A/N: As always, the version over on Questionable Questing is upgraded with picture links and wiki links built in. Enjoy.

Chapter 36

It's a bit of an unpopular opinion...but the thing is y'see...I don't actually like Ace all that much.

That's not to say I dislike the man, but...I've always found him brash and kind've a fool. He had a strong introduction in Alabasta as the 'older brother character'. He was calm, friendly, and most-importantly for a shonen series, badass. Remembering that scene where he takes out an entire fleet of 'Baroque Works' ships in a matter of seconds...wew, I wouldn't want the 'Fire Fist' on my bad side I'll tell you that.

Once we get past that intro though...we have a cocksure Logia traveling alone on a tiny boat out at sea -on the Grand Line mind you!- with no support chasing a vendetta against a man we all know he grossly underestimated.

I'll concede that perhaps that last bit of criticism may be unfair. Marshall D. Teach being the secret powerhouse that he was was a development few ever predicted.

A criticism that is less contestable would be this. Portgas D. Ace died like a moron. Everyone remembers the iconic frame. Ace taking the punch for Luffy, saving his younger brother's life. What so many seem to omit from their memories though is what happened directly before that.


That's all that it was. Akainu throwing around some playground level insults about Whitebeard. It was so basic that it hardly even deserved the label of proper 'taunting'.

Ace and Luffy were on the retreat. They were a step-and-a-half from 'free and clear' when Ace decided to snatch 'Defeat' from the jaws of 'Victory' by turning around. Over the equivalent of Akainu making some chicken noises at them.

All that sacrifice rendered pointless.

So as I said. Not the largest Ace fan around.

Now Whitebeard on the other hand... If I had to narrow it down to one pirate in this whole insane world whom I respect it'd be that old man. Family, Honor, Fidelity, those were the values he imprinted on the men under his flag. Where other pirates brought fire and chaos, Whitebeard's flag brought stability. Safety. Territories named under his protection could live in prosperity and fear for nothing as no one would dare risk earning the old man's ire.

The World Government may have labeled Edward Newgate with titles like 'pirate' and 'criminal' but I disagree. Maybe in his youth he was different, but these days...that man is no buccaneer. Though he sure as fuck is an Emperor.

Saving Ace isn't enough. The canon path can still recover from that. What I really need to do, what needs to happen, is I need to save 'The Strongest Man in the World'. Which means not participating in the Marineford War but preventing it.

If Ace never makes it to the executioner's stand then Whitebeard and his New World allies won't engage.

The window will be narrow. The stretch of ocean between Impel Down and Marine HQ is not long. My memory of canon says Vice-Admiral Onigumo will be handling the escort and I can't imagine the man runs anything but the tightest ship the Navy's ever seen.

Alarms will be sounded and backup en-route before Berwynne and I's boots even touch the deck.

One minute. That's just about all I can safely count on. One single minute to get in, secure the prisoner, and get out. Anything more than that...

The door creaks open and the old retiree steps out with a knapsack over his shoulder. "Alright then sonny, where we goin', and how we gettin' there?"

The animal hisses furiously as Berwynne's slap knocks it back toward the ground. Its neck bends low, its wings spread out, and the chain keeping its leg tied to the earth rattles angrily.

I'm feeling pretty...mixed right now.

On the one hand, it had slipped my mind that Berwynne had expressed distaste for Fruit-users the last time I was here. So, in a roundabout way, it's kind've a positive that the man doesn't want to travel via [Inventory]. Saves me the trouble on spinning some yarn about how my storage abilities work. At least for a little while. Trying to weave some bullshit about how I can pull things from nowhere would be a tricky prospect when considering I told the man I had an 'Observation Fruit' last we met.

Now I'm a good bullshitter...but I don't know if I'm that good. 'Perhaps a line about how I can observe 'folds in space' that I can then manipulate to store things inside of? Ugh. Maybe. We'll work on it.'

Regardless, it's moot for the moment anyhow. We can worry about it if he brings it up. In the meantime lets focus back in on the negative aspect of Berwynne's transportation…alternative.

