Metanoia

Prologue

Our father which art in heaven...

You're smiling.

You walk proudly straight in a row of people, with your hands in shackles, in a red coat and with a smile that greeted me almost every day from the beginning of my life. And the crowd is silent and absorbing your presence, whispering to each other: "Here is the King, Gold Roger."

They admire you.

They look at the invincible, who is in captivity, at the symbol of power and strength, defeated by the regime and discipline of the Navy.

Is it possible for a man to rule the ocean and its eternal freedom?

Hallowed be thy name...

You take steps on stone pavement, just like recently on the Oro Jackson deck, but although we know that you won't say anything, we hope to hear the loud, slightly hoarse voice "We are taking the east! For adventure!".

I clench my hands and try to deal with the lump in my throat, but I'm too weak to resist the tears. I lower my head. I must. Forgive me, Roger. I can't stand the thought that it's over. That never... That you...

Thy kingdom come...

You go ahead, still with a smile, as if before you were another beloved adventure.

You wanted freedom.

Can we call death salvation?

Around you are six Marines, tall, proud, who will tell their children, grandchildren, and everyone who wants to listen that they have escorted the Pirate Kind to the execution platform. They have muskets on their shoulders, you could broke them like thin sticks in your bare hands, and their white-blue uniforms are eye-catching. They seem extraordinary to me. Why is that?

Thy will be done...

It wasn't going to end this way. I didn't want to live like that. I've always planned to sail under your jolly roger, be able to be called the "second in command of the King" and walk every evening in the setting sun on Jackson, sipping vodka from East Blue and frowning, because their alcohol is the worst. I wanted to traverse the Grand Line, without a route or destination, because we've already gained everything and ruled on every part of the earth. Fight the wind and the waves, be free as you promised. When did I lost what I was fighting for so hard? When did it fall out of my hands for what I was ready to kill? You knew, Roger, and yet you were silent.

As in heaven, so in earth...

You climb the ladder and sit cross-legged on the platform, without exchanging a smile for sadness or sorrow, you are yourself and you will remain like that until the end. The will of D, which you have always told me about, commands us to accept death with peace, because there is nothing to fear. Maybe if I were you, I would react the same, but you were the one convicted.

Don't leave, captain.

Give us day by day our daily bread...

Several thousand people gathered in the square, and each of them is silent and looks gloomily at the scaffolding towering over us. I have the impression that the air has stopped, that the earth has stopped its movement, because time is passing, but it does not go away. How is this possible?

Rayleigh stands beside me, his jaw clenched angrily, but he knows that nothing can be done. Powerless, he, your right hand. I see some fucking admiral or another bastard next to you, I want to break his bones, you know, Captain?

And I would do it with vengeful satisfaction, because now he and the two executioners are going to take everything away from me. The blood in my veins begins to boil. Forgive me, I can't do otherwise.


And forgive us our sins...

We were almighty. No one could stand against us, remember? We crushed our enemies and we were cruel to anyone who offended us. You didn't let anyone hurt us. You took care of everyone, always. Even those two knuckles, Buggy and Shanks, who are standing in front of me with sad faces. Ah, this red-haired kid is holding your hat in his hands. You give it to him, remember, captain? And he cares for that hat as the greatest treasure. He is a good child, and very, very strong. He could probably be your successor. And who knows?

For we also forgive every one that is indebted to us...

'Where did you hide the treasure?!'

I hiss, furious at the scream of a bastard who can't hold his tongue! Shanks mutters something under his breath, he's not happy either, and Buggy is already grabbing the dagger handle. Ray puts a hand on my shoulder, not looking at anyone but you, and says quietly:

'Come on, Pebble. This is the way of things.'

I accept this and pretend I don't hear the screams that are getting louder.

'My treasure? My One Piece?!' I hear your voice again and all four of us smile blissfully, as if we had experienced some warm feeling, surrendered to a pleasant childhood memory that surrounds us with a carefree melody. 'Look for him! I hid it somewhere on the Grand Line!' You call mysteriously, and by the tone of your voice I know you planned it.

Oh Roger, will you never change? You love adventures, even if you don't take part in them. Don't you feel sorry for everything you leave?

And lead us not into temptation...

I close my eyes wanting to remember you as a smiling pirate with dazzling eyes who, without fear, faces a losing battle with Death. Are you really going to die? Roger? You?

I shake Ray's hand and bow my head.

No...

Please! Do something!

Stand up and say it's a cruel joke. Give me the order!

Roger!

Tell me what to do!

Call me!

Something is sticking to my heart, it only takes my breath away for a moment, but I know that the splinter that has just been hammered into it will never disappear. I want to scream for them to stop. I want to run to you and run to the ship together to go beyond the horizon.

Hell, I won't let you die there!

You can't leave!

Please, don't leave. How should I live when you're gone? I know that I was not always good and I did not always help you, I often screamed and cursed, I rebelled and ran away, but ... But you knew I loved you, right? Roger!

'I couldn't dream of someone better. I love you and know that I will never stop crying after you. Wait for me. We'll meet again, everybody, and we'll go... We'll go, Ro...' I say because I know you will hear, but suddenly I stop. I can't do it, it's just too much.

The crowd yells like crazy, I manage to hear "dead", and I begin to cry, bitterly despairing for a life that has gone forever.

What now?

Where to go?

Roger?

Why?

But deliver us from evil, for yours is the Kingdom, glory, and power...

Forever and ever.

You are the Pirate King, in our memory you will always live as a great man and captain, treating the crew as a family, striving for its good and safety, loving adventure and ... And not very smart, huh, captain?

I smile to myself through my tears and look at tired Ray, who wipes a single tear with the back of his hand. I feel that if he could, he would fall to the ground, swearing in every language he knows, and call God to witness that he hates the Navy and would kill them all. Buggy sniffs and rubs his closed eyelids tightly, Shanks lowered his head, clutching the brim of your hat. I know they are crying. They loved you, you were a model, I think you will always be. You were, Roger, you hear how that sounds like? Just as if you were leaving and not coming back...

But you have to do it! You must be with us again! Your time could not pass! Our time! It has just begun! And even if we achieved everything, we still... Roger, we could still do something! Do you remember our plans? All these intentions and dreams? We wanted to overthrow the Heavenly Dragons on the Bubble Archipelago, defeat the Navy Headquarters... Me and you... We and our crew... Our family. Please, you must remember this and come back to us!

But... But you won't come back, right?

Amen.

We could do nothing.

Those, who remembered

'Well, well, someone grow up' I lifted up the right corner of my mouth and moved my eyebrows, measuring a seventeen-year-old with a funny look. 'Say, companion, where are you going?'

'I want to get a crew!' A red-haired boy pulled his hat on his eyes and smiled widely; a familiar combination of gestures that made me look away. 'And I'm going to go out to sea...'

'To be the Pirate King?' I mocked and patted the sand next to each other. 'Sit down, Shrimp, and have a drink with the old captainess.' I pulled a bottle of rum out of the box and handed it to sitting Shanks.

'No, me, king? All I had to do was sail with the captain, I guess I wouldn't be good at it.' He smiled melancholy and drank alcohol.

'It's a matter of dispute. If I were to be honest, I'd see you more in this position than Buggy' I was serious about it. I lit a cigarette on a long cigarette holder, watching Shanks from the angle of my eye. He grew up, his facial features became more sharp, although he was still a brat, but his cheerful smile and calm tone didn't change a bit.

He twisted his head stubbornly, as if this ridiculous argument didn't find its way to him and looked at me with shiny, black eyes.

'I will be the Emperor'he whispered in secret.

'You measure up high, Shrimp, but I see no reason why you shouldn't become one' I said with an emphasis.

'Yeah, I guess I've got all the right skills, starting with tying the ropes.' We both laughed out loud, cheerful as in the good old days.

'Oh, you were so stubborn! You didn't want to learn that, my God, how I got mad at you! How many times has Ray defended you from beating.'

'I'm grateful to him for that until the end! But, Captainess, what are you going to do?' 

I had an imitation of a smile stuck to my face, pretending I couldn't see his rushing stare, looking at the horizon and puffing a cigarette over and over again.

That kid! First he amuses me and then he tries to get information, what will grow out of him in a few years?

'I'll stay here because what's left of me? Atlantis is my favorite island, why don't I start knitting? I've always wanted to support orphans and widows, and that would be fair business, the Navy could kiss my hand!'

'Nah! I can't believe you're going to start living an honest life like ordinary people, captainess!' He protested vividly 'Mr Rayleigh once told me that there are people in the world who are made for great things, and that captainess and the late captain, may Jones give him peace, are such people.'

'That old fool has got your mind confused as usual, and you believe like a nitwit. Quiet, Shrimp!' I banged at the end, seeing that the kid was looking at me with a protest written on his face. 'Sail your way, kid. Become Emperor. I'll bless you from the heart, but you won't hear about me, like Grand Line long and wide. If waves ever bring you to Atlantis, you'll always find shelter from the Navy, may hell consume it, a bottle of rum and food, that's enough.' Then I took a look at the straw hat decorated at the roundabout with a red ribbon. 'He would be proud of you' I sighed yet, looking at a kid with a melancholy, which I probably wouldn't get rid of for the rest of my life. Or so I thought then.

I remember I was still drunk in the harbor. I was staggering in such a way that I almost fell into the water, and when I finally got aboard "Harpy", I threw up, leaning overboard at the last minute. And yet, the alcoholic freeze, as strong as it would have been, never fooled my sense of navigation, and even after a three-day libation I was able to say with full accuracy that a storm was approaching Atlantis. A wonderful moment to sail out, and to one of the Cursed Islands!

- Captainess, the storm will tear the sails! People don't want to go!...' The petty officer told me, shouting as the wind was getting stronger. I looked at him like a madman and leaned overboard again, swearing in my mind like a million times before that not a drop of alcohol for the rest of my life.

Pious wish, Pebble, tomorrow you'll get drunk again, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and over and over again, because you're an alcoholic. It's sad that Ray was right. He always fucking was.

The sky was navy blue, although it just hit the afternoon. Just like in the battle of Edd. Then we won, so now we will again. I'm gonna win. I'll win.

'Everyone! Sails!' I was yelling, wobbling dangerously, and I grabbed him by his dirty shirt, pulling in my direction. 'I'll swim out, even if that ship were to drown at the end. If somebody doesn't want to, then overboard!' I pushed him away, sending a furious look, and at the same time I felt that the whirlpool in my stomach stopped, at least for a while.

The storm accompanied me from the beginning of my expedition. And literally, because while leaving Logue Town I was running away from it. And since I survived all this turmoil, this one will be no exception! Not now, that a glimmer of hope for a change of my lousy life has dawned. Not after all I've been through. I won't drown! A pebble never goes down!

I walked on a rocking ship without losing balance even when the waves began to strike with more fury. People were afraid, doubly, if they listened to the gossip and didn't dare to resist, even though they were stuck between a hammer and an anvil - the storm or an angry captainess. Most decided that I was worse, however, and they obediently rolled the sails, the rest followed the group, like rams, which in my opinion they were. I was going to send this ship down, together with the crew, and I didn't need them for anything.

The waves would first hijack the bow, crashing dangerously against the falcon, lift it up and reach the rear, rocking Harpy at a dangerous angle.

'We'll break through!' I decided and grabbed the helm myself, feeling the recurring nausea. 

'And don't be fucking surprised, Jones, if you don't see me in your Locker today!'


According to legends the Forbidden or Cursed Islands were a handful of tiny beaches where nothing grew. From one shore you could see the other, even more, you could see all the other islands. They were nothing special, but all the demons in hell witnessed that on the Grand Line nothing ever looked like what it really was! Apparently, something unusual happened there when it was getting dark. They say bad things were happening there when a storm raged to prevent sailors from entering the lands of the mysterious archipelago.

Edward once told me that only fools go there in search of anything but death. I respected him and his opinion, but when I sailed towards them, I spit on everything that was reasonable. Nevertheless, something inside me was protesting, something that suggested that all that voyage was worth nothing, and that in the Cursed Islands I would find nothing and no one. Fact, no one lived there. And there was nothing. So why did I go there?

In pursuit of a dream, hope. Something that wasn't and couldn't be real. And yet I was determined to get this unattainable thing. I was going to bet everything on one card, I didn't hesitate and nothing could take me away, not even a quiet voice saying "Ralagan, give up".

After all, I could go back! I could leave peaceful Atlantis, find that fool, Silver, and figure out how to spend the rest of life rather than drinking to death.

When I thought of an old friend, someone I loved, I felt this sweet melancholy that accompanies us when we think of something that has passed, but only in some part. Which we can go back to. Because I could come back to Ray any day and night, he was waiting for me, but when I remembered my condition, I was in disgust. Of course! Show up to him! Now, after all these years, where I look like some drunken old lady who's got mad!

The idea was categorically out of the question, or at least I didn't take it into account at the time when I was still able to do something. Besides, I was planning to come back for Silver anyway once I had reached my goal. And then we'll finally be together again and I can live the life I wanted.

Ha! I played it! But what I paid for it and how much...

When I finally stood on a sandy beach, after four days of a murderous voyage, I looked much worse, although it seemed impossible. I gathered a dull mass of hair into a tight knot on my neck and took off my sweaty, dark blue coat. My white shirt turned into a yellow rag, my corset was thrown away a long time ago because my shoelaces broke and my skirt resembled a collection of torn sheets from donations to widows and orphans. Not to mention that it was all stained with blood, because the crew rebelled and demanded to return to the port. Out of thirty-five people, seven survived, plus a petty officer, and actually returned to some port, which I didn't really care about. All that mattered was that I reached my destination. Cursed Islands where I could meet Davy Jones!

Except for a box of booze, a sack of tobacco, a pipe and a deck of cards, I had nothing. Not even an idea of what to do next. The heat was pouring out of the sky, there was nothing around that would give a shadow and there was a deadly ocean around the land with a diameter of forty meters.

So what now? Should I do some dancing? Exorcism? A virgin sacrifice? You could always shed innocent blood if I could find one.

I walked on the beach, along and wide, strangely calm about the property left on the shore, and I was yelling until my throat ached. The longer I screamed the name of the mythical sea devil, the more I wondered about its existence. Because in the end I've been sailing in the damn ocean for about twenty years, and I haven't seen Davy Jones once, what I'm told should happen when I enter the New World.

Tere-fere, because I've been in the New World for seventeen years and I haven't seen anything incredible. Okay, well, I've seen, but not someone who introduced themselves as old Jones.

I finally went back to my box, covered with a coat, got a pipe, and I remembered with a brilliance that I didn't have anything to fire that pipe. With a moan, I sat by the box, unforgettable for the oaths I had taken four days earlier, and reached for the first bottle.

Two and a half litres of booze from Atlantis later, I was anaesthetized enough to tell myself about the happiest years of my life, without howling like a wolf. Yeah, half a litre then I sang shanties loudly, and the setting sun was too nice a background.

'Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea! To me, way hey, blow the man down! Now please pay attention and listen to me! Give me some time to blow the man down!'

I fell asleep and I was aware of it. I remembered when I fell on the sand and saw vodka soaking into the hot sand. I also remembered the colourful smudges in the sky, which I watched for a while in my reverie, and compared them with those seen from my ship a long time ago.

I was woken up by the light and the heat only felt on my face, shoulders and cleavage. I was in the mood to murder someone, my guts were twisting painfully with every movement and my head was pulsating mercilessly as if it was about to fall apart. I slowly rose, first to my knees, then I sat on my heels and led around with a tired look from under my half-closed eyelids.

'First you call me, then you fall asleep, and now you can't wake up.' A quiet, hoarse voice came from my left and should make me get up on my feet ready to fight, but the actual result left a lot to be desired.

'I don't know where the fuck you, camaraderaman, came from, but I'll tell you one thing, a bad place to rest' I started with a tired, squeaky voice and only then I noticed that the fire burning carelessly on my left, was burning on the sand. No wood, no coal, just on the sand. I watched it hypnotized, trying to explain this phenomenon in a mind dulled by alcohol, and a stranger, looking away, laughed at the gullet and nodded his head. He looked like an old sailor, with a broken hat on his head, some carelessly made tattoos and a nose like a potato. In a word; an unpleasant type, snatched as if under the weight of life or something equally philosophical.

'You called me' he started by showing me his blackened teeth and he didn't hide them even when I had loathing written on my face.

'Did I? When?' I massaged my headache.

'Four hours ago. What can I do for you, Captainess?'

'How do you know who I am?'

'Oh, I sail a little bit in these waters. Personalities like you attract my special attention. Almost like your brother! I've had a lot of chitchat with him. In my Locker', I mean.

'You're... Jones.'

