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Role-Play

Codex Express
Date Started: December 2nd, 2022
Date Completed: Ongoing
Previous Role-Play: Hundred Dreams

Users Involved: User:DazzlingEmerald, User:EmperorSigma, User:Zironix00, User:PuddingCups, User:Logan Smith1, User:KaitoJones64, User:CoolBlackZ, User:MohmohMoh, User:The ancient terror, User:Berserkchart486
Features: User:Ash9876
Setting: Little Garden
Timeline: September 1584
Characters Involved
1584 Rookies:

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Marines:

World Government:

Hunting Pirates:

Characters Mentioned: Rena Argo, Fukuoka Koyuki, Daruma, Abbadon, Cleopatra, Sarutobi Nisuke, Sarutobi Sasuke, Tesla, Zarren, Gastrell Lucien, Anne Harlow

Love Me Not

What a welcome into the Grand Line it had been for the Pain Pirates. South Blue's most notorious pirate crew had ventured onto Reverse Mountain, where they happened along their third mate, and from there traveled down into Twin Cape and alas what was known to veterans as Paradise. The forces that comprised the Pain Pirates were anything but veterans, however; nay, they were an inexperienced bunch who'd recently acquired powers they hadn't the slightest idea about. They were fools, newbies, rookies.

Twin Cape had brought them face to face with the peers of their generation. A war against the Black Hat Pirates left them humbled and with an understanding that to topple these waters, it was going to take a hell of a lot more than just a basic understanding of Devil Fruits. Still, their time in Twin Cape was extremely beneficial. Although they lost a total of three ships on Paradise's first island, their captain's timely romance had forged a new path ahead for them.

Hornigold Clovis, Captain of the Pain Pirates with a bounty of Beli Small.png120,000,000 to his head, planted his arse into the wooden stool aboard this vessel's kitchen. With a bright smile on his face, he'd already taken up arms; a knife and a fork in either hand, and a bib tucked over his collar. With no ship to call their own, the crew had set sail with another rookie crew, the Stellar Pirates, captained by his beloved, Crickett. With their relationship now official, there were a great many expectations that came with it; for starters, Clovis now expected Crickett to supply him with full course meals at every major interval of the day.

And so there he sat, imprisoned by his own standards and expectations for his beloved Crickett, waiting to see what she would cook up for him. His sense of smell was particularly profound; he flared his nostrils and inhaled deeply, trying to get a whiff of whatever she may have been cooking up for him!

A thick curtain hid the kitchen from the dining room, obscuring anyone's vision and hearing to what happened on the other side.

The woman was almost too large for the ship, her scrawny body twisted to fit within the confines of the kitchen like a pretzel. Her skin was colorless, but she was not fair. It was a desolate grey, as if she was made of stone. She wasn't. A crooked finger twirled an unbrushed tuft of pink hair, "What unexpected guests, I'm afraid Twin Capes didn't have the ingredients I require for my best dish. He likes goulash, yes?" Virgo commented. As Virgo spoke she cut up an array of rotten vegetables and expired meat. Cubed, diced, then thrown into the cauldron to form a mystery surprise. The secret menu item of the Stellar Pirates.

Crickett wasn't lifting a finger. She wasn't a chef, she never aspired to be! But a little smoke and a lot of mirrors never hurt a relationship, right? "I'm unsure what his favorite meal is..." Crickett pondered, in all honesty they hadn't talked that long. She had hunted him down all due to an error, which in and of itself was embarrassing. Upon meeting the scarecrow however, things seemed to change. It was a feeling she hadn't really experienced before, and one that was worth exploring.

"Oh good, I was beginning to think you invited a complete stranger onto our ship with no-"

"Shut up you old crone! Don't spout your wisdom to me. I know what I'm doing..."

"Shibobobobobobo!" Virgo cackled. "Right, right, what was I thinking? Your majesty knows all, doesn't she? Shibobobobbo! Listen up girly," The knife Virgo was cutting with dropped, metal rattling onto the floor as her face zoomed towards Crickett's. "You better hope he impresses the family, cuz if this boy toy of yours causes you to lose sight of our goal I'll wring him out to dry!!!"

Crickett's facial expression was one of pure disgust. "You don't know what you're talking about, crazy bat." She hmphed, taking the pot of goulash into her arms and marching past the curtain. "Dinner's ready~!" She announced, placing the cauldron on the table.

Festering inside the black pot was an inedible mixture of everything but food. Tentacles squirmed around inside, bones floated to the top. The serving ladle was slowly being melted away, not good signs! Still, Crickett saw nothing wrong with this. The table was set elegantly, like a beautiful dinner for two. She had filled Clovis' bowl alongside her own before sitting down, kicking her feet onto the table with glee.

"So, how is it?" She asked sweetly. "It's my grandmothers recipe, isn't it just divine?" Of course, Virgo cooked the meal. Food like this is what Crickett had grown accustomed to considering her homeland. Her iron stomach wouldn't be pierced in the slightest, not even her nostrils seemed to be harmed by the rancid smell. A normal person however, would not be so lucky.

Clovis' eyes turned to hearts the moment the curtain was lifted and Crickett sprawled through the room en route to the dining table. But his eyes were not so much eager to see his beloved as they were to bear witness to the confines of the cauldron. Feasting his eyes on it immediately as it was dumped into his bowl, courtesy of Crickett, Clovis was instead left utterly dumbfounded.

"OW!!" He swirled his spoon through the murky waters of the soup, finding an eyeball at the bottom of the bowl. He was disappointed, to say the least. He'd anticipated burgers or pasta or anything but whatever this was, really. He may have looked the part of a freak but Clovis' mannerisms were fairly typical. He had never consumed something so grotesque. And honestly speaking, he was a little afraid to give it a try.

But his two hour long love for Crickett inspired him beyond his own imagination. So much so that he balanced the eyeball onto his spoon and plopped it into his own mouth. He met Crickett's beautiful eyes with a curious expression of his own. "Crunchy," he added when he bit down on the eye and heard a resounding munch at the back of his mouth. A few more sips and he found very quickly that this was an obstacle he simply could not climb.

He pushed the bowl forward. "Gahh... Crickett, don't you have anything a little bit more... appetizing than this? Ow!! Something sweet? Maybe just bring out the dessert! And where's that little lad of yours gone off to, eh?"

"What is that supposed to mean?" The woman questioned as her face twitched! "A free ride, a free meal, and you want something more appetizing!?!" Her feet swung off the table as she grabbed the serving spoon, plopping another hearty portion into Clovis' bowl. "Dipper is studying. He has responsibilities ya know!" She tipped her hat upwards, "And while we're on the subject, he doesn't really like you all that much. I think he's jealous." The fire behind her actions seemed tot be put out quickly, but her mood was as flexible as a flag in the wind.

"That reminds me!" Her voice became cute again, far less harsh. "I did make desert after all~" Clapping her hands, Virgo emerged from the curtain, mumbling something under her breathe as she placed an extravagant chocolate cake on the table. "Dig in," Her hideous face spat at Clovis before she went back to working on god knows what: out of sight, out of mind.

"Shall I?" Crickett pleaded, cutting into the cake. Admittedly it was mouth watering, smelt delightful, chocolate frosting glazed over the rich soft sponge. The first slice, however, revealed something far more sinister. Worms! Literal worms! A nice warm slice was put onto two plates, and the red haired witch dug in like it was some sort of delicacy.

"What do you mean he doesn't like me? What's not to like?" Clovis rose up his hands as if to divert focus unto himself all the more. "I have so much to teach that boy! I can be like a father to him. Ow! Like a father!" His ears twitched at Crickett's complaints but before he could act on them the curtain opened once more, this time giving way to Virgo, whom Clovis had yet to formally meet.

Clovis' eyes bulged out from their sockets. In fact, he himself rose up from his seat and leaned over the table, tongue rolling out of his mouth and eyes turning to hearts once again at the very sight of what came out from behind the curtain. This reaction was because of the cake... right? It must have been. It should have been. Or was it possible that... those heart eyes... were from seeing Virgo for the first time? Would Clovis be so cheap as to give off such a reaction right in front of Crickett!?

"Oh boy!! Now that's what I'm talking about!!!" Clovis tugged off his bib and started to swing it in the air above his head. Yet again it remained unclear exactly what he was rooting for, but at this venture there were only two conclusions which could be drawn; the cake or Virgo.

The cake... or Virgo. In a matter of minutes, a slice of cake was put down in front of him. Without hesitating, Clovis used his own hands to tear into the slice and stuff his mouth with the chocolate, only to uncover the special stellar secret in earnest. He pouted his lips and shot out a literal geyser from his mouth, spitting so fiercely that his lungs winced inside his chest. "PPFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!"

Fearful eyes navigated the room. Clovis was looking for any means of redemption. He ran to the sink and gave the knob a turn, only to find an error in the plumbing. With little time to lose, he resorted to licking the bottom of his own boot to take the awful taste of the worms out of his mouth. Desperately catching his breath, he looked at Crickett in disbelief. "W-Worms?! You... eat worms?!"

By the time he reacted, Crickett had caught onto his little game. A rational person would have known those hearts in his eyes and recognized it was a love for desert, not Virgo. But alas, the Name Thief was not a rational person. Not even in the slightest.

Virgo was not the type to pamper herself. She didn't enjoy brushing her hair, shaving, or bathing everyday. Even when she was younger, she found vanity to be a waste of time. Beauty was not something she cared about and it often placed last, if at all, on her list of things to do. She was far from competition when it came to looks, but still Crickett grew weary of the situation. Surely the cake wasn't that good? For such a face to be made? Was Virgo that pretty! Well... beauty was in the eye of the beholder, Crickett reached for the knife and bit her lip.

"I'm ontooooo youuu....." She hummed, "Clovy wovy." Wild red locks drooped downward, covering much of her face though her thin villainous lips remained in the spotlight. Her lipstick was untouchable, even as her tongue climbed towards chocolate crumbs on her face. "I WON'T LET YOU CHEAT ON MEEEEEEEEEEEE! DON'T EVEN LOOK AT ANOTHER WOMANNNNNN!!!!!" In that instance, the knife was thrown across the table and aimed for an eye! Then at least they could be matching!

Virgo hid in the kitchen, chuckling as the scene unfolded. "Shibobobobo! She really is in love!" Wood scraped against wood as the woman pulled over a stool, humming to herself as she did the days dishes.

"Love, love, love is a hurricane! Yeah! La la dee dee da da!" It was terribly off tune, like a cats tail being stepped on over and over but she needed something to drown out the fight song of those love birds in the dining room!

The knife met its mark, whether because Crickett's aim was true or simply because Clovis was too lost in her own eyes to ward off any danger unto himself. The knife plunged into his eye and stayed there for several moments, up until Clovis' head spillaged into hundreds if not thousands of strands of straw and recuperated itself, with a handful of other straws working in tandem to remove the knife from its position. "CHEAT ON YOU??!!!" now his voice grew louder, the accusation and attack getting to him. He rose up from his chair and flailed his arms about to motion as he addressed his beloved. "CRICKETT! You're... you're crazy!! You're a crazy person!! I was looking at the cake! You think I'm gonna cheat on you with those worms?! Ow!!!"

Out of anger, Clovis split the stool he was sitting on with his bare hand and then stormed out from the dining room. If he stayed around to witness any more of Crickett's emotional outburst then he felt it may compromise his love for her or rse --cause him to fail in suppressing his growing anger. He decided he needed some fresh air, so he walked out onto the main deck of the ship and leaned over the rail of the ship, taking in a deep inhale, hoping the scent of salt water would ease his blood pressure. All the while he hoped to see that his crew, consisting of Thug and Zed, were making the most out of their escort.

Behram had already occupied the deck of the ship. His body laid on the railing, stomach to the wooden constructure, while his arms waved along the top wood. Quit the risky place for him to have chosen to take a nap considering his new profound devil fruit ability, but a good sleep was clearly more important to him. And he was getting a good one too, as indicating by the large bubble coming from his nose. That didn't even breach into the saliva that fell down the side of his mouth.

He was ignorant to the things going on between Clovis and Crickett. Not that he would care anyway, his sleep was much more important than some relationship. Or whatever the two wanted to call it.

Cross-legged, leaning against the mast of the ship, Zed sat reading a book. The book was several hundred white pages, each gentle to the fingertips, its cover had an image of a ship in it and a large tittle that read: Brag Men.  Though he had read it countless times before, he had a smile on his face as if it were his first time. That book, which his father had given him, served as the catalyst for his passion for both literature and piracy. He looked up from his book as he heard someone enter the ship's main deck and noticed Clovis.

"Hoy, Clovis! Everything all right?  I guess this may seem weird, but do you happen to have a knife? I'm thinking about getting myself a haircut!  Don't want the marines recognizing me. I don't know about you but I'd rather stay bountyless."

The kitchen was located in the basement of the ship, so Clovis had to walk up a small flight of steps in order to reach the main deck. Just as he was coming up, a wallop of saliva fell from Thug's mouth and rained down on the captain's head. "Ow!!" Clovis' hand instinctively shot up and felt the gooey mess; he looked up to the sight of his first mate sleeping above where he was.

"Hoy, Thug!!! You asshole!!!" Clovis beamed, loud enough to awaken him. He then ascended the rest of the steps onto the main deck, where he spotted Zed reading "Brag Men". "A knife? Funny you ask that today of all days..." Clovis reached into his literal face, burying his hand into the straw that madeup his skull. From within he pulled out the same knife that Crickett had thrown at him minutes ago. He went up to Zed to hand it to him. "Another haircut? But your hair's already so short. Ow!! With a power like the one you just received, I don't think you'll have to worry about the marines anymore. But still... you think a haircut is enough to fool those guys?"

Clovis struck a pose, stroking the bottom of his chin. "Come to think of it, I look nothing like I used to. I wonder if that means the marines will have a hard time recognizing me." Clovis' eyes casually moved around, discovering the book that was in Zed's hands. He couldn't read, but at the very least he could distinguish based on the color of the front cover that it was a different book than the one Zed was reading the day before. "That a new book?"

Zed raised an eyebrow as he saw Clovis' peculiar use of his abilities. "Neat trick..." He then took Rana from his shoulder and placed it on his lap with an expression of visible confusion on his face, before grabbing the knife and continuing the conversation as if nothing had happened.

"Is it enough to fool them? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Either way, after everything that I've been through.... That we've been through! I think I could use a little change." He grabbed his book before addressing Clovis' question about it. "Old book, actually. This is the first book my father ever gave me. I've read it a couple hundred times. It's filled with stories from the Grand Line, I can read you some if you'd like."

Out of the corner of his eye, Zed noticed Behram reaction to Clovis' call "Oh... That's not good..."

"WAAAAAH WAAAAH!" Behram screamed out from the sudden burst of Clovis. His body leaned left and right on the railing until finally, he tilted over in the direction that didn't favor him so much. He body slipped and fell off of the ship towards the surface of the sea. He attempted to reach out and grab hold of the railing at the last minute, but he was too far away from it.

SPLASH

Droplets of water defied gravity and went up into the air as Behram's body fell into the ocean. It was a terrible fate for him. The sea was a devil fruit users greatest enemy. Once submerged into water, they'd lose all control over their body and enter a stiffened state. With great power comes and even greater sacrifice A few weeks ago, he was an exceptional swimmer, but none of that matter if he couldn't move his body at all.

"THUG!!!!" Clovis' eyes ballooned from their sockets at the sight of his first mate, Behram, falling overboard. He ran as fast as he could to lean over the rail and look down at the sea. "We got a man overboard!! We got a man overboard!!!" he yelled out frantically. Just as he was pulling up his sleeves to take action, he noticed ripples in the water.

The Stellar Pirates were a reserved group of people. They didn't take kindly to outsiders, but they cared for Crickett and thus obeyed her orders. Lurking beneath the ship was a crewmate rarely seen, Erindanus. In some sort of roundabout he acted as both the helmsman for the crew and the magician. It was in fact his massive bodies swimming pattern that caused many to label the Uranometria as a ghost ship. No one was ever at the wheel, and regardless of wind, the ship sailed just the same.

He was a scary individual, nearly forty feet tall if you included his tail. Much larger than the ship and surely dwarfing anyone who had boarded it. When the man fell into the sea, for many of the bystanders it likely appeared to be an untimely demise. Straight to Davy Jones' locker.

Crickett was in the kitchen, sharpening knives and attempting to calm down. Virgo however, hated the sound and had come up to the deck as a strategic retreat for her ears. "Shibobobobo! Some captain you are!" The crone commented to Clovis as she made her way to the crime scene. "If you go into the sea today you're sure to find a surprise!" Virgo began clapping her hands and sway her head, like a child singing some elementary school tune.

Erindanus said nothing to Behram, a massive fist would have enveloped his body and brought him back above the water, possibly evon throwing him on the ship if he wasn't able to get back on himself.

"GOOD BOY!?!" Virgo cheered, "He deserves a treat, don't you think?" She flashed a wrinkled smile at the pirates, her large nose bobbing with glee. "Now, don't go trying to kill yourself again! You only get one get out of hell free card on this ship!" The pink haired woman could be described as tall and scary, but her voice was everything but. She just sounded old.

When Behram was thrown back on board, Clovis appeared quickly at his side. Sitting on his knees on the deck, tears flowed down Clovis' eyes as he cried tears of joy and regret all at once. "T-Thug!!! You're still alive!! Ow!!" Clovis would start pressing down on Behram's chest; since he'd been underwater, someone was going to have to plunge the water out of his insides. The only issue was, Clovis didn't know how to perform CPR and the crew lacked a doctor to this day.

"Isn't there a bloody doctor aboard this ship!? Ow!! Come on now, somebody fetch a doctor!"

It was a large ship, but it was also hosting a rowdy bunch. "Ahhh man..." Dipper sighed. "How am I supposed to concentrate with all this racket!" He tried to rune it out, rocking back and forth in his desk chair like some sort of crazed lunatic. His finger traced every word, an ancient book detailing the dangers of Cerulean Fever. Eventually teardrops fell onto the paper, "They're so rowdy! Those Pain Pirates... why did Crickett have to go and pick em up!" He whined. He was a lot more confident alone than in front of his mistress...

With a droopy head and a depressing walk, he made his way down to the deck. The rooms of the crew members were in an elaborate mansion-esque building on the deck, while many of the necessities remained below. Why it was like this Dipper never understood, but he had become startled upon arrival. His hands almost instantly moved to his cheeks, the scene was shocking!

Clovis on top of Behram! Pushing and pushing! Could it be? Had the relationship with Crickett not worked out? He went to such extreme measures! "He's an okama..." Dipper gasped. He stayed frozen like this for quite some time, not even noticing Virgo creeping up behind him. It was as if she could hear all of his thoughts, the difficult math problem he was trying to solve in his head about all of this.

"You idiot, he almost DROWNED!?" She shrieked, he immediately jumped. "AHHHHHH!"

"GO HELP HIM!!!!!" She demanded, and he scurried. Though she wasn't half as scary as Crickett, Dipper always listened to a superior!! Of course he was terrified of Clovis, but if someone died on his watch, well what Crickett would do to him was way worse! He dived in immediately and began to perform CPR. Luckily the book he had just read mentioned something about this! Maybe Crickett was right... fate was real after all.

"Uh," The cracked voice of Behram traveled over the ship. Water shot out of the throat of Behram's body like an elegant water fountain."Now ain't this som'n!" His words went into the ears of those around, but it didn't come from his body.

Up in the air above the group of pirates, Behram floated. He was separated from his main body in a most ghostly state. "I ain't know I could separate m'self from my body." He placed his hand under his chin as if he had been plotting some elaborate conclusion to the phenomenon that had just occurred.

"Nani??!!!" Expressing his intense shock, Clovis' eyes and tongue shot out from his face. He then felt the sudden urge to state the obvious. "He just turned into a ghost and flew out of his own body!!!"

Leaning over to where Behram's physical body had been left behind, Clovis took hold of his arm and propped it up. Then letting go, he watched as the arm fell without constrain back down to the wooden flooring. "He really is lifeless!! Oh no, I've lost my First Mate!!" Clovis started to weep in comedic fashion. On his knees, his arms lifted at his sides as he looked up at the skies. "Wahh!!! What better am I than Daruma-sencho?! I'm a terrible Captain! I killed another crew mate just by yelling at him --ow!!!"

"So many star swallowers..." Virgo groaned. She hated the idea oof it, so many "special" people in one place. The power itself was new to her, but the concept wasn't. The woman shrugged, "Well, he had a good run." Completely ignoring the ghost all together. Unfortunately Dipper didn't share the same resolve.

"G-g-g-g-g-GHOST!" Dipper pointed, his entire body shaking. He was an intelligent boy without a lick of gall. That was when it happened...

She appeared on the deck, in all her glory.

"Just as I predicted..." Crickett commented. She was something of a soothsayer herself, having accurately foreseen the meeting of Swann D. Misty and Santiago John. The only problem was, hardly anyone ever believed her and usually no one understood what her cryptic telling's entailed.

"The hydra loses a head during the heroes journey,
From nine to eight in the blink of an eye.
A stolen snail rings in the night,
But the voice is not an ally. NAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!" As the witch cackled, she lifted her eyepatch, revealing the crystal in place of her peeper. "And you didn't believe me Dipper! He's dead!" She sounded as if she was bragging! Because she was.

"Fine!" He huffed. "You were right!"

"ANNNDDDDD?" Crickett added.

"You're always right!" He threw his arms up into the air before crossing them, he wanted tto look away from her but his only option was her... or CLOVIS! Talk about a rock and a hard place....

"Do all of ya yell all the time?" Behram said, cleaning the wax out of his non-existent ears. "And I ain't go out of my body like that! I think I spooked m'self one tha' way down to tha' watta! Scared my own soul outta m'self! Thaaafufufufufufufufu!" He laughed, gripping ahold of his stomach as if it were the funniest thing he'd ever head.

"T-Thug? You're... alive?!" Clovis was amazed by what he saw. The moment Dipper had put his mouth on Behram's, it was like he had breathed a new life into him. If he could, Clovis would grab Dipper by his throat and reel him in closer. "You're a Devil Fruit eater, aren't you?"

But of course. The only real "doctors" Clovis had ever seen were those who relied on Devil Fruits to instantly heal wounds. Such was Ronaldo Christiano who had the opportunity to be the very first member of the Pain Pirates, yet elected to betray his chance in favor of burning down a useless flag. The thought of it still left Clovis bitter to this day. Something deep inside told him that no matter how many islands he visited and no matter how many enemies he felled, this was just something he would never be able to get over.

When it seemed to Clovis as though Dipper could not understand him, he grumbled under his breath to correct himself. "A star swallower as you all call them here. You're a star swallower, aren't you, boy? Your lips... you're able to heal others by kissing them! Ow!!" As if Clovis wasn't creepy enough already, he pulled Dipper close until their noses touched. Looking deep in the boys eyes, he whispered, "oh, the fortune they would pay for a kid like you! I gotta get you outta here. How'd you like to come with me, Skipper?" He released Dipper who'd likely retreat the instant he was allowed. "I have candy! And toys! Yes, so many toys! Ow!!!"

At this point, Clovis' attention turned to his beloved Crickett. By now he had experienced such a rollercoaster of emotions that it had quelled the anger he'd felt for Crickett a little while ago. Seeing her invoked a strange feeling from within; love. Yes, it was as if Clovis' cold heart radiated a sudden warmth. He felt himself nearly flutter towards her --until she did something completely despicable. She took off her clothing and flashed the crew.

It may have just been an eyepatch, but Clovis could not help but feel betrayed. She had... stripped in front of everyone? Showing them a secret that he didn't even know himself? He didn't know what to be more upset about. That the girl he had given his heart to was some sort of aspiring nude manikin or that she was keeping secrets in their relationship!

"Crickett you..." he rose slowly to his feet. A dark hue obscured his visage. And when it became visible to Crickett as he walked up and approached her, veins tensed about his forehead. He balled his hands into fists. "How can you keep such a secret from me?!" he yelled to the woman he had just met the other day, "and here I thought that we had something special between us. But you..." Anger turned to sorrow. His fur coat fluttered dramatically with a sudden gust of the wind. His eyes fell from her face. He couldn't bare to look at her any longer. "You call this... 'love'? Keeping secrets from me when... when I gave you my heart?"

As Dipper was pulled closer and closer towards Clovis, he could see his pores, his nose hairs, it was an awful sight. Then he accused him of something! Being a star swallower! Had their terminology caught on so quickly!? Had he read between the lines? He was smarter than Dipper gave him credit for, that was certain. The boy shook his head, "uh uh! No! I- uh- I promise!" He managed to break away, but only because Clovis allowed. He even extended a pinky finger, as if to to seal the swear!

Crickett on the other hand was rather unimpressed with Clovis' theatrics. "Are you KIDDDDINGGGG ME!?" She asked, her face now shoved into his. "We had an entire conversation about it," The witches hands moved towards her hips. "I can't help that you don't listen." She puffed. This was like two truths and a lie, I mean, they had met because she thought it was him who took her eye! She just had never showed him what was under the patch. Was that a crime?

"The only thing you gave me was more mouths to feed! And... you don't even like my food!" Her voice cracked as she held back tears. Of course, Crickett was not the type of person to cry. She could count the number of times legitimate tears fell from her eyes on one hand but it was a sure to make Clovis feel bad, and that was the goal.

Dipper found himself staring at Behram as if to avoid the awkward couples quarrel just a few feet away. "So, erm, how's the weather?" He asked with a shrug, unsure of how to spark up conversation with a stranger.

"Gah!! I can't deal with you right now," Clovis spat, rising to his feet and showing Crickett his back. He marched a ways forward then swung back around to address her one final time. "It's always something with you-ow!! You're never happy! And you know what? I don't think you ever will be happy, Crickett, because you're uncooperative! You say that I'm the one who doesn't listen? Yeah, that's right! Because you're always yelling at me!"

Clovis' hands dug into his hair and rubbed his scalp out of frustration. "I need some peace of mind! I'm going for a walk. Ow!!" Clovis took his leave, departing from the main deck of the ship and marching to the north of the ship to arm the wheel. There he'd be able to have some time by himself, away from the first mate who was drooling on him, away from the lover who was always yelling at him, and away from all the chaos that came with being around such morbid, crazy, lunatics.

The Lost Messenger

A soft yet gentle breeze welcomed Clovis unto the scene of the ship's helm. Naturally, this was the part of any ship where Clovis spent the majority of his time being that he was a skilled helmsman in his own right, and the place which he was most comfortable in. The ship had been placed on standby; there was no direction in particular that either of these crews were headed, and the reason for that was their abrupt exit of Twin Cape.

Normally, pirates spent any number of days in Twin Cape after arriving in the Grand Line. This time was given so that the Log Pose could catch onto the magnetic fields of distant islands, thus giving them a compass of the sorts to guide them on where to go. The issue at present was that because both crews were forced out of Twin Cape, firstly due to the advent of a lava breathing dragon and second due to the crippling antics of the Black Hat pirates, they hadn't exactly received any opportunity to catch hold of their next destination. And thus, the Pain Pirates were now roaming about aimlessly with no clear direction in mind. They would go as far as the Stellar Pirates were willing to take them.

"Our fates are in the hands of that woman," Clovis grumbled, grabbing hold of the wheel out of habit. He didn't turn it, though. He only wanted to feel the wood with his palm. It eased his mind in a weird way. "Gahh! Look what she's done. She's got me talking about 'fate'. Don't you see, woman!? I make my own luck. Ow!!"

Still, that didn't exactly bury the plethora of wrongs Clovis had made since becoming the captain of his own crew. In the span of one day he'd lost three ships; the Kingdom which belonged to Daruma, Zed's ship which he was kind enough to lend to Clovis in order to survive Reverse Mountain, as well as the Black Hat pirates' ship which he and Behram had hoped to pillage. He was beginning to understand the level of responsibility that came with being a captain. And honestly, it could feel extremely overbearing.

It got Clovis thinking back to the days he sailed under Daruma's flag. Which led him to think; what would Daruma have done in this scenario? He wanted to be better than him. Better than him in every facet imaginable. He was the one who had defeated him after all. He was the one who had saved them all from Gastrell Lucien's crippling hand.

The last memory lit a fuse in Clovis' mind. It flashed a portal which leaded into another memory, one which he had no time to expand upon while in Twin Cape. But now that he was free and alone, Clovis suddenly recalled what had happened just before Zakari, Min, and the marines had taken away his hostages from him.

---

"And I'll be taking this," said Clovis, standing over the roped figure of Gastrell Lucien. He reached his hands around the enemy pirate, patting around until he had stripped him of all his belongings. He took an odd looking snail into his hand and left it there, sitting in the cusp of his palm as he observed the look on Lucien's face. "They say you've got quite the reputation in the Grand Line. I'm sure that means you've got plenty of contacts, eh? Well I wonder what they'll think when they hear of me beating you. Ow!!"

Clovis grinned. "The 'Hunting Pirates'? 'Rena Argo'?" Clovis raised his palm and aimed it at Lucien. Suddenly, some of the ropes that were tied around his waist moved up to his neck, tightening around his throat. "I'm the one who holds your leash now, Lucien!!"

---

Clovis dug his hand straight into his chest and started to fish around inside. Kaya no Hari. Or, more literally, "Needle in the Haystack". A supplementary technique in which, much like a needle in a bed of hay, Clovis kept certain objects inside of his straw body for safekeeping. Albeit a needle wasn't kept there to be safe; it was actually lost and difficult to find. The straw served as a bedding for these objects and gave them a protective cushion. It was far better to store objects in this fashion than risk carrying them out in the open or in a pocket somewhere.

After a few seconds of rummaging around, Clovis unveiled a Den Den Mushi and set it down into his palm. This was Lucien's transponder snail. The same one Clovis had looted from him before giving him up to the marines. What Abaddon had told him before he killed her still plagued Clovis' curiosity --since consuming the Kashi Kashi no Mi he had grown so curious that he simply could not help it. Abaddon mentioned two crews and two names to him.

Daddy L. Legs and the Black Widow Pirates.

Rena Argo and the Hunting Pirates.

Abaddon noted that because of Cleopatra's ties to Argo and Nisuke's ties to Legs, Clovis was prohibited from killing either one of them. At the time, Clovis was too afraid to act against her wishes. In truth, this was partially because of the respect Clovis held for Abaddon. So he had taken her life, thereby siding with her decision, so that her final wish would be fulfilled before she died. Now he was left to wonder about Legs and Argo all alone.

Just who were these people who apparently possessed so much power and influence? Even as powerful as Lucien was, he trembled in fear when Argo's name was so much as mentioned. Clovis felt that same sense of fear standing in Lucien's presence. To think someone else could instill even more fear in someone like Lucien was hard to imagine.

Holding the snail in his hand, Clovis studied it hard. He was... perplexed, to say the least. Lucien was that Argo's underling. So was it possible that this phone perhaps would dial Argo? But how would Argo react upon learning of Lucien's capture? Would he send another one of his underlings after Clovis, looking for payback? Or would he perhaps offer Lucien's position to him, therefore giving Clovis a serious boost in power and authority? Clovis had heard big time pirates saw their crews as expendable. They treated everything like a business.

It was dangerous --seriously dangerous. But Clovis thought he'd take the risk. For no other reason other than to satisfy this overbearing curiosity within him. He fiddled with the machinery that was worn on the snail's back, dialing the number that was naturally linked between Den Den Mushi, and waited as the snail phone rang.

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

C-click..

The constant ring of the call had ceased, engulfed in the void. It had definitely connected yet, something was.. off. Despite being mere minutes, this deafening silence felt like an eternity. The eyes on the den den mushi grew slim, leering into the very being of Clovis.

"How do you deal with spiders?"

"I eat them." Clovis' mind went numb. He had been waiting so long for someone to answer the phone that he had completely blanked out. There came a time where he thought it was broken or that the call would never go through. He was still stressed thinking about his relationship with Crickett that when spiders were mentioned, his mind went to the memory of the chocolate cake full of worms that he automatically assumed spiders too were meant to be eaten. It just went to show how being in a relationship --no matter the duration of it-- was beginning to mold him into a different person.

"N-No no, wait. OW!! What are you asking?" Clovis was confused. He shook his head. He gripped the wheel with his other hand. "How do I deal with spiders? Who is this? I'm trying to reach a certain man. I need to know if this is him."

"Unfortunate." The raspy voice of the man continued. "How did you get this number?"

Clovis opened his mouth to speak then promptly stopped. He needed to be smart about how he proceeded with this conversation. After all, if this was Argo he was speaking to as he suspected, then by what he'd heard, he needed to tread with caution. He studied the shape of the transponder snail in his hand. Den Den Mushi took on the appearance of the one who was speaking through them. Clovis hoped to learn something about the other person via this mechanism.

On the flipside, Clovis' transponder snail would portray his beady eyebags and his trademark mustache and beard, while also sporting Clovis' fur coat. After a brief pause, Clovis decided to just admit to his doings. "I took this phone from Lucien. Now that I've told you what you want to know, can you answer a question of mine?" Another brief pause. "Are you the man named Rena Argo?"

"Not quite yet," the snail in Clovis' hand failed to display physical characteristics of the man he spoke to. That being said, the black voids that inhabited its stalks radiated a thick miasma.

"What of Lucien?"

Another brief pause. Technically speaking, Clovis wasn't the one who defeated Lucien. In fact, he didn't do much of anything to Lucien at all. That was mostly Zarren and his crew. But, opportunity had crowned Clovis the victor of that battle and so the spoils were rightfully his. He never anticipated to see Zarren, Daruma, or Lucien ever again; the world had swallowed them up and they were effectively erased.

Clovis grabbed the speaker and pulled it closer to his mouth. "Lucien's gone. Haven't you read the news?" Clovis recalled the various wanted posters of him being put up all around Twin Cape. The battle of South Blue had reached as far as the Grand Line. "I'm the one who turned him in. This is Hornigold Clovis speaking," he added, stating his name with authority as if it commanded respect based on his prior achievement of being responsible for Lucien's demise. "Now, can I know who this is? Ow!! Or are you going to keep beating around the bush?"

"Oh I'm well aware as to who you are already." A soft, rhythmic chuckle followed. The snail's face began to contort in Clovis' as the stifled laughter was replaced with a unhinged cackle, an unsettling feeling rose with each exaggerated breath.

"What is it exactly you want?" Speaking for just a moment as the laughter had settled.

"Well for starters I'd like to know your name, mate." Clovis certainly felt uneasy from the laughter. It was like a shiver went straight down his spine. Just who was this guy on the other end capable of emanating such an ominous aura that it could be felt through the phone?

"But no, that's not all. The crew that Lucien belonged to..." Clovis closed his eyes, retracing the events of the last few days once again. He remembered it all, Lucien's Mythical Zoan transformation, his chaotic rampages, the words that he screamed. "The Hunting Pirates. I want you to tell me more about them. What is their place in this world?"

"Bold of the small fish to look for sharks." The eerie sensation had dissipated with this pause, the eyes of the snail narrowed as they locked with Clovis'.

"That said, perhaps to find what you're searching for you are willing to venture further." A wide smile stretched beyond the snail's face, "Meet me on Little Garden in three days time. If you make it in one piece, I may answer your questions."

"Little Garden?" Clovis wondered aloud. He was new to the Grand Line, so naturally he had never heard of such an island before. "Very well then. We'll meet in three days time. Ow!!" He switched off the snail which went immediately to sleep. He stored it away into his body for safekeeping.

"Little Garden," Clovis repeated once again to himself. "Either this is one big trap or he truly will lead me further to the Hunting Pirates. But whatever the case... I won't run from anything."