The biggest, meanest, most foul-tempered lookin' Super Sparrow I've ever laid eyes on. Its plumage is darker than Kiwi's was. Plus it's packing about an extra 30% in height and bulk when compared to my old friend. The animal even has a solid black eye-patch on its scarred face to complete the edge look. 'How? Why! Where would a wild animal even get an eye-patch!'

Not only that, but the edge stereotype is further enhanced by a slim, golden-brown female resting near the brute's side. There's even a little pink bow nestled in the feathers of her head. Together they make an almost picturesque cliché of an anime delinquent and his well-kept lady.

Only they're birds.

'I swear, it's only One Piece that can pull shit like this…'

"I knew it'd be trouble when folks starting feeding those damn birds and drawing them into town." Berwynne starts to explain, still staring down the animal that's hissing at him. "You just had to go and make them popular didn't you kid?" The man huffs. "Though I suppose I take some of the blame on that, turning you onto the idea in the first place. Sure, a good half of them are harmless, and people can handle the older males if they get a little rowdy. This one though,"

The bird snaps forward, going straight for Berwynne's jugular only to get the back of his hand again. "...this one's a troublemaker. Almost sent three kids to the hospital. It wasn't even part of the local flock. He and his lady just flew in and started acting like they owned the place. So I put him in a time out over here until he decides to learn some manners."

The female coos at her beau, pushing gently at his neck to help him rise back up. The male does so and.. it's kind've unnerving to see that much raw antagonism in an animal's eye. Kiwi certainly never made an expression like that.

"Yeah, there it is," Berwynne speaks to the thing, now fully divorced from his 'Mr. B' persona and returning to the 'New World Pirate' he had buried away. "I can see it in you you little shit. Hate like that requires intelligence. You're not like those other birds in town are you?"

The bird snarled. I.. I don't think birds even have the biological capability to snarl. And yet..that bird just fucking snarled.

The New Worlder seemed pleased by it.

"One week." The old man stipulates, getting the animal to pause. "You and your lady there carry us for one week. Take us where we need to go, plus one stop along the way to pick someone up, and then you can just fly off to anywhere you choose. And you and I never see each other again. How's that sound? Deal? You vicious little shit?"

A new glint takes over the creature's face. One that's calculating, a bit wary, but more than either of those one of desire. Desire for freedom. To get these chains off its legs and fly free again. [Observe] tells me..not much. Nothing to say one way or the other if the animal will honor such an agreement...though I can deal with that if it comes. More importantly, I have a question to ask.

I arch an eye in the pirate's direction. "Who exactly is it you want to pick up?"

Rushing wind blows through my hair as I hold down the little arrow button in my [Status] screen. '..450..500..550..' We cant afford to be stingy on points anymore. After the events of Sabaody and with what I'm planning to do...we're on the world stage now. '..600..650..700..'

There's not much choice in the matter.

It's going to be playing with the big boys from here on out.

Points to spend (485) → (178)

VIT (443) → (750)
Max Health (8,860) → (15,000)

Congratulations! You have reached 500 in VIT!

You may upgrade an existing [Perk] or select a new one.

A stray air current wobbles my mount a little but the female Sparrow doesn't let it slow her down. A mild adjustment and we're right back behind Berwynne and her mate, turbulence-free.

Running my eyes over the blue [Game] screen, I have to say picking up the [Second Wind] [Perk] I passed over the first time is certainly tempting. And the brand brand new one titled [What Doesn't Kill You..] that synergizes with [Berserker's Blood] is nothing to sneeze at either. I think though, considering our current destination, upgrading the durability I already possess to a higher level offers the best chance of..you know...surviving..the hell I'm about to bring on my head.

