I do not own 'One Piece' or 'The Gamer'


In the blink of an eye, he materialized on the battlefield, standing tall amidst the chaos. By condensing his hands together, he built up a potent surge of energy. Then with a sudden release, the power exploded outward, unleashing its force upon his enemies.


Shakky's Rip-Off Bar, Sabaody Archipelago

A sense of anticipation filled the air as I locked eyes with the guy before me. His smirk had me second-guessing what he'd do next. With a mix of hesitation and curiosity, I cautiously played a card on the table, keeping my eyes on him, unsure if it was the right move.

The all-knowing smirk on Rayleigh's face widened considerably, as if relishing the moment. With a grand display, he placed all of his cards onto the table, revealing the full extent of his hand.

"You lose again, Henry. Bwahaha!" The Dark King's laughter filled the room as he placed a hand on his stomach. "I've never seen someone so concentrated even on a losing streak!"

"Are you kidding me?! This is like the hundredth time!" I shouted, my voice filled with a blend of disbelief and frustration. I couldn't help but be bewildered while looking down at the cards spread out before me, revealing yet another loss.

Rayleigh's words hit like a bolt of lightning. Realizing that he had been present for all of Roger's adventures only fuelled my frustration.

Was his former captain undefeated, or was the guy simply trying to get under my skin?

To preserve my dignity, I'll choose to believe the latter.

"You buffoon...stop using Haki on the poor boy, you're embarrassing him too much," Gloriosa remarked in disapproval, shaking her head at him. "I thought you'd know better."

Confused, I turned back and forth, shifting between the elderly lady and the Dark King. My mind struggled to make sense of the situation, grappling with the bewildering turn of events.

"Wait...he's using what against me?"

"The fool is looking into the future and knows your every move," She snorted at my bafflement. "I suppose the cahoot is still a pirate at heart."

He's been using future sight this whole damn time?!

Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me…

"You cheating asshole!" I snarled at him, trying to punch the Dark King in the face, only causing the man to laugh even louder while effortlessly blocking my attacks with a finger.

"Don't hate the player! Hate the game! Bwahaha!"

"That doesn't work in this context, you senile dumbass!" I threw another punch, but it was swiftly deflected, almost causing me to lose my balance and nearly stumble to the ground. Fortunately, Rayleigh promptly grabbed the front of my shirt, preventing the fall.

"'And he says I'm the senile one," The man chuckled before dropping me back onto the seat. "I'm the best when it comes to these types of games."

"Haven't you lost several times in gambling?" The exiled empress questioned, narrowing her eyes at him.

"Intentionally, Gloriosa. Always with intention," He said, a sly smirk forming on his lips. "When I offer my services to the highest bidder, they're usually loaded. How else do I manage to contribute my fair share around here?"

"You don't pay for anything! You've always used that money to gamble even more!"

The Dark King shrugged.

"Ya win some, ya lose some. That's how life goes"

"You are such an infuriating man, I don't know how Shakky puts up with you." She sighed in defeat, then stood up and went to the backroom.

He simply smiled at her remark and returned his gaze to the table.

"So how about another round, Henry?"

"Nah, I don't feel like it." I waved him off and sank back into the seat even more. "You'll just cheat again."

That certainly grabbed the retired pirates' attention.

"Oh? So, knowing the future is considered cheating then?" Rayleigh leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "But Henry...everyone has the right to shape their tomorrow."

I don't have the energy to handle this right now, to be honest.

"Always with the philosophy crap..." I grumbled under my breath.

As his grin grew more pronounced, I couldn't help but grumble inwardly in annoyance.

He's really starting to grate on my nerves with all this cryptic stuff and mysterious talk.

"Gaining a broader perspective on things is something I've recently learned," The man noted, stroking his beard, and scooting over to sit by my side. "It reminds me of something Roger said..."

A somber expression manifested on him.

"I'm not going to die...partner."

My eyes widened as his words struck a chord within me, instantly recognizing their importance, both here and in an otherworldly sense. However, I chose to remain silent throughout his brief speech.

"It's okay to feel sad and angry, just don't lose yourself to them." He voiced, placing a firm hand on my shoulder. "You know, after Roger's passing, I went through a really tough time. It's when I was at my lowest that Hachi rescued me out at sea."

That explains how they're good friends.

"If it hadn't been for him, I would've drowned."

