A/N: The reason I haven't updated is because I've been a busy bee over school. I'm getting supplies, attending classes to get the introduction going for me to familiarize myself with new faces of both students and teachers alike, and then catching up with old friends in person. I think most of you know the feeling, but I'm glad that I got it settled down to the point I can finish writing this! I hope you find this chapter worth the wait, and I have to warn you that I didn't do much because I've been distracted to forgive me if you found things you didn't like. I want to get this arc over with to continue on with the Baratie, to the Arlong Park, and Logue Town arc. Why? Because I've got something special to bring up to that point. Remember to read and review, and thanks for the support of this fanfic that is growing on you guys!

Disclaimer: One Piece and its characters belongs to Oda-sensei, Reuben belongs to me!

Chapter 8 - The Brave One

'These kids...' Jango, newly promoted captain of the Black Cat Pirates, let his fists clench and tremble from the increasing panic building within him. 'They're gonna be the death of us!'

The order was simple, very simple really. To the point it was like relearning the ABC's and 1 2 3's all over again; take over Syrup Village and kill the mistress of the mansion. After that, all the money and property would belong to to the former captain of the Black Cat Pirates who goes around with the name Clahador, a butler. He once laughed, but not in the reaching ears and prying eyes of the man himself, he didn't have a stupid death wish of course. Jango had to admit, a heinous man like him hiding himself a dutiful butler is actually something very clever of the man.

But that's to be expected from Captain Kuro.

The man is incredibly smart and patient, his plans following through always when he worked around the quirks and outcome. Having just escaped 3 years ago from the Marines by facing his death, using one of their own crew mates to take Captain Kuro's place—with Jango's persuasion—and letting the bespectacled man walk away free from the life of piracy. And that was suppose to be the end of the story, the end of Captain Kuro's terrifying reign over the crew... and then Jango received a letter.

It came to a surprise for Jango when he read the letter, informing him that Captain Kuro wanted to meet up with him after 3 long years and the hypnotist knew this wasn't a meeting of chit-chat about the old days. And the hypnotist was right.

Looks like the sly cat wanted to perform one last heist; a hit.

A simple arrival, a simple meeting, a simple plan, a simple pillaging of the village as all pirates do best, and a simple get away. Period.

There was nothing more simple and clear about this perfect plan.

'So why?!' Jango grounded his teeth as he glares behind the shades of his sunglasses. 'Why the hell isn't this going as planned?!'

They all would be at the village already ransacking and killing everyone left and right, they would already trying to burn down houses and steal priceless jewelry and what berri they can find from the dead bodies. They would all be there and getting away with murder. Yet, what are they doing instead? Here they remain on this single slope with no way of getting anywhere else but the trail up, which led to three people standing in their way.

The little lying bastard that Captain Kuro had said was nothing to worry about, the girl from earlier with his arrival on the island, and last but not least, the punk that mistook him for some nobody. Every time the men charged up to put an end to these brats and finally make their way to the village, the kids pushed them back down. Hard. Now he's surrounded by some bloody, bruised, and nearly exhausted men that have been repeatedly met with the end of a fist, a stick, and lead marbles.

Three kids against a whole fleet of pirates! It's embarrassing!

Captain Kuro—or Clahador, or whatever!—is a brilliantly intelligent and patient man when he goes into planning, his mind calculative and cool as he comes up with careful considerations and mentally visualizes what could happen ahead of time. But this one plan, Jango grinds his teeth again, hadn't been counted on being messed up by a bunch of kids. And that's not the worse thing. Jango and everyone in the crew knew full well what would happen should this continue on and the former Captain comes to realize there is no one attacking the village as of yet.

"Goddammit...!" Jango cursed under the shadow of his fedora.

A chill ran down his spine, the hypnotist shuddering at the thought about a formal-looking man sitting, waiting, seething as no one was coming to take care of the villagers and the mistress because no one here couldn't get past a trio of snot-nosed brats! No, Jango was not going to die because these little shits got in their way!

"Kill them!" Jango roars and points at the trio. "KILL THEM ALL!"


THWAK! THWAK!

"Ugh!"

I hold my fists up and glare fiercely at the pirate fleet standing below me, all of them looking tired and beaten up but I know not to let my guard down. After that cry for our blood, I know things are going to get just a little bit harder seeing as they'll be hitting us with everything they got. They attacked furiously, not focused and more intent on getting past me and everyone else, but they thankfully didn't get too far. I rub my shoulder against my cheek, wanting to get rid of the feeling of blood from an earlier scratch from somebody's sword.

I myself ain't that good to look at. My leg hurts, my ribs ached, and my hands are trembling from the adrenaline pumping and pumping in my veins, it's crazy. I know soon enough when this is over I'm going to crash and burn, but right now, I'm taking advantage of all the muscles bulging and ready to break noses and teeth.

"Nami!" I call to her, not looking behind in fear that they might strike me for turning a blind eye.

"I'm good!" she answers almost immediately and I can hear her voice sounding out of breath.

"Usopp!" I call on louder since he was behind Nami.

"Ready to fire!" he responds, a small quake in his voice but otherwise he's standing his ground.

I'm no military strategist or some super genius that Zoro likes to mockingly refer me of being but I've seen a lot of movies and read a lot of books to get my inspirational ideas. With quick thinking and wild yelling to the others that are thankfully quick to catch on, we have established what I call a 'three-line defense'. How does it work and what is it suppose to do against an army of sword-wielding and very angry pirates? Well, I ain't gonna say it's simple because it ain't, but I'm gonna say it gets the job done.

This is how it works...

