Vivi watches the two sides ready for battle, her eyes narrowed as the foreign men, in their uniforms white as clouds and cloth, hide themselves behind a broken wall that had once surrounded the ancient city of Hamunaptra to protect it from invasion. A tribe of bedouin rallying on the opposite side, swords drawn and flashing in the sunlight. She already knows how this will end, how battles over Hamunaptra always end.
“They seem to have lost a commander,” Kohza states, his mouth twisting at the cowardice, watching the only foreigner on a horse turning it from the battle and urging it to leave.
“But they do not seem to be without command,” Vivi returns, her eyes straying back to the line of white uniforms, none of whom have fled into the distance like the coward that had vanished beyond the dunes. None of the men stand or make themselves obvious. “Who is commanding them?”
Pell makes a quiet sound, drawing her attention as the first shots ring out, “I do not think that is of concern, Vivi. I believe we should watch the out come.”
“Yes,” Vivi bites the inside of her cheek, unwilling to fight them on this. Her father would have told them to answer her questions and feed her curiosity of these outsiders, but her father is their chief. She might be his heir, but she is still untried and a child in their eyes, which means that she will have to wait to gain what she wants.
It doesn’t take long for the battle to end, but battles rarely take long here. The sands hiding the bodies away in hours after, leaving nothing but unbroken sand in the wake.
“Should we kill him,” Kohza asks suddenly, the last of the foreign men, but not the only survivor, Vivi knows, stumbles across the sands. “He won’t forget how to return here.”
Vivi watches him, wonders if he is watching them the same way that they are watching him, “No, let him go. The desert will get him long before we can reach him.”
The words feel false even as she speaks them, but it’s too late. Too late and she knows that there’s more survivors, including the coward who had hidden himself way inside one of the entrances to the city’s inner passages. Vivi felt that one was the one that they should have been more concerned with, those who entered the city had more of a chance to make their way closer to the creature.
“And should he return?” Pell demands.
“Then we will show him the might of our men,” Vivi answers, turning her horse away from the man and his stumbling over the sand dunes. She hopes that he doesn’t return, and while that might make her sound weak, she doesn’t delight in having to kill those who come too close to the monster. “Come, we have other duties.”
The sun burns on her back and she sits straighter, there was more to the Maji then watching over the monster to insure that it didn’t return. No matter how dangerous that monster might have been if returned to life with the book hidden only meters above his grave.
Vivi had never said it, but she didn’t think that had been the smartest plan that her people had ever made and the thing most likely to be found. She would send someone to check later, when all the survivors had fled, the book could return anyone after all. And she would not allow that to happen.
Ace is already regretting leaving the organization and shelving for last, the sun long since set and the lamps turned up as high as they could as he adjusts his glasses to better read the title off the first book in the stack he had balanced precariously in his crook of one arm. The late hour and the way his eyes burn from the hours of translating the horrible rubbings and illegibly copied hieroglyphics never helped him. He wanted to be done with it, because it would only repeat tomorrow, like it had been for months.
Ace startles out of his thoughts at the soft purring from somewhere behind him, twisting to find Kotatsu sprawled along the top of the bookshelf opposite him, “You’re not suppose to be up here.”
Kotatsu murrs, licking one of his paws as his tail flicks from side to side, ignoring Ace as he click his tongue to get his attention.
“Come on, Kotatsu. You’ll make Rayleigh mad if he find out that you’ve been up here again. He hates it when you climb up the shelves.”
He doesn’t expect Kotatsu to listen, but he hopes, even as Kotatsu stretches over the top of the shelf and rolls slightly to the side underneath the lamp hanging from the ceiling.
“You are a dastardly little troublemaker,” Ace states, setting the stack of books in his grasp haphazardly onto a shelf, before leaning backwards. The ladder rocks dangerously underneath him and Ace bites his lip as he glances down for just a moment. “Oh no, don’t you dare.”
Kotatsu’s tail flicks back and forth as he shuffles onto his paws, Ace an almost spo the exact moment where he decides to jump, closing his eyes. He knows that there’s going to be a mess to clean up, he’s hopeful that it’s not much, but he doesn’t think that he will be lucky enough to escape with something so simple. It doesn’t mean that he’s prepared for when Kotatsu jumps, slamming into Ace with enough force to make them both collapse back against the bookcase he had been restocking and it tilts dangerously under them.
“Fuck,” Ace hisses as the bookcase falls, taking down the one behind it. He barely has time to regain his breath and roll into the center of the bookcases, and Ace wants to know who had the bright idea of setting them up in a circle like this? The last one falls where he and Kotatsu had landed before he had rolled away. “This is going to be awful to clean up.”
Something moves behind him, a rustle of fabric followed by a long, low sigh, “Do I want to know what that was?”
“I suppose that it depends on what you want it to be,” Ace says twisting to see Rayleigh, standing stiffly in the doorway, one hand pressed over his eyes and his glasses pushed up to his forehead. “If you tell me what it is, then I can give you an answer?”
Rayleigh is silent for a long moment, but Kotatsu is happy to fill the room with purring as he kneads Ace’s chest, happy once more.
“That is not the answer that I was looking for,” Rayleigh sighs, removing his hand from his face reluctantly and adjusting his glasses. “What a mess, don’t tell me,” he doesn’t look upset and Ace almost hates that he knows Rayleigh won’t fire him, won’t even threaten to fire him, over this. “Kotatsu?”
“It was absolutely not Kotatsu?” Ace offers as Kotatsu butts his head against Ace’s chin for attention. He knows that Rayleigh won’t believe him, not after the last stunt that Kotatsu had pulled earlier in the week. “I am sorry for the mess, I’ll have it cleaned up before I leave for the night.”
Rayleigh pushes his hair back from his face, glancing over the mess just as tiredly as Ace felt, “If you’re sure that you can finish alone. Don’t forget, you have a number of meetings tomorrow to look at translations and writings to translate for those that don’t know the languages themselves.”
“You would think that there should be someone who could read and write Ancient Egyptian and Hieratic around here,” Ace says, pushing himself up on his elbows with a wry grin, ignoring the claws that Kotatsu sinks into his chest. “I’ll use the office across from yours to do the meetings, if it’s open?”
“It will be. Do you want me to take Kotatsu so that you can get your work done in peace?”
Ace hums thoughtfully, letting Kotatsu butt his head against Ace’s chin twice more before nodding, “Please. He’s feeling playful and I don’t have time for that right now. And thank you, for not getting upset over this.”
Rayleigh snorts, hefting Kotatsu into his arms and ignoring the way that he meows pathetically as he strokes Kotatsu’s back, “Your father did far worse in his time here at the museum,” Ace can’t help but flinch at the casual mention of his father, he always does. Even though he knows that Rayleigh means nothing by it. “I’ll be in my office for several more hours, should you need some assistance.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ace says, waiting for Rayleigh to leave with Kotatsu in hand, before collapsing back onto the floor with a sigh. Laying there for a long moment and feeling exhaustion creeping into his bones and make his eyelids feel like lead.
This was going to take most of the night, even just leveraging the bookcases back into place would take him hours since they had collapsed on each other, the top of one resting on the bottom of another, like dominos. Then there was the cataloguing and the organizing and the shelving. He was going to be here all night and then have to attach himself to a pot of coffee to make it through the rest of the day. He pushes himself upright, there’s no time to delay, not when there’s work to be done and another sleepless night to suffer through.
Ace almost feels guilty how grateful he is that he won’t have to return home tonight. Not when he’s been avoiding his brother for months now, since the last lie that he had caught Sabo in.
Instead, he focuses on his task, leveraging up one bookcase and pushing the one under it further and further, until it’s free. He lowers the first, collecting the books and stacking them neatly in the middle of the circle before hitching up the next bookcase and repeating the pattern until he has all the shelves up.
“You know,” Sabo says suddenly from somewhere to Ace’s right, the same direction as one of their more popular exhibits, complete with a mummy that Ace has seen Sabo climb into the coffin with on more than one occasion. “I had a plan to startle you.”
“Well, I’ve been a bit busy,” Ace gestures to his mess with one hand, pulling a book closer and frowning at the title. It’s too blurry and he has to fumble his glasses back out of his chest pocket, sliding them up his nose. “What are you doing here? I thought you were at a dig, in Philae, I think you said?”
“Thebes. I was at a dig in Thebes, but that’s not important,” Sabo says quickly and Ace knows that isn’t right. He had asked Sabo twice to tell him where he was going and asked for rubbings from the temple on Philae, which means it’s another lie. “I think I found something, Ace!”
Ace sighs, setting the book into the pile to his right, one of ten stacks, because he had already realized that it would be easier to organize them into piles first and then to put them onto the shelves, faster too, “If you give me one more piece of junk to try and sell to Rayleigh, I’ll-” he stops short, the small metal box shoved under his nose. “Where did you get this?”
“I told you, Thebes,” Sabo repeats, allowing Ace to pick up the box and turn it over in his hands. “What do you think, Ace? Have I found something?”
Ace twists the top of the box, eyes going wide when the eight interconnected pieces move, opening like a flower in bloom, “I think,” he whispers, staring at the piece of paper carefully folded in the center of the box. “You might have found something, Sabo.”
“I believe,” Ace says eagerly, spreading the map across the portion of desk that Rayleigh had cleared for him to show off Sabo’s find. “That this is a map.”
“It does look like a map,” Rayleigh agrees easily, lifting Kotatsu off a stack of books underneath his lamp before the cat can take a step onto the map. “But there’s a great many maps and we both know that they and their makers can’t always be trusted,” he pauses, glancing to where Sabo has taken to leaning against the far wall, glaring at Kotatsu. “Where was it found?”
“Thebes,” Sabo answers easily.
Ace doesn’t make a face, because Sabo had said Philae. He knows it had been Philae, because Ace had been jealous. Jealous that the Bembridge Scholars had accepted Sabo into their ranks without a question while Ace was still getting turned down for digs, because he didn’t have enough experience. Not even his talent for Ancient Egyptian was enough to make them overlook that. And since he wasn’t willing to bribe his way in, he was stuck watching as Sabo moved from dig to dig.
“Thebes,” Rayleigh repeats in disbelief because Ace always tells Rayleigh where Sabo is headed next. He says nothing about that however, as Ace steps closer. “This does look to be aged greatly.”
“I believe that it could be from the reign of Seti the first,” Ace admits, pointing carefully to one of the corners. “That cartouche there, I’m almost certain that it’s his official seal and look at this,” he knows he sounds far too excited, but he is. “This looks like it’s Hamunaptra.”
Sabo clears his throat, pulling Ace’s attention from the map, his thoughts still whirling over how detailed and well preserved it was, even thousands of years later, “Two questions, who was Seti and was he rich?”
“Seti the first,” Ace says putting emphasis on the number, because there was never just one Pharaoh with that name, as he leans back against Rayleigh’s desk. “Was the second Pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. And he was extremely rich. Said to be the wealthiest Pharaoh of them all. And he was suppose to have hidden that wealth in Hamunaptra.”
“An old wives tale,” Rayleigh mutters, shifting something behind Ace. “The legend of Hamunaptra has eaten away at hundreds of adventurers and treasure seekers, none of them have ever- Oh my!”
Ace feels his heart sink as he turns back to find part of the map covered in ink, a line of paw prints crossing the middle of it to where Kotatsu was now sprawled atop a stack of books, “No!”
“I’m so sorry,” Rayleigh says, dabbing at the ink with his handkerchief. “I hadn’t realized that Kotatsu had gotten so close to my ink well and before I noticed,” he gestures at the ruins of the map and Ace feels guilty, biting back the sharp words that he had almost spat in anger.
“Hamunaptra is gone,” he says instead, hand shaking as it hovers above the map. It feels like he’s lost something, like Ace had something so close that he could have tasted it and now it’s gone. “It’s-”
He can hear Sabo pushing himself upright and walking towards him long before Ace feels his hand squeezing his shoulder almost too tight, “It’s fine, just an honest accident. I’ll take Ace home with me now, he looks like he needs the rest.”
“You’re right, it was an accident. Please take him home and make sure that he knows that I’ll push back his first appointment tomorrow, he’s been pushing himself much too hard.”
Sabo squeezes his shoulder again, urging him out of the office and down the hall before he stops suddenly, his face blank as he looks back at Ace, “He did that on purpose.”
“He wouldn’t,” Ace says slowly. “Rayleigh would never destroy history so carelessly.”
“And you weren’t watching him, Ace. You had his back to him,” Sabo hisses, watching over Ace’s shoulder, like he expects Rayleigh to appear from nowhere. “He lured that stupid fucking cat to the edge of the map and made sure that it hit the ink well. It was on purpose.”
“What does it matter now,” Ace says softly. “It’s not going to help us find Hamunaptra. It’s gone and we will never find it without the map.”
Sabo winces, tipping his head to the side, “I might have lied-”
“Ah, you noticed,” Sabo says looking guilty. “I hadn’t thought-”
Ace snorts, cutting him off without remorse, “I was a spy in the war, Sabo. I spent all of my time collecting information and stealing documents while pretending to be anything and anyone but myself. Just because you have gotten yourself caught up in something, doesn’t mean that I’m foolish enough to miss the details that you’ve been confusing, Sabo. We’re brothers. And you don’t trust me.”
“I do, I trust you. I,” Sabo sighs, closing his eyes as his shoulders slump. “I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I can tell you that I’m not being stupid. Would that, would that help?”
“It’s better, but that’s not what you were going to say.”
“I might have gotten the box by picking someone’s pocket.”
“Sabo, if you tell me that you picked this box from a man’s pocket and have no idea who it was, I will kick you out of our home for at least a week,” Ace warns.
“Then I’m glad that I paid attention long enough to watch the man that I stole that from get arrested for desertion,” Sabo says grinning easily. “We can go to the prison tomorrow morning. You’ll have to take a leave of absence from the museum, of course.”
