My first time really sailing on the ocean was amazing.

I remember being afraid of the open waters before, almost getting pulled out by the tide as a kid, but I didn't feel that fear now. Surrounded by the blue waters was fairly relaxing, especially since it was calm out.

It wasn't like riding the wind, but it was a close second.

I tied down the wheel to keep the junk from drifting as I made my way into the cabin. It wasn't much, basically a small one room house. It did have a table and chair to the side, some hammocks to hang up, and a fire pit in the middle. It was set on a stone plate, but I still question that one. There was also a door that led into the junk's storage hold, where I had stashed what was left of my loot and the Dragon's Eye, and to the head.

Drawing the map out of my bag, I laid it on the table to see where we were headed. As Henry landed on top of it, I traced a line west with my finger, landing on an island that wasn't too far from Dawn Island.

"Ode Island, huh? Never heard of it before, or this Oykot Kingdom there either."

It just dawned on me that I was sailing into uncharted territory here; outside of the islands Luffy visited I knew nothing about the East Blue. In fact, there were several more pieces of land dotting the ocean here and there.

"Well, too late for regrets I suppose. Hope I can find a ship for the Grand Line there. Ready, Henry?"

"Caw."

It was some time later that the island came into view, no small thanks to Henry flying ahead as a lookout. An hour further we found a small harbor village where we could dock. It took a little bit of time and some help but with the junk secured and everything stashed away, I ventured off to the local tavern.

Inside there were several dock workers and fishermen relaxing. I figured that since they (hopefully) work nearby then I could ask one of them where I could get a ship. So I approached the closest one, seated at a table of three, and got his attention.

"Excuse me, sir. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

The worker, a burly man with a red beard, turned to me. "Huh? Oh sure, I don't mind! Whatcha need?"

"I'm looking for a place to get a ship, and I was wondering if you or your friends knew where I could find one."

"A ship, huh? Well, the only ships we have here are trading ships and fishing boats, and I dunno if that's what you're looking for. You're better off going to Cozia or Loguetown for one."

One of the other workers spoke up. "I bet you could get one of them inventors from Clockwork Island to make you one if you're lucky enough!"

I thought about it. Loguetown would be a good choice and I never heard of Cozia, though I did see it on the map. Clear on the other side of the East Blue. Clockwork Island sounded promising, and it might be a better idea to have a ship built specifically for the Grand Line. The problem was that it wasn't anywhere on the map I had.

"You wouldn't happen to know where Clockwork Island is, would you?"

All three men shook their heads, the third one saying, "Nah, sorry. We only heard about it 'cause the king is a huge fan of their work." I could see the exact moment a light bulb lit up in his head. "Say, I bet you could try asking the king if he could help you!"

I stared at the man for a second. "The king? You want me to ask the king?" Given my knowledge of some of the kings of One Piece that might not be a good idea.

"Yeah! Well, we call him king but he's really only a minor noble. He was just the only one left after the others fled years ago." Okay, that sounds like an interesting tale. "He's a really open guy, always letting the people go up to see him for things. There's no way he wouldn't help you out!"

It's not what I expected, but I guess it's better than nothing. "I see. Thanks for the advice."

The men all nodded. "No problem, buddy!" Don't call me buddy. "You'll need to follow the road out to reach Oykot to speak with the king. It's a straight line, so you can't miss it."

Leaving the tavern, I followed the road to the edge of the village, waving the guards goodbye. The island was mostly a flat plain with a few hills here and there, and in the distance I could easily see a city. Wanting so see it up close, I decided to fly down the road.

It looked like it should have taken only a few minutes to reach the city, but there was an obstacle in the way.

"Hey! Hey hey HEY STOP!"

I planted my feet into the road and slid down kicking up a long cloud of dirt and dust, stopping just short of running into some fool standing in the middle of the road.

"Holy hell, mate! I wasn't sure if you'd stop in time you were going so fast! It was like you were flying!"

He was a bald middle aged man wearing brown pants and a dirty white shirt under a fur-lined vest. An axe hung from his belt, which rang some alarms in my head.

"Uh huh. What were you doing in the middle of the damn road?"

"Me? Well actually I was looking to make me some money."

He drew his axe and held its head towards me. "There's a toll for this here road, and it's everything you got! So we can do this the easy way or the hard way."

I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "Alright, if you say so." I reached into my cloak and brought out a bag of Beris I had prepared for the day while drawing back my leg.

The thug looked surprised, before walking up to me. "Ha! I'm glad you chose the easy way, mate!"

As he reached for the bag I grinned. "Yeah-"

CRONCH

"Uooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhh!"

"-the easy way."

I pulled my foot back as the thug collapsed to the ground in agony, wind trailing off of me. Seeing as he wasn't likely to get up anytime soon, I continued on my way.

A stone wall surrounded it like I had seen with Goa, but it was considerably shorter, barely reaching twenty feet. Along the wall were four entrances, each one an open gate with the doors wide open for people to come and go as they please. Inside the first thing I saw was a two tiered plaza, a variety of shops and businesses enclosing it. From the lower tier two brick streets lead out, one to the left and one to the right, both leading further into the city. The second tier had one road, headed straight to the center, where a large mansion with a clock tower on top sat. A giant ringed gear protruding from the tower rotated as the clock ticked away, for possibly no other reason than to look cool.

Oykot might not have seemed as big as Goa, but it felt far more pleasant.

"I think the king may be in that mansion there. What do you say, Henry?"

"Caw."

As I strode through the plaza, one thing that I noticed right away was that everything looked new. The buildings, the street, even that clock tower; it all looked to have been built no more than a decade ago.

The mansion was a tall stone and brick building, looking like it came straight out of Downton Abbey. There was a single guard standing by a fancy double door. As I approached he saw me and waved me over.

