Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or One Piece. But I DO have other ideas. Aspiring mangaka or comic book artists willing to work cheap – holler at me. I want to get rich, like we all do, but I need people capable of drawing to do it.

Chapter 52: Erase The Slate


Nojiko, Byron, Miss Valentine, and Soren had been walking for quite some time after their confrontation with the giant worm. Unfortunately, that had been their only interaction with any living beings since landing on Risky Red Island.

"Is this just a hideout sort of island?" Miss Valentine asked, looking around as she and the rest of her group wandered through a canyon that took them farther inland, "I haven't seen a soul."

"We saw the worm," Soren offered as a rebuttal.

Miss Valentine scoffed, "That worm did not have a soul. I'm not entirely sure it had a brain that could make a thought more complex than 'devour'," Playfulness aside, this was something she was quite sincere about, "I'm serious. This is getting creepy at this point, and we've been on desert islands before."

Something did seem different here, Nojiko had to admit, "This island was sacked though, according to the rumors. That implies that there's something here. A town. A harbor. A castle. A place where there's something to take. Anything."

Whatever the Dandy Pirates has aimed for in claiming the chunk of land was beyond her. The unique properties of Risky Red Island's topsoil wasn't enough of a resource to take it over.

"Heeeeey!"

The sound of a voice echoing down into the canyon had the Foxhound Pirates looking around for the source. Eventually, Byron was able to spot an old man waving a cane at them from high up on a ledge, looking down from a distance.

"Hello!" Nojiko shouted, trying to be friendly with the first local they had come across since landing.

Soren had no such designs on being pleasant, "Oi! What are you doing hanging out on the cliffs, you old kook?" He ignored Nojiko smacking him on the arm.

The old man wasn't the sensitive type, responding with a barb of his own, "What does it look like? Surveying trails, so dumb little fucks like you lot don't blow your durn legs off!" He beckoned them his way, "Get up here! Hurry up before an Abyss Worm gobbles ya up!"

The crew looked at each other and shrugged before using their respective techniques to scale the canyon wall and reach the local. The haste with which they reached him startled him for a moment.

"I meant take the foot trail up, but that works too," He admitted, adjusting the dusty ranch hand hat on his head, giving the group a smile with a few missing teeth, "Y'alls fer'ners, I see."

Miss Valentine tested the words in her mouth to discern the Man's accent, "Fer'ners? Foreigners?"

"Yep. Fer'ners," The man confirmed with a nod, "Nicer than the last lot that came through, from the looks of ya. Name's Durden."

Easily the most diplomatic out of them, Nojiko took the lead, "Nice to meet you," She put her hand to her chest before gesturing to the others, "I'm Nojiko. This is Miss Valentine, Soren, and Byron."

Durden was friendly, which was welcome, "Nice to see some friendly faces. S'been few and far between 'round these parts."

Soren took that opening and ran with it, "We heard pirates took this place over. You know anything about that?" Info on what they'd gotten into was what they needed.

Durden spat on the ground, getting Nojiko to jump back in disgust, "Damned seafarin' scavenger scum!" He ranted, swinging his cane wildly.

"Nice alliteration," Miss Valentine chimed in with a laugh, leaning herself out of harm's way.

Durden called down and rested on his cane, "The best ore 'n gunpowder ya can find in the New World comes from here. But it's hard to get to," He explained, "Fer'ners like y'all don't know how to mine this land right. If ya fuck up in the wrong place, things go boom."

Soren could only imagine, after what he had already been through, "Ooh."

"T'ain't so easy, boys 'n girls, n'they know it too," The elderly surveyor said, "They let our miners do their thing, then strip the profits 'fore ."

Byron had taken in everything he had heard since their interaction began, "Simple extortion?" He said quietly to himself in disbelief, "This makes no sense. Tis too mundane an aim for my former comrades."

Soren was itching to get down to business. The business of cracking some skulls, "Where can we find these guys?"

Durden didn't look eager to get involved, but if it chapped the hides of the miserable people that were making life on Risky Red Island difficult, "I can show ya. I ain't much fer heading to town no more. Not tryin' to get caught up in no mess. But I suppose showin' you folk the way won't hurt none."

Nojiko gave the old man a beautiful smile out of gratitude, "Thank you, Durden."

Despite being alive for decades, the old man was a complete sucker for a pretty girl, "Don't thank me. Just keep me out of it… and get them Dandies outta here!"

XxX

(Meanwhile – Back on the Natural Disaster)

While being the party that stayed behind on the ship was usually safer, it was also usually more boring. Fortunately, everyone had their hobbies to keep themselves busy waiting for the return of their crewmates, or for the other shoe to drop to call them into action.

