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"Well, this is us," Rink stated as she entered the cabin in front of Charon. James and Markus were already inside, with James seated on the bench as usual. "I mean, it's James's boat, but we all live here for the time being."
"I don't know if we have any space left for you to sleep in here," James said. "Even the floor is taken."
"Do not concern yourself with me," Charon said. "I prefer to sleep outside."
"Isn't that convenient," James mumbled to himself and opened up his notebook.
"What's that you're writing, anyway?" Rink asked as she took a seat next to him.
"Everything," James replied. "Everything I'm learning. That's why I went on this trip to begin with, you know."
"It is a noble endeavour," Charon added and sat down across from them. "There is always more to learn."
"So I've noticed," James said and pointed at Charon with his pencil. "You, for instance..."
"What about myself?"
"Well, fishmen and merfolk... you told us how you ended up there, but... I still feel like I don't know too much about fishmen. I've read a little about them, but..."
"What do you wish to learn? I can try to answer to the best of my ability."
"You said you came from the Grand Line, right?"
"Indeed, I am from Fishman Island... it is at the midpoint of the Grand Line, at the bottom of the sea, under the Red Line... straight underneath Mariejois."
"Marijo... what's that?" Muse asked.
"The worst place in the world," Allen replied.
"They call it the Holy Land of Mariejois, and it's the capital of the World Government," James clarified. "It's where the leaders of the Marines are seated, and home to the World Nobles..."
"Told ya," Allen added.
"I see you have knowledge of it already," Charon said to James.
"I, uh... read about it," James replied, half-mumbling. "So tell me more about Fishman Island..."
"It is also known as the Kingdom of Ryugu, ruled by our benevolent King Neptune and our beloved Queen Otohime... it is inhabited by merfolk and fishmen, and some humans that pass through while traversing the Grand Line."
"What's the difference between merfolk and fishmen, anyway?" James asked while he continued taking notes.
"Fishmen such as myself resemble humans most in shape, although we are oftentimes larger, our skin colours vary significantly, and we possess gills and other features that are primarily found in aquatic creatures. But depending on their species, one might have multiple arms or legs, or other distinct features."
"Merfolk more often resemble one who is human from the waist up, but with the bottom half of a fish rather than legs. But they too have varying skin colours and features, depending on their species. Thanks to their form, they are oftentimes faster swimmers than us fishmen, and are known to be among the fastest swimmers in this world. Peculiarly, as a mermaid ages, her fish tail will split, allowing her to walk on land as would a human or fishman... something that does not occur in mermen."
"So... normally you live underwater?"
"The Kingdom of Ryugu is encapsulated in a bubble, providing a large pocket of air at the bottom of the ocean... both fishmen and merfolk are capable of breathing both underwater and on land, and we suffer none from drinking salt water, like your kind does."
"Oh, that explains the water hole we found," Muse commented.
"I gathered that water for myself, yes... I did not want to disturb the wildlife by searching out their water hole."
"So I'm well aware that if it's just a little bit of sea water, it doesn't do much to devils like us, but... you can actually drink it?" Rink asked.
"By drinking it in small doses, yes," Charon replied. "I have to consume it slowly, and only small portions at a time, else first my throat will begin to numb, then the rest of my body... but once it is taken in by the body, it does not seem to bring with it any negative consequences. I do not understand it fully myself, but... I am certain that my being a fishman is what allows this strangeness."
"Mirise mentioned the relations between humans and fishmen before..."
"That is... not a joyful story," Charon said. "Largely, merfolk have been more open to coexisting with humans, whereas many fishmen consider themselves to be a superior race... but there are of course many differing opinions within both groups. Humans, for their part, tend to regard both merfolk and fishmen in the same disapproving manner, and many of my kin have been enslaved or imprisoned, even though they have committed no crime. There has been a growing resentment against humans, and many have proposed denying them entry to the Kingdom... but many others, especially our queen, believe that it is the wrong direction for the species to take. But several factions, mainly consisting of fishmen, wish to demonstrate that they are stronger, and some have taken to traveling the surface as pirates."
"That's awful," Mirise said. "But your queen sounds nice."
"She is frail, but the conviction she carries is unparalleled," Charon replied with a smile and a nod. "She was hoping that we would return with good news about the world, and I regret that we failed in that endeavour..."