Confusion washed over me as I tried to make sense of it.

"You can't swim?"

"I could've...but I didn't want to." A bittersweet expression adorned him, revealing the depth of the man's emotions. "Shakky was a real mess that day. She wouldn't let me out of sight for even a moment."

The silence in the air was prominent, reflecting the conflicting emotions I felt about the entire situation.

Throwing away my entire dream was silly, and I'm not going to stand by his presumptions. The idea that he must be aware of Nika crossed my mind — almost certainly guaranteed.

Initially, these thoughts nearly ignited a wave of anger within me, but I immediately cooled off and regained my composure.

'Maybe I'm just overthinking, as usual.'

Rayleigh maintained a look of complete awareness, perceiving something that clearly eluded my own comprehension.

"You're a smart person, Henry." The Dark King remarked, his intrigue shone unmistakably. "And...I think I understand you a little better now."

I flashed a subtle smile, showing that I genuinely respected those thoughtful words.

It's funny, really.

He says he gets me...but I don't think I've understood him at all.


"I'm telling you that it won't happen."

"And why not?!" Hancock's scowled, her siblings meekly watching from the sidelines.

"Because we are currently in an unofficial lockdown," Shakky replied, shaking her head. "Although I have the means to contact Amazon Lily, they're still a pirate crew, and it would be a suicide mission for them."

"But—!"

"But what? Are you suggesting they should die just for a slim chance of you getting to go home?" The Former Empress retorted sternly, releasing a weary sigh. "Look...it would be wiser for the three of you to wait until this situation has settled down."

Hancock gritted her teeth, but nodded in understanding, finally giving in to her logic.

The sisters had been engaged in a heated argument for quite some time, leaving me uncertain about how to approach the situation. However, before I could intervene, they independently decided to seek out Shakky.

Witnessing their long-awaited opportunity to return home to Amazon Lily being undermined by the relentless interference of the Marines was disheartening.

It made me sick to my stomach.

"How long are we stuck in here for?" She asked, crossing her arms over the counter.

"However long the Marines take to loosen their grip on the shipyard and the lawless area."

Gazing across the room from the couch, a deep frown settled on my face as I witnessed an ongoing argument that appeared to stretch endlessly.

Trapped in an endless lockdown, we felt the heavy burden of confinement. The Marines were like relentless K-9 units, scouring every corner, hunting down any signs of trouble.

Word on the street is that they intend to make this place and the surrounding islands safer for merchant ships.

Of course, we weren't stupid enough to blindly believe them.

The Marines were on a mission to track down anyone displaying the Celestial Dragons' claw symbol on their backs. Their sole purpose was to capture and forcefully return these individuals to the clutches of slavery, without any room for questioning or hesitation.

Whenever asked by the public — obviously people were going to see the shit going on — it's because things were being stolen.

The expressions on the sisters' faces revealed the entire narrative. They wore looks of sheer terror, knowing that even individuals who appeared slightly suspicious or raised any doubt were subjected to intense "questioning". Their backs were laid bare for harsh inspections, leaving no room for mercy.

We found ourselves stuck here, unable to escape, and compelled to depend on the wisdom and support of the older folks to meet our needs.

It pissed me off so...fucking…much.

I felt an intense urge to unleash my vengeance upon those ignorant clowns, compelling me to go out and wipe them out without mercy. However, I had to face the harsh reality that my current strength was feeble, like that of a mere infant in the grand scheme of things.

It felt like yet another futile hope, another desperate wish in a sea of hopelessness.

"Everything alright, Henry?" I glanced over at Rayleigh, noticing his raised eyebrow of curiosity. "You seem a bit on edge."

"I'm fine, don't worry about me," I reassured, masking the inner turmoil gnawing at me.

To be honest, I still clung to the belief that my version of the great cleansing would someday come to pass. However, I knew deep down that exercising patience and waiting for the right moment was essential.

Still...I hated waiting.

Why can't I just go out and kill those bastards right now?

"I'm just annoyed that we'll be stuck here for a while."

He regarded me with a peculiar expression, his gaze reflecting curiosity and nonchalance.

"It will go away eventually, I'm sure of it."

"Hopefully," I grumbled, leaning back onto the couch, seeking some comfort to ease the growing apprehension. "I just...don't enjoy being trapped in one place for too long."

My back slumped back onto the couch.

