Legends say mermaids dominate the bottom of the ocean with the ability to control both tide and sea creatures. Though she's never come face-to-face with one before, countless tales and government articles take the existence of mermaids as fact.
You may never see one in your life, seafarers whisper under their breath, but they are as seductive and charming as the devil herself.
The mermaid screams until her eyes bug out. Slamming her forehead onto the deck of the Thousand Sunny, she sobs,
"Please don't eat me! I don't taste good!"
A pool of tears forms as a big, pink fishtail twists in the air frantically. Snot leaks out with the tears like water from a faucet. The ends of short, spiky green hair droop dramatically.
What seduction and charm, she wonders. Maybe this is a mutant fishman?
Before anyone can react, a giant worm rises from the sea, swoops down, and swallows the mermaid in one bite. When the worm's beady eyes move to Chopper, Luffy inflates a fist and punches the creature with full strength.
Upon being spit out, the screaming, flailing mermaid is sent flying towards her. Instead of doing the smart thing and moving out of the way, she holds her arms up for a catch. Big round eyes swollen with tears look up at her with adoration. She drops the mermaid immediately.
"Thank you for saving me!" The mermaid bows politely. "I'm always getting eaten. This is about the twentieth time!"
As if the situation wasn't absurd enough, a starfish bigger than her head crawls up the ship's railing; there's a hat—is that a rastacap?—resting on its topmost point.
"Let's see, as a way to thank you," the mermaid muses. "How about some takoyaki?"
"Takoyaki? I love takoyaki!" Luffy exclaims, eyes wide in excitement.
"That'll be 500 beli for one!" The mermaid chimes on reflex.
"This ain't a store!" The starfish yells at them from the railing.
She watches Luffy and the mermaid stare at each other in soulless agony. She sighs. There goes her naptime. Zoro, in freshly wrapped bandages that will no doubt be soon ripped off, bumps her shoulder in shared misery.
"Mermaids! I can't believe it! It's a real, absolutely cute mermaid!" Sanji shouts, twirling in place with a foolish look in his eye. "And you said your name is Camie? So cute!"
"Why are you so excited? We've already seen one." Usopp watches Sanji's antics with a dull expression.
"We have?" Luffy tilts his head.
"Kokoro!" Nami chimes in.
Sanji collapses to the ground at a reminder. She looks to Zoro for an explanation, but his eyes glaze over as if in trauma. She turns to Franky, who's been standing behind her quietly.
"Kokoro is Puffing Tom's conductor. You could say she runs the sea train," Franky says warmly.
She acknowledges him with a nod upon remembering the broken sea train at Water 7.
"Old lady Kokoro was a mermaid? But she walked around and stuff!" Luffy waves his arms.
"The tail of mermaids splits in two around the age of thirty, allowing them to walk on land. Which means our cute little mermaid here is quite young," Robin says.
"I'm just glad Brook is up on watch, so he can't scare her," Nami sighs. "I can already hear the screams."
Chopper shuffles between her and Zoro to get a better look at their new guest. She moves her sleeve out of the way, and Zoro nudges aside an antler with his knee.
"By the way, do you poop?" Luffy asks Camie.
"Oh, that. Well, I—" She begins cheerily.
"Shut the hell up!" Sanji roars, kicking Luffy away from their mermaid guest.
"Camie, Camie, what's wrong with this scene? While you're having fun, you're missing someone. It's me!" The forgotten starfish sings miserably.
"Oh, yeah. I was wondering about this thing. It's not talking seaweed, is it?" Luffy pokes the starfish.
"Oh, sorry! Let me introduce you. This is my pet, Pappag! He's my master!"
"Do starfish normally talk?" Usopp asks as Luffy squints at Pappag thoughtfully.
"Isn't it weirder that your pet is your master?" Nami wonders.
Despite being the topic of conversation, the starfish remains ignored; he dances on the railing in an attempt to attract their attention.
"Am I a man? No, I'm a fish. Am I a fish? I'm not a man but a fish! Do you see that I'm a star no matter which!"
She swears she hears the strum of a guitar accompanying Pappag's singing. She keeps her eyes squarely on Camie to safeguard her sanity.
"See the t-shirt I'm wearing? It's from the 'Criminal' fashion line. It's very popular in Fish-Man Island. Pappag's the designer, and I'm studying under him!" Camie gushes.