I'm the first in line of this defense because, despite my injuries, I am currently labeled the heavy hitter of us three. Like I said, I've been through enough bar fights and other tough tumbles back home that I have developed a mean right hook. It isn't perfect though, I still get punched and sometimes cut by these bastards but I have somewhat quick reflexes. I sure as hell don't want a repeat of a spear being stabbed into my leg or my head being nearly sliced clean off my shoulders.

Nami is the second line of defense, just a few feet behind me. She takes out anyone that gets past me or will offer help when it becomes too overwhelming for me to handle by myself. She's in perfect condition, that's the bonus, she not all that tired and she's really good with her Bo staff. Her size and frame is her strength, making her reaction quick and her mind fast-thinking, turning the orangette the next formidable person should any of these jerks get past me.

Usopp serves the last line of defense with multiple tasks put on his plate, but I have all faith in him on succeeding because of his sniper qualities. And he's safe, that's what counts the most for him, is that he's safe. His job as the last line is to take out anyone from going for the killing blow when neither I nor Nami are looking or we just aren't quick enough. He also takes out anyone that gets past Nami, and he will randomly shoot anyone in the crowd just to keep these guys on their toes and warning them what's to come should they think of trying.

This is our three-line defense, it ain't perfect and simple but it gets the job done.

"You bastards!" one Black Cat hisses at us, pointing a sword at our direction. "You won't last long! There's tons of us and only three of you!"

"Stop yappin' and come at me ya hissy-fittin' jerk wad!" I yell back and side-stepped quickly when he furiously ran at me. "Suck on THIS!"

SLAM!

He flies back from the force of the kick, making the teeth in his front go flying and I know when he wakes up he'll develope a lisp. I point a finger down at the crew, pulling another one of my dad's scary looks.

"Is THAT the best you GOT?!"

I feel a jab at my back and I know it's Nami poking me with her bo staff.

"Stop antagonizing them, BAKA!" she and Usopp scream at my back.

"Enough!" Jango shouts. "Men! Attack all at once!"

I think this a way for karma coming back to bite me in the ass. And I can tell from the burning feel against my back that Nami and Usopp saw this as punishment for me becoming a bit too prideful. Had we not been in the middle of this dire situation, I think they would have loved nothing more than to beat me with a staff and shoot me lead marbles.

"Here they come!" I tell them, pulling up my fists.

The pirates... were climbing the slope in a V-shape. In the lead is a big, fast, ugly-looking guy, somebody that I had a hard time hitting because of the extra fat, I had to leave Usopp to hit him square in the face with his marbles. Behind the big fatty are the rest of the fleet, pushing the man up and up, closer to destroying this three-line defense. I have to think...!

"Nami! You're staff!" I yell at her when the incoming pirates are coming closer. "Hurry!"

She tosses it to me and I catch easily, whirling around in time to slam the middle into the big man, he looks disgruntled by grabs the stick and pushes me back. My feet are sliding over the gravel upward thanks to the push his friends are doing and I really hate that smug grin on the fat bastard's face. I let out a huff when I feel something slam against me and I peek over my shoulder to see it's Nami pushing against my back, putting all her weight to help stop the climb.

"Oof!" Nami and I let out, feeling another thump on our backs.

"Usopp," Nami's voice strained from the push.

"We can't let them cross!" Usopp cried with panic and fear rising in his tone with every push up from the Black Cats. "We can't let them hurt my village!"

"Dammit...!" I curse as I push back harder, but my mind already comprehended what my heart refuses to acknowledge; defeat.

"Eek!"

"Waaah!"

I look up to see what is freaking out the other two, only to find a big axe coming down on us that one of the Black Cats carried with them, I can only watch as the edge of the axe comes closer and closer—

WHAM!

"WAAAAAHHH...!"

I blink and realize that I'm still holding Nami's bo staff but nothing being pushed against it, not even an army of blood thirsty pirates hungrily reaching the top of the slope to charge and wreak havoc on the poor unsuspecting village. Instead, I see a mass of flying Black Cats being blown away until they meet the painful end of a horrible landing. Nami and Usopp are still close behind me and I feel two extra bodies standing on either side of me.

"You...!"

"Luffy! Zoro!"

The two teens had a look that said they are beyond peeved. Both of them are covered in sweat and dirt, just ragged and outrageously irritated from whatever hell hole they got themselves out of. I felt a twitch in my left eye as I stared at them. How the hell should they feel that way when me and the others were fighting for our lives! We should be the ones that carried faces like we just came out of an epic war zone from killing batshit crazy soldiers or some shit like that, not these two maniacs!

"About time you two showed up!" Nami tells them both with an unimpressed look. I make a face that said she had no reason to be acting all innocent when she was the cause of one of them being tardy to begin with.

"Dammit, Usopp! You gave me wrong directions!" Luffy growls at Usopp, long nose only chokes and babbles on how Luffy went on ahead before he could tell the rubber brat.

"Don't give me that crap!" Zoro snapped at the orangette. "You left me down there in the first place!"

She just rolled her eyes at the green-haired swordsman. "My treasure was in danger."

There really is no point trying to talk some common sense into this greedy woman, really. No point at all.

"And YOU!" Zoro turns to me.

I blink. "Me?"

"You went the wrong way! I had to run around the island looking for this place!"

I... the wrong... What the HELL is he talking about?! Like hell I'm the person at fault here!

"Idiot!" I shout back at him. "You got lost on your own so don't blame others for your stupid lack of directions! My God, I've never met anyone who got lost on a straight path!"

"OH SHUT UP!"