'It feels like I'm stuck in a cage.'

Frankly, the level of freedom I had acquired was decent — this chokehold on the island would eventually fade away. Nevertheless, an unsettling sensation in the pit made me feel as if I were once again confined within that enclosure.

A gentle tug at my shirt diverted my attention, and I turned to see Koala sitting idly, holding a closed bottle.

"Open please."

I gazed at her intently for a few moments and a pleading expression gradually formed on her face.

"Of course," With a twist, the bottle emitted a small popping sound, indicating that it had been successfully opened. "If you need anything else, be sure to ask."

She nodded, then wasted no time in chugging the entire contents down.

Well...at least Koala's cute face made these times a bit more bearable.

oooo
Perk Update!
[Malnourished]
Decreases STR, VIT, DEX, and skill gain by 50%.

Decreases STR, VIT, DEX, and skill gain by 25%.
oooo

A deep sigh escaped my lips.

It won't be long from now, I'll be able to train just like I've always wanted.

Patience...just more patience.


Rooftop, Shakky's Rip-Off Bar

Lounging on the top of the building, I was completely drawn in by the vast night sky above me. The absence of bright lights allowed the stars to shine brilliantly, creating a mesmerizing celestial spectacle. It was a refreshing change from the usual distractions of Sabaody Park's lively light shows beaming everywhere.

The world seemed to stretch out forever, but I couldn't say by how much.

Although I hadn't delved much into astrology, I couldn't resist the simple pleasure of staying up late and gazing at the sky. Something is enchanting about just staring at the stars above, stirring my curiosity and fuelling a desire to explore the mysteries of the universe.

I knew space pirates existed because of Enel's cover story, so maybe in the future that'd be a possibility.

A creaking sound from behind caught my attention, and I quickly turned my head to identify the source. To my surprise, the latch had slowly swung open, and Hancock stood in a tank top peeking her head out, and a soft blanket draped around her shoulders. Dark, lustrous hair framed her face, and a gentle smile graced her lips as our eyes met.

"What'cha doing up here?" She said, looking around and herself the blanket along. "It's kinda late."

"I didn't feel like sleeping." Also, I've been getting restless here, though that's not something I'm going to say aloud. "The feeling of...well—"

"—being cooped up in one place is frustrating?" The future empress giggled and dropped down next to me. "Makes sense."

"Shouldn't you be more worried about your sisters?" I asked, appearing rather perplexed. "I'm not worth the hassle."

Considering how traumatized Hancock was and recalling her outburst on the boat, I've been genuinely concerned about her mental well-being. No matter how much they try to hide it behind laughter, the deep-seated fear in their eyes remains unmistakable in my view.

She simply responded with a soft smile.

"We can handle ourselves. We've got each other." Then the small glare came, "Also, Henry...you're always worth the hassle."

Despite holding back a smile, I held firm and accepted that answer.

"So are you here to just watch me here or something?"

"Somebody has got to do it," Hancock smirked and cheekily winked. "I don't want to see someone running off and trying to fight someone who's way stronger than them."

My eyes narrowed.

Ah, I get it now.

She's worried that I might feel the urge to go and fight the scouting Marines. In hindsight, I should've realized that someone would have sensed my agitation at that time.

"Don't bother, Rayleigh knows I've been up for a while."

After settling everything down, I've found myself here quite a few times, whether it's immediately after checking up on the old man or during the quiet hours of the night when everyone else has fallen asleep, like right now.

Honestly, I'm unsure why she's been so insistent on that matter. At the end of the day, it doesn't make a difference whether I'm alone or not.

Focusing on her sisters should be the priority.

"Then I'll be some added backup with him," She replied nonchalantly, but I saw things differently.

Translation: 'You're not getting rid of me at all'.

[Conqueror's Haki] users are really damned stubborn. It's like I'm being hit with my own medicine for being hypocritical before.

"Okay...fine...you win."

It's not as if I have a choice in the matter.

We're both too stubborn, which would inevitably lead to us sitting here for the entire night, locked in a stalemate.

"How about instead of sitting here like a weirdo, we can talk like normal people." The Kuja suggested.

"I thought we've long established that we're far from normal," I retorted, chuckling while shaking my head. "But why the hell not, you're both my friends, after all."

"Both? Who else is here with us?"

