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Chapter 7-Max Hokuai
The World Noble in ChainsEdit
Max coughed up blood as the slave driver's boot slammed into him. As his vision faded, he wondered how his world had been turned so thoroughly upside down. Then he remembered. Pirates. He had been kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery. Now he had the Claw of the Celestial Dragon on his back and two huge scars disfiguring him so prominently that nobody would ever even begin recognize him.
He had tried explaining that to one of the jailers and had a few teeth knocked out for his trouble. Now he, Saint Max of the Hokuai House, was a slave. He woke up and found a pretty girl cradling his head in her lap, trying to trickle some water into his mouth. She was extremely dirty, and looked like she had been horribly beaten, and she was obviously a commoner, but now, with the moonlight behind her turning her short mousy brown hair into a silver halo through the bars and concern for him in her eyes, Max thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
He coughed weakly and smiled slightly, "Thank..." he began coughing again before he could finish. She smiled and brushed his hair back, "It's alright. It's night time now, they won't be after us again until morning. You're very lucky that we're up for auction tomorrow, if we weren't they probably would have killed you for being so weak." "Can you blame me?" Max said quietly, a hoarse whisper all he could manage, still coughing weakly every few syllables, "I'm a scholar, not a worker." She smiled at him, "I can tell. You're so pale and scrawny. Have you ever even seen a garden or a field?"
Max smiled weakly, he had seen many gardens in Mariejois, and he had seen a few fields from the windows of the royal palace in his family's kingdom, but for some reason, he didn't want to admit who he was. Then as he told her that he had seen one or two through windows, which earned a slight giggle from her that made his heart speed up half a painful step, he realized he didn't want to risk alienating her.
She stroked one of the two scars on his face, "What happened to you?" Max winced at the memory, "Pirates. They attacked my ship and decided to disfigure me for a laugh before they sold me he-AH!" He yelled as she suddenly leapt up a look of horror and disgust in her eyes. "You don't even recognize me do you Saint Max?" She spat his name with the venom and rage of an agitated krait as she suddenly recognized him. "What?" Max wheezed, his lungs hemorrhaging with pain from landing on his fractured ribs, wondering through the red haze of pain how she had figured out who he was.
She leaned down very close and hissed at him, her eyes filled with rage, "I have worked for your family since I was a little girl. My family has worked for yours for five generations! We've put up with as much abuse as any slave and now I am a slave because of you!" Max's eyes widened in shock and then she gave a little shriek and broke his nose. He gasped in pain and writhed clutching his nose, his lungs hemorrhaging too hard and his nervous system too overloaded with pain for him to even cry.
"I hope you're sold to the worst, most sadistic World Noble alive tomorrow! And I hope you live a long horrible life! Those pirates had the right idea," she spat quietly, "I can't think of any punishment more fitting for the brat that used to shoot at my feet to make me dance for him."
Max's eyes were wide as it hit all the way home with him who she was and she stood and limped to the corner on an ankle ruined by a bullet he vividly remembered shooting. Then he began to cry, not in self pity or pain, but in horror of what he had done.
The Next DayEdit
Max couldn't even bring himself to look at her as the slave drivers cuffed them together with the others and led them to the stage. He listened numbly, barely comprehending the auctioneer's words as he made his way along the line of slaves to them. When the auctioneer finally stopped in front of them, Max looked up and out at the crowd of buyers, most of them World Nobles. The auctioneer looked at him, and her, and turned back to the crowd, "Well ladies and gentlemen, we have here a pretty cripple, and an ugly weakling. Neither one of them appears to be good for much, so today we have a deal! Two for the price of one! Any takers?"
A deep nasal voice called, "One million Berries!" Max's head snapped up, his eyes wide in horror, "Oh no..." he whispered. He was dealt a quick right hook to the skull as the auctioneer raised his other hand, "One million going once! One million going twice! SOLD! To Saint Carlos for one million Berries!" Saint Carlos, a very fat man blubbered to his son who was very thin, "We shall have a good show tomorrow night won't we?" "Yes we will father, and the lion-beetles will have an excellent dinner!"
