"Move again and you'll be whipped," an ugly creature grunted at them all. No one spoke in response. They knew it was no idle threat, having experienced such punishments earlier. Lined up in three rows of five the prisoners knelt, bound hand and foot on the floor of the stage, their eyes darting warily about, unable even to speak to one another for fear of what would befall them as a result. The handlers watched them closely, alert to signs of dissent.
They especially kept their eyes on the dark-haired girl in the middle row.
Though initially put on prominent display owing to her beauty, this child had proven herself to be quite vicious when approached by any clients. One poor soul had attempted to stroke her glossy black hair, and had to be rushed to a hospital in the hopes of reattaching the fingers she had bitten off. No amount of threats or slaps could prevent her from responding violently, shocking their patrons. Only when they had turned to abusing her younger siblings did she consent to behave.
Now they deemed her worthy of extra security measures. The collars usually reserved only for adult specimens were attached to the girl's neck along with her sisters. The peril involved in attempting to remove one was explained, along with how they could be detonated by remote. In spite of this added precaution, the guards couldn't help but afford more of their attention to her than anyone else. And not entirely because of her startling beauty. Nor was it that the other captives were what one might call timid. They were pirates, after all, some of them rather notorious even in this part of the world. The guards simply recognized her as the most dangerous. But the girl was a treasure for certain collectors, a member of the Kuja female fighting tribe, spirited and fierce. The ones in charge of this auction knew a few customers in particular who would enjoy crushing such a soul, disabusing her of the notion that she was some kind of warrior princess.
For her part, Boa Hancock simply waited for her chance to escape.
The eldest of the Boa sisters, she had fought alongside her adult brethren when their pirate ship had been ambushed by Marines. Though a child in appearance, the women of Amazon Lily were instructed in combat from a young age. She and her two siblings had earned the right to pillage the seas along with their elders, a privilege afforded only the highest caliber of fighter. This had been only their third voyage together, and as it turned out, third time's the charm. A seemingly helpless merchant vessel had proven to be a ruse, luring them into the Navy's trap. These particular Marines proved to be of far superior fighting capability than those encountered in the past. Though losses had been heavy on both sides, in the end, the Kuja found themselves severely outnumbered.
A last-ditch attempt to make a break for freedom was foiled, and the valiant valkyries resolved to fight to the last woman. While just as devoted to this principle as the rest, the Boa sisters found themselves to be the targets not of swords or muskets, but nets fired from bazookas. While they struggled to free themselves, some of the vicious males had injected them with a type of paralyzing venom. Now helpless in the midst of battle, they were unable to resist when the sweaty brutes stuffed them into sacks. Forced to listen to the sound of their shipmates being slaughtered, Hancock could hear her big-hearted sister Sandersonia weeping, but was unable to comfort her.
When the conflict was finally over, the girls had been loaded onto one of the Navy ships along with all the treasure and provisions aboard their own vessel before that noble craft was sunk by cannon-fire. They had listened to one of the naval officers classify them as bags of potatoes, a lie that had made no sense at the time. Weren't they prisoners? Didn't men execute their captives? Only later that night, when the sounds of whispered communications came and they were carried, still drugged, onto what appeared to be another ship did it become clear. There was arguing about payment, and negotiations conducted in hushed tones. And before they knew it, the sisters had been sold into slavery.
Now they waited in a human auction house along with other prisoners, to be sold off like so much property. The ways of men were truly disgusting. Although weakness was not tolerated in Amazon Lily, those women who were physically inferior, while not afforded honors, were still permitted their lives and freedom. Only with the hirsute beasts of other islands could there be found such an abysmal concept as slavery. It was an affront to human decency, and more than anything, it made her despise the entire male species with all her heart.
The day had started with fifty prisoners on display. Now less than half that number remained. Whenever a customer had expressed interest in certain specimens, the ringleader of this operation, a garishly-dressed, frail-looking brute with wandering hands who answered to the title 'Disco' had rushed off into the wings, returning with either an affirmative or negative to their offers. Many of those who seemed to be marked as special stock now remained in this mass of huddled misery, including Hancock and her sisters Marigold and Sandersonia.
The reason for this selective treatment appeared to have just arrived.
