000000000000000000- chapter breaks, should only apply to the first five chapters as those are consolidated from arcs.
- PoV breaks.
The man was old, and dying. He'd been dying for years, but now it was tearing him apart.
I don't know where I am. A jungle, duh, but no idea where it was. I'd tried eating some of the fruits over the past weeks I'd been trapped in this green hell. They'd tasted worse than anything I'd ever eaten. Everything tasted like that.
Neither of us had the supplies or the expertise to fend off old age, not really. He'd lived longer than most, in this world.
But now? I could smell something delicious. I could barely see, was crashing through the underbrush like an idiot, but there was food somewhere.
Two years of training. Of ridiculous tasks, of killing wild animals, of battling the pirates that passed by and taking what we wanted and needed from them, all so I could grow stronger. He'd given that, for a promise.
I'm on it before it realizes I'm there, blind with hunger, mad with it, teeth finding an artery easily and opening it up, so sweet.
It was a price I'd been more than willing to pay, once I'd realized which world I'd been sent to, and in what era.
Something struck me in the side, driving me away from my catch, and I growled. Pressure in my back relieved itself, and red tendrils lashed out, cutting down the prey where they stood. More meat, after all. Other members of the herd ran, and I let them. I had food.
The old man raised himself off the bed with effort, and I was at his side in an instant. "Easy, you bastard. You're not well," I say quietly.
It wasn't until the first of the crew had been reduced to blood and cracked bone that I realized what I was devouring so desperately, and what the red tendril-limbs that had burst from my back were.
"You think..I do not know that, little monster?" the old man replies. "Help me up. I will not...die in my bed."
I don't remember what happened after, not clearly. Flashes. Violence, men screaming for their leaders to save them. Running from me in fear. Men in white uniforms trying to burn down the forest, falling to me, becoming food. I don't know how long it was. But then He came.
"If you say so, Sensei." I can feel the bones where I lay a hand on his back, sharp under thin skin. When had the old man gotten so frail? It seemed like only a few days ago he'd been lifting boulders and chopping down trees beside me.
He came alone, and the memory of the ambush I laid for Him is still clear as day. I hurtled down from the trees, tendrils striking- and hit nothing but dirt as pain ripped through me.
Slowly, I help him shuffle out the door and onto the porch of the tiny wooden house we'd lived in for two years. He sinks into the rocking chair with a groan, and nods fractionally.
I'd expected to die as I lay there, unable to move, my body refusing to heal the damage, hearing His footsteps draw closer. I welcomed it. I deserved it, for being too weak to end myself when I'd realized what I'd become. Instead, He spoke.
"You know what you must do," the old man whispers. I nod. We'd spoken of this, agreed on it. It still hurt to do it.
"So. You are the monster that lurks, guarding the treasure of the forest," He said, leaning down so I could look at Him from where I was frozen. His voice stripped away madness, cleared the hunger. "An eater of men. A ghoul. But…" He paused, and looked at me closely. "You are not one by choice, but by necessity. Hmm. When you are healed, little monster, seek me out. It will not be easy, but I doubt your life has been."
I hand the old man his sword, an ancient thing, near as long as I am tall. He leans on it at first, levering himself out of his chair, but as he gets upright strength seems to return to his limbs, and his eyes clear. By the time we head down into the grass surrounding the house, he stands straight, the image of a wise man who was still strong.
I clung to the sanity He'd given me in the days that followed. And I followed his trail and his scent, down to the harbor. I'd forgotten my name, so I chose a new one. With half-remembered speech I secured passage aboard a passenger liner, and waited. When a man aboard attacked a woman one night, I waited for a stormy night, ate well, and spun a tale of him having slipped over the side. His scent spurred me on, and with stolen funds I bribed a fisherman to follow it to monstrous shores. Serpents and strange creatures rose up to try to sink the fisherman's vessel, and despite the growing hunger in my belly. and the wounds they inflicted, I cut them all down, staggering ashore with blood spilling from my wounds.
We face each other in grass that has grown up to our knees. I focus, and a single tail bursts free, coiling out to my right as I slip off the red captain's coat I've grown to favor. In response, the old man raises his sword.
He found me at the entrance to his home the following morning, and smiled. "You have survived. Well, little monster...what is it you desire? Survival? Power? Riches? What in this blood-soaked world do you want most?"
I lunge forward. So does he. Tendril and sword strike as one.
"Blade of Want!"
What did I want? If I wanted mere survival, I would never have followed Him . If I wanted to rule, I was terrifying enough. If I wanted riches...what man could stop me, in one of the Blues?
Fragments of memory tell me. Men who call themselves dragons, slaving and raping with none to stop them. Islands burning over the fears of bureaucrats. Countless lives ruined by petty cruelty and the desire for power. Madmen with abilities none can counter suffocating countries under their rule.
Blood spatters the grass, and I stagger as a cut appears across my chest, bone-deep. But healing.
I raise my eyes to meet his own. "This world is a cruel place, filled with monsters. And so I'll kill them. I want the strength to do that."
The old man falls to his knees as his sword breaks, his blood staining the ground.
"Then I think we can make an accord, little monster," He said. "I will give you that strength, if you will add seven to your list of monsters."
My tendril lashes out and severs neck and spinal cord, coiling around the head in an instant, returning it to me. I close the old man's sole remaining eye, then lay it down in the grass. It will keep. The body will not.
"Seven lives? What have they done?" I ask.
