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By Đặng Hồng Phương All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Action

Chapter 1: Dock 51

His long sword tucked under his armpit, his hat water-proofed, his Italian shoes were steel-toed, he knew five martial arts, including ones from New World. Even so, some God-forsaken nostalgia had got to him just a few moments apart from his misfit band of young men. Away from the crowd that made his head thumping. (Crowds were peculiar things to him. They all looked equally unfriendly, in shops, huge enclosed spaces, indoors, outdoors, but some of them were, in fact, pretty inviting.)

Strangely annoyed, affronted, intrigued and most of all, he was just fascinated.

That fact was a surprise in itself, he wasn’t expecting to be fascinated ever.

That little girl, certainly, was here not to be fascinating or anything of sort. She looked awkward even, balance shifted and rearranged constantly by restless and surprisingly large hands, folded, flexed, against, etc. Yet. He was mostly fascinated by her bare feet.

And a pair of both familiar and unfamiliar feminine clogs on his hands.

(He was back in Frevance. Rattling carriages. Intermingling voices. The taste of apricot still between his teeth, freshly stolen from his mother's garden. He could sense the incoming person. He could smell the sunlight filtering through her petite frame. He could feel the softness of her arms holding him, so gently yet so steadily. He could drink and devour the delicious smell of fruits and flowers lingering, still fresh on her yellow silken nightgown. He could listen to her soft chiding ‘stealing fruits from my garden again?’, ‘early birds got the worm,’ he told her wisely and got a back a chuckled and a knock on his head. But above all, his eyes were only on her slender ankles and tiny pale feet that fit snugly inside a pair of white clogs before they moved unconsciously up to her honey hair, which, glimmering with silver strands lodging underneath, that looked almost like the sun itself.)

“—takes days, lady.” An elderly man suddenly blocked his vision to that small little girl with honey mess of hair and slender form and petite pale feet. “Please, wear this.” He knelt down in front of the girl and put on a pair of work boots on her feet as if a lover trying to fit a black-velvet stiletto on a lady.

The girl tilted her head, fluffy short hair inviting for a hand to mess it further, looked down at her feet, “Is this from the kid’s section?”

“You have no need to know that, my lady.” The man said sombrely.

Shook his head to shake himself back from the siren lull of nostalgia realm, the tall man put back the outdated clogs back to its place and walked back to wherever his giddily exuberant bouncing crew was. “…Where were they again?” He murmured to himself, rummaging his pockets to take out his treasurer’s plan for today, a piece of neatly written hand-outs for university's students. “Hmm… the bank,” he unconsciously felt the wads of Belli inside his pocket, “Checked,” he hummed joyfully, continued peering into the paper, “Marketplaces.” He remembered the incidents with a certain redhead smiling between the chandelier's crystals, “Half-done, ya.”

But the sky’ was getting dark, he noticed the hordes of coming-back-home men together with the appearance of many filthy prostitutes waving their fans at men, and pocketed the paper, took out his den-den mushi, murmuring under his breath about finding a tavern first thing now before Dock 51 tomorrow’s morning then, heedless of a blood-red-nailed woman hurried away from a dark corner after watching him for a while now.

Żółw rumbled softly and exasperatingly as, yet again, the spring wind sent her map whipping over itself, nearly out of her grasp and her dull brown hair all over her face, poking her eyes as an afterwards thoughtful action. She slapped her petroleum-tainted hand down and smoothed it on her lap, knowing fair well it was only going to happen again – a battle between her and Mother Nature.


A male voice said next to her, clearly finding humour in her trouble and before Żółw was startled for not noticing the man sitting next to her on the dock’s bench, a can of tomato flavoured juice sat down on top of her map, which was on her knobby knee, making Żółw’s eyes and attention completely switched to focus on the map, waiting a tic to see if the wind would send it splashing all over her middle, which, of her luck of late, would exactly do just that.

When it stayed put, which couldn’t be said for her hair, already ruffed into a bird nest, she let out a soft sigh before tentatively turned around to look at her helper, mouth open for an incoming polite thank-you.

And promptly yelped and jumped ten feet into the air, nearly sent the can of juice into herself had not for his skeleton hands reached out and took back his juice.

