Chapter 73 The Calm Before the Storm

"Strawhat Luffy did what?!"

Rayleigh could only repeat back in amazement.

The fresh newspaper the Marine handed to Rayleigh had a front-page news story that was beyond belief. The Pirate World MC punched a Celestial Dragon.

When Rayleigh and every other Player started in this world, they were given some base-level knowledge such as the language, local culture, and some minor details on how the world viewed itself. This meant that every Player knew that this world considered Celestial Dragons on the same level that a Church considered gods. Blaspheming one was grounds for execution and harming the dignity of one meant that the next crusade had your name on it.

What was more interesting was the lack of a mention of Luffy's arrest. Celestial Dragons were the so-called Reverse Scale of the Marines and touching one was the grounds for an Admiral to be sent out. If Luffy had been captured, the front page would have included a picture of him in chains, but it seemed that he had miraculously gotten away. As expected of the favored son of the World's Will.

Rayleigh peeked into the Chatroom and asked a question.

[Swordsman: Was anyone there when Luffy punched the World Noble?]

[Captain Jack: I was in Sabaody at the time. Had front-row seats to the whole thing.]

[Immortal Beauty: And the Admiral they sent didn't see you?]

[Captain Jack: Ha! The best part about always wearing the same outfit and hat when seen is that you become practically invisible if you wear anything else.]

[Swordsman: So what happened?]

[Captain Jack: No idea. Kizaru and some Bear Robots started attacking every Pirate in sight.]

[Immortal Beauty: So you didn't actually see what caused it.]

[Justice: I know the details. My Teacher told me. The World Noble went to a slave auction to buy a Mermaid and it seems Luffy was there and punched him. The former Pirate King's first mate, the Dark King was there as well and stopped Kizaru from capturing Luffy.]

[Lightning Lord: F*cking b stards. When I'm strong enough, I'm gonna blast their entire city to ashes.]

[Dragon Chef: Good luck with that. There are dozens of Mihawk-level swordsmen there who will cut you down even if you fly in from the sky.]

[Justice: Speaking of Mihawk, hey Swordsman, are you coming to Marineford?]

[Swordsman: You mean for the Execution? Yeah, Mihawk is bringing me along.]

[Dyna Might: You're actually gonna be there Swordsman? I still have a bone to pick with you.]

[Dragon Chef: Swordsman, you're gonna help the Marines execute Ace?]

[Swordsman: Nope. I just want to find some good opponents. Mihawk won't get in trouble even if I turn against the Marines so I'll do what I want.]

[Titan: That makes sense.]

[Swordsman: Who else is coming? This battle should result in the destruction of Marineford, the end of the Whitebeard Pirates, or both. In other words, it is the biggest party we've seen as Players.]

[Wild King: I'm coming and I'm bringing an army of Sea Kings. If anyone else wants to come and destroy the Marines, I'll give you a free ride. Sea Kings can easily traverse the Tarai Currents.]

[Goddess of Ice: You'd better not or I'll turn you into an Ice Sculpture.]

[Wonder Woman: Why are you still with the Marines when you know how bad they are?]

[Justice: The training is good and we are not ungrateful. I can't believe how you can just ignore all the good the Marines do just because of the few bad things they are forced to do. If Marineford is destroyed, wild pirates will wreck the world and it will be on your heads!]

[Captain Jack: Meh. Sometimes it takes more effort to keep a broken thing together than it does to allow it to fall to pieces and rebuild it from scratch. If this is all it takes for the Marines to fall, then it is better for it to happen sooner so it can be rebuilt into something better later.]

[Swordsman: Dragon Chef, Titan, are you gonna come?]

[Titan: One of us will. The other will stay to take over Whitebeard's territory. We're gonna do best of three to figure out who will go and who will stay.]

[Swordsman: Why do you want his territory?]

[Dragon Chef: I don't have the Jedi Class so I can't go there to have fun. I'll be taking over Titan's crew when he leaves for the Jedi Galaxy and using the Beast Pirates, Big Mom Pirates, and Red Haired Pirates as sparring partners instead.]