Lumbering up onto the stage was a hideously bloated monster whose sex was impossible to determine. Its face was painted, possibly indicating womanhood, with fat red lips and outrageously long eyelashes that almost brushed the inside of the clear bubble that encased its head. There also seemed to be facial hair above its lip, though, so one couldn't be certain. The eyes in that white puffy face were small and mean, possessing an expression of disdain for everything they came across. While excessive body fat was not regarded among her people as a blemish (so long as it did not impede a warrior's strength, that is), in the case of this tub, there was no chance of mistaking it for any kind of fighter. The lumbering slug was swathed in a cream-colored diving suit of sorts that only added to its corpulent appearance, and it huffed and puffed in its efforts to approach them.
Five attendants came with it, all male, all armed. One of them appeared to be the spokesperson, wearing a black suit and carrying himself with stern aloofness, his shaggy brown hair and square-jawed features drawing oddly appreciative looks from some of the female slave-owners still milling about. It was he who approached the obsequious Disco and spoke.
"The sublime Lady Flutonia understands you have merchandise that might be of interest to her."
Beside him, the sublime Lady Flutonia appeared ready to keel over from a heart attack. A litter had carried her to the stage, but the journey up five steps and taking ten more to reach them appeared to have done the gargantuan glutton more harm than good. She was wheezing, and two of her guards adjusted dials on her suit, apparently regulating the air supply to aid her breathing. Hancock was incensed at being forced to kneel before such a slob, but for the sake of her sisters, she restrained herself.
"Yes, yes, good master Donpon," Disco gushed, sweating and ringing his hands. "A very good catch this week. I know your majestic mistress has been looking for a brace of females to brighten her household, and it's our belief that we have found the answer to her prayers!"
"I will be the judge of that," Donpon glowered back. "Her tastes are of the highest caliber, and not to be exposed to inferior goods."
"You won't be disappointed, I assure you." The head auctioneer's head twitched over to his right. He had been doing that quite a bit since the whale-woman beached herself, the little girl noted. Though his eyes were hidden behind those odd star-shaped implements, she was positive that he was looking at someone or something offstage. Not being permitted to turn her head, Hancock found that her peripheral vision could not reach that far. The focus of Disco's interest would have to remain a mystery.
"Here we are, now!" The pillagers had plodded over to stand before them. Boa Marigold the youngest was in the front, and Boa Sandersonia the middle child was seated to her left. Hancock was on her knees one row back, crouching in the space between them. The eldest of the three had been dreading what might happen next. Marigold appeared to be holding up well, but Sandersonia was trembling violently, having been prodded and poked by far more people who were intrigued by her oversized head and luxurious green hair. It wouldn't take much to cause her emotions to break loose, and then they would be sure to punish her.
"These two, and the black-haired one behind them," the slave-trader chirped. "Well, what do you think, good master? Exquisite, wouldn't you say?"
"Hmmm," the hulking ape grunted, looking down at them. His eyes lingered over the sisters, taking especial notice of Hancock. She thought that he would start with her, as so many others had, but instead the man turned his sights on her siblings. One hand came down and brushed against the aptly-named Marigold's shining hair. Hancock noted with satisfaction that the brave little warrior still did not whimper as some others had.
"Marvelous, isn't she? Skin of cream, hair like a beam of sunlight. And those eyes! Oh, how they do shimmer. Lady Flutonia's collection would surely be proud to contain such a superb specimen!"
"Superb, eh?" And something in Donpon's voice caused the jocular flesh-peddler to hesitate. Once more Disco's head jerked to one side, as if seeking backup. Before he could receive it, the spokesman for the lady stood up and leveled an accusing finger down at Sandersonia, who flinched and hiccupped. "And what about this one? Look at the size of that head! She's obviously deformed."
"A…a novelty!" Disco waved his arms, sweat staining the armpits of his coat. "A holy rarity of breeding found amongst the natives of Amazon Lily, born only thrice a generation on that tiny backwater isle!"
Total bunk, Hancock thought. Her sister's head size was neither unusual enough to warrant attention back home nor was it evident in any others. It simply was.
"The Lady has no interest in specimens with physical imperfections," Donpon drawled, clearly unimpressed. Behind him, the Lady seemed to be absorbed in swallowing small pellets that popped through a tube into her bubble, much in the manner of a goldfish gulping food in its bowl. "Your proposal from before mentioned an asking price of 13 million belli for the set. It would seem you overestimated your salesmanship." The blackguard pulled a wallet from his pocket and flipped through its contents. "But I'm feeling generous, so how about this? I'll give you 5 million for the other two, and however much I've got in my wallet for the third. With a head like that maybe she'll make a good nightstand."
Amused chuckles rose from the spectators hovering on the edge of this show. Hancock cast a venomous look in their direction, but a warning glare from one of the overseers prevented her from doing anything more.
