Chapter 4: Small Town Folly
Disclaimer: Needless to say, I do not own the rights to Bleach or One Piece. This story is made solely for fun, not profit.
The next morning, the trio of pirates found themselves sitting down to breakfast while planning out the day. Due to the painstakingly small size of the main cabin, Ichigo sat on the small rickety chair that was normally positioned by the desk while his first mate sat used the storage chest as a seat. Chad being the largest of the crew used the bed in the corner of the room as his chair during mealtimes. Despite the lackluster accommodations in which they lived, they were relatively comfortable and rarely complained.
Looking at the contents of their breakfast, it consisted of three mugs of grog, a basket of rock hard bread rolls, and a chunk of heavily salted dry meat that was barely edible to humans. Living off of low-quality rations was something they had grown tired of doing in the last few weeks, although since they lacked the foresight to pack enough food, and none of them were any good at cooking, they really didn't have much of a choice in the matter.
Ichigo wore a sour expression as he set his cup down. "Damn it, we've been sailing for weeks now. I'm sick of eating this same crap for every meal!"
"You might figure that Patros guy would've had something better on board his ship for us to steal." Chad replied in his deep emotionless drawl.
"Yeah, and come to find out all he had was the same stuff we did." Added his captain.
Rukia inhaled deeply before entering the conversation. "Look, we just arrived at port last night. I say we should pick up some groceries while we're in town before we do anything else, this way we can have a good mix of foods in our diets. We need to start by getting our hands on some fruits and vegetables, and then going on from there."
Her self-proclaimed superior placed his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair so that it was balancing on two legs. "Why bother buying stuff like that… I say we break out some cash and head to a restaurant so we can eat something good for a change."
"We shouldn't spend any money unless it's absolutely necessary." She countered his statement.
"In case you forgot, we still have several million berries lying around in the cargo hold just waiting to be spent. I don't see a problem with rewarding ourselves once and a while." The orange-haired pirate argued back.
His first mate frowned at her leader's lack of foresight. "Listen Ichigo… It's best to be frugal at times like this. We don't know how long this journey will be, and what kind of expenses might pop up. There's also the matter of the ship itself."
The captain blinked once as he recalled the details of their adventure. "Oh yeah, that bastard's flunkies punched holes in the side of this leaky crate."
"That being said, you're lucky this old fishing boat held together as long as it did." Sado added.
"Precisely what I was saying…" Rukia nodded affirmatively, her stubborn expression remaining in place. "The point is that we need to go into town today and see how much it's going to cost us to have our boat repaired. This is without a doubt, our number one priority."
"All right, all right… You made your point." Ichigo waved off her comment.
The trio settled down again and continued to finish what little was left of their meager feast. Chad took a small bite of the dried meat, biting down hard in an attempt to get a good piece to rip off a piece of the tough jerky. After struggling for a few seconds, he managed to succeed, although his captain was far less lucky. After almost breaking his teeth on another hard roll, Ichigo found himself dipping his food into his beer just to soften it up.
After a moment or two of waiting, he forced the bread into his mouth and swallowed it with an irritated expression. "I still say we should ditch this disaster and pick up some real food before we go." He paused for a moment. "We should also get a fridge too."
"That's actually not a bad idea." Rukia piped up, looking surprisingly agreeable.
"You two said you were going to look for someone to fix the ship." The largest member of their group interjected with his blank expression. "What if I search for a shop that sells appliances in the meantime so that we can finish both jobs and head back out to sea?"
"Good thinking, Chad!" Ichigo agreed. His brown eyes shifted towards the smallest member of the group, who immediately returned his stare. "I don't suppose you have any objections?"
Rukia shook her head and smiled brightly. "Nope, not a thing…" Her gaze became very focused and businesslike suddenly. Reaching into his pocket, she shoved a piece of paper into Chad's hands, placing a pen into his opposite hand. "Take this and make sure you get everything on it."
The dark-skinned man blinked twice before realizing what she was talking about. "You want me to do the grocery shopping too?" his voice betrayed signs of mild bewilderment.
"Since you seem to be so keen on taking care of the grunt work today, you can also pick up everything else while you're out today." She explained to him like a parent tending a child. "While you two idiots were goofing off, I drew up a list of food and some extra supplies we might need for the journey. If you agree to run my errands, I expect you to get everything without exception."
"All right… Not a problem." The much larger pirate sweat-dropped before nodding compliantly, stowing away the paper and pen. "You could try and take it easy for a change."
Rukia slammed down her tiny fist onto the table, causing her crewmates to look up. "We have to be prepared for anything, and it's always a good idea to keep your eyes on the prize."
The orange-haired captain considered this notion before speaking up again. "Speaking of which, we should probably stop down town and get the boat fixed too. It looks like we got our work cut out for us today, so I say we start by heading downtown to find someone to fix the ship. Once that's over, we can dot he rest of the errands."
"Hmmm… I'm almost impressed to see that you're taking priority into account for a change." She smiled with a teasing expression. "I have to say it's pretty unusual for a hot-headed fool like you to do any thinking whatsoever."
"Keep pushing me and we'll see what happens." Despite his threat, the crew's so-called leader returned to staring at the ceiling of the small cabin and twiddled his thumbs. "Now if you don't mind, I'm going to stick around here for another hour and get some sleep."
The two other pirates glanced at each other as their captain closed his eyes. "Looks like you spoke too soon." Chad commented with a blank expression.
"He never changes…" she muttered in agreement, her left eye twitching slightly.
Rukia sat still for a moment before grabbing her captain by the ear and dragging his much taller frame across the floor and towards the exit. "What the Hell!" he stammered in outrage before his struggling caused her to release him. "What was that for?"
