- As those who walk the path the sword are want to do
- We wage war against each other
- Sharpening our skills and making keen our blades
- But it has been many years since last we met
- Since we danced to the song of blood and steel
- Wading into every battle
- Once you walked a path of solitude
- Driven to contend against the might of nature
- As is your calling
- I heard of your defeat
- Through the winds of change that blow across the lands
- Now you stand as one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea
- But I hear whats inside you:
- The deafening screams of your shattered blade
- The raging fury towards your humiliating defeat
- But you may rejoice oh brother mine
- For I will guide you towards the true path
- As you once did for me . . .
- ~~ An unsigned letter addressed only to the painting of a black sword
The Broken BladeEdit
The sprawling mangrove forests of the Saobaody Archipelago are a truly a sight to behold. Each of its tree's the size of a small island, with trunks jutting upward from ocean depths. It is the last vestige of paradise and serves as the bridge between the old world and the new. Since the reign of the Pirate King Luffy, it has seen surprisingly little change. Nobles come and go as they please, slavers abduct any poor unsuspecting wench or bastard, selling them off to the highest bidder and piracy runs rampant across the board. In other words, it was just another peaceful day for the denizens of Saobaody.
Deep on the outskirts of its many islands, past the bubbling towers and cheerful screams of those enjoying its illustrious amusement park, was a tavern. It like many of its sister establishments catered to an assortment of needs, serving drinks that would burn a hole in your gullet, entertainment for your hearing pleasure, and entertainment for just your pleasure. The raucous laughter of drunkards telling tall tales, the (forced) giggles of the women serving them, and the atomsphere of utter hopeless and degradation was but one of many its simple charms.
At least that's what Redgrave S. Zelgadis thought as he stepped through its entry door. The thick stench of sweat, sex and booze filled his nostrils along with the faint but pleasant bubbly aroma that was unique to the island. He had come here partly for business, mostly for pleasure, and certainly to meet an old friend. Letting his gaze sweep across the tavern he took a moment to do his routine check of notable threats, exits and entries, and a guesstimate as to how many he could kill and still be served a halfway decent drink.
The answer to that question is fifteen for those curious to know. In mere moments his spied the one man he had come to see, and the sight before him was not at all what he expected.
By the standards of many, Jack, looked normal. But in comparison to how he usually held himself, he was a mess. He was slumped over the table, resting on elbows on the table where he would normally be sitting straight, his normally perfect hair was frazzled, held back in a loose pony tail. His blades sat in the seat next to him in the corner table of the bar, he himself facing the wall. He had a drink of some amber liquid in his hand, and looked like he had a few already. The most notable thing about him though, was the large mass of bandages that coated his left arm, encasing it in a cast that would make the arm mostly useless unless they were removed.
Jack hadn't even noticed that Redgrave had entered the room, even though normally he would have felt a warrior of that caliber a mile away. He kept himself facing the wall, ignoring the partying around him. He had come here to hide, to rest away from those that would recognize him in an instant. The people here at the moment cared not for the outside world, they only came here to forget their sorrows. The drink he carried warmed him, the liquid trying it's best to remove some of the bone-deep chill that still remained from his previous fight, a couple months ago. At the end of the day, Jack was just tired, and this seemed like a fitting place to rest, unnoticed and unseen, at least for now.
Zelgadis smirks and approaches Jack. "Black Blade! My friend! Welcome." He said pulling out a seat for himself. His voice was deep and warm a stark contrast to the cold, lifeless expression on Jack's face. Gesturing to the barkeep for drinks he continued, "I have traveled three oceans to greet you. To see what you have done with your gift." He downed his entire mug, his eyes sweeping across the criss-cross network of bandages on Jack's person.
"So why is the dagger of self-loathing held in your hand? Why do you wield it with such mastery? We are swordsman. That blade is a tool of the assassin. It has no place in your arsenal. Put down the knife, unburden your shoulders, you are among friends. Regale for me your training, tell me of this philosophy --- the Wind-Song you have mastered. I wish to hear of it."
Jack startled a bit when an old friend slid into the seat across from him. "Zelgadis, I didn't hear you come in." Jack said as the other man sat down across from him. He then looked down to the drink, then back up to Redgrave. "It helps warm me up. I thought I had known cold, living on top of that mountain for so long. I was mistaken."
Jack paused for a moment, sitting up to look directly at the man in front of him. "Even when we fought, I had never felt truly overwhelmed. Not in what feels like a lifetime ago. So I guess you could say that dagger helps take the edge off." He sighed as he pushed the half empty glass to the side, his hand slightly shaking.