Search for Shaman

Still in Paradise, more specifically in an unnamed territory, there was a place where specialized people gathered to work on everything technology-related. Members of the CP5, the biggest specialists in the technological branch of the World Government, were there to repair their current arsenal, or even raise it to another level. There were also, along with these individuals, those who would be in a small room, several frequency detector monitors were seen and very easily noticed by those who enter and those who stay, since there are several of them that make up the room.

The agents operating there were equipped with Black Den Mushis, ready to detect combined activities or calls from different pirates looking for negotiations, alliances and the like, as well as headsets to focus on their due device, since information is something very important in society and any interference in the message or misinterpretation would be a serious loss. At that time, one of the subjects responsible was Pleiades Apollo, a former member of the secret CP9, being transferred from there to act as in this area of the Cipher Pol since his remarkable scientific and technological intelligence.

His black snail was inoperative, he had not yet detected any call frequencies. Until now. His eyes opened and his lips uttered a...

Puru puru puru... puru puru puru...

"Finally! He detected something!" The blond man thought. The tedium of waiting was something that unsettled the former assassin, in which he was more used to dealing with situations instantaneously or quickly. Quickly attending to identify and penetrate someone's conversation. While the conversation was going on, the careful agent was listening to everything that was uttered on the other end, the shelled gastropod again took another nap by the call's termination.

"Hornigold... Clovis?!" Again he gave way to his thoughts, he was surprised by the fish caught, that was one of the biggest names in that year's generation of piracy, taking into account his history with the King Pirates and Gryphon Pirates, as well as the incident with Gastrell Lucien, one of the Three-Stars of the Hunting Pirates, one of the four largest pirate crews in the world. The other persona behind the call, in which it was impossible to identify, showed an image of a 'boss'.

"I need to warn about this soon!" thought the agent. The person closest to him was Fae Skia, his former leader during his time as an assassin. He was someone of few words and close to relationships in general, but he trusted Apollo enough to give him a dendenmushi for communication. Then he dialed the CP9 Chief...

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

Puru puru puru… puru puru puru…

The muffled tones of the den den mushi pierced through the silence of the dim lit room from beneath ceremonial robes. The faint smell of burning wax hushed the salted air slightly, providing no replacement fragrance. Standing barefoot on the soaked bamboo mats that lined his floor, Skia stood in a trance with Hotei drawn before him. Each breath was as intense as the last, as his form remained as still as the dead.

Puru puru puru… puru pu..

The incessant ringing of the snail ceased, returning the void to its seemingly natural state. Only to be broken a moment later.

"Anrei speaking." The instant Skia had answered the call, the four torches lining the room flickered abruptly as the transponder manifested in a black mass on his shoulder.

"This is Helios speaking." On the other end of the connection, it was an 'old' acquaintance of that somber fellow. A few years ago they were co-workers, which they still technically are, but in different ways, however their type of relationship didn't seem to have changed all that much.

"I have something I consider interesting to tell you." By the time he finished his first part of the dialogue, Anrei's curl was taking on the shape of the message transmitter, signifying a temporary blond hair growth, which would confirm Apollo's identity. "I'll get right to the point. Hornigold Clovis, one of the newest additions to the pirate world, has made contact with an unknown subject in a call via den mushi..." The agent brought the 'summary paper' closer to his face, to better visualize what would have been written, after all this was what he took the trouble to write for while listening to the information.

"The receiver of the message seemed to have a connection to Lucien, in which he was taken into Marine custody along with Daruma and Zarren. In three days they will meet on Little Garden Island." He completed all the reading and passing along the newly acquired information of the meeting perhaps... destined? Well, it's not as if the existence of things like destiny is relevant at the moment.

Lucien?!

Skia's grip tightened around the tsuka, looking deep into the shimmering white blade that's failed to retain the slightest of blemish in the decades of its service. His reflection tarnished the porcelain with the visage of long gray hair rippling away into the long mop of black dripping with sweat and a seething red glare from his right eye. Apollo's words were met with silence.

What are the odds?

"Apollo, it's been some time. Can you tell me anything about the one Clovis spoke to?"

"Yeah, it really has been a while. In a way we're no longer mates in the same unit, I miss working with you a little bit, but I know I'll make a difference here." He quickly commented so as not to miss the "hook" of Skia's comment, not that it was anything very important at the moment, but he simply wanted to say that. "Anyway, i couldn't identify who he was. Sees to be someone careful not to leave visible traces even on a dendenmushi call... It seems that even Clovis doesn't know exactly who the fellow is." Said Apollo, he really wouldn't have gotten any very useful details from the other individual who exchanged words with the 'Shinigami'.

Though he had just asked his confidant a question, Apollo's words had fallen on deafened ears. Skia's glare remained fixed on the reflection on the blade, though it had changed.

Lucien.. Hunting.. Argo.. Coyote.. Lethi...

The eyes that leered back at Skia were not his own. Even ‘’his’’ emotionless gaze paled in comparison to the void of depravity that opposed them. A deep breath trembled through his clenched teeth, a bead of sweat rolled his brow. The stained red wrap along Hotei’s handle dripped with crimson from the tightening grip.

Lightning cracked through the sky like a whip, breaking the hold the clouds had on the sea they contained. The heavy rainfall quelled the thick ash over the war torn battlefield, massive craters berated the coast like the dark side of the moon. The burning sensation that radiated from the wound at his side was beyond anything Skia had experienced, let alone as close a call.

"Lies. A word that none believe hold weight, when in reality.." Skia spoke softly, his wwords seemed to cut through the cacophony of the ensuing storm. "Have the potential to end civilization." Pausing briefly to take a drag of a cigarette. "As agents, we do as we're told. Any sense of identity, unnecessary. Personality leads to compromise."

His face had become drenched, saturated with water completely. The shattered remnants of a blade rest at his feet, a youthful Hotei rest in Skia's left hand; the tip resting atop the mound of flesh, the tarnished white of its blade being washed clean.

"You had one job, Coyote. ONE. JOB!" Skia's shouts crashed through the heavens, accentuated with a massive lightning strike. His grip tightened, pressing the blade firmly into the chest. "And you abused it. Abused your position. Lied about who you are. LIED, to everyone around you. You LIED to ME!" The blade plunged deep, spurting with blood. "You were skilled, Coyote! Unlike anything that's been seen in history. You lacked guidance. And I extended my hand." Skia removed his blade from the chest of the lifeless corpse at his feet, bisected diagonally from left shoulder to right hip.

He looked down at this man with tears in his eyes, yet with an unforgiving look on his face. "All I asked was for loyalty. Not to me but to your post. And you betrayed it." Taking to an initial drawing stance, the mid section of his robes grew darker by the second. “Disobedient dogs need to be put down.” Lightning struck the instant these words left the mouth of the Anrei, bringing the island to a state of nothingness for a fraction of a second. Within that time, not one, but over one thousand slashes lined the body that was at his feet, drawn to pinpoint sections and cast to the breeze.

With a gasp of air that extinguished the lit flames that surrounded the swordsman, Skia quickly sheathed his blade and donned his robes. With a snap of his fingers the room illuminated faintly as the shadows pulled back from the lights. “Thank you Apollo. Your cooperation is appreciated.” Hanging up the call, Skia glared at his office door with an expectant leer to his red eye.

The twinkle in his eye would not go unrewarded. For the door to his office slammed open by way of a vigorous force. Yet it was neither a hand nor a foot that unlatched the door; two massive calcium cannons jiggled and wobbled as the form of Omen Armani appeared suddenly in the within the doorway. Her face conveyed a look of frustration; fists balled up at the sides of her waist, she took a large puff of her cigarette before addressing the Cipher Pol agent. "Not so fast!!!" she barked, "you can sit your ass back down!!"

The Captain of ARROW pointed her finger at Skia. "Don't go grabbing your sword as if you've got some place to be when we both know..." She reclaimed the pointing finger, shooting her thumb back out towards herself. "the right of hunting down that criminal belongs to me!"

"We've been over this." Skia quickly interjected, "You can detain any one of them, but this one is mine." Even for the cold and unfeeling tones that had become a staple to Skia's speech, his words boasted more authority than anything else.

"This is not a matter I'm willing to waste time while Coyote.. DeGrado Oko is still alive."


It was a day like any other. Not a big event, not an important task, not even a small assassination, not even a retrieval operation. The last few weeks for the CP9 Unit have been just that: boring and with nothing to do. Although some members may appreciate the fresh air of a pseudo-vacation, others are probably just thirsting for something, anything, to relieve their boredom. Some of the members were in a room that resembled a living room of sorts, with coaches, tables, and probably everything you would expect from a living room, only on a much larger scale.

The agents are all busy or trying to do something, as they are either waiting to be given an assignment by the leader of their unit, who is away for some time, or a higher supervisor, or they are simply waiting for the day to end.

One particular agent stood out from the rest. Not because he was the scariest or most professional guy, after all, this CP-Unit was full of people who fit those criteria, no, this guy stood out by being the exact opposite. He was bald and had a very round head and body, for although his black suit still fit him, the masses of fat underneath could not be hidden by the suit. With small white eyes he looked at something while holding a piece of meat in his hand, slowly chewing on it and looking as if nothing could upset him.

Bob, also called Orca, or at least he called himself Orca, the other members didn't know if it was an attempt for their resident meat head to give himself a code name or if he really wanted to be an Orca, considering his passion and love for a certain marine mammal race, the waiting and boredom didn't seem to bother him at all. He himself was a little curious as to where sad leader was, and feared that purple ghost scared him too much again as he disappeared back into the darkness. But in the end, those thoughts were only there for seconds before they were forgotten again as Bob waited.

He waited for something to happen. Because when people tell him to do things, he will do things. Suddenly, his little white eyes widened.

"Hah.....hah....hah!"

Bob laughed very slowly, because what he had been looking at for hours was an aquarium that he was watching and laughing at as if he were watching a comedy show on TV.

“At least someone’s having fun”

That voice would come from a certain corner within the room as its source would be the figure of a purple haired woman balancing herself on one finger as she wore a bright smile on her face. Velvet was her name, a member of the Cipher Pol that everyone knew and could be considered the bright spot of the usually gloomy group. Those who did know her also knew that the sight of her upside down was a common sight for the young woman as she was a person who always felt the need to stretch her legs and show off her gymnastic-like flexibility whenever she was stuck in an enclosed space.

Shifting her weight to another finger, Velvet would speak out towards the other occupants within the room.

“How long do we have to wait here? I’m getting bored just waiting” She pouted although it was hard to tell due to her being upside down.

Dim lights gazed through the thin paper walls, throwing whatever they could muster upon the blade which rested upon the lap of Tougire. Deep breaths filled the otherwise void room. His figure remained still as he sat deep in meditation. His breaths slowly grew shallow and quick, his eyes flickered back and forth as distant memories played themselves out in front of him. The remains of Tougire’s arm ached as his figure squirmed. Gray pupils revealed themselves as he opened his eyes, a deep sigh escaped from the grasp of his lips as his head turned. Hesitantly his right arm moved to its side, letting it wander across the mechanical arm which rested beside him. Placing it onto what little remained of his left arm. Tougire threw a glance on the blade that sat comfortably on his lap before moving it into its sheath.

The voices of Bob and Velvet could be heard as he slid the paper doors to their respective sides. Entering the room in which his companions found themselves in he responded to Velvet, “don’t worry Velvet-dono, Bob-dono. The wait is nothing more than a temporary instance, I’m certain that our orders will arri.”

‘’’PERO PERO PERO PERO’’’

The ringing of their transponder snail interrupted Tougire. Its appearance slowly morphed as it started to take on the shape and resemblance of their leader, Fae Skia.

Codex Express

Saltair Train Station. An open out at sea complex which was nothing more than a thin sheet of glass lain across the surface of the water. Here many people gathered, arriving from distant ships to board the sea train. The Pain Pirates had arrived a few minutes ago. They owed their recent travels to the Stellar Pirates who were kind enough to let them hitch a ride after Twin Cape had claimed three attempts at salvaging a ship of their own.

Breathing in the strong scent of salt in the air, Clovis treaded along the thin glass with a precautionary measure to his step. It was frightening for any Devil Fruit user to be so close to the water; the glass was so thin and clear that it even seemed like everyone was practically walking on the ocean itself. It gave Clovis anxiety so he decided not to look down any longer.

"This train is supposed to take us to Little Garden, ow!!" Clovis pointed his finger at a billboard above where the train was docked, pretending he could actually read what was written there. "Which means..." He turned dramatically towards the ship of the Stellar Pirates behind him and most especially toward his beloved Crickett.

"This is... goodbye, my dear Crickett!! Thank you for all your help!" Clovis waved and took a bow. He was eager to continue his journey in the Grand Line, but it was hard to see Crickett go. Long distance relationships had a low chance of success. And Clovis, being that he turned his previous captain into the marines and took over his crew, was not exactly the most loyal man in the sea. "Until we meet again, my dear Crickett!"

“Little garden…” Crickett mumbled, Dipper standing by her side. At first, Clovis was a sponge for the scenery. The immaculate glass palace, an aquarium for humans that separated the station from the sea.

Out of nowhere, Crickett began sharpening a knife. Watching the straw man from a distance. The red headed woman looked more akin to a deranged serial killer than a grieving girlfriend.

“So fate has decided to separate us, hasn’t it Dipper?” She watched her new-found lover gawk and gawe, distracted by the world around him.

Dipper stood right beside his mistress, nodding. “But he’s still got Crow, right? So you should be able to keep an eye on him…”

“Shut up about that.” Crickett snapped, her one good eye zooming forward as if it was a telescope. A smile appeared on her face, soft dainty fingers caressed her chin in wonder. “But yes, you are right.” The sharpening ceased as the knives seemingly vanished. Most likely kept in her hat, no one really knew for sure. “I saw what will happen on this little garden, did I tell you that Dipper?” It was a rhetotircal question.

Still, Dipper felt the need to answer. “Uh, no.” He scratched his head. “Is it bad?” Dipper’s fingers were crossed. He really didn’t like that man!

“One could say that.” The smile widened, as if that was possible. She approached the edge of her ship, a hand touching the rails and the other waving goodbye.

“If you cheat on me Scarecrow, I’ll burn you alive.” The waving stopped and she blew a kiss. The minute she did, Clovis would feel a sort of squirm in his sheathe. That sword. That damned cursed sword.

“Namamamaamamamama!!!!” Crickett cackled, Dipper gulped.

“Uh oh…” He shrugged, returning to his studies while Crickett went to her crystal ball.

After bidding Crickett and the rest of the Stellar Pirates farewell, the roar of the sea train jolted Clovis' mind back to reality. He turned around and gave a hard tug at Behram and Zed with either one of his large, meaty hands, and if he could, he'd tried to drag them along with him in a dead sprint as he worried about potentially missing the train. "Ow!!! We gotta get going now or we'll miss it!!"

A crowd of would-be passengers separated the Pain Pirates from the sea train. At least, momentarily. Clovis began to plow through said crowd, using the four elbows he had available to him to push, nudge, and shove the people from out of his way. "Outta the way!" he barked, "we got a train to catch! Move it! Get lost! Beat it! Ow!!!!"

Innocent people were flung into the ocean, unable to find their footing on the glass floor. There was absolutely no walls to the train station; one wrong step and the sea floor awaited them. In due time the Pain Pirates found themselves aboard the sea train. And just as they climbed on --and not a moment too soon or too late-- smoke fumed from the train's chimney and it immediately began to take off. Several passengers who had missed the train because of the Pain Pirates tried to catch up to the train and instead fell into the ocean. Keeping the door to the train's cart open for awhile longer, Clovis spectated their angry faces and met them with horrid expressions of his own. Only when they could no longer be seen did he properly shut the cart door and seize his taunts.

Turning to Behram and Zed with a sigh of relief, he ran both hands through his hair. "Not too shabby, eh? We made it after all. Ow! It's supposed to be a couple hours worth of a trip if I heard them right. Make yourselves... comfortable. I reckon there's quite a bit to see on this thing, eh?" He took a stride forward and gave Behram a knowing pat on his shoulder, as if he expected only him to understand the dark depths behind what he was truly alluding to.

He gave a fleeting glance at Zed, whose visual antics kindled a memory he was meaning to bring up. "Hoy, Zed. That book yer always carryin' around..." Of course, Clovis couldn't read himself, it was a great benefit to him to have someone like Zed around in his crew. "You said it's a book on the Grand Line, aye? Does it say anything about 'Little Garden'?"

Zed was so mesmerized by the concept of a sea train that not only was he not aware of their destination but had also spent the entire time it took his captain to say goodbye to his beloved squatting down, with his face as close as humanly possible to the glass floor, trying to understand how someone could have thought that having a glass-floored train station in the middle of the sea was a good idea.

As he heard the sound of the train, he raised his head to meet Clovis, who had just returned from his final talk with Crickett before the Pain Pitares' departure. As they forced their way through the crowd, there was nothing Zed could do about the innocent victims, but nod and apologize for his captain's actions. Even though he, who prided himself on being kind, was upset that they had hurt those people, he couldn't help but laugh at those who fell into the water. They would probably have been the ones left behind if CLovis hadn't done what he did, so Zed didn't mention it to him.

The young man raised his eyebrow as Clovis instructed them to get comfortable. The way he spoke and patted Behram on the shoulder seemed odd, as if there was a second meaning he didn't quite understand.

"Yeah, it's filled with stories from all over the Grand Line. 'Little Garden' included. "To its inhabitants, the island truly is a little garden. Therefore, let us call it Little Garden, Land of Giants."! That's what it says in the book. Many people believe that that book is full of lies, but not me. I think it's true... maybe one day I'll find out the truth. Why do you ask?" He said, scratching his nose with his pinky.

Where Zed had been in awe at the scenery that was presented to him for the first time, with his face placed against the glass, Behram could been seen with the same fate. However, instead of looking out of the glass to his surroundings he used it as a hold to keep his head up, while his eyes had been closed and he found himself sleeping.

It wasn't much rocket science behind knowing the trip would take long and because of that, he decided it would be the best time for him to go to sleep. It had been a while since he body got the proper rest, so he had used every second he could on getting it. He did notice that after eating his devil fruit his body seemed more amped when he was at rest. He sought desperately to understand the phenomenon. Sleeping was the only way to do that.

"Land of Giants?" Clovis paused and began stroking the two lumps of hair at his chin he called a beard with his hand. Tugging and pulling it seemingly helped him think better. "Do beings like that really exist?" A nervous bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face as the pirate captain became lost in thought. The very notion of encountering giants was truly absurd; Clovis at ten feet tall was a giant to the average human, being damn near twice their size, yet if an entire island could be considered a 'garden', it made him ponder upon what was in store for them as soon as they set foot onto it.

"Ow! What a handy book you got there, mate. Be sure to hold onto that. Something tells me it'll be useful when we reach the island and perhaps even beyond that. It makes me wonder though, why this lad I spoke with on the phone wanted to meet there of all places." Clovis retrieved his hand from his beard. He stood up, fuller. "Alright! Seems like Thug's already dozed off." Clovis eyed him from the corner of his eye. "Let's let him be, hmm? I think he's better off that way. Otherwise he'll be cranky when we reach Little Garden and I'd rather not have to deal with that."

Clovis gave Zed another encouraging pat on the shoulder. "Our success may very well ride on what you learn from that book. Why not brush up a bit before we get there, eh? I'm sure one of these carts has to be less populated than the others. Find a quiet place to read your book. Ow! I'm gonna go for a walk in the meantime."

Clovis took out a big ol' cigar from the inside of his coat, along with a lighter, and took his leave following a final nod to Zed. The sea train had many carts; more than twenty or so. Because they had no ship of their own, the Pain Pirates were going to have to rely on it to reach the next island. But that would still leave them with no basic supplies, like food to eat and buckets to do their business into. Clovis aimed to gather spoils for the sake of his crew.

Taking a puff of the cigar, Clovis stepped through the southern door and appeared in the next cart over. He walked down the aisle unbothered; civilians eyed him uncomfortably. Many turned instinctively hoping to ward off attention from themselves. It seemed no one wanted anything to do with him based on his appearance alone.

After walking through a few more doors and a few more carts, Clovis took a seat and began to enjoy a good smoke. Fumes emptied from his mouth each time his jaw dropped open. He let out the cloud regardless of whomever was in his vicinity; if they died of lung cancer then that was their fault for not having stronger lungs.

Zed was motionless as he watched Clovis leave, and as he did so, his look gradually went from blank to confused."Did he just say "when we get to the island"? Is that where we're going? 'Little Garden'?"  He mumbled to himself as he gave the information some thought. It was his childhood dream to visit the places he read about.  He smiled for a moment, knowing he was about to do it. After that, he made a U-turn and headed in the opposite direction from Clovis.

He passed through a few carts, and everywhere he went, he was met with cold looks that chilled the back of his head. He thought it strange that someone could be judged negatively based solely on appearance. What's so bad about a man with green hair, no shirt, tattoos, and a frog sitting on his shoulder? He finally found a quiet cart with a handful of people in it, perfect to reread on the so called lies about their destination. He saw a corner seat open and walked over. At first, he sat like he normally would but after a few seconds he raised his boots and sat with his feet lying on the seat in front of him. As he grabbed his book he tried to put on an intimidating look. Even if he wasn't as cruel as his fellow crewmates, he might as well look the part. His appearance already made people judge him, was it wrong to take advantage of it? That way people would think twice before bothering him. Even though it was disrespectful to the other passengers in the cart, he felt good about doing it. It was comfortable and even liberating in a manner. " So this is what it means to do what you want, to not care what other people think. Maybe it's not so bad to do things the pirate way once in a while". He thought to himself before resuming his reading.

Lost in the world of his book, Zed would fail to notice the presence of another individual who entered the cart. It wasn't until the silhouette took a seat directly beside him when so many others were available that he may have caught wind of it; a highly voluptuous figure nestled into the cushion next to him.

The woman had hair as white as snow spilling down her back like a velvet curtain. She had certain womanly gifts which bounced along with the friction caused by the train's constant motion, and sitting on her rump made her seem taller than she actually was. By comparison her face reached higher than Zed's; she met him with a mischievous smirk. She rather liked that he could be so focused on a book in her presence. It was a tall task not many men could accomplish.

"My, my. Quite the avid reader, aren't we?" Her voice was soft, yet her tone was fierce; every word pierced the air between them. She wore traditional attire; a tight kimono wrapped around her curves yet low enough to showcase her jiggling gifts. "If only you knew what was aboard this train. Maybe then you would be a bit more cautious."

"There are plenty of other seats available..." He responded calmly, taking some time to finish the sentence he was reading before slowly turning his head to face whoever was talking to him. He was taken aback by the woman's curvaceous form, but his shock wore off quickly. Even Rana was astounded by her looks, jumping onto the top of Zed's head to have a better view. "...but what do you mean by that? You clearly went out of your way to talk to me, and you appear to be knowledgeable about something I am not. So, could you please elaborate." The woman's expression made him think that she could try something. Even if his freshly acquired devil fruit abilities had granted him the ability to protect himself in a matter of seconds, he still put his book aside, sat up straight, and turned his body slightly in the direction of the woman.

Zed growing more alert brought the woman to giggle softly. She played with his instincts, slowly leaning towards his face to whisper something. "Kawaiii~. I think it's cute how defensive you're getting." She pulled away from him, her bust emanating a resounding jiggle as she did. A faint blush laminated both of her cheeks.

"Still, I wonder how you even got a ticket to board this train. You see, even by the standards of a sea train, this train is far from ordinary." By comparison, her posture was far more relaxed than Zed's. "Are you telling me that you boarded this train without knowing whom it belongs to?" Her eyes, dancing slowly, found his face once more. She locked her gaze with his.

Suddenly, she unveiled something from within her sleeve. A folding fan! Just as quickly as it was drawn, the fan expanded to cover her plump, pink lips as she giggled again. She was quick; and her reflexes were even more sharp. Yet despite the sudden action, it didn't seem like she intended to cause any direct trouble for Zed.

"I'll share this with you only because you're cute." Her eyes danced down to his chin. "But this train belongs to Isambard-san. Right now it's being used to transport over four thousand swords. That's over two tons worth of weaponry." Her eyes rose back up to meet his. "I imagine many who chose to board this train today did so knowing that. And now you know too. There you go, I've evened the playing field."

After hearing the woman speak, Zed adopted a more relaxed posture. Not because her unexpected comment on his defensive posture made him blush for a brief moment, but because he believed that her intentions, whatever they were, meant no harm towards him. If that were the case she would have acted on it by now. He grinned as his eyes became wider. This time it was him who leaned closer to the woman. "You had my curiosity, but now... Now you have my attention!" A train belonging to someone important, carrying such a large amount of weapons. The smell of exciting occurrences was nearly intolerable to the writer in him. He needed to know more. "Tell me more about this Isambard person. Who are they? Why are they moving this much weaponry? I want to know everything you're willing to tell me."

"Whoa, slow down there. Take it easy," the woman sat up, swiping away her luscious hair to show her bare shoulders. Her lips weaved into a seductive smirk. "Like I said, I was just evening the playing field. There's a lot of men aboard this train that are aware of what I just told you. I thought you deserved to know, too. But that doesn't matter."

Jiggles down her curve as she rose to her feet. "Because anyone who tries anything will have to deal with me. I hope you won't make such a mistake, sweetheart." She flashed Zed a wink and took her leave.

Zed kept a close eye on her departure. His thoughts were still mulling over that peculiar encounter. "Why did that woman feel the need to inform me that this train's owner, this Isambard, was transporting such an outrageous amount of weaponry on it? What did she mean by "evening the playing field"? I feel like I should tell Clovis about this, but she did warn me not to try anything. That meathead I call captain would certainly try something without giving it a second thought. There's still a few hours before we reach our destination. If he doesn't come looking for me, I'll bring it up to him later. I'll finish reading what my beloved friend Louis Arnote has to say about 'Little Garden' for the time being." Zed thought to himself, before returning to his comfortable position.

"I don't think it's a good idea to get too comfortable in a place like this"

A sweet voice would enter Zed's ears from above him as the appearance of a young woman dressed in a formal black business suit would appear in his vision when he would look up and spot her smiling down at him as she hung upside down from the roof of the train. What was peculiar however was the fact that both of her hands were behind her back and her feet were somehow stuck to the ceiling, as if they were glued onto it.

"Hi" The purple haired woman said with a friendly wave, introducing herself despite the oddity of the situation as if she were meeting a friend. "Nice day, isn't it?"

Zed slid down and jumped out of his chair. "Again? What is it with women on this train? Do I look like someone who'd like to be bothered? "I don't think it's a good idea to get too comfortable in a place like this", something interesting is definitely happening on this train." He thought to himself as he stood there, examining the woman with his eyes. Up, down, then up again. His eyes fixated on her feet. Zed was silent for a brief moment before he finally responded. "Hi. Yeah, I would say it's a pleasant day." His finger was pointing at her feet when he looked down to meet her gaze. "Excuse me, lady. How are you doing that? Is it magic? Or science?"

"Oh this?" The woman looked up at her feet that were still clinging to the roof of the train as she suddenly fell from the roof, landing back onto the ground on one foot as she slowly brought her other foot down, all while keeping that same smile on her face. "Just a nifty trick I learned from some close friends of mine" She then stifled a laugh at his speculation choices. "Magic? What a silly guy you are" She chuckled.

Moments after her laughter began to subside, she remembered that she had yet to actually introduce herself to the man that was her target and she inclined her body forward in a formal manner.

"Forgive the late introduction. My name is Velvet" Though she was smiling, there was something chilling about that smile from such an innocent looking woman as her eyes opened and her eyes that matched the color of her hair exchanged glances with the man.

"Your name is Zed, isn't that correct?"

Zed's expression suddenly took on a mixture of panic and shock. I don't think it's a good idea to get too comfortable in a place like this. He once more pondered about her initial words. "Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no... How the hell do you know my name? I've been so careful up until Twin Cape. Who are you?!" The way she talked. The way she acted. That woman from before, that was just evening the playing field. Something didn't smell right about that whole situation.

"I'd say that's the least of your concerns, wouldn't you agree?" Velvet took a step closer, tightening the grip on her gloves that she wore as she glanced around the cart they both were standing in.

"Hmm, it's rather cramped in here but I suppose it can't be helped. Orders are orders after all" Velvet shrugged before her attention shifted back onto the man called Zed as the woman lifted a single finger and pointed it at him.

"Sorry to say but your a target, Zed. And while it's unfortunate after we just met..." Velvet began as the tone of her voice unexpectedly deepened as she smoothly pulled her finger back while her legs shifted apart into a stance that had her right foot behind her left as her outstretched finger was drawn backwards, as if she was charging it up. Pressure began emanating from Velvet's figure as the floor beneath her feet was beginning to dent itself, a result of the power she had been sending from the muscles in her feet throughout her body.

"...Targets must be eliminated" The lack of emotion Velvet held in her voice as she uttered those words in comparison to her usually bubbly tone would send shivers down a person's spine as she swiftly struck the air in front of her with her charged up finger that sent forth a razor sharp air projectile in the shape of an arrow as it flew through the air at an insane speed right towards Zed's temple, intending to cleave right through his skull like a real bullet would.

Zed could immediately tell where the conversation was going as she began speaking. But nevertheless, his expression changed. Suddenly the tint of fear and shock in him faded away and a mischievous grin took its place. As Velvet talked away and prepared her attack, he calmly crossed his fingers and remained still. During their time with the Stellar Pirates, Zed spent his time experimenting with the abilities of the Bari Bari no Mi whenever he made a break from reading and writing. He discovered, among other things, that he could render his barriers invisible. He was counting on this to surprise his opponent. "Why am I a target? Clovis is the only I told about my ability to read poneglyphs so you can't be after that! Who do you work for?" Zed questioned, certain that he wouldn't be hurt by the woman's attack.

Surprisingly, her Tobu Shigan didn't pierce the man's skull as she had intended as the air pressure suddenly dispersed in front of his head as if some sort of force field had blocked it. Velvet kept her stance, steam emitting from her finger as she analyzed her current situation and tried to figure out what ability he possessed. Devil Fruit? That much was obvious. But which one? She had studied up on the hundreds of them out there as being informed about your opponent's abilities was an absolute must if you worked as an assassin. It clearly wasn't a Zoan or a Logia type so she assumed it was a Paramecia type and one that possessed at the bare minimum, the ability to protect its user.

"He's still crossing his fingers..." Velvet noted as she completely ignored his questions and expressed interest in testing the true limits of what his devil fruit was, hoping to expose its identity.

"Hmm, you seem rather calm now. Is it because you have this power of yours?" She asked, wearing that same smirk as before as she stood upright and then did a few small jumps on the tip of her toes, the same type of movement a boxer would make as they prepared for a fight.

"Let's test this power of yours then, shall we?" Her pink lips curved into a friendly smirk and at the exact moment her feet landed back on the ground, her body suddenly vanished as if it were never there to begin with. Utilizing her own version of Soru, Velvet appeared right behind Zed in the blink of an eye and now aimed a Armament haki-infused roundhouse kick towards the man's left hip, intending to see how his ability reacted to a blindspot assault.

"You aren't answering my questions. Why are you after me? Who sent you? You won't be able to touch me unless I allow you to, the sooner you accept that the better." Zed remained unfazed as the woman attacked him once again. He was glad he had the powers he had because they allowed him to be useful in combat without having the necessity to attack his opponents, giving him the opportunity to analyze them before they wore out or he decided to put an end to the fight. Why was she so eager to kill him? What could he have possibly done that, did someone feel the need to send someone to assassinate him? Was it because he was a poneglyph reader? It's the only thing he could think of. Or was there a whole different explanation that he was not aware of? Hopefully once she understood her attempts to hurt him were futile, his opponent would start to cooperate more.

Velvet's kick, like her air pistol, was deflected by the same force field that prevented her from striking the man called Zed. What was true in both instances however was that he hadn't moved an inch throughout the entire time, including how he crossed his fingers in front of his body. Slowly lowering her leg back down, Velvet would hum amusedly at the questions he was bombaring her with.

"I wouldn't be a very good assassin if I told you all those things now would I?" She said as she walked around him playfully, having already accepted that she would be unable to harm him as long as he held up this barrier. There was only one devil fruit she could think of that had powers similar to this after analyzing the data in her head and if it truly was that one, nothing she threw at him would get through. As such, wasting any more of her energy trying to attack him would be a waste of her time.

After walking around him, Velvet tilted her head as she placed a hand under her chin.

“Now this is a real pickle, huh? I can’t believe my luck is so bad that the guy I’m supposed to kill has such an annoying power” Velvet complained as her cheeks puffed out, not finding any enjoyment in such a boring battle.

Glancing around her surroundings, Velvet would attempt to search for anything within the vicinity she could use to give her the advantage against Zed within this enclosed space. An idea would soon pop into her head however when she stared at the window of the cart they were in but it was a rather risky gamble that might get her in trouble if she screwed it up and thus, had to be careful before she executed it.

“Hey” She suddenly called out to Zed. “You really won't drop that barrier thing no matter what?” The way she phrased that question was both innocent and foreboding of something worse to come.

"Drop what? I'm not doing anything..." Zed crossed his harms. His hands were now hidden, but his fingers were still crossed. Why did she use the word barrier? Did she know or was it just a wild guess? "Like I said, you won't be able to touch me unless I allow you to, so I encourage you to stop wasting both of our time and answer my questions. I believe that at the very least, I deserve to know why someone's after my head. " Zed remembered another potential motive behind her quest to eliminate him. Could it be that someone was after the Pain Pirates? And how would they know he had joined them if he had only done so not long ago. "Are you after Clovis and Behram too?"

“I’d be willing to answer that question if you took down that barrier of yours” Velvet offered in a whimsical tone as she continued looking around the cart with her observant eye. That idea she had before was still floating around in her head but she’d honestly rather not do that if she could avoid it.

Towards his act of pretending to be ignorant of his own power, Velvet would merely lean against one of the sofa’s within the cart as she crossed her arms and smiled at him.

“You don’t have to play dumb. I’ve already narrowed down the ability you probably have after seeing you cross your fingers along with how you didn’t move an inch even after I exposed an opening for you” She revealed before she stood upright and looked up at the ceiling.

“Let me ask you something, do you recognize this technique? Rankyaku” She said before she swiped her leg upward in the blink of an eye, causing the air itself to rip apart where she had kicked as a sharp projectile of wind cleaved through the ceiling of the cart they were both standing in. The debris would begin falling down around the purple haired agent as she smiled at the broken roof that revealed the open sky.

“Does that help paint a picture of who I work for?” She asked while still smiling.

"Nope, still have no idea who you work for. I don't know what your deal is but if we keep this going we're gonna be here all day. I haven't moved because, well, I don't have to. But alright, the jig is up. Let's try this again..." A blue tinted glass pane like bubble formed around Zed for a few seconds before disappearing as he put one hand in his pocket and extended the other one towards Velvet. "Nice to meet you, I'm Zed."

Velvet’s eyes would blink towards the unexpected action of her target extending a hand towards her for a handshake. Of all the things she was expecting him to do or say, this was certainly among the bottom of that list as she studied his facial expression with narrowed eyes. Velvet was exceptional when it came to reading other people as she had mastered the art of concealing her own emotions behind a smile herself. Her instincts told her that the man in front of her known as Zed was genuinely offering a handshake and had no hostile intent, at least none that she could sense.

Despite that however, Velvet would never let her guard down towards a supposed enemy as her smile remained and she reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it firmly.

“Same here. Your an... interesting guy” She voiced and actually meant those words as it was indeed true he was a different breed from her usual targets that she had disposed of easily enough.

“So what now?" She said as she tilted her head to the side in a innocent manner. "You do understand that I didn't come here just for a friendly chat, right?” She questioned.

