A/N: Got promoted. As workload goes up → writing time goes down. (Plus all those other IRL responsibilities ya know?)

A/N 2: Am watching the developments with Kuma's backstory in the manga very closely and am considering options.

Chapter 42

Navarone, Marine Fortress G-8, The Grand Line

Vice-Admiral Jonathan sipped at his mid-morning tea, pondering over the day's headlines in thought. 'Sixteen rings...just what are you up to Straw Hat Luffy?'The Ox Bell. Eight times it is rung to close out the old year, and eight times again to welcome in the new one. That is the custom that has lasted for just under three centuries. A tradition created long ago upon the retirement of the Ox Lloyd, the ancient battleship the bell once resided on. 'But the timing is off. It shouldn't be due for another few months.'

Jonathan leaned back in his chair, "An announcement of a new age then is it?" The end of Whitebeard's Era and the start of...whatever it is that comes next. The veteran Marine laughs a little in his throat, grinning behind his mustache. What a precocious little scamp. Perhaps he should have tried harder to capture Garp's grandson back when the young man and his crew were all running about his fortress, getting everyone in a tizzy.

The Vice-Admiral smiled into his drink, luxuriating in the subtle flavors. 'Well no matter. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. No sense worrying about it anymore.' He places the cup down and begins settling in for a power nap. 'Still though, hard to believe that goofball of a kid was now hanging out with the likes of Jinbei and Silvers Rayleigh. The young man couldn't even wear a disguise for five minutes without giving himself away.'

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

One hand reaches out for the snail even as the other idly pulls his hat down to help him relax. "Yes, what is it?"

"V-Vice-Admiral sir!" The recognizable panic of his adjutant, Lt. Commander Drake, stammers from the other side of the snail. "I apologize, but you need to take this! The switchboard operators patched it to me but I don't-"

An eye cracks open as his head tilts toward the phone. "Yes yes, whatever it is I understand." Honestly, his second-in-command gets flustered by the simplest of things. "Who is it? Headquarters? Sengoku?"

"It's One of Seven Warlords sir! Jack Sparrow!"

"Hoh?" the Vice-Admiral hums with interest. "Our newest celebrity?" He sits back at his desk proper. "Well let's see what he wants then. Put him through."

There's a brief cutout, a bit of warbled static as the switchboard room patches him in, and then he clears his throat right as the line clears. "This is the Commander of Navarone, Marine Fortress G-8, Vice-Admiral Jonathan."

"Oh good. Finally, someone important." The voice spoke. "Listen, I'm over here on Jaya. You're the closest Marines in the area besides tiny little outposts. How soon could you all get a force over here? Something manageable. Say, around five ships, thereabouts. Definitely no less than three."

The Vice-Admiral feels an eyebrow raise at the unusual request. 'Soliciting for support maybe?'"Unfortunately Mr. Sparrow, that is a taller ask than you may realize. As I'm sure you're personally aware, Jaya -or more specifically Mock Town- is one of the few pirate enclaves firmly established on this side of the Grand Line. While a sufficient Marine force could support you in bringing the island to heel again, in the long term it's simply not worth the manpower to-"

"There is no more Mock Town." The Warlord interrupts.

The Marine pauses as he's suddenly caught up short. "I'm sorry?"

"I burned it to the ground."

I cast my gaze eastward from the mountain of rubble I'm perched upon. "Don't worry. I'm only kidding." I take note of a few buildings still actively burning at the end of the road. "Partially."

Truthfully it'd be more accurate to say the inhabitants burned most of it down themselves. I just helped things along a little. Such things happen when panicked grunts try to employ cannons against me. At close range. In an alcohol-filled bar. In a town where every third building is made entirely of untreated wood.

I did say they were panicked right?

Not my fault they couldn't keep their wits about them after I sunk every ship in the harbor.

