Chapter 39

I stare at the snail.

The snail stares at me.

I don't know if it's perhaps a Haki thing -or just an effect of this intimidating silence- but I almost feel as though I can see Kong through the phone. Sitting there at his desk with back ramrod straight and massive arms crossed one over another. His stern visage etched in granite like a disappointed dad.

Mr. Professional Cipher Pol stands to the side, watching us blankly. Simply holding a second Den-Den-Mushi -a video type- letting me know this is being broadcast somewhere as well.

"Before we begin. Do you still have it?"

My head tilts. "It?" I questioned.

"The Captain's coat we offered you. If so, I'd like it back please."

With a bit of silent assent I offer a tiny nod. My upper forearm sinks halfway into the [Inventory]-

"Curious." The snail speaks, getting my eyes to briefly flicker back at it. "800 years we've been compiling our encyclopedia of Devil Fruit. New additions getting rarer with each century. Been a long time since we had to update anything besides pictures. A Storage-Fruit you said it was?"

I keep my expression neutral as I extract both the coat and the recruitment letter it came with. "What about it?" I ask evenly.

"Nothing." Kong responds. "Just...curious." The snail's eyestalks glance toward the items as I set them aside. Focusing on the envelope's unbroken wax seal in particu- Oh. He's assuming I didn't even read the thing. 'That probably doesn't earn me any points in his eyes.' I bury any grimaces at the unintentional faux pas. 'I can't exactly just come out and say I didn't 'need' to open it. [Observe] told me everything I needed to know. Just a pile of form letters and a phone number. Hardly anything different from the packet when I was offered Lieutenant.'

"So.." He brings his focus back on me. "You want to be a Warlord. Do I have that right?"

I don't really appreciate his tone. It's not exactly hostile...but it's not genial either. It's the tone of an old man talking down to impertinent youth. I do my best not to let it color my response. "I think I'd perform better than most, yes."

"Alright." he accedes. "Why should we give it to you?"

My brow furrows. "My accomplishments in South Blue notwithstanding, I think I outlined it pretty clear with the Fleet Admiral. If given the post I will-"

"No son. You misunderstand me." Kong interrupts. "You see Parker, since we last spoke CP4 has managed to compile quite a bit about the type of man you are. About what drives you." There's a sound of pages flipping. "Testimonials from your neighbors on this 'Kivuruk island'. Reports from Marines you've interfaced with. There's a few gaps but for the most part it's all here. The last 20 some-odd months of 'you'. All the way back to when you," a page flips again. "quote -just plum done washed up ashore one day, no storm, no wreck, nuthin'- unquote. That's from an old employer of yours by the way. A merchant named 'Dan'." The sound of a folder being tossed aside. "Unexplained origins aside, it paints a clear picture. You, Mr. Parker, are an individual that loathes piracy."

My eyes narrow as I feel a verbal trap coming in. "What's your point?"

"My point is that the deal you offer is good. It's a deal that when examined in a vacuum I'd be inclined to take. Truthfully, I am inclined to take it. But here's the thought that keeps reappearing in my head. 'Why do I have to?'. Say that we don't give you the seat...aren't you just going to keep hunting pirates anyway? I'm willing to wager that you would. You mentioned to Sengoku about turning in recovered goods -and that's a fine thing an' all- but in the long term it'll just be a drop in our treasury. So if you're going to be -to use your own words here- 'continuing your work' regardless, what benefits do you actually bring over us choosing someone else? Someone else on the board whom I could flip from a threat into an asset? In other words let me repose my original question."

"Why should we give it to you?"

My fingers interlace as I find myself leaning forward and mulling over a response. On some level..he's not wrong. I don't need the Warlord position to achieve my goals. It would just make things a little more convenient. One of the Seven or not, I'm still planning on thoroughly shaking up the board. The remaining Supernova's, The Charlotte Family, The Payback War, there's many items I have notions of addressing.

Then again, it's possible he's only posing the question in the first place to see if I offer something. A concession. Testing the waters to see if they can get any more control over me.

"I'll admit I can't think of one large reason to pick me over someone else," I eventually start with. "But there's a whole laundry list of smaller ones that I think matter more. Not the least of which would be.. appearances."

