miscalculated.

From the mist, following closely behind the fifty ships were fifty more. And fifty very soon become a hundred, and a hundred swiftly became two hundred, and the number of ships kept multiplying until they totaled over a thousand in all, until Regin's eyes could see nothing but ships and no longer a single drip of the ocean.

Regin's mouth went forward at the first ships... then his eyes bulged with the rest... his nose wrinkled when they were fifty... and his head exploded in smoke at the carpet that covered the seas themselves. "URNOREVOPKWEDNFUIBWWGVCYSGUDEVOKPWMCNOBW!!!" Regin yelled at no one, his mind taking in the amount of ships. He took out an icecream out of a mysterious sand box and ate all of it, which prompted his brain to freeze for a second and allowed him to regain his senses.

Using his Kenbunshoku Haki, Regin focused it on his eyes in order to merely enhance his eyesight, as he glanced at the many ships. "S-S-S-SO MANY!" Sweat ran down through the entirety of his body, a feat not even achieved by the heat, and he took a Den Den Mushi out of that sand box, "GUYS GUYS GUYS, WE'RE BEING INVADED AT TEBAS' BEACH!!!" Regin didn't even wait for a response, only sending his message.

"HMMMM!" Regin controlled more of the sand, making it where the top of the castle extended forward to the seas, just before the hordes of ships. As his feet were still connected to the sand, Regin shapeshifted his hand into a megaphone, "IDENTIFY YOURSELVES!" He yelled, looking at all of them directly. His Kenbunshoku wasn't good enough to identify how many men were there nor what they wanted.

Regardless of however skilled he may have been in Kenbunshoku, as the ships drifted ever closer to shore, docking almost simultaneously along the beach, those present upon the ship's docks were much too visible to miss.

On one ship was the stature of a man whom Regin may have identified all on his own. A man who needed no introduction whatsoever, as it was within the kingdom of Asha that he first gained any such renown. A man sporting a well groomed beard that consumed the vast majority of his handsome visage: it was none other than the First Mate of the Xros Pirates himself, Reach.

On an entirely separate ship was the man whom Reach had pledged his allegiance to eight years ago. A man who had taken the world of pirates by storm, professing a campaign the likes of the world had scarcely ever seen. With more lands conquered under his belt than one could count, it was the imposing form of the "Emperor" himself, Shiguma.

The Yonko quirked his brow at the sight of Regin. "Eh?? You mean to tell me you don't know who I am?!" Shiguma jumped up and down. "You rotten dweeb!! How dare you disrespect me!!!"

Regin had already been sweating... now, his sweat-drops had sweat-drops. His megaphone deformed into raw sand and out of his hand, as he stared mouth-wide at the sight before him. "IYODWEICOWO PIRATES- THE XROS PIRATES!!!" He almost fell from the platform, prompting some of the sand to fall off, "I-I know you all!" Regin stuttered at Shiguma, having seen and heard tales about the Emperor.

This was too odd, and even more, too scary. What did they want with Asha at all? Such a peaceful nation as theirs, with good people, workers, guards, children, everything. To bring such a large feet... Regin thought of this as something which would be done to engage against Marineford itself. He retracted the platform a bit and lowered it, to stand at face-height to Shiguma, "W-What do you guys want?"

"Asha!" Shiguma exclaimed in response, "it's that plain and that simple! We want Asha!" The Emperor opened up his arms with a devilish smirk upon his lips. "Do you see this, fatty? I've brought this whole fleet just for the sole purpose on conquering this one island. That's how important it is to me that I claim authority over it!"

The fleet of ships remained as staggering as ever. The countless pirates aboard roared with all their might.

"Don't be fooled, fatty! This is but a single fraction of my might! A sample size, if you will, of my entire army!!!" Shiguma laughed maniacally while Reach, on a ship of his own, remained characteristically silent. "Do you see now why it's pointless trying to fight back, fatty? We will devour you! We will devour you all!!"

Shiguma's eyes widened, his pupils diluting with the terror he sought to cause. "You still don't quite get it, do you, fatty? Allow me to demonstrate." He turned towards one of the many ships, hollering out, "Hoy, BooBoo! Get out here!"

From one of the ships, a tall, red haired man with an impressive aura of his own emerged from the deck, leaning over the railing to acknowledge his captain. "What is it, Shiguma-sama? How might I be of assistance to you, oh my lord?"

"Yeah, I need you to go tear this fat ass a new one. Show him what a single one of my foot soldiers is capable of accomplishing. Let it be known to him that we have hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters at your level at our disposal. Prove to him they have no chance of ever seeing another day!"

"Of course my lord! Leave it to me!!" Without further ado, Honey BooBoo leaped from the deck of his ship and twirled around in the air several times as he safely landed upon the beach below. A so-called "foot solider" he might have been dubbed, the red haired man was known by the name of Al Rauf Najeem, addressed by his comrades by his household name of "Honey BooBoo". With a smirk upon his lips, the tall man, peaking at 9 feet in height, slowly approached Regin and his castle. "Behold, one of my soldiers, Al Rauf Najeem!" Shiguma remarked. "His power, like I said already, is really amazing!" There was a sudden pause. "Oh, and he also has a bigger dick than me!"

What a ridiculous thing for a Yonko to say!

Najeem covered his mouth, fighting back laughter as he walked forth. "Hello, fatty!" he beamed as his light blue eyes glistened with Regin's enlarged figure reflecting within them.

Regin hadn't been surprised at the fact they wanted Asha, and more at how many Ships they had brought, seeing how many big-heads were there. This fear, of them being stomped all over, toppled over the many insults Shiguma threw at him, Regin wouldn't let himself be too bothered- "QUIT CALLING ME FATTY!!!" He shook his fists in the air, after the fourth time. That was when someone else came into the picture.

Not recognizing who "Booboo" was, Regin's eyes narrowed, but then, he saw the figure in all of his glory. "AL RAUF NAJEEM?! A man with a 205,000,000 Bounty!!!" Even the Xros' Soldiers had large bounties just like that, Regin shouldn't be surprised. However, admist his anger and dread, a thought lingered upon his mind... why send Najeem? Regin never touched much of that thought, as the man approached him.

Regin's face went sour at Shiguma's last comment, the man truly was a Yonko, saying obscenities just like that. He surged upon the beach, standing face to face with Najeem, who had been just one foot taller, "Hello, skinny!" Regin spat, not knowing what else to say and standing into a battle position, with his knees bent and his arms shooting forward.

"I am Regin! A warrior of Asha!" Regin's eyes shone yellow as he glanced at Najeem, "Whatever you power may be, you shall not pass!"

"Eh? I shall 'not pass'? The fuck you mean by that... fatty?" Najeem had seen just how emotional of a person Regin was. The best way to really stir up the pot was to agitate him as much as possible and provoke him into attacking him.

"Come on, go ahead. I'll let you go first." He stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Look, I'll even close my eyes." Which he did, Najeem literally closed his eyes.

"Y'know what? Maybe that's not enough of a handy cap. Let me turn around while I'm at it, and hell, I'll bend over too!" Najeem did exactly as he promised. He closed his eyes, turned his back to his enemy, then bent over in front of him, showing him his rear.

"Come on fatty, show me what you've got!"

Regin couldn't stop the intense grinding of his teeth against one another as Najeem continued to nickname him. He had to hold himself, these were tactics, Damon had been trying to help him improve his anger bursts and thus become a better person. Regin had to honour it, even if he wanted to suceed Damon's position of Wrath.

However, Regin still wasn't the best at controlling himself, and thus, his anger manifested forth, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" His feet had been on the sand, thus, instead of Regin dashing at Najeem's ass, the sand around him instantly moved and formed itself into a large, bulky arm, which he lunged forward in order to strike all of Najeem's body. Regin hadn't even moved from his spot, which was a few meters from his enemy, but, as his punch went forward, he made his feet and sand surge backwards.

There was a terrible pattern coming into fruition here, ever since the ships had arrived along the horizon. Reality seemed to be distorted, not in the case of an illusion, but moreover in relation to the fact that anything and everything pertaining to the Xros Pirates was somehow... surreal.

With his bizarre power on display, Najeem's confidence justified itself. For just like Regin himself, Najeem didn't move. He stayed in the very same position without giving anything up. Regin had every right to believe that it was he and not Najeem who held the advantage in this battle, and yet that all came crashing down the moment Najeem's seemingly Devil Fruit power was put on display.

The sand arm that Regin had constructed and pieced together in an attempt to strike Najeem... it ran straight through the red haired man. It ran right through him without Najeem moving so much as an inch; without so much as a single particle of sand anywhere upon his being.

Turning back around, he smirked, feasting his eyes upon Regin. "Oh come on now, fatty. You're going to have to do much better than that!"

"FEOUOWQIHUOQWHUE?!?!" Regin gasped, eyes wide, at the sight before him. Had this guy been a Logia? Must have been, the attack had no effect... but, even if Regin hadn't used Buso on the rocks, he felt no impact at all with Najeem's body.

Maybe this guy was distoring the attack? Maybe he was becoming somehow intangible? Regin rose another arm, and then, began to rapidly punch against Najeem's figure with both of them, roaring, "RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Even the simple action of hitting the air itself, provoked small shockwaves through part of the beach. Regin figured that, the man ought to have some limit or weakness, and his continuous attacks could exploit that.

As he attacked, the sand around them moved through Regin's will, using the assault as a distraction to circle around Najeem. Regin assumed this would be enough to catch him off guard, as the sand came from all directions and moved to grab the man's feet. Solely focusing on Najeem, Regin paid no mind to the distortions at the ships in the background.

Correcting his posture, Najeem stood up tall and proud, stuffing his hands back into the pockets of his beloved red coat. He grinned high and wide, laughing maniacally at the sight of Regin exerting himself... all for nothing!

Blow after blow passed through Najeem's body, as if he were there yet not there at all. There was no contact made with his body at all, just as Regin had discovered for himself. There was nothing to grab, nothing at all that could be felt.

"Do you see why it's so utterly useless now, fatty?!" The sand circled around Najeem's legs, but it was not so much a matter of catching him off guard as it was the simple fact that he couldn't touch him.

The sand failed to grasp a hold of Najeem, simply flowing through him much like Regin's own hands.

Shiguma laughed wildly as he observed the battle below. "Hahahaha! Come on fatty! Where is your damn pride?! Can't you muster anything better than that?!"

A rare and perhaps never before seen skeptical, even Reach had chipped in with his own fair share of insults. "Hahaha! You good for nothing fat fuck! Tear him apart, BooBoo!" And he, much like his captain before, uttered something entirely irrelevant and completely senseless after a momentary lapse. "Also, Najeem pulls way more girls than I do!"

Regin only continued to roar and attack Najeem. That was just what he was, a good for nothing, who could only battle and mindlessly attack. He didn't plant stuff, didn't cook, didn't wash... maybe this was why he was sent to work under Damon at the Wrath Squad. The past few Wraths had done almost nothing exceptional for the Kingdom's contribution, they just lost and lost and lost and lost. Linster had been no different. Maybe it was a curse.

The thought of what the many soldiers were doing right then crossed Regin's mind as he punched and roared at Najeem, who moved nothing at all. It was brief, as, the Wrath Squad had less than a dozen men in it. Maybe he wasn't the only one to figure how cursed it was.

Not only that brought him down, but, Najeem and everyone else's insults at him, "WHY?! CEUWOQHECBUOIQ, WHY DOESN'T IT WORK?!" Had Regin been much more composed and skilled, maybe he could have stood a chance against whatever Najeem did. "I..." But, even so, as useless as he felt, Regin had to try and try and try and try, "AM NOT DONE!" He focused what he knew of Kenbun in order to feel Najeem's aura, and made it where his punches began to aim towards whatever he would feel.

Unsurprisingly... Najeem's aura was there. In fact, it wasn't so much as a matter as it being his aura as much as it was there being aura in general. There was a spirit emanating from the life around Regin: from the sand beneath his feet, the cone inside of his stomach that was digesting. There too was a spirit emanating from the countless ships and so too was there a spirit emanating from the figure of Reach and the figure of Shiguma.

"Are we done here, fatty? Or would you like to give it another go?" Najeem grinned.

"Nghhhhh!" Regin grunted, how was Haki supposed to help the ones who used it? He still had to attribute some of this to his level, but, even so, it felt painfully irritating. "OF COURSE I WILL GIVE IT ANOTHER GO, WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?!" Veins were visible in his forehead as saliva was spat, he had been so frustrated his eyes were closed. It made no difference, he couldn't hit Najeem even if they were opened. His assault had increased to a barrage of fists, almost like gatling shots, as they aimed for the enemy.

"The nicest right-handed man, who, yet, forgot to order our lunch, like an old man with amnesia."

Regin's eyes burst open as a familar voice filled his ears. This couldn't be- but, it was, "So, who the hell are you?" Draco D. Damon stood tall between Regin and Najeem, hands in his pants' pockets, seemingly not bothered at all by all the punches thrown. Punches which in fact seemed to just brush near him. Regin's mouth gaped, taking in Damon's appearance, his usual one.

"ANIKI!!!" Regin cried and bothered not to stop his assault, as this was a sight he was all familiar with. Damon had been trained by the Martial Artist Bambina, of course he had enough reflexes and defenses to brush any of those thrown forward.

Najeem scowled at the sight of a new fighter. His anger was attributed to the fact that Damon appeared far too calm and composed, especially in the face of danger. There were a thousand ships over there and yet this guy..!

To make matters worse, Damon was dodging Regin's attacks as effortlessly as he had. This didn't bode well with Najeem at all. "And just who the fuck are you supposed to be?"

"ANIIIIIIIIIKIIIIIIIIIIIIII" Regin continued to cry, biting onto a piece of clothing as the tears streamed off. "YOU CAAAAAAAME!" Despite his uselessness and the amount of enemies before them, Regin felt safe.

Maybe, just maybe there was some good thing about joining this... useless squad. They were all deemed the same, treated as the same, and that brought them closer, made them stronger. Regin had come from a humble village in the island, known as Salonica, he never wanted to achieve just victory and get all the money... but, the treatment from many of the Squads had been ridiculous. But, Damon had made sure to treat them very nice, and it was genuine, even before he became the Sin of Wrath, even before they properly knew each other, even after he had gone through hell at Linster.

Damon rose a hand to scratch the back of his head, "Ah, you know, resident shit-talker, angry boy- WHO'LL KICK YOUR ASS!!!" All of a sudden, his eyes and mouth were wide. Damon had darted forward, making the sand and wind get pushed away violently. He had also held back his right fist, which had been imbued with Buso, and aimed it straight to Najeem's face.

"Who'll kick my what?" Najeem stated aloud at the very moment that Damon, much like Regin before him, slid through his body without a fraction of hindrance in his momentum.

Just as before, there were no constraints, absolutely nothing holding Najeem down. There were no elements of a logia to be found or anything of that nature. Damon simply phased right through him.

Najeem started to laugh. "Oh, I get it. You're one of those Seven Deadly Shits I've heard so much about. Is that it?" He turned, smirking wide as his eyes captured Damon's physique. "Oh yes, I know all about you. And let me be the first to tell you that none of you stand a chance. Not alone, not even together!"

Regin had subdued his arms, refraining from attacking. Damon frowned as he passed through Najeem's body, the sight of his interiors being clearly odd to him. He thought that some parts of Najeem's hair looked like bananas.

It had happened just as a small part of Regin feared it, he thought that, because it was Damon, they would have a chance now. "Respect the Seven Sins, you skinny BRAT!!!" Regin spat back at Najeem, shaking a fist in front of his face.

Before Damon had even gotten to the water, he bent his knee and swiftly kicked the air below him, perfoming Geppo, to throw himself back at Najeem. He passed right through the man, once again, but this time, he wasn't surprised, "A devil fruit?" One of his eyebrows cocked upwards and he double-kicked the air, provoking a gust of wind, throwing himself back once again.

If it was, this would be troublesome. Damon never read much about Devil Fruits, and thus, didn't know much about their engines. He triggered his Kenbunshoku, his eyes flashing red, and felt the auras all around the place... in much more intensity than Regin did, due to their clear difference in skill. Then, he almost thought of Najeem and the other ships as Ghosts, just... just what was this sensation?

Hitting him further was meaningless, not even Buso worked, and Kenbun only gave off an uneasing feeling. Even so, Damon opted to fly back and forth by constantly bending his knees and kicking around, so that he made Najeem stay "occupied". Regin stood back, trying to see further into Najeem's powers.

Focusing his Haki and mind, Damon called forth the power of the Hana Hana, not to summon anything around Najeem, but to summon a copy of his head where a certain Sin of Pride stood, at the center of the city of Patras. His Kenbunshoku allowed him a visage of where exaclty his comrade was, "Tebas, Beach, Seastone" The message had been simple enough and only for the Sin there to hear, it would take time, but Damon didn't mind and continued to fight Najeem.

Najeem yawned as Damon tried again and again to test his powers. But he failed every time, slipping right through him. But then, however odd, Damon seemingly gave up. Instead he flew around in the air, kicking off of it as if it were a platform, and didn't bother charging in.

"What's wrong? Did you give up already?" Najeem glared at Damon from below. Was he mocking him or was he trying to think up some sort of strategy? This Damon guy wasn't freaking out over his inability to hit him. And it was really starting to piss him off.

"Hoy! The fuck you doing up there?!" Shiguma yelled from aboard his ship. "If you don't get down right this instant and fight him like a man, then I'm going to destroy your whole island!!!!"

"I can't give up on something I haven't even tried." Damon said, his face with a simple expression and his arms crossed as he flew around. "Plus, the breeze here is nice." He hadn't been really trying to mock Najeem, but, he knew he had not enough information to work out with this power of his. He had to wait. Only then... a thought hit his mind and he rocketed down to where Najeem stood, suddenly facing him, "Why don't you attack, then?" His arms still crossed over one another.

At Shiguma's yell, Regin was startled out of his analyzation, bearing an angry face, and assimilated himself with the sand once again. Below the sand, there was much solider rock, which Regin had access to. The castle from before became way more larger, and out of its windows, many large cannons could be seen, "T-TRY ME!" Regin spat at the ships and made it so that his cannons fired large rocks at them.

Najeem's eyes widened at the thought of Damon's request. "M-Me? Attack?! You dumb bitch, I was giving you the chance to prove yourself to me! I could end this in an instant if I wanted to!!"

"Hey!!" Shiguma screamed at the sight of the rocks coming his way. He grabbed his strawhat with his hands, almost panicking. Then, as if on cue, three of the ships returned fire, decimating the rocks and phasing through Najeem on their way towards Damon.

These cannonballs were very much real, seeing as how they made contact with the sands of the beach and resulted in explosions.

"Well, that will be that." Damon said back, simply, not bothered by the cannonballs' explosions. "You end me, right here, right now, and go on to dominate Asha." His eyes now stared directly at Najeem's own, the man seemed too nervous for Damon's taste, "Regin." He still waited for Najeem's attack.

"Yes, aniki?!" Regin responded almost instantly, still on top of his castle, and waited briefly.

"Do that thing." Indeed, after simply hearing his words, Regin suddenly knew what to do. He gathered a large part of the rocks beneath the sand and some of it, as it all began to take a much larger form than the castle. Quickly, a giant, but much more handsome, version of Regin stepped into the sea, standing before the many ships. Its front was covered in rock, so as to not be blown away by the cannons.

It was fifty feet tall, "ANTAEUS!" Regin yelled as his large arms moved to attack the three ships, which had attacked them previously. It sought to sink them with a double fore-arm attack, its arms shadowing the same ships due to their size.

You end me, right here, right now, and go on to dominate Asha.

How dare that bastard challenge him?! The nerve..! Did he not care that a Yonko himself was staring him down?! Did he not care that Reach, with all his dismay and horrid reputation, was there to back him up?!

"Fine, I'll show you..! Just let me go and snatch my blade, and then you'll see!!" Najeem flipped backwards, over and over, until he had created some space between Damon and he. Then, with a leap, he quite literally flew into the sky and then into one of the three ships that had opened fire.

He vanished for a moment, before returning with a sheathed blade hung over his shoulder. It was at this point that Regin had turned into the massive construct made of sand and rock. However, staring the giant in the eye, Najeem did not waver. No, he was much too agitated that he had to prove himself to them this time around. When was the last time he actually had to fight anyone?

"You fuckers! Just remember, you asked for this!!" Even as the shadow of the enormous arm came down upon him, Najeem stood tall and proud. Shiguma and Reach remained entirely silent, while some pirates inside of the three ships started to yell out in fear. "It's showtime...!" Najeem smirked. "Safety Curtain!" His arms turned black with Buso, and he tossed up the sword into his mouth, keeping it held with a firm bite. Leaping forward, he met the massive stone fist with his own, resounding in an incredible clash of power.

Najeem, for all the antics he had bred, had something to show. Despite his petite stature when compared to the massive rock golem, he appeared to have matched it in strength!

The pirates aboard the three ships cheered high and proud as Najeem rescued them by forcing the arm to stop moving with his strength alone. Then, keeping it there, the red haired man spun around and around, uttering, "Skycloth!"

He sent a vicious spiral of energy in the form of a large crescent directly at the arm, like a flying slash attack which came not from a blade, but his very own body instead. The crescent shaped blade of energy sought to crush the arm of the golem entirely, intending to reduce it into a pile of dust.

Damon bore nothing at the man's anger, he himself had been lost to his anger before, but he wouldn't say anything to someone else about their own. At this very moment, he just wanted to sleep... and nothing else.

With Najeem flying to the ships, Damon paid more attention to them, noticing how foggy the area was, clouding some of them, but nevertheless showing a lot. Maybe it had been involved with how weird the scenario was, as it was around around the place, the mist that was. Damon didn't know how many powers could exist, but, he knew this thing spammed from a fruit. It was weird, like a suspense movie from the eighties.

"Hoooo." His mouth went into a o as he observed Najeem's determination to fight back against Regin. But then, Damon frowned, if Najeem could fight using his bare fists, why did he go for the sword? Why hadn't he attacked when they were face to face?

Regin stumbled back in his giant form, sending waves crashing everywhere, "Nghhhhhh!" He was even more frustrated now, not only the enemy had a tricky power, but incredible physical prowess to match this size of his.

Anteus' arm had no immense amount of speed to defend or dodge against that attack, and thus, Regin simply let his consciousness fade from that single part of his body. His other arm had moved and openned its hand in order to smack against Najeem's body, seeking to send him flying wherever. All the while, presumably unbeknownst to anyone, Regin had also taken control of the rocks at the bottom of the sea, as his giant feet touched it. He made it where the rocks surged forth as spikes and aimed for the three ships that had fired previously.

Surprised to see how quickly the golem was able to respond after having one of its arms destroyed, Najeem was caught off guard. Well, almost. At current, his field of vision was enhanced to such an extent that he didn't even have to use Kenbunshoku. He could already see in the direction that the ships were pointing, covering his flank.

As the other fist came his way, Najeem timed his movements accordingly. The moment it looked as though he were about to be consumed by the hand, he caught a hold of it by its knuckles with his own hand, then used the momentum to flip over and land on top of the hand.

Running from the hand down to the wrist, down to the forearm, and then down to the golem's elbow, Najeem leaped forward and towards the massive giant's head.

"Open White!!" He solidified his entire body with Haki, turning his flesh pure black. He then spun his body around and around until he became a ball of spinning mayhem, intending to smash right through the giant's face.

The spikes shooting up from beneath the ships was, however, far more problematic. For it was a concern for Najeem to have his allies brought into the mess. Which was odd, considering he had a Yonko and his First Mate as backup.

The pirates upon each of the three ships screamed and hollered as the ships swayed from side to side. However, nothing happened at all to the rest of the ships; matter of fact, the three ships phased through portions of the other ships as they swayed around.

Regin grunted, there it was another part soon to be gone. Yet, remembering how he was controlling the rocks to attack the ships, Regin suddenly felt much more at ease.

His eyes and his mouth vanished from the giant's face, signaling the disconnection of his will to it, as it got smashed right afterwards by Najeem's fearsome attack, sending many pieces of rock flying in different directions. But, as he was still connected to land, Regin could drawn much more stone, making a bulge form around where the head stood and then... a new head got formed, his consciousness slipping into it.

Recalling what transpired earlier, Damon told himself he wouldn't interfere for now, not out of arrogance, but out of the fact that he had inspired Regin to thrive and battle. Also because he was really busy checking out what happened around them. Frowning even more at how those three ships slipped past the other ones and Najeem's companions did nothing, "Hoooh..."

Regin used such opportunity to reform the right arm he had lost to Najeem's previous attack, almost instantly as the head was formed, and make it move to intercept the Pirate. After all, he must have lost some momentum through his earlier attack. All the while, he made the spikes continue to try and pierce through the ships, editing them to possess spikier tops, as they jabbed several times.

Following through with his attack as he decimated the golem's skull, Najeem landed hard on his knee in the sand. When he looked back at the monster, however, he was surprised to see that it had already begun to reform itself.

"Tch! There's hardly anytime between its attacks.. if I don't put an end to this fat ass sooner than later, it could spell danger.."

The golem's right arm came flying towards Najeem yet again. He was much smaller than the golem by comparison, and so it made him a much easier target when taking into consideration the wide range just a single one of his fists could cover. Simply running away all the time wasn't going to do him any good. He needed a way to prevent Regin from participating any further.

Eyeing Damon, Najeem dropped the katana from his mouth and into his hand. Gripping it fiercely, he charged towards the Sin, closing the gap between the two of them within an instant.

"You bastard, do you think I'll just let you stand there?!" Keeping Damon in close range meant that Regin couldn't use his enormous limbs to help out. Otherwise Damon too would be caught in the crossfire.

Reeling his arm with the sword back, Najeem twirled around, once more coating his body in Haki in order to unleash a devastating blow upon Damon. "Open White!!" He sought to crash into Damon with his solidified body, as it spun around and around.

Regin hadn't been too surprised, given his level, but, this guy surely was strong, keeping up with his Antaeus Form. The bastard was not only strong and had a tricky Devil Fruit power, but, also, quite cunning. Regin pondered if Damon had already solved and discovered what that power may have been, "YOU BASTARD!" He screamed, upon seeing that Najeem opted to assault Damon.

His giant hand had moved in their direction, but as it did so, dread and confusion filled him. Should he really attack? Damon was too close, even if Regin knew how strong he was... he also didn't know if Damon any plan based what he had seen.

But then, a simple gesture of his, namely his smirk being thrown at Regin, was enough for the giant hand to stop. Everything was fine. Regin said nothing, and retreated into the earth.

Damon's kenbunshoku had been active as he tried to observe just what was Najeem's power, and it had been on even now. But, that wasn't enough to guarantee himself. He felt the man's intentions and him moving towards him, shouting angrily, just like a Sin of Wrath, "Yes-" Damon braced himself, crossing both his arms on to his right side and coating them with a bit of Busoshoku. His knees were bent and his legs were firm, he felt as the impact that sent him flying several yards away, his eyes shadowed and his mouth closed.

Regin wanted to scream at the scene, coming out of the sand with a gasp at the scene, but, he knew Damon was right. Atraxias was coming, the Pride which crushes enemies.

Sending his opponent flying, Najeem knew from the moment he had made contact with Damon that the Sin had barely any chance to keep up with him. He simply lacked the necessary speed to keep up with his movements; Damon was forced onto the defensive, forced to cover his body to try and reduce the amount of damage coming from every one of Najeem's attacks.

Seeing that Damon had no choice but to remain on guard, Najeem raced after his flying form and released a countless barrage of attacks against him. "Rananananana! Is that it? Is that all one of you Seven Deadly Shits can do?!"

Haki imbued fist after haki imbued fist, Najeem kept on rapidly firing away to make an example out of Damon.

Speed hadn't been something he really needed, nor were his opponents this fast before. Except for Bambina, of course. Damon could both deal and take, and for now, he was fine with that. He held his arms once again as Najeem viciously attacked, it made it seem like payback for earlier... Maybe this guy had more in common with him than he liked.

All of the attacks sunk into his flesh, but Damon made sure to block each one of them with his hardened forearms, trying to keep a calm face, despite the upcoming pain. Pain... He was more than used to it, "If I am piece of shit-" Damon grunted after several attacks, balancing himself to land with his feet on the sand, "What does that make you?" His arms still crossed, his blood shot eyes stared at Najeem's own.

Regin stood baffled, even if Damon couldn't move like Najeem did, he was managing to shrug off most of the man's attacks. Attacks which had done lots to his Antaeus, "Aniki truly is something else..." Sweat ran down his body as he mumbled.

Najeem snarled at Damon's remarks. "You insolent piece of..!"

He twirled his body around again, dispelling energy in the form of a blade to finish off his barrage of blows against Damon. With it making contact, it would send the Sin flying back and skidding off. As one of Najeem's more concentrated attacks, he hoped it would be able to cut through Damon's Busoshoku.

Damon had no doubts. Nadeem was more than fearsome in combat, even now that he was angered. But... He also had no doubts his attack power wasn't enough to breach completely through his defenses.

Instead of just waiting for that attack of Najeem's to come and fly away, Damon's eyes widened and his resolve was strong as ever. He took a fierce step forward, raising dust, and pressed both of his arms forward, slamming into Najeem's own violently. Arms which were still crossed and hardened. His right foot had been the one to go forward, while his left stood had also stood fierce, but backing himself up.

Hoping to not only breach Najeem's attack with his own, Damon didn't stop pressing forward. As supposedly, he would slam his arms into the ground, shaking nearly the entire beach, and send Najeem away with a shockwave.

Damon's resolve clashed against Najeem's pride.

His attempt to blow Najeem away resulted in a clash between the two of them, with neither side letting up. And then, finally, a spark flashed, and both parties were sent reeling back to their respective sides.

Skidding backwards in the sand, Najeem gritted his teeth. There was more to this guy than he had initially thought. What a shame it was... he hadn't expected to fight anyone when he came here.

"You bastard... you don't know what you're doing... my captain... my captain will destroy you for this!"

A man with long, brown hair, bearing the appearance of an ascetic almost, had heard all the sounds from the battlefield on the beach and dashed towards the area as fast as he possibly could. He rotated his arms in the air for a moment, allowing them to reach an "x" formation, before sending his hands to the ground, which had no obvious effects on his appearance.

All of a sudden, he managed to blitz through the surrounding area with no apparent resistance. Jumping across buildings and through crowds as if he were a river flowing through the forest. He appeared at the beach very quickly, leaping from the closest building and shooting towards the air, his speed not decreasing in the slightest.

His figure landed on the ground with an immense shockwave, lifting a huge quantity of the nearby sand into an omnidirectional tidal wave that smothered everything around the man, while leaving him perfectly untouched by even a grain in the process.

This was Baghatur Atraxias, the Sin of "Pride", and the strongest warrior of the Asha Kingdom's Military. He was composed in the face of the fleet before him, as if he had seen it all before. "Al Rauf Najeem! You continue to conduct yourself without any pride! What did I explain to you about using holograms before!?" Despite his calm exterior, he raised his voice and lectured his enemy as if he were a child.

However, his concern soon turned towards Damon and Regin, who had been fighting this threat on their lonesome. He moved backwards and lifted Damon from the ground, before bringing him closer to Regin, who had been pushed back by the recent shockwave as well. "Damon, Regin. Your pride to stand your ground was phenomenal." He acknowledged their efforts, before turning his steeled gaze towards Najeem again.