Naruto sat meditating with Vivi. The princess had a good head on her shoulders, and as Naruto's protege took to several of his training methods well. She sat right next to him on their grassy deck, just as tranquil and motionless as him. It was nice to have someone else that understood the appeal of such a simple practice.

As this continued, Naruto was suddenly alerted to something. He turned his head in a particular direction, staring out at the open ocean. Kurama perked up for a moment before returning to his rest. The captain of the crew worked his mouth in thought before making an announcement to everyone else, "We've gotta meet with the fleet soon. Like, a week, soon."

Vivi moved for the first time in well over an hour, opening an eye and raising an eyebrow in interest, "Who called for it? CP9 or Jewerly Bonney?" It never ceased to amaze her how Naruto had managed to set up some kind of working deal between such completely different crews.

CP9 would call for more important things, but they were much infrequent with their communications. If they called for a gathering, it was definitely worthwhile that everyone show up. Bonney contacted the Foxhound Pirates way more often, but it was about trivial things a lot of the time. Most of the time, actually. In the grand scheme of things, she just really liked keeping in touch with Naruto. Over time, she'd actually grown to like him quite a bit, and he tended to be a bit of a protective, hovering type over her and her crew.

"CP9," Naruto said. In the background, Paulie let out a groan at having to deal with his least favorite crew that they were actually supposed to be cordial with, "They have some things that apparently everyone needs to hear. Lucci popped the clone I had with 'em."

Vivi didn't like the harsh treatment of the clone, even if it was just a copy of her captain, "Why couldn't they just tell you and then pop it?" Or better yet, let it go on its own. They knew how Naruto's jutsu worked. They knew enough at least to be aware that the clone could send information back to Naruto once it was dispelled.

Naruto made wordless gestures, at a loss explanation-wise as to how, "...Because why not?" He eventually said, breaking into laughter as the rest of the crew present deadpanned a stare at him. It didn't bother him any, "They still don't like me, remember?"

But they fell into line, and that was what mattered. When a working relationship between the two crews had first been established, despite the posturing of being dangerous, professional types from the CP9 side, everyone knew where the bread was buttered. Everyone knew which side was higher in the pecking order, and it wasn't even questionable. When one of the captains killed an admiral in one-on-one combat… that was the end of the discussion.

Yosaku could only look back at their current position with a measure of amazement, "It's still wild that we're part of a pirate fleet. It's wild that we run the fleet."

Fortunately, Johnny was there to keep his more meat-headed friend and partner from getting too big a head, "No, Naruto-aniki runs the fleet. If you tried to tell any of the captains that you had any kind of seniority just because you were on this crew, they'd kick your ass."

"Also, CP9 doesn't even claim being pirates," Vivi pointed out.

"I don't run anything," Naruto corrected. It wasn't like he was the only one that said anything or presented anything to the others. All opinions mattered. It was just that Lucci and Bonney really did look to him as the overall decision-maker, "And we're not pirates either," He finished to the princess, getting an amused roll of the eyes from her.

Paulie looked over from where he was working with the mooring ropes to comment, "Do you really still believe that, or are you just saying it now out of force of habit?"

Naruto looked over at the cigar-chomping shipwright with a twitch to his eye, "You can shut up," Paulie gave him a middle finger in response, as was tradition. Any byplay among the crew was put on hold when another sudden sensation hit Naruto. But this time, it wasn't the feeling of a clone dispelling, "Wait. You guys feel that?"

Yosaku looked around at the open air and back to the island where he found nothing of note, "No. We don't feel that. You're literally the only one that can feel anything."

Vivi put a hand on Naruto's shoulder and asked him what was wrong, "What is it, Naruto? Is everything okay?"

Naruto shook his head, not certain how to answer, "I... don't know," He said, at a complete loss for what he was sensing, "It feels like something big, I think. But I don't sense any malice or hatred, or anything. It's just... empty."

Even Sea Kings had some kind of emotion to them. It made it really easy to sense where they were in the ocean and helped Nojiko navigate for them when Naruto was at the helm. This was different, and Naruto didn't like it one bit.

XxX

(With the Shore Party – Risky Red Island – Bulk Mines Base Town)

True to his word, the old cowboy Durden led the Foxhound Pirates to the nearest town to find what they were after, which happened to be a meeting with the Dandy Pirates.

It was a sprawling place with buildings build on the ground and up in the walls of the canyon they were in, a form of building that became more commonplace as the canyon narrowed. It was an impressive display of engineering to see how all of the buildings connected, and all of the bridges spanning across the canyon to help people move from place-to-place quicker.

