Well, it's just another night
And another round of screaming cat fights
What's the thing they're fighting over now?
And is it worth the ticket price?
- Cat fight
The Sun's Dark Secret
It is hard to remember everything my father told me before he went away and eventually ended up getting killed. The story was about the Spanish soldiers coming to my ancestor's home to plunder and murder. I have read that in the history books too, the short time I did go to school. Conquistador, that's what the Spaniards had been called in Europe. "Conqueror". My great-great-great-something-grandfather had surely called them something else. The most likely was "saqra". Devil. That is of course a bit ironic, as that is the most usual word I hear when people talk about me.
Zoro walked down the narrow stairs and was met by a distinct smell of tobacco and the sounds of glass clinking together. He walked through the thin layer of smoke that had gathered just under the ceiling, aiming for one of the free chairs at the bar he had spotted. The thermostat must be on a high temperature, he thought as he removed the leather bomber jacket with the authentic lamb wool collar. Great jacket, but way too hot sometimes.
He kept the hat on, as it served as a cover for the many peculiar stares from others his hair colour seemed to enhance. A blond, skinny man tiptoed over to him, but before the young man had any chance to ask Zoro anything, he grunted:
"Give me something strong, but not too expensive."
Before the bartender turned around, Zoro saw the roll of his eyes and a slight shake of his head, and his eyes narrowed. The green haired runaway just wanted to celebrate his success, without some skinny blond who by all means looked like he was going to break in two parts if he tried to lift anything heavier than a crate of blond man seemed to be of the same opinion as he huffed when he placed a shot glass with a strong smelling red liquid in front of him. Good.
Fingering on his necklace, Zoro smiled over the edge of the shot glass. It had been much danger, trouble, bribing, corruption, some good old-fashion threats to achieve the precious jewellery, but he could easily say that it was worth it. The sun god of the Inca people, depicted in pure gold and its none saying face looked up at him from his palm and he felt the power it held. He let his fingertips touch the gold carving and he smiled and wondered if the rest of the department was looking country up and country down after it. They wouldn't look at his scapegoat with kind eyes, that was for sure. But, Zoro added to himself with a shrug, better them than me.
He felt a strong gaze drilling into his neck, and by instinct he tucked the necklace on the inside of his collar thus hiding it from stranger's eyes. When he looked over his shoulder, his eyes were met by a dark gaze that could only be described as burning. In the very corner of the room, a tanned man sat on the floor, leaning back on the wall. His face was partially covered by an outrageous orange hat, but the angle allowed him to see the flaming eyes and a soft smirk on the man's lips. His skin colour and the strands of black hair waved down from the man's scalp was an unusual sight in such a classy bar. The smirk made Zoro feel uneasy, but he responded to the man with an at least equally grim grin. The two men resembled two dogs showing their teeth in a quiet competition, proving that two could play the same game.
Still smirking, the black haired kid raised his eye brows and pulled down the brim of his hat. Zoro turned around again and raised his glass to his lips. The muscular man swallowed down a mouthful of the liquor with a dire feeling in his stomach that the foreign man knew a tad too much. Time to get to business.
Emptying the glass, he rose from the high bar chair and picked up the metal tube that had stood resting against his chair and walked towards the door. On his way, he let his eyes fall on the boy and with a slight, almost invisible, nod with his head he pointed at the door.
Come and get me if you can.
He turned his head and reached for the door handle. If the kid was what he looked like he would have seen the gesture. As he opened the door he heard a voice:
"I'm going out a bit, mister." Even with the last honorific added it sounded like the cocky voice wouldn't listen to any objections from the blond bartender. He didn't want to turn around, but in his heart, he knew that it had been the man in the corner who had said it.
After he had left the bar, he turned on his heal and rushed out of sight into a back street to avoid being seen by the other man. Constantly keeping an eye on what he left behind, Zoro continued his rush down the dark alley. His hand grazed over the cold metal tube and he felt the weight from its contents. Whatever the black haired one was up to, he would find a surprise in Zoro.
Too busy with what was behind him and what he would do with his follower, he felt his body slam into something. He backed away a metre, surprised at finding nothing in the spot where he had collided. Looking around, he saw nothing but mere darkness. As a reflex, he unbuttoned the buckle holding the case and drew out a shiny katana. He was glad that he stood in a dark alley where no unwanted eyes could see him.
"I guessed it was something like this" The same voice as he had heard in the bar rang out behind him. Zoro spun around and saw once again nothing.
