Hey guys, it's yo girl biting off more than she can chew but you know what we're gonna have hella fun with this one and just run with it.
I hope you enjoy!
I do not own One Piece.
Warnings: Mentions of suicide, attempted suicide, dark humor regarding suicide, a really long first chapter and one wild time.
Memoirs of a Suicidal Pirate
I hope you don't mind
"What does this friend of yours look like again?"
Nami folded the maps she'd been eyeing into her lap, satisfied with their designated course before heading to Loguetown. Sanji came in a flurry of staccato beats and hearts, dipping low to offer her freshly squeezed lemonade mixed in with fresh picked tangerines.
"Is she anywhere near as beautiful as our precious Nami-swan?" Sanji crooned, dropping to one knee.
Nami plucked the glass from his waiting hands, turning to where their captain sat in his favorite spot aboard the ship.
The weather was perfect for sailing. Cross breezes just right, sails fluttering with ease, the waters steady and rolling along the ship like someone stroking tender fingers on their side—she almost took it as a good omen for the things bound to come. This would be the perfect start to their journey.
Nami rubbed her newly inked tattoo for luck.
Zoro grunted something in his sleep, tucked against the shade of the Going Merry's figurehead. Usopp was trying to repair his paper hammer, plastering on new slabs of thin tissue and paint with delicate, shaking fingers. The detour was minor and it wouldn't take them too far off their course. Luffy had been adamant about reaching this island only when they were ready to set sail for the Grand Line. No exceptions.
"She won't come with us if I don't have everything ready," Luffy had complained, picking his nose. "It's a real pain. But now I've got all you guys and we're ready to go, so she can't say anything!"
"You said you grew up with her?" Usopp pushed back his goggles, rubbing his chin in thought. "Someone who managed to grow up with Luffy of all people…"
"Yup!" Luffy said cheerfully, swaying back and forth from his seat. His lips stretched from ear to ear, impossibly wide. "We gotta have her! It's gonna be great, you guys will love her!"
Zoro clicked his tongue. "I don't know what to think, coming from you."
"For all we know, she could be someone real weird," Usopp said nervously. "She's not someone weird right? We've got enough crazy people on this ship and even though I'm strong enough—"
Nami made a face. "—to count for five hundred men, you tend to attract—"
"She's a little weird," Luffy conceded. "But she's great!"
"You didn't answer my question," Nami sighed. "It's a pretty fair sized island. What exactly should we be looking for once we anchor?"
Luffy rubbed his chin in thought. His lips pursed and his brows furrowed, a constipated look coloring his features as he stretched his brain a good magnitude to figure out the right words. Zoro squinted up at him.
"Don't hurt yourself now."
"Her hair's super white!" Luffy slapped his fist into his palm. "Like snow—like clouds. Paper! Like lots of paper!"
Sanji exhaled a plume of smoke, leaning back against the railing of the ship as he tucked the tray beneath his arm. "How old is she again?"
"And she's got eyes kinda like," Luffy squinted, eyeing the shifting mass of ocean below him before he pointed to a specific spot where the sun caught off the blue and turned bits of it golden. "Like that. That spot right there. And this really easy to see tattoo right over her left eye like this—it's got a funny smear at the bottom too like someone messed up drawing or something."
Nami considered her captain's descriptions, "How old is she again—"
"And her skin's like this!" Luffy slapped the sun kissed tan of the wood beside him. "Gimme a paper Usopp, I'll draw her for you guys!"
"I don't think that'll be much help," Sanji said.
"Does she even know we're coming?" Zoro questioned.
"Nope," Luffy cackled, looking absolutely pleased with himself as he grabbed his ankles and teetered to a fro atop Merry's head. His grin became blinding and his shoulders shook with mirth. "Oh, man, she's gonna be so surprised."
"White hair and a tattoo around her eye," Nami played with a strand of her own. "That shouldn't be too hard to find. We should be arriving in another hour or so."
Luffy dug his finger into his ear, wheedling anything out. He pulled his finger free and examined it, inspecting his nails before he flicked it over into the ocean.
"She'll probably be trying to kill herself, so she'll be super easy to find."
Nami dropped her glass of lemonade. Usopp ripped a tear into his hammer. Sanji's cigarette fell from his lips and Zoro's head smacked back into a wooden post.
"I know," Luffy complained. "What a waste, right?"
? - Years Ago
Trafalgar D. Water Law had too many tattoos.
She stared at the nearly finished body beneath her. Dark, ebony etches of ink across richly tan skin. Gray eyes dark enough to be mistaken for black bore back up at her. His muscles rippled with a sheen.
Law smirked back.
The commission plastered onto her tablet became highlighted. Her drawing pen hovered in her left hand, poised and ready.
The smirk is too much. She grimaced, touching the eraser icon and going back to the basics. I should make him scowl. If I mess up his face, they'll probably forgive me if I feed into their ship cravings. I'll add the main character in free of charge. Make things spicy.
It was no skin off her teeth at this point anyway.
She tucked dark brown back into the bun atop her head. She narrowed her eyes, readjusting the final sketch and leaning back with a sigh. She could easily reuse one of her older sketches of the show's main character—Luffy, but it didn't sit well with her for the last commission to be some half done piece of shit. Even if that's all she and her work normally were. It had to go out with a bang.
"You can't make a living off a life like this."
Nearly everything in her room had been stripped bare, filed and tucked away into neat boxes and labeled around her. The small apartment was dark save for the single room she now resided in, the water running in the bathroom behind her. Bed sheets had been stripped. Posters ripped off. Items filed, clothes folded, objects given off or sold, and the money from that slipped and sealed into a neat little envelope beside a smaller stack of letters addressed to several individuals.
My hand hurts. She thumbed the pen in her left hand. The easy afterthought but I don't care whispered after, but the after-after thought of that was a secondary I don't care about not caring that just made her tired of it all. Thinking took too much work.
There was no afterthought.
She fiddled with the sleeve of her hoodie. Her leggings were her comfiest pair too. Everything was right. Just right. Normal. Everyday.
She glanced to the clock.
Two hours to go before midnight.
I'll take a ten minute break. She pushed herself away from the workstation, clicking save on her final commission's progress so far. She watched Trafalgar Law's face go dark and turned her swivel chair around to face her now barren room.
The boxes of things were stacked high into the corner. Everything but her workstation and the desk had been cleaned off.
I'm not going to miss this room. She stood. That's for sure. There was a voicemail from her mother on her phone screen and one missed call from her sister. They were scheduled to get brunch tomorrow for their weekly meet-up. She'd already disconnected her phone an hour ago.
The water in the bathroom continued to run. The window should be open to let out steam. The smell of her favorite soap came through, cucumber melon.
Honestly? She ran through the sealed and addressed envelopes on her desk one more time, thumbed her finger through the money, and then let her hair loose from her bun and stared at the clock.
It was a normal, simple night.
The perfect kind of night to die.
She clapped her hands together and stood. She'd go check on the bath, her soon-to-be cucumber melon scented deathbed, make sure everything was nice and toasty and she had the desired amount of pills to swallow, she'd do this whole crazy, mind ripping cycle one more time, finish her final fan art commission for a show she barely even watched that she only really did as some last ditch effort to keep her rooted here since everyone always said—ah, you just need to keep doing the things you love, it'll remind you how much you miss it—send it in, transfer the money to her mother's bank account and then finally, finally—
She, age twenty-three, would die.
She turned the music on her phone up to the max, the speaker coming to life as her favorite song played.
Absolutely fucking perfect.
She stood up and headed to the bathroom.
The letters had been thoughtful and sentimental, offering as much comfort with a touch of her own suicidal realism to keep it balanced. Special care taken with the family letters, thought poured into the friends close enough for there to be reason to explain what she was doing to them—because that's what they needed, right? A reason. An explanation. They'd mourn and grieve and spend endless days if she didn't at least give them that because people were always like that.
They always needed a reason.
I don't really have one. She thought idly as she twisted the knob to the bathroom. But that's okay. I'll make one for them.
"Why would anyone want to die?" her sister had said once, when the two of them watched the morning news with cold pizza in their laps about a man who'd jumped off a building and killed someone else below him. "I don't get it. What finally does it to the point that they can't take it anymore? I get if you've got a bunch of debt or you're on the run but..."
"Maybe he was just sad," she had said.
"He should've gotten help," her sister had snorted.
"Maybe he was just... tired," she had said.
"He was a coward," her sister had snapped. "People who commit suicide like taking the easy way out. Life's supposed to be tough. It's always hard. Death is just another way of running."
She had agreed because if she hadn't it would've made things awkward and weird. It was hard to explain to someone with so much vitality that yes, perhaps it was an act of cowardice—but couldn't it also just be an act of utter bravery? Tossing yourself off the tallest building possible because you're willing to face death when so many people cower in fear of it—
I'm sad. I'm tired. Lonely. Sad. Tired. Don't know. Don't know.
Why wait to die?
She had said it'd been shitty that he killed someone because of it. They'd both agreed on that.
Suicide needs to be as clean as possible. She had decided when she'd begun to strip her room bare and sell everything worth selling and without memory so her family couldn't complain. No guns. No guts. No swinging bodies. That's just cruel to the people after. She actually liked her family enough. They didn't deserve that. She even packed and cleaned everything up for them to make it easier. Left them with more than enough to cover funeral fees—she'd checked—and they'd find her body peaceful and clothed, soaked to her cold, lifeless heart, in the tub without any other hassle.
Suicide was a choice done purely by the one who committed it, so in a way, perhaps it was selfish—the aftermath needed to be as selfless as possible.
She was just tired.
She pulled the door open, planning out the color schemes to use for Luffy's addition to the Modern AU she'd been asked to draw. Coffee shop date?
A man she didn't know stood at the center of her bathroom.
She stopped. The stranger stared back.
The window to her bathroom to let out steam had been closed behind him. Her music blasted the entire apartment behind her. He was tall, double her size, a baseball cap pulled low over his head and a thick jacket curled around him. A baseball bat hung at his side and a pouch was clipped to his hip.
Her mother was robbed once. She hadn't been home but had just been pulling into the driveway when she saw him coming out the back with a backpack stuff full and the outline of a gun in his pocket. She'd told them, after the police and everything had been settled and the guy thrown behind bars, it felt like the seconds to realize were hours. It all happens in seconds and before you know it, it's over.
She hadn't made much effort to understand at that time, she'd been too busy scrolling through reasonable funeral services that went along with her family culture.
She kinda understood what she meant now.
"You never expect to be the one getting robbed one day," her mother had sighed. "It just happens."
The news always said odds were that most robbers, realizing you were home, fled. If she ran for the door behind her she could slam the door on him and snatch her phone and call—
Ah, I disconnected my phone.
She couldn't see his eyes.
Her mom always said you could always figure out what to do if you could see someone's eyes.
He raised his bat.
She could still smell the cucumber melon.
I don't want to die like this.
"But you already gave it up."
This isn't how I wanted to die—
"You chose to die. Once you've decided that, I don't think anyone has a say."
There were a lot of emotions that came forth upon the notions of life and death.