Oliver crouched over the auctioneer, who was also the manager of the Human Auction House, Chifu standing right behind him, clad in a black suit instead of a straightjacket, tapping the handle of his umbrella against his palm with a cold look in his eye. Oliver told the auctioneer coldly, "I'm going to ask you this one time, and if you don't give me the information I'm looking for, I'm going to let Chifu kill you and I'll move on to the next guy in line. I'll say it really slow so you'll be sure to understand me. Where. Are. The slaves. You sold. Today?" "I'll never tell you!" the auctioneer protested fiercely. "Wrong answer!" Oliver barked as he broke the auctioneer's nose with a punch and stood.
He turned to Chifu, "Chifu, I want this scumbag's fate to be the source of nightmares for everyone in this room for years to come. I'm going to go check on the others, I'll be back in five minutes." Chifu grinned wickedly as he stopped tapping his umbrella against his palm and clenched the handle instead, a murderous glint in his eye beneath his fedora, "My pleasure." Oliver turned and walked out, closing the door behind him as Chifu began to chuckle darkly and the auctioneer began to sweat.
Two minutes later, Oliver walked up to Ryori, "Going smoothly?" Ryori nodded, an uneasy look on his face as the auctioneer's screams echoed through the building, "They're all delighted to be free. Some of the brands are taking Maria longer to wipe than others, but she's managed to get all of them thus far. Kuina's been directing traffic and Kuma's taking names and destinations." He winced as a particularly horrific scream split the still night air, "Um Oliver-san, if you don't mind my saying so, this Chifu guy of yours gives me the creeps. What is he doing up there?"
Oliver nodded, "He's a scary guy, the World Government raised him to be that way, and he does take some getting used to. Don't worry though, he never goes back on his word, and he'll never attack a friend, so we are safe. As to what he's doing, he's softening up the slavers for further interrogation. I'm about to head back and continue interrogating them about the captives that were sold today. I think they'll be much more compliant with their information now." He patted Ryori on the shoulder, "Keep up the good work."
A Few Hundred Miles AwayEdit
She hadn't stopped glaring at him. He hadn't been able to bring himself to speak, knowing he was the one that had gotten her into this. She spoke first, "You know something don't you? About the man who bought us." Max nodded numbly, "I recognize him. Saint Carlos." She trembled slightly as the name struck a faint chord of memory with her, she knew something too, she just couldn't remember it. "He keeps Lion Beetles," Max said quietly.
Then she remembered why she knew that name, she had heard about it from another servant. Saint Carlos was famous in Mariejois for putting on shows where he threw slaves into an arena with his pet Lion Beetles, huge monstrous insects with hard golden shells covered in hair around their mandibles and fangs. Nobody ever survived the arena, and she knew with a sinking feeling in her stomach that this was the fate that awaited them.
Max sighed, "You got half your wish." She looked at him, "What?" "I've been sold to the worst most sadistic World Noble in the world, and I'm pretty sure this is going to be horrible. I don't think I'm going to live very long though. I just wish you were." She stared, certain she had misheard, "What?" Max drew in a shuddering breath, "I'm...sorry for what I did to you."
The apology felt strange in his mouth, he had never apologized for anything in his life, but he stiffened his resolve, he owed this girl more than one apology, "I'm sorry you're in this mess because of me, and I'm sorry there's nothing I can do to get you out of it. Most of all, I'm sorry that I never gave you enough attention to even learn your name." then it suddenly hit him what he was really apologizing for, "I'm sorry for being a World Noble."
She stared silently for several minutes, unable to believe what had just left Max's mouth. Then after it sank in and she realized he had not only said it, but apparently actually meant it, "My name's Melanie."
The next nightEdit
Max and Melanie stood in the arena beneath the spotlights, unchained, even their bomb collars had been removed so they didn't hurt the Lion Beetles. The arena walls were too high to jump and too smooth to climb. They were unarmed, and completely defenseless. As the gates began to clank open to admit the Lion Beetles, Max said over his shoulder to Melanie, who he had insisted on being behind him, "It's been nice knowing you."
