Cedric entered Vice Admiral Strawberry's office, his body still carrying the signs of his recent encounter. Commendations adorned the walls, a large map of the Sabaody Archipelago hung on the wall, and the air had an aura of authority.
Vice Admiral Strawberry looked up from his paperwork, his stern gaze fixed on Cedric as he retrieved a transponder snail and placed it on the desk. "Commander Strode, I was expecting you. Do take a seat..." he said, his voice commanding.
"I'm here to report the situation at the auction house as your commander, sir." Cedric said, still standing as he saluted the vice admiral. "It was chaotic, but we managed to disrupt Puzzle's plans and escort the civilians and nobles to safety," Cedric added as he sat opposite Vice Admiral Strawberry, his posture straight and respectful.
Vice Admiral Strawberry leaned forward, his eyes narrowing as he scrutinized Cedric. "I trust you have an explanation for Puzzle's escape and the state of the auction house..." he remarked, his tone hinting at a mix of curiosity and skepticism.
"To my great shame, yes..." Cedric replied with a sigh. "Puzzle and his crew proved a handful, even for me... between facing the entire pirate crew and holding back to avoid damaging the auction house..." He added, trailing off as he scratched his head.
"I could only ensure the safety of the civilians and the marine soldiers and not much else..." Cedric concluded, shaking his head.
Vice Admiral Strawberry raised an eyebrow, clearly not convinced. "And what about your role in all this? What actions did you take to prevent his escape?"
Cedric took a deep breath, his voice steady. "I engaged Puzzle in combat, Vice Admiral, and attempted to apprehend him," he replied. "However, the chaos and distraction created by his crewmates made it difficult to maintain a direct pursuit. Puzzle managed wound me, exploit the situation, and escape."
Vice Admiral Strawberry leaned back in his chair, assessing Cedric's response. "Your efforts were commendable, Commander Strode," he conceded, his tone softening slightly. "But the fact remains that Puzzle is now at large. We need to rectify this situation promptly."
"I understand, Vice Admiral. Puzzle and his crew pose a threat, and I am fully committed to bringing them to justice as long as they are within my reach..." Cedric affirmed, resolutely nodding at the vice admiral.
The vice admiral flashed the young marine a faint smile as he picked up the transponder snail and put it away. "Within your reach, huh...?" He said, raising an eyebrow. "You know he's already long gone, don't you...?" He asked with a bemused look, causing Cedric to pause.
"You went out of your way to leave your direct subordinates behind and take men from the branch this specific day..." Vice Admiral said, slowly tapping at the wooden desk with his finger. "And yet none of them witnessed your battle with Puzzle, nor how the auction house reached such a state..." He added as he stroked his long, flowing beard.
"Be honest with me, young man... what were you really doing inside the auction house...?" He asked, getting straight to the point.
Cedric felt a knot forming in his stomach under Strawberry's sharp glare as Vice Admiral Strawberry saw through his facade. He knew he couldn't keep up the charade any longer. Taking a deep breath, he decided to come clean.
"Vice Admiral, I must confess..." Cedric began, his voice tinged with a mix of guilt and determination. "I went in there fully intent on destroying the human auctioning house...."
Vice Admiral Strawberry's stern expression remained unchanged, his gaze fixed on Cedric. "Explain," he commanded, his voice firm.
Cedric continued, his eyes locked with the Vice Admiral's. "I've been investigating the slavers ever since I transferred here and linked the kidnap gangs to the human auctioning house..." he admitted while scratching his head.
"I received intel that Puzzle would be raiding the place, so I decided to strike then, hopefully hitting two birds with one stone by capturing a notorious pirate and destroying the auction house during the battle..." He explained. "But I got distracted and let Puzzle escaped..." Cedric concluded with a bitter expression.