She stepped out into the cool morning breeze, taking in the beautiful island view before reaching down to help her leader. "Stay focused Ichigo, we don't have time for rest right now."
Their leader prepared to argue back, but a quick glance at the heavily damaged ship told him otherwise. The railings were broken in several places, and several of the makeshift repairs that Chad had made at this point were beginning to leak below deck. Ichigo had found this out earlier that morning when he went below deck to fetch some money. After considering the mess they were in, he decided to let her abrasiveness drop.
"Yeah, I guess you're right." The captain muttered, gently rubbing the back of his head to ease the small lump that had begun to form.
Looking satisfied with his response, the raven-haired pirate glanced over her shoulder at the third member of their party. "Hey Sado, you've been cooped up here since we dropped anchor. Wanna come along and help out today?"
The dark-skinned man hesitated for a moment. "Not that I don't want to go, but shouldn't one of us stay behind on the boat and guard the treasure?"
Rukia appreciated his common sense in comparison to the captain's lack of it. "Relax Chad, we took down the Jolly Roger and no one even knows who we are. Plus the local dock workers keep watch over the ships to make sure no one steals the cargo."
"Yeah, plus you're probably just as sick of hanging around this dump as we are." Ichigo added.
"I still think it would be a good idea if someone stayed behind to…"
"Don't forget that I'm the captain." His friend replied with a slightly less grumpy expression. "I could make it an order if you keep giving us a hard time about this."
The large man nodded and retrieved the money sack while his two crewmates gathered up some money and prepared to head out. Rukia slung an empty sack over her shoulder to hold their purchases while Ichigo retrieved a bag of gold from the cabin to use as payment. As they stepped towards the side of the boat, Chad snuck up behind them and grabbed both bags, choosing to relieve them of the load, seeing how he was physically the largest and strongest of his crew and could easily take care of the grunt work.
"That's all right, you don't need to do that." Rukia tapped his elbow with a friendly smile.
Sado glanced down at her. "It's really no problem at all. You guys can handle the business while I take care of the labor."
They both looked up to see that their captain was already standing on the dock on the side of the ship. He waved up to them before calling out. "Hey, what are you two waiting for? Get your butts down here before I leave without you?"
The raven-haired first mate exchanged looks with Chad before hopping onto edge of the boat, shifting her body into a sitting position. After a brief pause, she slid forward off the surface and landed gracefully beside her captain. After timing his own jump, the large man pressed his hands against the railing and pushed himself into the air, his weight causing the dock to shake slightly as his much larger form came down with a loud thump.
Yasutora Sado drew himself up to his full height, easily towering over his two friends and most of the dockworkers. He caught sight of their crew's lone female who had already begun her trek towards town. "Looks like she's in a hurry." He observed her rigid businesslike stance.
"Yeah, what else is new? If it isn't about saving cash, it's about doing business." Ichigo slapped his larger friend on the back in a brotherly way. "Nice landing, by the way."
The helmsman nodded again before proceeding. "I suggest we both catch up with Rukia before we get separated. Let's go…"
The trio of pirates headed into town with Rukia standing at the lead holding a map of the island she had purchased from one of the men working the boating yard. Although it was a bit dated, she instantly recognized several of the landmarks, using the town lighthouse and the surrounding cove as a reference point. The dirt path from the harbor led onto a quaintly built cobblestone road, which quickly diverted into the actual town.
Upon entering the main settlement, they were greeted by the site of a bustling marketplace. A series of white houses lined the roads, most with orange tiles roods, giving the place a peaceful and quiet feel to it. Looking up, they couldn't help but notice a small weathervane protruding from one of the buildings, and the sound of a school bell in the distance. Several signs indicated shops, taverns, and restaurants of all different types, although the streets were also filled with crowds of people.
Many men, woman, and children were wandering around going about their daily lives, several of whom were carrying armfuls of fresh food and other products that were probably purchases from the surrounding stores. The townspeople seemed relaxed and familiar as if they had been doing this their entire lives, although Ichigo and the others were rather surprised by the peaceful vibes in comparison to their own home.
The orange-haired captain glanced around again and took a deep breath, quietly taking in his surroundings once more. "It's different… Isn't it?" he said to no one in particular.
Chad looked over at him with a flat expression. "Something wrong, Ichigo?"
"Nah, and I was just looking around this place, and it made me just think about what things were like back home." He paused with a frown. "Everyone always seemed on edge on our island with all the crap that went on everyday, but the people here seem like they're in a good mood."
"You can't expect every town to be the same…" the larger man responded with a curt nod.
Rukia stopped in her tracks before addressing the others. "He's absolutely right, you know?"
"Well obviously! I was just saying that it feels weird being in a place like this. Our home was never peaceful with all those criminals running around."
"The three of us wouldn't have gotten so much practice fighting if we hadn't spent half our lives protecting the townspeople from harm." Sado added with an empty shrug.
Rukia looked on with a nostalgic expression. "Our island was constantly ravaged by pirates and corrupted Marines passing by to collect protection money from the local bandits. Not exactly the kind of place where you want to raise kids."
"Yeah, I get it already." Ichigo replied grumpily, gently placing a hand over his face before running a hand through his hair in annoyance. Exhaling deeply, the orange-haired man remembered something that the shipyard manager had told them the previous day. "You know… I was also thinking that this island isn't exactly what I would have expected for a place that the Pirate King used to visit on a regular basis."
She didn't even bother looking back at him this time. "Even the most legendary figures in the world need somewhere to rest every once and a while, and this is actually a really nice island."
