A/N: This chapter requires pre-knowledge of the Drum Island Arc in canon.
The Supernova Eleven
Chapter 6: The Captain's Conundrum
Mr. 0 had never liked this part of his job.
By nature he was a straightforward man, and preferred the direct approach to solving problems. Which was why he was currently wondering why he was wasting his time interrogating their newly-acquired captive.
"How did you know about the existence of our unseen benefactor?"
"It was obvious," replied the girl. She was of course, Miss Mother's Day, also known as the double-agent Princess Vivi, and was currently seated in the interrogation chair before him, infuriatingly composed despite the dire situation she was in.
Mr. 0 hid his scowl at the vagueness of her reply. They had been through rounds and rounds of similar responses. While Princess Vivi had promised to cooperate, her maddening and inconclusive answers to his questions had him wishing he had left the interrogation to Miss All-Sunday. His partner was much better at extracting information than he was, especially with someone of Princess Vivi's mental acuity.
In any case, Mr. 0 was tired of the game. He got up and made to leave.
"If you wish to continue side-stepping my questions with empty words, suit yourself." There was a whoosh of fabric as Mr. 0 headed for the door. "But there's no use holding out. If I don't get the information I want out of you now, I will just have to employ more effective means. You should know what that entails."
Princess Vivi did. Perhaps that was what moved her to speak again.
"My father kept hunting hounds," she suddenly said. Mr. 0 stopped at this.
"Chaka used to bring me to the royal kennels to play with them," Princess Vivi continued serenely, as Mr. 0 turned around and looked back at her curiously for her strange choice of topic. "Even though those dogs could be so ferocious when hunting game, they were always gentle when they played with us.
"One day Chaka told me something interesting about those hounds. He said that even though those animals were actually powerful and intelligent enough to take game on their own, they had been conditioned from birth to be loyal to their master and never do anything without the huntsman first commanding them to—"
"Why are you telling me this?" interrupted Mr. 0, somewhat impatiently.
"You asked me earlier how I knew about the existence of your benefactor, Mr. 0," the princess replied calmly. "The answer was because I had met you in person.
"The way you conducted yourself, the way you ran the organisation, the way you knew to value people who are efficient and who can follow orders over those who would curry favour. Normal people don't have this kind of discipline, that kind of single-minded focus in carrying out an objective. That gave you away.
"You're not just some common bounty hunter or pirate, Mr. 0. I know, because I can recognise a well-trained hound when I see one."
Mr. 0's eyes narrowed.
"But the thing about trained hounds is: they don't hunt for themselves. No, if there is a hound, there must be a master controlling it somewhere.
"So now that I've said all that, Mr. 0," at this Vivi raised her gaze and looked directly into the man's piercing green eyes, "I want to know: What do you intend to do with me?"
For several tense moments they held each other's gaze in a match of wills.
"It would really depend on the huntsman's command, wouldn't it, princess?"
With this, Mr. 0 turned on his heel and swiftly left the room, his red cape billowing behind him.
Dalton peered through the binoculars intently. The pirate ship was sailing up the rivermouth, but the former captain of the guard couldn't help but feel somewhat disturbed. The Jolly Roger fluttering from the crow's nest marked the pirate ship for what it was, but it seemed to be sailing without any visible crew on deck.
"A caravel of unusual design. There is no steering wheel on the bridge."
"They're not very good sailors, these pirates," commented one of the villagers. "They're coming in way too fast to dock." Dalton blinked and put down the binoculars. The ship was now so close that they weren't necessary. He squinted, then started.
"Are those pirates insane?"
The sheep-headed ship, which still looked deserted, continued its course without slowing or veering, and plowed straight into first the riverside ice, and then into the snow-covered bank. The villagers winced at the sound of the wooden keel scraping over the rocks beneath the snow as the out-of-control vessel ground to a halt.
"The poor ship. What kind of crazy pirates does it have sailing it?" wondered one of the villagers.
Dalton noted that it was Old Man Wright from Gyasta. It was the kind of thing the old shipwright would say. But before Dalton could comment, his sharp eyes had noticed movement from the cabin door.
"Be on your guard, here they come!" he warned.
The villagers tightened their grips on their weapons and readied for battle. But much to their surprise, only a single figure emerged.
