(gave up on the disclaimer, it's always the same anyway... though I should add this time that the boa constrictor song is not mine either- 'tis a shame, it's hilarious)
DUN DUN DUN! [just being random]
Noa and Bretton emerged from the storage room, quite pleased with themselves.
They had gone in there a couple hours earlier and had found four different holes that Mr Panda had obviously been using to have unlimited access to the precious food supplies (his hairs lying everywhere were proof enough). Now, all the holes had been repaired and the food was safely stashed in barrels.
"Well, this has been a very productive morning and early afternoon," Noa exclaimed with a wide smile.
"I couldn't agree more!" Bretton nodded enthusiastically. "And now I can leave you guys without regrets: I helped you all I could."
"Yeah, you repaid your debt alright."
"Well, no, not exactly, but-"
"Oh, I wasn't asking for your opinion, dear Bretton: I consider your debt paid."
The young pirate stared at the woman smiling at him warmly. He couldn't help but smile too.
"You have a pretty messed up sense of equivalence," he muttered, a bit embarrassed.
"Yeah, I know," Noa answered in a resigned tone (which was obviously fake, considering how her eyes were twinkling merrily). "I'm collecting stray cats on my way and I feed them all for free: all my money goes there!"
"How selfless of you."
"I know, I'm a saint."
Bretton elbowed her, making her stumble forward. "Hey!"
"A saint with absolutely no sense of balance... How lame..." He said, a mocking look in his eyes.
As Noa was trying to regain her balance and not fall overboard, he pulled his glasses up his nose and jumped down the boat on the deck. The young woman followed him soon afterwards. All trace of amusement had disappeared from their faces as they both knew time had come to say goodbye.
"It was an honor sailing with you," Bretton said solemnly, extending a hand towards Noa.
The young woman sighed deeply and finally put her small hand in the pirate's big paw. His eyebrows rose in surprise when he felt some kind of fabric rubbing against the skin of his palm. When Noa withdrew her hand, he saw a small pouch. Turning it between his fingers, he heard the ringing sound of bellies.
"It's not much, really," Noa interrupted, her cheeks warming slightly. "But you didn't have anything right? So, with this, you should be able to pay a room in an inn somewhere, for a few days, and eat too."
"I can't accept, not after all you did for me."
"Yes you can, and you will," the young woman insisted. "I don't think you realize all you did for us, Bretton, and I don't think you'll ever do. All I can say now is, it was great having you with us, even for such a short time. You'll always be welcome with us. In the meanwhile, take good care."
Bretton nodded. "Take care of yourself too, and hug little Rose for me when she comes out—not Mr Panda though, I still won't forgive the bastard."
"Alright," Noa smiled softly. "Are you sure you don't want me to go get Rosie though?"
"It's ok, let her be. I've never liked goodbyes anyway."
Noa nodded silently. There wasn't anything else to add anyway.
Bretton smiled cheekily, saluting her with a cocky head bow and turned on his heels, heading right for the town. It wasn't long before Noa heard him beginning to whistle, shaking his bellies pouch to accentuate the rhythm.
Smiling ruefully, Noa turned around too and jumped onboard. It was time to get prepared to leave this island and continue their route south. She really didn't want to stay longer: she never knew how to deal with goodbyes either, she preferred making them as short as she could. If she lingered here, it would only make her grow over-emotional and she would end up crying.
The young woman breathed in and out very deeply; she repeated the process several times and tapped her cheeks energetically to try to come back to her senses. Once she didn't feel like crying anymore, she headed straight to the bedroom. As she opened the door (which creaked loudly of course), she slid her head in to look towards Rose's bed. The young girl was buried even deeper beneath the covers: her hair couldn't even be seen anymore.
"Rosie?" Noa called softly.
She waited a few seconds, but Rose didn't answer, barely even moved. Noa sighed.
"Bretton left, so we're going to leave the island too," she said. "I just thought I should let you know."
She waited again but Rose made no sign of having heard what Noa had told her. The young woman pouted slightly and gave up on trying talking to her: the girl would eventually come out when she felt like it. She left, carefully closing the door behind her.
Once she was out on the Sirocco's deck, she lost no time and prepared to leave the island. She wanted out of here as soon as possible.