The captain spat on the ground as they walked, his striking gaze shifting towards the sky in boredom. "Speaking of which, where are you leading us anyhow?"
"I'm simply following the signs posted around this place. The dock workers back at he harbor told me that the people Unohana recommended had a shop close to the center of town. Like I said before, we need to focus on repairing our ship's damage before heading back out to sea."
With nothing left to complain about, the orange-haired pirate shut his mouth and followed wordlessly after his first mate. They continued onwards for several minutes with each of them keeping a close eye on their surroundings. Not only were they looking for the boating shop, but the trio was also keen to avoid any possible signs of trouble.
Ichigo was a brave man to the point where some would call him a fool, but he wasn't the type to start a fight unless he had an objective that warranted the violence. Stealing treasure from other pirates, protecting other people, and dealing with Marines were some good examples of situations when he wouldn't hesitate to lash out. However the ill-tempered captain wasn't known for attacking bystanders or accepting pointless fights that resulted from petty disagreements.
"Hey you guys, wait up!" a fourth voice rang out through the crowds of bystanders.
Although they didn't think the call was for them at first, the voice called again, prompting them to reassess the situation. The pirates turned around just in time to see a familiar girl with long orange hair and large breasts gently nudging her way towards them through a large group of people. Although Sado did not recognize who it was, his friends had seen her during their visit to the dock rental office the previous afternoon.
Ichigo looked indifferent to the newcomer's appearance, but Rukia raised a hand and smiled in a friendly manner. The girl practically skipped as she finally managed to break free from the crowd, her cheeks flushed pink with fatigue. She was also carrying what appeared to be a large wooden plaque under her left arm, and looked as though she had just ran several miles. Bending over in a defeated manner, the well-endowed girl took a moment to catch her breath before perking up again.
"Hey Inoue, did Miss Unohana send you to find us?" Rukia asked with a puzzled look.
The doctor's apprentice nodded quickly and held out the object in her hands. "We realized this morning that you forgot to take this with you to put on your boat. Without it, the local police might fine you for docking your ship illegally on private property."
"Well that's very thoughtful of you to come looking for us." The female pirate accepted the item before nudging her captain and crewmate. "Isn't that right, guys?"
Chad inclined his head in a show of gratitude. "It must have been pretty inconvenient for you to track us down. Thanks a lot for helping out."
"Yeah, I guess so…" the orange-haired captain responded blandly only to receive a light slap from his first mate, causing him to glare at the petite woman. "Something the matter with you?"
Rukia folded her arms disapprovingly. "Where are your manners? The poor girl looks like she just participated in a marathon, so the least you could do is thank her properly."
Ichigo looked down at the newcomer and shrugged with a gentler expression. "Yeah, I guess Chad was right about it being a pain to find us. Speaking of which, you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble just by leaving on our ship with a note."
"It's no problem at all, Kurosaki-san." She bowed towards him respectfully, a curtain of long hair hiding the blush on her face as she righted herself.
"Here's a little something for your troubles." Ichigo reached into his pocket and forced a fistful of gold berries into the palm of her hand.
"Oh no, there's no need for that… I was coming into town to do some errands for Ms. Unohana, so it wasn't entirely inconvenient. I was also looking forward to seeing you again and I…" she covered her mouth with both hands as if ashamed of what she had said, clumsily dropping her money in the process.
Rukia picked up the coins and handed them back to her. "It was nice to see you too, Inoue."
"You too, Kuchiki-san" Orihime pocketed the profits in an attempt to distract herself from thinking too much about the scowling pirate captain. When no one said anything else about her outburst, she guessed that they hadn't read into her slip and began to back away with an embarrassed look. "Well I guess I'll get going now. Got lots of errands to run for the boss."
Remembering something important, Rukia grabbed her by the shoulder mid-step. "Wait a minute, do you have any idea how to get to the boating place Unohana mentioned?" She took out the slip of paper from the previous day and showed it to the girl.
Orihime read it for a moment before smiling again, her previous embarrassment seemingly forgotten. "You'll find this shop in the center of town."
"Well that doesn't do us much good considering we're not from around here." Ichigo replied.
"Oops, silly me forgetting that!" the long-haired girl replied with a nervous laugh, her blush returning as she heard him speak. She took a second to recover before pointing towards the nearest road. "If you head down that way and take a left and two rights down the adjacent roads, you should make it the center of town in no time!"
Rukia pocketed the paper slip after rereading the address. "All right, that sounds simple enough."
The other girl d already turned around and was beginning to walk in the opposite direction. Waving a hand over her head, Orihime smiled brightly. "Glad I could help… Hopefully I'll see you guys later!"
As Inoue walked off to attend to her master's business, the three pirates continued their journey through town. This time they followed her directions and quickly came to the street they had een searching for. As they reached the center of town, the crowds roaming the streets became larger. Once they had rounded the corner leading into a cluster of settlements, Rukia sighted a slightly larger building that she assumed was the Town Hall. The large sign posted outside of the structure told her that she was right, and a quick glance around at the large number of indoor shops made it clear that they had wandered into the village's main square.
"Hey, there's a tavern over there." Ichigo pointed over his shoulder as he caught up with his first mate. "Maybe we can stop in for a second and get a drink."
"You just had some ale back on the ship during breakfast." She responded like a parent reprimanding her child. "We'll have plenty of time for that later."
Chad nodded in agreement before catching sight of a large wooden building with several different items on display in the window and carts of food outside. He picked up the pace and leaned over the shoulders of his crewmates so they could hear him. "You guys mentioned picking up food and supplies. There's a general store right across the square we might want to check out."
