Author's Note: The story assumes that you are already familiar with the canon (both manga and anime), particularly that you have read the One Piece manga cover story "Getdatsu's Accidental Blue-Sea Life", and watched the anime's "Navarone G-8" filler arc. Knowledge of both are required for optimum understanding of this chapter, so I would recommend brushing up on those before hitting this chapter.
Special thanks go to the wonderful callosum for betaing!
Though a Bird Can't Fly, That Doesn't Mean It Never Will.
Chapter 15: The Winged Master and Factual Justice
It was a bad day to be a pirate. It was unlucky enough that this particular crew had managed to attract the attention of the normally lax Marines, but to make matters worse, two of the squad had turned out to be devil-fruit users. Very efficient devil-fruit users who didn't seem to be even breaking a sweat in the process of mopping the floor with them.
To add insult to injury, they were casually chatting while doing so.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
"A long time since what?"
"Since we've fought together like this."
The first marine was a burly white-haired man who was utilising his sea-stone tipped jutte with considerable vim. "Haven't done it since the academy days."
His companion, a tree-like man-monster, grunted as he pounded a pirate's head into the ground with one of his appendages. "That's because you always run off on your own and hog all the fights, Smoker."
"Well, who's the one who keeps saying his devil-fruit's not suited for fighting?"
"You know bloody well I specialise in espionage!" the stick-monster retorted. "Fat lot of good that does when all you ever do is send me on missions to do reconnaissance and then kick down the front door five minutes later!"
A scream from one of the pirates interrupted the rant. The unfortunate outlaw had been on the receiving end of a blast of the stick-monster's burning chemical spray.
"Why're you being so bloody nostalgic today, anyway?"
"Heard some rumours... apparently some pirate got Crocodile's open Shichibukai position by capturing Portgas D. Ace."
"That Whitebeard commander with the fire logia whom you ran into at Alabasta? So what about that?"
"I also heard of some talk of them moving you back up to probationary Captain."
"They must be desperate," mused Briggs. "Can see why... Marine forces will need bolstering once Whitebeard gets wind of this — still, captainship'll be a nice change from being your replacement Tashigi."
"Briggs, you do know you're a piss-poor replacement Tashigi, right?"
"Pfah! Admit it, you miss her since she went training with T-Bone."
"Shut up, Barkskin."
Briggs scowled at Smoker. "Don't. Call. Me. That."
"Don't try and play psychoanalyst with me then, stick-bug."
"How she puts up with you is beyond me."
"Pfah, and now you sound like Hina."
"As if I wanted to sound like Hina?" Brigg's deep baritone voice immediately switched an attempted falsetto. "Briggs irritate at Smoker. Briggs pity Tashigi and wonder how Tashigi has patience to deal with Smoker. Briggs- SMASH!"
A pirate found his face accordingly smashed through a smoke logia's body and into a wall.
"Bastard, you did that on purpose." There was a lull in conversation as Smoker reformed himself. "So what are you going to do once they give you a ship?"
"Why the hell do you bother asking that when you know the answer to that one already?"
"Still hasn't changed, eh?"
"Of course not. It's still 'Track that bastard down and kick his leathery arse all the way across the Red Line'," Briggs punctuated each word with a vehement punch to a pirate.
"Can't argue with that. Well if you see him, tell him I said—"
The pirate captain, who had been trying to escape, was sent flying with a final punch to the face .
The pirate captain's ungraceful trajectory ended when he hit the wall with a painful crunch before crumpling into a heap at the base.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"...and I've been invited to be part of Princess Vivi's entourage."
"Again?" Smoker was perched on a broken wall, watching as Briggs secured the heap of defeated pirates.
The den-den mushi in his hand had its eyes half-closed as it continued speaking.
"Yes, the Princess has been quite busy with her diplomatic missions. I've barely had any spare time for my combat training with General Chaka."
"Speaking of which, Kuina... how is the haki training going?"
An audible sigh could be heard from the girl on the other end of the line. "Progress has been slow. Unfortunately, no one seems to be very familiar with haki here, I've had no luck finding a trainer, and teaching myself has its limits."
"We'll just have to see about getting you a proper Marine haki trainer once your assignment is over. Which should be soon."
"So it's been confirmed, sir?"
"Not quite yet," Smoker said, still keeping an eye on Briggs. "But soon enough, Kuina. Soon."
"So you'll be leaving soon?"
"Chaka-san!" Kuina replaced the receiver of her personal den-den mushi. "You startled me! I can never sense you when you sneak up on me in that jackal form of yours."
The general laughed. "You'll have to forgive me, Kuina, but that little jump you make never gets old."
Kuina pouted. "You're making fun of me."
"I may be, but I hope this will be adequate as a peace offering." There was a rustle of paper as Chaka passed her a wrapped parcel.
Kuina unwrapped the parcel and smiled in gratitude at its contents. The cloying scent of incense was unmistakable. "Then we shall have peace."
"So tell me about this festival of yours," Chaka said later as they made their way to the royal graveyard.
