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Chapter 8-Admiral ShiroigomuEdit

Every World Noble present stood and drew their guns, immediately taking aim as they invoked their ultimate trump card and screamed for an Admiral in unison. Orchard Black grinned up at them, fearless in the face of the dozens of guns aimed at him. He spread his arms, "Bring your admiral! And bring all the bullets you want! It won't save you from me!" Nearly a hundred pistols fired immediately, and crumpled against Orchard Black's nigh impenetrable hide.

He grinned, "Told ya! Now it's MY TURN!" He crossed his arms and was engulfed in a cocoon of light. His voice echoed through the light, strangely distorted, "Fourth Form Warp! INFERNOOOO!" The cocoon of light exploded off him, revealing that he had somehow grown white metallic armor beneath his clothes, and six long tentacles tipped in hard metallic looking claws protruded through the back of his coat.

He quickly lifted himself off the ground with them, his hands extended to the side, palm upward as blobs of green energy manifested in them, crackling and spitting green sparks. He pulled back and lobbed one into the stands, "HELL GRENADE!" The energy blob flew into the rapidly abandoned section of stands and exploded in a massive inferno of green flames with enough force to destroy that section of the arena. He launched the other one into the next section of seats as he generated a fresh one in his free hand, "HELL GRENADE!"

By the time he launched his second Hell Grenade, the World Nobles had all fled the arena, their normally slothful movements quickened by their fear. He curled his fist around the third one and snuffed it out as he lowered himself back to the ground. He turned to look at Max and Melanie, his eyes glinting with vicious delight through his helmet's visor, "You two might want to get out of here before that Admiral gets here." He looked more closely at them, noting that neither of them was going to be able to run, if they could walk at all, "You're not going to make it out in time alone."

His eyes glowed and Max and Melanie stared as the world suddenly changed around them. An older version of the man in black, with gray hair and a gray hat and shorter gray version of the man black's coat was standing over them. "Welcome aboard the Thundering Gusto. Maria will see to your wounds in a moment. I'll be back in a few minutes. I'm still getting people out of there." He disappeared and Max pushed himself up onto his elbows, seeing that somehow they had been moved to the deck of a ship moored at the base of the Red Line. Max and Melanie stared at each other, "What just happened?"

A man in a black suit with a fedora and umbrella walked past them, twirling his umbrella between his fingers, "Captain Orchard of the Orchard Pirates just saved your lives. Welcome aboard the Thundering Gusto. I am Chifu, the crew's resident assassin, and this lovely lady hurrying over to heal your wounds is Dr. Maria Sutetchi. Be very polite, she is the captain's girlfriend and a former Marine."

Back in the ArenaEdit

The ground shook slightly as the Admiral landed behind Orchard. He rose, his hair reflecting the green light of the fire, his eyes cold as he surveyed the man who had dared attack Mariejois, "So you're the fool who dared attack Mariejois. I presume from the Jolly Roger on your coat that you are also the one who broke Chifu Hoshu out."

Orchard Black grinned over his shoulder at him, "You got me." The admiral nodded beneath his bicorn, "I'm gonna kill you now." Orchard grinned behind his helmet's faceplate, "You do that." The admiral pulled back, and his arm stretched over a hundred feet backwards, "Gum-GUM" He snapped his arm forward with the power of a cannon, "PISTOL!" Orchard spun and his hand snapped up to catch the Admiral's fist effortlessly. As his hand began to glow he grinned and reverted to his usual form in a flash of light, although his hand continued to glow, "Gum-gum fruit. So you must be the legendary Admiral Shiroigomu, one of the world's three greatest military powers."

Shiroigomu growled and leapt forward, using his body's elasticity to propel him towards Orchard at incredible speed, a fist pulled back ready to punch. Just as he was about to connect, Orchard let go of his hand and sidestepped. Shiroigomu flew past him and slammed face first into the arena wall with such force a section of it collapsed. Orchard leapt to the middle of the arena as Shiroigomu pulled himself out of the rubble.

