|Date Started: May 27th, 2020|
|ScarletPlumage • Zeospark|
A very large man is seen with an army of weaponized toy soldiers behind him as they salute to his orders. "Very good. It seems like these things are quite obedient to me now. You sure these things won't break down on me too easily?" he asked. Keaton, who is wearing an owl mask to cover most his face for his dealings and pats on the soldiers's metallic bodies to show they're quite durable.
"Trust me, I never lie to my clients. I make sure to use the toughest of scum I can find and make them into the toughest of soldiers around! These things won't break down too easily and if something does happen to them somehow, you got my contacts." said Keaton as he pointed to one of his many Owlawks (smaller owl/hawk hybrids with small pouches around their necks). "Very good. You are pretty trusted around here Willow so I'll take your word on that. Here's the beli. We're off." The man gives Keaton the large about of beli and heads out of the area with his small army of toy soldiers following behind him.
"Heh. I got good business as usual. Ever since I put these powers of mine to good use, making money was never a problem! Keeheeheeseesee!" said Keaton as he heads out with the suitcase of beli in it. "Hook! We're out." Keaton calls for a much larger Owlawk that was large enough to carry a large cart on it's back that can be used to ride in and store goods on. They fly off back to Keaton's home of Aerion.
Keaton is a well known figure in The Underworld as he is able to supply strong toy soldiers or other things (such as large toy elephants or other means of transportation) to people that require their assistance. This is thanks to his Hobi Hobi no Mi powers where he is able to turn any living thing into a toy of his choosing. As part of The Underworld, Keaton goes by "Willow" and always makes his deals in person. As Keaton is always found on his home on Aerion, he has many smaller Owlawks stationed in many different areas of the world with small pouches around their necks. Since Keaton as Willow is known for his mask of the Owlawks, it's very easy to recognize that they belong to him. Should anyone require his services, they simply need to include a note with their name (or alias), meeting location, and time. Usually, Keaton has special colored ribbons around each Owlawk's talons to show which one from that area was summoned but he will often times receive requests to meet at somewhere that isn't too close to that Owlawk's meeting spot but is still in range. In case of this occurrence, special directions are required to be included on the note. And after deals are made, Keaton will have his pet adult Owlawk Hook and the other adult Owlawks transfer the goods on giant baskets/carts on their massive backs.
Feeling proud of yet another deal well done, Keaton makes it back to his home of Aerion and sits back on his chair reading the newspaper. "I wonder what deals I will make next? Beli is beli after all!" Keaton said while chuckling to himself.
However, at the exact moment Keaton sat down, he would begin to feel what appeared to be, atleast at first, a shadow creep and extend it's way up and over his newspaper; blocking his sunlight. There was no sound, and what appeared to be no movement associated with this shadow as well. After a few seconds, it became more apparent that looming over his newspaper was the ghastly, ephmeral image of a grey-haired woman that appeared to be herself no older than thirty. Her eyes were entirely, eerily white, directed not at Keaton, but at his door; staying unwaveringly fixated on it; and her facial features were vague; and hard to make out.
As the wind blowed, the looser bits of clothing not directly attached to her body billowed; but in the opposite direction. A slight, shrieking voice as if that of a banshee bellowed from the mouth of the woman, no, the creature; as it pointed towards the door of his log cabin. "Mink, enter the cabin.", it said, going back into complete silence abruptly afterwards. The slight flicker of a red substance; no, a deep, blood-red ticket-shaped object; made of a strange material appeared to flicker into existence within the woman's hands; as the woman-esque creature abruptly moved straight through his door; as if yet again, wordlessly beckoning him to follow.
Keaton could only stare in silence at what just transpired in front of him. In all of the dealings in The Underworld he has dealt with, he has never felt any shred of tension. This was actually an experience he hasn't felt in awhile but, to him, is even more tense than any of those rare moments. Keaton could only stare at the figure as he stands up preparing to follow what the creature wants him to do.
"I see. You want me to head through the door. I'll go on through then." Keaton says this in his most serious tone as he slowly walks to the door and, after a deep breath, opens with confidence.
The spectral entity appeared to linger in his house, hovering ever so slightly over the wooden logs of Keaton's cabin as it waited for him to follow. Apparently, upon Keaton getting close for close enough to witness it's presence once again in the cabin; the creature appeared to scream, yet there was no sound; the air around it appeared to lose colour, and the creature herself, no itself, appeared to shrink away into a ball, until there was nothing left of her whatsoever.
Beside her, and then later, where she used to be stood the red ticket, lodged directly through his granite countertop, penetrating it deeply somehow without damaging the countertop itself. On it, inscribed in golden text; were jumbled letters, which themselves slowly shifted into coherent words. On the back, was the symbol of a very, particular organization, as well as what appeared to be a map with an X marked at a specific position overlaid over the image. When settled, the text appeared to say:
"THIS IS AN OFFICIAL SUMMON. FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL BE TREATED AS AN ACT OF HOSTILITY."
