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Nine Minutes

Chapter Text

His body was beaten and bloodied. He had lost so much blood that it was a miracle he was still moving, and Luffy could feel the poison creeping through his body. Even rubber bones could still break, and the beating he had received in the last hour would be enough to kill most men, several times over.

Still, Luffy never stopped. There was no rational thought involved, just primal instinct. He knew that if he paused or hesitated, then he would collapse.

At this point in the fight, Luffy was being powered more by pure determination and rage rather than flesh or bone.

With a wordless scream of fury, he slammed his fist straight into Crocodile's chest with a sickening crunch. In the previous battles, the Warlord had fought with an air of arrogance, as if there was nothing that Luffy could do to hurt him. That was gone now. Both fighters were injured and sluggish, and it had turned into a pure tooth and nail fight till the bitter end.

Crocodile's teeth clench as he felt the impact rupture something. It had been years since anyone had pushed him so far. Still, he didn't give an inch. For all Crocodile relied on his Logia abilities, he could still slug it out with the best of them.

But Luffy wasn't done. Before Crocodile could react, the pirate was pulling his leg back and smashing his foot into Crocodile's jaw with concussive impact. Luffy followed through the attack relentlessly, stretching out his arm like a whip and slamming the Warlord's face straight through the solid stone of the temple tomb.

Crocodile was coughing blood heavily now, but he recovered like a monster. After years of breezing through weaklings, he was finally in for the fight of his life. Luffy was panting heavily but still going strong, and despite everything Crocodile started to feel begrudging respect for the young pirate.

But I will still kill you, Crocodile vowed silently, releasing the spring-loaded blade from his prosthetic hook.

He was up on his feet in seconds, thrusting the blade straight at Luffy. The young pirate barely dodged.

"I don't know where you came from!" Crocodile growled with unconcealed hatred. "But do you have any idea who I am? You are an insect to me!"

Luffy took every blow and dished them out with payback. Between the adrenaline and the numbness of the poison, he couldn't even feel pain anymore.

"I WILL EXCEED YOU!" Luffy roared with fury, before slamming his foot upwards at breakneck speed. The impact hit Crocodile straight in the chest and took him off his feet, sending him flying upwards.

Around him, the temple was collapsing, but Crocodile didn't care. This time, he would watch Luffy die. "Disappear with this building!" Crocodile snarled, before creating a miniature sandstorm in the palm of his hand.

The sandstorm expanded in a second. Suddenly, raging sands were flying through the air, disintegrating everything in to dust. Solid stone withered into sand in seconds.

The erosion nearly flayed Luffy's skin off his body, but he forced himself forward. More pillars were collapsing and the roof was following down faster, but he didn't care. He was seconds away from being buried alive, but there was no room for hesitation. The poison was pumping through his body, but he had to push on.

With an unhuman gasp of air, his body suddenly expanded into a balloon, and his flexible muscles twisted himself around into a corkscrew. He used the force to lift himself off his feet, and suddenly he was rocketing up into the air, ready to finish this battle once and for all.

Towards the side, narrowly avoiding the falling debris, Nefertari Cobra could only watch in amazement as the two superhuman pirates batted it out. His kingdom had collapsed, his subjects were killing each other, and his daughter might well be dead, but he still could only watch with awe as Luffy refused to give any ground.

On the other side of the temple, Nico Robin was having an equally bad day. The true history, one which she had spent years searching for, was being lost underneath a mountain of rubble. She had lost the Warlord's protection, and it wouldn't be long before the World Government renewed their interest in her. She was back to being one of the most hunted people alive.

Still, she was also staring at Luffy with an amazement she hadn't felt in years. Suddenly, Nico Robin was eight years old again, watching a huge giant laugh even as he fought to his death…

The final exchange only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Both Crocodile and Luffy were colliding in mid-air. There was no running, no avoiding this attack. One final blow, both parties promised themselves; I'll end this in one last blow.

Luffy pulled back his arm, stretching it as tight as a rubber band as he prepared to unleash everything he had left. Crocodile gathered the sand across his body, releasing a wave of four razor-sharp blades of sand with deadly accuracy. The blades cut across the air, and Luffy knew that this was the end.

There was no way to avoid it. Luffy gathered up all the might he had left; he was powering through.

Time seemed to slow down. Luffy could feel everything; from the blades of sand eroding his skin to the burning anger in his soul. His muscles were as tight steel wire, ready to spring.

Still, just as he was about to unleash, Luffy made the greatest mistake of his life. Suddenly, the image of his friends popped into his head, and he couldn't help but wonder if they were still safe. For half a millisecond, Luffy hesitated.

That was all it took. Razor blades of sand, as sharp as steel, hit his body straight on; biting deeper into his flesh than anything ever had. He barely had time to glimpse the smirk on Crocodile's face, before suddenly the man was dropping down on to him viciously.

"I win," Crocodile snarled, pulling back his prosthetic hand and slamming the metal blade straight into Luffy's chest.

He expected the knife to feel cold or sharp, but it didn't. All Luffy felt was a dull impact as the blade cut through his ribcage.

He barely even felt himself hit the ground. His vision was already blurring and his body felt cold. So much blood was pouring out of his chest; much more than any man could afford to lose. Crocodile landed straight on top of Luffy, twisting the blade and pulling it out to leave a huge gash over Luffy's heart.

The life was fading out him quickly, and strangely Luffy felt like he was floating. All of the anger and fury that had kept him going simply evaporated, and left him with nothing but pure despair. The last thing he remembered was the faces of his friends flitting across his vision, before one final thought pulled him into darkness:

I lost.

Crocodile was panting heavily as he stood over the body of his dying foe. His muscles were screaming with pain, but at the same time he felt an elation that he hadn't felt in years; the joy of vanquishing a worthy foe.

Somewhere, deep in his bones, he knew how close he had actually come to defeat.

"It was a pleasure, Straw Hat." Crocodile murmured wearily, pulling himself to his feet. For once, there was no sign of arrogance or condescension in his voice. The young pirate had earned that much. He paused only to pick up Luffy's straw hat, holding it tightly.

Around him, the temple was creaking dangerously. It was a wonder that it had lasted so long. Too many pillars had been destroyed; the roof was about to collapse in a mountain of rubble.

Crocodile chuckled as he looked at Nefertari Cobra, who was watching him with pure shock.

"Your majesty," Crocodile said sarcastically, already walking away, carrying the straw hat with him. "I think my business here is done."

Crocodile smiled as he glanced around the collapsing ruins of the temple. "You know, I honestly can't think of a better death for you," he muttered. "The last king of Alabasta, buried alive in the ruins of the Tomb of the Kings; it does have a certain elegance to it, don't you think?"

Cobra didn't respond. He was feeling totally hollow; all of his emotions had been muted by a sinking certainty that everything he held precious was doomed.

"Now, if you excuse me…" Crocodile mocked, before disappearing in a whirl of sand. "I'm going to destroy what's left of your kingdom."

Up above, in the capital of Alubarna, the civil war was raging strong. Between the loyalists and the rebels, there were millions of men killing each other in plaza in front of the Alabasta Royal Palace.

There was too much anger and resentment for the battle to stop. Not even the growing sandstorm could stop the battle. Nefertari Vivi had the worst seat in the house for the conflict; she was left standing on the clock tower, screaming hopelessly for the fighters to stop.

"Please…" She begged, the tears streaming down her face. "Just stop the fighting…"

Never had she felt so helpless. Her friends had fought and bled to save lives. Her childhood guardians had sacrificed everything to save the country. But despite everything, she was left standing on the clock tower, watching the country that she held most dear destroy itself.

"Very touching, your Highness," a sarcastic voice drawled from behind her. It was a voice that sent shivers through her spine.

At once she turned around, her Peacock Slashers in hand. She barely had time to react before suddenly as a strong hand gripped her by the neck and held her over the ledge.

"You…!" She could barely speak though the grip on her throat, but she still managed to spit out as much hatred as she could.

"Who else?" Crocodile smirked, tightening his grip. "I'm actually really impressed. You managed to stop my bomb. Commendable, Miss Wednesday."

Vivi struggled feebly, but Crocodile was too strong. His face was covered in blood, but the arrogant smile was back. Vivi was left kicking in mid-air, suspended over a fifty foot drop.

Crocodile's grin widened. "Commendable," he praised. "But ultimately futile."

Without warning, he let go, and Vivi felt herself dropping. She only just heard Nami screaming out in shock from below, and suddenly strong hands caught her in mid-air and she landed on the ground with a dull thud.

Sanji was looking down at her with open concern, but Vivi was shaking with terror, looking upwards at the clock tower. Sanji put her down gently, and as one the Straw Hat Pirates turned to face their opponent.

"Oh no…" She heard Nami exclaim with dread. Around her, Zoro had unsheathed his swords and Sanji was preparing for a fight, but there was a flicker of uncertainty in both of their eyes. Anybody who didn't know them better, might even think they were scared.

With a whirl of sand, Sir Crocodile materialised at the base of the clock tower. He was glaring at the pirates with open disdain.

"So you managed to defeat my subordinates," he said foully. "What a bunch of pathetic miscreants. They never even managed to fulfil a simple order…"

The seven pirates were all nervous. Usopp looked like he was about to faint. Chopper was trembling so much his hooves clattered across the cobbled stones. Nami wanted to run, but refused to leave Vivi's side.

Crocodile's gaze darkened. "I suppose if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself."

Around him, a sandstorm was brewing with renewed intensity. There was a fury in his eyes as he looked down on the pirates. The sand was churning so fast that they all had to cover their eyes.

"It doesn't matter if you stop the bomb. It doesn't matter if you defeat every other member of Baroque Works!" Crocodile growled. "I'll bury this whole goddamn city in sand!"

The sandstorm was growing so strong it started to drown out every other noise. Even the echo of the war couldn't compare.

"Get ready!" Zoro screamed, but they were all injured. He wasn't sure how much fight they had left in them. Hell, even if they were at their peak, he wasn't sure if they could take down the Warlord.

"Luffy will be here, right?" Chopper was screaming frantically, his high-pitched voice even more so. "There's no way that Luffy would let him get away!"

The chuckling was the most sinister thing that any of them had ever heard. Crocodile was laughing with genuine, evil, pleasure.

Wordlessly, with a smug smile on his face, Crocodile held up a dirty straw hat that they all recognised.

Vivi felt her heart stop. Nami collapsed to her knees. Usopp was left speechless. Even Roronoa Zoro, normally so composed, looked like he had just seen a ghost.

They all knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that there was no way that Luffy would ever allow someone to touch his hat.

Not while he was still alive.

"I doubt think your captain is coming." Crocodile replied with satisfaction. The looks on their faces made him feel so much better about today's events. It had been a close thing, but he had still come out on top.

And, just to pour salt in the wound, Crocodile took great pleasure in wrapping a miniature sandstorm around his hand, and proceeding to shred the straw hat in to pieces.

Tiny wisps of straw were engulfed by the sand.

In the Royal Tombs, the place was still collapsing. Huge chunks of granite threatened to crush them, but Nefertari Cobra didn't care.

For over a millennium, throughout the Void Century, the Nefertari Royal Family had protected the country. It was their duty, and their privilege. Now, under Cobra's rule, his country had fallen. He had lost everything.

Perhaps he should have treated to run, or escape the falling rubble, but he didn't. Instead, the king of Alabasta just sat quietly in the doomed temple, wallowing in his grief.

A few metres away from him, Nico Robin slowly stood up and walked towards the unmoving body of Monkey D. Luffy. She was quiet for a moment, before suddenly arms sprouted out of the floor and pulled Luffy into the relative safety underneath a large piece of rubble.

Wordless, Robin started to work. She pulled Luffy on to his side, and tried to bandage up the huge gash across his chest. She injected an anti-toxin into his body. More hands sprouted out from the surroundings, keeping pressure on his wounds while she tried to keep what little blood he had left in his body.

Cobra watched her silently for a while. Neither of them seemed to care about the collapsing ceiling.

"He's dead," Cobra said finally.

Robin nodded. "I know."

His heart wasn't beating. Still, she moved Luffy out of the recovery position, and started to perform CPR.

The minutes dragged on uneasily. Huge lumps of rubble continued to collapse, but the ruins of the Royal Tombs were holding up better than anyone had expected.

Robin didn't even pause. She didn't cry or show any emotion whatsoever; she just kept on trying to push life back into the pirate's body. Even as the minutes dragged on, she didn't relent. A dozen hands sprouted from the ground, trying desperately to tend to the many wounds.

Eventually, Cobra could watch no more. It was painful seeing the woman trying to bring the pirate back to life with quiet desperation.

"Why do you care so much? What the hell is that boy to you?" The king demanded harshly. "Why does his death affect you in the slightest?"

"I don't know," Robin admitted, without hesitation. Her voice was quiet, but there was uncertainty in it. "I just don't think I could survive watching another person I admire die."

Cobra was silent for half a moment. Then, without comment, he stood up and staggered over to Luffy's side, and helped the woman perform CPR. Together, the king and the outlaw worked to bring the pirate back to live.

Cobra took over the defibrillation, while Robin tried to get his lungs working again. With a deep breath, she tried to breathe life back into his body.

As their lips met, it was like a spark of electricity.

Meanwhile… somewhere else…

Luffy felt himself floating. That was the best way to describe it. There was no light or sound, but that didn't matter because he didn't have eyes or ears. There was a complete lack of attachment as his consciousness simply drifted away. He had no idea where he was going; he had no idea where he had come from.

Luffy had never been one to think about death. He had never been bothered by it. Suddenly, he wished he had gave it more consideration.

Struggling seemed pointless. There was nothing to struggle again. It was like trying to swim against a current when you didn't have arms or legs.

A timeless moment later, Luffy felt himself reach some sort of boundary. It was a like a waterfall pouring down into a void. He didn't know where it led, but he suspected that he wouldn't be coming back.

All he could think about was his friends, and his family. Everyone he cared about, and everyone he had failed.

I'm so sorry, he thought with regret.

Suddenly, he felt his consciousness stop moving. His spirit lurched, as if something had grabbed a hold of him.

Although he would never tell anybody about the experience, Luffy was convinced that he heard voices whispering in the background, like a prickling in the back of his mind.

"…not right…"

"… what am I supposed to do about …"

"…whatever… shouldn't be happening…"

"…take it up with…"

"…there will be consequences…"

"….it can't happen like this…"

Somewhere, some cosmic entities were arguing about him. Suddenly, Luffy felt himself accelerating backwards. A bright light came into view.

"… can't happen now… he's not smiling yet…"

Chapter Text

The sandstorm raged like something out of a horror movie. This wasn't a natural storm, but the work of a devil. Within minutes, the city of Alubarna was surrounded by a sandy apocalypse.

"It would have been so much easier if that bomb had went off…" Crocodile growled to himself. Veins were throbbing on his head, and the effort of maintaining such a large sandstorm was getting to him. He had spent months constructing a bomb large enough to demolish the entire city, but in the end it was useless.

He would just have to take destroy the city himself.

The sandstorm was focused around the plaza, where the battle still raged strong. The sandstorm forced all of the soldiers into the centre, where the causalities were quickly mounting. The storm cut off any retreat, and the two sides were left to kill each other. They were like rats trapped in a cage; nothing left to do but fight. Any survivors would be slaughtered by the sand. The death toll would be in the seven digits.

Alabasta was suffering its worst disaster in history.

Crocodile's injuries were hurting, and the strain of overexerting his powers was building, but he pushed on. That straw hat had made him work for it, but his victory was nearly in sight. After the disaster of Alubarna, it would be a tragedy that would reverberate through the country. The country would be left financially and economically destitute, without a military and a complete lack of government.

After that, it would be child's play to pick up the pieces. Crocodile would move the entire capital to Rainbase, and he would bring in mercenaries to replace the army. Baroque Works would step in to keep order in the country, and the citizens would welcome Crocodile with open arms. He would be a wealthy benefactor, supplying aid when the country needed it the most.

And, eventually, he would become king. Once Crocodile was in complete control, then he could unearth the ancient weapon, declare independence from the World Government, and after that it was just the beginning.

But, first, there were just a couple of million people that he needed to kill.

"That bastard…!" Zoro grunted through the pain. The sand was swirling so fast that he could barely even see. Not even the combined effort of the Straw Hat crew could get close to Crocodile. They were all badly injured, and this was turning into a fight that they couldn't win.

"He's lying, right?" Usopp insisted, the tears rolling down his eyes. He was looking between each of them desperately. "Luffy's not dead, right. Luffy can't die."

The effect of seeing that straw hat destroyed was the emotional equivalent of sledgehammer. Nami had collapsed into a heap. Chopper and Usopp were clinging onto each other, both looking for some sort of reassurance. Even Zoro couldn't even stop his hands from shaking.

As much as he tried, Zoro couldn't focus on the battle. He just kept on replaying that moment in front of his eyes…

That hat was his treasure… Luffy would never allow it…

Enough! Zoro screamed to himself. He had to focus. This just might be the final fight of his life.

"We need to attack together!" Sanji called beside him, shouting to be heard over the roar of the storm. He was one of the few still capable of fighting. There were no insults or bickering between Zoro and Sanji. Not now.

"You go left! I'll go right!" Zoro roared back, and together they launched themselves at Crocodile.

"He's lying, isn't he?!" Usopp screamed. He'd been repeating that for the last five minutes. "Luffy is not… he can't be…"

Pull it together! Zoro screamed internally, but he just couldn't say it out loud. His voice was blocked.

Quick as flash, Zoro darted forward through the sand. He barely glimpsed Sanji attacking from the other direction. The figure of Crocodile zoomed in to view, and Zoro's swords blurred.

"Aren't you dead already?" A bored voice came from behind him. Faster than Zoro could react, the Warlord had already materialised behind him.

A blade of sand hit Zoro straight on. He could feel the sand grinding up his skin. Suddenly, every wound Zoro had burst open. It felt like his body was being shredded.

There was nothing he could. The impact took him off his feet and flung him away.

"ZORO!" Sanji called next to him. Zoro, he noticed vaguely, not Marimo

Sanji lasted a few seconds longer before Crocodile swept him off his feet. The chef was sent crashing into a nearby building.

"I'll give you credit; you are all persistent," Crocodile noted, almost absentmindedly. "Almost as persistent as your captain was."

"DON'T YOU DARE!" Usopp screamed suddenly, drawing his slingshot. Usopp had been more badly wounded than any of them, but he was still charging towards Crocodile fearlessly. "STOP LYING! LUFFY IS NOT DEAD!"

Explosive stars rained from Usopp's slingshot. They didn't have any effect on Crocodile, who shrugged them off before crushing the sniper beneath an avalanche of sand.

Nami desperately tried to wield her Clima-Tact, but Crocodile's sandstorm made it impossible. There was no moisture in the air to use. Within a second, Nami was sinking into quicksand beneath her.

Chopper fared no better. The sand took him down with a wave of Crocodile's hand.

Vivi stood there, completely still. Her eyes had a hollow look to them. Her body was shivering. She had been literally frozen through grief and fear.

Get up! Zoro screamed at himself. His arms weren't responding like they normally did. He could hear his own heartbeat, and it sounded weak. Every breath he took felt like agony.

Still, through pure force of will, Zoro's staggered to his feet. His body was so weak he could barely lift up his swords.

Through blurry eyes, Zoro could see Sanji standing up as well. Sanji was rocking like a pendulum as he stumbled forward.

Crocodile was looking at them all with vague amusement. Admittedly, Crocodile was far from his peak as well, but compared with the rest of them he was still the strongest one left.

"It must be a medical condition," Crocodile decided finally. "A complete lack of self-preservation and common sense. Apparently, this condition is terminal."

Usopp was picking himself up, barely. He was coughing more blood than he had ever done. Chopper had to pull Nami out of the sand, but they were both struggling for breath. Crocodile could have killed them all with ease, but he had never been one for a quick finish.

Crocodile looked between them all curiously. "I have a proposition for you." He declared loudly. "It seems like I'm in need of better subordinates. And since your crew is lacking a captain, perhaps an arrangement could be made."

Crocodile was standing right in front of Zoro now. The swordsman longed to cut him in half, but it was taking everything he had just to stay conscious.

"I can be lenient," Crocodile said after a moment. "I will allow you and your friends to live. I will even forgive your past transgressions, as you were clearly suffering from poor leadership. In return for my generosity, you will work for me. You are all capable; you would be well rewarded for your loyalty."

Zoro tried to speak, but apparently his voice wasn't working either. The best he could do was gargle incomprehensibly.

Crocodile looked at him impatiently, before grabbing the swordsman by the throat and lifting him up with one hand. "Well? Speak up!"

Barely, Zoro managed to spit out the words. "…Go…" he gasped. "…FuckYour–."

Crocodile only smiled. "Yes," he nodded. "It's definitely a terminal medical condition."

With a fluid motion, Crocodile's bladed prosthetic hook suddenly lunged itself into Zoro's stomach. He couldn't feel the pain; it just felt like dull blow to the chest. Crocodile released his grip, and Zoro dropped on to the ground like a ragdoll.

Zoro couldn't even move as the sand surrounded him, dragging his limp body underground. Around, everyone else was suffering similar fates. The ground had turned into a vortex of quicksand, pulling the pirates down.

Within seconds, the sand was covering Zoro's head. It was filling up his mouth, choking him as he tried to breath. Images of his crew flashed before his flickering vision, and the last image that he remembered was one of Kuina, smirking as she defeated him once again.

I'm so sorry…

Vivi tried to run. She tried to scream. Even as she watched her friends be defeated, one by one, she tried desperately to do something.

But it was no good. Her body simply wasn't responding to her anymore. It wasn't working properly. Nothing was working properly.

The image of Luffy flashed before her eyes. "All I need to do is send Crocodile flying, right?" Luffy had asked, completely carefree at the time. Suddenly, now that the pirate was gone, it felt like a piece of Vivi had vanished. This is obviously a dream, Vivi thought almost absentmindedly; or a nightmare. It was utterly inconceivable that Luffy would ever leave her…

In front of her, Crocodile was strolling over to the princess. Vivi didn't even have the energy left to hate him. Grief had left her completely hollow.

"Miss Wednesday," Crocodile greeted the princess sarcastically. He inspected her critically. She didn't even flinch. "I was planning on killing you, but perhaps there are better options. After this is over, a former princess may be useful. I can always sell you, if nothing else."

With that, Crocodile simply started to stroll away.

"Please don't go far. I will find you once this is over," he promised.

Instantly, Crocodile dematerialised into sand. Vivi was left staring helplessly at the destruction of her hometown, and the death of her friends.

Without warning, Vivi collapsed into a pile on the ground. She had failed everything. She didn't even struggle as the sandstorm overwhelmed her.

Buildings were collapsing under the force of the sand. Piece by piece, the entire city was eroding away.

Somewhere, in the chaos, Igaram arrived with an injured boy, desperate to reveal the truth about the rebellion and reach the princess. Still, the sandstorm blocked his path and drowned out his cries for help. Nobody was capable of stopping the war now.

The rebel leader, Kohza, flickered on the edge of consciousness. However, in the frenzied fighting the makeshift medical room had been devastated, and the sandstorm overturned and buried his stretcher. Kohza was left to slowly bleed to death on the ground.

The head guard, Chaka also tried to move. His wounds were less serious, but they still caused him to stagger across the ground. Even as he shrieked for order from on top of the palace defences, nobody was capable of hearing him.

Tashigi and the Marines did what they could. Her forces had been devastated by Nico Robin and Crocodile, but they tried to maintain some order. It was a wasted effort; neither the rebels nor the loyalists knew which side the Marines were on, and so they ended up getting slaughtered by both parties.

The causalities were skyrocketing. Although the rebels had outnumbered the loyalists two to one, loyalist cannons and artillery had taken its toll. The entire battle had lost any semblance of order, and had degraded into a huge brawl in the middle of the city. Between the sand and the savagery, it was impossible to know who was fighting who. Visibly was zero. It was nothing but bloodshed.

Crocodile stood at the edge of the palace walls, smirking as he watched the bodies drop. Sooner or later, they would all perish, fighting a meaningless war. The weaklings would die like the insects they were, and on top of their corpses Crocodile would achieve his ambitions.

The Warlord rolled a cigar with satisfaction, savouring the taste. It had been a long, hard journey, but in the end it was all worth it.

Meanwhile, back at the ruins of the Royal Tombs, a large piece of rubble shifted dangerously. The rock groaned as it was heaved upwards.

One by one, the debris was forced out of the way with brute strength. It was slow, uneasy, yet by pure determination the rocks were forced upwards.

And, like a zombie rising from the dead, a figure crawled out of the ground.

Each step was a goliath task. His heartbeat felt unsteady, threatening to collapse with every beat. His teeth ground together as he forced himself onwards.

The sound of heavy breathing was the first warning Crocodile received. Crocodile's eyebrow rose as he heard the sound; it was a hoarse breathing, so strained that it sounded more like an animalistic snarl.

Crocodile turned to see the person staggering towards him slowly. The pain in every step was obvious.

There were few things that had ever surprised Crocodile. He praised himself in being cool, calculating and infallible.

Still, this sight astonished him. It was the first time that Crocodile literally couldn't believe his eyes. He had to blink twice just to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. Crocodile could distinctly remember cutting out this man's heart, but nevertheless he was still walking towards him.

"You're dead!" Crocodile protested, hovering somewhere between astonishment and disbelief.

Monkey D. Luffy growled. His eyes glowed with an ice-cold fury that he had never felt before.

"No," he snarled. "That's my line."

Chapter Text

Crocodile stare at his foe with wide-eyed astonishment. "I watched you die," he said finally. "I cut your heart open. How are you still alive?"

Luffy just gritted his teeth and pushed himself forward. His limbs weren't responding the way they normally did. It took everything he had just for simple movements. His body was weak.

Slowly, the shock wore off and the astonishment turned into laughter as Crocodile saw Luffy struggling to walk properly.

"You are literally too stupid to die," Crocodile realised, still laughing with deep breaths while watching Luffy stagger towards him slowly.

Luffy didn't respond. He could barely even hear Crocodile's taunts. The sound of his straining heart trying to pump what little blood he had left was deafening. His arms started to tremor uncontrollably, and he was blinking heavily through bloodshot eyes.

"This is the third time you've come back to life after I thought you were dead," Crocodile muttered with bemusement. "Next time, do I have to burn the body and scatter the ashes just to make sure?"

Luffy gulped loudly. His throat felt so dry it felt like sandpaper. It was hard to even gather enough breath to speak. Finally, he managed to gasp. "…My… friends…" he snarled. "What did you do with them?!"

"Oh, those weaklings?" Crocodile said dismissively. "I killed them all."

The Warlord seemed to hesitate. "Well, I think I killed them all," he confessed. "Although I do admit that I've been wrong about that a lot recently."

There was no sudden reaction from Luffy, but his hands clenched into fist so tightly that he half-expected his knuckles to protrude from his skin. A long, animalistic snarl scraped from Luffy's throat.

"I will…" he gasped weakly. Between the pain and the adrenaline, he could barely see properly anymore. His muscles were twitching so quickly it felt like his bones were being pulverised. It was hard for him to even find the words. "… will…"

Crocodile laughter increased. "You'll do what exactly?" Crocodile mocked. "You can barely even stand up straight. You have no water, hell – you don't even have any blood left. You won't even be able to touch me. There is absolutely nothing you can do anymore."

Crocodile just glared at Luffy, but there was a hint of admiration in his eyes. "And honestly?" Crocodile continued. "I have absolutely no desire to fight you. To kill you in this state it would be, well… shameful."

Luffy didn't outwardly respond. His body was weak and broken, but his eyes shone with an intensity that he had never felt.

Luffy had thought he knew what anger was. He had felt angry when he fought Arlong. He felt angry whenever someone touched his hat. He felt angry whenever he watched someone kind get hurt. Anger was like a fire in his blood; it was an emotion that pushed him forward even when it hurt. Anger was what drove forward when something precious was at stake.

But he had never felt this before. This wasn't anger; this was pure, undiluted, ice-cold fury.

He could feel it in his bones. It suppressed any other feeling, as if his body was being frozen from the inside. For all he was in pain, his mind felt clearer than it had ever been. He was fuelled by a disturbingly rational focus, as sharp as a blade. This was more than just rage; this was hatred with so much clarity and passion behind it, that Luffy might have felt scared if even he could feel anything at all.

For the first time in his life, Luffy felt absolute murderous intent.

This time, he wasn't going to beat his opponent. He wasn't going to send him flying.

This time, he was just going kill him.

Luffy glared at Crocodile with eyes that were already picturing the Warlord's cold, dead body. "I will end you."

Zoro was balancing on the edge of the unknown when suddenly he felt the breath return to his lungs. It was the most glorious thing he had ever felt. All he could do was breathe in the deep, beautiful oxygen, spitting out the sand that filled his mouth.

His head was spinning and his body was limp as strong hands pulled him out of the ground. The sand avalanched around him, but he could feel himself being lifted upwards.

Everything was so unfocused that overwhelmed him. Images, sounds and sensations all just flashed around him. He was completely delirious from lack of oxygen, and his body had been beaten so badly that all his strength was gone.

Still, as Zoro gasped in the precious air, a strange sense of calm started to fall over him. Even as he was pulled out of the ground into a loud chaos, all he could feel was a weirdly serene peace.

And then he heard a voice, one which cut through everything else and rang crystal clear. It was a woman's voice. His eyes started to focus, and finally Zoro managed to focus a face.

It was Tashigi. She was dirty, bloody and bruised, but there was no sign of weakness as she kept on pulling Zoro out of the sand, while shouting loudly for medical aid. Suddenly, Zoro was seeing the lieutenant for the first time, and he instantly realised that he had never seen anything more beautiful.

For once, her resemblance to Kuina never even crossed his mind.

Around him, more of his senses started to work. The street had been buried under tonnes of sand, but the place was crawling with Marines as they worked to desperately pull the Straw Hat pirates out.

"He's lost a lot of blood! Stab wound to the stomach!" Tashigi shouted loudly; her officer voice was clear and sharp. "Get a doctor over here!"

Vaguely, Zoro glimpsed half a dozen marines trying to evacuate Sanji, while Chopper was unconscious and lying completely still. Vivi and even more marines were digging desperately for Usopp, and through the corner of his eye Zoro spotted Nami as well.

Another woman was there, standing in the middle of it all. She was tall, slender, pretty, wearing a white cowboy hat and high-heeled boots. It took a few seconds for Zoro to recognise her as Miss All Sunday. Hands were sprouting out of the ground around her, helping to rescue Usopp and Nami at the same time.

"These are pirates!" one of the marines was shouting angrily. The Marines all looked weary and injured. "We shouldn't be helping them!"

For half a second, Tashigi locked eyes with Miss All Sunday, and Zoro sensed some tension between them. Still, Tashigi turned away and ordered firmly. "Just do it; or I'll have you court-martialled for insubordination," she threatened. "Now bring the medic over here."

Zoro was completely unable to move and barely conscious as he felt his body being wrapped in bandages. His wounds were cleaned and cauterised, but he barely even winced as hot knife sealed his flesh.

Slowly, Zoro managed to make out the other pirates being rescued and given the medical attention that they so urgently required. Around them, the sandstorm was still raging strong.

Zoro's voice was hoarse as eventually croaked. "Crocodile… where is he?"

A flash of worry flickered past Tashigi's face, and she turned to look at Miss All Sunday. The older woman was calm, or at least much better at hiding her emotions.

"Crocodile is being dealt with," she said simply.

On the palace wall, Crocodile was laughing again. He was too full of himself to recognise the dangerous glint in Luffy's eyes.

"You really don't change, do you?" Crocodile grinned. "Eager for death right up until the end. I would have hoped that having your heart cut open would have taught you something, at least."

Luffy didn't respond; he was completely still, not even blinking. Crocodile crossed his arms, deliberating carefully.

"Alright," the Warlord decided finally. "I'm offering you an once-in-a-lifetime free pass. More than you deserve, at least. Turn around and walk away now, and I'll let you go safely. Get out of the city, seek medical attention, and never cross me again."

Luffy's breaths were shallow and quick. His body wasn't trembling anymore though, but suddenly his hand was completely steady. It was the same steadiness of a dying man, perhaps.

When Luffy didn't move, Crocodile frowned and continued. "Did you hear me, straw hat?" Crocodile growled. "I don't offer mercy very often, so take it and be grateful. It's over; I've won, move on."

There was another moment's silence. Nobody moved. Crocodile sighed.

"I really don't want to kill you," he admitted finally. "You fought too well to die like this. If nothing else, I've come to respect your determination. You faced insurmountable odds, but you never backed down. It's been years since I've faced a foe like you, and I have no desire to ruin the experience."

Luffy didn't even twitch. His body was too injured. Crocodile might not be at his peak either, but Luffy was struggling just to stay alive. Luffy knew that he would never survive in a fair fight.

That's why this fight wasn't going to be fair.

Crocodile smiled softly. "No," he muttered. "You would never walk away, would you? I should never have expected anything different."

He adjusted the blade on his prosthetic hand absentmindedly. "I'm going to kill you now," Crocodile said finally. "I'm going to cut off your head, and I'm going to watch you die. I know that you will struggle to the very last breath, so I'm going to make it quick."

Crocodile started to walk towards Luffy, already starting to generate a miniature sandstorm in the palm of his hand. "It's a pity you're such a fool," Crocodile muttered regretfully.

Finally, Luffy spoke up, his voice quiet and dangerous.

"At least I know what colour sand is," he said slowly.

Suddenly, the Warlord paused. He hadn't expected that. "What?" Crocodile exclaimed, wondering briefly if Luffy had gone mad.

Luffy raised his head to meet Crocodile's gaze. "What colour is sand?"

Crocodile smirked. The boy had definitely gone mad. "Yellow, of course."

"Then why has the sandstorm turned green?"

That got the Warlord's attention. Suddenly, Crocodile was looking around him in surprise, but it was true. The swirling storm that covered the city was tainted with green streaks swishing through the air. Quickly, the green started to increase, until eventually the air around them was covered green. With a sinking dread, Crocodile realised that he recognised the colour.

"What did you do?!" Crocodile shouted with increasing panic.

"I didn't," Luffy said coldly. "You did."

The green was rising higher and higher into the sky, supported by the sandstorm. Crocodile knew that he needed to stop this sandstorm right now, but it was too late. Not even his powers could stop it now.

"You smuggled dance powder into Alubarna to frame the king," Luffy continued emotionlessly. It was amazing the clarity that death could give you. Once Luffy had regained his consciousness, suddenly he started to think and remember things that he never could before. "But the king refused to use it. That means there's a large amount of dance powder hidden in the palace somewhere, and you destroyed the palace."

Luffy's eyes were murderous. "All I had to do was keep you busy long enough; then your sandstorm would eventually sweep up the dance powder with it and spread it into the atmosphere."

The Warlord was momentarily speechless. He knew what that meant. Dance powder was lighter than sand; it rose upwards faster. It was finer than sand, and there was enough of it to dye the storm green. As soon as that much dance powder hit the upper atmosphere, there was only one thing that could possibly happen…

Within seconds, the sky started to cloud over as the green powder accelerated the formation of the water clouds. It wasn't long before the first rain drop hit the ground, followed quickly by the second.

Two seconds later, and suddenly the sky had burst open and unleashed a torrent of rain onto the city. It was a flash rainfall of biblical proportions, as rain drops the size of boulders came crashing down from the sky.

The sand never stood a chance. The rain overpowered the sandstorm, leaving Crocodile watching in shock as his whole plan literally washed away.

Luffy just glared him. There was no doubt or hesitation. The young pirate was like a completely different person.

With everything he had left, Luffy moved in a flash. There was instantly a knife in his hand. Crocodile had been expecting some heavily broadcasted and furious assault, but this was so quick and quiet it caught the Warlord completely by surprise.

Crocodile tried to use his powers reflexively, but there was no way his Logia abilities could work with so much water in the air. Within a second, Luffy was plunging the blade deep into Crocodile's chest.

Nico Robin had quite kindly donated the knife.

The rain covered everything. Luffy was drenched to the bone in seconds, but he didn't care. His blade was suddenly embedded into Crocodile's sternum, and he could feel the sickening crunch as the metal scraped against bone.

Crocodile gasped in shock. Blood was rushing out of him, leaving red puddles on the stone. Luffy's grip was completely steady, even as he kept on pushing the blade through Crocodile's body. He tore through muscle and bone without hesitation.

As Crocodile's breathing became deathly shallow, Luffy's voice was cold.

"For what you've done; there is no forgiveness. No mercy," Luffy whispered quietly.

The Warlord's body stopped struggling, and limply fell to the ground. Luffy watched him drop, wondering briefly wondering whether he should feel anything, but he didn't.

"Nobody hurts my friends," Luffy said softly, dropping the knife on the ground. The determination and murderous intent slowly leaked out of him, leaving him feeling hollow and weak.

Luffy gently lay down on the walls, watching the rain sweep across Alubarna. There was still fighting in the main plaza, but it was slowly dying down. All the anger and hatred was being washed away, leaving nothing but the confused and the dead. All the soldiers, loyalist and rebels, were gradually beginning to wonder who and why they were fighting as the sand was cleared away.

After he had climbed out of the Tombs, Luffy had asked King Cobra to break open the storage and spread the dance powder onto the ground, while Robin had went to try and save his friends. There was a knot in Luffy's stomach that refused to ease when he thought about his crew.

The minutes past slowly, but the rain showed no signs of letting up. A lot of dance powder had been released. The desert kingdom of Alabasta might actually have its very first flash flood, but Luffy didn't care. Some things deserve to be washed away…

Almost absentmindedly, Luffy reached up to feel the gruesome wound across his chest. Robin had done what she could, but it would still leave a nasty scar. The rain was so heavy that the bandages were soaked through, and slowly Luffy felt himself losing consciousness again.

The boy gently dropped to the ground, watching the rain come pouring down. The last thing he saw was the still corpse of Crocodile, as the rain cleaned away the blood. The rain washed it all away

It took the rest of the day for the fighting to finally end. The majority of the battle ended with the rain, but there were localised conflicts throughout the city until nightfall. It only really ended once everyone was too tired to continue.

The dead filled the streets. Many had died in the sandstorm, even more had died from the battle itself.

The Marines played a large part in bringing it under control. Tashigi set up medical stations for the wounded, and treat anybody, despite the side, that was still fighting as hostile. The straw hat pirates were treated by the Marines for most of the day, until what remained of the Palace Guard evacuated them to the palace to avoid any arrests.

The head guard Chaka found Luffy and the body of Crocodile by scent after the rain had cleared, and quickly took the young pirate back to the palace for urgent medical treatment. After inspecting his wounds, the palace medic, Ho, couldn't believe that the pirate was still alive.

By midnight, King Cobra was back on his throne, but his control was dubious at best. He met with the remaining leaders of the rebellion and explained the true nature of the rebellion and the influence of Crocodile and Baroque Works on the country. Igaram was there, with his witness, to collaborate the story. The rebel leaders had their taste of bloodshed and accepted the application.

Still, without the testimony of Kohza, then the whole explanation felt to many like a cover-up by the Royal Family. This led to the conspiracy theory that in fact Sir Crocodile had been murdered and used as scapegoat to explain away the failings of the king. Kohza himself was currently unconscious from severe blood loss, and there was no sign of him waking up.

It also wasn't lost on many that Cobra had been forced to use dance powder, the very substance that started the rebellion, in order to stop it. Even if the rebellion was officially over, it seemed clear that the king's rule would be challenged for a very long time.

There was no celebrating the end of the battle. Far too many had died.

Princess Vivi, once she had heard about Luffy's condition, had run to the palace and waited outside the medical room for hours. Nobody was sure whether Luffy would still make it sure, and the medic Ho had expressed doubt whether he would be able to stitch up a wound that severe.

Finally, a grim and tired Ho exited the chamber, his gloves still stained with blood.

"I have never seen such life force in a patient before," the doctor admitted, straightening his circular glasses with bloodied hands. "I was doubtful that he could survive, but the young man seems to refuse to die."

At once, a huge ball of tension was released from Vivi's shoulders. She practically collapsed from relief. "He'll be ok then?" Vivi asked insistently.

Ho nodded. "As far as I can tell, yes. I have stitched up his chest wound, performed several blood transfusions, and treated his other injuries. Right now, he just needs rest and recuperation."

"Can I see him?" Vivi begged. "I really need to see him?"

The doctor hesitated. "He will be unconscious for some time, princess. I don't want to disturb his recovery."

"Please?" Vivi pressed. She had been incredibly worried about Luffy, and the nightmares in the back of her head had been driving her insane. All Vivi wanted was just to see him again. "I promise I won't disturb him, I just…"

Her voice trailed off. The old man nodded kind-heartedly. "As you wish, princess. Please follow me."

As he opened the door, Ho suddenly looked uncertain. "There is one other thing you should know," he said hesitantly. "I understand that gentleman in question ate a Devil fruit?"

Vivi nodded with confusion. "Yes; the Gum Gum Fruit. He was a Rubber-man."

Ho cleared his throat. "The dynamics of Devil fruits are not particularly well understood," Ho confessed. "But it is known that once the user dies, the Devil fruit power leaves the body and is reincarnated into a fruit elsewhere."

The doctor continued uncertainly. "Now, it is possible (very rare, mind you!) for a person to reach such a state of near-death that the power actually leaves the body, and in such a case the power will not return when the user recovers."

The princess gasped. "You mean…?"

He nodded grimly. "Yes – the power of the Gum Gum Fruit is already gone," he explained. "Monkey D. Luffy is no longer a Rubber-man."

Chapter Text

Luffy felt his eyes twitch as, very gradually, he returned to consciousness. His body ached and his mind felt sluggish. It was hard to focus, and his thoughts were so blurred. Slowly, he tried to pull himself up, but all he could manage was to twitch his fingers.

"He moved!" A voice next to him called suddenly - a woman's voice. "I think he's waking up."

Suddenly, the sound of that voice made something click in his brain. Luffy's eyes shot open quickly. That was the sound of his friends.

Nami was standing over him, looking down with a mixture of happiness and concern. Beside her, Usopp and Chopper were draped over a chair, Zoro was reclining in another hospital bed, while Sanji was smoking by the door. All of them were instantly alert as soon as Luffy woke up.

"Luffy!" Nami shouted in alarm. "Thank God you're alr–"

She was cut-off as Luffy lurched forward, and wrapped Nami up in a hug so tight it squeezed the breath out of her. Nami was left speechless as Luffy hugged her, unwilling to let go.

The relief that poured through Luffy's body was overwhelming. My friends, he thought desperately; my friends are all alright

The next second, Usopp and Chopper had jumped on Luffy, joining in on the hug. Chopper had tears pouring from his eyes and was mumbling nonsensically. Usopp was crying just as heavily and wailing loudly. Luffy wrapped his arms around both of them and squeezed tightly.

They were all alive. The very thought felt like it rebalanced his Luffy's entire world. The fear of losing his friends pierced his entire soul right to the very core.

I came so close…

At one time, the concept of losing his crew was so utterly implausible that Luffy had never even gave it any consideration. There had been a lot of things he hadn't thought about…

Now, in the moment, all Luffy wanted to do was hug his friends one by one, and try and reassure himself that he would never lose them again. Perhaps if he squeezed them tightly enough, he would never have to let go.

"You're ok!" Usopp was sobbing loudly into Luffy's shoulder; the words were barely distinguishable between the heavy gasps of air. "He's ok! Everyone, it's ok! I knew you'd be alright!"

Standing in the doorway, Sanji took a heavy breath of his cigarette and chuckled at the sight. Zoro smirked with satisfaction. Nami felt the tension drop of her shoulders, and a sense of normality oozed over the group. She had been more worried than she had ever been, but the sight of her captain acting as normal and stupid as usual made her heart backflip.

Luffy, still hugging Usopp and Chopper tightly, was trying to clamber out of the hospital bed, wincing involuntarily as he moved. For Chopper, the doctor in him suddenly took charge.

"Luffy!" Chopper yelled in his high-pitched voice. "You can't move around, your stitches…!"

The captain didn't seem to hear him, and still kept on trying to pull himself up despite the reindeer's warnings. Usopp was acting the exact same fool he always, refusing to break the long hug.

Gradually, Nami felt a familiar temper rise over her. "Idiot!" she snapped loudly, before suddenly hitting Luffy across the head. "You're still injured!"

As soon as her fist hit Luffy, Nami instantly regretted it. She used to hit him much regularly and much harder, and each time the impact was just the same as hitting a rubber ball. Luffy would always act hurt and sore, but there was no real pain behind it.

This time was different. Nami felt her fist collide with a hard skull, and the punch created a dull thud. Nami's knuckles stung, and Luffy was knocked backwards in shock and pain.

"Ow!" He exclaimed loudly, his eyes widening. "That… hurt?"

At once, the atmosphere in the room became still. Luffy looked around with confusion.

"But… I'm a Rubber-man." There was a hint of a question in his voice.

At once, the atmosphere in the room died. Nami was looking down at him sympathetically. Experimentally, Luffy tried to pull his cheek. It didn't stretch. Gradually, realisation dawned.

The captain then moved his hand to head, looking around for his hat. He glanced around with panic, before Nami carefully put her hand on his shoulder. She had to force herself not to cry. Nami shook her head gently.

She had expected him to cry or explode with fury. Instead, his shoulders sagged and Luffy simply muttered. "Oh."

Somehow, that was even worse.

Nobody knew what to say. Even Usopp was left uncharacteristically speechless. Sanji stood by the doorway, smoking his cigarette coolly, but he couldn't look at Luffy. An awkward silence fell over the group.

There were footsteps as Vivi hesitantly arrived in the room. She was biting her lip with uncertainty, unable to make eye contact with Luffy.

"Luffy…" She stammered hesitantly. All Vivi could think about was how it was all her fault. Luffy had been seriously injured, he'd lost his Devil fruit abilities, and his hat was destroyed, and it was all because the princess had dragged him into her battle. "…I'm really sorr–"

She couldn't even finish her sentence as suddenly Luffy was charging out of his bed, completely ignoring the pain and his stitches. The pirate darted across the room, and instantly enveloping Vivi in a tight hug.

Vivi was left speechless, but there was absolutely nothing left to say.

Luffy's shoulders were trembling slightly, and it took them a moment to realise that he was forcing himself not to cry. Through blurry eyes, Luffy lifted his head up and exclaimed to the entire room, "I'm sorry, guys!"

Luffy could never blame anybody else, especially not his friends. It had been his mistake that nearly cost him everything, and his friends had been the ones that suffered.

"Idiot," Nami chided, but gently, while patting Luffy's shoulder. "It's not your fault. You beat Crocodile. You won, remember?"

Luffy smiled weakly, but didn't say anything. He might have beaten Crocodile, but it hadn't been a victory.

Princess Vivi had promised them all a big feast after it was over, but their injuries were so severe that it had to be delayed for a week while they recovered. It was just as well, because for the days after the battle, no one in the kingdom felt like celebrating.

Zoro's wounds were bad, particularly the stab wound to the stomach. Still, compared with Luffy's injuries, it was barely a flesh wound. It was a testament to Luffy's incredible stamina that he recovered so quickly.

By the time of the feast, Luffy was almost back to normal. Between Nami and Vivi, there was someone by his bedside constantly. The head maid, Terracotta, went all out for the feast and in the palace's great hall there was a huge table overflowing with meat.

As Luffy limped through the doors, his mouth dropped open with drool and his eyes glowed as if he had died and gone to heaven. The pirates were instantly greeted as guests of honour, and within seconds the party really began.

It was impossible for them to do anything quietly. Usopp munched down the food so fast, and halfway through the meal he stood up on the table and started to sing. Zoro skipped most of meal and went straight the drink, and it wasn't long before he was arguing with Sanji over proper table manners. Chopper devoured everything faster than anyone would believe, and then started dancing and pretending to be a walrus using a pair of chopsticks.

Vivi spent most of the meal laughing loudly, but she kept a careful eye on Luffy. To anyone else, he was loud and boisterous, but to those who knew him, he was much more restrained than usually. Luffy tended to laugh half a second too late, and his eyes would glance nervously every time someone left the room.

Luffy devoured the meat ravenously at first, but after only his third helping, he suddenly collapsed to the ground, clutching his stomach.

"Ah!" Chopper exclaimed loudly. "Is there a doctor anywhe– oh, wait…"

"My stomach!" Luffy shouted in shock, while being lifted back his chair by Chopper and Zoro. "It hurts! I'm… full?!"

That caused everyone to stop and stare. Their captain was usually a black hole for food, particularly meat. "Luffy's full?" Usopp yelled. "But that's impossible!"

"It's his Devil fruit," Nami realised slowly. "He's not a Rubber-man; his stomach can't stretch as much as it used to. He can't eat as much…"

That seemed to shock Luffy more than anything. "I can't eat!?" He screamed loudly. "But… But… How am I meant to have a party without meat?"

Zoro seemed to consider the question seriously. "Alcohol," Zoro said definitely, after a few seconds. "Lots and lots of alcohol."

For once, Sanji agreed without argument. At the king's command, Terracotta unloaded huge barrels of ale. Both Zoro and Nami took a barrel for themselves, and after a moment's hesitation, Luffy joined in. He had never had much of a taste for ale before, but now it seemed like he needed it.

The party started again with a vengeance. The guards all joined in, and it wasn't long before the empty barrels started to pile up. The ale seemed to dissolve all the tension, and the laughter and music flowed freely.

Vivi hesitated before she picked up a tankard. She had never really enjoyed drinking, but then she glanced at Luffy, felt the twisting feeling in her stomach, and decided that she should start.

Usopp was already dancing on the table, trying to balance a pile of plates on his nose. Zoro and Nami were starting a drinking competition that seemed likely to kill the majority of the contestants. Even king Cobra, who supposedly had some dignity, had given into the jovial party.

Luffy was laughing and drinking with the best of them, but Vivi thought she could glimpse a strange distance in his eyes. Even as he was laughing, he was staring almost wistfully around him, as if he was taking in everything that he had come so close to losing…

Hours later, everything was already dying down. There had been far too much ale involved for anybody to remain conscious for very long.

The Palace Guards had collapsed in a pile. Igaram and Chaka were both down for the count, and currently cuddling each other unknowingly in their sleep. King Cobra had retired to his chambers with what little dignity he had left, while Terracotta had took one glance at the mess and then went home for the night.

The majority of the Straw Hats were unconscious too. Chopper had proven himself a lightweight and snoozed off quickly. Sanji had fell unconscious in the arms of two beautiful girls – no one was quite sure where the girls had come from, but Sanji just seemed to mysteriously attract them. Even the heavy-drinker Zoro had blacked out, surrounded by a small pile of empty barrels.

Nami was one of the last few still capable of walking. It was a testimony to her unnatural resistance to alcohol that she was, more or less, still sober. The navigator stretched out like a cat, looking over the pile of sleeping bodies, and started wondering vaguely whether she should pull Zoro and Sanji next to each other so that it looked like they were cuddling. Admittedly, they would both probably murder each other when they woke, but it might just be worth it for the pictures.

She was still deliberating when Nami glanced movement outside of the hall. She quietly crept around the snoozing Usopp and headed towards the balcony. Outside, Luffy was sitting on the railings, unusually subdued, and staring quietly into space.

She was surprised he was still awake. Then again, Nami realised suddenly, Luffy hadn't been as hyper as he normally was

"Luffy?" She called out gently. The captain looked up in surprise. "Are you alright?"

Luffy smiled, somewhat glassy. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just…" His voice trailed off slightly.

Without his hat, he looked like a completely different person. It was the first time that Nami had seen Luffy so gloomy – it wasn't a natural look on him.

An awkward silence fell over the pair. Finally, Nami had to do something.

"I've got something for you." She admitted, pulling something out of her back pocket. "I was going to give it to you after the party. It's all I could find, but I thought you would want to have it…"

She held out a tattered pile of straw, barely enough for a handful. It had taken her hours to track down even this much of the old straw hat, but Nami had had plenty of time while Luffy was still recovering. Nami had vaguely hoped that she could find enough straw to repair the hat, but it was hardly anything.

Luffy stared at the pile of straw with faint surprise. Nami shifted uncomfortably. She knew how much that hat meant to him. "I know it's not much," she admitted. "And that hat was your treasure…"

He didn't respond. "I saw a hat seller in the marketplace," she continued uncomfortably. "So maybe we could… well, I just want to give you your treasure back…"

Luffy glanced at her, before speaking quietly. "I was wrong," he muttered. "The hat wasn't my treasure…"

A silence dropped over Nami, leaving her speechless. Luffy continued slowly. "When I… when I lost, I realised that I cared much more about my friends than about my hat," he admitted, stuttering slightly. "I was so angry when I thought that you were… I didn't even think about my hat."

Luffy took the handful of straw off her, but he didn't even glance at it. "It was my fault. I lost, and everyone nearly died because of it. That's when I realised that I love my friends more than a hat. I would shred that hat myself just to keep you safe. My crew, my friends, are my treasure. I won't let anything happen to any of you ever again."

Suddenly, Luffy hugged Nami again, this time very gently. Nami was instantly self-conscious, and she could feel her heart pounding in her chest. The hug lasted nearly half a minute, but neither of them wanted it to end.

When Luffy spoke again, there was steel in his voice. "I promise." He said with quiet determination, letting go of her. "I will get stronger. I will never let anyone hurt you ever again."

With that, he started to walk away slowly. Nami was left utterly speechless, trying to figure out what had just happened. Unconsciously, she started to blush faintly as Luffy walked away.

Nami stood there a long time, trying to figure out her own feelings for Luffy

Unbeknown to both of them, Vivi was quietly hiding behind a nearby column, listening intently.

It was well past midnight, and in fact closer to morning, by the time Luffy staggered back to his room. The rest of his crew were still sleeping in the great hall, but Luffy was in no mood to go to sleep.

No matter how much he tried to tell himself that the fight was over and that everything was normal, he just couldn't believe it. Crocodile had been his first taste of Grand Line level, and he had lost. As he was, he was strong enough to protect his friends, and that was unacceptable.

He had to get stronger.

Luffy knew that everything had changed. No matter how much he wanted to go back to the way things were, he just couldn't. Suddenly, he had gained a new perspective on everything, it was impossible to close his eyes again.

With vague dread, Luffy realised that he was now… different. It was an uncomfortable and unwelcome thought.

Just as the pirate pushed open the door to his room, he realised that there was someone already in there. Vivi was sitting on his bed, with a half-empty bottle of wine in her hand.

"Luffy!" The princess exclaimed loudly, before suddenly erupting into a fit of giggling.

"Vivi?" Luffy asked with confusion. "What are you doing here?"

She pulled herself up uncertainly. "Oh, you know…" Vivi started, and then she belched loudly, causing another fit of giggles.

Luffy was puzzled now. "Are you… drunk?" He asked finally. Vivi was normally so quiet and composed; he had never seen her like this before.

"Little bit," Vivi admitted happily, trying to take a step. She wobbled dangerously, and Luffy had to jump forward just to catch her.

The pirate captain was completely out of his depth now, and he never had a clue what to do. "…Ok…" Luffy hesitated, before remembering what Zoro did when he was drunk. "You take my bed – try to sleep it off."

Vivi shook her head vigorously. "No," she said firmly. "I have to be drunk."

Luffy frowned. "Why?"

"Because otherwise…" She paused. "…I would never be brave enough to do this."

Without warning, Vivi pressed her lips towards Luffy's. Luffy's mouth dropped open in shock, and then the princess' tongue was next to his.

Luffy's heart froze for so long he was slightly afraid he would die again. He didn't know what to do or how to react, but, for some reason, he really didn't want Vivi to stop.

She tasted like grapes.

It lasted about ten seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Slowly, Vivi pulled away from him, staring straight into his eyes. Her breathing was deep and slow. So was his.

Vivi started to blush wildly, and then she stepped backwards with fluster. Luffy tried to say something (he wasn't sure what), but his tongue wasn't working properly. As a matter of fact, nothing was working properly. Luffy stood completely still, as if he had just been hit by a bombshell. He was blinking a lot.

Without another word, Vivi quickly ran out the room, stumbling slightly as the door slammed behind her.

Luffy stood completely motionless for a very long time, feeling more confused than ever.

This is a mistake, Nico Robin thought to herself, for the hundredth time that morning.

The sun was just rising over the horizon, highlighting the desert in an orange glow. Robin had been forced to travel fast and hard, before the marines finally tried to capture her and before people came looking for revenge against the actions of Baroque Works.

The country was in turmoil. For every man who was rejoicing that the rebellion was over and the rains had come, there was another man who was furious that the king had murdered and framed "Sir" Crocodile for the crimes of Royal Family. Perhaps in time the full misdeeds of Crocodile would be revealed and accepted by all, but for now Crocodile was being portrayed as a martyr by the citizens that were still very unhappy with King Cobra.

Soon, the World Government would act. One of the Seven Warlords of the Sea had been murdered, and there would be consequences. Monkey D. Luffy and his crew were responsible, and they had just had a target the size of Mariejois painted onto their backs.

If Robin had any sense, she would get as far away from the pirates as soon as possible.

Still, she knew she couldn't do that. She had been repeating the words of Jaguar D. Saul to herself all day, and somehow she knew that she couldn't get away from this. This wasn't a problem she could run from, or even fight.

Monkey D. Luffy had gotten under her skin.

With a gentle sigh, Robin continued to walk towards the coast, and it wasn't long before she saw the outline of a small ship, anchored a small distance away from the ruins of Erumalu. Carefully, she pulled herself up on to the caravel, before she cracked her knuckles and got to work.

Dozens of hands sprouted out from the wood across the deck. The anchor was pulled up from the shore, and the sails were unfurled while the masts twisted around with the wind. Slowly, as the hull scraped against the sand, the ship pulled away from the shallow waters of the beach.

Nico Robin stood by the rudder, and nodded with satisfaction as the hands disappeared in a bloom of petals. As she tacked around and started sailing up the Sandora River, Robin realised that the Going Merry was actually quite a good little ship.

Casually, Robin started to explore her new ship. After a few minutes, she found a Transponder Snail, and placed it on the table as she poured herself a cup of tea.

After a dozen rings, the snail was answered.

"Who's this?" A weary voice snapped irritably. It was a man's voice, and he sounded hung-over.

"Good evening, Mr. Swordsman," Robin replied pleasantly. "My name is Nico Robin. You may know me better as 'Miss All Sunday', and I've just stolen your ship."

Chapter Text

With a gentle sigh, Vivi relaxed in the baths of the palace as the warm water eased her throbbing head. The baths were made from smooth marble and surrounded by exotic carvings and intricate statues, all the while the water flowed across every surface. Huge furnaces heated the water, filling the room with refreshing steam. It made Vivi feel more relaxed than she had in months.

Ever since the rain, there was more water than the kingdom could store. For the first time in three years, the luxurious palace baths were opened up again. After the party last night, both Vivi and Nami had went for an early morning bath to cure their raw hangovers.

Nami rested across from Vivi, leaning back and enjoying the sauna. Even in the privacy of the palace baths, surrounded by thick walls and guards, the princess was wrapped firmly up in a towel, soaking her feet in the shallow water. Nami had no such reservations and she sat completely naked, her legs crossed while she closed her eyes with relaxation.

"This feels so good," Nami sighed contently. "I wonder if there's a ship somewhere equipped with a sauna…"

Vivi smiled but didn't respond. Vivi never had any siblings, but the princess loved Nami like a sister. They had become best friends throughout her time with the pirates, and Vivi honestly never wanted anything to ever change between them.

Still, there was a knot in her stomach that no amount of relaxation could ease. For all the memories of last night were blurry, there were two things that Vivi could never forget. She could clear visualise the scene of Luffy and Nami standing close to each other outside the balcony, and she would never forget every single aspect as she put her lips Luffy's.

How will Luffy react when I see him today? Vivi thought to herself. How will I react?

It had been one of the most impulsive things Vivi had ever done. She had goose bumps just thinking about it. Her heart had been cartwheeling for hours afterwards. Every time she closed her eyes she was back in the room with Luffy, and the taste on her lips had never faded. It had been her first kiss, and it was nothing how she had expected.

How will Nami react when she finds out that we kissed?

Vivi had spent just as much time thinking about the scene she witnessed between Nami and Luffy. It felt intimate, and Vivi could feel the tension in the air. Maybe Luffy hadn't realised how intimate it had been, but Nami must have done.

Suddenly, Vivi was looking at Nami and wondering just what she felt for Luffy. The two of them had known each other much longer, and their history ran deeper. Vivi's and Nami's sisterly bond was tainted by jealously and suspicion. Vivi hated the idea that something might come between her relationship with Nami. She hated herself for thinking like that. But she just couldn't help it.

Nami must have noticed Vivi's expression. "Are you alright?" Nami asked gently, looking at Vivi with concern.

"I'm fine," Vivi replied, but her voice wavered. "It's just that… I…"

Her voice trailed off into nothing. Nami nodded with understanding. "I think I know," she said softly. She moved closer to Vivi. "…We're thinking of leaving here today. We're pirates; we can't stay in the palace for very long."

Vivi's eyes widened in surprise. "Today?" She choked. "So soon? But–"

"We don't have any reason to stay here anymore since Luffy has recovered," Nami explained. "And the Marines will be guarding the coast – our ship is in danger. We have to leave."

The princess gulped. She had been too preoccupied to think about it, but she should have known it was coming. "I… I see."

Nami looked at her seriously. "You know that you would be welcome to join us," she said finally. "You always have a place with us."

Vivi didn't respond. She just looked at Nami, and kept on thinking about her relationship with Nami. The orange-haired woman was slender and beautiful. Her body was lean and muscled. Vivi glanced down at Nami's breasts, large and plump, and she couldn't help feel incredibly self-conscious. Nami was always so outgoing, so confident and passionate. Vivi was too shy and reserved.

If Vivi had to compete romantically with Nami, she didn't think she would win.

"I'm the princess," Vivi said simply. She had duties and responsibility in Alabasta. Vivi couldn't just abandon everything.

"I know," Nami said sympathetically, before drawing Vivi into a warm hug. Vivi felt herself shiver as the woman's body pressed against hers.

"No pressure," Nami continued. "But the offer is there."

The rest of their time in the bath was silent. Both girls had a lot to think about, and they weren't particularly comfortable with what they were thinking.

Vivi loved Nami like a sister, but she couldn't deny what she was feeling for Luffy either.

Eventually, they stood up, got dressed, and walked out of their palace. Nami never said a word, but she walked comfortably close to Vivi at all times. It was still very early, and the morning sun was just rising over the exotic spires of the palace.

As they walked towards the quarters, there were sounds of a large crowd gathering. Maids and guards were rushing to the courtyard, and it looked like an event was happening. Curious, Nami rushed to the front with Vivi trailing behind nervously, and looked down into the courtyard at what everyone was staring at.

Luffy was in the level below, but he didn't even seem to notice the crowd watching him. He was lying on his back in the sand, and busy lifting a block of solid granite larger than a house over his head. Every muscle and sinew bulged out of his lean body, and the sweat poured of his shirtless chest. The stone block must have weighed tonnes, but Luffy just continued lift the weight up and down.

His muscles were rippling, and Vivi could see the strain each time he lifted his arms up. He was panting heavily and grunting with effort, but he kept on weightlifting relentlessly.

Vivi was shocked. Zoro would usually train like a monster, but now Luffy was making Zoro's regime seem like a light workout. It was the first time she had actually seen Luffy work so hard – he used to be too carefree for exercise.

Igaram quietly moved next to Vivi. The guard captain was staring down at Luffy's unyielding workout silently.

"How long has he been here?" Vivi asked finally. It took everything Luffy had each time he lifted the weight, but he never even paused. Vivi could feel the pain and determination emitting from the pirate.

"All night," Igaram explained. "I thought he would give up after the first few hours. It's been nine hours straight so far."

There's nothing more important to him than his friends, Vivi thought slowly, he's trying so hard to get stronger for us

Vivi watched for a long time. Gradually, the other pirates woke up and came out to stay at Luffy's unrelenting workout. Despite a severe hangover, was Zoro staring at Luffy's weights with vague admiration. Even without his rubber powers, Luffy still had superhuman and absolutely monstrous strength.

How strong could he actually become with the right motivation? Vivi wondered to herself.

Beside her, Nami was draped over the balcony and looking downwards, her stare completely unwavering. She was focused on Luffy's chest, Vivi realised. For all Luffy was skinny, his muscles were well toned with marvellously sculpted abs, particularly as they flexed and bulged from exertion.

Vivi glanced between Luffy and Nami uncertainly, before she felt a steely determination rise in her heart. It was the same determination that she had felt as she eloped to infiltrate Baroque Works. It was what had driven her to risk everything to save her country.

This was something that she couldn't run from. She had to fight for this.

Slowly, Vivi walked away from the courtyard, and headed straight for the palace throne room. Inside, her father, the king, was already meeting with merchants and dignitaries, but Vivi waited patiently until it was over.

Finally, as the last visitor left the throne room, Vivi and her father were alone in the large hall.

"What is it, Vivi?" King Cobra asked finally, but there was a glint of reluctance in his eyes. He was a clever man, after all. Perhaps he had been expecting this visit.

Vivi hesitated slightly, but her voice was steady. "Dad… would you hate me if I did something really selfish?"

By noon, the sun was high in the sky and desert kingdom became blisteringly hot. You could fry an egg on the stones of the palace, and the country ground to a halt for a few hours as it became too hot to work.

Still, Luffy kept on lifting that solid block of granite. The sweat pooled around him, and he was filthy and tired. His muscles were screaming and the pain was agony, but he had too much at stake to give up. The words "I will become stronger" resonated through his mind with every push.

The crowd watching him faded away slowly as the sun became hotter. By midday, he was alone again in the courtyard, continuing to lift the huge granite stone. Luffy had never been one for counting, but he vaguely figured that he must be in the high triple digits by now.

Eventually, a figure walked into the courtyard and sat down next to Luffy in the sand, waiting patiently. Luffy glanced to the side, before finally dropping the heavy rock to the ground. It collided with a heavy thud even as it sunk into the sand.

King Cobra was staring at Luffy seriously. There had been a mutual respect between the two of them, ever since the events in the Royal Tombs, but now the mood was grim.

"My daughter just talked to me," the king said finally. "She wants to join your crew. I trust her too much to stand in her way."

A huge grin broke over Luffy's face. "She's coming with us?" He exclaimed happily. "That's great!"

The king didn't respond straight away. A flash of darkness flickered over his face. "If you hurt her," he warned. "I will kill you."

Luffy hesitated. His mind flashed back to the previous night, and a drunken kiss that had left him stunned.

"I will never hurt her," Luffy said firmly. "I promise."

On the eastern coast of Alabasta…

The convoy of Marines walked through the white stone buildings slowly, heading straight for the port where half a dozen Marine battleships were being readied for combat.

Tashigi was nervous as she met up with her captain for the first time in a week. The lieutenant had heard reports about Smoker's success in capturing the Baroque Works ships, but it had taken her a long time to clean up the mess in Aluburna. Too many men under her command had been injured or killed, and the situation between her and her men was quickly turning sour.

By the time Tashigi was capable of reporting in to the port town of Tamarisk, it was already nearly a week after the death of Crocodile, and the Marines were starting to act. The early reports had been uncertain and messy and the response had been unorganised, but finally the orders were rolling again.

Captain 'Black Cage' Hina from section 3 had already met up with Captain Smoker, and the mood was grim as Tashigi reported for duty.

"Tashigi, nice to see you," Hina greeted politely, while her men stood to attention. Hina was tall and slim with pink blond hair and a very attractive figure. Tashigi had always got on well with the older woman.

Captain Smoker was sitting on the gangway of the battleship, looking intently at his subordinate with a frown. He was broadly built with a grim disposition, but now he looked tired with dark rings under his eyes. He was smoking even more cigars than usual.

"Captain Hina," Tashigi greeted in return, before turning to Smoker. "Captain Smoker; I've returned from Aluburna."

The captain nodded slightly. "Do you think you did good work there?"

There was an edge to his question. Tashigi hesitated. It had not gone as planned, and she wouldn't call it a success. "I think I did the best I could have done, under the circumstances," Tashigi said finally.

"Has Crocodile been confirmed dead?" Smoker demanded.

Tashigi nodded. "Yes – I saw the body myself."

The captain blew a large plume of smoke. "A pity."

The short statement shocked Tashigi. "A pity? But Crocodile tried to destroy the entire country!" she demanded. "He tried to kill everyone!"

A dark glance crossed Smoker's face. "I wanted him arrested, not dead," Smoker growled. "The Marines will not prosecute a dead man."

Tashigi looked confused, but the captain just continued. "It has already been decided," he admitted reluctantly. "The higher-ups say that there is no benefit in linking Baroque Works to Crocodile. As far as anyone is willing to accept, Crocodile was nothing more than a Warlord – a government official – fulfilling his assigned duties before he was murdered in cold blood by known pirates. It's a much easier story to swallow." He spat that last statement out foully.

"But that means…" Tashigi said, shocked.

"Aye," Smoker nodded grimly. "It means a ton of bricks are going to come down now, and we are all in the crapper."

Slowly, Smoker reached into his jacket and pulled out a small pile of papers, throwing them at Tashigi. Four bounty posters landed at Tashigi's feet.

"Fresh off the presses," Smoker continued. Next to Tashigi, Hina was watching with an unreadable expression. "They need someone to blame, and now there's only one group left alive to pin it all on."

Tashigi looked down at the posters, recognising all the photos. A picture of 'Straw Hat' Luffy was grinning brightly; wanted dead or alive for 200 million Beli. A picture of 'Black Leg' Sanji was smoking a cigarette coolly in front of the palace; wanted dead or alive for 40 million Beli. A picture of 'Cat Burglar' Nami, caught while running through a warzone; wanted dead or alive for 10 million Beli.

'Pirate Hunter' Roronoa Zoro, frowning while surrounded by a sandstorm, was wanted dead or alive for 80 million Beli.

Tashigi heart did backflips as she looked at Zoro's bounty, but she forced herself to remain focused.

"…200 million?" Tashigi stammered finally, finding the words. There were very few bounties so high in the Grand Line, and a jump from 30 million to 200 million was unprecedented.

"It makes them every feel so much better to have someone to vilify," he explained bitterly. "As far as the official story is concerned, Monkey D. Luffy is a pirate who attempted to overthrow the Alabasta government and plunder the capital. Sir Crocodile is the "noble" Warlord who attempted to stop him, and was "unfortunately" murdered for his efforts. All of Crocodile's crimes have been pinned firmly on Luffy, and anyone who says otherwise is going to have a very short career."

Tashigi shook her head in shock. "But that's wrong! Why should–"

"Of course it's wrong!" Smoker snapped. The situation didn't sit right with him either, but he was more pragmatic. "But a pirate is a pirate. Do you really want to lose your career protecting the reputation of a wanted criminal?"

Tashigi stammered for a response, but found none. The captain wasn't done. "We have bigger concerns right now," he continued coldly. "This whole mess happened right under our noses and the big jobs aren't happy. We're both being court-martialled, Tashigi."

That knocked the wind right out Tashigi. Her head was already spinning. "Why?" she choked.

"You're being court-martialled because you were meant to be in charge of the situation in Aluburna, and I'm being court-martialled for letting you be in charge." The captain took a very long puff of his cigars, trying to calm himself down. "Like I said; everyone's happier if there's someone to blame. This whole shit-storm could turn out really bad for both of us unless we get in front of it."

The captain pointed to Hina reluctantly. "For the foreseeable future, we've teamed up with Captain Hina of section 3. The only way to save ourselves now is to be the ones to hand over 'Straw Hat' Luffy. We're going after the pirates again, Tashigi, and this time we can't afford to let them get away."

"Hina's men are ready to go," Hina added coolly. She had a weird habit of speak in the third person, Tashigi recalled vaguely, but right now that was the least of her worries. "Go get yourself cleaned up and rested, lieutenant. We're moving out shortly."

"And what about the pirates?" Tashigi asked hesitantly, glancing down at the wanted posters again.

"Nothing can save them now," Hina replied simply. "We've received reports that they're being sheltered in Aluburna. Men are already on their way to force them out, and we're going to cut them off at the mouth of the Sandora River."

"We've got a time limit here too," Smoker added, even as Tashigi passed him walking up the gangway. "200 million is the type of money that attracts attention. They're sending a Vice Admiral down here to capture the Straw Hats themselves. If we want to keep our jobs, we're going to have to do it first."

This is wrong, Tashigi thought to herself, her face twisted in anger. Still, there was nothing to be said. She was a Marine, she had to follow orders. She thought back to the battle, where she had deliberately saved the lives of the pirates and dug them out of the ground herself. That had been the right thing to do, she was certain of that, but she didn't dare mention it aloud. They were already in a difficult enough situation.

"One more thing, captain," Tashigi called, not even turning around. Her voice was unusually cold. Smoker didn't visibly respond. "I heard that Monkey D. Luffy's straw hat was destroyed in the battle."

Smoker paused for a few seconds. "Really?" He mused. Pirate identification was important, after all. "Pass that along to HQ. I suppose they'll have to think of a new name for him…"

In the palace…

Everything was quickly becoming chaotic, and as soon as Zoro had received Robin's call the pirates were readying to move. Then the reports from the guard's came in, and apparently a large force of Marines were storming through the city.

"Damn that woman!" Zoro growled loudly. "She stole our ship!"

"At least the Marines haven't confiscated it…" Nami reasoned, while shoving maps into a hastily packed bag. They didn't have long before they had to leave.

"No one should have it! It's our ship!" Zoro snapped.

"It's alright," Luffy said firmly, in a voice that left no room for doubt. His muscles were aching from his severe workout all day, and his wounds still weren't healed fully, but he was still revving to go. "Robin is a good person. We can trust her."

Nami gave a weird look at the conviction in his voice, but said nothing. Around them, the palace guards were quickly running to the entrance, and suddenly the head guards Chaka and Igaram were bursting through the door.

"You've got to leave right now!" Chaka said urgently. "The Marines are coming with a warrant and we can't afford to openly oppose them. My men are trying to slow them down now, but they're intent on searching the whole palace!"

Igaram shook his head in dismay. "I'm sorry," he apologised, clearing his throat as he talked. "You don't deserve this, but our control is tenuous at best. If it was discovered we were harbouring pirates…"

"You don't have to apologise," Sanji replied coolly, lighting a cigarette. "We're pirates – this is how it's meant to go."

"I've arranged the Super Spot-Billed Duck Squad to transport you to the river," Chaka explained. "But after that our aid has to end. There's a lot of heat coming down on you now."

"Let them come," Luffy replied firmly. He glanced down at the four bounty posters which had arrived this evening. He knew what he had to protect now. "I won't let anyone thing happen to my crew."

There was pure steel in his voice, and Nami felt his certainty wash over. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Luffy would fight to the end for them, but she still wasn't able to describe what she felt for her captain.

Chopper and Usopp burst through the door, carrying medicine and supplies in full bags. Sanji had already packed the food, and Nami was finishing up with the maps.

"We're ready to go!" She proclaimed suddenly.

Chaka glanced out the window. "The Marines are getting into position. You might have to fight your way out."

Luffy cracked his knuckles. He now had two large and very sharp knives tucked into his shorts. Nobody had dared to ask about those.

"Good," the captain said darkly.

Just as they were getting ready to leave, Vivi ran quickly towards their quarters. She was carrying a packed bag too.

"I'm coming with you!" The princess proclaimed loudly. "I've already readied Carue, and everything's packed!"

Despite the urgency, the happiness broke over the pirates. Nami grinned madly and rushed over to hug her tightly, while Sanji was already spinning with join. Luffy's smile stretched across his face, but he still wasn't sure how to treat Vivi after last night.

Meanwhile, Igaram was left flabbergasted. His eyes nearly burst out his head with shock, and his mouth opened and closed helpless. "Princess!" He exclaimed finally. "You can't! If you become a pirate then you –"

"Then I can't be a princess anymore," Vivi finished. Her voice was laced with regret, but her eyes shone with determination. "I know, and I am so sorry. I've got to do this, Igaram, please."

The tall man hesitated, but Vivi's tone left no room for doubt. This was too important for her, and he couldn't stand in her way. "Then I'm going with you!" He decided finally. Next to him, Chaka nearly exploded with shock. "I promised I'll keep you safe, and I'm not going to abandon you!"

Vivi shook her head firmly. "You can't. If I leave, then the princess has simply ran away and abdicated her position. If the head guard becomes a pirate, then Alabasta has officially supported piracy. You can't do that to the country."


"She said no, Igaram." King Cobra ordered firmly in his most regal tone, stepping into the room. He was far from happy about this, but he couldn't stand in his daughter's way. It was a father's duty to be supportive to the end. "Your king commands you. Stand down."

The head guard looked like he might protest, but there was no arguing with the monarch's tone. Cobra glanced down at his daughter, and his expression softened. Suddenly, the king had to fight back tears.

"Vivi," Cobra said gently, speaking as a father not as king. "Could you please come with me? It's important."

Vivi gulped and took her father's hand. Nami was glancing out the window hesitantly. "We don't have long!" The navigator warned.

The princess glanced at her father's eyes, and then back to her friends. "I'll be right back!" She promised.

The king and the princess started to run down the corridor, with Cobra leading the way. Around them, the palace was exploding with chaos. Heavy footsteps were vibrating throughout the palace, and the palace staff were scrambling around them, running for cover.

"I wish I had more time," Cobra panted, leading them down an intricate spiral staircase. "I wish I could talk to you about this. I wish I could try and convince you otherwise. I've only just got you back, and I really don't want you to go again."

Vivi was trying to fight back tears now. "I have to do this, Dad," she said softly.

"I know," he replied. "But just remember; I will always love and support you. You are my daughter, and I love you too much to stand in your way."

She smiled, even as they were sprinting towards the bottom of the palace. "I love you too."

He looked at her with concern. "If you become a known pirate," he warned, but gently. "Then you might not ever be able to come back here. You can't be a princess and a pirate. Are you sure about this?"

Vivi nodded. Suddenly she was crying too much to talk. If she opened her mouth, she risked breaking down completely.

Cobra sighed. "Then I'll support you," he promised. "And just because I can't go with you, doesn't mean I'm going to let you go defenceless."

They were reaching the basement now; a part of the palace that few even knew existed. Cobra was sprinting down a long and very secure corridor, leading up towards a heavy metal door secured with numerous locks; the Royal Treasury.

Vivi had no idea why they were here, but Cobra lead the way. The king was already pulling a heavy key of a chain around his neck, and started unlocking the bolts around the vault.

"Have you ever wondered," he explained, almost conversationally, while hurriedly unlocking the vault. "Why Chaka and Pell both have such similar Devil fruit powers? It's no coincidence that it's the strongest soldiers in a country that have Devil fruit abilities."

The final lock clicked open. It took both him and Vivi to heave the heavy door open. "A country needs a standing army to deal with civil unrest, but ordinary soldiers can't compare against a superhuman." The king slammed the door open with a large grunt. "That is why the strongest and most loyal soldiers in a country are trained to superhuman level, and then the country invests – at great cost – in Devil fruits so that these elite soldiers can defend them against superhuman threats."

Finally, the huge door was pulled open, revealing a spacious room covered with gold and stacks of money. The treasury of Alabasta. The wealth of the country.

"This is why most countries have a few, very elite, Devil fruit users," the king panted. "And if one of these valuable soldiers dies, then the country needs another Devil fruit so that another can replace them and maintain the balance."

Vivi was left speechless. At the front of the treasury, standing on a pedestal, was an orange fruit vaguely looking like a banana and covered in swirls. Even at this distance, Vivi could feel unnatural aura surrounding the fruit.

"I bought this from the black market, and it was extremely expensive," the king admitted. "But Devil fruits are always a worthwhile investment. I don't know what power it holds – the greatest disadvantage with Devil fruits is the uncertainty with them. Still, it is practically guaranteed to make you stronger."

Vivi stammered hesitantly, "But I… I can't…"

"I told you," the king said firmly, picking up the Devil fruit and forcing it in her hands. "I refuse to let you go defenceless."

He looked at her seriously. "It is a father's job to protect his daughter. I want you to eat this fruit, and I want you to be safe."

Chapter Text

"Run!" Usopp screamed loudly, right as the marines started to open fire at them.

The marines had been well prepared. Cannons were established surrounding the palace, and dozens of men with rifles were busying manning them. Within seconds of the pirates bursting out of the palace, men in white uniforms had flocked to them and the bullets started to fly.

A huge bloom of sand exploded in front of them from a nearby cannonball, but the Super Spot-Billed Duck Squad was the fastest for a reason. The huge birds barely even touched the ground as raced across the sand, surprisingly light-footed for animals so big.

Behind them, the palace was erupting into chaos. From the corner of his eye, Luffy glimpsed Chaka being confronted by several angry marines, while trying to feign his best 'Pirates? Where did they come from?' expression.

The booms of the cannons were like drums resonating through the night. Between the shouting and the gunfire, the normally serene desert vibrated with so much sound it was impossible to hear a thing. Clouds of sand exploded around them, covering everything in dust.

"Vivi!" Luffy shouted loudly, squinting through the sand clouds. "Are you alright?"

"Here!" The girl shouted in response, coughing from the sand. Vivi was riding on Carue, and rapidly catching up from behind. The leader of the Duck Squad was cowardly and spineless, but nothing was faster at running away than Carue. Not even Usopp.

"We've got problems!" Sanji called loudly, riding at the front of the group on a duck with a cowboy hat and glasses. "There are more Marines up ahead!"

Zoro simply smirked, unsheathing his swords. "Not for much longer."

The Marines really had been well prepared. They'd set up another perimeter around the city in the desert, and suddenly there was a line of cannons blocking the way ahead. Zoro duck his heels into his duck, and then the duck, wearing a legionary helmet and an angry expression, responded by charging forward furiously.

The first cannon exploded with a huge boom, and the air blurred as the metal cannonball barrelled towards them in a flash of smoke. Zoro was faster. Within a blink of an eye, Zoro had drawn all three of his swords and was leaping up into the air, spinning quickly.

His sword glanced against the cannonball with almost delicately, yet the razor-sharp edge cut through the metal like it was paper. The two halves of the cannonball ricocheted harmlessly to the side. Zoro grunted in satisfaction.

"Too cool…!" Chopper exclaimed loudly, his eyes glowing with hero-worship.

"Damn marimo…" Sanji grunted, taking a deep breath of his cigarette, and then proclaiming loudly. "Nami! Vivi! I will protect you!"

Cowboy launched forward. The marine perimeter was quickly approaching, and the other cannons were loaded. Sanji flipped around on his duck, doing a handstand on Cowboy's head and spinning his strong legs around in the air. His black, polished, and heavily reinforced shoes glinted in the moonlight.

Luffy joined him quickly. He was riding a duck with a horned helmet and brown goggles, almost twice the size of all the others, but it still easily kept pace with them all. They could see a dozen cannons being aimed and loaded.

The cannons exploded loudly. Both Luffy and Sanji leapt into action. Sanji pushed himself upwards with his hands, twirling his legs around so quickly he blurred. Both feet hit firmly against two cannonballs, and the heavy metal bounds rebounded to the side with two large dents in the side.

"Luffy!" Nami called urgently. "Be careful! You're not rubber any–"

Luffy didn't seem to hear. He lunched forward, jumping straight at the metal spheres that were barrelling towards him. He drew his arm backwards in a huge arch, screaming wordlessly before he released a furious punch. Luffy's knuckles collided with solid steel in a sickening crunch.

The impact caused a small shockwave, but it was the cannon that buckled beneath Luffy's fist and accelerated backwards in a flash. The marines couldn't even flinch before their cannonball returned to them at breakneck speed. Two cannons exploded in a hail of shrapnel, sending the marines diving for cover.

Another four cannonballs were flashing through the air towards the pirates. Luffy didn't hesitate. He moved in a flash, and flickering through the air. Luffy snatched one cannonball from the air, and spun it around like a hammer throw and used it to bat another two of them into the air.

The final cannonball was heading straight for Nami, too close and too fast for her duck to dodge. Her eyes widened in shock. Sanji shouted in exclaim and tried to dive towards her, but Luffy was faster. Within a heartbeat, he was in front of Nami and kicking upwards. The cannonball launched vertically upwards.

Nami sighed in relief, even as Luffy grabbed a hold of her duck and sat down behind her. Nami's heart nearly stopped as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Who needs Devil fruits?" Luffy whispered under his breath, so quiet it was barely audible. Even so, he was cradling his wrist tenderly, and his knuckles were bleeding heavily.

Zoro led the charge against the Marine barricade. Their formation was already in shambles. The sight of a demonic Zoro flashing towards them, three blades glinting in the darkness, was enough to cause a dozen men to simultaneously lose control of their bowels.

His blades cut everything apart mercilessly. Cannons were cut in half and sent flying through the half. The barricade was shredded into scraps. The blood of marines splashed across the sands.

The seven ducks ran straight through the debris, leaving the remaining men staring helpless at trail. Usopp was at the very back of the group, laughing victoriously as he threw down a smoke bomb to hide their escape route. The pirates disappeared into a cloud of smoke, and then vanished in the darkness of the desert.

Alabasta was vast and empty. The Marines would be suicidal to try to follow them now. The Duck Squad threw up clouds of dust as they pounded across the sands easily, showing no sign of tiring.

Usopp was already laughing and bragging happily. Luffy jumped across to his duck easily, leaving Nami to try to calm her pounding heart.

Already the lights of Alubarna were fading over the horizon. They were all elated after their escape, but Vivi couldn't help but feel nervous. It had hardly been a discreet escape, and the news that the princess had left with the pirates would spread quickly.