Nojiko was intrigued. The town stayed in the cool shade, despite the hot, dry sun beating down on most of the rest of the island, "This place... what is it?"

"This is the Bulk Mines base town," Durden explained, his spurs jangling as he walked through the dirt, "Everyone that works the mines outta this part o' the island comes through here," He pointed to where the cliffs of the valley closed in, "That's the entrance."

Nojiko looked around at the wooden buildings that comprised the wild west-looking town. There were plenty of sullen-eyed roughnecks about, but there was something about them that seemed defeated, "What do you mean by 'this part of the island'?"

Durden turned to give the blue-haired girl a big grin, "Minin' is the biggest bit o' business we do. There's mines all over, an' all of 'em are connected. They're separated by what ya can get from 'em," He turned forward, continuing to lead on with his head held high, "Yep. People do their minin', get their pay, and the companies take the haul to the coast to ship on outta here. It was good times 'round here for a long while... but then..."

Soren noticed the dour demeanor of their guide and finished his thought for him, "The Dandy Pirates took over?"

Durden let out a sigh and kept speaking, "'Twas about six months ago. Sheriffs couldn't stop 'em. Them outlaws took this whole island over. Demanded workers mine for 'em. Companies rolled over and gave 'em what they wanted so they didn't kill 'em. Now they're shippin' out less, bringin' in less money, so the workers are gettin' less too. But nobody can leave," He turned and gave the crew a speculative gaze, "You probably can't neither."

This story was beginning to remind Nojiko of something very familiar to what eventually evolved into the situation on Cocoyashi Island, her home, "Why not?"

"Them Abyss Worms," Durden said, "Word has it, them Dandies came up with some way to control 'em. They send 'em out to feed. And to sink ships they don't like."

Miss Valentine looked at Durden in shock, "Wait a minute. You're telling me those goddamn things can swim?"

"They can do more than swim, girl," Durden informed her before shrugging, "I never seen it myself though. I can't imagine how they'd do somethin' like that anyway. Them worms is mindless pits."

"Let's not worry about that right now," Nojiko said, steering the conversation away from the disgusting worm they fought earlier, "Right now, we need to figure out how to find the Dandy Pirates."

Soren scoffed. As if this was supposed to be difficult, "I'll show you how to find 'em," He stepped forward and cupped his hands to his mouth to yell at the top of his lungs, "Oi! I'm looking for those punk-ass Dandy Pirates! I know somebody knows how to find 'em!"

His voice echoed off of the walls of the canyon, and it seemed like whatever bustle there had been going on in the town went dead silent. Saying 'Dandy Pirates' out loud in such a boisterous manner was a definite no-no.

The population went to scramble for cover. Any cover. Stores, homes, saloons. They would dive underneath water troughs meant for animals to drink. Anything that would put them between whatever bad was about to happen to the crazy-looking bald man with the tattoo on his face.

It took a minute or two, but in a short time, they could hear a loud noise coming their way. Soren turned to the rest of the crew and bowed, "You're welcome."

"Wow, thanks," Nojiko said before paying attention to who was coming their way.

A thin man with large, dirty blonde hair and eyeliner walked down the street with a pair of drumsticks in his hands. He wore an open leather vest and black leather pants with large platform boots. He moved with a beat to his steps, like there was a song in his head.

In addition to that, anything that got within arm's reach, he felt the need to drum on in correlation to whatever part of his mental song he was at.

Durden took a few steps back, behind the Foxhound Pirates, "This ain't my fight, pardners," He said.

Nojiko smiled at the old man and shook her head. He had no obligation to them. The request they had given him had already been fulfilled, "That's fine. You've done enough. Thank you, Durden. Go somewhere safe."

A fight wasn't their goal, but it was more than likely that one would happen. The less people caught up in it, the better.

Byron cleared his throat and stepped forward with as much poise as he could muster, "Rakken, I want to speak with Ash," He said, holding his head up high, "I want answers. Tell me why. Tell me why you betrayed me, sold me into slavery."

Rakken let out chittering laughter in return, "Chit-chit-chit-chit-chit! We don't owe you any explanations," He stated brazenly, "You were our captain, and now you're not, chit-chit-chit! And look at you now! You're not a slave anymore either! Aren't you lucky? No, you're just a bottom-feeder in someone else's crew."

Soren chewed on his tongue for a moment before he started to crack his knuckles, "Yeah… I've got this."

Byron turned to his crewmate in disbelief, "What?"

Soren didn't mince his words, "You heard me. I've got this. You guys keep on going. Maybe find someone else that actually will talk. I'm gonna deal with this idiot myself."

