Summer in South Blue had finally given way to autumn, and while it was still muggy as hell, there was a gentle breeze blowing through the air that helped lessen the blistering heat somewhat. Eustass was splashing around in the ocean near the shoreline, the bright blue water reaching just above his knees. He’d abandoned his shoes further up the beach before rolling up his pant legs and sleeves, dashing into the waves without a care for propriety.
The redhead reveled in the cool temperature of the sea, the constant ebb and flow of the water soothing as it brushed against his skin. He had turned nine some eight months prior, his young body recently hitting a major growth spurt and adding two inches to his height. Due to the change, he’d had to find clothing to fit his taller, leaner build. Everything had worked out in his favor, though. His current pants sported far fewer holes than his last pair, while his long-sleeved t-shirt was thicker and would better protect him in the coming cooler months. His boots, too, were made with better quality than his previous shoes - a miracle considering his limited choices.
Eustass was thankful he’d found his new clothing when he had. As winter approached and people became desperate, any clothing that wasn’t properly protected was snatched up fast. Keeping only one or two outfits was ideal, as it was far easier to keep an eye on a tiny stack of clothes as opposed to an entire wardrobe. He’d learned that lesson on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, he’d have to be on the lookout for something more substantial in the coming weeks, as his long-sleeved shirt wouldn’t be enough to get him through to spring time. While South Blue’s winters were less intense than those in North Blue, it could still get unbearably cold, especially for those who didn’t have adequate shelter.
He’d have to see about pilfering a winter jacket from the local gift shop later.
Wiggling his toes in the wet sand, Eustass watched as tiny fish swam around his ankles. He amused himself for a minute by trying to catch them with his bare hands, but quickly grew bored when he didn’t having much luck. Not ready to leave and indifferent to the state of his clothes, Eustass waded further out into the water, steering clear of any dangerous slopes or rip tides. He was a strong swimmer, but he knew his limits and wasn’t about to drown due to a stupid mistake.
Scanning the horizon lazily, the boy spotted a nearby sand bank and sloshed toward it, intending to look for clams or sea shells that had washed up at its base. As he got closer, though, something very different caught his eye. Eustass furrowed his brows as he spotted what looked to be a piece of rotting wood, but when he’d gotten his hands on it, he found it to be fleshy, like a fruit. It was the color of copper and shaped like a cone, with one end rounded while the other was flat and blunt. Its skin was covered in tiny bumps and when he squeezed it in his fingers it felt solid like an apple.
Curiosity peaked, the redhead turned the odd item in his hands, inspecting it from all sides. What was it? Gently, he used his fingernails to pick at the skin, surprised when it gave way easily. As he peeled back the rind, he could see that the inside consisted of a bright yellow substance, compacted and firm - the flesh of what he now recognized as a strange fruit.
Bringing it to his nose, Eustass inhaled the food’s sweet scent, his mouth watering and his stomach growling hopefully. Not one to turn down a chance at a free meal, Eustass bit deep into the fruit and chewed once, twice, three times, before stopping mid-chew as the taste of salt water, rot, and vomit assaulted his tongue. Gagging, the boy dropped the fruit into the ocean, unaware that it had turned a rotten shade of black once he’d sampled it.
He tried to spit out what he’d eaten, his salivary glands working overtime to wash the putrid flavor off his tongue. In his sudden panic to get whatever-this-was out of his mouth, Eustass inhaled a sudden, deep breath, causing a wad of the fruit to become lodged in his windpipe. Coughing instinctually, most of the food left his lips in one powerful spray, chunks of fruit and skin glopping messily onto the front of his shirt and into the water around him.
While the fit had done its job of dislodging the piece of fruit that had entered his windpipe, it had also forced the same portion down his throat and into his belly. The food hit his stomach like a rock, the painful sensation along with the taste that remained in his mouth bringing a wave of nausea to Eustass’ system. Groaning at the ache in his abdomen, the redhead rubbed his sore belly gently while he tried to spit out whatever was left of the fruit. The fleshy bits were stuck to his teeth, forcing him to pick it out with his nails.
After swallowing and spitting several more times, the awful taste on his tongue slowly dissipated along with his nausea. Relieved that he wasn’t going to be sick (at least not immediately), Eustass waded through the water and back to shore, intent on drying off before heading into town for some actual food.
Hurriedly swatting the sand from his feet, Eustass put on his shoes and unrolled his sleeves and pant legs. He shook his limbs in an attempt to get rid of some of the excess water from his clothing, but didn’t have much luck. Beyond exasperated and spiraling into a dark mood, the redhead stomped up the sloping sand dunes toward the road that led into town.
He should have known better than to eat something weird he found in the ocean. Then again, it’s not like that fruit had done any permanent damage to him, so he figured it was alright – if only just this once.