"The Marines know which direction we're heading now," Vivi noted to the group, while the ducks were accelerating towards the Sandora River. Now that the fighting was over, Carue was taking his place at the front of the squad as the leader.

"They always did," Nami sighed. "Our ship is in the Sandora River. All they have to do is to barricade off the mouth of the river, and we have no choice except to fight our way out. We're not free yet…"

Vivi nodded hesitantly. Vivi's new Devil fruit was securely and secretly tucked away in Carue's saddlebacks. She hadn't been confident enough to eat it yet.

"We can break through," Zoro assured confidently. "They've tried to capture us before."

Nami glanced downwards at Luffy's new wanted poster. She had been staring at it a lot. "Yes… but now they have 200 million reasons to try harder…"

"Captain Smoker!" Tashigi called loudly, putting down a transponder snail. "There's news from the raid team! The pirates have escaped Aluburna."

There was no shock or disappointment from the captain. He simply nodded. "We knew they wouldn't be able to," he confirmed. "But it doesn't matter. So long as they've left the city, they got to come through here."

He stood at the brow of the battleship, overlooking the rushing waters of the Sandora River. The Going Merry had last been seen sailing upriver, and the captain was unwilling to pursue it and risk something slipping past. Instead, along with eight ships from section 3, they had barricaded the river and were preparing for battle. The pirates would have to attack quickly; otherwise the noose would just gradually tighten as reinforcements arrived.

Smoker was looking grimly up the river, his expression completely focused. Tashigi had seen that look before; it was one of utter determination to a cause. The captain would not allow the pirates to escape this time.

"There were seven," Smoker said finally, counting them up in his head and speaking mostly to himself. "Monkey D. Luffy and Roronoa Zoro may well be the most dangerous. There is also the chef, the navigator, the sniper and doctor, but we can't assume that there would be more."

"We outnumber them a hundred to one." Tashigi noted, pointing to the assembled battleships. A large steel net was across the river, nailed in to the opposing shores so it would impossible for any ship to sneak past.

Smoker scoffed. "These aren't the sort of pirates to care much about numbers."

Smoker smoothed back his white hair absent-mindedly. "Still, they have weaknesses," he mused. "We have more cannons, the positional advantage, and the marines from section 3 are specialists at capturing pirates. When they attack, we'll shred their ship to pieces and leave them stranded. If they try to flee, we'll blow them out of the water. At no point will we allow them to reach the shore."

There were footsteps as Captain Hina crossed over the deck, staring at Smoker with annoyance. "You're taking charge already, Smoker," Hina reprimanded. "Hina will take care of Hina's men. You handle your own men."

Smoker did even turn around, or give any indication that he heard her. "You're back," he stated impassively. "Did you secure the coasts?"

Hina grunted irritably at Smoker's obnoxiousness. "Yes," she confirmed. "And we captured one of Baroque Work's agents; Bentham, aka Mr 2 Bon Kurei. He was scuttling around the shoreline; I've brought him back to the hold."

Behind her, Jango and Fullbody, two of Hina's men, were wrestling with the struggling okama. Despite being covered head to toe in iron manacles, he was still squirming like a worm and singing about the "okama way". Both Jango and Fullbody appeared at their wit's end with the cross-dresser as they tried to throw him below deck.

Smoker nodded absent-mindedly, much too focused on simulating the upcoming battle. "They'll try to charge us," he decided finally. "That's the only thing they can do. They'll charge the centre full speed and try to knock a ship out of the formation and break through."

"If they get to one of our ships; it'll go badly," Tashigi said cautiously. "Our men won't last long at close range."

Smoker took a long breath of his three cigars. He was standing at the brow of the ship, his unbuttoned and extremely muscular chest practically glinting in the sun. Hina was standing just behind him, coolly watching over her men as she pulled on her gloves. On the deck, Fullbody and Jango had finished restraining their prisoner, and had just started dancing.

"They don't need to go through our men," Smoker said finally. "They need to get through us."

It was early morning by the time the Duck Squad reached the river, and the Going Merry was anchored idly by the shoreline, just where Robin had promised it would be. The gangway was down and welcoming. The crew was apprehensive as they approached, but Luffy seemed completely carefree.

Nico Robin stretched idly out over one of the chair on deck, casually reading a book. She was wearing a white shirt and tight black pants, which she filled out extremely well, and barely even glanced upwards as the pirates entered.

"Ah… you're here," she greeted nonchalantly. "You're welcome, by the way."

Zoro growled. "Welcome?! You stole our ship!"

"Oi!" Sanji warned, jumping on to the deck. "Show a beautiful lady some manners!"

"I only stole it for a little while," Robin clarified, paying little attention to the arguing swordsman and chef. "Besides, I'm giving it back now."

Vivi glared at the older woman with distrust. Carue was hiding behind the princess, trembling silently. "What are you playing at?" She demanded.

"Oh, nothing," Robin smiled innocently, turning to Luffy. "But in return for giving you your ship back, you're going to let me join your crew."

Luffy didn't seem surprised. "Ok then," he agreed simply.

At once, everyone else exploded with outrage. Usopp and Chopper started shaking in fear. Nami shouted in shock. Vivi's outrage was the loudest, and most determined.

"But she's the Vice President of Baroque Works!" Vivi protested at Luffy. "She tried to destroy my country! She nearly killed Igaram! She kidnapped me! She's a villain and murderer!"

Robin thought about it for half a second. "Yep, that just about summarises it," she agreed. "But if it helps, I no longer have any interest in you or your country."

Vivi looked ready to explode again, but Luffy just put his hand on her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry!" Luffy flashed Vivi a big smile. "She's actually a really nice person."

At once, all of Vivi's protests faded away in her mouth. Luffy had a way of leaving her completely speechless, and he said it with such confidence there was no room for doubt.

Robin stared at Luffy curiously, but didn't say anything. The rest of the crew was inspecting Robin critically.

"Wait a minute…" Usopp said slowly, with unusual perceptiveness, glancing between Robin and Luffy. "Did something happen between the two of you?"

Luffy and Robin locked eyes for a moment. They were both thinking about that moment in the tombs. That moment where Luffy had come back to life with Robin breathing into his lungs.

That moment had been… unique.

Neither of them cared to explain it to the others.

"Nothing important," Luffy said finally. "Trust me; it's going to be fun having her with us."

After that, people started to relax with their newest member. Sanji demanded to know what Luffy had done to such a beautiful woman, but then proceeded to proclaim his undying love to Robin while serving her drinks. Chopper and Usopp took to Robin instantly after she displayed her powers, and she spent the next half an hour sprouting hands across the deck for the two of them to play with, all the while smiling pleasantly.

Nami was a bit more distrustful, yet that evaporated as soon as Robin put a bag of gems on to the table. Zoro glanced at her with caution, but he was not particularly unwelcoming.

The only one that was actually cold to the newest arrival was Vivi, who kept her distance at all times and stared at Robin with serious distrust. Robin took care not to notice, but maintained a cheerful façade as she greeted her new crew.

Occasionally, Robin would steal a glance towards Luffy and hope nobody noticed.

They pulled the anchor up and finally the Going Merry turned downstream. Vivi and Carue waved a tearful goodbye to the Super Spot-Billed Duck Squad, and the pirates were on their way. It was about to become a goodbye party, just before Robin mentioned a sobering statement.

"By the way…" she noted, taking a large sip of her drink. "The Marines have blockaded the river. We'll have to fight our way out."

At once, the mood became quieter. Usopp, Carue and Chopper entered coward mode like a flick of a switch.

"Marines?" Nami demanded urgently. "How many?"

"Not sure," Robin said casually. "At least half a dozen ships, I would expect. They would have had plenty of time to prepare by now. It doesn't look like we're going to escape in one piece."

Luffy shifted uncomfortably. She said that last chilling statement with a weird calmness. "Then what do you suggest?"

Robin smiled gently. "That's up to you, Mr Captain."

There was a moment's silence. "We fight our way out." Luffy said firmly, clenching his knuckles tightly. "Full speed; we'll attack hard."

The rest of the crew was left speechless at the sudden determination. Luffy had become a lot more serious recently…

"Hmph!" Zoro grunted with satisfaction. "It'd be boring if it was an easy escape!"

Robin's smile became a bit more sincere with that. Luffy started laughing, and at once all the tension shattered. Sanji was already rolling out a selection of sweets for the ladies, and he reluctantly allowed everyone else to have some too. The sound of laughter filled the Going Merry as it started to sail easily down the river.

"This is not that bad," Robin muttered to herself, thoughtfully watching the merriment. "Are they always this cheerful?"

Zoro stared at her with some caution. "Yeah, they're always like that."

For once, Robin smiled with genuine pleasure. "Really?" She mused.

Not even Vivi, as suspicious as she was of Robin, could resist when the party really got underway. Usopp was already flapping around on Carue's head and telling everyone how he had single-handedly defeated Baroque Works, while Chopper and Luffy were playing around the ship. Vivi sat by Nami, watching her tease Sanji into supplying more food.

Eventually, the growing worry in the back of Vivi's mind became too large to ignore, and she glanced at Luffy hesitantly. Finally, she called over the captain while pulling something out of her bag.

"Luffy!" Vivi shouted, holding up the orange Devil fruit hesitantly. "I… I have something I want you to have…"

Luffy stopped and stared at the object in her hand. Nami turned and gasped. "Is that…?" She exclaimed.

The Devil fruit seemed to emit an unnatural aura. Everybody stared at it curiously. Vivi nodded. "Yes. My father gave it to me before we left."

Nami's eyes glinted happily. "But that's worth a lot of money!" She exclaimed brightly. "We could sell it for a hundred million, easy!"

The princess shook her head. "No," she insisted. "I want Luffy to have it. He lost his powers fighting for me; I want to give him something back."

Luffy was left speechless for a while. "What happened to the Gum Gum fruit?" He asked finally, in a quiet voice.

She hesitated. "I'm not sure," Vivi admitted. "I asked around a lot about it in Alubarna. Apparently, when a Devil fruit reincarnates, the power is sometimes trapped in a nearby fruit of a similar type. But if there are no fruits of the sort nearby, then that power could end up absolutely anywhere in the world," she explained. "I searched the city for any weird fruits after the battle, but I never found anything. It was in a desert, so it's unlikely that the Gum Gum fruit ended up anywhere in Alabasta."

Luffy scratched his head in confusion. Nami sighed and added, "So we'll probably never even see the Gum Gum fruit again, right?"

Vivi agreed, while Chopper was inspecting the Devil fruit with medical curiosity. Usopp looked at it with interest, before asking, "What power is in this fruit?"

She shrugged uncertainly, and Robin spoke up quietly, "It's hard to tell," she explained. "Some fruits have markings and auras that are identified, but most are completely unknown. Generally, known Devil fruits are worth much more than unidentified Devil fruits, as there are a very large range of powers available."

The older woman scratched her chin as she looked at the fruit thoughtfully. "It's possible that that fruit contains a power so incredible it could change the world. It's equally possible, however, that the fruit contains a power so obscure it might even be a disadvantage. I have heard of fruits that have had no obvious effect, or very silly powers, but this is rare too," Robin mused. "Instead, it's much more likely that it will be a 'standard' Devil fruit power, and depend mostly on the user."

Vivi glared at Robin for half a second, before turning back to Luffy. "So…" she offered, holding out the Devil fruit. "Will you take it?"

Luffy was silent for a while, but he glanced downwards at his wrist. His hand had been tender ever since he had punched that cannonball…

"No," Luffy proclaimed finally, his eyes glinting with determination. "I don't want another Devil fruit. I need to get stronger by myself."

Vivi didn't know what to say. She looked at the Devil fruit uncertainly, but Luffy was already pushing the fruit back to her. His hands wrapped around hers firmly, and he looked at her sincerely.

"You should eat it," he said gently. "It was given to you, after all."

For a breathless moment, Vivi was left staring straight at him. This was what I had chosen, she thought to herself, I chose to follow him

Suddenly, Zoro called down from the prow of the boat, "Make up your mind quickly!" The swordsman shouted urgently. "There's a Marine barricade, coming up quick!"

In front of the Going Merry and rapidly approaching over the horizon, the shapes of several battleships blocked off the river. Everyone seemed to jump into action, with various levels of bravery. Vivi was left motionless, unsure of what to do.

"How many?" Nami demanded.


"Get to the cannons!"

"This… this is nothing!" Usopp bragged loudly, despite his trembling knees and the fact that he was currently hiding under a table. "I once single-handedly destroyed a hundred battleships! No, a thousand!"

"Wow! Really?" Chopper exclaimed naïvely, joining Usopp in hiding.

Vivi wasn't sure what to do. Carue was busy squawking around the back of the ship, but she just stayed completely still. Even Robin was heading to the prow, glancing at the ships with vague interest while readying for the fight. Sanji lit a cigarette as he walked past Vivi.

"Don't worry Vivi!" The chef declared loudly. "Stay behind me! I will protect you!"

No, Vivi thought quietly, with sudden realisation, I don't want to be protected

Acting on pure impulse, Vivi suddenly bent over and took a huge bite out of the orange Devil fruit.

The Going Merry's masts unfurled, and the small ship accelerated quickly in the current of the Sandora River. As soon as the pirates came into range, the marines opened fire and launched black spears from dozens of cannons.

Some of them missed. Others were deflected. But the Going Merry was practically a target practice, and there were too many. Metal spears hit the ship from all sides, throwing up clouds of wooden shrapnel as they pierced straight through the hull.

In a blink of an eye, Luffy had to tackle Usopp to the ground to avoid a hail of razor-sharp splinters, but the sniper squirmed out of his grasp a second later.

"Oi!" Usopp shrieked furiously, running to the prow. "Don't you dare hurt the Going Merry!"

"Get down!" Nami yelled, just as another spear nearly took the figurehead off. She pulled Usopp out-of-the-way, while Luffy felt the anger flare in him as his seat was almost destroyed.

"Usopp! Get on the cannon and return fire!" Nami ordered firmly. "Chopper! Get below deck and start patching up holes! You three!" She pointed to Luffy, Zoro and Sanji. "Deflect those spears already!"

"So this is the Black Spear Formation," Robin said calmly. "They fire these spears to pierce the hull, weigh the ship down, and eventually leave it dead in the water. If we take any more, then we're all finished…"

"Stop being so calm about that!" Nami screeched furiously, just as another halo of spears fired from the battleships. The Going Merry was moving sluggishly now, but the distance was closer and even more of the spears hit their mark.

Luffy, Zoro and Sanji did what they could. Several of the spears were kicked, slashed and hit out of the air, but there were just too many. The impact shook the Going Merry dangerously, and Nami could feel the ship sinking slowly.

"This isn't working…" Nami realised with dread. "We're going to have to charge the centre… Let them hit each other with the crossfire, we have to break the barricade …"

Luffy gritted his teeth, but he couldn't stop the spears. Usopp was firing the cannon with unnerving accuracy, but there were too many battleships. I cannot lose here, Luffy thought with determination.

"The centre ship?" Luffy asked Nami insistently. "All I need to do is get the centre ship, right?"

"What are you doing…?" Nami shouted urgently, but Luffy was already moving.

Just as Usopp, below deck, fired the cannon, Luffy was sprinting off the deck and jumped towards the ocean. Nami didn't even have time to gasp as suddenly Luffy managed to catch a hold of the cannonball with lightning reflexes, and he let the momentum pull him through the air.

He was send flying towards the Marine ship in a cloud of splinters.

"Luffy!" Vivi shrieked in panic, running to the side. She was still trying not to vomit from the awful taste of the Devil fruit. It had tasted like hot ash. Luffy had already disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

In a frenzy, Vivi turned to Robin. "Quickly! How do I use my Devil fruit powers?"

"I don't know!" Robin protested weakly. "It just kind of happens…"

Vivi started screaming and throwing her hands wildly, trying to will something to happen. They crew was panicking now. The Going Merry was practically dead in the water, floating along at a snail's pace, and they could see the other marine ships preparing another salvo.

"Damn it!" Zoro screamed, his blades ready but with nothing to cut.

"I've got to do something!" Sanji grunted, desperately trying to protect the starboard side.

Desperately, Nami glanced towards the hole where Luffy crashed into. I really hope this works, she prayed, drawing her Clima-Tact. She disassembled the bo-staff into three pieces, and spun them around expertly. Streams of bubbles, both hot and cold, flew from each side, as Nami manipulated the weather like an artist with a brush.

"Weather forecast…" Nami grunted, trying to measure the atmosphere despite the raging battle. Suddenly, she could visualise the weather, and the wind flow… "Tornado!"

She clicked a switch and three clockwork doves burst from the Clima-Tact, and started spinning furiously as the centrifugal force created a wind that meshed with the artificial climate. Suddenly, a freak burst of wind burst around her, nearly taking everyone down to their knees.

The wind hit the Going Merry straight in the sails, and the ship nearly capsized. The force was enough to thrust the boat forward, and Nami could barely hold on a suddenly the crippled boat was accelerating forward at breakneck speed.

It didn't last long, but it was enough to cause all the spears to miss while the Going Merry burst into to the much larger Marine battleship.

"Brace yourself!" Nami screamed, holding on for dear life before the two boats collided.

Luffy pulled himself out of the debris from the cannonball quickly, but he was already surrounded by men in white uniforms and holding rifles.

"Straw Hat…" A familiar drawled. "Or is that name no longer appropriate?"

Luffy didn't even hesitate. Suddenly, before anyone could pull a trigger, Luffy was flickering through the air and slamming his fist at Smoker's head.

The captain dematerialised into smoke and Luffy went straight through harmlessly, but he didn't even pause. At once, Luffy rebounded off the cabin walls and he was attacking Smoker again, this time with both knives in his hand as he cut through the air.

He was attacking nothing but smoke. He was hitting no resistance and doing no harm, but Luffy just kept on firing his furious assault at Smoker. Anyone else that tried to get in his way never lasted long.

"Why bother?" Smoker rematerialized at the end of the room. "You should know you can't even lay a finger on me!"

Luffy growled, launching himself into another relentless attack. "Because there are stronger guys than you out there!" Luffy screamed. "And I need to learn how to beat them!"

He took a deep breath, before slashing up and down with both knives at flashing speed.

"I swear!" Luffy screamed with fury. "By the end of this fight, I will be able to hurt you!"

Luffy never paused or even hesitated in his futile attack. The knives flashed through the air, chasing after the smoke which filled the cabin. If Smoker ever materialised, he would be sliced to pieces. Luffy charged with an inhuman fury, moving so quickly that Smoker couldn't even retaliate.

It's useless, the captain told himself, he can't hurt me, and he will tire eventually. Then, Luffy would finally be captured.

More marines tried to interfere, but the pirate was too vicious. Luffy barely even gave any of them any notice. The bodies of the men that got in his way fell to the ground quickly, all the while Luffy just kept on leaping off the walls and slicing through the air with his knives. Eventually, to avoid any more collateral, Smoker floated above deck and among the masts, where Luffy followed with unyielding fury.

Around them, the battle was really starting to get underway. The Going Merry crashed into the battleship, and five seconds later the pirates were storming on board. Zoro led the charge, his blades flashing through the air as he cut down everything in his path.

"Roronoa Zoro!" Tashigi challenged, jumping down from above. Her sword was in her hand, and their blades collided with sparks. "You're mine!"

Inwardly, Zoro groaned at meeting her, but he couldn't back down from a fight. "Go on ahead!" He shouted to the others, while parrying Tashigi's flashing blade. "I'll handle this!"

Everything exploded in a chaos of gunfire and falling bodies. Despite their numbers, the Marines were losing badly as the pirates seemed unstoppable. Sanji was at the forefront of the battle, his foot impacting against men so hard that it left his footprint on their spine.

There were screams of triumph as Captain Hina joined the battle. At once, whatever marines that were still standing flocked around their captain. Her ship was very rapidly being destroyed, but she still just stood coolly over the chaos.

At once, Sanji hesitated in front of the beautiful woman. His leg was raised in the air, trembling slightly.

"No…" The chef groaned. "I can't do it… I can't kick a woman!"

"That's good to hear," Hina agreed happily, before darting forward and bringing her arm at Sanji in vicious uppercut.

The impact took Sanji to his knees, but Hina's arm seemed to stretch and wrap around Sanji's torso, before transforming into iron. Within a second, Sanji's arms and chest wrapped in an iron manacle so tight that he could hardly breathe. He collapsed to the ground helplessly. Hina was already walking away.

Suddenly, half a dozen arms emerged from the ground around Captain Hina, combining into a fist that hit her directly on the chin with a sickening impact. The captain took the blow like a champion, and then proceeded to imprison each hand that touched her with iron handcuffs.

Still, the hands simply evaporated into a bloom of petals. Nico Robin stood calmly on the deck.

"I, on the other hand…," Robin said pleasantly. "…have absolutely no problem hitting women."

Hina wiped her chin thoughtfully. "Nico Robin… The Devil Child… this could be interesting."

At once, both women unleashed their powers. Dozens of hands emerged from the ground, were bound by iron manacles, and then simply vanished. Hina caught Robin in a huge iron cage that tried to crush her, but was caught herself in a net of hands that tried to break her spine.

Both women were long-range Devil fruit users, and it quickly became obvious that their match was a stalemate. Still, they kept on fighting while around them the rest of the marines and the pirates collided.

"Captain Hina!" Seaman Fullbody shouted in shock, drawing his iron knuckles. "I will protect you, my love–"

He was interrupted by a sudden kick to the chin from Sanji. The chef jumped to his feet despite the manacles constricting his upper body. If anything, Sanji looked relieved.

"You!" he said thankfully. "I can kick you just fine!"

"We meet again!" Fullbody growled, angrily, pulling up into a boxing pose. "You bloody, violent chef! I'm much stronger now…!"

"I remember you," Sanji muttered, after a few seconds hesitation. "You're that marine commander with no respect for the restaurant…"

Sanji grinned, launching into a sudden flurry of kicks. "Allow me to beat some table manners into you again!"

Next to the battle, Jango tried to come to his friend's aid. An explosive bullet collided with the hypnotist that nearly took him to the ground.

Usopp grinned, already loading another round into his slingshot. "I never did thank you for invading my village, did I?"

Around Zoro, the battle was quickly shifting in favour for the pirates. Luffy hadn't relented on his assault against Smoker, though he had yet to land a single blow. Robin was likewise keeping Hina busy, even if the two seemed equally matched. Sanji was easily winning against Fullbody, despite the manacles restraining his arms. Usopp and Jango were slugging it out in a long ranged battle, but Usopp was simply the better sharpshooter. All the other marines were falling too quickly to even be considered.

Yet Zoro was left facing Tashigi, and that was a battle he was seriously unhappy with.

Tashigi lunged and slashed furiously. She was a good swordsman and she fought with speed and accuracy. Her blade flickered through the air as it targeted at all of his most vital spots. Despite her skill, Zoro just couldn't fight her properly.

He knew that he was the better swordsman. She wasn't bad, he was simply significantly better. That had been proven at Loguetown. If it had been any other foe of equal skill, Zoro would have been quite happy to face his opponent in a true battle.

But his opponent was… her. Zoro couldn't forget that moment when Tashigi had dug him out of the sand. That moment when she saved his life. Every time Zoro tried to imagine her as enemy, he kept on remembering that vision of beauty he had seen then, and he knew that he couldn't attack her properly.

No swordsman could cut something when there was doubt in his sword; otherwise you would end up cutting yourself.

Instead, Zoro was left trying to parry her blows, but he was unable to return any of them. Within seconds, Tashigi was becoming visibly annoyed at him for holding back.

"Why… aren't… you… fighting… back!" Tashigi grunted through every slash. She was becoming faster and more aggressive.

Zoro was pushed backwards, trying to desperately parry her flashing blade. The sparks danced between the swords. "Because I don't want to!" Zoro snapped back, receiving a shallow cut across his neck for his moment's distraction.

"What?" Tashigi growled angrily. "You don't think I'm a worthy opponent?! Because I'm a woman!?"

Zoro was in trouble now. Tashigi's thrusts was unyielding and Zoro had to step backwards just to avoid them. "No!" Zoro snapped at her. "It's got nothing to do with you being a woman!"

Zoro hesitated, just as he parried another slash that nearly took off his head. "Well, it does," he admitted. "But not in the way you mean!"

"Then why?" Tashigi snarled furiously. Her blade was blurring around her now. "Why do you refuse to fight me?!"

"Because…" Zoro hesitated. He tried to step backwards again, but he was out of ship. He had to act now, or he would die.

With a swift movement, Zoro jumped forward. He didn't use his swords, but instead slammed his shoulder into Tashigi and tackled the lieutenant to the ground. The movement caught Tashigi by surprise, but Zoro still received a deep cut across the chest for his trouble.

"I don't want to fight you because…" The words caught in Zoro's mouth. "Because… well… because you're you."

For one moment, he was lying on top of Tashigi, his arms pinning her to the ground. Her lean body struggled underneath his. He was so close that he could see every droplet of sweat on her brow, and her scent overpowered his senses.

Zoro's heart started beating so fast it threatened to collapse. For that moment, there was absolutely nothing on his mind except Tashigi's beautiful face. All he could see was Tashigi's lips.

It wasn't a choice. It was a pure, overwhelming command from his subconscious, and his muscles moved with no conscious thought. Suddenly, Zoro felt himself bending down to press his lips against hers…

The moment their lips touched, a jolt of pure bliss fired through Zoro. Time seemed to stop for him.

Tashigi, for her part, was caught completely and utterly by surprise. She responded by instinctively raising her leg and hitting Zoro directly in the groin with force.

Her knee collided with his crotch with such a sickening crunch that even single man in a hundred yards winced involuntarily. Even Smoker paused to look down at Zoro with an almost sympathetic expression.

Zoro shrieked like a little girl, before collapsing into a heap.

Tashigi pulled herself up quickly. Her emotions were flickering from flustered, to embarrassed, to extremely angry. She was blushing so much her face was bright red. "What are you…?" She stuttered incredulously, staring down at Zoro. She could still feel his lips on hers. "Why would you…? How could…?"

She gulped, desperately trying and failing to make sense of what had just happened. "I mean…" She stammered with shock. "But… But…"

Zoro tried to say something. Tashigi couldn't hear it, but she responded by instinctively channelling generations of women everywhere, and kicking him in the balls again.

"For the love of god!" Luffy called down loudly, temporarily distracted from his fight, his eyes worried. "Someone save Zoro while it is still whole!"

Sanji responded quickly. The chef jumped to Zoro's side urgently, and was uncharacteristically gentle as he lifted Zoro up and took him to safety. All of the marines parted in sympathy to allow the swordsman to escape.

Tashigi was left standing there, touching her lips with shock. Her cheeks never stopped blushing. "Why would he…?"

Smoker grunted with annoyance as he looked across the battlefield of the ship. Things were going badly. The marines were falling and the ship was in tatters. Other than himself, only Captain Hina was still capable of fighting, but she wasn't making any progress against Nico Robin.

The other battleships were incapable of firing without hitting each other. Their formation was falling to pieces. The net was being pulled out of place. It wouldn't be long now before the blockade would be ruined, and then the pirates might escape.

I have to finish this, Smoker thought with determination, gathering billows of smoke around him.

Luffy was still attacking furiously, but he was panting heavily by now. Around them, the masts were demolished by Luffy's attacks. Smoker was still completely unharmed, just very annoyed.

Another knife slashed at Smoker's head. It hit nothing but smoke. Luffy jumped away from another plume of smoke, but this time he was too slow. The smoke wrapped around his body like a snake, and slowly started to tighten. Luffy was left helplessly suspended in mid-air by the smoke wrapped around him.

"I've got you now," Smoker muttered, drawing his Seastone jitte from across his back. He twirled the weapon through the air, before lunging it straight towards Luffy's chest.

The impact was devastating. It knocked the breath straight out of him, and sent him flying across the deck. Smoker pressed on with his attack, smirking ruthlessly. Seastone would steal a Devil fruit's powers, leaving the user helpless. So long as Smoker kept the tip on Luffy, then the pirate would be rendered powerless…

But then, Luffy's reaction caused Smoker to freeze. Instead of disorientation and weakness, Luffy grabbed a hold of the jitte firmly.

"Yeah…" Luffy grinned, keeping a tight hold on the weapon. "That's not going to work on me anymore."

Suddenly, with his remaining hand, Luffy drew a knife and brought it down on Smoker's hand. The captain had no choice but to dematerialise otherwise he would lose fingers, which left the jitte firmly in Luffy's grasp.

Smoker couldn't even curse before Luffy brought his own weapon down straight on his head.

He couldn't phase through Seastone tip, and the jitte itself was heavy metal. The force of the blow sent Smoker crashing into the deck with concussive impact. Vaguely, he could feel blood dripping from his forehead. Smoker never even had time to recover before Luffy slammed the jitte across his skull again.

"I told you I would learn how to hurt you," Luffy panted heavily. He was swirling the weapon with satisfaction. Smoker was still reeling from shock, pain and outrage at the pirate. Luffy looked impressed as he inspected jitte critically.

Smoker was practically burning with fury, but Luffy just grinned widely.

"I'm keeping this!" he called brightly, before suddenly turning around and sprinting away.

The captain transformed into a cloud of smoke to give chase, but Luffy was already jumping over the side of the deck. He landed easily on the crow's nest of the Going Merry, where the rest of his crew was already sailing away.

Smoker watched the pirates laugh as they fled. Smoker's ship had been destroyed. His men were beaten. The barricade was breached. Now, Smoker's entire career was in danger.

That bastard stole my jitte!

The captain took a deep breath. They were getting further and further ahead. The other ships hadn't even managed to turn around yet. A week ago, Smoker might have been relieved if they had escaped; he had enjoyed hunting them, after all. But not now. Not when his entire position in the Marines was threatened…

Behind him, Hina limped to his side. She had held up pretty well against Robin, but Hina hadn't been capable of stopping them on her own. She looked equally annoyed.

"Gather your men and your ships," Smoker ordered firmly, his eyes glowing with barely concealed fury. "We'll pursue them to the edge of the world…"

For once, Hina didn't even argue with her colleagues tone. She just nodded stiffly. Both captains stood still for a long time, watching the little ship slowly disappear over the horizon.

Later that night…

By nightfall, Usopp had already patched up the caravel as best he could, but the Going Merry was a sturdy little ship. The victory party had lasted the whole day, but it settled down a few hours ago. It was easy sailing over a quiet ocean, and there had been no sign of any pursuers. Most of the crew had retired to their rooms for the night, although Luffy was out on deck and busy bench-pressing two of the cannons.

The captain hadn't been sleeping much recently. Being asleep felt too much like being dead, he had admitted to Vivi quietly.

Vivi was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the tangerine grove, simply because it was one of the quietest, most out of the way places she could find. The princess was getting her old gown filthy, but she didn't care. She was staring at her hands with frustration, willing something to happen.

She had tried every action she could think of. She had been flapping her body around like a fool before, desperate to reveal some hidden ability, or strange power that she must have developed. The Devil fruit had tasted as foul as hot ash, and it had been genuine. Curiously, she had gently touched Luffy's new jitte before, only to find her body freeze up on contact with the Seastone.

Vivi had eaten a Devil fruit. But she had yet to discover what exactly her powers were. With dread, she wondered what if it had been a dud. What if it had been something completely useless, like the… Woman-Woman fruit or something? She thought, worriedly biting her lip, or the Useless-Useless fruit…?

She sighed as she glanced out over the moonlit ocean. That Devil fruit was supposed to be her chance to get stronger…

There were footsteps behind her. At once, Vivi turned around with embarrassment, only to see a calm Nico Robin looking down on her.

"What are you doing up?!" Vivi accused suspiciously, glaring at the older woman with distrust.

Robin simply smiled. "Just getting a drink," she explained, holding up a glass of milk as proof. She was staring down at the distraught Vivi softly.

"Don't worry too much about your powers," Robin soothed gently, just as she turned to walk away. "Sometimes it takes a while. You'll find out what they are eventually…"

Vivi watched her go, feeling the anger and the hurt boil up inside her. Suddenly, Vivi felt like she was about to cry, but no tears seemed to come. Furious with the unfairness of it all, Vivi slammed her hand down viciously at a nearby tangerine tree.

Yet there was no impact. Vivi's hand simply phased through the branches, completely dematerialising into dust, before reappearing on the other side. Her hand didn't feel any different.

Vivi glared at the hand in shock, and suddenly she knew that she had found her powers. Around her, the soil was drying up and turning into sand. Nami's precious tangerines were eroded by her presence.

The princess was left motionless, staring at her new-found abilities. She recognised them well…

Vivi had never been one for swearing, but now it seemed like it was appropriate.

"Holy shit!" Vivi gasped quietly, while the sand around her started to swirl.

At the other side of the Going Merry, Zoro staggered out of the bed, frowning heavily. Today had not been a good day, he thought finally.

His fight against Tashigi had been the embarrassing one of his life, and that was even including his regular beat downs from Kuina. He would have loved to forget all about it, but the memory was already scarred into his brain.

He still couldn't walk properly. He was forced to waddle everywhere, and tenderly nurse his crotch back to health. The last time he went to the toilet, there had been a large amount of blood involved.

Plus, Chopper had to bandage up his groin. That had been an experience Zoro was rapidly trying to erase from memory.

And I kissed her, Zoro thought furiously. In the middle of a fight. It was shameful and embarrassing, and he couldn't believe he had actually done it. And the kiss had been…

Well, it had been…

Zoro gulped, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Today had not been a good day, and tonight he was left to do something truly unpleasant.

The swordsman hobbled around the ship, slowly heading towards the kitchen. There was a light on inside the room.

"Nami! Vivi! Robin!" Sanji was singing gently as he cooked. "Three beautiful ladies on one ship! And they will all fall in love with me once they've tasted…"

His voice trailed off as Zoro walked through the door. Zoro was glaring at Sanji unhappily.

"Marimo…" Sanji greeted, the sing-song voice instantly replaced by a cool greeting. "What are you doing in my kitchen?"

Zoro growled, trying to force the words out. "I…" The statement very nearly choked him. "… I need your help…"

Sanji was curious now. He leant back on the benches and lit a cigarette calmly. "Help with what?" Sanji said calmly, looking Zoro up and down.

The swordsman would have much preferred to cut off his own fingers, one by one, than by here. But still, he finally managed to spit the words out.

"I need advice…" he grumbled quietly.

Sanji raised a curly eyebrow. The chef was starting to enjoy himself now. "Advice on…?"

Zoro gulped. He could feel whatever pride he had left being shredded. "If you tell anybody about this," he warned seriously. "I will kill you."

Sanji nodded with bemusement, while Zoro was still wrestling with the words.

"I need advice on…" It was painful to watch. Finally, Zoro's pride collapsed. He sighed in defeat. "I need advice on women…"

The chef nodded, and was silent for several seconds. Then, he slowly took out another cigarette, lit it carefully, before taking a very deep breath.

Sanji's laughter could be heard all the way in Aluburna.

Chapter Text

Sanji laughed harder than he had in years. The chef was practically bent over, struggling to breathe through the laughter. Zoro gritted his teeth with frustration.

"Are you done?" He snapped finally.

"You... You're having girl problems!" Sanji exclaimed through gasps of breath. "I always assumed you were in a relationship with your swords! You mean the shitty swordsman is actually interested in human females?"

Sanji suddenly stopped laughing. "Wait; she is human, right?" The chef wondered. "This isn't some sort of weird sword fetish-"

"Yes!" Zoro growled angrily. "She's human, you damn pervert."

Sanji smirked as he leant back against the kitchen cupboards. "So who's the unlucky girl – Ah, of course," he realised instantly. "It's that marine girl isn't it? Tashigi?"

Zoro was strangely quiet as he murmured, "Yes."

"Ah…" The chef nodded understandingly. "Looking to play a bit of cops and robbers with the beautiful marine? Have you ever thought about what else she could use those handcuffs for…?"

The swordsman's eyes flashed. "Get your mind of the gutter, you pervert."

"Oh! So you need my help in wooing the beautiful lady?"

Zoro spat a choked agreement.

Sanji nodded sagely. "Well…" he mused, thinking about it for a while. "Yep – she's way out of your league. Honestly, you would be better of sticking with your swords."

The vein on Zoro's forehead bulged dangerously. This was a mistake, he thought furiously. He had just pointed Sanji at the most emotionally sensitive subject he had.

"Are you going to help me or not?!" The swordsman snarled.

"Ok, then," Sanji asked, a teasing look in his eyes. "What do you need help with?"

Strangely, Zoro found that he would much rather repeatedly and brutally stab himself in the stomach than force the words out of his mouth. "Well…" He muttered in a choked voice. "How do I…"

Finally, he had to just close his eyes and spit it out. "…woo her…?"

Sanji rolled his eyes. "Listen, Marimo," the chef explained. "It's really quite simple: all women are goddesses."

Suddenly, Sanji was throwing his arms wide and posing with a glazed look in his eyes. "A woman is the perfect, magnificent creature to walk the world!" He proclaimed. "It is a man's privilege to even stare upon one's face! To engage in the subtle and glorious art of romance, you must only treat the lady like divine and flawless beings that they truly are!"

Zoro was quiet for a long time. "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say," he thought about it for a while. "…And it has been a long list."

For once, Sanji wasn't even insulted. "Oh, but the tin-man does have a heart, doesn't he?" He teased. "Even if it is hidden beneath an obsession for blades."

"Let me guess how the fair Tashigi makes you feel…" He continued, lighting a cigarette smoothly. "Your heart pounds. Your legs become jelly. Suddenly you don't know what to say, and the words jam in your throat. You feel so weak, but at the same time you never want to feel anything else. She's all that you can think about, and any moment that you're not with her feels like a wasted opportunity."

Zoro was quiet. Sanji looked smug. "And that, shitty swordsman…," he declared. "…is the majestic power that the female race holds over a man's heart!"

The chef smirked, and then added, "Of course, it's wasted on you because Tashigi is so far out of your league."

"That's it!" Zoro snapped finally, already drawing his swords. "I'm going to kill you now."

Zoro lunged at Sanji, and the two of them started wrestling. Kitchen utensils clattered to the ground while the two men tried to force each other to ground. Perhaps Zoro wouldn't actually kill or seriously maim the chef, but he wasn't above inflicting some light injuries.

Curiously, Luffy heard the clattering and walked into kitchen. Luffy's muscles were still aching and sweating from his late-night workout, but he popped his head around the corner interestedly.

"Hey guys," Luffy greeted, without surprise at his two crewmates trying to kill each other. "What you doing?"

Sanji grinned, kicking Zoro roughly in the chest. "Marimo here is having girl problems!" Sanji teased.

"Huh." Luffy's face was clueless. "What girl problems?"

"You know…" He motioned suggest fully. "Girl problems."

There was no hint of realisation. The chef deadpanned. "Zoro is having problems getting a girlfriend," he explained finally.

"Oh…" The captain scratched his head in confusion. "Wait, aren't Nami and Vivi your friends?"

Even Zoro stared at Luffy's obliviousness. Sanji looked dumbfounded. "Luffy… do you not know what a girlfriend is?"

"Uhh… yes," Luffy replied finally, after a long moment's hesitation. "But you explain it first, just to be sure."

The chef blinked twice. "Do you know the thing that men and women do with each other in private?" He tried.

Luffy started panicking slightly. "…Eat meat?" He hazarded.

Zoro burst out laughing. It was incredibly reassuring to know that at least there was someone more clueless than he was.

Sanji looked shocked. "Unbelievable; how can both of you be so clueless about the appreciation of the opposing sex?"

He didn't even wait for an answer, but slammed his fist into his hand with determination. "As a fellow man, it is my duty to enlighten you both on the intricacies and mysteries of the opposite sex!" Sanji proclaimed. "And I have just the tool for the job!"

Without hesitation, Sanji darted across the kitchen and pulled a slim book out of a drawer, and then held it triumphantly. The book was old and worn, but still in good quality. The title, in broad letters, proclaimed 'Pleasure in the Garden of Eden'. The cover showed a picture of a beautiful woman, mostly naked except for a few dollops of squirty cream over her body.

Sanji looked proud. Luffy looked confused. Zoro looked embarrassed to even be here.

"…You keep that in the kitchen?" Zoro said finally.

"It gives me inspiration when I'm cooking."

Zoro started to look sick as he imagined Sanji cooking alone. Curiously, Luffy snatched the book out of Sanji's hand. He flickered to a random page in the middle.

"'…Wendy moaned as he planted his member into her wet soil…'" Luffy read slowly, looking confused. "I don't get it – is this about gardening?"

Sanji was quiet for a very long time. "Ok," he decided eventually. "We're going to have to start with the very basics."

He rushed over to the meat pantry and pulled something off the hook, before quickly grabbing a pastry from the sweet cupboard.

"Oh! Are you making something to eat?" Luffy asked eagerly.

Sanji shook his head. "Nope." He held up the sausage and the doughnut. "These are teaching aids."

Luffy was very confused now. He was still struggling to read his way through the book. "There's too much writing in this!" He complained loudly. "Words are confusing…"

"Don't worry!" Sanji said eagerly, flipping through the pages. "There are pictures too!"

Luffy's eyes bulged as he stared in page. Sanji smiled with satisfaction and was already starting to narrate the 'story' from the book.

Zoro looked at the two of them for a long time. He tried to maintain a look of disdain for a while. Finally, he gave in and went to sit down next to them, peering at the small book.

After midnight, Robin restlessly stood up and walked quietly out of her cabin. She was used to sleeping at sea and the gentle waves didn't bother her, but it was discomforting being in such a strange place. She had spent so long being hunted that it was hard to close her eyes in a new environment.

Silently, she walked barefoot from the quarters and left the women's quarters. The ship was silent this late at night, and Robin figured that she would get a snack from the kitchen to help her sleep. As she crept out on to the deck and felt the ocean breeze, she heard whispers coming from the kitchen.

The kitchen light was still on, and the sound of a hushed conversation spread across the deck. Curiously, Robin approached quietly.

"I don't get," Luffy said slowly, sounding confused. "You never mentioned anything about doing that."

"When a woman lets you do that, then it is the truest expression of pure love!" Sanji sighed. His voice had a dreamlike quality to it. "Only one in a thousand men are lucky enough to achieve it…"

Even through the door, Robin could practically hear Luffy scratching his head. "It looks… awkward."

"True love comes in many shapes and sizes."

There was a sound of a page being turned, and a short quiet. This time, it was Zoro who talked. "Ok… I'm pretty sure that position is physically impossible," he said sceptically. "There's no way that you could bend like that."

"True love can achieve many things," Sanji replied happily.

"Oh!" Luffy exclaimed suddenly, having a brainwave. "Do you think he's a Rubberman?"

There was a moment's silence. "If there was a Devil fruit that could let you achieve that…" Sanji said finally, his voice solemn. "Then I will kill the man who eats before I do."

There was a sound of another page rustling, followed by another quiet.

"Hey…" Luffy said eventually. He sounded like a schoolboy trying to learn a new subject. "You definitely said that sex was between a man and woman. So what's that other woman doing?"

"True love doesn't discriminate between genders," Sanji sounded happy. "It's ALL beautiful…"

"Oh." There were a few seconds consideration. "Does that mean it would be beautiful between two guys as well?"

At the same time, Sanji and Zoro both choked with the thought. There was a sound of two fists colliding against Luffy's head, before the pages flipped once again.

"Ah…" Sanji sighed blissfully.

"So much cream," Luffy commented. "What are they using all that squirty cream for?"

"True love requires sustenance."

"…I will never be able to eat your lemon tart again." Zoro said finally.

In response, Luffy's stomach growled. "I'm really hungry suddenly."

As the three of them kept on arguing, Robin became more curious. Finally, she placed a hand over her eye and used her powers. Inside the kitchen, an eye appeared on the inside of the door.

Sanji, Luffy and Zoro were sitting on the floor on the kitchen, huddled around a porno book, all the while trying to ignore the growing bulges in their pants.

Robin blinked twice and the eye vanished. Without another word, she very quickly walked back to her bed.

Nami woke up late the next morning. It was rare for the navigator to be able to sleep in, but the sky was clear and the Going Merry was on a smooth route to the next island. She had deliberately plotted a detouring course after Alabasta in an attempt to lose the Marines that would be chasing them, and so Nami was expecting at least a couple of weeks at sea.

The bright midday sun was filtering through the port-hole. The cabin was slowly becoming blisteringly hot, until the wooden floors started to sweat from the evaporation. As much as Nami would have loved to stay wrapped up comfortably in blankets, eventually it became so hot that she had to get up.

Unwillingly, Nami pulled herself out of bed and sighed as she climbed the stairs on to deck. She was feeling more rested than she had in months, quite content to walk out wearing pyjama shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt, an outfit that clearly highlighted her curves.

Perhaps Sanji will have a heart attack when he sees me wearing this, Nami thought with a hint of smugness. For all the chef was a pervert, Nami did quite enjoy causing him regular nosebleeds. It was good for her confidence.

Nami pushed the door open slowly, and the bright sunlight caused her to blink several times. She was left completely unprepared for the view that greeted her on deck.

Luffy was standing at the front ship, facing towards the figurehead, and was busy doing squats as he held two cannons over his head. The captain didn't seem to notice Nami watching, but suddenly he was all the Nami could notice.

His muscles glistened with the sweat the poured off him. The golden sunlight highlighted his body in a way that would not be out of place in one of her slim books –Yes; Nami had her own version of Sanji's "cookery" book, except hers was much more well-hidden. Luffy was panting heavily, and Nami could only stare at the sweat dripping down bare chest. During the squats, his shorts had slowly crept down his hips, and perhaps if she watch long enough than they would eventually…

Without even blinking, Nami wordlessly sat down by the door and watched appreciatively. A bright blush settled over her cheeks. She could feel her body heating up, and her hands started to slowly drift towards her hips.

This is wrong, she told herself firmly. She could only imagine what Vivi or Robin would think if they were to walk on her watching Luffy like this. God knows, she'd never live it down if one of the men were to appear now. I should walk away quickly, Nami thought decisively, right now. Still, she stayed completely motionless; her body seemed to ignoring her commands.

When did he get so many muscles? Nami wondered with a quiet sigh. Luffy had always been so skinny and lean. He had been strong, sure, but he used to be so narrow shouldered.

It had been the Gum Gum fruit, Nami realised. His body used to stretch rather than buff up, leaving him looking scrawny. Even after only a week with his near-suicidal training scheme, the effects were starting to show. His arms were starting bulging now, and his posture had improved. Not drastically; Luffy was still a twig compared to Zoro. Still, it was enough to make Nami sweat as she imagined what it would be like to have those arms wrapped around her, and the feel of his naked chest against hers…

Ok, Nami thought finally as she forced herself to stand up, I have to leave– right now. It had been a weird few days, and she still wasn't used to seeing Luffy acting differently. It was totally understandable that her mind would wander a bit. Those thoughts she was having didn't mean a thing.

They didn't mean a thing, she repeated firmly.

Nami quickly ran back to her room to get dressed, careful to make sure that Luffy never noticed a thing. She shut the door firmly behind her. A few seconds later, Nami turned around, opened the door slightly, and gave a lingering look through the gap. She was biting her lip as she pulled herself away.

Suddenly, Nami realised that she really needed a shower.

Not even Nami noticed the disembodied eye that was hovering over the door. At the other side of the ship, Nico Robin smiled appreciatively as she leant backwards slowly, her hand over one eye.

A few hours later, Nami emerged from her room, fully dressed in the most conservative clothing she had. She took great care when opening the door, but Luffy was no longer on the deck. Curiously and unwillingly disappointed, Nami glanced around before she heard the laughter emerging from the meeting room.

"Do it again!" A happy and high-pitched voice was laughing. Nami opened the door to see Chopper rolling around the floor cheerfully, standing in front of a bemused Vivi. The whole crew was sitting around table, watching Vivi curiously. Luffy was right next to Vivi, and (thankfully!) he was wearing a shirt again.

"I'm still not very good with it…" Vivi said apologetically, scratching her head hesitantly. She just couldn't resist Chopper's wide-eyed innocence.

Slowly, Vivi waved her hand in front of her. Nami could see her outline shimmer strangely, before suddenly sprinkles fell off her arm. Each grain of sand glinted in the bright light. Chopper giggled he tried to chase the sand around the room, and the while the gentle sandstorm started to increase in intensity.

Eventually, the slow-moving sandstorm engulfed the whole room. Nami could feel the sand tingling her skin, but there was no pain or malicious intent there. Sanji was already on his feet and exclaiming about Vivi's beauty, but Nami felt her mouth drop open.

"This is…?"

"It looks like the princess has discovered her power," Robin remarked simply. "It's strange that the Sand Sand fruit has reappeared so quickly."

Vivi glanced around the room nervously. She was looking at what Luffy's reaction would be, yet the captain seemed completely calm.

"Luffy, I–" Vivi tried, but the words jammed in her throat. She really didn't want to bring up bad memories for him, and part of her was dreading what happen if Luffy associated her to Crocodile.

"It's alright!" Luffy grinned brightly. "It's got nothing to do with him anymore. This is your power now."

Instantly, everyone was laughing. Usopp and Chopper were already staring at Vivi with awe now, and she felt all the tension fall from her shoulders.

"This is great!" Usopp exclaimed loudly. "We can make sandcastles now! Let's have a sandcastle tournament!"

"I'm not sure how to… it's only been…"

Even as Vivi tried to protest, she waved her hand around and a huge gush of sand spat from her fingertips. Usopp was suddenly sent crashing towards the far side of the room in a pile of sand, but he brushed himself off happily.

"That's so cool!" The sniper exclaimed loudly. "Maybe I should eat a Devil fruit…?"

She chuckled, and gradually started to experiment with summoning more sand around the room. Within seconds, the room was hazy with sand, but there was no force behind it and it wasn't uncomfortable.

"Vivi!" Nami shouted suddenly with concern. Beneath Vivi's feet, the wood was drying up and splitting. "Careful!"

The sandstorm vanished from the air, leaving a layer of sand covering everything. Vivi jumped backwards, looking at the two footprints of aridness that had been stamped on to the wooden floor.

Vivi stammered uncertainly, "I'm sorry, I've still not very good with…"

"Doesn't matter!" Luffy dismissed cheerfully. "You're going to get better! Sanji! Let's make a meal to celebrate!"

The captain was shouting happily as he hustled Vivi out of the room. The rest of the crew followed, with Sanji proclaim the meal of love that he was about to make. Nami watched them go with a happy smile. Luffy, in his moronic way, must have known that Vivi was feeling insecure, Nami realised.

Suddenly, Nami recalled that moment back in Cocoyasi. She was crying on the ground, and Luffy just wordlessly pressed his hat on to her head. There's nothing more important to him than making sure his friends are happy

"Does this mean that you can turn into sand now?" Luffy asked Vivi excitedly. "Oh! Could you turn into a sand monster? That would be so cool!"

"I've been trying…" Vivi stammered, feeling the infectious laughter as all her friends crowded around. "It's really hard! I can make small sandstorms, but I sometimes lose control, and it takes a long time to dematerialise my body…"

Vivi's voice trailed off as she glanced towards Nami. "I might have accidentally ruined a couple of your tangerines trees, when I was practising," Vivi muttered apologetically to Nami.

"My tangerines?!" Nami exclaimed loudly.

"Only a couple!" Vivi said quickly. "Most of the grove is absolutely fine! My powers just got away from me a bit…"

Nami glanced towards Luffy, her reactive outrage eased quickly. "Doesn't matter," Nami replied with a smile. "They're only tangerines."

Then, Sanji arrived in blur as he carried three large plates of appetisers while reciting a love song to Vivi. The words 'desert princess' were repeated often. Even as the meal was set out, Vivi was dragged by Chopper who begged to see more of her powers. Carue joined in quickly, heaving Vivi onto his back and racing in circles around the deck while the sand swirled idly around her.

The party was already starting, and it was impossible for the crew to do anything quietly. Nami laughed as Usopp, Chopper and Luffy started a 'sand' fight with each other, before she sat down with a drink in her hand and enjoyed the fun.

Wordlessly, Robin sat down next to Nami. The older woman graciously accepted her drink from a gushing Sanji, before the chef blurred off to chase after Vivi.

"I'm impressed," Robin said finally. "Logia fruits are exceedingly rare and extremely powerful. As Vivi learns how to control her powers, she's going to become very strong."

Nami didn't respond. Instead, the navigator just watched Luffy chase after Vivi, and she felt a pit in her stomach.

It was evening by the time the impromptu celebration finally ended. Luffy returned to his workout, and at the other side of the ship, Zoro returned to his. Recently, the swordsman and the captain had been competing to see who could handle the most nightmarish 'training' regime. As much as it killed him to admit it, Zoro was losing that competition.

This time, Zoro returned to practice with a vengeance. Last night with Sanji had been… illustrative in many ways, but he felt just as lost with Tashigi as ever. No matter how hard the swordsman thought about it, he had yet to come up with any action that wouldn't result in Tashigi kicking him in the balls again.

Why do woman have to be so complicated? Zoro thought with frustration. It had been a thought echoed by many men throughout the ages.

Zoro was swinging his swords furiously; each blade was fastened to a heavy barrel, but Zoro didn't care. Right now, he just wanted something to distract him.

Otherwise, he was afraid he would have to go and get Sanji's little book again.

After half an hour, footsteps marked the arrival of an impatient Nami. She stood with her hands on her hips, watching Zoro and waiting for him to notice her. He did, but Zoro pretended not to see her for a long time.

"Zoro!" Nami snapped finally, unable to think of any pleasant way to start the conversation.

"What do you want?" Zoro growled, dropping his swords nevertheless. "I'm training here."

Nami folded her arms. "Good," she said firmly. "Because from now on, you're going to train me."

That caused Zoro to stop and stare. "What?"

"You are going to train me," Nami repeated slowly, as if talking to an infant. "You are going to teach me how to use a sword."

Zoro looked like he was about to choke. "But… why?"

Nami shrugged, careful not to reveal any of her feelings. "Everyone else here is getting stronger," she said simply. "I want to get stronger too. Now you're going to train me."

The swordsman shook his head. "Go away!" He shouted, but there was a sinking feeling in his stomach. Nami was well-known for getting whatever she wanted. "I don't have time for that!"

Nami smiled manipulatively, reaching into her pocket. "Well, then… in that case I'm just going to have to do something nasty…"

She held out a small photo. Zoro felt his eyes bulge. "What… is… that?"

He was staring at a picture of himself and Sanji, lying asleep on the ground and cuddling up to each other unknowingly. Their arms were wrapped around each other, and his hand was disturbingly close to Sanji's crotch…

Zoro blinked several times. Veins started to throb on his forehead.

"I took it in Aluburna, after the party," Nami explained with a smirk. "The king lent me a picture snail. When you and Sanji were passed out drunk, I might have pulled you're bodies together and took the picture."

Zoro looked like he was about to explode. Nami held the picture closer. "Look carefully," she teased. "I even put my make-up on you both."

The swordsman snapped. He quickly snatched the photo from her hands, shredding it into pieces and then stomping on the pieces. Nami simply chuckled. "Go ahead," she grinned. "Do you really think that I took only one?"

"You witch…!" He snarled.

"Yep," she agreed. "Anyways, either you train me, or that photo is going to appear on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. Can you imagine what that would do to your reputation…?"

The colour faded from Zoro's face. "But… but…" Zoro stammered helplessly. "Why do you even want to learn how to use a sword? Do you even have a sword?"

"Because I do," Nami replied. "And no, I can just borrow one of yours for now."

He looked like he wanted to protest, but the image of that picture flashed before his eyes. Instantly, it became one of Zoro's life ambitions that no one else would ever see that picture. Particularly, not Tashigi…

Zoro blinked twice. An idea came to him. "Fine…" He said unwillingly. "I'll train you. But in return you've got to do something for me."

Nami raised an eyebrow. "What?" She asked suspiciously.

He gulped. "You've got to help me with a girl," he admitted finally.

The training started quickly, and with lots of arguing. Zoro was a completely terrible teacher, but that was alright because Nami was an utterly horrible student. She refused to follow his instructions, but he neglected to give any so it was fine.

Instead, Zoro simply gave her one of his swords and they started sparring. He decided to lend her Yubashiri, as that was the most forgiving of his blades, while he used Wado Ichimonji. Nami's technique and stance was terrible, but Zoro was unforgiving. It was lucky that he had recently mastered the art of not cutting, otherwise Nami would have been missing limbs very quickly. Instead, she suffered many bruises.

Zoro had half expected Nami to call it quits after the first spar, but her determination never wavered. Instead, she just gritted her teeth and kept on standing up. Eventually, Zoro gradually started to slow down his movement so that she could copy them, and in return she followed his unspoken instruction.

By dusk, they were still sparring, and Zoro reluctantly started to accept that she might have talent. Nami was quick with sharp reflexes, and she was intent on learning. The other crew members came and watched curiously. Sanji was initially fuming with rage at Zoro for being so ungentle with Nami, yet then Robin came and distracted the chef with some light flirting.

It was black by the time Zoro finally called it off. Nami was panting and sweating heavily, but she refused to be the one to quit. In the spirit of companionship, Zoro carried her into the kitchen and even brought a warm towel for her bruises.

With wordless appreciation, she accepted the towel. Zoro took a seat next to her.

"You're not bad," he said finally. The swordsman was forced to respect her determination, and he had already relented to be the one to teach her. "You need to work on your strength, and you movements are clumsy. It's nothing that a regular training regime can't fix."

Nami nodded silently. After a few seconds, she cleared her throat and asked, "So tell me about this girl?"

Discreetly, Zoro glanced around to make sure that no one else was around. He didn't think he could survive the embarrassment again. "Her name is Tashigi," he admitted. "She's a marine that I meant in Loguetown. At first she just reminded of another girl I once knew, but then…"

"She's the one that saved our lives," Nami smiled. "You really like her, don't you?"

Zoro nodded. With a quick flick of her rest, Nami slapped him over his head, but gently. "Then tell her that, idiot," Nami chided with a smile. "She's the one you should be talking to."

"It's not that easy!" Zoro protested. "She's a Marine! She hates me for being a pirate. She's a swordswoman! She hates me for not being able to fight her properly. I've yet to be able to talk to her without her trying to kill or capture me."

"Ok, so it might not be simple," Nami conceded. "But you've still got to give it the effort. You've got to tell her how you feel, and find out if she feels the same way. Sure, it's going to cause problems, but you need to face these problems together."

"Well…" The words choked in Zoro's mouth. He was barely able to believe what he had to ask her. The whole experience had already made him feel like a schoolchild. "How do I get her to like me?"

Nami grinned, but not with any nastiness. She was genuinely sympathetic to Zoro. "Just be there for her," she said softly. "It's not about doing the right actions or pressing the right buttons, you've just got to be able to make her happy."

Nami's eyes glazed over slightly. "If you really want a girl to like you, then you've just got to be able to put her first. You need to be able to make her smile," she muttered. "Whatever you do, you mustn't let anything make her cry…"

Suddenly, Nami stopped talking. The realisation hit her like a ton of bricks. For so long she had tried desperately not to see it, even when it was right in front of her. The emotions swirled inside her so furiously that she felt faint.

Oh crap, Nami realised with a mixture of dread and anticipation, I'm in love with Luffy.

Luffy groaned as he pulled himself out of bed. His stomach was growling angrily. Without the Gum Gum fruit, he couldn't eat in one sitting like he used to be able to, but his appetite was just the same. It meant that he had to get up every few hours just to get something to eat.

The captain yawned as he climbed out of the quarters. At this hour, everyone else was fast asleep. Zoro was snoring loudly, Usopp was talking in his sleep, while Sanji had a dreamy expression and was making kissing noises while wrapping his legs around his pillow.

The ship was quietly rocking on the waves while Luffy headed straight for the kitchen. He recalled last night, and his late night tutorial session with Sanji and Zoro. That had been a strange night. Despite all the explanations, it had left him with more questions than answers. Sex was complicated, he had decided finally.

As he walked out on to deck, it surprised him to see a dim light on in the kitchen, particularly since Sanji was still asleep. Luffy pushed the door open, only to see Nami staring at him expectantly.

The orange-haired woman looked nervous. She was sitting at the edge of her chair, tapping her fingers uncertainly. She was wearing short pyjama trousers revealing most of her legs, and a loose-fitting white t-shirt that draped low down her chest. Nami was staring at him with wide-eyed expectance.

"'Ello," Luffy greeted tiredly. "Are you hungry too?"

It took a long time for Nami to respond. "I wanted to talk," she said finally, her voice low.

"Oh," Luffy was a bit confused, but he nodded. "Ok, what about?"

Nami cleared her throat. "Luffy… how do you feel about me?"

He frowned. "You're my friend," he said simply. "What do you mean?"

"Do you care about me?" She asked insistently.

"Of course I do," he replied without a second's hesitation.

Slowly, Nami stood up and carefully approached. "Do you remember that night in Aluburna?" She questioned slowly. "On the balcony? We were so close, and do you remember what you said?"

Luffy nodded quietly, not sure where she was going with this questioning.

Nami was very close to him now, and carefully she placed her hands on his shoulders. "You said that you loved us more than your hat. You vowed that you would never let anything hurt me," Nami whispered, moving her hands downwards. Her heart was pounding so loudly it was difficult for her to hear anything else.

"So… please…" Nami muttered. She was now so close he could feel her breath on his face. "Tell me something… do you love me?"

There wasn't even any hesitation. "Of course," Luffy answered simply. "I love all of my friends."

Every second felt like an eternity. The word 'friends' hurt Nami worse than anything she had ever felt. Nami pulled away from him quickly. She had an expression of shock and hurt. Her eyes were filling up with tears.

"Nami…" Luffy asked with concern. He had a vague feeling that he had just said something wrong, but he wasn't sure what. "What's the matter? Are you in pain? Did someone –?"

"Idiot!" Nami screeched suddenly, her voice cracking through the sobs. Instantly, her hand flashed and she slapped Luffy's cheek with a sudden impact.

The force stung and knocked Luffy to the side. Nami was already charging out of the room, slamming the door behind her. The force blew out the candle as she left.

Luffy was standing in the dark, looking around with bewilderment, and wondering what he had done wrong.

Girls are complicated, he decided eventually.

With a hesitant knock, Luffy waited at the entrance to the women's room. There was a light on, but nobody was answering. After a few minutes of uncertain deliberation, Luffy finally entered the room.

The women's room was so much tidier than the men's. It was neatly spaced and adorned with cabinets, desks and a bar. Everyone's belongings were neatly sorted in chests and the walls were decorated with pictures and curtains. In the men's room, everything just stayed where it was dropped.

The room was strangely quiet. The room was lit by a single candle by Robin's bedside. The dark-haired woman was sitting in her bed, engrossed in a thick book, but she looked up as Luffy entered.

"Mr Captain," Robin said with surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Luffy shifted awkwardly. "I knocked," he said apologetically.

"I'm sorry, I was too busy to hear," Robin motioned to the book. "What can I do for you?"

"I was looking for Nami."

"I haven't seen her tonight," Robin explained, gesturing around the otherwise empty cabin. "She never returned to her bed. I believe that Vivi is still practising with her new powers."

"Oh." Luffy was now out of ideas. He didn't have them very often. "Ok then."

Robin smiled curiously. "What do you need with Ms Navigator?"

He scratched his head. "I was going to apologise."

"Really? What about?"

"I'm not quite sure," Luffy admitted. "But I definitely think I must have done something wrong."

She just chuckled quietly. "Well, I hope you figure it out," Robin said kindly. "Goodnight, Mr Captain."

Just as Luffy was about to leave, he glanced backwards at the woman, who was returning to her book.

"What are you reading?" He asked curiously.

"Oh, just a romance," Robin smiled, holding up the cover. "It's quite good."

"A romance," Luffy repeated, looking suspicious. "Is that like a 'cookery' book?"

Robin giggled. "No," she replied. "It's a story of two star-crossed lovers. A classic, actually. I must have read this book a dozen times."

"Huh. I've never read it." Luffy couldn't think of a book he had read, to be honest.

She raised an eyebrow. "Would you like to?" She offered.

After a moment's deliberation, Luffy approached the woman. She shifted towards across the bed, allowing Luffy to sit down next to her. Robin flicked the book to page one, while Luffy comfortably leant against the woman.

She was warm and soft, and it made him feel content just lying against her. He grabbed a hold of the other side of the book, holding it between them as they began to read.

They only reached about five pages in before they both fell asleep next to each other.

Chapter Text

"Land ho!" Usopp called excitedly, his voice ringing through the entire ship. "Look everyone! There's land ahead! Land!"

Standing on top of crow's nest with his sniper goggles, Usopp was naturally the first one to see the dark mass of the island arise over the horizon, yet it wasn't long before the rest of the crew could see it too. Before long, the pirates were all on dock, leaning over the figurehead as they watched the island come in to shape.

"Land!" Chopper shouted cheerfully. "Finally, land!"

Nami glanced down at her Log Pose anxiously, but they were definitely heading to the right island. After two weeks at sea, the whole crew was stressed and eager to finally land. It had been a long detour to throw off the Marines, but the next island was finally in sight.

The island started to become bigger, until finally the outline of a port was clearly visible. The other ships were nothing more than specks on the horizon, but they quickly getting bigger.

"Wow!" Usopp exclaimed happily, rushing down the mast. "Not bad at all! It looks like a pleasant town!"

Luffy was already hanging off his seat gleefully, eagerly awaiting the town. If he was any further forward, he would fall into the ocean. "Full speed ahead, Merry!" Luffy shouted loudly, practically bouncing up and down.

Nami still couldn't even look at Luffy properly. Deep down, she knew that he was the exact same clueless idiot he had always been. She had tried to make the first move, yet Luffy never even realised a move had been made. It shouldn't have been so embarrassing considering the Luffy hadn't realised there has anything to be embarrassed about. Nami shouldn't have expected anything different.

Even so, she had hoped for… more from him. She had barely even said a word to Luffy after that night. Instead, Nami had devoted herself to training with Zoro simply as a way to avoid thinking about her captain. As it turned out, an extreme training regimen was a great substitute for romance.

Next to her, Robin leant over the handrail, smiling faintly at the city. Robin was fitting into the crew nicely, and she had become particularly close to Nami. Even Vivi, who still treated her with suspicion, was at least civil now. Robin and Luffy were already halfway through their book, though they had taken to reading it together in private.

"Hey, it looks like a holiday resort!" Usopp was chattering, as the wooden buildings became closer. "I can't wait to…"

Usopp's voice trailed off as he focused on the ships docked at the harbour. "Umm…" He muttered uncertainly. "Those ships at the dock look a lot like pirate ships… or am I just worrying too much?"

Nami slapped him over the back of the head absentmindedly. "Don't be silly, Usopp," she said dismissively. "How could pirate ships dock so openly in such a big city?"

He was just about to agree with her, as slowly the sounds of the town started to reach their ship. The sounds of screaming, cursing, gunfire, and battle were unmistakable. It sounded like hell itself. At once, Usopp, Chopper, Carue and Nami started to huddle together in fear.

"Oh dear," Robin noted quietly, without any indication of shock. The sounds of murder didn't appear to faze her even slightly. "It seems like we've arrived in a pirate town. There is no law and order here."

There was a moment of silence while the shapes came into focus. Every single man in the town was carrying a weapon, and most were currently busy trying to kill someone else with that weapon. The town could have been mistaken for a warzone if it wasn't so disorganised.

"Well, we don't have to go inside, right?" Vivi reasoned uncertainly. "We just have to wait until the Log Pose settles, so there's no point in doing anything dangerous."

"Dangerous?" Zoro grinned evilly. His hand was already twitching over the handle of his sword. "Looks to me like a pretty fun town."

Nami glared at Zoro with annoyance. "This isn't going to go well…" She muttered with despair.

"Oh, come on, Nami," Luffy said with a grin that made her heart skip. The captain was just as excited. He had Smoker's old jitte slung over his back, and his dual knives in his belt. Luffy cracked his knuckles eagerly. "We've been at sea for ages. We need to have some fun."

Fifteen minutes later, Nami anchored the Going Merry some distance away from the town to avoid attention. By that time, both Luffy and Zoro were so eager for action that they were practically pacing the ship, before quickly jumping over the boat and setting off into town.

"Is it safe to let them go off like that?" Vivi asked uncertainly. They both had a dangerous glint in their eyes.

Nami shrugged. "It's fine," she sighed with defeat. "Not like there's any reason to keep a low profile in this town. They might as well blow off some steam."

The navigator glanced downwards, just as Robin was exiting the gangway. "Hey Robin!" Nami called loudly, jumping down to meet the other woman. "I need to go and buy a sword. Escort me into town."

The archaeologist looked amused, but nodded anyways. "Alright," she agreed. "I was going to try to find some information about this town, anyways."

Sanji seemed to levitate through the air as he jumped down to meet them. "Ah!" The chef called happily. "Two beautiful women walking together! It is my duty as a man to protect you against fiends that would smear your grace!"

Nami never even gave Sanji a second glance. "Vivi?" She called upwards to her friend. "Are you coming too?"

"Yes!" Sanji proclaimed eagerly. "Vivi should come too! All of the beautiful women should be together with me!"

The princess hesitated, and then shook her head. Around her, Chopper, Usopp and Carue were still trembling with nervousness and hiding behind the ship. "No," she said finally. "I want to stay here and practice some more."

She had been training a lot with her powers recently, and was definitely becoming better. Slightly disappointed, Nami just nodded. "Ok, then," Nami called farewell, as she started walk away with Robin and a skipping Sanji. "Be safe!"

Vivi waved goodbye, shouting loudly, "You too!"

Just as she said that, Usopp realised something. "Wait a minute…" The sniper muttered slowly. He, Vivi, Chopper and Carue were the only ones left on the Going Merry. "All of the strong people are gone! What if something happens to us?"

After that, Vivi started giggling while the other three began to run around with panic.

"Whoa, so many tough guys in this city!" Luffy exclaimed happily, watching a large wrestler slam another victim to the ground. The champion was laughing hysterically, already proclaiming himself the greatest.

"Yeah," Zoro agreed, grinning evilly. "Who do you want to beat up first?"

Luffy thought about it for a while. He was surrounded by big men carrying weapons and looking for a fight, after all. Still, Luffy's stomach was growling hungrily. "Nah, let's go get something eat first."

Reluctantly, Zoro agreed. "I think I saw a bar up this way."

Zoro pointed, and then started to walk in the complete wrong direction. Luffy followed witlessly. It would end up taking an hour and two laps of the village before they finally found the pub.

Despite their unassuming entrance, they were still noticed. A skinny, bedraggled man with ragged stubble on his chin, a long nose and a permanent stench of booze, pointed the pair out his companions.

"Oi…" The man muttered, scratching his head with the hand not holding a bottle of beer, while motioning to Zoro and Luffy. "Those two… have you seen them before?"

His companion, equally drunk, shook his head. "Those runts? Nah. Probably won't see them again either. Guys as scrawny as that don't last long in this town, Jobo."

Jobo frowned as he tried to remember. "I'm sure I've seen them before…" The drunk murmured. It must have been in the most recent newspaper. "…Did they have a bounty?"

Finally, realisation hit. "It's those two!" Jobo exclaimed, dropping his bottle of beer with shock. He remembered their bounties now – they had been ridiculously large bounties. He jumped to his feet in panic. "I've… I've got to tell Bellamy about this!"

His friend looked nervous. "Are you sure?" He warned. "You know that Bellamy and his gang have been extra murderous lately ever since he arrived in town…"

The colour drained from Jobo paunchy face, but he shook his head. "I've still got to tell him…" Jobo muttered, before running off in a drunken stagger.

He wasn't the only one that made the realisation. Sitting in the middle of street, an extremely large man with a crooked nose and a scruffy black beard grinned as he looked down at two sheets of paper. The large man was wearing an open buttoned white shirt and a yellow sash around his waist, with his long shaggy hair half hidden under a black bandanna.

"Hmmm…" The man muttered with satisfaction, glancing down at the bounties. " 200 million – 'Straw Hat' Luffy… missing a straw hat, are we? How interesting… 'The Pirate Hunter' Zoro – 80 million…"

"Zehahahaha!" He pulled his head back and laughed loudly, startling everyone walking past him. "Oh, this is a lucky day! Those two will do perfectly!"

The man took a large bite of a cherry pie, munching it thoughtfully, totally unconcerned to the people watching him curiously. "Still…" He mused thoughtfully to himself. "I wonder… How lucky is he?"

Meanwhile, Zoro and Luffy were still walking, and Luffy was slowly starting to suspect that Zoro never knew where he was going. In truth, Zoro had absolutely no clue, but he still led the way confidently. Only Zoro was capable of combining a complete lack of direction with a pig-headed stubbornness that he was always right.

"We're heading towards the ocean," Luffy said finally. "There aren't any more buildings this way."

"No, it's definitely this way." Zoro replied firmly, starting to walk in a slight curve.

They were passing the docks now, and surrounded by drunks and violence. Neither Luffy nor Zoro seemed to care, but then their path was blocked by a pale man slumped across the ground. He was coughing nastily, and droplets of blood covered the walkway.

"Huh, you're really sick, old man," Luffy said simply.

Faintly, the man turned his head to look at the pair. His skin was pale and covered in rashes, while his skinny body was hidden by shrouds of black robes. Even his face was mostly covered by a black hat and white hair.

"How embarrassing…" The sickly man murmured through bloody coughs. "Excuse me, you two, would you be so kind as to help me up, please…?"

Zoro looked at the man sceptically. "You just don't want to pick yourself up, right?"

Nevertheless, he was blocking the path, so both Zoro and Luffy pulled him out of the way so he could rest up against the wall. Even his clothes felt sticky and disgusting, which made both of the pirates want a shower. Next to the sick man, there was a white horse collapsed on the ground, which was so motionless it might just have been dead.

"I have always been weak physically…!" He explained, almost apologetically, before collapsing into another fit of coughs.

The man reached inside his robes and brought out a basket of multi-coloured sweets. "As a token of my gratitude…" He offered. "Please, take one."

"Ah! Sweets!" Luffy exclaimed brightly, already grabbing a large handful. "Don't mind if I do."

"You're actually going to eat them?!" Zoro exclaimed, outraged, but Luffy was already stuffing his face and dropping the wrappers to the floor. Zoro shook his head in disgust, but the two of them were already walking away.

Behind them, the sickly man, more commonly known as Doc Q, looked curiously at the teenager that was still munching on the sugary sweets. Luffy had taken a very large handful of out of the basket, and eaten them all.

Slowly, Doc Q hunched over his basket and began to count the remaining ones. There had been fifty sweets in total, twenty-five of which were laced in poison and the other twenty-five were safe, all mixed together randomly. Luffy had picked up a handful of a couple dozen sweets.

Every single sweet Luffy had picked up had been poisoned.

"That kid…" Doc Q coughed with a pitying smile. "…is really unlucky…!"

At the other side of town, Nami and Robin waked casually down the filthy street, drawing several lecherous glances as they walked. They were both very beautiful women, after all. Robin was long-legged and elegant, while Nami was slender and curvy. Every single drunk in the town was drooling at them longingly, while Sanji was left running around them in fury and kicking anyone that dared to make an inappropriate gesture.

Neither Robin nor Nami seemed to pay any attention to Sanji picking a fight with half the town on their behalf. Robin had bought a travel guide on the island, and was quietly reading as she walked.

"Anything interesting?" Nami asked eventually.

"A bit," Robin explained, not looking up from the book. "Apparently this is called Mock Town, so named by the explorer Jew Wall as it makes a 'mockery' of law and order. It is on the island of Jaya, a heavily forested spring island that has long been rumoured to contain the ruins of an ancient civilisation. There's actually quite an interesting legend surrounding this place…"

"Huh," Nami replied, not really paying attention. Around them, Sanji was flickering back and forth across the street, his feet flashing against anyone who looked perverted. Silently, Robin put her book away.

"You know, we should really stop him from making such a big scene," Robin said finally. "And you should both maybe wear a hood or something to keep a low profile. You do have bounties, after all."

Nami frowned. "Us? But you have a bounty of 79 million! Yours is much bigger than mine and Sanji's combined!"

Robin smiled. "Yes, but I received my bounty decades ago. Yours was just a couple of weeks ago. More people will be looking out for you two than for me."

The navigator shrugged. "So what? I'm sure you and Sanji could beat anybody that comes after us."

Robin deliberately didn't comment on the 'you and Sanji' bit. "I would still be careful," Robin warned. "In towns like this, your bounty means a lot. Rookies with large bounties attract a lot of attention, and we don't want a big name taking notice. Best just to be careful."

Reluctantly, Nami agreed. She then called over to Sanji and sweetly encouraged him not to make a scene. Later, Nami bought a hood to her distinctive hair, and gave Sanji a wide-brimmed hat to avoid attention. The chef was still left visibly twitching with fury with every wolf whistle that the girls received.

"So you're looking for a sword shop?" Robin stated after a few moments.

Nami nodded. "I can't keep borrowing Zoro's."

"Hmm…" The older woman muttered calmly. "You've been training a lot."

There was an edge to her question. "So?" Nami replied carefully.

Robin shrugged, not even glancing at Nami. "Nothing. I'm just curious why the sudden interest in swordsmanship."

"It's just a hobby." Nami said defensively.

Robin was quiet for a few seconds, wondering how far she should push the conversation. "Or is it a distraction?" The archaeologist asked finally.

The navigator didn't respond, and Robin gave up. She was still curious about Nami's feelings, but Robin wasn't so tactless to force the issue. The girls walked the rest of the journey in silence, barely even listening to Sanji's constant serenading.

Towards the east side of the city, Bellamy was in a foul mood. He and his gang had been kicked out of the Tropical Hotel, and ended up being forced to stay in some rundown hovel on the outskirts of the town. The pirates were all young and wearing expensive clothing, having become accustomed to being the princes of the town. No one was happy about recent developments, and there were several dead bodies and terrorized civilians to prove.

"Damn him!" Bellamy growled angrily, slamming a spring-loaded fist through a plaster wall. "Why did the boss kick us out of our own hotel?"

Bellamy the Hyena had been fuming for hours. It hadn't been a good day, and Bellamy wasn't used to having to restrain his anger. "We even robbed those monkey bastards of all their gold for him!" Bellamy ranted, pacing the room. "Yet he still just looked down at us!"

"Be quiet, Bellamy." 'Big Knife' Sarkies muttered with cold anger. The crew wasn't in a good mood at all. "If the boss hears you speaking like that, he'll kill us all."

Bellamy looked like he wanted to explode, but the pirate still kept his temper in check. Bellamy's respect for his boss was only matched by the fear of him.

There were a few minutes of silent anger, consisting mostly of him trying to figure out who to take his rage out on. Suddenly, the door to the motel burst open, and a drunken figure charged through, tripping over the doorway.

"Not a good time, Jobo!" Bellamy snarled dangerously.

At once, Jobo looked like he was about to wet himself. Still, he managed to splutter out the words, "This is important, Bellamy! You won't believe who I just saw in the town!"

It was nearly dusk by the time Zoro and Luffy finally found the tavern. The pub was overflowing with noise and activity, and the sound of drinking filled the air. As they approached, Luffy nearly collapsed as he clutched his stomach in agony.

"My chest hurts," the captain groaned with pain.

"That's what you get for eating sweets from a stranger," Zoro grumbled, forced to drag Luffy through the street by his feet. Zoro stomped through into the pub and pulled the moaning Luffy straight to the counter.

"Hey!" Zoro called to the bartender with irritation. "My friend has been poisoned! Give me your strongest ale to flush the poison from his system."

Luffy looked up weakly. "Will that work?" He asked sceptically.

Zoro nodded confidently, while the barman poured out a glass of rum doubtfully. "Trust me," the swordsman said firmly. "You've got to fight poison with poison. Ale can cure everything."

It was a testament to Luffy's cluelessness and faith in his friends that he actually accepted Zoro's explanation and started downing the glasses of rum. Zoro joined in happily, and before long they were both drinking heavily. Luffy was still in agonising pain from the poison, but his metabolism was strong enough that he started to burn through it.

Half an hour later, Luffy had recovered to the point where he no longer looked fatally ill, while around them the commotion in the pub started to ease as the patrons dwindled away. Zoro was trying to enjoy the ale, but he couldn't focus because of a large man with a black beard sitting in the corner of the pub. The swordsman really didn't like the way that man kept glancing at Luffy.

Shortly afterwards, there was a movement as three figures entered the pub. Zoro felt a flash of irritation as Sanji approached, caused by pure physical proximity. Nami and Robin entered the pub curiously

"Zoro!" Nami called happily, carrying two large shopping backs. "I bought a sword, check it out!"

She held out her new blade to him, and at once Zoro was interested. It was a short sword, smaller than what he was used to but well suited to Nami's size. Behind Nami, Sanji muttered something derisive about swords under his breath, looking seriously unhappy with Nami running to Zoro.

"It's pretty decent," he said critically, inspecting the edge. "It's a not a named sword, but it's good enough for someone at your level."

Curiously, the navigator glanced down at Luffy, who was still half unconscious and hanging over the counter. "Luffy!" Nami shouted in shock. "What happened to him?"

"Oh, he's fine," Zoro muttered dismissively, drinking another glass. "He was just poisoned."

"What?" She demanded with concern.

"It's fine." Zoro shrugged. "He's already burning through the poison. The ale helps."

"Hey, Nami…"Luffy murmured weakly, still clutching his painful stomach.

Nami sighed with exasperation, sitting down on a barstool. "Barman!" She called. "Can we have a meal, please? Our friend needs some food in his stomach."

Quietly, Robin and Sanji sat down too. The bartender served a large portion of cherry pie to each of them. Luffy complained that it was the worst meal he'd ever tasted, but he ate it up anyways and felt better for it. Around them, the pub gradually became quieter as the patrons left one by one, until eventually only the pirates and the bearded man in the corner were left.

The normally thriving pub was left uneasily silent. Even the bartender was twitching with nervousness. Robin and Zoro were the first to notice.

"There's something wrong here," Robin said quietly in a hushed whisper, careful not to draw attention. No one made any sudden movements, but they were all alert to the weird silence.

"I know," Zoro muttered darkly. "There's something happening outside."

Outside of the bar, a large crowd was gathering. The rumours had spread around the town like wildfire. It was dark, and the atmosphere was tense as the pirates and cutthroats all gathered outside of the pub. Wanted posters were spread among the group, but no one dared to move.

"Did you hear…?" A man whispered in a hushed tone. "A man with a 200 million bounty!"

"That's ridiculous! I've never seen such a huge bounty before!"

"What could he have done to be worth 200 million?"

"Yet he's just a scrawny kid!"

"The rest of his crew are in there too – they've all got big bounties as well…"

Nobody moved for a while, but there was an unspoken agreement that they were all waiting for a person. After a couple of minutes, Bellamy the Hyena finally arrived.

Bellamy was a tall man, broad shouldered and well-muscled. Normally, his face was twisted in a mocking grin, but this time he was unusually solemn as he stomped his way into the pub. He was flanked by his crew, all wearing furs and expensive clothing. Behind them, the rest of the pirates followed cautiously.

Bellamy kicked the doors open fearlessly, crossing his arms as he stared at Luffy critically.

"Are you the 200 million boy?" He demanded finally, all the while his men took up positions around the pub.

"This isn't good…" The bartender muttered with fear, backing away carefully.

"Someone's looking for you, Luffy," Zoro muttered, taking a sip of ale but his eyes were sharp.

"What is it?" Luffy asked Bellamy slowly. The atmosphere in the room was tense.

Bellamy stomped over to the bar. He was so tall that he towered over Luffy. "Give me a glass of your best wine," Bellamy demanded. "And give the kid whatever he wants."

Hesitantly, the bartender complied. Bellamy took a seat next to Luffy. "Here, let's drink," he offered.

"Ah, thanks," Luffy laughed, taking a sip of the ale. "Shishishi! You're a good guy after all!"

Luffy never even manage to swallow anything, before suddenly Bellamy moved with a flash. The large man grabbed the back of Luffy's head and slammed him face first through the counter savagely. The bar exploded into splinters.

Instantly, Zoro drew his swords. Nami exclaimed in shock. Every single pirate in the pub had a weapon drawn.

"I hate punks like you the most," Bellamy snarled viciously, still sitting down and glaring at Luffy's body on the ground. "Do you think you're the first rookies to try and fake a wanted poster for the fame? I bet you think you're really clever, putting such a ridiculous number as 200 million…"

The fury glinted in Bellamy's eyes. The veins throbbed on his forehead. "Trash like you have no place in the New Age of Piracy. Allow me to teach you what a real pirate is…"

The tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. The straw hats were instantly ready for a fight, but the Bellamy pirates were surrounding them ominously. 'Big Knife' Sarkies was at the front of the crowd, swinging his huge dagger threateningly. Without a word, Luffy pulled himself up and brushed his vest down.

It was seconds away from a fight. Nervously, Nami tried to reason with Bellamy. "Hey mister!" Nami protested. "We're not looking for any trouble, we–"

"Well you've found it!" Bellamy's eyes bulged angrily. He swung a furious backhanded strike straight at Nami. "Get out of my way, bitch!"

Nami barely had time to duck. In a flash, Luffy was suddenly standing in between them, grabbing Bellamy's arm with a grip of iron.

"What did you just call her?" Luffy asked in a dangerously quiet voice. The mood became murderous.

"I have a very short temper when it comes to people insulting my friends," Luffy muttered in a low voice.

The killing intent streaming off him was enough to cause everyone in the room to shiver. Luffy had suddenly turned unnaturally cold.