Ace sighs, closing his eyes and trying to calculate how long this will take, knowing he wouldn’t be able to think of an accurate timeline, “We could leave the day after next. I have translations to do tomorrow and that would give us extra funds for the expedition.”
“Not like we really need it.”
“No, not really,” Ace agrees softly, because there’s an entire fortune with his name on it. Most of it inherited from his mother’s family, but a not too small portion of it was brought in by both her and his father’s finds. “But better to have more to fall back on should it be needed.”
Sabo laughs, “I think that I could cover us, should you ever run out. After all, what noble family wouldn’t pay vast portions of their fortune to make their oldest, layabout of a son vanish from the civilized world?” he always jokes about his family and Ace isn’t sure how he can do that, remind himself of the fight that had led to him moving to Egypt after the war. “Come on, I bet you haven’t had a real night’s sleep in weeks.”
“I have so,” Ace pauses, clicking his tongue to see if Kotatsu had followed them out of Rayleigh’s office and smiling when he twists around his legs. “I’ve had excellent company too.”
“You brought him into our house,” Sabo hisses, glaring at Kotatsu as Ace picks him up. “You know that I’m terribly allergic to cats and that he always sheds over my pillow. Why would you do this to me?”
“This is what liars suffer,” Ace states, leading the way out the museum. “Horrible, horrible allergies. It’s a step up, you know. I hear that the punishment use to be burning alive.”
“No it wasn’t,” Sabo says slowly, following him. “It wasn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“When you said that he was imprisoned, I didn’t expect this,” Ace says gesturing at the doorway to the prison. The sounds of fighting and shouting echoing through the open stone archway leading to the visitation area.
It makes the ache throbbing behind Ace’s eyes intensify. He had spent the better part of the last five hours in his office, his tie thrown carelessly over a lamp, leaning over poorly done tracing and renditions of writings that scholars and archeologists wanted him to translate or verify for them. Never mind that over a third of them would argue with him about what he gave them or decide to use their own translations if they felt his wasn’t good enough.
“Well, we could always leave and try someone else,” Sabo says, linking their arms together as he leads the way to the archway. “I hear that there’s a fellow offering to take people to Hamunaptra in another part of town,” he sniffs, rubbing his leaking nose with his handkerchief as he spares a glare at Kotatsu. “Did you have to bring that demon cat?”
“Kotatsu is mine and I will bring him where I please,” Ace states, scratching behind one of Kotatsu’s ears as he lurks in Ace’s bag, purring happily. “I told you last night, this is what lying brothers get to suffer, allergies.”
Sabo sighs dramatically, guiding Ace towards one of the men crowding about the entrance, his smile turning into something lazy and foolish as his stride shifts in a way that Ace recognizes but can’t name, as if he’s hiding something by changing pieces of himself, “Come along then, Ace, this is the man we need to see. I already spoke to him about taking us to see my,” he clears his throat trailing off.
“Victim,” Ace finishes for him, smiling when Sabo pouts.
“Come in, come in,” a large smiling man, with one of his teeth missing, says, waving Sabo and Ace closer. “I was told you would be coming.”
Ace smiles politely as they follow him inside, past what looks and sounds like a brawl, “Thank you. My brother says that the man we’re here to see was arrested for desertion?”
“That,” he says, shrugging as if he doesn’t care. “I do not know. When it was mentioned to me, I attempted to ask him, myself.”
“He said that he was just looking for a good time.”
Ace startles when the door to the cell they’re standing before, slams open, a set of guards struggling to pull in a man that looks like he’s seen better days. His hair is lank and falling in greasy clumps around his jaw, a scruffy beard patchy on his face, but he keeps fighting until he’s forced to sit down, kicking after one of the guards.
“This is the man that you acquired the box from,” Ace hisses through his teeth. “Seriously, Sabo?”
“Picked his pocket,” Sabo reminds Ace, but he looks away from him and the man inside the cell, one hand pressing against his cheek. “Which means that I think I should make myself scarce.”
“Who are you?” the man demands, frowning at Sabo like he recognizes him, before turning to Ace. “And who’s he?”
Sabo laughs, smiling wide and foolish, “I’m just a local missionary, spreading the good word and all that. This is my brother, Ace.”
“We were hoping to speak with you,” Ace cuts in before Sabo says something stupid and get himself into more trouble. He’s certain that Sabo’s been skirting a number of laws and he doesn’t want to have to bribe another prison into releasing Sabo without charges. Isuka had almost murdered him when he had begged her for that favor. “We found your puzzle box.”
“Did you,” the man says slowly, eyes narrowing as he points at Sabo. “Don’t I know you?”
“No, I don’t think so. I just have one of those faces,” Sabo gestures at his face and Ace flinches before the man moves, watching it happen, almost in slow motion. The way Sabo moves reveals his scar, normally hidden by too long hair and a roguishly tilted top hat, and the man’s fist is already slamming into Sabo’s face. “Shit!”
Ace watches him fall, stepping over him to get closer to the cell, “About your box-”
“This isn’t about the box, you opened it,” Ace feels like he’s done something wrong when he stares at Ace. “This is about Hamunaptra.”
“You, would you know-”
“How to get there? Yeah, that’s where I was when I found the box,” he shrugs, leaning back in his chair, one of his ankles resting on his opposite knee. Ace almost thinks that he’s too relaxed, for all that he watches Ace with too sharp eyes.
Ace moves closer, glancing to where Sabo is still on the ground and knowing that he’s probably going to get a fist to his face too, but refusing to give up, “Do you swear?”
“Not often,” the man smiles, like he’s won a prize, but continues before Ace can speak. “I know what you mean, I know the way to Hamunaptra.”
“Could you,” Ace can hear Teach hurrying off, spotting him gesturing widely as the shouting grows louder, pulling his hat down to hide his face. “Could you tell me how to get there?”
“You want to know?” he asks, leaning forward. His eyes are sharp and focused, like what Ace is going to say is more important than anything else. “Really, really want to know?”
Ace feels the hand wrap around his tie before it’s used to tug him closer, a second grabbing his chin and holding him in place as the man kisses him, pulling back suddenly to look Ace in the eye, “Then get me out of here.”
His mind feels empty as he watches the guards wrestle him out of the cell, Sabo snickering into the dirt. Ace kicks him, feeling better when Sabo groans in pain, rolling away from Ace’s next kick.
“Where are they taking him,” Ace demands as Teach rejoins them, his face feeling far too warm, though he tries to pretend that it’s not.
“To be hanged,” Teach answers, glancing from Ace to the closed door and Ace can't miss the look on his face. “Apparently, he had a very good time.”
The execution yard is smaller than Ace had imagined it, surrounded by men locked in cells on almost all sides. But the only thing in the center is the hangman’s noose, the wooden platform looks better cared for than the rest of the prison.
The man fights against the guards, unable to stop them from dragging him up the steps to stand just behind the noose as they adjust it.
“I will give you one hundred pounds to save this man’s life,” Ace says, tapping his foot against the ground as he watches his only lead to Hamunaptra being fitted with the noose. It had taken him far too long to convince Teach to allow him to watch the execution and he was running out of time.
“I would pay one hundred pounds to see this man hanged,” Teach returns without a thought, hand waving dismissively.
Ace bites the inside of his cheek, refusing to accept the signal for what it is, “Two hundred pounds.”
“Three hundred pounds.”
Teach ignores him, focusing on the platform as one of the guards pauses, shouting something up to Teach. Ace’s Arabic is poor, but he can pick up something about going, though he doesn’t know the context of the statement.
“Are you mad?” Teach shouts. “Of course we don’t let him go!”
Ace shifts in his seat, holding his bag more securely in his lap as Kotatsu peers curiously out the top of it, “Five hundred pounds.”
“Hold off on that,” Teach says quickly, turning to look at Ace with interest. “And what else?”
Kotatsu swipes at the hand that Teach tries to put on his thigh, “I don’t break all those pretty fingers of yours,” he doesn’t miss the shout or the trap door opening to drop his only lead . “No!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Teach says, leaning back in his chair, satisfied smile wide across his face. “His neck did not break, now we must watch him strangle to death.”
Ace’s stomach rolls, bile rising in his throat as he watches the man struggle and kick helplessly as he slowly strangles, the prisoners chanting loudly, before Ace makes a choice, “He knows the location to Hamunaptra.”
“You lie,” Teach says, looking far too interested now that his greed has overridden whatever had made him so eager to ensure the execution.
“I would never.”
“You’re telling me that this godless son of a pig knows the way to the City of the Dead?”
“Yes,” Ace agrees quickly, watching as the man’s struggles start to become weaker. “And if you let him go, we’ll give you twenty percent.”
“Twenty-five!” Ace counters quickly.
“Deal,” Ace says quickly, knowing that it’s a slip of the tongue but unwilling to let Teach get any more than he absolutely has to.
Teach looks furious, but he shouts something and one of the guards cuts the rope, letting the man fall to the ground. He’s still breathing, though likely dazed from the lack of oxygen as guards move to secure him.
“Congrats,” Sabo mutters. “You have yourself a convict.”
“I have a map to Hamunaptra,” Ace corrects, trying not to think about the horrible kiss that he had been given and failing. “The fact that it comes attached to a human means nothing to me. You will pay him something to allow him to clean up.”
“Oh, I will?”
“You stole his puzzle box. And I just saved his life, I think that you should at least give him something back after causing him so many problems.”
Sabo sighs, “He already punched me.”
“You deserved to be punched. We need him, Sabo. If he decides that we’re not giving him enough money, then we will never reach Hamunaptra. So, you will give him money to get supplies or I will.”
“Looking for another kiss?”
“Looking for a second fist in your face?”
“You’re being mean to me, he complimented you earlier. I think he might like you. I mean, he did kiss you.”
“I’ve kissed a lot of people, it doesn’t mean anything,” Ace states, crossing his arms over his chest and ignoring Kotatsu’s murr. “Now, are you going to keep your end of this or shall I go beg him to take us?”
Sabo raises his hands in surrender, “Alright, I’ll pay him. You know, your common human decency is why you were never good at undercover work.”
“I’m sure that’s what you think,” Ace says dropping a hand to scratch behind Kotatsu’s ears to distract himself from his thoughts. “Now go pay the man. And,” he pauses, watching Teach talking to one of his men and sighing, because there’s still a contract to sign with him. “Apologize, Sabo. He’s going to be the only way we make it out of the desert, don’t ruin it for us.”
“You always act like I don’t know that,” Sabo pouts, pretending to be sad for less than a minute. “I’m going to go get that set up. If I get punched in the face again, it’s your fault.”
“I’m not the one who picked his pockets. And at least you don’t have to work out a contract with,” he gestures at Teach, feeling tired again. “Have fun.”
Ace doesn’t sigh, watching his brother vanish from sight, but he wants to. It’s been only a few years since he was last sneaking around to find information for a war and it’s not hard to figure out now who took Sabo. What Dragon wanted in Egypt was another question.
Kotatsu weaves his way between Ace’s legs, meowing pitifully as Ace takes care packing his suitcase.
“I know, you don’t want me to go away,” Ace says softly, kneeling down to scratch underneath Kotatsu’s chin, grinning when he lifts his head to get more scratches. “I don’t know if it’s safe to bring a kitty cat on this trip.”
“Going travelling then?”
Ace grins, turning to catch sight of Rosinante leaning against the wall beside the biggest of Ace’s bedroom windows, “Like you don’t know.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“I can’t bring myself to believe that,” Ace states, standing up and dusting off his knees. “What are you doing here, anyway? Last I heard, you were skulking around Germany trying to track down what your brother was up to?”
Rosinante sighs, shrugging tiredly, “I was recalled for a mission and had to leave the spying to someone that I trusted. Hopefully Doffy won’t get himself into too much trouble without a war to fight. Garp asked me to run an errand for him.”
“I know, but Sengoku thought it was in his interests to loan me out to Garp this one time. Is it true that your brother’s gotten himself tangled up with Garp’s son?”
Ace sighs, dropping onto his bed and gesturing for Rosinante to take the chair by his desk, “He’s tangled up with Dragon, who thought it was best to throw him into being a spy with almost no training. Which means that he’s going to get himself into trouble at some point, I’m sure.”
“Dragon has never been much of a spy, might be the tattoos on his face,” Rosinante agrees, tracing the design on his own face. “Or the fact that he always ends up debating the terms of revolution with everyone,” he rolls his eyes. “But I suppose that’s why Garp thinks his son is a fool.”
“That doesn’t explain why you’re here?”
Rosinante grins, “Telling Dragon to teach his men how to actually spy before sending them out into the field. You’re running yourself ragged watching out for someone breaking into your home, should your brother’s work follow him home.”
“That’s not going to keep someone from recognizing, but it’s better then nothing,” Ace sighs. “What do you know about Marco Newgate?”
“Marco Newgate,” Rosinante repeats slowly, drawing out the name and making it sound like strange. “That sounds like one of the Newgate family. They’re a large family in England, not noble, but with money. The patriarch is Edward Newgate, rumor says that his fortune comes from a pirate ancestor. The oldest three sons went missing during the war.”
“All three of them?” Ace asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Marco, Vista, and Jozu. I don’t think anything’s been recovered from them, but I do know that they have been rumored to be alive. I have seen reports of the latter being spotted in and around Vienna.”
Ace hums, leaning back against his headboard. “That doesn’t sound bad.”
“The worst thing on Marco Newgate is desertion. And we both know that you pulled strings to clear that up so you could go on your little treasure hunt.”
“I’m not going on a little treasure hunt. I’m going after a book.”
Rosinante blinks, long and slow, “The one that brings the dead back to life or it’s sister?”
“Depends on who’s translation you’re using,” Ace answers, avoiding the question. He doesn’t want to raise the dead, he’s never wanted that power, not even when he had stood by his parents’ graves. “Sabo’s going for the lure of treasure.”
“At least that’s what he’s selling?”