"Up here, silly...", the voice sang, and Zoro looked up along the brick walls. On the window sill on the second floor, the dark haired man sat and swung his legs. In his right hand, he held the sun necklace and swung it in the same pace as his legs, like a pendulum. Back and forth, back and forth.
Feeling on the inside of his collar with the hand not busy with the metal weapon, Zoro cursed at finding nothing there. How had the kid been able to rip it from his neck without him noticing it?
"What the hell are you doing?", he shouted upwards. A heavy metallic sound echoed through the alley as Zoro dropped the case. In his hands he held three long Japanese swords, one drawn and pointing upwards.
"Give that back.", the green haired man said between his teeth, growling. He hated to be outsmarted even if it didn't happen all too often. Usually it ended up with somebody lying on the ground with a mortal wound and Zoro who walked away, complaining about how the blood was hard to wash away from his clothes.
"You have this.", the Latino man said, eyes half lid. "and unless you are a very lucky and very stupid thief..."
Zoro growled at the words, but the man on the window sill continued.
"...that means you know more than you ought to know. You work for the government, right?" The word 'government' was filled with hate and rage when the man pronounced it. The man's upper lip withdrew and he showed his teeth and what sounded like a faint snarling rolled from his throat. Usually, anyone who did so would look ridiculous, but the crouched man had something in his eyes that made Zoro grip the hilt of his katana tighter.
"I did.", was Zoro's monotone answer. He had to get that necklace back, no matter what. Used to fighting and not arguing, he was on his way towards frustration. He wanted to feel the adrenaline pump as it always did during fights, but the other man sat still and dangled with his legs, Back and forth, back and forth.
"Did?" The man sounded doubtful and he took the necklace to look closer at it. His fingertips grazed it and he turned it around, face side down. He squinted his eyes to see in the poor light. It looked as if he had more trouble reading than just the light; the man moved his lips to silently form the word written in small, small letters on the back side.
"Chakuy Allqu. You know what it means?", he finally managed to pronounce. Zoro shook his head, still annoyed at the man.
"I don't know, but I want it back. Now!" He unshed another sword and fastened the sheath in his belt. He let the remaining third sword stay in its case for the time being.
"I have another question. The-ri-an-thro-py. You know what that is?" The grim smile was back onto his face, and the man's features started to change. During a few seconds, Zoro could positively see how the teeth in his grinning mouth started to grow longer and pointier. The black strands of hair that was before limited to his scalp started growing all over his body, and at the same time, getting shorter.
Therianthropy. He did know the meaning of the word, and he did know what it meant to him. Part human – part beast; shape shifting.
By the time that there was no man on the window sill anymore, but a huge cat animal instead, Zoro had drawn his precious third sword and placed it in his mouth, grinning at the prospects of a thrilling fight.
The black cat sprung from the window sill and flew over Zoro's head. Without a sound it landed, and turned around on one pawn. It grinned, and as Zoro met his gaze, he could see the black haired man's burning eyes in the jaguar's face. The cat's muscles tensed and Zoro threw himself to the side, towards the wall as he jumped towards the green haired man. Placing the sole of one of his shoes on the brick wall and used it as a measure to heave him forward in an attack.
The cat had landed a meter away and had turned its head, staring at Zoro. The man angled the sword ever so slightly and rushed forward with his eyes fixed on his goal. A fast swing with the sword in his right hand and what would be his equal to upper cut with the left one, sent to slice through the black fur and into the body of the big cat. He jumped at the jaguar, following his planned pattern, but only hitting thin air. It seemed as the big cat hadn't moved at all where he stood a few steps away with the Cheshire cat's smile plastered on his face. Zoro growled with the sword between his teeth and made another attack, but it was as successful as the last time.
He wasn't even near hitting the black jaguar; it was only playing with him like a house cat playing with a fierce mouse. Only with all his senses trimmed to the top he could detect the moving of the swift paws and the fearsome fangs. The cat was fast and its shinny, black fur melted into the shadows, sometimes confusing Zoro where he had his enemy.
Several times he felt a ever so faint blow of wind and threw himself in any other direction than the wind blow. Looking up then, he would see a pawn with drawn, sharp claws and two lines of bright, white teeth. The man gave all he had in every attack, but none of them hit the cat as it moved away, sometimes mere millimeters.
In the heat of the fight, Zoro began to realize who he was fighting. The new general from the department he had been working for before had told everyone there about New York's most wanted person, or at least his most wanted person. The Inca had believed in a son of the sun god Tezcatlipoca, a son with the powers of the night and the shape of a jaguar.
"You are the dark prince.", Zoro said under his breath, following a strange dance of movements, avoiding the nonchalant moving of the jaguar. The gaze he got from the cat needed no further confirmation to his statement. Zoro swallowed down the saliva that had created in the cave of his mouth.
