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The Butcher Bird (One Piece SI)

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I have no idea how Vinci managed to get this much surgical equipment, or how he managed to retrofit a section of the ship's storage to be his lab without me actually noticing. To be fair, I have been pretty bad about noticing things for the week or so since we've left Murky behind. Hell, I'd even somehow missed the fact that we'd painted the ship's hull a distinguished grey with a red deck, or that we'd named the damn thing. The Ends Justified.Really? Being a little unsubtle there, Vinci.

Personally, I blamed the horse-doses of caffeine I was consuming, far more than my usual intake, as I tried to figure out how to play the guitar properly. I was doing better, but clearly I needed different priorities if I was starting to miss so many things due to obsession over one task.

"You know, usually when I cut someone open when they're still alive, they tend to be a lot more explicit about it. Especially if they aren't getting anesthetic," Vinci comments.

I don't move, and not just because I'm on my belly while Vinci cuts open my back, exposing my spine and muscles. "Do you have any anesthetic that would actually work?" I ask instead, looking away.

"Fair point. Now, you feel this?"

It's...a strange sensation. Like he's poking at...not a blister, but something filled with fluid. Can't quite think of a word that isn't creepy. "Yeah. Is that where my tails come from?"

"Looks like it. And, here's the interesting part- you've got more. There's two more right here, but there's also a couple other spots...looks like upper back, middle back, and your tailbone all have their own clusters."

What was the official term...Kakuhuo? Something like that, I wasn't well-versed in the lore before coming here and however long I spent being batshit in the jungle, added to the two years of training, has jarred a lot loose, for both franchises.

Whatever. Focusing on what exactly I remember is actually fairly helpful for keeping my mind off the fact that my back is almost-literally flayed open.

"So even more tails, then," I grunt.

"Maybe not. All of the other clusters are...underdeveloped. I'm not sure what would be necessary to make them functional just yet."

There's a brief moment of pressure, and an additional spike of pain.

"Alright. Got my samples, I'll close you up and administer the counteragent for the suppressant."

"How the hell did you even figure that out?" I grumble as he goes to work.

"It's actually a medical treatment for hyperhemophilia. A bit pricey and far too difficult to make outside of a clinic, but it seems to do the trick here."

I freeze. "...do I want to know how?"

"Well, we know your regeneration is centered around your blood, now, dahahaha!"

"Please stop doing science to my body," I groan, resting my forehead on the cool metal of the examination slab.

"Now that I have those samples, plus the bits I retrieved from the Hound officers, don't think I'll need to."

"How is that reassuring, and yet terrifying?"

"Because you know that my research transcends both mundane intellect and almost every sort of ethics laws in existence?"

"If you clone me I will make you eat your own limbs," I deadpan as Vinci jams a syringe into my back and my skin begins to regenerate along the cuts he'd made. When he taps my shoulder, I slide off the slab and begin to pull my jacket back on. Poor thing had taken a beating during my fight with the Hounds, and now my own rough stitches blended into the feather-patterns. At least they weren't totally noticeable, and I'd manage to patch the rents up.

"So, World's Most Terrifying Doctor, initial findings?" I ask.

"Hm...well, based on the initial blood samples...one, you're probably a very shitty prototype for a super-soldier program, two, I'd bet that you're either biologically immortal or damn well close."

I freeze. "Care to explain?"

He shrugs. "Alright, so, I picked up a few strange differences. First, your bloodstream is filled with malformed cells that aren't erythrocytes, leukocytes, or thrombocytes...er, red, white, and platelet cells."

I nod. "I know my biology. No need to elaborate."

"I managed to get a couple isolated, and I'm pretty sure they're what your tails are made of. They seem to be some strange cross between neurons, myocytes, and erythrocytes. They can slot together or separate, they respond to nerve signals, but they thrive in a liquid medium like your blood plasma... fascinating little things. But here's where it gets weird. I tested other blood samples, from the rest of the crew, and I found some that matched. Far fewer, but they were there. And the strongest of the crew had higher concentrations."

"Okay, so?"