"Alright... thanks for explaining," James said, noticing that Charon started to feel slightly uncomfortable about the subject. "So, going back a bit, I've been wondering about devil fruits, too... didn't encounter a single one for most of my life, and now there's three people who's eaten them on my boat." He looked up at Rink, Charon and Allen.
"And?" Rink asked.
"I mean, Allen and Charon turn into animals, and you," James said and pointed at Rink, "you do all that stuff with sound. Is it just random what happens, or..."
"Either of you know a lot about them?" Rink asked.
"Just the basics," Allen replied.
"My studies did not involve them to any significant degree," Charon said.
"Well, alright, guess I'll take this one..." Rink stated. "I don't know everything about them, but... all devil fruits belong to one of three categories. I ate the Sound Fruit... that type is called a Paramecia, ability fruits... they confer a special ability to the user, a... superpower, kind of... though there are many different types, some stronger than others. And the strength of all powers depend on how you use them, of course. They tend to be the most versatile type, with the largest differences between fruits of the same type."
"Okay..." James said with a nod as he kept writing.
"Then we've got the sort that Allen and Charon ate. Shapeshifter fruits, known as Zoan fruits. They do what you've already seen, they let the user transform into something else. Most commonly animals, but I've heard that there are rare kinds of Zoan fruits that let the eater transform into... other kinds of things as well. Shapeshifter devils have three forms, one being whatever they were before, one fully transformed into what the fruit dictates, and one, like... half-and-half. They strengthen the body in a way that the other types of fruits generally don't."
"So that accounts for the three of you," James noted. "So what's the last one?"
"The third and final type, generally considered the strongest kind of devil fruit... the nature fruits. Logia. One thing that the Paramecia and Zoan powers have in common is that while the powers are strong, your body is still bound to itself, so to speak... for example, if you cut off the arm of a Paramecia or Zoan user, they're going to lose an arm... excepting, possibly, some specific Paramecia abilities."
"Logia users aren't like that. The nature powers untangle the user's body, letting them turn it into... some sort of substance. Like, say... fire, or stone, or..."
"Or glass," Allen added.
"Yeah. Point being, nature devils are near impossible to hurt with conventional methods. Bullets, swords, they'll just go through them, and they can reform their body as they like."
"So... how do you fight them?"
"Usually, you don't," Rink replied. "Or you hope that you don't. Depending on what they turn into, you could try to counter that... or try to drench them in sea water, or attack them with seastone."
"Seastone? What's that?"
"It's a mineral with the same properties as the sea," Allen said. "It weakens us devil fruit users, negates our powers to a degree, in the same way as if we were submerged into the sea."
"Why does having a devil fruit power mean you can't swim, anyway?"
"Nobody has been able to properly answer that," Charon stated. "The legend goes that the sea rejects those that have obtained the power of the devil, but... as we are not affected by fresh water, there has to be something different in the sea water that causes it. The obvious theory is the one of the salt in the sea water playing a role in it..."
"Which would make seastone some kind of highly concentrated sea salt," Rink mused. "But I don't know if it's even possible to understand the devil fruits and all that surrounds them... by all accounts, nothing about them makes sense."
"Do you... ever regret eating one?" James asked.
"Me? No," Rink replied. "I quite like what I can do with it. I was never much for swimming in the ocean anyway..."
"The extra strength is a rush like nothing else," Allen continued with a grin. "I've done stuff I wouldn't have been able to otherwise."
"If given the choice, then I would not have done it..." Charon said. "But there is no value in dwelling on what might have been, and as I now have been given this power, I will not waste it..."
"That reminds me," Allen said. "You used a scythe to decapitate that lizard."
"It was the only weapon I had that would allow for such an attack," Charon answered.
"Aren't scythes kind of bad as weapons? Like, you have to attack in such a weird way..."
"Remember that I am no warrior," Charon replied and stood up. "But allow me to explain my choice of weapon," he continued and collected his scythe from where it was lying on the floor, next to his other bags. He held it in his left hand, and with the other, he unhooked the sickle that was attached to his belt and held it up as well. "The scythe and the sickle were the tools of my trade long before I had need of weapons."
"When it was decided that I were to board an expedition away from Fishman Island, on the insistence of my brother Haros, I had to choose some sort of weapon with which to defend myself. And so I concluded that as I were to carry these tools with me as I went anyway, the most efficient option would be to adapt them into weaponry, as I was already familiar with how to utilize them."
