My twined-together tails deflect off the smiling fucker's fist in another ineffectual spray of sparks, and said fist slams into my chest, nearly knocking me off my feet and popping a couple ribs into my lung in the process. My tails push me back into the fray, and I duck underneath Smiley’s haymaker and slam the trench spike in my hand into his ribs, hoping steel will work - but no dice, the damn thing bends.
I leap back with a snarl, and drop the useless weapon to the deck with a clatter. "Multiple Scaled Spikes!"
The sextet of tails slam into Smiley's chest, knocking him back but doing no actual damage.
So much for the pure offensive power of fire, I think, barely Shaving away from another punch in time. My legs are starting to burn - even with my regeneration dealing with the worst - and he...he doesn't even look tired.
I cough, forcing blood out of my lungs to drip through the fabric of the mask. I barely even notice my ribs snapping back into place as I watch Smiley silently, looking for an opening, any opening. His skin might be impervious, but there's no guarantee the same is true of his eyes or other orifices…
The problem, then, is hitting him, but he seems well aware of his weaknesses, arms raised in a classic defensive posture.
Still, that's my only option right now.
"Scale Cross! Twin Scaled Spikes!"
My first strike, crossing diagonal slashes, slam into Smiley's arms and, just like the rest, only produce sparks for their efforts.
But they also force his guard open for the briefest of moments, and two other tails lance straight for his eyes-
And he catches them, one in each hand.
I'm yanked off my feet as Smiley pulls hard, and feel my tails stretch painfully as he swings me like a toy.
I hit a mast spine-first, and my legs go numb with a crack before I fall to the deck. Blood patters and pools on the dark wood, dripping from my chest and head.
This is intolerable , the Dragon snarls. Give me control, and I shall burn through his protection with ease.
And let you murder my friends? Not happening.
A thunderbolt of pain rips through my head, like a migraine headache trying to drill through my eyeball. I clutch at my right eye, trying not to scream.
Foolish child. I cannot allow you to bring us both to death.
And if I bring you out for every difficult fight, how am I supposed to get stronger? I mentally rasp, keeping half an eye on Smiley, who hasn't moved to attack yet. I can beat him.
You're a foolish child…
The pain dulls and vanishes.
...but I will let you try. And you should get up quickly, before he-
My tails launch me into the air, slashing as I dodge Smiley's fist. I reorient myself in midair, feeling snapping back into place in my legs, and kick off, scanning the chaos below for him...
A slight breeze is all the warning I get before a two-handed blow slams into my back from above, sending me hurtling down to the deck. I crash into a group of skeletons, brief flares of pain hitting me as their bones shatter on my body.
Then Smiley lands on me, and I crash through the deck as his blow snaps my own bones like kindling. And then there's another, and another, and another, slamming into my torso over and over…
And then, they stop, as the familiar roar of an Impact Dial discharging fills my ears.
"You know, Boss, if you letting him beat you up so we could blindside him was the plan, you really shoulda told us," Eka says, voice fuzzy to my concussed ears.
I give the bearded Oni a wobbly grin as he helps me to my feet, halfway holding me up. "Thanks for the save."
"Any time, Boss. Got any idea how to beat this guy?"
I drag the back of my hand across my eyes, clearing blood from them, before looking around. This deck is clearly a gun deck, or was before Smiley decided to do some remodeling with my face. Cannon are scattered across the massive room, ripped from their rails, barrels of gunpowder and racks of cannonballs hurtled about willy-nilly. In the rough center, the remaining five Oni try to hold their ground against Smiley. They're not succeeding, and as I watch, Smiley dodges a blow from Pamca's kanabo before lashing out in a blow that sends the huge albino reeling back.
Wait. Dodges. Why would he...unless...
I grin beneath my mask.
"I do now."
Jack grimaced, resisting the urge to yank a knife out of his left arm. It'd just make the bleeding worse.
He really wasn't sure what the officer's role of the freak he was dealing with was, but whatever it was supposed to do, it seemed to require extra arms in place of legs and a few dozen more eyes than came standard, as well as a horrendous amount of agility and a very disconcerting ability to move silently across rigging and masts.
That, coupled with a seemingly endless supply of knives, had been enough to cut down half a dozen of his crew before Jack had intervened.
And enough to hit him before he could see the attack coming and use Iron Body.
But if he just waited for a clear shot…
At least the extremely creepy laughter was helping him get a fix on the fucker...
He spun his hammer slowly, listening intently as the laughter drifted toward his left. His bad side, thanks to the knife wound. Jack snorted, hammer continuing its slow revolutions as his fingers tensed on the trigger Lauren had welded into the hammer's haft. The new mechanisms changed the weight and balance slightly, but not nearly enough to matter.
A knife came hurtling from the mess of rigging from his left, and Jack slapped it aside with the haft, letting the weight of the hammerhead move him to face where it'd come from almost on instinct. The laughter continued, beginning to echo, carried on the sounds of battle all around him.