"I have fought this "Honey Boo Boo" before in my life. He is a man without any pride, making use of the Sute Sute no Mi, a hologram-producing Devil Fruit, to have entire Kingdoms submit to his whims. But a man like him, without any pride, is merely a glory-seeking, spineless coward! Did you want to finish what we started last time, Al Rauf Najeem?"

Irritated beyond belief by Damon's constant showing of character, Najeem decided that he had just about enough with him. What made that bastard so cool anyway? He'd wipe that calm look right off his face with his own hands! It was time to draw a curtain upon this show!

But in the moment he had begun to prepare an attack, Najeem was forced to stop. For another Sin landed on the scene of the battlefield, a Sin Najeem knew all too well, having a scar running through his left eye to show for it.

"Atraxias..!" he exclaimed instinctively. His scar burned, even now, at the mere sight of the man. Anger filled his heart as the Pride of the Sins began to lecture him. Hatred flowed through every one of his veins when Xias exposed the secrets behind his devil fruit.

As much as he had managed to hold his own against both Damon and Regin simultaneously, Najeem knew that Atraxias was an entirely different animal. He didn't have the necessary forces to take on an enemy like that. Certainly not when he was at disadvantage in numbers. Najeem's anger forced a devilish grin to his face, as if he were so angry that all he could do was smile. He ran his hand through his hair, lifting up the bang that fell over his eye to place on display the scar that he had received from his earlier battle with Xias.

He chuckled sinisterly. "Rananana...! Pride is the mark of an utter fool! In a world such as this, all it's good for is closing the door on endless opportunity. Why the hell would I care for something so useless like that, Xias?!"

Oddly enough, Najeem wanted to confront Xias in battle again. His body, his mind, and most of all, his scar, ached for revenge. But the probability that he fall now was higher than ordinary. Should he fall here, Shiguma would go berserk, no doubt.

"Well, if you're here, then I've no choice but to take my leave." The thousands of ships faded with a brief shimmer, flashing away with a sparkle of stuttering blue light. In their place were three ships, ships which did not include Shiguma nor Reach among their ranks.

It was true. It had all been a ploy through his devil fruit. He had come by his lonesome, much as he had with countless other islands. The only difference was that Asha and Dressrosa had warriors brave enough to tackle problems far larger than themselves. Oh what a drag it was!

"Ranananana! Xias!! Don't think it's over between us just yet, you bastard! I'll be back again, this time with my real captain in tow!" Putting his hands up to his face, Najeem summoned a blinding flash of light. "Spotlight!!"

The light was incredibly bright, rendering the sands of the beach below invisible. The world became a blank canvas, rendering it difficult to even spot auras through. When the light dissipated, Najeem was gone, and the three ships were off and out at sea, a considerable lead to the distance between they and the island.

As he heard Najeem's words, anger fell onto Xias' expression. But before he could usher a response to the cowardly Pirate, he had made use of a bright light that prevented Xias from seeing, before he vanished. Although he had successfully fended off the opposing Pirate, the fact that, after two encounters, he could not convince him to conduct himself with pride angered him.

"Pride is the mark of someone who will stay true to themselves till the very end! Remember that well, Boo Boo!" Atraxias shouted to the empty ocean, before finally calming down. At the very least, he should have been proud that he saved his country from further destruction. He looked towards the struggling Damon and Regin lying on the floor, and smiled at the strength of his fellow soldiers. Xias was glad that he taught them well.

Regin had been so amazed, so thankful, so glad... That no words came through as the amazing Atraxias came to their aid. Only his signature came out, "AHHDIEJWNDBSJKWKW!" Regin stared at Atraxias, who explained just everything. It had been over, even if it felt too long, and Regin could savor the beach and his ice cream. Due to such thoughts, he almost paid no mind to Najeem.

While Damon wasn't worn out, he had to skip meals to aid Regin...and was more than glad once Pride showed up. His words carrying both pride, but, well deserved confidence within them. This brought a smile to Damon's face. He however, frowned at the mention of Najeem's powers, which were quite odd if he ought to say so. Damon rose his head to look at the angry Najeem, "So, he is like a den den mushi... Or maybe some network which broadcasts cartoons." He said it mostly to himself, but meant it even so.

So, Najeem and Atraxias shared a past. Not that it was fully surprising, Atraxias travelled more than Damon. As all Najeem did was promise and escape away, Damon sighed happily, he could have lunch now. As he felt Atraxias' stare, Damon mumbled, "The hell you doin' Xias? Les' just get some lunch!" He smirked against the sand. Truly Atraxias had been the strongest among them, the best fighter, savior and older brother.

Battle for Bedina

"This guy here... is a like a special Den Den Mushi-" Damon gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes, "Najeem is a Hologram-Human!" The power had been too much trouble back then, and just remembering Najeem's audacity sent his blood boiling.

Najeem sneered. He hardly remembered seeing a Devil Fruit power from Damon when they first met. But not it seemed he was able to multiply portions of his body.

"I see-gara," said Foxpack, "so he's a Hologram Ningen, is he?" His eye narrowed. "If we can't touch him… then isn't the opposite also true? He must not be able to touch us either! We must simply charge through him!"

"Rananana! If you really think it's that simple, go ahead and try!" Najeem held out his arms to his sides.

Just as Foxpack was about to make a move, his senses sparked to life. In the instant he had intended to move, he caught sight of a bullet storming towards him. The bullet had disguised itself behind Najeem's form, and it phased through the Desert Prince en route to Foxpack. Much like the skilled combatant he was, making proper use of his elite mink athleticism, Foxpack narrowly evaded the bullet. He turned around to ensure that his comrades not get caught in the crossfire. Where had it come from?

Foxpack's bewilderment flustered Najeem all the more. "Ranana! We've had a sniper on your tails since you stepped foot onto this island, you fools! We've thoroughly watched your every move!" Having to worry about being sniped while they battled was irritating, but at the very least, it didn't seem too problematic. That is, until the unthinkable occured. Foxpack's eyes widened as the very same bullet from before ricocheted off of a building and sped even quicker towards him. Not having anticipated the bullet to have that sort of ability, the fox mink was grazed across his shoulder, blood splattering from the wound.

"Gwah..!" Foxpack coughed up blood, his hand instantly clutching the wound bestowed by Trickshot. He had been too careless to think that the Xros Pirates had an ordinary sniper among their ranks. And if he as the substitute leader of the Titan Pirates had been so easily shot, it only spoke of greater dangers for his comrades.

"How shameful! To think even a man of your caliber would dare underestimate us. You disgust me, fox!" Najeem went on. "Our sniper, Trickshot, is one of the greatest in the entire world! He is the consumer of the Hazu Hazu no Mi, a Rebound Ningen!" Najeem heaved his sword back over his shoulder. "Any shot he fires has infinite life. The moment one of his bullets makes contact with anything, it flings towards another direction!"

Just as Najeem had said, even the bullet that had grazed Foxpack still had life in it. Perhaps that had been Foxpack's mistake. Had he not attempted to evade it and instead allowed it to be stuck in his flesh, then that bullet would have no way of attacking his comrades. Moving his hand from his shoulder, Foxpack unsheathed his swords and gripped them tightly. "Be on your guard!!" he shouted to the rest of them. "We're not dealing with an ordinary sniper here-gara!"

Najeem laughed as more bullets stormed towards their location and bounced off the various buildings, doubling their velocity each time. They all phased through his hologram form, however, leaving him invulnerable to damage. "Die you rotten pests, die!" In his pursuit of the real Najeem, Damon uncovered the same fact he had uncovered on Asha all those years ago. The hologram of Najeem before it reflected his aura. There was no way to distinguish him from the real one just by looking at him.

Apu's eyes widened. Coating both of his hands in Busoshoku, the pike fishman covered his face, doing his best to shield his body from the flurry of bullets that were headed their way. "Madara no Gyorin!"

The pike fishman braced for impact. The bullets grazed his arms, drawing blood even with the enhancement of his Haki. There were simply too many of them, as he found out, and on top of that, the bullets were of incredible quality. His feet skidding back into the ground, he gritted his teeth as the bullets bounced off of his arms and towards his comrades, while new bullets kept on firing away at them.

Katashi's senses tingled as the first bullet ripped towards the vice commander, signalling that many more would follow. He barely had time to turn around, pivoting on his rear foot for precious milliseconds, before the first shot streaked towards him. His arm flashed black, a gleaming blade coated in haki, as it flew up to cut the bullet away from him. His other arm ensured the second met the same fate. But then he had no more arms to protect himself.

The next shot took him in the lower left side, flesh blackened to meet it. Katashi grunted in pain, slewing around under the force of the shot, bleeding as it ricocheted off his steel body. Then the observers around him would see his head rock back, as if he had took one straight between the eyes.

His body tilted for a moment, as if he was about to fall over dead. But dead he was not. Dropping low on one leg, he spun towards the rest of the group, his other leg stretched out sharp as blade. He kicked it out down the street where the shots were coming from. "Supa Crescent Moon!" Katashi yelled as he spit out the bullet he had caught with his teeth, a number of blackened swords filling his mouth. The wave of air rushed down the street, stretching from one side of the road to the other, hopefully knocking away as many of the bullets as possible.

Continuing his rotation, Katashi stood up in a rapid top spin, his body covered in all manners of swords and edges. He had a plan to buy at least a little bit of time for those behind to defend themselves from the onslaught. "Think like the turtle, BECOME THE TURTLE. GET OUT OF THE OPEN." He yelled as numerous gleams of white formed upon his body. "SUPA DEATH PARADE!" Katashi roared at the top of his lungs as blades of pressurized air started flying out en masse from his body in all directions from the thousands of blades he had become. The various slashes collided with the bullets en masse, knocking many away from the group. He hoped it was enough.

Tabart glanced into Katashi's direction only briefly elsewise he would end up with a bullet in his body. His eyes darted from place to place, and his feet and hips contorted and slid from one direction to frantically. "D-Don't..shit!" Tabart begun, throwing his bandaged arm in front of his face. There was a thunderous crack as the bullet struck his wooden arm then instantly ricocheted back in another direction to strike another one of his teammates. "Kenbun...shit!!!" Tabart shrieked again, somersaulting backwards as a bullet collided into the earth that he recently occupied, its precision and power somehow denting the very rock, and then bouncing off as if it did nothing. What Tabart wanted to tell the group was that even Kenbunshoku Haki was useless, because the attacks, though calculated in some sense, were random, and their Haki could only determine intent, not actual direction.

"He's effectively somehow made us all sitting ducks; I can't even communicate with the team. All these people we brought...it means absolute nothing!" Tabart thought. "And on top of it, I can't even redirect the bullets because then they might hit one of my teammates that I can't even warn about it... This is bad." A weak smile creeped onto his visage as all that Tabart could determine was that whoever this Trickshot guy was; he was good.

Damon's mouth hung open and his eyes went wide as a shot had been heard, it aimed for Foxpack. The Mink had been in pain, as the bullet seemingly came back to try and kill him once more, that seemed too odd for Damon... but then, Najeem swiftly explained everything, and as much as Damon disliked him, he listened to it. "Stop." The Xros had a sniper observing them... a sniper, a man with a gun far away, set to shoot them all down... Shooting noises had filled the background, along with grunts of pain and laughter.

His mouth closed and he bit his lip, sweat appearing across his face, his breathing had become erratic and his pupils fluttered around. The scenario was all too familiar for Damon. In a flash, snipers could be seen on a chateau, he remembered the eyes of one, cold purple, as they narrowed at him. All ready to open fire at him and his many colleagues, who all had their hands restrained. It was only a memory.

Shots and grunts followed around him, "Stop." Damon bit his lip even harder, looking up at nowhere. His knees felt weak and made him drop on them, luckily dodging a bullet.

They were promised freedom, and had been granted freedom, but, it was only temporary. Months of torture weren't enough as punishment. Due to Seastone, Damon couldn't do anything, as his friends were all fusilladed. He had only survived because... because of Mirio, "Live, buddy." Damon looked around, telling himself it was all a dream, but, he had only seen bodies with holes.

No, these weren't his colleagues from back then, these guys were alive. Very much alive, and striving to survive, they had to survive, he would make them survive. Before his body roared in anguish as tears threatened to come out, Damon yelled, "Find shelter- GOHAAH" He coughed blood, a bullet finally rebounding into his stomach and then somewhere else.

Gritting his teeth, Damon looked around as everyone struggled, he had to help them, but, which one first? Should he save his dear friend, Apu; The head of the operation, Foxpack; The friendly guy, Tabart; Or that other man, Katashi? Damon had to consider how each of them would feel when he took a decision.

"Naaaajeeeeeeeeeeeem!" Damon gruffed, veins popping in his forehead as he glanced at the man in question. In such a moment of angusty and remembering hell, Damon's mind had been too clouded to make proper decisions, for, while he could indeed help all of them simultaneously, it was also deemed risky. As he dodged, Damon had decided that he would find a way to support both Apu and Tabart, however he could.

From his place of reason, Trickshot calmly observed the preliminary phases of battle waging upon Bedina. His eyes narrowed at the sight of Katashi catching a bullet between his teeth. His frustration only grew all the more when Katashi began to spin and deflect several of his bullets. Apparently Katashi was no ordinary human; he was some sort of tin or metal man who had teeth sharp enough to catch one of his bullets.

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately for Katashi and the rest of the Titan Pirates, Trickshot was a very, very spontaneous shooter. That was the merit behind his name, "Trickshot"; he adapted to any and all situation, improvising in the blink of an eye should the situation turn dire and call for it.

What Katashi planned to do was redirect the bullets in another direction by making contact with them through an attack of his. That way he hoped he could redirect the bullets, causing them to bounce off in the direction opposite to where his allies were stationed. However, there were a number of different factors that made this a difficult phenomenon to achieve.

For one, the Titan Pirates were but always on the move. With the bullets swarming around them in every direction, they were forced to be on the run, constantly evading and fleeing into various areas in the fear of being struck. Katashi may have been able to redirect the bullets in a direction of his choosing, but he couldn't stop his allies themselves from putting themselves right in front of those very bullets he had repelled.

Beyond that, Trickshot had already thought up a very simple counter to Katashi's tactic. Trickshot's bullets bounced as soon as they came into contact with any physical medium. In the near vicinity, a stray bullet reeled towards a fluttering flag, and rather than pierce straight through it, the bullet bounced right off of it, delivering the bulk of its power in the process. A large hole erupted in the middle of the flag as the bullet sprang away.

With this in mind, the master sniper employed his skills to fortify this advantage even further to his favor. He fired additional bullets, bullets which he aimed at bullets he had already fired through careful consideration of his ability. These new bullets served as "stepping stones" for the previously fired bullets, allowing one bullet to bounce off the other so as to revive its intended course of trajectory.

This was the prowess of Trickshot. Even bullets he had fired several minutes ago were still alive. Even bullets that had been fired several minutes ago could be manipulated by the man to attack his opponents.

The bullets Katashi had repelled were intercepted by other bullets. Bouncing off of the face of the other bullets, the bullets Katashi had repelled came flying back right towards him, renewed in life and strengthened with greater speed and power. Each bounce the bullets became more fierce. Whereas the bullet had only managed a hole in the flag before, the same bullet coming into contact with another flag caused it to tatter away into hundreds of smaller pieces, as if the cloth were glass shattering into countless smaller shards.

But as if this weren't already enough, Najeem thought he'd break even with Damon and Tabart for revealing his ability. Did they think that knowing what his ability was would render it meaningless? Oh no, he would use the fact that they knew what it was to his advantage by playing mind games with them.

"Rananana! Do away with yourselves!" Najeem roared, flinging up his hands. The one before them, of course, was a hologram. However small orbs of blue light spawned in the air around him, taking the appearance of the bullets Trickshot was firing at them. With his powers, Najeem sent the hologram bullets racing towards the Titan Pirates, leaving them unable to differentiate between the real bullets and the fakes.

The hologram bullets soared through the skies. They failed to make contact with anything, simply phasing through everything. And Apu foolishly thought that he was smart enough to identify the hologram bullets for this reason, but it hadn't occurred to him that Najeem was smart enough to use his hologram bullets to conceal the movements of the real bullets, hiding them inside of them. Piercing through his defenses, the bullets sent Apu flying back, back into a building. Only… the building didn't break nor stutter nor budge. No, Apu instead phased right through the building. Even much of the surrounding architecture had been made from Najeem's holograms! Bullets, real and fake, phased through the hologram buildings, while bouncing off of the real buildings. Confusion and utter mayhem erupted in Bedina, bullets growing all the stronger with every bounce and growing in number with every passing second.

"It's ooooooooooover for them," Trickshot calmly professed. It was an elementary method for a sniper to eliminate his enemies one at a time. For his earlier showing, Trickshot directed his efforts towards eliminating Katashi first. He needed Katashi out of the picture, whether it be a cause of paralyzation, losing consciousness, or death. No matter what the bouncing pirate tried to do, the bouncing sniper would surely ensure that he fell by his hand.

"Kettle, fetch me the Glissy Wissies," Trickshot commanded without turning his head away from his scope. At his command, Kettle stood up and prepared a separate round of ammunition for the sniper. Loading it into his sniper between rounds of the ordinary bullets, Trickshot planned to release a surprise attack upon Katashi.

Bullets --fake and real-- raced towards Katashi from all directions. More bullets than before and with greater fercosity. Bullets that had a new fighter among their ranks: the Glissy Wissies. The Glissey Wissies looked the exact same as any other bullet, however Trickshot didn't bother to influence them with his ability so they didn't bounce. Instead they flew through the skies normally, and the second another bullet made contact with them, they erupted into a smog of acidic gas. Gas that was the color of urine, gas that burned through the flesh of an ordinary human and that rusted apart metals. Under ordinary circumstances, Trickshot used the gas to disarm swordsman, but this would help him bypass Katashi's bladed defenses.

"Najeem, dammit." Tabart grit his teeth, ducking, sliding, and doing whatever else was necessary to dodge the maelstrom of bullets and illusions around him. He glanced in Katashi's direction, then back to the barrage headed his way, then back with repetitions of the same actions occurring over and over; he couldn't keep this up. Bullets don’t tire, people do. Tabart knew that well, and he knew that Katashi, himself, Damon, Foxpack, even Najeem would tire, but considering Najeem's physical body was nowhere to be found, he would tire far less quickly than the Titan Pirates, at least for the moment. With the building made manifest by Holograms, the varying allies yelling take cover and to run meant nothing, because there was no guarantee you were actually protected. The only way to survive this was to find the source of both the illusions and the bullets.

"Please...hold out Katashi," Tabart muttered as he somersaulted backwards, slamming his palm onto the earth beneath him, with it, conjuring what seemed to be a human sized venus fly trap that swallowed Tabart. Just as quickly as it appeared, it squirmed back into the hole it emerged from in the earth, retreating underground to the only place that Tabart proceeded as safe.

Katashi's body was on fire, blood streaming from a dozen wounds. Many of the bullets had been deflected by his blades before they had even scratched him, many had not. His rotation continued, knocking more and more bullets back, though many were deflected back towards him as well. Then the fog rolled in. A yellow, sickly fog, burning his body, rusting his steel. Even his haki, blackening his entire body by now, only slowed it down. But he couldn't stop, not if he wanted to protect his nakama. "FOXPACK-SAMA, STOP THE FOG!" He yelled, hoping his commander would have a way to suppress the pain.

Katashi leapt forward out of the first set of fog into clean air, and in the process tightened his body up even further. The blades stopped flying, the gleam rotating around his body instead of roaring out. Air could be heard rushing towards him, the force of his rotation pulling the surrounding sky into him. At the same time, the gleam began to trail behind the myriad of blades that made up his body. A board that had been drawn it connected with this gleam, and was cut through like a red hot knife through butter.

Katashi had become a human blender. After throwing out enough blades to sunder an army, he would draw them in. Bullet after bullet came into contact with the blades, being knocked to the side, again, and again, and again. But they never were knocked out. The would orbit around Katashi, held in place by a thousand whirring blades of air and steel. It wasn't a perfect shield, but it was the best he could do. It would stop some of the bullets, but he'd need his friends to stop the fog that they brought behind them. "Supa Death Parade: Conjoining..." he said through gritted teeth, hoping for someone to come up with a solution for the dilemma they found themselves in.

But there was no solution. Trickshot was as versatile sniper as they came, able to adapt so quickly to any and every situation that it almost made him seem invincible. But no one was invincible and Foxpack knew this better than most.

The fox mink hadn't planned to be pressed so early into the battle. The Xros Pirates had been awaiting them for some time now and had prepared a trap especially for them. The Titan Pirates may have already been on the brink. His blades running rampant to fend off the bullets swarming around him, Foxpack had a glance at his nakama.

They were all in horrible condition. Their chances had been scarce since the beginning, but now with everyone so wounded it seemed impossible. Why press on only to die? Was there any meaning in exerting themselves so viciously if they knew the outcome?

Foxpack's whiskers quirked and his brow flexed into an intense glare. But of course there was. There was an altier motive, there always was! He hadn't come all this way to be had by some sniper whom he could not see. He hadn't come all this way to lose!

"Rananana! Just fall over and die already, Titan Pirates!" Najeem's hologram barked into the bullet infested skies, "you never stood a chance to begin with, can't you see that now?!"

"I put my life on the line the moment word of your blasted commander meeting reached my ears-gara!" Foxpack suddenly snapped. His tone was fierce, far more than ever. More so than anytime in recent memory, even. "If death is what awaits me, then so be it! I didn't come here all this way to refute your terms, boy! Just know that this fox won't meet his end at your hands!!"

Easier said than done. Bullets pierced through his guard, piercing through his arms and legs. However, unlike with his comrades, the bullets did not bounce back but continued onwards. Coughing up blood, Foxpack's body thought to collapse, but his mind, heart, and resolve thought otherwise.

Milk and blood splattered around and it was then that Foxpack realized that those bullets could only ricochet off of a physical medium. Unlike his comrades, he did not possess a truly physical form; he was a Logia, a Milk Ningen!

Summoning forth his powers, Foxpack twirled his Meito in his hands, allowing milk from his arm to spill over it and cover its blade. He flickered it about, much like a wand, then heaved it in the direction of the ground in front of him. "Marécage Brûlée!!" he hollered, gritting his teeth as another bullet splattered the milk that made up one of his ears.

A gooey shield of caramel erupted from the ground, rising like a pillar in the sky. The bullets that came in Foxpack's direction were caught like flies in a web, stopping dead in their tracks and failing to ricochet off of the liquified caramel shield. "Those bullets are weak against liquified attacks-gara!!" Foxpack exclaimed, hearing Katashi's cries.

But having them be stuck didn't take them entirely out of the picture. For as Foxpack discovered next, the bullets caught in his caramel shield were still triggered by their special effect. He could see a few of the bullets inflate, and in the next moment, they detonated inside of his caramel shield, surrounding the mink in a smog of acid.

"Foxpack-sama!" Apu shouted from afar, witnessing his superior fall prey to the gas. But he quickly remembered what had been said about the bullets earlier, and rather than mourn Foxpack's injury, the pike fishman flicked his arm backward, eyeing the dozens of bullets headed his way.

Apu shot out his arms wide, seeps of water trickling down from the limbs. Thrusting them forward, he molded the droplets into arrows that rivaled the bullets in size, sending a flurry of water arrows to fight off the Trickshot's bullets. "Uchimizu: Awa!!!"

However compressed, the water droplets were still liquid, and so the bullets that were intercepted by them failed to rebound. Instead they were devoured by the water, and the moment the water let the bullet inside, it inflated itself into a bubble, keeping the bullet floating the air harmlessly.

This was a short lived maneuver, however, as Apu knew a bullet coming into contact with the bubbles would simply pop them and lead the bullet to drop on the ground and start all over. If only he could get to a grander water source, he would summon up a larger supply and douse the bullets out!

Najeem's grin grew wider at the sight of Foxpack. The hologram walked forward, through the swarm of bullets and through the smog of acid and through Foxpack's caramel even, until he was standing over the fox who had gotten down onto his knees. Bending over, he ran his hand through Foxpack and whispered into his ear. "Why don't you just admit that you made a mistake coming here? You don't think you can still win… do you?" Foxpack was silent.

"Why don't you have a look behind you? You won't be leaving here, not with your life."

Foxpack turned around. His eyes widened. He could hardly move in his shock.

Standing behind the Titan Pirates, just mere yards behind where Katashi was stationed, were two men. One man who resembled Najeem in every obstacle; red hair, red jacket, a sword hung over his shoulder. The other was a bearded man, his upper body left bare to the world, plated leggings worn as trousers.

"R-Reach!" Foxpack exclaimed suddenly, paying no mind to the caramel shield in front of him that was being eaten away by the acid.

The other Najeem, standing shoulder to shoulder with Reach, threw his head back and laughed. The situation appeared even more grim with the arrival of the Yonko First Mate. "It's over for you worthless peasants!!" both of the Najeems shouted.

Damon tried not to panick at the new swarm of bullets coming along, seeing as how much closer he was to Apu and Tabart the moment it happened. It wasn't because they were many, but, because of the sheer tactic used by this Tricky guy. He could never be considered ordinary, maybe a monster amongst snipers... but Damon couldn't care right then. He just needed to move as much as possible, some bullets did hit him, mainly on the torso, so, his balance wasn't lost.

Still darting forward, he lunged to try and get a hold of Apu with his left arm, as Najeem implemented his own powers into the mix. However, as Apu and Foxpack had teamed up to set off the swarm of bullets, Damon missed the fishman in a blink, due to his incredible speed. In fact, then, Damon jumped at Tabart, who moved as best as he could, with the use of Geppo. It was enough to raise dust and rocks in its wake, deflecting some bullets away. Damon tried to not pay much attention to his other crewmembers, feeling as if he would hesitate if he looked away. He had to do it, he couldn't back away now and had to swallow his stress.

Before Damon could even reach Tabart, the latter had used one of his plants to duck into the underground, making Damon's eyes wide as he registered it. "What the fuck is he trying to do-" He meant to yell it, but the surprise held it in. It was quick, in a second, Damon had realized Tabart's intentions through his immense affinity with Kenbunshoku, smirking at the thought of finding that other Banana prick.

Damon kicked the ground once again with Geppo, the small shockwave sent dust and rocks up once again, and Damon took hold of a big rock with his free arm and jumped into the role. With the rock used as a blockage in order to rebound the bullets, Damon got himself to where Tabart was headed, even before Foxpack and Apu's tactic ended.

Katashi's spin was nearing it's end, as he was getting rather dizzy. That being said, the situation had heavily complicated itself, with more people they were trying to kill showing up. This included this reach fellow that Foxpack-sama was worried about. Out of options, in severe pain, and getting disoriented, he could only think of a single choice on what to do.

Katashi changed his level, dropping his stance low as he dragged his leg out. The hurricane of steel, acid, and wind collapsed upon his leg, dragging the entire vortex of with it. He finished his maneuver by kicking out, redirecting all the force and mass he had collected over the course of his death parade at the two individuals, attempting to slice through them in a single blow. He doubted it would work, but it was all he could think of.

"SUPA BEDINA SLICER!" He shouted once more as his attack fired off, the width of the slash exceeding the width of the street, cutting into the holograms and buildings on either side, in his last ditch attempt at a counter attack. Then with a quick hop, although slowed by the rust, he leapt back to what was left of his allies.

That sliver of doubt that Katashi held onto was characteristic of a wise man. For as he churned his leg about in the midst of his disorientation and fired away at Reach and Najeem's standing, they did all but move. It was at that instance that Foxpack realized what was going on.

"It's a trap!" the fox mink hollered, but it was too late. Katashi had already invested his highly concentrated technique towards them, only to have it phase through them entirely.

Fitting. Another pair of holograms. Just as Najeem had called upon holograms to assist him in conquering countless islands, he had summoned more of the same to mesh with Katashi's sanity. He had tricked him into wasting his precious efforts, frightened the living day out of the Titan Pirates to the extent that two of them had burrowed themselves beneath the ground.

As the rusted scrap of metal that was Katashi leapt backwards, he made himself vulnerable to the bullets flying in the air. He had propelled himself into their immediate territory; and how dare he? The sky was theirs! The bullets swarmed upon his decelerated figure in quick succession, taking advantage of the fact that not only had he voluntarily jumped into the air --where they were most abundant-- but had also been in great pain from the earlier bullets, dizzy and disorientated from his own movements, and finally, rusted by the earlier gas, slowing down his movements and sharply lowering his chances of escape.

The bullets Trickshot had prepared this time around were summoned with a single thought in mind: that, unlike those before, they should not bounce. Indeed, these bullets were not at all meant to ricochet off of Katashi's metal body; no, quite on the contrary, they were meant to stick to him, like a blotch of icky glue.

These bullets were splats of a freakish substance, which would stick to Katashi's frame and be unmoved mo matter how hard he tried to fight them off. He had no idea, of course, that these bullets were capable of such a phenomenon; he had been conditioned to believe that they would instead bounce off of him, and so the moment they instead stuck to him he would be in for a world of surprise.

With a look around the battlefield, Foxpack was surprised to see that the bullets had decreased in abundance. Instead of being spread out around the alley, they were instead all directed at Katashi, meaning he had become Trickshot's lone target. The fox mink made to move, doing so with the intent of rescuing his subordinate, however another spectacle unfolded before his eyes, as Najeem leapt down from the skies above, his hands and arms coated in Haki.

Gritting his teeth, Foxpack was forced back down to the ground. He clashed his swords against Najeem's arms, forced to remain in place as his eye met with Najeem's own. "Y-You!" the mink barked, "y-you're the real one, aren't you-gara?!"

Bullets of various types closed in on the sluggish Katashi from all sides. Bullets that would bounce off of him, others that would be glued to his body and then… explode. Najeem's grin widened as he glared into Foxpack's eye. He awaited the series of explosions to sound off from the sticky bullets that would stick onto Katashi's body.

Katashi was in trouble and he knew it. Bullets all around, his commander currently distracted, and some of his allies having wandered off. While he may not be the brightest bulb in the box, he could definitely tell at least that much. That being said, he was definitely quick on his feet.

There was no way to dodge all the bullets, there was no time, and no place. So what he had to do was minimize the damage that was about to be inflicted upon him. He just didn't know if his haki, his blades, and his considerable muscle would be enough.

So despite the pain, disorientation, and rust, Katashi had to move. Taking some of the bullets was better than taking all of them.

He heard Foxpack's declaration of the real Najeem, and armed with that information, he formed a plan. A reckless plan, but a plan none the less. Katashi gathered himself together, drawing his arms and legs together, rusted steel screeching as it drug across itself. His body flashed black, as he focused all his remaining willpower upon reinforcing it as his muscles tightened as hard as they would go. He then kicked out, his legs propelled with all his considerable strength, directly away from Foxpack and Najeem. Trickshot hopefully wouldn't dare shoot him further with his ally so close.

Twin blades of air slashed out, crashing into the buildings over to that side. But at the same time, the force from the desperate kick moved Katashi as well. He rocketed out, reminiscent of a certain move of the marines. His path took him through one side of the cloud of bullets, many bouncing off and injuring him further, though none of the damage was severe as his defenses allowed him to weather the worst of the blows, while others stuck to him, gluing themselves to the rusted metal. These bullets confused him, as this effect was new, but he didn't have time to worry about it. But then the explosions started popping off. The sticky bullets were bombs. Pain engulfed his body as each one went off, the explosions tearing at rusted blades. He emerged from the last of the explosions, bleeding from numerous points of his steel body. The rust that had once shrouded his form was gone, having been blown off by the repeated explosions. His defenses had held, albeit barely, despite the numerous cracked blades that had once been whole.