"You and that big forehead, of course," I laughed, but my amusement was abruptly cut short after receiving a swift elbow to the stomach, causing me to keel over in pain.

"Watch yourself. My patience is a short one."

Considering how her alternate future self would've acted? I would've been destroyed immediately for such an action.

The benefits of friendship.

"Alright...alright," I suppressed my laughter, barely keeping it at bay. "Let me at least ask you something."

"Is it actually serious?" She furrowed her eyebrows, watching cautiously. "Don't make me turn you to stone, Henry."

"Sort of...?" I chuckled meekly, but her deadpan expression made it clear that she wasn't buying it. "I'm not sure how to go about this, though."

Looking back, perhaps I should've gone with the deeper inquiries first. Maybe to at least lighten up the mood a bit.

"Go on then."

"Shakky mentioned a few things about your island, how the women there undergo intense training and are almost like soldiers," I said, recalling the information. "What I'm curious about is...why is it exclusively women? How did that come about?"

"What do you mean? Like women being born there?"

"I mean statistically, that's not possible unless it's genetic." Even after going through the entire Amazon Lily arc, I don't remember a clear explanation of how that worked on the island. It's still a bit of a mystery. "Ya got an answer for me?"

Hancock placed a hand on her cheek and leaned onto it, working out an explanation.

"Men can be born on that island, but it's super rare...like near impossible."

"What happens to them if they're born?" Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked with eagerness, hoping to satisfy my thirst for new knowledge.

"I don't know..." Her eyes took a softer expression, "I've never really asked that much before."

My stomach dropped.

Even those with a rudimentary sense of emotional cues could comprehend the importance behind her words, and unfortunately, they were far from positive.

"Well, that's one mystery sort of solved," I muttered, not particularly pleased with the implications.

Regardless, I had been the one to request an answer, so there's no one to blame but myself.

A persistent nagging feeling kept pounding in my head, urging me to pursue further. Although my initial intention was to ask the next specific question for Rayleigh — I'm still indecisive on it considering how intelligent the man is — hearing her perspective on the matter would be interesting.

"Hey...Hancock."

"Yeah?" The Kuja raised an eyebrow.

"Can I ask you two things this time?" I asked, my voice growing more firm.

She appeared a bit nervous, and rightfully so, but it seemed that her curiosity outweighed her uneasiness.

"You really like questioning things, huh?" Hancock chuckled sarcastically before getting slightly serious. "Alright then, what kind?"

"It's like a 'what if' scenario," I vaguely described, unsure of how to accurately portray it. "I want to hear your opinion on it."

I shifted my gaze towards the Amazonian, observing her closely.

"Hmm…" She hummed thoughtfully, but I couldn't stop shaking the feeling that she's doing that just to mess with me. "I don't see why not….go right ahead."

After a short pause to brainstorm and collect my ideas, I mustered the words and spoke up.

"Imagine someone is walking down a path to be the freest being ever, but unaware to them, there are many forces at play that string the person along. They plan around them and ensure that they're victorious at every turn." Lost in my thoughts, my eyes naturally closed for a moment before I proceeded. "At the end of their journey, they finally achieved their goal, and the strings unknowingly binding them are basically dropped."

This time, my gaze fixated entirely on her.

"Were they free because of how they saw things or was their whole journey just one big illusion?"

A heavy silence hung in the air after I finished speaking.

Regret washed over me as I realized the impulsive nature of my question. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I lamented not considering the impact it might have had.

She looked at me, clearly confused. But then, realizing the seriousness in my expression, started to ponder the situation.

"Where did you come up with that?" Hancock asked, frowning somewhat.

"It's just a dilemma I've been thinking about, I'm still conflicted about it."

I was intrigued to hear someone else's perspective, but didn't want to be too direct in my approach. I hoped to find subtle ways to initiate a conversation that would allow me to uncover their opinions.

"They aren't aware of the things messing around with them?"

"Nope…not at all." If they did, they'd probably have been angry or extremely frustrated.

I patiently waited, overlooking as she pondered the matter with care. It was comforting to know that Hancock cared enough to take her time, and I appreciated her thoughtful consideration.

"I...I guess if they're happy, then...it's fine?"

My mouth flattened.

"So in your opinion, ignorance is bliss?"

She just shrugged, looking all skeptical about how to answer.