"I guess what this dagger is, is honestly just a sheathe for another dagger. One that holds itself far deeper than any liquor ever could." He paused again before carrying on is a soft voice, "17 years, and seven-thousand four-hundred thirty-two lives. I've walked this road the entire time, carrying out my duty. Carrying out my oath. Now, I've not even that to pull me forward anymore. That and such an overwhelming loss, which nearly took this arm of mine in the process, is a lot to take in all at once. Though I suppose that's not what you want to hear."
After his outburst, Jack closed his eyes, attempting to visibly center his brief loss of control. "What would you like to know about the mountain, and the order that lived on top?" He said after a few moments once the shaking had stopped. Jack may not have been in a good spot, but he still had enormous self control, even in his current state.
Zelgadis pondered for a moment the state of dishevel of his old friend, though whatever his thoughts were did not reveal themselves on his features. His merry mirth remained ever present, even as Jack rambled on.
"The tale of your battle shall come later." He said chuckling. "For we have much to discuss." His gaze drifts towards the arm held together in sling and cast before once again meeting Jack's eyes.
"I care not for the mountain nor the order which forged you." Zelgadis said plainly. "They only folded the steel and affixed the blade; which is you. I wish to hear how you have contended against life itself. I wish to hear how your sword became one with the wind. How it learned the words to that beautiful, howling song." He pauses. "Adrift in your mind are the thoughts of this journey, I would track it down."
"How the melody of wind works, you ask?" Jack looked thoughtful for a moment, "I guess I can show you. Maybe then I will finally calm down."
Jack held up a single finger, "The guiding principle of the wind style is rotation." Jack said as he began to move his finger in a circle. Normally even doing that it's result would be invisible, but a miasma of smoke hung in the air, a result of the numerous people smoking in the bar. As he rotated his finger, a vortex formed in the smoke, drawing it down into the area his finger was roaming around. "By rotating your body around a point in a certain manner you can pull the air towards the center of the rotation. And by reversing the rotation," He continued as he reversed the movement, causing the smoke to rise upwards, creating a mushroom shape, "You can push the air. That is the core of my song. Simply pushing and pulling the air to dance as I need it to."
"Is there anything else you'd like to know?" Jack finished questioningly.
He heard the song as it drifted on the air. A puzzling thrum of notes that danced across the vortex of Jack's finger. Zelgadis examined the phenomena with visible interest. "A simple technique. Yet from that seed was the Wind-Song born. But if were your sword so simple," at this he too held up a finger and with a twitch, a small whirlwind burst into being.
"Why have swordsmen from the four blue's yet to discover such?" Though he could produce the wind, no song could be heard. A wind without aria. A dead wind. There was something missing from his attempt, the essence of its nature still beyond his understanding. He laughed, bold and hearty as he compared the two.
"I ask you questions and you give me nothing." He said with a smirk. "Your words are as empty as the wind we breath. Perhaps even you do not fully grasp the answer." Despite the accusation in his words, his words are playful, lacking in any malice.
"Let us put that aside. You are now a Warlord! A privateer who commands the sea! You stand vanguard on the last vestige of Paradise. You are the bridge between two worlds of power. Your sword the key to this gate. Bring to me your thoughts. Shall we examine your future? Ponder the state that which you rule? Where will the Black Blade go from here?"
"A warlord, 20 years ago such a thought would seem foreign to me. But then again, the young man that set out all that time ago, well he's long since passed on from what he once was." Jack responded as he looked up towards the ceiling, a wistful look upon his face. "My future though, that is still up in the air. Considering my crimes, I can't rejoin my home, nor would I as my duty lay incomplete. A duty that would take me into the realm of those that none should trifle with uncaringly. I am the world's sword against the Yonko, that much is clear."
"Though I dare to say that this sword isn't sharp enough right now, after my previous fight and injury." Jack continued before drooping down a bit, "I'm tired my friend, this road has been long, and yet the end is still not in sight."
"You strike relentlessly with the dagger of self-loathing oh friend of mine. Such a dazzling display of prowess. You attack and counter in the same motion, I am helpless before such might." His tone was sardonic, but it was his eyes that told another story. There was bold fury in them, a coal-black contempt that burned just as hot.
"You were given a gift most precious. To be defeated is to discover that you have more to learn. It is to learn of the weakness that still clings to you. Victor or defeat, as warriors this is our obligation. But you have squandered your prize. You have allowed your weakness to become cancerous. It has infected your heart and mind, and grown fat in your arm. We must cut it out. Show it to me. I will demonstrate the veracity of mine words."
