The milky red stone, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I hadn’t really let go of it since we had left port, thoughts of coincidence flashed through my mind as we left Alabasta and Vivi behind.
“I think that we’ve lost them, Captain.”
The marines were far off in the distance at this point, barely able to see their white and blue flags from my post on deck. Even with binoculars, you couldn’t see them.
Zoro had reached over to take them from me, double-checking to see if I was right.
“We’ve definitely lost them.”
He spoke, before handing them back to me. He turned to face the rest of the crew, who had all sat down within the rungs of the staircase, crying.
“What is wrong with you lot?”
I shook my head at Zoro, “They’re missing Vivi.”
“Tch,” He turned away from the others. “Stop crying! I knew that I should have just dragged her aboard!”
Then the insults began flying, directed towards us even if Zoro took the brunt of it all.
“You’re both barbarian’s.”
That was spoken straight to Zoro’s face, even as Usopp scolded Luffy for his unimaginative insult game.
“Four sword style!”
“No! Try natto!”
“Honestly, it’s not like I don’t have her den-den mushi number. We can still talk to her.”
“But Ebony, it’s not the same!”
I sighed, “No, but she’s safe and that’s what matters at the moment.”
A familiar voice, one that I had been waiting on piped up from behind us.
“She’s right,” Zoro’s hand went directly for the hilt of his swords. No one aboard the ship had forgotten that the last time that voice was there, she had tried to choke me. Not to mention everything else that had happened.
“It’s so nice to be finally out to sea.”
The shock of each crew member was palpable, that and terror from Chopper, Usopp and Nami, heart eyes from Sanji and the always ready to throw down Zoro. Only Luffy and I didn’t really react; Luffy was just confused that she happened to be alive.
Zoro, who had been reaching for his swords was stopped by a group of arms that had sprung out of his body. Robin didn’t seem to be physically stronger than Zoro, but the sheer number of arms that she had held him back by probably helped to even it all out.
“Are you going to try and choke me again?”
She turned to face me, “Not unless you want me to.”
I could hear the others choke on their own spit, not expecting that almost flirtatious comment.
“No thank you,” I couldn’t help but smirk at her, enjoying the banter. “That’s not really something I’m into.”
There was further choking, further spit takes at my dry answer. What I hadn’t expected was it to make Robin laugh. It was clear that she hadn’t done so in a while, as it was dry and unpractised.
Nami was the first to seemingly recover, “Since when did you board the ship?”
Robin reached out and grabbed a deck chair, setting it up as she replied “I’ve been here the whole time, reading a book in the cabin. I managed to take a bath, too.”
She sat down, looking towards Nami. “Are these your clothes, or Ebony’s? Either way, thank you for lending them to me.”
“They’re mostly mine, or at least those pants are.”
“Well, thank you, Ebony.”
Nami was outraged, “What are you doing? And Ebony! How are you so calm!”
I wouldn’t have been able to tell Nami either way, as I honestly had no idea myself as to why I was so calm.
Robin had by this stage caused Sanji to attempt mutiny by killing our Captain, with Luffy trying incredibly hard to plead his case in vain.
“What’s the story?”
Sanji took to shaking the Captain even harder.
Robin was smiling, if only a little at the chaos that she had caused.
“What do you want? Why are you really here?”
The Captain had managed to escape from Sanji’s shakedown, his face screwed up in confusion.
Robin let out a small laugh, “Let me join your crew.”
The majority of the crew was in shock at her statement, as it most definitely wasn’t a question. It actually reminded me a little about how I had asked to join the crew, but I hadn’t snuck aboard and used the amenities, stolen someone's clothes and all before actually asking.
“You, Monkey D. Luffy, made me continue on living when I wanted to die. I have nowhere else to go, so let me stay on this ship.”
The Captain’s answer was to be expected, even though the others didn’t seem to think so.
“Honestly, did you really expect anything else considering the way I joined?”
Sanji nodded in agreement, hearts still in his eyes at the prospect of another lady joining the crew.
“Don’t worry, she isn’t all that bad!”
Luffy seemed exceedingly happy when he said this, but I couldn’t help but notice the slight tension to his smile, as though he wasn’t sure of his own words. I walked over towards him, giving him a questioning look, which he shook his head at and mouthed the word ‘later’ at me.
After surviving the wreckages falling from the sky, the realisation that there was a sky island above filled some of us with excitement and others with dread. To be fair, Usopp had passed out for a very good reason; a human skull crashing right into your own head wouldn’t do much to keep someone conscious.
“Are you sure? A sky island? They exist?”
Nami was curious but cautious. She had clearly never heard of a sky island before, and as navigator, she wanted to be one hundred percent certain before going anywhere.
