Chapter 26

A/N: Not gonna lie. The motivation to write these past few months just wasn't there. Spent all my free time...just doing other stuff. Well whatever. Here's proof I'm alive. Small though it be.

Marine Battleship, Merrimack

"The fuck do you mean the signal's jammed!"

White ocean spray washed over the aft of the ship as more and more artillery fire ripped apart the ocean behind them. A heavy cannonade signaling their return fire deafened ears but Commodore Neirdean knew it mattered little. Only the mounted ordnance on their front and sides could potentially dissuade their pursuers. The piddling cannons to the rear were added as an almost afterthought in the ships design.

"It's no good sir!" Chief Cotterell reaffirmed with a shout, one hand on his radio and the other clutching headphones to his ear. "The enemy must be utilizing multiple Horned Den-Den-Mushi's! We're in a total blackout!"

Neirdean gnawed at his thumb as he weighed bad options against each other. Still a bit in disbelief at how they had arrived at this position so quickly. "Where in the blue hell did they get those..?"

Fourteen standard-sized patrol cruisers, three heavy frigates armed to the teeth, and one massive unnecessarily large Marine battleship capable of sinking smaller vessels with a single volley.

And they were running.

Even still the wrongness of it galled at him. They were the premier battle group coming over from North Blue to assist in taking back this ocean. Paving the way for the next four to follow. And they were running!

Normally no band of lowlifes outside of the Grand Line would dare fuck with a retinue of this size...and yet here they were. Sails at full, slowly losing ground, and being chased by a goddamn pirate armada. One that his previous intelligence reports hadn't even hinted about existing.

Oh sure, most of them were fodder. A whole host of flag designs among the crowd he didn't recognize because they literally belonged to pirate groups so unremarkable there was no need to know who they were. In fact, were it not for the larger ships in the center of the enemy's formation, all sailing an identical Jolly Roger trimmed with burnt orange along its edges, Neirdean would've sworn there was nothing but rank amateurs among them.

'Hornigold..' he mentally spat with a frown.

A bright light off the starboard side grabbed his attention as one of his patrol cruisers suddenly ignited! Splintered wood and screams of marines filled the air as the smaller ship threatened to buckle from the lucky shot. Damage control specialists rushed about, barking orders to get any fires under control and apply emergency patches whilst a flag bearer frantically waved pennants, signaling a request for additional orders.

"Commodore! New contacts bearing in from the northwest!" Petty Officer Dannug roared from her spot in the crows nest. "Numbers, eight ship- Correction! Nine ships! Mostly carrack-types and brigantines!"

With a snap of his fingers the adjutant at Neirdean's side passed him a spyglass and the Commodores scowl grew even deeper as he pressed it flush against his good eye. Sure as the sky was blue there they were. Even more ships sailing the black flag. No doubt here to even further bolster the fleet of pursuers behind him.

Another powerful rumble rattled the Merrimack as their harassers drew just a little bit closer. Their long guns inching up in accuracy with every meter. It seemed the time of debating which bad option was the least so was finally up. Time to make a decision.

With a soft click Neirdean pushed the extendable spyglass back together and returned it to his aide's steady hand. A beleaguered sigh, colored just a bit with morose acceptance, slipped from his throat and he walked towards the balcony to address the crew.

Even as the light gray fur of the Lemur-Lemur Fruit began to inch over him, and his muscles all tensed for battle, he couldn't help but feel...peaceful. Like a familiar blanket was settling over him. It's funny. In the Marines..they always talk about this day coming. Usually in joking facetious tones. Laughing about the close calls and daring exploits because they all knew..someday eventually...someone just manages to get the best of you.

Neirdean always thought it would be a freak storm or a giant Sea King though instead of bloody goddamn pirates.

Oh well. Guess he lost that bet. And he's usually such a good gambler too.

"Order the other ships to full canvas. Break escort formation around the Merrimack and proceed to the rendezvous at maximum speed."

His navigator looked at him in shock. "Sir?"

"That was an order lieutenant!" he barked. "These blackguards will be upon us in mere moments. I'll not lose the entirety of this fine fleet just because our vessel cant keep up with them. There is still the larger mission to consider. Now send the damn order."

With the command sent Neirdean stepped forward and breathed deep. Preparing himself for what would in all likelihood be the final speech of his naval career.

And if he wanted to prevent a panic spreading amongst his crew...he best try and make it a good one.

