"A fish out of water. How slippery."

"Avoid the royal herring, dear, it might be a relative of yours!"

"Is her husband King Crab?"

Obnoxious voices rang out in challenge, their unrestrained loathing surging hot and noisome. A few of the ladies seated nearby glanced uncertainly towards the target of those slanders. Their concern felt delicate and sweet. It flowed in and touched her heart to fit in comfortably while the hostile sneers slid off like water from a duck's back. When she gave no sign of being perturbed a wellspring of relief exuded from the other guests.

Queen Otohime swam in a sea of emotions.

The unparalleled star of this evening bore herself with extreme gravitas. She had come here on a mission of mercy and diplomacy. This party being held in a grand ballroom of Mariejois was ostensibly in her honor, but such an extravagant display was more for her hosts' benefit. To remind the oceanic emissary what incredible influence was exerted by the World Government. A more gorgeous glittering ensemble could not have been dreamt of by any stretch of the imagination. Personages of great worth were gathered from all four Blue Seas. Here you could find prestigious diplomats, high-ranking military officers, and renowned world figures. Even a few World Nobles bobbed along, insulated by power and privilege. They were the ones behind all of the insults. None of the other partygoers appeared willing or comfortable in disparaging a foreign ruler.

Such a variety of responses to her presence from the surface dwellers. They were just as diverse as life under the sea. It was rather like a fish bowl in that respect. So much color on display in terms of temperament as well as costumes, an aquarium reflecting the best this world had to offer.

But there was only one Queen of the Sea. Small and delicate, with curly golden hair and great penetrating eyes, the goldfish mermaid sat amidst a school of human women bedecked in all their finery. The very picture of dainty nobility, she let any jibes wash over her without evidence of reproach. This queenly dignity impressed many of those who also had to endure the Tenryūbito's disdain. The grotesque World Nobles looked positively bestial by comparison. That did her cause good. Otohime was resolved to prove to them that unlike humans, fishmen could thrive in any environment, whether on dry land or off.

These depths are no less dangerous than the ones I am used to, she reminded herself. And no less beautiful. The thought gave her hope that this expedition would yield a true and lasting alliance between their realms.

"I confess my husband is quite taken with you, Your Highness," a dark-skinned lady in North Blue furs attempted to restart the conversation. "He was very anxious in regards to your health from earlier. Are you quite recovered?"

The queen smiled warmly. "Please thank him for his concern, but what I lack in strength I make up for in resiliency. It's nothing I haven't endured before."

They fluttered around her as though she were in danger of breaking. Perhaps it was a little condescending, but sweet all the same. Strangely enough her natural frailty was what had worked to her best advantage. Otohime harbored no illusions about the people she had placed her safety in. The Tenryūbito especially were vain and cruel like it was essential in order for them to breathe. They looked upon the suffering of others as if it was a play for their amusement. In fact when she came face-to-face with a party of World Nobles after delivering the recuperated St. Miosgard back to his family, they had called for her immediate imprisonment.

She did not resist when their personal guards laid beefy hands upon her. The breaking of her bones that resulted, however, served to shock even the Tenryūbito. To say nothing of those representatives of the World Government accompanying them. This unexpected fragility in a member of the supposedly hardy fishman breed came as a surprise. Such was the extent of the undersea monarch's injuries that it actually spurred the other dignitaries present to come to her rescue against the so-called Celestial Dragons. King Cobra of Alabasta proved absolutely livid at this treatment of a fellow ruler. His concern at least was unfeigned, but whether the others took up the cause on her account or simply to thumb their noses at the Dragons was not clear. Nettled perhaps by the ease with which she was injured without any effort or creativity required, the World Nobles quickly lost interest in punishing the aquatic queen for any transgressions by her people.

Then again, it could be owing to her own strong haki of empathy that had reached out to influence all those around her in some small way. Even the World Nobles, who projected an aura of overbearing disdain for other living creatures. Through their near-animalistic masks of abuse and indifference Otohime could still sense a hidden vulnerability. Unchallenged authority throughout their whole lives had robbed them of their own humanity. They were tightly-contained balls of lazy conceit that could have anything they wanted and so held nothing of value. Other than their own lives.