Byron held out an arm to keep Soren from walking past, "Wait. This is my cross to bear," He said, "The Dandy Pirates, they bear the name that I created. If our crews must come to blows, I must be the one to step forward and do so."

Soren looked to the side at his friend and pushed his arm down, "You don't want to fight," He said calmly, "It's all over your face. It's in your body language. You're going to fuck around and get hurt against someone you can beat."

Rakken hung back and amused himself by watching the interaction between his former captain and his new crew, "Ooh, you're gonna take me on all by your lonesome? Well aren't you a real tough guy?" He said to Soren, "Tough guys like you get chewed up and spit out like gum in the New World."

Slowly, a maniacal grin started to form on Soren's face, "You know something else about the New World? Talk is cheap," He turned his head to the others and jerked his head for them to move forward, "Go."

"If you're sure," Nojiko said. She was supposed to have been the one keeping this rabble together and focused. Then again, they really didn't all need to hang back to fight one person. No one knew how strong this crew was, but Soren would likely be enough, "You'd better hurry here and catch up. We're not waiting for you."

"Yeah-yeah-yeah," Soren said, waving her off, "Just let me beat an apology out of this assclown. I'll probably be ahead of you in a few minutes."

Rakken laughed again and pointed at Byron, "An apology? To him?" He said, "You've got to be kidding me!"

Soren threw his arms open wide, "Yeah! You insulted my favorite drinking buddy! And no one talks down to the guy that brews my spirits. Now come and take your licks, Little Drummer Boy!" He said, beckoning him forth.

Rakken spun his drumsticks in his fingers and charged ahead, "Into the fire, huh? No problem then!"

Soren quickly used Soru to try and outpace him, using his speed to take the quick advantage. Moving to try and blindside him, Soren threw a sweeping attack with his arm to try and remove Rakken's head, only to miss.

He looked around to find his opponent after the miss only to look down and see Rakken drumming on the ground Soren clenched a fist and punched at the ground, only for Rakken to roll out of the way safely, lying face down on the ground where he continued to drum.

"What the hell?" Soren asked, dropping his guard as he watched as Rakken continue to jam. At this point, he got into it enough to kick his feet and thrash his whole body, "Are we gonna fight, or are you busy having an epileptic fit?"

"Don't worry about me acid man!" Rakken said, jumping back up to his feet, "You were the one who challenged me! That doesn't mean that I necessarily wanted to fight, does it?" He asked, "Then again, if I didn't like to fight, I probably shouldn't have been a pirate then, huh!?"

He lifted his leg and stomped down on the ground. The earth near where Soren had been standing a moment before, right behind where he stood now, fractured at his feet, leaving a crevice he fell down into, "Whoa!"

A quick use of Geppou kept him from presumably falling to his death, but he rose to find Rakken there, trying to hit him with his sticks. A quick acid loogie warded him off and gave Soren enough time to reset. Feet firmly back on the ground, Soren looked at the gigantic fissure that had just been created. A nearby building sat halfway inside of it, nearly tilted on its side.

Something about it left Soren angered. He didn't care what happened to pirates or Marines. They knew what they were getting into. This was different, "And people say I'm crazy? What do you think you're doing?"

Rakken ran a hand through his massive metal hair, "What do I care about destroying this town? All of the workers we're using are down in the mine right now! It's not like this place means anything to us!" He pointed a drumstick at Soren, "You're the one that picked a fight here. You probably should have thought of that then. Oh well!"

'Shit. Drummer spaz has a point,' Soren thought to himself. He'd been quick on the draw, calling the Dandy Prirates out. He just wanted to get the show on the road, 'I don't know what his powers are, but he thinks he could destroy the town if he tried.'

That made two of them, which didn't mean good things for the Bulk Mines townspeople if this went on for too long. Set on making this quick, Soren lowered his posture into his serious martial arts stance. As the two squared off again, he eyed the drumsticks in Rakken's hand. If he could destroy one or both of them, he would be at a severe disadvantage. Those were his targets of opportunity.

It was time to exploit those targets, quickly.

Launching himself into the air to try and keep off of the ground that his enemy had proven he could easily rupture, Soren used Geppou to close the distance and get himself closer. He had distance attacks, but preferred to use his martial arts to take down foes.

Most of the Foxhound Pirates were strong melee combatants, sans Nojiko, Perona, Paulie, and Vivi. Soren saw himself as sitting right around the top.