I bring the transceiver to my lips again. "I've already dealt with the captains and any other major bounties. Did you know the 'Elmira Twins' were laying low here? Easiest 53 million I'll never get paid for. Regardless, all that's left is the cleanup. Sorting out the fodder and maybe relocating the small bit of civilians mixed in. The bar owners and brothel workers and whatnot. I'm willing to babysit for a few more hours but after that I'm officially designating it The Navy's problem."

My Observation Haki pings an alert at my 8 o'clock. Blonde hair, tan skin, Lv. 22, a mid-tier mook if there ever was one. He's bleeding rather profusely from a head wound, and it doesn't seem like his left leg is working, but through grit and sheer determination he's crawling atop another of the collapsed buildings to get at a good firing angle.

With a pained grimace he shoulders the rifle against himself-

"Dibs! Mine! I got him!" Like a bullet Yatagarasu cuts through the air, splitting the very wind with his razor-like wings, before morphing out of his Zoan form once he's lined up. With a nasty wet sound the Meito punches straight through the pirate's forehead and its bloodied blade bursts out the back. "Ha!" an emerging beak proclaims. "Got ya bitch!"

Goddamn this bird's fuckin' violent.

'No. That's the wrong way of thinking about it isn't it?' It's not 'this bird' that's violent. It'd be more correct to say 'this sword'. It's not an animal that knows how to kill, it's a weapon that I gave the ability to fly to.

Mistakes were made indeed.

"Anywho," I go back to the phone call, choosing to ignore the Yatagarasu issue for later. "That's the situation. Oh and I found a few men carrying Doflamingo's symbol on the island too, so my apologies to the brass in advance if the feathered rat gets a little pissy."

"...you are not at all what I expected a new Warlord to be like."

"I'll take it as a compliment." A second alert, this one from the [Game] rather than Haki, pings in the corner and I decide to cut the call there. "You can call me back when you have an update. Don't disappoint me Vice-Admiral. KA-LICK!"

As soon as the snail's eyes droop shut I feel my own tighten as the [Perk] activates again. For the eighteenth time this week tiny blue sparks dance over my skin. My perception jumps by an order of magnitude and time itself seems to slow to an even greater degree than I experience with [Bullet Time].

This is of course just [Spark of Celerity]. Nothing terribly new about its effects.

What is new is a few days ago I finally eliminated enough Paradise captains to be pushed up to Lv.100.

At it, I was awarded an ability that was quite generic in nature. It has nothing to do with STR, VIT, DEX, none of the stats, not even LUK. It is instead a [Perk] that affects the [Game] itself. A [Perk] that alters other [Perks].

Allow me to pose a question. When you take a look across all of gaming, all of it, where a player character uses skills/abilities, what is the one thing that is always consistently busted? I'll give you a hint. It's usually displayed as a percentage or sometimes as a unit of time.

It's something players love to abuse. Something developers will cautiously implement into their games and then later have to backtrack hard when they realize they went too far. I've seen it in MMO's, action RPG's, class-based shooters, RTS's, MOBA's, the list goes on and on.

I speak of course of the most potent three-letter acronym in gaming. CDR.

[Cooldown Reduction]

Are you an impatient man? Does waiting for those pesky abilities to recharge got you down? Wouldn't it be better if they were just...always there? Well maybe with a little grinding they could be. Selecting this [Perk] will alter all applicable future and currently existing [Perks] to have the Cooldown Reduction add-on. Every time an applicable ability is triggered, its cooldown time will be permanently reduced by 0.05%. All the way up to a zero-second wait time.

Just don't get caught with your pants down.

Note: At current time, applicable abilities for this [Perk] are [Adrenalin Rush] and [Spark of Celerity]. Additionally the [Perks] [Natural Growth] and [Oftentimes Better,] will trigger every 3.5 days rather than once a week.

At 18 uses the amount I've shaved off of [Spark of Celerity]'s six hour recharge period...is roughly 194 seconds. For [Adrenalin Rush] I've gone from three charges available every 24 hours, to three charges every 23 hours and 47 minutes.