"They killed a dream," He replies. "Do you have a name, little monster?"
"Hm. Then, young Yoshimura, my name is Arima Zoss. Until you die or your training is complete, you will address me as master."
When that is done, I gather up a burlap sack and cotton cloth, wrap the head carefully, and place it in the sack. I get the meagre possessions I still have- a few beri, a sharp knife, a few changes of clothing- and then set bales of hay against the walls of the house.
By the time I set foot into the small skiff that Zoss had kept for supply runs, the house was burning merrily.
I have a large bounty to claim, a crew to gather, and a better ship to either buy or steal.
After all, while the skiff is plenty for the South Blue, it isn't something that'll survive the Grand Line, much less the New World. And I have business to handle.
It is alarmingly difficult to get a bounty turned over to you, apparently.
Well, it actually isn't, if you've got approval, recognition, and occasionally a license.
But if you do what I did, which was dump a head in front of the first Marine to challenge me...well…that lands you an interview with the base Captain and about a dozen heavily armed guards. All in a very small room.
I can smell their fear. Even the Captain- a man built like a shaved bear with a set of brass knuckles shoved very conspicuously into his pockets- is quietly freaking out. Mostly because I haven't said a word after telling them I was there to claim the old man's bounty.
Not my plan, but the old bastard wanted to go down fighting and figured his bounty would give me some start-up funding.
And so we wait. The Captain hasn't spoken, and neither have I. The only sounds are the slight noises the Marine guards make and the ticking of the clock on the wall.
It's incredibly creepy. Then again, I can't judge.
After several minutes of this charade, a guy who I assume is a clerk enters and whispers in the Captain's ear. The man nods, then stands, and I tense myself, waiting for something to go wrong.
"Well, Mr. Yoshimura, it seems you have done the Marines a service after all. The bounty has been confirmed. Arima 'One-Eyed King' Zoss, worth 21 million beri. Now, there is a small wrinkle…"
"Let me guess, you don't have that kind of cash on hand," I say drily.
"For the bounty as it was posted, well, we could pay that. However, his bounty is fifty years old, and with the inflation of the beri since then…the World Government decreed that bounties would be pegged to increase with inflation- to ensure criminals who were laying low would still be considered profitable to the more mercenary hunters- and...well, it totals to one hundred and eight million. We had to confirm that it was indeed him before handing over that amount of money."
Oh my God. Internal screaming, welcome once more. I thought you'd given up years ago. I try to keep a calm face, but I feel my tendrils begin to shift under my skin and, judging by the sudden paleness every Marine in the room is experiencing, my eyes have changed- red irises, black sclerae, as they always do when using my abilities. Keep calm. Act like it's intentional. "I see. So, that is not a problem anymore, right?"
"How exactly did you kill him?"
"He was old, but I was sure it was him. Saw him practicing with his sword, once, that made it a certainty. So I cut him down, carved off his head, and came here for the bounty."
"With that knife?"
"Then with what?"
"You always ask this many questions? He's dead, and I'm claiming the bounty."
The Captain regards me for a long moment, then nods abruptly. "Very well. You want the payment in cash, I assume."
"Yes." I control myself, force my eyes back to normal, and nod.
They seem very glad to see the back of me, and so I walk quickly into the small town that's grown around the base, thinking to myself.
I have a bigger budget than I thought, but the goal's the same nonetheless- I have quite a few purchases to make, and I want to be off this island as fast as possible. I'm already feeling the first pangs of hunger and eating someone near a Marine base is just asking for trouble.
Luckily, one of the things I'd brought with me had been a food supply. Pork jerky, well, long pork, ha ha. It'd last for long enough that I could make landfall on a larger island, Yardam, and investigate the mountainside. One cliff in particular had been marked out a location to forage under.
Large cities like those on Yardam meant a high suicide rate.
I shake my head and stop thinking grim things for a bit. I've got funds, I've got a boat, and I've got a plan.
Beyond the seven Zoss demanded as his price- the seven usurpers, he called them- I had a few ideas on people that deserved to be dealt with. But most of them were far beyond my level (see: Admirals, and by extension pretty much all the Celestial Dragons, ditto the rest of Marine high command) or would be dealt with without me lifting a finger (everyone Luffy put the smackdown on). All of that was stuff in the East Blue or on a specific part of the Grand Line, though, and I didn't want to touch any of that. Newspapers had told me that, at the very least, the Paramount War hadn't happened yet, and Zoss had told me Roger was dead, but I had no idea of the dates beyond that, or any real way of knowing if he'd started his journey at all yet.
With my luck and nature, I'll run into him as a full-fledged antagonist. After all, it's hard to go darker than 'eats people on a regular basis'. Could even qualify as grimdark.
The question is, what exactly do I do? Be a captain? There were those who were worse to their men than I'd be, for less reason. But did I want to do that? Worries for later.
Oh, and by the way, screw you, ROB or God or whoever's responsible. Just your friendly daily reminder from a guy who went so crazy he had to be beaten back into sanity.
As if in response, a gust of wind blows down the dirt road, raising a minor dust storm. I squint, and look for a spot to duck out of the wind, which is only intensifying. There. Looks like a storefront. I stumble inside, blinking dust out of my eyes, and look around.
That...that is a lot of masks.
