Chapter 19: Discovery
"Pirate ship sighted off the starboard bow!" Amelia called from her lookout post atop the main mast.
Lina rushed out onto the deck with binoculars in hand, scanning the horizon for their quarry. And sure enough, there it was, a sleek caravel ship with a colorful parrot carving jutting from its bow. The last five pirate ships they'd encountered over the past few weeks of sailing down the Grand Line had all been similarly decorated. Weirdos, all of them.
The pirate ship turned away, angling to escape, and Lina was reminded that they were still using the Marine warship that they had stolen back in Alabasta. That was fine, chasing down fleeing pirates was what their ship was designed to do.
"Zel! Turn on the engine and man the helm!" Lina yelled into the cabin. "If these guys get away I'm putting their treasure on your tab. With interest."
Zelgadis obliged, and the paddle-wheels chugged as they spun up to speed, churning up twin sprays of salty sea water. A conjured gust into the sails sent their ship surging forward, and soon they were closing on the enemy's aft. Luke joined them on deck, and with well-drilled precision he sent a flurry of wind blades tearing through the pirates' sails, just as Milina sealed up their cannon ports and froze their rudder. Xellos sat off to one side, sipping from a cup of hot tea while he watched impassively.
As they swung past, Lina swept the pirate ship's deck with a blast of air, sending several men tumbling off the sides before they could gather themselves for a counter-attack. A vibration blast shattered the front mast in a shower of wooden splinters, and it crashed down over the prow, pulverizing the figurehead and scattering the pirate crew. Lina dusted off her hands, her practiced eye deeming that the pirates had been sufficiently intimidated by their display. Hoisting Gourry up by the undersides of his arms, she lifted off, dropping back down once they were over the enemy's deck.
"Alright you bums, hand over all your treasure and maybe I'll let you live." Lina said, ambling toward the cowering pirates with a fireball burning in her hand. Threats definitely sounded a lot better when she was the one making them.
"You're the one responsible for this?" A pirate stepped forward, probably the captain going by his blue and gold coat, waving a jewel-encrusted sword which Lina made a note to seize along with the rest of their valuables. He was a large man, standing a full head taller than Gourry, with a black eyepatch, a matching tricorne, and a long, unkempt beard with a few streaks of mottled gray.
Lina rolled her eyes. Basically the dime-a-dozen stereotypical pirate, just missing a peg leg and a talking parrot on his shoulder. Although she supposed the ship itself could have been the parrot.
"Yeah? And what about it?" Lina said, cocking her head up. She smirked when a flash of fury came over the pirate's face, and his grip tightened on the hilt of his weapon. In the corner of her eye, she could see Gourry fingering his own sword, ready to leap into the fray at any sign of suspicious movement.
"Captain…" One of the other pirates tugged on the captain's sleeve, clutching a piece of paper in his other hand.
"Captain, that girl's the 'Sea Witch'. Sea Witch Lina Inverse!"
A passing breeze blew the paper out of man's trembling hand, and it landed on the deck in front of Lina. She looked down. It was a wanted poster, a wanted poster of her. The picture was still the same as the one she'd seen in the newspaper once before, and she still had no idea when the Marines had managed to take it. But her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when they scanned over the bounty value.
375 million Belis.
"Hey wait a just minute!" Lina exclaimed and stamped her foot on the deck. "Three hundred and seventy five million? 'Sea Witch'? What did I do to deserve this?!"
"Careful captain." The other pirate whispered, apparently oblivious to Lina's brewing anger. "They say she destroyed two of the Gates of Justice, and fought off a Marine fleet that had an admiral on board."
Lina felt her face flush hot, and her shoulders began to tremble, her empty hand clenching into a tight fist. The tiny part of her mind that was not overwhelmed by pure rage noted that the pirate captain was starting to sweat profusely.
"Hey guys, you really need to get out of here." Gourry's voice was filled with honest concern as he spoke to the pirates. "I know this is your ship and all, but if I were you I'd just cut my losses and dive into the ocean before Lina goes on a rampage. At least that way you'll still have your lives right?"
"It's too late for that!" Lina roared, and the fireball in her palm flared twice as bright. Her hand whipped forward, sending the spell crashing into the deck, blowing it apart in a shower of flames and blackened fragments.
A cry from below deck snapped Lina out of her fury, and peering into the hole, she could see a man tied to the section of the central mast there. It looked like he'd been caught by the edge of the blast, the flames weakening his bindings enough to allow him to wriggle free. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get far before the ship began to break apart beneath him, splitting in two with a series of sharp cracks and dropping him into the debris-strewn water.
"Help! Help!" He cried and struggled on the surface. "I can't swim!"
"Well I hope that was fun. So whose tab will the lost treasure go on now?" Zelgadis said once they had returned.
"Just hush up." Lina replied, frowning. "A ship that ugly didn't deserve to exist anyway. And besides, a good round of beating up on some pirates in the morning has benefits all on its own."