Ace laughs, “Not well. I think there’s something or someone going that he wants to keep his eyes on. Which is foolish, he could have told me and I’m sure that he would have more information by now. He can barely pick pockets, Rosinante.”
“And he’s suppose to be a spy. That’s worse then this idiot boy that Garp shoved at me one day and told me to make sure that he would through the war.”
“You’re just being mean to me now. I was good, better than most of my contemporaries.”
“You were decent and willing to learn, which was enough for me at the time. It showed that you weren’t excited by it. But then again, at least you didn’t think you were going to end up a big damn hero.”
“You’ve got something else for me, don’t you?”
Rosinante grins, “You’re not going dull. This is actually for free and it’s just something small, because I don’t have all the details myself. Do you know what your father was involved with? What he was doing?”
“I remember that he told my mother that he was protecting something. That they were protecting something, but I was never sure who they were. A group of some kind,” Ace says slowly. “Why?”
“Because, whoever they were, they’ve been watching you. Something about your father, I think. The natives have a harder time trusting a man who looks like me compared to someone that looks less out of place,” Rosinante gestures between them. “You might want to look into it yourself.”
Ace laughs, “Maybe after this. Thank you, for the warnings and the information. I left some things for you in one of your dead drops. If you figure out which one it is.”
“You are a horrible student. Good luck, I would hate to have to find out you were dead.”
“I’m sure,” Ace closes his eyes and counts to ten, barely hearing the window scrape closed behind Rosinante as he tries to sort his thoughts. It seemed that he wasn’t going to be able to avoid some kind of drama on this expedition, no matter how much he had hoped.
“I think we’re going to have issues, aren’t we?”
Kotatsu meows, curled up on one of the shirts folded in his suitcase. Ace smiles, maybe he would have to rethink leaving Kotatsu at home. After all, he wasn’t even sure he could get someone to care for him while they were gone.
“I can’t believe you brought that beast with us,” Sabo hisses, frowning at Kotatsu. “He’s going to cause more trouble than he’s worth, why would you even think-”
“We’re going to be in the middle of the desert. There’s snakes, bugs, and a number of other creatures that cats are perfectly capable of taking care of. And most of them are capable of killing us,” Ace responds easily, letting Kotatsu sprawl over his shoulders like a scarf. “You did tell Marco what time we were set to leave, didn’t you?”
Sabo nods, still watching Kotatsu like he thinks Kotatsu will jump from Ace’s shoulders and onto him, “I gave him the money, his pardon, and the times that you gave me. If he doesn’t show up it’s because you gave him the pardon first.”
“I’m not going to hold a man’s freedom over his head so that he will take us somewhere, Sabo. It's better to let people feel obligated to help you instead,” Ace says brightly, smiling when he spots Marco Newgate headed their way. “Mr. Newgate, I’m glad you could make it.”
Marco nods, and Ace can’t help but think that he looks better now, with his hair cut and clean, “Well, I did feel obligated to help you, since you helped me.”
“I stand by that line of thought, Mr. Newgate. Obligations are a large part of what makes people do anything,” Ace insists, pushing himself upright and grabbing his suitcase, brushing a hand over Kotatsu’s head to make sure he was still in place. “Thank you again, for taking us on this venture.”
“You really trust that I actually know where we’re going and I haven’t been making it up as I go?”
“Have you been making it up?”
Ace isn’t sure why Marco watches him like that, looking for something, eyebrow raised and mouth twisted into what is not quite a frown, before he shakes his head and moves towards the ship.
“You're far too trusting, you know. It’s going to get you killed one of these days.”
“Something that he and I both agree on,” Sabo mutters hurrying after Marco, pasting an eager, playful smile on his face as he catches up to him, arm thrown over Marco’s shoulders. At least for the shortest moment before Marco shrugs it off.
This would be an interesting trip, seeing who would snap on the other first. Sabo and his habits, ones that it looked like Dragon encouraged, versus Marco and his own thoughts. Which Ace wasn’t privy to yet, but there was time to figure him out before they reached Hamunaptra.
“Bright good morning to you, Mr. Gol,” Ace bites the inside of his cheek and counts to ten as Teach appears at his side, smelling like rotten food and unwashed masses.
“What are you doing here?” Ace asks, nails biting into his palm as he forces himself to be polite. Teach is suspicious at the best of times, even more so than he had acted at the prison.
Teach smiles, and it feels almost as slimy as Teach looks, "Protecting my investment. I would hate for there to be no profit from this venture, after all, a percentage of nothing would still be nothing."
"And you don't trust us to bring back the treasure?"
"Of course not," Teach states heading onto the ship, leaving Ace alone on the dock with Kotatsu.
"Sometimes," Ace tells Kotatsu as he hefts his bag up onto his shoulder, "I miss the war. At least then we had back up, now we have to hope people don't decide that money is more important."
Kotatsu purrs, claws pricking his shoulder as he climbs on board and hunts down his room, allowing Kotatsu to explore while he unpacked his bag, hanging things up and tracking down the book that he wanted to look over before it they reached Hamunaptra.
"You are lurking," Ace says, smiling when Sabo pouts at him, leaning against the door that connected their rooms. "What?"
"You don't trust Teach being here?"
Ace shrugs, "I don't trust him. Him being here makes me trust him less, but it has little bearing on my trust in general," there's not enough time or energy left in Ace to explain that Teach had looked far too pleased to order Marco's execution. Not when he had spent the night searching for what Rocinate had implied about his father's connections. "But you know that I don't trust anyone."
"You're trusting Newgate to get us to Hamunaptra," Sabo says, kneeling down to scratch under Kotatsu's chin, as he tended to do when they weren't in public and he wasn’t pretending to hate Kotatsu. "That's trust."
"I'm trusting him to do what he's been forced to as an obligation to us, since he no longer has to worry about being arrested," Ace pauses. "I trust that you're not going to tell anyone where we're headed?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because that's what you have done before," Ace answers, frowning when Sabo smiles innocently. "I will kill you if you tell someone we're going to Hamunaptra."
"I won't, but I am going to see where those Americans are headed."
"A group of them," Sabo agrees, brightly. "They're not as loud as I was expecting, but they're certainly not quiet. I just want to know why they're here, since most people come here for treasure hunting."
"You're here to treasure hunt too, Sabo. Or do you not remember what you said before you went to pack?"
"I can be here for treasure and still judge others," Sabo states, waving off Ace's words as he stands back up, ignoring Kotatsu's displeased murr at the loss of pets. "Should I try to talk to our lovely guide while I'm at it?"
Ace shakes his head, clicking his tongue and smiling when Kotatsu bounds over to him, circling his legs, "I'll talk to Mr. Newgate. Do try to keep yourself out of trouble, or you'll have another bruise to hide."
Sabo laughs, rubbing the back of his neck, "I'll remember that. I'll let you know if I find anything interesting."
He closes the door quietly and Ace can still hear him stumbling around his room. Which is just sad, he decides, sitting down on his bed and sighing, "We should track down our new friend, don't you think?" Kotatsu's ears flick to the side as he yawns. "Then let us go."
Marco isn’t sure what he expects from the man who saved his life. He knows why Ace Portgas-Gol had gone out of his way, offering Teach money and a percentage of anything that was found, the lure of Hamunaptra has tempted smarter and more qualified than him, but that doesn’t explain why he would take the word of a man on death row.
Which is how Marco finds himself tracking down the man, who is hidden in a quiet corner of the deck, his table covered in books and that cat, that looks too big to be a house cat, watching Marco like he’s prey. He’s not sure that Portgas, even thinking both names is too long and the man had used just Portgas on the letter that he had sent later after Marco was free from the prison and in a room for the night, has realized he’s there.
“Kotatsu,” Portgas states, glancing up over the top of his glasses with an easy grin. “We agreed that you wouldn’t try to take Mr. Newgate’s face. It was only acceptable to take out faces during the war,” he scratches under Kotatsu’s chin. “Hello again, Mr. Newgate.”
“Marco,” he corrects, adjusting his bag on his shoulder as Portgas raises an eyebrow. “I think that someone who’s saved my life can call me by name. Kotatsu?”
“His name. And I’m Ace, if you missed that,” he states gesturing to the chair opposite his. “Please take a seat, I know that I’ve been keeping my books over everything, but you’re more than welcome to take over the other half of this table. Is your room to your standards?”
“It’s fine,” Marco answers setting his bag down on the table and unbuckling it. He had been lucky enough to make it back to his rented rooms before anyone had more of a chance to rifle through his belongings. Which was good, since not even the money that Portgas had provided would have been enough to replace all of this.
“That’s quite the collection,” Portgas says putting his book down to trace a finger over one of the knives that Marco hadn’t gotten to cleaning just yet. “Are you expecting to fight a battle?”
Marco shrugs, “There’s a number of bedouin who believed that Hamunaptra is cursed, but there’s more than one group that’s arrived to find someone else has beaten them to the location and wants to fight to make sure that they alone can keep it.”
“I suppose that it would be asking too much to share it,” Portgas sighs, leaning back in his chair, looking tired for a moment before picking up another book. “You aren’t going to ask why I want to go?”
“I assumed the treasure.”
Portgas laughs, easily, “I suppose that would be a fair assumption, wouldn’t it? I am not opposed to the treasure, honestly. But that’s not what I want from this venture.”
“And what do you want?”
“There’s two books, they’re suppose to be hidden inside statues within in the city of Hamunaptra. One of them alone would be enough to secure my name with any number of scholars.”
Marco frowns, sliding a pistol open to load, “Don’t you already belong to one of those groups?”
“I wish to, but I don’t yet. Apparently there is a requirement for a number of digs that you’ve been part of. Or,” Portgas’ smile is bitter. “You can pay them of course. Which, of course, I can afford to do, but when I’m the one that is being paid to check their translations and findings, why would I pay them to join?”
“And books will get you in?”
“The book of Living or the book of Death.”
“So either solid gold or solid black gold,” Marco nods in understanding. After all, who wouldn’t want to have the person to bring either book back in their little digging club.
“Obsidian, actually, but you do know your history.”
“I know my treasure,” Marco corrects, finally looking at Kotatsu again, who is watching him just as closely as he had before Marco had sat down. “Face eating?”
Portgas laughs, pushing back some of the hair that had fallen free from his tail back from his face, “Kotatsu is a vicious boy, aren’t you?” Kotatsu butts his head against Portgas’ chin until he pets the cat. His eyes never leave Marco, however. “I thought you would have set yourself up at the bar.”
Marco raises an eyebrow at the way that Portgas avoids elaborating on his comment from earlier, which means that he’ll have to keep an eye on the cat, “I don’t drink when I’m on a job for someone else. Which isn’t what I can say for your brother. He was playing cards with a group of Americans last I saw him.”
“He hasn’t mentioned where we are going, has he?”
And he knows that tone of voice, tired and almost as if Portgas has expected his brother to have said something that he shouldn’t have. Which is curious. Marco’s memories of before the war, of his family, are fuzzy at the best, but he doesn’t remember them ever making him feel the way that Portgas looks, as if he thinks that his brother is in over his head.
“He didn’t mention anything when I past him, but I can’t promise that he won’t. Or that he hadn’t before I stepped through. Is that something to worry about?”
“It could be,” Portgas says tapping his pen against his journal before the tension in his shoulders seems to vanish and his mouth twists into a quick smile. “What about you? Any one to tell that you’ve gone off on a treasure hunt?”
“My memory is poor. I survived two different, buried, artillery shells during the war, but both times I hit my head fairly badly. It’s not easy to recall anything after that and the Legion says that I signed up with them without putting anything down about my family.” Which sounds strange even as Marco says it.
“I see,” Portgas’ glasses are pushed back up his nose as Kotatsu sprawls over his shoulders, like a fur stole. “Well, perhaps we can help you find something out while we’re on this expedition.”
“If we survive.”
“If we don’t, there’s no one who will mourn us anyway,” Portgas states, scribbling something into his journal without looking at it. “If we do, then we’ll make our way into history, I suppose.”
Marco snorts, “History?”
“People do remember treasure and those who find it.”
There’s a comfortable moment of silence as Marco finishes loading his guns and Portgas goes through his books for something that Marco can’t hope to guess.
“You don’t seem to be curious,” Marco pauses when Portgas hums in confusion. “About the-” Portgas snorts, rolling his eyes as Marco gestures between them. It makes him feel even more confused about his reactions.
“The kiss?” he doesn’t wait for Marco to answer and Marco can’t tell if he’s hiding something underneath that easy smile and disinterested tilt to his head. “I’ve been close to death before, Marco. I’ve kissed more than one person thinking that it might be the last thing that I ever did.”
“Would it help if I say that I have forgiven you? Because I do, it’s a kiss, Marco Newgate, nothing more,” Portgas closes his books, stacking them up with a soft yawn. “I’m going to bed, but I do have a few points that I would like to discuss with you about our expedition in the morning?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Tomorrow then,” Portgas says easily, Kotatsu relaxing on his shoulder, no longer watching Marco closely.
Marco watches vanish through a door, going deeper into the ship and slumps in his chair, thankful that he wasn’t going to hold Marco accountable for the kiss. He had had a reason, at the time, with death lingering over his head and the opportunity right there. It wasn’t supposed to linger like this.
“You are making a stupid face,” Portgas’ brother states, stealing the seat that Portgas had just vacated. “What did you fry your brain on something?”
“You know, sometimes, I think that I should have hit you harder. You.”
“Sabo,” he says, smirking like he’s winning something that Marco hasn’t been informed they were competing about. “You’re not the first person to say that, but that’s not why I’m here. I’ve been able to get some information out of some of the others and I thought that I should tell you directly.”
“Going to warn me away from your brother?” Marco asks before he thinks about it. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’s been warned off of people.
“No, if Ace doesn’t want you to touch him, then he’ll break your face himself. Now, if you play with his heart, then I’ll break your face, he is my brother. But that’s not what I came to speak to you about,” Sabo, if they’re both Portgas it would get confusing too fast, Marco decides finally. “Do you know a man named Spandam?”