As Soren hurtled through the air, He spun and flipped wildly, sending acid spraying all about, indiscriminately, "Ibi Ibi Bakuhatsu (Rot Rot Explosion)!" It was a dangerous move when it came to possible collateral damage. The potent acid ate through everything it touched in moments.

Rakken took cover behind pillars and walls where he could, only for his protection to disintegrate, "Hah! Not bad! I like it!" His mood changed when Soren's hand penetrated a metal wall right next to his head, "Ooh… have a taste of this! Jaakuna Shindou (Wicked Vibrations)!"

Soren yanked his hand out of the wall before Rakken began drumming on it, freeing himself in the nick of time before he dealt with the same fate as the wall that quickly turned into a broken, crumbling waste. Using Tekkai -giving his body the consistency of steel- would only do so much against that.

But this was his chance. He was close. Close enough that Rakken hadn't proven to be able to gain more distance against him if he were pressed from such a range.

"Kezu Iwa-Ki Tora (Tiger Jackhammer)!" Soren began shooting rapid-fire punches at Rakken, faster than the human eye could see. His increase in punching speed had been tried and tested. It took the likes of Nojiko and her kind of Haki to see and count the individual blows.

If you were hit by one, you were hit by all of the others that followed. No questions about it. Rakken was able to avoid the early portion of the barrage, but it was all a feint. While hitting him would have been great, it wasn't Soren's original aim.

His attack got him close enough to put his hands on Rakken's drumsticks. Soren's grip was tight. Too tight for Rakken to pull them free. He began to burn the sticks with the acidic sweat gathered in his palms.

There was just one problem. They didn't melt in his hands. In fact, Rakken only seemed to be overjoyed by the fact that Soren had gotten ahold of his weapons of choice. The latter quickly learned why.

The bones in Soren's hands seemed to deform underneath the skin at the joints, "RAAAAGH!" He let out a scream of pain and let go, dashing away to nurse his injuries.

"Chit-chit-chit-chit-chit!" Rakken felt his confidence increase, seeing the expression of victory and then of pain that had been on Soren's face, "You really thought it was that easy to destroy these? Idiot!"

Soren, unfortunately had to agree, "Fucking Busoshoku Haki..." He muttered to himself, popping the joints of his fingers back into place one at a time. It shouldn't have been a surprise that he had it, even if he hadn't made it obvious, "Stupid. Stupid!"

The old saying about what happens when you assume applied here.

"Take that 'Simple Jack' shit back to Paradise! You might be able to make a living with it there!" Rakken cackled at Soren's apparent strategy to overcome him, "You know where you are? You're in the New World, baby!" He rushed Soren again, "You're gonna DIE!"

As he ran, he swept low and dragged his sticks through the dirt. As Soren reacted to his approach and fired a dangerous stream of acid at him, a large plume of dust flew up into the air, creating a screen. He barely saw Rakken get close, and ample use of Kami-e kept him from being touched again by the dangerous weapons.

Rakken pressed his advantage, throwing a drumstick at Soren. He dodged, forcing it to strike the wall of the canyon. On contact, Rakken stomped his foot and the wall quickly crumbled, bringing a rockslide down on top of the Foxhound Pirate.

From a string connecting his drumstick to his wristband, the rocker pulled the object back into his grasp, "Did you forget? I can leave a charge and activate it later."

He didn't walk away. Instead, he just waited and watched expectantly. He knew Soren wasn't dead. He wasn't disappointed when Soren rose from the pile of rocks, little worse for wear, despite the extreme weight that had been dropped on top of him.

The acid-spitting pirate emerged from the rubble, standing straight and tall. He turned and stared at Rakken seriously and cracked his neck, "You ain't finished with your set yet, Little Drummer Boy," He taunted, lifting a hand and beckoning Rakken toward him, "Get your ass back on stage."

XxX

(Meanwhile – With the Rest of the Shore Party)

True to what Durden had told them, the entrance to the mine wasn't hard to find. What was hard was ignoring the obvious sounds of combat going on closer to the heart of the town.

They had no idea how powerful the Dandy Pirates were. Byron had never talked about his former crew or their previous exploits. They didn't even know what his bounty had been before coming onto the Foxhound Pirates. While Byron was a modest sort, it wasn't humility that kept him from talking about these things. They had asked him about his past time and time again. It was clear that he simply didn't wish to speak about it.

But they were here now. Soren was fighting one of his ex-comrades, and they had little to no idea what they were getting themselves into. They were confident that they could handle it. They had fought many crews and come out on top, but any lack of information was dangerous.

It irked one member of the team in particular. Miss Valentine was the information specialist on the crew. From her time in Baroque Works, she had gotten very good at finding news and other details on notable figures on the Grand Line. That extended to her time on the Foxhound Pirates as well. If anyone on the crew was going to know anything about who they were fighting, it was going to be her.