Rose was sitting on a chair in a very, very, very big office, Mr. Panda soundly sleeping on her lap. There was a very, very, very big desk just in front of her with lots of papers on it and lots of bounty posters on the walls all around (most of them were crossed with a bright red cross).
She was all alone and quite bored—she'd been sitting in this chair for a very long time already. So she was passing time singing her favorite songs—but she was running out of ideas.
I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor,
I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor,
I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor,
And I don't like it very much.
Oh, no! He swallowed my toe!
Oh, me! He's up to my knee!
Oh fiddle! He reached my middle!
Oh heck! He's up to my neck!
Oh, dread! He swallowed my-
The door opened and Rose stopped her singing as she turned to the door.
A very, very, very tall and thin man with a very, very, very long sword entered the office with long strides and in a second, he was sitting behind the desk, in front of the little girl. Rose looked at the man curiously and noticed he was wearing the same white uniform as all the men here.
"Are you a marine?" she asked.
"Yes I am," the tall man answered with a large smile that revealed incredibly white teeth. He rapidly rearranged his hairstyle before saying while striking a pose: "My name is Rab Henker; I'm the captain of this base. What is your name?"
"Rose, that's a very cute name, very befitting (1). Do you have a family name?"
"Hm…" The little girl thought about it for a moment. "Rose Sunflower!"
"Sunflower?" the pirate echoed, sweat-dropping. "You just came up with it, didn't you?"
"Yes!" Rose answered very proudly.
"Don't you have a real one?"
"Well… It could be Ada I guess…"
"Ada?" Henker repeated, frowning slightly—this name sounded distantly familiar.
"She's my big sister. But my grand-parents name was Garden, so it could be Garden, right? And also there's my father's name: Smith."
Rose looked quite troubled with this name issue and was quite obviously thinking really hard about it. In the meanwhile, Henker looked at her with perfectly round eyes, not quite believing the luck that had just befallen him: there was only ONE man in this world named Smith and whose hair was pink…
"Is it alright if I keep them all?" Rose asked suddenly with bright, hopeful eyes. "Rose Smith Garden Ada… Sunflower? But that would be a bit long, wouldn't it?"
"Of course it isn't!" Henker exclaimed with a very sincere smile this time (the luck!). "It's a perfect name for a marine!" He stopped as if a sudden doubt got to him and asked: "My men told me you want to become a marine… You want to become one, don't you?"
"Yes!" Rose beamed, bouncing on her chair and waking up Mr. Panda.
"Fantastic!" Henker said, his smile growing larger still. "I'm sure you'll be an amazing marine! Now, I have a few questions for you, if it's alright."
"Will I have a uniform like yours, too?" Rose asked, completely ignoring the last comment of the captain (she was just too happy to care anyway).
"Of course," Henker faltered slightly and tried again. "But first-"
"And Mr. Panda can stay with me, right? Because we're a team!"
"Who the hell is- Oh! Your cat! Of course he can! And about-"
"I think Mr. Panda will need a uniform too. Do you have uniforms for cats? And we need a team name too! Do you have any idea? I was thinking about 'The Fantastic Rose and Mr. Panda'… Or would the other way around be better? What do you think, Mr. Panda?"
The cat let out an annoyed meow (he just wanted to sleep, dammit!) while Henker was just this close to pull out his own hair out of sheer frustration. He breathed in and out very deeply in a poor attempt to calm himself down—he'd always had a short temper. Rose was still blabbering away to her fat cat, not noticing the death glare from the marine captain.
Henker rose from his chair and came to stand just in front of Rose. The little girl turned her bright, trustful eyes to him and he tried his best to smile, crouching in front of her to be at her eye-level.
"Rose, dear child," he said with the sweetest smile he could muster. He raised a hand to pat her head but Mr. Panda growled in a threatening manner, so he kept his hands to himself. "You're not an islander, right?" The little girl nodded. "So how did you come to this island?"
Rose stayed silent and lowered her eyes. She quite obviously didn't want to talk about it but Henker would have to find a way to get the information: whoever had brought her here, they might have some kind of information on Elton Smith, the most dangerous pirate in all of North Blue. He'd been chasing this damn pirate captain for years now and this little girl could be the missing piece to the most upstanding achievement of his carrier!
"Rosie," he insisted, in a sickeningly sweet tone (how he hated children!). "You know you can tell me anything, right? You're going to become a marine, so I'll be your captain, and as your captain, I need to trust you… But how can I trust you if you hide things from me?"
