Murky Island is...well, a large part of it lives up to the name. Creepy-as-hell forests, shrouded in mist, the fog extending into the town on most days. Despite that, the town's harbor is thriving...likely because many pirate crews make stops here, both the adventurous sort and the greedy. The latter...well, flashes of half-remembered violence and madness told me I'd probably been keeping the South Blue crime rate down rather effectively. Most gave up and left after weeks of being harried by other monsters in the forests, and many just vanished, like Jack had said.
Our vessel is almost unremarkable as it slides into harbor, sails furled and every hint of Marine ownership scrubbed away. We'd even taken a day to pull down the sails and completely remove the Marine insignia, replacing it with the Jolly Roger Vinci had come up with- a grinning, circular skull, lines of stitches leading from each corner of the triangular nose to the edge of the symbol. Getting that on the mainsail had taken just about all the paint that'd been stocked in the hold, but we'd managed it.
My fingers tap a rhythm on the portside rail as gangplanks are extended and Jack starts organizing men to get supplies- first among them, proper clothing. Prison rags weren't exactly the best things to wear. Next on the list was fresh water, food, and whatever citrus could be found. After that, they'd start looking for their own gear, whatever bits of personal equipment they wanted. Minus Jack's official cut for supplies and a good amount held back for emergencies, everyone got around five hundred thousand to do their own shopping.
The town itself seems quiet, shrouded in morning fog. Beyond a rough complement of trading vessels and fishing boats, there's only one other ship of note at the docks- a towering galleon with a figurehead like a running wolf.
"Checking out the competition?" Vinci asks, flopping down on the rail beside me. "Those're the Hound Pirates. Nasty bunch. Probably treasure-hunting."
"Oh, the usual. Torture, murder, the odd rape or twelve, really, they're not discriminate."
"Really." I feel my tails start to shift under my skin. "You want me to follow them?"
"If they go into the jungle, see that they don't come out," Vinci says with a smile. "I'd rather not have to deal with them later."
I flip him a salute with two fingers, and leap down to the docks.
Vinci had to admit- having capable people doing things for him was much better than his original plan of signing up with the first pirate crew that needed a doctor. It let him wander about the town as much as he liked, so long as he kept a Transponder Snail on him.
Kaneki carried one, too, just in case. Though what could actually hurt someone with that potent a regenerating ability, Vinci didn't want to know.
He wasn't planning to purchase anything, and a town like this probably didn't have the specialized equipment he needed, while Jack was busy getting the raw materials he did need. But he wandered anyway. He caught a glimpse of Kaneki, but only barely, as the ghoul followed a grungy-looking man, his first mate de-masked and looking without a care in the world. For once. Did he feel all that guilty about siccing him on the Hound Pirates? No, not particularly. Better he dine on actually evil people than suffer hunger pangs when the only food around was his own crew, and besides, his current demeanor was a pretty big difference from him being grumpy in combat, or a slightly different kind of grumpy while putting the crew- and Vinci- through some of the most torturous exercises he'd ever seen. In Vinci's professional opinion, those were skirting the line between harsh training and outright torture, just barely keeping to the former's side of the equation. Effective, though. Even the weakest of the crew, a 90-pound weakling with the unfortunate name of Digby Sioux, was getting strong, and quickly. It was putting a strain on their supplies, too, fueling that much effort every day. Still, they'd make it work, though it'd be tough going unless they could either steal or make some cash. Maybe he could use his talents?
"Help! Is anyone a doctor?"
Well. Speak of the devil and he shall appeareth. Vinci grinned- internally, nothing hurt first impressions like his usual smile when it was a matter of surgery- and followed his ears, taking the scene in at a glance.
Bar, decent enough, smashed window, man on the ground, woman- probably wife- pressing a wadded-up piece of cloth to his torso, not doing much to stem the bleeding. Looked like a cutlass wound, hadn't broken past the ribs but was definitely risking intrusion into the abdominal cavity. Likely fatal without treatment. Luckily, he was here.
He'd already rolled up his sleeves and set down his bag before the woman even noticed he was there, and she recoiled slightly. Oh. Right. Introductions.
"I'm a doctor," he said quickly. "What happened?"
"One of those...those pirates, wanted free drinks. He attacked my husband, then he ran off, he…"
"Okay, ma'am, your husband's going to be alright."
Wound wasn't fatal. Hadn't broken into his guts, which was good. Stitches and bandaging would do the trick, the cut muscles would likely take a while to heal fully but would nonetheless heal. Needle. Thread. Cotton bandages. His hands worked quickly and steadily, knitting together torn flesh and skin.
Man was unconscious, pulse steady.
Stitching, done. Bandages, tied off. And two pirates entering the bar, looking intent on trouble. Vinci closed his bag with a snap, and straightened up, palming a scalpel in one hand and playing out thread for his needle with the other. "Can I help you gentlemen?" he asked, very politely.
"Fuck off, doctor," one growled, cocking a pistol.
