March 24th, 2014 (5:43 AM).
There'll be some romance later on, but for now it's just good, One Piece-style fun.
Noses, by Jabberwocky
He was flying.
He soared above the trees and felt the cool morning air mingle with the warmth of the sun in his feathers. The canopy shivered in the wind. The day was beginning.
He rose with the drafts higher, higher, higher. The world was a dot beneath him, and in the distance he could see the shimmering, rolling waves of the Grand Line. For the first time in his life, Falkner was struck by the consummate beauty and elegance of the world in which he lived. For once in his life, he felt truly at peace.
And then he started to fall.
He panicked, flapping his ebony wings furiously, trying desperately to become aloft once more, but the effort was futile. He fell, and he fell, and he fell some more, until he finally hit the ground with a thud and a crunch.
Falkner regained consciousness with a gasp. His face was hot and sweaty, and his hair was messy from tossing and turning. He looked down and saw, much to his surprise, that he was completely naked except for a pair of shorts. His arms, both encased in casts, seared with pain. He panted heavily and shook his head to banish the feelings of unease his dream had caused him.
His surroundings did not do much to lighten his mood. A few dim torches provided the only light in the room, and Falkner could perceive only a few feet in any direction. The room appeared to be almost empty except for the small, plainly-furnished bed on which he lay.
“Finally awake, I see. Feeling alright, bird boy?”
The voice came from the shadows before Falkner. It was smooth and rich like caramel, with an undercurrent of mocking patronization. Its owner emerged from the darkness: a tall, thin, golden-haired man dressed in black with a purple apron thrown across his front. The man had a smile devoid of any warmth or kindness, and his eyes looked like death.
The man’s name was Morty. He was a doctor. Not a great doctor, perhaps, but he was the best one Falkner and his associates could get their hands on.
“My arms feel like they've been stabbed repeatedly with gusto,” Falkner complained.
“That'll be your medicine working,” Morty said with an unsettling grin. “Jasmine did tell you not to try a raid on the Kreuz Pirates by yourself. It was your own fault you got overwhelmed and broke your arms running away. Anyway, I knew you'd never stay idle for long enough for your arms to heal normally, so I mixed up a special medicine just for you. Luckily, it’s working as intended, so your bones will be healed up in no time.”
“‘As intended?!’” Falkner sputtered. “What would be happening if it wasn’t?!”
“I calculated a 30% chance of the medicine burning your skin to a crisp. It would have been unfortunate for you, but we would have saved on cremation costs.”
“...You're a psychopath.”
“I am a scientist,” Morty corrected. “Regardless, that 30% chance never came to be, so perhaps you ought to be praising my medical prowess instead of whining about a possible death you didn’t experience.”
Falkner grumbled. “How soon will my arms be healed?”
Morty considered. “I applied the medicine a few days ago while you were out cold,” he said. “If you're feeling the pain now, it should be finished in a few more minutes.”
Falkner glanced around. “Where’s my gear?” he asked.
“Don't worry,” Morty replied, holding his hands up. “They're on the table in the antechamber to this room. Your robes, your staff, your sword, and that ridiculous mask of yours.”
“I need that mask,” Falkner retorted. “Unlike the rest of you, I have an identity to protect.”
“So you've said,” Morty said in a bored tone as he walked over to the bedside and began to undress Falkner’s cast. “Personally, I don't see why you don't just bring that brother of yours here if protecting him is so important to you.”
“I can’t,” Falkner said forlornly. “Aaron needs to be able to live a normal life. I can't bring myself to take him into this world.”
“It’s not much more dangerous than the world out there,” Morty shot back. “Everyone on this island is prey to the Kreuz Pirates, whether they belong to the resistance or not. You’ve known that for five years, haven't you?”
Falkner said nothing. The casts were undone, and he rose from the bed and proceeded to the antechamber.
His things were on a table, as Morty had said. He put on his black robes, affixed his sword to his belt, picked up his shakujo, and donned his mask - a red face mask with a very long nose. He had transformed himself from Falkner into the Tengu of Dalmatian Island once again.