Zoro sheathed his swords; he wouldn't be needing them here.

"I called her a bitch," Bellamy smirked arrogantly. "What are you going to do about it, punk?"

Luffy was quiet for a few seconds. When he raised his head, his eyes shone. In the corner of the room, the man with the black beard grinned understandingly.

"You have ten seconds to apologise to her, and then leave," Luffy said simply, without any emotion. "Otherwise, I'm going to kill you."

There were three seconds of shocked silence, followed by four seconds of laughter. By the eighth second, Bellamy drew a knife and stabbed it towards Luffy.

At the tenth second, Luffy blurred.

Bellamy was left slashing at nothing but air. Luffy was suddenly standing next to Bellamy, and he wrapped his hands around Bellamy's throat before tightening quickly. Everyone heard Bellamy's neck snap with a sickening crack.

The silence dropped over the pub like a concrete block. Sarkies was left so speechless his knife clattered to the ground. Bellamy's limp body littered the floor. Even Luffy's crew were staring at him with amazement.

"Leave," Luffy ordered quietly. "Now."

Wordlessly and very quickly, everyone else in the pub seemed to evaporate out of the door. They barely even made a noise as they fled. Only 'Big Knife' Sarkies was left standing alone, staring at Luffy with a stuttering mouth.

"What…How…?" The first mate stammered helplessly. "Do you have any idea what you've done? Do you know who we work for? Do you know who is on this island right now?"

"Leave," Luffy repeated, in a tone that made it clear he wouldn't ask again.

Without any conscious thought, Sarkies' legs seemed to just carry him away. He nearly tripped over a table and was practically crawling out of the door. There was utter silence in the pub. Nobody dared to breathe.

"Luffy…" Nami muttered finally, her voice thick with concern. Her captain was showing no visible reaction to just killing a man. The rest of his crew was staring at him with various degrees of shock.

"It's fine," Luffy replied simply, shrugging his shoulders. "I told you that I wouldn't let anybody hurt you."

There was another awkward silence, but then it was broken by raucous laughter from the corner of the room.

"Zehahahaha!" The man with the black beard laughed boisterously. "Zehahahaha! Brilliant!"

Suddenly, everybody turned to stare at him. Luffy felt his knuckles clench.

"You…" Zoro growled, drawing his swords. "You've been stalking us all evening. What's your problem?"

He was practically bent over in furious laughter. "Oh, I'm just curious," he replied through fits of laughter, holding up Luffy's wanted poster. "It makes much more sense now. Oh, and the name's Marshall D. Teach, by the way."

A flicker of realisation crossed Robin's face. "D.…" She muttered under her breath.

"Don't get me wrong; I'm not judging," Teach held up his hands innocently. "It is the duty of every captain to protect his crew. And that loser had it coming."

Teach spat over Bellamy's dead body derisively. "The 'New Age' that those guys keep babbling is all bullshit," Teach smirked. "The only reason I never killed him myself because he was never worth it."

Luffy just stared silently. It was a long time before he spoke. "Come on, guys," Luffy said finally. "Let's get back to the ship."

Just as he started to walk away, Teach shouted out, "You know, I recognise your eyes!"

Luffy stopped instantly, not even turning around. Teach continued, "You think I don't know the look of a man who's stared into death itself?" He smirked. Luffy didn't react. "How does feel? You're walking around with a hole in your heart, aren't you? Everything feels exactly the same, but it's all different now, isn't it?"

Unwillingly, Luffy's hand moved to his chest, feeling the rough scar where Crocodile's hook had pierced his skin.

Marshall D. Teach leant back on his chair arrogantly. "Men with a 'destiny' don't die like others do," Teach sneered. "You either die smiling or not at all."

Everybody else was looking confused. Robin was completely quiet. Nami touched Luffy's shoulder hesitantly. "Luffy, what's he talking about?" She asked uncertainly.

"It's not important," Luffy replied dismissively, but his voice was hesitant. His normally happy attitude had vanished.

They were just about to leave, when instantly the exit became blocked by three huge figures, each as large as Teach was. There was a man who seemed to be made completely out of chest muscles, wearing a wrestler mask and black shirt – the wrestler from before, Luffy remembered. Right behind him was the sickly old man, still covered in black robes and walking with a slouch, but now he didn't seem so weak. They flanked by a man with a long face and a black cloak, carrying the largest rifle Luffy had ever seen.

Zoro's swords were out with a flash. The wrestler cracked his knuckles with a large grin. All three of them had a dangerous aura.

"Are you going to try something?" Luffy asked after a few seconds, his hands dropping to the knives at his belt.

Teach seemed to think about it for a long time. "Nah," He said finally, drawing a cherry pie from his pants and swallowing a large mouthful. "I wish you the best of luck on your journey!"

With that, the other three men simply stepped to one side to let the pirates pass. Zoro never sheathed his swords as they walked. Sanji eyed them all cautiously, looking for any sign of betrayal. Still, nobody made a move.

As they left the pub, a thunderous "Zehahahaha" was heard echoing across the buildings.

"I don't get it, boss," Jesus Burgess, the wrestler, complained a few minutes after Luffy and his crew left the building. "We've been waiting here for weeks looking for a target with a high enough bounty. That was the whole plan, right? That guy was worth 200 million, he was perfect!"

"It's true," Doc Q agreed in a wheezy voice. "I've never met anyone with such back luck before. Why didn't we capture them?"

Marshall D. Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, simply shrugged. "Ah… we'll find someone else," the captain said firmly. "But I don't want to touch him."

"And why not?" The sniper, Van Augur, asked in a quiet voice.

Blackbeard grinned brightly, revealing several missing teeth. "Because of his eyes," he explained vaguely. "The longer you stare into death, the longer death stares at you. That poor sod is completely out of luck."

He took another large bite of cherry pie, laughing as the crumbs sprinkled across the floor. "That kid has been left with a cursed fate."

Meanwhile, on the Going Merry…

Vivi sighed as she looked out over moonless sky. It was dark and hard to see properly, but in the distance there were dark clouds, almost pitch black, creeping over the horizon. A storm was coming, she thought as shivers crept down her spine.

It had been a boring day for her. Usopp and Chopper had been busy fixing the ships, while Vivi kept on trying to control her sandstorms. Crocodile had made it seem so easy, she thought bitterly.

The most exciting thing for her had been when they'd glimpsed a monkey-like man on a ship, singing about salvage. Even so, Vivi couldn't escape the feeling that bad things were approaching. She really wished she knew how Luffy was doing.

"Are you sure this is place?" A quiet voice asked, coming from the undergrowth. Vivi froze suddenly, staying completely quietly. She could hear footsteps approaching the ship.

"Are you doubting my goddamn nose?" Another voice replied outrageously. This voice was louder, more obnoxious. There was the sound of someone sniffing heavily. "Aye, I'm sure. It's in this goddamn place!"

The footsteps were getting louder. Vivi could hear at least two sets. Thieves? Murderers? She thought with panic. She wanted to call out to Usopp and Chopper, but she didn't want to give away her position. In the dark, it was so hard to see.

Instead, she crept closer, tiptoeing down the gangway and hiding behind the corner, trying to get a glimpse of the intruders. Gradually, she managed to make out the outline of two figures in the gloom, staring at the ship.

One of them was nearly a giant. He stood at least seven-foot tall, and nearly just as broad across the shoulders. His arms were like tree trunks, and he wore heavy boots and a tank top, while looking at the Going Merry with a dark scowl.

"What a goddamn piece of junk of a ship," the large man muttered. Vivi peeked around the corner of the gangway, and she could see he had a broad chin, thick eyebrows and a very large nose. He kept on sniffing the air like a hound.

The other figure was practically his opposite. The second person was so skinny he looked like a twig, and he wore a pinstriped suit and delicate glasses. His shoes were polished to perfection, and his hair had been smoothed down neatly. He reminded Vivi of some sort of banker.

"Let's just find it and leave," the slender man said in exasperated voice. "I don't want to spent any longer on this rock than we have to."

The large man sniffed again. "It's definitely close," he confirmed after a few seconds. "Really goddamn close."

What are they looking for? Vivi wondered silently. Chopper and Usopp were in danger, and she had to warn them. I'm not as weak as I was, Vivi told herself firmly, I ate the Sand Sand fruit – I'm stronger now.

Quietly, Vivi took a step backwards. Then her heart nearly stopped as she bumped into something.

There's someone standing behind me!

With a loud squeal, Vivi flipped around to face the man who had crept up on her. She heard the footsteps as the other two quickly ran over to her, and she heard the slamming of a door as Chopper and Usopp came charging out of the Going Merry.

The man right in front of Vivi was tall and muscled. He wore a dark vest that was practically falling to pieces, and his hair was pitch black and shaggy. He had rough stubble covering his face, and his eyes were so heavily shadowed it looked like he was wearing eyeliner. Overall, he might have even been handsome, it wasn't for his eyes. His pupils were as small as pinpricks, and the white of his eyes seemed to bulge with insanity.

This was a dangerous man, every instinct in Vivi's body screamed.

"Hello, beautiful," he smirked.

At once, Vivi pulled out her Peacock Slashers, the sharp edges of the disks glinting in the moonlight. There were hurried footsteps as Usopp and Chopper charged outside, followed by a squealing and frenzied Carue. Usopp had his slingshot at the ready and loaded, and Chopper was carrying a bright torch which illuminated the scene in flickering flames.

Chopper's body seemed to shimmer like water as he transformed smoothly. He grew heavier and as tall as a man while he turned into his Human form, bulging with muscles. All cuteness was gone. "What are you doing to Vivi?" The doctor demanded, in a deeper voice.

The man wearing eyeliner just laughed and folded his arms. The large man looked surprised.

"Now there's a goddamn rare one!" The large man mused, sniffing the air curiously. "Definitely Zoan… Is it the Ape Ape fruit? No…" He took another deep sniff. "Oh! It's the Human Human fruit! Goddamn, there's a novelty…"

He can smell Devil fruits? Vivi wondered with shock, backing away slowly to join Usopp and Chopper. Usopp was trembling from fear, but strangely he was holding his slingshot perfectly steady.

"Hey! Hey!" The slender man exclaimed in a soothing tone of voice, motioning for everyone to stand down. "We're not looking for any… unpleasantness." He turned to his companions. "Please, just let me handle this," he reasoned, straightening down his suit.

The large man just folded his arms. The man with the crazy eyes never stopped smirking. With an apologetic smile, the slender man extended a hand to Vivi.

"You must be Nefertari Vivi?" He guessed. Vivi hesitantly shook the hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Isaac, my large companion over here is Berrit." He motioned to the giant who stood sniffing the air curiously. "And this is… Marcus." Isaac introduced with a touch of hesitation, motioning to the man wearing eyeliner. "Don't let their gruff appearances fool you, we're all really nice people when you get to know us." Isaac smiled reassuringly.

Slowly, Usopp relaxed a bit, unleashing a large sigh of relief. Chopper seemed to calm down too. Vivi looked at Isaac carefully. "What are you doing here?" She demanded.

"We're business associates of your father's," Isaac explained warmly. "You see, me and my companions are… merchants. As a matter of fact, we specialise in the acquisition and selling of Devil fruits."

Vivi frowned. "But what are you doing here?"

Isaac scratched his head with a nervous chuckle. "Well, it's a funny story actually," Isaac explained. "You see, a few weeks ago we were in Aluburna, on business, to pick up the Sand Sand fruit from the recently… deceased Sir Crocodile. While we were there, your father approached us to purchase a Devil fruit."

"Now then, due to an unfortunate labelling error…" Isaac shot a dirty glance towards Marcus, who looked sheepish. "… we accidently supplied your father with the wrong Devil fruit, and gave him Sand Sand fruit instead."

His voice was calm and soothing, like a banker explaining the details of opening an account. "Do you see the trouble?" He said apologetically. "The king only paid for a standard, random ability Devil fruit, but he ended up receiving an exceedingly expensive and rare Logia Devil fruit. We're simply here to… resolve the transaction."

She didn't respond. Around her, Chopper and Usopp were silent too. Isaac continued. "Now, we really don't want any unpleasantness. You father is a respected customer, and this was our mistake," Isaac said reasonably. "That is why we are quite happy to refund all the money the king paid, plus compensation, or even supply a replacement Devil fruit!" He offered kindly, before adding, in a firmer tone of voice, "…"But I'm afraid that we do need the Sand Sand fruit back."

Vivi was quiet for a long time. Slowly, Usopp started to load up his slingshot again. "You can't," Vivi said finally. "I've already ate it."

Isaac smiled woodenly, but his eyes were anything but happy. "Oh dear," he said finally. "That is a shame."

There were a few awkward seconds of silence. Then, quick as flash, the Berrit moved. Despite his huge size, he was remarkably graceful as he jumped the distance between them. Suddenly, Berrit wrapped hands as large as dinner plates around Chopper's and Usopp's heads, before slamming their skulls face first into the ground.

Vivi reacted quickly. She threw up her Peacock Slashers and swiped through the air, but then there was somebody standing right next to her. She never even saw him move, but Marcus was instantly next to her, still smirking even as he grabbed her arms.

She tried to phase into sand. Her outline shimmered and grains of sand dripped from her body, but Vivi couldn't even pull her hand away before Marcus suddenly wrapped a pair of handcuffs around her wrists.

She felt her hands become instantly numb, and the sand vanished. Seastone handcuffs, Vivi thought with panic.

"Sorry about this, beautiful," Marcus smiled a psychotic grin, drawing a large knife out of his belt. "But we need that fruit back. Looks like we're going to have to get unpleasant…"

Chapter Text

Tashigi jammed the speaker of transponder snail to her ear, trying to listen to the report despite the noise of the men doing drills in the background. The battleship was cutting through the waves like a leviathan, all the while the marines scattered around the deck. Every cannon had been loaded and readied. Every blade was sharpened and every rifle was cleaned.

This time, Smoker would not allow the pirates to escape. The deadline was getting closer. A date had already been set for Smoker's and Tashigi's court-martial, and it didn't look hopeful. A Vice-Admiral was already heading from Headquarters to capture Monkey D. Luffy personally. The only way that their career would survive is if the pirates did not.

The captain was on the prow of the ship, practising his rock-balancing with his brow furled in concentration. Captain Hina was at the other side, running the men through their drills. After a few minutes, Tashigi hung up the transponder snail and rushed over to Smoker's side.

"Captain!" Tashigi called. "There's news! The Straw Hat pirates have been spotted on Mock Town, on the island of Jaya."

He nodded, not looking away from his rocks. "We're close," he said eventually. "I had hoped to catch them before Jaya, but it seems they've slipped past us. Never mind, we can be in Mock Town by nightfall and cut them off in the harbour. Pass the orders onto the helmsmen."

Tashigi hurried off. As she left, Hina sat down carefully next to Smoker. "You know there's going to be a riot if we bring a Marine battleship into a pirate town," she said with concern.

"We don't have a choice," Smoker countered, but he was worried too. The situation was rapidly falling out of his control.

Tashigi ran back to his side quickly. "Course has been set, sir!" She confirmed. "We've got a good wind behind us too."

Smoker cleared his throat. "Lieutenant, has there been any word of the Straw Hat's new epithet?" He asked with a frown.

She shook her head. "No, sir."

"Hmm…" The captain grunted. "Damn Headquarters, it takes them ages to do anything."

Tashigi hesitated. "Although there was one other bit of information," Tashigi said finally. "But I'm not sure about it. Apparently, someone else was spotted in Mock Town. A man named Dan Marcus…"

Instantly, Smoker's gaze darkened. "That bastard…" he growled under his breath.

Tashigi looked confused. Next to him, Hina looked just as annoyed. "Who, sir? I tried to search for him, but I couldn't find a bounty or anything."

"That's because he's not a pirate," Smoker explained sourly. "He's a Devil fruit hunter." He practically spat the words out. "He sells Devil fruits to everyone, primarily the Marines, and in return we have to turn a blind eye to his more… violent tendencies."

She frowned. "Is he dangerous?"

"Dangerous?" Smoker scoffed. "The man is an utter psychopath."

The pirates walked through the town in silence, with Luffy leading the way and trying very hard not to turn around. The inhabitants of Mock Town gave them a wide berth, and the moonless night was gravely silent as they exited the town back towards the Going Merry.

They were just passing through the forests of Jaya, when finally Nami could take it no more.

"Luffy…" She asked quietly. "What was that man talking about?"

The captain didn't respond straight away. The rest of the crew was quiet, but completely focused on Luffy's answer.

"It's not important," he replied finally. It was the best answer he could come up with. Truth was, what he was feeling was hard to put into words.

Nami hesitated, choosing her next question carefully. "Luffy… ever since Alabasta… have you been feeling alright?"

He simply shrugged, careful not to meet her eyes.

Nami looked like she wanted to ask more questions. Her eyes darted around the others uneasily. She had never even imagined Luffy killing a man, even one like Bellamy, so easily. Still, Robin placed a hand on her shoulder, gently advising her not to ask anything more.

They barely made it another dozen steps when suddenly a shrill shriek split the air. They all recognised the voice and the direction.

"That's Vivi!" Sanji shouted with panic, and instantly started running.

Luffy was faster.

"What are you doing?" Vivi screamed, trying to thrash against her captor. The Seastone handcuffs were on tight, and Marcus' grip was iron.

"Don't struggle now, beautiful," Marcus said, almost soothingly, while lifting her body roughly over his shoulder. She kicked as hard as she could, but he didn't seem to care. "Let's not make it any worse than it has to be."

Behind her, Berrit was busy making quick work of Usopp and Chopper. The large man was phenomenally strong and hit hard. Vivi heard the frenzied quacking as Carue tried to charge Berrit, followed by a dull thud and the sound of Carue dropping to the ground.

Isaac looked mildly annoyed with the situation, but didn't say anything.

Vivi's heart was racing. Her vision started to blur. She started screaming, but nobody seed to care. Marcus was whistling happily even as he carried her away over his shoulder, twirling his knife absent-mindedly.

Through her fuzzy vision, Vivi glimpsed the limp bodies of her friends, yet they were quickly swallowed by the darkness. She was squirming and thrashing madly. She tried to even twist and bite Marcus' ear off. Her heart was pounding furiously, the dread seeped into her bones.

"Vivi!" A thunderous voice shrieked, and her heart fluttered. She saw a rapidly approaching figuring flying across the ground, leaving a dust trail behind him.

"Luffy!" Vivi shouted in pure relief. Marcus stopped walking, but didn't look even slightly concerned. Luffy was running furiously towards them, and getting closer quickly.

"Who's this joker?" He asked finally, glancing towards Isaac.

"Monkey D. Luffy, aka 'Straw Hat' Luffy," Isaac answered in a bored drawl. "Although he does seem to be missing a straw hat. A pirate, worth 200 million."

Marcus simply scoffed. His grip on Vivi didn't slacken one bit.

"What are you doing with Vivi?" Luffy bellowed, not slowing down one bit. He was instantly so angry his eyes were practically glowing red.

"Listen, kid!" Marcus called out dismissively. Luffy was getting much closer now, and not stopping. "I've got no business with you! I'm just taking beautiful here and then I'll be on my –"

That was the last thing he managed to say before suddenly Luffy's fist collided with his face. The impact caused a small shockwave. Marcus' body blurred before he flew backwards, smashing through nearby trees.

"Vivi!" Luffy instantly had his arms around her, catching her as she fell from Marcus' grasp. "Are you alright? Who are these guys?"

The princess just hugged him tightly, gasping for air too deeply to do anything other than hold him and stammer useless. Luffy held her closely, but his eyes focused intently on Isaac and Berrit.

Neither of them sighed even slightly shocked by Marcus' sudden disappearance. As a matter of fact, Berrit was sniggering to himself, while Isaac was rubbing his eyes with exasperation.

"We're Devil fruit hunters," Isaac explained slowly. All former civility was gone. "We're after the Sand Sand fruit. We're going to take the princess here to some deserted island, slit her throat, and then catch the Devil fruit as it reincarnates." There wasn't a hint of emotion in his voice. "And you, Monkey D. Luffy, have just made the stupidest and most painful mistake of your life."

Luffy looked between the two of them uncertainly, but neither of them were making a move. "Vivi," he said in a hushed voice. "Run in that direction; the others will be coming shortly. I'll stay here and take care of these two –"

There was a sudden crash from the nearby trees. The collapsed tree trunks shoved out of the way. Isaac was looking at Luffy almost pityingly.

"That's it!" An enraged voice screamed. Marcus emerged from darkness, pushing a huge tree trunk to the side with one hand. He was angry, but otherwise looked completely unharmed. "Don't you have any manners? What sort of man punches a guy when he's talking?"

His clothes were dirty and covered in twigs, but there wasn't even a mark of his skin from Luffy's vicious punch. Marcus' eyes glinted in darkness.

"Vivi, run," Luffy whispered, before letting an unwilling Vivi go. Marcus was walking forward slowly, not seemingly in any rush. In an instant, Luffy was charging through the air. His muscles bulging and his arm pulled back in a furious arc, like a gun ready to explode…

Yet there was no impact. Luffy's fist just stopped inches away from Marcus' smirking face, while the pain jarred his arm.

"Is that it?" Marcus said sceptically. "Is this seriously what 200 million is worth? The Marines are just throwing money away nowadays."

Luffy recoiled in shock, clutching his fist. His knuckles were bleeding heavily, even though they never collided with anything. Every nerve in his hand was screaming in pain.

"What the –" Luffy exclaimed in agony. Marcus just kept on smirking. The insanity in his eyes was glowing brightly now.

"I hunt Logias for a living," Marcus explained with a sociopathic grin. "Did you really expect me not to have a seriously powerful Devil fruit?"

He was giggling now, a mad little chuckle as he slowly lifted his hand.

"Allow me to show you what real power is…" he muttered, just before he punched forward.

It shouldn't have been a powerful blow. It was barely more than a casual swipe. His hand was moving slowly, and his fist didn't even get anywhere near Luffy. Still, as soon as Marcus' arm extended, the air around him seemed to shimmer.

Suddenly, everything exploded, and Luffy flew backwards like a rag doll. Even the ground exploded from the shockwave. Luffy's body disappeared into the distance and collided in the forest with a dull thud.

Marcus was already starting to slowly walk after him. "You two take care of beautiful here," he ordered to Berrit and Isaac. He was smiling like a maniac consistently. "I'm going to go have some fun."

Isaac sighed disappointedly, but not particularly surprised. Marcus disappeared into the woods, leaving Vivi looking around the scene with absolute horror.

Berrit was standing above her now, with Isaac by her side. The Seastone cuffs were still tight around her wrists.

"Now then, princess," Isaac said kindly. "Let's not make this any more difficult than necessary. Why don't you just come with us, and…"

His voice trailed off as he glanced at the group that was running towards them. Sanji was leading the charge, looking so furious he was practically on fire, but Zoro was right behind him.

"Well, this is just goddamn brilliant," Berrit grouched, cracking his knuckles and preparing for a fight. "Things are never goddamn simple, are they?"

Luffy landed into the forest so hard that he crashed through several trees, skidding across the ground, and caused a small crater through the bramble. Around him, several birds erupted from the branches with a weird chirping noise.

Luffy knew that he had broken bones, but, weirdly, he couldn't feel any pain. That hadn't been a punch. It felt like his body had been repeatedly brutalised by a dozen sledgehammers in the span of a second. His head was spinning so quickly it was hard to focus on anything.

What the hell was that guy? Luffy thought in a frenzied panic, what sort of power did he have?

In the darkness, Luffy could hear whistling. It was a weirdly upbeat, jovial tune that spilt through the night, followed by the sound of footsteps. Luffy's body screamed in agony as he tried to move. His muscles felt like they had been torn to shreds. Finally, he managed to stand up, panting for breath as he pulled both of the knives on his belt.

I should be stronger than this, he thought grimly, I would be stronger if I still had the Gum Gum fruit

"Are you still alive, pirate?" Marcus' voice called, as casual as if he were walking in the park. "Come on, I expected more than this."

The man came into view. His eyes seemed to glint in the darkness. Luffy didn't even hesitate, and responded by flinging one of his blades straight at Marcus' face.

The knife didn't even get close. Marcus never even flinched. Instead, as soon as the knife approached him, it seemed to hit an invisible barrier and drop to the ground. The metal blade shattered into pieces.

"As if," Marcus sounded bored. He just kept on walking to Luffy, his hands in his pockets.

Luffy's teeth gritted. This man was going to kill Vivi. He refused to let that happen. With every ounce of strength he had, Luffy turned around and wrapped his arms around a nearby tree trunk, screaming with the exertion. After a futile struggle, the massive tree broke with a colossal groan and lifted out of the ground in a shower of dirt, leaves and brambles. Marcus didn't even look impressed as Luffy heaved it upwards and slammed the tonnes of wood directly on to Marcus' head.

The tree hit the ground so hard that the earth shook. Luffy panted with satisfaction, but that was short-lived. There was sudden creaking of wood being splintered, before half the tree seemed to burst open. Marcus casually stepped out of debris in a shower of wood chips. His tattered clothes were even more filthy, but the man never looked hurt at all.

The shock left Luffy momentarily paralysed, and then Marcus darted forward with surprising speed. In an instant, Marcus' hand was around Luffy's throat. Luffy tried to strike with his second knife, but Marcus simply grabbed his wrist.

There was a sickening crack as Marcus tightened his grip on Luffy's wrist slightly. The knife dropped to the ground. Luffy started screaming.

"You know, I just realised something," Marcus said, conversationally. "I never introduced myself, did I? How incredibly rude of me."

He tightened his grip around Luffy's neck slightly. "I was born Dan Marcus, but I have another name as well," he smirked. "They call me 'The Demonic'…"

With that, he kicked upwards and his foot collided with Luffy's stomach. The air around him started to shimmer. Suddenly, everything exploded and Luffy was rocketing backwards, shooting through the forest. Luffy crashed straight through three trees before barrelling into a house on the outskirts of Mock Town. Blood splattered the ground.

Marcus was whistling again as started walking after Luffy.

Zoro and Sanji led the charge, forcing Isaac and Berrit backwards away from Vivi and the ship. Nami instantly ran to Vivi side and tried to use the sword to force off the Seastone handcuffs, while Robin stood at the back, observing the duo cautiously.

Five seconds later, Usopp and Chopper recovered and joined the fight. Usopp was beaten and bruised but had a surprisingly monstrous amount of stamina, and the sniper quickly loaded up explosive rounds into his slingshot. Chopper recovered quickly as well, staying in his Heavy point form, but he had a rumble ball close to hand.

The seven pirates surrounded the two Devil fruit hunters threateningly. Neither of them looked particularly worried.

"Well, this is unfair," Isaac said finally, casually removing his glasses. He had weirdly bright blue eyes. "Seven against two seems like very poor sportsmanship. Can't we just discuss this like gentleman?"

No one answered. Zoro's swords seemed to growl angrily. Sanji was almost bursting with rage. Isaac just stood completely calmly, yet his eyes appeared to glow softly.

"I guess that's a no, then?" Isaac muttered. "Still, look at this from our perspective – we're just trying to do our jobs. I mean, the Sand Sand fruit belonged to us originally. We're well within our right to take back our property."

At that, Sanji finally snapped. The chef spun around and launched forward with an arcing kick, but someone he ended up going in the wrong direction. Sanji ended up kicking towards Zoro, which seemed to surprise both of them.

"What the hell are you doing?" Zoro growled, narrowly avoiding the attack.

"I…" Sanji seemed confused. "I don't know! I was trying to kick him!"

At the same time, Chopper transformed in to his Walk Point and charged, his reindeer horns glinting. However, Chopper galloped in the complete wrong direction, almost colliding headfirst into a nearby tree.

"What's going on here?" Nami exclaimed, but she was suddenly blinking a lot. She was feeling very dizzy suddenly.

Usopp tried to fire off an explosive round, but as soon as he realised it he realised that he was aiming at the wrong place. He blinked several times, but everything seemed… wrong.

Isaac never even flinched. He stood completely calm. His eyes were practically pulsing now.

"It's him…" Robin realised finally. She was blinking a lot too, and swaying uncertainly. "He's got some sort of power…"

Sanji looked around nervously. He was trying to feel around his surroundings, but tripping a lot. It was like all of his perceptions had been inverted. Sanji stared at Isaac, or at least, he stared at where he thought Isaac was. "You…" The chef growled. "Are you… hypnotising us?"

Isaac just smiled. "Hypnotising?" He mused. His eyes shimmered eerily. "Are you kidding? I can't do creepy stuff like that."

He started to walk forward slowly. Sanji tried to stop him, but ended up hitting nothing but air.

"This is the power of the Daze Daze fruit," Isaac said with an arrogant grin. "Right now, I'm simply… altering your senses a bit. I'm affecting your depth perception, your hand-eye coordination, your sense of direction."

Usopp loaded up another round. Isaac looked at the sniper doubtfully. "Are you sure you want to do that?" He said with a raised eyebrow. "After all, how can you be sure at what you're actually aiming at? You might hit any of your friends…."

The sniper hesitated uncertainly. The dizziness was stronger now, and everything just seemed wrong. Usopp's hand shook with doubt.

"Now, then…" Isaac continued, looking down at Vivi. "I don't want to fight. That is why we're simply going to take the princess here and lea–"

Suddenly, he was interrupted by a slashing noise. Zoro was charging at him, the three blades cutting through the air. The attack took Isaac completely by surprise, and he barely managed to dodge backwards…

"How…?" Isaac gasped, forced to retreat under Zoro's furious onslaught. "But I'm in your head! I've completely blocked your sense of direction!"

"Then the jokes on you," Zoro growled, throwing his blades in a furious slash. "…I don't have a sense of direction!"

Isaac looked shocked, yet Zoro was relentless. The slender man had to run backwards to avoid the flashing blades. Behind him, Berrit was just laughing at his companion's situation.

"Unbelievable… that moss head's lack of direction is actually good something," Sanji deadpanned. The chef was stumbling around trying to find his bearings, but he lost all sense of where anything was. He couldn't join the fight when there was a chance he might hit one of the women.

Meanwhile, Nami managed trying to pry off Vivi's handcuffs with her blade. Fortunately, they hadn't been put on tightly, and they were moving. Her slender hands were slipping through the handcuffs slowly.

"Luffy's in trouble!" Vivi hissed in a worried voice. "He's facing the third one alone, and that guy was strong!"

"It's alright," Nami soothed. "We'll take care of these guys, and then go help him."

Finally, the handcuffs opened enough for Vivi to pull her hands out. "I'm going to help him now!" Vivi insisted, before running off into the woods.

"Vivi!" Nami tried to run after her, but Isaac's power was still affecting her. Nami tripped over a root and landed face first in the mud.

"I'll go after her," Robin shouted loudly, quickly running after the princess. Robin was dizzy as well, but she was using her abilities to create a line of hands across the ground to support herself as she ran after Vivi into the forest.

The large man, Berrit, seemed to find this funny. "Oi! Isaac! Our goddamn target is getting away!" He laughed.

"I'm a bit busy!" Isaac grunted. For all he was defenceless against Zoro's blades, he was doing a very good job in dodging the attack. Zoro was quickly getting irritated.

If anything, Sanji was even more annoyed. The dizziness was completely incapacitating him. "Marimo!" The chef demanded. "Hurry up and beat that guy so I can fight! The ladies need me!"

"I'm trying!" Zoro snapped, before snarling at Isaac. "Fight, you coward!"

Isaac simply laughed. "The truth is…" He admitted sheepishly. "That I'm not really that good at the physical side of fighting."

Suddenly, a large shadow towered over Zoro. "But that's alright…" Berrit grinned, joining in for the first time. "Because I'm really goddamn good at it!"

Zoro tried to avoid it, but the large man was fast. Berrit's hand shot out and lightly touched against Zoro's shoulder.

In an instant, Zoro collapsed to the ground. It felt like he had just been hit over the head with a large hammer. His body crumpled and folded over. His teeth gritted while blood filled up his mouth.

"My power is a lot less subtle than his," Berrit laughed. "I ate the goddamn Stomp Stomp fruit. I am a Stomper Man! Everything I touch gets goddamn stomped on!"

Berrit's heavy boot hit Zoro squarely in the chest, but it was followed by an even worse impact. Suddenly, the swordsman was slammed into the ground and landed in a Zoro-sized crater.

Usopp and Chopper screamed in shock. Berrit cracked knuckles, while Isaac straightened his tie.

"I'll stop them from fighting back," Isaac explained simply, his eyes pulsing eerily. "You stomp on them. Got it?"

"As if you needed to ask…" Berrit grinned.

Marcus kept on whistling. Even as he continued to fling Luffy around Mock Town, crashing through buildings, Marcus just kept on strolling and whistling.

A house exploded in a shower of wooden splinters and rubble. Luffy's limp body crashed through the rubble with breakneck force, before shooting out the other side and skidding across the road like a ragdoll fired from a cannon. He was bleeding from so many cuts that it was a wonder he even had any skin left. The pain was so intense he could feel it in his bones. His muscles screamed in agony, but Luffy pushed himself to his feet with pure force of will.

"Are you seriously worth 200 million?" Marcus asked sceptically, walking casually towards Luffy with his hands in his pockets. Around them, the citizens of Mock Town were fleeing for their lives, but Marcus didn't seem to care. A huge trail of rubble had been carved through the town from their one-sided fight.

Marcus never even had a scratch on him. He never dodged, but Luffy's punch had yet to even make contact. Luffy's knuckles were numb from his attempts. The Devil fruit hunter had a really strange ability…

The pirate gritted his teeth, panting heavily, while slowly levering off Smoker's jitte from across his back. Luffy gripped the handle firmly, while his muscles tensed and his breath became calm. He had to end this now. This man was dangerous, and Luffy would not allow him to hurt Vivi.

You will not hurt my friends, Luffy thought firmly, a blazing anger igniting his stomach, driving away the pain. They are precious to me!

With every ounce of strength he had left, Luffy's body exploded into action. His feet slammed against the ground so hard he left a trail of dust, and suddenly he was bursting straight towards Marcus, swinging the jitte around in circles. A millisecond before impact, Luffy darted towards the side. With his other hand, Luffy grabbed a large piece of stone rubble and flung it towards his opponent.

Marcus didn't even flinch. As soon as the projectile came within two feet of his body, it shattered into dust. It was enough of a distraction for Luffy to get behind him, using both hands to swing the jitte downwards with jaw-shattering speed.

Around him, the air was shimmering. Luffy could feel the jitte vibrating so hard it threatened to pulverize the bones in his hand, yet with a wordless scream of fury Luffy pushed onwards. A glint of annoyance flashed across Marcus' face.

"Seastone…" He growled irritably. "Cute."

The Devil fruit hunter was forced to dodge backwards, and Luffy felt a flash of victory. This was the first time that Marcus had actually shown concern for this fight. Luffy pressed onwards, bringing the jitte around in a lightning fast swipe towards Marcus' face.

"Still, that's the thing with Seastone…" Marcus smirked. Around him, the air was shimmering so hard it looked like it was sparkling orange. "…It only makes a difference if it actually touches you."

The jitte stopped instantly, as if it collided with a brick wall. Luffy screamed with pain as the impact felt like it crushed his hands. Almost lazily, Marcus reached out and grabbed the jitte, staying away from the Seastone tip, and casually tightened his grip. The jitte vibrated furiously for a second, before it shattered into a cloud of metal dust. The Seastone tip fell to the ground.

"Oops," Marcus teased. Luffy was left holding a useless handle, but there was too much momentum behind him and he couldn't get away fast enough. Marcus followed through with a sweeping kick, colliding against Luffy's chest.

The impact exploded like a ton of dynamite. The shockwave shattered every nearby pane of glass. Luffy was sent flying backwards, smashing through an entire row of houses.

Marcus just laughed. He started whistling again before following the trail of destruction left by Luffy's body.

He barely made it a dozen steps, before suddenly Luffy exploded from the debris, his fist smashing towards Marcus' head. Luffy's clothes were tattered into shreds. His body was covered in blood, while his face was twisted in animalistic fury.

"Ok, you get points for persistence," Marcus admitted. Luffy's arm stopped against the shimmering shield surrounding Marcus' body, and Marcus lazily swatted Luffy to the ground. Marcus looked vaguely confused. "You know, I was pretty sure that I broke every bone in your knuckles. How are you still capable of punching me?"

Luffy was left motionless on the ground. Marcus sighed, crouching down next to him. He placed his foot over his chest, pinning Luffy to the ground. Absentmindedly, Marcus picked up a nearby stone, holding it flat in the palm of his hand.

"Look, it's like this," Marcus explained, motioning at the stone. "Imagine all those molecules, right? Molecules everywhere. My power causes all those molecules to vibrate. And when they vibrate, the object falls to pieces very quickly."

In the palm of his hand, the air surrounding the stone started to shimmer. The next second, the stone was cracking into pieces and turning into dust, floating away into nothingness.

"That's my power," he explained happily. "I can shred anything. I ate the Shred Shred fruit. I am a Shredder man."

Luffy couldn't even resist as Marcus casually placed his hand over his chest. There was a maniacal smile on Marcus' face as he continued. "I can shred any attack that comes near me. I can magnify any of my attacks with my ability. I can turn anything into nothing." He extended his finger slowly. The air was shimmering. "Watch this."

Marcus pressed down his finger against Luffy's chest. There was a sickening crunch. Luffy screamed in pain. "That's one rib broken!" Marcus shouted gleefully. He moved his finger slightly. There was another crack. "Two ribs broken! Do you want to see how many we can break before you finally die?"

His voice was filed with pure psychopathic joy and insanity. Luffy was screaming and coughing up blood. Still, Luffy refused to give up. Luffy's hand extended and grabbed the remaining blade from his belt, and flashed the knife upwards in a murderous strike.

Marcus was standing too closely for his power to shred the knife in time. The Devil fruit hunter was forced to dodge out the way, but the knife still scraped against his cheek, drawing blood.

Luffy pulled himself up slowly. His body was screaming with agony, but Luffy didn't even care. He clutched his knife firmly, staring at the blood on the blade.

"So you can be hurt," Luffy muttered finally, gripping his blade firmly. His voice was hoarse from the blood in his mouth. "I've just got to get close to you. And if you can hurt, then you can die."

Marcus chuckled. He ran a finger across the cut on his cheek, before licking the blood on his finger. "Yep, that's right," Marcus laughed. "But anyone who gets close, gets shredded."

Around them, it looked like a bombshell had hit the town. The buildings were pulverised. The sounds of footsteps were fading, as it seemed like the entire town had evacuated. It was dark and there were pitch black clouds approaching over the horizon, but Luffy was completely focused on Marcus.

Suddenly, a tense shout split the standoff. "Luffy!" A voice called, and Luffy recognised it straight away.

"Vivi!" Luffy shouted back with sudden concern. "Get away from here! He's after you!"

The approaching footsteps were clearly audible. Vivi appeared at the end of the street, running towards Luffy. Both men turned to stare at her.

"Ah! Beautiful!" Marcus shouted happily, walking towards Vivi. "You know, I was going to look for you after I was done with him."

Luffy exploded with rage. "Don't you dare hurt her!" He bellowed angrily, swinging his leg at Marcus in a vicious kick. Marcus didn't even turn around, but Luffy was sent crashing backwards from a wave of the Shred Shred ability.

Vivi shouted in shock, firing both of her Peacock Slashers at Marcus in a blur of speed. The spinning disks were deflected harmlessly. Grunting, Vivi focused on her Devil fruit abilities, and summoned a blade of sand bursting from a swing of her arm.

The air shimmered and it seemed like every single grain of sand dispersed as it approached Marcus. With a surge of speed, Marcus rushed forward with an uppercut that exploded the air around her. Vivi had time to prepare, but the impact still sent her crashing to the ground.

"That… hurt?" She gasped, staring at the blood from numerous cuts across her arms. She wasn't adept with her powers yet, but she was sure that she should have phased through that punch.

"Surprised?" Marcus smirked. "My abilities work on a molecular scale. Not even Logia can avoid them."

He stared downwards at her. "You could end this all now," he teased. "All you have to do is come with us. We'll leave all your friends alone, I promise. Otherwise, they're all going to die because of you."

She was left motionless. Marcus' smirk widened. He was laughing even as he brought his fist downwards straight at her.

Instantly, soft hands appeared around Vivi and dragged her backwards. Marcus' fist collided against the ground, pulverizing stone into dust. Nico Robin emerged from the darkness, her hands crossed in front of her chest as she stared with anger.

"Two beautifuls!" Marcus chuckled madly, cracking his knuckles. "Today is my lucky day! Perhaps I can't kill the Sand Sand fruit here, but I have no problem in ripping off –"

His voice was cut off by a ton of rubble crashing down on him. Luffy was screaming wordlessly from behind, every vein bulging as he threw a house straight at Marcus. The Devil fruit hunter disappeared in a pile of debris.

"Robin! Get Vivi out of here!" Luffy shouted loudly. He was bleeding so heavily it was a wonder he was still moving. "I'll hold him off."

Vivi gasped as she saw the state of his body. It looked like Luffy had fallen into a meat shredder. "Luffy! You're…" Her voice choked. "… You can't beat him alone."

"I can hold him off," Luffy growled. "Get away from here."


"No." His tone was uncharacteristically sharp. "He's after you. Run away, get to the ship and start sailing. If you're gone, then they'll leave."

"What about you?" Vivi asked breathlessly. Behind her, the rubble of the house was starting to shift.

"We'll meet up later," Luffy promised, turning around to face Marcus. "But you've got to leave right now."

Calmly, Robin placed her hand on Vivi's shoulder and started to pull her backwards. Luffy was already staggering away. The sound of laughter was echoing from the rubble. Vivi gulped, trying to fight back, but Robin's grip was firm.

"Yet we can't just leave him–" She protested.

"Follow your captain's orders," Robin said firmly, in a tone that left no room for argument. For the first time, Vivi stared at the older woman. For all her body was calmer, her eyes were just as worried. Vivi relented, and the two of them turned to run out of the town.

Marcus was laughing as he emerged from the debris. He stared at the running women with unconcealed glee. "Did you really think I would just let you get away?" He growled, starting to run after them. He barely made it two steps before Luffy crashed into him, sending them both scattering to the ground.

"I'm your opponent!" Luffy roared, tackling Marcus down. "You will not touch them."

It was agonisingly painful just being so close to Marcus, yet Luffy forced his way through the shimmering air with pure determination. Marcus was left shocked as suddenly Luffy was on top of him, and the pirate's hands were wrapping around Marcus' neck.

Luffy's arms were trembling from the effort. Cuts emerged across his skin as he arms were being slowly shredded, but Luffy's grip was like iron as he tightened his fingers around Marcus' windpipe.

Marcus was gasping for breath, but still trying to laugh even as Luffy strangled him. With Marcus hands, he punched against Luffy's chest. Each blow felt like a cannon blast. Luffy managed to endure five of them before he finally collapsed.

Marcus pulled himself up, rubbing at his bruised neck. He was laughing. "You've definitely got persistence" He admitted. His eyes glinted gleefully. "I can get beautiful later. Let's see how long you can survive against me."

Luffy was struggling to breath with broken ribs. His bones felt like they had been ground into dust. It was difficult to even raise his arms.

I used to be stronger than this, Luffy thought with shock. He used to be stronger than this. It felt like every punch was half as strong as they had been when he was Rubberman. He couldn't take a blow like he used to be able to. Without the Gum Gum fruit, Luffy was weaker, slower, and more fragile. If Luffy still had his Devil fruit, then this fight would have been different.

I should be stronger than this… Luffy struggled to stand up straight. His eyes were unblinkingly focused on Marcus' grin. He was fighting stronger opponents and while he was weaker. All of that training, and he still wasn't strong enough. He couldn't afford to be weak anymore. Crocodile had proven that. I have too much that I need to protect

Luffy's hands curled into fists so tightly that his fingernails drew blood from his palm.


The fury, the outrage, and the determination boiled through his body. Suddenly, his arms were trembling from rage. A wordless scream of anger burst from his lips, and the next second he was charging against Marcus furiously.

There was no instinct of self-preservation left. There was no more pain. All Luffy wanted to do was punch that smile out of Marcus' face.

Marcus was laughing even more feverishly. Luffy's fists collided against the shimmering shield relentlessly. Each impact caused a small shockwave, but Luffy didn't even pause.

"Don't you get it?" Marcus laughed. He was standing completely still. "You can't hurt me like this. Every punch doesn't hit me, but you're hurting yourself each time. You're the only one that's feeling the impact."

Luffy gritted his teeth, but kept on hitting. The blood was scattering across the ground. His fists were completely numb, but he didn't care. Luffy would keep on hitting until his hands were stumps, and then he would start punching again. His fists kept on colliding with invisible wall surrounding Marcus. There was no hesitation, and no mercy in his blows. If anything, his pace just kept on increasing.

Around him, the air was shimmering furiously. At first it was shimmering orange, but it gradually intensified until it was glowing bright red. Luffy could swear that the distance between his fists and Marcus' body was slowly decreasing.

Marcus frowned. "How are you still alive?" He asked finally. Marcus was slowly taking steps backwards now, but Luffy's onslaught was relentless. "You should have turned every bone in your body to dust by now…"

Luffy didn't respond. In ten seconds, he had already punched Marcus a few hundred times. His muscles were burning. He was powered by more than flesh and blood. A flicker of doubt crossed Marcus' face, and Luffy screamed as he threw everything he had into his final punch. He hit so hard that he broke the sound barrier, creating a shockwave that rippled across the entire island…

For half a second, Luffy's fist turned pitch black.

The shield broke. His knuckles collided against Marcus' jaw and the force was tremendous. Marcus didn't even have time to react as suddenly his body collapsed and the punch took him off his feet. The air whooshed as his body flew backwards, leaving a crater in the centre of the town. The punch was so devastating it threw up a mushroom cloud of dust.

The determination in Luffy never subsided. His knuckles were dripping blood, but he didn't care. He was beyond pain now. He staggered forward, thinking of nothing more than to see through. He wanted to see him dead.

Gasping for breath, Marcus pulled himself off the ground. His body was bleeding and bruised. His jaw felt broken. Everything was spinning from concussion, but slowly the Devil fruit hunter managed to focus on Luffy.

"How did you…?" Marcus gasped, feeling his jaw. His body was trembling. "How could…?"

Slowly, Marcus' face split open in a huge grin, stretching from ear to ear. His teeth were white and vicious in the moonlight. The psychopathic laughter echoed through the night.

Around him, the air wasn't shimmering anymore. It was glowing blood-red in the darkness. With every step, the ground cracked and disintegrated into dust.

Marcus was laughing so furiously he could barely speak. "THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN!" He bellowed loudly, before charging at Luffy.

At the Going Merry, things were going badly. Isaac and Berrit proved to be an effective team. Perhaps they could be defeated separately, but together they were very difficult opponents.

Isaac's eyes were kept on pulsing bright blue. It was enough to make anyone dizzy and disoriented. Zoro was the only one who could still fight despite it, yet even he was feeling the effects. Sanji was trying, but he ended completely missing with every attack. Isaac just kept on flitting around the battle, drawing a flintlock pistol and firing it at the weak and defenceless.

Berrit was the opposite. The large man was big and strong, yet surprisingly quick, and he used his power to devastate his opponents. His punches and kicks were reinforced by the Stomp Stomp fruit, and he only needed to touch you before a huge force came slamming down from above.

Sanji was barely managing to survive Berrit. The chef was practically incapacitated by the Daze Daze fruit, and his kicks kept on missing. The dizziness was so severe Sanji nearly dropped to the ground every time he raised his leg. Berrit took the weak kicks easily, and returned with bone-cracking stomps courtesy of his power.

Zoro was the only one that could follow Isaac, but the slender man refused to face him in a fair fight. Instead, Isaac flitted across the ground away from Zoro's swords, while the swordsman narrowly managed to deflect each bullet. Isaac would routinely aim for one of the other pirates, forcing Zoro to dash to their aid, all the while fighting against the dizziness. Zoro had already taken a bullet to the shoulder and another one across his arm, and he was panting heavily while Isaac wore him down.

Perhaps the swordsman could have cornered Isaac if they'd been fighting alone, yet Berrit kept on coming to Isaac's aid whenever he was in trouble.

Chopper had already been taken down by a few heavy blows from Berrit. Nami had pulled the doctor aboard the Going Merry to get him out of the way. Vivi and Robin had went after Luffy, and Carue had followed squealing to bring Vivi back. Sanji and Zoro were both facing losing fights against the Devil fruit hunters.

Usopp was left just as helpless. His slingshot was in hand, and the sniper was firing and reloading with lightning speed. Still, so far his projectiles had been fired in every direction except towards the enemy. The dizziness, lack of orientation and coordination were playing havoc with his sharpshooting abilities.

"Watch out!" Usopp stammered, unleashing another projectile that was sent flying into the sea. He tried to correct his aim, but he had no hand-eye coordination. "You better run! I have eight thousand men heading over here right now!"

Nobody seemed to pay him any regard. Zoro grunted as he took another bullet to the chest. Usopp's explosive round hit uselessly off the ground. "Did I say eight thousand?" Usopp shrieked. "I meant eight million! You better run away quick!"

He growled with frustration as no one even glanced towards him. Sanji took another heavy blow from Berrit. It had been years since Usopp had felt so helpless. "I am Captain Usopp! Brave Warrior of the Seas!" Usopp shouted loudly, his eyes blurring up with tears as he loaded another round. "I will not let you hurt my friends!"

There was a grunt as Isaac narrowly avoided the metal star launched at him. Usopp wiped his eyes and blinked. "Wait a minute…" Usopp realised. "That nearly hit…"

A memory came back to him; one of Isaac removing his glasses before using his powers. Suddenly, Usopp figured it out.

At once, Usopp closed his eyes tightly, before launching a salvo of explosive rounds towards Isaac. They scattered across the ground, interrupting the fight between Zoro and Isaac.

"Usopp!" Zoro snarled, narrowly avoiding the flames. "What the hell are you doing?!"

Usopp didn't respond. His eyes flickered open, very quickly, just long enough to get a broad idea of where Isaac was, before he closed them and blindly launched another explosive salvo. Isaac frowned as he had to cartwheel to avoid the projectiles.

"He needs eye contact to use his power!" Usopp shouted triumphantly, pointing at Isaac. Usopp couldn't aim when his eyes were closed, but at least he never missed as badly as he used to. "When your eyes are open, he messes with your perceptions to make you miss every attack! If you close your eyes, he can't affect you!"

Isaac looked annoyed. Sanji smirked. "Is that so…?" The chef muttered, before closing his eyes.

Suddenly, the dizziness was gone. This time, the chef jumped upwards, spinning his leg around in a wide arc with flashing speed. Berrit couldn't dodge in time, and the force sent the large man backwards.

"Goddamn it…!" Berrit wheezed, pulling himself up. He had never taken one of Sanji's kicks before. The chef was standing coolly, already lighting a cigarette with his eyes closed.

"So all I have to do is beat you with my eyes shut?" Sanji mused. "I can do that."

With Usopp's blind onslaught behind him, Zoro was getting closer. Isaac was having trouble dodging in time, letting Zoro get close enough to inflict three shallow slashes across Isaac's chest before he rolled.

"Curse it!" Isaac growled, looking annoyed as he inspected the gashes across his suit. "This was tailor-made! Handcrafted stitching! Don't you have any respect for art?"

Zoro responded only with another attack, this time cutting off Isaac's tie, slashing open one of his boots, and cutting his flintlock in half. Things became desperate as Isaac was forced backwards.

Sanji was facing Berrit more equally now too. Berrit was lumbering and loud, and Sanji could still predict his attacks from sound alone. Even with his eyes closed, Sanji was putting up a good fight.

Usopp blind barrage of projectiles scattered around the ground. He launched everything from explosive rounds, metal shells to rubber bands. The Devil fruit hunters were driven further and further back.

"Mwahahah!" Usopp laughed, his arms blurring as he fired. The projectiles streamed from him, fast as a machine gun. "I am Captain Usopp! Don't you forget it!"

"Will you watch we're you're shooting?" Sanji snarled as a rubber band bounced off his head.


There was a loud quacking from the woods as Carue came charging forward. Vivi and Robin were on his back, holding on tightly as the duck thundered towards the ship.

"Vivi!" Nami called with relief, from the deck of the Going Merry. "Where's Luffy?"

"Holding the other one back," Vivi replied sourly. "Get the ship ready, we've got to go now!"

Nami looked confused. "But… Luffy?"

"That third one is really strong," Robin replied simply, jumping off Carue. For once, the duck never minded her presence. "We've got to go and lead him away, and meet up with Luffy later."

The navigator looked like she wanted to protest, but there was a dark glance in Robin's eyes that warned her not to. Quickly, the girls charged up the gangway, with Robin using her powers to unfurl the sails and raise the anchor at the same time.

"The Sand Sand fruit is getting away!" Isaac called with frustration, narrowly dodging Zoro's blades. "Do something."

"Goddamn…" Berrit grumbled, running around a blind Sanji and towards the Going Merry. He didn't make it very far as suddenly a small object collided against his face, before exploding with gas.

Usopp stood with a triumphant smile on his face. "Usopp's…" The sniper proclaimed. "...Stink Bomb!"

The smell was rancid, especially to Berrit's hypersensitive nose. The large man groaned with disgust, clutching his nose helplessly, yet Usopp followed it through with two rotten eggs smashing against his face. With Berrit incapacitated, Sanji responded with bone-cracking kick to Berrit's side, sending him rolling away.

"Berrit!" Isaac called with surprise, his lip twisting in distaste. He turned to Zoro angrily. "That's it! It's time you see the real power of the Daze Daze fruit…"

The glow from Isaac's eyes started to intensify. They were shining bright blue, and Zoro started to feel worried. Isaac took out a second flintlock from behind his back, while Zoro's movements became sluggish. Slowly, Zoro felt his strength disappear and his arms became heavy…

Then, a canister landed on the ground next to Isaac, which started to hiss with thick white smoke. It was followed by a second one, and then a third, until all visibly disappeared.

"He's not going to see a thing!" Usopp called happily, from outside of the smoke cloud. "Usopp's… Smoke Bomb!"

As soon as the smoke blocked out Isaac's eyes, Zoro's strength returned. The swordsman sighed with relief, and Isaac had already disappeared in the thick smog.

"Zoro! Sanji! Quickly! Get on-board!" Nami's voice ordered loudly. Zoro hesitated; he wanted to finish Isaac once and for all while he was helpless, but there was no way of even finding him in the large smoke cloud. After a couple of seconds, Zoro relented and followed the sound of Nami's voice out of the smoke.

"Zoro!" Nami called angrily, once he emerged from the cloud. "You're going in the complete wrong direction!"

Zoro growled before he turned around and ran towards the ship. The Going Merry was already sailing off, and Robin had to use her powers to pull him up. Once he was safely on deck, Zoro collapsed as he gingerly nursed his bullet wounds.

"Those guys were annoying…" Zoro grumbled.

Next to him, Sanji was nursing his neck from Berrit's repeated stomps. "That skinny one has a really troublesome power."

"And the big one hits really hard," Zoro agreed.

Already, the on the beach were becoming small. Isaac was staggering out of the smoke cloud, nursing his tattered suit, while Berrit was climbing up and wiping egg off his face. There were strong winds forming, and the Going Merry was sailing away quickly.

Not that mattered how fast the Going Merry was going. Devil fruit users couldn't swim, so as soon as they were on the water there was no way for the pair to follow.

Usopp was standing at the back of the ship, happily jeering at the pair standing on the beach. "I am the great Captain Usopp! Great Adventurer of the Sea and Conqueror of Devils!" The sniper screamed cheerfully. Like every coward, he was much more confident when he was running away. "Don't you forget it! You were lucky to escape with your lives! If I meet you again, I won't be so merciful!"

Back on the beach, Berrit and Isaac stared gloomily at the retreating ship, neither one of them caring to talk.

Finally, Isaac glanced upwards at the dark clouds and fierce winds, before commenting, "There's a storm coming over the island," he mused. "We better find Marcus and get to our ship."

Berrit nodded but didn't move. Isaac glanced at his companion sympathetically. "This isn't over," he reassured. "They won't be able to hide from us, and they sure as hell can't outrun us. I'll bet we'll catch up to them before they even get out of the bay."

"Oh, I know," Berrit agreed, cracking his knuckles. "And when we do, I'm going to pulverize the bones of that goddamn sniper into goddamn dust…"

"How could you leave him there like that?" Nami accused angrily, pointing at Vivi and Robin. "Why didn't you stay and help?"

Vivi bit her lip, but didn't respond. "It was his choice," Robin replied simply, but didn't voice her own concerns.

"So you just abandoned him?" Nami growled, trying to fight the worry that was almost suffocating through her.

Robin didn't respond. She just stood by the rail, looking out over the dark outline of the island as the ship chopped through the waves.

"That guy was really strong…" Vivi admitted weakly, looking at the scrapes across her arms from his attack.

"Then you should have stayed and helped!" Nami fumed. "The three of you together would have had a much better chance!"

For once, Sanji never even tried to approach the ladies. Zoro stood at the prow of the Going Merry, near the figurehead, watching carefully as they turned around the corner of the island.

"Why would you leave that idiot alone?" Nami ranted, pacing uneasily. "You know what he's like, you should have stayed and helped. Dragged him back if you needed to, but never just…"

"He was trying to protect us," Robin said quietly.

"Protect us? We can protect ourselves, but he's the one who was hurt. Why does he always have to be so stubborn constantly, it just drives me…"

At the back of the ship, Usopp stood starting upwards and the sky. It was getting very dark, and the winds were picking up. "Umm… Guys?" Usopp called weakly, although he was mostly ignored. "There's a really weird cloud over the island…"

Nami just kept on ranting and pacing nervously. Her hands were twitching at the sword on her waist and her Clima-Tact on the other side. Neither Robin nor Vivi made eye contact. Sanji was at the helm, and the Going Merry was twisting around the bay.

Zoro stood motionlessly at the prow, but he frowned as the other side of the island came into view.

"I know I get lost quite often," he admitted slowly, staring off at the coast. "…But I'm pretty sure that there used to be a town there…"

Slowly, everyone turned to stare at the coast. The scene was highlighted by burning torches and fires that erupted over the debris. It looked like something from an apocalypse.

Nami placed her hands over her mouth. "Luffy…" She gasped.

They all remembered what Mock Town had looked like when they had arrived. That had all vanished. There wasn't even a building still standing up, but instead the whole town had transformed into a pile of rubble and debris. Even the landscape had been radically altered by gouges and craters carved into the ground. The trees were collapsed, and every building had been absolutely pulverised.

If it wasn't for the pier, which was still mostly intact, yet deserted, they would have thought they'd arrived at the wrong town.

"Bring the ship in!" Vivi yelled forcefully, bending so far over the railing she looked like she might fall in. "Luffy!"

Berrit and Isaac looked over the debris that was previously Mock Town. Numerous fires had burst out across the rubble. The 'town' was deserted. All the citizens had felt into the forest, while all the pirates had fled out into the bay.

"Well…" Isaac muttered eventually. "It looks like Marcus really went all out…"

Berrit nodded silently. After a moment's hesitation, they both started walking into the town, over the wood and rubble that coated the ground. They had a very profitable business as Devil fruit hunters, but the downside was that they had to deal with Marcus'… tendencies.

A couple of minutes later, by the port, they found Marcus sitting calmly on a pile of rubble and staring out into the sea with a serene smile on his face.

He turned as he heard them approach. "Oh! Hey guys!" Marcus exclaimed happily. "What took you so long?"

It was a long time before Berrit or Isaac responded. Marcus' clothes were tattered and he was bleeding heavily. There were several cuts across his body, and a large and particularly nasty head wound. His nose looked like it had been broken, and he was nursing his jaw tenderly. There were also dark bruises across his neck that looked like finger marks.

And Marcus was smiling brightly. He was in a very good mood, and that was never a good thing.

"We were busy…" Isaac replied weakly. "And we… accidently let the Sand Sand fruit get away…"

Isaac had been worried about some sort of violent outburst. After all, Marcus' mood swings were infamously unpredictable. Instead, the man just shrugged.

"Ah, doesn't matter," Marcus grinned, already walking away. "I've got it covered."

Berrit and Isaac followed a several steps behind. Marcus walked to a pile of debris, and casually kicked a large boulder out of the way. The body of Monkey D. Luffy was scattered across the ground, surrounded by a very large amount of blood.

If it wasn't for Luffy's ragged breathing, he could have quite easily passed for dead. As it was, it looked like a medical miracle that he was still alive. His skin looked like it had practically been flayed off. His knuckles, in particular, looked almost shattered. His joints were twisted in a way that could only mean broken bones.

"I had a really fun time," Marcus said as if in explanation. He was still smiling even as he grabbed Luffy by the ankle and started to drag him across the ground. The pirate was so weak he couldn't even fight back.

Marcus hauled Luffy down to the docks, and walked on to the pier. The wood was wet and smooth, and Luffy could only stare at the water beneath the planks as he was dragged face down.

Finally, they reached the edge of the pier. Marcus dropped Luffy's leg and roughly pulled the pirates limp body upwards. Berrit and Isaac followed quietly.

"Do you remember what I did to that stone?" Marcus asked gleefully. He slowly pressed his hand over Luffy's heading, tightly gripping his skull. "Well, I'm going to do the exact same thing to your head. I come to break your skull into pieces. I'm going to liquefy your brain. And I'm going to do it slowly, so that you get to feel every sensation."

Luffy couldn't even react. His body wasn't responding. Instead, he could only stare, looking on into the bay, until finally his eyes managed to focus on a ship sailing close to the shore. Luffy's heart raced as he recognised that ship.

"Hello beautiful!" Marcus shouted cheerfully, waving at the Going Merry. They were so close now that Luffy could see all his friends on-board. He tried to move, but he couldn't. Marcus was gripping him too tightly.

"Luffy!" A shrill voice screamed from the Going Merry. Vivi, Luffy thought weakly, no

Marcus looked like was enjoying himself. "Let's make this easy, beautiful," the Devil fruit hunter promised. "I'm going to kill your captain. It's going to be painful, and you're going to watch me kill him right in front of you!"

There were shouts of panic from the Going Merry, all frenzied and indistinguishable. Luffy kept on stirring weakly, but Marcus held him tightly. Isaac and Berrit stood close behind him, ready for a fight.

"Or…" Marcus continued, taking great pleasure in the situation. "You come here, and you surrender. In return, the captain goes free, and the princess comes with us! How's that for a bargain?"

There wasn't even a moment's hesitation. "Bring the ship in," Vivi ordered firmly. Her voice was quiet, but clearly audible.

"Vivi…" Nami muttered uncertainly.

"Bring the ship in."

Marcus was laughing. Luffy was struggling more. He wanted to fight, he wanted to punch him, but his arms just weren't working. All he could do was squirm helpless as he watched.

No, Vivi… Luffy begged silently, Don't do it… He's going to kill you…

He's going to kill you all…

Finally, Luffy found his voice. "Vivi!" He gasped hoarsely. "Don't! Just run!"

The panic and confusion on the Going Merry increased, but they kept on sailing towards the shore. Marcus lightly hit Luffy over the head, but he was enjoying himself too much to stop Luffy from talking.

"Get away from here, Vivi!" Luffy screamed. "He's going to kill you! Run!"

The Going Merry never turned. He could hear the screaming and frenzied shouting, but Luffy's heart was beating too much to make out the words.

I will not watch my friends die, Luffy thought furiously, still trying to struggle. Marcus was forced to use both hand to stop him, and plant his foot on Luffy's back to keep him motionless. I will not be the reason my friends die

The ship was close now. Dangerously close. The tears were swelling up in Luffy's eyes.

"Don't you dare!" Luffy shrieked loudly. "I will never forgive you if you come back for me!"

There was a moment's stunned silence. Nobody dared to move.

After a half a second, Marcus started laughing. He was laughing harder and more raucously than he had ever done in years.

"Well, look at the brave captain!" Marcus squealed joyfully. "Everyone! Watch the brave captain who's willing to sacrifice himself for his crew!"

Marcus slowly put his hands across Luffy's head. The air started to shimmer. "And now…!" Marcus continued with a psychopathic smile. "You get to watch the brave captain die!"

Then the pain started. It was like nothing that Luffy had ever felt before. Involuntarily, a hoarse shriek escaped from his mouth. His head felt like it was about to explode. Marcus just kept on laughing. The agonising pain in between his ears drowned out every other feeling. There was nothing but pain.

Except for his friends. Luffy could hear his friends quite clearly. Somehow, the sound of his friends screaming was worse than anything he had ever heard.

He was going to die. Again. Despite everything, he had still let all his friends down. He wanted to struggle and to fight, but there was nothing he could. His arms weren't working. He could barely even move.

There's nothing I can do… he thought weakly, staring at the wooden pier while the pain in his skull just kept on increasing.

There's nothing I can do…?

"I can swim…" Luffy growled suddenly through gritted teeth, before he slammed his head down against the wooden planks with bone-crunching force.

The wood buckled as if it was made of paper. The next second, they all dropped through the pier and splashed into the cold, salty water.

Chapter Text

"I will never forgive you if you come back for me."

The words rang through the air hollowly. They were so final, so harsh, and so un-Luffy-like that the whole crew was stunned silent. All eyes were on the pier, and no one on the Going Merry dared to even breathe.

Vivi was trembling so much her vision was blurry. Beside her, Nami looked like her heart had stopped breathing. Zoro felt his swords twitching for blood, while Usopp was already taking aim with his slingshot, yet they were still too far away from the pier. No one moved, or even made a sound. None of them knew what to do.

And that was when Luffy started screaming in pain. He screamed so loudly that it drowned out Marcus' laughter. Marcus stood over Luffy's body, both hands over the pirate's skull, all the while the air shimmered and Luffy thrashed in agony.

The screams caused the atmosphere to snap. Vivi was already rushing madly towards Luffy, and Robin had to stop her jumping out of the ship. Nami broke down in muffled tears, too shocked to snap. Usopp was strangely quiet, his eyes wide and bulging as he watched Luffy shriek. Sanji and Zoro were both at the front of the ship, shouting desperately for the ship to go faster. The masts were fully unfurled and the wind was strong, but the Going Merry seemed to be moving in slow motion.

The next second, with one tremendous groan of exertion, Luffy crashed downwards onto the wooden pier, and everything collapsed. The splash of water sounded like a tidal wave.

"Luffy!" Vivi shrieked. She would have jumped in after him if Robin hadn't been holding on to her tightly.

Both Sanji and Zoro were moving almost before Luffy broke the surface. There were no words, no orders, and no time for rational thought. Suddenly, they were both leaping off the prow and diving into the dark ocean.

"He'll be alright!" Robin shouted firmly. The older woman was holding Vivi closely; half restraining her and half comforting her. Still, Robin's hands were trembling too. "They'll save him!"

Vivi was stuttering nonsensically. Nami was staring, wide-eyed and shivering. "But…" Nami muttered numbly. "Luffy can't actually swim…"

It had been ten years since Luffy had even practiced swimming. He had been awful at it when he seven, and he was still wasn't any better.

He kicked and he punched, as if the water was some physical enemy. He could move, but his body was still broken and weak. He had no rhythm to his movements, no experience, and so Luffy fell deeper into the ocean.

Strangely, Luffy had never really experienced drowning before, either. Devil fruit users sunk like stones in the water, yet at the same time the water paralysed and numbed their body. For a Devil fruit user, drowning was a horrible experience, yet a weirdly abstract one.

But Luffy was drowning now. He could feel his lungs burn as the water flooded his body. He was thrashing madly as the water surrounded him, and he could feel absolutely every horrible experience.

The ocean was cold and dark. Vaguely, Luffy glimpsed shapes around him, but before long everything became pitch black. His head started to swirl. He could feel the pressure crushing his brain, and sounded like a popping between his eyes. Everything was swirling, his heartbeat was racing, and his lungs kept on shrieking for a breath of air that never came.

Drowning was the most agonising way to die. Luffy had heard someone say that before, but he had never understood it at the time. It made perfect sense now. Drowning was fighting against a foe that you couldn't punch, which sapped your strength and pulled you deeper while your body begged desperately for release.

Luffy's vision blurred. Specks were flickering in front of his eyes. The water was in his lungs, and he couldn't even scream. Luffy was in utter torture as his body turned cold, and the darkness swallowed him.

Luffy opened his eyes wearily. The morning light flickered across his face, slowly rousing him from his sleep. Luffy was still tired and exhausted, but he couldn't keep his eyes closed any longer.

He groaned as he pulled himself up. He was in a small, but comfortable, bed in a large room. Palm trees swayed idly outside of the wide windows, and Luffy could hear seagulls in the distance. The smell of fish wafted in from outside, but the scent was overpowered by a large vase of lavenders sitting by Luffy's bedside table.

Luffy blinked several times. He knew this place well, and often visited it in his dreams. He was back in Foosha Village, and he was seven years old again.

"Ah, you're up!" A cheerful voice called from the bottom of Luffy's bed. It was a voice that sent Luffy's heart racing. "Makino is going to be upset. She was desperate to see you as soon as you woke."

In a flash, the memories returned to him. Luffy knew this scene. His hair was still damp from after he had been pulled out of the ocean and away from the Sea King. Luffy's eyes focused on the man sitting beside him, the emotions swelling through his body.

"Shanks!" Luffy screamed with joy, already squirming out from the covers.

'Red Hair' Shanks was a face that he never forgot. The older pirate had been fixed into Luffy's mind forever. He was tall, with shaggy red hair and rugged stubble. He was well-muscled, with scars across his eye, but his eyes were soft and kind.

Shanks just chuckled as he watched Luffy wriggle out of the sheets. He had a bottle of rum in his hand, and he was leaning idly back in his chair. "Careful, Luffy," Shanks said affectionately. "You've been through quite an ordeal. Don't push yourself."

Gradually, realisation dawned on Luffy and he stopped moving and started to stare in shock. The rest of the memories came back to him; the Lord of the Coast bringing its gaping teeth down, and Shanks grabbing him out of the water…

Luffy gasped at the stump of Shanks' left arm, severed near the shoulder. It had been wrapped heavily up in bandages, but the wound was still raw and the blood was still leaking through.

"Shanks…"Luffy gulped. Part of him had hoped that it all had been a bad dream. "Your arm…!"

Shanks glanced at the stump almost idly. "Oh yeah," he shrugged. "It happens."

The tears blurred Luffy's vision. This was his fault. He was the one who challenged Higuma and the mountain bandits, he was the one who'd been kidnapped. It was his fault that Shanks had lost his arm…

In seconds, Luffy was sobbing madly. Everything was rushing back to him too quickly. The emotions were crippling. The shame, anger and shock overwhelmed him, and crying was the only thing Luffy could do. The tears flowed down his face, and the child was left trembling in his bed.

"Hey, hey, hey!" Shanks said softly, dropping the bottle of rum and pushing over to wrap his arm around Luffy. "It's alright. Everyone is still alive, and that's what's important, right?"

Luffy was crying too loudly. Shanks held the child close, cuddling him affectionately. "You lost your arm!" Luffy squealed through muffled tears.

"Well, I didn't lose it," Shanks reasoned. "I know exactly where it is." His face twisted. "Although I think the Sea King can keep it by now…"

Luffy just cried harder. He was a child that had just woken up from a near death experience. Crying was the only thing that he could do. Shanks arm around his shoulders was tight and reassuring, holding Luffy close to the pirate's chest.

"Come on, it's not that bad," Shanks joked. "Just think of all the money I'm going to save on long-sleeved shirts?"

The child's sobbing stiffened slightly. Shanks grinned brightly.

"And just imagine of the saving in deodorant!" Shanks laughed. "Each can is going to last twice as long."

Luffy's grip on the man softened slightly. Shanks lightly patted Luffy's arm reassuringly.

"Plus," Shanks grinned. "You have no idea how much I hate cleaning my fingernails. Thank god that's cut down by half…"

Almost unwillingly, Luffy giggled. It took five minutes of comforting before Luffy's eyes dried and he was able to speak easily.

"I don't get it," Luffy muttered eventually, his voice low. "You lost your arm. How can you be so calm?"

He squeezed Luffy comfortably. The child felt so at ease next to Shanks. The pirate's expression was soft and kind.

Shanks shrugged. "It's only an arm, Luffy," he said reassuringly. "I try to focus on the important stuff."

Nami's heart had practically stopped beating as Sanji and Zoro dived into the water, swimming quickly through the black water. Each second felt like an hour. The pair of them swam quickly, but it still took them a long time to reach the pier, and even longer to pull Luffy's limp and bloody from the depths.

Robin used her power to pull Luffy onto the ship. He was bleeding so much he left a trail of blood across the sea. Chopper had been injured in the fight, but the doctor was still fretting around in a frenzy as Zoro dropped Luffy on the deck.

Even at a glance, Nami could see the broken bones. His body looked frail and weak, like a piece of meat that had been butchered. Chopper was already working, transforming into his Heavy point to pump the water out of Luffy's lungs.

Nami wanted to help. She wanted to move and she wanted to say something, but her body was working and she couldn't find her voice. Nothing was working.

"He's breathing!" The doctor proclaimed finally, and the tension over the ship shattered.

There was a dull thud as Usopp fainted from relief. Nami released a deep breath she hadn't released she had been holding. The tears were still rolling down Vivi's face, but she was grinning madly.

"We should move him inside," Robin suggested softly. "Get him off the deck."

Chopper nodded, but his face looked nervous. "I need my medicine," he agreed, before gulping. "There are… so many broken bones. His heartbeat is very weak…"

A dozen hands sprouted across the deck from Robin's powers, gently carrying Luffy's limp body into the ship. Vivi held the door open for him, while Chopper was rushing around to gather his supplies. Nami rushed after them, still trembling but colour was returning to her face.

"That idiot…" Nami muttered breathlessly, pacing endlessly. "I swear that if he dies I'm going to kill him myself…"

Sanji looked like he was about to follow the women, but Zoro snapped irritably, "Oi, Curly Brows!" The swordsman ordered. "Go get the rudder! We need to get away from this island."

For half a second, the chef was about to protest, but Sanji wanted to leave badly too. They were both weary and injured from their fights, and the crew was in no state to face another threat.

Sanji rushed to the rudder, while Zoro proceeded to roughly push the masts upwind. He didn't care about sailing, but he knew that they had to leave. The Going Merry lurched as the strong wind hit them, and quickly they were sailing away from Mock Town and out of the bay.

Around them, there were lights from the other ships in the darkness. All of the pirates had fled Mock Town once the fight started, but they were still nearby. Like vultures circling a battlefield. The swordsman felt an animalistic growl from his throat. Suddenly, he was the only one left on deck, and he was keenly aware of the huge bounty pinned on to the ship…

As they passed the cliffs of Mouth Bay, the other pirate ships became closer. They were huge hulks of wood, highlighted by bright lanterns in the gloom of the night. There were dozens of them, all so close that Zoro could hear the wood creaking against the fierce wind. The swordsman tried to hold the masts steady as the Going Merry crept by, but every fighting instinct Zoro had could feel hundreds of eyes on the caravel, sizing it up.

Zoro had no doubt that every single cannon was loaded and being aimed. The Mock Town pirates were like scavengers, and all too eager to descend on an injured prey. It was the first time that Zoro wished they had a bigger ship. Right now, they were all inspecting the Going Merry and its injured crew.

The night was dark and the winds were vicious. It was the type of night when weak men became brutal.

"This is going to get nasty…" Zoro snarled, unsheathing his swords. In front of him, a wall of pirate ships was coming into view, their hulls blocking the way.

Zoro could hear the activity as the rest of the crew huddled around Luffy, but Zoro would not allow anything to disturb his injured captain's treatment.

He was surrounded a hundred to one, but even despite the howling wind, everything was quiet. Sanji was steering the rudder, everyone else was with Luffy. There was no one else on deck, and suddenly Zoro was grateful.

It was a dark night, and the type of night when Zoro became murderous.

A large pirate ship in front of them turned and lowered its cannons; a clear declaration of war. It was a five mast galley, proudly flying a pirate flag that proclaimed the Hokahoka pirates. There had to be a hundred men on board, and dozens of cannons – all taking aiming against an injured and smaller ship…

They don't stand a chance, Zoro thought viciously, unsheathing his blades.

"Come and get it!" The swordsman growled with an evil grin, letting the mast fall straight into the wind, and the Going Merry lurched with sudden acceleration.

Around them, every single pirate ship burst into activity and opened its cannon ports. Zoro had had a very bad day and was not in the mood for mercy. He could hear the exclamations as the Going Merry burst forward with the wind. Every plank of wood groaned in agony. In front of him, the large hull of the Hokahoka pirate ship zoomed into sight, and Zoro's blades were singing for blood.

Vaguely, Zoro recalled a scene back in the Baratie – where he watched the World's Greatest Swordsman cut a galley into pieces with only a single swipe of a sword…

Everything was just about to explode, when suddenly a bright flare burst in the sky, highlighting the scene. At the mouth of the bay, a large battleship squatted against the choppy waves, its dull metal hull shining in the gloom. There was a distinctly bloodthirsty look about the battleship, and at once the makeshift pirate fleet started to panic.

The Marines had arrived.

Back at the pier, Berrit was the only one that managed to grab a hold of the ruins of the docks. The large man was barely able to reach the pier supports, while with his other hand he caught Isaac before he could drown. Still, both men were left dangling half in the ocean, only just keeping their upper bodies out of the water, while Berrit held the ruins of the dock for dear life.

The seawater sucked his strength, and Berrit was left so weak he couldn't even pull himself out of the water. Still, after a few minutes of struggling and constant curses of "Goddamn", Berrit succeeded in heaving Isaac on to what was left of the pier, and with both hands Berrit managed to drag himself up seconds later.

They were both panting heavily. Devil fruit abilities were uniquely vulnerable to the sea, and Berrit was left so sapped that he could hardly breathe. Their strength returned slowly.

After half a minute, Isaac groaned as he pulled himself upwards, still breathing heavily but at least able to move. Gingerly, Isaac danced across the splintered remains of the docks, and used a long plank of wood to recover the third member of their crew.

As a crew filled solely with Devil fruit users, drowning was a big concern. Despite his insanity, Marcus was paranoid enough to take precautions. Kuuigosu was an extremely rare type of wood; often consider to be the most buoyant material on the planet. It was the only material so buoyant that it could counteract act the sinking properties of Devil fruit users.

Marcus had a made a point of wearing a thick vest and underclothing made of Kuuigosu fibres, which could allow him to float in water. It wasn't perfect; the ocean still rendered him paralysed, and his buoyancy was risky at best. If he landed in the wrong position and his head fell under the water, he would have drowned, but in this case the Devil fruit hunter got lucky. Marcus' limp body was bobbing barely above the surface of the water as Isaac fished him out of the sea.

They were all gasping weakly before they collapsed onto the dry ground. Marcus was barely moving, and his breathing was very quiet. It took a few minutes before he recovered his strength to move.

In the distance, there were flashes of light and thunderous booms as the Going Merry engaged the pirate fleet, and the Marine battleship joined the chaos. The pirates were panicked and in shambles, firing their cannons with frenzy, while the marines were more disciplined. Their cannon blasts were dull thumps, unyielding and rhythmic.

The pirates were falling like flies beneath the battleship's bombardment. The ships were being splintered into wrecks. Several pirate ships caught fire, highlighting the scene in flickering flames. Hundreds, if not thousands, of scared pirates had fled from Mock Town, and they were swarming around the bay in chaos, charging the battleship and each other.

It looked like hell had erupted on the water. Marcus' eyes glinted hungrily.

"Isaac, Berrit…" Marcus muttered, his voice strangely calm. Isaac felt the shivers creep down his back. It would have been better if Marcus was fuming at the mouth. As soon as he turned eerily calm and composed… that was just a whole other level of crazy. "I want you to go get our ship and meet me at the mouth of the bay. Is that alright?"

Marcus' eyes were unblinking. It had been a long time since Isaac had seen Marcus this crazy. "And what are you going to do?" Isaac gulped.

Without an answer, Marcus was already walking away. Around him, the air was shimmering so furiously that the nearby trees burst into flames.

Luffy stayed in bed for a long time. His face was glum, and he didn't speak much. Shanks sit by the boy's side, drinking his bottle of rum, and together they stayed in a comfortable silence. Shanks wanted to go fetch Makino and the Mayor, but Luffy begged him just to stay. The pirate agreed without protest.

The thoughts and emotions were still swirling wildly around Luffy's head. The bruises of his recent beating from Higuma were still fresh and painful, but that was nothing compared to the shame and guilt that lumped in Luffy's stomach and clogged up his lungs. Every time Luffy closed his eyes, he saw the jaws of the Sea King snapping down…

"Shanks," Luffy spoke finally. "How did you scare away the Lord of the Coast?"

The pirate fiddled with his straw hat uncertainly. "Well," Shanks hesitated. "It's kind of a secret…"

Luffy's eyes widened innocently. "Please!" Luffy begged. "You've got to tell me!"

He paused. "Well, the truth is…" Shanks grinned suddenly, holding up the half-empty bottle of rum. "The secret is rum!"


"Yep." He nodded firmly. "The truth is that Sea Kings hate the taste of ale. The secret to scaring them off is to get well and truly drunk!"

The child's mouth dropped believingly. "Wow!"

Shanks smiled widely. "It's all true! That's why all the best pirates drink all day long!"

"I see…" The boy muttered knowingly, before holding out his hand to Shanks expectantly. "Then let me have a drink!"

Shanks deadpanned, hesitating suddenly. "Wait a second… Makino is going to kill me if I actually let you believe that…" He murmured with dread. Somehow, the thought of the skinny barmaid was enough to frighten even one of the most infamous pirates of the age.

He shook his head quickly. "I was only joking, Luffy," Shanks admitted quickly, before adding firmly, "And alcohol is something that only bad men drink and good children should avoid it all costs."

Luffy pouted, sitting cross-legged on his bed. "Then tell me the truth," the boy demanded. "How did you scare off that Sea King?"

Shanks thought about it for a long time, musing to himself. Luffy looked determined to know the truth. "Alright," Shanks admitted. "I actually used … well, I suppose you could call it a mysterious power."

"Oh," Luffy nodded understandingly. "I get it. A mysterious power."

The pirate sighed, before relenting. "It was a force called Haki," Shanks confessed. "And it's not something that should be taken lightly…"

Luffy was bobbing eagerly, but it had been a stressful day and the adrenaline was still causing havoc with his body. Also, Luffy was not known for his good attention span or memory.

It would be a very long time before he remembered this conversation again.

The cannons were like lightning strikes, smashing through everything in a rain of splinters. Around them, ships were being shredded like paper. The winds were strong, fanning the flames until the water was blazing.

It was pure chaos. Men were screaming. Cannons were firing randomly, and the explosions of gunpowder split the night. The pirates were caught in the choppy waves of the bay and the fierce winds of the growing storm. Huge ships collided with each other helplessly in the dark, all the while the Marine battleship unleashed a relentless salvo on everyone.

"Captain!" A panicked pirate screamed as another cannon ball wrapped through the deck. "This is a slaughter here!"

The captain, a grizzled old man with a peg leg, scowled as he watched his men abandon ship. "Stand your ground, you scurvy dogs!" The captain bellowed, pointing at the outline of the Going Merry that was slipping through the chaos. "There's over two hundred million up for grabs here! All we need is one good cannon blast!"

Before anyone could respond, everything turned quiet as a huge killing intent turned stepped onto the deck. None of the pirates had enough time to move. Zoro was walking calmly towards the captain. His black bandanna was on, and all three swords were drawn. His outline was highlighted by the smouldering wreckage of a pirate ship, and his eyes glinted demonically.

"Really?" Zoro murmured with bloodlust. "That's 'all' you need?"

Without a second's hesitation, Zoro charged. His blades spun impossibly fast, cutting through everything in his path. In a flash, he was at the other side of the ship, and the captain was falling to the ground in a shower of blood. Around him, the wooden planks of the galleon spilt and crumbled, before the entire deck snapped into half.

Any pirates still remaining jumped into the water without hesitation. Zoro's blades cut cleanly through the heavy wood, and within seconds ship was snapping to shreds. A heavy boom erupted from below deck as the gunpowder ignited, and Zoro barely had time to leap over the side before the whole ship exploded into flames.

Grunting, Zoro landed on a piece of wreckage, before sprinting across a bridge of flotsam. He leapt across the water, only just managing to grab a hold of the Going Merry before he pulled himself onto deck. Zoro's body was covered in ash, soot and blood, and was panting heavily.

"Marimo!" Sanji snapped irritably, trying desperately to steady the mast in the wind. "Where the hell did you go? We're a bit busy here!"

Zoro frowned but didn't respond. He wiped the blood off his blades on his clothes. Behind him, there was a path of a dozen wrecked ships smouldering in the water.

The Going Merry was practically bouncing up and down over choppy waves. The cannonballs were coming from all directions, but Sanji had taken control of the mast and was heaving to either side. The ship lurched constantly from side to side, dancing between the debris and the explosions.

Sanji looked dead on his feet, yet he was still fighting relentlessly against the wind. Usopp was up in the crow's nest, hanging on for dear life while screaming warnings downwards.

"How's Luffy?" Zoro muttered grimly, his eyes focused on the chaos around him, and the ships colliding with each other in all directions.

Sanji grunted. "Still unconscious. He has too many broken bones… it looks bad…."

The scowl on Zoro's face darkened. They were in the centre of the pandemonium now, and rapidly approaching the battleship at the mouth of the bay. The Marines were positioned upwind of the warzone, and any pirates that tried to charge them had to sail through constant bombardment.