"It's called the Obon festival. It is tradition back in my homeland to honour the spirits of the departed during this period. "Normally, we take this time to visit the resting places of our ancestors, pay our respects, and put the memorial stones in order. Since I couldn't be home this year, I figured..."
"Of course. Pell."
Kuina nodded and placed the lit incense sticks in front of the well-kept gravestone.
"Yes," she said softly. The stones were well-maintained by the palace custodians, so there was not much for her to do. But somehow being here helped.
"Did you come to say goodbye to Pell as well?"
"Your ability to read my mind is quite uncanny, Chaka-san."
"The jackal sixth sense does not miss much."
"Yes, I shall have to break the news to the princess soon. Captain Smoker expects my assignment to end in the near future and I shall have to leave to resume my Marine duties."
"She will miss you."
"I will miss you all."
"You will still be coming with us to Ukkari Island, of course?"
"Of course. I would not desert the princess on her latest diplomatic mission."
Chaka gave a cough. "Actually, it's not really a diplomatic mission. Vivi-sama has been working so hard lately Terracotta thought that it would be a good thing for her to take a little break. And it just so happened that she received an invitation from an old friend, so on our trip to Ukkari, the place we'll be visiting will be..."
"...Ukkari Hot Springs Resort! Welcome, Princess Vivi and party!"
"Kohza! Good job escorting the royal party— oh, is the lady quite all right?"
"Crab," Kuina managed to gasp queasily. "The shaking and the swaying..."
"Kuina does not travel well," Vivi explained.
It was an understatement. The poor girl looked almost green in the face, even under her layer of makeup.
"Such a shame. Well, Lady Kuina, I'm sure you'll feel better once you have some time to settle down in the springs."
"Thank you," she replied, but even the old man could tell that her voice was a little strained. He wondered why. His nephew, Kohza, found out the reason later. "You're not going to the springs?" he said in astonishment.
"It's not a good time for me to go to a hot spring," Kuina explained hastily. "I'll just relax by the viewing terrace. I'll be fine. Go ahead without me."
"Is there something wrong? I could tell Uncle Goro to— ouch! Vivi, what did you do that for?!"
Vivi had given Kohza a sharp little dig in the ribs with her elbow, much to the young man's confusion.
"But Vivi, isn't it a bit strange for her to come all the way here to a hot springs resort and then stay away from the water? Something's not right!"
"Lady Kuina, are you ill?" Igaram, who had taken notice of this exchange, asked. "Do you need Dr. Ooh to see to you?"
"I— I'm fine, Igaram-san," replied the girl, flustered. "There's no need..."
"Don't be shy. If you are unwell you should see a doctor. Your well-being is our concern, we insist—"
"Oh, do stop needling the poor girl!" Terracotta snapped. "And you men, show some discretion! A woman's monthly times are difficult enough as they are!"
Her loud voice echoed through the resort. Staff and patron alike stopped what they were doing and began to turn their heads towards the source of the noise.
Vivi brought the heel of her palm to her forehead in mortified sympathy, while Kuina's face swapped its sickly green hue for a bright red one. After a second or so for Terracotta's words to sink in, Kohza and Igaram's faces quickly turned the same colour as well.
"Th-thank you for your concern, Kohza-san, Igaram-san. But I... I'm going to the terrace now. Enjoy the springs!" With this, Kuina turned tail and positively fled from the gathered company.
"See? Now you've gone and embarrassed her!" scolded Terracotta, blissfully unaware of the irony of her words. It was at this point when the men decided that a tactical retreat into the changing room would be a wise course of action.
"You knew," Igaram said accusingly to Chaka later as they settled in the baths. The general had studiously avoided eye contact or any comment during the entirety of the earlier exchange.
Chaka simply tapped his nose. "Yes I did, actually."
"You could have warned us!"
"Can we stop talking about this topic now?" came an irritated voice from across the baths.
Out on the terrace, Kuina was taking in some peace and quiet (sorely needed after the mortifying incident earlier) with a cup of tea.
According to most of the people around her, the view was magnificent. She would have to take their word for it, but she did find the ambiance and tranquility of the place soothing, so she enjoyed herself anyway. Cradling her cup, she settled in a thoughtfully-provided comfortable chair and began mentally composing a letter to Piers.
It's been a while since our last letter. I hope you are well. How are things in G8? Captain Smoker mentioned you were getting special training of some sort from the base commander himself. I think that's wonderful.
I'm still at loose ends finding a trainer for that Mantra-haki-thing. At the rate things are going, It looks like I'm going to have to wait until I get reassigned before I can progress any further...
Sadly, the peace and quiet did not last long and she was interrupted in the middle of her mental composition by a commotion emanating from the front desk.
"...tell me where he is!" a voice, deep, rumbling and absolutely furious, bellowed. "...or else!"
This was followed by a crash, and then screams as panicked patrons began running for cover. Sensing that something was amiss, Kuina quickly snatched up her sword and did the opposite.
As she drew closer to the site, she began to piece together a mental image of what was going on. The desk-clerk of the resort seemed to be facing down the source of the commotion. The troublemaker in question, a heavy-sounding man with a deep voice, was radiating barely-controlled killing intent. He had already smashed the front desk into splinters, if the sound was anything to go by, and was menacing the hapless clerk.