They'd both existed for such a long time—it made sense, really. Of course there'd be a lot to say and feel. Anger, resentment, acceptance, peace, sadness, longing, wistful—a wild array of flashing colors, brilliant and blinding. It was enough to make anyone's head pound. It couldn't quite be mustered up into a few words, a phrase or two, there was just so, so much to say.
The world before her exploded into color.
Sounds fell on deafened ears, like distant thuds against the door. Her head throbbed. Her body felt weak, alive, and furious all at once. She could barely move, barely see and understand except for some thin, straggling semblance of consciousness that followed her past the darkness and light and the tumble that had seemed to go on for an entire eternity until—
Light. Light. So much light. It was blinding. I always hated how bright things could be.
She was moving. Shifting. Her heart was thudding wildly in her chest like a bird—alive? Alive. How? Alive.
Something soft pressed to her skin—she felt sticky, clammy. Hot. Everything was burning up and her face felt flushed and her mind was racing. Eyes trying and trying so damn hard to open up just a bit—
"A girl," a voice said hoarsely above her. "She's a girl."
"She's beautiful," a distinctly male voice murmured. She felt fingers prodding along her head, curving over her cheeks and dipping to cup her face. "...can we—"
Her heart came to a stuttering shudder. Bleary, murky eyes prying themselves open as her lips parted in a soundless gasp.
I know these words.
Brilliant, blinding white caught against the sunlight streaming through some opening. It stuck to her face, clinging with sweat and tears. The woman panted, stroking her head and then she pressed a kiss to it, looking to the man beside her.
"Yours fits better."
His smile was impossibly bright. He turned to her, to her, very alive, very real, flesh and blood and a little heart doing its stupid job in her chest and then he opened his mouth—No, no, no!
Her not name fell from his lips in its entirety. Her new name.
There were many emotions and words attributed to the eternal loops of life and death. Many things to feel. Many things to say and speak and scream, maybe even whisper. There were a great many deal of things to feel, as well, when it came to the realization that one who had tried to escape life within the blur of winding memories racing through her mind and piercing her everywhere it hurt— had been granted the gift of being born once more to live the hellish cycle one more time. From the start.
She did the most reasonable thing anyone in her situation could or would want to do.
A man laughed, "Healthy as can be!"
She cried harder.
It was exactly as she had thought.
Her eyes stared blankly at the thatched ceiling above her. An intricate weaving of wood, heavy palm leaves—bamboo? Intricate pieces were suspended from the roof, a collection of glass and metal and some kind of material she couldn't make out, silver and thread-like. Sunlight caught off them and painted a collection of images along earthen and wood walls, a true hut or shack of sorts. An island version of a log cabin.
Was this supposed to be some shitty way of life spitting back in her face? Justice? Good fortune? Was that what this was? There were thousands—hundreds of thousands of people right now, getting killed for something they didn't deserve, getting hit by a car, ripped from loved ones, and each and every one of them could have been reincarnated to live another life again and loved it. But no. No, no, no. Wanted to kill yourself? Got tired of living? Sucks to suck, try again.
She was tired of that living shit—it's why she was going to quit in the first place.
Her hammock crib swung lightly, a soft ocean breeze trickling into the room. Her mother—mom, was humming in the corner. A rush of emotions seized her small body and she almost, almost started crying again at the thought. She'd loved her mom fine in her past life. Past life, my god. They hadn't always gotten along. She thought her true passions were a straight shot into poverty but she still fed her for crying out loud and—
Well, you didn't love her enough to stay alive, did you?
She bit her lip at that.
It'd taken her a long time to get over that mess of emotions. Of memories that were very much not lost in the entire process of starting over—and she was pretty sure that wasn't how it worked—and trying to come to terms with how to feel. Thankfully, babies had one main job to let people know they were alive, and that was to cry.
She was able to do plenty of that with how she felt.
Her botched suicide-turned-murder had ended her here—in a new life in a new world.
A very, very new world.
She turned her ridiculously heavy head, peering through the woven threads of her hammock. A bit of huffing and puffing and some good intuition on her father's part had landed her a spot by the window. The small hut-island-log cabin was settled on a cliff's edge, a sturdy distance away with a line of palm trees and bamboo, but enough to see that below a winding, sandy path dotted with colorful flora and life, was a village bustling with life.
Patterns and symbols she didn't recognize were etched into the walls and tapestries. It helped too, noticing that her...parents, had very white hair. Blank printer paper white, snowy almost in the way it stood out against their warmly tan skin and made the markings swirling along their bodies pop out. Normal people, unless plagued by something or well within their years, did not have naturally white hair.
Everyone in this village had white hair.
She blew something like a sigh from her lips. Her mother—she didn't think she could ever get used to saying that—stopped humming for a second, shooting her an amused look and then resuming whatever she was working on at a wooden table in the corner. Her husband had left as he usually did during what she was assuming were weekdays to do his own job before returning at night.
She hadn't noticed a single electronic device. Not a glint of keys for vehicles or shiny screens. Strangely refreshing, but it made figuring this world out a little harder. It was still possible she was on some strange native island based on the geography and the people, but that seemed like only one piece of this puzzle.
She couldn't really walk out of the house yet either, so that didn't help. Her knowledge was limited to what her parents allowed her to see and the short trips to the village and markets.
It was almost like... a fantasy, really. The world, at least, not her situation. Maybe for others but not for me. Some tropical island rich with its own lively and vibrant culture. Were they just isolated or was the world just... different?
While her motor skills were limited, she'd keep herself busy with trying to understand this world...her new world. For now.
Just until she figured out when was the right time to sort of... accidentally kill herself without scarring these poor people for the rest of their lives. They were plenty nice and seemed good enough, she wasn't heartless enough to kill a damn baby.
But she was going to get out.
Just you fucking wait life, I'm coming for you.
It was... a weirdly cute name for the island that served to be her home.
Located somewhere in a hemisphere of the world called the West Blue, she and the rest of the inhabitants were referred to as Pokians, easily told by the sun-kissed tan of their skin, the blank whiteness of their hair—eyes were free game, but the final marker were tattoos inked into the skin by a special ink made only on the island by Pokian hands. A special tattoo was granted to each of them when they turned four and a half, it seemed, since it was some weird milestone to the island's history. The mark was meant to be placed somewhere along the face and be the kind of design parent and child felt would help guide their pathway through life and represent them.
Artopoki was an island rich with culture and history, she could respect that.
It was also painstakingly beautiful. Vibrant colors in every work of architecture. White sand beaches seeping into deeply green meadows. Heavy fruit trees swaying and bobbing, thickets of bamboo and crystal clear waters—truly an island loved by the wild and loved by its people in turn.
The moment she could sit up properly and make grabby motions with her hands, her parents had been sharply pleased with her interest in trying to read. Understanding the language was crucial, but weirdly enough, it'd seemed to be some strange mix of English and...Japanese? But the Pokians had words and a language of their own woven into it all, which made learning everything one hot mess, but hey, she had time on her hands.
Once she could get her stubby fingers to hold a brush or whatever drawing material they gave her and put it to pen, she spent a lot of time drawing too. Skills hammered in by years of work in the past didn't transfer perfectly from the hands of a toddler, but it was still a grand scale better than what she did as a kid before.
It was an old love to break. Drawing didn't hurt anyone.
If anything, it seemed to really make her parents happy. Her mother—Mahina, a lean, fair sized woman with bright blue eyes that held a hint of gold—had looked a bit disappointed by her "talent" but loving still. Her father—Manu, young, taller in stature but where he lacked bulging muscle, there was a sharp, toned promise to his arms and legs—had looked unabashedly proud, beaming and always following her works, praising each stroke and guiding her here and there when he could.
It was weird, at first, being praised for something people had given small smiles and curious hums to in the past. Manu especially seemed extremely taken with her interest in art, and only when she'd finally bothered to explore the house in better detail on wobbling legs did it make sense.
The Pokian culture was so lively and vibrant because it was literally what the culture revolved around. Textual history was hard to come by, stable and fair, but not bountiful since most of their written history seemed to come from an island called Ohara. But what Artopoki lacked in written, it flourished in the etched and drawn. The visual.
Pages of history were told through detailed images drawn by hand, a myriad of colors coming to life. Murals lined the white walls in Pokian ink. Books and books and thousands of scrolls painted to depict whatever needed to be told. Love letters weren't written, they were drawn. Stories weren't just spoken, they were illustrated.
Artopoki's culture had been divided into two subclasses of work and being on the island. Craftsmanship and artists. Every person on the island honed their skill to the one that called for them the loudest. People either took the forges to make the prettiest vases and shiniest swords she had ever seen—explaining the triumphant architecture—or bunkered down and sketched livelihoods in ink and canvas.
The entire island was every art major's dream.
It'd been like a sucker punch to the gut, but she could roll with this. Life could take all the hits it wanted on her, she was still coming for it.
The moment she could walk properly, her father often took her out to the village and let her see every inch of the island. It seemed once the children were old enough to walk, the mothers could return to their passions while the fathers would take over most of the work until it was a shared, even duty. Mahina in particular was a craftswoman—specializing in swords and weapons.
Manu was an artist.
She hadn't wanted to admit it, but not having a dad in her previous life—Manu was a pleasant change. A man who loved the arts with all his heart and soul was always something she could get behind. He was a bit strict, but usually within reason, and he seemed to have big hopes for her with her inherent interest in the arts.
She winced, absently gripping the hem of his shirt tighter. Sorry. You have every reason to hate me in the after life later.
While craftsmen were highly praised on the island, it seemed everyone had a soft spot for the artists. Only explained by the fact that there were so many uses for Pokian ink, and it shined the best used by brush and pen, not by sword or dagger.
Pokian ink—to her weirdly morbid fascination—was made from their blood.
Something ran through the blood of the people of Artopoki. Something strange and unexplainable and apparently normal in this new world of hers. Used at the rawest source—just blood basically—it worked to sharpen blades to the finest edge and polish them, keeping them untarnished and free from the danger of rust. Blood coatings were common and sought after all across the world. The best of the best swordsmen and women were frequent visitors.
But Pokian blood had a strange ability to stain—permanently. She'd seen it for herself when it splashed across the cutting board when Mahina had cut herself on accident and had to throw the entire thing out without a second thought. Periods must be a nightmare then, eh? Its pigment gave it a new quality that could be written onto almost any surface it seemed; wood, paper, dirt, mud—to her sharp and wide eyed surprise, even air.
Manu circled his brush through the empty space in front of them and the blood stayed, the image of a soft flower outside their island log cabin. It looked as though it were floating.
It was something like magic, wickedly cool, but she stamped down any interest.
"Some say if made right," Manu had told her once, "our ink can even be written on the things that burn—amazing, isn't it?"
But Pokian blood, when healthy and well, could also take on color pigments when needed. A simple stroke and seemingly nothing but will power turned once blood red ink into a soft pink hue, a second stroke bringing out a pastel sky blue.
Literally. Every. Artist's. Dream.
Fuck you, life.
Pokian ink, it seemed, was also always in high demand. It was a more coveted export, and the inhabitants didn't seem as willing to give it up to certain buyers, if Manu's curses and shouts were anything to go by. Ohara—okay. People her father referred to under his breath as World trash—not okay.