“That’s a name that I haven’t heard in a while,” Marco admits, not saying that he would have hoped to avoid it, avoid him, longer. “If it’s who I think it is. Nose is off centered?”
“Off centered is one way of putting it. He’s leading the Americans I was playing with to Hamunaptra.”
“And how did you get them to admit that?” Marco feels something cold drip down his spine. If Sabo’s told them, he can understand what Ace was saying about his brother. THere were plenty of ways to get that information without telling them it was where they were headed too.
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made,” Sabo says shrugging easily. “They’ve challenged us, apparently whoever arrives first will get five hundred dollars. I didn’t mention that we had our own guide to lead us there. Should we worry about Spandam?”
“No,” he doesn’t elaborate and it’s easy to tell that it annoys Sabo, the way his jaw goes tight and his eyes narrow. It’s not the only way he’s going to make Sabo suffer for telling someone where they’re going, but it’s a start. “About your brother.”
“I’m not going to talk to you about my brother. If you want to know about him, you can ask him yourself. Like everyone else would.”
Marco tips his head in acknowledgement, “Even if it’s about the cat?”
“I’m allergic, I know nothing about the cat,” Sabo answers, almost too quickly, as he leans back in his chair, almost knocking it over. “I’ll be heading back to my game then.”
Marco hums, watching him leave, because he doesn’t believe that lie, even if he can understand why Sabo wouldn’t speak about Ace. That’s fine, even if it would have been easier to get information from a source that knew him best.
He stands up, moving to the stack of boxes that has been making more noises than rats could, pulling the man hiding behind it out and shoving him against the wall, smirking at the look on Spandam’s face.
“What a nice day for a reunion, Spandam.”
Ace stares blankly at his book, resting open on his face, too close to read anything as he tries to clear his thoughts, Kotatsu kneading his stomach with too sharp claws just scratching on his skin. Just enough pain to keep Ace from pretending he was sleeping to keep Sabo from bothering him when he eventually come bursting into his room after something he thoughts was important came up. Which was the last thing that he wanted.
“It wasn’t even a good kiss,” he says finally, rolling onto his side and ignoring Kotatsu’s hiss of annoyance, knowing that it will only take a few minutes before Kotatsu will decide to curl up against his stomach and stop moving. “He stunk like week old cabbage and sweat and-”
Ace stops, sighing tiredly, because there’s no one to tell him that Marco isn’t worth his time. Sabo is probably doing something foolish, like gambling more than he should or telling people more than he should or telling them the wrong thing. Kotatsu is the only other creature that Ace has, that he really has, and Kotatsu likes anyone who is willing to scratch under his chin. Which is sad, almost as sad as knowing what his mom would say, he could almost hear her laughter.
“He’s suspicious and doesn’t even know who he is!” Ace scrubs a hand over his face. “It wasn’t even that good of a kiss.”
Kotatsu yawns, burying his face into Ace’s stomach instead of paying attention to Ace’s concerns. Not that anyone else would pay attention, Ace cuts that thought off ruthlessly, because he doesn’t have anyone who pays attention to him like that. Not when Sabo is being pulled into whatever mischief that Dragon is taking part of and Rayleigh too tangled up in the museum.
Ace shakes his head, taking a deep breath, “I’m a fool.”
This was supposed to be a chance for Ace to prove himself. To find a treasure that would make the Bembridge Scholars accept him into their ranks, something he has earned without having to pay the bribe that they had talked around in their last rejection letter, it wasn’t supposed to leave him laying on his bed like a lovesick teenage. He doesn’t have time, even if Marco’s smile makes Ace feel like his stomach is fluttering.
He pushes himself upright and stumbling slightly over to the basin to wash his face, hoping that he could startle his thoughts away to something more productive. He doesn’t have time to be-
Ace throws himself to the side, spinning to catch sight of the man he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror, a knife sliding down his forearm into his hand, “Who are you?”
“The map,” Ace repeats slowly, careful not to look to where he had packed it, and it’s container, into the plain leather satchel that he had set up where it would be quick to grab. Not when he wasn’t sure what Sabo would do next. “What map?”
“The map, boy.”
Ace laughs, ignoring the sudden weight of Kotatsu balancing on his shoulder. It’s a familiar feeling, one that had been more common in the war, but wasn’t forgotten even now. There’s no room to go backwards, even if Ace would prefer to get more space between them, and he’s not sure that he can get to the second door. Not without making himself more of a target.
“Give me the map!”
Something crashes in the hallway and Ace can hear others shouting and rushing about and bullets, but he doesn’t look. The man, with a hook for a hand and a scar trailing high over his nose, hasn’t looked away from him and Ace’s eyes narrowed, because he almost thinks there’s less space between them now.
Ace is already moving, rolling towards the sound before he looks away from the man in his room, slamming into Marco’s leg and steadying himself as Kotatsu lands on him once more, “You’re going to get us killed.”
Marco hums, keeping both of his pistols on the man, watching him as Ace slips his satchel over his shoulder and rocks back on his heels, watching the scene for a long moment, “I’m sure that I won’t.”
“And I’m suppose to just trust you on that?” Ace demands.
“I would never-” Marco shoots the gas lamp as the hook man moved, grabbing Ace by the arm and dragging him out as the man screamed, fire devouring his clothes. “Never say that.”
“What is going on,” Ace demands, stumbling over his own feet as Marco finally slows down. “I thought you were going to keep Sabo out of trouble?”
Marco snorts, “This isn’t on your brother, actually. We’ve been raided. Which means, we have to go.”
“Go?” Ace grabs the front of Marco’s shirt, jerking him closer as he hears gunshots growing louder and the wall they’re taking cover behind starts to take damage. “Where are we going to go?”
Marco doesn’t answer, stopping short as Kotatsu places his paws on top of Ace’s head to look at something for a moment. Ace doesn’t push, following him quickly as he watches the fire spreading too fast to be contained, even if several of the crew looked like they were still making an attempt.
“These robes are starting to look familiar,” Ace states, ducking behind an overturned table to avoid another robed individual shouting loudly as she attacks someone else.
“Friends of your brother?”
“No,” Ace answers, because they’re not. He thinks that he’s suppose to know who they are. He can almost remember something about robes, a memory of his childhood perhaps? Those memories have never been solid. “What is the plan here?”
Marco smirks, and Ace knows that he’s going to hate this plan, “Well-”
“Do you even have a plan?” Ace demands as the ships rattles, an explosion jerking him off balance, Marco slamming into his side.
“Time to go.”
“We’re on a ship!”
Marco doesn’t answer, lifting Ace up and dropping him over the railing of the ship to fall into the river. It’s like ice, sudden and swallowing him up as it takes ages to kick his way up to the surface, gasping for air as he searches for Kotatsu.
“If you ever,” Ace shouts, trying to breath as Kotatsu yowls. “Ever throw me into a fucking river again, I will break your smug face.”
“Then I’ll leave you on the burning ship then, shall I?”
Ace scowls, pushing his hair out of his face as he catches sight of Sabo splashing up to the shore towards them, shouting in annoyance as he shakes his hands, Teach on his heels, muttering darkly to himself. Which means, Ace sighs, that the whole team survived. Even if Ace would rather Teach had gone down with the ship instead of joining them.
“Marco,” Ace spins, catching sight of a man with a crooked nose waving his arms, just short of the shore on the other side of the river, looking far too smug. “Hey, Marco! Looks to me like I have all the horses!”
“Hey Spandam,” Marco shouts back, looking far too pleased with himself. “It looks to me like you’re on the wrong side of the river!”
“Wrong side of the river,” Ace mutters as Spandam kicks the river, gesturing to himself furiously.
Marco nods, “The quickest route to Hamunaptra is on this side of the river. He’s going to have to cross to this side later, since he’s on the wrong side. The advantage of him having horses will be negated, as long as we get to the town nearest here quickly enough. We can pick up camels there.”
“You don’t make much sense,” Marco says, ignoring Sabo arguing with the woman selling camels. It’s going to take a while, he can tell, since Sabo’s Arabic seems to consist of numbers and the word camel. “At all, you know.”
Ace laughs, peering at him over the tops of his glasses, “You really think that, don’t you?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Portgas. You’re the one that found out that his brother had stolen a map and puzzle box off a criminal and then paid to have him released. And then cleared his name. I don’t think that a sane man would do that.”
“A sane man would have already paid his way into the Bembridge Scholars without wasting his time trying to wear them down,” Ace says with a careless shrug, his cat moving with the motion as if it was used to the occurrence. “And please, Mr. Newgate, call me Ace.”
“Only if you are willing to call me Marco, Ace.”
Ace smiles like he’s won something and Marco can’t help but think perhaps he’s been played, “Marco, then. But I don’t think I understand where you’re coming from. Not when you haven’t made a point.”
“A point then,” Marco agrees. “Most men wouldn’t save a man on the off chance that he wasn’t lying about knowing how to get to Hamunaptra. Why would you take the risk?”
There’s a long moment of silence, as Ace watches Marco, his eyes too bright in the sunlight and for a moment Marco thinks that the heat is getting to him. He had thought that Ace’s eyes had looked like molten silver, the gray swirling until he felt like he had been trapped by them.
“Because,” Ace answers finally.
Marco barks out a laugh, his shoulders shaking as he doubles over, “Because?”
“Do I have to have a real reason? I’m sure that I could weave something, if you gave me a few minutes, but it wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is that I heard you knew the location of Hamunaptra and I was willing to stake my reputation and money on it,” he smiles easily, closing his book and slipping it back into his satchel. “I needed to get away.”
“I can understand that.”
Ace hums, scrubbing a hand through his hair and sighing as his tie falls out with it, attempting and failing to collect it all back into a tail, “I’m missing some of it, aren’t I?”
“If you are, it’s going to be underneath Kotatsu,” Marco lies, grinning when Ace frowns at him. “Did I thank you for saving my life?”
“I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me.”
He can still feel the tightening of the noose as the floor gives out from underneath him sometimes. The sudden jerk and the slow burn of his lungs starving for oxygen. He knows that Ace had been watching, had to have been if he had convinced Teach to cut him down, but he doesn’t know how much money had been blown to get this chance.
“I don’t remember. You could have, but I’ve been so focused on other things that I could have missed it.”
“Thank you,” Marco says trying to show how sincerely he means it. “I would have been dead without you saving my life and you had to have known there was a chance I was lying, so thank you. I owe you my life and my reputation.”
“You’re,” Ace clears his throat, looking away, his hands shaking before he clenches them. “You’re welcome. But your reputation was more accidental, I had the Legion contacted because I couldn’t afford you being arrested again.”
“That doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful, Ace.”
Marco has more to say, but bites his tongue as Sabo returns, leading four camels towards them, looking exhausted but victorious. The woman who had sold them to him looks the same, her smile too sharp to mean anything less than she had gotten what she had wanted.
“Four camels. Where is our friend?”
“Annoying people,” Ace answers gesturing to where Teach is trying to speak with someone who hasn’t looked at him. The rest of the people in that area have moved away, leaving a gap. “Well, I suppose we should get going, right Marco?”
“I agree. Certainly if we want to win the wager that Sabo made with the Americans that Spandam is leading to Hamunaptra. He’s even got to get them all the way there and back to Cairo to get paid, which means they’ll want that money from you, Sabo.”
“What bet,” Ace asks, his voice sharp and cold. “What Americans?”
Sabo laughs, nervous and his smile unsteady, “Now Ace, you know how it has to go to get information-”
“If you say that Dragon taught you to tell people information to get information from them, we will go back to Cairo right now for me to destroy him. After I kill you.”
Marco doesn’t laugh, but he wants to, at least until he catches sight of Teach. Teach who is watching him like he hates Marco, which is curious. Marco remembers everything from the Legion, everything before is blurry and unsteady, but after is not an issue. Which means it’s something from before that Marco couldn’t even know.
Which means Teach can be trusted less then Marco had initially thought. After all, what kind of man needed more than the lure of Hamunaptra to release even the most heinous of prisoners?
Vivi isn’t surprised to see either of the men come back, even if the second had been the one whom had locked himself inside the ruins. He had gotten too close to the creature before spooking and running as far as he could. But she had been hopeful that they wouldn’t, after all, they had both seen something slept beneath these sands.
That doesn’t change the fact that there are two groups now waiting for the sun to rise to lead them to Hamunaptra. And while she has kept up to date on what has been done to mummies, the book of the Living and the Book of the Dead are both treasures that would be taken and read from, if the information they had gotten about the key was true.
“It seems that you weren’t enough to scare them off,” Vivi says instead of acknowledging what some of the men are seeing this as, as a failure of her leadership for allowing both men to live. She’s gotten good at ignoring what these men think of her actions. “You said that you only needed a few men and they would be easily gotten rid of, yet here they stand and we’ve lost more than a few good men.”
“It seems they were more hardy than I expected,” Crocodile seethes, his teeth bared in a way that makes Kohza shift his mount between them. “I will do better on my next attempt.”
“No,” Vivi cuts him off ruthlessly before he can sell another half cocked plan to those that are still unsure of her rule. They knew as well as she did that leadership was not by blood, that she had proven herself to be a leader, to have them turn against her at the words of this outsider that had asked to join them makes her blood burn. “We will not go about this without more thought. They will not scare from Hamunaptra easily now that they have arrived.”
There lies more than the creature and the Books under these sands, a fortune left by Pharaohs of old, with more gold than most would suspect. And while Nami has been able to confirm that is not the main reason for either groups, she does know that they both are looking for the books and that is more dangerous than just the discovery of the creature.
“Do you have a plan then,” Crocodile asks her, something sharp hidden in his tone. He lives up to the name he has taken, Vivi doesn’t think that is the best thing he has ever done.
“I have something,” she agrees, because it’s not a plan yet, but it’s a start.