"You there! Are you here for the job as well?"

"Eh? What are you talking about? I didn't hear anything about a job."

"Ah, pardon me then. You see, over the last couple of days a gang of bandits have started harassing the countryside. Travel on the roads got dangerous as people would get jumped by them. So the king sent out for some bounty hunters and mercenaries to take care of them, though only one showed up so far."

"Ah, I see. To be honest, I only came here to ask the king something."

"Of course you did," the guard sighed. He then opened the door for me. "His office is just up those stairs."

Thanking the guard I strolled right on in. Inside the foyer were two floors connected by a large staircase covered in red plush carpeting. From the entrance I could see several doors on the lower floor, and another double door past the stairs, like the guard had said. A maid gave me a quick bow before returning to her work, exiting through one of the doors.

And all over the walls were clocks. Clocks of various sizes, some interconnected by ticking gears, were hung on the walls filling the room with guiet, gentle ticking. That guy did say the king was a fan of clockwork stuff, but damn.

I ascended up the stairs, reaching the doors before giving it a loud knock.

"Oh, that must be a visitor! Just one minute!"

The sound of excited footsteps echoed out of the room before the doors opened. The one who opened it was a short, round man with dark hair neatly brushed back and a bushy moustache adorning his face. He wore a very stylish suit that reminded me of Steve Harvey. Unlike the sneering faces of the nobles I had seen in Goa, this man had a much kinder look.

"Well now, I don't seem to recognize you. Are you perhaps new to Oykot?" He asked as he led me into the office. It was an inviting room, with plush carpeting and a trio of little couches in the middle of the room. A lit fireplace decorated the wall to the left, while his desk sat in front of the far wall. And like in the hall, clocks and other clockwork gadgets littered the walls.

"Ah, yes sir, I am." I took a seat on one couch as the man sat across from me. It was very comfortable.

"I see! Well, tell me what you think of my kingdom, hmm?"

"It's… certainly a beautiful place, I can't deny that. Though everything seems, kinda new I guess. Like it was all built rather recently."

The king nodded, a somber expression settling on his face. "That would be correct. You see, a few years ago Oykot was overrun by pirates. It was a terribly devastating attack, causing so much chaos. When the marines arrived to drive them away, they took to destroying everything. Everyone that couldn't escape were… in the end there were only a few survivors, myself included."

I didn't say anything. The idea of having your home destroyed like that, it was hard to grasp. This man had looked so jolly just a minute ago, so it was hard to imagine him going through all that.

Then the king shook his head, a bright smile on his face. "Ah, I shouldn't let such memories bring me down! After all, I didn't lose everything; I still had people that depended on me since I was the last of the nobility of Oykot! I didn't want the home they and I fondly remembered to disappear into history, so I went out and found the finest carpenters, the grandest stonemasons, and the greatest inventors to rebuild this kingdom!" He suddenly jumped up and stood on his seat, pointing to the heavens. "Brick by brick, house by house, street by street; I had this city built from the ruins, and soon Oykot stood proudly on Ode Island once more, and those who escaped came back! And with them came new people who would live here as well!"

I was a bit surprised by how the man had turned his mood around so fast, but I couldn't deny that this man certainly had passion for his kingdom. The king seemed to realize what he had done and hopped back down.

"Oh ho ho ho~ I'm sorry about that, but I always get so excited telling that story!"

I couldn't help but laugh at that. "Nah, it's fine. Everyone should have that kind of passion for something they really loved."

"Ah, thank you." A second later the king flinched in surprise. "Oh goodness! Not once have I offered to introduce myself!" Jumping out of his seat he took a bow. "My name is Strauss Johann, king of Oykot and lover of gearpunk!"

I had to stifle a laugh in my throat, as I wasn't prepared for that last part. I stood up myself and bowed back. "I'm Crowe, and this fella here is Henry." Said bird popped out of my collar for a quick "Caw" before ducking back in. Straightening back up, I continued. "I came here hoping to ask you something, if you don't mind."

King Strauss returned to his seat, leaning forward. "Oh course not! I try to help everyone, no matter if they are a citizen of the kingdom or not! What is it you need?"

Sitting back down, I said, "You see, right now I'm looking for someone to build a ship for me, one that can handle the Grand Line's craziness."

"Oh, the Grand Line? Are you perhaps going to search for treasure?"

"Yeah, you could say that. Someone suggested Clockwork Island to me, and said you had contact with people there. So I was hoping you could perhaps ask one of them to build a ship for me."

Strauss hummed, a hand stroking his moustache. "I see. Yes, it is true that I have regular contact with the people of Clockwork Island, and they are indeed excellent craftsmen. However, they are all usually busy with orders from all over the East Blue, especially now after their recent trouble with Bear King was wrapped up." Never heard of him. "That said, I don't mind checking to see if one of them can help you, though it may take some time."

I was surprised to hear that he'd still help me even after he said how difficult it'd be. "Thank you, your Majesty. Is there anything I could do in return?"

"Well, I don't usually ask for anything in return, but at the moment there is a problem on the island that I could use all the help I can get. Have you perhaps heard about our recent bandit problem?"

I nodded. "Yeah, your guard outside told me about that. I think I even kicked one of them in the dick on my way here."

"Oh my! Well, other than some soldiers I can spare there's only been one volunteer so far. I'd hate to impose, but do you think you could help him out? I'll even give you a full reward alongside him."

Honestly, I'd probably would have thought about it, but the idea of an award sealed the deal. "No problem, Kingy! This dude and I will take care of this problem in no time!"

"Caw."

"Oh shut it!"

"Caw."