"Seriously, why can you talk?" Luffy finally addresses the starfish directly.
"Good question! Back when I was small, I used to think I was a human. By the time, I realized I wasn't, I was already speaking human language!" Pappag boasts proudly. "The world works in mysterious and frightening ways!"
So Pappag is a starfish that can only talk because he didn't know he couldn't?
"Achievement in ignorance, huh?" She mutters. "Sounds farfetched."
"I don't want to hear that from you," Zoro says flatly.
Neither Camie nor her pet starfish seem dangerous. She doesn't think it's a trick, and neither do the Straw Hats by the way they gradually let down their guard.
"Hey, would you happen to know how to get to Fish—" Nami tries to ask.
"Takoyaki first." Luffy interrupts her while holding up a hand.
"Are you still on that?" Usopp asks with disbelief.
"Oh, yes, I'll get you some takoyaki as thanks for saving me! We'll need to meet up with Hatchan first. Let me call him," Camie says.
The mermaid reaches behind her to the shell-shaped bag on her back and pulls out a small Den Den Mushi. Little stars paint its shell, and Camie taps the single button on top.
"Hello, Hatchan? This is Camie! I got a bit lost. Where are you?"
The snail's eyes suddenly take on a malicious glint, and a rough voice crackles out.
"Camie, is it? This isn't your precious Hachi, you know? Mohahahah!"
"What? Who are you? Why do you have Hatchan's Den Den Mushi?" Camie gasps.
"This is the famous, idiotic Macro Pirates!"
"Don't call yourself idiotic, stupid!" A voice shouts from the background.
"We beat up your precious Hachi! Mohahahah!"
"No way! Hatchan's too strong! There's no way you defeated him," Camie insists.
"Well, true. Normally we couldn't. But this time we have the Flying Fish Riders helping us!"
There's a dramatic pause before a weak voice comes from the Den Den Mushi.
"Hatchan, you were defeated?" Camie's face falls.
"I was…kind of caught off guard…don't come and find me! I'll…I'll take these guys out myself…I'll be fine…"
"Mohahahah! You know what, Camie? We're gonna sell this guy off for a lot! Octopus fishmen are a pretty rare catch!" The snail's expression gives the appearance of a twisted grin. "You wanna try and save him? We're at Sabaody Archipelago, in the waters five kilometers east of Grove 44."
The Den Den Mushi hangs up with a click. No one knows what to say. Camie stares at the now silent snail.
"What about the takoyaki?" Luffy asks seriously.
"It's not the time for that!" Franky smacks him.
"That voice just now," Nami mumbles through her hand, "it sounds so familiar, but maybe it's just me."
Zoro makes an answering grunt, but no one else looks concerned. Robin sends her a mysterious smile, and the only thing that holds Sanji's attention is the mermaid.
"I'm sorry about the takoyaki, but I must go rescue my friend." Camie puts the Den Den Mushi away and flops towards the railing with determination.
"Wait a minute, if it's a rescue you need," Nami smiles and points to Zoro, "these guys will be more than happy to help!"
"Hey!" Zoro scowls.
"In return, show us the way to Fish-Man Island, okay?" Nami winks.
"Yes!" Camie smiles.
All the books she read as a child said mermaids had special powers but never explained in detail. When Camie leans over the railing to ask for directions from the nearby fish, she can't help but watch the process intensely.
(What else can mermaids do? What makes them different from fishmen? What happens if they eat a Devil Fruit? She wants to know.)
The fish form an arrow to point the way, and the Straw Hats move to follow it.
Nami takes the wheel while Usopp heads to the crow's nest to fill Brook in. Chopper scrambles towards the sick bay, and Sanji works quickly to make them something light to eat. Franky heads below to make sure the Thousand Sunny is in fighting shape.
For a brief moment, she imagines flopping onto the bed and leaving it to the Straw Hat Pirates. At no point did she agree to undertake a rescue mission.
She glances at Zoro, who starts stretching in a way that would have Chopper screaming.
Who is she kidding? There's no doubt she's going to get caught up in the madness. She settles down to clean Tsubasa de Tobu. She should take this time to clear her mind and focus.