Kohza shuffles himself forward again, though he does let his gaze linger on Crocodile before turning to the men racing for Hamunaptra, “If I thought either group were dangerous, it would be that one.”
“The smaller of the two,” Pell asks.
Vivi smirks, because she and Kohza had been tied for leadership for too long of a time, “A smaller group means that you know exactly what everyone is capable of. It means that you’re capable without aid and that you know what you’re going after first. It’s going to be interesting.”
Now she just needed to force them to leave before they disturbed the creature, but, as the man from before, who hadn’t hidden, spots them, she doesn't think that they will be that lucky. It’s been thousands of years that her people had guarded this creature and Vivi can only hope that this won’t be both her greatest failure and the end of the world.
“What we’re looking for is at the feet of the statue of Anubis,” Ace says pointing at the worn face that the sands have reclaimed, eyes wide as he gestures. “It would be faster to go down through a door, but since our friends the Americans have taken it upon themselves to claim half of the city, we can go down here. And they do have a mess to clear up first.”
“A giant hole in the ground,” Marco comments, flipping the rope he’s tying to a sturdy looking post to smack Teach in the face with it. “Because that’s so much better.”
“Would you like to fight the American’s?” Ace asks curiously.
Marco hums distractedly, watching the Americans and the men they had gotten along the way, “I think we could take them, the men they’re paying don’t look like they’re going to fight for them. Actually, how do you not know Arabic?”
“I never said that,” Ace smirks, Kotatsu coiling around his ankles before making his way back to their camp and curling up in Ace’s bedding, leaving only the tip of his stubby tail still visible. “I said it wasn’t good. Sabo,” he looks away from him. “You’re suppose to catch the light with that, not clean it.”
Sabo raises an eyebrow and Marco tunes them out to watch both the Americans and Teach, who is lingering too close to the other camp, his eyes darting about as if he’s looking for something. Marco makes sure to keep him in sight, since he has wandered off, as he finishes tying up the rope that Ace had asked for.
“We’re going down that, aren’t we?”
“We are,” Ace agrees easily, ignoring Sabo’s shout of outrage. “It should take us down into the system of passages that should, lead us straight to the bottom of Anubis’ statue. And,” he smiles and Marco can’t help but compare it to something he can barely remember. “We don’t have to worry about that.”
Marco wants to ask what he means, but Ace is already lowering himself into the hole with the rope, ignoring Sabo’s startled shout and the hurried footsteps behind them as Teach hurries to join them. The lingering silence after Ace reaches the ground is worrying.
“It’s fine, hurry up!”
“I’ll go,” Marco says, taking the rope before Sabo can, sliding down and raising an eyebrow as Ace moved through the room, barely lit from the sun burning through the hole, his journal balanced on one arm as he hurried to scribble basic pictures. “You seem to be excited.”
Ace grins, barely looking up over the edge of his journal, eyes glittering, “It a preparation chamber. They’re not terribly common, but to actually see one,” he frowns, closing his journal and hurrying to another of those wide mirrors that Sabo had been messing with, twisting it as Sabo dropped down himself. “Let there be light.”
“I was hoping for gold,” Sabo says distantly, his hand hovering over something that Marco didn’t recognize. “But this is certainly something.”
“Preparation,” Marco asks, ignoring Teach’s complaints as he lands on the dirt and falls to his knees. “For what?”
“For going to the afterlife. Where they made mummies,” Ace answers when Marco raises an eyebrow. “It’s where they would make mummies.”
Marco nods slowly, leaving Ace to his whispered comments and his drawings as he grabbed a torch from a wall. It’s too new to have been left here years ago, Marco isn’t a fool, but it’s not new enough to be a concern for their safety. No, that concern still lays with Teach.
“Do you want to find the statue first or shall we give you a bit more time?”
Ace snaps his journal closed, pushing his pen back into his shirt pocket, “The statue. I would like to lay my claim on it before the Americans reach it.”
“Then let’s get to exploring,” Marco sets the torch alight, leading the way into the tunnels. He can hear Ace hurrying after him and Sabo demand that they slow down. “Don’t get lost.”
“What was that?” Teach demands sharply. “Was he saying we should get lost?”
“Don’t get lost,” Marco repeats, even as he hopes that Teach takes a wrong turn and finds himself unable to return to where they’re camped. It would be better for them all. “And get ready to duck, the tunnel is getting lower.”
Ace’s hand is light on his shoulder, his voice even softer as he speaks, “Don’t go too fast, there’s a chance of traps and there’s been more than a few men that have lost their lives to ancient traps that could still function.”
“I think I can remember that,” Marco promises, taking another step as something screams on a breeze past them, loud and cold enough to make his stomach curdle.
There’s something unnatural about the ruins of Hamunaptra, Marco had recognized that the first time that he had been here. Spandam had said something similar before the battle, arms crossed and his hands fumbling at the array of religious icons he wore. Marco isn’t superstitious, but he does know that whatever it is that’s cursed is going to be a problem.
“You found it,” Ace whispers, moving past Marco to press his hands to the statues base, his eyes skimming over the designs as he mutters to himself.
“He’s distracted,” Sabo mutters, looking behind himself and frowning. “We lost Teach. He was behind me and I think he took one of the turns back there, but I wasn’t going to go hunting,” he stops and Marco can hear whispers.
Ace doesn’t seem to notice them at first, his eyes still on the writing along the bottom of the statue, but Marco knows that Sabo hears them, if the way that he scrambles for the gun holstered at his side means anything. Marco follows suit, leading the way around the corner and startling as the Americans stand on the other side.
“Scared the shit out of us, Newgate,” the woman hisses, pushing her glasses up her nose and frowning.
“Likewise,” Marco says refusing to put down his pistols as he hears the whispers continue. The Americans look just as confused as Ace speaks up from the other side.
“Where did you,” Ace cuts himself off. “Ah, hello. It seems that you’ve found our dig spot.”
“You mean ours?” One of the Americans says pulling back the hammer on his pistol. “Friend.”
“We got here first,” Marco states, tightening his grip on his pistols, eyes darting between the group to see how many he would need to take. Sabo and Ace might have fought in the Great War, but he didn’t know what they could do and it wouldn’t do to trust them just yet.
Spandam smirks, looking far too pleased with himself, “It would seem, Marco, that there are only two of you and more than that of me.”
Marco takes a step forward, but Ace’s hand on his bicep stops him sort, “There’s more than enough space for the both of us, stop being children,” he turns his back to the American and smirks when Marco meets his eyes. “We can find another spot.”
“If you’re sure,” Marco says slowly, because Ace has spoken only of this statue and the book that should be hidden inside it since they met.
“You know, I was a little confused about why you were willing to let them have the statue,” Marco states following Ace as he leads them deeper into the tunnels, leaving chalk marks on the walls where he can. “But I think I’m even more confused now.”
Ace grins, “There’s a chamber beneath the statue. I noticed when I joined your standoff. There was a gap in the floor and sand was spilling into it. I kicked a rock and it hit something. Which means,” he trails off, gesturing at the tunnel that he has been following for several minutes now. “Is Sabo still behind you?”
“I’m right here!” Sabo shouts, offended. “I didn’t wander off, I’m not Teach.”
“I don’t know, there was some shiny etchings back there with jewels embedded in,” Ace teases, pausing to peer into a dark room to try and place it in the little map that he had been sketching. “Do you think it’s this one or further down?”
“I think that we can check,” Marco answers, stepping past Ace and holding up his torch as he looks around. “This mean anything to you?”
“We’re right beneath his feet,” Ace answers, snapping his journal closed and scrambling to pull a lighter from his pockets to light the torches on the wall to expand the light. He keeps thinking he’s seeing something in the darkness and it’s driving him towards madness.
Sabo laughs gesturing to a table along one wall, “This looks sturdy enough to hold us, Ace.”
“To the center of the room,” Ace shouts, digging through his bag, only to find a leather case shoved before his face. “Marco?”
“You lost this when the ship went down, didn’t you?” Marco says, not looking directly at him as he moves the case closer. “I talked to our American friends earlier and they gave it to me.”
Ace grins, because he doubts that story, but he won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, “Thank you. Come on.”
“What is the plan here?”
“We’re going to dig up through the floor,” Ace explains climbing up onto the table with the trowel from the case in hand. “This is directly beneath Anubis’ statue, and slightly to the front, so we don’t bring it down on top of ourselves. We’ll dig up, wait for those foolish Americans to fall asleep and then steal the book out from under their feet.”
“No offence,” Sabo adds quickly.
“No offence?” Marco asks climbing up onto the table with a pickaxe that Ace was certain he had stolen from the Americans, just like he had this toolset. “Who’s offended?”
“Aren’t you offended? Ace is calling Americans foolish.”
“I’m British, thank you,” Marco answers, rolling his shoulders before his first swing. “Which while I’m glad you’re trying not to offend someone, perhaps paying attention to where they’re from first would be the better plan?”
Ace bites the inside of his cheek as Sabo gestures and stumbles over his words for several minutes, likely confused and embarrassed.
“But you talk like an American!”
“So do I,” Ace reminds him. “No one pays attention to an American walking about in the wrong places. That’s just what foolish Americans tend to do. That or they’re suppose to be there. To have an accent is less safe.”
Sabo points at Ace, accusing in the same way that Sabo used when Kotatsu stole into his bedroom, “You knew about this.”
“Of course I did, did you not look into who was taking us to Hamunaptra or did you just assume that it would be alright?” Ace demands, refusing to look at Sabo because his brother lies better when the lie can’t be read on his face. “I know that I had several people look into Marco’s background. No offense, Marco.”
“I assumed that you were going to, I asked a few questions about you both as well,” Marco says grinning when Ace looks over at him. “I hope it’s not overstepping?”
Sabo whines, “You can flirt later! How did you both decide to look into each other and I didn’t even consider?”
“Because you’re a shit spy and Dragon is the only one that I’ve ever met that was worse. The man almost got himself killed in the war because he actively talked about revolution in the middle of Germany as we were looking for information,” Ace answers with a shrug, “Do you even know what I did in the war?”
“You never mentioned it?”
Ace rolls his eyes and prays for strength, “Sabo, my dear brother, I regularly talk about spies and being in the middle of Germany in the midst of a war. What do you think I was doing? I know what you were up to, since you were in a tank. He,” he gestures at Marco. “Was on the front line.”
“I am sorry that you didn’t find much on me,” Marco says over Sabo’s stuttering. “I know that there wasn’t much to find.”
“What are you talking about? I traced your family back six generations, tracked down two of your brothers and found your dad,” Ace says raising an eyebrow as Marco stops short. “Did you not know about them?”
“I don’t remember anything from before the war. I assumed my name was fake.”
“Mhm, no? Marco Newgate of England. You have at least sixteen siblings, all adopted by the same man, Edward Newgate. He’s been looking for all three of his eldest sons, who fought in the war,” Ace shrugs at the look that Marco shoots him. “I thought you were avoiding your family, like Sabo.”
“Shut up!” Sabo shouts, throwing his arms up in the air. “Ace, how!?”
Ace jumps back as the ceiling crashes to ground between them, ignoring the outraged shout as Sabo scrambles back just in time. He’s already moving closer before the dust has settled, running his fingertips over the stone.
“That’s a mummy, isn’t it?”
Ace nods, not paying attention to if it was Marco or Sabo who had said it, “He-who-must-not-be-named.”
“Who?” Sabo asks, forcing himself closer, his frown deepening as he reads what Ace had. “They didn’t name him?”
“Is that uncommon?” Marco asks coughing as he pushes himself to his feet with a groan. “The name thing?”
“It means he did something extremely naughty,” Ace answers absently, looking up at where the hole had opened up. “Only those who were important or had committed a horrible crime would have been buried at the base of Anubis like this. It was supposed to be an honor.”
“And the lack of name means that it was naughty. Not to mention, the lack of sacred spells.” Sabo adds, his mouth twisting as he reads something that Ace can’t see. “What in the world is the Hom-dai?”
Ace shoves himself up, ignoring the fact he’s climbing on a sarcophagus to slide over to where Sabo had been reading, “The worst of all Egyptian curses. They never used it because they feared it so. It was said that someone who suffered it, if brought back to life, would bring with them the ten plagues of Egypt.”
Something cold and terror inducing sweeps through the room and Ace could almost convince himself that he imagined it, if it weren’t for the way that Marco’s hand went back to his pistol and Sabo shifted like he was preparing for a fight.
“Well,” Sabo says tapping an indent. “We aren’t opening this without a key.”
“A key,” Ace says, eyes going wide as he hurried back to where he had thrown his bag to the side to dig through the ceiling. “They were looking for a key!”
“Who was looking for a key?” Ace hears Sabo mutter, probably frowning, as he finally finds the puzzle box. “Hey, that’s mine!”
“Technically speaking, I do believe that it’s mine,” Marco corrects easily, almost teasing when Ace spins around to face them. “A key?”
Ace nods, hurrying back to the sarcophagus and grinning victoriously when it fit, unlocking with a click, “A key. The man on the barge, with the hook hand, he wanted me to give him a key.”
Someone screams in the distance, loud and grating before it ends abruptly with a thump that sounds far too soft for anything but a body.
“We should probably check that,” Marco says softly, his hand on his pistol once more. “Just to see if we’ve figured out where Teach has gone.”
“Right,” Ace agrees slowly, closing the key and shoving it into one of his pockets. “Lead the way?”
Ace wonders if he should keep it to himself that he hopes that Teach is dead. The way that he had watched them all, like they were keeping something from him, hadn’t endeared him to Ace or to the others, if their looks mean anything. But a dead concern was always better than a live one.
“Seems,” Marco says, dropping down before the fire that Ace and Sabo were both whispering over, passing a battered book between the two of them. “That we weren’t the only ones with a bit of bad luck today. The Americans lost three diggers.”
“A cave in?” Ace asks, barely looking up from the book as he skims the page that Sabo had flipped to, his mouth twisted into a frown.
