Vinci flipped the mental switch on his eyes the moment the monstrous golden serpent broke the surface, purely out of reflex.
The world slowed to a crawl, hundreds of shatterpoints instantly appearing, his eyes bleeding as they automatically picked out the presences of whatever his glowing doppelganger’s crew really was.
He forced his eyes to stop again, grinning as time sped back up and an immense barrage of attacks slammed into the Sea King in mid-roar.
Nearly a hundred wind blades, several hundred bullets, a couple tons of airborne sand and insects, several dozen arrows and other projectiles, a gigantic beam of energy, and one very surprised live chicken hit the Sea King at the same exact moment.
The Sea King didn’t so much die as was instantly converted into a spray of red mist that splattered over everyone present.
Vinci cleared the blood from his eyes just in time to see Kaneki freeze, and then dive into the ocean, Shaving in mid-air before he hit the water with an enormous splash. What was he…?
The ocean erupted as Kaneki returned, carrying the immense trunk of the Sea King in his tendrils and hurling it onto the beach, before pouncing on it and tearing into it with tendrils, hands, and teeth.
Vinci froze for a moment as he processed exactly what was going on, before sprinting down the beach, doctor’s bag in hand. “Kaneki!”
The ghoul whirled, a chunk of Sea King muscle in hand, his tendrils still busily skeletonizing everything they could reach. “Captain…”
Vinci grinned. “I know, Kaneki. You can eat this. And it’s Sea King, stable living tissue, which means I can culture it. Which means…”
Kaneki threw back his head and laughed, something shining in the corners of his eyes. “Which means I don’t have to hunt anymore. I can…” The words audibly caught in his throat, and he stopped, as black fluid - tears, Vinci realized - dripped from his eyes. “I don’t have to be a cannibal anymore,” he whispered.
Vinci nodded, opening a small jar and collecting the blood that was still pouring from the Sea King’s corpse, adding a few drops of anticoagulant to the substance. “Damn straight. I’ll have to run a few tests, just to make sure, but the fact your body isn’t rejecting it outright tells me everything I need to know. And hey, now you can stop corrupting C with your nefarious ways.”
“Go to hell, Captain,” Kaneki said happily.
“Oh, I intend to bring that to earth at some point, no travel required. Mostly on the Marines.”
“Might want to watch what you’re saying, Captain, a good third of the people here are Marines…”
“Yes, but they’re from a world where the Marines aren’t nutjobs, so they don’t count. And the fact that parallel timelines like that exist is both intriguing and slightly terrifying. Also, help me find your giant self later, I want a blood sample from him before we leave.”
“And how are we going to leave, Captain?” Kaneki said quietly, tendrils finally dissipating.
“Short version? Grab the me with the halo by the ankles and shake him until his secrets fall out.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“Eh, I’ll improvise.”
“Last time you improvised, you burned down an island.”
“Hey, it only ended up partially covered in lava, not burned down,” Vinci retorted.
“Sure, captain. Sure. I’m sure convection isn’t a problem,” Kaneki snarked.
“It’ll be fine, Kaneki. Stop being so dramatic in your worrying.”
“It’s not pessimism when the universe lives down to your expectations, captain.”
Vinci pocketed his jar of blood with a sigh. “Go find your Oni and your brother, Kaneki. I’m going to go shake myself.”
“Is that what it’s called these days?”
Vinci threw a scalpel at him, and the ghoul Shaved out of sight.
Fuck it. Time to break reality.
Herman narrowed his eyes at his counterpart’s suddenly queasy expression as he returned Amakatta to its sheath. “Not bothered by a bit of blood and guts, are ya?” he asked, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at where Kaneki - by now joined by C - was busy reducing Sea King corpse into Sea King bone.
“It’s not that,” his civilian self - a massively built man with biceps the size of small barrels - rumbled. “It’s your blade. You know the damn thing’s cursed, right?”
Herman shrugged. “Kind of figured, what with the voices in the back of my skull whenever I let loose. How’d you know?”
“I’m a blacksmith, it’s my job to know these things. And you’re...remarkably alright with it?”
“Eh, it’s a blade. Curse or not, all that matters is it cuts down my enemies.”
Another one of Herman’s duplicates, this one a man with a greying beard and a strip of cloth wrapped around his eyes, tilted his head at him, and spoke for the first time.
“First thing out of your mouth, and it’s an insult,” Herman said flatly. “Honestly, should’ve expected that. You guys seem to be arrogant assholes.”
“Arrogance implies we are not as far above you as we are. And what do I have for counterparts? A blacksmith, a low-ranking Marine, and a fool who lacks the self-discipline to tame his own blade. Am I not correct?”
The Marine in question glared, hands going to the ornate hilt of the katana at his hip. Herman sympathized, but very carefully did not move. His counterpart, though deserving of whatever happened to him, simply screamed danger to every one of his instincts.
He might not be a fan of spiritual claptrap or most of the other idiotic ideas about fighting blind, but he knew well enough that Haki could make up for a lot of deficiencies, thanks to Kaneki. And the fact that the man’s voice alone sent shivers down his spine...not the time to start a fight.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t needle the little shit back, though.