Vinci sighed. "So uncivilized. Oh, well. Stitches."
Finding one of the Hounds was easy. They were loud, stupid, and practically paraded around with their dog-skull symbol on full display. Keeping track...about fifty of them, decently fed and armed, but definitely not Grand Line material. Not as strong as my own crewmates, one for one...huh. We hadn't given ourselves a name, or given the ship a name, yet. Would have to rectify that at some point.
Anyway, a few hours of watching from a distance gave me a good idea of their numbers. Four major problems, though. First was their captain, or someone who I assumed was their captain. Hadn't been able to get a look at him, he'd been holed up in his cabin, but one of the Hounds had gone in and been hurled out at a speed I wasn't sure I could manage, so that was worrisome. Meant he was a tough customer. Second was a fairly creepy fellow, bald as an egg, in a black cloak. The other Hounds kept their distance from him on deck and in the town. Third was a thin fellow in a full-length tunic of sorts, who carried a long rifle everywhere he went and had a tendency to vanish up onto the rooftops, making my own job difficult. Fourth, and the one I was currently following, was a heavily built man with an absolutely massive sword on his back, a man who didn't fit the mold the rest of the crew set for him. If it hadn't been for the dog-skull on his black coat I'd have thought he was on a different crew entirely. He was actually polite, for one thing. He hadn't threatened to murder anyone, had actually physically restrained someone who had, and generally wasn't a complete asshole drunk on the fact that nobody really dared stop the pirates from doing what they pleased.
It was confusing.
Right now, large tall and beardy was sitting at a coffee shop of some kind, with me lurking- yes, that is exactly what I was doing- on a nearby bench.
You know what, fuck it. Might as well try something direct, and if I had to fight him I'd just use my tails and hurl him into the harbor.
I drop into the seat across from the man and grin as widely and unsettlingly as possible. "You're a very strange fellow, anyone ever tell you that?" I ask.
The man narrows his eyes. "No." He sniffs the air. "You're the one who's been following me all day."
"Fair enough. How could you tell?"
"You smell like dried blood and coffee."
"Really. Hell of a nose you've got," I say lightly.
"You going to tell me why you've been following me and mine around all day?"
"Only if you tell me why someone like you signed up with a crew like the Hounds. A captain like 'Black Dog' Wyald...well, it doesn't seem to fit the way you act."
The man actually growls at me, and puts his elbows up on the table, exposing forearms that look more like chunks of ham. "Doesn't seem to fit how, exactly?"
"You're not a burning pile of dogshit with an attitude like literally everyone else," I reply, widening my grin. "You're actually quite pleasant. So, why sign up with a rapist and murderer?"
"That's personal," he snarls. "Now fuck off."
I cock my head slightly, and stand. "Fair, fair. I was just curious, you know. But can I ask one last question?"
"If you leave me the hell alone afterwards, fine."
"Do you plan to look for Sandor's treasure?"
He folds his arms. "Yes."
"Then try not to die, Hound," I say politely.
Well. Looks like I've got a hunt tonight.
Rubeus Jack looked at the pinned-to-the-ceiling pirates. He looked at his captain. He looked back at the pirates again, noticing this time that the stitches keeping them in place had also been used on their mouths. Someone- either the captain, or the bartender's wife- had put a bucket under the two to catch the falling drops of blood. He looked back at the captain, noting absently that the five of the crew he'd brought with him were doing the same thing.
"Well. Shit," he said flatly. "What're we going to do with them, sir?"
"Well, I was planning to test a few medical experiments out that I couldn't really use on myself…" Vinci said idly, twirling a scalpel in one hand. "Alternatively, well...I have my own methods of disposing of them." He smiled, very widely.
One of the Hounds wet himself. The bartender's wife hurried over with another bucket.
Rubeus just sighed. "You do realize this means a lot of trouble? The Hounds'll go looking for their missing crew sooner or later."
"Hounds were going to make trouble anyway, just not for us. Now we get to kill them and take their stuff," Vinci said flatly.
One of the Hounds made a whimpering noise.
"Quiet, you," Jack snapped. "Sir, you sure about this?"
"As sure as ever."
"Alright." He pulled his transponder snail from his pocket. "Yoshimura, now. And rope in the main unit back on the ship."
Finding that thing had been a stroke of luck. The captain swore he could get it to listen in one Marine communications, but thus far no progress. Right now the babies were the most-used ones.
Puru puru puru ka-click.
The snail's face morphed into a rough approximation of Yoshimura's unmasked face. "What's the problem?"
"Captain picked a fight with a couple of Hounds. What're we dealing with?"
"Fifty mooks, a sniper, a brute, and some creepy fellow. No idea what the captain is like but I'm thinking dumb muscle," Yoshimura said quickly. "I'll take care of the officers. Captain?"
"Well, time to figure out how strong he is and why," Vinci said with a widening grin. "I think I'll take him alive."
"Ship's crew?" Jack asked, trying to ignore his captain's quiet giggling.