Zed was somewhat surprised that she would actually take up on his proposition. "I know. But what you came here to do, you won't be able to." Zed made his way to one of the chairs in the cart. "So you tell me. What happens if you can't kill your target? And, if I remember correctly, you did say that you'd answer me if I took down my barrier. I'd be willing to answer your questions if you have any. So, let's start with the friendly chat, then we'll talk about what happens to you."

"We'll see about that" Velvet trailed as she cartwheeled backwards and now stood on on her hands before shifting her weight onto one finger, showcasing her incredible flexibility and balance. Since it seemed her mission was going to be temporarily delayed, she decided to relax a bit and submit herself to her usual habits.

Towards his question regarding the consequences of a failed mission, Velvet merely hummed while she hung upside down on her finger.

"Usually I'd get in big trouble for a failed mission but I'm sure they'll understand if I tell them about your power" Velvet said as she smiled and switched to her opposite finger without missing a step as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her. "I did agree to answer your question though so I'll just be blunt. We're after all the members of your crew, can't tell you the reason though just that we were given those orders" She admitted, realizing that it mattered little if he knew about it now as her fellow agents had already begun their missions.

Flipping back over, Velvet linked both of her hands behind her back and playfully walked away from Zed.

"You still have no idea who we are, do you?" Velvet asked despite already knowing the answer.

"If I had I would've stopped asking about it. But if you're after the whole crew that really doesn't help narrowing it down much. Good luck with that, by the way. You're already not getting me and I personally doubt you'll get the others. " Zed expressed his confidence in his crewmates' ability to defeat the adversary by making this remark without knowing how the enemy planned to deal with them. "I'm sure our captain has many enemies after him. If you were specifically after me, I'd bet on the Marines, poneglyphs readers are known to be hunted by the government and with this ability it would be hard to kill me. That's why I try not to mention it. I'm sure they'd slap a bounty on me if they ever found out. " Zed took his hand to his chin. "You sure are nimble... Hmmmmmm... you've already told me you can't tell me why you're after us, but you did say we. Who are you and who do you work for, can you tell me that now?"

“I admire your faith in your comrades. If they have similar abilities to what you have then I don’t doubt they’ll be just as hard to kill as you have been” Velvet admitted with a smile as she stopped walking and turned around so that she was staring at Zed when he asked her once more about her identity.

“Sorry, can’t tell you that no matter how many times you ask. That’d be a breach in my contract.  I’m sure you’ll figure it out on your own eventually anyway” She said before she yawned as she stretched her body, leaning back as she fell into one of the nearby seats and crossed her legs with a bored expression on her face.

“And here I thought I’d get a chance to cut wild after being assigned a mission after so long. What a let down” She sighed, glancing in between the front and back carts as if trying to figure something out.

“Hmm, I wonder which cart has the strongest member of your group. It’d be fun to see what they can do” She contemplated with an excited look, secretly wondering if her superior would allow her to switch targets mid mission. She doubted it would actually work but it was food for thought.

"Well, maybe next time. Shame you won't be able to see any of it." Zed cracked his neck and stood up. She clearly wasn't going to give him any more information. "Off, time to bounce. Sorry I ruined your fun but I'm not doing anyone any favors by being here. So, what do I do with you? Any suggestions?"

"That's up to you. Your free to do whatever you want, it's not like I can stop you right?" Velvet replied with a smile as she stood up from her seat and walked towards Zed. "That said, I can't exactly let you out of my sight and potentially compromise one of my comrades by letting you join up with one of yours during their battle. So while it might be rude, I'll have to follow you to keep my eyes on you" She stated before a sigh escaped her mouth.

"It sucks but it can't be helped" She shrugged.

"Well, then this is where we parts ways. It was very nice meeting you, but if you're after the whole crew then I need to be on my way. If they need help then I have to go help them. And since you won't allow me to I need to get rid of you. Now this is nothing personal but... Goodbye! " A net-shaped barrier shot in Velvet's direction as Zed quickly stood up and punched the air in a swift motion in an attempt to slingshot her out of the train. "Barrera Araña!"

Velvet's smile would remain unchanged as Zed attempted to remove her from the cart with his net shaped barrier along with a frontal jab aimed towards her temple. While she had accepted that harming a user of the barrier fruit was pointless as long as they were focused on protecting themselves from outside threats; it was an entirely different story if the user was the one going on the offensive and she was going to teach him that.

Bouncing on her feet, Velvet would use Soru to enter high speeds as she easily evaded the net shaped barrier by jumping upwards towards the ceiling of the cart. Thanks to her earlier Rankyakyu attack, there was a giant hole in the roof of the cart they were in as she grabbed onto the edge and used her momentum to fling herself back downwards all within a short second as her sights were focused directly on Zed's figure that had yet to catch up with her enhanced movements.

"Rankyakyu Juji" She said as she kicked the air in front of her twice within the same motion, generating a cross shaped air projectile right down towards Zed's unguarded figure that intended to slash his body with razor wind.

When his opponent vanished from his sights Zed knew he had to retrieve his barrier and once again shield himself from attacks. Even after Velvet's multiple displays of power as she tested his barrier, Zed still underestimated her speed. Any other individual would not have been likely to have survived even Velvet's first attack, let alone manage to escape it unscathed, but Zed made protecting himself from it look like a walk in the park. However, doing that while also attempting to get rid of her was a whole different ball game.

He had thought of something that could probably solve his problem, but had restrained from doing it because it would likely destroy a great deal of the cart. His good-natured mind was still to come to terms with his pirate life, preventing him from doing things any other pirate wouldn't give a second thought about. Depending on Velvet's next moves he could have no other option but to do it.

"Your reflexes are very impressive, they've saved you twice now" Velvet noted as she hung from the edge of the ceiling with her outstretched hand as she smiled down at Zed who had managed to block her attack from his blindspot. That short exchange just now showed how bad of a match up these two were for one another as they both had a skill the other lacked that gave them an advantage but they couldn't capitalize on it due to opposing nature of their powers.

Letting go of the edge, Velvet would descend back down to the ground as she landed smoothly and near the still shielded Zed, crossing her arms behind her back once more as they essentially returned to their original positions.

"I can tell by the look in your eyes you know?" She suddenly said as she took one step closer. "You still have something left up your sleeve, don't you? Perhaps another skill or some way for you to catch me off guard and escape, hm? Please, feel free. I'm just dying to know what else you can do" Velvet offered with a cold smirk.

Zed glanced over to the hole in the ceiling. "Well, I did have something I wanted to try, but I think I have an even better idea." He slowly rose, like he was walking up a ramp leading up to the outside of the train. His eyes locked in Velvet's, if she tried anything while he used the barrier to get on top of the train, he'd be ready to protect himself. "I was gonna ask you to follow me, but you're gonna do it anyways."

"Was it that obvious?" Velvet said playfully as she jumped upwards and grabbed the edge of the hole on the roof of the cart, flipping over it as she now stood on top of the damaged roof of the cart. Despite the Sea-Train still actively moving, Velvet's balance remained unaffected as she calmly watched Zed continue up his ramp that would lead him to the same destination.

"This is so much better, don't you agree?" Velvet breathed in, taking in the fresh air around her as she was more comfortable being outside where she could move about freely.

Zed looked around, taking in the scenery of the ocean while on top of a moving train. "It is, but I don't have the time to enjoy it. Well, I hope this works cause if it doesn't I'll just have to take you along with me. And don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed our little conversation, but I'd rather you'd stay out of the picture." He crossed his arms and with it the fingers on both of his hands, as a substantially big bubble formed around Velvet. "Barrera Capullo!"

The moment Zed had crossed his fingers in preparation for his attack, Velvet had already made her move to distance herself from her current location as she gathered strength into her leg muscles before jumping upwards. With her enhanced eyesight utilizing the Chosoku principle, Velvet’s awareness of Zed’s hand movement had given her the time needed to move out of the way before his barrier could entrap her within itself.  

“Good try but your going to have to be much faster if you wanna trap someone like me” Velvet spoke high above the Sea Train as she used Geppo to kick the air repeatedly  in order to keep up with the still moving Sea Train. With much more space to operate than before, Velvet could formulate a few ways to catch the barrier user off guard to potentially land a hit but she needed to know the full range and surface area of his power before she did so.

As such, Velvet’s smile would deepen as her body vanished and appeared right beside the Sea Cart as she drew her leg back and kicked it towards the window, firing off a Rankyaku in order to slice the Sea Cart in two from an angle that Zed wasn’t even facing.

Zed wasted no time figuring out Velvet's next move. As soon as he realized his plan had failed, he was already on the move to try a different one. Placing one hand on top of the train he used it to propel himself back down onto the cart where he ran into the next one, barely making it owing to the cart's slicing that forced him to jump inside.

He laid on the ground for a moment, trying to regain his breath. His expression of panic became one of wonder. "She's crazy strong. Delightful!" Zed muttered to himself, stunned by another of Velvet's impressive power shows. Every move she made instigated his curiosity. Every valuable thing he had ever learned was on the other side of a curious wandering. According to him, learning had nothing solid to attach to if one was not originally curious. And as a result, he became knowledgeable about a variety of topics. But in such a dire situation his curiosity came second, his curiosity took a back seat to his need to find a means to get rid of her. That train ride would certainly be one of the highlights of his book.

“Ooh, so close. Your quite a nimble guy huh?” Velvet was all smiles despite her attack narrowly missing its mark. Thanks to her Rankyakyu, the cart Zed had just escaped from suffered major damage and was barely holding itself together after having its center sliced by the CP9 agent. Zed’s retreat was a surprise to the woman however as she expected him to shield the cart with his barrier, if it was even possible from that angle. There were many reasons to explain that course of action but Velvet couldn’t pinpoint it and as such, she was going figure it out through trial and error.

Utilizing Geppo, Velvet blasted herself forward towards the top of the cart Zed was in as she flipped through the air and now stood on top of the roof, glancing down at the ceiling as she imagined Zed was already preparing to shield himself underneath if she made a move.

“Hey” Velvet suddenly called out as she was certain he could hear her even through the ceiling. “Why’d you even join this group? Your different from most pirates I come across and you don’t exactly fit the theme of your crew. At least not to me, so I wanna know why your with them” She said, curiosity filling her eyes. She had her orders but there was nothing wrong with sating her curiosity as long as she accomplished it.

"Well, while I was crossing Reverse Mountain, I ran into Clovis. He saved our lives and brought us to Twin Cape, where we had a conversation inside a tavern. During that conversation we came to understand that our goals aligned with each other. I want to discover the biggest treasure this world has to offer so I can write a book about my journey and become the greatest author in history, while Clovis seeks to be Pirate King. I didn't see any reason not to accept his invitation to join him. Since I have the tools to find the One Piece but I don't have the strength to get there. Long story short, we're means to each other's ends." Zed shouted to the roof, assuming Velvet could have trouble hearing him. He then toned down, uncertain if he was still responding to the question or if he was speaking to no one in particular. "They were means to my end, was all I initially thought of it, but I've grown to like those two idiots. When I was kidnapped, they came after me, and when I didn't have this power, they kept me safe. And they are real pirates, free. Free to do whatever they wish without a single care about what other people think."


There are a lot of things that can happen or be seen on a train, after all, any character can enter it to get from A to B, because that was one of the goals of the sea train system, to become independent of ships. So it was not surprising that a variety of characters used the train, although some were more special and strange than others.

Strange was a tall and fat man dressed in a matching black suit and wearing a hat that hid his bald head. Besides this suit, his round face with a big nose and small white eyes gave him a ridiculous appearance. But his huge fists, clasped with chains made of a metallic-looking material, gave him an intimidating presence with his size.

"Are you Breham?" Which is quickly nullified when he asks this question to another passenger, who responds with an annoyed no.

"Are you or the rat Breham?"

"I'm a woman and this is my dog, you dirty man!" The woman screeched while her little dog barked at Bob, who didn't care and moved on to his next target.

"Are you Breham?" No answer. "That’s okay, take you time."

"THAT'S A CHAIR, YOU IDIOT!" yelled a nearby couple when they saw him asking a chair if he was Breham.

As he looked around, he spotted another person who looked like he was sleeping. So he walked up to the person before standing near him.

"Are you Breham?" he asked, hoping that his deep and growling voice would be enough to wake him up.

As the voice traveled over his being, Behram's eyes were forced open. His flesh crawled at the suddened disturbance. "Why're you so lo-" Behram's eyes immediately widened at the sight of Bob.

"!!"

"AHHHHHHHHH!" He yelled at the top of his lungs like a child scared by a monster. Behram pushed his body up against the glass, if he had the ability to, he would have climbed up it to get as far away from Bob as he could. "No! No! No!" Behram continued to yell, grabbing the attention of everyone on his cart. In most instances where Behram could be known to play unnecessarily, he was truly and genuinely terrified at the sight of Bob. He possessed a large body, big nose, and most importantly, a bald head.

Behram sunk into his seat, "Please don't wanna be bald. Please don't take my hair!"

Bob was confused about the reaction. He has no idea how to handle this, especially with someone who is afraid of him taking his hair and not his life. He thought. What would sad leader do or say to Bob in this situation? A chibi Skia appeared in his head....

"Bob, stop thinking about dolphins. Just do your job, you hopeless idiot," the Chibi Skia scolded before disappearing again. Bob nodded in understanding, ignoring the looks people were giving them.

"I don't want your hair. Are you Breham?" repeated Bob again in his usual voice.

"Tha' names BEH-RAM!" Behram sounded it out, "Not Bre-ham! Do I look like a fuckin' slab of me. Yer gonna' piss me." Lifting himself up, Behram already knew where this situation was headed. He'd been a member of the Pain Pirates and gone through a boatload of complications since escaping prison. Sometimes, staying would have probably been the safer route to take.

Stepping into the middle of the isle, he sized Bob up. For the first time there was someone who stood before him and had been taller than him. "I've got quite tha' itch, that tha' capt'n is at fault right now."

Bob looked at Behram, as his face actively formed question marks.

"Behram.......not Breham?" asked Bob as he looked at the man in front of him before recalling the informations of the man he was looking for.

"Are you sure? You sound like Breham, worth 10,000,000...." Bob broke off before a Chibi Velvet appeared in his head.

"Bob, not everyone is nice. Don't believe everyone," Chibi Velvet said before disappearing again as a light bulb appeared in his head.

"Ahhhh....right. Now I understand...", without warning the hands wrapped in chains, chains that were a gift from Dolphin Friend who said they helped him with devil fruit users and had forgotten the name of the material, moved at a rapid pace, faster than his body looked, moving as if to clap Behram, as if catching and killing a fly.

"You can't trick me, Breham!" said Bob, glad that he had seen through the pirate's "lie".

"Shit!" Behram cursed, shooting his own arms out allowing for the clothes around both of his arms to extended in the same way the chains did. The cloths wiggled through the air, material slithered through the air like the bodies of snakes.

With his command, they wrapped around the chains and knotted them up. "Why'd I have ta' get tha' oaf!" Behram cried out, gripping the cloths in the palms of his hand pulling them to the side in an attempt to toss Bob up against the side of the train's wall, off of his feet in a single motion.

The trick worked, because Bob's attack was interrupted by a strange cloth wrapped around his chains. What didn't work was the second part, when Berham tried to pull Bob to the side of the train and throw him, but he didn't move even an inch. After all, aside from being taller and much heavier, Purple Ghost calls it fat, Bob was also the physically strongest of all the other Cipher Poll agents, except for sad leader.Sad Leader Wannabe called it, what he lost in his brain, he has in his useless body. He doesn't understand what that means.

But as Bob looked at the cloth wrapped around his chains on his hand, as he lifted his arms to look at it more closely, and actually pulled Berham with him as the pirate dangled in the air.

"Hmmmmmm?......Looks like a fishing net........You know fishing nets are dangerous to dolphins....." Bob said before blinking.

"Oh yeah....the task." With that, Bob raised his arms and pulled Breham with him before aiming to slam him to the ground. While Bob's movement looks casual, like he's not even trying, the force and speed behind it tell a different story.

Behram didn't even attempt to fight or resist Bob. Instead, his allowed for his arms to phase through the clothes so that they were no longer attached to his body, allowing himself to remain planted onto the floor while Bob did whatever arm flailing motions he chose to complete.

"Thanks for leavin' me with tha' brains!" Behram said sarcastically, in reference to the fact that Bob was all strength.

Letting out a deep breath, Behram unleashed three spheres of ectoplasm in front of him. The orbs began to meld and mesh, collapsing on themselves before flopping around like dough. In the next moment, they formed into three miniature ghost, each bearing a striking resemblance to Behram, like clones of himself but they possessed no body definement or clothes only the tail-like appendage which allowed them their ability to fly. Each of the ghostly clones had a grin on their face, hands up in the air as if they were attempting to chase and scare a young child.

On their own, each got into a formation around Bob and held their hands up. The Ghost at his side shot a beam of concentrated ectoplasm at him. This blast had the effects of a cold chill in liquid form, but it wasn't his body that would feel cold. What the attack truly targeted was his soul.

Behram himself lifted his hands up into the air. A cloud of ectoplasm generated above their specific cart, but due to it being on the outside, Bob would have never been able to see it forming. Rain fell from the cloud, but it wasn't stopped by the structure of the cart and instead slipped through the physical form of its metals. The rain would phase through the train and fall over Bob and everyone else within the cart, but rather than sliding along his skin it'd phase right through his body.

"Roand dez combu ve lopa!" Behram exclaiming, shouting out an incantation. It was a spell, the same one he used on Finwind in their battle, but due to the latter's retreating, the effects never wore in fully. By using this rain and if it passed through his target, he had been effectively inflicting them with a curse that weakened their soul so that it could be controlled by him later on.

Bob was confused about what had happened, but when he saw what Breham was doing, creating more Brehams, acting like a purple ghost, all spooky and mysterious, he knew. Breham was a magic user, like the sad leader, a magic user he remembered could only strike with black iron magic, otherwise their magic let them phrase through anything.

But before he could wonder about that, he felt cold as something hit him from behind, but when he looked at Breham in front of him, the latter said some words he didn't understand. Ghost language, perhaps? And suddenly he feels....alien. He feels like he wants to let go, like a dolphin swimming through the open ocean. But he couldn't, sad leader said the task must be finished because...... he forgot why.

Aside from being stupid, or like half of CP-9 actually calling him brainless, Bob is not mentally weak because in all the sparring sessions with sad leader he never showed fear of his leader's threatening power. It may also be half because he doesn't understand that he is supposed to be threatening. Suddenly, he remembered the words of his comrate Cyberman echo throughout his head as the form of a chibi Viper took shape in the corner of his eyes.

"Bob-dono. I believe that you're strong and capable of handling yourself, however, I also believe that you're too gullible and soft. I envy you for your simpleness, but you should know that our missions are dangerous. Your love for dolphins is both your strength and weakness, use this weakness and turn it into a strength. I want you to picture me whenever you're in a tough situation, believe that I am in front of you as I say these words for your own good, "Bob-dono. Dolphins are not worthy of living, rather they should all die."

Chibi Viper said as he flew around Bob's head chanting negative words about dolphins, before disappearing as the words still echoed in his head. Bob blinked at Breham, seeing for a short moment someone else in front of him. Besides the cold he felt, something suddenly rose up inside him, something hot, something Bob rarely felt, RAGE. He gritted his teeth as his arms began to move and seemed to grow as his suit began to tear. There was a rule for the CP9 unit that they were never to abuse, except in sparring sessions or missions. Never say anything bad to dolphins in the presence of Bob. Skia, of all people, got to feel that for the first time when he was caught off guard after making a bad remark about dolphins in their sparring session and suffered a broken face, while sended flying. At least this accident proved that Bob wasn't completely hopeless. And of course Skia abused this knowledge to spar better with Bob and use this saying, telling every Cp9 agent on every mission to tell Bob if he couldn't take down his opponent with his fists that they hated and didn't like dolphins or whales.

In an instant Bob was directly in front of Behram with the technique Soru, when his huge fist flew from above towards Behram's face with a speed that could take even the other Cp9 agents by surprise, aiming to stomp him into the ground, while the sleeve was completely torn off, revealing bulging muscles. The fist was inches away as the only thing visible was Bob's huge fist wrapped in his sea stone chains, but strangely it suddenly had a black color, as Bob called it, black iron magic or as normal people would call it, the color of arament haki.

"!!"

An unexpected burst of speed caught him off guard indeed. Such a bulky man wasn't supposed to have such speed. So fast that his body literally moved from one place and appeared in another. Who was Bob? Why had Behram been the target of his assault. Behram may have lived a lot of his life as a killer, but he'd never gotten in too many battles. In fact, had it not been for Clovis and Zarren, he'd probably have never had to deal with battles of this scale ever.

"What the?!"

In a last moment effort he tossed his forearms over his head and clenched all of his muscles. He attempted to go ghost and make himself intangible, but the moment that he did, his body was brought back to a solid state from the haki that Bob covered his fists with. Through a large collision and explosion, the seats and people of the cart were thrown around violent while blood shot from Behram's mouth and he slammed into the ground with his head pressed in and his eyes to the back of his head. Then the dust and debris cleared.

His body twitched into the ground. In a single attack, Behram had been knocked out. His moments and experience up until this point hadn't prepared him for someone who could muster Busoshoku Haki. There he laid beaten and defeated by the Cipher Pol Agent.

Each of the ghosts that floated around in the cart looked with their hands on the face. Each possessed the expression of shock, as they watched their creator be taken down. In most cases where devil fruit abilities seemingly deactivated once the user was knocked out, his ghost were able to remain existent because they were their own entities.

They all looked at each other and nodded their heads. Flying off into the cart's door, the phased right through it and disappeared into a nearby cart.

Bob calmed down after pushing Behram into the ground and watched in confusion as to what had happened, seeing that the cart was in complete disarray as people were either injured or hiding far away. He looks around and sees Berham lying on the ground in front of him, unconscious.

"Huh? Did I do that.....I forgot.....but Cyberman, circus girls and the sad leader will be proud.........what was I supposed to do now?" asked Bob as he pulled a piece of paper and a small pair of glasses out of his suit while reading the page.

"Find Breham. Check. Confirm he is Breham. Check off. Contain Breham and fight if necessary. Checked. Put chains and cuffs on him and use an antimagic stone if necessary." Bob took out sea stone cuffs and chains and put them on Breham.

"Check. Make sure the target stays put.....uhhhh?" thought Bob, looking around before finding a large bag. He shrugged and put the unconscious pirate in the bag.

"Check....uhh?"

Bob looked at the paper, turned around and saw there was nothing else to do. What was he supposed to do now? He had forgotten what he was supposed to do according to the checklist. After much thought, Bob decided on the best course of action. He pulled the bag and placed it on one of the train's seats before sitting down next to it and waiting patiently. It's best to wait until the cyberman or the circus girl shows up, or until the train stops.

So while he waited, ignoring the shocked passengers, he would occasionally look out the window, hoping to see a dolphin or whale.

Be Warned

Taking a puff of the cigar, Clovis stepped through the southern door and appeared in the next cart over. He walked down the aisle unbothered; civilians eyed him uncomfortably. Many turned instinctively hoping to ward off attention from themselves. It seemed no one wanted anything to do with him based on his appearance alone.

After walking through a few more doors and a few more carts, Clovis took a seat and began to enjoy a good smoke. Fumes emptied from his mouth each time his jaw dropped open. He let out the cloud regardless of whomever was in his vicinity; if they died of lung cancer then that was their fault for not having stronger lungs.

As the thick fog washed over the passengers of the cars, sending many into a state of frantic coughs. While others covered their mouths and noses to protect them from the rich smoke Clovis produced, the sound of an exaggerated inhale managed to break through the boisterous reflex.

"Quite the herb you've got there." The sultry words of a young woman beckoned for Clovis' attention. Peering over a thick mass of cloth, narrowed eyes of scarlet locked onto the shinigami's.

"Guess I'll help myself as well." The woman pulled out a small white roll, the size of a cigarette from beneath the numerous blankets that had covered her. With a flick of her finger it was lit, immediately suffocating the tobacco with the skunky aroma. She took a long drag, the flames burning down evenly down the length of the paper. As she released the smoke from her lungs, a smile washed over her face. Looking back at Clovis, it only took a second for her to realize she was still occupying the seat across with her legs and coffee. She quickly scurried to free it, tucking her legs into a comfortable position to the side and clasped her cup in both hands, nodding to the paired seat.

Clovis had a woman which he could call his own already. He had bid her farewell only mere moments ago. Yet, the very moment he sat down, he seemed to forget all that. Was it a lack of loyalty? Perhaps it was something a bit more elaborate than just that. It wasn’t a desire for romance that piqued his interest with this other woman. It was a growing curiosity fueled by the mysterious aura that she wore. And in that sense, he was attracted to her; attracted to the mysterious nature she gave off.

“You’ve got a sharp nose,” Clovis remarked back to her. He imagined that she had deduced the quality of the tobacco by the scent the smoke was giving off. “I grew the leaves myself. I was a farmer in me past life, ye see.” Little by little, life in the Grand Line had begun to take its toll on Clovis, which was evident in the pattern of his speech.

Though he looked at her and even spoke to her, Clovis did not bother to ask the woman her name. He wanted her to maintain that veil of mystery. Not knowing her name increased that appeal.

"Oh I didn't ask." The abrupt remark escaped her lips grasp as if on impulse. Her pale face, devoid of cosmetics, grew pink in the cheeks Immediately. Before allowing another second to pass, the unkempt woman aggressively gulped a good deal of her beverage. The dark lavender blanket she had draped over herself melded seamlessly into a similar shaded coat, only several sizes too large.

She wasn't the greatest in social interactions. That's why her work was most often behind the scenes and hidden in someone else's shadow. A hand retreated under the covers, shuffling around for only a moment before returning with a robust flask, filling her cup to the brim once more. Stands of her messy black hair littered her face as she looked across to Clovis, a wary hand outstretched towards Clovis with the flask in tow.

"Sorry about that. We'll uh… What is it you do now? Why a sea train?"

He met the flask with a curious gaze. After hesitating momentarily, he accepted it from her hand. Releasing a cloud of smoke from his mouth, he gave the flask a try, emanating a loud slurp as he did. He winced as he pulled the flask away from his face.

“Why do bald people wear wigs?” Clovis thought he was being smart with his response. He was trying to match her mystique with something of his own but all that came of it was a terrible analogy.

People who couldn’t afford a vehicle of their own had to rely on local transportation. This pirate captain had no ship to call his own and so the only means to get around he could “afford” was a sea train.

He gave another hard slurp at the flask. The strong taste of the flask infiltrated his senses, quickly possessing his being. “Ow!! What is this? It tastes terrible.” But he suddenly felt obliged to answer her questions more fully. What did he have to lose, anyway? “I’m a pirate. But I lost my ships. This is the best way to get around, for now. What about you, lass?”

Taking a swig of the cup within her hands, her ruby eyes flutter from enjoyment, choosing not to acknowledge any further wince worthy instances. "A pirate that can't stand the hooch? Wow." She couldn't help but trail off, "Sorry, that's just.. absolutely hilarious. Sugu-sususu!" The woman couldn't help but chuckle, hiding her smile behind the cup that was full of predominantly alcohol.

"Now something that you said caught my interest," she adjusted in her seat slightly, tilting her head to the side as the warmth of the liquor finally reached her face. "It confirms that what I was feeling was from you. Where are you heading?" A peculiar curiosity seemed to overwhelm the woman, forcibly taking her attention and overcoming this anxious air she radiated.

“Now that,” Clovis swirled the flask around calmly, “is something I can’t tell you.” The flask seemed tiny in his giant hand. “Come on, lady. I wasn’t born yesterday. What if you’re working for the marines? I’m a wanted man, you know. Ow!!”

The sword at Clovis’ hip was radiating a potent aura. One which he had no idea about, but only certain people like Crickett and this woman before him could have a “feel” for.

"Yeah I guess you make a good point." Bringing the liquor up to her lips once more, closing her eyes with a deep breath of contempt. "But then why go meet someone you don't know?"

“I could ask you the same thing, couldn’t I?” Clovis kept swirling the flask in his grasp. He didn’t plan on drinking it again. “I have no reason to suspect you, but you can never be so sure. At least, that’s how I feel.”

He looked up from the flask. He found those ruby eyes. “I like to keep my tracks covered. Ow!! It’s what’s kept me alive to this point.”

"Understandable. Some things are inevitable however." The woman let out a light sigh, her gaze wandering out the window of the passenger car, watching the sea pass by at great speeds.

"Well, you asked what I'm doing." Her eyes listed lazily back towards Clovis, "I don't quite remember. I'll figure that out when I get there." Even the most blind of individuals could see the truth behind her words as the lack of concern was immediately apparent. "Besides. I've got a decent understanding of what Joan has in store for me so I'll be fine." Taking a sip from her mug, "I can't say the same for you however."

“Joan?” Clovis repeated, projecting his wonders aloud. “Hmm. I don’t know where yer headed. Don’t know if I care, either. Doesn’t seem like an even exchange to me either. Especially not with garbage like this,” he said, swirling the flask again.

“You’ve told me a name. So I’ll tell you mine. Hornigold Clovis –ow!!” He stroked his mustache some with his other hand. He watched her, still curious on what she wanted from him. What she saw in him, why she bothered to make conversation with him.

"You're not the most perceptive, are you?" Her soft spoken voice had become rather monotone with this question, a crestfallen expression to her gaze. "Or rather, don't pay full attention to context." Choosing not to acknowledge that he simply assumed the woman she spoke of was herself. The sheer disrespect.

With another drag of her skunky cigarette, her naturally long lashes fluttering with enjoyment, she held her breath for a matter of seconds before blowing the smoke directly in Clovis' face in a fit of boisterous coughs; blanketing his sight entirely. After regaining her breath, a tear rolling down her face from the excessive strain she just went through. "Whoo! Sorry about that, sugu-suu." Chuckling softly as she covered her uncomfortable smile behind the large sleeve of her coat. Her other hand extended with the joint in toe, "I insist. To make up for what I just did, seeing as though you're not a fan of my hooch."

Clovis placed the flask at his feet and waved his hand before himself, once again rejecting her offer. It seemed he wasn’t the only one making assumptions here. “It’s odd for a pirate not to indulge in all of that, isn’t it? But I’m against being intoxicated. And I’ll make it a rule on my ship too, ow!! When you’re under the influence… whether that’s because of alcohol or drugs, you’re limiting yourself from thinking clearly. Why risk that? The marines already have enough advantages as it is. I don’t want to hand them any more, ow!!”

The woman's lips shifted into a somewhat qualifier smile, showing an open hand in understanding. "Don't mind if I help myself then." With a long inhale that sucked up the rest of the smoke, she once again blew the smoke in Clovis' face and aggressively grabbed the flask at his feet, immediately taking a swig of its contents.

Beads of sweat began rolling off her face the instant she swallowed, her eyes locked on Clovis as she had fallen silent.

He waved his hand in front of his face and turned to the side, coughing. “What are you wrecking yourself so much for?” he then wondered aloud, seeing as how she was constantly smoking and sipping. She was on the verge of getting hammered. And stoned.

“Are you depressed or something, lady? Aren’t you a little cautious what might happen to you on this train if you were to black out?”

Her vision fluctuated rapidly between focused and not as the downpour of sweat continued. Despite the amount of substances she had ingested, she was more than aware, no, this was how she thrived.

"You and your crew.." The woman's voice trembling as she spoke. "You boys HAVE to flee!"

“Ehh?” Clovis rose a single brow. One of his eyes widened while the other reclined in size. “What are you talking about, lady? Have you gone crazy or something?”

Clovis rose up his hands at his sides. “You don’t know a damn thing about me or my crew and especially not what we’re capable of. I think you’ve had a little too much to drink, ow!!”

"Walls removed by cloth. Ties severed in a moment. Knowledge is falling." Wide sunken eyes with growing bags beneath shook violently. "Eyes of wonder gone. Flowers Bloom in burdened soil. Relax and relapse." She lunged from her seat, latching onto the pirate's clothing. "Guide of souls found lost. Chipped blades forged anew in pairs. Gates close when night comes."

“Hoy..!” Clovis was growing increasingly more alarmed. When she grabbed him he leaned forward. “W-What are you on about?! What are you squabbling about, woman!? It’s… crazy talk! This is madness!”

The sheer panic was made apparent the second she touched Clovis, her entire body was shaking in fear. Her pupils dilated, panning around in a frenzy across the shinigami's face, though frequently glancing over his shoulder toward the very end of the car.

"Keep. Your voice, down." Seeming to have collected herself for the moment, at least from the sound of her voice. Visibly, the woman remained a wreck. "I need you to actually listen to what I'm saying right now. Hornigold Clovis, you are not ready for what's to come."

“Make sense woman… make sense…” he met her eyes with a nervous look. How could she know what was coming to him? “What in the world are you talking about?” He kept a hushed tone per her request, but he still didn’t have the faintest idea as to what was going on.

She was warning him… but of what? And what were her warnings based on?

She couldn't believe a man as dense as he was had managed to achieve the same, momentarily overcoming her shock with disbelief. Violently shaking her head to refocus, falling from her seat with a loud crack. The fallen blankets and odd position revealed a couple peculiar traits unexpecting of her appearance.

"I see 3 moments where lines are drawn and fates are decided in your story, today."

“Ow!! You ‘’see’’ them?” he repeated after her. “What do you mean you ‘’see’’ moments?” It was hard to wrap his head around the idea. It sounded like the crap Crickett was always spewing.

“Fate? Listen, lady… I don’t believe in all that crud…”

Something snapped. For the first time in her life she felt a burning sensation welling up in her abdomen. As if continuing his own speech, her palm of her hand struck Clovis in the cheek. The grind of her teeth almost audible as her terror had been removed entirely as a reddened hue overcame the woman's frail complexion. Multiple cracks sound off from this explosive movement, accented by a pained gasp of air.

"Listen here you half-baked imitation scarecrow!" The woman's shout filled the space within the car without concern. Rising to her feet finally, the steady rock of the sea train proved treacherous; on the shorter end of the spectrum of humans, her coat quite literally formed a gown from its size. "You. And your boys are in trouble. And so am I! Oh my GOD Joan, what the fuck did you get me into!?"

A look of worry took hold of Clovis’ face. He still couldn’t understand how she would know any of this. “What are you saying, woman!!?” He was starting to lose his patience. “What do you mean we’re in trouble?! Where is this coming from all of a sudden?!”

The voices of a man and a woman span across multiple carts as they were throwing their opinions towards one another. Their voices would turn into a mixture of anxiousness and worry as Tougire appeared behind Clovis. Tougire’s voice, firm yet gentle washed across the cart, “Clovis-dono, I believe that she means that it’d be best if you were to surrender and come without resistance.”

Clovis’ eyes widened immediately at the mention of his name. He was still seated across from the crazy woman when all of a sudden, a man with a topknot dressed in samurai attire came out of seemingly nowhere and made his presence known to him.

“What’s this?” Clovis’ eyes moved interchangeably from the woman to the man. “Is this what you’ve been up to? You were setting me up this whole time?” Clovis remained seated. He hesitated to move until he knew what this man’s intentions were. “Surrender? Do you have any idea what yer askin’ of me? Ow!!!”

Tougire’s eyes were locked on Clovis as he stepped forward, seemingly ignoring the woman who sat across from his target. His left arm moved from his side onto his blade, resting upon the sheath as his thumb was placed on the hilt guard. “I’m asking you, Clovis-dono, to surrender instead of spilling your own blood.” The corner of his eye lightly glanced towards the woman, given Clovis reaction it could only be interpreted that she was a stranger to him.

Tougire’s eyes grew weary for a moment as he felt Bob’s anger, directed towards the image of himself that was placed upon Behram. Feeling the defeat of Bob’s adversary through Kenbunshoku Haki he seemed to calm down. “One of your crewmates has already fallen, Clovis-dono.”