Another pair of knives, hurtling down from on high, and even as he knocked them aside he saw the scuttling shape of the freak lunge from the shadow of a mast, covering the distance at a speed that nearly rivalled a Shave-
His hammer came down on the thing’s body mid-step, smashing it flat.
Well, that was eas-
Pain lanced through his gut, and Jack fell to one knee, pressing one hand to his stomach and feeling blood. How-?!
Some half-conscious instinct made him lunge, and he felt a blade carve a trench along the side of his face, barely missing his throat and instead taking off a chunk of ear. He whirled, hammer lashing out, and hit nothing but air as his opponent jumped back.
The freak. But...how?!
“What the hell are you?” he coughed.
Lauren dodged to the side, dropping the truncated remnants of one of her carbines, severed by an air blade from the bitch's whip.
He should've finished her when she had the chance. What she got for being unprepared, then. Kaneki wouldn't have been finished off by a bullet turning his throat into chopped liver, therefore it was risky to assume any other pirate would've been any less durable.
If only she could reach her gas canisters, she could fade away into the chemical fog and attack at her leisure, but the bitch kept her on her toes with a constant barrage of air blades coming from that damn whip. How she kept the thing cutting, Lauren wasn't sure, but it resulted in a unpredictable flurry of attacks where all she could do was dodge and retaliate, with bullets that only seemed to annoy the bitch.
Oh, they hit and penetrated, all right, but even the frangible rounds didn't seem to actually hinder her opponent all that much.
She needed nastier bullets, then, but that was a problem for if she survived this fight.
She let her body take over, moving automatically in a well-remembered routine as she fired and reloaded, all while dodging the oncoming slashes.
Her carbine wasn't doing the job, which meant her best options were to use her heavy rifle, grenades, or her wind cannon. But she couldn't reach any of them, for the exact same reason she couldn't reach her gas.
She needed a moment to breathe, an opening, anything, but apparently the bitch's arm never tired. So how to make one?
Universe, if you're listening… she thought as she barely managed to dodge in between a pair of the slashes that left ragged gashes in the deck under her feet.
Lauren swore as she mistimed a jump and an air blade nicked her leg, sending her sprawling to the deck. She rolled to the side instantly, and that bought her another second, but yet another air blade cut off her retreat, and for half a shameful moment she froze, breathing heavily and staring frozen at the bitch, who took her time raising the whip for another strike…
Only to stagger back as bullet wounds blossomed over her increasingly ragged clothing like macabre roses. The bitch whirled, whip snapping out to launch another air blade at Pravilno, who had somehow snuck up on their fight, before she was abruptly smashed aside by a streak of silver - one that snapped back into Ostavila’s hands, slowing enough for Lauren to realize it was her weighted chain.
“Nobody fucks with our armorer,” Pravilno said with a grin, ignoring the cut on his cheek.
“Damn straight,” Ostavila replied, chain starting to spin again as Lauren pushed herself to her feet, watching the bitch where she lay. She was still twitching - the non-existent gods damn it, what did it take to put the bitch down permanently?
Eh, fire tended to cleanse.
Lauren’s hand brushed across her belt until she found the right canister, and she popped the pin, tossing it to where the brutalized body of her opponent lay. Greyish smoke obscured the site.
The second thing she pulled from her belt was a lighter.
“Hell’s Fire,” she said simply, tossing the flaming object into the gas, and tensing herself.
The shockwave nearly bowled her over, novice Iron Body or not, but when the flames passed...nothing but ash remained.
Lawrence Keith - far better known under his nom de prime of 'Doctor Death' (such unimaginative fools in the Marines) figured everything was under control. He sat up, brushing aside with ease the rubble of what had been a storage room for some of the countless Hands he had raised, and regarded his opponent, rubbing his chin.
Grigori Vinci stood, breathing heavily, a haze of electricity and steam condensing around him. His skin was flushed and red, and veins visibly stood out on nearly every inch of exposed skin.
He was uncertain as to how the golden, glowing eyes were produced, but official word of Grigori's exploits had included enough detail to intrigue him - and to induce Keith to reach out to his few contacts in the Marines and Government who had, in a previous life, turned to him to accomplish miracles. Those had provided more information, enough for Keith to start filling in blanks.
Grigori specialized in transhumans, augmenting ordinary people and making them into monsters. His two black-eyed creations - one of whom had disposed of the Gunnery Sergeant, Carpenter, and Engineer with ease, tearing his conjoined creation apart, while the other had engaged his First Mate and likely would have been victorious by now if not for Keith's work on his skin. Those were likely his triumphs, and Keith would make certain he retrieved some secrets to their function. But Vinci had clearly been working on his entire crew, making them more than mere humans.
Hmph. That would interfere with any data gathered on the surviving specimens, but when weighed against the physiological secrets he could uncover, that was not an issue.
But he was growing distracted. The issue at hand was far more pressing.
What Grigori was utilizing seemed to be some bastardized combination of biofeedback techniques coupled with the effects of more esoteric implants, closely mimicking either the Electro techniques of the Mink Tribes, or, more likely, a variant on the more mundane species of electrical eels.