Rayleigh read over the messages and recalled that a few of the Players still lacked a presence in the Force. During his Nen Training Lessons, he told the Players to go awaken their Jedi Class so that he could use Impartation to speed up the rate they understood his lessons, but Dragon Chef was one of the few that did not do so.

At the beginning of the game, it was possible to sacrifice a class to strengthen another class, but Rayleigh did not want to assume, and asking at the time would have been impolite.

[Swordsman: Does anyone have any guesses on who is gonna win? I tried peeking but I only saw static.]

[Wonder Woman: If Little Miss Icicle and her glowing SIMP don't get in our way, we should easily be able to destroy Marineford.]

[Justice: F*ck you! And you guys are badly underestimating the Marines if you think we'll lose. All three Admirals, the Fleet Admiral, Vice Admiral Garp, fifty other Vice-Admirals, fifty warships, and a hundred thousand armed Marines will be stationed here with Home Field Advantage!]

[Goddess of Ice: If you don't want to die, you should stay away. None of you are a match for the Admirals.]

Rayleigh could not guess how the battle would end but he had the confidence to survive any outcome. Even Mihawk could not keep up with his speed, so how could anyone else hope to do so if there wasn't a Fast Fast Devil Fruit or something.

Thinking on this, Rayleigh started meditating and tried to feel out if there was a Devil Fruit, a Flow or Law of the World that could enable someone to run and move like the Flash. He didn't find anything at first, so he delved deeper, silencing everything around him.

Within the center of the world, Rayleigh could not find anything that looked like a Law of Speed, but he did see a glowing golden law. From his senses, it seemed to be the most powerful law of them all, stronger than the rest of them put together. Rayleigh could not stop his curiosity and he delved deeper. The other laws around the golden law faded away, giving away the true form of the most powerful law in the world. Why did it look like a jacket?

Rayleigh awoke with a start when he realized that he had not been meditating, he had been dreaming. Without a bed, Rayleigh had not actually slept in over a year, so it wasn't too surprising that he fell asleep. Still, what a weird dream.

He was currently on a Marine Ship heading for Marineford. Usually, Mihawk would just take his own boat where he wanted to go, but due to the imminent war, Marineford would not be allowing private vessels anywhere close to the base so they had to be taken there by Marine Ship first. Thankfully, the voyage only lasted a few days. They just had to sail to Enies Lobby and the Tarai Current would take them to Marineford in a few hours.

Out of morbid curiosity, Rayleigh stayed on deck and use Clairvoyance as they sailed past Enies Lobby to the Gates of Justice. The main castle-like building at the end of the island was still in ruins while the rest of the island looked to be half-way through reconstruction.

Rayleigh asked one of the Marines on deck, "How did that happen?"

The Marine in question shook his head, unwilling to say anything, so Rayleigh used Jedi Mind Trick to ask again, "You can tell me, you know I won't say anything to anyone."

The Marine looked blank for a moment before looking back at Enies Lobby and sighing. "Well, alright, but don't tell anyone I told you." It seemed that he really wanted to get it off his chest.

According to the Marine, he was stationed there at the time. Two prisoners were being taken from Water Seven to Enies Lobby by sea train and it was during Aqua Laguna, an annual storm that sends a tidal wave at Water Seven. No one sails during Aqua Laguna, so there were no ships or extra men on Enies Lobby. No one expected a second sea train to follow the first one to Enies Lobby carrying a bunch of pirates and ship builders. Each track only had one train after all.

That was the first problem. The second problem was that, not long after the intruders arrived, the pair of Giant Marines used as guards turned on the rest of the Marines. So not only were they understaffed and at their weakest due to the timing, but they got surprised attacked and their main defenders turned on them. This wrecked their formations. Still, they were eventually able to capture and tie-up all the shipwrights, the giants, and everyone else but the pirates who were on the other side of the island.

The Marine didn't know what happened next, but he did know how it ended. Everyone was ordered to keep it secret since it was a complete disgrace, but it seemed that the one in charge of Enies Lobby accidentally signaled for a Buster Call on the Marine Base itself. This caused a fleet of ten warships, led by five Vice Admirals, to be sent to Enies Lobby where they would fire their cannons at the island until nothing was left standing. The captured shipwrights and giants got away while the pirates somehow sailed away, right through the warships.

