Chapter Title: Fear is the Mother of Morality

Bedlam/Kitsune: Usually I just ramble in these. Well, let's see. This whole thing started a few days ago. I had a dream, and it was just so off the wall that I had to share it with Anjelle. She liked it, and we started shooting ideas back and forth, going "What if-then…." and around two hours later we decided we had to write this as a story. By now we have to have like over 80 pages worth of notes, there's a bunch on skype that hasn't even been put into the document yet. And we just started writing. It's been a lot of fun! Building an alternate universe is a lot of work, but when you have someone working with you it's just easier somehow. I know she's got a ton of other things to work on, and so do I…. so I don't know when we're going to get back to the next chapter….BUT I'll admit a good amount of said chapter is already outlined. And I'm probably going to get weird looks at work again when I go on lunch to read over what she's done in the document when I was away…. I think that was my second favorite part of working on this chapter. Seeing the changes that happened. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this story!

Anjelle: Psh, don't listen to her. I guarantee I'll have at least a scene of chapter 2 written by tomorrow. Anyways, this has been one of the funnest projects I've EVER taken on. We're only one chapter in and it's on Divide's level of fun. THAT is scary. It's been so exciting, getting to collaborate on this with her. My god, her ideas! QAQ We have many plans, lovelies, many plans. Now, this IS a FULL FANTASY AU (my first EVER) so I know some people might be put-off by that, but please give it a shot, 'kay? Things will pick up next chapter, I assure, but I think we have a nice pace going here. I'm kind of worried that it won't be seamless and you'll be able to tell who wrote what but since we went over it a few times... hopefully it'll be fine.

A few (IMPORTANT) notes~

-Ace and Luffy are, at first, going to have different names. The names (Atche and Luhfi) are based on their native language because they're foreign (and by foreign I mean from a place that doesn't exist) so we thought it'd be more realistic. Do not fear, though, because they'll be going back to Ace and Luffy really soon in a pretty amusing way. So just bear with it for now, yeah?

-There's a language barrier between the boys and the mythos. To show this, the italicized dialogue is what the POV focus (Ace in the first scene, Marco in the second ect) cannot understand. That way you still know what's going on but they don't~ :,D

-Canon familial relations aren't always the same in this story. For example, Ace and Lu are blood brothers and neither are Dragon's son. Hope that doesn't bother anyone but we have out reasons.

Disclaimer: Neither of us own One Piece (damn it, Oda!) but could you imagine if we did? ...Probably run it into the ground.

Crashes of waves rolled against the ship, rocking it back and forth as it attempted to stay afloat. Sea-sprayed winds caressed their flesh, masked by the heavy rains, giving him the cold kiss of death as he held fast to the tied-down crates surrounding him, warning him, mocking him.

He bit his lip.

Hugging the small bundle in his arms tighter, pressing it against his chest, he promised not to panic. They would be fine. They always were. Even as the blackened sky brought with it a foreboding storm, even as he heard the men on deck holler prayers to the skies, begging the gods to grant them mercy, he would not submit. His fear wouldn't control him. He would, however, admit that in the deepest regions of his mind he might have been a little… unsettled.

The tiny child in his arms stirred, shivering against the soaked fabric wrapped around him, causing the elder's unease to grow.

"It'll be alright," he assured, voice lost to the howling gusts ensnaring the ship. "I'm here, okay?"

"C-cold," a small voice choked through clattering teeth, barely audible amidst the sea's chaos.

Narrowing his eyes, he pressed the skin of his palm to the boy's arm, gritting his teeth when he was met with unnaturally chilled flesh. His heart sank and he huddled himself around the other more fully, trying to shield him from the relentless downpour assaulting them.

Where the hell were they?

A piercing laugh cut through the insanity, unnaturally calm as men screamed about a leak being sprung in the haul, causing his thoughts to cease. Gray eyes snapped up, locked onto the body of a large, round thing, because whatever it was, it was not human. Its gaze bore down on him, a rotten-yellow smile stretching across dark skin.

"What do we have here? Zehahaha!"

In that moment, he was scared.

The view from the carriage window did little to keep his interest, the same white clouds and pink-yellow skies retaining the same dull look they always did, leaving him to sigh and look back into the carriage. The journey wouldn't be much longer, he assured himself, but even at its end he wouldn't be granted relief.

He hated the auction.

When Princess Hancock of the naga called for the gathering he had cringed knowing that, since the tiger had represented the old man during the last one a decade ago, the phoenix was next in line. Sure enough he was requested to attend and, unable to say no, he found himself making the long journey there via carriage, dressed in formal garb he rather never wear.

It was heavy. That was natural—the finely detailed embroidery weighed it down on top of the many layers that made up the ensemble—but he hated it all the same. And people wondered why he avoided social gatherings. Wasn't it obvious?

After staring at the inside wall of the coach for an unprecedented amount of time, his head dipped down, eyes falling to the long, flowing robes that hung freely beneath his sash. Bright, flamboyant reds entered his field of vision, reminding him of his lineage—of his name.