'Davy Jones, devil of the Grand Line and the surrounding area, at your service.' He wouldn't even bother to lift his hat, which I'd probably take as an insult and punish him if he was any other man. As long as Jones can be counted as a man. 'And you have a business with me, but I don't know what you're going to pay me for it, because all good things are limited to empty bottles and tobacco.' He looked around, allegedly worried about the condition of my property, which I've squandered with a shrug of my shoulders.

'I know that such fancies are ash to you. Your usury is a different measure, don't make a fool out of me' I've been growling, signalling the knowledge about the price of any service from his side. 'Well, as long as you're really Jones.'

'That's not enough proof?' He pointed a fire and spat somewhere to the side. I did the same thing, getting rid of the bitter taste of vodka from my mouth, and I remembered a loaded pipe, resting safely in my coat pocket. It could be fired after a few attempts, to the second laugh of the old one, and when I pulled myself in with the smoke, my mind was completely lightened up. Well, one could say that I was sober.

'I want to play Scythe with you.' I threw a deck of cards tied with a leather strap under his feet and watched him react from underneath my squinted eyes. The expression on his face changed dramatically in a second. He looked at my with strangely burning eyes and black teeth flashed in a truly devilish smile. My heart stopped for a second and my hand trembled when I put the pipe in my mouth - I was afraid of his human gestures, which he parodied in such a terrible way. Looking at this smile, I knew that it didn't belong to man and that I'm not dealing with man - only demons can look like that when they have business with man in front of them. And only demons can cheat like Jones did.

'Pirate Scythe.' He didn't pretend to be a reverie or a surprise, he seemed to be waiting for my challenge, which he noticed after a while, written on my face. 'I accept. What do you bet?'

'What do you take?'

'Your soul.' He smiled. 'Something for which you are responsible and duty.'

'It's not much.' I agreed, to his misguided joy. The price didn't really mattered, I just wanted Jones to agree to my terms in case I win. 'In return, I want power, a crew on the fastest ship and the resurrection of someone with a D in their name.'

'To get someone out of my Locker, you have to find him first.' He made a condition. 'The crew will be neither alive nor dead. And the ship will breathe. What about the power... You've got your fruit, don't you?'

'I'm helpless in the water.' I explained trying to make sense of his part of the deal. Jones's eyes were shining mysteriously when he pretended to ask:

'Would you like to hold the depth in your hands?

'Yes. Exactly.

'Your soul, Ralagan' he purred with pleasure 'is far too low a price for such favors. You know what you'll get, so now find out how you'll pay for it. I'll give you years of life to bring souls to my hatch, but only those who have died at sea; a thousand every year - that's a duty. In due time, I will take something for which you are responsible, and the loss of which will lead yo to madness.' Suddenly, he stopped, as if he were giving me time to think, but he knew that I would not go back. When he spoke again, his voice rustled in the air, to the second swoosh of flames. 'But you won't get into the Locker yourself. You won't get into the Immensity, either, for people like you I have a special place,' he added mysteriously and his attention was drawn to the sky, again giving me time to think about my position.

I had considered it for too long to hesitate now, and I knew that Jones wouldn't just walk away after he came to me. But I felt something that want me to rethink the idea, whispering "Ralagan, don't" as if in the last failed attempt to give me back my senses. It wasn't the price and consequences that mattered to me, the logic wasn't about me, and the tragic vision of my future was too far away that night in the Cursed Islands. The present was to belong, again, to me, and I wasn't going to give it up.

'You know the rules, you cursed wraith?

'I made them.' I saw his black teeth in the corner of my eye and then I focused on shuffling the cards.


'Thach!

'Wha...? Fuck, Namur, what was that for?!' The seventeen-year-old called up from a semi-lying position at the tavern table, with a throbbing headache that he couldn't figure out exactly why. It could have been a hangover or the result of Namur's hitting, a fisherman, standing right next to him. 'You want to rip my head off, bastard?!' He looked at his companion with a muzzle and knocked the glass mug down on the floor with a quiet moan.

'He's no use anyway. Get going, the old man wants to go, but you can't, because Marco didn't come back.'The shark-like creature snapped its sharp teeth at Thach's ear, seeing him go to sleep again.

'So go look for him' a disgruntled pirate growled, ignoring the powerful jaws.

The whole room smelled of smoke, urine, and old oil, which was a great irritation of Namur and didn't bother Thach at all. The barmaid in a white shirt, which did not resemble the shirt, approached the pirates with beer, not reacting to the warning look of the fisherman.

'Boys, have fun tonight, don't sleep!' The lying man lifted up as if at the command and with a snowy smile he took the liquor, soaring a black-haired girl with the look of nice, beer eyes.

'Pops will kill you if you don't come to the port with Marco. You both went to that hovel yesterday, and now you are, and he's gone' Namur made an excuse when the girl left with a giggle and Thach pulled from the mug.

'And it's his problem, not mine. Let him handle it himself, alpha male! He ripped out yesterday, before my nose, you understand, the prettiest girl in the port. I thought I'd take him out!' The boy hit the table with the vessel, smashing it to the ground, which the bartender commented on with a dissatisfied snout, and the pirate didn't even quit to apologize. Namur snapped his teeth again, only less aggressively, and twisted his head, unable to take the course of Thach's thinking. In every port it was the same thing, the war for women, the problem with going back on the ship and a half-day hangover, from which the whole crew mocked. But this time Marco, Edward Newgate's right hand, got lost, and that was the problem.

The tavern started to fill up, girls in long skirts and nicely exposed arms were hanging around, Thach was in a champagne mood and was looking for something prettier, not paying attention to the fisherman, who was running out of patience. Seeing that the younger one was unwilling to cooperate, he drowned him with a big, membranous hand behind his neck and lifted him out, not caring much for the rest of his dignity.

Marco woke up with a headache, without a shirt, and felt the bitter taste of beer in his mouth. Thank God, it was evening, the ocean side was blowing nicely and he was lying on the sand... Wait, what fucking sand?!

'Thach!' He got up, looking around in panic, and seeing port lights in the distance and nothing else, he had a headache and moaned back to his previous position. 'I'll kill that motherfucker. Where did he get me out? Where's my shirt? Fucking... I don't even have cigarettes?' He shoved his pockets with little hope, but he didn't expect anything. He knew for a long time that Thach was stealing his cigarettes but didn't say anything, waiting for the right moment. But there were, in the other pocket and, Jesus Christ, the last cigarette miraculously survived from last night. Last night? No, how? He... He slept all day?!

'And I'm fucked. The old man's gonna get mad and I'll be grounded for the next million ports, yoi.' He moaned, clinging to a lighter that insisted on refusing to cooperate. When after a minute he finally succeeded, he enlisted strongly and summed up his situation aloud. 'Yesterday I drank seven queues, then I played scythe, then four queues... That's eleven, and dice, then four again, that's fifteen... No, wait a minute, first there was this girl, good, fifteen... Thach said... What did he say?' The boy scratched his shaved hair and looked at the dark ocean, forgetting about counting, Thach and everything else. Only after a while did he realize that something was disturbing the sleepy atmosphere and it was... Crying?

He looked around and, unable to see anything, took advantage of the power of the recently acquired Devil's Fruit. He didn't quite control it yet, but the blue flame effectively illuminated the beach within a radius of three meters, and there was nothing outside the sand.

He rose and would have headed for the harbor, where Moby Dick was probably planning a strategy with him as a target, but a thin cry continued to vibrate in his ears and Marco had the unpleasant impression that it was a baby crying. With a sigh, he turned left, back to his original target, and walked a slow step, writing down a powerful beating to Thach in his mind.

He walked only a few steps, and in the blue glow beating from his left shoulder, he noticed...

'A basket? What the fuck did I find, Moses?' Actually, there was crying from the little basket, and when the eighteen-year-old raised the lid, he saw the baby. The crying baby fell silent at the sight of light and stared at the flames with wet eyes. 'Hey, what kind of circus are you doing here, yoi?' He looked around, trying to find kid's parents or anyone who knew where the baby came from, but the beach was empty. The baby, unnaturally blue in the glow of the flames, remained silent, absorbing an unknown view, and Marco wondered what to do. It's not common to find a kid on an empty beach, and this little thing was roaring, probably it was hungry... Maybe he should leave it alone? But it's weird to take it with him. What would a baby do on a pirate ship? On the Emperor White Beard's ship?

'Hey, do you have a name?' It was idiotic to ask an infant about anything, but on a hangover a man is allowed everything. The kid started to squeak and squeak, and when he disappeared from sight, sitting in front of the basket, it started a warning scream. 'All right, all right, don't cry! I'm sitting here, yoi.' He rolled up some rags that "something" was wrapped up in, and this clever creature took advantage of the situation and grabbed the boy by the finger, squeezing its fist with all fragile powers. Marco automatically pushed the cigarette away from his mouth and looked with his eyes wide open for the baby's treatments, while feeling the previously unknown heat inside. The child squeaked and squeaked like before, but his finger didn't want to let go. 'Well,we need to find out what do we do? Your parents didn't want you? What are you doing here at this hour, yoi?' The little one was silent and listened carefully, without understanding a word, but it liked the voice of the stranger. It also liked the blue flame and the company. After all, how much can you sit in the dark in a closed basket? The infant's patience, and so little, was completely exhausted, and now this strange stranger came and gave light.

Marco finished smoking, sighed several times and decided that his father would know best what to do. He pulled out of the basket, finding out the sex of the screamer by the way, and with his face pressed, he moved to the harbour, a little incompetently but instinctively pressing the baby to the chest. The only possible scenario at that moment was entitled "Ask the locals if someone had lost the baby", but with each step the boy was wondering more intensively who could leave the baby alone? And if they recovered the toddler, wouldn't they do the same in a while?

But to leave the kid on the beach just like that, instead of giving it to someone... 'No, I understand everything, an unwanted pregnancy or something, but people, have some responsibility.'

'Four aces. 'Jones's clattering voice was silent, commenting on the cards lined up. He tried to play annoyed, but the grimace on his face informed me clearly of his joy. I was nodding my head in thought and looked at him with my lips clenched so as not to yell out of happiness. I couldn't believe my victory, let alone the prize. I triumphed, as many times before, but now I have won with the devil himself.

Davy was laughing, and the laugh turned into a cough. He threw the cards into the fire with anger, the flames willingly accepted the victim without making the slightest sound. The devil leaned back a little and scratched on the chinking beard without letting me out of his sight.

'You won.

'You... I won' I admitted in a voice that was thin from emotion.

On Moby Dick was the gathering of all those who went into port last night, and Edward Newgate, the most powerful man in the world, was looking out of his place under the main mast for Marco. When the eighteen-year-old finally showed up on the ship's gangway, first the Thach, then Jozu, and finally the Emperor himself, whose voice sounded like thunder.

'What do you have in your hands, son?' A strong North Blue accent was vibrating in the ears, and the bass was stifling the others.

'A girl.' It was laconic, which caused a wave of surprised shouts and remarks.

'Well, you were first to beget the kid, and now we will take care of it?' Thach, still angry at the older pirate that he got somewhere, mocked without mercy, for which he only got a hard look.

'And it looks like mine? I found it on the beach.' Here he turned to his father. 'There was nobody but me and her, so I thought you'd know what to do with that, old man'

The little one started a warning cry as if he understood it, but when Marco put it on his father's big outstretched hand, it muddled joyfully and squeaked several times.

Newgate's yellow eyes looked at the crumble, no bigger than a loaf of bread, and flashed, and a stubborn look on his serious, white moustached face.

'You sure there was nobody?' He did not take his eyes off the little one, following her clumsy movements, and when the baby's blue eyes looked straight at him, he ran out of air for a moment. The little one laughed again, and she jotted joyfully, showing her toothless gums in a smile.

'No, if there was anyone, I would not take her with me.

There was silence on the ship, everyone on board focused their eyes on the captain. Thach was snorting dissatisfied under his nose, but he didn't dare, yet, to say something louder, only when Edward yelled and smiled at the girl, he snapped:

'So what? We'll take the brat to the sea?!

'It would be dangerous for her'Jozu turned his head in thought and looked at Marco, scratching his shaved head.

'Do whatever you want, I can take her to the beach or to town, but I won't entertain her, yoi!' He raised his hands in a full resignation gesture. 'Nobody's gonna play the kid on a pirate ship, people!'

'Yeah? Then why the hell did you even take her from there, you bastard?' Thach jumped closer to the blond and stabbed him with his index finger in the sternum, then angrily clenched his jaws and looked at his friend with a cloudy stare.

'Because you left me there, and I'm not you, and at least I'm trying to help...

'Pff... Ha, help?! You brought the kid on a pirate ship, that's help, you good Samaritan?! Who?!' He mocked the younger one, and Marco grabbed him by the collar and moved him in with his hissing air.

'What the fuck do you want? You left me the hell knows where, I woke up on the beach, with no money and no cigarettes, my head hurts as if Jozu hitted me...! You better take a look at your position, yoi' he snorted and pushed the pirate away, not wanting to fight.


'You wanted power on the ocean, so I'm giving it to you. You won't drown even if you're in the deepest depths of this world.' His voice was getting stronger and sharper with every word he spoke, the air thickened a little and vibrated, giving a sign that something unnatural was happening. 'At your command, a storm would appear.' The whisper of the waves turned into their screams, hitting the sandy shore with anger, as if they were a harbinger of the coming rage of the Grand Line power. 'You'll be above the glare and whirlpool, I give you the opportunity to give orders to the ocean I created.' It leaned towards me, squinting its eyelids. 'The first condition has been met.'

Apparently, the ocean calmed down to give out a loud bubble after a while, and although I didn't see it, I knew something was coming out of the depths.

'I give you the fastest ship sailing in these waters - the Banshee, will be the maraud of your enemies. The crew of a hundred convicts who made similar pacts to yours with me years ago, will be at your command. They will not be alive or dead, so they will not see death.'

'Resurrect my...!' I tried to enforce the third condition, but Jones was angry.

'To get him out, you have to swim to the hatch alone!' He's crazy! Or I'm the one who's crazy! How can I find hell?

'How?!

'You got a ship and a crew, you have power over the ocean and the Devil Fruit - More than you can accept and more than you can bear. The human heart does not know moderation, it cannot draw boundaries. Your heart, Emeral D. Ralagan, is imbued with greed, like the heart of the devil," he whispered and, after a short while, drew a small map, almost entirely made up of triangles and circles, on the sand, amidst total silence. 'You are a wayfinder, you will find your way.'

When I raised my eyes, Jones was gone. I was left alone with a new feeling playing in my soul - with a feeling of winning.


'She drank almost half a liter of milk. Half. A liter.

'Kids probably eat a lot, yoi.

'It's still half a litre.

'Shut up, you damn hypocrite.

'Quiet, brats!'White Beard's tubal voice silenced the argument and awakened the girl Josh put to sleep. Edward still hasn't made a decision about the child, although Marco seemed to know what the father was thinking.

The little one believed, dissatisfied with her being pulled out of her sleep and ready to cry, but eventually she swung her hands and again closed her eyes, allowing her to sway in the pirate's powerful arms. The atmosphere was tense, and Thach knew it from the hold of his breath, which everyone on board was taking as soon as the child moved.

'So you're saying she was alone.' Whitebeard spoke slowly, with a distinctive North Blue accent, emphasizing hard sounds. Yellow eyes looked at Marco, who was measuring Thach with an angry look.

'Yeah, all alone, yoi' he answered, then raised his eyes to his father and scratched his shaved head. 'Well, what would be the point if I took her from parents or something? I'm not playing babysitter, old man.'

'I could have you find her family, because the child is certainly from Bethesda,' said Newgate thoughtfully, and knocked his finger on the armrest of the chair, 'but I'm afraid they would abandon her again. Nevertheless, a pirate ship is no place for a child. We need to find her home on this island, someone will take care of her.'

'If someone were to take care of her, the kid wouldn't be on the beach, old man.

Fossa, so far sitting quietly, looked at her father from above the cigar and let the smoke out of her mouth. 

'Besides, Bethesda is not one of the richest islands, who would like to take another mouth to feed, especially as she can drink half a litre of milk? 'The pirate looked at the sullen Thach, who was already gathering the answer, but Edward did not allow him to speak.

'In other words, you want to take this crumble with us?

'You're fuckin' mad, Fossa!

'Sit down, old man, on your ass and don't get fucked up!

'Kid on the Emperor's ship, congratulations!' 

'Shut your mouth, she's crying because of your darts!' Jozu's reprimand was only so successful that the girl screamed even louder, as if she wanted to demonstrate the strength of her tiny throat.

'Take her to the First Division's quarters.

'What? Why there, yoi?!' Marco looked at his father with his eyes wide open, but then he capitulated and purried something under his nose. Joshua got up but the baby didn't stop crying for a moment, which led Thach almost to passion.