Rayleigh asked, "How does everyone know that he did it accidentally?'

The Marine looked partially dead inside with shame as he answered, "Because, in addition to accidentally using the Buster Call communicator, he then explained himself to his prisoner while accidentally using the island-wide communicator, so everyone heard it."

Rayleigh gaped at the explanation. For some reason, the first term that appeared in his head was Nepo-baby. Rayleigh figured that whoever was in charge must have been extremely incompetent and only got their position because of a parent or two who held an even higher position. He sincerely hoped that such a person would not trouble future generations by having children, unaware of the fact that the prisoner he held at the time had already achieved this feat through the casting of the most powerful DnD Spell, Testicular Torsion.

After sailing through the Gates of Justice and dropping off supplies at Impel Down, Rayleigh had once again arrived at Marineford.

Mihawk had his own quarters at Marineford and left without a word. Justice quickly found Rayleigh and said, "Man, you got a tan!"

Rayleigh nodded. He usually only wore pants while training and the Calm Belt was without storms, so he had been standing in direct sunlight for months and acquired a very light bronze tone that made him stick out less in this world compared to his previous complexion. Rayleigh didn't know why, but Players seemed to tan very slowly.

According to his Birthday in this world, he had turned eighteen a few months ago so Rayleigh no longer had any remnant of a childish appearance. His sharp features almost looked like Mihawk's, but Rayleigh kept his face clean-shaven using his sword so he lacked the sideburns or beard that gave Mihawk his distinctive look. His brown hair was cut short but left uncombed and his brown eyes only lost in sharpness to Mihawk's own.

Justice and Goddess of Ice had also turned 18 and both had their own ships, crews, and ranks as Rear-Admirals. They would likely be promoted to Vice Admirals after the war if there was still a Marineford standing.

Since every Player was born within six months of the World Main Characters, none would be a full year older or younger than the others. Though this inconvenienced some of the Wizard Players since many were a year behind others in school depending on whether they were born a few months after the Wizard MC or not.

After getting taken away by Justice, Rayleigh asked, "Did you ask the Marines to tell Mihawk to bring me?"

Justice paused for a moment before answering, "Yeah, I wanted your help since things might really go sideways with all the other Players coming over. If you can help stall the other Players with Goddess of Ice and myself, then you won't have to do anything else but wait for the Marine's victory."

Rayleigh stated, "I don't mind fighting the other Players who show up, but I won't kill anyone if I don't want to."

Justice replied, "I wouldn't have it any other way. Me and Goddess of Ice haven't killed anyone yet. For all the bitching that the other Players have against the Marines, we don't kill our prisoners unless there is no choice. Even Marine Longswords are made purposefully too thick to make them last longer and less lethal."

"Yeah, but that should only be the case in standard times. This battle will be different."

Justice nodded and replied back, "Well, no one will say anything if we kill someone during the battle, but I'm good at disabling and Goddess of Ice is good at freezing while keeping them alive, so it won't be a problem. This battle should have the best of the best of the Haki users of both sides, but they will total less than one percent of everyone, with half of that being the Haki users of the Marines."

Justice took them to the training barracks and Goddess of Ice was waiting there with an ice sword and an expectant glare.

Rayleigh sighed and raised a finger for the universal sign of 'One Moment.' He then used Force Muffle and started reciting his Force Code aloud. Thanks to Force Muffle, neither Player could hear him, and a few moments later, a longsword materialized in Rayleigh's hand while he entered the state of Second Stage Zetsu.

Justice asked, "What was that and why are you in Zetsu?"

Rayleigh replied, "This is my training sword. I've been using it to practice my Sword skills and Haki."

Goddess of Ice asked, "So you can't use Nen?" She didn't have a Hunter Class but knew what Justice knew of it since he told her everything.

Rayleigh didn't answer but walked into the training stage and raised his sword.

Goddess of Ice vanished and reappeared behind Rayleigh with her sword raised and a confident smirk, but only after passing him did she hear the cracking sound of her Ice Sword shattering.

Rayleigh replied, "Just because I'm not using Nen doesn't mean I'm weaker than I was the last time we fought." Rayleigh's mastery of One with the Sword combined with his possession of Heart of the Sword into what could essentially be called a Sword Domain. As long as you were within his range, he would strike with the most efficient, quickest, and strongest attack. If you were within his range, you had already been cut.