“They were melted.”
“Melted,” Sabo repeats, looking up from where he’s been staring at Teach’s corpse, waiting for Ace to pass back the book and whatever it was that they were discussing. “As in it was too hot within the tunnels or?”
“As in salt acid, pressurized salt acid. Ancient boobytrap, according to their Egyptologist,” Marco lets his words raise up into a question as he glanced at Ace, who had finally looked up, his finger holding his place in the book.
“It’s something they were known for,” Ace admits slowly, closing the book as his eyes glittered in the firelight. Something about his smile made Marco want to be more poetic about how he compared Ace’s waving his hands to things, but it all reminded him of a fish, flopping about. “They would-”
“Ace, please don’t tell me about how they were protect their treasure from people, by killing those people,” Sabo says, shivering as he pulls his jacket closer. “It seems almost too far fetched.”
“And what do you think it is, Sabo? A curse?”
“Maybe. This place could be cursed!” Sabo hisses as the wind shrieks around them, dimming the fire and howling like there’s something almost alive about it.
Marco meets Sabo’s eyes over the fire, noticing the way his shoulders went tense as he glanced around them, before looking back at Ace, who’s eyes were like slits as he stroked Kotatsu’s back, tipping his head as if he could hear something in the distance.
“Curses aren’t to be trifled with, but traps and death aren’t curses. Traps are to protect treasures and death is the price that must be paid, that doesn’t mean that there’s a curse.”
“You believe in curses?” Marco says slowly, almost unsure if he wants the answer.
Ace shrugs, pushing his hair back from his face, “My mother told me that curses were the wishes of those who were upset or trying to protect something from those who would cause harm. She said that my father was cursed,” he pauses, shrugging easily. “What do you believe in, Marco?”
“Being prepared,” he doesn’t have to imagine the way Ace’s mouth twitches upward at his answer, not even when he looks away after meeting his gaze.
Sabo clears his throat, looking steadily more uncomfortable the longer the silence lingers, reaching for the bag that they had dropped by Teach’s body, “I wonder what Teach believed in,” Ace doesn’t look pleased when Sabo shoves his hand into the bag, jerking back from it quickly with a shout.
“Are you alright?”
“There’s broken glass in his bag,” Sabo grumbles, sticking his finger in his mouth and reaching back into the bag with his other hand, humming when he lifts a bottle out from the depths.”Glenlivet, twelve years old!”
Ace rolls his eyes, looking back at his book for a moment before closing it tiredly, “You’re going to drink that all tonight, aren’t you?”
“I can’t let good booze go to waste, Ace!”
“Waste is it,” Marco says, stopping and pushing himself upright at a sound that he only half hears, grabbing a shotgun from the ground and shoving it into Ace’s hands, since he had lost his gun with the ship. “Take this.”
He doesn’t tell them to stay there, can hear them arguing as he hurries down the slope of their camp to where the Americans have spread themselves out, wrapped up around one of the entrances to the city. The shouting only gets louder, followed by gunshots. The tents are burning and none of the men on horseback look like they are willing to talk this out.
That doesn’t mean that Marco misses the younger man with a rather expensive looking pair of sunglasses or the flash of startlingly blue hair that he can still see in the nightmares he has about escaping the desert. Which is why, when his pistol is knocked out of his hands and the woman, who had caught his bullets on her sword, advances, Marco wastes no time in rolling back to light the stick of dynamite he had hidden in his pocket.
“Enough,” her voice is sharp as it cuts through the air, eyes dark as she watches Marco, her men hovering just beyond the circle he had spun in. “We will shed no more blood tonight, but you must leave, leave this place or die. You have one day.”
Marco rips the wick from the dynamite as she hurries back to her horse, the men with her following quickly in her wake. The way the Americans shake as the men take off would be funnier, if he hadn’t just watched this woman scare them so easily. Not with her ultimatum ringing in the air.
“That was strange,” Ace says softly, at his side before Marco knew he was there. “Desert people don’t have any desire for gold and any water here would be what they were after,” he pauses. “Were you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” Marco states, ignoring the warmth in his chest that the question spurs. “But you’re not wrong. Even if they think that you are.”
Ace rolls his eyes, smiling faintly, “Well, I don’t think Americans are really that knowledgeable about these things, do you? I’m glad you’re safe.”
“Unharmed. But it looks like Sabo might not be, if he keeps arguing with people,” Ace sighs, the same heavily burdened way that makes Marco think of a man with close cropped hair and a too bright smile. “Sabo, you’re sloping Glenlivet all over your shirt.”
“That was Spandam’s fault,” Sabo snaps, wiping a hand over his face.
The woman cleared her throat, her glasses hastily shoved into place and her hair falling out of the braid that she had worn it in since their arrival in Hamunaptra, “Perhaps,” her voice doesn’t shake, but her mouth twists to show she doesn’t feel comfortable with this. “We should join forces at night. Just for extra protection?”
“Marco,” Ace asks, smiling blandly as they look at him. “Would that be alright with you? I know that it wasn’t in your contract, but I assume that safety is the greater concern here.”
“If you and Sabo agree to it, I am here to make sure you get back to Cairo safely.”
Marco doesn’t pay much attention to the details, not when Ace is negotiating and shoving Sabo’s face backwards whenever he tries to add something to the paper that the woman and Ace had both been scribbling on for the last hour, but he stands up looking far too pleased as he heads back to their camp.
“They weren’t expecting you to be good at that, were they,” Marco asks, dropping down onto his bedding and snagging the bottle from Sabo’s hands as he passed. “Negotiating.”
“I’m not sure that I care,” Ace admits, sitting at Marco’s side, almost too close. “May I have some?”
“Ace punches people when he drinks,” Sabo warns, laying back on his bedding, his eyes closed as he relaxes. “A warning.”
Ace smiles when Marco raises an eyebrow, “I have punched someone when I was drinking before.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Marco decides, passing him the bottle. “But I reserve the right to punch you back should you punch me.”
“He’s passed out, hasn’t he,” Ace asks, sounding far too sober as Marco steals the bottle from Sabo as he snores softly, Kotatsu sprawled over his stomach. “He never did listen when I told him that drinking games will only get you so far with anything.”
“He’s certainly one of the worst spies that I’ve seen,” Marco agrees taking a sip from the bottle and passing it to him. “You’re fairly obvious about what you were too, however.”
Ace smiles, and there’s the too bright shine in his eyes, “I never wanted to be a spy. But, my commanding officer knew my parents.”
“My mother was actually fairly famous, an archeologist that found several large finds, but my father was a more suspicious man. It’s because of him that I was shoved into training as a spy. And your family, do you remember anything about them?”
Marco hums, his shoulders aching as he twists the bottle between his hands, “Not truely. I remember pieces of them, feelings most the time. It’s, you said that my father was Edward Newgate?”
“Mhm,” Ace agrees, stealing the bottle with a smile and drinking deeply from it. “He’s a nice man, not titled or anything, but he’s a good man. He loves his children, he’s been looking for you and your two brothers, the two who went missing in the war,” he pauses. “Will you go back to England after this?”
“I’m not sure. I would like to know my family, remember them if I can, but I’m not sure that I could be the man that they remember.”
“Do you need to be that man,” Ace asks, leaning into Marco’s side, his hand spread over the cover of his journal. “War changes people and while you might not remember who you were, I don’t think you changed enough that they would hate you.”
“There’s not anyone,” Marco gestures, not sure if he knows how he wants to end that sentence.
“No one waiting for you, romantically at least,” Ace finishes for him, toying with the cover of his journal, but Marco wasn’t sure that he was looking at it anymore. “It was one of the first things that I looked into, since I would hate to keep you from them.”
Marco snorts, sliding his fingertips along Ace’s shoulders and down his other arm, “I thank you for it. Family is family, but things like that are more-”
“Complex?” Ace offers, shifting slightly, enough that Marco’s fingers dragged along his wrist.
“Complex is a good word for it.”
Complex, Marco thinks, watching Ace’s eyes close for longer between blinks, is what he would label this too. Because he doesn’t know what he wants out of this, if it’s supposed to be a fling that he will forget about quickly or something he wants to keep. It’s enough to plague his thoughts, even as Ace becomes a warm, sleeping weight against his side.
Marco doesn’t know how long he waits to shift Ace off to his own bed, enjoying the warmth and the sense of calm that had settled over him as he stared at the fire slowly sputtering out. But the sky turns darker and his eyes burn, too tired to do anything but shift them both enough to share his bed.
“I think,” he mutters, ignoring the sound Ace makes as he tries to put at least some space between them. “That I’m going to regret this.”
He thinks it’s telling that he’s not sure if he’s going to regret doing nothing or do something more.
“I’ve dreamed about this,” Ace says excitedly, sketching the way the scared spells were chiseled off and the lock stood out on the front, the only thing that still had all of it’s hieroglyphs.
“You dream about dead people?” Marco asks, smiling easily when Ace stopped moving long enough to frown at him.
“You’re saying that you never dreamed of finding a mummy,” Ace counters after a long moment, before taking a deep breath and stepping back. “Thank you, for letting me watch.”
Sabo groans, muttering something that Ace misses under his breath before speaking loud enough to actually be heard, “Ace, this is your dig. If you want to be able to see the moment we open the coffin, so be it.”
“Right,” Ace takes a breath, stepping back. “Alright, let’s open it.”
It takes a few moments to lever the lid to the edge, wiggling it back and forth before Marco and Sabo push it off, letting it fall to the ground in the space that Ace had left open just for that. Ace bites the inside of his cheek as he stumbles back, the mummy almost launching itself forward.
“I hate it when they do that,” he mutters, spitting blood onto the ground.
“Should he look like that,” Marco asks, leaning around the side to stare at the mummy in confusion. “He looks-”
“Juicy,” Ace says, hearing Sabo echo him almost in time. “It’s like he’s still decomposing. He would have died several thousand years ago and yet, here he is,” he frowns, stepping closer to press a finger to the inside of the coffin. “Sabo, would you look at the top?”
“What am I looking for,” Sabo asks tiredly, even though Ace can hear him moving already. “Something obvious?”
“I think that our mummy may have been buried alive.”
The silence is unsettling, Ace can feel it weighing on him as he waits for Sabo to say something about what may or may not be carved into the lid.
“He left a message,” Sabo says finally, confirming what Ace had suspected since he had seen the thin, long scrapes where the lid of the sarcophagus connected with the body of it. “Death is only the beginning.”
“That’s ominous,” Marco says slowly, his eyebrow rising. “Death is death, isn’t it?”
Ace hums thoughtfully, leaning in closer to see if he could see anything in the darker points of the sarcophagus, perhaps something that would tell him more about the tale of how this man had ended up so cursed, “Ancient Egyptians has two books, I think I mentioned them?”
“The Dead and LIving ones?”
“Those two,” Ace agrees, shifting to look at the outer edges of the coffin. “The book of the Dead was purported to bring people back from the dead. It was hidden in a statue here in Hamunaptra and the use of it was forbidden at some point. But it’s said, if you read from it, you can bring the dead back.”
Sabo makes a soft sound, brushing off his pants, “Where did you hear that? The reading it outloud thing?”
“My father’s bedtimes stories,” Ace answers, tapping his fingers on a wall. “He claimed to be a member of a Bedouin tribe, but I’ve never been able to place the exact one. My mother used to say that he had more secrets than anything, but she always said that he kept them for a reason. Now, if it’s true, we will never know, not unless we find it.”
“And if we don’t?” Marco asks slowly.
“There’s another book, Marco. The Americans can have the one in the statue of Anubis, if they’re brave enough to open it. It will take a while for them to finally open the compartment, with how it was trapped.”
“You don’t think there’s another trap on it?”
Ace shrugs idly, “Who knows. If there is, there will be. If not, it means they are lingering on it. This things happen, Marco, set backs aren’t forever.”
“Stop scaring off the one person that we’ve befriended in years,” Sabo says loudly, rolling his eyes when Ace spares him a look. “Seriously, this one at least likes us.”
“Marco is his own person, he can make his own choices.”
“It’s not something that I haven’t heard about previously,” Marco shrugs when Ace chances a look over at him. “Don’t mummies have organs removed?”
“A normal one would, yes. But if he was buried alive, and suffering the Hom-dai, like I think he has been, our dead man here would have all his organs intact.”
“So no little jars of organs.”
Ace nods, “Right, canopic jars wouldn’t been needed for someone with their organs intact.”
“Huh, and here I was hoping for an interesting looking little organ jar.”
“I’m sure we can track down one, if you’re really sold on the idea of them,” Ace offers, grinning when Marco laughs. “You can take it home for your mantel, a little jar of rotten organs.”
“I’m sure my family would love it.”
The Book of the Dead is heavier than Ace had been expecting when he had finally slid it from underneath the arms of the American Egyptologist. Solid obsidian carved and bound together like a book and still it felt like something dangerous as he hurried over to his camp.
“That,” Marco says tiredly, lounging on a pile of stone with his eyes closed. “Is called stealing.”
“According to a great many people, it’s called borrowing,” Ace retorts, setting the book down carefully as he digs through his things and moving to Sabo’s pockets, when he can’t find the key where he had left it last. “And I’m going to return it.”
“But,” Marco asks.
“But, it’s the book of the Dead and I doubt that it will stay intact after the Americans take it home. They don’t have a key, which means that they’re going to break it to get it open when it proves to be difficult,” Ace says taking a deep breath as he presses the key into the indent and turning.
The wind screams past them, sharp and cold, as Marco leans closer, “That happens a lot around here.”
“Never mind it,” Ace mutters, lifting the cover and feeling far too giddy as he looked over the first internal inscription. “Look at this, it’s amazing.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask what it says,” Marco mutters, leaning closer. “Since you said that it could bring the dead back to life if you read aloud from it.”