"Welcome to the Hall of Masks," a man says suddenly, appearing from behind a stand of befeathered full-face masks that vaguely rememble owls. He...is difficult to look at. And not because he's ugly, but because his incredibly garish clothing, including what I'm pretty sure is a Hawaiian shirt and a feather boa larger than an actual boa, blends in so well with the riot of color that is the merchandise that the eyes slide right off him.
"Uh...thank you." I'm not even sure I can see his actual body under all those clothes. Huh.
Fuck it, might as well make use of the place. "I think I should get a mask. I can see you have a lot in stock."
"We have masks for just about every occasion! Parties, festivals, ritual dances, wars, weddings, masquerades…"
Wars? No, Kaneki, roll with it. This is One Piece, there are no sane people.
"And what were you looking for, young man?"
I shrug. "Something I can fight in, that I can fix if damaged...hmm. If it can be red and look... birdlike, that would be best."
"Not a problem, not a problem at all! Come, let me show you, a mask must be fitted properly, after all…"
Before my brain can gather itself I'm stuck in front of a mirror, staring at myself.
I don't look like a captain. Red coat or not, I still don't look like one. It's only now that I'm in front of a mirror that it becomes apparent how...off...it looks. I'm not a captain, and I'll never be one, I think to myself. I take off the coat, thinking quietly.
Brown hair, cut down practically to the skull- my tails were sharper and more dexterous than any pair of scissors- skin that's refused to tan despite years under the sun, eyes that can switch between blue and white to red and black with an instant's thought...hmm.
I catch the man out of the corner of my eye, carrying a box under one floral-printed arm. "I don't suppose you sell things other than masks?" I ask.
"Oh, masks must be made with more than just a face being covered," the man says with a nod. "Yes, we have much. But first, the mask itself- everything else can be made to fit it, but the mask is essential, yes. Here!"
I take the box, and open it carefully. The mask that glares back at me is a half-face one, meant to cover the eyes and nose but not hide the mouth or jaw. It flares down to a point, a beaklike portion covering the nose while the rest looks meant to go over the ears, making a suggestion of feathers. Round lenses, clear, high-quality glass, reflect my own eyes. Most of it is made of a dark red wood I don't recognize, but bits around the lenses have been stained a brighter color.
I put it on. It fits perfectly. I grin at myself in the mirror, and change my eyes. The lenses flare red, something in them capturing the color perfectly. "I like it."
"Very good. One should always enjoy the mask they wear. Now, to go with it, young man... I do not believe you will be a leader of men, but you will be strong, and for that…" he trails off, muttering to himself, and I let him speak philosophically as he heads for the back of the shop.
I get the impression that the moment I step outside this shop, it's going to vanish. It seems like that sort of place. Too...perfect.
The man comes back with a black tricorn hat and a black jacket. While the hat is simple, the jacket... I honestly can't tell if those are actual feathers or if the design has been pressed into the leather. The eyes say the second but touch says the first. I put both on anyway.
Huh. I look good.
"How much does this cost?" I ask as I straighten the hat on my head.
"For you, young man? Five thousand beri should suffice."
That is... alarmingly cheap. I give the man a look. "If it's this cheap because it eats my soul or something I'm going to be very annoyed."
"No no no, such a thing would be horrendous! But if you insist, fifty thousand will be the price."
I'm paying more, and yet I feel much safer. Fuck it, why not.
I pay, and exit the store carefully, refusing to look away. It stays there, stubbornly. Solidly.
Nope. Fuck that. I'm ignoring it now. So long, Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday, your trope is now done!
It's only after I enter the bar that I remember I can't actually drink alcohol.
As it turns out, the bar served coffee as well as alcohol. It was brewed in a pot that was probably old when the Pirate King had been executed, but it didn't matter.
I'd been a coffee addict before becoming a ghoul, and being restricted in my choices had only intensified that addiction. So I drank happily, and for long enough that the sun had begun to set by the time I walked out of the bar, several dozen beri lighter and enough caffeine to kill any normal person heavier.
I make my way down to the docks, then sniff the air warily. Gunpowder, tar, and a reek of salt layered over nervous sweat and tense muscles.
Hmm. A sailor, one familiar with weapons, which meant Marine or pirate. Out at this hour...more likely the second one.
I pause at the end of the dock, my skiff just a short distance away, and turn warily, tails itching to be let free.
It's just an old man, in a tattered set of Marine whites, missing his left arm. Huh. Was expecting something more... intimidating.
"You want something?" I ask flatly.
"You... you're the bounty hunter, right?" the man asks, voice wavering.
Not really a career, but if it earns some cash..."Yup. Who're you looking for me to find?"
The old guy clears his throat. "My grandson."
"Okay, what happened to him and why are you coming to me about it? There's a Marine base just up the road, if you need children retrieved."
The old man laughs. "The Marines? Ha! Might as well kill the boy myself as set the Marines on him."
"What the hell did he do?"
"Fool boy ran off to be a pirate, of all things. I tell him to stay at home, be a doctor, but no, apparently he'd rather stitch up bullet holes than do something worthwhile. Marines won't be of any help- I asked, and they told me it's only because of my service they're not hunting the boy down right now! No respect for their elders these days, I-"
I hold up a hand. "Okay. Again, why me. A bounty hunter needs a good relationship with the Marines, or they don't get paid, and this is sounding like something that'd piss them off good and proper."
The old man seems to shrink in on himself. "...there isn't anyone else who'll do it," he finally says.
Fuck. Now I feel bad.