"Yeah?" one of the pirates drawled.
"Lock down the ship, load the cannon, and if they start piling onto that galleon, sink them."
"Ayuh, on that."
The snail's face changed again, now trying to imitate Yoshimura's beak-mask. "Looks like I'm hunting early today," he mused.
"Ask the captain. Should I start things off?"
"No," Vinci said. "We need time to get ready."
"Uh, guys?" the man on the ship- Nelson, that was his name- said nervously. "A bunch of them just left the ship. Two big guys with swords are leading them...and they're talking about going after...monks?"
"Oh, the guys up on the hill? I'm having tea with them right now," Yoshimura said flippantly.
"Let them," Vinci said. "Let's get these two out of here, yes? And then we go raise hell."
Could be worse. Looting the Hounds would let them augment their funds. Yoshimura's little bit of bounty-hunting fun wouldn't last forever, after all.
And it wasn't like they didn't deserve it, Jack figured, looking at the bartender sat up against the wall, and his wife tending to him.
"Alright," Jack said. "But what Yoshimura said...what is it, captain?"
A look passed over Vinci's face. "I'll tell you when we get everyone back on the ship," he said, cold all of a sudden.
That would have to do.
Bosque Herman couldn't get that man's smile out of his head, or his incessant questioning. It just kept...gnawing at him.
Why sign up with a rapist and murderer?
Stupid, simple questions, with no idea of debts owed or ties deeper than blood, but annoying ones anyway. He had no illusions about who he was working for. But he could try to keep the worst of the boss and the crew's excesses contained. Couldn't he? Wasn't that enough, to balance out what he had to do…
"You awake, boy?" his captain asked. "I asked if you were ready to head out."
Herman blinked, and nodded, following his captain out onto the deck of the Devil Dog. The sea air helped clear his thoughts, at least a little.
Grit Wyald was a giant of a man even in pure human form, twice the size of a normal human, hairy and crude, mostly covered in the massive black cloak he favored. His face looked like it had been carved from stone, with a thick black pelt of a beard providing the role of moss. The hilt of a truly immense sword, a slab-sided thing larger than Herman's own blade, poked over one shoulder. It was a visage Herman had seen every day for the last fifteen years.
His home was burned to the ground. He hadn't seen who'd done it, only barely remembered his mother telling him to run, the screams that had made him run even faster. It was only hunger, after three days of starving, that had made him brave enough to come anywhere close to the village.
And everything was gone. Just ashes left. And the man sitting in the ruins.
The man looked up as Herman drew closer. "So, boy, you survived. Good. You know who did this?"
Herman shook his head, afraid to venture any closer.
"Pirates, boy. Pirates. Just you and I left, here. So, here's how it is. We go and kill the bastards together, or I leave you here. Which are you going to choose?"
The choice was easy, put that way.
"Boss?" he asked cautiously, as Wyald finished yelling at the crew on board to pull their heads out of their rectums and get ready to leave. "Are you sure this is the way to go?"
Wyald grunted. "Sure it is. The monks...those little bald bastards know more than anyone else in the town. They'll talk to me. Hell, Grit Sandor founded this town, I deserve my damn inheritance. They'll see that."
"Even if they don't believe you?" Herman asked tentatively.
Wyald glared at him, and growled, a sound that practically sent Herman's tail between his legs. "They will. Whether they want to or not." He turned back to his crew. "Alright, boys! Let's go introduce ourselves to the bastard monks!"
They'd gotten lucky, this time, finding treasure loaded up on the privateer they raided.
Herman almost felt bad about being part of the slaughter, but three years of hard work on a rough crew had told him to bury that deep. Besides, this treasure was worth all the hardship and evils they'd committed to get it, right?
"You know what these are, boy?" the Captain asked, holding the two nearly-identical, swirl-covered fruits in his hands. "Devil Fruits. Legends. Power, at a price, boy. So. You ready to get strong enough to take what you want from this world?"
Put like that...how could he refuse?
Wyald and the Hound Pirates moved out, and as always, Herman followed.
Even if the bird-man's smile nagged at him more and more every moment.
Dayavin Tenzin regarded the man sitting across from him levelly. The young man had come to the monastery, looking grim, and hadn't said a word since. Considering his silence, though, he'd been polite, and acquiesced to tea. Tenzin did not mind, in any case. Many who came here required silence to order their thoughts properly.
The young man hadn't touched his tea, but as Tenzin watched him he sat up slightly straighter. "I...don't know where to start," he said quietly.
"The beginning is typically the best place."
"Heh. You dispense koans for free like that?"
Tenzin was silent.
"Fine. How to start…"
The young man was silent for long moments. He closed his eyes, then opened them. When he did, they had changed, whites turned to bloodshot black, blue irises a glowing red. Tenzin showed no reaction, but internally he was ready if the young man proved to be some kind of demon. There were legends and rumors….
"Is it possible," the young man asked, "to be evil as a fact of nature? Not due to choices made or intention, but just by living?"