Both techniques - electrical generation and boosted physical capabilities - required a great deal of fuel, and could in all probability not be sustained for any serious length of time. They rendered Grigori vastly superior to himself in terms of physical capabilities, but only temporarily.
The proper strategy, then, was to weather the onslaught and hoard his strength for the counterattack when Grigori weakened.
Keith processed all this in the half-second it took for Grigori to close the distance between them once more, fist lashing out at him as he shouted some asinine and grandiose attack name.
Keith twisted, his carefully-altered physiology - a complex system of organic hydraulics, enhanced ganglia and muscle, and cartilaginous bones - allowing him to dodge the blow almost bonelessly, and lashed out in a deceptively gentle swing of his hand that smacked the much smaller man into Theseus's decking.
Grigori landed hands-first, turning his motion into a roll with enviable agility, and came up with more blades in hand before laying into the Hands that had surrounded him at Keith's silent command. All too quickly Keith felt the destruction of dozens of the Hands reanimated by his Vita-Vita Fruit, as Grigori's weapons - some intriguing combination of wide-gauge needle, knife blade, and medical saw - carved through the skeletal army. Within moments, the deck around Grigori was littered with disconnected and shattered bones, the pirate doctor breathing heavily.
" And what, " Grigori growled, " is so damn funny? "
"Simply this," Keith said, inclining his head to look in the inferior doctor's eyes. "Come Forth, Lazarus."
Keith pushed life into the inert bones on the deck, all of them, across the entire length and breadth of the Theseus. Hundreds of old bones came back together, slotting themselves back into place despite lacking tendon and ligament to hold them together as they had in life. The specimens-to-be fell back, forming themselves into tight little clusters as the bones whipped past them. The truly intriguing cases - the black-eye and his pack, the werewolf and his hounds, the brute, and the revenant - all ignored the phenomenon in favor of focusing on their chosen opponents, but even they paused, as if sensing that this was a moment that needed every eye on it and demanded a silent audience.
Keith exhaled, and the perfectly arranged ranks of Hands snapped to attention, brandishing their weapons with perfect precision. Their numbers were slightly diminished by those who had been reduced to mere pieces of bone rather than simply bashed apart, but that wasn't much of a dent.
Beneath the layers of coats and scarves that protected his flesh from the light, Keith smiled.
The Hands attacked as one, shattering the silence with the clamor of war once again, and the slaughter began anew.
Grigori fell to one knee, panting, the aura of lightning vanishing. "Damn it," he rasped. "Is that the kind of power you hold?" His eyes bled gold, a steady pattering of ichor. Had he damaged them accidentally, or would they heal from the stresses put upon them? "Power over life and death?"
Keith inclined his head, granting a small measure of respect to his lesser. "As it should be," he said. "A captain already possesses such power over their crew...but in mine, everyone serves even past their death, and that makes me greater than any other captain, does it not?"
"It makes you a monster, to think that your right," Grigori growled. "To think you were once a physician…"
Keith laughed. "Come, now, 'Alley Doc'. We have both long since abandoned those idiotic and limiting oaths. You made your soldiers and turned your own body into a temple of the full capability of science...and I, I devoted myself to a greater path. If I am a monster...you must therefore be as well, no?"
"I...am nothing, nothing , like you."
Keith sighed, giving the nearest Hands a signal to seize the exhausted man. The skeletal soldiers forced him down to his knees, holding his arms out, and Grigori did not resist. Keith turned, striding to the rail of the raised deck, looking out over the combat. The Nightmares, caught unprepared for the arrival of 'fresh' forces, were gradually being forced back, some of them being shackled and knocked unconscious, others being reduced to useless, bleeding heaps, to be converted into Hands when the battle was through.
"You know, we could work together, you and I," Keith said, almost conversationally, crossing his arms behind his back. "You have no small amount of surgical skill, and your work implies a great deal of understanding of the basic underpinnings of life. You could join my quest, to truly understand life and death so that we could make the souls of men anew. And it is so rare to have decent conversation aboard this ship, much less that coming from someone capable of understanding even the least parts of my quest."
Out of the corner of his eye, Keith saw something flicker across Grigori's face. Time to sweeten the deal.
"I will even spare your most prized experiments, so long as they too bend the knee. They are, dare I say, capable work…"
"Is that the name you decided on? It bears some similarity to dialects from the land of Wano... what does it mean?"
Keith waited patiently for the fit of hysterical laughter to pass. Future specimens often succumbed to it when faced with his brilliance, and he supposed he could forgive a fellow scientist a lapse or two.
"It...it means one thing. That you are an idiot. "
Ah, well. A lapse, he could tolerate. Not insults. He pulled his sickle from his coat, turning as he slammed the blade into the deck with the force of his blow.
Keith stared as he saw that the only thing pinned on the blade of his sickle was Grigori's makeshift lab coat, the sleeves still clutched by the Hands. Where had he-
An iron-hard palm slammed into Keith's back, sending him staggering as his nervous system misfired, his body no longer obeying his commands properly.