Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or One Piece. I could be a pirate. Well, not really. I can't swim. And I don't have a Devil Fruit to use as an excuse for it.

...Or do I?

Chapter 51: A Friend Indeed


By now, the entire Foxhound Pirate crew had gotten word of where they were heading to next. Risky Red Island was a strange destination for them to have, as there was nothing for them there to the best of their knowledge. You didn't just go places on a whim in the New World. You had to have a reason, because getting there would more than likely suck.

"So why are we heading to this place again?" Soren asked in the midst of a card game with several other members of the crew, "More monster tree stuff? Because you know we just love traveling to all of these dangerous-ass spots so Uzumaki can look for any sign of this thing."

"You actually do like that part," Johnny pointed out in place of the captain who was outside at the helm of the ship.

"Byron's old crew apparently have that place as their territory," Yosaku said, explaining what he was aware of about the situation, "I don't know the details, but whatever happened ended with him in that Slave Auction House being sold like cattle. You've gotta believe there's some unresolved crap going on there."

"Yeah, he was the captain, wasn't he?" Paulie said, smoke billowing from the sides of his mouth, "Valentine, you were in Baroque Works with all of those feeler agents out all over the Grand Line. Do you have any idea what the story is with those guys?"

Miss Valentine seemed to know more than most people did about pirate crews that traveled the Paradise half of the Grand Line. Using her as a go-to for information on the heavy-hitters that roamed the high seas had been a great commodity for them in the past. In this case though, she was at a loss.

"I don't know," The gorgeous chef said, her smile dropping a bit at not knowing quite what the others needed her to, "The Dandy Pirates weren't a big deal, at least as far as I was aware. I never heard anything. They weren't anywhere near any Supernova crews in notoriety… but then again, that doesn't really mean anything. Byron's here, and he's definitely no joke."

The Supernova title didn't go to crews that were just overwhelmingly strong. They went to the newest crews on the scene that had reached a significant status. Just because a crew hadn't been a Supernova in Paradise, that didn't mean anything. They could still be quite formidable. Supernovas were specifically rookie crews on the Grand Line.

Either way, whatever had gone down in the past, Byron himself wasn't talking. Then again, none of them figured that they would have wanted to recount the series of events that led to them winding up enslaved and on the auction block if it had happened to them either.

Johnny nodded, holding a hand under his chin, doing his best to mimic a wise posture, "Byron's crew made it to the New World without him even being there, so that has to mean something. We should definitely be careful."

"I don't know if he wants it to come to a fight though," Miss Valentine said, setting down a tray of snacks for the card players to partake in, "I think he just wants answers."

Answers? Well that was boring, and not worth the trouble it would take to get to wherever this place was, at least not in Soren's opinion, "And if it does come to a fight?" He asked.

At that, Miss Valentine let out a carefree laugh, her smile returning to its full radiance, "We bloody some noses, of course," She said, walking over and poking Soren in the stomach, "I think a brisk workout would do a few of us some real good. You're starting to look a little chubby, Soren. I'm feeding you all too well."

Soren scoffed and flexed, "Liar. These abs are harder than iron and you know it."

XxX

(Some Time Later – Risky Red Island)

Risky Red Island lived up to its name; the red portion at least. The moment land was in sight, it was clear why it was called that. The landscape was dominated by large red plateaus, jutting up from the ground at different heights.

The trouble was with finding a safe inlet for the ship. Everyone got tired of sailing around looking for a real place to dock and decided to simply drop anchor and take a small boat and find a small inlet to get ashore from.

Just before they quit, however, the peaks that covered the island gave way to a wide beach along the entire eastern side.

Everyone let out a sigh of relief and prepared to head out. Some were more eager to go ashore than others, and had the ability to do so, despite where they were situated.

"Finally. Let's go. I'm so ready to get this show on the road," Soren said, leaping from the ship before anchor had been sufficiently dropped. The distance from the ship to shore was something easy enough for him to clear with several bounds of Geppou.

However, landing brought about another important issue altogether.

*BOOM!*

Everyone stared with expressions varying from abject horror, to rapt interest, to outright glee at the sight of Soren seemingly exploding the moment he touched down on the ground of Risky Red Island.