"This vessel, the Merrimack," he began with a yell, bringing his sailors attention on to him and away from their swifter allies pulling away. "..has one of the proudest history's of any warship in the four Blues. In it's first deployment it helped corral the scattered fleets of The Golden Lion!" he announced with a rising zealotry. "In it's second, it saw North Blue's 'Brazen Coalition' ground into bloody dust!"

Soft mutterings of concurrence and agreement rumbled quietly among the crowd.

"It was one of ten who were charged with the sacred mission of cleansing the world of the 'Demons of Ohara'!"

The whispering chorus grew slightly louder as more joined in, with one voice carrying over them speaking '..that's true. That she was.'

"It's battled monsters! Sea King and pirate alike! And each time it has managed to win the day has it not! Would she still be here if she ever once faltered on us!"

"No!" his crew answered with a roar.

"Are we going to let a ship with such a glorious record go quietly into the night? Let it suffer an ignoble death by being nipped at her heels until she falls?"


"Helmsman!" Neirdean screeched in battle fervor. "Hard to port and pull us into an about-face! If we're destined to sink then lets at least soften these fuckers up before we go!"

With one massive lurch the titanic vessel began to turn, plowing through the subtle currents that were previously being used to try and escape. Hydraulics loudly whirred as the oversized 900mm cannons on its bow began to reposition and screams of 'Battlestations!' rung out over the wind.

"Sir!" his navigator called. "The Thunder Child and Kingfish have altered course! They're turning with us!"

Commodore Neirdean roared in laughter at the blatant insubordination. "You hear that boys! Looks like we're not sailing into the abyss alone!" The ring-patterned lemur tail at his back drew one of the swords at his waist and the Commodore raised three blades high.

"In the name of Justice!"

Marine Branch# 427, Ketria, South Blue

"I'm…I'm sorry sir." The man behind the counter tries his best to hide the grimace. "We.. just.. don't carry the funds required to pay a bounty of that size. Furthermore.. there still remains the issue of identification of the body.."

"Identification!?" An issue with cash on hand I can understand. I'm not unreasonable. Kowalik's bounty was 60 million and change, it'd be kind of more crazy if they just had that sitting in a back room somewhere. Even for a branch in a city of this size. But to insinuate that I've brought in something other than genuine is.. "Look!" I reiterate, briefly removing the tarp from the body's face and then gesturing pointedly to the brown handbill hanging to the marines left. "That's the guy. I know he's a bit banged up but I've turned in dudes who look way worse and that hasn't been an issue before."

The Junior Lieutenant's eyes briefly glance to the poster in question..and I know he sees what I see. He knows without a doubt whose corpse it is I've brought to his door, just as the stammering stuttering mess of an enlisted man who was posted here initially did. At least I assume so from how quickly he fled to get someone of higher rank that is. '..what exactly is this guy's hangup?'

The lower officer seems to be struggling to find a response so I just scoff and shake my head. "..ugh whatever. It's not like you have the money anyway. I'll just take him somewhere else. Do you at least have enough to cover some of the smaller bits of the 'Oaken Fist' crew? I won't ask about the 29,000,000 for 'Wildcleaver' Reyhan but I've got just about a dozen smaller names stored away that Kowalik cannibalized off of other pirate gangs. All ranging from 1.5 to 11 million."

Beads of sweat begin to visibly gather on the mans skin. A slight trembling in his posture makes it obvious that he's growing more and more nervous by the second...but for the life of me I genuinely don't understand as to why? 'Has he heard something about me..? Is him being this way just a personality quirk..? I don't have blood on my face or something do I?'

"My ap-ap-apologies sir.." he stammers as I bring out the lowest earning of Kowalik's minions. "This one cannot reasonably"

I let both my arm and the body it's holding fall as my understanding frown devolves into an actual scowl. My eyes narrowing as the unusually feeble marine seems to shrink in on himself, "...okay. What the fuck is going on right now? What is the issue you aren't telling me?"

Almost to punctuate the point, the door at the back of the counter is forced open and a much taller much higher ranked man strolls forward with his hands relaxed behind his back. "Back to the wardroom Lt. Weaver." the newcomer orders with a gruff scratchy tone. "I'll take charge of our guest."

As the spineless individual I was previously speaking to scrambles away I briefly find myself questioning the validity of whatever criteria it is that the Marines use in their selection of officers. It's clearly in need of some revision if someone like that is somehow capable of reaching the rank above Ensign. 'Maybe he's someone's grandson or nephew or something.' Well...whatever. It doesn't matter. We've got someone more important to talk to now.