With her Devil fruit power, the Shisu-shisu no mi or called System fruit, Żółw could spot more than twenty kinds of scalpels, drills, needles, and other torture devices hidden inside the tall and scraggly but strangely dressed warm and amicable man whose dark eyes laid above dark circles sitting on the bench. He was clean though, no blood or anything suspicious could be found on him, Żółw willed all her might to stop the trembling wrecking through her body but it was only when his eyes met her, did Żółw realize how creepy she must look, staring at the man for all this time, paling and trembling and ten feet away inching away from him as if he was a monster. And yet, his eyes brightened slightly when he looked at her and lips tugging upwards in a sadistic and blood-thirsty grin as if he had found a rare and unknown machine, wait, that was her, the mechanical freak that would only interested in these things. He, well, might be interested in scalpels though, and torture devices, let’s not forget that.

Run rabbit run, Żółw, she told herself. And did just that, to a tree one hundred metres away from the bench, and as she was leaning her hips against that said tree, Żółw found that:

1. She was terribly rude to the man who had just helped her. Not even a thank you. Manner is important, Djinn said, you’re one and only lady.

2. She had ran away from the spot where she was supposed to meet her only friend in this island. A Gypsy old woman with pale (or grey) hair, hypnotic purple eyes with red nails that had sold Żółw her Devil fruit. For a price of ten million Belli.

3. She had forgotten her sketches at that bench.

With another breath to calm her racing heart down, Żółw activated her power and looked for the bench again, curiously wanting to know if that man had used her sketchbook for wiping his juice or even worse, sitting on it, he was clean, remember? People with a clean-streak inside was mad about these public things. And Żółw was one of those.

And found there were two men walking around with a polar bear, and on closer inspection … the bear was talking?! Her map was dropped to the ground as she wordlessly watched the strange group walking towards the man.

With her luck of late, yes, the wind had swept off her map towards the sea.

Idly and resignedly watched the map dancing with the wind in the corner of her eyes, Żółw went back to look at her sketchbook's surroundings: One of the men called out something as he waved his hands in the air, his face slightly hidden by the hat bearing the words ‘penguiN’ on top of his head. Aside from the second-hand or just old clothes, the man was dressed prim and proper, the manner suggested he was taught hard but his expression on the contrary, reminding Żółw of a child on Christmas morning, and the others were just as excited. The bear…whose fangs were too big for Żółw’s liking, was almost dancing towards the tired and lanky man. The excited redhead was also don in a hat, but the hat and his clothes were very lively and colourful to be critical, no hidden things were found and the smudges on his emerald shirt was dry, crispy, reddish. Żółw’s mind flashed alarm at that.

His smile, though, was very big, people called it the shit-eating grin Żółw believed, but have never seen it before. It was beautiful. It melted her heart to see one could smile like that, cynical at the corner to laugh at the others at his surroundings but honest in front to the opposite person. It hurt so much to be alive, looking all those beautiful things, proud of being beautiful.

The man sitting on the bench grunted in reply, sitting up and lazily waved to his friends as they ran over, before noticing her sketchbook, taking up and flipping through them idly as his friend began talking animatedly about something. But something here wasn’t so wide-range seeing they were on her island, on dock 51, where general public went here to buy or order metal ships, mostly Marines though.

Żółw also found a ‘Dock 51’ sign hammering down on a stone path near her tree and found this tree was the end of that meeting place the Gypsy woman wanted to meet her.

She had sent Żółw a letter yesterday. She did that frequently. Her letters were always random and odd. Helpful though, Żółw remember the third letter of hers had helped her resolute to make Djinn, her Artificially Intelligent programmed to work as a normal human, acting as her butler, taking care of Żółw whose parents had forgotten her existence.

This time, though, she wrote something different, something that was going to change her life whether she knew it or not.


Port 51

Żółw had only thought that being tired of secret meetings in the dark, the woman had decided to meet her face-to-face and this was their meeting place, Port 51, not really a good place but she was her friend, Żółw could do anything for a good friend (she even went to buy a new pair of shoes). But after drawing out a map to consider where could be the best possible place a shady and horrify-public-as-a-hobby Gypsy woman could appear or wanting to place her majestic presence on, Żółw found she was having problems with all the people around here. Marines with stuck-up nose to the air, death-swarming-over workers, rats running around buildings with dirty street rats orphans or homeless scavenging the garbage cans and now, as Żółw was staring at the men sitting on her previous bench skimming through her sketches, a group of misfit people.

Wondering how long would they just stopped talking and went back to their business at this dock: buying or ordering a metal ship, Żółw took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling the scent of the burning cigarette before reached out to touch the ember tip, the smoke split apart at her finger and rising up to her eyes, Żółw felt her eyes watering but her jumpy heart had calmed down miraculously enough.

Smoke made the fishy and salty air around her more familiar. Bearable.

