Disclaimer. I do not own Naruto or One Piece.
I hear about gas prices all the time. Pfft. There's no such thing as a gas shortage, man. It's all set up by the government. Everything's controlled by the oil companies. Like, I heard about this guy who invented a car that runs on water, man! It's fiber-glass, air-cooled, and it runs on water, man!
Chapter 53: As The Worm Turns/Appetite For Destruction
While a portion of the Natural Disaster's crew was ashore at Risky Red Island to confront Byron's old crew, the remainder lingered aboard the ship. Normally, being left behind would leave Naruto stir crazy enough to find something to do, or at least backtrack to an area where he had left a Hiraishin marker to tend to some busy work.
But here, there was a mystery that demanded his attention. So he sat precariously at the end of the stern, staring down into the water. He was unable to see anything past the waves, either with his eyes, or his well-developed sixth sense.
"Are you fishing with your weird ninja god powers?" The innocent question from Perona, who stood behind Naruto, leaning over his head to peer into his eyes, "Aww. Nope. Just boring old regular fishing then?"
"You could say that," Naruto said with a calm smile, "Not sure exactly what's gonna bite, but hey."
Not too far away on the ship, Johnny stood paranoid, arms crossed with his fingers drumming off the hilt of his sword. Yosaku was with his closest friend, trying to figure out what his problem was, "I don't know what you're so worried about. You heard Naruto-aniki. He doesn't sense anything."
Johnny glared at Yosaku behind his sunglasses. He wasn't a worry-wart for no reason, "Yeah. He doesn't sense anything!" He emphasized, "I mean, no, he didn't sense anything like a Sea King, but nothing? He always senses something."
Yosaku blinked as though he just realized how expansive Naruto's sensing abilities were, "Oh. Yeah. That's right," He looked over to the captain of the ship and yelled, "Aniki, what are you feeling exactly?"
Naruto turned his head and looked back around Perona to address his power swordsman, "An emotional black hole. I don't know how to describe it any better, guys," He turned his attention back to the water, eyeing it suspiciously, "...I'm going in."
Perona quivered at the thought of descending into the water, even though Naruto didn't have Devil Fruit abilities, "What do you mean you're 'going in'?"
"I'm going down there to figure out what it is. I need to know," Naruto explained, waving off any concern, "I can swim. It's fine."
Perona reached down and grabbed hands full of Naruto's hair, moving his head around as she continued to protest, "Can't you just like, part the seas or something and take a look that way?" Naruto slowly tilted his head up and gave her a deadpan stare, "What? I don't know what all you can and can't do!"
Naruto raised an eyebrow in return, "No, I mean, I could probably do it, but I'd kill all of the fish and destroy the ship. I don't wanna do that. I paid good money for this ship!" He said, slapping his hand down on said ship, "...Oh, and I'm a sage. Supposed to respect the sanctity of nature, and all of that stuff."
Johnny snickered from back on the deck, "Ninja, sage, pirate. Is there anything else we can add to the list of stuff we can call you?" He asked tauntingly.
Naruto stood up, rolling his shoulders and stretching himself out for exercise, "I'll tell you what. I can either kill time by going down there to find out what I'm sensing, or I can do it by kicking your ass for that pirate remark. The choice is yours."
There was no contest in regards to the choices offered. Not for Johnny, "Happy hunting, aniki. I hope you find your white whale."
Naruto let out a laugh, "Call me Ishmael, 'ttebayo," He let Perona get clear of him before he dove down into the water.
"Well, there he goes," Yosaku said, observing Naruto's idea to head down into the depths to investigate, "...Batten down the hatches?" He asked his fellow crew members questioningly.
Once again, Johnny didn't have to think very hard about his answer, "Oh, hell yes. Nothing good will come of this," He declared, walking off to make sure everything was secure, "Paulie! A little help!? Naruto-aniki's doing a thing!"
The mines of Risky Red Island were very wide and spacious. While going underground was normally a very claustrophobic experience, the tunnels carved out for the sake of obtaining the minerals containing them were large enough where this wasn't much of an issue. Of course, Miss Valentine, Nojiko, and Byron didn't have any problems with being underground, so this may have been inaccurate.
"Goodness," Nojiko remarked, "How deep do these mines run? We should have gotten a map or something in the town before we came down here. Do you think Durden had one?"
Miss Valentine laughed, "I don't think that old coot had anything other than the hots for you," She absolutely caught sight of the dirty little old man sneaking looks at their curves and cleavage. Not that she minded.
Byron pointed ahead at what was in front of them, "Ladies, I think the path opens up more just ahead."
At the end of the corridor, the path did open up into a massive chamber as large as the entire town at the entrance of the mines, with a bridge carved out reach to the other side. The chamber reached far enough down that none of them could see the bottom.
"My word," Byron observed, looking down at the vast abyss beneath him, "This island isn't very large, but that doesn't prevent the inhabitants from getting everything they can from it. I must applaud their tenacity and ingenuity," He said, doing just that.
Nojiko stared at the musically-inclined pirate as he clapped at the underground quarry around them, "...It's a hole, Byron."
"Yes! " He bellowed. His deep, dulcet voice echoed throughout, "A great hole! A splendid shaft!"
The blue-haired navigator shook her head at Byron's over-the-top exclamation, "God, you are so weird sometimes," She stopped walking when her Haki allowed her to pick up on something very close to them, straight ahead on the earthen bridge, "...Guys. We've got company."
Miss Valentine twirled her umbrella, eager at the chance to do battle, "Great! I'd be really annoyed if Soren was the only one who got to fight!"
Nojiko moved directly in front of the sunny blonde before she could march over and engage the enemy, "Miss Valentine! We're not here to take out the crew! We're just trying to get Byron to their captain so he can get answers."
Miss Valentine puffed out her cheeks in annoyance, "Oh, alright. But if a fight starts, this one is mine. I'm calling dibs," She asserted.
Nojiko breathed a sigh of relief and led the way until a massive explosion rocked the bridge, tearing out a large portion of it with them still on it. Nojiko activated her waver skates, streaking through the open air to return to safe ground. Miss Valentine had opened her umbrella to give herself a boost to float down safely.
Both woman landed and glared out over the open expanse that separated them from whoever had attacked them, "Not even letting us get close. Byron sure has some nasty crew mates," Nojiko groused.
"Ah-ah-ah," Miss Valentine chided gently, "We're his crew now... and yeah. We can be pretty nasty sometimes too."
Speaking of Byron, he wasn't with them. He was the only one of them without some kind of aerial capability. Nojiko worriedly ran to the edge and yelled into the darkness below, "Byron!"
It took a moment, but Byron eventually flew up over the side of the bridge, landing safely. His hair, hardened to dangerous quills, softened to their normal neat, fluffy, feathered state, "My apologies," He said, giving a wide sweeping bow to Nojiko, "I had to catch myself. It took me a moment to climb back up."