Veins bulged in the center of Clovis’ forehead. Still sitting down, he grabbed hold of his sheath instinctively. He lowered his head; a darkened hue took his face. “One of my crew…?”

He pushed up on his weapon, clicking it free from its scabbard. A moment after, he rose up to his feet. Clovis was quick to blame the arrival of this man on the woman before him –had this been what she was warning him about? Was this a game she had setup? Or was she somehow able to predict the unfortunate events that would soon transpire?

Either way, something told him that he didn’t exactly have the luxury to look away and tend to her. Nevertheless, he addressed her as his gaze fell on Tougire, whose physical form gave every indication of war. “Get outta here you bat-shit woman. I think this guy over here wants to have a little chat.”

The agent's thumb pushed forward, just barely releasing his own sword from its scabbard with a quiet ‘’’click’’’. His stance shifted itself, taking the form of someone who’d experienced a thousand battles and lived to tell the tale. It left him little to no room to be attacked whilst leaving him more than enough space to counter attack with his own weight added behind the blade.

Tougire’s voice changed from the gentle tone that would carry a leaf across a river onto a firm and steady one, “This is the last warning Clovis-dono. Surrender or you’ll spill your own blood over nothing.” The edge of his katana glistened under the lights, reflecting Clovis’ face onto the blade.

In response, Clovis pulled the entirety of his sword, Crow, from its scabbard. The weapon was a rapier with an incredibly thin blade, yet with an extremely sharp point at the end. Clovis pointed it at the agent whose name he did not know nor even care to know at this moment proper, taking up a stance resembling the art of fencing.

“Pretty bold of you to assume you could spill my blood,” said Clovis. He didn’t bother to study his opponents’ fighting style and instead sprinted into a reckless dash forward. He swipe with his sword, looking to slash at the agent’s stomach and cut it open. “I’m going to introduce you to a world of ‘’pain’’!!!!”

A harsh metallic ‘’’clank’’’ coursed through the room as sparks presented themselves seemingly out of thin air between the two men. Slowly the sound of Tougire’s katana getting re-sheathed would overtake the previous metallic sound. In nothing short of an instant, the sword had left the comfort of Tougire’s hip and struck against the rapier in an upward swipe, whilst the katana returned to the warmth of its owner's hip, the rapier on the other hand landed on the cold unloving floor a few steps behind its owner.

“I do not make assumptions, Clovis-dono. Nor do I wish to enter this world of pain you speak of. I simply ask you to spare yourself from getting hurt and spilling your own blood.”

The cold eyes of Viper told no lies to Clovis, they told him the cold truth of his situation. A situation in which no amount of struggle would bring him to victory. After all, a feeble pebble could never match the might of a mountain.

Clovis’ eyes widened. This man had completely seen through his attack. Crow was flung into the air, landing a ways behind him.

What was with people knowing his name? First the fortune teller and now this ninja? Is this what it truly meant to have a bounty of over one hundred million berries on one’s head?

“Just… who are you? What do you want with me?” Clovis didn’t take any immediate action to reclaim his sword.

Tougire stood up as his eyes never let go of Clovis’ own. “It does not matter who I am, Clovis-dono. What matters is that you come with me, struggle as you may it will give you nothing but a waste of time.”

He kept a close track over every inch of Clovis’ body, staying in the stance that had struck Crow out of his hand. Ready for any surprise attack that he may attempt. “Well… that doesn’t get us anywhere, now does it?” If he wasn’t going to speak, then Clovis had every intention of forcing him to speak. He moved his neck from one shoulder to the next, emanating an audible crack.

“Fine. If you won’t speak… then I’ll just force you to… ow!!” Clovis started again in the same dead sprint as before. This time he had his hands balled up into fists. He rushed at the shinobi, anticipating him to take action with his katana again.

In a single fluid motion the right hand of the shinobi left the hilt of his katana and struck against the incoming jab, leaving it redirected towards a nearby seat. The left hand remained around the scabbard, seemingly reluctant to leave its side. “You’ll find no success in making me talk Clovis-dono.”

Deflected by a single strike, Clovis was forced off balance. He stumbled away from the ninja and fell face first into a wooden chair. He caught onto the chair’s arms with his hands and swiftly pushed back to return up on his feet.

Turning around, he met the ninja’s form with a fleeting glare. “There you go being all full of yerself again,” Clovis’ hand wiped sweat from his brow. “If you continue to underestimate me… you’ll regret it!”

‘’What’s with this guy?’’ Clovis wondered to himself. ‘’He’s reading my moves like he’s seen them hundreds of times before! Not even Daruma-sencho could deflect me with such little effort.’’

The way the ninja only used one arm to fight until now felt insulting. Clovis made note of it and attributed it to the shinobi’s ego. “You know my name, but I can’t know yours? Seems like a weird trade off if you ask me.”

Clovis’ right hand curled into a tighter fist; so tight that the veins in his forearms and biceps began to bulge. Then just like the two instances before, he started towards the shinobi in a dead sprint. As he came upon him, he threw his hand back and swung it forward with great force.

His aim was just as before; to send a powerful jab into the ninja’s stomach.

‘’’Tekkai’’’

The powerful blow from Clovis would give Tougire nothing but a small push backwards as his body hardened with Tekkai. “It is not that I underestimate you, Clovis-dono. It is simply that I don’t want to shed blood which doesn’t need to be shed.”

Standing upright from the push he stared at Clovis, despite the hostility from his foe he had yet to show any himself. The firm voice escaped the grasp of his lips, “My name, Clovis-dono. My name is Ashina Viper. Now, would you kindly end this useless struggle and come with me quietly?”

Clovis’ punch was stopped completely by the hardening of the ninja’s stomach. Tekkai; one of the six Rokushiki powers which Clovis had yet to experience first hand, was a technique which toughened one’s skin immensely. Nevertheless, Clovis’ hands were enormously large and, coupled with the strength he naturally possessed as a member of the long arm tribe, he had managed to push the shinobi back somewhat, even if by only a little.

End the struggle? “Sure… I’ll end it.” The veins in Clovis’ arm that were bulging before tensed further and further until his arm was nothing more than a canvas for worms. With his fist still pressed against Viper’s stomach, Clovis’ arm detonated into a massive explosion. “FLYING JACK!!!!”

The sudden explosion had completely caught Viper off guard, with his tekkai still intact he was sent head first into the next cart, crashing and trashing any wall, door or seat in his way. Taking a deep breath before releasing it all in a sigh he stood up. The use of busoshoku haki blackened his body, paired with the tekkai protected him from the crash landing.

His eyes quickly locked onto Clovis through the busted wall. Leaping back into the cart he placed himself in front of his adversary, face to face, eye to eye. “Clovis-dono, my patience is starting to run thin. Would you kindly give up the charade before I return the show you’re putting up?”

When Viper was sent bursting into the other cart, Clovis walked back to his rapier and took it back into his hand. He then observed the fallen Viper with a large grin worn on his face; even if he hadn’t defeated him yet, it still felt damn good to knock Viper down onto his back after the way he had been talking.

“Kaaaashishishi!! ‘’Your’’ patience is running thin? You bastard, that should be my line.” Clovis returned Viper’s eye contact. The two faced off once again. Innocent civilians were scrambling for safety the moment the explosion went off and they could be seen in the cart behind Viper running into the corners. “I got no reason to do anything but kick your ass. You won’t even tell me where you’re from! And what’s worse, you claimed that one of your buddies has downed one of mine. I won’t stand for that… Viper!”

‘’He’s one tough bastard, I’ll give him that. Isn’t he at least even a little winded after taking a Flying Jack?’’ By now the arm he had torn off had grown back. Clovis grabbed hold of his sword with both hands and pointed it at Viper. In an instant, the blade turned into straw and shot out at him.

This was one of Clovis’ fastest attacks if not his fastest; Crow was a rapier with an extremely ‘’thin’’ blade. It wasn’t durable, it wasn’t strong; the only thing it really had going for it was its speed. And as it turned into straw, it became that much faster. Clovis aimed to catch Viper by surprise and cut his head off of his body.

“I’m from the land of Wano, Clovis-dono. I’m giving you this last chance to surrender quietly and come with me.” The rapier which was held tightly by Clovis turned into straw and shot towards the neck of Tougire. A speed which ached the scars of his left arm, a speed reminiscent of the day he had lost the arm, one which he had been unable to keep up with in the past. Yet, since then he has grown not only faster, but stronger, wiser and smarter thanks to his leader, Skia.

‘’’Soru’’’

An image of Tougire was left behind as the straw sword shot straight through it. Appearing behind Clovis, he gently placed his left hand onto the shoulder of Clovis. A deep sigh was let out before he spoke with nothing but disappointment in his tone, “I’ve given you chance after chance, Clovis-dono. Is it really that hard to accept defeat? There is no shame in defeat, there is no shame in fear, there is no shame in running away. Shame only presents itself when you allow your pride to overtake you.”

Clovis’ eyes widened. There was so much going through his head. Never did he imagine that anyone could dodge a surprise attack from Crow. And what’s worse; Viper appeared behind Clovis, casually tapping his shoulder while telling him one final time to step down.

Clovis moved away from Viper instinctively the moment his hand grazed his shoulder. He stumbled back out of sheer shock at the man’s speed. That technique… he had seen it before. He had seen it before and lost to it. “That was the same as Zarren…!”

Nervously, Clovis dumped his sword back into its sheath at his side. His face maintained an expression of pure surprise. His lip quivered. What was this sensation that he was experiencing…? Was it fear?

“Wano? Where have I heard that before… ow!! That’s right! Nisuke was from Wano.” So many memories were surfacing at once. Abbadon’s final speech replayed in Clovis’ mind. “You’re a ninja from Wano… I had a crew mate who was the same as you. Have you ever heard of the Sarutobi Clan?”

Clovis remembered every last bit of detail Abbadon had bothered to share with him. “He’s the son of some famous shinobi from Wano. Sarutobi Sasuke was his name. He had some big position from what I hear; one of the ‘Sanada Ten Braves’ that serve a woman known as Koyuki.” Clovis was trying to piece everything together.

“I’ve heard of the Sarutobi clan, though they differ from us of the Ashina Clan.” Taking a step towards Clovis he continued, “Sasuke, hmm I can’t recall his name. Though it’s been about a decade since I last was in Wano. Lady Koyuki, however, has my deepest gratitude and respect. She brought back the flourishing nature of Wano after one of the previous emperors, Kaidou of the beasts, devastated the lands, exploiting it for its rich resources. He left nothing but a sore memory for everyone in Wano. Rivers were turned into poison, forests into wastelands… Koyuki brought those things back, she mended the land from the deep scars that Kaidou had left.”

The left hand of the shinobi was gently placed upon Clovis’ shoulder yet again. “I believe that our conversation is rather pleasant. However, Clovis-dono.” The grip tightened around the shoulder as he spoke, his tone growing far sharper and fiercer than before, “we can continue this conversation at a later date. I believe you understood the first time that I need you to come with me.”

The name. Koyuki. Why did it leave such a deep impression on Clovis’ mind? The way Abbadon spoke of her and now Viper, too, held her in such high regard. Just who was she and what was her place in this world? The more he traveled the Grand Line, the more these mysteries were unraveled. And looking forward at this ninja, another great mystery had found its way to Clovis.

This man, Viper, intended to bring Clovis with him. Not only Clovis, but the rest of the Pain Pirates as well. And he was adamant on that. He wasn’t going to budge or change his mind.

But, he wasn’t all bad. If anything he had every reason to be angry with Clovis by now. Yet he had taken a Flying Jack straight to the gut and gotten up, and even then he maintained a certain politeness to him. If they didn’t have to meet as enemies, Clovis wondered if they might have made it as friends.

He was fast and he was tough. But if he was going to cut their journey short and arrest them, then Clovis had no choice but to defeat him here. There was simply no other option. “I too enjoyed this little chat that we had, Viper-dono,” Clovis replied, matching Viper’s own speech pattern yet without mocking him. “But I think we both know it’s far too late for words.”

Standing in front of Viper, with Viper’s hand on his shoulder, Clovis began to transform. His body was taken over by squirming worms of straw, which rippled and possessed his face and outlined his whole anatomy. He grew larger, much larger, until he towered over Viper and the ninja had no choice but to remove his hand as it would no longer be able to reach up to his shoulder.

Clovis became a massive scarecrow right before Viper’s eyes. And, opening his mouth mere inches away from Viper, Clovis started to shoot out sharp nails like a machine gun. Hundreds of sharp nails fired away relentlessly without any intention to stop. They were hungry for Viper’s blood. “Shigure Kugimafu!!!”

The patience that Tougire had shown previously was nothing short but the culmination of the battles he had endured. Fights which had taken place over trivial things, battles which had robbed people’s eyes from the lights of hope, conflicts which had left people scarred, wars which had left people robbed of their beloved. Yet, despite this, his patience had run out. The blade that rested by his side carried no meaning of defending him anymore.

One could only face an impossible obstacle for so long, believing that Clovis had realized the futility of fighting against him by now it caught him by surprise as his form started to twist and contort into that of a scarecrow. The eyes that he had kept looking into with a certain level of respect lost their light as they were replaced by empty buttons. Regret painted his face as his blade was slowly drawn. Nails by the tenths impaled his skin one after another, covering themselves red with drops of his blood. His grip tightened to the point where his entire arm was tensed.

‘’’Ashina Style - Setsudan no Kaina’’’

Sparks flew wildly as the katana moved in an upwards swipe, striking against hundreds of nails as it traveled towards Clovis’ right arm. The katana itself grew brighter as it neared the pinnacle of its speed with more and more nails littering the floor. Clovis’ right arm would soon find itself on the floor alongside the nails, however, Tougire’s attack wouldn’t be done by then but continue in a downwards arc towards the other arm. A false sense of security had been planted in Clovis already from the start of their battle as Tougire hadn’t used Busoshoku Haki for their first skirmishes nor for the first part of his current attack. His haki would flow effortlessly into the glowing blade at the tipping point, turning the bright cold steel into a glowing black blur as it would start its descent towards the second arm.

Blood. When it splattered in the air from the nails making contact with Viper’s flesh, it instilled an even deeper sense of faith within Clovis. It told him that in his affair; in this battle between men; in this war between the Pain Pirates and those who sought to hunt them, he was the first to draw blood. Simply put, it did not take long for Clovis to realize that the man before him was easily the strongest opponent he had ever encountered to date. Stronger than Daruma, stronger than Zarren, stronger than Lucien, and yes, even stronger than Harlow. But that didn’t matter. Not in Clovis’ mind. Battles weren’t decided by strength alone. The greatest factor after all was opportunity!

Clovis could sense a shift in Viper’s resolve. He could feel it in the air around him. Gone was Viper’s stoic and calm demeanor, and with it his patience. The shinobi took hold of his katana with an intention to wage war yet Clovis felt no immediate need to defend himself. Afterall, he was made out of straw, meaning physical attacks could not inflict any harm upon him. The only way around that was fire. Or so he thought.

Clovis, knowing no better, did not even attempt to dodge Viper’s sword. His right arm was easily cut off by Viper’s first swipe, falling to the ground among dozens of scattered nails. And Clovis of course felt absolutely no harm; he stood his ground, shrugged it off, and immediately began to regrow the arm right back. In the same vain he made no immediate attempt to avoid Viper’s second sword swing. And that was truly a mistake.

The moment the katana’s blade plunged into the apex of Clovis’ right arm, he felt a deep, excruciating pain seep down into his bone. “Uwah…” a hard grunt escaped his mouth. A second later his mind registered the pain fully. His jaw dropped and his chest blossomed, giving rise to a frightening scream that could be heard throughout the rest of the train’s countless carts. “URRAGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

It made no sense to Clovis. In reality, he had no way of knowing what Haki even was. From his perspective, on the second stroke, Viper’s sword managed to bypass the straw composition of his arm and register damage to his real body. Clovis’ left arm slowly flew through the air. It had been severed completely. Ironically, both fighters now lacked a real left arm.

Cupping the wound with his hand, Clovis slowly stumbled past Viper. Once he was behind him, he fell down to his knees, the straw encasing his body slowly unwinding. His scarecrow transformation wore off and he returned to his base form.

“But… how?” Clovis was at a loss for words. He looked down at the bloodied nails sitting on the ground in front of him. He began to fall forward but caught himself by stamping his hand against the floor, just over all the nails. “You didn’t even use fire… how were you able to cut my real body?” Slowly, Clovis turned his head to peer back at the shinobi.

A familiarity arose within Tougire as his blade made contact and cut through the second arm. As his blade had made its way through Clovis’ arm his grip loosened. The tensed up arm relaxed, dropping to his side. His head slowly tilted downwards towards the floor as he prepared for the inevitable. Strengthening his resolve and heart as the man before him drew air into his lungs.

Tougire’s eyes darkened as the heart shattering shriek escaped from Clovis’ mouth, a shriek which he had heard hundreds of times before. Yet, despite this, he couldn’t stop himself from letting his tears fall. It was a path in which he had sworn to never walk again, one where he had stolen something precious from others. He slowly rubbed the blade against the seat in front of him, staining it with Clovis’ blood as the pirate stumbled past him.

There was but a single question that Clovis’ asked as he dropped to the floor. There were no words left to be exchanged between the two of them. Turning around he revealed the tears he had shed from taking Clovis’ arm. The eyes that had remained calm were begging for forgiveness.

Tougire repeated what Clovis had said mere moments earlier, “But I think we both know it’s far too late for words.” His heart drummed along with the adrenaline coursing through his veins. The grip around the katana strengthened itself, accompanied by the hardening of Tougire’s resolve. The blade reflected the pirate's face, slowly leading towards the throat. Stopping bare inches away from his throat, Tougire moved his left hand for the first time in the battle. Reaching behind him he grabbed a pair of seastone cuffs, holding them in front of him he made his intention clear, there was no need for words. Clovis’ could either get his throat pierced or be apprehended and taken away by the agent.

On the floor, Clovis’ fingers closed, as if gathering something between them. He watched Viper steadily as he cleansed the blood from his katana and shed tears for him, his enemy. It was odd to see a man who was so strong be so sympathetic at the same time. What made Viper feel sorry for him?

Clovis’ hand ran over to his mouth. He watched as Viper came forward and then swallowed; a large bulge evident in his throat as he gulped it down. The point Viper was trying to convey was painfully clear. Either be killed or detained. Yet, Clovis met Viper’s teary eyes with a sinister smirk of his own.

When he felt the blade of Viper’s katana beside his neck, Clovis slowly reached and grabbed hold of it with his own hand. He then tightened his grip over it, pushing further against the sword and using the momentum that it generated to pull himself up to his feet. He kept the blade to his throat while looking dead into Viper’s eyes.

“Are you sure you wish to spill your own blood?” Clovis grinned, repeating Viper’s first words back to him after all this time. Clovis gripped the blade of the katana even tighter. Yet his hand failed to bleed. Instead, the wound that should have been inflicted upon Clovis would instead be registered on Viper’s body. His hand that held the sword would begin to bleed profusely while Clovis’ hand remained unharmed.

There was something odd with Clovis, the way he stood up, the way he behaved, the off putting smile he gave, the words that left his mouth. They didn’t make sense until a sharp pain found itself in Tougire’s right hand. The deepness of the wound that emerged rivaled that which Clovis’ should’ve had, yet, as Tougire threw a quick glance on the hand littering his katana he saw no blood nor any wound.

As Viper began to pull on the katana to retrieve it, Clovis’ demeanor grew dull. He absolutely couldn’t allow Viper to take the sword away from his neck; doing so would be the same as forfeiting his advantage. His hand tightened over the blade and he gritted his teeth, trying to restrain the blade with all his might; yet he could still feel it slipping from his grasp. He needed more power. He needed more strength. His arm started to turn into that of a scarecrow’s, flesh being replaced by straw and his fingertips becoming sharp nails.

Tougire’s left arm twitched as it gripped the scabbard even tighter. There was a fine line between honor and death which he walked, honoring the one who had taken his arm in combat by not using it or to curse it and give it his all. Right before his left arm would’ve left the scabbard he could feel the sword moving in his favor, even as Clovis transformed his arm. His own grip was weakened as the cut grew deeper and deeper into his flesh, yet before he was forced to use his mechanical arm he managed to pull it out.

Clovis’ hand remained beside his neck as Viper successfully retrieved his sword. Clovis’ brow narrowed in frustration; losing in a contest of strength was a knock on his pride as a member of the longarm tribe. It was akin to losing an arm wrestling match.

“I see.. Clovis-dono...”

Staring into his adversary’s eyes he could feel a sensation of confidence from him. The speed at which his thoughts raced were unusual for the otherwise calm and collected Tougire. Questions bubbled without answers in his mind, why would the damage that should’ve been dealt to Clovis instead get dealt to himself?

Maintaining eye contact as his mind raced he used Soru. The image left behind would fade but a moment later, there was no telling where he had gone. One thing was for sure though, he wouldn’t abandon his mission easily after being so adamant on apprehending Clovis. His figure appeared on the wall behind Clovis.

Clovis’ eyes widened. He couldn’t even begin to fathom the level of speed that Viper, who was now fighting as though he were on the brink of elimination, was able to move at. He had no idea where Viper had gone and he didn’t have the chance to move his head around to look, either.

Every single fiber in Tougire’s being had entered survival mode. His own blade which had been pointed towards Clovis’ throat had in reality been aimed at his own. It truly was a frightening, if not the most frightening ability that Clovis had in his arsenal. Adrenaline pounded against his innards, forcing every single cell to work to an extent they weren’t used to. Truly it was a flight or fight scenario that was playing out for Viper, yet there could be no flight as his mission had yet to be completed.

His legs tensed up further and further, each muscle and tendon giving more power than they should’ve been able to. Shooting towards Clovis from behind his arm was ready to grab a hold of his wrist, stopping any more attempts to cut himself as the arm still resembled that of a scarecrow. His own body was used as a net for Clovis’ figure, ready to steel itself with the use of Tekkai as he would hold onto the pirate.

Losing sight of Viper worried Clovis intensely; only one thing came to mind in that moment. Clovis resolved to slit his own throat, but the moment he moved his hand he found that his wrist had been grabbed from behind.

Not only his wrist, but Viper skillfully used the rest of his body to constrict his movements as best as he could, all the while the momentum of his second Soru hurled them forward in a linear motion. For once Clovis could feel the speeds of Soru as if he had used the technique himself. But he could not do anything to stop Viper from riding him through the wall of the cart before them.

The sturdy material which composed the cart’s wall crumbled away behind the power and might of the force Viper generated. While it was Clovis’ body that had been blasted through it, the pain would instead transfer to Viper, possibly stunning him. In seconds the two were above the ocean.

Clovis could not move his wrist nor could he move his legs to run away. However, there was still one thing Viper had not accounted for, and that was the fact that Clovis’ fingers could grow and retract.

Clovis’ fingers were already beside his neck when Viper caught his wrist. Without moving any part of his body that was restrained by Viper, Clovis used his Devil Fruit powers to quickly increase the length of his fingers. His fingers, which had become incredibly sharp nails, shot up and through his own neck and would go through his body and try to penetrate through Viper who was behind him as well. Though this was unnecessary as the damage would have already been transferred from the damage to his own neck.

This was the only thing Clovis could afford to do. The moment Viper had appeared behind him, Clovis had shot all five of his fingers through his own throat, mutilating it. The effects of what happened next were yet to be seen.

No pain could halter the resolve that Viper had, his body tensed up with tekkai to the point that it was ready to burst as he grabbed onto Clovis. His eyes widened for a split second as the natural light was cast upon them as they crashed through the wall. Cold unforgiving tides greeted the pair with an intense hunger.

Blood pooled through his mouth as his neck was penetrated through with Clovis’ devil fruit. Fingers ready to penetrate his body failed as his tekkai stood strong even as his consciousness wavered from parts of his neck being torn to shreds. Flashes from his past played out in his mind, a subtle crack to his otherwise porcelain face bore a content smirk.

Ever since he was a child he was raised to become a shinobi of the Ashina clan. There was but one teaching that was hammered into him, “if you’re gonna die, get up and die again until you’ve defeated your enemy.”

It wasn’t long until he was forced to partake in his first feudal fight. Blood stained his shaking hands as he took his first life. The battle would scar him, yet it wouldn’t be his last scar. Each and every fight, every battle, every war he’d regret more and more of his life. Was there a reason for him to be born into such a bloodshed?

Every scar that littered his body told the tales of his countless regrets. Seething pains haunted him in his sleep as the dead would stare at him, wishing for his demise just as he had brought theirs. There wasn’t a single moment awake in which he didn’t feel a deep regret. Viper’s heart and resolve was weighted down by each and every battle he fought. Amplified by the shrieks of lovers, mothers and fathers who had lost their precious ones, be it from the enemies or allies the heart piercing shrieks remained the very same.

‘“I envy those who die.. They aren’t forced to live with this heartache.. With this guilt…”‘

Thunder and lightning ruled the skies as rain punched his face. His enemy kept a deep eye contact with him. There was an uncomfort in looking into his eyes. It wasn’t reluctance, it wasn’t hatred.. It was grief and pity for Viper. They were enemies, fighting until one would draw their last breath.. Yet there were tears flowing along with the rain on his foe’s face. Anger took control over Viper, losing his cool and rushing forward recklessly.

“The sadness I feel for you is not pity. Your eyes… They’re crying for help, crying for an escape, crying for the guilt you feel.“

A flash of steel which could overpower even the brightest of lightning strikes cut off his arm. Dropping to his knees he could feel the anger bubbling and boiling his insides.

“YOU KNOW NOTHING OF WHAT I’VE DONE.. WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH… THE LIVES WHICH I’VE STOLEN FROM OTHERS…”

“Nor do you know what I’ve done, what I’ve been through, the lives I’ve taken..”

Both eyes widened over his enemies words. He was at a loss for words. Sitting on his knees as the rain bombarded his face. His eyes were bawling like never before. The guilt which had been the size of a pebble had grown into the largest of mountains. Sobering uncontrollably, was this the day he’d finally be killed? The day in which he could rid himself of all the regret and guilt? Bowing his head towards his enemy he spoke in between his sobbing, “Just.. Just do it.. Kill me.”

“I’ve already killed you. Viper of the Ashina.. This arm is the proof. The path which you were forced on has been closed to you. We must be better than our past selves. It is the only way to move forward.”

‘The blade that I carried from that day on was not one for taking lives, but for protecting lives…’

‘Brought into Cypher Pol 9 under the name of Tougire I would start the path of protecting lives. The path in which I could redeem my past would never end, it wasn’t allowed until the moment I drew my last breath.’

One last time his resolve strengthened, one last time he would redeem his past, one last time he would do something that strayed from the path he had been forced on since he was an innocent kid. His grip tightened around Clovis even further, his tekkai strengthening alongside it. The dark cold sea closed in as it readied itself to devour the two in its hunger that knew no bounds.

Clovis didn’t have the luxury to confirm his kill nor did he have any time to lose. His mind was in a state of panic. Naturally as a Devil Fruit eater, the ocean was his greatest nemesis. As far as it pertained to him, the ocean was just one big graveyard.

Survival instincts took over once more. The benefit in being a Special Paramecia was that Clovis’ body had no definite form. He could manipulate his limbs and bodily shape as he saw fit. As he was airborne, his legs shot out from underneath, branching off into countless individual strands which desperately searched for anything to catch hold of.

When they successfully latched onto parts of the train –some strands going back into the hole in the cart’s wall, some grabbing onto the train’s rear mirrors and other surfaces, others quite literally wrapping around entire carts– the incredible momentum of the surging sea train would prove superior to the restraints Viper had placed with Tekkai and not only jerk Clovis backwards but Viper along with him. Soon they would be dangling in the air, trailing after the train, like fish caught on the end of a fishing line.

All the while, Clovis started to change his bodily shape completely. He was no longer humanoid, but rather became a thin stalk of straw that would attempt to snake and slither out of the hold Viper placed him in.

Tougire could feel the presence of Clovis, every strand of straw he created, every fiber of his being, parts of his emotions. There was no sign that Clovis would turn a new leaf nor that he’d be keeping away from Tougire’s companions. The tekkai that Tougire had was replaced by his will, his Busoshoku Haki. His entire body hardened yet remained flexible. He grew a firmer grip with his left arm whilst tightening the hold of his katana in his right.

The edge blackened to the darkest of hues as it was raised for the final time. A downwards arc which would cut off any straws that grew behind him. Kenbonshoku Haki told him where to strike as he could feel the straws reaching for the train. The train reflected upon the train as it cut through the strands of straw. His very being prepared all that it could muster in order to use a final technique of the Rokushiki, one final technique to push them down under the tides as his sword was cutting through the straws.

‘’’Geppo’’’

A cold darkness enveloped Viper as he was pushed down under with his grip still firm around the straws that Clovis was turning into. Finishing the cut against the straws his blade fell from the final grasp of his hand, away from the warmth that remained. A flare was shot out from his mechanical left arm as he raised it above the surface, letting Clovis go as they were both submerged and sinking.

A hue of red lit up the sky with a powerful and loud ‘’’BOOM’’’.

Seeping into his clothes was the dark, devouring ocean, robbing him of any light and warmth he had. The will he had displayed faded as they sunk deeper and deeper. Not even the mission was on his mind anymore, but the forgiveness he sought after the life he had led. Every trace of light faded from his eyes as he let go of his consciousness.

‘’”Forgive me.. Skia-dono…”’’’

As Viper and Clovis descended into the depths of the ocean, swallowed by the deep, ferocious currents that mandated the construction of the sea train, an unusual presence emerged and simply blew the ocean away with a powerful force of energy. The resurgence of power only made the current more powerful, but the kinetic, concussive wave opened the ocean enough for their forms to be made visible, if only for a sheer moment. In that moment, they were simply swooped up, and in the same instance, the ocean collapsed back onto itself and retook its normative shape.

Clovis was thrown onto the top of the metal vessel in an uncaring manner, whereas Viper was held within the mysterious figure’s arms; it was a female by Clovis’s guess. She possessed long, brown hair, a voluptuous, and athletic shape. Dressed in black and white made it clear that she was an agent of the World Government, but unlike the others, her face was hidden by an enigmatic masquerade.

“Apologies for being rough,” she spoke, her tone light and calm, with an accent stereotypical to gaudy nobility, “But, you both really left me no choice. I, also, am deeply afraid of the sea and therefore I had to remove it from your presence before I could rescue you.”

Though Clovis couldn’t see her eyes, it was clear she was looking at him.

“Though, from the looks of it, you don’t seem to mind considering that you’re alive.”

The ocean was every Devil Fruit user's greatest weakness. Luckily for Clovis, by linking himself to Viper's body he was temporarily immune to the effects of the ocean which should normally have crippled a Devil Fruit user such as himself. He was already attempting to return to the surface when, out of nowhere, a literal rocket flashed before his eyes; the next thing he knew, Clovis was back on the train --the very cart where he and Viper had tried to go at each other's lives-- drenched in the sea's urine.

There was little time to think. So Clovis just looked in the direction of this woman and spoke. "Hold on just a second, what are you, some sort of bounty hunter?" He sat up slowly, feeling the water in his clothes weighing him down. "That guy's my prey, ow!! Isn't he dead yet? What good is he to you --give him here!"

“It’s actually statistically likely that you’ve never heard of us,” the woman answered quickly, simultaneously moving Viper’s body onto the surface of the vessel. In complete opposition to Clovis’ release, she sat Viper down carefully and gently. Her hand reached towards her own breast, and gripped it, opening it like the hood of a car. Reaching inwards, she pulled out several medical tools, including gauze, scalpels, disinfectants, and anything else that a professional would need. Then, she closed it back up, just as quickly and nonchalantly as she had opened it.

“I’m an agent of the World Government, just like this guy. Unfortunately, I need him a little more than you do and by my calculations, I have exactly fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds to save him.” She turned her attention from Viper’s body to Clovis.

“Which means, you have exactly fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds to leave. My orders to save him supersede my orders to capture you. You’re a lucky guy, Hornigold Clovis!”

What was this woman on about? Agents of the World Government? Why would they be after his crew? Sure he was wanted. But how did this bunch differ from the standard marines he encountered on a weekly basis?

Abbadon's final words returned to him once more. She explained how those from Wano were "special" and meant to be treasured. How their blood made them "royalty". It brought a grin to Clovis' face as he grabbed hold of his severed arm and held it to up to his bare shoulder. Plugging it into the socket like a missing puzzle piece, he started to command tendrils of straw to suture it back in place.

"You're wasting your time with him." Clovis held up his other hand for a moment, showcasing the blood that was on the tips of his nails which he wore as fingers. "I have his 'royal' blood here on my hands. That's the same as saying his life now belongs to me. Did you hear that? I will choose whether he lives or dies!"

Clovis' eyes grew wide as he sat there, legs outstretched before him, back against the wall, arm slowly being stitched into place. "That's why they call me the Shinigami!" he proudly boasted, "because I govern over the ideology of life and death!"

Clovis flashed her a crooked smile. "You can't stop me from taking his life. If you care for a demonstration, that can be arranged. Ow!! If he's as precious to you as you say he is then let's strike a deal, agent. Tell me who you are; why your people are after my crew. And tell the others to stand down and leave my men alone! If I'm satisfied with your answer... then I'll leave him be."

“Unfortunately, that’s a bad deal. He’s worth more to me alive, but not that much.”

She exhaled.

“Could we make another deal?”

"Eh?" Clovis was left dumbfounded by her last remark. And here he thought he was making a lofty wager. All he was asking for in return was a bit of information. Why was that so classified? Both agents maintained complete secrecy over the fact. "All I'm asking for is why you're after us... and you can't even answer that?" Clovis expressed his shock aloud. "You'd rather let him die then tell me your name?"

Clovis spat out his own blood on the floor. "Ow!!! That doesn't make any sense...! What else could you possibly offer me for his life? I have no reason to let him live! I don't think you have any idea just how dangerous I am, agent. Have you ever heard of the South Blue? They call me the winner of that sea. Ever heard of the Hunting Pirates? I made them pay. Ever heard of a lady called Legs? I'm at war with her too!" he proclaimed. "And you're sitting there trying to negotiate a life that I took with my own hands. He wasn't easy to kill, you know? It took a great deal of effort to bring him down."

The agent nodded her head in agreement. “Bingo! You’re exactly right. I actually watched the entire battle,” she added. “It was really interesting. I thought he had for you one moment, but then you whipped out that ability. I’m assuming you must have used that to capture Lucien, as well as Daruma and Zarren too.”

She stood up momentarily.

“You see, I know a great deal about you, Clovis. I know your parents’ name, your former occupation, their occupation, the fact that your father sold your sister into poverty, and the fact that you murdered them. I mean, based on the profile, it made complete sense.”

Though the mask shielded much of her face, her lips could still be seen. She gave a gentle smile.

“They were abusive, neglectful, but, more than anything, they were selfish human beings. They would do anything to ensure that they ultimately benefit. It’s why you’re having such a difficult time understanding this position you’re in,” she continued. “You see. I can’t tell you who I am. Because, otherwise, I have orders to kill you. You’re not on my authorization list. It’s embedded into me; orders I cannot defy. So, I cannot answer that question for you.”

She lifted her finger into the air.

“But, I can, like I said, make another deal if you’re interested. You see, unlike this guy right here, I’m millions upon millions of times stronger. Sure, you may kill him, but, what stops me from them immediately killing you afterwards?”

She let the question hang in the air for a moment.

“Think about it. The only reason I’m even letting you go is because I need to patch him up, which now has an expiration limit of fourteen minutes and twenty-one seconds. If you kill him while I’m right here, I’ll just come and kill you, no?”

