Swords clashed. Sparks fell, melting into the snow. Candles fought off the darkness which obscured the snowy mountaintop of Wano Country. A pure porcelain rain which blanketed the country fell gracefully. But each drop sizzled against his darkened flesh. Howling wind obscured their roars and grunts, surrounding them in an invisible boundary-creating a different world meant only for hearts dedicated to the sword. Above the two swordsmen, master and student, an abysmal darkness grew as the hours passed.
"Are you not trying to hit me, Salazar?" Masamune teased. Salazar, wearing nothing but his leggings, went after his teacher aggressively.
But to no avail; for Masamune stepped into his student's flank and answered with his own weapon against Salazar. Who could only intercept the approaching foible with Colada's forte.
"Parry Neuvieme?" Masamune teased. "Didn't think you could integrate saber defense into rapier swordplay."
Salazar withdrew his arm, jumped into measure and extended her tip reactively. He saw walls of snow blast forward from behind Masamune, covering the entrance to the door entirely.
"You're going to clean that." Masamune joked from beneath Colada's pathway. The old man launched himself up, grabbing onto the darkened hand of Salazar-. "Maybe I can understand why a 16 year old got you so riled up. Can't hit an old man, can't hit a little girl-" He looked to Colada. "She's probably ashamed."
"Damn you-" Salazar growled. He felt his muscles growing and the burning sensation which spreads during battle.
Salazar sighed, calming the riling sun seconds from explosion. His eyes became their normal shade of brown. He repelled Masamune and leapt back. He advanced once more, his arm working meticulously in search of an opening. Over and over. Extending and withdrawing. He prodded his teacher. Disengaging the blade. Switching lines as her tip approached warm flesh, only to pierce empty air.
Masamune shifted his weight. It seemed like every step was a second faster than his arm. Salazar fought the growl rumbling in his throat. But it grew with every miss. Soon becoming a series of ferocious grunts. His eyes sharpened, jaw sore from clenching it.
The old man grabbed Salazar's hand once more, their eyes meeting for the hundredth time during their intense bout. It was then that the young swordsman remembered, or felt the ramifications that is. He stood there, gasping for air almost as if he had drowned.
"You wasn't breathing." Masamune's words knocked Salazar to his butt. "Or should I say that were so focused on controlling your anger, you forgot to control your breath." The old man continued.
"You have to suppress your emotions," Salazar spoke. His words were accompanied by puffs of white smoke "or risk being read like a book."
"Control or suppress?" The old man, wearing nothing but a kimono, asked. His silver sword, nameless, exhibited the quality of a beautifully crafted blade. "Remember, I knew Vega when he was a low ranked sword for hire. So believe me when I say that, when compared between the two of you, his anger makes yours into a small inconvenience." Masamune chuckled. "But the difference is, Inigo learned to control it and use it to increase his own power as opposed to his enemy's advantage." The old man inhaled his crop and exhaled a clean wisp of smoke. "There's a difference between controlling your emotions and suppressing them. To suppress is to deny oneself. to possess them without acknowledgement. Now, don't get me wrong, there exist those who can eliminate their humanity and become emotionless killing machines. It takes a specially gifted individual to endure such a path."
Salazar's eyes wandered off slightly. Remembering the four eyed-
-"Luckily you're not one of them, Salazar." Masamune laughed. "You possess a different gift, a heart capable of forging friendships with everyone you encounter. One sensitive to the pain of others and surrounded by childlike naivety and innocence. But I wonder why're your swords so empty with such powerful emotions." Salazar's teacher rubbed his frizzy chin.
"My swords ain't empty dammit!"
"Do you know why I chose this sword against you?" Masamune held up his nameless piece. "I made this piece this morning from old materials-and yet you've failed to chip it even with such intricate pieces."
Salazar loosened his grip around Colada. His eyes lowered as he looked away. "I don't get it." He grumbled. "No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't cut through your defense."
"Of course not. My heart and memories are placed into every sword I wield." Masamune held up his weapon. "Which is why you couldn't cut through this nameless weapon with your own legendary blades."
"Battles are fought between the hearts of the wielders. Even the largest wars are physical manifestations of conflicting ideologies, beliefs. Everything in this realm begins here." Masamune pointed to his chest. "And it extends outwardly into the sword. Only when you learn to imbue your heart into your weapons will you understand the importance of reason and purpose; beyond stabbing at someone's wrist." The old man inhaled smoke. "And only then will they become heavy enough to cut anything." He exhaled and smiled. "Who do you think taught Inigo that?"
Salazar watched wide eyed as Masamune cut a snowy path with a gentle swing. He commanded the wind, forcing a pathway and revealing a clear garden of Cyclamen. Masamune picked one and smelled the white petals. "Tell me Salazar. Why do your hands shake?"
"Masamune-sama-" Salazar halted. He was utterly embarrassed by the lack of control over his emotions. He could only suppress them or allow them to run freely. Where he thought he was once a master of his emotions, it took only a sixteen year old broad to show him the simplicity of his achievements. Once she broke the wall which suppressed his inner self, undoing the progress of a decade of training, he experienced his weakness...against himself. The memories of his pathetic behavior shook him with anger. "I'm cold..."
The old master's brow raised.
"Can I please put my shirt and cloak back on?" Salazar asked grudgingly.
"Your words are empty." It happened in a flash. Faster than Salazar could comprehend. One minute he sat in the snow, the next his back was pressed against the snowy porch. "Speak with your heart and announce who you are!" Masamune's foot was pressed against Salazar's bare chest. "Be true to yourself!" The old master roared. "Stop hiding behind these walls. False names and titles mean nothing to those who dedicate themselves to the sword." His voice boomed. Suddenly the mountain rumbled. Salazar, who had flew a few feet back, jumped to his feet.
"Would you stop yelling, ya geezer!" Salazar barked. He coughed, with the master's sandals pressed hard against him. "I'm just cold!
"Get it off your chest child!"
"I"m freaking freezing dammit." Salazar looked away. Foolish. For Masamune sent him flying further into the side of his house with a fearsome kick.
"You weren't cold the last few weeks of training child. Why now? Stop running behind false persona's and intangible faces! Bring life to your eyes and light the fire of your spirit."