The wrecks of huge ships were like leviathans lying dead in the water. The flames were devouring their wooden hulls, forming a treacherous path away from the island. It was a kill-zone.

"Hey!" Usopp screamed loudly from above, staring at the battleship with keen eyes. "That's Smoker's ship!"

"The shitty captain is really going all out this time," Sanji growled, just as he heaved the mast across the deck to the other side. The wind hit the sail like a sledgehammer, and the Going Merry lurched dangerously to the side, just as another cannonball bounced off the water next to them.

"We need Nami," Zoro murmured. Only their navigator was skilled enough to lead them through this. Sanji nodded in agreement, all flirtation forgotten as he manned steered the ship. Staggering across the rocking wood, Zoro dived below deck.

In the meeting room, Luffy had been placed over the table and bandaged up. Chopper was frantically working to keep the captain alive, while around him Nami and Vivi were frantically trying to help. Robin was the most composed out of all them, but even her eyes were flickering uncertainly. Carue had been frantically running around the room in panic, before Vivi threw the large deck into the hull to get him out of the way.

"Nami!" Zoro shouted loudly. The whole ship was rocking dangerously, and he had to hold on to the door frame just to stand upright. "We need you outside!"

The navigator's eyes were red from tears, and she stood close to Luffy's side, holding his hand tightly. Nami looked unwilling to move.

"Go," Robin said firmly, but not unkindly, staring at the girl with dark eyes. "There's nothing you can do here. I'll stay with Luffy."

The archaeologist was invaluable in the room. She was using her powers constantly, sprouting up hands to hold Luffy steady while Chopper worked. Robin held the doctor's medicine, wrapped up bandages and even stitched up wounds all at the same time. She was even holding the table in place through hands sprouting from the floor, and stopping furniture from rolling across the room.

Still, Nami hesitated. "You're needed outside," Robin pressed, her voice steady and reassuring. On the table, Robin was holding Luffy's other hand. "You have to go."

Nami relented, letting go off Luffy's hand unwillingly. "Keep him safe," Nami begged desperately, staring at Robin pleadingly.

"I will," Robin muttered, just as Nami darted out of the room. Zoro slammed the door behind her.

Gently, she turned to Vivi, who was standing hesitantly in the corner, biting her lip. "You should go too," Robin advised. "They need everyone out there."

"But–" Vivi protested weakly.

"Go where you're needed," Robin pushed softly, placing a reassuring hand on Vivi's shoulder. "Go where you can do some good."

The princess sighed. A day ago, Vivi would have bristled defensively if Robin acted so close to her, but there was an unspoken truce. Vivi thought back to Mock Town, where Robin had saved her life from Marcus…

"I'll go," Vivi agreed, casting a final lingering glance at Luffy's injured body. Robin smiled comfortingly as she left the room.

Instantly, they were alone. Chopper was in full doctor mood, and not wasting any concentration on anything other than his patient. Robin could hear the battle outside, but strangely it felt like it was another world away.

Robin leant over the table and sighed as she stared at Luffy's wounds. They looked like more injuries and broken bones than any human could survive, but Luffy had been fighting right until the end. There was a knot in Robin's stomach that she wasn't entirely comfortable with.

Now that the over girls were gone, Robin leant over and gently caressed Luffy's shoulder, feeling the lean muscles and rough skin. Chopper was too distracted to notice the strangely intimate gesture.

A cannonball flashed through the air, but Zoro was faster. In a second, Zoro was leaping from the figurehead, his swords spinning as they cut effortlessly through the metal. Two halves of the cannonball span in to the water, one of them leaving a sizable chunk in the side of the ship.

Still, the battleship's cannons were already reloading.

"I can't keep doing this!" Zoro shouted urgently. Already, the Going Merry was worse for wear. They had taken shrapnel and debris mostly, but a good cannon strike might cripple the ship.

"Pull the sails starboard!" Nami ordered loudly, critically inspecting the wind and the burning debris. Between the smoke and the darkness, visibility was very poor. That was probably one of the reasons they hadn't already been hit.

Behind them, there were very few whole ships left. Everything was in pieces and in flames.

Sanji complied without hesitation. "We can skid across the current close to the cliffs!" Nami declared finally. "With the wind behind us we'll be gone before they can turn around, and we'll run across the island and down south until we get away."

"Nami! You are so amazing!" Sanji swooned, still wrestling with the flapping mast. A normal human could never have held the mast steady in such a strong wind, and even Sanji was struggling.

The navigator didn't respond. Her eyes focused upwards to the sky, staring at the dark cloud that was hovering over the island. Her heart was pounding uneasily. What's up with that cloud? She thought darkly. This wind came out of nowhere, and I've never seen a storm like this

The Going Merry was picking up speed as it accelerated towards the mouth of the bay. Zoro was just about to feel hopeful, when suddenly Usopp screamed from the crow's nest. "Guys!" The sharpshooter squealed. "We have a problem!"

From the nearby cliffs, the sound of laughter echoed in the dark. A figure was standing at the edge of the water, staring out at the sea, all the while the air around him smouldered bright red. Vivi recognised that laughter first, but she couldn't even duck before the first shockwave hit them.

The air pulsed and exploded with pure pressure. The blast hit the Going Merry at the rear port side, shredding through wood in a cloud of splinters.

"I told you, beautiful!" Marcus cackled maniacally. "I told you that I wouldn't let you get away!"

Marcus thrust his hands forward again. The impact collided through the hull of the Going Merry, splitting through wood effortlessly. The whole ship shuddered dangerously. Every plank of wood groaned in agony, and the Going Merry slowly fall deeper into the water.

"No…" Vivi whispered breathlessly. "How is he still alive?"

Around her, Usopp was barely hanging onto the crow's nest. The Going Merry was thrashing furiously in the water, despite all of Sanji's attempts to keep the sail steady.

"We've lost the rudder…" Nami realised with dread, her voice quiet. The back of the ship had been pulverised by Marcus' first attack, snapping the rudder away. You couldn't steer a rudderless ship. They were at the mercy of wind, and drifting dangerously close to the cliffs.

Behind, the Marine battleship was already turning at catching up. Vivi could practically hear the sound of all those cannons being reloaded.

The sound of laughter was deafening. Marcus slowly started to walk across the cliffs, an aura of flames surrounding him.

"I told you…" Marcus muttered quietly. His eyes were shining with bloodlust. "I will never let you go."

"Whoa!" Luffy squealed excitedly. The seven year old was practically jumping up and down on the bed. "That sounds so cool! Can I use Hacky?"

"It's Haki," Shanks sighed, leaning back on his chair. "And… well, it's a bit complicated."

The boy pouted. He didn't like complicated things. "Aww… what do you mean?"

The pirate spent a long time choosing his words. "Well, you see, there's no real requirement to use Haki," he said eventually. "Anybody could use it, but very few people actually do."

"So you can teach me then?" Luffy proclaimed brightly.

Shanks shook his head. "No, it's not something that could be taught. I might be able to help you refine it, but everyone has to discover it on their own."

"Then teach me!" He demanded, not really listening. "I bet I can do it straight away!"

"Luffy…" Shanks muttered exasperatedly. "Don't worry about Haki. It'll come to you when it needs to come. As a matter of fact, there's only one condition that you've got to fulfil to use Haki."


Shanks smiled gently. "You've simply got to know what's important."

Luffy's face scrunched up. "But I know what's important!"

"Really? Do you?"

"Yep!" Luffy nodded firmly. "Meat is important. Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, supper, tea and desert are extra important. Also, I really like fish from…"

Shanks just laughed, looking at Luffy curiously. "You'll learn eventually," he promised.

The boy crossed his arms moodily. "Hmph! This Hicky sounds lame."

"I told you it wasn't simple."

There was a moment's silence, but Luffy was curious. "What is Hickory anyways?"

"You're getting it more wrong every time…" Shanks sighed, wondering why he even bothered. Truth be told, the older pirate was more than a bit curious about Luffy's potential for Haki, but the child just wasn't ready for the ability yet. "Haki is a very mystical force. Lots of people have different definitions for it."

"Like what?"

Shanks scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Some call it the physical manifestation of pure willpower – the ability to enforce strength of character on to the world. Others consider it a divine gift, only given to a select few. Others believe that everyone is born with Haki and use it regularly, but not many are capable of actively applying it."

Luffy's head tilted to the side. "I don't get it."

The pirate just smiled, his eyes glazing over. "The best definition I ever heard," Shanks mused. "was something that my old captain told me a very long time ago…"

"What?" Luffy demanded finally, after a few seconds.

There was a thoughtful, faraway look on Shank's face, as the pirate remembered something that happened a long time ago. "Haki…" Shanks muttered curiously. "…is the ability to defy fate itself."

"Move!" Zoro bellowed loudly. The cannonballs were streaming by them. The Going Merry was still out of range, but the battleship was gaining on them. Between the bombardment and Marcus' assault, the small caravel was quickly taking severe damage.

Sanji and Nami were left trying to desperately steer the ship using the mast alone. They had barely succeeded in avoiding crashing into the coast. The wind was behind them, and pushing the ship away from Jaya island. In calmer conditions, they might have had a chance, but now the Going Merry was at the whim the weather.

Zoro and Vivi stood guard at the rear of the ship trying to stop the salvo of cannonballs. Another metal ball exploded towards, bouncing over the surface of the water, only to collide with a wall of sand swarming around the ship.

The swordsman could only stare at the unexpected strength. Vivi was panting heavily, but showing no hesitation and more and more control over her abilities.

"I will not be useless," Vivi growled under her breath. Her eyes were focused on the cliffs, where the outline of Marcus was disappearing into the night. The princess' hands were trembling, just as she threw up another blade of sand to deflect a cannonball.

Usopp was somewhere below deck, trying to patch up the holes in the ship. The Going Merry would be lucky to survive this in one piece. Vivi's powers were the only thing stopping the cannons, but she couldn't keep it up indefinitely. Zoro never stood a chance of stopping the bombardment once the battleship got closer, and the Going Merry was lagging too badly in the water to outrun them.

Sooner or later, the Marines would catch up, and Zoro wasn't sure how much fight they had left in them.

The swordsman really wished that Luffy was here.

Marcus was growling for blood as Berrit and Isaac pulled the ship up to the coast. Their boat was a small skipper, slender and lean with a large mast. Berrit manned the sail while Isaac steered, and the skipper cut through the water smoothly.

As the ship pulled near, Marcus dropped onto the boat. Everyone was quiet.

"After them," Marcus ordered finally.

Isaac cleared his throat nervously. "Are you sure that's wise? The Marines have them now, we don't want to get in their way…"

Marcus didn't say a word. Berrit was watching quietly too. Isaac hesitated, but continued, "I'm sure we can pick up the Sand Sand fruit later. Let's not do anything too risky."

The slender man pointed below the deck of the skipper, where rows of reinforced boxes stood neatly in a thin corridor. "We already have twelve Devil fruits with us right now…" Isaac reasoned. "That's over a billion Beli on the black-market. It'd be nice if we had the Sand Sand fruit too, but it's not worth the chance."

There were a few seconds of silence. Finally, Marcus cleared his throat. "After them."

"But –"

"I need to kill something," Marcus said finally, his voice calm. The blood was still dripping down his body. "It's either you or them."

Isaac gulped. Around Marcus, the air was glowing a dull red. It had been years since he'd seen Marcus this bloodthirsty.

Without another word, Isaac twisted the steering wheel while Berrit unfurled the sails.

On the battleship, Tashigi was frowning as she watched the battle through binoculars. Around her, the ship was in frenzy as the cannons were reloaded and fired relentless. The booms were so loud that everyone had to wear earmuffs.

"They're sailing low in the water!" Tashigi reported eventually, forced to shout loudly over the chaos. "We're going to catch up shortly. We need to prepare the boarding party!"

At the helm, Captain Smoker never seemed to hear her. The captain was staring fixedly on the Going Merry, barely moving. Next to him, Hina stood with her arms crossed, inspecting the crew critically.

"Captain!" Tashigi shouted louder. "We need to prepare the boarding party!"

Still, Smoker didn't react. He was concentrating hard, with dark lines across his forehead. Grumbling, Tashigi dropped the binoculars and ran to the captains' side.

"Smoker, it's getting close now. We should prepare for capturing them," Tashigi said finally, dropping her voice as she approached.

"Do nothing of the sort," Smoker ordered woodenly, not even looking at her. "Proceed with the bombardment."

Tashigi frowned. "But sir! They're practically dead in the water already! We need to bring the pirates into custody."

There was a short silence. Hina was staring at Smoker curiously, but didn't say anything. "We will not be taking them into custody," Smoker replied eventually. "The bombardment will not stop."

The understanding hit Tashigi like a ton of bricks. The lieutenant's mouth dropped open. "You mean to kill them?" She stammered. "But we can't…"

"They're pirates. We can and we will." Still, Smoker didn't even look at her.

Tashigi could only stare. "But they don't deserve–"

"They're pirates, lieutenant! I will not risk them getting away again." Smoker muttered, his hands clenching into fists. "You have your orders."

"No!" Tashigi protested, raising her voice in response. Around her, a few sailors stopped to stare at the confrontation, but Hina chased the spectators away. "We can't kill them! Capture them, give them a trial, put them in jail, but we can't just execute them!"

"You have your orders!" Smoker repeated through gritted teeth. He didn't even glance towards her. Tashigi felt the outrage rising in her.

"Is this about the court-martial?" Tashigi demanded. "Since when have you cared what the superiors think? How can you justify choosing your career over… over… justice!"

A vein in Smoker's forehead bulged. The cannons were booming loudly, and the pirate ship was coming closer and closer. A cannonball landed firmly in the starboard side, and Tashigi could hear the wood collapsing even from here.

"Answer me, damn it!" Tashigi screamed, losing all composure. The blood was rushing to her face, but she couldn't just watch the pirates die like this. "Who gives a damn about a court-martial, we–"

"It's not a court-martial!" Smoker snapped finally, turning to face Tashigi. "It's a not court-martial. You're being charged by a military tribunal. Charged with treason."

Tashigi skin turned numb. Strangely, the cannons around her became quieter. "…what?"

"For your actions in Alabasta, you've been charged with pirate sympathy, and Admiral Akainu wants to make an example," Smoker spat the words foully. "He's pushing for the death penalty."

"But… but…" Tashigi's face paled. "That's…"

"What?" Smoker demanded, pushing up against her coldly. "Unfair?"

Tashigi couldn't respond. Smoker's voice was quiet. "Perhaps it is," the captain conceded finally, his eyes flickering. "And perhaps these pirates don't deserve death either. But there's no choice right now. The only thing that's going to save your head is if you prove there's no sympathy here."

Tashigi was breathing heavily. A flicker of compassion passed across Smoker's face. "Perhaps they don't deserve to die like this," he admitted. "But it's you or them. And I will always choose the live of my subordinate over the lives of some pirates."

Smoker was walking away coldly, leaving a shell-shocked Tashigi standing with her mouth open. "You have your orders," Smoker said decisively. "The bombardment will not stop until they're all dead in the water."

In the hold of the battleship, a prisoner was screaming loudly. The prisoner had been chained to the wall and gagged repeatedly, but he was still somehow managing to dance and revolve in circles despite the manacles.

"Stop joking around!" Bentham squealed, the tears pouring down his face. "What's going on out there?!"

The battleship was pulling up alongside the Going Merry. Suddenly, they were facing the salvo from the entire starboard side of the ship.

Nothing could stop the cannons. They couldn't outrun them, and they couldn't avoid it. The steel spheres burst through the Going Merry like it was made of paper, throwing up clouds of debris.

Within seconds, the Going Merry was riddled with holes, and the crew could only run for cover.

A cannon strike nearly took the head off the Merry's figurehead.

"Don't you dare hurt her!" Usopp screamed helplessly, just before another cannonball burst through the centre mast. Usopp was left screaming as the mass fell towards the water, still trapped in the crow's nest.

The mast slammed across the deck with a dull thud, splitting the wooden planks into pieces before leaning over the edge. At once, the wind was gone and Merry dragged backwards in the water, forcing everyone to hold on for cover. The ship start to tit dangerous from the mast dragging to the side, all the while the battleship continued to blow holes through the hull.

Sanji cursed before rushing to save Usopp. Zoro was forced to clutch on to the ship for cover, all the while the splinters tore into his flesh. Zoro could feel the wood creaking as it slowly fell apart under the bombardment, splitting like wet paper.

The ocean was rapidly rising up to swallow the ship, while the wooden planks split into pieces and the whole ship was being shredded into flotsam.

Grunting, Zoro pushed himself upwards. His swords flashed as they split a cannonball into two, but there were dozens more that he couldn't stop. The huge bulk of the battleship loomed over them, all the cannons pointing down.

In the distance, Zoro glimpsed a glow as a small skipper chopped through the waves quickly towards them. The swordsman recognised the man standing at the front of the ship instantly. He wondered vaguely if there would be anything left by the time they arrived.

There was a sudden quiet as the cannons were all reloaded. The silence was deafening, and Zoro knew that the ship wouldn't hold up against another salvo. It was barely being held together as it was.

Next to him, Nami and Vivi huddled together, taking cover from the shrapnel. Already, the water was creeping up half of the deck. The sky was so dark it was hard to see anything.

"We've got bring the oars out!" Nami gasped breathlessly. Her hands were trembling. "We've got to get away!"

Gradually, the ship started to accelerate backwards. Zoro was left nearly speechless as he stared out into the water around him.

The sound of rushing water became louder. The wreck of the Going Merry was slowly twisting around, caught in a sudden and furious current. Zoro could only stare out into the ocean.

A maelstrom was forming in the dark water.

"I don't think oars are going to help…" Zoro gulped, tightening his grip on to the wood. He heard Usopp start to scream, but that was the last thing he recognised before everything started to accelerate faster and faster.

The ocean blurred with speed, washing over the entire ship. Within seconds, the maelstrom expanded like a gaping beast, and roared as swallowed everything. Tonnes of water gushed around. The ship battered around like a leaf in a storm.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Zoro screamed loudly, watching the ocean transform into a giant sinkhole. The Marine battleship was getting further and further away, but they were heavy enough to keep control against the current. Still, Zoro could see the cannons being loaded again.

Nami and Vivi were clutching each other, trying desperately to stay a hold in the chaos. Zoro couldn't even see Sanji. The swordsman didn't dare let go to check on Luffy and the others.

With a thunderous groan, the Going Merry started to tilt even further. The ship was being twisted around in the current wildly. Finally, physics couldn't be denied and the whole ship started to capsize.

Zoro had to dive for cover. The ship landed on its side with a huge tidal wave, and suddenly Zoro was left holding the railing above the foaming water.

He briefly glimpsed Nami holding tightly to Vivi, while clutching at a hole on the deck. Sanji only just managed to pull Usopp onto the figurehead; all the while the broken mast was dragged off the ship and swallowed by the gaping hole in the middle of the ocean.

Everything was spinning so quickly. Zoro could barely move. There were large booms and explosions of water as the Marines opened fire again, barely missing the ship. One more impact and they were done for…

Suddenly, a huge roar caused the water to shake. The swordsman's mouth dropped open as he saw a gigantic wall of scales erupt from the ocean.

"OH, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" Zoro bellowed, watching the enormous Sea King thrash against the maelstrom.

It was a monster five times the size of a galleon. It was so large it caused a tidal wave with every whip of its serpentine body. Its scales were bright green and glistening. It was a monster of pure muscle, yet even the huge Sea King was struggling to escape the furious maelstrom.

The sound of the water, the roaring and the cannons drown out everything. The only thing that Zoro could hear was his own furiously beating heart as the Sea King turned, reared his head and launched itself at the Going Merry with a gaping mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.

"There's no way that we're this unlucky…" Zoro mumbled to himself, just before a tidal wave of sea water and fangs swallowed everything.

"ZEHAHAHAHA!" The sound of furious laughter echoed across Jaya Island. Marshal D. Teach sat on a hill overlooking the ocean, munching cherry pie while enjoying the show in front of him.

At this distance, the maelstrom was a black spot off the coast of Jaya. The Sea King was a flash of green in the darkness. Still, the screaming and the sounds of battle were clearly audible.

After a couple of minutes, there were heavy footsteps as the helmsman, Jesus Burgess, stomped down next to the captain. Blackbeard didn't either react.

"Captain," Burgess greeted finally, staring out at the battle off the coast. The huge man was a bulk of pure muscle, and frowning slightly. "Enjoying yourself?"

Teach grin stretched from ear to ear. "Best show I've seen in years!" He exclaimed, motioning across the destruction over the island. In the bay, the ruins of dozens of pirate ships were still burning brightly.

Burgess laughed too, watching the battle in the maelstrom calmly. "You know," the helmsman muttered finally. "I still say we should have captured them when we had the chance."

"Trust me…" Blackbeard replied with a smirk, just as another roar from the Sea King caused the island to shake. "They're way more trouble than it's worth."

Off the coast of the island, even at this distance, things looked hopeless for the pirates. They were facing a battleship, a sea monster, and a psychopath, all the while trapped in a maelstrom and being pulled to pieces.

"But they're going to die!" Burgess protested eventually.

Blackbeard shook his head, sending crumbs off cherry pie spilling out of his mouth. "Nah…" The captain muttered confidently. "Some people don't die as easily as that…"

The cannons had a punched a wall in the meeting room wall, and it was rapidly filling with water. As the ship capsized, Robin was left hanging off the walls, trying desperately to keep Luffy safe.

Chopper had been hit hard by a large chunk of shrapnel. The doctor was hanging under Robin's arm, unconscious and bleeding from the head.

Luffy's limp body was covered in bandages and completely unresponsive. Robin had several arms wrapped around his chest, pinning him to the wall, but it was getting harder and harder to the hold on.

The gushing water was filling the room as the Going Merry sunk deeper and deeper. She was pushed up against the corner of the room, but there was nowhere else to run.

Strangely, Robin felt weirdly calm. Somehow, she knew that she shouldn't be surprised. No matter where she went, and no matter who took her in, catastrophe would always follow. It had been that way ever since she was eight. She was a fool to think that this would be different.

She only wished she had a bit more time…

Robin was perfectly calm as she stared at Luffy's beaten face for a few seconds. She thought about it for a while, but it really wasn't much of a decision. They were all about to die, after all.

"Oh, screw it," Robin sighed, before darting forward and pressing her lips firmly against Luffy's.

"Do you want to hear a story?" Shanks muttered absentmindedly. "It's about the Pirate King, Gol D. Roger?"

"The Pirate King?" Luffy was instantly eager, sitting up in his bed and bobbing slightly.

Shanks still had a faraway gaze over his eyes. "You know, lots of people think of him as a mighty conqueror, but he wasn't," the pirate mused, staring at the stump of his arm. "Truth be told, Roger was actually pretty weak."

"What?!" Luffy shouted with shock. The seven year old was flaying wildly and scrunching up his face. "But he was awesome! He sailed around the world! He was the Pirate King!"

Shanks nodded. "Yep, all true." Shanks took a deep gulp of rum. "But Roger was born with a deliberating illness. His body was very frail. By all rights, he shouldn't have survived past childhood. He needed constant medical attention to stay alive, but his body kept on falling apart."

A faint smile played over the pirate's lips. "You see, Roger was fated to die young, sick and in bed," Shanks muttered. "But, fortunately, Roger was never one for following the rules."

Luffy was quiet as he listened with confusion. Outside, dusk was falling over Foosha village. "Roger once said that 'fate' is like a spoiled child," Shanks mused. "Fate is cruel, mean and prone to throwing tantrums when it doesn't get its own way. Only a fool would indulgence fate by obsessing over what is 'lucky' or 'destined'…"

Shanks took a deep breath. "That is the strength that Roger had. That is the power that Haki truly is…" He explained softly. "It is the ability to achieve what is unachievable, and to hit what is untouchable. It is the power to break the rules and defy fate itself."

Slowly, Shanks pulled himself up in his chair. "Roger said that the concept of fate was nothing more than a sick joke," Shanks muttered. "…I suppose that's why he died laughing…"

"I don't understand." Luffy scratched his head with confusion.

Shanks just grinned. "You will," the pirate promised.

Around them, things became dark as night fell quickly over the village. A sympathetic expression fell over Shanks face. "I'm sorry, Luffy, but it's too late now," Shanks said softly. "It's time to go."

Luffy shook his head determinedly. "No!" The child protested. "I don't want you to leave!"

His smile widened. "I'm not going anywhere," Shanks replied. "But it's time for you to go now. Your friends need you."

"What…?" Luffy muttered with confusion, but then he could instantly hear the roar of the ocean. Something soft pressed up against his lips…

Realisation struck. "Oh." Luffy exclaimed dumbly. It wasn't a child's voice anymore.

Luffy glanced downwards. Suddenly, his limbs were long and muscled, and his chest was broad and chiselled. He was wearing a red vest and blue shorts, but they were tattered and almost ruined. There was a large scar over his heart. He was back in a seventeen year olds body.

Shanks looked at him comfortingly. Outside, a hurricane was rapidly tearing apart his dream world.

Luffy took a deep breath and stared at his role model. Already, he could feel himself falling back into reality. "I'm really sorry about your hat," Luffy confessed guiltily.

Shanks only laughed, his eyes twinkling. "Luffy…" The pirate replied softly. "That hat has always been the least important thing I gave you."

Luffy never remembered waking up. All he knew was that suddenly he was conscious, covered in bandages, and being held in Robin's arms as the water flooded the cabin.

Robin was standing above him as he opened his eyes. Her face was blushing.

"Luffy!" She gasped. "You're awake…!"

He nodded absentmindedly, already standing up. The Going Merry was in shambles. The water was dragging the ship down. A Sea King was threatening to pulverize the ship. The cannon blasts were pounding all around him. Luffy body screamed in pain as he moved, but he could barely feel it.

"Careful!" Robin exclaimed worriedly. "Your body–"

"I don't care," Luffy shrugged, already walking for the door. "They're only broken bones."

Luffy pulled himself to the door, smashing through the debris that blocked the way. Everything felt so surreal, like he was still dreaming. The storm was raging furiously, but Luffy barely noticed it. The Going Merry was in tatters, but Luffy just walked by. The only thing he could hear was the screams of his friends, and Luffy knew what was important.

Outside, the salty water splashed against his face. Everything was spinning. Luffy looked upwards just to see a giant sea monster rearing his head and roaring thunderously. Its pupils were as thin as slits; the monster was crazed into a frenzy by the maelstrom and the weather. The beast focused on the Going Merry, before lunching downwards with a mouthful of sharp teeth…

Suddenly, Luffy was seven years old again, watching the Sea King chomp down towards him…

But this time, he wasn't defenceless.

Slowly, Luffy opened his mouth and quietly spoke a single word…


It was barely more than a whisper, yet somehow it still managed to drown out every other sound. Everything pulsed with pure power emitted from Luffy, and the world froze.

The Sea King's eyes rolled and its huge body crashed limply into the water with a large tidal wave.

Every cannon on the battleship fell silent.

Birds all over Jaya fell out of the sky.

All eyes were instantly focused on Luffy, standing motionless, covered in bandages, on the deck as the maelstrom raged. He had never looked so threatening.

"How did you…?" Nami gasped breathlessly, wide-eyed.

On the battleship, the cigars from Smoker's mouth dropped to the ground. Around him, his sailors collapsed to the ground limply.

"What the…?" Smoker grunted in surprise. He had felt that power before. He just had never expected to feel it here.

"What's happening?" Tashigi exclaimed loudly, watching everyone else fall unconscious. Tashigi, Smoker and Hina were the only ones still standing. The cannons fell silent as there was no one left to fire them.

"This is impossible…" Smoker growled, wide-eyed, staring at the source of the power. The Going Merry was rocking over the maelstrom, quickly spinning towards the centre.

Already, without the sailors to keep the course, the battleship was drifting upwind and getting caught in the maelstrom current. Smoker glimpsed another ship, a small skipper, bounding over the waves and heading straight for the centre. All three boats were going to collide in the centre.

Around them, the water was starting to bubble.

"Wake the men up quickly!" Smoker ordered loudly, recovering from his shock. "Get the sails under control and start up the cannon again! We've got to destroy them before–"

Whatever else he was about to say was cut off by a tremendous boom from beneath the ocean. He barely managed to glimpse downwards before suddenly the whole ocean was rising upwards to meet them.

The knock-up stream had arrived.

A few hours later, in the remains of Mock Town…

The sun was rising slowly, and the entire island was in a state of shock. Mock Town had been practically wiped off the map, every ship had been wrecked, and the bay had been turned into a warzone. The charred, skeletal remains of huge galleons were gently washing up onto the beaches. Pirates and citizens alike cautiously crawled out of the forests, either after washing up on the coast or after taking shelter for the night.

In this distance, a huge dark cloud was creeping away across the horizon.

A man was standing on the ruined pier, stammering as he pointed up at the cloud. "They flew into the sky!" The shell-shocked man stuttered, his expensive clothing in tatters. "I saw them! They flew up into the sky!"

Already, several pirates were noticing that their Log poses were pointing upwards. The rumours spread like wildfire.

'Big Knife' Sarkies pulled himself up out of the ruins. Last night had been a blur. He still was trying and failing to make sense of it. Slowly, Sarkies stumbled through the ruins of Mock Town and headed east.

Over a small hill, brightly coloured cottages by the ocean came into view. The Tropical Hotel appeared to be the only part of the town that had survived unscathed.

"Sarkies!" An eager voice called out to him happily. The first mate turned to see Lily and a handful of Bellamy Pirates rushing over to him. "Thank god you're alright!"

There were very few Bellamy Pirates left. Most of the 'New Age' of piracy had fled as soon as the things got hard.

"Lily!" Sarkies gasped. Lily looked terrible. She had lost her sunglasses, and her fancy clothing was ruined. Her blond hair was dirty and terrible. Sarkies looked just as bad, but he hadn't time to notice. "What happened? Did you talk to the boss yet?"

She shook her head nervously. "Not yet," she stammered. "But it's Bellamy… he's…"

She pointed to a limp body that the others were carrying gingerly. Sarkies' mouth dropped open. "Bellamy's alive?"

Lily nodded. "Barely," she admitted worriedly. "He must have turned it into a spring before it snapped. He's not in good shape, though. He can barely breathe and it doesn't look nice…"

Sarkies gulped. "We've got to tell the boss," the first mate decided finally. "He's not going to let anyone get away with hurting us…"

The sound of laughter drifted over the group. "What exactly will I do?" A smug voice asked, just as a figure trotted out of the Tropical Hotel.

Doflamingo grinned as he stared at the pirates outside of his door. He was a huge man wearing bright pink with purple shades. The Warlord's blond hair was a mess, and he was yawning slightly. It looked like he had just woken up, but he was already laughing.

"Boss!" Sarkies shouted with relief. "You've got to help us! Bellamy's hurt and –"

Suddenly, Sarkies realised that he couldn't move his body. The rest of the crew were all standing unnaturally stiff as well. Doflamingo was fiddling his fingers idly.

"Oh? Bellamy's hurt?" Doflamingo yawned. "That's a shame. I wanted to hurt him myself."

Sarkies' eyes filled with fear. His hands were moving by themselves, and slowly his fingers started to wrap around his own throat. The Bellamy Pirates could only gasp as they were forced to strangle themselves to death.

Doflamingo casually kicked Bellamy's limp body, while the pirates fell to the ground one by one. "I should never have given trash like you permission to use my flag," Doflamingo mused. "I've been looking for a reason to get rid of you."

The body of Sarkies' dropped to the ground, like a puppet with its strings cut. Doflamingo simply laughed. Slowly, Doflamingo turned to stare at the horizon, where the millennium cumulonimbus was still visible, casting a dark shadow over the ocean.

"Still…" Doflamingo wondered, scratching his chin. "Hmm… I wonder…?"

Slowly, strings started to rise from Doflamingo's body. They spun upwards, rising into the sky and latching onto the clouds. Doflamingo gradually started to ascend up off the ground. Within seconds, Doflamingo was flying straight upwards, as if levitating.

"Young master!" A young woman exclaimed, rushing out of the hotel. She was wearing a skimpy maid outfit and smoking a cigarette. "Where are you going?"

"I've been working too hard!" Doflamingo laughed loudly, already flying up into the clouds. "I deserve a holiday! And I want to go to Sky Island!"

Chapter Text

The knock-up stream was not a common occurrence. It was a natural disaster.

Firstly, the water started to bulge, as if a huge creature was rising out of the surface. It was surprisingly gentle at first, but the torrent of water rising from below couldn't be stopped. As soon as the waves broke on the edge of the bulge, then all hell rose up from the depths.

The stream of water shot up furiously into the sky. Millions of gallons of water exploded upwards. The explosion caused a shockwave that could be felt for miles, and the updraft was so powerful it cut through the air like a blade.

The Going Merry was fired upwards like a pebble in a typhoon. There was no restraining it and no running away. The knock-up stream was like an enormous cannon of water firing out of the sea.

Usopp blinked and suddenly they were flying upwards into the sky, moving so fast that the paint was being stripped off the Merry's hull. The surge of wind lifted the ship effortlessly into the sky, all the while planks were torn to pieces from the force. Usopp only managed to glimpse Jaya Island for a second before it disappeared into the distance.

The whole world flipped ninety degrees.

The sniper grabbed a hold tightly to the ruined remains of the mast, but he could feel the wood cracking. The ruined Merry was skidding across the vertical stream of water, all the while the wind barely forced them upwards. The ship was balancing on a knife's edge, Usopp realised suddenly. As soon as the updraft faded they would fall backwards.

Vaguely, he glimpsed Luffy being held by Zoro and Nami tightly. Sanji had grabbed a hold of the railings, while Vivi was close by. They were all screaming with terror. Strangely, Usopp was the only one who was quiet.

Almost gradually, Usopp could feel the ship twisting in mid-air. Without a mast and a ruined hull, there was no way for it sail parallel to the stream. In what felt like a lifetime, the Merry slowly rotated around until Usopp was facing straight downwards, and then they were spinning in the air while the up-draft threw them vertically.

Usopp's heart was pounding like a drum as he realised what has happening. They were moving so fast it was hard to even breathe, and then his vision started to blur. His grip on the mast slipped slightly.

Around him, he could feel the Going Merry breaking to pieces. With every broken plank, a twinge of pain shot through his chest. They had taken too much damage and there was too much force. The whole ship was being torn to pieces. The ship just wasn't designed for this.

There was no way they were going to survive.

I'm so sorry Merry; Usopp thought desperately, the tears filling up his eyes even as his vision started to fade, I should have taken better care of you…

Usopp's felt his fingers lose their grip completely, and then the next second he felt himself falling backwards.

"No!" A voice called suddenly. Usopp's eyes shot open as he felt someone grab a hold of his wrist. "I won't let it end like this!"

There was someone standing above Usopp, yet between the spinning and the darkness it was so hard to see probably. A delicate and soft hand was holding onto Usopp's wrist, but the grip was like iron. The voice was high pitched and almost childish, but there was a strange ringing sound behind it. It sounded almost familiar.

Usopp squinted. He could barely make out the outline of a small figure wearing a raincoat, effortlessly holding onto the ship.

"I can take you a bit further," the voice said firmly. "I promise."

Around him, the Going Merry started to shift. Seconds ago it was falling apart, but suddenly it was like the whole ship came to life. A rope darted outwards from the sail like a snake and wrapped around Usopp's body, tightly securing him to the ship. The hand let go of Usopp's wrist and the figure disappeared.

Suddenly, with a huge creak, the mast started to lift upwards as if possessed by a supernatural force. Usopp could feel the wood groan as it was meshed back together. As if by magic, the sail unfurled and tightened all by itself. Instantly, the updraft hit the sail and the Going Merry started to stabilise.

"A bit further…" The voice echoed around him. The voice sounded exhausted, straining to talk, but it was still determined.

Through the corner of his eye, Usopp glimpsed planks of wood being knit together. Nails hammered themselves into the wood. Rips in the sails stitched themselves up.

Usopp could feel the gush of wind as Merry was pushed back towards the vertical current of water, and for a few seconds it was like the whole ship was flying straight upwards.

A wall of dark cloud appeared in front of them. Somehow, Usopp knew that they weren't going to die here.

"Who are you?" Usopp gasped between breaths. He couldn't see the figure anymore, but the sniper knew it was still around.

There was the sound of childish laughter, exhausted but relieved.

"I'm your friend…"

Then the Going Merry burst through the cloud, and everything went black.

Seven days later...

It was a long time before Luffy woke up. He tried to cling to sleep as long as possible, but he couldn't. Slowly and unwillingly, his eyes started to flicker as he drifted back towards consciousness. He tried to move but his body was feeling strange. His breaths felt very shallow.

"Well, it's about time," Zoro's voice split through his Luffy's dreamlike state. The captain's eyes jumped open. "You have any idea how long you've been asleep?"

At once, Luffy pulled himself up straight, only for crippling pain to burst through his body. Involuntarily, a hoarse shriek spurted from his lips.

"Luffy!" Chopper's high pitched voice was concerned and disapproving. "Try not to move! You're too hurt!"

Gradually, Luffy managed to focus on his environment. He was in a white room, and lying on a very soft bed. Outside, it was very bright and sunny. Luffy had to blink twice as he processed his unfamiliar surroundings.

The rest of his crew were standing over him. Zoro and Chopper were close by his side while the others were spread out over the weird room. Nami and Vivi were standing together by the doorway, looking at Luffy passively.

"What happened?" Luffy stuttered groggily. The last thing he remembered, the Sea King collapsed in front of him, and then the world exploded upwards.

The crew shared an awkward glance with each other. "Quite a bit," Zoro said finally, not quite sure where to start.

"Huh," Luffy muttered dumbly. He was sore, tired, and his stomach was growling hungrily. His head was pounding furiously.

There was a moment's silence. A vein stared to bulge on Nami's head as she stared at Luffy with sudden anger.

"Excuse me," Nami said with forced sweetness. "There's something that I need to get off my chest first." She turned to Chopper. "Doctor, is Luffy still in a critical state of recovery?"

The reindeer shook his head nervously. Nami smiled, standing over Luffy. And then she punched him hard in the arm.

"Ow!" Luffy exclaimed with shock. "What was that for?"

Nami responded with another punch. The rest of the crew was watching her with their mouths open, staring at her as she continued to pummel Luffy with frustration.

"You bastard!" Nami grunted. Luffy was just flinching and trying to cover himself. "Never do that to me again!"

"Will you quit it?" Luffy protested.

"No! I've been waiting a week for the chance to hit you, so now I get to hit you!" Nami shouted loudly.

Slowly, Vivi raised her hand. "It's my turn afterwards," the princess said sweetly.

The rest of the pirates just stared. Robin sat observing from a corner of the room, a hand placed delicately over her mouth in an effort to contain her chuckles. Chopper was staring at Nami with amazement.

"Why are girls so mean?" Chopper exclaimed.

"Not a clue," Zoro replied under his breath, watching as his captain was assaulted by the orange-haired woman. The swordsman valued his anatomy too much to try and interfere. "Don't try and understand them."

Luffy's arm was aching now. He tried to struggle, but Nami was not to be stopped. "What's this for?" He complained. "What did I do?"

"'I will never forgive you'?!" Nami demanded loudly, and suddenly the memories came crashing back. "How dare you to that to us?"

The room went quiet. Luffy's mouth dropped open. Luffy locked eyes with Vivi, who was staring at him quietly while biting her lip. The tears were swelling up in Nami's eyes. No one said a word for a long time.

"That man was going to kill you!" Luffy shouted back eventually. "I couldn't let you die!"

Nami looked at him incredulously, before punching him again in the arm. "So instead you wanted us to watch him kill you?"

Luffy didn't hesitate. "If that kept Vivi safe!"

Suddenly, Vivi charged forward, and punched him in the other arm. She was holding back tears too. "Bastard!" Vivi cursed uncharacteristically, punching him again.

Luffy grabbed her wrist, ignoring the pain shooting through his body. "I couldn't let him kill you!"

"That wasn't your choice to make!" Vivi shouted back, thrashing him with her other arm.

The captain struggled helplessly. "What would you've wanted me to do?"

"What we always do!" Vivi screamed, punching him again. "Fight!"

Slowly, Luffy stopped struggling. Suddenly, he was back in the desert of Alabasta, screaming something similar at Vivi.

It was a long time before Luffy spoke again. "I couldn't survive watching him hurt you," he said quietly.

Vivi's eyes softened. "But we couldn't watch you die, either," she whispered gently.

"He was too strong!"

"When has that ever mattered before?" Vivi replied. "It doesn't matter if you're beaten, because we'll always be there to save you."

Luffy was left speechless. Vivi punched him again, just for good measure. "Don't you ever dare sacrifice yourself for us again," Vivi warned. "Because that's just another way of killing us."

It was a long time before Luffy spoke again. The tension seemed to ease out of the room. He rubbed his shoulder gingerly. "My arm really hurts," Luffy admitted finally.

"That's for what you put us through," Vivi replied darkly.

Luffy was just about to protest, when suddenly the princess enveloped him in a tight hug. She was on top of him, wrapping her arms around his chest and squeezing her body against him. Vivi's cheek rubbed up closely against his.

Vivi's heart started to pound, and she was so close to Luffy that she wondered if he could hear it too.

"And this is for coming back," Vivi whispered into his ear.

The breath was squeezed out of his body. The hug was so tight and his body was so sore that it was just as painful as the beating, but somehow Luffy didn't mind. It lasted for a long time, before Vivi unwillingly pulled herself up off him.

Nobody said a word. Nami felt her heart flutter, and she couldn't trust herself to speak.

"I think it's time we'd shown Mr. Captain what's outside," Robin spoke up for the first time, smiling gently.

Luffy blinked. He'd only been awake for a few minutes, and he was already tired out. "Huh? What's outside?"

The archaeologist's smile widened slightly. "You're really going to like it," she promised mysteriously.

A grin flashed across their faces. Luffy looked confused. He tried to move, but his body winced painfully. "Why? Where are we?"

Carefully, Zoro lifted him up under one arm. Nami lifted him by the other. "A lot happened when you were out," Zoro explained with a smirk.

Slowly and painfully, they lifted Luffy up so he could see out the window.

Luffy's jaw hit the floor.

The sun was brighter and closer in the sky than he had ever seen it. Golden sunlight streamed over a sea of light blue clouds that stretched for as far as the eye could see. There was a gentle breeze from across the sky, bringing with it the soft scent of moisture. The view was so bright and spotless that Luffy had to blink several times before he could believe his eyes.

"Yeah," Zoro said smugly. "Welcome to Sky Island."

Those next few hours were a blur for Luffy. He wasn't sure whether it was lack of oxygen, starvation, or the strong painkillers that Chopper prescribed, but it was hard for him to focus when suddenly everything had changed. If it wasn't for the pain that shot through his body, he would have been convinced it was a dream.

Everyone else had already gotten used to the serene setting, but it blew Luffy away. They were staying in a large and spacious house overlooking the cloud sea, built with white stones on top of an island cloud. There was wood and other ordinary materials scattered around, but it was all so bright it was nearly blinding.

A slender woman with dark eyes and hair so blond it was nearly white skittered gingerly around the house. Between everything that was going on, it was a long time before Luffy even thought to ask her name. It took a few hours before Luffy realised that her hair was groomed upwards into two antennae, and that she had short, stubby wings jutting out of her back. Interestingly enough, that wasn't even close to the strangest thing Luffy had seen all day.

The food helped a lot. Sanji was already set up in the kitchen, and it wasn't long after Luffy woke up before he served platters of large, almost fluffy, lobsters, well cooked and covered in sauces. They were sitting in a spacious living room, on chairs made out of clouds that were strangely stiff, around a small table as the plates were placed down. The smell was delicious. Luffy devoured them so quickly that they had to clean up lobster claws from the ceiling, before receiving an angry beating from Sanji for his lack of table manners. Still, Sanji didn't complain as he brought in seconds.

Luffy was too amazed even for questions, and the food was far too good for him to bother asking them. Soon, the laughter started to echo around the cloud house, and Luffy kept on eating with his friends.

Somewhere between the food and the laughter, pieces of explanation drifted through. "It was amazing! We were knocked into the sky!" Chopper squealed excitedly, before adding in a nervous whimper. "And also really, really frightening!"

"The Merry," Luffy realised suddenly, spitting lobster across the room. Sanji was standing in front of the bemused blond woman, covering her eyes from the disgusting sight. "Is the Merry alright?"

"It's getting there," Nami reassured, sitting next to Luffy. "She wasn't damaged as much as we'd feared. Usopp has been fixing her up ever since we landed."

No one noticed that Usopp was staying strangely quiet. The sniper smiled absently, deep in thought.

On the other side of Luffy, Vivi smiled brightly. "Miss Conis here was kind enough to take us in," the princess explained, pointing to the shy blond woman. "We've been staying here for a couple of days already."

"Oh, this is your house?" Luffy turned to Conis. His mouth was chewing furiously, causing an enraged Sanji to scream about manners. Conis just looked bemused. "Thank you very much!" Luffy bowed deeply.

"It's not very much…" Conis blushed, not meeting his gaze. "This is my father's house, really."

Luffy wanted to ask her more, but Chopper was chattering too excitedly to be ignored. The reindeer was practically bobbing up and down as he described giant balloon octopuses, cloud factories, and a scary man in a large mask that they'd seen from a distance. Chopper's voice started to blur as he described a road of cloud, a giant ship-carrying shrimp, and a gatekeeper who didn't accept any money.

By the time the meal was over, Luffy was so full his stomach was aching and so confused his head was spinning. Still, his friends were all around him and he felt so happy that he didn't want to think about anything else.

It was fine so long as he didn't move too quickly and felt the pain in his body. Each time Luffy looked downwards and saw the bandages, all of the bad thoughts and memories came rushing back to him. Still, Luffy would rather take the whole beating again then do anything to ruin this moment.

Afterwards, the pirates left the house. The building was built onto a huge island of clouds, yet the ground was surprisingly firm and dry. Large palm trees drifted scattered across the island, swaying in the breeze. The island was dominated by a huge staircase running through the centre, leading downwards towards the vast sea of clouds.

For the hundredth time today, Luffy's mouth dropped open with the spectacular view. Walking closely beside him, Nami giggled. "This is Angel Beach," she explained softly. Luffy met her eyes carefully. After the morning's drama, everything had eased up between them. Nami was far too relieved to stay angry. "On the Sky Island of Skypiea. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

The beach was softer than the rest of the island, made out of an island cloud slightly damper and so malleable Luffy could push his foot through it. The Going Merry was anchored uncertainly into the beach, still with large patches over the numerous holes. Still, between the warm sun and the cloudless sky, everything looked was too gloriously pleasant to stop the party.

Vivi and Chopper were already rushing ahead. Vivi was barefoot and wearing tight shorts and a loose purple t-shirt, much to Sanji's delight. There was no sand on the beach, but the princess had that covered. Within seconds, streams of sand were spinning from her fingertips, each grain sparkling in the sunlight as it covered the beach. Usopp exclaimed loudly and rushed to build a sandcastle, while Sanji exclaimed even louder and rushed to chase after Vivi.

Luffy's laughter echoed around the beach. Zoro cut down some large coconut-like fruits, and carefully relaxed in the sun. Carue joined them from 'guarding' the Going Merry, and shortly Luffy was riding atop of the duck's head as they chased Vivi around the beach. The sounds of happy squeals filled the air.

Only Nami and Robin were left hanging back. Robin chuckled softly as she watched everyone else, but she kept a careful eye of Nami standing next to her. The navigator's expression was unreadable.

"You should go have fun too," Robin said coolly. "Enjoy it while it lasts."

Nami didn't respond. Her eyes were focused on Luffy. Luffy and Carue had just tackled a giggling Vivi to the ground, and the captain was laughing as he started a sand fight with the princess. Needless to say, Vivi was winning effortlessly. Vivi was laughing harder than she had in a week.

Robin kept one eye discreetly focused on Nami. "You deserve some fun," the archaeologist said finally. "You've been sitting by Luffy's side nonstop for the last week."

Some unreadable emotion flashed across Nami's face. Eventually, she seemed to reach a decision. Nami flashed Robin a smile, before taking off her shirt to reveal a blue bikini that fit her lean and curvy figure exceptionally well. Sanji was practically spinning with bliss as Nami rushed in to join the game.

Of course, Robin thought quietly, Vivi had been sitting by Luffy's side for just as long. There was a problem that Robin never had the energy to deal with now.

The sun was slowly starting to descend by the time the pirates started to wind down. They were so high up in the sky that evening seemed to last forever as the sun crept along the wide horizon. The perfect cloud sea was doused in red.

Even Luffy collapsed with exhaustion eventually. His wounds were starting to catch up to him and his body was screaming in pain, but Luffy refused to do anything less than enjoy the moment. Beside him, Usopp was lying on his back, idly making angels in the sand. Chopper and Carue were piled onto a heap, snoring gently.

Zoro and Robin stood under the palm trees for most the time, drinking coconut juice in relaxation. Conis had come down and sat with them for a while, but the angel politely kept her distance. Briefly, Conis' father, Pagaya, appeared onto the beach riding a weird boat. He was an absentminded man with a bushy beard, who apologised profusely after he nearly crashed into them, and then apologised even harder when he forgot to introduce himself as Conis' father and a dial technician. Half an hour later, as dusk fell, Pagaya apologised generously before he left to pick up something he had forgotten at the office. Luffy was too crashed out to pay much attention.

Quietly, Luffy stared out into the red sky. The day had been so relaxing it felt unreal, but there was nothing to stop his thoughts as everything calmed down.

Luffy slowly reached up to his chest, feeling the scar over his heart. For the first time, Luffy realised how small the scar was. It was a knife wound, a small gash, and not even very long. The skin was rough and raw, but the wound itself wasn't that big.

Not very big, Luffy decided eventually, but deep enough.

Finally, the captain pulled himself up off the beach. His bones were aching again, and he couldn't stop himself from limping as he walked.

Nami and Vivi were lying down by the edge of the beach. Vivi was resting against a palm tree and reading a book, while Nami was sunbathing on the ground. The navigator had unstrapped her bra as she bathed in the warm glow, and Vivi had buried Sanji in a pile of sand when he tried to peek.

"Vivi. Nami," Luffy called quietly, walking towards the girls. His tone was subdued for the first time all day. Vivi looked up from her book curiously, while Nami covered her breasts as she lifted her head.

Slowly, Luffy sat down next to them. There were a few seconds silence. "You were right," Luffy admitted finally, his eyes apologetic. "I shouldn't have forced you away like I did in Mock Town. It was unfair of me to say that to you."

It took a long time for Vivi to respond. "Luffy, it's alright," she said softly.

He shook his head. "No it's not." It hasn't been alright for a while, Luffy thought quietly. "I should never have put you in that position. I should have trusted you more. I'm sorry."

Nami's mouth dropped open quietly. Luffy sighed, but he needed to say it aloud. He pulled himself to his feet, wincing in pain. "I just want you to know something…" Luffy muttered to Vivi solemnly. "I wouldn't be able to survive if anything happened to you."

Just before he walked away, Luffy glanced at Nami. "And I haven't forgotten my promise," he said earnestly, his voice low but strong. "I will get stronger."

He turned and limped away, leaving the two girls behind him completely speechless. Luffy's fists clenched as the memories of his defeat in Mock Town flashed before his eyes. He'd thought he had grown stronger, but he had still barely survived.

The memory of the Sea King lunging towards him was vivid in his memory. He couldn't ignore it anymore. He remembered that power that he unleashed at the moment. It had been like reaching inside of his body and pulling out something explosive. If only I knew what it was, Luffy thought with frustration.

He could remember that dream, lying back in Foosha Village with Shanks. Luffy was still trying to understand it. His head was a mess and he didn't like it. The thoughts were rumbling around in his head and making him dizzy.

Half an hour later, the pirates slowly started to head back to Conis' house. The Going Merry was still being repaired, so the angel had kindly offered for them to stay at hers. They were all tired and quiet as they started the ascent up the stairs of cloud.

Conis was there to greet them as they filed into the house. Most of the crew were sleepy and content. No one noticed how uncomfortable Nami and Vivi looked. Luffy was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open.

The house was large enough that they could all double up to a room. Luffy had a room for himself after his injuries. The bed was so soft that he was surprised that he didn't collapse into unconsciousness as soon as he landed, but he still couldn't sleep properly. His tender bones were aching painfully.

I need to get stronger. That was the most prominent thing he could think about. There was too much at stake for him to stay as he was.

Today had been a joy. Luffy loved every second and he was beyond thankful that he had been able to enjoy it. Sky Island was beautiful and amazing. It was with faint surprise that Luffy realised that he just didn't believe it.

It was too unreal. It was too happy and peaceful here, and Luffy knew that it wouldn't last. He would revel in the time he had, but he knew with absolutely certainty that it couldn't stay this way.

Outside of his room, he heard Sanji stomping into his room with Usopp. Luffy could see Conis staring at him through the doorway. "Ah!" The chef exclaimed blissfully. "This place is heaven!"

A few weeks ago, Luffy wouldn't have been able to detect the guilt in Conis' expression, or the hesitation and nervousness whenever she talked to them.

I need to get stronger faster. There were too many powerful guys out there, and Luffy wasn't prepared to fight them. He needed an edge right now.

I need to eat a Devil fruit.

Nami and Vivi were sharing a room. It was strange, but nobody had even considered the possibility that the girls wouldn't share a room. Now, they were both awkwardly lying together in a double bed, in a room that seemed to be getting smaller with every second.

Neither of them said a word. They both knew that the other was wide awake. Outside, the last rays of the sun were fading below the horizon.

Finally, Nami had to speak. "I can't do this anymore!" She exclaimed, but quietly enough not to be overheard. The navigator was pulling herself up in bed, turning to face Vivi seriously. The princess didn't respond. "I need to know."

It took a long time for Vivi to respond. "Know what?" She asked carefully.

Nami cleared her throat. "Are you…" She stammered. "Do you like Luffy?"

Vivi forced a fake smile. "Do you?"

"Of course not!" Nami replied too quickly.

The princess just nodded her head in agreement. They were both staring at each other in the dark. Nami was leaning against the wall, Vivi was covering herself with blankets. Around her, the bed slowly started to fill with sand.

"I mean, he's an idiot," Nami continued quietly. "And it would just be too weird."

"Totally," Vivi nodded eagerly, listening very carefully to what wasn't being said.

Nami's smile was wooden. "And it's not anything serious," she muttered. "It isn't anything at all."

"Totally." Vivi kicked herself quietly. Stop saying 'totally', she thought frantically, but her mouth wasn't working properly.

"Uh-huh," Nami agreed. The room became even more awkward. The seconds dragged on like hours.

Eventually, Nami's expression softened. She sighed quietly. "Let's not do anything we'd regret, okay?" Nami murmured so quietly that Vivi could barely hear her. "Friendship always comes first, right?"

The relief poured through Vivi's body. "I couldn't agree more," she replied earnestly.

Nami smiled. Vivi nodded. They both turned around so they weren't facing each other. Neither of them had much sleep that night.

Luffy groaned and turned but sleep didn't come. The room was dark and everything was quiet. He was tired, but he just couldn't close his eyes.

There were light footsteps from outside, barely audible as bare feet walked across the soft floor. Luffy rolled around in bed just as a figure appeared in the doorframe. Luffy blinked, trying to focus his eyes in the dark as the figure approached.

"Robin?" Luffy realised finally, his voice thick with confusion. Robin smiled in the dark, before bending over towards the bedside table and pressing down on a weird shell-like object.

Luffy jumped as the shell burst into a bright, clean light. He remembered Usopp saying something about dials at dinner, but he hadn't really processed it. Still, after today he was all out of surprises to give.

Robin slowly sat by the bottom of the bed, a faint smile playing at her lips. The dark haired woman was wearing her pyjamas; a grey, extra-large nightgown that draped over her body like a blanket. Her long, bare legs shone in the gloom.

"What are you doing here?" Luffy asked finally.

Robin didn't respond, but she just quietly reached behind her and lifted out a thick book, bound in a well-worn leather case. Luffy grinned brightly. "You brought the book," he said quietly with genuine pleasure. "I thought you would've finished it by now."

"I enjoy reading it with you," Robin replied with a small shrug. The grin on Luffy's face stretched from ear to ear.

He had never really read a book in his life. Luffy had always found them boring. Strangely, it wasn't boring when he read with Robin. Luffy felt a warm glow bubbling in his chest, and he was grinning like a fool as he pulled himself up in bed.

As he moved, a jolt of pain flashed through his back. His smile disappeared with a painful wince. Suddenly, he realised how tired and sore he was. "I'm completely exhausted," he admitted sadly. He felt completely wiped out after recovering for so long.

Robin looked at him sympathetically. "That's alright," she said quietly, dropping the book on to the bedside table. "We can read another time."

Still, Robin made no move to leave. Instead, she pulled herself her further on to Luffy's bed, and then quietly stretched out flat across the mattress. All of a sudden, Luffy noticed how lean and long her body was. His breathing became shallow.

Robin was already squirming to get comfortable on the pillow beside him. Her dark hair spread across the bed in a mess, but she just gently rose her hand to Luffy's shoulder and pulled him backwards. Hesitantly, Luffy lied down next to her, and she wrapped her arms around his torso comfortably.

Strangely, his heartbeat turned calm. The pain eased away, and all Luffy could feel was the warmth of her body. A distant smile crossed Luffy's face, before he stretched across a turned off the light.

In the dark, all he could feel was Robin's arms wrapped around him. Slowly, he squirmed backwards until he felt her body pressed against his, and all of his worries just seemed to disappear. Luffy reached up wordlessly and held Robin's hand softly, before closing his eyes gently.

He was fast asleep within seconds. Luffy wouldn't be able to remember his dream, but he knew he enjoyed it.

Usopp waited until the house was dead quiet before he crept out of his bed. Sanji was sleeping on the sofa in his room, but Usopp knew the chef was deep asleep as he had his legs wrapped around a pillow and was quietly murmuring "Vivi, Nami, Robin…" to himself on repeat. Once or twice, Usopp heard Conis' name mentioned too.

Quietly, the sniper tiptoed out of the house. Conis' pet cloud fox, Su, stared at him suspiciously, but the animal was too shy to approach or make much of a noise. The creaking of Usopp opening the door felt painfully loud in the quiet, but he was out of the house and running down the cloud stairs within seconds.

Outside, the moon was closer and more bulbous than it had ever been in the Blue Sea. Angel Island glowed eerily in the pure white moonlight. Everything was dead quiet, and Usopp never stopped tiptoeing even as he sprinted down towards the beach.

The Going Merry sat motionlessly on the sea cloud. There wasn't a breeze or a wave to be seen. Instead, the ship just sat completely still. The smiling ram figurehead was patched up with dozens of nails and poor carpentry, but it still seemed to staring outwards.

Usopp spent a long time staring at the ship quietly. Usopp had thought that he knew the Going Merry better than anywhere else in the world, but now he wasn't so sure. The sniper was biting his nails nervously as he thought. Somehow, bathed in brilliant moonlight, the Merry seemed almost… human.

Eventually, Usopp reached a decision and walked towards the boat. He waded through the light ocean clouds, so soft it barely felt like water, before pulling himself up the ladder and climbing onto the boat.

On deck, Usopp thought about it for a bit longer, and then got to work. It was the first time in a week that everyone else was gone, and Usopp had to make the most of it. The ship was apparently deserted, and there was something that he needed to check.

Usopp worked methodically. He started at the bottom of the ship and worked upwards. The Going Merry was not a big boat, but there were still a surprising number of places to hide, particularly for a small person.

Usopp searched through the lounge, lifting up the sofa and checking behind the refrigerator. He raided the men's room, storming through piles of dirty clothing and pulling up filthy furniture. He spent a long time in the storage room, searching thoroughly for each barrel in turn, and then spent just as long sorting through the crates in the cannon deck. He even went into the women's room, checking carefully to make sure that Nami wasn't anywhere nearby, and searched through every dresser and chest. Usopp made a point of closing his eyes as he went through the girls' underwear, just to be safe.

Finally, Usopp went into the bathroom. He spent a while staring at the latrine, before deciding that no self-respecting magical deity would hide in there.

Afterwards, Usopp went back up on deck, and sat and thought for a little while.

Then, he really went to work. Usopp peeled up floorboards and checked above the ceiling. He searched between gaps in the hull, and then went through every plank of wood searching for hidden compartments. There were piles of dust that had never seen the open air, yet he still checked under them for any clues. The sniper spent hours going through every nook and cranny; anywhere that a person might be able to hide undetected.

Ultimately, he found nothing. Apparently, the Going Merry was completely and utterly deserted. Usopp sat on deck, drumming his fingers against the wood. There was an uneasy silence about the ship, and the hairs on his neck never stopped tingling.

No, Usopp thought eventually, you're not fooling me.

Slowly, Usopp stood up again, but this time he closed his eyes tightly and placed his hand over them until he couldn't see a thing. Then he started searching again. Usopp knew the Merry's layout perfectly, but he still ended up stubbing his toe and walking into walls. He groped blindly around the ship, feeling every surface and searching for something that he couldn't quite explain.

A couple of hours later, Usopp ended up in the storage room, blindly feeling across the surfaces of the cannons and the barrels. He had searched through the entire ship, but for some reason he kept on coming back here. After a while, Usopp carefully sat down cross-legged in the middle of the room, his eyes still shut tight, deliberating to himself.

"I know you're here," Usopp said finally, speaking out loud for the first time. His voice seemed to echo around the deathly quiet ship. "I can't see you and I can't touch you, but I know you're here."

There was no audible response. The room was apparently completely deserted.

Still, standing a few steps behind Usopp, a small person in a large raincoat looked nervous.

The night descended over the island floating across the sky. Bathed in moonlight, dark shadows began to move.

A filthy figure darted quickly through the mud and huge tree trunks. The man was filthy, dirty and exhausted. He looked ready to collapse. He never got very far before he heard a sharp whistle blare from behind him. The prisoner never even had the strength to scream as monster of a dog exploded out of undergrowth. There was a flash of fangs and everything turned quiet.

"Another fortunate soul freed from the wickedness of this cruel world." A voice drawled across the forest. A large man, bald and muscular, walked across the blood stained ground carrying an oversized sword. His voice was solemn, before he added, "And it looks like I win the game."

In a flash of wings, another man appeared on a nearby branch, riding a huge feathery bird. "You bastard! I practically had him!" The rider growled, straightening his helmet and goggles.

The muscular man just smirked. Behind, a spherical beast of a man bounced towards them, smiling playfully. "Ho, ho hoooo!" The fat one laughed in a high pitched voice. "Does it matter? There's nothing left but pitiful games, anyways."

"Agreed," the bird rider growled darkly, heaving a huge lance. "We should have ascended to Fairy Vearth by now…"

"We do as God commands," Another man ordered firmly. He was tall, dark and imposing, with a mess of tendril-like hair. His eyes were weeping after not blinking for too long. "Next up: illegal trespassers have entered this country."

The four men gathered around the corpse of their prey, not paying it much attention. All of them had short, stumpy wings protruding from their backs.

"Again?" The fat, bouncy one groaned. "Leave it to someone else."

"We just got the message," the dark one continued regardless, picking out his ear dumbly. "Eight citizens of the Blue Sea have arrived on a ship."

Instantly, the bird rider looked thoughtful. "Eight?" The man smirked, stroking his goatee. "That's the perfect number. Let's leave the Berets out of this – we can each get two. The first one to kill their pair wins the game."

On the other side of Skypiea, a very different meeting was happening by moonlight. Hidden in a cave of cloud, as far as possible from Upper Yard, a large man in a military uniform paced uneasily.

The cave was bare and empty, despite being used for a meeting room for six years. His companions were late, and that made Captain McKinley of the White Berets very nervous.

After half an hour, just when McKinley was debating leaving, he heard a distinctive whinny coming from outside, mixed in with the flapping of wings. The captain sighed with relief as an old man, skinny but with heavy armour, came clunking towards the cave.

"Do not do that to me!" McKinley snapped irritably. "You know how much I risk coming here? Don't ever be late again."

"My apologies," the old man responded in a hoarse voice. The man was very old with a large white beard and a wrinkled face. His arms were so skinny he looked frail underneath his huge armour, but he still carried himself with strength. Gan Fall shook McKinley's hand gratefully. "Something came up in the White Sea. I will tell you all about it when everyone is here."

McKinley nodded. Even after six years, the captain still took orders dutifully from the old man. Absentmindedly, the man's hand moved to touch the scar under his eye, a wound from the war that had never healed well.

"It's getting harder and harder to make excuses. Something is happening in Upper Yard that has everyone stretched, but I don't know what," McKinley admitted. "They give me orders and I have to follow them, but it's not like I'm part of their group."

Gan Fall nodded sadly, dropping his metal lance to the ground. "I know. You have done well to remain undercover for so long. Still, we must persevere if we wish to save this country."

McKinley nodded, but then there was the sound of a large waver booming through across the cloud sea. The dial powered boat collided roughly with the island cloud, followed by the sound of someone apologising tenderly to no one in particular. A couple of seconds later, a bald man of average height walked into the cave, rubbing his head nervously.

"Ah, I'm late," Pagaya muttered apologetically. "I am so very sorry."

Gan Fall just nodded, and then extended his hand to the dial mechanic graciously. Out of the three them, Pagaya seemed the most composed and relaxed. Then again, Pagaya kept his eyes practically closed and his mouth hidden under a large beard; he was a very hard person to read.

Only three, Gan Fall thought darkly, three old men to fight an army. Gan Fall was an exceptionally old man now, and it was getting tiresome to fight against such large odds. Six years ago, when the group was formed, he had been almost optimistic that the fight wasn't over yet. But in six years, they had achieved very little.

This was the meeting of the Skypiea Underground Resistance. Three men plotting to overthrow a God.

McKinley was the first member of the Resistance, and the only remaining member of Gan Fall's old Enforcers. After the war, McKinley had pledged loyally to the usurper in order to continue the fight in secret. Now, McKinley was the captain of the White Berets, a once noble organisation forced to act as Enel's corrupt goons. For six long years, the soldier had followed the orders of the man he despised, all the while waiting for the right opportunity to do some good.

As for Gan Fall himself, Enel had let the defeated ex-God live as a show of strength or, more likely, disdain. The old man forced himself to make the most of the situation, donning the armour of his youth and styling himself as 'The Knight of the Sky', attempting to undermine Enel's rule and discreetly smuggle the captive Enforcers out of Upper Yard. So far, Gan Fall wondered if Enel had even noticed.

The third member of the group was the only one who had never fought in the war, and perhaps the most useful. Pagaya was, as far as most people saw, a completely ordinary citizen, except for his extreme absentmindedness. It took Gan Fall a long time to wonder about everything that Pagaya kept hidden.

The man had volunteered for the Resistance because he believed that Enel was bad for the country. Pagaya kept tabs on the state of Angel Island, recruiting fighters where possible, and he was the only one who could move around unsuspected. Also, as a dial technician, Pagaya was uniquely suited to build the dial weapons that any army needed to be effective.

Few people looked at Pagaya and saw a revolutionary, and in truth he wasn't really. Pagaya was just a father fighting for a better future for his daughter. Gan Fall knew that despite the man's humble and inattentive personality, Pagaya also kept a bazooka hidden in his waver, reserved solely for anyone who dared to threaten his daughter.

Gan Fall took a deep breath, wondering where to begin. "Let us start with the monthly reports," he decided finally, before turning to the White Beret Captain. "McKinley, what is the state of the public in Angel Island?"

McKinley hesitated slightly. "I don't know," he confessed. "It's hard to tell who actually worships Enel as God, and who is just putting on the act. Everyone believes me to be in Enel's pocket, and they will not approach me."

Gan Fall nodded sympathetically. The old man knew how hard the ruse was for the soldier. "If I were to launch an uprising tomorrow…" Gan Fall pressed. "How many Skypieans would stand by me?"

McKinley bit his lip. "I doubt there would be many. The people are too scared; they have been living under the rule of Enel for so long. The man can sense any rebellion before it even occurs, and his power is great enough to destroy anyone at any time."

"It is as I feared then," Gan Fall sighed, before turning to Pagaya. "What about the dial weapons? How many men could you arm sufficiently for combat?"

"I'm sorry; I don't have much experience building weapons," Pagaya said humbly, but Gan Fall wasn't fooled. "Yet I've stocked piled enough weapons to put up a good fight. I could arm two dozen men to the teeth for dial warfare."

"Good," the old man nodded. "We will need every weapon we can get."

"There is something else too," Pagaya continued. "A group of pirates from the Blue Sea arrived at my house the other day. They are staying with my daughter right now."

"Hmm… Are they strong? Could they be convinced to fight?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not sure," he confessed. "Their captain was severely injured, but they do seem fairly capable."

Gan Fall stroked his beard thoughtfully. Pagaya always made a point of opening his doors to travellers, in the hope of recruiting aid against Enel. "That is good news," he mused. "On my way here, I encountered a Marine battleship that had been knocked into the sky. I was late because I paused to explain their surroundings and pointed them in the right direction. Perhaps we can make use of this…"

McKinley looked worried. "Are you sure it's safe to shelter pirates? Particularly with your daughter involved?" the man asked Pagaya. "You know that if I get the order, I will have no choice but to arrest them."

"It is worth the risk," Gan Fall said quickly, before Pagaya could apologise. "We need to recruit whatever help we can get."

"Still…" McKinley said nervously. "It would be better if we could include your daughter in our plans–"

"No." Pagaya's voice was suddenly and uncharacteristically sharp. All apologies were gone. "You will not involve Conis in this at all. Do I make myself clear?"

"But –"

"If Enel's Mantra senses any rebellious thoughts from her, then she will be in great danger. I will not put my daughter at risk," Pagaya said firmly. "I already cause her too much suffering. Every traveller that enters my home, I leave her to call the Super Express Speed Shrimp so that she can prove her loyalty. I refuse to put anything more on her shoulders."

The man's voice left no room for arguments. "Very well," Gan Fall conceded. "And I swear that I will be nearby to protect your daughter."

The dial technician nodded, and the atmosphere relaxed. Gan Fall had yet to break any of his promises.

"We are still massively disadvantaged," McKinley muttered darkly. "We don't stand a chance against Enel by ourselves. Have you tried joining forces with the Shandorians?"

Gan Fall shook his head sadly. "So long as 'Berserker' Wiper holds sway over their military, they will never see me as anything else as their enemy."

"Then we're on our own," McKinley said bitterly. "Just like for the last six years, the war is hopeless."

The ex-God paused a long time before replying. "This need not be a war at all," he said finally. "If Enel dies, then all of his supporters will be nothing more than thugs."

The room turned tense. McKinley frowned. "Are you going to attempt assassination?" The captain mused. "After all, you on Pierre are the only one capable of flying up to God's Shrine. I could provide you with a Seastone blade."

The old man sighed. "Enel would sense me coming as soon as I entered Upper Yard. His Mantra makes any assassination impossible, even more than his Devil fruit does. No, the only way we are getting rid of Enel is if someone is strong enough to defeat him."

McKinley snorted. Pagaya was listening quietly. Gan Fall stared at his fingers nervously.

"The only thing that can stand toe-to-toe with a Logia Devil fruit…" Gan Fall explained quietly, reaching behind him. "…is another Logia Devil fruit."

With great care, Gan Fall lifted out a large silver fruit, shaped like a bundle of grapes and covered in swirls. McKinley gasped. Even Pagaya looked shocked.

"Is that…?"

"Yes," Gan Fall nodded solemnly. "A couple of weeks ago, a pirate crew called the Eraser Pirates was attacked by raiders and sunk on the White Sea. I was nearby but couldn't save it, but in the wreckage I found an interesting journal, detailing an auction that was occurring near the Summit of High West."

Both other men were staring at Gan Fall intently. "It was a long shot," Gan Fall continued. "But I was desperate and there was nothing else to do. I flew Pierre hard and fast, and I managed to steal the fruit before the auction began."

"I'm sorry, but which fruit is it?" Pagaya asked cautiously.

"I'm not sure," Gan Fall admitted. "But it is a Logia, of that I'm sure."

A hopeful glow appeared in McKinley's eyes. "So if you eat that…" he muttered. "Then you could face Enel on equal terms! You could end this whole war!"

"Possibly," Gan Fall scowled. "But even with the power of a Logia, I am not convinced that I could be victorious against Enel. I am too old, and Enel is in his prime. We only have one fruit and one chance – I will not risk it gambling on an old man."

McKinley's mouth dropped open. Slowly, the three members of Resistance looked at each other, and then stared down at the fruit. The Devil fruit seemed to pulse with unnatural energy.

"So then the question becomes…" Gan Fall muttered under his breath. "We have the power, but who will wield it…?"

Three thousand metres below, on the White Sea, a small skipper dragged in the water, the hull drooping into the cloud.

It was a small and light ship, and that was the only reason they had managed to survive the knock-up stream. Still, the hull had been damaged and the Devil fruit hunters weren't going anywhere fast. Isaac had been scared that they might have lost their precious cargo of Devil fruits in the explosion, but fortunately all twelve Devil fruits remained safely secured in lockboxes.

A couple of hours later as they floated disorientated through the sea of clouds, the ship was attacked by a raider wielding a spear and some weird weapons, running across the cloud using skates. Berrit and Isaac were both befuddled and suffering from lack of oxygen, so it was possible that the lone raider might have defeated both of them.

But, the unfortunate raider never stood a chance in hell of defeating Marcus.

In a way, the incident was the luckiest thing that could have happened. It gave Marcus a chance to blow off a bit of bloodlust and lower the crazy level down. A few seconds later, the raider was lying in a bloody pool on the deck of the ship, while Marcus started to laugh again.

Isaac had then tried to question their prisoner, but the man stubbornly spat in his face and refused to talk. Marcus had just laughed harder about that.

"Talk?" Marcus chuckled while Isaac wiped down his glasses. "Oh, I'll get you to sing."

For the next few hours, the sound of bloodcurdling screaming filled the air as Marcus proceeded to shred the man's body, piece by piece. The sound was so chilling that even Isaac and Berrit needed earplugs. Fortunately, they both had a set at the ready for situations like this.

Eventually, the raider surely enough started to talk, admittedly while coughing up blood. The raider introduced himself as Kamakiri, and then started to explain about Sky Island. The man would have said anything to avoid more pain. Kamakiri told them about Skypiea, about Shandia, about the White Sea and the White-White Sea, about dials and their use, about Angel Island and Upper Yard and about a vengeful God and the precious Vearth. He told them where to find a secret path, known only by the Shandorians, into the White-White, avoiding Heaven's Gate. And he told them about Enel, and the near invincible rule of the God.

Marcus listened patiently until Kamakiri ran out things to say. Then Marcus simply thanked him politely, took all of his dials and weapons, before dropping the raider unceremoniously into the ocean.

Quietly, the three of them sat down in a circle to digest everything they heard. Slowly, Isaac turned to Berrit and asked quietly. "Well? What can you smell?"

The large man closed his eyes and his brow furrowed with concentration. His nose sniffed the air for five long minutes. "Aye," Berrit said finally, not opening his eyes. "I can smell the Sand Sand fruit. It's above us, quite a goddamn distance away, but the scent is strong. Yet there are others too."

That got Isaac's attention. "Other Devil fruits?"

Berrit shook his head. "Nah – other Logia Devil fruits."

A quiet ripple passed over the group. "How many?" Isaac demanded finally.

Berrit sniffed the air again. The large man was pretty good at smelling Zoan fruits, although the animal smells tended to mix together. Paramecia fruits were much more difficult for him and harder to identify. Still, he was exceptionally good at smelling Logia fruits – each Logia was so powerful Berrit could track them miles away.

"Four," Berrit decided finally. "I smell the Sand Sand fruit, obviously. There's also the Plume Plume fruit over in that direction. That's a pretty hard one to track, but I know the scent."

"Hmm… that means Smoker is here," Isaac mused. The Plume Plume fruit was one of the weaker Logia abilities, but it was still way overrated for a lowly Marine captain like Smoker. They had been after the Plume Plume fruit for a while.

"I thought you said I couldn't kill Smoker," Marcus grouched. "You said it would go down too badly with the Marines."

Isaac shrugged. "We're thousands of feet away from the Marines. No transponder snail is going to work from up here. So long as we don't leave witnesses alive, then no one is going to know."

Marcus lit up like a kid on Christmas. "Goody!" He squealed with excitement.

"What are the other fruits?" Isaac pressed.

Berrit's concentrated for a while. "I can't goddamn tell for the third one," he complained. "I've never smelt it before and it doesn't have a distinctive scent."

"Well, what about the fourth?"

"Oh, that's a goddamn good one," a sly smile crossed Berrit's face. "That one stinks of thunder and chaos. It's so goddamn powerful it's hard to smell anything else. I've never had the scent before, but there's only one thing it could be. Boys, we're dealing with the goddamn Rumble Rumble fruit."

Isaac's mouth dropped open. "Are you sure?" He gasped.

"Oh yeah."

"But that's one of the invincible powers!" Isaac murmured with awe. "That's an Admiral-level Devil fruit. The Marines would pay an arm and a leg for that!"

Isaac's hands was twitching as he tried to imagine the money. He turned to Marcus urgently. "The Rumble Rumble fruit," he pressed. "Do you think you can handle it?"

Marcus' grinned brightly. "With pleasure."

"Are there any more Devil fruits up here?" Isaac insisted.

Berrit shrugged. "A couple of Zoan. A few more Paramecia. Some interesting scents, but they all just mix together, really."

"Then we have four main targets," Isaac planned eagerly. The excitement was building around him. "Anything else is extra…"

Isaac was practically trembling with joy. Berrit was grinning widely, and Marcus had an insane glint in his eye. "Do you get what this means?" Isaac was practically giggling. "Usually, the hardest part of Devil fruit capture is the reincarnation. There's no way to guarantee where the fruit will end up once the host dies. We have to keep them alive, take them to a deserted island, and then kill them so we can get the fruit straight away."

"But now we're ten thousand goddamn metres in the sky," Berrit continued, realising where Isaac was going. "And there's only one plot of land up here where a Devil fruit could reincarnate to…"

"Yes," Isaac nodded eagerly. "Whatever Devil fruit dies in the sky, stays in the sky."

Marcus looked confused. Isaac turned to him and spelled it out simply. "All the fruits will reappear in this 'Upper Yard', where we can pick them up at our leisure," Isaac explained slowly. "That means that all you've got to is kill everyone we encounter. "

Marcus was silent for a few seconds, but he started to laugh loudly with genuine pleasure.

"Thank you God!" Marcus howled into the sky. "Oh, this is going to fun! This place really is Heaven!"

Chapter Text

In the sky, the moon was so bright that the night was a clear was as day. It was enormous, bulbous lantern that highlighted Skypiea. The white light gave the huge forest an ethereal, unworldly sheen while Enel stared down idly from above.

The floating island of Upper Yard stretched out below him. The trees were overgrown and wild, while the woods echoed with the sound of the beasts below. The forest had thrived in the weak atmosphere and bright light of the sky, and grew large across the generations. The animals of Upper Yard had grown equally monstrous, creating an island that was dangerous even to the most weary explorer.

Still, Enel mused quietly, They worshipped this land. He could feel all of the prayers from Angel Island through his Mantra, and he saw the respect that even his own men had as they walked over the soil. Vearth, they called it. As much as they all feared and respected God Enel, all the residents of the sky had a very tender spot in their heart for Vearth.

"What a disgrace…" Enel muttered under his breath, already starting to walk away. The God was in a foul mood, and had been for weeks now. Around him, his couriers and servants were flitting about frantically. They were eager to tend to his needs, but at the same time they were scared to even get too close to him. Normally, watching their frenzied worship made Enel smirk superiorly. Now, it was just another reminder as to why he was in a bad mood.

God's Shrine rested on an island cloud in the centre of Upper Yard, supported by the humungous beanstalk that burst through the island. The cloud was soft under his bare feet as Enel strolled through his shrine. The buildings were smooth stone with open architecture, covered in drapes and blowing curtains. Musicians sat cross-legged around him; playing soothing, calm beats on harps. There were perhaps two dozen people here, all of them devoted to showering Enel with music, feeding him, bathing him, and worshipping him like the God that he was.

Vaguely, Enel recalled all those years ago when he first conquered Skypiea as God and claimed Upper Yard for himself. He'd been younger then, more naïve, and he hadn't yet accepted his divine grace. At the time, he had laughed and believed that he could live comfortably God Shrine for the rest of his life.

After all, he was God. They fed him fresh fruits and beautiful wine. His followers provided him with beautiful sculptures and testaments to his greatness. There was always a steady supply of nubile young women, eager to prove their devotion, while Enel had been young, lustful and all too eager to accept. He had gouged himself on food and drink, and tasted all of the pleasures that Skypiea had to offer to their divine lord.

But that had been so long ago, Enel thought slowly, I have ascended beyond such mortal pleasures now.

The food and wine bored him, and the women lost their appeal. They were nothing but mortals, after all. They were like insects compared to him. The thought of willing flesh no long enticed him, and the concept of a mortal getting so close to him was vaguely disgusting. Slowly, Enel had become to consider the very act of sex with contempt. It was practically bestiality.

He was God, after all.

Now, the sight of all his servants and devotees, which once brought him pleasure, caused his body to shiver with repulsion. He had nothing against them personally – they were all good servants (Enel had long since filtered out the bad ones). Mind, Enel despised the very concept of them. He hated them for even breathing.

What right did mortals have to stand so closely to God?

With a grunt, Enel stretched out over his throne, in the centre of the room. Scantily clad beautiful women tried to tempt him with grapes and wine, but Enel waved them away dismissively. It was becoming harder and harder for him to tolerate the lesser beings in his presence.

The whole shrine was silent as Enel glanced over them with disdain. The musicians didn't dare miss a beat, but even without Mantra Enel could feel the fear flowing off them. And they were right to be scared – Enel could kill them all at a whim.

I shouldn't still be here, Enel scowled, I should have ascended to Fairy Vearth by now.

Up above in the sky, the moon beckoned.

That had always been the plan. He had conquered Skypiea as a means to an end; a way of constructing the Arc Maxim so he could ascend to his proper place into the stars. He should end all the pathetic beings around him, drop the island to the ground so that the rules of nature could be restored, and then rule from Fairy Vearth as God Supreme. He could maybe tolerate the most competent and devoted of his followers, but everyone else deserved to die by his hand.

That was his right.

Yet Enel didn't move. He could have burnt the shrine into ash in a blink of eye, and transformed all the insects into charred bones at any second. Arc Maxim was complete, and had been for a couple of weeks now. He was ready to ascend at any moment, but he still didn't move. He had been hesitating for weeks, and that had put him in a bad mood.

He told himself that there were still loose ends to tie up, but that wasn't true. Any loose ends would vanish when he destroyed Skypiea. He should have left by now.

But in truth, Enel just wanted to feel something again. He wanted to take one last sip of earthly pleasures before he left for good. He wanted his heartbeat to race, and he wanted the adrenaline to flow for the first time in years. Only then would he be satisfied to destroy Skypiea and make the journey to Endless Earth.

Every second that he was unfulfilled left him in a bad mood. His priests were amusing themselves by hunting down, competing and sacrificing heathens for his glory. Enel had no such outlet. Even the act of punishing heretics had become more like a chore than anything else.

God should not chore, Enel thought with disgust. Everything belonged to him, so why was he still so miserable.

Around him, his servants stared at the grounds blankly, knees bent, not daring to raise their heads. All those who served Enel for any stretch of time learnt the art of keeping their minds blank, so that no stray thoughts would trigger his Mantra. All of his devotees had blank, absentminded looks across their faces as they did their duties. Somehow, that annoyed Enel even more.

After a few moments, there were footsteps as a man dared to approach. A tall, slender man with a large bushy beard hiding his face, wearing the white acolyte robes and carrying a book under his arm, walked towards Enel slowly and respectfully.

"Your holiness," Gode bowed his head deeply. "How may I be of service?"

Gode was practically Enel's chief of staff. The man had been with Enel since Birka, and had taken it upon himself to organise Enel's other followers in order to ensure he stayed in favour between Enel's fickle mood swings. Gode was a smart man.

Enel scraped the arms of his throne with annoyance. He rested his feet up over the throne and leant back, supporting his chin with his hand lazily. Enel was a man in exceptional physique, with a washboards abs and well-toned muscles. His white blond hair was hidden underneath a white bandanna, while his earlobes had been stretched until they reached his chest, suspending golden earrings.

He used to have wings, but Enel had cut them off years ago and replaced them with four large Tomoe drums to distinguish himself from the angels.

"Who are you to meddle in the affairs of God?" Enel asked quietly, fiddling with the gold bracelets across his wrists.

Gode bowed so deeply that his beard brushed against the ground. "I live to serve, your holiness," he replied calmly, his impassive face not revealing a hint of fear. Through Mantra, Enel could feel that his mind was calm too, but there was anxiety around the edges.

"You live by my tolerance, only," Enel threatened silently. Around him, sparks crackled across the air. It was a testament to Gode's self-control that he didn't flinch. "Leave my sight."

The servant bowed quickly, before nearly running away without another sight. His devotees were used to Enel's childish boredom and entitlement, but his new foulness put them all on edge.

Enel scoffed slightly as he watched his servant run from him. He really wanted to kill them all and be done with it. Fairy Vearth was singing to him, and Enel longed to answer.

Lazily, Enel closed his eyes and slouched further in his chair. Enel focused his mind, and suddenly his mind was flying through air across Skypiea. He was looking down upon everything, feeling the 'voices' of people's minds, while his Mantra extended his presence upon waves of electricity.