And yet she could feel the truth. Buried under the weight of years of depravity there remained terrible weakness. It would take only a single human being with no regard for their own safety to end the life of a Tenryūbito. In that respect they were no different than anyone else. No amount of bodyguards or even Marine Admirals could rid them of this fear. Even the air they breathed held perils, and so they wrapped themselves in those grotesque suits for further protection. It would never be enough. The worst enemy lay within their own corpulent bodies. Past any problematic health concerns their dissolute lifestyles might tempt there was the malaise of the spirit. Their hearts were rotting away. And suffering right along with them was Otohime, experiencing the inner pain without surcease which they tried to deny.

A lively paean was struck up by the orchestra. Highborn ladies and sultry chanteuses alike looked to their menfolk expectantly, who were quick to take the hint. They presented their arms and proceeded to gallantly escort their chosen companions onto the dance floor. Not all the ladies accepted these offers, though. Some were too old, others too… broad to successfully maneuver in such a crowded exhibition of dance. Still more were involved in intimate activities which required their undivided attention.

Queen Otohime was none of these. Yet she too demurred any invitations which came her way. A few of the remaining ladies teased her playfully to accept. Even here the royal fishwoman had to disappoint them. This was not owing to any modesty or shyness on her part. The Sea Queen's delicate physique simply could not withstand the rough handling of any partner on dry land. Their most restrained attempts at physical contact left her with bruises blotched in sallow yellow and angry purple.

She was more than willing to accept pain as she had her whole life. But this remained a diplomatic gathering. The slightest misstep could cost her dearly. Besides, Otohime was quite content to watch their unusual style of above-water dancing. Perhaps a trifle wistfully, the dainty ruler settled back amongst soft cushions and returned her attention to those ladies-in-waiting.

"Pardon me, Your Majesty. May I have this dance?"

Turning her head, Otohime was just about to decline the offer politely.

The words died on her lips.

A crooked creature bent over the back of the couch on which she sat, resembling some great sinuous species of eel. But smiling. Like a shark. No, this was… a man. A very tall slender man engulfed in a great billowing pale green robe that seemed to swirl around him like water. There might be the word 'Gas' written on it but the material swam before her eyes, preventing any clear translation. The whole outline of his body wavered in much the same way. He wore a striped leotard beneath and gloves on his fingers. Wild dark green hair sprouted from his head in every direction and spilled down his hunched back thick as seaweed. A pair of long curved horns grew out from it. There was a mask-like quality to the face beneath. Like someone had painted on his features and hung them there. His age was impossible to determine. White teeth gleamed against red lips dark as spilt blood, made even more lurid by a sallow off-white complexion. Beautiful large slanted eyes studied her. They gleamed like chunks of gold in his skull as he smiled down with the most mischievous expression possible.

Otohime detested him on sight.

The women around her were saying something, but it all sounded muffled. Maybe because of how hard her heart was pounding. Since her earliest days this gracious lady had never truly disliked anyone. True she might become angry with them and did not hesitate to dish out violent punishment when necessary. Sometimes that was the best way to get to a person's heart, to wake them up to what they themselves didn't even know they were feeling. In spite of her own bodily limitations her capacity for compassion had never failed to accept another living person. Criminals, newborns, people on the street; every one of them held value to her. Otohime had always understood the hearts of others due to her strong haki. Their pain was hers to share, and their joys. She treasured them.

Not him.

Never him. Whoever or whatever this thing might be, his very existence repelled her. How could you hate a person right off the bat without ever even having been angry at them? It hardly seemed possible. Only the things she felt coming from him struck so surely at her core, as if she had met the antithesis of a heart. The very air threatened to strangle her like poison. Even the Tenryūbito held something worthwhile deep down that her power could reach to help her understand them, but this… it was utterly alien to everything she recognized as a living being. It felt like she had come face to face with Death itself.

