Nine Minutes

Disclaimer: I've recently sent Oda a firmly-worded letter explaining that One Piece now belongs to me. He hasn't replied yet, but I'm legally-entitled to take lack of objection as agreement, right?


Water 7 is ruined and on the brink of collapse. The Lily Funeral Mecenary Band is roaming the streets gunning down any possible dissenters, but the pirates have been targeted worse than anyone. Zoro faces off against the flamboyant Bobo with Tashigi and Vivi caught the crossfire. Wiper rushes to save Aisa, who's been taking hostage by the stoic Biyunka, threatening to murder her unless Wiper kills himself. In the distance, Sanji attempts to keep Usopp alive by protected the ruined hospital, only be to besieged by Bourin and his armed men.

Meanwhile, Robin tries to save the wounded Luffy's life, only to encounter the ancient mercenary leader Gapopo, who gives her an ultimatum: run or die.

Chapter 38: How Very Mercenary of You, Part 2

It sounded like a warzone. The ground was still rumbling, a deep bass quaking in the background, mixed with the sharp timbre of the city crumbling, piece by piece. The explosions, screams and gunfire were like crescendo that only ever seemed to increase, while the shrill clashes of swords were spiked through it. It was so chaotic that Zoro could barely keep track of it, yet he was a swordsman; he was focused solely on the fight in front of him.

But it was the sound of laughter that felt like nails over a chalkboard. It was a high, yippy, boisterous laughter that sent Zoro into a rage.

"Yohohohoho!" Bobo screamed happily, body flexing between sword strikes. "Oh, how scary, this guy is going to kill me! Yohohoho!"

Zoro's hands clenched around his blades. "Shut up and fight properly!" The swordsman growled, his swords flashing furiously. All three of them were barely visible as they cut and sliced through the air. The ground was littered with sword strikes.

Yet Bobo didn't even try to fight back. Bobo's sword was short with a broad handle and a wicked curved black blade with serrated edges, short enough that looked like a dagger in his long arms, but he barely even used it. He had only actually parried half a dozen blows the entire battle.

Instead, Bobo would dance backwards, avoiding every strike of Zoro. The pirate was faster and stronger, but the mercenary was nimble with long limbs and a flexible body, and he kept his distance. Zoro was forced to have to keep on charging more and more aggressively, waiting for Bobo to slip up, but the man never did. His body was as flexible as a snake when it came to avoiding Zoro's slashes.

"Fight? Me?" Bobo laughed furiously, smile stretching over his face. "Oh no! I'm a lover, not a fighter, you know?"

"And you call yourself a mercenary!" Zoro snarled, releasing a flying slash at him. The man bent over backwards to avoid the blow.

"Meh, mercenary, assassin…" Bobo mused, still chuckling. "Why does everyone have to put labels on things, you know?"

The man was more like a clown than an assassin. Everything about him was flamboyant, from his colourful hair, to his extravagant, flabby clothes that barely seemed to fit him. It was a wonder the man never tripped over as he danced backwards across the uneven rubble. The man was good at avoiding attacks, at the very least.

Still, Zoro was dominating the battle. Bobo couldn't match him in any proper swordfight. Around him, Tashigi was still unconscious after Gapopo put her down quickly, while Vivi was facing off against the crowd of mercenaries. The mercenaries were well-organised and well-armed, and between the use of smoke bombs and the threat of Seastone grenades they had managed to push the Logia back into a corner with pure tactics.

But Vivi was still holding her own. She couldn't even see her attackers through her the smoke and her sand attacks were mostly useless, but at the same time she could defend against grenades with a wall of sand. Vivi was keeping the other mercenaries occupied, leaving Zoro to fight against Bobo uninterrupted.

With Bobo constantly stepping backwards and Vivi retreating for cover, the two fights were slowly moving apart from each other. All I have to do is finish this guy off, Zoro thought determinedly. He'll slip up, and I'll cut him in half. Once I'm free, I can cut through those other guys and Vivi will finish them off. The mercenaries were relying on numbers and suppressing fire against the Logia Devil fruit; they could never stand up for long once Zoro attacked from the opposite direction, close range.

"You're a disgrace to wield a sword," Zoro grunted, slashing so close that he cut open Bobo's baggy shirt, but just missed the stomach. Nearly, Zoro thought viciously.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Bobo taunted. There was a sharp glint in his eyes. "Mercenaries do keep tricks hidden up their sleeves, you know?"

Zoro knew this trick. Bobo was trying to keep on moving backwards, taunting Zoro to attack more aggressively. If Zoro ever did trip up or leave his guard open, doubtlessly that short black sword would come darting at him at the blink of the eye. Act passive, play the fool, and wait for an opportunity. It was a common tactic used against superior opponents.

But Zoro refused to fall for it. Despite his speed, every slash was measured and guarded, his eyes constantly alert for any sudden counterattack. In terms of swordsmanship, Zoro could take him. The only concern that Zoro had to be careful was if…

"That woman," Zoro muttered. "She transformed her feet into wheels. She had a Devil fruit."

"Yep," Bobo agreed. "Biyunka ate the Disk Disk fruit. She can turn anything into disks."

"And that old man," Zoro said slowly. "Tashigi's cut didn't hurt him. He had some power."

"Gapopo?" Bobo mused, wide grin stuck on his face. "Gapopo is… special."

Zoro paused. His eyes flickering over Bobo, measuring his posture carefully

"Are you holding back?" Bobo mused. He burst laughing "Yoho! Oh, I see. You're worried in case I ate a Devil fruit and I'm waiting for an opportunity to reveal it. Well, don't fret! Me, I like swimming, you know?"

Zoro grunted. "If you've got no power, then you're just a completely mediocre swordsman that I'm going to kill."

Bobo grinned brightly. "You're a cruel guy, you know?"

Zoro lunged. In a second, he was slashing towards Bobo furiously. His sword finally clipped Bobo's wrist, drawing a drop of blood. "My swords get hungry," Zoro snarled.

"Yohohoho!" Bobo laughed furiously. His eyes gleamed. "Say, did you know that your girlfriend is getting shot over there?"

Zoro didn't fall for it. He knew fine well that Tashigi was barely conscious on the ground and all the enemies weren't paying her any attention. Even so, he glanced to one side.

Sure enough, as soon as his eyes flickered away, Bobo's sword struck. Zoro smirked. Got you! Zoro thought venomously.

Bobo thought that he was taking Zoro by surprise. The joke was on him. As soon as Bobo lunged for the attack, the mercenary was close enough for Zoro to cut.

With blinding speed, Zoro dodged Bobo's blade, but Zoro was already swinging his sword around. I've got you now! Zoro thought furiously. One strike, and it'd be over.

The feeling of the blade cutting through Zoro's skin caused him to freeze. Suddenly, Bobo's sword twisted around and stabbed him in the side.

I dodged that, Zoro thought dumbly. I was sure I dodged that lunge.

"I told you I had tricks up my sleeve," Bobo whispered with a cruel smirk. The loud, boisterous voice was gone. His voice was suddenly cold, and quiet. The laughter vanished.

Bobo's blade stabbed into him, near the thigh. Zoro's reflexes kicked in instantly. Before the blade could pierce any further, he instantly knocked the sword away with one hand and swiping at Bobo's arm with the sword in his mouth. Bobo's arm was forced to retreat before he had a chance to gut him. Zoro dropped to the floor and rolled away defensively.

Zoro's eyes widened as he got a chance to stare at Bobo's arms. The man's arms were longer than his body. Zoro counted two elbows, crisscrossed at different angles.

"You're from the Longarm Tribe," Zoro realised suddenly.

He had an extra joint in his arms. That long, baggy shirt of his. Bobo had been keeping his longer arms curled up in his sleeves, deliberately hiding how long his reach was. He waited until I got comfortable, and used his long arms to twist his lunge around and stab me from the side…

"And what? You thought I was just a dumb clown with a silly sword?" Bobo smirked softly. "You always have to put labels on things, don't you?"

Zoro's jaw clenched. He got a lucky strike, Zoro thought furiously. But it was a one off. I won't make that mistake again. The cut is only a flesh wound, it's not even that deep

He stopped suddenly as his hand went to his side. Zoro's eyes widened. The pain was still there, but couldn't feel any blood.

Actually, Zoro thought suddenly, I can't feel anything at all.

His skin was completely numb. It wasn't even tingling; all feeling had just… vanished. Zoro was left staring at his hands, totally unable to feel the texture of swords.

Zoro glared at Bobo. The man had a smug expression. "What did you do?" Zoro growled.

"I said I never ate a Devil fruit. And that's true. I haven't," Bobo explained, slowly holding up his sword. The black metal gleamed in the faint light. The serrated edge of the blade was slick with blood. "This sword, however, has been infused with the power of Blind Blind fruit."

Zoro couldn't feel his skin. The disconcerting sensation caused him to back away slightly, staring at Bobo suspiciously. "The sword has a Devil fruit power?" Zoro demanded.

