A/N: To those who are still interested in this story (I doubt that anybody is left considering the much delayed update), all I have to say is that life in the past two months has been demanding (I am actually surprised that I managed to finish this chapter). And now I must give you all a fair warning. Because I will only get busier from here on out, I cannot promise quick updates. However, I will continue writing whenever I do find the time in my schedule. On a side note, I changed my summary in order to give a (maybe) better synopsis for my story.

Translations for attacks:

Namari Boshi = Lead Star
Makibishi Jigoku = Caltrop Hell

I apologize for any inconveniences, but I hope that you will somehow enjoy this (pathetic) chapter.

Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece or any of its characters

Chapter Twelve

A soft sound of water rippling against the side of polished wood created a mood of serenity on the dimly lit vehicle. The occasional hum of insect life was surprisingly soothing to the ears, a harmonious orchestra whose talent can only be experienced in the darkened stage after hours. Compared to the hectic situation taking place inside the villa, the deck of the ship was peaceful, almost enjoyable. Of course, there was no time to be dwelling in this scene, but would it hurt to remain a few minutes longer?

Nami continued to walk down the open deck of the parked, though not completely stationary, vehicle. She could feel the bottom rise and fall gently as the massive machine moved with the ever-changing surface of the lake. It was definitely a Ba Gua, even if the exterior was made of a respectable quality of oaken planks. Nami knew that under the old-fashioned design existed the metallic instrument that was the true mechanism of movement; something in her blood told her that this was so.

She smiled to herself as she listened to her heels click on top of the wood. After abruptly leaving Zoro to deal with the bandits, the navigator, or thief, had gone straight for the ship. His facial expression told her that he was utterly outraged, so much that she felt slightly apologetic. But this was more important to her than worrying about the swordsman's emotions. If she remembered correctly, these sorts of men were naïve enough to leave their treasure inside their Ba Gua; it also helped that they were not expecting anyone to snoop around while they were away. And after wandering through the entire structure, she had managed to find the stash of gold hidden away in the lowest level of the vehicle. Nami concluded that she had gathered all the wealth the Ba Gua could offer and took her find to her own transportation.

Stopping for a moment, her brow creased slightly as she remembered how she found her storage compartment wide open. Alarmed by the sight, Nami thought that somebody had robbed her, an ironic situation it would have been if it was true. But a vigorous inspection revealed to the orange-haired thief that her possessions were safe; nothing was missing from her Ba Gua. It was a relief to figure this out, but the incident still bothered her. Why had the door been open? Turning her head did not yield any answers, so Nami decided to push the thought to the back of her mind. Although she managed to board the ship again, she had to consider her next move.

Zoro was dealing with the group at the front hall so going that way was not an option unless she wanted to walk through a battlefield. She had tried the back door on her way to the ship, but found that it was locked. There were no other openings that would allow her into the house, for the windows were too high for her to reach. Who knows? This might actually be beneficial for her. After all, she had a better chance of survival outside of the villa rather than inside. Not to say that she was completely immune to danger. A relapse of the previous night sent an icy wave down her back, the sickeningly smell of blood, the menacing glints from the eyes. The memory of the crimson pinpoints staring at her in the darkness was not exactly a soothing recollection. Vigorously shaking her head, Nami tried desperately to remove the thought completely; now was not the time to relive those events.

She looked over the side of the ship until her eyes caught a specific window half a story down. At first blinded by the glare of the light, the navigator adjusted to the change and saw something she wished she didn't. There was the protector and the boy they had met today, Usopp was it? But something was wrong, since the long-nose was grasping the front of the protector's shirt. It almost looked like he was shaking the straw hat boy, who was not reacting to the movement. Suspicion washed over her, leaving her uneasy, until Luffy's head lolled back to reveal closed eyes and a ridiculous mouth that was open wide for the world to see. Put simply, the protector was asleep.

Smacking her forehead, Nami gritted her teeth at the insanity of the situation. "What is that baka doing?!"

She quickly recovered from the initial shock and looked at the window to the right. There was an unknown man in a blue coat twirling one finger clockwise, the other counterclockwise. At first she did not understand the motive behind the action, but once she saw the split-second blur she knew that things would not end well for the boys. Tearing her eyes away, she began to judge the distance between the ship and the window; too far away for her to jump across. Even if she did make the attempt there would be the issue of getting into the room. There was nothing on deck that could possibly assist her in this situation so she did not bother to search, not enough time.