"I'm just glad you're here," Nojiko followed up, giving the musically-inclined pirate a hug before looking across the expanse, set on getting down to business, "Alright, Byron. I know you're conflicted about fighting your old crew, so Miss Valentine and I will handle this. You go on ahead."
Her offer was denied, though not by Byron. Miss Valentine turned it down, "Hmm... nope."
Nojiko suddenly turned to her, "'Nope'? What do you mean, 'nope'?"
"You heard me," Miss Valentine said stubbornly, "I called dibs already. If you wanted to fight, you should have called dibs yourself. That, or you should have taken the chance to do it outside, instead of letting Soren hog it. So go ahead and get your own."
Nojiko's mouth fell open. Miss Valentine couldn't have been serious, "I don't want to fight. I just don't like the idea of all of us splitting off one-by-one. You don't even know what they can do over there."
Miss Valentine tried to pain her petulance with a more magnanimous brush, "I don't see what the problem is. Byron probably wants a personal conversation with this Ash person. As good crew mates, we should do our best to make sure his privacy is respected!"
Nojiko didn't buy in for an instant, "Oh, that's a complete load! Half the reason you're here is because of the drama! The other half is for loot!"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing! We're pirates! I'm just saying!"
"Why are you yelling?"
"Because you want a two-on-one fight! I'm concerned!"
Miss Valentine rolled her eyes and shooed off her friends as though they were an annoyance, "Oh, for goodness sake. I. Called. Dibs," She said, stressing each word, "Would you two go already? Honestly, I'm insulted that you think I can't handle this by myself."
"It could be two-on-two," Noijko argued, insisting on reason.
Miss Valentine nodded, fully aware of the numbers disparity against her, "Right. What's your point? I called this one already!"
Miss Valentine swiftly interrupted her crew sister, "Nojiko! If we fail to adhere to the sacred pirate law of 'dibs', the entire system of piracy is at risk!" She explained, waving her arms madly, "Little nuances, established with decades and decades of practice that keep the whole kit and caboodle afloat! If we just ignore it and do whatever, we're no better than – ugh – bandits! Floating bandits! Like... mountain bandits, only wetter!" She finished in disgust.
Looking to Byron for support bore Nojiko no fruit. Instead of siding with her, he nodded in agreement with Miss Valentine's asinine statement, "Well said, my lady. You have swayed me. My thoughts exactly. Godspeed."
"See? Byron understands," Miss Valentine said, "You should listen to him. He used to be a captain."
Nojiko slowly brought her hand up to her forehead, waving Miss Valentine on with the other. She had officially given up trying to be the voice of reason, "...Just... just don't get hurt," She said, before moving on with Byron in tow.
Miss Valentine waved enthusiastically at her retreating comrades, "Bye~! Have a wonderful time~!" She sang happily, her smile slowly growing malicious as she turned to face her foes, "I know I will~."
With one mighty jump and the use of her umbrella helping her the rest of the way, Miss Valentine cleared the vast chasm. Much to her surprise, she wasn't attacked while she was in the air. So, whoever she was fighting was that confident in their abilities? Good. This could be interesting.
Landing gracefully, Miss Valentine twirled her umbrella, a smile on her face as she sized up the people she anticipated she would be fighting.
The first one was a woman small in size and stature with black makeup and raven-colored hair pulled into pigtails. She wore a black bikini and black boots. In exchange for any kind of leggings or sleeves, she wore many belts tied to her arms and legs, from wrist to shoulder and from thighs to ankles.
The second woman was taller and more muscular than her partner. She sported a black mohawk with a bang that hung forward over one of her eyes and wore a tattered sleeveless shirt with the midriff cut away. On the chest of the garment was the jolly roger for the Dandy Pirates. Over her shoulder, she wielded an axe that also doubled as an electric guitar.
They certainly looked combat-ready.
"Hi~!" Miss Valentine greeted, despite the obvious tension in the air, "Are you the ones who blew up that bridge? That was dangerous. We could have fallen, you know."
The small, unarmed girl bounced around on her toes energetically, "If you're really the Foxhound Pirates, there's no way that would have been enough to beat you."
The bigger woman, armed with the axe scoffed and flipped her bang out of her face, "We wanted to fight the ex-captain, but I guess he was too afraid to get his hands dirty against any of us."
"Oh, no-no-no," Miss Valentine said, clearing up any misinterpretation from the women, "It's not that Byron doesn't want to confront any of you, we're just clearing the way for him to have a talk with the only one of you who matters."
The air inside of the mine hadn't been very warm to begin with, but with those words, things grew downright frigid.
"What did you just say?" The woman with the axe said, slamming the weapon into the ground. It effortlessly split the rock.
Miss Valentine rolled her eyes. It was so easy to get under people's skin, "Byron never talked about any of you. The only Dandy Pirate we ever heard anything about was this Ash person. So that's who I figured he wanted to deal with directly. The rest of you are just in the way," She said with a shrug.
"You think because of who you are you're better than us?" Axe girl asked.
"Oh," Miss Valentine gestured demurely to herself, "Do you know who I am?"
Axe girl seemed to have a very short temper, but took great pleasure in trying to cut Miss Valentine down, "No. Your bounty must not be high enough for anyone to care. We are in the New World, after all. Not just anyone will stand out here."
Miss Valentine waved off the attempted slight, "Bounties are overrated," She said before offering a measure of patronizing advice, "Don't be scared of the pirate with the high bounty. You'll probably know when they're coming, so you can avoid them," She tapped the end of her umbrella off of the ground rhythmically, "No, you should be wary of the pirates that you don't know as well. After all, there's nothing as scary as the unknown... wouldn't you say?"
The smaller, more scantily clad girl put a hand to her heart before gesturing to the other, "Well, my name is French, and this is my sister Dee – the Twisted Sisters of the Dandy Pirates," She offered good-naturedly, "There. We're not unknown to you anymore."
The woman with the axe lifted her weapon and quickly rushed at Miss Valentine, "But if you like, we'll give you something to be scared of!"
Miss Valentine blocked the axe, just underneath the head with her umbrella, in order to test Dee's strength, 'Pretty good,' She thought to herself, her muscles tightening to deal with the strength of the more physically imposing sister, 'I'm pretty sure this isn't her best either.'
She'd reinforced her weapon with Haki as well. They were that talented, at least, and they knew the value of working together. French coordinated her own attack with her sister's, coming in just as she tied up with Miss Valentine.
Valentine pushed Dee away, and used the momentum to turn and strike the smaller French, too fast for her to react to. The backhand landed, and then a loud, forceful explosion blew the Foxhound pirate away. The next thing Miss Valentine knew, she was sitting against a wall, her head spinning.
"Wow. She really is tough," Dee said as she wandered over with French, "Tons of people would have been in pieces after that."
French giggled before apologizing, "Sorry. There's a little more to my hand-to-hand than I let on. After all, who wants to punch someone that'll explode on contact?"