"Yep," Bobo smirked. "That's the thing when inanimate objects are given Devil fruit powers; unless the fruit is Zoan, then it gives a completely passive power. An object can't use a power, but still it's useful enough. Not as powerful as when a person eats it, of course, but still…" Bobo admired his sword slowly, running his finger gingerly across the sharp edge.

"Take the Blind Blind fruit, for example…" Bobo explained, glaring at Zoro as he carefully stepped forward. "Anybody who is cut by this black blade… will blinded of a single random sense."

"Random?" There was a flicker of doubt in his voice.

"Yep," Bobo agreed. "I can't control the power. The sword controls the power, and this is just an object. Looking at you, I'm guessing you lost your sense of touch after that cut. Now, if I were to cut you again, well, maybe the next time you could lose your sense of smell. Or maybe your sense of sound. Or maybe even your sense of sight."

The short sword still seemed to gleam even in the smoky darkness. It looked almost thirsty for blood. "The sword's name is Kokuto Kageru," the mercenary muttered quietly, slowly swinging the blade back and forth. "The sword that brings darkness."

Zoro bit his lip. He couldn't feel the pressure, but he still felt the pain when he bit too deeply. It was like he lost all sense of texture on his skin.

"Do you understand now?" Bobo mocked. "This is a blade that makes it more difficult for an opponent to fight back after every slash. All it takes is half a dozen tiny little nicks and game over. Hell, maybe you'll be unlucky and it'll only take one slash. It's kind of a random bag, you know?"

"Yes," Zoro growled. "I understand that I have to kill you without getting cut again."

Bobo's smirk widened. He had a face that Zoro severely wanted to punch. "That's easier said than done, you know?"

Zoro paused. He looked a lot more cautious now, glaring at Bobo furiously. "How long does this last?"

"Forever. It's permanent." Bobo mocked. Zoro's eyes widened in shock. "Or, at least, it's permanent until the moment you take a hold of this Kokuto Kageru, from the handle. The sword has no effect on whoever is wielding it."

"That makes things simple then!" Zoro snarled, before launching at Bobo furiously. He half-expected Bobo to dodge backwards again, but instead the mercenary leapt to meet him, even slashing back with wild blows.

With his long arms, Bobo had the advantage of reach. His slashes were like whips as he hacked and slashed madly. Zoro was even put onto the defensive, but he parried every blow and still managed to counteract.

Every cut and that sword takes a sense, Zoro thought quickly. Five senses; touch, taste, smell, sound and sight. Even without touch he was struggling to keep up when he couldn't feel the blades like he used to, but he was managing. Zoro didn't care if he lost smell or taste, but fighting without sight or even sound… that could get difficult. I can't take the risk. I have to end this before he cuts me again.

"You're still not good enough to beat me!" Zoro roared, slashing so quickly his sword nicked Bobo's upper arm.

Bobo grunted. "Yeah, well…" He slashed downwards with his sword quickly. "… it must be hard to hold a sword when you can't feel the handle!"

Zoro's eyes widened as his blade fell uselessly out of his hand as he tried to parry. Damn it! Zoro thought with panic. Zoro had been losing his grip of his sword and hadn't even noticed. Had Bobo been attacking wildly deliberately, knowing that I couldn't feel the impact of his blows?

Zoro's sword, Sandai Kitetsu, clattered out of his numb fingers and to the floor. Zoro had no choice; he had to jump backwards, but Bobo's reach was too long. Zoro barely managed to get away as the black sword cut shallowly across Zoro's shoulder. With a grunt, Bobo twisted around with his other hand, punching Zoro to the ground as he dodged.

He didn't feel the collision, but the pain still hurt. He landed roughly through a pile of stone rubble. Zoro coughed, and saw blood splattering on to the floor. He couldn't taste any blood in his mouth, but he knew it was there.

I just lost my sense of taste, Zoro realised slowly.

His heart was beating furiously now. He couldn't lose focus. He could fight without taste, but it was the lack of touch that was really getting to him. That blade was dangerous, and Bobo was a lot more cunning than Zoro originally gave him credit for.

Zoro was the better, stronger, faster fighter. Despite that, though, Zoro was now the one fighting at a disadvantage, missing a sword, and taking the most injuries.

Slowly, Bobo kicked Sandai Kitetsu to one side, out of reach. "Can you hear me?" Bobo asked curiously. "Or can you smell your own fear? Or maybe taste?"

Zoro grimaced. I have to end this quickly.

Before Zoro even had a chance to attack, Bobo lunged first. The long-armed man was suddenly leaping at him, aims flailing as he hacked and slashed his sword madly. Zoro blocked every blow, but Bobo was dancing around him, leaping and jumping as he tried to attack from all directions.

"Fight properly, bastard!" Zoro roared, still spinning to catch up with Bobo. The man smirked.

"Nope," Bobo said smugly, dropping backwards. "I just wanted a chance to get behind you. Let's see how your girlfriend is doing, shall we?"

With that, the man turned and ran in the opposite direction. Zoro blinked stupidly. The realisation came quickly.

Tashigi. He was running to kill Tashigi while she was still unconscious.

Zoro's legs exploded. Bobo had a head start, but Zoro accelerated faster. In an instant, Zoro glimpsed Bobo lunging downwards towards a motionless Tashigi. The swordsman was there just in time, slashing away Bobo's blade with one hand and snatching Tashigi up off the ground with the other in a fluid motion. Zoro was sure to parry the sword well away from him as he shoulder barged through Bobo in a tangle of limbs.

"Pysche," Bobo whispered. There was a slice as a blade cut across Zoro's upper leg. He never even flinched. The pain came later.

Zoro blinked, just in time to see Bobo's sword retreating, with blood on the edge. Bobo was suddenly holding two swords; both of them identical; black blade, serrated edge. Zoro gasped, wincing with pain. When Zoro dived to cover Tashigi, Bobo sliced him with the second sword.

"That's right. I had another sword hidden in my coat all along," Bobo chuckled, spinning both swords around slowly. While he had been running towards Tashigi, he must have taken the second one out while Zoro had been too distracted to notice. "Of course, only one of them is infused with the Blind Blind fruit. One real, one fake. Do you remember which is which, though?"

Zoro's hands clenched, still covering Tashigi closely. That cut had gone deeper than the others. Tashigi mewled quietly as he put her down protectively. She stirred, her eyes flickering awake.

"Zoro?" Tashigi muttered foggily, focusing on slowly as she clutched her head. "…Urgh… what happened?"

"It's alright," Zoro said with a gulp, pulling himself up, sword in each hand. "You stay there, I can handle this clown."

Bobo was still smirking, dropping into a fighting stance. "Are you sure about that? How many senses do you have left?"

Zoro grunted. "Yeah. I can see and you hear you just fine," he grunted. "Hell, I can even smell your stinky, no good talent. That last cut you got on me must have been with the dupe blade."

His eyes flashed. "Is that so?" Bobo muttered, before darting in with a frontal lunge.

Zoro saw the head-on attack coming a mile away. He followed it easily; it didn't take him off-guard. Zoro knew he could parry the blow as easily as he raised his arm to stop it.

But nothing happened. His arms didn't move.

Tashigi screamed as suddenly Kokuto Kageru stabbed directly into his chest. Zoro gasped, and he fell backwards. His fighter's instincts kicked in and he tried to steady himself, but his legs stumbled and he toppled to the ground.

"Oh, I see," Bobo muttered mockingly. "You thought there were only five senses, didn't you? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's a misconception."

"Zoro!" Tashigi screamed, scrambling off the floor towards him. Bobo smirked, pacing around them almost predatory. Zoro gasped, trying to clutch the wound on his shoulder. He couldn't even move his hands to the right place.

"Everyone actually has about twenty senses, I think. I say 'about', because, well, eventually it gets hard to keep count, you know?" Bobo chuckled. "You've got the sense of pain, sense of direction, sense of balance, sense of proprioception that for some reasons people neglect from that five senses crap. And then there are things like sense of temperature, sense of hunger, sense of muscle tension that people don't even think about. That's not even going into the really weird senses like sense of empathy, senses of emotion."

Bobo's his eyes glinted. Zoro was gasping, struggling to even feel the wound in his shoulder. He could see the blood, but he couldn't feel it or feel any pain. His body felt almost detached from his mind.

"…And then…" Bobo muttered coldly. "…You've got the really important senses. Sense of time, sense of thought. Now that's scary part about Kokuto Kageru's power. Can you imagine being trapped in your own head for all eternity, cut off from your body, unable to think, unable to feel?"

Zoro groaned softly, trying to drag himself up off the ground. He had to concentrate just to move each limb individually. Tashigi looked between Zoro and Bobo, while gripping her sword tightly. "What did you do to him?" Tashigi demanded.

"Eh, I'm guessing that that cut before took away his proprioception – his hand-eye coordination. It must be bloody hard to fight when you don't even know where your own limbs are, hmm?" Bobo readied his blade slowly. "And judging from the lack of screaming, I'd say that my last cut took away his sense of pain. Now those are two important senses to lose."