"Sir, I, I mean no disrespect, but…" The ringmaster of this affair was looking very uncomfortable, and he couldn't seem to stop glancing off to the side of the stage. Hancock was certain now that there was someone over there whom Disco was afraid of, even more than this mockery of humanity that stood before them. "We specifically reserved these three for your attention, at your request. Offers were tendered before that far exceeded the one you just made. If I accepted such a proposal, my principal would be very displeased!"
"And how do you think we are feeling, little man?"
Donpon made the remark casually, but there was no mistaking it was meant as a threat. The other bodyguards straightened at attention, adjusting their prominent blades and firearms. All the same, Disco's panicked gaze seemed to be resting on the butterball woman, as if fearful of displeasing her more than these swaggering goons. He certainly did seem scared of a lot of people. This 'principal' of his was probably another voluptuous waste-bucket who had threatened to eat Disco if he didn't perform well today.
Hancock was focusing so much on the target of her hatred that she almost missed what happened next.
"You think that you can barter with me, you ignorant peasant? Right in my lady of Tenryūbito's face? And over damaged goods?"
Reaching down, Donpon grabbed a hank of Sandersonia's viridian hair and gave it a vicious yank. The girl screamed and struggled, tears pouring out of her eyes.
"LET GO OF HER, MAN-PIG!"
Now it seemed all eyes in the stadium were focused on Hancock. She bore their collective gazes without shame. Her own black eyes were locked with those of her sister's tormentor, letting him know with every breath she took what she wished to do to him.
Donpon raised an eyebrow, apparently picking up on those signals.
Then he took two steps forward and backhanded her across the cheek.
"SIR! Not the FACE!" Disco screamed.
Hancock lay off to one side. Her ears were ringing, and the pain was just starting to kick in. She heard Sandersonia and Marigold screaming her name, but bound as they were, they could not reach her. Their elder wanted to tell them she was all right. These weak beasts could never break her body or spirit.
The auctioneer was shouting, yelling at his henchmen to remove the crowd and take the remaining merchandise off the stage. They did so, until only the trio of children, their skinny overlord, and the yellow frog's party remained.
"Sir!" Disco was hopping in agitation. "You mustn't damage merchandise you haven't paid for! Our business has rules regarding…!"
"I didn't damage merchandise," her assailant remarked, absently massaging the back of his hand. "I disciplined an unruly child." He then straightened the cuffs of his coat and said in bored tones, "I believe my lady has been forced to endure enough folly on this day. We will be taking our leave of you now, merchant. Your rudeness has been noted, and we will…"
A woman's tone came, high and piercing. All the men then turned and quickly bowed, as the golden dumpling waddled over to them. Her head didn't reach to Donpon's chin, even with the ugly curled hairdo, but he afforded her an obeisance that Hancock would have only given to the Empress of Amazon Lily. Berthing herself at her servant's right, she stared down at the girls, who were completely enveloped in the walrus woman's shadow.
"I believe I fancy this odd selection," Lady Flutonia twittered, porcine eyes twinkling inside her skull. "We have a beautiful and spirited soul in need of breaking, another who was obviously born to be punished, and a third who knows how to be obedient. My family and I would derive amusement from teaching them how to behave, I am certain." She flicked a gloved hand back at her vassal. "Donpon, make the necessary arrangements. No haggling, I've lingered in this den of riffraff long enough."
Disco had been craning his neck around to catch sight of something, but when the mention of payment came up, he quickly brought his attention back to her. "Oh, good lady, I am in awe of your sagacious splendor! Truly, the Tenryūbito are exalted among the peoples of the world for good reason!"
"Have a care how you speak to Her Greatness, insect," Donpon reproached him angrily with his words and eyes. "A Tenryūbito is not to be lumped in with the denizens of this world. They are holy, exalted, untouchable! You should be honored to even stand in the lady's presence!"
Then, as if to emphasize this, he reached up and clapped a hand firmly on Flutonia's shoulder.
From her position still on the floor, Hancock saw Disco's jaw drop, mouth hanging open. This exact same expression was mirrored in the faces of the four other bodyguards, whose eyes seemed to be bugging out of their heads. And surprisingly enough, Donpon too was wearing that look of flabbergasted astonishment.
What was wrong with them?
Slowly, Flutonia turned her head, waddles of fat rubbing against one another, until her eyes were resting on the fingers that continued to grip her suit.
Those eyes had gone dead with anger.