“Looking as hostile as ever, bird boy,” Morty remarked as he passed Falkner by. “Try not to get your arms broken next flight. That medicine was a pain to make.”
Falkner grunted in response, and followed Morty out of the chamber and into the base.
The resistance against the Kreuz Pirates made their base in the hollowed-out interior of one of Dalmatian Island’s many small mountains. Luminous green fungus provided the place’s light, and sounds echoed their way through the halls. It was a dark place full of bright hope.
“Falkner!” a voice rang out. Falkner turned to see a short, brown-haired woman in steel plate armor approaching. Her name was Jasmine, and she was another of Falkner’s comrades. Jasmine served as the resistance’s resident master smith. Her metallurgy skills were second to none.
“You're finally up,” Jasmine said. “Good. You've had enough of a rest. Come with me, Chuck’s reporting something or other on the transponder snail and the commander wants us to check it out.”
“Us?” Falkner questioned, even as Jasmine seized his arm and dragged him along. “How did the commander even know that I was awake?”
“He didn't,” Jasmine admitted quietly. “He actually wanted me to bring Morty along, but Morty creeps me out. I don't wanna be anywhere near him if I can help it.”
“Fair enough,” Falkner conceded. “How long was I out, by the way?”
“Four or five days. You really took a pounding. Next time I say not to take on the Kreuz Pirates alone, maybe you ought to listen.”
“Yeah, yeah, “ Falkner said embarrassedly. “Anyway, what’s this that Chuck’s reporting on?”
“I don't know,” said Jasmine with a shake of her head. “Something about prisoners? He wasn't making much sense. We'll find out once we get to the entrance.”
The base opened up to the outside through a small hole in the side of the mountain. The duty of guarding this hole rested on a tough and well-built slab of meat known as Chuck. Chuck had been an experienced fighter even before the Kreuz Pirates had appeared, and he had been one of the first to join the resistance, bringing with him his patented “Frog Style” of fighting. He was boisterous and a bit thick, but a skilled warrior and unwaveringly loyal.
Chuck was waiting for them at the entrance, along with three people Falkner did not recognize: two men and a woman.
The first man was a scrawny young man with pitch-black hair and a wide smile that implied either contentment or stupidity, Falkner did not know which. He was dressed in a red vest, blue shorts, and sandals, and a yellow straw hat rested upon his head.
The woman looked annoyed, as if the resistance was being a nuisance to her and not the other way around. She rested a hand on her hip and tapped her foot impatiently, as if to say “get on with it already.” She shot Falkner a glare almost as fiery as her red hair. Falkner didn't think he liked this woman very much.
The other man actually seemed to be reacting reasonably to the situation he was in: he was clearly afraid. His legs shook nervously and his mouth was pulled back in a grimace. He held his hands as far in the air as he could manage, perhaps to emphasize the lack of a threat he posed. His most notable feature, however, was not his darkish skin, nor his curly black hair, nor even those bizarre eyelashes of his. It was his nose, which was almost as long and round as the one on Falkner’s mask. Falkner found himself staring intently at it, unable to look away, until as jab of Jasmine’s elbow into his ribs brought him back into reality.
“Pay attention!” she scolded. “You were saying, Chuck?”
“Like I said,” Chuck boomed in his rough, gravelly voice, “these three I-don't-know-whats just happened to wander right up to the entrance to our base. That’s what they claim, anyhow.”
The boy in the straw hat did not seem to be paying any mind to what anyone was saying. His eyes were fixed on the nose of Falkner’s mask, and he let out a low hum, as if deep in thought.
Finally, he tilted his head and pointed at Falkner. “Hey, Usopp,” he said, “how are you over there if you're also right here next to me? It’s weird.”
“Wha- buh- th-that’s not me, you idiot!” the long-nosed young man sputtered. “It doesn't even look like me!”
“Really? I think it looks exactly like you.”
“How can you be thinking such stupid things at a time like this?!” Usopp cried in exasperation. “We could be about to die for all we know!”
“We aren't going to die,” the woman said confidently, throwing a dirty look in Chuck’s direction, “because we haven't done anything wrong.”
“That’s what you keep saying,” Chuck said. “But I've only got your word to go on! You could be spies for the Kreuz Pirates!”