However, at this point Katashi was committed to his maneuver. so he was going to follow through with it no matter what. As he approached the pair, he drew his arms back, attempted to catch Najeem in a bear hug, slicing him up some at the same time as he would be immobilized. He just hoped that Foxpack could keep Najeem in one place long enough for this too work...

Foxpack and Najeem engaged one another fiercely. The two pirates exchanged blows, Haki imbued blades clashing against Haki imbued limbs. Najeem closely held his katana in the clasp of his mouth, his movements fluid as he and the fox pink skillfully parried one another, neither gaining any advantage.

At the realization that Katashi had somehow managed to survive the explosions even despite his sully state and was now aiming to attack him, Najeem displayed his powers once more. His body let out a small flash of blue light, projections taking the shape of himself and Foxpack loitering the battlefield.

In the blink of an eye, there were hundreds of Foxpacks and hundreds of Najeems, all engaging one another in battle. The constant movement of the both of them made it incredibly difficult to track down the real Najeem; even Foxpack was lost in the middle of it all.

The fox mink looked around, fending for himself as his blades slid through countless Najeems. He ducked instinctively when one Najeem swung for his head, and then instinctively leapt up when another Najeem swiped at his feet. Airborne, Foxpack spun around, then braced for impact when two Najeems charged at him from either way.

He was trapped! With no way to defend himself, the fox mink braced for impact yet again… only to have both Najeems phase through him in a showing of utter disregard.

The countless Najeems laughed, all in unison at the sight of Foxpack having thought that he was going to be beaten down. But there was no time to respond, only time to act. He blindly rose, repeating more of the same behavior as he merely prayed to somehow attack the real Najeem.

Countless holograms of Najeem and Foxpack danced around Katashi. They taunted him with their existence, as his bear hug phased through Najeem after Najeem, after countless Foxpack after Foxpack failed to hold them in place.

"I'm sorry-gara!" one Foxpack hollered at Katashi.

"Get lost you maggot!" another Foxpack exclaimed.

"Why are you even here-gara?! You're only getting in my way!" one more added.

"Don't listen to them!" another Foxpack yelled.

"Yeah, don't listen to them! I'm the real one-gara!" Another quickly refuted.

Illusion after illusion, hologram after hologram. It was an impossible situation to comprehend, a mirage where Najeem thrived. Countless holograms attacked Katashi, skillfully complementing one another so as to set up a series of successful attacks. They played with his mind, forcing him to react or at the very least, regard the possibility of being struck, only to amount to nothing.

They instilled the possibility of his defeat, playing rampantly with his emotions. When all of a sudden, one of the blows didn't phase through him, instead sought to make contact with him to render him unconscious. However, this true attack was perfectly disguised by tens before it and tens after, giving Katashi no true reason to predict what was real and what was fake.

Katashi had nothing left, literally and figuratively. His haki was basically gone, and his body was beat up.

His last ditch effort to actually help had failed, and he no longer knew what was where. Sword after sword he attempted to block with his arms, using his bladed body, polished as it was by the explosion, to attempt to ward off the blows and counterattack.

After several dozen attempts to block the blades, he stopped, merely waiting for the illusions to end. His body tensed, ready for the slightest indication that one was finally solid. However by the time that he heard the blade whistling towards him, it was too late for him to accomplish anything. The best he was able to do was to take it, and survive.

The blade laid open a line across his back, and his abused body finally fell, his consciousness finally leaving after the torrent of blows. Katashi landed face down on the ground, finally unconscious to the world around him.

"Katashi!!!" Apu exclaimed into the air, his dread filled tone bouncing off of the buildings as if amplified by Trickshot's abilities. His own bloodied figure unveiling itself from the ruins of a collapsed building, the pike fishman stumbled to his feet, clenching his hands into fists.

"Damn it!" Apu's hand slammed against some small pebbles, grinding them into dust. The hard reality of losing one of their fighters was all too surreal. This was war.

Gnawing at the countless illusions in front of him, Foxpack snapped backwards in a flurry, swinging his swords about wildly, but to no avail. His blades only phased through the countless Najeems, and he amounted to nothing more than a furball of rage. How could he have allowed for one of his men to fall in battle right before his eyes and so easily? How could he have been without any control to such an extent that he was reduced to nothing more than a spectator?

"Tangooooooo doooooown," Trickshot hissed under his breath as he peered through the scope of his weapon, watching with exquisite precision as Katashi's body fell to the ground. From behind him, Kettle's eyes widened.

"Wh-Which one was it?" Kettle muttered. A long silence ensued.

"Doooooes it matter?" Trickshot mumbled back.

"I-I guess not…"

Evaluating the battlefield, Trickshot calmly deduced his next move. Two of his opponents had scurried into the ground, for reasons beyond him. Two remained above ground: a mink and a fishman.

However, just as he flexed his sights upon the two of them, a rifle beside him remained ever poised on the position of the golden haired man inside of the tavern. By now, whole plates and utensils were floating around inside, and Trickshot could do nothing more than wait for him to make a move.


"Apu, stand the front!" Foxpack barked, "this is no time to mourn over a fallen comrade-gara!!"

As bad as it sounded, deep down Apu knew Foxpack was right. And so without any further hesitation, Apu raced forward, phasing through countless holograms, until suddenly, a foot jumped out at him and kicked him back. Grunting in pain, the fishman flew back, blood spewing from his mouth.

Keeping his senses sharp, Foxpack stormed towards what he believed was the Najeem that had struck Apu. However, in coming to attack it, he found his blades phasing through it yet again. A blow was sent towards his hip, and the mink too, was sent flying in the direction opposite of his ally.

"Why don't you just give it a rest-gara?" one of the hologram minks pondered aloud, while another added, "oh yes-gara! Surely you see by now that all of this is pointless?"

Foxpack rose to his feet to see the spectacle of hundreds of Apus being added to the number of holograms. This was just absurd!

"I've just about had it with you!!" Foxpack shrieked. Even he couldn't help but lose his cool before the madness. His body erupted into a tsunami of milk, a stream of fluid snaking around the alley and phasing through the many holograms.

Najeem's eyes widened at the sheer pace the fox managed to run through his holograms, until finally he smashed into his real body, knocking the wind right out of him. The holograms faded with a flash into thin air, leaving only the real Najeem prevalent.

The katana falling from his mouth, Najeem caught it with his hand as Foxpack's liquified form kept pressing into him, until it ran him right through a building.

Double-Crossed

Smoke fuming from the hole made in the building by Foxpack's attack, the mink reverted into his physical state, appearing a ways before where he had sent Najeem into. Finally, they had managed to land a single blow upon their enemy. However, doing so had cost them one of their own men; doing so had costed them a lot of precious time.

Time. That was the most vital element to the Titan Pirates at the moment. If they stalled out for too long, then that meeting between the commanders of the Xros Pirates would come to an end, and more pirates, reinforcements, would certainly show up to the island. That would spell far greater danger and take away any chance they had at victory.

"Damon, Tabart! Where are you fools? Come up here at once-gara!"

The plant that had consumed Tabart early tore through the earth yet again, this time huffing out a puff of smoke and releasing the purple-haired pirate with it. He coughed as he rolled onto the ground, fanning himself and exhaling deeply. His face was a bright red and showered in what seemed to be sweat.

"Foxpack-sama," Tabart breathed, slowly picking himself off the ground, "I'm here now, and I have a plan."

Following suit from the hole that the plant made, was Damon, surrounded by pink flower petals. However, he, unlike Tabart, rocketed out of the ground and had a swift land, "Foxpack-san, I'm part of the plan!" Damon said, opening both his arms wide, as he stood kneeled close to Tabart. Dirt covered most of his body, obviously due to his unknown ventures underground.

Damon looked around, trying to check where Najeem would be, despite knowing it was unnecessary due to Tabart's doings. Their small time at the underground made Damon think Tabart truly was a madman. Sort of like protagonists of an adventure in a comic book for young boys.

The sight of Katashi lying down made Damon's teeth and fist clench, pondering just how much the man had truly taken. That wouldn't go down to waste. Damon would not only hope, instead, he would make it where their plan definitely suceeded, waiting for Tabart's plants and Najeem's figure.

Foxpack turned to glance at the two of them slowly. He watched them with his eye, observing their enthusiasm despite the horrid predicament they all found themselves in. And then it hit him.

"A plan?" he mused. "I see... that's right-gara, you lot know this man, don't you?" He looked forward again, at the smog of dust that enveloped where Najeem lay. Time was of the essence. Should they prolong their venture here any longer, then they'd risk combatting Reach in the face of his allies. The Xros Pirates were a Yonko crew for a reason; facing them as they were now was certain death.

Even now, the Titan Pirates themselves were gravely outnumbered. But with Katashi struck down and all, there was little else that could be done. Foxpack had no choice but to trust in his new allies. He would have to trust in Tabart and Damon, trust in their capability to take down one of the Xros Pirates' heavyweights.

A hand appeared from the cloud of dust. A leg appeared soon after, until the figure of Najeem picking himself up came into comprehension. His lip had been busted, seeps of blood trickling down his chiseled jawline. Gripping his katana with a firm grasp, he stood upright, eyeing his opponents. "You damn fox, you got lucky with that one. Don't think it'll be so simple this time."

Najeem's eyes narrowed. "I told you already, didn't I? We've kept our eyes on you from the moment you stepped foot onto this island..! We've seen through your every move; we have you guys absolutely cornered! You're all doomed!"

Through his silence, Foxpack sheathed his blades, much to Najeem's bewilderment. Rather than equip his blades, Foxpack raised his bare paw up towards his face, taking up a bizarre gesture. Flicking out his paw, he curled his fingers into a sign then twisted his wrist round and round.


From his place far, far away, Trickshot quirked a brow. He had his sights set upon Foxpack, his crosshairs aligned upon the mink's head. And yet he was so utterly confused by what he was doing that he couldn't help but pause for a moment. "Just what is that damn fox up to?"

"What's the matter?" Kettle poised.

"That fox... he's forming some sort of sign with his hand..."

"...A sign ye say?"

The time had finally come. Kettle's muscles tightened as he spread his legs out shoulder width apart from one another. He slammed both rows of his teeth together, heaving his hands up over his head then throwing them down toward the ground with great force.

The gravity about Trickshot's immediate vicinity intensified, quickly. First by a single factor, then by multiple folds. The sniper jerked his body back and forth through instinct, and yet even he could do nothing but fall prey to the inconceivable pressures that weighed him down suddenly. Falling to the floor, Trickshot flopped around like a fish out of water. A small crater formed beneath him as the pressure above him grew even heavier, to the point where he could just barely turn his head to meet Kettle's eye. "W-What in the fuck are you doooooooooing?!"

Kettle studied Trickshot's fallen state as he forced the gravity to intensify further. A small memory jolted into his mind.

---

The sun was rising slowly in the distance, shining its glory over what would be a new era for the giants of Elbaf. After a long and promising struggle, some small form of victory had been attained, if it could even be called such.

Destruction had been had, but greater destruction had been prevented. The mass genocide of the giant species delayed, hundreds awaited dire medical treatment. The recovery process was going to larger than any giant on the island. Laying with his back up against a crumbling brick wall, Kettle knew this well.

His arms and waist were covered in bandages. He had hated being deceived by that damn Ashley. Fuck that woman for making a joke out of him! But where did he go from here? He had no idea on how to go about extracting his revenge against McGhinnis now. Moreover, he had no means to do so, next to no method. He was lost in the world of giants without a place to go.

"Hoy, are you going to just sit there and sulk away-gara?" a voice pressed from close proximity. A paw stepped ever closer to where Kettle was resting. He turned his head, looking toward the figure of the fox mink he had come across earlier.

Kettle was silent. He took his eyes away from the mink, lowering his gaze to his own pathetic state. "What else do I got? Cowards like me don't go nowhere."

"Come with me-gara. Come with us." Foxpack stood his place, Kettle's form reflecting in the core of the pupil of his eye. "The Titan Pirates have a place for all, even for a guy like you."

---

Trickshot's eyes widened at the sight of Kettle slowly stepping towards him. He had to get up, warn the others that Kettle had turned his back upon them. He had to relay this message to Reach no matter what! He tried to move, but it was of no use. The gravity around him was much too fierce for him to do much of anything, let alone talk.

"Ye didn't think we'd come all this way without some sort of plan, did ye?" Kettle smirked, getting down onto a single knee. He shoved his finger into Trickshot's ear, twisting it about. "All this shit bout underestimatin' all of ye. But ain't ye do the same to us?!"

"I'll get yooooooou for this, you rotten!-" A shadowy aura coated Trickshot's body, and in the next instant, he was sucked up into Kettle's hand.


Najeem quirked a brow. Just what was that damn fox doing with that hand? Was he taunting him? "What are you on about, you damn fox?"

From inside his pocket, Foxpack's Den Den Mushi began to ring. Reaching in, he clicked it on. Kacha!

"It's been done, Foxpack-sama," Kettle's voice could be heard over the transponder snail, "Trickshot's been takin' into me hand."

"Hoy, great work, Kettle. Now haul that ass over here and prepare yourself for war-gara."

The Den Den Mushi grinned sinisterly. "Aye, aye, I'm already on my way there!"

Kacha! The snail clicked off. Foxpack hid it away into his pocket. Realizing he had lost contact with Trickshot, Najeem's eyes widened in anger.

"What was that you said earlier-gara?" Foxpack went on, addressing Najeem's earlier statement. "You had us figured out? You trapped us? We were all doomed?" Foxpack glared, his whiskers sharpening out. "Seems to me you Xros Pirates have been double-crossed."

Apu sighed in relief. With their sniper down, the tides had turned. Perhaps now… just maybe… they held the advantage?

"You won't have to worry about those bullets any longer." Foxpack turned to look back at Damon and Tabart. "With that in mind… I'm going to leave Najeem in your hands. Apu and I will press forth from here on out and seek out Reach. Let's see just how much faith you have in that plan of yours-gara."

Tabart nodded swiftly as a grin, or rather what he would consider a somewhat weak, uncomfortable smile, slid onto the edges of his visage as his eyes shifted to the distraught Najeem. "Yeah," he stated calmly, a distinct seriousness imbedded deep within his tone as if he understood the gravity of the situation. Foxpack wasn't leaving them to fight Najeem alone because he thought that was the best course of action. It was the ONLY course of action, which meant that at some point since his departure from when Tabart once knew him, Najeem had grown into something truly formidable.

"Najeem and I..." there was a slight paused that interrupted the flow of the words as Tabart sought to collect his thoughts in efforts to truly discern a proper way to express what he believed. "We still have some unfinished business I need to take care of, so don't worry about us Foxpack-sama. I made a promise to a friend that I can't break, not right now at least." He took a step forward towards Najeem with Damon slightly behind him.

"Hurry after Reach; we'll be there shortly."

Flower petals flew around, as Damon frowned, "Huh, the Sniper's aura has gone bare." He pondered if he should use Kenbunshoku to increase his eyesight and look further to where the bullets came from. His eyes widened in the next second, as two auras of immense magnitude filled his mind, "More combatants?!" He glanced around, wondering if it was time to do that, but took back to glancing at Najeem. "No, we have to focus..." The that would be used on Najeem, anyway.

"Don't tell me this guy tried invading your island or something...?" Damon mumbled at Tabart, walking alongside him while clenching both his fists. "There's more, outside of him, y'know." He stated almost casually, speaking as if they could endure two more enemies of that scale. Maybe they could, or maybe, Damon just didn't care, "Whatever it is you got with this guy, we're together on this."

Damon had adjusted his aura to Tabart's own, using Kenbunshoku, in order to match his intentions and still keep up with what Najeem came up with.

"Best of luck to you both," Apu said softly, exchanging a glance between the each of them. "That guy there is no scrub, I think we've understood that much by now."

Foxpack nodded. "Then we'll leave you to it-gara." He looked to Apu. "Let's go!"

The two of them made off in a hurry, leaving Damon and Tabart alone to combat Najeem, who oddly made no attempt at pursuing them any further. Instead he cracked his joints, stretching out his neck and wrists. With the two in front of him, things were personal.

Bending over, Najeem took his katana into his hand. Studying its sheath, he grew angry at the sight of some scratches upon it. He looked plainly towards his opponents, a fierce expression sitting upon his face.

"I'll let the both of you in on a little secret of mine. As you've probably noticed by now, I'm no swordsman. So why carry around such a long sword with me everywhere I go?" Najeem's opal eyes shivered to and fro. "This blade once belonged to my comrade. I say 'once', because he's no longer with us. It's the only thing I have to remember him by, a memento of his fair treatment of me."

He ran his hand across the scratch Foxpack had inflicted upon the sheath. "...And you bastards… you scratched it!"

---

As war waged around in Bedina, Grape had locked himself away into his office. He had no intention to take part in any of the battles; he'd remain here, patiently awaiting the Xros Pirates' victory. Then he'd swoop in, cuff the Titan Pirates up, and have them turned in. Oh yes! He'd very likely receive a promotion for turning in such big names!

At current, the Marine Lieutenant Commander sat behind the safety of his desk, looking through the files of the island's many citizens. He was trying to find a pretty girl who he could... "invite" over sometime.

Another figure had suddenly appeared in the same room, the door having unlocked for her and sticking to the outside wall. Her presence wasn't immediately noticed by the vain Lieutenant Commander until she had appeared right behind him. The figure had appeared in a strange mask, and unusually "regal" purple robes. But she was undoubtedly very short, to the point where she only reached three quarters of the man's height. Nonetheless, she leapt upwards and stood on the man's shoulders without losing balance, took an extremely sharp throwing knife out of her sleeve and pointed it towards the man's grape-colored hair, threatening to kill him if he didn't comply.

"Fukuoka Soren. Where is he?" Her voice was deep, far deeper than the Lieutenant Commander would have expected. After all, she was the leader of the Black Widow Pirates' greatest spies, the Night Parade. Fukuoka Mirai was, no doubt, one of the finest stealth agents known to the New World.

Grape did not immediately notice the stealth agent until she had perched onto his shoulders. At which point he looked up, visually terrified by the knife. His eyes widened in surprise, and it was as though he were staring death right in the face. "I-I don't know what you're talking about! Please, please just... get off of me!"

She began to kneel down. The knife inching ever-closer to the Lieutenant Commander's head. "This is the last time I'll ask. Where is he? Otherwise, this time you'll have something else sucked out of you." Mirai threatened the man, with her knife only a couple of inches away from his head. Even a slip of hand would have disastrous results with a knife this sharp, for it felt like the air was being cut by making contact with it.

"Okay, okay! J-Just take it easy!" He exclaimed, "he's being kept in a cellar downstairs..! If you come with me, I'll show you where it is.." He needed to get away, and fast. He had to conduct some sneak attack of his own when she least suspected it! But for now he had no choice but to comply against his will.

"Walk. I'm staying right here." Mirai said, refusing to budge an inch off the man's shoulders, keeping the knife plain in sight. In fact, it was almost as if she was stuck onto his shoulders, like a magnet.

He slowly rose up from his seat, amazed by how she managed to stay so perfectly balanced in her position. Eyes creeping up slowly, he put up his arms as if in defeat, slowly walking across the office. Grape then continued along a long passageway, taking her down a trapdoor and to the where the prisoners were being held.

"Th-They're right in there.." he said, standing outside of the open cellar. Inside, two pirates could be seen rotting away in a pool of blood.

Mirai stayed on the man's shoulders. "Unlock the door." She commanded him, but looked at the two Pirates in the cage with solemn eyes under her cold mask. In particular, the blue-haired man, Fukuoka Soren, and his injuries, had both horrified and angered her. The Xros Pirates didn't realize just how badly they would be defeated now. This war? It just got personal.

"I-It's open," Grape said, somewhat confused. He didn't know why it had been left open, but it seemed Najeem --the last one to be down here-- had kept it open by choice. Or perhaps he had just forgotten to close it? He walked to the door nonetheless, opening it wider than it already was. He waited outside, letting her in if she so chose.

Mirai hopped off the man, her back towards him, knife in hand. She slowly began to approach the two Pirates, specifically reaching for Soren. But the damage was enormous, and they required medicine fast if they were to make it out of this alive.

Now was his chance! The moment Mirai hopped of him and showed her back to him, Grape coated his arms with Haki, turning them entirely black. He'd teach her to turn her back on a Marine as great as him!!

He charged towards her back, intending to knock her out with a blow to the back of her head.

The moment Mirai heard the sound of movement, she turned instinctively and, by the time Grape had to bend down to reach Mirai's head, had already kicked the man square in the gut, sending him flying towards the opposite wall and causing him to lose consciousness.

She didn't even bother to speak any words regarding the man's defeat, now giving her full attention to Soren and the Fishman near her.

Crossed Paths

"Come on, I wanna hear you! Scream, go on, scream!"

Daryal's eyes began to roll back. The world had become more black than it ever seemed, so black in fact that he had little idea as to the fact that he was staring at the own crevices of his skull. His body was numb. His mind had gone blank. This was it. This was really, truly the end.

Bertram held him up higher effortlessly, boasting the Okama's size with no regard for human life. The roar of the cheers was ever prevalent, growing louder as they drew upon the disorientated figure of the victim. In his triumph, Bertram looked away from Daryal and over towards the thousands that had gathered around the stage; he flashed them an eerie grin, and then the bulk of them flashed away.

Bertram's smile faded with a frown. The vast majority of the crowd vanished into thin air with a flash of blue light. He was not so much surprised at the fact that they were holograms created by Najeem as he was at the thought that someone had actually managed to harm his comrade, and in doing so had uplifted all the holograms that he had made.

With more than half of his crowd gone, Bertram turned his body in anguish, only to see the two figures of a mink and fishman storming towards him. How they managed to slip past Trickshot and Najeem was beyond him, but that didn't matter now. There was no way they were getting by him.

"Lookie what we have here!" Bertram cheered, "a pair of punks comin' to the rescue of some lifeless faggot!" He swung his arm around, taking the dying Daryal for a swing.

With a stern expression drawn upon his face, Foxpack closely studied Bertram's impeccable form, looking over the dying Okama held within his grasp. Foxpack had no time to waste on the thought of Daryal's survival: his goals lied far beyond.

Foxpack drifted off his intended course, announcing to Apu without turning away from Bertram, "I must press on, Apu! There's no time to waste. Not here!"

"Right!" Apu nodded, coating his hands with Haki. Same plan as the last time. Apu was going to launch a heavy blow to Bertram to hold him back, while his superior slid on by them both. "Keep going, Senpai! Leave him to me!"

"Eeeheeeheee!!" Bertram chuckled viciously, parting his feet in anticipation of the two looming pirates. With a hefty leap, Bertram sprung from the stage, wooden planks collapsing under his feet as he soared into the sky.

Apu too jumped into the air, making the mistake of allowing his eyes to momentarily drift away from his enemy and towards the dying Okama. In this split second, Bertram raised his guard, and Apu's fist connected hard with the Birthday Boy's shoulder, where a shield of black mass awaited him.

He heard it snap before anyone else. Immediately upon contacting Bertram's shoulder, Apu's wrist had been fractured almost instantly. The pike fishman screamed whilst still airborne, his other hand instinctively grabbing ahold of his forearm. This level of vulnerability left him open to attack, and attack Bertram did. With a simple yet meaningful kick, Apu was sent spiraling to the ground.

Seeing this, Foxpack stopped abruptly. He eyed his fallen comrade upon the ground, watching as he rolled from side to side, clutching his broken hand in pain and agony. Without another second to lose, he rushed to his side, with Bertram landing on the ground before the broken stage, civilians who were present running away with their lives.

"Apu, get a hold of yourself-gara!" Foxpack lowered himself down onto a single knee, touching his hand to the internal wound of the fishman. "Easy now, let me have a look at it!"

Through tightly clenched eyes, Apu shamefully looked towards Foxpack. What a disgrace! He couldn't even hold his own for a few measly seconds; what good was he to any of them? "S-Senpai.. I-I'm.."

But there was no time to apologize. Not in the midst of war. Foxpack's expression told Apu this. He didn't need to hear anything further. Apu stopped himself, remaining silent as the milk from Foxpack's body entered his arm and reconstructed the broken bone. Rising together with his superior, Apu faced Bertram again, good as new. He had something to prove now, something he desperately needed to make up for.

"Stay back-gara. I'll handle this." Foxpack's demeanor had somehow… changed. He had been more intense than Apu had ever known since they stepped foot on Bedina. But now, somehow, he seemed to have gone to another level. As if he had activated some other mode of his, as if...

"Eeeheeehee!! Oh we know all about you, Foxpack! A pirate with a pathetic bounty like yours could never hope to be a match for me in battle, not even with some bit of help!" Bertram declared openly. "Come, just give it a try and see for yourself, the difference in our power!!"

Despite Bertram's warning, Foxpack did not ease away. Rather, swords crossed along his torso, he caught his prey within the reflection of his eye and sprung forward with impeccable speed. Bertram too, rushed forward, charging at the much smaller mink with the intent to kill. But as they crossed paths, he felt his own intent be swallowed whole, consumed in one demonic breath.

Bertram's eyes widened. A blackened axe swung forward in the nick of time, intercepting Foxpack's swords right as they were about to thrust through his throat. Bertram scurried back, retreating to one end of the plaza after the collision. Foxpack returned to his place beside Apu, clicking his swords back into their sheaths. His head turned immediately in the direction of the long alleyway from which the axe had come, and observing from up close, Apu knew he would never be able to forget this look upon the mink's face, not for as long as he lived.

"Reach…!!" snarled the mink, his paws tightening around the handles of his blades until blood dripped from them and to the ground.

No further than a hundred feet, a tall man with dark, spiked hair and a well groomed beard riding upon horseback drew ever closer to the market square. As the spectacle came further into comprehension, more of the man was made visible: he was incredibly well built, his chiseled body on full display with the absence of his shirt, along with a large claw-shaped scar painted upon his chest. He fashioned in a pair of plated legs, chains worn around his waist like a belt.

His stallion roared as it stormed into the plaza, coming to a sudden stop beside Bertram. Stepping down, Reach eyed Bertram in a certain type of silence, an especially painful kind. "..."

"R-Reach-sama! I was.. I was just about to-"

"...No. What you did was underestimate your opponent, after the countless times I instructed you do otherwise. I saw your death be had with my own eyes; now step aside. That man is not someone you could hope to defeat." Reach's words were cold to the bone. Apu could feel them remenating with his new wrist.

Bertram stepped back, allowing his commander with the space he had demanded. He was confused, but only slightly. How careless of him to have misjudged that fox!

"...And didn't I tell you to disregard a pirate's bounty when in the heat of battle? Your foolishness has caught up with you, Bertram. How fortunate you are that I happened to be here." Reach's body remained facing Bertram. However he slowly angeled his head, taking in the sight of the fox and the pike.

"After all, it is in a fox's nature to deceive. Make no mistake, that man is one of the Titan Pirates' founding members. His former bounty long exceeds yours; he has only made use of the various connections he conceived during his time as a marine in order to have it lowered regularly."

As Foxpack stood his ground, Apu couldn't help but look between him and Reach. He was in awe; to think Foxpack had been so respected by others across the sea and he was only just now learning of it. How wrong he had been to judge and evaluate him for his worth based on his position and status, especially when he knew better than most just how little Foxpack cared for either of those two things. Someway, somehow, the fishman found himself reassured that they just might be able to pull this off.

---

In the coop of his ship, a Foxpack whom was six or so years younger than that of the one present rested with his leg drawn over his lap and a pipe to his snout. Smoke fumed from its chamber as he reached inside his robe, itching at the fur buried beneath some fresh bandages that had been placed around his hip and waist. He flipped through some magazine, whiskers quirking to and fro.

"F-Foxpack-sama!" a lowly pirate cheered, allowing himself into the captain's private quarters. "You need to see this! It's your bounty, it's gone up again!"

"Eh?" Foxpack uplifted his head, a look of disgust overtaking his face. He exhaled a large puff of smoke, leading the pirate in front of him to cough in its midst. He reached over, taking the newspaper from him. Clearly he did not share anywhere the level of enthusiasm as his subordinate.

It was just as he had been foretold. In bold print, Foxpack's new bounty poster had been packaged inside of the newspaper like a personal handout. The fox snarled at the sight of the hefty reward, summing in at Beli Small740,000,000 berries.

"Congrats, Captain!" the pirate saluted. Foxpack nearly threw away his pipe at him.

"Out, out of here at once-gara! Let me be!"

In a heap of panic, the pirate fled the scene, leaving an agitated Foxpack to himself. The mink closed his eyes, taking his time to collect his thoughts briefly before he dialed a number across the face of his transponder snail.

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

Sitting idly within the comfort of a sizzling jakoozie, Warren D. Ralph was having the time of his life. The hot waters splashed against his nude figure, rejuvenating the aches of his aging form. His face had turned bright red with a blush, his brow narrowed in the comfort of the moment. His entire body trembled suddenly when the sound of a Den Den Mushi ringing was brought to him on a pillow by a pacing marine.

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

"Ohhhh, are you kidding me?!" The Admiral palmed his face. Couldn't he ever catch a break? Couldn't that damn Shiguma, that rascal Isshin, or that mut Daikaku just stop causing trouble for a few measly hours? Was that really too much to ask for?

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru… Kacha! With a hard sigh, Ralph took the snail into his hands and flipped it on, letting out a very monotone greeting. "Yeah, hello?"

"RALPH!!!" Foxpack's voice came in at once, so loud that the snail fell from Ralph's grasp and fell into the waters, stirring up a storm. The Admiral frantically searched for the snail and upon finding it, held it up to his face with both hands.

"F-Foxpack-san?" With large, innocent eyes, Ralph gazed into the snail.

"YOU IDIOT! WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT NOT KEEPING AN EYE OUT FOR MY BOUNTY, EHHH? WHAT AM I TO DO NOW-GARA?!"

By now, Ralph had shoved his pinky deep into his off-ear. He cringed at the mink's loud voice. "W-Well I mean, it's not my fault it keeps going up…" Foxpack had called so often about his bounty that Ralph couldn't help but feel guilty. But in reality, he was innocent! It wasn't his duty to assign a pirate's bounty, nor his job! Heck, it was something that was beyond his immediate control. Even so, as an Admiral, he had his own strings he could pull behind the scenes to help out an old friend. "Come down a little, won't ya? I'll get it fixed. I promise."

"You better-gara!" Foxpack's voice roared, albeit gradually weakening in ferocity. "I don't want it above Beli Small200,000,000!"

Ralph smiled. But of course. There was one single reason that Ralph knew of behind why Foxpack always wanted his bounty lowered. It had everything to do with Mengis. Now that Foxpack had left the marines, he never got to see Mengis anymore. The only time the two ever crossed paths now was at sea: when Mengis the marine was ordered to chase after Foxpack the pirate.