The wooden staff in her hands brought itself to her attention. She stared at the lengthy weapon in the moonlight, the linear outline barely forming in her eyes. A light wind blew past her, interestingly in the direction of the wall in front of her. There was another option, one that might send her straight to her destination or death. Well, maybe death was extreme, but the possibility of injury was high.

What was wrong with her? Normally, she would not even have thought of carrying out such a hazardous plan that provided no gain for her. The outcome would not be enough to compensate for the risk; in fact, the probability of her failure was overwhelming.

Rethinking her plan, Nami was about to step away from the edge when an uneasy atmosphere surrounded her. It was almost as if a thing was watching her, keeping the girl within its sight. An unexplainable fear entered her mind as she stood on the deck. Her vulnerability in the outside hit her, and she realized that perhaps it would be better for her to go through with the idea after all. That is, unless she felt confident that she could defend herself in an unfamiliar territory with only a weak illumination from the moon. Remaining doubtful, Nami walked over to the farthest side of the ship until she was able to face the wall of the villa. Gripping the staff in her hands, the orange-haired navigator let out a sigh of both desperation and an admission of defeat.

"You owe me for this, Luffy."

The atmosphere in the room cooled considerably, almost as if an Arctic wind blasted in from every opening. Sharp black eyes in the shadows of a bandana pierced into the reflection of icy darkness, the two individuals carefully scrutinizing each other. Other than the concise comment by the new arrival, no other words had been exchanged; with only the strong standing in the midst of the fallen, cautiousness was definitely needed. A third-party would have described them as two beasts circling each other, waiting for the right moment to give the killing strike.

Zoro remained next to the staircase, the thought of going to the second floor far from his mind. His hands remained on the hilt of his katana, poised in such a position that it could be removed swiftly if the situation called for it. The man had walked casually into the villa, but remained in front of the door, close enough for the swordsman to launch his attack. But it would be unwise to act so foolishly; the swordsman knew that one false move could give rise to dire consequences. Narrowing his eyes, Zoro continued to keep the man within his sight while biding his time.

Kulahadol took note of the young man, who returned the stare with a look that would cause chills to run down a normal person's spine. He could sense the swordsman's ferocious aura radiating from his body, a strong emission that revealed a vast quantity of power. Despite this, he failed to see the youth as a huge threat to his plans. Dismissing the hostility with an indifferent frown, the man crossed his arms and stared at the defeated bandits on the floor.

"Such a shame. I had expected these fools to at least hold their ground until I got here." Pushing his glasses up with the palm of his hand, his eyes focused back to Zoro. "Looks like I was the fool to believe in their usefulness."

The green-haired man sneered at the impassive speaker, though he noticed that the hidden fury was showing between the forming cracks. "It really was imprudent on your part. How could you think that these weaklings could stand against an attack? You should use better judgment next time you're recruiting."

"Good advice. Of course, I never imagined that they would have to face something like you." He smirked when he caught Zoro tensing slightly. "If you think about the circumstances, you have to admit that my men never had a winning chance."

"You're right about that. But if you were careful with your plans, they might have beaten me. Key word is 'might'." He allowed himself to stay a little arrogant while keeping his composure.

It was the man's turn to narrow his eyes. "Don't accuse me of poor planning just because you were able to defeat these trash. What I have in mind is far beyond what your feeble brain could produce in a lifetime."

His temper rising, the swordsman used his thumb to push the katana out of its sheath. "Don't make fun of me unless you're prepared to fight."

"Oh, is the simple boy mad because I insulted him? You should learn to use your head more than your body. Perhaps you'll increase your intelligence by a small percentage."

"Heh, don't think that your patronizing character is provoking me. To tell the truth, that's a cheap tactic you're relying on."

"Then how about this? I'll bring the dead corpses of your friends and see if that will get under your skin." His voice remained glacial and murderous, voicing his intention to follow his words.

A play of lights dazzling to the eye brought all three katanas to their rightful place in less than a minute. Without pausing, the swordsman forced his legs to charge at the sneering man; it was not a wise action, but Zoro could not ignore the intense hatred that called for the man's blood. Instinct told the swordsman that he had to bring this enemy down without fail. With every ounce of strength in his upper limbs, he swung both weapons diagonally, aiming for the man's chest. Yet, the normal resistance of the flesh was missing, his swords merely flying in empty space.