To anyone within the Underworld with atleast two functioning brain cells, it would already be abundantly clear what this was, and what it represented. This ticket, known by many names, a fable spoken in hushed whispers in the Underworld as the "Demon's Pass", was a personalized "invitation" extended to an outsider to have an audience with one of the higher-ups of an Empire of the Underworld, the Godmother's Empire itself; Enma. Legends were told of entire groups of people disappearing into the night and re-emerging days after, for others, weeks, and for others still, some never returned. Rumours attributed mysterious disappearances all over the world to these fabled-to-exist tickets, but for most unaware of the machinations of the Underworld; they were mostly disregarded as myth.
Man, woman, child, royalty, commoner, Pirate, Marine, or even Revolutionary still, upon seeing this card they were all equally confronted with the reality of it's existence, no longer being able to deny it as myth.
Keaton, having been dealing with The Underworld for years, of course knows what the note is. He has heard countless stories of Enma. Many of his associates would often tell their own brand of story about them, but Keaton would simply brush them off each and every time thinking it's all made up. Keaton, as he stares at the note, knows that whether it's fact or fiction, it doesn't change the fact he has received a summons from Enma and he must comply with their wishes. Not knowing that this summons is about, for the first time in his life, Keaton was nervous.
"Enma... They have summoned me as it appears. I'll admit, I never thought I would be summoned by pretty much the rulers of The Underworld. I made many deals in my life but this is on an entire different scale." Keaton said as he continues to stare that the invigoration.
Indeed, this is definitely a big deal for Keaton. He knows being summoned by Enma itself is a request he cannot refuse or risk a major conflict. Keaton wasn't sure if he is summoned for a major deal or is even in trouble with them. Keaton has made his presence known in The Underworld thanks to his many dealings of selling off nigh-indestructible toy soldiers. He wasn't sure if they were interested in some as well or upset that he is selling them. Otherwise, he knows he must attend.
"Refusing an invite to Enma is like signing your death certificate to Death himself. Of course, that isn't an option. This could be breakthrough deal for me or something worse. Nonetheless, I must go. It's better to know than to stay in the dark. Hook! Let's go!" as Keaton said as he called out to his faithful giant Owlawk.
Keaton looks on the back of the form to see the map where it was mark with an "X." Having a good idea where that is, Keaton rides on Hook as they fly off toward the direction the map leads.
Walking towards an enormous pair of fortified wooden doors; a delicate-looking young woman of white hair and porcelain skin paced purposefully down what would appear to be a large stone hallway, up the central staircase and across the red carpet leading to the room that was behind those doors. Carrying a tray of food and tea in her hands, despite walking briskly she walked so gracefully such that a drop of tea was never yet spilled as if it was never a burden to begin with.
Following her, was her personal detail on this particular island, an entourage of soldiers; a unit composed of what individually appeared to be strong men clad in black-tainted-armour as a consequence of the repeated use of what she and her people would refer to as Ryuo. A young man shuffled to the front as he attempted to garner the woman's attention.
"M-miss Tamura; here are the documents you ordered on the expansion projects started in the past few months. The Astraean chemical department has yet to make a quantitive report about the new steroid requested by the Empress; so there was no data to properly analyze" said the young man, decidedly less soldier-like in apparel and physical size, adjusting his glasses as he knelt down and handed the woman the sheets of paper held in his hands. The woman, Tamura Nozomi, collected the papers from her appointed servant and mulled over them momentarily, without telling the man to get up from this position. Letting go over her tray as it appeared to levitate in the ear, she flipped her hair subconsciously while reading, letting it settle as she cleared her throat softly.
"Good, it was expected that the steroid would take about one week longer, I'm sure it will be understood.", Nozomi said, gesturing towards the door as her personal detail rapidly announced their intent to enter and stood guard at the door, fortifying the general presence of the men assigned to said door. Walking in lightly, Nozomi knelt; looking down towards the floor as she had entered a massive wine-red room, a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and illuminating what was nothing less than a throne room, the carpet from earlier detached, as a new carpet more exquisite lay over the checkered red and white marbled floor. The tray followed behind her, continuing to levitate into the room as it made it's way in. A violent, malevolent aura of cultivated evil; almost visibly painting the room in yet another layer of red could be felt permeating the room, yet not focused directly on her; as sounds of shifting could be heard overlayed with those of the slumber of a massive beast.
"Good morning, Amanozako-sama. It is I, Tamura Nozomi. I have come to bear report and bring your meal." The tray floated upwards, carried on the wisp floating towards and above the elevated platform as another wisp breaks off to carry a special ornate table with it. The aura from earlier appears to recede, yet not fade away entirely, as the presence before Nozomi stretches, cracking her neck softly as she caresses the rough scales of a sleeping creature whose vermillion hide perfectly matches her own long, flowing hair. Crossing her legs and placing her free elbow on her thigh, she props her head up as she leans forward; looking down at the scene before her.
"Very well, good morning Nozomi-chan. You may come up yourself and hand the reports to me. I've already detected the movements of that Mink that caught my eye as well as his ship; he should be approaching shortly. Saeko-san had desired to give him a bit of a trial by fire; but I believed that she should stay and keep watch at Astraea while I manage this. Come, sit with me friend." the woman spoke, her voice clearly carrying authority but also an ember of genuine friendliness.
