Chapter 11: Concordance
Cipher Pol Arc
Lina's head snapped up to look at the three agents hovering overhead. Did they just say something about an ancient weapon? Did these guys know where to find even more of them?
A draught of smoke drifting into her face drew her back to the situation at hand, and she wiped away the tears welling up within her stinging eyes. She'd definitely make those other bastards pay for blasting her ship, but right now, she was grateful for the reprieve. While the two weirdos on deck were gawking, her group could take the time to recuperate and think about what to do.
Gourry's eyelids fluttered open, and he pulled himself to his feet, fingers closed around the hilt of his weapon. Behind him, Amelia entreated the swordsman to remain still, while she mended the last of his wounds. A little further back, Luke regained his senses and sprinted to Milina, positioning himself protectively between her and the octopus hair man.
Xellos appeared from the billowing smoke, touching down on the ship's deck. The Mazoku was smiling contentedly, but when Lina shot him a questioning glance, he merely shrugged and said nothing.
"Hey, Zipper!" Lina called out to the agent in front of her. "Why are those two talking about ancient weapons? Do you guys know something about them?"
The egg-shaped man looked back down at her and unzipped his mouth to speak, giving the fastener an extra tug when it got stuck halfway across.
"Well that's because the weapon Pluton has been our former chief's goal for at least the past fourteen years, chapapa." He replied. "But we lost the plans that Lucci's group captured from Water 7, so the only way to get the weapon now would be to read the Poneglyph at Alabasta."
"And whereabouts is this place?" Lina asked.
The agent paused to think for a moment before answering. "Chapa, Alabasta should be on the Grand Line to the west of here. Of course, we won't be able to find it without a pose, and we don't have time to try to buy one, so Lucci will probably want us to take one from the Marines, maybe at G-8 base. And once we do that, then we'll have to..."
"So Lina, what are you planning to do?" Xellos cut in from behind while the agent continued to chatter. Another cannonball slammed into the ocean surface nearby, rocking the ship and drenching the deck with a spray of salty sea water.
"I know we're in a fairly difficult position right now, but I'm sure you can see that this also has the potential to be a great opportunity." He whispered.
Lina made a troubled noise at the back of her throat. As was fast becoming the norm here, every option was a shot in the dark, filled with potentially unpleasant surprises.
The events of the previous night had shown her that their own skills and tools were not going to cut it in this turbulent region. But if sea travel was as common as it seemed to be, then surely the locals would have some way of reliably navigating these anomalies.
Then of course, there was the issue of this new lead requiring them to travel away from their original goal. As the saying went, "The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither." Whether this was applicable depended on whether anyone was angling to snatch away their first objective in the meantime.
Lina glanced back at her entourage, some of whom had just recovered from their injuries. The new arrivals were definitely hostile, but she didn't know if the guys they'd attacked first were going to just turn on her as soon as the strides were in their favor. Xellos seemed pretty confident though, and as she pondered on what he had been doing up there, she found her gaze drifting upward, to where the three men in the sky had fallen silent.
Rob Lucci had a promise to keep. He'd made a solemn pledge to his former chief Spandam that CP9 would be paying him a visit soon. Accounts needed to be settled, justice needed to be dealt, and now that the chief's whereabouts were known, Lucci would allow nothing to stand in his way.
And standing in his way now was the Aigis spy, who ceased his ambling and came to a halt between Lucci and Jabra, turning to face the former and showing his back to the latter. A brazen gesture, but perhaps not unwarranted for a man belonging to the 'Strongest Intelligence'.
Lucci's body expanded into his towering half-leopard form, broad-chested and bulging with rippling muscles. Black curved claws extended from the tips of his fingers, and a spotted leopard tail sprouted from his lower back. The current generation of CP9 was hailed as the strongest in the organization's history, and even among them, Lucci stood alone at the summit. It was time these accolades were put to the test.
The Aigis' opening move was a killing blow. His multi-jointed arm struck with shocking speed, flowing and sweeping like water, coated in a blade of slicing wind. Only a last-minute defense prevented Lucci from being disemboweled; instead he felt the attack slice bone-deep into his forearms, sending up a spray of arterial blood.