"They don't see us as humans," Manu had spat. "They see nothing but ink bottles."
"The weather is good today," a shopkeeper called, the market place humming with life as usual. "The festival should be good to go, right on schedule."
A young woman nodded in agreement, tucking snow white hair behind her ear, "It'll be better if we can catch a king or two to feed the whole village!"
"Just toss the little ones out," a man nodded to her and Manu laughed, grabbing her hand as though to reassure her. Honestly though? Being eaten wasn't that bad of a way to go out. Would make sense. My poor daughter, eaten—her parents could forgive her for that, right? What's a king to them anyway? Some kind of monster?
The only problem is where they are. She glanced over her shoulder, the sea's waves lapping in the distance. She shuddered at the sight. Don't care how easy it'd be, I'm not drowning.
If her first life was going to fuck up her suicide, she was damn going to get it right this time.
She was going to choose how she died. No one would take that from her this time.
She eyed a high bell tower at the plaza center. A clock painted with Pokian ink stood proudly, a man seemed to be applying a fresh coat at the top, very, very high up.
Kids always got up into mischief, right?
But maybe not two year olds. She reasoned, glancing to Manu who was chatting amiably with a shopkeeper about a recent work one of the elders on the island had done. There was an entire archive dedicated to the best of the best works. Several treasures locked away in the archives only known by higher ranking officials of the island. Four? Maybe five? That seems reasonable—
"That brother of yours is nothing but trouble," the shopkeeper added, frowning at Manu. "Spouting the kind of nonsense he does... If the entire world new about our greatest pride, well, it wouldn't be our greatest pride anymore then, would it?"
"We ought to do history a favor and put it somewhere where no one can find it," Manu mused, gazing at the man at the bell tower. "Plenty want to treasure it but..."
"An awful lot want to destroy it," the shopkeeper laughed.
She eyed the colorful array of fruits arranged before her. Was there anything toxic on this island? Manu had said something about berries they grew that weren't good for their blood—
"My Goddess, look out!"
A startled murmur rose up from the throngs of people in the marketplace. Surprised gasps echoed out and Manu turned. Her eyes followed the direction of fingers to where the man who'd been working on the bell tower was clinging to the very edge of the clock handle, legs dangling leagues of feet into the air.
"He'll fall," Manu said sharply. The people closest seemed to have the same idea, rushing forward to try and help, but the man's grip on the ledge slipped. The clock handle ticked.
His head smashed into a jutted stone statue, crimson splattered the snowy white walls of the tower.
She jerked her head to the side. Manu had already scooped her up into his arms. For all her talk about killing herself, there had been a reason why she'd wanted to go peacefully in her tub. Her options might be limited right now, but still...
"Is he alright?" Manu called. She shot him a look of disbelief. That man had just fallen from a tower tall enough to—
"Not up yet," a woman called back. A small crowd was blocking the man's body from view, murmurs and patient gazes. "Come on now, you're alright."
She gaped. Are you guys insane—
Someone coughed, hacking a few times before they cleared their throat. The crowd thinned, giving the person at the center more room. But there shouldn't have been a need for that because that man was sadly, horribly—
"I've always been so careful," the man who'd just fallen several stories from a bell tower and landed on the very, very hard concrete sighed. A man who should've been very, very dead. Crimson stained his clothes, splattered all along the ground in a horrific mess that should've been the sight of—of—
What the fuck?
"It's your first one, isn't it?" the woman patted his shoulder. "You'll be fine, shake it off. Be careful next time, you fool."
A few people helped him up to his feet, making sure he was steady and good to go. A few others were already beginning to talk of how to clean the bloodstains from the tower, talking of painting it over and the ground—
What. The. Fuck?
Manu's laugh jostled her. Her eyes swung to his face and something clearly must've given her away because he smiled warmly, rubbing her head.
"Maka," a term of endearment he used for her, "I haven't told you the story of our island yet, have I? You must've seen it in the books..."
The shopkeeper laughed, "That's not enough. You've got to tell it right."
Manu nodded in agreement, continuing through the plaza as though a man hadn't just fallen to his death and started walking again like he'd tripped. Her jaw still hadn't closed and Manu came to a halt by one of the island's favorite statue pairs—a beautiful, marbled feline shrouded in clouds and rising to some unseen height against the moon and a man at her feet, easel and brush scattered eternally by their side.
"Centuries ago," Manu continued warmly, like an old man gearing to tell his favorite tale, "this island was the home of a popoki goddess. She was lavished in the finest of things, lived the grandest of lives. Hunted when she wished, lived when she wished, played and explored and even the moon loved her so. But she grew bored of these endless days of luxury. She arranged for grand things done in her honor, hunted the largest of beasts in her home and nothing could please her."
She was still watching where the man, now alive, was rubbing his back as though he'd tripped.
Manu smiled, "Until, one day, a poor man washed ashore. Nothing but a craftsman and an artist by trade. He'd somehow been carried by a thin piece of driftwood and landed on her island. A storm had overtaken his ship and stranded him there. The popoki goddess had been prepared to hunt him like the rest who dared find her land, but the man, desperate to live, had vowed he would make her the most beautiful thing in the world."
She was still trying very, very damn hard to get over the fact that the man who'd fallen was technically a zombie, but Manu continued.
"With nothing to lose and eternity in her paws, she agreed to the man's wishes, promising to grant him whatever he needed to see this mission to completion. He told her, warmly, that he needed nothing more than what he had," Manu traced a finger over the brush at the statue's feet. "He spent nine days and nine nights, working away, hidden from her view—she tried to tempt him and coax him out to play, but he continued to work. Won over by his determination, she kept all others away and made sure he was kept in the best of comforts. Whatever he needed, she wished to grant."
Manu continued, voice almost dreamy, "He finished, finally. When she arrived in his chambers, etched onto a silver threaded tapestry and inked in, was none other than herself."
"'How did you make this?' the goddess whispered, dragging her palm down the silken edges and turning to the artist.
'With nothing but myself,' the artist said. He showed her his silver white hair, cut short from what he'd used to weave the tapestry and then pointed to this thin scars along his arm. 'And all of myself.'
'Why?' the goddess pressed.
The artist smiled.
'There is no greater beauty than that of one bringing another to life.'
"Fell in love?" she interrupted.
Manu smiled, his eyes shining. "Yes, maka. She fell very deeply in love with the artist, touched in a way she had never been before. But the toll of the shipwreck and the hours he'd poured himself into the work he crafted for her were far too great. He collapsed into her arms and passed."
She winced. Why do all these stories end like that? But that still doesn't explain—wait.
Her heart began to hammer in her chest.
"The goddess," Manu continued, "so overcome with love for the man made a fierce decision. A popoki goddess, granted with nine lives, shared each and every one of them with the artist."
"She was left behind with nothing but one, giving her the chance to see him come back to life before her eyes. The two embraced, getting married soon after and—"
No. No. No. No. This cannot be happening. There is no way some wild fairy tale like this is true enough—
"That is the origin of our people," Manu made a grand gesture to the entire island as whole, eyes shining. "Why we embrace the love for our crafts and our art as we do. Because we uphold these traditions, the popoki goddess continues to love us—"
This is all a joke. It's one cruel, ridiculous joke—
"And we are each," Manu said proudly. "Granted with nine lives at birth. It's a secret few in this world are aware of, but it is one we treasure."
Manu turned to her, beaming. "He merely lost one today. It is important to remember each is precious though, but to also consider, that we have nine lives to live—so it must be done to its fullest!"
Manu didn't seem to sense her distress. Reasonable, since she was keeping her face carefully neutral since all other expressions were broken, and everything inside of her had now burst into flame and chaos because—because—
I'M HERE TRYING TO END THIS AND YOU'RE TELLING ME I HAVE TO DO IT NINE FUCKING TIMES LIKE A CAT—
"They say his brush still exists somewhere out there," Manu said conversationally. "A legendary brush used to paint a goddess... What a fine brush it must be, no?"
She did what she'd been doing best her early years of life.
She burst into tears.
Manu looked sympathetic, "I know, maka. It is a very sad tale in the midst, isn't it?"
The people of Artopoki—her—were all blessed with nine lives because a cat goddess fell in love with an artist.
She'd been a bit numb to the news at first, staring dumbly at her paper while Manu encouraged her to draw and draw and draw. It was hard to believe—ridiculous. People weren't born with nine lives, it didn't work that way. People were lucky sometimes, and had near death scrapes—but nine? It was a fantasy. Impossible. Not without magic or some otherworldly—
She grimaced, plopping down into the patch of berry bushes she had snuck into. Pretty white things that reminded her of strawberries.
Other worldly. It was exactly that.
And hiss and cry as she might, there was no way to refute what she had seen with her own eyes, a dead man rising up and walking once more without a desire for human flesh and groaning.
Okay. So say, by some chance, they really did have nine lives and not superhuman healing abilities or some kind of weird sturdiness. What should I do then? Did she really have to kill herself nine times to finally end this whole farce?
She grabbed a fistful of white berries. Make berries were their name. Manu and Mahina both had warned her time and time again—all the villagers did to every child, that they were extremely poisonous to Pokians. Something in the berries reacted with whatever special property was in their blood and forced their hearts to stop beating. Instant death. The bushes grew far from the village centers and couldn't seem to be killed no matter how hard they tried to get rid of them. They also closely resembled a perfectly harmless fruit that grew on the island, little kalo berries. Villagers took extra care teaching the difference and being wary of them regardless.
Might as well test it out then.
She offered up an earnest thanks to everything Manu and Mahina had done for her up until this point—it wasn't easy taking care of babies. I hope you have a better and proper kid the next go. I wasn't worth it.
She shoved the make berries into her mouth, chomping down and crushing them in fistfuls between her teeth.
They tasted terribly sweet—it reminded her of some super sugared melon.
Something seized her body, a stuttering, gasping breath—pain, pain, so much pain, I'm burning from the inside out—
Nothing but black.
"How do you feel, maka?"
Her eyes snapped open.
Steady, warm hands cradled her face. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest, wild and rapid as her eyes flashed across the room. Her own hands shot up, grabbing onto the hands cradling her cheeks and Mahina smiled, eyes shining with warmth and reprimand.
Oh my god.
Her jaw dropped. Her eyes followed. No blotchy marks on her skin. No blood staining her shirt from where she'd all but coughed her heart out—nothing. She felt perfectly and absolutely healthy.
Part of her whispered that maybe she just hadn't eaten enough. That they'd been able to treat her so she got better—
She knew what death felt like.
She flexed her fingers, staring in disbelief at herself.
She had died.
"We told you to be careful when you go picking, maka," Mahina said, tone stern but soft as she tucked her silver white hair behind her ear for her. "Though, you'd be surprised how many adults here today will say they lost their first life exactly like you. A poor rite of passage on this island, it seems."
"I'm alive?" she said hoarsely. Mahina laughed, kissing her temple and standing to prep for dinner.
"Very. Life is such a grand thing, so you'd do well not to waste them on silly mistakes," Mahina's eyes sparkled and she drew a finger down one of the swords she had hanging from the wall. There was something loving in her eyes, a little lonely. "Nine lives are nine more chances to right the wrongs."