I will say this for the new guy in front of me...he's certainly a big fecker. Being a smidge taller than six feet myself it's pretty uncommon to meet someone who's got a literal head and shoulders over me. 'Huge-Humans' obviously excluded because..those are just a whole separate thing as far as I'm concerned.

"I'm Commander Asahija. Executive officer of the branch here in Ketria." He informs me with a tone bordering on brusque. Basic courtesy says I should go to shake his hand here..only he very pointedly didn't offer it.

"Jack P-"

"Oh I know who you are son." The old timer rudely cuts me off. Using that special voice old men employ when speaking down to people less than half their age. "Your reputation precedes you." he adds on, trying to hide the sneer.

'Wow...ok. So it's another one of 'these' assholes then. The one's that view bounty hunters as only slightly more tolerable scum than the actual pirates themselves.' "Are you here to tell me about whatever it is that's the problem with me trying to collect here today? Or are you just going to spout the same bull your junior did about 'body identification'?

A rough mix between a grunt and a dismissive snort sounds from the Lv. 50's nose as he slaps a mildly furled packet of papers on the counter between us. "Orders from on high." he says with a twinge of smug glee. "There's a moratorium on your name bounty hunter. No bodies at any branch in South Blue are to be accepted from you until you have given this offer its...due consideration."

I resist the urge to roll my eyes at his behavior and instead pick up the packet and flip past its cover page. "You know, your junior could have just told me that. Instead of that whole..I don't even know what that was..stalling for time thing until you got here."

I move deeper into the packet, getting past all the fluff and window dressing...and then audibly sigh as I confirm this is what I suspected it was. Already the blue box I've already seen multiple times before is forming in the corner.

New Quest Alert!

Quest: You've been given the chance to join the Marines! As a commissioned Lieutenant there's less than ten ranks between you and the highest posit-

I stop reading the extensive pop-up and switch to skimming instead. "Look, I don't want to come off as rude, but I'm just not interested. I even wrote your Rear Admiral an exceptionally polite letter about it. Now I'll admit, there is some small part of me that wants to rock that white coat but that's all it is. A small part. I'm way more effective as an independent."

'Though I will admit. The incentives are getting up there.. It's like the devil himself is trying to tempt me. I mean god-damn those numbers get higher every time.'

Reward: +135 STR, +135 VIT, +135 DEX, +80 INT, + 80WIS, +12 LUK, 44,900 Exp, Lv. 3 [Skill Disk], Lv. 2 [Skill Disk] X2 and [Skillbook]: Rally.

Note: This is the sum total of all [Rewards] that you would have been granted had you joined at the lowest rank of Seaman Recruit and then been slowly promoted up to a full Lieutenant. Additional [Rewards] will be granted upon each subsequent promotion henceforth.

Note 2: As an official member of the Marines you will become ineligible to collect bounties on pirates you capture thus making it difficult to complete your remaining bounty related [Quest]'s.

Note 3: Accepting this [Quest] and then abandoning the Marines will result in a forfeiture of all [Rewards] as well as you being branded a traitor and enemy of the World Government.

The Commander frowns deeply at my terse dismissal of the offer. "I don't think you're really appreciating how rare an offer like this is." he speaks, trying and failing to hide his personal opinion about me from bleeding through. "That is the same deal I have heard has been offered to literal Giants. That packet contains a recommendation for commissioning letter with Admiral Aokiji's signature on it. This isn't the type of deal people turn down Bounty Hunter."

"Well I am." I answer succinctly as I flip the packet shut. "Duly considered, mulled it over, and respectfully declined. Again." I slide the papers back his way. "Now am I going to be allowed to cash in these bounties or not?"

Asahija stares down almost disdainfully at the returned packet, very purposefully not reaching down to take it back. "I see that you still require some more time to think about it." he declares before spinning around and heading back to the door. "I will pass it up the chain that you have received the offer and are taking a few days to weigh the options presented to you. I'm sure a number of higher powers will be looking forward to hearing about it when you eventually land...on the correct decision."

The door snaps shut behind him and my tongue clicks sharply in annoyance. I chuck both Kowalik and his underling back into the [Inventory] and begrudgingly toss the stupid packet in there as well. 'Well this was certainly a waste of my time. Hopefully whoever's in charge of the next base over will be less of a jackass. 'Correct' decision my ass.'