'Give me that monster.' He took over the crying and snorted the whole mankind under his nose, carrying the child to the indicated cabin. 'You're all the same: if you don't get something, it's best to cry about it. You're going to blow up the world one day and it's obviously our fault! I'll throw you overboard! If you grow up and I meet you somewhere, you're gonna get such a beating...! - It's a strange thing but kid calms down, like knowing he was talking to him. Thach stood indecisive on the stairs leading below and looked over his shoulder. - What's the kid's name anyway?' Seeing the bewildered words on the faces of the others, he shrugged his shoulders and left as if the question had never been asked.

Marco was delayed from his hammock in the morning, knowing that someone was looking at him and only after a few minutes he saw the big, blue eyes of the girl he found.

'What's up, cuttlefish? Are you hungry?' He smiled underneath his nose when the child mulled joyfully and squealed loudly as soon as he took it in his arms. 'Thach will give you milk, but don't drink it too much. And if he barks, tell me... However you want.

Ever since he went to bed, Thach's words about the girl's name echoed in his head, which Marco tried not to pay much attention to. However, he had already spent several years at sea and knew that only things that do not matter have names. And there are no such things in the world.

Feeding the little one was not a problem, it appeared when the child had to be rewound and somehow nobody wanted to do it. Eventually, Izou solved the problem and dressed the girl in a fast-tripping diaper and an undersized shirt. The baby seemed to be satisfied with this turn of events and announced it with a loud bubble, of course after breakfast. Fossa put the cigar away for a few minutes, the fourth this morning, and the baby was rocking in his arms. Pirate was laughing under his nose as the girl joyfully stretched her hands towards him. But it was only when she was in White Beard's hands that she had a real attack of joy, and the her joyful laughter was heard by all those gathered.

Edward looked at the believing little girl with a strange warmth in his yellow eyes, and was pleased to see that the baby was warningly screaming as soon as the Emperor wanted to pass her on to someone else.

'She will stay here, and you're gonna find someone who will know something about her' he decided, feeling the baby's little hands pulling the long, white mustache. Marco felt that the father, before giving the baby to someone, would make sure that the little one was in good hands. Especially after what the two divisions on the outlying heard:

'Her name will be Lerena.


She was given a name

Two hours later Marco, Shaw, a lieutenant of the First Division, and a woman whose clothes informed about her belonging to the Bethesda community stood on the main deck of Moby Dick. She walked straight, avoiding eye contact with anyone, and when she saw Edward sitting under the mast, she became pale. She felt the gaze of the most powerful crew in the world on herself and it was not comfortable. They watched every move carefully, although they pretended not to be interested in her presence.

On the bridge on the left stood Namur, at the sight of whom the woman froze and almost retreated. Fishman snapped his mighty jaws with disgust and turned his back to her and the witnesses' eyes became cooler.

'There is nothing to be afraid of' She heard by the ear and swallowed hard, unable to control the fear of seeing the osprey. The blue skin and shark look seemed grotesque in the company of people, although only she thought so. They - the crew - didn't pay any attention to it at all. One could feel full acceptance for Namur's otherness and unwittingly the woman felt respect for them, and contempt for her fear.

She recognised Fossa - a bulky pirate who was said to have smoked one fifth of the world's tobacco. His letter arrived at Bethesda a long time ago from the nearby island of Glass Forsythia, where Fossa is said to have come from.

In the crowd she noticed curious looks, no face expressed a desire to hurt the newcomer, which she was afraid of when she went to port. At first it was hard for her to believe Marco's words about the child he found. In the end, the pirates were far from being gentle and those she knew would kill the baby sooner than take it on board. But the longer he spoke, nonchalantly describing the girl and his reaction to her crying, she began to believe him and took an interest in the fact that he found her eyes yellow. Marco described them as golden, but the men, according to her, did not have the ability to determine colours. She decided to assess it herself.

'Old man, this is Rida. '

She bowed with respect, and when she stood up, her eyes unwittingly slipped to the source of a joyful, childish laughter. Lerena, on all fours, was swaying back and forth, and then, chattering her own way, she put two fingers in her mouth and squeaked in delight. All this happened at the feet of Edward and Rida though that this little child is in the safest place in the world.

The woman stood straight, with her hands lowered along her body and only her hands clenched in her fists were a sign of nervousness. The subtle, cool facial features revealed nothing, just like the dark, deep eyes. When Marco introduced her, her narrow lips trembled as if they wanted to spread real horror to the whole world, but she mastered quickly and swallowed hard.

'She's afraid," Haruta said to Fossa, observing the whole event. Fossa shoved the cigar ashes into the water and laughed briefly.

- No wonder. You see such a giant that could wipe out a whole battalion in one move, must've send shivers down your spine.

- And you think we'll give her Lerena?

- And that's another thing.

The Emperor's yellow eyes looked at the woman carefully, and a deep, calm voice was heard, breathing even more respect into Rida. She had no difficulty imagining what panic Edward sowed in the ranks of the enemy when he ordered his divisions to attack.

'Do you want to take care of that child?' Once again, she swallowed it hard, and with all her soul, she wanted her voice not to tremble, but facing the Most Powerful Man in the World, she could not play back her fear. The power that had been radiating from Edward was overwhelming, Rida seemed to think that if she stayed aboard Moby Dick for longer, she would suffocate.

So how did this child chatter so joyfully, and over and over again, without fear, hit the Emperor's black shoe, demanding attention? The little one should be so terrified, according to Rida, to not even crying!

'Your son, mighty Emperor...' she started out slowly 'told me he found a child on the beach of this island. He said the girl had several months and golden eyes. Can I see her?' She knew she couldn't afford to be disrespectful aboard Edward's ship, and every word must be well thought out. All her knowledge of Whitebeard and his crew was based on rumors: He was patient and forgiven a lot, but no one who allowed himself to offend his sons survived.

Edward did not look at her for a few moments, giving his attention to Lerena, but at the woman's question the yellow eyes rested on her again. For a long time the captain remained silent, as if he was considering an attack from Rida, and his gaze hardened. She wanted to go back, but she simply frightened. It was the kind of fear that we wake up in the middle of the night and hear a sound, then we are not even able to breathe. She felt that this question aroused his vigilance, although she had no idea why. In her opinion she said nothing wrong, but the Emperor's face said something completely different.

'Marco. 'The pirate called up approached his captain and took over the little one, without saying a word, understanding that the Emperor does not agree to entrust the girl to a foreign woman, or at least not at that moment. Rida also understood this, and did not reach to the child, but watched very carefully.

'She is eleven or twelve months old," she said in an intermittent voice, smiling and watching the baby stretch out his hand towards a long necklace. 'But the colour of her eyes is not natural, Captain Newgate.'

'Demon not a brat, I told you from the beginning!' called Thach and turned to Marco. 'Why the hell would you take her from there? That's all the trouble with that.'

'What do you mean by that?' Edward leaned his head on a bent arm and waited patiently, ignoring Tahch's yelling. Jozu purred something underneath his nose and slapped a 17-year-old boy in the head, silencing him.

'Every child...' she stressed 'is born with blue eyes. Then they change and it can last until the age of three. But she...'

'Lerena," corrected the Whitebeard, to which Rida again bowed with respect.

'Forgive me' she said and her hands were shaken 'Lerena is an exception, as you can see. And her exceptionality will not be accepted at Bethesda. The child is from North Blue, only there the children have the golden colour of the irises, you know that, Captain Newgate.' Rida gave the child a necklace - a long, golden chain with a cross - and she watched the girl squeeze it tight, looking at Marco.

'I can't leave her here, I understand.' Whitebeard agreed. 'However, there are a lot of islands in the New World, there's sure to be a place for her.'

'I can take care of her if you wish' she offered quickly, seeing an opportunity to leave her home island.

Newgate remained silent, weighing her words in his mind, and his gaze seemed to say that he knew what Rida meant. As if he knew the woman wanted to use him for her purposes.

'Be ready for tonight. We'll take you to Turmalin. It's one of my islands. We'll get there in a few weeks. Whatever Lerena needs or you need, my sons will provide.'

_______________________________________________________________

It seemed funny to Rida how Thach approached Lerena. Sitting in the ship's galley she watched the process of feeding the little one and couldn't help but smile, seeing the pirate's delicacy masked by anger. A seventeen-year-old boy with a yellow scarf around his neck, which was of great interest to the child, fed the little one with warm milk from a bottle, walking around the whole room. A huge one, it had to be added, like everything on Moby Dick. It was midnight, and Bethesda's lights had disappeared in the dark an hour earlier, assuring Rida that she was far enough to breathe.

'You look as if you're happy to be so far away from home' Tahch chased out, and if it wasn't for little Lerena in his arms, he'd probably sit down to Rida and try to flirt. The woman was nodding her head, not letting the baby out of her sight, but she didn't continue the subject. 'No wonder why live on an island when you can sail in the New World.'

'How long have you been here?' She asked the question, directing the conversation to him so that she could talk about herself as little as possible.

'A year now, the old man took me in. I stole from the local mayor and broke his two ribs' he cheerfully chipped out, infecting Rida with it. 'I was supposed to be flogged, but then pops showed up.' He pointed his head at the boarding, thinking of Edward. 'And he had a chitchat with me. Then he offered me to join the crew, and since I had nothing better, I agreed. On the first day I got such a beat-up from Marco that I couldn't walk and we became brothers' he confessed with disarming sincerity, without pretensions in his voice. Rida laughed quietly, imagining how a blond pirate with a bored face beats Thach.

'It must have been a sight.'


'I'll take her if you want' Rida offered, which the boy welcomed and gave Lerena back. 'We'll go to bed, yes?'

'Don't you dare to cry. And you won't get any more food until breakfast, you hear me?'

The girl was bounced back in response, which pleased Thacha completely, and then Rida left, smiling under her nose, convinced that the whole trip to Turmalin would be one big adventure.

___________________________________________________________________________

'I think you should give her a middle name.'

Edward watched Rida walk around the deck with Lerena in her arms, saying something to the girl.The blond looked at his father first and then at the woman with the child and shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

'Somehow I don't have a gift for names, old man.'

'And yet it was you who found her, so she should get something to remind her of it.

Newgate leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. The sun heated the earth, air smelled like the ocean, the clear sky looked like an invitation to a long voyage, and the gentle splash of waves crashing against the hull sounded like a symphony. Several pirates were playing cards on the deck, doing nothing from the early hours, and drinking vodka. Marco looked at them for a while and then decided to chase them to work, the cargo hold needed a little remodeling.

Moreover, on board, as usual, there was a bustle of everyday life. Marshall and Thatch were arguing about something, Fossa and Jozu were wrestling with a dozen or so members of the four divisions, someone else was loudly talking about the last voyage to Fishman Island.

'And that name is supposed to be that thing, yoi? You called her Lerena and you think she'll remember who you are?' He asked on the outsider.

'Lerena is the most beautiful name on earth, and she'll remember. I feel a little like her father, so I won't miss meeting her. Every now and then' Edward added. 'Only things that don't matter don't have a name, son. Give her a name that will always be associated with you.

A moment later, Rida approached the mast with her head bent, and the girl pulled out her hands towards Edward. When the Emperor took her she rubbed her eyes and yawned.

The hustle, as if by order, was silent, and when the Whitebeard's voice sounded, everyone heard it.

'Oh, you wanna take a nap before dinner, little one? So sleep safe.' He covered her with his captain's coat from wind and sun, and Lerena fell asleep almost immediately. 'The unusual thing is that a man can create such a crumble and leave it to the mercy of fate' he started and Rida had no doubt that the Emperor spoke to her. 'I cannot help but wonder that she is so filigree and was completely alone.'

'She is not alone anymore' she dared to deny it. 'She has you, you saved her. I promise she will remember that for the rest of her life.'

About a week later, the schedule of the day was set by despotic Lerena. She woke up early in the morning, then after breakfast Marco would take her around the ship and he caught himself talking to a chattering baby about serious things like loading, bills and direction of the cruise. Later he passed her on to Edward for her midday nap, and after lunch Lerena crawled around the deck under Rida's watchful eye and became a centre of general interest, which made her very happy. During these first days, the child met everyone on the mother ship, so there had to be an incident with a second name, and it began more or less like this:

After dinner Lerena didn't intend to go to sleep and announced it with a loud shout as soon as Rida put her in a hammock in the cabin. She would cry until the woman took her back in her arms, but for obvious reasons she didn't answer the question "what's going on". She calmed down a little, but big tears in her golden eyes continued to shine and she sob quietly when the babysitter decided to take her on board for a few moments. The hustle and bustle of the crew always calmed the child down, not to mention the rocking on the captain's hands, but Edward was sleeping in his cabin and Rida would never dare to wake him. As for the crew, most of them gathered in the galley that day and had a card evening, so the air loaded with tobacco smoke and alcoholic fumes was not suitable for girls in their eleventh month.

Rida walked aboard Moby Dick, from the navigation bridge to the bow, but Lerena kept on sniffing around and every now and then she would start screaming as if she wanted to cry, but wasn't quite sure if it would work.

'What's wrong with you, darling? Why don't you want to go to bed?' Rida asked the baby, not expecting an answer from the child, and it was only the blue light that made Lerena completely silent. She looked over Rida's head and slowly left her eyesight as the blue flame gently descended from the seal to the deck.

'And what do we have here? You don't sleep at this hour, yoi?' Marco's voice was filled with laughter and when he faced the woman, she saw a hidden smile in his dark eyes. Lerena stretched out her hands to him, and the pirate did not dare to refuse. 'Again, you are in a hurry and you are not letting Rida sleep' he made a gentle excuse and gave the child a finger.

Rida watched for a while, not knowing if she should admit her thoughts out loud, but she had the impression that Marco was a little bit older than Thach and would take her words.

As the pirate's hand caught on the blue flame, the little one laughed loudly and looked as if she had been enchanted by an unusual phenomenon, trying to hold the fire with her other hand.

'She got used to you' said Rida quietly, observing Lerena.

'And why not, after all, we're her now... family, yoi' He admitted, watching what the little one do.

Rida nodded her head and fell silent for a while.

'But you seem to be her closest.' She saw his interested look and finished it: 'She's silent when she sees you, and when you're not looking, she calls out. She seems anxious when you're not there, and I'm afraid that if you hadn't come to take her round one day, she'd be hysterical.'

Marco looked at the child with undisguised pride and smiled, satisfied with the words he heard.

'Yeah' he agreed 'she acts as if I had to watch over her, yoi.'

'I think it was because of your fire.' Rida watched little Lerena rest her head on the pirate's arm and squint her eyes sleepily, and the blue glow of the flames reflected on her face. She didn't let go of the boy's finger, squeezing him all the time. 'She feels safe with him, Marco.'

The pirate's dark eyes flashed and he smiled joyfully. The words of the father echoed in his head and he finally came up with something that would perfectly reflect his relationship with the child. Eventually he found her, he had full right from Edward to give her that name.

'Saphira' he spoke quietly, as if to himself, and gave the woman a communicative look, then he led her to the cabin and put Lerena to sleep.

On board he felt the same bliss as when the child squeezed his finger on the beach for the first time.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Namur has belonged to the third division since the day White Beard took him in. On the ship he was treated as an equal, the initial reserve turned into boundless trust when the fishman became known as a devoted companion. After four years under sail of Moby Dick Namur was called "brother" by the crew, and "son" by Edward, and he called them "family". He felt safe on board, avoiding being on the islands, not wanting to get noticed and provoke people. He knew that they were afraid of him and that this fear made the pirates feel bad, and there was one step from fear to hatred. He didn't need others, anyway. The crew was enough for him, and by the time Rida and Lerena showed up, everything was in order.

Namur saw Rida's reaction to his otherness - the bluish colour of his thick skin, the shark's appearance and his powerful, frightening jaws - because he could not be masked by human clothing and walking on two membranous fins. That is why he tried to get out of her eyes, not wanting to see fear, disgust or contempt in them. The woman sensed it, but every time she wanted to apologise for it, Namur disappeared. The case was solved by Leren, who had not had the slightest contact with the fishman until then. "The human fry" was so fragile and so eager to cry that the pirate had no heart to "torture her with his appearance." Thach's speech about tolerance didn't help much.

So when the day after Lerena's second name was given she was aboard Moby Dick, to the delight of the gathered trying to stand on two feet, Rida was looking for a way to approach the fishman. Namur talked to Marco, standing near the captain's chair, and Rida and the child were about six meters away. Edward looked at the little one's stunts, drinking supposedly water from a barrel from time to time.

'Hoppy, naturally' threw Thach in his own way and more loudly encouraged Lerena to take the first steps. Unfortunately, the child was not particularly keen on this and after a few seconds of standing she clapped on the deck again, clapping her hands to the second disappointed moan of the pirate, as if it was amusing for her to make him angry.