I know that's underwhelming.

I know it's effectively zero change. But these snowball effects always are at the beginning. I've had the [Perk] but six days. Let it cook for six months -or maybe even a year- and I guarantee it'll be one of the most important items on my toolbelt.

I've seen the Luffy vs. Kaido fight at Wano now. I've caught a tiny glimpse of where the power level ceiling is for this setting. If I ever want to be able to perform on that kind of arena then my 'Actives' can't ever be turning off. They need to be 'Passives' or I may as well not even have them.

In the category of more immediate bonuses Lv.100 also saw the usual patterned increases to both body frame and healing factor that I've experienced at every multiple of 25. A slight broadening of the shoulders and chest, an extra three centimeters in height, and an increase of 0.4% in [HP Regen] taking the [Skill] from (4.7) → (5.1).

'Heh. I'm officially under the twenty minute mark for how long it takes to go from 'death's door' to 'fully healed'. I wonder where that puts me on the scale of regenerators in fiction? Obviously it's no Wolverine or Majin Buu, but I don't think mine is anything to sneeze at.'

I've received the first two returns on my INT [Perk] [Oftentimes Better,], raising my know-how of [Cybernetics] from (1/100) to (7/100) and well..uh let's put it this way. Have you ever heard the expression 'I know enough to know I don't know anything.'? That about sums up where I'm at with that [Skill] right now.

Foolish idiot me thought it would be all about making robot arms and pew pew lasers and shit. And while that is somewhat in there, there's also a whole lot about feedback mechanisms and circular causal processes and even just thinking about it starts to make my head spin.

Hopefully that'll go away once the [Perk] triggers a few more times.

Yatagarasu waddles up in his toucan form, still stained in red from when he freed himself from his latest kill. "So where to next boss man? Up to that Skypiea place you mentioned wanting to swing by?"

I briefly regard the toucan, mentally noting that -at least in regards to me- his mood's been getting better now that he's actually an active participant in fights. 'If you can even call them 'fights'. Most men simply run when a flying sentient sword tries to cut them down. Which isn't a great plan considering how much this little bastard loves to skewer from the back.'

"No." I answer, unfolding the day's news for him to see. "Luffy's rung the Ox Bell. I was tracking having at least a few more days before that happened. If I'm still going to make that detour up to East Blue then it's time to swing north and go up through the Calm Belt."

"Ah right." The Meito tucks his beak down to start grooming under his wing. "Those uh revolutionary guys right? Bunny-what's-his-face and the one with the giraffe hat."

I nod silently, filing away yet another comment from the bird knowing things he shouldn't. I could write off the 'Kingdom-Phylum-Class' reference he made last week as a one-off joke but the oddities are starting to pile up more and more.

What's more is that the breadth of his knowledge is wildly inconsistent. Deep in some areas and two inches shallow in others. I'd make a Swiss cheese joke, but even that doesn't describe how many holes he seems to be working with.

My current theory -as absolutely insane as it sounds- is that somehow he was able to 'read me' when I wielded him as a sword. Every time we communicated along that little spiritual/psychic/whatever-nomenclature-you-like connection, he was able to get a small snapshot of my experiences.

Experiences from both lifetimes.

It really makes me wonder what he knows. He may be slightly less ornery now compared to when he first ate the Fruit but any time I so much as inch in the direction of questioning him all I earn is a 'fuck you' for my trouble.

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

Ah. And there's the Vice-Admiral now.

East Blue, The Next Day

"Well I'll be damned," I adjust the pedal I've Jerry-rigged on my glider to control the Dials and feel myself slow down to a coasting speed. I snap my goggles up and let a childlike grin sneak up, "Would you look at that.."

It's the fucking Baratie.

Chugging away with its derpy little fish head and it's sails extended to full. Oh and there's a little paddle wheel at the back too. That's cute. Is that new? Or was that there in canon? I honestly can't remember.