The crew's lone female nodded briskly in response to the statement. "All right, Sado… Sounds like that'll be our next stop once we commission someone to fix the ship."
"Hey Rukia! Is that the place over there?" Ichigo pointed to a small building in the row of shops.
She looked up at the establishment and jogged over to reads the sign before calling back to her friends. "The sign matches the place Unohana mentioned. Looks like we're here."
The trio headed towards the door of the building and went inside, each of them taking in the surroundings. It was a large room with light blue walls and a white trim, and the vicinity was decorated with several different pieces of memorabilia from ships. Among them were an old fashioned compass, a map of the world encased in a frame on the wall, and several models of different types of boats inside of glass cases.
The orange-haired captain rubbed his finger against the surface of one of them, revealing a small layer of dust. "Sheesh, what a dump." he muttered looking less than impressed with the small establishment. "I hope these people are better at repairs than they are at cleaning."
Stepping up to the transparent counter, Rukia noticed that there were several compass-like instruments that resembled wristwatches held inside. On top of it were a series of papers that she guessed were design blue prints for ships, although she ignored the stacks of documents and unfamiliar instrument and instead rung the bell.
When no one answered after a few more rings and several minutes of waiting, Chad finally decided to speak up. "You guys think thee owners went out for lunch?"
"I don't know, maybe we should come back later." Ichigo paused for a moment before turning back towards the counter and bellowing as loudly as he could. "Yo, my friends and I came here with a job for you lazy bastards! If there's anyone here, then get your butts out here!"
Rukia cringed slightly before bouncing up and slapping her superior upside the head. "Shut up! Are you trying to make me deaf, or were you just too stupid to see me?"
The captain scowled, gently rubbing the back of his head as a glare filled his gaze. "Maybe if you were a little taller, I might not have forgotten you were standing there."
"You just had to say it!" she screamed just as loudly as he had, causing him to cover his ears.
Ichigo gave her a satisfied expression. "Sheesh you were always a whiny little hypocrite… You complain about me being too loud, but look who's yelling now?"
She leaned in with a look of disapproval. "Do you have to turn everything into a problem?" she asked calmly, turning her back to him and folding her arms.
Chad nodded in agreement. "Maybe it would be a good idea if we just left this be."
"Don't look at me… She started it." Ichigo copied her gesture and turned his back to the others.
He took a few steps towards the door, only to be stopped by the sound of a door opening on the other side of the room. "What the Hell is going on in here!" a coarse female voice rang out, immediately catching the attention of the group.
The lights flickered on, revealing an average sized woman with piercing green eyes, long messy black hair with a few bandages wrapped around the top of her head. She had a shapely figure, her right shoulder and ankles were a covered in thin scraps of white cloth, and wore a revealing red robe that showed off her ample cleavage and part of her back. She had a tattoo above her left wrist, although this was hardly as noticeable as her right arm, which had been replaced by an odd metal prosthetic.
The three pirates stared lankly at her, causing a vein to pulse near the woman's forehead. "Are you brats deaf? I just asked what you were doing here!" the rugged woman shouted, causing them to cringe slightly.
Rukia shuffled past her friends up to the woman, gently bowing her head respectfully in the older woman's presence. "You have our sincerest apologies for the intrusion… My friends and I came to your humble establishment in the hopes that we could find someone to repair our ship."
"So you're customers, eh?" the woman exhaled deeply and relaxed for a moment, but her gaze hardened as she placed a hand on her hip. "You little bastards really know how to make a racket for nothing, don't you?"
The orange-haired captain took a step towards her, his scowl deepening. "Maybe we wouldn't have had to make so much noise if you had someone watching the front desk."
Before he could even speak, the shopkeeper raised her metallic fist and planted it into the side of his face, the blow sending Ichigo flying backwards several feet. Knocked clean off his feet by the hit, he dropped the bag of gold, causing several doubloons to spill out onto the floor of the small repair shop. Chad reached out and caught his friend by the arms to prevent him from barreling into the wall, although the force of the impact had caused him to slide back several feet despite his monstrous strength. Rukia's violet eyes widened in shock, her two friends sweating as they looked up at their attacker.
"Are you nuts, lady?" Ichigo shoved Chad away and drew himself up to his full height. "Where do you get off attacking customers like that?"
"I'll smack anyone around who insults the way I do business. That oughta teach the lot of you to respect your elders!" the older woman mused with a satisfied expression before turning her back on the trio. "For your information, my employees and I were out back working on some projects when we heard you kids making a ruckus in here."
Ichigo prepared to retaliate, but Rukia stomped on his foot and stepped in front of him with a considerably calmer expression than her captain. "With all due respect, we came here to hire your team to repair our ship. We're in a bit of a hurry and are willing to pay anything within reason if you would help us as soon as possible."
"Hmmm… From that mess you left, I'd say you kids are a lot richer than you look!" The woman's dark green eyes began took in the large number of berries littering the floor of her shop before her gaze hardened once more and she jabbed her thumb over her shoulder. "Follow me to the back room and we'll make the arrangements."
"Thank you very much." Rukia seized her mildly injured captain by the front of his shirt and led him along like a dog on a leash with Chad taking up the rear.
The older woman kicked the door ahead of them open and turned on the lights, casually entering a small area with a similar décor to the front of the shop, although it was clearly more of a living space and showed signs of regular use. The floor was covered with a dingy green rug, and a shelf of boat-related curios covered the right wall, displaying several compasses and models. They assumed that the door on the far wall of the room was where the owner had entered. Lastly an octagonal table surrounded by cushions of the floor was positioned near the center of the room.