After a while she looked around, turned on her stomach and started crawling towards Marco and Namur, and Rida followed her. Miraculously, the fishman didn't notice them, he was so absorbed in the conversation, and only a jerk by the leg caught his attention. He looked down and froze, seeing tiny Lerena touching the membranous fins. She lifted her astonished gaze at him and laughed soundly, then patted her right fin and pulled her hands up.

'She wants you to lift her up' said smiling Rida, leaning out from behind the fishman.

'A... But I can't...' He denied in a hoarse voice and took a step back, to which Lerena again jumped in his direction.

'Her Majesty doesn't know a word like no, yoi' Marco laughed and congratulated the child on her cunning. She was guided by her instincts and could do something extraordinary with her short walk. 'Take this despot in your hands, or she will force pops to order and you will have no choice.' 

'Marco... I can't... She's so tiny... ' He protested with a broken voice, showing sharp teeth in a gesture of astonishment. Lerena didn't like the long wait. She got a grunt and tried to get up. When she finally stood with her hands stretched out to Namur, and he retreated to the false side, the girl took the first step towards him. Marco held his breath, Rida became frozen, and the child was pushing forward, step by step, to the fishman, chattering to herself as if she was announcing to the runaway that she would catch up with him.

She did not took six steps, and her legs bent underneath her and sat down, but after a while she rose again and took a few steps.

Namur bent down and lifted her up slowly, not realising why the buckthorn didn't run away crying. Why she forced him to accept responsibility for her safety. And she did it with a smile and childish confidence, making the fishman completely surrendered. He looked into the girl's golden eyes for a while and felt that all anger and grief to people for hatred and distrust melted away. The girl's little hands healed the wounds in his soul that others had caused, Namur looked in disbelief first at Marco and then at Edward.

'She... she's so tiny... You know' he whispered, holding the baby with both hands. Her hands examined the big neck, one finger stabbed him in the gills, another in the cheek, and then Lerena took up the examination of the jaw and, with a clumsy gesture, ordered the fishman to open his mouth, which he immediately did.

'Hey, hey, hey, where are you pushing that tiny head, yoi?' Marco reacted immediately and pulled Lerena back. 'Namur, don't open your mouth, you'll hurt her by accident.'


'I'm saying by accident...'

'Marco, take her away! I can't hurt her! She's so fragile!'

'Shut your mouth or you'll scare her!'

The dispute was interrupted by Edward's loud laughter, who watched the whole incident. Lerena looked around, always reacting to his voice.

'Lerena Saphira took her first steps today' he announced to those who had not seen the incident. 'This should be properly celebrated!'

A collective cry of joy rolled over the deck, putting everyone in a great mood. Some people ran to the mess hall, cargo bay and galley to announce the order and start preparations.

Namur passed the child on to Edward, and then she yawned in his hand, decided to take a nap without understanding the confusion. In fact, she had already taken a few uncertain steps in her cabin, and on board she simply didn't want to, knowing she had a lot of people to carry her.

She only woke up in the evening and she got warm milk from Thach, who exceptionally did not complain about this

Beware of the Navy

„For God's sake, Midway!" I stood on the bridge and looked at my officer like a gutted octopus. „Can I give you an order with the knowledge that you will fucking execute it?"

My new crew belonged to this kind of people, who only understand violence and sobriety. As long as I was previously listened to without stammering (and I didn't follow any of the above mentioned rules), after leaving the Locker everyone suddenly went crazy. And I absolutely did not approve of that, on the contrary, I was sure that somebody's head will be taken for this insubordination, no matter it wouldn't cause anyone's death.

A pirate with the fine sounding name Midway, my first damn officer, looked at me with his watery-blue eyes and showed me some rotten teeth in a deceptive servant's smile.

„What order, Captain?" He asked, pretending to be deaf to the screams from the ship next door, on which my crew had just been robbing and murdering

„The one to stay away from the ships of the New World, you bastard?!" I roared and jumped over the Banshee railing, landing hard on the board. I grabbed a little bit of a taller petty officer by the tailcoats and pulled down. „You think you'll do anything, Midway, because you've already lost your soul and I still have it? You're gonna scalp people where you were only supposed to escort them" I pushed him away and spit it out with anger. „ Jones is Jones, but he is not here. I'm giving the orders on this ship and let them lock me down in Impel Down if any of you, demon, will replace me! Gather these hellions on the ship, tell them to set it on fire e and make sacrifices so that the robbed vessel does not belong to any of the pirates I know."

I went over to the beak, not reacting to screams and stuck my eyes in the horizon, hoping to see the outline of some island.

The Banshee crew was a bunch of hungry ghosts who enjoyed seeing death, the crueller, the better. As long as they were only attacking Navy ships, I was turning my head off with a smile, spilling the blood of the hated soldiers myself. But the murders went too far, and I feared that this bunch would soon get out of control. They should have been taught a lesson, because although they were someone on the borderline between people and spirits, they still had bodies that could be severely injured.

After Midway finally gathered a hundred of them, waved but happy with the evening's adventure, I ordered them to search for the originators, who were the helmsman and the seaman without rank, and arranged a flogging to the delight of the raconteurs. And then I set sails to cross the Red Line and go to Alabasta to find the old Yangtze.

In the Navy Headquarters there was a dispute between Tsuru and Garp and it was not a triviality fight. Tsuru argued that the latest reports of Navy losses are perhaps troublesome, but not enough to bother the Admiral. Garp listened to the intuition and suggested that something bad is happening in the New World. Knowing more details than Tsuru, he concluded that a group of extremely brutal pirates appeared, and he was worried about it, because scaling up and completely dismantling people didn't look like amateurs' work. It was necessary to require permission to send at least two Vice Admirals to those areas. The problem was that nobody would even know what kind of ship to look for because all witnesses were dead.

After a long moment of silence, Garp, sitting opposite to Tsuru, sighed heavily and leaned his head on the back of the couch.

"Do what ya want to do, ya stubborn woman, but I warn you, this is not the work of some kids. We will have problems if we do not nip it in the bud."

"I take your opinion into account and I tell you even though it's a couple of sloppers who have a great opinion of themselves" Tsuru said, looking at Garp with irritation. „ You have to catch them and hang them."

„How, if nobody knows who they are? A wild-goose chase." He got annoyed and looked at the interlocutor with anger. He did not understand why such an intelligent woman as Tsuru does not noticed obvious evidence. She was an important person in the Navy, she achieved everything on her own, listening to her intuition and never acted against the rules. Now she was sitting deaf and blind to every argument.

"Sending Admirals there is a complete waste of time, what are they going to do if they don't know who to look for?!"

"Because if they find them, they will be able to help! Can't you see that there are some psychic people roaming the ocean?"

"Half of the Grand Line is filled with these psychic people, you old ignoramus!"

"Tsuru, Garp" the voice sounded calming somewhere under the big window overlooking the Marineford. „Think for a moment about the evidence we found." Vice Admiral Sengoku turned to his colleagues with a serious face, deciding to take a seat on the third couch in his office.

"The sailors were murdered in a beastly way and I don't remember ever seeing anything similar.

"They must be pirates, but I don't know where they came from. It is true that it will be difficult to find them, because we have the Pirate Era and they pop up like mushrooms." He put on the table a file of reports written in angular print, on the first one there was a date from a week ago.

"So, what should we do?" Tsuru seemed to be annoyed by such an overturning of the Garpa side.

"Let's see." Sengoku rested his elbows on his knees, taking on a thoughtful expression. "Last week a patrol ship at Red Line spotted a vessel with grey sails, without a flag. It was drifting towards the Grand Line and seemed to be abandoned, so six sailors were sent for reconnaissance. An hour later the boat came back and only hats were left."

Tsuru wrinkled her eyebrows and woven her arms on a slim breast, listening even more carefully.

"This could be our goal. I ordered to follow him, very discreetly, so I know they are heading for Alabasta. Garp is right. We must send someone who can handle such a bunch." Sengoku's eyesight rested on an old comrade.

"I am counting on you."


With the old Yangtze I had only a few memories, but I had great respect for her as for anyone else of my gender. When I met her, she was an old woman who, despite her age, had pristine chestnut hair and a dimmed look as if she had seen too much. And perhaps she did, but I didn't care when I got off at the port of Katorea, knowing that I was the most wronged person in the world. I wasn't mistaken when I speculated that the old woman would greet me on the corner of the first street, and she would pretend, pathetically, that she didn't expect me at all.

"God help my soul" she snorted and said quickly cross write, but the expression on her face informed that she was actually waiting for me.

"Well, let us pray he will." I agreed, wondering if she knew how appropriate words she used in my presence.

"You come here at night, alone, so you probably want to ask me some questions, don't you, Emperor?" The dried face wrinkled more when Yangtze smiled and gestured to follow her.

The comfortably furnished apartment in the richer part of the city was a novelty, because the old lady liked to be in small huts in the middle of nowhere, where she could indulge herself in brewing potions without fear of being accused of witchcraft. She sat me in a plush armchair and offered me an ayerkoniac, which I refused.

"The imperial palate requires the imperial alcohol." She nodded.

"Enjoy as much as you like, I am glad to see you, Pebble." She put a bottle on the table and sat down in front of me, playing with one of the dozen medallions around her neck. I took a healthy sip from the bottle and gushed with appreciation, feeling almost a liquid fire in my throat.

"Reminds me of how behind Logue Town we collided with the Wolf's Star crew. We robbed them of thirty barrels of booze from the East Blue and Christ, how disgusting it was. Almost the same as that!" I laughed loudly, and the old one's retch gave me a smile.

"Then, with this vodka, we invented the flag" I added quietly, nostalgically.

"Old times, don't bother with the past, Pebble." She said and leaned towards me. "You came here for a reason. Speak up."

"Roger" I roared, putting the bottle on the table "I did, as you said, I won in the Scythe with Jones..."

Yangtze looked at me with admiration, which I didn't give a damn about, at that particular moment.

"But my brother refused to leave the Locker" I hissed with fury on the verge of despair. "I got the fastest ship; Banshee is second to none on the oceans, aye. And I have a crew of a hundred convicts who long ago gave Jones souls in pacts, so they cannot be killed but only hurt. And not for long, because they're regenerating, motherfuckers."

"And the power?" whispered the old man urgently and clamped his wrinkled, arthriticulated fingers on the armrests.

"There's nothing I can't do." I admitted in distraction. "But that was not the aim, Yangtze. It was about Roger, and this fool didn't want to!" I broke off my armchair and walked through a small living room, tapping on the tiles with my heels.

"He thinks his time is up!"

"That's because it is" she confessed in accordance with the truth which I didn't want to accept. I looked at her with hatred.

"No! It is not! We could come back as the most powerful crew in this world. No one could stand up to him with me! We would destroy the Navy..." I spoke in elation, convincing myself that it was still feasible.

If I had Roger before me and could persuade him... His death.

"Ralagan" I was interrupted by an old, tired voice "he knew that his era was over. He left with joy and came to terms with himself because he had already conquered the whole world. Only you are stuck. You are the only one chasing to bring him back to life, which he rejects."

I bent my head on this accusation and painted the truth, breathing shallowly, silently. Yangtze were right. Whenever she spoke, she spoke with conviction about things that are and will be. She was always right.

"What should I do now?" I whispered with tears in my eyes, which I tried to hide, turning my back on the old one.

"Surely the old devil took payment, apart for your soul?"

"Aye. I must bring him the souls of those who died at sea. Nothing else is left for me now." I purr vindiculously.

"There is something" she admitted quietly, drawing my attention. "I wonder if Roger did not ask you about him."

"About who?"

"His child, Pebble. You have a nephew, didn't you know about it?"

"What?" I sat down again, keeping an eye on the woman, and the one with a sardonic smile leaned back on the backrest and took the attitude of "I know something cuz I'm wiser" And older one, it had to be added for the sake of accuracy.

I didn't believe that she was telling the truth, although something inside me was listening to Yangtze. A hope, something that I couldn't specify, because how? Roger, my brother, had a child?

"Before he went to the scaffold, he came to me" she started, lowering her voice and looking around to see if there was anyone. Indeed, the thing she was telling me was priceless and had to remain a secret. "He knew you would come here sooner or later, so he gave me a message for you."

I straightened out and hardly breathed, waiting in suspense for the next words. As the shreds of the last conversation with Roger reached me through the fog, I remembered with amazement that we had argued like never before!

"He gave the child under Garp's care.."

"A Marine?!" I was growling, opening my eyes wide in amazement, to which Yangtze was nodding her head and sticking her accusatory gaze into me.

"He did not have time to look for you, you sank like a stone into the water!" 

I humbly bowed my head, but I still had a dozen of curses on my tongue about mine and my brother's stupidity. 

"He gave the child the best protection he could." She explained patiently, seeing my repentance. "But now is your time, Ralagan. The child is growing up on the island of Goa in the East Blue. Garp may have a position in the Navy, but even if he is the Vice Admiral himself, hiding the King's child is a disgrace and the greatest sin. He will be lucky if they do not hang him, but he will have nothing to look for in the HQ. And as for the son of Roger..." Yangtze leaned out again and grabbed my hand over the table, squeezing with incredible force. "He will vanish in Impel Down, they will murder him and hide the truth." She was hissing, and there was a flame in her eyes, which I had never seen before.

"I won't allow it!" I got up, ready to go to East Blue immediately.

"Make him happy. This is what Roger ordered."

I was already opening the door, willing to obey the captain's last order, but suddenly I retreated, clenching my lips, and turned to the old woman.

"How? The pact with Jones ties me to the ocean. Banshee must have a captain." I said, emphasizing the last sentence, which the woman sighing hard, as if with pity. I looked at her and without a word of explanation I understood what her reaction meant.

"You can do something." I bent my mouth in a smile that did not reach the eyes. "You are an ambitious, old woman. I may have won against the devil, but you... You want to fool him."

It hasn't been long since we talked to Banshee's departure from the port of Katorea. Within a few weeks spent in Alabas I received news about the naval takeover of some of my islands, which I was not particularly opposed to. The Navy was better than some pirate bunch, and I was going to take back my islands after visiting Goa. What's more, the recent murders of my crew did not escape the attention of the World Government and I was sure that they will demand the truth and repayment for the victims. I guessed that the last patrol was a nail in the coffin and sooner or later somebody would catch my lead, so it was important for me to leave the Grand Line.

Unfortunately, I was trapped in the harbour. 

Yangtze took a lot of time to deal with my contract. It was going to take even more time and effort to deceive Jones, although I personally doubted that this will work.

But it all faded in comparison with the knowledge that I had a nephew whom I called my son in my mind. I was consumed with thoughts about his upbringing and the future I planned for him as the greatest pirate! I imagined what he looked like and in my soul I fondled the name given to him by Roger. Ace. The five years that I drank have passed, but I hoped that the child would somehow forgive me. Certainly, Garp put him in a good place where people loved him. After all, he was my brother's son, a little pirate prince! He deserved respect and adoration by birth.

I wondered what he liked and did, his voice and look. What interests him and will he love the ocean as much as we loved it?

"I will take him, and we will live together" I thought, sitting in front of the fireplace in Yangtze's house while the old woman was searching for information in her books written by God knows who and God knows what about.

"I will teach him to sail and navigate, show him the bottom of the ocean and the power of the whole world. He will learn to fight for what he loves and what he believes in. He will be the best" I promised myself, ignoring the purring of the old hag.

I was annoyed by the long sitting, because it dragged on endlessly, and Yangtze hardly spoke at all. She did not say what I should do or if there was anything, I could do at all. So, I wandered aimlessly around Katorea until I decided to take over the city and create my own seat there.

Before I took the initial steps, however, the Yangtze ordered me to leave.

"You said you had enough souls to pay off this year's debt."

"Well, I have. These beasts murder everyone without hesitation."

"Bring them to the devil." She whispered "Pay him and sail to the Goa. During the journey you will collect a part, then you will sail on all Blues, it's always closer to the child." She shrugged her shoulders and put a dusty volume framed in dark leather on the table. "The devil does not interfere in your affairs, so as long as you are paying the due amount, he will do nothing to you." She got up and with the rustling of taffeta skirts she started wandering around the rooms, pulling out talismans, bracelets, bones and other small things. From this large collection she chose three medallions on long thongs and pressed them into my hand.

"Go, Ralagan, there is no time!" She urged me.

"What are you talking about?! Why do I need this?" I let myself be pushed out of the lounge all the way to the front door and I just watched the old lady put my coat on me, whispering to herself. "Yangtze...!"

"Pay the debt and sail to the Goa. They need you" she banged up, pushing me out the door.