“Might be we’re weaker than you, but I’ve noticed you and your fancy version of my captain don’t exactly have a lot of friends around. You might be stronger...but, funnily enough, I bet you were too weak to protect your crew. Am I not correct?” he asked in a mocking tone.
His blind counterpart bared teeth. “Do not presume to talk about things of which you have no knowledge, whelp. ”
Herman laughed. “Hit a nerve, did I? Aren’t you supposed to be enlightened? Above anger?”
The blind man paused, and then smiled. “In a better world...perhaps, whelp, perhaps. But this is the real world, and the urge to cut down your opponent is just and fair. Keep a civil tongue in your head, and you will not experience it.”
“It’s surprising,” the Marine said quietly, unsheathing his blade. “I would not have expected any version of myself to be such an asshole, and yet here we are.” He glared at the blind man, as the conversations around Herman’s knot of duplicates stilled and people began to move aside. “For your insults...I want compensation.”
“Granted. One Hundred and Eight Pound Staff.”
The cane in the blind man’s hands blurred.
Herman saw it in an instant. The Marine was unprepared, his sword not up to guard properly. The cane would crush the man’s throat, unless-
The cane slammed into Amakatta with an impact that rattled Herman’s bones, but he did not waver. “Now, what do you think you’re starting?” he growled.
“Stay out of this, fool.”
“Yeah, nah. He’s a Marine, and kind of an idiot -”
“- but he is basically me, and I’m not exactly comfortable with seeing him dead.”
“He is weak. His death or life do not matter.”
The cane pressed downward, and Herman stepped back and to the side, taking up more of the burden. He smiled. “So? Everyone’s weak, at some point. Doesn’t matter. Still gonna kick both your asses if you start fighting.”
“Do you think you have the power to stop me?”
Herman shook his head. “No. But that’s what friends are for.”
That was when a gigantic albino hit the blind man in the back of the head with an iron club. The idiot dropped.
Herman nodded his thanks to Tancred Pamca as the most physically imposing member of Kaneki’s Oni was joined by the rest of his fellows.
The blind idiot made to get up - huh, he must’ve been pretty tough - and froze as a spearpoint, various swords, and Percy’s Size Twelve steel-toed boots parked themselves on various portions of his anatomy.
“Heeeeeyyyy, buddy,” Eka drawled from his position seated atop the blind man’s back. “Seems you don’t quite get how things are supposed to go.” The dao in his hand dug slightly into the blind man’s neck. “See, we’re all stuck here for the moment. Starting a fight and throwing around some collateral damage? Big no-no. Heck, our boss would handle you, but he’s a mite busy at the moment.”
“My captain will…”
“Do fuck and all, if he knows what’s good for him. Now, are you going to be cooperative, or do I have to present some apologies alongside your head to mister golden and glowing?”
“...Fine. Let me up.”
Eka leapt up, and the Oni retracted their weapons, letting the blind man get to his feet.
“I could’ve handled him,” the Marine muttered.
Herman barked laughter, elbowing his white-hat counterpart in the ribs. “Sure, short stuff.”
“I’m not fucking short. You’re a giant. And how the hell did you get so tall anyway?”
“You try swinging around a sword your own height and not put on some height of your own, other me. That, or you could just eat a Zoan Devil Fruit.”
“Devil Fruits and cursed swords…” the blacksmith rumbled. “You’ve had an interesting life, haven’t you?”
“Pirate. Comes with the territory.”
Amakatta hummed as he returned it to its sheath.
“So?” I ask the trio of Krasnyy, Vinci, and God-Emperor 2: Electric Boogaloo: Now In Frankenstein Format.
Ugh, I seriously need sleep…
Or that, intrusive thoughts in my head.
The trio exchange glances.
“So, after looking at the underlying reality of this place…” Krasnyy begins.
“You floated in place for ten seconds and then exploded a chicken,” Vinci deadpans.
“Where... did we get that chicken?” Lisa asks.
“ The chicken is not important,” Krasnyy snarls. “What is is that we have an idea of how to get out of here.”
“And that is?”
“We’re going to punch it.”
Deep breaths, Kaneki. “Punch. It,” I growl.
“Eh, metaphorically, anyway. The backlash from us breaking the pocket dimension should hurl everyone back to their respective worlds.”
“I’m a Primarch, not a multiversal mechanics expert.”
“So what I’m hearing is, you guys have no idea what’ll happen but you’re going to hope it’s good and won’t kill us all,” I say flatly, quietly noting that yes, extreme annoyance can turn your vision red with suppressed rage.
“Excuse me for a moment,” I say neutrally, before forcing my wings out and half-Shaving half-flying through the air to axe kick the Sea King in the snout. “SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU PHALLICALLY-SHAPED EXCUSE FOR AN AQUATIC MENACE!”