Miss Valentine heard the taunting, but she didn't necessarily listen. She was more concerned with her singed right arm – more specifically, what it meant, "...I know that fruit," She said quietly before speaking up, "What Devil Fruit is that? Which one did you eat? How did you get that?"
Her questions came a million miles a second, but she had to know. Baroque Works had been a major part of her life, and her partnership with Mr. 5, and its subsequent end was the entire reason she was on the seas with the Foxhound Pirates now.
"That power... it couldn't be," Miss Valentine speculated to herself as she stood up, "Did you eat the Bomu Bomu no Mi?" She eventually asked.
"You know this fruit?" Dee asked, hefting her large axe over her shoulder.
Miss Valentine nodded gravely, "Pretty well, actually. I used to work with the last guy who had it," Before he was killed by the man who was currently her captain. That was a long time ago.
"Captain Ash hoarded resources to prepare for our mutiny," French said, "Byron was a trusting fool. He never picked up that the captain was amassing weapons, gathering Devil Fruits. All he cared about was his stupid dream."
Miss Valentine's gaze drifted from her singed arm and up to the Twisted Sisters talking down about her friend and comrade, "No one's dream is stupid."
Despite the sunny blonde's insistence, her enemies didn't agree. French said with a giggle, "Oh, trust me. When you find out what it is, you'll laugh your rear end off. But Captain Ash... when the captain found out... learned why Byron had put the original crew together and convinced them to travel the most dangerous sea route in the world... well, plans were made, and almost the entire crew wanted in."
Dee snarled at the mention of her former captain and how he was cast out, "Byron should have chosen his motivations and his crewmates better."
Now that, they could agree on, in Miss Valentine's opinion, "Well, if it means anything, I think he got the last thing right the second time around."
(With Nojiko & Byron)
It took great effort for Nojiko not to turn back around. With every sound of explosion that reached her, she felt like she could see the fight Miss Valentine was in, as though she were there herself. Byron winced with the sound of every blast, but didn't change course, electing to move forward. The walls and ground around them shook as they headed deeper into the mine.
To be fair, the fact that they were hearing explosions meant that Miss Valentine was alright enough to keep fighting. It was when they stopped that they could start feeling concern – at least until they could confirm that she was okay.
She could take care of herself though. In the meantime, they had to worry about themselves as well. The Dandy Pirates didn't seem keen on talking things out, and Byron hadn't managed to get a word in towards any of them.
Nojiko walked with her arms crossed, her fingertips drumming nervously off of the handles of her pistols, "This is turning into a real mess," And yet, they were still going farther in. Byron hadn't even considered turning back yet, "I have to know now, just so I'm prepared; are you going to fight Ash when we get there?"
"I do not know. But if we are attacked, I will retaliate," Byron said, "Whatever kinship I had for my former comrades, you all are my crew now."
"It's kind of funny," Nojiko commented, "A lot of us are from crews that were destroyed. Miss Valentine came from Baroque Works. Perona came from Thriller Bark. Muret came from the Bellamy Pirates."
"To my knowledge, Soren and Perona were press-ganged into joining after a conflict," Byron recalled, according to what he knew about the recruitment of his comrades.
"That's not entirely accurate," Nojiko felt the need to defend, "They eventually could have left once Naruto let them loose, but they didn't," And she was glad they'd stayed even after they'd been keelhauled. For as much as the Natural Disaster could be a madhouse, it was her madhouse. They were her family.
"I wish we had managed to procure some sort of guide," Byron commented, "These tunnels are endless."
Nojiko agreed. She could only do so much with her Haki. It wasn't like anyone farther inside was flexing their power the way Miss Valentine and the two girls she was fighting were. And the pathways they found weren't necessarily dangerous in of themselves enough to trigger the survival instinct foresight that came with her Haki.
"Durden said mining is how this island makes its living. I wonder how long that practice has been going on for?" The blue-haired shootist asked, "I guess they never imagined that there would be something here that people would want to take them over for. I can understand the feeling," She finished, remembering bad old times.
Though, Risky Red Island had actual resources as opposed to her home Cocoyashi Island. But things were basically the same. The Dandy Pirates were exploiting the population for what they wanted.
The progress they were making through the mine came to a sudden halt when Byron held up a hand, prompting Nojiko to stop, hand on one of her pistols, "What? What's the matter?"
Byron didn't know how to answer, "Do you feel that?"
Nojiko started looking around in paranoia, despite their place in a corridor with two directions, "Feel what?"
Byron didn't answer, instead kneeling down to the ground, placing his ear against the floor of the mine. He could hear and feel the vibrations, and after a while, Nojiko could as well, without having to get down for a better perspective. That meant whatever was behind the vibrations was getting closer... and they had no idea what it could be.
Nojiko had already turned halfway around before she spoke up again, "S-Should we run?"
Byron nodded, ready to take off at a moment's notice, "Yes, I believe that would be wise," Ladies first, however. He was still a gentleman, after all.
Just as they went to run, two large yellow lights shone on them from a ways away. Was someone chasing them down in a mining machine? Because it was catching up, and last time either of them checked, drills didn't move fast enough to bear down on Nojiko in Waver Skates.
Feeling they were about to be overtaken, Nojiko grabbed onto Byron, who boosted them to the ceiling. He used his Devil Fruit power to harden his hair, stabbing into the rock to keep them safe from being run over.
What the two of them had once believed to be mining equipment proved itself to be anything but. The large, metal, humanoid construct stood at 80 feet tall, with glowing yellow eyes that acted as lights to illuminate hard-to-see areas.
The lights shined up like spotlights on the two Foxhound crew members. Both stood frozen in place at the large machine in front of them, seemingly sizing them up.
That 'thing' took a swing at them with drill arms, forcing the two to dodge. The rock ceiling above them was pulverized by the force of the blow. Nojiko did her best to get some distance, while Byron went to counter attack.
Bouncing off of a wall, Byron sent himself at the machine with the top of his head, his body straight as a post, "Hedgehog Arrow!" The point of his weaponized dome collided with his target, to no effect.
"Nothing!" Nojiko said regretfully, as Byron landed on the ground. Thankfully, he hadn't cracked his head open on the metal frame, "Byron... what is that thing?"
Byron wished he had an answer for her, but he was just as stumped as she was, "I... don't know. Do you think it could be a new kind of cyborg?"
Newer than those horrible things they had come across before? Nojiko couldn't believe that, "Newer than the Pacifista?" How quickly did technology progress? "And why would your crew have cutting-edge tech? You never said anything about recruiting scientists!"
Byron shook his head in the negative, "I did not. But that does not mean Ash would not have," By now, it was clear that he had no idea what his former comrade had been up to in preparation for the horrors of the Grand Line, "And what about your equipment? I had seen nothing like your weapons on the Blue Sea until we had met. Pirates are nothing if not inventive."
Fair enough. But that didn't make things any better for them. Nojiko had only ever come across one friendly cyborg, and this construct was not Franky.