"So that Rakken guy," Miss Valentine said, probing for data, "On a scale of one-to-ten, ten being Naruto, how strong is he? Is Soren in trouble here?"

And would the rest of them be if more combat broke out?

Byron frowned and shook his head, "As far as his capabilities go, I know of his powers, but not of the extent of his abilities," He noticed the looks he was getting from the women by his side, "I was not the one who recruited Rakken. He was one of Ash's recruits."

"Ash?" Nojiko said in curiosity.

"My first mate," Byron explained, "When the Dandy Pirates came together, it was the two of us who made it happen. We shared responsibility and led together. Before we started on the Grand Line, it was agreed that we needed a single captain. I was selected."

Miss Valentine let out a sound of understanding, "Ah, I see. And this Ash was jealous."

Despite everything that happened, Byron would not distort the facts. He was a man of integrity and honor. There were plenty of things to be upset about without lying or altering history, "No. Ash always supported my position as captain. There never seemed to be any problems, even though Ash's recruits were a more... unsavory sort than my own. Even so, I felt it took all types to make it in a place as perilous as the Grand Line," It was the roughnecks that Ash had brought in that made the machine go, so to speak, "I must admit, Ash's acquisitions were normally more suited to combat. My additions to the crew were capable fighters, true, but Ash was pickier. I was more inclusive. We worked together in harmony. Or so I had thought."

There were times when he spoke that he had a tone of reminiscing in his voice. Nojiko couldn't imagine what it would have been like to be betrayed in such a way. Mutinied and then sold into slavery without as much as an explanation. Was such a thing as closure even possible?

XxX

(With Soren – Bulk Mine Base Town)

Punching hurt. Soren couldn't make a good fist that would make any kind of real impact with his hands the way they were. Granted, if he hit someone with a half-assed fist it would still be a devastating strike, but against a real opponent like this one, it wouldn't work.

'And he has fucking Haki on top of it,' Soren thought to himself resentfully, "Great. Fucks like you are always trouble."

"I have to admit, you're tough," Rakken said, pointing at Soren's damaged hands, "That little trick you tried to pull? It should have turned your arms to blood pudding and bone splinters."

Soren stopped and raised his hand like he was in school, "Ooh! Yeah, about that. What is that even supposed to be?"

Rakken laughed at the sudden burst of childlike curiosity, "Well after you've seen it, explaining it doesn't mean anything now. I ate the Crush-Crush Fruit. Anything I tap with these sticks, I weaken the foundation of it until it's destroyed. It doesn't matter how hard I hit it either."

Soren crossed his arms, remembering how he destroyed dense, hard things. True enough, he hadn't hit the metal wall he'd destroyed very hard. The same for the wall earlier, "So what does matter?"

Rakken twisted his drumsticks in his hands, ready to fight once more, "You might figure it out… right before you die," He flung a stick at Soren again.

This time, instead of just dodging and letting the stick go, Soren leaned out of the way and threw a hard kick, sending a blade of energy Rakken's way, "Rankyaku (Storm Leg)!"

Rakken watched attack come his way and struck it with his remaining drumstick. To Soren's surprise, it didn't injure him to do so, "Chit-chit-chit! It works on things like that too."

"Oh, fuck right off!" Soren bellowed before blurring out of sight with the use of Soru. He was going to get this guy one way or another, "Ibi Ibi no Kawa (Rot Rot Stream)!"

A deadly jet of acid sprayed from Soren's mouth with the force of a fire hose. Rakken was caught off-guard and tried to cover up, but the force of the attack sent him flying through the wooden wall of a building.

Soren jumped in celebration of landing a clean shot, "Ha! Gotcha, bitch!"

"I don't know what you're so happy about," Rakken's voice echoed from inside the building. After a few loud taps of his sticks, half of the building came down around him, "That didn't even hurt. That can't be the best you've got."

Soren didn't say anything at first. It was when Rakken began to scratch his arms that a vicious grin formed on his face, "You got cocky, dickhead. Haki takes your willpower and turns it into armor. Physical armor," And it could be whittled down, or stripped away if you had the means to do so, "You say your powers can destroy anything? Well my power can eat through anything."

This was far from his first dance against a Haki user. As his acid had grown more powerful, he learned that it worked. It had always worked, but every battle against a Haki user he'd doused them with, it had either gotten washed off, or didn't last long enough for the effects to be seen.

He could melt Haki just like anything else. It just took a while longer.