Shiroigomu suddenly lashed out with a lightning vast volley of punches, "Gum-gum Gatling!" Orchard raised an eyebrow at him and casually danced back out of range, the admiral's movements incredibly slow through the lense of the Tik-tik fruit's power. Shiroigomu quickly realized his attack wasn't connecting and leapt forward, slinging his arms behind him, "Gum-GUM" He snapped his arms forward with tremendous force as he landed, "BAZOOKA!" Orchard once again jumped out of the way as though it were the easiest thing in the world.

Then he grinned and stretched his own hand behind him, "My turn. Dragon's Tempest Claw!" A plume of clouds erupted out from his hand horizontally and took the shape of a huge claw. He swung it forward at Shiroigomu with incredible speed, effortlessly smacking the admiral across the arena, gouging several wounds into him with the surprisingly solid and sharp cloud claws in the process.

Shiroigomu lifted himself out of the rubble and Orchard yelled, "Draconic Thunder!" Orchard brought two large clouds slamming together with tremendous force, generating a huge thunder clap that deafened Shiroigomu for an instant and discharged a lightning bolt into him that momentarily blinded him, but left him otherwise unscathed. He laughed as he blinked stars from his eyes, "Lightning? Against a rubber-man? You must be joking!"

Orchard casually replied, "Nope. Tempest Dragon Fang!" Suddenly dozens of sharp blades slammed into Shiroigomu, every one of them leaving deep wounds. He cried out in pain and surprise as Orchard continued, "I just wanted you to hold still." Shiroigomu finally blinked the last of the stars from his eyes and crouched, "Now I'm mad." Bulges ran down his limbs, and he began to glow pink in places and steam, "Second Gear."

He moved forward and yelled, "GUM-GUM JET GATLING!" running and punching at a pace that would have been too fast for a normal eye to even see. To Orchard, he appeared as slow as molasses. Orchard waited until the Admiral was almost upon him and then disappeared and reappeared behind him. He casually stopped time, caught the Admiral's feet, lifted them off the ground and tied his legs in a knot before pushing the admiral's head down almost to the ground.

Then he dropped back into pace with the rest of the time stream to observe the full comedic effect. The admiral found himself rolling across the arena instead of running. He slammed into the arena wall, once again with incredible force from his speed, this time though he only left a crater in it as he landed upside down. Orchard grinned at him, "Nice try. If you're done playing around, I'd like to wrap this up now."

Shiroigomu untangled his legs and rolled to his feet. He bit his thumbs and growled, "Oh we're gonna wrap this up alright!" He closed his mouth around his thumbs and blew very hard. Orchard raised an eyebrow and then Shiroigomu's hands swelled to incredibly massive size. He lifted them, "THIRD GEAR!" He pointed his hands at Orchard, "GUM GUM GIANT BAZOOKA!" Both hands, each now the size of a small ship, rockets towards Orchard.

Orchard's eyes widened and then he grinned, and didn't even bother to move out of the way. The massive fists slammed into him and slammed him into the arena wall behind him, driving him through the side of the arena and into the street outside. Shiroigomu retracted his massive fists and shrunk to a fraction of his previous size as he deactivated his third gear, certain the battle was won.

Then to his horror he heard Orchard call, "My turn!" Shiroigomu's sharp eyes picked out Orchard leaping into the air, rising higher, higher and then, "Gigantoganto-nooow-ME!" The ground shook as he grew to the size of a very big giant in an instant and crouched, slamming a fist into the ground with such force it threatened to shake down several nearby buildings, those that hadn't been knocked over by his sudden transformation. He grinned and rose, clouds drifting around his ears as he looked down at the comparatively ant sized admiral and smacked a fist into the palm of his hand, "My turn."