"I think that someone figured out that these C-cells- they're shaped like a capital C- existed. They're damnably hard to find and in normal people...well, I had to come up with a specific test to isolate them from everyone's bloodstream except yours. They're about one in a million for anyone else, but for you they're about five percent of the cell life in your blood. But! That massive quantity is probably the secret to your durability, since the cells link together in response to an attack, and to your regeneration since they can coordinate far more easily than a normal healing response."

"And the... eating people?"

Vinci frowns. "I'll need to examine your digestive tract samples, but I think that the hyper-concentration of C-cells needs to be replenished, and that your own body can't do it without outside help. The response to anything not human flesh or coffee is probably engineered in…"

"Why the engineering theory, again?"

"Because I think a large enough injection of C-cells would work to turn someone from a normal human into...one of you. Making a superhumanly durable, deadly soldier, who can grow their own weapons, don't require normal food, and who can take on entire pirate crews single-handed? I'd make these in a jiffy if it weren't for the cannibalism."

"But what about the immortality?"

"Oh, that's easy. Your regeneration probably keeps age at bay. That, and the fact that while the legends of Murky's 'jungle demons' extend more than a century back, they stop being reported almost exactly when you say you left the island."

I let out a breath. "I...need a bit to think about this."

"Take your time. We are pulling into Walker Island tomorrow, though. Did you notice that decision?"

"Hush, you, and yes I did. We're getting the best weaponry we can, right?"

"Black market, but yes, we are."

"Good. You need me for anything in particular on that island?"

Vinci taps a scalpel against his palm for a moment, the glass-edged blade shining. "Hmm. I'll send a couple of the crew with you."

"You don't trust me?" I ask with a teasing smile.

"I do, but try to be nice to them. The less terrified the others are of you, the better."

"Jack been complaining?"

"Your being locked up in your room or otherwise not in the mood for talking doesn't help, either."

I shrug. "Fine. I'll try to be more personable to the crew. Put them at ease."

"Good man. Now, get out of here. I have cell cultures to analyze."

"Ja, ja, I'm going."


Jack slumped forward, panting for breath. The former Hound next to him did the same, both of their respective weapons being held in death grips.

"How...the fuck...are you...this strong?" the Hound growled. "You could barely keep up with me and Wyald before!"

Kaneki laughed. "What, I could barely keep up when I was being poisoned within an inch of my life, and you expect taking me in a straight fight to be easy? You should know better." The ghoul shrugged. "But let's take a break. I don't think beating the two of you into the ground is quite the objective here. After all, you've still got cardio next."

The man grinned with no small amount of sadism, but Jack ignored it in favor of taking heaving breaths, trying to shove some strength back into his shaking legs. He was stronger than just about anyone else on the crew, but Kaneki- and Vinci- were on a completely different level, more monsters than men. Well, at least in Kaneki's case it made sense. Vinci, though…

Jack shook his head, spraying a not inconsiderable amount of sweat from his prodigious beard, and rolled his shoulders before starting the downright sadistic run Kaneki had mandated for him. There was no real benefit to questioning the origins of Vinci's outright terrifying strength.

Not when he needed to get that strong himself.

Running around the Ends Justified's deck, carrying his weapons and a backpack filled with ballast, put him a step further towards that goal, no matter how bad the ache in his muscles. And he was still doing better on the run than most of the crew, despite being built more like a gorilla with a steroid habit than a runner. It was both baffling...and entertaining.

An ordinary vessel, even in the Blues, couldn't dedicate as much time to mass training as they did and not pay the price in watchfulness and combat effectiveness. And in the South, the wildlife was a bigger threat than that of pirates or Marines alike…

"GROAARRRR!"

Case in point, the battleship-sized Greater Aquamarine Crested Serpent that had just surfaced to port, making a threat display to drive them away from its hunting grounds.

What? His last crew hadn't had much for him to do and the only books on board had been on the local sealife. He could practically quote the damn things down to the footnotes.

Jack grinned, and hefted his hammer, all feelings of weariness gone. "Hello, beastie. You're dinner."

"Gruhr?"

One thing the book hadn't mentioned, though, was that Serpents could most definitely show fear.