"You are the son of that Roger." Ducking yet another swing from a pawn, Zoro crouched down on his knees and leaned forward. He pushed through the air close to the ground, but his aiming towards the soft belly of the cat was thrown of completely when the black animal took a step to the side, now watching him tensely as he spoke of something concerning him.
"I…", Zoro said as he turned around. He now stood tall again, the katana in his right hand rose as an extension of an index finger, pointing at his opponent. "I saw your father die. I saw my father order the shot."
For the first time during their fight, the jaguar stood completely still and Zoro sported forward and swung down his katana, aiming for the neck of the animal. Too late, the jaguar backed away, and finally, Zoro felt the blade running through flesh. The sensation didn't last long, and Zoro spun 360 degrees, once again facing the jaguar. Cursing, Zoro noticed that he had only hit the ear of the black cat, successfully tearing the round ear apart, but not doing anymore injury.
The jaguar took a step back into the shadows, the first sign of retreating he had shown that evening. A strange movement was seen during a half of a second, as if the jaguar was prancing and a moment later, the feline cat was once again a thin boy with one of his bracers hanging down along his leg.
"You saw Roger die? Your father killed my father?", he said. To Zoro's surprise, his voice didn't tremble for one second but it kept his cocky tone. He had never heard a child calling his father's name with such a hateful voice. This boy was strange in more than one way, that was for sure.
"I have watched many persons die. He was one of them." Zoro's answer was quick, and his body was still tense. In his opinion, this fight was far from over and this conversation was only a slight delay of the grand finale.
"And you said you worked for the government?", the man asked rhetorically, the smile slowly returning to his lips.
"Why?", Zoro asked as he removed the white hilted katana from his mouth. He was still suspicious about the other man, but he would have at least a half seconds advantage if the man decided to attack him in the shape of a jaguar again. At least he didn't look like too big of a threat in human form.
The boy walked slowly forward, and Zoro had to admit that he had kept the cat's grace. The closer the black haired shapeshifter came to Zoro, the more the older man's muscles tensed. He had no idea what the other one was after, but he himself was thrilled to continue the fight. No matter how many steps he took in Zoro's direction, Zoro didn't take a single one backwards. He stood his grounds.
"Why indeed.", the boy finally said. "Why did you leave the government? And if you don't work there anymore, then why do you have this?", he asked as he plowed his hand into his pocket and withdrew the golden amulet. His lean fingers played with it for a second before he turned his gaze back to the battle ready Zoro. "As far as I know, only special trained agents gets these."
Relaxing ever so little, Zoro answered. "Only special agents do. I told you I used to work there, boy." A grin flashed by on the man's face, but it was soon reflected on the other one's too.
"And you're telling me this was your retirement gift?"
"I could tell you that after my father died, the department went to hell and I wanted out. Well, I brought this along when I left, so you could say it was an involuntary retirement gift."
The aura the raven emitted had changed drastically. Gone were the furious jaguar, and here was the carefree slacker talking to Zoro like they hadn't tried to kill each other mere minutes ago. Or Zoro had at least tried to slay him; he still had a feeling that the kid was just playing with him.
"You stole it? Maaan, that is actually kinda cool actually.", he laughed and his freckled face lite up. "So let me get this straight; you and your father worked there before, you as a agent type and he as the boss. He killed my father, then he died and you quit, but not until you stole this?"
"And blamed someone else.", Zoro muttered, still eager to continue the fight. "What is all this to you?"
"An interesting story about an interesting man. And you don't find those everywhere. But I need to ask you one final question." Finally the feline's rage and blood lust shone through the human hideout and the raven's body tensed and looked just like it had done when he changed his appearance up on the window sill earlier. He was ready to attack Zoro any second.
"What do you plan on doing with your powers?", he asked behind his white teeth.
"I...", Zoro paused. "This war killed half of my family, and I don't plan to let the department add fuel to a fire already raging all over the world with shape shifting soldiers. And I need it to save my mother." It was hard words to utter, but judging by the look in the black haired boy's eyes, the truth had been the right thing.
Diverting his focus from Zoro to the medallion, he caressed the cold metal and his fingertips followed the carved lines. Still with his eyes fixed on the jewelery, he spoke with soft words.
"There is a change going on now. I don't know if you have heard anything about it, but I doubt it. Something that shouldn't be disturbed is woken up with a shock."
Zoro's breathing calmed when he heard the boy talk. He might look small and a bit scrawly, but when he spoke, you could hear why he bore the epithet 'Dark prince'. There was authority and respect in his voice, along with ancient powers, which made his message even worse.