"I would prefer to think that nobody is bound by their nature," Tenzin replied. "What...exactly, is your condition?"
The man smiled. "I'm not human."
"'Human' is a rather broad category," Tenzin said calmly. "You will have to muster more than a serious eye condition to convince me you aren't."
The young man laughed. "You're unflappable, aren't you?"
"I have lived a long life and had few regrets. You feel as if you are evil, that is why you asked your first question. What you should be asking is, if you believe your nature to be evil, whether or not your actions and intentions can outweigh that nature."
"And what do you think, then?"
"That depends on your nature."
The young man sighed. His eyes shifted back to normal. "Fair enough, old man. Not sure why I came here, anyway. No idea what I expected to find."
"Whatever you are looking for, I hope you find it," Tenzin said, as the young man stood.
The young man nodded. "So do I, old timer."
A ring pierced the relative silence, and the young man dug a transponder snail out of his pocket. "Mind if I take this outside?" he asked.
Tenzin nodded, and the young man left.
The monastery is perched on one of the island's few hills, the tower of the main chapel rising high above the thick outer walls. I perch myself up on the battlements, and watch the Hounds make their way up from the town. That's got to be just about all of them, with the officers, and a ludicrously huge man who has to be the captain, leading the way.
I chuckle to myself, and jump down from the walls, walking towards them with my mask on and my hands in my pockets.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" I ask politely.
I hear the man I'd met with earlier- funny, he looked almost like a miniature, less hairy version of his captain- growl threateningly. "You again."
"Me again," I admit. "So, you the captain?" I ask the huge man.
"Why do you want to know, boy?"
"Oh, just wondering how a man of such disreputable reputation keeps a man of basic civility loyal to him."
"Now, that ain't none of your business, is it?" the big man growls. Aw, he isn't confused by words longer than three syllables. So much for stereotypes.
I shrug. "Was simply curious. Another question: what's your intent, regarding the fine people living in this monastery?"
The captain glares at me. I don't move.
"We're gonna have words with them."
"You need guns for that?" I ask, tilting my head slightly.
"If they decide to keep shut and not tell us what they know, might be," the massive man acknowledges. "Now get out of my way."
I crack my neck in response. "I'm afraid I can't let you hurt innocent people any more than you already have."
"You can't take all of us, boy."
"Watch me. One tail, two tail, three tail, f-"
My tails push me to my feet, only for a second gunshot to ring out and another bullet to slam into- and through- my gut, hurling me against the monastery wall. I grin as the sniper and the creepy bald guy step out from the lineup of officers. The gunman's weapon smokes gently.
"Vasilij, Vandire, deal with him," the captain orders.
"Yes, Captain Wyald," the sniper says robotically, loading another round into his rifle. I hack up blood and force myself to straighten up as my body finally finishes healing the bullet holes. "You'll have to do better than thaaaat~," I sing-song.
Even as distant as the monastery was from the docks, Vinci still heard the gunshots.
"We're out of time," he commented to Jack. The big man paused in the midst of corralling the various crew members, and looked in the direction of the hill. "I'm still not liking these odds," Jack said flatly. "There's forty-three of us. Fifty or sixty Hounds, probably. And he's alone against all that. Demon or not...not sure I wish that on anyone."
The crew and Jack had taken the news about Kaneki surprisingly well. Maybe it should have been less of a surprise- Vinci knew about half of them had had captains that were as bad if not worse, and Kaneki hadn't actually done anything that hadn't helped them.
There had been a surprising amount of inelegant blubbering from the more emotional crew members, in fact, something that made no sense in Vinci's mind. You'd think hardened pirates would be more...jaded?
Well, it didn't matter. The crew was ready as it would get.
Vinci stepped out onto the railing, and whistled sharply, drawing the eyes of the entire crew. "BOYS!" He ginned. "We're going into a hell of a fight. Over there, one of our own, strong though he is, is fighting alone against sixty hardened pirates led by a man with a bounty of forty million beri. They're a tough and vicious lot….and we, we're the remnants of a half-dozen defeated crews, barely out of prison, low on funds and riding a stolen ship." He paused, letting that sink in. "Or, we were. But now, we are one crew, free men, the finest on the seas. We're the worst nightmare for those dog-loving idiots! Now and forever- WE ARE THE NIGHTMARE PIRATES! SO LET'S GO SEND THEM TO HELL!"
A wall of noise slammed into his ears as the crew erupted into cheers and stormed down the gangplanks in the general direction of the monastery, brandishing a variety of weaponry. Vinci stood there for a moment, blinking.
"I've created a monster, haven't I?" he asked Jack. The big man just grunted.
Herman leapt back as the demon's tails flashed out, barely missing him, and cut down three of his fellow Hounds who were too slow. Vasilij's bullets had torn chunks of flesh from his body, the damn thing's blood was all over the place, but it just healed, and kept coming. Every time one of the crew, even Captain Wyald, made to break past it, it focused on them, driving them back into the fray. Even as Herman waited for a follow-up, the Captain made a rush for the monastery entrance, drawing the demon away and giving the others a bit of breathing room.