"All right kid, let's talk business." The storeowner snapped.
Their host plopped herself down on the cushion in front of the large display cabinet, quickly motioning for the others to do the same. Sitting close together in a cluster on one side of the table, they settled into kneeling positions and attempted to get comfortable on the small cushions while their host began pouring them drinks from a bottle of sake.
Once three shallow dishes were filled, she slid them across the table in rapid succession, each coming to a halt in front of her guests with such grace and precision that Rukia couldn't help but wonder how often she entertained customers. The shopkeeper let out a yawn and flexed her real arm in a lazy manner before addressing the others.
"It's rude to turn down someone's generosity! Go on, drink!" she ordered with a stern glare.
Her friends sucked down their cups in a few quick gulps, but Rukia decided to savor the treat and sipped hers in a much more reserved manner. Once she was done, the petite girl decided to address their host. "Pardon me, but I don't believe we received your name?"
The older woman pounded the table with her fist onto the table, causing their saucers to rattle slightly. "My name's Shiba Kukaku… and there's no need for formalities when you're in my house, get it! In any case you got my name, now tell me yours!"
"I'm Rukia Kuchiki, and these our my friends Yasutora Sado and Kurosaki Ichigo." She motioned to each of them as she said their names.
"All right, let's just get this over with!" Ichigo butt in. The shopkeeper eyed him apprehensively, but he did not back down. "The sooner we make a deal, the sooner we can get out of this dump."
Kukaku raised an eyebrow in annoyance, sending a shiver down his spine. "You got some nerve calling my business a dump, boy? It may be small, but we're the best ship builders in town and spend most of the year up to our eyeballs in work."
"Don't listen to him, he's just being an idiot, as usual." Rukia seized her captain by the face and pushed him away. "We were sent here by Unohana Retsu, the manager of the local shipyard. She said you might give us a discount if we mentioned this to the management."
"That old hag has some nerve sending me her headaches." Her face displayed a sense of mild interest, but her focus seemed to wander. "I'll give her an earful later, but I should at least thank her for sending more business my way. Things do get a little slow this time of year…"
To her surprise, the orange-haired man leaned towards their host. "Look here! We've got half a million berries in this sack, and you can keep what's on the floor as a down payment assuming your employees can get started right away."
Rukia nodded compliantly before coming up with a figure. "What do you say to that and a price of 250 thousand? That should be a generous enough offer for some repair work."
The shop owner paused in thought for a moment before closing her eyes, casually taking a long thin pipe out of her pocket and lighting it with the device in her mechanical hand. The fire flickered for a moment as it graced the surface of her pipe, gently bathing her metallic hand in an orange glow. She inhaled the fumes deeply in contemplative thought, quietly enjoying the moment before turning her attention towards her customers once again.
After a moment, she smirked proudly and confidently at the orange-haired boy. "You may be an idiot, but I respect a man with the guts to come out and demand what he wants!"
"So you'll do it, then?" Ichigo leaned forward expectantly.
"It sounds like a pretty generous offer, but I also have to send someone out to inspect the amount of damage your ship sustained. Once that is done we can determine the cost of materials to fix up your boat." Kukaku let out another push of smoke from her lips. "Just tell me where it is and we can get down to business immediately."
"Thank you for the generosity." Rukia replied with a small bow of her head. "Our vessel is a standard fishing boat docked in the bay in Space Number 22 not far from Unohana's office."
Kukaku set down her pipe in a tray on the table and stood up. "Don't worry about it, I'll take care of everything." The pirates stood up and follower her as she exited through the back door and into the yard behind her shop.
Her crew was hard at work building what appeared to be a raft. The crew consisted of two large men rivaling Chad in terms of height, both of whom looked almost identical in appearance. They were both large muscular men with long thin mustaches and imposing frames. They wore blue scarves around their necks, and red hats each with a decorative feather protruding from the top, but their shirts were different colors with one wearing gold while the other wore white.
A third man was seen patching up the bottom of a lifeboat using some type of adhesive glue. He was closer to Rukia's height and had short messy dark hair, his face naturally betraying signs of insecurity and panic as he heard his superior returning to the yard. Sitting beside him in a lawn chair was a man somewhat taller than Ichigo but much stockier with a thick jaw and a light green bandana covering his dark chin-length hair. He was missing part of his left eyebrow, and at the moment appeared to be resting.
With her guests in toe several yards behind her, Kukaku stepped into the work area and called out to her subordinates. "Koganehiko… Shiroganehiko… Hanataro… Ganju… Front and center!" she yelled, causing the workers to look up in surprise.
The first three men scrambled forward and stood before her without so much as a word of protest. Seeing that the fourth man was still resting in his chair, the aggressive woman ignored her other employees and stomped towards him with an angry expression. She glared daggers at him with so much anger that he would have died if looks could kill. As if sensing her eyes on him, the slumbering man rolled over and stretched out his arms, his eyes fluttering open only to meet the deadly gaze of his boss.
Upon meeting her eyes, the groggy man screamed in terror and feel out of his lawn seat, landing face first on the ground. Without even waiting for him to recover, the shopkeeper kicked him I the ribs, causing him to roll over onto his back.
He smiled awkwardly before swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat. "Hey big sis, need something?" he greeted her with a lame expression.
"Ganju, you idiot! How many times have I warned you against sleeping on the job when we have a job to do?" She reached down and lifted him by the front of his jacket, pulling the bulky man so that they were at eye level.
Drops of sweat began forming on his brow, but he did his best to remain calm. "No worries, it won't happen again. I promise this time!"