"…What the fuck just happened!?" Yosaku shouted, leaning halfway over the railing on the deck, nearly stretching his own neck to get a closer look.

Nojiko had pulled her rifle from her back to take a look through the scope, "I think he's still alive."

"I'm okay!" They heard Soren shout back from land. The smoke hadn't quite cleared yet, but he didn't sound particularly worse for wear, "Just caught me off-guard!"

*BOOM!*

"Shit!" Several crew members shouted in surprise at the sight of a second explosion engulfing Soren's position, "Who's shooting at us?"

"Soren, you mean," Perona specified, "Who's shooting at Soren. No one's fired a single shot at us yet."

Nojiko remained silent, contemplating what was going on. If they were under attack, it would have been more than likely that she would have been alerted to it before it happened. Also, there was a very familiar scent faintly tracing through the air over the normal dominant smell of ocean water.

The first lady of the crew moved over to one of the cannons on the port side of the ship and began taking aim at a random place on the shoreline. Naruto followed behind her, watching as she loaded a cannonball and got in position to fire it, "Uh… Noji, what are you doing?"

"Tell Soren not to move again. I want to check something," Nojiko said with a calm that Naruto by now had come to recognize as her 'I'm curious and I'm going to experiment' voice.

She normally only sounded like that when she was working with weapons… or in the bedroom. It sent a shiver down his spine, because both had the potential to be awesome or equally terrifying.

Miss Valentine cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted across the open space to the crew's resident acid-man, "Soren! Nojiko says don't move!"

Still covered by plumes of smoke, Soren coughed loudly before responding, "Uh…! Alright! Why!?"

No one had time to answer that they didn't know, as Nojiko had fired the cannon at seemingly nothing.

A sharp crack sound burst through the air before a deafening blast emanated from the site of impact. The shockwave was enough to kick up waves that started to toss the Natural Disaster around in the water, rocking it back and forth like a toy in a tub with a splashing baby.

Naruto was the first person to pull himself back up to stand again after the ship stopped shaking enough for balance to be restored. His hand slapped down on the railing of the deck as he looked over the side at the aftermath of what Nojiko had done.

"Whew!" Other than a haze of smoke hanging slightly in the air, there was no sign that anything had happened at all. That included any sign of his first mate's presence, "…Soren?"

He couldn't have been blown away by that explosion, could he have? Soren was tough enough to tank a hell of a lot of damage. Naruto hadn't thought for a second that any of the previous ones had hurt him. Even the last one wouldn't have necessarily done anything that would have registered as severe to a regular human being.

Of course, that shockwave had been intense. It knocked everyone on the ship off of their feet, and they hadn't been near it.

Could Soren have been knocked in the water?

…Shit.

Naruto jumped up onto the railing and shrugged off his captain's coat as he prepared to dive into the water, because there was no way in hell he was getting that wet. Being one of only five people on the crew who could actually swim, and the only one who was actually upright, he would have to be the one to go in and search before Soren drowned.

"I'm coming, buddy!" Naruto said before swan-diving headfirst onto the deck. Despite the fall that should have resulted in a severe head/neck injury, Naruto jumped right back up and noticed the rope wrapped around his ankle that had stopped his momentum, "Paulie, what the hell?"

The surly shipwright stood with the help of the mast, no apology given to the ship's leader, "He ain't in the water, dumbass. He's stuck in the sand."

Indeed, as Naruto squinted and took a closer look at the beach, he could see the bottom half of Soren's legs and his boots sticking upside-down out of the sand, "Oh. Alright."

"I've got him," Paulie said, flicking his rope the better part of a quarter-mile to grab Soren. With a single mighty yank, he sent him flying back toward the ship, "Oops."

Unfortunately, the explosion that came with his removal from the sand altered his flight pattern, causing Soren to overshoot the ship and fly into the ocean.

Soren was not pleased when he found himself being pulled out of the water like a marlin out of a fisherman's dream. Able to move due to no longer being submerged in the water, he got up and shook himself off like a grumpy dog, "Ugh. What's with that place?"