"I don't want you to bring him back. Boy'll just make further trouble, anyhow. But...he said he was headed for Yardam, and I hoped…"
"I have a letter. If you find him, just...give it to him. Please."
Alright. Less likely to cause too much trouble. "Sure. Was headed for Yardam anyway. What's your name, old man? And his, come to think of it. And a face for the name wouldn't hurt."
"Grigori Rasputi, my son's Grigori Vinci. Boy doesn't look a lick like me. Took after his father, the brat. Skinny, black hair, probably got a grin on his face. Brat. I have money, if…"
"Nah. Like I said, was gonna be sailing for Yardam anyway. I'll keep an eye out for the kid." I tip the edge of my tricorn, then hold out a hand.
"Oh! Right, the letter…" Rasputi rummages in his pockets with his only hand and pulls out a yellowed envelope, which I take and tuck into an inside pocket. He looks at the skiff quizzically. "Tide's not right to be sailing out," he notes. "Nor the wind. How're you going to get out to sea?"
I grin. "That, old man, is a secret."
"Bah. Fine, don't tell me. But deliver that letter, you hear?"
"I hear ya, old man." I climb into the skiff, and pull out a set of oars, setting them into the tiny vessel's oarlocks and starting to pull. Rasputi waves as the dock pulls away at a decent clip. Tide doesn't matter much when you've got strength and your own healing factor handles muscle tears and other fatigue symptoms like they don't exist.
I wait until the island's a smudge on the horizon before I put the oars away.
"One tail, two tail." The red appendages glow faintly in the darkness.
I coil them up into spirals, and shove them into the water before spinning as quickly as I can manage, keeping the motion up as the water froths and the skiff leaps forwards.
Fuck steam engines, I made my own screw propellers.
Hours pass as I wait for the caffeine to wear off, following the compass and the stars. Yardam was practically a straight shot north.
Fuck, whoever this kid is, I hope that he doesn't end up at the wrong end of a rifle.
It takes way too long for me to fall asleep.
Yardam's a fairly well-populated island. A prosperous town under a strong Marine base, a trading port that has little trouble from pirates thanks to said Marine base...basically if it weren't for the high population and the 'convenient' mountain I'd have trouble getting food. Well, getting it without causing investigations and/or panic.
The docks are fairly empty as I tie up the skiff and walk, yawning, into the town proper, toting an empty pack on my back. Past the town is the Marine base, partially dug into the mountainside, and then the forests and the mountain itself. I'll have to wait until nightfall and hope I get lucky.
My stomach growls.
There's a square up ahead. Maybe I can find a coffee shop or something. And maybe I can ask around and find this Vinci kid.
Huh. There's a crowd.
And a gallows. With Marines guarding it, a black-hooded executioner standing by with a hand on the lever, and a young man in irons with his neck in the noose. Off to the side is a pile of shroud-wrapped bodies.
Shit. An execution. I squint, staring at the guy who's been unfortunate enough to piss off the Marines. He looks nearly as gaunt as me, with a mess of black hair, wearing prison stripes.
Wait. Skinny. Black-haired. Shit shit shit. I strain my ears to hear the Marine reading off the list of charges, hoping that-
"-under these charges, you, Grigori Vinci, have been sentenced to hang by the neck until-"
God fucking damnit.
This isn't my fight. I could just walk away, let the Marines hang the man for calling himself a pirate. Or for doing worse, who knows. I could collect what I needed, never deliver the letter, and just keep going.
Fuck that shit.
"One tail, two tail, three tail, four," I say flatly, letting the pressure at the small of my back burst free and take form. By the time the closer members of the crowd have turned at my sudden announcement, two of my tails have launched me over their heads, a third cutting the noose, and a fourth snatching Grigori up as I land on the execution stand. Bullets patter off my tails, one slamming into my shoulder, but I ignore them, and instead launch off again, taking Grigori with me as I bound over the rooftops.
The bastard's laughing like a madman as I hit the ground three streets away, dropping him to the dirt. The idiot pops back up again, grinning. "That. Was. Awesome! Also, who are you, and what are those?" Before I can react, he starts prodding one of my tails, babbling scientific terminology that I barely even remember. What the hell? He was condemned to die about five seconds ago, and all he cares about is the biology of his rescuer? Roll with it, Kaneki, nobody is sane on this planet, least of all you. "Yoshimura Kaneki, those are Red Scales, and you're Grigori Vinci, grandson of Grigori Rasputi, right?"
He stops, then turns to look at me, blue eyes gleaming. "Why do you want to know?"
"Old fart gave me a letter. Figured it'd be poor manners to let you hang before I delivered it," I say, pulling the battered envelope out. Vinci snatches it from my hands, and shoves it into a pocket.
"I'll read it later. But I need your help before I do."
"You could just ask, if you're trying to convince me to keep you alive," I say flatly, retracting my tails. The idiot grins.
"My way's a lot more fun, though, isn't it?"
"This is going to be one of those situations where I end up as a meat shield while you do something stupid, isn't it?" I growl. He shrugs. "Retrieving my tools is not a stupid action. Now come on. They're in the Marine base, and unless we hurry I think we'll have a difficult time getting them."
He runs off, and I groan. Then follow.
And that, everyone, was how I met my captain.
Yardam's Marine Base is an impressive set of fortifications, I'll admit- high walls, strong towers, everything in order- but the gate is just...wood. Iron-banded wood, three times my height, but still wood.
