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Thread: One Piece: Echoed Voyage

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    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Jan 2008
    Everywhere and Nowhere

    Default One Piece: Echo Voyage

    Chapter 1: Darkness Before the Dawn


    An uncertain future rumbled beneath the surface of the earth, and threatened to wash the world away in a tidal wave of anxiety. One of the Four Emperors, Edward Newgate, had been killed in battle with Marshall D. Teach. The son of Gold Roger, a bastard boy from the South Blue, had been executed by the World Government. A paramount war meant to extinguish the flames lit by the King of the Pirates over two decades before had only served to fan them, and pirates the world over turned their torches to the pyre. A new era of piracy was about to bring the world to its knees.

    Word of the war, of Whitebeard's death, of Blackbeard's treachery, and the World Government's humiliation radiated out from Marineford, and soon enough, no one in the four Blues was ignorant to the events of that war, least of all the people of Batelira. It had once been a sleepy town in the South Blue, and were it not for the war, it would have probably remained as such forevermore. But now, it was the epicenter of the anxiety that plagued the world, for it was the hideout where Gold Roger hid away his progeny. It would not be long before the Marines came there, looking for other traces of the Pirate King's legacy. The seas would swell any day now.

    "Does it frighten you?" Tyson asked with a toothy grin. Keo sighed, shifting his glasses, turning his attention briefly to the latest public service message to grace the tavern's Transponder Snail. It was the same message as it had been for days. Yet somehow, it felt more ominous than the day before. Keo could feel it in his gut.

    "Well, does it?" Tyson inched closer with a nasally whine. Keo tried to ignore him but Tyson persisted. "Well?"

    "You're really annoying me," Keo grunted, finally meeting his friend eye to eye. Tyson was a boy of nineteen years, with a mop of curly black hair, freckles on his cheeks and a gap between his teeth. He wore simple clothes, a loose-fitting white tee, a pair of baggy trousers, and carried himself with a slouch. He seemed more lazy than malicious, but Keo knew him to be driven and ambitious.

    The bartender, a young woman with her light blond hair in a bob, approached the boys with a pitcher of water. "You boys want some more water?"

    Tyson turned to her, wiggling his eyebrows with mischief. "Come on, Eloise, can't you give us the good stuff?"

    Eloise shot him a dark look. "How many times do I have to tell you? If I slip you something, the old man will have my job!"

    "Oh, come on," he pestered. "Keo and I aren't babies. We're pirates! Now give us some grog!"

    "If you want to get drunk, go get drunk on your ships," she replied, rapidly losing her composure.

    "Give us some grog!" Tyson sang, predictably off-key. "Grog, la, groggity grog~!"

    "Are you even listening to me?" Eloise cried. "Like I'll get fired over your lazy ass!"

    "Would you both be quiet?" Keo asked, somewhere between polite and condescending. He rubbed lifted his glasses and rubbed his temples. "You're both so annoying."

    "Look who's talking, you annoying jackass!" Eloise shot back, nearly tearing his head off in the process. "Acting all cool and composed? Let's see that cool composure tomorrow!"

    "Eloise," an older man's voice came from behind them. The trio turned to its source, the owner of the bar, who looked at them with a composed and gentle smile. "Is that any way to talk to our customers?"

    Eloise's intensity melted away with a nervous laugh. "N-no, sir. Forgive me, Mr. Kento." She bowed politely, then rushed away from the table in a hurry. Tyson couldn't help but laugh.

    "And you two," Mr. Kento's smile only seemed to grow wider. "Remind me how old you are again."

    Tyson and Keo bolted out of the tavern in a hurry. A crowd of people gathered outside, and Tyson seemed to almost steamroll into them. They reacted with scorn, but Tyson paid them no mind, as he dragged Keo by the arm toward the village square. Once they were out of danger of Mr. Kento's wrath, Tyson took a deep breath, then let out a hearty laugh.

    "Man you should have seen the look on his face!" he continued to crack himself up.

    "I did," Keo replied, deadpan. "I was there, remember?"

    Tyson's smile faded. "Hey, what crawled up your butt? Eloise was right, you have been acting a little cold lately, even for Cool Keo."

    Keo turned away from him and let out a pensive sigh. "It does."

    Tyson listened for a moment, then his face went dumb. "Uh, what does?"

    "You asked me before if it frightens me," Keo turned his gaze toward the harbor, where a Marine vessel weighed anchor.

    "You can't just answer a question fifteen minutes later like that!" Tyson shrieked. "The topic changed, you know! That's socially unacceptable and quite rude!"

    "Well, it does," Keo continued as he leaned against a lamppost in the center of town. "Especially if it means we have to leave this island."

    "Oh, right," Tyson calmed down, getting on Keo's level. "We're pirates, aren't we?"

    Keo laughed. "In name, maybe." He turned to his friend, who stood almost half a foot taller than him. "We don't even have our own ships or crews. Who would want to join one-man pirate crews?"

    "I bet if you weren't such a stick in the mud, you'd find plenty of people for your crew," Tyson smiled. "Or you could just give up and join my crew already. Make me the Pirate King."

    Keo scowled at the boy. "Yeah, right."

    "As if a little shrimp like you could ever be a Pirate King!" Tyson laughed his signature boorish laugh. "You're like a little garden gnome."

    "You wouldn't last a day on the high seas," Keo teased. "You don't even know which way the Grand Line is."

    "Well, we're in the South Blue, so obviously, it's south," Tyson huffed.

    "Pathetic," Keo said with a grin.

    The sun started to set as the boys laughed in the streets of Batelira. That was their day-to-day routine. They talked a lot about one day setting out to sea and becoming pirates, but it always felt like play. Their imaginations ran rampant. It had been like this since they were little. As they laughed, Keo recalled the day they first met.

    Keo had wanted to play pirates with some kids his age, but they mostly ignored him in favor of their other friends. He felt alone, and overlooked. But not by Tyson. Tyson was three years older than him, but just like Keo, had no friends his own age. From that day on, they became thick as thieves. Keo figured that their friendship would last forever. They'd always have days together like this one.

    As it got dark, Keo and Tyson went their separate ways, back to their own homes on the outskirts of the village. Tyson lived alone. His mother raised him, but she passed a few years before, while Keo lived with his grandfather, an inventor named Guglielmo Lodge. As Keo approached his grandfather's house, the door swung open and Lodge leaped at his grandson with a jovial ferocity, squeezing him tight between his massive arms. "Lodge to Keo, did you have a good day, over?"

    Keo pushed his grandfather away with a smile, then entered the house. Lodge followed. The home was cramped, full of equipment and wires. A sleepy transponder snail opened its eyes momentarily to greet them, then seemed to purr without making a sound. Keo put his hand on the snail's shell and rubbed it gently. "Good evening, Reigi."

    Reigi opened his eyes for a brief moment to acknowledge Keo's presence, then promptly closed them.

    "Lodge to Keo, I knew you were coming home," Lodge beamed as they approached the kitchen table, which had a simple supper of soup and a bowl of fruit at the center of the table. "I made supper, but it's not much, over."

    "It looks delicious," Keo smiled, before noticing that Lodge seemed to be waiting for something. Keo knew the drill, but indulged his grandfather anyway. "How did you know I was coming home?" he asked, almost reciting it from his memory.

    "Lodge to Keo, well, I could sense the vibrations of your heartbeat," Lodge replied, though his sounded more natural and sincere, as if they hadn't gone over this a thousand times before. "I could tell where you were because your heart thump-thumped, and it reverberated through your body. Through your feet, then through the earth, and here to me, over."