"WHY DON'T YA MAKE ME?!"

"SCREW YOU!"

"FUCK YOU!"

"Hey!" Nami pushes us apart and points a finger at the crew below. "Why don't you use that anger and focus it on them!"

Luffy and Zoro take in the scene, the pirates looking a bit bruised and battered but they still had it in them to fight some more. Jango just stood there in the middle of it all, his face hidden under his fedora, no one can tell what's going on in that hypnotist's mind.

Nami steps up next to Luffy, her hands to her hips and her Bo staff back in their owner's grip, talking under her breath to the two others, probably filling them in while they were off running around the island in circles. I turn to Usopp and rest a hand on his slightly trembling shoulder, the poor kid gives a small flinch but relaxes that it's no enemy but an ally standing beside him.

"You okay, man?"

"Y-yeah...!" he grins up at me. "I can't believe we kept them back this long!"

"Me neither," I weakly say as I chance a peek down at the Black Cat Pirates with dread. "Me neither."

"Shishishi~!" me and Usopp look up at Luffy, a laughing expression plastered on the rubber brat's face.

"Huh?" I mumble, wondering what he's laughing on about.

"Listen to me! When I say 'one, two, Jango!' all your wounds will be healed and you will be super strong!"

"What is that lunatic doing now?" Zoro inquiries wryly.

"Hypnotizing them to get strong?" I look at the others with a bewildered expression. "That's crazy!"

"I don't like this..." Usopp comments as he keeps himself hidden from behind my tall frame.

"One..."

All of us look at each other, a small glint of uneasiness rising in our chest.

"Two..."

Zoro unsheathes his swords, Nami holds up her Bo staff, Usopp shakily aims his sling-shot, Luffy gazes on, and I weakly hold up my fists.

"JANGO!"

An uproar of men gave a wild shout to the sky, the energy and power coming off of them in waves overwhelming me and everyone else in our little group. I am a fool, I admit that now, to think that me, Nami, and Usopp had it covered before Zoro and Luffy's arrival. Even with the appearance of the small crew's most toughest fighters things just aren't looking too good for us at all.

"RAH!" one of the Black Cats slams a fist against a nearby cliff.

Few seconds later, there's a massive rock slide tumbling down, the part of the earth broken off by that one hit! The helplessness came back again, the fear and weakness consuming me. Usopp is shaking so badly, Nami is speechless and looking pathetic, even Zoro looked a bit pale but stood firm on his feet. Luffy though...

"Luffy?" I stare at him in worry, a shadow cast over his eyes from the strawhat.

"Shit!" Zoro hisses.

"They've all been hypnotized!" Nami is trembling now with fear evident in her eyes.

"Holy crap! If one of them can do that, just imagine what the whole fleet can do!" Usopp shrieks loudly, looking ready to bolt and run.

"Go and finish them!" Jango commands and the whole fleet is on their way up.

"You guys, take cover!" Zoro orders Nami and Usopp, and his eyes whip around a quick second looking for the third party.

"Luffy?" I touch his shoulder and shake him a little. "Luffy?! What's wrong?"

"Reuben!" Zoro grabs me from the fabric of my shirt. "Didn't you hear me? I said run!"

"No, wait—" I try to shrug Zoro's hand away from my shoulder but we both are thrown back on our asses.

"RRAAAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRRR!" Luffy roars to the sky, his eyes unfocused and a war face drawn on him.

"He's been hypnotized!" we all realized with horror.

"That moron!" Nami shrieked with irritated anger.

"Luffy, snap out of it!" I tell the rubber brat, snapping my fingers but it does no good. "Oh shit!"

And Luffy races off down the slope while waving his arms like the mad man that he is, ignoring mine and Zoro's shouts.

"Gomu Gomu no GATLING!"

Hundreds and hundreds of hands coming from Luffy and striking everyone of those guys down, it was an optical illusion, if one had a careful eye, anyone can see that Luffy was just stretching out his arms really fast. Luffy halts his fast-punching fiesta and all the downed men look up at him, fear in their eyes from behind their swollen lids and give a cry of fear when Luffy charges towards them with another battle cry. Me and Zoro narrow our eyes when he completely runs past the fleeing crew and slam into their front ship, grabbing the edge of the cat figurehead.

"What in Sam Hill is that boy doin'...?" I whisper.

"Like I know." Zoro answers back.

With another shock of bewilderment running through both of us, we watched as Luffy fucking tore off the figurehead like nothing! He turns towards the Black Cats and they all squeal in fright as Luffy went after them as that giant over-sized bat as his weapon!

"Captain! Do something!" one of them cries to Jango.

"When I say 'one, two, Jango!' you will fall asleep!" the hypnotist pulls out his ring again.

"Uh-oh!" Zoro and I say in unison.

"One! Two!..."

Luffy raises up the figurehead with a roar...

"JANGO!"

And collapses, the giant cat figurehead falling over and the men run away so that they aren't crushed. I wince as the giant wood falls on Luffy but know that he's okay, just sleeping it off.

"Great," Nami mutters. "Now what?"

"That," we all hear Usopp say. "Is not normal."

"Tell us something we don't know."

"Neh, neh! Buchi! The figurehead is gone!" everyone hears from within the ship.

"There's more people?" I ask. It's bad enough we have to take care of the people down below, we don't need anymore surprises.

"Seems like it." Zoro replies, eyes on the ship.

"Haha..." we hear one downed pirate weakly cackle, giving us a sick, twisted gleeful look. "You all... are going to die."