Clovis was in awe. No, more than that. He was... there was really no words to describe it. She knew him in and out. Down to every minor detail of his life. It almost seemed like she knew him better than he knew himself.

Something inside of Clovis told him that she wasn't bluffing. Millions of times stronger? If she was even Viper's equal then it would be way too much for him to handle after the fight he had just had. Perhaps retreating was an equivalent exchange, after all. He finished sewing his arm back in place and then stood up to his feet.

"Tch, you come after us, get yourselves killed, then tell us to stand down. And what's worse, you won't even tell us who or what you are. Fine, then. We welcome your challenge. The hardest path...? We won't run from anyone." Clovis' off arm showed that it was back to working as normal by sweeping its hand through his hair.

Ignoring the orange haired agent whose head was shaped like a bird, Clovis started to walk away into the neighboring cart. "Tell yer men to stand down. If they touch me or my crew, I'm going to finish him off in an instant. You hear me?" He kept on moving forward.

“Hey, Clovis…”

He paused for a moment, suggesting that he was listening to what she had to say.

You should be fine, since you’re climbing the ladder all on your own. But, if I were you, I’d have one concern,” the agent said. She moved her eyes from him, and towards Viper. She picked up the surgical tools and began cutting into his throat.

“You aren’t at the stage yet where the big names are really worried about you. Afterall, these guys seem to just be here because of some faulty orders. But, you do have some interesting people with you who may get you into trouble. Still, depending on how close you get with them, they may send someone special after you…”

She exhaled and began the next phase of surgery. Her hands were precise, down to the specific nanometer. Her hands were robotic-like.

“If you hear about the Arbiter coming after you, drop everything and run.”

Arbiter? Clovis pulled the blue fur coat over his shoulders and lifted his arm out over his head. He stuck out his middle finger and kept walking forward. "Piss off."


A purple shadow swiftly moved across the several carts of the Sea Train before it abruptly stopped at a certain one as the shadow's figure revealed itself to be Velvet who had been using Soru to maneuver her way towards where she had spotted Viper. Her eyes would hone in on the woman who was attending to Viper's wounds, unable to recognize any of the visible features as someone she knew. Regardless, she possessed no hostile intent and was clearly saving her comrade's life so she momentarily dropped her guard as she approached them.

"...Who are you? I'd at least like to know the name of the person who saved my friend's life" Velvet asked with growing curiosity towards her identity. She knew the woman was affiliated with the World Government at least but other than that, she was stumped.

The masked woman didn't hesitate to continue to her work. She didn't bother lifting her head to see the woman. Judging by her intelligence, and the voice, she easily deduced the identity of the agent that had arrived.

"Agent Velvet," she begun, addressing her with a noticeable warmth, "Nice to officially meet you. I'm an agent of the cipher pol as well. I go by Kichi," she explained. The woman lifted her head up momentarily, allowing Velvet to catch a glimpse of her mask, before continuing her emergency surgery. For Velvet, it was obvious. This woman was a member of the famed Cipher Pol 0, the highest intelligence agency of the World Government and the direct soldiers of the World Nobles themselves.

"Are you injured?"

"CP0..." Velvet mumbled, surprise and anxiousness written on her face at the revelation of a member of CP0 being the one who saved her comrade. There was no way she wouldn't recognize the mask those in that division wore as she straightened up a bit when she was asked about her condition.

"No, I haven't sustained any injuries at all" She said. Those who really know Velvet would be shocked by how respectful she was speaking as the woman was usually quite whimsical when speaking to her fellow agents, even when addressing her leader within CP9. It truly showed how respected and feared members of CP0 were to the other divisions.

"I was engaged with a member of Clovis' crew before I spotted you and Viper over here. His name was Zed and he's the user of the Bari Bari no Mi, which made eliminating him quite difficult" Velvet explained before her eyes looked around the Sea Train. "A fellow agent of mine is also engaging a different crew member but I'm not sure how that fight is going at the moment. I'm sure he's alright though. He might not have alot of this to work with up here..." She pointed to her brain "...But he's a total beast when it comes to fighting and is a complete wild card. You never know what he'll do" She managed a smile despite the hidden concern in her voice.

Her eyes would then shift down towards Viper who still looked as if he had been through one hell of a fight.

"...How is he?" She asked.

"He'll live," Kichi replied. "I'll be done with the emergency treatment in approximately thirty seconds," she added. "Anything else about this Zed person. I understand that he has the barrier fruit, but was there anything notable about him? Things he yelled out? Intelligence? His fighting style? I'll need a full debrief from you, Agent Velvet."

Velvet sighed in relief that her comrade would be alright, slightly bowing towards the woman called Kichi as a sign of thanks for saving his life. When asked about more information regarding Zed, Velvet nodded as she proceeded to dilvuge what she knew about him.

"We didn't fight for long but I was able to determine that he has a very defensive like fighting style that revolves around trapping and pushing his enemies with his barries. He can also make them invisible which can be quite a deceptive power given the right circumstances. I was clearly stronger than him but he was still able to shield himself perfectly no matter what I did. It was strange though as he seemed more interested in chatting with me than actually fighting, even after I had attacked him several times. Like, he generally didn't wish to fight me if he didn't have too. It was weird" Velvet tilted her head as she recalled their conversation and felt confused by Zed's involvement with a crew and captain who seemed opposite of what he was.

"Unsuprisingly, he had no idea why I or the other members of CP9 were after him and his crew as he explained that his only goal is to help his captain obtain the One Piece while he wishes to write a book. Other than that, there was nothing else he said or did that was worth remembering" Velvet shrugged, hoping that Kichi was satisfied with her report.

“The talkative type,” Kichi hummed. “Anything he said during your discussion that would make us assess his threat level any differently? As a defensive juggernaut, he seems annoying, but without any offensive capabilities we don’t have anything to worry about. Though, you mentioned a book. He’s the scholarly type?”

"Yeah, I could tell he's the kind of guy that would talk you to death if you let him" Velvet answered with a half smile as she threw her hands behind her head and stretched her back. "But I guess he was too busy trying to defend himself to do that with me"

"Did you fight with his captain, Clovis? Zed was confident that he wouldn't be defeated so I'd bet anything he's quite a strong fellow" Velvet asked with anxious eyes.

"No, I let him go," Kichi answered. "I was more concerned with helping our comrade here. Any delay and he was probably going to die. You see, he suffered lacerations and extreme trauma to the neck region. Fortunately, Clovis had just missed the carotid artery here," Kichi continued, tracing down Viper's neck, "which means that it was saveable. If he had struck it, my medical expertise wouldn't have saved him. Unfortunately, I'm only a emergency surgeon. I don't have the same specializations that a more experienced medic would have."

She exhaled. "But, based on my calculations, Clovis will escape here and head to Little Garden. I don't think you all were prepared to adequately deal with him."

Velvet was unable to refute Kichi's assessment as it was an undeniable fact that her squad had failed their mission, having clearly underestimated who their opponents were. She could have tried to argue her case regarding Zed and his rather unfair power but such excuses would not be tolerated as both a member of CP9 and also as a martial artist that followed the path of a warrior. The only thing she could do was learn from this humiliation and strive to become strong enough to deal with whoever her next target was.

Something that Kichi said however made Velvet refocus her attention as she recalled the location that Clovis and his crew were planning to head towards next.

"I wonder what business they have on Little Garden..." Velvet speculated as she cupped her chin with a curious expression.

Kichi shrugged. "No idea. But, it's going to be your job to find out what. Do you feel up to a mission?"

Velvet's response was almost instantaneous as her lips curved into a smile.

"Of course"

Pissing Off

They were means to my end, was all I initially thought of it, but I've grown to like those two idiots. When I was kidnapped, they came after me, and when I didn't have this power, they kept me safe. And they are real pirates, free. Free to do whatever they wish without a single care about what other people think.

Foot steps echoed from behind, growing louder by the second. "Kaaaaashishishi!!! So it was you!"

The Captain of the Pain Pirates appeared behind Zed, greeting his crew mate with a hard slap to the back. Moving up to be beside him, Clovis took a quick glance up at the roof, then back to Zed. "If yer still up and about, then it must mean that Thug is the one who lost." Clovis' tone did not mask his surprise. Between the three of them, Zed had long been seen as the defenseless one. Clovis had heard of Thug's reputation and seen him fight with his own eyes in South Blue so he knew he was no pushover. It could only mean that these agents of the world government, as he had come to know, were simply not to be underestimated.

"You held out this long against one of those agents? That ability of yours is bloody reliable, innit? Ow!!" A proud grin took hold of Clovis' face. He didn't quite know what Zed had been up against but with them both present, he loved their chances. "I'll be honest. It took everything I had to down the agent who was after me. But I pulled it off, somehow."

Clovis glanced between the roof and Zed. "Is there anything you want to tell me about this one?" he said, referring to Velvet, "are they a fruit eater? If they're anything like the one I just beat then they're going to be extremely quick on their feet. You remember what we do against fast enemies right, Zed?"

Clovis was of course referring to their battle with Aleph in which he had ordered Zed to construct a barrier that locked them all within it. The smaller the barrier, the less space there would be for their enemy to move around. "When that agent gets back down here, I want you to trap me with him in as small as a barrier as you can manage."

"My, that's quite the bold move to make on someone you just met isn't it?" Velvet responded in a whimsical tone, clearly responding to the man called Clovis who she identified as the captain of the crew Zed belonged too. Perhaps he wasn't aware of it but Velvet could hear everything that was being said within the cart they all were standing on and had been listening to everything Clovis and Zed had said, including the part where the former had claimed he had taken down the agent sent after him.

"You must be strong if you were able to defeat my superior" She honestly praised before pausing. "Looks like you weren't bluffing when you said my people wouldn't get yours, huh?" Velvet now spoke to Zed as she recalled his words earlier that were filled with complete confidence and faith in his crew. It now made her wonder how the others were doing if even Viper had been defeated.

"Tell me one thing" Velvet's voice became somewhat serious as she asked her next question. "Did you kill that agent?"

Zed raised an eyebrow as he saw Clovis enter, but he was still glad to see him. His timing was impeccable since his adversary was getting closer to hitting him. "Thug lost? Already? I haven't even been hit. I've been trying to get something out of her, but all I've managed to find out is that you guys are also being hunted. She refuses to tell me who she works for and why they are after us. I have, however, found out something regarding this train from someone else but I think we should take care of that first. " He pointed to the ceiling."Holding out has been the least of my problems. She moves so quickly that I can't seem to get rid off her. Let's try that thing again. Whenever you're ready just let me know."

"Let's just say his life is currently in the palm of my hands," Clovis responded covertly. "I could kill him right now if I wanted. I'd elaborate on what that means... but I'd rather not exploit my own ability so soon." Clovis was telling the truth. Whether Velvet actually believed him was yet to be seen. "Now if yer anything like he is, then I reckon you won't just stand down by me saying so. If that's truly the case then get down here and let's finish this already."

Silence would soon follow Clovis' taunt as for the first time today, Velvet's smile dropped and was replaced with a blank stare as she analyzed her current situation and what would be the correct choice to make in her current dilemma. Viper's defeat was something she had not expected and even worse, this man called Clovis was claiming he could end him whenever he wanted with his ability. Was that true? Velvet had no way of knowing that. She couldn't sense Viper's presence down below, which meant that whatever kind of threat he was making could be carried out from a distance.

Turning around, Velvet's eyes would narrow as she utilized Chosoku to discipline her eyes and focused them towards the carts near the back end of the Sea Train. In doing so, she was able to eventually spot a woman on top of one of the carts kneeling beside a man she faintly recognized who was in a rather terrible state, no doubt after his run in with the leader of this group who had just entered the cart below herself. She had no idea who that woman was beside Viper but she intended to find out as it was clear at this point that the mission she was given could not be completed, especially now that her target had teamed up with his boss. She was also concerned about Bob who could be quite unpredictable whenever he was by himself.

Her smile returning, Velvet spoke to Clovis. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious to see what you can do after hearing about you from your crew mate but I've got something else to do at the moment so I'll pass. Besides, fighting against barrier man anymore sounds like a real pain in the ass" Velvet admitted with a shrug as she prepared to leave and head towards the cart where Viper was at.

"Bye for now" With her faint goodbye said, Velvet's body would soon vanish as she used Soru to dash away.

"'Bye!" Zed waved her off and smiled to himself, happy that he could relax a little now that no one was trying to kill him.  "Interesting lady, but I don't think she liked my barriers.  Anyway,  I need to tell you this before I forget. Before she came in another woman interrupted my reading. I don't know why or if it has anything to do with this, but she told me that this train belongs to some Isambard person and that they're using it to transport an obnoxious amount of weapons. Do what you want with that, but what are we gonna do? Thug is dead. Are we leaving him here to rot? Are we collecting his bounty? What?" Zed wasn't given the option to stand down therefore he would assume none of his crewmates did. So, by that logic, if Clovis said Thug had lost, then he had to be dead. Although they hadn't spoken to each other too much, Thug was a fellow crewmate. Three men was already a small crew. Could they really be considered a pirate crew now that they had only two members? Zed waited for an answer as he stared at Clovis while clearly showing signs of shock and fear.

Though he had heard her voice, Clovis never got the opportunity to look at Velvet's face. As a firm believer in opportunity, he couldn't help but irk at the fact that Velvet, as an agent of the World Government, would be able to maintain her secrecy with him. But he did respect her for making what he felt was the proper decision given the situation at hand. He propped a finger into his ear and gave it a good wag, eyes closing as his irritation caught up to him. "Those damn World Government agents," he sighed, "they're the ones who come after us out of nowhere and then just decide to leave?"

Clovis' gaze found Zed as his eyes opened. Zed voiced his worries about how there was a high chance that Thug had been eliminated. Clovis shared the same thought; after fighting toe to toe with Viper, he had no reason other than to believe that losing to these agents spelled death. While initially Viper had tried his best to make Clovis stand down, he nevertheless retaliated in a way where he was clearly trying to take Clovis' life. Both Viper, Velvet, and that strange woman who claimed to be a million times stronger than them had mentioned a "mission". It was interesting to see how far these agents were willing to go simply for the sake of completing this mission, but their actions left Clovis confused.

Was their mission to kill the Pain Pirates or to arrest them? Viper tried incredibly hard to capture Clovis alive but what could he possibly gain from that? Did they plan to interrogate him? Make an example through a public execution? The possibilities were endless, but each agent chose to follow their own guidelines at the end of the day. Assuming their mission was to capture the Pain Pirates, Viper had gone against that by trying to kill Clovis. The female agent with the orange hair literally allowed Clovis to escape because she considered Viper's survival to be more important than the mission. And Velvet had also chosen to abandon her mission when she realized she was outnumbered or at the very least considered it more important to ensure that Viper lived, much like the other woman.

"Gah, nothing makes sense to me. The agent I fought made it seem like there was nothing more important to him than his 'mission', which I assume was to take us all in. He didn't try to kill me until he had no choice. But what could they possibly want out of us? Ow!!" Clovis nodded. He hated to accept the fact but Zed was more than likely right. "I hate to say it, but yer probably right, Zed. Those agents... they have a strange way of knowing the livelihood of those around them. The agent I ran into was able to feel that Thug had been beaten, just like this other agent was able to feel that I had beaten her friend. If that's true, then Thug truly must be dead."

Silence ensued. What next, then? By now, the Zed that Clovis had come to know was a man who was willing to fight for his comrades. After all, he had gone out of his way together with Thug to rescue him from the hands of the Black Hat Pirates. But if Thug had already died, was there any point in avenging him if it meant further endangering themselves?

"Thug was a member of this crew. If he was alive he would be working towards our gain. But why should that change if he's dead?" Clovis turned to Zed. "Even in death, there is a way that Thug can contribute to our cause. We'll claim the bounty on his head and with it, we'll buy ourselves a proper ship. We'll even name it after him to honor him properly, ow!!"

"What?! He tried to take you in without a fight? What the hell did I do? She tried to kill me straight away." Zed expressed his irritation. Although he wasn't certain if he would have stood down, he still wanted to have been offered the opportunity. He then addressed in Clovis' plan to name their ship after Thug. "The Going Behram, what a nice tribute!"

Zed started moving towards the direction his captain was heading when something suddenly occurred to him. "There's still a chance that he's alive if their intention was to take us in, I suppose. Even if it's unlikely, he might have decided to surrender, we could still be able to save him."

'The Going Behram' had a nice ring to it. Clovis took one stride forward and started towards the opposite end of the train from which he had come. "Kaaashishishi! Those agents mentioned feeling his presence in this direction. Let's go and claim his corpse, Zed. Ow!!!"

---

It didn't take long for Clovis and Zed to traverse the rest of the train, mostly because of how the civilians riding aboard had retreated into the far corners of every cart due to all the ensuing fighting. Still, there was no sign of Thug anywhere.

Clovis stroked his beard as they entered another cart; having a look around, he found that the floor had been tainted. This was the very spot in which Bob had slammed Thug's head into the ground. Kneeling down, Clovis ran his hand over the imprint, then pressed down into it with his thumb to get a better feel for it.

Looking around the cart for any sign of Thug and still seeing none, he called out to Zed, "we may have been too late. If they killed him, his corpse is long gone."

"Hmm... Something clearly happened in this cart. Maybe we can find out what happened to Thug if we ask around." Looking over Clovis shoulder as he examined the contaminated floor, Zed believed that someone in that cart would know what happened and he intended to find out. Looking around the cart, one large individual stood out as the only one who appeared unconcerned by whatever occurred inside. He moved a little closer to the man. "You! Tell us what happened here."

Bob is still looking out the window, disappointed that he doesn't see any dolphins. But the thought that he has successfully completed his mission still makes him happy. Circus girl and Cyberman will be proud and happy about it, while sad leader.....he is never happy......but he would never trade them for anything. After all, he may have forgotten when he started the secret agent games with these people, but they are the closest thing he has to a friend and family. His thoughts were interrupted when he heard someone talking to him, a topless person with weird hair.

"What happened where?" asked Bob honestly, probably not understanding that Zed meant the car they were in.

Overhearing Zed address the large man in the room, Clovis turned in that direction then stood up to his feet. He scanned the rest of the room. The civilians all had one thing in common; the look of disdain on all of their faces. They looked like they had seen a ghost, in every way of the phrase as it may certainly be true given Thug's abilities, but moreover, the large man in the suit was the only individual present who was at all calm. He didn't exude any sort of anxiousness, fear, or the like.

"What happened here in this room," Clovis specified, "why is there a big dent in the floor? And why does everyone else in this room like they've seen a ghost or something?"

Bob looks at them before thinking, for this question was indeed a great mystery. What happened here? A Chibi Machi appeared in front of him and gave him a bonk on the head.

"You fat idiot! You did it and you know what happened!" the Chibi Machi yelled before disappearing again, having found the answer.

"Ahh! A pirate was doing creepy things with his magic, scaring people, and suddenly he was unconscious on the curved ground. I don't know why. Maybe I did it by accident."

Bob replied, not sure if he had done it.

"Ehhh?" Clovis rose a single brow. He could immediately sense how strange the man was just by how he talked. "What do you mean a pirate? How did he look? What was his name?" Clovis scanned the man from head to toe. He glanced back at Zed as his suspicions grew. "You think you did it? Ow!! How is that something you would forget?"

Bob looked at Clovis and the many questions he sent him as his brain tried to work them out, but suddenly stopped as another thought came to mind, something he liked to do with the other Cp9 members with their targets. His favorite.

"Oh! Are we going to do interrogations? I like interrogations! But first it's my turn, since I answered you first! So........uh."

Bob was excited before taking an uncomfortably long time to formulate a question, as it looked like he was completly gone mentally, but soon come back and found one.

"Who are you, limehead and messy mustachioed man?" Bob asked his excitment returned.

Zed could sense that bombarding the man with questions wasn't going to help. His plan was to make him trust them, then try and find out if he knew anything about Thug. "We're hummm.... Train security. Yeah, train security." He signaled to Clovis to calm down a bit and let him handle it as he raised his open palm slightly. "Isambard-sama, you know, the owner of this train, sent us to ensure the safety of the passengers. Could you please tell us what happened to this pirate who was unconscious? Or at least where is he?"

Thanks to Zed taking over the conversation, Bob forgets about Clovis' questions and turns his attention to Zed's questions.

"Ohhhh train safety........don't know Ismabeard, but it sounds important, I think. Well, he was dangerous and probably scared little kids with his ghost magic, so I put him in chains and put him in a sack."

Bob replied, grabbing the large bag that lay beside him. But then he raised his very small eyebrows.

"I don't understand that? Why are you guys dressed so differently for train security? You guys look like pirates or homeless people, don't you?"

Bob asked, because it was very confusing for him, because although no one had told him why there was a dress code, almost every workplace wore the same clothes and not different ones.

"Because people like you stole our dress code," Clovis chimed in, addressing Bob's question as to why they weren't dressed the part of guards, particularly Zed who wore nothing at all. "We wanted to differentiate ourselves from you. Now what's this about a ghost pirate? You caught him and put him in that bag?" Clovis eyed the bag then extended his hand out towards Bob. "Let us have a look at that. Train protocols, ow!!"

Bob was confused as he tried to understand that.... He stole their dress code? So did their group go and steal those train security guys' clothes?

"Well, I apologize for stealing your clothes, especially you," he turned to both of them, looking at Zed in particular, before pulling a few thousand berries out of his suit and dropping them in front of the two pirates.

"Here, take it as an apology and buy some clothes."

Bob said before looking at Clovis.

"I can't let him out because sad leader told me he had to be taken to safety. So I can't let him out, even with train protocol." Said Bob, one of the things he had to remember as all of his staff told him not to listen to anyone unless it was a high ranking Marine or a high ranking employee of the world government.

"But I can tell you his name, it's...uh........" Bob said thoughtfully as he forgot the name. Who was he again? Something about B.....what was it. After a while, a light bulb lit up in his head, and he was sure he had found the answer.

"His name is Bug Brehamster! Yes, that was his name!" declared Bob, who believed that was the pirate's name, before looking at the two supposed train conductors.

"Now it's my turn. Do you know how long it takes for the train to arrive?"

To Zed, everything pointed towards Thug being whoever was in that bag. A pirate doing 'creepy things' whose name sounded suspiciously similar to Thug Behram... It just had to be him! He leaned in close to Clovis, then covered his mouth and said in a whisper. "That has to be Thug. Take the bag whenever you can. I'll make a barrier around him and we get the hell out of here."  He then went back to his original position, smiled, and turned to address the big man. "Ok, sir. We understand that you do not want us to look into your bag, but you must understand that we are merely doing our job. So would you kindly allow us to at least search you? Simply set the bag down and raise your hands. It won't take long, and after that, we'll leave you alone. In a few minutes, the train will reach its destination."

"You heard my partner over here," agreed Clovis, taking a step towards Bob. "This is a train protocol. Our master owns the train, not you. We don't care what your 'sad leader' has to say about any of this. If you don't let us check that bag, we are going to have to ask you to leave this train immediately!" Clovis reached to grab hold of the bag.

Bob was now confused, what should he do? The words of the man with the thin mustache made some sense, but the words of sad leader should be more important. What was he supposed to do? No chibi version appeared before him, so he used the last advice he knew. A dolphin would hunt and secure its prey, but if a predator appears, a dolphin would still not let go of its prey, but the moment it faces or fights the threat, a dolphin would flee.

So if dolphins were supposed to do it, it might work for him, too. Before Clovis could reach for the bag, Bob stood up and pulled the bag with him while looking apologetically at the duo.

"Okay! Since I cannot comply with your request, I will leave the train immediately! Thanks for the information."

Bob said and put the end of the bag in his mouth before literally disappearing with Soru, but in a moment of attacking them, he stood in front of the outer door, opened it....and jumped out into the sea. After all, they had said it would only be a few more minutes, which meant it couldn't take that long to get over swimming.

"That... idiot!" Clovis exclaimed, seeing Bob jump into the ocean and start swimming away. He had abandoned the other agents behind and escaped with their crewmate in tow. There was no time to lose, and even less time to think. "This way, Zed!"

Clovis moved quickly. He rammed his shoulder into the door leading into the next cart, slamming it open. Inside, the train's pilot and his staff looked at him with widened eyes. "N-No!" they yelled, aiming rifles at Clovis immediately. "We won't let you have your way-"

Clovis grabbed the both of them with his massive hands and chucked them into the other cart. Assuming Zed had stepped into the pilot cart with him, Clovis then used the sharpness of his strings to cut off the metal rod which connected the two carts together, effectively severing the pilot cart from the rest of the sea train and leaving the many carts behind without a means to steer or navigate properly.

Taking control of the sea train's steering, the Helmsman and Captain of the Pain Pirates forced the lone cart he and Zed were inside of off course, causing it to flop off of the trails and instead race towards Bob with great speed. Bob could have been a mermaid but he wasn't going to be able to out speed a sea train.

"We're not leaving here without Thug!" Clovis yelled to Zed, "get ready to use your barrier whenever the time is right!"

As he followed his captain into the following cart, Zed voiced his displeasure at Clovis' hasty execution of his plan.  "Why did you do that? We had him! All we needed was for him to move away from the bag for a second... Why'd you have to put him under pressure? People like him are unpredictable but I had it under control! Did you not understand my signal?"

Zed was so agitated that he was completely unresponsive once the pilot and his employees were tossed into the other cart. But when he realized that Clovis already had a backup strategy, his anger immediately dissipated. In an effort to pry the bag from Bob, he set himself up to sweep it with his barrier acting as a net. When they were close enough, he crossed his arms and fingers, putting the plan into action. "Barrera Araña!"

Bob swims. He likes to swim as much as dolphins like to swim. He may be the slowest of the CP9, but when it comes to swimming, no one can fool him, after all, his muscles and fat layer help him swim a lot. That's the reason why the train was slow in catching up with him and approaching him, which made people think he might be a real fishmen or related to them.

But as he swam, he already saw the island he was approaching, probably the island where he met the sad leader. But while he was swimming, he saw something swimming. Just as Little Garden was known for the prehistoric wildlife, so were the oceans around it, for a large ichthyosaur swam ahead of Bob before disappearing to his left. But Bob saw only one thing. DOLPHIN!

A Chibi-Skia appeared in front of him, scowling at him.

"No, Bob! First the mission, then the dolphins!" said Chibi Skia, but a Chibi Dolphin appeared on the other side.

"But Bob! There's a big dolphin. Besides, you're not forgetting your mission! You just procrastinate a little! Just one pat and you can turn back!" the dolphin replied, making Chibi Skia angry.

"There's no delaying Mis-MMMMMMMMP," chibi Skia wanted to yell before the chibi dolphin slapped him in the face with his fin and made them both disappear. Bob thought.

If he realized he was being chased by Clovis and Zed, he would try to get to Little Garden first and give Breham to the sad leader. But he didn't.

Suddenly Bob made a sharp left turn as the net missed him thanks to the sudden change in direction. The sea train was fast, but it was difficult to get left and right, especially on sharp turns. But it doesn't matter, because Bob tried to catch up with the prehistoric dolphin because he wanted to pat it at least once.

Clovis may have been the captain, but he wasn't the sort of man to turn down the critiques of his crew and he certainly wasn't the sort to punish his men for speaking against his wishes. Zed was a smart man; if he spoke out or lashed out then it would have been with good reason. Still, Clovis didn't have the chance to enter into a shouting match with Zed as all of a sudden the man that they were pursuing made a left turn, altering his trajectory away from the direction of the island.

"That fat piece of...!" Clovis beamed, his eyes widened at the speed with which Bob was swimming. There was no mistaking it. His incredible physical prowess combined with his use of the high speed movement technique he had displayed to open the door of the train in the first place told Clovis all he needed to know. This man was no ordinary man at all. He was one of the World Government's agents and highly trained by the looks of it. Which further meant that he was the one to do Thug in.

"We're not losing track of him... Zed, get that barrier ready!" Clovis eyed the net structure which Zed weaved and made note of it. Not a bad idea! But somehow Bob evaded it. Not only was he strong and fast, but he sure was one lucky son of a bitch. "Hoy, Zed!! Be ready with that barrier again, I'm turning this thing around!! We're not gonna lose Thug to a guy like that, ow!!"

A sea train could only move along the fixed path of its tracks. Upon cutting the main cart away from the rest of the train, Clovis had started using his Devil Fruit powers to conjure railway tracks of his own to guide the train in the direction that he desired. He was literally creating straw rails and placing them just under the surface of the ocean so that the tides wouldn't eat them up; accomplishing all this through the application of placing his sword through a trapdoor in the flooring of the train so that its blade could reach the water. Because of the special material that the sword was made out of, it could absorb the properties of the Kashi Kashi no Mi and act as a medium for Clovis to use his powers, as if he were casting a spell through a wand.

Normally it would be impossible to turn a sea train, especially when it was going so fast. But Clovis quickly understood that it wasn't the wheel that steered the train; it was the tracks. An idea shot into his mind quickly. He looked at Zed once again and repeated his orders. "Zed... be ready with that barrier! I got a plan!"

The straw tracks were forming seconds ahead of the train. Clovis got down onto one knee and gripped the pommel of his rapier with both hands. His forehead veins tensed as he applied more concentration to what he was doing; pushing more and more of his Devil Fruit energy into the weapon so that the straw bloomed further.

This caused the straw tracks to spawn at an accelerated rate. This made turning the sea train simple; by creating tracks that shifted to the left, Clovis quickly turned the sea train so that it was once again storming behind Bob. But he didn't stop there. More tracks started to form. The straw tracks forming in front of the train began to rise from the ocean, reaching higher and higher into the sky until they branched off, forming loops like a rollercoaster.

"Here we go!!" Clovis announced as the sea train climbed the tracks in the air and then suddenly rode the loops, gaining incredible momentum. "OWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

A sea train was already monstrously fast. After riding several loops and shooting out, it became a literal blur. Clovis gritted his teeth as the fast movement caused the sides of his face and his eyelids to ripple backwards. He was still creating straw tracks in the air to keep the sea train going towards Bob, who was headed for an ancient fish which Clovis and Zed had no chance to marvel at.

And then the tracks stopped. Clovis left a dead end for the sea train to shoot off of, letting it soar in the sky as it headed straight for Bob. No fishman, no mermaid, no sea king could have outpaced the impossibly fast momentum of the sea train that Clovis was now steering. And his aim was true.

"Put a barrier around us, Zed!!!" Clovis ordered. His plan was to use Zed's barrier on top of the incredible momentum of the sea train to slam into Bob and obliterate him in one shot. Because they were moving so fast they would undoubtedly reach Bob far, far sooner than Bob could reach the dolphin.

Zed understood what his captain's plan was. He never would have thought of such a scheme. Clovis wanted to completely remove Bob from the situation rather than try to grab the bag from him. Whereas every other pirate would have had no reservations about taking the bag by force,  Zed still considered using violence as a last resort. However, he couldn't ignore his captain's orders, and as he couldn't think of another option, there was nothing he could do. He gave a quick nod to Clovis, signaling that he understood the plan. Striking his usual pose, he put up the barrier around them. "Barrera Tortuga!"

Bob followed the dolphin. He was so close to the dolphin. But before he could reach the bag on his back, the huge barrier-covered sea train rammed into them. Due to the momentum of gravity and speed, with the added force of the barrier, a loud shattering of bones was heard as Thug was pushed deeper into the ocean first and along with Bob. They were both pushed deep into the water as blood filled the water and they both sank.

While no one could see what happened to the Thug, the bag and blood covering the results, Bob remained motionless. Suddenly, the dolphin made a U-turn and pounced on the sinking duo. Before anyone can react, it turns out that this "dolphin* was much bigger before it pounced on Bob's motionless body, before it opened its mouth in one motion before it closed it, swallowing Bob, while leaving Thug's sinking bag and the train alone as the blood filled the ocean.

At the moment of impact, from the single cart at the front, Behram's three ghost allies he created earlier emerged from the walls where they laid dormant. Being without Behram had them lost. They were nothing but creations of his fruit and since it had been so recent that he'd eaten it, they were headless chickens without his guidance. Still, they knew that if he died, they too would cease to exist.

With their legless forms they flew through the air and plunged into the water. Sea water affected devil fruit users themselves and not their abilities which meant they could continue to exist even below the sea. The dolphins hurried in one direction and the ghosts followed the path they traveled from, where the bag continued to sink. As if they were fascinated they three ghost gathered around the bag and looked at one another.

Nodding they all used their hands to grab the bag and pulled it up to the top of the water where they all jumped out. Rather than carrying the bag back to the ship, they decided to head for the nearest piece of land which happened to be Little Garden. Once they were above land, they tossed the bag onto the ground and unzipped it.

Within the bag laid Behram's bloody body. Just as before he remained unconcious.

The aftermath of the sea train plunging into the ocean was truly immense. Bob had fallen without his name ever being known to the Pain Pirates; Clovis clearly identified that his body was immobile and that he had passed out from their attack. "We got him!" Clovis cheered with a wide grin on his face. He glanced toward Zed. "That's another one of those damn agents down, ow!!"

Viper was at death's door. Bob had been knocked out and swallowed by the massive dolphin. Velvet had retreated. The three CP9 agents that Skia had sent after the Pain Pirates had been defeated by the Pain Pirates; in other words, they had failed their mission.

The Captain was too busy soaking in their victory over the World Government's agents to realize the stunt he had planned jeopardized Thug's safety. By the time he remembered, the bag was long gone, engulfed by the ocean. "Thug!!!" Clovis yelled out but his voice was kept within the barrier Zed made. Clovis sulked back in his seat, seeing through the windows of the sea train that they had lost Thug for good. "Even after all that, we still weren't able to get him back. That's tough," said the Shinigami with a sigh. "And what's worse... we can't even cash him in for any money. OW!!"

Just then, out of the corner of his eye, Clovis saw an apparition reflect against the shiny body of the barrier that surrounded the sea train. He looked up and to the side, to the sight of ghosts that resembled Behram plunging into the ocean below. Clovis shot out of his seat and gripped the railing in front of him. He couldn't believe his eyes. "Zed, take this barrier off!" he ordered as his eyes lit up further.

The ghosts made off with the bag, disappearing into the distance. "I don't believe what I just saw!!" exclaimed Clovis, "Thug that dog... he had a backup plan all along? If his Devil Fruit powers are still working then that's got to mean he's still alive, right?!" Clovis looked to Zed with a hopeful expression. He waved his hand dismissively as if suddenly disregarding the idea that he ever considered the possibility of Thug's death. "I knew it," he capped, "I knew he wouldn't die. Didn't I tell you, Zed? That's what I've been saying. Ow!!"

Zed watched as the barrier crashed not only into Bob but also Thug. And he couldn't help but take notice of the aftermath, the sound of bones breaking and the redness of the water, that followed. That might have killed Thug if he wasn't already dead. However, just as he was ready to lose faith, he witnessed the spectral creatures removing the bag from the water. He was so engrossed in it that it took Clovis' orders to bring his focus back.

Zed watched in awe as the barrier came down, his jaw dropping to the floor.  While he had faith in Clovis' plan, he never imagined everything would fall into place so perfectly.  Their enemies were out of their way. Thug was miraculously saved. And they were heading towards their promised land. "I can't believe what I've just seen! We must be the luckiest men alive!" He cheered, clinging to his captain's shoulders.

With what was left of the sea train as theirs to command, Clovis and Zed traveled towards the island in the distance.

Garden of Nod

Little Garden was a treasure trove of unique creatures that either came naturally from evolution or from the creation of the World’s current scientist. There were beasts here that didn’t exist anywhere else in the World and to be honest, they probably wouldn’t survive in any other environment. Here they were treated with respect and though they may have been rampant beasts, their natural habitat allowed them to feel as though they belonged.

