Chapter 5: Cricket

Hey, guys! Sorry for the long wait and thanks to you all for reading these and leaving your lovely comments. I'm in a hurry today, so enjoy a new chapter!

They reached the Blue Sea without too much trouble, ending up near a strange group of islands that formed an almost perfect circle. That wasn't what made them strange, though, but the long ―really, really long― body parts the animals had. They had seen a horse with a neck so long a giraffe would be envious, a bear with legs so long that they had thought they were tree trunks and a bird with wings three times longer than it needed.

Apart from the animals, though, the island had seemed to be uninhabited, but they hadn't visited the others to check if it was true.

Instead, they had followed Wyper's Eternal Pose. Nobody, not even Raki, had commented on the fact that the Shandia Warrior had an Eternal Pose to Jaya.

And so, within only a few days of arriving at the Blue Sea, they reached the island of Jaya.

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He had finished working on some repairs for a friend's ship and was just swimming back to shore when the bloody beast came out of nowhere.

All gleaming white scales and silvery fins that resembled blades, the thing attacked with a vengeance, as if the pummelling he'd gotten the last three times it tried that tactic with him had only made it angrier. They probably had, actually.

The beast was an annoyance, clearly at an advantage in the water, but Cricket had spent most of his time in the water too, and he'd learnt how to deal with most threats.

The scuffle ended with the beast getting a teeth ―and hell, weren't those sharp― kicked out and a few new blooming bruises on the man's chest, but they both got out alive.

With a huff, the man finally stepped on land and went towards the bundle laying on the warm sand, changing out of his soaked clothes.

He needed a drink.

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Cricket met Wyper on the town's tavern. His first impression of the man had been that he was arrogant and stubborn. His first impression would soon be proven correct, but he'd also eventually discover him to be an honourable and loyal man.

Of course, the wings on his back were also a big part of what caught his attention that first day, the man clearly standing out as a foreigner and newcomer in the crowded place.

Wings. His ancestor had mentioned the winged inhabitants of the lost city of gold in his tales and now that he had confirmation that it truly existed, even though it was up in the sky…

Well, he couldn't very well resist approaching this man.

Taking the empty seat on the barstool next to him, he leaned his elbows on the counter and ordered a jar of ale, drinking it dry in two gulps as soon as it was within reach. His thirst from the morning spent working on the ship's repairs mostly quenched, he ordered a second one.

Next to him, the winged man threw him a side-glance before smirking.

"Had a run in with a Seaking?" he asked a bit haughtily, clearly eyeing the fresh bruises on his bare chest.

"Actually, I did." shot back Cricket with an answering smirk.

He held the man's strangely intense gaze unflinchingly and got rewarded when he saw a glint of respect show through.

"Must've been one hell of a beast."

"More like a recurring annoyance." he laughed.

The man shot him another smirk before downing his own jar in one large gulp and ordering another.

"So you're from the Sky Islands?" he asked finally, unable to hold back any longer.

The man paused for a second before nodding.

"What gave it away?" he asked with a hint of irony.

"Certainly not the attitude." joked Cricket, not missing the twitch of the man's lips. "But the wings are kind of a giveaway."

The man snorted, his eyes roving over the whole room and its obviously curious occupants.

"So I've noticed."

There was a small lull in the conversation, as they both drunk from their respective jars, until Cricket finally couldn't hold his curiosity back any longer.

"So what brings an inhabitant of the Sky Islands to the Grand Line?"

The man looked at him, dark eyes contemplative. Then he smirked, a fierce glint of challenge in his gaze.

"Tell you what? Beat me on a drinking contest and I might tell you. I'm curious to see how my people's alcohol tolerance compares to yours."

Shooting a smirk right back and feeling his blood warming up at the promised rivalry, the usually laid back pirate ordered another round for them and nodded.

"Wyper." Offered his companion, accepting the jar handed to him by the bartender.

"Cricket." He offered back.

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The rivalry turned into a tentative friendship surprisingly fast.

Instead of holding to the terms of their agreement, they simply shared small pieces of information between drinks. Not that it stopped their competition in any way.

It was like that that Cricket learnt Wyper had come down following another pirate, intent on being part of his crew and also taking the chance to explore his ancestor's land.

At the same time, he shared that he'd been a pirate since the times of the old Pirate King, that he had experience on making basic repairs to ships and he was a more than decent navigator after so long on this sea.

"We could use someone like you, then." Had said Wyper at that point.

"Are you asking me to join the same crew as you?" he asked, mightily amused and maybe a bit tipsy by that point.

"Why not? We've got place for some more crewmates and a navigator would be a nice addition. I'm sure Midori would welcome you."

"Midori? Never heard that name."

"He's not well known yet; doesn't mean he won't be." Shrugged the other, a fierce confidence in how he suddenly squared his shoulders as he talked of whom Cricket guessed to be his captain. "You should think about it."

Cricket snorted and took another gulp of his drink.

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Midori turned out to be nothing like he'd expected.