"Stay back!" Kuina shouted in warning to the clerk. "He's dangerous!"
"Do not come between me and my truth, blue sea-dweller!" The troublemaker had sensed her approach and for a moment, diverted his attention to her. "I have searched long to dispense judgment upon this miserable apostate, and I will not be denied!"
"I don't care a whit about your truth," Kuina responded coolly. "But you're threatening innocent people and I cannot have that."
"Innocent? I am a High Priest of Bilka, and the heavens have sent me here. We will have our justice!"
Kuina had no idea what the so-called 'High Priest' was talking about, but she wasn't interested either. "Well, High Priest, I am Petty-Officer Kuina of the World Government Marines and I represent Justice here. Leave now, or I will make you."
The High Priest did not seem to care much for her authority. "I warned you. So be it!"
Her mantra kicked in briefly. Kuina felt the premonition of something large and heavy the newcomer was going to throw at her. Koyojaku flashed from its sheath as she gathered her own killing intent and struck. The projectile, one remaining half of the front desk, was further reduced into quarters which fell harmlessly to either side of her. The momentum of her stroke carried her forward, and she launched herself in a counter-attack at the giant.
The familiar thrill of battle was intoxicating. Her battle-lust, previously quelled in the war for Alabasta and with Pell's death, had reawakened within her once more. How long had it been since she had fought a real opponent? Far too long, that was for certain. This common-place bandit was going to find out the hard way that he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Unaware of how he had just doomed himself, the giant continued to fight. It had to be said, in addition to being strong, he was also surprisingly fast, He met her strike by blocking with a large wooden column that he had wrenched out of the building, and then swung the improvised weapon back at her. Koyojaku's blade protested at the forceful contact as she clove the hard iron-wood pillar into two. Her opponent, unfazed by her display of swordsmanship, simply swung what was left of his pillar at her again.
A simple thug with no skill, she thought with disgust. As before, Kuina cut the pillar, and prepared to follow up with a slash that would drop her opponent, giant or not, in a single blow.
But she never had the chance to, because that was where her fight suddenly went all wrong. Her opponent had anticipated her action, and cunningly chose the moment when her blade was still making its way through the wood to wrench it sideways. Her sword, unable to cut from the flat, was wrenched out of her grip and went flying away, still embedded in what was left of the pillar. She heard it crash into the ground of the terrace some distance away.
It was in that moment of shock when Kuina found herself suddenly disarmed and unaccustomedly vulnerable.
"A blue-sea dweller who dabbles in Mantra." The High Priest did not seem to find the fact that he had gained the upper hand over her surprising or gratifying. In fact, he merely sounded irritated and dismissive. "Judging from your surprise, it must have been a long time since you've fought an opponent who was a match for you! Well, I am that, and far more!"
Too late, Kuina realised that she had vastly underestimated her opponent. The High Priest even knew about Mantra, even if he didn't seem to be using it himself.
The sudden burst of fear at being made helpless sharpened her senses. Then it all came flooding in, the uncanny whispers of Mantra, warning her of where the blows from that other man would fall, where to dodge and jump to avoid them, and where to start edging towards to reclaim her sword.
Kuina tried her best to fully tap into her Mantra, but the shock of realising the High Priest knew of Mantra kept interrupting her focus, and she had a close shave or two where one of the High Priest's massive punches nearly snagged her. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to concentrate. How could everything have gone so wrong so quickly?
It was Chaka. She knew it not only by his voice, but also because of the odd, muddled feel of his presence. He was using that devil-fruit ability of his again—
The blow was glancing but it was enough to send Kuina spinning to the floor, stunned.
Distracted! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
She tried her best to roll out of the way, but she knew it was futile. That High Priest had incredible reach, and unless her timing was absolutely perfect, there was no way she'd escape him just by doing that. He would be able to smash her with his giant fists before she could even get up. She braced herself for the inevitable crushing blow she wasn't sure she could dodge.
But the blow never came, because her attacker was forced to divert his attention to defending himself. A new combatant had joined the fray and had taken that moment to charge right into the thick of things. Despite intercepting the blow meant for him, the High Priest was knocked almost half-way across the terrace, and safely away from her.
The saviour was not Chaka, because Kuina could feel his presence materialise from behind her. He had shifted out of his jackal form.
"Kuina, are you all right?" he asked, pulling her to her feet.
"I'm fine, Chaka, but I need my sword."
"He disarmed you?" Kuina could hear the disbelief in her sparring partner's voice.
"I got careless," she admitted, her cheeks burning with shame. It had been too long since she had fought anyone who had been truly intent on killing her, and without realising it, she'd let herself get complacent. "Don't underestimate him. He's powerful, and fast. And smart."
"Is he after the Princess?"
Ah, of course. Inevitable that Chaka's first concern would be Vivi. He was a true Royal Guardian after all.
"I don't think so. He was looking for someone, but he mentioned a 'he' when he threatened the desk-clerk."
"The same desk-clerk currently fighting that winged giant?"