Again, he sighed. He really wasn't in the mood for this. He hated dealing with that woman's eccentric obsession—volatile collection of human oddities. Why she searched for such things when she had such a firm dislike of those creatures was beyond him. Why she forced them to come and admire it all, even more so.

As much as he hated the traditional wear he found himself in, he had to admit that the cuffs and overdress were impressively crafted, meticulously embroidered with patterns of off-white birds and symbols his family was known for, beaded tassels hanging gently from the ends. With such beautiful work he just knew he would be bothered by the auction's other attendees.

It was going to be a long day.

Damn it.

Taking the fine, orange silk of his skirt between his fingers, he peered out the window once more. The sky was just as empty but, looking down, he spotted a curious figure through the morning fog. At first it appeared to be no more than a group of tiny, dark flecks but as the carriage sailed across the wind, tunneling through the clouds towards the gathering, he spotted the iconic rooftops of the Kuja palace.

His shoulders deflated, both thankful to put an end to his mind-numbing ride and dreading the upcoming event. But progress was progress and the sooner the day was over, the sooner he could return to the old man's side. That comfort alone was enough to bring forth a rise of motivation from his gut and as the carriage came to gently land on the Kuja clan's soil, immediately within the palace walls, he resigned himself to see his duties through to the best of his abilities.

His servant wasted no time in opening the door for him and he straightened his back, once more cursing his long robes and loose, flowing sleeves as he readied to try to exit the transport without falling flat on his face.

Fortunately, he somehow managed to succeed.

The small entourage accompanying him hurried out of the bodies of their respective rides, assembling around him as the palace guards came to notice their arrival. The naga were quick to approach, standing before him with the utmost respect. Half-lidded eyes studied them, waiting to be spoken to first. It was the same every time. Couldn't they at least try to make the event more intriguing?

"Master Suzaku," a woman greeted, bowing humbly when his eyes came to rest on her. She waited until signalled to rise, the belly of her serpent-like tail trailing along the ground as she came nearer. "It is an honour, Sire."

He resisted the urge to scoff inappropriately at her greeting, recognising her to be the princess's younger sister, a royal in her own right. Over the centuries he'd grown tired of such pointless treatment. But, being a representative at the auction, he had to keep face. That didn't mean he enjoyed it, though.

"The princess is present, I presume?" It was best to get obligatory greetings out of the way.

The younger princess blinked before nodding, hands clasped daintily in front of her. "She is."

"Take me to her yoi," he commanded, already starting towards the palace, having been there enough times to recall its layout perfectly.

"Ah, right!" the woman shouted, rushing to catch up to their guest.

Approaching the room he knew she was located, he braced himself. That woman could be difficult. He allowed the naga girl to knock and enter in his stead, knowing that if he had done so himself, her sister would not have been pleased. That was no way to treat guests in the Kuja palace and Boa would assure such customs were upheld, even with her own sibling.

The door was pushed open, revealing the stark white walls and decorative golds and reds within. The throne room was always where Hancock would be found during a gathering; it was the official place set aside for when guests were invited to the Kuja lands. Having come as early as he did, the phoenix expected to see her alone, or at least ordering some poor soul to finish with preparations for the later arrivals, but instead found her bickering with a rather unpleasant-looking troll that gave off the peculiar scent of sea salt. And she was not happy.

"Sister, Master Suzaku has arrived."

The naga princess turned, every line of her body still radiating displeasure at the person she had been arguing with. "Marco?" Her eyes scrolled from her sibling to the blond in fiery traditional regalia, retaining her ever-present scowl in the face of men. "I was under the impression you didn't approve of my little auction, Phoenix Lord."

"I don't, yoi." He looked down at Hancock, not impressed with the way she tilted her body to capitalize on her beauty before looking away. She was said by many to be the vision of absolute splendor, but he didn't see it. "I'm here representing Whitebeard this time."

"Ah, yes. I did invite him, didn't I? Very well, then; maybe you'll find something that catches your interest. Though I feel I owe you an apology. It seems I will have fewer goods to offer than I had originally anticipated."

Now that was unusual. The snake was meticulous in her catalog, if nothing else. It was one of the big draws of her auction. People came just to see the things she'd promised to have. "Oh?"

"Yes. It would seem the troll here couldn't complete a simple task." She rounded again on the very large man that was leering at her. It was nothing personal; trolls were baser creatures, feeding off of fear and lust when they could—nasty, violent beings—and it didn't surprise him at all that the naga had sent a troll, of all things, to 'retrieve' her merchandise if humans were involved. "All you had to do was dispose of the humans and bring my merchandise, Teach! How hard is that? Even a lowly half-troll like you should have been able to manage THAT."

Teach's leer turned into a gap-toothed grin. "Yeah, but look what I found, Princess!" He hefted a squalling bag over his shoulder, dropping it on the floor between them with little ceremony and toeing it.