Unfortunately, Mengis constantly lost his rank. At current, he was a Lieutenant, and so that meant that he was restricted in terms of leadership. It was impractical for a marine of his rank to be assigned to a pirate with a bounty of over 700 million berries. Heck, it was even more unreasonable to think that he'd be so much as allowed to pursue such a notorious pirate with his lowly rank, much less see him.

"Consider it done, Foxpack-san. Though, Mengis-san is due for a promotion soon. Can we perhaps agree on a bounty of Beli Small300,000,000?"

Foxpack paused. He had to think this over. "No, no. That's what we had it at last time! That idiot will probably end up losing his rank again if anything-gara. I can't trust him!" By now Foxpack had taken out his journal, where he documented all the bounties he and Ralph had gone through over the last few years.

Beli Small660,000,000.
Beli Small67,000,000.
Beli Small112,000,000.
Beli Small830,000,000.

There was no consistent pattern to any of them; they were literally all over the place. As suspicious as they were, fibs and lies of all kinds had been thought of in order to have them take place. If only Mengis cared enough to retain his standing for once, it'd make Foxpack's life a whole lot easier.

"Okay, in that case let's have it set to Beli Small274,000,000."

"And where did you get that number from exactly-gara?"

"From my ass. I don't know, I just thought it looked cool once I wrote it down."

Foxpack sighed. "Alright, that works-gara."

"Good. I'll have it done. Should we transfer your crime to someone else per usual?"

"I don't care what-gara, just have it be done!"

"Alright, alright. Consider it done."

---

Foxpack's hands clenched the handles of his swords even tighter. Finally. The moment he had been waiting for for years. There was no looking back now.

The battle had begun the moment he and Reach had laid eyes upon one another, the very second their eyes had met. Standing perfectly still, it was a clash of Kenbunshoku Haki, one in which the two of them carefully deduced each other's moves, predicting them so well that they ironically didn't budge an inch.

It was the first time Apu had ever seen a battle like this. It was a battle in their minds, a battle of theory. Neither he nor Bertram had the authority to intervene, so Apu instead took his sweet time to catch his breath and think up a strategy of his own. With Reach in the mix, he was going to somehow have to survive long enough against Bertram until Kettle could to arrive.

It was the first time Apu had ever seen a battle like this. It was a battle in their minds, a battle of theory. Neither he nor Bertram had the authority to intervene, so Apu instead took his sweet time to catch his breath and think up a strategy of his own. With Reach in the mix, he was going to somehow have to survive long enough against Bertram until Kettle could to arrive.

Reach's face suddenly tightened behind the mug of his beard. He had seen a lofty sight, one which wept of great peril. Now this he had not anticipated, considering who his opponent was.

"Bertram," Reach barked, "You're in the way."

Bertram nearly flinched at his commander's harsh tone. Without further qualms, the large man stepped forth, testing the waters. Neither Foxpack nor Reach moved, and so he took this as some sort of sign.

On the other side of the battlefield, Apu understood full well what was to happen. He eyed Foxpack, his stand in commander, nodding his head in agreement. "Leave him to me, Senpai." His spotted mustard fist tightened at his waist. "I promise… even should it cost me my life, I will make do on my role here!"

The fishman turned around, running off into another direction, away from the stage and away from the plaza. Fighting Bertram on his own was going to be the hardest thing he's ever done in his life. But a promise was a promise. Someway… somehow… he needed to survive.

Surrounded by large buildings of all kinds, Apu awaited Bertram patiently. But when the large man failed to show up after several minutes, Apu grew worried. Had he been tricked into leaving? Had he been so careless that he honestly did not check to see whether or not Bertram was even running behind him? Was Foxpack there now fighting both him and Reach?!

Just as Apu made to move, the building directly beside him collapsed into a flurry of rocks and boulders and pebbles. His eyes lit up as he saw Bertram's impeccable form fly right through, virtually unphased by all the residue. He was coming at him too fast. But more than that, Bertram's movements had a great degree of force behind them. Apu's skin began to flail about as the pressure of the wind was amplified by Bertram's incoming girth.

Without any time to mesh nor think, Apu found himself at the mercy or Bertram's shoulder. It slammed into his jaw, forcing him to stumble back upon his feet. But the fishman was quick to recover, regaining the majority of his balance, enough to attempt a punch towards the calamity. However not nearly quick enough to land a blow, as Bertram ducked in that very moment and grasped ahold of Apu's foot.

Apu swung back and forth as he was held upside down by Bertram. In his disarray was when he once again became aware that Daryal was still being held by him in his other hand. His attempt at escape was short-lived, however, for Bertram plowed him into the ground, amounting in a crater.

Blood spewed from Apu's mouth. He did well to fend against the first several times he was smashed against the ground, but after a few more dozen times, he began to feel great pain all over his body.

He had no control over any of his movements, so he was very fortunate when Bertram tossed him ahead. Rolling about and skidding hard against the ground, Apu somehow brought himself up to his feet. He eyed Bertram intensely, paying no mind, no mind at all to Daryal. How could he? How could he even so much as risk the idea of thinking about someone else's life right about now? A second of hesitation would spell death!

Dumping his hands into a nearby fountain, Apu seized control over his natural element. Yes. Finally. He had managed to surround himself with water, even if it was a limited amount. Finally he had found a way to wield his most formidable weapon, found a way to turn the tides against this monster. Victory would be his; there wasn't a man out there who could defeat a fishman as skilled as him when he was in his natural habitat!

Apu slapped his hands together and concentrated heavily. At this point, Bertram was merely staring at him. Let him stare, Apu thought to himself, very soon he wouldn't even be able to open his eyes. Water in the form of a pillar erupted from the fountain's dish much like a geyser. Heaving forth his hands, Apu launched the concentrated water at his enemy and cried aloud, "Kairyu Ipponzeoi!"

What couldn't be seen upon Bertram's figure was the nasty smirk on his face. This was, of course, kept concealed by the scarf he wore around his nose. What it was truly meant to hide Apu did not know, but it kept Bertram from showing his emotions. Apu had no way of assessing how his opponent viewed his attack and that was the bulk of why he was as surprised as he was when he witnessed his attack be so easily dispelled.

Bertram simply stood there, letting the water hit him head on. His body contorted then contracted, momentarily, absorbing the geyser into his flesh as if some sort of sponge.

"W-What..?!" Apu exclaimed, the flesh of his brain beating a mile a minute. To see his greatest weapon of them all have absolutely no effect on this monster… he was doomed!

Part of him refused to believe it. Moreover, he couldn't believe it. If this didn't work, then he had even less of a chance than he ever thought he had. He was going to make it work; it had to work. In a fit of desperation, the pike fishman conjured droplets of water from his palms and hurled them at Bertram with great speed. A storm of arrows raced towards the monster relentlessly, without end.

But the monster simply walked on ahead, as if unhindered by the arrows coming for him. He tossed Daryal away into a pile of rubble, so as not to allow a stray arrow the capacity to end his life --no, that was something he himself would accomplish after disposing of this fishman.

Arrow after arrow sunk into Bertram's flesh. He absorbed all of them as he slowly approached Apu, step by step, foot after foot. The pike fishman could do nothing more than continue his constant firing. Eventually the monstrosity that was Bertram appeared directly in front of him and he simply looked up, powerless.

Bertram thrusted forward, reading Apu's movements without a hint of effort. A blow was sent to his side, then another to his left shoulder, until a kick to his right thigh sent him fumbling down the crossed path. Blood seeped from his innumerable wounds, but even faced with such impeccable odds, Apu refused to lose.

Wheeling to his feet, blood trickling down from his face, the pike fishman quickly caught his breath and prepared to face Bertram anew. His opponent was slow to turn around and face him, a sign of superiority that greatly angered him.

"Why don't we just end this here?" Bertram mused, showing his front side to Apu for what he believed would be the last time. "I think we've both established by now that yar no match for me."

Apu's glare intensified. He clenched his hands at his sides and outstretched his feet.

Bertram stormed ahead in linear fashion, dust eclipsing his former standing. And that was when Apu did all that he could and called upon his innate power. In a matter of an instant he became a sheem of a blur; his movements so abnormally fast that not even Bertram could fathom them.

"Sudden Burst!!" Apu exclaimed, swooping past the monster all the while landing a blow against his hip. He landed safely on his feet many feet behind where Bertram had taken off from and turned to admire the effects of his attack. Only, it didn't at all do nearly as much damage as he would have hoped.

Bertram had grown still. He was looking down at the small scratches that had been inflicted upon him. He touched them through his shirt and jacket, admiring how they changed the texture of his skin. It was a strange sensation, to be wounded.

"Oh?" Bertram cheesed, offering Apu an appreciate glance. Perhaps there was more to this fish than he had thought. Only, he didn't know of the limitations that Apu did.

I was able to hurt him with that, even if only barely. But still, something is better than nothing. Apu thought to himself as he jogged his breath. Being forced to use Sudden Burst so soon… At my current limit of four times, I won't be able to use it more than three times for the rest of this fight. I'll need to save every burst for the absolute right moment. It's the only chance I have of winning…!

"What was that just now, eh? Yar not some Devil Fruit eater, are you?"

Apu quirked his lips, tearing through a wound on his face in order to smile. "Who knows?"

Bertram stormed forth once more. "Come on, show it to me again!"

Apu's eyes widened. It wouldn't be wise to use up another burst, not so soon. He had to save every burst he could in order to inflict some form of damage, never to escape or evade. He'd just have to defend against the monster's attacks and hope for the best.

Apu covered his face with his arms, coating them with Haki. "Madara no Gyorin!"

Bertram cranked his wrist, cusping his fingers together tightly. He threw his entire arm back, and if Apu's eyes weren't playing any sort of tricks on him, then what he saw was Bertram's arm flap and flipper, much like a yarn of cloth in the breeze. "Despacito!"

The slap connected with Apu's defense. He felt the force of dozens of layers unyield against his body and for a moment even his consciousness began to seep out of from him. But he bit into his tongue to keep himself awake and fought through the incredible pain that broke easily through his defenses and sent him flying through three whole buildings.

Birthday Party

Laying in a pile of rubble, Apu was slow to get up. Rocks and pebbles lay over his scarred figure, the spots on his flesh accompanied by many a scratch. It was too much. Just too much. To imagine a fighter like this existed, to think someone could be as physically profound as this monster. And to top it all, he wasn't even of commander ranking within the Xros Pirates!

What had he gotten himself into? Surely this would be it for him. All his efforts had gone up in vain; he couldn't keep up with Bertram's movements, nor match his strength in the least. Even with Sudden Burst he had barely nicked him. It was a hopeless situation. It was like fighting a losing battle.

Irking himself up, Apu remained seated upon the ground, bringing only his torso up. His shirt had been torn off his body, showing off the musculature beneath. His rubbery mustard skin had seen better days, that much was for sure. Taking a moment to catch his breath, his eyes fell to the fallen figure of Daryal not far away. The Okama's body had likely landed all this way as a result of getting caught up in all the ruckus.

Swain stumbled onto his feet, shaky as he couldn't erase the terrible taste of the Devil Fruit, despite his fears, he was far from dead, on the contrary he couldn't recall a time he ever felt quite as good as he did now. Except perhaps when listening to the raunchy and wild adventures of Swordmaster Lancelot and his Bulky Sidekicks. He had an entire collection of such priceless Den Den Mushi, detailing the entire saga in five acts each containing rowdier and lewder scenes and situations, it was a masterpiece, a true masterpiece, nothing of its like had been made before or since and it belonged to Commodore Swain Zander.

He could feel his body reacting a certain way as he went over some of the imagery in his head, blood flowing freely from his nostrils just as one of his subordinates rushed into the chambers with a glass of water and.. a fruit. Something about it stirred a terrible memory within the Commodore, he could feel the taste of the Neo Neo no Mi upon his tongue once more, indescribable and overwhelming.

Before he could stop himself he'd smacked both the fruit and the glass of water out of the poor mans hands, causing them both to slam into the wall. As Swain's eyes bored deep into that of his subordinate and he enunciated slowly... "NO. I do NOT want a banana..." with a gravity that was most at home on a battlefield. Never again would Swain eat a fruit.

Striding past the shocked man, Zander vanished in a surge of pink energy, streaking across the sky like a bolt of lightning only to move swiftly through the streets, for he had caught onto the presence of one of the men who had eluded him earlier, and in his single-mindedness he'd subconciously tapped into the powers of his Devil Fruit to hasten the journey.

It didn't take long for realization to set in however, as he saw the rooftops of the town of Bedina pass underneath him, as he sverved and moved about like a violet beacon in the dark. Surprise followed shortly afterwards and with that came a sudden loss of control, and his movement came to an abrupt halt before he reached his destination in a rather graceless manner, as he plummeted down and pierced holes through two buildings and landed in the rubble just beside Apu face first, in a flash of pink energy and a truly ostentatious entrance.

Ignoring his scrapes and other injuries, Swain shot to his feet in one swift motion as he pointed his finger angrily at Apu. The graclessness of his entrance not withstanding, when Swain spoke to the weakened fishman the hatred in his voice was almost palpable, an ironclad idea that carried no idle hopes of mercy or tolerance.

"You are not Damon, a shame, but it seems I get the pleasure of executing his accomplice instead. Pirate as you are, there is no room in my heart for mercy, for when you resorted to piracy you relinquished your very right to live. Beg forgiveness in the afterlife, for you shall receive none here.."

Zander reached into the very depths of his being, where he could feel the power of the Logia brush against his being like waves upon a rock, and all he did was let it seep into him, causing his entire being to flare up in a cascade of prismatic colors, bright enough to burn the eyes and overwhelm the sense of sight, shimmering in ranges of pink, orange and red.

"He gave his life to rid the world of scum like you.. and with the powers now at my disposal, it is only fit that I honor his last wishes. For the sake of the man I loved, pass from this world with a silent scream. Emanuel's Arrow!"

With that the power of the Neo Neo no Mi gathered into a single point at his fingertip, where it churned with iridescent light before it was unleashed in the form of an extremely fast beam of energy that sought to strike Apu clean through the head, annihilating everything above his shoulders and bringing a swift end to the Fishman for the sake of Absolute Justice!

Just as the iridescent light was about to make contact with the abused and battered body of Apu, a large scaled blade implanted itself just between the attack and it's target severing and ultimately deflecting the the beam saving the life of Apu in the process. "Looks like I managed to make it just in time" called out a voice as a figure dropped down from above where the sword had embedded itself grasping onto the handle of the blade and yanking it out of the ground resting it upon their shoulder while kicking up a strong dust to shield the figure from view.

"I guess I can call this my Win, wouldn't you agree Apu" the same voice called out as the dust cleared to reveal the battered form of Worden Luhr Standing between Apu and Zander with a bloodthirsty smirk oh his bruised face before he shifted his entire focus upon Zander taking in his appearance and surveying the area around them taking notice of another figure passed out just a few feet away.

"Your not the Prey I'm after but considering your attempt of murdering my buddy Apu here, I guess I'll just have to take my rage out on your body" growled out Luhr as a look of pure hunger appeared in his bloodshot eyes as his blood lust manifested into the visage of a Large shark behind him as his muscles became a bit for pronounced.

"After I'm done with ripping out a pound of your flesh I'm gonna have you tell me where that Orange haired bitch so I can devour his fuck still beating heart for what he's done" spoke Luhr before glancing back towards Apu briefly. "I know you ain't dead just yet Apu" He finished as his eyes returned to Zander.

Apu was much too concentrated on the obstacle of overcoming Bertram in battle to truly take any notice of Zander. That was until the Marine Commodore scurried to his immediate side and expressed his intent to subdue him. At that point Apu's eyes had lit up; he couldn't risk falling here, not to a bloody Marine of all things! Sudden Burst was the only way out..!

A blade appeared, coinciding with the Commodore's attack. Through a smog of dust, Apu rolled about and out, shielding his face from the fumes. What was that about?! In his last encounter with Zander, he hadn't seen a power like that! "What the hell was that?! Since when were you a-"

The spotted fishman was silenced by the sound of an all too familiar voice. His body went numb. For standing just before him was the very man whose disappearance essentially forced Apu and his sister, Kresha, into piracy. Apu couldn't believe his eyes. In a place like this, in circumstances so horrid as these, the last person he had ever expected to be reunited with was...

"LUHR!!" Apu cried out, his voice charred with confusion, sorrow, and enthusiasm at the very same time. He wanted to break down in tears, but this was no time for hard feelings. They were in the middle of a war with the crew of a bloody Yonko and before them was a Marine.

The severed and displaced projectile was thrown off course by Luhr's intereference and it shot across the town and struck a remote building, which it proceeded to slice cleanly through before continuing through several other buildings until it was but a faint pink light in the sky. Its speed hardly decreasing as it ionized any matter it touched upon direct contact, breaking it apart in separate particles.

Most marines would ordinarily have reacted with surprise at the impressive feat, perhaps even offered their adversary a heartfelt compliment about their poise and ability, or alternatively cursed them for being pirates, but Swain had somewhat skewed priorities and he simply looked at Luhr, mouth agape, opening and closing like a trapped goldfish. Before he inadvertently blurted out...

"BELLORINE!"

Who was this gorgeous creature, with blue-grey skin and piercing eyes, was this a god of the sea? Some figment of his imagination, was it a merman.. a tempter of the tides that lurked in the depths ready to lead men of his persuasion to their watery grave with his song? Zander was sure he was a great singer, his voice would be like the ebb and flow of the tides soft and eloquent, but begetting a deeper strength of nature.

Then Swain's gaze turned to glare accusingly at Apu, who he now assumed was of a similar species to the oceanic deity in front of his hungry eyes. He looked back at Luhr, then back to Apu as he compared their looks to one another, proving himself a casual racist by treating them both as a commodity to be weighed, judged and compared at his leisure. Zander's dilemma was obvious, why wasn't Apu as attractive as the other fishman? He'd heard tales of how bizarre fishmen could look.. but this was ridicolous, next to Luhr, Apu resembled a dirty little kid with a runny nose and tattered rags. "Oi. Little Frog, why don't you look more like your friend here.. why did you have to look like that!"

Zander turned back to Luhr almost immediately afterwards, it seemed as though he'd momentarily become too entranced with his looks as to forget the simple fact that Apu was a pirate, and Luhr was probably a pirate too.

"Magnificent man of the many blues, your comeliness has captivated this humble soul. Have you risen out of the oceans to grace us mortal men with your presence, the bloomm of love takes root in my heart you wonderful thing!"

"I'm sorry for the delay!" Another voice called out, as a well-built blue-haired man appeared on the scene. Although he was riddled with bruises and his clothes were tattered apart, his eyes had been almost glowing with passion. He looked towards the bald man, his vision narrowed, and anger taking over his face. "Bertram..." The man muttered, "This time I won't let you win!"

This was Fukuoka Soren, a Pirate of the Black Widow Pirates. But as of now, the only individual in this area that knew this was the Xros Pirates' member, Gilbert D. Bertram. Despite the individual differences of the men here, it could all be agreed on that the "Birthday Boy" was their primary threat. Soren, capitalizing on Zander's current distraction, asked the Marine, "Hey! I know I just boasted before but...I'm probably not going to be able to win on my own with my injuries. That man in front of you, along with the other Xros Pirates, has bribed the Marine Base commander on this island to completely go along with their plans. Isn't that a severe crime?!"

There was a lot going on all of a sudden and very little time to understand all of it. Being rammed by Bertram earlier had made Apu quite dizzy, rendering it that much bothersome for him to piece together all of these new faces. He didn't have enough consciousness to comprehend Zander's insult nor Soren's arrival.

His momentary period of rest --if dealing with all this sudden drama could even be called such-- was made short by some very audible tumbling from the north. It was as though the entire ground were shaking, as if a miniature earthquake of the sorts had commenced. This forced Apu back up to his feet immediately, and in dawning his fighting stance, he reverted his focus to his fight.

"Listen, I don't know why any of you are here, but I'm sort of in the middle of something right now." Apu took in a deep breath as the thumps in the distance grew louder. Bertram was coming. "So unless you want to risk getting caught up in any of this, I highly suggest you leave now!"

A building collapsed, caving in on itself. Whole bricks fell about as Bertram returned, his gargantuan figure walking right through the building entirely unhindered. He was a monster in all its dismay, a man of unrefined brute strength, the likes of which Apu didn't know whether or not he had ever seen.

At the sight of the others who had emerged so suddenly, Bertram grinned behind his mask. Marching forth, his eyes scanned the horizon. "Lookie what we have here, more members of the Titan Pirates?" Crooked eyes scanned over Zander's frame, recognizing his Marine attire. He had no way of telling whose side he was on, but a Marine was always an enemy to a Pirate.

Apu was struggling to regain his breath. He was so winded; he felt half dead as it was. Chances of victory were slim. Only death awaited Apu; understanding this, he wanted something different for Luhr. "Luhr," he called out between his hard breath, "g-get away from here while you still can..!"

Zander simply stared at Soren, a foolishly wide grin plastered on his face, whenever he said something he simply nodded energetically and grinned some more. His head was like a bobbing jojo at each statement made, unable to even formulate a proper answer, so enthralled was he with the others mans statuesque features. Yes.. statuesque was the right description, he was certain if someone made a statue of Soren, it would be a true masterpiece.. heck he'd even save up to buy it and put it square in his living room!

Upon hearing mention of bribery and the like though and worse connection to pirates, Zander's eyes filled with primordial fire. "YES! It is a serious crime, I will personally see to Grape's execution for this.. as well as that of most of the marines, I suppose. It'll take weeks to get all the blood out of my clothes.. but nevermind that for now. For now I have more pressing matters."

Swain was on his knees in front of Soren, eyes twinkling with stars and hope. "I must confess, from the moment I saw you, you enraputered my heart. Your eyes are like pools from whence all life springs forth, your hair like the water of a tropical paradise, and your face radiates a sense of noble purpose that tugs at my very soul. Would you do this lonely marine the honor of bestowing your body unto him?"

Bertram was evidently the farthest thing from Zander's mind, and it didn't seem as though he'd even noticed his approach in the slightest.

"Not right now!" Soren shouted towards the infatuated Zander, hoping to snap him out of his intoxication. "I'll play with you later! Look over there, or you won't even get a chance!" Soren noted the approach of Bertram and continued to guard himself, waiting for his eventual burst of speed.

"You all wouldn't know this, but that man's Devil Fruit ability is the ability to absorb moisture from anything so he can keep his stamina going, like a towel. He called it the Muko Muko no Mi. The best way to win against him is to keep our distance, but I don't think we can all do that..." Soren went quiet for a moment, trying to think of a reasonable strategy.

Lowering his voice, he began to say, "There's four of us, and there's one of him. If we make use of baton pass tactics, we may be able to tire him out before he can absorb the moisture from our bodies...Though..." Soren looked upon the state of his comrades however, and everyone was quite battered with the exception of the Marine, Swain Zander. "How long will we last, with our bodies the way they are..."

Swain's eyes went wide at the answer, had he at last found his one true love? Was Bedine fated to be the dawn of his budding romance all along, perhaps fate wanted him to come here all along.. yes, yes, it all made sense now. All his life had lead him to this moment, where he would meet not one but two extraordinary young men who captured his heart at once, could it be that bedina was in actuality a paradise of handsome gentlemen? Had Zander finally succeeded in his lifelong dream, namely to find the male equivalent of Amazon Lily?

Now a part of him, the Neo Neo no Mi reacted to Zander's powerful emotions and his feet lifted gently off the ground as his entire being was surrounded in a sparkling nimbus of pink and orange lights, entwining and flashing all around his form. Wispy shades of pink assumed strange shapes and forms around him, shapes which soon coalesced into fluttering sparkling pink hearts that soon rose to the sky in unison, crackling with immense levels of energy.

These energies rolled off of the marines very body in waves of sparkling dust, that cast an almost faerie-like light around the three other men. His powers influenced by his sheer excitement, where the energies coursed plantlife withered and died.. painted walls turned bleak and began to slowly form cracks. The air around him would become heavier and harder to breathe in properly as the neon he released passively drove away oxygen in the area.

Unfortunately the other men were in the way, and so the uncontrolled powers of Swain's recently acquired Logia threatened to affect them too due to proximity. The Neo Neo no Mi was a fruit that harnessed supercharged neon possessing untold levels of raw energy, and therefore it threatened to harm or maim his newfound allies despite his intentions, as each pulse of energy, no matter how slight gradually tore away at the cells and atoms that composed their very bodies, very slowly begining to break them down to nothing. The Marines always had a fondness for Logia-fruits with immense killing potential and a certain flar to inspire the masses, and it would seem that the Neo Neo no Mi, for all its flashiness was at its core a most unforgiving and cruel Devil Fruit.

Heedless of how his mere presence threatened to do significant harm to the men he'd decided to fight alongside, Zander gave Soren a thumbs up and showed him his best smile, his white teeth gleaming with pink light due to the neon in the air. "As you wish, o light of lights, I will defend thee against this unwholesome brute, so that thou might bestow upon mine lips a kiss. Entrust yourself to your white knight, o Angel of the Seas, and I shall protect you! If it is your desire for me to cooperate with your compatriots then I Commodore Swain Zander shall fight for you for the sake of love and justice!"

Luhr shuddered at Zander's advances. What was that guy thinking acting the way he was at a time like this, anyway? Apu was one of the greatest fighters Fishman Island had ever produced as far as Luhr knew. To see his senpai so damaged and utterly terrified had him gravely concerned. This was neither the time nor place for Zander's tomfoolery!

"Listen," Luhr started, "ya can't be-" his words were cut off by Apu, who stood to his feet and limped ahead of the others. "Senpai!" Luhr called aloud, noting the puddle of blood that formed under Apu's struggling form.

"L-Luhr..!" Apu yelled back, repeating himself. "This isn't your battle! I won't hold anything against you if you got out of here now!" Finding the courage through sheer will power alone, Apu clenched his hands into fists. "I… I already lost Kresha. I can't bare the thought of losing you… not again!"

Bertram was getting closer by the second. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Zander, Apu struggled to remain on his feet. Could he really trust a Marine, even under the given circumstances? Sharing a battlefield with a man who had literally just tried to take his life seconds ago… but Apu had no other choice. Zander was the healthiest of the bunch by far. He might be the best chance they had of dealing any damage to Bertram.

"Moisture?" Apu said in response to Soren, without taking his eyes off of Bertram's approaching figure. "I see… that explains an awful lot. No wonder I become increasingly more exhausted every time we make the slightest bit of contact, while on the other hand…"

Bertram grinned wide. There wasn't a single scratch on the man, nor a single bead of sweat from the long while he had been exerting himself physically.

"...He's having the time of his life over there. What an annoying ability!" Apu's eyes swerved toward Zander. "Hoy, you. Any funny business out there and I won't hesitate to clobber you myself! Ya got that?"

The whole town began to shake as Bertram launched himself off the ground, soaring towards them all with impeccable force. They had to last, they just had to find a way to survive long enough for Kettle to arrive!

Apu took his stance. "Here he comes!"

Zander was tempted to remind the frog of his subservient position, but it seemed unnessecary given the circumstances. Ripples of violet and orange tinged Swain's surroundings a medley of different colors as the marine did something quite strange, some would argue foolhardy, he charged straight for the approaching Bertrand like a multicolored streak of effulgent light.

Then he unleashed a cascade of energy in front of him, the surrounding cityscape was torn apart as the marine, yet unused to his newfound power, decided to circumvent the issue altogether by unleashing as much neon as he could muster on such short demand, the buildings directly around him were wiped out of existence on the spot, overwhelmed by supercharged energy, the surrounding oxygen was stripped away for a few seconds, possibly leaving his allies and foe alike short of breath due to the sudden displacement of air.

Then they might all begin to experience a quickly escalating degree of pain as the supercharged energies in the air began to degrace and disintegrate them slowly due to their close proximity. It was clear as day that however powerful the Neo Neo no Mi was.. it, much like the Hie Hie and the Magu Magu no Mi was not conductive to fighting alongside allies, and Zander's presence could just as easily harm as help them.

Swain was like a shining pink beacon amidst the coruscating chaos of thousands of clashing colors, potent enough to perhaps momentarily impair Bertram's eyesight, even incur a seizure if he was unfortunate enough to be an epileptic.

With a clumsy movement Zander lowered his finger and unleashed another Emanuel's Arrow, this one was five times larger than the previous one and streaked through the air towards Bertram with immense speed, as it travelled towards its target, the surrounding buildings were simply erased, distorted and annihilated, leaving nothing left as the raw energies at play ionized the surrounding landscape just as Zander no doubt intended to do to Bertram.

Following Zander's reckless antics, Apu had no choice but to dive for cover. He and Luhr both fell back and were but on the move constantly, evading streaks of light that flew out in every direction. It was almost as if Zander were intentionally trying to hit them; either that or this guy had no idea how to control all that power.

"Hey, watch where yar shootin'!" Luhr grumbled.

Bertram on the other hand, was not nearly as impressed as the two fishmen at Zander's showing of Devil Fruit abilities. Logia users were always so arrogant. They thought themselves to be superior to everyone else simply because they had an infinite source of strength at their fingertips. Zander destroying everything in sight was further proof of this simple fact.

Be that it may, Bertram had no intention of losing any ground to Zander. He could go on and destroy all the buildings he wanted, but no Logia user was going to disrespect a humble Paramecia such as himself.

So when Zander fired off his arrow, it brought Bertram to a sudden halt. Yes, the large monster stopped dead in his tracks and brought his hands out in front of him, glaring at Zander through his red mask. Hands that went immediately ripe with Haki, hands that intercepted the arrow, and hands that held the mass of rainbow colors within their grasp for but a single moment.

To Bertram, Zander was no different than Daryal. Another fruitless man who wanted to stuff his face with his scrotum. "Careful where ya aim yar dick, FAGGOT!"

Uttering his favorite f-word, Bertram heaved the energy up toward the sky, resulting in the arrow diffusing into a brilliant spark of fireworks. Beams of light --one laced in every color of the rainbow-- fell down to the ground and disintegrated any rubble they came into contact with, but Bertram himself was… unphased.

Well, not entirely. For the mask that had been fixed around Bertram's mug had come undone. Burned and withered away by the arrow, the mask was no more; instead in its place were two sets of wibbly, wobbly spheres, two mounds of rounded flesh that sprung from the bottom part of his jawline.

Broken teeth unveiled themselves through Bertram's jagged smile. What he saw in Zander was his prey, yet before he had the chance to act, a long stream of water gushed out and hit him in the face.

"How's that? Bitch!" Panting with open hands dripping with smallish drips of water, Luhr stood tall in the near proximity. Apu was beside him, ready to burst.

"You idiot! Didn't you hear anything that was said just now?!" Apu exclaimed. "He's able to absorb moisture right through his skin! Attacks like that --our very own Fishman Jujutsu-- won't have any effect on him!"

With Luhr's attack doing next to nothing, Bertram reached out for one of many streaks of light that were being emitted by Zander. For a guy who lacked experience and control over his powers, generating large sums of his element was the absolute last thing any Logia master would have advised. This was because they --through lacking a proper understanding of how their powers worked-- were virtually ignorant.

In his overproduction of neon, Zander had multiplied the volume of his own body several fold. Due to his inexperience in handling his Logia, there was a good chance that Zander did not yet know how to keep himself separate from his creations; and so by reaching out to one of the constantly emitted beams that were being streamed from Zander directly, Bertram sought to contact Zander himself.