"Oh? Then why so glum?" Zelgadis said with a smirk.
Lina opened her mouth, and was about to give him an earful about why she was so upset. Instead, she settled for turning around with a huff and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Lina's just mad because she got a really really big bounty." Gourry whispered to Zelgadis behind her. "And a new nickname, but I think I like it better than the old one."
A piece of wood the size of a human head, applied with considerable force to the side of his skull, was enough to shut Gourry's mouth.
With nothing of value left salvageable from the burning remains of the pirate ship, they had turned their own ship around, back onto the path that the Log Pose prescribed. Well, nothing except for the passenger they'd picked up.
Lina looked down at the man they had rescued, who was still kneeling on the deck, spitting up mouthfuls of water that he had swallowed. His long, multi-colored jacket was a little singed from the fireball, and his bright pink hair was soaking wet, drooping down over his shoulders. Coughing up the last of the water, he wiped the lenses of his goggles clear, and took a moment to adjust his pointy green cap.
"I really, really must thank you for saving me from those pirates." He quickly stood up and made a small bow, a wide grin appearing on his face despite all that he'd been through. "So sorry for the late introduction, but the name's Chameleone."
Lina just shrugged. The man's somewhat high-pitched voice was already getting on her nerves, and she didn't really want to listen to him talk any more than she had to. Then, a question popped up in her mind.
"Hey wait, if you can't swim, is that because you're a Devil Fruit user?" She asked.
"What? No, no, that would be so ridiculous." Chameleone replied, holding up his hands in gesture of denial. "I'm just a simple collector who doesn't really get out very often."
He deflated slightly. "And well, you sort of saw right there what tends to happen to me when I do get out."
Lina nodded. "So, what? You want us to drop you off somewhere?"
"Next island will do." Chameleone said. "And by the way, I didn't quite catch what they were saying while I was tied up down there, but are you guys pirates? I don't see a pirate flag anywhere on this ship."
"We don't have a flag." Lina said, then sighed. "It's… complicated."
They caught sight of land by mid-afternoon, the very same island that the Log Pose was pointing to, with a large central mountain ringed by a seaside town. A quick scan revealed no Marine bases on the island; it would've been pretty troublesome if there were since they didn't know how long it would take for the Log to set. The crew dropped anchor in one of the ports and disembarked, and Chameleone quickly vanished, probably eager to get away from what was essentially still a pirate ship.
Supplies came first of course, and soon the town's usual market crowd was treated to the sight of the crew purchasing cartloads of food using stolen pirate treasure, and hauling it back to be preserved on the ship. Then, with essential duties done, there was time for exploration until they could set out once more.
Strolling around town with the others, Lina got a sense of sheer history from the buildings she was seeing. Most were constructed from carved stone, built to last, with obvious divisions and extensions where repairs and modifications had been made over the years. There were clear stylistic differences from one neighborhood to the next, marking the passage of time through architectural change. Here and there, Lina noticed half-buried ruins jutting from the ground, some with newer buildings built on top of them.
Lina's gaze was drawn to the town's central clock tower as it chimed out five strokes, announcing the arrival of five o'clock. Her eyes stopped on what appeared to be a dark stone block lodged in its front, just below the clock's face.
"Hey isn't that a poneglyph?" Lina blurted out loud, causing everyone else to follow her stare to the embedded relic. Before they had even finished registering what they were seeing, Lina was already off, proceeding toward the tower at a brisk walking pace. Stopping at the base of the tower, she waited for the others to catch up, then invoked a levitation to raise herself up to eye level with the block. It was definitely a poneglyph, completely unworn unlike the surrounding stone, with the same kinds of characters carved into its surface that she had seen in two locations before.
"Well that's unexpected. Found another one have we?" Xellos rose up beside her. "So would you like to know what it says?"
Lina turned her head and gave Xellos a nod, then drifted aside to allow him to read.
"Hmm, this passage appears to be a verse of some sort." Xellos stroked his chin and cleared his throat.
"With the veiling of the sun, in the starless night I hear a call. The Aspirant, the Hopeful, the King of the Blue Sky. In dreams I hear his name, and in dreams we meet again."
He paused to give Lina a moment to take it all in, then shrugged. "So what do you suppose this is trying to tell us?"
Lina's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an explosion, and she turned to see a fiery blast engulfing the town's marketplace, the flames billowing into the sky before fading into a cloud of smoke. It actually looked kind of like the result of a fireball spell.
Lina turned back to Xellos. Whatever was happening at the market wasn't her problem right now. Maybe later she'd see about investigating, and having the locals pay her to deal with the culprit.
"It sounds like…" Lina started, motioning with her hands as she tried to get her point across. "It actually sounds kind of like a description for some sort of astral entity. You know like you Mazoku, something you can draw power from for spells."