"What is that?" Hancock asked, lip curling in disgust. Now that the bag wasn't hidden by the troll's see-me-not magic, it smelled. Horribly. Marco tried hard to keep his own face impassive as the odour hit him, knowing it had to be much worse for the snake who could literally taste it in the air.

Teach didn't seem to notice nor care as he gleefully yanked off the rope that was holding the sack closed and reached in. It took a moment for Marco to blink the tears out of his eyes; the stench was overwhelming. When he did he saw the fat troll holding out two squirming, screeching things in one hand. They were filthy, covered in layers of caked on grime. He laughed, watching them dangle from the chains connected to their wrists, feet kicking in the air in futile rage as they hissed and spat like wildcats. The troll dropped them when they started biting him, though it was obvious that it didn't hurt him.

"What do you think?" The troll asked, yanking the chains and forcing his captives to
squeal in pain.

"Humans? You lost half my shipment for a pair of... of... human nestlings?" Hancock literally hissed.

Marco narrowed his eyes, trying to remain indifferent even as he watched the little creatures claw at their bindings, not bothering to notice the others in the room, desperate for
freedom. "Why, yoi?"

Teach looked pleased with the question, even as he continued toying with them. "They had them all tied up on deck with those stupid squiggly pieces of paper everywhere, like they were something special. So I took them." The troll lifted his arm, the two shuddering, whimpering, tiny humans dangling in front of his face as his licked his rotten, yellowed teeth. "If you don't want 'um though, Princess, mind if I eat them?"

The snake furrowed her brow, scoffing at his question. She was livid—absolutely appalled. "Eat them?" she repeated in a snarl. "You should be lucky if I let you live after this—this outrage, you louse!"

With that she turned from him in a rage, eyes falling on her honoured guest as she tried to compose herself. Marco was sure she was aware of the amused glint in his eyes, the slight intrigue in the almost undetectable upward curve of his mouth as he witnessed her lost temper in the most embarrassing of ways. That was probably why she clenched her fist and took a deep breath to calm herself. Were the phoenix not present, she would have continued to rag on the servant, he was certain.

"Very well," she started in a quiet voice, "should no one desire to purchase those… things, you may keep them. But do not think you will go unpunished for your mistake."

The troll's grin widened almost dangerously and he pulled once more on the chains, causing the humans to fall forward onto the tiled floor. "I wouldn't dream of it, zehahaha!"

The boy gasped out, arms flailing around in a panic as he searched for the surface of the water, his body weighed down by the manacles around his wrists. The stream wasn't much deeper than his head, fortunately, and it was only seconds before he burst into the open air, greedily inhaling all the oxygen his tiny lungs could contain.

As soon as he was calm his eyes widened, horror-stricken as he realized his little brother hadn't surfaced.


Quickly he dove back under, scouring the stream for any sign of his sibling and managing to catch his eyes on a familiar bright-red shirt, untainted by the crystal clear water they found themselves in. Despite feeling twice as heavy because of the bindings, he swam over to retrieve the child, making a bee-line for the shore as soon as he held the boy tight within his grasp.

They flopped down on the grassy plains at the edge of the water, breathless as their backs hit the earth. He looked over at the younger, watching as he choked out wet coughs, huddling nearer to his elder sibling in a desperate search for comfort.

Muffled sniffling met his ears. Poor kid couldn't swim. If he hadn't—

…He didn't want to think about that.

A familiar laugh met his ears, putrid in its sound, and he shot up to glare his hardest at its source. He wasn't sure what it was or why it brought them… wherever they were, but he knew that he hated it. At the same time, though, his body was exhausted. They'd been resisting for hours and hadn't even set the thing back in its plans for them, whatever those were. And honestly, it scared him. That creature was strong, far stronger than they could match, and they were at its mercy.

Mercy. He scoffed at the thought. I doubt it knows what that is.

"Get yourselves clean. Wouldn't want that stench in the auction house, zehahaha!"

There it went again, speaking nonsense words that he had no way of understanding. But he understood when it walked over and snarled, pushing his younger brother further behind him despite the trembling of his limbs. If it attacked, could he really protect him?

Instead of trying to kill—or eat—them, it shoved a strange… thing (he needed to think of a more descriptive word) between their chains, pinning them down like leashed dogs. Giving them one last, rotten smile, it dropped a strange-smelling bar of—was that soap?—on the ground beside them, promptly taking its leave.

When it left his line of view, the boy tugged on the shackles, noting immediately that escape was impossible in his current state. He was hungry, tired and weak from struggling. There wasn't much else he could do.

Soft whimpers pulled him from his thoughts and his eyes settled on the kid beside him, lip quivering as he saw his sibling's tears. But he had to stay strong—for Luhfi. Since it wasn't hard to figure out what that thing wanted them to do, he grabbed the weird soap bar and dumped it into the water, gently taking the younger boy's hand in his own to begin cleaning him, hoping that it would take their minds off of the situation.


His heart broke at the terrified trembling in his baby brother's voice but he didn't let it show. "What is it, Lu?"