"I know it was a rash decision, but right now we don't know how long the king will take and we could use the extra cash. And it is a lot of extra cash."

Apparently King Strauss was offering one million Beris for taking care of said bandits. Even if we split it in half, that would still be a good start for the voyage.

The king told us that the other volunteer, a man by the name of Wilhelm, was staying at the inn over on the plaza. He said that it would be a good idea to speak with him and come up with a plan. Plus, it was getting late and we could just stay the night there.

Along the way I stopped and asked a few townspeople about the bandit problem. According to them it started about a week back, with a couple of thugs popping up the first day. Four days in and more of them showed up at a time between the city and the various villages on the island, though they haven't ventured into them yet. It seemed that these guys were content disrupting things outside at the moment.

Reaching the inn, I took a look inside and saw a few people milling around, eating and drinking at the end of the day. After a quick scan I spotted the man the king had described for me sitting a table in the back. He was a tall, slim man roughly around my age with brown shaggy hair. He wore a dark blue peacoat open at the top, revealing a white turtleneck sweater, and grey pants and a pair of tall black boots. On his waist was a belt with a gun holstered. His forearms bore a pair of small metal vambraces, and a pair of goggles rested on his forehead. Thin brown eyes, a sharp nose, and a bored scowl finished off what he looked like.

Passing through the evening rush, I took a seat at his table with a grin. Confusion replaced his scowl as he asked, "Uh, do I know you?"

Setting my staff against the wall, I replied, "The name's Crowe-" "Caw." "-and Henry, and just recently I was hired by the king to help get rid of this bandit problem." I took out a letter with the kingdom's flag on it; a golden gryphon on a field of blue.

That alone seemed to placate the man. "Oh yeah? Well it'll be good to have some help at least. I'm Esbat Wilhelm, a mercenary King Strauss hired like you. So what made you take this job?"

"A bunch of money."

"Ha! I guess that'd make anyone take it. Are you sure you're ready though? We don't know how many people we're dealing with here."

Was I ready? I admit, the most I had done so far had been fighting big ass animals on a mountain. But I figured that people would be easier to deal with, even if they ARE from One Piece. Plus, I was a Logia.

"I'm certain that I can handle this just fine, but we will have help from the king's men, right?"

"Hmm, I suppose that's true. If you're sure, then I suggest we get started tomorrow. We can find the captain of the guards and see what they have so far. That sound good to you?"

"Yeah, sounds like a plan to me!"

With that we ended up chatting through the evening before retiring for the night.

The Wind's Romance

The next day we found ourselves inside the soldiers' barracks, a tall stone building fashioned after a small fortress just down the street from the mansion. We stood in the captain's office as the man, a tall gruff looking fellow in a military uniform and a long beard folded up, placed a map of the island on his desk.

The map showed that the island was roughly oval in shape, with three small port towns to the west, east and south. A northern village was surrounded by hills and farmland, and was much closer to the city of Oykot in the center. The northernmost bit of the island seemed to be cliffs. Eleven circles had been drawn on the map; two on the northern road, four on the east, three on the west and four on the south.

"As you can see, most of the attacks have happened along the eastern and southern roads. Those attacks have had the most bandits in the group as well, averaging around eight or nine. We had believed that they might have made a base somewhere around the southeast here, but so far we haven't found anything out there."

I pointed along the southern road. "I met one of these guys along here yesterday, but I didn't see anyone else."

The captain nodded, marking the spot with another circle. Wilhelm then spoke out. "It's understandable if you haven't found anything yet, since this had only started recently. And it's not like you can do an island wide sweep. The bandits could simply move around your patrols along those hills."

The captain sighed. "And we can only have so many soldiers out looking. Our next plan was to bait them. Send out a group acting like travelers and try and lure these rapscallions out of hiding. The problem is that the decoys would need to appear unarmed, and we can only use a couple of men to do it or we risk them getting wise to the plan."

Hmm. And those few soldiers might get overwhelmed if there's a lot of these guys. But…

"What about me?"

As Wilhelm and the captain turned to me, I continued. "I don't have anything suspicious like a weapon, I'd already look like a traveler, and best of all-" I held up my hand, a small gale spinning into existence to the shock of the others. "- I just happen to have eaten a Devil Fruit!"

"Eaten a- I see. I suppose that idea would work then." The captain then turned to Wilhelm. "What do you think of this plan?"

My new acquaintance nodded, saying, "Sure, but I'm not staying out of the action." He patted down one of his guns for emphasis.

"Very well. Let's get started then, shall we?"

Soon we were riding in a wagon drawn by the world's most bored horse, with a disguised soldier named Davis driving us. The captain was taking some of his men to search another part of the island while another small group would trail behind us, in case we might need their help. We weren't expecting anyone to show up anytime soon, so we were prepared to wait.

Sitting in the wagon with Wilhelm, I figured it'd be a good idea to chat to pass time.

"So what made you take the job? Was it the money?"

He shrugged, saying, "A bit, but it was pure chance I was here to begin with. Like I said last night, I'm a mercenary. I take different jobs from time to time, and I was here in between them when I heard about the gig." He then turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "So what about you? I know you said the money, but the king only sent the offer out two days ago. What brought you to Oykot in the first place?"

"Well, I'm planning an expenditure to the Grand Line soon, so I came here for a ship. Someone suggested that I ask the king to contact someone from Clockwork Island to build it, so I did just that. When he said it would take a while I offered to do this for him."

That seemed to surprise him, and our driver as well. "The Grand Line? You'll be needing more than a ship, you need a crew as well."

"Right, and I plan to put one together while it gets built. I just need to find the right people for the job, who can do the things I can't, but I don't know where to look." Turning to Wilhelm, I asked, "Hey, you wanna join my crew after this is over?"