Nojiko walked over and took a whiff of Soren, nodding as though it had confirmed a theory of hers. Despite being dunked in the water, he smelled like a magazine, "I thought so. I'm pretty sure that sand's got explosives mixed into it or something."

"Well, it does feel like I just snorted lines of gunpower like blow," Soren said, rubbing underneath his nose and brushing his teeth with his index finger, "Yeeck. Tastes like bullet candy."

Yosaku paid attention to the wrong part of that statement, "Bullet candy sounds delicious, for some reason."

Naruto sat down cross-legged on the deck now that the pandemonium was over, "I don't think anybody did it," He said with a thoughtful grumble, "I mean, with all of the weird shit we've seen on the Grand Line so far, is it really that surprising that there's a place where something like this is natural?"

Every place they had gone to wound up stretching the limits of physics and nature in some way, shape, or form. Considering some of the things that happened on some of those 'weather islands' they had heard about and been to, high explosives mixed into the soil wasn't even that hard to believe.

Everything in gunpowder was found in nature to begin with. All of the components somehow mixing naturally somewhere couldn't have been that absurd.

Johnny stroked his chin in thought, but refused to take this level-headedly, with good reason, "In hindsight, no. But come on! It's an island where the dirt explodes!" The man shouted, pointing accusingly at Risky Red Island, "Who would come here?"

"We're here," Naruto said, swatting Johnny's hand down, "Alright, enough of that. Who's going?"

"Nope! No!" Johnny was the very first crew member to decline, "Absolutely not. Count me out."

His idea of adventure was not setting foot on an island where there was a chance of stepping on landmine dirt every time you moved. He was all about motion. If a fight broke out he'd have to worry about his footing nonstop instead of focusing on managing his speed and precision with his sword.

Byron bowed gentlemanly in front of Naruto as he inquired about his status for the mission, "You know why I've asked us to come here, Naruto-sama. I would ask that you let me accompany the party heading ashore."

Soren raised his hand first to volunteer, "I'm in. Like hell I'm letting that stupid island get the last word on me," He said as he walked over to one of the smaller boats meant to take people to land, "Besides, the guy that makes my liquor has beef with the crew that's stationed here. That's reason enough for me to get my hands dirty."

"I'll go!" Miss Valentine said, bouncing in place cheerfully, "If we wind up looting this crew, I'm the only way we'll get all of their stuff back here in a few easy trips," Also, she wasn't afraid of the volatile ground situation. She could just float the entire way.

"Count me in too," Nojiko offered with a smile, "This place has me interested. I'd like to get a closer look."

Also, Soren and Miss Valentine were both nothing but trouble. Byron was a well-mannered enough fellow, but he was passive and willing to follow the others into dangerous shenanigans on a good day. With him likely being a cauldron of emotions at the moment, he was probably going to be a handful to deal with today.

Basically, Den Mother Nojiko felt the need to try and keep the unrulier crew members in line. Letting them go without any real supervision whatsoever? Not a chance.

So Byron, Soren, Nojiko, Miss Valentine would go ashore as a scout team. The others would remain in-place on the ship in reserve in case something went wrong or the ship needed to be defended and moved.

What could possibly go wrong with that setup?

XxX

Nojiko couldn't help but smile at the sight of Soren warily eyeing the ground as he walked. It wasn't nice, but it was just too funny. She thought she was being nice just by not openly laughing at his misfortune the way that Miss Valentine was.

"Have you ever played hopscotch, Soren? It would have been good training for what you look like you want to do."

"Shut up, Valentine."

"Or, you know how to use Geppou. Why don't you just jump on the air the whole time?"

"Even I can't keep that up for long enough to get to wherever we're going! Just stop talking already!"

"Well here's the thing. If the ground explodes, you won't know until after it's too late to dodge."

Soren let out a snort at Miss Valentine's attempt to make a point and simultaneously unnerve him, "I know, that's why I'm following Nojiko's path," He said, jerking his thumb at the woman who was leading the way for the rest of them, "Put those danger senses to good use, minesweeper!" He called out ahead.

