Shivered Timbers
by Kaline Reine

Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece or any of the characters/settings. This is just a fanfiction story. I do own Shiori, she is my character. I also own a few other original characters in this story (not affiliated with One Piece), which will be introduced as they are needed.

WARNINGS: This story contains (or may contain) graphic adult content and language, explicit sex scenes, possible violence, gore, cursing, adult themes, etc. I do not censor my writing, but I do my best to warn people about the subject matter and potential subject matter. So if you don't like that kind of thing or can't handle it, then I suggest not reading this story. You have been warned. Also, I know this doesn't follow canon but it doesn't have to, that's why it's a fanfic. xD

Also... The beautiful cover image for this story is by my friend, EzariaUmiko on DeviantArt. All credit for the image goes to her. c:


Chapter 49: Bitter Medicine

The first thing she could recall was seeing soft red locks, accompanied by a pleasant sound. A women was singing a lullaby to her. Shiori was very small, and could fit easily in the woman's lap. She was being rocked in a chair as she was held.

'Ruhi-chan...' She tried to speak, but her mouth couldn't form the words.

"La la laaaa la laaaaaa la~" The lady's sweet crooning continued.

Her hair tickled Shiori's nose and she sneezed. There had been a sneeze coming anyway. She sniffled and let out a little groan, signifying that she didn't feel good. A cold hand pressed against the child's forehead. It was warm.

"Oh dear, are you catching a cold? You do feel like you have a fever." She immediately set her down in the rocking chair and began to rummage through her medical bag. "Let's see... This should do the trick. Can you identify the herb that this syrup was made from?"

She held up a shiny clear bottle full of dark purple syrup. It was almost black but the violet tinge was impossible to miss. Taking off the cap, Ruhi allowed her to take a sniff of it.

It took the albino girl a moment to recognize the strong smell. Was this a memory or could it be a dream? Things were strange and hazy. Even though she'd been unable to voice her thoughts a moment ago, now she was able to form words. It felt like she'd spoken them before, only she couldn't quite recall it.

"Hmm..." Her tiny, shrill voice echoed in the big empty room. "W-wolfsbane?"

"No, try again. It's alright dear..." She was already preparing the remedy for the girl anyway.

"Could I h-have a hint?"

"It starts with an E."

Shiori fought so hard to remember... "Is it eggplant?" Those were about the right shade of purple.

"No, that's a vegetable. Silly girl!" Although she said this, Ruhi giggled brightly. "One more try. Then if you still don't get it, we can use a book to help you look it up."

There were no consequences for failing, except a little bit of studying, which had never bothered her. But she wanted so desperately to please this kind woman who was helping Chiaki care for her...

"M-maybe it's made from... From elderberries?"

"That's exactly right! Great job!" The redhead clasped her hands together excitedly. "You're learning everything so fast."

Shiori smiled up at her, so pleased with herself. But her smile faded once she tasted the bitter medicine.

She stuck out her tongue. "Yuck!"

"Sometimes medicine is bitter," Ruhi was quick to remind her. Not that she needed it. The woman turned to her with a strangely serious face, looking her right in the eyes. Two silver cups glistened into twin roses, holding them. "But we always have to take it."

Lightning crackled behind her, somehow. Her face twisted into something almost sinister. The only word that could describe it was ominous. Lightning meant a warning.

"Wha- What do you mean?" She had a crazy thought that Ruhi wasn't supposed to be saying that. She felt the icy grip of fear clawing at her, though she wasn't sure why. "What are you talking about? Ruhi?"

No... The dream was meant to end. Wasn't it? How did she know she was dreaming?

"Listen to me, Shiori-chan... You can't run from it forever." Just as the girl pulled back, the redheaded phantom latched onto her arm, not allowing her to pull away. "Don't be afraid. Or in the end, you will only have regrets."

. . .


The Valkyrie's eyes opened, slowly... She gradually came to realize that it wasn't just a memory, it was a dream too. And she didn't want to wake up like this. It had been such a nice dream at first. It gave way to sadder thoughts, dragging her back to the day when the Marines attacked and Ruhi's life came to a gruesome end along with the rest of the Nuns. She still couldn't stand to think about that. She preferred to remember things as they had been, long before that, and long after... Even if they now existed only in her mind. At least they were still alive there.