I shift my eyes towards the ship where I spy two figures standing at the front. I expected them to be scary—like Guraji scary—but they looked just a freaky-looking as Mohji of the Buggy Pirates. One is incredibly fat, dressed in a cloak and wearing red striped pants with a yellow sash, his chest and belly bare for all to see, and his face looked like a cat. The whole ears, bell collar, and spots down to the teeth. The other one is just hideous! Dark green hair curled up in one direction with dark cat ears perked up, dark blue shirt with a tie, and short shorts to show off his hairy legs. I cringe at the images, never again did I want to run into someone like Mohji. Ever.

They both wore gloves with 2 inch sharp claws sticking out, and at their feet are a type of shoes I've seen ninjas wear. The kind that separates their big toe from the rest of the toes. But I've learned since coming into this strange sea is that I should never underestimate anyone because of their looks... I've had enough of those ugly truths already.

"Get down here, Nyabun Brothers!"

They both jump high into the air before landing gracefully, quietly, onto the ground. Like a bunch of cats.

"Those guys jumped really high," Usopp comments from behind me.

"Who the heck are these guys?" Nami wondered out loud.

"A bunch of guys raised by their grandmothers that spend way too much time handling cats, that's who." I tell the orangette.

"Captain! Buchi reporting!" the fat cat salutes.

"Sham reporting!" the hunch-back salutes as well.

I turn to Zoro out of curiosity to see what he thought but I find instead the man holding an expression that said he was not at all amused or impressed by the two newcomer enemies. It was like he was expecting something of a challenge to come against his formidable three-sword style, and yet he was was lumped with those squabbling cat lovers that looked hesitant to go against us.

'Wait a second...' I thought as I look back down at the Nyabun Brothers, the hunch-back, Sham, running forward with a panicky look on his face. 'This don't look right at all.'

All gut instinct, all deep-in-my-heart feelings, all frantic nerve-wracking brainwaves shouted the same thing; trap!

"Here I come, prepare yourself!" shouted Sham wildly with his arms waving like a lunatic.

"They sent a weakling?!" Zoro snorted, barely raising his sword, the two others sheathed a while ago.

Cats are sly creatures, who's to say these cat-themed pirates weren't thinking the same in using these kinds of methods?

"Zoro!" I shout at his back. "SWORDS UP!"

At my warning, Zoro raised his sword to find a gloved hand slam into it, long nails just inches away from cutting into his chest like a sharp knife poking through soft butter. Zoro's feet are shoved backwards from the force of the unpredictable incoming attack, taken surprise by the weakling act Sham put up in front.

"You son of a...!" Zoro growls, holding his grip firm on the handle of his single sword.

"You thought I was just a weakling, right?" Sham smiles so sickly sweet, like he was a dark parody of the Chesire cat, although I could be Alice, stuck in a bizarre Wonderland.

I spot the other hand sneaking to Zoro's waist, where his other swords are at.

"Zoro! Push him off you!" I shouted again.

But it was too late. Zoro succeeded in pushing Sham back but the cat-man's goal had already been won, strapped on his back were two of Zoro's beloved swords.

"Holy crap, this guy is good!" Ussop blurted, surprised that someone sneakily took away the weapons without the swordsman's notice.

"This is insane!" Nami added in her disbelief.

"Well, fuck," Zoro cursed, glaring at the hunch-back.

"You're a pretty good fighter, but you sadly underestimated me." Sham licked the fingernails, somewhat looking more cat-like for the behavior. It just creeped me the hell out. "You really should do well to listen to other's warnings, not that it'll do you any good against the Nyabun Brothers."

"Give them back, you bastard!" Zoro demands, getting angrier by the second.

"What's wrong?" came a coy response from the hunch-back. "You have a sword. It's right there, in your hand."

"Idiot!" I shout at the feline-fetish lunatic. "You better hand the swords over if you wanna live to see the next day! He WILL kill you!"

"Reuben," came Nami's voice, a warning tone directed at my back, but I'm too busy dealing with these chumps.

"Before we begin," Sham flicked the swords behind him, letting them fall down the slope until they came to a stop, just a few feet before Jango and Buchi's feet. "Those swords would get in the way. Now let's get started!"

I felt an angry wave of heat coming from Zoro, and I didn't have to be a professor to know that he was furious because someone just handled his weapons like they were trash. It just made my uneasiness with Zoro grow a little more, the fear knowing how disgustingly precious those deadly weapons were from Zoro's previous bounty hunting exploits.

Without warning, Zoro lunged forward and before the hunch-back could even put up his gloves to defend himself, it was over.

"Oh, God!"

He did it again, and not because he was trying to defend himself like Nami said before, but just out of anger because someone didn't handle his swords properly. No good reason, no right, no necessity. If I could put this situation in simple terms I'd just say that this was like a kid having a temper tantrum. Zoro was like a tiny child, getting his favorite toy tossed around that he retaliated by breaking the others toys out of revenge.

And that's what made the man more fucking scary.

I feel Nami's hands grab my shoulders, trying to keep me from falling on my knees and losing myself in my head like back in the last island we were on with the whole Buggy ordeal.

"Reuben—"

"No," I shake my head behind my hands. "No, no more of this shit, no!"

"AAH!" we both jump from Ussop's squawk, he jabbed a finger towards Zoro's direction. "HE'S ALIVE!"

Indeed, Sham is alive... and skinny. Like anorexic skinny that models would kill to have a body like that.

"He used that shirt as a ploy to think he was a big-framed guy!" Nami summarized the whole thing in seconds.

Although I am relieve that the guy is alive and not dead, bleeding away on the floor like Zoro intended him to be, the man is sitting on Zoro's back with the swordsman's arms trapped behind him.