"Ukko!" THWACK!

One very dead sea serpent and a rather annoyed ship's cook later, Jack caught a bit of space to himself, glad to have finished his training on a high note.

They'd pull into Walker by the time the day was out. And he needed a heavier hammer- this one was practically feather-light at this point.

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Walker Island is... interesting. While it apparently provides a plurality of weaponry to the Marines around the world, thanks to the outright massive arms factories that are visible looming in the distance...it also provides, via a thriving black market, arms and armor to pirates and criminals. There's no Marine garrison, and the Walker Arms Company's own goon squad provide all the security, which would explain it. Selling to both sides? That's just good business, especially when the Company can supply the black market through middlemen. All an open secret, but the threat of Walker's armories going full pirate keeps the Marines from taking the place over.

Also, the place is fucking freezing. I don't know what meteorological abomination spawned this place but it feels like someone decided dumping a chunk of Siberia in the ocean was a smart idea. I can see my breath, and the rest of the crew isn't doing much better.

Thankfully, one of the things we picked up on Murky was a lot of new tailoring. We have a sort-of uniform now, mostly white or grey jackets lined with fur and with our crew's symbol on the lapel. Subtle? No. But we're pirates, subtle went out the window a while ago. And more importantly, they're warm.

Only the 'officers' of our crew are exempt from the uniform, but we still show that we're part of the crew- I've used my stitching to pick out the Jolly Roger in white on my jacket, Vinci's done the same with his lab coat, while Jack had apparently gone the masochistic route and had it tattooed on his chest. Herman, for his part, has it on the backs of his gauntlets. The mutt's nose allowing him to literally smell the weather had caused Vinci to appoint him as navigator, which I wasn't disputing in the slightest. Someone else figuring out how to get where we wanted to go was perfectly fine in my book.

"You two ready to go?" I ask, tapping my foot on the deck as we pull up to the docks. If I was still squishy and human, I'd be bundled up, but I'm not, and so the only additions to my jacket are a pair of fingerless gloves and a dark red scarf that's wrapped all the way up to my nose.

The two crewmates Vinci assigned to follow me nod, both of them shivering slightly. Lewo Ostavila's one of the three women on the crew, a tough-as-nails bitch who's one of the nastier knife fighters on the crew. And Dobre Pavilno, while kinda weedy, is still a hell of a marksman.

"Alright. So, we've got a list of hardware that Vinci wants us to acquire, got the money, and got the ability to scare our way to a discount. Any ideas where to start?" I ask as we head down the gangplank.

Pavilno shrugs, taking a drag of his cigarette. "For the small arms? I know a guy, Antonin, who's good enough to get his hands on Walker's latest weaponry. Greedy bastard, but it's worth it."

"And the cannon and blades?"

"Can't help on the heavy stuff, but Fairban O'lean makes his own blades and gear," Ostavila notes. "Good quality. Not masterworks, but it'll last on the Line." She pauses. "Sir, we are going to head for the Line, right?"

I nod. "I'm not sure what Vinci's end goal is, but he wants to go through the whole world, the Line included. Why?"

"It's just...well, it's basically hell."

I laugh. "Oh, you haven't seen anything. It's after you get into the New World that you enter hell, because the ones who make it there? They call the first half of the Line Paradise."

Ostavila's tanned skin, practically turned to leather by years of sun and salt, still manages to go pale. "What the hell are we in for?" she mutters.

"Oh, don't worry. Once you lot are strong enough, I'll start giving you tutoring in some of the really nasty stuff that'll actually let you all survive this," I say with a grin. "Speaking of that, we need some multiple-ton weights, too."

Pavilno makes a squeaking noise. Probably fear. I throw an arm over his shoulders. "Relax, gunner. They aren't for you, they're for the officers. After all, we're going to have to be real monsters by Blue standards to make it on the Line, right?"

"I- I guess you're right," he stammers.

"When it comes to how tough enough training can make people? Of course I am," I say with a smile. "Now, let's go purchase some portable death!"