    Keo smiled, then the two men sat down for supper. It was the same supper Keo ate for a thousand days, as he steeled himself for his grandfather's next revelation.

    "Lodge to Keo!" he suddenly shouted, but didn't surprise Keo. "I forgot to tell you! I finally finished my latest invention, over!" Lodge, excitedly leapt from his chair, then rushed over to a small contraption in his pile of contraptions. It seemed to be a tape deck, with a tape docked inside of it. He excitedly turned to Reigi. "Lodge to Reigi, play Keo's messages, over."

    Keo turned to the transponder snail. It opened its mouth, then let out a shrill, familiar tone. "There are no saved messages for Keo."

    Lodge frowned. This was Keo's least favorite part. "Lodge to self, it's an answering machine. I could swear I recorded something yesterday, over." The old man looked confused, and that was Keo's cue.

    "I'm sure it was a lovely message, grandpa," Keo forced a smile as he helped his grandfather from the kitchen to the bedroom. "You look tired."

    "Lodge to Reigi, go back to manners mode, over," Lodge said to the snail, which promptly closed its eyes. Lodge then turned to Keo. "Lodge to Keo, you're getting so big. So mature, over."

    "It's thanks to you and your cooking," Keo replied with a forced laugh. He tried to fight back the tears. "I can't wait to see what you cook up tomorrow."

    Lodge put his hand against Keo's chest and gave the boy a smile. "Lodge to Keo, I love you, over."

    "I love you too, Grandpa."

    Keo put his grandfather to sleep, then shut the door behind him. He put away the leftover soup into the refrigerator, which seemed to overflow with soup. He took the older stuff out, tossed it into the garbage, then washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. He pondered to himself about how long his grandfather had left, and whether he'd remember that day for much longer. Keo tried not to think about it too hard as he put away the dishes, left Reigi a bowl of clean water and food, then went to his own bedroom. At least as long as things were like this, Keo felt like he would stay on Batelira forever. He wouldn't be able to become the pirate he longed to be.

    The next day, Keo awoke from a restful sleep and in a good mood. He rushed downstairs, careful not to wake his grandfather, and grabbed an orange from the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. He gave Reigi a brief tap of affection, then raced outside. He could barely contain the pep in his step as he rushed over to Tyson's. He pounded on the door, only for Tyson to open it, eyes crusted over with sleep and drool fresh on his face.

    "Oh no," Tyson groaned.

    "Come on, Tyson!" Keo practically leapt in place. "Let's go to Kento's! We might find some crewmembers today! We might be able to see what those Marines are up to! I bet it's all very exciting and I can't wait to see it! Come on, come on, come on!"

    "Why can't I still be dreaming?" Tyson sighed before shutting the door. A few moments later, he emerged fully dressed--at least to Tyson's standards--and prepared for the day--also to Tyson's standards.

    "Let's go!" Keo shouted, practically dragging the other boy, who practically dozed off standing.

    "It's like you rewrote your whole character sheet or something," Tyson pouted, begrudgingly following behind.

    Keo practically burst with energy as Tyson whined behind him. "It's really annoying, you know. It's like one day, you're Cool Keo. All collected and suave, then the next, you're Hot Keo. And even I can't keep up with Hot Keo!"

    "You're really starting to sound like my grandpa," Keo smirked. "I can't help it, that's just how I am, you know!"

    As Keo hummed to himself, his cares and worries seemed to melt away. At least they did until the two boys found themselves face to face with a Marine patrol unit, five soldiers total.

    "What are you guys doing here?" Keo asked. The soldiers seemed to ignore him and move along, but Keo felt an uneasiness well up inside him. Cool Keo would have let it simmer there, but Hot Keo was going to boil over. "Hey! You can't just ignore us like that? Do you have any idea who we are?"

    "Come on, Keo," Tyson tried to hurry his friend along. "I know they're Marines, but we shouldn't pick a fight with these guys."

    Keo ignored him. "Come on! Do you know who we are?"

    The Marines frowned and looked at each other in confusion.

    "Keo, let's go," Tyson became more forceful. "You're just asking for trouble. And besides, they don't even know--"

    "We're pirates!" Keo boasted. "You're looking at the next two Emperors, don't you know?"

    "We're dead," Tyson panicked. "We're dead, we're dead, we're dead, we're dead, we're dead."

    "He's the War Captain Tyson!" Keo bellowed. "Dread pirate of the South Blue!"

    "No, I'm not," Tyson shot back, trying to diffuse the situation. "He's joking, he's kidding around. Please don't arrest us."

    "And I'm the one you should really fear," Keo raised his fists and puffed out his chest. "I'm the future Pirate King, Guglielmo Keo! And you'll never take us alive!"

    Keo then bolted off in the opposite direction. Tyson took a moment to respond, but quickly followed. "Wait for me!"

    The Marines stood there, dumbfounded.

    "Kids, huh?" one of the Marines half-chuckled.

    "Wait, did he say 'Guglielmo'?" another frowned. "You don't think..."

    "And the other kid," the first Marine caught on. "Was he...?"

    "We should tell Captain Emerson," a third Marine said before pointing to the fleeing "pirates". "And keep an eye on those two."

    Inside Kento's, Keo shouted excitedly as he chowed down on some meat. Tyson sighed, still not fully awake, as Eloise approached them.

    "Geez, it's like night and day with you two," Eloise chuckled as she took their empty plates.

    "Don't look at me," Tyson whined. "I'm supposed to be the goofy and energetic one, but he just sucks all the fun out of me."

    "I wonder," she shot him a mischievous look. "Is that the only thing he sucks out of you?"

    "Should you be asking paying customers those kinds of questions?" Tyson responded nervously.

    "Wait, are you actually planning to pay your tab this time?" she shot back.

    "More, please!" Keo cried. Eloise sighed, taking his plate.

    "Breaking news from Marine HQ," a voice suddenly came over the Transponder Snail. Keo's ears immediately picked up the broadcast. "Straw Hat Luffy, alongside former Warlord Jimbei and Gold Roger's first mate, Silvers Rayleigh, broke into Marineford earlier today, allegedly to ring the Ox Bell sixteen times in declaration of war against the World Government. If you recall, the Straw Hat was present at Marineford, and had close ties to Portgas D. Ace, who was executed alongside Whitebeard only a few weeks ago. No word yet on the World Government's response to the declaration. In other news, the pirate Blackbeard, real name Marshall D. Teach, who was responsible for the death of Whitebeard at Marineford, has been given a new bounty. Officials say the posters will go up sometime next week."

    "No way," Keo's food practically dripped from his agape mouth. "That Straw Hat..."

    Eloise looked at the boys with a solemn expression.

    "Hey, Tyson, can you meet me outside in a minute?" Eloise asked with a low voice. "I'm about to go on my smoke break."

    Tyson nodded as the bartender walked off. He turned to Keo, who was still almost in a trance.

    "I'll be right back, okay?"

    "Yeah," Keo said distantly, lost in thought. The gulf between him and the current generation of pirates was expanding day by day. With the likes of Blackbeard and Straw Hat Luffy out there, the chances of Keo becoming the next Pirate King were becoming slim to none. He turned to Tyson with a defeated look as the boy headed outside. Maybe Keo couldn't become the Pirate King, but could Tyson? Would Keo be okay with being Tyson's first mate? Would he help Tyson reach the summit instead?

    Tyson stepped outside, catching Eloise, who leaned against the side of the building, cigarette in hand. She offered a drag to Tyson, but he declined.

    "They know," she took a puff, the ashes at the end of the cigarette flickering with an eerie glow.