"Netsudangan (Heat Shell)!" Nojiko pulled her pistols and began shooting fire release bullets that exploded off of the machine's metal frame, to no effect, 'Oh, that's not good.'
A smug cackle came from a speaker on the machine, "Tre-ha-ha-ha-ha! Man against machine? I don't care who you are! When the technology is superior enough, there's no contest!"
"Killmister!" Byron bellowed righteously upon hearing the voice, "Is this you? This metal monstrosity is your doing!? Have you turned yourself into a cyborg!?"
"Pah, I wish. Don't be such a fool, Byron. That technology is still beyond me," A panel in the head of the machine opened to show a man with shocking white hair and welding goggles inside operating it, "But still, progress marches on, my dear former captain!" Killmister said, "...That is something you always failed to grasp."
With a better look at the robot before them, they could determine that it was definitely a fighting machine. The drills it had initially attacked them with had been replaced with more conventional hands. The armored hull was sleek and colored grey with extra thickness in strategic areas, such as at the hydraulic-supported joints that probably gave it even more strength than it already should have.
One direct hit from that thing would likely kill them. Nojiko definitely, seeing as how she didn't have Busoshoku Haki to protect her body.
"But you called me a cyborg," Killmister continued, "You've seen those nasty Pacifista weapons from the Marines, haven't you? Well, as far as I'm concerned, this is a step beyond! No need to lose your humanity for advancement. Man is meant to work in harmony with technology, not become technology!" Nojiko tried to catch him off-guard with a quick pull of the trigger, but he closed the hatch before she could get a shot off, "We are Motörhead, and we're gonna kick your ass!"
Gunports opened up in the chest of the Motörhead robot and opened fire, focusing on the woman that had tried to kill the pilot in the cockpit.
"Lady Nojiko!" Byron attempted to leap to her defense, but was swept aside violently by the robot's large metal arm. He was sent flying, and the dangerous arm hit the wall of the mine, causing a bit of a cave-in that separated the Foxhound Pirate members, "Damn! I will be right with you!"
It was a dangerous situation, but Nojiko was able to keep herself out of the way of any bullets and falling debris. Her Waver Skates made her an elusive target, and her Kenbunshoku Haki left her a few more steps ahead, "Byron!" She shouted back between dodging maneuvers, "Ugh! Just... go do your thing! I can handle this, I think!"
Even if she could stay safe, it would take a bit of ingenuity to get close and find a way to end the battle. It would be time wasted that would be better spent giving Byron a more private confrontation with Captain Ash. Even so, he was hesitant to move forward.
"Are you absolutely certain?" Byron asked, wishing to not only be considerate to the lady's wishes, but also reach his own goals, "If you insist-."
Nojiko wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, "I kind of have to, unless you know how to move tons and tons of rubble in a matter of seconds!" She tried to joke back, "Don't worry so much. Miss Valentine and I will catch up!"
"Sure you will!" Killmister taunted inside of Motörhead, "I mean, you're all going to die, so I guess you're still going to the same place!"
Nojiko frowned at the threat against her and her friends, "Aren't you confident? I have faith in my tools too," She declared, putting away her pistols in exchange for her rifle. It was clear she needed something with a little more kick.
Killmister scoffed, "Guns and skates. I would hardly consider those pinnacles of technology."
Fair enough, even with the dial technology that went into her skates, and Naruto's seals that went into her guns, Motörhead was more impressive in appearance, "I guess we'll see what's better – my guns, or your big, ugly robot. Or maybe if I'm just that much better than you."
(Meanwhile – Onboard the Natural Disaster)
Johnny, Yosaku, Vivi, and Paulie all watched with a starling level of detachment as Soren dropped a half-dead Rakken on the deck of the ship. The man had been thoroughly pummeled, due to the savage beating he'd received from the Foxhound Pirates' first mate.
He looked incredibly proud of himself, seemingly waiting for praise or questions from the crew.
None of them really cared, but when Soren stood smiling in the same pose for two whole minutes of dead silence, Paulie took pity on him and decided to end the awkwardness, "Who is this guy, and what the hell did you do to him?"
Still posing like a superhero, despite the individual twitching at his feet, Soren gladly explained, "He's one of Byron's old crewmates. He was rude to our buddy, so we had it out for a bit. Clearly, it didn't go his way."
Johnny poked at the downed Rakken with end of his sword, "And you didn't kill him?" The man unconsciously groaned in pain, "That's weird."
Soren realized that keeping Rakken alive did come off differently than his usual modus operandi, "I mean... I wanted to make him apologize to Byron," He received a round of 'aww's as the response from his friends, "Shut up! It's a pride thing! Where's doctor-girl? We need to make sure this guy doesn't die."
Johnny chuckled and walked off inside to go get medical help, "Yeah, yeah. I'll go get Muret, so she can make sure this guy can say sorry to your best friend."
Soren grumbled at the smartmouthed speed swordsman before plopping down underneath the shade of one of the tree masts. He pulled out a flask and started to drink, only for Vivi to stoop down by him, an expectant look on her face, "What do you want, princess?" Soren asked, pausing in his drinking to do so.
"Well, you fought one of the Dandy Pirates," Vivi pointed out, "How was it? Are they dangerous?"
Soren scoffed, nudging Vivi with a poke to the forehead that she didn't appreciate, "Hell yes they're dangerous. But if that Rakken guy was a mark of how strong they are, I think everyone else will be fine," He shrugged and turned his attention back to his alcohol, "I'll head back out and try to catch up in a minute. Just let me..." He paused to take a very long drink, "...finish this..." He managed to get out between long sips.
Vivi waited for several seconds of him downing the contents of his flask, "Soren-," Whatever she was going to say was postponed by Soren lifting a finger, telling her to hold on. With the patience of royalty, she waited him out until he'd emptied the container, "...You done?"
"Until I get a refill," Soren remarked, tuning his empty flask upside down before tossing it aside for the time being, "What's on your mind now?"
"Naruto isn't on the ship, so that means you're in charge until he gets back," Vivi informed him.
This was good news to Soren, "So, I guess I'm not heading back out there after all," That meant he could get some more day drinking in while he was supposed to keep an eye on things, "What's that idiot doing? He didn't get curious and head ashore did he? Because I would have run into him on the way back if he had."
Vivi shook her head, and looked over the side of the ship with a frown, "No, he went down there somewhere."
Soren recoiled in confusion, "Why? Did he want to go for a goddamn swim that badly?"
Vivi shrugged her shoulders, "Apparently, he sensed something."
Paulie piped up, smoke billowing from the cigar in his mouth, "Nothing. He sensed a whole lot of nothing. Wild goose chase, I say."
Vivi glared at Paulie's second-guessing of her mentor, while Soren stood confused, "I don't get it. Did he sense something, or did he sense nothing?"
"Something/Nothing," Vivi and Paulie glared at each other and engaged in a quick slap-fight before Vivi spoke again, "Naruto said he felt a void down there, which is very strange, because if there's life somewhere, he can feel it. So he went down there to try and find out what it was."