The little girl looked guiltily at the marine captain before she finally sighed.
"I came here with my big sister, Noa," she murmured, distractedly scratching Mr. Panda's head. "But don't tell her that I'm here, she'd be furious… She doesn't really like marines…"
Of course she doesn't like them… Henker thought with a leer. So there's an older kid. She must have quite accurate information, then! It's even better than what I'd thought!
He rose to his feet and in a couple of long strides he was at the office door, opening it.
"Lieutenant!" He barked in the hallway.
Two seconds later, a marine barged in, looking frightened.
"Captain, sir!" he squeaked and saluted the captain towering over him.
"Find this girl," Henker ordered in a low voice so that Rose wouldn't hear him (she had begun singing again her silly song about a boa constrictor). He handed to the lieutenant a paper on which he had scribbled the name. "She's an outsider to this island so she should be fairly easy to find. Bring her back to me alive. She has capital information and I want it."
"Yes sir!" The lieutenant saluted again and ran away, leaving only a trail of dust behind him.
Henker turned back to little Rose.
"Well then, as I have a lot of work to do now, I'm going to have to leave you," he said before calling for a marine. A man came in right away and saluted the captain. "Take our newest member to her room and make sure she has everything she needs: she's your responsibility."
"Yes sir!" the marine said.
As they exited the office, Henker could hear Rose's high-pitched voice as she talked to the marine.
"You're the mister from earlier!" she said, sounding delighted.
Henker closed the door and turned to the wall covered in bounty posters. Almost all of them had been crossed out with a large red marker except a very few. These were the pirates he'd been chasing all his life long. For most of them, they were dead (killed by his own hand), but a few still eluded him. Elton Smith was one of them, and one of the most annoying one at that…
But soon, he would get rid of the most dangerous pirate in all North Blue: he had the key right in the palm of his hand—a pink-haired little girl deliciously oblivious to her true value.
He laughed and relaxed in his chair, putting his feet upon his desk. Things looked way better than they'd ever had!
It was barely 4pm and the Sirocco was ready to head towards her next destination. But she couldn't go yet, because Mr. Panda had disappeared.
Noa had searched the boat for what seemed like centuries, without finding a single hair of the evil cat. It was like he'd just vanished. Exasperated, Noa headed straight to the room and barged in, feeling way too annoyed to even try to be silent anymore. Because of stupid Mr. Panda, they were going to have to wait until tomorrow to leave the island!
"Rose, your cat disappeared!" she said, coming to a stop in front of Rose's bed and putting her hands on her hips. "I'm done looking for him, I've had enough! If you want him to come with us, I give you one hour to find him or we'll leave Jenkind without him!"
A heavy silence was the only answer she got.
Noa frowned and felt her anger quickly leave her. It was… rather strange… With this kind of menace, normally, Rose should have reacted. She should have cried, throw a tantrum, said something to try to convince Noa not to leave without Mr. Panda… But now, she absolutely did not react—she did not even move.
Was something wrong with her? Noa felt guilt wash over her. She had childishly ignored her little sister and had not tried to see past her first impressions. Maybe Rose was more than just sad of seeing Bretton leave them? Maybe she was really sick?
Really worried, Noa rushed to the little girl's side.
"Rose, are you alr-"
Her voice died in her throat as she lifted the covers to take a peek at Rose. But there was no Rose in the bed, only pillows.
Noa could only stare stupidly at the pillows shaped roughly in a human form. Rose was not here? She threw away the covers but the bed was definitely empty.
"Rose! It's not funny! Wherever you are, get out!"
Noa looked under the beds—nothing. She looked in the closet—nothing. And even worse: Rose's favorite outfit and bag were missing.
"No… She wouldn't have…" Noa murmured, incredulous.
She ran to the bathroom, only to find her things gone. Noa looked around her, so panicked now that she didn't know what to do anymore.
At this point, it was obvious that Rose had run away, but why? And where would she go? She didn't know this island at all! And with this marine captain Rin told them about, the little girl could be in grave danger! What if he recognized her as the bastard's daughter? What would he do to her? And what if she hurt herself? Nobody knew her, nobody would take care of her?