As he made his way up the road through the slums toward the marketplace, Eustass squeezed the excess water from his hair and clothes, his mood souring further. He glared at those around him, their exhausted faces and rundown bodies reminding him of prisoners in a yard. He hated this place and the people in it. Feelings of resentment and disdain had begun blooming in him earlier that year as he witnessed the constant struggle between the townsfolk and the ruffian outsiders.
Eustass couldn’t even say he sided with either group. He loathed the navy and government officials who turned up their noses at him and the others of his ilk. He also hated those in the slums, as they were constantly complaining about their situation while doing nothing to raise themselves up and take control. No one had the balls to stand tall and take what they wanted, and as far as he was concerned, it was their cowardice that kept them under the government and society’s boot.
I’m going to rise above them. He thought with a snarl. I won’t end up like the rest. When I grow up, I’ll become the most powerful man they’ve ever seen. No one will be able to stop me. I’ll take everything – gold, jewels, even lives. Everything these idiots hold dear. I’ll take it all.
Upon entering the outskirts of the village marketplace, Eustass trudged past several shops, most of them filled with food and souvenirs. There was a crowd of people milling about, probably looking to buy something for lunch or were simply trying to whittle away the time. There wasn’t much to do on this island outside of shopping or visiting the beach – another issue Eustass had with his home. This place was straight up boring.
His clothes squished wetly as he moved through the streets, an atmosphere of dark anger and loathing hanging around him. The townsfolk were staring at him as he walked past, murmuring to one another while some even had the balls to give him disapproving looks. The redhead snarled, making sure he made eye contact with anyone who even glanced his way. He took pride when the majority turned away from his glare, but the few who stuck up their noses and waved him off like garbage sent his blood pressure soaring.
Eustass felt the rage inside him brimming up to the surface, and knew it would do him well to finish his business and hurry home. Eyes forward, he had just passed a curry shop when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of something flying toward his head. He recognized it as a soup ladle moments before his senses kicked in, his brain shaking itself from its shocked stupor and screaming at him to move.
Swiftly dodging to one side and out of the item’s path, Eustass thought he was in the clear. However, to his bewilderment and the confusion of everyone watching, the ladle changed its path in midair and followed after him. Unable to react in time, the metal object smashed into the redhead’s temple and dropped him to the pavement like a sack of flour.
Stunned, Eustass lay on the street and stared up at the sky above, his vision spotty and his head aching from the blow. He’d heard the ladle hit the asphalt next to him, oddly not ricocheting off his skull but rather falling off once he’d hit the ground. Dazed, the boy slowly rolled onto his side and clambered to his feet, unsteady for several longs moments. Shaking his head to rid it of the fog, Eustass glared at all the people standing around him, gawking, before turning his attention to the curry shop’s open storefront.
He could see over the bar counter and into the kitchen from his vantage point, his eyes roving from the stunned patrons to the baffled cooks. A rage like he’d never felt before started building inside of him. The idea that someone had the balls to nail him in the head with a fucking soup ladle had been, up to this point, unthinkable. How stupid were these people?
“Which one of you threw that?” he demanded in a low, sinister growl. To his chagrin, the customers and employees weren’t so much afraid of him as they were confused about the situation. One of the chefs, an older man with a weathered face, scratched at his head nervously and offered a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry, young man,” he called, his voice carrying out into the street. “I’m not sure what happened. One second I was serving soup, and the next the ladle was flying out of my hand and straight toward you. My apologies for the inconvenience.”
Eustass snorted and narrowed his eyes at the man. “What do you mean it just flew out of your hand? Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?!”
Now the chef looked frightened. “I- No! No young man, I would never think such a thing. It was an accident, I assure you!”
“Don’t lie to me, you shitty old geezer!” Eustass yelled, his hands curled into fists. He took a threatening step toward the store, satisfied when some of the shop’s patrons shifted in their seats at his approach. “You think you can throw shit at me and get away with it? What, do you think you’re better than me?” he snarled, anger continuing to build. These bastards, how dare they look down on him? He’d show them. He’d show all of them.
“Please, young man-“
Eustass hurried into the store, intent on grabbing the chef and dragging him over the counter for a good beating. However, the loud clattering of kitchen utensils stopped him in his tracks. Unsure, the redhead watched as all of the metallic knives, pots, pans, and yes, ladles, rattled where they lay on the counters, tabletops, and stoves. Everyone in the shop stared, horrified, as one by one, every tool in the kitchen rose into the air and flew toward the slum child standing in the entryway.
Eustass managed to bark a quick “What-“ before his feet moved of their own accord, carrying him back out to the street and hurrying him further into the town. He heard screams and shouts behind him, and with a quick look over his shoulder, the child saw why. Following close at his back was an enormous mass of metallic objects – not just those from the curry shop, but even jewelry, tools, and coins were being torn from the tourists and townspeople.
Panic raced through his system, his mind unable to grasp what the fuck was happening. Moving faster, the redhead pushed forward and sprinted through the winding streets, desperately trying to lose the cloud of death following at his heels. Through blind luck he was able to redirect some of the items by disappearing into alleyways, multiple knives and other sharp objects becoming lodged in the brick walls. However, more items quickly took their place at his heels, trailing behind as he raced through the marketplace.