Tashigi's hands tightened around her blade. Zoro was failing to even stand up. He couldn't control his limbs properly. I have to beat this man, Tashigi thought furiously.

In an instant, she leapt upwards, striking out with a furious slash. Bobo parried the blow with one of his swords and slashed out with the other, using his long arms to full advantage. Tashigi could barely keep up, but she still managed to match every strike and unleash attacks of her own. Her sword, Shigure, was a flurry of dancing slashes and lunges as she struck out with perfect precision.

"Hmm…" Bobo conceded with a grunt as they danced. "You're not bad. Your boyfriend was better, but he was also angry and so easy to manipulate. I don't think I'm going to catch you out as easily, am I?"

Tashigi didn't respond. She had no intention of playing to his taunts. She just had to focusing on keeping that blade away from her skin at all costs.

Bobo leapt backwards, avoiding her strikes. "Well, then…" he muttered slowly, his grin widening. "Shame your boyfriend is in no state to dodge, now isn't it?"

With a fluid motion, Bobo drew back one of his blades and threw it straight through the air, the short sword spinning straight towards. Tashigi's heart pounded. Zoro wouldn't be able to dodge. Zoro could barely stand up.

Her legs pounded off the ground with blinding speed, sword slashing out. She barely managed to slash the edge of the projectile sword, knocking it off to one side and it clattered to the ground.

But as soon as she turned around, Tashigi felt the jab of pain as a blade nicked the back of her ankle. Fuck, she thought with pure dread.

Tashigi tried to twist around and retaliate. Her body moved on instinct, but, suddenly, those instincts were wrong. Her foot slid uselessly against the ground and she stumbled backwards. There wasn't even a feeling of dizziness as she toppled.

Bobo was laughing, even as he lunged in for the kill. "Yohohoho! Unlucky! Sense of balance, gone!" He screeched, stabbing his sword downwards.

"Get away from her."

Bobo barely managed to react as Zoro charged at him from the side. The swordsman was clutching only one blade, Wado Ichimonji, with both hands as he slashed downwards ferociously. His eyes were feral.

"Whoa!" Bobo exclaimed happily. "I've never seen a man fight with absolutely no coordination before!"

Zoro was sweating furiously. His heart was pounding. Every movement was difficult. He had to stop and think about every step, and every slash. He couldn't fight as naturally as he should have been able to. It was like he was controlling his body but without knowing where it was.

I need to finish him quickly, Zoro grunted, his muscles screaming as he slashed with all the force he had. A swordsman needed to feel when he fought.

The slash released a blade of air that slashed open the ground. Bobo twisted to one side, but the shockwave still sent him flying. Zoro leapt after him, but the mercenary landed on his feet and parried the blow. Bobo had to use both hands on his short sword to match Zoro's strength.

"Alright, I admit it, you're pretty good," Bobo conceded, as he kicked out as Zoro's legs. Zoro couldn't dodge in time – he had to hold his body stiffly to stop himself from tripping over. "But me? I'm just better at killing better men."

The blow sent Zoro stumbling. He couldn't even react as Bobo's blade slashed against his shoulder.

Bobo was laughing. Zoro couldn't even hear the sound. His ears went deaf.

Still, he didn't even pause as he slashed out with all the rage he had. Zoro thought that he might have been screaming. It was hard to tell.

Bobo danced around him, throwing dirt at Zoro's face. The swordsman grunted and lashed out blindly, but then Bobo was behind him, casually making two little nicks on his back. Zoro couldn't even react to it. There was no pain, no sensation. Instead, he just felt his body becoming even more numb.

He didn't have time to even think about what senses had just lost. Instead, Zoro twisted and lunged. Bobo was smirking cruelly as he tripped the swordsman over, and easily made a small cut across Zoro's wrist.

The world disappeared. Everything went black for him. Bobo cheered. "Now there goes sight!" Bobo laughed, though Zoro couldn't hear him.

Zoro lunged to where he thought Bobo had been standing last, but there was no way of knowing whether it him or not. Zoro's heart was pounding like a drum as he stood there like a statue, blindly slashing madly at empty air. Zoro's sword fell from his grasp. The swordsman never even noticed as suddenly he was left trying to slash with no sword in his hands.

Bobo was grinning broadly as he slowly walked up to Zoro, and punched him straight in the face. The swordsman toppled to the ground without even flinching.

"ZORO!" Tashigi roared, struggling to even stand up properly. The world was spinning for her.

Bobo laughed, stamping on Zoro's back. He could have easily slit Zoro's throat, but instead his Kokuto Kageru darted out, gently making four nicks on Zoro's neck.

"Sorry to be the one to tell you, but your boyfriend is a vegetable now!" Bobo roared hysterically, absentmindedly cutting Zoro a few more times, just for good measure. "Completely and utterly blind to the world! On the plus side, he's now completely housetrained! The perfect, handsome, polite boyfriend – just stick him up in a corner along with the potted plant!"

"You bastard!" Tashigi screamed, shambling towards him carefully, but still stumbling with every step.

"Oh don't be like that!" Bobo laughed. "Tell you what, I'll even give you a straw that you can use to feed him! Not that he'd care, of course, right now he can't even feel or control his own muscles. Alas, that does make toilet training impossible!"

Tashigi's body burned. Bobo still had his foot on Zoro's back, kicking the motionless man absentmindedly. "I'll kill you," Tashigi snarled. "I. Will. Cut. You. Open."

"Try it." Bobo shrugged. "Now, your boyfriend, he was tough. I'm too worried about facing a little girl that can't even stand up straight anymore. All it takes a single cut, honey, and somehow I don't think you can avoid that when you're stumbling with every step!"

She could feel her teeth grinding together with rage. Bobo was still laughing, leering over Zoro jovially.

"You want to know the best part about when they reach this stage?" Bobo sighed, kicking Zoro until he rolled over on his back. "It's their faces. Look at him –so furious, so scared, so helpless!"

Zoro's face was frozen with rage, but totally motionless. His brow was furrowed, jaw clenched, eyes blazing, but he couldn't move a muscle. His eyes were bloodshot. He didn't even twitch as Bobo bent over him, gently slapping him in the face.

"That's the thing, his mind has been totally severed from his body," Bobo laughed, poking him roughly in the eye. Tashigi felt her blood burn. "I mean, the body itself still works fine, but he just can't feel anything about it. People rely on their senses – if you can't even react to the outside world, well, you might as well just be a plank of wood."

"Zoro…" Tashigi gasped, eyes wide with shock. The anger and dread overloaded her body. The sight of Bobo messing with the Zoro as if he were a human-sized doll sent tremors down her spine. This is bad; this is very, very bad

Bobo's laughter filled the air. "Aww…" Bobo pouted snidely, placing his hand on Zoro's chest. The swordsman's pulse felt like a sledgehammer hitting against a wall. "Listen to his little heart, pounding away in there. How cute. Why, he must be so scared, you kn–"

The laughter stopped. Bobo's voice ended in a shocked, choking noise. Zoro's hand struck out. Suddenly, the swordsman was clutching the mercenary by the throat. Tightly. Very, very tightly.

Tashigi's mouth dropped open. Bobo couldn't even gasp in surprise.

Zoro's unseeing eyes were looking straight at him blindly. His mouth slowly twisted up into a smirk, as raspy words came hoarsely out of Zoro's throat.

"… Iseeyou…"

Those three words were the most terrifying that Bobo had ever heard. His face went pale. Zoro's grip on his throat tightened even further.

Zoro was grinning now, and it was all teeth.

"… Not… not possible…!" Bobo gasped in pure panic, struggling to react as Zoro twisted him onto the floor. The swordsman was on top of Bobo now, still throttling the life out of him with one hand.

Bobo clutched his sword and managed stabbed Zoro in the torso. He stabbed Zoro repeatedly, but the swordsman didn't even flinch.

Of course he didn't flinch, Tashigi realised. Zoro couldn't feel a thing.

There were no fancy tricks or cunning tactics left. Now, there was just Zoro, clutching Bobo by the throat, fingers digging around his jugular. Almost shakily, Zoro raised his other arm upwards, his hand clenched so tightly into a fist that his fingernails pierced his palm.

And then, with merciless force, Zoro punched downwards, knuckles colliding with Bobo's head with bone-shattering force. Bobo's skull bounced off the stone ground with a dull thud. Zoro's grip around his throat didn't even slacken.

Zoro punched Bobo again. And again. And again. Each impact was just as ruthless as the last. The punches were slow and rhythmic. Every punch was firm and unyielding. Bobo's screams were bloodcurdling, but they fell on deaf eyes.

Bobo tried to thrash and escape, but Zoro literally didn't even notice.

Instead, he just kept on punching as Bobo's skull was pounded into mush. Even when Zoro's own knuckles were bleeding, he didn't stop or slow down.

The only thing Zoro knew was that, in his head, he could feel the faint outline telling him where Bobo's presence was.

It had only been when every other sense had vanished that that presence had finally become crystal clear.