"Oh, interesting." Xellos said. "So you're saying you might be able to develop a new spell with this information?"
Lina scratched her forehead with a finger. A new spell straight from this? That was definitely in the cards. If this really was a description of an astral power, then she had all the pieces necessary - titles, descriptors and so forth - to construct the spell's chaos words. She'd be missing the power words of course, which also served as the spell's common name, but just having the chaos words would still allow her to get a feel for the amount of progress she was making.
However, the structure of the incantation depended on the power level of the entity in question, and until she hit on the right set she'd be guessing blindly. There was also the possibility that her theurgic incantations were just not going to work here at all, but Lina didn't think that was particularly likely. She had patterned the Giga Slave's incantation on that of the Dragon Slave after all, and no matter what sort of astral power was being described by the block, it was probably not going to be more alien than the Lord of Nightmares.
"Lemme try something." Lina said, bringing her hands up to a casting position, vaguely noting the others watching intently from below. She'd test an incantation for a Dynast-class power, and then try to work it out from there.
"Supreme king of the blue sky, grant me your power from beyond the veil of dreams."
Lina paused for a second before acknowledging that nothing was happening, not even a flash of light or a puff of smoke to reward her for her efforts. Mentally, she could feel the attempt had failed as well. She hadn't been hoping for a miracle right off the bat, but if this was the right set to use, she should've felt some power running through her that she could shape with her mind, and feel out how it tended to flow. Then the mental steps could be worked out, the chaos words modified to draw more precisely from the desired source, and power words added to unify the spell energies. It was a process she had gone through quite a few times before.
Lina briefly considered dismissing the whole thing as total bogus, but quickly shut out that thought. People didn't tend to write useless nonsense on ancient, indestructible blocks after all, and it was still worth experimenting on with all their free time at sea.
A yelp from below jolted Lina from her concentration, and she glanced down to see her friends surrounded by a group of six vicious looking men. She cursed under her breath as she noticed one of them holding a long-barreled rifle to Amelia's forehead.
"Back off blue man, or I'll blow her brains out." He hissed at Zelgadis. For his part, Zelgadis's expression was positively murderous, but he kept himself still for Amelia's sake.
"Wait, please, we're innocent." Amelia pleaded. "We aren't villains, really!"
Another of the men stepped forward, probably the leader from the way the others moved aside for him. He was tall and heavily built, with thick, calloused hands and a number of nicks and scars on his face. A well-worn Marine officer coat hung from his shoulders, covering what appeared to be a thick, padded vest. A weapon like a small cannon was attached to the upper part of one arm, kept steady as he walked by a number of belts and straps.
"Innocent?" He said with a sneer, staring up at Lina, greed burning in his eyes as he contemplated her bounty.
"All pirates are dangerous." He continued. "There aren't any innocents in the company of a three hundred seventy five million bounty, and as bounty hunters, we're here to take you to your just sentence."
"Oh just screw off with your justice talk." Lina shot back. "If you're so hot about justice, maybe you could actually prove some guilt instead of showing up out of nowhere and mouthing off."
The bounty hunter growled, and in response, his rifle-toting subordinate tightened his grip around his trigger, pressing the barrel of his gun against Amelia's temple. Amelia whimpered and Lina tensed with a spell on her lips. If she was too slow, one twitch of the man's finger would send a bullet into Amelia's skull, and that wasn't something that a Recovery spell could even begin to mend. The air itself seemed to grow still as that moment stretched on for ages.
"Fine, but we should at least get a fair trial." Lina said, breaking the stifling silence, dropping to the ground while Xellos touched down behind her. She held her hands up to show that she wasn't holding anything.
"Oh you'll get your trial all right." The bounty hunter nodded and smirked, stepping forward until he loomed over her. "If it was up to me, I'd just give you what you deserve right now, but the result will be the same either way."
"Take us to your court then." Lina said, her eyes never leaving the man's face.
The leader of the bounty hunters smirked and produced a set of cuffs, one of which Lina allowed him to clamp around her wrists. She turned, giving her shipmates a nod and a wink. If the hunters tried anything funny, they could use the unlocking spell to get their restraints off, and just hope to hell that surprise would allow one of them to do something quickly enough to rescue Amelia. One by one, the others accepted the manacles, Zelgadis and Luke last and most reluctantly.
The leader of the hunters wheeled around, and without another word, he started down a street that ran behind the clock tower, heading toward the island's central mount. The other hunters fell in line behind him, dragging Amelia with them. Lina followed them, and her crewmates trailed after her, anger etched across their faces with the exception of Xellos, who wore the same expression of mild amusement that he almost always had. Lina kept her eyes on the man with the rifle as she walked, silently swearing that as soon as they got out of this, she'd show these smug hunters just how she got to have such a large bounty to begin with.
Author's Notes: Special thanks to Velkyn Karma for giving permission to use the idea that made this arc possible. Thank you so much!