The boy who appeared on the bridge looked more like a desperate castaway than a menacing corsair. His dark hair was wild and ruffled, his clothing ragged and dirty, and his body sagged with fatigue. The dark circles under his eyes told of sleepless nights and a terrible anxiety. The aura of desperation he emanated was something the villagers could sense, even though they did not know why that was.
If this was a pirate planning on sacking the town, he did not look very impressive or intimidating.
"This is as far as you get, pirate," Dalton warned sternly, although he'd involuntarily tempered the harshness of his tone due to the sorry appearance of the pirate. "We are the Drum Island Militia. Your kind are not welcome here. Leave now, and we will let you go free. But if you try to step foot on this island, we will be forced to defend our homes."
The pirate didn't seem to have heard him. At least, he did not respond, and just stood there staring at them with wide eyes. If he didn't sway a little as he stood, Dalton would almost have thought the boy had frozen into a statue.
"Do you understand what I am saying?"
There was a sudden hush as the pirate starting speaking deliriously.
"Need... doctor. Or Bonney will die."
"We have no doctors here for you, pirate!" yelled one of the villagers, taking aim at the potential intruder as he said so. "So do as Dalton-san says and get out of here!"
"No. Bonney will die."
"Like we're falling for that trick!" In fear or anger, another man raised his gun at the boy.
And by accident, it went off.
For a moment, it seemed as though the shot had hit and killed the pirate boy. He even swayed and took one step back from the impact of the bullet. Everyone expected the body to hit the floor, but their expectations turned out to be off the mark.
Dalton was the first to react. And he barely did it in time — his spade-blade just managed to block the bullet that had somehow been reflected back at them.
A gasp of horror rose amongst the ranks of the defenders.
"It's a zombie!"
"A cursed undead creature that cannot be killed!"
"And reflects bullets!"
This was followed with cries of fear.
"Dalton-san! What do we do?" a villager said, turning to the former captain for leadership.
"A doooctor..." moaned the 'zombie'-boy, not appearing to have even noticed that he had been shot. "...need a doctor..."
"Go away!" yelled one of the villagers, almost hysterically. "Begone, foul scourge of the unliving!"
"W-why won't you let her see a dooooctor?"
"We only have one doctor here on the island," Dalton replied as his keen senses studied the boy. Despite the panicking villagers, the bison-man was pretty sure that the boy was no undead. "We cannot risk you harming him."
"As if that were even possible," murmured a villager underneath his breath. Dalton's sharp senses heard it, but he decided not to comment.
"I promise... we won't!" Desperate, the boy knelt and touched his forehead to the wooden deck. "Please, or Bonney... and the others will die!"
A sudden memory stirred in Dalton's mind at the familiar gesture.
It was scene he had had to witness time and time again, but Dalton had never been able to keep from cringing inside each time.
"Please, great Wapol!" this time it was a man, and he was shaking, tears dripping from his eyes as he bowed low and begged. "My wife and son are both very ill, please let them see the Ishii-20! They will die if they don't!"
Wapol merely threw his head up and laughed. "I'll think about it. Come back and beg again tomorrow."
Given the urgency of his plea, Dalton had expected the man to be waiting for another audience with the king first thing in the morning. But he did not come back the next day.
It was none of his business of course, but in the end Dalton's curiosity got the better of him and he found himself seeking out the man's house once he was off-duty.
What he found there was a grieving man sitting alone in the snow in front of his doorstep. Apparently, both members of his family had died sometime during the night.
"You have no right to demand to see a doctor, pirate!"
Even with that despicable coward of a king absent, Wapol had still left his mark on them. Dalton gritted his teeth. No, he would not follow the example of that loathed monster.
"Pirate-boy, how many wounded do you have? Can I trust your word that you will not attempt anything?"
"Dalton-san!" protested one of the villagers.
"Have you all forgotten what Wapol did to the people of Drum?" Dalton asked sternly. "He made us beg and grovel for medical treatment! It did not matter whether we were peasants, travellers or nobles, it was all the same! We will not let his legacy taint our actions any longer. I will not. Even if the person begging is a pirate, how are we any better than Wapol if we deny him access to medical treatment?"
Hushed murmurs greeted his speech.
"Dalton-san is right."