A mild upturn in Kong's expression tells me he's listening.

"Apologies, but I'm going to toot my own horn here for a second. I cleansed almost an entire ocean of piracy. Yes, you guys took some of the credit in the papers but we both know the truth. Speaking of, those very same papers have also been chock full of stories starring upcoming pirates people have been dubbing the 'Eleven Supernova's'. The new hotshot generation of rookies. You know what happened to the top bounty in that group? I killed him last week. Teach made a mockery of your organization, broadcasted it live to the entire world. Something else that was live to the world? Me permanently neutralizing two of his people. Two of the nine -whom I remind you- are the ones who got the final shots in that ended Whitebeard. Finally, while it's true I killed some piece-of-shit hardly matters King, that feather in my cap will only further piss the pants of those whom I'll be targeting."

"IF we were to proceed with this," Kong interjects."Then it can't be Jack Parker that wears the title. It'll need to be your 'Sparrow' persona. Not even Warlords can have dead nobility so openly on their records."

"Even better," I push through. "You can use that. A few well-placed stories of Sparrow allying with your side could foster a tidy bump in your recruitment numbers. Which leads me into the next piece of my argument. My relationship with the Marines."

I pause to take a breath, knowing this next bit won't exactly endear me with the upper chain.

"Now, I've got a lot of empathy for the lower enlisted and junior officers who man the front lines fighting the good fight. So even if I stay wanted, they'll be in little danger from me. Beyond those people though? The Captains, Commodores, and even Rear or Vice-Admiral ranks that may choose to impede or engage me because of my bounty status? I'm cautioning you now, starting today, I will not be pulling punches. If they get in my way, if they try to obstruct me, they will be removed."

That strikes a nerve in the Commander-in-Chief. "You've some stones on you speaking that while sitting on Marineford."

"Deal with it. If you continue to have me labeled as an 'enemy', then turnabout is going to be fair play. Next, circling back to what you said about me 'doing the work' regardless? Guess what? You're absolutely right. But I would be less efficient. In South Blue, when I had inadequate intel, I mostly just meandered about. If you want me to remove the maximum threats possible -something that's more important than ever considering your little Impel Down jailbreak- then the World Government and I are going to need some sort of working relationship. Is that enough reasons or do I need to keep going?"

The silence coming off the snail is heavy. I know I made the comment earlier about Haki projecting through the phone but now I'm a little more convinced it's real. Kong's presence is like a massive stonewall above me. Solid. Uncompromising. Impregnable.

And then with a simple exhale it's gone. "..No. That'll be fine." Kong breathes."But,"There's sound of a new folder being plopped down. This one a lighter heft than the first."Before we continue there's a few questions I'd like to ask. Since you're the one who approached us, I'm sure you wouldn't mind clearing up a few items on our end would you? Starting with...tell us about the four months you spent on a merchant ship named The Marjhan."

I keep the expression on my face neutral. I suspected these questions would be coming eventually. Though I am a smidgen surprised they didn't start with my use of the Rokushiki. I suppose they must be starting small. "It was a protection gig." I answered easily. "The owner paid me 2.5 million to help guard it from pirates. I was just starting out and it seemed like easy money. We never actually saw that much action. Why?"

"It's recently been flagged as being in service to the Revolutionary Army." The snail studies my expression. "Any comment on that?"

An eyebrow shifts. "Are you asking me if I knew?"

"Did you?"

My head tilts as I regard the snail."...I did." I find myself answering honestly. The urge to lie strangely absent. "I even received a recruitment pitch. I informed them that I wasn't interested. It wasn't long after that my four months were up and I left the ship."

Kong hums noncommittally at that. As though surprised I actually admitted it. I wondered if he expected me to dodge the question. "Last week, when you appeared at the Sabaody Archipelago, how did you manage to get there so quickly?"

"The same way I reached Marineford. I flew over the Calm belt."

"Yes, we've noticed the little glider you've fashioned." The snail glances leftward out toward the sea. "What happened to your namesake? The Sparrow?"