His shoes skid across the floor as he attempted to stop himself from slipping too far. Moving his head back and forth, Zoro furiously searched the surroundings for the man, who seemed to vanish into thin air. For a human, it is highly unlikely to leave any premise so suddenly. But Zoro knew better than to assume.

Sensing the harsh presence again, the swordsman sharply lifted his head. On the second floor, arms folded loosely in front of his chest, was his opponent; he stood on the wooden rail, his feet lithely placed on the fragile material. Without looking at the swordsman under him, he began to speak.

"Now, let's not be too rash. You could seriously hurt someone with those katanas, you know. But then, you might be the one who ends up getting hurt if you're not careful."

"Shut the hell up! You're the one who's acting cocky."

"Is it my fault that your speed is far inferior to mine?"

"Are you sure that speed isn't the only thing you have?"

"I'll let that slide, but remember that a fast adversary is stronger than a slow one."

"Who are you anyway?"

He paused for a minute before he decided to go ahead and answer the question. After all, his plan will not be hindered by this anyway. "My name…is Kuro. I am the former captain of Black Cat Pirates."

Zoro raised an eyebrow at the extra comment. "Former?"

"After tonight, everything will be complete, and I will throw away that useless title along with my identity."

"Heh. Are you sure your true self will allow that to happen?"

Kuro's eyes darkened further, though he refused to turn his head. "You shouldn't concern yourself with such things since you're probably too young to understand. Besides, you're going to die before morning comes, so no need to contemplate too deeply."

"I'm getting sick of your condescending words. We'll see who kills who tonight." Bracing his legs for a jump, Zoro was about to lunge once more for Kuro when he sensed another presence coming up from behind. Doing a one-eighty, he barely had time to bring up his katanas before a heavy force rammed into the weapons.

The unexpected intensity along with the incorrect use of leg muscles propelled the swordsman across the room until his back struck the wall opposite to the entrance. The shock from the collision caused tremors to travel through the villa, resulting in a momentary agitation of the structure. A dull pain vibrated across his backside, though it was ignored as the swordsman focused all of his attention in holding off the callous extremities that continued to push him into the wall. He felt it begin to give way to the force, slowly creating a depression around his body. Looking past the blades of his weapons, Zoro clenched his teeth on Wadō while his eyes absorbed his new opponent.

Grotesque hands with overgrown, sharpened nails exerted pressure on the crossed weapons, the bulky muscles of the arms adding extra weight to the center of intersection. The hefty body testified to a harsh living for the sake of survival; the uncovered torso revealed overdeveloped muscles that bulged from its exertion. A pair of striped pants, shredded almost to ruin, thankfully covered the bottom portion of the creature; its scar-covered feet also had claws of frightening length. Amusingly, a coarse black rope with a rusted bell hung from its thick neck.

The top of the slightly rounded head was covered with matted black hair, indicating that the creature did not have a proper wash for some time. Individual strands fells over its abnormally shaped ears that angled somewhat to give a pointed shape. Across its cheeks were a number of minute scars, some deeper than others. All of this exemplified the disconcerting expression on the creature's face.

Constricted red eyes bore into its adversary as lengthened veins stretched across the sclera; it was a look of animalistic ferocity, devoid of higher thought. To finish the picture, a mouth filled with sharpened fangs was bared at the swordsman, the teeth inches away from the edges of the katanas. Irregular breaths came from its throat, a deep panting that manifested its hunger for flesh; its appetite could also be perceived by the beads of saliva dripping down the yellowish canines.

In all his experiences, Zoro met few things that had the same monstrosity. What he saw was not a regular, living being but some sort of abnormal organism that should not belong in this world. But worse than the appearance was the fact that the creature lacked will. He could see that the only thing keeping it moving was its drive for satiation. The previous S.I.s he fought had at least some degree of assessment, in which they avoided actions that could be detrimental to their survival. Yet, with this one, he could only feel the continual exertion for satiety; there was no fear, anxiety, thrill, nothing but this simple motivation.

He knew that Kuro was still on the rail, quietly listening to the crunching wood. Keeping the creature an arms-length away, Zoro called out to the calculating mastermind.

"What the hell is this?" For a moment, only the sound of his feet scraping the floor and the creature's breathing carried through the room. Then came the apathetic answer.

"Oh that? It's simply the result of a certain experiment I had initiated some time ago. I was wondering when it would actually be useful, but it appears that all my efforts were not completely wasted."

"What do you mean 'experiment'?"

Kuro pushed his glasses up in his peculiar way. "It would be too irritating to explain it all to you."