"I'm sc-scared," he hiccupped, rubbing the tears from his eyes.

"I know."

"And I'm hungry…"

"Yeah, me too."

"I-is the monster going to come back?"

He bit his lip, knowing that his brother wouldn't like the answer. "It'll be okay, I promise. Let's get you cleaned up, alright?"

As the boy sniffled and shared a minute nod, he really hoped those words would hold true.

Monster, huh? That was the perfect name for him.

He'd forgotten just how much he hated these things. Lifetimes ago, someone had described the slowly changing groups as a dance. If that were the case, Marco had two left feet, because he had no interest what-so-ever in the new kits born in the cat sidhe tribe Bellemere spoke of. Nor did he particularly care to reminisce about the 'good-old-days' like Morgan, an onyx golem, insisted upon while they both examined a particularly exquisite set of jade bangles. Golems were very hard to dissuade, and it was for that reason alone that he was thankful for his entourage. All Marco had been required to do is make vague, non-committal noises and his loyal hangers-on did all the work.

Finally extracting himself away from the group he stifled a sigh. It wouldn't do to rush around and try to lose them, even if he could, dressed as he currently was. With the slow pace of the proceedings, though, the heavy silks were much too warm for his tastes and Marco shifted his course accordingly. It was moments before he'd tracked down what he'd been looking for—a naga circulating the gallery laden with a tray of refreshments held high above her head.

"My Lord." She bobbed her head, forked tongue flicking out in an obvious case of nerves. Marco pretended not to notice as he gracefully took the goblet she selected for him. Apparently emboldened by that she settled her tray on her coils, reaching into a decorative bag around her waist and offering him an ornate fan. "If it pleases you?"

"It does." He offered her a small smile, taking the fan. "Thanks, yoi."

"Master Suzaku, you are much too kind to those who are of lesser stature than your divine self!" Turning slightly he saw that his entourage had indeed tracked him down, scaring off the servant in the process.

"So we're calling ourselves 'divine' now, bird?" someone guffawed behind him, earning scandalized gasps. Marco forced himself to keep his expression of schooled boredom, though he felt like grinning a bit himself as he turned to face the speaker.

"Well, I prefer 'stunning', you old fire-lizard." He flicked the fan he was holding sideways, a silent signal to his bunch of social leeches to make themselves scarce if they couldn't keep their words to themselves.

"Bwahahahaha! Nice comeback, Marco!" the dragon roared in laughter. "How've you been?"

Marco turned slightly, walking towards the next item he was interested in. "Well, Garp. Yourself? I had not expected to see you here, yoi."

"Fine, fine!" The dragon reached out to slap his arm, remembering his expensive silks at the last possible second. Done by any other mythos the move would have seemed either rude or an awkward save, but Garp was a dragon. Some said dragons were too laid-back for their own good, and that elder was living proof. "Dragon'll be sorry he missed you! Only reason I'm here at all is 'cause that whelp of mine's busy right now. And let me tell you, Boa was pissed!"

He felt his lips twitch, imagining that. "I'll bet she was, yoi."

"Can't imagine why, though." Garp's toothy grin belied that statement. "Well. I'll let you get back to this." He flicked a clawed finger at the intricately carved combs on display. "I think I saw a real unicorn bridle over there somewhere. Bet I could really piss off some people if I bid on it."

"You are a bad man, Garp."

"Only sometimes," the dragon laughed, striding away without a care for the slow, intricate dance going on around him.

The combs were beautiful. Definitely human in origin, but there was a faint whiff of something else along Marco's senses as he studied the gold and ivory hair decorations. There was a simple card stating that these combs had been acquired in human lands by a pride of gryphons and later presented to the naga princess as a gift. Marco snorted, suspecting that the gryphon in question had more than likely been enamored with Hancock and all too willing to bring her all the pretty human baubles he could tempt her with before she'd inevitably lost interest. She was a fickle viper, and it amazed him that even after a few hundred years men still played her petty, violent little game.

The opening suggestion had been scratched out, the bidder apparently someone named Nami who was willing to pay five beli more. Marco picked up the pen next to the card and paused for a moment. He didn't particularly need the combs himself, obviously. And whoever Nami was, she may very well really like them. On the other hand, he was sure Izo would like them as well. Before he could change his mind he scratched out Nami's name and bid and wrote his own—double what hers was—and underlined the number, letting anyone who saw the card know that was his final bid. Before long, some of the naga would go around and report to people if they'd been outbid on items. It helped cut down on the crush of people at the exhibits and that way some of the more excitable guests didn't even need to be bothered with remembering what they'd bid on in the first place. So if Nami really wanted them she could always raise the bid. If she conceded and there hadn't been another bid after two hours, Marco would automatically win the item. It would stay on display until the very end of the auction where he could choose to have his winnings delivered or bring them home himself.

He let the ebb and flow of the crowd take him down the line of curios. None of it really caught his eye as he listened with half an ear to the false praise heaped upon him by people he rarely saw. At one point he found himself in a small bidding war with the mer-shark Jinbe, though he didn't see his friend at all. Turning his attention away from the jar of honeyed milinal apples, he found a naga at his sleeve, the same one he'd been at 'war' with Jinbe through.