"Vandire," Herman growled, raising his sword to ward off an absent-minded blow that nearly wrenched the blade from his hands.
The bald interrogator raised his head from where the ship's doctor had dragged him, ignoring the harried man's orders to lie still so that the demon-inflicted gut wound could be treated. He'd gotten off easy. Vasilij was lying sedated where he'd been laid down after the demon had ripped off his arm. "I got him at least twice with my knives," the man wheezed. "Anyone else should be dead."
They should. Vandire's poisons were toxic enough to put down a gryphon, even with a scratch. But the demon, naturally, just kept fighting as if he hadn't been cut at all.
A barrage of tail strikes drove the Captain back, and Herman caught his eye as some of the forty or so remaining Hounds attracted the monster's attention. The Captain nodded.
Time to get serious.
All it took was a moment of focus to begin the changes. Fur sprouted over his body, muscle swelled, and sounds and scents he'd barely been able to notice before became omnipresent as his ears and nose shifted, becoming doglike. To his side, he saw Wyald undergoing the same transformation.
The differences between them were small. Wyald's transformed muzzle was shorter, his body shorter-furred, but both of them now towered over the demon. Herman hefted his sword, the massive weapon now seeming small, and spoke alongside his Captain.
"Black Dog Style-"
"-CALL OF THE WILD!"
The Hounds start pulling back as the captain and his subordinate begin to transform, giving me a bit of breathing room. I jam two tails in the ground and lean on them as unobtrusively as possible, trying to squint past rapidly blurring vision. It feels like my blood is burning in my veins...poison? If it wasn't for my regeneration I'd probably be dead by now. As it is...I hope Vinci and the others show up soon.
I can barely hear them shouting over my pulse pounding in my ears, but both of them charge forwards, blades swinging at me. I barely have time to raise my tails into a guard before they're on me.
Sparks fly from every blow as steel meets the half blood, half muscle substance of my tails, and I'm forced back.
Fucking Zoans, powered up in their hybrid forms…
The two move like one person. When the Captain advances, his second steps in to keep me from pressing the attack. Where one strikes high the other cuts low. They are, almost literally, a perfect team, and their assault pushes me further and further back until I'm pinned against the monastery wall. And they still keep pressing forward, until it's taking everything I have just to keep them at bay. A tail is sliced into ribbons, another crippled temporarily by a blow from the captain that nearly cuts it apart, and I fall to my knees as both of them slam into my remaining tails with a series of overhead strikes.
And that's when the wrinkly, orange-robe-clad old man I had talked to earlier falls from the sky and hits the captain in the face with a shovel.
The captain reels back, teeth and blood flying, and I leap to take advantage- only to find myself pinned to the wall by the crescent blade on the other end of the monk's weapon, the tips digging into the stone as the blade itself presses down on my neck. I slump back against the wall, letting my tails vanish, and focus on healing, watching and listening while I wait.
"You will not profane this ground any further," the monk hisses, ignoring the horde of pirates and the swords levelled at him by the captain and his subordinate. "Neither of you will spill more blood."
"That a fact, old man?" the captain asks, sounding amused. "Fine, then. Put 'em up, boys."
The sigh of disappointment from some of the Hounds are kinda funny. Less so is the captain's smile. But weapons get put away. I raise my hand slightly. "Um, a little help?"
The monk yanks his shovel-staff out of the wall without even looking at me. I stagger slightly, before leaning back against the wall, acting like I don't care. "What do you want, pirate?" the old man asks the captain.
"I want what's mine by right of blood, holy man."
"By spilled blood one can lay claim to a great deal. You will have to be more specific."
The captain slams the point of his sword into the ground, and leans on the hilt, grinning. "My name is Grit Wyald, and I want my inheritance as Grit Sandor's descendant. That clear enough, old man?"
Props to the old dude, he still looks unruffled. "Sandor had no children."
"Not with his wife, no," Wyald says flatly. "But his blood still lives on. Now, your boys have been here since the town was founded. I'd wager real gold pieces to wooden ones you know where that inheritance is."
"If you go looking for his treasure, you will find only death."
Wyald throws back his head and laughs. "You think I give a damn about chasing some phantoms of gold? I know as well as you do that he sank it all into founding this little shit-hole." His smile vanishes as he glares at the monk. "No, old man. I want what was his. The blade he slew five demon kings with, and the armor he wore while doing it."
The monk doesn't move. "As I said. If you go looking for it, death is all you shall find."
Wyald growls. I crack my neck as my body finally finishes off the aftereffects of the poison.
"I have spent my entire life, to earn what is mine by right," the huge man growls. "Crew, ships, stolen gold and desperate battles...I've done whatever it's taken to become strong enough to gain my birthright. And you think-"
"I know what you've done," the monk says calmly. "You've killed islands, razed towns to the ground. Huir, Trasero, the Benedictines. Sabues, where you slaughtered every man, woman, and child."