[Resilience II: Built Different]

-At the first tier of this [Perk] you obtained a physiology that set you apart from the chaff. With this upgrade you will ascend the ladder higher and enter the realm of the 'unnatural'. Weapons below a certain quality will break against the bulwark that is your skin. Bones will throb in an opponent's arm as they feel like they're striking against steel. Even the elements themselves will find difficulty in obtaining purchase against you. Any damage that would deal less than 5% of max health now deals zero damage instead. All explosive, energy-based, and elemental type attacks will have their effectiveness against you halved to 50%.

Note: This [Perk]'s abilities are additive, not multiplicative, when combined with other defense techniques such as [Tekkai] and [Tekkai Kenpo].

'Their body is strong' is a trope I've seen many a time in shonen media and One Piece is certainly no exception to that. It's not a specific superpower or an ability or even something a character earns through training. It's just a sort of 'innateness' some individuals possess. From the S-tier versions of the phenomena like 'Big Mom' who's naturally immune to just about everything to the more middle-tier ones like 'Bobby Funk' in the Dressrosa arc. I've no doubt that this [Perk] alone won't let me stand up to the true 'monsters' of the world, but if it can just help carry me enough I might be able to-

"Roger couldn't sail worth a crap," Berwynne speaks from ahead of me, capturing my attention. "If not for meeting Rayleigh when he did... I doubt the ol' captain would have even made it out his home ocean." The ancient navigator pauses to chuckle before continuing with a sort of melancholic air. "That's why...when it came time for the crew to disband...I stayed with Roger for a few months longer. Just... wanted to make sure the man got to wherever he needed to go."

Berwynne looks away for a moment and stares into the clouds.

"When we left Baterilla, I'd no idea that Rouge was pregnant at the time. It wasn't until a few weeks after Roger's death that the possibility had even entered my mind. Ironically it was the Navy that made me think of it. The Marine inspectors weren't exactly subtle when they started scouring every port for signs of his bloodline. By the time I returned to Baterilla...the island was crawling with the bastards. Investigating every lead, interrogating every expectant mother...I was terrified of approaching Rouge to find out if she was with child. Even if the answer ended up being no, if I was unlucky enough to be seen, unlucky enough to be recognized," The man trails off.

"..so I hid. Took a coward's path. Kept my head down and watched Rouge from afar. Told myself I couldn't risk bringing any attention on her. Told myself I was just there to bail her out if the Marine's ever grabbed her." The sadness in his voice shifts into laughter. "She fooled 'em. Can you believe that kid?" His tone turned wondrous. "She fooled 'em all. Fooled me too as a matter of fact. How she did it I couldn't even begin to imagine. Concealed the baby for over a year. Anatomically impossible and yet she did it anyway. With a smile on her face the entire time." A wide wrinkled grin overtakes the one-time navigator. "That's just the kind of special lady she was."

Berwynne wipes at his face for a moment, getting a handle over the dredged up emotions. "I saw the child only once. The day Rouge died birthing him. And I had to watch as he was carried away by Monkey D. Garp." Berwynne spits the name, as though it were a curse in and of itself.

"Do any of the other Roger pirates even know?" I found myself asking. "If that's how it all happened, if Rouge's pregnancy occurred after most of the crew parted ways and was secret all the way to the very end...do they even know that Roger's blood lives?"

Berwynne looks down. "...I'm sure that little rascal Red Hair figured it out. I hear he's somewhat of a big shot these days. Though I find it hard to think of him as anything but the little runt that liked to sneak food out the kitchen. Red Hair and Red Nose, always gettin' up to no good together. Besides that...I only ever told one person. A friend who joined Roger's crew the same day I did. He's the only one I still keep in contact with from the old days."

'Oh you've got to be joking.'

The birds being a thing were bad enough but now this?

It seems as though overdone tropes is going to be the theme of the week.

The 'Far Side Island', also known as the 'One Palm Tree Island' trope, is a comic strip/television cliché where there exists a teeny tiny little island that houses only a single inhabitant. Sometimes it's big enough for a dwelling and perhaps a beach chair. Other times its got a lone tree in the middle of some sand and that's it. The viewer is asked to avoid thinking about things such as 'where does this person get fresh water', 'how does their house have electricity', or any other pertinent items that may come to mind.