She continued to stare at her hands, trying to process what she'd just been through. Her mother hummed, "Manu will be back soon. His trip took longer this time so let's eat well tonight. Just you and me."
She flopped back down onto the bed, staring in disbelief at the thatched ceiling.
Eight more to go.
She slapped herself.
"We all make that mistake, maka. Don't beat yourself up over it. The make are tasty, aren't they? It's such a shame..."
The make berries had actually tasted like shit, because she vehemently remembered she now hated the taste of melon and cucumber for all eternity.
Making a second attempt at her life wouldn't be easy.
Not just because she was three and some months, but because Manu was ridiculously overprotective. Maybe with reason, sure, since she had died once and he was her father—but this was another level. Even she had noticed that parents of the village seemed to usually be on amiable and lax terms with their children, save for a family here and there.
Manu was the here and there.
He never let her out of his sight. All trips outside were made with him close at her heels or holding her in his arms. He grew very fond of having her spend hours and hours drawing—something she'd loved a lot before and would've given anything to do, but people telling you to draw was never the same as telling yourself to draw.
She spent a lot of these hours of luxurious imprisonment trying to understand more and more about this world. Knowledge was power and the right kind of knowledge could get you killed. That was good. So she spent a lot of this time observing a number of different things, whether the island, her own face which was still so...foreign or in—most cases—
She'd pegged Manu and Mahina wrong, it seemed. Manu had seemed like some easy guy, a true lover of the arts while Mahina was all fire and wild eyes, hands sliding lovingly against metal meant to kill. Manu was the harsher of the two, the stricter, the justice bringer and it seemed especially clear with his intent on making sure his only daughter became the best damn artist in the entire village.
Manu was an illustrator. She hadn't thought much of it at first, but the position on this island was much, much different from her world.
Illustrators were those tasked with etching history into the papers. Manu and a handful of villagers had been selected by elders to leave the island on various trips and regular journeys to different islands, worlds, seas, to see it all. Draw it all. History needed to be recorded and Pokian blood never faded. Manu and his brother, her uncle—a guy she personally didn't have much of a taste for since he was always saying real sweet things to her and trying to feed her melons—were high in this council of people.
Manu seemed set on making her his next successor.
Mahina was fire. Wild and untamed, but like every flame—she swayed with the faintest of breezes. She was the kind of woman who merely loved to do what she wanted to do, went with what was blown her way. She didn't sweat small things and loved her work with all she was worth.
Her parents did not act like... people who were in love.
She could tell this pretty quickly, when she decided to look for it. They didn't try very hard to hide it.
The only thing that seemed to link these two...coworkers more than lovers together seemed to be her. And this house. She didn't know what circumstances had brought them together, whether an arrangement or some mutual agreement, but they got along well enough. They were friendly, like roommates. Never shared kisses or cuddles or whispers of affection, the only one who got those was her from both of them.
Manu was a true man of this island through and through, nothing but his duty to tell the story of the world with his brush.
Mahina was a woman whose heart belonged to her craft.
Mahina had looked curious, turning to her when she'd asked. It'd just been dumb curiosity on her part too, but the way the feather tattoo curved around Mahina's eye, each edge of the feather sharp like blades, when she smiled in the midst of her work—that was something.
Mahina smiled, she reached for the sword she'd been coating and gently set it in her hands. She shot a look around the house for Manu and then let it fall into her grip.
It was heavy. She almost dropped it without meaning too, but sharp sense not to damage something loved flashed through her and her little arms trembled—
The sword suddenly grew weightless.
She looked to where Mahina was holding the tip of the blade, eyes shining.
"They're lovely, aren't they?" Mahina murmured, wistful. "Can you hear it?"
Her lips parted to respond and Mahina dragged one finger down the blade. A soft sigh flowed through her all the way to the hilt and back. A sigh neither she nor her mother had uttered. A song.
"Yeah," she said softly. That's amazing. It'd been awhile since she felt anything as real as this—strange. It almost felt foreign, but like some soft, unspoken sixth sense, the weapon in her hands, this piece of art and love had—
Mahina's eyes shone with nothing but love.
She liked her mother.
"Nothing but trash that is what they are. To think—to think, they could go and threaten us in such a manner—"
"You saw what happened to Ohara with your own eyes. We wouldn't stand a chance—"
"But what if we did—"
"Politics," she looked up to where the old shopkeeper had spoken. He was getting older now, but it was hard to tell with the people on this island and their telltale white hair. She had to look for the crinkle around his eyes, the heavy way he moved. "You best stay away from now, you hear that little one?"
"Are we on bad terms with anyone?" she tried doing her research. Artopoki didn't seem to have a heavy hand in any wars aside from arms-dealing and managing to drive off invaders. The fierce way her father and uncle argued beg to differ.
The shopkeeper sighed, "One cannot be on bad terms with the world, little one. It is a death wish. The people of this island tend to forget that sometimes. You get drunk off of life, with these many lives. You forget. Blood does not phase us. Death is a far friend."
She mulled his words over. They didn't get shipments from Ohara as they had in the past. She gathered that something awful had happened to the island of historians and scholars. Something that threatened an island as free and fierce as Artopoki as well.
"They love our blood though," the shopkeeper chuckled. "Haven't stormed this island because they love how wonderful it looks on their fancy parchments and golden pens. They write and paint with the blood of our people and don't think twice. Many here think it sacreligious that any but those loved by our popoki goddess should use our blood."
Understandable. Her father and uncle were growing more and more heated by the minute. Her uncle seemed sternly against their war on anything, despite his claims they brandish to the world the island's greatest treasure—several beautiful works of art locked away in the deepest cave on the island, hidden behind a waterfall and protected by the statue of their goddess. Her father, on the other hand, seemed all for fighting whoever scorned them.
There were gathering supplies because as soon as she turned four and a half, she would accompany her father on her first journey to illustrate.
"You just do what we always do," the shopkeeper coughed. "You tell the story of this world, little one. You tell it the way your eyes see it. The blood will never lie."
A thought struck her.
"Mister," the shopkeeper turned, "what happens when we get old and we haven't used up all of our lives?"
He smiled, turning his eyes up to the sky and looking so, so content, she was seized with a strange emotion in the pit of her stomach.
"If we've lived our lives to the fullest and have any left to spare," he pressed a finger to his chest and then kissed it, "they return to our goddess so we may be born again and hear nothing but the most pleasant of sounds."
She chewed on this thought.
It was, admittedly, a pretty beautiful thing.
"Everything has a voice."
She looked up from the sword she'd been helping Mahina sharpen. Pokian blood acted as a liquid whetstone and many of the crafters of the island took pride in their work. In moments where she didn't feel like drawing—because everyone needs a break—and Manu wasn't there to breathe down her neck—she was with Mahina.
She wasn't starting to hate her apprenticeship with Manu or anything—it was a dream to be able to draw what they drew and do it for a living. The problem was just that… well it was for the living.
They also spent too much time with her uncle whom she didn't like because he was always trying to feed her melons. He kept babbling on about opening up their exports to the world and Manu wanted none of it.
Mahina ran a gentle pinkie down the sharp end of the blade. Not a single scratch bit into her skin. "The good ones cut only when they are told too. If you are kind and useful, there is no need for it to harm you."
You're talking like it's alive. Was what she wanted to say. The hours and days spent beside her mother forced her otherwise. The voice she could hear sometimes, whispering in the back of her head like a little breath of wind, begged a different story too.
People in any world had probably spoken of things retaining some kind of life, a spirit of sorts one way or another.
In this world, it existed just the same.
What a weird place.
Manu agreed with this to a degree. She could see it in the way he'd watch a scene, a meadow or the sea and the people, and then he'd close his eyes and draw like he'd known it his whole life. Mahina was the same, but to her it was matching the people who came searching to the item they needed. It was hardening herself in a strange way that no sword she coated and cleaned could ever cut.
"You just need to be willing to listen," Mahina said. She handed the blade back to her mother and Mahina smiled, nodding approvingly at her work. "It speaks when it wishes. Just be willing to listen, my star."
There was something ugly that fluttered in her chest. A feeling she didn't have any right to feel and one that'd be better off dying somewhere in a corner. Mahina didn't need to waste her praises on some half-assed person like her who could hardly stare at cliffside without thinking of jumping off.
She liked Mahina.
Mahina glanced up from the sword, tucked against her chest right by her heart. The blade could've sliced her clean so easily. It merely rested there, like a child's head. "What is it, my star?"
She swallowed the words clawing up her throat.
"Could you teach me how to do this like you do?"
Mahina's smile was as bright as the glint of the sun off the blade and just as sharp.
"If your father hadn't discovered your knack for drawing first, I think you would've make a fine craftswoman."
She wasn't sure when she'd properly started to call the warm, fiery woman named Mahina her mother.
She tried to feel guilty about it all, despite the warmth.
There'd been a lot of things that'd been considered art in her world.
Starry Night. The Kiss. Anything by Edward Hopper—the works.
What the artists of Artopoki created?
She watched as her father sliced a cut against his palm. The blood trickled out, dribbling down the arching lines of skin until he pressed it against the paper and dragged it across, eyes shining with the memory of what he'd seen.
In an instant, the blood smeared ink on paper began to take a life of its own. Lines were drawn, colors spilled in and shaded until the very image of the island they were about to dock stood before them against the paper, nothing but what should've been a memory transcribed perfectly to paper.
"When we lack time," Manu explained, pulling his hand away and handing her a sheet of paper. "By hand is always the best."
He smiled at his own joke. She took the paper from her father and adjusted her notebook so it had a sturdy surface. Manu handed her a small knife, the handle carved in intricate patterns to look like stars and the blade was clearly her mother's work. Her own carving knife.
"But the blood," Manu said. "Never lies."
The feeling that'd overwhelmed her when she saw all the encased artworks at their finest finally settled. The very thought, that looking at what her people had created made her feel as though she were truly standing there in that moment.
Because it was a drawing done purely and literally, by memory.
She thought of her own memory and cut her palm, smearing it across the paper like her father.
Their little island log cabin on the cliff's edge by the flower fields sketched itself onto paper.
Manu's smile was so, so wide.
This was a problem.
Her parents were a problem.
Manu smiled at her, hand poised above her eye. "Ready, maka?"
Today, she turned four and a half.
All the children of their island turning four and a half around the same time were to gather together after the individual ceremonies were performed for one grand festival. Four and a half to represent the mark of halfway to nine to be with the goddess who loved them so. Manu had gone the whole nine yards, Mahina smiling and creating the prettiest pieces of jewelry for her to wear.
"For you, maka," Mahina had slipped into her small hands a carving knife, the kind she could use to both sharpen her pencils and cut into her hand for painting. It was beautiful, slender, and finely etched with stars and the sky on the hilt. "Manu will have a fit if he sees you waving it around. But nothing but the best for my daughter."
Manu seemed especially eager to get the whole thing going since it signified her step closer to following his path.
She didn't deserve a single inch of anything happening today.
Guilt and something numb threatened to swallow her whole.