She almost wished that it had been a dream about Ace again. At least that way the other person would have been more than just a memory. But what if... What if one day he became just a memory to her too? Shiori couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to him.

'What would I even do without you, Ace?' She wondered, letting out a long-withheld sigh as she stretched out across the bed. 'I need to talk to him... Even if the thought of it scares me to death, I need to know the truth.'

As her consciousness gradually shifted back to the present, it was clear that they were sailing through rough seas at the moment. The ship was swaying to and fro violently! It would lean to one side and then almost topple over before changing direction, causing her stomach to turn wild somersaults. And then it just stuck to one side, leaning into a curve of some kind for far longer than was comfortable.

Well. That explained the fear.

This wasn't right... She normally didn't even get seasick, having long since gotten used to traveling aboard ships. She'd never known waves like this, not in all her time at sea...

'Shiori-chan!' Vanora gasped. The kitten was on high alert, her fur standing on end, and her powdery blue feline eyes widened in fright. Her claws were embedded deep into the comforter on the bed, clinging onto it for dear life.

'What is going on? I was just trying to get some sleep.' Scratching her head, she stretched one arm up above herself again, still not fully awake. In the process, the ship moved so hard that she fell out of bed, smacking her face on the floor.

"Ouch!"

Rubbing her cheek, Shiori scrambled to grab the cream colored kitten. She had to make sure she was safe. Before leaving her new room, she also made sure to stash the remnants of the empty vodka away. She took the poison from her pocket and placed it inside the nightstand drawer too. It wouldn't do to just carry that around haphazardly.

Another surge of motion- still in the same direction, oddly enough- forced her down onto her knees rather sharply. She was able to catch herself on the small dresser and waited for it to lighten up enough for her to be able to get to her feet... The gravitational force was overwhelming her normally strong legs. Luckily she was still dressed from last night. Because she'd fallen asleep drunkenly, she'd failed to even take her boots off. She crawled her way to the door as best she could until finally she was able to rise again. Things were being flung around in the infirmary, but she would have to deal with that later.

Everything was in a state of pure chaos by the time the albino girl made her way onto the main deck. Vanora had left her shoulder to take refuge in her usual place inside her sweater, nestled in front of her stomach. It made her glad that she'd stashed Haji's poison away already.

The entire crew was being tossed around and having to fight just to keep their footing. Various cries of alarm and anguish filled the air. Shiori tried to call out to someone, but they were all preoccupied with the monstrous sight before them...

"WHAT THE HELL?!" Shiori screeched, unable to gain her footing and slipping to one side of the deck. She managed to grab onto the side railing just in time.

"Shiori-chan! Grab my hand!" Ace called to her, taking her wrist firmly in his grasp. She held onto his forearm and clung desperately to his shoulder with her free hand.

"Ace-kun! What's going on?! Is it a Sea King?"

"No, worse..." He tilted his head in the direction their ship was being forced.

She didn't want to, but she had to look... They were being sucked into a whirlpool! And not just any old whirlpool, this one was extremely massive. They were also stuck there. Ace couldn't move an inch. He was holding onto her with one arm and the railing with the other.

Artemis was at the helm but she didn't look worried at all. "I fucking told you to hang on tight, didn't I?!" She yelled above the crew's fearful chatter. "Oh, calm the fuck down!"

Seawater sprayed across the deck with a powerful hiss, rendering the Devil Fruit users' abilities completely useless. She could only hope it wouldn't cause Ace to lose his grip. That was a terrible thought... Amid the screaming, Shiori knew she had to do something. Swinging her weight toward him a little, and then yanking it away, she was able to bring herself up above the side of the railing, which was now almost entirely vertical as the ship was revolving in the water. This took a considerable weight from Ace, so he was able to pull himself up too. He put his arms around her protectively, making as if to shield her from everything. She didn't lean into it but also did not pull away.

'Damn butterflies...' She fought hard to keep those thoughts away. Now was not the time to go all blushy! 'Even at a time like this...'

"This is it! We're all gonna die!" Shiori cried, wiping her tearful eyes with a long blue sleeve.

"No, we won't!" The shark girl called to her from about twenty feet away. "We'll be fine, just hold on and get ready for the ship to flip back down! Almost there!"

"She's crazy, she's lost her mind!" Ace lamented, clearly regretting his choice of navigators and pretty much all of his life choices right about then. It took a lot to scare him, but he was actually worried, which was understandably unsettling for his crew.