I could tell my question had thrown her off. I started feeling guilty, thinking I had made things too complicated for her. But hey, I decided to push forward and keep the conversation going anyway.

"How does it work out in the end anyway?"

"Bad and good things still happen, but in the end, it'll work out for the best." I noted, offering a reassuring perspective. "Just imagine someone winning against impossible odds to save the world."

My voice stilled for a few moments, letting her think about those complications.

Then came the bombshell I've been waiting to ask.

"If you're in the story and knew how it'll mostly play out...would you change it?"

This world wasn't merely a work of fiction, it existed, and I'm not stupid enough to treat it as a fake reality. That's why I genuinely cared about her opinion...because she's my friend.

"Henry, this is getting weird." Hancock admitted, her voice growing all the more concerned. "Why are you asking about these things?"

"Because I trust you...that's why," I stated blatantly, not even turning to see the Kuja's face. "I've wanted to ask Rayleigh the same thing, but I don't care about that anymore."

Getting the Dark King's opinion on such a thing was enticing, especially knowing the irony behind that scenario. Truthfully, given his stance on other matters and his relationship with Roger, I already had a pretty good idea of what his view would be. Our conversation from yesterday only hammered down on those beliefs.

"What about you then? You're not exactly someone I'd think would be—"

"—philosophical?"

"Yeah...that," She conceded.

It's a reasonable assumption on her part, that's more Rayleigh's thing than me.

"I've decided to take a page out of someone else's book." I won't deny that I haven't always been the brightest person, especially when it comes to anything related to the coating mechanic. He's so mysterious that it's aggravating. "You want to know my answer?"

Hancock nodded enthusiastically, her eyes brimming with genuine interest.

"Well, it's easy for me..."

Outside of the Kuja's view, one of my hands gripped tightly.

"...I would go around and do whatever the hell I wanted."

No hesitation.

No shits given.

"You'd be damning the world, Henry."

"Then so be it," I admitted with my lips drawing a thin line. "I'd rather see the world fail on its own merits than succeed through fake ones."

The words I uttered might have appeared greatly disagreeable in her eyes, but someone with my understanding might have perceived them differently. There's a good possibility that they'd decide to join the Straw Hats, embarking on a journey alongside them, facing various challenges, and ultimately discovering the One Piece.

That wasn't what I wanted...at all.

True freedom is discovered when one travels a path without relying on their own eyes to perceive it. Saying that depending on such a thing isn't stupid, but pursuing freedom on a singular path isn't liberating.

Now I understand Luffy's judgment to destroy the Eternal Pose that Robin had given him much more clearly. Though he may have been deemed foolish for not keeping it within reach — an entire country was on the line — there's a certain admiration in the symbolism of casting it aside.

I've made my decision long ago, ever since my declaration at Mariejois, and that resolve will remain until I'd draw my last breath.

"I guess I'm just a selfish guy," My eyes looked upwards, their gaze still lingered on those distant stars. They seemed so far away, and yet beautiful all the same. "Maybe that makes me a terrible person or something far more, but it doesn't change the reality of what I've said."

Considering how everything played out, and my obvious distaste for it, I've already altered how things would go. The consequences of the Sun Pirates being formed ahead of schedule are a clear example of this — rippling effects are going on that I can't even see now.

Will the world be doomed for it?

Who knows.

"Since the day I met you, you've just gotten weirder and weirder." She sighed as though I were a bothersome presence, but then lifted her gaze with a smile that held a hint of nostalgia. "At least it's good to know that you're still a person."

That's fair.

This world is filled with its good share of oddballs, so I don't truly feel downright out of place, to be honest.

"Ya know...I've never asked what you wanted," I mentioned, inwardly scolding myself for not doing so earlier.

She let out a small chuckle, mixed in with some dismay.

"I don't exactly have a suicidal dream like you, Henry. All I want is to go home safe with my sisters and..." Hancock's attitude changed with her breath hitching somewhat. "...for the nightmares to go away."

She scoffed, looking away in indecision.

"But I have to be strong for my sisters. If not me, then who else?"

Her willingness to share this information is a testament to the trust she places in me. The realization brought forth a mix of overwhelming emotions and a comforting sense of faith.

"Why'd you want my opinion anyway?"

I paused for a moment, stroking my chin, contemplating how best to formulate an answer.