Nojiko rolled her eyes, but kept everyone moving on at a brisk pace. Byron alternated between lingering behind everyone else, to stomping near to the forefront of the party. He was eager to confront his crew, but part of him was clearly uncomfortable with doing so.

"You should try to calm down some," Nojiko advised gently once the musical pirate came closer to the front of the group again, "Even if you're hurt by what happened, you're going to have to keep your chin up."

"I will. At least, I will try to," Byron said, trying to reassure her, "I am doing my best but… I admit that it is not easy."

Nojiko understood. She couldn't relate, but she understood how hard it probably was to try and remain civil with the people who betrayed you and sold you. She wouldn't have begrudged him for wanting bloody revenge. If it was just about anyone else on the crew, with very few exceptions, that was what would have been expected.

But Byron was different. He was the closest thing to an absolute proper gentleman that you would find on the Grand Line. He would have reservations about shedding blood and harming others based solely on his temperament at any given time. He was a respectable man in that way, which was why it had always been strange that he'd been a pirate captain before meeting them.

"What do you want out of all of this, Byron?" Nojiko eventually asked him, cutting to the heart of the matter. They were on that island for him, after all, "It's important that you know before you see anyone you remember. It's important that we all know."

That was a good question. What did he want?

Byron was angry. He was heartbroken. He wanted revenge, to make them feel as broken and as desperate as he felt standing on the auction block at Saboady Archipelago. To feel the complete assassination of dignity that he'd endured when his value as a human being wound up being determined by a set amount of beli.

He was curious and wanted to know why it had ever happened in the first place. Had he been a bad captain? He never remembered dealing with any disgruntled crew members. Were the takes they earned from their raids not enough?

"Don't dwell on the 'why' for now," Soren told Byron as he got lost in his thoughts, "Trust me, wondering why someone did something that you can't understand can drive you nuts. There's no need for that. We'll find out why soon enough."

Byron nodded in understanding. Not quite acceptance, but there wasn't much he could do other than to try and heed his comrades' words, "How did you get your grudge with Donquixote Doflamingo out of your mind?"

Soren's smile turned sober and hollow, "I didn't. I haven't," He revealed, "The difference between us is that revenge actually suits me. That and your revenge is right in your face, if that's even what you want in the first place."

As the crew traveled, Miss Valentine noticed that Nojiko seemed quite wary about something, though she couldn't quite tell exactly what her problem was. Still, when Nojiko was on pins and needles about something, it was usually for the best to remain on your toes.

"What's the matter, girl?" The moment Miss Valentine asked, both Byron and Soren took notice. By now, everyone was well-versed in the capabilities of the crew's first lady. When she was paying attention to something, EVERYONE needed to pay attention.

Nojiko looked around, not knowing which direction to focus on. Her Haki was going haywire though, and whatever was provoking it was right on top of them, "Something's close. Something really, really big."

Because most of the ground consisted of sand, they weren't able to feel what would usually be a telltale sign of the earth shaking. Instead, they were warned by the sudden collapse of sand around them in a perfect circle. It was just slow enough for everyone to be aware that it was happening, which gave them just enough time to react.

Soren leapt into the air and kept himself aloft with liberal abuse of the Geppou technique. Nojiko's waver skates kept her off of the ground high and far enough away from the danger zone. Miss Valentine grabbed Byron and boosted them both into the air with her umbrella.

Beneath them, a massive mouth was wide open, letting out a guttural breath as explosions from dangerous, jostled sand rocked the area around it. Countless teeth circled down into a gaping maw that seemed to stretch downward into the dark forever.

"What the hell is that thing!?" Soren shouted, coming to a stop on a cliffside, digging his fingers into the rock to hold himself there, "It's huge!"

"That thing's mouth is the size of a battleship," Miss Valentine observed, the smile gone from her face as she stared down at the creature that had just attempted to make them lunch, "…How big is the rest of it?"

The largest living creature any of them had seen up until that point had been a Sea King. Whatever this was, it was even larger than that.

From the deep darkness of its mouth, thousands of tentacles flew up into the air, whipping wildly and feeling around for anything to drag inside.

The worm could clearly sense them, be it through feeling vibrations in the earth or by tasting them in the air with its tentacles, because it didn't need much help aiming the countless appendages to try and ensnare itself a meal.