"That's a lie!"
Oh? The subordinate's spoken up? And he looks pissed.
"The Silver Hunter Pirates razed Sabues! We sunk them ourselves! You're lying!"
Now why would he care so damn much about one island?
The monk had to be lying. He had to be.
"So, boy," Wyald said, as they watched the flag of the enemy ship sink beneath the waves. "How do you feel now? They're dead, every man of 'em. Sabues Island and Kuroso Village are avenged. So what'll you do now?"
Herman tore his eyes from the last pitiful remnants of the enemy crew as the rest of the Hounds left them to drown. "I...don't know."
It had been so long...what else was left?
"I think….I think I'll stick with you. Captain."
Wyald's smile wasn't his usual fearsome grin. It looked...content. "Aye, boy. All right."
The words didn't make sense otherwise. If the Silver Hunters hadn't killed his home, that only left...Wyald. And that was nonsense!
The demon's words echoed in his mind again.
Why sign up with a rapist and a murderer?
Like it was any better! He knew the century-old legends as well as anyone else. The smirking creature who even now was lounging against the wall had done worse than anything his captain had ever done…
"It is not a lie," the monk said quietly.
It had to be one. Herman turned, looking up at his captain, practically begging the man who'd given him the revenge and the second home he'd needed to say something, to deny the monk's words, to tell the man in orange the same thing he'd told Herman, that the Marines had pinned a crime on him that for once he was innocent of…
Instead, he saw an expression that, even on Wyald's transformed features, he recognized. One he'd never expected to see.
"Boy…" the man began.
"No." The word transformed into a snarl halfway out his mouth, and he raised his sword. "Why? Was it funny? Was that it? Seventeen years of lying to me? Did you all get a laugh?" The others, the people he'd thought were close as brothers to him, were backing away, and the demon's tails had sprung free again, but he didn't care. All he cared about was the bastard in front of him.
"Boy...I did what I had to do," the bastard said. "That's all I've ever done."
Something deep in Herman's mind made a quiet snapping sound.
The next thing he knew, his blade was caught on the flat of Wyald's own, the man's arm not budging an inch under the force of his two-handed blow.
Then Wyald's free hand slammed into his chest, and he felt stone shatter under his back.
Darkness claimed him.
I look at Wyald, then at the massive hole his subordinate's flying body had smashed in the wall. I see the steeple crumble down in a crash of masonry, and the monk goes white.
"Go help your brethren," I say flatly, putting a hand on the man's shoulder. "I'll deal with this one."
"Deal with me?" Wyald growls. "You could barely hold us off before, boy. What makes you think you can beat me?"
I grin widely, and my tails twitch. "Well, for starters, the angry mob that's coming up the hill."
I'm in midair before he can fully turn and notice my bluff. "Scale Cross."
Props to Wyald, he's fast enough to catch the twin blows of my tails with his sword, right at the crossing point of the two slashes, but the impact alone sends him crashing to the ground, sending up a massive cloud of dust. A cloud he comes out of swinging even before my feet have properly touched the ground.
"Black Dog Style: Iron Hammer!"
Blinking, I push myself out of the pile of rubble Wyald just smacked me into like a particularly fleshy golf ball. My whole body hurts, right done to the bones. I ignore it. It'll heal.
Don't know where the monk's gone. Don't care. The massive werewolf-man stepping through the wrecked remains of the monastery wall has my full attention.
"Kyahahahaha….come on, Black Dog. Surely you can do better than that?" I taunt.
"You want better, you little-"
We both jump as a massive explosion sounds outside the walls, followed by the roar of what sounds like hundreds of angry people. The hell? Was there an actual angry mob now?
This...was somehow Vinci's fault. It wasn't anything based on reasonable assumptions, more like a feeling.
A feeling that is immediately validated as a familiar lab-coat-clad shape rockets through the air and punches Wyald in the fork of the legs before appearing next to me, grinning. "Together, then?" Vinci growls, physically shaking with the effort of staying still.
"Where'd you get the mob?"
"Town got curious, joined in when we said we were going to flatten these idiots. Now let's gogogogoGo!"
Rubble shifts behind me, and I spare a glance over my shoulder to see a much battered and re-humaned subordinate claw his way free, clutching a new sword in his hands. "Count me in," he growls, hefting the black-colored...nodachi?...easily despite the fact it's nearly as long as he is tall. Damn thing looks more like a hunk of raw iron than a sword. But hey, more the merrier.
I smile, and tilt my head, making my neck pop.
"You think I'll stop?!" Wyald shouts, forcing himself upright again. "When I'm this close to my goal? When I can see the blade in your hands?! I'll take it from your corpse, you ungrateful brat!"
"Shut up and die you overgrown mutt." With that little piece of advice, Vinci launches himself forwards, scalpels in hand. "Amputation."