"Most of knowing you has been hell Saint Max, but the last twenty four hours have been nice. Maybe if we live through this we can be friends someday." "Don't call me that name. I don't want it anymore. Just Max now." Melanie blinked and then smiled, "Ok, Just Max, it's been nice knowing you too. Now let's try not to get eaten okay?" Max nodded as the gates clanked open to reveal the darkness of the Lion Beetles' cage.
Something flared through Max and he twisted and grabbed Melanie before diving out of the way as a loud klaxon sent the first of the Lion Beetles rocketing into the arena, mandibles clacking and fangs gnashing. If they hadn't moved, Max and Melanie would have been torn apart in seconds. Melanie looked over Max's shoulder, "How did you do that?" He looked over his shoulder at the huge monstrous insect that was gnashing its teeth and mandibles, sniffing angrily because its dinner was not right in the path of its charge like it usually was, "Instinct?"
The world Nobles in the stand booed at him and egged the Lion Beetle on. After a moment, it had their scent again and sprang. Once again Max miraculously got himself and Melanie out of its way. This time though the beetle didn't pause, it just began to chase them. Max had no idea where the energy came from that allowed him to heave himself and Melanie out of its grasp again and again, but as it continued to chase them, he knew he wouldn't be able to evade it for long. Suddenly there was another burst of the klaxon, and Max knew another Lion Beetle was about to enter the arena, and come right at them.
Max waited until the last second, and then heaved Melanie out of the way as the first Lion Beetle leapt, and crashed into the second one which had come rocketing out of the gate. Max however, leapt straight up, higher than he ever had before, and somehow managed to land on top of the first Lion Beetle, just in time for the thunderous impact of the two Beetles to catapult him into the box with Saint Carlos's family.
He quickly grabbed the pistols all World Nobles carried from the sides of Saint Carlos and his son and pistol whipped them both before leaping back into the arena, and somehow miraculously managed to aim and shoot a perfect kill shot through the eyes and brain of the Lion Beetle quickly scuttling towards Melanie. The Lion Beetle collapsed, but so did Max as his shin broke beneath him upon landing. He cried out in pain and aimed blindly, somehow knowing that the second Lion Beetle was coming straight for him. He heard the World Nobles gasp in shock and felt the ground shake next to him. He managed to open his eyes through the pain and saw that his miraculous luck had set the stolen pistol blast right between the eyes of the Lion Beetle.
He was vaguely aware of Saint Carlos screaming in outrage as Melanie quickly limped over to check on him. He smiled at her as she reached him, "Hi Melanie." She grabbed him in a hug, "That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen! How did you do that?" Max smiled into her shoulder, relishing the warmth of her arms around his shoulders, "Instinct?"
There was suddenly another klaxon and their eyes widened with fear, as another Lion Beetle rocketed into the arena, Saint Carlos screaming for it to kill them. "Help me up!" Max said, his voice tense with fear. She quickly heaved him upright and he managed to shoot the lion Beetle as it heaved its fallen fellow out of its way with its mandibles. Once again, it was a perfect shot and the Lion Beetle collapsed.
Then there were three more klaxons in rapid succession, and Melanie looked at Max in terror, "How many more bullets do you have?" "One," Max said quietly. Tears leaked from her eyes, "We were so close." Then she suddenly kissed him as the Lion Beetles spotted them and charged, "Thank you for trying to save me. Maybe we'll meet again in our next lives."
Before Max could respond, a voice from behind them said, "Or maybe you'll live through this. DRAGON SHROUD!" They were suddenly wrapped in a thick white fog as they were each caught in a strong arm and quickly hauled backward. Suddenly the fog cleared away and they were on the other side of the arena, a man in a wide brimmed black hat and long black overcoat with a Jolly Roger emblazoned across its back, standing between them and the beetles.
The man in black had a pistol in each hand. He raised them, "Thousand Hyper Shot!" There was a huge explosion around the ends of his pistols, and the Lion Beetles, along with the wall behind them, disintegrated as though hit with a hundred cannonballs simultaneously. The pistols were badly warped, and unquestionably ruined, but he tucked them back into holsters on his belt as though they could be used again. He looked over his shoulder at them, "Orchard Black. Nice to meet you too."