"Dammit old man, stop trying to analyze me. I'm not some deep person." Salazar growled. "I'm a simple swordsman who wants to climb the highest mountain."
"Well simpleton, run down to the village and get us some dinner." Masamune sheathed his sword and walked into his house. Leaving only his words in the air. "I'll have tea ready for your return."
"What do you mean?" An elder, clothed in the fabric of the wealthy, asked his younger companion. "That's impossible. The key to the poneglyphs were hidden behind hundreds of countermeasures. We'd receive an early warning even if one was triggered, Daisuke."
"I know, my lord." His voice wavered. "I suspect treason among the Daimyou ranks. After all, the World Government has pursued Wano Country for centuries. Now they have a reason to mobilize and launch a full scale invasion publicly. And I'm willing to bet whoever was the mole will receive a generous reward."
"That idiot." The elder sipped his tea. "As if they'd simply stop at an invasion. Those barbarians will destroy this country, especially considering how intricately connected we are to the void century. Something as big as that being released will only pose a threat to the power held by the World Government."
"Afraid not. Remember what happened to the island of readers, I can only imagine what they'd do to the source of the ancient tongue." He sighed.
"You're not saying-"
"We have to send word to Kozuki Masamune."
Daniyal turned. A young village boy was waving admiringly at the swordsman, who nodded with a cheerful smile.
"Come on Ichiro," A woman appeared suddenly, rushing her child into the house. "Stay inside or you'll get sick. And I don't want to have to tell you to stay away from the foreigners again, okay?"
Daniyal wrapped his body in the white kimono given to him by the Old Man. He shuffled with it, searching for a comfortable position for Colada and Tizona beneath it. The ebony man stuck out against the white background of the snowy Country of Harmony. He felt their eyes follow him. Even the whispers managed to reach the swordsman.
"He's the old man in the mountain's guest. A foreigner!"
"What?! They allowed a foreigner this far into the country?"
"Masamune, that crazy old bag needs to stop playing with swords and help us with crops."
"Oh, Daniyal, you're early today." An older woman appeared from behind the shop. She held a large basket filled with ingredients. "Please, give Masamune-san my kindest regards. I also gave you a few extra rabbits, I know they're your favorite."
"Thank you, Elder." Daniyal bowed. He took the basket and headed back up the path he walked.
"Hey weirdo, get the hell out of this country!" A man boomed. Before Daniyal could fully react, he felt a rock smash against his shaven head. He glared at the belligerent drunk. "I...I recognize you!" He stuttered. "When I go...when I go out...fishing..I encountered pirates. And one had a picture of you! Shiiiiichiiiiibu....Shiichi....Dog!" The drunk fell over, succumbing to the allure of a drink too many.
Daniyal unclenched his jaw and headed off.
"Salazar, what do you think reason means in swordplay?" Masamune asked, stirring his massive pot. The aroma of vegetables mingled with the tingling scent of fruit. A masterful combination only found by those who understood the importance of balance.
"Purpose." Salazar laid back. HIs neck pressed against the warm wooden floors of his teacher's house. "It's an attack in the fourth to cut their wrist. A strike in the sixth to sever their tendon. Every move has a reason to either disarm and defeat their opponent."
"But why do you wield your sword?" Masamune tasted the broth. "Anyone can understand the concept of breaking the foundation. However, I'm asking the reason behind your attacks. None of your attacks are lethal so why do you embrace in battle"
"For myself." Salazar answered without hesitation. "Battle is the only time I feel alive. The joy of a successful parry or the elaborate plot coming to fruition. Deducing your opponent's weakness and strengths-It's impossible to describe."
"Beautifully said." Masamune chuckled.
"And for the spirit of benevolence which is within us all." Salazar interrupted. "If there's a chance to save those who cannot protect themselves...To support the hopeless. My sword, she will see the light of day."
"So why do you serve them, when they take away your reason."
Salazar sighed. His lips twitched before he shot up and indulged in the plates laid out before him. The food was delicious and practice drained him of his reserves. The howling wind against the building walls was overwhelmed by Salazar's loud munching.
"Eat up. Tomorrow we'll continue practice."
Two blobs of light danced around one another, growing and shrinking rapidly, changing from different hues of bright. He knew one rather personally. The realm of darkness was thick but the swordsman saw everything, even the small animals scurrying across the mountain top. Birds which soared through the quieted storm. The night was peaceful. Each light danced around one another, interacting with one another as they should.
The first light switched from light blue to an angered red. Salazar shot up, his eyes lowered tiredly. "Somethings wrong." He grabbed Tizona and snuck outside his room. He moved through the hall, avoiding areas of dim light from scattered candles; sticking to the darkness of the realm. He pressed the steps gently, descending into the kitchen where he heard a couple voices. He recognized one as the Old Man's but wasn't familiar with the second.
"There's a mole within the Kozuki family. Someone has alerted the World Government of the scroll. The others have began activating their contingency plans, even going as far as mobilizing their defense squadrons." Daisuke answered.
"Shit. How long do we have until the World Government arrives?"
"This town is on the edge of the island. We'll probably make contact with Marines before anywhere else, depending on how they decide to approach the situation. But the villagers aren't accustomed to battle, they're nothing more than fisherman and silk traders. Send word to..." Salazar leaned forward.
"Kozuki-sama?" Daisuke continued.
"Nothing. Tell the nearby regions to prepare for battle as quickly as possible. This will be the first war of Wano Country in centuries."
Daisuke nodded. He vanished into the darkness shortly after bowing.
"I should've known better than to try and sneak around you. Just like Vega, your third eye can be quite annoying." Masamune laughed.
"The World Government is coming?" Salazar asked worriedly
"It has nothing to do with you." He sipped his tea and looked to his student, who revealed himself in the candle's shine. "We...have a long history with this world. Our policy of isolation has allowed us to avoid the shifting tides. But even the sturdiest boats are bound to follow the waves. The only question is, will we seize control or succumb to a tsunami?"