Until I can die a reasonable death to them. She reasoned. Until I can take myself in a way that they…
Manu readied his brush, dripping in her own blood, as customary for the marking. The only way Pokian blood could stain their own skin was when it was mixed with a special material. She hadn't really had any idea for what she should have, but Manu and Mahina seemed to have agreed on something all the same.
"Live true," Manu recited. "The blood never lies."
The cool, wet touch of the brush started above her eye. It tickled. Manu's hand carefully crafted itself over the curve of her left eye, she could feel finer details etched around the design until it finally came round in an arch to beneath her eye and—
A massive, piercing explosion rocketed off the side of the island. A firework set off too soon.
Manu's hand jerked.
"I like it," Mahina said finally.
Manu looked as though he ought to cut off his own hand.
She stared at herself in the mirror.
Her father had been attempting to paint a heart around her eye, it seemed. It curved around the end and had small etchings outside the curve, looking like thin streaks and petals. But the very tip of the bottom of the heart, where Manu was about to begin the next half, streaked down like a painted smear below her eye. Thin, but unfinished. Smeared.
Half a heart.
"We can fix this," Manu said.
"I like it fine," she said, patting her father's leg. It fitted, truly. She could live with this.
Half a life.
Her first lesson in illustration took place in a city called Flevance.
The journey had been long. They'd crossed through treacherous sea after treacherous sea, managing to bypass majority of the monsters that seemed to inhabit this world with some precious stone crafted at the bottom of the ship. Granted, she spent most of it locked away in the cabin and below deck because she refused to stand anywhere near where she could be that close to water and stare at it for so long. The ship received special pass through certain checkpoints because of the nature of their duty, but Manu had scoffed at each one, instructing her in detail instead on what her first job would be like.
She felt kinda bad, watching him put so much effort into something that wasn't going to last. She figured she could at least do these little jobs right for the poor guy.
"They call it the White City," Manu said, dragging her from the ship's cabin where she refused to look at the water and onto the plank to disembark.
She could see why.
Flevance was starkly, brightly beautiful. Gilded buildings seemed to glisten. Everything in the entire town looked as though it'd been dusted in white, platinum gold. The entire city seemed to be painted in a pastel, creamy white, and she wondered if Manu had deemed this her first job because of how beautiful it was.
"Anything that makes you stop like this," Manu said. "Draw."
She pulled aside her cloak. Unbuckling her satchel while she walked. She pulled the sketchbook with thick parchment paper out, flipping a new page and used the carving knife Mahina had gifted her to cut along her palm.
She glanced to Manu and he nodded.
She stared at Flevance's port. The first glimpse of the city at the edge, taking in as much of it into view as she could.
She dragged her bleeding palm across the paper.
The White City etched itself onto her paper, crimson swirling and changing into the soft hues, the glistening platinum until it finished with nothing but a soft sheen of white at the top of it all.
Manu nodded once more, satisfied. She tucked her sketchbook under her arm and followed him while the others in their group split up to cover more ground.
People seemed hard at work to varying degrees. It was easy to tell apart those who enjoyed the vast majority of Flevance's beauty and elegance and those who worked hard to maintain it. Miners and nobles, the rich and the laborers, but all seemingly fairly happy.
"It is a city much like our island," Manu started. They both stopped by a street painted with shops and a cathedral. Children dressed in school clothes ran to a fro, laughing. Manu pulled his sketchbook out and she copied him, taking the time to draw properly this time instead of smearing the blood. "They produce a material found only here, Amber Lead. It's a beautiful thing, truly. They use it to coat their products and dust themselves and ship it out by the pounds to nobles elsewhere. They are a flourishing economy."
She could hear a but in Manu's voice. Manu grimaced, closing his book and moving down the street. A few people spared the travelers strange glances at their cloaks and markings, but they seemed rather taken with their platinum white hair.
"Our blood is no export," Manu said. "It is our pride. Not some luxury for others to use."
She wondered if Manu and Mahina didn't get along because of that. The crafters of the island seemed perfectly liberal with shipping their blood for others to use as coatings.
"But," Manu helped her onto the ledge of a hillside overlooking the central plaza of the city. "It is a place favored by history. We must draw."
The sun caught off the gilded buildings and made the entire city shine so brightly she had to squint.
She plopped down and began to draw dutifully. Her father watched over her shoulder before he turned back to the city, thoughtful.
"Whether it can withstand the times is another tale to tell," he mused. He shot her another look, examined the entire meadow and then glanced to the small town off the city just down the hill. "Maka, I will go to get the central and outskirts down. Wait for me here when you are finished, alright?"
She nodded. Manu looked pleased and patted her head. "We'll make a fine illustrator out of you yet."
She paid half attention as her father walked off. Her fingers moved nimbly across the page, sketching as colors bled to life and took down what she saw. Things that would've taken hours to draw before were coming to her in minutes, which was strangely infuriating but whatever life, she'd roll with it for now. I'm still coming for you.
"Don't go near those mushrooms dear," she stopped, looking up from her sketchbook where a mother was tugging her child away from a small patch a few feet away. "Those are poisonous you know. They grow straight from the mines and you'll get sick and die instantly if you aren't careful. You don't want that, right?"
She stared, watching as the mother and child disappeared from sight.
Her eyes landed on the mushrooms.
Eight lives to go.
Accidentally eating something poisonous in a foreign country sounded completely reasonable, didn't it?
She stopped beside the mushrooms, plucking one and examining it. It was a rounded thing, bulbous and weird look with strange brown spots. It looked very much like something in textbooks that strictly said not to be eaten.
She cast a sly look toward where Manu had left her.
"You kill me quick, you hear?" she whispered to the mushroom, plopping down and brushing dirt off the bottom stem. She snapped it off and held the top half in her hand. "I'm counting on you buddy. Try not to make it painful."
She shoved the entire thing into her mouth, chewing hard.
It tasted like pencils and graphite.
She pressed her hands flat to her mouth from nearly spitting the entire thing out. Something burned down her throat, clawing at her chest and making it harder to breathe. The world spiraling in front of her and she dropped to her knees, choking and hacking as something built up in her stomach—I'm not dying of poisoning anymore. This is so fucking painful, shit—
"You idiot! Hold on!"
What? The soundless, strangled gasp barely croaked from her throat. Someone grabbed her shoulder and she saw a glint before something sharp pierced the side of her neck and—Did I just get stabbed?
She knew what dying felt like.
Her limbs seized. Her entire body arched roughly, everything in her system jerking to life with a shuddering, shrieking ache—
She also knew what coming back to life felt like.
This wasn't either of those things.
Acid rose up in her throat. Everything constricting as she sucked in a shuddering breath. Someone shoved her head toward the right side in the direction of something—
She puked out all her guts and everything she was worth into the metal bucket that'd been shoved into her arms and her head shoved deeper into it to keep from splashing out. She hacked, tasting bile and spit and everything disgusting as she coughed and wheezed. She entire body shuddered with the effort of expelling everything inside of her and then some and oh my god what the fuck—
She was also very, very familiar with the feeling of food poisoning,
She spat into the bucket, the vile contents sloshing and she breathed a ragged breath through her nose.
"What you ate were poisonous mushrooms native to this city," a young, clinical voice spoke at her bedside. "You must be a traveler, based on your clothes and how you look. We may be the White City but we don't have anyone with white hair here."
She felt like absolute shit and wanted nothing more then to keep her head resting there against that metal bucket. But her vomit also smelled like worse shit so she tipped her head up weakly. She burped, gagging at the taste in her mouth and the person beside her grimaced.
"Did I die?" she asked weakly. Just gotta make sure.
She seemed to be located in some kind of hospital or doctor's office. Pristine white sheets, medical tools arranged neatly on a tray at her bedside. A used syringe settled onto a napkin beside it all.
The boy who'd been speaking looked as pale as she felt. His hair was a charcoal black, making his strangely pale complexion pop out in an almost eerily phantasmic sort of way. It set her nerves a bit on edge, followed with the cold dark dray of his eyes, so dark they were almost black.
Honestly, he reminded her of that creepy kid in class who was too smart for their own good and had too much fun picking things apart or bringing in animal skulls for show and tell. The weird ones who ended up making too much money and were probably secretly sociopaths.
"Almost," he said flatly. She watched him pull a chart out from his side, flipping a page over, all business. "I injected you with ipecac—" he glanced to her youthful face, "something to make people throw up whatever they've eaten that might be poisonous. It worked in time to save you."
She groaned, head hitting the metal railing of the bed. He shot her a look, raising one eyebrow.
"You'll feel nauseous for several more hours," he reported. "You're welcome."
"Thanks," she said bitterly.
He ignored her, jotting things down on his clipboard. She squinted, rechecking the office for anything strange. "Aren't you a little young to be a doctor?"
He looked over the top of his clipboard. His eyes were dull, regarding her as nothing of much more significance. "Where is your parent or legal guardian?"
If Manu finds out—
"He was getting work done," she said. She tried sitting up in bed and winced at the sharp stab of pain in her stomach. Never going with poison again. Gotta get more creative, this is too much hell. She spat into the bucket, wiping the back of her mouth and noticing a bit of blood. She was about to wipe it on the sheets and thought better of it, wiping it instead on the edge of the bucket.
Her so-called savior looked up. "Are you bleeding internally?"
She wasn't sure how to answer that. "I think I'm good. You should toss this bucket though, this isn't going to come out."
She tapped the side where she'd smeared her blood. He looked at her as though she were an idiot for a moment before something seemed to dawn on him.
"You're a Pokian."
For a split second, she thought he was calling her something from her old life that she was very familiar with until she slapped herself. That's right. Artopoki. Pokians. That was her. Still half delirious with mushroom poisoning and her failed suicide attempt.
He regarded her with newfound interest. Her eyes zeroed in on the scalpel that had magically appeared in his hands—when did that get there—and her eyes darted rapidly to the only door in the room. She feared for a moment that she'd just made a wrong call since Manu always seemed fairly certain enough that people knowing what they were was fairly safe. He only ever told her to be wary of some when going on excursions and yeah, she wanted to die and all, but she was not going to get murdered a second time. She was dying on her own terms this time damn it—
"Your blood contains a special enzyme that causes it to stain permanently," he said. "It's fascinating. People have been trying to understand the way you use your blood as ink. Many think it has something to due with magic."
I'm willing to believe anything in this weird world. "Yes."
She felt rapidly for her pockets. Her carving knife poked her fingers and she grabbed it, lifting the handle and slicing her palm instantly. Her savior raised a brow and she warningly held her bleeding palm out.
"You don't want this on your face for the rest of your life," she said warningly.
He scoffed, setting the scalpel down. "I only wanted to take a small blood sample. It's not everyday the people of your island come visiting."
Small sample my ass. "Besides," he added when she continued to squint at him and hold her bleeding palm out threateningly. "I would have used it to call it even for the hospital bill for your treatment."
"Bill?" she squawked. Manu had all the money on him and last she checked, in her past life and this current one, she was still pretty damn poor. "Listen here, kid—"
"I'm older than you, brat."
Not in spirit you're not. "Listen here… you. I didn't asked to be saved, alright? You just happened to be there and you made the choice yourself—I didn't ask for help and—"
"That medicine," he nodded to the empty syringe. "Is awful expensive. Should we wait for your father to settle things then?"