"I get it. Because it was a failure you don't want to talk about it?"

"You're arrogance will get you killed one day…but seeing as you'll be dead soon, I suppose I could tell you about it. Just think of it as homage to my fellow being." He ignored the contemptuous scoff from Zoro. "I'm sure you're already familiar with the S.I.s' brutish habits that center on basic needs. Because of this, the S.I.s are not categorized in the same group as humans, even if they are physiologically similar."

"Get to the damn point already."

"So there was a question that piqued my interest in regards to the S.I. If they willing attack any living being for sustainment, will they consume one of their own kind? It was something that I could not answer without some sort of evidence. So what did I do? I found two S.I.s exhibiting similar behaviors and left them in a restrained environment without any victuals. In the beginning, the relationship between the two was perfectly harmonious, neither aggressive to the other. But as their stomachs tightened, tension increased until I could sense the animosity emanating from the two bodies."

"Are you telling me that…!?"

"The smaller one lunged first, probably hoping to catch the other off guard since it knew that it could not win by strength. Watching this, I had to acknowledge that hunger can make an individual to do intriguing things. Anyway, due to the weakened state of both S.I.s, it did not take long for the fight to finish. In the end, it was the larger of the two that became the victor. And what do you know, it dragged its injured body over and wolfed down the dead carcass. You could say that it was the best meal the S.I. had in a long time."

He could not see him, but Zoro knew that the sadistic devisor had a smug smile on his face. Clenching his teeth, the swordsman finally understood what had brought such a creature into this world. The rest of the explanation was enough to verify his guess.

"It was actually surprising to watch the S.I. consume everything, including the bones. As soon as it was done, it released an extended howl and immediately hunched over, triggering an unexpected transformation. As its muscles expanded, the size of its body grew at an unbelievable rate; it was almost as if the S.I. had absorbed its companion and expanded its own power. And now, you are experiencing the final product of this long experiment."

The swordsman did not know what to say, for his disbelief was too great. He had cut down plenty of S.I. before, but what he just heard was simply perverse. It was true the number of S.I. in the world decreased by one, yet he knew that what Kuro had done was…wrong.

"You're really messed up in the head, you know that? How could you enact such a warped experiment on individuals of your own kind?"

Disgusted by the question, Kuro replied in a contemptuous tone. "Don't put me in the same category as them, boy. I have progressed far beyond the state that those two were in. To even think about it is demeaning."

"Heh, that doesn't eliminate the fact that you are the same as them in origin."

"Then you'll have to admit that the same fact can be applied to you as well." Kuro allowed the words to sink in for a few seconds before continuing. "And now, I will leave you with my creation while I make sure to undo the setbacks to my plan. By the way, its name is 'Buchi', in case you wanted to know the name of your killer."

His blood rushed through his veins, his anger surging from what the comment implied. Narrowing his eyes, Zoro simultaneously added more power into his arm and roared in a fierce voice.

"Hold it!"

Instantly, the sound of breaking glass came from a room further within the villa; what should have been a small crinkle in the air turned into an overwhelming crash inside the sensitive auditory system of the three individuals. Cringing slightly as the reverberations echoed inside his ears, Zoro looked beyond his crossed katanas and saw the contorted face of the S.I. Unlike the swordsman, the creature had an acute hearing that compensated for the brain's lack of higher thinking. Therefore, the repercussion of the crash was much more excruciating; the creature felt as if its eardrums were becoming shredded by the incoming vibrations. Yet, this split-second of weakness gave the swordsman an advantage.

Using the extra burst of power from his emotions, Zoro thrust his arms forward, the veins on the limbs bulging from the excessive energy. Still affected by the sound, Buchi could not prevent itself from sliding back a couple feet, yet it instinctively bent down and dug its claws into the wooden floor. Before it could retaliate, however, the swordsman swept to the side and brought up the back of his katanas. Horizontal to each other, one blade slammed into Buchi's shoulder while the other connected with the back of Buchi's head. The twofold amount of force sent the creature towards Zoro's previous spot, the head-on collision demolishing the already half-formed crater.

Twisting his body back to normal posture, Zoro immediately ran to the open part of the front room. Even though he had been pushed all the way to the back, it did not take long for him to arrive next to the staircases. Yet, when he looked up at the railing he found that Kuro had already moved on.