Ace nods, fear like a needle pricking against his skin, “Amun Ra. Amun Dai. It’s talking about the night and day,” he forces a smile when he turns to catch sight of Marco out the corner of his eye. “I suppose, that we could call this a test. To see if the book works the way that myth says.”
“Just this once,” Marco agrees, voice whisper soft.
“Just this once,” Ace agrees, ignoring the way his voice seems to start echoing as he starts the inscription over from the top, his fingers trailing along the stone until he reached the end. He’s barely stopped when something screams, it’s loud and cold and makes Ace regret opening the book before it vanishes, replaced by a distant buzz.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the Egyptologist snaps, snatching the book from him, her eyes wild and her shoulders shaking. “You’ve doomed us-”
She doesn’t get the chance to continue, the buzzing now louder than the report of gunfire as a swarm of locust appears, rushing ever forwards.
“Time to go,” Marco shouts, dragging Ace behind him as he starts running, leading the way into the tunnels with the others close behind him.
It’s dark, even with the scattered torches that had been grabbed by those who had thought to pause long enough, but the sound of buzzing is still on their heels.
“I hate being right,” Ace gasps, jumping over a piece of a wall that had crumbled at some point in the last thousand years, almost sliding across the sand when he paused to look down the tunnels they were approaching.
Sabo gasps, jogging to stay with him, Kotatsu bounding from his shoulders to Ace’s without a moment of hesitation, “I don’t even know what happened!”
“I read a book out loud,” Ace answers, trying to stop when the sand in front of him bubbles up and scarabs begin to spill out of it. “Scarabs!”
Ace doesn’t remember the last time he had to run this much, not even when he almost got caught in Germany, throwing himself over the gap to a stone alcove, turning in time to see Sabo and Marco leaping the other way to a pair of free standing platforms. He sinks against the wall in relief, startling when it moves, leaving him somewhere new.
“Sir?” Ace had never bothered to learn the Americans’ names. There was the woman, the man with the bird, the man with the braid, and the one with the abnormal nose, but Ace didn’t care for their names, not when he came here for treasure. “Are you-!”
He bites his tongue, jerking backwards at the sight of the man’s face, the one with the abnormal nose, but he looks nothing like the man that Ace remembers when they had rushed into the tunnels. His eyes are gone and when he screams again, it’s impossible to miss that his tongue ends far too soon. But that isn’t what forces Ace back against the wall that had dropped him here.
The mummy, the one they had found under Anubis, is walking, moving closer to the American as the man tries to drag himself away, his words stuttering and obviously wrong without a tongue to help him speak. He’s not sure how the mummy turns it’s attention to him, footsteps wobbling as it leans too close-
“There you are!” Marco shouts, grabbing his arm as if to drag him before stopping short. “What the fuck.”
The mummy screams, mouth opening unnaturally wide and Ace’s stomach revolts at the sight of it’s tongue, of the American’s stolen tongue in it’s mouth at the same moment that Kotatsu hisses, back arching and claws digging into Ace’s shoulders as the mummy stumbles over itself to escape.
“That,” Ace gasps, nails digging into Marco’s forearm as he tries to breathe. “Was not what I wanted to happen.”
Marco laughs, the kind that comes from trying to escape the absurdity of the situation and the rise of hysteria, “No, I didn’t think that it was. Come on.”
Outside, the locust are gone, which Ace would consider drastic improvement from the number of them that had been inbound the last time that he had been up here. The band of men from last night are back however, the woman standing at the front of them looking decidedly blank.
“We asked you to leave and you did not, now you have brought about the thing that we have feared for the last three thousand years,” she says stiffly, one hand resting on her sword. “And brought about the apocalypse.”
“Then maybe, you should have taken the books out of the statues years ago and hidden them elsewhere,” Ace snaps, blinking slowly when everyone turns to face him, because a corpse would be unable to do anything if the book hadn’t done that . The woman looks like he’s said something strange. “If you didn’t store the fucking books here, there would have been almost no risk of summoning him back to life.”
“That would not have stopped treasure hunters from looking for them.”
Ace feels like he’s had this argument before, but he knows the best answer, “You have the knowledge of how to make something similar, if the materials were wrong then it could be put up to the myths being wrong! Change things to make it so the words are close enough but won’t work!”
The silence lets him know that he’s struck something, but Ace doesn’t care about that, because he remembers where the memory of this argument is from, but it’s not his. It’s his father, seated in the room in their home that Ace has never bothered to go into, with another man, whispering to each other just loud enough for Ace to hear.
“Ace,” Sabo whispers, dragging his attention back to the present. “We need to go.”
“Right, we have to go,” Ace says softly, glancing over at the woman who is frowning at him like she’s knows this argument too.
Kotatsu presses close on his shoulders and Ace is glad for him to be there, a task to focus on as they hurry to grab what they can and climb onto their mounts, hurrying off as something, the mummy probably, screams behind them.
“You’re going to stay and try to stop him, aren’t you?” Marco asks, watching Ace go through the books that he had appeared with after slipping out the rooms they were renting.
“I summoned him,” Ace answers like it explains everything, dropping another book into the pile at his feet and scrubbing a hand over his face. “I knew this was a possibility, Marco. I knew that the book of the dead was suppose to bring the dead back to life and I still read it outloud.”
Marco nods, holding a hand out for a book, smiling when Ace stares at it in confusion, “I encouraged you to read it, Ace. I want to help you.”
“This is my fault.”
“Nothing is ever entirely someone’s fault. At least not in this context,” Marco says easily, shrugging when Ace watches him, his glasses pushed up to his forehead. “You weren’t expecting that.”
“I expected you to say that this was a contract and that there was no we?”
“I would like to think that you don’t think of me as just a means to an end.”
“You’re not. I just, I never expected you to want to help me. Sabo’s already said that this should be left to the professionals. I just, I don’t think there’s a person who could be a professional mummy killer. Not even the group we met in the desert looked like it knew what to do should the mummy return.”
Marco hums in agreement, leaning back against the headboard of Ace’s bed, “I agree with you. About getting rid of the books entirely. There’s no reason to keep them, not when a fake would work just as well and avoid this mess.”
“My father said that,” Ace says softly, tiredly. “I think he was involved with them, the group that we ran into in the desert. I remembered the woman, we met a few times.”
“We played together, I think. I remembered the hair,” Ace sighs, falling onto his bed and pressing his face into the covers. “You don’t happen to conveniently know where there’s a stash of immortal weapons are, do you?”
“I don’t,” Marco answers, watching Ace for a long minute before reaching forward and teasing a tangle from the ends of Ace’s hair, pausing when Ace shifts closer, watching him. “Hamunaptra was the only place that interested my battalion. Want to hit the prisons to see if there’s someone else claiming to know where to find lost treasure?”
Ace snorts, rolling over onto his back and snatching up one of the books from the bed to frown at, “I think I’m only going to get that lucky once, but your suggestion is noted.”
“Good. I think that it’s a valid point. Now, I’m going to the bar to get a drink and see if there’s any news about plagues or men stealing organs. Do you want me to pick you up anything?”
“Thank you, but no,” Ace answers, setting the book in his hands to the side and grabbing another. “If you see my brother, will you send him up here? I have something to talk to him about.”
The trip to the bar is quiet and the bar is subdued, the Americans lingering around one corner like moths around a light. Not that it matters, since the woman slams her hand down and storms out, holding the Book of the Dead close to her chest.
“I thought you were heading back,” Marco says slowly, when they spot him. “To America.”
“The ship won’t leave until tomorrow.”
Marco hums, placing his order when the bartender came close enough to speak to him. It’s uncomfortable, the lingering silence and the space between them. They had already explained that the box holding the book had been cursed and that everyone who opened it would be killed by the creature. Marco was also fairly sure that they were blaming Ace for waking it, which wasn’t entirely true, since they all knew that the Americans were going to try reading from it as soon as they had the opportunity.
“Thanks,” Marco mutters, throwing back the shot and spitting it out over the table almost as quickly turning to look at the fountain in the middle of the room as the taste fully registered, “And the rivers and water of Egypt ran red and were as blood.”
The water is just like the words said and Marco is already hurrying out of the room as the Americans start moving again, reaching for their guns and circling together to try and keep an eye on anything that moved.
Ace pauses, another stack of books in his arms as he skims the pages of one, “I thought you were taking a break?”
“We’ve got problems,” Marco says quickly, just as screams erupt from somewhere above them. He recognizes them now, the grating screech of the creature as Spadam slams past him and away. “Did he-?”
“I think we should check what that was first,” Ace answers, setting his books down on a bench and hurrying up the stairs, Marco follows, firmly on his heels as he slams open the door to the American’s room.
Long nose looks like a mummy, corpse tossed aside as if all it had been worth had been sucked out of it. But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the creature, standing before the fireplace as it’s skin starts to shift and grow more solid. The sound of it is enough to turn Marco’s stomach, as he shifts closer to Ace, his guns already pointed at it as it turns to face them.
“Those are mortal,” Ace hisses, hand solid on Marco’s shoulder as he fires off three rounds, watching them sink through the creature without stopping it.
“I know,” Marco whispers back, because it’s his first reaction to shoot. “Any bright ideas?”
Kotatsu murrs, pushing himself against Marco’s legs and twisting around, hissing when it spots the creature.
“It’s afraid of cats?” Marco asks after the creature had fled, turned into a sandstorm and twisting out the window.
“They’re the guardians of the underworld,” Ace explains, clicking his tongue to call Kotatsu back. “I don’t know if he’ll stay scared of them. But, I might know someone who will.”
Vivi doesn’t know what to think of Rayleigh. He wasn’t truly part of the Medaji anymore and hadn’t been for almost as long as her father had been chief, but he was always willing to aid them when it came to treasure hunters who had the wrong thing or people who wandered too close to places that they shouldn’t and returned with treasures cursed.
“He’s not wrong,” Rayleigh states, shrugging easily. “If the Medaji had replaced the books with something false years ago, then none of these people would be able to summon the dead back to life. This is what drove Roger to leave.”
“So my father was part of this.”
Vivi turns slowly, uncomfortably, at the sound of the new voice and the feeling of too many eyes on her back. The Americans, Nami called them that as a collective when she spoke of them, had not come with them, but the three in the room are familiar.
“You know each other,” Vivi says slowly, her eyebrow arching slowly upwards as she finally registers what he had said. “Your father?”
“Roger Gol, my father. Your memory isn’t as good as it use to be, Vivi.”
Vivi doesn’t move as she watches Ace, his eyes still as blank and dark as they had been when they were children, forced together while their fathers whispered to each other about the books and the creature. About the books that Roger had never agreed with keeping. What had driven Roger to leave the Medaji, Rayleigh following him.
“I think that we deserve some answers,” Ace says coolly, his arms crossed over his chest. “Like what and who this creature used to be.”
“His name was Kaido, when he was alive and he was Seti the First’s high priest,” Rayleigh answers, gesturing for them to enter the room and take a seat. “One of them, at least. He and Seti’s mistress, who’s name was lost to the sands of time but was referred to as Big Mom in several ancient texts, were working together to take over his empire. They killed him.”
One of the other men with Ace shakes his head, “And that was enough to get the whole buried alive and cursed stick?”
“No. Big Mom took the fall, killing herself and giving Kaido time to run. Because Kaido would be able to bring her back to life and she had long since gotten his men infiltrated with her own. They used each other to get what they wanted, though several of the Medaji think they were in love.”
“What will be his first move after he gets his body back?” the final man asks, leaning back against a statue. Vivi still blames him for this, if he had died in the desert like she had thought he would, this wouldn’t have happened. “Because he must have a plan.”
Ace tips his head in agreement, “I don’t know about the relationship between the two of the way that you two might, but could they have convinced themselves that they were in love?” he pauses, his eyes narrowing. “Actually that would make sense. The canopic jars.”
“The American was missing his when the creature killed him,” the man finishes.
“Which still doesn’t leave us a way to fight the creature,” Vivi snaps, her eyes flashing dangerously. “Unless you know something that I don’t?”
“Where is the Book of the Living?”
Ace knows that they’re talking behind him, but he ignores them because if he lingers too long on the fact that his father was part of this conspiracy than Ace doesn’t think that he would be able to keep going. There’s always been a lot of issues between Ace and the ghost of his father. The man had become something more after his death, something that makes Ace hate him without a solid reason.
“Breathe,” Marco mutters, smiling when Ace glances over at him, listening to him without argument. “You’re our best hope for translating this and reading the book, if you aren’t conscious then we have to rely on Sabo.”
Ace doesn’t need to look to know that Sabo is trying, and failing, to flirt with Vivi. He doesn’t think that Sabo means anything by it, but he’s not sure about anything that Sabo does these days, not when Sabo is good at keeping secrets when he’s trying.
“He does know how to read hieroglyphics,” Ace says softly, finding mention of the books and frowning as he slows down. “There’s a few that he has issue with, but he can.”
“But that doesn’t make him as good as you.”
“I’m not that good.”
Marco snorts, his arms crossing over his chest as he watches the sky, “We both know that your skill is better than you admit. Even a drunk deserter hears about the best translator in Cairo. There’s more people than you would think whispering about you.”
“Oh,” Ace doesn’t know what to say, focusing back on translating, hands shaking as he finds what he wants. “Hamunaptra, the statue of Horus. Bembridge mixed where the books were hidden.”
“We have to go back ,” Sabo whines. “Can’t we just, I don’t know, go back to England and leave this for someone else to take care of?”
“You can, but I woke him up and I am not going to let him take over the world. Not when there’s a chance to take him down,” Ace pauses as the sky goes dark, it’s too early to be night.
“He stretched forth his hand and there was darkness over Egypt,” Rayleigh states suddenly, raising an eyebrow and fixing the sword on his waist. “It seems that he’s getting stronger, it would be best for us to reach Hamunaptra before he is fully powered.”
“How? The route that Marco knows takes almost three days and I doubt that we have three days. If we could travel the way he seems to, it wouldn’t be an issue, but we’re mortal.”