Shiroigomu's eyes bugged out as Orchard raised his hand and shot it so far overhead Shiroigomu thought it surely must have been halfway to the moon as the giant Orchard yelled, "Giganto-gum SKYFAAAALL!!!" And brought his fist down on the arena with such force it demolished what was left of the building and made a massive crater in the solid stone of the Red Line, sending cracks all through the city and undermining several buildings, many of which collapsed immediately. Shiroigomu laid at the bottom of the crater, stunned by the incredible impact, but alive thanks to his gum-gum powers. Orchard Black crossed his arms and boomed, "The Orchard Pirates were here!"

Then he grinned and raised a fist to the sky, "Gigantogantooo..." he paused and then added, almost as an afterthought in a sing-song voice, "not me-e!" He shrank back to normal size laughing and strolled off. He reached the cliff overlooking the Thundering Gusto he hopped off laughing, and yelled, "Look out below!"

Dawn the Next MorningEdit

Many of the hundreds of freed slaves aboard the Thundering Gusto were awoken by the sound of a man screaming and a huge splash, the ones that had managed to sleep anyway. Many of them had been sleeping on the deck due to the overly cramped quarters below, and as the scream and splash woke them they saw Chifu brushing sand off his hands at the rail, his umbrella tucked under his arm. Orchard Black was standing next to him and quickly reached over the rail with his newfound gum-gum powers and hauled a very wet, bedraggled and bloody young man back up out of the water by the hair.

Orchard held him there dangling over the water as though he were weightless, and poked the barely conscious man in the chest, "Now I'm going to tell you this one more time Captain Crocopiddle, this is not your ship, you do not give orders here, you do not get to decide who sleeps where, and you mind your manners or we'll happily kill you. Understand?" The bedraggled, recently one-handed man with his face cut nearly in half coughed something unintelligible and Orchard threw him to the deck with a grin, "Good. We won't tell you again." Orchard turned and called, "Maria, would you come make sure he doesn't bleed to death? Don't stitch him up too good, but that arm needs some attention."

Maria smiled over the rail at him, cheerful even though she had been up all night tending to the wounds of the passengers, "Of course." Chifu chuckled before turning and walking off, "Look on the bright side Crocodile, now you can get a nice hook." Crocodile scowled at him as he clutched the bloody stump of his arm, still rather stunned that the man in the fedora had even been able to hit him, let alone maul him with an umbrella and throw him overboard like the contents of a chamber pot.

The next eveningEdit

Max woke up bleary eyed. He smiled, Melanie's head was on his shoulder and she was smiling. The doctor, Maria, had wiped the brands from their backs, healed his leg and the scars disfiguring him, and then even repaired the damage to Melanie's ankle. She could walk again. However it was the sound of tears that woke Max. He looked around, all was still on the "passenger deck", where the Orchard Pirates had assigned many of the freed slaves to sleep on their way to their destinations, so it didn't take his sharp eyes long to pick out the source of the sobs. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes, certain he wasn't seeing what he thought he was.

There was a mermaid across the deck! She was crying in the arms of a man in black. Max started to get up to go check on her, then he heard the man in black whisper, "It's alright, it's alright, you're safe now. You're safe. We'll get you home to Fishman Island soon. It's one of our first stops. You'll see your family again. Shhh...It's alright." He stroked her hair gently and held her close, his face trembling slightly as little red flashes ignited beneath his hand. Max looked closer and saw that tears were streaming down his face as she stilled and a faint smile spread across her face as she drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Suddenly there was a light thump next to him and the captain, Orchard Gray, was sitting next to him, a mug in his hand, his face gaunt as he stared at Orchard Black and the mermaid. Gray raised a hand and showed Max his palm, which had a large raised circle in its center, with four more around its edge at the base of his fingers. "The Paw-paw fruit can take away a person's pain and suffering," he said in a hushed whisper, "but the pain has to go somewhere."

Max looked at him in shock and saw that tears were welling in his eyes as he continued, "I can make copies of myself, and by dispersing the pain among us, we can take far more than most. That poor girl has suffered so much, we could not let her continue to be in such pain." He scrunched his eyes shut, "But that doesn't make taking all that pain on ourselves any easier."