"Are you guys sure of your strength?" Pappag crosses two of his points, giving off the impression of arms. "I have to warn you, it's not just the Macro Pirates. There's a whole bunch of gangs just like them all over the place."
The starfish gives them all a solemn look from the railing.
"Sabaody Archipelago is home to slave trading. It's big business here, and since mermaids go for a high price, these guys have been after Camie for a while now."
Her grip on her katana tightens at the words "slave trading." Zoro pauses in his movements, and Luffy's face morphs into a grim expression.
"Of course, Hatchan would normally have no problems blowing away those Macro guys, but then they brought in the Flying Fish Riders!" Pappag grits his bizarre-looking teeth. "They're a new group of kidnappers that have been making waves recently. Anyone set in their sights is considered goners!"
Growing up as a human in East Blue and under the protection of her father, she's never had the threat of slavery hanging over her head. That doesn't mean it didn't exist, or that she won't face such a thing in the future.
Because that's how it works in this world. Pirates do the dirty work of kidnapping others, and Marines safeguard the process of enslavement. All on behalf of the Nobles, who think the ones beneath them are toys to be played with until broken.
In the reflection of her blade is the distortion of an eye. They are all guilty, she thinks. Every one of them.
"Their boss is called Duval. He wears an iron mask, and nobody knows what his face looks like," Pappag says. "He's searching for someone though. He combs through every ship to find them."
She runs a finger over Tsubasa de Tobu and imagines the sword purring under her touch. It should cut through iron just fine, she thinks.
Brook covers the ship in cheerful, adventuring music as they sail onwards. The meeting spot for the Macro Pirates is close to the famous Sabaody Archipelago that lies before the Red Line. She hopes Camie won't want to stop there before Fish-Man Island.
While known as a rest stop for those entering Mary Geoise, the World Nobles' city, Sabaody Archipelago is nothing but a mess, and she's not talking about the infrastructure.
(Do Nobles bleed?)
"It's the Flying Fish Riders!" Pappag yells.
Jumping up to the top deck, her hand moves to Tsubasa de Tobu's hilt. She scans the horizon and sees nothing. Out of the corner of her eye, she spies Zoro moving to the opposite side of the ship.
"Where?" Luffy's head swivels around.
"Look up!" Camie tells them.
She moves her eyes towards the clouds. There are three small dots rapidly growing in size. Those dots soon turn out to be…giant fish soaring through the air. She's not even surprised.
"They have five minutes of airtime before they have to go back down!" Pappag warns before jumping down into Camie's arms.
As the fish get closer, she can see that they have been outfitted with a harness that resembles a motorcycle. Somehow these people have attached handlebars, gas pedals, and leather seats onto flying fish the size of small cars.
The leather clad riders on the fish holler at them before divebombing the ship. She underestimates their speed; one of the fish's fins graze her ear before she can even unsheathe her sword.
Watching the tailfin zoom past her, she is struck by a sudden thought. She wants one of those fish. Badly.
The orange one looks nice. If she can get the rider off, maybe—
Too focused on a specific flying fish, she barely notices the one coming up behind her. She jumps to avoid the long fin aiming to take out her legs, but the harness' handlebar catches her sleeve.
Upon being yanked into the air, she grabs onto the closest thing to her on reflex—the vest of the person driving the fish.
"Let go!" The wannabe-biker screams at her.
The fish careens dangerously towards the side she's on, and she accidentally pulls on the vest in response. The man is thrown off with a scream. She's left scrambling to latch onto the handlebar with both hands, and the fish beings rolling towards the sea.
Her boot accidentally catches a gill, and the fish stops rolling long enough for her to slide into the seat.
Though he had never driven a motorcycle, he worked with a patchwork vehicle made from spare bike parts. She lets those memories guide her.
Grabbing the handlebars, she holds down the brakes, leans back, and shifts to the right. The fish halts, hovering above the ocean long enough for her to get her bearings.
She's pretty high above the ocean. If she had her wings, she could glide back to the ship from here, but that's not happening. She's too far away to depend on Zoro for a rescue, and the other bikers will soon take notice of her.
The rider she just shoved off was not a fishman, and if the fish needs to dive back down every five minutes, then there must be some way to breathe oxygen.