Enel could feel the petty lives from the angels on Angel Island. He stared down at them like a schoolchild watching bugs crawling across the ground, longing to burn them away.

He could feel his priests and servants in Upper Yard, fulfilling their duties. He was mildly satisfied to feel that his priests had nothing but undying worship to him, yet the other Enforcers were dubious loyalty at best. Still, Enel didn't care enough about them.

He could feel the minds of the animals of the forest; slow, dumb and primal. As far as Enel was concerned, the humans weren't much better.

If he really stretched himself, he could feel the edges of the minds of Shandorian raiders, wondering about on the cloud. Unfortunately, they were too far away for Enel to get a fix of their location.

Enel yawned as he stretched his mind out further, lazily washing over the White White Sea until he began to feel sleepy. He was God, and this was his domain…

Suddenly, Enel opened his eyes and shot awake. He could feel new presences entering the White White Sea through Heaven's Gate, and he recognised the determination from their aura. There were hundreds of new minds, and it was the biggest group of intruders to Skypiea in recent memory.

Slowly, a large grin spread across Enel's face.

It was time to have some fun.

Two dark shadows lay on the ground, carefully hiding their shadows on the wasteland of cloud. The morning sun was only just rising in the distance, casting nearly horizontal shadows across the white, bumpy surface. Slowly, the two men crept forward, lying flat on the fluffy island cloud, until in the distance the shapes of Shandorian village came into view.

Both men wore white, loose-fitting robes, with strange pendants organs dangling across their ears and short horns protruding from their foreheads. A golden ring hung from a purple sash across their necks, and they wore grey gloves with an Axe Dial embedded into the palm. They were God's Enforcers, two of the most elite military in Skypiea. Normally, the sight of them sent Skypiean angels running with fear, but, this time, they were the hesitant ones.

The cloud wasteland was a barren and dangerous place. The Island and Sea Cloud practically meshed together, resulting in a surface that was treacherous and unstable. Dial powered Jet Skis or Jet Boards were needed to cross the wasteland, and even then there were dangerous predators hunting beneath the White White Sea. Yet, by far, it was the Shandorians that were the biggest threat out here. God's domain ended at Upper Yard – this was the raider's territory.

In the distance, across the mounds and dips of the clouds, the sight of several cloth tipis stuck up into the sky, all colourfully decorated with patterns and animal hides. There was a small, smokeless fire burning in the centre of the village, and small figures flitted around it. Half a dozen wooden totem poles were stuck into the ground, carrying torches. The largest structure was a stone stature standing in front of one of the tents; a carving of a historical warrior with wild hair and a fierce expression staring towards Upper Yard.

The Shandia were nothing if not stubborn and adaptable. Enel would have destroyed them if he knew where they were, so instead the tribe had taken to roaming around the White White Sea, carrying their belongings on Jet Wavers as they travelled constantly and randomly. They only stayed stationary for a week at the most, and always out of the range of Enel's Mantra. The tribe had been drifting aimlessly for six years, always on the run.

The Shandorians couldn't farm and there wasn't enough hunting on the cloud wasteland to sustain them. Instead, they had done the only thing they were capable of; they became raiders. They raided Angel Beach, Upper Yard, and even the ships on the White Sea. The Shandia had declared war on the world, and hunted everything that wasn't them. Enel had pushed the tribe to the very edge, yet their warriors had refused to fall over. Shandia fought tooth and nail against anyone who wasn't them.

The two Enforcers were nervous even as they as they watched from half a mile away. They'd practically drained their Jet Ski Waver in coming this far, but they'd found their target.

After a couple of minutes watching, one of them finally spoke up, "This is far enough," he whispered quietly, bleating out the words. "We need to get back."

"Agreed," his companion bleated quickly. "God will reward us if we bring back their location."

With delicate care, they slowly started to turn around on the ground and started scuttling away. "God with smite the heathens into nothing," the Enforcer whispered. "And we will be the ones to –"

His voice turned quiet as a dark shadow fell over them, blocking out the sun. The two men could only gulp as they a figure dropped from the sky with Jet Skates. He was tall, muscular and bare-chested, covered in tribal tattoos with a Mohawk that followed into a segmented braid.

The raider glanced downwards at the two intruders with open disdain. "I didn't hear that…" The Shandorian warrior muttered darkly, his eyes glowing with fury as he took a deep breath of a small cigarillo. "… what exactly will you be the ones to do?"

There was no hesitation. In an instant, the Enforcers activating their Jet Wavers and were flying upwards into the sky with a hiss of air bursting from the Breath Dials. They twirled expertly in mid-air, before spinning their feet towards the sky and shooting downwards at the raider. The Enforcers thrust their gloved palms forward, and the air swirled as the Axe Dials lashed out with a near invisible blast of air, faster and more furious than the eye could follow.

The Shandorian waited until the very last second before even reacting. He never had a weapon, or even a shield, but he stood completely calm as the Enforcers barrelled downwards towards him. Then, just as the raider felt the brush of the Axe Dials against his skin, he blurred with speed.

A second later, the raider was thrusting his Jet Skates upwards and slamming his feet roughly into Enforcers' chins. Before they could even react, he wrapped his hands around each of their palms and started to squeeze.

"Answer me!" The raider bellowed with berserk fury. "What exactly are you going to do?!"

There was a sickening crunch as every bone in the Enforcers' hands started to crack. There were furious slashes of air, drawing blood across the raider's body as the Axe Dials went haywire, but the man didn't seem to care. The Enforcers started to scream as their hands were crushed into pieces.

"You think Enel is a God?" The raider demanded. The Enforcers were too busy screaming in agony to answer. There was a crunch as the shells of the Axe Dials split and shattered. The slashes across the raider's body stopped. "Does that mean if I kill you, your souls will go to see him? Do you think you could pass on a message?"

In his iron-hard grip, their hands felt sickeningly limp. Still, he didn't stop tightening his grip until their arms were almost ripped out of their sockets. The raider's eyes were glowing with undiluted fury.

"Hmm?" He growled. "How about we go find out?"

With a snap, the raider yanked both men towards him, and then gripped their necks with both hands. Between the momentum and force, their necks snapped like a wooden splint. Both parties fell limply to the cloud.

Everything fell quiet. The raider glared downwards at their dead corpses, but the rage never stopped. His heart was pounding with pure indignation and fury.

"Damn you Enel…" He snarled wrathfully, staring up to the outline of the giant beanstalk in the distance. "You dare to come so close to my village…?"

Finally, the man reached a decision. He drew a small carving knife from his belt, and then crouched over the Enforcer's corpses. "Let's sent a message…" The raider muttered under his breath, raising his knife to their necks.

The flesh and bone was hard, but it was no more difficult than cutting a rough piece of meat. Within seconds, the raider's knife was carving through the beefy necks, all the while the blood oozed madly. The white cloud was stained red, and then the raider was lifting up two severed heads by the floppy ears and swinging them by his side as he stomped away.

I will dump the bodies in the middle of Lovely Street, the raider thought hatefully, with the words 'OUR LAND' carved into their chests.

As for the heads, I'll return them to Enel personally. And then I'll take his.

As the raider returned to his village, there was a flurry of activity rushing to greet him. At the front of the crowd, a small girl in a fur dress and cap rushed over to him.

"Wiper!" The girl shouted happily. "Did you find the spies alright?"

"Oh yes, Aisa," Wiper replied in a sullen voice, holding up the two severed heads. "They were exactly where you said they'd be."

Instantly, Aisa's eyes widened in shock as she saw the bloody heads, and he face turned sickly. The girl dropped to her knees and collapsed to vomit next to a tipi. Around her, murmurs of shock spread through the tribe. A black-haired woman with two bangs and a tight purple tunic charged furiously at Wiper.

"What do you think you're doing?" Laki exclaimed angrily, motioning at the heads with shock. Around her, many of the villagers looked sick at the sight. The Shandia warriors were made of stronger stuff, and mostly just stared quietly.

"Making a statement!" Wiper snapped angrily, shoving the woman out of the way. "It's time they learnt the consequences of crossing us!"

"In front of Aisa?"Laki demanded, pointing at the vomiting girl. Tears were running down Aisa's face. The severed heads had a sunken, haunted look to them as they dangling revoltingly from Wiper's bloody hands. "She's an twelve year old girl!"

"She's a warrior!" Wiper replied without hesitation. "She better toughen up quickly because they'll be a hell of a lot more severed heads before we retake our homeland!"

Laki gulped. The sight of the pure bloodthirsty rage in Wiper's eyes was frightening. The crowd parted to let her pass.

Laki was tall, young and extremely well-endowed. She was the beauty of the village. Her cleavage was nearly bursting out of her tunic, and her legs were strong, lean and long, but she was a good enough warrior to make any man think twice before acting inappropriately. Laki stood among the tribe's top five warriors, and had enough admiring glances that most of the tribe treat her like royalty.

But Wiper was the only man that never cared. He never even seemed to notice Laki's beauty or sexiness. He treated her in the exact same way he treated Braham or Genbo, and Laki couldn't help feel slightly irritated by that. Wiper's whole life was obsessed with the war against Enel, and there was no space for anything else.

'Berserker' Wiper. He well and truly deserved his name, Laki thought quietly.

Out of the centre tipi, an old man with a grey beard and moustache and a wrinkled face stared at Wiper with a deep scowl. The Shandia Chief wore a long, heavy robe and a wolf's head as cowl, decorated with red feathers, and carried a heavy staff. Despite his age, he still stood up straight and walked with confidence as he approached Wiper.

"What are you doing, Wiper?" The chief asked with concern, staring at the decapitated heads. Around them, a small crowd was gathering. "We do not behead our opponents. We are not savages."

Wiper's voice was venomous. "They forced us out of our home and into this wasteland! Still they hunt us! They would slay us without hesitation! I am fighting a war to reclaim what is ours and you defend them?"

The chief's eyes widened in shock. "This is barbaric!"

"Good!" Wiper snapped. "They are barbarians!"

Quiet dropped over the village. For all Wiper's fury, he had never spoken back to the chief in this way before. He had always been respectful to the old man's leadership. All respect was gone now, and everyone was staring at the conflict that raging in the village.

It's because of Kamakiri, Laki realised. Kamakiri was one of Wiper's most trusted lieutenants, and perhaps the closed thing that Wiper had to a friend. Then Kamakiri went raiding in the White Sea and never returned. Wiper had been getting more and more stressed ever since.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. Two weeks ago, it had been the four hundredth anniversary of the day that they'd been forced out of the homeland. Most of the tribe never even noticed the day, but Wiper had. The berserker had been practically pacing around the village, raiding right up to the edge of Upper Yard, eager for an excuse to finally launch a full-scale assault. Yet no excuse came, and Wiper just became more and more frustrated.

He felt like he had failed his ancestors, Laki thought with sudden dread, and now his best friend was probably dead. Wiper was at his breaking point, and she really hoped that the chief didn't push him over.

It was a long time before the chief spoke again. "Return the heads to the bodies," the chief ordered quietly. There was pure steel in his voice. "Bury the corpses, and then pray to the ancestors for forgiveness."

Wiper's eyes burned in outrage. "Burial?" He choked. "They don't deserve burial, and they sure as well don't deserve my prayers!"

"Your chief has spoken!" The old man ordered angrily.

"YOU ARE NOT MY CHIEF!" Wiper bellowed with fury. The statement rang in the air. No one else in the village dared to even to breath. "YOU ARE WEAK, OLD MAN!"

The old man was practically trembling with outrage. He brushed his robe away, revealing the sword resting at his hip. For as old as the chief was, he was still a warrior of Shandia. "How dare you?"

"No," Wiper snarled. "How dare you? How dare you hold us back from retaking our homeland! You refuse to allow us to attack Upper Yard! You would have even made peace with the ex-God!"

"Gan Fall is not our enemy!"


Laki could feel her heart racing in her chest, but she didn't dare speak. The mood in the village was so tense it could explode at any second. This was a direct challenge to the chief's authority, and Wiper was in no mood to back down. This was about to go very, very badly…

After a few seconds, Braham spoke up. The large man had his eyes almost completely hidden by a hat, and his voice was firm. His hands were on the pistols on his belt. "Wiper for chief."

The simple statement sent ripples through the tribe. A few seconds later, Gendo stepped forward, and the fat warrior echoed the call, clutching his heavy cannon tightly.

The villagers looked shocked and scared at the prospect, but Wiper had the undying support of the Shandia warriors, and they held the real influence in the tribe. Shortly, the chant in support of Wiper was echoing through the cloud wasteland. The villagers were too scared to oppose them. Laki was the only warrior that didn't speak up. Her fingers felt numb.

Wiper locked eyes with the chief determinedly. A flicker of nervousness passed through the old man's face as he faced down with the young raider. His hand clutched his sword tightly, but he didn't pull it out. Wiper was completely unarmed, without even his trademark bazooka, but still the berserker didn't look even mildly concerned. A challenge had been made. The chief could either fight to defend his position, or submit.

After what seemed like an eternity, the chief let go of his sword. The chief's staff dropped to the ground. His eyes relented. "No," he muttered so quietly it was barely audible. "I submit."

The old chief was no fool. The old man knew that he never stood a chance against Wiper. Wiper was Calgara's heir, and most certainly deserved that title.

The old man seemed to age twenty years as he scuttled away, letting his cowl drop to the ground. Wiper watched him go quietly, before bending over and picking up the staff, raising it over his head.

"Chief Wiper!" The victorious chanted vibrated through the village, and the warriors slammed their weapons on to the ground. The villagers looked scared, but the warriors were too stroked up to care. Braham and Gendo shouted louder than the rest.

Wiper looked like he was ready to explode. He was panting heavily, and his body was trembling as he raised the staff above his head. "Today!" Wiper proclaimed loudly. "We attack Upper Yard! We force the invaders out! We take the head of Enel!"

There were cheers of celebration. "Prepare every weapon and every fighting man!" Wiper promised loudly. "Today it ends!"

"Today, we ignite the light of Shandora!"

A few hours later, the village was still in frenzy. The news travelled like wildfire; Wiper was declaring an all-out war against Enel. This was not a raiding party anymore; Wiper had started an inferno. The village was heaving with raiders readying themselves for war.

Laki sat by Aisa's side, trying to calm the little girl who was still trembling. "Their 'voices' are so loud," Aisa muttered weakly. "How many of them are going to return?"

"It's going to be alright," Laki reassured her weakly, but she didn't believe it. The old chief had allowed Wiper to lead attacks against Enel, but had always kept enough warriors in reserve to protect the village and keep the future of Shandia safe. Wiper was risking everything on a full scale assault.

Aisa's eyes were wide. The little girl had always suffered due to her ability, and it hurt Laki to see her so vulnerable. After a few minutes, Laki stood up and charged towards Wiper's tent. The newly elected Shandorian chief had refused to take the traditional chief's tipi, but instead locked himself in his old one and hadn't been seen since.

Laki was one of the few people brave enough to charge into Wiper's tent when he wanted to be alone. As Laki pushed through the curtain, she was a bit surprised to find Wiper sitting cross-legged on a stool, staring at his bazooka intently.

"What do you want?" Wiper asked irritably, not even glancing upwards.

"I want to know what you're doing," Laki demanded, hands on her hip. "Chief."

Wiper glanced up at her with irritation. "I'm going to honour my ancestors, reclaim our homeland, finish a war," he bit down tightly on his cigarillo. "… and kill a God."

"You're going to get a lot of people killed."

"That's kind of the point," Wiper retorted, stroking the barrel of his bazooka.

"You're going to get a lot Shandorians killed," Laki clarified, her face twisting with annoyance. "We've attacked Upper Yard before, it's never gone well before."

"This time is different."

"How?" She demanded.

"Because of me," Wiper grunted, his voice unwavering. "Because we won't gave up until we win, and because I won't give up until we win."

Laki stared. "Is this about Kamakiri?" She said finally.

Wiper's eyes narrowed. "Kamakiri's dead." He said simply. Laki opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. "You know he's dead. If he was still alive, he would have returned by now. I don't know who killed him or why, but he's dead."

"So this is revenge then?" Laki demanded, her voice becoming quiet.

"No," Wiper snarled. "This is about justice. Kamakiri and all the others lived and died without ever even stepping foot in Shandora. This about ensuring that no other Shandorian ever dies outside of our homeland. I will kill the bastards that murdered Kamakiri, but first I'm going to ensure the future of my people."

His voice was so determined that Laki felt chills running down her spine. She remembered those stories of the past that they were told as children; of the great and glorious Shandora nation and their ancestors. Wiper never just listened to those stories, he lived by them. Wiper was a man that existed solely for the cause.

"I really hope you know what you're doing," Laki muttered quietly.

Wiper didn't respond straight away. Laki nodded quietly and turned to leave. Before she reached the door, Wiper spoke up. "Prepare Aisa, I want her to come with us," he ordered finally.

Laki stiffened. "She's a child!"

"We could use her ability," Wiper growled. "They have Mantra, we need to use it too. I want you to stick by her side at all times, keep her safe."

"It's too dangerous."

"She's a warrior of Shandora. It's time she fights." Wiper ordered in a voice that left no room for discussion. "And you'll be there to protect her."

She relented. "Fine," Laki snarled, turning to stomp away.

"Also…" Wiper seemed to hesitate, his voice becoming softer. "Go see the old chief. I don't want anything to happen to him."

Laki paused and faced him again. He refused to meet her eyes. He kept on staring at his bazooka intently. The chief's staff lay on the other side of the tent. "You're not using it?" She asked quietly, motioning to the staff.

Wiper shrugged. "It's not my style," he muttered. He gave one last look at his Burn Bazooka, polished to perfection, before he dropped it dismissively onto the ground. "I want to show you something," he said, standing up slowly.

Wiper walked across the room and headed straight to a heavy chest. He unlocked with great care, before lifting out a large object with a grunt of effort. Laki gasped with shock.

"What is that?" She muttered breathlessly.

"Do you remember that Reject Dial I found a few weeks ago?" Wiper explaining, heaving the weapon over his shoulder. "I figured I could do a lot more with that Dial than just use it my hand."

Wiper had always had a talent with heavy weaponry and dials. Wiper had built Gendo's heavy cannon, and Wiper's Burn Bazooka was commonly considered a work of art. Still, this was something else entirely.

It was a bazooka only because no one had yet to invent a word for something greater. The weapon was almost six feet long, and so heavy that even Wiper's monstrous strength could barely lift it. It was a beast of polished black steel, covered in black spikes and an ammunition cartridge that hung behind Wiper's head. It was so brutishly large and powerful that it seemed to dwarf Wiper's body, and Laki could see hundreds of Dials covering every surface.

"It's made out fifty Impact Dials, seventy-five Breath Dials, and thirty Flame Dials," Wiper explained. "I've even worked in some Flash Dials, Axe Dials, a couple of Jet Dials, and one Reject Dial in the centre. It weighs 450 kilograms, and I've stored so much power into it could destroy a small island."

Laki blinked, still staring dumbly at the enormous weapon. She had never seen so many Dials before in a single device – it wasn't a weapon, it was a large explosion waiting to happen. Dials were a precious commodity in the sky, and with a jolt Laki realised that Wiper must have taken all of those Dials from men he killed.

"And this…" Wiper continued with a smirk, lifting out another object. It was a large cannonball, coated in a blue sheen. "… this is a Seastone cannon ball. This is what makes this the weapon that's going to kill Enel."

Wiper was staring at his bazooka with a strangely gleeful smile. "I call it the God-Slayer."

My father is a coward.

That was the only thing that Conis could think as she paced around the empty sitting room. In the guest bedrooms, the pirates were still asleep as the morning sun flitted through wafting blinds.

She had known it for a long time. Conis never liked to think about it, but deep down she knew that Pagaya was nothing but a coward. Her father would open their doors to any stranger, too scared to deny any request, even though he knew fine well what God required of them.

It was the duty of all Skypieans to serve God Enel. It was their duty to turn over all intruders over to God for judgement. That was what Conis had been taught her entire life; anyone who didn't worship Enel was deserved Judgement. Anyone who betrayed God's commandments or opposed his rule deserved death.

Conis didn't like it. She knew that a lot of people never liked it. Skypieans were naturally kind and compassionate, but they were scared. No one dared to say it aloud, and people were hesitant to even think it to themselves, but it was the law.

Yet still, her father kept on inviting the intruders into their home, forcing Conis to smile and go along with it. And sooner or later, the White Berets would turn up and demand punishment. The intruders would refuse, and then Judgement would be required. After that, Conis would be forced to betray her guests and deliver them to Judgement, or else she risk Judgement on herself and everyone around her.

All the while, Pagaya would just quietly watch his daughter leading them to their deaths. He never talked about it, or took the responsibility himself, but he just watched her walk away. Later, Conis would be forced to live with the guilt that she had effectively killed those people herself. She would cry herself to sleep for weeks afterwards.

My father is coward, Conis thought bitterly, for what other reason could he have forced that duty onto me?

It had been happening more and more often now. Twice a month a new ship of criminals would wash up on their shore. Her 'duty' had devoured her. She would spent her time sitting on the beach, playing her harp, all the while wondering when she would be forced to kill the next group. There were must be dozen of corpses in Upper Yard that Conis had sent there.

Conis was a kind person. She wanted to warn them and she longed to scream at them to run away. The thought that she was responsible for their deaths haunted her.

The angel slowly looked at the sleeping bodies of her 'guests' through the open doorways, trying to blink back tears and stop her hand from trembling. At her feet, Su rubbed affectionately against her ankles. These pirates had been staying with them for two days now – much longer than anyone had ever done before. Normally the White Berets arrived by now.

They were all nice people. That's what made it even worse. It might have been easy if they were bad people. Conis tried to hide behind a polite smile, but she couldn't help but enjoy their company. She had spent the whole night wide awake, thinking constantly about what had to be done.

Despite her better knowledge, Conis was actually beginning to like the pirates. She might begin to truly care for them. If this went on for much longer, then her resolution might break. She might do something stupid, and then she might bring God's wrath down on them all. Something had to be done.

My father is coward, Conis thought miserably, so I'm the one who has to do it.

As the sun started to rise higher, the pirates began to wake up. Robin was the first one awake, getting up early so that no one noticed which room she stepped out of. The dark-haired beauty smiled pleasantly at Conis as she passed, and Conis forced a smile in return.

Shortly afterwards, the house became noisy as the others woke up. Zoro and Sanji started arguing as soon as they saw each other at the door, and instantly broke down in a petty quarrel about who had the worst night's sleep. Chopper was already squealing as Su chased him around the house, while Usopp and Carue ran after them to join in. No one but Conis noticed that Usopp was wearing the same clothes as he had last night.

Vivi and Nami woke up around the same time. Nami went to yell at Sanji and Zoro for being so loud, while Vivi dashed after Carue. The two girls were acting strangely wooden towards each other, Conis noted to herself.

Luffy was the last to wake. He yawned happily and grinned brightly as stepped out of his room. "That was a great nap!" He exclaimed cheerfully, turning to Conis. "This is a great house!"

Conis felt weirdly numb as she smiled back and muttered something in return. She was trying desperately to stop her hands from trembling. Luffy was already walking away, until Chopper crashed into him and begged the captain to save him from the 'vicious fox'. Sanji and Zoro were still arguing loudly over nothing in particular, but it was all good natured.

"Seriously, thank you so much for letting us stay," Nami said with appreciation, casting a disapproving look at the mess the men were making. "I promise that I'll make Usopp clean it all up before we leave."

"Hey!" Usopp shouted back before Conis. "Why me?"

"Isn't that your job?"

"No! I'm a sniper, not a cleaner!" Usopp shouted with outrage. Luffy was already giggling at him. "If you're so thankful, then why don't you pay her?"

"Don't suggest such silly things!" Nami snapped angrily, blushing slightly as she gripped her wallet. Sanji spun around between them, somehow managing to serenade Nami while yelling at Usopp at the same time. Meanwhile, Chopper had run to Robin as the cloud fox chased him playfully, and suddenly a dozen hands bloomed from the ground and started to tickle both Chopper and Su into submission.

Conis watched quietly, and felt the knot in her stomach tighten.

"Good morning, everyone," Conis heard the words come out of her mouth, but they felt strangely distant. "I've prepared breakfast for everyone. Please sit down."

"Ah!" Sanji sighed, bowing deeply as he approached Conis. "Your beauty and kindness burns a hole in my heart! Allow me to be the–"

With an exasperated sigh, Nami grabbed Sanji's ear and pulled the chef away. "Thank you so very much," Nami smiled, before turning around at the rest of the crew and screaming viciously. "Oi! Show some respect! We're in civilised company, jerks!"

If anything, the chaos grew louder. Conis stared with shock for a few minutes, before Vivi gently took her by the arm and pulled her away. "Don't worry," the princess offered quietly. "I'll help you with breakfast."

It was nearly fifteen minutes before the pirates calmed down, mostly due to of the delicious smell wafting from the kitchen. Luffy, Chopper, Usopp and even Carue were all slavering around the sitting room table like hungry puppies while Conis and Vivi carried in large plates of gently steaming Skypiean cuisine. Luffy was drooling with wide eyes as he watched the plates as if hypnotised, causing Robin to giggle quietly.

The meal looked delicious. It was a selection of fresh fish doused in creamy sauce, alongside fluffy bread and cut fruits. There was pumpkin soup, and a selection of pastries. Sanji looked amazed.

"You really are an angel…" Sanji muttered dreamily.

Usopp was the first to dart for a plate as Conis placed the meal on the table, but Sanji nearly stabbed his fork into his hand. The utensil slammed into the table and Usopp recoiled his limb in shock.

"Manners!" Sanji growled in a tone of voice that made everyone else pause. "Conis just cooked an incredible meal for us. You will give her the respect she deserves."

Conis had to drop the platter onto the table to stop her hands from trembling. Sanji stared over the pirates like an angry watchman, making sure that they behaved themselves. One by one, they all took a plate respectfully and waited until Conis sat down before touching it. The smell of delicious cloud fish was agonising.

Eventually, Conis dropped into her seat and gave a nervous smile. Sanji nodded, satisfied, and there was a battle of first-come-first-served as half the dishes seemed to instantly vanish into hungry mouths.

"So good!" Luffy sighed in pleasure through a mouthful of food. Sanji shot him a dark glance, and Luffy quickly swallowed the whole mouthful in a single guilty gulp.

The chef was quickly eating cutting through the fish as well, but he paused with every forkful, analysing the meal like an artist critiquing a masterpiece. "This is divine…" Sanji exhaled. "So many flavours! It tastes like cinnamon… garlic… and… hmm…"

His voice trailed off as highly sensitive taste buds analysed the fish. Next to Conis, Robin was politely cutting through the fish, but still taking large forkfuls. The archaeologist paused after the fourth forkful, suddenly looking worried. Luffy had already gulped this portion down, and everyone else was nearly halfway through.

Conis couldn't even meet their eyes. She had to hide her trembling hands under the table. She wasn't eating.

It was Sanji who realised first. As soon as he recognised the strange taste, his eyes widened in shock and he stared at Conis with utter disbelief. "Wait a second…" The chef murmured, his fork dropping from his hand. "Did you poison this…?"

The room went dead. Usopp's mouth plunged open and a lump of half eaten fish fell out. The tears were pouring from Conis' eyes and her hand shuddered more furiously than ever. Her heart constricted so tightly it felt like she was about to collapse.

"I'm so sorry…" Conis gasped, barely able to breathe. "I didn't have a choice…"

No one even had time to move before suddenly heavy objects burst through windows in a shower glass. Chairs crashed to the floor as the pirates stood upwards in shock, but within seconds there was a cloud of thick smoke filling the room.

The Flavour Dials scattered across the room, hissing as the sleeping gas streamed out of them. Only Conis recognised the Dials enough to hold her breath. For everyone else, between the tranquiliser in the fish and the sleeping gas, it was enough to knock everyone out. Sanji was still staring at Conis with disbelief as he collapsed onto the table, spilling the food onto the floor. The other bodies fell seconds later.

Strangely, it was Usopp that managed to stay awake the longest. The sniper stared at Conis with wide eyes while heavy footsteps charged in from outside the house. Conis was still crying heavily, her hands tightly over her mouth.

"Look after the Merry," Usopp begged Conis with a strained voice, just as the men burst through the door. "You've got to–"

Suddenly, the first of the Enforcers slammed his hand over Usopp's head. The marksman collapsed limply to the ground. Within seconds, the room was filled with men in white robes with short horns, all wearing gas masks over their mouths. Still, the sleeping gas was quickly drifting away through the open doors and windows.

Conis felt completely numb as she watched the Enforcers drag the pirates' unconscious bodies away. Slowly, an incredibly fat man appeared in the doorway, staring through the house critically. He was so obese he was almost round, too large to fit through the door, and his face was sunken into layers of fat. He wore a white toga with an orange sash, depicting his rank, and he stared at Vivi with beady, suspicious eyes.

Finally, the fat man spoke. "God thanks you for your loyalty," Commander Yama said simply, already turning away from the shell-shocked girl. His Enforcers had lifted the pirates over their backs and were carrying the unconscious bodies away. They even dragged the heavy body of Carue. "It has been noted."

In less than a minute, the Enforcers were already leaving, taking their new prisoners. Conis' living room was wrecked and messy. Still, she didn't even mouth. She barely even breathed.

"Confiscate their ship!" Yama ordered loudly from outside. "We shall make it a gift for God!"

As quickly as they arrived, the Enforcers vanished from Angel Island. Conis stood motionlessly in the wrecked room for a long time, before finally her knees buckled and she collapsed to the floor. The sound of her wailing tears could be heard throughout Angel Island, but all of her neighbours closed their windows and pretended not to hear.

Her father arrived a few hours later, back from whatever errand he had to run this time. Pagaya saw that the pirate ship was missing as he landed his Waver on the beach, and then walked solemnly up the stairs back to his house.

He stepped the broken door quietly, and looked at his ruined living room without a word. Conis was still sitting cross-legged on the floor; her eyes were red but she wasn't crying anymore.

A few seconds passed slowly. Finally, Pagaya spoke. For once, he didn't apologise. "What happened?" He asked in an impassive voice. "What did you do?"

"I did what I had to do," Conis muttered, refusing to even look at him.

A look of disapproval flashed across Pagaya's normally unreadable face. Still, he never said a word as he slowly walked past her and picked up a broom.

My father is a coward, Conis thought darkly.

Everything was dark and gloomy, but it was the roar of rushing water than that finally woke Sanji up. The chef blinked dizzily, trying to shake of the effects of the sleeping gas, just in time to see Usopp sitting across from him and waking up as well. Sanji could feel the air rushing by them.

There was a frantic quacking next to him. Sanji turned to sea Carue desperately flapping at them to wake up.

"Usopp?" Sanji murmured sleepily. "Carue? Where's Nami, Vivi and–"

There was a sudden crash that nearly caused them to capsize. Instantly, Carue was in Sanji's arms, the large duck desperately wrapped its wings around Sanji for support. They were on a small boat, being dragged by a fast current. Sanji was instantly awake, glancing to side to side. They were in a tunnel, but drifting through quickly. The boat was barely larger than a coffin, with no sail, and it was crashing roughly against the stone walls.

Sanji shoved Carue away into a pile of feathers and frightened squawking. Usopp was sitting up too.

"What's happening?" Usopp screamed loudly, the panic driving away any remaining tiredness. "Where are we? Where's everyone else? Where's the Merry?"

Sanji never had time to respond. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was quickly approaching. The chef's eyes widened in shock. "Hold on to something!" He ordered.

Usopp was already clinging tightly on to the boat. A second later, the sunlight was blinding them. "You don't think that we're going to fa –"

The screams erupted from their throats as suddenly the ship was tumbling straight downwards over the waterfall. They were so high up that the scenery blurred, and they couldn't even make out any details as they crashed downwards. It was hard to see anything when your eyes were popping out of your skull.

By the time the ship crashed into a pool of Sea Cloud, Carue and Usopp were both holding each other for comfort. Sanji felt the small boat threaten to crack, but there was already another current carrying their small boat along a milky trail of cloud.

A huge forest swallowed them. The trees were ancient and overgrown, and large bubbles of Island Cloud floated across the air.

"That's actual soil!" Sanji realised dumbly, trying to get to grip with his surroundings. "What's with this forest? And where are the girls…?"

Usopp was so scared that his teeth were clattering. Carue and Usopp were both trying to hide behind each other, but ended up just running in circles.

Slowly, a childish laugh echoed through the trees. "Welcome to my Ordeal of Balls. Ho, ho, hoooo! I am Satori of the Forest! You are facing God's Judgement!"

"Oi!" Sanji shouted angrily. A fat man with a bowling hat and large glasses appeared in the trees, dancing idly on the balls of floating cloud. "Where are the others? And more importantly, where are the women?"

"Oh they're facing the other Ordeals," Satori replied in a sing-song voice, still dancing by himself. "You should worry about yourselves! After all, if you can't beat me, you can't move forward!"

The fat man was laughing as he twirled to himself. His arms and legs were so short he looked like a ball. "Let me explain the rules!" He laughed. "The eight of you are being judged in pairs! We will only allow the final two to leave here alive!"

The priest's voice was practically gleeful. "If you want to survive, you've just got to last longer than the other six!"

"You bastard…!" Sanji growled. Usopp was still trembling with fear, but at least he was loading his slingshot. Carue was still running around in circles. Without warning, Sanji leapt out of the boat and span through the air, raising his leg in a vicious twirl that caused the air to hum.

"Ho ho!" Satori giggled lazily. "Rising right kick…"

Sanji's leg swished through nothing but air as Satori drifted out the way. Before Sanji could even react, the priest was thrusting his hand towards his hand towards Sanji's face. The air exploded, and suddenly the chef was sent flying backwards with a large explosion.

"I am one of the Almighty God Enel's priests!" Satori grinned widely. "Welcome to the forbidden holy land, Upper Yard. In the Lost Forest, the chance of survival is ten percent!"

He laughed twirling around and kicking a floating cloud towards the boat. Usopp and Carue dived out the way, just as the cloud exploded in a burst of flames. The ship kept on drifting away on the Milky Road. "This is the forest of illusion and surprise! It's the Ordeal of Balls!"

Sanji brushed off the dirt from his body, and slowly lit a cigarette. "I get it," the chef muttered, taking a deep breath before proclaiming loudly. "Nami, Vivi and Robin are waiting for me. This makes this an Ordeal of Love!"

There were a few seconds silence, followed by a dull thud as Usopp face-palmed.

The forest was dark and covered in smog. The ground was muddy and threatened to swallow them, while a dense fog hid everything from view. Thick vines hung from creepy tries, while the twisting roots covered the ground. In the darkness, there was the movement of creatures prowling the night, but the only sound was Chopper's teeth rattling heavily.

Next to him, Zoro lay over the ground. The swordsman was completely unresponsive as the reindeer shook him desperately. "ZORO!" Chopper squealed in a high pitched voice. "Wake up! Wake up! It's dark and swampy and there are weird things out there and I don't know what happened or where we are or where everyone's gone and I'm really –"

"Enough," Zoro groaned, pulling himself back to consciousness sleepily. Chopper sighed in relief. Zoro blinked twice before asking slowly. "Where are we?"

Chopper exploded. "Weren't you listening?! We're lost! Lost! And everyone's gone and I'm really, really –"

"Ok, I get it," Zoro grumbled irritably, pulling himself up. "If you're a pirate, then act like it! Never show fear or doubt!"

He said it with such confidence that Chopper's eyes glowed with admiration. Zoro's so cool, Chopper thought with relief; thank god I'm with him. If I just follow Zoro then nothing bad could ever happen to me…

There were footsteps from in the gloom. A tall figure appeared on a nearby branch, staring down on the pair imposingly. Chopper squealed and hugged Zoro's leg, but the swordsman just glared. "So you're awake," the figure murmured in a dark and threatening voice. In the gloom, a bulging pair of eyes looked down on them. "It's time for the Ordeal of Swamp to begin."

Zoro's hand was on his blades. "Who are you?" He demanded coldly.

"I am Sky Boss Gedatsu," the voice drawled, revealing a tall man with dark skin, a purple suit, and a rasta-styled dreadlocks. "You are guilty of being unfaithful to God's ruling, and this is your trial. You are in the Bogs of Despair, with a survival rate of fifty percent."

"Fifty percent?" Zoro grinned evilly, unsheathing his swords slightly. "I like those odds. Why don't you come down and try them?"

Gedatsu shook his head. His whole posture was wrong; it looked like his arms were tangled in a weird knot, while his legs were crossed. "You misunderstand," Gedatsu drawled. His voice sounded like he was having trouble speaking, as if he were constantly biting his tongue. "This is the Ordeal of Swamp – It is not a combat trial. Instead, the bogs are filled with Swamp Clouds hidden by smog. Make a wrong move and you will fall and suffocate to death. To pass the Ordeal, you need only succeed in exiting the bogs, but the safe paths are few and treacherous."

With that, Gedatsu simply turned and walked away, instantly disappearing into the darkness. Zoro stared for a long time, motionless. Chopper was silent too.

"Wait a minute…" The doctor muttered finally, staring at Zoro incredulously with panicked eyes. "Oh no! That means this is a maze!"

A vein bulged on the swordsman's forehead. "Why are you looking at me like that?!" Zoro demanded angrily.

Nami stirred uncomfortably, her body aching against the hard stone ground. Someone was shaking her shoulder and shouting her name in a panicked whisper. Nami dropped out of her slumber like a stone, and landed roughly back in reality.

"Nami!" Vivi hissed. "Wake up!"

"…Huh?" Nami groaned, but then the memories of sleeping gas filling the room returned to her. The navigator jumped upwards, her body wincing with pain. "What happened – ?"

"Shhh!" Vivi warned urgently. "Stay quiet."

The princess' eyes were bulging with fear. Nami was instantly alert and panicked, glancing at her environment. They were in a stone enclave, littered with old moss-covered ruins. The ground was barren and dirty, but it was real earth not Island Cloud. Nami stared in shock, before her head rose up to look at the horizon. The ancient ruins were slumped into a small hill, and in the distance an enormous beanstalk rose out of the ground and pierced into cloud.

"Where are we?" Nami asked in hushed voice. "And what's happening?"

"I don't know," Vivi replied worriedly.

"Then why are we whispering?"

Vivi looked frightened. "Because I think there's someone else out there."

Nami gulped. They were surrounded by stone blocks, half-buried into the ground, and carved with intricate patterns and characters that had faded over time. There was an eerily spooky silence over the ruins. Slowly and unwillingly, Nami started to inch forward.

She stopped, and turned back to Vivi. "You know…" Nami muttered. "You should go first."

"What?" Vivi gasped. "Why me?"

"Because you have a Devil fruit power," Nami reasoned. "So you should go first."

Vivi bit her lip with frustration, staring at the navigator angrily. "Stop being a coward!" The princess growled, already storming away. "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about–"

She barely made it three steps outside in the open before suddenly something twanged underfoot. The next second, a metal spear of cloud launched out of the ground and pierced straight through Vivi. Nami squealed in shock. Vivi just stared downwards at the gaping hole in her chest, which was bleeding sand.

"So you're finally up," A bored voice muttered from above. "Now the Ordeal of Iron can begin."

The navigator jumped around to see a muscular, bald man wearing large sunglasses, sitting cross-legged on top of a large stone tablet. He was carrying a massive sword with an extra-large hilt. "I am Skybreeder Ohm," the man intoned calmly. "And you should be grateful. Only by judgement can you find peace in death."

Behind him, there was a bloodthirsty snarl as a huge animal took position behind him. Nami glimpsed sharp fangs and bloodshot eyes, before the navigator grabbed Vivi and started to run. A few steps later, she felt herself hit another pressure pad and heard a spring as another trap was triggered. Nami dived to the ground, but still the sharp iron wire bit into her shoulder deeply.

"Think on your sins," Ohm preached devotedly, drawing his blade as he jumped down from the stone tablet. "For you are in the Ruins of Penance, and there is no chance of survival."

Robin staggered as she pulled herself up. The tranquiliser was still messing her dizzy, but she was focusing quickly. Slowly, she managed to make out a wide clearing surrounded by tall, branchless trees. The archaeologist was instantly alert, looking around for enemies and falling into a defensive position.

There was a figure lying in the dirt next to her. Robin felt her heart skip.

"Luffy!" She shouted urgently, running to the captain's side. Her fingers went to his chest, and she felt pure relief as she realised he was still breathing. "Wake up, Luffy, you've got to get up…"

He was still deeply unconscious. Luffy had ate too much of the breakfast; he was too heavily sedated. Robin tried to shake him awake as she dragged his limp body for cover. Luffy stirred slightly, but didn't wake up.

"Ah! You're awake." An arrogant voice shouted from the treetops. Robin turned to see a man with a pointed moustache and an aviator hat appearing instantly in a sudden blur of wings. He was riding an enormous purple feathered bird with large wings, a sharpened beak and eager yellow eyes. They appeared faster than Robin's eyes could follow. The man scowled down at the pair, heaving up a heavy lance. "One of you is, anyways."

Robin's arms were crossed as she stood defensively over Luffy. The man frowned, while the huge bird flapped slowly to stay stationary in the air with each stroke of its huge wings.

"Really, I'm supposed to wait until you're both awake before I start the Ordeal," the man admitted slowly, musing to himself. "But if no one finds out… well…."

In a blur, the huge animal rocketed downwards. The man held tightly onto the bird's back, his lance in hand as he dived towards Robin. The archaeologist never had time to stop him. She had to leap out the way just as the lance burned a path through the air.

Fluidly, the huge bird was swooped in a wide arc and reversed direction. The rider was charging again, laughing furiously, while Robin was left defenceless. "I am Sky Rider Shura, and you facing the Ordeal of–"

Instantly, Luffy's eyes shot opened. There was no dizziness or uncertainty; just the primal knowledge that his friend was in danger and he had to move. In a blur, Luffy was in front of Robin protectively, his leg shooting upwards in a vicious kick. Shura avoided it, but barely, while the bird darted upwards with a mighty beat of your wings

"You're awake too. A pity," Shura laughed smugly, looking down on them while his bird stopped in mid-air. "It'd be better if you died in your sleep. Well then, allow me to explain the rules of God's judgem –"

He never even managed to finish as suddenly Luffy leapt up off the ground. Shura barely managed to block a fierce uppercut with his lance.

"You know, you could have let me finished," Shura muttered with irritation, activating the Heat Dial on his lance.

The weapon glowed red-hot, burning into Luffy's flesh while the pirate tried to hang on. Luffy didn't even register the pain.

"I don't care," Luffy snarled furiously, tightening his grip. "Tell me where my friends are or I'll rip you in half."

Chapter Text

The battleship lagged low in the water as it crept sluggishly through the Sea Cloud. It hadn't been a good week for the marines. The battleship was a beast of steel and heavy artillery, and the Sea Cloud simply wasn't dense enough for it float on properly. The ship had been damaged severely in the knock-up stream, and it had been sinking slowly ever since. Even after haphazard repairs and abandoning excess weight, the ship was still falling to pieces.

Smoker was at the front of the prow, on his familiar position, staring out over the spotless sea of white blue clouds. In the distance, a large lump of darkness was gradually coming into view. The frown on Smoker's face seemed darker than ever.

"How's the prisoner?" The captain asked finally, not turning to face the lieutenant approaching from behind him.

"Nervous," Tashigi admitted quietly. "But she's talking."

Smoker nodded. A lot of his men, Tashigi included, had been nervous to arrest the defenceless, wrinkly old woman standing at Heaven's Gate. The gatekeeper, Amazon, had seemed like the epitome of the innocent grandmother.

Still, Smoker hadn't been fooled. He had already been pre-warned about this place by the old 'Knight of the Sky' that had flew by, and when Amazon told them that they could pass without paying, every instinct the captain had flared up. Smoker recognised a scam when he saw one, and so he had ordered his men to arrest the old woman.

It never took much interrogation before Amazon told them everything. She confirmed everything that Gan Fall had said. There was a tyrannical overlord in Skypiea calling himself 'God', and forcing everyone to worship with fear of death. Smoker had never really been one for worshipping anything.

In this distance, the outline of an island floating in the sky came into view. Upper Yard, the forbidden holy land, the old gatekeeper had warned. Smoker's scowl just deepened.

"Are you sure about this, sir?" Tashigi asked finally, staring at the overgrown island. In the distance, a huge beanstalk pierced the sky

"Don't ask silly questions, Tashigi."

She bristled slightly. A lot of the marines were nervous and she couldn't blame them. They had ended up ten thousand meters in the sky, in a place where the World Government had no authority. On the first day, a raider with a bull's mask and a bazooka had nearly destroyed the ship singlehandedly. Now, rumours had quickly spread that they were going to arrest God, and the mood had become tense.

"We're ten thousand meters away from the world," Tashigi pressed nervously. "We can't even get a signal on our transponder snails. There's no backup, and you're going to go arrest the man who rules this place. The Marines have no authority up here."

Smoker glanced at her darkly. "Justice has authority everywhere."

From across the deck, lounging in the sun, Captain Hina sighed gently. "Don't bother arguing when he gets like this, Tashigi," she said sympathetically. "Hina learned long ago that you can't stop him when he starts go on about 'Justice'."

Tashigi stared at her captain with her hands on her hips, frowning. Finally, she spoke quietly. "Are you sure this is actually about Justice, Captain?"

He didn't respond. Tashigi continued softly, "You don't think that you're able to capture the Straw Hats in time, do you?" Smoker twitched slightly, but didn't reply. "Instead, you need to do something big and bold to distract the higher-ups from that failure. What's the plan here – claim Skypiea for the World Government singlehandedly?"

It was a long time before the Captain answered. He took a deep breath of one of his cigars. He'd been smoking more of them than ever recently. "Go inspect the cannon deck, Tashigi," Smoker ordered woodenly. "And do not question my orders again."

The command hung in the air, like a line that could not be crossed. Slowly, Tashigi nodded and started to walk away. Hina simply stared at Smoker suspiciously.

"You realise that there isn't any law up here, right?" Hina said quietly.

Smoker grunted, taking a deep breath of his cigar. "There is now."

The tribunal was less than a week away. A Vice Admiral was already on their way to apprehend Smoker and Tashigi. If they weren't present, on the Blue Sea, by then, they would be guilty of open defiance against an official command. If they didn't have Monkey D. Luffy by then, there would be no chance of surviving the tribunal. For the first time in his career, Smoker was left seriously doubting the Marine methodology.

Despite everything, Smoker loved the Marines. He had dreamt of being a Marine Admiral ever since he was a child, and even underneath his rebellious attitude, that dream had never faded. Now, he was trapped between loyalty to the Marines and loyalty to his own subordinates. It was a conflict between Marine ideology and his personal morality. The internal debate felt like it was slowly choking him.

Still, Smoker was a soldier. He needed something to do – he needed an enemy to fight.

The dark shadows of Upper Yard towered over the ship. The island was an enormous slab of dirt and soil floating on the clouds, loomed over by trees and roots that twisted into the sky. An ominous shiver passed through the ship as they approached.

"Prepare the anchor!" Smoker yelled loudly, casting any doubts to one side. "Arm up and ready a raiding party! I want a beachhead established by the next hour, and then we march up to God's Shrine!"

At once, the crew launched into action. Every marine was shambling around the deck, frantically busy while carrying a rifle over their shoulder. Hina cast a cool glance over Smoker. "Last chance to back down," she muttered so quietly that no one else but he could hear it.

He didn't seem to respond. Instead, the captain turned to Tashigi. "Lieutenant!" He snapped. "I want you to lead the expedition party. Get ready."

Smoker glanced at Hina with irritation. The tall, pink-blond haired woman seemed completely unfazed. "Hina," Smoker muttered in a quieter, more polite tone of voice. "Please take your men and prepare the rear guard."

She nodded calmly; standing with her hands on her hips, waiting patiently.

"And make sure you bring the Seastone handcuffs and weapons," Smoker added.

"Alright," she replied softly. "Hina has one question though; what exactly are you intending to do about the Straw Hats?"

"First, I'll secure Upper Yard," Smoker grimaced. "From what I hear, this 'God' needs to be brought to justice more than anyone. I'll find the Straw Hats later. In fact, I suspect that they're already on this island."

"What makes you say that?"

Smoker raised an eyebrow. "You don't know those pirates very well, do you?" He could say with absolute certainty that wherever there was trouble, he would find Monkey D. Luffy at the centre of it.

Hina gave him a lingering glance as casually walked by and headed below deck, her hourglass figure swaying beautifully. As soon as she started to move, Fullbody and Jango started circling and dancing around her in appreciation. The captain never seemed to mind.

Smoker only grunted as he watched men frantically rushing around. Upper Yard was getting close now, and solid brick of earth dominating everything. Despite their desertion and casualties, the battleship still had nearly five hundred men on board. From what he heard, that was a number almost as great as the whole population of Skypiea.

"Justice has authority everywhere," Smoker repeated quietly, just as grapples were thrown and the battleship was lashed onto island.

Fifteen minutes later, the marines were already moving out. Cannons and artillery were heaved out on to the island, while the men rushed by and started unpacking and preparing for battle. Smoker was taking no chances. As far as he was concerned, everyone on this island was a fugitive from the law.

The captain stood at the head of the column. There were hundreds of men ready to storm Upper Yard and capture God, but he was still nervous. The forest was large, twisted and uninviting. Smoker really wished he still had his Seastone jitte, but he had made do with a heavy baton with half of pair of a Seastone handcuffs attached to the end. It was a clumsy, makeshift weapon, but it would do against a Devil fruit user.

Beneath the canopy of the trees, the heat was sweltering. Slowly, Smoker shrugged off his jacket, revealing a bare and chiselled chest as he surveyed the forest. His hands were twitching as he felt the aura of danger surround the place. After a few minutes, Smoker's ears started to twitch as he heard the faint sound of chewing emerge from the tree branches.

"Well, this is interesting." A vaguely amused but mostly bored voice murmured from above. "I've never had so many visitors before."

In an instant, Smoker's baton was ready in his hand. Above him, a tall, muscular man; bare-chested with loose, orange pants and a blue, flowing sash. The man had ear lobes that stretched to his torso with golden earrings, and four large Tomoe drums attached with a large ring to his back. He was staring at the small army behind Smoker with a light smile and an unconcerned expression, all the while chewing absentmindedly on an apple.

Smoker never heard him approach, and Smoker had good ears. That was worrying enough for Smoker to be cautious. "We are Marines of the World Government," Smoker replied firmly. "I am Captain Smoker, and currently in hot pursuit of known pirates."

The man just took a large bite out of the apple, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. "How curious… it's funny to see little insects that think they're important."

"…And you are?" Smoker growled.

The man smirked widely, but his eyes were still bored. "God."

"I see," the Captain nodded. Around him, the marines were already taking formation. Dozens of rifles were pointed upwards at the intruder, and instantly Tashigi and Hina were at his side. Smoker cracked his neck and flexed his shoulders. "Then you're under arrest!"

"Yaaa ha ha ha ha ha!" Enel laughed loudly. There was a golden staff in his hand, swinging idly, but otherwise he didn't look concerned. There was a large crack as the cannons were loaded and pointed up at him.

"And on what charges?" Enel asked curiously, in the same voice one would use to humour a toddler.

"Pissing me off!" Smoker snarled. "I'll deal with anything more than that when you're in custody."

Enel was giggling now. Around him, more and more marines were readying for battle. There was a sea of rifles pointed up towards him. "You are outnumbered five hundred to one," Smoker warned.

"Four hundred and seventy two," Enel corrected idly, still lounging on the tree branch.

Smoker's frown deepened. Next to him, Hina nodded in preparation. They had the Seastone weapons ready. "This is your last chance!" Smoker yelled. "Surrender or we will open fire."

"How arrogant…!" Enel exclaimed mockingly, but his eyes started to look a bit annoyed. "Who are you to challenge God?"

"I am the law." Smoker's voice was bloodthirsty.

That caused Enel to practically fall over in a fit of laughter. The apple dropped to the ground slowly. "No…" Enel muttered darkly. "I am the only law here."

Without warning, the air started to crackle with power. Smoker barely had time flinch before suddenly a stream of blindingly bright light burst from Enel's fingertips. The sound of God's laughter was deafening.

The ground seemed to explode in heat and light, disintegrating everything in its path. Smoker darted right, while Hina and Tashigi went left. Dozens of bullets skittered into the air, but Enel had already disappeared.

"You dare to confront me?" Enel was suddenly standing right behind Smoker, whispering in his ear. The Captain turned around and tried to attack, but there were already several bursts of lightning shooting from his fingertips.

Smoker's body disintegrated into smoke instinctively, and the lightning flew through him harmlessly. Enel's eyes widened in surprise slightly, and Smoker brought down the Seastone baton onto Enel's head. Enel blocked the baton with his golden staff easily, before shooting another, even brighter, burst of power at the Captain. Again, it phased through the smoke easily.

"How interesting…" Enel mused, but suddenly he didn't look so amused.

Smoker attacked with another lunge, yet Enel was blocking before Smoker even started moving. More bullets flew through Enel harmlessly, while the marines recovered their formation.

"He's a Logia!" Smoker ordered loudly. "Take cover and stick to the formation. Seastone bullets and weapons only!"

A dark glance flashed through Enel's face. "Imprudence!"

Another hail of bullets dashed through the air. This time, Enel never dared to let them phase through him. Instead, he idly dodged to the side, using his Mantra to avoid every attack. There was a burst as several Seastone nets fired towards him, yet in a flash of lightning he disappeared from sight.

"Captain!" Tashigi shouted, bursting to his side with her sword in one hand and a pair of Seastone cuffs in the other. Around them, the air was crackling with electricity.

"Get out of here, Tashigi!" Smoker bellowed. "This guy is dangerous!"

"The first sensible thing you've said all day," Enel muttered, reappearing in the tree branches again. "But it is too late now."

With a wave of his hand, the air seemed to split open. Suddenly, a blinding arc of electricity burst from his body, cutting through the ground like a hot knife through butter. Smoker screamed in shock as his men were swallowed by the bursting light. The glowing arc swung around the ground leaving a path of devastation, burning through the cannons and destroying their supplies.

Enel never stopped there. He was laughing as he pulled his arms upwards, and the streaming lightning flashed towards the battleship. The metal hull burned red for half a second before it was split like paper. The wood burst into flames but the lightning just shredded everything in its path. Marines dived overboard for cover, but then the next moment the whole battleship exploded into debris and turned to ash.

"You bastard!" Smoker yelled angrily. The smell of burning flesh was sickening. The captain's body turned to smoke and then he was shooting upwards in a plume of white, flinging his baton around.

"Bad things happen to those who defy God," Enel muttered. His eyes flashed and then Smoker's baton exploded into smouldering metal. The explosion never hurt the captain, yet the Seastone burnt into cinders. Smoker snarled and lashed out with his fist instead, but smoke phased uselessly through lightning.

Below, Hina was already rallying the rest of her men. Whatever Seastone weaponry they had was being rapidly readied. Enel flashed Smoker a mocking grin before he disappeared into electricity, reappearing right next to Captain Hina.

She reacted quickly. At once, her leg flashed upwards and transformed into iron manacles, yet it phased through Enel body. "You think just because you have a Devil fruit that you are my equal?" Enel muttered coldly. "Allow me to show you the power of a God…"

Casually, he flicked out a finger. The air exploded and Hina collapsed to the ground before she could even scream. Her body was burnt and smouldering.

Tashigi was next. She attacked first with the Seastone handcuffs, before following it up with a vicious lunge. Enel only needed to glance at her, and then the lightning sent her flying.

Around him, the air started to crackle before the ground detonated with brilliant white light. The marines were running helplessly for cover as the electricity swallowed them.

In an instant, the only thing that was left was blackened earth and flaming trees. Within a minute, Enel had transformed the beach into a warzone. No, it was a massacre.

The battleship was slowly sinking in the ocean. The ship had been completely and utterly destroyed, transformed to into cinder and eradicated, all with a flicker of Enel's hand. Smoker could see marines swimming ashore, and others running for cover, but otherwise Smoker was the only one still standing.

"How dare you?!" Smoker raged, firing a fist in a plume of smoke. Enel never even bothered dodging, but instead simply unleashed another wave of lightning that phased harmlessly through Smoker's body.

"I am God," Enel replied simply, completely unconcerned again. "It is my divine right to kill anyone I see fit."

Smoker could only growl as he launched another wave of furious but futile attacks. The smoke swirled around him, trying to wrap itself around Enel's flickering body.

"I see…" Enel murmured. "So you are 'Smoke', then?"

Smoker's attack never paused. A tendril of smoke tried to pick up a Seastone weapon, but Enel just blasted it out of his hand.

"Not all Logias are created equal," Enel continued, even as the white cloud of smoke swirled around him. "There is an order of superiority in everything."

The air started to crackle again, burning as millions of volts were pumped out of Enel's body.

"'Smoke' could never defeat 'Thunder'!" The God yelled, just as the air started to glow red hot with power.

A sphere of light swallowed Smoker's dematerialised body. So much power was unleashed that the air itself started to hiss and breakdown. Every particle around Enel burst and detonated from the ionising voltage. The ground obliterated into nothing. Not even the smoke stood a chance. Smoker couldn't even scream as his whole body felt like it was on fire.

Smoker was sent helplessly firing through the air. His smoke form was gone, and instead a body of flesh and blood skidded across the ground before crashing painfully into a tree. His skin felt like it had been torched. His nerves were screaming like they were on fire, and his limbs weren't responding.

Enel was suddenly standing over him, pressing his golden staff against Smoker's throat. The captain tried to dematerialise, but couldn't.

"Don't bother," Enel said dismissively, but he was panting slightly from exertion. "Your smoke form has been disintegrated. Even Logias have their limits, especially inferior abilities like yours."

A hoarse cry erupted from Smoker's throat as the golden staff pushed further. Smoker could barely breathe. Enel slowly crouched next to him, all arrogance gone but instead replaced by a thoughtful curiosity.

"Still…" Enel mused. "Tell me… are there many Logias such as yourself in the Blue Sea?"

Smoker managed to gasp roughly, "Yes. Hundreds."

Enel didn't look amused anymore. "How interesting…"

Finally, Smoker collapsed into unconsciousness from lack of air. Enel kept the staff pressed against his throat for a while, staring around at the wrecked Marine encampment. Enel was well within his rights to kill them all. They intruded on his Holy Land, and defied the will of God.

Still, there was something that held him back. Enel remembered how miserable he had been for last two weeks…

"Four hundred and seventy two…" Enel pondered thoughtfully. Through his Mantra, he could feel that most of the marines were still alive. Injured and stranded, but still breathing.

A slow smile crept over Enel's face. He carefully released the pressure from the staff, and Smoker gasped for air but still couldn't move. Enel was already walking away.

"Oh, this is going to be fun," Enel muttered, before disappearing in a flash of lightning.

The light darted across the sky. The next second, Enel reappeared on God's shrine, walking happily through the buildings.

"God Almighty," Gode bowed devotedly. "How may I serve?"

They were all staring at Enel now. There was something about his bright smile that made them all uneasy. Enel snatched up an apple from one of the fruit baskets, biting through it with a loud crunch.

"Today is a good day!" Enel exclaimed happily. "Let us count!"

The bearded servant looked confused, but didn't to interrupt. Enel was leaning back on his throne, counting on his fingers.

"I count four priests, and forty-eight Enforcers," Enel mused. "There are twenty-seven Shandorians invading from the South, and four hundred and seventy two soldiers from the Blue Sea, though I'm not sure how many will still be able fight…"

"Four hundred and seventy two?" Gode gasped in shock, but Enel never seemed to hear him.

"And then there are eight pirates in Ordeals right now. Also, I can feel three mercenaries approaching Angel Island…" Enel added up the numbers with his fingers. "Hmm… Still not enough."

He snapped his fingers at Gode. "I've got it!" Enel smirked. "We still have the prisoners from the old God's Enforcers, right?"

"Yes, your holiness," Gode replied quickly, bowing his head. Enel had kept the defeated army of Skypiea as prisoners for the last six years, forcing them to work on his ship. Now, Maxim was complete and the prisoners were wasting away in their cells.

"Good," Enel nodded. "I want you to release them all. Give them a good meal and a weapon, and then let them loose into the forest."

"But your–!"

Enel smile was not one which would tolerate any argument. Gode gulped and nodded his head. "It will be done, your holiness."

"That adds another thirty men," Enel said approvingly. "Hopefully that'll convince Gan Fall and whatever pathetic forces he can muster to take part too. Also, sent word to Angel Island. I want the White Berets in Upper Yard too. I suppose that'll have to do."

Despite himself, the confusion of Gode's face was clear. "Why?" The bearded man muttered with confusion.

"Because I am a God," Enel laughed loudly. "And God demands sacrifice!"

He leant back even further on his throne, until he was staring straight upwards at the sky. Enel took a large gulp out of the apple. "I've just had a really good idea for a game!"

Conis stood quietly in her house, staring at the upturned dinner table and the food that stained the carpet. She knew that she needed to clean up, but she couldn't. Instead, Conis just stood completely still and quiet. The tears had long since dried, but the pain never faded. The bad thoughts oozing around in her head were crippling.

Her sky fox Su rubbed comfortingly against Conis' leg, but not even the sweet fox could help against the despair inside. Her father had left for some reason, but Conis didn't care. Every time she closed her eyes, she remembered the smiles of the people she just sentenced to death…

Outside, Conis heard shouts and scream echo across Angel Island. Something was happening across Skypiea and the citizens were in panic, but Conis never had the motivation to go find out what.

The house seemed to shake as thunderous footsteps approached. Slowly, Conis looked upwards, just to see a large shadow of extremely obese man block out the sun. For the second time in one morning, Yama, commander of God's Enforcers, stood in her doorway. The young girl met the fat man's beady eyes, but didn't say anything.

"Your name is Conis, correct?" Yama said finally in a dull voice, his triple chin wobbling as he spoke. He had to squeeze to fit through the door. "I've heard a lot about you recently."

After a few seconds, Conis found her voice. "Excuse me?" She muttered weakly.

"Your devotion to Almighty God Enel has been noticed," Yama drawled. "You have sent an impressive number of heretics to him over the years for Judgement. I have come to reward you for your loyalty."

Reward? Conis thought dumbly. The very idea of being praised for what she did was revolting. Still, Yama continued slowly.

"You have been invited to God's Shrine, in the Holy Land," Yama explained solemnly. "You have the privilege of serving God Enel in person, and living in his presence with the other devotees."

Conis never responded for a long time. Yama's dark eyes narrowed. "Serving God Almighty is a great honour," Yama added, in a tone that said very clearly that there was no choice here.

After a couple of seconds, Conis nodded. Her body was too numb to feel anything. In a way, it was good that this happened. After all those that she had condemned to death, it was only fitting that she faced the same death in Upper Yard.

God will see the heresy in my mind, and execute me for it, Conis thought emotionlessly as she walked towards Yama. It's what I deserve.

The beefy man watched her suspiciously as he led her out the door. Conis only paused to push Su inside and shut the door firmly. The sky fox whined and scratched at the door, but Conis just walked away. Conis never wanted Su following where she was heading.

On the other side of Angel Island, a Waver roared through the calm Sea Clouds. McKinley crashed into the beach roughly, before darting upwards to the meeting place with panic.

"There's new from Upper Yard!" The captain shouted loudly as he scrambled up the beach. "The White Berets have all been summoned to Upper Yard, and –"

He stopped as he saw Gan Fall sitting cross-legged on the ground, in full armour. Pagaya was by his side, attaching Dials into a gauntlet, while Pierre, in horse form, was scratching at the ground impatiently.

There were heavy shadows over the old man's eyes, and the scowl on his face was one of a man preparing for war. Over Gan Fall's back hung a large, bulky backpack that seemed to dwarf the scrawny old man. Gan Fall was no longer wearing his dark blue cloak, but instead had the huge backpack that was fastened securely on to his shoulders.

"What's in the bag?" McKinley asked dumbly. Pagaya was carefully adjusting Gan Fall's Impact Dial, not paying a second glance to the Captain.

"Insurance," Gan Fall replied, without explaining anything more. He locked eyes with McKinley. "Tell me, what is Enel doing now?"

McKinley gulped. "The White Berets have been called into Upper Yard," the Captain explained. "I will have to return shortly to avoid suspicion. Also, there are rumours that Enel has released all of the prisoners.

Gan Fall bristled. Gan Fall had spent the last six years trying to smuggle his old Enforcers out of Enel's concentration camp. If Enel had released them all now, it could only mean…

"Enel is trying to draw me out," Gan Fall decided solemnly. "And if I want to save my men, I cannot refuse."

His face was dark as he mused to himself. "Perhaps this is for the best. It is a confrontation that should have happened long ago…" Gan Fall turned to Pagaya. "Ready my weapons, and then I must go to Upper Yard."

"There's more news," McKinley continued, casting a nervous glance to Paguya. "Commander Yama was in town. Apparently he sailed away on the pirate's ship, but he took your daughter with him. Conis left for Upper Yard."

Pagaya didn't visibly respond. The Dial mechanic's face was as impassive as always. Gan Fall sighed. "That is troubling," Gan Fall admitted uneasily. "Let us not be too hasty. This requires careful deliberation and…"

His voice trailed off as the sound of a Waver blared into life. Both McKinley and Gan Fall turned in shock, just to see Pagaya bursting off into the distance, the Waver skirting full-speed over the cloud. Pagaya left without so much as an apology, shooting directly towards Upper Yard.

There was a bazooka hanging across Pagaya's back.

The Ordeal of Swamp…

"God dammit!" Zoro cursed as his foot slipped into the swamp. The sticky cloud enveloped his shoe. "I will kill you God! I will kill you for putting me through this!"

"But I told you to walk in a straight line!" Chopper screamed frantically. "All you had to do was follow me in a straight line! How could you get lost in a straight line?!"

"Shut up!" Zoro snapped angrily, trying to pull himself out. "Straight lines are hard!"

"No they're not!" Chopper shrieked in a high pitched voice. "They're straight!"

A vein on Zoro's head bulged as he tried to yank his foot out of the swamp. The swamp was made out of a thick cloud, as sticky as paste and so lightweight it practically floated on the air. The swamp cloud seemed to ooze out of the darkness. It took Chopper's help to try and pull him out, and even then his foot was only released when Zoro's shoe slipped off. There was a sickening ooze as the shoe was swallowed by the swampy cloud.

Zoro gritted his teeth with frustration. The Ordeal was already wearing him down. The swamp was dark and foggy, filled with swamp cloud, tall trees and twisting roots. It was like the swamp was moving around him every step he took. It was so eerily creepy that whatever little direction Zoro had was completely swallowed.

And then there were the animals crawling around him. In the last half an hour, Zoro had already faced enormous snakes as big as horses, vicious sky sharks swimming around the bogs, and huge, flat crocodiles lurking in the fog. They all seemed to attack from behind, and Zoro's patience had already been lost somewhere in the darkness.

Chopper stared at Zoro incredulously. If it wasn't for the doctor, Zoro would have already been dead ten times over. Chopper took the lead, cautiously scouting out every path, never going out of sight of the swordsman, and taking extreme care with every step. Somehow, between Zoro's stubbornness and obliviousness, he had already walked into the swamp three different times, leaving a frantic Chopper to try and pull Zoro out each time.

"How can you get so lost?" Chopper begged with despair. "Just follow me. That's all you have to do. Just don't wander off, and follow me."

"I get it already," Zoro growled, walking off with annoyance.

"You're going the wrong way!" Chopper screeched loudly. Zoro stopped suddenly, just as large python lunged out at him from behind. Zoro barely managed to catch the snake's jaws just before it bit in with poisonous fangs, but then he lost his footing and tumbled backwards into the darkness.

Chopper squealed, already transforming into his Heavy Point to try and pull Zoro out. The cloud was so soft that the suction just pulled Zoro in deeper. It took five panicked minutes before Chopper heaved the gasping Zoro out, and another few minutes to unwrap the python constricting his body.

By the time he was done, both Zoro and Chopper collapsed, out of breath. Around them, the swamp seemed to stir. Up above, hidden by the gloom, there was a weird chirping that sounded almost mocking.

"Are you doing this on purpose?" Chopper gasped eventually, trembling slightly. The Ordeal of Swamp was scary enough. Trying to escape it with Zoro was nothing short of nerve wrecking. "How can you not even follow a simple direction?"

"Shut up," Zoro snarled, not meeting Chopper's eyes. If anything, he seemed a little embarrassed.

There was a moment's quiet.

Finally, Chopper asked, "Do you want to hold my hand?"

Zoro's face seemed to contort with a mixture of expressions. The swordsman glanced side to side, making sure that a blonde chef was nowhere in view. He didn't think he could ever live it down if anyone found out…

After several seconds, Zoro relented. "Alright," he mumbled under his breath, holding out his hand unwillingly. Chopper smiled eagerly, and grabbed tightly hold of Zoro with a smooth hoof before pulling him up.

Chopper kept on staring at the swordsman like a strict parent eyeing up a disrespectful child. The small doctor kept a tight hold of Zoro's hand with both hooves, forcing Zoro to walk slumped over. Chopper seemed much more relaxed.

Zoro just let himself get pulled away moodily. He was already filing this experience under 'Events which will not be remembered'.

The Ordeal of Iron…

With a tremendous crash, a whip of solid iron cloud smashed through the ground. The ruins exploded in a hail of rubble and stone, just as Nami dived for cover. The iron cloud seemed to twist like a snake after her, writhing in mid-air and snapping towards her. Nami barely managed to roll out the way, and then skip as the ground erupted in a barbed trap.

"There are traps everywhere!" Nami shouted loudly, while the blade twisted after her again. Ohm stood on the ruins, expertly slashing the large pommel backwards and forward while the stream of cloud flickered at his command. Even at this distance, Nami could barely avoid Ohm's attacks. It was like the priest knew exactly which way she was going to dodge.

"Find somewhere to hide!" Vivi shouted back, gathering the sand in the palm of her hand. Her other hand touched gingerly to the centre of her chest, right above her breasts, feeling the hole that was quickly filling up with sand. It was the first time she'd had her Logia intangibility tested like that. She knew that she was capable of dematerialising around attacks, but it was a completely different experience to look down and see straight through her body. If there had been time, Vivi would be freaking out.

Vivi launch a hail of sand, every grain chopping through air like a buzz saw. Ohm was reacting even before she launched the attack, drawing up his cloud sword and forming an iron wall in front of him. The sand cut a large gouge into the cloud, but didn't pierce through.

"That power of yours is annoying," Ohm commented with irritation. He flicked his wrist and the iron wall disappeared, instantly reforming into an iron whip that slashed towards Vivi. The princess managed to block the first strike with her sand, yet the second took her completely off-guard, slamming through the right side of her body.

There wasn't any pain, just a phantom numbness. Vivi blinked and then suddenly she was missing her right arm and leg, but the severed body parts had already dematerialised into sand. Suddenly, she was missing half of her limbs and she tumbled to the ground, but the sand was already reforming her body. The sensation of her bones and nerves rematerializing was beyond weird.

The cloud blade slashed down again, and Vivi rolled on instinct. The iron smashed the ground open, Vivi narrowly got out the way. Her light blue hair rolled freely behind her, only for the tips to be sliced off by the sword. Vivi gasped in shock, but her hair was being reformed from sand too. Even her clothes appeared completely intact.

"You're going to be a stubborn one to kill," Ohm muttered, pointing the pommel at Vivi. He twisted the handle expertly, and in an instant the cloud shot out like a spear. Vivi tried to run, but Ohm pre-empted her movements. In under a second, there were three holes pierced through her body, and sand pouring out of her wounds.

Vivi was gasping deeply from shock, but there wasn't even any pain. She tried to lash out again with waves of sand, but Ohm dodged them all easily. Grunting furiously, Vivi summoned a sandstorm around her, obscuring everything with spinning orange sand, only to lash out with a wide blade of sand. Even when he couldn't see anything, Ohm easily dodged the attack, and replied with a vicious onslaught of his own.

She had never imagined what a Logia power was like before. Crocodile had made using the Sand Sand fruit look easy, but it wasn't. Vivi could feel the sand churning inside of her as she drew on it more and more. It was vicious, nasty and extremely powerful. It was a power that wanted to consume everything. Trying to harness it was like trying to restrain a sandstorm.

Vivi threw out another blade of sand, but this was barely half the size of the others. Her body was trembling trying to control the power, while the sand started to churn wildly. Vivi's heart pounded furiously, but it wasn't working. It was like an ocean of sand was trying to force its way through her, and it was tearing her apart trying to control it. Beneath her feet, the earth was transforming into pure sand, yet Vivi couldn't control it anymore.

Vivi tried to push more and more power out of her, but it was uncontrollable. She had never thought of the strain a Logia power would put on the user.

The image of scarred, smirking face with a cigar flashed in front of her eyes. Crocodile would have been able to beat this man…

A tremble of fear shivered down Vivi's back. She could feel herself losing control of her sand. The storm surrounding her roared like an escaped beast, grinding the ruins around her into sand. Ohm merely raised an eyebrow as he pointed the pommel at her again. The iron cloud snapped towards her and pierced her stomach in a flash of white.

This time, Vivi felt the pain. The wound was pouring sand, but this time the sand was mixed with blood. Vivi's eyes widened with shock as she felt the wound to the right of her bellybutton. This time, it cut through her purple shirt. It should have been a fatal blow, but the sand had absorbed most of it and left only a flesh wound.

"But you can be hurt," Ohm muttered dispassionately. "God's Judgement cannot be avoided."

Nami was shouting at her with concern. Vivi could barely hear her over the sound of her pound heartbeat. I can't control my powers, Vivi realised with dread. Ohm spun his weapon towards her again, and Vivi ran with pure instinct. The sandstorm disappeared.

"Vivi!" Nami screamed. "Come on! You can do this!"

Nami pulled out her Clima-Tact, and clutched her sword tightly with her other hand. Ohm seemed to be amusing himself with Vivi, but the priest was still avoiding her attacks. It was like he could sense anything they threw at him.

Nami was just about to try again, when suddenly she wondered where his dog had disappeared to. The huge animal had been by the priest's side at the start, but then disappeared in the sandstorm. The navigator paused, and then a bloodthirsty growl erupted from behind.

"Holy," Ohm ordered lazily, not even glancing towards her. "Kill."

If it wasn't for Nami's sharp reflexes, the snapping jaws would have bitten her in half. In an instant, the enormous dog Holy was in front of her, smashing through the rubble while Nami was barely able to dodge. Nami jumped backwards and thrust her sword forward, instinctively dropping into the pose the Zoro had taught her.

Holy was relentless. The animal was larger than a horse, yet it stood upright on its hind legs and thrust its paws downwards in a karate chop. There wasn't time for Nami to be surprised, but the blows were so fast and powerful that they pulverised the ground beneath her.

"You taught the dog kung fu?" Nami shouted with shock, just as the dog launched an upper cut that nearly took her head off.

"It's actually karate," Ohm stated unhelpfully, not even pausing as he attacked Vivi.

"Like I care!" Nami growled, swinging her Clima-Tact around with one hand. The attacks were lightning fast, yet Nami managed to sidestep, keeping close to Holy's huge bulk. Almost serenely, she could hear Zoro's instructions in her ear. When facing a larger foe, stay up close. Make their reach a disadvantage. Nami had never thought that she would use them against a dog.

Nami slashed out with her blade towards Holy's stomach. The dog was fast enough to dodge, striking outwards with a roundhouse kick. Nami rolled underneath the leg, pulling up behind the animal. Against a stronger enemy, take the advantage quickly. Control the position, get behind them, and attack from behind. Force them to go on the defensive.

Her blade cut a shallow wound against Holy's back, but the beast never seemed to react. Between its fur and thick hide, it was only a scratch. Still, Nami pressed onwards with her blade. At the same time, her Clima-Tact spun around, throwing out bubbles that surrounded her as she danced around the dog.

Holy struck downwards, but Nami was already moving. Sharp claws clipped lightly across her shoulder, yet Nami recovered quickly. She thrust her Clima-Tact upwards into Holy's jaw, causing the dog to yelp as the electric bubbles burst from the tip. Nami darted forward, slashing her sword across Holy's shoulder. The dog barked in pain and lashed out, and Nami triggered the clockwork birds from the Clima-Tact and pulled backwards. The wires wrapped around the dog's snout, and Nami slammed Holy's head into the ground. When fighting with dual weapons, make sure you use both of them equally.

"I'm not weak!" Nami roared, swinging both weapons back around. Holy recovered quickly, but it was too late. Nami was already in control of the climate, and suddenly the animal was surround by half a dozen mirages, all of them swinging their weapons. When fighting a dumber opponent, exploit that. Wait – that was one of Nami's.

The dog could only squeal with shock as the heavy Clima-Tact edge slammed against its snout, while Nami leapt over its body and onto its back. Both hands were on her short blade as she thrust backwards, the metal cutting through flesh. Holy whimpered slightly before dropping to the ground.

"Holy!" Ohm shouted angrily, turning to face her for the first time. "How dare you! That's my dog!"

Nami stuck out her tongue mockingly, but that disappeared as soon as Ohm launched a furious lash of his weapon. Nami dodged, skirting over several traps without pausing. On the other side of the ruins, Vivi was staring at her hands, struggling to use her ability.

"Vivi!" Nami shouted urgently, just as the whip nearly decapitated her. "Come on! We can take him together!"

The princess gulped before launching forward. A wave of sand launched from her fingertips. Ohm moved his sword to block, but Nami was already charging from the other side, sword and staff in hand. Ohm never even glanced at her as he hit her in the stomach with a lightning fast kick.

"Nuisance!" Ohm muttered as Nami went flying backwards. "I may not be able to kill you easily…" Ohm motioned at Vivi, before turning to point her blade at Nami. "But I can relief her from this mortal coil straight away!"

"Nami!" Vivi shouted, running forward. She triggered a dozen traps, but never even cared as the barbed wire cut through her body. Instinctively, Vivi's entire shape disintegrated into a cloud of sand.

Nami never had time to dodge as a fork of iron cloud formed from Ohm's sword and thrust towards her. It came so close that she could feel it brush lightly against her forehead. In an instant, the cloud of sand swallowed her and pulled her away. Vivi reformed just as the fork shattered through the earth behind them, and the princess was carrying Nami in her arms.

Vivi was staring at her with shock. Nami could only clutch the princess tightly, trembling dangerously. Vivi arms were surprisingly strong. A light trickle of blood poured from the centre of Nami's head.

"Are you alright?" Vivi asked. She was so close that she could feel every tremor of Nami's slender body.

Before Nami could respond, Ohm was already raising his weapon at them. A sharp spear lunged from the pommel, and Vivi had no time to dodge. There wasn't even conscious thought involved. The air was split as sickening squelch as iron cloud burst into solid flesh and blood.

"VIVI!" Nami screamed so loudly that birds erupted from a nearby forest. Nami could only stare at the iron spear that was stabbing into Vivi's back, near her shoulder. The wound was pouring with blood. Vivi slumped to the ground, dropping Nami, while Ohm merely redrew his weapon and grunted with satisfaction.

"But how…?" Nami gasped with shock. Vivi was struggling for breath. Without hesitation, Nami ripped off her shirt to bandage up the wound. It was deep, and painful. "You could have phased through it! Why didn't you phase through it…?"

The realisation hit her a second later. The tears were pouring out of her eyes. "If you had phased through…" Nami gulped. "It would have hit me…?"

Vivi blinked several times. "It's nothing," she murmured weakly, flinching as Nami gently tried to stop the blood. Vivi was crying too.

Nami stifled a sob, hugging Vivi tightly. "But why?" She muttered feebly.

"You're my friend…" Vivi gasped struggling to move. Her shoulder was burning with agony. "And I couldn't–"

"Why do you struggle so much?" Ohm drawled from behind him, preaching solemnly. "I offer you freedom from the burdens of life. You should be thankful for the –"

"Shut up!" Nami snapped furiously at Ohm, still holding Vivi tightly. The priest only scoffed, slowly walking towards them.

Gently, Nami pulled Vivi to her feet, staring at her apologetically. Nami gulped. "Come on." She was panting heavily. "We can beat him together," Nami repeated urgently.

Vivi nodded slowly, unwillingly pulling away from Nami. Nami straightened up, spinning her sword and Clima-Tact together. Vivi cradled her shoulder gingerly, but she was still ready to fight The two girls stood side by side. Vivi shrugged her ruined shirt off, while Nami rolled her shoulders in anticipation. Both girls were left in their bikinis and short pants, but neither seemed to mind.

I'm tired of being weak, Vivi thought angrily, spinning the sand around. "Let's do this!"

Ohm lashed out at both of them with a fan of iron, but Vivi pushed Nami out the way and dematerialised through the attack. The sand writhed around her, but suddenly it was so much easier to control with Nami by her side.

"I need hot air!" Nami shouted, spinning her Clima-Tact. Vivi nodded in understanding before extending her right hand. The air flickered as the moisture was absorbed away. The grass turned yellow before disintegrating into dust.

Nami brow curled as she expertly manipulated the weather. Her Clima-Tact flashed, spinning the air currents around her until a microclimate generated. Nami could practically see the air flow, and feel the pressure building. "Ready?" Nami asked, pulling the Clima-Tact backwards.

"Ready!" Vivi shouted. At the same time, Vivi summoned a huge burst of sand from her fingertips while Nami unleashed the Clima-Tact. Ohm was already preparing his defence, but the sand and wind meshed together and intensified.

"Sand Hurricane!" Nami and Vivi shouted in union. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion of pressure, and tonnes of sand cut towards Ohm behind a gale-force gust of wind.

Ohm shaped his blade into a wall of iron in an instant, but the pressure couldn't be stopped. The iron shuddered for half a second before collapsing underneath the sand. Ohm's eyes widened in shock, and then he leapt to the side to avoid the attack. The hurricane carved through the ground, devastating the ruins.

So he can't see the future, Nami realised with satisfaction. The priest had been pre-empting their every move, but he had been cut off-guard this time. He was reading their intentions and knew when they were about to attack, but couldn't tell how they would attack.

With a grunt of frustration, Ohm pushed the debris of his body. His sunglasses were broken and his body was scraped, but otherwise he seemed unharmed.

"How dare you?" Ohm growled, but Vivi gave him no chance to recover. In an instant, she launched an onslaught of sand blades. Ohm blocked every attack, yet it seemed like he was a bit slower than normal. Was his concentration failing? Nami wondered, diving in for the attack.

"I am God's Chosen!" Ohm shouted angrily. "I will deliver Judgement on all infidels!"

"Well, I know the weakness of that weapon of yours," Nami smirked, running up close, readying the Clima-Tact. Ohm took no chances, and shaped the iron cloud into a protective dome. As expected.

"That sword is conductive!" Nami screamed victoriously, spinning the clouds from her Clima-Tact until they were pitch black and sparked with power. The lightning flowed straight through her staff and collided with the iron dome. Her vision was blocked, but Nami still heard the exclamation of pain as the electricity flowed straight through the sword pommel.

Her victory was short-lived. Slowly, the iron dome reshaped into a blade and Ohm emerged, slightly scorched but very angry. "Fools," Ohm spat. "Did you really think that lightning of that level would work against me?"

Nami barely had time to dodge as his blade flashed towards her. Vivi was by her side in a blur of sand, pulling her away as the onslaught continued relentlessly.

"This is the Ordeal of Iron!" Ohm bellowed angrily. "Zero percent survival rate! You will give penance!"

The girls dodged another furious attack. The priest was a monster and refused to go down easily. "Do you have another plan?" Vivi asked nervously. She was still losing blood from her injuries, and her movements were become sluggish.

Nami hesitated, just as a fan of iron cloud nearly took her arms off. Ohm launched a spear of iron, forcing Nami to block the attack with her sword. The metal blade nearly snapped under the pressure, and Nami fell to the ground.

"You will not escape –" Ohm started, but was interrupted by an impact from behind. His Mantra was so disrupted he never even felt the presence approach. Suddenly, a heavy object collided into his back, and sent the priest flying headfirst into the ground.

The priest recovered like a beast. "You!" He growled at the figure skating across the air towards, carrying a huge, smoking bazooka over his shoulder. "Wiper!"

"Yep," Wiper smirked, flexing his muscled shoulders, and chewing on a cigarillo. His left arm was covered in white bandages but otherwise he was bare-chested. The raider carried a huge bazooka over his left shoulder and a thick wooden shield in his right hand. His skates hissed with air, causing him to hover to the ground. "Me."

Instantly, Wiper's skates powered up and he glided at Ohm quickly, wielding his huge bazooka like a club. The priest blocked, but then the bazooka exploded in white-blue flames. Ohm dodged, but suddenly it looked like the priest was a disadvantage.

The two began to dance in a blur of motion. Wiper flashed around him, firing off his bazooka in furious blasts while Ohms blade dodged after him.

"Who's that?" Vivi asked with shock at the sudden intrusion. From the nearby forest, there were more raiders with masks skating across the air, all wielding weapons.

"Maybe they're friendly?" Nami asked hopefully, watching the raider and the priest flash around each other with breakneck speed. Ohm was incredibly fast and strong, but Wiper matched him every step of the way.

"Kill them all!" Wiper roared at the other raiders. Ohm merely growled, extending his sword to lash at multiple targets, but otherwise starting to retreat. "We retake our homeland today! Anyone standing on our land dies!"

"Nope!" Nami shouted quickly, already pulling Vivi up and starting to run. The raiders gave chase, their battle cries filling the air. "Definitely not friendly!"