The obviously young pirate was noticeably shorter than his companions. Dressed in black pants and a red shirt, with a pair of leather gloves, an open long-coat and a bandana thrown into the mix, he had a lithe body that looked almost delicate next to his own very bulky form.

And one couldn't miss the mask covering his face. It was bone-white, covered in dark primitive looking patterns and covered everything but for the lower part of his face, the lines hinting at a strong jawline.

His hair was eye-catching too, a messy blend of red and black strands. But his eyes, he was sure, were what caught the most attention out of any other feature. They were a deep green shade, expressive in a way the rest of his appearance belied.

All in all, he looked both fierce and delicate, much to Cricket's consternation. It was a very controversial mix.

The pirate had arrived in the company of a scruffy thin man who kept calling him Karasu and a beautiful young woman whose wings and clothes obviously gave her away as a compatriot of Wyper.

Upon getting introduced, the group had moved to a clear table near the back of the tavern and ordered food enough to feed a battalion. Not that he was complaining: after spending all morning working and then drinking with the Skypian, he was ravenous.

The group was interesting and he got along with them easily, more so when the young woman ―Raki, he learnt― shared some more about the land they hailed from.

And then a commotion on a nearby table caught their attention. Three pirates were talking very loudly, two of them shaking their heads incredulously at what the third was relaying.

"I'm telling you it's the truth! A friend of mine was there and saw it with his very own eyes. That Kurohige left nothing but a charred village behind! All because the people there refused to serve him and his men. It's the truth! And it's not like he's not proven himself capable of doing something like that! Remember what happened to Banaro Island?"

The other pirates fell quiet at that. Everyone knew what happened to Banaro Island, where Kurohige fought and somehow defeated Fire Fist Ace.

Turning his attention back to the table, he noticed the tension in the air, as did his companions. They all stared at Midori, taking in the white-knuckled grip he had on his glass and the clenched jaw, but most of all the darkened furious eyes.

"Well, I guess we'll have to get used to this kind of news, right? It's not like there's anyone who's shown up till now and been able to stop him. Kurohige made a grand entrance on the war and it seems like he's here to stay. We'll have to be careful and stay clear of him."

He barely paid any more attention to the now much quieter pirates, instead focused on Midori's unsettling reaction.

"Kurohige." Hummed Gin, watching his captain with a pensive expression. "It'd be best to steer clear of that one. At least for now."

"Yeah." Answered the younger man. "That's probably for the best."

And just like that, they were back to behaving like in the beginning. But there a tension remained in the air that hadn't been there before.

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"Wyper said you're looking forward to commissioning a ship." Said Cricket.

"Yes, that might be for the best." Jumped to answer Raki. "We do have a ship, but the Dial Boat is not made for long stretches of time at sea. It'll have to do until we can get a proper one, though."

"Well, you're in luck then." He announced. "The next island is Water 7 and it is home to the best shipwrights in the whole world, bar none."

"Really? They are that good?" asked Midori obviously excited.

"I've heard about them." Mused Gin. "They're said to be so good that even the World Government turns a blind eye to their dealings with pirates, not wanting to anger them when they are the ones to build their own ships."

"Well then, I guess we'll be going to Water 7 next!" exclaimed the raven haired man with a grin before turning to Cricket. "How do we get there?"

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On the way to his home in search for the Eternal Pose to Water 7 that he'd decided to gift the ragtag group, they heard something that gave them pause.

Or at least, it made Midori and Gin pause next to an old couple on the street.

"Can you repeat that?"

"Eh, what?" asked the old man.

"Sorry to intrude, but I couldn't help hearing your conversation. Would you mind repeating the bit about the Seaking?"

"Oh, yeah, a nasty beast that's terrorising the area. It appeared a few weeks ago and has stayed since, always causing trouble and attacking small ships."

Gin and Midori exchanged a meaningful look at the old man's words before the latter pressed for some more information.

"Do you know what it looks like?"

"Sorry, lad, I haven't seen it myself. Just heard a lot of complains about it lately."

"Oh, that's fine, thank you anyway." Replied Midori bowing politely.

They continued on their way for a few more minutes before the silence was finally broken, surprisingly by Gin.

"What are the chances? Do you think…" he trailed off, but Midori seemed to understand as he shook his head sadly.

"I can't be sure without knowing what it looks like."

"The Seaking?" clarified Cricket, getting two nods. "It's a white menace, with fins that look like blades and eyes a bloody red-"

The younger man seemed to light up even as Gin let out a small groan.

"Are you sure? You've seen it? Does it have a black spot, kind of like kanji, on its chest? When did you see it? Where-"

Cricket snorted at the enthusiastic avalanche of questions, as perplexed as the rest of the group. Well, except for Gin, who seemed to have a good idea of what was going on and was now looking a mix of annoyed, exasperated and fond.

"I can take you where it usually dwells, if you're so eager, but why such an interest in that menace?"

He would soon regret asking.

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Cricket never thought he'd see the day when a furious menace of a Seaking would suddenly turn into the equivalent of an overgrown puppy. Much less for a human.