"I-I promise not to cause trouble," the boy pledged.
"Then it is settled," Dalton said firmly. "Bring your wounded in. There is a blizzard coming, they would be safest in my house."
Dalton's house was modest but cosy. A fireplace with glowing embers which he quickly stoked into flame kept the room warm enough to be comfortable, despite the stiff chill outside. As Dalton had predicted, a blizzard was well on its way.
"This village is called Bighorn. It was buried under snow for seven days in the last blizzard," he said as he tended to the fire.
The girl, whom the boy kept calling 'Bonney', was quickly given the only bed in the room. Despite his condition, the pirate-boy had insisted on carrying the girl there himself.
"The blizzard will be a problem," Dalton warned the boy as he inspected the injured. "The Doctor lives on the top of the Drum Rockies, and it's all but impassable in this weather. We must wait out the storm out before we proceed."
Dalton was of the opinion that the boy himself looked about to keel over, but he said nothing as he had his hands full with the other two wounded from the pirate ship.
Something about one of them, the dark-headed one, seemed vaguely familiar, although Dalton couldn't place it. Perhaps he had seen him in a wanted poster before.
But no, that couldn't be right. Even the man's scent, contaminated with the smell of burned flesh, was vaguely familiar, even if Dalton couldn't place it.
He wondered what had happened to them. Both men were unresponsive but alive. While they looked worse off than the girl did, he did note that despite being covered in burns, their vitals were fairly steady.
Which was something he could not say for the condition of the girl. Her breathing was erratic and there was a dark and ugly bruising on her torso area that disturbed Dalton.
It reminded him of an incident where one of his men had been kicked in the stomach by a lapahn years ago. The soldier had laughed it off, mentioning how he had a massive bruise the shape of a lapahn's footprint on his stomach.
And then he had collapsed almost half a day later. The doctors had managed to save his life, but had bemoaned the foolishness of the man for delaying medical help. The animal part of Dalton gave him a gut feeling that this was something similar.
"I don't claim to be a doctor, but I have seen this kind of injury before," Dalton told the pirate-boy, his face scrunching into a worried frown. "If I am not mistaken, time is of the essence. The sooner we get her to the doctor, the better. As soon as the blizzard is over—"
The moment he said this, a cold gust of air filled the cabin as the front door was opened.
"Boy! What are you doing?"
The ridiculous pirate-boy had gathered up the girl in a bundle of blankets and was already half-way out the door.
"Bonney needs a doctor as soon as possible," the boy replied, not looking at him as he spoke. "She can't see the doctor if we stay here and wait. We can't wait for the blizzard to stop."
Dalton knew this was true. But the undertaking was insane... foolhardy and reckless!
Like Hiruluk, walking open-eyed into a trap, and Wapol laughing at his foolhardiness all the while...
"Boy, wait! You don't know the way!"
"Then I'll find it! I won't let Bonney die."
Dalton sighed. "No, follow me. I'll come with you. The villagers can watch over your other two friends."
Dalton-ossan had not been exaggerating when he said it was a blizzard.
Luffy didn't know how the large man even knew where he was going, but he moved through the white curtain of heavy snowflakes steadily and unerringly, sloughing a path through the drifts for them to follow. Luffy determinedly did his best to follow suit, his precious burden cradled in his arms.
Bonney had sunken into a deep sleep, and had only woken up once to ask where they were and who Dalton was. She hadn't stayed awake long enough to hear him finish his answer of: "The nice ossan's taking us to see the doctor.".
For Luffy, this part of the journey almost felt like a waking dream. Or perhaps more accurately, a waking nightmare, for it was then when the gnawing, empty feeling of hunger and fatigue deep inside him really made itself felt as they trudged through the storm without conversation.
The wild howling of the wind made attempting to talk pointless anyway.
For what felt like hours, the blizzard raged, relentlessly battering the two humans foolish enough to be out in it. Then with sudden abruptness, it stopped. The curtain of fat snowflakes cleared, and Luffy was much heartened to see that Dalton's mystery sense of direction had been right after all. Ahead of them loomed the Drum Rockies.
"Lapahn don't like the snow much. They stay in their burrows every time there is a blizzard and wait for the snow to become hard-packed before they move," Dalton said out of the blue.