"Now, Buchi!" Sham shouted to his fat brother.

"Good work, Sham!" the fat cat and suddenly leaps in the air, coming down to stomp Zoro's head to smithereens. "Kyatto Za Funjyatta!"

"ZORO!" all three of us screamed helplessly.

In the last minute, Zoro rolls away with Sham flying off his back and avoiding his head being smashed into a slush that we wouldn't have recognized. The ground beneath the fat one's feet crumbles and cracks, just leaving to the imagination of what would have happened had Zoro still been in that position...

"Jesus Christ," I mumble under my breath. "These guys are strong as hell!"

"No kidding!" Ussop readily agrees with me.

"Damn!" Sham hissed as he got back to his feet and joins his partner.

"Next time get a better hold of him!" Buchi scolds his brother, agitated from having missed his shot in killing Zoro.

"Sorry, didn't think he was THAT strong."

Zoro didn't look to good in taking on these two, very well-armed, and very crafty pirates that moved beyond our expectations. And there was the fact that he was armed with one single sword to defend himself, and of all the time I've been with him, I've actually never seen him fight with one sword. It was just two or three but never was it one. And the grim look on his face told me all that I needed to know that this fight wasn't going to be easy.

"I need to get the swords," I quietly tell Nami and Ussop and leave their eyes from Zoro to me. "And we also have to deal with another problem, too."

"Okay," I hear Usopp say.

Nami stayed quiet and then I feel her hands on my shoulder tighten. She knows of how deeply frightened I am of that man taking on two enemies simultaneously, but she also knows that I didn't have the heart to watch and let him die. I am just a complicated basket case, ain't I?

"What's the plan?"

"Neko-yanagi Daikoushin!"

The Nyabun Brothers attacked with speed and ferocity, pushing Zoro back from the multiple attacks that sometimes drew dangerously closer to the swordsman's body.

I sprint off the side and down the slope so suddenly, taking the opportunity that the Nyabun brothers are distracted and the fleet of pirates are down from Luffy's attack. I just had to get the swords and let Zoro take the lead from there, and somehow get Luffy to wake the hell up!

'What is that fool doing?' Zoro thought as he ducked, dodged, and blocked the fury of attacks.

"Oh look, one of them is going for the swords!" the big fat guy Buchi states as he peeks over for a quick moment to see what was going on.

'Shit!'

"Don't worry," Sham grinned widely. "I've got this one."

"No you don't!" Zoro growls, making his first attack against Sham but Buchi pushes him back whilst the fucking crackpot Sham goes down to take care of the problem.

With no other choice, Zoro shouted loud and clear into the air.

"REUBEN!"

Before I can react, before I can think, before I can even understand the slightest bit, I'm suddenly flying face-first into the ground. Shocked of the stinging pain of rocks digging sharply onto the side of my face, causing blood to pour through from the open scratches, I register the weight resting heavily on my back and I know that it is the cause of my fall. But there is another thing I register afterwards...

Knives, many knives, digging deep through my shoulders. Cutting through the skin, seeping deeper through the muscles, invading the blood streams, and my body reacted to the unwelcome feeling.

I scream.

I let the world hear my blood curling scream. The scream that made the hair at the back of your neck rise, the scream that made your skin crawl and feel sick in the stomach, the scream that you hear when someone is moments away from dying.

I just screamed.

The hurt, the deep edge of agony, the burning pain—'MAKE IT STOP!'

It was like being speared again except the knives didn't go all the way through, they just remained where they are; rooted into my flesh and blood. I can't think right or stay focus, too busy screaming my head off and not caring how many times I bit my tongue and cheeks that my mouth if full of blood, I can't hear or listen what's going on around me, just screaming and screaming. And I can't breathe! Oh Christ, I can't breathe! I can't think of anything but the sensation of the knives digging, scratching, ruining me from the inside and I can't do anything about it to ease it.

I want to die.

I want to die so badly.

I want it to stop hurting so much, I want to die and never ever feel it again, I want to be somewhere other than here. It hurts me so much.

It hurts so fucking much!

It hurts, it hurts, ithurtsithurtsithurts

"TEME!"

I give a hoarse broken cry as the knives are forcefully ripped away, I can feel the tearing of my flesh that I can only imagine those knives having taken some of it with them when they uprooted themselves from my body. I hack and cough from the blood I accidentally swallowed, I didn't have the time to recover because I'm roughly pulled up from someone grabbing the back of my wife beater and I am shakily lifted up.

"You fucking idiot!" the green-haired swordsman hisses under his breath while glaring at the two pirates. Sham looked like a cat that had just eaten cream. "What the hell in your right mind made you think you can just—? You moron!"

I cough more blood up, watching it fall to the graveled ground, faintly feeling blood dripping down my face, my chin, nose, and now my back as well. I really don't look or feel well at all.

"Dammit, you're a mess," I hear Zoro tell me.

It hurt still, it hurt breathing. But, I look at Zoro and see him struggling to look not only after himself but for me, too. I'm still scared of Zoro, and I really don't like his methods of dealing with people... but it's the only thing we've got should we want to fight back. With all my stamina and strength conjured up, I sprinted off quickly.

"REUBEN!" I hear Zoro shout after me. "DAMMIT, YOU BASTARD!"

I have to get the swords... I come closer to the weapons, getting ready to snatch them from the ground and give them back to their rightful owner.

"NOW REUBEN!"

Pop!

"Aghk!" came a pained and startled cry from behind me.