    "They know?" he frowned, before getting her meaning a moment lately. "Wait, you know?"

    "I've always known," Eloise replied. "But the Marines came snooping around, and they're onto you."

    "Me?" Tyson struggled to process the situation. "Am I in trouble?"

    "Who's to say?" Eloise shrugged. "But do you really expect them to believe you when you tell them it's a big misunderstanding?"

    "Not really," he shrugged. "I can't believe you know."

    "Kento told me," she sighed. "To protect you, of course."

    "Who else knows?" Tyson shot her a dark look.

    "Just me and the old man," she replied. "Does Keo?"

    Tyson shook his head. "No."

    "You know what this means, right?"

    "Yeah," turned to the bar, where he saw Keo staring off into space inside, obviously lost in his own thoughts. "I'll need a boat."

    "You've got one," Eloise smiled. "And I'm a good navigator, too. We leave on your orders, Captain."

    Tyson nodded. He turned back to Keo. Would he understand? Could he? Tyson didn't like keeping secrets from his friend, but he couldn't burden him with his darkness. Not when Keo was the dawn.

    Keo walked home quietly, deep in thought. Tyson also seemed to be lost in his own head. Keo wondered if the news had shook him too. Or if Eloise had something. They walked together in silence, the sun setting behind them as they approached the crossroads between their two homes.

    "What's the matter?" Tyson chuckled. "Did Hot Keo cool down? Did you finally give up on stealing my character sheet?"

    "As if," Keo laughed in response. "Hey, do you think... Do you think I could be the King of the Pirates?"

    Tyson turned to him with a crooked smile. "No, I don't."

    "I see," Keo sighed.

    "But you'll be the last asshole standing in my way," Tyson put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Promise me I'll see you at the top."

    Keo smiled, then put out his fist. "Nah, I'll beat you halfway there."

    The two of them shared a fistbump.

    "Hey, will you wait here a sec?" Tyson asked.

    Keo frowned. "Yeah, no problem."

    Tyson rushed home in a hurry. He wanted to make this last night he had with Keo special, something to remember. As he rushed inside of his messy and unkempt little shack, he reached into a closet, past a photograph of his mother. He pulled out a sake bottle, then rushed to a drawer in the kitchen, where he grabbed a pair of sake bowls. He ran outside, alcohol in hand. He wanted to seal their bond as brothers. However, he was surrounded on all sides by Marines. He counted eight as they pointed their bayonets at him.

    "I didn't think it was true," the head of the group said with a grunt. "But you look just like him."

    "Ouch," Tyson grunted.

    "We can't allow that bloodline to exist any longer," the Marine bellowed. "We'll execute you right here."

    A sudden groan caught their attention. To the right, one of the Marines fell to the ground unconscious. A loud striking noise filled the air as another Marine crashed into the dirt. A woman in a skin-tight black catsuit appeared before them. She was familiar, but something about her was off. Tyson got a closer look, but her face wasn't human. She had the face and claws of a cat, and a long slender tail swished behind her. She hissed at the Marines, then disappeared again. A short time later, two more Marines were down. Then another three. Finally, the leader, pointed his gun off in one direction, and he put his finger to the trigger. The cat woman appeared directly behind him.

    "Wrong," she said, then kicked him several feet into the other direction before leaping into the air. When she landed, she landed on her feet gracefully. She turned to Tyson. "Are you all right?"

    Her name was Eloise. She ate the Neko-Neko Fruit, Model: Lynx.

    "I think so," Tyson replied, before noticing her catsuit, and the way it clung tightly to every feature of her body. A little dribble of blood dripped from his nose. "Is that an appropriate work uniform?"

    "We have to go," she turned around, ignoring his perversion. "Now."

    "Hold on a minute," he waved the bottle of sake in the air.

    "You can drink on the ship," she continued to walk away.

    "But, Keo, he's waiting for--"

    "Your life is in danger, what part of that do you not understand?" she shouted. "There will be more. And as long as you're here, they won't stop coming for you. If you want to live, this is the only shot you have."

    Tyson sighed. He wanted to go back to the old days. He wanted to be the Hot Tyson to Cool Keo. The sorta-Cool Tyson to Hot Keo. He wanted to play pirates with his friend forever. He wanted to waste days staring out at the ocean. And when the day would finally come, he wanted to sail out with his best friend's ship besides his, towards the same horizon. He wanted to be alongside his brother, bonded by the sake in his grasp. "I didn't ask for this."

    "Neither did Ace," Eloise sighed. "But you play the hand you're dealt. If you want to fold, they'll send more Marines. But if you want to live, you'll come with me."

    Tyson dropped the bottle of sake to the ground. It shattered, spilling sake all over his legs. "I'm sorry, Keo," he said out loud. "You have to catch up now."

    With Eloise by his side, Tyson disappeared into the darkness.

    It was already dark and the sun was already set, but there was no sign of Tyson. Keo frowned, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, he grew tired of waiting. It was pitch black outside, so he turned away from the crossroads, then back toward his house. A few minutes later, he arrived home, but something was off. His grandfather wasn't waiting on the other side. His heart began to race. Could his grandfather sense it? It pounded in his chest. Surely, he could feel that.

    "Grandpa!" Keo cried as he burst inside the house. His grandfather stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by Marines.

    "Lodge to Keo, why don't you head to your room, over?" Lodge stared down the Marines.

    "What's going on here?" Keo asked. "What do you want with my grandfather?"

    "Lodge to Keo. Go to your room!" Lodge practically shouted. "Over!"

    The captain of the Marines laughed. "Is this why you've given up your research, Lodge? Raising a family?"

    "Lodge to Emerson, I had to," he replied with intensity. "I'm all the boy has left, over."

    "You know it's not you we value, right?" the captain, Emerson, turned his back to the man before producing a blood-red apple from his pocket. "Just your... talents."

    "Lodge to Emerson, I've got a lot of fight left in me," the old man said with a smile. "It'll be a hundred years before you get your hands on it, over."

    Emerson walked past Keo, then approached the door frame. He placed the apple on a shelf next to the door. "I'm a patient man, and the sun has already set on you, Guglielmo D. Lodge. I'll be back to collect."

    Emerson motioned to the other soldiers, and they followed him outside of the house. Keo frowned, then looked at the apple.

    Lodge burst into laughter. "Lodge to Keo, throw that out, won't you, over?" He motioned toward the apple, still laughing heartily. "Lodge to self, it's been forever since I saw that buffoon, over."

    Keo stared at the apple, then tossed it out into the street before shutting the door.

    He turned around to his grandfather. "He called you D."

    "Lodge to Keo, that he did, over," Lodge smiled as he approached his confused grandson. "Lodge to Keo, I'm a big deal, aren't I, over?"

    "You never told me that you were a D," Keo frowned. A new thought crossed his mind. "Am I a D?"

    "Lodge to Keo, you're thinking too fast," Lodge gave his grandson a big hug. "Your heart is racing. You need to calm down, over."

    "How can I be calm?" Keo shouted. "The Marines are after you. You have a D in your name. It's all too much!"

    "Lodge to Keo, why don't you get some sleep?" Lodge brushed Keo's hair from his face. "You look exhausted. We'll talk tomorrow, over."

    "Okay," Keo sighed, then looked to Reigi.

    "Lodge to Keo!" Lodge shouted, noticing Keo's attention. "I almost forgot! I finally finished my latest invention, over!"

    "I'm really tired," Keo interrupted, more forcefully than he intended. "Tell me all about it tomorrow."