"I'm kind of with Paulie, only, I don't think it's a wild goose chase," Yosaku said, having made it a point to get nowhere near the edge of the ship since Naruto dove into the water, "I mean, there probably is something down there. But if something's down there, I don't really want to know what it is."
Vivi tilted her head curiously, "How come?"
Yosaku's reason was entirely one of preservation of self, and of the crew, "Because if Naruto-aniki finds it, he's probably gonna piss it off."
Vivi, Paulie, and Soren all went silent in agreement. That was an entirely plausible reason to want Naruto to fail in his search. If it caught Naruto's attention in the first place, it was probably something formidable in its own right. After all, it was now common knowledge to them all that nature in the New World didn't mess around.
(With Naruto – Risky Red Island Coast)
Fusing with Samehada made Naruto a lean, mean, sea-faring machine. The last time he had done so had been during their previous sojourn through Fishman Island, because doing so transformed his body into one remarkably similar to a Fishman. It sure made it a hell of a lot easier to get through that place without any trouble, despite having an all-human crew.
It also made diving to the depths of the ocean infinitely easier. In his Samehada form, he had gills that allowed him to breathe underwater, and fins on his arms and back to give him more maneuverability in the water. It was fun. Not to say that he wasn't down there for something serious – the search for the void feeling he'd sensed while onboard the Natural Disaster, but effortlessly gliding through the water, cavorting with the sea life was an absolute blast.
"I work hard," Naruto reasoned to himself eyes closed as he lazed about amongst a school of fish. They were completely fine with the intruding presence of the sage ninja, "I deserve a little time to just hang out and do... things," And by 'things', he meant nothing.
They didn't need him on deck, and the others on Risky Red Island didn't need him either. If they did, he wouldn't be hard to reach. His lazy bone had an ache acting up that needed tending to, so he would just kick back, relax, and wait for the excrement to hit the fan... if such a thing would indeed occur. With his crew, not likely. They were all damned good.
"Is this what you came all the way down here for?"
Stirred from his rest, Naruto cracked an eye open to see Perona of all people down underwater with him. Before his sleepy brain could reboot and rationalize what he was seeing, his more reactive, protective instincts took over, "Perona? What are you doing down here? You can't swim!" He moved forward to grab her and rush her to the surface before she could drown, only for his body to pass right through her.
Perona giggled at the frantic reactions of her captain trying to grab onto her, "I'm a ghost. My real body's safe up on deck with the others."
So obviously, no danger of drowning. Naruto came to a dead stop in the water, limbs drooping lamely, "Oh. Good idea. I knew that," He tried to explain away, "Anyway, why are you down here?"
"I'm boooooored!" Perona complained, her astral projection form drifting through the waves, "I should have went ashore to the island with the others."
Naruto gave her a dry look, as he floated in place, "Weren't you scared of me going into the water?"
Perona crossed her arms in a pout and turned around defensively, "You were talking about going into the ocean when I was in my body," She reasoned, before peering back over her shoulder, "I've never really been underwater before, so I decided I'd come down here and have an ocean adventure with you!"
It hadn't even dawned on Naruto that none of his crewmates with Devil Fruit abilities would have cared to explore what it looked like underwater, "Alright. Well, seeing as how you can't get hurt down here, I don't have to warn you about anything, so enjoy the sights and sounds!"
"Yay!" Ghost Perona cheered, clapping her hands cheerfully.
Naruto laughed and gestured for Perona to follow him. Seeing as how she was a ghost, she wasn't restricted in her movement by the water, and could keep up. He idly wondered how far her spirit could travel from her body, but figured that if she didn't know they would find out together.
While Perona took in the experience of being underwater, it was nothing Naruto hadn't seen before, so he kept his eyes peeled for anything odd. He followed his senses in the direction of the void he could feel, which took him around the end of Risky Red Island's mountainous shore.
The water was remarkably deep in areas that weren't applicable for going ashore. The high cliffs of Risky Red Island led to deep walls underneath the ocean, leading straight down. It was there where he eventually found the apparent source of what he'd been feeling – a near perfect circular hole the size of the Natural Disaster leading into the underbelly of the island.
Naruto and Perona stared owlishly at the dark, ominous hole before the latter spoke, "...You're not going in there, are you?"
Naruto felt the need to be honest, "I mean... I'm thinking about it."
Perona would have looked at Naruto like he was crazy, but by now, she should have known better than to ask the question in the first place. "Do you have to?" Couldn't he just seal it and be done with it?
Yes, he could have. But what was the point of that? This had been a fact-finding expedition.
"I don't have to," Naruto admitted, "But I'm here, and I went through all the trouble of fusing with Samehada, and even you're along for the ride."
"I'm not going in there," Perona informed Naruto succinctly, much to his surprise.
Sometimes, Naruto forgot that despite how strong she was, Perona was the least brave of his crewmates, "What? But you're a ghost! It's not like whatever's in there can hurt you!"
"Nope. Doesn't matter."
"It won't be that bad."
"Not bad to you doesn't equal not bad to everybody else! You were going to go in there by yourself before I found you!"
"Yeah, but now that you're here, I'm used to your company! It's kind of nice, actually! We should hang out more! What's your schedule looking like?"
"Well, thank you! It's sweet that you value my presence, even though I'm not sleeping with you! But I'm still not going into that hole!"
So engrossed by the argument were they, that they didn't notice a large creature wriggling its way through the massive hole in the wall that was still too small for it. They didn't realize they weren't alone until a massive circular mouth snapped as the being it belonged to continued to struggle the rest of the way out of the hole.
Naruto went wide-eyed while Perona recoiled in disgust, "Ewwww! What is that ugly-?"
The creature freed itself from the hole at that moment and lunged at the two of them. Naruto was able to swim away, keeping himself out of the toothy maw of what he now knew to be a worm of some sort. Perona hadn't been as on-the-ball. The worm swam past, leaving a decidedly different Perona behind.
Naruto swam in front of her, trying to get her attention as she stared into distant nothingness, "Hey, are you okay?" He received no reaction, prompting him to wave his hands in front of her face, "Perona! Are you okay?"
"No." Perona whimpered, her astral projection going teary-eyed, "What has been seen cannot be unseen. What is that thing? Is that what you were sensing?"
"Uhhh..." Naruto didn't know quite how to break it to her, "...It's part of it."
Sugarcoating the truth did nothing to keep Perona from realizing what he was getting at. She let out an undignified squawk, watching as the worm rounded to come at them again, "You mean there are more of these things!?"
Naruto anticipated the worm's approach, his eyes locked solely on it as it streaked through the water at them, "A lot more. Hold on," He dashed off to take care of the problem.
The worm opened its mouth wide to devour Naruto whole, while Naruto went into tailed beast chakra mode, using the extra arms it provided him to hold its mouth open.