"I've been planning on writing stories on my off time, getting different views is normal for aspiring writers." It would be akin to stealing plotlines, but the truth of the matter is that no one here would be aware of that fact.

Not every waking moment will be consumed by combat. It's crucial to have a hobby to preserve my sanity and prevent madness from taking hold.

"You? A writer? Hahaha!" Hancock held her stomach and burst out laughing. "Now that's just too funny."

"I'll have you know that my pen skills are going to be off the charts!" I huffed, crossing my arms in a show of confidence.

She just laughed even louder.

"Pen skills! Hahaha!"

The disrespect!

"You'll eat those words someday," I mustered up my best glare, "They'll be selling those books from every sea!"

"Sure...sure...hshgshdssha," She covered her mouth with her hand while dismissively waving off my proclamation.

I'll admit defeat for now and grant her this victory. However, I'm confident that in the end, she'll lose the bet.

"Hancock."

A swell of pure determination coursed through me, sending a surge of energy rushing through my veins.

"Hmm?" The future empress cast a glance in my direction.

"I promise you..."

My hand reached out towards the shimmering night sky, wishing to transcend the distance that stood between us.

"We will be the stars."


Inside The Boat, Shakky's Rip-Off Bar

I allowed myself to sink into a weathered coach, relishing in the comforting support it provided. It's an older one that was in the backroom, and we've moved it in here.

Once again, I found myself back on the boat, embracing the familiar surroundings that enveloped me like a warm embrace.

Fortunately, I'm not alone here.

Marigold is currently tending to the needs of the sleeping old man. She's taking the time to change his bandages, and despite my repeated offers to assist, they've all firmly declined, insisting that it is the least they can do alone. Those sisters are incredibly stubborn, but their dedication to helping is both admirable and irritating at times.

"The...dog...went...to...their...owner and...asked for...food," There was a pause after the sentence was finished until brown eyes looked up at me for approval.

I smiled brightly.

"Very good, Koala." My hand reached out, gently patting her on the back in a comforting manner. "You've been getting a lot better these last few days."

It's mind-boggling how trauma has the power to make you forget even the simplest things, such as your reading pace.

oooo
New Skill Gained!
Teaching (1/100)
Those under the user's instruction learn 1% faster.
oooo

I've been doing this for a while and you're only now giving me this skill?

Yeah...that [Malnourished] perk has to go.

"Umm, can I ask a question?" She whispered, her words barely reaching my ears but still managing to make their way to me.

"Ask away."

"When will he wake up?" She pointed at the bed where Regi was sleeping.

I felt the insidious tendrils of guilt seep into my mind. The gnawing sensation of shame tightened its grip as I spoke.

"I...I don't know, Koala." My eyebrows furrowed. "I just don't know."

I've been checking on him every day, but there's still no sign of him waking up. It's been terrifying and worrying me more and more as time goes on. Everyone keeps saying he'll wake up on his own, but I just want to know when that's going to happen, preferably sooner rather than later.

"Sorry..."

"Sorry? What'cha saying that for?" I snorted in amusement. "You were just curious, that's all."

She turned her face away from me, likely out of shame.

"Don't worry about it," I expressed, my gaze shifting back to the old man as Marigold tended to his wounds. "One of my dreams is for him to wake up soon."

I saw the red-head smile in response, but she continued diligently with her work.

"What's a dream?" She asked, looking curious.

My lips twitched somewhat, barely acting as a delicate disguise for the anger that welled up inside upon hearing her words. Naturally, those monsters would deny her such a basic right, and it only served to further fuel me.

For her sake, I'll keep silent on that.

"It's something you really want to do in the future," I remarked, thinking of an analogy. "Like someone saying they'll be the strongest swordsman in the world or a brave warrior of the sea."

If I recall correctly, it has the potential to physically alter your appearance as well if you aren't following that goal.

"O-Oh..." Koala stuttered, staying silent for a while.

She often drifts into her own little world, but I suspect it's because she was forced to be quiet for so long. I'm confident that with time, she will outgrow this tendency and become more engaged in her surroundings.

"Take your time and think about what you truly want to do, because dreams have the power to make us a million times stronger," I remarked, flexing one of my arms for emphasis. "Have you thought about what you like doing?"

In this world, dreams and ambition play a crucial role in one's success. Without them, you're at a significant disadvantage. You can tell the difference when comparing Crocodile's performance against Luffy in Alabasta to his showing at Marineford.