"Jinbe coincides. He'd also like to know when you're going to pop the cask open, since he claims you owe him a drink."

Marco actually smiled. "Tell him that's up to the old man, yoi. The alcohol is for him. But I'll be sure to invite him."

"Very good, Sire." The naga marked the card in her hand. "I'm going to cheat a bit and mark you as the winner. No one else has bid except you two." She winked.


"My pleasssure. This has been the most fun I've had all day."

The phoenix was still in a good mood when he went to put his name down on the apples, until he saw who the last bidder had been: Doflamingo. Suddenly he didn't want the apples anymore. Just the thought of thunderbirds in general left a bad taste in his mouth, and that thunderbird made his pinions prickle. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that he was not ruled by instinct. He was a mythos, not some human to go off half-cocked. It helped, but admittedly not much. Thunderbirds by nature were forces of destructive change and everything that went with it. Reluctantly, he turned away.

So far the auction was as he'd expected. He'd easily won the alcohol Whitebeard wanted, and a decent set of combs he thought Izo might like. But there was nothing that caught his interest. Raucous laughter had him wandering towards the front of the gallery towards the entrance. It seemed Hancock's plan to sell the human curs had garnered a crowd at least. He joined the semi-circle of mixed mythos that jeered at the now cleaner specimens. They were thoroughly trapped, a lightning rod jammed into the ground between the links in the chains from their wrists. Both seemed exhausted as they huddled next to each other. The only shade provided to them was that of their spectators. If they hadn't been human, he might have felt pity for them.

"What about you, Mihawk? You gonna take them?"

"...No." Sharp gold eyes stared down at the crouched figures. "Too young. If I were to purchase human entertainment, it would need to be old enough to at least put up a good fight for the fledglings." He quickly dismissed the idea and looked over to the naga in charge of the lot. "Tell your princess I'd be most interested if she comes across any decent human fighters. I would pay good money for a combat slave."

The serpent swallowed under the gaze before nodding mutely.

Marco doubted anyone else there saw the humor in the raptor's look when their eyes met briefly, sharing in the private joke. Phoenix birds were not normally considered threatening, usually being viewed as too ornate now by those who'd never been on the wrong side of a fight with one, but Marco was old enough to remember a time when snakes, rabbits, and rats used to look at him like that—like he was a predator to avoid being seen by at all costs.

The air chilled, alerting him to a most unwelcome presence. "What have we here?" Doflamingo bent down, folding himself nearly in half to look at the two humans that stared up at him with wide eyes. Marco could see the corners of the thunderbird's eyes crinkle under his traditional mask as he grinned. "Fufufufufu! Humans! How adorable! And so small and helpless, too."

"They are human young," the naga dutifully told the giant bird of destruction. Marco really wished that she hadn't, but unfortunately snakes didn't have the fear of death-bringers they should.

"Are they now?" He stepped over a few people to get closer to the humans, head cocked to the side like the carrion eater he was. "How much?"

Marco tried, he really did try to keep his mouth shut. He told himself that it was a better fate than being eaten by a troll, at least. Except he knew it was a lie. He'd seen firsthand what this Lord of the Thunderbirds did to amuse himself. "Stop it. You don't want them, yoi."

"I think I do," Doflamingo snapped back, a hand shooting out to latch around the smaller human's leg. "I've been bored. I could use some new pets. Do you think they're trainable?"

Finally the naga seemed to realize something was wrong, though it could have been the threat to her mistress's merchandise. Her tail began to twitch nervously. "I-I couldn't say, sir. But, they are young."

The dark bird smiled at that, feathers settling as he lifted the human by its leg and watched the other's attempts to get it down. Compared to hours ago their struggles were sluggish, and Marco found himself idly wondering just how much longer they could go on before passing out. Humans were weak, after all. The laughter of his fellow mythos, while not surprising, wasn't something he could bring himself to join in on. Human or not, tormenting the weak had never been something to laugh at. He didn't try to stop it, since if it really was a problem the naga would say something. That was what she was there for; to provide information and protect the merchandise if needed.

A stronger kick from the upside-down human actually managed to connect with Doflamingo's mask, knocking it askew.

"BRAT!" the mythos cawed, grip tightening around the human's leg in obvious anger. It was over; he was going to kill it.

"Maybe I should buy them, after all," Mihawk spoke up, stopping the other bird. "After all, the little one seems to have gotten you ruffled."

Doflamingo dropped the human, voice tight. "No, you just need to be firm with a pet, hawk. It's how you train them."

"And if you kill them in the process?" Marco realized he was the one who spoke when everyone looked at him.

He didn't like the way Doflamingo tapped the side of his mask in contemplation. "Then I guess I really break them, hmmm?" He refused to say anything to that. Refused to rise to the bait, to think about that time… He was better than that damn death-bringer, and he had nothing to prove. He was just going to turn and walk away, because it was not his problem. "So, how much for the both of them again?"