There were very many humans that lived on the island. In fact, there were only the humans that worked for a specific scientist living on the island keeping a close eye on the creatures to ensure none could escape. Plus, somebody had to feed them to ensure they didn’t start eating each other and reducing the population. How else would they be able to conduct their experiments to keep making them better and better.

On the island for his own visit, Jupiter stood at one of the tables inside of the lab with a Den Den Mushi facing him. “I’ve submitted the requests for my new gear. How long do you think it’ll take?” Jupiter asked, his gaze looking to the many scientists that rushed across the laboratory.

“W-Well, I’m not sure, uh,” The man said, stumbling over his own words. “I’m working on quite the big p-project but uh, I want to make sure you’re at the f-front, Jupiter. You know, I try my best to keep you first. Give me, uh, I’ll said i-if, January!”

Jupiter couldn’t help but to stand in silence. It wasn’t the answer he had been hoping for, but it wasn’t like he had expected a solid one anyway. Within the recent year things seemed to have gotten busier, so he had to work with whatever time he could.

“Copy that.” Said Jupiter, fixing on the cuffs of his shirt.

“B-But listen, Jupiter! The fuuuutuuuuuureeeee is near! You’d better get with the times!” All of a sudden the man’s words increased in speed as they flew out of his mouth. “I’ve got something I want you to test! Something nice, something really nice! I’ll be sending it to you soon. Tech is the fuuuuuutuuuurrreeeee! These Den Den Mushi are going to be a thing of the past!”

The man held his last word, the snail’s eyes twitched. “Out with the old, Jupiter! In with the new! I’ve gotten a new invention that’ll handle giants too!”

He immediately picked up where the man left off and sighed, “You’re going senile old man. Contact me when the parts are ready.”

Without giving the man a chance to respond, Jupiter ended the call and at the exact same moment, one of the scientists relayed information to another that had been present. Their way of moving information was much different than what Tesla relied on, that’s for sure.

“There’s seems to be someone else on the island…” One of the scientist said, tucking his hands inside of his lab coat. “I’m not sure who they are, but they seem to be meeting.”

Chiming in on the conversation, Jupiter turned to the scientist. “Send me the coordinates.”

"I'll ask one more time. Where is he?" Despite his gentle tone, the deadpan expression on Skia's face made it abundantly clear that this was a lost cause. Hours had gone by in the heat of Little Garden with little to no progress, he had to move on. He scratched the light stubble that covered his chin, "If you're trying to just waste my time, I'll have no problem making it worthwhile."

"Look, you know me, Anrei." A feminine voice parted the shadows with a red lollipop. "If I wanted to waste your time, I'd waste your time. But I haven't talked to the guy in about a decade. Why come to me?"

"Where do wounded animals go?" Skia paused for a moment, his pale hand emerging from his black robes. "They run. With all of their might away from the danger." The click of Hotei breaking its seal parted his words.

A pair of bare feet walked from the shadows of an overgrown leaf. "What's that have to do with anything?" Unlike the agent, this boy looked as if he was plucked from a day off work. Donning a pair of red stained shorts and a torn T-shirt many sizes too large, with blonde hair extending to the floor.

"What is it you feel right now?"

"I'm confused as to why you've taken up my whole day to ask the same question!" A Red hue taking over his face, the boy rubbed his temple in frustration.

"Ayatsuri." Skia's shadow made contact with the other, moving astray from the sun's confines.

"The hell is this?" Unable to speak, beads of sweat rolled from his brow as he found himself incapable of even controlling his body. Merely suspended without motion, lost in the confines of Skia's gaze.

"Fight. Or flight." Slowly drawing the glistening scarlet blade from its sheath, extending his arm to the fullest. "A natural response that overtakes us all when danger arises." Walking away from his own shadow, "Tell me again, Llalo. Or more appropriately, 02." Breaking through what eyesight could register, the blade of Hotei had been pressed diagonally up to the throat of the boy. "What is it you feel?"

A single drop of red began to line the blade. Llalo's heart was a cacophony, and Skia was the conductor. He couldn't even tell if he was still under the effects of whatever Skia had just done, he wouldn't dare move regardless.

"And that's instinct." Withdrawing his blade from the chest of Llalo, only to return its pommel to his sternum. This sudden shock forced the breath back into Llalo's lungs as he was thrust back, his eyes a flurry. "My instinct says he'd contact his family." He placed Hotei back into its sheath, both hands returning to their sleeves. "You know how to contact me."

In an instant, Llalo scrambled away into the thick brush. Skia watched him flee, waiting for the slightest detail. Until Llalo had completely vanished. Looking to the sky, the sun was bombarding his porcelain complexion. "I will find you."

Like a silent leaf falling from a tree, a figure appeared just a few feet away from Skia. His body phased into existence, his presence could only now have been detected, but he was there long before. Nature whispered across the tucked away area in the form of wind blowing.

Watching with more than just his eyes, Jupiter revealed himself before the secret agent. He stood tall, as his near seven foot figure blessed the terrain with a shadow of his own. Freedom sat on his shoulder, her additional height of three feet increasing their size even further, almost as if the duo meant to impose over Skia.

“Who is it that you’re looking for?” It wasn’t that Jupiter was for sure that Skia had been looking for, but instead that the Cipher Pol Agent had the look of pursuing all over his face.

"I'm afraid that's classified." Skia replied without looking in Jupiter's direction. An expectant air surrounded him as he began to walk away. "Or rather, why ask if you had been paying attention?" A tone of sarcastic whimsy took over the standard monotone Skia had become synonymous with.

His eyes traced Skia’s figure, but Jupiter didn’t look into the agent’s sarcasm. In fact, he looked over it and took his words with face value. That was the down side of the serum that coursed through his veins, mixed and now a permanent part of his blood.

Holding Justice in his right arm, Jupiter’s expression remained blank. “Fae Skia, Captain of Cipher Pol’s 9th Unit–the Black Ops.”

Freedom’s head twitched. She could recall the same information that Jupiter had stated, her memory was just as good as his. Linked, the two were like twin siblings as Freedom has spent her entire life alongside Jupiter.

“I wonder if Marlon is aware of this.”

Skia stopped dead in his tracks, looking over his shoulder in Jupiter's direction. "What are you implying?" Skia's deadpan voice returned once more. He was more than aware of who Jupiter was as well as his position, but the mention of Marlon raised the question. Just what all did he know?

“I take that as a no,” Jupiter immediately responded, leaving no gap between the two questions.

He still looked at Skia. His gaze didn’t break or bend, not even for a moment. “Implying that the incompetence I spoke of a few years ago is still abundant. A secret organization and its members, can’t have secret agendas of their own. It’ll never work and create conflict among allies. That’s how Civil Wars start.”

Jupiter and Skia had met long ago when Jupiter was going to join the Cipher Pol. He spoke to Marlon on how he felt the group had been lacking something and decided to join the Marines and change it instead. He had also spent all of his younger years as a product of war and was literally born into being a soldier. So he knew a thing or two about how they began.

"You ought to know your place." Skia turned to face Jupiter, watching his feet. "The situation is being handled appropriately. No concern of yours."  

“That’s always been my problem with Cipher Pol 9,” Jupiter started, a cold breeze pushed past Jupiter and Freedom, sending his captain’s coat fluttering into the wind like some sort of cape. “It’s always been over the place and most importantly, bad with orders.”

His expressionless face continued to give gaze to the agent. “You being away from the rest of Cipher Pol while you run headlessly to meet with people seems to be my concern. But if you feel it isn’t my place, maybe I should make it.” Reaching into his coat, Jupiter pulled out a Den Den Mushi.

The snail was much different than his normal one. It possessed black shades over its eyes and had a long navy blue coat covering its shell. “I say we make a call.”

Skia's brow twitched in response. Despite their similar upbringing one thing remained clear. This opinionated view went both ways. "What's your game? You ought to know that our operations are not to be disclosed openly." Skia spoke with a dismissive tone, walking towards Jupiter. He stopped mere feet before him, for the first time since his arrival, Skia locked eyes with the marine. His single red iris, the only window to what the agent thinks and feels, showed the image of redemption. "Make the call. Marlon will understand this extended assignment."

“Hey, there Skia,” Said Marlon through the speaker of the already answered Den Den Mushi. His voice was as mellow as ever, calm like an idle river traveling downstream.

Jupiter remained still, unfazed by Skia’s advancements. He knew what was at play here, but he simply did not care for it. The snail remained in his hand.

“I don’t think Jupiter quite understands what’s going on here.” Marlon sided with Skia in his last statement. “Being an agent is more than just being secretive. It’s about loyalty and balance! That is above all else. You have done nothing to disprove of this loyalty, at least not in my eyes. Right?”

"Correct, sir." Contrary to his tone towards Jupiter, Skia's words were lik a dog reacting to their master. Short, concise, and full of respect.

The skies began to rumble around, as the dark clouds began to form. Flashes of lightning flickered over and over again above the trio, the weather had suddenly changed.

“Hey, is there about to be a storm over there, Jupiter?” Marlon asked, tone unchanged.

There were no words from Jupiter. Instead he kept his gaze locked onto Skia. His eyes almost literally pierced into his soul.

“Maybe we should bring the sun back out, Jupiter.” His words were less conversation and more like orders being given. The dark clouds immediately disappeared and the rumbling was no more. However, this wasn’t Jupiter’s doing well, not willingly at least, and more so the forceful grasp Marlon had over him.

“The Super Soldier still has a lot to learn, Skia. But he is far from naive.” Said Marlon, his snail’s mouth smiled slightly. “Skia, continue.”

Marlon paused. “Return to the Laboratory, Jupiter.”

"Yes sir, understood." Skia's leer didn't break from Jupiter's eyes through the entire conversation. "Do you take any issue with that, Jupiter?" He scratched the scruff on his chin through his robes, expecting the marine to heed Marlon's words immediately. "If not, I'd like to be left to my own devices. This is an investigation."

Before Jupiter could respond, his body literally moved on its own. He went from standing still, to his leg lifting and his body vanishing into the visage form from before. A thunder clap followed his disappearance, his Flash Step was even greater than most Cipher Pol Agents.

“I don’t like when you force me into actions in situations like that.” Jupiter said to the Den Den Mushi.

“But if I don’t, you’ll do something against orders. Being able to control you in situations like that is exactly why we had that control implemented into you. We can’t afford to lose a Super Soldier like you due to recklessness.” Marlon explained.

If it wasn’t clear before, Jupiter’s body could be controlled by Marlon no matter the distance so long as Marlon’s voice gave the order. Jupiter was fond of Tesla, but that specific integration grinded his gears.

The Marine’s body flung over the island. “That doesn’t mean anything. You know what happens from that.”

“Stay on the island for a few days,” Said Marlon. “Let me know if there’s anything.”

The snail’s eyes fell down.

——

“He’s right.” Said a voice, resting in the background.

Marlon’s hands were tucked away into his pants’ pockets. “Are you serious? I don’t need both of you telling me what’s best.” Marlon took a short pause and turned his head. “What about you?”

Then from across the room another voice chimed in. “You can’t have someone who is not only the captain of your most secret Cipher Pol divisions, but a member of the Vanguard Unit having a secret agenda. It creates personal internal conflict.” Words left the lips of someone who was clearly much younger than Marlon and Ashton.”

“So,” Marlon looked between the two of them. “You’re willing to do that and hurt our forces even more?”

“You asked for our opinion.” Ashton answered. “We never said anything else.”

Marlon shoveled his gaze. “Raian, it’s on you. And somebody contact Henrietta.”

Jurassic World

Fresh off of their victory against CP9, the Pain Pirates arrived on the northern shore of Little Garden. The distant sight of volcanoes as well as the massive skulls that sat in the middle of the island made it evident to the crew that the island was the one they had been looking for, as per the description given in Zed's copy of Brag Men. When the three members of the crew regrouped in front of the bag, they found Thug laying within it with his ghosts still surrounding him.

Luckily for them, Thug had lost to the stupidest man in all of the Cipher Pols combined. A key capable of unlocking Thug's seastone handcuffs was left inside the bag. It wasn't long before Thug was free and it would only be a matter of time before he woke up from his slumber. To remove his handcuffs, Thug was moved to lay on the bag. After they came off, Clovis gave a hard kick at Thug's ribs. "Hoy, Thug!! Are you taking another nap, you bastard?!" barked Clovis, his distrustful nature getting the best of him. Thug was always known for falling asleep at the most inopportune times. As long as Clovis could remember, Thug always found a way to be unconscious in dire moments.

He was unconscious for the entire duration of their journey up Reverse Mountain. He was asleep during their ride on the Stellar Pirates' ship. And now he was out of service for the bulk of their time on the sea train.

Clovis had his growing suspicions about Thug. Part of him thought Thug was just trying to catch up on sleep either to avoid the responsibilities that came with working on a ship or simply because he wanted to skip boring segments of everyday life. Whatever the case, Clovis needed to convince himself of Thug's injuries. If he was truly wounded, then a few kicks wouldn't be enough to wake him up.

"Hoy, Thug!! Wake up!! You bastard, I know you're sleeping!! Ow!!!!"

All of his yelling amount to nothing. Behram didn't wake up nor could you call what he was doing, sleeping. It was more like a forceful rest, one that was along the lines of a coma. It was surprised that Behram had even been alive to begin with, but the air from under his nose would have confirmed that.

The three ghost levitated over his body while Clovis tried to wake him up with words. Again, the each looked at one another and nodded. The ghost in the middle went directly above Behram and flew through his chest.

"!!"

Behram's body slightly moved and floating from his very skin, the ghostly form of Behram appeared out of his body floating above Clovis and Zed. He looked to his hands and flipped them backwards, then he looked down to his body which was in critical condition.

"Hey, fuck you capt'n!" Behram cursed, holding his fist up at Clovis. "Give Behram tha' big stupid one, right! Yeah, well ya' know the oafs are usually the strongest! Gaaaaah damnit, Clovis." He looked to his ghost, as the one who had passed through his chest rejoined the other three that simply looked to him.

"Hoy!! It ain't like I'm the one who chose who we all got to fight!" Clovis shouted back at Thug, defending his honor as the Captain and big brother figure of the crew. "And what's the matter anyway, eh?! You should know we laid him down flat for ye! Me and Zed both, ow!!" And that they did, they certainly did. Bob was rendered unconscious in but one hit from Clovis and Zed's combined attack, and they saw him be devoured whole by a massive monster with their own eyes.

Each had a smile of their face as Behram's voice brought enlightenment. Behram made his way over to his ghosts and looked to them with a smile of his own. "My babies!" He yelled, opening his arms to hug all three of them. "Fickle, Chaser, Ambusher," he said giving each of them names. Then, from his back apart of his body separated to create another ghost.

"And now you, Stupid! Don't ever leave my side!"

Zed was amazed with the splendor of the tropical forest. Everything there appeared to be gigantic and everything he had read about appeared to be true, which made him wonder if any giants still lived there. His pet frog, Rana, who by this point mostly just slept on his back, leaped up to his shoulder. "Rana, it's real!  All of the tales are true. Even though our journey has only began, we've accomplished so much that I can't wait to write about it all."

The commotion of his crewmates' conversation brought his attention to them. When he saw Behram's ghostly body, he was relieved to confirm he was still alive. "Look who it is! Thug, alive and well... Uh, I wouldn't say well. But alive nonetheless. What now, Captain?" Zed wished to explore the entire island, but he knew Clovis had a purpose when he decided to make Little Garden their next destination.

Zed posed a necessary question for the crew. What was next for them? "Well... we're here to meet with a certain someone. Who he is, I've no idea. And I've even less of an idea as to how we might go about finding him," he admitted bluntly, "but finding this man will be the same as saving ourselves a seat at the finest table this sea has to offer. I've had a long time to think about it and our best course of action is to join under the banner of one of those so-called 'pirate empires' that I've heard of, ow!! It'll make life easier for all of us."

Clovis turned towards his two crewmen. After all, it was a decision he had made with them in mind. "It'll give Thug plenty of opportunities to mug, loot, and kill, and it'll give you the ample protection to explore this world and write your book; as for myself, it is a necessary step towards realizing my goal of becoming the King of Pirates."

Clovis turned once more and his gaze moved to the vast jungle that awaited them. He recalled the events that transpired on the sea train. Specifically, the warnings of bloodshed as told by the fortune teller. She was a bizarre lady but her prophecy came true in mere moments. Clovis saw it with his own eyes. And that other agent who saved him and Viper from drowning to their deaths; she warned him, too. About some entity known as the 'Arbiter'. And that she was a million times stronger than Viper.

Clovis stared ahead in silence. There were moments during his battle with Viper where he did not look his best. Viper was by far the most formidable opponent Clovis had ever faced. To think there were people so much stronger than him was not an easy pill to swallow. Viper had outclassed Clovis in every way; strength, speed, skill. Perhaps Daruma was right all along. It wasn't possible to sail the Grand Line without taking the proper time to train so that they would all be prepared for what was to come.

Those World Government agents had come out of seemingly nowhere. They seemed to know everything about Clovis; hell, that orange headed agent even knew about Clovis' parents, his sister, his encounter with Lucien --all of it. He never imagined his life could be so transparent. The only reason they were able to avoid any further conflict with her was because he had surrendered Viper's life to her. If he had accidentally killed Viper instead, there was no telling what might have happened. It was completely possible that their journey would have ended then and there aboard the sea train.

What next? "We need to locate that man's whereabouts. We don't know where to find him, but we'll split up to look for him until he finds one of us. Normally I would strongly suggest staying together as a pack, but this island is simply enormous... we'd end up spending months here if we remained together." Clovis turned to Thug and Zed once more. "Be careful. If that dolphin that ate that agent is any precedent, then there are a number of foul beasts looming this island. Which is to our benefit."

Clovis reached with his hand into his stomach. He fiddled through the straw, digging in deep. The inside of his belly was a massive reservoir of storage. Not quite a 'pocket dimension', but the abundance of straw allowed him to store necessary tools within the bed of hay. Reaching into his stomach he grabbed hold of a large bag and pulled it out of himself; it was an impressive sight, seeing as how the bag looked far too big to be able to fit inside of Clovis' body.

"These are my spoils from one of the towns I looted in Twin Cape," he explained. "Check this out." Clovis unveiled a sheet of ordinary looking paper. "It's called a Vivre Card. Apparently if we all take a piece out of it, we can lead ourselves to each other. I'm not quite sure how it works yet, but it's worth giving it a try. Ow!!" Clovis split the paper down the middle into three separate strips. He handed one strip to each of them.

Clovis tied the bag back up and stuffed it back into his belly. He patted his hands together. "Listen, I hate to say this, but right now we suck ass." A gentle breeze filled the silence. "Those agents were a lot stronger than we were. Sure we might've won, but we got lucky. Let's just tell it as it is. We can't keep relying on luck. But, we can rely on miracles."

Clovis lifted up his hand. Before their eyes it morphed into the claw of a scarecrow. "These are our miracles. Our Devil Fruits!! We all have impressive abilities that have allowed us to fight against enemies that were far stronger than us! As we look for this man, let's make it a point to hone our skills."

Daruma's words replayed in Clovis' mind. Which makes me wonder if your strength is tied to your desire to survive? Or is it bound to the dreams you wish to claim?

"We can't claim our dreams unless we survive. Mastering the powers of our Devil Fruits give us the best chance for survival. Wouldn't you agree? Ow!!" A Scarecrow Man. A Ghost Man. A Barrier Man. The three of them had all eaten their Devil Fruits that same week. But if they wanted to compete against enemies they were bound to encounter in the future, then they were going to have to grow stronger. Much stronger.

"Those agents we fought... by the time we leave this island... they should be an afterthought to us, ow!!" Clovis was more motivated than ever to master his abilities. It wasn't going to be easy, but he was up for the challenge. "It may take us days to find the man we came here for. It may take us weeks --I don't know. But it won't be for nothing as long as we grow stronger while doin' it. Fend for yerselves. Fight to live. Live to survive. When we meet again... we'll see which one of us has grown the most."

Clovis grinned at them. Then he turned his back to them one final time and started walking away from his crew. He lifted his arm up, bidding them farewell. "Power... is opportunity!!! Don't let an opportunity like this go to waste!! Ow!!!!!"

Step after step, Clovis treaded onwards, until his figure dissolved behind the overgrown leaves of the jungle that lay ahead.

"ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAGGGGGGGGGGGG!" A raging roar could be heard as Clovis stepped forward and his body made immediately contact with a prehistoric creature. It's mighty roar shook the area like an earthquake.

This fine beast boasted green skin and a head that nearly matched the rest of its body. It's eyes were thin and red like a reptile and its arms were so small that they couldn't possibly have been for attacking. This was some sort of judging from its frame, but it was clear that this was much different from the one in the past.

"Ack!" The rex coughed and from its mouth a small ember graced the air.

Behram's eyes widened. "Power is death, dumbass!" Without even giving warning to the rest of the crew, Behram went running--or more like floating--away from the giant dinosaur. His arms flailed around in the air and his ghost companions followed behind him mimicking his exact expressions.

Planting and spreading its feet apart, the rex lowered its upper body and opened its mouth wide as Behram and his four amigos ran underneath its body. In front of it were only Zed and Clovis. With yet another roar the ground quaked again as the window pushed past the duo lifting Clovis' hair into the wind. Secondarily though, a stream of flames flew out of its mouth towards Zed and Clovis spreading wide to cover more area and burn the two of them to a crisp.

Zed was stunned when the prehistoric beast materialized. It was like a dream come true for him. Right in front of him was a creature long considered to be extinct. His astonishment, though, was short-lived. Its ability to make flames made him realize something wasn't right. He couldn't help but comment upon seeing Behram's spectral body fleeing the scene. "Hey! Your body's still here, you ectoplasmatic dumbass!"

They were protected from the flames by the green-haired man's barrier. Clovis intended for them to master the powers of their Devil Fruits, but Zed needed more than that. He required a change of attitude. Up until then, violence, or going on the offensive in general, was something Zed consciously avoided. But he was not in East Blue anymore. Even if he wasn't going to resort to murder and torture, trying to befriend everyone he met wasn't going to get him anywhere. In response to his captain's suggestion that they use their time on the island to get stronger, he turned to face him. "Aye Aye, captain! My growth starts now! Barrera Pardo!" With his fingers crossed, he punched the air, launching the barrier towards the dinosaur's chin. This was a moment of change as, for the first time since he joined the crew, Zed did not hesitate to engage in combat.

The rex tucked its head once more. Though, rather than let out another one of its signature roars, it slammed its head against the barrier in an attempt to push them back. The shockwave from the collision caused the ground around them to shatter and crush which would have been more than capable of disrupting Zed's footing.

Then, jumping into the air, the rex placed its body directly above the barrier and insteaded to slam over him with all of his force, pushing him down further into the ground. He was a large rex, even larger than what they were known to be, and the the downward force coming over Zed, the rex was sure to have destroyed the earth entirely.

"Fuck my body! The capt'n said we need to hone our powers! My body can't help me with anythang but stranglin'!" Behram shouted out while still running forward in his ghost form. "At least that's what I'm gettin' from all of this!"

"KAWWWWWW!" The wings of a winged beast flapped above their heads. But there sounded like a lot of creaking and grinded gears mixed in as well.

Behram looked up and his mouth dropped at the creature that flew above them. It was completely made of metal which meant it was a mechanical creature and completely opposite of the prehistoric rex that was threatening the life of Zed.

Unbeknownst the the pain pirates, this bird was known as a Tek Argentavis. One, the rex, was the wicked creation of Villanova and all of his scientific achievements allowing for the dinosaur to breathe fire like some sort of dragon. The other, a technological argentavis that possessed no organic tissues and was mechanically engineer--a symbol of the future.

The creations of their rivalry showed in these two creatures alone. Tesla viewed the future of science in the form of technology. Villanova was a more of a now in day type of guy. Tesla referred to him as a scientist of the past, because he didn't see the same views that Tesla did about the future of tech.

When the dinosaur appeared, Thug wasn't the only one to retreat. Clovis' eyes bulged out of their sockets and he started right back down the same path as if forgetting all the dramatic banter he had uttered till now. Hands balled up into fists, he pumped his long arms as he sprinted for cover, while shouting, "AHHH!!! IT'S A DRAGON!!!!"

Ironically, Zed was the only one out of the bunch that took a stand --the only one who immediately began a counterattack. Perhaps it was PTSD from their time in Twin Cape when an apparent dragon burned down a bulk of the town with magma; but it wasn't long before Clovis was behind a large boulder. Taking a peek from behind it, he noticed that Zed had formed his barrier in time to keep the dinosaur at bay.

But when the T-Rex leaped into the air, Clovis' eyes bulged wide once again. "NANI?!?!?!?!" That damn lizard was flying in the air! As their eyes were forced above, another creature arrived from above, a bird made completely out of metal. It seemed like suicide to go against these kind of monsters, but another glance towards the barrier asserted Clovis' mind; he wasn't going to leave Zed out there by himself.

The large boulder that Clovis was hiding behind suddenly split into many pieces. When it crumbled apart, Clovis' form was once more made visible, albeit in his transformed state. "Oru: Kuebiko!" he announced before dashing towards Zed and the barrier as the ground underneath his feet was torn up. The T-Rex proved to be highly intelligent; it quickly understood that the barrier was unbreakable and instead targeted the ground --a place where the barrier didn't cover. That way it could sabotage Zed's defenses and catch him by surprise.

"You damn Dragon.... that's.... my... READER!!!!!!!" Clovis' speed was immense in his scarecrow form. In the blink of an eye he caught up to the T-Rex and crossed both hands forward. "Juhari no Kouzai!!!!" His scarecrow talons slashed towards the T-Rex before Clovis landed behind it; maintaining his pose he waited for his slashes to cut into the dinosaur's body, only for them to have dealt no harm whatsoever.

Clovis looked back in disbelief. There wasn't so much as a single scratch anywhere on the dinosaur's body! This was a technique that was powerful enough to slash Daruma's mask apart. And yet, it wasn't enough to even tickle this dinosaur. "W-What....!?"

If their own captain couldn't successfully damage this dinosaur, then there was no point in trying to hold off against it for much longer. The dinosaur wasn't an enemy that they had to defeat in order to move forward in their journey. It served as no obstacle to them; it was merely a creature that they happened to come across and there was absolutely no shame in retreating against it, similarly as to how they fled when encountering the ancient dolphin sea king from before.

"Run!" Clovis ordered, as his body slowly reverted from his scarecrow transformation into his normal state. He looked back at Thug and Zed and repeated his orders once more, "Run, ow!!! There's no point in wasting time against this thing!! We're here to look for a certain man and to get stronger by our own means!! We'll regroup in a few days, survive until then!! That is our priority!!"

After reminding his crew about what was truly important for them, Clovis began to run away from them. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the T-Rex beginning to tail him. It was just as he thought. He could lead this monster away from his crew, enabling them to get away. Come here you filthy dragon. I'm not done with you just yet!!

A chase through the jungles led Clovis into foreign territory. Massive leaves and greenery awaited him. Volcanoes in the distance and many other geographic landmarks which he'd never seen before. When he was far enough from the T-Rex he tripped on an enlarged root and fell forward; losing his balance completely he rolled down a hill that led him several hundreds of feet from where he initially was. Laying in a heap on the ground, he pulled himself onto all fours and looked ahead at a crater in front of him. The crater was the result of a dinosaur's footprint; a small pool of brown water sat inside the crater, allowing Clovis to see his own face.

"Look at you," he said to himself, "all you wanted was to live a life on your own terms. And what's become of you since then, eh?" Clovis didn't dare close his eyes. Instead he stared deeply into his own reflection, seeing the boy who had come out of nowhere and untied him from his wooden post all that time ago. He'd inspired him to live a life in pursuit of his own dreams and happiness. Was that what Clovis was doing now?

"Is it a crime to dream?" Clovis wondered aloud as he sat back. "Is it a sin for me to believe in myself? Am I wrong for doing what I want to do instead of conforming to what others expected of me?" As he gazed long and hard at his reflection, four additional faces rippled into the image before him: Daruma, Zarren, Harlow, and Zakari.

Clovis gritted his teeth. It angered him to see them! The four of them symbolized prodigies. Those born with natural talents so profound that there was no room for failure for any of them. They were destined to be great and they showed their greatness from the very day they were born.

As he slammed his fist into the puddle and took it back, Abbadon's face appeared within it instead. "Clovis, allow me to tell you the biggest secret of the King Pirates. The reason why this choice you make matters. The reason Cleo and Nisuke could never get along is because of their blood." Clovis fell silent as he revisited this memory that was stained in his mind.

"Cleopatra is the Daughter of Strato Varius and more importantly sister to the Yonko, Rena D. Argo," Abbadon continued, "And you’re not going to kill Sarutobi Nisuke. Son of the famous Sarutobi Sasuke and Fukuoka Chūjō-hime, the first cousin to the Yonko, Daddy L. Legs herself."

Royal blood. Prodigies. Greatness. Yonko. Royal blood. Cleo. Nisuke. Royal blood. Zarren. Zakari. Royal blood. Wano. Viper. Royal blood. Daruma. Royal blood. Cleo. Royal blood. Nisuke. Royal blood. King Pirates. Royal blood. Royal blood. Royal blood.

Royal blood. Royal blood. Royal blood.

"RRRRAAAAUGHHHH!!!!!!!" Clovis slammed his fist into the puddle again and again until Abbadon's reflection was no more. "So what If I don't have 'royal blood'?! So what if my parents aren't some big shot pirates or marines! So what if I wasn't the strongest in the world from the day I was born!? Does that mean I'm not allowed to believe in myself? Does that mean I'm not allowed to go after my dream?!"

He sat there, panting. Catching his breath. He recalled how the King Pirates united under Daruma. They all abandoned their dreams for his sake simply because of the greatness they saw in him. "What kind of a captain is that? A captain should inspire his men to believe in themselves, not give up on their own dreams for his sake!" Clovis suddenly felt so lucky to have subordinates like Thug and Zed, who were willing to follow him despite him not being as 'special' as Zarren and Daruma. Clovis would never ask them to abandon their dreams; he saw them as his companions who banded together to help each other accomplish their life's goals.

Even the Black Hat Pirates seemed to follow Harlow because they believed she had this enormous potential to become great. Was the world simply full of bandwagons and bootlickers? Would Daruma's crew and Harlow's crew have abandoned them if they met someone greater than their captains? That was what made Clovis initially insecure. The world was full of great pirates with big named parents and royal blood. The Pain Pirates were always going to cross paths with someone who was far more 'special' than Clovis. How could he keep his crew loyal to him?

Clovis didn't want 'power' or 'potential' to be the discerning factor for why his crew followed him. That was a formula destined for failure. He didn't have the Devil Fruit mastery of Harlow or the infinite potential of Daruma or the access to special training from childhood like Zarren. But what he did have was a strong sense of ambition. A desire to prove that he could be the best despite not being 'special'. And he was committed to attaining his goals. That commitment, he believed, was what separated him from the rest of his competition.

"No matter what I'll keep moving forward," Clovis resolved, "it's not about beating everyone else. It's about outliving them. This is a game of survival. So what if those guys are more 'special' than I am? They still have to sail to the next island, gather men, and plunder, same as I do. Nobody wants this more than I do!! I was wrong in the beginning... yes, opportunity is crucial... but even more important than that is ambition! Will my competition still be here in a few months? What about in a few years? If you want to beat me, you've gotta want it more than I do, ow!!!"

---

Day turned to night and the search for the Shaman continued. Clovis had nothing to go off of other than the fact that the mysterious man on the other end of the snail call had mentioned Little Garden by name. Of course Clovis had no way of knowing just how big an island like this would actually end up being; home to dinosaurs, it truly was massive.

The war against the World Government's agents had begun. Viper displayed abilities greater than any opponent Clovis had ever faced thus far. And with that, Clovis knew that not only was he going to have to get stronger but become far more creative with his Devil Fruit. He couldn't continue to rely on the techniques that had brought him this far; being one dimensional would spell death and a quick demise.

It was through battling against the dinosaurs that Clovis began to learn more about Devil Fruit abilities in general. Of course he always felt as though he had hit the lottery by devouring the Kashi Kashi no Mi --after all, it enabled him to damage and defeat Daruma. But what he didn't realize was that, with training, the power that his straw possessed could be improved dramatically.

Straw on its own was nothing more than a flimsy grain. Yet somehow, Clovis' straw possessed the property of being sharp. So sharp that he was able to split apart ships in South Blue. And although the aforementioned was true, somehow Clovis' straw failed to leave so much as a scratch in the hide of these dinosaurs. Which raised the question; just how resilient could their armor be?

Clovis recalled a conversation he had with Zed before they went their separate ways.

"I had no idea dinosaurs could be that resilient. or as large." Zed made a remark on the beast. "Obviously, some bodies are better suited to particular tasks. Although each species has its restrictions, these can be overcome. When I was in Loguetown, I stole a book about something called 'The Muscle Memory Theory'. It stated that, in theory, swapping over weaker muscles or body parts with stronger ones from another entity would boost one's physical prowess. I'm not crazy enough to experiment with it myself..." He smirked as he turned to face Clovis, as though he had finally discovered his guinea pig. "But you might be."

Clovis matched Zed's words with a curious expression of his own. Just what was his 'reader' getting at? This just might have been his craziest idea yet.

Zed felt even more confident that his commander had the guts to do it now that he had expressed his concerns about the crew's lack of strength. And if the theory turned out to be true, he would be able to further investigate it and possibly refine and enhance the technique. Although body augmentations were nothing new, he wanted to be at the forefront of the field's study because that particular technique had the potential to change the game.

"Crazy enough to experiment... with the dinosaurs?" Clovis thought aloud as he eyed the dinosaur he and his crew were fighting against. "Ow!!"

Clovis found himself surrounded by an entire hoard of dinosaurs. It must have been lunch time, because dinosaurs of all kind were brawling in the valley. The carnivores waged war, looking for their respective meals, while the herbivores held their own with their own might. They weren't looking to pick a battle with Clovis, but he thought it would be a damn shame to let such an opportunity slip by. What a perfect chance to test his improved abilities.

As he searched for the Shaman, Clovis didn't shy away from battling against the dinosaurs. At first his straw failed to cut them, but the more he forced himself to go up against such difficult enemies, the more he found himself growing. Struggling against impossible odds seemed to force him to bloom in all the right ways; it was as if his straw was growing more resilient out of a necessity.

Clovis wanted to survive. And his straw seemed to understand that. As the hours, days, and battles went along, Clovis' straw began to grow stronger. Whereas in the beginning his straw couldn't even leave a scratch against the dinosaurs, eventually it grew strong enough to leave shallow cuts in them. Not enough to leave any noticeable damage; they were papercuts at most. But seeing their blood spill made Clovis feel victorious. He ran towards the wounds as they were inflicted and allowed himself to bathe in their blood, a visual representation of his growth. "Kaaashishishi!!!"

The powers of the Kashi Kashi no Mi were centered around Clovis' use of straw. Thus, by strengthening the power each individual strand of straw possessed, Clovis drastically improved the power of his scarecrow form. Naturally because as a scarecrow his body was made up of thousands if not millions of strands of straw. The stronger each strand of straw became, the stronger his transformation became.

Clovis in his normal state was already quite large, being about ten feet in height. His scarecrow transformation nearly tripled his height. As he fought against the dinosaurs in his scarecrow form, Clovis stood neck and neck with them; he saw eye to eye with them, most literally because he was the same size as they were.

A Spinosaurus rushed towards Clovis, shaking the ground with its thunderous feet. But Clovis stood his ground; he saw no reason to fear the beast he'd been fighting against for several hours. Instead he sidestepped the Spinosaurus' attempt to headbutt him. And in that same motion, Clovis extended his hand out and grabbed hold of the Spinosaurus' skull with his claw. "Kaishuukin!!!" Clovis beamed, showing just how resilient his straw had become by lifting the dinosaur up over his head with one hand.