She still remembered the first time she met her Gypsy friend.

It had been a bad day of being beaten yet again, she was just six, nearly seven, and was targeted because some stupid shit thought he could use her as his getting-passed ticket, she proved him wrong. The git had ganged up on her after school, only a block away from home, there was a big tree that sat just north of the community church, and there were men fighting in the bar near as the night grows darker which reminded Żółw of a flock of seagulls fighting over a meal. Just like these six year old boys to her.

Split lips. Cracked ribs. Eye-blinding head concussion. Blood and dirt and tear. Voice so loud and words so distant. Breath counting and heartbeat stagnant.

A familiar car rounded around the corner, all three members of Pendragons household overtly dressed for a grand dinner. Another Adeline's award. Another trophy to show off to the neighbour. Mother's green orbs met gold. No hesitance in what she was supposed to do.

(Not a backwards glance.)

Knives were withdrawn from within a crested school-bag. Eyes hungry. Finger restless. A small beaten animal under the sole of dirty shoes, begging, running, fighting, threatening, blackmailing… A wrinkled hand with blood red nail flashed under the street-light, a strange fruit-shaped object dropped and rolled in her bloody vomit.

An exotic thing completely covered in rectangles and straight lines grooved into the flesh that a light, cloudy blue in some parts, and yellow in others and was so intricate that looked like it was being trapped in a maze whatever tiny little surface one squinted at.

A commanding scream in the night 'EAT IT' sounded like the owner had gravel stuck down their throat. It was her Gypsy friend. Had been for nearly ten years now seeing Żółw had turned sixteen last two months. Her hair was grey with few strands of what looks to be red that day, and her purple eyes were still cold and sad until now.

Żółw had destroyed completely the bridge that connected the normal world to herself by stuffing her face full of that foul-tasting fruit, like a desperate lost man in the dessert finding a droplet of water hanging above his tongue. The Shisu-shisu no mi or System fruit it called by the woman whose name had never been divulged to Żółw. The next ten years went by painfully slow. Many fights happened.

(Hearts were broken, replaced by silence.)

She was ten, graduated high school by skipping grades. Her World Government’s bitch sister got married to a rich snob, now controlling her life from afar because of all that money. Dad was too tired to try and fix her up any-more. Mother hated her. The servants were all that fat arse’s spies. Every meals were drugged and Żółw ran from home. No one cared. It was everything she have ever wanted. Parents who let her be herself, a controlling sister who was too busy controlling her husband and her colleagues, and she was strong, powerful both in intelligence and knowledge.

(She lived for herself.)

The knowledge inside her brain expanded to every fields Żółw found fascinating, she found her life goal: A weapon technician that could bring whoops and awe and laughs and envy from others. A world-class weapon technician that had her own castle on the cloud. Just until she had enough money since with her power fruit, everything could be done.

(She closed her heart.)

And yet Żółw wasn't happy at all. She was lonely, she wanted someone, someone human, someone different than her AIs and her helper small bots to be beside her. But after many incidents with her family, no one bothered to do anything besides chastising and reprimanding Żółw for her insolent behaviours and thoughts, effectively making her the black sheep of the family. And the world outside seemed so dark and sleepless nights spent gambling, running, finding, finding, finding…weren’t enough anymore.

(She had screwed up, but then again they all screwed up.)

Precisely every four seconds, Żółw would pulled the fag in her mouth, not drooping dangerously on her lips and inhaled a long breath full of smoke into her lung, keeping them there until she felt her eyes burning and lungs bursting, she breathed out the smoke.

A deep inhale/silence/gentle exhale. Pause. And again. Żółw didn’t like smoking cigarettes but it really helped with her skittishness and her tendencies of panicking coming in contact with the dark world outside like this. She found everything strange and scary and insufferable.

Well, the wind made it more insufferable. After the fifth time having cigarette ash flying into her eyes and the smoke rising up to her messy hair which was sticking out of all directions, not playing with her fingers anymore, Żółw put the thin cigarette between her lips, drawing the smoke into her lungs once last time, seeing the tip burning red as a big inhale of smoke that burned her inside to ashes. Her lungs burning, her mouth hot and smoky, the pain in her throat urging her to cough but she resisted the urge, wanting it to become the real agony until she blew it out through both her nose and mouth, a steady stream of smoke flying into the air before it turned to nothingness, ending with a small cough and a tightness in her lungs and throat.

Żółw dropped the cigarette into the ground and crushed the still burning ember under her boots.
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