"Oh no, I am not getting eaten today!" Nojiko shouted, pulling her pistols from her back. Pumping her chakra into the firearms, electricity started to crackle around the muzzles as she opened fire, "Kaminari Matsuri (Lightning Festival)!"

Countless tiny bullets comprised of electricity flew from Nojiko's gun in a pulverizing stream of force. Every tentacle that got anywhere within her field of vision was battered back mercilessly from her assault.

"Ibi Rankyaku (Acid Storm Leg)!" Soren jumped from his wall before he could be touched, lashing out with acid-laded air blades that sliced through the tentacles that reached out for him.

The creature closed its mouth and launched from the sand like a killer whale jumping out of the water, intent on smashing into its prey. Its mouth was shut and formed in a hard-pointed beak that destroyed the entire cliffside nearby.

As rocks fell and the monster attacking them hit the ground, the volatile sand it called home exploded all around it.

It was from this that the crew were able to get a good view of just how massive the creature was. Full-body, it was comparable in size to a Buster Call ship, and just as durable from what they were seeing.

"My word," Byron gasped, holding onto one of Miss Valentine's legs as they all floated overhead, "Is… is that a worm?"

"It's the damndest worm I've ever seen," Soren said, hitching a light-as-a-feather ride with Miss Valentine, similarly to Byron, "…Let's murder the shit out of it."

"Murder it how, exactly? It digs through exploding sand!" Nojiko ventured to ask as she swept around in the skies, trying to find a weak spot to take advantage of, "I don't have enough power to one-shot the thing, if I could really even hurt it at all, Soren!"

Said tattooed former bounty hunter was at a loss in his own right. He had plenty of destructive power, but wondered just how much it would take to put down something that large, "I don't know. Somehow. Just look at this thing," He said, "Either way, I really don't think it's gonna leave us alone, hence we kill the ugly sucker so we can keep going!"

"Oh, by all means, go ahead," Nojiko said, gesturing to the recovering worm with one of her pistols, "Feel free to kill it with whatever you have the firepower to kill it with."

Soren testily spat an acidic loogie at Nojiko, who fired a warning shot at him in return, forcing him to Geppou away from Miss Valentine before latching back on. He was still next to weightless thanks to her powers, "Just think about it like this. How would we go about sinking a ship by ourselves? You're telling me none of us have a move that can do that? You really haven't been paying attention to me, have you?"

As the others argued, Miss Valentine saw the worm getting back to what she figured was its belly. It's entire body was exposed now, and this was likely the best chance they were going to get for the time being.

"Screw this. Soren, hold Byron," Miss Valentine snapped, shutting and reopening her umbrella to boost herself higher than before with the wind seal set inside of it. Byron let go and was caught by Soren who continued bouncing around in the air for as long as he could.

Everyone knew it was a bad idea to be on the ground right now.

Once she felt she was high enough, Miss Valentine closed her umbrella and dropped from the sky like a stone. A 22,000 kilogram stone, aiming right for the worm, which looked much more to size from the distance she started from.

As she fell, her skin turned a shiny black in color, landing in a double-stomp, right on top of it. A shockwave spread from her point of impact as the black coloring left her body downward toward her legs.

"10,000 Kilo Kudaku (10,000 Kilogram Fallout Smash)!"

The explosive sand around them went flying away from Miss Valentine in a deadly, massive ring of clouds, exploding like lit gunpowder as it moved away.

XxX

(Onboard the Natural Disaster)

Vivi's head perked up at the sound of a fairly distant blast, "Did anyone else hear that?" The blue-haired princess asked, "It came from somewhere on the island."

"Yeah, we all did," Naruto said, relaxing in the grass on the deck with Kurama sprawled out sleeping across his stomach, "It's all good."

Vivi stared at her captain for several seconds, waiting for something else. She got nothing, "...Are we not going?"

"It's fine," Naruto assured her.

By then, a gigantic cloud of dust and smoke had risen into the air over the high cliffs of Risky Red Island's shore.