    Keo slammed the door to his room, then rushed over to his bed, fighting back the confusing thoughts in his head. At least tomorrow, Cool Keo would be able to process everything. He at least had that to look forward to. He realized he hadn't found out what was up with Tyson. As he drifted to sleep, he resolved to go see him first thing in the morning.

    Sleep was difficult, and a loud beep stirred him from his sleep, but he drifted back to sleep in fits. When he couldn't sleep any longer, the sun had yet to rise. He got out of bed slowly, made his covers nice and neat, then walked into the living area. He walked past Reigi, too distracted to notice a light flashing on the answering machine. He grabbed a piece of fruit from the bowl, then took off into the twilight. He walked at a fast pace, to the crossroads that would lead him to Tyson's house. As he walked, his stomach growled with hunger. He took a bite of the fruit in his hand, and swallowed it without chewing. Big mistake.

    "Ugh, that's disgusting!" he cried, trying to spit it out. Had the fruit rotted on him? He looked down, but it didn't look rotten. Far from it. It looked like no fruit he had ever seen before. No, he had seen it before. In books. The realization came to him as a powerful buzzing filled his ears and he felt strange sensations all through his body. Keo had just eaten a Devil Fruit.

    He turned back toward the house. Why was there a Devil Fruit in his bowl of fruit? He remembered the fruit Emerson left on the shelf. Did he switch them out? A bad feeling welled up inside him. He could feel his heart beating. Thump thump. Thump thump. In the distance, he felt more, subtler vibrations. He somehow knew the rhythm of that heartbeat. "Mr. Kento's at work today," he said aloud. Wait, what? Could he sense Mr. Kento's heartbeat all the way from here?

    Keo remembered him and Tyson being dragged out of the tavern by the collars by Mr. Kento. Keo's head bumped against Kento's chest as he took them to their homes. He could hear the arrhythmic beat of Kento's stress. Here it was now, plain as day.

    "This doesn't make any sense," Keo frowned. Then listened for Tyson's heartbeat. His best friend, who he was closer than blood with. As he approached Tyson's house, he saw a broken bottle on the ground. He couldn't hear Tyson's heartbeat.

    "Tyson?" he called out. "Tyson?"

    As his own heart continued to race, a realization hit him. Why could he sense people's hearbeats after eating a Devil Fruit? Could his grandfather have been... No... He turned around, and kicked his feet off the ground, back in the direction toward his house. He rushed as fast as he could, desperate to push the thoughts back into the deepest recesses of his mind.

    "Grandpa!" he shouted as he burst through the door, hoping for the scene he had walked into the night before. Instead, he was greeted with nothing. Tears began to rush down his face as he slowly approached the bedroom door. He turned the knob and slowly open the door, which creaked in dread anticipation. Keo steeled himself as he walked into his grandfather's bedroom.

    He was half-relieved when he saw a smile on his grandfather's face, but his body was still. Guglielmo D. Lodge, the most brilliant inventor Keo had ever known, had passed away peacefully in his sleep.

    The tears came heavy now. Keo rushed to the bed, and clinged tight to the covers. "Grandpa!" he sobbed as he fell to his knees. In the other room, Reigi opened his eyes for a brief moment, the answering machine still flashing steadily.

    Captain Emerson sat in the captain's quarters of his ship, a bored look on his face. He spoke into a transponder snail's receiver as a boy in a kimono poured him some tea. "I'll send some men to check on him in a couple of days. You should have seen the old geezer. I give him a few months."

    "I want that Devil Fruit, Captain Emerson," the voice on the other end of the snail sneered with impatience. "Kill the old man if you must. Vegapunk won't be thrilled, but it'll be in the best interest of the World Government moving forward. Bring that fruit to me, now. Do you understand?"

    "Of course, Admiral Akainu," Captain Emerson rolled his eyes. This was going to be a pain in the ass.

    "Even if it is a lesser form of Whitebeard's power, the Yure-Yure Fruit falling into the wrong hands will be quite an embarrassment."

    Keo left his grandfather's room, eyes wet with tears, as he rushed to try and tell somebody about what happened. As he left, he turned to Reigi and noticed the flashing.

    "Reigi," he sniffled. "Play Keo's messages, over."

    "There is one new message and two message total," Reigi responded. "Play new message?"

    "Yes," Keo fought back and failed against another wave of tears.

    Tyson's voice played through the snail's mouth. "Hey, Keo, I don't know if your snail's going to get this message, but I'm sorry I left you hanging. I had to go. Don't worry, I'm safe. But I had to start my voyage here and now. And I'm sorry I couldn't have you there beside me. I don't blame you if you get upset, but... I will be waiting for you at the top. Catch up to me, Keo. You are my brother."

    The message stopped as Keo broke into another round of sobs. First his grandfather, and now his best friend, were all gone. He was truly alone.

    "Play old message?"

    "Huh?" Keo frowned, looking up at the snail.

    "Play old message?"

    Keo wiped the tears from his eyes. He nodded to Reigi. "Yeah"

    "Lodge to Keo," his grandfather's voice echoed over the answering machine, familiar to Keo in cadence.

    "Yeah, grandpa?" Keo laughed between tears, playing along to the recording he heard countless times before. When his grandfather's condition worsened and he couldn't bear to hear the words anymore, he changed out the tapes and hid it away. His grandfather must have found it the night before. A wave of nostalgia rushed over him as he heard his grandfather's voice possibly for the last time.

    "You're going to be the Pirate King some day. I know that's your dream, and I know you'll get there. I'll be rooting for you. I love you, my grandson. Over."

    Keo cried but to his shock the recording continued. He frowned. He had never heard these words before.

    "Lodge to Keo," his grandfather continued, the voice now much older. "Thought you could hide my tape, did you? Naughty boy."

    "What is this?" Keo asked Reigi, who just blinked at him, continuing his grandfather's message.

    "I'm sorry you've had to put up with the ramblings of a senile old man all this time. Deep down inside I knew my mind was gone. But now, in my final moments, I see it clearly. You've grown into a fine young man. I'm sorry I forgot your fourteenth birthday. And the fifteenth. And the sixteenth. That was not very cool of me. There's not much time left, but there's something you have to know. Check the fruit bowl, before the Marines come. My Devil Fruit will be there. It's what they're after. You can't let them have it. Sink it to the bottom of the ocean if you have to. Just keep it out of that bastard Sakazuki's hands. I can't believe Whitebeard is gone. And Roger's boy too. I remember them all like it was yesterday. Well, for me, it might as well have been. Dementia joke, yohoho!"

    Keo frowned. It was too late to get rid of the Devil Fruit.

    "One last thing: I left a ship for you. Take it as soon as you can, and don't look back. If they know I've died and you have my Devil Fruit, they'll come for you, with the weight of the entire World Government. They know the danger you possess, but they won't let the world know it even exists. You'll be fighting a very private war. But you won't lose to them. You are Guglielmo D. Keo, the next Pirate King. Go now, my grandson. And don't eat the damn Devil Fruit. Over."

    Keo took it all in. This was some kind of dream. It was too surreal. Something was amiss. But yet, it all happened so fast. Why wasn't he excited as he knew he would be when this day would come? Oh, right. Today, he was Cool Keo. All he could do was get up and get ready. After packing a few important things into a bag, he open the front door and stepped out into the unknown dawn.

    The boy in the kimono watched wordlessly as Captain Emerson strategized with his men. He stepped out onto the deck of the captain's vessel, as silent as he could be.

    "I didn't think you'd show up, big sister," he said as he approached a young woman with long purple hair and a sword at her hip, wearing a long yellow kimono. He slipped her a piece of paper. "This is strictly under the table of course."

    "Don't think because you're my little brother, that makes me a Marine lapdog," the woman replied coldly, taking the slip of paper.