The most prominent example I can think of off the top of my head would be Master Roshi's house in the 'Dragon Ball' series. Though for further iterations you don't actually need to even look outside One Piece's first dozen volumes. The literal first human being the Straw Hats encountered on the Grand Line was old man Crocus who had constructed such an island inside the well-lit and heavily customized stomach of the whale Laboon. And if that's not the most cartoonish thing I've said all month then I'll eat my own-

"Momora! Come here you bastard!" Berwynne clasps the arm of the other man and pulls him into a hug. Somewhat of a comedic sight considering Berwynne is rather short and the other is taller than I am. In fact, the two old timers seem to contrast each other in just about every way.

One's short, the other tall. One's skinny, the other's got a little gut on him. Berwynne's partially balding old man hair is as white as Christmas snow whereas Momora's still rocking the flowing locks of protagonist pink.

The sole way I'd say they don't really differ from each other would be in the one category I care about.


Mr. Momora, Retired Pirate, Lv. 122

'Lady', the female Sparrow I'm still on the back of, chirps a mild inquiry of whether I'm going to dismount and join the old men in their conversation. She's a real sweetheart this one, but I stay put for the moment and simply offer her an apple instead. Let the old friends catch up.

'I'm starting to like my odds just a little bit more.'

"So supplies and logistics then. That type of stuff?"

Momora waffled his hand a bit. "Eh. Sort of. A lot of us on the Oro Jackson didn't really have set roles. Sure, there was the Head Shipwright and Lead Navigator and all that but for the rest of us it was more free form. People could be doing maintenance on the gunnery one week and be tasked with stocking the pantry the next. I also helped out in the kitchen's from time to time. I didn't really have much talent for entrée type dishes but my soup," The old timer pauses to wag a finger in my face, really emphasizing the word. "My soupwas the best on board. Always pissed off Bankuro, our chef that is, that he could never replicate it."

He wheezes out a dry dusty laugh. "I can still see him in my head. Stamping his foot on the deck and demanding I show him what I did. Still gets me to chuckle even after all these years."

I gave a little head tilt towards Berwynne ahead of us. "Got any good stories about the sourpuss up there?"

"Oh you better believe it son." The old pirate laughed again. "Let's see here..we had just made port on one of those 'prehistoric' islands. You know the ones? Where you can still find dinosaurs and whatnot? Anywho. So there's me, Ganryu, Doringo, little grump-face over there, and this big prick named Douglas Bullet as the landing party. Well of course Doringo, excitable little brat that he was, had to of course go scampering off alone and who else has to go after him but our little assistant navigator.."

Berwynne wheels around. "Oh you are not telling the brat this story!"

Momora feigns being threatened. "Heh heh but what if I am?" he says back mischievously. "Hoh hoh! What you gonna do about it old man? We're on this bird, and you're all the way over on that one."

I probably shouldn't have to say it at this point but...I like Momora.

It's a small thing. Almost like the torn corner of a Post-it note. Big enough to pinch between two fingers yet still so tiny it could get lost in your own pocket.

A Vivre Card. Or rather a piece of one.

Yet another item who's mysteries were only partially explained by the great Eiichiro Oda.

"Whose is it?"

Momora regards me for a moment, watching me place another skewered fish by the fire, before turning his eyes back to the little white square. "An old friend's." he answers. "A Fishman who was part of Roger's crew as well. The two of us, we didn't exactly part under the greatest circumstances. I don't know if the snail number on it even still works."

"Then why still have it?" I asked, throwing a few sea bass towards the Sparrows resting nearby.

The New Worlder smiled. "It's complicated."

"Either call the damn number or hand the thing over and let me do it." Berwynne huffed, ripping apart a roasted fish with his teeth. "If there's anyone who can move through the sea quick enough to meet up with us, it'd be that blue-skinned fatass. Would be nice to see 'im again. I'm curious if he's moved up from having four chins to five or six."