And there's no Marines on the battlements or cannon to force me to take cover as Vinci and I run up the ramp towards them. Heh. South Blue security, I suppose.
"One tail, two tail…" I jab forwards with two fingers as I keep running, overtaking Vinci.
Two tails twine themselves around each other, before shooting forward, slamming into the seam between the gates and punching through with ease.
"Open wide…Kyahahahaha…." The hinges squeal, and I hear shouts from the Marines inside, but despite all the efforts to stop the tails, the gates still open.
Revealing a lot of guns and cannon, and a platoon's worth of grinning Marines. I blink. "Huh."
Gunfire fills my ears. And continues to do so, before finally petering out as smoke fills the air.
I exhale, and relax slightly, letting the shattered remains of cannonballs and bullets slough off my tails.
Vinci laughs. "Dahahahaha...you're pretty tough," he says, stepping out from behind me. "Thought we were gonna die."
"You could look less happy about it," I grumble quietly.
"Crap! I think they're still alive!" I hear a Marine shout from the cloud of gunsmoke.
"Three tail, four," I say softly. "Where's your stuff, brat?"
"I doubt there's a big enough age difference for you to call me that, but like as not it's in their evidence vault. Two floors down, I think. The cells are three down. Pirate crews are in there, but they like to take the captains out for hanging…could come in handy."
"Hmph." I pop my neck. Smoke's starting to thin, not enough to see the bastards, not yet. "I'll cut a path, you grab your gear?"
"Dahahaha...sounds like a plan, bird guy."
There's something looming in the smoke…
I grin as the blade of some ridiculously oversized polearm swings down towards me, held by a giant of a man in a Marine coat, and I throw my tails up, crisscrossing them.
The blade hits them, and stops dead. My grin widens. "Hello, dumbass."
Two tails twine around the shaft as the Marine pulls back the blade instinctively, bringing me with it, right up to face height.
The idiot's face as he sees me heading straight for is going to be a fond memory for years to come.
"Scale Hammer." My tails blur.
I hit the ground before the Captain does. I land on my tails, he lands on his face.
"Commander Akaishatsu! No!"
I ignore the screaming of the Marines as they begin to back away, none willing to run but nobody wanting to fight me. Not after I just knocked out their leader.
I get a glimpse of Vinci slipping into an unattended door, and then look around at the circle of Marines.
"Well?" I ask, my voice carrying. "I'm a pirate. You're Marines. Do what comes natural."
Vinci was having a pretty good day, all things considered. Sure, hanging wasn't fun but hey, someone had come to rescue him! Should've known Gramps would've sent someone along.
The fact that that someone was making an excellent distraction and had allowed him to sprint into the main tower of the Marine base without being noticed at all was just a bonus, really. The only problem with that, really…
"Hurry! They need reinforcements at the gate!"
Was that every Marine in the base was heading right for the ruckus, and the hallways he was heading down didn't exactly offer much in the way of hiding spots.
"Hey, wait- a prisoner's loo-"
Vinci hit the squad in the hall before they could even raise their muskets, slamming the heel of his palm into the chest of the closest.
The Marine dropped, and Vinci ducked the swing of a musket butt as another stepped in, before hitting the unfortunate Marine in the jaw. "Mandibular Trauma!" Two down, four to go. He settled for throwing the broken-jaw Marine at his buddies and shoving his way past the writhing clump of soldiers, pausing only to yank a cutlass from the belt of one of them.
Seriously, they all moved so slowly- the only reason he'd even been caught was because their commander was way too strong, and the fact that Vinci just couldn't dodge bullets.
Well, not yet. A few more operations and a lot more research...but first he needed his tools. This hunk of metal was...not ideal.
Oh, look. More Marines at the stairwell.
"Prisoner loose in-"
He swung the blade, blocking the Marine's own attack, and then slammed a finger into the man's abdomen. Pressure point, three centimeters below diaphragm. "Neurotomy!"
The man dropped, legs numb and unable to function for the next several hours. Vinci grinned at the remaining Marine, and brandished his cutlass.
The Marine ran. He'd probably come back with reinforcements, but it didn't matter.
Two levels down, down the hallway in the direction of the entrance, door on the left...no, the right. And...it was locked, the door solid oak plating. Well. He could fix that.
"Xylem Trauma!" Splinters of wood went flying, and Vinci stepped in, flexing his hand. Okay, punching the wood hadn't been his smartest idea, regime of augmentative medicines or no. He'd probably snapped a phalange- it'd heal, but it still hurt.
There were his tools, though.
The lab coat was the important thing- he'd made it himself, out of what white canvas he could scrounge, just to improve its durability, and so it was crisscrossed in rather clumsy stitches holding various parts of it together...but it was still his, and its pockets were filled with a wide variety of useful tools. Two canisters of anesthetic gas, a third filled with a special vitamin, and a half-dozen scalpels went on a bandolier, and his bonesaw rested on his hip. Last was his black bag, filled with the most valuable medicines...and the most deadly poisons. He didn't bother changing out of his prison stripes- not enough time- but he did take a moment to pull on his good boots instead of the slippers they'd given him.
"I should have known it would be you causing so much trouble," a brittle voice said from behind him.
Vinci almost spun, but the click of a pistol being cocked told him that would be immensely stupid.
"Captain Ikasutsu," Vinci said, very politely, as he turned around slowly.