"Holy crap, this thing is huge," Naruto observed, a bit of struggle in his voice as he swam to hold the worm back, "I mean, Sea King huge. WAY bigger than the ship," It could easily swallow the Natural Disaster whole if it wanted to, "Best to make this quick," He said, forming a white ball in one hand and a black one in another, "Chou Mini Bijuudama (Super-Mini Tailed Beast Bomb)!"
Combining the balls into one, Naruto threw it down the worm's gullet and used his chakra arms to snap its mouth shut. It was an effort to offset some of the blast... for all the good that it did in reality. His jutsu blew the worm into pieces and sent him spiraling away until he was able to catch himself in the water, giving him an opportunity to admire his own handiwork.
"Whew!" Naruto exclaimed, very pleased with the quick work he made of the creature, "And that's how you do that!" Perona's astral projection poked her head through his body, staring up in his face, "What?"
She pointed off in a particular direction, gracing him with unwelcome news, "Four more of those things swam out of the hole while you were killing that one," What? He killed it in less than thirty seconds. How did ten more get out? "...How many are left in there now?" She asked.
Naruto looked back and saw yet more worms working to squirm their way free, "Still a shit ton..." He said, stretching out his shoulders in preparation for the workload ahead of him in sealing that hole, "You should go warn everybody. I've kinda gotta take care of this."
Perona's ghost form vanished before the next worm wriggled its way free, with Naruto as its target prey.
(Meanwhile – Onboard the Natural Disaster)
Perona's body awoke with a start. Her eyes snapped open and the frantically started waving her arms and legs, prompting her to fall out of her bed, "Oof!" He picked herself up and started running out of her room in a panic, yelling.
Muret, in the middle of treating Soren's recent victim Rakken, poked her head out of her doctor's office in time to see Perona trip over an errant chair in the common area, "Whoa-whoa-whoa! Where's the fire?"
Perona turned and started pointing in indiscernible directions, "Not fire! Worms!"
The medic of the crew raised an eyebrow, not able to think of anything less threatening to her at the moment, "Worms?"
Perona nodded frantically, hugging herself, "Big, ugly, eat -your-ship-in-one-bite, UGLY, worms!" She said, harping on one aspect of them that was clearly the most important to her, "Eww, they're so ugly!"
Muret's fingers brushed across the hilt of Funkfreed at her waist as a defense mechanism, "Did you say 'Eat-your-ship' worms?"
Rapid footsteps padded toward the door before Soren quickly threw it open, his eyes narrowed, "Did you say worms?"
Both young women looked at each other suspiciously at this, before Perona reiterated her point, needing to get the emergency message across, "Yeah! Naruto and I found a nest of them, or whatever worms are supposed to have. There's a bunch coming this way!"
Soren's hand smacked off of his face, "A bunch? One was annoying enough! How far away are they?" The ship began to sway in the previously calm water as the waves began to pick up, answering his question for him, "Damn it! All hands on deck! Let's do this!" He called out.
"Even me?" Muret asked with a nervous titter. She was strictly a medical professional, not a fighter.
"Yes, doctor-girl, even you!" Soren snapped, "If the worms devour this ship, it really doesn't matter if you're inside or outside."
That was a fair point, one Muret considered with a sinking of her shoulders, "...I really should have gone ashore, shouldn't I have?" For once, the Natural Disaster was not the safest place to be.
Soren headed back outside, ready for a fight, only to see Vivi, Paulie, Johnny, and Yosaku all staring in awe at something out around them. Following their gazes, Soren saw four massive worms extended out of the water, their mouths pointed at the ship.
Taking his role as leader seriously, Soren decided to brief the others on what little he knew, "Okay. Crew, these are Abyss Worms. They suck."
"Suck as in easy to kill?" Yosaku asked hopefully.
Soren swiftly killed that hope, "No, suck as in 'suck to fight'. Also as in, 'suck this ship up'."
Yosaku sighed and brandished Kubikiribouchou defensively, "Of course they do. Because why wouldn't they? Did you know about these?"
Soren leapt to the side of a mast, digging his fingernails in to climb to an elevated position to assess the situation, "Yes. Why do you think I was drinking earlier? To forget."
"I thought you were drinking because it's Tuesday," Paulie said to him, checking over the cannons in case they were needed. If weapons were needed, he would be responsible for operating them all, which he was skilled enough to do, "Princess, you got the helm? We're probably going to have to move in a moment."
"Uh-huh," Vivi said, hands on the wheel, ready to get them out of the way of anything she needed to. Naruto had taught her the ins and outs of how the ship worked so she could use most of the features in his stead, "Soren, say the word and we'll be on our way."
By then, Soren had reached the crow's nest, a high enough position to see that there were people on top of the worms. All of them wore similar leather, studs, and chains, "The fuck?" He muttered to himself before deciding to call out, "Ahoy! I'm in command on this vessel! Identify yourselves!"
One of the men atop the worms shouted back, "You don't look like Uzumaki Naruto."
Acidic steam drifted off of Soren in annoyance, "He's indisposed. What can we do for you?" He asked, "Byron isn't here. He went ashore looking for whoever the captain of you Dandies is."
"So you know we're Dandy Pirates?"
"Yeah. I beat up one of your guys earlier. He was a decent scrap," Soren jibed, "You want him back?"
"Rakken? I mean, yeah, if he isn't dead."
Oh, they cared about a comrade? Odd, seeing as how they disposed of Byon, "Muret?" Soren said, giving her the floor.
Muret checked her fear of the massive worms she couldn't hope to defend herself against long enough to speak, "He's not dead. His arms are kind of jacked up, and for the time being he's useless, but he'll live."
The main man of the worm riders threw the devil horns up to the sky in celebration, "Wunderbar! We'll make sure to get him out of the worms' guts before they digest him. He's tough enough to survive that long."
Soren cringed. On second thought, never mind. Having been inside of one of those worms, it was no place for anyone to be, especially a friend, even for a moment, "Who are you carbuncles?"
The apparent leader had wild black hair. He wore chains around his neck, and an open leather jacket with small spikes on the shoulders. Around the crotch of his uncomfortably tight leather pants, he wore a diamond-encrusted codpiece in the shape of a sharp horn, "The frontman – Blackie Wild!" He yelled with a sharp-toothed grin.
Another member of the group had a large, poofy pompadour that seemed to wiggle, even when he didn't move. He wore an uncomfortably tight leather jumpsuit with the chest exposed and a golden belt. On his feet were a pair of fancy golden platform boots, "Alder Image!"
The next man had a large afro, with a large bald cut in the middle – a reverse mohawk. He was shirtless, but wore leather pants, large shoulder pads, and thick gauntlet gloves. In his hands, he carried a pair of hook swords, "Rikki Z!"
The last member was a short, tubby man with sunglasses, a leather vest, leather pants, and a spiked helmet. He carried a large club twice his size, "Piepaa!"