A clipping enters my tone. I can't quite keep the scowl away. "A King shot him. Next question."

Kong offers no comment at the curtness. He simply moves on to the next item."What was the source of your information on Rear Admiral Vergo being a double agent?"

"So he was a Rear Admiral then." I nodded lightly at the information. "Why do you ask? Did you confront him already?"

The snail's expression seems to ponder for a moment, as though he's wondering whether to answer. "The Fleet Admiral himself did so this morning. The snake critically wounded eighteen men while trying to escape. I'll ask again, who was your source?"

I attempt to hide my uncertainty with a grin that's perhaps a little too coy. We're starting to get into questions I don't have the best answers for. "Haven't you heard the word 'confidentiality' before sir? If I tell you who, it basically guarantees they'll never trust me with info ever again."

Kong's eyes narrow at the bullshit even if he doesn't call me on it. Still, I can tell the obvious dodge annoyed him. Evidently enough that he decided it's time to start tackling bigger items. "Where did you learn the Rokuōgan?"

"Pass."

My immediate response actually catches him flat for a moment. As though he can't believe he just heard that. "Excuse me?"

"I said, Pass." I reiterated. "I won't be answering that. Besides, what you're really trying to ask is where I learned the Rokushiki. Tell you what, I'll give you half. [Soru] was easy to reverse engineer once I'd heard the stories about it. No doubt it's the most prolific of the 'Six Powers' in your ranks. [Rankyaku] was a simple progression from there. [Tekkai] I received the same place the Marines did. A little martial arts dojo in South Blue. If I recall, one of the previous heads of the school works for you here at HQ. Some sort of 'Special Instructor' or such. As for everything else on the subject...Pass."

Kong looses a low growl into the phone."Even if you reverse engineered some of them you still wouldn't know their names."

My eyes dip left as I considered that. Hmm. That's true. Even if someone were to stumble onto [Rankyaku] on their own, they still wouldn't intrinsically know the technique's established name is 'Rankyaku'. I suppose that's a screw up on my part. "You're right. Pass."

From there the conversation begins to devolve. Between Kong's mounting frustration and my recalcitrance to say anything of substance, I can actually feel the odds of this deal going through sinking further south by the minute.

'How did you learn about Haki?'

Pass.

'What island were you born on? Where did you live before Kivuruk?'

Pass.

'Why take the risk of coming to Marineford?'

Pass.

Eight questions later -only two of which I answered- I can feel the Commander-in-Chief's glower through the phone. If my [Gamer] system had come with a 'reputation' feature, no doubt I would've lost many of the points I'd started to build with the man. It makes me wonder if perhaps it would've been better just to lie? Giving a proper answer, even if it's a bullshit one he can see through, might've allowed a polite fiction to carry our talks forward. He'd almost certainly trust me even less than he does right now...but if he never actually calls me on it, I'd still probably get the job.

Kong's snail opens his mouth again...only to then look off to the side and the animal goes silent. When his voice doesn't return after a few seconds I realize he's put the hand speaker down and must be talking to someone else. 'Though who?' My eyes trail back to the secondary Den-Den Mushi the agent has been holding and suddenly the realization hammers home.

Oh...oh fuck. Were 'The Five Elder Stars' watching this? I guess after the disaster with Teach it might be warranted but I hadn't realized..

Kong's voice returns. He doesn't sound pleased. "The World Government is prepared to accept your proposal on a 'probationary' level. If in six months you haven't shown results then don't be surprised if we choose to explore other options." The snail's eyes flick to the Cipher Pol agent and with a subtle nod the man unslings a large rectangular box from his back.

Ding!

New Quest Alert!

Quest: You've convinced them.At least on a probationary level. Carry the mantle of One of the Seven Warlords of the Sea and your name will be talked about in the same breath as Donquixote Doflamingo, "Knight of the Sea" Jinbe, and the greatest swordsman in the world Dracule Mihawk. Be warned though. While membership into this illustrious group carries with it a great deal of freedom, that freedom is not total. Sometimes your services will be called upon at the most inconvenient of times. Refusal of that summons is almost always met with consequences of the highest order. But then again, you already knew all that didn't you?