The Marine Captain did not look happy. Part of it was the cracked lens on his glasses, and part of it was the loaded gun pointed at Vinci's face- one of half a dozen he was carrying on him- but most of it was probably due to the cracked ribs and visible facial bruising the Captain was sporting. Bruises Vinci had put there before the threat of being riddled with holes had stopped him.
"Pirate," the Captain replied venomously. "I assume it's a friend of yours causing havoc up above? No matter, I'll deal with them after I handle you."
Vinci glanced around, and took a step back, raising his hands slightly. Ah. There was the cutlass, right where he'd left it…
The pistol ball slammed into the brick wall as Vinci faked a lunge for the weapon, then dove straight at the Captain, drawing a scalpel from his pockets. "Incision!" The tiny, razor-sharp blade cut right above the Captain's eyes, and blood practically sprayed from the cut as Vinci forced him back.
Ribs on left side are cracked. Possible mild concussion. He'll clear eyes with his left hand, draw a gun with his right...now.
"Biopsy!" The scalpel punched straight through the Captain's hand, pinning it to the gun and pinning said weapon to the man's chest. Vinci left it, and wound up for a kick as the man stumbled back.
The Captain hit the ground foaming at the mouth and unconscious.
He knelt down and removed the scalpel, and checked the Captain's pulse. He'd live, the scalpels hadn't cut anything important, missing arteries and bone. Good.
Ooh, and the guy had been carrying keys.
He'd gone to sea to find the secrets of life itself, to create something better than anyone could ever be- and some of those techniques he'd already used on himself, nothing surgical yet but time would tell. But if he got caught that easily again...Yoshimura wouldn't come to save him again.
He needed a crew. People who'd work with him to find all the secrets the world offered, to cut it apart and study it. Yoshimura could be a start, if he was willing...but two people couldn't sail a ship alone, and Vinci meant to head for the Grand Line, where legends and monsters dwelled.
Well, Fate appeared to be looking out for him. Because there were thirty or forty pirates whose captains had been hung today who were awaiting transport to Impel Down. And Captain Ikasutsu had the keys to their cells. Well, now Vinci had them. Hah.
Vinci whistled as he headed back down the corridor, twirling the keys on a finger.
And then the stairs exploded.
Where the hell are they finding this many Marines? And how the hell did they follow me into the base with a cannon?!
I block with my tails, but they've apparently learned that regular cannonballs did diddly, because this one explodes, hurling me down the stairwell with a shower of broken stone. Oh, look, stairs.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
Oh look, a landing.
I raise an arm defiantly as my bones knit back together. "I am okay!"
The grinding noise from up above gives me just enough warning to roll into the hallway before the entire stairwell collapses.
For a minute or so, I just lay on my back and try to concentrate on not being concussed. I don't think it's working.
Mask and jacket are completely undamaged, though. That's quality craftsmanship.
"Well, we're trapped." I turn my head in the direction of the voice. Oh. Vinci. In a lab coat covered in Franken-stitches. Cool.
Yup, definitely a concussion. Heal, damn it.
"Hey, you okay?"
The world snaps back into extraordinarily painful clarity, and then the pain vanishes, taking the floating feeling and exhaustion with it, but making me feel half-starved in the process. I ignore it, and get to my feet. "Fine."
"Great! Then you can help get us un-trapped. Can those appendages of yours dig?"
I look down as my stomach rumbles. Hungry. Can't eat yet, but hungry. "The prison cells. But that's still part of the tower."
"Yes, but you can dig outwards, too, right? And through the ceiling here? Just get us back to the ground floor."
"Then why enter the cells at all?"
Vinci smiles. "Can't steal a Marine frigate with just the two of us, now can we?"
"You. You are crazy." I grin. "I like it."
"Good! Now go beat up the floor until it gives way. Pretty sure the hallways match up perfectly."
"Alright. One tail, two tail...Scale Hammer!" The stone cracks as my tails smash into it, and then crumbles away, filling the air with dust. Judging from the shouting that drifts up from the new hole in the floor, we got the right place. Or we just found a bunch of Marines. Let's find out.
Vinci just jumps right into the hole. Sigh. He still hasn't read the letter, so I don't think I can let him get himself killed. I drop in after him, landing in a narrow hallway with cells on both sides.
Found the pirate prisoners. Yay.
"What the hell...who are you guys?" one of them, a beefy dude with a truly amazing beard asks. He smells delicious...no. Not here.
"I am Grigori Vinci, but all forty of you...can call me Captain. Once we get out of here, at least."
I lean back on the opposite set of cells as the forty-odd pirates in prisoner's clothes start shouting.
"Hell no!" "We'll only follow Captain John!" "Are you crazy?"
"They're all dead," Vinci says flatly.
Dead silence. Ooh, I made a pun.
Might still be slightly concussed, too.
"They hanged everyone, were going to hang me, and they're gonna come after me since Yoshimura over there helped me get away. So it's just us." Vinci smiles, and jangles a set of keys. "I've got the keys to the cells, I've got a scary guy, and I've got a plan. So, are you ready to get out of here, or not?"
That's when five sets of chains loop around my wrists, ankles, and neck, pulling me spread-eagled against the bars. Accomplishing nothing save annoying me, really, they can't even pull hard enough to actually cut off oxygen.
"Give us the keys, or he dies!" an aggravatingly deep voice shouts from directly behind my right ear.
I raise an eyebrow behind my mask, and smile at Vinci. "And who would these guys be?"