Just like with every other attack, Wyald's fast enough to put his sword between it and him.
But this time...this time the blade shatters, and the Zoan staggers back, bleeding from a half-dozen gouges the shrapnel has gouged in his body. "Incisions!" A white-colored blur flickers across Wyald's throat, before a dozen more gashes erupt all over his body, and the giant man sags to his knees, clutching his jugular. "Full-Body Trauma!"
I let my tails dissolve as the man goes flying into an intact section of wall, destroying it utterly. I turn to the Hound- well, ex-Hound- and shrug. "So, you seem like a decent guy. What's your name?"
"Herman...Bosque Herman," the man says, staring at the ongoing beating. "That's your captain?"
I grin. "Yup. Real nightmare to fight, ain't he. You got any real attachment to the rest of your ex-crew?"
The man grimaces. "Fuck them. They kept…" He looks away for a second. "Fuck them," he repeats.
"Alright. Well, since you're not part of a crew, why not join ours?"
He blinks, and stares at me. "I was just trying to kill you a few minutes ago. What even…?"
I flap a hand at him dismissively. "Pssh. Kill me? My old master tried harder than that and he was half-dead from old age. Besides, at least I know you're a decent fighter."
"So you're crazy in addition to being a demon."
"Let me guess, legends. And yes, I most certainly am. But I'm honest about it, and hey, where else are you gonna go?"
Herman closes his eyes, and sighs. "Don't you need your captain's approval to recruit me?"
"Right, I'll ask him. Oi, Vinci!"
My captain precipitates out of the air, still shaking slightly and with a distinctly creep coating of blood on his coat. "What?"
I jerk a thumb over my shoulder at Herman. "Mind if this guy joins up with us?"
"Dahahahaha, no problem. He'll be...really...interesting…" Just like with our escape from the Marines, his eyes roll back in his head and he goes limp. This time, though, I catch him before he can fall. "You heard him. You coming or what?"
Herman takes a step forward, and stumbles, nearly falling. I grab him as well, getting a shoulder under his arm and letting him lean on me. "Guess so. Come on. When Franky-light over here wakes up he'll fix whatever injuries you got...got to convince this idiot to stop exhausting himself every fight…"
The party's in full swing, and shows no sign of stopping. Vinci woke up about an hour ago, downed a near-lethal amount of rum, and from what I'd last seen was juggling scalpels to entertain a small crowd of kids. Jack was keeping a watchful eye on some of the less...reputable…members of the Nightmares, hammer close to hand.
And me and Herman?
"Okay, I know my existence terrifies a good chunk of the population and I can't eat the food anyway, but what are you doing up on a roof like a particularly mopey pigeon?"
"You're one to talk, bird-boy," Herman growls. I pass him a large tankard, and he sniffs it warily. "Black coffee?"
"It's either that or, well, the scarier rumored bits," I say with a shrug. "Apparently, my captain filled the rest of the crew in on that little secret, so since you're part of it you deserve to know."
"Hmph." He downs the tankard, then shivers. "Shit, now I'll be up all night."
I sit down next to him, looking at the town. The ever-present fog makes the celebration below seem ghostly, almost. "So. Not going to talk about it?"
"Not on your life. It's done."
"Wyald's still alive, you know. Tough bastard, Jack had to knock him out the rest of the way. After we leave, the Marines will take his crew off to Impel Down. They'll rot."
"And you think I should care what happens to them?"
I smile. "Nope. But they're only taking the crew. Not the officers. Those 'resourceful' fellows will 'slip away and escape' while the party's going on."
Herman glares at me. "And you get fed. That the price the doctor agree on, to get you on his crew?"
"Nah to both. Pulled him out of a tight spot, and he's actually pretty charismatic when he isn't doping himself up on some chemical concoction. And as for their 'escaping'..." I shrug, and twirl a set of keys on my fingers. "Well, wouldn't closure help? You didn't get to cut the bastard with that shiny new sword of yours, after all."
I like to think of myself as someone who knows his way around a highly disturbing smile. And so I can confidently say that Herman's expression is at least an 8 on the Mr. Teatime scale.
The guard, one of the townspeople, had left the second he'd seen the demon's eyes change, leaving the basement of the home they'd stuck the officers in empty, save for the prisoners. The rest of his former crew were in actual cells, but the three dozen or so surviving Hounds had filled the town's jail all the way to capacity.
He had an idea of what was going to happen to the bodies of the ones who hadn't survived.
All three of the crew's leaders looked much worse for wear. Vasilij was short an arm, Vandire had a massive number of red-stained bandages wrapped over his torso, and Wyald...well, Wyald resembled a giant, bearded mummy. All three of them were chained, Wyald to the point that very little of him was visible at all.
"So, the traitor returns," Vandire wheezed. "Here to gloat? Or here to feed us to your new demon friend?"
The demon in question shrugged. "Eh, I'm good."
"I'm not a traitor," Herman said flatly. "If anything, you betrayed me first."