Zoro just kept on punching blindly until that presence disappeared from his mind completely. And then he kept on punching some more, just to be on the safe side.

By the time Zoro was done, there was very little left of Bobo's head. Brains, bone and flesh littered the ground in a dull gloop that splattered everywhere. Still, Zoro never let go of Bobo's neck.

Tashigi stared, eyes wide. Slowly, she staggered forward, and pulled the black sword out of the corpse's limp fingers. As soon as Tashigi touched the handle, she felt the world straighten as her sense of balance came rushing back.

Tashigi groaned, carefully reaching down and plying apart Zoro's bloody fingers, and place the black sword in his hand. Zoro was completely motionless as she wrapped Kokuto Kageru into his grip.

As soon as he was holding it and she let go, Zoro gasped and screamed in equal parts relief and agony as all of the sensations and pain came rushing back to him. The feeling was so intense that he toppled to the ground, struggling to breathe.

"…That…" Zoro panted heavily as he stared at his own hands in shock. "…That was unpleasant…"

Aisa. Wiper's heart was like a drum in his chest. He wanted to charge Biyunka, tear out her throat, to rip her in half. He longed to hear her scream, but he couldn't. The only thing that stopped him was the side Aisa's eyes, wide with terror as those spinning disks hummed millimetres away from her throat.

"Did you hear me?" Biyunka muttered coldly, still clutching the little girl tightly, holding her from the hair. "You either kill yourself, or I'll kill her now."

Wiper's eyes blazed. "You… you…" he growled. "I can't. You'll just kill her anyways."

"I won't," Biyunka said with a shrug. "I don't kill people unless I'm getting paid for it. This girl is not on the list, but you are. If you refuse, then I'll simply kill her anyways to give myself a better chance at beating you."

The raider hesitated, eyes filled with doubt suddenly. Aisa stared. "…Wiper…" she muttered quietly.

Carefully Wiper took a step forward. I have to keep her talking, he thought furiously. "How do I know you'll keep your word?"

"You don't," Biyunka said simply. She inched her arm closer, and Aisa gasped as the disks sliced across surface of her skin. "But if you take another step towards me, I will kill her straight away. You have a minute to make a decision before I slice her throat open."

His hands were shaking. Wiper looked almost… afraid? Aisa had never seen him afraid before. It was enough to make her heart pound. For a second, Aisa saw his eyes flicker

"…No…" Aisa muttered quietly. "…No, don't you dare. I won't let you."

He blinked. "Aisa…"

"Shut up, girl," Biyunka snapped, yanking her hair a bit harder. "Thirty seconds left."

Aisa gasped. There were tears in her eyes and her hands were shaking madly. Still, she never even hesitated. "Wiper!" She screamed suddenly. "Just kill this bitch already and rescue me like you always do!"

Biyunka grunted, and snatched her arm towards Aisa neck. Wiper bellowed and leapt towards her. The world seemed to slow down. Aisa could feel the disks brushing against her neck.

She did the only thing she could. Aisa suddenly kicked backwards, pushing her back into Biyunka just as the blades spun towards her. Biyunka lost her footing and toppled.

The three of them collided in mid-air. Aisa screamed as the disks cut across her cheek, drawing blood, but then Wiper was there, pushing her to one side as he charged head-first into Biyunka. His eyes were more berserk than Aisa had ever, ever seen them.

"Aisa!" Wiper bellowed, as he slammed his fist into Biyunka's stomach. "… Language!"

Aisa grinned madly, even despite the pain. Suddenly, Wiper was on Biyunka, tearing into her like a wild animal. The woman gasped as the punches sent her flying, only for Wiper to grab her by the ankle mid-air and slam her into the ground.

"You dare!?" Wiper snarled, clutching Biyunka by the throat. "You dare to hurt AISA!?"

Her eyes narrowed but she didn't respond. Suddenly, her neck transformed into a series of spinning disks, and Wiper yelped as he had to snatch his hand away.

Biyunka's knuckles were suddenly furiously sharp, spinning disks protruding from her fists. She slashed at Wiper with an uppercut that barely missed his chin. Still, the raider didn't even hesitate as he head-butted her to the ground.

Biyunka gasped as she collapsed. Wiper tried to punch her as she went down, but suddenly the floor transformed into a turntable that knocked him away.

Both of Biyunka's hands were on the ground. At once, the floor she was standing on transformed into dozens of spinning wheels, all shooting up from the ground. Wiper almost lost his footing, but he still charged through the disks without hesitation. Biyunka was there to meet him, her body spinning around so furiously she was like a meat-grinder.

Still, at that moment, Wiper was so angry he was like a meat-pulveriser.

The battle was as blindingly fast as it was fierce. Somehow, despite Biyunka's powers, she still came off worse. Her body transformed into spinning disks that Wiper couldn't even touch without tearing up his fingers, but that still didn't stop him from punching her so hard and so fast that her bones crunched.

For a second, Aisa could see the panic in Biyunka's eyes. Suddenly, her hips twisted, and her upper body began to rotate like a spinning top as she sliced towards Wiper. Her arms were so fast that they shredded through solid stone.

But that didn't stop Wiper from grabbing her by the leg, and throwing her bodily into the ground. The floor splintered into dust and shards of rubble as Biyunka tore through it.

She gasped, panting heavily and already covered in blood. Still, her eyes narrowed and she waved her hand. At once, all of the flying pieces of rubble transformed into spinning disks of stone that buzzed through the air.

Wiper braced himself, but half a second later he realised that the disks weren't spinning towards him. His legs reacted on autopilot as he saw all of the spinning projectiles buzzing towards Aisa.

"AISA!" Wiper roared, jumping towards her and swiping the disks out of the air. Aisa gasped as the disks cut into the concrete around her.

Still, that was all the opportunity Biyunka needed. There was a metallic ringing as something wrapped around Wiper's leg. "Got you!" She grunted, clutching a metal chain tightly.

Wiper's eyes widened in shock. The metal chain was thick, wrought iron. Suddenly, every ring of the chain transformed into a disk, twisting itself into a knot around Wiper's leg so tightly that his foot went numb. Biyunka yanked the chain sharply, pulling his leg away and Wiper collapsed to the ground.

His fingers bit into the ground as he tried to stop himself, but it was no good. Biyunka's torso transformed into a wheel, causing her upper body to spin around with blinding speed. Wiper was dragged off the ground, suddenly being spun around by the chain so fast that the centrifugal force nearly ripped his leg off.

There was no time to react. Biyunka was still spinning him around, using his body like a wrecking ball as she flung him straight through walls, floor and piles of debris. Aisa screamed as Wiper was left spinning helplessly.

The metal chain snapped after ten seconds, but that was enough. As soon as the chain broke, Wiper was send flying, crashing headfirst straight through what was left of the ruined warehouse.

"Wiper!" Aisa screamed, rushing towards him through the dust.

Behind her, Biyunka nearly collapsed with exhaustion. In such a short battle, the ruined warehouse had been completely pulverised. There was barely a floor left anymore.

Wiper was gasping for breath, struggling to stay awake, half-buried in the debris. Aisa rushed to him, clutching his hand tightly. "…Aisa…" he gasped weakly, quickly slipping out of consciousness. "…Run…"

There were footsteps walking towards him. Biyunka was there, her body bloodied and walking with a limp as she glared at Wiper irritably. "…That was annoying…" She muttered, glaring angrily.

Wiper was unconscious. Biyunka was still moving. Aisa shook her head slowly, standing in front of Wiper with arms opened protectively.

"…No…" Aisa muttered, eyes cold. The blood from her cheek was dripping down her shoulder. "… I won't let you hurt him, you bitch."

Biyunka glared at her. Wiper was out for the count, and she didn't want to give him a chance to wake up. Biyunka wasn't the sort to give her opponents a chance to recover. There was only Aisa standing in her way.

"Little girl…" Biyunka spat, eyes cold. "I lied, by the way. You are on the list."

Almost casually, Biyunka reached out a touched a chunk of rubble. Aisa's eyes widened as the boulder started to twist and churn, rolling around as it reshaped into a huge circular wheel. In less than a second, the boulder launched itself off the spot, wheeling towards Aisa with breakneck speed. The girl couldn't even dodge as the stone wheel crashed into her, slamming her into the wall. Stone dust scattered everywhere.

"Dumb little brat…" Biyunka muttered, already limping towards Wiper. Her hand reshaped into a large circular saw, buzzing through the air.

"Hey!" A voice shouted suddenly, coughing slightly. "I said I wouldn't let you hurt him!"

Biyunka paused, raising an eyebrow as Aisa brushed the dust off her clothes and stepped forward. The little girl's eyes were dark. Biyunka grunted.

"Alright," Biyunka muttered, rolling her eyes. "So you've got some skill."

Without warning, Biyunka stomped on the ground. The floor instantly transformed into a turntable, spinning Aisa straight towards Biyunka. The mercenary's arm lashed out, her wrist transforming into a buzz saw just as Aisa was spun straight into her arm.