The most levelheaded member of the Foxhound Pirate crew watched the cloud rise with an increasing sense of dread in her belly, "Naruto, I-."

Naruto cut her off before she could really get going on a tirade. She was the most effective speaker he'd ever heard, and if he let her cut loose, she'd make him change his mind within the hour, "Vivi, your concerns are noted. But just remember, I let them go on their own because they can handle whoever or whatever the hell is on this island."

"I thought it was because someone needed to stay back and watch the ship."

"-Also because some of us needed to stay back and watch the ship, yes, but my point still stands. We can't all go and do everything all the time. That's the point of having a crew."

"Yes, but this is the New World."

"We've been in the New World before."

"And we never went on an island without everyone there either."

Kurama's paws twitched in his slumber as he slept through Naruto and Vivi's disagreement, "Mmm... kill all humans," The fox muttered.

Vivi ignored Naruto's strange and at times ultra-violent partner in favor of focusing on her row with the aforementioned blond, "Well?"

"They. Don't. Need. Me." Naruto said, wishing that it wasn't outside of the realm of good taste to bring Vivi to him with gravity control so he could poke her in the head, "As far as raw power goes, either Soren or Miss Valentine would be enough by themselves to handle anything. Besides, this is Byron's personal business. You wanna get 'em? Go ahead. I'm pretty sure you could catch up in a heartbeat on Carue."

He hadn't ordered anyone to do anything, because he believed in everyone's capabilities enough to handle the situation in front of them.

True, they had all come such a long way since when he'd met the lot of them. She was more concerned than anyone that had gone ashore or stayed behind. They were all more than able to handle this task.

...Whatever this task just so happened to be. Byron's intentions once he found his crew were still undefined.

"Personally," Naruto interjected, "I think you're just bored."

"What?" Vivi said, her voice an octave higher than before.

"You saying you aren't?"

"No," Vivi said, trying to hold herself as above being persuaded by such a thing. Boredom or excitement didn't matter to the thought processes and perspectives of real adults, right? "Well, maybe."

"Ahhhhhh, I knew it," Naruto said, grinning as he poked fun at his favorite princess, "Don't worry. We're not even gonna be here that long. We'll handle our business, maybe restock if there's good supplies here, then head on out by tonight."

"Hey, there sexy vixen..." Kurama said, his voice breaking through Vivi's thoughts, "...Wanna kill all humans?"

Naruto grinned and scratched the dog-sized fox behind the ears, "Yeah, he's having a good dream."

XxX

The smile was back on Miss Valentine's face, though a much more vicious version than her friends were used to seeing, "There's no kill quite like overkill," Miss Valentine said, her skin having turned back to normal.

She wished she could better see the results of her handiwork, but there was still too much crud in the air for her to see properly outside of the sandy crater she'd created.

A boost of her umbrella shot her into the air to avoid the risk of setting off another explosion; the one she'd just caused had been enough for her.

As she got a bird's eye view of the battlefield, she let out a bright, sunny laugh at the sheer scope of the blast crater's size.

It was a new personal best.

Busoshoku Haki was the best thing that had ever happened to her. Now, she could drop from greater heights onto harder targets without risk of harming herself. And she'd learned the nifty trick of displacing the force of her Haki away from her body on impact.

The blonde bombshell had learned how to literally turn herself into the real-life thing. Her timing had to be perfect for it to work as intended, of course, but when her target was a big, stupid worm, there wasn't much to worry about on that front.

"Showoff," Nojiko called out as Miss Valentine floated to a gentle landing. It was nothing more than good-natured teasing between the two women, "Well that's going to be hard to follow up."

"Oh, have some faith, hon," Miss Valentine gave the gunslinger girl a playful knock on the arm, "I can beat it, given the right circumstances."

"These are not the right circumstances!"

Byron's voice cut through the byplay, forcing the two women to rush over only to find the job somewhat unfinished.

Nojiko's jaw dropped at the sight of two wriggling halves of the worm that Miss Valentine just split down the middle like a battleship getting cleaved by a to-scale guillotine, "What? You annihilated that thing?"

"Well, great job, Valentine," Soren snapped, watching the two beasts get their bearings about them, "Instead of one big-ass worm, you made two slightly-less-but-still-big-ass worms."