"There's going to be a battle. Join me.", he said, and took a last look at the medallion before he threw it over to Zoro. The swordsman was caught by surprise; he never expected the kid to give up his loot that easily. He hardly had the time to catch it before the priceless piece fell to the ground.
"Wha... why?", he stuttered as he hanged it around his neck and tucked the medallion inside the collar of his sweat covered shirt.
"I like your fighting style, and you seem like a fairly nice guy. And you haven't stuck one of those fancy swords through my stomach yet, even though you're craving for a fight. Seems like you have some kind of honor.", he grinned, pulling up the one of his braces that still hung along his leg. He took one step forward and extended his dirty hand, waiting for Zoro to make the next move.
The green haired man was confused, and had no idea what to make of the situation. First the raven steals his token, tries to kill him (he thinks), then suddenly everything gets turned around, he gets the medallion back and now he wants to be friends all of a sudden. His temples were pounding, and he had trouble deciding what to do. Sheeting his swords, he still didn't take the steps forward to meet the brat.
"What do you want me to do?" Asking the question, different scenarios played in Zoro's head. "I have goals I need to pursuit, and I won't let you stand in the way for them. Nor will I bow down to you and call you 'your majesty'."
"No worries, you can call me Ace. And as for the other part; as you know, your department has done a great job hunting us down and well, slaying us. All I ask is for some help in a fight, and as far as I can say, you like those. Will you postpone your fight with me in exchange for a much greater one?"
From the angle he stood in, the shadows of the alley hid parts of his face, but his grin shone bright along with his dark brown eyes. Confident, yet careful, Zoro closed the space between them and shook Ace's hand. It was smaller than his, but far from weak.
"And you won't stab me in my back because of what happened with your father?" Zoro looked doubtfully at Ace. Honor and revenge had always been a big part of his upbringing.
"The old man had it coming. So what if your father killed my father. Besides, it would have been worse if it had been you who killed me. I wouldn't forget that so soon.", he laughed, patting Zoro's bruised back.
Shaking his head, Zoro thought for himself that Ace appeared stranger and stranger for every word that jumped from his mouth.
"I need a another drink before I go looking for a place to crash. Don't think they'd be too happy to let me keep my dorm room.", he muttered, more to himself than to Ace. Because he really needed a drink right now.
They walked out of the alley together, and when Ace turned around the corner, Zoro followed him, but before they entered the basement bar again, the green haired man stopped in his tracks and nudged the raven's shoulder.
"Don't tell anyone, and I won't tell anyone. Deal?", he offered.
"Sure", Ace shrugged and turned the door knob. Descending the stairs, Zoro could hear someone yelling down there.
Entering the bar, the first thing he saw was a furious blond standing in front of the bar counter instead of behind it. His shirtsleeves were rolled up past his elbows, his black vest was spot free, as was his white waist apron, but his cheeks were fired up, and his visible blue eye pierced Ace.
"Where the hell did you go? Usopp's away tonight, and you slipped out as some fucker bails on the tab. How am I supposed to..."
Zoro never got to hear what the bartender was supposed to do as the blond caught sight of him. When he had snarled about 'the fucker who bailed on his tab', Zoro had suddenly remembered something, and was just about to open his mouth to say that he was to pay now when a hard shoe connected with his temple and sent him flying into the wooden crates that stood in the corner of the room.
The first thing Zoro checked when he had found his vision again was so that his precious swords was alright inside their tube, and the second thing was so that the medallion was still safely tucked away under his clothing. Losing it once today was more than enough. But the third thing that caught Zoro's focus was the blond.
He still looked like Zoro could snap him in half over his knee, but that kick... that kick was great if you were humble. Fucking amazing power and speed was a better definition. Those long legs wasn't just for show, that was for sure... His head still hurt like hell, and bells were echoing.
"Get up so I can beat the crap out of you!", the bartender growled, his right knee lifted with his body weight supported by his steady left foot. Rubbing his hand over his eyes, Zoro sighed. It wasn't like he complained, but going from one fight to another? And he wasn't too keen on getting the blame for the blond's corps, especially as there was witnesses in the bar.
"It's cool, Sanji. He's with me."
Both Sanji and Zoro turned around, looking at Ace who had seated himself on top of the bar counter, next to a fairly irritated gray haired man and was currently grinning like the mad man Zoro had judged he was.
"He's going to be renting the empty room next to mine, so you can put it on his tab."
There was a dire silence that didn't survive very long as both the green haired man and the blond mutually uttered a surprised "What?"