"Ha! Sure sure, maybe I'll think about it."

The driver turned around, leaving the horse to trot along. "What are you planning on doing, going to the Grand Line anyway? Most people don't just decide to go there on a whim, you know."

I felt a grin grow on my face. "I plan on becoming the Pirate King."

"The Pirate- THE PIRATE KING?!"

Davis nearly fell out of his seat, jumping in surprise as he did. Wilhelm's shock was far tamer in comparison, only a slight drop in his jaw.

The driver righted himself and continued to yell. "Are you insane?! Do you know how many people are out there trying to nab that title? How are you so sure that you can become the Pirate King?"

I thought about it, and answered honestly. "Truthfully? I'm not that sure." At their looks of confusion I elaborated. "It'll take a lot more than a big ship, big crew and Devil Fruit powers to become the King. It's going to require ambition, passion, trust, and absolute resolve. I have almost none of that. When I decided to do this, I realized that there are many people vying for the prize who have more than what it takes. Hell, I'm pretty sure that there's only one person who's DESTINED to be Pirate King. That's why I'll need to do my damndest, to crawl and fight my way to the top. And I'll need a crew that can do the things I can't, to help me push on when I inevitably falter." Once I decided to do this, then there is no calling it quits. This was going to be something I had to see through to the end.

The driver and Wilhelm sat staring as they listened. I couldn't tell what was on their minds, but I suppose that was fine.

In any case, it was soon after that when I felt something. Barely in the range of my wind senses, I felt someone slip around one of the smaller hills ahead of us. That one was soon joined by six more as the bandits swaggered their way onto the road, blocking us off. They were all dressed roughly the same as that one thug from the day before, plain clothes and fur lined vests. One stood out though; that same bald guy with an axe, walking with a slight limp. He saw me as well and a nasty grin appeared on his face.

"Well well, if it ain't the bastard from yesterday. You might have given me the slip before, but this time we'll be taking everything you got, including your life!"

The other thugs roared and brandished their weapons, ranging from cutlasses to clubs. It seemed that they wanted to avenge their buddy there. They were getting psyched up, so I felt I needed to take the wind out of their sails.

"I'm sorry, who are you?"

That stopped them real quick. They stopped roaring and just stared at me. The bald one in particular looked as though he was struck.

"Wha- what do you mean 'who are you'?! You kicked me in my dick yesterday! How'd you forget that?!"

I shrugged, grabbing Schwarzwelt and stepping off the wagon. "Again, sorry but I don't recognize you at all." I hid my hand under my cloak, readying a sneak attack.

Wilhelm followed me off, a hand hiding in his pocket. "Maybe he just wasn't that important to remember. I certainly don't remember every bug I encounter."

Even Davis added his two Beris in. "Ah, the fate of any background character on the stage of life. Shame, really."

"Caw."

SMAAAAAAASH!

"Aaaagggghhhh!" The bald thug reeled back, taking several verbal critical hits in a row! Standing on shaking legs, he growled out, "Background character? Not important?! Now listen here-"

"Wait, sir, don't blow our cover!" One of the other thugs tried to calm the raging shorty down.

It didn't work. "- I am Theodore Brown, combat officer of the Grizzly Pirates, feared across the whole sea! You better beg for forgiveness, or you'll all be dead!"

"Never heard of you."

"Yeah, neither have I."

"Um, sorry, but I haven't either."

"Caw."

SMAAAAAAAAAASH!

"Aaaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh!" This time the thug, Theodore, nearly flew back from the force of those words on his soul.

"THAT'S IT! MEN, GET THEM! KILL THEM AND THEIR BIRD! AND THE HORSE AS WELL!" "Neigh." "KILL THEM-"

FLICK

"-Aaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuugh." And down he dropped, by the wind bullet I flicked at his crotch from under my cloak. In a squeaky voice he managed to say, "Get- get them!"

Wanting to avenge their fallen brother, the six pirates charged forward. In response I drew my arm back and threw it forward, launching a spiralling wind bullet at the small mob center mass.

"Green Gale!"

The speeding gust rammed into the pirate leading the charge, throwing him back into two others and knocking them down. The driver grabbed his short sword from the wagon and jumped off, charging at another one who avoided getting hit. One thug rushed at me with his cutlass raised, only for me to knock it to the side with my staff, albeit clumsily. The last standing thug ran past us toward Wilhelm, hoping to take him out.

BANG!

"Gyaaah!"

He dodged to the side just as the ground erupted in a friggin' fireball! I didn't get a good look at what happened next as I focused on the sword thug, and the recovering thugs behind him. One headed toward the driver as the other two joined my guy as backup, both holding clubs. In response, I drew Schwarzwelt my staff and flew toward the front most pirate.

I initiated with an overhead slash, swinging down at the man. He jumped to the side as his two buddies rushed forward, aiming their clubs at my head. I flew up and over, tossing my sword and staff into the air to fire off two Gales at their heads. One thug slammed into the dirt face first, the other took the attack in the shoulder and dropped his club. I then stuck out my hand and used the wind to grab the falling sword, and return it to me. Armed again I slashed out at the unarmed pirate, only for the sword one to parry it.

The block shook my arm badly and caused me to fumble with the blade, giving the man time to stab forward. I spun around him to avoid the blade, letting my cloak flair out and obscure his vision. My empty hand turned into blades of wind as I used the spin to add force to the swipe, raking him across the back.

"Verdant Wing!"

"Gyaauugghh!"

As the man fell I dashed to the last man as he tried to pick up his club, and launched a Green Gale point blank in his face. He flew back, skipping on the road before coming to a stop at Theodore's knees. With a moment of reprieve, I took a quick glance around to see how the others were doing.