He looked completely and utterly pleased with himself despite his pale visage. She grabbed the sheets beneath her with one fist, mouth opening and closing. A string of choice curses were tempted to escape her lips, several he probably wouldn't understand since her native tongue didn't exist in this world but ugh. Manu finding out would make things complicated and who knew what would happen?
She roughly jutted out her arm, clenching her bloodied fist.
"Just a sample," she said darkly.
He smirked, satisfied. Clearly unaffected with swindling blood from a four and a half year old in the name of medical progression. He grabbed the clean syringe from the tray and proceeded to clean her arm, pulling up a vial so he could take a blood sample. His fingers were starkly pale compared to her summery island tan. She waited, mouth tasting disgusting from the vomit and unhappy as he drew blood from her and tapped the syringe, pulling it away from her arm and examining the now stained glass.
"Interesting," the freaky pale savior boy remarked.
She rubbed her arm aggressively. "Happy now?" I hope it breaks and stains you forever.
He set the vial of her blood down carefully. He held out a hand and she recoiled. This son of a—"I need to bandage your arm."
"I can do it myself."
He scoffed as though speaking to a petulant child.
Which he was, but who cared? She was twenty seven in spirit. She also needed to hurry up and get out of here and find Manu before he fined her or flipped the entire town upside down looking for her.
"I'm a doctor," he said flatly. "I know what I'm doing."
"I'm a doctor," she mimicked. "I know what I'm doing."
He seemed to be thinking twice about his choice to save a stranger from a poisonous mushroom. She snorted, pleased. Good. I've still got eight lives because of you, kid. He grabbed the roll of bandages from the tableside and approached her, expression cold. "I will sedate you if I have to."
Her jaw dropped in disbelief, "To wrap bandages on me? Who do you think you are—"
"More like some kind of creepy kid—how old even are you?"
"Older than you. Now give me your arm."
"No! I want to go—"
"My, what's going on in here?"
She stopped, hands raised in defense where the boy had been trying to wrestle her arm out so he could bandage her properly. She froze at the sight of the older man, charcoal tufts of hair and rather tanned skin. His dad? A lab coat hung over his shoulders and he looked to be assessing the situation in record time, staring for a moment longer before he glanced to the boy.
"She ate the amber mushrooms by the hillside," he reported. "I saved her."
"I see," his father hummed. "I noticed several men who looked to be from Artopoki at the town square. Are you the daughter to one of them, perhaps young miss?"
"Yes!" she blurted quickly, shoving the bucket into the boy's arms. He recoiled in disgust, dropping it to the floor with a clank and she scrambled on wobbly legs from the bed. Her foot caught on the railing and she fell face first onto the linoleum floor. "Are they still there? I need to meet up with my dad since he must be worried sick—"
"He looked to be in a hurry for you too," the doctor chuckled, turing to his son he added, "You're sure she's completely fine to be discharged? No trace of it left in her system?"
His son grimaced at the bucket of vomit. "None. She just needed a bandage on her arm from where I took a sample."
His father smiled, "I'm glad. You're very lucky, miss. Those mushrooms could've done some awful things to you. Perhaps that strange blood of yours helped out, hmm?"
The father seemed like a reasonable guy. Sturdy and well-meaning. She didn't know where the creepiness from his son came from. She rubbed her arm and searched the room for her belongings. "Maybe. Thank you very much for your help sir—"
"You could've died you know," the boy reiterated.
Yes, I do know, that was the point. "Where's my bag?" she said instead, ignoring him. "I need my stuff—"
"You may have a few lives to spare," his father said softly, "but do take care, little miss."
The boy froze, looking at his father in sharp confusion. She went carefully still, staring at her feet and then raising herself from the floor to look at the man.
His eyes were warm.
You don't have the eyes of a killer.
"It's an old myth I heard, but I suppose it's true then," he mused. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. As a doctor, the idea has always been fascinating to imagine. But as a father of a daughter myself…"
He pulled a photo frame off one of the desks and turned it toward her. The pale savior boy, his father, a beautiful, warmly smiling woman with her son's eyes and their daughter smiled back, beaming against the beautiful scenery of their city.
"I think it pains any parent to see their child die," he said warmly. "So do take care of yourself, alright?"
Fuck. She rubbed her elbow, keeping her eyes trained on the man's shoes. They're nice people. Damn it. An ugly feeling twisted in the pit of her stomach, one she'd been working on training to eat away bit by bit, but it wasn't doing much.
Something settled at her side and she turned. Her savior had deposited her back along with her sketchbook, crossing his arms over his chest. "Your bill's covered. You can go."
His father looked amused. "You didn't make her pay now, did you—"
She roughly ripped a page free from her sketchbook. She imprinted the vivid memory of the city from the hillside in her mind. She imagined it as clear as possible and then blurred the image of the family to the forefront, staring at the picture in the father's hands before she pressed her palm to the page and smeared it across.
The son watched in avid interest, eyes growing curious while the father made a noise of awe. He crouched down, watching as colors bled onto the paper from her blood and then slowly it took shape—
"That's—" he started, surprised. She shoved the paper into his arms and stood, grabbing her bags and her things and barreling as fast as she could out the clinic door.
"Thank you for everything!" she blurted, rushing as fast as her small legs could take her.
"Don't eat stuff growing off the floor!" the son shouted after her. "Brat!"
She flipped him off over her shoulder, rushing past a kind looking woman and a little girl holding something round and mushroom shaped in her hands. She booked it toward the direction of the town center, ignoring the burning of her ears and the flutter of her heart.
Only when she was certain she was far enough from the clinic and close enough to the town did she skid to a quick stop, tugging her sketchbook out once more and smearing her still cut palm across a new page.
The softly lit clinic bled onto the pages.
She flipped her book shut and set off to find Manu.
"Who was that, dear?" a woman tucked a strand of soft chestnut hair behind her ear, leaning over to press a kiss to her husband's temple. "A patient?"
"A traveler who ate something bad," the doctor responded. "She's alright now. Left us behind with something rather nice." He ruffled his daughter's head fondly. "Did you have fun seeing the preparations for the festival?"
"I did!" she responded eagerly. "Brother, here's your hat! Thanks for letting me wear it!"
Her brother sighed fondly, rubbing his sister's head and situating the rounded, mushroom shaped and spotted hat back onto his head. "Anytime, Lami."
"You did great handling that on your own," his father praised. "You're getting better and better everyday, aren't you?"
His son shrugged, tugging his hat down over his eyes. His mother beamed at the news and noticed the thick paper in her husband's hands. "What's that?"
"This?" the doctor opened up the paper wide to see. "We got lucky ourselves. Our patient was a special kind of artist and left us with this nice gift as thanks."
"I want to see! I want to see!" Lami demanded, tugging her father's arms lower so she could see as well. Their son peered over his shoulder to take a glance.
"Why," his mother began. "How beautiful."
"What luck you found her when you did," the doctor mused, "right, Law?"
"Can I get a hint?"
Mahina laughed. "No can do, maka. You can do better than that, come on."
She frowned. Her eyes were squeezed shut, trying very, very hard to listen to everything around her. She could hear the low, quiet ringing of the swords she'd already found behind her. Mahina was waiting patiently in the chair beside her and she could feel her mother's smile as she watched her.
When Manu was away and not exporting her off on more illustration jobs to island after island—and Manu was away more and more these days while her uncle was lurking around the home, speaking quickly to her mother about more politics and happenings and about her father's frequent visits to the their sacred temple behind the waterfall—she and Mahina played.
Mahina taught her that select items with enough spirit and love carved into them had a voice. Everything had a voice. Even the living things outside and around them. She wasn't too fond of listening to the animals outside though, since they didn't seem to have anything nice to say to her at least—some dumb sixth sense they had about her penchant for wanting to end her life—but the voices of these special things were different.
Mahina's swords were different.
Her mother's works always had the softest, fiercest of whispers. Mahina took to hiding them around their hut when Manu was away, urging her practice in the art and also biding their time for their own amusement.
This one was hidden with particular difficulty.
"Don't worry about your father or anything else," Mahina said. "I know it may feel like you can hear those voices too. They sound angry, don't they? Frustrated. Furious. Manu is merely letting the things outside this island bother him far too much for his own good. You listen to nothing but those swords and they'll tell you all you need."
She listened real hard. Her feet started to take her in the direction of the kitchen and Mahina laughed. "Not your stomach, maka."
She huffed. Her head cocked to the side and she crossed her arms over her chest, listening past the whispers of the ocean outside that she thoroughly avoided. Past the teasing calls of the birds sitting among the thatched rooftop. Past Manu's precious drawings and the angry way his brushes hummed, looking and looking for Mahina's voice—
Something foreign whispered into her ear.
She stopped, eyes flickering open. Mahina made a pleased noise, watching her disappear down the hall. She followed the quiet sound, one she'd wondered if she'd ever heard before in their house. It seemed strangely familiar, as though it'd always been there, just too quiet to hear because she was looking so intently for her mother's voice this time—
Her small hands pulled a drawer open and she stopped.
"Maka?" her mother called. "My star?"
She gingerly scooped the cool item into her hands. The cold touch of the chain began to warm between her fingers and she stared at the beautiful craftsmanship in wonder, slowly heading back toward the kitchen as she tried to listen for that voice once more—
"Did you find—oh."
She looked up.
She was possessed with the sudden urge to draw her mother.
Mahina's face was etched into something so wholly human. Her expression set into something quiet, almost subdued, a little faraway. But her eyes were warm. They shone with a thousand memories she'd probably never see and a thousand other things she'd never know as she approached her mother and stopped by her knees, cradling the item.
"I was looking for your voice," she explained, offering the item carefully to her mother. She didn't have to listen to know there was a heavy, long importance to it.
Though it hadn't been her mother's voice she'd heard, as she normally did from the swords her mother made. It was her mother's name that had called to her, uttered by someone completely unfamiliar and unknown.
Mahina gently took it from her hands. Her fingers ran down the smooth sides of the golden cross, fitting snugly into her palms before she pulled off the top of the cross. It popped off like a sheathe, revealing a small, glistening blade within.
Warmth burned at her fingertips. She heard the voice speak once more, a little more clearly, filled with a little more emotion. Tender. So soft she almost felt as though she were hearing something she shouldn't.
"Yes," Mahina said, softly, an emotion she recognized clearly lining the edge of her words. "You found something very beautiful, didn't you?"
She wondered if she would've been able to pick this up, had she truly been her age. But something in Mahina's expression when she held that golden cross made it clear that regardless of age, she was sure she would've understood in that moment regardless.
She never questioned why Mahina and Manu didn't love each other after that.
"They're making it harder and harder for us to do our jobs."
She didn't look up from where she was sketching out the strange looking bird sitting perched in front of her.
"You waste time," the bird said. "Fish have more sense of life than you."
Shut your dirty mouth if you want this papaya. She mouthed to the bird. It clacked its beak at her.
Manu continued to speak heatedly behind her with her uncle. They were located in one of the many grand studios set aside for the artists and illustrators to fine tune their work.
"We should just come clean with what we have," her uncle said. "Let the whole world see it! Then thousands would come rushing to protect it—"
"You really think that's what will save us all?" her father snapped. "The stories of a dead man?"