I straightened myself out, took my hat from her hands and turned around on my heel, understanding that her mood is not caused by female humours. Before I took the first step, Yangtze grabbed me firmly by the wrist and forced me to turn around and bend over.

"Beware of the Heavenly Dragons and Navy, Ralagan. Their shadow is cast on your path."

Without a word I left, almost running to the harbour, and if anyone stood in my way that day, the Grand Line would be deprived of Alabasta. Because once Yangtze said almost the same thing, word for word.

"Beware of the Navy, Ralagan. Her shadow is laid on your way."

Three years later my brother died on the Navy's scaffold.

Sneaking through the abandoned streets of Katorea at night, I felt something was wrong. The sound of the waves sounded as if it was warning and summoning at the same time. There was a smell of gunpowder and steel in the air and the sky over the desert Alabasta was covered with storm clouds. Like in the battle for Edd. Like when facing the mighty fleet of the Golden Lion we trusted in our happiness and watched the coming storm with stoic calmness. Something bad was happening on Banshee and I was convinced of it, but I knew that I would win with whoever I was fighting. But when I stood in the dock in front of the Navy ship, the feeling of anxiety evaporated, and the sound of waves was not as annoying as before. The Banshee stood intact, the slender hull covered with greenish seaweed was boasting gracefully on the waves, deceptively calm, like a predator hidden in the deep, waiting for an opportunity. There were a lot of soldiers on the warship, but they did not look like they were preparing to go ashore. Why did they come if Alabasta had no military problems?

"I knew that this legendary ship belonged to someone significant, but I did not think it would be the property of the Emperor."

I turned around and saw Garp in a white uniform and an admiral's coat, standing on the platform, a few steps away from me, with his hands in his pockets. The hero Garp, the one who fought with the king, but never won.

I smiled half nostalgic, half spitefully, as if we were united by a deep intimacy and not a few extraordinary battles.

"You didn't expect to see me alive" I noticed, looking down on him, which at my height may have been hard but effective.

The sailor nodded his head and looked away somewhere.

"You know how it is, Pebble. I thought you were going to leave soon after him." He confessed honestly.

"And I didn't. You were disappointed, right?" I snarled, which he laughed at without malice.

"Why did you come here?" He asked after a while, and I got tense, ready to repel the attack.

"Stick to your course!"

"I would do it, but I have an order. You sailed quickly to Alabasta, even on Banshee, the fastest ship in the world..." He looked at the ship with admiration.

"Fishman Tom did a great job."

"What do you care, old fool? Who do you even think you are?" I raised my voice and spat to the side with loathing, as if the thought of talking to him fills me with disgust. "Don't bother me and get out while I still give you a chance."

"You are responsible for the brutal murder of six crews..." He started formally, taking out his hands from his pockets, but I interrupted him with a squeaky laughter and spit out some curses.

"And you will judge me? Put me on trial, Garp." I took a step forward and looked at him from under my hat, smiling venomously. "Come on, arrest me and lock me up in Impel Down" I said the name of the prison with pleasure, tasting it to the Vice Admiral's horror.

He knew what I meant and knowing me, he didn't want to provoke anything. Perhaps he trusted in his strength, but a fight with someone who has nothing to lose cannot be guaranteed.

"It was not the Navy's fault..." He tried to speak to me diplomatically, to reason, but he became silent when I breathed with a swish and straightened up violently.

"It was not the Navy's fault?! You yaldson, how dare you?!"

The atmosphere changed almost in the blink of an eye: the wind roared, blowing over the storm clouds faster, and the waves hit the hulls of the moored ships with fury. The blasts were so strong that it almost ripped my hat off, so I held it with my hand and choked myself out of anger looking at the surprised Garp.

"You were hunting us! It was you who murdered him!" I said in fury. "And now you're paying off the debt you incurred that day."

"Vice Admiral! It's a storm! It's coming to Katorea!" His subordinates' cries sounded in my ears, but I did not look away from the burning, grey eyes of the man. He did not know how but guessed that I had caused the ocean's anger. Already that day he began to guess what I had done, but I think he doubted that I would really commit such an act. Well, the human thing is to doubt.

"Stop it all, Pebble!"

"On one condition." I kindly agreed and the wind stopped.

"How could you...! Your fruit does not include this..."

"He gave the child under your care" I growled contemptuously. I didn't care about his shock or disbelief. It was not his business how did I knew.

"Yes, because he knew the only brat's aunt was drinking in Atlantis." He snarled and I took another step forward, ready to give the order to attack and massacre Garp's people.

"You have nothing to do with where I was and what for. I am informing you that the child is mine, I will raise it myself so stay away..."

"And how do you want to do it..." I saw on his face that he has no idea how I knew about the child and that in his opinion I should not know. Within a second my thoughts were put together in a slightly more logical whole and I found out that Garp wanted to make Roger's son a Marine.

He wanted to give my baby to the Navy!

What could I answer to that if not with a laugh? This stupid old man didn't realize what would have threatened Ace if he had crossed the threshold of the Marineford's quarters!

"Am I disturbing you? I said the child is mine, you hear me?! You know what could've happened to him if anybody found out? They would hang you for treason, and they would torture him to death, before he'd been stripped of his memory! I won't let your fucking Navy take this child away from me. The boy belongs to me!" I shouted at the end and turned on my heel, not waiting for an answer.

And Garp didn't say a word. I could bet that we both felt the thread of understanding at that moment. In silent agreement, he gave up his right to my nephew, knowing that nothing bad would happen.

"Ralagan, he is to become a Marine!" I heard and laughed cheerfully, loudly, probably paralyzing in fear the dozen Marines.

"Over my dead fucking body!"


Ralagan is comming

Goa Kingdom.

Beautiful.

I spit with disgust, having in front of my eyes a huge dump called Grey Terminal. The fumes and stench were unbearable, and when I discovered the organisms living in there, commonly called people, I doubted everything. Between piles of rubble and scrap of all kinds lived the old and the young, stripped and mutilated. Some of their features showed a particularly bad character; they had eyes as if they were just waiting for you to fall asleep, to rob you and slit your throat. Oh, where were the times when a serious murderer was hiding under the mask of decency and good manners?

I didn't even move when several alleged bandits approached me from behind, with chipped, rusty knives. Their smiles could be considered ominous if it wasn't for the caries and cavities. Besides, whoever sail on the ocean knew that torn clothes and wretched equipment were evidence of the ability of the owner. And these abilities were apparently extremely poor in this case. And although I expected such a situation sooner or later, I experienced a temporary disappointment. I was used to the fact that pirates and Marines are afraid to speak with me, I did not understand how a bunch of vagrants from a subordinate islet on East Blue would dare to approach me so openly. I had enough patience for a whole minute.

The five person gang was lying there, and to give the whole action a little taste, I lit a cigarette. Weather I wanted it or not, I had to delve into this disgusting stench, because Dadan told me that Ace is mostly in the Grey Terminal.

Dadan... Ah, yes, a woman, the boss of a mountain band of thieves, Ace's nanny from childhood. Garp came up with this idea. To put the baby at the murderers and looters. Although looking at the wooden cottage and herd of chickens I thought that this band is more concerned with rural life than with real thieving. They seemed a bit unskilled.

The only thing that annoyed me was the reaction to my announcement why I came. I didn't expect that Dadan would raise her hands to heaven and begin to give thanks for "the end of torments with the devil's child".

I barely stopped myself from breaking her red head.

'It doesn't look good'

I crooked, disgusted, and strolled through a large, empty room, in the middle of which there was only a hearth. I was walking around the wooden floor and such walls, empty and unpleasant, and there was a stench of sweat and smoke, not particularly disturbing to me. Dadan, calling herself the boss of the band, looked at me with reserve. I threw out the whole bunch into the courtyard where the hens were running around, dealing with a woman alone, having her as the only witness.

'Didn't Garp show any signs of insanity?'

I finally stood in front of the woman and woven my hands behind my back, sending her a serious look.

'A... But you won't tell him about it?'

She had too pleasant a tone, and in that case, it would be possible to come to an agreement.

'No.'

'I was against it!'

She woven her hands on her abundant breast, decorated with red beads, and started to talk about everything she thought was unfair.

'He came here and set up a nursery! He didn't pay for that brat's food or anything else, he left everything on my head and as long as Ace was a baby, there were no problems. He ate or slept all the time!' 

With nostalgia I listened to the short story of his childhood, but although I wanted to choke out every word, I kept quiet about everything.

'And when he grows up, the snouts started, escapes, he comes home at night... I don't care about that bastard child! But demon's child has demonic luck, that's for sure!'

'Then you won't have anything against, old woman, if I take Ace with me? Your problems will be over. You will never see him, nor he will see you again.'

'But Garp won't agree!' She protested, while trying to keep me from changing my decision. 'He will be angry! He's a vice admiral!'

'I know who this old geezer is, but Jones is my witness, I have more rights to this child than any other man walking on this earth!' I yelled with passion, silencing the woman. 

'Ace will come with me. He will go, even if you don't agree. He will go, even if Garp comes here with the whole Navy fleet. This child. Is. Mine.'

She didn't understand. Thank God, she didn't understand a single word and didn't draw any conclusions, what wouldn't happen if I talked to someone intelligent. I was carried away because I had a "demon's child" and a "bastard" in my memory; the terms she operates so easily, and which burned out in my mind like scars.

In the end, she wished me luck and slammed the door, not having the slightest idea how close to death she and her gang were. 


As a result of this situation, I was walking around the Grey Terminal, wondering where my nephew is located. If I hadn't been able to find him in the dump, there was still the High Town, located in the middle of this pile of scrap metal, separated by a high wall. Apparently, it was the most beautiful city in East Blue, and if so, it must have been very rich. For obvious reasons it was the most important for me.

'What are you looking for here, lady?'

I was caught up by some ragged man, who was apparently tempted by my navy
blue coat decorated with golden buttons. I looked at him from under the hat and thought that if he came across himself, it would be a sin to let him go without any information.

'Listen, you!' I reached into my pocket and got out a little purse stuffed with some coins, and his eyes were shining.

'I will give you that money, if you tell me where I can find Portgas D. Ace, a seven
year old boy.'

The thief laughed mockingly and shook his head.

'What, did the tiger's cub get under the skin? But with such a knife there will be no problem to punish him.' He pointed at Habanero and was smart enough to guess that I do not wear a katana for fun. 

'I'll tell you, there's no harm in doing so. This tiger's cub running around the forest, not an hour ago I saw them, him and Sabo, on the edge, right there.'

He pointed his hand in the opposite direction to my wandering and stretched his hand for purse. I threw it to him and followed the direction, turning back.

'If I don't find them there, I will come back' I warned him as I walked away.

Tiger's cub...

Adequately.

I did not like simple things, because who does? To appreciate something that came to easily, may only someone without ambition, and although there is much to be said about me, it is certainly not that I am without aspirations. I had some hopes that Ace would get to know me quickly, accept me and everything would be fine, but I was hoping more for a hard battle. Divine providence liked to play games with me, sometimes she listened to my prayers, more often not, but in this case she decided to go for me. So I received a full blessing for the upcoming war.

.The sun stood high in the sky as I was wandering patiently through the edge of the forest, walking up Korubo mountain, and I wondered myself why I had such a patients. I should have cut this forest to the ground, and yet I walked quietly, breathing in the smell of resin, and it didn't bother me that I chased the child for half a day.

It took me far away from the Terminal, and even from the middle of the forest, the trees grew less and less often, and in front of me there was a slope of a huge mountain. Overgrown with bushes of all kinds, it did not look like a tourist route, and after a while I found out why.


On my right side two kids came running up. Both were holding long tubes in their hands and every now and then they were looking behind them, completely unnoticing me. One had an orange T-shirt, soiled with dust from feet to elbows, and breathed hard, as if he had a long run. The second kid had a cylinder on his head, a really unusual one, and blue goggles on it. He was also dressed in very posh way, because who normal runs around with a scarf under his neck and in black, elegant boots?

A bear was chasing the children. And it was probably the biggest specimen I was able to see, and I saw a lot of them. Almost ten times bigger than a normal animal, it rushed on all fours at an incredible speed for its size, and I had a feeling that two kids would not manage.

'Run!' 
The one in the cylinder yelled at me, speeding up. 

Really, children with their frightlessness...

I pulled out Habanero and cut on the side, above the little ones' heads. They stopped immediately, not knowing who to fear more, women with an katana or a furious animal. I found myself more frightening. The cut knocked down a few of the nearest pines and the bear chopped almost in half. The ball of fur collapsed with a bang, blood was spilled from the long wound, the children looked at the dead animal in disbelief, and then slowly turned towards me. Habanero returned to her place.

'Hey, kids, I am looking for Portgas D. Ace...'

'I don't know him .' The one in the cylinder muttered, but he gave the other one a worried look. The black haired, freckled child lifted Roger's dark eyes up on me, straightened up, and said despite his fear:

'I am Ace.'

Oh, yes. There was no mistake about it. The same eyes, the same bold look, the same attitude of "nothingscaresmecomeandtry". The facial features were a mixture of Roger's sharp shapes and something delicate, he probably inherited it from Rogue. For a moment I couldn't believe that there was a copy of my childhood brother in front of me.

I opened my eyes wide and hesitate to answer, even though it occurred to me that the child was impatiently asking what I wanted from him. I absorbed the sight and after a few long moments I forced myself to hide tears under my hat. Something unknown squeezed my throat. This something mixed with the longing for my brother, the grief after my old life, but most of all I was overwhelmed by the irresistible feeling of harm done. My nephew grew up on this disgusting island, among mountains of garbage, he was threatened with death from wild animals, and I... I, Emeral D. Ralagan, his only family, I got drunk and I vilified that life was not going as I wanted it to. How pathetic I felt then...

'I am... Pebble' I managed to strangle it, but it was all about the truth. 'Dadan sent me to... I am to watch over you.'

'Dadan?' A blonde man in a cylinder, with a tooth check in his teeth, looked at Ace with an unintelligible eye.

'Yeah, right. Dadan would be happy if I died. She probably sent you to cut me down with that big katana.' 

Ace didn't really want to let himself be fooled, and what's more, his words were surprisingly well
fitting in my theory about Dadan. But it was one thing to think and another to hear such words from a seven year old, so the blood was boiling inside me.

'Listen, young blood, when I say I'm going to keep an eye on you, that's the way it's supposed to be.' I snapped, but the child shrugged disrespectfully and intended to pass me by. 

'So many years at sea, and in my old age I had to take care of the rebellious generation. You are your father's real son, tiger's cub' I laughed, watching Ace turn one hundred and eighty degrees and looking at me with his eyes wide open. The mention of his father aroused anger in him and I didn't understand it at all. 'But Roger was stronger.' I ended up drawing little satisfaction from the real fury in the dark eyes of the seven year old.


'You know...! How?! Who told you?! That stupid Dadan!' He screamed, ignoring the blonde one trying to calm him down. Hoho, the doubtful charm he may have inherited from his father, but the temperament was definitely mine.

'Calm down or I will skin you. Nobody will yell at me. I am a pirate, and I will not stand such hysteria.' I patted him on the head, which was too depressing for a seven year old majesty, so he announced it to me with a series of blouses, not necessarily offensive to me. There was nothing I could do about it that made me laugh, so I did laugh for at least a minute. The "damn" and "what the hell" curses sounded too funny in his mouth, but I decided to remove this ugly clash. I could curse and only I.

'Ace! Ace get a grip. Hey! Calm down'!

'Let go of me! Woman or not, I'm gonna punch her...'

I was silent at once and looked at him impassively, which effectively interrupted the rally. It caused the child to unwittingly retreat, but he was not satisfied with it. I leaned over him with a cold expression on my face and grabbed his shirt.

'You can beat up whoever you want, brat. Stand up to fight with stronger than yourself, but never, ever, ever dare to raise your hand on a woman, whoever she may be. Do you understand?'

'N... well...'

'What?!'

'Yes, ma'am!'

He was smart as for a seven year old, he was able to judge, correctly, the strength of his opponent. But his manners were... In fact, he did not have them. I looked at the blond in the cylinder, big eyes were looking at me calmly and with some shade of sympathy, although maybe I was too hasty in judging.

'I am Sabo.' The blond one bowed politely, taking off the cylinder and then pointed at the bear. 

'I have never seen anything like it. It was incredible! How did you...'


'I am Pebble.'

'That's your name? And you're gonna watch over Ace? Yeah, he could use that, because he's been getting into trouble all the time lately.'

'Shut up, you fool! Wanna piece of me!'

'Like I'm afraid of you, you idiot!'

'Well, well, that's enough.' I grabbed the metal pipes before they moved. 

'Now be kind enough to tell me why this animal was chasing you.'


'We won't be kind! Leave us alone! And don't you dare to follow me!'