Luffy didn't know or care why Dalton was talking about lapahn. He was more concerned about Bonney, who was stirring. It was as if she had somehow sensed the worst of the storm was over, and groggily opened her eyes.
"Luffy... what's that?"
The rubber-boy was so happy to see his nakama awake, he almost forgot to answer her question.
"...behind that tree..." said Bonney, trying to motion weakly.
Luffy turned around and managed to catch a glimpse of a strange four-legged animal that was for some odd reason, attempting to hide its head behind the trunk of a pine. With the rest of its body exposed, the creature looked rather absurd, but it soon quickly realised that it had been spotted, and bolted in a scatter of fresh snow.
"What kind of creature was that?" wondered Bonney, surprisingly lucid.
"Chopper," said Dalton quietly, looking after the fleeing animal.
"D-does it eat people?"
"Chopper is a reindeer. And no, they do not eat people."
"Then why was he following us?"
"Chopper is... curious. He probably saw your Jolly Roger and followed us."
"Is the mystery animal your pet or something, Ossan?" Luffy interjected.
"I wouldn't say that," replied Dalton, as they resumed their march. The clearing of the weather had lifted their spirits somewhat. "Chopper is— well, it's a long story..."
"Are you sure you will be ok on your own, Dalton-san? They are pirates..."
"Humour this old man," Dalton had said as he pulled on his furred cap. "Besides, I did promise to keep an eye on those pirates, didn't I?"
"Well, if you say so. I'll watch these two for you until you come back then."
It had seemed like a reasonable thing to do at that time. After all, Old man Wright reflected as he sat in front of the fire in middle of Dalton's modest house, Dalton-san needed a bit of help and he was flattered to have been approached and to be of assistance.
All the same, he was beginning to regret his decision to stay in Dalton's house and help keep an eye on the two wounded pirates. True, the two pirates that Dalton-san had left under his care looked so out of it, they wouldn't pose much of a threat even if one of them regained consciousness. But still, there was something about those two that spooked the lone villager.
Which was why he gave a little shriek when one of them suddenly moved.
In a panic, the shipwright reached for his weapon. Dalton wasn't here... what was he to do if the pirate awoke and turned violent?
Fortunately, the pirate did not awaken, although he did mumble a few words before sinking back into unconsciousness.
Sheepishly, the villager lowered his weapon again, feeling somewhat foolish for having overreacted. He reflected that obviously even pirates had typical dreams about princesses.
And then he yelped again. This time because of an unexpected knock on the door.
"Excuse me," said the visitor politely as the old shipwright answered the door. It was no one the old man could recognise. "I'm looking for a Mr. Dalton? I was told that this was his house."
"It is. But Dalton-san is not here. He went for the doctor."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. Do you know when he will be back?"
"I'm not sure," answered the old man, relaxing a little. While the long dark coat and wide-brimmed hat the newcomer wore made him look somewhat intimidating, at least he seemed like a civil sort of person. "It will depend greatly on the weather; unfortunately the blizzard hasn't let up yet."
"Well, what do we do now?" a grim voice interrupted.
The old shipwright quickly realised that it came from another man who until then, had been silently standing behind the first. He could barely make out the shape of the man in the thick curtain of falling flakes, his bright yellow scarf contrasting against his camouflaging pale blue coat.
"I'm sorry to impose, but do you mind if we wait here for him?" asked the first visitor.
"Ah, well..." the shipwright wasn't sure what Dalton would think about letting two more strangers into his house, but he quickly decided Dalton-san probably wouldn't have kept two visitors waiting outside in the cold and let them in.
"So did you two just get here?" Wright inquired of the men as they settled down to wait. He noted that the first man, the dark-coated one, didn't even seem cold, while the other one obviously did not feel the same way and had taken up a position near the fireplace to thaw.
"Just half-an-hour ago."
"Yes, we almost thought we missed the island; weather was crazy on the way here," supplied the other man.
"You sailed here in the blizzard?" blurted Wright in disbelief.
The young man (Wright could see the first man was significantly younger than his companion) just shrugged and smiled. "Well it happened to er... stop just as we got to the island."
"That's very fortunate! Many folk get lost in those storms and are never seen again."
