The sun was just finishing it’s slow ascent into the cloudless sky as Jinbei neared his target, wooden sandals clacking against the uneven ground.
On either side of him was an ancient forest, enormous oak, hemlock, beech, and pine trees towering over him. Their lush leaves provided a thick canopy, almost blocking out the sky above entirely except for small glimpses of brilliant azure peeking through the leaves.
Ahead of him was a small clearing of tree stumps. To his left, a large cart was filled to the brim with logs, the once proud branches cut off from the ancient oaks. The branches were strewn carelessly in several haphazard piles a short distance away from the cart, the leaves already wilting in the midsummer heat of the island.
A snapping, crashing sound drew his eyes to his target, as the pirate kicked the tree near the base of the stump with enough force to fell the tree in one blow. The tree creaked and groaned as it fell to the ground, leaves shaking and rattling.
‘What monstrous strength for a human.’ Jinbei thought, watching as the pirate grabbed an axe from close by and began cutting away at the branches.
He finished quickly, swinging the axe downwards with ease and lodging it in a nearby stump. Bending down, he lifted one end of the log and dragged it over to the cart. With minimal effort, he wrapped his arms around the thick trunk and heaved it into the cart.
“Phew,” The pirate huffed, arms shooting up in the air to stretch. He arched his back and stretched his legs, then bent over to retie the shoelaces of his boots. When he was done, he stood up and turned towards Jinbei, his sharp grey eyes scrutinizing the fishman with guarded curiosity. “How long are you just going to stand there, Warlord-san?”
Jinbei’s first impression of the man standing before him was that he was not a man, not yet at least. He was just a boy. How old was he, nineteen, twenty? Jinbei had trouble differentiating age with humans, but he looked younger than that.
It wasn’t possible though. It had already been nineteen years. According to everything Jinbei knew, he had been born either directly before his father’s death, or immediately after.
Nineteen years, and the boy was already far more of a monster than his father had ever been.
“If you know who I am,” Jinbei said slowly, regarding the human cautiously. “Then you know why I am here. Gol D. Ace!”
Ace’s eyes hardened, body reflexively tensing as anger and resentment flashed in his eyes. He pulled down his orange cowboy hat, hiding his eyes as his mouth twisted into a scowl. “My last name is Portgas, not Gol. Let me guess, you’re here because the marines ordered you to take my head?”
“No,” Jinbei dropped into a fighting stance, spreading his feet apart and raising his arms in preparation. “The village you destroyed here was under the protection of the Yonko, Whitebeard. He is a great friend to me and my people and I cannot allow your actions to go unanswered!”
“Now, wait just a second--” Ace held out his hands in a placating gesture, frustration flashing in his eyes. “It’s true that I accidentally burnt down parts of the village, but that was because pirates were attacking it!”
“You’re a pirate!” Jinbei snapped, anger flaring through him. “You murdered the entire village!”
The pirate before him was a fool. Foolish and arrogant enough to think he could survive destroying a village under a Yonko’s protection.
This was a man who had razed entire towns to the ground for no reason. Murdered innocent women and children in cold blood. And Dawn Island. An entire country destroyed overnight. Nothing had been left. Forests had been incinerated, villages and towns reduced to nothing but ash. It was rumored that he had been just a boy when Goa Kingdom had been destroyed. His bounty at age ten had been over two million beli.
“Other pirates attacked. Not me and my crew,” Ace ran a hand through his hair, anger flaring to the surface. “And no one was murdered! We protected the village. I can take you to their camp right now and prove to you we didn’t kill anyone.”
“I will not listen to your lies!” Jinbei launched himself at Ace, determination blazing in his eyes as he raised his fist.
“Fine,” Ace muttered, his irritated expression morphing into a somewhat resigned smirk. His fists burst into flames as he threw himself toward Jinbei, meeting the warlord head on. “No one’s ever believed us anyways. Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve had a good fight!”