The Tigress of the Seas

Chapter 1

Caught Off Guard

It's almost noon. Almost lunch time. I'll never make it in time. I run down the street as fast as I can, my breath coming in short painful gasps. "Got to…make…it…in time…" The stitch in my side continues to grow more painful, but with my arms full I can't do anything to ease the ache.

CRASH! The bundles in my arms fly in every direction. When did that wall get there!? "Hey, watch where you're going!" I look up into the face of Roronoa Zoro. No! Not him! Anyone, even the navy, but not him!

I turn my face sharply down letting my hair fall in a concealing curtain to hide my features. "I-I'm terribly sorry, sir!" I begin snatching up the bags. "Please! F-forgive me! I didn't m-mean to run into you!" Oh Goddess don't let him see my face! I beg of you! Don't let him recognize me!

"Yeah, well, watch where you're going in the future. Not everyone's as forgiving as me you know." I nod making my curtain of bright orange hair shift. He turns away, then stops, and turns back to me. "Wait a minute." Oh, no. Did he recognize me?? Oh, I'm screwed if he's recognized me. "Have you seen this pirate recently?" I grab my last wrapped up bundle and turn to look at the wanted poster he holds out.

WANTED FOR CRIMES AGAINST THE NAVY

2,000 BERRY REWARD DEAD 5,000 BERRY REWARD ALIVE

Between the two lines of writing are three pictures of me. One of my human phase and beneath it two smaller shots showing of my half transformed stage and my full tiger form.

"No, sir. I'm sorry, but I haven't seen any pirates for awhile. It's been quite peaceful really." I keep my head tilted so my hair hangs over my face.

"Alright. Thanks for your time." He turns to walk away and I let out a quiet sigh of relief. Thank you Goddess.

"Captain! Captain! I have important news! Rumor has it that sea devil Roronoa Zoro has decided to come after you!" My first mate comes to a stop in front of me shouting so loudly the entire street turns to watch. What a sense of humor the higher beings have.

Angrily I look up and my hair falls to either side. I glare down at my first mate. "Thank you sooo much Jack. Now turn around and tell me who that young man with short green hair and three swords is." Jack turns around slowly realizing his mistake. "Yes, Jack. It is the one and only Roronoa Zoro. Whom I would've gotten clean away from if you hadn't come shouting down the street like a madman!"

Jack turns around looking at me pathetically. "I'm terribly sorry ma'am."

I shake my head hopelessly. "It's alright Jack. I would've only been delaying the inevitable if I'd gotten away."

"Should I go get reinforcements ma'am." He keeps his eyes on his boots and shifts around nervously from foot to foot.

"No, Jack. Don't bother. If I can't handle him on my own the rest of the crew isn't going to be much help. Just go back to the ship and if I haven't returned in an hour set sail without me and presume me dead or at least captured." Jack turns to leave. "Jack…"

He stops in mid step and turns back to face me. "Yes, ma'am?"

"Don't leave the grocery's behind." He comes back over to where I'm standing and I hand him the heavy load. As he trots off toward my ship I turn around and face the most dreaded bounty hunter any pirate of my day can name. Roronoa Zoro. I flash him a brilliant smile. "Sorry about the delay. I suppose you'll want to fight now?" He doesn't say anything but pulls out his swords and places one in his mouth. "Interesting technique. Santoryu isn't it?"

"Yep." How he can grin so naturally with a sword hilt in his mouth is beyond me, but then again he's probably been training intensely for years. And there are those rumors that he's part sea demon. Hmm, no matter to me. I guess I'll just have to put his skills to the test.

"So tell me, is it true?" We face off in the middle of the street, each confidently smirking at the other.

"Is what true?" He asks, easily understandable despite the sword in his mouth. I launch myself at him transforming into my half state in mid leap. He deflects my claws easily with his right sword and the one in his mouth. The sword in his left hand makes a sweeping backward arc designed to catch me in the side with the flat of his blade and knock the wind out of me. It's almost too easy to dodge.

"That you're actually a sea demon disguised as a human." I don't recognize the feint until it's to late. His left blade sweeps in at the back of my knees and his right blade comes from the opposite direction at my waist. The blade in his mouth stops my forward movement. Am I trapped? Defeated so quickly?

He grins at me smugly and stops each blade a hair's breadth from cutting me. One blade tight against the tender flesh of my throat, the right almost cutting into my side, and the left close behind my knees. "Change back…" I stare at him wide eyed and disbelieving. "Now, or I lose out on 3,000 berries." Grudgingly I let the tiger's features fade away to my own pale skinned features. "I was expecting more of a fight from the 'dreaded tiger of the seas'." He chuckles.

"That's tigress." I mutter darkly.

"Excuse me mistah?" A small boy approaches tugging at Zoro's elbow to get his attention. "Can you spare a few berries? My momma's in real bad shape, and we don't have enough money to pay for a doctah." My green eyes widen as I recognize Ping's little innocent act.

Behind Zoro are two more of my crew, my first and second lieutenants. The first a slender fellow with shoulder length bright red hair, an open neck tunic, and pants with ragged legs that only reach half way down his calves. The second looks like he could be in the navy, a large figure close to six and a half feet with his black hair in a crew cut. He's even wearing a navy uniform that's neat and clean, though the sleeves have been ripped to give his massive arms more freedom of movement.