"What?" Kuina sputtered. The one who had come to her assistance had been the very same desk-clerk she had been defending? Yet again, she refocused her disrupted Mantra, and sure enough, it was the desk-clerk's presence she sensed. "He'll get himself killed!"
Then another thought occurred to her: "That High Priest has wings?"
"They both have wings," Chaka replied, heaving over a piece of wood with a crash and extracting her sword from it. "The desk-clerk too. I think they must have some sort of past connection... Kuina?"
Kuina wasn't listening to the general. She wasn't even reaching out her hand for the sword which Chaka was returning to her.
"Kuina! Hurry, we must go to his aid!"
"Actually, Chaka-san..." she said slowly, barely believing the evidence of her senses.
The strange desk-clerk was dodging every single one of the giant's attacks, and thanks to some sort of propelling punch attack, was giving as good as he got. The giant didn't seem too bothered by those hits, but at least he was now on the defensive.
"...he seems to be doing fine," Kuina finished weakly.
Chaka too, had noticed the clerk's performance. "Kuina, that man... his movements!"
Chaka was her sparring partner, and he knew her fighting style fairly well by this point. Like her on her good days when she was focused, the desk-clerk had the ability to predict every single one of his opponent's attacks, but unlike her, he seemed to be doing it a lot more consistently. There was no doubt about it.
"Yes. That man... he is using Mantra."
When the alarm had gone out that a fight had broken out somewhere in the resort, the first priority of the royal party was to get Vivi to safety. While Chaka went to investigate, Igaram, assisted by Kohza, led the rest of the party to relative safety.
"I hope Lady Kuina will be all right," Kohza asked in concern as they waited in the concealed underground basement. It was also used to store the resort takings. "She said she was going to the viewing terraces..."
"I'm sure we have nothing to worry about. Even if she doesn't look it, the girl is a Marine officer! She regularly spars against Chaka!" Terracotta assured, patting Vivi on the arm as she did so.
Vivi nodded, but Kohza noticed that she nervously fingered her Peacock Slashers as she did so. She was worried too.
"But they've been a while. I'll check it out anyway," Kohza said quickly. "I know this place better than most of us here."
Without waiting for Igaram to respond, he slipped out of the safe room and back to the main complex.
In the distance he could hear the sounds of fighting and objects breaking. (Great... the repairs were going to be a pain unless Gedatsu-san could get the Forest Boss back and working for them again.)
Just as he neared the viewing terrace, the sounds stopped. He quickened his pace and rounded the corner to find that the fight appeared to be over. Whoever had perpetrated it was nowhere in sight. What was in sight was the Lady Kuina. She was kneeling before Gedatsu-san, and speaking very earnestly.
Kohza couldn't hear what she was saying at first, but as he drew closer he did manage to make out some words.
"...please, take me as your student!"
"What happened?" he asked Chaka in confusion.
"The one making trouble decided to make a run for it when all three of us combined our onslaught. We decided not to pursue as it might be an ambush."
"Okay..." he said slowly. "But why is Lady Kuina kneeling before Gedatsu-san?"
"It seems that she wants him to become her teacher. He does not seem to be keen on taking her on, however. He has been just standing there ignoring her all this while."
Chaka sounded rather doubtful about the whole affair. But then again, Chaka didn't know what Gedatsu-san was like. Kohza sighed.
"Gedatsu-san!" Kohza raised his voice at the resort co-founder. "You forgot again! You can't give her an answer unless you open your mouth and say something!"
Chaka gave him a look of ludicrous disbelief at this. Gedatsu-san however, reacted by jumping up with a start.
"I forgot to tell her I will take her as my student! How careless!"
"...so you're saying this Gedatsu person is some sort of former priest who just happens to be a master of your type of haki?"
Smoker had been surprised to receive an early report from Kuina. He figured that it had to be something special for her to go out of her way and sure enough, it was.
"Yes, Smoker-san. I'm not sure of his level of mastery in comparison to Marine standards, but he certainly is far more skilled than I am."
"Then I think you did the right thing. Every little bit helps, and even few weeks of light training under someone who knows what he's doing will make a difference."
"Actually, it will be intense training. Princess Vivi has suggested that I end my liaison duties early and stay at Ukkari."
"I see. I'll make the changes to our arrangements then. Make sure you make the most of the opportunity."
"Oh, by the way, about the man who attacked the resort: Briggs managed to dig up some information on him. Ukkari was not his first time. He's known as the 'Mad-Monk' Urouge. He and his pirate crew started raising a lot of hell earlier this year. HQ put a bounty of 55 million on him."
"That's almost as much as Zoro's!" Kuina sounded shocked.
"Yes, and it'll probably go up after the news gets out that he was involved in an attack on Alabastan royalty. It's no wonder he gave all of you some trouble.— something bothering you?"
"I'm fine, sir. But..." Smoker could hear the hesitation in her voice. "I do want ask, do the Marines have sword-smiths of their own?
"Something happen to your sword?"
"It's nothing serious, just a notch. I only discovered the damage after the fight, but I- I would really like to get it repaired."