"I'll protect this town." Salazar offered. "I doubt they'll send a heavy force to deal with this. Marines are extremely arrogant in their powers." He turned away offering one final thought before heading back to bed. "Not a single drop of innocent blood will fall."
Masamune exploded at Salazar, his arms moving viciously and with mountainous anger. He swung the steel blade with the ferociousness of an angered dragon. Salazar was under pressure, his steps were seconds late.
"This is impossible." Salazar thought "I"m faster than this, why am I...why am I." He struggled with his thought. His chest burned. He held back the growling roar boiling in his stomach and kept both eyes focused on the silver blade. Every broke from the master's intense strikes. Salazar ordered. His words were ignored by the maddened sword master....
"You forgot to breath again, fool!" Masamune roared. Pain erupted from Salazar's chest, traversing his upper body. He felt the warm river of blood fall down his chest and drip from his stomach. The world darkened, it became harder to breath. His heart slowed, thickening from the wound. Salazar's hands rubbed the closed wound...nothing was there.
"What...the hell-" Salazar panted. He fell to the snow covered ground drenched in sweat. He realized Masamune hadn't moved a single step this entire time.-"did I see...."
"Did you honestly think you were the only person who could use killing intent?" Masamune chuckled. "Although, I'll admit that yours is probably the most potent I've seen in decades. Hence why it takes all of your concentration to suppress your emotions. But no more. Today's exercise is combat without crossing blades. Every time I kill you, is a day of cleaning you owe me." Masamune joked. "This is crucial, I want you to focus on both your breathing and emotions. Feel the raw power of your spirit coursing through you, and stop holding back
"Feel the raw power of my spirit." Salazar took a couple paces back and composed himself. He breathed deeply. "Allow it to course through my body and materialize in the real word." It felt like fire coursed through his veins. A feeling he hadn't felt in years.
Salazar jumped at Masamune, Tizona's ebony blade shining brilliantly yet contrasting their white surroundings. His attacks were lively, bestial roars accompanied the aggressive snaps of his arm. Each strike sent waves of snow soaring from across the mountain, commanding the very storm which had formed above him.
"What's the matter, Salazar?" Masamune asked. The old master moved gracefully, leaping from foot to foot and deflecting Tizona with gentle brushes. "You can't hit me?"
"I'll kill you!" Salazar's arm moved wildly, covering more space. But he failed to actually push Masamune, who hadn't lost his advantage over the ebony swordsman.
Salazar lunged. Masamune ducked. He tripped. His head fell to the snowy earth. Salazar watched his headless body hit the snow.
"You left yourself open, and worst, allowed your killing intent to become your actual intent. Separate your emotions from your mind. Set your heart on fire but keep your head cool."
Salazar flew at Masamune. Their swords clashed, forte to forte, circling around one another. He had the advantage. The old man took small steps back. He jumped into Salazar's flank. His arm fell, blood splurging from the open wound.
Salazar growled. "Keep my emotions separated." He repeated. His heart burned intensively but he kept his mind calmed. Their hearts crossed yet mind matched the quiet storm that surrounded them. Salazar attacked ferociously, falling after numerous strikes. But he engaged his master seconds after.
"Now strike me, Salazar!" Masamune yelled.
"Jingen Akukiryu!" Salazar roared. He leapt forward, drawing Tizona. In two tempo's, he melted into a deep lunge attempting to disembowel his master with a wide slash.
Masamune found himself unable to step back in time. Innards spilled onto the earth, drenching the snow in a darkened crimson.
Blood fell from a small cut on his shoulder, only centimeters deep. His stomach intact. "Excellent." Masamune smiled.
Salazar stood at the docks with a white bird on his finger. "The Marines'll arrive soon." He sighed. "I'll be killed if they find me here with my sword raised."
"Shichibukai!" The durnk's words echoed in his heart.
"Why am I even worried for these weaklings..." Salazar growled. He remembered the young boy and the elder. "Ugh. I can't leave them to die."
"If I leave no survivors on the ships...I could severely weaken their overall force." The swordsman sighed, rubbing his temples. "But if I don't, then they'll continue to attack their invasion."
"I doubt I can stand against an entire armada by myself." He rolled up the white paper and attached it to the pigeon's leg. "Unless," He mumbled. "she gets involved. They won't attack if they receive word of a Yonko moving towards them. Or even divert their power to deal with the oncoming reinforcements. But can I really rely on her for help?"
"She has no obligation to this country." Salazar thought. "Neither do I."
The bird flew off into the whitened sky.
Tamed Mind, Savage BodiesEdit
Estimated Marine Arrival Time... Three Hours
With a handful of hours separating the marine forces from the island, far outside of visible range, a lone ship seemingly unrelated to the armada was making its way toward the island with its coastline in view. Perhaps with nothing more than thirty minutes between them, it was a modest wooden vessel without a flag; perhaps a merchant ship of some kind. But its passengers were anything but modest, including the one who sat at its center as its captain. Though his actual title would be enough to stir the fears of every outlaw, pirate, criminal, and even scumbag that ever thought of so much as stealing a chocolate bar... The Fleet Admiral, Kurama.
The ship was far too deceptive, nobody would have ever expected the head of the government's militant branch to be traveling by a shoddy vessel such as this one. Furthermore, one would expect him to be accompanied by a heavily armed guard. The occupants of this ship, however, were no more than four. Kurama and three of those who are members of his innermost circle of trust. Standing at the bow of the ship, his hands held behind his back, with his silvery hair fluttering about in the wake of the sea's breeze, faced outwards toward the coastline with a look of blatant intrigue etched onto his face. Beside him, to the right, stood a tall fishman with purple skin, dressed entirely in black garb. This was the man known as Omoikane, a member of Kurama's inner circle, and a powerful combatant who served the Fleet Admiral.
"Was this wise? Within hours, that island will become razed to the ground. Its inhabitants annihilated. I cannot ensure your safety, Kurama-gensui, should you choose-" Omoikane spoke bluntly, but Kurama interrupted his concerning statement with a light chuckle. "Do you worry for me, Omoi-san?" the Fleet Admiral responded, shooting him a rather teasing grin.
Omoikane scoffed. "Of course not. But for the Fleet Admiral to be involved in this sort of matter, it is a mockery of your status."