It's night and day.

The little girl falls into a brief silence, deep in thought, the weight of my question lingering. Then fear flickers in her eyes momentarily before she gathers herself and bravely responds.

"I don't know...I'm sorry."

There she goes again apologizing, however, I think I've understood what's going on. She thinks I'm going to hit her for not answering correctly and that deeply troubles me. The constant flinching only adds to that likely being true.

"There's no need to rush," I reassured, gently brushing her hair with my hand. "You'll figure everything out eventually."

And if Koala finds herself at a loss, I'll simply guide her towards the Revolutionary Army. I'm certain they will provide the assistance needed.

She's got plenty of time to think about it.

"Elder sister was right, Henry," Marigold chimed in, her voice indicating that she had just finished wrapping fresh bandages around Regi's wounds.

"Right about what?"

"About you being good with children." She giggled while cleaning the blood off of her hands.

I let out a groan, but it only seemed to make her giggle even louder.

"I'll get you three soon, mark my words." I huffed, attempting to appear more intimidating than I already was. "You won't be able to embarrass me any longer."

I'll come up with a plan to deal with them, but that's a problem for my future self to solve.

Suddenly, laughter reverberated throughout the room, causing me to halt in my tracks.

Turning towards the source of the noise, a wave of perplexity washed over me while staring onward.

I found myself unable to look away as Koala was there with a wide smile on her face, giggling as if she didn't have a single worry in the world.

She laughed...and that warmed my heart.


Shakky's Rip-Off Bar, Sabaody Archipelago

[Silvers Rayleigh]

The bar was eerily quiet and empty, with only Shakky — I could sense her as I approached — holding down the fort. She stood behind the counter, casually polishing a glass cup with practiced ease. The soft glow of the lights illuminated the space, casting a tranquil ambiance over the scene.

"You're unusually early," She side-eyed me while continuing to do her work.

I smirked.

"I'm here when the universe asks me to be," I said, placing some money on the table. "How is everyone doing?"

"They're all asleep, and I...have been waiting here for you," She stated, her eyes locking onto my own.

I resisted the urge to wince.

"Anything interesting happen in the world while I was out?"

"Other than the World Government and Marines trying to maintain control? Not much, really." She shrugged, glancing at a newspaper in her hands. "Oh...and Chinjao postponed his tournament due to the Marines' interference. It seems like they're desperate to salvage their reputation worldwide."

"Ah...him," I entertained myself with memories starting to resurface. "I recall Roger teasing him about his 'cone head'. He's quite sensitive about such matters."

Given how fiercely he acted afterward, calling that an understatement would be quite accurate.

"Poor Chinjao...he's still working hard to regain his fame after what Garp did to him. It's admirable, if only for that," She remarked, expressing a sense of sympathy.

Shakky's face morphed into something that resembled amusement.

"There's something else on your mind, right?" The former empress questioned, eyeing me carefully.

She knew me too well.

"Always so forward," I teased, resting my arms on the table. "Reminds me of the days when you were chasing me down."

"Just spill it, Rayleigh."

There's no point in trying to withhold information from this woman. She'd see right through you, no matter what's said.

"It's about Henry."

"The boy?" She appeared to ponder for a moment before adding, "He does seem to like staying in that boat quite a lot."

Judging by her expression, it was clear that she expected me to continue with the explanation.

I obliged.

"At first, he reminded me of Buggy because of how lucky that boy always was." A chuckle escaped my lips as memories flooded back.

I couldn't help but recall the countless times when the red-nosed brat ran for his life, desperately trying to escape whatever perilous situation he had found himself in.

Those were the good days, indeed.

"And now?"

"Now I'd say he's more like a combination of Shanks, Buggy, and Bullet...more of the latter."

His swift response to my questions left no room for doubt.

If I were a betting person, and I happen to be one, he likely possesses [Conqueror's Haki].

"The 'Demon Heir'?" She noted, her curiosity piqued. "I can't quite recall why they gave him that nickname."

"Many places we went to called Roger a demon and Bullet wanted to be his successor," Given the impressive strength the kid possessed at that time, I couldn't blame him for holding such a belief. However, my old friend was much more than just strength, and it seemed that the young man failed to grasp that.

A moment of realization seemed to dawn upon her as if all the pieces of the puzzle fell into perfect alignment.