Beefy McLargeHuge answers instead of the doctor, looking nervous. "They're...they're the Lanius Pirates. They crucify people. Don't let them out!"
"That's right," the voice growls. I turn my head to the side, and get a faceful of ugly. Seriously, nobody should still be alive with that much burn scarring. Oh, and they're keeping me 'restrained' with their own manacles. How cute. "Captain Kaisar got hanged? That leaves me in command. Now let us out, or bird boy dies."
"Heh." Well, guess what? I don't have to worry about going hungry after all. "One tail, two tail, three tail, four. Multiple Scaled Spikes."
The chains on my wrists and ankles vanish as their owners are impaled, and I twist around, freed hand grabbing the burned moron by the forehead as my tails shear through the bars in the process of turning. I smile, and dig my fingers in, feeling skull give way until the man finally goes limp. I toss him into the cell with the others, trying to ignore the smell of spilled blood.
"They are no longer a problem," I say flatly. "Now, if you want to escape, either climb on these tails or on each other."
"What...what the hell are you?" one of the pirates asks. I shrug.
"Either cursed, an escaped science experiment, or one of my parents was a fishman whose fish species had a thing around tentacles. Dunno. Now move."
Vinci tosses the keys into the cell, and the pirates scramble to get the door unlocked. They're distinctly nervous about my tails ferrying them up to the next level, probably because, well, I just impaled four idiots on them. But I'm careful to not hurt them, despite the fact it would be so easy to take...nope. No. Not here.
It takes a while, but eventually they're all ferried up to the second level.
"Alright!" Vinci says, clapping his hands. "So, guys, there's an armory close by, and an evidence room if you want to go-"
The pirates collectively stampede past him.
"-looking…" He sighs. "Plans. Nobody listens to them."
"Because you aren't scary enough," I quip. "Go put the fear of god into them. I'll catch up."
Vinci gives the hole a look, then looks at me, then back at the hole. He nods. "When this is over, we need to talk."
Shit, has he figured it out?
He has. I can see it.
Shit shit shit shit shit. My tails flex, pointing themselves towards him. "About what?" I growl.
"What you are. You're going to be on my crew-" -wait, what- "-and that means I'm going to be your doctor. And that means I need to know your needs. Dietary or otherwise."
My eyes narrow behind the mask. "How'd you figure it out?"
"You started drooling after spilling blood. And...there are legends, from Murky Island, about a tribe of red-tailed, black-eyed demons that ate human flesh in the jungle there, guarding the lost treasure of Black Hawk Sandor. You're one of them, aren't you?"
I should kill him, before one of the other pirates can overhear this, before everything goes to shit. But the thought's gone as he fearlessly walks past my tails, and hugs me.
"Whatever it is," he says, looking me in the eyes. "I will find a way to cure it. A way to let you be normal again."
"And if I like being this way?"
"If you did, you wouldn't bother to hide it," he says with a smile. "So. Do what you've got to do. I'll keep an eye out."
Something in me makes me toss him the tricorn on my head, and sketch a salute. "Aye, captain."
I jump back down into the hole, with the five corpses, and get to work.
I don't know what I was expecting, but a complete lack of Marines was not it.
Okay, there are a lot of Marines. But they're the ones I already beat into sweet oblivion, so they don't count.
"Where the hell have they all gone?" I muse aloud as the pirates- now rather heavily armed- follow me and Vinci out into the base courtyard. "They manage to chase me into the tower, with a damn cannon, but we're leading a mass breakout and they're nowhere to be seen?"
"Shh…" Beefy McLargeHuge, who's appropriated a gigantic axe, cautions. "Stop tempting fate."
"They're probably down at the docks," Vinci says cheerily.
"What makes you say that?"
"Large breakout of uncontainable pirates, with the Captain and his second-in-command incapacitated, standard procedure is to cordon off escape routes and call in for reinforcements."
Everyone stops running for a moment and stares at him.
"Hey, my Grandpa made Commodore. And wanted me to be a surgeon for the idiots. He drilled me until I repeated transponder snail codes in my sleep."
"Less talking, more running!" I shout, using my tails as makeshift stilt-legs.
I'm not sure what the townsfolk make of this- a bird-masked man running on glowing tentacles, a laughing doctor with a snazzy tricorn and a fistful of scalpels, and forty-one screaming people armed to the teeth and clad in a mixture of prisoner's clothes and whatever bits of piratical clothing they'd decided to take with them. They don't make an appearance.
The Marines, though...the Marines open fire the moment we're in sight, a disciplined line of muskets and cannon.
And, thanks to my outstretched tails, it accomplishes nothing, even as musket balls plow into my unprotected body. I take a step back from the force. Nothing more.
I smile. "Scale-"
"Out of my way."
A blur rushes past me, upends a cannon, and begins beating Marines unconscious with other Marines. Just...what. "What...am I looking at?" I mumble to Beefy as we watch the Marines start running in several directions, pursued by the blur.
"Grigori took some weird pill thing, started putting off smoke, and then ran off to beat them with each other," Beefy summarizes.
"Huh." I stare at the chaos. It's ridiculous...and yet mesmerizing.
"Yeah, should probably get on that."
We watch for a bit longer.
"Are you sure he should be Captain?" Beefy asks as one of the Marines is sucked into the tornado of violence, and then hurled out missing most of his teeth.
"I don't want the job. You?"
"You think I want the price on my head?"