The little girl collided into the blades with a satisfying chunk. There was a splatter of blood.

For half a second, Biyunka smirked with satisfaction. Then, she felt the pain jolt through her arm. Her eyes widened in shock.

Wait a second, Biyunka thought with stunned surprise. I'm the one that's bleeding? Her neck hit my saw-arm, but my arm still came off worse?

Aisa was rubbing her throat sorely as she stood up again. The girl glared at the mercenary with pure defiance. "It's not my fault, okay?" Aisa snapped, slowly cracking her knuckles.

"What?" Biyunka muttered, stepping backwards slightly. There were long gashes running down her arm, dripping blood, but Aisa never even looked hurt. "…What… what are you?"

"It's really not my fault!" Aisa protested, pouting slightly. "I spend a month on that ship with absolutely nothing to do! And there were all of these boxes, just lying there… and well…"

Biyunka blinked. Recovering quickly, she reached out and touched two lumps of rubble lying on the ground. The resultant stone disks flew towards Aisa furiously, hissing through the air, but the girl didn't even flinch. The disks exploded in a shower of dust, but the girl was still standing in the exact same position.

"I mean, they had even marked the boxes with 'Do not touch!'!" Aisa protested. "Can you imagine that? They left me on a small boat with plenty of free time right next to all those boxes and actually specifically told me not to touch them! Urgh, what the hell did they expect was going to happen?"

"What the hell are you talking about, little girl?" Biyunka snapped, snatching up the metal chain again. The mercenary swung the chain like a whip, blindingly fast. It collided against Aisa with a dull crack like thunder. Still, the girl didn't move and suddenly the chain was shattered into little chunks of metal splattering everywhere.

"I knew Wiper would be really angry if he found out, so I didn't say anything," Aisa explained sheepishly, as she slowly stepped towards Biyunka. "I mean, it's really not my fault that I might have, kind of, accidently, you know, eaten one of those weird fruits…"

Around Aisa, the ground slowly started to rumble. The lumps of debris began to twist and morph. Biyunka's eyes widened in shock as suddenly the whole warehouse seemed to vibrate. Biyunka saw lumps of rock rising off the ground, hovering and vibrating in mid-air as it morphed. It was like the surrounding stone was slowly sagging and transforming into liquid.

Aisa smiled smugly, folding her arms. "Like I said," the girl muttered slowly. "…Totally not my fault."

Wiper gasped as his eyes shot open. His skull was pounding furiously, but his brain kicked back into consciousness quickly. Even as he was blinking and trying to process what had just happened, his heart was pounding and the adrenaline was kick-starting his body.

"Aisa!" Wiper bellowed, lurching awake. "Aisa, where are yo–!?"

"Oh, hey Wiper," Aisa said cheerfully, standing behind him. "How are you?"

Wiper blinked repeatedly. His head was still spinning, but he quickly realised that Aisa looked completely unharmed. There was a pink bandage across the cut on her cheek, but otherwise there wasn't a scratch on her.

Aisa was settled over Conis, crudely trying to a wrap a bandage around her injuries. The blonde-haired angel was still unconscious. Wiper realised that Aisa had tried to bandage up his own injuries, as well. He paused as his last memories rushed back to him.

"That woman," Wiper demanded urgently. "Where is she?"

Meekly, Aisa pointed across the warehouse. Biyunka was lying face first on the ground in a shallow pool of blood. Wiper jumped to his feet quickly, but the mercenary wasn't moving. Biyunka's dress had been tattered. It looked like the mercenary was lying in a shallow crater.

Wiper's jaw dropped open. "Um… what happened to her?"

"She tripped," Aisa said quickly. "She tripped, landed face first on the ground, and knocked herself straight out. Totally unexpected, huh?"

Wiper blinked, staring at the little girl. Aisa smiled innocently. "She… tripped…?"

"Yep." Aisa nodded definitely. "It was those skate-wheel-thingies of hers. She turned her feet into wheels, and just – whoops – lost her balance."

It took Wiper a few seconds to reply. His eyes bulged as he stared at the unconscious mercenary. Slowly, he rubbed his head, and turned around to face Aisa.

"You should have woken me up sooner," Wiper growled, his arms folded. "It's still too dangerous for you alone out here."

Aisa smirked softly. "Yeah." She nodded. "Definitely way, way too dangerous."

The pain rocketed through Sanji's legs. His shoes had already been blown to pieces, but Sanji still couldn't stop. His legs were tough, but those grenades were vicious and already Sanji was struggling with every kick.

The chef was panting, his brow dripping sweat. He felt like collapsing, but he couldn't. He couldn't stop or even slow down. He had to keep on moving even as the explosions rocketed off his body over and over again.

"Have you played dodgeball?" Bourin shouted, tauntingly. The fat man was smirking at the sight of him. "Well, think of this as a game of reverse-dodgeball; i.e. your objective is to get hit as many times as possible. After all, if anything actually misses you, well, that'd be bad for the hospital, won't it?"

Sanji glared furiously at him, but there was no time to pause. He heard the distinct clunk as a grenade was loaded, and suddenly Sanji had to move. The mercenary shot upwards towards the hospital, and Sanji had no choice but to grit his teeth and jump upwards, bouncing off the wall as his leg kicked outwards to deflect the grenade.

The projectile exploded against his foot. Sanji roared in pain as he felt the flames scorch his foot, but he had no choice to keep on going. Another mercenary was already loading up, and Sanji hit to kick off the wall again, meeting another projectile in mid-air with a furious spinning kick from his other leg.

The pain was indescribable. Sanji couldn't feel his toes. He was gasping for breath, struggling to stand when he still had to kick.

But still, Sanji had no choice. The hospital was barely standing up, any explosion could bring it down. Sanji could see the building wobbling with every tremor. The only way Sanji could save Usopp's life was to make sure that not a single grenade hit it.

And the only way to do that was to take the grenades for him.

"Come on, tough guy!" Bourin roared. "Is that the best you can do?"

Sanji knew that he was playing exactly into the mercenaries' hands. This was exactly what Bourin wanted. If Sanji stopped the grenades, then Sanji would be weakened or dead and Bourin would win. If Sanji couldn't stop them, the hospital would crashing down and Bourin would still win.

Sanji couldn't even get close enough to fight at close range, without allowing every mercenary a clear shot at the hospital. They were all safely dispersed, so they could shoot at the building at different angle and there wasn't a thing Sanji could do to stop them.

Right now, Sanji's whole counterplan was simply to let them shoot him until they ran out of ammo, and that just wasn't a good plan at all.

I can't take much more of this, Sanji thought with a gasp. His legs were trembling. His kicks were powerful, but they still couldn't stop so many grenades…

"You ready for round two?" Bourin shouted, as the mercenaries loaded up again. Sanji glared at him with pure hatred. "Everyone, on my mark, fire together!"

Not all at once! Sanji cursed violently. He could only kick away one grenade at a time. His legs were so weak he wasn't sure if he could stand up again.

What I can or can't do is irrelevant, Sanji thought furiously, clutching his hands tightly. What I have to do is the only thing that matters.

"Everyone!" Bourin crowed. "Fire!"

Two dozen grenades burst through the air from all across the courtyard. Sanji just grit his teeth, and launched upwards.

It's my fault that Usopp ended up here. If my dead body can buy Usopp a few more minutes that could save his life, then that's not really a choice at all.

Sanji met the first grenades as he burst over the stairs, kicking them into each other with a swift swipe. The air exploded but Sanji used the shockwave to launch himself at the next group, knocking them to one side even as the blast of air knocked his breath away. His body was screaming in pain, but he still had to move. He almost missed one as it flew past his ear, then he caught it cartwheeling kick.

Still, Sanji barely managed to glimpse another five blurs shooting by him, straight towards the hospital. He was left dropping to the floor in the opposite direction, with no way of reaching them in time.

"NO!" Sanji screamed, as he kicked out furiously with all the strength he had.

And, just for a moment, when he kicked empty air he was sure that he felt his foot collide against something that felt as hard as stone.

He had no time to think about. Somehow, Sanji was suddenly pushing himself off nothing air and shooting straight towards the projectiles.

There was no time to kick or even brace for impact. Instead, there was nothing to do except grit his teeth as Sanji's whole body slammed straight into the flying grenades.

I'll protect you, Usopp. I promised it.

He felt a grenade bounce off his forehead and then explode. It was fleeting blow, but explosion still jarred his neck and sent him spinning. At least another two hit him in the chest, but there was no way to keep count. Sanji blacked out for a second, but then he was bouncing off the hospital wall, his whole body smoking as he toppled to the ground.

Above him, two objects burst through the shattered hospital windows and then exploded. The whole building shook.

I missed some, Sanji thought with dull shock. There was too much concussion for him to remember which room Usopp was in. A whole corner of the hospital collapsed with a tremendous creak, and suddenly there were tonnes of stone crashing downwards from the floors above and Sanji had no idea whether Usopp would survive that or not.