She scowled in irritation before tossing him back onto the grass. "It better not, or next time I'll make you wish that you were never born! Do I make myself clear?"
The hulking man gulped before nodding vigorously in fear, earning a satisfied expression from his sister. Scampering around on the ground, her younger brother quickly joined the others in the small line that had formed close by. The person standing between Ganju and the twin workers looked even punier in contrast to the other men, but no one said anything as their leader stomped back over to her guests.
Kukaku let out a weary sigh before addressing her company. "Sorry about my idiot brother, but he prefers to take naps when there's work to be done."
"I take it these guys are your workers?" Ichigo made a gesture towards the opposing group.
"For lack of a better word, I suppose you could say that." She added with a look of indifference. Straightening herself up, the shop owner gestured to the group. "In any case, meet the crew… Koganehiko, Shiroganehiko, Hanataro, and my idiot brother Ganju." She pointed to each of them as she said their name.
"So they'll be the ones fixing up our ship?" Rukia questioned hopefully.
"We've got some work to finish up today, and assuming everyone pitches in…" she gave her brother a bone-chilling stare before continuing. "Then there's a good chance the rest of us will be ready to repair your vessel by Tuesday at latest."
Ichigo folded his arms, looking reasonably pleased with the deal. "That's three days time! We're kind of in a hurry."
The shop owner grabbed him by the ear. "First of all, I said that was the maximum amount of time it would take. Secondly, the only reason I'm going out of the way to help is because Retsu sends me a lot of business and I owe her." She released him with an angry scowl.
"Sheesh, I'm beginning to wonder how someone like you gets any business at all." The angry captain vented out loud, earning a small laugh from the owner's brother.
"Don't push your luck, kid!" she retaliated with a threatening expression.
"Hey carrot-top… You should try being with her all the time. Now that's a nightmare I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy." Ganju let out an obnoxious chorus of laughter only to receive a kick in the head from his sibling.
"Yikes!" the smaller man named Hanataro took a step to the side as Ganju tumbled backwards to avoid getting crushed. Bending over the other man, he shook his head quickly. "You really shouldn't have done that."
Ganju rubbed his face in pain only to feel the imprint of his sister's sandal. "Go bug someone else, ya little weasel!"
Seeing that his sister was on the warpath, the injured man jumped to his feet and took off in the opposite direction with her on his heals screaming obscenities as she chased after him. They ran around in circles like a pair of children with Kukaku aiming occasional punches and kicks. The two larger men had long grown used to this type of thing happened and took it as their cue to return to return to their respective tasks. The three pirates sweat dropped as they watched the humorous chase, but were surprised when the smallest employee approached them.
"I really am sorry about that. Believe it or not, this happens quite often." He rubbed the back of head with a slightly embarrassed expression. "I really hope you haven't reconsidered hiring us for this job. Although you might not think so, we really do some good work here."
Ichigo ignored the antics of the others and instead addressed the smallest member of the crew. "So who are you, and what's a shrimp like you doing in the ship building business?"
The boy bowed his head respectfully. "My name is Yamada Hanataro… Ganju's one of my best friends and I'm trying to raise money for medical school by performing small repair jobs for his sister's business."
"Good to meet you." Rukia shook his hand, although she thought it was funny to meet a man not much taller than herself. Shifting gears, she quickly went down to business. "All right, so does your boss want us to come back tomorrow or should we just wait for you at the dock?"
Hanataro considered her for a moment before turning back towards the chaos going on behind them. "Miss Kukaku!" he called out loudly, causing her to stop mid-chase. "Our customers have some questions about the arrangements."
The store owner gave her younger brother one final kick in the pants before saunter back over to her new clients. "So you folks still got some questions? Go ahead and spit em' out."
"Should we come back to tomorrow or just wait at the dock?" she repeated.
Kukaku took a moment to snap her mechanical arm back into place with her real hand before answering. "Since you guys already told me where the boat is, I'll send someone down to Unohana's place tomorrow afternoon to assess the damages to your craft. If the rest of us can't make it, then we'll pass the message along with whomever I send."
"All right… guess that means we're done here." Ichigo turned around and began walking towards the boundary of the property.
His first mate wanted to berate him for his lack of manners, but instead chose to follow him. Turning one last time, she bowed respectfully. "You have our gratitude!"
"Goodbye…" Chad muttered, gently waving his hand in the air before he too joined the others.
The trio cut through the alleyway on the side of the building instead of heading through the shop, quickly returning them to the town square. This left the workers to their jobs, and slowly but surely the scene went back to normal. Koganehiko and Shiroganehiko began to place a sail onto the raft they were building, and Hanataro dropped to his knees and began smoothing away the splinters with a piece of sharkskin that they had obtained during a recent fishing trip.
Once their footsteps died away, Ganju pried himself off of the ground and shuffled over to his sister, looking very much indifferent to the bruises she had given him in the last few minutes.
"Those guys didn't look rich, yet you saw that giant sack of money they were carrying."
Kukaku rested on hand on her hip, her expression becoming unreadable. "Yeah… What of it?"
"I was just thinking, and you don't suppose those dudes were pirates, do you?"
"So what if they are? I know you had some issues since brother died, but we're in this business to make money and it wouldn't be the first time we've done business with pirates." She frowned and shook her head before heading back towards the shop. "Just get back to work…"
A Few Hours Later…
Ichigo sat across a table from his crewmates as they each enjoyed a tankard of the town's ale. After leaving Kukaku's shop, they did some shopping for some groceries and other basic supplies, which had exhausted only a minimal amount of their profits from the last heist. After returning all of their purchases to the ship, the trio had returned to the Town Square for some well-deserved relaxation at the local bar.