Momora loosed a hefty breath and scratched at his jaw. "Alright then. Someone hand me a snail. This is gonna be awkward."

I put a Den-Den-Mushi in his hand, a rose-colored one -one of my spares-, and watch him slowly almost painfully dial the numbers one at a time.

"Puru-puru-puru-puru. Puru-puru-puru-puru."

The snail's voice rings out on the little outcropping we've settled on for the night. It's rythmic chanting being the only noise beyond the ocean nearby, and soft crackling of our campfire.

"Puru-puru-puru-puru. Puru-puru-puru-puru."

It rings and rings and rings.

"Puru-puru-puru-puru. Puru-puru-ka-chk."

Until finally a grainy rocky voice comes through. One that sounds as though it's been gargling gravel. "...who the fuck is calling this number?"

"Sunbell." Momora announced with a grimace. "It's me."

Berwynne scoffed. "You don't really think that's gonna work do you?"

I pause in wrapping the scarf around my face to glance at the man. "..it's worth a shot." I defended. A loss of my traditional 'Dandyman' outfit and a substitution of traditional seafarer garb in its stead. To start, a simple blue & white striped shirt that barely reaches my waistline. A comfy pair of loose breeches rather than my dress pants. Black boots vice brown. A bandanna instead of my usual wide-brim hat and finally to tie it all together, a makeshift scarf that obscures everything below my eyes.

It's not a perfect disguise I admit.. but it's something.

Originally I'd offered the veterans a change of clothes too. 20 years retired they may be, but that's no excuse to gamble on not being recognized. Upon my asking though, the two old men simply exchanged a glance with each other and then replied that 'they'd be fine without it'. Momora didn't even want something to hide his hair.

It was that interaction that really nailed it down for me. A mild suspicion I'd been building during these past six days of transit. It's the way they talk to each other. The way they've been telling old stories and talking to me about their 'good ol' days'.

'They don't expect to live past tomorrow.'

Back on Earth, in my 'first life' that is, there were a great number of fanciful quotes one could dig up pertaining to the subject of death. Many were spouted from the lips of famous novelists. Others from powerful thinkers. And some, well, some were just neat one-liner's trapped in a B-rated action flick somewhere.

One that stuck with me though originates from an Italian man who lived in the early 14th century. It's not grandiose nor is it over-verbose. "A good death does honour to a good life."

Berwynne I think feels as though he owes this to Rouge. To whatever memory he has of her and Roger. Momora is a little more complicated. He's not the one who's been putting flowers on a gravestone every month for the past 20 years after all. Momora I think...I think he just doesn't want his friend to walk into the lion's den alone.

"Jack," the pink-haired man approaches with a smile. "By any chance do you know what a 'White Den-Den-Mushi' is?"

I continue fiddling with the scarf despite the non-sequitur. "I've heard of 'em. They can't make calls by themselves, but if you pair them up with a normal snail then it prevents eavesdroppers. Surveillance Den-Den-Mushi's will get nothing but static. They're pretty rare."

Momora nods along. "Incredibly rare. You can't get them on the open market. If you ever do manage to come across one though," he passes me an old crinkled letter. "I'd like you to call the number on that."

I accept the rumpled piece of paper..and find it's mostly illegible. On top of the coffee stains it looks like its lived in someone's wallet for the past two decades. Only the signed name and number at the bottom can still be read.

'Scopper Gaban'

My eyes widen and Momora cuts off my shocked question before I can ask it. "You asked me about Haki the other day and I felt a little bad I couldn't tell you much. The absolute basics of Armament is my limit. Him though. He could teach you quite a bit. Unfortunately the man's grown a little eccentric in his old age. Which is a polite way of saying he's as paranoid as a Dugong in a room full of Sea Kings. Man won't exchange a word with you unless he knows the line's secure. Hell, he probably won't even pick up the phone. And trust me on this, he's got the equipment to check."

I stare again at the overly rumpled note. "I don't suppose...you might have-?"