Zoro let out an inaudible curse. He knew that he should have remained vigilant, keeping his focus on the entire surrounding. Instead, he had fixed his attention on the antagonizing man. Though it was not exactly the smartest thing he had done, Zoro could not help but feel uneasy when he recalled the Kuro's aura. It was an unsettling frigidity that revealed the merciless killer under the calm, controlled mien. And right this moment that exact being was getting closer to the others. Zoro knew that Luffy could handle himself, but it was not like the straw hat was alone.

He was about to move on when his perception caught the savage emanation. Looking over at the destroyed wall, Zoro saw a rising figure in the midst of the settling dust. The fact that it was getting back up was not a surprise since this particular creature technically had the combined power of two S.I.s. Still, he found that it was becoming an annoyance, an obstacle in his path. Moving his body back into fighting stance, Zoro used every bit of his concentration and locked his eyes on the red pinpoints that stared at him from the distance. He would make sure that this enemy will not rise a second time.

Everything he did proved to be useless. It did not matter whether he shook the boy or screamed straight into his ears; Luffy just would not wake up. Usopp was tempted to throw the teen across the room, but something told him that it would be a waste of strength. The curious power that defeated the entire room of bandits would prevent disruption of his sleep. Even if he did decide to drop Luffy, he would merely bounce off the floor with his rubber-like body. Interestingly, Usopp found that if he placed Luffy upright with his feet on the ground, his body would sway back and forth but not drop to the ground.

Seeing one of the bandits attempt to move forward, Usopp let go of the black-haired boy and swiftly aimed with his slingshot.

"Namari Boshi!"

A single, lead ball dug into a fresh wound on the man's side, adding an extra sting to the pain. With a sharp intake of breath, the bandit fell to his knees while clutching the throbbing area. Usopp could feel his body shake as he watched the other bandits that remained on their feet. Looking tired after enduring the multiple attacks, they nevertheless remained intimidating in Usopp's eyes. It was impossible for him to take every single one of them down, but the long-nose figured that he might as way use bluffs to keep them away.

"Don't even think about getting any closer! I swear that if you do, I'm going to fire a rain of pellets until every bone in your bodies break from the impact!"

Normally the bandits would have considered his comments to be idle threats, but after the protector's overwhelming barrage it was hard for them to have the same confidence. And the sight of the first victim was not exactly encouraging. Their suffering comrade stayed on the floor, his physical resistance utterly demolished; the pellet was the final straw that made him lose the strength to go on. Among the bandits morale was dropping rapidly, and Jango knew it. He also knew that this fight had to end before they had to face something far worse.

"Ignore what that boy says. Even if you are weakened, your combined power is more than enough to take him down. Now here's the plan. Everyone charge at him, and I will attack with my chakram. He can't evade both assaults simultaneously."

One of the rugged bandits gave the hypnotist a wary look. "Aren't you just using us as decoys while you stay safe in the back? Why don't you go attack first and we'll back you up?"

"If we do that, he can simply dodge the chakram and proceed to shoot you down."

It may have sounded reasonable, but at this point the bandits were already beyond using their reason. Their instincts began to take over, and they discovered that they wanted to survive; Jango's plan was not compelling enough for them to follow it, for they would be moving closer to death. So it was a choice between obedience to the command and mutiny against their leader.

Usopp watched as the remaining bandits began to look suspiciously at the hypnotist, their eyes darkening along with their thoughts. Their trust in him was wavering, no longer blindly following orders. Perhaps the whole situation will end favorably for him; the men would revolt, a fight would ensue, and all enemies would be on the ground. Of course, he would make sure that both he and Luffy are out of harm's way. Only the bandits will be caught in the fight while the two teens remained safe. Yet, there was something the long-nose did not calculate.

Jango stood his ground, eyeing the approaching men behind his heart-shaped sunglasses. "I know that you guys are tense and that you see no reason to continue this fight. However, let me give you one." The bandits halted, curiosity overcoming their plan of rebellion. "All of you were specially chosen to guard this floor because of your long-serving loyalty to the Black Cat Pirates. Unlike the ones in the first floor, you have been in the group since the days of Captain Kuro."

At the mention of the name, every expression transformed into that of abject fear. Their eyes opened wide as revelation dawned on them, the comprehension of what their leader was trying to say. Jango continued on, using the moment to heighten the emotional state. Then again, he would be lying if he said that he did not feel the same fear.