When successful, the monster would have tightened his grasp over Zander and thrown him down upon the ground, hard, using the weight of his own body to slam into him further, resulting in a large crater. "Apple Jack!"

"What the fuck happened to you? Did someone kick your balls so hard that you puked them out?"

Swain was a tad surprised to see Bertram unscathed, but he didn't think too much about it, he must've misapplied his power somehow. What he did think about however, were matters concerning Bertram's weight. He must have been a hefty son-of-a-gun, for it was under his girth that Swain thought himself to have been flattened, much like pancake.

Like complementary syrup for his pancakes, an impressive crater formed underneath Zander and Bertram both. The large man remained in place over the Marine, his hand clutching his throat --the part of Zander he had grasped a hold of in his shimmery light form-- while the other fell toward his stomach. Stuffing the blobs of flesh he had for a chin into Zander's face, Bertram offered the Marine one of his characteristic smirks.

"Knowin' you, yar probably enjoyin' this, aren't ya?" Through his Devil Fruit powers, Bertram was working towards exhausting Zander, by sucking the stamina right out of him. "Look's like a day in heaven for you; a big ol' man, layin' right on top of ya!"

Soren's body tinged as he felt the searing energies make contact with him. He supposed that this was the effect of the Marine's Devil Fruit. However, he noted it as reckless, being a fellow Logia user himself. Now that he was free of the confines he was placed in before, he could express a much better vision of his strength.

Soren looked upon his current allies struggling and found himself in a dilemma. Until now he wasn't able to stop anyone's actions in time to prevent damage, which caused the morale and synchronization of the party to be completely derailed. Bertram's own crater caused a ripple to move across the ground, startling Soren and snapping him out of his temporarily idle state. However, now that Bertram placed himself in a single position, it may be possible to deal genuine damage to him.

Black coal sprung out of his back like wings, before tightly wrapping around himself, leaving him coated in a thick layer of absolutely dry coal. He did not let a single centimeter of his actual body through this layer. As a Logia, he wasn't impeded by his inability to breathe, for he was covered in his own body. While normal abilities weren't able to cause lasting damage to the Birthday Boy, Soren's coal had no ounce of moisture within them, allowing him to confront the towel man in single combat.

Soren zipped through the battlefield to reach Zander and Bertram's position. The coal man launched his arm, now covered with a pitch black layer of Busoshoku Haki outwards towards the arm placed on Zander's stomach, intending to tightly grip onto the hulking figure and throw him into the air. The coal that Soren surrounded his arm with held a scorching heat that should burn through Bertram's thick skin, and enable Soren to land actual damage towards him.

The counter measures Soren had taken in advance of his previous encounter with Bertram was praiseworthy. The feeble pirate was successful in his attempt to halt Zander's stamina from being depleted entirely, knocking the arm of the Birthday Boy away after a fierce collision of two forces. However what he ultimately failed to do was send the monster flying as he had initially intended.

Instead Bertram fought back, refusing to lose ground to Soren. He felt the tinge of heat against his own flesh, the hat on the top of his head sizzling away and revealing the only stroke of hair he had left on his scalp. In fear of that being lost, Bertram collected his hands away from Zander and instead clasped the top of his head, protecting his hair from harm and letting Soren knock him backward.

His feet skidding against the ground, it was more of an aggressive push by Soren than a strike out. As it were, Bertram barely moved back; the fact that Soren managed even as much as he did was a feat in itself. Jutting back a few measly feet in terms of distance, Bertram showed off his crooked smile to Soren, a smile that featured large sums of missing teeth. "Eehehee! Didn't I tell ya already, kiddo? Nobody can outlast a towel man!"

Midway through his sentence, Bertram was forced onto the defensive. Or at least, that's what the two fishman who immediately stormed in on him hoped. Launching attack after attack upon the Birthday Boy in quick succession, Apu and Luhr coordinated their attacks to compliment one another, but to little avail. For Bertram's towel body fluttered about majestically, causing Apu's fists to land upon Luhr and Luhr's to land against Apu.

Smitten by their own fists, Apu and Luhr flew back into opposite directions as Bertram's body contorted back into its ordinary stature. As the fishman were lost into a smog of dust upon contacting large buildings, Bertram eyed the two Logia users once more. In particular, the wretched Marine who had poked fun at his insecurity!

"What's a Marine like ya doin' here in the first place, eh?" Bertram spat, "Fightin' side by side with all these pirates… a battle between pirates ain't no place for a Marine to be, so beat it!"

Zander landed on his feet some paces away from Bertram, he almost fell over due to a sudden bout of fatigue. When he arrived at the scene he'd been fully rested, yet now his knees were buckling after some brief moments of contact with the disgusting man.

He straightened his back and was ready to assist his prince in distress, but then Bertram blurted out the unthinkable, he'd been fighting alongside pirates! Anger threatened to consume Swain, he felt tainted to the core, disgusted with himself and what he'd been wanting to do with the other men.

Pathetic. He always knew his lusts would land him in trouble eventually, this time he'd narrowly avoided a fate worse than death, frolicking with pirates could spell the end of a Commodore's career after all.

His hands twitched as he felt a compulsion to strike down his teammates from behind, blast a hole through their back and deliver absolute justice, but something stopped his hand. Was it the fact that one of those pirates had saved him from Bertram, a man that Zander had greatly underestimated by the looks of things, or was it simply that he could not bring himself to destroy such a vision of masculine beauty as Soren?

It didn't matter anyway, instead he shot up into the air, like a miniature pink star, as he spoke harshly. "Bedina is lost, I can see that the corruption on this island has spread like a foul cancer. Were it in my power I would've called a Buster Call upon this place to annihilate the lot of you but unfortunately not. Run rampant as you wish, little vermin, the marines wash their hands of this mess."

Following his speech, which he hoped sounded suitably ominous, Zander shot off across the sky like a pink bolt, heading towards the harbor where he intended to leave with his ship forthwith.

Sitting up from a pile of rubble, Apu grasped a hold of his head. Great, he thought to himself, another concussion. At least this time his eyes weren't as fogged up. He could see clearly, and more importantly, he was still conscious. Which meant for him the fight continued.

The spotted fishman's eyes searched first and foremost for Luhr. Seeing the other fishman awake and alive, standing to his feet on the side opposing of himself, Apu sighed a breath of relief. But seeing as how Zander had elected to depart, Apu nearly frowned.

Part of him was reluctant to admit that he was happy to have the Marine for support. He was a tough-son-of-a-gun; there was just no way around that. As much as he may have despised Zander, Apu knew that with him by their side, their chances of victory were better, even if only by a slight margin.

"Serves me right," Apu mumbled to himself as he stood up to his feet, "for trusting a bloody Marine."

"Eehehee! What next? What will you lot do now, now that your precious Marine has abandoned ya?" Bertram laughed.

But his laughter was short lived. For with the departure of one came the much anticipated arrival of another.

Soaring through the skies and landing calmly on his feet in front of Soren, the infamous Black Hand, Barney Kettle himself, stood poised for battle.

Born to the Purple

The scratch induced upon the sheath of his katana had Najeem lost in thought for but a moment. It was a time for reflection, a time to recall how he had obtained the blade as well as the events in his life that had led him to where he was today. His eyes shifted from his opponents to his blade, and he exhaled deeply.

---

The year is 1557. Creeping through from behind still clouds, the sun glared down upon Alabasta. The streets abuzz with markets and vendors of all kinds, a young, tan fleshed boy with long orange hair made his way through the ensuing crowd, using his smaller frame to ease through any and every opening he could find.

It was then that he spotted an elder woman, prompting a sinister grin to appear across his jaw. She was neither pretty nor beautiful, but through careful consideration, Najeem had deduced that she was one of the more wealthier people around. Heck, she was standing just in front of a stall that sold expensive rugs.

Before approaching her, Najeem reached down to his pants and tore them along his knees. In the next moment he bit into his hand, spewing blood down his wrist and palm. Grasping ahold of it, he limped his way toward where the woman could see him. Immediately upon seeing him, she shrieked and raced toward him. Fighting the smirk off his lips, Najeem exchanged it for a frown. A frown of utter desperation.

In his pity of him, Najeem found that the woman was somehow at his mercy. He convinced her to buy him one of the rugs, only so he could sell it to another vendor for more money later. He was a liar, a cheat, a fraud. But as far as he was concerned, life was a business.

Through a life of lies, Najeem had made a career out of his imaginative storytelling. In due time he became a playwright. No, that would be selling him short. For he was not just any playwright; matter in fact, he was the playwright. The same one whose name was known across the city, whose stories had won the hearts of the public, and whose talents had brought him within the cusps of Ibrahim, a large and wealthy man who managed and oversaw Najeem's work in addition to many other playwrights.

Najeem was the country's greatest playwright, and so there was constant demand over his work. He was but always working; but always with a feather and some ink in his hands, tailoring newer stories, fresher ideas in the hopes of impressing Alabasta and its people, but more eagerly Ibrahim. For while his load of work was truly strenuous, Najeem was nothing without Ibrahim's wealth. Under the man Najeem had gained wealth of his own and through it fame, fortune, and most of all, Bilqis.

Oh how his heart sang for Bilqis! She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and perhaps the graceful of them all as well. For it was through her grace that she ever fell for a man as foolish as he and for that she would always be his love, his life. Everything Najeem did now he did for Bilqis and for the family he hoped to make with her.

But all of that had proved to be just a dream at best. Najeem's constant working left no time at all for Bilqis. And while she reciprocated his feelings entirely and sacrificed all that she could in order to be with him, remaining loyal to him throughout his ventures, she found herself one day at the mercy of an all too dangerous plague. A plague that rendered her bedridden in the flasks of a hospital, where a large bill awaited Najeem.

Though he had garnered great praise for his works, Najeem was not at all like Ibrahim. Ibrahim was rich, Najeem was his worker, his slave. It was Ibrahim who made most of the money out of Najeem's stories, out of everyone of his shows and plays. And so to pay off Bilqis' medical bill, he had no other option than to keep working; keep working and keep earning.

Only his workload did not at all ease, not in the slightest. He visited her so scarcely in the time she was ill that he went whole days without knowing that she had passed onto the next work. Without his love, without him by her side Bilqis had died, and when Najeem came to know of it, he cursed himself and all that he stood for. But she cursed him right back, becoming a hindrance in his mind and in his heart.

From then on, the theme and genre of Najeem's plays became dark and gloomy. He no longer believed in happy endings and Alabasta did not at all take kindly to harsh conclusions.

Inside of the large theater, hundreds were seated, growing silent as the red curtains parted to give way to the stage. Keeping himself hidden behind the curtains, Najeem utilized the powers of his Devil Fruit, creating hologram projections to take on the roles of the characters that appeared in his story. This was how Najeem had become the greatest playwright in Alabasta; his shows had been dubbed as "light shows"; he did not need to hire actors nor go through the trouble of training them to act. He created his own plays to go along with stunning visual effects to breath life into them.

At the end of the play, one of the character's impaled his father through the back and stood over his dying corpse. As holograms vanished and the curtains began to fall back into place, indicating the play's end, the present crowd roared off in a long siren of boos. Even tomatoes were thrown upon the stage. But this was nothing compared to what happened in later weeks, with the theater itself being burned down by an angered mob wielding torches.

"Najeem," Ibrahim had said to him, "your creative mind has no peers. You are the greatest storyteller I have ever known, yet your ratings have diminished following Bilqis' death and I fear you will never again return to your former glory."

Najeem remained silent, yet hopeful. It was true, it was all true. But he needed this job; he had no other talents, no other means with which he could make any money. Without money, there was nothing to the world nor any place for him inside of it! "Najeem, I'm afraid from now on you and I will have to cut all ties." Life was a business. "I'm sorry my good friend, but I cannot risk my company's reputation by laboring yours." Life was a business

Najeem wandered the streets by his lonesome. Life was a business, life was a business, life was a business. He thought this to himself, over and over, lugging the sealed sword he had taken into his possession from his wife as a memento of her. She had loved the use of swords and so most of Najeem's plays involved a swordsman in some way or the other. But he himself had no idea at all how to employ one, nor any desire to train to do so. Because this sword was not a weapon, it was a token, a symbol of Bilqis. But more than that, it was a constant reminder of his past, about how life was business and business was life.

---

Returning to the present world, Najeem glared at his opponents. Yes... life was a business. Working for Shiguma was no different.

This battle to protect Bedina was nothing but a business! To survive and ensure a place for himself in this world, he had to emerge victorious here. Losing was no option!

He could hear it now, the voice of his beloved ringing in his ear. "Oh Honey Boo!" she was saying, just as she had all those years ago. He had missed her so much that he had told others to call him by the very same nickname, and yet never truly did it result in the same phenomenon for him.

"You lot..." Najeem finally spoke aloud, adressing Damon and Tabart both, "I'll have you know that I am Shiguma-sama's absolute favorite."

A wide grin appeared on his face. "His absolute favorite, even before his commanders and top officers. Do you know why?"

He gripped the sheath tightly, lugging it over his shoulder. "Because no one ever quite succeeds at the rate that I do!"

Rushing forward immediately, the Desert Prince stormed towards his opponents.

Tabart's grip on the hilt of his blade tightened, his right foot moving out in front of the left just slightly, his posture tall and strong, just as the royals taught him. Though, even though his own body was battle ready, his eyes indicated something... different. "Oh, Najeem," Tabart vocalized sadly, his tone somber and seemingly hurt by its shakiness. "Whatever happened to you?"

Though, while his emotions were hesitant, Tabart's body was not. In a singular motion, he unsheathed his sword, slashing it upwards towards Najeem as he charged, using his strength to craft scissors of air in the same likeness of the sword that roared as it screeched through the air in the direction of the Desert Prince; a name, at least in Tabart’s mind, that was quite ironic.

Seeing the attack by his former comrade, Najeem was quick to recall its worth. Only a fool would think to underestimate his opponents now and risk even the slightest chance of ensuring victory early.

"Apron!" He screeched, his torso turning black with Haki. Najeem intercepted the air blades with his body, small scratches appearing over the face of his armament induced stomach.

But he kept on charging forward, until appearing right in front of them both. At which point he stood there briefly, glaring at them, his form almost levitating.

Then, in the next ensuing moment, a large flash of light resounded, turning the world around them pure white. "Spotlight!"

An attack to negate their sense of sight, even as far as Kenbunshoku was concerned. The complete whiteness made it harder to see auras, and it was just the advantage Najeem needed. Ridding his opponents of their vision at point blank range, he sought to attack them both multiple times, moving around them in the blindness; sending attacks to their rear, their front, their side, from above and all.

Ever since they met back at Asha, Damon didn't know what to think of Najeem, other than the fact that he seemed like a self-conceited asshole. He couldn't not consider Tabart into this, he had more story with Najeem than he had. Damon wanted it or not, this was about them, not him... but that didn't mean he couldn't help. The pink blossoms still surrounded this being of his.

As both moved, Damon did as well, using his powers, "Veinte Blumes: Circle!" Firm arms surged around Damon's and Tabart's body, more so around the latter, seeking to locate Najeem through mere touch. But, their numbers didn't total twenty.

In fact the remaining limbs, two, appeared away from the source of Najeem's spotlight, as an arm emerging from a building with an eye sprouted from its hand. All simultaneously. Damon's kenbunshoku had focused itself on that eye, which wasn't completely blinded due to the distance, allowing him to locate the form of Najeem's figure and aim a Haki-imbued Lariat with his real right arm at Najeem's torso.

Not having expected Damon to be able to see his exact positioning, Najeem was caught off guard. His sword had been positioned in such a way that it would have likely been struck by Damon's lariat, so rather than risk any damage at all to it, Najeem juggled it into his other hand.

He sacrificed damage to his own body rather than allow anything further to happen to his precious blade. "Apron!" He cried, once more coating his torso with Haki, but Damon's own proved to be superior in that frame of time.

Through gritted teeth, Najeem spewed blood, his body flailing back. Sent flying, Najeem tightly gripped his katana with one hand, shielding it with his body as he dove into a nearby building. Appearing through scattered pebbles, Najeem stood up and wiped his mouth. He glared ahead, especially toward Damon, oblivious as to how he had managed to prevent being blinded. "There's no way you should have been able to see me..!"

Damon had actually been expecting his blow to connect against the blade, but, it seemed that Najeem was more than bluffing when he said he treasures it. His teeth gritted, they should hurry with that plan of theirs.

Lips curving down, Damon spat back, "Devil fruit powers, you sick fuck!" His brows arched, as more blossoms flew around and he gestured with both his arms at the many limbs around Tabart.

Tabart blinked his eyes open, having closed them when Najeem launched his assault. A memory of a much younger, a much more interesting Najeem flashed before his eyes temporarily.

"Najeem," Tabart sermonized, "Stop this madness. We're friends, Najeem." Tabart took a step forward towards him. "You can stop this, you can come back to the crew! We'll forgive you Najeem, so please... remember why you joined the Purple Pirates in the first place. Remember our mission!"

Remember their mission?

...

What was there to remember? As far as he could recall, Najeem had no choice but to join forces with the Purple Pirates. In a time where the whole of Alabasta had turned against him, what other choice was made available to him?

Najeem had never cared for any of those slaves! He had fled with the Purple Pirates to escape Alabasta and survive on the seas. He had joined their crew not to free the slaves but free himself from his own enslavement at Ibrahim's hands!

"Friends?! Don't make me laugh, brat!" Najeem rose to his feet, clenching the sheath tightly in his hand. "I too myself was a slave for all this time! It was Shiguma-sama who saved me, Shiguma-sama who gave me the opportunity to live of my own free will!"

Thrusting the sheathed blade ahead, he pointed it at Damon and Tabart. "Don't get so carried away just because you got in one lucky shot! Remember who you're dealing with: I am Al Rauf Najeem, member of the Xros Pirates! An officer under Commander Kane!"

Kane? As far as the Titan Pirates had known, this was Reach's island. All they had ever heard about was Commander Reach. So just who was this "Kane" that Najeem was talking about now all of a sudden?

The world around them began to grow dark. Large walls of metal were rising up all around Bedina, as if closing off the island to the rest of the world. They were about to be trapped inside of a box just as the sun had begun to set in the horizon.

"So it seems Reach-sama is finally getting serious," Najeem chuckled. "In that case, I guess I better turn it up a notch as well..."

Before their eyes, Najeem carefully unsheathed the katana from its scabbard. The purple blade glistened momentarily with the last rays of sunlight that were allowed inside. "Bilqis, oh my love, grant me the strength to dispose of these intruders!" A purple aura escaped the sword's bland and climbed up Najeem's arm. The energy traveled further into his being until his body in itself was illuminated by a dense lining of purple energy.

"Horus the Avenger!" Najeem hollered aloud, raising the blade high above his head. In that same moment his muscles expanded some, the increase in mass seen through his exposed torso. Another pump of energy flourished in his thighs and calves, until he had grown an entire foot in height.

"Allow me to show you just why they call me Omega," Najeem continued, sheathing the blade once more and setting it down gently on a rock beside him. "Wait here, Bilqis. I promise I won't be gone long."

Turning back around to his opponents, a far more focused and less obnoxious Najeem appeared poised for combat. Without any prior indication, he raced towards them with far greater speed than before.

Damon had felt it, as much as he didn't want to say it to himself or to Tabart, but, he knew Najeem was past the talking game. They may have been on different ends of the spectrum, yet, Damon felt the weight of Najeem's words. People, be them good or bad, had their own views of things.

At the mention of another commander, Damon felt laughing building up, "Pft- Another clumsy name..." His cheeks inflated. However, he didn't lower his guard, his aura still searching around the entire island. Maybe this Kane had been the other immense aura... but, this aura wasn't threatening them or anyone for that matter, then... who?

As the island seemingly got encased in a dome of sorts, Damon glanced around, these Commanders of Yonkos truly were something, were they not? Subsequently, his eyes widened at Najeem's... power-up, "What the fuck are you blabbering about?!" He spat, in fact, this wasn't a Hologram, this was actually happening. And Damon sure as hell didn't know how.

Sweat running down his body at Najeem's speed, Damon darted forward all the same, his motion provoking a gust of wind as he moved in to meet the man head on with a double punch, "BUTTERKUCHEN!!!" His arms were wide open and pointed forward at Najeem's figure, almost ripping across to hit him.

In searching for Kane, Damon would have come across an aura he hadn't felt quite yet. However, this aura was not nearly as potent as he would have anticipated a Commander's to be; matter of fact, this aura was within close proximity of where they currently were, yet there wasn't another person anywhere in sight. A strange phenomenon indeed.

Responding immediately to Damon's attack, Najeem ducked under his fists and unleashed a hefty blow of his own aimed at his stomach, stemming from his left elbow. "Morning Falcon!"

Damon's eyes narrowed, this new aura... had it been what he felt that time? That time when Najeem invaded Asha and first started to use his sword... But, it was this very pondering that lowered his guard enough for Najeem's attack to reach his stomach. So, it WAS time to use that, yet, he needed to hold out.

"GOHAAAAH" Blood gushed out of his mouth, his eyes widening. However, Damon used the fact that Najeem would be stuck in his muscles and quickly wrapped his arms around the man's figure as much as he could, "T-TABART!!!" This had been different from Mengis, surely, Tabart would act.

Indeed, it was time to lay out their plan and deal with this as soon as possible. Damon paid no mind to the thought of Najeem's attack sinking further into his being... he only had to resist it.

Najeem was impressed to see Damon take the attack as well as he did. He had gained some respect from him throughout this scuffle, but the end result was certain, as far as Najeem was concerned. And that was that Najeem simply couldn't lose!

Muscling his hand out from Damon's abs, Najeem puckered his fist and slammed it right back. Repeating this process again and again, he tested Damon's patience, waiting for him to break.

Damon's eyes widened even more, "MOTHER-" Punch, blood came out, "-FUCKER!" Punch. It only made his grip tighten on Najeem's figure. "Not getting-" He coughed some blood, "away-" Damon sucked in some air, "-either, goddamn!" It went all out.

"TABAR-" Punch, "WOULD YOU-" Punch, "-FUCKIN' MIND?!" Damon had been nearly snapping his neck to glance at his partner. He saw that Najeem hadn't changed much in these nearly two years.

Damon's voice hadn't reached Tabart who stood their idly as his comrade pounded his other comrade into the cemented earth. How did he even know if this real? Damon's pummeling? Afterall, his friendship with Najeem hadn't been real; oh, how he was a true master of illusions. Tabart's fists clenched, his anger breaking from the thoughts that congested his movements, and his heart.

His knees buckled underneath his torso, and when they snapped back to position, he surged across the terrain, the force of his speed rebuking the cement behind him into a river of sludge and mud. He pulled his crackling right fist backwards instinctively along his hip, and as he neared an immobile Najeem that was held by Damon into himself, his fist rocketed towards the man’s face, the wind from his movement being an indication of where the fist was headed.

Anticipating Tabart's arrival, there was very little Najeem could do in the way of evasion. Even still, he lifted both feet off the ground and planted them against Damon, stretching his legs back so as to pry open Damon's hold of him.

It was in that moment that Tabart's fist connected with Najeem's face, and yet all it amounted in was a small bruise. Through his enhancement of Bilqis' curse, Najeem had augmented his capabilities many fold.

Rather than grunt or shriek, Najeem remained entirely silent upon being struck. Instead he began to kick at Damon's stomach with his feet, practically marching back and forth against him in an attempt to send the man flying back. "Evening Falcon!"

At the barrage upon his being, Damon vomitted some blood, petals flying off, nevertheless, his teeth gritted and his gaze sharpened. "So that's how it's gonna' be huh?!" He spat, drawing back his arms as they got off Najeem's figure. Najeem had been different, and Damon needed no power to tell that, even his visual had changed. "TABAAAAAART!" He reminded his partner while being struck.

As Najeem continued to press various kicks against his opponent, Damon quickly focused his Kenbunshoku upon the man and rose his own right leg, "FISCHBROTCHEN!" He yelled, delivering many kicks on his own, though, they weren't simple kicks, and spiralled through the air between the combatants.

A leg dancing without any partner, Damon's right leg swam through the air itself and his kicks moved in a blink, seeking to disrupt the flow of Najeem's own by hitting the sides of his legs. That was the base for the... Great Demon Fist, to simultaneously defend and attack, to use the body of a demon and the calm mind of a human. There was a possibility that Damon could be taken down by Najeem's blows, but, not by his taunts.

With the release of Damon's arms from around his body, Najeem was able to scurry away, but not without additional harm to his own being. He left upon being hammered by Damon's kick, and as Najeem flipped back, he coordinated his movements in such a way that he aimed his knee for Tabart's face, all the while intending to appear behind him afterwards.

After issuing a knee to Tabart's face, Najeem sought to set his hands down at Tabart's hips and then flip him over and slam him against the ground.

Najeem's face had stopped Tabart's forward momentum, and by the time that Najeem had launched his assault, he was already planted firmly upon the ground. Thus, when Najeem threw his knee towards his face, he threw his bandaged right arm up to guard it defensively. Najeem's knee connected with the appendage, a crackling split being heard upon being smitten by.

Tabart grunted as his feet slid slightly backwards, into Najeem's next assault as he flipped behind him. Before a "shit" could escape his panicking visage, he was slammed deep into the cemented earth, almost neck first had he not cushioned it with his hands behind his head. Still, his hands were sent into the ground, immobilized temporarily by the shifting rock around them. Defensively, Tabart bucked his legs wildly, lifting them slightly in the air, and bringing them down upon Najeem’s stomach.

Kicked back by Tabart's feet, Najeem stumbled momentarily but very fluidly transitioned into a cartwheel. Spinning round and around, he moved from Tabart to Damon, seeking to strike Damon across his hip and back multiple times.

More petals flew off Damon's body as he struggled to main his balance, given the opportunity that Najeem focused on Tabart for that small time frame. They were getting short on time, they needed to get on with that thing of theirs, and if successful, proceed to help the others.

By the time the other two finished their exchange, Damon was already running towards Najeem, who had been... shot in his direction, somehow. Raising dust and kicking the air below his feet with the usage of Geppo, Damon zig-zagged through the air, quickly meeting up with the wheel that Najeem had become and trying to hit him with the same mobility technique.

If he did strike where he aimed for, "DO IT!" Damon would both send himself back and make Najeem fly towards Tabart, whom Damon hoped would be ready.

Colliding hard against Damon in mid air, Najeem coughed up blood. His body tightened with Haki out of pure instinct as he was sent reeling back toward Tabart.

Looking back, he knew he had little time to recover. And so from his body he revealed more holograms, one on either side of him, taking the same position as him with all three of them falling back toward Tabart.

"It's done!" Tabart announced, still holding the same position as earlier with his hands etched into the cement. From the earth beneath, vines sprouted from the earth, imbued and reinforced with the Busoshoku haki that Tabart had mastered during his time in Dressrosa, a skill that Najeem had probably assumed he would have never even learned. The Vines sprouted from all directions, phasing through and dissipating the holograms, and clenching the real Najeem with bone-melting force.

The vines latched around Najeem before he had a chance to respond and held him in place firmly. Of course he tried his best to break free; relentless in his pursuit of escape, he covered his entire body with Buso and flailed his limbs back and forth like a madman.

"Just what do you think you're doing?! Get this stupid shit off of me!"

"ROGER THAT!" Damon yelled, leaving a trail of petals as he surged through the air and neared Najeem's now encaged figure. Using one leg to kick the air off and keep himself suspended, Damon used his free leg, covered in hardened buso, to deliver a jab of kicks against Najeem's stomach, at the prospect of having him focus his own Busoshoku in that area.

As he had started to do so, "CONTINUE HOLDING ON TO HIM!" Damon yelled, part of his hands seemingly... disintegrating? They began to disappear into flower petals and Damon could only smirk at Najeem, still attacking him.

Possibly unnoticed to Najeem, due to his heavy focus on both combatants, amongst the vines summoned from the underground, there was a slightly larger one. An aura which could be hardly felt, partially because of the bigger auras around, partially because it had been half-dormant, then it acted out of instinct. It having been there even before Damon and Tabart came back.

No yell came, no signal had been said, no sound of vines torn open... the wind bulged and a figure came forth in a blink. No sound. The raging figure of the real Draco D. Damon rocketed through the air itself. No sound, only movement. Eyes blank, body dirt with blood, a part of his hair slightly greyer. No sound, only instinct. His two arms had been held back, as they were to be launched forth and aimed for the back of Najeem's head.

Then, the silence was broken.

"BUUUUUUUUUTTERKUUUUUUUUCHEEEEEEEEEEEEN!!!" He spat, body almost distorting as it pressed forward and his two arms moved to slam against Najeem's figure. A blow which would send him ripping off the vines and through the ground itself.

Held against his will by a man he had once deemed his nakama, Najeem had no choice but to take Damon's kicks head on. And he felt the full force of each one of those kicks, his breath leaving him after every blow.

Even in the face of adversity, however, Najeem did not give up. He continued to pace himself, struggling to get out and break free from Tabart's vines. But in his ensuing struggle, Najeem's eyes widened. They widened at the sheer surprise of the sight that came into fruition before him: another Damon leaping from the underground.

"W-What?!" Najeem exclaimed. He, not anybody else, was the master of deception! He was the master of illusions, the very foundation of trickery! So then how, how was it that he had been played? How was it that he, Najeem, the greatest playwright Alabasta had ever known had been deceived?!

Najeem felt the blunt force of Damon's attack long before it had even come into contact with him. The pressure invoked by the wind was enough to send ripples through his body; gritting his teeth, the loose flesh around his face wobbled as the real Damon closed in on his position.

It was as though his life were flashing before his eyes in that very moment. The Purple Pirates… his countless fans and associates in Alabasta… Ibrahim…. Bilqis. Damon's fists landed square into Najeem's gut, forcing whole gallons of blood to pump up through his body and out from his mouth, likely spraying over the figure of Damon before him.

Ripping through the vines as a result of the incredible magnitude and force, Najeem's body flew backwards, skidding hard against the ground and leaving a long, drawn out crater connecting where he ended up to where he had been trapped by Tabart and his vines. Laying in a heap on the ground in a puddle of his own blood, Najeem remained conscious, albeit barely. How he had managed to remain intact after such a devastating blow was beyond anyone's guess. But the man refused to sleep, even with his eyelids closing upon their own accord.

"N-No," he coughed, his entire body shaking and trembling. The purple aura from before had left his body. So too had his Haki. In a moment in which all had betrayed Najeem, he knew of one thing for certain: Shiguma had definitely not.

"NO!!" he hollered again, fisting the ground and bringing himself onto his knees through sheer willpower alone. "T-This… this isn't over..! I won't lose.. I can't lose.. Not to some fake pirates! NOT TO THE LIKES OF YOU!!"

Landing swiftly close to Najeem's body, Damon spat more bits of blood, "Gah..." He closed his eyes, shutting his mouth with his left hand. Unknown to what many think, as the user of the Hana Hana, Damon felt all of which his additional limbs felt, and that included all the pain and nearly broken bones of his clone.

His mind had been clouded, as he used his instinct, his haki, to wake over and deal a blow at Najeem. His skin was rilled up, the strands of his hair slightly spiked, it had been a lot, the pain had been a- Damon's eyes got bloodshot as he redirected them at Najeem, had it truly been over?! As Najeem struggled to move, Damon eye the strand between his eyes, it seemed... greyer?