Having known the Empress, and the incarnate of the goddess of her religion for years; Nozomi was one of the Fujiwara Family's most trusted, bearing the mark of the Kagetaika-Gumi. As a result, she held special privileges that only a select few could boast; one of which was being her goddess' friend and sharing meals with her. "As you wish." Sitting at the table, they dined. "The mink, Keaton, was cast out from Zou for being a troublemaker. Fitting for our organization; though I'm not sure of his discipline. When he approaches, I have already set the mouth of the island to open up for his entry; where he will be ushered towards your throne room." She twirled her hair in her fingers passively, eating the food pseudo-telekinetically.
"I've read his files, that too is a point of contention of mine. Worst case scenario however, Lucia can take care of the more..troublesome parts of his identity. I'd much rather not do that, and simply speak in a civil manner though. Adopt your position, and stand by my side when he enters Nozomi-chan."
It was nothing short of a beautiful day, the water shimmered and reflected the sun's rays magnificently as the waves moved serenely back and forth across the sea. However, at the co-ordinates, there appeared to be, nothing, a vast expanse of sea as far as the eyes could see, something that one incoming Mink would surely soon take note of for himself. Though, if one was sufficiently perceptive, one could notice that the waves slowly began to pick up pace; as if something massive was approaching.
Before the sudden shifts of the waves occurred, Keaton and Hook were riding on one of Keaton's ships that he kept aside just in cause of certain situations. As he was riding on the, at the time, very calm waves, Keaton couldn't hide his slight nervousness and opts to talk with his large pet for comfort.
"I don't know what's going to happen Hook but just in case something does happen to me, make sure you do get away safely." Keaton said to Hook. Hook could only screech disapprovingly with Keaton assuring him that he'll be fine. Keaton has spent his entire life getting into trouble and not really suffering anything major for it. Back on Zou, it was usually a talking to from the elder. On the sea as a pirate, it was against Marines he could easily defeat/turn into toys. But Keaton knows well that Enma is much more threatening than that and can't help but feel tension from a group he has never interacted with before. Keaton pets his faithful pet to ease his tension but that soon comes to a stop.
It was at this moment that Keaton notices the waves start to pick up in pace as Hook starts to screech loudly looking at something.
"D-Damn! What the hell is that!?" Keaton yelled as he notices something massive approaching.
An aura of overwhelming blood lust fell over the area as even the birds up above instinctually stopped mid-flight and turned around rapidly; as if attempting to escape as quickly as possible, some unfortunate ones falling from the sky and plunging into the sea frozen in terror. The sea appeared to cry out in agony, lashing out as the waves became more violent and turbulent. In the distance, a massive black bird with bubbling, glowing orbs for eyes appeared to be rapidly approaching Keaton's ship, it's jaw unhinging revealing a stone drawbridge dropping from it's mouth. Behind it's head, if one's vision was sufficiently acute to see beyond such a massive head; appeared to be a small heavily reinforced city complimented by thick black wings which protruded from both sides; each feather appearing to have unique canons and defensive implementations established on them.
The bird-shaped island stopped abruptly before the ship, revealing a large internal harbour that went along the length of the island. Ships dotted the interior of this harbour of different shapes and sizes, shipwrights hard at work and guards patrolling the docks moving back and forth. Near the docks however, stood a blonde woman no shorter than 13 feet, seemingly talking to some of the people hard at work. The men stationed on the wings and head of the bird looked down on Keaton and his ship, as one of the men began to vibrate his fingers rapidly; producing a green light, and nodding towards Keaton. As if in response to his clearance, the aura receded as the seas began to settle, though appeared to linger slightly further off.
Keaton takes the short time to look around the area in a mix of amazement and shock but follows the motion of the green light to proceed. He makes sure to steer his boat slowly and carefully in an area he is certainly seeing for the first time. Hook is at the front of the ship looking around the area with his sharp eyes as well.
"Wow, I never expected to see a sort of town here and it is very lively. I noticed the shipwrights working here and there and many other ships at work as well. Reminds me a bit that town I believe it was called Water 7." as Keaton said trying to remember some of his trips in the past. He then looks back up at the men that instructed him to proceed knowing they are in charge of passing people through.
"Now, I wonder where I may run into the one in charge of this." Keaton wondered as he prepared to dock his ship.
"Up here, Troublemaker; we've got a lot to talk about." called a voice, looming over the docks, as the aforementioned blonde woman adjusted her armour and flashed what appeared to be a hospitable smile. The harbour itself was underground and dimly lit, with stairs leading to the city above.
"I'm not the one in charge. The Empress is further up ahead, I've been ordered to usher you into her presence, and catch you up to speed." Without skipping a beat, her eyes flashed red momentarily, as her now-crimson orbs quickly surveyed Keaton as well as Hawk's form, attempting to detect any form of ill will. Laughing to herself, she tilted her head and gestured to a nearby ladder for Keaton to walk up, clearly tickled by something. "You a bit nervous? We don't want to kill you if that's of any consolation. I can answer most of your questions, though I'm sure she will want to answer some herself."