I quickly duck down, rolling a somersault and feeling a body fly over me a brief moment; Sham. The hunch-back was inches away from digging his claws into my back again, but not this time. Nami had shouted the signal, and Usopp shot a lead ball to hit Sham to distract the cat-man enough for me to finally attack and defend myself.

"My turn ya piece o' shit!" I spat at the man, watching my bloody saliva stain his face.

And I gave that bastard hell.

I pounce and straddle the cat-man as he had went down, and without any words or threats, I began to pummel the bastard with all my might. The scabs of my fist opening once again because of the strength and weight I'm using to beat Sham, wincing as my knuckles scraped against teeth but I continued, I'm not gonna give this guy the chance to kill me. The once dangerous man below me now choking, shouting, and crying from the pain and onslaught of my fists beating him so brutally, but I didn't give in. I had to take him out, now.

I finish the beat-down session with one last fisted back-hand, letting Sham lie there in agony.

"SHAM!" I hear Buchi cry in distraught to see his brother bloody and bruised.

"Holy cow," I hear one Black Cat Pirate say. "Sham's been beaten to death!"

"Idiots," I murmur to myself but didn't bother to correct their thoughts, I needed to get the swords.

"And just what," I hear a voice cut through the air before I felt something slice deeply at my shoulder's trapezium. "Do you plan on taking, hm?"

So much of the pain the body can take, the blood gushing and having me collapse back on the gravel with a huff and I lie there, unmoving and finally giving in to the exhaustion.

'Sorry guys...'

The world turned down the volume for me so I can't really much around me, just feel. Like the cold shudder in my spine recognizing the killing intent filling the air, the stiffening of everyone coming to a stop because something cold as ice is in their presence.

'Wait...!' I though weakly as I shift my head the side, the swords in my reaching range. 'This is my only chance!'

Quick to gather all my strength into this one last move, I grab the two swords and twist my body and summon the muscles of my arm to work to give this one last shot. I ignore the sharp pokes and joins and stabs of my wounds and throw the swords to Zoro's direction before I flop down on my stomach.

'Now we're even!'

And light's out for me.

-¤-¤-¤-{ Syrup Village }-¤-¤-¤-

"I don't think he was lying. Usopp, I mean."

"Yeah. He can lie about a lot of things but he can't lie about that sort of stuff."

"Mmhm!"

Tamanegi, Piiman, and Ninjin sit quietly under a tree with thoughts deep and clouded with what had transpired the day before. Never once have their captain lied about someone to that extent, it was practically beneath him and a blow under the belt to go around saying that this person was evil when they actually aren't. But something happened, their leader frantic and panic-stricken with something and he was insistent in one thing that everyone refused to listen;

The supposed lie of Clahador being a pirate after Kaya's fortune.

"Anyway, where is he? I hadn't seen him all morning." Piiman stands to his feet and looks around for any signs of the long-nosed captain. "He should have been hear by now."

"I'm telling you guys! Something is really wrong!" Tamanegi cried to his two fellow crew mates with urgency, cold sweat breaking from the terrible gut feeling rumbling in his round stomach.

"And where are those guys from yesterday." Ninjin added. "Did they leave already?"

"No way! They couldn't have! They didn't say goodbye to us!" Piiman bonked Ninjin's head for the freckled boy's thinking.

"Hey guys," Tamanegi distractedly called as he pointed to the distance.

Both boys looked at the direction and squint their eyes, unsure of what they are trying to look for until movement caught their attention, and to their absolute surprise, it's Kaya! A coat draped around her shoulders, she looked weak and fragile than ever before, looking ready to collapse from the long walk.

"No way..."

"What is she doing outside of the mansion?"

"Something's happening! I know it!"

"Can it, you two!" Piiman ordered sternly to the two others. "She looks like she needs help, so put a cork in it and lets help her!"

"Yeah! Captain Usopp would've done the same!"

Tamanegi followed after the two boys, the worry about yesterday and this morning increasing and giving him a feeling of dread. He always he'd ignore his gut instinct because his friends always dragged him along for fun that ended up getting them in trouble and getting lectures by his parents afterward. But this instinct was screaming for him not to ignore it, pleading him to listen just for once that something is happening and it's happening now!

"Hey, Miss Kaya!" Piiman greeted the thin-framed blond girl.

"What's up?" Ninjin offered to steady the girl on her feet, she was dangerous tipping to the side.

"I... I have to be somewhere right now." she said cryptically, not at all revealing her motive of being out and alone from her own residence.

"Where's Merry?"

"Yeah, you don't normally go alone. Or even go alone out side!"

"Please," she panted and drew away from the trio. "I have to go now."

The group watched her leave on her own to wherever she is going, and then all three shared a mutual look.

-¤-¤-¤-{ N. Slope Entrance }-¤-¤-¤-

A painful stomp on his head awoke Luffy from his nap.

"OWW!" the rubber boy easily removes himself from beneath the wreckage of the ships figurehead to face the perpetrator. "HEY! WHAT'S THE BIG—"

Shunk!

Nami gaped openly, Zoro staring bug-eyed, and Ussop choking the air, all just utterly gobsmacked of one of Jango's weapons disguised as hypnotizing tools embedded deep in the back of Luffy's skull. For a second, as they watch the boy stumble forward about to meet the ground, that this was the end and there would be no coming out of this fight alive...

Stomp!

Luffy found his footing and with a harsh grind of his teeth, the young captain pulls of the weapon from his head throws it to the floor and instead focused on nursing bleeding head, trying all his might to keep the tears at bay.

"AAAAOOOOWWW!" Luffy gave a shrill cry in the open sky to express the pain on his head. "THAT REALLY HURTS!"