"Surround this priest!" Wiper ordered from behind him, his men falling into the battle. "I want his head on a stake!"

In seconds, the ruins exploded into battle. Nami and Vivi never even turned around as they fled. Ohm stared furiously at his escaping prey, but he couldn't pause against Wiper's onslaught. His normally calm body was shaking with rage.

The Ordeal of Iron had just had its very first escapees. The probability of survival was up to two percent. His perfect record was ruined.

"I will not let you leave here alive!" Ohm shouted at the fleeing girls, lashing out against Wiper with a whip of iron. "I will hunt you down! You will face penance!"

The Ordeal of Balls…

With a huge shockwave, Sanji's limp body fell backwards to the ground. The sound of Satori's laughter rang across the forest.

"Sanji!" Usopp shouted with panic. Next to him, Carue gave a loud squawk.

Trembling, the chef pulled himself up to his feet again. His suit was tattered and ruined, and his body was bruised and filthy. Sanji's teeth gritted as he stood up yet again.

Satori never stopped dancing. The fat man bobbed up and down, floating on the balls of cloud across the forest, while Sanji fought for his life.

"Come on!" Usopp shouted loading up his slingshot and providing cover fire. "Get him!"

Satori danced around the projectiles with surprising grace. Sanji growled as he leapt upwards, swinging his leg around so fast it blurred. The priest idly extended his hand, just as the black foot collided.

Yet there was no impact. Sanji's foot hit against Satori's palm with a faint thud, but without any force. Satori's laughter increased as he slammed his open hand into Sanji's face.

There was another huge shockwave. Sanji's eyes rolled before he collapsed down again. This time, he didn't get up.

"One down!" Satori chuckled, turning to face Usopp. "And one to go!"

The sniper gulped with dread, reloading and firing of a salvo of projectiles with lightning speed. Satori dodged them all easily, spinning through the air as he bounced across the balls of clouds. He had a striped cane in his hand, which he used to push the balls of cloud towards Usopp.

Carue quickly pulled Usopp onto his back and started to run quickly. Usopp sat backwards across the duck's back, still shooting at the priest. The balls of cloud bounced around him, unleashing everything from explosions, to spears, to weird animals. Carue dodged frantically around them, powerful legs pounding of the ground as he ran in fear.

"Ho, ho hoooo!" Satori laughed, using his cane to bat the balls towards Usopp expertly. "You have already lost! The ship has left the Lost Forest! There is no escape for you now!"

Usopp never responded. The priest was toying with him now, seeing how far they would go. Usopp's hand flickered across his slingshot, firing faster and faster, until finally he grabbed nothing but air.

"Damn it," Usopp cursed with dread, feeling his empty pockets. "I'm out of ammo…"

"What a shame," Satori chided in a singsong voice, dropping out of the air towards him. Carue squawking and reversed direction, but Satori was already spinning a large ball towards them. The ball of cloud flew towards them with pinpoint precision, before exploding in a cloud of dust.

The eruption took Carue to the ground, and sent the duck flying against a tree. Usopp was sent skidding across the ground painfully, his body smoking slightly.

"Looks like I'm going to win!" Satori chuckled. The priest was on the ground now, walking towards Usopp with a bright smile. "No one else has killed their prey yet!"

With a groan, Usopp pulled himself up. He had his hammer in his hand. "Don't underestimate me!" The sharpshooter screamed. "I am Captain Usopp! The brave warrior of the sea!"

"Oh, really?" Satori muttered doubtfully. With a burst of speed, the priest appeared in front of Usopp, and slammed his hand into his face. The air exploded, and Usopp flew backwards from impact, coughing blood.

"That other guy was much stronger than you are," Satori commented. His palm was smoking, and he was massaging his wrists from the recoil.

With a gasp, Usopp staggered upwards. "I told you not underestimate me!" Usopp growled angrily. He lost his hammer, so he was forced to raise his fists instead. "I am the brave warrior of the sea!"

"Ho, ho hoooo!" Satori cheered, bounding upwards into the air. His cane waved, and the balls of cloud started to move around him. "Then let's see how you like my strongest attack! I love using this!"

The clouds started to connect together, spinning into a large chain around Satori. One cloud, larger than the others, had a dragon head mask attached and rolled to the front of the queue. The priest did it all swiftly, simply spinning as the balls took shape.

"The end is near!" Satori sung, while Usopp struggled to even stand up. "Rest in peace! I am a God's priest, you could never have won! Behold the surprising illusion – the Orb Dragon!"

Satori spun his cane over his head, and then the series of balls shot downwards. The gaping mouth of dragon's head roared towards Usopp. "The Orb Dragon is made of surprise clouds that contain bombs and blades! As soon as the head collides, it's all over! The chain reaction causes a humongous explosion!"

Usopp couldn't even run as the Orb Dragon avalanched onto him. Satori just kept on laughing, hovering on the floating orbs.

The explosion was so loud it caused the ground to shudder. It gouged a crater in the middle of the forest, spitting blades and weapons across every surface. The ground was scolded black while a small mushroom cloud of dust broke around him. Satori looked vaguely disappointed.

"What an unbelievable idiot…!" Satori muttered. "Talking big when he was almost dead. Oh well, at least I've won…"

There was a shallow gasp as the blackened earth started to shift. Satori's eyes nearly burst out as Usopp crawled out of the debris.

"I told you…" Usopp murmured weakly, barely managing to breath. His body was scorched. "…I'm the brave warrior of the sea…"

The priest was quiet for a while, but then his laugher rang out through the forest, louder and clearer than ever. "I think you're a liar!" Satori mocked, dancing on the floating orbs.

Usopp managed a smirk. Every bone in his body felt broken. "Oh, you have no idea."

With delicate grace, Satori step of the cloud. His heavy body cannonballed downwards like a stone, and crashed into Usopp with a furious thud. Usopp screamed with agony as Satori landed on top of him, and then the priest grabbed pressed his palm into the back of Usopp's head. "Let's finish this!" Satori mocked, slamming Usopp's face into the ground.

Without warning, there was a shrill shriek that split the sky. A shape dropped downwards, a large metal lance in hand. Satori barely managed to jump backwards before the lance skewed the ground.

"You bastard!" Satori cursed angrily, his smile disappearing for the first time. "This doesn't concern you!"

"Oh, but it does," the figure muttered, raising the visor on his heavy metal helm. Gan Fall stared at Satori darkly. "I am the Knight of the Sky. Anything that happens in Skypiea is my concern."

Usopp glanced weakly up at the armoured figure standing over him. The old man wore thick metal armour that seemed almost too big for him, and he had a large, overfilled backpack fastened securely over his shoulders.

The knight was riding a large animal with the general shape of a horse, except it was bright pink with red polka dots, and large white wings extending from its shoulders. That's it, Usopp thought eventually, I've gone insane.

Gan Fall heaved up Usopp's limp body and slung him over the back of the weird animal. Vaguely, Usopp realised that Sanji was already lying next him.

"You have no right to enter Upper Yard!" Satori was bobbing angrily while the Gan Fall kept his lance pointed at the priest at all times.

"Do you wish to stop me?" Gan Fall threatened darkly. "I am aware just how to combat Mantra users like you."

Satori shot forward and slammed his cane down on Gan Fall, only to be blocked by the lance. Satori brought down his palm, but it was met by Gan Fall's gauntlet. The two shockwaves cancelled each other out.

"Let's go, Pierre!" Gan Fall ordered and the Pegasus started flapping. Satori leapt across the orbs to give chase, smashing the balls towards him, but Pierre dodged them agilely. Gan Fall dived into pick up the unconscious body of Carue, causing Pierre to flap furiously with all the added weight.

"Flying!?" Satori yelled angrily. His cane flickered, firing balls towards Gan Fall furiously, yet Pierre dodged them all. "That's cheating!"

"Hmph! Yell all you like!" Gan Fall snorted, shooting straight upwards and out of the Lost Forest while Usopp hung on for dear life. "I will be facing your 'God' soon enough."

The Ordeal of String…

Shura flickered across the trees with breakneck speed. On the back of the giant bird Fuza, the priest was an orange blur through the trees. Still, Luffy somehow managed to keep pace.

"You are an annoying little runt!" Shura growled angrily, diving down at Luffy from above. His javelin was glowing red hot.

Luffy narrowly managed to avoid the blow, darting backwards as the javelin scorched through the earth. The bird Fuza twisted after him, gushes of fire exploding from its mouth. The flames caught the edge of Luffy's vest, but he ripped it off without a second thought.

The pirate launched himself at Shura, spinning his arm around in a powerful blow. Shura dodged it effortlessly, before lashing out with his javelin. The burning edge cut across Luffy's side, yet he forced himself forward furiously. Shura ducked under Luffy's roundhouse kick, and slammed his elbow into Luffy's stomach and threw him to the ground.

He's predicting my attacks, Luffy thought angrily, just as Shura slammed his hand in front of his face in mid-air. Something clicked, and a shockwave of pressure erupted from his palm. Luffy took the blow like a champion, but the impact still caused him to cough up blood.

Luffy collided roughly with the earth, and then he felt something click beneath him. He rolled, just as the ground exploded in a shower of debris.

"Ha! You're one unlucky brat!" Shura laughed while Fuza spun around. "That's the third mine you've triggered so far."

Luffy only growled, shaking off his injuries and pulled himself up. The Sky Rider swooped in for another attack. Opposite the clearing, Robin took position with her arms crossed. Shura only smirked.

Two arms sprouted from Shura's shoulders and went for his throat, yet the priest was ready for them. Luffy shouted in shock at Robin, but she was too late. As soon as the arms appeared, Shura placed his hands on to both of them tightly and triggered something in his gloves.

"Double impact!" He shouted loudly, just as the air exploded.

Robin screamed in pain. Luffy was by her side in a heartbeat, cradling her hands with concern. Nasty bruises were quickly forming across her skin, and her wrists could have been broken for all he knew.

Any damage that happens to her sprouted hands is reflected on her. She puts herself in danger each time she uses her powers, Luffy realised, and this guy knows every time an attack is coming.

Shura was already taking advantage of the distraction. He spun around and dived down with his javelin, straight for Robin's exposed back. Luffy jumped between them, slamming a kick at the bird while Shura spun around. Luffy clung tightly to the bird's wing, and the whole world spun as Fuza spiralled with dizzying speed.

"Luffy!" Robin shouted with panic, wincing as she crossed her injured arms again.

"No!" Luffy screamed instantly. "Don't use your powers anymore. I'll handle him!"

If anything, Shura looked vaguely amused with the suggestion. "You'll handle me?" He muttered, easily keeping his grip as Fuza spun in the air. "That woman has a weird power. You, on the other hand, are absolutely nothing special."

The bird thrust its wings forward and slowed down. That was all the opportunity Luffy needed to jump onto its back and launch an uppercut at Shura. The priest idly absorbed the blow with the palm of his hand, and then easily sidestepped the following kick. Luffy growled, and then tackled at Shura with his whole body. The priest simply dug his heels into Fuza, and the bird dived and Luffy went falling to the ground.

"You will never beat me in the sky," Shura mocked, turning around for the attack. "And the ground is mined. It's time you saw the real terror of the Ordeal of String."

Luffy never even hit the ground. His body stopped, suspended in mid-air. He tried to thrash, but suddenly his limbs weren't moving. It took him a few seconds to realise why.

"String?" He exclaimed, seeing the tiny, nearly invisible threads that entangled his whole body. They were tiny and barely visible in the shadows, yet there were enough of them that his limbs felt too heavy to move.

"String cloud," Shura explained, just as Fuza dived in again. "You've been entangling yourself in them for a while now. This is the Ordeal of String, and you have lost!"

The priest jumped off the bird's back, plunging at Luffy with his javelin. The pirate couldn't dodge it, and the burning javelin bit into his shoulder. Involuntarily, a harsh scream burst from Luffy's throat. Shura was on top of him, the extra weight causing the strings to snap, while he forced the javelin in deeper.

Despite the pain, somewhere in the distance, Luffy could hear Robin shouting his name in shock. That alone gave him all the strength he needed to press onwards.

Luffy grabbed a hold of Shura tightly. The priest scoffed, and then pressed his hand into Luffy's chest. Something triggered, and the shockwave felt like it pulverised his internal organs. Still, Luffy never stopped thrashing.

He was breaking through the string now, toppling to the ground, keeping tight a hold of Shura even as the priest skewered him with his javelin. "Why won't you just die already?" The priest growled, and then Fuza caught them in mid-air.

The Sky Rider jumped back on his mount, while Luffy ended up in the bird's talons. The air blurred around him as Fuza accelerated with a flap of powerful wings. The next thing he knew, Luffy was being slammed into a tree trunk by the giant bird, before falling to the ground. As he bounced of the earth, he landed on another mine.

Fuza dropped to the ground, while Shura scratched his head as while the smoke cloud cleared. Somehow, Luffy was still standing, and staggering towards the priest slowly.

"Ok – you can take a beating, I'll give you that much," the priest conceded, staring at Luffy with faint bemusement. "You fight like a zombie. Is that the only thing you can do; stand up after a beat down? You're basically a human punching bag."

Luffy's heart was pounding like a sledgehammer in his chest. "Oh no," he snarled. "You've never seen what I can do."

He darted forward again. Shura scoffed while Fuza flew off the ground in a huge flap of wings. The huge bird screeched, opening its beak while the flames burst from its throat. This time, Luffy didn't even dodge. The fire scorched his skin, but Luffy just charged through. He couldn't feel the pain anymore.

The next second, Luffy's hand rammed inside the bird's mouth. It's sharp beak bit into his shoulder. Its beady eyes practically popped out as Luffy arm slammed down its fiery throat, but his singed fingers wrapped around the object inside its huge mouth. Luffy had recognised it before. Fuza couldn't really breathe fire; the bird just had a Flame Dial embedded in mouth.

With a crack, the shell snapped open in his grip and all the fire it contained exploded outwards. Luffy snatched his arm away, and then screamed with effort as he slammed Fuza's beak shut. The huge bird barely had time to squeal as the explosion erupted inside of his body. Smoke trailed from its nostrils as it slumped to the ground.

"Fuza!" Shura exclaimed with shock, staring at Luffy. "You bastard!"

Luffy's arm was scorched and his shoulder was bleeding, but he darted forward regardless. "Let's how well you do on the ground," Luffy muttered darkly.

The priest was forced on to the defensive under Luffy's onslaught, yet none of the punches came close. Shura avoided them all before Luffy even through them. "I will kill you for what you did to my bird!" The priest promised. "But nothing's changed! You still can't even touch me!"

His fists slammed against nothing but air. Shura drew his javelin, but Luffy was attacking so furiously there was no chance for counterattack. Instead, the pair just danced across the ground. Luffy was relentless, Shura was unhittable.

"It's useless!" The Sky Rider muttered with frustration. "You can't escape my Mantra!"

With a wordless scream of fury, Luffy charged forward. His fist collided with the Impact Dial in Shura's glove, and then the Sky Rider released the power straight back at him. Luffy's body skidded across the earth, while Shura just massaged his shoulder lightly from the recoil.

"You seem insistent on making me annoyed," Shura muttered coldly. "Haven't you realised the futility of your actions yet? I am one of God's priests. Going against me is defying God's will."

Luffy glared at him. His eyes burnt. The blood was pounding through his body like burning fire. "You hurt my friend," Luffy gasped, dragging himself up again. "Nothing can save you now."

Shura merely scoffed as Luffy charged again. Luffy drew back his arm for another blow, and Shura knew instantly where it was coming. Left uppercut, the priest thought smugly, sidestepping to the right as Luffy slammed forward.

He only had time to blink as suddenly Luffy's arm twisted around his body to the right, straight towards Shura's face.

That's impossible, the Sky Rider thought in shock, just before Luffy's knuckles collided with his nose and everything went black.

When he regained his senses, Shura was lying on the floor blood pouring from his nose, while Luffy charged in for another attack. It was impossible –Mantra could never be wrong. Unless…

Did he just predict my prediction? Shura thought stupidly, while Luffy grabbed tight a hold of his collar.

"Try avoiding this one." Luffy kept tight a hold of Shura's collar as he drew back his other hand and slammed it forward. The Sky Rider's helmet flew off as he fought to stay conscious.

"You bastard…" Shura growled, recovering enough to kicking his foot into Luffy's stomach before lashing out with his javelin. "Die already!"

The red hot javelin burnt past Luffy's face. He didn't even hesitate as he gripped the burning metal and pulled the handle out of Shura's grip. Shura never had time to duck before Luffy rammed the handle straight into his face.

Luffy kept his grip on Shura's collar, holding the priest so closely that he never stood a chance of avoiding his attacks. Shura screamed with rage, before thrusting his hand forward.

"Impact!" He screamed loudly, just as the air exploded with pressure. The force hit Luffy straight on the chest and caused him to stagger, but his grip was like iron.

"Damn you!" Shura screamed, attacking again. "Impact!"

"Impact!" The air exploded again. Luffy still never let go.

"Impact!" Luffy nearly collapsed, but his will was unbreakable.

"IMPACT!" Shura attacked with both hands. Around him, the ground was pulverised. Luffy could barely feel it.

There was a moment's silence. Luffy's breath was shallow. Shura tried to activate the Dials again. "Impact?" He muttered weakly, but nothing happened.

"You're all out of impacts." Luffy's expression was predatory as he drew back his fist. "I'm not."

The first blow nearly shattered Shura's skull. The second was just as powerful. Luffy kept tight a hold of the priest with one hand, and pounded him straight in the face with the other. By the tenth blow, Shura collapsed into a limp puddle at the pirate's feet.

Behind him, the giant bird Fuza tried to stagger upwards. It barely managed to stand up before slender legs sprouted around it, and dozens of feet wrapped around its wings.

Nico Robin stood calmly next to the bird. Her hands were still tender, so she used her legs this time. "Mr Captain has some issues to work out with the Sky Rider over there. Please stay out of it," she said gently, constricting her knees around the bird. Fuza collapsed to back to the ground with a crack.

Luffy stood over Shura's limp body, holding the priest up by his throat. "Tell me right now," Luffy snarled. "Where are my friends?"

"You can't do this…" Shura muttered through a mouthful of broken teeth. "I am God's priest…"

Luffy's eyes were practically burning as he tightened his grip. "Really? Well I'm feeling pretty heretical right now."

Shura screamed in pain. Despite the agony, the hatred filled him. Even if he couldn't kill him, Shura would ensure that Luffy died. "The beanstalk!" Shura gasped, pointing towards towering Giant Jack in the distance. "They're all at the beanstalk!"

It was a lie, but how would Luffy ever know? The priest would deliver the infidels to God himself, and Enel would kill them.

Luffy relaxed his grip, but only slightly. The pirate paused for half a second, and glanced back at Robin, who was watching quietly. Luffy took a deep, calming breath, and then dropped Shura to the ground.

"If you ever threaten anybody I care about again," Luffy promised coldly. "I will kill you."

The priest was left a shivering wreck on the ground. Luffy walked back towards Robin quietly.

"Are you alright?" She asked gently.

A bright smile spilt Luffy's face. He didn't seem at all concerned about his injuries. "I'm fine," he said cheerfully, before his expression filled with concern. "What about you? Are your hands alright?"

Robin looked amused. "They're fine, Mr Captain."

He nodded, starting to walk away from the Ordeal of Strings. "Watch out for the mines. I'll go first. Let's see if we can reach the beanstalk and meet up with everyone by nightfall."

The archaeologist's eyes lingered on him for a long time. "Does it ever get tiring..." Robin asked quietly. "... to care so much about everyone else?"

The question surprised Luffy. "Never," he said firmly, grinning like a child. Robin stared at him for a while, but then she started to smile too. Luffy made her smile a lot.

Just as they started to leave, the ground started to rumble. Around them, there was thunderous crack as trees were demolished under the weight of a huge animal. Luffy stopped and turned, while a huge shadow blocked out the sun.

Shura was left too weak to move, staring upwards as the monster of a beast towered over them. "Oh no…" The priest gasped weakly, the dread clearly visible in his eyes. "Not that–"

That was the last thing the priest managed to say before he was swallowed whole by colossal jaws. Luffy was already running, practically dragged Robin behind him. Humongous yellow eyes watched them go before giving chase instinctively.

"Holy –!" Luffy screamed in shock, just as the monstrous python lunged after them, accelerating faster than should have been possible with its colossal mass. Its scaly body was bigger than a skyscraper, yet it struck with frighteningly fast speed.

There was nothing but a blur of huge fangs. Robin held on to him tightly as a ladder of feet appeared from the tree trunks and yanked them upwards. The python writhed around and slammed venomous fangs into the tree trunk, but Luffy and Robin were already fleeing for their lives. The goliath snake's teeth caught into the thick wood, leaving it to wriggle almost comically while trying to free itself.

Perhaps that was the reason why Luffy and Robin were giggling like fools as they ran away, clutching each other's hand tightly.

The Ordeal of Swamp…

Five hours later, Chopper burst through brambles and climbed out of the fog. The reindeer was slightly dirty and his fur was shaggy, but otherwise he was completely unharmed.

"Yeah!" Chopper shouted happily, pulling his partner out. "We've made it!"

With a grumble, Zoro staggered out. The swordsman was absolutely wrecked. His clothes were shredded, he was missing a shoe, and he was caked in mud and filth. There were teeth marks across Zoro's body, and his body was itching from hundreds of insects' bites. He didn't even have the energy to complain about it anymore.

"Phew!" Chopper sighed, keeping tight a hold of Zoro's hand. "I'm glad that's over with."

Zoro cleared his throat and spoke quietly. "Do you remember what we talked about?" Zoro muttered. "You are not to mention this to anyone. Especially not to the shitty cook."

The doctor didn't seem to hear him. Instead, Chopper stood on top of a small rock, looking around at where to go next. They were out of the ditch of a swamp, but they were still in a thick, overgrown forest. Zoro just sighed.

"We've got to meet up with the others," Chopper mused, looking around slowly. "Hmm… I wonder where they're at."

Zoro stomped forward. The swamp had sucked away all his motivation. "Let's just get this over with," he muttered.

"Hey!" Chopper chided disapprovingly, holding out a hoof. "Where do you think you're going?"

The swordsman stopped, slumped his shoulders and then turned back to take hold Chopper's hoof. The doctor smiled happily and started to walk onwards, chattering happily about the curiosities of the island. Zoro just followed miserably.

The forest seemed to go on forever. It was overgrown and filled with huge animals, but Chopper seemed completely at ease so long as he was holding on to Zoro. It took them half an hour to exit the forest, emerging in to a clearing where they could stare out at the setting sun.

"We'll head south," Chopper decided finally. "Let's see if we can get back to Angel Island. Phew, this was been a hard day."

Zoro didn't respond. Then, the reindeer's nose wrinkled as he sniffed the air. "Wait… I smell someone coming."

The swordsman instantly perked up. Chopper looked nervous. "There are lots of people coming from that direction!" Chopper shouted with panic.

The sound of heavy footsteps spread through the forests. Both pirates recognised the sound. An evil grin started to spread across Zoro's face.

"Marines…" Zoro muttered happily.

"Marines!" Chopper squealed with fear, pulling Zoro's hand. The swordsman never budged. "We've got to get out of here."

"You go on ahead," Zoro ordered, yank away his hand away. His swords unsheathed with sharp click. "I'll make sure they don't follow."

"But –"

"We're out of that swamp now. Go find the others." Zoro grin was practically demonic. "It's time for me to do what I'm good at."

Chopper hesitated, but suddenly Zoro seemed like he didn't need any help. The swordsman looked happier than he'd been all day. The sound of the marines boomed closer.

"Go." Zoro's voice left absolutely no room for argument. With a panicked squeal, Chopper transformed into his Walk Point and galloped away.

Seconds later, the marine squadron burst out of trees. There were about three dozen of them. They were all carrying rifles and looked nervous. Zoro was standing in the middle of the clearing, waiting for them with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face.

"'Pirate Hunter' Zoro!" The leader exclaimed, brandishing his weapon.

"Evening," Zoro nodded in greeting. In a flash, all three swords were flickering in the sun, and Zoro charged forward. "I've been having a bad day!"

The sound of gunfire spread echoed around the forest for a while. It didn't last long.

A few minutes later, Zoro sighed with relief he was wiped the blood off his sword. There were three dozen bodies littered around him, all with looks of intense fear and shock plastered across their faces. A few were groaning weakly, but none were standing up. I really needed that, Zoro thought thankfully, feeling the tension ease off his shoulders.

There were more footsteps emerging from the trees, this time more urgent. They must have heard the gunshots. Zoro just smirked and placed his sword back in his mouth, spinning the other two idly.

The marines stomped into the clearing, staring with panic at their defeated comrades. "You monster!" One of them screamed, despite his trembling weapon.

"That's right," Zoro growled. He stepped forward, and the crowd of them stepped backwards like a herd of frightened gazelles. "And it looks like you're the next meal!"

"What's going on there?" The new voice was firm and strong, and it made Zoro's heart jumped. "Report!"

Tashigi broke through towards the clearing. Her sword was in hand as she slashed the brambles out the way. As soon as Tashigi and Zoro made eye contact, everything halted.

"You!" Tashigi exclaimed, thrusting her blade forward.

A range of emotions flashed across Zoro's face. He tried to say something, but all that came out was a wordless groan. Her…!

"What did you do to my scouting party?" The lieutenant demanded angrily. The rest of the marines filed in behind her, rifles ready but otherwise happy to let Tashigi go first.

Zoro frowned sheepishly. "Oh, they're all fine, I used the back of my blade only," he muttered dismissively, shifting uncomfortably. "I don't like killing weaklings."

Tashigi approached cautiously, sword in hand. It was a long time before she spoke. "You're under arrest," she said finally, with only a flicker of doubt in her eyes.

"Not this again…" Zoro groaned with despair, looking at Tashigi almost pleadingly. The marines were starting to flank him, all rifles aimed at him. "Couldn't you just…?"

Tashigi didn't respond. Zoro's expression was painful. The memories of the last time they fought were all too vivid.

For a while, Zoro held his swords tightly, but didn't raise them. "Argh…" Zoro moaned with uncertainty, debating it to himself. He kicked the ground with anger as the internal debate raised. "This is… Why can't you… but…"

He locked eyes with Tashigi uncomfortably. He really, really wanted to just fight his way out, but at the same time he knew he couldn't. This wasn't a problem he could fight. Zoro hated problems he couldn't fight. After a few moments of uncertainty, Zoro sighed in defeat.

"Fine," he muttered in quiet resignation, sheathing all three of his blades. With a pained glance, Zoro lifted his hands above his head. "You got me."

Nobody moved. Tashigi was staring at him with an unreadable expression. Zoro groaned and raised his voice, focused completely on Tashigi. "I surrender!"

On Angel Island, things were panicked as the sun started to set over the horizon. The White Berets had left, and the rumours of events in Upper Yard had drifted down to them. No one knew what was happening, but they were all scared.

As dusk fell, Beret, Isaac and Marcus walked down through Lovely Street, staring at the winged Skypieans as if they were surrounded by aliens. The Skypieans were too frantic to pay the Devil fruit hunters much attention. For a long time, the group just stood and watched.

The Skypieans were all ridiculously innocent. They never had any weapons, or military might, or even any will to fight. Despites years of living under a tyrannical God, their nature had hardly changed. The inhabitants of Angel Island were absolutely no threat to anyone.

After fifteen minutes, Marcus finally spoke up. "Hey, Isaac?" He asked curiously. Marcus' fingers were twitching slightly.

The slender man replied cautiously. "Yes?"

"Do you know how you said that I could kill everyone?"

Isaac's voice was nervous. Berrit took a step backwards. "Yes?"

"Is it ok if I start right now?"

The slender man straightened his glasses and sighed deeply. "If you must," Isaac muttered in resignation.

That was when Marcus started laughing. Both Isaac and Berrit turned their heads in distaste, while the air around them started to glow. The angels started to notice the trio, and then they started to run. They weren't fast enough.

The sound of bloodcurdling screams reverberated across Angel Island as night fell on Skypiea.

Chapter Text

The sky was pitch-black, and so dark it was impossible to travel through the forest at night. A strange type of peace descended over Upper Yard; like the quiet before the storm, or perhaps the preparation before the war.

The forest had a restless feel to it, filled with unsettling noises of strange animals stalking through the trees. Even with the large fire blazing at the centre of the campsite, all the marines had their weapons readied. The mood was tense, and no one would be sleeping tonight.

"Are you sure these chains are thick enough?"Zoro asked doubtfully, shaking the heavy manacles fastened around his wrists. "You should probably get something bigger."

Across from the campfire and trying very hard not to listen to him, Tashigi couldn't stop the vein from bulging on her forehead. Every marine standing guard shot Zoro a hateful glance. Despite the situation, Zoro realised that he was actually starting to enjoy himself.

The bulky chains fastened around his wrists and ankles were fastened on to wooden posts in the ground, all the while four burly and irritated marines held their rifles firmly at Zoro's head. The swordsman was looking much too smug than any wanted criminal chained up and surrounded by armed men who hated his guts had any right to be.

Zoro looked pretty badly beaten. He wore a sleeveless blue shirt that was so shredded it revealed most of his muscular chest. His black trousers were tattered and ruined, and he had kicked off his remaining shoe to walk around barefoot. There were dozens of cuts and scratches over his body, and his hair was a shaggy mess of green. His three swords had been confiscated, and that had been the most protest he had made ever since his 'capture'. Still, he seemed completely at ease as he looked around the camp.

"Do you have anything bigger?" Zoro pressed, looking curiously at Tashigi. "How about you double them up?"

Tashigi's hand clenched so tightly that she half-expected to draw blood. Zoro had been talking non-stop ever since they captured him. She had never imagined that finally capturing the pirate would be this annoying.

The lieutenant looked fairly worn too. She wore a red short-sleeved shirt with pink dots, but she had to leave her blue leather coat behind due to the heat. Her clothes were still scorched after Enel's attack, but otherwise she had recovered well. Her normally smooth black hair was still slightly frizzy from the lightning, and she had lost her glasses in the jungle. Compared to the rest of the marines, however, she was still in the best shape.

"Will you be quiet?!" Tashigi snapped.

"Hey, if you're going to surrender you might as well do it properly," Zoro shrugged. "I still don't think these chains are strong enough to hold me."

The Marines were all weary and tired. At least a hundred men had been badly wounded when Enel destroyed their ship, while Captain Smoker had been left so weak he could barely move. Hina managed to take charge, but the marines been left scattered and stranded in hostile territory, with precious few supplies remains.

Hina and the majority of their forces stayed back at the main camp to look after the wounded, but several expedition parties had been sent out to search for supplies and aids. From the few reports that had filtered through, they were bleeding men. Many expedition parties hadn't been heard from at all.

There were about fifty marines in their camp, mostly survivors recovered from other parties, and Tashigi was the ranking officer. There were many injured and the casualties were mounting. Between the constant attacks and the dwindling supplies, morale was at an all-time low. The white uniforms were tattered and filthy.

One of the marines next to him shot Zoro a hateful glance. The marine was a large, beef man with a large red stain cutting across his chest. There were quite a few men in the camp with similar, rapidly bandaged injuries, courtesy of Zoro's blades.

"Can't we just kill him already?" The marine growled.

"No!" Tashigi ordered, a bit too quickly. Everyone was staring at her suspiciously. "We bring him to the captain, alive."

"He tried to kill the scouting party!" The marine protested, shifting his rifle closer to Zoro's head.

"If I had tried to kill you, you'd all be dead," Zoro scoffed dismissively. The marine's eyes bugled, and slammed his rifle butt across Zoro's skull. It was such a weak blow that swordsman barely noticed.

"Enough!" Tashigi snapped. "He surrendered! We do not hurt our prisoners."

The look the man shot Zoro was murderous. There were lots of other men with similar expressions.

"Oi, what's that for?" Zoro demanded, not at all embarrassed. "You attacked first, after all."

"No we didn't!" The man roared. "You charged us!"

"Did I?" Zoro frowned, trying to remember. He shrugged dismissively. "Well, you would have attacked me first if I hadn't have attacked you."

"That doesn't make sense!"

The mood turned dangerous, and Zoro's attitude was doing nothing to help. Tashigi felt her stomach churn. Everyone in the expedition party was scared, and scared men tended to get violent. She had to do something.

"That is enough, sailor!" Tashigi shouted firmly, dropping into her officer's voice. It was a voice she had never been particularly good at, but Smoker had always used it effortlessly. Now, she tried her best to copy his. "Go maintain the perimeter!"

"But –"

"You have your orders!"

Unwillingly, the man stomped off, casting poisonous glances at Zoro and Tashigi as he left. If they had been on the ship, in Smoker's presence, he would never have dared such insubordination. Ever since rumours of the military tribunal had spread, Tashigi's command over her men was dubious to say the least. There were others around the campfire showing similar feelings, and Tashigi took no chances.

"You too!" Tashigi said firmly, pointing to the other men guarding Zoro. The swordsman was staying quiet for the first time all night. "The east perimeter is flimsy, go reinforce it."

"But the prisoner!" One of them protested weakly.

"I will handle the prisoner. Move." Tashigi's eyes left no room for argument. The marines scuttled away hesitantly.

For a while, the only sound was the crackling fire. The rest of the expedition party was scattered around the camp, but none so close that they could overhear Tashigi or Zoro. The lieutenant tried to remain focused, but she couldn't. She had been hunting the pirates for so long, but had never thought of what it would be like to actually capture them. To actually capture him. Now, her mind was churning with unwelcome thoughts, and she really wasn't comfortable with what she was feeling.

Perhaps Zoro recognised the change in mood. When he spoke again, his voice was a little less deliberately antagonising. "Well, they're a nice bunch," he muttered sarcastically, motioning to the marines stomping away into the darkness.

"Don't you dare judge them," Tashigi warned coldly. "We've been dealing with homicidal gods, raiders and vicious animals ever since we got here. We're stranded on an island in the sky and we've been taking casualties. They're all scared, and you never really made a good first impression."

For the first time, the swordsman looked slightly sheepish. "What did you expect? They're marines, and I'm a pirate."

Tashigi scoffed. "Oh, you don't have to remind me of that."

There was an edge to her voice. Zoro squirmed uncomfortably. Tashigi frowned darkly.

"Why did you surrender?" Tashigi demanded finally.

Zoro shrugged. "I already decided that I'm not going fight you again," he admitted nonchalantly. "And I'm in no mood to run away. Might as well surrender."

Tashigi took a deep breath. "Smoker is going to execute you," she said coldly.

Zoro smirked, not breaking eye-contact. "I don't give a damn about Smoker," he muttered. "I care what about you're going to do."

The lieutenant didn't react. She tried to tell herself that her heart didn't just jump. "You're insane," she growled. "You're a pirate. I don't know what fantasy you've constructed about me, but you're wrong."

"I think you're lying."

"Oh really?" Tashigi asked sarcastically. "Why? Why do you think that I even care about you?"

Zoro's smile widened. "Because I'm still alive."

Tashigi's retort jammed in her throat. Zoro was looking much too smug than any man in chains had any right to be.

"So what?" Tashigi replied finally, her tone confrontational. "I don't like killing my prisoners."

"Any what about back in Alabasta?" Zoro mused curiously. "You saved us all then."

The memory of her hands on Zoro's shoulders, pulling his limp body out of the sand flashed before her eyes. "That was a mistake," Tashigi replied instantly.

"I'm sure it was," Zoro replied derisively.

Tashigi's hand was on her sword. It took all the self-control she had not to unsheathe it. The vein in her head was bulging with frustration. "Is this your plan then?" Tashigi growled. "Get captured and 'flirt' with me in the hope I release you?"

Zoro shook his head. "No. Once Luffy finds out I'm captured, he'll come to free me. I trust my crew enough to save me, on the slim chance I can't escape by myself," Zoro explained simply. "And besides, I don't want to go anywhere right now. I figured that this was the only way I could actually get a chance to talk to you."

Tashigi gripped her sword's handle so tightly her knuckles turned white. "Nothing will ever happen between us," she promised.

Zoro shrugged. "Then maybe I'm making a mistake," he replied quietly. "But I've got to give it shot."

She shook her head slowly, but her heart was racing now. Tashigi was suddenly thankful that it was dark and he couldn't see how flushed her cheeks became. Around them, the marines were casting suspicious glances over at the campfire. Tashigi had to take a deep breath to calm the emotions swirling inside of her, and then she focused on the emotion that was the easiest to accept; anger.

"What do you think you're doing, saying crap like that?" Tashigi snarled, her voice louder than she intended. "I'm not some girl you can mess with!"

A vein in Zoro's forehead bulged. "What do you expect me to do?" He demanded. "I'm trying to be honest here, and your just making it difficult!"

"That's because what you're saying is impossible!" Tashigi screeched in a hushed voice. "I'm a marine, you're a pirate! It's impossible!"

Zoro looked like he was about to scream. His mouth opened a few times trying to reply, but only gargled sounds came out. Finally, he managed to speak. "I overheard those guys saying that you're being charged with treason," he said eventually. "Is that true?"

Tashigi finally drew her blade. Shigure slipped out of its sheathe with a sharp slicing sound. "Don't talk about my career," she warned.

"Fine, I won't," Zoro spat. "But no one in my crew has forgotten that you saved us all back in Alaburna. They're all good people and you would like them if you got to know them."

Zoro stared at her earnestly, his voice becoming hushed. Tashigi didn't dare respond. "Just know that you would have a place with us if you want it."

The words hit a nerve, and Tashigi was trembling slightly. All of her doubts and fears recently surged to the surface, and then she had to clutch her sword to stop her hand from shaking. He's a pirate, Tashigi told herself firmly, but the words had lost their previous meaning.

"Chief petty officer!" Tashigi shouted suddenly at one of the nearby marines. A heavyset man quickly snapped to attention. "I'm done talking with the prisoner. Take him away."

"Yes ma'am!"

Zoro's eyes bulged. For the first time since he surrendered, he started resisting. The marines took tight hold of his chains and yanked sharply, but Zoro thrashed so much it took five men to heave him away. The swordsman was spluttering incoherently, staring at Tashigi while the marines dragged him roughly across the ground.

"Goddammit!" Zoro screamed with frustration. One of the marines kicked him roughly in the side with more force than necessary. Zoro didn't seem to care. "I'm trying here! What more do you want from me?"

"Fasten him on to a tree or something!" Tashigi ordered, refusing to look at Zoro. "And gag him!"

The marines grunted with acknowledgement, still trying to restrain Zoro. Even with his arms and legs chained, the swordsman was still somehow managing to fight against five men. Zoro was struggling and shouting right up to the moment one of the men jammed a dirty cloak into his mouth.

His last words sounded something like, "Last bloody time I take Nami's advice…"

A few minutes of frantic struggling later, and the swordsman was dragged out of the camp. From the darkness, the frenzied sounds of the marines trying to secure Zoro down were clearly visible. There was the sound of someone spitting into someone's face, followed by the unmistakable thud of right hook to the chin. Fifteen seconds later, the marines walked back into camp, saluting to Tashigi as they passed. Tashigi's heart never stopped fluttering.

After that, an uneasy silence dropped over the camp. Tashigi tried to sit comfortably, but ended up pacing around the campfire. After a few minutes of pacing, she went and inspected the perimeter. Twice. Then, Tashigi took an inventory of their supplies again. A few of her men were glancing at her curiously, but the lieutenant was too distracted to notice. She was biting her lip and frowning with frustration.

After half an hour, Tashigi finally dropped back down in front of the campfire. The sky was pitch black and there were birds chirping from the forest. A few of the marines were trying to get some sleep, but most were resigned to staying on guard all night. Tashigi's body was still shaking as she stared into the flickering campfire. Her hand never stopped clutching her sword.

She wished there was something to fight. It would be some much easier if she had something to fight. Tashigi really wanted to punch something. At least then she wouldn't have to try to sort out her own feelings.

That bastard, she growled to herself angrily, Who did he think he was, saying stuff like that to her? Zoro was, without a doubt, the most irritating man she had ever met.

So why couldn't she stop thinking about him?

It was utterly impossible. She was a marine. She loved being a marine. Tashigi had wanted to be in the Marines ever since she was a child. She had fought tooth and nail to get where she was. The Marines was very much a male dominated organisation. In training camp, her instructors had tried to kick her out when they realised Tashigi was a woman. She had to work twice as hard as all of her colleagues just to keep up.

It had been a stroke of luck that Tashigi ended up under Smoker's command, one of the few captains who didn't care what gender she was. Tashigi was in the Grand Line, hunting down the Famed Blades faster than she could ever have hoped. She was living her dream – defending innocents and stopping bad guys.

Zoro had no idea what he was asking of her. If she became a pirate, she would be abandoning her dream.

Tashigi's stomach tightened with the thought. Slowly, Tashigi slung off her rucksack, and gingerly pulled out the three swords packed securely at the front. Wado Ichimonji, Yubashiri, and Sandai Kitetsu. A Great Grade Sword, a Skilful Grade Sword and a Grade Sword. Not long ago, Tashigi would have been over the moon to add these blades to her collection.

She stared at the white hilt of Wado Ichimonji for a long time, before carefully unsheathing it. The sword was magnificent. The hilt was flawless white with a circular hand-guard, understated and elegant, yet the blade was perfect. The straight edge was sharper and stronger than Tashigi could have imagined, and it was shiny that it practically glowed in the flickering light. Tashigi could have admired it for hours.

The other two swords were inferior to the Wado Ichimonji, but distinguished in their own right. Sandai Kitetsu was pitch-black and had an almost bloodthirsty aura. The edge was so sharp that Tashigi nearly cut herself just holding it. By contrast, Yubashiri was lightweight yet sturdy, a nice and reliable sword if Tashigi ever saw one. All three swords had been polished to perfection, their edges beautifully maintained.

Say what you want about Roronoa Zoro, Tashigi conceded, but he knew how to look after a sword.

The thought caused Tashigi's stomach to plummet. She stared at the three swords for a long time.

There are good people and there are bad people, Tashigi thought carefully, I am a marine, he is a pirate. It was her job to protect the good people, and stop the bad people. It was her dream to recover the swords from the bad people. That was what she had always believed.

Smoker would execute Zoro. In normal circumstances, her captain would want his prisoners to have a trial, but right now Smoker was focused on ensuring Tashigi survived the upcoming tribunal. Smoker would execute Zoro as a substitute for his captain, to prove to the tribunal that Tashigi was loyal to the Marines. As far as Smoker was concerned, if it was a choice between his lieutenant and a pirate, then that wasn't even a choice.

The thought made Tashigi sick. Good people and bad people. That was her code. Zoro was a pirate, but he wasn't a bad person. He didn't deserve to die.

She stared at Wado Ichimonji for a bit longer, and she knew what she had to do.

This is a mistake, Tashigi thought angrily, her eyes nearly filling up with tears. But if she didn't do this now, then she would be betraying her dream in a different way.

Slowly, she stood up and started to walk away from the campfire, keeping the three swords close to hand. She moved so quietly that few even noticed her leaving. Tashigi carefully crept through the darkness, quickly moving through the trees with barely a sound.

In the gloom, the outline of a figure chained to a huge tree trunk was barely visible. Zoro's shoulders slumped up against the bark. There was a marine standing guard, yet the man was so tired he was leaning on his rifle for support. Neither of them noticed Tashigi approach.

With a final twang of guilt, Tashigi moved behind the marine, and brought the hilt of her sword down roughly against his back with a dull thud of force. The man collapsed to the ground limply, with barely a sound. Tashigi already hated herself for what she was doing.

Zoro jumped up and stared at her with shock. He opened his mouth to speak, but there was nothing that the lieutenant wanted to hear.

"Shut up!" Tashigi hissed angrily, keeping her voice low. Her voice was vicious. Some self-preservation instinct triggered in the swordsman and his mouth slammed shut. "You are not going to say a word, do you understand?"

Zoro's eyes were wide open with shock. Tashigi looked pissed. As it difficult as it was when he was chained to a tree, Zoro was still trying to cover his crotch protectively. Zoro nodded cautiously.

Tashigi drew her sword, and with a fluid wave all the chains dropped to the ground with a dull thunk. Zoro rubbed the broken manacles across his wrists, and staring at Tashigi nervously.

"Take these!" She snapped, shoving his three swords into his hands. "Go in that direction! Stay quiet!" Her eyes were blazing angrily as she pointed away from the camp. "And don't you dare hurt any of my men on the way out!"

He opened his mouth to speak. Tashigi glared at him warningly. "Smoker will kill you if he captures you," Tashigi threatened. "Stay away from the Marines, do you understand?"

Zoro tried to say something, yet Tashigi never cared to hear it. She already hated what she was doing, and she really never wanted to talk about it. "Not a word!"

Zoro nodded meekly, not quite sure what was going on, but Tashigi clearly wasn't taking questions. "Move!" Tashigi ordered in a hushed voice. "Now!"

He nodded and carefully started to scuttle away, staring at Tashigi like she was a strange and weird animal that might kill him at any moment. Tashigi looked down at the unconscious marine, checking that he was alright. He would probably be out for a while, enough time for Tashigi to sneak back into camp. If she was lucky, enough time would pass before Zoro was discovered missing that no one would suspect her.

Tashigi had to take deep, calming breaths, trying not to imagine what Smoker would say if he found out what she did. I'm doing the right thing, Tashigi thought repeatedly yet without conviction, he doesn't deserve to die. Her captain had stuck by her through thick and thin, yet letting a pirate escape was open treason. She was betraying the closest friend she had. It was enough to make Tashigi feel dizzy. This is a mistake, she thought again with frustration.

Zoro had nearly vanished in the darkness. Tashigi never knew what she was doing, but she was already working on impulse. "Wait!" She shouted quickly.

He stopped and turned. Tashigi felt her heart pounding. Suddenly, she realised how much of his broad, washboard abs were visible through his tattered shirt. Her willpower collapsed.

If I'm going to make a mistake, I might as well make it a big one…

She never knew what she was doing. She hardly even realised she was doing it. It seemed like the next second Tashigi was approaching Zoro, wrapping her hand around his head and pulling him down to her. Her heart pounded furiously, but as soon as their lips touched, Tashigi felt it skip a beat.

Zoro gasped with shock, but then Tashigi was on him and he couldn't even breathe. He only just managed to wonder what was happening, and then the realisation hit him and his mind went completely blank. Instinctively, his mouth dropped open and he started to kiss her back, feeling her tongue against his.

Her lips were soft yet firm. It was awkward and clumsy, but their hearts were pounding so quickly they neither of them noticed. Slowly, Tashigi moved her hands up his torso, tracing out every muscle over his stomach as she moved upwards. Her hands hovered over his scar gingerly, before wrapping around her arms his shoulders tightly.

Zoro could feel every sensation. His lungs were burning for air yet he didn't dare break the kiss. The tempo increased, and Zoro's hands seemed to move by themselves. They went to her hips and wrapped around, pulling her body into his and gently leaning Tashigi backwards. He could feel her torso against his, her soft breasts pressing on to his chest. It would have blown his mind, but Zoro had no idea where he lost it.

Tashigi raised her leg until it wrapped around his. Zoro's hands caressed her back, and a quiet moan erupted from her throat. That did it. Suddenly, everything came crashing back down to him, and Zoro's hands turned stiff as he realised just how close they really were.

Tashigi let go first, shoving Zoro backwards as she struggled to stand up straight. She was gasping for air, staring at Zoro with wide-eyes. Zoro just stared back at her incredulously, her taste still overpowering his every sense. He was blinking repeatedly, and his mouth hung open dumbly, not quite sure what else to do with it.

Her arms were trembling. Tashigi had to force herself to pretend not to notice the bulge in his trousers.

Zoro's mouth was flapping helplessly. He was trying to say something, but he had to pick his wits up off the ground first. Tashigi held up a hand, shaking her head.

"No," she gasped warningly. "Not. A. Word."

Tashigi didn't trust him not to ruin the moment and something stupid. She didn't think she could take it. With a nervous gulp, the swordsman nodded dumbly.

The seconds dripped on silently. Nobody moved. Part of Tashigi wanted to punch him. Another part wanted to rip of his clothes. Another part really wanted to do both. After what seemed like a lifetime, it was the sound of a nearby patrol that shook them out of their paralysis.

"Go," Tashigi panted breathlessly. "Now."

Zoro nodded again. He still wasn't blinking naturally. Awkwardly, the swordsman turned around and started to walk away. For once, he walked in a completely straight line.

Tashigi watched him leave, before trying to head back to the camp. She managed three steps before tripped and collapsed to her knees. Her breaths were shallow, and she tried desperately to ignore the burning heat between her legs. Tashigi suddenly wished she had brought a change of underwear.

It took several deep gasps before she was able to walk properly again. Slowly and hesitantly, Tashigi wobbled back into camp.

About thirty seconds later, comprehension of what he just did dawned on Zoro. The smile grew across the swordsman's face, until it was a mad grin that stretched from ear to ear. He could still taste Tashigi on his lips and in his mouth. For the life of him, he couldn't describe the taste, but it was beautiful. He was practically skipping away.

It was almost half an hour later until he realised what he was missing.

"Wait a minute…" Zoro muttered slowly, staring around at the pitch-black forest of dark trees. "Where the hell am I?"

There was chirping from the trees, and the surrounding darkness seemed to squirm.


"Nami!" The desperate sobs split through the night. "Vivi! Robin!"

"Will shut you up already?" Usopp groaned, trembling as he felt the eyes of the unseen predators latch on to his from the trees. The night was not a comforting time to be trapped out in the wilderness. Next to Usopp, Carue and Pierre were shivering together, their wings flapping as the two birds tried to hide behind each other. A strange but instant friendship had formed between the giant duck and the pink nearly-Pegasus.

"But there are beautiful women lost out in the dark somewhere!" Sanji screamed, pacing as fast as his injuries would allow, his eyes glowing. "They must be cold and shivering and huddling together, waiting for a heroic knight to come and save them…!"

A perverted look settled on his face for a while. His mouth drooled. "Nami!" The chef shouted again, his voice rising in volume. "Vivi! Robin!"

Sitting cross-legged and as still as a statue, Gan Fall looked at Sanji with vague amusement. "I fear your friend may be suffering some sort of hysteria from his injuries."

Usopp shook his head. "No," he muttered, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "He's been suffering from this long before any injuries…"

Sanji didn't seem to hear him. The chef was rapidly climbing up a large tree, searching for any sign of a beautiful woman. The dark forest hid everything. Sanji was practically sobbing with anguish.

"Your long-nosed friend is right," Gan Fall said calmly. "It is dangerous to attract attention in this place. Upper Yard is not a safe place, especially not now."

"But what about the girls?" Sanji sobbed pleadingly. "Who knows what they've been through? Who knows who they might reward the man who comes to their rescue…"

"We will search for your friends in the morning," Gan Fall promised, deliberately ignoring the last part of Sanji's statement. "But it is too perilous to search in the dark."

Sanji groaned in disappointment. Usopp looked at Gan Fall with worry. "Everyone else must have been through an Ordeal too, right?"

"Yes," Gan Fall nodded darkly. "And I will not lie to you about their chances of survival. Still, there is always hope."

"Luffy won't get beaten!" Usopp proclaimed definitely. "No one could beat our captain!"

The old knight's eyes narrowed. "Indeed."

Dropping miserably from the tree, Sanji lit a cigarette to calm himself down. "Say, why did you rescue us from that weird priest guy, anyways?" The chef asked curiously.

Gan Fall shifted uncomfortably. "I came here to try to rescue my imprisoned companions," he admitted. "But I have wanted to interrupt the Ordeals for years now. What Enel and his goons do to visitors is barbaric. It is a disgrace that it has gone on for so long."

"That fat priest guy was really strong," Usopp muttered. "Are there are others like him?"

The knight nodded. "Yes, all four of the priests are adept in Mantra," he explained. "As well as Enel, who has utter mastery over it. He also has his Enforcers, and many devotees. They are force not to be underestimated."

Sanji groaned loudly, looking longingly into the darkness. "And the girls are still out there!"

Usopp's expression was uncharacteristically dark. Both he and Sanji were heavily bandaged from their fight with Satori. "That guy beat us so easily…" The sniper muttered coldly under his breath.

"You did better than most," Gan Fall reassured. "Inhabitants from the Blue Sea are at a severe disadvantage in sky combat. You did well to last as long as you did."

Usopp didn't respond. Sanji looked at the old knight with confusion. "Wait – you're from Skypiea?" The chef wondered, staring at the armoured old man. "Then where are your wings?"

"Oh, I had them removed years ago," Gan Fall chuckled, rubbing his shoulder blades instinctively. "Our wings are evolutionary leftovers from long ago, and not very useful," he explained to Sanji's confused expression. "They have very few nerve endings in them, so it is mostly painless, and they tend to get in the way when wearing armour. It wasn't much of a loss."

"Huh, that's so weird," Sanji muttered.

He looked at them understandingly. "Yes, I suppose it would seem strange to you. You must have many questions, and I will try my best to answer them."

"Ok," Sanji took a deep breath of his cigarette. "Then what the hell is up with the island."

Gan Fall grunted. "In the Blue Sea, soil must be such a mundane commodity," he mused, his fingers scraping at the ground. "But in the sky, this is a Holy Land. This is Vearth," he proclaimed, sprinkling a handful of dirt around him idly. "It is precious to us, and right now there is a war for it."

The Knight of the Sky looked at them seriously. "Upper Yard is not a safe place to be," he warned. "Enel and his followers keep this ground from themselves, and Enel is mad enough to kill anyone who dares to challenge him. The Shandorians have launched an attack to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs, and I hear that a large force of Blue Sea inhabitants have also landed. Upper Yard is preparing for war, and you should leave as soon as possible lest you get dragged into it."

"We're not leaving without our crew," Usopp proclaimed. "And Luffy would never leave without us."

Gan Fall didn't respond. Sanji scratched his chin thoughtfully. "And what are you doing here?" He asked the old knight.

The old man's wrinkled face was more solemn than ever. "I am here to save lives," he muttered. "However many I am capable of saving…"

His hand touched his large backpack protectively. Usopp stared at him suspiciously. The backpack was as large as a man, and bulging dangerously.

"What's in that bag?" Usopp asked curiously.

For half a second, Gan Fall seemed like a frail old man. "I pray that you never have to find out," he muttered under his breath.

Sanji finally sat down, and pondered the situation for a while. "If this place is so dangerous, are you sure it's alright to be out here so exposed?" He asked, pointing to flickering fire. Gan Fall had covered the campfire with a shroud to hide its light, but it was still blindingly bright in the darkness.

"Hopefully," Gan Fall admitted. "But it is impossible to navigate Upper Yard in the dark. The other forces should have settled for the night as well. In the morning, however, we will have to move fast. For now, the fire should help keep the predators away."

The knight hesitated. "That said, there are some predators that are not so easily frightened. I felt the ground rumble earlier in the day, and that could only mean that the Master of the Sky has awoken."

Usopp looked scared. Even Carue started to huddle up to Pierre a bit more. "The Master of the Sky?"

"The great snake," Gan Fall explained dryly. "The largest creature in the clouds. It is so big that it tends to hibernate for years at a time, but now that it has awoken we can expect weeks of rampage. I hear that even the priests flee from the beast."

As if Usopp needed any more reason to be scared. With a frightened yelp, the sniper scuttled away to huddle alongside Carue and Pierre. Sanji flickered his cigarette on to the fire with frustration.

"The girls must be so scared!" He groaned. "Why are we waiting around here when there are beautiful women in danger!?"

"Tomorrow morning," Gan Fall murmured, staring into the fire. "There's nothing we can do for them until first light."

Sanji sagged and nearly collapsed. Gan Fall was quiet for a long time, before seeming to reach a decision. He looked at both of them cautiously.

"I'm curious about something," he said quietly. "Please, tell me more about this captain of yours."

The night was cold and vicious. Dark eyes stalked the girls, from the shadows but the girls were both too exhausted to run for any longer. It was so dark they had to hold on to each to avoid stumbling with every stop. Eventually, Nami and Vivi stopped to take shelter in the roots of a large twisting tree, while around them the beasts of Upper Yard stalked the night.

For a long time, neither of them moved. They had been running too hard and too long, and they both just wanted to collapse. Then, Nami realised how severely Vivi was clutching her injured side, and the navigator wordlessly proceeded to rip up what was left of her shirt to make a bandage. Vivi winced with pain as the cloth wrapped around the wound. Her Logia abilities did nothing to help against injuries she already had, and Vivi had lost so much blood that everything was starting to blur.

"Thanks," Vivi whispered eventually. It was a pretty poor bandage, but it was the best they had. They were cold, hungry and scared. They had run long and hard away from the priest and the raiders, but there were too many creatures in the forest that could take advantage of their weakened state. There was a low hiss in the distance that sent shivers done their spines.

Quietly, Nami held out her hand to Vivi. The princess ignored the hand and hugged Nami tightly. With a nervous sob, Nami hugged her back. For a long time, they both held each other closely, trying to fight back the fears.

It took nearly half an hour before their beating hearts began to calm. Everything was slightly less scary when they were with each other.

"Thank you for saving my life," Nami muttered finally.

Vivi just tightened her grip. "Of course not!" She hissed quietly. "I mean, you never have to thank me for that. You're my best friend."

There was a moment's silence. The image of flashing white sword lashing towards her flashed in front was still burnt between into her head. Nami knew fine well how close she had come to death in that fight. Nami's eyes stared to fill with tears. "But I'm sorry I've been so distant with you lately… I really don't want to anything to come between us…!"

Vivi was crying too now. "It's not your fault," the princess admitted, stuttering between gasps of tears. "It's me… I…"

Her body shivered slightly. The princess must have known the truth for a while, but it was so hard to accept and even harder to say out loud. Vivi's voice turned so quiet it was nearly inaudible, "I think I'm in love with Luffy…"

Nami didn't noticeably react. It took her a long time to think of anything to say at all. "Oh," she muttered dumbly.

The night was dark and silent, but around the campfire it was warm and cosy. Robin slowly leant back on her makeshift seat on top of an old log, crossing her long legs as she stared at Luffy with amusement.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Luffy asked with concern, still struggling to keep the fire going. The flames were flickering weakly, no matter how much wood Luffy dropped on to the flames.

"I'm fine, Mr Captain," Robin replied politely, trying to hide her smile. The dark haired woman said with perfect posture even on the dirty ground, massaging her bruised wrists slightly while the fire crackled.

Luffy nodded apologetically. "I'm sorry, I really wish Chopper was here. He would know how to help you."

"I'm sure I can manage."

Luffy jumped with realisation "Oh!" He exclaimed, pulling a large bundle out from the hem of his shorts. "That's right! I picked these vines up, I thought we could use them as bandages."

Robin glanced at the pile of greenery that Luffy held out eagerly. "That's poison ivy," she said softly. "It will cause severe rashes after a half an hour."

The look of dumb realisation over Luffy's face was priceless. "Oh," the captain muttered dumbly, scratching at his own makeshift bandages around his shoulder and arm. "Hold on a moment."

Robin couldn't stop the giggle as Luffy quickly rushed into the forest to the nearby stream. There was a breath of relief as bandages were torn off, followed by a shrill scream. After a few minutes, Luffy walked back into view, sweating a bit more. His wounds looked even rawer.

"Is everything alright?" Robin asked sweetly.

Luffy just grinned. "It's fine," he replied happily. The flames were starting to flicker, so Luffy rushed to shove another bundle of twigs onto the fire. The flames were nearly suffocated under the wood, yet then Luffy screamed as the fire almost burst its boundaries.

"Do you need a hand?" Robin offered kindly.

"I'm ok!" Luffy shouted, stamping on the flames to stop the whole foliage from catching light. "You just rest!"

Ever since Robin winced when she moved her hands, Luffy had been concerned about her. Both her wrists were bruised black from the fight, and almost being dragged along while fleeing from a giant python hadn't helped either. Luffy had been instantly worried, and had insisted that he could handle everything himself while Robin just recovered.

It was ridiculous in a way. After all, Luffy was much more severely injured than she was. It had taken Robin a while to release that Luffy quite simply considered her own wellbeing more important than his own. The thought to do otherwise never even occurred to him. When Robin had suggested that he might need medical attention more, Luffy had been genuinely confused.

In truth, her wrists weren't that bad. The muscles hurt and they would be sore for a while, but Robin was tough enough to work through it. I should really insist on helping him, Robin mused quietly.

That said; the sight Luffy trying to play a nurse was too cute to resist. Robin was content just sitting down and watching him try to look after her.

Also, Luffy was still shirtless, and his muscles flexed beautifully in the firelight. That was always a bonus.

"Are you sure you're not in pain, Robin?" Luffy asked worriedly. He was a bit helpless when it came to looking after someone else, bless him.

"Oh, I'm absolutely fine, Mr Captain," Robin said with satisfaction, leaning back and taking a sip out of her canteen.

It took a while for Luffy to get the fire going. By that time, the campfire was an inferno so furious that he even had to pull some of the firewood out it, and then he had to roll across the ground as his shorts caught light.

"Are you sure you don't want any help, Mr Captain?" Robin teased gently.

"I've got it!" Luffy screamed, throwing dirt over the flames on his short. A filthy and slightly singed Luffy sighed as the campfire finally started to settle.

There was movement from bushes. Luffy was instantly alert and dived into the darkness. There was a dull thud, and then Luffy came stomping back out.

"I thought that huge snake found us again," he explained apologetically, dragging the body of a large boar out behind him. "But I've got something to eat!"

Luffy trying to cook was one of the most humorous things Robin had seen in years. Normally, Luffy ate so ferociously that actually cooking it first was almost optional. Since Robin was with him, the captain seemed to be trying to do it properly. The archaeologist watched him trying to figure out which way to skin the animal for nearly fifteen minutes, until finally she couldn't take it anymore.

Gently, Robin crawled up next to him, and held his hand. "Please," she said softly. "I want to help."

Luffy looked like he was about to protest for a second, but a stern look from Robin caused him to stay silent. Robin took the knife off him, and carefully showed him how to cut the boar. Luffy looked almost embarrassed, but Robin was careful not to tease him about it.

"Could you help me with this?" Robin asked sympathetically, and Luffy pushed over next to her. She took his hand softly. Robin made a point of demonstrating how to cook the meat, all the while pretending that she was the one needing help. Somehow, she doubted that even Luffy was fooled, but he appeared to appreciate the effort.

After a while, Luffy was cooking the boar nicely, and Robin took the opportunity to tidy up the mess he made of the fire. Very few words were spoken, but a comfortable silence fell over the pair.

As the meat started to brown, Luffy left to fill up their canteens with water. When he returned, he was carrying sploshing canteens over his back, and his pockets were overfilled with purple berries.

"Robin!" Luffy said happily. "I found all these berries by the river! Are they alright?"

Robin stayed quiet for a moment. Luffy's face drooped slightly.

"Um… they're not poisonous or anything, are they?" He asked hesitantly. His mouth was stained purple slightly.

Robin just didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. "No, Luffy," Robin lied softly. "They're absolutely fine."

He grinned brightly. From what Robin had seen of Luffy's metabolism, she doubted it would give him much more than a sore stomach. A few minutes later, Robin 'accidently' dropped the berries into the fire. Luffy seemed to take the hint and not offer to pick anymore, and then he took a very large gulp of water to wash down the ones he'd already eaten. Robin could barely restrain the giggle as the unspoken agreement passed between them.

It took the better part of an hour before the meat was ready to eat. Despite Luffy's best efforts (or perhaps because of them), the meat was still crispy along the edges and undercooked in the centre. Large portions of the animal had been too burned to salvage. It was rough and chewy, and they had to eat with their fingers off a stone around the campfire.

Still, Robin would choose this meal over whatever five-star cuisine Sanji prepared every single time.

Luffy was grinning happily as they ate. After the meal, he pulled away enough of firewood until the campfire was smouldering lowly, and Robin took the opportunity to dress his wounds. The cuts on his shoulder was oozing slightly, but otherwise healing nicely, while the burns across his arm looked nasty. Robin was far from a doctor, but she had learnt enough about first aid over the years.

Luffy sat cross-legged on the ground, while Robin lent over him and tried to dress his shoulder with what little she had. They were both quiet for a while, while Robin was acutely aware how close they were sitting. His bare chest pressed into her side, but neither of them said a word.

"Thank you, Robin," Luffy whispered quietly into her ear. Robin felt her heart kick, and she had to brush her hair behind her eyes to cover her faint blush. Her hands brushed across Luffy's rough skin more than was strictly necessary.

What am I doing? Robin kicked herself quietly. It was just the atmosphere and the campfire. She liked Luffy as a friend and enjoyed his company, but there were too many reasons why it would never work between them.

Robin pulled herself away and went back to sit in her seat. Neither of them said a word. After a while, Luffy closed his eyes and snoozed off to sleep in front of the flames.

She couldn't get to sleep. Luffy made her feel at ease, but the habits developed after so many years on the run weren't so easily broken. Robin could never fall asleep in such a strange environment so easily. Instead, she carefully lounged out on the ground, and pulled out a small notepad as she inspected the broken ruins near their camp.

The ruins were buried among the roots and nearly hidden. The stone was old and worn, but there were barely visible inscriptions carved into the side. The language was ancient and archaic, but it bared a certain similarity to ones that Robin had studied in her youth. Expertly, Robin sketched out the inscriptions, and then proceeded to try and decipher it like a crossword.

Her slender legs hung in the air as she lay on her back, focused completely on writings. The hours past and the night become more subdued, while the fire faded slowly. At that point, she never even needed the glimmering light anymore. She could see the language in her mind as she twisted the letters around, trying to fill in the gaps.

Robin was so distracted that she barely even heard Luffy stir later in the night.

"Robin?" Luffy asked tiredly, rubbing his eyes. "What are you doing?"

The archaeologist glanced over to Luffy, who was staring at her curiously. "I'm trying to decipher this inscription," she explained, holding up the notepad.

"Huh," Luffy frowned, his eyes squinting as he stared at the mess of scribbles with confusion. "You can read that?"

"Not easily," Robin admitted. "Most of the writing is too faded to read. I think the ruins must be at least four hundred years old, but it's hard to tell since the sky preserves everything differently. The inscription itself is a strange language too, but it definitely has roots in Formative Years, perhaps even the Void Century. Some of the figures remind me of the Poneglyth alphabet, but it is cruder than that. I think it's more like hieroglyphics than any romance language."

Luffy was quiet proud of himself for keeping the confusion of his face. "Right," he nodded in fake understanding. "So what does it say?"

Robin looked at him curiously. "Most of its jumbled," she explained. "I'm only reading a small section of larger ruin. I can make out bits about the ancestors, and Tree of Spirits. There are references to gods and sacrifice, but the most interesting bit is this line here." She gently traced out a line in the faded stone. "I'm pretty sure that it mentions a City of Gold and a Golden Bell…"

Luffy didn't respond straight away. Then, he pulled himself up and quietly crawled next to her. "Show me," he said, sitting cross-legged in front of the ruins.

Robin's surprise must have shown on her face. "I like reading with you," Luffy explained with a shrug.

"It's pretty boring," Robin warned quietly.

Luffy just shrugged again. "It's never boring when I'm with you."

She didn't respond for a while. Instead, she just stared at Luffy, a thoughtful gaze in her eyes. She rubbed her chin curiously, while Luffy shifted awkwardly.

"Did I do something wrong?" He asked finally.

"No," Robin shook her head with a peculiar smile. "Definitely not."

She turned back to the ruins. After a few seconds, Robin rolled her shoulders casually, yawned, and then slowly pulled her cream shirt off over her head. She was wearing a black bra that held up smooth and voluptuous breasts, and her body was well-toned and slender. She was naturally long and thin, and that had never been more obvious as she stretched out, catlike.

Robin dropped her shirt on the ground, and focused completely on the stone ruins, deliberately not glancing at Luffy. The captain looked confused and unsure what was happening, but Robin didn't seem to notice.

"Is everything ok?" Luffy asked eventually.

"Oh, I'm fine," Robin replied, innocently. "I was just feeling a bit warm."

He nodded, and turned away. Robin pretended to focus on her notepad, but all the while she looked at Luffy through the corner of her eye, curious as to how he would react. Robin had slept in the same bed as him, and Luffy never made an inappropriate mouth. Luffy was fidgeting awkwardly. The seconds ticked by as Robin continued to reread through her notepad.

And then a sly smile crept over her face as she caught Luffy's not-so-subtle glance towards her breasts.

I'm being silly, Robin thought quietly, this is foolish. Robin had to take a deep breath to calm herself. She shouldn't be acting like this. It would never work between them. He was a teenager, and she was eleven years older than him. They were two completely different people. Perhaps it was just the thin atmosphere in the sky causing her to feel slightly lightheaded.

Yes, Robin mused soberly, it was impossible. She was one of the world's most wanted criminals. There were entire secret organisations chasing after her, as she was the only one who could unlock the Ancient Weapons. It had been a pleasant journey, but it would have to end sooner or later. She would have to leave them.

It was a shame, but inevitable. Luffy was one of the few people who could put her completely and totally at ease. She trusted Luffy, and that was a very rare thing for Robin. Still, he's far too innocent for me, Robin realised. The more attached she became, the harder it would be when everything fell apart, and it undoubtedly would. If there was anything that she had learnt over the last twenty years, it was that anything good turned sour around her.

Her breathing was shallow from the sobering memories. Her shoulders drooped slightly. Not to even mention the two other girls in the crew, Robin pondered. Nami and Vivi were both much more appropriate than Robin, and not just in age. Robin never had a proper childhood, but Luffy made simply made her feel like a teenager again. This is a schoolgirl's crush, nothing more, Robin decided.

Luffy gently placed his hand on her shoulder, sensing something was troubling her. The night was quieter than it had ever been. "Are you sure you're ok, Robin?" He asked gently, the concern visible in his innocent brown eyes.

Robin took a deep breath. She nodded quietly. Yes, she thought firmly, it would never work between us. There are simply too many obstacles in the way.

Far too many obstacles in the way.

Yep, it could never work. Every rational thought she had told her it was a bad idea.

Oh, fuck it.

Suddenly, Robin was feeling light-headed. Her body felt strangely calm and distant as she took Luffy's hand softly, gripping his fingers while Robin carefully pulled herself into his personal space. They were sitting face to face, and with her other hand Robin wrapped it around Luffy's shoulders, slowly caressing his cheek.

Luffy's eyes bulged with shock. "Robin…" He stammered hesitantly. "What are you doing?"

She smiled mysteriously, her eyes glinting slightly. "Luffy, do you trust me?"

He paused for a second, before nodding firmly. "Yes."

Robin moved in closer, wrapping her arms around him until her cheek was pressing against his. She could feel his breath on her neck as she slowly whispered into his ear, "Then trust me."

Luffy saw the look in her eyes, and instinctively stopped talking. From that moment, there was nothing either of them wanted to say.

At that point, Robin was done thinking. The night was dark and the fire was burning low. Robin wanted to do something young and stupid.

Her lips kissed his cheek first, before sliding over and hitting his lips. She could feel his sharp intake of breath, but after a couple of seconds Luffy started to kiss her back. His tongue was clumsy and awkward, and his lips were wet, sloppy and nervous.

Robin just grinned, pulling back to bite his bottom lip playfully. Luffy looked like he was having trouble breathing, but Robin's movements were smooth and composed. Her hands gently roamed down his back, gliding across his body until she was caressing his muscled chest. His arms were stuck to his side, twitching slightly but unsure what to do. She pulled her whole body in even closer, so close she was practically sitting on his lap. Robin could feel Luffy's heart pounding away, thumping so furiously she half wondered if he was about to have a heart attack.

Slowly and caringly, Robin moved in for a second kiss. Luffy gulped slightly and tried to kiss her back. It felt like he was trying to lick the inside of her mouth.

Robin had to break the embrace to giggle helplessly. "You really have no idea what you're doing here, do you?" She teased, still stroking his shoulders lightly.

Luffy shook his head. "No," he admitted, but, for the first time in his life, he really, really, really wanted to learn.

Robin could feel how much he wanted to learn from the bulge in his shorts.

She moved in so close that their noses were barely touching, and they were staying into each other's eyes. Then, Robin closed her eyes. "Let me show you," she whispered gently, her hands either side of Luffy's face. Her lips were slow and calm, carefully pressing against his and pushing forward. It wasn't long before he got into the rhythm of it, and she could feel his heartbeat begin to slow.

"Use your hands," Robin whispered gently. Luffy's arms were stuck to his side, like a child not sure where to put them.

Luffy twitched but hesitated. "Where?" He asked nervously.

"I don't know," Robin smiled mischievously, pressing her chest even closer against his. "Where do you want to put them?"

Anxiously, his hands hovered around her hips. Robin took his hands in hers and slowly dragged them across her body, around her stomach and up towards her chest. She pressed his palms against her sternum so he could feel her racing heart. Luffy stared at her with awe, and swept his fingers downwards until they rested on the side of her boobs. Robin's smile widened, and the sequence of kisses resumed, faster and more passionately than ever.

The desire was overflowing from her body. She could feel every twitch he made, and the sensations burned through her. Her hands drifted over his body, feeling the muscled strength of his torso, and the across the ridges of his firm abs. She paused briefly on the waistline of shorts.

The kissing continued fervently. They were struggling for breath but neither of them dared to stop. Robin had other lovers over the years. Once or twice, she had even thought she'd been in love. Now, all those thoughts were blown away as Luffy caressed her body. It had been years since anyone had touched her so intimately, and even longer since she had felt so utterly at ease with it. She had forgotten how much she could enjoy it. She had forgotten how much she needed it.

A pleasured moan broke through her lips as Luffy massaged her breasts through the bra, and pushed his mouth forward to increase the tempo. Their foreheads knocked together and Robin nearly fell backwards, but she didn't care. His lips were fixed onto hers, his arms tightly around her body.

Gods, she thought dumbly, he's fast learner.

Finally, they parted, panting deeply and staring at each other. Luffy had an expression of pure awe on his face as he stared at her like she was a goddess. That served only to feed the hungry shine in Robin's eyes. She hadn't planned on going so far. She hadn't planned anything. Now, she felt the burning heat from her crotch, and realised that she couldn't stop even if she wanted too.

She pulled herself up until she was kneeling over Luffy, gently kissing his forehead. Robin lifted her leg across his legs as she straddled his lap, while Luffy was left sitting down with his face buried in her chest, his hands on her smooth torso.

"Take off my bra," Robin whispered in his ear, her voice quiet but soaked with desire.

Luffy nodded and wrapped his hands around her back, frantically playing with the clasp with clumsy fingers. His face was buried into her bra as he tried to unfasten it with obvious difficulty.

"It's easy," Robin whispered, twisting her arms behind her back. There was a small click as nimble fingers unfastened the hook. "Just like that."

Luffy's gulped as he stared at pale, porcelain skin of Robin's nude chest. His mind was reeling with shock, amazement and pleasure as he felt the warmth of her breasts, feeling the texture, the firmness and the softness. Robin's breathing grew even heavier now, and something inside him pushed him forward, losing all hesitation.

Robin gasped with pleasure as he gave both mounds a soft squeeze, feeling the swollen nipples in the palm of his hands. Her eyes were closed as he ran his fingers across her, kissing wildly upwards from bellybutton to her collarbone. Her body reverberated with low moans of desire. She was burning hot to the touch.

She was astride him, and Luffy had to strain upwards just to reach her with his mouth. With a light touch, Robin pushed him backwards to the dirty ground and lowered her body until she lying on top of him. Robin started at his mouth, moving down his neck and across his collarbone with a stream of wanton kisses. Her mouth caressed his abs, her tongue licking playfully across over his chest, as she worked downwards.

I'm Luffy's first, she realised slowly. It was hard to even think properly between the surges of pleasure shivering up her body. The thought caused her to smile as she pushed onwards. Her groping hands reached the hemline, dexterously flicking the button of his cotton shorts as she unfastened his zip. She wanted his first time to be a good one.

Luffy tried to stir. The pressure in his pants felt like it was about to explode, and it almost did as Robin pulled his shorts downwards. "Robin, what are you doing?!"

"I told you to trust me," she chided softly, reaching downwards until her hand wrapped lightly around his swollen member. Luffy could only whimper weakly, but she moved with a steady determination. Her face was flushed red. Her whole body was sweaty despite the cold air. "I promise you'll enjoy it…"

The last thing he saw was Robin's mouth opening around his tip, swallowing as much of his span as possible.

Luffy's mind went blank. His fingers clawed at the dirty ground. The sensation was indescribable, but even that faded as the feel of her wet tongue around his shaft. The hot, cramped wetness of her mouth around him sent shivers down his spine. His back arched as Robin pushed her head further down, his mouth gasping uselessly.

Her lips were flushed against his skin. A flash of discomfort passed across Robin's face, but she never stopped.

"What's hap–?" He gasped, but all questions faded from mind once Robin started to move; back and forth with steady determination. He could feel her throat and tongue tighten around him, and the ecstasy burnt through him, increasing in pace. Luffy couldn't even think anymore. Her mouth was an airtight seal. The sloppy sound should have been vulgar, but Luffy was in no mood to care. He laid with his head stretched back, gasping for air between deep groans.

He held on for as long as he could, but the heat in his crotch burned hotter than he could have ever imagined. The sensation was intolerable. His whole body tensed and a shrill scream burst from his lips. His body exploded like a cannon, followed by a wave of pure bliss scorching through his body.

Robin was caught off-guard, but recovered quickly. She pulled herself away, but his climax sprayed across down her chest and shoulders. She coughed and spat out his essence on to the ground, wiping the mess from her lips.

"I'm so sorry, Robin!" Luffy apologised frantically, still struggling to contain the sensations racing through his body. He pulled himself up awkwardly. "I didn't mean to –"

He was interrupted by a gentle kiss as Robin lay down next to him. Her lips tasted strangely salty, and it took a few seconds before he realised that it must have come from himself. Robin's firm breasts pressed warmly up against his chest.

"It's fine," she smiled warmly. "I went too fast for your first time. I said you'd enjoy though, didn't I?"

His arm wrapped around her shoulders, while hers dangled over his shoulders. He looked at her with near reverence, but his mind was whirling trying to process everything that was happening. "Robin… What… Why…?" He gasped weakly, struggling to form the words while his body rebelled against his control.

She simply put a finger over his lips. They were both hot and sweaty, and filthy from rolling around the dirty ground. They couldn't even feel the pain from their injuries over their bodies screaming in bliss. Her hair was a mess, but in the low flickering light Luffy realised that he had never seen her look so beautiful.

He was lying on his back, completely naked. She was on her side, bare-chested but still wearing her trousers. Her breasts were shamelessly exposed. In the darkness of the forest, there was no one else around. Somehow, neither of them were the least bit concerned about being so exposed.

"Take off my pants," Robin said in a sultry whisper. Luffy's heart skipped, but at this point there was little he wouldn't do for her. Robin giggled as she rolled onto her back, and Luffy's hands struggled to pull her belt off. With a careful tug, he pulled the tight, purple jeans off her, staring at her long legs admiringly as more of her body was revealed to him. He dropped her trousers behind him, and no one cared where they ended up.

On impulse, he lightly stroked upwards from her knee, feeling her strong muscles. Slowly, he reached the white linen panties, already soaking wet. Before Robin could even say anything, he was pulling the undergarments off, revealing a triangular fuzz of dark hair between her thighs.

Luffy was suddenly lost what to do, but Robin took over. She carefully pulled him down until he was lying over her, and she guided his hand over her sex gingerly. Luffy had a gaze on him like a man exploring a new world as he tenderly stroked downwards from her thighs.

Robin was moaning softly, her hips swinging as she wrapped her legs around his body. Luffy had never realised how long her legs were before, but now they were tightly squeezing around his torso while Luffy knelt over the beautiful, naked woman. Already, he could feel his arousal hardening again.

Robin's hands guided his fingers downwards around her drenched wetness. Luffy stared, entranced, feeling her body tremor with every movement of his hand. She gasped as his head dropped around one of breasts, lightly licking around the nipple, even biting it softly to receive a squeal of satisfaction. With every sound and touch, Luffy could feel the stiffness returning in his groin while Robin's wetness soaked his hand.

Between her moans, Robin was practically growling with frustration as her hips rocked back and forth, yet Luffy was hesitant and nervous. His hand was hovered around her opening, massaging the lips, but too tentative to go any further. Robin could have screamed as she felt the inferno of heat and steaming wetness burn through her body, but with no release. That's something we'll have to work on, Robin thought with a spark of irritation, yet Luffy was still a complete beginner. Oh, but he would learn.

In a fluid motion, she hooked her hands around Luffy's neck and gently twisted him to the ground. Instantly, she switched positions as she straddled her legs across his body again. Luffy lay roughly on his back, staring upwards as the dark-haired goddess spanned his body. Her gaze was practically ravenous as she positioned her hips above the throb of his groin. Robin was on top of his erection, the tip pressing against her, and they were both panting heavily while the sweat dripped between them.

Luffy could only stare at Robin above him with awe. Her body glistened with sweat, and it was a sight to make his heart cartwheel in his chest.

It was already one of the most amazing experiences of his life. Words failed the feeling, yet the intensity only increased as Robin slowly but surely started to gyrate her hips above him. His arms around her hips, keeping in in pace with the rhythm of her movements. He could feel the desire pouring between them as she guided his torso upwards. His body was shivering with anticipation.

And then it all exploded as their bodies collided. Robin screamed hoarsely, but all Luffy could feel was pressure inside of her.

"Holy–!" Luffy rasped helplessly, while the ecstasy caused mind to shatter. He felt her legs squeeze tighter around his body, but that was nothing compared to the fire that was burning through him. The tightness caused every nerve to scream.

Robin took the lead, and through some instinct Luffy managed to keep up with the rhythm. His back arched forward and backwards. The weight of her body was on him, her thighs and buttocks striking against his pelvis in motion. The screams and groans transformed into deep moans of pleasure and gasps of joy, while Luffy gripped Robin so tightly it should have hurt. Their bodies swayed in tempo, every vibration pulsing between them, and every sensation just intensified until it was unbearable.

It took every ounce of willpower Luffy had to hold on. It felt like he was ready to erupt, but the vibrations surging through his body were mind-blowing. Every second stretched out into an eternity of pleasure, and his body fought desperately for just a bit more. The waves of ecstasy started to pulse, and he could feel their bodies tightening in contortion.

"Luffy…!" Robin moaned helplessly, her voice echoing through the trees. Suddenly, he knew that she was feeling everything he was. "Yes…! Mmmm… This is it…!"

Her cries echoed through the darkness of the jungle. The campfire burnt out a while ago, yet there was nothing left to say or see. Tomorrow, there would be challenges and conversation, but at that moment, neither of them cared about anything except each of thrust their writhing bodies.

Then, ten thousands meters up in the sky, a shrill scream split the night in half, and Luffy went to heaven.

Chapter Text

As the first faint rays of light flickered through the forest, Luffy was wide awake as he stared at the beautiful, naked woman who had her arms wrapped around him. They were both naked, lying together on the uncomfortable ground. Twigs and rocks dug into Luffy's side and he longed change position, but there was no force on the planet that could make him risk waking her up. Robin looked so peaceful, so serene, as she slept, and every second felt like an eternity with her body next to his. Each breath felt painfully loud in the silence of the forest, but his heartbeat was slow and steady.

Luffy assumed that he must have fallen asleep sometime during the night, but he honestly wasn't sure. The whole experience just blurred together; so vivid yet so overwhelming at the same time. The memories were burned out of his skull, yet it was the feelings that he recalled the most. The feeling of her body around his, of her muscles, and her mouth…

The very thought was enough to make his pulse race.

Instead, he just lay on the ground, perfectly still yet wide awake. He watched Robin sleep and felt the rhythm of her breathing as her breasts pushed gently against his chest. Her body was so warm. He had no idea how long he had been lying like that, but time seemed to freeze anyways. Luffy was thinking hard, or at least trying to. He had never been a great thinker, but now his thoughts were so sluggish that it had taken him hours just to form a coherent thought.

Well, Luffy thought slowly, as his skin tingled with the phantom feelings of last night; that actually happened…

Wow .

Even as the first rays of morning danced through the foliage, Luffy didn't move. His body was cold, itchy and trembling, but Robin looked so peaceful that he would never dare disturb her. After what seemed like a lifetime, Robin started to squirm slightly, and her eyes flickered.

"You're staring," she murmured sleepily, yawning as she stretched out, cat-like.

"…Sorry," Luffy blushed, forcing his eyes to look away.

She smiled softly, and brushed her hand against his cheek.

"It's alright," she reassured, moving in closer. "You're allowed to stare."

Their lips touched gently, a soft peck full of affection. Luffy was grinning madly. So was Robin.

"Good morning," she whispered, her hands resting on his stomach. She could already feel the pressure as Luffy's arousal started to stiffen.

With a small thrill, Robin realised that she had absolutely no regret about what she did last night. She had briefly wondered if she would wake up the morning after filled with dread and guilt for being so impulsive, but there was nothing but a warm, contented sensation filling up her chest. She had enjoyed it far too much to feel anything but satisfaction.

Luffy tried to return the greeting, but the words jammed in his throat. His heartbeat was so loud it felt deafening. Acting on instinct, he pushed himself closer for a second kiss, this time longer and more passionate, while her hands caressed his body tenderly.

She sighed softly, which only drove him to push on further. Robin could feel her body heating up. Her skin was tingling with his taste on her mouth. She had to bite her cheek for restraint as she pulled herself away.

"Luffy…" she said unwillingly. "We've got to move. We need meet up with the others."