Keaton does his best to keep his composure. Upon hearing being called "Troublemaker", he genuinely thought he was indeed in trouble. However, even if this is the case or not, Keaton knows that he shouldn't be showing any signs of weakness. Especially after hearing that he will be meeting the Empress. Even after hearing her say that he is nervous, Keaton cracks a smirk before speaking.
"That's good to hear then. Of course, I'm not that nervous as I've been dealing with The Underworld for quite some time now. Indeed I have questions myself and I'll be glad to answer the Empresses' questions as well. Come Hook!"
Keaton gestures to his companion to follow him as he heads up the ladder as instructed to by the woman.
"We've got a bit to go, ask away." Gesturing towards the stairs, the woman began to make her ascent as what formerly looked like a city gives way to a base of operations for members of what is referred to as the Circuit; the Underworld's premier institution of mercernarism; with hits being capable of being placed on specific targets by anyone with a significant stake in the Underworld. Even Marines themselves could be hunted by these people in particular, with it's progenitors in Enma taking a commission tax for every contract.
Lone operatives trained against each other, skirmishing and dueling, honing each other's skills, while others trained under a commander; as part of the greater paramilitary force. Missive boards and bounty fliers were all over the island; and while there did appear to be civilians for the most part they seemed to have jobs associated with this military presence on this island; from growing food, blacksmithing and weapon selling among other things. Roads and trains weaved over head as they moved from port to port. Even children appearing to pick up their father's sword and train under random operatives were seen clashing swords with men much older than themselves.
Several suspicious eyes fell on Keaton; attempting to determine who exactly this new person was. Some turned away, nodding in recognition; others shrugged in total indifference, others sharpened their blades, claws, fangs, and in some instances, tails while not breaking eye contact; observing the newcomer. The woman looked around, before casually walking along a brick road, completely undaunted. "Hm, pretty warm welcome."
Keaton looks around in the area noticing the many of them either not caring for his presence or even seeming like they're going to attack him. Nonetheless, Keaton kept his stoic face before saying some words.
"Indeed but it's something I'm very used to these days. I've been in the business for awhile and I'll be surprised if I don't receive any looks like these." Keaton said will still looking around in the area. Keaton made sure that Hook as still following behind them and he then decided to ask the questions the woman recommended.
"Oh, right! I do have a few questions. One, how do you exactly run your business? I mean like how I use giant Owlawks to carry about my goods and rely any messages to me. I'm just curious how exactly Enma does things. And, secondly, if you don't mind me asking, your name?
Looking over at the Mink, the woman raised an eyebrow; looking at him warily. "Bit, much to explain when we aren't certain we entirely trust you isn't that? Can't, exactly be in the position we are if we tell every prospective business partner in the world the inner workings of our organization the first time we encounter now can we?" Humming in thought, she continues; "Though it is more than a business, in a sense it's closer to an actual Empire than the territories of atleast some of the the Yonko that earn the title from military forces. Won't disclose more."
As they walked, they came closer to a massive stone building, polished and painted until it literally glowed softly, as if a piece of the sun itself. A geologist would identify the building material as some sort of igneous rock. Guards stood at the doorway of what would appear to be a massive castle, sharpshooters were perched on arches and lookout spots built into the castle; wielding rifles and blackened slingshots, and swordsmen patrolled the area.
"Secondly, my name's Stoltz Avery; in charge of whatever the Empress says I am, and an Apostle. I'm a mercenary in the Circuit. As are, literally everyone on the island we just walked past. The Circuit's free use amongst the Underworld, well, commission fees and taxes to us are paid cause it's y'know, our system but anyone can use it. I tend to take up contracts that the Empress sees as mutually beneficial to the organization and the people on the other side who paid for the gig. Run my own part of a Legion in the military, murder some people every now and then. Not sure how you haven't heard of me, I'm a big deal if I might say so myself."
Keaton looks up at large castle-like building noticing how heavily guarded it is. He motions Hook to stay closer to him and decides to speak up after hearing what Avery had to say.
"Trust me, I have heard of you Avery. I just wanted to verify that in person if you don't mind." Keaton said. He looks back up at the building again before speaking once more. "It is quite impressive I'll say. I probably should've asked the most important question of all: Why am I personally summoned here? Not that I don't mind, trust me, this is a very important meeting that I would think less to turn down. I'm just curious why me in particular? I'm sure the Empress would answer that for me?"
Groaning audibly and almost childishly in response, Avery signalled to the guards in front as the castle gates burst open, tufts of what would appear to be threads lining the door in it's entirety; a development that struck most who saw the door as strange, but perhaps nothing worth further curiosity. Strands of thread appeared to align themselves with Keaton and a slightly pouting Avery as if magnetized as they approached. Irritated slightly at the fact that she needed to be verified, she mumbled to herself, "It's always Zachary that gets all the fans."
After a minute, she collected herself, and followed up on the conversation. "So, you know what we do right? Of course you do. It's a business talk, of course the details of which is something the Empress'd prefer to say herself. There is indeed a reason but she specifically stated she wanted to show you why. Either way, since you're meeting with her, should go without being said but try anything funny and, things will go, well, very south is an understatement.", she said, walking on to the velvet carpet laid atop the tiled marble floor, the golden outlines of the carpet matching the colour of her hair.