"You know about the ruthlessness of our former captain and how he treated those who might cause his plans to fail. You know the extent he would go to carry out his projects." Many throats bobbed as the bandits attempted to swallow with their dry throats. Some nodded to Jango's words. "I can say for sure that he will get here before the night ends, since he always makes sure that his plans are carried out. Now tell me," the spinning chakrams in his hands wavered slightly but remained in motion, "are you willing to go up against his wrath?"

Without further complaints, every bandit turned to face the two teens, a new motivation driving them. As much as they wanted to avoid this confrontation, they knew that the alternative was much worse. At least if they fall now, there was a small chance of avoiding the imminent slaughter. It was apparently worth the risk, for all the standing men charged at once.

Somehow he knew that his hopes of an easy victory would not be fulfilled, so Usopp was somewhat prepared for the rush. Yet, the immediate conversion of the bandits worried him; what could have been so terrifying that the hardened fighters actually looked frightened? He would have mulled over this longer, but they were coming quickly, and he needed to act fast. Grabbing his chosen weapons, the curly-haired teen threw them forward.

"Makibishi Jigoku!!!"

A countless number of caltrops flew in the air before landing in a widespread arc. The pointed tetrahedral barbs jabbed into the bandit's shoes; the long ends penetrated through the leather and pierced the skin as the weight of the men's bodies drove the barbs deeper into their feet. The assault was momentarily suspended as howls of pain ripped out of the worn-out throats. Some bandits began to pull the caltrops out, but trying to do it while standing up is not the easiest task in the world.

Jango ground his teeth; it was shameful to be losing to a single boy, one who did not have the same caliber of strength as the straw hat. The others were useless, but he had to remember that they were already fatigued. Shaking his head, the hypnotist pulled back his arm and aimed the chakram at Usopp's head.

All of the sudden, the entire room began to shake, creating a tremor that was weak enough that the structure remained sound but strong enough to unbalance the people. Luffy was the first to fall, since there was not much support holding him up in the first place. He merely flopped over to Usopp's left, his eyes still closed in his slumber. Following him were the bandits, who also lacked a firm holding on the ground due to both tiredness and the caltrops. An unfortunate few fell on top of the remaining barbs, further inflicting damage, while those with luck crashed onto the wooden floor. Jango fell along with his subordinates; the descent forced one of the chakrams to fly off his finger and lodge into the ceiling. Only Usopp managed to remain upright, though it took some effort to keep his legs from toppling over. Alas, one of the chakrams managed to spin across the room in his direction.

By the time he saw the weapon, it was too late to dodge. The razor-sharp weapon effortlessly sliced through the peripheral area of his upper right arm and created a perfectly horizontal line on his shoulder. It looked similar to a paper cut, yet the pain from the damaged flesh attacked his brain, the neural signals alerting his body of the opening. Responding to the stimulus, the teen clutched the wound; he felt the sticky blood oozing under his fingers, though the sensation was masked by a constant throbbing. He had to admit that he had never experienced such a feeling. The worst injury he had gotten was from falling out of a tree or scraping his knees on the ground, both incomparable to the new pain. Still, he realized how fortunate he was to have his arm still attached. The chakram could have come at him a bit more to his left and completely slice off the limb. Or worse, it could have followed its master's direction and...

Furiously shaking his head, Usopp dispelled the morbid thought of what might have happened, a grotesque image that almost made him heave. He looked up to see Jango picking himself off the ground; the hypnotist still appeared to be shaken by the quake as he began to adjust his crumpled coat. In the process, he watched the conscious members of his group moaning on the ground. After this new incident, he was the only one who could continue the fight. The others were down for the count, most of them not even aware of what was happening.

Giving a sympathetic sigh, Jango fixed his attention on the long-nose. His eyebrow went up when he noticed the crimson trails extending down the teen's arm, marking the injured limb. Maybe he did have some luck since his misguided weapon was actually able to do some damage. How ironic that an inanimate object turned out to be more useful than his subordinates.

Reaching into his coat, Jango pulled out two more chakrams that were much larger than the previous. Instead of twirling these, he used his hands to grip the edges of the blades. The thick gloves covering his hands prevented them from being cut by his own weapons, which might have been the reason he had them on. Slowly, adroitly he began to flick his wrist to loosen his muscles and adjust to the weight of the chakrams.

Growing desperate, Usopp saw that he needed help. Stooping over the side, he grabbed the front of Luffy's vest and pulled him upright in one motion; where the strength to do this came from he could not say. The blood on his hands seeped into the fabric, the drying liquid turning into a brown stain on the cherry red garment. He shook the straw hat boy again, even though he knew that it did not work the last time. But right now there was no time to meditate over such things.