“They do, and there’s quite a few of them around. Especially in the New World.” I pointed out to her, the pair of us watching on as Robin explained the origins of the skull that had broken open upon impact with Usopp’s head to the now awake
I would love to pick that woman’s brain for archaeological tips and historical facts about this world, but I don’t think that any of us were close enough to her that we would be able to get proper facts out of her anytime soon.
Nami decided that she had heard enough and interjected into the conversation.
“You can get that information from just a skull?”
“You’d be surprised.” “He may not be able to speak, but he can still tell his tale.”
Robin looked at me with a look of slight surprise before it was quickly hidden, “If that ship was used for exploring, there must be a router in the ship.”
“But it’s still sinking…”
“Hang on Luffy!” “BEWL WE!”
Did he just ask for help? I really couldn’t understand what he just said.
Sanji and Zoro had dived in after the Captain, who had thought to explore the sinking vessel when it had fallen from the sky. I hadn’t gone in after them as Sanji and Zoro should have been able to handle it.
“WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING?” “NEED A HAND?”
Nami and I were of two different minds, as Sanji and Zoro climbed aboard, dragging our Captain behind them. Luffy had a sopping wet piece of what looked to be parchment clutched in his hand, which was at least several metres away from his body; devil fruits really didn’t seem to be worth it if the ocean could do that to you after eating one.
“I found something! Look at this!”
Luffy held the piece of parchment in front of his face, showing us a map of Skypiea. The map reminded me of some of the early explorative maps of the world, like those from the Middle Ages when the people weren’t always sure of what was there, but they knew that something was.
“Skypiea? Does that mean there really is an island up there?”
Nami was still in disbelief, but she really didn’t have much of a choice if the Captain wanted to go somewhere.
“A dream island! Let’s go to it!”
Nami turned away from our excited Captain, Doctor and Sniper, who were celebrating by dancing around in a circle.
“Don’t get too worked up, it may not even exist. There are far too many fake maps out there…”
Before there could be an argument, I spoke up.
“What our dearest Navigator is trying to say, is that even if the map is real, she isn’t sure as to how to get there.”
Nami turned her head towards me, her eyes sharp and you could see that she was gearing up to start shouting again when Luffy interjected.
“We’ll go on the ship!”
“Captain, it’s a little more difficult than that,” The glare that had been trained on me softened until I continued, “But it is completely possible.”
And the glare came back; Nami didn’t want me to encourage our Captain’s craziness, but she clearly didn’t know me all that well just yet.
That would soon change.
Masira the Salvage King was an interesting man, more comical than I remembered him being. Weaker, too.
Three gulls hit the deck, each killed by a bullet. I knew then that we were close to Mocktown and my nerves were at an all-time high. New bounties would drop any day now and then there were the people that we would most definitely come across.
Bellamy, Mont Blanc Cricket, Marshall D. Teach.
I don’t know what I would do if I came into contact with that man.
Run? Pretend that I had no idea what he had done? That wouldn’t work, he probably knew exactly who I was and it wouldn’t take much to guess that Ace had told me everything.
(Bellamy, on the other hand. I had met him before, once and it hadn’t ended particularly well. For Bellamy.)
“You look worried, Ebony.”
Nami was the one to speak, bringing the attention of each crew member on deck to myself.
I nodded absentmindedly, “I am a bit.”
Luffy, who had been hanging the seagulls over the edge of the ship before that, swung an arm around my shoulders and flung himself towards me. He wasn’t exactly light, but he was mindful of the injury that I was still recovering from. The injury itself wasn’t as bad as what it had been, but it was still something that was going to be sensitive for a bit longer.
The Captain looked as innocent as a newborn baby at that moment, reminding me of the many stories that Ace had mentioned of their younger years. Sometimes, when the two were caught dining and dashing by guards, Luffy would pull out the puppy eyes and a very sneaky Ace would end up pickpocketing whoever Luffy happened to be looking at.
“For one? The man Ace is hunting is close by, and he’s incredibly dangerous…”
“We can fight him!”
I thought Luffy would say that but had hoped that he wouldn’t. Fear like nothing I had felt before shot through me, surpassing the feeling I had when I had revealed myself an Outlier to the crew.
Everyone was startled by my outburst.
“No, we can’t. None of us are strong enough to face him head-on.”
Chopper’s lip trembled, as Usopp looked over towards the shore in fear.
Luffy’s voice was flat, but I could hear an underlying tension in it.
“If he controls his temper, and doesn’t react to whatever that man says. Yes, he could.”
Uncharacteristically, Luffy sighed and removed his hat, running his fingers through his hair.