Turning to deflect the remaining force, Lucci segued the motion into a spinning slash, striking at the Aigis with a wave of compressed air, strong enough to slice through a warship's steel bulkheads. Jabra joined the attack, throwing up a wall of projectiles shaped like snapping wolf heads. Two techniques, designed to pin the masked man between them.
The man's other arm lashed out, faster than sight, dispersing Lucci's attack into a shower of harmless fragments while giving up only a little ground. The thinly smiling mask that he wore now seemed almost mocking in its expression.
Sprinting up from below, Fukuro threw himself into a spinning tackle, which the Aigis dodged with fluttering twirl. A wall of stabbing threads from Kumadori was thwarted with Iron Body, and a barrage of Storm Leg attacks were overpowered by a single return stroke. Jabra reeled back, stunned by a steel-knuckled blow to the face, and a follow-up attack sent the wolf-man hurtling into the water. The masked man descended after him, not content to assume his foe would die of drowning.
Slimming his form down to a lighter, more agile build, Lucci hammered the air with his feet, legs working like pistons as he accelerated to his foe. Twin fists punched out, and the masked head turned, seeming to register brief surprise, visible as a slight twitch. Too late.
A wave of force flowed past Lucci's hands, erupting into the air and rippling through the masked man's torso, causing his body to jerk back from the blow. A hairline fracture formed at the base of his mask, splitting its smile in two. The ultimate technique of the Six Styles, combining the six basic forms into a single destructive attack.
That one definitely had an effect.
For a moment, the only sound in Lucci's ears was the sound of his own heavy breathing.
"The strongest agent in the history of the Ninth." The masked man spoke at last, straightening himself up. "Is that the limit of your power?"
Only the tiniest hint of strain in his voice betrayed the fact that he had taken any damage at all.
Kumadori dove for the sea, tendrils of pinkish hair reaching for Jabra, trying to pull him out before he sank beyond their sight. A Storm Leg attack blew him back, threads slashed to ragged ribbons, his white theatrical make up stained red by countless tiny cuts.
Fukuro approached from above, fists bared, running a zigzagging trajectory toward the Aigis. The flick of a finger threw a bullet of compressed air straight into his path, sending him spinning helplessly into the water.
The masked man turned now toward Lucci, who had put some distance between them so as to not be caught by a surprise attack. Lucci's eyes widened as the other man thrust out his lanky arms in a mirror image of his own pose, paired fists held one above the other.
Twin jets of light-distorting force shot out from the masked man's knuckles, spiraling inward, compressing, merging into a single cohesive beam of devastating power. In an instant, the maelstrom closed the distance, thundering through the air with staggering speed. It was already too close, and too fast to escape.
A ball of light appeared before Lucci, expanding into a densely contained shell of bright blue flame that swallowed the spiraling wave, while leaving him untouched. Legs pumping, he cleared the line of fire as the weakened remnants of the blast roared past, dwindling to nothing in the distance.
The agent of Aigis seemed just as surprised, and in that moment, a ribbon of light weaved up from below and made a play for him. Ducking the initial thrust, the masked man failed to react when the technique adjusted itself in mid-air, striking him like a whip and detonating in a flash of white. Beneath the glare, a second crack was visible on his mask, spider-webbing out from its lower left edge.
The sea surface churned, forming jagged waves that crashed together, exploding upward in a fountain of obscuring white. Jabra's dark form was tossed out from the top of the geyser, and Lucci's eyes traced the trajectory of his fellow agent as he landed on the pirate ship's deck, choking up water and gulping in the sweet air. Standing nearby was the red haired girl that Lucci had confronted earlier, hands drawn up in some sort of ability-invoking stance.
Some wordless thought was conveyed between the two of them then.
A wave of shuriken-shaped wind blades raced past Lucci's head, smashing fruitlessly against the Aigis agent's iron resistance. He looked back and saw his final two subordinates arriving from their ship.
"Oh my, it looks like that's the genuine article." Kalifa remarked, brushing back a lock of blonde hair and adjusting her glasses with a finger.
"Did you make some new friends Lucci?" Kaku asked playfully. Hopping from foot to foot, he took up his reverse-grip stance, paired swords flashing in the morning light.