Damn. What are the odds of that one you think? I've barely crossed into this sea and the first thing I spot that isn't empty Blue isn't an island or a Sea King or a normal ship, but the famous floating restaurant of the East Blue saga.

That's gotta be what, a 1 in a 1,000 chance? Maybe even higher? Damn. Damn damn damn. Why did I have to stuff my face an hour ago? This feels like such a missed opportunity. 'Well if they're on the move the restaurant might not even be open. They could be doing some sort of supply run.'

Still...what a shame I can't stop by.
I push the goggles back down, recheck my heading on Jack Sparrow's Compass, and then crank my pedal to the full throttle position. Three streams of air burst into being from each of the gliders two wings, shooting me forward at speeds no sailing boat could ever hope to match. With a slight adjustment of my ankle I make contact with the Jet Dial situated behind my feet and feel the small button at it's back just begging to be activated.

'Is this the One Piece version of "hitting the nitrous"?'

The Jet Dial kicks on and the sudden kick up in speed never fails to catch me off guard. The acceleration threatens to rip the sleeves off my jacket and after only a few seconds I'm but a distant little dot in the sky.

A Few Hours Later, Slightly West of Tequila Wolf

"Listen. I need to you shut up on this one or I will be forcing your ass into the [Inventory]."

The toucan sighs in annoyance. "You already said earlier, I understand. No talking, No stabbing."

"I'm not kidding 'garasu. It's probably gonna be a little tense down there and I don't need your smart ass comments leading to any issues. Let me do all the talking. At least until things settle."

"Holy fuck I said I understand. Lord above, will you just get on with it already?"

"Okay," I look down at the non-descript Galleon and I'll give them this. They get points for looking as bland as possible. No decorative figurehead, flags are blank, there's no real color to the ship besides wood brown and machinery grey. I certainly wouldn't peg it from afar as being a ship full of Revolutionaries. "Here we go."

I keep my altitude low so they can see me coming and immediately I can already here a bell is being sounded. I kill the last two Dials I still had running and go for a landing as gently as possible along the starboard railing.

When my boots touch the wooden deck I'm not surprised to see the nearest men are slightly shaking. The few who do possess rifles have them rattling in their arms and seem to be struggling between pointing them at me and straight up fleeing.

"Yeah," I spoke more to myself than the crowd. "I suppose that's fair."

I mean, what would you do if One of the Seven Warlords just casually stepped onto your boat.

Taking a look around...there's actually far less familiar faces than I thought there'd be. Many of those who were working on this ship when I left for Sabaody are now missing. Some type of crew turnover maybe? I wonder if most of these people know me by anything other than what they read in the papers. Regardless, there's at least one friendly face I can focus on. Even if he isn't smiling right now.

George. The ever-upbeat revolutionary in a giraffe hat.

"Could you please tell Joe to get Lindbergh on the phone," I ask with my best diplomatic smile. "I have things I wish to speak with him about."

For a moment the man simply stares at me, his eyes unreadable from beneath his cap...until eventually he accedes with a very small nod. As he robotically walks away, a slight ease seems to build amongst the crew. Tension still, as though there were a tiger in your house, but at least for the moment it doesn't seem to want to cause any trouble.

Of course, that now means it's time to address the elephant in the room.

Or more accurately, the woman in the purple coat who was posted at the railing when I landed.

"Nico Robin.." at her name the woman tenses further. Her crossed arms pull even tighter against her chest while I notice a slight bend developing in her knees. A bead of sweat is visible despite the freezing weather and a nervous yet fierce look takes over her as she prepares to fight for her life.

It's a difficult thing not to sigh, seeing her reaction. It's dismaying. She's probably in my 'Top 3' favorite Straw Hats alongside 'Soul King' and the 'manly' version of Usopp. It'd be even more difficult to try and blame her though. Between my Warlord status, the Ex-Cipher Pol rumors, and her very very recent history with both Kuma and Enies Lobby..shit I can only imagine what she's thinking.