“That…might be an issue.”
“I know, but Sabo is still travelling with him.” I tried to smile, but it came out weaker than expected.
“Between the two of them, they should be okay.”
Luffy nodded, but neither of us were convinced.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Nami, who hadn’t said a word pumped her fist in the air.
“That’s right! New bounties are released every month or so, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are, Navigator-san. And after the defeat of Crocodile, they should be considering hiring another Shichibukai.”
Robin interjected, book in hand.
“Who do you think will be getting a new bounty? Or having theirs’ raised?”
Nami had a secretive look on her face, trying to tell me not so subtly to speak of the future.
“The Captain for certain, maybe Zoro?”
No, it wasn’t, but I had a feeling that another one of us would be receiving attention by the Marines and World Government in the form of a bounty.
I just hoped that it wouldn’t bring us any more trouble than what was absolutely necessary.
Exekias didn’t know what to think of this new world that he had been thrust into. After being almost killed by the Eagle Bearer on the outskirts of Athens had been a wake-up call. Kassandra had been vicious in her attacks, having learned of his involvement in the training and subsequent torture of her younger brother.
He wasn’t proud of being a torturer, but his methods got the best out of the recruits to the Cult of Kosmos and anything that furthered interests of the Cult was a good thing in his mind.
This new world was strange, but the men and women were seemingly more powerful than those of his own world. He wasn’t used to being what one could call someone of the mid-card, but he was always willing to train harder and more often if that is what it took to keep up in a world with powers that could make the Gods of Olympus tremble.
The language barrier was a larger issue, but one that was becoming easier and easier each day. The doctor who had healed him was a big part in helping him understand the words and what was what in this strange place.
There were more islands than he was used to, and considering where he was from? That was saying something.
From what he understood, Teach was trying to become a warlord? A government dog? Exekias couldn’t be certain of the logistics of all that was going on, but one thing he was very good at was observing and planning.
And by the Gods, he was going to do so.
After all, Kosmos was everywhere.
“It almost looks a bit like a resort, doesn’t it?”
Zoro gave me a dry look, “A resort for pirates isn’t something that I would expect to actually exist.”
“Shishishishi! It looks like a fun city!”
Luffy was as exuberant as usual, but each of us were tense, knowing that somewhere on this island was the man that Ace was hunting.
“You do know that Nami doesn’t exactly trust the two of you to not get into trouble?”
“Tch, she sent you here as a baby sitter.”
Zoro was unimpressed, arms crossed against his chest.
“Pretty much. Nami was going to come herself, but apparently I’m just as good?”
I turned towards Luffy, who was still looking around in wonder.
“So I think it would be best if we didn’t start any fights whilst we’re here.”
Luffy pouted, “No fighting?”
I nodded, “Orders from Nami and I slightly agree.”
Zoro’s facial expression changed, a smirk appearing in place of the frown. “Only slightly?”
I grinned, “Only fight if it’s absolutely necessary; we don’t particularly need to or want to draw attention to ourselves just yet.”
I looked out onto the path, filled with pirates of all shapes, sizes and genders. “The new bounties will do that for us.”
“Plus, if we cause any trouble staying on the island will be a lot harder to get to the sky island.”
The two nodded and we all continued on our way, past a series of shops selling weaponry and clothing, all clearly directed towards pirates and those adjacent. Flintlocks and short swords of varying quality lined one of the windows, whilst a rack of cloaks and coats with signs offering customisation in a range colours and sizes stood outside another shop.
“Do any of us need anything yet?”
Zoro grunted, “The witch didn’t give us our allowance before we left.”
I slammed my face into my palm, “Really Nami?”
Reaching into my bag I grabbed out a handful of berri, coins and notes for both Zoro and Luffy. I wasn’t by any means wealthy, but I had been fairly frugal and had saved a lot of money from my time working at the bar and the swimming lessons I had given.
“You can pay me back if you want, but it’s not a bother if you don’t.”
Handing the money to the two, I walked off towards the rack with the coats, flicking through them and ogling at the prices. The prices were higher than those in Loguetown, but I needed another coat since I’d found a massive rip in the back of my current one.
An easy fix with needle and thread, maybe some scrap fabrics, but I liked having options. Even if those options were just multiples of pretty much the same thing. Blue, black and silver clothing, I had a lot of it.
I hadn’t noticed the looks of shock on their faces after I had walked off.
“Shishishishi! Thanks, Ebony!”
“No problem, Captain!”
Suddenly there was the sound of hurried footsteps and shouting coming from the direction of the Going Merry.