Oh my god…
What if she was already hurt right now? Noa could just picture it: the smiling, oblivious, defenseless, little girl happily bouncing in a dark forest, falling down a cliff… Or the same smiling, oblivious, defenseless, little girl attacked by thugs (knowing her she would welcome them with wide open arms, thinking she just made new friends)…
Feeling lightheaded, Noa had to sit down and take a few minutes to calm herself down. She looked at her watch: quarter past four—she needed to find the little girl quickly, she only had a couple hours of daylight left. When the night falls, finding Rose would become tremendously difficult.
Noa exited the room and went straight to her desk. She took a small, rusty key hidden in a book and opened a drawer that she usually kept carefully locked. As she was taking a large leather belt and a wooden box, she sighed heavily. Her head was beginning to hurt, as well as her throat and she was feeling kind of feverish: the medicine she'd drunk this morning was slowly but surely wearing off and she didn't have any of it left. It really was bad timing: she didn't have any time to worry about her health right now; Rosie was out here somewhere and she had to find her.
The young woman opened the wooden box and stared at the small glass bottles gleaming in the sunlight. They were orderly classified according to their color and effects, ranging from completely harmless (such as several sleeping draughts) to potentially deadly (poisons, explosives…). They were Noa's only weapons, that she had created herself thanks to what her father had taught her from chemistry… Well, she didn't think he would've ever wanted her to use chemistry as a weapon but…
Frowning heavily as she was pondering over which bottle she would be likely to use (and at the same time trying to ignore her headache), she took two dozens of small glass bottles out of the box and carefully slid them in pouches on the leather belt. Once she was sure all the pouches were closed, she put the belt on, hanging it tightly around her hips.
It was a strange feeling to have the belt on, foreign and familiar at the same time. It seemed like centuries since the last time she had had to use it.
No time to get emotional! Noa berated herself, realizing that she was loosing precious daylight.
She grabbed her coat and her biggest scarf and wrapped herself conscientiously in it. If she couldn't treat her cold right now, she could at least try not to make it worse.
As she ran out of the boat and jumped down on the deck, she didn't notice the new vessel that was moored on the other side of the small harbor, nor its Jolly Roger flapping noisily in the cold wind. And she absolutely didn't realize either that the whole town had become eerily quiet…
She ran as fast as she could through the town, calling her sister's name, hoping that the young girl hadn't gone too far.
Minutes slowly passed by, turning into hours and very soon, the sun was setting and the temperature dropping. Noa still hadn't found a single trace of her sister and she was growing desperate of ever finding her. She had an ominous feeling of the worst kind and an annoying voice kept on nagging her, repeating over and over that something really bad had happened.
As Noa ran for the umpteenth time along the main street, she realized that she could use the help of a local, someone who knew the island... And she knew just the one.
Cursing herself for not thinking of this earlier, she ran towards Rin's shop. Barely a minute later, she was there. The shop was brightly lit inside and Noa didn't even take the time to knock: she threw the door open.
The wind was knocked out her as she collided against something hard and she fell backwards, flat on her rear.
What on earth is a damn wall doing just behind the damn door? She thought as she groaned in pain. She shook her head to try to get rid of the little flying pink Den Den Mushis flying in front of her eyes.
She froze as said pink flying Den Den Mushis disappeared, revealing a pair of black leather shoes right in front of her.
Slowly, her eyes went up a pair of white jeans, then up a yellow and black sweater that left two tattooed forearms to be seen, and still up until her eyes met with two small black eyes, heavily circled in black. The young woman felt shivers ran down her spine as a very frightening smile made the tip of his lips tilt upwards. She knew that face…
"Are you alright, Miss?"
Ooops… That wasn't a wall…
(1) 'Rose' in French means pink, so yes, Rose's name is very befitting (you can blame my great lack of imagination for characters' names)
First, apologies are in order: I'M SORRY! My only excuse is university. I'll do my best to update regularly (twice a week will most likely be rare, but I'll try...) ^_^* Well, at least this chapter's just on time!
Secondly, guess who Noa crashed into? Cookies to whoever finds it! teehehe (though it isn't much of a challenge, is it? ;)
Anyway, thanks to all the reviewers: SnapshotsOfEternity, ELMO-kibafangirl11, Moonlight Calls, loser94, Jen567 and poisonliz! Thanks also to those who favorited/suscribed to story alert. We're over a thousand hits for this story now! Wooohooo!
Well... I'll leave you be, now- Thanks for reading!