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The next day, Kuina experienced her first time stop as Oliver rowed their little boat to Wano Country in the New World. They stepped off onto the shore as Oliver turned to Kuina, "The people here are very strict about their rules and they don't have a terribly egalitarian view on the world so I need you to pretend to be a boy." He pulled out a purple hat very similar to his from somewhere within his hat and handed it to her.
She pulled it on and then the coat Oliver pulled from another pocket within his coat. She quickly tied it with the belt he handed her and then slid the sword he had given her the night before through it. Oliver smiled, "There. Now as long as nobody looks to closely, we should be alright." Kuina raised the brim of the hat so she could look up at him, "Why are we here if I have to hide?"
Oliver smiled as they set off, "A multitude of reasons. First on the list is that the sword smith who taught me lives here. Second, he's holding the rest of the rare metal I'm aiming to use to make my new sword. I could melt down my knives, but I'm rather partial to them, and I'm not sure there's enough metal in them to forge a sword." He bowed to a young man walking by them in an orange and black striped gi with a sword who bowed in return. Kuina, sensing this was the thing to do, bowed also.
Oliver smiled at her as she walked alongside him, "Also, we should be bowing to everyone we meet, so don't forget." Kuina smiled, "I won't." Oliver smiled, "The third reason, is that it has been too long since I saw my friend and I want to-bloody hell!" Oliver exclaimed in shock as they topped the rise and saw across the valley what had no doubt once been a great manor, possibly even a palace.
Now it was a smoldering ruin silhouetted in the early morning light. "Come on!" Oliver told Kuina as he stared at the ruins of his friend's home in rage, "Somebody's made a grave mistake."
An Hour Later, The Village Healer's ResidenceEdit
Oliver slid open the screen gently and his face twisted with anguish as he beheld his friend, "Dear God, Ryori!" He walked in, Kuina tentatively stepping in behind him and seeing the mountain of a man that was the samurai Ryori Yoi as Oliver gripped the shoulder of the wild looking and heavily bandaged young man next to his bedside, "Kuma-san, who did this? And why?"
Kuma "Red Fist" Akaia, one of the most powerful martial artists Oliver had ever met laid a hand over his mouth to bite back a sob before looking up from his best friend's still body, "It was the Shogun himself! He wanted the Star Metal you left with us, Ryori's sword too. We tried to stop him, but we couldn't! Now the Shogun's men have burned Ryuma Tochi and Ryori is sure to be cast out of Wano Country if he is discovered alive!"
There was a fierce look in Oliver's eye, "then there's about to be a slaughter. Which way is this Shogun?" Kuma looked up, "you can't be serious! He has thousands of men! Surely not even you can win!" Oliver's eyes were as cold as the steel of the knife at his side, "Which way Kuma? I can scour all of Wano Country if I have to." Kuma stared in shock and mutely pointed north. Oliver nodded, "then we shall return, with Ryori's blade and the Star Metal. Come on Kuina. It's time to begin your training." Kuma stared as Oliver strode out, his small new friend in tow. Then Kuma tilted his head to the side as something occurred to him, "Isn't Kuina a girl's name?" he asked himself.
At The edge of the ValleyEdit
Kuina managed to hold her tongue until they reached the edge of the valley, "You can't be serious. A thousand men? How are you going to win all by yourself?" Oliver grinned, "I'm not alone. You're with me." Kuina stopped cold, staring in shock as Oliver suddenly paused a few steps ahead of her. Oliver raised a hand to the side, and sweeping it forward in an arc said, "Tik Tok Full Stop." Kuina realized he had once again stopped time itself, just as he had when rowing their tiny boat to Wano Country.
Oliver turned to her, "Now then, we will see how fast you are, and then we will make you fast enough to slay as many of their samurai as they can throw at us." He assumed a stance and cast his coat back, clearing the way for him to grab his twin long knives, which Kuina assumed were the ones he had referenced earlier that day. "Draw your sword," He instructed. Kuina assumed her stance and drew, once again noting the phenomenal balance of the sword, "Are you ready?" Oliver asked. She nodded slightly, not taking her eyes off him for an instant.