"Your Majesty?"

His voice, smooth and playful, brought her back to reality. A small shiver went up her spine to find the inhuman devil continuing to leer down at her. Otohime regarded this noxious spirit with a carefully neutral expression. The other women were all gushing and exclaiming over him. There might have been a name in there, but her own magnified heartbeat eclipsed their idle chatter. None of them responded to his presence as she did. The hand was still extended out to her. With an effort the queen forced herself to smile at him. It felt wrong. "You must forgive me, I cannot take part in any dancing. I have a frail constitution."

"Which is exactly why I am here!" As he spoke the airy phantom abruptly moved forward. To her surprise his body passed straight through the back of the couch as if it were no more substantial than a bubble. Otohime felt something encase her wrist. The next thing she knew he was standing before her, and they were holding hands.

"I have what you might call an… ephemeral touch," the shinigami chuckled. Her fellow partygoers clapped appreciatively at this neat trick.

A Logia user, the queen realized. Some type of air variety. She could feel a sensation like bubbles tickling faintly over her skin. While clearly insubstantial, his Devil Fruit powers enabled him to exert sufficient pressure on her fair form without applying much force. This meant he could touch her without fear of causing injury. Of all the disgusting people to bypass her protective vulnerability. It was as if she had found someone with precisely the same delicate disposition as herself but of the exact opposite temperament.

"As you can see, there is no reason to be afraid." He bent down, and for a moment she feared he might try to kiss her hand. Instead the creep swept a courtly bow, never losing that sickening smirk. Like he was laughing at them all, and her especially. He released her and drew himself upright. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am widely regarded as the world's paramount scientist and academic, famo-"

"OH!" Otohime was so surprised she temporarily forgot her distaste. "The illustrious Dr. Vegapunk! How wonderful to finally meet you!"

The spectral scientist paused. His red lips quirked slightly to one side. "Ahhh… no." His teeth ground together and he coughed ostentatiously in a bid to recover his dignity. "No, you might say I am primarily a man of medicine. My forte is the living body, and I am known as-"

The queen held up a hand to forestall him. "No need, good sir. Even on Fishman Island we have heard tell of your miraculous contributions to medicine. It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Dr. Hogback."

A few giggles came from her entourage, and Otohime glanced around at them curiously. For his part the demon's smile appeared a trifle strained. That already pasty skin paled even more so. "Ahem! Madam, you… are mistaken. I'm trying to tell you, my name is-!"

"Doctor Kureha?"

"CLOWN!" he screamed furiously. "DAMMIT, I'M CAESAR…!" Upon noticing how many people turned to stare at this outburst, the flustered man of science calmed down in a hurry. "I'm Caesar Clown," he snapped.

"Oh." Otohime tilted her head to one side and tried to remember if she had ever heard that name before. After a while she gave a helpless shrug.

Caesar gazed at her expectantly for a few seconds while chewing his lip. Then slowly that same lethal smile worked its way up his face. He held out his hand to her once more. "As I was saying, Queen Otohime. I wonder if you might grant me the honor of a dance?"

Otohime hesitated. What possible excuse could she give now other than she really didn't want to? While she was thinking, one of the middle-aged matrons leaned over and patted her gown gently. "Go on, dear," the plump socialite whispered. "He's much nicer than he looks."

A second simpered behind her fan. "Master Clown here developed the rarefied air that the Tenryūbito breathe. It's quite brilliant, and made him something of a celebrity as a result."

"You simply must go with him, Your Majesty!" another gushed. "I would so dearly love to see you two dancing together! Oh please say you will, I'm sure it would be a breathtaking sight!"

Their warm-hearted exhortations continued to fall on her like rain. Unwilling to disappoint, Otohime regarded that glove extended out as if it were a lionfish that might sting her. There was no telling why a creature like this might seek her company, but he clearly held some position of prominence in the World Government. It would not be wise to openly offend him when she didn't know where he stood in terms of authority. She must remain devoted to the real reason behind her being here.