The ship was being pulled under, and all she could say was that they'd be fine? There was no way anyone was going to believe her. But somehow, miraculously, the ship did begin to right itself. The pair had to climb back over the railing and onto the deck just as it turned upright again... They had to time it just right or they would be doomed.

However, they now faced a new problem... They were spinning faster and faster. It was dizzying... Like someone had pulled the plug in a giant bathtub.

"I can't stand it anymore! I'm about to be sick!" Shiori cried, leaning back over the railing. She pulled back quickly though. The swirling waters below did absolutely nothing to help her churning stomach. She regretted drinking last night.

"Just hang on a little longer..." Ace did his best to comfort her, even though he didn't know what was happening either. He was trying to put faith in their Navigator, however little he had left at the moment.

"He's got the right idea! It'll be over soon. Don't worry." Artemis reassured both of them.

"How can you say that?!" Shiori snapped. "We'll be pulled under any second now!"

And she was right. The swirl of the waves soon engulfed them. The Royal sank beneath it, overcome by stormy grayish blue... The entire crew were crying, some were praying, others were trying to cling to something solid as the ship began to sink. Shiori's solid thing to cling to was Ace's chest. She couldn't wrap her arms all the way around it, but damn it, she tried. He didn't seem to mind, hugging her close while the ocean's water passed over them, rendering their powers useless and making her feel even worse.

'We're dead.'

There came a squeak from within her pocket. 'Yep.'

Then something amazing happened... Everything stopped. They were... dry? Well, they were still soaked, but the water was gone. The vessel was no longer spinning in circles anymore. It didn't screech to a halt, but the tempo gradually reduced to a slow, dull grind. Then they sailed on.

A bubble of air had been trapped underwater right along with them, and it clung to their ship, allowing everyone to breathe again. But they were still sinking downward, having been propelled by the strong, steady force of the whirlpool.

It was easy to figure out that the momentum they had gained from that would eventually wear off. And then what? Would they sink further? Would the bubble act as a life raft, carrying them back up to the surface? The majority of the crew, even outsiders like Lena and Silas, had huddled together in the middle of the main deck. There was safety in numbers and perhaps it was an instinctive thing.

"We'd better not have lost any of our crew," The Captain threatened his Navigator. "Or it'll be your neck on the line." His grip on Shiori had slackened now. He was busy trying to assess the damage and count heads.

It appeared that their ship had sunken lower and was now being steered into some sort of docking area. The oxygen bubble around their ship joined with a larger one that surrounded an entire building. There were painted wooden planks fused with pale coral and shimmery blue structures. As they came to a graceful halt just in time, everyone exhaled the collective breath they'd been holding.

"Easy, easy!" Said Navigator held up her hands in self-defense. "The ship is fine and we were never in any danger. I can explain-"

"I was s-sleeping!" Shiori hissed, also hearing a collaborative hiss from Vanora come from inside her pocket.

She normally wouldn't be so petty but she was mad. She'd been very tired from her battle with O'Hara and now something even worse appeared to be happening. And her friend hadn't even warned them!

"We aren't in any danger," Artemis repeated, doing her best to remain calm, even though she was clearly losing her patience. Why did no one ever listen to her? "This is part of standard procedure! Soon we will arrive at the main entrance to Seacrets. This is the only way in."

"You couldn't have warned us first?!" The albino shrieked incredulously.

She raised a single eyebrow at this. "You were 'sleeping'. Remember?"

'Damn. That's a good point.'

"Ugh..."

The shark girl rolled her eyes for what was probably the millionth time that day. And it certainly wouldn't be the last, either. "Well I would've warned you, but most of you don't fucking listen anyway. And I didn't know it would be this bad. I've never entered this place on board a ship before, I was always swimming down on my own."

"I tried to find you when all this started," Ace tapped her shoulder, causing her to turn to face him. "Shiori... Where were you?"

"I was in the infirmary... Well, in Walter's old room. I took my stuff in there, I just thought it would be best to go ahead and get it over with. You know, like ripping off a bandage."

"Ah."

There was no time for them to explain anything else. The entire crew went completely silent in one fell swoop. Two blue skinned men in plain black and white suits stood on either side of them, having already boarded their ship before they were noticed. They both had black and white shoulder length hair. The one on the left had black hair with a white streak on one side and the one on the right had white hair with a black streak. Both of their eyes were a dull inky black, almost animalistic. It was like they were simply blank.