The tone of her voice left Smoker no doubt that to Kuina, any damage to her sword could never be 'just a notch'. He shook his head. That girl and Tashigi were like two peas in a pod. "I'd talk with Tashigi about getting it repaired when she gets back from her training. She's the sword nut around here and would know the proper channels."
"Good idea, sir. I will do so."
Smoker sat back thoughtfully after he had finished the call. Briggs had previously briefed him on his assessment of Kuina. And as he had noted, the girl and Roronoa still did have some sort of rivalry going on. She wasn't going to be pleased at her inability to defeat someone with a bounty near his range.
It was a shame she hadn't been able to get that Mad Monk pirate, but on the upside, that meant that once he got her back with the crew again, she was going to be pushing herself harder to get stronger.
He approved. With the inevitable war looming, they were all going to need it.
"So I guess this is goodbye," Vivi said as the royal party prepared to leave for Alubarna. Kuina would not be returning with them; Terracotta had made arrangements for her belongings to be sent to over to Ukkari.
Kuina nodded, still trying to come to terms with the fact that she would most likely never see Alabasta, the place that had come to feel so much like her second home, again. Even worse was the idea of saying farewell to the people who had been so much a part of her life in the past few months. Captain Smoker had said they were going deeper into the Grand Line after this, and from what she could tell, it was not likely they would come back to this part of the Grand Line for a very very long time.
She would have to make sure that she kept herself busy training with Gedatsu-sensei, because the loneliness and homesickness would probably be too depressing otherwise.
"Kuina, I know you're going out after the others soon once you rejoin your crew. I have a favour to ask: if you meet with Luffy and the others again, could you deliver this letter for me?" The princess slipped her a sealed envelope.
"Of course I will."
Kuina briefly wondered if Luffy could even read the thing, but she supposed the rest of the crew or even Nico Robin (presuming she was still with Luffy) would be capable of reading the letter out to him at the very least. She hoped the woman wasn't making trouble for the crew. When she confided to Vivi about what had happened, the princess had been a little upset, but had also understood the reasoning behind her decision to let Nico Robin go.
It was strange, really. She and Vivi, they had both been offered places on Luffy's crew, and even if they had refused, they still trusted Luffy and his uncanny judgment.
Damn it, she thought as she hugged Vivi. She was going to miss her friends in Alabasta.
"I'll miss our sparring matches," Chaka said, when his turn to say goodbye came around.
"So will I, Chaka-san." And she meant it. Even if they hadn't started out that way, she now considered him the closest friend she had in the whole palace. After Vivi, of course.
"I'm sorry to hear about that sword of yours. The royal blade smith back at the palace would jump at the chance to repair it, but the style is so different from ours he fears he would not do a good job."
"It's all right," Kuina replied unenthusiastically. The topic of Ichii-san's damaged heirloom sword with that notch in the blade was something of a sore point.
She already knew the complications: a weakness in the blade meant further usage of the compromised weapon meant it would eventually break under the stress. Knowing her luck and how much fate hated her, it would probably happen at the worst possible moment, just as she was fighting a famous pirate with a hundred million bounty or something like that.
Kuina could already imagine just how it would happen:
It would be a hard fight; a life-or-death battle with hundreds of lives on the line. And at the end, even with a broken sword and no hope of winning, she, Kuina, would keep fighting and take down the pirate captain before getting overpowered. The outnumbered Marine forces would then be finally subdued and the crew taken prisoner. The officers would be lashed to the mast and forced to watch as the rest of the crew walked the plank at gunpoint.
All because she had been careless and damaged her sword.
Of course, Commodore Smoker (who would have happened to be away at that time) would immediately mount a rescue operation and come after them. He'd then descend on the pirate ship in a rage, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, and teach those pirates a lesson or two about how no one harmed his subordinates and got away with it. Then he'd free the crew and they'd all join in on the fight, and finally defeat the pirates once and for all.
But even if the rescue was successful and everyone was safe, Koyojaku would still be ruined beyond repair. She would probably never be able to find a swordsmith capable of reforging it and have to settle for some other commonplace katana.
Maybe she'd get over the experience and be even more fired up to go after Zoro to get her Wadou back. But then, the worst would happen. Ichii-san would show up, somehow having heard of how Kuina's carelessness had resulted in the destruction of the precious heirloom sword. Which also meant all Commodore Smoker's hard work coming to the rescue would have gone to waste, as Kuina's impending demise from the hands of her former master would be all but guaranteed in that situation.
Kuina shuddered. This was something she really didn't want to think or talk about at the moment. But Chaka apparently did. She wondered why.
In fact, he seemed to have something on his mind, and was currently struggling for the right words to express it.
"Kuina, there's something I've been considering talking to you about for a while now, but the events of today have convinced me that I should withhold it no longer."
"Withhold what, Chaka-san?"
"You're a fine swordswoman, Lady Kuina, but without your sword, or without it in the best of condition, you would not fare well in another fight—"
Kuina tensed a little. The memory of her inglorious encounter with the 'Mad-Monk' Urouge flashed in her head. She knew Chaka had her well-being in mind, but still it stung that he was taking her lapse in dependability so seriously.
"—it would be best if you considered carrying another weapon until the blade is repaired."