Tabart had watched It all play out; the moment he had gone underground when they were being attacked, his hands being slammed into the earth when Najeem attacked him, it had all be planned and executed then. It was only because he knew how Najeem thought, the potential of his crewmate. He had not wandered to the New World to chase some treasure he didn't know exist, to be the king of murderers and slavers, to be this idealistic hero that he sometimes wanted himself to be, but to find his friend and to bring him back home: Najeem had been the reason he entered the New World. He was on Nassau to find out information about him, wounded up on Elbaf to potentially hope that maybe during the Wedding that someone there would know him. His expeditions were for his friend, and his friend alone.

Tabart took a step forward towards Najeem, slowly approaching his body as he stood over him, his face grim with despair.

"Phantasma sent me here, Najeem," Tabart muttered, breaking the fraught silence that trickled in the air between them. "She told me to bring you back, to scout for those who needed help, and I thought that was you. She's never given up on you, even to this day, when we heard the rumors, the..." he fell silent.

"You are different then you once were," he picked back up. "To you, I may be a fake pirate, a tool that was used to aide in your escape, but to me you were once my friend, a comrade that I would do everything to protect. A comrade that Phantasma would do anything to protect, even risking our mission, our lives to come and find you." The glare that Tabart once held loosened, his face which was just contorted into a maelstrom of anger and sadness relaxed into apathy, emotionless.

"It's too bad I'll never find that guy."

Taking a step forward, with his sheathed sword, and in a singular motion sliced horizontally to Najeem’s neck as he kneeled wounded, striking him with the blunted blade.

"WAIT-" Damon's eyes bulged out of his head, his hands waving, as it seemed Tabart would have decapicated Najeem. "Oh... fuckin'..." He breathed, sure, Najeem was an asshole, but, killing him ould mean he would not pay for any shit he had done.

Even so, Tabart's words had just confirmed what Damon had thought earlier, this was mostly between them. "We should cage him, somehow..." His eyes closed briefly, as his aura searched around, "I feel the... sea just nearby, it's where he had been before this." Damon pointed at a specific building in the background.

The world began to turn dark. Najeem's arms grew weary; so weary that he simply could not mend enough strength to support the rest of his body. From being up on his elbows he collapsed, keeping only his chin up against the ground.

With baggy eyes, he looked over the figure of his former comrade. How Tabart had grown from the foolish boy he once was. Seeing him now, Najeem couldn't help but feel some bit of pride. If only life had treated them better. If only they remained comrades, or at the very least, brothers in arms.

Perhaps Najeem felt a token of guilt for everything he had done. Or perhaps he had just been so sully defeated that he had finally come to realize his mistaken endeavors. A final, single thought crossed Najeem's mind in that moment. His eyes drifted far and wide, past Tabart and Damon both and towards the Meitō that had fallen atop some rubble a few meters away.

Through tear filled eyes, Najeem reached with his hand, trying one final time to feel the sheath of the blade in his hands. But his hand trembled and fell to the ground.

"B-Bilqis..." Najeem muffled with his final breath. And with that, the Desert Prince, the high and mighty conqueror of countless islands in the name of Shiguma, fell unconscious.

Tabart nodded at the sight of Najeem, walking away briefly to return Najeem's blade to him as his mind fell blank. "I have defeated you as a warrior shall, and like a warrior you will not be withheld from your sword," Tabart spoke to what he thought was deaf ears anyway. "Consider this not a friendly gesture but a responsibility as your combatant." He softly placed the blade beside Najeem's head, before walking the other direction, sheathing his own sword as he did so.

"Come Damon, let us head to our comrades on the other battlefield."

Head turning towards Najeem due to a strange sensation, Damon felt a shiver, his eyes widening. "What...?" His mind mused, had that come from Najeem? No... no way. This guy had been going full power at them during the fight then, it couldn't have been guil-

Damon's mouth went agape as Najeem extended his arm and muttered a name, which, with his good hearing, he could hear very well. Something blurred within his mind, a blue clawed hand reaching for a piece of pendant, but, then he shook his head.

Eyes glanced at the sword, the blade partially off the sheath. Eyes narrowing, Damon's glance softened as Tabart exchanged words, despite Najeem being unconscious. Approaching them, Damon swiftly rose the sword from Najeem and fully took it out of its sheath. With a breath, he cleaned it through a simple swing, bending his knees, and positioned it and its sheath vertically. With another breath, Damon gently placed it inside fully and lowered it upon Najeem's body once again.

Did Tabart just act like 55- "Y-Yeah, let's go and finish this," Damon uttered at Tabart, patting his back, seemed there was no need to encage Najeem. And then, both ran off to where they felt the gathering of strong auras. Despite Reach's dome making it seem as if it was night, Damon could see nearly as clear as day.

Servant to the Almighty

A battle of the future, for the future.

Foxpack and Reach squared off, facing one another with a fair enough distance between them. With especially exquisite senses they waged war; and yet neither of them had budged so much as an inch.

Neither had moved from their preliminary position. Nay, each stood entirely still, anticipating the move of the other with such incredulous precision that what it amounted to was a battle of the mind. A battle of utter imagination, whereby through watching the future, the each of them saw after images of the other clashing together.

Lunge after lunge, swipe after swipe. A teeter there and a teeter here. They battled this way until at last what came of it was a stalemate: the both of them were equal in mind… or so it seemed.

The ground began to tumble. From underneath his pawed feet, Foxpack was made aware of this discretion without the guise of his illusive sixth sense. And as he leapt up, elevating higher and higher into the sky, a metallic pillar erected in his place, shooting up directly from the ground.

Employing his tail as a spring, the mink contracted the air behind him as a physical medium. With a slick contortion, the fox's tail slammed against the air and propelled the rest of his body forward, granting him greater speed as he soared towards the knight silently beckoning before him.

Reach greeted Foxpack the way he greeted every one of his guests: with no words coming through his hair infused lips. Without the slightest bit of indication on his behalf, an additional pillar sprung up from the ground inches before Reach's feet, intercepting Foxpack as he flew in.

Foxpack's petite stature clashed against the thick cylindrical rod that was sent his way. With black hands he caught the rod, and as sparks from the collision blitzed before his eyes, the mink found himself being pushed back.

A test of strength. There was only one way to win a battle such as this. One proper way, anyway.

"Double Sundae!" Foxpack beamed. Channeling the properties of milk that composed his being, the mink harnessed the element in greater amounts, streaming it through the bones in his arms. With a hard pump, his arms inflated, first once, then twice, until growing several times larger than they ordinarily had been.

At which point he amassed enough fortitude to stop the rod from moving any farther; keeping it in place, the mink hopped onto the rod and slid down its length very quickly, his biceps deflating and returning to their original mass.

Paws sliding down the rod, Foxpack grasped ahold of his twin swords, unsheathing the both of them. "Ni-Ryū..." Appearing before Reach with the use of his speed, Foxpack raised both blades high above his head, heaving them down towards Reach's shoulders with great force. "Taki Otaki!"

But what Foxpack's swords contacted instead was not at all Reach's shoulder blades. Instead, metallic spikes protruded from the part of Reach's flesh, rising up high enough to intercept the blades and parry them.

Thrown off course, Foxpack struggled to regain his balance midair. This left him susceptible to Reach's stallion, who let out a powerful neigh and stormed forth, ramming right into the fox's gut. But this fox proved to be especially slick. Foxpack's form dissipated with a splash of milk, reviving in a moment's notice at the horse's flank. Two swipes of his swords is all it took to bring the horse down; rolling across the battlefield, it collapsed into a heap on the ground.

Foxpack made nothing of this at first. To him it was an ordinary horse. Most certainly well bred, but nothing special. He landed before the horse, returning his attention to Reach, so as not to let him out of his immediate sight. And yet the projection of a voice from behind him forced the mink to take a second gander.

"M-My stomach..!" the voice cried, shrieking out in complete horror.

One look back, and Foxpack's eye widened in disbelief. The horse had slowly but surely morphed, no, reverted back into its original state. It had been the work of a Zoan! This horse was human, though he himself may have disagreed. For the human that lay upon the ground with his gut open and his intestines flowing out of him was an elderly man, very much overweight and with a large globe for a helmet fixed around his skull.

"A Tenryūbito?!" Foxpack exclaimed aloud, utterly shocked by what had been revealed to him. But how could this be? The Celestial Dragons did not partake in activities such as this; moreover, they did not take part in much of anything, let alone the cusps of battle!

He looked to Reach, his face eager to learn more, his face eager for an explanation. And either because he picked up on this or possibly even because he felt like speaking for once, Reach made do on Foxpack's inert request.

"The Tenryūbito are an arduous breed. They make a mockery out of the weak: adopt them into their houses to do the work of slaves. And do you know what becomes of them then?" There was a long silence. However, Reach's expression did not visibly change. "In exchange for their greatest of efforts, those slaves are mistreated. Many are forcibly fed the fruits of the devil for sport, left to rot with such foul tastes lingering in their mouths.

"Do you know what Shiguma has made possible? Through his ordained power, Shiguma has in return forcefed Devil Fruits to the World Nobles!" The celestial dragon upon the ground, his helmet cracked and left with a gaping hole along its face, began to choke. Not upon his own blood; no, it had little to do with his injury but everything to do with the realization that he was now breathing the air of mortals.

How could he, a world noble, be disregarded so? The complexion of his face went ripe from panic. Very soon he found that his body had stopped breathing at all; he would never stoop to the pitiful level of the humans! Not when he was so far beyond them all! In his arrogance he did not notice his eyes roll back. In his conceit, he did not feel his heart stop. No, he passed along to the next world not knowing that he had in fact died.

"To have a celestial dragon as your own private escort," Foxpack chimed, "you Xros pirates… you lot know no bounds-gara!"

"..." Reach remained silent.

Was he upset now? Foxpack could not tell. But he was almost certain that in that moment, he had begun to feel pity for the world noble. What an ironic twist of fate it was, but he could not stop himself from feeling the way that he did.

Foxpack did not need to avenge the fallen noble's honor. Nor did he have to fight in his name. But even so, he could not help but feel that this was as good a time as any to truly get serious. And so the mink leaned back his sword, and with the very tip of his Meito, plucked away the eyepatch from in front of his right eye.

The world was now suddenly blurry. As Foxpack's eye adjusted into focus slowly, oddly enough, Reach was not the first thing that it saw. Rather, it was Wolfpouch, the form of his late mother, that appeared beside the Dark Knight.

Yes. But of course. She was taunting him, even now. Long after she had passed, that woman's curse persisted within Foxpack's mind. However prevalent, and no matter the degree of brutality that she had shown him during his youth, she was the very reason Foxpack had come all this way. This fight, no, the very reason he stood before Reach now with his life on the line, was for her!

"Reach…" A potent aura enveloped Foxpack's body, consuming him whole. Spiritual tails, counting nine in total, formed along his rear. He gripped his blades fiercely. "You haven't forgotten, have you?"

The aura encompassing Foxpack's being riled up a fierce breeze, gushing wind toward Reach that shook the hairs of his neatly assorted beard. But the man himself did not waver nor squeak.

"That day I made you a promise-gara!" The fox roared wild, yet the aura about him remained tamed, striking nothing without permission. "That I would pry your soul from your wretched body with my own paws!!"

The increased wind pressure forced Reach into squinting his eyes. And when he saw Foxpack storm forth, he knew that it was finally go time.

Storming forth, Foxpack ripped the rest of the eyepatch off his face with the use of his Meito.

As Foxpack flurried about, metal pillars and spikes shot up from the ground pursuing him. But they all arrived just a moment too late, missing the speedy fox by a single second. The fight continued in this manner, with various metallic structures forming all around, again and again, attempting to slow down Foxpack by placing obstacles in his path constantly.

But the mink was much too slick, much too cunning to be fooled by such a tactic. And so Reach had to finally move away from his stationary position and instead leap forward on his own to combat the mink. His hands turned to blades as he crossed paths with Foxpack and clashed with him repeatedly.

"Kyū-Ryū," Foxpack turned around quickly after clashing with Reach, swinging both blades at the bearded warrior. "Koshitama!"

A singular projectile-based attack morphed into nine in midair. But a shield made of metal appeared in front of Reach instantly, saving him from harm.

"Sabahi!" A blast of milk erupted from Foxpack and slammed against the shield. While it failed to go through the shield, it did however manage to drown the shield and spill around it. A flood of milk swarmed around Reach, and as a pool spilled behind his flank, Foxpack shot up from it and had a swipe at his feet.

This time his Meito clanged against Reach's platelegs; parrying the mink's sword with his boot, Reach jumped up and made a metallic platform under him to keep him afloat and out of the pool of milk that Foxpack had created.

Taking back the milk into his body, Foxpack looked up at the floating Reach. If nothing else, then his efforts had at the very least earned a stern gaze from the Dark Knight.

"...I know what you're doing. Don't take me for a fool," Reach said, though his mouth remained covered by his beard and it made it seem almost as though his voice were coming from elsewhere. Reach took a gander at the sky above. "It is no coincidence that you planned your attack against Bedina on the night of a full moon. How much longer until the sun sets? It can't be more than an hour from now."

Foxpack let out a grin. So Reach had known all along. To be fair, the trump card of the minks was so well known that it could be easily exploited. However that didn't exactly mean it could be countered. What was Reach going to do exactly, take the moon away?

A hard look overtook Reach's face. His complexion reddened ever so slightly and a deep vein bulged out from the left side of his face. He threw up his arms, high over his head, and ushered in a single prayer. "Dark Void." From all around the island of Bedina, metallic walls began to surface. The island shook for just a moment, and in its wake large hunks of metal rose up from the ground and began to form around the island like a dome. Said walls were bent on encasing the island in utter darkness, sealing off even the skies above.

Foxpack could only watch in anguish as he saw the sky be taken away from him. He had to stop this, he had to stop Reach before he could complete his dome. But around himself, Reach formed a hard, metallic cocoon. And no matter how many times Foxpack swiped at it, he simply could not break through.

"The Sulong form of the minks," Reach's cold, barren voice continued inside the cocoon. Although he was speaking more so to himself than to anyone else in particular. "A formidable state without a doubt. But how do you propose you'll access it once I've covered the moon from your eyes?"

As spikes popped out from every inch of the cocoon, Foxpack was forced to retreat. The fox mink could do nothing but watch as his entire plan came crumbling down. Along with the banishment of the moon, so too along with it went whatever ounce of hope he had to emerge victorious.

The Lion and the Hound

"K-Kettle!" Apu cried out aloud. Seeing his nakama, he could hardly contain his excitement. Boy was he happy to see him! Just when Zander had decided to blitz, just when all hope seemed to be lost, Kettle had finally arrived.

Bertram's single and only strand of hair stood up, fully erect. "Kettle? What're you doing here? I don't recall ever askin' for yar help."

"Oh believe me, Bertram." Kettle lifted up his arm, showing the palm of his hand to Bertram directly. "It may not have been from yer mouth, but there were plenty of cries callin' for my name!"

In that moment, a vicious force escaped Kettle's hand and forced even the monstrosity that was Bertram backward. Refusing to give ground, Betram's heels skidded back many feet, until his massive figure was caught by a nearby building. Said building toppled over immediately, crumbling into many shards of debris.

Under normal circumstances, Kettle's gravitational powers sent his opponents flying. He couldn't remember the last time someone managed to resist them to such an extent. Even so, it was incredibly difficult to withstand the force behind his powers, even if the opponent was one of the Yonko's heavyweights.

While known to the world as a clown, a buffoon and perhaps even some bit of a coward, Kettle in the eyes of the Titan Pirates --especially those of the lower tiers-- was nothing short of a seasoned veteran. He was an experienced pirate who had only recently taken up any sort of interest in combat. And yet with the powers he had available to him, it was almost as though he had some sort of natural affinity towards it. His powers were made for this, so to speak.

"Sorry I'm late, Apu-san!" Kettle chirped, turning over his shoulder and having a look at his heavily wounded comrade. "But knowing who ye are… I trust yer in shape to keep going?"

"Did you really even need to ask?!" Apu smiled, dawning his stance. "Hold him down for me, Kettle, I'm going to give that brute a taste of his own medicine."

Bertram stood tall as the building collapsed all around him and nearly buried his immediate surroundings in rubble. He may not have been the brightest bulb of the bunch, but even he wasted little time in figuring out just what was going on here. "Kettle, ya bastard! I had my doubts about ya from the day ya first showed yar face around here!!"

Bertram was quickly silenced by the darkening of the world around him. The sky itself was taken away; large metallic walls rose up from around the whole of Bedina, encasing it ever so slowly. They had been escalating, steadily climbing for awhile now, but finally had they come into view from this distance.

Bertram recognized what was going on immediately. Granted it had been quite some time since Reach had ever become as serious as to resort to his complete imprisoning of Bedina, but Bertram knew now that he had to stop toying around with his prey as much as he clearly was.

As he rose up from being previously leaned back against the rubble, he was surprised to see the figure of one of his comrades appear before him out of thin air alone.

The man's body simply faded into reality from no prior medium. In secret he had been invisible all along, thoroughly studying the Titan Pirates and their allies during the tenure upon the island.

He was a beefy man, not quite as tall as Bertram but comparable to him in size and stature. The top half of his body was bare, showing off his tanned flesh and thoroughly constructed musculature, while long kimono-like trousers were worn over the bottom half of his body. A sash held both these pants and four separate swords along his waist.

"Scratch? What're you doing here?" Bertram questioned, rubbing the back of his head with his hand.

Buildings all around Bedina had begun to vanish into thin air. Following in suit were hundreds of people who disappeared in the same manner. This could all only mean one thing.

"Najeem has been defeated," the invisible man said to Bertram, whom the latter had identified as Scratch, "his adversaries are on their way here as we speak."

"Najeem was beaten?!" Bertram was shocked.

"Not only that, but in case you haven't noticed, Reach-sama has called forth his 'Dark Void'. Do you have any idea what that means, Bertram?" Scratch's eyes narrowed. "It means playtime is over. I've decided to give you a hand here so as not to risk losing you, too."

"Yar worried about me? Now ain't that the silliest thing I've ever heard! I don't need yar stinkin' help, Scratch. Not with these flies. Yar better off chasing after the guys that did Najeem in, if ya ask me."

"..!" Soren noted the arrival of the new combatant on their own side with a mixture of shock and relief. Despite what Soren's ambitions were, he could not fight Bertram on his own in this condition, and most of his allies were in a rough patch too. With this, they could even out the odds a bit as well. He observed the gravitational powers of Kettle at work, and smirked to himself. "Hey, you said your name was Kettle? You have an amazing power! Follow my lead and we'll be able to knock Birthday Boy down for good!"

As soon as Soren mentioned that in glee, the world around them began to darken. "H-huh!?" Soren stuttered for a moment, looking around in all directions as metal walls encased the town. "...T-this is insane..." Soren said, with a mixture of admiration and fright in his voice. Before long, his ears then twitched, and he heard the sound of — what he thought to be — a new enemy.

"This is bad..." Soren thought to himself, distressed. "We were having enough trouble against just one of them, and now another one's shown up..." He clenched his fists, and heard into the conversation of the two Xros Pirates before them. "Scratch? Najeem was beaten? Hmm, that must mean reinforcements may be on our way...Let's see how long we can last."

"You all." Soren quietly began to say, "There is another member of the Xros Pirates along with Birthday Boy in front of us. Their name is Scratch, but I don't know what he can do. Najeem's also been beaten. We may be getting reinforcements soon. Let's put our powers together and defeat these two before fighting the boss." Soren's tone was serious. Despite these people all being strangers to him, they were common allies in this fight. If Soren wanted to be Pirate King, being able to rally strangers to his cause was a prerogative!

Najeem had been beaten? Even under their grueling circumstances, Apu couldn't help but crack a smile. So they had managed to do it, after all. And even with the arrival of this other guy, Scratch, maybe they really did have the advantage after all if Tabart and Damon were on their way here.

Kettle gritted his teeth. Fuck. Not Scratch. "Listen," Kettle began, looking between Soren and Apu both, "in the months I've been apart of their crew, I've come to know them fairly well I'd say. That chameleon-bastard Scratch, although he has a bounty of Beli Small535,000,000, isn't to be taken light of! He's always here yet gone all at once. His powers let him blend in with his surroundings; you'll need to make use of more than just your eyes to keep track of him!"

Out of nowhere, a single pebble lifted up behind Apu, startling him. He turned around immediately, anticipating a sneak attack. Yet what he saw instead was the meager form of the Okama, Daryal, who had forced his way up to his knees, although it was very clear that he could hardly stand at all.

"I-I-I… I'd like to assist y-y-you all in your battle..!" the Okama said between several hard breaths. His once hopeless eyes had become bold with inspiration. "Please, let me help you!"

"Hoy, hoy, easy there," Apu chirped. He could see it, the fire in Daryal's eyes. And while he knew just as good as anyone that the Okama could do nothing to help them physically speaking, he knew that he was willing to help in whatever way that he could. Apu grinned. "Why don't you sit back and watch, then? But be sure to cheer us on. I tend to perform better in front of a live audience, anyway."

"Y-Yes, of course!!" Daryal nodded, as Luhr helped him lean back against some debris. Daryal was so happy to be helping in any way that he could. It hurt him just to speak, but for them he had no problem screaming his lungs out. "Get them, all of you! I know you can do it!!!"

Luhr stepped towards Soren's side. "You said you wanted to take the lead? Well if you have any kind of plan in mind, now would be the time to put it into action."

"Listen," Kettle said suddenly, "And I really mean this when I say it! But I cannot risk being on the frontlines of this battle for reasons I cannot currently explain. Trust me when I say, if I fall here, then we are all gravely doomed!"

Even Apu, Kettle's own crewmate, had no idea what Kettle was talking about. Surely Kettle had not gone back to his old cowardly ways?

"Ah, that guy..." Soren thought to himself, recalling his experiences with Najeem in the prison. "I'm glad he made it out!" Soren thought excitedly before focusing back on the battle. He listened to what Kettle had said, and taken it into account accordingly. The power to blend in with the surroundings was one he was all-too familiar with, after all, Soren was a shinobi.

That being said, he was startled at Kettle's announcement that he could not partake in this battle in the front lines. For whatever reason, he had appeared desperate. "Tch." Soren clicked his teeth together, before looking at Kettle straight in the eye. "Fine, if you aren't going fight at the front, sit at the back and use your power when I tell you!" Soren said crassly. He wasn't going to sit around and listen to the moping of cowards.

"If we're trying to beat both of these guys up, then we have to beat this Scratch's invisibility first!" Soren told Luhr, who was next to him. He began to speak softly, "I'll make a field of coal, that way we can muddle their vision, dry out Birthday Boy slowly, and interrupt Scratch's invisibility. I don't care if he can camouflage with his surroundings...I know my coal like the back of my hand! I'll find even the slightest of movement and expose him. After all...I'm a shinobi."

Soren spoke with a serious tone, as coal began to seep out of his body. He hadn't released it yet, however. The most opportune moment would be...exactly when their opponents begin to attack. Soren made sure to tune into his Kenbunshoku Haki once again with his ears, in a bid to see if his opponents' conversation progressed in any way.

Luhr couldn't help but agree with Soren's assessment of Kettle. Much like Soren, Luhr too wrote off Kettle as the coward he was showing himself out to be. To that end, he wanted to make it clear that unlike Kettle, he had no problem taking to the front lines.

So when Soren explained to him that Scratch was their priority, Luhr took it right to heart. "I gotchu. Leave it to me!" Without further thought, Luhr took off in a hurry, rushing towards Scratch who appeared to still be conversing with Bertram.

Seeing Luhr take off, Apu became worried. He was just about to follow after him when Kettle spoke up again from behind him, preventing him from leaving his post. "N-No, Apu-san! Y-You can't leave me here by myself..! At least one of you must stay back here with me!" Kettle urged, pleading his case.

Apu was shocked. He turned to meet Kettle's eyes, not sure what to tell the man. Kettle was his superior; since joining the Titan Pirates and thriving with the Xros Pirates under a ruse, Kettle's bounty had jumped to Beli Small350,000,000. Within the threshold of the Titan Pirates' Fifth Division, Kettle was the third in command, just under Foxpack himself. But suddenly, Apu wasn't so sure he respected him anymore, certainly not as much as he had before. He had heard rumors of Kettle's cowardice, but never had he truly experienced it like this.

"Kettle, I don't know what's gotten into you all of a sudden, but I shouldn't have to remind you that we're in the middle of a war right now! Now I gotta go, Luhr needs me!" Apu stated firmly.

And boy did Luhr need him. For when Luhr stormed ahead, unveiling a seastone jaded weapon from nowhere --which he totally intended to catch Scratch with by surprise-- it was instead he who was caught off guard, by Scratch's sudden transformation.

Scratch was no Paramecia at all, but rather, a Zoan! Scratch's skin was traded instead for green scales, and in that same moment, his eyes expanded in size until they popped out of his sockets. A tail bursted out from his loose fitted trousers, and an incredulously long tongue unwinded from his mouth as he reached for the four swords at his waist.

Tossing them up, the chameleon man grasped ahold of two of the swords with either one of his hands, while the third was caught by his tail and the fourth by his tongue. Within seconds as Luhr approached him, Scratch's body vanished from plain sight; all that could be seen was the wind pressure that kicked up around Luhr and the vicious scratches that were formed all over his body. "Four Diamond Cross!"

"LUHR!!!" Apu shouted aloud, but even as he carelessly applied his Sudden Burst --putting an entire usage of it to utter waste-- it was too late for Luhr. With great speed, Apu caught his Fishman brethren within his arms, and as he held his bleeding figure up, he saw that Luhr had already lost consciousness.

But the battle continued without Luhr. While Scratch remained invisible to the naked eye, Bertram did not. Matter of fact, he was so large that he could hardly be ignored. In ways that could not be described, Bertram had grown several feet in height and width since he and Soren had first met. Why this was was anyone's guess, but there was a fair chance he was only going to keep getting larger.

With his impeccable physique, the monster that was Bertram stormed towards Soren, only to be slowed down by a wall of gravity that had been summoned by Kettle in the nick of time. Still, all Kettle could really do was slow Bertram down; it was only a matter of time before he broke through his defences.

Gritting his teeth as he exerted every bit of himself to keep Bertram in tow, Kettle snuck a glance towards Soren. "H-He's too close..! H-He's too close to me, you gotta push him back! You can't let him get me!!"

So that's all it was? It had seemed as though Kettle had stopped Bertram from attacking Soren; but perhaps he was really only concerned for his own well being after all!

"Oi!" Soren exclaimed as he saw Luhr running towards the invisible opponent. However, by the time Soren could react, he was already knocked out. His other Fishman comrade, Apu, went to save him, but exposed himself completely to danger in the process. All that remained in this battle were himself and Kettle.

And now the damn Birthday Boy decided to inch ever forward. "How did you get big-?! Wait, nevermind, all you're gonna say is that you can't beat the Towel Man, aren't you!?" Soren grimaced, but as much as he complained, it wouldn't change the reality of this situation.

In the next instant, a gravity wall backed Soren up, delaying Bertram by a moment. And then he heard the words of his new peer, and anger crossed his face again. "SHUT UP!" Soren shouted, and the coal he had been accumulating around his body soon exploded outwards into the world, moving with such force that it tackled against Bertram's gigantic body and acted as a repulsive force. Before long, Soren separated the coal completely from his body. The blast of coal formed into a mist that completely blanketed the world around them.

"Take that, BERTday Boy! I bet you can't absorb the air's moisture without my coal going into your body now, huh!?" Soren shouted, panting for a brief moment at how much energy he expended in that instance. "And you, Kettle. Stop moping so damn much! If you don't wanna fight, run! But stop acting like a kid and grow up!" The blue-haired man shouted, before charging headlong into battle against the Towel Man.

"Oi, Fishman! Watch carefully and you'll be able to see the chameleon's moves! Protect your friend, that's what you're there for!" Soren told Apu. He didn't want to lose another ally, even though he wanted to test out his invisibility against Scratch himself. Nevertheless, he pushed forwards towards Bertram. Like before, Soren covered himself in a dense layer of coal to prevent moisture from being taken out of his body.

Before hardening his body with Haki, however, he instead took to creating a sword made out of coal. A katana in perfect likeness. Soren's expression and demeanor suddenly changed. His entire body became less tense, and his movements all emitted a level of fluidity that they had not before. This was a form of training very few swordsmen had achieved, that being self-trance. Through grasping a blade in his hand, Soren had become a swordsman, so-to-speak. Soren's body had further darkened with the addition of Busoshoku: Koka, and with his newfound trance, Soren began to side-step through Bertram's left-side. The blue-haired shinobi intended to stab him from the back, hoping to take advantage of Kettle's gravity powers for just a little while longer.

The mist of coal was not a particularly pleasant sight for Bertram. Part of the reason he despised combating Logia users so much was for exactly this reason. They all had one thing in common: and that was their infinite source of whatever element they controlled. And whenever something was limitless, it was often times spammed. Spammed with no regard of anything but maybe stamina depletion.

With the mist surrounding him, Bertram was separated from the rest of the battlefield. He was imprisoned inside; an ironic twist of events, given it was he who had trapped Soren inside of his prison cell once prior. However he wasn't so much worried about absorbing moisture from the atmosphere to continue growing in size; he had grown enough by now to where he was confident that he simply couldn't be stopped.

Soren's harsh words resounded in Kettle's mind. It was hard for him to make out Bertram's form amidst the mist, but he tried his very best to maintain his gravitational force over the monster, with both hands drawn out before him. Kettle gritted his teeth; he wasn't so much the coward Soren was making him out to be. Long ago perhaps he once was, but a man by the name of Benjamin Tabart had changed all that!

Kettle knew something that the others simply did not. He had a secret that he couldn't risk telling them, lest the enemy find out and quickly gain the upperhand. Kettle, as far as he knew, was the key to the Titan Pirates' victory! He wasn't so much demanding that he be protected in this battle for his own well being; no, very much the opposite, Kettle was demanding that he be protected for the sake of the Titan Pirates!

When Soren left him behind, shouting more harsh words in his face, Kettle's eyes widened with fear. He searched immediately for Apu, who was far off and still cradling the fallen Luhr within his arms. He was all alone, left by himself and for himself. Even his powers had been applied to aid Soren in dealing with Bertram; with that in tow, Kettle couldn't even use his own powers to defend himself. He was unguarded.

Hearing Soren reach out to him, Apu snapped back into reality. But even so, he was hesitant to move away from Luhr. After all, Luhr was the single reason Apu had left Fishman Island in the first place; he had left his home to locate his childhood best friend and ensure that he was safe. And now that he was there within his grasp at a time where he truly needed him… how could he turn his back to him now?

Vulnerability. That was what Scratch saw written all over Kettle. The chameleon who had gone invisible through blending in perfectly with his surroundings closed in upon Kettle within seconds; he would leave Soren to Bertram and feast upon the disheartened Fishmen some other time. But for now the traitor that had entered their crew under a ruse was his top priority.

Kettle had learned to use Haki not long after leaving Elbaf and training under Burling. This meant that he didn't yet possess nearly enough skill to sense out someone so adept at hiding as Scratch. And so when the invisible chameleon snuck up from behind him, Kettle had no chance at even hoping to survive.

"Four Diamond Cross!" The cloak of invisibility lifted temporarily in the moment Scratch struck Kettle from behind. Kettle's backside tore up with a splatter of blood, and his eyes went white.