Conceited carrion eater.

He spun, pinning the naga with his stare. He made sure she saw just how annoyed he was with her for her uselessness in the whole situation. It had the desired effect; she froze, completely focused on Marco. "I'll pay whatever you're asking plus half."

The only thing soothing Atche's shot nerves was the soft, barely noticeable movement of his little brother's chest as he breathed, head resting comfortably on the elder's lap. It was getting harder to stay awake with each passing moment, a reminder of how long it had been since they were allowed rest. But they couldn't rest—not with those monsters keeping them there. What if they hurt Lu? He couldn't sleep and leave his poor, helpless little brother undefended.

Earlier they'd thrown them in a room filled with a large assortment of what appeared to be random things gathered together from different parts of the world. They were pinned by their chains, just like when they were brought to that big place with all the monsters, all staring at them and laughing and touching his little brother—like that blond one with the stupid mask. When that thing first walked up they were scared, having seen the talons on its fingertips and the clearly inhuman features it sported. When the ugly, round monster from earlier looked at them it would lick its lips—did they eat people? They weren't going to eat Lu were they?—but the man-like thing just grinned and everything about it screamed danger. It and two others who Atche hadn't bothered to look at bickered about something, examining them like pieces of meat.

Was that what they were to those monsters? Food? Was that all their lives amounted to?

Eventually one voice quieted the others. He and his brother were promptly sent away after that, but he never got a chance to see who ended the torment. He remembered the voice, though—smooth and calm amongst a flurry of irritating noise and mocking jibes. It was that impassioned tone that got the staring to stop. For that, he was grateful.

The creatures treated them like cargo to be stored in a spare room. The snake-people who kept toting them around everywhere would glower at them like they were dirt, muttering insults before leaving. He couldn't understand what they were saying but it was obvious by the intonation that it wasn't exactly nice.

After hours of nothing, he was starting to lose his battle with sleep. Luhfi had made him into a makeshift bed long ago and was snoring away, leaving him with no one to talk to and nothing to do. It was mind-numbing.

Finally the set of large doors at the front of the room creaked open. Dozens of monsters filed in, chattering away in that strange language of theirs as they dispersed, grabbing knick-knacks and furniture and stuff that he really couldn't identify from where he was situated. A few stepped over to the brothers to have a look and he snarled at them, almost like a growl, warning them off. They didn't seem put-off by the action, smirking and laughing before moving towards the back.

The crowd grew before dispersing and eventually no one was left but the snake-man (guard?) at the door, watching for anyone else. For a long while no one came and he thought that, after surviving that nightmare, he could grant himself a moment of rest. He closed his eyes, just for a second…

A rhythmic tapping brought him from his dream-like state. Atche forced his heavy lids to open, blearily peering towards the door as the patter of shoes against the floor neared. There was another one?

It seemed like forever before the creature rounded the corner and his eyes widened. Immediately he began nudging his brother, ignoring his protests of 'five more minutes' as he gawked.

The figure was clad in the most brilliant of clothes, a mesh of vibrant reds and yellows and oranges with embroidery unrivalled by any he had seen before. The layers of long, loose cloth seemed to glide along the ground to create the illusion of floating, betrayed only by the sound of his footsteps.

With a few groggy groans Luhfi sat up, yawning and wiping the sleep from his eyes.

"I'm still tired," he complained, looking like he was about to speak once more but the words caught in his throat as his eyes settled on the approaching man. Suddenly whatever he wanted to say seemed meaningless and he stared, just like his elder brother, with a slack jaw.

The elegant traditional wear may have been what caught Atche's attention first, but the real shock and surprise came when he looked up at the wearer's face, met with foreign blond hair and blue eyes. But he was human. Or, he at least looked human. And as that blond foreign man stopped in front of them, dull eyes boring into his own, he thought maybe they had been saved.

After a particularly awkward stare-down, the blond looked over his shoulder and said something in that damned nonsensical language to the snake-person… thing. He wished he could understand. He wished he knew what was going on. But that man didn't look like a monster so maybe he wouldn't eat them or hurt them. Maybe he was safe.

Betraying the heavy layers of fine silks draped across his body, the blond crouched down, indifferent eyes studying the brothers with calculating coldness. They pulled their mouths taut, wondering why he was looking at them like that before he grabbed Atche by the arm and not-so-gently pulled him closer, ignoring it when the boy yelped and tugged back. He wasn't deterred, though, and moved his free hand to hold the human's chin in place, turning it to study different angles with a careful look in his eyes.

Atche glowered at him, wondering what the hell he was trying to do. But just as quickly as he was grabbed, he was released. The blond stood tall once more, looking down at them like they were inferior.

He was just like the rest.

One of the snake people walked up to the three, rubbing its hands together anxiously. "Are they to your liking, sir?"

Whatever he asked, the blond seemed to contemplate, his eyes moving from Atche to Luhfi and back again. "They'll do, yoi."