"Y—es," said the first visitor with a polite little cough. "It was very fortunate indeed."
"...so what happened to the Doctor?" 'Bonney' asked as she huddled against 'Luffy'. Despite the fact she was wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, Dalton noted that she was shivering.
"You mean Dr. Hiruluk? As I said, he died, and Chopper has once again shunned human company and gone wild."
"No, the other doctor. You said there was another one... is she the one you're taking me to?"
Dalton suddenly looked disturbed. He had spent the better part of the remaining trek recounting the history of Drum's doctor-hunts to two of them, and how its famed level of expertise in medicine had declined into almost nothing.
"Since Hiruluk's death, no one has seen Dr. Kureha anywhere. We searched, but the aftermath of the pirate raid was such that it was hard to make sense of anything. The only doctor on the island now arrived after Wapol fled from Blackbeard. He said he was from the North Blue and had come to study our famous Drum medicine. The fact that there we no longer any doctors left did not seem to deter him."
"So why does he live all the way up in the castle instead of in the villages?"
"Most of the Ishii-20's medical notes and equipment were kept in the castle. Dr. Law found them a precious resource."
Bonney suddenly slumped against Luffy's shoulder. She had seemed alert and cheery earlier, but now the pain had returned.
Dalton remembered that the soldier who had suffered a similar injury had seemed to improve right before collapsing as well.
"It's getting harder to breathe," the girl murmured to her companion.
"Yes, we are quite high up now, and the air thins." Dalton hesitated, not wanting to alarm the two by sharing his suspicions. "We don't have time, we must move quickly—"
And then, just as he turned back to look at the two, he froze, staring at something far behind them.
"Boy," Dalton said slowly, trying not to spook Luffy. "Take your friend and go on ahead without me."
"Eh? Why? Aren't you coming along?"
Dalton continued speaking, as if he hadn't heard Luffy's question. "Go! Whatever happens, keep going. Don't stop."
Luffy did not know what had disturbed Dalton enough to order them on alone, but there was an urgent note in Dalton's voice that told him he ought to listen.
He had enough to worry about himself. Bonney had suddenly fallen silent again, and he was alarmed to notice her eyes were closed and her face had turned almost as pale as the snow that surrounded them.
There was no time to waste. The boy-captain took one last look at Dalton, who now stood like a statue with his strange spade-blade drawn, and faced the towering heights of the Drum mountain. Double-checking that the fastenings that kept Bonney attached to him were secure, he gritted his teeth and began forging ahead.
Behind him, muffled shouts carried over the snowdrifts.
The Doctor had always liked the snow-storms of Drum. Maybe it was because they reminded him of the harsh climate of his native North Blue. Which when one thought about it, was a strange thing, because the Doctor did not have fond memories of his home ocean.
"Hmm... I wonder how Mr. Dalton is doing with those marauding pirates?" the Doctor mused to his test mouse. The white rodent immediately dropped the lab block it had been nibbling and quickly darted into the corner of the cage furthest from the man. "I suppose the storm's been keeping any new messengers from arriving but I'm bored and an autopsy would be just the thing."
Yes, he was bored. That was exactly the problem. He, Doctor Trafalgar Law, was bored.
It made no sense, of course. Here he had almost everything he needed and a lifetime's worth of work ahead of him. Mountains and mountains of notes and research and discoveries. But his heart wasn't in it. And he couldn't explain why.
Or perhaps he could. Perhaps he just didn't want to admit to himself that the wanderlust was stirring again.
On a whim he flung on his furred coat and decided to go for a stroll around the grounds. The view was always extra magnificent just after a blizzard.
The first thing he noticed was the signs of activity from the village. There seemed to be more smoke coming from it, certainly. He supposed it was from the pirate attack.
Law scowled. The villagers were sure taking their time in sending the corpses over. Perhaps he ought to make a trip to Bighorn after all. The waiting was trying his patience.
Law blinked. He had been so deep in his thoughts that he had failed to notice the set of knuckles gripping the edge of the cliff.
"Looks like Mr. Dalton didn't quite manage to handle those pirates after all," he murmured to himself as he casually strolled over to the edge. Fortunately he was a second slow in peering over, as at that moment, something stretched and shot upwards, narrowly missing him.