"Who are you?" The lighter one asked, shoving a machine gun in Ace's face.

"Why ask me? What's it to you?" Ace didn't even blink, merely stared him down.

He might have been slightly weakened by the seawater splashes from that massive whirlpool, but that would wear off soon enough. And besides, he knew he couldn't afford to show any signs of weakness. This was a dire situation.

"You radiate alpha energy," The darker one explained, pointing his gun at the rest of the crew. "State your name. Or we pick one off."

"Portgas D. Ace." He only stated the required information and nothing more. He was being something of a smart ass.

Shiori noted their strange teeth as they spoke, then their gills. No doubt about it. These two were fishmen! She wasn't sure what else was up with them, they were acting weird. Even their appearance was very different from anyone she was used to.

Artemis came to stand beside him. "They're with me. These are the Spade Pirates. And yes, he's the Captain."

"Boss will be happy to see you again, Artemis. We thought you ran away." The lighter haired man said, lowering his gun to his side now. "Don't try anything funny."

His dark haired partner turned on his heel, resting his gun against one shoulder. Their demeanors had both changed and they seemed a bit calmer. Of course the Spades weren't going to be letting their guard down any time soon though.

"Who are they?" The albino girl asked her friend once they had turned around.

She could only mutter between gritted teeth in a low voice. There was a warning laced in her tone. "Barracuda fishmen... They're like guards. Behave."

For a while, no one said anything. They simply followed the two men inside. Ace went behind the two girls and motioned for the rest of their crew to join them. Hesitantly, the others also walked behind him. They had all just witnessed the entire thing go down. No one seemed to know what to make of it. They were definitely foreigners here.

Mitch had taken to carrying Haji automatically, following Ace's lead of not wanting to show any weakness in front of these... People?

They went down a wooden dock that had been painted yellow and through an enormous set of blue double doors. There was a flashing neon sign out front lit up in vibrant, vivid yellow with the words 'SEACRETS' in cursive scrawl. It looked as if it were designed to draw attention to the place from far away underwater. The Spades walked into what appeared to be a lobby of some kind. It was freezing. The two barracuda fishmen stood on either side of the front desk, as if awaiting further orders.

"Hi, I'm Zephyr!" An enthusiastic voice greeted them. Neon orange eyes peeked out from behind a curtain of long braids that were arranged in all sorts of shades of gray, white, black, and a similar orange hue that matched her eyes. Large golden rings hung from the end of each braid. The girl smiled broadly at their crew, not singling anyone out, until her gaze landed on Artemis. "Oh, Artemis-chan! It's so nice to see you again, girl! Where've you been?"

The girl stepped around from the counter to give her a squeezing hug, showing off what turned out to be quite a revealing outfit. It consisted of a solid black velvet corset top that openly laced loosely up the front coupled with a matching black skirt, which was actually little more than two small scraps of cloth that laced up the sides. There was a lot of pretty almond skin showing in between too. Her lips were painted stark black as well. Shiori marveled at her strange hair and eye coloration... Aside from that, she appeared to be otherwise human.

"Wouldn't you like to know... Hehehe..." The shark girl chuckled, intent on not revealing anything. She seemed more at ease around this girl than the fishmen however. "Where's the boss? I need to talk to his fugly ass."

Ignoring her, she turned to face the Spades, who were busy taking in the unusual decor. "Have any of you been here before? You look pretty lost."

"Ah, no..." Ace spoke for all of them.

"I see. Well I'll start by saying welcome to Seacrets! We're actually a secret haven for, shall we say, underwater affairs." This was followed by a wink of her bright eyes. "We're a popular gentleman's club where fishmen and humans alike love to hang out!"

For a minute, everyone just stared. This girl's enthusiasm was off the charts. She was very energetic.

"Umm... Together?" Mitch, who had been silent up until now, pulled a sour face at this remark.

"Mhm, of course!" She nodded, clasping her hands together in front of herself dreamily. The action called attention to her fingerless gloves. And other more fun assets as well. "Well, sometimes. This is one of very few places on the Grand Line where it's legal. We have... special licensing. We also have our own restaurant if you're hungry. Anyway..." With a saucy hair flip, her demeanor seemed to change somehow. "You look like you'd be lots of fun to play with. You and short stuff there too." When she gestured to Haji of all people, half the crew nearly choked.