With that, the Sea Queen took the proffered support and drifted gracefully upright. With a determined air she looked up at the leering Logia and said in her most official voice, "I would be pleased to dance with you, sir."

"Splendid!" he chortled, and led her forth.

Whispers and riveted stares marked their passing. The audience parted to give them room. Before she knew it Otohime stood with Caesar Clown in a small cleared space at the center of the ballroom. True to his word, the Gas Man's touch brought no pain, though truthfully she would have welcomed any other partner no matter how her bones might break. Slowly he raised their still conjoined fingers to shoulder height. His other wispy arm looped down to encircle her waist. Automatically Otohime placed her free hand on his shoulder. They faced each other for a short time with hands clasped, him bent over her like a malevolent question mark, her striving to keep the loathing from showing in her face.

Then a piano heralded the next stage of a waltz. Caesar took the lead, and they slipped into dance.

The semi-solid scientist swept smoothly along the wooden parquetted floor as though he were floating, which considering his feet were lost in a cloud of vapor might very well be so. Beneath her train Otohime's split tail supported her as reliably as a professional ballerina. The Ocean's ruler flowed in her silks and scales as though she were back in her natural environment. Trailing scarves twined in and out of mist-like protrusions in sinuous counterpoint to their dance. Many of the other partygoers murmured appreciative comments and even stopped to watch these two well-matched elementals. There was no denying they made for a striking pair.

"I'm glad we have this opportunity to talk," Caesar breathed after a minute of uninterrupted dancing. "It would be such a shame if you went home empty-handed and our paths never crossed. Especially since, in my opinion, your kingdom is uniquely situated to gain from my field of expertise."

"I beg your pardon, Master Clown?" Otohime was finding it difficult to concentrate on both the steps of the waltz and continuing to hate this man.

"I'm offering to make this field trip of yours more than the wasted effort it's been up until now!"

That nettled her. "What do you mean 'wasted'?"

They twirled artfully around another set of dancers, water and air gliding over the stones. "You're seeking to make headway in having Ryūgu Kingdom recognized at the next Royal Reverie. So that mermaids and fishmen will be able to move above water unmolested. Such a bold feat would resolve quite a few of the troubles your nation labors under, hmmm? But I don't see anyone falling over themselves to accept. Instead you're being handled. Diplomatically, I'll grant you, but handled nonetheless."

She studied the repulsive human with wariness now. "For a scientist, you have an unusual interest in politics, sir." Otohime managed to make it sound like an accusation. Her hazy partner only laughed it off.

"Oh, I like to keep informed about the daily goings-on." He leaned in close. His breath reeked faintly of ammonia, and she strove not to gag. Caesar only grinned wider. "But in any great escapade there are always those seeking to block it for their own benefit. Like the World Nobles. And they are hardly your greatest opponent. Widespread ignorance and fear stymy your efforts more than anything else! It wouldn't be exaggerating to say the entire coalition of earthbound nations stands arrayed against your one lonely little island. That's quite an imbalance in terms of military arms and personnel."

Without warning he dipped her backwards so that she was almost parallel to the floor. Otohime caught her breath. His colorful death-mask face loomed large and she could see her own worried features reflected in his hungry eyes. A brief mental image flashed to mind of a colorful lure dangling provocatively in the water to lure any unwitting fish into taking a bite.

"Maybe I can be of help tipping the scales in your favor?"

Could this be some bizarre test instituted by the dry-landers? A trap of some kind to gauge her sincerity? Or was this demonic entity honestly proposing to aid her. She truly did not want to know, but still the porcelain-doll potentate found the next question slipping out. "What exactly are you offering?"

And Caesar laughed.

"SHU-LO-LO-LO-LO-LO!"

When he was finished his red mouth bent to whisper in her ear.

"Death, Your Majesty."

Her eyes went wide and once again the sounds of the ballroom seemed to recede as that soft voice hissed further sinful imprecations.

"I am offering you the power of Death itself!"