An arc of lightning flashed up from the ship, but the Aigis operative was faster, neatly sidestepping and replying with a deluge of cutting and piercing winds. A wall of white shimmered into view, catching the direct force of the attack, but the considerable backblast caused the surrounding waters to heave. The ship's weather-beaten hull groaned as a wind-churned swell slammed into its side.
Lucci threw himself onto the scene, attacking with a series of his quickest stabs and slashes, blending animal ferocity and practiced, surgical precision. Kaku darted in and out, slashing at their foe through gaps and flinging Storm Leg attacks from a distance. Kalifa circled around, spraying a stream of foam from the other side. Unwilling to risk enduring the effects of an unknown Devil Fruit, the Aigis was forced to break his stance and evade, allowing gaps to creep into his defense.
A spinning pentagram crystallized from the air, summoned by the hooded gunman, and icy tendrils shot out from its points and intersections, grasping at the Aigis spy. The masked man shattered one with a blow from his arm, weaved around another with Paper Arts, then bolted skyward when their numbers proved too overwhelming.
Kaku shifted into his giraffe-hybrid form, and his neck fired out, his oddly square nose slamming into the masked man head-on. The Aigis threw up his arms in a guard position, losing the bare fractions of a second that he needed to escape the icy deluge. One tendril speared into the Aigis spy's leg, forming a film of frost that spread rapidly upward, immediately arresting his flight. Others poured in, encasing him in a split second, throwing on more and more layers until the man was immobilized within a solid slab of crystal-clear ice. It hung serenely in midair like a frozen instant, a snapshot of his struggle.
With a thought, Lucci released his Life Return compression, expanding back into his hulking, ten-foot frame. With diminished range of motion and reduced nimbleness, it was a form he favored less when engaging in close combat. But for sheer brute strength, its usefulness was undisputed.
Raising himself to eye-level with his target, Lucci held out his fists, stopping just short of the surface of the icy cage. He poured out his strength, and the air boomed as a shock wave rippled from his knuckles, punching through crystal, flowing through flesh and shattering the frigid prison into a curtain of glittering rain.
Freed from his restraints, the Aigis agent seemed about to collapse, listless like an unstrung marionette. Growing patches of red stained his once-spotless suit and coat, and his mask was a canvas of jagged cracks and fissures. To his credit, he did not cry out or make any sort of undignified sound, but from the way his gaze darted to and fro, it was clear that he had lost all heart for the fight. A brief flash of joy formed over Lucci's face between panted breaths, and he exulted in the pain and panic wafting from his foe.
"Was that enough power for you, Agent of the Zeroth?"
Without a word, the Aigis spy turned to flee, dashing toward his ship in an erratic path to avoid the barrage of Storm Leg attacks flying his way. Lucci rocketed forward in pursuit, noting the droplets of sweat forming on his forehead, and doing his best to regulate his own heavy breathing. The masked man remained annoyingly fast despite his considerable injuries, but as the two of them shot past the pirate ship, Lucci spotted something that made him stop.
On the ship's deck below, the red-haired girl was standing with both arms raised over her head, her expression one of deep concentration while she chanted out some sort of arcane litany. An orb of white power shimmered between her palms, and from it, an insidious glow pervaded the air, wrapped around her like a mantle of red malice.
With a cry of "Dragon Slave!" the girl threw her hands forward, and the red glow exploded forth as a surging torrent of supernatural color. It roared past the masked man, setting the air aflame with the mere aftermath of its passage, then detonated in an explosion of annihilating light. The agent and his ship vanished into the blast, which, for a brief moment, outshined the sun, throwing all on the surface into shadow. A towering column of vapor erupted into the sky, while the ocean rushed in to fill the newly formed gap.
"Well done Lina, well done." Xellos complimented from below, applauding quietly. He rose into the air, just in time to avoid the explosion-driven wave, which tossed the tiny caravel around like a wooden bathtub toy. Blueno's unattended body was fortuitously caught by a railing, while Jabra, still groggy from his near-drowning, managed to cling to the mast alongside the crew until the turbulence passed.
"Just be patient for a little longer and you might find out." The self-dubbed priest's words echoed in Lucci's mind. He allowed himself to smile. Oh, this would be interesting indeed.