Clovis' hand extended, slithering into the sky and taking the Spinosaurus along with it. His name became a claw-crane, like the one used in an arcade to win prizes. The dinosaur's eyes widened as Clovis then zipped it back towards the ground at great speed and slammed its head against the ground.

As a cloud of ash and dust dissipated from around Clovis, the Spinosaurus was left in an unconscious state. Clovis then turned to the rest of the valley, noticing that the other dinosaurs had grown hesitant to approach him after the example he had made out of the Spinosaurus. "Ow!!! What's wrong, eh?! You guys don't want to eat me all of a sudden?! Come here, let's see who the predator is now and who's the prey!!!"

Clovis vanished in a flicker. He was moving at greater speeds than ever. Having first experienced Zarren's usage of Soru in South Blue and then Viper, Velvet, and Bob's usage of it on the sea train, Clovis gained a "feel" for how it worked and he found a solution on how to achieve a similar result using his scarecrow form. When he was transformed, Clovis' scarecrow form had six additional bundles of straw which formed behind him acting as a "tail". He found that he could control each of these six tails independently, but by using them to strike the ground beneath him repeatedly, he could mimic the application of Soru. To perform Soru, a practitioner of Soru has to skillfully strike the ground ten times with two feet. Clovis on the other hand six tails which acted as feet and up to eight total feet when making use of them all. This made his application of Soru, which he dubbed "Kara", more efficient to perform. And because his body was already so light in his scarecrow form, it allowed Clovis to access tremendous levels of speed.

Clovis appeared behind an Allosaurus before it had the chance to even blink. Clovis' entire arm became a fast acting whip, slashing through the dinosaur and leaving a considerable scar in its side. "Dakatsu!" The Allosaurus withered in pain and fell on the ground in a miserable state. Yet again, inflicting a sizable wound in such an apex predator left Clovis feeling extremely confident. "Who wants some?!" he yelled, turning to the rest of the dinosaurs who looked his way and began to retreat. But Clovis had no intention of sparing any of them. He knew that to establish himself at the top of the food chain, he needed to assert his dominance!

"Yamatora!!!!" Clovis' six tails spanked the ground with incredible force all at separate points, causing him not only to generate momentum as per the Kara technique, but additionally causing him to spin. Clovis' fast moving form became a cyclone. Like a tornado ripping down on Little Garden, Clovis spun from one dinosaur to the next, using his fast moving straw body to tear them to shreds. Corpses upon corpses of dinosaurs littered the valley; through them all, Clovis stood as the victor. He laughed out into the sky, announcing his win. "Kaashishishi!!"

Surveying the valley of corpses, Clovis reverted himself back into his base state. He walked around, looking at all the countless dinosaurs he'd killed with his own hands. He set his hand on one of them and felt just how resilient their hides truly were. Dinosaurs were an ancient species thought to have been long extinct and yet the environment of Little Garden allowed them to thrive. They were incredibly difficult to harm and that much harder to cut. And that was, in Clovis' mind, what made them so valuable.

He remembered what Zed had said about them once more. About how only he was crazy enough to take advantage of their value for his own gain. When he arrived on Little Garden, Clovis was frustrated by all the 'special' opponents he'd faced. Zarren, Daruma, Harlow. To be special meant to possess natural strength, potential, and durability. What Clovis lacked due to not possessing the "royal blood" which Abaddon spoke so fondly on, he could recompense by stealing the 'special' traits of monsters.

Clovis touched his hand to the deceased Thanatotheristes that lay as a corpse before him. His hand turned to straw and slowly began to slither over the dinosaur's body, before carving out its muscles and tendons like puzzle pieces. Clovis' eyes widened with a maniacal flare; he grinned like a psychopath as he began to mutilate the Thanatotheristes' corpse as if conducting some sort of dissection. He repeated this process with the other dinosaur corpses that lay around him, taking from them what he felt most appropriate.

The end result was something of a Frankenstein experiment; Clovis had replaced parts of his own body and supplemented them with dinosaur muscles in the hopes of acquiring their strength, their power, and their durable resilience. If the theories inscribed in the "Muscle Memory" held true, then this in tandem with the Devil Fruit training Clovis had endured on Little Garden would have elevated him to a new realm as a combatant. "Kaashishishi... this world will know... pain..." Clovis' lips formed a crooked smile as he snapped his neck towards his shoulder. He carried on further into the jungle, looking for the man he had come in search of.


Arms flailing as Behram ran away from the dinosaur he finally managed to get away. Stopping after noticing the dinosaur was no longer in his peripheral view, he dropped his hands onto his knees and panted heavily. His four ghosts companions had caught up to him, all using their arms to lift his body above their heads and placed it softly onto the ground.

"Hey, wait," Behram said, lifting himself up. "I'm ain't even tired!" He looked to his hands which were still in their ghostly form. "I don't feel anything!" He looked to his surroundings and smiled, only to have found himself in front of what appeared to be an old abandoned hut.

Behram looked over his shoulder to the area he had just traveled from. Even though he knew nothing of the island's scale, he could tell he was far away from where Zed and Clovis were. Again, he looked down to his hands and carried his ghostly form over to his unconscious body. He looked down to it in disappointment, the expression on his face is what gave it away.

Watching his body sit on the ground like that was everything he needed to come to realization. "I can't believe I lost to a oaf!" He showed his spiritual teeth to his body. His three ghosts began to spread apart from him. As extensions of Behram, they could identify his emotions even if he didn't say it out loud and right now he was filed with disappointment mixed in with a lot of rage.

"But can ya' blame me?! I was thrown into this life! I didn't choose it!" He looked up at the sky, "Zarren," his mind flash.

"Well, if you want to grab your freedom, meet us at the ship that looks like this or you can come to the field of grain!" Zarren turned around and started walking back to the bent metal bars. As his hand skimmed over the ice cold metal, he twisted once more and stared Daruma right in the eyes. "Well, my friend, I hope we can meet once more in the holy kingdom of Valhalla, see you there brother!" Taking a step outside, Zarren stretched quickly as he heard a distant noise approaching. The heavy footsteps of cicada mercenaries marching towards them.

Glancing back at the people who gathered in the jail cell he screamed out "WELL! I GUESS YOU GO OR YOU DIE!" In response to his scream, he twisted in place and bolted the other way.

Open hand turned into a balled fist, he grinned and smiled while snatching the piece of paper that had been left behind by the ray of hope. He stared at the paper and then immediately ripped it up. "This is my chance," Behram thought to himself, rushing out of the jail cell. Surprisingly, through a burst of speed, Behram rushed out of the cell following right behind Zarren while shouting out his name.

The ground began to shake once more and a shadow covered the area. Standing above Behram and his ghosts was yet another reptilian creature, but this one was much different than the Rex. It was on quadrupedal and its skin had various spikes on it with a much longer tail. Smoke emit from its mouth while it looked down to Behram, clearing he was going to become its next meal.

A Thorny dragon was what it was called, an oversized lizard with spikes that could penetrate a steel building. Eyes locked onto Behram, it let out a mighty roar before bringing its front paw down over him.

Pushing himself off of the ground he flew up towards the giant lizard and allowed his body to pass into the thorny dragon. Rather than appear out on its other side, Behram's ghostly form was no longer scene and instead of the paw slamming into the ghost it simply paused mid-strike.

"Oh!" The voice of Behram came through the throat of the thorny dragon. "W-Wait! I can possess people when I'm in my Boo form?!" He placed the paw of the thorny dragon back onto the ground now that he had control over it.

"With this, somethin' like the trains will never happen again..." Behram said to himself, looking at the world from the eyes of the creature. "I gotta get stronger! Ain't no way tha' capt'n is just sittin' 'round doin' nothin'! How can I call myself his right hand if I need to be saved all the time?!"

Books of Balance

Hearing Clovis’ orders, Zed ran for his life. He moved as fast as he could through the tropical forest, stopping moments after he could no longer hear the creature. Putting both hands on his knees, he dropped his head, desperately grasping for air. The time he spent preparing himself for this journey made him strong and resilient to heavy labor. But farm work couldn’t prepare him to endure such fast movements, especially for that long and that was part of the reason why his devil fruit wasn’t as useful against fast opponents.

When Zed fought Velvet, she easily avoided his barriers when he tried to form them around her because he wasn’t fast enough. If he was faster he could have defeated her. And with those thoughts Zed came down in a spiral of self doubt once more. He doubted his strength, he doubted his intelligence and most of all he doubted his usefulness to his crew. After all, the one thing he claimed to master was a lie. He proudly told everyone he was a poneglyph reader, but the truth of the matter was that he had no clue how to decipher them, yet.

Above all else Zed wanted to see the One Piece. But was he obsessed with it? He was always going to find people that were more talented than him, Finwind made light work of him, Velvet would have killed him with her first strike if it wasn’t for the Bari Bari no Mi and Bob took a combined effort between him and Clovis to knock out. Even back in East Blue he wasn’t strong enough to defeat the assassin sent for him by the people of Pera Island. All those people might be more talented than him, but obsession is going to beat talent every time. If he was willing to put his life on the line for his dream, if he was willing to do whatever it took, he’d always be one step ahead.

He remembered something his father told him after he had failed multiple attempts to learn how to ride a horse. “Nothing in this world can replace a little old-fashioned perseverance. Not talent. Nothing is more typical than talented but failed men. Not genius. The concept of unacknowledged genius is almost cliché. Not knowledge. There are many educated fools in the world. By itself, persistence and tenacity are all powerful.” Despite being a farmer, his father always seemed to be the smartest person in whatever room he walked in and that inspired Zed to be the man he was.

The young man continued to walk through the forest towards the opposite side of the island, setting camp near one of the sea king skulls. There, Zed reflects on what he lacks and what he needs to improve. He didn’t know how long it would take to find the man they were looking for but if he divided his day in segments to train all the different things he wanted, his growth would be exponential to the time he had. Taking in consideration his previous battles, logically, he would have to develop his speed, offensive power and endurance. But he also wanted some time to read. He had a book given to him by Professor Zuka, an old acquaintance of his father, back when he was in Loguetown. That book explained how to read poneglyphs but up until then he was yet to read a single word of it. Upon grabbing the book, an envelope fell out of it. In it was written: ‘To Zed’. Inside was a letter, clearly written by his father.

“Dear, Zed

If you’re reading this then I must be dead. Before anything I need to tell you who I was before I met your mother. I was an archeologist and was hired to work with Professor Zuka to make a book on how to read poneglyphs. Obviously we didn’t know how to but we secretly got in contact with people who did and figured it out.

Now, the government isn’t particularly fond of people with the ability to read these poneglyphs but these people wanted us to create a fake manual and distribute it to the public. The brief version of pragmatic encryption for beginners could be stated as follows. Ask folks to read a very, very long book that has all of your formulas and concepts that are kept hidden. They will not. That's how easy it is. Furthermore, even if they did, they would not benefit from it. People are drawn to what is hidden and secret, therefore make it accessible to the public, make it simple, make it free, and promote its reading. There won't be any information leakage at all. Our theory is that they worked for the government but that their idea wasn’t approved but they decided to do it anyway. When they finally decided that the idea was too risky to move forward, we had already completed the manual and were starting to make the fake version. With this we realized that we’d soon become targets and fled. I ended up in your mother’s hometown and that’s where we fell in love and live until now. To this day I feel like we’re still being hunted but I need to get word to Professor Zuka, this might give away my location and that’s why I send him this letter for you with it. The piece of paper in your copy of ‘Brag Men’ will take you to him. Whatever happens, I’m proud of you.

Take care of your brothers, Dad”

Tears fell down Zed’s face as he cried in silence. Along his travels his thoughts never shifted towards his brothers. Everyone on the island was slaughtered, his brothers couldn’t have been an exception. But it still hurt to read those words from his father knowing he couldn’t do a thing to prevent it. Crying was a way to purge his spirit, to reconnect with his more frail self, and to understand what sorrow and anguish are both for him and others. For Zed, crying was healthy and powerful because it came from individuals who had the guts to be vulnerable. But he didn’t have the time to be vulnerable. He had to be impenetrable. Unbreakable. Untouchable. And so he wiped his tears and got up.

He had a plan to train while he traversed the island. He’d divide his day in segment’s where he’d train speed, endurance and offensive power. To train his speed he’d do bursts of sprints while quickly firing barriers, this way he’d be able to move quicker and form barriers at a much faster rate. After, he would form a barrier around himself and hold it for as long as he could while walking. He could use this time to read the manual he got for Professor Zuka, thus starting to learn how to decipher poneglyphs. Lastly, he’d rest while he thought of new ways to use his barriers, then he’d test those techniques and start over. Apparently, there was one volcano on the island that erupts once every hour. Zed used this volcano to time his tasks, moving on to the next task every time it erupted. If the average human had any intent to stay for a long time, they would probably find the climate intolerable. Being an island that seemed trapped in time, Zed concluded that it would create the perfect environment for deadly diseases to thrive that some people once believed to be extinct. Despite this, the first day was uneventful but tiring nonetheless.

On the second day, he was attacked by a giant bear. It happened when he was looking for lunch. The bear tried to hit him but he used a barrier to propel himself out of the way with a new technique he called Barrera Gazela. This technique he made a barrier below his feet and pushed it to move around faster. It wasn’t nearly as close to the speed of CP9’s Soru but with enough practice he might, one day, get close to it. Then he made a blade-shaped barrier and slashed the bear's belly. "Barrera Mantis!"

The bear growled before resuming its attack. Zed placed himself in a barrier and slid underneath the bear, which was now standing on all fours. "Barrera Rino!" Zed was surrounded by a cone-shaped barrier that tore through the bear's abdomen creating a sizable hole there. Zed emerged unscathed just after the bear dropped dead. Zed cut the bear and prepared it as a meal. The flavor of the bear meat was somewhat sweeter than that of venison, but it still had a gamey flavor. It wasn’t as bad as he thought.

During his meal, he read 'The Poneglyph Manual' while he listened to the sounds of the jungle but something caught his attention. Some of the sounds didn’t seem natural so he followed those offbeat sounds, looking for their source.

What became audible in the distance only grew louder as time went on. And by the time the thumping drew near it was accompanied by a familiar tremble of the ground underneath; through the veil of enlarged leaves emerged the very same beast that had welcomed the Pain Pirates onto Little Garden all those days ago. The cyborg-enhanced Tyrannosaurus Rex.

What was it that gave away Zed? Was it perhaps the smoke from the fire that he started in order to roast the bear? No, a beast like this had nothing to gain from mere flames. It was after the scent of blood that came from the corpse of the bear. And now having pinpointed Zed once more --finding him apart from the rest of his crew-- the T-Rex was intending on taking full advantage of this opportunity.

It greeted Zed with a deafening roar. Its eyes were obscured with some sort of visored while its tail broke apart into individual segments joined through the middle by a metallic cord. It opened its mouth and to anyone's surprise, from the inside of its jaw shined a bright light. It was charging a laser beam at the back of its throat, ready to blast Zed apart.

Zed was surprised to find the dinosaur so far from where they had originally seen it, but he wasn't afraid to retaliate like he had done then. He was going to approach the creature in the same manner that he approached the bear. Slipping underneath it and trying to pierce a hole in it with a barrier.

"Barrera Gazela!" He moved at an astonishing speed toward the T-Rex, forming small barriers beneath his boots and pushing them against the ground creating small craters. In order to construct a cone-shaped barrier that shot upward and toward the beast's chin, he stopped below its jaw and crossed his arms and fingers. His intention was to punch a hole through it, ending the battle there, just as he had with the bear. "Barrera Rino!"

The T-Rex held the charged orb in its mouth, keeping its attention focused on Zed as he moved. The dinosaur's innate coding allowed it to not only track Zed's movements, but measure the exact distance he traveled along with the precise duration it took him to do so. It aimed its jaw towards the ground as Zed attempted to sneak up from underneath it; releasing the orb, it expelled a massive blast of light carved out from the powers of the Pika Pika no Mi much like the Pacifista were known to do.

Zed's barriers gave him enough time to dodge the attack, but he was launched into the air by the explosion. It was clear from that attack that trying to defeat the enhanced dinosaur was a waste of time.  He cautiously stood up  not a glance at the creature.  He took off as quickly as he could while looking for a spot to hide. He noticed a cave further into the forest, the ideal hiding place. He entered, looking for something that would allow him to escape the beast's vision and range. But he could never have predicted what he would discover.

Right in front of him were dusty reinforced glass doors. Whatever that place was, it was obvious no one had been there for a long time. Curiosity got the better of him and Zed wandered inside. The room was filled with old lab equipment - pipettes, microscopes, test tubes - all filled with cobwebs. He passed his finger through a table, leaving it black. "Gross! But cool..." He said, looking at his finger and around the room. Every movement in the abandoned lab stirred up a cloud of dust that had been hanging around. The dusty particles across the tables took on the look of glitter, or perhaps pixie dust, as they reflected the sunrays, with the doors now wide open, as opposed to a dismal grey sheen.

Zed couldn't ignore the large, heavy book that was sitting on one of the desks. In order to read its title, he wiped it with his hands and blew the dust off of it. The title read "Devil Fruit Encyclopedia" and Zed opened it on random pages. It included information about numerous devil fruits, including their names and abilities. Zed passed his eyes through a couple of them. "Yami Yami no Mi... Gomu Gomu no Mi... Suke Suke no Mi..." He read to himself, hypnotized by such a detailed book about such an unknown topic.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

Soft steps clicked down the hallway, creating a rather misleading impression of what was to come. But perhaps Zed was much too absorbed in the contents of the new book he uncovered to take notice of another presence which soon appeared to share the space of the abandoned laboratory. This figure, on the other hand, was very familiar with every crook and corner of it.

"You can read that book, yet you couldn't read the sign outside-saurus?" bellowed a deep voice from behind Zed. Should he turn, he would see the form of a massive humanoid rhinoceros cloaked in the attire of the Navy. The sound of footsteps was accredited to the wooden gesha sandals he wore on his feet, which suggested that despite his great mass he happened to be quite nimble on his toes. The marine was garbed in a purple kimono held by a red sash.

"No one is to set foot in any of Villanova-sama's laboratories, whether past or present, whether new or old." His cold eyes locked onto Zed. "Especially not a pirate."

Zed heard the approaching footsteps, but he had no time to think of what to do.  He just tore several pages from the book and stuffed them into his pockets before turning around as he heard  the voice of whoever came in.  He was surprised by his appearance but not intimidated.  He recognized the Navy attire, but Zed was convinced that since he had no bounty assigned to him, no one knew who he was. "Pirate? What makes you think I'm a pirate? Are you trying to be funny? Answer me, do you know who I am?"

The Rhino mink offered no expression in response to Zed's questions. He didn't budge from his position either; nor did he make any immediate attempt to close the distance between himself and the intruding pirate. Rather, the veil about him almost suggested that he knew Zed from before. Or at the very least, knew of him.

"That dinosaur you encountered earlier," began the Rhinoceros, "is an experiment by none other than Dr. Villanova-sama himself, known as 'PD6'. You encountered PD6 on two occasions since arriving on Little Garden. I know far more about you than you might expect-saurus." The eyes of the mink narrowed. "Perhaps you failed to notice the visored worn by PD6. Whatever it sees with its eyes is relayed across a network to our deeper system."

"You damn Dragon.... that's.... my... READER!!!!!!!" Clovis' speed was immense in his scarecrow form. In the blink of an eye he caught up to the T-Rex and crossed both hands forward. "Juhari no Kouzai!!!!" His scarecrow talons slashed towards the T-Rex before Clovis landed behind it; maintaining his pose he waited for his slashes to cut into the dinosaur's body, only for them to have dealt no harm whatsoever.

"Do you understand now, reader? You cannot delude the information that I possess. And although PD6's database did not find a bounty attributed to you; you are, in fact a pirate. If not for your association with the 'Pain Pirates', then for trespassing into the realms of Dr. Villanova-sama's territory. That in itself is a grave crime."

Finally, the Rhinoceros took a single step forward.

After hearing what he said, and the way he said it, it was clear to Zed that, at least to some extent, that person knew who he was. He lifted his arms above his head and smiled in a relaxed manner. "Alright... Alright... You got me. I'm the Pain Pirates' poneglyph reader." His expression changed as soon as he finished that sentenced. Zed's first thought was that, since he had no bounty, he would be underestimated. If the man showed hostility towards him, Zed woulnd't hesitate to strike first. He gave the mink a serious look as he stared at him, almost as if he were challenging him. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Poneglyph reader?" the Rhino repeated to himself, his tone conveying a sense of disbelief. He hadn't anticipated the possibility of that. Dr. Villanova was a passionate man, one who yearned to obtain all the knowledge that there was in this world. However, there was one school of knowledge that even he was prohibited from researching; and that was the nature of the Poneglyphs.

Veins tensed along the Rhino's forehead. He looked upon the green-haired pirate before him with anger fuming from his blood. "How can this be-saurus? You mean to tell me that a mere pirate like you possesses knowledge that not even the great Dr. Villanova-sama possesses?! That... is a crime!!"

The Rhino's hands tightened into fists at his sides. He moved his feet apart, adopting a stance of some kind. He pressed his head forward, as if bowing. "I am Unari!!! Dr. Villanova-sama's entrusted bodyguard!! For his honor, I cannot allow someone like you to live!!!"

From the very tip of his horn, Unari began to concentrate a vibration. Ripples emanated from the horn and spilled about the room, until all of a sudden, the Rhino-mink exploded forward, seeking to puncture Zed through his stomach using his horn. "Hasshoken Ogi: Kiryu Kirikugi!!!"

Zed, however, had already crossed his fingers and was surrounded by an invisible wall. He maintained the same intimidating appearance with a hint of superiority. "You witnessed everything the dinosaur did, yet you thought you had a chance against me?  You won't be able to get close to me, much less hurt me. You see, I'm no mere pirate. Carve this name into your skull because the whole world is gonna know it soon. I'm Zed of the Pain Pirates, and I'll be the most knowledgeable pirate in history. And I'll use that knowledge to take my captain to the pinnacle of the sea. Stand down now, or face the inevitable consequences."

Zed's confidence came with good reason. Unari charged forward, only to run into the invisible wall that Zed had placed in front of himself. Now, Unari was far from a pushover; in fact, he was noted among the marines for being exceptionally strong. He had mastered their many principles and honed his physical prowess to a point of perfection. This was why he was appointed as the personal bodyguard of Dr. Villanova; because the protection of such a profound scientist was seen as a great priority by the World Government.

And yet, before the barriers of the Bari Bari no Mi, it didn't matter how strong Unari was. It didn't matter how durable he was or how much force he could generate with his rhinoceros muscles. The barrier which Zed could form on a whim was impenetrable. Such that when Unari slammed against it face first, his horn nearly cracked. His massive body splattered against the wall like a clueless bird flying through a closed window.

"Urrrghhh!!!!" Unari fell into a hopeless heap on the ground. Blood spewed from his mouth. He looked up, unable to comprehend or visibly see the barrier which Zed had constructed. He glared at the pirate who hid behind his blessed defense; he need not be reminded of what fruit Zed had consumed. After all, he had witnessed it through the eyes of PD6. He was simply hoping that his speed would have been able to take Zed by surprise and best the rate at which the barrier formed.

Wiping his mouth as he remained on his knee, Unari met Zed's declaration with a telling glare. "The most knowledgeable pirate in history? How preposterous! I am Unari, personal bodyguard of Dr. Villanova-sama! I have arrested countless pirates whose bounties were many times larger than your captain's. And I will do the same with you-saurus."

Unari's gaze narrowed. He stared dead ahead. "Hiding behind your defense are you? Fine, then. Let us see what is greater between your so-called 'absolute defense' and my 'perfect offense'!" As he remained on his knee, Unari moved his hands before him on the ground. Then suddenly his physical form began to change.

He was transforming. His tough rhino flesh was embellished with hard scales. His rhino horn grew larger, and two additional horns formed by his ears as his skull expanded into the shape of massive dome. Unari the rhino transformed into Unari the Triceratops, for he had consumed the Ancient Devil Fruit, the Ryu Ryu no Mi, Model: Triceratops.

His already massive form only grew that much bigger. Down on all fours, he jerked his dome-shaped skull to and fro as he allowed Zed a clear look at his full-zoan state. "BEHOLD, THE POWER BESTOWED UPON ME BY DR. VILLANOVA-SAMA!!!" he proclaimed in retaliation to Zed's own earlier announcement. "THE DINOSAURS OF LITTLE GARDEN ALL SUBMIT TO MY AUTHORITY, FOR I AM THE APEX PREDATOR OF THIS HIERARCHY!!"

Unari let out a bellowing roar as he stomped his forward two feet against the ground, shaking the entire laboratory with his might. "I split an entire continent in two with this power! Do you truly believe your barrier will hold up against it, reader?!"

Rhinos were known for their incredible stampeding prowess. Now Unari was adding a Triceratop's power on top of all that.

"I AM UNARI THE STAMPEDE!!!" The massive Triceratops stampeded forward while concentrating his Hasshoken at the tips of his horns. "HASSHOKEN OGI: HITONAMI!!!!!"

Zed was unfazed by Unari's size since he had battled against bigger opponents before consuming his devil fruit. He responded to the mink's glare with a provocative look. "I'm not hiding behind anything, you're about to experience just how much damage this 'absolute defense' can make. I've warned you to stand down, you chose to face the consequences. Make way, Apex Predator! I'm moving to the top of the food chain!"

Zed leaned forward and moved towards Unari, using his barrier to charge against the attack. It wasn't a matter of whether he had faith in his barrier or not. What matter was that he had faith in himself. Whatever happened, that was the moment his attitude would change. And that simple act of charging forward was his unspoken statement. "Barrera Bisonte!"

Zed met Unari head on with his barrier. The triceratops clashed head on against the invisible wall yet his efforts were in vain. It was simply too strong and although Unari was far from weak, he had no chance in besting the Bari Bari no Mi in a contest of durability.

"Hwak!!!!" Blood fountained from his mouth and his eyes turned white; his body carried away by the momentum of the barrier slamming against him. Unari crashed through numerous tables and tankards, shattering glass and vials. Chemicals of all kinds spilled around the room as Unari was rendered unconscious by charging head on into the barrier with all his might. As he lay there, it may occur to Zed that remaining in a room where foreign chemicals had spilled was likely not the best thing to do.

With his adversary rendered unconscious and a great deal of the lab destroyed, Zed figured it was best for him to leave that place. Whatever chemicals spilled throughout the room could make a chemical reaction with deadly consequences. Whatever the case, he had no intent of sticking around to find out. Zed left the room, running once again into the forest. Once he felt like he was at a safe enough distance, he pulled out the piece of paper Clovis had given him. The paper gently moved towards a certain direction, like it wanted to go that specific way. And Zed followed. "I've done enough. I think it's time to find Clovis."

Welcome to the Hunt

Puru puru. Puru Puru.

"Sure took your time, didn't you. Thought for a second you'd have turned tail." The man's voice crept from the lifeless visage of Clovis' snail, a peculiar smirk to its lips however.

It had been days since the Pain Pirates arrived on Little Garden. Clovis was sitting on a large log before a burning fire when he received the call, a drumstick of dinosaur meat in hand. Rather than feed the mouth on his face, Clovis instead offered the meal to the mouth on his chest; it immediately sunk its teeth into the flesh and peeled it off of the bone.

Clovis felt the ringing deep within his chest. Using his free hand he dug into his body and pulled the snail out from within it; he didn’t let it ring much longer before switching it open to accept that call. “I ran into some trouble on the way here,” Clovis said back, trying to defend his honor against the odds, “running ain’t my style."

"Judging by your earlier appearance I'd assume not." The voice quickly interrupted, a subtle whimsy overshadowed the depravity in his tone earlier.

Clovis held silent. He kept the snail in the palm of his giant hand and when the voice on the other end said nothing else, Clovis started to fiddle his fingers out of impatience. He had come all this way, risking the lives of his crew, and still hadn’t even figured out what this guy’s name was. He had been through hell ever since reaching Little Garden. It went without saying that he was eager to find out who this voice belonged to. “Well, are we doin’ this or not?”

"Settle down." He replied sharply, "Did you know sea kings in the east are more prone to housing bacteria?" A simple question of seemingly little relevance.

“What? What’s that got to do with anything?” After all this time leading him on, ‘’that’’ was what he had to say? Clovis stood up and looked around. The dark of the night made it harder to see. He had no idea what was being told to him. Was it some sort of riddle?

Creeping over the trees and volcanoes in the distance was a massive skull. Clovis found his answer visually. As if finally understanding what he meant, Clovis grinned. “Ow!! Roger that.”

It took a number of hours for Clovis to arrive at the bottom of the eastern skull. It was larger than any mountain he’d ever seen and scaling it was going to be no easy task. Fortunately his Devil Fruit powers would come in handy for something like this; he transformed one hand into that of a scarecrow and shot his arm into the sky as high as it could reach. He used the nails on his fingers as a grapple and the straw that made up his arm as a rope; when it hooked onto a crevice, Clovis took hold of the roped arm with his free hand and planted both boots against the wall of the skull.

Little by little, he began to climb up. He assumed whoever had invited him here was somewhere along this skull, perhaps at the very top of it. Inch by inch, pulling his own weight, Clovis started to make his way up the skull.

Along the way, a black butterfly landed on his shoulder; though noticeably heavier than another of its size. The light flap of its wings aligned perfectly with Clovis' own breath. This harmony however was offset by the dreadful sensation of being watched, not just from a single entity, but an all encompassing presence. And with it, a thick fog with the aroma of stale tobacco.

“What the,” Clovis tried to brush the butterfly off with his free hand. Was it a native of the island? It was the only safe assumption he could make. “...!” Why did he suddenly get the feeling as though he was being watched –no, ‘’stalked’’?

Suddenly self conscious, Clovis was surrounded by a thick fog that smelled of cheap cigarettes. He soon forgot all about the butterfly and instead waved his hand to and fro, trying to dispel the smoke from in front of his face.

The rich smoke had overtaken Clovis' senses. The bleached wall of the skull pulsed with every breath, progressively reaching out to him as he climbed. His hands and feet slowly became one with the bone.

A faint glow radiated from the eye socket mere feet above him.

He felt his eyelids growing droopy and that it became increasingly more difficult to sustain a firm grip over the skull’s surface. Nevertheless, he retracted his arm, causing his body to be pulled along with it. Clovis scaled the skull quickly and came up to a ridge where he could plant his feet like it were flooring. He sat back down on the platform, resting his back against the skull to catch his breath. What was in that blasted fog that made him feel so suddenly weak?

"Found you."

The instant the warmth of fire graced his face, it all faded away. Clovis found himself in the exact spot he was in when the fog had set. Yet something had changed. The peculiar fog seemed to envelop the skull in its entirety, melding into a seamless white. But that wasn't quite it.

Natural responses to danger remain present in the animal kingdom that are not rooted in haki. The "Fight or Flight" response is the bodies unconscious mechanism in all living beings and stems from the very beginning of evolution.

The butterfly tucked its way into Clovis' lapel in response, Clovis could feel it too. This, primal instinct of certain danger was confirmed by the immediate crack of the skull directly before his face. A gloved hand with small flames at the fingertips shattered through the hardened animal skull to latch onto his face.

All of a sudden, Clovis was once again dangling from the side of the skull by his own roped arm. He looked around in disbelief. Had he just imagined scaling up the whole way?

Before he had any chance to make sense out of his prior hallucinations, a hand appeared through the wall of the skull before him, causing Clovis’ eyes to widen in sincere shock. Because his senses and movements were compromised by the effects of the gas, Clovis was unable to evade the incoming hand and it latched onto his face successfully.

Fingers closed around his face like a vice, closing his vision almost entirely, until all he could see was a glistening mask of Crimson breaking through the wall. The sudden acceleration was so great, it was almost as if Clovis witnessed himself be whisked away. At least until the explosion.

Centered directly onto the face of the up and coming rookie, from the palm of the assailants gloved hand was a vile smell followed by an abrupt combustion. Without allowing a single moment to react, punch after punch was thrown into Clovis' face, interrupted by brief yet fierce explosions from the hand that remained latched. The pair flew through the air like a shooting star, casting a trail of emptiness through the fog.

As the explosion was set off against Clovis’ face, an explosion of similar scale could be seen in the distance, followed by the cry of a dinosaur. Clovis couldn’t see clearly to realize what was going on but he knew he was being attacked. His body turned into many tendrils of straw starting at the face, which would likely cause the assailant’s grasp to falter due to taking up far less space than before.

Rather than holding a head, the assailant’s glove now contained tens if not hundreds of sharp straws that shot out in all directions, seeking to penetrate through the glove and the hand. The rest of Clovis’ body too became straw.

Just as seamlessly as Clovis' body became straw, that same straw was pulled to opposing sides of the man's reach. Following the succession of yet another explosion, the individual strands of straw thrust into their palm, unable to even break the skin. A small spindle extended from the assailant’s wrist with two extremely small arms. This spindle began wrapping Clovis' straw the instant it was drawn to the side.

Yet again the same explosion could be seen in the distance. The top half of Clovis’ straw body failed to penetrate into the glove. The bottom half of Clovis’ body, which was previously his torso down to his feet, slithered upwards and began to wrap around the assailant’s extended arm.

The straw would then tighten around the assailant’s arm; the end of the straw that was still held in the assailant’s glove would be torn off, making the two halves independent from each other. While the straw in the assailant’s grasp would no longer move, the straw that was wrapping around his arm would tighten further, attempting to squeeze through the flesh and slice through the arm completely.

Like butter, the straw sliced through the flesh with little resistance. Yet as they passed through, no blood was drawn nor effect of any kind. Even the severed limb seemed to ignore this as it failed to even part from itself and retain function.

As Clovis' straw passed through the assailant’s body, it encountered several anomalies. The lack of a skeleton being the most prominent.

By severing the assailant’s limb, Clovis had successfully freed himself from the sneak attack. The straw half that had ripped the arm apart was now in freefall; airborne, the bundle of straw morphed back into Clovis, his attire fluttering with the encompassing descent.

He looked up at the form of his assailant as he fell back towards the ground, noting his choice in attire. The assailant had on a red mask which covered his face, a full body suit that tried to hide every crevice of his skin, and a hood that was draped overhead.

This image vanished quickly with a single kick toward the sky. As if fired from a gun, the assailant flew right past Clovis, the only tell was the fearsome gale that followed.

Despite this display of speed, not a single blade of grass shifted as they landed on the ground. The whir or gears lining up decorated the stale air, as the thighs of the assailant’s pants extended out. The fluidity of their movements wasted no momentum, everything had its purpose and was enacted with precision. A flick of their wrist cast a peculiar sight as a rifle on a tripod was spawned from what appeared to be a coin, the magazine pointing towards the trees and barrel aimed directly at Clovis. On the other hand however, a long Javelin shot out from both sides of the hunter's gloved hand. It's red hue mirrored that of their attire, save for two nigh invisible flaps at the tail.

The ground beneath their feet trembled as the Javelin was pulled back, their arm coiling around its length; the hammer on the rifle followed suit. Before a single moment could pass, the sky below Clovis was painted by lead, accentuated only by the rapid flare from their origin. Should they manage to so much as touch the shinigami, a greater understanding will follow shortly.

This was far from the most pressing matter at hand however. A second had passed after the abrupt gunfire, the fearsome symphony paused entirely as if time itself had stopped.

In that moment, despite the hidden visage of his attacker Clovis could feel the fearsome leer behind the mask.

"Fame infinita"

The Javelin flew past the hail of bullets, evading them all actively mid-flight. Be it the sheer level of skill or some foreign entity, this lance was surely much more than meets the eye.