"Ow! Twenty-two out of twenty four! That's pretty good, kid, but unlucky!" Bourin shouted tauntingly. The sound of his voice brought everything back into focus for Sanji.

Now! Sanji realised with shock. I have to finish this now while they are all still reloading!

With every last bit of stamina Sanji had left, drawing on hidden reserves he never even realised existed, Sanji screamed as he charged straight towards the mercenaries.

Twenty four mercenaries, all dispersed around the courtyard. It took about thirty seconds for them to reload. One man a second sounded about right.

The first man was caught by surprise as Sanji barrelled into him. Sanji sprinted straight through the mercenary, not even bothering to kick. The next one tried to scream, but Sanji spun around, kicking him straight into his colleague. Sanji's legs burned and screamed in agony, but there was no time to feel pain.

Three men, all close together, were taken down by a single cartwheel kick, but Sanji didn't lose any momentum. Another tried to draw a pistol, but Sanji kicked a chunk of rubble so hard that the boulder slammed into him like a bowling ball.

They were starting to react. Sanji had to move faster. Two of them tried to block his way, but Sanji tore straight through them, and launched one of them into a mercenary that was trying to run away.

He was halfway through the courtyard, and gaining speed. Bourin was next, surrounded by three more men. The sight of the fat man caused Sanji's blood to boil. All of the hate was channelled into his leg, as he spun around furiously.

I'll kill him. One kick and I'll break the fat bastard's spine.

Sanji was sure he felt his leg start to burn as his muscles tensed and contracted.

Bourin's eyes were cold. "Go long," he muttered quietly, raising his hands as he held an object up and pointed it at the distance.

Sanji's eyes widened in shock. Bourin had a grenade launcher of his own, loaded but unfired. There was a click as he pulled the trigger.

Sanji had less than a second to react and change direction. The chef swerved to one side, launching his leg into the mercenary standing closest. Sanji kicked so hard that there was smoke. Bones cracked and suddenly the man was sent flying off the ground.

Sanji's heart froze as the man was launched like a rocket, shooting straight towards the flying grenade. Still, he kicked the man so hard that he accelerated faster the grenade launcher, and crashed straight into the grenade in mid-air. Sanji felt his heart tremble for a second as he watched the bloody explosion, but it was a safe distance away from the hospital.

The chef never even had time to breathe a sigh of relief. As soon as Sanji twisted to one side, Bourin was there behind him, hand coiled and ready to strike. Bourin was fast on his feet for someone so large. Suddenly, Bourin launched an open-palmed strike into the chef's back that sent Sanji slammed the chef into ground. The blow felt like a cannon strike.

"You broke the rules," Bourin growled, towering over Sanji. The chef almost collapsed, but somehow he kept on going.

"You didn't understand the game!" Sanji snapped, kicking Bourin furiously in the chest. It felt like kicking a huge pillow, but it still knocked the man backwards. "I don't want to play dodgeball!"

The other mercenaries were loaded. Sanji counted ten left, all of them clutching grenade loaders and taking aim at the hospital. Sanji only had one chance. He charged at Bourin with all the power he had left.

"Me?" Sanji muttered, taking a deep breath. "I'm good at bowling!"

Sanji's leg collided against Bourin with more force than he had ever kicked before. He spun and he collided against Bourin's torso like an explosion of dynamite. His foot sunk into Bourin's fat, and the man's eyes bulged.

For a second, they both froze at the moment of impact. But then, physics reasserted itself and Bourin was sent flying backwards with unstoppable momentum.

The mercenaries didn't even have time to scream as they were instantly mowed down by the accelerating mass of pure Bourin.

Sanji collapsed, panting madly as he watched Bourin bounce off the ground, twisting around and rolling over the remaining mercenaries. The last man managed a hoarse scream just before he was crushed with a sickening thud between Bourin and a wall.

Ten mercenaries, one Bourin. Slowly, Sanji raised both his hands in the air. "Strike, bitches," he muttered coldly.

His legs were so injured he could barely stand up. Sanji nearly blacked out with pure relief. Still, nearly ten seconds later, his body froze as he heard a rustle of movement and a pained groan.

Bourin slowly crawled out of the body-sized indentation he made in the ground. His face was pure beetroot. He was coughing blood, but his jaw was clenched. His eyes were bloodshot as he glared over the motionlessly bodies of his own men, crushed under his own mass.

Fuck, Sanji thought with a grimace. The fat bastard is tough.

Sanji never knew how much fight he had left. His whole body felt like it been through a shredder. Still, there was only one opponent left, and Sanji had no choice but to bet that he could muster up enough strength to finish this.

Bourin must have been having the same thought. He was still clutching his empty grenade launcher tightly. The mercenary paused.

"Let's change the game," he muttered finally, eyes focused on Sanji. "Have you ever played Jenga?"

Without pause, Bourin turned and ran, storming straight towards the entrance of the hospital. Sanji was chasing after him in a second, staggering despite the growing agony with every step. Bourin reached the hospital first, charging straight down the devastated corridor, but Sanji was close behind him.

He loaded up his grenade launcher with his final round as he ran. Sanji wasn't going to give him a chance to fire it. As soon as Bourin stopped to turn around, weapon in hand, Sanji was there.

"Remember when you called my legs skinny?" Sanji growled, kicking the weapon out of Bourin's hands with a swift upper strike. The grenade launcher went flying down the corridor, but Sanji was already slamming his other knee straight into Bourin's chest. "How skinny are they now?"

Bourin grunted, but he shrugged off the blow. Instantly, he shoulder barged straight into Sanji, slamming the chef through the wall with the force of a wrecking ball.

"How fat am I now?" Bourin snarled, lashing out with an open-palm strike that sent Sanji flying. Sanji was coughing up blood, but he still managed to jump up again.

Sanji glared. He was pretty badly injured, but so was Bourin. Sanji dropped to the ground, readying himself for another kick. Before he even had a chance, Bourin's hand struck backwards, his fist tearing straight through the wall. The ceiling started to tremble.

"What are you doing?!" Sanji bellowed.

"What does look like?" Bourin snorted, tearing through another wall with his other hand. "I'm tearing this building down!"

"Stop it!"

"Try and stop me!" Bourin challenged, barging his way straight through another wall.

Sanji roared and chased after him. Bourin tore through another room, an office, before sliding to a halt and twisting around to face Sanji. Sanji screamed, spinning his leg around, readying himself for a powerful kick. The fat man didn't even try to block. Bourin had a smirk on his face.

Then, seconds before Sanji's leg was about to make contact, he realised why. Bourin was standing with his back against one of the building's support columns.

The chef's leg halted less than a foot away from Bourin.

The mercenary grunted. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Bourin mocked, striking out with a palm strike that sent Sanji flying. "Just look at all of these load-bearing pillars around here."

Oh no, Sanji thought with shock. This was bad. Sanji couldn't risk damaging any of the support columns. Bourin, on the other hand, could damage whatever he wanted.

Bourin was on him instantly, hands lashing out in vicious jabs. Sanji tried to attack with short kicks, but Bourin just powered through them in a sudden charge. Sanji was about to dodge out the way, when he realised that there was another column directly behind him, and Bourin showed no sign of stopping.

Instead, Sanji had to stick his ground and try to block the assault. He screamed as Bourin's palms pounded against his body with dull thuds.

I've got to get away from all these pillars, Sanji thought furiously, trying to stagger away. The main corridor. I can fight properly there. Bourin didn't give him the chance, grabbing Sanji roughly by the hair and dragging him back into the room.

Sanji had to fight with both hands behind his back, and Bourin had him by the balls. It was all Sanji could do to stay conscious as Bourin pounded the life out of him with furious blows.

"Got to ask," Bourin muttered, as Sanji tried to stagger off the ground. "Why do you only use kicks? You keep your hands hidden in combat?"

Sanji's jaws clenched. It was so hard to even focus, let alone stand up straight. "A chef's hands are his life," he growled quietly, struggling even to breathe. "I keep my hands protected in battle by using my legs."

Bourin grunted, before lashing out with a fearsome strike that crashed against Sanji's head. "Bah! Typical," he chided. "That's pretty much been your big mistake this whole fight!"

Sanji growled and swept his leg upwards, colliding against Bourin's chin. The mercenary took the blow, before crashing on to Sanji and gathering him up in a bone-crunching bear hug. Sanji felt his bones crack, but then Bourin was slamming him straight through the wall.

"Don't you know?" Bourin growled, slamming the chef around like a rag-doll. "Any man that tries to protect too much is doomed to lose it all. You tried too hard to keep something safe, and, well, that just wasn't very smart."

They burst through into the main corridor again, with Bourin slamming him into the lobby next to the staircase. Sanji could feel the whole building trembling. He had no idea if the fourth floor was even still intact. For all he knew, Usopp could have been crushed to death half a battle ago.

Sanji tried weakly to thrash, but he was out of strength. Bourin's grip was like iron as he crushed Sanji into the stairs with a massive body slam. The tiled stairs cracked and shattered around him.