"I thank you for your advice, Chaka. I will requisition a spare sword the first opportunity I have." Kuina kept her voice controlled and cordial, as much as she disliked being told something she already knew.
"No, I have a better idea, and a better sword I think you would rather have."
Saying this, Chaka placed the hilt of a sword into her hand. The feel of the pommel, the cross-guard, the weight... It was all hauntingly, achingly, familiar.
"Th-that's Pell's sword! You brought it here with you?"
"I'd already meant to pass it back to you earlier, but I... wavered. I just couldn't bear to part with it." Chaka said, his voice far away, and a little sad. "That sword has much sentimental value to those of us who were his close friends. But he left it to you at the very end. It didn't feel right for me to be holding on to it any longer. And it is a fine sword... one meant to be wielded by worthy hands."
"Chaka... I..." Kuina was touched, and a little ashamed at herself for assuming the worst of her friend. What was wrong with her recently? She seemed to be going around with a permanent chip on her shoulder and she had no idea why.
"Pell would have been happy, I think, to know that his sword is in good hands. Perhaps that was what he had intended when he left it with you."
They had a touching farewell, and much too soon, it was time for the royal party to go. Once again, Kuina found herself alone in a strange land, the keeper of an orphaned sword and the bittersweet memories of the one who had wielded it.
"Take care, Kuina, and may the spirit of the Guardian Falcon watch over you always."
Briggs scowled as he worked his way though the stack of reports in Smoker's much-neglected office. Commodore Smoker really needed to appreciate his intelligence resources more. But since Smoker wasn't about to do it, as his XO, it had fallen to the warrant-officer to pick up the slack.
The thing was, Briggs knew that the Smoker was sharp, but only in a street-wise, intuitive but uncannily accurate way of his own. Personally, it drove Briggs up the wall. Being right didn't matter when you couldn't explain to higher-ups how you were right, but Smoker just never seemed to grasp that.
The den-den mushi rang. Briggs raised a prominent brow. A communication or report to Smoker at this time was unusual. He picked it up dutifully, regardless.
"Briggs here. Commodore Smoker is unavailable at the moment, I'm afraid. He—" Briggs sputtered in surprise at the voice on he line and the words it spoke. "Me? Yes, sir. Of course. Right away. I'll be right over."
He stared at the den-den mushi for a long moment after the communication had ended. Then he heaved a deep breath, composed himself, and walked briskly out of the office.
The passageways of G-1 were filled with busy marines going about his business. Thanks to his long stride, he outpaced most of those heading in the same direction to reach his destination in record time.
A polite knock elicited a "Come in!" from the occupant of the room. Briggs did as he was told.
"Ah, Warrant-Officer 'Barkskin' Briggs. Take a seat. Thank you for coming so quickly."
"Thank you sir. And er, I don't go by that name anymore. It's just 'Briggs' now."
He took a seat. The warrant-officer's curiosity was eating away at his courtesy, but his manners won out in the end and so he waited for his commanding officer to say his piece. Of course, there had to be some other purpose to the meeting. A Marine admiral with many claims on his time wouldn't just summon an inferior subordinate to his office just for a simple 'how are you?' message.
"How's the arm?" the admiral asked by the way of breaking the ice.
"Fully regenerated. I should have full motor control once I finish therapy."
"Ararara... that devil fruit of yours is very handy. Good to hear you have your arm back." The admiral slid a wanted poster across his desk at Briggs. "I heard that you lost it to Nico Robin."
Despite himself, Briggs stiffened at the sight of the hated woman's face staring back at him from the poster. "Not quite accurate. She simply broke and dislocated it. Crocodile was the one who finished the job."
"Still, you fought her. What were your observations?"
"Bitter. Cruel." The woman's past victim involuntarily clutched the shoulder of his newly-regenerated arm as a throbbing pain suddenly shot through it. "No— it's fine, sir. Therapist says it's only psychosomatic. Ah, as I was saying... Nico Robin appears cool and tactical, but is actually angry, scared of the world, and desperate not to show it."
"And you consider her a threat that shouldn't be allowed to remain free?"
"I don't follow, sir."
"I'll get to the point, Briggs. My sources tell me that since Alabasta, you've been digging up any information you had clearance for on Nico Robin and the Ohara incident twenty years ago. You've even been using Commodore Smoker's clearance for some enquiries. I assume you had his permission for that."
"Yes I do, sir. Intelligence is my specialty. I like to keep myself... and my unit, well-informed."
"And you felt you were imperfectly informed about Ohara?"
Briggs stayed silent at this. The admiral nodded in response. "Given your previous court-martial, your caution is quite understandable. But I think I already know your answer, and why." He leaned forward and read aloud the words emblazoned on Briggs' coat. "Factual Justice. Being in the right is not enough. For you, knowing exactly why you are in the right is just as important."
"You are correct, sir."
"Which part of the official story did you think was a cover-up?"
The surprise on Briggs' face must have been obvious, because the admiral chuckled. "I'm not one of Akainu's camp, Barkskin. And unlike some others here at HQ, I have no vendetta against you. Be frank with me. That's an order."