Rather than be caught by surprise, Clovis’ eyes narrowed at the sight of the hooded assailant vanishing from in front of him. Yet again he encountered another person capable of using Soru; first it was Zarren, then it was Viper, and now it was this hooded figure. None of them were associated with each other in the slightest. Yet they all executed the technique perfectly which raised suspicions from Clovis. How many people possessed such an ability? Was it so common that he should expect every enemy from this point on to use it?

What did worry Clovis, however, were the many attacks that this figure unleashed at once. Was it going to extreme measures? Yes, definitely. Without saying a single word, this assailant had unloaded powerful attack after attack. If Clovis was an ordinary person –meaning if he did not possess the privileges of the Kashi Kashi no Mi– he would have been long dead. The only thing saving him now were the preparations he had made in advance.

Flipping his body in midair unveiled a storm of bullets flying towards him from a sniper that was birthed out of a flicked coin. He didn’t think he had to do anything to dodge the bullets –Clovis expected they would simply pass through him since he was made out of straw. Then came a javelin that was dislodged from the assailant’s wrist.

At first, Clovis thought of the Javelin no differently than how he thought of the bullets. A projectile based attack should have no means of grazing his body. But it was not ordinary for anything that was heaved to outpace bullets ‘’after’’ they had already been fired. It was insulting to the speed of the bullets, matter of fact.

A hole opened in the middle of Clovis’ body in anticipation of the Javelin. As if timed perfectly, the Javelin passed through the hole and carried on into the sky. Then came the many bullets, drilling countless holes through Clovis’ straw body. However, because straw on its own was so scrawny, almost soft, the bullets were unable to shatter and thus, unable to shatter to release what was confined with them. They passed harmlessly through Clovis’ body; he remained airborne, closing the hole which was made in his stomach.

“Not much of a talker, are you?” he beamed, a grin appearing on his face as he felt the vigors of combat once again. It was an odd sensation to describe yet one he was growing to enjoy. The prospect of a challenge, a dance to the death; like what he had felt against Viper. He didn’t yet know it but his Haki was blooming from such encounters.

To Clovis, it was obvious that this assailant intended to kill him. In response, Clovis grabbed hold of his sword by its handle and pulled it out from its sheath. He descended from the sky and swiped down with his rapier to slash the assailant. “Fine, then! Let’s fight until one of us drops dead –ow!!!!”

Clovis' provocations were met with silence. Talking amidst war is a trait of the delusional. Afterall, actions speak louder than words.

The masked figure simply stepped to the side, lowering themselves with an arm cocked back in ways that defied basic anatomy; appearing serpent-like. This unorthodox stance posed a great position of opportunity for Clovis, as the path of his blade would lead to the tip of their fingers. Embers flared with a snap, signaling the onslaught to hasten. With this snap, the still airborne lance forced itself to not just halt but propel itself back toward Clovis; there lies the true strength of Sancra Lancia. Without a moment of delay, the Javelin made its way to the back of Clovis' head with the blunt face.

The blade was mere inches above the assailant’s fingertips when they pounced. The masked man latched onto Clovis' own blade, pulling it and himself downward in a forceful display of momentum. Guiding the blade away from their own reach, the assailant’s opposing hand burst into flames carrying a black hue.

That stance. Clovis had never seen anything like it. He, who experienced and defeated countless martial artists while visiting Karate Island in South Blue, was left in awe at the form that the assailant took; for an instant he appeared to be full of openings, only to exploit those same openings for his own benefit.

Clovis drew closer with his rapier, Crow, only to be guided exactly where the assailant had wanted. The assailant intercepted Clovis’ blade then jerked him forward; it was at this moment that Clovis noted the gloves the assailant wore. They could not be ordinary if he could touch a blade as sharp as Crow without flinching.

Clovis lost his footing. The serpent stance of the assailant threw him off balance. But before his blade could be pried away from his grasp and even before the assailant could capitalize upon what Clovis suspected would be a punch with his flaming hand, Sancra Lancia returned in fully glory. Of course, Clovis had completely forgotten about the javelin just as he had the many bullets that phased through him. His eyes widened as the javelin returned, piercing through his skull from the back of his head and continuing through the middle of his eyes to surface on the other end.

Blood splattered like a geyser. Clovis’ eyes rolled backward. His head fell forward and his corpse limped along with it.

This was only logical, but even with that the assailant needed to be sure. Lunging at the lifeless form of Clovis with an open palm, minimizing their movement by allowing the descending spear to strike themselves narrowly, sending chunks of red metal into the dirt with the lance. The haki lined arm plunged deep into the chest of Clovis, catching him mid-air.

The last sight Clovis saw before he perished was the face of the assailant which had slain him. The world grew dark around the face of DeGrado Oko, Four-Star of the Hunting Pirates Yonko crew, a pirate with a bounty of Beli Small.png510,420,006. He was a man who’d vanished from the world many years ago without leaving so much as a single trace and the very entity whom Clovis had conversed with over the other end of Lucien’s Den Den Mushi. Clovis’ lifeless corpse leaned against Oko for a long moment. There was no audible heartbeat, nor any other indication that the man was still alive. He was, by all accounts, ‘’dead’’.

Yet not a moment too soon, a crevice rippled open from the side of Clovis’ neck. Fumes of smoke gave rise to the form of a doll composed of straw, which peeked its head out of the passage and looked about at the world around it.

After meeting Oko’s eyes with its own, the doll’s hands crept out from the crevice and latched onto the sides of Clovis’ neck. It pulled itself out from the opening then immediately fell to the ground as a hole appeared in the middle of its head.

As the doll hit the ground, Clovis reeled his head back and faced Oko. The two pirates were now face to face. Only one question came to Clovis’ mind. “Just who the fuck are you?”

Oko's malice transferred directly into his fearsome leer, a twitch in his eyebrow was the only response he made to the sudden display. Clovis appeared to be more connected to him than initially suspected.

"I suppose this has lost its value. For now." His words sounded as if they erupted from a speaker, animatronic at best. Oko grabbed hold of the cracked hole in his mask and ripped it from its mount with little resistance. With a quick flick of his off hand, yet another succession of gears dropped a pistol into the palm of his hand.

"If you really don't know, you can just call me Red." Taking aim and firing his pistol directly to the head of the rookie. Regardless of the outcome, Oko had a much greater understanding of Clovis; specifically his fruit and its potential, than most could even fathom. He chose to view this as an opportunity to test some theories more than anything.

Instinctively, Clovis' head split apart, causing the bullet to miss its intended mark. Meanwhile, the blade that Oko held morphed into hundreds of bundled strands of straw; it would fidget backwards as Clovis vigorously pulled his arm to retrieve the sword. Similarly as to before, the straw would likely tear through the hand and possibly even the entire arm with ease so that Clovis could retrieve his weapon, yet fail to deal any true damage as Oko unveiled before that he did not have any blood circulating in his body.

"'Red'? Weird name for someone who doesn't bleed," Clovis didn't have any intention to step away from the assailant. "Are you the one who called me here?" his eyes narrowed, "or are you another one of the government agents that's been after my crew?"

"Yeah. I called you here." Oko replied immediately, his eyes remained locked onto Clovis. "Didn't expect you to make it this far. But I suppose that's why you have my attention." He paused, clicking his tongue lightly. The butterfly from Clovis' pocket emerged once more, landing on Oko's fingertip. A swarm of unfamiliar animals surrounded the pair in the field, some actual animals, others appearing much more than weaponized.

"Now what do you want?"

Grass flattening and twigs cracking could be heard on the approach. There, in his full brown captain's coated glory, black long wild hair, bandaged arm glory, was Behram. It had been a while since the two had seen each other, but there was a reason reunions existed.

The small piece of paper at the palm of his hand moved no more. His gaze, much like Oko's, locked onto Clovis. "Who's the weirdo?" Behram asked, stuffing the paper back into his pocket. It was one hell of a journey from one side of the island to the other and having trouble be the first thing he had to deal with would have put him in a terrible position.

Clovis' eyes lit up upon seeing Thug, as if their reunion brought Clovis back to life. "Hoy!! Thug!!" Clovis cheered, genuinely excited to see his crew mate after several days. He threw his arms out wide and turned towards him.

"This guy here is the one we came looking for," Clovis explained, turning to glance back at Oko. "The guy I spoke with using Lucien's Den Den Mushi. He's going to get us a place in the Hunting Pirates, ow!!" Clovis grinned madly while finally declaring his motives from long ago.

In the background of the conversation, movement of something approaching could be heard from the jungle. Out of the vegetation came Zed, hands buried deep in his pockets, leaves appeared to be moving out of his way. "Hoy! Captain! Thug! I thought it was you guys. Sorry for the delay, ran into a bit of trouble. Did you know the Marines were around? I bumped into the bodyguard of someone called Villanova. My theory is that they are the brains behind this whole cyborg dinosaurs shenanigans. They said no one was allowed in their laboratories, whether old or new, so there must be more on the island. I managed to steal a little something but figured you could use my help by now."

Zed's train of thought took a turn once he took a look at Clovis' body. Running toward him and squeezing his muscles all over, he smiled. "You did it! You crazy son of a bitch, you did it. You have to let me examine all this. The theory is true! There must be a way for us to improve whatever you did. " Zed's smile and excitement faded away as his mind shifted once more. Composing himself, he stared up and down the figure standing beside Clovis. "So, this is the guy we're looking for, uh?"

Zed's return filled Clovis with further joy. His grin stretched from ear to ear and he nearly forgot about Oko's existence as he greeted Zed. "Zed!!! Hoy!!!" he turned his attention to Zed fully. He was happy to see Zed take notice of the theory they had spoken of before; truly, it was a transformation only possible thanks to Zed's inspiration.

"That's right!" Clovis gleamed, "these are dinosaur parts!" He pointed down at his colored muscles as Zed gave them a squeeze. "This one had a really long neck so I took its muscles and put them in my own neck. This one had a really study body so I put that one here. And this one..." He went on and on, getting absorbed into the conversation.

"I thought there was something off about those dinosaurs, ow!!" Clovis admitted as if it were some genius puzzle he was solving. "So the lab belonged to the marines?" Clovis quirked a brow as his curiosity got the better of him once again. He moved his large hand in front of his mouth and leaned towards Zed, covering his lips as he whispered. "What exactly did you steal??"

Zed mimicked Clovis by covering his mouth and getting closer to make his whispers audible. "I took a handful of Pages from a Devil Fruit Encyclopedia. I didn't check which ones yet but it could be useful."

"A slot in the Huntin'?" Behram questioned, a look couldn't be any more confused. He was completely unaware of Clovis' intentions on having the crew join under the Hunting Pirates. In fact, he was unaware that pirate crews could be under another.

If he could have, he would have pointed to his body. But at this moment, his body wasn't his. Well, kind of. "I don't wanna a seat in that crew, unless we be tha' executives." Behram flipped off Oko and flicked at his crouch. "Zarren, Lucien, ain't got shit on tha' power I've gained."

Behram spent days honing his devil fruit and becoming one with the concept of a ghost. One could say he even took a trip to the afterlife. "Heaven was filled with flowers," he started, "But Hell was the place I needed to be," both of his hands flipped up into the air. The souls of six different individuals projected behind him and he flaunted them off as though they were precious jewels.

"It's where the strongest are committed!"

"What do you think I'm trying to do?" Clovis retorted. "'Executives', call it whatever you want! I'm after Lucien's position. After all, we're the ones who did him in, aren't we? It's only fair we take what's ours." Clovis took a step towards Thug. He'd try and swing his arm over his shoulders if he could, unless it would simply phases through him. Then, he would point his hand in the air and move it across the sky to paint an image for Thug.

"Think about it. Haven't I always told you? Power is opportunity! These Hunting Pirates are the big boys of the Grand Line. If we get our names in with them, our lives could change over night. We'll get to where we want ten times faster."

As expected, his arm fell through his upper body as Behram continued to walk forward. He looked to Oko, the grand opus in all of this. The man who would bridge the gap that they needed to achieve their goals.

"Bring me, face to face, with 'em! Thafufufu! That Argo fella!"

Since the rest of the Pain Pirates were reunited with their captain, Oko was yet to say a word. Zed, that had been silently listening to the whole thing, took a step forward. "I'm going to agree with Thug on this one. Simply being under them won't cut it. We need to be further up the food chain. However, I don't believe this man will simply hand it to us. Also, we must be careful not to grab more than our hands can hold." He then turned to face Oko. "So, what do you have to say about all this?"

Oko had remained silent through the course of their reunion, arms crossed and leaning his back against a tree. Not an ounce of emotion decorated his face.

"I know that you don’t know what you're asking for." Oko replied, "It was dumb luck that you managed to get this far. You get a win and think you're on top of the world and for what? Recognize where you are before you're eaten alive and shit out like you're nothing."

"Ehhh??" Clovis' tongue flopped out of his mouth. He plucked his pinky up his nose and dug around, eyes settling on Oko. "Dumb luck? Listen here, poppy--" Taking one step towards Oko caused Clovis to accidentally trip on an extended root. He fell forward onto his face; strangely enough his sword struck the ground in a such a way that it remained standing up.

Quickly, Clovis shot back up to his feet and continued his dialogue as if nothing had happened. "We, of the Pain Pirates, have anything but dumb luck. In fact you could say it is dumb how unlucky we are. Really," he went on. "Ow!! But, if it's luck alone that got us this far..." he flashed a grin. "Then why did you bother to come all this way to meet us?"

Clovis' grin grew wider. "You're saying something else now but admit it! I could hear it in your tone when we spoke before. You couldn't believe Lucien was taken down, isn't that right?! He often boasted about his rank. He said he had three stars, ow!! We won't take any less than that!"

Long arms outstretched at his sides, Clovis grinned madly and declared into the sky, "Don't let this opportunity slip by your head. What you you've lost in Lucien... you can gain three times over with us! Ow!!!!"

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Oko finally moved from his rest. "Not keen on details are you." He remarked, "Providing or following." Sacra Lancia crawled along the grass until reaching Oko's boots. "The Sfigato was probably strung out. Never taking anything seriously finally caught up to him. I'd suggest you look at your own words and reflect before saying another word."

His gaze panned over the three of them, "You say opportunity is power like you value nothing but. Who's to say you wouldn't take advantage of this stranger? Let alone your own men."

Clovis' grin vanished. The last bit struck a nerve. As if it didn't haunt him in every waking moment. Each time he closed his eyes to blink, he saw the look on Abaddon's face as he plunged the knife deeper into her throat.

Yes, it was true. Clovis had "taken advantage" of his own crew mates in the past. It was not something he was particularly fond of nor cared to share. In fact, it was something he wished to keep a secret, especially from Zed. He felt if it was known it would compromise his respect as the captain of his own crew. And for a captain, respect was everything.

"What are you talking about? I would never take advantage of my own men," Clovis chimed back. "I've saved their lives plenty of times and so too have they saved me. I wouldn't have made it here without them. We are one."

Clovis' eyes narrowed. His tone was more serious now. "This is a package deal. They're coming with me. I'm telling you to make space for all three of us. Isn't there room in that great big band of yours for three future heavyweights?!"

Clovis pointed backwards with his thumb at Thug. "The man on my left is South Blue's most psychotic serial killer, 'Thug Behram'. He caught his first body before he even learned to speak. He doesn't use any weapons because he likes to feel it with his own hands. They say the world's population is on a downward trend because of him!!"

Clovis' thumb pointed back at Zed, next. "To my right is a writer from East Blue, 'Zed'. He reads. He writes. But no one who crosses paths with him lives to tell the tale for themselves. His defenses are absolute. No one on this sea has been so much as able to tickle him."

Retrieving his hand, Clovis' arms opened wide at his sides. "The World Government's 'agents' fell at our hands. We fought in a war against them on our way here, ow!! We've done plenty to back up our talk, so quit looking down on us!!"

Oko's brow twitched in response to Clovis' outburst. This made it clear that the up and comer was ignorant of Oko's intentions entirely. He couldn't help but smirk, the pirate's words may not have been the most impressive but the passion behind them was evident. One thing Clovis did catch his interest however.

"What agents did you encounter?" Oko's nose twitched, "Where are they now?" The mention of these agents overshadowed all that preceded it, all that Oko focused on in that moment.

"Agents wearing black suits," Clovis explained in further detail. He didn't feel the need to hold back. After all, the truth could only benefit him in convincing Oko of his crew's power. "Come to think of it, they used the same technique you did. The one where you shuffle your feet on the ground a bunch of times," Clovis recalled, sharing the observation he had made through the many times Soru had been used against him.

Now, Clovis was growing wary. Things seemed to be adding up for him all of a sudden. The techniques they shared, the agents coming after him out of nowhere, Red's interest in them. The puzzle pieces were aligning. Red rarely spoke; he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't going to answer any of Clovis' questions. Yet he didn't hesitate to learn more about the agents. Clovis' observant eye caught on to the way Oko's nose twitched. It made Clovis... calmer.

Suddenly, Clovis became an actor. "As for their names and where they are now and what became of them, well..." Clovis formed a dome with his hands, symmetrically aligning the tips of every finger. "I do reckon information like that is privy to negotiation, eh? I'm not so inclined to share anything with you until you return my favor."

Clovis didn't grin. He knew it would forfeit the control he was trying to establish in this arrangement. Oko wanted information on the world government agents. It seemed to be a much better bargaining chip than Lucien's defeat. Clovis wasn't going to just give it up without any gain of his own.

"Only an ally deserves that sort of information. And Red, last I checked, you and I aren't allies. But we could change that. Oh yes, we could change that as soon as... now." One hand opened from the dome and wove around in front of Clovis, directing his dialogue as he spoke.

Every word from Clovis' mouth came off as barbed, the theatrics didn't help. Oko truly hated Clovis Clovis, far more than even he could understand. His flamboyant personality, tactics, speaking as if he hadn't just been brutally executed, and even his Devil fruit. It was all too familiar.

Oko's nose twitched once more, he knew the game Clovis was playing; and couldn't help but crack a smile. He opened himself up for this, and as a result needed to play along. Oko scratched his chin, tilting his head back in contemplation.

"I see." Oko replied, running the palm of his hand over his face through his hair. Upon reveal, his stone face returned with a frustrated sigh. Oko looked Clovis in the eyes, the same dead expression seen on their initial call. He grabbed one of the many pouches at his waist and held it at his waist.

"You're right. That can be arranged." Oko remarked, "However. Allies need to trust one another, no?" Lifting the pouch to his own shoulder. "I'd like to know these answers prior to this transactions completion." Oko curled his knuckles to his chin with a firm grip. "Please. Continue."

"You're talking about trust after you relentlessly attacked me?" Clovis noted the pouch Oko opened. Was he going on the offensive yet again? Or maybe he was deciding to do his part in this negotiation? "Come on, mate. You're making more demands when it's your turn to fold. You asked us to come here and we did. You attacked me, we let it go. Now you want information about agents without even giving us your proper name? I'd be a fool to keep giving you what you want without you doing even one thing for us in return. My patience is drawing thin, lad."

Oko rolled his knuckles against his face, letting out another sigh. He held the pouch out in the palm of his hand and squeezed the sides. A subtle click followed by steam emanated from the pouch, a disgusting pool of flesh exposed.

"Name's Oko." The mound began to crawl from the pouch, coiling around Oko's forearm til the face of this snail faced his hand; the pouch vanished. A large lump began to travel up the length of this peculiar beast, making it to its grotesque and drool-covered maw and vomited into Oko's hand. A mass of green mucus coated the object, dribbling from the sides of Oko's hand to reveal another den den mushi.

"Now you know. Spill it." Oko squeezed the sides of the phone as his own snail slithered up to his shoulder.

"'Oko', eh?" Clovis grinned. "Fine. A name for a name. The agents we faced..." Clovis rose up his hands. Theatrically, the world grew dark and the apparitions of the three Cipher Pol agents which the Pain Pirates had gone to war against appeared overhead. Although Clovis did not know the name of their unit nor the names of their techniques, he did manage to learn their names through battle. Viper shared his name with Clovis and Velvet shared hers with Zed. Bob on the other hand was likely so stupid he referred to himself in the first person. But, unfortunately Clovis didn't quite catch his name. He did, however, gain one way to refer to him.

"Ashina Viper from the Ashina Clan of Wano, who I killed with my own hand, ow!! Velvet, some purple haired brat that ran away after she learned what we did to her comrades! And a dolphin loving bastard who we murdered and fed to an enormous sea king! Kaaashishishi!!!!!" Clovis' eyes widened. Reliving that war filled him with pride, especially after his meeting with the orange-haired woman who came to see them afterwards. If you couldn't boast about defeating powerful enemies, then what even was there to boast about in this world?

Clovis' eyes pinched around the snail on Oko's shoulder. "What are you planning to do with that, mate?" The last snail from Lucien led Clovis to Oko. This snail... could it connect him with who he thought it would?

"We'll get to that in a moment." He snapped back, "I assume a man of even your caliber can tell what it is, so let's skip the act." Oko paused for a moment.

No way this group of shitstains killed two government agents, let alone an Ashina. But..

His brow twitched, a condescending look of disbelief on Oko's face. "You sell a good story. But you're not looking to talk with me." He tossed the snail at Clovis haphazardly, his eyes dart to Behram and Zed. "Make the call."

Clovis outstretched his massive hand like a baseball mitt, letting the snail land perfectly within his grasp. As he held it there, he paused for a moment. A gentle breeze shuffled through his coat, mustache, and hair. He looked down at the snail, studying it; calming himself while reflecting on times past. Needless to say, this was a big moment. Not only for him but the rest of the crew. He glanced back at Zed and Thug. He knew this call had the chance to change their lives forever.

It had to go smoothly. This wasn't just any other pirate crew that he was getting into contact with. If Abbadon's words held true, this was one of the world's greatest pirate crews ever. Not far removed from the days Clovis had nothing to wear but a diaper, the peasant in him cowered at the grand realization.

Probing his finger into the dial of the snail, he turned it around and about. Click.

Puru puru puru...

Puru puru puru...

Puru puru puru...

Atomium, the central territory of the Hunting Pirates and a place of eternal nights. Today the night was somewhat dimmed by candle light. In Atomium's cemetery, hundreds of candles were lit up in honor of those who had passed in conflict.

The graves of Huang Pao, Demersa and Urobire were accompanied by dozens of mourning Hunting Pirates. The Five-Stars, in particular, were in attendance, along with Kaizen, Alexandre Greaves and Praecur, all of whom took part in the battle against ARROW only days prior.

"Even though we took some of the enemy's life and ensured their spies were stomped out..." Kauldran Synthia began to speak, clenching her fists, "To think we lost our own to this..." Synthia's eyes briefly landed to Argo, though she did not say another word.

"Our past...our sins...it seems we'll forever be the hunted."

Before she could say or do anything else, the sound of a Den Den Mushi alerted her and drew much unwanted attention in this time of mourning.

"Who-" Synthia picked up her Den Den Mushi. She did not recognize the expression that was calling. She grimaced, and walked away from the area. "I'm sorry for the disturbance. Let me handle this."

She walked away to a nearby building while continuing to let the Den Den Mushi ring. As she found a place to sit, she sat down the Den Den Mushi and answered it from her end.

Kaching.

"Who is this?" Synthia asked with an irritation unbefitting of her. But considering the circumstances, she could not help it.

Clovis could feel the tension in the air. At first he was confident but the moment the snail picked up on the other end, he felt his throat tighten. An authoritative presence answered his call and by the sound of it, seemed irritated. A nervous bead of sweat trickled down the side of Clovis' face as he held the phone in his grasp. "Hello, I'm calling you through a snail given to me by one of the members of your crew," he started, closing his eyes to help himself think better on what to say next, "uh, I believe you may be able to recognize the trace of the call to be his? Oko. His name is Oko."

Clovis was trying his best not to sound awkward but he couldn't immediately shrug off the pressure. He wanted things to go right between him and the Hunting Pirates' higherups. There was simply too much at stake here. There was a long silence as Clovis tried to find the right words to say. He opened his mouth then paused; finally, as a few precious seconds went by, he was able to speak once again.

"In any case, my name is Hornigold Clovis. I'm a pirate from South Blue, where one of your other members was stationed. Gastrell Lucien? Ow!! I don't know if... if you ever received word of what happened with him; I'm going to go off of the assumption that you have. Well I played a great part in removing him from his post," Clovis gulped. Should he be mentioning this? What if it stirred commotion? "You see, it wasn't my intention, but he served as an obstacle in my path and I wouldn't be where I am now if it didn't happen. To be honest I didn't know what the Hunting Pirates were or that he belonged to them."

Clovis pinched his eyes. He massaged his forehead with his free hand as he continued to blabber into the phone. "I've come seeking membership into your crew."

Synthia's eyes narrowed. This really wasn't the time for pranks. She'd heard through the grapevine of Lucien's defeat in the Blues, but she chalked it up to his drug abuse and gradual deterioriation in a comfortable position over time. It was embarrassing, but could be quickly swept under the rug. Now, rather than dealing with said rookie on the spot, the rookie was...negotiating with the Hunting Pirates?

"I suppose I should introduce myself before I go along with this farce." Synthia broke her silence, her rolling eyes plainly evident on the opposite side where Clovis was talking to her. "My name is Kauldran Synthia, Perfect Hunter and Five-Star of the Hunting Pirates. I'm the second-highest authority in the Hunting Pirates except for my Captain. But..."

Synthia's eyes peeked outside. She could not interrupt their mourning. Not for this idiocy. "He won't be available to speak to you."

Synthia shook herself off from the irritation. "So you're trying to tell me. Not only were you responsible for dislodging the Hunting Pirates' station in the South Blue, but now you want in our crew? And one of my own crew members is giving you the opportunity instead of just axing you on the spot?"

Synthia sighed, deeply, and loudly. "God, I've had enough of the idiots who have joined us recently. First Lucien and his drug abuse, and now this strange mercy from Oko. Whatever."

Although Synthia was about to decline Clovis' invitation, she paused for a moment. They had recently lost crew members. If these Rookies from the Blues were truly able to deal with Lucien, even in his weakened state...and garnered interest from Oko, maybe they were worth joining the crew after all.

"Fine, let's entertain your proposition. What could you, a measly Rookie in Paradise, offer us, as a member of the Yonko in the New World?"

Perfect Hunter? Five-Star? Second most authority in the entire crew?! Clovis' hand began to shake. He couldn't help it. His brow tensed and his lip quivered. He couldn't even fully see her and yet somehow this woman still emanated such authority. So this was the presence of a Yonko's first mate?

With his free hand, Clovis loosened the knot of the handkerchief around his neck. He was struggling to find the words to speak now. Synthia seemed to be upset from before and now with this revelation only grew more errant. He needed to pick and choose his words extremely carefully or everything could possible collapse from on top of him.

"You s-see, Synthia-sama," he started, coughing into his arm to straighten out of his voice. "We may be rookies, but we're a tenacious bunch! Our heads may not be worth a lot now but... b-but we're sure to standout in this world, ow!! I mean, I left South Blue as its most notorious pirate and, and most recently we won in a war against the World Government's agents," Clovis' eyes opened and darted towards Oko. "The same agents Oko here seems to have some history with.

Clovis glanced back at his crew. He said whatever came to mind, hoping it would be enough to appeal to the Hunting Pirates. "We're all ability users," he went on, "and I've got me a crewmate who can read Poneliffs. I promise you if you give us this chance, we won't disappoint you, ow!"

The story of the pirates' tenacity and victory over CP9 went over Synthia's head. Truly, she did not care for the adventures of misfits. Although she did wonder what kind of sorry history Oko had with the CP9 that Clovis would mention that to her, but she put it in the backburner for now.

The true value of this crew came from Clovis' last statement. "The ability to read Poneglyphs...out of all the Yonko crews, we are the sole crew missing Poneglyphs...but this addition could change that."

Synthia smirked. "I see. Your little band of misfits does have some value to us. Very well, then."

"Oko, I know you can hear me." Synthia said, "Remove yourself from that situation with the CP9 immediately, and get Clovis and his crew off the island safely. Ensure that the CP9 can no longer trail the crew."

Synthia returned to speaking with Clovis, "Just because you have a Poneglyph reader, Clovis, does not mean I will drag you over to the New World. If you truly believe you can make a difference to the world of piracy, then climb your way to me, with all of your crew in-tact."

Synthia smirked, "But, in the meantime, I'll make sure Oko's history does not get in your way. How does that sound?"

Clovis' eyes widened. He turned around and held silent as he turned to Thug and Zed but his expression said it all. He was ecstatic! They were moments away from being inducted into what was one of the world's most powerful organizations. Forget just being pirates, the Hunting Pirates were a force even the World Government hesitated to interfere with.

Clovis turned his attention to Oko next. He too suspected that this 'CP9' which Synthia spoke of would remain on his crew's tail. If they were anything like the agents they encountered aboard the sea train, then help from a high ranking Yonko commander like Oko would certainly be a massive benefit to them.

"It sounds ravishing," Clovis smiled. "I have two other members of my crew here beside me; Thug and Zed. Can I assume that from this moment forward we too, are members of the Hunting Pirates?"

Not a second too soon, Clovis had another question in mind. "Well, seeing as how we were the ones to take down Lucien after all, it would only make sense that we take his former position in the crew, aye?" Clovis turned to Zed and Thug once again and flashed them his tongue. He made an obscene face to them as he tried to milk every last drop he could.

"Agreed," Behram said, the spirits of those he had called on from the underworld, vanishing as they withered away into thin air. "Bein' under the flag of another is distasteful," he spat to the ground at his side.

"Even then," his nostrils flared, "We deserve at the very least the spot of that idiot you called a 'mate."

"That position was given to a strong crewmate. Not a fumbling drug addict that could barely hold a sword straight." Synthia spoke. "Your worth will be determined when I can test you in front of my own eyes. The only reason you'll manage to escape this crisis is through my mercy, Clovis. Remember that."

Synthia's words would send a shiver down anybody's spine. Today was not the day to try her patience. Not after what her and her comrades had been through.

Was she implying that the only reason Lucien was taken down was because he was a shell of his former self? It worried Clovis to ponder upon what Lucien might have been in his prime or what a proper Three Star of the Hunting Pirates would look like. His hand trembled and his throat tightened as a result of Synthia's anger. He didn't intend to test her patience any longer, despite being denied the position he wanted.

"F-Fair enough, Synthia-sama," Clovis cleared his throat, "so what will my rank be, exactly?" he pondered further.

"Starless. Until proven otherwise." Synthia responded matter-of-factly.

"In any case. We are done here." Synthia broke off the conversation with Clovis, "Oko. Make sure to fulfill our end of the deal. Our reputation as the Hunting Pirates are at stake."

Oko's face had settled at the sound of Synthia's voice. He let out a deep sigh before closing the gap in between himself and Clovis in an instant. Reluctant eyes slowly opened on their descent as the snail was forced downward, ending the call.

"You can figure out the details later." Oko said in a monotone. He stepped back with a spin, two fingers between his lips, letting out a high pitched whistle that exceeded human ears. What began as still, grew restless as the forest came to life. The ground began to tremble yet Oko was undeterred. His eyes remained focused, even as the rumble evolved into a vortex of creatures big and small.

'So there's four others? But which one is he?'

With that one question he had his answer. Occhio Onnisciente. A technique Oko developed through training his Kenbunshoku to extreme lengths for the sole purpose of detection. The very reason he managed to seemingly evade all eyes for the last two years.

'Trovato.'

A wicked grin shot across his face as he identified the most pressing of his concerns.

"Just like in Tijuana, eh Sfinge?" Oko said under his breath. He flicked his wrist out, revealing several rolled tobacco leaves along his forearm before they sunk back into their armored cavity. A medley of gears shifted into place all along his form. He looked over his shoulder with a cold glare panned across the three before returning to Zed. "Fucking babysitting." Oko pinched the bridge of his nose as the last of his arsenal affixed itself to his armor. Oko hastily prepared for the worst with extreme caution.

"Alright, listen." He paused, closing his eyes with his back to the Pain Pirates. "You're in my world now and I don't like guests. I'm on point and I want you right beside me." Oko exclaimed with an extended finger pointing at Zed. "If anyone has any problem with that you can save it for when you're safe."

Zed stood quiet, listening closely to the whole conversation, processing every little detail he could gather from it. It didn't turn out as they had imagined, but it could have been much worse. "Just because you have a Poneglyph reader, Clovis, does not mean I will drag you over to the New World." The way Synthia put it made him think that he was the sole reason they were given a chance. Even if he was yet to master Poneglyph reading, it made him feel proud.

Like Clovis did often times, Zed stuck out his tongue, turning to his crewmates. He pointed to his face while he silently mouthed the words "I'm the favorite!" He then moved closer to the Hunting Pirates' representative. "Oko-sama... I'm well aware that I'm the golden egg chicken in this whole arrangement and you want to make sure nothing happens to me but what my captain said earlier about my defenses being absolute is no exaggeration. Not even a Yonko can touch me unless I allow them to."

Clovis decided to keep the Den Den Mushi, since it'd be his only means of contact with the Five Stars going forward. His hand swallowed the snail into its straw composition. A big grin was sitting on his face. "So that's it? We're nakama now!" he cheered. "Kaaashishishi!! We really did it, eh?" Clovis gave a hard slap to Thug's back. "From here on, it'll be easy sailing. With a crew like this to watch over us, there's nothing that can keep us from living our best lives, ow!! Isn't that right, Thug?"

Clovis looked ahead at Oko as he aligned Zed into position. He didn't mind Oko taking the lead since he was the superior Hunting Pirate, however it made Clovis curious as to why his behavior had changed so suddenly. He hardly spoke to them before. Had becoming allies convinced him to open up? Was it common practice for the Hunting Pirates to sort themselves into line like so? No. That didn't seem to be the case.

Clovis' eyes narrowed. "'When we're safe'?" Clovis repeated after Oko as he took a step towards him and Zed. "What do you mean by that, ow? Are we in danger right now?"

"How will that defense hold against something that doesn't need to touch you?" Oko replied calmly to Zed, "There's an entire world that you're ignorant of. And tonight may very well be your first glimpse of that." He paused. "I'd rather avoid that at all costs."

Oko let out another sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. Not only were these rookies arrogant but they lacked experience. "That answer your question, scarecrow?"

In fact, it did. Oko seemed to speak in code. He didn't say much but when he did speak he chose his words carefully. He didn't tell the Pain Pirates that an enemy was coming, instead he made them get into formation. He didn't say when the enemy would approach them; instead he mentioned that "tonight" would be their first glimpse of an enemy who would test the full extent of their powers.

"Tonight, eh?" What more could that mean? Why would their enemy wait until the night to approach them when he could have interfered in his battle with Oko and took them by surprise instead? What did he have to gain from the night? What about the night was more advantageous to him than to "third party" an ongoing battle?

"You got history with these agents, that much is clear. But what do you know about this next threat?" Clovis wondered aloud, while his eyes scanned the trees and bushes around them. "They got any powers you wanna tell us about, ow?"

"I know this is out of your league." Oko immediately snapped back, "Avoid confrontation at all costs." As familiar as he was, his expectations were far beyond what he knew. "Should we engage, run."

"Run?" Clovis' eyes widened. He remembered the hype of the Hunting Pirates. He remembered Synthia's words. He remembered Oko's infamy, Four Stars. He remembered the odds they'd overcome in South Blue and then on the sea train to make it here to Little Garden.

His brow furrowed in frustration. "What are you talking about? How many enemies are coming after us, ow? We have four capable men on our side and we're all ability users. I can't imagine us not having the advantage. These enemies, whoever they are, aren't going to leave us alone once we set sail from this island. I say we kill them here and now before we move on, ow!!"