"Wha- I- uhh... Wait, ah-" He sputtered, unsure of what to say to that.

Ace elbowed him to get his first mate to be quiet. "May we come in?" He gave a slight respectful bow. Sometimes it paid to have good manners.

"Sorry, but I'm afraid no one is allowed to enter Seacrets without a wristband. You'll have to purchase one for each member of your crew." Her voice was saccharine sweet for someone who had just broken some bad news. "That won't be a problem, will it?" Carefully, she eyed the men on either side of her as she stood between them, leaning back on her desk casually.

"Well the thing is-" He began to explain, only to be cut off by Artemis this time.

"Like I said, they're with me. Don't worry your pretty little face about it, bitch. I've got plenty of extra wristbands for them. They're my VIP clients."

"Awww..." Zephyr looked disappointed for a brief moment, but then she quickly recovered, though her pout still lingered. "All of them? Unfortunately, I still can't let you in without some kind of collateral. You're currently classed as a runaway."

"As you can see, I am not. I was kidnapped and they were kind enough to give me a ride back. They can wait here," Artemis insisted. "I'll just go to my room and grab the wristbands before I straighten all of this out. Be right back!"

She rushed past all of them, heading through a metallic churnstyle and into a dark room where lights flashed vividly from behind a beaded curtain. There was nothing they could do to stop her... By the time anyone could react, she was already gone.

"Hey, get back here! You don't have clearance!" One of the barracuda fishmen darted off after her.

Shiori made to chase after them, but then thought better of it when a machine gun was quickly pointed right in her face without hesitation.

"Don't even try it." The remaining fishman said. He hadn't moved at all to chase her, probably wanting to keep an eye on them.

"Ahaha... I wouldn't d-dream of it..." She inched back behind Ace.


While they waited for Artemis to return, everyone in their group seemed really nervous. Zephyr's fingerless gloves tapped on the counter while she waited. The toe of one of her boots was tapping on the floor too, keeping rhythm with her black painted fingernails. She appeared to be completely at ease, despite the fact that one of the armed guards was now chasing her friend through the club.

"I feel like I should probably warn you guys before you go in..." She finally spoke, breaking the long silence. "Things are very cut-throat here. There is vicious competition between our girls. And we have some guys working here too, if that's more your taste, don't worry." She looked right at Mitch as she said this.

"HEY!" He was just about to cuss her out when Artemis appeared.

The shark girl leaned over the shiny metal churnstyle, waving around a handful of neon pink wristbands, although she kept one for herself. Ace took them and distributed them among his crew. Shiori did the same as the others, removing the little sticker from the back and fastening the two tabs together once she'd wrapped it around her wrist.

"Wait a minute!" Zephyr declared suddenly. "How did you get so many wristbands in the first place?"

Artemis lowered her head, seeming to stare at the floor. "No one ever came to visit me while I was working here. So over the years, I've accumulated more than most of the girls. I don't just go around giving them out for free."

"While you were working here?" An eyebrow was raised at her choice of wording.

"I mean since I've been working here, you know! Figure of speech." She did her best to wave off anymore questions. "Anyway, since we're good to go now, we'd better get going."

She began to herd all of them toward the churnstyle, already pushing Hiretu and Geirin through it. The remaining barracuda fishman did nothing to stop them. Apparently the VIP wristbands were enough to quell his trigger-happy tendencies.

They also noticed that Artemis had managed to change clothes during the short time she'd been gone, and was now sporting a racy light purple two-piece bikini made from faux fur that was lined with silver strands here and there. She had little matching pompoms of fluff above her wrists too. It was very eye-catching and went well with her complexion. It really brought out the color in her eyes, since it matched the lavender irises almost perfectly.

Zephyr stopped them again. "Just one second! There's another issue here. Who is this little girl? There are no children allowed inside. We have a strict eighteen plus policy!"

"Are you saying I look like a child?!" Lena snarked, without missing a beat. "How dare you! I will have you know, I am a Grand Duchess and I am nineteen!"

This caused Zephyr to give her a suspicious look. She lowered herself down to the blonde girl's level, looking her right in the eye. They had a stare-down for several seconds, until she stood up and transferred the same look to Ace.

"...That true?"

"Yes, it's true. She's from an island where it's normal for everyone to be tiny. They're all pygmies. The short guy here is from the same place." He gestured to Haji, who nodded for confirmation, playing along with the clever ruse. "And they're both sensitive about it, so please knock it off."