The Sea King slams into the beach, the impact scattering people and making the ships at anchor bob, before I fall from the sky and impact its skull again, sending another shockwave through the earth. My wings vanish, and my tendrils take their place before piercing the creature’s skull. Its struggles stop. “Where. The fuck. Are these things coming from?!” I shout. “What the hell do they even eat? Each other?”
My tendrils are working as I shout, pulling in sweet liquid life, a taste far better than human, like a rich tender steak - this is what I’ve needed for so long.
A way out.
A source of power.
“C!” I call. “Get your ass over here and try this!”
Some of the civilians look terrified. Eh, fuck ‘em.
Wait, they aren’t looking at me...
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“STARBOARD GUNS, FIRE!” Lauren shouted at the top of her lungs as another pair of Sea Kings surfaced. Ends Justified ’s weapons roared, standard-issue cannonballs slamming into the massive serpents and the water around them, as people screamed (mostly civilians) and ran onto their respective vessels (everyone, though for widely differing reasons).
A coruscating beam of light ripped through the air, neatly decapitating two of the Sea Kings already present, and Lauren looked over her shoulder, to where the skeleton was standing on a floating platform of sand, surrounded by equally skeletal dragon heads.
Damn, if she could figure out how those worked…
Not the time, girl.
She levelled her rifle at another knot of these fucking Sea Kings, firing as quickly as she could work the bolt. The heavy projectiles weren’t good enough to pierce the scales unless at extremely close range, but - three of the six Sea Kings fell without a sound -her aim was very good. And eyes didn’t have the kind of armor to stop her sabots.
The Marine ship was firing too, their gunnery a great deal better than hers and their attacks more disciplined in general - she’d never seen air blades fired in volleys like that, but the Sea Kings weren’t getting any closer than a hundred meters and the sea was turning crimson with alarming rapidity - but the civilians didn’t have any guns, and the creatures were barely being held at bay by -
Lauren ducked as Kaneki slammed into the deck, turning a line of planks into splinters before being stopped by the mast. The ghoul got to his feet, eyes blazing above that extremely disconcerting toothy mask. One arm dangled, before abruptly resetting itself with a crack. “Fucking serpents,” the ghoul slurred, wavering slightly on his feet, almost falling.
Lauren caught him - monster or not, they were still crew, dammit- and put a shoulder under his arm, keeping him upright. “Hey, no sleeping on the job, you get me?” she joked, other hand putting more heavy rifle rounds downrange. Accuracy and fire-rate suffered, but again, crew.
“Not a damn chance,” Kaneki muttered.
“Got a plan?”
“Captains do,” the ghoul grunted, straightening slightly, no longer unsteady. “Don’t know how they’re gonna do it, with these things swarming. Is this place a breeding ground or something?”
“With our luck? Yes.”
“Fucking hell, we opened up a buffet for them.” The ghoul’s wings burst back into existence, and he cracked his neck. “Hold the line, I guess.”
“Damn straight,” Lauren replied.
Kaneki launched himself back into the fray, and Lauren watched long enough to see him slam into another Sea King, hurling it back into the ocean. At the same time, an immense air blade came from where Herman was on the beach, turning three of them into chum.
She grinned. The most terrifying things in the seas, and against this crew…
Wait, was that a fucking raft?
She ran to the rail, barely noticing as the guns fired again, and confirmed that yes, that was a raft - with every single one of her crew’s creepiest doppelgangers aboard.
Part of her - a part that had been growing louder and louder ever since the Archipelago - briefly considered targeting the next barrage on there, just so she didn’t have to put up with the arrogant and/or crazy pricks anymore.
She hadn’t been too busy taking ideas from her other self that she hadn’t noticed how deranged her counterpart on that crew had been, nor had she missed how some of the others had acted. Herman’s had been the worst, but Vinci’s was almost as bad.
She discarded it, though. Small in number or not, they had Sea Kings to handle instead. Ammunition wasn’t to be wasted.
...and that was an extremely disconcerting shimmer occurring in front of the raft, what the hell-
Something clicked in her mind, and she cupped her hands around her mouth. “GET CLEAR!”
Everything in front of the raft - water, mist, derelict ships, and Sea Kings - just... vanished , as something swatted them aside like the hand of God. Lauren swore she glimpsed sea bed before a light began to burn in the center of the Mists, and winds began to blow, forcing her to hold onto the rail and close her eyes against the light-
The bottom dropped out from her stomach, shortly followed by the deck dropping out from under her feet, screams ringing in her ears as the Nightmares panicked-
Then the deck came back and smacked her in the face.
Lauren opened her eyes with a groan, before pushing herself into a sitting position and snapping her nose back into place with a grimace. She ignored the throbbing pain as she slowly got to her feet, staring around her wildly.
Empty sea, for miles around. No mist, no derelicts, no doppelgangers…
“HAH! We made it! Nothing’s gonna stop us now!” she shouted.
There was a splintering noise, and the mainmast, damaged from Kaneki impacting it earlier, slowly tipped sideways before breaking off entirely and sinking into the depths.
“God damn it, Lauren,” the captain said quietly.