“Kreuz?” the woman repeated, surprised. “Haven't we heard that before?”
“Hey, yeah, you're right,” Usopp agreed as he slowly lowered his hands. “Isn't that what those people were calling themselves?”
“People?” Jamsine said. “What people?”
“The people at the farm,” answered the boy in the straw hat. “We were getting some vegetables for our cook back at the ship, but then a bunch of people came in and started smashing everything up, saying that the farmer guy owed them taxis.”
“That’s ‘taxes,’ moron,” Usopp sighed.
“Right. Well, they started to make the farmer guy cry because they were smashing up everything he worked really hard to make. That made me mad because the farmer guy was nice. I liked him. So I went up to the guy in charge and punched him right in the face. He started talking about how no one crosses the Cruise Pirates-”
“‘Kreuz,’” Usopp corrected.
“-And that we were going to pay,” the boy in the straw hat continued. “I think he was trying to sound tough, but his silver hair kept getting in his eyes so he just looked funny, so I laughed. I guess that made him madder because after that he ordered his men to attack us. I wanted to fight, but the farmer guy said to run, so I did. Only my crew got split up while we were running away, and now I don’t know where they are except for Usopp and Nami here, and Sanji because he stayed on the ship.”
“Silver hair?!” Falkner exclaimed. “Did this man have any tattoos?”
The boy in the straw hat thought for a while. “Yeah, he did,” he finally answered. “He wasn't wearing a shirt on underneath his big black coat, so I could see this huge tattoo of a cross he had on his chest.”
Jasmine gasped. “Th-that’s Zilberschlag Eisen!” she stammered. “The captain of the Kreuz Pirates! And you said you - you punched him?!”
“Well, yeah,” the boy said, as if the question confused him. “I wasn't just gonna let him keep smashing up everything the farmer guy loved!”
Falkner’s heart pounded. “This… ‘farmer guy,’” he said. “What’d he look like?”
More pondering. “He was real thin,” the boy decided. “And his hair was green like our swordsman’s, only it looked a lot more friendly.”
Falkner’s heart sank. “W-was the farm far from here?”
“I don’t think so. We weren't walking for very long before this big guy jumped out of the mountain.”
Falkner gripped the shaft of his staff tightly, causing the rings at its top to jingle against one another gently. “Jasmine,” he said, “you know who that farm belongs to.”
“Wha-” Jasmine began, before her eyes widened in realization. “Falkner, don’t. I know what you’re thinking but you just got out of the hospital. You shouldn't go off alone.”
“Then come with me,” Falkner replied. “I’m taking these three, too. They don’t seem to have the wits to be spies. Well, the girl perhaps, but she seems too in league with the others for it to be plausible.”
“Why- I’ll have you know that I’m the great spymaster Captain Usopp!” Usopp declared proudly. “I have five million master spies under my command! They’re waiting in the hills, ready to strike as soon as I give the command! So you’d better let us go, or else!”
“WHOAAAA!” the boy in the straw hat yelled. His eyes sparkled with awe and admiration. “Really?! That’s so cool!”
“Guh- uh, yes, of course it is!” Usopp bragged. “Why, I recall the time I was trapped on as ghost ship, ghosts around every corner! My spies and I slipped silently through the depths of the vessel until we found the great emerald crown of Ghostopolis! It sparkled like-”
“Are you done telling your absurd lies?” Falkner snapped. Usopp winced. “We don’t have time to waste! The farmer could still be in danger!” He began to walk at a hurried pace, his mind thinking only of reaching the farm in time.
“Falkner, wait!” Jasmine protested.
“I’m not waiting!” Falkner called back. “If you’re coming along, then follow me! That goes for you three as well, strangers!”
Falkner heard the boy in the straw hat chuckle. “Roger that!” he said cheerfully. “Let’s go save the farmer guy!”
I won’t be late, Falkner thought. His skin shimmered and black feathers sprouted as his feet lifted off the ground and changed into talons. Not this time. Hang in there, Aaron. I’m coming.
Falkner felt the wind against his winds. He was flying.
He prayed he could fly fast enough.
-To Be Continued-
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