"Yes, sir. Well, as you know, I fought Nico Robin in Alabasta. The nature of her devil-fruit powers and her tactical knowledge in using them make her a dangerous foe in a ground battle. But something does not add up. The reports clearly show that those evacuation ships were sunk by cannon-fire. Now that I have first-hand experience of how her powers work, and now that I think about it, there is no way I can see how she could have sunk six ships unaided. Not as an adult, much less as a child."
"Very astute of you."
"She also displayed much emotional outrage when the subject of former Vice-Admiral Saul came up. It was not the behaviour I expected of her. Well...considering what she was said to be like."
A flicker of emotion crossed the admiral's face.
"Add in the fact the one of the persons involved in Ohara was Sakazuki...well, I know how he works. It was clear something had been covered up."
"Why do you care so much about an incident you weren't directly involved in? I was under the impression the only issue you were interested in these days involved the whereabouts of your former protégé."
Briggs made a face of disgust and anger. "False information was being archived in the Marine database and passed off as fact! And I swallowed it all wholesale without verifying its veracity, as in, I was operating on bad, doctored information and I had no idea! An unforgivable lapse in my own standards. It could have gotten myself and my unit killed. I just couldn't let it go."
"It went against your Factual Justice, I see. Well, by your research you would have already known that I was there in Ohara when it all happened. Here's your chance to get your information straight from the horse's mouth."
"And what price do I pay for this information, Admiral Kuzan, sir?" Briggs asked as he regarded the admiral cautiously.
Admiral Kuzan, better known by his nickname Aokiji, looked pleased at their easy understanding of each other. "As you said, Barkskin— ah, Briggs, gathering information is your specialty. I have a discreet matter that needs taking care of which will require finesse in exactly just that."
Briggs considered the situation. Admiral Aokiji was known best for being a laid-back sort of commander. Privately Briggs thought of him as a lazy but cooler-headed version of Smoker, but he preferred Aokiji out of all the admirals. At least Kuzan hadn't been part of the lynch mob like that damn red dog Sakazuki had been.
"If you choose to take it on, I will assign you the temporary role of Special Investigator, which for the purposes of this mission, carries the equivalent rank of Commander. If you are successful, your captainship will be reinstated fully, and should you desire it, you will be placed in command of a ship."
So that was where the rumours had come from.
"The assignment details, sir?" Briggs asked.
"I want you to locate Nico Robin, shadow her movements, and report them to me. It's pretty much what you've already been doing, just taken up a notch."
Briggs didn't need much time to think it over, the choice was so obviously advantageous. "I accept the assignment. But I must say, you seem to have a pretty good information network already, sir."
"Not good enough. I still don't know where Nico Robin is. You do."
Briggs looked a little smug at this. "Yes, I do. She was last spotted in Jaya a few days ago, in the company of the Straw-Hat pirates."
"Then you'd better get moving to pick up her trail. I'll make the necessary arrangements with Smoker, and for your transport too... Good luck, Commander."
Briggs was hurriedly gathering his things in Smoker's office when the damn den-den mushi rang again.
"Briggs here. Commodore Smoker is unavailable, I'm afraid." Inwardly he hoped it wasn't another call from yet another admiral. Of the other two, he disliked one and utterly loathed the other and he really didn't have time to waste right now.
"Warrant-Officer Briggs sir!" the voice of the backwater fisherman carried through the receiver, and the den-den mushi appeared to have adopted a distinctly puppy dog-like expression.
Briggs resisted the urge to correct the rank he had been addressed with. No. It wasn't important yet.
"Chief Petty-Officer Piers, do you have a good reason to be calling? You're not due for your weekly report for another three days— wait, what was that?" Then he shut up and listened intently to what the backwater fisherman had to say.
"They're in G-8?" Briggs repeated slowly, in surprise. "Vice-Admiral Jonathan know?"
Piers replied in the affirmative.
"Good job reporting this, Piers. I'll inform Smoker."
After the call had ended, he fingered the pommel of his sword, then made a note to change his course from Jaya to G-8.
"It was your misfortune to have run into me, Devil Child," he said aloud, and smiled grimly. "Once I'm on your trail, I'll never stop. And now that I have an admiral backing me, it's a truly bad time for you to decide to be a pirate."
To Be Continued...
A/N: So obviously when I last estimated what month Season 2 would be up, I failed to estimate what YEAR it would be up. Um... Yeah. Sorry?
The reason for the delay was because I made the decision to switch focus and finish my other story "Marie D Suesse and the Mystery New Pirate Age" first. No regrets... I consider it one of the most unique and satisfying stories I've ever written so far. Well once I got over the parody stage in the beginning, anyway.
"Marie D Suesse" was completed last month, so as promised, back working on TABCF and SN11. And on the bright side, I feel like I've learned a lot from finishing that "Marie D Suesse", and will be applying a lot of what I learnt to my other works.
Sorry to leave you guys waiting for Season 2 for so long, I tried my best to make this chapter feel like it was worth the wait. Feel free to review on what you think, or let me know if I made any mistakes or such, and thanks for your patience!