Wilhelm had his opponent on the run shooting fireballs at the poor bastard, the occasional icicle and thunderbolt thrown in as well. The driver was on the defensive, though even with two guys fighting him he had the upper hand. His short sword flashed out like lightning as he continued to parry and counter their cutlasses, not giving up an inch of ground to them.

Theodore finally got to his feet, glaring at me in rage. "Why you little- JUST DIE!"

He charged at me, axe held high before he slammed it down. I held my sword up with both hands to block it. The blow was harsher than I expected, nearly forcing me to my knees, but turning my legs and arms into miniature maelstroms gave me a boost. The black blade dug its way into the axe head, ruining the weapon.

"Ah?! My- my axe!"

Tugging it out, I lashed out at him, forcing him back as he dodged. I then saw my staff laying behind him, so I took hold of it with the wind and yanked it toward myself. It caught the man across the back of his legs, causing him to trip backwards with a yelp. Staff in hand, I sheathed my blade, thankfully without much trouble, and held it up like a hammer. A large gale wrapped itself around the end and I swung down at the man.

CRUNCH!

A silent scream escaped Theodore's throat, unconscious after having his junk crushed a third time.

Honestly, I had been aiming higher.

Davis over there had managed to cut down his two opponents and Wilhelm had taken his own out, the man burnt and spasming.

The fight had probably only lasted a few minutes, but my heart was racing violently in my chest. I did my best to keep my face calm, but holy shit that was intense!

"Caw?"

"Huh? 'Why didn't I just let them phase through me?' Considering what's waiting for us later in the Grand Line I figured it'd be best to learn DODGING as early as possible. Damn Haki."

"Caw."

We then spent some time rounding up the fallen pirates and tied them up in the wagon. I turned to Wilhelm and Davis with a grin on my face. "That went well, don't you think?"

Wilhelm nodded. "We now have a name for these guys, but I'm not too familiar with these 'Grizzly Pirates'." He turned to Davis, asking, "Would the captain know anything about them?"

"Ah, he should. All bases and kingdoms keep an up to date list of active pirates."

"Alright then. We should bring these guys in and check with the captain when he returns."

With all three of us agreeing, we hopped in the wagon and began to head back. Taking the chance I took a look at Wilhelm as he sat reloading his gun with some odd pellets.

"So what was up with those fireballs? I don't think I've seen any gun do that out here."

He held up a blue pellet fitted in a shell casing for me to see. "It's the ammo I use. These things are filled with chemicals that react to the air as it hits something. I use three kinds; flame, ice and volt."

From his spot Davis asked, "But wouldn't that just make them blow up in the gun it fires?"

"Not at all, since Selena here is specially made." He held up the gun next. It resembled an old handgun, made of a dark metal with silver designs imprinted on a revolving chamber. The chamber was shaped differently from what I recalled, having a slimmer build. "The shape of the chamber ensures that the bullet is expelled completely without worry. It can fire regular bullets as well, but those are kinda boring."

"Huh. Neat."

"Pirates, huh? And here I was hoping that it was just a simple group of bandits."

The captain sagged into his seat, reaching into a drawer of his desk for a stack of papers.

"You see, for some time now the biggest contenders for 'East Blue's Worst' had been Don Krieg and his fleet, and that damn fish Arlong. Arlong pretty much controls the area around the Conami Islands, and Krieg and his ilk ran rampant everywhere else. Ironically, this kept some smaller crews from causing too much trouble, in fear of encroaching on his 'territory'.

"Well, ever since the man packed up and left for the Grand Line there have been reports of pirates springing up everywhere. These Grizzly Pirates are but one of these small time crews, only been around for a year or two."

He dropped the file on his desk, letting me open it up. The first sheet featured their Jolly Roger, a bear skull and bones, and their captain. 'Grizzly' Behr John, a broad man listed as standing seven foot even with a shaggy beard and mullet.

A new idea popped into my head. "If these guys are pirates, then they'd have a ship somewhere, right? No self-respecting crew would just leave one behind without reason."

Wilhelm thought about it before nodding. "That's a good point." Turning to the captain he asked, "Are there any spots on the islands where they could hide a ship?"

The captain nodded quickly. "Yes there is. Under the cliffs on the northern side there are plenty of coves, though only one of them would be big enough for a pirate ship." He stood up, steel and fire in his eyes. "We'll need confirmation, but if they are hiding up there then we can nip this in the bud before it becomes a real problem! You two helped us quite a bit already, so if you don't mind helping out now then we would be greatly thankful."

"Hey, we did this much already, so there's no point in backing out now!"

"I agree. It wouldn't be right to leave a job half finished."

The captain bowed his head in thanks. "Thank you both. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe it would be beneficial to interrogate some of the prisoners as well."

As we left the office, we made our way out to get prepared. When we left the building Wilhelm stopped, prompting me to stop as well.

"Hey Crowe, mind if I ask you something?"

Shrugging, I stayed silent as he continued. "You said earlier that you wanted to be the Pirate King. I was wondering why; why would you try to do something as foolish as that?"

Why? I took a deep breath before replying. "What I want is freedom above all. And to me, the Pirate King would have the most freedom. I don't really care that much about the fame or fortune it would get me, I can just get that as I go along. But to get the freedom I'm looking for, freedom to go anywhere I want, do what I like; well there's only one way to get that. Though," I couldn't help but scratch my head in embarrassment, "I guess that's a pretty silly reason, ain't it?"

Wilhelm seemed to think about it. "Hmm, I suppose it might be. But it's not the worst reason to do anything, least of all becoming the Pirate King."

As we resumed walking I asked, "Why the sudden inquiry?"

"Caw?"

"I was just curious, is all."