"And so, with some assistance, I crafted them to be multipurpose and modular," Charon continued and put his sickle down before fiddling with something at the point where the scythe's blade connected to the handle, following which the blade seemed to loosen. "The blade can be unlocked, as such, allowing it to rotate around its axis. The handle has an aperture through which the blade can move, although with the curved nature of the blade, it will stick out if locked in that position. But the primary use of the function is this." Charon spun the blade around until it pointed straight out from the handle and locked it, making it resemble a kind of naginata.
"That looks like a better weapon, yeah," Allen said.
"In addition, the blade itself can be removed," Charon added and again unlocked the blade, this time removing some additional screws to separate the blade fully from the handle. "I can use different blades if I should so wish. I currently possess three blades for this scythe, two regular ones in addition to this one, which has been sharpened on both sides. My sickle is also constructed in much the same way, and although its blade cannot rotate, I can fasten either blade to either handle, allowing me to put a sickle blade on the scythe handle should I need a hook with a long handle, for instance. I have three identical sickle blades, plus a short, straight blade with a serrated edge to function as a small saw."
"That's a really clever design," Muse said, joining the conversation. "Did you make that yourself?"
"Ah, no," Charon answered. "Although the idea came to me when I recalled a time when I had a sickle blade break off from its handle, I enlisted the help from more skilled craftsmen to make the tools a reality."
"Multipurpose is always good. I know some things about weapon making, I'd gladly take a look at your gear."
"You are welcome to do so," Charon replied.
"So, anyway, since you're from the Grand Line, I was also wondering about..."
The rest of the afternoon and evening passed in much the same manner. James continued with his enquiries, which those with more experience than him answered as best as they could. Muse studied Charon's sickle and scythe, impressed with their construction. Mirise made sure that Cassandra was heading in an appropriate direction. As they didn't have much else, the eventual dinner also consisted mainly of lizard meat, this time chopped up into even smaller pieces and fried together with likewise chopped up pieces of some other things they had left. By the time they went to sleep, Muse had confirmed that there hadn't been any more leaks since they left the island - so chances were good they at least wouldn't wake up at the bottom of the sea.
After waking up the following morning, Mirise and Muse headed outside to check on, respectively, the course and the repairs while Rink was preparing breakfast. Charon was lying next to the cabin, in half-boar form. Muse entered the storage hatch, while Mirise confirmed that the ship was still on the right track.
"Good morning to you."
"Oh, good morning," Mirise said and turned around to see Charon stand up and change back into a fishman. "I hope I didn't disturb you."
"Nothing of the sort," Charon replied. "The sun serves as my waking call."
"Oh, alright. Is that why you sleep outside?"
"Not solely, but it is among the reasons. I find that I sleep better in the open air."
"The air out here is really nice," Mirise said and took a deep breath.
"Well, she's still holding it together, but I don't want to trust it for longer than necessary," Muse stated as she got back out of the storage hold.
"Good morning to you as well," Charon replied.
"Morning," Muse answered. "Well, I'm all done here."
"Same," Mirise said. "It's time for breakfast, I think."
"What do we even have to make breakfast of? But I'm hungry, anyway." The three of them headed inside, where Rink was serving something in bowls around the table.
"You're just in time," she said as she sat down. "Breakfast's served. Though it's just coffee and rice porridge."
"At least it's not lizard for breakfast as well," Muse replied and took a seat at the edge of the table.
"So how's it looking?" Rink asked and started drinking her coffee.
"All good," Mirise replied and took a seat as well. "We should reach Gondol tomorrow morning."
Mirise had barely stopped talking as Rink froze, spitting her coffee over the table, only narrowly not hitting Markus who was sitting across from her. "S-sorry, but wait, what? We're going to Gondol?"
"It's where I was plotting the course to after Garlan... it's the closest inhabited island, and-"
"Is... is there nowhere else we can go?" Rink asked as she started cleaning up the mess she had made.
"No," Muse replied as she started eating, "we have to get the boat properly fixed. It's not worth taking the risk for much longer, and we need more materials for it."
"Any other island is at least two days away," Mirise continued. "If it could burst at any time, we really have no choice. Is something the matter with Gondol? It's outside of the common trade routes, so we figured there would be less chance of a Marine presence... have you been there before?"
"I... Gondol is a great place... peaceful, nice... no Marines... it's the perfect choice."
"Gondol is... where I was born," Rink replied after a pause. "Where I grew up."
"So why don't you-" Muse began.
"Because..." Rink answered before Muse could finish, "Gondol is where she is..."
To be continued in Volume 05: Aniara