There was a screaming and flailing of limbs, and then something bounced a few times on the ground next to him before slowing to a stop.
He knew immediately that the thing was a devil-fruit user, because it had stretched, partially inflated, and wrapped himself around the slight figure he was carrying. A smart move to cushion the fall, really. Law was still pondering what manner of creature the new arrival was when the thing began unravelling and shrinking back into the shape of a rather bedraggled-looking boy carrying an unconscious pink-haired girl.
"A-are you the doctor?"
Law stared at the boy for a moment and smiled. The day was looking up.
"Looks like the blizzard's let up," the young visitor announced, peering out the window. "Hopefully we won't have to impose on you much longer, sir."
"Oh, it's no bother at all. It's been great having your company," replied Wright the shipwright brightly. And he meant it.
The two visitors had proven themselves to be thoroughly pleasant fellows. Even the older one with the initially grim demeanour had turned out to be an extremely friendly and engaging chap once he had thawed out a little (both literally and figuratively). And as it turned out, the both of them had many interesting stories about their travels in the Grand Line.
The two of them were also extremely sympathetic listeners and had been most willing to listen to his accounts of the various troubles that had befallen the former Drum Kingdom and how it impacted the locals. Telling the tale of Wapol's reign of terror and his subsequent desertion during Blackbeard's invasion certainly made the old man's vigil over the two wounded pirates much more pleasant.
At least, it was pleasant until the gunshots interrupted the peace of the village.
"What was that?" the younger of the two visitors asked, standing up suddenly in alarm.
"You two stay here, I'm going to see what's going on," the old man, anxious not to have the visitors into think Bighorn was some sort of lawless cowboy town. "I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."
"I'll come with you, gramps," offered the yellow-scarfed man.
The old man was already on his way out the door, his mind racing.
Gunshots in the quiet village meant trouble. Had something happened? Perhaps more pirates had showed up and the pitiful pirate who had crashed his poor ship was actually a diversion for the real raid?
The figures of men were now visible at the village entrance. As they drew closer what the old man saw made his heart sink.
"Oh, looks like your local militia's already handled the problem," his companion, who had seen the same thing, pointed out cheerfully. Several armed men were standing guard over another group of men. "That's the uniform of your armed forces right? Is Dalton-san with them? Eh, gramps, what wrong?"
The old man was shaking in fear and horror. "Our village militia does not wear uniforms. Those men are from the army of our former king Wapol."
"So you're saying, Mr. Straw-Hat, that Mr. Dalton felt sorry for you lot and decided to lead you guys here to find me?"
"Yes, Ossan did."
"And he still did this after you told him you were pirates?"
"Yeah. He's a really nice ossan."
The strange straw-hatted boy, while initially desperate, seemed to have cheered up massively on finding out that he had successfully brought his companion to the doctor. This the doctor already found remarkable, considering the boy himself was in very bad shape from the climb up the sheer rockface, if his frost-bitten fingers and multiple lacerations were any indication.
And he looked as though he could have used a square meal or two, too.
"Hm. And where is he now?" Law asked the boy casually, peering at the boy's 'lacerations' and mentally correcting himself as he did so. What he had thought were lacerations were actually areas where the skin had frozen solid, lost its elasticity, and cracked open to expose the flesh inside. Definitely painful, yet the boy didn't even seem to be bothered by the injury.
"Well just now when we were at the bottom he started acting all weird and told me to keep going on alone."
"It does sound like something is amiss," muttered Law as he turned his attention to his prospective patient. Young girl, aged between sixteen and eighteen. Pale and sweaty despite being dressed extremely inappropriately for the freezing weather of the winter island. Pulse weak but fast, breathing erratically accelerated. The ugly bruising on her exposed midriff made diagnosis easy enough.
"Internal bleeding. And you said she hasn't been treated for days?"
The strange stretchy boy nodded.
"Interesting. Quite the medical miracle." The doctor prepared to move the girl. "I'm surprised she's lasted this long. C'mon."
"Where're we taking Bonney?"
"Surgery room," replied Law as the two carried the girl towards the castle. "I'll have to operate at once if there's to be any chance of saving her."
Anxious to help, Luffy ran ahead to help open the main door, but quickly found himself perplexed as the main door turned out to be frozen shut. In fact, it appeared to have been left that way for a long while. He was about to attempt to break it down when the doctor stopped him.