"Well they do have pretty strange attire... Alright, I'll buy it, but just so you know, it's against the rules to bring children in here. I have to say that to cover my butt. Whatever. Enjoy your time at Seacrets!"

"Alright, bye bitch." The shark girl flipped her off.

Lena made sure to mutter on her way out. "The audacity to question me..."

"I'll come find you later!" Zephyr called to Artemis as she disappeared into the crowd.

As they entered, everyone was immediately on their guard.

Before they could get too far, Shiori halted in her footsteps to look around. This place was insane... The bright colors everywhere were so eye-catching that she didn't even know where to look first. But if their goal was to attract fishmen, they definitely knew what they were doing. It was no secret that fish loved bright colors and were drawn to them, but this still felt like overkill somehow.

And the dancers were all scantily-clad, as expected. Some wore nothing at all. They had enormous water-filled tanks with beautiful mermaids swimming around, and the occasional fishwoman who felt like showing off. Of course mermaids counted as fishwomen too, but they were somehow different. Up front there was a dance stage with three shiny metal poles lined up along it, which reached all the way from the ceiling to the dance floor. There were also two smaller platforms out on the floor with the same poles extending vertically. Five in total, and all of them were occupied...

Rex covered Lena's eyes and guided her along. Although she was acting unphased by it, there were some things that a child just shouldn't see. She tried to slap his hands away so she could see where she was going.

Numerous eyes ogled the various female forms available to them as they danced provocatively, trying their best to get clients for private dances, or at the very least get some Beri thrown at them. There was such variety in this place, the dancers appeared to come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and species. Each of them had different costumes too. Nothing was off-limits. It was chaos. Some were up on the poles, while others were down on the floor with the patrons. Hips gyrated and breasts swayed lewdly to the pulsing music. Ace wasn't really looking around much, he seemed to be focused on following Artemis wherever she was going. The commotion from the crowd was too loud for anyone to really converse while they walked. There's no way they'd be able to hear each other.

They veered off to the left from the main room and went through another multicolored beaded curtain that led into a booth. There was a large round table with a padded seat, much like you would find in an upscale restaurant. The biggest and most noticeable difference was, there was also a long silver pole extending upward from the center of the wooden table. No one had to guess why that was there, having just seen numerous women dancing up and down similar poles in the main room.

"In here," Artemis gestured for them to sit down. They were on her turf now. "We need to discuss our plans away from everyone. And I do have a plan... We'll most likely have to spend a few nights here. The VIP wristbands should guarantee you free lodging for the duration of your stay, but it won't cover more than a week, or two weeks max if we renew them. You already have the highest tier bands. You're fucking welcome."

She hoisted herself up onto the table, using the pole as leverage. That got their attention. Well, for the most part.

"We couldn't have discussed all of this back on board the Royal?" Ace asked, a tired expression on his face, like he was bored.

"I would have, but the boss doesn't like for any ships to be docked here longer than a few minutes without knowing who's on board. He would have come looking for us personally if we'd hesitated for too long. And that's something we definitely do not want." Her bare feet tiptoed across the tabletop with practiced ease as she gripped the pole.

"Whatever. Where is all this money you mentioned?" Haji usually wasn't one to pry, but he wanted to know why they were here if not for that.

After all, they had already been promised tons of gold and treasure on their last voyage and the plans had fallen through. He, along with the rest of the crew, wanted to know how this time would be any different. His question only voiced what the majority were thinking.

"First, we made a promise to this damned brat," She pointed to Lena, who was sitting on the outside end of the booth. "That we'd save her sister. My boss most likely has her, but I haven't heard anything. She isn't on the schedule as a dancer either, I know everyone here. In other words, if he does have her, then he's keeping it a secret."

"So the name of the club is ironic..." Shiori pointed out. She wished she had more to contribute to the conversation, but this mission wasn't about her, for once.

"Yep. And we need to make sure we don't blow our cover either." Artemis slid up to the pole, beginning to gyrate against it. "So I'll need to make it look like I'm entertaining you guys, in case anyone walks in or passes by. Sorry."

"We can't afford to take any chances. Do what you need to do." Ace agreed, although he held his chin in his palm, and was looking down at the table more than at her.