"You're one dumb pirate," Bourin growled, still crushing Sanji with as his hands wrapped around the pirate's throat.

Sanji couldn't breathe. He was left gasping uselessly for air. The only thing he could see was Bourin's beetroot face, sweat-dripping off it as the man throttled the life out of him. There were black spots flickering across his vision.

"As a matter of fact…" Bourin grunted mercilessly, his sweaty hands tightening a bit further. It felt like Sanji's head was being torn off. "…Your big problem is… you just… don't have… any brains–"

There was a dull click from behind them. The moment froze.

And then suddenly Bourin's head exploded with a tremendous boom. Sanji's eyes bulged as the shower of blood and flesh splattered everywhere.

Sanji gasped for air, twisting his head. Usopp was standing next to him, still wearing his hospital gown. Usopp's hands were trembling madly as he held a grenade launcher tightly, pointing towards where Bourin's head used to be. The sniper's face was bone white.

"…And neither do you," Usopp wheezed weakly, before collapsing to the floor.

There was a long pause. For a second, Robin wondered what it might feel like to just turn and walk away. She could run to the docks, maybe scrounge up some vessel, and hopefully get out of the city before the perimeter was really locked down. That was her best, probably her only, option for survival.

There was a time, even only a few months ago, when Robin would have taken it with barely a second's hesitation. Now though, she stopped in the middle of the ruined docks and she hesitated for nearly ten seconds.

Slowly, Robin tilted her head to glance at Luffy, still unconscious behind him.

After that glance, there wasn't any hesitation at all.

Suddenly, Robin's hands were sprouting across the battlefield, twisting and flexing. Within moments, Gapopo was entangled by arms clutching him down, twisting his bones as fingers tore against his skin.

His head shuddered as Robin's arms snapped his neck a full hundred and eighty degrees. She felt his bones break. Still, Gapopo was chuckling even as she broke every bone, one by one.

"Oh, have we actually started to fight yet?" Gapopo mused, just as Robin's arms cracked his kneecaps.

Robin grit her teeth but didn't reply. Gapopo didn't move. He actually stayed perfectly still and waited for a full minute as Robin proceeded to methodically break his bones, one by one. He wasn't quite smiling, but there was a distinct curve of his lips that suggested he might.

She didn't know how he was surviving this, but Robin knew she had to kill him quickly. Gapopo' neck was still facing the opposite direction. She summoned more hands around him to grip his skull and keep on twisting. I'll rip off his head and throw it into the ocean, she thought furiously.

"Alright," Gapopo sighed, as the arms wrapped him in a deeper body lock, crushing him like a vice. "This was fun for a while, but now it's just getting boring…"

With a crack, his neck started to rotate back around. Robin tried to stop him, but he was strong. Frighteningly, inhumanly strong. One by one, his joints all started to click back into position. Robin tried to hold him in place, but she couldn't. Her elbows were straining just trying to hold him.

He is not a normal man, Robin thought with quiet dread. Not even close. Gapopo smirked quietly as he started to move, slowly dragging himself out of Robin's grip. There were three dozen arms trying to hold him down, but they couldn't. He was too strong.

"So this is the power of the Flower Flower fruit?" Gapopo muttered, tearing his way out of the arms with ease. "Hm."

Breaking bones isn't going to work with him, Robin decided. With a thought, the other arms disappeared. Robin concentrated and tensed her muscles, and then two chains of arms sprouted up from behind Gapopo. The hands each clutched a heavy boulder and dragged it upwards, before the arms lurched back and slammed the boulders straight into Gapopo's skull like a whip.

Robin was sure she saw the old man's skull crack, but then a moment later the old man was walking again, completely unharmed.

Her eyes narrowed. Gapopo was whistling, a quiet hum under his breath as he slowly strolled towards her. Just what is this man?

He wasn't Logia, at least, but Robin honestly didn't know what he was. He definitely had some weird power. Somehow, nothing could hurt him.

Fine, Robin thought angrily, cracking her knuckles. I'll put that to the test.

The hands bloomed around her madly. Robin could feel the exertion of using her power so much, but she pushed it harder and harder. Suddenly, there were fingers wrapping around Gapopo's feet as he walked, trying to hold him down.

The man just grunted and easily kicked his way through, the hands disappearing into blossom swirls, but Robin wasn't done. Fists sprouted up from next to him on chains of arms, firing into his body as fast as bullets, while hands clutched rocks and tried to hammer Gapopo's skull in. Fingers gouged at Gapopo's eyes, tearing through his skin, while the onslaught of hands just kept on coming.

Still, Gapopo didn't even slow done. He didn't stop whistling, even as he tore his way easily through the hands that tried to hold him. He walked like a juggernaut; slow, casually moving, but immensely strong.

He wasn't bleeding, Robin realised slowly. No matter how she hurt him, he never bled a drop of blood.

In fact, Robin's knuckles and fingers were raw from punching and scratching him so much. The strain of summoning so many limbs was getting to her. She could feel her strength ebbing away.

"Are you done yet?" Gapopo asked curiously. He was getting close to her. He wasn't moving quickly, but he was closer. Somehow, Robin never wanted him to reach her.

She started to back away slowly. She could take Luffy and run. Robin barely managed to take two steps, before Gapopo shot after in a sudden burst of speed. Robin yelped as the old man gripped her tightly by the throat. His hand was like iron.

"This would be much easier if you just stepped aside," Gapopo muttered quietly. He was still smiling softly.

"…What…" Robin gasped. "…What are you…?"

His smile widened. "Are you sure you want to know?" He muttered, pulling her in close. "Promise me you can keep a secret."

Slowly, with his other hand, Gapopo unfastened his coat and opened it carefully. Robin's eyes widened in shock as she saw a dark green vine untangle itself from around his waist.

Tentacles. There were tentacles unwrapping themselves from around Gapopo's body.

Instantly, Robin sprouted three hands, pushing Gapopo away as she twisted herself out of his grip. She staggered backwards, still gasping as she stared with pure shock. Gapopo was laughing madly as one of the tentacles twisted upwards and slowly pulled his coat over.

Underneath, he was wearing a brown suit with a bright yellow flower stitched on the centre, but then he took that off as well. Robin gasped as she saw more tentacles sprout from his back, neatly folding up his clothes and placing them on the ground. As his suit came off, she saw the teeth bursting from his chest.

"You're… you're… you're a monster…" Robin gasped, slowly backing away.

Gapopo chuckled. "Well, that's not very nice. It's only a flower."

The 'flower' had sharp, thorn like teeth, on a circular, featureless head, with a sickeningly leafy texture. Slowly, the mouth opened and closed, like a predator biting the air in practice. Almost slowly, the head extended from Gapopo's chest, supported by thick, bark-like branches that throbbed like veins.

Robin could see Gapopo's ribcage, she realised suddenly. He didn't have any skin on his chest; instead there were just those tentacles, wrapped around inside his exposed bones. There were no organs, just a dark, blood red substance growing in his chest with a distinctly fungus-like texture.

She couldn't see where the person ended and the creature began. There were tentacles and plant-like veins draping under his skin, all the way up his neck. Gapopo was just a skeleton with that… thing embedded in his chest.

Gapopo smirked. His smiled looked almost hungry. The plant-like mouth was drooling softly. "There are a lot of monsters in this world," Gapopo whispered. "Tell me, have you ever heard of plant called the Lily Carnation?"

Robin backed away slowly. The tentacles were still extending themselves from Gapopo's body. Gapopo's human skin ended across his shoulders, and there were sharp, green thorns growing out of the tentacles slowly.

"That's a plant?!" Robin muttered, staring at the drooling mouth in horror.

"Oh yes," Gapopo said with a chuckle. "Lily and I met decades ago. I feed her and give her a place to grow, and in return she's quite grateful. She's the one that grants me my youthful physique."

The tentacles slowly started to dig into the ground like roots, lifting Gapopo three feet in the air. A skeleton supported by a monstrous, demonic plant. The mouth extended further from Gapopo's chest, snapping and drooling as it focused on Robin hungrily.

No wonder Robin hadn't been able to break any of his bones. There had been that plant inside of him, with tentacles running underneath his skin, to simply pull his body back into shape.

Robin felt her heart pound. Her knees were trembling. She was standing there, all alone, and face to face with a true abomination.

"You feed her…" Robin repeated slowly. "…What do you feed it?"

"Why, people of course," Gapopo explained softly. "Lily has a quite an appetite for a growing girl. She needs a regular supply of bodies and soul, otherwise she gets… cranky. Fortunately a few extra corpses are no issue, not in my line of work, and so I get to live a bit longer."

Robin stared in horror. "…You sacrifice people to that thing just to stay alive?"

"I do what I need to do to survive," Gapopo chuckled. "From what I hear of your reputation, are you really one to judge?"

Her hands clenched. The plant slowly started to creep forward, supported by thick tentacles digging into the ground. "Now then…" Gapopo muttered. "Are you ready to fight properly?"