After a while the Gas Man pulled away to continue leading their promenade around the party. But now Otohime hardly made a move to participate. Her bones were shaking too hard. The room felt colder than the bottom of the ocean. With one word he had turned this place into a meat locker and all the partygoers nothing but slabs of beef colliding against one another as they swung by hooks.

Her first instinct was correct. This was no man she faced, but a demon. Yet it seemed like all she could do was keep asking him questions. "Why?"

Caesar's face twisted into an even more fiendish approximation of glee, almost as if she had already acceded to his proposal. "Well, you see, I find myself somewhat… underappreciated… by those who live on land. While working under the auspices of the World Government I have fashioned numerous gas weapons the likes of which the world has never seen. The least of them could end any conflict regardless of size in a matter of minutes! Yet none of my creations are currently used by the Marines! A few minor peccadilloes, some meaningless lives lost, and they completely prohibit an entire branch of science! The subtle wonders of my accomplishments are lost on them. All they see is a potential threat to their own puny lives and none of the glory!"

His lips tugged down in a frown as he threw a sharp glance at the people gathered around them. There was bitter loathing in Caesar's bearing, the most human emotion she had seen from him yet. She knew then without a doubt he wished to see them die, down to the last man. He would enjoy watching it, the filthy pervert! When his attention returned to her she quickly strove to hide these feelings.

"But the same wouldn't be true for fishmen," he hissed in a syrupy-sweet coaxing tone. "What is inescapable death for humans is no more than a mild annoyance for you! Any river or sufficiently large body of water offers you immediate escape. Or simply fill your lungs with water and voila! Unlike them you needn't fear an errant breeze blowing my weapons back on your own forces nor even making an entire island unlivable! The ocean is your true home, far vaster and more fatal to those not inclined to that element. The inhabitants of Fishman Island are born with a superior survival potential you have never been able to exploit to its fullest. Until now!"

Caesar lifted himself up proudly. "I am the fulfillment of that potential. Think of it, Your Majesty. Kill all your enemies without ever leaving the comfort of the seas! With me beside you, the entire air-breathing population could conceivably be wiped out! You could exterminate them all or in part, allowing only those who surrender to survive under your rule. Bend the World Government to your will, and take your place in history! Together you and I can usher in a brand new age: the Age of Aquarius!"

This conversation was making her feel ill in a way she could never have imagined. He spoke of mass murder as if it were no more remarkable than his next meal. Otohime finally regained strength enough to speak. "If any of the Marine officers hereabouts were to hear us talking like this, it would be the end of my mission and perhaps even our lives. I must ask you to end this dialogue now."

"You needn't fear." The hovering Logia then gestured slightly with their intertwined fingers. "I've already taken precautions. My powers enable me to manipulate the very air we breathe. In order for sound to travel, it must pass through some medium, and I have removed a thin layer of air molecules at a certain distance all around us. You might say we are encased in an invisible eggshell made of absent particles. Perhaps you noticed we stopped hearing any music or outside conversation a while back?"

As he spoke only now did the truth of this statement register on her ears. The party had indeed fallen silent but no one else remarked upon it. Truly unnerving.

Caesar drew them along once more without missing a beat. He apparently had no trouble keeping up with the orchestra even if it wasn't audible. "None of our words can be overheard, and I am supplying you with all the oxygen you need directly. A slight alteration in chemical makeup also causes the image of our bodies to waver so that our lips can't be read. That's all it takes to ensure our privacy, Queen Otohime. Your nation's great future can be assured just as easily. Are you inclined to agree?"

He means it. And worse, he actually expects me to go along with this nightmare! Of all the insulting…! Still Otohime strove to keep her voice level when she spoke. "If you think I would commit to such a ludicrous proposal out of the blue then-!"

"No, no, no," the Devil Fruit user sniffed negligently. "Of course, I wouldn't expect you to put any faith in my wild ramblings…" Caesar's eyes drifted slyly off to one side. "… without a demonstration, that is."

"CAESAR CLOWN!"

Abruptly the music turned back on. Otohime was so startled she might have stumbled were the madman not still holding her upright. They both looked over to find a group of men in black suits and dark shades making their way through the crowd. These grim-faced newcomers stopped short of the ocean ruler and her escort.