Walker Island's black market was most famous for weaponry in all its diverse forms. But that wasn't what Vinci was looking for today. Nor was it the more mundane chemicals and solutions he needed for his work- Jack was handling those purchases.

No, his target today was based around a single conversation he'd had with Kaneki.

"So, you think all these changes are surgical, or are they DNA-based?" Kaneki asked.

Vinci looked up from the slide he was putting together- a blood cell stain. "DNA?"

"Um...shit, deoxyribonucleic acid, the basic building block of your bloodline?" Kaneki said, sweatdropping. "Do you...not know about that?"

"Nobody knows about that," Vinci growled, slide forgotten. "But apparently you do. Explain."

"In the middle of the cell, the nucleus, it's highly compacted and extremely small, but it's basically the code every individual cell uses for building anything living. If you change it you can change physical traits, but you've got to map the whole thing out first and that's kind of a shit-show, and why are you smiling like that?"

Vinci's grin widened as he cracked his knuckles. "I think," he said, enunciating carefully, "that your little tidbits of knowledge are going to be a wonderful gift to the scientific community. Now, are you going to explain how you know all that?"

"My past is mysterious, wooooo~"

Vinci felt a vein pop on his forehead. "Fine. But explain everything. Now."

"On it!"

DNA. Despite Kaneki's reservations, Vinci didn't think it would be so difficult to crack open a 4-letter code based around creating simple protein structures. But none of the equipment he had on board was suited for examining anything that small...hence his sojourn into the black market.

From examination would come knowledge. From knowledge would come power. And from power…

Well. First he had to determine if he could actually examine the things. From there it would be a lot of chemical work and careful puzzling...but he would make progress.

He'd told Jack to purchase specimen tanks for a reason, after all, and it wasn't just for lab animals.

No...it was for something else Kaneki had babbled about. A legend from his home, he said, but the mechanics seemed sound enough...though the name seemed a bit underwhelming.

Primarch? Ridiculous. He knew he'd name this project Apotheosis.


"So, thirty-three Kalashnikov semi-automatics, twenty Izhmash shotguns, twelve Dragunov heavy marksman rifles, six Silin gatling weapons, forty Tokarev revolvers...you are making quite a dent in my inventory," Chokhov Antonin grumbles. I don't know why everyone here speaks with a Russian accent, and part of me suspects my sanity would not survive me learning why. But it's certainly made negotiations entertaining. I smile. "Money's good, though, ain't it?"

"Bah! True enough, and I suppose I can let go of that much for what you are offering. As a gift, I shall include a goodly amount of ammunition to go along with your shipment. Call it good will for making such a purchase."

"I'm also told you move weapons acquired...less reputably?" I ask carefully.

"I have been known to do such things, yes," Antonin rumbles.

"Well, what would you say to an assortment of ex-Marine weaponry?"

"I would say you are playing a dangerous game...and then perhaps take them, for a reduced price. Better than any you would get, most do not trade in such things and serial numbers and such will need to be destroyed. Not difficult work but ensuring that my shipments are not traced by the good men in white is...aggravating. We can arrange the transfer alongside my delivery, yes?"

"Not a problem. Here's your advance." I thunk down a stack of bills. "How long will it take to get everything together?"

Antonin shrugs. "A couple days, at least. Moving that much ordnance without it being obvious enough that Walker Arms will 'take notice'...again, not precisely difficult, but a hindrance, you see?"

"Fair enough. We'll be there."


With most of the crew out purchasing supplies, and no real job to do with the ship safely docked, Herman had decided to meditate.

He wasn't a swordsman- or, rather, he didn't think of himself as one. Being a swordsman implied skill and flourishes, fancy footwork and extravagant bullshit.

Fuck that. His job wasn't to be subtle or quick or deceitful, his job was to cut down the enemy. And... alright, it sounded ridiculous even in his head, like some mystic trying to pull a con... but it seemed like Amakatta felt the same way.

Yes, a blade having a mind of its own sounded nuts, but he could turn into a giant dog, so clearly sanity was long dead.

And so he tried something he wouldn't have considered otherwise. He sat cross-legged on the deck, his sword laid across his lap, closed his eyes, and breathed.