"So, you took it upon yourself to infiltrate the auction house and dismantle the slavery ring," Vice Admiral Strawberry summarized, his voice devoid of any hint of approval or disapproval. "And you believed destroying the auction house would cripple their operations...?" He asked, trailing off with a questioning tone, to which Cedric nodded.
"I'm afraid you were too optimistic, young man... too naive..." Strawberry blankly said, causing Cedric's eyes to widen. "Your actions might stop the slaver's operations for a week or two, a month at most, but it wouldn't stop them..." He added, shaking his head.
Cedric felt confused as Vice Admiral Strawberry's words sank in. He expected the vice admiral to scold him, and he did, but not the way Cedric thought or imagined. Instead of rebuking him for his reckless actions, Strawberry seemed more dissatisfied with his plan.
"Though I must admit... your plan was clever, impulsive, and reckless but still clever..." Strawberry said with a faint smile. "We sorely lack marines capable of thinking outside the box, but the slavers are rooted too deeply in the archipelago..." He added, the smile dissipating from his lips.
"They have deep connections. Even deeper than you think..." Vice Admiral Strawberry explained, his tone grim. "Your actions, albeit seemingly accidental, still won't go unpunished..." He went on, his voice carrying a great weight.
"And if you keep going after them... even your life might be in jeopardy..." The vice concluded, pausing as he intently studied Cedric's expression, looking for a reaction.
Cedric's raised an eyebrow as he absorbed Vice Admiral Strawberry's words. He was well aware of the severity of the situation, but the vice admiral's words still took him by surprise.
"Naturally, I know of the potential danger and consequences, sir..." Cedric replied, his voice calm and fearless as ever. "I've investigated the slavers for several weeks now. I know how deep their connections go... destoying the auction house was only meant to buy time..." He added, trailing off as he took a deep breath.
"But even then... I'm still intent on taking them down..." Cedric said as he shook his head, his voice carrying the weight of his resolve. "The only way you can stop me is by transferring me away to another branch..." He blankly concluded.
At his words, Vice Admiral Strawberry chuckled. "It won't come to that, young man..." He said, shaking his head. "I'll take responsibility for the human auctioning house's destruction, and you're free to keep going after them. However..." He added, trailing at the end of his sentence.
"You'll be on your own from now on... I don't intend to get in your way, but I won't be able to help you either..." He concluded.
Cedric's remained unphased, despite the Vice Admiral's warning. He understood the risks and the potential isolation he would face, but his dislike for the slavers and his desire to do what he wanted still pushed him on.
"Thank you, Vice Admiral," Cedric said sincerely, gratitude in his voice. "I appreciate your understanding and support. Even if it means I'll face the slavers alone, I'll manage..." He added.
Vice Admiral Strawberry nodded, his expression serious. "Remember, Cedric, your actions reflect on the Marines. It's a dangerous path you've chosen, but it will be worth it if you can make a difference and bring down those slavers. I will keep a close eye on your progress.." He concluded, wordlessly dismissing the young marine as he turned to the paperwork on his desk.
Cedric stood up from his seat, his resolve evident in his eyes. "Yes, sir," he affirmed, saluting before leaving the office.
As Cedric left Vice Admiral Strawberry's office, his mind was abuzz with plans. He knew the road ahead would be challenging and dangerous, but he didn't mind. He hated the idea of slavery, and fighting a powerful slaver organization seemed more interesting than sitting around and waiting for pirates to show up.
Outside the office, Cedric took a moment to gather his thoughts. His actions at the human auctioning house had bought him more time, but he knew he needed a plan, a strategy to confront the slavers effectively.
His investigation had provided him with valuable information. Cedric gathered some condemning documents from Disco's office, but they weren't enough. He needed to gather more intelligence and resources to increase his chances of success.
With such thoughts in mind, Cedric remembered the ornate wooden box in Disco's office and what he found inside. "I'll need to identify that thing too..." He muttered to no one in particular as he walked the corridors and hallways of the marine base.
"I guess I'll have to pay Shakky another visit..."