    "You and I both know the bigger things in motion," the boy smiled. "I trust you won't fail, Suzume."

    She looked at the paper. "Killing a kid is cold, even for you, Maruhana."

    "Lord Emerson wouldn't approve of it," Maruhana gave his sister an eerie smile. "But I know that kid ate the fruit. I saw him leave at first light. A power like that, the only thing that will counteract it is a silent assassin. Can you do it, big sister?"

    She smirked. A second later, she was behind him with her sword to his throat. "Can? Yes. But as for if I will, that's a matter of bounty."

    "I knew you'd come through, big sister."

  2. #2
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Everywhere and Nowhere

    Default Re: One Piece: Echoed Voyage

    Chapter 2: The Woman Cloaked in Shadows


    Keo had never sailed before. His grandfather's boat was much larger than he expected, but still just a small sloop, barely thirty feet in length, with a couple of basic lateen sails tied to a single mast. It would have to suffice for the time being, but if he wanted a crew, he was going to eventually need something bigger. I can't believe Grandpa kept this hidden from me. He didn't have long to stand around and think. If he was going to get away from his pursuers, and do as his grandfather asked, he was going to have to do it quickly. He shook his head, then climbed aboard. After a few moments of setting the sails and hoisting the anchor, Keo embarked from his island home. As clouds rolled in from the west, Keo watched as Batelira, the town he called home for sixteen years, became smaller and smaller. After a quarter of an hour or so, it disappeared from the western horizon. For better or worse, Keo's journey was just beginning.

    Taking a quick moment to catch his breath, he inspected the surface deck of the ship. It was a little more spacious on the inside, with about eight feet of width, though much of the interior was hard to maneuver around between the sails and ropes. Toward the back of the boat was a small cabin. Keo walked over to it, careful not to trip over the ropes. He opened the door, then looked inside. It was small and cramped, with a tiny berth and hammock that could sleep maybe two or three people. Definitely not meant to host an entire pirate crew.

    Keo took a seat on the hammock and sighed. He was finally doing it, but it felt all wrong. He worried about Tyson. What could his friend be doing right now? He tried to use his new found power to "sense" his friend, but the water seemed to muffle any sound coming from outside of the ship. All he could pick up was himself and... Keo frowned. It almost seemed for a moment that he was sensing something else. He tried to focus on it, but it was gone. That's weird, he thought. He tried to pay it no mind as he leaned back into the hammock. Everything had changed so rapidly. When he went to sleep the night before, it had been just him and his grandfather. Their transponder snail, Reigi. His best friend, Tyson. Mr. Kento and his bartender, Eloise. The island of Batelira. And now all he had to look forward to was a boundless ocean that stretched from horizon to horizon, as deep as a towering mountain. Keo could barely fathom the scale of the waters he sailed on and sighed. Worst of all, he'd sink in those waters like a bag of hammers.

    He sat up again, then looked at his hands. He certainly didn't look any different, but his beneath the skin, he felt like something new. He didn't hear things so much as he felt them. Subtle things. He could pick out the difference in those things. He could listen to the ship and feel its every creak. He heard it same as he always did, but now he "understood" it. He could feel the way the ship's hull pushed against the buoyant water, only for new water to rush in behind it, pushing against the ship's keel, a constant building and releasing of sonic pressure. He could hear the whip of the sails in the face of a gust of wind, and in his mind's eye, he could see the sail fold and bend and go back into place with every push.

    Keo turned his thoughts inward. He could feel his heart beat, pumping vibrations along his arteries to every extremity as his veins pulled them back. He felt his lungs expand and contract, all of his respiratory muscles, moving and changing, making subtle "sounds" indiscernable to the human ear, but to Keo, they were obvious. He jabbed his fist into the air. He felt the woosh of the air displaced by his appendages. He felt the way his bones, tendons, and muscles all worked together. He felt his skin stretch as he shifted beneath it. All subtle, distinct vibrations. For the first time since consuming his grandfather's fruit, Keo trembled in place. It was the strangest tremble he had ever felt.

    With all of these thoughts in his head, Keo realized the sun had already set. He frowned as the cabin grew dark, but his eyes drooped over. It's not like he had anything else to do, so he fell asleep, paying careful attention to his bodily functions as his did. It was all foreign and new, but familiar and unique. Keo had a lot to learn about himself, for sure.

    Outside, on the deck of the ship, a woman poked her head out from behind the mast, her breath still and quiet as can be. Sasutachi Suzume did everything she could to mask her presence, but she noticed moments before that her cover had almost been blown. How did I know that I was here? She continued her surveillance, waiting for her chance to strike.

    Captain Emerson sat in the kitchen he stood in the night before, where he threatened a genius. Now, that genius was dead, and his house empty, save for a transponder snail and an obscenely large amount of audio equipment. Emerson leaned back in the chair as Maruhana wistfully curtsied to the table, filling a chipped stoneware cup with piping hot black tea. Emerson took hold of the cup, and raised it to his lips, steam and aroma radiating from its contents.

    "Careful, my Lord," Maruhana jumped in the faintest hint of surprise, his polite facade giving way to vague distress. "It's boiling hot."

    Emerson ignored him, drinking the tea black and scalding with a single, massive gulp. He handed the cup to Maruhana with an accusatory glare.

    "Drinking the dead's tea," Emerson grunted as he stood up. "Treating ourselves to the hospitality of a dead man. What demons are we?"

    Maruhana took the cup and placed it in the sink. "We're just doing what we must, my Lord."

    Emerson turned to the boy with a furious gaze. "We?"

    Maruhana looked away, feigning desperation not to make eye contact. Emerson could see through the boy's artifice. "I did not been to overstep my station, Lord Emerson. Forgive me."

    "And what station is that, Maruhana?" Emerson stepped over to the boy in an intimidating fashion. "What rank are you in the Marines again?"

    "I-I'm not a Marine, my Lord," Maruhana replied with a ingenuine stutter. Calculated.

    "No," Emerson said, inches away from the boy. "And do I own you, Maruhana? Are you inferior to me?"

    "Y-yes, my Lord."

    "I don't remember buying you," Emerson shook his head before leaning in close. He expected fear in the boy's eyes, but instead there was the illusion of fear. Despicable. "And I don't remember hiring you to serve me. So who are you, Sasutachi Maruhana?"

    The boy, nineteen years old, with soft effeminate skin and big, alluring eyes, looked up at Emerson from inches away, with a warm breath spilling from his faux-frightened mouth. Everything about this boy was designed for deception.

    "I am yours," Maruhana said, leaning a few inches forward, planting a kiss on the captain's cheek. "I exist only for your benefit, my Lord."

    Emerson slammed his fist onto the table. "So, how exactly does sending an assassin after a child serve my benefit? How does acting on your own authority service me in any capacity?" Emerson raised his voice. "Answer me!"

    The boy flinched, exactly in the way he had flinched a thousand time's before. But the artifice began to melt away as the boy's big round eyes seemed to grow sharp and pointed.

    "You said it yourself, Lord Emerson," Maruhana replied. "I don't work for you. Therefore, I do as I please. I don't need your permission to do anything."

    Emerson stepped away and sighed. "I can't have you here if you're going to interfere with my work, you know."

    Maruhana nodded. "I know, my Lord. But don't think of me as an obstacle in your way." The boy turned to the sink, picked up the cup from before, then threw it against the wall, shattering it to pieces. "Think of me as an alternative. A random variable that makes your life easier."

    "How does killing a child make my life easier?"