Taking a chance, she lets go of one of the breaks; the fish begins slowly descending instead of dropping flat out. Ripping the white ribbon out of her hair, she wraps it around the handlebar and begins her search.
She fumbles around and finds a fishbowl—no wait, it has a tube in the back, a helmet then?—resting behind the seat. She thinks she can see where the bowl is supposed to tighten around the neck to seal the water out.
"It's ride or die," she tells the fish beneath her grimly, "and if I die, heaven's going to have sushi."
She plops the clear, bubble-like helmet over her head and tightens it until the feeling is almost unbearable. Untying the ribbon from the break, she grips both handlebars tightly before slowly pushing forward.
"Hey, what happened to Hodge?" She hears faintly.
She slams on the pedals. A wall of blue meets her eyes, and she's left breathless. For a moment, she thinks she's back in the past, being dragged down to the depths by a hook.
Tsubasa de Tobu slaps against her leg harshly.
A moment of frantic breathing lets her conclude that she's fine. Once she calms down, she pulls the fish out of its mad dash forward and slows it to a stop near the surface.
Air pumps into the helmet, and she tries not to think about where it comes from. Staring up at the distorted sunlight above her, she considers her options.
One: turn around and go back to the Thousand Sunny.
Two: leave and go find Fish-Man Island with her shiny new ride.
Three: fly in the direction that these guys came from so she can beat the stuffing out of their boss.
"What tough choices we must make in life," she sighs to the fish.
The coordinates the Macro Pirates gave leads to a floating pirate's base. Wooden walkways, towering watchtowers, and the many huts dotting it give off an intimidating appearance.
Of course, that all pales in comparison to the large number of giant flying fish dropping bombs every which way.
"Are you sure she'll show up?" Nami screams over the explosions.
"Positive," Zoro yells back over his shoulder.
Zoro maintains a defensive position in front of the Thousand Sunny as a six-armed octopus fishman fights beside him; there's a sword in each hand. Luffy leaps from one flying fish to the other overhead while Usopp fires a cannon from the ship.
One of the huts bursts open dramatically. A man in a metal mask sits atop a giant cow-like creature with its own motorcycle harness. Duval, boss of the Flying Fish Riders, dashes towards the Thousand Sunny with madness in his eyes.
" 'Black Leg' Sanji!" He screams, waving a gun full of harpoons. "You are the reason I'm like this! It's because of you!"
Before Duval can say anything else, a giant flying fish slams into him, knocking him off his mount. An unfortunate rider above is sent towards the ocean as a chain, clipped to his harness without his knowledge, is used as a safety line.
Black kimono sleeves flutter dramatically as she lets go of the chain to fall the rest of the way. She looms over the fallen Duval who scrambles for a weapon.
"I'm tired. I'm wet. I just destroyed my ride because I left all my money on their ship." She pulls out Tsubasa de Tobu with a snarl. "Say goodbye."
Duval manages to get his hands on a smaller harpoon gun; he brings it up and aims it at her head. She slices the gun in half, and the tip of her katana cuts into Duval's iron mask at the same time.
Out of politeness, she waits for the mask to fall away before continuing the beheading. She aborts the movement once her brain finally registers what she's looking at.
"What the hell?" She blinks. She blinks again, but the image doesn't change.
"It's all dat Sanji's fault!" Duval wails in a thick accent. "I ain' even a pirate! Do you know hard it's been? Everyone keeps mistakin' me for him! I can't go anywhere 'cause of him! I had to run here to escape da people tryin' to kill me! Dere ain' no peace! My life is ruined!"
Unlike the rest of the Straw Hats, who have clear photographs, Sanji's bounty poster is a poorly drawn sketch that squashes his face into a mockery. Somehow, against all odds, Duval's face is the exact image of that bounty poster.
She never imagined such an ugly face actually existed.
"I'm done here," she decides.
Sheathing Tsubasa de Tobu, she turns around and heads to the ship.
"Yeah, poor bastard," Zoro agrees, following after her.
The author isn't dead, just suffering from weird and whacky happenings that leaves one unable to write. Unless the cops come for me, I should be back to writing.
The story now has a podfic version on Ao3!...which has been on pause because the narrator has been waiting on me to help her. Oops.
Also! Some amazing fanart by tjanie! Link is in the profile and on the Ao3 version of this chapter!