With introductions made from each individual member of the enclave, Blackie wrapped it all up, "We are the cavalry of the Dandy Pirates – W.A.Z.P.!" He declared, before Johnny raised his hand from onboard the ship, "Yes, you over there! What is it?"
Johnny cleared his throat before saying anything, "Shouldn't you be, like, W.O.R.M., or something?" He offered lamely, "...You know, because you're all riding worms?" In return, all the members of W.A.Z.P. fixed him with a deadpan stare, "No? Okay. Sorry. My bad. Carry on."
And carry on they did. Rikki Z addressed their put out leader, "Don't worry about it so much. They'll be dead in a little while anyway."
Those sounded enough like fighting words for Soren to send the crew into action, "Get 'em, sword bros," He commanded, not that Johnny or Yosaku were set on listening.
"'Get 'em, sword bros'?" Johnny growled, decidedly not keen on charging forward like a dog receiving a command, "What the fuck do you mean, 'get 'em'? You get 'em!"
Soren calmly explained his reasoning in the face of insubordination, "I cannot fall into the ocean, otherwise I'll die. You two jerks can. Therefore, go kick their asses."
Yosaku looked out at the worms and tried to do quick math as to how many times bigger than him they were, "Do we really have to? We're outnumbered here."
"There's four of you. That's two worms apiece. One worm per hand," Soren said, "I already helped kill one today. And I beat up the Rakken guy. That's my quota of whoop-ass thoroughly satisfied."
"You're the first mate!"
"Right, and as first mate, and de facto man-in-charge while Uzumaki is elsewhere, I'm saying go beat up some worms and some W.A.Z.P."
Piepen pointed his club at Soren from atop his worm mount, "I like him. He didn't question anything about our name. I can respect that kind of courtesy. Can we keep him alive?"
Blackie shrugged, "He and the doctor kept Rakken alive, so we'll see," He said, not committing one way or the other, "Alright! Let's make some worm chow!"
"Princess, do the thing!" Soren bellowed.
From the helm, Vivi activated the mechanism to let the sails loose. Wind chakra pushed the ship forward at an immediate breakneck pace, outmaneuvering the first worm that tried to lunge for them. The wake it left in its stead did its part to make the ship toss and turn, but Vivi was composed enough to keep everything moving as it should have. In fact, she was able to use the waves to give the ship a boost in speed that kept them further out of trouble.
"Way to whip this baby, Princess!" Paulie laughed, having all of the cannons ready to fire at his hand, attached by his ropes, "Think we've got the distance for a broadside?"
Heeding his request, Vivi turned the ship, giving the whole port side, "Fire at will!"
Paulie took a few seconds to aim all of the cannons with his ropes before using them to fire the guns, "Firing!" He let everyone know, giving them all warning to cover their ears before deafening blasts rang out across the deck.
The shells collided with the towering worms and exploded on contact, "Direct hit!" When the smoke from the massive explosions cleared, there wasn't much visible damage to note, "...Really?"
It looked like they would have to get in closer to try and get anything done, something that Johnny realized first, "Alright, I guess we're doing this," He sighed, stepping up on the railing to jump overboard. He stopped, sparing a glance over his shoulder at his partner, "You coming, Yosaku?"
"Yeah," Yosaku said begrudgingly, setting Kubikiribouchou over his shoulder, "Which one should I go for?"
"I dunno, take your pick," Johnny answered, "After me, of course, because I'm obviously going to beat you over there. You want a head start?"
"Bite me," Yosaku said, however he jumped into the water first and began running on top of the waves at a breakneck pace. Of course, while his speed was nothing to sneeze at, it was nothing compared to Johnny, who chuckled before following suit and quickly taking the lead.
As they got farther away from the Natural Disaster, Soren remembered a piece of information that the two swordsmen would find handy, "Oh! Don't cut the Abyss Worms in half, you'll just make another one you have to kill!"
From their positions on their worm mounts, W.A.Z.P. watched as Johnny and Yosaku jumped off of their ship and ran at them.
"Those two guys are rushing us," Piepaa pointed out, as casually as commenting on the weather.
Lacking Piepaa's advantage of sunglasses to help see far away on the sunny day, Rikki Z squinted, trying to get a better look, "What two guys?"
Piepaa continued giving his running commentary of their enemy's approach, "Those two guys, the ones with the swords. They're coming right at us. That one in the front is fast."
"Huh," Rikki Z hummed, finally able to identify the two of them by sight, "I'll be damned. He is," A pause, "I'm going in."
With that, he sent his worm down to swim parallel with the water, tearing across the surface smoothly as it went to meet Johnny with its mouth wide open. Even if it was one small morsel to devour, the worm would greedily snap it up.
To his credit, Johnny didn't flinch, despite running headlong into the path of the towering creature. He waited for the optimal moment to alter his path to the side so that the worm couldn't divert to pursue him, missing the side of the worm's mouth by less than two feet.
Completely ignoring the wake, Johnny ran alongside the worm, slicing at it countless times with hand speed invisible to the naked eye. A lesser individual couldn't even see his arm move from where it had seemingly previously rested at his hip, "Moumokuteki Tetsufuu (Blind Iron Wind)!"
The only indication that Johnny had even used his sword was the sound of the weapon clicking back into its sheathe once it was done. That, and the Abyss Worm that had been entirely opened up on one side, guts spilling into the open water.
To keep from staining himself, Johnny ran up the side of the worm, stopping on top with a sigh of relief.
Rikki Z could only point impotently at Johnny after the feat he'd just accomplished, "Did you just kill my worm?"
Johnny had the good grace to look sheepish at butchering Rikki Z's mount, "Yeah. Soren said not to cut it in half, so I had to do it the hard way. Sorry it took so long."
"It took you like a minute!"
Rikki Z was reacting at how fast he had disposed of the worm, though Johnny incorrectly figured he was commenting on how slow it was, "Give me a break. I was spooked at first because these things are bigger than Sea Kings. They're still not scarier."
Well, it looked like it was going to be sword-on-sword. Rikki Z pulled out his hook swords, ready to test his mettle against one of the Foxhound Pirates' sword specialists, "And that's why The Dandy Pirates know how to tame them. But if you want something scary, I can show you!"
He took a step to start charging, only for Johnny to wrap his hand around the sword at his hip. The next thin Rikki Z knew, he was jumping out of the way, turning around to find Johnny where he'd once been. Much to his confusion, Johnny hadn't attacked, despite having gotten at his back.
"And that's that," Johnny said, much to his enemy's surprise.
"What are you talking about?" Rikki Z asked before his arms fell to his sides, dropping his swords, "W-What the?" His entire body suddenly felt weak.
"Iaido: Nijuu Kiken (Way of the Draw: Double Jeopardy)," Johnny said, resting a fist underneath his chin, the other arm folded underneath around his waist, hand on his blade, "If you don't react before you see the flash of the steel, it's already too late."
Johnny had cut his target so quickly upon his draw and subsequent sheathing, that his Haki had already cauterized the deep wounds he made shut.