She couldn't have said what told her to raise the sword over her head to block the swing of the cutlass that came in too fast to see, but the impact nearly knocked her blade from her hand. "Very good," Oliver said, "Now let's see if it was a fluke." He whirled and Kuina brought the sword down and around in an arc, blocking the low swing before raising it and spinning herself out of the way of the lightning quick flick that followed. She guided the cutlass past her and finished the spin with a cut at Oliver's side.
She felt the thunderous collision of their blades and knew that he had blocked the cut, and once again instinctively stepped away from the flick of Oliver's blade that would have relieved her of her head had it connected. She went with the twist that brought her blade up and their blades clashed together again as Oliver reversed his slash and brought it back towards her with incredible speed. She tried to twist the blade from Oliver's hand and he suddenly stepped toward her, hammering his palm against the dull back of his cutlass, using the force to knock her blade from her hand.
Kuina's eyes widened with terror as the blade came towards her in what seemed like slow motion, then Oliver's hand moved too fast to see and caught the handle of her sword from the air before reversing his grip on his own and tucking it against the curve of his arm like a gigantic knife. He handed her the sword he had knocked from her hand hilt first, "That was very good, but you must not rely on brute strength." Kuina's eyes hardened as she accepted the sword, "Because girls are weaker than boys?"
Oliver shook his head, "No. Because you are not yet old enough to have developed sufficient strength to rely on it in a fight against a significantly larger swordsman, and because no matter how strong you get, there will always be someone stronger." "Oh," Kuina said with surprise. Oliver gave her a stern look, "Kuina, don't go doubting yourself because you're a girl. It's unbecoming of the young woman who will become the world's greatest sword master."
Kuina looked up at him in shock as he continued, "I would not have taken you on, even at the recommendation of my future self, if I did not believe you are capable of handling whatever challenges lie before us. I believe in you, but that means nothing if you don't believe in yourself." He smiled and reversed his grip on his cutlass and settled back into his stance, casting his cutlass behind him for what Kuina knew had the potential to be a devastatingly powerful slash, "Now, once more."
Late That Afternoon, A Hill Overlooking the Shogun's PalaceEdit
What felt like days worth of time had passed in the space of a moment, and now Kuina smiled at the Shogun's Palace, her confidence in her abilities renewed with her speed and instinct honed to the point where she could block Oliver's strokes at what he claimed was double the speed of sound. Oliver looked at her, "Are you ready?" Kuina smiled, "Yes."
Oliver grinned, "Then let's go introduce ourselves."
Before Dawn the Next MorningEdit
Oliver slid open the screen door once again, a sword in his hand and blood stains on his coat, a little splattered across his cheek and a tired smile on his face. Kuma leapt up from his silent vigil by his friend's bedside, "You're back!" Oliver grinned, "Yes we are. And as promised," he brandished the dark brown scabbard in his hand, "Ryori's sword." He knelt and tucked it into the hand of his friend, gently closing Ryori's fingers around the scabbard.
Ryori came awake with a wild eyed gasp. He quickly sat up and winced as the movement disturbed his stitches, "Ah!" He clasped a hand to his stomach but his grip on his sword didn't slacken in the least. He opened one eye panting with pain, then his eyes came wide open as he saw who was sitting at his bedside, "Oliver-san? Kuma-kun, what happened?" His eyes lighted on Kuina and promptly bugged half out of their sockets as he took in that she was a girl with Oliver's sword at her side.
He choked and wheezed in surprise. Kuina tilted her head to the side in confusion, "Is he okay?" Ryori managed to point a confused finger to her, unable to get the words out. Oliver laid a hand on Ryori's shoulder, "Ryori-san, this is Kuina. She is my student and my friend. She just defeated the Shogun in single combat." That stopped Ryori's sputtering on a dime as the events of the previous two days came rushing back to hit him like a barrel of cement and the import of Oliver's words hit him. Oliver turned and looked at Kuma, "Kuma-san, calm yourself." Kuma's jaw had dropped to the ground and his eyes were the size of dinner plates and Oliver knew Kuma well enough to know there was about to be an explosion of questions, panic and shock.