With a muted crack that grew louder by the moment, the much-abused ship finally came apart. Kaku raced down, plucking Blueno's unconscious form from the railing, while Jabra and the crew cleared the deck mere moments before the hull disintegrated, revealing a solid block of gold within the hold, nearly broad as the ship was wide. Before anyone could lift a finger in response, the metallic mass plunged into the water, vanishing into the azure depths.
"That was… a lot of gold." Kalifa ventured. "Probably enough to purchase the entire Galley-La Company."
"One could easily commission a royal palace with a sum that large." Kaku agreed.
Kaku's innocent comment seemed to hit the redhead hard, inducing an unsettling shiver that caused most of her crewmates to cringe. For a long moment, she stared blankly at the patch of drifting planks where her ship used to be, then clutched her hair and screamed her frustration at the clear blue sky.
Spandam sat motionless, facing his desk in the captain's quarters, staring intently at the communicator snail placed at one corner of the table. A myriad of straps, belts and harnesses stretched across his body like cobwebs, pinning his shattered frame in place. There was an annoying itch on his right thigh, but he couldn't move to scratch it. His back throbbed where three vertebrae were fractured, but he couldn't lean forward to take the pressure off. Condensation from the ice pack pressed against his forehead was trickling into his left eye, but with his grotesquely swollen lips, he couldn't so much as blow at it to make it go away.
And all of this was CP9's fault, for failing to kill that accursed Cutty Flam, and for losing the keys to that blasted Nico Robin!
Straining with what little strength he could muster, Spandam turned his head just enough to glance at the clock hanging on the nearest wall. It was an hour past noon.
Even though he couldn't turn far enough to see, Spandam knew there was at least one government agent standing at the door behind him, with orders to receive his visitors and attend to his needs. After all, he was the great Chief Spandam, whose considerable talents had earned him the position of Director within the Tower of Justice at Enies Lobby.
Or at least, that was his position before CP9's incompetent bungling resulted in the island's destruction.
Not to mention, he was the man who had obtained explicit permission from the World Nobles and the Five Elders to pursue this illustrious undertaking. Perhaps after he obtained it, he could even use Pluton to seize the reins of power himself; certainly he deserved no less.
"I'm not happy soldier." He said through gritted teeth. "Not. Happy. Ask me why."
"I'm very sorry to hear that chief!" A nervous voice replied from behind. "Is there something you want me to do for you? Do you have an itch, or maybe you would like something to be adjusted?"
"No no, it's none of that." Spandam replied. "Just ask me why."
"Why what? Be specific, soldier."
"Why are you unhappy?" His attendant ventured.
"Because the ship that should be carrying our third agent was supposed to report in at noon!" Spandam snapped. "And look what time it is now! They are an hour late!"
"Really, I've come to expect this kind of buffoonery from CP9, but the World's Strongest Intelligence should be able to do better." He huffed.
"I would appreciate it if you didn't compare us to things of that sort, dear Chief." A third voice chimed in, soothing, yet spine-chilling, dancing the razor's edge between sincerity and scorn.
Spandam shivered as he felt the agent's warm breath on the back of his neck, while his doorman sputtered out a hasty apology.
"W-well, I just wanted to make sure our team member was doing okay." He quickly stammered. "Plus, I had heard that he was the only one among you three who didn't have an ability, so I used my connections to procure a Fruit, should you have need of it."
He gestured with his chin toward one of the desk's drawers.
"Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary, Chief." The spy noted, flawlessly formal and academic. "Now onto business: we will be arriving soon at the port of Nanohana. Moreover, our translator has confirmed the absence of the princess, the palace security captain, and the royal guard commanders. Truly the fortunes are in our favor, are they not?"
"Oh, well that's good." Spandam replied. He remembered something, then added, "Oh yeah, who is our translator anyway? I'm sure my father had all but one of those Oharan demons put to death."
"She comes to us from Dressrosa, Chief. In the New World." The agent raised his voice so as to make himself heard over a dull roar emanating from above. The ship bobbed as something heavy landed on the deck.