"Point. I'll have one already anyway. What's your name, anyway?"
"Huh. So, Jack, let's go steal that ship."
"My blood! He punched out all my blood!"
"Sounds like a plan, bird-man."
Urrgh. They were moving? Back and forth, on a rhythm. Like a...like a boat!
They'd done it, then. Yay. Also, ow. Head hurt like crazy.
"Huh, you're still alive," Yoshimura commented. Vinci groaned and opened his eyes. Yep. Boat. This was definitely a cabin. Though the lantern burned at his eyes.
"So, mind explaining what the hell you did, why you did it, and why I shouldn't be hauling you back to your grandpa since you clearly need a sense of self-preservation beaten into you?" The...well, demon couldn't be the correct terminology, mysticism like that had no place in the world. Ghoul? He ate human flesh, it was close enough. The ghoul seemed rather unaffected by the whole thing.
Right. He wanted an explanation.
"Monster Mode. I call it that," he managed to say, noticing his throat was dry. Yoshimura handed him a glass of water, and though the effort made his muscles hurt he sat up and drank it slowly, taking in the room. It matched the captain's cabin on a Marine frigate precisely.
The glass was empty already. Huh. "It's an overcharge of my body. I take an Overdrive Pill, something I've made, and it...allows greater...everything, but the consequences are a bit, uh, problematic. What did I…"
"Rendered about three quarters of the remaining Marines unconscious, the others wishing they were, then face-planted into the dock. I dragged you on board. Got my skiff on the way out, too."
"So why do that? We could've taken them."
"Like you said. I needed to prove I was captain. I can't do that if you're the one doing all the fighting."
"Brat. Fine, then. You're the captain."
Yoshimura tossed the black tricorn hat onto Vinci's lap.
"Now go talk to your crew."
Vinci regains his dexterity with alarming speed, it seems- he could barely shuffle out of bed at first, but a few laps around the cabin and he was moving like normal. And now, with all the assembled pirates were waiting out on the deck, with me at his shoulder and Jack at the other, he looks as confident as ever.
He walks out, and grins in the sunlight, looking out over the waves on all sides. "Well, here we have it," he says. "Freedom. We can go anywhere we please, do what we like. Hell, we're pirates! That's what we're meant to do! But as for me…" His smile widens as he puts a boot up on the railing, and a chance breeze sends his labcoat billowing majestically behind him. "Like I said when I broke all of you free: I've got a plan. Those of you who don't like what I put forth, you're free to leave on the next island. But for the rest of you, the ones who want to see everything the world can throw at you, to find every hidden secret, to live as no poor land-bound bastard ever could...I ask you this. Will you sail with me? To the Grand Line, and to the end of the world?"
The cheering damn near pops my eardrums. Huh. It's not every day you see a group so devoted to committing suicide.
"So what's the plan, here?" I ask Vinci quietly as we head back into the ship.
"What's our state of supplies?" the captain asks Jack. The big man shrugs.
"Could be worse. Plenty of food and fresh water, the ship's well-maintained. Got a few of the crew scrubbing Marine insignia off it or painting it over, and we've got powder and shot for more than long enough, assuming we aren't trying for a full-on battle."
"Found a strongbox in the hold with a hundred thousand. That's what we've got."
I raise a hand. "Um...there's about a hundred million on my skiff."
"How the hell-"
"I collected a largish bounty before all this craziness. So, that should be helpful," I answer Jack. "Long story, and kinda personal."
"Still, it helps," Vinci says. "Alright. Jack, right?"
The man nods. "Yeah."
"You're quartermaster now. Congratulations. Now, who's been navigating?"
I raise a hand. "Stars and swearing at people, mostly," I admit. "I'm no expert at sailing. Mostly been making for open water, but have a decent idea where we are."
"Can we make Murky Island?"
It takes me a moment to remember exactly which place he's referring to. It's close to where I started my journey off, as islands in the Blues go. And it's somewhere I really wasn't hoping to go back to.
"Should be pretty easy. A few days travel."
Vinci smiles. "Then set a course, mate. I've got a plan."
"You're hunting for Black Hawk Sandor's treasure?" Jack asks. "Crews vanish trying that, Captain."
"Why would I hunt for something that doesn't exist, or is impossible to find? No, we're going there to redecorate the ship, take on supplies, and keep moving. Murky's the closest island that has a town and doesn't have Marines. Best to keep low and quiet, and do what needs doing."
Jack looks relieved. "Aye, Captain."
"Oh, and could you round up any of the crew with medical knowledge? I'll need to talk to them, got some ideas they'll need to help me with."
"Um...aye, I'll get that done."
"Excellent. Oh, Kaneki, you're now first mate. And in charge of getting these laggards into fighting shape."
"Fighting shape? I know this crew, Captain, they're all veteran pirates," Jack growls. "If you think otherwise…"
"They're pirates. But we're headed for the Grand Line. They'll need to be more than what they currently are, if we want them all to survive," Vinci says. "And I have no intention of losing anyone because we neglected to strengthen ourselves. And my own designs are more...invasive, than I think anyone would want. So, Kaneki, strength and stamina training."
I nod. "I'll see what I can do."
They're a crowd of disparate mooks at this point, so I can't just drop Master Zoss's training regime on them...well I wouldn't even if they were as strong as me, I couldn't find the giant animals to fight anyway.
I've got a crew, I've got a captain, and I've got a job.
Time to get to work.