"It's history. It's a story that changed the course of this world—"
"They come closer and closer by the day to treating us as nothing more than exports," her father seethed. "What makes us any different from their slaves? They let us run free in our pastures and when they grow tired, they'll round up what's left of us and hook us to machines and use us as they like because we are nothing more to them than stationary—"
"They are not our enemies!"
"Befriending them is not the same as licking their heels and wiping their asses, brother. You and I both know what you want when you say that."
Heavy silence pulled tight. She awkwardly erased at a mark she messed up on.
"Think about your daughter," her uncle breathed. "The children of this island don't deserve what happened to Ohara. Those people were slaughtered. One survivor out of the whole island and even then she is still hunted."
"Ohara," her father said, "died with pride."
"Best," the bird began again. "You stay here if you want to die so badly."
She tossed the papaya at its feet.
The grand treasure her uncle talked a great deal about was something she'd only seen once, when Manu took her to the island's sacred temple. There were many grand things in that temple cave behind the waterfall, artworks that could fetch high prices and even more.
A thick stack of papers, worn at the edges and bound together by fine silver threads. Pokian hair.
"It tells," Manu told her once, "the story of one of the greatest adventures to have ever occured in this world."
Her father began to take her less and less on excursions outside the island. Her folders once heavy with new drawings from their illustrations to many islands dwindled. Ships began to be turned away once they reached port. The once lively, flowing atmosphere of the island began to grow taught.
Children around her continued to laugh and play. They begged her to wade into the waters and draw along the blank sandy beaches. She watched them all and turned to her mother, sitting quietly on their little hilltop overlooking the island and the beach behind them, the golden cross sitting at her side.
"Mama," she said. Mahina turned to her, running slender fingers through her snowy white hair and tucking it behind her ear. "What will happen to this island?"
The yearly festival for the other four year olds was coming close. She stood beside her mother, avoiding looking at the ocean and watching instead the way the bamboo and palm trees swayed.
"This island is loved by forces beyond their understanding," Mahina mused. "The island will remain, no matter what they do to it. Too much Pokian blood soaked into its roots to ever fall to fire or to anything else."
She didn't have the heart to ask her mother about anything else.
She talked a big game about suicide. She loved Mahina. Manu was kind. There were many things on this island worth loving, and if she could have it any other way, she'd hope that they all lived and thrived and saw nothing but infinite days of their warm, basking sun and laughter stretched out to ring for miles as they painted the story of their world.
She didn't want to live. Her goals hadn't changed. And though she was adamant about choosing how she'd die and refused to die by other means—
She wouldn't mind dying here on this island with these people, no matter how it happened.
Not one bit.
"He wants to meet with them," Manu said to Mahina, quietly, thinking she couldn't hear them asleep in her hammock. "He thinks if someone owns up to the act. Give them someone to blame, the rest will be spared."
"He's always been obsessed with that thing, hasn't he?" Mahina poured them both another glass of the sweet alcohol made from the kalo berries. "He's never even seen it for himself."
"He's obsessed with the story of a dead man," Manu said bitterly. "He denies himself of everything we stand for. We paint the past to draw the art of the future."
Mahina looked to the man beside her. Not her husband. Not her lover. But every inch of her kind and a fellow citizen of their island.
"You want to fight them."
"I'm surprised you don't," Manu eyed the swords she had waiting to be shipped out. "We could put up a good fight. Give them something to remember."
Mahina laughed. "Spray them all in our blood and let them remember that for the rest of their lives, eh?"
They shared an earnest laugh for once. She tried not to listen, but kept on her side, staring out the window as the ocean rushed outside and a bird called out a little song to another. A cry to leave and depart.
"I've still got four good lives to live," Manu said. "I'll use each one."
Mahina said something too softly for her to hear and when the lights went out, she shut her eyes to the world.
"They all say to leave."
Mahina looked up from where she'd been coating another batch of swords and spears. Her mother shot her a curious look, but she remained silent, staring at her from across the workshop.
"Those old men by the port?"
She shook her head, "The birds."
Mahina smiled. "I thought you didn't like listening to them."
She bit her lip.
I don't mind staying here to die. But you and Manu and as many people as possible should at least—
Artopoki didn't deserve to end here.
Her own wants be damned. She didn't care what this world wanted. What this government she'd never seen and these people who used their blood as easily as buying a new pencil—didn't give a damn for any of it. She loved this island. She loved its culture, its people—all of it. She wanted them to survive and live and she didn't know how she could do anything but stand there and think of ways to convince her mother and father and as many people to just leave—
"Do you hear them, maka?" Mahina questioned softly. "Tell me, my star."
She did. She didn't want to, but she did.
Mahina dragged a finger lovingly down the sword in her grasp.
"What do they say?"
She shut her eyes, wishing she couldn't.
"They'll cut whoever you ask of them," she said finally. "They'll fight with you to the end of their time."
Mahina's smile was so bright it hurt.
She saw less and less of Manu as the days grew nearer and nearer to some invisible end. When her father was home and not slaving away in the temple and studios, he told her to draw.
If she'd been the child she was in her previous life, she probably would've hated him.
But in every utterance of the order, she heard what he wanted to say.
"Remember every last bit of it."
She stared at the mirror and touched the half painted heart etched around her eye, tracing the smear like a blurred teardrop.
She touched the blank white of her hair. Felt along the sun-kissed tan of her skin.
She remembered a face very different from this one.
The news of the end of their world came swiftly and in nothing but dull black and white print.
The Island of Artopoki, charged with illicit treason against the World Government for housing propaganda and treasonous artwork. A hearing to be held before the Council one week from now.
They didn't wait a week.
The ships came in the middle of the night, three days from the announcement, on the night of the festival.
Her uncle was the first to find her.
She'd been helping move blank lanterns toward the town square. The four year olds would get to draw their markings onto the lanterns and send them up into the sky as she'd been able to do a year ago. She wore the traditional island garbs, a blank white top that wrapped around her chest and neck and loose pants with gaps in the side like a dancer's. A crown of bright, pale blue flowers and golden centers to match her eyes were woven atop her head. Mahina had a matching one.
He came bearing arms full of gifts and a wide, dazzling smile.
"Manu off in the temple again?" he mused.
She shrugged. She folded each lantern carefully, trying not to count how many there were to remind her how many children remained on this island.
"You should eat, maka." She never did like hearing it from her uncle. It was a word reserved solely for her parents. "You work hard for a child your age. My brother has such high hopes for you, you know. He truly sees the future of his profession on your shoulders. You're a real prodigy."
Or I just had decades before this to become good. She shrugged again. Her uncle was silent for a moment.
"You'll carry on our legacy."
She finally turned to her uncle. If it was another damn melon in his hands, she'd bash her head into one of these rocks right then and there.
He looked pleased. "Eat, maka."
The fruit in his hands was one of the weirdest ones she'd seen him bring to her yet. The town square was starting to get louder and louder as the festival started to pick up. She eyed the bright red fruit critically, swirled with strange patterns like hearts perhaps, rounded like a giant watermelon. God damn it.
She warily opened her small hands and her uncle set it into her waiting palms. "Eat and grow stronger, maka. You've got much work ahead of you."
She refrained from rolling her eyes and bit into the awkward fruit.
The most disgusting taste she could possibly imagine—bitter, revolting, sour, rotten—they all fought for attention. She gagged, dropping the fruit to the floor and recoiling as she coughed, wishing the disgusting piece of fruit hadn't lodged itself into her throat and sunk all the way down like some slimy piece of—
Her uncle watched in silence.
"What was that?" she wheezed. "That was—"
A single, blaring thought rang through her mind. It shattered her consciousness, barging forward without any precedent and she shuddered, hands twitching. What the hell?
You're a Living woman now.
There was something very, very familiar about this thought ringing through her mind and this sudden rush of knowledge about something she knew she hadn't known before—
Her eyes went wide. Manu rushed past her, slamming his fist roughly across his brother's face. Manu, who was always so fond of his hands and took such pride in them because they allowed him to do his work and his living and his love— "What have you done?"
"Isn't this what you wanted?" her uncle spat. "To get stronger? To continue? This is how we do it! There's more on the shipments we can give to the children tonight—"
"That was never a choice for you to make!"
"They'll have more worth this way—"
A thunderous explosion shook the entire island. She turned sharply, recognizing a sound like that only in movies—
The town square was on fire.
Her blood ran like ice through her veins.
"No," Manu whispered, confirming her fears. "No… They're too early. They didn't know about the festival. There was supposed to be time to evacuate the children—"
He stopped, staring at the bright flames licking higher and higher into the sky. The piercing whistle of a canon cut through the air followed by the next and the next as chaos erupted in a collision of sound and destruction. Sharp, shrill cries and shouts began to flood the air.
He turned to his brother and she stared at her uncle in horror, realization dawning on her the same moment it did for her father.
"You fool," Manu breathed. "You mad, hopeless fool."
Her uncle smiled.
"You're always talking about the future," her uncle said softly. "It's time to make way for it, brother."
Manu lunged for his brother.
"Papa!" she screamed, the two men crashing into the boarded warehouse. "Papa—"
Slender, toned arms wrapped around her waist and hoisted her up. The smell of metal and ash flooded her nose and she turned, eyes watering on instinct at the sight of Mahina's fierce blue and gold eyes and her shining white hair, matted with ash and damp with something. Blood smeared her cheek, staining her decorative gown for the festival while two swords hung from her sides. "Mama!"
"She can't swim!" Manu shouted. "Go!"
Mahina's eyes darkened with understanding and then she was running with her clutched tight to her chest. Something about her father's shout seemed critically important even though she knew they already knew how much she avoided ever touching the water and learning how to swim—
"I love you, maka!" Manu shouted after her. "Live your lives to the fullest!"
"What about Papa?" she demanded, clutching tight to Mahina as she ran faster than she'd ever seen her mother move. Swift like the wind, fierce and beautiful. "It's happening, isn't it? That government is attacking? They hate that thing we have, right? Just give it to them! Distract them and have as many people escape as possible—"
The smell of ash and smoke was growing farther and farther away. Mahina shouted at her not to listen to any of the voices, to turn the switch off. She could hardly even think to turn it on as she clung desperately to her mother. Her mind raced a thousand miles per minute, imagining every inch of the island she knew these past years engulfed in flames—
"I will not let you die here, my star," Mahina said fiercely.
The scent of the beach and the ocean flooded her senses. She turned over her shoulder, hair whipping past her cheeks and slashing her eyes from the fierce wind.
Dark waves lapped at the shore. She watched them warily and Mahina's steps grew lighter against the stand, staying above the sinking grains. She skidded to a halt besides a heavy bough of felled bamboo stalks. They were tucked behind the cliffside, their house just above their heads and the beach behind their home. Not a single ship in sight.
Her mother gently set her down onto the ground, touching her cheek and then brushing aside the stalks to reveal a thick wooden crate.
She stared at the crate with wide eyes, watching as her mother pried the top off and pulled several items forth.
"You knew?" she whispered in disbelief.