"Ha!" Momora laughs. "No no no. Afraid not. My white snail died about six years ago. Little guy just had too many years on 'im. Kind've like me I suppose hehe. I'm sad to say I haven't talked to Gaban ever since."

It's brief, only for a second, but for a brief moment the pink-haired veteran looks nothing like a warrior who once conquered the Grand Line under the flag of 'The Pirate King'. All he is is a morose old man with his best years long left behind. "Thank you Momora." I speak genuinely, folding the letter up as gently as possible. "I'll take good care of this."

"Heh, I'm sure you will." he offers a dry grin and a pat on my arm before turning away. "World's getting' crazy again. Gotta do my part for the next generation and all that."

"Whoa, easy girl, easy." I ran my hand over 'Lady's' feathers. "Just keep us straight." I focused in on Jack Sparrow's Compass. "We're almost there. Just keep us straight." I repeated.

When Kiwi was still alive I once postulated that this very thing would be an issue. That the wonky nature of magnetic fields on the Grand Line would wreak havoc on the navigation of birds who weren't native to it.

And sure enough, as soon as we made clear of the Calm Belt both Super Sparrow's started feeling it.

Luckily it seems to be limited to some light disorientation rather than a complete flight system failure. 'Worse than I hoped, better than I feared.'

Impel Down resides right along the border where the doldrums ends and 'Paradise' begins so we shouldn't have to be flying long. If I've timed it right...as long as nothing's drastically changed we should…

'...and there they are.'

A dot in the distance. A sight I've seen many many times from when I was hunting for black flags in an ocean of Blue. I can feel my muscles tense up. Marco the Phoenix is Whitebeard's #1 man so I have to assume the Vice-Admiral's men will be watching the skies as well as the sea. There'll be no relying on the tried and true method of trusting people not to look up.

The Spider-Zoan himself I'm not worried about. He's probably the strongest on board sure but he's a known factor. It's the unknown one's I've got to truly worry about. 'Lieutenants, Commanders, Captains, Commodores. An escort ship of this importance is bound to be loaded with them and there'll no doubt be Fruit-users among them. Wildcards like that make it all the more important to get in and out as fast as possible.'

The Sparrows fly us closer and a twist develops in my gut when one dot in the distance can now more clearly be seen as five.

'Wait-wha-? Five? Wasn't it just Onigumo? I definitely remember him being the one to take Ace from Impel Down. Were there others-? Did I..did I misremember something?' The dots become proper Battleships as the distance shrinks. "Ah." Berwynne sighs from the bird flying adjacent to me, his eyes closed and feeling something out with his Haki. "Now there's a presence I haven't felt in a while. The little yappy Dalmatian boy. Always made an impression that one, barking at those bigger than him. Guess he's not such a little pup anymore."

'Vice-Admiral Dalmation's here!?' Then that would mean.. 'Five ships..Five Vice-Admira- oh fuck me! Who else is in play here!? Momonga? Doberman?' I run through my memories of chapters right before the Marineford War but it's all coming up blank.'Shit! Shit! This is what you get for speedreading over the details Jack!'

"So which one we thinkin'?" Momora asks, "Roger's kid gotta be on the middle ship right? Seems the obvious pick. Best security."

Berwynne frowns as he continues to push his senses out. "Unless it being the obvious choice means that's the one they wouldn't have him on. Hmm..I can't really sense someone that feels like fire. I've always had trouble picking up Fruit-users when they're in seastone. Makes them too muted."

The Sparrows reach only 20 seconds away.

"Ohhh fiddlesticks." Berwynne speaks. "Sorry sonny. I think the little doggie just picked up on me. My fault." Like a self-fulfilling prophecy the ships suddenly come alive. Tiny silhouettes start running about and the massive 18-inch guns start rotating in our direction.

"Well lets get this party started then! Heh heh heh!" Momora's hand snags my collar. "Geronimo!" 'Wait-No! No! We need to reasses-'

He pulls me down and the last thing I see before the three of us start free falling is the Super Sparrows veering off and flying away.