Overhead were banners, variations on the symbol Keaton would have seen on his invitation that criss-crossed the hallway, as kitchens, bedrooms, pools, and even Fortuna-branded slot machines were behind doors on either side of the hallway. "You've been a broker, trade in slaves? We've bought your goods a few times, infiltrated your buyers list. Don't feel intruded on, do it to a good portion of the freelancers. Helps us keep people in check when we need to, or, just remove them from the playing field entirely if you get me."
Keaton accesses everything Avery has said so far and keeping a calm, stoic look, understands what she is telling him about their business and whatnot. As he surveys his surroundings, he then decides to speak.
"I understand. Trust me, Enma is pretty well known in The Underworld. Only a fool wouldn't have known by them if they even dare to deal with this kind of business. And I'm always serious when it comes to deals. I'll admit, I can be pretty mischievous but only when I'm "off the clock" to say." said Keaton as he stares down at the rug. After looking around more at the castle-like area, he then responds to Avery's other words about her buying his goods and infiltrating his list.
"I see. I guess it is a way to make sure people aren't being reckless. I remember a few regulars that were incredibly careless in their deals. Never seen or heard from them again. I take it you probably off'ed those guys huh?" Keaton asked.
"Not me personally. Though, I do know the guys that know the guys that know the guys that..., you get the point, that did it. Last corner before your actual meeting, get your breaths in now. Oh, whatever you do, if you hear a whistle, don't whistle back, or it'll eat you." Avery says, ominously.
Staircase to Hell
As they continued walking, they came upon another corner, this time appearing to lead to a set of exquisitely designed stairs made of some of the finest stones money could buy. Behind it, stood a massive door, as if signalling a sense of finality. A deep growl, with a rhythmic pattern not unlike a pattern of breathing could be heard coming from behind the door. An old Mink appears to float at the door, electricity of a pitch-black colour sparking occasionally under his legs but leaving the carpet beneath him unarmed. As Avery and Keaton arrive, he suddenly flashes open his eyes, appearing to be a rat-like humanoid of great height as his eyes themselves appear to spark with electricity.
Yelling out suddenly, Avery waves her hand to get the old Mink's attention. Behind him is a staff, resting to the left of the wall. Strange positioning in fact, as from his upright posture and his apparent ability to bypass a need to walk altogether, one would have a hard time believing he would ever have problems with walking. "Oi, Arthur, your kin's here. I've got a job to run so I figure you can take him inside, I'm already a little late and Lady Amanozako won't tolerate any further lateness."
Arthur eyes Avery and Keaton, slightly annoyance present on his face but with his legs crossed in a meditative pose, he outstretches his arms and gestures for Keaton to come. "Go away child, you-gara are already disturbing my meditation being here, you-gara should have already gone and completed the contract ahead of time!"
Avery rolls her eyes, turning around with attitude. "Don't stress yourself over me gramps, I've got it all handled. Or is it those uhh, whadyoucallit, erectile problems making you all grumpy again! Either way, it's an easy job, I'll stick my finger through her chest before you ever get those old crusty fingers near a broad you dried up furball. Seeya 'round Keaton, hope you make the cut." As if expecting an outrage, Avery vanishes almost into thin air without waiting for a response from Keaton or Arthur, using her knowledge of the Six Powers taught to her by her previous captain, Zachary to escape her predictions but not before flashing the cheeky grin plastered across her face.
Arthur looked infuriated, his apparently wooden cane glowing with a glow of red electricity as it appears to change shape, becoming metallic as electricity is flowed into it from his fingertips and it gravitates towards his hands, revealing it's nature as a blade. In perhaps one of the strangest moves a swordsman could undertake, Arthur threw his sword at the now empty spot Avery was once in, his blade striking a wall and apparently managing to slide right through said wall, pursuing the insolent brat through right of his own Observation Haki. Muttering to himself, he muttered, "Darn brat. I'm more than capable of courting."
Arthur stopped for a second, the electrical display around his body receding as he turned towards Keaton and flashed him a smile, slowly and gracefully dropping from his floating position onto his two feet, standing perfectly upright and with the poise and posture of a youthful swordsman."You-gara are a long way from home my child. Though I guess an old man like myself has no business telling you-gara that! Children these days are all around the world!" The old Mink burst out into a roar of laughter, as his body surged with his vantablack discharge almost subconsciously as he built up his laughter.
Maintaining control over said discharge so as to harmlessly permeate the room without striking anyone, he gathers it into his hands into a small orb and then folds his hands into a fist, quelling his unique use of Electro entirely. "Keaton, if I am correct? I am to oversee this entry. Have you-gara prepared adequately?"
Keaton took the time to access everything that has happened especially with an unknown monster that was following him earlier. He then gathers himself back together and stares back at the Mink who asked him a question. Keaton took a quick glance back toward Hook who was obediently following his moments without causing any commotion and finally decides to answer.
"Of course. My partner here has most of the normal supplies I have with me so I believe I am prepared to meet her." Keaton said acting in a calm tone.