Geirin, Zetsui, Hiretu, Silas, and Hoko were all staring her down though, watching her flaunt her gorgeous body. It didn't matter that she was only half human, if that. If Artemis wanted to be their eye candy for the evening, they would gladly let her... Even if she was doing it in a sort of half-hearted way.

"Anyway, the money..." She arched her back, climbing nearly to the top of the silvery pole this time, before she dropped back down head first, her long pink hair sweeping across the tabletop. "Is in the hands of the clients out there. My job is to get as much from them as possible before we leave. And it wouldn't be bad if I had a hand either."

She was eyeing Shiori pointedly now, who was seated next to Ace, sandwiched in with the rest of the crew. The others all turned to stare at her.

"M-Me?!" She squeaked. "Be a stripper? No way! I d-don't even know how! I- I just can't do that!"

"Suit yourself. Screw this up if you want, but-"

"She won't be doing that. Forget it." Ace had excused her from such a task, knowing that it went completely against the timid girl's nature. "Moving on... What should the rest of us do? How can we save Lena's sister if we don't know where she is?"

"I'm very glad you asked," Artemis smirked, her sharp teeth gleaming in the low lighting. "Your job is to be Pirates. Go a little crazy and get rowdy, have a good fucking time while you're here... I'm sure you all know how to do that, don't you? Maybe hire some girls for a dance or two, get as drunk as you please, do whatever you can to avoid looking suspicious."

"That wouldn't normally be such an issue," Mitch spoke up. "But most of us are flat broke."

"Then you're in luck! You won't have to pay out of pocket. Your wristbands cover up to three dances each. And the girls will be happy to dance for you, because they still get paid their normal rate by the club for each lap dance they give you. It's covered by the house. But while they're performing for you, you'll need to interrogate them a little. Find out any information you can about... About, umm...? Help me out here?"

She floundered, realizing that she didn't really know enough about this to give out all of the proper information by herself.

"Mitsukai. That's my sister's name." Lena explained. "And you guys don't have to treat me like I'm a baby while we're here either. I want to find her too, but I know I need to stay out of the way. I might be able to find out more just by being quiet and listening in on people. That's our best shot at tracking her down."

"Some of the men here would really like you," The shark girl warned her, even while she continued to dance for everyone. "So be very careful. You can try to gather some intel for us too if you want, but your best bet is to be as unnoticed as possible. Your fake story might have fooled Zephyr but she's a ditz. It won't fool everyone."

The blonde girl nodded, knowing that she had to try to stay out of everyone else's way. If this was the plan, none of them wanted to screw it up. So far, the rest of the Spades looked pretty excited for this plan, since they would get to have a lot of fun while they were here. Ace was glad because he knew it would be a treat for his crew.

"Anything else we should know about this place?" He asked.

Artemis continued to address everyone. "As long as you have a wristband on, no one should question you too much. They also entitle you to unlimited free drinks. But if you do end up wanting more than just a dance, you'll have to pay for that out of pocket, if you catch my drift."

When she winked at Zetsui, his face went all red, and he could no longer look at her. Just what was this sea witch implying?!

"Before we do all this," Rex finally spoke up. "I want to know more about why you ran away. You don't just leave a place you work for unannounced. How do you even know they'll let you go straight back to work? This whole thing seems almost like a setup to me."

"Relax," She waved away his concerns, now pausing to stand beside the pole, holding onto it with one hand and wrapping her tail around it. Her warmup was completed and if anyone walked by, she could easily resume dancing again. "I thought I had more than I actually do, which is why I'm working here for at least a few days. The weekends are our busiest time and today is Friday, which is great news. Once we have enough money, I'll meet with my boss and formally resign as a dancer. Then we can leave."

"That doesn't really explain much..."

"Fine, I'll tell you guys what happened. I had done a bunch of stage dances that night and even some private dances, and one of the stupid bitches who work here fucking ripped me off. She stole most of it from my collection box where we're supposed to keep any tips we make until the end of our shift. The house gets a cut and we get the rest. It was empty at the end of the night, and I wasn't able to prove it was stolen, so the club had no choice but to penalize me, and the boss decided to keep all of my tips for a month."

"That's really unfair!" Shiori gasped.