No, it definitely couldn't have been too easy. Even if he had some judgmental skills, nature gave him paternal bravado. The war had to start.

'And where do you live?'

Sabo, on the other hand, presented a completely different personality. I was wondering where the kid dressed like that came from, but I decided that I shouldn't ask about it for now. The patience had to become my second name.

'What do you care? Are you stupid or what?! Why do you ask that?! How did she...'

'Nowhere, I just arrived.'

'What? On a ship?!' 

Now both of them had their faces and shiny eyes interested, and when I was nodding my head, they almost wrote down their excitement. Banshee was supposed to save my skin.

'Well, what do pirates sail on?'

'Pirates?! You really are a pirate!'

'But you are a girl!' My nephew protested, showing me an unpleasant character trait.

'At sea, girls are stronger than boys.' I instructed seriously, but they didn't really believe me.

'Would you show us you ship?' Sabo dared to ask, Ace stood sulking, but it was clear that he was just waiting for permission to go to the indicated shore. I was happy with this desire for ships, sea and pirates. Maybe Garp didn't spoil the child enough so he did not dream of being a Marine. That would have been the thorn in my side, a sizeable thorn.

As a cunning Emperor, outlawed of course, I quickly saw my opportunity in that question and I decided to strike the iron while it was hot. It was really nice of me to trick two seven
year olds, and Ray would laugh at me.

'Who knows?' I asked, shuddering. 

'First I would have to meet you... You must not show your ships to young children if you do not know them. And you, tigers' cubs? Maybe you want to come and destroy my beautiful ship?'


They started to claim that they would never in their lives absolutely dare, but seeing that I wasn't really convinced by that, they chose a different tactic. Probably very sneaky in their opinion.

'Well, we will let you watch over us for a week.' Ace graciously gave the conditions; the desire to see a pirate ship was much stronger than pride.

'For a week's watch I will bring you a piece of fabric from the sails.' I bargained relentlessly. The kid squeaked disrespectfully and murmured something under his nose.

'A month!'

'Two pieces.'

'What? This is stupid! I want to see the whole ship.'

'And I'm here to watch over you, what can you do?' I pulled the barrel and the cigarette case out of my pocket. I sat down in front of a bear bodied corpse and in peace and quiet I lit the tobacco. 

'If I sit here with you for a year and keep an eye on you, and you will behave yourself, I will take you on a cruise to the South.'


The outbreak of joy stunned me, the children caught up with me and they both demanded assurances with big smiles that I was telling the truth and I will definitely take them away.

'Aye, why should I say no? But only if you keep your part of the deal.'

'And you are not bluffing?'

'I should be dragged the hell if I lied.'

'Good, a year, we agree!'

So I bribed two seven year olds with a cruise to South Blue.


'But you know what Pebble?' Sabo looked at me over the flames when we were sitting on the beach in the evening and baking pieces of bear meat. 

'I didn't know you were so strong.'


'We've known each other only half a day, you'll see a lot more' I smile, pleasantly complimented and clearly admired the blonde with a smile.

'And where will you live? On your ship?' 
In addition, he seemed to be the most sober-minded in this duo, and his concern was absolutely charming. The seven year old boy who was worried about my accommodation was more than adorable.

'No, if I had to wander to your junkyard every day, I would have gone mad. You have big, solid trees in this forest, so I think I will build a house on one of them.'

'A house on a tree?! Really?!' Ace spoke to me for the first time in thirty minutes, and while I already had an ally in Sabo, my nephew was against me. The vision of the voyage was still mumbling, but his inborn stubbornness made him show his horns, and he decided that it would be best done in silence.

'I want to do it too! I will live with you! I have nowhere to live anyway! May I?'

'Tch. I have to stay with Dadan. Grandpa Garp would kill me...'

'Nay, he won't do anything to you. ' I said. Ace looked at me surprised and for the time of our short conversation he stopped eating, and I noticed that it was one of his favourite activities.

'How do you know? He told me to live here and Dadan to take care of me.'

'Before I came here, I had a chat with him. He agreed to let me take care of you. You want his permission on paper?'

'What for? I can't read anyway.' He snorted surprisingly honestly, not knowing that the idea of buying out all the books of the High City appeared in my mind. 'So... can I live in a tree house with you?'

'Aye, mate. Together with Sabo, of course.'

'And no one will do anything about it?'

'If somebody tries, I'll skin him' I smiled, arousing even more admiration. 'Sabo, what does it mean you have nowhere to live?'

'Well, because I was born in Gray Terminal and I don't have any parents and I've been living in the forest for two years and it's cool' he said on one breath. I gave him a mocking look, which he may not have understood, but he guessed I didn't believe it, so he turned his head blushed.

'Oi, Pebble.'

'Don't call the woman "oi", tiger's cub.'

A sigh was the only answer, then Ace looked at me with intensity.

'What do you think about Gol D. Roger? '

His face was shimmering with a thousand emotions, from waiting, through rage to sadness, and it depended on my answer what will ultimately win. I was in no hurry. I noticed his reaction to the mention of Roger earlier and suspected that Garp had managed to tell him nonsense.

'The best thing to do is not to think about the dead, darling' I said a noncommittal murmur, but as befits a seven year old, he wanted to hear the details.

'But you know that I am his son, and that the demon's child is devilishly lucky and they should cut off my head!' 

He was talking nonsenses, but it wasn't that complicated to draw the conclusion. I watched him in silence, letting him throw it all away, and when the cry finally took away his speech, I decided to crack down on all those who had bullshit about death and unwanted descendants. Regretting life? Sorry for being born?

They will pay for it. They will cry bitterly when I track them down, even if after that the demons will drag me to hell.

'Listen, Ace, you told me you wanted to go out to sea one day...' I put the barrel on and lay down comfortably on the sand, leaning my head against my rolled up coat. 

'When you cross the Red Line and find yourself on the other side, you will hear things about Roger that nobody here in Blues knows.'

The sky sparkled with a million stars. It was wonderful to look at them, listen to the ocean and lie on the beach, accompanied by two seven year old boys. At that moment, the meaning of the Yangtze words slowly reached me. 

They need you 

she said.

'Listen and remember what I will say now. No real pirate will say a bad word about the King. It was Roger who showed people that they could be free. Someone who says otherwise should be hanged.'

'I...' Ace shed tears from his freckled cheeks and sniffed his nose out loud 

'I want to be free too.'


'I want to be free too! And we will sail to the ocean! I will write a book about it.'

If he wants to become a pirate, you will bless him and make him the most powerful child of the sea.

I will, Ed.



I was woken up by the orange glow of the rising sun and the quiet snoring. Ace and Sabo slept at their best, covered with my coat and presented themselves with an idyllic and carefree image.

I have never remembered feeling so happy and calm before. The emotion bordering on ecstasy and mental fullness accompanied me throughout the day and gained strength as my eyes registered the image of the boys right next to me. I had no doubt that this is what mothers feel and for this happiness they are ready to sacrifice their bodies, health and life. I just couldn't decide if I was happier or if I wanted to kill the people responsible for the loneliness of the children, but something new was shaping up inside me and I was fully aware of it. It was something in Ace's black eyes, in Sabo's joyful smile. I was transformed to the extent of a great revolution, and was captivated by all my previous feelings and views, began to carve my soul anew, make room in my heart. I was amazed to find that twelve hours later I was a completely different person from the one who wanted to be stuck in a cabin with gallons of alcohol, locked up without any company. At the same time, I understood that these two children would do with me whatever they wanted, and I would smile and allow it.

'Oh, good morning.' Sabo yawned and rubbed his sleepy eyes.

'Good morning, or at least it looks like it. Well, child? You want to eat?' I smiled, shaking the sand from my shoes.

'Well, I would have eaten something.' he admitted, looking for leftovers from last night, but I didn't even want to hear about it.

'Ace, you have to get up.' The blond poked the sleeping boy. 

Ace slept in a righteous dream, entangled in my coat, and apparently, he had pleasant dreams, because he smiled a little.

'Ace, we are going to eat without you!' I called out and, according to my calculations, the seven
year old rose to sit down almost immediately.

'What? Where?' He asked sleepily and got a little offended when he saw nothing.

'We will go into town. We will eat something and then we have to get down to work. Are you sure you have a sawmill here? There's no way you don't it with such a forest. We need some furniture, glass for windows, some pipes...' I was calculating on the way, planning in detail the construction of a new house.

'And you will buy it all?' Ace mocked out.

'Why should I steal a few boards? Darling, you only steal something that is worth risking your life. And wood, whatever it is, in my opinion, has no such value.' I immediately started our life with a few life-wisdoms.

'Pebble, and how do you want to pay for it?' Sabo, as you can see, was a great supporter. I sighed hard.

'Normally, with money.'

'You stole it?'

'Oh, good God... No, I didn't steal it. I earned it honestly.'

'Actually, you didn't tell us your ship's name.' Ace put his hand on his neck. I moistened my lips with my tongue and it wasn't the first time I thought that this duo would eventually lead me to the edge of endurance.

'Banshee.' I reluctantly admitted. They moaned in unison, as if they were disappointed with the name of the fearful ship on second half of the world.

'Don't you think that Sea Snake is better?'

'Or the Infernal Sea Warrior?' They suggested, probably in good faith. 

'Change it for something cooler.'


'Oh, you tigers' cubs, you want to go out to sea and you don't know the basics? Who brought you up? Listen, the ship gets only one name.' I said it with a serious voice, and the duo listened as if enchanted. 

'You must not change it, because the spirit of the ship is bound to it. If you baptize the ship again, you will be unlucky and you will sink.' I concluded gloomy, but true, to the second cry of horror.

'Impossible!'

'And yet! I once met a man who belonged to the crew of a Silver Clam ship, they were attacked, they lost, and their ship was conscripted into the Navy fleet and baptized into Freedom. He sank four days later.'

'No way...'

'The ocean is an ancient power, never joke about its rights.'

If we take the average person's intelligence quotient and add to it caution, attention to detail and the ability to correctly assess the situation, we will come up with material for a good leader. But if we add the same IQ to bravura, forgetfulness, quick but not always accurate assessment of the situation, we will get a clay for an idiot. And this idiot is a fearless idiot, and a very problematic kind of people. In both cases, the basic factor is strength and good character, and the desire for freedom, but the other ingredients are different from each other like heaven and earth. And these two types were presented by my subjects.

Ace was not afraid of anything, almost, and always came out in front of the line. Sabo usually thought for a while before he faced a stronger opponent, and although he was still too small to try a large scale strategy, the beginnings were promising.

A week after building the tree house very stylish, I dare say, two future warriors of the seas decided to test my strength. They demanded a serious fight and tried by all means to force the exposure of Habanero. It was only after a few screams that I changed my tactics, i.e. I lowered my tone and gave them a cool look, they calmed down.

'This katana has no mercy and only serves to defend herself against real enemies.'

Have you ever imagined a duel between two kittens and their mother's tribune? It would be roughly similar to the fight there. The metal tubes were aimed at me and tried to reach me in the midst of a battle cry. Unfortunately, each time they missed, and when one was too close, it shrank by several millimetres. After a few minutes of fruitless weapon waving, if you can call it that, the boys withdrew, sending me surprised glances.

'Well, that's all?' I asked, pretending to be surprised. 

'In that case, it is my turn.' I made a face that showed bad intentions and apparently the boys understood the horror of the situation.


'Retreat! Retreat!' Sabo commanded, and Ace, hesitating for a while, gave him time to run away.

'Where to?' I asked and kidnapped my nephew first, and then I caught up with the blonde, and ran straight to a high cliff.

'Hey! Pebble! What do you want to do?'

'What do you mean what? Get rid of my enemies, I'll drown you' I was glad to hear their terrified voices. Using Slide, it took me a few moments to get to the shore, and as intended, two seven
year olds hung over ragged rocks hit by the waves.

'Are you giving up?'

'Yes, yes, but do not let us go! Pebble! Don't let go!'

I put them on the ground, and after a few deep breaths, my duo calmed down and the whole fight was settled with laughter.

'We are terribly weak.' Sabo said looking at me, ashamed.

'Nonsense, tiger's cub. You are only seven years old, what do you expect?' 

I looked at the sea in front of us and smiled nostalgically, feeling an irresistible desire to summon Banshee and sail towards the setting sun...

'Pebble, I want to be so strong too, teach me! '

An order was given somewhere around my hips. Ace's black eyes looked at me with determination and persistence, and after a while I saw the same expression in Sabo's gaze. I wondered for a moment as if such a decision would cost me a great sacrifice, and only after a long, very long moment I reluctantly spoke:

'But then I will have to stay here longer.'

'It's okay.'

'Agreed.'

'And is it not too soon you made a decision?' 

I laughed at the serious faces. They stood shoulder to shoulder, with their hands crossed on their fragile chests, and presented a picture of true seriousness and determination. I leaned over them and the careless haircuts were destroyed by my hands.

'I will make you the strongest pirates of this world, my tigers' cubs.'

Her future, imperial majesty

'Ooo' Lerena huffed in a low voice and knocked down the tower of wooden blocks with all the strength of her little hand. Fossa, who refrained from smoking while playing with the child, laughed with a hoarse cough and involuntarily reached into his pocket, in which there were no cigars.

The little girl was bored with playing with blocks and decided to climb down from the table at a breakneck pace on all fours. Since she didn't like anyone to cross her plans, she yelled warningly as soon as she saw Fossa extend her arms toward her. Unfortunately, Fossa not only did not withdraw his hands, but showed no sign of having heard the warning; he picked up the little one and began calmly say that dinner would be coming soon, to which time Lerena had never been wrong. So, since they had settled the matter, it was time to explain, quite seriously, that the next day Marco could not take the girl on his rounds, for her father had sent him to the other ship on an important errand.

The child did not seem to accept this, and was not even going to let Fossa speak, for when she had finished whining (which took from a few to several moments) she took to teasing. First Fossa, listening to her joyful babbling, took the girl to the galley where warm milk was already waiting. Since Lerena Saphira had a sharp mind and liked to show off her power, she tugged on the Thach's scarf as soon as she was near it. This was clear evidence that Moby Dick's youngest resident wished to have the scarf at this moment. Thach, unwilling to give way to a girl of eleven or even twelve months, threatened to take away the dinner, at which there was a shriek, and the young cook earned a slap on the head from Fossa.

'Stop being a brat" he admonished. 'The kid likes it, what's the harm in giving it to her for a while? She'll get bored and leave it.'

'That's exactly the problem here! She'll throw it in the corner or drool on it. She's a malicious cuttlefish' answered Thach, but he did not take the bottle away.

Lerena, having more or less mastered doing two things at once, ate and looked around the galley. And in the process, she began to wriggle so long that milk dribbled onto Thach's clothes. Accustomed to this, the pirate just looked at her, helped her get comfortable and continued feeding her.

'You did this on purpose, huh? I have no strength for you. If I ever meet you somewhere, you'll pay me for everything. Not that I'm going to whip you, I won't beat a girl, but when you grow up and have a boyfriend, I'll make you feel so ashamed...' he threatened vaguely, but on the girl, as he suspected, it did not make the slightest impression.

When Lerena was brought aboard after lunch, the Emperor was just talking to Rida and some of his sons.

Rida was starting to feel more and more comfortable around Edward, though she was still very guarded with her words and still felt that the entire crew was watching her closely, especially when she was near the child. As for Rida herself, the toddler was the only bond between her and Bethesda, though she couldn't understand it. And while she didn't approve of Newgate and his crew's method of upbringing the little one, she admitted that they were crazy about her and would spoil her completely if girl were to stay with them any longer. Besides, the sight of the Mightiest Man in the World cradling such a little critter in his big hand and carefully shielding her from wind and sun was worth everything.

'Well, old man, it's your turn. Hold this devilish spawn' Thach gave the sleepily sighing child into her father's care. Edward took the little one and watched for a moment as the golden eyes disappeared under her eyelids.

'It is an unusual thing that she falls asleep as soon as I take her' Edward pointed out, trying to speak more quietly than usual.

'It just means you're boring, pops' Thach remarked, shrugging his shoulders. 'And anyway, there's nothing to get excited about. We'll leave her on the Tourmaline in a week or so. She'll have to learn to fall asleep without you, Marco's fire and me feeding her a bottle at two o'clock in the morning.'

'Indeed...' muttered Whitebeard thoughtfully. Thach figured that if Phoenix was there, he could tell what Father was thinking about at that moment. Because to his, Thach's eye, it looked like captain was thinking about something. And it involved a small crawfish.