Knocking on the door, the Mink makes his presence known. "Amanozako-heika, Nozomi-san, a certain Keaton is here to speak with you as per the invitation." In response, two clicks are heard coming from behind the door, which Arthur appears to take as a signal as he raises his hands, the metallic parts of the door jittering about for a bit momentarily. A few more seconds pass. A bit more. Jarringly, the massive throne room doors open up, sprawling forth as the full blast of the presence of the Godmother overcomes the surrounding area, as if stained with the essence of death itself. It immediately became obvious that Arthur did not mean being prepared with supplies for the meeting, but he meant being prepared himself for it.
The feeling of dread and overwhelming bloodlust that was present earlier instantaneously fills the entire hallway as if a rapid flood once more as an almost translucent wave of a dark fluid stretches out over the entire area, a rapid swelling feeling of heat irradiating the entire castle as if suddenly caught within the furnaces of Hell itself. In an instant, one could hear one's own breathing, one's own heartbeat, the movement of blood throughout one's body as the heart struggled to keep pumping enough blood in spite of this presence. In the corner, a musician could be seen, playing on an organ a tune in minor key that the woman who sat above in shadow seemed to have requested for her own listening pleasure, mustering up such willpower that he continued to play despite every part of his body rattling like an old house during a storm. Such a feeling would usually be associated with the use of Haoshoku Haki, but for those perceptive, it appeared that very little if any Haki was being used at all. Such was the presence of the woman considered to be the representation of everything wrong in the world, every sin, every crime, the presence of All the World's Evil.
Heavy, deep growls echoed against the marbled floors that would cause the spirits of lesser men to freeze in it's presence. A towering, intimidating figure, clad in red, sat high up in an expansive room that matched the colours of her hair on a similarly massive throne to match her own size, legs crossed and leaning back on her throne. The air feels as if suddenly oppressive and visible to the naked eye, as if one climbed to the summit of an incredibly tall mountain. Deeper breaths become needed to take in the same amount of oxygen as those inside and even the guards outside for the moment that the door was open felt as if the air in the room itself was boiling over.
The threads that dotted doors prior coated the entirety of the ceilings. Not threads, no, strings. Forming intentional web-like patterns, criss-crossing across the ceiling. A woman that looked eerily similar to the banshee like creature that appeared to Keaton earlier stood innocuously near her goddess. Besides the towering woman of and clad in crimson vermilion is a massive sword that appears to be trembling with excitement as if having a will of its own, it's movements appearing similar to as if dancing around her body, a demonstration in itself similar to the capabilities of the Soru Soru no Mi.
At the feet of said woman knelt other women, notably diminutive in comparison to the the woman sitting on the throne, lightly dressed, adorned in jewelry and carrying fans, appearing to serve as royal attendants and handmaidens to the woman referred to as an Empress, by the name of a goddess, and as an Oyabun. Amongst the handmaidens, the aura radiated by their Empress had already forced all but one to drop, sprawled against the stairs with drool leaving their mouths as they breathed softly, unconscious. The Empress had two fingers under the chin of the remaining handmaiden as she smirked, as if admiring the handmaiden's tenacity allowing her to stay awake despite struggling to breathe and shivering throughout the entirety of her body. The Godmother wrapped one of her own relatively large imperial hands around the handmaiden's throat as she went limp in the Godmother's cold hands, being unceremoniously dropped on the floor closest of all the women to her throne as she simply said, "Hush now."
Special checkered floors, chandeliers hung from the ceiling no less expensive than the entire life savings of the average commoner, paintings from historical artists could be spotted in the room. Above Keaton were special lights positioned in such a way to cast his shadow over a large part of the room, fitting, as anyone that dared storm into her throne room was at risk of having their shadow ripped out of them in an instant and burned to death immediately, a good deterrent as any other. Cases of rum dotted the room as if personally requested by the woman, yet one could not sense anything near an aura of inebriation around her. In fact the sheer overwhelming potency of her aura would perhaps sober any drunk, if not force them unconscious through mental and sensory inundation.
Her eyes centred on the hallway with a sense of mystery, as if looking into her eyes only served as a gateway to an endless void as they appeared to have a slight glow to them, making her appear inhuman as she flashed her guest a toothy, predatory grin with the same ease one would smile at the joke made by a friend. Up close, it was apparent why these people, her family were considered to be more akin to living demons, Oni, Akuma than human from their sheer appearance. While one hand was formerly wrapped around a woman's neck, the other appeared to be set around a mug-sized cup of hot tea.
A low, deep whistle could be heard coming from the centre of the room where the woman sat, her lower legs resting upon a massive beast in it's own right, wagging its tail at an incredible speed as if a dog as it slept, before the tail appeared to stop midswing and point at the door. As if in perfect synchronization, the woman outstretched her hand, the very hand that just choked a handmaiden, and pointed directly at Keaton, about directly where his heart would be despite the angle of elevation between her and Keaton. "You may enter. Sit at that table." She gestured to a nearby small stone table, with a wooden chair at the ends of the table and soft padding that was right below the stairs leading up to her elevated royal platform allowing her to look down at him with greater convenience, speaking in a tone entirely commanding. Despite the nature of her tone there was some characteristic about her voice that made you want to obey regardless of the content of her actual speech. Beyond fear that is, a level of charisma packed in her words almost supernatural. The type of charisma that would convince men to jump into an active volcano if it was what she willed. In the presence of the Akuma of the Kagetaika-Gumi herself, a woman venerated as a goddess in her own right around the world, perhaps this is one of the ways people feel convinced to sell their souls to her in servitude.