He paused, his body hesitating for a second before collapsing in resignation. His friends needed him. "You're right…" Luffy murmured, still staring at Robin with such longing that it made her heart skip.

She grinned, and then winced slightly as she pulled herself up off the ground. There were twigs and leaves stuck to her skin, and her hair was faintly resembled a bird's nest. "God, I'm a mess," Robin muttered.

Luffy didn't think she looked anything less than glorious. He tried to say something, but the words wouldn't come out. He had never realised just how hard it was to put the words together.

"Come on," Robin said, brushing herself off and standing up. "We've got to find our clothes. I need to wash myself."

Luffy followed blindly. His head was spinning so quickly he could barely even walk straight. Their clothes were scattered around the camp. Luffy found his shorts next to the bonfire, while Robin picked up her shirt, pants, bra and panties from different corners of the campsite. Luffy's mind went blank for a moment, temporarily hypnotised by the way her hips rocked and her body bounced with every movement. Robin didn't seem to mind him staring.

She led the way to the nearby stream, carrying her clothes under her arm, and then bent over to wash herself. Luffy followed her lead, but his attention was focused solely on the way the droplets of water trickled down her well-toned and curvaceous body. She glanced towards him frequently enough, too.

Their supplies were limited, so when she was done she dried herself off using her shirt, and then wore it inside out. Luffy put his sandals, shorts and underwear on, but left his body dripping wet. It was only when they both wearing clothes that Luffy rediscovered how to talk again.

"Robin," he called softly, still trying to figure out what to say. She turned to face him with wide brown eyes. "I… I don't… I mean, I just… what…"

The words died in her mouth. Robin slowly walked towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She was taller than he was, so much so that he had to look upwards to stare into her ears. He could feel her breath on his face. He felt his pulse soothe.

"Yes?" She asked gently, looking at him understandingly.

"I don't understand what's happening here," he admitted quietly. "I've never done this before, I don't know what to say, or what to do, or –"

He was cut off by a sudden kiss. As soon as her lips touched his, any fear seemed to vanish.

"Luffy," Robin said gently. "You don't have to do anything; just… just don't overthink it."

Luffy was speechless for a while. Overthinking. That was something he had never been accused of before. His expression forced Robin to supress a giggle.

"It's simple," Robin explained. "Did you enjoy what we did last night?"

He nodded. "And so did I," Robin continued. Some room for improvement, but a pretty good first effort, she added quietly to herself. "We just enjoyed each other's company."

Luffy didn't respond. "Think of it like friendship," Robin added, a flicker in her eyes. "Just… very close friendship. You don't have to think of it as any more than that if you don't want to."

There was a slight edge to that last statement. Luffy stared at her inquiringly. For the first time, Robin shifted slightly, and her composure started to crack.

"I'm not going to put anything on you," she explained. "You're seventeen, it was your first time, and… well, it was wrong of me to jump on you like that," she admitted, slightly sheepishly. She sighed. "You have no obligation to make anything more out of last night if you don't want to."

A look of utter confusion settled on Luffy's face as he tried to understand what she was saying. "I like you, Robin," he said finally, before realising how lame that sounded. "I mean, really like you. And I really liked… last night. I just… want to know what the rules are."

Robin's gaze turned curious. "The rules?" She asked interestedly.

Luffy shifted slightly. "Well, what do we do now," he muttered uncomfortably. "And how do I treat you. I mean, Sanji keeps on going on about –"

"Alright, that's rule number one," Robin interrupted. "You forget everything that Sanji has to say on the subject."


She nodded firmly. "Everything."

Luffy looked relieved. He remembered Sanji's 'cookery' book clearly. "Thank god," he muttered, mostly to himself. "I'm pretty sure most of those were impossible, anyways." A giggle burst out of Robin's lips.

There was a moment's silence, and Robin surprised herself by how comfortable she felt. She had her arms wrapped around Luffy's neck, yet her heartbeat was completely calm. For twenty years, she had had trouble letting herself get close to anyone, and it was a strange thrill to realise how intimate they were now.

Followed by a sudden realisation that she really didn't want to lose this feeling.

"Ok, then," Robin said quietly, pulling herself in slightly closer. "We set the rules right now."

He didn't respond. Robin continued in a hushed voice, but they were so close Luffy could hear her perfectly. "There are no commitments," she said finally. "No pressure, and no obligations on each other. We don't have to move too fast, and we can figure everything else out as we go. Does that sound good to you?"

He hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. "And… well…." He muttered, a bit awkwardly. "Could we keep it quiet from the others?"

She grinned, glad that he was the one who mentioned it. "I think that's a very good idea."

"Especially from Sanji?"

"Especially from Sanj," Robin agreed definitely, although honestly she was more worried about how Nami and Vivi would react. "There's no need for anybody else to get involved between us."

He still looked slightly uncertain, like a man trying to navigate an ocean he had absolutely no experience with.

"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do," Robin continued reassuringly. "Last night I did that because I wanted to, and that's all we need to work by. What we want, and what we want to do for each other. It's exactly the same as friendship; we stay honest with each other, considerate, and we get to be a lot closer. Just…" Her voice cracked and she bit her lip slightly, trying to think of the best way to phrase it. "…Just treat me with respect."

As soon as it came out, she regretted the way it sounded. Luffy's eyes widened in genuine shock. "Of course I'll respect you," he said the same voice someone would use to argue that the sky was still blue. "You're, well, you're an amazing person."

He said with such simple certainty that it nearly took Robin's breath away. Without a second thought, her lips pressed against his, lingering for a long time before pulling away. Luffy was breathing heavily as they part. They were standing so close, both of them still slightly wet.

"What about you?" Robin asked eventually. "What rules do you want?"

"I…" Luffy gulped, before admitting, "I really don't want to lose you as a friend."

The smile stretched across her face. "Yes, that's the most important rule of all," Robin muttered, before pushing in for another kiss. This time it was more passionate, a stream of wanton kisses across their lips.

Slowly, Luffy started to take the lead, and Robin was happy to let him set the pace. His arm wrapped around her waist as he leant her backwards gently. It was with an air of wonder that he realised he could touch her wherever he wanted. His other hand started on her thighs but then started to drift around. He caressed across her chest, her breasts, trailing over her bellybutton and down to her hips; tracing the ridges of her muscles. Her body was soft yet firm, and responsive.

Robin's leg slowly started to wrap around his. It was with a faint gasp she forced herself pull away. "Luffy," she gulped slightly, while her cheeks blushed bright red. "We've really got to go look the others."

He nodded dumbly. "Yes," he muttered, blinking repeatedly as he tried to compose himself. "The others."

There was a moment's quiet as they stared at each other, before his face broke out into a large grin that stretched from ear to ear. Robin smoothed her clothes down, flashed him a sly smile, and then extended her hand quietly. He took her hand tightly, and then they started walking away together.

In the distance, the shadow of the giant beanstalk loomed over the forest. For nearly half an hour they walked towards the beanstalk in comfortable silence, strolling silently while the forest began to wake up.

Eventually, Robin glanced towards him. "You know," she said quietly, her voice amused. "You can stop smiling now."

He shook his head. The smile had turned into a permanent fixture on his face. "No," he said finally. "I really can't."

In the sky, the sunlight seemed to be nearly horizontal as it slowly seemed to flood over Upper Yard. Dawn gradually filled the island with gloriously bright light, and then forest was strangely subdued while the sun crept over the horizon.

"Nami!" Vivi shouted with concern, still holding her wounded side tenderly. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine!" Nami called back, although she was climbing so high into the treetops that she couldn't even see Vivi anymore. The rough bark bit into her fingers, but the tree was so large and twisting that climbing it was quite easy. With a rough shove, she pushed a giant leaf out of the way, and then the forests of Upper Yard stretched out beneath her. With the golden light illuminating every outline, the untamed land looked almost beautiful.

It would look a lot more beautiful if we had a way out, Nami thought grimly, sighing as she surveyed the surroundings.

Five minutes later, she climbed down to the ground again. Vivi was biting her lip worriedly. "How does it look?" The princess asked eventually.

"Big," Nami grimaced, her navigator's brain already putting the geography together. "There's a huge beanstalk to the east in the centre of the island– we must have come that direction. We're quite close to the sea, but we don't have a ship. Judging from the sun, Angel Island must be somewhere to the south-east, on the other side of the island. There are lots of Milky Roads all over this island, that must be how everyone moves across, yet we'll still need a ship."

Nami's lips pursed. "Also," she continued curiously. "There's half a building to the west of us."

Vivi frowned. "Half a building?"

"Cut in half down the centre, right on the coast, not far from here." Nami nodded, looking thoughtful. "There's something really strange about this island…"

"Oh," Vivi muttered, unsure. "Any sign of the others?"

Nami shook her head. "Too much foliage. I couldn't see any details."

"Maybe we need a signal fire or something?" Vivi suggested hopefully.

"You really want to tell that psycho priest and those raiders where we are?" Nami countered. Vivi sagged with disappointment.


There was an awkward silence. Ever since last night there had been a strange tension between them. They were both doing their best to ignore it and stay busy, but it was hard when they were both thinking about it intensely. The feelings were out, but neither of them were sure how to deal with it.

Nami shifted uncomfortably. "We've got to search for the others," she said firmly. "And then we can find our ship, and get out of here."

Vivi nodded. "Ok, then."

Neither of them moved. Vivi carefully avoided eye contact. After a couple of seconds, Nami sighed.

"Listen, Vivi…" Nami murmured slowly. Vivi didn't react, but she was listening intently. Nami squirmed awkwardly. "…I just want to say, well… I just don't want to –"

"NAMI! VIVI!" A voice boomed so loudly that birds erupted into flight. Nami felt like throttling someone at the interruption. At that moment, a likely candidate burst from undergrowth.

Sanji was practically panting with excitement. His suit was torn and ripped, his hair was a mess, but he didn't seem to care. He was drooling with anticipation as he stared towards Nami and Vivi, breaking into a run with his arms wide open.

"Nami! Vivi!" Sanji screamed happily, the tears running from his eyes as he saw them, and their lack of shirts. "BREASTS!"

Vivi looked shocked and confused. Nami responded instinctively as Sanji charged up for a hug; by extending her fist while the chef ran straight into her knuckles headfirst. Sanji dropped to the ground.

"I'm so happy I've found you," Sanji murmured nearly incomprehensibly through what sounded like a broken nose. Vivi just stared at him bemusedly.

"I can't believe I was actually looking for you a while ago," Nami sighed, rubbing her face with despair.

From the same direction and with a much quieter entrance, Usopp popped his head through the shrubbery cautiously.

"Oh," the sniper greeted casually. "Hey there. Nami. Vivi."

There was a rustle of leaves, and suddenly a small, furry object shoved Usopp out the way, followed by a large amount of quacking as the bushes exploded.

"Carue!" Vivi cried excitedly, rushing up to hug the panicked duck. Carue was flapping madly even as Vivi hugged her old friend tightly.

"Nami!" Chopper screeched in a high-pitched voice, wrapping his arms around Nami for comfort. The doctor was shivering with trembling with fear, holding on tightly. Nami's expression instantly softened. "I'm so glad I've found you! It was really scary! There was this octopus head, and a swamp maze, and Zoro kept on getting lost, and then marines and then –"

"Easy, now…" Nami soothed, holding Chopper closely. The reindeer was seemingly oblivious to being pressed against her voluptuous chest, or how little skin her bikini was actually covering.

Sanji watched quietly, his tears slowly turning to tears of sadness, before turning away to stew. "I wish I was a reindeer…" The chef muttered bitterly. "Or perhaps even a duck…"

"Nami!" Usopp called curiously, pointedly ignoring Sanji's melodrama. "You don't know where Luffy or Robin is, by any chance?"

The navigator gulped, and shook her head. Usopp slouched with disappointment. "That must mean Luffy and Robin ended up together…" He mused. "At least Robin will keep him out of trouble."

Sanji grumbled something about 'that buffoon' ending up with Robin, but everyone ignored him. The chef recovered from his rejection like a pro, and lit a cigarette coolly.

"So how are we meant to find Luffy?" Chopper squeaked nervously.

"Just follow the explosions," Sanji muttered quietly. "Luffy could never do anything quietly."

Nami cast a glance at Vivi, and then asked, "What about Zoro?"

"Zoro ended up with Chopper, and then got lost," Usopp explained, rolling his eyes. "So he's probably in the West Blue or something by now…"

Vivi glanced between Chopper, Usopp and Sanji curiously. Sanji and Usopp both looked pretty badly beaten, but Chopper seemed in fairly good shape. "Did you have to fight 'Ordeals' and priests too?"

"Yeah," Usopp said with instant arrogance. "We faced this giant guardian, Satori, yet I beat him with one hand behind my back –"

"He lost and had to be saved by this Knight of the Sky," Sanji translated.

"Well so did you!"

"Anyways, that old geezer saved us and then dropped us off with Chopper," Sanji explained simply. "And then our emergency food supply here managed to sniff out you two."

Chopper tried not to look pleased at the sort-of compliment. Nami sighed wearily. "Chopper, could you try to smell where Zoro, Robin or Luffy are?" She asked tiredly.

The toddler sized human reindeer saluted happily, his pink hat wobbling over his antlers with the clumsy movement. Then, his body rippled like water, and his shape morphed fluidly. In the blink of an eye, Chopper was transformed into a medium-sized reindeer with shaggy fur and a lean body. He was still wearing his hat and purple trousers, even as he started sniffing in a wide circle.

Vivi's shoulders sagged in relief, causing her to wince and clutch her side. For the first time, Sanji noticed her wound, still crudely bandaged in the bloody remains of Nami's shirt.

"You're injured," the chef exclaimed suddenly, his eyes instantly alert. "Did someone dare to hurt you? Tell me who would injure such beauty, and I swear on my honour that I pound the manners into him until he apologises for hurting beauty incarnate!"

His eyes started glowing, and Sanji seemed to magically rotate in circles. Vivi glanced around with confusion. Nami just looked even more fed up. "For I shall be your knight in shining armour! I shall beat all miscreants in to the ground!"

In a supernaturally smooth motion, Sanji pulled his red shirt straight off, somehow without even tearing the buttons. At once, Sanji was bare-chested and kneeling before Vivi, holding out his shirt like a precious offering.

"Take my shirt for bandages, my princess," Sanji muttered coolly, taking a deep breath of his cigarette and lowering his voice into dull whisper. Vivi was looking around, flustered, struggling to decide how to react. "For I would run through hell itself, barefoot and over burning coals in your name. My body is yours to command!"

Pleading, Vivi glanced towards Nami. The navigator groaned as she stepped in front of Sanji. Nami firstly took his shirt, because Vivi did need a new bandage, before punching Sanji squarely in the nose. The chef fell backwards with a squirt of blood. "Had to be done," Nami explained with a shrug, already tearing Sanji's shirt in half.

Usopp looked down at Sanji without shock. "You're an idiot."

"No!" Sanji cried triumphantly. "I am in love!"

A few meters away, Chopper's blue nose wrinkled. The reindeer was sniffing the ground when the wind changed, and a new scent hit his nostrils. At once, Chopper's eyes widened in shock. "Guys! Someone's coming!"

The reaction was instant. Usopp drew his slingshot and pulled it back instinctively, somewhat uselessly since he was still out of ammo. Without hesitation, Sanji leapt to his feet, spinning his legs around and stepping forward in front of Nami and Vivi, while the bushes started to rustle.

"Quickly!" Sanji said urgently, dropping into a fighting stance. "We don't know who it is! Nami! Vivi! You better hug me tightly!"

"Why haven't I killed him yet?" Nami growled irritably, flourishing her Clima-Tact forward. The sound of crunching twigs and footprints were painfully loud in the quiet. Chopper was in front of her, transforming into his Heavy point, and standing up pretty well despite trembling slightly.

The footsteps were nearly echoing around the trees. They could see the outline of the approaching intruder, his shadow highlighted by the sun, as he paused just before the clearing. Every muscle was tensed, and for a few heart pounding seconds the world froze just before the figure finally stepped through the brambles.

And then suddenly the pirates were staring at an average-sized, middle-aged man in dull clothing, looking at the group almost absentmindedly.

"Oh, excuse me," Pagaya said with mild surprise. "I thought you were someone else."

Nobody said a word as the tension melted away into an awkward gloop. After a couple of seconds, Pagaya simply turned around and started to walk away. As a group, the pirates deadpanned, with various levels of drama.

"Wait a second!" Nami demanded angrily at the retreating Pagaya. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

Pagaya looked faintly confused at the question as he turned around. "I'm walking through the forest," he said simply, making hand movements as if to demonstrate. A vein twitched in Nami's forehead.

"You're Conis' father, aren't you?" Vivi asked, just before Nami had a chance to explode. "She means why are you on this island?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Pagaya apologised, rubbing the back of his head idly. Slowly, Usopp realised that Pagaya had a bazooka slung across one shoulder and a large bag slung across the other, and his grey clothes seemed almost damp. It was hard to see clearly with the sun in his eyes. "I'm here looking for my daughter. I've been searching all night."

"Conis?" Sanji asked urgently. "Conis is on this island?"

"Yes," Pagaya nodded. "And I fear she's in danger. You haven't seen her by any chance?"

Sanji's visible eye glinted with shock. Nami was looking at Pagaya with confusion and faint irritation. "Conis is here?" the navigator demanded. "But she poisoned us and sent us here! Isn't Conis working for the enemy? Why is she in danger?"

For half a second, Usopp was sure he saw an expression flicker through Pagaya's normally completely impassive face. It was an expression that suddenly didn't look so apologetic.

"Conis was taken from Angel Island yesterday, by the Commander of the Enforcers, in your ship heading towards God's Shrine," Pagaya explained simply. "I was hoping to intercept them, but I fear they might have slipped by. She might have been forced to betray you, but she is not loyal to Enel. She is in grave danger on this island."

Nami grinned brightly as she put together what Pagaya was saying, glancing at Vivi happily. "That means the Going Merry is on this island too! So we have an escape route, we just have to –"

"Nami," Usopp interrupted slowly, squinting to see with the sun in his eyes. He suddenly recognised the dark liquid that soaked through Pagaya's yellow shirt. "I think that Pagaya is bleeding…"

"Oh, I am?" The Skypiean muttered with surprise, staring down at the blood covering his arms and chest. Droplets of red dripped onto the ground.

"He's bleeding!" Chopper cried with alarm. "Is there a doctor around? Is there – oh right."

At once, the reindeer rushed to Pagaya's side and pulled him to the ground so he could inspect. The Skypiean complied absentmindedly. As soon as he was pulled out of the sun, they could all see the red stains covering his upper body. It didn't take Chopper to realise what was wrong.

"Wait," the reindeer squeaked with confusion. "You don't have any injuries at all…"

"Oh yes, that's right," Pagaya remembered, twirling his antennas thoughtfully. It looked like he was smiling, but it was hard to tell through his bushy beard and closed eyes. "Pardon me; that blood is not mine."

There were a few seconds quiet. Slowly, Chopper started to take a few steps backwards. "Ummm… whose blood is it?"

Pagaya looked apologetic, but there was just a hint of something else there too. Usopp suddenly noticed that the nozzle of his bazooka was covered in blood too. "Oh, I'm very sorry," he confessed. "But I can't remember."

Everything went quiet. Sanji took a deep breath of his cigarette and stared at Pagaya thoughtfully. Pagaya looked the very image of a humble, unassuming father. A humble, unassuming father covered in blood and armed with a bazooka.

"I really am sorry about what Conis did to you," Pagaya explained, standing up slowly. "She shouldn't have betrayed you to do the authorities like that, but at the time she believed she never have had a choice. She did what she did because she was scared and foolish." Pagaya glanced at Nami earnestly. "I hope you can find it in your hearts to accept that she made a mistake and let bygones be bygones."

There was a moment's pause. Pagaya's voice shifted slightly. "That said…" He continued, more quietly. "… if you attempt to seek retribution on Conis for her actions, then I will not forgive you."

Nobody made a move. Usopp was instantly aware that his bazooka was very close to hand. Nami looked momentarily speechless. Vivi stared at Pagaya, suddenly thinking about her own father, and how far he would go to protect her. Perhaps it was a father-daughter thing. The princess felt her heart flutter slightly. It was Sanji that eventually broke the silence.

"You never have to worry about us," the chef muttered solemnly, flicking his cigarette to the ground. "No one in this crew would hurt an innocent, and I swear that I would give my own life before I allow a lady to be harmed so unjustly!"

After half a second, Pagaya grinned. "Then we won't have a problem!" He said pleasantly. "I'm sorry for taking up your time."

He turned to leave, but paused to point at the small white lines in the distance, crisscrossing over the forest. "Do you see those?" He explained. "They are Milky Roads that go all across Upper Yard, streams made out of a mixture of Island and Sea Cloud that is sturdy enough to support itself yet ships can still sail over it. God's followers use them to transport supplies and avoid the dangerous forests. I assume that Yama must have brought your ship over the Milky Roads."

Pagaya glanced at each of them seriously. "I will head to God's Shrine to try and cut him off and rescue Conis. However, the Milky Roads are all interconnected together, so if you follow one of them then you are sure to eventually find your ship."

It took Nami a few seconds to process the information. "So we just have to follow the Milky Roads… we can do that."

"I hope you have a save journey," Pagaya said softly, carefully slinging off his bag. "Citizens of the Blue Sea are at a disadvantage in the sky. Perhaps these will help even the odds."

He dropped the bag in front of the pirates. Usopp was the one that stepped forward to open it, carefully unzipping the bag as if it were a bomb. "I spent six years building those," Pagaya admitted. "Originally, we wanted to arm an army. I would hate to see them go to waste."

The bag was filled with dozens of bulky objects. Some of them had been fashioned into swords or arrows, but most were circular, bony structures with a cylindrical shell.

Chopper looked at the bag with confusion. "Shells?"

"No," Usopp murmured. "They're Dials."

"They're weapons," Pagaya muttered, already starting to walk away, as the pirates stared at him with confusion. "In the sky, Dials are the most precious commodity in war."

He paused briefly, glancing back to the group. His voice was uncharacteristically grim. The morning sunlight glinted off the dried blood on his hands. "You should leave this island as quickly as possible," Pagaya warned darkly. "This is not a safe place for anyone…"

Conis leaned slowly over the ledge of the Going Merry into the waters below. The ship was dock at an old ruin in the middle of a lake, and she was surrounded by creepy bird noises, dangling vines and overgrown trees. Not long ago, Conis would have been thrilled to be here; in the middle of the Holy Land, walking on Vearth itself, surrounded by a wildlife that was unnatural to the sky. She had never imagined that she would end up in Upper Yard under these circumstances.

She looked the ancient ruins quietly. It was a sacrificial altar, Yama had told her briefly as they docked up in the ruins last night. Somehow, that was almost fitting. Conis wondered how many people she had sent to this altar over the years.

In the lake before, Conis could see Sky Sharks thrashing under the surface. For most of last night, she had debated jumping and ending it all. She still didn't know why she shouldn't. She was going to die anyways, and if there was one thing Conis was certain of, it was that she was going to hell.

All around her, she was surrounded by reminders of the people she had betrayed. The people she had sentenced to death. Everything from the scent of cigarettes in the kitchen to the books and maps scattered about the women's quarters, to the mess littered throughout the meeting room was a painful reminder of what she had done.

I killed them all, Conis thought dully, watching the sun rise over the ruins. The pirates were surely dead by now, and it is all my fault.

Now, Conis was trapped on a boat with Yama. They sailed off late yesterday, but not even the Commander of God's Enforcers had been comfortable travelling through Upper Yard in the dark. He had stopped at the altar for the night, but now as morning approached they'd be setting off shortly.

Conis despised Yama. She was normally mild mannered, but she hated everything about the man. She hated the way he stomped about the ship without any respect, she hated the way he talked to her, and she hated the way he sized her up with suspicious, beady eyes. The man was as fat as a house, and so sweaty that the stench haunted her, yet he still glared at her like she was an insect. Yama was a horrible, disgusting person.

Commander Yama would idly smash through the doors to fit through, or throw out whatever piece of furniture he didn't like. He manhandled the sails like an animal tamer brutalising a beast. Yama would treat the Going Merry like it was piece of the trash. Somehow, Conis found that the most despicable thing about him.

This ship was special. It was the first time she had ever been on a Blue Sea ship like this, but she could feel it all around her. It was almost as if the Going Merry had a personality that was soaked into the walls. It was more than just planks of wood and sails.

Slowly, Conis rubbed the wooden ledge, feeling the shivers run down her spine. She couldn't explain it, but Conis could feel the Going Merry. It was almost as the Going Merry was alive.

She had seen how the ship responded when Yama tried to sail it. Every rope snapped, every sail buckled in the slightest wind. It was the main reason why it had taken so long to travel through Upper Yard. It was like the ship itself objected to Yama's presence just as much as she did.

Conis' red eyes burned as she tried to look at the sun. She had been crying all night, and the tears had stained her face. Her lips tasted salty. The grief and turmoil was strangling from the inside. She had murdered eight people. Eight good people. Conis realised suddenly that she couldn't live with that thought. She just wanted it to end. The pain was too much to bear.

I might as well end it here myself, Conis thought, feeling strangely distant suddenly. God will surely kill me himself as soon as I reach Upper Yard…

She spent a long time staring at the sharks thrashing in the water below. Then, carefully, she climbed up onto the ledge until she was standing on the edge. Her heart was pounding furiously, but Conis couldn't feel it.

With a deep breath, she took one last glimpse at the golden sun before closing her eyes. Her blonde hair draped unkempt over her face, and then everything faded as she pushed forward. She could feel herself tilting, falling closer over the edge…

And then, a gentle hand landed on her shoulder. It was barely more than a brushing touch, but enough to knock her backwards. Conis' eyes burst open as she landed firmly on the wooden deck, glancing around in shock.

"What the –?" Conis gasped, her hand on her shoulder, feeling the phantom sensation of a touch. Her heart was pounding faster than ever. She turned quickly, just in time to glimpse a yellow flash disappearing below deck.

Suddenly, she was feeling lightheaded and confused. Without a second thought, Conis scrambled to her feet and chased after the retreating shape.

"Is anyone there?" Conis demanded, hearing her voice echo as she dropped down into the storage room. Inside the Going Merry, it was dark and gloomy as Conis stumbled almost blindly through the cramped room.

She caught a flicker of movement heading towards the women's room and she charged after it. It couldn't be Yama, Conis told herself firmly, I can still hear his snoring from the men's room.

"Who's there?" Conis asked with a hushed voice, which still seemed unnaturally loud.

There was a rustling behind her. Conis' had no idea how the unseen intruder had got by her, but she turned and gave chase. It was dark and quiet, yet somehow Conis still knew that there was somebody there as she stumbled back out of the women's quarters.

She charged towards the forehead cannon deck, suddenly a feeling washed over her. It was the same feeling she had ever since she arrived the Going Merry. Conis instantly found herself wondering if a ship could really be alive.

Conis thought about her father, and the way that he treat ever Dial boat he repaired. Pagaya would talk quietly to each waver like an old friend, and polish the wood almost affectionately. He once joked that all something's needed to work was a little bit of love. Maybe if something was cared for enough, then who could say whether it was alive or not…?

Conis felt herself breathing deeply as she looked around the empty cannon deck. There was prickling in the back of her neck that warned that something was not right here. She shouldn't be on this ship. She was breaking some rules.

"… Is there anyone else on this ship…?" Conis whispered breathlessly to the empty room.

For a few seconds, the only sound was her heart pounding furiously in her chest. And then…

"No," a gentle voice replied from behind her. "There's no one else."

It took a long time for Conis to respond. She turned around with wide, disbelieving eyes, only to see a figure standing in the doorway. It was a small person, as large as a child, their face and body covered by an overly large yellow raincoat. The voice was light and childlike, yet reverberating with power.

"There's just me," the figure said softly with a small shrug. "I've always been here."

Conis felt her heart start to spin. This was impossible. She couldn't seriously be talking to the spirit of a…

The Skypiean looked like she was about to collapse. The hooded figure took on a more urgent tone. "They're all still alive," it hissed quietly.

"What…? Who…?" Conis gulped confusedly, still glancing around with panic. The figure's outline seemed to waver, almost translucently.

"Everyone. My friends," the figure replied, hushed. "Robin. Vivi. Chopper. Sanji. Nami. Zoro. Luffy. Usopp." It said that last name with a slight hesitation. "I can feel them. They're all still alive on this island."

Conis didn't respond. "We can still help them," it continued, almost pleadingly. "We can still save them."

Conis shook her head disbelievingly. "I don't understand…" She gasped.

The hooded figure took a step forward. Suddenly, Conis recognised the edge in its voice. It was crying.

"They're in trouble. They need me. They need us," the voice sounded desperate now. "We have to move quickly, and I need to go to them. I'm too weak to do it myself, but I can't let it end like this. I need to save them all."

Conis felt her heart pounding like a drum. The figure was frantic, like a child looking for its family.

"They need your help," it begged. "Otherwise, they're all going to die."

It was silent as the scouting party headed back into camp. The charred ruins of the battleship were still sinking in the coast, and the marines were still trying to salvage whatever little they could from the wreck. The camp was makeshift at best. A perimeter had been set up, but the coast was a terrible location to defend. Tashigi's party met no resistance as she walked into the frenzied marine camp.

Tashigi forced herself to ignore the glances that her men were giving them. There were no accusations, no open disobedience. They followed her orders with quiet contempt, but without any insubordination. Somehow, that was even worse. The mood was poisonous.

She tried to tell herself that there was nothing they could prove. All they knew was that Zoro escaped sometime in the night. No one was precisely sure when or how he escaped. There was absolutely no evidence against her.

Except that everyone had carefully watched Tashigi talk privately to the pirate. Except that Tashigi had helped the pirates escape arrest once in Alabasta, and that she was being charged with pirate sympathies. Except that there were over fifty marines glaring at their commanding officer with obvious suspicious.

Tashigi kept a firm grip on her sword for reassurance, and tried to stop her stomach from churning.

In the bustling camp, there were marines everywhere, most of them wounded. Some tents had been set up, but mostly the camp was just a jumble of salvaged crates and busy men. There were injured marines forced to lie on the ground while overworked doctors and medics attempted first aid.

Tashigi felt a feeling of dread fall over her as she estimated how many marines were remaining. In less than twenty four hours, they must have lost over half their number.

In the camp, the men under her command disappeared into the crowd as soon as possible. Normally, that would be a flogging offence, but Tashigi barely had any authority left. No doubt that they would spread among the others, and the rumours about her would spread like wildfire. Tashigi the pirate sympathiser. Tashigi the pirate

The lieutenant took a deep breath and forced forward through the bustle. She was trying to find Captain Hina, but the camp was in such chaos that it was hard to find anything. Tashigi paused as she paused a row of medical tents, where a wrinkled old woman was shivering on a bench, distant from all the marines.

"You're Amazon, right?" Tashigi asked curiously. "The gatekeeper. What are you doing here?"

The old lady looked at her with surprise. Amazon was very short, elderly, and had a face that seemed to be made of wrinkles. She was shivering slightly, and her clothes were scorched. Tashigi could barely believe that it was only yesterday, but she remembered Smoker giving the order to have the gatekeeper brought on board and interrogated.

Tashigi blinked. The realisation hit her. "Oh," Tashigi muttered with shock. "You were in the brig when Enel destroyed the ship… I am so sorry, nobody intended for that to happen to you…"

It took a few seconds for the old lady to respond. "It's alright," she muttered, her voice calm, but very cautious. She was trembling slightly. "Your people were very kind to fish me out of the water like that…"

Tashigi felt her heart break for the old woman. She looked so frail and vulnerable, and Tashigi could barely imagine what it must have been like for the ship to explode in lightning around her. She was just about to try and reassure Amazon, when suddenly a voice burst through the camp.

"Lieutenant Tashigi!" It was Hina's voice, and then the captain was walking through the camp. The sea of marines parted to let her by, mostly due to Fullbody and Jango pushing everyone out of her way.

Tashigi snapped to attention and saluted on reflex. Hina was approaching her slowly, with an unreadable expression. Standing shortly behind Hina, Tashigi recognised several men from her scouting party, each with a snide little smirk. Tashigi felt her stomach jump.

"Captain," Tashigi said politely, as Hina approached. There were dozens of eyes focused on the two of them. Even Fullbody and Jango became silent.

"Tashigi," Hina muttered. "Hina has just received several accusations about you. Are they true?"

"I don't know, Captain. What are the accusations?" Tashigi didn't drop her salute, keeping her face wooden.

The captain just looked at her coolly. "Please don't play dumb. It's a poor defence."

Tashigi paused for half a second. "No, captain. The accusations are completely unfounded."

Tashigi was a terrible liar.

Hina didn't react straight away. "I see," the captain murmured. The pink blonde captain thought about for a while, and then seemed to reach a decision.

She turned to the assembled marines. "Everyone get moving!" Hina ordered loudly, turning away from Tashigi. "We move out in ten minutes! Hina wants everyone armed and ready to go! Any wounded trail along at the back!"

Her voice carried such natural authority that everyone snapped to attention and started to move with renewed vigour. A warning glance from Hina told Tashigi not to go anywhere, even as everyone else started to file away. Even those who wanted to watch were forced away by Hina's unquestioned command presence. The noise in the camp became louder.

"We need move out quickly," Hina explained to Tashigi in a softer tone of voice, when no one else was listening. "This island has been eating through marines ever since we arrived, and Hina is not going to stay here until there's no one left. We've got to go on the offensive while we still have the manpower, and bring this island under control."

Tashigi nodded understandingly. Around her, there was a dull rumble as the few remaining cannons were rolled out. "And what about me, captain?" Tashigi asked with quiet anxiety.

Hina looked at her sympathetically. There was genuine empathy in the captain's eyes. Women in the Marines were few and far between; perhaps that was why Hina had always seemed more compassionate to Tashigi than others. Hina shook her head regretfully.

"Hina is not the one you have to worry about," she muttered softly, turning to the camp. "You're not under my command."

Tashigi frowned, but then she followed Hina's gaze to a lone figure limping through the chaos. Tashigi felt her body stiffen with utter dread. Tashigi's hand went instinctively to her sword.

Smoker was up and about again. His clothes were still charred, but he had a baton in his hand and a pistol in his waist. His body seemed stiff, yet there was pure determination in his eyes.

And he was glaring at Tashigi with undiluted rage.

It was morning by the time Wiper returned to the Shandorian camp. The other raiders had retired the previous evening, yet Wiper fought longer and more viciously than anyone. By the time he finally did return the camp, the sun was rising slowly and it was only because he needed to reload.

Laki watched him stomp in to the camp moodily. It had been a tiring day and a restless night for all the raiders. Wiper was suffering small cuts and bruises across his body, yet his hands and his bazooka were coated in a layer of dried blood.

"Where have you been all night?" Laki asked coolly, leaning up against a sentry post. They were camped not far away from a field of skulls on pikes, a gruesome reminder of why they were here. The smell of rotting bones still lingered over everything.

Wiper just grunted. "Hunting."

"Any luck?"

A foul expression passed Wiper's face. "Lots of small fries, no big game," he scoffed, cleaning the blood of his nozzle. His bazooka was as much a heavy club as it was a ranged weapon. Laki wondered curiously how many Enforcers had met their end by it.

Wiper dropped his bazooka on to the ground. The God-Slayer landed with a tremendous thud. "The four priests are the big targets," Wiper muttered. "We should have killed Ohm, but the bastard escaped. I caught Gedatsu later on, but he disappeared into his swamps and I couldn't find him again. I spent the rest of night hunting down Satori, yet those damn balls kept getting in the way. I haven't caught a glimpse of Shura yet."

"That's because Shura is dead," Laki told him simply. "Aisa heard his 'voice' go out yesterday, when you were off hunting by himself."

Wiper looked momentarily surprised. "Shura was one tough bastard," he muttered. "Who killed him?"

"Aisa's not sure," Laki shrugged. "It wasn't one of us. Must have been one of the Blue Sea citizens."

"Hmph. I met quite a few of those intruders," Wiper growled, and Laki doubted the 'meeting' would have gone well for them. "The forest is flooded with guys in white uniform, but they never even knew how to fight properly. They would never have been able to beat a priest."

Wiper paused slightly. "Then again," he admitted. "There were these two girls that looked like they were giving Ohm a pretty hard time. They were made of different stuff. They got away, but I was too busy to hunt them down."

"Really?" Laki asked with a teasing smile, placing her hand on her hips. "The great 'Berserker' Wiper, heir to Calgara, was shown up by a couple of girls?"

Wiper just rolled his eyes and pushed his way past her. Laki scowled briefly in irritation. The camp was made up of three hastily assembled tents, while most of the raiders slept in sleeping bags in the open air. The Shandorians were already starting to move, sharpening their weapons for the upcoming battle. The mood was grim and silent.

Genbo was sitting, cross-legged, on the ground, loading up one of his rare heavy metal cannonballs into his handheld cannon. Not far away from him, Braham was polishing his pistols, while letting the Flash Dials recharge in the morning sun. Wiper glanced around, noting that although many of the raiders were injured, few were severely so.

"Where is Aisa?" Wiper demanded finally. "I need to speak to her."

At once, Laki's expression turned to concern. "You can't. She's asleep."

"Then wake her up," he ordered gruffly. "I need to know how many people are on Upper Yard, and where."

She shook her head, and Wiper shot her a furious stare. "No. Aisa shouldn't be here," Laki continued angrily. "You know how she gets. Whenever there's a battle going on, Aisa suffers more than anyone. She 'hears' everyone. She was screaming in pain yesterday. I had to sedate her."

Wiper didn't respond. A vein bulged in Laki's forehead. "She's my cousin, Wiper, and I had to sedate her," Laki repeated, her heads trembling with rage. "If you want to face Enel, fine, but Aisa shouldn't be here."

Around them, the other raiders were starting to stare at the confrontation cautiously. Wiper took a long time to choose his words. "We all have to put up with pain," Wiper muttered coldly. "If she's a warrior of Shandia, then she will put up with it. Now. Wake. Her. Up."

Laki looked furious. "You don't understand," she muttered in a hushed voice. "It's not just about her being in pain. It's Enel. Aisa can 'hear' everyone on the island, but Enel… Enel can 'hear' her. And Enel talks a lot louder than anyone else. If she has to face Enel's presence again, so up close, well… I'm scared it might kill her."

Again, Wiper paused. His expression was unreadable. "If you don't wake her up, right now," Wiper muttered slowly, in a hushed voice. "Then I will."

Laki had to stop the shiver going down her spine. Wiper would never hurt Aisa, she tried to herself, Wiper looked after Aisa like a big brother. Her cousin had always looked up to Wiper as a role model, despite Laki's constant objections.

Still… how far would Wiper go when he believed that the Shandia nation was at stake?

Without a word, Laki walked away. Laki pushed open the door of a tent, and Wiper glimpsed Aisa. The child was fast asleep, but sweating heavily and writhing restlessly. Wiper's fists clenched unwillingly.

"You haven't lost any of your charm, I see." A voice murmured coolly from behind him. "'Chief'."

Wiper turned, to see the old chief sitting on a log behind the tent, polishing his sword slowly. The old man looked almost unrecognisable without his staff and cowl. He had replaced his old purple and orange robes for battered, grey armour, and he carried a long sword expertly, with a second on his belt. That's an ordinary blade, Wiper noted distractedly. Most raiders used Dial-infused weapons, yet the chief had always been old-school.

"I will kill Enel before he can hurt anyone else!" Wiper snapped. "But I need to know how many people are in Upper Yard."

The old chief just snorted. Wiper scowled.

"Old man," Wiper muttered roughly. He had been the chief for so long that Wiper honestly couldn't even remember his name. "You should be back in the village."

The old man scoffed. "Don't get too full of yourself. I've been killing Enforcers since before you were born. As a warrior of Shandia, this is where I have to be."

There was a flicker in Wiper's eyes. He really didn't want the old man to get hurt, but the words stuck in his throat. Any well-wishing just seemed too hollow. Instead, Wiper just grunted.

The old man chuckled humourlessly. "My time is done, anyways," the old man said quietly. "It looks like you're the new chief now. And who knows? Perhaps I really have been a fool, and perhaps a warlord is what our people need now."

"I'm fighting to reclaim our homeland, old man," Wiper snapped.

"You're fighting for a story I told you when you were a child, and for an ancestor that's long dead," he countered. "Calgara and Montblanc Noland. The Light of Shandora – The Golden Bell."

His words rung in the air. The old man looked at Wiper almost pityingly. "Tell me something, if you had to choose between the lives of everyone around you, your friends, your family; or ringing that bell and reclaiming the homeland, which one would you pick?"

"Both," Wiper growled angrily. "We will all reclaim the homeland together. The Golden Bell has been silent for too long."

He really did believe it, the old chief thought silently. He believes every word of that story I told him, and he would fight to the end to honour an ancestor that died four hundred years ago. Perhaps that is my mistake too. I was the one who told him the tale.

"Alright then," the old man continued quietly. "Then let me ask you this… could you ever imagine a time when you no longer have to fight at all? Could you imagine putting down your bazooka for good?"

Wiper didn't respond. The chief looked at him with compassion. "That's the problem with 'Berserkers' and other men who live for war. Sooner or later, the war has to end. What are you going to do then?"

"This war hasn't ended for over four hundred years!" Wiper snapped.

He smiled sombrely. "You sound like you wish it will never stop. Would that really be a happy life for you, constantly fighting?"

Yes, Wiper almost replied. Wiper loved fighting. He loved the bloodlust. He loved the rage.

Instead, Wiper was silent as he turned his back on the old man. Just then, a raider came rushing out of the tent.

"Chief!" He called urgently.

"What?" Wiper and the old chief answered at the same time. There was a moment's pause, and then Wiper shot the old man a dirty look.

"What is it?" Wiper answered firmly.

"It's Aisa," the raider reported, casting a fleeting glance at the old man. "She's awake."

Wiper started moving quickly. Aisa was sitting up in her bed, with Laki's arms around her comfortingly. Aisa was crying. For all the girl tried to act tough, Wiper knew who fragile she really could be. Laki scowled at him darkly. Wiper felt his stomach clench.

"Aisa!" Wiper asked quickly. "I need your help here. Tell me, how many people are in Upper Yard?"

She snivelled weakly. "Lots… so many…"

His voice became stern. "Where? Where are priests, where is Enel –"

Aisa whimpered slightly. She was clutching her head in pain. Laki's grip on her tightened in alarm. "No… so many…" Aisa muttered, looking at Wiper fearfully. "…They're all going to die…"

Nobody moved or said a word. The atmosphere in the tent turned cold.

And that was when they heard it. The sound seemed to spread across the island slowly, resonating perfectly in the air. It was as beautiful and as golden as sunlight. The entire island seemed to freeze as the sound rung through the air.

The sound of morning.

As Enel woke, the devotees on God's Shrine rushed to serve him. Musicians played a soothing melody, servants presented fresh fruits and wine, and concubines offered their bodies for his pleasure. Enel waved them all away. He had no interest in such mortal desires.

Instead, he stared out over the forests of Upper Yard. From his position on top of the beanstalk, he could see everything. With his Mantra, he could see so much more.

Enel looked unhappy. Cautiously, Gode approached the God, careful of Enel's almost childlike mood swings.

"Your holiness," Gode bowed deeply. "How may I serve?"

"There aren't enough people dying," Enel muttered irritably, mostly to himself. "This game is getting boring."

Gode didn't respond. Enel rested his hand under his chin, musing quietly. He had been quite hopeful when he felt Shura die yesterday, but the night had been quite boring. Enel was quickly become annoyed. He stared at the rising sun thoughtfully, still hovering just above the horizon.

"I will be kind," Enel decided finally. "I will give them five hours."

He turned to Gode idly. "Go ready the Ark Maxim," he ordered, walking passed his servant distractedly. "In five hours I will leave this place, and everyone in the sky will be dead."

Gode was just about to bow and leave when he froze suddenly. He was a smart man after all, and there was something about the way Enel said that which made his blood run cold.

"Your holiness," Gode said cautiously. "I have served you loyally since the beginning."

Enel glanced at the beard Birkan with disinterest. "Yes, you've been acceptable," the God nodded, musing thoughtfully. "And I suppose that not all mortals are boring. I like the number four. I think I could accept four followers coming with me to Fairy Vearth. That's five survivors in total."

Gode didn't respond. Enel looked at him with mild realisation. "Oh yes. I suppose if you want to be among the survivors, you better go down there and compete in the game."

Gode's normally impassive face started to become panicked. He was no fighter. He would never survive long by himself.

"But your holiness…" Gode gulped. "I have never been anything but loyal to you. I have spent my life serving you…"

Enel thought about it for a few seconds. "Yes, you have," he conceded finally. "And I suppose it is a bit unfair to make you fight for your life below. Your loyalty deserves a reward."

The God smiled softly, extending his hand. Gode sighed with relief. "As a reward for your years of service," Enel drawled. "You have the honour of dying by the hand of God himself."

The servant never even had time to scream. The bolt of lightning burst from Enel's fingertips, squarely hitting him in the chest. It was over in a second. His body shuddered furiously from the lightning, yet there was so much power that Gode's body caught fire and charred black. By the time the corpse dropped to the ground, the body was completely unrecognisable.

The music in God's Shrine halted abruptly. All of the other devotees were staring at their God in shock and horror, as he calmly stepped over the smoking remains.

Enel glanced around the assembled servants. "Oh, very well," he resigned graciously. "I will kill you all too."

The lightning arced around his body. That was when the screaming started and the devotees tried to run. The servants closest to him were burnt into cinders before they could take a step, but most managed to flee away from God's Shrine.

Enel looked at the fleeing bodies with bemusement. He could easily hunt them done, but there was no point. If they would reject my gift, then fine, he decided finally, they can all die in the forest instead.

He took a couple of steps before he realised his mistake. "Damn it," Enel muttered with annoyance. "Now I'm coming have to prepare Ark Maxim myself."

He started at the charred body of his former chief of staff without emotion. Around him, the buildings were smoking from his lightning.

"Good help is so hard to come by…" Enel murmured irritably. His body transformed into lightning and burst upwards. Seconds later, he materialised further up the beanstalk, where the Ark Maxim sat waiting, like a dormant beast.

The ship was magnificent. It took an army of slaves years to build her, yet it was the only ship glorious enough for Enel himself. It was a colossus of fine wood and pure gold. Enel grinned as he shot a bolt of lightning into the mechanism, and slowly the propellers started to power up.

The Ark Maxim. The flying ship that would take him to Fairy Vearth.

Enel paused just in front of his throne, turning to stare at the newest addition of the Ark. During the first test flight, Enel had discovered something very curious at the very top of Giant Jack. Enel had desired for himself as soon as he laid eyes on it.

A golden belfry bell stood on the deck of his ship. The bell was at least four hundred years old, dirty, and covered in vines, but somehow it was still just as beautiful as ever. There was an aura of reverence around the golden bell, and Enel wondered curiously how many people it took to build such a magnificent structure. The gold was of the highest quality, and the carvings along the metal were incredibly detailed.

This is the treasure that the Shandorians fought so hard to reclaim, Enel thought with satisfaction. The old men of the island still spoke in hushed tones of the 'Song of the Island. A four hundred year war had been waged for this bell.

It was truly fit for a God.

Enel paused, glancing down towards Upper Yard below.

The Shandorians worshipped this bell. So did the Skypieans, in their own way. They still believed that the sound of the bell would mark the end of the war. They considered this bell to be a holy object.

Enel's eyes narrowed. "I am the only divine being in this world," he muttered to himself, spinning his staff as he stared at the bell suspiciously.

Previously, he had wanted to keep it for himself. All of a sudden, an idea struck him, and he could think of something better to do with this bell.

The God walked up to the bell slowly. It really is beautiful, he thought absentmindedly, just as he raised his staff and swung it towards the bell. The vibration caused the entire ship to shudder. Even after four centuries, the bell rang as perfectly as ever.

The sound rang outwards, so clear and a perfect it spread for miles. For the first time in centuries, the island sung.

Wiper was left speechless as the ringing echoed around, resonating from the top of Giant Jack. All of the Shandorians stopped and stared. None of them had heard the sound before, but it was so supernaturally beautiful that there was only one thing it could be. Stories had been told about this sound for decades.

"This…" The old chief choked, barely able to belief his ears. "This is… it is so beautiful…"

No one dared to raise their voices. The ringing was almost hypnotising.

"I never thought I would actually hear it…" Laki muttered quietly, glancing towards Wiper.

There were tears in Wiper's eyes.

The sound had been his dream for so long. And it was everything he had ever dreamt it would be.

The old chief was the first to realise what was missing. He glanced around the camp with confusion.

"Yet… who's ringing it?"

As the sound spread over Upper Yard, the trees cracked as an enormous python raised its head, so large it towered over the forest. If it was possible for a snake to cry, then this snake was weeping now.

Its huge, serpentine body swayed as the sound brought back memories so long forgotten; of a time when it was small, and dancing beneath a golden bell and a beautiful ringing…

"Tsula…! Tsula…!" The python hissed madly, dancing through the air.

Birds were chirping madly around the snake. It seemed like the whole forest was dancing again to the sound.

Enel was laughing each time his staff struck against the bell. The bell was perfect. Its shape, its curves, its structure, was all designed to produce the clearest, most beautiful noise possible. It was more than just a bell; it was working of art.

"What a beautiful noise…" Enel muttered in appreciation.

Then, his staff started to crackle as he charged electricity through it. The next time it collided against the bell, everything exploded. And Enel really started to laugh.

He wasn't just destroying a bell. He was destroying something sacred. And he loved it.

It was right as God to destroy everything.

His staff pierced straight through the belfry bell, and the sound shifted. The acoustics were ruined. It turned from a clear, perfect ringing, to a tortured, painful scraping that tore across the country.


"No…" Wiper muttered in absolute shock, as the beautiful ringing vanished. "No… how dare you…?"

The mood around the camp turned murderous. They were all battle-hardened warriors, and they were all crying. The noise was so painful it felt like their ears were bleeding, worse than nails on a chalkboard.


They all knew what they were listening to. They were all listening to the sound of a golden bell being destroyed.

"How dare you…" Wiper murmured, stumbling forward slowly. His heart was pounding like a cannon, and his blood was pouring through his muscles. The shock was quickly overwhelmed by a rage the likes of which he had never felt before.

Wiper snatched up the God-Slayer quickly. This was rage on a scale he hadn't believed was possible.

"How. Dare. You…?" Wiper growled, his legs exploding into a furious sprint. He didn't care about anything anymore. Whatever pain or tiredness he felt was suddenly gone.

The only thing he wanted was to watch Enel die.



Enel was laughing like a maniac even as he pulverised the bell into pieces. What was left couldn't even be called a bell anymore. It was barely anything more than a hulk of molten metal.

The God stared out over the island. The whole forest seemed to be writhing in agony, shock, and anger. Enel just laughed.

"Now the game has begun!" Enel proclaimed triumphantly, just as thunder split through the sky.

The skipper quietly cut through the Milky Road. Around them, floating orbs bounced around the forests idly. The Devil fruit hunters were completely silent as the noise bled out around them.

"Well, that was weird," Marcus exclaimed happily. "I wonder what that noise was about."

Neither Berrit nor Isaac replied. Both of them were staying as far from Marcus as the small boat would allow. Marcus' shirt was still coated in dried blood from last night.

"So, what was this place called again?" Marcus asked cheerfully, looking around the forest and the floating balls of cloud. "The Ordeal of Orbs or something? Any ideas what that means?"

Marcus was in very happy mood. Generally, if Marcus was in a good mood, then it meant that a lot of people were dead, and even more people were about to die. Right now, Berrit and Isaac were in survival mode, and just trying to stay alive.

It's a pretty good job being a Devil fruit hunter, Isaac told himself repeatedly. The money was great and you got to travel. The only downside is that I have to share a boat with a psychopath

Slowly, a childish laugh echoed through the trees. "Welcome to my Ordeal of Balls. Ho, ho, hoooo! I am Satori of the Forest! You are facing God's Judgement!"

A large, rotund man burst from the trees, hovering on a floating ball. Berrit and Isaac gave him one look and then turned away.

Satori started to look a bit annoyed as the ship just kept sailing by him with no consideration. "Oi! Don't ignore me, you bastards!" Satori demanded loudly. "This is a trial!"

"Have you seen my earplugs anywhere?" Isaac asked Berrit quietly, without even glancing towards the priest. "I suspect I'm going to need them…"

Satori's face flushed. "Bastards…" he growled, before kicking a ball of cloud towards them angrily. "Don't ignore me…"

As the cloud flew towards the ship, it exploded in a small fireball. Still, there was no damage. Marcus was suddenly standing at the edge of the skipper, the air shimmering as he absorbed the explosion.

"Oh, don't worry," Marcus grinned. "I'm not ignoring you."

His smile was predatory. Satori laughed, dancing between the balls and hovering in the air. "Oh! You look like a tough guy!" He said teasingly. "I am one of the Almighty God Enel's priests! Welcome to the forbidden holy land, Upper Yard. In the Lost Forest, the chance of survival is eleven percent!"

"Eleven percent?" Marcus mused. "Trust me; your chance isn't as high as that. You're funny guy."

The air started to shimmer around him. "That's why I'm going to take my time with you," he grinned.

Even Satori seemed to falter slightly. "Don't underestimate me!" The priest roared, spinning as he launched his balls towards Marcus. The clouds exploded into everything from vicious animals to spears. Marcus stood perfectly still, arms crossed, and never seemed to notice any of them. The air shimmered and the explosions just shredded away around him.

"So, you're a priest?" He asked, almost conversationally, while Satori continued his salvo of explosive clouds. "I've never been one for religion, personally. I have, however, always had a very strong interest in biology. It's something of a hobby."

Behind him, Isaac was continuing to search for his earplugs. Marcus jumped off the skipper and started to walk casually towards Satori, much to the priest's annoyance.

"So you have a weird power…" Satori chided, still bouncing between balls. Suddenly, he rebounded of a nearby tree and plummeted straight to the ground, arm outstretched. "So what!"

Satori's huge body dropped like a stone, faster than the eye could follow. His arm suddenly thrust towards Marcus. "Impact!" Satori screamed, just as a burst of pressure exploded from his palm.

The air shimmered around Marcus and the force disappeared. Marcus tilted his head and looked at Satori like he was an idiot. Satori's mouth dropped open. Around him, the ground had been gouged from the shockwave, yet Marcus seemed completely unharmed.

"That's cute," Marcus muttered, amused. "My turn."

His arm flashed forward. Satori knew the attack was coming, and tried to absorb it using his Impact Dial. He might as well have tried to block a tornado with a piece of paper. Marcus' fist exploded as it approached, and the shockwave sent Satori flying backwards, landing roughly against a tree trunk. The Impact Dial in his palm overcharged and exploded.

Marcus started strolling towards him, slowly. The shimmering around him started to increase. "Right, so where was?" Marcus mused to himself, while Satori struggled to pick himself up again. "Oh yes! Biology!"

The priest tried to pull himself to his feet, but he was coughing up blood. With one attack, Marcus had shredded through his clothes and skin. Satori's hat and goggles were ruined, while he clutched his stomach in pain, gasping loudly.

"Did you know?" Marcus continued conversationally. "That I actually took an apprenticeship in medicine a while back?"

Satori was swaying slightly, struggling to remain focused on his Mantra through the pain. They were covered in the shadows of the forest, and Marcus' eyes glinted almost hungrily. With the sun rising in the distance, it looked like the horizon was on fire.

Marcus' heavily shadowed eyes cut through Satori. His hair was dark, greasy and unkempt. His clothes were cheap and shredded, with stained blood coated over his body. Satori gulped unwillingly.

"You… you were a doctor?" The priest muttered, stumbling to his feet.

"A doctor?" Marcus scoffed. "Hell no!"

His grin widened even further. The air started to glow red. "I'm a motherfucking chiropractor."

With a blur of movement, Marcus' fist was suddenly buried into Satori's chest. The priest screamed in agony. Nearby trees collapsed from the impact.

"I really need my earplugs…" Isaac muttered desperately, searching up and down desperately as the sickening cry of agony hit the skipper.

Marcus was laughing as he jammed his knee into the writhing Satori. "Welcome to Musculoskeletal 101!" He proclaimed happily. Satori tried to struggle, but Marcus was too strong. "Did you know that bones are a lot less rigid than most people belief? They don't snap, so much as they eventually buckle. It's pretty amazing the amount of beating your skeleton can spring back from."

His knee forced the priest to the ground roughly. "As a matter of fact, the most brittle parts of the body are the hands…"

Marcus clutched both of Satori's wrists and squeezed tightly. There was a sickening crack, followed by a gut-wrenching scream. Berrit and Isaac both tried desperately to distract themselves.

Marcus never stopped smiling. "… and the skull!" He jammed both of his hands to either side of Satori's head. The priest was too delirious with pain to even beg for his life. The air started to shimmer as Marcus slowly increased the pressure.

"Now, the thing about is skull is there's all that brain fluid inside," he continued gleefully. "It really does make a difference. As you start to shred through the bone, there's just all that pressure on the inside…"

Satori's eyes looked like they were about to burst. There were no screams anymore, just desperate gasps of agony. "Well…" Marcus muttered happily. "I suppose it's like popping a ball…"

In the skipper, Berrit and Isaac both avoided eye contact with each other. The sound of a sickening squelch burst through the forest. A few minutes later, Dan 'The Demonic' Marcus walked out of the trees, covered in a fresh layer of blood. He was whistling happily.

"I guess nobody told these guys…" Marcus muttered to himself. "Demons eat priests for breakfast…"

Chapter Text

The dull groan scraped through the trees. It was the sound of metal being shredded by a huge amount of force. Luffy could practically feel the forest writhing in agony as the sound filled the air. Next to him, Robin was staring upwards at the giant beanstalk with a look of concern.

"The golden bell…" Robin muttered quietly. There were ruins across the island, all referring to a golden bell, the centre of the ancient Shandorian culture. The back of her neck started to tingle. As an archaeologist, she had developed a near-supernatural sense for when a piece of history was in danger.

But it was more than that. The language of the ruins was far too similar to the poneglyth language for it to be a coincidence. With every ruin she found littered across the jungle, Robin started to reach an inescapable conclusion; there was a poneglypth somewhere on this island. With that knowledge, and the feeling that she was listening to a piece of history being destroyed, a cold dread crept over her body.

Even as the sound faded away, it seemed to linger in the air. Luffy glanced around the forest anxiously, while goose bumps ran down his body. He couldn't quite explain the feeling, but there was the sudden realisation that this forest wasn't a safe place to be anymore.

"Robin," he said softly, gently letting go of her hand. "You go on ahead. I'll stay here and make sure no one follows."

She frowned. "Who's following us?"

"I don't know," he admitted awkwardly, unable to describe his feeling of foreboding with words. It was faint, barely decipherable, but persistent. "I just… I just think that this is going to get very violent very quickly."

She didn't respond for a few seconds. In the distance, there was sound of angry screaming, rapidly getting closer. It was the sound of war cries.

Luffy glanced towards the trees, before turning to stare at Robin earnestly. "Please, Robin," he said quietly. "I promise that I will catch up with you. I just need to handle this."

Robin's instinctive protest died in her mouth when she saw Luffy's expression. Around, them the sound of screaming echoed through the trees. Trust my captain, Robin thought quietly.

"Alright," the archaeologist nodded. "I'll go on and look for the others."

He smiled brightly, looking at her with relief. Robin pulled in close and gently pecked her lips against his. The feeling was still so new, so strange, that it made their hearts race.

"Promise you'll stay safe," Robin muttered. "And catch up with me soon."

Luffy nodded, watching her walk away briskly with a longing look. His stomach clenched uncomfortably, even as he turned to face the incoming screaming.

Through the trees, Luffy glimpsed dozens of men, all wearing tribal clothing and shooting through the air on trails of white cloud. They all were carrying weapons, and looked furious. Furious enough to slaughter anyone in their path.

The pirate took a deep breath, and cracked his knuckles slowly. Eventually, he would have to sort out his feelings for Robin, but right now it just became very simple. There were enemies coming.

And they wouldn't be going any further.

"Alright, this is a very important question. You will answer it quickly and quietly." Zoro growled darkly, clutching his defeated enemy by his collar. "Which direction is north?!"

A flash of puzzlement flickered through Captain McKinley's bloody face. He had lost his white beret on the ground, and his face was heavily bruised. His white uniform was ruined by bloody slash down his chest that was still oozing blood; it was a shallow cut, but still painful. Around them, the other White Berets were littered across the earth, either unconscious or moaning with pain.

Feebly, McKinley raised a hand and pointed towards the forest. "That way…"

Zoro nodded approvingly, drawing an arrow on the back of his hand with the letter 'N'. The fundamental problem with doing so never seemed to occur to him. Already, he had shifted slightly, and 'north' was now pointing in the wrong direction.

"Ok," The swordsman muttered, furrowing his brow in concentration. The bloodthirsty demon that had singlehandedly defeated the White Berets was gone; replaced by a man who was trying to tackle a very difficult concept. "And what is in the north direction?"

McKinley looked at Zoro confusedly. His interrogator was quite clearly insane. "Um… Well, there's Giant Jack – the beanstalk, God's Shrine and the Ruins of Penance…"

Zoro nodded, repeating the places under his breath quietly. He looked like he was trying to prepare for an exam, and would have made a list if he had the paper.

"Next question," Zoro demanded. "Which direction is east?"

The captain stared for a long time. Zoro's grip on his collar never slackened. "Are you… lost?" The captain croaked.

Zoro looked momentarily flustered. His clothes were tattered and covered in blood, and he was covered in bite marks and scratches from walking around aimlessly all night. He had rapidly went from being 'a little bit annoyed' to full-blown aggravated.

"I'm not lost. All of this geography is in the wrong place!" Zoro snarled. "Now just answer the question."

McKinley paled, glancing around at the bodies of his men lying around him. The White Berets had fought hard, but they had still barely lasted a minute against the swordsman. "You mean you attacked us just because you needed directions?" McKinley gasped.

The swordsman refused to be embarrassed. "Hey! You were the one that tried to arrest me."

The White Berets had been called into Upper Yard to try to enforce the law and capture the freed prisoners, but McKinley had done everything in his power to be as unsuccessful as possible. Despite the fighting, and the Shandorian raiders hunting for blood and the Enforcer squads on the warpath, the White Berets had done their best to stay as far away from the chaos as possible. It had been working until Zoro stumbled onto their camp. First there was a weak but mandatory attempt from McKinley to arrest Zoro, followed by a whole bunch of screaming from the White Berets.

Admittedly, Zoro conceded, glancing around the devastated camp, I might have overreacted a bit. But I was in a very bad mood.

There was a groan of pain from one of the nearby White Berets. Nobody appeared to be dead, but they were all suffering long slash marks across their body. Zoro never appeared to have even exerted himself as he cut through the men. McKinley gulped, before deciding that the swordsman was clearly insane.

For the next half an hour, the captain described the geography of Upper Yard. He explained the landmarks and how to traverse through the forest, he described the Milky Roads, and he described the shape of the island. Zoro listened intently through it all, and then McKinley gave him precise, easy, step-by-step instructions on how to reach Angel Island from their current location.

Zoro nodded, thanked the captain for his help, before standing up and walking in the complete wrong direction. As he watched the swordsman's complete and utter ignorance, McKinley face-palmed and collapsed into a heap.

It was half an hour later before Zoro realised that he was walking in circles again. He frowned as he stared at the notes he made on his wrist, which were already completely illegible from sweat.

"This doesn't make any sense," he growled to the empty forest, glancing around at the trees. At this point, he was sure he had walked a perimeter around the whole island. Several times. "Everything is in the wrong place…"

His fist broke through a nearby tree trunk with frustration. From above in the canopy, there was a chirping that sounded annoyingly like laughter. After a few minutes, Zoro reached the only possible conclusion. "That bastard captain must have lied to me," Zoro mumbled, before picking a random direction and starting to walk.

A furious scream burst through forest, followed by a dull thud as a tree collapsed. Zoro's hands were instantly on his swords, just as an explosion cut through the air. A man dressed in white robes with floppy ears, a priest, screamed in pain as the impact knocked him roughly into a bloody heap on the ground.

There was another priest trying desperately to flee away, his body scorched and burnt. The priest barely made it three steps before a figure materialised in front of him, swinging a heavy metal weapon downwards with so much force it caused bones to snap. It was a brutal and instant attack, knocking the priest straight into the ground.

All three swords were unsheathed and ready. The man in front of Zoro was panting heavily as he heaved his huge bazooka back over his shoulder. The raider turned to stare at the swordsman with undiluted fury.

"You…" Wiper growled, his hands trembling from rage. "You are trespassing on this island…"

Zoro grunted, his eyes narrowing. "Trust me; I'm trying my best to get out of here."

"I don't care," Wiper snarled, twisting the bazooka towards Zoro. "Everyone on this island will die!"

There was far too much rage pulsing through Wiper's body for any hesitation or reason. Wiper wanted to hurt Enel. He longed to see Enel's bloody and broken body. His body craved the sound of Enel's screaming as the God begged for mercy, but Wiper would never give any. That golden bell had been Wiper's dream, and Enel had taken it from him.

And so Wiper would make Enel's death slow and brutal. The murderous intent was pouring off the raider, so powerful that it even made Zoro pause.

As far as Wiper was concerned, anyone between here and God's Shrine was a substitute for Enel. The rage consumed him, and his primal instincts demanded blood right now. There was no restraint left. Not after what Enel had done.

Wiper had already left the rest of the Shandorians behind, not that he cared. Wiper had always preferred fighting alone anyways. It made easier to go a little bit berserk.

"You want a fight?" Zoro growled, too annoyed to back down from anything. His swords cut through the air as he dropped into a fighting stance. "Fine. But this damn island is really pissing me off – so I'm in a bad mood!"

Wiper's cigarillo dropped to the ground. With a click, he loaded another round into his bazooka. The black metal nozzle of the God-Slayer seemed to gleam hungrily.

"A 'bad mood'…?" Wiper repeated, his voice cracking with anger as he pulled the trigger. Zoro barely had time to dive for cover before a violent inferno of blue flames burst from the nozzle.

The fire burnt straight through a nearby tree and turned it to cinders. The explosion caused the foliage to catch light. Wiper's eyes gleamed into the flickering flames.

"Me?" The raider muttered darkly. "I'm the king of bad moods!"

Zoro vs Wiper

Usopp squinted as he stared into the distance. It was hard to see through the fog and the trees, but slowly his keen eyes managed to make out the outline of a ship sitting in a swamp in the distance.

"I can see her!" Usopp proclaimed loudly, his voice thick with relief. "The Going Merry is down there!"

Nami nearly collapsed in relief. Chopper was holding Nami's hand tightly for support. Behind her, Sanji was eagerly helping Vivi climb up the steep cliff. They were all panting, tired, and exhausted. The vague outline of their ship in the distance was a huge morale booster.

The group had followed a thick Milky Road over the forest, and had to climb up a small mountain just to traverse the dense jungle. There was a narrow, treacherous ledge carved into the cliff face running along the Milky Road, heading straight down towards a swampy lake. From their vantage point, the jungles of Upper Yard stretched out beneath them. There were ancient ruins littered all over the place, half-hidden by thick vines and overgrown vegetation.

"That's not far away!" Nami panted excitedly. "We can be there in a hour, max!"

Usopp was grinning madly at the thought. They were all tired, but the sniper seemed to have the most energy when it came to reaching the Going Merry.

"And after that?" Sanji asked curiously. Carue was busy struggling to flap up the unstable cliff. For much of the journey, Carue carried the injured Vivi, but the duck was now having difficulty with the narrow paths and loose stones.

"We've get the ship, then we can sail round the island looking for the others," Nami said firmly. "And then we can all get out of here as soon as possible."

Usopp looked revving to go. The others were still trying to catch their breaths after the climb. "We need to get moving! The Merry is waiting for us!" Usopp shouted encouragingly.

No one moved. Usopp sighed in despair. "Nami, all of your treasure is still on the Merry," Usopp added. "And Sanji, just think how Conis would react if you saved her…"

Nami was instantly alert. Sanji seemed to revitalise instantly. "Let's go!" The chef ordered, marching forward at a brisk pace.

"My money is in danger!" Nami squealed. "Come on, Vivi, we have to move. Get Sanji to carry you if you can't keep up."

"Yes!" Sanji shouted triumphantly, rushing to a confused Vivi eagerly. "Please, let me carry you!"

Carue scrambled upwards and pushed Sanji away from Vivi protectively. The two of them looked ready to come to blows, but Vivi was busy staring out behind them at the valley below.

"Umm… guys?" Vivi bit her lip nervously. "We've got a problem…"

Everything died down as they all turned to stare. The sound of heavy footsteps marching in uniform filled the air. Nami gulped. Sanji's eyes narrowed. Chopper squealed.

Behind them, waves of men in white uniforms were pouring out of the forest. The valley was directly below the Milky Road, yet it was heading in the same direction. There were hundreds of marines marching through, all armed with rifles. Nami even glimpsed the large shapes of cannons being dragged with them.

"Marines?" Nami gasped, staring at the small army of men. "What are marines doing here?"

"Same thing we are," Sanji realised slowly, lighting a cigarette. "They're following the Milky Roads around the island."

Vivi's eyes opened in shock. "But that means…" She stammered. "The Milky Road is the only way to take the Merry out of the lake. If they realise we're here and get into formation…"

Her voice trailed off nervously. "They could trap us with cannon fire and make it impossible to escape," Nami finished. "We'd be sitting ducks trying to sail up the Milky Road."

Chopper squealed and hugged Nami's leg tightly, Carue rushed to Vivi for support, while Usopp cast a nervous glance towards the Going Merry. Sanji sighed with resignation.

"Someone is going to have to distract them…" Sanji muttered thoughtfully.

There was a moment's silence. The chef turned to stare at Usopp meaningful. The sniper stammered in nervous shock. "You mean me?" Usopp gulped.

"Usopp," Sanji said, with total seriousness. "Take one for the team. Sacrifice yourself for the ladies."

The sniper paled fearfully. Nami stared at the marines thoughtfully. There were at least two hundred of them, but more kept on pouring out of treeline. At this height, it was impossible to make out any details; they were simply a sea of white. They were moving quickly for such a large group. Still, the valley below became so narrow that they could only walk ten across. It might be possible for one strong person to hold the entire army back while they recovered the Going Merry.

Nami cast a critical look over their group. Usopp was instantly out of the question. Chopper was reliable enough in a fight, but the reindeer lacked any sort of fighting spirit. Vivi and her Sand Sand fruit powers might be able to do it, but she was already injured and, besides, the marines were sure to have Seastone weaponry.

Nami turned towards Sanji, who was still arguing with Usopp. "Sanji," Nami interrupted. "You have to stay here and hold the marines back for us."

A pained expressed flickered over the chef's face. "But… Conis…" he mumbled, motioning desperately towards the ship. "She's…"

Nami repressed a groan. "Sanji," Nami repeated in her sweetest voice. "Would you please do me a huge favour and stay here and protect us?"

Sanji blinked repeatedly. Nami idly wondered how thick she could lay it on. "I would be ever so grateful," Nami said with fake sweetness, smiling coyly. For extra emphasis, she held her arms up in such a way that her breasts pushed together.

It worked like a charm. The cigarette dropped out of Sanji's open mouth. The chef was nothing if not predictable. The last time Nami messed with him like this she had ended up with a five course gourmet meal delivered to her room. In the middle of the night.

Vivi couldn't help but giggle. Usopp sighed, muttering under his breath, "How could anybody be so simple…?"

Sanji dropped to his knee, staring at Nami with wonder. "Of course, my lady," he wooed. "It would be my honour to do your bidding!"

Nami grinned, winking at Vivi discreetly. "My hero!" She gushed, throwing her arms around Sanji tightly. His cheeks turned bright red. "Promise me you'll hold the marines back until we get back?"

"I will! I will!" Sanji shouted furiously, his heart pounding as his body revved into fighting mode. "I will fight to the last breath for you!"

They were already turning to leave. Usopp looked eager to leave Sanji behind. Chopper just appeared confused. Vivi was blushing madly at Nami's shameless flirting.

Sanji looked like his dream had come true. Feeling emboldened, Nami even went so far as to kiss him on the cheek. Sanji gasped for air.

"Oh, thank you!" Nami cooed, walking away briskly, before adding in a more serious tone. "Remember, hold the marines back."

"I will hold back hell itself for you!" Sanji roared, leaping up and down excitedly. He could feel his blood starting boil. His body looked like it was fire. "I will never let you down!"

He watched Nami and Vivi walk away appreciatively. Sanji never seemed to hear Nami whisper to Vivi quietly, "… And that's how you get a slave."

Sanji was shaking as they left his line of sight, and he turned to watch the marines still marching up the valley. "She needs me," Sanji whispered quietly, before screaming furiously. "Nami needs me!"

With a furious leap, Sanji jumped downwards off the cliff. The air rushed by him, but he could hardly hear it over the sound of his pounding heart. Sanji's strong, lean legs landed firmly on the ground below.

Already, the marines were reacting to his sudden presence. He saw rifles being loaded and brandished as the wave of men charged closer, but Sanji didn't care.

"Come!" He roared maniacally, throwing his arms up. The marines just kept on rushing towards him. "Come and face me! I am a soldier of love! I will beat you all back before I allow you to pass!"

Sanji's legs were twitching in anticipation. It had been a long time since he had felt so fired up. "I will face down hell itself!" He proclaimed. "I will repel legions of demons and hordes of monsters! There is no force on heaven or earth that will get by m–"

With a strangled choke, Sanji's voice cut off as he suddenly recognised the distinctive pink blond hair leading the column of marines. His eyes widened in shock and dread.

Standing at the front of the marines, walking briskly as her hips swayed side to side, Captain Hina stared coolly towards Sanji while she pulled on her gloves.

Sanji's knees instantly went weak. The previous fire died away as quickly as it had come. The chef gulped.

"Oh shit…"

Sanji vs Hina

With a grumble, Yama staggered out of the men's room and climbed onto the deck of Going Merry. His huge body was so large that he barely fit through doors. He hadn't managed to get much sleep. The ship had proved to be as troublesome to sleep in as it was to sail. The rooms were too small, the beds were uncomfortable, and hull somehow managed to creak even when the ship was still on a lake.

Yama had been planning on making the ship a gift to God Enel. Now, he was seriously starting doubt whether he should even bother. It would be disrespectful to present Enel with such an inferior ship as this.

In the swamp, it was still gloomy as the thick canopy blocked the sunlight. The lake was covered in a light fog, while vines dangled down from above. Yama lit a lantern at the prow of the ship, illuminating the ruins that towered eerily over the centre of the lake.

The commander was frowning angrily as he pulled the sails down. The mast seemed to jam as he yanked the ropes down, and the wood groaned with protest. It took a considerable amount of effort just to unfurl the sails, yet then the light wind hit the boat and the Going Merry started to sway.

As Yama tried to pull the anchor up, the knot almost seemed to resist as he tried to untangle it. The rope must have got wet during the night and expanded, Yama told himself, his beefy fingers struggling to untie the rope. After a few minutes, he ended up just snapping it.

"What a piece of trash ship," Yama grumbled, pulling the sails until the Going Merry started to move sluggishly through the water. Around the ship, sharks circled almost expectantly. Yama stood by the rudder, but it seemed to jam constantly. The commander was already irritated, and his patience was rapidly failing. After a few minutes, he reached a decision.

"Devotee!" Yama shouted to Conis, below deck. The fat man had never bothered to remember her name. "Come out now!"

It took a long time for Conis to emerge. She barely made a sound as she slowly stepped out on to deck. Yama didn't even glance around at her.

"There have been too many delays already," Yama ordered brashly. "And I am needed at God's Shrine. I will leave this worthless ship here, and make the rest of the journey by foot. You will join me. Make preparations."

Conis didn't respond. She was breathing deeply and trembling, but Yama was far too obnoxious to pay her any attention. The commander stomped onto the deck in disgust, his foot breaking through a plank. Yama grunted. "What a useless vessel," he mumbled bitterly, under his breath. "It would be shaming to present the Almighty Enel with this ship…"

Conis never made a move. For the first time, Yama glanced at her. "Did you hear me, woman?" Yama snapped. "I told you to make preparations. You must be at your best when I give you to Lord Enel, so he may judge if you are worthy. We will be leaving within the –"

"No." Conis' voice was a whisper, but somehow clearly audible. Around them, the sharks started to squirm.

Yama's beady eyes narrowed. "What did you just say?" He asked coldly.

"No," Conis repeated, her voice growing more firm. "'We' will not be going anywhere. You will leave this ship alone. You will exit this ship quietly and walk away, and I will never have to see you again."

The commander was perfectly quiet for a few seconds, before drawing himself up to his full size. The man was huge; a giant, sweaty wall of muscle and fat. Despite herself, Conis couldn't help but flinch. She was skinny, slender and timid; a complete opposite to Yama.

"You dare to give me orders?" Yama growled coldly, a vein throbbing on his forehead.

Conis gulped, but forced herself to stand her ground. "Yes," she muttered, meeting Yama's eyes. Her body was trembling furiously. She had to struggle to say the words. "Get. The. Hell. Off. This. Ship."

"And if I refuse?" Yama demanded, taking a step closer to her. His shadow towered over her. "What happens then?"

Quivering, she slowly pulled her hands from behind her back. She was wielding a knife, a large cooking blade, which Conis pointed at Yama's stomach hesitantly. The commander raised an eyebrow, but didn't seem the least bit concerned.

"Heresy!" Yama snarled, cracking his knuckles slowly. His arms were short and skinny compared to his body, but still well-muscled. "I gave you the chance to serve God himself. Is this how you repay me?"

Conis' heart was pounding so furiously it was hard to even hear him. Her arms were twitching. "I will never go to Enel," she muttered through gritted teeth. "And you will never hurt this ship again."

"This ship?" Yama snorted derisively. "This piece of crap, worthless ship?"

A flash of anger burst exploded in Conis' eyes. Around them, the mast and the hull creaked ominously. Just the wind, Yama told himself.

"Do not insult the Going Merry," Conis whispered, the knife still trembling in her hands.

Yama grunted. His nose was dripping snot disgustingly. "If you care so much about this ship…" Yama muttered slowly, carefully reaching out to the lantern at the prow of the boat. With a single finger, he gently knocked the lantern off its hook. "…Then you can watch it burn!"

Conis gasped in shock as the lantern broke across floor. The lamp oil spilled everywhere and exploded into flames. Within seconds, the deck of the Going Merry was alight.

And then there was Yama, charging towards her in a blink of an eye. With ease, he grabbed the knife out of her hands, and then slammed a huge fist straight into her stomach.

Conis vs Yama

Usopp staggered as he raced down the cliff path. The stones underfoot were loose and treacherous, while the narrow ledge snaked around the mountain. The Milky Road ran alongside; a floating lane of white cloud hovering in the air.

"Come on!" Usopp shouted encouragingly. "Faster!"

"Oh, shut up!" Nami grumbled, struggling to keep her footing. Next to her, Chopper was in his reindeer form while Nami held out to his antlers for support. Trailing behind, Vivi was resting over Carue, while the duck marched forward determinedly.

"But it's so close!" Usopp whined, motioning madly to the shape of the Going Merry. It was still barely visible in the fog and gloom, but much closer. The Milky Road led them straight to it. "Our ship needs us!"

"Then why don't you go ahead?" Nami muttered irritably.

Usopp faltered. "But what if there are enemies on the ship?"

The ledge widened into a large, rocky plateau. Nami sighed in relief and exhaustion, pausing while she panted deeply. Even Carue was looking tired from the hard march.

"So you're scared," Nami teased.

"I'm not scared!" Usopp protested loudly, all evidence to the contrary. "I'm never scared! I'm the great warri…"

Everyone seemed to ignore him as his voice trailed off. From the corner of his eye, Usopp glimpsed a dark shape on top of the Milky Road, just out of sight. Slowly, Usopp staggered forward, walking around the bend to get a good look.

It was a ship; a small, single mast ship anchored to the cliff face while it floated on the Milky Road. The hull was narrow and flat, sitting low in the cloud. It was a skipper. It took Usopp a few seconds before he realised that he recognised the vessel.

He gulped nervously. "Uhhh…" The sniper stammered, while the possibilities raced through his head. None of them were good. "…I think you should see this!" He called loudly to the pirates behind him.

There was no response. As a matter of fact, everything had turned deadly quiet. Usopp was shivering with fear as he slowly turned around. "Why is no one talking anymore?" Usopp muttered in a panicked whisper.

Nami, Vivi, Chopper and Carue were all standing perfectly still, staring, almost entranced, at something to the side. None of them were moving.

"Nami?" Usopp rushed over to her with quiet fear, grabbing her shoulders roughly. "Nami! What's happening?!"

She struggled to focus on him. Her face contorted in confusion. "Usopp…?" Nami muttered slowly. She seemed severely dazed. "What's happening? Where are we?"

At that moment, Usopp recognised the reflection in her eyes. There was bright blue light coming from the other side of the plateau. Usopp's mind whirred. His heart started pounding. He didn't dare look round.

"Everyone!" Usopp shrieked, throwing his hands up to cover Nami's face. "Close your eyes right now!"

Suddenly, a huge shadow towered over him from behind him. Usopp's knees turned into jelly.

"Hello, there," Berrit said with an evil grin, cracking his knuckles. In an instant, Usopp was struck by just how big the man was. "Remember me?"

The sniper tried to dive for cover. Berrit was faster. Hands the size of dinner plates struck out and engulfed Usopp's skull tightly, his long nose pressing into Berrit's palm. Without any apparent effort, Berrit lifted Usopp off the ground with only one arm. Usopp tried to thrash and struggled, but Berrit's body was as hard as stone.

"The last time we met…" Berrit continued over Usopp's muffled screams. "You did some things that I bet you thought were funny."

Usopp's heart was pounding like drum. He was trying to scream at the top of his lungs, but Berrit's grip around his skull was too tight. "Somehow, I doubt you're goddamn laughing now," Berrit growled. "Let's start small. Two hundred pound stomp!"

The force shot down from the palm of his hand. Usopp's whole body felt like it being crushed together. He thrashed for a second, and then stopped moving. Usopp was gagging from the blood filling up his mouth.

Around him, the rest of the crew were still hypnotised by the glowing blue light.

"Still alive?" Berrit grinned. "How about this? Four hundred pound stomp!"

The air waved as the force pulsed downwards. A circular impression appeared on the ground below him. Usopp's nose snapped. Berrit was growling.

"I can still go goddamn higher!" He shouted. "Six hundred pound stomp!"

Usopp's body collapsed to the ground. His head was spinning so widely it was hard to focus. His body felt like it had been pulverised.

"Will you get a move on?" Isaac muttered angrily. His voice sounded strained, and annoyed. His eyes were glowing blue light furiously. "I can't keep this up for very long."

"Alright, alright!" Berrit muttered. He pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket, holding them gingerly, before snapping the handcuffs around Vivi's wrists. The princess was too dazed to even resist.

Usopp gasped in shock, trying to scream. With a relief sigh, the bright glow in Isaac's eyes disappeared. "This is the ultimate power of the Daze Daze fruit," Isaac explained wearily. "I make people so dazed they forget where they are, and how to fight back." He rubbed his eyes and massaged his head painfully, before admitting, "Although it does give me one hell of a migraine."

Once the blue light disappeared, the other pirates were starting to recover. Nami was glancing around in shock, blinking repeatedly. "Nami!" Usopp shrieked, pulling himself off the ground despite aching bones. "Come on, we've got to fight back right no–"

"Huh?" Nami exclaimed with obvious confusion. She barely had a chance to move before Berrit appeared in front of her. "What just happened?"

"You've just lost," Berrit muttered, slamming his hand over Nami's forehead. "Horizontal stomp!"

The impact hit her from the front. Nami never even had time to scream before the force suddenly pushed her backwards, taking her off her feet. In a second, Nami was flying through the air, before suddenly tumbling off the cliff. Usopp could only scream as he saw Nami rolling roughly down the rocky side, bumping into trees and vines before disappearing roughly into the foliage below.

The tears started to swell in Usopp's eyes. He drew his slingshot, before suddenly realising he was still out of ammo. Smoke bombs, Usopp thought desperately, glancing at Isaac. I need smoke bombs to beat him…

"Nami!" Vivi screamed in shock, thrashing useless against the Seastone handcuffs. Carue was recovering too, charging at Isaac in an angry head-butt.

Almost casually, Isaac drew a gun and shot Carue twice in the chest. The duck stumbled to the ground in pain and panic, while Isaac simply stepped at over him. Vivi shrieked in fear, just as Isaac levelled his pistol at her.

"Please be quiet, princess," he ordered, almost gently.

Chopper managed to pull himself together quite quickly. He went from scared and confused to angry and protective in an instant. Suddenly, the reindeer's body rippled as he transformed into his human form, an imposing figure of muscle, and charged at Isaac furiously.

"Don't you dare hurt my friends!" Chopper screamed, a furious fist heading slamming towards Isaac's head.

"Go Chopper!" Usopp screamed triumphantly, still patting down his pockets for whatever ammo he had left. "We'll take them down together! Get him!"

For half a second, Isaac was caught off-guard. Then, Isaac's eyes flashed an eerie blue and Chopper ended up swinging his fist two feet away from Isaac's head. The reindeer was blinking heavily, confused.