The itching on Rakken's arms and chest started to progress to a painful burning. As it did, He began to panic. Soren had gotten his entire body with his last shot, "What the hell? You're kiddi-geh!"

He took his eyes off of the prize. A fatal mistake. Soren sneakily moved behind Rakken and stabbed him in his shoulder joints with his index fingers. He didn't even have to use his acid to guarantee penetration. He did use his acid, however, to melt the nerves in his shoulders.

Rakken's drumsticks fell from his now limp hands. His mouth fell open in shock and horror, "What did you just do!?"

"I disarmed you," Soren replied casually before realizing what he said and the two different ways it could be taken, "Oh, hah! I didn't even mean it that way, but I guess it applies too!" With that, he began to laugh.

Soren was not a pleasant person.

Rakken seethed in anger, "This isn't funny!" He complained, stomping his feet, arms dangling at his sides uselessly.

"I think it is!"

Soren's laughter was cut short when he noticed the ground begin to collapse underneath the two of them.

Wait. Hadn't he stopped that when he neutralized the drumsticks?

The question must have shown on his face, because Rakken answered, "I don't need them. It's just a lot more fun to use 'em!"

Instead of drumming, Rakken tapped his toes to execute what he needed to do. He stomped and the ground dropped out underneath Soren. He saw this and jumped at Rakken to attack. The man was armless. How was he going to defend himself?

The drumsticks may have dropped to the ground, but a wire still connected them to Rakken's wristbands, "You're going to pay for this!" He whipped his body around violently, swinging his limp arms, and the sticks attached to them.

Soren barely had enough time to put up his Tekkai defense. It was rendered useless when the first stick hit him. It felt like muscles inside of him tore when it made contact, "Shit!" He grunted in pain just before the second stick made contact.

The second hit knocked Soren off to the side onto the ground where he landed face down, motionless.

Rakken growled angrily at how much damage had been done to him by his opponent. There was a chance those injuries would be permanent if they couldn't find a doctor good enough to fix him. There definitely wasn't one on that rock. But that could be thought about later. For now, he had to make sure the bastard before him was truly dead.

As he walked over to deliver a double-tap of a killing blow, he stopped when Soren started to push himself up. The bald fighter groaned in pain and annoyance as he dusted himself off, back turned to Rakken, who was beside himself, "What the-? How!?"He asked aloud, "I broke your defense! There was no way you survived both hits back-to-back!"

Soren continued dusting his pants and shirt off, paying Rakken little mind as he did so, "A defense."

Rakken paused in his hysterics to satisfy his curiosity, "What?"

"I said, you broke a defense," Soren repeated with more detail, "I have two. You made me put up the other one. The one I hate using," He ripped away his shirt and revealed his entire torso colored black. The tattoo that went down his body was a different enough shade to be seen over the pitch black of his skin.

Rakken's body started to shake in fear at what he was seeing, "Y-You know Haki too!?" He managed to stammer out. Soren had been tough enough to begin with, "Why didn't you ever use it!?"

He never even tried to. Rakken could tell. When he'd injured Soren's hands, when Soren had attacked him head-on... not once did he attempt to utilize Busoshoku Haki.

Soren looked irritated at the question, his eye twitching, "Do you have any idea how long it took me to master all six styles of the Rokushiki? And I did it without Marine training," He said, part-boasting, "I'm proud of that! Stupid Haki. 'Oh, you mean all I have to do is decide you can't hurt me and believe it with all my heart? Oooh~!' Cheap bullshit!" He spat hatefully.

Rakken seemed half angry, half frightened out of his wits, "...So you're saying... the only reason you didn't use it from the start... is because you don't like it?"

Soren bent himself halfway over to leer at the disabled drummer, "Do I need another reason? You didn't kill me without it, did you?" The fact that he was about to, notwithstanding, "I'm not the only one on my crew who does that either, just so you know."

Rakken tried and failed to keep from visibly gulping down his nerves.

"Now it's time to finish this."

Rakken made to run, but Soren had always been the faster of the two. Storming at Rakken, he hit him in the face with a palm strike, "Tora Oshitsubusu (Tiger Crush)!"

The strike caused the Dandy Pirate member to fly halfway across the town and smack into the cliff on the other side with a mighty thud that echoed through the canyon. Around his body was a massive imprint in the shape of a hand.

Soren stood back and admired his handiwork, "Eat your heart out, Bartholomew Kuma," He said to himself, bobbing his head side-to-side cockily, pleased at his actions, "...Oh, crap. I was supposed to make that guy apologize to Byron. I hope he's not dead. And man, it feels weird to say that after a fight like that."