In that same moment, the gravitational force that had been gripping Bertram was lifted up, freeing the monster in time to evade a promising strike from Soren through the contortion of his towel-body. For a pirate without a bounty, the blue haired man was proving to be quite the spectacle. "So ya want to dance, do ya? Well color me impressed!"

Kettle fell to his knees. He could hardly hear the cries of his Fishman nakama. Not that it mattered. It was all over now.

He felt Scratch penetrate his waist with two of his swords, then plant his foot against his back and pluck them right out. Kettle fell head first into a puddle of his own blood, and yet he refused to die. He refused to let what he knew was about to happen, happen. But struggle as he may, even he knew it was only a matter of time.

Kettle felt the foot of Scratch against his skull. He grimaced under the chameleon's boot and tightly gripped the wrist of his left hand with his right, trying to keep it closed. He slammed that same palm against the ground repeatedly, but to no avail. With each strike he felt his body numb further. And with his fainting cry before losing consciousness entirely, Kettle advised Soren and Apu to desert him. "Go! Q-Quickly, both of you, get out of here!!"

As the lids of Kettle's eyes fell over his pupils, a revolting black aura shot up from his hand, taking the form of a pillar. It traveled high into the metallic sky, acting as a gate for those that had been trapped inside. Scratch watched his nakama emerge from the light, most of whom had been lost for entire weeks.

One after the other, menacing pirates walked through the black light emanating from the fallen Kettle's hand. They were victims of his signature "Black Hand" technique; they had been trapped inside his palm, imprisoned within the confines of where the once notorious slave trader had kept his slaves once upon a time.

Arriving first was "Rat Catcher" Bon, with the designation "Chi" (Χ χ) amidst the Xros Pirates. He was the size of an ordinary human, smaller even than Najeem in terms of height. His hair was white as snow and he had some sort of mask worn over his face; he arrived upon the scene sporting a long trench coat of some kind. As one of the Xros Pirates' finest, the World Government was willing to award Beli Small210,000,000 for his capture.

Behind him came Trickshot, the famed sniper of the Xros Pirates who had been captured most recently by Kettle. The member of the Snakeneck Tribe stepped out from the light with his rifle between his hands, a sigh of relief escaping his mouth as he was freed at last.

"Oh Scratchy-poo! I just knew you'd save us!" Third in order was Vita "The Sun", a woman large in both height and weight. She was something of an oval in shape; the rounded and saggy flesh of her figure jiggled as she paraded onto the scene of Bedina. She had short blonde hair and a face powdered with makeup. Wearing a long vanilla white dress that went down to her knees, she bore a cheerful grin on her plump lips. This was a pirate amounting a bounty of Beli Small135,000,000, with the Xros Pirate designation: "Phi" (Φ φ).

Last in order came the most vicious tyrant of them all. The figure of a particularly curvaceous woman arrived upon the scene after the three before her, her feet stepping over Kettle as if he were some sort of bridge. She had a truly marvelous physique --the kind any man would have hoped his wife to possess-- glistening with muscle. She was sporting nothing but a skimpy swimsuit and a long coat cuffed over her shoulders, thoroughly exposing her toned flesh unto the scene, of which was inked in tattoos of all colors. She had red hair that fell over one side, while the other part of her head was shaved close to the skin. Even parts of her face were inked.

Upon seeing this woman emerge from the light, Scratch got down to his knees immediately. The light from Kettle's hand dispersed, freeing the last of the prisoners from inside. "Kane-sama," Scratch said, bowing his name out of respect for his superior, "forgive me for not learning of this sooner. I will submit to whatever punishment you make out for me."

Kane was here. And it was… a woman. Kane who had been designated with the mark of "Alpha" (Α α) and was known to the seas at large as the "Blood Warrior". Kane who was recognized so immensely by the World Government that they had placed a bounty of Beli Small902,000,000 in exchange for the life that posed such a danger to their operations. She held in her hand a double sided glaive, resting it against her shoulder as she fixed her glare upon the chameleon.

"...I will tend to you another time. For now we must…" Kane turned her head in the direction of the enemy. "Silence our guests."

Kettle who had been branded a coward had been keeping such a secret all along. During his time upon Bedina, he had somehow managed to capture and confine such notorious pirates within the powers of his hand through nothing more than his slick and cunning ways. He knew that should he go down in this battle then they would all be freed; this had been his greatest fear all along.

So this is what Kettle had been trying to keep secret all along. This was what Kettle had meant by referring to himself as the "key" of this battle. As important as he was, the staggering disadvantage the Titan Pirates still faced on the battlefield had forced him to come to their aid. He had no choice but to offer his help to them and in doing so he had neutralized whatever small success he had accomplished in his months of infiltrating the Xros Pirates' ranks.

Even Bertram quickly cowered away in Kane's presence. The towel-man retreated away from Soren, fleeing from the path of Kane's gaze as she looked the blue haired boy over from head to toe. And that was when the scent of Kettle's blood --the fresh aroma of his profusely leaking insides-- swirled into Kane's nostrils. And the woman grinned sinisterly, almost moaning at the mere taste of it all.

It was a shocking sight. A humbling sight. The body of Kettle being taken down, and the subsequent emergence of extraordinary Pirates from his palm. Among those, Soren most vividly recognized Kane...and shivered. He almost froze up, as the brief possibility of victory they had escaped from their hand.

To tackle Reach alone was one thing...but just how would they manage to defeat Kane as well!? It was impossible. With these forces, it was impossible.

"I have to run. I have to. But..." Soren looked upon Kettle's body, and Apu's state. He could not simply abandon them. What sort of Pirate King would abandon his allies!? He had to make a diversion. And he had to escape with them in tow. Right now, he was the only one able to do so. Soren could not hesitate for any longer.

"Black Gate!" Soren exclaimed, manipulating the black mist he had created so that it would concentrate around himself and his peers, creating a temporary defense for Kettle and Apu as well. He transformed into coal, and dived directly to pick up Kettle. Subsequently, he took Apu in stride as well, and began to run from the area. He didn't know where he was going...but he had to leave!

"Furnace Inferno!" Soren roared, clenching his fist. The built up coal mist particles would soon rapidly collide with each other, and create a grandiose explosion. A temporary measure...but he needed to run somewhere, anywhere, so long as it was not here.

Seeing Soren, the freak burrowed deep within Kane's inner being flustered toward the surface. Her face became a ripe red as she blushed at the mere sight of his exhaustion. Oh how adorable he looked gleaming in blood and sweat! And oh golly, just how would he look when she gutted him clean with her glaive?

Kane covered her face with one hand, feeling the heat of her affection for Soren. She was longing for him, craving his blood. She observed him like a stalker as he shot up his coal-infused defences and tried to snatch Kettle away from between her, Scratch, and the others. A bold attempt, but Kane had just about the only clear counter to Soren's powers that there was.

When Soren came within close proximity of herself in his attempt to take the defeated Kettle, Kane's body shot in flames. A spark sizzled from her and erupted into a violent mayhem, quickly overtaking Soren's coal and burning it to a crisp like the fuel that it was. But there was something especially significant about Kane's flame, at that was its color. It was a complete and utter black, more so even than Reach's metal.

Soren's attempt in causing an explosion ended in failure. For Kane burnt away his coal within the blink of an eye. Clearly these were no ordinary flames at all. Catching another glimpse of Soren's fleeing face, Kane grinned wide and howled aloud. "Owoooaahhh!!"

Vita clapped her hands together in repeated succession. The clap was itself a mild one, yet invoked an unconscious shockwave that tossed away rubble from around her. She was a spirited one who loved supporting her allies, particularly Kane. "Wowie~!"

Noting Soren's intentions of escape, Trickshot took this opportunity to get himself into position. With a few leaps he went from the ground to the roof of a nearby building, adjusting his scope to catch Soren in his sights. Because Soren had failed to snatch Kettle, he would also be without Apu, who he had planned to get ahold of second.

It looked like this battle was all but over. Apu could only watch in horror as they were confronted by far too many pirates they had the means to combat. Hell, even with superior numbers, just Bertram had toppled them all. Now that the Xros Pirates' numbers exceeded their own, this fight was hopeless.

"D-Don't give up!!" Daryal shouted with every last ounce of strength he had. He broke out into a hissy fit of coughs as his lungs threatened to fail under his shouts. "I-I know that you can do it! You can still w-win..!!" By now the Okama was in tears. He could do nothing from the start but cheer them on. But now he just felt like he was being a moron.

With another triumphant howl, Kane leaped into the air. The look of desperation on Soren's face was arousing her to no end. She couldn't wait any longer; she needed to hear his screams right this instant! Heaving her weapon with both hands high over her head, she sought to come down upon the weakened boy with enough force to hopefully split him in two. That way she could marvel at his insides and see if they were symmetrical on both sides.

But when she swept down, she swept at nothing. Soren was now in Apu's arms, along with Luhr. Having used his final Sudden Burst to rescue Soren just this once, the fishman toppled over them both, completely fatigued. He was breathing harder than he ever had. He glanced once at Soren then back at Kane, who was already quickly approaching them both. A futile attempt it had been to save Soren. He was only prolonging their deaths.

Apu couldn't even sit up anymore and he wagered a guess that by now Soren was in the same boat. They had done well surviving up until this point. A battle that had begun with so many had crippled down to just the both of them. Even now he tried to move, but Apu's body simply would not respond to him. It was over.

"You, Blue Hairs," Apu said softly to Soren as his voice too began to betray him. "You have my thanks. You had no need to lend us your help in this fight. And yet you did so without hesitation. I ask of you to please forgive me." Apu closely pondered upon what death would be like. Foxpack had spoke of it fondly. To the Fox's point, the land of the dead wasn't all that bad. Apparently it was some sort of special place where people could regroup and come together to talk over sake. "But if you cannot find it in your heart to do that now, then please come and find me in the next world. I want to hear of your story, there. Maybe over some sake."

Kane wasted little time in closing the sizeable gap Apu had created through his Sudden Burst. With another howl, the Alpha Dog's glaive erupted into black flames and she surged forward for another strike. And as if this just wasn't her lucky day, she found her weapon fail to reach its mark for a second consecutive time. This time around, however, standing in its way was a blackened foot of impeccable magnitude.

"Hasshoken Yoshin!!"

Kane's eyes lit up as she saw her precious glaive be scarred by the foot of the golden haired man that shot up in front of her. Her flames were repelled, burning down two buildings on either side. But rather than acknowledge the man wholeheartedly, Kane instead lifted up her weapon into her hands out of panic. "No, Alfred!" She squealed, rubbing her precious glaive as she leaped back slightly.

Trickshot's brow furrowed at once. He took the golden haired man into his sights immediately and fired away, only to have his bullet be caught within the man's hand. This was the man Trickshot had been closely observing for days now. The man inside of that damn tavern who hadn't let him sleep a wink! But seeing him now without having to pry through countless walls with his Haki, there was little mistaking who exactly it was: Warren D. Ralph.

Apu very carefully made out the kanji of "justice" inscribed on the back of the Admiral's flowing coat. He trembled at the sight of another Marine, but was in no condition to put up any sort of fight now. Besides, for whatever reason, he appeared to be on their side. Or so he hoped.

Ralph wagered a glance towards Trickshot, meeting the famed sniper with a stern glare. He opened up his hand, releasing the bullet from his grasp. However, rather than bounce or ricochet like before, the bullet instead floated away of its own accord, refusing Trickshot's manipulation of it. "Quite the impatient one, aren't we?" Ralph mused.

"Korag-sama!!!" Daryal beamed, his face once again overflowing with tears. The Okama was clearly mistaking the Admiral for his captain… admittedly, the two did seem to resemble one another quite a bit. "Korag-sama, I knew you'd come to save us all!!!"

Ralph propped his pinky into his ear, trying to fight off Daryal's ignorance. Those darn Fire Rocker Pirates were a real pain the ass! Looking around and about at the battlefield, Ralph took another glance back at the blue haired boy and the two fishmen behind him. "Where'd that fox run off too? Shouldn't he be here at a time like this, eh?"

"Warren D. Ralph...Admiral..." Soren mentioned, panting. After Apu had said all that to him, he didn't even have the time to say his thanks, as the battle escalated further. "T-thank you..." Soren mentioned, to both the Fishman and the Admiral. He had no idea what the Admiral was here for, but he just hoped it wasn't to arrest Soren and his friends. However, Soren was exhausted now. Barely capable of movement, he tried to stand up and fight once again.

Even if he was shaking in his boots due to fear, there was also a portion of him that was exhilarated. If he could just survive this fight...he could grow so much more. This was just one step towards being the Pirate King. Throwing yourself into danger and coming out with your life intact...this was the life Soren dreamed of!

But now that he looked at Kane carefully, Soren was reminded of a figure in his youth. He couldn't exactly pin who she was, but there was a familiarity that he could not describe. They looked similar enough in age as well...but the difference between them was apparent. Just what had happened in her life that caused her to become like this? Well, at the moment it didn't concern him. "I...I'm not out yet...!" Soren struggled to say. Getting into a conflict between huge players like this was an idiotic move. But sitting around wasn't going to help him either way!

Seeing Soren stand up, Apu himself was inspired. "S-Soren…!"

He had risen to the occasion every time he had fallen. He had gotten up from all the times he had been knocked down. This time could be no different! And so the pike fishman stood up, his entire body shaking as he forced his way up to his trembling feet. "N-Neither am I..!"

Ralph studied the both of them in silence. He admired their determination to fight. "You young lads can sit back and rest easy, I can assure you that I won't be needing help from the likes of you. Besides, you aren't fooling me or anyone else with those wounds. So leave the rest to me, yeah?"

Soren? Why did that name seem so familiar? The grin vanished from Kane's face entirely for a moment. Instead it was overtaken by a look of bewilderment. There was only one such man across the entirety of the seas with a name like that. His name reached out to her, breaking through thousands of internal barriers that her mind had constructed through the many horrors she had seen in her lifetime. And having broken those, even if temporarily, the image of the Yonko, Daddy L. Legs, blanketed Kane's mind.

"Soren…! You're that Soren, aren't you? The son of the Yonko Legs and her precious First Mate!" Anger fueled Kane's heart. Resentment was adopted by her resolve. She recalled what had happened to her, how it all began. It was all her fault! Legs was to blame for all of this! "You son of a bitch!! I'll peel the flesh right off of your bones if it's the last thing that I do!!"

Even Ralph was taken aback by this now. Was this blue haired boy truly the son of not one, but two incredibly notorious pirates?! The Marine in him almost led Ralph to instinctively lunge for Soren's head. But there were matters that concerned him more for the time being.

Kane was mad, now. Her body erupted into a violent pit of black flames. It smeared her body, climbing up her physique until her flesh was left red and jagged. She grew into a hound, getting down onto all fours and catching her glaive within her mouth. Kane was far from just any ordinary pirate. She was the leader of the Seven Sacraments, which was composed of Scratch, Trickshot, Vita, Bon, Bertram, Najeem, and until recently, Kettle. Together they served under Reach, one of the Xros Pirates' Four Gospels.

Ralph's coat fluttered with the ensuing breeze invoked by Kane's transformation. She was not just any Zoan, but matter of fact, one of Mythical Properties. And with all the other pirates around, this was most certainly not going to be any cakewalk, even for an Admiral.

Wall of Silence

Planting his Meito into the ground, Foxpack used it as a cane to support himself and leaned his body over it. He was breathing heavily, dripping with blood from his pointed ears down to his bottom paws. Before him stood Reach, his stature tall and brave, without more than a scratch upon him.

"..." Reach observed his opponent silently. He wasn't the kind of man to resort to insults even when steadily approaching the thresholds of victory. It looked as though Foxpack were ready to drop dead any moment now, but there was nothing left to be said.

This fight had not at all gone as planned. Like this, as great as he was, Foxpack stood no chance. His right eye closed, sealing the beast within. The spirited tails behind him dispersed, leaving him in his ordinary base form.

Upon the dissipation of his spiritual powerup, the leaves danced along the edges of the wind, twirling into a tornado of vegetation that violently churned in circles as if nature’s wrath announced its arrival. It wasn't nature's rage, but rage nevertheless. As the leaves fell into the currents of the breeze, Tabart and Damon revealed themselves, standing between the towering Reach and wounded Foxpack.

Tabart gazed towards Reach, his golden eyes drenched in a resolve that he had displayed only one other time: Elbaf. Oh, how long ago that had been. Yet, Tabart did not forget to the lessons from that day. He never would. His bandaged arm, an arm now replaced with a wooden, prosthetic limb, would always serve as a reminder of his meaningless sacrifice. Of how his weakness even prevented him from fully sacrificing himself. It was embarrassing, and here, Foxpack stood embarrassed; his body wounded, his mind worn, and his spirit weakened. There was a distinct resemblance of himself that Tabart saw in the current state of Foxpack, yet there was one distinct difference. He was still standing. Even after all he had been through.

"If you'd keep your hands of my friend, I'd greatly appreciate that," Tabart replied, his voice soft, calm, and relaxed, yet somehow threatening, just like the sands of the desert. He moved his hand towards his blade, tickling the hilt of the sword with his fingers.

"Otherwise, we might have a problem."

Just like Tabart had seen himself in Foxpack, Damon couldn't help, but, to share the feeling. However, his was much recent, back at Ishitani... after Mengis had bested him in combat, he stood broken, but, with a resolve of steel. Much like him, Foxpack wasn't going to run off with his tail between his legs.

Damon stood firm with his arms hanging off his sides, hands clenched into fists, to Tabart's side. "It's as Brobart here says, back off, Batman," Damon spat, eyes narrowing as they glared at Reach. Petals flew around his being, his haki prepared for the slight intention that Reach would even show.

Earlier on, the both of them had been frantically running through Bedina, trying to find the rest of their companions. This island was weird, its aura was everywhere. Damon felt a multitude of auras surging from where Najeem's companion had been, but, he and Tabart found Foxpack first.

Foxpack's eye widened at the sight of the two rookies. The last he had seen of them, they had promised him that they would defeat Najeem. And in their being here, it must have meant exactly that. Still, there was little time to be proud of them. Not when an enemy of Reach's caliber was right before their eyes. "What do you lot think you're doing? Get out of here now-gara! This isn't a place for you!!"

"..." Reach remained silent, per usual. It was always the rookies who made such grandiose entrances to battles, rather than using it as an opportunity to get off some sort of sneak attack. He looked them both over, but his cold gaze remained fixated upon Damon for much longer.

Plucking his meito from the ground, Foxpack forced himself to stand upright. He limped ahead of them, gritting his teeth. "This is my battle-gara. Go help the others!"

Reach, however, had other plans. Not that he needed anymore of a handicap, but rookies being present in a fight like this just made things easier for him. And a pirate of his renown knew just how to exploit that weakness.

The Dark Knight crackled forward, with seemingly nothing but his own body. But in the moment Foxpack lifted up his Meito to fend him off, a sword was forged along Reach's collarbone and shot out from his shoulder, parrying the fox's attack. Reach swirled further overhead, hanging upside in the air. Then two blocks of metal shot out from his ribs, aiming to collide against the chests of both Damon and Tabart and shove them into two nearby buildings.

Feeling Reach's stare upon him, Damon twitched slightly, his own eyes boring into Reach's. A weird sensation crept up his back, making his existant hair spike up only slightly and his teeth grit. And that was when he noticed that they were sharp. With a gulp, they were back to normal once again, he had to control himself.

"We can't let you die here, Foxy!" Damon yelled, his haki flaring up and his arms crossing, while Reach darted towards them. "Veinte Blumes!" Many blossoms flew around, as limbs scattered through the place, various appearing over the iron rod aimed for Tabart and others appeared close to Foxpack, should he need any platform for support. "Chains!" The ones on the rod, which he assumed to be made of iron, pressed against it, trying to unbalance it, and thus, change its trajectory from hitting Tabart

Yet, there had still been one rod rocketing towards Damon himself. But, his ears could hear it, his skin could feel it, his nose could smell it, these senses shouldn't take over at that moment, however, Damon couldn't help hismelf. As he jumped in its direction instead of using his powers, Damon stretched his left leg forward, "FISCHBROTCHEN!!" He yelled, slide-kicking the rod that came for him.

However, Damon's intention was not to collide against it, instead, his many side kicks went for the sides of the rod. And then, instead of it bending, Damon's very body moved itself along its length, the kicks serving to push himself up in a spiral. Quickly reaching Reach, Damon continued to spin and threw his right arm back, causing an air, and then pushed it against Reach's jaw.

The moment that Reach had launched his attack, Damon responded to counter for Tabart. It was part of their plan, the one that they spent what seemed to be eternity as they ran across the island to help their friends. As Damon’s devil fruit powers guarded him, Tabart had clenched his free hand into a fist.

“Thanks for the protection, Damon!”

Responding to his motion, the furious leaves that fell into the breeze, a breeze that Tabart purposely had them fall into, coalesced together.

“Mosa Mosa no Mi: Razor leaves!”

The leaves had thorns. Thorns that, Tabart had made explicitly sharp through his Devil Fruit powers, and reinforced further by his Busoshoku Haki to increase their cutting power. Thus, while Damon aimed for Reach’s face, Tabart targeted Reach’s feet and legs to limit his mobility during the fight. For Tabart, the opportunity to do so was perfect. Reach was in the air, possibly immobile—Tabart had made the mistake continuously with his elder brother Judas in believing that being the air corresponded to immobility, so now he just assumed that people in the air are only half immobile—and now forced to deal with two different attacks.

“Take this…”

Side-kicking that rod, especially as it was in the midst of motion was just about the worst mistake Damon could have ever made. With momentum flaring from either side, the clear victor of the collision was Reach, and that hard metal block would have snapped the bone comprising Damon's ankle with strict ease.

Whatever Damon attempted as a follow up was just as pointless. For Reach was a man who could see the future, and so when it was made clear to him that Damon intended to punch him, the man simply landed on his feet and welcomed it openly. He didn't even bother to so much as dawn a single ounce of his metal to protect him; no, he let Damon's fist contact the bare skin of his cheek.

Reach didn't budge an inch from Damon's punch. Even his head and neck remained in the exact same position; there was no reaction, no movement on part of his body as a result of the attack. This was the prowess of the man who was reputed as possessing the world's most formidable defense. Even without his metal to aid him, he was virtually impossible to injure.

"..." Reach stood silent, saying nothing to allude to the clear disappointment he felt at Damon's attack. And he simply stood there staring at Damon, showing his backside to Tabart --disregarding him entirely. The razor sharp leaves that came into contact with Reach's metal platelegs from behind him met an even worse fate than Damon's foot; they were torn and ripped apart without Reach doing much of anything.

Foxpack wasn't just going to sit by and let his comrades die before his eyes. He had to act, and act he did. Lunging forward at Reach as he continued to concentrate entirely on Damon, Foxpack sought blood. But what he didn't know was that it would be his own blood.

In an all too effortless motion, without even bothering to look away from Damon, Reach whipped his arm back and grasped ahold of the mink's skull with his barehand. And in that same moment, a collar formed around Foxpack's neck, with a chain connecting it to Reach's elbow.

Yanking the fox by the chain, Reach tossed Foxpack around from side to side, elongating the chain to steer Foxpack over long distances like a puppet. He whipped his around, letting the fox mink crash into numerous buildings.

Before Tabart could think to act again, the building in their closest proximity collapsed, unveiling the monstrous figure of Gilbert D. Bertram. With a large and smug grin plastered above his peachy chin, he landed between he and Reach, separating him from the rest of the battle. "Yar the one who beat Najeem?!" The Birthday Boy said this in great disbelief. "Come on, show me what it took to beat him! I wanna see, I wanna see how good ya are!!"

"!!!!!" Damon wished his mind went as numb as his ankle and wrist had felt. His teeth were gritted and his pupils trembled within his widened eyes, Damon didn't even want to look at his ankle, while his fist stood against Reach's head. It was red, close to purple even, he swore he heard a crack. That was impossible... knowing who he was... what he was.

So, this was... the world. This realization went crashing on Damon's mind, though, not harder than Reach's cheek on his knuckle. Foxpack snapped him out of it, however, "Foxy!!!" Damon yelled though gritted teeth, louder than he intended, the pain couldn't be contained forever.

At the arrival of another figure, Damon recognized him as the big aura he felt earlier. Yet, he couldn't see all of his appearance and focused back on Reach, even then, Damon didn't know what to say at the Titan before him. His teeth merely continued to grind against each other, instinct kicking in as they got sharp once again.

Tabart looked toward Bertram as he stepped before him, spitting what Tabart considered hogwash now. Defeat Najeem? Hardly, the real Najeem would have been beaten that easily. No, Najeem defeated himself. They just simply capitalized off his arrogance and mistakes. This was different. This big guy, reach, he was so much different. Damon and Foxpack couldn’t handle them without Tabart. There was no way. Shit, Tabart wasn’t even certain they could handle him with his help. But, there was no running now. He had to fight.

“Sure, but not right now sir,” Tabart responded to Bertram’s inquiry. “I need to help my friends. I promise, I’ll fight you afterwards. But I ask that you kindly step to the side.” Tabart drew his sword. “Please…”

Bertram didn't know whether to laugh or jock at Tabart's odd request. He was mildly confused at the prospect of stepping aside and letting Tabart go along with whatever it is he planned to do.

"Are ya dumb in the head, kid? I don't plan to do nothin' but squash ya!!" And with his assertion made clear to him, Bertram flopped forward to tackle Tabart and keep him pinned against the ground.

There was little time for Tabart do dodge Betram’s assault, and he defensively threw his sword up between his body and Bert’s own during the tackle. He struck the ground with force, his body being used to create an angel of his own body within the earth, an imprint that he had been slammed into this spot.

Keeping himself pressed against Tabart, Bertram let out a haunting laugh. "Eeeheeehee! What's the matter, kid? What happened to that big mouth of yars, eh?!"

The sword that Tabart had drawn out in the hopes of defending himself snapped in half as it contacted Bertram's chest, failing to pierce through his coarse and rigid exterior.

As the giant Bertram remained on top of Tabart, the acclaimed "Giant Slayer" would begin to feel every ounce of stamina aligned to his being begin to slip away from his grasp.

Tabart grunted in response…”What…what the heck! What are you doing to me?!”

Foxpack could only watch as Tabart was gnawed by Bertram. The mink desperately attempted to break loose of the collar, but to no avail. He was yanked once more by Reach and then flailed around like a weapon to crash into Damon.

"Foxy-san!!" Instead of retreating away from Reach, Damon tried to clutch his fingers against the man's face. Even if it amounted to nothing, he just wanted to resist. Despite his pain, several legs sprouted from Foxpack's figure and kicked the air before themselves, executing Geppo, as to keep Foxpack away.

It would hurt, but Damon thought of no other way in the situation he was presented at. Reach had to focus on him alone.

Damon's tactic was... pure genius. Having his sprouted limbs enact Geppo was something neither Foxpack nor Reach had ever thought possible. It interrupted Reach's movement of Foxpack severely; Foxpack was now being moved in the opposite direction of what Reach had intended.

"..." Reach remained silent as Damon clutched his head. Because he was a great deal taller than Damon, Damon would have been hanging in the air holding onto Reach's face with his feet dangling beneath him.

Eventually Reach decided that he had seen enough. With Damon's arm extended to grab his face with his hand, Reach cuffed his own hand around Damon's forearm, securing a tight hold over the young pirate. Then he made to squeeze Damon's arm with immense force, enough to force Damon to let go of his face.

"GHHHHH!" Damon's whole face widened at the intense grip upon his forearm. Teeth gritted, heart racing , sweat, blood, the mere act of Reach gripping his forearm did this much. Strange nails, sharp and blue, spontaneously sprouted from Damon's normal ones, as his hand loosened from Reach's face. He was too tired- No, even if he hadn't been, it was clear that Reach possessed far superior abilities. Damon had to do something still, his free hand moving over Reach's wrist and gripping it.

Lifting Damon up by his arm, Reach twirled the smaller boy around quickly in the air and cupped his other hand around his knee. He lifted the boy in this manner high above his head, not a single word escaping his being.

With the chain dangling from Reach's elbow, Foxpack fell to the ground in a slump. And as irked his head to look up, he conceived the sight of Reach pulling Damon against his face with incredible force.

In the moment Damon came backward --his knee and arm held by Reach-- his spine would snap against the metallic bone of Reach's nose, paralyzing him for the duration of the battle.

Heart beating more than once in a single instant, Damon felt most of his breath escape his lips, as Reach positioned him. What was this for? He was glad that Reach had been focusing on him, it meant that maybe Foxpack and Tabart had a chance to go elsewhere... but, why?

His thoughts were interrupted, however, when Reach went clear with his intentions. "What the hell is this for?!" Damon's mind yelled at him, his pupils trembling at the sensation building up on his spine and teeth gritting even more, to the point blood drew from his mouth, as those had been unusually sharp. Some blue pigment started showing on the area of his spine.

Petals flew around, numerous limbs sprouting from Damon's backside and pressing against Reach's being. "WHat the hell do you want?!" They either tried to use some form of Geppo or exerted Haki, doing as much as they could to counter Reach's pull. "Huh?! What did I do to you?!" Not enough to get Damon off him, but, enough to temporarily balance it and not snap Damon's spine just yet.

Damon's questions fell on deaf ears. Well, not entirely. Reach definitely heard what Damon was saying, heard the boy shriek and struggle and yelp within his grasp. But he remained entirely silent through it all, uttering not a single word. "..."

"Reeeeeachh!!!" Foxpack yelled aloud, blood spewing from his snout and pouring onto the dirt of Bedina. "Let him go-gara!! This fight is between me and you, that boy has nothing to do with this!!"

Despite Foxpack's protest and Damon's questioning, Reach didn't care. He went along with what he had intended to do; his arms became metal to overpower however many limbs Damon planned to generate, and with vicious force, Reach slammed Damon down towards his knee this time on his front side, where limbs had not sprouted.

Snap. The sound ressonated in is ears, "....aaaaaaaaaaaaa-" His pupils trembled.

Only then, it ressonated in his mind, "-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" The most intense shiver he had ever felt in his life, made his mind partially snap, his eyes and mouth widening as much as they could. "RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" His cries continued to fill the ears of all those present, saliva dripping from his mouth and veins appearing throughout his whole body. And, oddly enough, the cries had acquired a feral aspect to them.

At that point, his entire skin seemed to have darkened out, adopting a scaly texture. He had claws, both on toes and fingers, he had fangs... and most notably, curvy blue horns sprouted from atop his forehead. "STOP!! FUCKIN'... STOP!!!" Damon's cries shook his surrounds. Just what had happened? Wasn't his Devil Fruit the Paramecia Hana Hana no Mi?

“Reach, you bastard!!” Tabart shrieked at the top of his lungs, his voice echoing to a realm that he was physically unable to get to, and his breaths becoming short and sputtered as if he was using energy to just speak. His eyes pierced Bertram’s own. “You,” he hissed. “Let me go! I’m going to kill that piece of shit, I promise! So get outta my way! Or….” There was a slight hesitation as his voice fell silent. “I’ll kill you too!” He slurped his last bit of moisture in his mouth and exhaled it directly onto the Betram’s arms. Tabart concluded that he was far too tall for his spit to reach his face. “Happy Berthday. Now, since you got your present, let me the hell go!”