"Don't break it down. The castle'll be too cold and drafty if you do. And I use a different way to get in."
Barely a minute later, doctor, girl and boy were all inside the castle. Law smiled a little at the boy's gaping reaction. "Pick your rubber-jaw off the ground, kid. By the way, what did you say happened to Mr. Dalton again?"
In the village of Bighorn, a tense face-off was currently taking place.
"Don't move, all of you!" The soldiers had their rifles trained on the newcomers.
"Wright! They ambushed us in the blizzard!" one of the villagers, who was being held prisoner, yelled suddenly. "Run for it! You must find and warn Dalton-san!"
There was a scream as a gunshot rang through the icy air. The villager who had spoken out had been silenced.
"Oi, this is really unnecessary. We're just—" began the traveller, palm facing outwards and trying to pacify the soldier. It didn't work.
"Save your breath. As for that old man Dalton, you need not worry about finding him. Wapol-sama beat you to it."
Elsewhere, at the foot of the Drum rockies...
"I can't believe it! Wapol-sama is beaten!"
'Wapol-sama' lay in the snow where he had fallen. Dalton's blade had struck a mighty blow and felled the deserting despot.
While Wapol was down, Chess and Kuromarimo, the two ministers, were very much alive, and were now engaging the former Captain of the Guard. They were finding out, however, that their former comrade hadn't spent the last few months sitting around in a submarine playing pirate. In fact, he had been going around preparing the country for independence, which had included plans for what to do when Wapol and his men return.
True, the arrival of Straw-Hat Luffy and the fluke blizzard had presented something of a spanner in the works, and the militia had been taken by surprise when their de facto leader had been absent. But Dalton himself had been mentally and physically prepared to fight his former king any time, and the training and preparation had paid off.
"Y-you traitor Dalton! How dare you strike your king and comrades?" Kuromarimo spat out at Dalton.
"What kind of a king flees and leaves his subject to the mercies of raiding pirates?" Dalton responded angrily. "What kind of comrade locks one of their own in a dungeon and leaves him there to die?" the bison-man roared in rage as his blade bit into Kuromarimo's afro, slicing his coiffure into ruination. He followed up with cutting the man himself with the backstroke. Kuromarimo went down with a scream.
Dalton's animal senses detected the approach of Chess' whistling projectiles. He barely managed to dodge the arrows in time, before turning into a full bison and charging into the archer, ramming him hard and sending him flying.
All three down. That was good. As Dalton transformed back into human form and caught his breath, he turned and saw that Wapol's fallen form was now surrounded by his posse of doctors. They were the famous Ishii-20. And each and every one of those incredibly skilled doctors were all treating the downed despot.
There was only one thing to do: Dalton charged back towards the fallen monarch. "Stop!"
The doctors did not stop operating. Their attention remained fixed on their patient even as Dalton closed in on them, blade held high and ready to strike down the nearest medic.
"Stop, or I will cut you down!" Dalton gave his last warning.
Still, they did not stop.
"Forgive us, Dalton-san." The voice of the doctor he was about to strike was the hoarse, tired whisper of a man whose free will had been broken long ago. "We doctors are just doing what our king commanded. It's the only thing we have left."
Dalton hesitated as his weapon paused midair.
It was true. It had always been true of the people of Drum. They had always unthinkingly followed their king's orders.
And until that day Hiruluk had broken Dalton out of his blind obedience, he himself had been the same. If the scales hadn't fallen from his eyes back then, would he still be just like the doctor in his conditioned thinking? Did that mean that if their situations had been reversed, did he deserve to die as well?
Could he really strike down an unarmed man who wasn't even fighting back?
Never. I am not like that monster.
Dalton lowered his weapon.
"Poor kind-hearted little Dalton," a voice mocked. Dalton whirled around. Chess had recovered from the ramming and was drawing a bead on him with his bow.
Dalton knew he should have been able to dodge the barrage of arrows. But even as his muscles tensed to spring out of the way, he quickly realised this was something he could not do. The Ishii-20 were standing right behind him, and Chess' arrows did not discriminate between the allegiances of those they struck.