Hours later, Marine Frigate, The White Star

"Up! Everybody up!" Mori's eyes snapped open at the sudden shout and his neck craned up in alarm. A slight headache formed from the little sleep and he blinked blearily, trying to throw off the daze. "Outta the rack! Lets go people!"

The Master Chief rolled out of his bed with a groan and begun throwing his uniform on in haste. He'd gone to bed early in preparation to take the mid-watch later that night and had only just drifted off. "Come on lets go lets go lets go! All hands awake!" His superior continued to yell in the bunkroom.

"Sir! What's happening? Are we under attack?" One of the more junior enlisted questioned while fumbling to buckle his pants.

"Not us youngin'. But it won't be that way for long. There's a fleet of pirates headin' straight fer Mirifield and every ship within spittin' distance is being rerouted to fortify the flotilla we got stationed there. CO's gonna brief the whole crew in the mess hall in 10 minutes so I'd hurry up and get your boots on."

Evening, Marine Branch# 429, Slyvaada Kingdom, South Blue

"You've got to be joking." I deadpan at the man behind the booth. "I literally just had this conversation over at the Ketria branch this morning."

To at least give him the small credit he's due, the Petty Officer does seem to be rather contrite about it. His brow is scrunched and a sad 'I really wish I could help' type of smile seems to be the best he can offer me. "I'm really sorry Mr. Sparrow, but the instruction that was put out was pretty clear. I'm not authorized to dispense any payments to you."

One hand rubs frustratingly across my brow. "Goddamnit-" I curse under my breath. "How many times am I gonna have to explain my name isn't- y'know what, I don't care. Don't care. Just- just one problem at a time." I blow my lips out exasperatedly. "Can I at least read this memo?"

The man's posture cringes slightly. "Ehh.. I'm really not supposed to- That is- we're not supposed to show non-Marine personnel any.." he trails off at the end, gesticulating with his hands, and I stifle the urge to just bang my head against his counter.

"Look dude- Petty Officer- whatever title you prefer, I already pretty much know what the paper says. I just wanna see the exact language they used on the thing."

The Lv. 8 still seems doubtful even as his hand reaches for something below the wooden counter. "Well...I suppoooose.." he eventually relents as a single white sheet is pulled into view. "Seeing as you are the subject matter and none of it's confidential.."

Moments later I'm carefully reading over each sentence of the accursed thing that's tripping up my day. Combing through it's paragraphs one by one and taking special note of the authorizing signatures at the bottom corner of the page.

"...the bounty hunter Jack Parker more popularly known by his alias of 'Jack Sparrow'...yada yada hereby barred...blah blah blah..Ooo! Okay. Okay. Look. See what it says here." I babble, pointing to a line in particular. "...shall not receive any payment, restitution, or monetary disbursement until, UNTIL," I emphasize in triumph. "he is contacted and thoroughly and properly briefed on the outstanding offer of his potential recruitment and commissioning and he provides a definitive answer in either the affirmative or the negative in accepting said commissioning." I slap the paper down and smile. "So signed, Rear Admiral Aquino. Also, whoever typed that up should be ashamed as that was a horrible run-on sentence."

I hand the memo back with a wide grin. "See. Problem solved. I got the offer in Ketria, I respectfully declined, there exists no issue. So… what say we start some paperwork on turning in some of Oaken Fist's crew ayy? Come on. At least the small fry?"

Petty Officer Ernst reads the paper again himself, looks up at me, back to the paper, back to me, opens his mouth and "I think I need to go get my Lieutenant.."

"Well by all means, if it'll help move this along lets go get your-"

"He might already be gone for the day though. Is there any chance you can come back tomorrow?"

My head falls down with a groan. 'This fucking day'. "Ok..fine. I will come back.. tomorrow." I say with a fake smile and twitch in my brow. "Was gonna try and fly home tonight but I suppose a hotel is gonna have to do!"

A/N 2: Yes I know this update is tiny. As I mentioned, I just typed it up to show that I'm alive.

One Billion Beri Quest Tracker (Post-Kowalik and crew)

Quest: Pirates. Criminals. Rapers, plunderers, and scum of every kind. No more. It's time to sanitize the South Blue. Capture or kill wanted men in South Blue who's bounties total at least One Billion Beri. Progress:(573,399,200/1,000,000,000)