The mighty crew of the Whitebeard was divided into fourteen divisions, and these divisions were distributed among three ships. On the Moby Dick, the mothership, the captain alone sailed with the first four divisions, the other two being usually two to three days away on a leisurely voyage. It should be mentioned here that although Newgate himself, for physical reasons, could not be on the other two vessels, they were provided with flags and identifying marks embroidered on the sails - no one could doubt that they belonged to the Emperor's fleet. For a long time, the crew could not complain about attacks of other pirates, the name of the father - as the subalterns called him – deterred even the bravest.

Edward suspected nothing when, in the evening, he tried to link up with the Moby Junior on which the tenth through fourteenth divisions were sailing, but when, in the next morning, he still received no answer, he became concerned. The third, "Emperor," had to stop at a previous port for some minor repairs, but they reported seeing Junior passing near them, even firing a salute of welcome, which had happened two days earlier. Since then, both ships had lost sight of him.

Newgate decided to send Marco, whose Devil Fruit allowed him to move quickly, and waited for news with an impatience he did not show. He guessed that perhaps because of an error in navigation Junior had run aground or they had run into a naval vessel, which always ended in the usual salvo of cannons, but never in a real fight, and in view of this the crew might be busy for some time. Not so much, however, that there was no one among the four hundred or so who could answer the captain's call.

When no news from Marco arrived by noon, Whitebeard began strolling about the ship, looking out for Marco's burning shape on the horizon. What's more, the captain of the first division, Edward's right-hand, was not answering like those others, and this made Edward start to get more anxious, and even show impatience. He didn't notice that he was stepping harder, from which the ship began to rock harder. The atmosphere was getting thick, the pirates were somehow talking quieter, haggling quieter when they played cards, even breathing quieter.

Rida watched this with trepidation - she saw the clear sky turn into a single amaranth cloud, and waves formed from the captain's heavy footsteps, which by some miracle resonated in the ocean itself, hitting the hull more and more furiously.

She knew that Edward wielded a Devil Fruit that could move the earth, but realizing this on the ocean, she decided it would be better to sit on the Bethesda. The previous sense of comfort dissipated in an instant, especially as Lerena refused to lose sight of her father and chatted cheerfully to him every now and then. Rida considered it completely out of place, because the child, for obvious reasons, did not respect the seriousness of the situation - hearing about the Emperor's ship disappeared, it could mean only one thing: an attack of other pirates.

Below deck, almost two divisions were at work, preparing a place for the new cargo, and they did so for as long as they could. The third division in which Thach served, and which consisted of twenty percent cooks, was struggling in the galley, preparing more modest meals than usual, for a sumptuous dinner would have conflicted with the captain's anxiety.

And, somehow to Rida's surprise, only Thach was sitting on the gunwale, spitting grape seeds into the ocean and wiggling his feet in the air.

'Hey, Thach...'

'Don't come near me with that little demon. I don't want her' he protested, not even turning around. Rida nevertheless approached, and Lerena grabbed the halyard and cooed in her own way, looking at the water, ostentatiously not paying attention to the pirate.

'You look like you're enjoying yourself' she remarked, seeing the big grin on the thach's face, in between chewing grapes. He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

'And you wouldn't laugh?'

Rida looked triumphantly at Edward, standing at the stern, and muttered quietly:

'No time for that. Aren't you worried that something has happened?'

'Marco flew over there, what could possibly be wrong? They probably got drunk. I'm actually glad about that. If the old man's angry, that means someone's gonna get hurt. And it's gonna be the captain of the first division, Marco, damn it, Phoenix!'

'This is about the whole crew!' the woman shrugged, not believing that Thach had such a reason to laugh.

'Come on, it's the Emperor's crew. Whitebeard, the demon of the seas, the most powerful and all that. You seriously think someone would be stupid enough to attack his ship? Do you have any idea what pops did with such bravados? Ask the Admiral...'

'To your stations!' Edward's voice rang out, and the captain himself walked briskly to his cabin 'Turn! Course southeast!'

For a moment the crew seemed to be in a panic - they shouted the captain's orders as if the loud voice had not been heard. But with every moment their actions made more sense to Rida - some ran to the ropes, others to the sails. With a great effort the mighty Moby Dick set to starboard against the waves, the ropes trembling, straining from the bulging sails. Edward, wearing a white captain's coat, stood at the bow, supporting the bisento - his trademark - on his shoulder.

'Take the child' ordered Thach, jumping off the starboard side, and his tone did not sound at all like the joking one from a few moments before. Rida almost instinctively pressed Lerena against her. 'If father is preparing to attack, it's better not to see it.' And ran across the bow to Edward.

'Pops?'

'It's Marco' said the captain, keeping his head on straight even as the Moby swayed dangerously, taking its course. 'Junior's grounded, the crew decimated, and he himself attacked by Kaido's crew.'

'Kaido? Who the hell is Kaido?!'

'It doesn't matter anymore, son.'


It might have seemed that the voyage would take at least a few hours, as the distance between Junior and Moby must have been dozens of nautical miles. But the Emperor was not famous for his patience - Rida saw the effects of the Devil's Shock Fruit for the first time then. Edward, who was standing on the bow, swung his left hand and slammed into space, the air beginning to crumble under the impact. As the waves churned beneath the ship, they pushed it forward, each wave getting larger and faster.

The woman locked herself in her cabin, trying hard to control her nausea as the ship rose and fell with a splash. She wasn't helped by Lerena's crying, to whom the whole situation seemed very suspicious, because one, Marco hadn't been there since morning, two, the captain wasn't there either and three, she had to go back to the cabin instead of hooking up with Thach, which together with the rocking of the ship was almost a tragedy for her. She didn't understand at all what was going on, lost her patience and at one point managed to shout down the crew on deck.

For a split second Rida felt like screaming for the child to be quiet. She barely managed to hold the little one in her arms, but she had no strength for calming her down, she was too busy being herself. She tried to tell herself that it would all be over soon, that the ship would only go up that much one more time and then it would go terrifyingly down one last time, making her stomach rise in her throat. She was shaking all over, huddled in the corner of the cabin, one hand holding Lerena, the other squeezing the edge of the hammock with all her might. She swore to herself that once they reached the Tourmaline, she would never get on another ship, ever again.

She looked at Lerena with a confused look - the baby had turned blue from crying - and with the last of her strength she remembered that she was on the Emperor's ship and if anything happened to the infant in her care, she would answer to Edward.

'Lerry...' she groaned 'the captain was about to come...' she had to break off, holding back the nausea. 'And Marco... but don't cry... Shh, baby...' her voice was changing to a whisper, stifled from crying. She tried, speaking to the little one, to convince herself, again, that in a moment, in a moment, and never again but the realization of where and why they were sailing was taking away her ability to think logically.

The Moby flew up once more, on deck someone shrieked, down, but as if lighter.... Softer...

Lerena was still crying, but not so loudly anymore. She stopped writhing until she froze in stillness, and the crying turned into a quiver. The ship was slowing down, Rida was able to take a deeper breath and open her eyes, though she couldn't remember when she closed them.

And then she heard a voice intruding into her soul, similar to thunder announcing a scowl. She opened her eyes wide and clutched the child more tightly to her, when there, on the deck, between heaven and earth, it thundered:

'Wounded men on deck! Do not interfere! I'll manage!'

Moby's bow dropped and jutted out one last time as Captain Edward Newgate motioned for a pirate named Kaido.

Rida really wanted to sit in the cabin until it was all over - the screaming would die down, Edward would take his chair, and Marco would take care of Lerena, but she couldn't.

She sat locked in the cabin with the little one, who was growing more and more impatient by the moment. It wasn't even the nervous atmosphere that the child sensed, nor the rocking of the ship that she wasn't used to. She stopped liking the fact that she had no one but her guardian, and on top of that she was slowly getting hungry.

'Oh, for God's sake, you spoiled crawfish!' shouted Rida, as Lerena started to sob warningly. 'You have to be quiet now or else...!'

The child in no way liked the woman's tone and excessive shaking - she cried heartily, not noticing that Rida was crying along with her.

On deck the running could still be heard, but orders were given by only one voice -Marco. He shouted to pull out the wounded and fallen, his voice was closer and farther away, but Rida did not dare to go outside. After a few minutes, when the worst of her stress had blended into one with her tears, she tried to take herself in. She walked around the cabin with a slow step, trying to reassure Lerena, but the child was already concerned with nothing else but Marco, as she recognized his voice perfectly.

'Yes,' Rida agreed, guessing it 'we're going there, to see...'

She grabbed the handle, squeezing the child tighter with her other hand, and opened the door. The setting sun involuntarily prompted her to think that Lerena's feeding time was long past, and Rida grinned - to yell at a baby just because it was hungry! Lerena's scream drew the attention of the nearest pirates leaning against the gunwale. The sight of a woman with a baby on Moby Dick was the second abstraction of the day, and they began to point it out to each other and ask one another about the phenomenon. Some were all wet from the water, others had wounds and were eager to tell the crew of the mother ship about them. Rida - instinctively - walked to the gunwale, ignoring Lerena's grumbling, and looked at the wreckage of the Junior, which was stranded. There was a fierce battle between the Emperor and a man of the same size on the damaged, nearly broken in half deck.

The frantic Kaido, who had easily wrecked Junior's crew, was now weak on his feet and more than fighting, he was dodging Edward. Newgate operated the bisento with as much ease as if it were nothing more than a toothpick in his hands, he cut once from the right, once from the left and out of five only twice was his opponent able to dodge. Edward guessed that there were shreds left of his shoe, that Kaido was trying to figure out a way to escape, so he decided to end this game of tag.

The man who had boasted of his victory over the Imperator's crew a few hours earlier could now barely see through the blood flooding his eyes. His left hand refused to obey, something Kaido had never encountered before. He panicked, unable to gather his thoughts, and the Whitebeard's aura became increasingly overwhelming. The Emperor was furious, and it was hard to understand how the sea didn't shy away from that anger. The deck planks crackled warningly, the broken masts drifted, dragging the white flaps of sail behind them, and the shoals effectively prevented Kaido's ship from coming up to get its captain. He knew it was up to Edward to decide whether to finish off his opponent or spare his life, but he did not expect the Emperor to be in the mood to show mercy.

Watching from the deck of the Moby Dick, Rida couldn't believe how the two pirates were able to keep their balance as the waves battered against the hull with such ferocity. Clouds billowed in the sky, heralding a storm, thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance, and the woman couldn't take her eyes off the incredible battle that made the air so heavy.

The young, inexperienced pirate had no idea what the actual power of the man who confronted the Pirate King was. For a moment it seemed to him that he would manage to escape, that he would mislead Edward and tire him out, for the Emperor had been standing for a long moment with Moby behind him. But the moment Newgate took a swing, and the bisento blade lit up with white light, Kaido knew he had counted.

'Rakshasa's halberd!'

The world had ended.



'...Yes, my little one, and then Daddy will teach you to fight. All you have to do is stand on those little legs. Marco will show you how to fly, and Vista will make you the best swordsman, so no one can hurt you...' perorated Edward in a low, tired voice as Lerena - finally fed and changed - rested in his arms. They both needed sleep after an exhausting day. The captain had made the decision to stop at the Isle of Wooden Hands, which was on the route to the Tourmaline, but he did not tell anyone for what purpose. The four divisions from the Junior were now sailing on the mother ship and bow to bow the "Emperor" was sailing, because Ed did not want to deal with any more pirates and preferred to keep his cool.

Lerena, on the other hand, did not intend to go to sleep at all until she had sat for a while on Marco's lap, teased Thach and was looked at by the rest of the crew. She received understandable admiration for her blue eyes and cheers when she was gracious enough to take a few steps. She did it only because the captain urged her to.

'Pops' Vista the Flower Blade, one of the best swordsmen in the world, whose moustache greatly absorbed the little one, was sitting on the Emperor's left side and noticed with amazement that the child was reacting to the captain's voice and every time he corrected himself in his chair, Lerena immediately turned her full attention to him 'and why not keep her? I know a baby on a pirate ship is a challenge, but she seems to be getting used to it. And so are you.'

Below deck, in the mess hall, Ed's sons were relaxing and laughing as they recounted the events of the past day. The captain, who had listened to these accounts at least a dozen times, decided that only Kaido's stupidity had prompted him to speak out against the Emperor, but deep down he knew that he was only one of many who would come for his head, and that of his sons.

'She has been with us for seven days," said Ed in the quietest voice he could muster, "and she rules over the entire crew. But the greatest thing she ever did was with Namur.'

'What are you talking about, old man?'

'She took charge of his convalescence. You'll understand when you see them together, it's a truly remarkable sight. Marco...' Edward saw the captain of the First Division coming out of the mess hall - take Lerena Saphira, it's time for her to rest.'

'And to give us all a rest, yoi. I'm surprised her screaming today didn't distract you from Kaido, she wasn't happy about your absence.'

'I told you, she's a little despot," he spoke up to Vista, not hiding the pride in his voice.

The Isle of Wooden Hands was located near the Calm Belt, very dangerous for sailors not able to navigate it. It was famous for its wooden products, hence its name, and for its excellent carpenters.

Marco guessed that the captain wanted to build a new ship to replace Junior, so when they arrived at the port of Hanamachi he was ready to head off to the craftsmen's guild with something around four million berri. When he announced this to his father, he heard laughter in response.

'Let Thach, Sevilla and Raban go into town with the ladies, Lerena Saphira needs new clothes and toys. Thach is to take care of that' he ordered, stepping off the gangway and gesturing for Marco to go with him.

The crew was given leave with the stipulation that they would be in port in the evening, as the captain had several things to announce. Rida and Lerena happily wandered around the stores - the former because she had never seen such handicrafts on Bethesda, the latter because her every whim was catered for.

Thach noticed that the passing girls looked at him enchanted when he entertained Lerena, so he firmly forbade anyone else to wear her - he sacrificed his priceless yellow scarf for this purpose.

When they turned up for the captain's call in the evening, the Moby was bursting at the seams and only a miracle kept it in port. Edward sat in his chair and contentedly drank beer given to him by the locals during his absence from the ship. The crew seemed to be celebrating, only it wasn't clear what exactly - defeating Kaido, reaching their destination or the fact that Fossa had won against Vista, Izumo and Namur at Scythe.

The captain greeted Rida and Lerena and asked about errands, as if he hadn't noticed the escort sent with them, stuffing bags in the cabin.

'I'm afraid our voyage to the Tourmaline will be delayed' he finally said and straightened up in his chair. 'The Kaido incident must not happen again! As captain, I took responsibility and split the crew between the three ships! The consequences of this decision will haunt me for the rest of my life - we have lost many people!'

The crew listened in silence, and although no one dared to interrupt their father, they were eager to deny it and ask him not to take the blame.

'Therefore, starting tomorrow, we will start building one ship to accommodate our entire family, so that I will never have to leave you alone again!' He ordered, causing dismayed joy. The construction of such a huge ship would have to take at least several months, so questions immediately arose about the Emperor's temporary base, who replied with a short "here". Edward then gave permission to celebrate Moby Dick and the Emperor, which amounted to an all-night drinking party.

Rida decided that Lerena had had enough excitement for one day and planned to carry her off the deck and lay her down until the festivities began in earnest, but before she returned to her cabin the ritual wish for a good night followed. The Emperor took Lerena in his arms and froze in mid-motion.

'Daddy' the girl whimpered and kicked her legs up high.

Edward got drunk blissfully and noisily that night.  

The Strawhat Boy

'Welcome!'

'Yes, indeed. I have two ten-year-old boys,' I began, looking around the assortment of stores in one of the High Town's best thoroughfares, 'and I need a few things for them.

'Ah, boys that age...' chuckled a girl at least two decades younger than me and stepped out from behind the counter.

In the middle of the room stood three mannequins, the fourth, in the manner of a small child, was sitting. All around were nicely arranged clothes, in the next room were shoes, belts and hats and in yet another room were winter clothes. I went around it all and got some idea of the materials available there. After forty minutes of inventing, selecting, and ordering additional pieces of clothing which were not there but which came to my mind, I instructed the young lady to send it all to my address, for I had bought a house in the High Town a year and a half before winter. Sabo was particularly opposed to it, but he disliked the cold, and after a time he eagerly welcomed a fire in the fireplace, which we could not afford in the summer residence.

The time for my annual trip beyond the Grand Line was approaching. I decided to equip the boys with everything superfluous, for they had been able to change clothes perhaps three times during my absence, and that only if they wore tattered clothes. It is worth mentioning that I was only gone for a month.

My absence on the other side of the world did not have a tragic impact on my life. On the contrary, almost three years spent with my charges gave colour, joy, and indescribable feeling to myself. Ace was becoming more and more like his father every day, although I could see my own faults in him, while Sabo was growing into a thoughtful, logical teenager - they both represented extreme personalities, and yet I had never seen a more harmonious duo.