In. Out. With every exhalation, he let go further. Of fear, of anger, of every emotion and thought. His breath steamed in the freezing air, and the cold nipped at him even through his fur-lined cloak. He ignored it.

For long moments, nothing happened.

And then he felt…

RagekillhuntbloodformybladeSKULLSFORYOURTHRONE-

His eyes snapped open, and he stared down at the blade he held in a deathgrip, blood trickling from the palms he'd gashed open grabbing it.

"You…you're a bloodthirsty thing, aren't you?' he murmured. Amakatta seemed to shiver, and Herman grinned.

"I can work with that."

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"Enjoying yourself?"

I grin at Ostavila's acrid tone, and flip the trench knife into the air, catching and balancing it on a finger. "Maybe I am," I admit. "After all, Fairbain gave us a fair price for the weapons, and Jack managed to find us an ordnance dealer pretty damn quick. We'll be off in a week and there's no problems on the horizon, so why worry?"

She sighs. "Fine. But stop spinning the damn thing around. It's not a toy."

"No, it's a well-made and very lethal weapon," I shoot back, before sliding the knife- a foot-long chunk of sharp metal topped by a knuckle-duster- into my belt. "But fine."

"Why did you go and buy it, though?" Pavilno asks. "No offense, sir, but it's...not as good as what you can already do."

I nod. "True, I'm tougher and meaner using what I've already got. But it's also distinctive, and obvious. If I want to have even a bit of anonymity, I can't just wave my tails at every would-be mugger."

Ostavila leans back in her chair, scanning the bar's patrons again, while Pavilno nods, sending his frankly ridiculous-looking black pompadour bobbing. "Guess that makes sense," he says. "But who'd mug you?"

"You'd be surprised how stupid people can be," I mutter into my (shitty) coffee.

"Personal experience?" Ostavila asks.

I shake my head. "Just observation." A bit of memory flashes through my head, of a certain green-haired idiot getting lost down a straight hallway.

The bar door creaks open, and Ostavila looks up at the sound before freezing. I follow her eyes…

"Okay, should I be terrified or not?" I ask lightly, looking at the man who's just walked in. He wears a blue-and-white full-face mask lined with holes, blond hair spilling down to his waist in a way that would probably make whoever produces Dragon Ball start screaming for a lawyer. Strange-looking bracers on his wrists, probably weapons of some kind, and a sheath at his waist with two blades inside. Not especially intimidating, even so, because he's built like a reed.

He stares at me, and I realize my comment's carried through the entire bar.

"Are you joking?" Pavilno hisses, sweating slightly. "That's one of 'Captain' Kid's crewmates!"

"And you can tell that...how?"

"Because he's got a bounty. 'Massacre Soldier' Killer. Fifteen million," Ostavila deadpans. "His boss is three times that, through sheer brutality."

"Huh." I give the unfortunately named man a nod. "You here to stare or drink?" I ask with a grin.

Ostavila's forehead hits the bar table with a dull thunk. "You're insane," she drones. "Completely and utterly."

"You didn't realize that earlier?" I ask cheerily.

I turn back to Killer, and blink. Somehow the man has pulled up a seat at our table, and has armed himself with a massive mug of beer, with a bendy straw, all without making a sound. And considering we were on the other end of the bar from the entrance...

My grin widens. "You're fast."

"And you're mouthy," the man grunts. His mask turns from side to side, taking in Pavilno on my right and Ostavila on my left. "And fellow pirates," he continues, in a slightly lighter tone. "What's your end goal?"

"That's our captain's call," I say with a shrug. "Myself, I have obligations to be met in the New World, and need to get stronger to survive fulfilling them. You?"

"My captain's searching for the One Piece."

The bar goes still.

And then some idiots start laughing.

I can feel Killer's eyes twitch, and the glare he levels at me as I reach across the table and put a hand on his shoulder.