"Luffy!" Nami gasped in surprise as she stares up at Luffy from the ground, having collapsed from the scare of Jango's ring coming straight at her.

"That moron..." Zoro grinned tiredly.

"Captain Jango! The kid's awake!" one guy shouts from the crowd.

"We'll never finish this in 5 minutes!"

"We're as good as dead!"

"NAMI!" Luffy roars to the orangette, tears still flowing down like a waterfall.

"I didn't do it!" the girl defends herself but stops as her shoulder throbbed in pain, and Luffy finally notices the dire situation surrounding him.

"You're bleeding,"

"Me and Reuben are down for the count," the thief says as she holds her wound. "It's up to you to win this fight from here on out!"

Luffy stares at Nami, letting the words she said process through his energetic brain before he quickly darts his head to the direction of the rest of his crew mates, searching for the other fallen. It didn't take him too long as he locks on to a down figure that stood out from the rest of the stupid pussy cat crew that still shuddered in fear of his previous state of mind. Painting the gravel red with their blood, Reuben lied face-down on the ground, unresponsive and unmoving.

"It's okay," Luffy hears from Nami. "He's just unconscious. He succeeded in planning to get Zoro's swords when they were taken and distract the pirates from me for a short while to give me the chance to wake you. It was all part of the plan."

A simple quirk of the lips told Nami Luffy is smiling, no doubt proud of that guy's efforts in putting all things into motion at once and going out with a job well done. Scary, fast-pace, painful, and bold.

"No beat up those guys, Luffy!"

Yeah, Luffy figured with a wry smile, Reuben would've told him the exact same thing if he was awake. "Okay then!"

On top of a hill stood a familiar face, except they had claws coming from their hairy hands, Luffy would have definitely remembered a guy like that wearing claws. The butler, Clahador, did not look at all happy. In fact, he appeared down right pissed off from the cold look in his dark eyes and the steeled line of his lips pressed tightly together.

"Why is that butler dude here?"

It earned him a scoff from Nami.

"3 minutes," Clahador checked the times on his watch. "3 minutes left until I kill you all."

"THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!" the Black Cat Pirates cried in horror.

"Even with Captain Jango or Buchi, we'll never make it!"

"Oh, God! We're really gonna die!"

Not taking anymore chances, Jango turned to the hypnotized Buchi, his brother, Sham, unconscious from Zoro's attack. Not that it would have made a difference as Sham had taken a beating from that bastard earlier.

"Buchi! Kill them now! There's no time left!"

"CLAHADOR!" a new voice startled everyone, making them give pause to their actions from each opposing crew. "Stop this, at once!"

"K-Kaya?!" Usopp's eyes widen to saucers, realizing the danger of this girl being here in the presence of someone so dangerous. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?! RUN AWAY!"

"Usopp-kun," Kaya sadly smiled at the long-nosed boy, her eyes full of regret and shame. "Even after all the villagers and myself done nothing but hurt, you're still here and fighting for your life for our sake."

Usopp felt his chest ache in pain that was not from this fight for from the hammering of his heart against it, but rather from the pain of seeing his dearest friend break apart from looking at her most trusted butler standing tall with a foreign cold dark look on his features, his once kind face now ugly and calculative. His claws stained red from the blood of someone he cut down on his way here, and Usopp prayed that they are alright.

She trusted this man. This man that looked after her, cared for her when the illness was taking a toll on her fragile, pale body. This man that did what she wished and gave it all his ability to make his mistress happy. Oh God, Usopp let out a shaky breath, if only he just turned back the clock and didn't say anything to her, if only he wasn't the one to plant these seeds in her to shake her up so badly.

Dammit, the boy bit his bottom lip as he felt his eyes glaze and throat dry up, Kaya shouldn't have to witness this, she shouldn't have to see the cold heart of this man that lied behind his sweet smiles.

"No, Kaya..." Usopp croaked but his throat clenched up.

"I'm sorry..." Kaya allowed the tears to fall and cascade down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry!"

More pain tightened in his chest. He didn't want this.

"I'm a brave warrior of the sea!"

"Cladahor!" Kaya faces her now former butler, features steeled and tight which was totally foreign on her own. "If it's all the fortune you want, then you can take it all! But please leave this village and never return!"

"You simply don't understand, Kaya-san." Clahador coldly retorts as he adjusts his glasses with the heel of his hand. "It's true I want all the fortune, but I also would like a peace of mind in your death."

Her poor heart jumped up her throat.

"I've been in this village for 3 years, and it's given me nothing but tranquility and serene peace. And for that dream to come true, all the plans requiring your demise and your fortune is necessary."

"KAYA!" Ussop shouted to her in desperation. "He's insane! Nothing you say will stop him from his plans! He's not the man that cared for you anymore!"

Clahador is suddenly met with the end of a barrel of a pistol.

With her thin forefingers resting over the trigger, the young girl aims her gun to the butler. Everyone else is surprised of the bold confrontation of the sweet, sick girl that is sickly and frail golding a heavy weapon that made her thin arms quake.

She's prepared to do what she dreaded on the way to this slope to confront this man.

"If you don't leave right now..." Kaya's fingers held the handle tightly. "I will shoot you! NOW LEAVE US ALONE!"

It looked so wrong, Usopp thought with a sick twist in his stomach, watching Kaya hold a gun in her delicate hands. So fucking wrong.

"You've become stronger in the last 3 years, Ms. Kaya."

A shiver ran up the girl's spine, her hold on the pistol feeling heavier but she remain firm and stood her ground.