The Logia lunatic looked them up and down while raising an eyebrow. "How may I help you, gentlemen?"

A blonde man stepped forward to stand stiffly at attention. "Sir, I regret to inform you that there has been an accident in your lab."

"Accident?" Caesar's eyes widened, and his face assumed a look of horror. "Merciful heavens! My assistants, they were working late tonight! Please tell me what happened!"

The leader did not even flinch. His face was so impassive as to be carved from stone. All the same, Otohime could feel the anxiety and discomfort he kept hidden from the world. "Sir," the man spoke without any trace of his true feelings, "I think you will have to tell us that."

Caesar looked between them incredulously. He thrust a hand into his robe and emerged with a Den-Den Mushi that he hastily activated. "Hello?" the frantic scientist shouted into the Snail-o-Phone. "Hello! Can anyone hear me? This is Caesar! Someone please answer me!"

No response came back. Several people were crowded around them now, and they all watched the distraught weapons developer strive unsuccessfully to reach his colleagues. Everyone was buying into Caesar's emotional performance. Were she not forewarned, Otohime might have also been taken in by his skillful acting. Or perhaps even then, his vicious excitement would have burned her senses like acid. No amount of subterfuge could hide from her Color of Observation haki.

When he continued to be greeted only by static Caesar gave a curse. "Out of my way!" he demanded, shoving through the gang of agents. In moments he had flown across the hall to where a giant Den-Den Mushi was sleeping by a large video screen. With great haste the scientist entered a number, and the snail roused itself.

Everyone had now picked up on something having gone wrong this night. The entire mass of people attending the party soon clustered a respectful distance behind Caesar as he worked the controls. Otohime found herself at the front surrounded by the men in black, who had taken up position to escort her safely through without need to be told. Soon there appeared before them an image of something taking place elsewhere in the city. Otohime found herself greeted by what might be a laboratory replete with beakers, equipment and canisters of all shapes and sizes.

What drew her attention, though, were the bodies.

A few were still moving. In the best case they were down on their knees, convulsing and hacking. Most were reduced to thrashing horribly, even those who had donned protective suits and headgear. Men and women both. They clutched at their throats or pounded desperately on their chests as though to dislodge something stuck inside.

As Otohime watched, one woman tore off her helmet and vomited all over the floor. Not food. It was clear and splattered just like…

Water.

They were choking to death on water.

Caesar stumbled back a step, aghast. "Oh no," he rasped loud enough to still be heard. "The AL-723… AquaLung… they must have damaged the sealant. Even contaminant suits can't stop it. How horrible… all the water in their bodies is coagulating in their respiratory systems without stop!" He stated this as though in a daze, then turned away with one hand pressed over his eyes. "The lab should have sealed itself at the first sign of danger. No need to fear, there's no risk of the gas spreading. I don't… how could this be happening?"

The aggrieved scientist drifted off to one side. To give everyone a better view of the screen, she realized. This was for her benefit. All of it. Even knowing what he was doing, Otohime found herself gliding forward without any means to stop until she stood right where Caesar had previously occupied. The hall had gone silent. Not a sound came from the observers of this tragedy, who stood stunned. Even the Tenryūbito had nothing to say, only nervously demanded their servants adjust the output on their air tanks to free up more.

Inside the lab a man lurched up and fell forward close to whatever Den-Den Mushi was transmitting this scene. Terrified bulging eyes stared out as if he could see them watching him. His mouth opened, jaw quivering as he tried to speak, to beg for help. When nothing came out he grew more panicked.

Otohime found herself reaching forward until her hand touched the screen. His heart… his soul! She could feel him, all of them, even from so far away. The agonized terror those scientists were experiencing felt like a volley of cannonballs slamming mercilessly into her. It was pure torture, which her haki let the Sea Queen experience to the utmost. Tears fell down her cheeks in gruesome parody of his tragic struggle.