"A mockery?" Kurama questioned, turning his sights once more on the isle. "You have a point. This is a mockery. A game. Nothing more than a game." the Fleet Admiral mused, jumping off from where he stood and landed atop the narrow peak of the ship's bow. With a casual motion of his arms, he removed the white coat which signified his status as an admiral within the marines, allowing it to flutter in the air briefly before Omoikane caught it. "But this is my game to play. I intend to enjoy it." Wearing naught but standard garb, a plain robe of cotton white, he would be seemingly unrecognizable except by those who truly studied the ranks of the marines.
It was instantaneous. Kurama flew from the railing of the ship, dashing into the air above and seemingly vanished from sight; nothing more than the sound of a razor shredding through paper pulsing outwards in a brief instant. Omoikane stared out into the distance, letting out a sigh at the actions of his reckless Fleet Admiral.
Within moments, upon the beach of the island, the silver-haired Kurama landed onto its sands, gazing outwards in the distance.
Salazar froze. The silver light shined brightly on the nearby beach, gracefully cutting through the darkness brought upon by blankets of white and endless mist. He saw the minute fluctuations, alternating through the different hues. The tranquility of this massive energy was inhuman. Was he enlightened? "Impossible." Sweat drenched his ebony skin, falling from his trembling hands and melting into the earth. He ran to the empty docks with thunderous steps and took a sailor's abandoned binoculars. A brownish boat approached slowly. Yet he had already touched land. Salazar would recognize the unimaginable power within the silver beam from across ten thousand islands.
"As if the chances weren't already slim against their fleet." Salazar choked.
"Nearby areas have already mobilized their troops and began the emergency evacuations." Masamune stated. He sat at the edge of the porch and sipped his jasmine tea. "What'd you think they'll do, Salazar?."
"Well knowing the Marines, they'll send any reachable admirals and ranked officials to lead their lower ranked soldiers. But I doubt we have to worry about anyone serious." Salazar joked. "This far out in the New World, surrounded by grand pirate fleets? Please. And besides, the World Government prefers their cozy summer and spring islands."
"Ah." The old man accepted it. "You know, you still haven't told me your plan. I doubt you're going to betray the marines so openly."
"Well, If I can sink a few of their bigger ships, then you guys can handle the rest. I've nothing to worry about as long as there aren't any survivors." Salazar flinched. "Still. Tomorrow morning we should evacuate the villagers. I'll head to the shore and prepare the attack. If I can weaken their forces, the rest of you can finish them before they even reach town. You only need to repel them once."
"Dammit!" Salazar cursed. "What does this invasion have to do with him and why is he so far on the front line?!" Salazar bit his lip, blood stained the clean snow. His body refused to obey his command. "The Fleet Admiral'll become suspicious if he finds me here...but he's probably sensed me already." What could he do? "I can't let him into an empty town or else he'll realize we suspected him." Salazar grabbed his temples, his breath fastened. "And if he finds out...that I helped this country prepare for the invasion."
Be true to yourself...
Salazar took a deep breath and vanished into the porcelain breeze. His movements were silent, as he reappeared behind Kurama. But his energy was as calm as the ocean which rested to their flank.
"Fleet Admiral Kurama," Salazar spoke. His eyes were empty. "If I may ask, what's the purpose for your visit?"
Almost like that of a fox's ears, his head perked up at the sound of a familiar voice. Turning to face the newcomer, Kurama offered only a polite smile. "Well, if it isn't Salazar. Shichibukai Salazar-san." he answered, his arms had casually motioned toward his chest, being crossed as he faced the swordsman with his trademark confident grin. Their eyes, though different as they were and the feeling they were each expressing, it almost seemed like a brief engagement of their spirits met; like a spark falling from the clash of two sharp swords. Kurama was a seasoned warrior and a proud practitioner of the marines martial arts. It took no more than looking into somebody's eyes for him to have some sense of understanding as to the type of person standing before him. Perhaps even more, depending on the degree of intensity being expressed in that person's gaze. But as to what Kurama exactly could see, or not see, in the empty gaze of Salazar was yet to be ascertained.
"You have some wonderful timing. Were you alerted to the attack? Quite commendable, rushing to fight on behalf of the government. I never pictured a pirate being so... dutiful. Gold star." the Fleet Admiral mused, relaxing his body as he chuckled forth at the mention of his light-hearted words. "My purpose? Hmm... Well, I heard rumors of a certain someone or someones being here. Strong ones. Perhaps even ones that could make the Yonko tremble. Or perhaps it is a Yonko itself... The very thought of it excites me to my core!" Kurama joyously remarked. "But it is very likely that they have sensed my coming here." he continued, lifting his head a bit so that his gaze crossed paths with the distant image of the island village. "Most likely, to draw this person out, I may need to smash that village up a little. Perhaps kill a couple people. It shouldn't matter really. What with the attack and all... this island's going to be burnt to the ground anyways, people and all. It'd be a shame if I didn't enjoy some genuine bloodshed before finding this person." Kurama added, with a soft-hearted tone of voice that would unsettle most anybody, with the sort of levity this man had when speaking of murdering innocents.
Turning his head once more, his facial expression suggested a thought had arisen in him. "Ah, now there's an idea. You're here, Salazar-san. You can help me out a little. Assist me in cutting up that village a little. I'm sure a swordsman would enjoy some blood splatter just as much as I would. I'll even let you have first pick of your victims." the Fleet Admiral continued in his jovial tone.
"I'll have to decline your generous offer." Salazar whispered, his voice wavered. He only had one option...But could he? His hand trembled within the sleeves of his kimono. His spirit, subtle in its clash, did not falter as it stood before the village but hesitated to advance forward. He's taking this invasion and impeding massacre as a joke. Salazar recalled the warnings of his master. When you reach a peak so high, everything else looks so small-you can't help to laugh. Indeed, Salazar felt his heart race, pounding against his chest. The world was overwhelmed by the thunderous thumping bursting in his ears. What is this? The swordsman recognized the familiar sensation radiating from within. The same sensation he experienced when near his presence. No doubt it was the same sensation that bursted from Kurama's aura when he mentioned the Yonko. My purpose... Kurama's words echoed in his mind. He's here to fight someone? His purpose is to surpass his limitations and destroy his previous boundary. Salazar thought. It brought a small smile to his face when he realized it. There aren't enough words in the world's languages to dissuade a heart dedicated to the arts from surpassing the boundaries placed by the realm. And their hearts understood that. "Lying would taint my honor as a swordsman and insult you, a Master of the Martial Art."