An hour later and we set out to the northern cliffs. The captain was able to get the location of their hideout pretty quickly, and after some scouts sent back word via pigeon he had his soldiers mobilized as quickly as he could. Soon a large company of soldiers had amassed on the northern cape of Ode Island, traveling down a trail to the coves.

Facing the tall cliff riddled with caves, Wilhelm and I strode next to the captain as he led his men down to the largest one. With the wind I could feel a few men just inside; any farther and it was difficult discerning objects. I noticed one of the men head deeper into the cave, probably gone to get back up.

"Heads up, they know we're here."

"Ha, as if anyone wouldn't notice the loud-as-hell clamoring troops bearing down on their asses."

The captain harrumphed, raising his arm. "Then we'll simply begin early. Men, suppressing fire!"

A line of soldiers bearing rifles ran ahead of us, before dropping to their knees and taking aim. With a bark of 'FIRE!' they unleashed a small wall of flying metal at the mouth of the cave, forcing the men hiding back behind cover. With another order, the whole company surged forward. Wilhelm and I ran past the cove's guards, leaving them to some soldiers and making our way in.

The cavern was fairly large on the inside, the dry land alone having enough space for a supermarket. Sitting in the water was a broken down galleon, bearing the Jolly Roger of the Grizzly Pirates and a large bear figurehead. The ship looked to be in the process of being repaired, considering the planks covering a large gaping hole in the forecastle.

There were pirates scattered everywhere on the land and the boat barely prepared for us, as only those who had already been on the boat had pointed guns in our direction forcing the company to halt. Standing at the top of the gangplank was the leader himself; 'Grizzly' Behr John.

The large 'bear' of a man looked over at us, before saying in a deep baritone, "I guess it was too much to ask for us hiding a fair bit longer. I had hoped to have the Kodiak fixed up before you lot sniffed us out."

If he didn't have his men out robbing travellers on the road then I believe he could have gotten away with no one the wiser.

The captain of the soldier strode forth, printing the pirates to aim at him. "I am Captain Hojo of the Oykot Kingdom Royal Forces, and by order of King Strauss I am placing you and your men under arrest for robbery, trespassing on the Kingdom's soil, and for your other crimes committed on the ocean! Surrender now or we will take you in by force!"

That caused the pirates to burst out laughing, mocking the man. Behr in particular seemed highly amused.

"Under arrest, am I? Well we can't be having that now, can we? Men, put them out of their misery!"

"Green Gale!"

Before the pirates could fire upon the soldiers, a large swirling windstorm tore through their ranks knocking them over, giving the soldiers enough time to ready their own guns and begin firing. The pirates still standing were forced to retreat to safety before they became riddled with bullets, while the ones on the cove's shore charged at us with weapons raised. The soldiers charged in return, meeting them in combat as others rushed up the gangplank to take the fight to the ship.

Behr had retreated toward the aft of the ship, ascending to a higher deck. Confident that I could take him, I flew past all the fighting and landed in front of him before he could reach the cabin.

"Going somewhere, Grizzly Adams?"

Behr's growled, anger in his voice. "Damn, another Devil Fruit user. That bastard before was bad enough!" From his back he drew a large hammer shaped like a paw, three sharp blades jutting from the top. "Let's see how you handle the Bear Claw."

In return I drew the Schwarzwelt, holding it in one hand while the other held the staff.

"Is everything you have named after bear stuff?"

"Caw."

Wilhelm watched as his companion flew up to the ship, intent on facing the pirate captain. He decided to leave him to it as he took aim at one of Behr's crewmen on the ship who was aiming a rifle at a soldier.

"Feuerkugel."

An explosion drowned out the pirate's scream as he fell. Wilhelm had taken aim again and another pirate dropped. He made sure to keep an eye out for anyone in need of help, and take down the enemies.

As he took aim at a large round man targeting the captain of the guard, someone yelled out at him.

"Oh no you don't!"

He had to jump back as a tall man in a white fur jacket jumped out at him, bringing a large sword down where he stood. The man stood up and sneered down at Wilhelm.

"Ha, today's your lucky day! I'm Pohla, first mate of the Grizzlies, and I'll be the one taking you down, Der Freischütz!"

In lieu of replying with a witty comeback, Wilhelm simply intoned, "Bolzen Kugel" and fired his gun at the man's sword. A visible web of electricity exploded from impact and traveled down the length to his hand, causing him to yelp out and drop his weapon. The man glared with murder in his eyes, before calling for his men.

"Get him! Get over here and kill him already!"

Several pirates rushed out of the fights around him, weapons raised high. As the first one reached him he sidestepped and lashed out, pistol whipping the man across the face. Two more brought down their axes, missing him as he took aim at one while punching the other in the nose and fired a shot that exploded in the man's face.

The last few men tried to move in to attack, but some soldiers who noticed his fight took aim with their rifles, driving them back. Wilhelm took the chance to retreat back some as he reloaded Selena, spotting Pohla rushing in with his sword jabbing at him. He dodged the stab, punching the pirate as he passed in the side, and turned his pistol to the man's back.

"Eiskugel!"

"AUGH!"

Pohla fell as dry ice accumulated on his back, dropping his sword again to claw at the ice. Wilhelm kicked the sword away as he walked away, shooting the man again in the leg and freezing it to the ground.

"Dah-damn you! What kah-kind of coward shoots someone in the back?! Get back and f-fuh-fight like a man!"

"Nah, I'd rather not. A gunner like me is supposed to be fighting from a distance, after all." That he had let these pirates get so close to him was frustrating; he never did like fighting in closed spaces.

Wilhelm reached the far side of the cavern, turning back to the ship to search for the captain and Crowe. He found them up on the poop deck, Crowe and Behr trading blows with each other. Though, it seemed that Behr's attacks just passed through Crowe's body.