Mahina smiled, shooting her a look with such fierce love. She deftly clasped a cloak over her shoulders, brushing petals from the crumpled flower crown on top of her head. She noticed the petals mixed with blood in Mahina's hair. She'd never looked more beautiful.
She caught sight of her sketchbook being shoved into a backpack. Several bags and supplies were strung to the larger sack. Mahina shoved thick scrolls and a heavy folder filled with old papers bound together by silver thread. Her mother paused briefly at them, glancing to her and then shoving the papers deep into the backpack. Bottles of ink. Brushes. Pencils. Her carving knife—
Her mother pushed the straps of the backpack over her shoulders. Her body trembled with the hefty weight and Mahina smiled warmly, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"My star," Mahina murmured, "you shine brighter than anything else, alright? You live your lives brighter than anyone else."
"Where's your backpack?" she questioned numbly.
"You can't hide your heritage," Mahina stroked her white hair, turned silver with the moonlight. Canons shrieked through the air and she could hear the resounding crash as they collided into buildings and possibly people. This isn't where I should be. I don't deserve—
Mahina pulled the cloak's hood over her head, the flower crown dropping into the sand. "But you can hide that you were ever from here. Not all of us heeded the call of our goddess and her island."
"Mama," she said sharply. Mahina stopped, looking over her shoulder. "Mama. What about you? What about everyone else and Papa and—"
She knew that voice.
She knew that voice.
A little sound escaped her mother's lips. Something torn between a little hum and a quiet, wistful little sigh. She was frozen in place, eyes landing on the golden cross that dangled from her mother's hip beside her bloodied sword and a small satchel. She knew that voice.
She turned sharply over her shoulder to face the man who'd spoken only once before in her head.
Her entire world came to a screeching, shattering halt.
He didn't don the signature hat and plume. His long coat hung over his shoulders and left his muscled, chiseled chest bare. The night almost made him blend in with the looming shadows of the bamboo groves and palm trees, hiding the long, elegant sword strapped to his broad back. But the night did nothing to hide his piercing, unsettling and familiar golden eyes—
No. No. No. No.
"You're a Living woman now."
West Blue. Ohara. A trashy World Government out to silence others and one that approved of slavery. Monsters in the ocean. A golden cross necklace with a blade hidden inside that would be used to taunt a familiar swordsman. Disgusting fruits that robbed the ability of swimming—it was all beginning to blur in horrible, sickening familiarity as the man standing before her made everything come crashing through in perfect, horrific clarity because—
She knew this man.
And he had only ever belonged on a screen or paper.
She begged the goddess of this island to tell her it was nothing more than some sick, twisted dream blurring her past life with this one.
"Mihawk," her mother whispered, confirming her every fear and suspicion with a single utterance of one name.
This can't be happening.
Dracule Mihawk, the greatest or possibly soon to be greatest swordsman in the world.
The world of fucking One—
This can't be real. This can't be happening. This isn't—
"What happened to Ohara will happen here."
Her mind latched onto the single, resounding thought and she turned to her mother, understanding and horror filtering everything else but this present moment out.
Mahina stood. The moonlight turned her hair a brilliant shade of liquid silver. Mihawk watched her with those piercing golden eyes. Blood dripped from her swords and onto the sand. Mahina touched the golden cross tucked to her hip and then she smiled, eyes filled with nothing but a long, aching love she only ever saw in her mother's eyes looking at her work.
"I knew you would come," Mahina said softly.
Mihawk's eyes skimmed the distance where the horizon was beginning to bleed red with flames. He looked over his shoulder where his coffin shaped ship waited, his throne hidden in the shadows of lapping waves and faint moonlight.
Then Mihawk's eyes pinned her in place, golden irises cutting through her like knives. She almost shuddered had her own attention not been so fixed on her mother.
"You're risking a cushiony job coming here," Mahina murmured. "Are you certain?"
Mihawk fixed her mother with a long look.
Mahina exhaled so softly.
"I would never do anything that I consider a waste of my time."
Mahina's eyes shone. Mihawk seemed to have come to the same conclusion she did, "I came however, with the intention of one woman and a child aboard my boat."
Mahina smiled. "One child alone shouldn't change much, right?"
Mihawk's face was unreadable, shadowed. But his piercing eyes held her mother in place where she stood.
"I don't deserve to live!"
Mahina's eyes dropped down. Mihawk fixed his gaze on her. She felt tears springing at the corners of her eyes and she clutched desperately at her mother's dress. "I don't. I don't! You—You, everyone on this island, Papa—they all deserve so, so much more! Trust me, you have to trust me! Don't throw this chance away and live out your life, start again, try again, you deserve someone better than me—"
"You always were so mature for your age, my star," Mahina murmured sweetly. She brushed her thumb past her bangs, tucking them behind her ear. "No, jaded is the better word, isn't it? That happens sometimes, when one is born with so many lives. I always hoped you'd grow out of it though."
"I don't deserve this," she began to sob. "I don't. I don't. Please don't do this."
Please don't give me—
Mahina brought her flush against her, hugging her tight. She clutched her mother with everything she had, begging, trying, trying—
"Perhaps your past life was hard," Mahina murmured, "may this one bring you nothing but happiness."
"You don't owe him anything," Mihawk said without a hint of mercy. "Any of them."
Mahina turned to him, her smile fierce and filled with love. Mihawk's fingers curled carefully around her wrist. He kept his face even.
"Come with me," he said.
I won't repeat myself a second time.
"Not to him," Mahina agreed. "But I owe everything to this island and to my people."
Her hand pulled from his. Mihawk didn't fight her grip. She reached around, pulling the golden cross free, reaching her arms up around his neck. The world's greatest swordsman stood there in stony silence, not uttering a single word as Mahina clicked the necklace once more into place and fixed it against his chest, touching it once with her finger before she looked up to his face. Mihawk gazed down into hers.
His hand reached up and cupped her cheek. His thumb followed the curve of the feather tattoo inked around her eye. She suddenly felt as though she were seeing something that didn't belong to her.
"Her papers and everything else is in her bag," Mahina said softly. "You just need to take her to that place. I have an old friend who'll take care of things from there."
Mahina pressed a satchel into his other hand. Mihawk let it drop to the sand with a soft thud. His hand settled onto her hip instead, nestled below the hilt of her sword.
Mihawk tilted his head slightly to the side. Mahina reached over his shoulder, stroking the hilt of his sword with eyes filled with nothing but love and wistful, aching longing.
"I've never coated a finer sword," Mahina said. She looked into Mihawk's face. "Never crafted for a finer swordsman."
Mihawk's fingers found her chin. Mahina tilted her face up to meet his.
An explosion shattered the air, the bamboo swayed.
Mahina dropped down to her knees, cupping her daughter's tear stained cheeks in her hands. Her mother began to laugh, eyes shining with tears as she peppered her face with kisses. "Mama, please—"
"My star," Mahina said fiercely. "You live every life brighter than anyone else. You blaze and you live everyday till the moment it all ends. The blood never lies."
I don't deserve this. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve this—
Please don't die for me.
Mahina scooped her up into her arms. She clung tightly to her mother, burying her face into the crook of her neck and doing what she'd been doing best this whole damn time in this world, this world that wasn't even one she belonged in because it was the world crafted from a fantasy—
Mihawk matched each of her steps, snatching the satchel from the ground. He stepped onto his ship, the wood creaking and Mahina set her down inside the wooden hull, smiling at her with so much love and affection. She reached and pressed a kiss to Mihawk's palm and then the tip of his index finger. She pressed it to her chest.
"How many?" Mihawk questioned lowly.
Mahina smiled, eyes sparkling. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Mahina turned to her. Her stupid, idiot daughter who didn't deserve a single ounce of this—
Mahina traced the half heart inked into her skin around her eye. She traced the other half herself against her skin, smiling so wide and so bright it hurt.
"I hope one day someone can finish it for you, my star."
Her mother wrenched herself away from the ship and stepped back onto the sand. Mihawk stood, one hand coming down and gripping her shoulder tightly to keep her from running back onto the sand. Mahina smiled, her swords glinted, the sky growing blood red and eyes shining and hair a dazzling, brilliant silver—
She etched this image to her memory.
"I love you!" she said, pulling against Mihawk's grip but not breaking from it. "I love you, Mama!"
"I love you, Hoku."
Mahina pushed her foot against the hull of Mihawk's ship and shoved with all her might. The boat heaved off the sand, sliding back into the murky, lapping waves.
Mihawk stood tall behind her, watching in silence as Mahina grew smaller and smaller against the shore. She refused to take her eyes off the island for even a moment, hands fumbling through her bag and tugging out her sketchbook as she flipped messily to a new page and bit her fingers so hard the skin broke beneath her teeth.
She smeared her fingers against the paper, trying to avoid the teardrops falling from her eyes.
Artopoki, the little island located in West Blue, the world of a story that had only been fiction to her before—growing redder and dimmer in the distance.
Mahina against the sand, beautiful and brilliant, appeared on her paper.
The world's greatest swordsman was silent behind her.
"If you meant what you said about not deserving to live, and truly wish to waste this chance," Mihawk said finally. "This journey will end here."
Hoku was silent, watching her island grow smaller and smaller into the distance.
"Her lives," Mihawk said, without mercy, and she listened to the voice of his sword strapped to his back and its quiet, soft whisper of longing, "were worth more than yours."
Hoku pressed her head against the side of the boat. Everything churned in her mind as one violent, relentless storm. Her aching, throbbing fingers reminded her how real it all was. The sea water lapping against the wood threatened to drag her back to where she belonged.
If she hadn't hated it so much, she would've tossed herself over and let it take her.
"Yeah," Luffy mused, a salty, easy sea breeze caressing his cheeks as he crossed his arms behind his head and grinned. "Probably trying to kill herself."
That I put into words, how wonderful life is, when you're in the world.
Hoku - star in Hawaiian
Mahina - Moon
Manu - bird
Kalo - taro
Make - death
Popoki - cat
Maka - beloved one
If you somehow managed to stick through the longest first chapter I have ever written and you have probably ever read and are willing to read some more, I think you and I are gonna get along just fine.
To all my old readers, SHE DID IT. THIS DUMBASS REALLY FREAKING DID IT. To all the new readers, welcome! I've loved One Piece for a very long time and recent events and a realization of why the hell not have finally spurred me into bringing this story I've been mulling over for a while to life. I've always wanted to try my hand at SI-Reincarnation fics but got mixed up with the meaning so I think this is technically OC-Reincarnation? Hoku and I are pretty diff but I hope you guys like her.
When starting this, there were several things I decided I want to explore with this narrative. A reincarnation fic and for one, a reluctant protag character who will be repeatedly trying to kill herself in manners not-so-humorous and very (darkly i guess?) humorous, someone with limited knowledge to the one piece world and exploring some of the things in OP I'm interested in (vivre cards, etc)
I know this was ridiculously long, there was just a lot I wanted to cover here so it wouldn't have to be covered in another chapter HAHAHA. We'll see a lot more familiar faces next time, I promise. Hopefully Artopoki was a nice little place to imagine.
Thank you all so much for clicking on this little link and giving this story a chance! Criticism and advice is always appreciated, but ur time paving through this to make it here is already enough. I hope you enjoyed!