"Come on, Luffy! You need to wake up!! You can sleep more once you defeat these guys!! LUFFY!!!"

Returning his eyes to the hypnotist, Usopp caught the swift movement of his arm; the chakram was aimed between the two, probably in an attempt to cut down both boys at the same time. The plan would have worked, if Usopp had not seen it coming.

Quick reflexes allowed him pull back while tugging Luffy along. A few seconds later, the rotating disk traveled past the straw hat boy's back, too far to cause even minimal damage. But the hum of the second chakram informed Usopp that he was not completely in the safe zone yet. Anticipating such a reaction, Jango had prepared to shoot the other weapon after observing their movement. Normally, it would be unlikely for reflexes to initiate in quick succession. Yet the long-nose was able to do such, maybe because of his luck.

With a cry, the long-nose shoved Luffy away while stepping back himself. Moving without resistance, the black-haired teen fell towards one of the windows unconsiously. He may end up tapping the glass lightly, but other than that, there was no real danger of falling out. Somehow, Usopp had managed to keep away from the hypnotist's attack. An accomplishment indeed, since he was not expecting himself to react so quickly. Letting out a sigh, Usopp closed his eyes and smiled.

The fact that he did not look at the window made him unprepared for what happened next. An unexpected crash was followed a millisecond later by the high-pitched shatter of breaking glass. The window in question exploded into several pieces as the source of the destruction flew in from the opening. His eyelids ripping open, Usopp was surprised to see the navigator suspended in the air. The method she used to enter the room was definitely unorthodox, especially since they were on the second floor of the villa. But trying to figure out how she enacted such an entrance was futile for the long-nose, as the astonishment was already too much to handle.

In order to travel the distance between the Ba Gua and the villa, Nami had used her staff in the same manner that athletes used in pole vaulting. Once she was up, Nami had made sure to keep her legs in front of her, an action that would be a greater impact on the window. She calculated that the heels of her shoes would create the initial break, leading to the rest of the glass breaking from the force of gravity. It was chance that the original builder of the villa had chosen to use thin glass for the windows, thinking it would allow more light would penetrate into the room.

Flying shards scraping her body, Nami realized that the black-haired boy was in front of her, still sleeping with the blissfully open mouth. Irritation caused her eyes to flash as she swung down the wooden staff in her hands.

"Stop sleeping you idiot!!!"

The end of her weapon struck the back of Luffy's head, the sudden assault causing his peaceful sleep to come to an end. Staggering from the abrupt awakening, the straw hat boy unintentionally stepped forward, his body back lurching from the hit. Before he could face Nami and complain about his treatment, he felt a stab of pain as the sharp chakram ripped into his side.

The mouths of both Usopp and Nami dropped, the entire night becoming too unpredictable for them. Just when they felt that things could not become worse something extraordinary happens, not that extraordinary is always bad. However, it was clear that she had been a bit rash.

Because it was a sizeable chakram, Luffy's body could not act as a barrier to stop its course. Specks of blood flew out as the blade continued to rotate, digging into the protector's side. He could feel the movement, every revolution increasing the amount of pain that palpitated from the incision. It had to be removed, unless he preferred to see his upper half disconnect from the rest of his body. Gripping the spinning disk with his bare hand, Luffy called upon his entire will to defy the oncoming agony.


Additional blood spurted from the wound as the protector recklessly wrenched out the coated chakram. Almost out of disgust, Luffy threw the weapon aside, his right hand throbbing from the intense vibration. His shredded vest adhered to the crimson liquid, generating a bit more irritation for the straw hat boy. At least he had gotten rid of the stabbing pain; compared to that, the flayed ends of the cloth was barely noticeable.

Turning around to face Nami, the displeased Luffy walked over to her with flared eyes. "That REALLY hurt!!! Why'd you have to go and do that?!"

She knew that it had hurt, but the navigator could not help getting defensive. "Look, I didn't mean for you to be attacked like that. I just had to wake you up, and what I did was probably the only way to wake you up."

He was about to retort when he noticed the small cuts on the girl's arms and legs, a number of them pink. "…Are you okay?"

"Oh these? Don't worry about them." Nami gave him a confident smile. "Just make sure you finish this job, protector."

Luffy immediately changed his expression, a smile now on his face. "You got it."

"There's a lot of treasure on the line, so don't mess up."

"…You never change huh?" Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the long-nose was also covered in blood and frowned. "You okay over there, Usopp?"