Ryori finally found his voice, "What?" Oliver pointed to Kuina, "This is Kuina. She is on her way to being the greatest sword master in the world, and she just defeated the Shogun in single combat while we were retrieving your sword and the Star Metal. Yes that is my Soyokaze, it was my gift to her in honor of her coming to train with me. I came to visit you and forge a new sword." Ryori stared and then slumped back against the wall behind him, struggling to take in everything that had happened.
Oliver patted his shoulder, "We'll give you some time to yourself. I had better not catch you doing anything moronic in here. The Shogun's honor was tarnished that day, not yours." Ryori nodded, tight lipped with wide eyes. Oliver stood and stepped outside, "Kuma-san, Kuina, come on." The two quickly followed him out, Kuma still in a state of shock.
Once outside, they sat on the porch of the healer's residence. Kuma shook his head, "I don't understand Oliver-san, who is this girl? You gave her your blade, that you personally forged from the heart of a fallen star, and you say she beat Shogun Arisaka?" Kuina shot him a dagger glare and Oliver smiled, "This Kuma, is Kuina. She was a superb swordsman when I met her, and she has only improved in the intervening day. Her dream is to become the greatest sword master in the world."
Kuma blinked and shook his head, certain he had misheard, "I must have misheard Oliver-san, I could have sworn you said you just met her a day ago." Oliver shook his head, "No, you heard correctly." Kuma's jaw once again went to the ground and Oliver smiled with a raised eyebrow, "Kuma, you know time runs differently around me. Think of how many blades I produced in a single day at the forge. Do you truly doubt that I could give this girl a month's worth of training in a single day?"
Kuma swallowed his protests. He had himself witnessed the strange phenomenon of Oliver's mysterious ability to alter the flow of time the day Ryori had taught Oliver the art of a sword smith. He nodded mutely, then, "So you altered time to allow her to best Arisaka?" Kuina looked insulted by the notion and Oliver smiled with a hint of smugness, "Nope. She's that good." Kuma blinked, then raised his hands in a gesture of acceptance, "Ok, I'll take your word for it. I'm guessing you retrieved the Star Metal?"
Orchard reached into his coat and extracted a chunk of shining silver metal the size of his head and held it in one hand. Where he had had it stashed, neither Kuma nor Kuina could see. Kuma smiled, "Good. They hadn't used it yet." Oliver smiled, "No, it appears my arrival was perfectly timed." The door of the Healer's house slid open and there were heavy footsteps and a sudden thump on the porch next to them.
Oliver, Kuina and Kuma looked at him and their eyes bugged out. Oliver exclaimed, "Ryori! I told ya not to do anything stupid!" Ryori ran a hand over his freshly cut hair with a rueful grimace, "There was nothing foolish in this. I am a ronin now." Kuma and Oliver stared in shock, Kuina, who wasn't familiar with the culture of Wano Country, didn't grasp the importance of Ryori's words and said boldly, "So why not be a pirate?" Oliver, Kuma and Ryori looked at her, and then Ryori began to laugh, "Why not?"
He looked up at Oliver, "Oliver-san, are you gathering a crew?" A smile broke over Oliver's face, "I am indeed! Welcome aboard Chef Ryori!" He reached across Kuina and clasped forearms with Ryori by way of a handshake with a huge grin. He looked at Kuma, "Kuma, will you join us?" Kuma stared for a moment then blinked and grinned, "Of course I'll join you!" Oliver raised his right hand and Kuma clasped it with a laugh as Oliver grinned, "Welcome aboard Kuma!"
"Am I the first mate?" Kuma asked with a grin. Oliver raised an eyebrow at him, "No. That would be Kuina." Kuma's eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped as Ryori's deep laugh thundered forth and filled the street.