Why couldn't he understand? It was so aggravating! For all he knew, they were discussing the best ways to roast them!

"Bring me the keys," he continued. "I'll need them later."

"Yes, Master Suzaku." With those few incoherent sounds and a bow, the snake-creature exited to the hall, leaving the boys with the blond stranger to whatever fate he wished.

His stare was unsettling. It was relentless, not indulging in the brief glances away that a human would, not allowing them any relief. But then he looked down curiously. Atche followed his eyes, gasping when he saw his little brother bunching the fine silk robes in his fist, looking at the bright colours and intricate patterns. He sputtered, grabbing at his brother to tug him away.

"What are you doing?" he questioned in a shout. "Don't piss it off!"

"But it's so pretty, Atche! Look!"

"Idiot!" he chastised. The last thing he needed was for the most human-like creature they'd seen in days to get upset with them. He didn't want to know how that would end.

An amused snort brought both boys' faces to rise, looking into the mostly indifferent face of the man. Despite the sound he made, he didn't smile.

"Noisy little things, aren't you?"

When the man did nothing but meet their stares, Luhfi had apparently declared him safe, breaking out into the widest of grins as he continued to clutch tightly to the floor-length orange skirt. "You're a really pretty lady!"

Atche's heart just about jumped out of his chest as he waited for the man's reaction, suddenly happy that he didn't seem to understand their language just as they didn't his. But despite Luhfi's friendly smile, despite the happy tone of his voice, the stranger didn't react. He didn't seem to care.

When met with no disapproving glance, no warning signs that he had done something wrong, the younger boy took another step closer and grabbed the cloth with both hands. He tried to pull himself flush with the blond but his shackled limbs reached the end of their chain.

"O-oi, Lu, what are you…"

His little brother turned to him, grinning through his exhaustion. "I think she's nice!"

He rolled his eyes. "It's a boy, Lu."

"Eh?" The child blinked. "But she's wearing a dress!"

"Well…" While it did look like women's clothes—somewhat similar to expensive robes he'd seen sold in town once from a far-off country—the man's features were clearly, well, masculine.

Satisfied when his sibling had no retort, Luhfi returned his attention to the stranger. The richly-clothed man was starting to look awkward—uncomfortable—as the human clung to him. Atche stopped his inward panic to stare at him curiously. Did he… did he not know what to do? Was he not used to being touched by kids? Or was it because they weren't monsters?

"Are you gonna help us, lady?"

The blond's brows furrowed as he scowled down at the boys, eyes turning hard. Suddenly his earlier fears returned. He wanted to pull his sibling away, wrap him in the protective hold of his arms, but never had a chance.

Hurriedly the servant returned, the jingling of keys floating along the air. He promptly handed the human-like creature the ring, bowing yet again with the utmost respect.

"Is that all, Master Suzaku?"

Atche's eyes widened. Su… za… ku… He'd heard that strange, foreign name before. But where? When? It sounded important…

"I'll be taking them now, yoi."

"Right, Sire."

Damn it all, why couldn't he understand?

As the snake bent down and removed the large spikes pinning the links of their chains to the floor his jaw went slack. That was their chance! Without missing a beat he scooped up his brother and bolted towards the door, falling flat on his face almost instantaneously. He rubbed his throbbing forehead, cursing as he looked back to see a certain man's foot weighing down on the end of his manacle with that same indifferent expression he wore earlier.

"Oi!" he growled out, gritting his teeth as he sat up, "leave us alone! What do you even want from us?"

The blond raised an eyebrow, probably because he hadn't comprehended a word the child spat at him, but quickly recovered and took the bindings into his hand, tousling them slightly as though to emphasis the control he held.

Cocky bastard. But as much as Atche might have wished he could make him regret that action, he knew he couldn't—not as he was. What was he to do, then? Just let it do what it wished—whisk them away to who-knows-where for god-knows-why? He hated to admit it, but he was running out of options.

The being glanced at the servant one last time, grip on their chains tightening. "You may leave yoi. Tell your princess that I am honoured to have attended."

"Right, sir. Thank you, sir." The snake dipped into a low bow, its body folding as far forward as it could without tipping over, before it left in a calm, respectful manner, never turning its back on the blue-eyed man.

The large door at the front slammed shut and the effect on the blond was instantaneous as he slouched slightly, taking a less dignified poster as he released an airy breath. Something seemed to change in him as he mumbled a few words, too quiet to catch even if Atche had known the language.

For a moment he seemed to have forgotten about the two guarded children held close to him by heavy shackles but eventually that realization returned and his eyes met theirs yet again. But, just like moments ago, he sighed.

"Why am I doing this?" The human didn't know the words but could tell from the raised intonation at the end that it was a question, though he didn't feel it was directed at them. And he looked at them. That look was piercing. "You two are going to cause me a lot of trouble yoi; I can feel it."

The being took a step.