"Well that's interesting," he said as he took aim again.

"Damn you Devil Fruit users! If it weren't for you lot my life would be better!"

Behr roared as he swung his hammer down, missing as I flew past him. I took a swing at his knee with my staff, covered in a gale of blades, scoring shallow cuts along his leg. He ignored it as he tried to backhand me with the Bear Claw, though it passed through my head harmlessly. He was getting angrier each time I let it happen, which is the only reason I think why he kept doing it.

"First that Buggy freak, then Drago, now you! You pseudo-humans are making it hard for us regular pirates to stay in the game!"

I took a quick count in my head as I said, "Isn't there only like, five Devil Fruit users in the whole East Blue? Maybe your luck just sucks ass if you ran into most of us so quickly."

"RRRAAAAAAAGH!"

He swung harder, smashing his hammer into the railing of his ship, before swinging wildly and wrecking everything. It seemed like he was too far gone in his rage to think rationally, with him swinging wildly now. Another downward swing caved in part of the deck. I barely managed to parry a rather strong strike with my blade by shifting my arms into a whirlwind, but the force behind it launched me up into the air.

From my new position I saw that the kingdom's soldiers were on the offensive, driving back the pirates to one corner of the ship and the shore. I also saw Wilhelm in the back taking potshots at pirates overwhelming their opponents. It looked like this was coming to a close, so I needed to wrap up my fight with Behr.

Dropping to the ground, I called up to the deck where the man still stood. "Hey! Did you know I've only been a pirate for a day? How does it feel to be losing to a complete noob?!"

"RAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!"

The man made an impressive leap of the ship onto the shore, making a mad dash to smash my head in with his hammer. I took a stance with my left foot forward and lashed out with my blade again and again, launching numerous gales at the berserker.

"Green Blade!"

Each one hit its mark, cutting into the man with enough force to stop his charge and stagger him back. Halting the barrage I sheathed the blade and held the staff in a two handed grip, creating a large windstorm on the other end. With a grunt I smashed it into Behr's gut, striking again and again driving him further back, the storm growing larger with each hit.

Once it was the size of a Volkswagen I dug my foot in and took a batter's stance before swinging it dead center.

"Verdant Hammer!"

The windstorm smashed into his chest before detonating, throwing him back and through the side of the Kodiak. The fighting died down as the pirates stared at the hole their captain made, before the captain of the guard and his lieutenant jumped in after him. I didn't see what happened next but I heard it clearly.

"Behr John, you are under arrest!"

CLICK CLICK

At the sound of handcuffs being slapped on the man a majority of the pirates threw down their weapons, hands up in the air in surrender. I felt a few of them hightail it out of the cavern, with some soldiers giving chase. The remaining soldiers began cheering, celebrating their victory over the pirates.

I breathed out a quick sigh of relief before making my way to where Wilhelm had parked himself by the ship.

"Well that wasn't so bad."

The young man scoffed. "Easy for you to say, I kept getting crowded back there."

"I dunno, you were holding your own pretty well from my perspective."

"Bah." Despite the dismissal I could see him smirking.

The Wind's Romance

"Thank you, thank you, I cannot thank you both enough for what you have done!"

We stood before King Strauss and the captain, Hojo I think his name was, in the king's office. The round man was overjoyed to hear that the bandit problem was taken care of before it became a mess.

It was also getting kind of embarrassing. "Ah, well even if we hadn't helped, I'm sure that your men would have taken care of the Grizzly Pirates by themselves."

"Eventually yes," Hojo began. "But if Behr hadn't already left by the time we would have found him, then the fight against his crew would have resulted in more substantial casualties than the six we did have. As it stands, it was thanks to you and Sir Wilhelm here that Behr and his first mate were taken down quickly."

Ah, I didn't think of it like that. I had assumed that if I hadn't been here then things would have happened the same way.

"As such, I proudly present to you these medals!" King Strauss said as he handed each of us a small box. I opened it up to find a round golden medallion with the Oykot Flag imprinted on it. "With these everyone will recognize you two as heroes! At least for Oykot, that is!"

Wilhelm seemed surprised by the gift, but he took it all the same. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

I just stood there staring at the medal. The idea of being a hero hadn't crossed my mind at all in the last month, so this was kinda unexpected.

"Wouldn't this be too much for taking out a small time pirate crew? I mean I don't know about Wilhelm but I'm a pirate myself, with a bird." ("Caw.") "Shouldn't you be saving this for someone from the guard? Or an actual hero?"

"Ah, but you didn't just take down a crew! To me, you kept this city- no, this kingdom, safe from those men! I treasure this place too much to let men like the Grizzly Pirates run about robbing people, so I personally believe that you two deserve these medals of Oykot!"

Next to the kind king I saw Captain Hojo shrug, in a way saying 'What can you do'. Still it seemed that he was quite adamant about this, so I closed the box and tucked it into my cloak.

"I see. In that case, you have my deepest thanks for this honor, Your Majesty."

I heard Wilhelm snort beside me. "Aren't you laying it on a bit thick here, Crowe?"

"Ah, let me have my fun!"

"Caw."

Captain Hojo chose that moment to leave. "If you'll all excuse me, I have some paperwork I need to fill out."

Once he was out the door Wilhelm followed him out. "I have something to take care of, so I'll be headed out as well."

"Ah, wait Mister Es-"

Before the king could stop him, Wilhelm had already closed the door behind him.

"Oh dear. I'll have to have someone deliver his portion of the reward." Turning to me he asked, "What about you; would you like to have your half delivered as well?"

"Yeah, that'd be great." I didn't like the idea of hauling half a million Beris all the way to the junk myself. I told him where it was docked and its description so the guy making the delivery would be able to find it.