I think it goes without saying I'm feeling a little bit of mental pressure at my first lines. They say the first impression is everything and I really would prefer for this woman not to hate me.

"As a fellow ancient history lover, do you think the purpose of Uranus might be to destroy the Red Line, creating the fabled All Blue and finally making the world 'One Piece'?"

The archaeologist's mouth falls slightly open, her arms mildly relaxing as her brain tries to process the combination forbidden knowledge and complete nonsense I just spoke at her. "What?"

Hah. Nailed it.

For those of you reading on FF . net, here's a brief refresher on stats. If you want the full character sheet, with listings of all [Skills] and [Perks], it's available in both the Discord and on QQ.

Name: Jack D. Parker
Alias: 'Jack Sparrow'

Title: Royal Shichibukai

Lv. 100

Height: 6' 2''
Health: 15,000

STR: 560
VIT: 750
DEX: 905
INT: 500
WIS: 272
LUK: 216

Points to spend: 95

Armament Haki: Level one. Unlocked, but a total beginner

Observation Haki: Level two. Gettin' the hang of it.

Bounty: 230,000,000 (Suspended)

Notable Items in [Inventory]:
-'Oaken Fist' Kowalik's broken Treefolk armor of Adam Wood. (Some was used to create glider but there's still portions left)
-Effectively unlimited cash money
-Jack Sparrow's Compass
-A Flame Dial, three Flavor Dials, and a pair of Thunder's.

Non-Canon OMAKE: Jack flying through the Florian Triangle

"Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope."

There are many mysteries in the world of One Piece that I wouldn't mind having the answers to. And by "wouldn't mind having", I mean I will find out the truth of them someday. Once I'm strong enough that no one can fuck with me, once the 'Golden Age of Piracy' is truly dead and buried, I'll find a way to dig up those secrets. You just watch me.

The Void Century. The Poneglyphs. The Will of 'D'. The origin of Devil Fruit. What's the deal with the dead civilization on the moon? I could go on. Just about every mystery an old One Piece mega fan might think about was on there..except for oddly enough the mystery of the 'One Piece' itself. I've just...never been that curious about it to be honest.

A pile of gold that can fill a thousand ships? A singular bottle of the true 'Bink's Sake'? It really doesn't matter to me. The 'One Piece' could really truly just be 'The friends we made along the way' and it would probably just get a chuckle out of me. I bet I couldn't get The Compass to point at Raftel even if I tried.

Anyway...I thought today might be an important day for me. A chance to satiate the curiosity. To cross one item off the list.

Let it be known to all...that I am a fucking idiot.

[Seimei Kikan] combines with [Adrenaline Rush] to push my legs harder. [Geppo]'s stronger than anything I've ever done in the past push me farther and faster than I thought I was ever capable of. Faster than my glider and all it's powerful Dials can even go.

And yet I hardly seem to be getting any further away.

The towering thing looks down at me through the mist. Bigger than any building. Bigger than any Sea King. Bigger than any mountain. Bigger than comprehension.

The panic gets to me, lancing through my brain like a white-hot rod of something english can't describe. I throw out my best Haki, trying to get at least a half-second of warning before the glowing red eyes turn aggressive-All it hits is nothing.

Let me be absolutely fucking clear. I want no misunderstandings. No misconceptions. No fucking misinterpretations of what I am trying to say. It's not that my Haki didn't hit anything. It did hit something. It hit nothing.

A gaping hole in the World. Blackness. Emptiness. A spiritual black hole that threatens to crush, quash, squeeze, flatten, choke, squelch, throttle, strangle, smash, ruin, drown, suffocate, smother-

Two more towers. Two more pairs of red eyes in the mist.

"NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE." The air actually shakes at the strength of my kicks.

Some secrets...should best remain buried.