Air hitched in his throat as he jumped to his feet, arms splayed to shield his baby brother. "Stay back!" he commanded, momentarily forgetting that the blond didn't seem to know what he was saying. "Don't you dare touch him!"

A flicker of amusement shone through those blue irises, gone just as quickly. The man didn't heed his words, moving forward once more.

Atche stepped back, forcing Luhfi to do the same.

"Feisty little human, aren't you?" He stopped only when he was toe-to-toe with the elder boy. Then the bastard raised its hand, mockingly dangling the key ring in front of their faces. And Atche had to still, to go quiet, because he knew what that meant: he couldn't fight back. "Better, yoi. If you don't wish to be troll fodder or a carrion lover's plaything, I suggest you come with me."

Swallowing the urge to spew more tough words he couldn't back up, the boy pushed his brother further behind him and pulled his mouth taut. "In case you haven't noticed, I don't know what the hell you're saying."

A silence passed and the being seemed to consider the broken communication they practiced, though the human was certain its grasp of his words was just as poor as the reverse. Moments later it held out its hand, waiting.

Should he take it?

Luhfi, of course, didn't allow for a moment of thought as he stepped away from his human shield to latch onto the outstretched appendage, giddy laughter passing his lips even through the exhaustion and the hunger and the fear. The elder saw how the creature cringed at the touch, a flash of repulsion coming and going as the boy dangled from its wrist. It was disgusted by them, perhaps to a stronger extent than some of the monsters they'd encountered—the ones who very well may have wanted to devour them.

"I told you she was nice!" Luhfi cheered, clinging to the stranger worryingly close.

Atche remained fixed to the tiled floor, unwilling to move even as his brother was hoisted into the air and sniffed by the thing, investigating him like some sort of wild animal. The boy wasn't deterred at all by this, laughing in his excitement over the possibility of being rescued, reaching out his hands to explore the skin of its face even when it showed its displeasure. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it—whatever 'it' was—didn't mean them harm. In any case, it was probably better than staying with that ugly, round monster and getting eaten, right?

As the generously-robed blond's patience wore down, the human stepped forward.

"Wise choice, pet."

Mythos mentioned in this chapter:

Phoenix: Mythical bird of rebirth. There're different types depending on what mythology you look at, Greeks have the classic Phoenix, but there's also the Persian Anka, the Russian firebird, and the Chinese Fenghuang to name a few. In this story, they're all the same clan. Marco's a phoenix.

Cait Sidhe: Fairy cat in Celtic and Scottish mythology. Though some stories say it's a witch that can turn into a cat a set number of times. In this story they're related to other cat mythos tribes. Bellamire is a Cait Sith. Nami is not, she's adopted.

Troll: From Noris and Scandinavian mythology. In this story Teach is a ½ troll. Classic trolls in mythology don't feed off of lust, but there are tales of them terrorizing people. And yes, they will eat people.

Naga: From Hinduism/Buddhism. Lots of stories on these and descriptions too, from full snakes to being described as beings with just the lower body of a snake, sometimes as snakes with a human head. Handcock and her clan are all Naga, and most retain more serpent-like looks. Boa can look more 'human' than others.

Golem: From Jewish folklore. Being created from inanimate matter. In this story, Golems are made out of different types of minerals. Morgan is a golem.

Thunderbird: Native American legends. Classically a bringer of storms. When it flies it blacks out the sun, it's wing claps create thunder, and it drops lightning from it's beak. Thunderbirds are about change, being storms. Some oral stories speak of thunderbirds snatching children. They're known to be wrathful in legends when they feel they've been 'wronged'. Doflamingo is a Thunderbird.

Mer-Shark: A sub tribe of the merfolk, shark based. Shouldn't have to tell you what a mermaid/merman is, right? Lots of cultures have them. For this story there are some that can go on land, and some that can't. None ever looks very human. In this story they're fond of drinking, or at least Jinbe is.

Dragon: Another creature that shows up in mythologies across the globe with only slightly different forms, or the same basic form and different names. They're very direct and protective of those weaker than themselves in this story. The dragon clan is one of the few clans that has no problem with humans, even if humans don't feel the same way. Garp is a Dragon, and so is his son, Dragon. (We have an amusing side-story to later explain the lack of creativity for Dragon's name, rest assured.)

Hawk: I know I know, you're all thinking "But a hawk is a hawk!" And you're right... but you're wrong, too. See, hawks show up all over the place in mythology. They've been messengers of the gods, gods themselves, omen bringers. Well, you get the idea, right? So, Hawks are one of those mythos races that have the unique position of sharing their clan name with regular animals. Don't look down on them for it though. Hawks are prideful and everyone knows they have no sense of humor (lies). Mihawk is a Hawk.

(Do you see why I love her? Bedlam wrote all that out for you guys~ And there's obviously more to come. So please leave us a review and tell us what you think, yeah? This chapter was a lot of work. Worth it, of course, but I - Anjelle, not so much Bedlam - have been worrying over whether it's too weird for you guys. Care to give me some reassurance? :,D)

*Chapter title quote by Friedrich Nietzche