Goddess of Ice made a new Ice sword that quickly became jet black and charged again using Shave to clear the distance. Her Haki saturated sword met Rayleigh's Haki saturated sword and the pressure from each met a half meter from one another, stopping the blades from making contact. A moment later, Rayleigh sliced through her pressure and stepped forward. She could move the world with her Will, but the world she moved was not being led by her specialty.

Rayleigh stated, "Let me show you something," and the black sheen of his sword vanished. He moved with the same speed and strength against Goddess of Ice and her Haki infused Ice Sword seemed to best Rayleigh for a moment, but then he powered through, erupting in strength. She moved to deflect the blow and strike back, but her own attack was caught and slowed to a halt in a matter she found quite familiar.

In this way, Rayleigh sparred with her for ten more minutes only using the Law of Ice. By the end, Goddess of Ice had figured out what Rayleigh was doing and asked, "How can you do that?"

Justice asked, "What did he do?"

She answered, "His sword felt colder than mine did. It felt more like ice than my sword did."

This reply left Justice stumped with more questions than answers.

Rayleigh explained, "I just moved my sword like freezing ice. Did you know that pure, still water can be super-chilled to below freezing without getting frozen? But when super-chilled water gets disturbed or mixed with something, it freezes rapidly with unstoppable force, almost like an explosion."

From what he observed, Rayleigh could tell that the effect of the Chilly Chilly Fruit made water think it was super-chilled and then caused it to instantly freeze. So it wasn't actually the power of Ice, but the power of cold. Rayleigh figured out how such an effect would look as a sword style and showed it off to Goddess of Ice to help her understand her own element a little better.

Seeing that this was something that could help her, Goddess of Ice continued their spar, but no longer used Haki. She simply tried to digest the sword form that Rayleigh had made up on the spot.

An hour later, an old Marine with a walking cane entered the training area. It was not someone any of the Players were familiar with but he wore a Commodore's outfit and would not have entered their private training room without a reason. The old man seemed feeble enough to drop dead any moment and peered through his glasses for a few moments before spotting Rayleigh. "Ah yes, you. Please follow me to your quarters."

Rayleigh looked over to Justice who shrugged.

Not seeing anything particularly suspicious about it, Rayleigh exited Zetsu which caused his sword to disperse, and walked over to the old man who started to slowly hobble out of the training hall. Justice and Goddess of Ice followed since they had nothing better to do than see where Rayleigh would be staying until the execution.

Rayleigh caught the man's hand a moment later when he tried to touch Rayleigh's face. Rayleigh smiled and said, "Entering Zetsu is fine, but that variation of Force Stealth does not hide your presence in the Force, it just makes you harder to notice by those without a strong presence in the Force."

The old man sighed and slapped his other hand on his own cheek. Once he made contact, his form shifted to a youth of their own age.

Rayleigh let the Player's other hand go and asked, "Mimic, I presume?"

Justice exclaimed, "You're Mimic! How long have you been here?!" Mimic was something of a pseudo-legend among the Players as everyone had heard of him but no one had ever seen him. He also had the most up-to-date info on the World Government and the information he freely shared about them helped many of the Players.

Rather than answer, Mimic looked over Rayleigh again and replied, "I'm curious how you were able to completely hide your own Force presence while fighting her. I haven't figured out that trick yet."

"Ah, that's not hiding my presence, that's cutting it off completely. If every Force user is an antenna, you simply changed the frequency of your broadcast while I shut off the power."

"What?! But that means you have to give up all your Force Powers!" He honestly could not believe someone would take such a risky step. Without Force powers, life saving skills like Danger Sense didn't work.

"That's right, and it makes Haki so much easier to learn."

Tired of being ignored, Justice ran over and shouted, "Hey! I asked you a question!"

Mimic looked over at Justice and said, "I'm a CP9 Agent, I don't need to answer your questions. But I will if you ask nicely."

Goddess of Ice asked, "Were you the one who touched my face a few years ago?"

Mimic tapped his face with one hand, turning into a duplicate of Goddess of Ice. What was interesting was that this duplicate was the same age.