Nami, it seemed had remembered that she hadn’t actually given us any money to spend. I declined my share, asking her to keep it for later or share it out amongst themselves. She gave me a strange look, as though wondering why I wasn’t asking for more money or even taking the money that she’d offered to me.
“I have my own savings at the moment, Nami.” I put my hand on her shoulder, squeezing it. “But I do appreciate it.”
Zoro and Luffy tried giving me back what I had given to them, but I refused.
I wasn’t going to take the money back, especially since Nami could be incredibly protective over the treasury and liked holding it hostage over especially Zoro’s head.
I didn’t want to go into the bar, knowing damn well who would be inside but the other three were going to go inside and I didn’t want to leave their backs undefended. I elected to sit in the corner, as far away from Teach as I possibly could but where I could still see everything that was going on.
Zoro gave me a knowing look, his sharp eyes taking in his surrounds when he located the very man that I wished to avoid. The muscles in his neck tensed and his hands twitched, as though he was reaching for his katana but thought better of it.
Nami brought me over a glass of what looked to be cherry lemonade, before going back to Luffy and Zoro. It didn’t take long for Luffy and Teach to start to argue over the food that they were consuming, nor did it take long for the doors to the bar to slam open and for Bellamy to walk in.
“Is there a pirate, with a Straw Hat in here?”
Luffy turned away from Teach, dismissing him even though if you knew him well enough you could tell that he was clearly uncomfortable doing so. His posture though was almost callous, casual as he leant against the bar.
“What is it?”
Zoro took a large swig from his beer, “Someone’s looking for you Luffy”
Nami looked a little spooked from the whispers around the bar that were talking about Bellamy, “Isn’t he the guy that booked out the hotel?”
Following behind were the rest of his crew, Sarquiss was looking especially smug as he put down a group of pirates who thought it would be easy to take the man out.
I winced as Luffy’s head was slammed into the wooden bar table, and as Zoro went to defend the Captain.
And then Nami opened her mouth, “If you fight we won’t be able to get to the Sky Island!”
The entire bar was silent, before bursting into raucous laughter. Then mocking followed, and another beatdown by Bellamy for Luffy.
“Zoro, whatever you do, don’t fight against them! Nami, you go with Ebony!”
Zoro nodded, but many looked at Luffy in confusion, noticing only the three who were stood in from of the bar. Nami quickly made her way to me, and I stood in front of her, shielding her from the leering stares of some of the more perverted men.
Almost in unison, the patrons of the bar whipped around to notice the lone Straw Hat pirate sitting in the corner. Just to be cheeky, I raised my almost empty glass in jest and skulled the rest of the drink.
“It’s such a nice bar, don’t ruin it too much.”
I could feel Nami gripping my sleeve, “Why aren’t they fighting back?”
Her voice was a whisper against the cheering, “Because they’ve nothing to prove to these men and women. They’re already stronger, so why do they have to show it?”
The beat down continued, until Bellamy had enough, throwing the swordsman and the captain towards Nami and I.
“Take out the trash, why don’t you?”
Sarquiss smirked in our direction, “Or you could come with us.”
Nami glared in his direction, “You couldn’t afford us.”
I let out a cackle, one that had some of the older Bellamy pirates paling slightly.
“Damn right they couldn’t afford us!”
I lowered my hood slightly, showing my eyes.
“Honestly, you should know better after the last time you asked.”
I grinned, downright savagely.
“Don’t you remember not to underestimate those opponents that are smaller than you, especially after they’ve already given you a scar?”
Nami and I managed to get Zoro and Luffy out of the bar in silence after that, even with Nami giving me speculative looks every now and then.
“You’ve met them before, haven’t you?”
I nodded, placing Zoro onto the ground where he slumped over onto his back. “It was a few years ago. To cut a long story short, he flirted a bit too hard with someone who didn’t want it, didn’t take no for an answer and I got angry at the lack of respect.”
I sighed, freezing slightly as I saw Teach and his crew up ahead but shaking my head.
“Smoker was around, probably why I’m not dead at this point in time, but Bellamy has a particularly nasty looking scar from a seastone dagger that I found across his back.”
I shuddered, knowing very well that if Smoker hadn’t been around the bar that day it would have been a much worse situation. Nami looked frightened, but I tried to reassure her.
“Nami, I’m here aren’t I? And besides, we have so much to look forward to. Skypiea is a real place, and we will get there.”
Nami nodded, but her anger at the whole situation was clear on her face. It was only then that I realised that those words that were meant to be a comfort for a friend were heard by the last person that I wished to see at that point in time.
“The man from before…”
I wasn’t game enough to speak up since whatever words that might come out my mouth wouldn’t help any of us.