At her position above the room, no, not the room, for the woman who sits on the throne of Enma, the cult of Kimon, and the Kagetaika-Gumi sits not just on top of this throne, or above this room, but atop the world; Arthur looked up at his goddess, the leader of the Yakuza he swore fealty to, and the daughter of his closest friend he had seen rise to the position with his very own eyes. Every time he saw her sit in the throne her father would have sat in before her, he couldn't help but beam with happiness at the heights she had ascended to. The presence she was capable of radiating without even thinking about it, how much she embodied the ideals of the Kagetaika-Gumi, he wished her father was here to witness the beautiful monster he brought into the world. "Permission to stay inside to witness, Amanozako-heika.", he knelt and requested.
In a tone completely uncharacteristic of a woman of her stature and presence, a familial tone was adopted, nodding at Arthur. "Sure, you can stay Arthur, meditate quietly in the corner though please? I heard the ruckus outside."
In response, Arthur nodded back, going back into his pose of levitation with both eyes closed, but with his eyebrows perked as if still managing to observe the proceedings.
Keaton is finally able to witness the sight of the Empress herself and observes around her main quarters. Keaton couldn't' help but stare in awe. Not really in amazement, but in total fear. Keaton could barely keep his stoic disposition up as his gaze is mainly on her. He's dealt with many deals in his lifetime, but never anything on this caber. Keaton could barely speak any words and only could think of his thoughts in his head.
"So, that is the Empress. T-This feeling... I...never felt this way before. It's like my body itself refuses to move... My body feels petrified..." he thought to himself. Keaton has the ware to move his eyes over to Hook and his giant companion could only stare at the beast that was by the Empress' side. He is reassured that his giant Owlawk is doing fine but tries his best to regain his composure. Keaton then hears the Empress tell him go sit at the table and he starts to slowly walk toward it.
"M-My body is moving on it's own? Is this some kind of Devil Fruit power at work? No, it seems like my body started to move once she said I could sit down. My own body is intimidated by just her presence alone...Screw the Marine Admirals, this woman is the last person you want to piss off...I better keep my composure through this." Keaton thought to himself as he walks toward the table that she instructed him to go to and sat down.
The doors shut immediately as Keaton cleared the way, locking him in the room with the scarlet entities, the Mink, and the woman that appeared eerily similar to the monstrous entity that appeared to him back on his home island. Continuing to sip her tea with almost contradictory serenity, she waited for Keaton to take his seat. There was something about her, something that wasn't, that couldn't be considered human, though anyone would be hard-pressed to determine exactly what it was. The woman appeared to acknowledge the fear and confusion threatening to break through his former imperturbable visage with a light nod, her toothy grin remaining permanent on her face.
The oppressive presence showed no sign of receding whatsoever however, as her eyes focused directly on Keaton, appearing to look through his body and pierce into his soul itself. It was almost as if she was searching for something, rifling through his life and his individuality to unravel Keaton as a person. The hellish, sweltering heat felt before only intensified as he sat before the Empress, the totality of the situation capable of evoking comparisons to the tension found in a prisoner's last meal. However, the atmosphere was juxtaposed by the actual words of the Yakuza head before him. Her tone remained as commanding as before, and the compelling nature of her voice was also maintained, but even despite this, there were hints of cordiality present in her voice that would serve to calm down those within earshot, albeit slightly. Having decided she waited long enough, she ran her hand against the incredibly rigid, visibly sharp scales of the beast slumbering beneath her heels, as if petting a dog.
"Make yourself comfortable, we have a lot to talk about. Food and drink will be provided as necessary. My name, is Fujiwara Hibiki, head of the Fujiwara Clan, daughter and only child of Fujiwara Ichiro, and Oyabun of the Kagetaika-Gumi, which encompasses my various activities and imperial status, including Enma, which in turn to some capacity includes my deified status. Now, in your walk with Avery, have you managed to figure out why you were summoned?"
Keaton finally takes a seat and tries to relax himself knowing he is now talking with the Empress herself. The only word goes through Keaton's mind: Cautiousness. He knows he is in deep territory Enma in the presence of Hibiki herself and one wrong move could, no, will end up with his head. Though he worries more for Hook who is actually keeping his composure but his guard up as well especially around her beast. Knowing it is time to talk, Keaton speaks in his most calm state.
"Well, I'll say it's definitely an honor to be in your presence Empress. This is indeed an exotic atmosphere you have here. And I'll just take a small glass of apple cider and some distilled water for my pet, Hook, here if that isn't too much trouble." he said in a polite tone. Of course, Keaton knows to be as polite and humble as possible when speaking to her. He was also trying to get himself comfortable before answering her biggest question.
"I do have a feeling it has to deal with how I do my business in The Underworld. Either that or something relating to it I take it." Keaton answered.