They ran around the Grey Terminal all day, claiming to have trained, able to return drenched in blood but with smiles. And you couldn't talk them out of it, neither with threats, nor with curses, nor with blackmail.

That memorable summer, they often came soaking wet because it was hot, and they spent whole days by the river to cool off. I could hide my explanations about dangerous animals in my cubbyhole - the more dangerous the better.

As for my worldly affairs - after all, I had several islands under my auspices, a considerable fortune and plenty of social obligations - I put them off until the last moment, that is, until I entered the Great Line, and then I took care of everything at once. Very prudently.

In the face of this expedition of mine, the boys became grouchy and began to ask, during breaks from eating, that I take them with me. The possibility of this was nonexistent, and I managed to repeat it a hundred and fifty times until Ace came up with the clever idea of a hunger strike in protest, because "he'd heard somewhere that it worked'. It worked enough that he got a beating and the stupid ideas ended.

Sabo approached this diplomatically and began to inquire.

'How long are you gonna be off?'

'As long as usual.'

'Are you going to visit your islands?'

'Probably.'

'And if the social service asks about our parents, what should I say?'

'That when I get back, I'll chase them to hell.'

'You know, Pebble - he sneered disgustedly - I don't think they care about such things.'

'Exactly - Ace joined in - they'll come, they'll see, and they'll take us, and then what will you do? Make war with the whole town?'

'With the whole world, if necessary,' I said, not making the slightest impression on them. 'What has got into your heads? Ten years of age and they want to go behind the Red Line.'

'Why would anyone ask us about our age at the Mountain Reverse?' Sabo shook his head at my ignorance of things. I showed a remarkable lack of understanding of their reasons, and my protégé would even go so far as to say that I did not understand my own motives for refusing! 'You are simply afraid' he concluded.

I admit, my jaw dropped, because even the powers of the world at that time did not have enough courage to throw around such platitudes.

'That's right!' agreed Ace and triumphantly crossed his arms over his chest.

I sat there between them, exposed to the hostile artillery of their words, and I could not escape admiration. Let's just specify that we were under the tree house, finishing setting up there for the next few months.

Again, it appeared that the boys had accumulated a whole bunch of unnecessary junk over the winter, but they wouldn't let even an ounce of those "treasures" be taken from them, instead willingly giving new shoes, sweatshirts or t-shirts to the ocean. Apparently, because the kids were simply trading clothes at the Gray Terminal. I admired the ingenuity, but certainly not at my expense.

No less we rested peacefully on the carefully vacuumed garden furniture and the blueberry sorbet was cooling on the table in front of us. It is worth mentioning that Ace managed to graze his hands up to the elbows with it.

'Oh, yes' I deigned to answer, and I did not really know what to do next. There was some kind of conspiracy between them that I couldn't figure out, and it had been going on for a very long time. I decided, however, that I would not question or follow, like that overprotective mother, but that I would let them come to me and, in the glow of motherly love, dispense some life wisdom that they would follow for the rest of their days. I didn't really know what wisdom had to do with this conspiracy, but I had a feeling that there was something to it.

'You have to admit, Pebble, that we are not seven years old anymore, but ten,' said Ace, as if that was a decisive point. 'We're old enough to kick ass, hunt dinner...'

'Tripping over our own feet and sulking' I added, tenderly stroking his head.

'Ten or not, we want to sail with you' decided Sabo.

'And anyway...'

'So you're dreaming of sailing beyond the Great Line and becoming pirates, right?'

I couldn't remember where I heard that voice... But it would be impossible...

'I'm going to be a pirate too! But not just any pirate...!'

'To all the shipwrecks of the New World!' I rushed forward, the boys behind me, especially Ace panicked and ran like a shot. Behind us a strange, male voice calmed the other, childish voice, and when it finally became clear who we were dealing with it didn't get any better.

'Are you a goddamn idiot?' I snarled, covering the boys. Garp took the little boy who was announcing to the world that he was going to be a pirate by his neck.

'And you, witch from hell, don't you think too much! Pirates? A cruise to the Line?!'

'You don't interfere with my upbringing methods, you fool, because if I fall into your Navy, there won't be a brick to collect!' I reserved, putting my right foot forward and supporting myself at the sides. 'And what are you doing here, to the grave plague, who invited you! This is a closed ceremony!'

'I don't care, I'm here on special...'

'I care even less, get out of here and don't you dare to spill where I am, because...'

'And I'll be the Pirate King!'

Yeah, but we haven't played that kind of stuff before.

'I'm Luffy and I'm seven years old.'

'Ace.'

'Sabo, and I'm ten.'

'Call me Pebble, darling. And where did you get that hat?'

'How old are you?'

'Garp!'

'Luffy! What did I tell you?! You can't ask a girl her age!'

'But she's an old lady, not a girl!'

'Garp...'

'Then we'll go play.'

'Me too! Me too!'

'No! We don't play with kids!'

'Ace, Sabo, Luffy has to come with you, and you have to look after him.'

'But Pebble...'

'Do you want to get dinner tonight?'

My duo, unhappy on one side only, marched gleefully toward the river, and the cheerful voice of the little one with Roger's hat on his head echoed through the woods for a long time.

'Did Shanks give it to him?' I asked, looking behind the boys with dreamy eyes. Garp, who was sitting on a wicker chair next to me, took a sorbet and only when he finished did he answer in the affirmative. 'Why did you bring him here?'

'I would like you to take care of him' he just said and I think he expected a different reaction, because he looked at me surprised.

'All right. We have plenty of room here. What is he to you?'

'A grandson.'

'Ho ho' I quickly put the facts together 'and Dragon doesn't mind the old captainess taking care of his firstborn?'

'Dragon is busy saving the world right now' Garp snarled and spat to the side. I lit a cigarette, the first one that day, and started to examine the whole thing.

'And you assure me that he won't suddenly appear and take the baby away? I get attached easily' I smiled understandingly.

Garp didn't say anything for a long time, he watched the tree house from below, walked around the whole tree, drank sorbet and even accepted a small glass of vodka. All this to prepare me for the shocking news. So once we got over the transfer of parental authority over little Monkey D. Luffy (that D in his name made me extremely happy), we moved on to more important matters.

'The Navy is going to go on Tir Na Nog.'

I was in the middle of my third glass and it was far too little to tell me such things.

'Don't you guys let yourselves go too much?' I asked, retching cheekily, which only deepened the wrinkles on Garp's forehead. 'But go ahead, go ahead. If you put up a guard in the capital, I will officially relinquish my title.'

'I know this island is important to you...'

'Not at all,' I denied 'it's safe, which are two different things,' I flashed my teeth in a smile. The fool nodded and put his glass on the table.

'So the rumour that you hid some of your possessions there is true' he said. I swallowed and sighed.

'Are you really here just for that? Yes, Tir Na Nog has my money. Not only that. As far as I remember, I hid some paintings there, a crucifix of the Great Mother...'

'And you're not afraid that someone will come in there and take it all away from you?' Oh, he was consistently pushing forward. I fell silent and looked at him carefully. The first grey hairs on his head and chin, a few more wrinkles, an enlarging wart under his right eye... But he was still as tall as an oak and could crush a walnut between two fingers of that I was sure. What was he trying to achieve with these questions?

'And who do you think! Ed? He's got his money and he doesn't mind invading my territory.'

'And besides him?'

'There's no one who can threaten me' I growled, finally annoyed.

'Shiki?' Garp suggested, somehow nervously pouring the vodka. I inhaled once, a second, a third time and wondered why the hell he was playing such a game with me. Why did he mention Shiki when...

'He's in your cursed Impel Down. He can't get out of there no matter how much he wants to.' I had a strong feeling that something wasn't right. Garp was pouring a little too much and glancing at me a little too nervously. As I finished my cigarette and was about to find out the purpose of this game, he sighed deeply, knowing he wasn't going to get away.

'He isn't. He ran away a week ago.'

I remained silent, exhausting all my reserves for the next thousand years. In complete peace, I cleaned the barrel of leftover tobacco, loaded it, and fired it up, because I felt I wouldn't get through this otherwise.

I put one foot on the other one and stretched comfortably in the armchair, first noticing the surroundings, whether by any chance the children would witness our conversation. Garp's information worried me greatly, for Shiki had always been my enemy and had always wanted to destroy what was dear to me first. The sailor seemed to think the same.

'So now you're going to tell me exactly what happened, and I'll figure out what to do' I said in a squeaky voice, holding back with all my strength.

'He chopped off his legs, which were shackled together. The rest went easily. His ship was already waiting. Magellan could only watch' he gave a brief account.

I looked at him as if I were seeing him for the first time in my life. The Vice Admiral looked even more shaken than I, though we knew the nature of the Golden Lion equally. Garp was worried. He had brought Luffy because he couldn't protect the child by himself. Could I do it myself? The seven-year-old became the next owner of the straw hat. Could this be a sign?

'I always thought,' I finally began, scratching my cheek, 'that you were just a bewildered bunch of shady individuals. Admittedly, I really valued a few of you and thought that you could be relied upon, despite our past disagreements'.

I inhaled again to buy him some more peace, as if Lion's escape was his fault and his concern alone.

'But today you have proved to me that to hell with your strength and organization, that to hell with your soldiers.... Golden Lion!'

I finally couldn't stand it and got up from the chair, throwing the barrel away.

'How?! How the fuck did he chop his legs off? Didn't you realize that you've locked up the biggest madman in the world, and the dangerous one at that? What graveyard is the admiral digging his grave in?!' I was walking with swift steps around the meadow and I cursed the whole Navy to the fourth generation. I couldn't think of a way for Shiki to escape, because if Roger wasn't there, then in my mind there was no one to catch him again. True, previously it had been a storm that had allowed the pirate to be grounded because it had destroyed his fleet and its captain was on the verge of death, but that had only happened because he had declared war on us and we had met in Edd.

What was I supposed to do? Shiki was vindictive, and vindictiveness was written into his nature, he couldn't forget who he fell because of. And I was more than sure that he would show up to get even.

'He's going to attack my islands, the son of a bitch, I need to talk to Ray, he'll know...' I muttered to myself, adding a bunch of curses. Garp, meanwhile, vigorously drank the rest of the booze and started thinking about any steps that would bring him closer to Lion. Or at least locate him.

'You could find out where he is now' he began, watching me from his chair. I snorted at him, which for some reason put him in a good mood and he started laughing. That was too much for me - I threw myself at him with my fists and wanted to batter him until he got a shock of the jelly he called a brain.

'I can't believe you're laughing! This is a stalemate! Did you know, rascal, that Shiki is a mongrel who has sworn to be king? He must know where Raftel is! And all the poneglyphs! You fool!' I roared, having just enough time to smack him over the head, but I didn't continue because his snailophone rang. 'Answer it!'

'Go ahead, Admiral...'

'You're such a complete asshole!' I screamed, grabbing the receiver. 'So what now, huh? If he steals something from me, I'll kill Magellan for letting him go, and since the Navy is all about brotherhood, then I'll send all of you to hell!'

'G...Garp?!'

'I'm going. When I come back, you'd better have a solution' I said and went away with the intention of finding the kids. I marched briskly, breaking twigs with vengeful satisfaction, and imagined that this was how I would break Shiki's neck - with my foot.

When Lion had been arrested fourteen years earlier, he had growled so that everyone could hear him, "I'll never forget this, you cowards from the East!" 

As if it was our own damn fault that the moron ran into a storm! If he'd had a good navigator, he'd have had legs and more years of freedom, but that's the way it was. But all right, the whole thing should have been discussed calmly, because whoever comes to anything in a hurry and panic?

'...I tell you that I will gather the strongest crew, get the biggest treasures and become the king of pirates!' it came to me, and although at first I was going to wave my hand and say something like 'yes, Roger, we've heard this a million times, put the booze down', I stopped in mid-motion, because those words couldn't have belonged to my brother. I went out to the meadow by the stream where the holy trinity was playing and I could clearly see the rift between Ace and Luffy, only Sabo was standing between them because that was his nature.

Generally speaking, it was like this; Luffy was all wet and clutching his hat like it was protecting him from the world, Ace was showing signs of rage and breathing shallowly, almost marooned in the face, on top of that he was clenching his little fists angrily, so it could end up in a big beating for someone.

'What a bullshit!' he finally shouted, ignoring Sabo, who was calming the situation down. 'A bobo like you will never become a pirate!'

'But you were once seven years old too, and I'll be ten someday!'

Argued Luffy resolutely, for which I counted him a point and stood on, listening carefully to the argument.

'And when I grow up, you'll see! I'll be the strongest of all! Although my grandfather won't let me, but I don't want to be a Marine, I want to be a pirate, like Shanks!' he continued shouting, which obviously gave my nephew a white fever. He was about to teach Luffy the ugly habit of defying his grandfather or bragging - I haven't quite figured that one out - but I stepped in.

'So you know Shanks, little one' I remarked. Sabo breathed a sigh of relief, and Ace moved on the kid with more ferocity. 'Ace come on. You don't mess around with a seven-year-old, it's a bit of an insult, you know? Sabo, please explain to me what's going on, you're the only one with any common sense.

And it started...

'Because he's stupid, Pebble, he thinks he's gonna...!'

'He's calling me names! You can't call each other names! I'll be king of the pirates, because I've decided!'

'I'll whip him so hard he'll remember...!'

'Come on, then! I'm strong now, I'm seven years old and I'll beat you!'

'Well, actually, the thing is, they're arguing over the title of king. Ace says it's stupid, and Luffy says it's not stupid at all," Sabo said, looking at both of them. I was getting a picture of the situation as such and the problem of the Golden Lion became almost a grain in the mighty mill of everyday problems. I tried diplomacy.

'I think you'll have to wait a little longer to claim the title of king, Luffy' I said as seriously as possible. The seven-year-old - reluctantly - agreed with me. 'As for you, Ace, I don't think getting the title of king is stupid. It's about freedom, tiger cub, that's something you don't understand yet.

'Stupidity' my nephew commented and turned his head away, giving evidence of his disdain.

'You are a stupidity' Luffy pointed out to him and pulled his hat over his head. I looked at it with a sentimental smile, but I didn't comment anything.

'I suggest we go back to the tree house and eat something. We need to prepare some space in your cabin as Luffy is staying with us.' I quickly realized that Ace would get upset, Luffy would start laughing and nodding, and Sabo... 'I'm afraid, dear, that you now have a second head to watch over.'

'I think I will manage. Could I add a bonus to my monthly salary?'

'How much are you talking about?'

'Four.'

'It's robbery!' I haggled as we walked to the tree house, Ace marching behind us and shouting at the seven-year-old I had developed a real affection for.

'Pebble, you're being unfair. Do you know how much it costs me to make sure Ace doesn't come up with stupid ideas?'

'He comes up with them anyway, you just have to make sure he doesn't make them real.'

'I'm risking my health and maybe life! No, I definitely won't even talk if you go below three.'

'Tough negotiation, I'll agree to two plus I'll increase the holiday limit by another three, which brings us to a total of twenty-seven books extra, per year. And let's add in the twenty-four remaining, five birthday and seven New Year's books. That's more than you can absorb.'

'Did I hear the challenge?'

'Pebble, I'm hungry! What's for dinner!' rang out behind us. Luffy was adamantly demanding the entire menu for the next week and actually thought we could eat seven lunches in one day. Who can say no to a rich man?

When the boys went to bed late at night, Garp and I sat by the fire and a bottle of strong, sweet wine. The sailor took snuff, coughed and stretched comfortably in his armchair.

'He is already used to you' he started, involuntarily looking at the dark outline of the house. - I'm glad he won't be alone. Take good care of him, Pebble.

'He is in the best hands in the world' I answered, and it flashed through my mind that I have to go shopping again, this time with a new, youngest child.

'And as for the Lion, I don't think he will come for you. There are still rumours in New World that you are dead.'

'Oh yes," I snarled, looking at him cross-eyed, "the ones that I never existed also hold good. Can't believe you have the audacity to look into my eyes' I sighed without aggression. We sat like that for a while, absorbed in our thoughts, digesting new information.

'You know, Ralagan, I never thought that we would meet under such circumstances. I thought we'd be enemies forever and I'd hear you sobbing until the end. And here we are, sitting under the same tree, guaranteeing the survival of at least two children sleeping upstairs. This Sabo...'

'I know, I'm not stupid. He's from the High City and has been granted missing status. Nobility. I don't know how come no one is looking for him, but even if' I looked at him seriously, determination written on my face 'if he ran away, he obviously had a reason. And until I hear from him that he wants to come back, I'm not going to let him take it from me.'

'I'm only a Vice Admiral' he shrugged his shoulders 'can I measure myself against the Imperator?'

'And shouldn't you report it somewhere? To some social service or orphanage?'

'Would he be better off there?'