"How about you dumb fuckers shut the hell up?" I say, voice pitched just right to sound casual but to carry across the entire bar. "The One Piece is real, and-"

More laughing, and my eyes twitch themselves before shifting into black and red. I let go of Killer's shoulder. "My friend, it appears we need to educate these idiots in the finer points of piracy," I say, very calmly. "Do try not to murder them, though. Viscera is so hard to clean out of floorboards, and I'd like to avoid any trouble with Walker Arms's goons."

"Fine by me," Killer says. "Captain wants us to stay low today anyway."

"Ostavila? Pavilno? Watch our backs," I add, picking up a chair and swinging it experimentally.

Everything after that gets a little...fuzzy.


"So, that's how it started?" Jack said, in a tone of mild disinterest as he watched the chaos raging through the black market.

Kaneki nodded. The ghoul didn't look any worse for wear, and though the two of the crew with him looked shaken, neither of them had any wounds either.

Which was surprising, considering how the situation on shore was rapidly going from 'riot' to 'small war'.

Jack took a deep breath. "And how, exactly, did it turn into...this?"

Kaneki scratched the back of his head, smiling. "Apparently some people believe in the One Piece, others don't, and it kinda...escalated."

"Uh-huh. And the Kid Pirate who started this whole thing?"

"Oh, he's right over there," Kaneki said cheerily, pointing out a small space in the fight where a masked man was using someone as a makeshift flail. "He's got a bigger stake in the fight, so figured I'd let him work out some stress."

Jack suppressed the urge to work out his own stress on Kaneki's skull. All it'd accomplish would be hurting his hand.

"Please tell me you at least arranged for the guns to be delivered," he grit out.

"Small arms, blades, and the chaser cannons Vinci wants for the bow, everything's arranged." Kaneki glanced over at the docks as lines of men wearing brown uniforms and Walker Arms's circle-and-W logo began to converge on the riot.

"You're lucky," Jack growled, and Kaneki cocked his head. "They're stopping it before it reaches the warehouse district."

"So?"

"So we're not stuck here for even longer thanks to the people we paid losing their wares to fire or looting."

"Oh." The ghoul shrugged. "Guess I am lucky, then."

As it turned out, he didn't need to slap some sense into Kaneki's skull- Ostavila was more than willing to do it for him.

It was amazing how fast weaponry could be delivered on this island, Herman mused as the crew fell upon the crates of ammunition and armaments like a pack of starving wolves. Only ten were being held back- literally, in a couple cases- and that was because Jack had conscripted them into installing the triple-barrelled guns they'd custom-ordered the replace the Ends Justified's Marine-standard chaser armament.

"Crazy bastards, aren't they?" Kaneki said from his spot next to him, leaning on the railing. The ghoul first mate grinned. "Getting all worked up about guns and swords."

"Not everyone can be a demon like you and grow their own weapons," he growled back. The first mate just laughed.

"Fair, fair. At least they're not actually fighting each other over them."

"HEY, YOU ASSHOLES!"

"Huh, well, a fight found us anyway," the first mate deadpanned. Herman just stared. Some ostentatious-looking fucker who smelled of hair gel and murder was shouting obscenities from the edge of the docks, accompanied by the masked guy Kaneki had talked about.

Hadn't that guy been locked up during the riots?

Meh, pirates, he probably broke out or got broken out. Herman was actually a little surprised it had taken a week.

"What fresh hell is this?" the Captain growled as he stepped out onto the deck.

"Pretty sure Captain Kid's pissed at us for some reason. Not sure why, I was on the same side as his guy during the brawl last week," Kaneki mused.

Vinci sighed. "Okay. I'll find out what's going on." He stepped up onto the rail, straightening his tricorn. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?"

"FUCK YOU THAT'S WHAT! YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO BREAK SOMEONE OUT WITHOUT ALERTING THE ENTIRE FUCKING ARMS COMPANY ABOUT IT? REALLY FUCKING HARD! I WANT MY POUND OF FLESH, ASSHOLE!"

"Kaneki, are you sure you didn't fight any Kid Pirates during the brawl?"

The first mate cocked his head. "Killer over there had my back. But I'm pretty sure tall, ginger, and veiny over there isn't thinking rationally."