With that, he jogged off to retrieve Rakken's body and make sure he hadn't killed him off.

XxX

(Caverns of Risky Red Island – Dandy Pirates' Lair)

"The Foxhound Pirates," Captain Ash said, voice never seeming concerned, despite the incredulity of what was said, "Ye are kidding."

Von Halo had reported to the captain what had been told to him about the situation in town, "Not at all. People saw four of them outside of the Bulk Mine asking about the Dandy Pirates."

Only four? Well there was a silver lining, seeing as how the Foxhound Pirates were nine individuals strong, "Was he with them?" Ash asked.

It was always hard to tell what the captain was feeling. Ash stayed covered by the large captain's coat and hat. Ash's voice also never seemed to betray any emotion, "I wasn't told. But I would stake my whole stash that he is, seeing as how there wouldn't be any other reason those people would come here," Von Halo said.

Ash accepted this. Von Halo was easily the member of the crew the captain had the most trust in, both in his strength and his loyalty. If he said something was the way it was, that was all that was needed, "Is our 'welcome' ready for them yet?"

Von Halo nodded in affirmation, "Cinderella has already dispatched them. Anything left onboard their ship shouldn't survive the hour. What do you want to do about the Foxhounds that are here?"

This was a problem that needed to be solved. If the Foxhound Pirates, or anyone else for that matter, knew what the Dandy Pirates were doing on Risky Red Island, they would want to stop them. Or even worse, take over the operation for themselves.

The latter was absolutely not an option whatsoever. What they were doing would give them the kind of edge on the Paradise Grand Line crews that couldn't be matched. The Foxhound Pirates would soon taste what that was. Or, more accurately, they would be tasted.

Ash turned around to head deeper into their lair, oversized coat billowing in the air with every movement, "I need to make sure our acquisitions are secure, in case we need to evacuate. Send the Twisted Sisters and Motorhead."

Von Halo reached for a Den Den Mushi to make a call to the aforementioned cohorts Captain Ash wanted mobilized, "If Uzumaki Naruto isn't with them, they should be enough to handle whoever did come."

A scoff came from behind Ash's coat and hat, "If Uzumaki Naruto were with them, we likely wouldn't have had the chance to have this conversation. But that is not important now. We've come too far to be stopped here."

True. A great amount of work had gone into their plans. And soon, any force on the seas would be hard-pressed to stand against them, "Agreed. By the end of this, Byron will realize he wasn't a good enough captain. Even if he has to do so the hard way."

Ash disagreed quietly, just out of Von Halo's earshot, "Ye are wrong, Von Halo. All of ye were. Byron was a fine captain. The part I agreed with was that he simply wasn't the captain a crew needed to survive in the New World."

It took a hard person to weather the perils of the Grand Line – just the Paradise portion. To make it in the New World, where only the best of the best could hope to even reach, it took a true cutthroat attitude. Signs of weakness needed to be snuffed out, and sentiment that would betray this needed to be culled.

The Dandy Pirates had evolved, and anyone who stood against them would know this. It didn't matter if it was the Marines, Uzumaki Naruto, or even Byron.


So yeah, this has been slow to get out. And you know what the major holdup was? People telling me I NEED to update this story and damn anything else.

I'm not talking about the people who ask me to update, or that they're waiting on a continuation. I'm talking about the people who review and PM nasty little messages to 'update or declare the story abandoned you piece of shit', paraphrasing. Even in other completely unrelated stories.

The absolute worst way to get me to do something, or motivate me in any way, is to tell me to do it, especially that way. In such a scenario, I will gleefully do the exact opposite if it doesn't inconvenience me. It's why I do the job I do at the time of day I do it. It's probably a big reason why I do MMA as my sport of choice instead of any team sport. Every time I saw one of those reviews or messages, my interest in working on this story dropped, which is a shame, since I like writing fan fiction.

Don't ever think anyone can tell me what to do. I'll take as long as I want to do what I want, seeing as how I write these stories on a whim. Were I getting paid for this, perhaps there would be more urgency, but since there isn't and this is a hobby that I use to wind down and relax, I update as I am stricken to write and do so.

This is getting long in the tooth...

The point is, I only really owe a handful of people anything. I won't use any real names or user names here, but they know who they are. Other than that, I'm grateful people read my stuff, and I've gotten some touching messages from people that enjoy my stuff. But I would still be writing even if nobody read it. I write, and do mostly everything, for purely selfish reasons. I do this for me, because I need an outlet of some sort, and hitting stuff only goes so far in that regard.

Anyway, I'll be back with more stuff later. I hope you enjoyed.

Kenchi out.