Rikki Z's legs gave out and he hit the ground, comprised of the Abyss Worm's carcass, "That can't be true. I've never seen anyone that fast," He lamented.
"Technically, you didn't see me either," Johnny replied, "Naruto-aniki always says speed kills. Unlucky for you, it's my best trait."
Instead of following his sword brother's lead in charging the Abyss Worm head-on, Yosaku sauntered the rest of the way up to his intended target, sizing up the task ahead of him, "Hmm," He hummed to himself in thought as of how to approach this.
Instead of outright blitzing Yosaku, Piepaa curiously let the strength swordsman get closer, "Man, you're a brave guy, aren't you?"
Yosaku didn't answer outright, instead looking back at the worms still pursuing the Natural Disaster, and then to the one in front of him, "Alright, so I'm guessing the worms are your gimmick?"
Piepaa didn't understand what Yosaku was getting at, "Gimmick?"
Yosaku explained, despite feeling like it went without saying."Yeah. Haven't you noticed, everyone on the Grand Line is usually a bunch of misfit minions and crap. Our crew is a bunch of misfits," He made sure to distinguish, "So, I guess the worms are you guys' quirk."
Piepaa chuckled, starkly recognizing that most individuals did indeed have some kind of oddity about them, "And I'm guessing walking on water is your gimmick?" Shot back, a slight tone of mocking, "I've seen people run, like your friend, never seen 'em just walk before."
Yosaku scratched his scalp underneath his headgear, "No, a few of us can do that," He admitted. The ones of them that could touch the water without getting cursed could, at least. "...You know what? It doesn't matter."
"Agreed," Piepaa said, before pulling out a whistle and blowing on it. The Abyss Worm immediately reacted, raising itself high in the air and building air in its body before bringing itself down, mouth first into the water. It released the air pressure, causing a tidal wave to form, crashing in Yosaku's direction.
Yosaku spun in a full circle, bringing Kubikiribouchou upward with all the force he could muster, "Kuuchuu Hoshu (Sky Catcher)!"
The tip of his sword touched the water and a shockwave crashed forward, ripping the ocean open and splitting the tidal wave in half, letting what was left of it pass harmlessly around Yosaku.
Piepaa let out an impressed whistle, "Okay, that was actually pretty badass," That he could cut something as large as a tidal wave was quite the feat. But cutting the worm was something different, because no matter how powerful his strike, he had to touch the worm with his blade to do anything. The worm could deal with him without ever making contact until he was deep inside its gullet.
W.A.Z.P. really did serve as the cavalry of the Dandy Pirates, with their focused use of the Abyss Worms. They were the shock and awe unit. They were mobile. They were ship-killers. Unfortunately, Yosaku was also a ship-killer. He could do it on foot. And more importantly, the size of the ship he was killing didn't matter that much.
Lining himself up nearly sideways with the Piepaa and the worm, Yosaku lifted his sword over his head with one hand before bringing it down with a mighty strike, "Kami no Han'i (Reach of God)!"
The air broke as a thunderous impact cut through it, as thin as the width of the blade, yet from the tip of the blade it extended as though the limit of its length truly reached that far.
The shockwave hit Piepaa's Abyss Worm with a wet 'squelch', "What the-?" From top to bottom, it slowly split open like a loaf of bread being cut open. Unable to keep itself upright, the dead worm began to slowly sink and droop into the water, "Hey! What is this? What did you do?"
"Well, it's not really complicated," Yosaku said, grinning and rubbing under his nose in satisfaction, "The harder I swing, the farther I can reach."
Piepaa realized that meant without even touching the target, which went without saying after having seen it for himself, "How far can you reach?" He asked as he clung to his sinking mount.
"Nojiko says my record is 400 yards," Yosaku crowed proudly. Finally, someone was alive to be impressed with what he could do.
To say Piepaa was impressed was an understatement. Horrified was a more accurate assessment, "You can cut through something that far away without touching it? How is anyone supposed to fight that?"
"Don't be there when I swing, obviously," Yosaku grumbled, remembering all of the trouble he tended to have against people who realized this marked Achilles' heel.
No one else on the crew had many problems with it when they sparred. Out of the entire crew, he was still easily the slowest, and it wasn't even a contest. It gave him a reason to focus more on what had already been his strength... which was strength. That also meant he'd had to get creative in ways to actually hit opponents that weren't foolhardy enough to clash with him head-on. But if he did hit you? Well, it was going to hurt, to understate as much as possible.
The Abyss Worm was big and its hide was thick before you could get to anything vital, but it was still flesh. It wasn't quality metal, or even rock. It was hard to injure with blunt force, but cutting into it or piercing it was possible. The problem was finding a way to cut into it enough to actually do anything.
Meaning, it was a problem for other people. Not Yosaku, the man that had been introduced to his last major training goal by being told to cut into a plateau by a Kuja elder.
Yosaku pointed his sword at Piepaa, who was still prepared to fight despite the fact that he would have no means to do so in a matter of seconds. As he was, standing on the sinking remains of his worm, he was a sitting duck. The battle was effectively over, and they both knew it, "You asked me what my gimmick was. My gimmick is that I only have to connect once. My sword never cuts twice."
At that moment, Piepaa realized before anyone else that perhaps treating their adversaries with outright hostility hadn't been the best approach. The Dandy Pirates may have evolved by exchanging Byron for Captain Ash in a position of leadership, but they still might not have been up to snuff to face the Foxhound Pirates.
Go on and flex them muscles, sword dudes. If you put in the work, you should get to reap the benefits.
Out of the entirety of the crew members, I tend to enjoy writing stuff involving Johnny and Yosaku more than the others. Those two are just fun to me. Trying to develop them into feasible threats has been one of my pet projects through this story.
That's not to say I don't like writing for the others. If I didn't like the characters I have around Naruto, I wouldn't have put them on the crew at all. It's just that those two were the biggest blank slates in the story, next to Muret. All anyone had on them were slight aspects of their personalities from their appearance during the Arlong Park stuff, and that they were mediocre swordsmen. Even Soren, who is a goddamn OC, had more stuff available for him upon his debut in the story, because Agurra of the Darkness came up with him and offered to let me use him.
Granted, Nojiko also didn't have much, aside from her backstory. But for the aspect of grinding up to being respectable combatants, their rise was grittier, for lack of a better term, than hers or anyone else's. Everything they did was a grueling struggle. Even now, they both have major holes in their game they have to work around. Yosaku's is obvious, seeing as how I straight up laid out what it was. Johnny's on the other hand, not so much.
Okay, I'm done rambling now. Anyway, that's the chapter. Next time, Nojiko goes one-on-one with a metal monstrosity. Miss Valentine has to deal with the numbers game, complete with a blast from the past. Vivi's at the helm of the Natural Disaster with ship-swallowing monstrosities bearing down on her and everyone else. And Naruto has to seal off the Abyss Worms' burrow for good.
I hope you all enjoyed. Until next time, Kenchi out.