"Okay, great. WE DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOUR GUY GETTING LOCKED UP! GO BEAT UP WALKER IF YOU WANT TO FIGHT SOMEONE!"

"FUCK YOU YOU STITCH-LOVING WEIRDO! YOUR BOYS STARTED THE DAMN BRAWL IN THE FIRST PLACE, NOW COME DOWN HERE AND TAKE YOUR DAMN LUMPS!"

The Captain sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "He's not going to leave unless I fight him, is he?"

"Nope," Kaneki and Herman said simultaneously.

"Wonderful. Herman, get us ready to sail. I don't know how tough this guy is but I don't want to stay here any longer than we have to. Kaneki, handle Killer."

"Damn. Do I have to-"

"Don't kill him, just keep the crew and the ship safe."

"Fair."

Vinci vaulted the rail, and Kaneki followed.

Herman, for his part, started yelling at the crew to get their asses onboard.

What? It wasn't like Vinci was going to lose to a two-bit punk like Kid. Wyald had nearly three times the bounty, and he'd been beaten like a steel drum. Victory was certain.

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"So, you seem pretty level-headed, why sign up with the angry ginger?" I inquire curiously, deflecting a swung scythe with my knife.

"God damn it Kaneki, you don't get to do that to everyone you meet!" Herman yells from the sidelines.

I flip him off and then duck another one of Killer's telegraphed blows. Neither the masked man and I are actually fighting, more just throwing random slashes at each other so that nobody gets hurt. Vinci had gone Monster Mode and yanked Kid off somewhere at ludicrous speed, and I'd sent Pavilno and Ostavila in their general direction with a transponder snail, just in case.

"Kid? We've known each other since we were little," Killer says flatly as he blocks my knife on the flat of his right scythe. "He's an asshole, sure, but he's got a dream and I'll be damned if I don't help him achieve it."

"Gonna be kinda hard once my captain beats him down for his dickishness," I say with a smile. Killer just grunts, and swings a bit harder than normal, forcing me back a step.

There's silence for several minutes as we put on a show, neither one of us really willing to actually fight. Then Killer speaks again.

"This is stupid."

I grin. "Fighting because our captains our when our crews don't really have anything to fight over? Yeah."

Killer lowers his scythes. "Fuck this. Do you know how to play chess?"

Huh. I smile. "Yes. Yes I do."


The South Blue Marine Headquarters was a massive edifice, a perfect example of centralized power and grandeur.

It was also drowning in paperwork.

Marineford only concerned itself with assigning bounties to pirates that made a real name for themselves, the edge cases that might actually make it onto the Line. Less than one in a hundred of the pirate crews out there both wanted to and were able get past Reverse Mountain. That left the other ninety-nine to SBHQ, and while they weren't the island-obliterating, all-destroying threats that their ilk on the Line could be...they still were threats to the people of the South Blue.

And right now the proverbial smoke-filled room where bounty prices were assigned had someone new to worry about.

Five men sat there. Three were responsible for the smoke in the room, all of them going through cigarettes as though there was no tomorrow. One man, in a pure white coat, sat at the head of the table, the remaining four split evenly on each of his sides. Each of the four lacked coats, instead wearing basic suits.

"We're certain he's the captain?" one, a man with a small goatee, asked.

"We weren't sure initially, given the subordinate taking the lead in the prison break...but after what happened on Murky Island we're sure of it." his opposite number replied.

"Taking down a pirate like Wyald...how much damage did that cause?"

"Surprisingly little. The subordinate concerns me more, to be honest."

"Hmph. He should," The oldest-looking man among the five stated. "Given what little we've found of the Lanius Pirates, and the 'escape' of the Hound officers…"

"Don't tell me you think that backwoods superstition is true?"

"I don't. But it's more than possible a fishman or Devil Fruit user is taking advantage of it. Or that we have someone who believes they're one. Right down to the cannibalism."

The man at the head of the table leaned forward. "And the brat has managed to get someone like that in his service. To say nothing of the other pirates he's pulled together under his banner."

"Commodore...they're dregs," the goateed man said.