Suppressing is denial, control is power...
"I'm here to defeat you, Kurama-shishou, and then I'll protect this island from the corrupt hands of the World Government." He said. His voice booming with a newfound power and resolve. "I'll surpass you and continue onwards!" Salazar's gaze livened as he wrapped his hand around their hilts. "Those are my reasons for being here!"
Colada and Tizona emerged from their respective sheathe. The ebony and silver blades danced around one another yet were impossible to separate. Tizona, a legendary black sword cursed to draw blood and bring death whenever drawn, contrasted the white snow of the Wano Country. Meanwhile her younger sister, Colada, a weapon whose body is currently ranked as one of the most graceful creations in the realm of swordsmanship, complimented the porcelain background. Salazar held onto them with love and strength drawn from the determination coursing through his muscles.
The entire time, the Fleet Admiral remained stone-faced after witnessing Salazar's verbal and expressive response. There was no way he anticipated this rebellious response, was there? No... That would've been impossible. Yet, he was calm, simply facing the Shichibukai-turned-traitor with his standard look. In truth, Kurama cared very little for the bonds of trust and loyalty, at least to anybody that was outside of his personal inner circle. Furthermore, even if he was drafted by the government for his skills, he was first and foremost... a pirate. This was their way, after all — allegiance solely to their individual interests. But Kurama cared little for this change. In fact, it abides by his philosophy. The endless cycle of pirates and marines... All for the sake of growth.
But in the end, Kurama relayed a light smile at Salazar's declaration. Not for his reasons, but he seemed quite interested in what this man seemed to offer; an enjoyable fight, perhaps a true challenge that the Fleet Admiral has sadly been unable to enjoy in sufficient moderation. Right now, it wasn't the threat of this traitor, a possible unbalancing of the Three Powers system, or even the ships that were due to arrive in under three hours... No. What mattered now was the fight ahead, as Kurama could see his very reflection in the blades wielded by his opponent.
"So that's your answer, eh...?" Kurama responded, chuckling under his breath for a moment. "I'm here to defeat you, Kurama-shishou." he continued, parroting back Salazar's exact words in a sort of mocking tone, his chuckle deepening a bit before he went quiet and his composure became serious. "Your best chance? That was two minutes ago, when my back was turned. Your best chance was to draw those swords and drive them down the back of my skull before I so much as turned to face you." he added, before deepening his stance a bit, widening his legs apart so that they were as far apart as the length of his shoulders across the back. Yet, even so, he remained still with his arms down at his side.
"But don't let that stop you, Salazar-san. See how you do. Let's fight until neither of us can keep our arms up anymore." Raising his arms at the same time, Kurama swung his right hand to his front, just as his right foot had kicked off from his standing position. Shigan and Soru. The two techniques flowed together elegantly as he dashed forward, lunging his extended index finger in repeated thrusts aiming for the vital spots of his opponent. The other hand remained steady; in the very instant that he dashed ahead, a brief humming sound resounded in the air as his entire hand took on a black coloration, signifying the cladding of Haki. With his right hand as spear, and his left hand as shield, he was ready to pressure Salazar in this initial engagement of strikes.
Salazar's third eye sharpened instinctively to this overwhelming force, a monster whose lunge reminded him of a burst of lightning. Perhaps if things were friendly, Salazar would have expressed jealousy that a martial artist possessed such a clean and explosive takeoff. However, the Fleet Admiral's deadly strikes drew his attention from personal vendetta's. Salazar's feet, black with an ink like substance, danced sporadically yet gracefully. He flickered between the strikes, using the openings created by the continuous withdrawals of Kurama's arm, to foresee the oncoming pathway.
I can't keep this up. He's pushing me through. Salazar cursed, his arm bleeding from a grazing bullet. I have to force an opening.
Salazar, with a thunderous roar, took a single pace backwards. His fingers pulled the beautiful grip of Colada in a circular motion through the lateral outside lines, slamming her body against an approaching right wrist-in hopes of parrying the strike. An enemy of overwhelming strength is the easiest target to manipulate. Salazar tried to convince himself. But Kurama's power was nearly impossible to budge, forcing the swordsman to drain his energy into redirecting it slightly; a strenuous counter-sixte.
"And now for the Riposte!"
Salazar pulled his left hand, bringing down Tizona's ebony blade towards Kurama's shoulder. Her body whistled brilliantly through the air, sending forth a sharp wind which sliced through the earth behind his target.
It felt like being drawn into the flow of a river. Kurama's strikes were flawless, that much was true, but against an opponent like Salazar, a fight between high level warriors — nay, martial artists of differing disciplines — was like a dance. Almost like a roaring torrent, it was impossible to say which of them had taken the lead, which had the advantage, or which was being forced on the defensive at any particular moment during the exchange. Onlookers would view their exchange as though it were a choreographed routine. After all, how on earth could these two be matching movements, clashing breaths and rhythms, with such precision and a natural series of responses piled atop reactions that it couldn't possibly be a routine that they had practiced several times until it became perfect? Perhaps what was truly terrifying was that, while that would be the presumption made by an outsider looking in, to the warriors Kurama and Salazar, these were naught but sparring jabs. They were testing each other out, getting a feel of one another. The realm of masters is truly a frightening prospect...
Kurama did not seem surprised by his opponent's masterful art of avoidance and redirection. If he did not possess such skill, the Fleet Admiral would have dispatched him within seconds by now. But then came the counterattack — the riposte, as his fencing master of an opponent so called it — though he was prepared for this eventuality. He finally drew in his other hand, the one coated by Busoshoku, and the two weapons seemed to collide with a ferocious screech that resonated throughout the air around them. A brief discharge manifested, purple and red sparks of electrical discharge which erupted outwards, flashing for mere moments before dissipating. That was the result of two powerful Hakis clashing together, and the more the two would go at it, the far more devastating the discharges were bound to be.