With another heroic effort the dying man drew on all his reserves of strength and strove to choke out even the slightest sound. But in place of words, water gushed forth like a fountain to come pouring down his chin in waves. As Otohime watched, his eyes rolled up in his skull. Moments later he slid out of sight to join the other freshly made corpses that now littered the laboratory.

While she stood numb with shock a nebulous arm stole around her shoulders in tender mockery of concern. "Please, Your Majesty," that nasty voice crooned, making her flinch. "I pray you, don't linger too long. Your concern is admirable, but there's nothing more to be done for them, poor souls."

Staring into the glass pane, Otohime caught a glimpse of Caesar's reflection in the glass. With his back to the audience, she alone could see that he wore a smile of pure unadulterated triumph.

The ruthless killer then turned away, once more donning his mask of the grief-stricken martyr to be taken in by sympathetic partygoers.

The wife of Neptune kept her fingers firmly attached to the television. That morass of hysterical loss still threatened to swamp her. She was trembling uncontrollably. They were all dead, but the one responsible suffered nothing for it. And why not? Who could oppose him? A Logia, a government scientist, this demented creature who no longer even resembled a human being! What small handful of people in this world were permitted to tell him what he could or could not do? The rest must meekly submit to his atrocities! And here he swanned through these gaudy festivities as though nothing could touch him!

In a swirl of silk Otohime whipped around to go striding towards where Caesar Clown took court among his sycophants. It was all too much! Was there no way to impress upon him what she still suffered through?! Those people, living souls with families and friends and dreams; they died for his sins! Because he put himself above them on account of his genius and Devil Fruit powers! Just to impress me!

Caesar turned at her approach. His eyebrows lifted and one corner of his mouth crooked in surprise. What she wouldn't give to be able to slap his rotten stinking face, only she couldn't even reach that high! And what was physical violence to a Logia? Were she blessed with the Color of Armaments or Imperial Haki, Otohime could strike a real blow against him! Yet all she had was Color of Observation, good only for the connecting of hearts. But if she could make him feel even one iota of the pain those dead men and women suffered through, to those last drowned breaths…!

Their silent screams wailed in her ears, their lungs burst inside her breast! Her haki flared to its utmost heights, enough to send people on the periphery of their confrontation staggering back. Without knowing rightly how Queen Otohime took all this dreadful pain that shocked her nerve endings, condensed it all into her fist, and reaching up, she placed her palm against that gaseous chest and pushed!

Caesar Clown emitted a scream as though he had been shot. His face contorted in on itself, and he fell back onto his rump, gasping painfully and clutching at his heart with both hands. Tears leaked from those narrowed eyes as his airy cloak splayed around him while snot dribbled from his nose. He looked utterly wretched.

Standing over him, Otohime felt no triumph. What she knew was calm relief. Her body still ached from harboring those deadly emotions, yet she wouldn't have it any other way. With utmost aplomb the Sea Queen looked down upon that humbled figure. Her chin was held high in regal condemnation. Still fighting for breath, the Gas Man struggled to lift his head. Chlorine-colored eyes opened wide and he glared at her with chilling intent. The promise of death was clearly spelled out in those livid features.

Her own face was cold with reproach as she spoke. "You will never set foot in my kingdom."

The royal goldfish mermaid said no more. She simply turned and flowed away. Behind her several Marine Vice-Admirals sought to help the shaken scientist rise, but he angrily yanked himself free of their helpful touches. Those stalwart officers intervened between him and the departing monarch when he made a move towards her. Some low words were exchanged. A clearly outraged Caesar Clown cast one last vicious glare in Otohime's direction before he spun around and went stalking into the crowd, passing through the throngs with no more difficulty than a breeze.

A minute later Otohime took her place back on the couch. The marveling way her human companions now looked at her seemed different than before. It was as though she were not simply an exotic breed of animal to their eyes. More like a woman the same as any of them; one whom they respected.

Now more confident than ever, Queen Otohime smiled proudly. "Does anyone have some of that herring I might try?"

A plate was offered to her immediately.

"Thank you."

FIN.