Rayleigh asked, "Is it always the same age?"

Mimic changed back and shook his head, "No, but I don't need to touch a face to update an existing one, any skin contact will do for an update. In any case, I came here for two reasons. One, I wanted to see if I could get a copy of you. Two, I also wanted to thank you."

"Well, that's direct. What did you want to thank me for?"

Mimic changed back to Goddess of Ice and a moment later, an Ice Sword formed in her hand.

Justice exclaimed, "You copied her Devil fruit too?!"

Mimic changed back and shook his head. "Not exactly. You see, after hearing your theory on how Devil Fruits make up the laws of the world, I started my own investigation and came to a few conclusions. As a thank you for telling me what you discovered, I wanted to tell you what I discovered in turn."

"Oh? What did you find out?" Although Rayleigh could make his sword cold, he could not just make a Sword of Ice as easily as Mimic had using Haki alone.

Mimic continued, "If we're going to use Cultivation Terms, then you could say that each Devil Fruit grants power over a certain law, but that is only half of what it does. Each Devil Fruit also grants the user the Physique most capable of using that Law. Before realizing this, even if I copied a Logia User, I could not use the power of a Logia Fruit. But now I can. I can copy the Physique of a Devil Fruit User and activate it using the Law associated with that Devil Fruit."

Goddess of Ice asked, "You mean like Heavenly Ice Physique or Pure Yin Physique, that sort of thing?"

Mimic nodded to the politely asked question and continued, "Yes. Without that physique, even if you master the Law of Ice, you cannot recover your body from Ice like she can because you lack the innate physique to do so. And I also think I understand the main difference between us and the Warrior, Ninjas, and Wizards. Again, using Cultivation terms, our classes cultivate the Dao while they are Body Cultivators."

Rayleigh asked, "So you think that they can continually remake and reforge their bodies while we can obtain the power of the world?"

"That would make the most sense, wouldn't it? Body Cultivators are usually much stronger in Light Novels." He then stared at Rayleigh for a moment before adding, "Behind Sword Cultivators of course. In any case, I have paid off my own debt to you, goodbye."

He then turned to leave, with Justice saying, "Creepy bastard. At least we know what he looks like now."

Rayleigh gave Justice a skeptical look and asked, "Do you really think that was his actual appearance just now?"

Justice looked stunned for a moment. Trying to change the subject, he pointed out, "Wait, so who is going to show you where you're going to stay?"

The three remained silent at the question. This was awkward.

A few days passed and the mood around Marineford got tenser and tenser.

The day of the execution arrived and the Pirate Chatroom was surprisingly quiet. It was obvious that many plans were to be set in motion this day and the Players responsible did not want those plans advertised. Rayleigh even felt a small threat to his own life coming, but it wasn't enough to concern him.

Three hours before the execution, the prisoner, a young man with black hair and freckles, was brought to the newly built execution platform. The whole of the inner part of Marineford was arranged like a layered cake with the Fleet Admiral Sengoku, Vice Admiral Garp, the prisoner, and two armed guards set on the top of the platform. Below the platform stood the three Admirals, Kizaru, Aokiji, and Akainu. Below them were the Seven Warlords, or at least five of them. Crocodile and the Fishman Jinbei were missing. Below them were lines of Vice Admirals, and the lowest layer below that, standing in front of the harbor to Marineford, were one hundred thousand Marines.

Of the group, the one who attracted the most eyes was the Warlord Boa Hancock. She had pale, flawless skin, ebony black, perfectly straight hair, and a large snake at her side that had curled itself into a standing chair for her. In addition to being ridiculously beautiful, the woman radiated pure SIMP aura, turning any lesser man who looked upon her or got too close into her SIMP. Rayleigh had not seen such a phenomenon before and figured it must have been the woman's Devil Fruit. Without it, she would have just been an attractive woman who could probably place 2nd or 3rd in a major Beauty Pageant at most, but with it, she seemed to be the most beautiful woman alive.