But Kurama only put this collision to good use. He took advantage of the momentum of being forced back by Salazar's mighty blade, converting that force as his rotated his hips around and thrust out his right leg in a wide arc aiming for his sword-wielding adversary. A sudden flash of green light shone forth, exploding from Kurama's leg in a crescent shape as it went flying for Salazar in that instant.
Was this the most dangerous form of foreplay? Two masters judging the minute reactions of one another, the slightest twitch of the eye to a quick step of hesitation. One so quick an outsider would miss it entirely. These two monsters moved with one another, transferring the lead willingly as if they were playing a simple ball game. Sex. Dance. Combat. Three aspects with more similarities than differences. They were intimate lovers watching their partner’s body attentively, matching both rhythm and pace. They became dancers leading one another to the beat of battle. And most of all, enemies trying to overpower the other. But through sex, dance, and combat, the two demons created a spectacle. A unique theory that only the greatest philosopher could deduce upon sight.
But Salazar was unable to truly experience the joy of such a rare sighting. For each hesitant step or half-committed attack meant death. Kurama’s overwhelming presence forced his focus entirely on their quick exchanges. Finally their weapons clashed, the ebony sword of Tizona and Kurama’s godly body. ‘’What magnificence...’’ He thought In the brief instances of sparking explosion. His blood boiled in anticipation. ‘’To hone one’s body to such levels...it is the epitome of martial arts.’’ Yet he pushed onwards, a futile attempt to push his enemy back. A success! Kurama slid back...
An emerald explosion blinded the swordsman. He could only flip Tizona downwards and cross her with Colada. The two weapons forming a solid X before him. An earthquake broke through his defense pressing against his pitch black skin, drenched in Haki. One second he was airborne, the next he slid against the earth. He tried to stand but his bones shook. “That hurt like a bitch.” Salazar limped. Blood fell from his mouth in a steady stream. “I can’t fall here...But fighting with broken bones won’t help.” He breathed deeply, injecting his ebony Haki into his skeleton. “That’ll hold them for a bit.” He took a few steps forward and gripped both handles of his loyal weapons.
“Kurama-sensei, very masterful of you.” Salazar grunted. “Come, show me more!”
"My, my..." Kurama could not help but be impressed. His opponent was a sturdy one, no question about it. No, not even that. Sturdy opponents could always be overwhelmed through a greater force, there was nothing that fascinating about them. But this man was no one-trick pony. Cunning and strength, it was like yin and yang favored this man equally, a rare union to be sure. He could harness his abilities for both offense and defense, to fend off his opponent but also to secure and guard his own life. That was remarkable. So much so that Kurama knew he would not insult the man standing before him, a traitor to the government or not, by showing him less than his best.
Grinning nearing ear to ear, Kurama let out a brief but boisterous laugh. "Not many can fight my attacks back. It's almost a shame you're a traitor. But well, I wouldn't be much of a Fleet Admiral if I let this act of betrayal go just because I was fascinated with your skill." he proclaimed, forming a traditional chinese hand gesture by enclosing his right hand over his left fist. Normally, this is reversed, for the left hand symbolizes knowledge and wisdom whereas the right hand symbolized the battle instincts of the martial artist. The left hand closed over the right represented that a fight was meant only to learn from the opponent, that gleaning experience from a fight mattered more beyond anything else. But when the right hand, representing the martiality of the warrior, layers over the left fist, it means that there is no intention to gain knowledge. There is only the will to fight, to wage war, to annihilate the entity standing before him: a duel to the death.
This was, of course, the philosophical meaning behind this gesture. But it also possessed a practical meaning as well, for in doing so, his Haki surged and subtly extended from Kurama's body. It reached out so far that it eventually broke off from Kurama's center, in three separate clumps of pure willpower manifested, that warped into the likeness of the Fleet Admiral himself. Of course, this wasn't visible by any means. Only the trained use of a sharpened Kenbunshoku Haki had any hope of picking up on these invisible copies. They were capable of individual movement, and spanned out in different directions to corner Salazar, but in the meantime, Kurama himself took action of his own.
"Be sure to carve your sword techniques into my body, as a lasting reminder of your existence... and then die!"
Coating both of his arms in the jet black sheen of Busoshoku Haki, followed by his legs which remained unseen due to the length of his pants, he charged forward to engage Salazar in direct combat. Speeding up with a Soru kick-off, he closed the distance in a mere instant, starting off with a vicious palm thrust with his fingers curled, like the claw of a tiger, aiming for his opponent's neck. Depending on how Salazar would react, Kurama would respond with the appropriate attack and defense. During this fierce exchange, the three copies forged from Haki remained at the ready, prepared to attack once Kurama gave the call to do so.
To earn a compliment from the mountainous power known as the Fleet Admiral meant that Salazar had approached a new frontier. Should he somehow survive, the swordsman would awaken in a new realm of power, capable of grasping higher ledges. But doubts stormed his mind. As if the previous strikes were not only enough to send him soaring to the next island, Kurama moved with such certainty. A great commander once said that wars were won before the battle...and Kurama actualized that philosophy. It was as if he knew of this battle and the outcome the second his infant eyes saw the blue sky. As if the clouds themselves forecasted this entire saga, each individual strike and the appropriate response. As Kurama approached, Salazar felt the overwhelming might of one who reached the pinnacle...A concept which even he thought did not exist.
I'll always continuing growing, even if I became the best. Salazar remembered preaching as a kid. Reaching the top is just waiting for someone to surpass you. He clenched the handles of his blade and stopped his trembling wrist. Sweat dropped into the snow, melting into the earth beneath. A master who traversed the Supreme Ultimate, extracting himself from the movements of the Taiji. Kurama solidified himself as the one who would revert this world back to nothingness, end of the poles. "Am i staring at the ending?" Salazar gasped. Regardless, he bit the inside of his cheek and sighed. "Whatever. I'm here to reach as close as the heaven's as possible." He stood upright, placing his feet in a 90 degree position. Colada rested at his flank while Tizona rose to a vertical position and fell, leaving her tip pointed at Kurama. From there she fell back to his side in a powerful slash. A proper salute of a duelist.