Robin's eyes widened. She barely had time to react before suddenly a tentacle lashed down at her with blinding speed. Robin leapt to one side, but the tentacle still whipped around and sent her flying.

The pain as she crashed into the wall was agony. Still, Robin recovered just in time to see another tentacle whip towards her. She reacted instantly, sprouting a dozen hands to grip the tentacle in place. Robin screamed as the thorns running down the tentacle sliced her palms open.

The ground rumbled. Robin dodged to one side just as a tentacle, one of the roots of Lily Carnation, burst from the floor. She tried to run, but then the tentacle wrapped itself around her leg and dragged her upside down into the air.

Then, that teethed, gruesome mouth lunged towards her, teeth snapping hungrily. Robin barely managed to sprout her leg from the creature's head, kicking it firmly to one side as Robin cut her way out of the tentacle and dropped to the ground, using her own hands to catch her.

"Now that's not very nice," Gapopo chided. "Come on now, you don't want to make Lily angry–"

His voice cut off as Robin screamed, punching her hand forward as a chain of arms sprouted from her fist in series, building up speed with distance until her knuckles cracked against Gapopo's jaw with a dull thud. The man just grunted, but Robin wasn't done. Her hand jammed itself into Gapopo's mouth, grabbing a hold of his lower jaw, before the arms retracted as Robin tore Gapopo's jaw clean off.

He exclaimed something that sounded vaguely similar to 'Not nice', but it was really hard to tell as his jaw bone cracked. With a sickening crunch, Gapopo was missing half his mouth. His tongue was dangling uselessly from his throat, but, if anything, he looked only mildly annoyed as he frowned at Robin.

The Lily Carnation didn't stop at all. The tentacles were everywhere, grinding through stone with ease and Robin had no choice but to try and run. She had to duck and weave across the uneven ground, desperately trying to avoid the tentacles whipping everywhere.

I can't win this fight, she thought with panic. I need to run.

She should have run. She knew that running was her only chance.

But still, she also knew that Luffy was lying right behind, and it was him that Gapopo was really after. If she ran, this monster could kill Luffy easily in his unconscious state. Even as her head was screaming at her to run for her life, Robin just knew in her bones that she wouldn't be able.

Another tentacle swiped towards her. Robin's hands clenched into fists. I need to do this.

Her jaw clenched as suddenly a row of arms bloomed across the ground, sprouting upwards and wrapping around the tentacle tightly. It thrashed, but Robin's arms interlocked and dragged it to the ground. She winced as sharp cuts appeared across her forearms, but there was no time for hesitation.

With a short grunt, Robin lashed out with her leg and kicked forward, as suddenly her foot sprouted out from the ground a several metres. Her foot pressed into tentacle with force while her arms twisted and she heard the tentacle tear. With a spluttering of thick ooze, suddenly she was ripping the tentacle in half.

One tentacle down, another three to go.

Lily snarled viciously, but Robin was already ducking and weaving away from the lashes of counteracts. Chidingly, Gapopo wagged his finger disapprovingly, unable to speak without his jaw.

She was panting as the exhaustion got to her, but then she felt her body tremble as she saw the damaged tentacle already sealing up and regenerating. Even the severed end of the tentacle was still thrashing on the ground madly.

Robin could have sworn that Gapopo was smiling as Lily clenched one of its tentacles, and a barky thorn, as long and as sharp as spear, started to grow out the tip. With a smooth motion, the tentacle whipped and suddenly it was throwing the thorn through the air, as fast as an arrow.

The archaeologist leapt to the side, landing roughly on the sharp rubble to get away. Through the corner of her eye, she only just glimpsed the thorn changing direction in mid-air, homing straight towards her…

The thorn crashed into the stone, biting nearly half a metre through the stone. On pure impulse, Robin managed to sprout two arms that dragged her body to one side at the last second, but she still felt the thorn come so close it brushed against her skin. Robin's eyes were wide with panic, but then she saw the tentacles writhing, with more thorns emerging out of them.

Move. The single thought overpowered all others.

Robin sprinted. She ran faster than she had ever ran, even as the projectile thorns chased after her like homing missiles. They crashed around her, coming so close that Robin knew that if she paused even slightly, she was dead.

A thorn shot towards her. Robin dived out the way, but her feet lost their balance as the wooden arrow pierced the ground where she had been standing. Even before Robin toppled to the ground, her powers worked instinctively. At once, there was another leg sprouting from her thigh, kicking off the ground to balance herself and she kept on running.

More legs appeared constantly, letting her run faster and more agilely than ever. At one point, Robin couldn't even count the amount of legs she was using. As soon as one foot left the ground, there was another foot there to power her forward just a bit faster. The legs disappeared as quickly as they came, but Robin couldn't be tripped up when she had so many to balance on.

More arrows were coming, but she was outrunning and outmanoeuvring them. She sprinted in a wide circle all the way around the Lily Carnation, eyes sharp as she looked for any opportunity against the demon plant. Her heart was pounding faster than ever.

Her hands alone wouldn't work here. She needed some sort of weapon…

There were so many arrows flying behind her. Her body tensed. Now!

With a fluid motion, Robin changed direction, her body sliding almost horizontally across the ground. She gasped as she felt the thorn arrows come so close they rustled through her hair, but her arm darted out quickly. In an instant, her hand wrapped itself around the shaft of a thorn, with more arms sprouting from her elbow to help her hold it. She could feel the thorn vibrating and thrashing against her grip, but Robin's hands on tightly as she yanked it out of the air.

She was running again in a second, charging straight towards the demon plant at breakneck speed. Using her powers so furiously was burning through her stamina quickly, but she didn't care.

That hideous mouth lunged towards her; teeth snapping furiously and drooling go everywhere. Robin didn't care. She gripped the thorn arrow tightly and lunged upwards with all the strength she had.

It came so close that she was milliseconds away from having her arm bitten off. Still, Robin roared furiously as all her arms jammed the thorn upwards.

The image of Luffy, his face clenched as he unleashed a punch, flashed through her mind.

"…My boyfriend." She growled, just as she stabbed the thorn straight through Lily Carnation's head.

Ooze splattered everywhere. Robin dropped to the ground and crashed into the debris, her body rolling painfully through the rubble. She gasped for breath, feeling the fatigue hit her like a Sea Train. She was so exhausted she could barely move, while the Lily Carnation screamed and thrashed wildly with the spear through its head, before toppling to the ground.

There was a moment of silence. Robin panted, sweat dripping of her brow, before she slowly started to pull herself up. She never even got to her knees before a sharp boot kicked her in the chest.

"…That…" A hoarse voice muttered coldly. "…was not nice…!"

Oh no, Robin thought with panic, just as the boot stamped on her chest, pinning her to the ground. She was left staring upwards at Gapopo, the man wincing with pain as he tried to reattach his jaw.

The Lily Carnation was hanging out of his skeletal chest, the thorn still stabbing through its mouth, but it wasn't dead. The tentacles were still drooped but still moving sluggishly. Even with that arrow through its head and bleeding ooze, the tentacles were still alive.

Gapopo's eyes looked unhinged. That polite façade was gone, now he just looked like some undead gruesome monster, his pupils dilated with insanity. With a snarl, Gapopo slowly raised a pistol and pointed it at Robin's skull. The archaeologist was so exhausted she couldn't even move. Her eyes widened in fear as she stared straight down the barrel of the gun.

"Do you know what?" Gapopo muttered, cocking the pistol. "Fuck the list. I'm going to kill you for free."

With one last breath, her eyes closed. Her heart was pounding furiously, but her last thought was of Luffy. She only wished that their happy moments could have lasted a bit longer.

I'm so sorry

She heard the gunshot. Her whole body tensed…

And nothing happened. The world went quiet.

Slowly, Robin opened her eyes. She was left staring at a bullet, suspended motionless in the air, inches away from her forehead. The air was cold. Her frenzied breathing created a hazy mist in the still air.

The bullet was held by a small trail of ice trailing towards the nozzle. The ice was still creeping along the gun.

She looked at Gapopo, his eyes still bulging madly, but frozen solid in the moment. There was ice creeping across his monstrous body.

"Please do not kill my charge," A bored voice drawled quietly. With that, Gapopo shattered. His whole body, plant as well, cracking and breaking into a thousand shards of ice as a swift arm demolished him with ease.

Lumps of ice went everywhere. Robin was left staring upwards, wide-eyed, at a tall man in a white suit looking down on her. Kuzan's eyes were as impassive as always.

"Good evening, Robin," the admiral muttered with a sigh. He sounded almost disappointed. "Now just look at what you've done this time…"

Author Notes:

As promised, the second part. Enjoy.

And yes, the mercenaries are all dead by the end of it. I did try to make them interesting OCs, but one of the main motivations for writing remorseless, interesting villains is just so the readers can cheer when they die gruesome deaths :)

Got to admit, I'm actually really excited for the next few chapters. The Water 7 arc is coming to it's peak and, yeah, I've planning this for a while.

Next time: Lightning vs Ice... Luffy vs Aokiji... 'Absolute Zero'...