"How was I supposed to know this was going to happen?"

"It's a worm! If it's anything like an earthworm, it's got a brain in both ends!"

"Worms don't really have two brains, you jackass! That's a myth!"

"Well, this one does, because both sides are coming to fucking kill us!"

They most certainly did, and once again, the crew members wasted no time dodging the wide open mouths and grabby tentacles. Byron avoided the worms themselves with nimble movements and protected himself from the tentacles by extending his hair to cover his body. The follicles turned dark, hardened by his Haki.

With a wild spin, he turned his entire body into a lethal weapon, shredding the tentacles as he hummed a classical tune to fight his battle to his preferred rhythm.

Nojiko's mastery of her waver skates kept her out of danger, but this was dragging on for far too long. They couldn't spend all day playing in a sand pit with giant worms.

"I guess since I'm this close already..." Nojiko pulled out her shotgun and swept through the air on her skates, landing on the back of one of the attaacking worm halves where she stuck the barrel against the slimy flesh, "Kikai no Tatakiwaru (Shatter Machine)!"

With a pull of the trigger, she forced earth chakra into the weapon, and fired at her target, or more accurately, into her target.

All of Nojiko's guns did different things for every element that was used in conjunction with them. It took her a long time to learn how to draw upon all of the elements available to her, and longer about how to use what in any given scenario.

When channeling earth chakra, Nojiko's shotgun could only work when the barrel was in direct contact with something solid. It caused quakes inside of whatever she used it on, destroying it from the inside out.

She had destroyed entire buildings, fortresses, with one or two shots. The worm was flesh and blood, and no matter how durable its outsides were, its insides were squishy and vulnerable, just like any other living creature.

Soren didn't pay attention to how Nojiko had dispatched her opponent. Cracking his neck and walking ahead of the others who took great care to stay a fair distance away from him, he started taking deep focused breaths as the worm charged him, mouth wide open.

His entire body tensed up as the worm bore down on him. As it engulfed him in its mouth he didn't move an inch.

The worm rocketed past Soren's position, looking to swallow the others whole as well, only for its back half to burst open from a massive wave of acid spilling out.

"Ibi Ibi no Tsunami (Rot Rot Tidal Wave)!"

Soren had never moved when he and the ground he'd been standing on had been swallowed. He stood his ground the entire time the worm had been crawling past, swallowing him deeper down its gullet.

The battle-hardened acid-spitter timed the release of his technique to eat away at the worm's softer interior instead of risking a prolonged battle trying to do the same thing from the outside.

The massive beast disintegrated to just a husk of what it was supposed to be.

Soren turned around and took a deep swig from the flash he kept at his waist before addressing Nojiko, "You were saying about firepower?"

"I was just trying to be careful," Nojiko replied, aware that she likely offended him when she'd said that earlier, "I'm responsible for you lunatics – and you too Byron – until we get back."

"Right," Soren said, brushing nonexistent dust off of his shoulder, "And out of the lot of you, I'm the only one that doesn't have a speck of crud on me, courtesy of going straight down that damn thing's throat."

"You burned off all of the gunk and grime with acid, jerk," Nojiko pointed out, "You would be just as dirty as the rest of us without your powers."

"Maybe, but I do have powers so-," Instead of finishing his sentence with a word, he grabbed his crotch.

A roll of her eyes was the best response she could give, "Classy," She gestured for them to follow her as she put her gun away, "Come on. Let's go before something else happens."

XxX

(Elsewhere on Risky Red Island)

A man sat in a comfortable chair, leaning back and playing a guitar in the labyrinthine chambers underneath the earth's surface.

He had black hair in a mohawk/pompadour combination and wore tight, black leather pants with suspenders. On his chest, he bore a tattoo of his crew's jolly roger; a skull with crossing musical notes in the place of crossbones underneath.

Life on Risky Red Island was fantastic for the Dandy Pirates. It had been more than a year and a half since their times of hardship sailing the Grand Line had ended. Ever since their former captain had been cast out as a result of a swift, well-enacted mutiny,

It was nice working for a leader with a real plan, and Captain Ash of the Dandy Pirates definitely had a plan.