Reach's cold eyes mellowed, as if seeing Damon's transformation somehow resonated within the deepest chambers of his wretched heart and brought him to rekindle the extinguished flame of a time long, long ago. He wanted to speak, to say something. But he couldn't.

"..." Reach looked down at Damon, studying the boy with piqued interest. He was so intrigued, matter of fact, that he didn't at all see coming what was to happen next.

The Navy Admiral, Warren D. Ralph, came flying through a building, blood spewing from his mouth. He flipped while in midair so as not to land upon his marine coat, keeping safe the insignia of justice. Rather, he fell on his hands and knees and skid backwards, into the ground a ways from Reach himself.

Damon's transformation was responsible for having turned off Reach's future sight. Disrupted, Reach barely moved away in time to evade an incoming strike from Ralph, who had recovered swiftly from being blasted away by Kane; but while he managed to escape unscathed, his chain did not.

A powerful shock of Haki clashed against Reach's chain, snapping it loose. Foxpack was freed from Reach's grasp by the arrival of Ralph, and the mink quickly shifted back onto his paws. "Ralph!!!! What took you so long-gara?!" Foxpack barked, standing erect, directly beside the Marine Admiral.

"My apologies, Foxpack-san, but you see, there was a sniper on my head." Ralph too, stood up straight.

A pirate. A marine. Side by side.

The spectacle forced a smile to Ralph's lips. "Takes you back to the good old days, doesn't it?"

But now was not the time to reflect on their times together as members of the Navy. The enemy was near and approaching for the final battle.

Henhouse

Building after building was toppled, until few remained on the face of Bedina. Until there was very little dividing the two battles that were being fought.

Foxpack and Ralph went back to back, looking around as the notorious members of the Xros Pirates emerged from across the island.

Kane. Bon. Trickshot. Scratch. Vita. They all came together, poised and prepared to secure their premises. Even Bertram moved away from Tabart and fell into place within the circle, believing the Giant Slayer to have been defeated. The situation was looking grim for the forces compiling the Titan Pirates. Time was running out.

"Are we all that remain, Foxy-san?" Ralph said aloud, wondering how many of their forces remained. He could sense that Kettle and Katashi had bitten the dust. But little did he know that four young and reckless, rookie pirates remained.

"N-No! I... I'm not done yet..!" The voice of the spotted fishman prevailed. Every inch, every corner of his body was corked with a wound or bruise of some kind. How he even managed to speak was anyone's guess, but nonetheless --trembling as he may-- Apu appeared alongside three other pirates, refusing to lose this battle. "I... I still have a lot of fight left in me!"

Despite his eyelids being shut tight, Damon screamed, "M-ME!!- HAH, HAH..." Sharp teeth were met with continuous breathes, as Damon himself laid on the ground, having flew off from Reach's grasp when Ralph came crashing. He couldn't even properly move, but, many additional limbs supported him off from the ground, "ME!" His eyes snapped open, yet, due to all the damage, Damon didn't see the changes done to his figure, not yet.

“If he’s up….” Tabart exhaled deeply, the effort that he made to do so almost taking away from his ability to stand as his knees buckled from a lack of stamina. He barely caught himself with his remaining strength, shooting his upper body backwards through sheer willpower to avoid falling upon his knees. “Then, fuck it, I’m still up to,” he continued, his drifting from a state of unconsciousness. “I’m not done throwing Berthday boy,” Tabart said, a cough interrupting him in the midst of his phrase, “over there is berthday party.”

There was one other entrance into this party, and that was Fukuoka Soren. Panting, and barely able to even move, he still stood tall with pride. He was fearless, and stared at his enemies right in the eye. "I'm not going to lose either!" Soren clenched his fists, and pointed them at the Xros Pirates. "I've still got to beat all of you and be Pirate King!" Although he spoke bold words, and his eyes roared without fear, his body trembled and was heavily weakened. This was really a last stand, anything more than this...and there'd be nothing else.

At the sight of the virtually undead rookies, the surrounding cast of pirates was in awe. Their eyes widened and their jaws dropped open all of their own accord; they had mustered their greatest of efforts in dealing with those brats, and yet they still breathed?! But that was farther than the truth than it seemed. Those rookies were on their final set of last legs; it seemed even a strong breeze would prove sufficient enough to topple them over now.

Kane, who had reverted into her human form, was just about the only one with any sort of mixed reaction. This was because she, of course, saw within those rookies a chance to pleasure herself. Just imagine how long she could torture them with their kind of durability and tolerance to pain! They would live for days whilst she gutted their stomachs; she could take her sweet time peeling the flesh off of their bones. Their screams would linger for whole weeks --the mere thought of it all was so provoking. The woman blushed and nuzzled her face against the blunt part of her blade in an attempt to coddle her emotions.

"...!" Reach, per usual, was speechless. But this time around, the knight simply knew not what to say. He had surely snapped Damon's spine and seen with his own eyes as Bertram deprived Tabart of every last bit of stamina he possessed. He Bertram and the others would have done more of the same to Soren and Apu; so why, why were they still standing, even if only barely?!

Even Ralph, through all his glory as an Admiral of the Marines, was in utter disbelief. He had been the one to impose a question over their remaining forces, and my was he truly surprised to see that they were standing and poised for further combat, much less alive or intact physically. A pirate of such magnitude arose only a few times every generation. But how unlikely for them all to gather at one place such as this.

In his younger days, Ralph had heard the tale of a no-good generation of pirates that wreaked havoc upon the seas. It consisted of rookies just as stubborn as the ones before his eyes, and they had gone on to be labeled as the "Worst Generation". But they had all earned their notoriety on their own: they were infamous pirate captains who paraded over the weaker seas. This band of rookies, by comparison, was subordinate to the greatest powers of the seas. And they weren't exactly playing around either; their competition was steeper.

These rookies were aligned with the Yonko and as such, faced the heavyweights of their opposition. This wasn't some group who flocked around in one of the four directional blues and made it big. No, these were all rookies nurtured by the high tides of the New World, they were in a different class of their own!

Four rookie pirates who had descended from the depths of Davy Jones' locker to wage war upon the Grand Line, or so it seemed. Their arrival was the beginning of the end in Ralph's eyes; what he saw before him were candidates for future Yonko positions, four rookie pirates so far ahead of their generation that it irked even him. They, the Navy Admiral concurred, were the pirates who would surely destroy the world with their bare hands if left unchecked. As they grew in strength and wisdom, the world would surely crumble in their wake. Bringers of the end, they were undoubtedly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," Ralph said aloud. His face boasted a mix reaction, however. As a man who was fighting on their same side, he was overjoyed to see reinforcements of any kind. But as a Marine who sought to protect the world and cleanse it of further evil, he dreaded the sight of them.

For Foxpack, however, the emergence of the horsemen served as a means of atonement. Atonement for his overbearing desire of seeking vengeance; he saw now, as his eyes captured the form of the profusely bleeding and limpy bodies of the rookies, that he had been much too rash in his decision making.

The mink had orchestrated a master plan, deploying Kettle into the forces of the Xros Pirates many months prior to their assault upon Bedina in order to gain knowledge of the enemy and throttle them when they least suspected it. He had even snuck aboard an Marine Admiral unto the island in their aid, and yet somehow Reach had still managed to be one step ahead of him.

War was decided by its tactics far before its contestants even armed the battlefields. As the mastermind behind all of this, Foxpack was to blame. He had been so hungry for revenge that he had truly gone into battle without Burling; he had been so blinded by his goals that he had forced these rookie pirates to Bedina and asked far too much of them.

It was all his fault that the rookies had been pushed so far to the brink of death that perhaps they didn't even concur what was taking place before them. Tears welled in the mink's eyes. How could he have become so desperate? How dare he involve them in his personal affairs?

And they had all come to his aid without so much as questioning his orders. They had done him well and only well, whereas he had surely failed them.

The situation was looking grim, even in the event that the horsemen somehow managed to fight. At this stage, the Titan Pirates were fighting not to win, but to survive: in other words, they were fighting a losing battle.

Foxpack, as the sole man responsible for all of this bloodshed, saw only one way out of this hellhole. And that was to allow the fox to guard the henhouse.

"Ralph…" Foxpack began, "there is only one way out of this-gara."

Ralph understood carefully. The thought had already come to mind many times by now. One of them was going to have to stay behind while the other led a desperate escape. "Yes, I know. So then let me-"

"No, Ralph. This was all my doing." A cold silence ensued. "It is only fitting that what began with me, end with me as well-gara."

Ralph's eyes narrowed. "You'll die." It was that simple. "Surely, you know that?"

"..." The fur on the mink flared. "Hand it to me, Ralph. Then take the others and get out of here."

Ralph reached into his inner pocket of his coat and unveiled an odd artifact, a white stone of some kind. He slammed it into Foxpack's outstretched paw.

"The fuck is that?" Bertram barked, seeing the stone be fitted into the mink's paw.

Foxpack's snout weaved into a grin. "Countermeasures."

"Don't over do it, you darn fox," Ralph mused, "I expect to see you on the other side when we make it out of here."

"I'll be right behind you-gara! Now focus in, we won't get another chance!" Foxpack eyed the stone, clenching his fingers around it tightly.

"..." Reach, as previously established, wasn't the kind of man to sit idle and let his troops the front. No, he was a man of action who took action. He wasn't going to wait and allow the enemy to do whatever it was they planned. And so he stormed forth, toward what he saw as the most lethal threat on the battlefield; the monstrosity that was Reach aimed to eliminate the single entity that took priority over all the others: the apocalypse!

If Reach allowed those rookies to make it off of his island alive, then there was no questioning what they could grow to become. And so while they were crippled and hanging onto their ground for the dear life of them, he would slit all their throats with one fine maneuver!

But Ralph was just as fast. The Admiral appeared between the rookies and Reach in the blink of an eye, and his Haki infused arms clashed with Reach's blackened shoulder.

"RALPH!!!" Foxpack hollered, "Whatever may happen, you musn't let anything happen to those kids-gara!!!"

Ralph gritted his teeth, eyes flaring as they gazed into Reach's own. A struggle ensued between the two forces, neither refusing to give way to one another. "I know! I know, dammit!"

Prisoners to the moment, the other pirates watched as the mink widened his eyes more and more until it seemed as though the balls of his eyes may damn near jump out from his sockets. In that same moment, Foxpack channeled electro into his arm, sparking a fuse within the stone in his paw.

Bringing the stone eye level with his widened eyes, the mink clenched his snout shut; the stone detonated with a brilliant zap of electricity, birthing a white flash of light that resounded in the fox's mind. His pupils dilated as a red hue possessed them.

Reach and Ralph separated, parrying one another away so as to make for some space between them. Turning his head, Reach gazed long and hard at the flash of light emanating from Foxpack.

The mink began to grow rapidly in size. For a creature that had been under the thresholds of five feet, the fox broke through every last barrier to more than triple in height and stature. He let out a powerful roar, the black trench coat he had been sporting until now tearing apart as it gave way to his expanding musculature.

"RRRRAUUUGHHHHH!!!!!!" The mink threw back his head, howling into the sky. Whatever closely cropped hair he had sitting between his ears lengthened considerably in that same moment, growing into a wild mane that fell down to his shoulders.

Ralph had seen the Sulong transformation of the minks enough times in the past to be a prisoner to the moment. He used this chance to route his escape; reeling back, the Admiral began to fly, soaring towards the horsemen. Ignoring whatever protest they might have, he tapped the each of them along various parts of their bodies, and as he flew past them, their weakened bodies could put up little fight against his prowess. The bodies of the rookies flew back against their wills, following in line with Ralph as he flew back through the island.

Reach, however, quickly gave chase. The horsemen remained his top priority; no matter what happened, he had to ensure their demise here, lest they grow to become threats to Michael. He ascended high into the skies, birthing metallic wings along his back to take flight after Ralph. But his eyes widened as soon as he did, for the beastly figure of Foxpack in his Sulong form suddenly zapped into comprehension before him. And before he had any time to react, Reach felt a hard, electro infused fist, tempered with Haki, jolt into his face, sending him rocketing back onto the island and through countless buildings.

Without turning back to look at Ralph and his departing comrades, Foxpack cried out into the skies. "RALPH!!!!" He kept his glares fixated upon the pirates that prepared to battle him, arming their weapons as they were, as he himself began to descend back onto the island. "I LEAVE THE REST TO YOU-GARA!!"

Ralph gritted his teeth. He took off at greater speeds. For the life of him, he couldn't look back. Not now.

Apu, however, even as he was floating against his will, brought himself to face backward so he could marvel at his vice captain's final stand. He recalled what he had told Soren when he was almost certain that they would die. He had shared with him the story of what Foxpack had once told him, about the place pirates went when they died. "F-Foxpack-sama..!!"

Tears flowed down Apu's cheeks. Was Foxpack going, then? To that special place where he could drink sake all day long and talk with all his friends?

Confused was an understatement to refer to Damon's mind of then. Because, with the unveiling of his true form, all of his natural senses and instincts had kicked in. He could see, hear, feel, smell much more, and that was where the problem lied. Those had been heightened with his true form, to the point Damon was listening to everything around him happening, all the while his nose smelled too much blood, and most important, his eyes saw his skin.

"WHAT!" Blue, dark blue, no. "WHAT! WHAT! WHAT!" No. And, and, and people were still fighting? "WHATWHAT" Apu was wounded, Foxpack was dying, Katashi was nowhere, Tabart was dry. No. There was another person too, this blue haired person with this smell...

Damon's eyes widened, "WHAT!" He was floating then, "WHATWHATWHATWHATWHATWHATWHATWHAT" His saliva came out of his mouth in a mix with blood, as the only sound he could make were loud groans. The pain was still there, and Damon couldn't fully grasp what had been happening. "F-F-FOX- A-APU- AAAAAAAAAAAAH!" Someone should really wake him up, or cover him, or kill him.

Tabart watched silently as Foxpack engaged the members of the Xros Pirates alone; he understood if they stayed they would have perished, and there was surely no merit in everyone dying, not when they could report this information. But moreso than anything, not when a man was willing to give his life for his resolve. He was far too weak to clench his fist in anger, to cry tears of sadness, to grit his teeth in frustration. Thus, all he did was silently float, and observe Foxpack’s final moments, and silently bless his soul.

Soren was shocked. He knew it. He knew that trying to fight in this situation was meaningless. Everybody in that arena was far greater than him, but not being ablw to fight...it hurt him. To see that man, Foxpack, fighting against all those Pirates on his own, however, made Soren admire him. If he was going to run away, he'd only look towards that cataclysmic fight. The young man would burn it into his eyes, the power of the Yonko's elite, and the people he had to surpass.

Laying in a heap of rubble, Reach was slow to get up. He looked up at the sky, dazed by what had just gone on. He grabbed his head, felt the blood trickling down from a gash along the corner of his forehead. So this is what it felt like to bleed?

As he stood up to his feet, his metal came around him. It squirmed over him and stuck to his frame tightly, compacting tens of times over until the finished product was his frame suit clad in armor. The Dark Knight had risen with his ultimate defense.

Foxpack was attacked from every corner imaginable. Leading the attack was, of course, Kane, her flames immediately combating Foxpack's electro. They exchanged blow after blow, with Bertram swooping in from the rear and Scratch in his Zoan form with all four of his swords jumping in when the opportunity presented itself. Trickshot kept his sights fixated upon the mink, firing off every time Foxpack got even the slightest room to breathe.

Without turning back, Ralph raced through the rest of Bedina. Along the way, he tapped both the sleeping K's, Kettle and Katashi respectively, and they were added to his fleet. Even Daryal was added to his collection, though with his throat crushed, he could say little in thanks. The Admiral flared his nostrils and gritted his teeth as Foxpack's screams filled the entire island.

Vita and Bon were sent flying. Bertram raced towards Foxpack, but the mink managed to catch his wrist before he could grab him by the throat. Bertram yelped as Foxpack twisted his wrist around; however, this was very short lived, as Kane in her zoan form came around and took a bite into Foxpack's thigh.

Foxpack's reflex from the bite opened up a window for Trickshot. The sniper released bullet after bullet, landing them all against the mink's chest. As Foxpack tried to leap up and escape the hold, Scratch came down and stabbed two of his swords right through Foxpack's tail and into the ground beneath, pinning him down into place.

In a desperate attempt to escape, Foxpack released a powerful zap of electro. And while it kicked the pirates right off of him, it did nothing to slow down Reach, who leaped overhead and made preparations for the ritual.

Foxpack's screams growing louder, Ralph appeared just before the metallic wall of Reach's creation, the same which had been made around Bedina. Eyeing the wall for a moment like it were his opponent, Ralph relaxed his shoulders, took in a deep breath and then sealed his eyes. In the next moment, he was furiously punching the wall, his fists bursting aflame.

"Senkaenken!!!" The Admiral roared, letting loose a barrage of blows upon the metal. In seconds it was dented, and in the moments following after, the metal which had been concentrated over a large scale of distance gave into Ralph's might, and the Admiral plunged a hole large enough to compensate for two of them at a time.

Taking one look back now, Ralph paused in his tracks. Snot spilled from either of his nostrils as he gritted his teeth and fought back his tears. The mink wasn't right behind them like he had promised. But what more could he truly expect?

After all, he had left the fox behind to guard the henhouse, and the sly fox was never a man of his word.

The metal had oddly begun to reshape itself according to its own will. The hole was closing, and Ralph knew the opportunity would surely not present itself again so boldly. With the pirates floating along his rear, the Admiral slipped through the hole and unto the other side.

Leaping overhead, Reach thrusted his hand out and slammed his palm against the top of Foxpack's head, right between his ears. His hand slid from there, down the slope of his neck and spine, until from it sprouted a metallic rod. A rod that jutted into the ground and shot up, taking the form of a long cross.

Grappling the mink further, Reach summoned his metallic prowess into hooking Foxpack against the cross, and then by pulling a chain, lifted him up high and to the top. Bertram, who had been embracing Foxpack tightly from the back, was risen up along with the mink; his hands went around Foxpack's eyes, draining him of stamina until he reverted from his Sulong form back into his ordinary state.

And the moment the mink's sulong form was deactivated, the Xros Pirates clicked their tongues and chanted out into the sky in victory.

Gazing upon her prey, Kane walked over to Reach, putting her hand along his armored chest. The knight simply stood watching her in silence. "Won't you lower him down, a bit? I'd like to play with him for a little while."

At the request of his most formidable subordinate commander, Reach lowered the stake that had become Foxpack's new home, until the mink's tail was dangling just barely over the ground. He was perfectly eye level with Kane, now.

"Scratch, cut off his eyelids. I want to make sure he sees all of what I'm about to give him."

Scratch did as he was told. Reverting from his zoan form, the invisible man came into fruition with a single katana, using the sharp part of the blade to leave Foxpack's eyes bare and without any form of shield.

Gazing into his eyes, Kane smirked seductively. She held her hand out back to Reach, and the knight constructed a collar through his powers and dropped it unto her palm. The insides of the collar were pierced with sharp spikes; they would penetrate through the mink's throat once worn. Kane smiled, walking toward Foxpack. The mink faced his punishment with open eyes. "D-Do.. Do your worst-gara!!"

The World Wakes

K.A.N.E. A name anointed to the woman who had previously been known as Vera "the Brave". It was not her true name, but since her becoming of authority within the Xros Pirates, it had become her identity.

To Kill Anyone, Not Everyone. An odd title to bear, but there was some bit of logic behind it. Vera was the sort of woman to take her time in disposing of foes whom she deemed worthy. It gave her pleasure to torture them, to spend days upon days hearing nothing but their screams.

Vera was not the type of pirate to go on and about killing hordes of civilians. Where was the fun in any of that when they all just died in a matter of seconds? No, K.A.N.E. lived based on a very strict principle: that a life may only be taken if it were worthy of being taken. Because of course, not everyone was worth whole days of her time. She was under the notion that if she didn't stretch out a murder as long and drawn out as it could be, then it wouldn't even be memorable!

The collar was fitted around Foxpack's throat. His throat was sliced open by the spikes, and he had to bite down on his own tongue so as not to give Vera the satisfaction of his screams. Bertram stood behind him, supplying him with enough stamina to remain alive; this way he would be forced to endure whatever pain came his way, until of course Vera's arousal had been fulfilled. At which point the mink would be allowed to slouch over and die. But that was whole days from now.

The metal walls around Bedina came down, slowly. As did Reach's armor. The war was now officially over. The Titan Pirates had failed to accomplish whatever they had sought out to do, but Reach couldn't help but feel as though he too had somehow failed. Seeing the horsemen emerge from certain death, he had made it his duty to wipe them off the place of this planet. But instead all he had achieved instead was the capture of another mink.

"..." Reach stood in silence, observing Foxpack struggle against Bertram. Seeing the captured mink brought the knight to reflect upon the days he made sport out of poaching minks. What a time that was.

Tool after tool was created by Reach. Whatever Vera required, he supplied in silence. The rest of the Xros Pirates gathered around to watch Foxpack's atonement. Some sat down and made themselves comfortable, knowing that this process was certainly going to take some time.

Foxpack was flipped over, turned upside down on the stake. With a small knife, Vera made an insertion along the mink's foot, then down the length of his leg. Foxpack's mink furrowed off, falling to the ground beneath. Bare, pink flesh could be seen beneath. Vera roared with pleasure.

"Oh little Foxy..! How do you like that, hmm?~" The knife carried on further up his leg, scraping his rear. Vera lifted up his tail with one hand and plunged her knife into the mink's rectum with the other, twisting and churning it in deep until a fountain of blood spilled to the ground and Foxpack couldn't help but scream aloud.

"Eeheehee!!!" Bertram laughed, supplying the mink with endless energy so as to keep him from falling unconscious.

Foxpack took in a deep breath, panting for air and relief. More of his fur dropped to the ground, until he was entirely nude --nothing but the pink of his animal flesh around his body. He had been stripped of his mink, stripped of his greatest pride. He knew of no greater humiliation.

Seeing her prey writhe in pain, Vera made to comfort him. She nuzzled her face against Foxpack's pink cheek, letting herself soak in his blood. "Oh Foxy, your screams are just the cutest!~"

---

Warren D. Ralph flew until he was miles away from Bedina, and until another small island came into view. At which point he landed down along the beach, setting the pirates down in the sand beside him.

He stood silent for some minutes. He closed his eyes, thoughts and memories pouring through his head. But there was little time for reflection. Not now, not when Ralph was certain he was on his tail.

"This is as far as I'm able to take you." Ralph turned to the pirates. "Consider yourselves lucky. Were it not because of my promise to that fox, I would have flown you all straight to Impel Down." The Marine in him jackled at the prospect of letting the horsemen in particular slip away. He knew the consequences of letting them get away would be severe; but before he could atone to them, he had others he had yet to be properly punished for. But that punishment was on its way. And it would be arriving shortly.

"I'll give you guys a few day's headstart. If you're still here on this island when I get back, then I'll capture you all myself. And this time, I won't be taking it so easy on you."

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru… The Den Den Mushi in Ralph's coat had begun to ring. But that wasn't the only thing around here that was ringing. Ralph's ears, too, had been ringing. The sound of the cutting winds in the distance were resounding in his mind. He was coming; he was coming quick.

Kacha! Ralph brought the transponder snail to his face. "This is Admiral Kinzaru speaking."

The Navy Admiral exchanged a bit of information with whomever was on the other end of the line. There was a reverie being held in Dressrosa and as an Admiral, naturally he had been summoned to take part in it.

Ralph let out a deep sigh. He was under deep waters since his scuffle with the Public Enemy. His relationship with the Navy had never been the same since then. Missing the reverie was only going to make things that much worse. But what else could he do?

As he kept the transponder snail in his hand, a special guest welcomed himself unto the island. Leaping down from the skies themselves, the man cloaked in vanilla white garbs made his presence be felt; he landed down upon the beach on his own two legs, his hands stuffed away in his pockets as if this were all effortless to him.

His curly hair had been twisted into dreadlocks and tied away into a neatly assorted knot behind his head. A long and pointed nose, one rivaling Kettle's own, sat in the middle of his face. Long lashes sprouted over the top of his rounded eyes, and the man bore a very sheepish grin across his lips. He eyed the transponder snail in Ralph's hand, waiting until he was finished with his call before addressing the Admiral, per proper etiquette.

Ralph glared at the man. Here he was, promising the World Government he would show up to the reverie while on the other hand, he was eyeing one of their greatest agents square in the face. "Yes, I'll be there no matter what. You can count on that." He hung up the snail.

"Why lie to them, old man?" The man with the long nose grinned further. "You should've just told them upfront that you wouldn't be coming back."

Ralph stuffed the snail back into his the inner confines of his coat. He offered a glance at the weakly pirates, then turned around to lead the man elsewhere. "...Let's do this someplace else."

"Oh? You're really worried about them?" The man chuckled. "Fine, suit yourself! There's another island nearby, I'll be waiting for you there." Squatting his legs some, the man leaped up again, jumping high into the sky. And just like that he was gone, soaring toward the other island.

According to his prowess, there was no mistaking his identity. He was the "Island Hopper", one of CP0's most formidable agents: Roo "Jumping Jack" Jackson. Roo Jackson was a man who was said to possess "The Strongest Legs in the Government", a remarkable feat considering the vast number of Rokushiki masters present there. This was the sort of man who traveled between islands simply by jumping as a means of transportation.

Ralph knew better than to stand Jackson up. He would simply come looking for him again, and this time he wouldn't be so kind. It was better to get this over and done with. Looking toward the pirates one final time, the Admiral flew off toward the island to take part in his "meeting" with the CP0 agent.

Soren was probably the only one of his comrades who still retained a degree of consciousness. Although it was hard to call it such. He was using every ounce of strength to keep awake, but his senses had been essentially stolen from him. The young man was unable to tell who was in front of him, or who was lying beside him. He was unable to hear the calls of the world. Even the white figure that appeared before his escort seemed like he'd fade away any minute. He was in a truly sorry state. Exhaustion had finally caught up to him, after the adrenaline worn off. This was a message the shinobi's body sent to him. Sleep.

As Soren closed his eyes slowly, dreams of his youth appeared. Playing swords with a brown-haired girl, and a youthful black-haired boy with horns on his head. The watchful, but happy gaze of a blue-haired woman and white-haired man...What was this? Was it his family? He was so tired that he couldn't even read his own thoughts anymore. And that was when he finally lost consciousness. Fukuoka Soren's espionage on the Xros Pirates came to an end.

Much beside Soren and the others laid the figure of the unconscious Draco D. Damon, his eyes without pupils and his mouth hanging open, which showed his sharp teeth. Most notable, however, had been the change in his hair. Across the line of the lower part of his frontal strand to its utmost limit was the white color, not the black color. Indeed, due to the extreme stress put on him by the Gospel, Reach, a small part of Damon's hair had aged.

At that moment, Damon had nothing to do and nothing to think, for his mind had entered too deep of a slumber. Perhaps, that happened even before Ralph safely landed them on this nameless island. He couldn't say he was ready for what the others would say... to his appearance, when they all wake up, but, that would be a story for another day.

Tabart had long since been asleep since being lifted into the air, his stamina simply depleted beyond all values. He hadn't ever been this exhausted, and probably never would again. He was literally drained. Thus, here he lay on the beach, falling between two states of consciousness and unconsciousness. But, even in this state, he heard light, familiar foot steps, and with his last bit of strength, he smiled weakly before falling into a semi-eternal abyss.

As the other horsemen slept soundly, Apu, despite all he had been through, remained awake, albeit barely. His body had already failed him; he had exhausted himself beyond belief, and Bertram's powers in stripping his stamina didn't help in the least.

But the fishman sat up, nevertheless, gazing out at the sea, pondering upon what had awaited them across the line.

Kettle, who had recently awoken after being previously unconscious, walked up beside Apu and the two looked out at the sea together.

"He's really gone, isn't he, Kettle-sama?"

"...I'm afraid so."

Tears forged in the fishman's eyes. Just when he had found Luhr, he had lost yet another one so precious to him. Is this what it meant to be a pirate?

---

Peace, calm, tranquility. These were all elements that simply did not exist within the sanctum of the Xros Pirates' territory. But even so, their top seated officers had forged a brotherhood like no other; they preached loyalty, togetherness.

"Oh godddd..! Oh godd, that's it, don't stop baby..!~"

The meeting called forth by the Yonko Michael D. Shiguma had come to an end at last. Most of his commanders and the many heavyweights of his crew had already departed; few had left behind to enjoy the company of one another.

In a small and enclosed environment, the man, the myth, and the legend, Shiguma himself, sat with his back against the soft cushion of a beaten down couch. The angelic wings benevaling his Shandian heritage perched out behind him, relaxing into the cushion. He gazed up toward the ceiling with orange eyes, hand stroking his course beard as the other gripped the newspaper. The Yonko was reflecting in thought over all that had occurred. Meanwhile, his beloved wife was lain out on her back over the coffee table, her legs spread out by the Gospel, Grimoire Artis.

"Just like that, just like that!~" Bearing long blue hair, the wife to the Yonko, Shiguma was a woman sought out across the seas. She had been given the name of "Treasure Chest" for the gargantuan breasts that sprang like whole melons from her treasured chest, and was known to the world at large as the most benevolent consort.

"Treasure Chest" Armada, the world's most notorious courtesan with a bounty of Beli Small777,000,000. It was said that coming across her was like winning the jackpot; even the Marines that had the opportunity to capture her in the past simply decided against doing so. She was the goddess of sex; there were no greater pleasures to be had anywhere on the seas.

"Give it to me, oh yass! Don't stop, oh baby, don't you stop!!~"

Mating with Armada at present was Shiguma's most loyal of heart companion. To such an extent that Shiguma was sitting comfortably a few feet away as he made love to his own wife. Artis was the world's most intelligent man and the brains behind the Xros Pirates' formidable fleet. He was their battle tactician, their sound strategist whom Shiguma concurred everything to before making a single move. He threw back his head, his hands clasped around the thickness of Armada's thigh as he rammed his hips to and fro.

Shiguma reached his arm to a cup of liquor that had been sitting beside his wife's bare buttocks. He made nothing of the way the table was shaking; he simply reached for the cup and began to sip from it. "Hmmm, I still can't believe all those kids managed to escape." Shiguma's orange eyes focused in over the updated bounties of the horsemen. They fell over Damon's form and hung on his profile. "But I suppose even Reach can get a little soft from time to time."

Shiguma discarded the newspaper, tossing it into the air. He threw back his head and grinned. "Declaration of war, my ass! Do they think they're cheeky or something? It serves that bastard Foxpack right for thinking he could come into my territory and get away with anything, much less his life!

"This isn't a war until I say it is! If those good for nothing Yonko want to team up against us, then so be it; we'll simply get them before they can get us." Shiguma stood up to his feet. His own children were being held captive by the likes of the other three Yonko. He didn't care as much for their well being as maybe Armada did, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to at least try and save them.

"Oh fuck, I'm close..! I'm close, darling..!~"

"Tidy up the sails, Artis! Get me some guys who're ready to fight now. I'm gonna go and personally teach those three what it means to mess around with a guy like me." Shiguma walked through the door. It was time to launch an attack against one of the other Yonko. But who would it be?

As Shiguma left the room, the coffee table flipped over and Armada and Artis, holding onto one another, fell onto the floor.

FIN.