"They're dregs that he had the charisma to rally together and rebrand as a new crew," the man at the head of the table countered. "Look at the facts. Rubeus Jack, bosun of the Account Pirates. Bosque Herman, third mate of the Hound Pirates. Various members of the defunct Account, Trawler, and Eyetooth crews. And a monstrously strong individual who managed to put a third of Yardam's garrison in traction on his own and who needed heavy artillery to be delayed. Add to that the fact that his grandfather was an ex-Commodore who responded to a request to speak with him with high explosives, and we may have a situation. The only reason I am not advocating for a task force being assigned to crush these...Nightmares...is because he seems to be a moderating influence on a collection of disparate monsters. As it is...the bounty stands. For both him, and his officers." The man stood, and walked over to the wall-length window that dominated the window, looking out over the town. From this high up, they could see the edges of the harbor, and the cages and gibbets that served as a warning to every pirate that had ambitions in the direction of the Line.

"And if he comes here...when he comes here...we will crush him," he said.


"Check. And mate."

I glare at the chessboard, then at Killer. "How the hell are you this good?"

The man shrugs. "Practice."

"Knew I should have suggested poker. You can cheat at poker," I grumble.

"You'd also lose money at poker," the man says. He's smiling. I can tell.

Where someone like him got a chessboard, I have no idea, but at least someone dragged over a few crates for us to sit on and play. The rest of the crew's keeping a distance- I think they're not too certain of how to handle something like this.

"Urgh, fine. Play aga-"

Puru puru puru-click.

"What?" I ask flatly.

"Oh, God…" Pavilno sobs.

Oh, shit.

"Vinci...THE CAPTAIN'S DOWN!"

I'm fast. Killer's faster…

But he is not prepared for me to raise my hand and simply catch the scythe he swings at my head. Nor is he prepared for my tails to burst free and strike. One coils around his ankles, a second seizes him by the throat. The last two crush the mechanisms of his scythes- and, judging from the splintering noises, breaking at least one bone in the hands and wrists under them.

"I'm sorry about this," I say quietly. "But my crew comes first."

"Heh- argh- I'd do the same." The masked man looks at me. "Looks like I've lost. Maybe if you hurry, you can trade me for your captain."

I shift my tails slightly, coiling one so that Killer is held aloft, arms pinned to his sides.

And then I run, as fast as I can.

My captain needs me.


Vinci knew he was done.

The frenzied high of Monster Mode had come and gone, and it had taken everything he'd had to stay standing after that. His breathing was erratic, each gulp of air seeming to weigh a ton.

He'd thought he could take the hotheaded idiot before the effects wore off. And judging from the way the bastard was favoring his right side and not moving the arm where Vinci had grazed him, if he'd actually been able to hitthe bastard it would've been a short fight.

But instead he'd had to waste precious time as the bastard pulled a storm of weaponry out of the buildings around them, bullets and blades keeping him at bay and on the run.

Two daggers hurled themselves at him, and he couldn't muster up the strength to dodge.

Upper thigh. Left shoulder. Pain.

"Fuck, you were a tough bastard," the idiot said, walking closer, dagger in hand.

Vinci managed to force his head upright, and glare at him. The idiot's sneering smile vanished, and Vinci's vision swam as a fist cracked against his skull.

"You going to look at me like that? Savor that. It'll be the last thing you see."

The knife moved.

Vinci's world went dark.

It didn't end, though.

"You're gonna remember me. You and your whole damn crew."

The knife cut again, carving a matching pair of lines on his face.

"You're gonna remember right up to the-"

"Enough."

He couldn't see, could barely think past the pain. But he knew that voice.

Kaneki had come.

Pressure at his neck, cold metal. "Get the hell back!" the idiot shouted. "Or I kill him now."

"Do that, and your first mate dies as well. And then you."

"You think you can take me?"

"It is not about thought. Let him go, and I'll let mine go. Nobody else gets hurt today."

The knife at Vinci's neck vanished, and he was shoved forward. Before he could hit the ground, something warm wrapped itself around him. To his pain-addled brain, it felt... comforting.

He didn't hear what happened next, or feel Kaneki's stride. Instead, he slipped away into unconsciousness.