"We took you in! We gave you a home! Would we rather we killed you?"
A growl cut through the air as Wyald shifted his bulk, the one eye not covered by gauze opening. "Vandire. Shut up."
The bald interrogator fell silent, shooting Herman a glare.
Herman very carefully crushed the feeling of guilt that expression brought to mind under his heel before he turned to his former captain. "Wyald."
"So. Everything you did...it's pointless now, isn't it. Every village you raided and pillaged, everyone you killed...and yet, right at the end, you lost. How does that feel?"
"Lost?" The bundle of chains shook, and it took Herman a moment to realize that Wyald was laughing. "Maybe so, boy, maybe so. But I see that blade. And I know its name. Amakatta. The Great Grade miaodao. How do the monks feel about you plucking Sandor's own sword from the rubble?"
"They haven't asked," Herman said flatly. "What? Me taking it means you've won?"
"Heh...you haven't looted the Devil Dog, have you? You'll know what I mean…"
Herman ground his teeth together. Then he closed his eyes, and breathed out, letting go.
"Yoshimura Kaneki," he said to the demon. "That was the name you chose, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it was."
"I do not care what happens to any of these men. Do whatever you want."
The demon looked at the three bound captives, and grinned. Four bloodred tails burst free, swaying like cobras.
And then those tails vanished as Kaneki silently walked away.
"I'm not your executioner," he said flatly as he passed Herman. "You want them dead...do them the courtesy of wielding the blade yourself."
Vandire laughed. "You think the bitch has the balls to do that? He'd-"
Amakatta shrieked free of its sheath.
The Hound officers never made a sound.
"Where'd you get a guitar?" Vinci asks as he approaches me from where I'm sitting against the mainmast of our ship.
I smile, and strum experimentally at the thing, before frowning and adjusting one of the pegs. "It was part of the stuff on the Devil Dog. I don't know...seemed like a good idea to grab it."
"Instead of treasure?"
"What would I do with that? If I need money, Jack'll hand something out. Grabbing a bunch of gold is kinda pointless anyway, and besides, I think disorganized looting-"
"DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE!"
One of the Nightmares actually becomes briefly visible as he flies over the Hound ship's deck, before slamming into the mainmast.
"Kinda pisses him off?" Vinci finishes with a raised eyebrow. I nod. "So, how's our new crewmate settling in?"
"Herman? He's still broody. Can't say I blame him. But he's getting better." I take another stab at the guitar, and tilt my head as I pluck out a few notes.
"Do you actually know how to play that?" Vinci asks.
I shrug. "I'm gonna learn. Feels...right, in a way." A sour note makes me wince. "I'm going to need a lot of practice."
"Heh. Alright. Well, once your frustration gets the better of you, I want you in my lab. I managed to pick up some new equipment and I think I finally have a way to get samples out of you that doesn't have your durability and regeneration interfering." A almost demonic grin flashes across his face. "There is a lot I could learn from how your body functions, and maybe I'd even be able to figure out a way around the...less pleasant parts."
I give him a lazy salute, and return to my guitar-experimentation.
Herman stared at the letter on the tiny desk in his equally tiny cabin.
Herman, it began.
He knew the handwriting. Wyald's.
If you're reading this, I'm dead, but you've managed to get away, and the Devil Dog with you. Good.
Consider this my last will and testament.
You're captain now, of whoever's left. That's the first part.
Second part...isn't so easy.
I've...made a lot of mistakes. I'm not a good man. I never was. I've reaved and raided for decades, with all that entails. And...it's time I tell you the truth about Sabues.
It continued on, telling Herman things he'd already known. Part of him wanted to burn it now, but curiosity- and a need he refused to acknowledge- pushed him on.
I understand if you'd hate me by the time you've finished reading this, if you want to burn the ship and all its crew to make up for what I took from you, and I know nothing could make up for what I've done...but you're still as good as a son to me. And if you're reading this after I've finally gotten what I've committed so much evil to gain, if Sandor's arms and armor are still aboard...they're yours.
Herman stared at the letter for several more minutes. Then, slowly, he picked it up and walked in the direction of the galley.
He didn't notice that someone was already in there until he was already in front of the fireplace.
"Something on your mind?" Captain Vinci asked idly, stirring the flames with a poker. Herman caught a glimpse of burning parchment before he snapped his eyes back to his new captain. "A lot," he admitted.
"Hmm. Well, new guy, talk if you want. I'm a doctor, and while my psychological training isn't what I'd like it to be, it's still the best on the crew."
Herman's eyes shot back to the embers of the fire. "Looks like we both have letters to burn," he said lightly. "Yours as dark as mine?"
A shadow crossed Vinci's face. "Depends on your point of view. Some good. Some bad. Nothing that changes my plans."
"Alright. Mind if I…?"
"Be my guest."
Herman tossed Wyald's letter into the flames.
He watched the damned thing crumble to ashes...and let his regrets burn with it.