Too late to block with his spade-blade, but he tried anyway. Some of the arrows were deflected. Others found their mark. Dalton jerked backwards from the successive impacts and he half-stumbled to the ground..
"You should have slaughtered the Ishii-20 when you had the chance. It would have been a tactical decision. But then, you always were weak that way. Dalton-kun."
"I'm not done yet," Dalton replied defiantly, forcing himself to his feet. The arrows had missed vital areas but they would be enough to cripple him for the rest of the fight unless he could take Chess out for the count.
"Oh, but yes, you are," a much-hated voice chimed in.
And there, rising up behind him like a dark shadow, was Wapol, now fully healed of all his wounds.
Dalton knew it was hopeless, and yet some stubborn part of him refused to give up. So he transformed, and charged at the man who once he had pledged his loyalty to.
Meanwhile, in Bighorn village...
"Put those hands where I can see them," ordered the Drum soldier. "And you with the scarf, we can see you're armed. Drop those swords to the ground. Slowly."
"Hang on now," protested the traveller querulously. "These are high-quality swords, you can't just dump them in the snow!"
"Shut up and do as he says!"
"Look, I'd rather not get involved in your civil war. I'm just passing by looking for information on a pirate named Blackbeard. They told me that a Dalton-san may know more about him being here so I..."
The soldier wasn't interested in listening to what he had to say and ended that conversation with a gunshot.
"What was that?"
The wind had stopped howling for a moment, and it was at that same moment, the sound of gunshots far below managed to get through.
Law paused from his pre-operation preparations and looked towards the direction of the noise, his brow furrowed in annoyance.
"It looks like it's coming from the village. Rest of your people not the trouble-causing type, are they?"
"Huh? Can't be, the bird-ossan and the marimo-man were both too beat up to do anything."
"'Bird-ossan'? You have a zoan-type with you?" said Law, suddenly interested. He didn't get to question Luffy further as a loud, unrestrained yell pierced the frosty air outside the castle.
"There it is! And nothing's changed! Finally I will reclaim my castle and throne!"
"Hey, Doctor-ossan, who's that?" Luffy wondered, peering through the panes of frosted glass.
"Straw-Hat, never, ever call me 'ossan' again. If you have to address me, it's Doctor, or Dr. Law. And I have a very strong suspicion that may be the former King Wapol and his flunkies. They won't be happy to find us in here."
There was a shuddering crash and rattle from the front door.
"Hey! The stupid door's frozen shut!"
"Let's break it down!"
"Stand back. I'm going to eat it!"
"Let's just say this is incredibly bad timing," Dr. Law said calmly as the sounds of a door being crunched echoed down the halls. "If the stories about that guy are true, things will get ugly soon. Mr. Straw-Hat, if you want that girl of yours to have a chance of surviving, hold them off! I can't fight and operate at the same time!"
Luffy nodded. "I won't let Bonney die!"
"That's my job," corrected Law. "Your job is to keep those idiots from interrupting my operation!"
There was no answer. The boy had already left to face the corpulent tyrant and his two commanders.
And the odds were three against one.
To Be Continued...
A/N: Sorry for the wait for this chapter! I hit a pretty bad writer's block, but finally it got a breakthrough!
Firstly, I just want to give a shout-out to my beta callosum, who did phenomenally good job beta-ing the last six chapters of this fic. However, due to RL considerations, she won't be able to continue for SN11, but I'd just like to take the opportunity to thank her for her guidance and encourage you guys to check out her writings. Shanks fans should especially check out "Strands of Red Hair". If you like my stuff, there's a high chance that you'll probably like hers.
Secondly, yes I know I've been hit with both a hectic shedule AND a lot of writer's blocks recently which has resulted in schedule slip. To counteract it I'm going to shift out of my round-robin schedule of taking turns to update a chapter for each fic to and arc-based updating schedule to maximize output. What this means is basically, more "The Supernova Eleven" updates until the end of the Baroque Works story arc and a break afterwards while I work on my other fics. Hopefully it works out better, we'll see.
Thanks for reading, and of course for your lovely reviews, recommendations, and favourites. See you next chapter!
ps: If anyone is wondering what happened to the Q and A section for this chapter, I didn't have time to do one yet. So watch this space. It'll be either posted up here or on the next update!