"A warship?!" Lina threw her hands up in exasperation once Fukuro had concluded his tale. "Why does Pluton have to be a warship?! I want something I can hold, damnit!"
Crossing her arms, she plopped down on a nearby couch and leaned back against its cushion. The small comforts of the captain's cabin were much appreciated after all they had been through.
Kaku strode over to her end of the table and poured her a mug of steaming hot tea. Leaving the empty kettle, he withdrew back to the opposite side, where his fellow agents were gathering. Blueno was the last to join them, having needed to change into some new clothing to replace the ones that had been burnt, after Lina had healed him up once they'd all gotten onboard. Seated front and center among them, Lucci raised a glass of rum to his lips, and his pigeon, dressed in a matching black overcoat, leaned down from his shoulder to share a sip.
"Well then." Zelgadis crossed his arms. "This conflict has nothing to do with us. I say we get off at the next island and find a way to head back toward our original objective."
"Whoa, hold on there Zel, I didn't mean it quite like that." Lina quickly stopped him.
"This former chief of yours." She addressed the Cipher Pol members. "So you're saying he's the one responsible for sending that long-armed freak at us?"
The seven spies and one pigeon sitting across from her nodded in unison.
"And you guys don't have any intel on where or what Poseidon might be?"
The Cipher Pol members confirmed by shaking their heads.
"We really have no interest in obtaining the weapons for ourselves." Kaku explained. "Pluton was always the chief's objective."
Lina nodded. The fact that former intelligence agents didn't know where Poseidon was located was a very good thing in her mind, since it meant no one was likely to go after it. That made sense; if the relic in the sky was the only one pointing to it, not many people would've seen it.
"In that case, I say we head over to Alabasta." She concluded. "It's still a good idea to check out those ruins in case they're holding clues to anything else, and I need to teach that punk chief of yours a lesson for sinking my gold. Plus, if they have any more ships like this, then we can steal one before we go."
"Call it fair and just compensation for my loss." She stated matter-of-factly.
The corners of Lucci's mouth curled up into a momentary smirk.
"Indeed, your logic is impeccable!" Xellos commended from his position leaning against the wall. "I'm sure no one has any objections to Lina's proposal?"
"Chapapa, but it was the wave caused by your overkill technique that ended up sinking your-" Fukuro's mouth snapped shut with a metallic clink at Lina's threatening glare.
"Treacherous villains seek to unearth the weapons for their evil plans!" Amelia stood up on a chair, throwing her cape back and posing dramatically. "They shall be smashed with the hammer of justice!"
"That's right!" Kumadori called out in agreement. "Treachery and betrayal have befouled, polluted and blackened the chief's good name! Yoyoi!"
Zelgadis sighed in resignation. "Alright, fine."
Lina turned toward Luke and Milina, her gaze inviting them to join the discussion.
"Works for us, right Milina?" Luke shrugged. Milina remained silent, content to allow Luke to speak for her as well.
"Alright, it's agreed." Lina rose from her seat and walked to where Rob Lucci sat. It worked out to something surprisingly simple in the end.
"We'll sail with you to Alabasta to get a look at these ruins, and if any more of these goons show up, we'll pitch in to fight them off." She offered. "And after we get all that over with, then we'll go our separate ways."
She stuck out her hand.
Lucci stood up, and all eyes fell upon him as he paused momentarily, then took up the offered hand and shook.
Author's Notes: CP0's members have a theme, similar to how other groups like the Shichibukai and CP9 have animal themes. Now one fight isn't a lot to work with, but if you think you've got a read on it, lemme know. Otherwise, it'll be explained after Chapter 13.
CP9 Crew Roles are as follows:
Lucci - Captain.
Kaku - Shipwright.
Jabra - Cook.
Kalifa - Navigator.
Blueno - Helmsman.
Kumadori - Doctor.
Fukurou - Unassigned.
Slayers Crew Roles, once Lina gets the hang of it, would go something like this:
Lina - Captain.
Gourry - Swordsman.
Zelgadis - Navigator.
Amelia - Doctor.
Xellos - Archaeologist.
Luke - Chore Boy (Ha!).
Milina - Unassigned. She could be considered a diplomat or mediator of sorts, if that was an actual listed crew role.