He wiped away the tears, "Black over there is taking the brunt of it, but my brother and I are feeling it too." He drew a shuddering breath, "Black told me you're quite a shot." He calmed himself and began to breath steadily again as the pain finally passed, "We are recruiting if you wish to try for a position." Max looked at him stunned, "Me?"

Gray nodded, "You. I'll understand if you don't want to. It's a long step from your former life to that of a pirate, but it's a rewarding step." He stood and took a deep draft of his drink before looking back at Max, "We'll be transferring passengers to the ships of some friends of ours tomorrow who are going in the opposite direction. You two are slated to go with them. You have until then to decide."

He looked at Melanie and then back at him, "She is welcome as well, but if she does not wish to, then rest assured she will be well taken care of." He took another drink, "It's not an easy road, and definitely not a safe one. We're bound for rough waters in days to come and death will be our dancing partner." He smiled, "Adventure is in my blood, I can understand if it's not in yours."

The Next MorningEdit

When Max told Melanie of Orchard Gray's offer, she was wide-eyed with surprise, "You mean he knows? About you? And he still offered to let you be one of his crew?" she whispered. Max nodded and whispered back, "I think so. He said Orchard Black claimed I was a good shot and that we were welcome to join his crew." Melanie's jaw dropped, "We?" Max nodded, "We. He specifically said that you were welcome too."

She stared, "But, what would I do as a pirate? I can't shoot, I can't fight, I could barely even walk until the night before last!" Max nodded, "I know, but still, do you think we could?" A voice suddenly whispered from next to them, "I just love how you two are already discussing things as a couple even though a few days ago you hated each other." They both started and turned to see Orchard Black lying propped against the wall, peeking out from under the side of his hat at them, a quietly smug smile on his face.

He pushed up the brim of his hat so that he could look at them better, "I can train anyone. With the power of the Tik-tik fruit, even if it takes you a hundred years to learn, a hundred years can pass in a day. So I don't have to look for particularly skilled people, although thus far every member of my crew has been. I'm looking for things that can't be taught, things that come from within." He took a drink from the mug in his hand and looked at them, "I see those things in you two. So you are more than welcome to join my crew."

He pushed himself a little more upright, "But, I'll tell you like I told you last night, it's a dangerous life, and it's not for everyone. If you wish to join my crew, I will not turn you away, or if you wish to simply live out your days in peace, well, that can be arranged too." He stood and looked at them, "I'd advise you to decide quickly though. Our friends will be here to take some of the surplus passengers very soon. You're slated to be transferred to that ship."

He straightened his hat and made to walk away, but Max's arm snapped up and caught the hem of his coat. Black turned, "Yes?" Max looked him right in the eye, "You know who I am. I need to become a pirate to escape that, but I will not put Melanie in danger. Can you promise me her safety if we join your crew." Black frowned and took a drink before staring into space.

He sighed thoughtfully, "We have the greatest doctor in the world, and some of the most powerful warriors this world has ever seen aboard. Even the least of my crew members could throw down with a Marine Vice-Admiral. Can I absolutely one-hundred percent guarantee that you will die of old age and not battle? No. I cannot guarantee that for anyone. Can I guarantee that I will do everything within my not too inconsiderable power to see that every member of my crew lives long full lives? Yes."

He looked down at them, "I will do everything I can to keep every member of my crew alive, but I cannot guarantee that you will never come to harm, but you will be as safe aboard the Thundering Gusto as anywhere else in this world." With that, he disappeared.

A Few Minutes Later On DeckEdit

Orchards Gray and Black grinned broadly as they welcomed their hooded friends aboard, "Dragon!" Gray exclaimed, clasping hands with the Revolutionary, "How've you been?" "Quite well actually. There are many who are willing to join the cause, and we've had several successes lately. You said you had persons who needed an escort home?" "I do indeed, come we shall go fetch the list and begin the transfer of passengers."