With no hesitation, the glasses manifested themselves on the table shortly after Keaton finished speaking, as in the corner of one's eye, a presence that appeared to have been in the room the entire time flickered in and out of existence, seemingly dragging something along with it. Eyes bubbled out of darkness abundant in the room, the shadows cast across the surfaces in the room appearing to coalesce before a gargantuan entity composed of and clad in scale-like patterns of armoured shadow burst out of the ground..
"Now, if these refreshments satisfy you, the reason you were summoned was indeed business related. The ability to wipe the existence of others from the collective memories of the world is an exceptionally useful ability. Creating toy slaves is a fair use of your ability, there is value to be had in slaves that never age, that can never disobey any commands, and in a way that nobody would remember who they were. I'll commend you for being proactive and noticing one way you could use your powers. Your slaves themselves are a start, but as living inorganic matter, and the power to dissassemble and restructure inorganic matter in our very own Izanagi, we could greatly enhance the combative capabilities of your toys tailored to your specific requests." Pausing strategically to build intrigue in Keaton, she looked at her tea. Noticing it was losing heat, she vibrated her hand carrying her tea at such a speed that it would appear to simply flicker out of vision. In a second, the vapors exuded from fresh, hot tea radiated again from her cup, heating it back up effortlessly. She took a drink, and then continued.
"Alternatively, there are some who prefer and would pay extremely highly for slaves programmed to serve them in any way they requested, with any disposition they asked for, that never age a day, and look entirely humanoid. Izanagi can rearrange the shape of your toys, can produce things that are as close to the natural races of the world as possible. Not a soul remembers who the targets originally were in their previous life, not even themselves. Imagine, someone has grudge or an obsession over Wukong, we could offer them a slave that looks like and talks like him, with whatever personality they'd request. Working on your own, you also have to worry that in the event that your abilities ever lose their grip over your toy soldiers, they would rebel against you. Some cleverly implanted memories, and in some cases, personality rewrites can make this a thing of the past. In fact, I can make them continue to ally themselves to you even if they aren't toys."
Maintaining her authorative tone, Hibiki made it clear that she believed that there was great potential that dwelled within him, but laid dormant as of the current moment. Of course, this was not a request, but an order. His powers were too valuable to be left alone, outside of her reach. That being said, this was not a thing he needed to know, though she was certain it was usually assumed that saying no to her had their..consequences.
"So, to summarize, I've summoned you with the intent to grant you an opportunity. This is a small sample of the multitude of ways I can help you. You were scouted as someone with the potential to become greater than you are, by the only organization that can show you what you at your zenith would look like. Join Enma."
Keaton finished his drink and could only sit in silence for a brief moment. He wasn't afraid or anything, but simply shocked that he was asked to join such a major organization like Enma. Especially considering he often kept a low profile of his dealings and would never think he would be given a chance to go up much higher. He also knows that this is an offer he literally cannot refuse and after looking a Hook who was finishing up his drink. Keaton then takes a brief moment to speak before answering.
"I see. You know, back when I was on Zou and my foster mother left for the Marines, literally no one really took to kindly to me. I guess it was because of my constant pranks but I was bored. Then, I happen to come across this strange fruit and ended up having the ability to turn people into toys. I didn't see much use of it at first besides pranking those bastards by making them into toys and others forgetting about them but as time went by and grew wiser in, well not age since this power also halts aging, I decided to put some good use to it with the slaves and all. Eventually, I was pretty much making a good business. I never thought I would end up hear but after hearing how much my powers could benefit you and the other way around, I'd be a fool to not accept this. I'll agree to join Empress." said Keaton as he gets up and bows. Hook also does the same thing following his master's steps.
Hibiki, having not moved from her position, gave Keaton a warm smile, uncharacteristic of the aura and bloodlust she had been irradiating prior, as the handmaidens in the room slowly began to sit up as if they had been soaked in warm water to rest. It seemed genuine, and she put aside her tea, seemingly growing bored of it and more interested in the newcomer to her organization himself. The aura itself receded, replaced by a relative atmosphere of serenity. The shadow entity that was conjured flickered away and stood by its master's side, seemingly recognizing that a demonstration was unneeded. "Splendid. I'll have you meet with Lucia so that you can get an understanding of how our operations work.
Pausing momentarily, she pondered, but continued on."Also, as a show of goodwill, a scientist and family friend of mine has been working on an, operation of sorts, modifiying the Lineage Factor and cyborgification to produce enhancements that can be given to those I choose. I know your disposition, so I think you would be a wonderful selection to be the first true patient. Currently, they call it the Shifter Project, which is just a small part of the bigger project he envisions to come later. It is meant to grant the user the ability to, in a sense, perform limited shapeshifting, a skill that sounds indispensable for pranks, don't you think?"
Keaton himself is indeed surprised by this knowing something like shapeshifting go be very beneficial for him in the long run. Especially with certain humans who aren't too keen about making deals with a Mink which forced Keaton to wear his mask. Keaton then finally decides to answer.
"Limited shapeshifting... I see that does sound very useful to me. I have had some clients that tend to look the other way because of what I am. However, if this limited shapeshifting could at least grant me access to a more humanoid form, I am more than interested. As for the tricks, well, I am a Kyuubi Mink and pranks are second nature to me. Especially since they in mythology can shapeshift." Keaton said.