Zelgadis reached over and grabbed Jack's arm, his fingers digging into the bandages with enough force to draw blood. "You have told me of the Wind-Song. Shown me an inkling of its splendor. As gratitude I will show you that which can Murder-the-Wind-and-Waves-that-Shake-and-Tremble." With his grim omen delivered, Redgrave shattered the cast that bound Jack's arm, exposing the still healing frostbitten flesh beneath.
His eyes flashed steel, as wisps of dark energy flooded within them. The colors of the world faded from his vision, replaced only by virulent hues of Jack's injury. Then his senses penetrated deeper, until he could feel the very threads that bound the colors of injury together. He observed their architecture. Sensed their ebb and flow, where they began and where they ended within the matrix of colors that encompassed Jack.
With his free hand he held up two fingers, and they too became wreathed in the brilliant, near blinding force that is Haki. In one swift motion he sliced across Jack's arm. What filtered into Jack's ear was something akin to audible pain. A visceral screech that was more torture than language, a haunting lamentation that writhed like maggots in a decayed corpse. The searing agony lasted only for a moment but to Jack it may as well have been an eternity. Then it was over. The deed done. His arm bled profusely, but he felt no pain. The frostbitten skin cracked like glass, slipping off from his arm with a disgusting slosh. The blood began to slow to a trickle and what was once black blue burnt skin, was now faintly reddish and pale. Zelgadis released his arm, and peered at him with a curious expression. "The wound had healed long ago. But your weakness in the face of defeat provided succor for that cancer to latch onto. Your journey has not yet ended my friend. There are new frontiers to map, challenges to face, heights you've yet to climb. A cripple you are no longer. You have weathered through the flame. Now you must pit yourself against the hammer of the forge. Take up your sword. Face me in that glorious field of battle."
Now it was Jack's turn to not truly understand exactly what had just occurred. Healing an Injury with ones haki by cutting it away, now that was a type of ability that was hard to explain.
"I am not going to pretend I know exactly how you just did that old friend," Jack said as he watched his arm finish healing, leaving not even a trace of the wound behind. "But I thank you. It feels better now."
He paused for a moment, flexing the newly healed muscle, testing it's strength. It was slightly weaker than before, but considering he hadn't used it in a while, that wasn't that surprising.
He then responded to Redgrave's challenge with a simple smile. "I think I can manage that, though we may want to do it elsewhere, inside a bar is not the best of places for a duel." He said as he waived the waitress over to pay his tab. "I think I can do that indeed."
Through the Fire and FlamesEdit
The bar was not a good location for the pair to cross swords, that much was obvious. So Jack lead Redgrave deep into the lawless portions of the Grove, where any damage inflicted on the surroundings would not be missed. He took them to an abandoned town, fifty and three buildings in all. It had been a pirate base the last time he was here, but the blood had long since dried.
"I trust that this battlefield will suffice?" Jack said in an even tone to the other man. He turned around as he drew Nidai Kitetsu, lowering the tip of his blade to near the ground as he took to his stance, knees slightly bent, his body slightly off kilter to his opponent. He had entered the guard of the fool, a decent defensive stance until his opponent entered one of his own. "I'm ready whenever you are."
Zelgadis smiled at Jack. "Recall these words; I will you show you the truth path, as you had once done for me." Grinning he unsheathed his sword Náströnd, its blade gleaming with delight. Winds shifted around him, as ripples of wind ushered outward from his form. "So long has it been since we last crossed blades my friend! I will show you my journey. The path that this sword of mine has traversed. Will you bear witness to the techniques I have prepared for you?"
His form hunched forward, and the transformation began. But it was not a physical one. It was the way his body coiled. The way he leaned forward as if he were a predator stalking his prey. The entire language of his body had changed. What Jack was facing, was not a man. There was no technique in the way he handled his sword, no formal stance. Nothing resembling the acuity of training possessed by a swordsman of his skill. It was feral. Savage. It was the visage of a beast, in the shape of a man. Then, this man-beast roared.
A terrible, primal howl that penetrated through conscious-thought and ripping into the pure animal instinct buried beneath. Flight or fight was triggered instantly, demanding that Jack run. Clawing at every errant thought to flee, and get as far away from this predator as possible. Yet in the next moment it did no matter for he would be forced to contend one way or another.
Zelgadis exploded into motion. The earth caving in beneath each step as he charged forward. His form a bestial blur. He closed the distance between them as though it were a mere step. His sword came crashing down on Jack, and the force surrounding it was palpable. The ground beneath them both disintegrating as it bore down him. Yet Jack's eyes spotted another attack racing towards him; the left hand curled into a claw, clad in the steel of Haki darting in from the side as though to gouge out his stomach.