It was a small tavern, but the place was crowded and people were so wrapped up in their conversations that they didn't need to worry about being overly cautious for a change. There were several lanterns on the wall providing light to the room, and several men crowded around a large table in the other side of the room, singing a chorus of a random song that none of Ichigo's crew had ever heard before. There were also some shady-looking men playing poker too, but they weren't really interested in gambling away their plunder.
Raising his glass into the air, the orange-haired captain gulped down another mouthful of ale "So what do you guys think? A lot better than the stuff from back home?"
The larger man sitting across from him took a long sip before giving his friend a thumbs-up sign, believing this to be a sufficient answer. He turned to the sole female of their group and addressed her instead. "So what do you think?"
"Not bad, although I still prefer the beer made where we grew up." Rukia took another sip and smiled mischievously at her captain. "I'm surprised you care so much about it, considering you're such a lightweight when it comes time to heavy drinking."
"Why don't you try looking in the mirror once and a while." He shrugged off her insult by tossing it back, looking satisfied as he finished draining his glass with a loud slurping noise. "I still think they make some pretty good booze. What do you guys say we buy a keg to take back to the ship?"
The petite girl shook her head. "We already have enough on board in those barrels we stole from Patros, and I don't think it's worth the amount of money, especially considering the amount of cash that this place charges per volume."
Ichigo set down his glass. "Why not, we're loaded so we might a well enjoy it while it lasts?"
"If we continue to spend money needlessly, it won't last very long at all." Rukia commented with a sour expression. "There's also the matter of buying a refrigerator so that we don't have to live off of hard rolls and dried rations for the entirety of our journey. Just because the shop in town doesn't have any in stock right now, doesn't mean we shouldn't waste the money we were going to use."
"Since we don't have a fridge, maybe you shouldn't have bought all those oranges and lemons."
She shook her head disapprovingly. "Having some fresh fruits around is essential, unless you would rather end up with scurvy due to a lack of Vitamin C."
He considered her claims for a moment, causing the image of a sailor he once saw to come into his mind. During a trip to the doctor's office years ago, Ichigo remembered seeing a man who was stricken with the disease, his face had been pale and covered in spots, and his gums were spongy and enflamed. Quickly shaking the image from is mind, the pirate captain sat back in his seat and allowed her to win this argument.
Rukia noticed his silence and acknowledged her victory. "See, unlike some people I actually take everything into consideration before tossing my money down the drain."
The orange-haired captain prepared to say something else, but the sound of a gunshot echoing throughout the pub quickly caught their attention. A man stood in the center of the bar, his face alive with malice as a wisp of smoke issued from his pistol. Three more shots fired and several men dropped dead, one of the ricocheting blasts coming inches from piercing Rukia's face. Although she appeared shaken by the near-miss, her captain was livid.
A man standing near the door tried to flee but was shot dead before he could escape. The gunmen bore down on the body of a dying man without an ounce of pity, although the look on face suggested that the man was actually enjoying himself quite a bit.
Everyone grew silent as the killer raised his weapon again. "You were so arrogant a second ago, now look at you… Go ahead and laugh at me again!" he hissed with a note of sadistic joy, his trigger finger twitching expectantly. "What's the matter? Your wits left you on the road to Hell?"
No one in the room dared to move as the killer bore down on his prey, although many people did their best to look away from the situation happening right in front of them. One man stood frozen in the doorway to the bar as if he was afraid to lose, while the two poker players from earlier had stopped in the middle of the game to watch what was going on.
Cocking his hand back, the murderous man prepared to shoot his victim through the head, but Ichigo intervened. He tossed a bottle of beer at the criminal's head, the impact changing the angle of his weapon just enough so that the shot missed. Although he barely flinched from the sudden assault, the gunmen turned to face the orange-haired pirate captain instead of finishing off his previous victim.
"Just what give you the right to take another man's life?" Ichigo stood to face the man without even an ounce of fear.
The killer turned to face his attacker and stood to his full height, revealing that he was somewhat taller than the orange-haired pirate. His spiky hair was a deep red color in comparison to Ichigo's carrot-colored hair, and considerably thicker, held away from his face by a pair of goggles, his face was alive with a sickening amusement. He wore a black, fur-lined captain's jacket over his shoulders with long sleeves and golden shoulder spikes, his sash was blue, and his tight black pants were littered with large yellow spots and ended in red frills, revealing the large black boots he wore on his feet.
"Scum like this who would spit on the dreams of others do it because they don't have the guts to go out into the world and see for themselves how things really are!" the other man replied with a sickening smile, his tongue licking a small drip of blood off of the side of his mouth. "Such pathetic people don't deserve to live."
"A real man doesn't purposely put innocent people in danger. The only person here who deserves to die is you!" Ichigo grabbed a decorative sword from the wall of the bar, causing more people to back away in fear.
His opponent lowered his weapon as if he were backing down, but unbeknownst to Ichigo, he had concealed another pistol in his sleeve. Rukia saw that his guard was down and sprung into the air, taking the shot that had been meant for her captain. She felt the bullet pierce her chest before colliding painfully with the floor, causing several men to scamper out of the way.
"You bastard…" Ichigo charged his enemy and prepared to strike, but in his rage he took a bullet to the leg.
"Not even close…" his adversary replied with an evil smile.
The enemy seized him the wrist and tossed him through the window of the bar, the impact of his body shattering the glass as he tumbled into the street. His opponent walked through the door of the tavern and advanced on the orange-haired captain, but Ichigo refused to back down after seeing one of his friends injured. Reaching down to his leg, he tore the bullet from his flesh stood back up, brandishing the makeshift sword at his enemy.