    Maruhana bent over the shards of shattered stone with a dustpan and broom. He didn't wince as a shard of the mug sliced open his thumb. "His blood won't be on your hands," Maruhana smiled as he showed him the wound, blood trickling from his palm. "It will be on mine. Let me be the demon that assuages your guilt, and let's you sleep at night."

    Emerson eyed the boy with appropriate caution. He was truly out of this world. A cold-hearted sociopath through and through. Just like that man.

    "I know how much Mister Sakazuki's ruthless commands disturb you," Maruhana gave him a smile. For a moment, Emerson thought it was genuine. At least, he hoped it was. "I know you're a good man. You're good to me. Good to your men. And that's why I'll be the darkness for you." Maruhana walked over to him and put a hand against his chest. "I'll be whatever you need me to be, my Lord."

    Emerson sighed, loosening the tension in his muscles and accepted Maruhana's comfort. "Let's hope for the boy's sake, there's a shred of mercy in your assassin."

    Maruhana shook his head. "Yeah," he did his best to lie. Emerson saw right through it, but he let the boy rest his head against his chest. "She's got a soft spot for kids."

    Keo yawned and stretched as he stirred from his sleep. He sat up, remembering that he was on a boat, not so much because he could see anything--the room was pitch black. Instead, he could feel the vibrations from the boat, and the functions of his body. The functions of her body. The currents of the ocean.

    Keo leaped to his feet instinctively, the sensation of his feet touching the ground foreign, yet familiar. He listened again, swearing that he wasn't imagining it. There was another person on the boat. He closed his eyes and focused, listening--the best word he had for it, for the vibrations of their heartbeat. Whoever it was, they had an easy time masking it. Just not well enough against his newfound power. Keo got to his feet. If it had been yesterday, he'd try to assess the situation and find some way to lure his stalker into a trap. Something cool like that. Not today, though.

    Keo burst from the cabin, and took a deep breath of air. "I know you're there, so why don't you come out of hiding and face me like a man?" he bellowed, with no hint of subtlety or fear.

    "Impressive," a woman's voice came from above. He looked up to see a woman clinging to the mast, her hair dark and flowing. She wore a beautiful, yellow kimono that almost seemed too bright and out of place for someone to be sneaking around in it. She clinged to the mast like a spider. "I thought I'd done an acceptable job masking my presence. I nearly stopped my own heart, you know."

    She leapt from the mast, then landed gracefully on the deck just a few feet behind Keo. He spun around quickly then pointed a finger at her.

    "Sorry," he shouted. "I had no idea you were such a beautiful lady! I thought you were a villain or something."

    Keo suddenly noticed the katana sheathed at her hip. She grasped its hilt and pulled it a few feet out of its sheath, her face reflecting off of the steel of the blade. "What gave you the impression I'm not?"

    Keo felt a bead of sweat form on his forehead. "R-right, sorry," he said, losing his bravado and composure as she drew her sword completely. He could feel the vibrations coming off of her. There was nothing friendly about her. He felt foolish underestimating her.

    "You're Guglielmo D. Keo, is that right?" the woman asked with no hint of playfulness. She meant business. "You have something I want."

    "Wh-what are you talking about?" Keo asked, clenching his fists. Was he really about to fight a sword-wielder bare-handed?

    "I believe they said it's called the Yure-Yure Fruit," she explained. "I have orders to take it from you. It will be up to you whether that's by force."

    "Well, you can't have it!" Keo shouted.

    "Clearly," she said, betraying no sense of seriousness. "You've already eaten it, haven't you?"

    "What's it to you?" he growled, taking on a battle stance.

    She pointed her sword at him. "I'll just have to assassinate you, then. It can't be helped."

    "Take your best shot, lady!"

    "I've always wanted to face a Devil Fruit as terrifying as Whitebeard's," the woman finally smirked, giving off the slightest hint of ambition. She charged at him with her sword. "It'll be a perfect stepping stone on my way to the top!"

    "What?" Keo asked, barely dodging the attack. "Whitebeard?" Keo spun around, barely able to dodge her next attack. Her blade struck the mast. He gasped, worried she would cut down the whole thing. "Hey, watch it, this ship's my grandpa's!"

    He shook his head and struggled to think. "So, you're telling me my Devil Fruit is just like Whitebeard's?"

    "To an extent," the woman replied, as she pulled her sword back and took a defensive stance. "The Gura-Gura Fruit turned Whitebeard into a tremoring human. The Yure-Yure Fruit turned Lodge, and now you, into a vibrating human. Two applications of the same basic concept. Of course, by its nature, the Gura-Gura Fruit is far more destructive, whereas it seems your grandfather took a more practical approach to using the Yure-Yure Fruit."

    Keo looked down at his hands. "So, you're saying... I can fight with this power!" Keo turned his gaze toward her with fierce eyes and fists lifted. "Alright, lady, I hope you're prepared then."

    "Like I said," she charged at him, trying to attack, but he dodged once more. "Different applications. I'd say your fruit is maybe a hundredth as powerful as Whitebeard's, and in a scrawny kid like you, I'd say you're maybe a trillionth of his level!"

    Keo dodged again. Every time he dodged, he heard the sound of the blade ripping through the air around it like fabric. He felt the vibrations, the sharp radiply-oscillating wavelength of the blade's slice against the atoms of the air molecules surrounding them.

    "You know, for an assassin, you talk way too much!" Keo shouted, before charging at her himself.

    "Are you mad?" she clinged to her sword and prepared to parry his attack. "Just blocking your attack will make me cleave you in two!"

    If I can control the wavelength of the air, and the wavelength of the sound coming off my body, then that means... Keo stopped a few feet away from her and felt the force of inertia build up around him. He planted his left foot to the ground and focused all of his energy on his right leg. He pushed the momentum of the inertia to his leg and focused on producing the vibrations. "I can weaponize the very sound of my attacks!"

    He thought about the sword, and the way it cut through the air. He thought about the whoosh that came from the air being displaced. He thoughts about the schwing as a sword cut through it. If he could make his right leg schwing just like a sword, then...

    A loud schwing and a swoosh echoed trough the air as Suzume watched the kid launch a kick into the air. The suddenly she felt a burst of air rush past her. "What?" she gasped, before feeling a sharp slicing wind strike against her blade. She felt her feet slide back several inches as she struggled against the tremendous force of the attack. "Was that a... Rankyaku?"

    Keo looked at the woman in surprise, then down at his leg, which tingled with excitement. "Whoa..." he then pumped both of his fists into the air. "This is awesome!"

    "No..." the woman said as she finally warded off the attack, her voice trembling in awe. "It's not Rankyaku. It's similar. And it's not the quaking power Whitebeard possesses either. This is something else entirely."

    "Why don't you just give up?" Keo puffed up his chest. "You can't handle my power can you?"

    Suzume stared at the boasting kid as she retreated into her mind to recompose herself. This kid's got a big mouth, but clearly he's using this fruit in a way Lodge never could have imagined. He's not just sending projectile shockwaves through the air. That attack, it mimicked my blade with such precise fidelity.

    "And yet..." Suzume turned her blade toward the kid, who shrugged his shoulders and took on a boxer's stance. "You're basically just a swordsman with no sword." She charged at him again with her blade. "And I am Sasutachi Suzume, the woman who will kill the world's strongest swordsman!"

    The boy pushed his fists foward as a burst of energy spilled forth from them. Suzume's blade clashed with the shockwave. When it came to clashing swords, she was confident she could not lose. Not with what she had on the line.

    Suzume felt her feet slide back. As her sword held back the attack, she started to shake. "What?" her knees failed to buckle as she tried to hold back against the attack. "What's happening?"