Reward: +100 LUK, Five Lv. 2 [Skill Disks], and one of the 50 Ryō Wazamono Grade Swords (Fragarach).

Note: Acceptance of this position will disable any further LUK gains that would have been awarded by meeting notable figures such as Admirals, Ex-Admirals, Emperors, your fellow Warlords, or any retired Legends that may still be around.

Note 2: As an affiliate of The World Government you will become ineligible to collect bounties on pirates whom you capture. That being said, where bounties 300 million and above are involved, a percentage can be negotiated.

Note 3: If you accept this [Quest] and then are discovered to be either a) Refusing an official summons, b) Taking actions the Government has specifically forbid, c) Failing to perform adequately in hunting public undesirables, or d) Intentionally acting in a manner against the Government's interest, then your position will be stripped and your 'Wanted' status will not only be reinstated, but also elevated in priority.

[ACCEPT/DECLINE]

While I'm still reading Kong's assistant snaps open a pair of clasps keeping the box shut and cracks it open at my feet. Inside, I see another one of 'One Piece's bastardized fusions of two weapon concepts. Similar to how my .44 calibers are a mix of modern revolver and Caribbean flintlock, the blade before me was somewhere in between a European broadsword -with a protective basket around its hilt- and another design I couldn't quite place. With the way its broad outer tip narrows down to reach the guard it almost reminds me of the Sword of Triton. The chosen weapon of Blackbeard. Err..the Pirates of the Caribbean version that is.

I gently reach out to slip my hand into its basket and get a feel of the weight. A little lighter than Kugizume was...though still bulkier than a katana. The name rings a vague bell too. Fragarach. That's from Celtic lore isn't it? Well I suppose it wouldn't be the first mythical sword to have it's name borrowed by this universe. Cavendish from the Dressrosa arc wielded an oversized rapier named Durandal after all. Though I guess we never did learn where that one resided in the Meito hierarchy.

'[Observe]'.

Fragarach (Meito)

One of the 50 Ryō Wazamono Grade Swords scattered throughout the world, Fragarach was forged half a millennia ago in the war torn country of Busharna. Seen as almost magical due to its ability to let even novice wielders produce flying strikes, Fragarach was passed from bandit lord to bandit lord as a symbol of power and positional authority. This sword was recently recovered for the Marines by Ensign Tashigi after its latest wielder foolishly tried to raid the Government vessel making port and died to a Smoke-Logia in single combat. As a Meito, Fragarach is far sharper and stronger than normal blades, only being matched or outclassed by other equal-ranked or higher-ranking Meito.

Alert! You've encountered a named blade! +1 LUK!

LUK (115) → (116)

Hoh? It lets even complete amateurs perform flying strikes does it? Well isn't that interesting. We'll have to test what it can do in the hands of someone who actually knows what they're doing then won't we?I place it gently back in the case it was delivered in and Kong takes the opportunity to speak up again.

"I trust you'll find this one up to task. Be warned, if you go and get this one broken too, we aren't giving you another. Now, a six month trial. Are we in agreement?"

I can feel an almost predatory grin take over my face. So many places to go. So many names to hunt.

"We are."

Ding!

You Have Become One of The Royal Shichibukai!

Reward: +100 LUK, Five Lv. 2 [Skill Disks], and one of the 50 Ryō Wazamono Grade Sword.

LUK (116) → (216)


Later That Day, Back alleys of Marineford.

Ping. Ping. Ping. The six Pacifista's fire their lasers one after another in a repeating pattern, violently tearing up the street with great explosions of fire and light. Their target, bloody and gasping for life, finally gives in and sinks to his hands and knees.

"Damn you...you...Doflamingo.." Moria curses, his body shaking with every ragged breath.

The ruler of Dressrosa Kingdom stares down in boredom at his former colleague. This was no fun. He was supposed to be having fun with this. He'd had taunts ready. Jokes prepared ahead of time. Laughs for when he told Moria that he's just too weak to continue being a Warlord. That the government had decided it was better to just be rid of him and say he 'died honorably against Whitebeard'.