“I might have an answer for that,” Sabo says slowly, looking confused. “How do I have an answer for that when you don’t? You knew more pilots in the war than I did.”
Ace shrugs, “Because most of my pilots ended up dead at the hands of the Germans?”
“Ah,” Sabo rubs the back of his neck, looking away from him before Ace could point out that it was what happened to pilots. “Let me make a call, it won’t be comfortable, but I should be able to get at least three of us to Hamunaptra, unless one of you can fly a plane?”
No one raises their hands, but Ace doesn’t think Sabo was expecting them to. He can account for their skills, at least for Marco and Sabo, but Vivi has likely never left her home in the desert, not if they didn’t leave the creature unguarded. And as much as Ace knows that Rayleigh has done things, done things that Ace will never know, he doesn’t think that flying is one of them.
“I’ll get in contact then,” Sabo says breaking the silence. “Meet me at the base, we might need to steal a plane, I don’t think my pilot has one on hand.”
“I’ll have keys when you arrive,” Ace agrees, watching his brother closely, trying to find any hint of what is going on in his mind. “Will they need a specific model or should I just go with what I like the look of?”
Sabo pauses, frowning, “Does it matter?”
“I’m going to steal several plane keys,” Ace sighs, because that much he does know about planes. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Sabo sighs, waving as he jumps over the railing of the stairs and throws open the doors to the museum as he hurries out.
“That is going to kill his knees,” Vivi states frowning after him. “Could he not take the stairs?”
Ace shrugs, ignoring the way that Marco hovers by his side because if he ignores it, then he can pretend that it’s not making his chest tight, “Sabo’s had a sudden increase in drama in the last few months. He’s always been a bit dramatic, the hat gives that away most of the time, but it’s gotten worse.”
“I see,” Vivi states, but her tone says otherwise. “I suppose that we should head to this base then. Are you going to accompany us as well, Rayleigh?”
“My godson has dragged himself into this mess and I’m sure that his mother and father would never forgive me for letting him go without me. His mother more than his father,” Rayleigh sighs, smiling to ease the sting when he catches Ace’s eye. “And I’m a little intrigued by the concept of fighting a mummy.”
Marco keeps pace with him, hand sliding down Ace’s forearm to make him slow, “How do you bring someone back from the dead? Kaido wants to bring that woman back to life, it can’t be enough to have the jars. Is it?”
“A sacrifice,” Ace answers without a thought, pausing as the words catch up with him. “That, I don’t know if that is true, but it sounds right. Why?”
“Who is he going to pick? Does it matter or?”
“Why are you lingering?” Vivi demands, her eyes narrowed as she watches them both, still on the staircase. “What have you discovered?”
“If he wants to bring Big Mom back to life, how would he do it?” Ace says, hurrying down the stairs and out the doors, hoping that they stayed on his heels, because he didn’t have time to linger if he was right. “Maybe if she was fresh, it would be fine, but he had to eat people.”
“A sacrifice then,” Rayleigh sighs, pushing his hair out of his face. “And we don’t know who this creature will pick. There’s a city of people here and we don’t know when he gets the final member of these Americans, do we?”
Marco answers, and Ace is glad someone else is following his train of thought, “He’ll unleash a plague, I think. There’s ten, but it might be the only way for us to keep an eye on it. If we have a chance at all.”
“Then we best pray to the gods that the creature is predictable enough to warn us like that.”
“Oh, I get to meet your friends because you, and I quote, “brought a mummy back to life and need to kill it”,” Koala states, raising her eyebrow as she hurries to keep up with Sabo’s ever lengthening stride. “How am I supposed to believe that you brought the dead back to life?”
“I didn’t!” Sabo hisses, twisting his hat in his hands. “My brother did.”
Koala raises an eyebrow, ignoring the distinction, because it wasn’t important for her statement, “Your brother brought a mummy back to life?”
“I read from a book,” Sabo’s brother says, smiling easily and holding up a handful of keys. “Sabo didn’t say what you could fly, so I grabbed what I liked best, I hope that won’t be an issue.”
“Thanks. I’m Koala, Sabo and I work together.”
“For Dragon,” Koala agrees, stomping on Sabo’s foot and enjoying the way he whines. “You told him?”
“Ace is good at finding things out,” Sabo pushes her enough to free his foot from the heavy sole of her boots. “Jesus, did you put lead in those?”
Koala ignores his question, frowning at Ace as she studies the others. Her specialty might be transportation, but Dragon had a bad habit, according to Hack, of sending everyone into the field to spy because he thought it was a simple task. And considering the one time that Ivanko had told them about Dragon’s days in the Army, she didn’t think he knew what he was talking about.
“So, you woke up a mummy? And what, you want to get another?”
“Have to kill him again before he brings about the end of the world,” The woman with strikingly blue hair answers. “The creature will bring the ten plagues of Egypt and then it will take the world. But not before returning it’s partner to life.”
“Huh,” Koala isn’t sure what she expected, but it wasn’t that. Instead she holds out a hand for the keys that Ace is still holding out for her and sorting through all of them. “Do all of you need to go?”
“We would like to,” the man, leaning almost too close to Sabo’s brother, answers. “Unless you think that you would be unable to fly us out there?”
“There sure, back?” Koala shrugs, dumping the keys that she doesn’t need on the ground and leading the way to where she’s fairly sure this one is parked. “Landing one of these things on sand is a poor idea. So, I can drop you, but you’re going to be on your own to get back here.”
“I can arrange something,” the woman answers. “My people will be close by and if I ask them to, they will give you something to return home with. Thank you, ma’am. The fate of the world is resting on this trip.”
“I’m sure,” Koala doesn’t believe that, but they seem sold on the idea. Even the old man that seems to be watching Ace with a level of curiosity that strikes her as odd. Perhaps there’s something more there than she can read in just a glance. “You aren’t going to enjoy it, not if you want speed over comfort.”
“Speed, please,” Sabo winces, because he knows exactly what that means and Koala smirks, patting his shoulder. “I’m going to vomit on your shoes.”
“I know, but I think she,” Koala loves the way the woman startles at the finger pointed her way. “Will vomit first.”
“I have a strong stomach, ma’am.”
“You’ve never flown in a plane going fast and not comfortable, you’ll change your mind,” Koala rolls her shoulders and takes a deep breath. “Get buckled up, lady and gents, we’re about to see if I can beat my old record for fastest travel time. You,” she points at the older man, because he looks the easiest to get information from. “Join me, I need to be directed.”
Koala smiles, leaving them to get ready, they would need all the time that they could get. Even Jinbe hadn’t quite forgiven her for the last time that she had to get him somewhere quickly and he was far more forgiving than anyone else she knew.
“Alright, you best buckle up, because you’ll regret it,” Koala announces, strapping herself in with a grin. It’s been a while since she got to push a plane to it’s limits, she would have to get Sabo something nice for giving her such a fun assignment. “We’re taking off!”
“Is it wrong that I was hoping that we beat Kaido back?” Ace mutters, watching another mummy shuffle past, blocking their way to the statue of Horus. “I know that we were in that place for at least an hour, but we could easily have beaten him.”
“She should have taken longer to get us here,” Vivi mutters, still looking green as she leaned heavily against the wall behind her. “I do not wish to let my feet leave the ground again.”
Sabo snickers, elbowing her in the side as he leans around a corner, “Don’t worry, Koala’s flying does that to everyone. Even other pilots hate flying with her and they like to pull stunts like she does. It’s just that Koala’s better.”
“And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the fact you didn’t tell me that you had a girlfriend,” Ace says just to watch Sabo sputter. Vivi looks thankful to avoid another elbow to the side, since Sabo had been choreographing his movements again. “I understand that you’re having a lovely time being a shitty spy, but I’m your brother and I deserve to know when you start dating. Was I supposed to meet her in our kitchen one day?”
“You haven’t told me that you were dating.”
“That’s because I haven’t officially asked your brother out,” Marco stops short before gesturing for them to follow him, a gap in the patrols. “I thought that it would be better to wait until we weren’t fighting for our lives and the future of the world. I hope you don’t mind a delay, Ace.”
Ace smiles, tugging Marco’s sleeve as he slipped past him to duck into an alcove as another mummy shuffled past, “I’m sure that I can be convinced to wait. Of course that means that I will demand back payment on the kisses that I should be getting.”
“I don’t know,” Marco teases. “That sounds like a steep price.”
“You’re disgusting, I should have thrown you into the Nile the day that we met,” Sabo hisses, pulling a face when Ace finally looks back at him. “Why are you like this?”
Vivi hisses, one of her fingers pressing to her lips as sound seems to grow louder. The next mummy to pass them is better put together than the others that they’ve seen, a wickedly curved blade in hand, “It seems the guards are getting better.”
“You said Big Mom was the Pharaoh’s mistress?” Marco asks softly, eyes focused on the next passage, because the increase of guards and the lack of hiding places is getting more obvious. “You don’t get far with someone like that being an idiot.”
“We need a distraction,” Ace mutters, hurrying to the next statue in his route as something loud heads their way. “We’re not going to be lucky forever and it’s best to get them away from here.”
“It is,” Vivi agrees, brushing off her clothes as she stands. “Get the book and destroy the creature, Ace, or I shall be very disappointed.”
She doesn’t lingering, hurrying back the way they had come with an ease that spoke of years of lurking in places that she shouldn’t, but it doesn’t take long for the sound of battle to ring out.
“Come on,” Marco mutters, hand brushing over Ace’s shoulder as he hurries down the path, without looking for more guards. “We don’t have time to play around. There’s only so long before we end up dying.”
“Fine,” Ace rushes to catch up with him and skidding into the room that he’s been looking for. “Hurry, we don’t know how much time we have.”
Sabo lingers by the door, playing lookout, as Marco fumbles a crowbar from his pack, “Would this one have acid too?”
“If it does, we’re going to need you to remember what the stork means,” Ace answers, his hands shaking as Marco wrenches at the stone. There was a chance that the book was gone, that someone else had taken it years ago and never spoken about it. “If you die, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Then I can’t die,” Marco grunts, getting leverage and tipping forward as the stone fell at their feet. “Well, is it the book that we need?”
Ace scrambles to get the box open and the fabric covering it open, but not even the sight of the golden cover eases his mind, instead he takes a breath and reads the cover aloud, listening as the ruins seems to go silent.
“Give them an order,” Marco whispers.
“Babushka Big Mom,” Ace hisses, wondering if the order will carry even if they can’t hear him naturally, but the sound of marching is easily recognizable and then screams of someone who is not quite alive, too much like the creature before it had gotten it’s flesh back. “I need the key.”
Sabo tosses it to him, just before he slams into a wall, the creature in the door of the room, it’s stolen eyes dark with rage. Ace bites the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming, Sabo was already trying to get up, his breath hissing through his teeth as he pushed at the sand uselessly.
“Figure out what we need, Ace,” Marco mutters, picking up a rock and tossing it at the creature’s head, grinning too wide when it turned it’s attention to him. “Hey asshole, I didn’t think you would look like you belonged in coffin even after you were revived.”
Ace can’t breathe as he watches Marco take off down a hallway, the creature close on his heels, a roar of rage echoing through the ruins as he flips through thick gold pages to try and find anything. His hands shake as he tries to find what he needs. There’s so much going on and the weight of the world feels too much on his shoulders as his vision starts to blur.
“Ace, we’re running out of time,” Sabo groans, twisting to the side with a sound much akin to a whimper. “Don’t you dare start getting hysterical on me.”
“I should have fed you to a crocodile when I had a chance,” Ace says, his chest throbbing because he knows what Sabo is planning. It’s something that they’ve used on each other before. Enough of a distraction to keep Ace from focusing on the sense of doom, but not enough to stop him from reading.
It’s almost funny how well it works, how Ace finds what he needs suddenly under his fingertips as he grabs the book and takes off, trying to reach Marco and the creature before something terrible happens. It won’t kill it, but if he can tell Marco what to do, it would be the end. Would be enough.
Marco jerks like he wants to look at him, but he shoots again, aiming for the creature’s shoulder as he backs up to the edge of a pool of something black and gooping, like tar, “Ace, I hope that’s good news!”
“Kadeesh mal. Kadeesh mal. Pared oos! Pared oos!” Ace shouts, shoving the book into Sabo’s hands as he hurries to pull Marco out the way of the ghostly carriage heading towards the creature. The sense of relief that settles of Ace when the carriage pulls something, a ghostly version of Kaido, away is almost enough to make his knees give out.
“Ace, he’s still moving,” Marco hisses, lifting his pistol as it turns back to them. “What was that supposed to do to him?” He squeezes the trigger, stepping backwards.
The blood is startling, Ace decides, watching it spill over the creature as it stumbles to one of the pits, hissing out it’s final words before falling backwards into it, the city starting to crumble.
“Death is only the beginning,” Ace translates without being prompted, startling when something crashes beside them, the ruins collapsing. “We need to go.”
Ace isn’t sure if he’s happy that Sabo trips, the Book of the Living sailing into a pool, or if he is furious, but there’s not time to worry about it when they’re running for their lives. He doesn’t regret that Marco’s old friend gets stuck inside, but he’s never liked Spandam, the man had left Marco to face death too many times for Ace to like him.
“I,” Sabo gasps, collapsing onto the ground as the city collapses in on itself. “Can’t believe that we didn’t even escape with any of the treasure.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Marco mutters, looking far too pleased with himself when Ace laughs. “Thank you for saving my life.”
“Maybe I was trying to save the world,” Ace says loftily, letting Marco draw him closer. “After all, I live here too. Your life was just a bit of extra victory.”
“Well, I suppose that I could still grant a reward for that,” Marco leans in slowly, like he expects Ace to pull away. Ace doesn’t let that stand, kissing him first and ignoring the groan from Sabo as he talks to the camel. “I was going to see if you wanted dinner first.”
Ace laughs, dropping his head against Marco’s shoulder, “Dinner sounds nice.”