The children gathered around him was too caught up in the story the man was telling them to notice that a new guest had joined their crowd of listeners, but the story teller shone up like a star when he saw the pale woman and her trusted chaperon. His voice stuttered for a second, but soon he focused back on his story.
"And then the Little Red Riding Hood decided that she needed to protect her friends Goldilocks and Puss in Boots if the Big, Bad Wolf would ever come back, so she went to the man that had created another of her dear friends, Pinocchio, and asked the man:
'Dear Sir, can't you craft a hero's mask for me?'
And he did. The hero's mask was glorious, in the shape of the shining sun and colored with real gold! The Little Red Riding Hood said 'Thanks!' very many times to the man!"
Usopp took a short break from the story. He had caught the attention of every one in the Fairytale Corner of New York's Public Library, so he awarded himself with another stolen look at Kaya, the pale woman ho had entered in the end of yet one of his made up fairy tales. She was really beautiful...
"Mr. Usopp!", one of the kids complained and pulled at the leg of his worn trousers. "What happened then?"
The black man smiled at the kid and started telling again, but not letting go of Kaya with his gaze.
"When the hero mask was ready the Little Red Riding Hood went to her friend who lived deep into the forest! Oh, no, it wasn't a scary forest, so you don't need to be scared!", he laughed, but continued.
"It was a nice forest, and in this nice forest a nice man lived bearing the name of Robin Hood! Does any of you know what Robin Hood does?", he asked the young audience.
When one girl reached up her hand and answered archery, Usopp nodded and ruffled her hair.
"Yes, the Little Red Riding Hood wanted Robin Hood to teach her archery, but instead of using a bow and arrow, she used a big, big, big, big slingshot!" For every 'big' Usopp extended his hands to show how gigantic this slingshot really was.
"And soon the Little Red Riding Hood was an expert at using the slingshot, and she knew, that if the Big, Bad Wolf would ever return, she could defend her dearest friends. The End!"
A chorus of 'Awww's, 'Thank you for the story, Mr. Usopp!'s and 'See you next week, Mr. Usopp!'s echoed as the kids started walking away from the Fairytale Corner. At last only the woman Kaya and her chaperon named Merry remained seated on the worn out leather sofas, Usopp still placed in the Storyteller's Chair of Honor.
"It was a very nice story, Mr. Usopp. I enjoyed it very much.", Kaya said and managed a weak smile. Across her white cheeks, a soft pink color spread and it was soon on Usopp's face too.
"I made it for you. Like I always do, Miss Campbell.", he stuttered, his mighty storytelling voice suddenly gone. Mere meters separated the two youngsters, but every word exchanged between them was another brick added to the wall between them. Something Merry pointed at with a polite cough.
The chaperon rose and offered his hand to Kaya. "We better get you home before it gets too dark, miss."
A strained smile showed on Kaya's lips as she nodded and brushed of her white dress. He took Merry's hand and rose. Just as she was about to turn and leave the Fairytale Corner, she looked into Usopp's big eyes, and a real smile spread over her face.
"I look forward to meeting you soon again, Mr. Usopp."
He bowed and smiled back at her. "I will always be there!", he promised, and even if Merry huffed, all of them knew it was true. And then she was gone once again.
The man sighed as he strolled over to the main counter with his hands shuffled deep into his pockets. The young trainee librarian looked up from the medical book he was plowing through when Usopp rested his chin in his palms with elbows spread on the shiny counter.
"Hey, Usopp, what's the matter?", he asked as he opened the bottom drawer of his desk to pull out a brown envelope with Usopp's name written on it with ink. "I have the pay for tonight here, so why are you so blue? I love... I mean, the kids love your stories! I can't understand how you manage to come up with new stories every time!"
Taking the envelope and putting it into his pocket he managed a smile towards the young boy.
"Nothing is wrong, Chopper. It' just.. That sometimes, inspiration only gets so good when you can't really get to the very source of it...", he said as he looked at the figure in the white dress outside the heavy glass door as she vanished from his sight.
Night had fallen over the city once again, and I enjoyed the black sky from the top of the house I had called home the last two years. Life does that sometimes; changes. Sometimes the changes are small and temporary, like a storm or a summer, but sometimes they last. Like a home, or a friend. Today a change was made, and I have no idea if it's temporary, or if it's going to last, but I really hope that it withstands the years. I would really love another friend.
Uhm, yeah. Should I say something here? I think it's best for my own safety if I don't say much. Anyway, this was written about a year ago so old style. Let's hope the next chapter comes quicker and is better. Peace out and stuff.