    The boy started to growl with an intense ferocity. "And I'm the man who will become the King of the Pirates!" he roared, as Suzume leapt back, away from the attack as it burst through the air behind her, damaging the railing on the ship. That attack... It wasn't a sword cutting through air at all. No... His attack... His attack was like a ship cutting through water! What the hell is this Devil Fruit power?

    Keo struggled to stay on his feet as he began to feel weak. He was pushing himself, more than he thought possible only moments before. "Get off of my ship!" He screamed, trying to spin around and catch sight of the woman, Suzume. But she was nowhere to be found. He tried to focus on her vibrations, but he couldn't find her. Not because she was doing a good job hiding, but because he could not focus in the slightest

    "You're still too weak to face me," he heard her voice, but couldn't see her. He took a step forward, but felt a sharp blow to his arm. He pulled back, only to be struck again. "This is Myutoryu: Silent Sword Style. The ultimate sword-wielding technique. Perfect for an assassin."

    Keo growled, trying to strike back, but he was met with a sharp blow to the back of the head.

    "You said I talk too much," her voice echoed around him. "But it doesn't matter if you can hear me. My sword is dead quiet!"

    Keo tried to fight back, but he was no match. With another blow to the head, he was out cold. With his last conscious thought, he wondered why the vibrations from her attacks had been blunter. They weren't sharp at all. It was almost like... she used the back... of her blades...

    Suzume ended her technique, then approached the unconscious boy. She stood over his pathetic heap of a body. He's so weak... She pointed her blade at the back of his neck. We have that in common, don't we, kid?

    She took her sword and put it back in its sheath, then kneeled down to examine him closer. But his potential, it outshines mine. With a mind like his, he could take on anything. All he needs is a proper body. She looked out at the ocean as the sun began to rise. If only she had a potential like his. If she could be powerful enough to assassinate this kid at his full potential, then surely she could kill the demon that plagued her. Surely, she could kill Dracule Mihawk.

    Suzume turned to the boy and sighed. His assassination was going to have to wait.

  3. #3
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Everywhere and Nowhere

    Default Re: One Piece: Echoed Voyage

    Chapter 3: Uneasy Feelings in Treacherous Waters


    Keo felt aches and pains throughout his body as he woke. His head swam in a hundred directions as he tried to make sense of where he was. He was inside the cabin. Sunlight poured through the window, lighting the room. Across from him, in the other hammock, sat the woman who attacked him, Suzume. He gave her a cold look.

    "Are you going to kill me now?" he asked her. Her vague smile faded.

    "Not yet," she replied, eyeing him suspiciously. "You were out for a full day. I thought I really had killed you."

    "I see," he replied, then got to his feet. His body wobbled in response. He could feel those same strange vibrating sensations echo throughout his body. "Well, I take it that's a no. So, please leave."

    Suzume frowned. "Is that the thanks you give me for watching over you?"

    Keo shot her a look. "I didn't ask you to do anything. And I believe you tried killing me. If you're expecting compensation, you're a fool."

    Suzume's eye twitched. "Who do think you are acting all cool?" she seethed. "What happened to that machismo twerp from yesterday, huh?"

    "Whatever," Keo opened the door then walked outside onto the deck. He felt the mid-morning air as Suzume burst out from the cabin, practically boiling.

    "You can't be the cool one, that's supposed to be my personality! So why don't you go get your own, you little piece of shit!?"

    "Are you done?" Keo scoffed, not even turning around to look at her. She was starting to give him a headache.

    That really made her go berserk. "I can't believe I'm losing my cool over you!" She looked down at her hands in fright. "What have you done to me? You've turned me into a blubbering imbecile!"

    Keo sighed. This went on for another fifteen minutes before Suzume finally adapted to the situation. The rest of the day had been calm, until dinner. Keo split some bread with Suzume as they sat at the back of the boat, watching the sun set behind them.

    "So you're a vibrating human and an oscillating one," Suzume concluded as she sat beside him. "What an interesting Devil Fruit ability."

    "I was Hot and Cool before the Devil Fruit," Keo sighed.

    Suzume looked on as Keo rummaged through his bag, pulling out various affects he collected from the house before leaving, like the taped message his grandfather left him.

    "What's that?" Suzume asked, pointing at a small electronic device with an antenna.

    "My grandpa gave me this," Keo explained, picking up the device and examining. "He called it a 'walkie-talkie'. Said that there's another one like it out there, and with his technology, it can communicate with whoever's holding the other one, wherever in the world they might be."

    "Wow," Suzume replied with genuine interest. "And who's waiting on the other side?"

    Keo looked down at the walkie-talkie in his hand, which startled to tremble. He was still getting used to that feeling. "I don't know."

    Suzume frowned in disappointment. "Really? That's a shame."

    "I've tried calling out to whoever's on the other side, but Grandpa said they will not respond until I am needed."

    "What does that mean?"

    "I don't know," Keo shook his head. "This thing wound up in my closet for almost a decade. I never even thought about it until it was time to go. I remembered Grandpa saying it would be a really big deal someday."

    "I see," Suzume stared off into the distance. "You're grandfather was quite the man."

    Keo turned to her. "Did you know him?"

    "Only of him," she replied. "My brother said that Captain Emerson spoke highly of him."

    Keo frowned, then recalled the marine that came to visit the night before his grandfather passed. "None of this would have happened if that man hadn't come here."

    "I doubt that," Suzume responded. "If I know the World Government, this was all a matter of time. Between your grandfather, the truth about Ace, and that Tyson child, your island was sure to descend into chaos sooner or later."

    Keo looked at her with a puzzled look. "What does Tyson have to do with anything? Why would the Marines be after him?"

    "Beats me," Suzume shook her head. "I just know he was somebody of interest to Admiral Akainu. They had meant to reclaim your grandfather and the boy in the same operation, but the boy disappeared the very same night your grandfather died. Maruhana said that Emerson was outraged."

    Keo looked off into the distance. What could they possibly want with Tyson? Keo knew him for a very long time. Was he somebody important?

    "What will you do now?" the woman looked out to sea with him. "It sounds to me like you and him are in the same boat now. Well, metaphorically speaking."

    "Yeah," Keo said distantly, then turned to her. "What are you doing?"

    "Whatever do you mean?"

    "Why are you here? Why am I still alive? Don't you have a mission to capture me?"

    "I don't work for the Marines," Suzume replied. "I was simply carrying out a favor for my brother."

    "And what changed?" he scowled.

    "My curiosity got the better of me," she smiled. "I want to see what you can do with that strange oscillating power of yours. Even when you're 'Hot', you think on your feet. It's an admirable trait in the heat of battle."

    "So what, am I some kind of sideshow attraction to you?"

    "You're the first step to me achieving my dream," Suzume put a hand on his shoulder. "I want to see you grow strong. That way, when you're as strong as your full potential suggests, I can assassinate you in peak form."

    Keo felt a bead of sweat form on his forehead. "You're a real lunatic."

    "Don't worry," she kept on smiling, which made Keo uncomfortable. "You've got a long way to go before that day comes."

    "Uh... thanks?"

    With that, Suzume got up, and walked over to the cabin, then headed inside. Keo watched her with suspicion, then turned his back to the peculiar woman. He gaze out at the sea, the sun disappearing on its surface. He wondered how far away he was from home now. He turned around, toward the darkening eastern sky. He wonder where exactly he was heading. What would he do on his first island away from home? And when was he going to start building his crew? He turned back around, only a sliver of the sun remaining on the horizon. Most of all, he wondered if Tyson was out there somewhere, gazing at the same sunset.