But instead all he can do is scowl at the chore that this is. He could be busy elsewhere. He could be figuring out how. How? After more than 10 years of perfect infiltration, how had Vergo been compromised?

The news had reached his ear only a half hour prior. A notice from one the other agents he'd had embedded in the Marines. This one much much lower ranking than his longest and most loyal partner. Apparently the bastard Sengoku himself performed the arrest. Who? Who talked? He didn't know. But he was going to learn.

"Who.." Moria gasps. "Who put you up to this? Sengoku?!"

Doflamingo almost tells him 'No. It was someone higher.' but in his foul mood all he can think about is how pathetic the ghoulish-looking man sounds. How is it that someone who'd once been a New World contender could fall so low? In his youth, didn't he clash with Kaido, the King of Beasts? Now look at him. Fat and lazy and bleeding all over the pavement. It's so beyond pathetic and sad he's not sure he has a proper word for it.

There had to be a joke in there somewhere. User of the Shadow-Fruit being a shadow of his former self. Pfeh. Whatever. He's already tired of this. With a flick of his wrist the strings of his Paramecia Fruit coil themselves tightly over Moria's bulbous neck, biting into that hideous discolored skin.

The ex-Warlord tries to rise from his knees, eyes bulging as he tries to claw at the strings digging deeper and deeper.

In another time, another place, Absalom -who had been stealthily observing the conflict- would've found a way to save his old boss. He would've been able to utilize the cloaking powers of his Clear-Clear Fruit while Doflamingo was too preoccupied cackling and managed to smuggle Moria out right from under their noses. A sudden escape that was so ridiculous it would only make the tyrant of Dressrosa laugh even harder.

But as was previously stated, that was another time. In this time, the uncharacteristically unamused Doflamingo simply curled his fingers in..

And Gecko Moria died.


OMAKE: Several Weeks Later

'And with this..we're up to five.' Tashigi clutched the newest Meito to her chest a little tighter. It may only be a Grade sword, one of an unknown number in the world, but a Meito saved from criminal hands was still a Meito saved. One day she'd get them all.

The 12 Supreme Grades. The 21 Great Grades. The 50 Skillful Grades. And all the lower Grade blades out there the same rank as her trusted Shigure. Not one will go unfound. For that was her dream. To save every one of those masterworks from being used by evil. She didn't care if she had to one day fight against Hawkeye Mihawk to get the last of them. It would be done.

The freshly promoted Lieutenant arrived at an armored vault, a special place beneath Marineford where important valuables could be stored. It was just too risky to keep all the swords she collected with her on Commodore Smoker's ship all the time.

Looking around she could see cracks in the foundation. Chips of stone that had fallen from the tremor effects of the Quake-Quake Fruit. Though whether this damage in particular was caused by Whitebeard or later from Teach's rampage no one could really say. 'It's a shame to see it like this, but I'm sure it'll all be fixed eventually. Just as soon as they're done rebuilding topside.'

A familiar archivist greets her from a simple wooden desk posted at the side of the massive tumbler lock door. Ensign Sheska is a bit of a mousy character. A little timid and somewhat of a klutz, her personality wasn't exactly one suited for the front lines. Still, the woman was one hell of a curator though. One would be hard pressed to find better kept books anywhere in the entire Navy.

"Another one for the collection lieutenant?" the Ensign asks, standing up from her seat for the higher officer. Her brown eyes fixate on the quality of the blade as Tashigi offers it and an awed breath escapes. "Oh my... Well this one certainly is a beauty." Sheska gingerly holds the weapon aloft to inspect it herself. "Excellently balanced. With Shagreen of a much higher quality than you typically see in this style. And the blade's pattern is so eye-catching. Oh, it's going to look so wonderfully on display next to your other two."

Tashigi nodded along with a pleased smile, ever since-wait. Two? Including Shigure on her waist then this one should bring the total up to five shouldn't it?

Sheska freezes as she suddenly realizes what she said. Comedic sweat drops begin to slide down her face as Tashigi suddenly looms in, a dark aura manifesting above her. "Ensign.." she asks lowly. "What do you mean other two?"

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"THEY GAVE AWAY MY SWORD TO WHO?!"