But he couldn't deny what his eyes were seeing as it happened right in front of him.

Said menace ―Yuki, the masked man insisted― was a Seaking the size of a small ship.

When they'd first approached the shoreline where he knew the beast usually rested he'd been sure it was going to end in a fight again…

Only for the damn thing to stop growling at the sight of an overjoyed Karasu, eyes getting wide ―and he swore they were tearing up! ―before it got as close up to the shore as possible and rubbed itself against the masked pirate.

He sent a small glare at Gin when he saw him chuckle at his disbelieving look. After all, how was he supposed to react?

The Seaking was basically purring under the attention!

Not that he could fault it, truly, as Karasu petted its skin and cooed at him as if he were a small dog instead of a lethal beast many times bigger than him.

Thankfully, Wyper and Raki were almost as flummoxed at sight as he was, before the Skypian male turned to Gin.

"So this is what you meant by it being a trend?" deadpanned the Shandia.

Gin sighed, but it was a sound full of fondness.

"It's part of his charm; you'll get used to it."

"Somehow, I doubt it." Snorted Raki before carefully taking a few steps forward at their masked friend's beckoning.

Being introduced to the overgrown puppy ―beast, whatever― was an interesting experience and one they weren't bound to forget anytime soon.

"…and this is Cricket." Said Karasu.

When its eyes settled on the tall man, the Seaking let out a growl. Apparently it recognised him. And it was back to acting as the beast it was supposed to be.

"Hey, none of that, Yuki, he's a friend! We don't growl at friends." Chastised the masked pirate without missing a beat, never cowering at the Seaking.

And just like that the world went back to being crazy as the Seaking melted into a puddle around its… human? Wow, he hadn't been so confused since a certain straw-hat wearing pirate docked at the island.

'Friend, huh?'

His mind went back to the conversation he'd had with Wyper in the bar.

If most of the time with this crew was half as entertaining as this, Cricket had a feeling he wasn't going to get bored anytime soon.

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"So do you want to come with us?"

When the expected ―going by Gin's, Raki's and Wyper's faces― question came, he grinned.

"Well, I can't very well say no to a bit of adventure. Too long being a pirate, I guess."

There was nothing else to say in that regard, Cricket joining them without a fuss. He'd already made up his mind.

The man scribbled a hasty note on top of the table at his house for the Saruyama Alliance to find when they got back from their latest trip. He'd rather they not think he got in trouble and come chasing after them.

They waited calmly as he gathered what he wanted to bring with him and stuffed it all into a small ―for him― bag. His navigation tools took up a bit more of space, but he got their help in carrying them to their ship and, with his Eternal Pose, it wasn't actually that long before they were leaving the island he'd spent the last twenty years at with a Seaking at their heels.

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Jaya was almost out of sight already when the sound reached their ears. The sound of a bell, as clear and beautiful as it had been since it begun to ring out some months before.

Cricket closed his eyes and took a deep breath, engraving the sound in his mind before he turned back to his new crewmates. He immediately noticed Wyper standing nearby, his eyes fixed on the sky and listening to the bell's beautiful toll with the same intensity.

There was a strangely intense emotion in the younger man and Cricket suddenly felt very curious. He was Skypiean, so did that mean he knew the reason why the bell rang? Why it hadn't until ―and he had no doubts that's exactly what happened― the Straw-Hats found their way to the Sky Islands?

He did the only thing available at the moment and asked, listening intently to the story of Kalgara and Noland from the point of view of the Skypieans, learnt of their friendship and their promise, and how Kalgara's descendants had done everything they could to uphold it.

At the end, Kalgara's and Noland's promise of meeting again was finally fulfilled, in a way, as Kalgara's Descendant Wyper and Montblanc Cricket realised who it was they were sailing with.

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"You do realise that a ship from Water 7, especially custom made, won't be cheap?" asked Cricket a while later.

Wyper blinked at him before frowning.

"How expensive?"

"Do not worry." Intervened Gin, sending a significant look towards where their captain ―because despite the young man's protest, that's what he was and no one was changing their mind in that regard― was wrapped up in the coils of a snake ―and yes, Cricket had had to do a double take when he first saw it― the size of an overgrown wolf. "Gold is very valuable here and we've got enough."

Wyper relaxed at that, but the navigator was confused. Seeing that, Gin smiled wryly at him and explained.

"Nola is actually our treasure hoarder. She keeps the gold in her body, so there's quite a fair bit of it."

Seeing his doubtful look at the ―admittedly bigger than normal― but not that big reptile, Wyper took pity on him and took the cigar off his mouth before speaking.

"Nola's actually the size of a building. Maybe a bit bigger." Cricket's eyes almost bulged out of his skull. "Then Midori did something and she now looks like this; it was the only way for her to fit in the ship. But Midori can change her back to her real size anytime."

'Uh.'

The three of them turned to the cuddling snake and man and snorted.

"He never stops surprising you, does he?"

"Not at all." Answered Gin with barely hidden fondness.