It was with a sudden clarity that Eustass realized he needed to get out of town. He had no idea what was going on, but he’d been fine until he made it into the shopping district. Whatever was happening, it hopefully wouldn’t affect him if he got himself away from civilization. Formulating a plan, Eustass quickly changed direction and hurried down a side street toward the outskirts of the village, the clash and clatter of metal loud at his back. Townsfolk were jumping out of his path and taking cover indoors, their screams of panic and fear echoing between the buildings.
Racing through the village, Eustass dodged people and marketplace stands, desperate to escape. The crowd and buildings thinned out the further he got from the center of town, the docks and beach soon coming into view. Eventually, the redhead was the only one on the path, his heaving breaths and the clanking of the items following him the last remaining sounds out on the harbor. Even the few ships anchored near the island were silent, as though they’d been abandoned.
Eustass ignored them, intent on outrunning the group of aggressive ladles, spoons, and wedding rings that continued to pursue him. But oddly, as his energy faded, so did the rattling and jangling trailing behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, the redhead noted that the items had slowed down, several dropping out of the air altogether and hitting the street with loud clangs.
Forehead crinkling in thought, Eustass reduced his speed, mostly because he was tired as hell and needed to rest, but it was also an experiment of sorts. To his relief, everything trailing behind him floated gently to a stop, then abruptly dropped from the air. Eustass, too, stood in place, panting heavily and staring at the metal items splayed out on the street. He was close to the edge of town now, an eerie silence draping over the area like a blanket. Even the cries of the citizens had subsided, but he knew it wouldn’t last.
Everyone would demand an explanation as to what had happened, and he was sure to become even more of a social pariah no matter how he spun this. To be honest, he wasn’t even sure what to say about it. One minute everything was running smoothly, and the next he’s fleeing from a swarm of sharp metal. This had never happened before, either to him or anyone else on the island. What had caused it? What had changed? He hadn’t done anything different or strange as far as he remem-
Eustass gasped as realization struck him like a train. “Holy shit,” he murmured, dropping heavily to his knees. The fruit. The fucking fruit. Nothing odd had occurred until after he’d eaten it. Could it… have been a devil’s fruit?
Desperate, Eustass wracked his brain for information he’d heard concerning the mysterious items. The legends that had been whispered by sailors talked of magical fruit that came from the sea and gave humans unimaginable power. They were all different shapes, sizes, and colors, so without a glossary of the known fruits it was impossible to decipher which did what.
He thought back to that moment earlier in the ocean, when he’d found the unknown food. He envisioned what it looked like, as well as its smell and taste. Fuck, it had been awful. Now that he took a moment to mull it over, Eustass remembered hearing about the devil fruits’ fabled rotten flavor. All of them tasted like garbage, which usually resulted in people only eating a bite before throwing the rest away.
Unfortunately for them, a bite was all it took.
He recalled the tiny piece of the fruit he’d accidentally swallowed during his choking fit, and all the color drained from the redhead’s already pale face. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be! Devil fruits were rare – most people went their entire lives without finding one. Could he have seriously stumbled across one on the beach of this podunk island? There was just no way!
Eustass felt his limbs shaking from both fatigue and fear, the adrenaline in his blood still fresh. He took deep breaths through his nose in an attempt to calm down.
“Okay, so,” he started, rising unsteadily to his feet, “I might have eaten a devil’s fruit. That means I have an ability.” He’d overheard tales of the powers bestowed on those who ate a devil’s fruit. They ranged from odd physical strengths, like creating pathways in thin air, to the gift of controlling elements such as fire and ice. “But what fruit did I eat?” he wondered aloud, hesitantly approaching a large slab of rebar that lay close by. “Is my power to attract metal? What the hell use could that be?”
It didn’t make any sense. One thing was for sure, though – until he had a handle on whatever ability he’d gained, Eustass would have to stay far away from civilization. The spectacle that’d happened today had put him on everyone’ radar, and if he did have a devil’s fruit power, then the people would shun him out of terror and disgust.
The child snarled, the piece of rebar at his feet sliding toward him in response. Eustass jumped back, startled, but calmed when the metal stayed put. He stood silent for several long minutes, deep in thought. If he really had a devil’s fruit power, he’d need to practice using it – preferably with an item that wouldn’t gouge his eye out if he screwed up. Focusing on calming his heart and leveling his breathing, he scanned the mass of metal for something relatively safe he could use.
It only took a moment for him to locate the perfect item for experimentation – a tiny coin that was nestled beneath a tin roof tile nearby. Carefully picking it up, Eustass slid it into his pocket before turning and making his way toward the beach. He’d spend some time out in the elements – days, if necessary – until he’d wrapped his head around today’s events. Once he had a handle on his supposed power (whatever it was), he’d return to the slums and figure out where to go from there.