He was staring directly at Nami, “Why are you still angry? Those two just won the battle!”
Teach started to laugh again, the pie still in hand. “The way that you yelled at them? That was great!”
He turned to me at this point, “And you! Bringing up the fact that you’ve already injured them before! Zehahahahaha! Genius!”
It was strange being complemented by a man that you knew was a piece of shit, but couldn’t say anything for fear of your own life so I just nodded.
A slight groan was heard as Luffy and Zoro gradually stood up. My arms went out to help them up immediately.
“Easy Captain, Zoro. Take it easy.”
“Tch, I’ve had worse.”
I rolled my eyes at the swordsman, “I know that you have but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it easy right now.”
“You fuss worse than any mother I’ve seen.”
“And the little deer will fuss even worse than me.”
Zoro grumbled, but he did allow me to help him up. Luffy was helped up by Nami, his eyes sharp as he watched the large pirate sitting on the ground.
“The so-called ‘New Age’ that lot were babbling about is all bullshit!”
He threw his arms out, almost knocking a passerby off his feet with the bottle in his hand.
“Saying that the age of pirates who dream is over? Zehahahaha!”
“A man’s dream will never die!”
Everything after that happened in quick succession.
We met up with Mont Blanc Cricket, and then again with Bellamy; Luffy had taken me with him, even if only to see how the would react to me now that they knew who I was.
Only this time Bellamy happened to be the one who would be left beaten and bloody. Luffy was merciless, a one-hit KO and Doflamingo’s underling was down and out. The shock, awe and terror of all those surrounding us was kind of scary to someone like me who had spent a majority of the past few years trying to keep under the radar so to speak.
Then running in terror when Bellamy was unable to stand.
I hadn’t really expected that.
Kneeling down next to the semi-conscious body of Bellamy, I couldn’t help but give him a warning.
“He’s going to tear you and Sarquiss apart. If you can, I’d run and run as far away as I possibly could.”
The news coo happened to be later that afternoon, just as we were all boarding the Going Merry, who I hadn’t heard since that day a few weeks ago. The paper was dropped unceremoniously onto the deck of the ship, with Usopp picking it up to flick through.
There must not have been much of note, at least until I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Wordlessly Usopp handed me the piece of paper that had my name and photograph on it.
Wanted for the following crimes; Piracy, consorting with known Outliers and Underworld Informant. Black ‘Crow Queen’ Ebony. 32,000,000 Dead or Alive
The photograph wasn’t completely clear, as my face had been fairly obscured by my hood; which had been the entire point of it in the first place. You could see flashes of a blonde braid, and the almost smirk on my face but my eyes were completely in shadow.
I was expecting to get a bounty, just not so soon.
“Ebony! Let's see!”
Luffy was far too excited to see the sheet of paper that had my first bounty on it, so I handed it to him.
“Luffy, there are ones for you and Zoro as well.”
100,000,000 and 60,000,000 respectively.
The Captain let out a loud cheer, as Zoro grinned somewhat feral.
I couldn’t help but sigh, not even into the Grand Line and as a crew, we had managed to gain a collective bounty of 192,000,000.
We’d be hunted more now that I had been added into the mix.
Exekias stood behind Teach, who had started to brag somewhat about becoming a warlord.
He wasn’t one yet, nowhere near close. Exekias knew what it was like to be considered one and the man that he had sworn (under sufferance) to serve was not one. Exekias understood bounties though and hunting down those that had garnered a particular kind of attention by either someone with the right amount of money or in the right position of power.
The ship that they called home was somewhat unusual to Exekias, nothing at all like the triremes that he had become accustomed to whilst travelling throughout Greece. The lack of oarsman bellow deck threw him off quite heavily, but much like the world around him, it was something that he was going to have to get used to.
“ZEHAHAHAHA! I FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO YOU STRAW HAT!”
There were few words that Exekias fully understood, but the maddening laughter was obvious.
The hunter had found their prey.
“WE ARE HERE TO TAKE YOUR HEAD! SURRENDER TO US NOW!”
Exekias sighed; no one who had been forewarned would allow another to take their head. It just didn’t work like that.
From across the ocean, a young voice called back “MY HEAD?”
“THOSE BOUNTIES OF YOURS! STRAW HAT LUFFY 100,000,000! PIRATE HUNTER ZORO 60,000,000! AND CROW QUEEN EBONY 32,000,000!”
A female voice that almost reminded Exekias of that dreaded Eagle Bearer shouted a curse word that he didn’t ever think he would hear unless it came from his own mouth.
“ERRE ES KORAKAS!”
Exekias froze. Most curious.
Exekias now had a reason to track that particular bounty down.