Startled by the question, the curly-haired boy quickly puffed out his chest and crossed his arms. It was a mistake, though, since his arm was still tender. Yet, he did well to hide it for the moment. "Of course I'm okay. This kind of thing is nothing for a great captain as myself!"

Interested by this assertion, Luffy beamed at the long-nose. "As long as you're okay, I guess."

Nodding, Usopp used his growing confidence to address the hypnotist, who had not continued the fight. "Looks like the tables have turned, you scoundrel!! It's three against one, and you're clearly outnumbered. I would suggest that you surrender in order to save yourself a beating."

Jango began to tremble as Usopp declared the command. At first unsure about the reaction, the long-nose figured that the man finally understood that he had lost. It almost felt good to be in such a position, making the evildoers cower in front of him. Finally, this crazy night can come to an end, with him going back home with Kaya. Of course, the protector had been a huge help; Usopp was not so dense that he did not recognize the teen's strength. However, he decided that he would give proper thanks after Kaya was taken back safely. Usopp was brought out of his thoughts by the hypnotist's reply.

"Urm…you see…that is…please don't be angry…"

"Haha!!! I see that you have come to your senses. But it's too late to stop us no…."

The long-nose could not help but feel a cold pressure that caused his body to shake. It occurred to him that the hypnotist may not be frightened of the group, but rather that he was terrified of someone, or something, more fearsome. Slowly, Usopp turned around and faced the doorway of the room.

The man had arrived without a sound; how long he had remained next to the opened door was indeterminable. His calm demeanor contradicted the dead-like glare in his eyes, the black points sweeping through the room, taking in the surroundings, evaluating the situation. Usopp had seen this man before; in fact, he remembered that the man was Kaya's head butler. It was difficult for the curly-haired boy to imagine why Kulahadol was here, or why the butler was not saving his mistress. Was he not supposed to be her caretaker, her protector?

The man seemed to focus on the group of teens, particularly Luffy, before fixing his gaze on the anxious Jango. "You already know that I do not tolerate excuses, Jango. So save yourself the trouble of explaining."

"My deepest apologies, Kuro-sama. We just had a little…trouble with these intruders."

Luffy knew instinctively to keep his guard up, his perception sharpening the longer he was influenced by the presence. The aura surrounding this man was different from the bandits lying on the floor; the air around him was more sinister, dark. Judging from the reaction of the hypnotist, the straw hat guessed that this Kuro fellow was the leader behind the whole operation; there was no other reason why he would display such fear otherwise. Yet, the fact that the man was here meant that he had passed through the first floor. Furrowing his brow, Luffy began to wonder what had happened to his swordsman.

Without warning, Kuro sprinted forward and sent a kick to Usopp's abdomen. Unprepared for the attack, the force from the tough shoes sent the long-nose to the adjacent wall, a merciless construction that acted as a solid stop to the teen's flight. A sickening thud completed the impact as Usopp's slumped to the floor. Coughing harshly, he wrapped his arms around his stomach in response to the pain. Luffy's eyes widened at the cruel hit.


Meanwhile, Kuro straightened himself up and gave Jango a scornful look. "Are you telling me that you had trouble with these children? I never knew that I used to command such weaklings."

Pushing his hat to cover his face, Jango gave the man a deep bow. There was only one way to end his former captain's anger quickly and painlessly. "I have nothing to say that will justify our stupidity. It's just that we are inferior in our way of thinking so we are prone to failure, unlike your plans."

"Don't think that your meaningless praise will quench my fire…but I suppose it can't be helped for the time being." Kuro paused for a second, as if he was contemplating how to fix the mess. "We're proceeding with the alternative plan Jango because, frankly, I'm sick of waiting for the girl to submit."

"I understand, Kuro-sama."

"Go and force her to sign the will. Once she finishes her part, her usefulness to me will end."

In the fog of pain, Usopp heard the pitiless words come from his attacker's mouth. A strong feeling of aversion for this man rose out of his soul, his distaste more consuming than the pain in his stomach. The fact that Kaya had trusted this man made it bitter to swallow the truth. Yet, Kuro did not show any signs of remorse, or hesitation, when he spoke about his former mistress.

Using the pause, Kuro readjusted his eyepiece, which had slipped down his nose again. His fingers never touched the lenses, or the frame. When he went on, his voice remained monotone, his expression deadpan.

"I want her dead."


-늦어서 죄송합니다-