"He gave himself the moniker?"

I nodded.

"When Oden joined the crew, he wasted no time in trying to fight him," I sighed, reminiscing as I stroked my growing beard. "Bullet was always pushing his limits...constantly seeking ways to become stronger."

The boy wouldn't hesitate to challenge even myself or Gaban whenever Roger was absent. Frankly, his insatiable thirst for strength was both remarkable and unsettling, especially when compared to how Shanks and Buggy acted themselves.

"What happened to him?" Shakky inquired with her usual curiousness, always eager for an inside scoop.

"He was captured in Impel Down after discovering Roger's captivity, and eventually managed to escape alongside Shiki," I remarked, not at all surprised. "Who knows what he's up to now."

"Do you know what happened to him after that?" The former empress raised an eyebrow. "You'd think I'd be the first to know between the two of us."

I burst into a hearty laugh.

"Shanks mentioned meeting him on Secon Island, but their encounter was brief, and he showed no interest in a fight," I recounted, still remembering how taken aback I'd been by that revelation. Maybe time could transform a person into something entirely different. "Nothing else came after that."

"You think he's working with the Golden Lion?"

"Hmm...hard to say, anything possible at this point."

My old friend truly left his mark on this world with all the chaos he stirred up.

In the next life, if I have the chance to meet him, I might just give him a piece of my mind for not providing me with a proper retirement. Golden Age of Piracy or not.

"It was a bit strange, to be honest. He was all about challenging his captain nonstop, always looking for a fight. So teaming up with the enemy to break free from Impel Down made sense at the moment."

Sticking with them for the long run?

That just didn't quite fit with Bullet's usual way of thinking.

"Either way, I don't believe Henry is like that," Shakky remarked, lighting up a cigarette. "He's just an angry kid. They all are, really."

Her face shifted into a grimace.

"You've seen how that little girl Koala has been behaving...it's awful."

She has experienced deep-rooted trauma, and it remains uncertain whether she'll be able to fully recover. If it weren't for the shutdown, I'd be messing around with the slavery auction right around now.

"You're right...maybe I've been jumping to conclusions lately," I confessed with a deep sigh, watching Shakky pour me a shot of whiskey. "Roger's birthday is approaching after all..."

Almost forgetting about it had kept me in a somewhat sour mood all week, serving as a reminder to take it into account moving forward.

"If he were here, he'd tell you to stop being a baby." Her eyes rolled. "And probably tell you to just have fun."

"Is that so?"

"Yes...so."

Even after all this time, she certainly knew how to keep up with the cheekiness game.

"You are a different kind of woman, Shakky."

"So I've been told."

We shared a prolonged moment of unbroken eye contact, staring at each other without blinking, until the silence was finally interrupted.

"Bwahaha! Maybe this bad mood I'm in will fade away soon enough with the Queen of Sass' help," I voiced, a smile sneaking itself onto my face.

"And how else can I help you, oh great Dark King?"

My mind stopped and mulled it over for a brief moment, before swiftly thinking of an answer.

"How about another drink on the house?" I grinned mischievously, raising my cup in a playful toast. "That'd help plenty."

A deep sigh escaped her lips, yet a subtle smirk played at the corners of her mouth as she poured another shot.

"You're insufferable."

That's when our laughter mixed into each other, filling the room with a joyful echo that bounced right back at us.

Even on one of the coldest days of the year in Sabaody, at this moment...there's no doubt in my mind that one thing remained unquestionably true.

We were the stars.


My Server: QG8WraudFB
Shiro's Discord Code: wd3tUYWVCd

I've decided to tweak Bullet's backstory a bit because of what we've learned after the movie dropped. Rather than leaving the Roger Pirates, he stays with them, though I'll leave it ambiguous as to what happened for now.

Also, I'm moving Henry's knowledge of the manga to 1085 instead of 1075. I forgot to say this in the last chapters AN.

Random Question: What are your thoughts on Kuma's backstory?

Reading about Kuma's life was heartbreaking in every way.

He just can't stop himself from giving back to people, even those who don't deserve any of it.

That punch Kuma threw against Saint Saturn got my blood pumping! He deserved it and more.

I hope Oda kills all the Celestial Dragons in a gruesome way, showing no mercy to those monsters. Eighty hundred years of suffering should end with all of them dead, but let's be real though...that's probably not gonna happen.