Salazar returned to his En Garde position and awaited for Kurama to advance. "I won't fall for trickery!" He barked. Salazar's third eye shot open and followed the two clones attempting to corner the swordsman while he kept his physical focus on the demon known as Kurama. A swordsman who trained under numerous tea sommelier would have no other choice but to understand the importance of patience. There's no way I can outrun him or hope to use my defense against his offense. I'll have to stream my offensive and defensive energy into speed. He stood firm, straining his third eye in an attempt to watch his upcoming strike while monitoring his two clones. "There!" Salazar took a step back, sending a small crater in the earth beneath him. He timed his retreat so that it would match the tempo of Kurama finishing his action, granting the dueler priority in his strike as he would just step out of the tiger's reach as it soared through the air. But the sheer force of Kurama's own action caused Salazar to throw himself back, sacrificing the refined control of a fencer in order to create an opportunity for a strike attack. He brought Tizonza upwards in an attempt to slice the Fleet Admiral's wrist while flying back. Black energy leaking off of her blade onto the white snow.
Though brief, being struck by the Haki-clad blade against the wrist which had also been coated with Haki resulted in a fierce collision, one that screeched into the air as a momentary discharge of force erupted from the center. Perhaps not quite enough to pierce the Fleet Admiral's ambition manifest, but without a doubt, the force behind that swing could be felt by the silver-haired warrior. That was the fight between them right now. Even with Haki, with force that could be channeled through the air by fist and blade, distance had no meaning in this fight between them. They could each cover that distance in mere instances, and even if they themselves did not, their attacks surely could. But distance has no meaning, not between these two. A fight between martial artists, between masters of Haki, is not one of distance but one of depth. To destroy the other's Haki would be tantamount to piercing their heart, the source of their ambition and will, and only an attack that could penetrate to that depth would be enough to injure either of these two warriors.
Salazar's attack resonated against the Haki and was certainly felt within the body, but Kurama's heart remained untouched. It was too shallow. But the same could be said for Kurama as well. Without a doubt, his attack didn't reach Salazar's heart either. Further measures would have to be taken, far more extreme methods and a true release of primal force. Breathing out, Kurama loosened the black Haki that clad his arms and legs. No longer did they remain glued to the body like a layer of skin but almost seemed a bit more fluid, like ink, swirling around his body. Once more, he charged for Salazar and thrust his open palm for his opponent, but the attack was significantly different. The loosened aura of Haki trailed after the strike and only solidified at the instance the attack was meant to make contact. Whether it actually hit or not was irrelevant, for using both of his Haki forms in tandem, he anticipated the right moment when the Haki needed to be firm like steel, condensing its loose state into a steel-like consistency only when the exact need for offense or defense was carried out. This was a principle of martial arts being channeled through the Haki: tightening the muscles only during the exchange rather than remaining tense the entire time, it was the height of breath control in martial arts and demonstrated perfect control over the body itself, but more importantly, through Kurama's mastery of both the martial arts and Haki, the same concept could be practiced here.
The result was trails of black Haki following the path of Kurama's vicious attacks, hand strikes and kicks, one after another, each being followed by the equivalent of blades forged from pure Haki. Not only did this make his attacks more deadly but demanded far more difficult means of defending and dodging than conventional methods. In essence, Kurama was altering the tempo of the battle now, moving like a tempest of blades seeking to eviscerate the opponent now rather than an onslaught of pinpoint piercing strikes. All the same, the three copies of Haki continued to stand still and had not yet become involved in the battle.
Few were born with the innate blessing to percieve into the future of humans, to deduce the upcoming actions of mankind with as much clarity as Salazar. The swordsman was taught that humans were unpredictable. Their emotions overruled logic, destroying the princples which guided the universe since time came into existence. Humans drove on two separate roads, logic and emotion. Logic meant that as sure as two 2's created four, humans would follow the proper course of action. Logic was always the safest road. Logically, Salazar should have escaped the island and continued his duty as a Shichibukai, protected by the largest force on this planet. He would continue his life, reach his dreams and ensure the success of his genetic line; humanities ultimate goal. But the second road appeared to shine. One which the greatest of humans, no matter their end result, traversed. Emotion separated humanity from nature. It created kings who carved the earth and gods that formed bridges across the oceans. And only through emotion, could one percieve the outcome of the human heart. Those who acted on emotion but wielded logic surpassed the realm of man.
But why is this one different?
Salazar thought. He blocked the intial strike with his haki infused swords, and his darkened skeletal frame, yet an obsidian wave broke through his defense - shattering the swordsman at his very core. The fleet admiral had left the realm of emotion, stepping beyond the jurisdiction which humans operated. His attacks were enhanced by breaths, in a manner similar to the ocean. Salazar felt the small wave press against his legs seconds before a gigantic rebound knocked him off his feet. "Am I fighting the ocean?!" The only question floating in his mind as he soared across the earth. He trembled at the idea of standing against the endless ocean, a body which followed a form of logic uncomprehensible by man. No matter how many researchers, humanity had yet to fully understand the formulas upon which the ocean acted. And here stood a man who managed to embody it. Salazar landed with a soft thump upon the white snow, becoming drenched in crimson. The snow was bright, causing the blood to shine with a certain beautiful hue. Salazar rolled over, blood pooling from his open wounds. He grimaced. I can't..the haki covering my bones was shattered by that last strike...I don't have enough to continue this..' He clenched a palm full of red snow, hardening it into ice. Why am I so weak? Why can;t I win...this is impossible...i'm nowhere near him.
Fire swirled through his veins, following the lifelines which lead from his heart to his brain and into his stomach. The heavenly glow of a snow filled country started to darken...becoming bleaker by the second. It was as if the world knew that destruction was coming. As if this island began to accept its fate at the hands of a god. However the tranquil storm came not from the approaching warships...it pulsed from the ebony swordsman holding the gigantic wound on his stomach. A man whose emotional understanding allowed him to pinpoint every individual heart on this island. What should happen when such emotional potency explode? Salazar's skin darkened.