Suddenly the retainer jerked his hand away, clutching it to his chest with an expression that had metamorphosed into absolute terror.
"I didn't do that!" he whispered hoarsely. "My lady, I would never…! It wasn't me, I swear, something came over my arm and it just… reacted on its own! You must believe me, Lady Flutonia!"
The Lady Flutonia did not appear to be in any mood to listen to explanations. To her remaining attendants, she hissed softly, "Take his arm. Then take his tongue for lying to me."
The man's breath came out in a quivering warble. Swiftly his former associates rushed forward, two of them gripping his shoulders and forcing him to his knees. A third grasped the offending arm by the wrist and held it out horizontally, while the fourth drew a scimitar and raised it on high. Donpon didn't appear to have noticed any of this, his gaze was riveted upon his mistress.
During this proceeding, the Tenryūbito made her way over to where Disco stood transfixed by what had just happened. "Send the bill along with my new slaves. See to it they are delivered by this evening."
He opened his mouth to reply, and there came a horrific scream.
A few feet from where Hancock lay, a black sleeve fell with an arm still inside it.
That was the hand he used to strike me. She stared at it curiously. By this point Marigold and Sandersonia had managed to scoot over to her, and they huddled up against their older sister's body as if for warmth, not daring to speak.
The next scream was cut short, becoming a bloody gurgle.
Hancock raised her head a little. The Tenryūbito was returning to her litter. Two of the guards were dragging the limp body of Donpon after her. Disco was on his knees being violently sick, while several members of his staff rushed forward to help him.
"Bring buckets!" she heard the manager gasp, coughing. "Clean this mess up!"
They hastened to obey, and Disco hurriedly staggered off, apparently having completely forgotten about his precious merchandise.
Hancock went back to staring at the human arm lying in a pool of blood. Whatever the reason those creatures felt this had happened for, she knew the real one. It was because of what he did to us. To me. The gods have not abandoned us completely. This is a sign. We will find a way. My sisters and I will survive this, and return home again. Thank you, good spirits, for showing me you still care.
Lying with her head on the ground, the fearless girl noticed something odd then.
Donpon's arm. The blood was congealing in a pool around it, or lying in small splatters. But from her current position, she could see something that made no sense. Because from this angle she could swear that there were a few drops of blood just… hanging there. In midair. Like they were dangling off of something she couldn't see. And they looked to be in a line of some sorts. If I follow it with my eyes, it leads…
Turning her head, Hancock looked in the same direction where Disco had been peering so frantically earlier.
At first nothing stood out. There were boxes stacked up in the eaves on that side of the stage, and ropes used to manipulate the curtains. But after a minute, she noticed a form that was out of place.
Someone was sitting on one of those stacked crates, slumping against a larger box with their back to the stage, allowing only one side of their body to be visible to Hancock. She could make out a leg crooked up, wearing red pants that cut off at the knees to reveal shins that were long, thin, and covered with hair. They were wearing a pink jacket with huge feathery tufts at the cuffs and collar, and one hand was tapping out a rhythm on the upraised knee. The rest of this person, including their head, was completely out of her view.
Of a sudden, the fingers stopped moving. As she watched, that hand lifted up, giving a flick of the wrist.
And Sandersonia screamed.
"IT'S STILL ALIVE!"
Jerking herself to a sitting position, Boa Hancock turned to see the severed arm flopping and twitching, fingers spasmodically clutching, like it was trying to grip something. Of a sudden it came about and started crawling towards them by snapping back and forth at the elbow, fingers crawling to aid its pursuit.
Her sisters howled in terror, and without another thought Hancock leapt upright, cocked her leg back and booted the offensive appendage off the stage like a kitten.
A man's laugh. It was a strange one, but she knew how they all sounded; sharp and cruel. Her head snapped around, in time to see the person (the man!) from before walking away backstage. He kept his hands in his pockets, and his gangly legs were bent in a peculiar bow-legged waddle that indicated he probably spent most of his days aboard a ship. His head was tucked down low, but even over the mane of pink feathers, she could detect blond hair sticking up.
As she stared furiously at the back of this wicked figure, his hand came out of its pocket and waved goodbye.
To her horror, Hancock found herself suddenly reaching up, placing her fingers to her lips and flicking them out, like she was blowing him a kiss.
"Nee-san!" Marigold gasped in astonishment as she clutched their traumatized sister. "What was that?"
The dark-eyed beauty returned the other girl's stare.
"I don't know!" she whispered.