That said, the effect was close to zero on him. Rayleigh effectively spent his puberty doing the harshest training, so the discipline he forged kept his mind and hormones where they needed to be. He recognized the effect in the same way he recognized that ice was cold, but that didn't mean he felt cold. Still, it was best not to look down on her. For all he knew, that was just her passive SIMP aura and she could magnify it a hundred million fold, making everyone around her unable to think of her as anything but a Goddess descended to Earth who must be worshiped, adored, and obeyed. That was very unlikely, but Rayleigh would rather over-estimate her than get caught off-guard.

The other Warlords each had their own unique quirks. The man called Doflamingo had sharp sunglasses, wore a coat with pink feathers, and had a malicious smile of enjoyment at the fear the Marines were showing. For some reason, he kept one leg in the air.

The man the Players referred to as a Robot Bear had a massive frame and chest, but oddly skinny legs and arms.

The one called Gecko Moria looked even less human than Robot Bear, he was way taller, had purple skin, two horns on his head, and vertical stitches down his chest.

And then there was Mihawk, just standing there being his usual badass self with his arms crossed, overlooking the scene that would soon fall into carnage.

After looking them all over again, Rayleigh realized that each of the Warlords seemed to be associated with an Animal, either in name or appearance. Crocodile, Shark, Snake, Flamingo, Bear, Gecko, and Hawk.

At the moment, Rayleigh did not have his sword. Keeping his Empty Sword out left him defenseless while keeping out the Sword of Babylon required way too much aura since it could only be used when using both Babylon and Overdrive. He didn't know when the fighting would start or how long it would last, so he had to save his reserves for the moment.

It wouldn't matter though. Even without the sword, Rayleigh could use Overdrive to boost his speed, transform his aura into sharpened sword aura, and fight using martial arts and boxing. No need to go all-out until there was something to actually fight.

Rayleigh, Goddess of Ice, and Justice actually stood on the third level, where the Vice Admirals were standing, but instead of being in front of the execution platform, they were standing closer to the sides.

Once everyone was standing in their positions, Fleet Admiral Sengoku, a man with round-rim glasses and a thick black afro took out a communication snail and started speaking into it.

"Gentlemen, I have something to tell you. Portgas D Ace. This man will die here today. And there is great meaning in that death."

Since the execution should not be starting for three hours, Rayleigh figured that they either intended to make a long show of it, or they were scheming something.

Sengoku placed the little communication snail next to the prisoner and ordered, "Ace, say the name of your father!"

Not only were there speakers around the whole of Marineford, but there were also TV-Snails and this picture was being broadcast, live, to some areas while other areas got the audio from Radio-Snails.

Ace shouted in protest, "My father is Whitebeard!"

Sengoku argued back, "No!"

The man bearing the tattoo of Whitebeard on his back declared, "It's true! The only father I have is Whitebeard! Nobody else!"

The Fleet Admiral seemed to give up convincing him and entered story mode. He told the world, "A long time ago, we were desperately searching. Because on some island, somewhere, that man's child might be alive. Cipher Pol could only give us the smallest bit of information. So we checked all the newborn children who were born soon after, as well as their mothers, and still we found nothing."

"That should have been it... But your mother gave her life for your birth, using sheer willpower to perform a trick. She deceived us, no. She deceived the entire world! In the South Blue, there's an island by the name of Batelira. Your mother's name was Portgas D. Rouge. We never imagined what she was capable of. Out of love for her child. She carried him in her womb for twenty months. And when she gave birth, her strength finally gave out and she died right there."

"One year and three months had passed since the father died. A child born with the blood of the world's greatest villain running through his veins. That child was you. There's no way that you don't know! Your father... Was the Pirate King! Gol D. Roger!"

Rayleigh thought to himself, 'Well, I'm sure this won't end badly at all.'

*Author's Note*

Sorry, no war yet. I was able to release so many chapters back-to-back because I basically had a backlog of ideas I wrote during the hiatus period all the way up to the war. But now my reserves are dry and I have to go back to drawing the plot from that strange place in the back of my head I get all my stories from.

I got most of the planning done this week so now I just need to hash out the rest of it over next week so it should come next weekend. I'd like to do it earlier, but my job changed my schedule to something insane for a training period that will last a week and a half, so I don't have time to write over the weekdays like I usually do.

Now, before I commit to anything, if anyone has ideas they want to see in the war, feel free to make suggestions.