If the Jaws of the Beast are closing in on you, stand your ground, and when it's fangs are bared to the fullest, go for the heart. Jack remembered these words from the young days of his training, what seemed nearly a lifetime ago. There were many savage beasts in the inner rings of the island, he knew that well, he had fought them all.
He changed his level, lowering his body as he flicked his blade upwards, Jack stepped into the attack, his sword aimed straight towards the heart of Redgrave. He was taking advantage of the fact that Nidai Kitetsu was unnaturally long for a sword, granting him greater reach than his opponent. As the ground in front of him disintegrated in the fore of his opponent's attack, his blade would spear him straight through the heart, unless the other man broke off his attack.
"First Aria: Wind Chasing Sword"
Nidai Kitetsu surged forward, nearing the heart of Zelgadis and for a moment it appeared as if the attack would strike true. But it was his eyes, those rust colored eyes that blazed with knowing. So intent on his counter-attack, Jack had missed the second strike aimed at his gullet. A steel clad hand rapidly changed targets latching onto Jack's accursed sword, then forcibly wrenched it aside. The Black Sword was exposed, his guard open.The wind chord became a discordant thrum, its melody violently cut short.
Pressing his momentary advantage Zelgadis flipped his sword in hand with a deft twist, and its blade hung overhead poised like a spear. The tip gleamed with malicious intent. He thrust his blade in a vicious downward strike, the sheer speed and force slipping through sound before savagely shattering it. A brief instance of utter silence enveloped the two warriors before the thundering boom that followed after further propelled the blade down in an attempt to pierce straight through Jack's neck and shoulder.
Jack hadn't forgotten about the hand, in fact he had bet on it. Redgrave had left himself open by grabbing his blade. His right hand was occupied by his own sword, while his left was occupied by Jack's.
Jack's left hand reached for his empty sheath, pulling it up from it's place in his sash as he redoubled his grip on his own sword. He intercepted the blade with the sheathed, attempting to sheath the weapon to prevent it from responding to Jack's counterattack.
With both of Redgrave's hands occupied, Jack bent his knees further, both to absorb the impact of the two men crashing against each other, and to prepare for his next move. He coated his right foot with his own haki, before shooting it up towards the other man's face with enough force to knock him away.
If his opponent let go of his own sword, he'd be disarmed. Or if he let go of Jack's, the blade would seek to finish the man in an instant. Now Jack had the advantage, at least for the instant.
So the flames of defiance still burn within him. Redgrave noted with amusement. It had always pleased him to see warriors take pride in their art. For was it not the sword by which they lived and would one day die? The tactics employed by the Black Blade were a mere test. A greeting from one warrior to another. It would be rude of him not to accept such generosity.
He watched with rapt focus as the Black Blade smoothly countered his fearsome blow by using a sheath of all things! How ingenious! He couldn't help himself, he laughed, a booming raucous laugh that brimmed with pure joy. A thunderous clap echoed as the hilt clicked into place signifying the completion of the Black Blade's gambit, whilst the colors of power pouring forth from The Black Blade's rising kick coalasced at the point of his strike as it smashed against him.
He welcomed this exchange in dialog. It was good.
The blow had sent him hurtling head over heels back and into the earth, carving a path of destruction in their wake. Yet all the while he could not help but laugh, and shiver in anticipation. It would appear that the Black Blade was beginning to rouse from his slumber. He would need only a few more exchanges to goad it into waking being.
Dust and debris obscured the crumbled form of Redgrave, and the silence that hung in the air was on a strange note, rather calming. A voice called out from the cloak of earthen vapor.
"Let us dispense with frivilous demonstrations of godly might. For indeed our powers are great, and should we unleash the Wind-that-Rages and Sword-That-Eats-Worlds, pray little would remain of this abode. I wish to see the essence of your swordsmanship Black Blade. Grant me this insight so that we may rouse the mysteries that still lay dormant inside you."
He walked out from the dust, sword held gently in hand, his feet and form flickering between a myriad of subtle stances. Each step the prelude to a hundred techniques, each breath the coiling of a thousand practiced strokes by a river bed. When he had reached less than nine paces away he finally settled on a single opening stance. It was familiar to the Black Blade, nostalgic even. Memories unbidden rose to the forefront of his mind, of a time when he too had first taken up the blade. Precious memories, sacred and holy, the lessons he learned would become the foundation he spent a lifetime building upon.
Yes, Redgrave's message was clear. It was an invitation to revisit those lessons to immerse oneself in the purest form of the sword.