Once the king finished writing that down he clapped his hands. "Now onto other business! I was able to find you someone who'll be able to make you a ship! I got lucky since she's one of the few people on Clockwork Island to actually build ships! Oh ho ho ho~"

I was pretty surprised by that; I had thought that it'd take a bit longer to find someone.

"Wow, thanks a lot! This has been a great help, Your Majesty."

"Oh ho ho ho~ You're very welcome, dear boy! Now wait right there while I go get my snail!"

That statement hit me as King Strauss made his way out of the office.

"If this had been anything other than One Piece, that would have made no sense."

"Caw."

A minute or two later King Strauss came back, carrying none other than a transponder snail. I had to wonder if getting all that radio stuff fixed into their shell hurt, but I never recalled any snail in the series ever looking hurt before. This little specimen happened to have an eager smirk on its face, which looked oddly out of place for the snail.

"And here we are, the person I was talking about! Go on, Sir Crowe, go on and introduce yourself!"

Taking the receiver from the king, I felt unsure as I held it up while staring at the critter.

"Uh, howdy."

I tried not to flinch when the damn thing spoke out. "Howdy yourself! So you're the guy Mister Johann was saying needed a ship, huh?" The voice of a young woman came from the snail, which did NOT match at all.

"Ye-yeah. The name's Crowe-" "Caw." "-and Henry."

"Crowe and Henry, huh? I'm Phesta, shipwright extraordinaire! So what kind of a ship are you wanting; brig sloop, galleon, man-of-war?"

What kind of ship? Ah damn, hadn't thought of that yet.

"Right now all I can think of is one that can handle the Grand Line. I haven't thought that far yet."

"Ah, is that right?" The snail asked. "Well how about this then; what's your reason for sailing into the Grand Line? I can build you a ship based on what you plan on doing."

"Really? In that case, can you build a ship worthy of the future Pirate King?"

The snail, or rather Phesta, grunted. "Of course I can! I happen to be one of the best ship builders on Clockwork- wait, Pirate King?!"

Both the snail and King Strauss were surprised to hear that, though the king didn't say a word. "Are you serious?! You want to take one of my babies on a crazy quest like that?!"

I nodded to the snail. "Of course. What I need is a ship capable of braving the Grand Line and come out on top. Any other boat out here is likely unable to handle it, so I'll need one built just for that. From what I heard, you are probably one of the best bets I got in the East Blue. You yourself just said you were the best on Clockwork Island. Will you be able to build that ship for me?"

The snail looked on in stunned silence before it muttered, "Ye-yeah, alright! I'll build that ship for you! I'll build the greatest ship to ever sail out of the East Blue! It'll take a while though, so I hope you won't be needing it too soon."

I sighed as relief flooded through me, glad that I was able to convince her to build me a ship. "That's alright, gives me enough time to gather up a crew. How much will this be costing?"

"Eh, we'll go over that when you see the ship." That probably means a fuck ton. "Give me, uh… at least a week and a half before then, okay?"

A week and a half? "Are you sure that's gonna be enough time?" I mean, she wasn't Franky, so I wasn't sure how she'd be able to do it.

"No sweat! Now if you'll excuse me, I have some planning to do!"

"Hey wait-"

CLICK

"-don't I get a say in this?" I finished lamely as the snail suddenly grew bleary eyed and bored.

"Caw."

"Shut up."

"Oh ho ho ho~" The king couldn't help but laugh. "Phesta was always kind of pushy like that, I didn't get a say at all when she built my own personal boat!"

In that case, she better not make it something worthy of Edward Elric. I don't think I'd be able to stand a gothic boat covered with gargoyles.

"Caw."

My feet hit the dock as I landed in the harbor village. With the ship commissioned all I needed to do now was find myself an able bodied crew. After thanking the man in charge of the docking I made my way to the junk, ready to shove off.

Reaching the boat I took time to make sure that nothing was disturbed while I was gone. Everything was where I had left it, and in the cabin I found a large chest. Inside was a large sum of coins and bills; this must have been the reward money. It took a bit, but I was able to move it into the hold with some effort.

I took a seat at the desk to relax, peering over the map. Henry vacated my collar to settle on the bed, building himself a nest out of the blanket. Taking a pen, I marked off several islands that I knew Luffy would visit, if his story goes the way it should.

"-two, three… well there's still a whole ass sea to search for a crew, but now I have the same problem again; where to begin?"

"Caw."

"Maybe I can help."

Startled, I leaped out of my chair and looked out of the cabin. Standing on the dock with a carrying bag and a cheat of his own was Wilhelm, a smirk on his face as he waved at me.

"Yo. Your crew still have an opening?"

Once I found my voice I asked, "Are you okay with being labeled a pirate? Or having an inexperienced captain?"

"Yeah, I feel like I've been a mercenary for long enough, and you'll gain experience on the way. You may not be the best now, but that doesn't mean you can't become the best."

A grin worked its way onto my face. "Alright then, so why join my crew then? Is there something you're after?"

Wilhelm stepped onto the junk as he answered. "My grandfather set out years ago looking for some legend related to our family, and was never heard from again. I wanna set out and find out what happened. As for joining your crew, I figured that since you're heading for the grand line that makes you my best bet, and you did offer. And from what I've seen and heard, you're pretty much going to need a lot of help. Even if you are a Logia user."

After dropping his stuff in the cabin, he turned to me and said, "As I said before, if you need a crew then I know some people you can try asking."

I shrugged, motioning to the map. "That's a better plan than what I got. Who do you suggest first?"

Wilhelm took a look at it, eventually pointing to an island to the southwest of Ode Island. "Well, have you ever heard about the Sword Saint?"