Soon, their times of peace and preparation would come to an end. There was much more of the New World to see. Much more of the New World to cut their own piece for themselves. Whitebeard was dead, and the dynamic between the pirate crews in this part of the world was still in flux.

The Yonkou butted heads more than ever. The Shichibukai had been reshuffled. Many islands had gone dark. The Marines despite their clear and obvious power were spread thin over such a massive span of ocean.

Everyone was getting theirs while the getting was still good, and while they had as well, there was more on the table for the taking. Just so long as you had the strength and a plan to do so.

The guitarist's fingers plucked away at the strings of the instrument in his hands until his eyes snapped forward at the sound of running footsteps coming his way. Standing up from his chair with a sigh, he prepared himself to do his job.

Aiming the tip of the guitar in the direction of the sound, he strummed a loud note that crumbled the wall he fired the sound wave at.

A man's scream of fear prompted him to call out, "That was just a warning. You people know not to come here. It's off-limits."

The Risky Red Island denizens had been useful. After it was clear to them that there was no stopping the Dandy Pirates, and that life was easy as long as they followed commands, they had made the crew's stay very comfortable.

Because of the dangers that came with the sand above ground, they had carved out a living for themselves beneath it, into the bedrock of the island where it was much, much safer. The Dandy Pirates had ordered them to carve out a section just for them, from where they could see to their own plots and dictate orders to the rest of the island's population.

The man fell to his knees before the deadly guitarist, "Von Halo! I need to see Captain Ash!"

Von Halo pursed his lips at the idea. Most of the time, the island's citizens wanted no part of anything having to do with the Dandy Pirates. They were all afraid of them, for good reason. The cost of subjugating the island hadn't been high, but it had left a definite impression on the people who lived there, "You need to? And what exactly is this for?"

"An Abyss Worm was killed on the surface!"

Von Halo eyes widened in interest, "Really now? Alright. Come on. The captain will want to hear this," He gestured the man to his feet and poked him with the guitar, directing him to walk ahead of him, just in case of any funny business, "This better be legit. You know how the captain feels about you people wasting his time."

The man being led through the Dandy Pirates' system of cave corridors sweated profusely from fear. He knew full well just how much the crew's leader hated the idea of anything that took their eyes off of the prize for any period of time. Anything that got in their way in the slightest, even if it was an unintended annoyance, was removed as quickly as possible.

As they passed the various crew members loitering about, eventually they came up to a great chamber where a figure stood looking over a deep crevice. They were cloaked in a captain's coat that looked several sizes too large, with a hat that covered their features.

The man shook in his shoes, hesitating to speak, even after Von Halo gestured for him to step forward and address his leader. When he continued to stall, he was shoved forward, falling to the ground on his face.

"This... had better be good," A measured voice said in a distinct brogue with all the sharpness of the most well-kept blade, "Ye know how I feel about distractions."

Knowing he only had a few seconds to get his reason for being there out, lest he be punished, the man regained his composure and stood back, "Captain Ash! One of the Abyss Worms was killed!"

Von Halo watched his captain carefully for any sign of distress or concern. Had he been expecting any kind of reaction, he would have been disappointed. Captain Ash didn't even move, "Hmm... well that's a shame. That one wasn't even fully grown."

With that being said, Von Halo gestured with his head for the man to see his own way out. He walked forward once they were alone and stood next to Ash, staring down into the crevice beneath them.

"Oh well," Ash said quietly, "...Plenty more where that one came from."

Beneath them, hundreds of feet below, several titanic worms writhed amongst each other in a mass of wriggling flesh.

"So, what do we do now?" Von Halo asked.

"As good hosts, what else could we do?" Ash told him "We give our guests the proper Risky Red Island welcome they've earned."


The first members of Byron's crew have made their appearance, but they have no idea their old captain is headed their way for some answers and some possible payback. Either way, they've got a few nasty surprises waiting for them when they get close.

Can they handle themselves, or will it be too much for the crew to deal with on their own? I dunno. That's what this story exists for, doesn't it?

Until next time, Kenchi out.