Q and A/ SBS or whatever it's called:
Racheakt 1/17/12 . chapter 14
The culmination of this story migh only have been improved with a bit of additional balence. You see, I am not overly familiar with the OP universe. I have both read the manga and whatched some episodes, but only the first eight or so (or the former) and only three (of the latter). So I think I am justified in aserting that while the story itself is fine, it feels like you are deliberately fleshing out one side of the story to compensate for the other side - which is never said at all.
-|P: Ah so you have noticed that. The reason for this is that I have limited time for writing, and I must maximise my writing time as much as I can. I've seen a lot of fanfics which kept recapping in detail events that happened in canon without change, and I found them tiresome to read through so I wanted to avoid what they called "the stations of the canon".
As I do have this fear of not being able to finish my stories before something happens and I get run over by a bus or something, I made a conscious choice to write my fanfics with the assumption that the reader of a fanfic knows the fandom, and only repeat canon content if there is significant deviation from it. It saves time and keeps the story moving. I am aware that the result is my works ending up a complement to canon instead of being able to stand alone, but I have accepted this consequence as a necessary one.
You make a very good argument though, and I'm going to make a point of warning readers beforehand if there are certain portions of canon they need to know before reading so the story makes sense, so readers shouldn't be going "huh?" so often.
Autumncomet 4/7/12 . chapter 14
How far into the canon do you plan to go with this fic? I assumed at least until Brook joined due to the mention of the Florian Triangle. Besides, it wouldn't be a proper ending until we found out which of the three of them (4 if Brook gets this goal too!) becomes the best swordsman. :D
-|P: My original plan was to end this story in Alabasta. However, halfway through, I decided to extend it, and now I've planned it so this story will go on until Marineford at the very least.
I'm of two minds on whether I should continue a season 3 or not. I guess we'll see how it goes.
SaintBrees 3/26/12 . chapter 14
I am most looking forward to seeing Kuina first discover Zoro's bounty and then more importantly learn about the bad parts of the Government Tenryubito (sp?), Akainu and corrupt officials (like Nezumi), what they did at Ohara, etc. Her black and white view has alreasy been torn down a little thanks to Luffy those things may shatter them.
-|P: Excellent observations. As you can tell from the content of this chapter, Season 2 is indeed going to be more about those topics you brought up.
Endless Strategy Games 11/5/12 . chapter 14
I didn't quite understand why Briggs reacted to Kuina forgiving Zoro like he did. But maybe I'll understand better as I see more of the character.
Blitz182 11/28/11 . chapter 14
I love the way you portray Tashigi, especially. She isn't just a Kuina clone, and she doesn't immediately embrace Kuina as a comrade (or rival). The way she grows throughout the story was very enjoyable. Also, I must say, that you use OC's extremely well. Is it bad that, since the very beginning of this fic, my favorite character was Briggs? And it's so nice to see OC's that aren't main characters, but are still used to further the plot!
-|P: Thanks! I have a policy I call the "OC means 'Only-Out-Of-Necessity' Character Policy". I will only put OCs in a story if they have a reason to be there.
Oh, and if you're interested in Briggs, you'll probably like Season 2 I think. Yes.
phoenixyfriend 10/8/11 . chapter 14
How will the girls of the rivalry react to 3D2Y!Zoro? And I don't mean just the Mihawk thing (though your opinion on that would be welcome too), but his eye. Though the full nature of the scar hasn't been revealed yet (with fantheories ranging from "he just can't open it" to being too lazy to do it, or it being too painful to do so, to ridiculous sharingan-like stuff), it can be said that all three members of the Wado-rivalry have a visual impediment. AKA- blind, glasses, and injury to one eye. Ironic, considering that Mihawk has extremely good vision.
-|P: All three of them have eye problems! Good point, I never realised it until you pointed it out.
It would be interesting for sure. But if I get that far in the story, I suppose the other two would end up with massive changes as well, so it won't be so strange.
Sorakage Sama 10/8/11 . chapter 14
...considering the change in personnel at the G-8 Base and Enies Lobby, it's should be interesting to see how things change.
tyrantpope 10/8/11 . chapter 14
G-8! G-8! G-8! Yay! (It's my favourite filler) Little disappointed that Kuina isn't going but I can't wait to see how Piers changes things.
Majin Hentai X 10/7/11 . chapter 14
T-Bone eh... wait a minute you genius T-Bone is stationed at Eines Lobby guarding the Sea train. Tashigi will be at Eines Lobby for the CP9 arc holyshit on a shingle that has never been done before.
-|P: It will indeed be interesting to see how things change, won't it? ;)
shiro-wolfman-k 11/22/11 . chapter 14
And about Piers, I have wondered why nobody had commented on his apparent crush on Kuina.
-|P: Well, Briggs did actually comment on it while under the influence of drugs, but I'm sure the others have noticed too. They just haven't said anything yet ;)
Pom Rania 3/4/12 . chapter 14
...I now ship Briggs and Tashigi. How did that even happen?
...probably the same way Pell and Kuina happened *shifty look*. Sneaky characters getting all chemistry-like behind my back...
See you next chapter. And no it will not take one year to update again. -|P