"Don't you remember? All the times we spent together for the past 3 years..." Clahador says he walks calmly over to her so casually, not bothered by the pistol aimed his way. "Since the passing of the previous masters of the mansion, you and me spent every moment together doing everything you ever wanted."

An icy stab went through Usopp, his blood running cold and his body frozen. That bastard! That son of a bitch...! How dare he? How dare he?! What low-life goes around spouting false happy memories that had effect on the victim, the victim that thought all their ventures and time together was something special and intimate. Clahador counted back every single happy memory for Kaya, crushing all her willpower and hope, leaving her shaking and losing her grip on the pistol.

"I've spent all 3 years doing stupid things, and I had to hold myself back from choking you, butchering you, drowning you, clubbing you—"

"Shut your mouth!" Ussop cried out in anger.

Kaya lost her hold on the pistol, the tears coming down again and leaving her weak in the legs from the weight of ugly false hope. This man that's been with her since she lost her parents, how can he hold such contempt for her? Why is he doing this to her?

"All I've done for you leads to this moment I've been waiting for." Clahador brandishes his weapons. "The moment you die!"

"I said," Usopp flew at Clahador in blind anger. "SHUT YOUR MOUTH!"

"Ah," the butler disappears and appears beside Ussop, his arms open to attack the teen. "I have business with you."

BAM!

Everyone blinked surprised, no one expecting the hit to come and knock Clahador off his feet and into the dusty ground. A lightning-fast movement whips back and everyone follows it to find the source; the boy with the strawhat.

"What the hell was THAT?!" Jango cried out in surprise.

"He got Captain Kuro!" one pirate said as everyone else gaped.

"That's funny," Luffy gives a feral grin. "I've got business with you, too!"


The mind is a fog, lost and deep and never ending. To escape from this is to be prepared of what awaits when knowledge sinks in.

Awareness. Painful awareness of the surroundings. At first unclear until it all comes rushing back and then reminded of why it is so. It gets harder but it has to be done.

It flickers. Fragments pieced together from tiny shards like shattered glass. Little things coming closer to grow bigger until visual clearance becomes known.

Weak, like a newborn babe just learning to move after being in the warmth of the womb for so long. Trying to regain strength that is long gone but no success. Bones quake and muscles tense.

I wake up.

So much I can't understand, the brain scattered and unresponsive, the body injured and losing enough blood to make me want to fall back to sleep but there's something telling me to stay awake. To do something... but what?

"—pirates!"

"NO IDEA—"

"I'll kill you—"

"—FIGHT!"

"Please—"

"—don't wanna die!"

Slurs of words and shouts, barely comprehended and I can't focus on them too much because it's always cut off and then there's the occasional scream of pain and terror, at least what I think are screams of pain and terror. I feel so muddled in the head that I can't come to care if I'm in danger or not, having trouble with keeping awake and not falling back to sleep. I can't do much by lie there on my stomach and listen, everything not making sense and my surroundings a complete vertigo.

"Auh..." I awkwardly groan.

What do I do? What's happening right now?

"Gumo Gumo no..."

What is that...?

"MY PLAN WILL NOT FAIL!"

"KANE!"

And what followed after is silence.

I close my eyes and let sleep take me in once more.


The moment my brain begins to function properly and realize that I'm lying down and there's no bloody battle going on around me, I spring to action in an instant and immediately regret doing so. The sting of my back and ache of my ribs come back to haunt me, reminding me of my injuries sustained from the fight against the small pirate army and Sham's surprise attack from behind.

And... and it's night time again.

'What happened...?!' I wondered as I look around the dark room in silence, my eyes adjusting to the lack of light to take in drawers, desks, a couple set of bunk beds with a few lumps settled on it...

"Guys—" I nearly shouted but a hand muffled my mouth. Surprised of the touch, I struggle and elbow the person behind me but stop when I peeked behind to see who. "Mami?"

"Be quiet," she said so softly under her breath. "They're sleeping off their injuries. Doctor's orders."

I nod and she removed her hand from my lips. Quietly and in low tone, I begin to interrogate her. "What happened after I went out? Did the plan work?"

"Yes." Nami leans back against the chair she is occupying. "You distracted them long enough for me to get to Luffy and wake him up. And it was a good thing you got the swords when you could, that Buchi guy was getting dangerous for Zoro to handle with just one sword."

"That's a relief." I huff as I roll my shoulders and wince from the sting. "Go on."

"Clahador, or Captain Kuro, came upon the scene. Threatened to kill the entire crew in 5 minutes unless they killed us all."

"He seems like the type to kill them afterwards."

She nods. "He would have, if Luffy hadn't dealt with him. And Kaya, the sick girl, she came in, too."

I duck my head and rub the crust from my eyes. "What happened? Is she okay? Is Usopp okay?"

"They're both fine. Kuro sent Jango after her and the three kids, you remember the three boys from the tavern that follow Usopp around? They helped Kaya escape for as long as they could before Jango caught up to them."

"So what..." I trail off and Nami hushes me.

"Usopp and Zoro went after them. And just in time, too. He was about to slice her throat open."

"Jesus..." I mutter.

"And we won." she ended the story with finality, and I can only nod my head as I take in everything.

"I always seem to miss these big things." I laugh with a hint of bitterness. "Did you notice that?"

She shrugs and stares at the ceiling. "It's over now. The village is safe, Kaya is safe, Kuro and the crew are gone, and everyone here is alive. That's what matters, right?"

"Yeah." I lie back down on the twin bed. "Yeah, that's what matters. Thanks for telling me."

"Mm."


~One Piece Trivia~

. . .