Orchard Black tipped his hat to the tall woman behind Dragon with the purple hair, revealing attire and fishnets, "Iva, how've you been?" The tall woman put a hand over her mouth to cover a smile and gave a chuckle that seemed just slightly off somehow, "Vell Vi've been just v'ine. And how v'ave v'you been?"

Black chuckled as he put his hat back on, "Oh I'm doing alright. Flattened Admiral Shiroigomu up in Mariejois the other day. Bet my bounty goes up." The tall woman gave that slightly off laugh again, "V'I'm sure it vill!" The tall woman gently smacked the shoulder of the silent behemoth of a man next to her, "Barvolomew! Vhy haven't v'you said hello?" The mountainous man smiled, "Ladies first Iva." Iva beamed at him as he continued, "It is good to see you again my friend."

Black grinned up at him, "You too big guy, you too. How're those gloves holding up?" Kuma smiled, "Very well. You would be amazed the places people ask to go. Just the other day a man asked me for a trip to a graveyard." Black raised an eyebrow, "That's a little morbid for a vacation." Suddenly a voice yelled, "Bartholomew Kuma! I challenge you!" Black sighed, "This guy just never learns."

He turned and looked at the young one handed man who had pushed to the front of the crowd and was pointing at Kuma with his only hand, "You never learn do you Crocodile?" Suddenly a thin finger tapped Black on the shoulder, and Iva leaned down and whispered something in Black's ear that made him grin from ear to ear, "I'll hold him for you." Iva straightened up grinning wickedly and suddenly Black had Crocodile wrapped in a complex wrestling hold, his arms coated in black Haki, "Quick Iva! He's slippery!"

Iva snapped forward, her fingertips somehow sharpened into needles, "Emporio Estrogen!" She jabbed her needle fingers through Crocodile's shirt into his chest. He yelled and began to writhe as Black let go and quickly stepped away from him. What happened over the next few seconds was nothing short of stunning. When Crocodile stood up, he was no longer a he. He was a she!

Crocodile looked down and saw that her entire figure had changed. She shrieked with indignation as she realized she had lost something and gained breasts and a very shapely female body instead. Chifu wolf whistled from where he sat atop a nearby railing and then nearly fell off it backward laughing as the rest of the Orchard Pirates stared. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!" Crocodile shrieked, her now surprisingly pretty face twisted with rage.

"You know Croc, if Iva had done that sooner, you might still have your hand!" Black sniggered. Then he made as though to grandly present Iva to the people on the deck, "Ladies, gents, and Okamas alike, Emporio Ivankov!" A vein pulsed in Crocodile's forehead and she screamed, "I'm gonna kill you!" She suddenly turned into a sand storm and rocketed forward. Black was faster though, "Tik Tok Slow-Mo!"

The air distorted away from his hand in a wave, washing over Crocodile and slowing her progress to a crawl. Bartholomew Kuma pulled off one of his gloves, "Oliver my friend, where was this man's destination?" "Sandy Island, the kingdom of Alabasta. Lots of sand for him to hide in there." Kuma smiled slightly, "I see." He turned to Crocodile, "Have a nice trip." He began to extend a hand and then paused, "Iva, you didn't give him a permanent dose did you?"

Iva waved a hand, "Pvah, vof course not. He'll be back to normal in a month. I vas just teaching him a lesson." Bartholomew Kuma grinned, "Just checking." He extended his hand, "Let 'em go Oliver." Black snapped his fingers and Crocodile resumed her previous speed, slamming right into Bartholomew Kuma's mighty palm pad. There was whoomph noise and Crocodile disappeared. Bartholomew Kuma pulled his glove back on with a smile, "Maybe that'll teach him some manners."

The three mighty pirates howled with laughter as the passengers stared and all silently resolved to be on their very best behavior as long as they were aboard. Max nodded and looked at Melanie, "You know what Melanie? I think we'll be safe with the Orchard Pirates." Melanie nodded, "I think you're right." She smiled, "Let's go tell the captain we've made up our minds," and then she cheerfully pulled him along to go find Orchard Gray.

Next Time: The Pirate Empress and The Invisible ManEdit