"Tell me about it," Artemis chuckled, although it had a dark undertone to it. "That was why I left. I only got roped into working here so I could get enough money to make it back to Fishman Island and look for work elsewhere. After I was basically kidnapped by the Celestial Dragons, I couldn't afford to be too picky about where I worked. I have a bounty so I had to stay under their radar, which meant that a lot of other jobs were off-limits. But the boss doesn't exactly like letting any of us leave..."

"What do you mean by that?" Ace narrowed his eyes, suddenly meeting her gaze. He looked kind of pissed. "Is he forcing these girls to work for him or something?"

"I've probably said too much already. He could easily be listening, so we need to be careful. He doesn't even know I'm here yet, but I'm sure the bouncers will tell him soon. Make no more mentions of any of this, got it?"

"Yeah." There was a collective agreement murmured among all of them.

They were silent for a moment, while two giggling strippers walked past the door frame. Artemis resumed her dancing for a moment, even though it was lackluster. They were talking amongst themselves so they didn't notice anything that was going on in the room. Then the pair of them turned into a different booth. The coast was clear.

Rex sighed, holding his forehead as if he had a headache. "Is there any way we can help with the money situation so we can get out of here sooner? Not that I'm complaining about the girls or anything, but this place seems dangerous."

"You can try to pickpocket some money off of the dancers while you're playing around. They usually suspect each other before they get suspicious of patrons." Artemis paused, putting a hand to her chin in thought. "Although... If we can pin it on some of the other dancers, that would be even better. It'd really help if you guys could get rid of some of the competition for me. That would send more tips my way, see?"

"That makes sense. M-maybe I should help more, I mean while we're here..." Shiori seemed to be actually considering it. "I could probably-"

"No." Ace was very quick to negate any ideas she might have been getting. "It isn't safe. You never know what these guys could try to pull."

"He's right, you know... After thinking about it, that probably would be a bad idea. I'm used to it so I know how to be careful in a place like this. It probably would be best if you just... Pretend you're here to see the guys dance or something? Unless you swing the other way, haha..."

Shiori giggled, recalling that time with Nischela back on Alvida's ship. "Well, my first kiss was with a girl..." Ace's jaw dropped for a second at her confession. "I really don't swing that way, but I guess I should get a lap dance? I'm not even sure how to go about receiving one though..."

"Ohhh, you'll figure it out, trust me... Remember guys, no hands!" The shark girl laughed, and the rest of the crew joined in. "Anyway, we'll probably need you guys to create a diversion later on. But for now we'll need to meet like this once a day to make sure things are going according to plan and keep in contact with each other. That's pretty much it."

"So is every day at five o'clock good for everyone? It's close to six now." The Captain asked his crew. They all nodded. "Perfect. Should we meet in this same room each time?"

"Yes," Artemis grinned, hopping down onto the floor. "We'll call it our private dance time. Oh and don't break or damage any of the club's property or we'll have to pay for it. I think that about covers it."

"Perfect. Alright guys, you heard her! Let's move out."

Ace began to get up from the table, and the others took that as their cue. They began shuffling back out into the main room. As they were leaving, Shiori's heart began to sink.

'We all have to get lap dances?' Her thoughts were already running away with her. 'That means... That means Ace-kun is going to get a lap dance too!'

'Hehehehe...' A tiny laughter filled her head. She'd forgotten that little cat was with her this whole time, hidden away inside of her baggy sweater. 'Awfully worried about it, aren't ya?'

'Well yeah, I just... I don't know if I can stand to watch him with another girl like that.' She was clearly very nervous about it.

'Then don't.' There was a slight feline hiss.

'What?'

'Kick her ass. Ehehehe...'

'Baka! You know that's not a viable option here.'

Shiori resisted the urge to punch her 'self' in the stomach...


A/N: Thanks for reading! I did my best to give you guys a nice longer chapter here... I can see the next one running long too, maybe. There is lots of crazy stuff coming up and things will get more exciting soon. I hope everyone is still enjoying this story, even though I've neglected it for so long. xD

Also what do you think of Zephyr? I wish I had even a little of her energy lol... She was originally going to have rainbow colored hair and eyes, but I felt like that was silly, so I worked on her look a bit more to make her more unique.

Oh and I know there was a scene sort of like this when the Strawhats entered Wano recently... But I had this story planned way before that even happened, and somehow they used the same whirlpool idea as me. It makes me wish I had gotten this chapter posted sooner. I think they executed it a little differently though? That amused me. Somehow Oda and I are on the same wavelength? x'D

-Kaline