    Just after dark, somewhere on an island in the South Blue, there was a little bakery in a place called Wagama Town. In that bakery, Macaroon, an elderly baker of sixty years or so was preparing to close up shop for the evening. He served his last customers, a lovestruck couple in the early days of their passion. Macaroon smiled as he let them sample some confections that his young protege had made earlier in the day.

    "It's delicious!" the young woman cried as jovial tears welled up in her eyes. "Simply delicious!"

    "I've never tasted something so sweet and wondrous," the man added. "I feel completely revitalized, like I'm twenty-one again."

    "But, sweetie, you just turned twenty-two!"

    "I know? Isn't it grand?" The man spun around, then shook Macaroon's hand. "I simply must have the name of the young baker who made these."

    Macaroon's smiled faded. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. These were my handiwork."

    "Is that so?" the man replied in awe. "Simply marvelous!" He turned to his girlfriend. "Honey, will you wait for me outside? I'm going to buy a whole box of truffles for my mother!"

    The woman smiled, then turned away and exited the shop. Macaroon smiled back. "You've found yourself quite the girl."

    The man's smile started to curl. "As have you."

    Macaroon's face went cold as the man pulled a gun from beneath his shirt.

    "No sudden moves, grandpa," the man pointed the gun straight at Macaroon, who lifted his hands and took a step back.

    "Please, I want no trouble," Macaroon's voice shook with every syllable. "Take anything you like."

    "How about the girl?" the man sneered. "I know she's here." He grabbed another of the sweet confections from the sample tray. "I know her recipe."

    "I don't know what you're talking about," Macaroon began to cower.

    "Do you have any idea who you are lying to, Pops?" the man inched closer, and cocked the pistol in his hand. "Do you have any idea the power I command? Surely, you've seen my face before?"

    The man cocked his head and nudged it toward a corkboard on the wall, where several bounties were displayed. In the center, sure enough, was the handsome young man before him. His name was Byakuya the Snow Leopard, First Mate of the True North Pirates. His bounty was 3,200,000 berries. Macaroon gulped. A moment before, he had been completely oblivious to the man standing before him.

    "You get the picture," Byakuya snarled. "Now, where's my little runaway?"

    Macaroon whimpered as he watched Byakuya's finger slide to the trigger.

    "I'm right here, Byakuya," a tiny voice echoed from the room behind them. A moment later, a young girl of about fourteen years old popped out. She had bright red hair, tied into two short pigtails. Macaroon gasped.

    "Tapioca, what are you doing?" Macaroon cried.

    "I'm sorry, Master Macaroon," the girl, Tapioca bowed her head before approaching Byakuya. "Thank you for sheltering me all this time."

    "She's not some tool, you know!" Macaroon bellowed to the pirate. "She's an innocent and sweet little girl who makes good sweets. She has wants and needs, dreams and fears, just like any girl her age. You heartless fools can't treat her like she's an instrument?"

    Without warning, Byakuya pulled the trigger. Macaroon gasped as he felt the bullet go through his forehead.

    "No!" Tapioca cried as she rushed toward him. Byakuya grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Please! I have to help him!"

    "He was running his mouth," Byakuya smirked with no remorse as Macaroon fell to the ground, his vision fading and hearing going too. "That bullet went right through his brain, dummy. I killed him instantly."

    "No, there's still time," the girl cried, before reaching into her pocket and producing a knife. Amateur hour, he grinned.

    "Thinking of fighting back, are you?" the pirate growled, tightening his grasp on her arm. He doubled back in surprise, when instead of trying to stab him, she put the knife to her throat. "What's gotten into you?"

    "I'm no use to Captain Kita dead and it'll be your head that rolls when he finds out," Tapioca trembled with conviction. "Now, please. I'll come with you. Just let me save him."

    Is she crazy? Byakuya stared at her with a slight tinge of fear. He loosened his grasp. "Suit yourself."

    She rushed behind the counter as Byakuya looked on. She grabbed hold of Macaroon's arm. "I'm so sorry, Master Macaroon. This is my fault. I shouldn't have ran away and begged you to let me stay."

    She took out a piece of chocolate from her pocket, then placed it in his mouth and closed her eyes. "Please forgive me. Let my bothersome existence at least produce this one tiny miracle."

    "Let's go already," Byakuya began to tremble in confusion and fear about the strange ritual. "He's dead, see?"

    Tapioca cried as she got to her feet. "Yeah," she said with a cold, submissive distance.

    Byakuya smiled. "Alright, let's get out of here." He took the girl by the arm, then dragged her out of the bakery. As they stepped outside, Byakuya's "girlfriend" approached with an impatient glare.

    "Geez, B," she shook her head. "There weren't supposed to be gunshots."

    "Did anyone see you?" he asked the woman, one of his crewmates and his favorite lookout, Siberia.

    She looked at him coldly. He wasn't one of her favorites. "If they did, they wouldn't even dare interfere. That's the kind of town this is."

    An old woman walked by them, briefly assessing the scene and noticing the blood spatter on Byakuya's shirt, then simply kept on walking.

    "An ironic place for you to end up, Miss Tapioca," Siberia smiled like a sadist. "Your powers are wasted here."

    Tapioca could do nothing but cry. Byakuya rolled his eyes, then dragged her along. The three of them disappeared, no one in Wagama Town even paying them a second glance. Who would in such a selfish town?

    Macaroon gasped for air, then sat up as quickly as he could, his eyes speeding around the room like the bullet that just went through his skull. He got to his feet and turned around. On the floor behind him laid the bullet. It definitely went straight through and came out the other end. The blood on the wall and floor and counter was proof enough. Macaroon had just been murdered. He slowly put his hand to his head, expecting to feel a bullet hole. Instead, there was nothing. Macaroon frowned, then felt the lingering taste of chocolate on his mouth. After a moment, he knew. "Thank you, Tapioca," he said to the room. He wished there was something he could do to save the selfless little girl who saved him. She was exactly the type of person Macaroon had spent his whole life looking for, and she needed to be saved.

    "Hey, Suzume!" Keo shouted, waking Suzume up from her slumber. She yawned in annoyance as she struggled to come back to her senses. "Suzume, Suzume, Suzume!"

    "What?" she grumbled, getting to her feet.

    "Land ho!" he grinned with the child-like mirth she had come to expect from her traveling companion. Well, every other day, at least.

    After weighing anchor and raising the sails, Keo and Suzume stopped off the boat. It had been almost a week since Keo had last been on dry land, and he already missed it so. Maybe he wasn't cut out to be a pirate.

    "What first?" Suzume asked.

    "I don't know!" Keo replied with a grin. "I've never been to another island before. Let's explore!"

    "Keo, wait," Suzume called after him, but he was off. He couldn't contain his excitement. A few moments later, he came across a signpost pointing off to the south.

    "Hey, Suzume!" Keo called back behind himself. "There's a village nearby!"

    He turned around, but Suzume was already at the signpost. Her sudden appearance frightened him.

    "Well, this is nostalgic," Suzume chuckled. "I haven't been here in a long time."

    "You know this place?" Keo asked. "Got any friends here."

    "Less than other islands, no," she replied. "But you won't find friends here either."

    Keo read the sign again. "What's so bad about Wagama Town?"

    Suzume simply shook her head. "If you landed on this island, and passed out on the beach, begging for water, not a single soul here would offer you a drink."

    "What?" Keo gasped. "That's horrible!"

    "This is a town of absolute self-preservation," Suzume replied. "They call it the Town of Selfishness."

    Keo gulped, then looked back at the village at the edge of the horizon. It gave him a very uneasy feeling.

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