"No one raises messes with me or my friends and gets away with it!" Ichigo screamed, his anger making it easier to ignore the pain in his leg along with the several gashes that he had received from the broken glass.
"What a wuss…" His adversary spoke down to him, although the villain's vindictive bloodlust did not waver. "If there's one thing I hate more than those too weak to believe in their own dreams, it's people that are too weak to back up their threats!"
"You don't know anything about me!" Ichigo screamed, his eyes turning black and his pupils gaining a strange golden hue.
In a display of rage, he shot forward with greater speed than even he thought he was capable of and attempted to stab his sword through the heart of his enemy. This time it was the enemy's turn to be caught of guard. Needless to say he had never thought for a second that a man who had been shot in the leg was capable of such a feat. Although the sword missed his heart, Ichigo managed to stick the blade into his opponent's left shoulder, causing him to growl in pain and before nailing him in the stomach with a kick.
Ichigo's eyes returned to normal as he skidded backwards away from his enemy with surprising grace, somehow still standing on his feet. The scene froze as his enemy stood with the sword implanted in his body. Reaching up to his collar, the killer seized the end of the blade and removed it without so much as a single squeal of pain. He tossed it aside, causing the blade to clatter away across the cobblestones. Although he looked ill for a second, they glared at each other as if neither man would have liked nothing more than to see the other die that instant.
"Why don't you just go to Hell!" the orange-haired captain hissed angrily as he took a few steps towards his opponent. "When you get there, tell everyone that you were defeated by the man who'll be King of the Pirates…"
His opponent's sickening expression wavered for a moment to reveal a sense of evil amusement, and after a moment of staring each other down, he lowered his pistol and laughed. "Man, you've got some guts to say that to me. I didn't think I'd ever meet someone else with that dream…"
Ichigo's anger only deepened in response to his enemy's amusement. "What about it? Are you saying that you…"
"Where I'm going, anyone who doesn't have the guts to say it will end up dead." The man interrupted him. He put his pistol away and began walking away from the scene, his back facing Ichigo. "I'm Eustass Kid… If we ever meet again you'll know the name of the guy that's gonna kill you!"
Ichigo began running after the man's retreating form. "After what you did to my friend, I can't let you walk away from this fight! Get back here, you bastard!" he screamed only to be stopped by his much larger friend.
Yasutora Sado stood in front of his captain, cradling their second mate's delicate form in his arms. He held out an arm and shook his head solemnly before speaking. "Handle your grudge later, Ichigo… Right now we need to get Rukia to a doctor."
The orange-haired captain realized that in his anger he forgot he severity of the situation and quickly realized that this was far more important than taking revenge. Glancing at the destroyed pub, seeing the panicking citizens, and then looking at his friends brought him back to his senses. He instinctively looked for the source of all this mayhem only to find out that the murderous psychopath who started all this chaos had departed completely.
"All right…" Ichigo gently took Rukia's prone body from Chad's arms before looking back at his friend. "I know where we can take her, but we have to move fast!"
Just off the coast of Baterilla Island, a Marine Ship dropped anchor in the bay knowing full well that the island's locals had no authority to complain about their presence. While the rest of the crew prepared the smaller boats for usage, several Marines lined up on the deck. The floor rattled slightly as they heard the footsteps of their leader, each of the Marines pausing to salute as their commander emerged onto the deck.
Only the chief petty officer dared to step out of the crowd to greet their commander. He was a muscular young man, although still very small in comparison to their gigantic leader. He also had with a goatee and a Marine Cap and standard uniform, the only thing differentiating him from the ordinary Seamen being his red ascot in comparison to the standard blue one worn by everyone else. The lesser officer also had a tan and some scars below his left eye, implying that unlike the recruits he was a much more experienced Marine.
"Chief Petty Officer Hardesky reporting for duty! Lieutenant Ikkanzaka, sir!" he shouted with a militaristic salute. "The others are currently preparing our forces to head ashore and search for that crew of miscreants who defeated the Raging Bull Pirates! What are your specific orders, sir?"
A nasty expression lit Jirobo's face as he considered the situation, his fat fingers rubbing together in anticipation. "If what that scum said was true, we should be searching for a puny man with spiky orange hair and a giant blade."
"With all due respect, what do you plan on doing once we find this man?" the lesser officer asked.
"The boy stole a large sum of money from those pirates along with a Devil Fruit. Once we get assure, we will find these people, capture their ship, and claim everything on board in the name of the World Government." The gigantic lieutenant drew himself up to his full height and smashed one fist into the palm of his opposite hand. "Do whatever it takes… Search everywhere! Is that understood?"
"Sir, yes sir!" the crowd of Marines roared in unison.
Note to Readers: Hope this chapter wasn't bad, although it's not my best work in terms of the fanfiction I've written over the years. You also saw the appearance of a One Piece character this chapter, the murderous Eustass Kid who wants to be pirate king but will murder anyone who laughs at him and kills on a whim once he gets in the mood. I found him particularly hard to write seeing how he's so sadistic and overly violent while also respecting those who can fight, and those who have the guts to speak their dreams.
If anyone wondered… No I decided not to portray Kid as having found and eaten his metal-based Devil Fruit yet. Ichigo on the other hand unknowingly exploited some of his own Devil Fruit powers without being aware of how it happened.
As usual, I'm Sorry for any spelling and grammar errors or typos, but I tend to write this story late at night and you should understand why I would miss these types of things. Please review if you get the chance, or drop me a few words if you liked the story just to let me know.