In the aftermath of their vicious exchange, in which even having the advantage did not mean Kurama would be invulnerable to injury, judging by the cracks made in his Haki coating, it momentarily seemed as though the Fleet Admiral had won. Approaching his opponent who lay in the snow, the blood spewing slowly but surely from his gashes, Kurama stood tall and looked down upon him with a frown. "That won't do... That won't do, Salazar. That won't do!" he voiced out, leaning down toward his opponent's body and reaching for his throat to grasp it tight between his Haki-clad fingers. "You've already got me this excited. You can't die before I get to squeeze out every ounce of joy from this fight! Now get u-"
Almost instinctively, Kurama backed away, creating some degree of distance between the two fighters. Was it fear? No, it couldn't be. There wasn't anything to fear, yet all the same... The Fleet Admiral backed away. His eyes narrowed as he witnessed the darkening of the man's skin and the flow of Haki which seemed to intensify around his body. "Is his Haki... evolving? Evolution in the Haki only occurs during moments of personal growth. Did he... Is he...? Is he experiencing growth in the middle of a battle?" Kurama pondered to himself.
But his thoughts were interrupted by an explosion far from the battlefield between these warriors. Things got quiet for a moment as Kurama assessed the situation, looking out in the direction of the plum cloud. Then another explosion... Off in another distance. And then another, and another... Before too long, Kurama looked out to sea, and his expression softened as he chuckled a bit. Turning once more to Salazar, the Fleet Admiral offered an eerie glare.
"It seems we're out of time, Salazar."
Salazar stood up with an onimous aura engulfing him, the abyss seemingly erupting from the earth into a sea of black liquid. It swallowed Salazar, covering him in a obsidian cloud consisting of the world's evilness. The random explosions which shook the earth minutes before was overshadowed by a sudden silence. A thick atmosphere that managed to smother the nearby fires caused by the marine's destruction. Waves exploded outward in a continious hum, extinguishing the flames in an instant.
"Time means nothing." Salazar moaned. "The world was born from a seed of stillness, and through motion, expanded into a forest. But as a forest undergoes destruction and returns to its ashen form, the world will surely follow. Becoming the still void from which it was born." He gripped both swords tightly. "Everything dies. Time is just a measurement used by man to attempt to grasp this phenomon. It means nothing."
"Jigen Akukiryu: Angra Mainyu"
Salazar appeared before the martial artist with Colada pressed against Kurama's throat. He pushed inward, sending the silver blade into his opponent's jugular. Salazar phased into thin air from Kurama's shadow, Tizona aiming towards the godly admiral's heart. He struck the earth from a mile away, causing the ground to follow his every command; forming a demonic mouth meant to swallow Kurama in a single gulp.
Death is inevitable. Everything that is born surely dies at some point in time. The strongest warriors have fell, even kings of the ocean will succumb to nature's horrid curse. Salazar had become the messenger of death, as he could force it upon an immortal. But with one final step Salazar leapt towards Kurama's chest, his foot breaking the earth during the immense burst forward. Aiming Tizona at Kurama's left eye and Colada at his heart.
The reaction was instinctive, Kurama almost didn't see it coming. Both blades, one at his throat, the other at his gut; the common opponent would find that they would need to prioritize one over the other, but the Fleet Admiral was no such ordinary adversary. That transient aura of Busoshoku Haki that surrounded his hands moved in tandem with his hands, narrowly knocking away both blades before they could make contact with their targets. The sheer force behind that dual clash send radiating pulses screeching through the air, their collision fiercer and louder than even the sound of the cannonballs falling to the ground in the background.
Even as Kurama tried to create some distance, Salazar came rushing in, leaving the Fleet Admiral no time to even consider an exit strategy. It was no longer a gentlemanly duel, but a savage war between souls. There was no retreating, neither would give even an inch, and with Salazar closing in, Kurama tightened the black aura around his arms and lunged forward, swaying his head to the side just enough to dodge that blade that sought to stab through his eye, as he reached forward with the intention to completely tear off Salazar's arm; the one that held Tizona.
But the sword reached first. Colada managed to hit the mark, slashing against the Fleet Admiral's chest, enough to leave a deep wound, with blood splattering in the air between them. Whether Kurama managed to break his opponent's arm or not was hard to say, for in this exchange that lasted, in real time, naught but a single second, the two warriors found themselves forced to achieve distance when a cannonball fell right in the middle of where the both of them stood. Smoke covered the entire battlefield, with only Kurama's voice still perceivable.
"I had fun... Quite a bit of it! Be sure to stay alive along enough for us to finish this later on, Salazar-san." the disembodied voice mused.
When the smoke cleared, no trace of the Fleet Admiral could be found. He had vanished like a phantom, only drops of blood that dirtied the ground served as proof that Salazar managed to connect a blow against the leader of the marines.
There it was...the largest mountain in the world of pirates. A titanous formation covered with snow and surrounded by a sharp blizzard. Salazar's darkened skin lost color agains the harsh cold, he could feel his flesh melting away in the extreme heat. But there it was...the top. A top that no man could ever reach - Salazar only needed to jump. He gathered every ounce of power and leapt into the air with unimaginable strength, strength the swordsman had no idea he possessed. He was so close. He could feel warmth radiating from the icy mountaintop as he grasped the edge, hanging on by a single hand.
"Is this as far as I can climb?" Salazar thought. "Is this as high as I can reach on my own?" He tried to pull himself but felt his strength leave. Soon his fingers lost grip and he plummeted to the bottom of the earth. His eyes opened slightly as he saw Kurama walk away. There, Salazar laid in a puddle of blood on the floor of Wano country. The world went dark as he saw oncoming explosions. Gigantic plumes of smoke rose as screams emerged. Was this where Salazar would die? He laid next to Tizona and Colada, his arms completely shattered.
“Oh Salazar,” a familiar voice echoed in the foreboding darkness. “You and I made a pact. Don’t think that you can escape me just yet,” the voice continued, growing ever closer, yet ever softer.
“I promise I’ll always protect you my little warrior,” the feminine tone faded as Salazar finally lost consciousness.