That was when Berrit appeared from behind. Berrit was at least a couple of feet larger than Chopper's Heavy point form, and twice as broad. Berrit's fist barrelled towards Chopper's face in the blink of an eye. The attack came in two stages; first there was knuckles colliding against skull with a dull thud, and then the air shimmered as Chopper's body was stomped into the rocky ground.

Chopper collapsed to the ground and stopped moving. Usopp's mouth dropped open. Vivi started to scream, until Isaac's black, polished shoe knocked her unconscious.

"Take that one too," Isaac ordered, while Berrit slammed another pair of handcuffs onto Chopper. "I'm sure that there are plenty of rich kids somewhere who would pay good money to make their pets human."

Usopp stared disbelievingly. Suddenly, he was the only one still conscious. His pulse was so slow it felt almost dead. His body was frozen with cold dread. His eyes were wide and bulbous as he stared at his fallen friends.

"…No…" Usopp gasped painfully through choked breaths. His legs weren't working properly. He couldn't even pull himself up off his knees.

Isaac glanced at him emotionlessly. "Hey, it's nothing personal," Isaac muttered, throwing his hands up innocently. "This is just our job. This is just business."

"It's a little bit personal," Berrit grumbled under his breath, casting a poisoned glance at Usopp.

"Alright, so it's mostly nothing personal," Isaac conceded. "Still, we're doing you a favour, really. Do you have any idea just how many people out there would kill for a Logia Devil fruit? As soon as word got out about the princess' powers, there would be people lining up to take them."

Isaac cast an unsympathetic look at Vivi's unconscious body. "We're just the guys that got here first," he said with a shrug.

I have no ammo left. I am outnumbered, and outclassed, Usopp thought desperately, still clutching his useless slingshot. And they are going to kill my friends

The tears swelled in his eyes. Berrit chuckled coldly, "What's the matter?" The large man grunted. "I thought you were the goddamn 'Brave Warrior of the Sea'?"

He walked towards Usopp slowly. The sniper tried to run, but his body wasn't working. Berrit's heavy boot slammed into his chest, taking his breath away and knocking him to the ground. The dirt covered his body.

"That's the problem with goddamn liars," Berrit muttered coldly. "Sooner or later, all those lies run out."

Usopp spat out blood on to the rocky ground. Berrit turned away in disgust. "You've been lying to yourself."

Luffy will be here, Usopp thought desperately, or Zoro, or Sanji. They'll come in and save the day

"Will you hurry up and kill her already?" Isaac muttered irritably, pointing at Vivi.

Berrit frowned, already completely disregarding Usopp. "Why do I have to goddamn do it?"

"Because Marcus isn't here," Isaac replied coolly. "And I'm wearing a good suit. Blood splatters just don't wash out."

The large man looked irritated, but then took out a knife and walked towards Vivi. Usopp felt his heart stop. Time seemed to slow down.

They'll be here, Usopp promised himself, someone will step forward and save everyone

Berrit took another step.

Luffy will come, Usopp thought, despite the tears rolling down his face, he always comes. He'll charge in, and rescue his friends. Luffy would fight to the end. He would never stop, never surrender, not while his precious people are in danger.

Usopp paused. Another step.

No one was coming.

Oh no. I'm going to have to be the hero this time.

Usopp had no idea where he found the strength from. His body felt like it was broken to pieces, but somehow he managed to pull himself to his knees. Somehow he managed to charge at Berrit; his feet pounding faster than ever before.

"Don't you dare turn your back on me!" Usopp screamed, raising his leg upwards as he leapt at the large man with all the strength he had left. His foot slammed straight up and collided firmly with Berrit's crotch.

Despite the man's strength and size, that caused Berrit to squeal in pain.

Isaac raised his gun. Somehow, Usopp was faster. Usopp's hand grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground and launched towards Isaac, deliberately closing his eyes before taking aim. As the dirt stung his eyes and caused Isaac to stagger, Usopp's brought up fist and planted it directly into Isaac's nose. It was a weak blow, but enough to knock Isaac to the ground.

The tears were still streaming down Usopp's face, even as he took position in front of Chopper, Vivi and Carue. Panting heavily, Usopp brought out his hammer and clutched it tightly with both hands in front of him. His slingshot was left in his pocket. I'm out of tricks, out of luck, and out of lies, he thought, as the adrenaline pounded through his body. It felt like his blood was on fire. It's time to find out what was true.

"I never lied," Usopp growled through gritted teeth. Both Berrit and Isaac recovered quickly from his surprise assault. "Every time I bragged, or called myself a brave warrior, it was never a lie."

His hands gripped his hammer so tightly his knuckles turned white. "It was always a promise!" Usopp screamed. "I am the brave warrior of the sea, and if you surrender right now I might just let you live!"

They were staring at him incredulously. His knees were shaking madly. Usopp didn't care. "Come on!" He challenged furiously. "I'll take you both on! And I'll do it with my eyes closed!"

Usopp vs Berrit and Isaac

"Oww…!" Nami groaned in agony, pulling herself weakly up out the brambles. Twigs and nettles stuck everywhere. Her body was cut, scraped and bruised, but at least the thorny bush cushioned her fall.

Around her, the forest buzzed with life. There were insects everywhere, and Nami could feel dozens of unseen, predatory eyes focused on her from the foliage. Still, Nami looked upwards toward the ledge, feeling a knot in her stomach.

The cliff was at least a hundred foot high. If it hadn't been for all the branches absorbing the impact, Nami would never have survived the fall. The long shadow of the Milky Road covered everything around her. Nami couldn't even hear what was happening up above.

"I've got to get back up," she muttered urgently, already starting to panic. The two Devil fruit hunters were tough. Vivi needed help.

Her legs stung with pain as she tried to stand up. There were so many twigs trapped in her orange hair that it resembled a bird's nest. Nami had to pull out her Clima-Tact and use it for support as she limped away. Her pulse was racing as she staggered forward.

"I've found you." A cold voice muttered from behind her. "Did you really think you could escape me?"

Nami's blood turned cold. There were calm, almost casual, footsteps walking up from behind her. The priest Ohm was staring at her coldly, his huge sword hung over his shoulder. Ohm was missing his sunglasses, but otherwise seemed completely unhurt.

Nami looked ready to flee. "I can feel your presence using Mantra," Ohm drawled. "There is nowhere you can hide. It is time for you to face penance."

She gulped. "Um… I'm already pretty repentant already…" Nami stammered nervously, backing away slowly. "Can't we just call it a draw? Live and let live?"

A vein bulged on Ohm's forehead. "Never."

Nami carefully unsheathed her sword, and started to spin the Clima-Tact with her other hand, but her hands were trembling. It had taken Vivi's Devil fruit powers to stop him the last time they'd fought. Now, Vivi was nowhere to be seen.

She attempted a smile. "I know that you want to 'free' people so we can all live happily when we're dead or something," Nami stuttered, as Ohm circled her like a shark. "But can't we just learn to get along? Tell me, do you have any pamphlets or anything on you because I'm really interested in converting–"

"This isn't about God's judgement!" Ohm snapped, anger breaking through his usually cool demeanour. "It's not about the rules, the Ordeals, or even my broken sunglasses!"

Nami gulped. A white, iron cloud blade slowly extended from the large handle. "No – I will kill you…" Ohm muttered angrily. "…because you hurt my dog!"

Nami vs Ohm

The marines filed out of the camp slowly, leaving behind only the very wounded and a small guard. Smoker never said a word. Tashigi didn't move. No one dared to come between them. Tashigi glimpsed Amazon quickly hobbling away. Everyone who remained in the camp gave Tashigi and Smoker a wide berth, but they were all staring at the confrontation intently.

"Tell me the truth," the captain said in a forcefully calm voice. "Is it true?"

Tashigi hesitated before she replied. That was all the answer Smoker needed. His eyes bulged furiously. Tendrils of smoke started to rise from his jacket.

"Damn it, Tashigi!" He bellowed loudly. He spat his cigar out of his mouth. "Why? Why would you?"

"It was the right thing to do," Tashigi replied, blinking back tears and forcing her voice to stay level.

"The 'right' thing?!" Smoker fumed. "Do you have idea what you've done? I've worked my ass of trying to reassure command that Alabasta was nothing more than a lapse in judgement. I've put my neck on the line for you over and over! And then you just went and made the exact same mistake again. Don't you understand that you are facing the death penalty here?"

Tashigi didn't respond. Smoker grunted. "Hell, maybe I am too…" He murmured in a quieter voice.

"They don't deserve to die because of politics," Tashigi replied quietly.

Smoker grunted. "They're pirates," he said dismissively, eying Tashigi critically. "Or have you forgotten that?"

Tashigi's didn't reply. Smoker's voice turned quiet and cold. Somehow, that was even worse than when he was angry. "Tell me…" Smoker muttered. "What would you do? If you were in my position, if your top subordinate… hell, if your friend… was insistent on committing treason due to her own stubbornness, then what would you do?"

Her response jammed in her throat. Tashigi could only stutter incoherently. Smoker nodded. "I thought so…"

He took a deep breath. When he spoke again, he was back in his officer's voice, firm and strict. "Lieutenant Tashigi," he proclaimed loudly. "As your commanding officer, you are hereby suspended and stripped of your rank indefinitely. You will remain in custody for the duration of this mission, after which you will be delivered to the proper authorities for judgement on your crimes."

Smoker's eyes narrowed. "Tashigi; you are under arrest."

Tashigi's heart pounded. She suddenly felt lightheaded. He had made his choice, and she made her hers.

"No, captain…" Tashigi muttered coldly. Her sword unsheathed with a sharp cut as she flourished the blade in front of her. "…I'm not."

Tashigi vs Smoker

In the distance, Robin could hear the screams of men fighting violently. It sounded like the whole island was bursting into war. She stood at the base of the giant beanstalk, staring at the ruins covering the cloud. Slowly, she felt a twinge of fear; not just for Luffy, but for all this history that might be lost in the fighting.

As an archaeologist, the destruction of history was something that she could not forgive.

"I've got to save what I can," Robin muttered to herself, casting a critical look around the ruins. Her mind raced as she tried to piece together what she knew about the ancient culture. The architecture of the buildings around her seemed… off somehow, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.

The cloud was soft and bouncy underfoot, while Robin took a trace of an ancient text engraved on a building. This island had been in the sky for a long time, but she was starting to suspect that it hadn't originated up here. Perhaps the knock-up stream could have launched a whole island…

Robin was so distracted as she inspected the ruins that she hardly noticed the footsteps walking behind her. It was only when she heard a muffled mumbling did she turn around to see a tall man in a dark black suit with wild dreadlocks sticking out of from his head. He was biting his lip while trying to speak, and slowly becoming red in the face.

After a few minutes of curious watching, pity overcame Robin. "You need to open your mouth to speak," she said helpfully.

With a large of gasp of breath, the man finally managed to speak. "Oh, how careless!" He gasped. He tried to step forward, but ended up falling down face first into the cloud.

Robin sighed. "Don't lift both your feet at the same time when you walk," she suggested. "One foot, and then the other."

The man jumped back to his feet. He was tall and imposing, wearing a purple suit and blue scarf, but the effect was ruined by the fact that he seemed to be having difficulty crossing his arms. Robin had to resist the urge to go over there and help.

"How careless of me!" The man shouted loudly. "But you are still my enemy! I'm the guardian of the sky Gedatsu! I'm a priest to the service of almighty god Enel, I own the Ordeal of Swamp! You will face my judgement!"

There was a quiet pause. "You're a priest?" Robin asked finally.

"That is right!" Gedatsu shouted. His eyes were watering from not blinking for so long.

"And you are going to fight me?"

"Yes! You will face the Ordeal of Swamp!"

"Oh." Somehow, Robin didn't look even mildly concerned.

The awkward silence stretched on uncomfortably. Finally, Robin had to ask. "Are you serious?"

Gedatsu vs Robin

Luffy took a deep breath as he stood on a small hill, waiting for raiders to arrive. Around him, the angry screams filled the air. His body was tensed and ready, but his pulse was slow and calm.

It wasn't long before they emerged. There were dozens of them, carrying everything from guns and cannons to spears and bows. Luffy's eyes narrowed. Luffy had no idea who they were, but he could feel their killing intent. He wouldn't allow anyone to put his friends at risk.

The raiders charged towards the beanstalk furiously, using jet skates to shoot through the air. They were coming up fast. Luffy's fists clenched.

Suddenly, there was another scream from behind him. In the opposite direction, at least fifty men wearing white robes shot out of the trees, screaming as they rushed to meet the raiders.

In an instant, there were at least a hundred men charging towards Luffy from all directions. He stared for a long time.

"Is there anyone else?" Luffy muttered to himself, sarcastically.

It was at the point that the Master of the Sky appeared. The gigantic python reared over the treetops, crashing through trees, its enormous fangs dripping venom. The snake was hissing madly. It looked absolutely berserk.

Luffy just sighed. "Oh, screw it," he murmured in resignation. "I'm not even surprised anymore."

With a tremendous crash, the raiders and the Enforcers collided. Or at least, they collided against Luffy, who sent a dozen men flying with a lightning fast spinning kick. The giant python lunged downwards, faster than any creature that size had any right to be.

"Come on!" Luffy bellowed over the sound of the war cries and the explosions. "I'll take you all on!"

Luffy vs Everyone

The sound of laughter echoed from Giant Jack. Enel sat, cross-legged, at the edge of the ruins halfway up the beanstalk. From his vantage point, he could see the battle below, yet through his Mantra he could feel the conflicts erupting across the island. He loved it.

"So the giant snake has joined the battle too?" Enel muttered excitedly. "Brilliant!"

Enel wished he had prepared popcorn. He would be quite interested to see who came out on top. After all, Enel was a contestant too. He wanted to know who the first person would be to face him.

Eventually, his first challenger came a lot sooner than he had expected. Enel felt the presence crawl up the beanstalk towards him, but deliberately never moved a muscle.

A few minutes later, the sound of screaming spread across the ruins. Marcus strolled over the Island Cloud, heading straight to Enel, while dragging two large bodies behind him. Enel turned to stare interestedly.

"Hey there!" Marcus waved cheerfully. "Say, you haven't seen a 'God' around here, by any chance?"

Enel had a bemused expression on his face. "I am God."

Marcus grinned. "Brilliant!" He said happily. "I've been looking for you for ages! I've got something to return to you."

Marcus heaved up the two bodies he was carrying. Hotori and Kotori, younger brothers of the deceased priest Satori, dangled from his hands. The twin brothers were both just as fat as Satori was, yet Marcus held them both up by their legs easily. They were bleeding and heavily injured, yet alive.

"These guys attacked me," Marcus explained merrily. "I think they were looking for revenge or something. Anyways, they said that they worked for you, so I figured I would give them back."

Hotori (or Kotori – Enel never bothered to differentiate them) mumbled something that sound like an apology. Enel just looked at Marcus curiously, like he was a particularly interesting insect crawling up his leg.

"And then I figured…" Marcus continued with a bright smile. "… that I would kill both of them in front of you just so you know that I mean business!"

The twins never even had time to scream. Marcus simply dropped them to the ground, and then brought a shimmering fist straight through their skulls. Blood splattered everywhere.

Enel simply chuckled. Today was obviously an unlucky day for the Satori siblings. "How quaint," Enel muttered. "You seem to think that you are some sort of threat to me."

Marcus started to chuckle too. "Oh, I like you!" He laughed. "It's going to be real fun when I rip you apart."

"Citizens of the Blue Sea are so amusing," Enel mused, while the air started to crackle with yellow lightning. "Perhaps I should go down there, just to show them what God truly is. Allow me to share some divine wisdom; my power is beyond mortal men such as yourself."

Marcus' grin stretched from ear to ear. Around him, his body glowed as the air shimmered blood-red. "Trust me…" Marcus laughed. "You've never met a man like me before!"

Marcus vs Enel

Chapter Text

Luffy vs Everyone

A huge arc of flame burst from a Shandorian raider's sword, yet Luffy easily avoided it. Another raider launched an exploding arrow, only for the pirate to sidestep, and then duck to narrowly avoid an Enforcer's Axe Dial. Two Enforcers charged forward at Luffy, the air in front of them behind slicing in the shape of an 'X', yet Luffy responded by slamming his sandaled feet into their chests with a dull and painful crunch.

Around him, enemies attacked from all sides, yet Luffy didn't give an inch. Enforcers and raiders clashed together, only to be sent flying by a furious spinning kick. A violent scream burst from his throat as Luffy brought down his fist against an Enforcer's skull.

There was an earth-rumbling hiss as the Master of the Sky lunged downwards for another attack, blurring with speed as its massive, muscular body lashed forward. The fighters scattered, while Luffy barely avoided its poisonous fangs. He punched the snake firmly on its nose, yet the scales were as hard as iron. Luffy's fists were already bleeding, but he didn't seem to care.

It said a lot about the anger between the Shandorians and the Enforcers that not even a humongous python could persuade them to stop fighting.

Raiders screamed and launched in for another attack, but Luffy was already jumping down at them from above, his legs spinning in a lightning fast roundhouse kick. The pirate was everywhere. There were a hundred men trying to fight each other, but instead they all ended up facing Luffy.

Braham grunted as he reloaded his flash guns, shooting upwards on Jet Skis as he took aim. The blindingly bright bullets shot downwards, punching into the earth, yet Luffy was already sprinting across the ground. Braham glimpsed Laki carefully taking aim with her rifle while Genbo hoisted his huge cannon over his shoulder. Luffy didn't even hesitate.

Laki's rifle exploded in an incredibly fast and accurate Dial-powered shot, yet Luffy only skirted to the side while the bullet ruffled his hair. Genbo fired a huge, heavy iron cannonball with bone-crushing force, but Luffy's fist blurred forward. His knuckles slammed against solid iron with enough force to produce a shockwave. Every muscle on his body strained for half a second, before smashing forward.

The iron cannonball cracked and shattered into pieces. Debris flew everywhere, causing men to duck for cover. Braham felt his mouth drop, but Luffy was already leaping upwards, pulling his arm backwards for another blow.

Braham's guns flashed forward, skidding backwards on Jet Skis. He was the best gunslinger in Shandia, yet somehow Luffy managed to avoid every bullet, leaping after him without any Dials or weapons. This kid… Braham thought in shock, feeling a spike of fear cut through his body, this kid fights like a goddamn machine…!

There was no pause or hesitation as Luffy covered the distance in mid-air. The Flash Dials in Braham's guns were so bright that they were known blind his enemies, but Luffy never seemed to care. Somehow, he just kept on going. With a dull hiss, Braham's Jet Skis ran out of power and he started to fall downwards, while Luffy pulled his arm back for a powerful blow, muscles clenching tightly.

How could a Blue Sea citizen be so strong? Braham thought desperately, just before Luffy's knuckles collided with his stomach. The force knocked the air from his lungs and sent him flying downwards. Just before his vision blacked out, Braham got an up close look at Luffy's face.

Luffy had been fighting with his eyes closed.

There was a gasp of shock among the raiders as Braham slammed roughly against the ground. Luffy was relentless. As soon as his feet landed, he was already charging forward, crashing through Enforcers and knocking them to the ground. There was an unyielding fury to every attack, smashing through shields and defences without hesitation. The bodies dropped fast and furiously. Dials shattered or ran out of charge, yet Luffy just kept on going with pure, inhuman determination.

Weakly, Braham's eyes flickered open, just in time to see Genbo crash into the ground from a powerful double handed strike. Laki fared better; her stance was perfect as she took precise and accurate shots from across the field with her rifle. She was the sniper of the Shandorians and she rarely missed, but Luffy was just too fast. He covered the distance and then knocked her to the ground with a solid kick.

The old chief survived longer than anyone would have expected, but the old man fought carefully and with experienced skill. His sword flashed through the air expertly, but in the end Luffy's raw strength sent him collapsing to the ground.

Braham was still struggling just to breath. The plain was covered in men either unconscious or trying weakly to pull themselves up off the ground. The raider could barely move, yet he turned in time to glimpse the massive fangs of the giant python lunging straight towards him. For one breathless moment, Braham heart stopped.

And then, suddenly, Luffy was there, lifting Braham off the ground along with two other Shandorians, pulling them out the path of the Master of the Sky. Braham could barely breathe as he felt the whoosh of air as the snake lunged past him, yet Luffy dropped them to the ground and charged at the furious python. He punched the snake firmly on its side, yet the monster didn't even notice.

The snake was berserk, lunging madly at anything that moved. Luffy clenched his teeth while python reared around to strike again.

"Get out of here!" Luffy roared furiously. The snake struck downwards again, coming so close that Luffy felt a droplet of venom brush burn against his skin. With a wordless scream of fury, Luffy pounded forward and slammed his fist against the python's right eyeball. The blow caused it to hiss madly, and then thrash with renewed intensity. The earth rumbled with every slither of the huge beast.

"Leave!" Luffy screamed loudly, trying to attack again. He avoided its gaping mouth, and managed to land on its back. Its body was solid muscle, flexing as it slammed Luffy to the earth.

For half a second, Luffy hesitated, before pulling himself up to face the huge snake again. He was panting heavily, but his eyes were furious.

Slowly, realisation dawned. He's protecting us, Braham realised with shock; he's keeping the snake's attention so it doesn't go after the unconscious warriors. Why would he beat us all up and then save our lives at the same time?

The Master of the Sky coiled around, drawing its head in as it prepared to lunge again. The beast was staring at Luffy with wild, primal rage. Somehow, Luffy's gaze was even more threatening.

"You will not beat me," Luffy muttered quietly, struggling to stand up straight. His body was sagging with every breath, but his eyes never left the python. "You will not beat me…"

The snake hissed loudly, its body clenching for another attack. In the bright sunlight, Luffy could see the massive muscles rippling with every movement.

"You will not beat me…!" Luffy promised, tightening his hands into fists. The air around him seemed to almost vibrate with power. His gaze was unwavering. For a second, time froze.

When Luffy spoke again, his voice was deathly quiet but it still resonated across plain. Braham felt a shiver run down his spine.


For the first time, the python paused. Those berserk eyes seemed to hesitate, as that voice triggered a primal fight-or-flight instinct buried under all that rage. The air pulsed.

Slowly, with almost delicate care, the Master of the Sky flexed around and slithered away. Luffy sighed and almost collapsed in relief. The field turned silent. The earth was covered in craters and gouges from the short and furious battle.

After a few minutes, Luffy pulled himself up. There was a small stone ruin by the edge of the field, and Luffy grabbed Braham and another Shandorian warrior and dragged their bodies into the ruin, placing them under the cover. Braham watched weakly, still teetering on the edge of unconsciousness.

Luffy carefully carried the other raiders into the ruin. He even dragged Genbo's huge body across the field. All of the men were unconscious; anyone who hadn't been knocked out in the fight had been knocked out from the face-off with the python.

Finally, Braham managed to find his voice. "What are you doing?" He muttered suspiciously. His body wasn't working properly. It was hard to even breathe.

Luffy grinned brightly, carefully dropping Laki and the old chief into the enclave of the ruins. "Oh, just putting you under cover," he explained. "I didn't want to leave you guys out in the open unconscious like that. I've got to go, but I figured you would be safer with shelter."

Braham was quiet for a while. Luffy walked over to him, and cautiously propped his body up against the wall. Braham had lost his trademark hat in the fight, revealing a head of short hair and a large monobrow. The raider had always been extremely embarrassed of his monobrow.

"Why would you care what happens to us?" Braham asked in a wheezy voice. For all he was a muscular man, Luffy's blow had left a painful bruise and what felt like several cracked ribs.

Luffy glanced at him. "Because you never tried to kill me," he said simply. Braham's brow furrowed in confusion, but Luffy just continued. "I could feel it when we fought. You were fighting to defeat me, not to kill me. You were angry, but there wasn't any killing intent. As far as I'm concerned, that makes you good guys, and I don't like it when bad things happen to good guys."

His grin stretched from ear to ear. Braham just stared at the pirate in shock. "I'm not much of a doctor," Luffy confessed. "But I think all your friends are going to be alright. Just let them sleep it off."

Luffy glanced at Braham apologetically. "You guys were really tough, mind!" Luffy laughed. "I'm absolutely exhausted. It was a good fight."

It took a few seconds for Braham to find his voice. "How did you get rid of that snake?" The raider asked finally.

Luffy shrugged. "I'm not quite sure," he admitted. "I'm still trying to work it all out."

"Hmmm…" Braham murmured, resting his hand back with a wheezy sigh and closing his eyes. "I never thought that I would end up being a small fry…"

The pirate watched him fall unconscious. The ruins were packed with sleeping bodies, but none of the raiders seemed in any immediate danger. Luffy sighed before slowly exiting the ruins.

He barely made it five steps before suddenly a small shape lunged at him with a knife. "Villain!" A shrill voice shouted loudly.

Luffy easily sidestepped the blade. The knife had a Heat Dial infused on the handle and the blade was glowing red hot, but it was being held by a little girl with trembling hands and tear-filled eyes, with dark hair and a yellow fur dress, and stubby wings jutting out of her back. Luffy grabbed the girl's wrist in surprise.

"Umm… Hello?" Luffy greeted awkwardly, while the girl thrashed against his grip. "Who are you?"

The girl dropped the knife and pulled out a handle with a Breath and Flame Dial attached with her other hand. A burn blade, Luffy realised. A few of the Shandorians used similar weapons.

With a gush of air, the gas ignited from the burn blade to form a fiery blade. Aisa swiped forward madly. Luffy darted backwards, unable to attack a little girl.

"How dare you do that to my friends?" She screamed, slashing forward in wild, unpredictable swipes.

"No no no!" Luffy said reassuringly, motioning to the unconscious Shandorians. "There all just fine! Still breathing, you see?"

"You beat them all up?!"

"Well, they attacked me!"

The girl paused to stare at Laki, and Luffy took the opportunity to snatch the burn blade out of her hand, deactivating the weapon. Her eyes widened in shock. "Hey!" She screamed. "That's mine! Give it back!"

Luffy held the weapon up over her head instinctively. She tried to jump for it few times, screaming with the indignity. "I'm a warrior of Shandia! You can't treat me like this!"

"Hey, just calm down and let's–" Luffy's voice was cut off as the little girl punched him firmly in the crotch with a surprising amount of force. Luffy winced painfully.

"Alright…" He muttered in a restrained voice, pushing the girl away from her. "Let's try this again. What's your name?"

"I'm a warrior of Shandia!" The girl spat. "I don't talk to trespassers!"

Luffy sighed, dropping the burn blade back to her and then sitting down, cross-legged, on the ground, holding his arms up. "Alright, I surrender!" He offered loudly, with a bright grin. "Would you tell your name to your prisoner?"

She stared at him suspiciously, holding the weapon out threateningly. "My prisoner?"

"That's right!"

"So… I've captured you?"

"Yep," Luffy chuckled. "Do you have any rope?"


"Well then, I'll just hold my hands together like this for now then," he said generously. The girl seemed to relax. "Could you please tell me your name?"

"Aisa," the girl muttered, wiping the tears away from her eyes. "My name's Aisa."

"Hello there, Aisa!" Luffy said happily, holding out his hand, "I'm Luffy!"

"Warriors don't shake hands with prisoners!" Aisa snapped.

"Ok, I'm sorry!"

She glared at him cautiously. After a few minutes, she finally muttered in a quieter tone, "That was you before, wasn't it? With the snake? How did you do that?"

"I don't know," Luffy confessed.

"I've never heard a voice that loud before," Aisa muttered.

Luffy frowned. "A voice? What do you mean a voice?"

"I hear 'voices'. All the time," Aisa mumbled, trembling slightly. "Everyone's so loud. I can hear them all."

Luffy shook his head. The field was quiet. "There is no one speaking now."

"Yes there is," she protested. "They're always speaking. And then before, with the snake, you screamed."

Luffy never responded. Aisa shivered. "It's just so loud, and…" she gulped. "It feels like all of the voices are going to go silent…"

She looked like she was about to burst into tears. Luffy took her hand and squeezed gently. "Hey! Don't cry! You're a warrior, remember?" He said with bright grin. "It doesn't matter how tough things get, because you'll just have to get tougher, right?"

She glared at him with wide eyes, before breaking down and hugging Luffy tightly. Her body was trembling. He could feel how scared she was. Luffy sighed, hugging her tightly while staring up at the giant beanstalk that loomed over them.

"Aisa…" Luffy asked softly. "Could you please tell me more about these voices? Could you tell me where they're coming from?"

Winner: Luffy

Zoro vs Wiper

With a tremendous boom, a cannonball sliced straight through a tree trunk and kept on going, while Zoro had to sprint to avoid the collapsing tree. Wiper just reloaded, while the nozzle of his bazooka was smoking and glowing red.

"Bastard!" Zoro growled, all three swords glinting in the air. "Let's see how well you do up close!"

He charged forward, Wiper grunted and heaved the God-Slayer upwards, firing another salvo of heavy metal cannonballs. Zoro's blade flashed and two cannonballs sliced in half, crashing into the foliage around him.

The raider activated his Jet Skis and shot upwards into the sky, yet Zoro was relentless. The swordsman leapt over a fallen log and kicked up off a branch, spinning towards Wiper in mid-air. The blades flashed, and Wiper slammed his bazooka downwards.

Sparks flew as the God-Slayer barely managed to block the three blades. With a snarl, Wiper spun his Jet Skis around and lashed the jet-powered skate straight into Zoro's face. The swordsman took the blow and replied by slamming his barefoot into Wiper's chest. Both men crashed to the ground.

This guy is good, they both thought together, scowling as they each prepared for another attack.

Wiper launched first, heaving his huge bazooka up and firing. Zoro was expecting another cannonball, but then a huge gush of flames exploded from the nozzle, scorching the swordsman's shirt. The swordsman yelped with pain but then charged, just as Wiper fired his bazooka again. A cloud of smoke burst from the weapon.

"You know nothing about Sky Warfare," Wiper muttered, already shooting upwards on his Jet Skis. Zoro shouted with frustration, disorientated in the smoke cloud, but then he smelt the distinctive stench of natural gas mixed in with the smoke. He barely had time to dive out of the way before everything exploded in a bright, blue flame, so intense it gouged a crater in the earth.

Wiper gave him no time to recover. Even as he dropped through the air, he took aim again. A plume of gas and fire burst from the God-Slayer, in a burst of blue flames so hot it disintegrated the trunk of a tree.

"What sort of ammo is that guy using?!" Zoro grumbled, running from the falling debris. Already the forest had a taken a big hit from Wiper's attack.

"This is the power of the God-Slayer, swordsman," Wiper shouted, skating across the treetops. "It contains so many different types of Dials that I have dozens of different ways to kill you."

The God-Slayer was truly his finest weapon. Wiper had built Braham's flash guns, Laki's rifle, Genbo's cannon, and his old Burn Bazooka, but the God-Slayer put them all to shame. The bazooka contained so many different types of Dials that Wiper could control which ones he fired at any time through a knob on the side. The weapon could use Axe Dials, Breath Dials, Flame Dials, Flash Dials, Flavour Dials, Impact Dials, Jet Dials and even the infamous Reject Dial.

"Oh yeah?" Zoro muttered venomously, wrapping his black bandanna around his head. "I bet you still can't match me in close quarters!"

He darted towards a tree, running straight up the trunk before flipping to a branch and leaping upwards. Wiper responded instinctively with a blast of fire, but Zoro just kept on leaping upwards from branch to branch, before dropping downwards with all three swords spinning. Wiper couldn't escape fast enough.

The raider blocked the first blow with his bazooka, dropping onto a large tree branch. Zoro was relentless, chasing him down before he had time to activate his Jet Skis again. Growling with fury, Wiper heaved the God-Slayer upwards. Zoro darted to the side, but Wiper fired anyways, closing his eyes tightly as he pulled the trigger.

"Flash Blast!" Wiper shouted, just as a brilliant white light exploded from the bazooka, spilling everywhere. Zoro screamed as the light blinded and disorientated him, but Wiper was already moving in for another attack. "Impact Blast!"

The shockwave exploded from the nozzle, a short-range pulse of air that hit Zoro head on. The force collided with his chest and pounded Zoro into the tree trunk, leaving a human-sized depression in the wood. The pain rocketed through his body, blood filling up his mouth.

Wiper tried to prepare another attack, yet Zoro wasn't so easily knocked down. Before the raider could even lift his bazooka again, Zoro was on him. There was no time to even raise his swords, so instead Zoro charged with his whole body, tackling Wiper straight off the tree branch.

The ground flew towards them in an instant. Zoro managed to land on his feet, but Wiper wasn't so lucky. The raider crashed roughly onto the ground, screaming in pain from the impact.

Zoro grinned evilly, cracking his neck and spinning his blades. "What's the matter? You're not that good at landing for a master of Sky Combat!"

Wiper glared at him furiously. "Keep laughing," he growled, heaving the bazooka upwards. "I'm just getting warmed up!"

He lifted the God-Slayer back up. Zoro was charging before Wiper had time to point at him, but Wiper never even needed to aim.

"Jet Blast!" He shouted, just as a burst of wind slammed out of the nozzle. The force gouged a crater in the earth, yet Wiper used the recoil to fly backwards out of Zoro's reach.

"Bastard!" Zoro shouted already giving chase. Wiper had the advantage of range and the swordsman had to the close the gap quickly.

Wiper was already shooting backwards through the trees, using his Jet Skis and the recoil of his bazooka to move backwards while unleashing salvo after salvo of explosions and fiery impacts. The raider screamed in berserk rage as he toppled trees throughout the forest. The God-Slayer was a bulky and cumbersome weapon, but when it came to firepower it was unmatched. The explosions boomed furiously throughout the trees, turning the foliage into cinder and sawdust.

Yet Zoro never backed down. The explosions scattered around him, while Wiper fired everything from scorching heat, blinding light and ear-splitting noise out of his bazooka. The swordsman screamed ferociously as he charged through it all, his blades slicing through everything. Three lightning fast swords shopped through the air, and Wiper was barely able to defend using his bazooka, but the impact still sent the raider skidding across the ground.

"You really are trying to piss me off now!" Wiper shouted furiously, firing a large shockwave out of the God-Slayer. Zoro dodged the blast, yet the force still toppled a tree behind him. That bazooka had already cut a large gash through the forest.

"Keep talking!" Zoro snarled, launching in for another attack. Wiper defended with his bazooka, swinging the heavy weapon like club, yet he still felt Zoro's blade nick his shoulder. "But I'm betting that you're going to run out of ammo for that bazooka sooner or later!"

Wiper barely even registered Zoro's foot colliding against his stomach, knocking him to the ground. The raider recovered beautifully, but Zoro was already slicing towards him with an evil smirk. "I'm never going to run out of swords!" The swordsman growled, forcing Wiper on the defensive.

The raider received another three shallow cuts trying to dodge. He slammed his Jet Skis on and hovered backwards, but the Breath Dials were quickly running low. Zoro was injured, beaten and scorched too, but still going strong. Wiper roared furiously, feeling the adrenaline pound through him. Right now, there was nothing left but battle and rage.

I love moments like this, Wiper thought savagely, hoisting his bazooka over his shoulder. Zoro was already charging in again, swords spinning furiously.

"Do you want to see me angry?" Wiper demanded, changing the ammunition in the God-Slayer. "Because I get really angry!"

He pushed down with all the speed he had left in his Jet Skis. Wiper's bazooka flashed. "Cloud Blast!" He shouted, just as a solid stream of cloud exploded outwards, whipping towards the swordsman.

Zoro shouted as the attack whipped towards him. It was the same cloud used to form the Milky Roads; soft and light but surprisingly strong as it compressed around Zoro's body. Wiper had actually been inspired by Gedatsu's trademark attacks, not that he would ever admit it.

With an evil smirk, Wiper pressed his bazooka up close to Zoro, who was still trying to thrash against the soft cloud. Wiper activated the Jet and Impact Dials together. "Let's see this you dodge this…" Wiper growled, pulling the trigger. "Shock Blast!"

The explosion of force shredded everything. It was so powerful it gouged a crater in the earth, pulverising stone into dust. Zoro took the blast head on, at close range. Even the clouds were blown away. It took a few seconds for the dust to settle. Wiper grunted in satisfaction, but then he glimpsed a figure standing upright in the smoke cloud, arms crossed.

"I see," Zoro muttered in a deadly quiet voice, bleeding from dozens of wounds. "That is one powerful weapon…"

Wiper growled. His bazooka was so hot it needed a while to cool down again, or else he risked bursting all those Dials. "Won't you just fall over already?"

Zoro's eyes were dark. "Never," the swordsman muttered, slowly raising a single blade. Wado Ichimonji gleamed in the bright sunlight.

"I see your bazooka…" Zoro said, slowly dropping into a single sword stance. "…And I will raise you a cannon!"

"What are you talking about?" Wiper growled, reloading his bazooka from a pouch on his back. Half a dozen empty Dials dropped to the ground.

"Sight. Hearing Smell. Taste. Touch. Thought." Zoro raised his sword horizontally above the shoulder of his sword arm, preparing for a swing. "And unto the six mortal senses; Good, Evil, Neutrality. And further unto each; Purity and Corruption."

"The thirty-six earthly desires of this world…!" Zoro announced, his gaze cold. "I am aiming a cannon at you now. Do you want to see who has the better weapon?"

Wiper grunted, lifting his bazooka up. Zoro never even moved to dodge. He was standing perfectly still. At this distance, the swordsman never stood a chance. "You've gone mad…" Wiper snarled, changing the setting on the bazooka.

"Let's see!" Zoro smirked.

"Burn Blast!"

"36 Pound Cannon!"

The blaze of blue flames parted before a furious slash of air. Wiper never even had time to dodge as suddenly the blade of air sliced towards him. Wiper managed to block with the God-Slayer, the slash leaving a deep cut in the reinforced metal, but air blast still slashed open his shoulder and waist. The raider in screamed in pain as the force sent him tumbling backwards.

"You want to challenge me?!" Wiper roared, already reloading the God-Slayer. His vision turned red with blood. He twisted the knob on the bazooka up another notch. The black metal bazooka seemed to glow hungrily, snarling smoke and sparks as it charged for another blast. "INFERNO BLAST!"

A roar of black flames burst outwards, so hot that air ignited around it. An inferno of fire and force shot downwards, scorching everything in its path. Zoro's teeth clenched tightly.

That tough bastard…! The swordsman thought furiously, already unsheathing all three blades, He survived that attack!?

The swordsman charged towards the flames, all three swords ready and snarling for blood. "Let's finish this!" Zoro roared, swinging all blades in a furious circular arc. "108 POUND CANNON!"

Three projectiles of compressed air slashed through everything, so powerful that the shockwave broke the sound barrier. Every tree in a hundred yards collapsed to the ground.

Suddenly, a strange silence fell over the nearly-formed clearing. The only sound was the rumbling of tree trunks crashing to the ground. Zoro was panting heavily, barely able to stand as the adrenaline left his body. Zoro's skin was scorched and burnt and every nerve screamed in agony, but his heart was pounding and his blood felt like it was on fire.

"I'm not the type to die so easily…" Zoro muttered through heavy gasps of breath, glancing around at what remained of the battlefield. Everything was scorched and shredded.

With a dull creak, a huge tree shifted suddenly. Zoro's eyes bulged in amazement. A guttural scream of pain burst from the debris, but Wiper staggered off the ground like a zombie. Three deep gashes stretched across his chest, and his right wing had been shredded, but the raider refused to fall down. He was still heaving the God-Slayer behind him, glaring at Zoro with berserk rage.

"You… how the hell are you still moving?!" Zoro demanded, hoisting his blades up again. Zoro's body was raw and beaten, but Wiper looked like he was powered solely by pure fury. The raider staggered weakly, struggling even to lift his bazooka.

"I will not die!" Wiper screamed furiously, while blood oozed from his chest. "I cannot die here! Not when I have so much more to fight for…"

"Enough!" Zoro snapped, frowning irritably. "Stand down. This doesn't have to end in death. You fought well, but you're too weak to continue. Stand down now and we will both work away from this alive."

"Never!" Wiper snarled with animalistic fury. There was no thought or reasoning involved; just his boiling blood screaming for blood. "I will not allow trespassers on my homeland!"

"Stubborn bastard…!" Zoro grunted, raising his swords again. Zoro had already decided not to kill the raider. He would just beat him up until the man finally stayed down, but his honour as a swordsman refused to let him walk away from a battle. If Wiper wanted to fight further, then so be it.

With a painful grunt, Wiper hoisted the God-Slayer over his shoulder. "I was saving this attack for Enel…" Wiper muttered darkly, carefully loading up a metal cannonball into the bazooka. It was a normal cannonball, not Wiper's precious Seastone cannonball. "…but I suppose I can test it out on you first!"

Zoro snorted, readying his blades. "If it's a cannonball, I can just cut it!"

An evil smirk flickered on Wiper's expression as he twisted the setting on the God-Slayer up to full power. "Let's see if you can…" Wiper growled, just before he pulled the trigger. "GOD BLAST!"

Wiper barely even needed to aim the weapon. The God-Slayer shuddered, followed by a huge roar as hundreds of Dials exploded at once. The air cracked with ear-splitting force as the Reject Dial burst open, and the power was enough to cause the earth to rumble. Four Jet Dials facing backwards managed to counteract the recoil, but the bazooka still tremored so violently it nearly tore Wiper's arm off.

The cannonball wasn't launched. It was shredded. In the blink of an eye, the force tore the metal cannonball into thousands of tiny fragments cutting through the air, exploding in a shockwave of force, flames and pressure. Zoro's eyes widened in shock, but there was no escaping the blast. He dived for cover, but a large area of forest and earth in the shape of a cone was obliterated into ash.

It was an attack designed especially for killing a god. Even if Mantra would predict when Wiper pulled the trigger, no one would expect a blast so intense, and its area of effect was wide enough that not even a man moving at the speed of lightning could escape. Combine that with thousands of Seastone fragments from a shredded cannonball, and then it was a blow that Enel had no chance of survival. The blast would scatter Seastone dust everywhere, and render any Devil fruit user helpless.

The God-Slayer truly deserved its name.

A small twinge of regret flickered through Wiper as he stared at the pulverised earth; the precious Vearth that had been exploded into dust. Still, it was a small price to pay for reclaiming his homeland.

The dust formed a small mushroom cloud over the forest, covering everything in ash. Wiper grunted with pain as he heaved the God-Slayer over his shoulder. His wound was agony, while the bazooka itself was scolding hot to the touch, and his bones were aching from the recoil. The black metal of the bazooka was twisted and damaged, and the Dials would need cooling and recharging before it could fire again.

Still, at least now I know that the God Blast works, Wiper thought viciously, and I only need to fire it one more time. Even if it killed him, he would kill Enel and reclaim his homeland.

As his the raider limped away through the devastated ground, he was mildly surprised to find Zoro half buried under a pile of debris; breathing weakly and heavily injured, but still alive. The swordsman was undeniably hard to kill. Wiper briefly considered finishing him off while he was unconscious, but decided against it. There were more important things to worry about, and the raider's earlier bloodlust was quickly bleeding away.

Wiper glared upwards towards the giant beanstalk, a dark scowl on his face. With inhuman stamina, Wiper hoisted the God-Slayer upwards and started running forward. There was no time to be injured when there was a man waiting to be murdered.

"I am a warrior of Shandia," Wiper snarled to himself, his feet pounding over the earth with growing intensity. "I will never die while my enemies still live."

Winner: Wiper

Conis vs Yama

"Meh," Yama muttered, glaring at Conis angrily. "What lunacy is this?"

Despite the blood filling in her mouth, the girl nevertheless managed to pull herself up off the ground. Her body was trembling uncontrollably, and her knees were weak.

"Get…" She stammered slowly. "Get …off this ship…"

Yama scowled deepened. Behind him, the flames were already spreading over the prow of ship, covering the front figurehead in a burning aura. She had move fast, get rid of the commander, and then put out the fire before the whole boat was ablaze.

"You are no soldier," Yama announced dismissively, swinging his foot at the girl. "This is pathetic."

Despite his massive build, the commander was surprisingly fast and agile. His limbs were tiny compared to his body, yet still immensely strong. Every blow felt like being hit by a juggernaut, and the one time Conis managed to land a punch it was like hitting a mountain. The kick collided with stomach, her body crashing into ship. Even after only a few backhanded swipes, Conis felt her vision begin to fade.

Nevertheless, she managed to pull herself up. She had no idea how to fight, but she really needed to learn quickly. She couldn't let this man destroy the Going Merry. It was all on her.

"Answer me one question before I kill you…" Yama drawled in thunderous voice. "What brought on this sudden heresy? Why are you doing this when you had the opportunity to serve God himself?!"

Conis gulped but never responded. Her face was bruised and bleeding, and her light blond hair had fallen out of her pigtails, draping across her shoulders. Her heart pounded furiously, while she glared at Yama, desperate to find some weakness.

The fat man just snorted. "Very well," he scoffed. "If you are so eager to die, then I will oblige."

He adjusted his sash carefully. The sash was thick leather, with ten large Axe Dials sewn into it – the Ten-Fold Axe.

Axe Dials were rare; most Enforcers only had one, but Yama used ten. Conis had seen Axe Dials before; her father had used a small one to break open other Dials in his workshop, although he had always forbidden Conis from touching it. He always said that an Axe Dial could take of your hand if you held it the wrong way.

Yama leapt towards her with unstoppable momentum. Conis tried to dodge out the way, but the commander was too fast. The fat man threw his arms back, slamming his huge chest forward and barrelling into Conis. The impact nearly caused her to black out.

"Axe Mountain!" Yama screeched, triggering the ten Axe Dials across his body. Bursts of air exploded outwards, slicing through everything. Conis couldn't even scream as she felt her body cut open. Blood splattered everywhere. Around her, the wooden wall broke into pieces.

She dropped to the ground in a growing pool of blood. The cuts crisscrossed over her body, all across her left arm and down one side, ruining her pink dress the sudden blood loss made her feel lightheaded. One of her antennas had been severed, while the white feathers from her left wing scattered over the growing pool of blood. She could feel her body turn numb from blood loss. She would have screamed if her lungs were working properly.

Around her, the Going Merry creaked as the planks of wood smouldered. Suddenly, she could hear the ship screaming in pain.

Yama was already walking away, slowly. The ship rumbled with every step. "This is over," he muttered darkly, his back turned to Conis. "I have more importa–"

His voice faded out in an instant. A strange calm fell over Conis. She knew that she was less than a minute away from collapsing from blood loss, but there was no pain anymore. There was just a sudden, almost serene realisation that she had less than a minute to beat this man before she lost everything.

After that, there was no thought involved. She didn't even realise what she was doing until she was running towards Yama, leaping straight onto his back.

"What the –?" He screamed, thrashing madly. Conis didn't listen. Her legs wrapped around his beefy neck, tightening to strangle the life out of him. Her hands clawed madly at his face, digging her nails into his eyes while he howled in pain.

He trashed madly and tried to pull her off. He slammed her backwards into the wall, but Conis couldn't even feel it anymore. The tears were pouring from her eyes as she scratched and clawed, even yanking his greasy hair just to stay on. Between the adrenaline and the pain, there was nothing left but desperate clawing.

I will not lose here! She thought desperately, her throat not working as she tried to scream. Her father's face flashed before her eyes. I cannot…!

Eventually, Yama managed to grab a hold of her arm and yank her away. She clutched at his robes to try and stop him, but he heaved her upwards and slammed her body down like a ragdoll. His face was bleeding and his eyes were bloodshot, and he screamed at her with fury.

"You bitch!" He roared, charging blindly towards like a bull.

Conis heart stopped. There was a suddenly a mountain of flesh stampeding towards her, but her arms moved by herself. In an instant, she realised that she was holding a circular object in her hand. She hadn't even known that she torn in off Yama's sash, but then she was holding up Axe Dial towards straight into his chest. Her fingers pressed the shell by themselves.

The air burst outwards, at close range. Yama gasped, feeling a bloody 'X' shape cut into his chest. The commander roared in pain, but he was still a powerhouse of strength. He swung out with a mad blow, but somehow Conis managed to dodge. Her mind flickered back to everything she learnt about Dials from her father, and then she was ducking under his arm and slamming the Axe Dial towards his body again.

Yama should have been able to stop her, but he was too enraged to think properly. Conis went for his sash, focusing on another Axe Dial at the bottom, under his left arm. She triggered the Axe Dial she was holding again, and dived under Yama's legs for cover.

Dials stored energy, and then released it in short bursts. If the shell of a Dial was ever cracked, then whatever energy was left in it would burst out uncontrollably. Yama wasn't wearing ten weapons across his body; he was wearing ten bombs waiting to explode.

The Axe Dial cracked and exploded in a blast of razor sharp blades of wind. It carved through Yama's flesh like a cleaver, splitting his robes and cutting the sash open. The commander howled and writhed in pain, enough time for Conis to get behind him. There had been Ten Axe Dials on his sash. She was holding one, and another had been destroyed. That meant another eight left on his body.

The Ten-Fold Axe was a brilliant weapon in a battle of brute strength, but it was a huge disadvantage when the enemy was up-close and personal. Yama should have dropped the sash right there, but he was too busy screaming in agony and clutching his side, spilling out a stream of vicious insults and thrashing blindly.

He barely even noticed when Conis clutched the loose end of sash and flipped it around. Her hands were surprisingly steady as she tugged on the sash, and with a click the eight Axe Dials activated at once.

Her father's voice echoed in her ear. Don't touch that. Axe Dials will take your hand off if you hold them the wrong way…

Yama's blood poured everywhere. He was gasping in agony, but it was a testament to his size and strength that he was still standing, but his huge body was wobbling dangerously. Conis was panting heavily, but she glared at the commander furiously.

"Get off this ship!" Conis murmured, lifting up her leg and kicking forward with all the strength she had left. Her foot colliding against his stomach weakly, but it was enough to send him stumbling backwards. With a crash, Yama tumbled straight over the ledge of the ship.

As soon as he disappeared out of view, Conis felt her strength disappear. That serene calm collapsed, and suddenly all the pain returned. She dropped to the ground, the blood still oozing out the wounds. She tore up her dress, trying to bandage herself up before she lost conscious. She yanked off her belt and wrapped it around her arm to cut off circulation. The cuts were deep; some of them would heal but others would scar.

At the prow of the ship, the fire was still blazing. She had to move quickly. Her breathing was wheezy as she stumbled to her feet.

There was sudden scream from the ledge of the Going Merry. A beefy hand grabbed hold of the ledge, fingers clutching the wood tightly as Yama tried to pull himself up. His blood was pouring into the lake below, sending the sharks underneath him into frenzy. His face was bright red as he tried to heave his mass up with one arm, despite the pain and the wounds.

"Bitch!" Yama bellowed, as he pulled his shoulders up over the ledge. "I will kill you! I will snap your neck! I will pound you to a pulp!"

Conis didn't even turn around. She was too busy pouring a barrel of water out over the flames. With a scream, Yama managed to get his other arm up over the ledge. The sharks below were leaping out the water towards him, snapping at his heels.

"Shut up," Conis muttered coldly, fighting to put out the fire. "It's over."

"I will kill you!" He howled madly, staring at her through bloody eyes. Around him, the Going Merry started to creak. The sail wafted slightly without any wind. "I will burn you with this ship! I'll bury you in the bottom of the lake in this piece of crap, worthless boa–"

Without warning, the wooden ledge cracked. It didn't break, and it didn't snap. There was no splintering or even a noise. It was more like the wood just decided that it didn't want to hold Yama up anymore. It just split cleanly away, and Yama went falling downwards.

He never even had time to scream before he hit the water. Then the sharks got him, and then there was plenty of time to scream. The water turned red.

"I told you…" Conis murmured, stamping out the last of the flames. "…It's already over."

Winner: Conis

Smoker vs Tashigi

There was no hesitation as Smoker shot over the camp in a flurry of white smoke, his baton in hand. Tashigi clutched Shigure tightly, rushing to meet him with a flash of steel. White smoke twisted everywhere. Everyone else watched the battle in awe, too nervous to interfere.

"Stand down, Tashigi!" Smoker shouted, his body dematerialising into smoke.

"You first, captain," Tashigi replied, slashing swiftly and accurately through the cloud of smoke.

Tashigi had been Smoker's right hand for a long time. She knew the powers of the Plume Plume fruit better than anyone, and she knew how to fight against it, even without the use of Seastone. It wasn't an offensive Logia, and the smoke itself could restrain a person but couldn't hurt them directly. That was why Smoker relied on using a weapon, but it was also where he was vulnerable.

His smoke form was great for surrounding and overwhelming an opponent, but smoke simply couldn't move as quickly or as dexterously as a human. A good sword slash could sweep the smoke tendrils away faster than Smoker could reassemble them. By aiming at the handle of the baton, Tashigi forced Smoker to drop his weapon and go on the defensive.

The smoke billowed everywhere and could easily overwhelm the unprepared, yet Tashigi knew how to counter it. Her sword flashed through the air, cutting through the smoke as it tried to wrap around her body, and she kept on moving to set the pace of the battle. With the right mix of speed and precision, she could fight the smoke form to a standstill.

Smoker frowned as he realised what she was doing, and he was unable to get the upper hand in the fight. Of course, Tashigi couldn't actually hurt him, and she had to fight a lot harder than he was just to keep him at bay.

"Give it up, Tashigi!" He ordered, trying to pick up his baton again. She slashed the smoke away and stomped the weapon to the ground. "You can't win here!"

But it's enough to give me some breathing room, Tashigi thought to herself, her sword flashing up and down furiously, and I know his fighting style, and all of his tricks. So long as I control the pace of the battle, I have a chance.

She sidestepped a billow of smoke, twisting up and down, backwards and forwards to cut through the smoke circling around her. She danced over the ground, forcing Smoker to follow, her sword never pausing. He launched rapid waves of smoke towards her, compressed and powerful, yet she dodged and sliced through them all, pushing him backwards.

Fight fast and smart, Tashigi thought, recalling the words of her old sensei, turn your opponent's strength against them.

A small campfire lay abandoned in the middle of the camp, large sticks still smouldering gently. Tashigi charged towards it, dropping to wield Shigure one-handed while she snatched up a blazing stick from the flames. She had learned in Smoker's fight against 'Fire Fist' Ace that the captain had a weakness against fire, even if it was a small weakness. Flames could still burn him if they were hot enough, and the captain had trouble phasing through fire. Tashigi span her sword with one hand and lashed out with the burning stick in the other, forcing Smoker back.

"You can't fight your way out of this!" Smoker growled, but his voice sounded strained.

Tashigi was panting heavily, but she could still follow his every movement, forcing the cloud of smoke backwards. A crowd of marines watched the battle silently, although after a few minutes a few sharp thinkers had the idea to raise their rifles.

"No!" Smoker ordered, yelling at the men to stand down. "Lower your weapons! I'll handle her!"

And that's perhaps my biggest advantage, Tashigi thought silently, her stomach churning, neither of us wants to hurt each other. But while Tashigi could fight furiously because she knew that her sword couldn't hurt Smoker, she could also feel Smoker hesitating before every attack, trying to restrain her rather than injure her.

I don't have to hurt him, Tashigi decided, her sword slashing without hesitation, I just have to hold him back. I can fight him into a corner and slap a pair of Seastone handcuffs on to him. When he can't follow me, then I'll just run.

She knew she never stood a chance at escaping with Smoker after her. He wasn't called the 'White Chase' nothing. Only when Smoker was properly restrained could she escape, and then after that she would run into the forest and…

Well, Tashigi thought uncertainly, one thing at a time

"This is enough, Tashigi," Smoker's disembodied head muttered quietly, as the rest of his body swirled as smoke.

Tashigi struck out with the burning stick towards his face. "I couldn't agree more, captain."

She was expecting to feel no resistance, like all of her other attacks. Instead, she ended up surprised when the stick collided against Smoker's coat, and a strong hand yanked the burning stick out of her grasp. Tashigi swung her sword around, and succeeded in nicking Smoker's elbow before he dematerialised.

So he's deactivating his Logia and attacking with physical attacks, Tashigi frowned, dodging a swift uppercut. Without a weapon, the only way he could attack her properly was by putting himself at risk. I need to get those Seastone handcuffs on him straight away.

They danced across the camp. Smoker was panting now, trying to flicker from smoke to human in time for her attacks, while Tashigi sword cut swift, smooth arcs through the air. He managed to land a glance punch on head, while she cut two more shallow scratches across his arms. Her swordsmanship was brilliant. If Smoker hadn't been so angry, he would have been impressed.

Slowly, Tashigi managed to steer the fight towards the far side of the camp. She was tired quickly, and her movements were lagging, but she had glimpsed a supply crate with a pair of Seastone cuffs lying on the top. Hina had deliberately made sure that was plenty of Seastone weaponry across the camp in case Enel attacked again. Carefully, Tashigi dropped her guard, and Smoker darted in for the attack.

Her timing was perfect. Just as Smoker lunged with a furious uppercut, Tashigi twisted to the side and kicked the handcuffs upwards. Before Smoker even had time to pull his arm back, Tashigi whipped the cuffs downwards, locking them in place firmly around his wrist.

Tashigi dropped her sword. "It's over, captain," Tashigi said, glaring at him firmly. With the camp in such a disarray, who knew where the keys for that particular pair of handcuffs ended up? Smoker's powers were rendered useless.

He nodded. "I couldn't agree more, lieutenant," he muttered under his breath, echoing her words from just a few minutes earlier. Tashigi never even had time to react. In an instant, his arm dematerialised, effortlessly phasing around the handcuffs, and then his fist slammed into her face.

The blow knocked her to the ground, and the next a second a plume of smoke snatched her sword out of her hand. Smoker was standing above her, his face a stony mask.

Did he...? Tashigi thought with panic, blood running from her nose; Did he realise that I was going for the Seastone handcuffs? He must have switched them for normal ones when I wasn't looking…

That was the last thing she managed to think before Smoker, with only the slightest hesitation, slammed his elbow into her skull. Tashigi dropped the ground.

It was only when she was unconscious did Smoker pause to sigh heavily. His hand was twitching. There was no sense of victory or achievement; instead he just felt cold and numb. His favourite lieutenant lay on the ground in front of him, looking almost peaceful, while a line of blood dripped from her forehead.

"Dammit Tashigi," Smoker growled under his breath, blinking repeatedly. "…Why did you have to do make me do this?"

The marines in the camp were watching him intently, but no one said a word. Smoker never had a choice. With a deep breath, he bent over and fastened the handcuffs onto both her wrists. Smoker turned to glare at a marine standing nearby, one of the few officers still remaining in the camp.

"You!" Smoker shouted, turning on to the marine, who attempted a shoddy salute. "Chief Petty Officer, is it?" The man nodded hesitantly. Smoker raised his voice to make sure everyone heard him. "I am putting the prisoner under your custody. She is a valuable material witness and a Marine officer, and she will be presented unharmed at her tribunal. I will hold you personally responsible for her safety and wellbeing."

A look of utter dread flashed over the Chief Petty Officer's face. Smoker turned to stare at the assembled marines. He knew about the rumours of Tashigi and the fear and anger festering among the marines. Smoker would be damn sure that everyone knew his stance on the subject.

"Scratch that!" Smoker announced loudly, glaring at the group. "I will hold you all responsible for her wellbeing. When I return, I expect to see her secured and in good shape! Is that understood?!"

There was a chant of 'Yes captain!', followed by a salute. Smoker made note of the faces that seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea. If anybody dares to hurt Tashigi when I'm gone, Smoker thought viciously with gritted teeth, I'll throw that bastard out of the damn sky!

The emotions churned inside of him as he saw Tashigi carried across to the makeshift brig. Rage was the easiest feeling to accept, so Smoker tried to focus on that one. He started to walk out of the camp, pausing just before he left. After a moment's thought, he turned and raided a supply crate, eventually pulling out a revolver with six bullets sealed in a metal case.

"Seastone bullets," Smoker murmured to himself. His fingers turned numb even as he loaded up the gun. Seastone bullets were expensive as hell, but useful. Smoker had never really like firearms, but he was willing to make an exception. He tucked the gun securely into his belt. "I've had enough of this island. And I've got a bone to pick with god…"

Casting a sour glance over the camp, Smoker dematerialised his lower body into smoke and launched himself into the air, shooting quickly through the trees.

Winner: Smoker

Nami vs Ohm

"It's time to pray…" Ohm ordered darkly, slowly extending his cloud sword from the handle. "On your knees. I shall allow you thirty seconds to think on your sins."

Nami felt her pulse race suddenly. Her hands gripped her weapons tightly, holding the sword forward while keeping the Clima-Tact close. She wanted to run, but she instinctively knew she wouldn't get far. This was a fight she needed to face. This guy is strong, she thought nervously, slowly edging backwards, and that sword is dangerous. It has reach and power; great at attack and defence. Plus he has that weird way of predicting any attack.

She had to force her breathing to remain calm. But I've fought him before, she reminding herself, and that Mantra of his isn't flawless. I've just got to be creative.

Ohm glared her, and Nami was struck by a suspicious that he was reading her chain of thought clearly. So he can foretell my intentions, Nami decided, but not my actual attack.

Her thirty seconds was rapidly ticking away. Ohm had the better power and the stamina. I need to finish this in one attack, Nami thought desperately, slowly spinning the Clima-Tact. Her eyes darted around, judging the weather. They were in the bottom of a valley, and the air was moist. It was a nice, easy micro-climate to manipulate.

I need one good, creative attack. He's going to know it's coming but it'll still catch him off-guard

Nami's mind raced, recalling every detail of the last battle. Her lightning attack had been absolutely futile against him, but in a simultaneous attack with Vivi they had managed to cut through his iron cloud. A tornado seemed like her best bet. She just needed an edge to it…

With a sudden click, she remembered the Dials that Pagaya had handed them. That bag was still slung over her shoulders. There were at least two dozen Dials of various types in there. Nami had no idea what different Dials she had, and she hadn't even had time to experiment with using them. Hopefully there were at least a few Impact or Flames Dials in there. And hopefully they were all charged.

The priest was glaring at her suspiciously. Neither of them moved. She wondered how many seconds she had left. He doesn't know I have the Dials, Nami told herself, he's not going to expect it. I need a tornado; and I can throw the Dials at him using that. They'll explode, and he'll fall down. Hopefully that'll be enough. Hopefully I'll have enough time. Hopefully he won't just kill me straight away…

I really wish I didn't think 'hopefully' so many times there. Nami felt like sobbing, but she forced herself to stay strong. She still needed to climb back up and save Vivi from the Devil fruit hunters.

"You're time is up," Ohm drawled, interrupting her thoughts. "Have you repented?"

Nami forced a grin, dropping into a battle stance. Already her Clima-Tact was working, manipulating the weather around her slowly. The longer she kept Ohm talking the better.

"Oh, I enjoy my lifestyle way too much to repent anything," she said with a cheeky smirk, sticking out her tongue.

A vein throbbed on Ohm's head. "I do not usually take pleasure in my work. Ending infidel's lives is my duty, not a hobby," the priest said with a frown. "But I will enjoy killing you!"

With a flash, a forked blade pulse out of Ohm's sword, blurring towards Nami. She barely had time to react, but she just managed to block with her sword. The iron cloud prong dug into her short metal blade, and the force knocked her backwards. Not time yet! Nami thought with panic, the weather forecast isn't ready!

Ohm was already swinging for another attack. Nami dodged left, but the priest predicted the dodge before she even moved. His blade whipped across towards her, slicing through trees. Nami barely had time to scream, swinging her bag in front of her for defence.

Suddenly, the iron whip halted. Nami's bag was ripped open, spilling the Dials on to the ground, but the iron whip had lost all momentum. Ohm's eyes widened in surprise. It was only when she looked into the back did she realise what had happened.

It collided against an Axe Dial, Nami realised dumbly. Impact Dials absorb brute force, so the Axe Dial absorbed the slicing edge. Her brow furrowed. Wait a second, why didn't he predict that his blade would be blocked like that? Realisation dawned quickly. Unless he can't predict a defence that I don't know about!

A sly grin flickered through across her face as she scooped up an armful of Dials, dropping her sword into its sheath. Oh, Pagaya, thank you!

She started running towards Ohm even as he drew back his blade. "What are you doing?" He grunted.

"Not a clue!" Nami shouted cheerfully, pulling back her arm and triggering a Dial just before she threw it him. The shell flew through the air. Ohm looked momentarily confused.

I have no idea what each shell does! Nami thought victoriously, and so neither does he! He can't predict the attack!

As the Dial collided against the ground, it exploded in a huge shockwave. An Impact Dial. Ohm darted to the side a moment too late and caught in the edge of the blast. Nami was already throwing another Dial at him. He flicked his iron cloud sword into a shield to block, but this Dial bounced against the shield and started to spill out smelly gas. Again, Ohm reacted too late.

He's too used to having a warning with every attack, Nami thought smugly, throwing two Dials together, his ordinary reflexes are terrible!

The two Dials turned out to be a Flash Dial and a Flame Dial. As soon as the Flame Dial ignited the gas from the previous Breath Dial, everything exploded in a huge fireball. Ohm scattered backwards, burns covering his body. He looked mad.

"How dare you?!" He roared angrily, pulling himself to his feet.

Nami grinned. She had all the time she needed. Her Clima-Tact was flashing around, shooting bubbles, while with her other hand she spun a Heat Dial to shape the air flow. Hot and cold micro-climates spun around her, morphing into an unstable weather system.

"Weather forecast!" Nami shouted. "You are going to lose now!"

"I am God's chosen!" Ohm shouted, readying his sword. "Do not push me!"

Nami acted on instinct. She thrust the Heat Dial down, and the air shimmered. Suddenly, six phantasm images of the navigator appeared, all spinning their Clima-Tacts. "Mirage Tempo!" She mocked. "How do you know which is the rea–"

"Fool," Ohm muttered dryly pointing his sword at the Nami on the end. The blade shot outwards like a lance. Six visions of Nami dropped to the ground. "My Mantra can tell the difference easily."

The blade stabbed straight through her lower stomach. It felt like a hard punch at first. It took Nami a few seconds to even feel the pain, but then she felt the blood pour down her waist. Her previous smugness vanished in a second as she collapsed to the ground.

Slowly, Ohm started walking towards her, transforming his sword into an executioner's blade. Nami's heart was suddenly pounding harder than ever, so loud she could feel every beat echoing in her ears. Her head felt light. Move! She screamed at her arms, but they just wouldn't respond anymore.

"This is a good death," he preached, raising the sword over his head. "Take pleasure in knowing that there will be no more burdens for you."

He struck downwards. Time seemed to stop.

Move! Nami screamed and finally her limbs managed to work. Her Clima-Tact was primed and ready. She could practically see the hot and cold weather fronts spinning around her. Hot and cold… Nami thought desperately, swinging the Clima-Tact upwards. Ohm's eyes flickered and he stepped away just as she moved.

The Dials were littered around the ground. There was no time to use them. Instead she drew her short sword in a fluid motion. She would only get one shot at this. Nami threw her sword towards Ohm, and then fired her Clima-Tact. Two clockwork doves burst out of the staff and started to spinning, the sudden air wave starting a chain reaction.

In a second, there was a rush of air and a monstrous typhoon surged from the end of the Clima-Tact, with enough force to knock her backwards. The miniature tornodo hit her sword from behind and then suddenly there was a blade flying towards Ohm with lightning speed.

Nami's heart skipped.

And Ohm just casually sidestepped the attack. He was sidestepping before the attack was even finished. The sword flew passed him into the sky, while the tornado disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

"Was that supposed to hit me?" Ohm asked doubtfully, readying his sword again.

Nami collapsed to the ground, clutching at her side to try and stop the blood flow. That was it. She had no more attacks left. There was nothing more that she could do. Her breathing was frantic, and wheezy.

That was my last shot, Nami thought desperately, watching Ohm walk closer.

Please work

The priest could have killed from there, but he wanted the up close and personal murder. Nami clutched her head, trying to bang out the thoughts that might betray her plan.

Don't think about the weather, don't think about the weather, don't think about the weather, she repeated to herself frantically. Think about pink elephants. Purple giraffes. Tangerines. Bell-mere. Nojiko. Genzo. Cocoyasi Village. Just don't think about the weather

"This is the end," Ohm muttered, swiping downwards with his sword. Nami had to close her eyes and cover her ears.

Hot and cold fronts… No don't think about it, Nami thought frantically. Ohm was in her mind, and she couldn't risk forewarning him. Think about anything else, just not that. The Going Merry. Zoro. Usopp. Sanji. Chopper. Vivi. Robin. Carue. Luffy… Oh, Luffy


Ohm's blade cut towards her. The air hissed. There was a slicing sound, followed by a body slumping to the ground.

After a couple of nerve-wracking seconds, Nami slowly opened her eyes. Ohm was lying on the ground in front of her, with Nami's sword buried straight through his back. The relief caused her eyes to swell up with his tears. Nami had to gasp for breath.

"Hot and cold weather fronts…" Nami whispered quietly. The forest was suddenly deathly quiet. "…Will always cause circular pressure contours. That sword was spinning in the air currents, it was always going to come straight back to where it started like a boomerang."

Ohm didn't even twitch. Her short sword was buried through his body so deeply she couldn't even pull it out. "You could read my mind," Nami muttered, pulling herself up with a wince of pain. "You just couldn't read the weather."

Nami used a Heat Dial to cauterise her wound, shuddering with the pain, but there was no time to be gentle. She still had to hurry. She spent a while picked up the Dials, but then paused after a few seconds of trying to yank her sword out of Ohm's motionless body.

"Oh, you know what?" She said sarcastically in resignation, letting go of the handle and walking away from the corpse. "You can keep that sword…"

Nami paused after a couple of steps. She slowly turned to stare at Ohm's fancy iron cloud sword. It really was a powerful weapon…

She grinned, glancing down at the priest's dead body. "Would you mind if I took yours instead?"

Winner: Nami

Gedatsu vs Robin

"You are intruding on God's territory!" Gedatsu screamed, charging forward with jet powered shoes. "I cannot allow you to – ooph!"

In an instant, dozens of hands sprouted from the ground and grabbed a hold of his ankles. Gedatsu sensed the attack coming, but there were just too many hands to avoid. He tripped and his face ended up planting itself into the ground.

He glared at Robin, standing with arms crossed completely motionless, while the priest struggled to pull himself up.

"Ok, that was a lucky blow!" Gedatsu screamed, jumping into the sky. Dials on his elbow activated, thrusting his arm forward in a lightning fast punch. "But I really can't – OWW!"

Two hands sprouted from his chest and grabbed his arm, twisting it around. The Jet Dials never stopped, and Gedatsu ended up punching himself straight in the face with bone-crunching force. The priest wobbled dangerously, nearly tripping over as his Mantra failed him.

"Uhh… well…" Gedatsu stammered with concussion, throwing his arms out at Robin. "Take this! Swamp Cloud Burge – Hey!"

Before he could even react, more hands sprouted across his body, stealing the Dials from his sleeves and elbows. Gedatsu thrashed madly, but the hands disappeared as quickly as they appeared. A chain of hands were already passing the Dials over to Robin.

"This really isn't fair–" Gedatsu protested weakly, just as there was a tap at his right shoulder. He turned, just to see an arm sprouting from his back and pointing to his left. He looked to his left, and then there was another arm waving at him. Realisation dawned slowly. "Oh cr– "

There was a painful crack as both the arms grabbed him by the head and pulled backwards. Gedatsu collapsed to the ground.

It was a while before Robin moved. "Well…" She muttered slowly, already walking away into the ruins. "That was easy."

Winner: Robin

Sanji vs Hina

"If you turn back right now!" Sanji announced loudly. "Then I might just let you escape!"

The chef was restrained by so many iron manacles he couldn't even move a finger. The iron bands covered him head to toe, so tight he could barely breathe. Also, he was surrounded by marines pointing rifles at his head. And he was being dragged along the ground behind a large wagon.

"I'm serious!" Sanji yelled, hopefully. No one seemed to be paying him much attention. "You should really retreat right now! It would be a real big mistake to go any further!"

The marines were still marching through the valley, with Hina at the head of the column. "Bring those cannons forward!" The captain ordered loudly, before glancing at Sanji. "Also, someone gag that guy. He's getting annoying now."

A nearby marine slammed a dirty rag into Sanji's mouth. The chef nearly gagged, his screams turning into muffled cries. There were tears running down his cheeks.

Nami! Oh Nami! Sanji cried silently, I'm so sorry! You needed me and I failed you!

He cast a desperate glance at Hina. But what else could I do? I could never hit a woma

Sanji paused suddenly. Inspiration struck.

With a gasp, he managed to spit the out his gag. "Hey! Ms Hina!" He shouted loudly, still being dragged along the dirty ground. "May I please have your attention for a moment?"

The captain cast an amused glance towards the pirate, still not slowing down her march. "What is it?"

"Ahh…" Sanji sighed wistfully, staring at Hina with wide eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry. Your beauty just took my breath away for a moment. Where was I? Oh yes, I have a proposition for you."

"Do tell?" She said, raising an eyebrow.

"As much as it pains me to ask anything of such a magnificent picture of loveliness …" Sanji muttered, his voice cracking with emotion. "…But I'm afraid I must insist that you stop this march right now."

She scoffed, already turning away. Next to him, Jango and Fullbody shot Sanji dirty looks. "And why would Hina do that?" She retorted.

"Well…" Sanji muttered coolly. "I suppose I'll just have to convince you…"

He took a deep breath and then clenched his muscles. His legs thrashed against his manacles. His arms strained. Every muscle on his body bulged trying to break free. Sanji's teeth grit, a strained groan bursting from his throat.

Fullbody cast a doubtful glance at the thrashing chef. "Don't bother," the seaman chided. "No one can escape from the power of Captain Hina's Bind Bind fruit!"

Sanji didn't stop thrashing. The iron manacles started to flex. "Do not underestimate the power of love!"

"Are you mad?!" Fullbody yelled. "You're just going to hurt yourse–"

With a sudden crack, the manacles around his legs snapped, followed closely by the bonds around his arms. After that, every restraint dropped the ground. Fullbody was hit in the face by a flying piece of iron.

Everything stopped. Hina spun around; her eyes widening in surprise. Dozens of rifles were slammed at Sanji from all directions. Nobody made a sound.

Sanji calmly lit a cigarette.

After a few seconds, Captain Hina broke the silence. "So…" She muttered, pulling on her black gloves. Her wide hips swayed as she stepped towards the chef. "Does this mean you are going fight seriously?"

The chef grinned. "Against you?" He replied. "God no. I'd rather die before I raised my hand in anger against such a goddess."

Around him, more marines levelled rifles against him. Sanji rolled his eyes. "Against these guys?" He muttered. "Hell yes!"

His legs spun in a blur. The marines were circling him, and they all hesitated before firing else they'd hit each other. The next second, Sanji's shoes were pounding a dozen men to the ground. Fullbody launched a heavy uppercut, only to be sent flying from a spinning kick. Jango tried to pull out his hypnosis ring, but a polished black shoe slammed into his face before he could even say a word.

Hina lashed out, her fingers extending into bars that formed a cage snapping around the chef. Sanji was already rushing away, cutting through the marines in a flurry of kicks. In the middle of the cramped space, everything was too chaotic for the marines to form any sort of organised defence.

"Damn you!" Hina shouted, rushing after him. "Hina is your opponent, not Hina's men!"

"My opponent?" Sanji replied, casually kicking another two men to the ground. "Why I could never be enemies with such beauty!"

His foot crushed the wheel of a nearby cannon, causing it to crash to the ground with a tremendous thud. A group of marines tried to circle him while Hina charged towards him, but Sanji was already spinning around her, his legs crashing through marines furiously.

Suddenly, he was at head of column, blocking the path of the valley with his arms wide open. Hina charged towards him, swinging her arm in a wide uppercut.

Sanji rushed to meet her, ducking under Hina's blow and then spinning his leg at her head with furious speed. His foot halted inches away from her face, coming so close that Hina's hair brushed backwards. The captain blinked.

The chef took another deep breath of his cigarette, looking at Hina coolly. "I would never allow any harm to come to such magnificent beauty," he said sincerely, slowly dropping his leg. "I will die before I hurt you."

Hina glared at him. "However…" Sanji continued with a smirk. "That doesn't mean I have to let you pass either!"

Marcus vs Enel

There was a brief moment of silence as the air shimmered and crackled red and yellow. Enel stared at Marcus' blood red aura dismissively.

"So, you have a Devil fruit too?" The god muttered, shrugging his shoulders. "It makes no difference. Not all abilities are created equal. I have ascended to godhood, while you are nothing more than curiosity."

Marcus' grin never faltered. "Let's see how long you keep saying that, but by the end of the day I will be walking away with the Rumble Rumble fruit in my hand."

Enel snorted. "Are arrogant words all you can do?"

"No," Marcus shook his head cheerfully, casually stepping forward. "I also give one hell of back massage!"

He broke into a sprint, covering the distance in the blink of eye. Enel rolled his eyes. "Don't bother," the god muttered. "You will not even be able to touch m–"

Marcus' fist pulsed red as it slammed into Enel's chest. God's jaw dropped open and his eyes bulged with pain. Marcus' laughter was maniac. He held on tightly to the back of Enel's head, bringing his fist in for another blow.

The red glow around them throbbed repeatedly, pounding like a furious heartbeat. Even being close to Marcus made Enel's body ache painfully. The punch was far more magnified than it had any right to be. For a moment, the pure panic was clear on Enel's face.

"This is the part where I rip your heart out!" Marcus laughed cheerfully, slamming his hand forward.

Enel recovered just in time. The electricity started sparking from his body, striking into Marcus in a furious arc. The Devil fruit hunter screamed as he shot backwards, while Enel took the opportunity to dematerialise into lightning, reappearing a hundred yards away.

The god stared at Marcus with incredulous eyes. He raised his hand, and a huge bolt of lightning burst outwards, shaping into a falcon as it arced towards Marcus. There wasn't even time to scream as it hit, the power zapping him backwards and landing roughly through a nearby stone wall.

After a few seconds, Marcus grunt with pain as he climbed out of the ruins. Around his body, the stone was turning to dust everywhere he touched.

Enel paused, touching his stomach gingerly. A large nasty bruise had already formed, and the nearby skin was covered in scratches. But it was more than that; Marcus' blow had a penetrative power to it, as if it cut through the skin and hurt the organs and bones inside.

Marcus glared at Enel. The Devil fruit hunters' clothes were smoking and his skin was scolded. Still, he laughing as he started to walk towards Enel.

"I see…" Enel muttered coldly. "You use your power to amplify your physical attacks. Anything that gets close you to gets hurt."

"I cause atomic bonds to decay, if you want to be scientific about it," Marcus shouted happily. "Energy or matter, it doesn't matter. I can just shred it all. You really think you're the first overpowered Logia I've faced?"

Enel didn't look so arrogant anymore. He was bleeding, and that caused shivers to go down his spine. God shouldn't bleed. This man was clearly an abomination against nature and needed to be destroyed.

"Hmm…" Enel scowled. "So fighting you in close combat is clearly a bad idea. Still…" He slowly extended his arm. "If I just keep this distance and shoot lightning at you, is there anything you can do to stop it?"

The air cracked as the bolt of lightning shot forward. Marcus raised his hands and the air pulsed red in defence, yet the lightning just shot straight through. Every nerve felt like it was on fire. Marcus screamed, charging forward madly but Enel's assault never paused.

Marcus tried to shred the lightning away, but there was just too much power charging towards him. The Shred Shred fruit was best at shredding kinetic energy, and electricity cut through his defence. He couldn't stop it all. Marcus felt his hair burst into flames, his body writhing as the lightning caused him to thrash, staggering forward madly.

As Marcus got closer, Enel flashed away, carefully keeping his distance. Marcus was clearly a close combat fighter, but the Rumble Rumble fruit worked best at a distance. Marcus caught Enel unprepared at the beginning, but Enel could still control the fight.

Marcus' screams were ear-splitting. "Still alive?" Enel muttered coldly, frowning darkly. "I can still up the voltage!"

The blinding arc of light intensified, but Marcus just didn't fall down. His clothes were being burnt to cinders, yet he just kept on screaming.

It took Enel a while to realise what was wrong. Marcus wasn't screaming; he was laughing loudly in a hysterical howl. The Devil fruit hunter was being burnt alive and he was laughing.

Enel stopped the arc of lightning, lowering his hand. Smoke was billowed from Marcus' body. Every inch of his skin was blistering painfully.

"More!" Marcus demanded, his eyes bulging madly. "Give me more! MAKE ME FEEL IT!"

He sprinted towards Enel. The god growled, and lashed out with a blast of lightning so powerful it took Marcus off his feet, zapping him straight through the ruins with a shower of debris. Marcus was in absolute agony. He loved it.

"Come on!" Marcus roared. Enel stared incredulously. "Hit me harder! I'm going to take everything you've got and I'm going to pay back with interest!"

The god didn't respond. Marcus laughed like maniac. "You think you're the first Logia that's been able to throw me around like a ragdoll?!" He bellowed. "I've been buried in mountains of mud, frozen under piles of snow, stabbed by a hail of glass, choked by candy syrup, and drowned and then ignited in a goddamn pool of oil! All of those Logias thought they were invincible, but I still just kept on getting up for more!"

His eyes gleamed. "I. Don't. Die!" He shouted, throwing his arms up wide. "Hit me with all the lightning you want because I am still just going to keep on coming for you! Sooner or later you're going to run out of charge and when that happen, I'm going to rip you in half!"

The laughter started again. Enel just glared at the mad man silently. "Oh, it's going to be fun! I'm going to pull out your spine!" Marcus yelled cheerfully. "I'm going crack your rips open and yank your heart out of your chest! I'm going to pound your skull to dust! I am going to hold your organs in my hands as I count them one by one!"

With a flick of Enel's wrist, a bolt of lightning crashed through the ruins. Marcus went shooting for the air, only for another thunderous crack like a whip to bat him in the other direction. Even as Marcus went crashing tonnes of rock, he didn't stop laughing. Blood was pouring down his body.

"Is that best you can do?" Marcus taunted, brushing the rubble of his body and staggering towards Enel. The air around him was igniting in sparks of flames. "Come on! Fight me! Do you want to see how long you'll last up close and personal?"

Is this his Devil fruit power… Enel thought quietly, or is he really just that insane? Either way, Enel was going to kill him.

Marcus grinned as Enel raised his hand for another attack. "Huh. Some 'God' you are…" Marcus mocked. "Not brave enough to fight someone on equal terms, eh? You're just a goddamn coward!"

Enel paused, glaring at Marcus furiously. There was a moment of silence. "Oh very well…" Enel muttered finally, his body tremoring with barely contained rage. It had been years since his heart pounded so hard. "If you want a fight, then let's make a game of it!"

The sky ruptured with a thunderous crack. Suddenly, a huge arc of lightning shot downwards, slicing through the Island Cloud in a smooth circle. The sound of Marcus' laughter was deafening, just as gravity reasserted itself.

In an instant, they were both falling downwards along with a mountain of rubble, crashing towards the surface of Upper Yard.

"It's this way…" Luffy muttered to himself, walking across the soft cloud surrounded by the ruins of Shandia. The base of Giant Jack was just in front of him. "Aisa definitely said that the loud voices came from this direction…"

From above, there was a huge crack, followed by a large chunk of cloud plummeting out of the sky in a flash of light. It crashed on the other side of beanstalk with so much force that the whole island tremored. Luffy started sprinting to take a look, glancing around quickly for any sign of Robin.

He paused as he glimpsed a figure lying on the ground, not moving a muscle. Luffy rushed over to see a tall, dark man with really cool hair lying unconscious on the cloud.

"Hey! Mister!" Luffy exclaimed, shaking the man's shoulders. "You alright?"

Slowly, the man's eyes flickered open. "Oh… how careless of me…" He murmured weakly, glancing around in panic. "… I am Gedatsu…"

Gedatsu's head was still spinning. His neck felt like it was at the wrong angle. He was looked side to side, his eyes spinning with disorientation. "What happened to you?" Luffy asked curiously.

"It was that woman… she…" He gulped and winced as he tried to move his neck.

Realisation dawned slowly. "Woman? Do you mean Robin?" Luffy's eyes narrowed as he looked Gedatsu up and down. "Are you a priest?"

Luffy's voice changed slightly. "Did you hurt Robin?"

Gedatsu clearly didn't notice the change in tone. "I tried to–!" He started in protest, but he was cut off quickly.

Luffy's arm moved all by itself. As soon as Gedatsu muttered the words 'I tried', Luffy's hand was already curling into a fist and slamming forward, planting itself into Gedatsu's face with extreme force. Not even Mantra could predict that one.

Luffy took a deep breath. The blow took the priest off the ground and crashing through the ruins. "Had to be done," Luffy decided after a few seconds, walking in the direction of the flying priest.

Enel used a Ball Dial to halt the fall, sitting cross-legged on the floating cloud as he drifted slowly to the ground.

Marcus wasn't so lucky. He crashed straight into the earth just as a mountain of stone collapsed on top of him. It took nearly thirty seconds for him to crawl out of the pile of debris on top of him.

The Devil fruit hunter glanced around. They were at the edge of the Shandia ruins, surrounded by rubble and looming trees. The looming shadow of the beanstalk towered covered everything. Marcus brushed of the dust from what little remained of his clothes.

"Yeah…" Marcus announced. "You're going to have to do better than that if you want to kill me."

Enel grinned. "Oh, I wasn't trying to kill you," he said, holding his arms out wide. "I just thought this would be a better place to a play a game."

Marcus chuckled, staggering towards the god over a pile of stone. "Fine by me!" He said happily. "Bring it!"

Enel waved his finger chidingly. "Not yet," he scolded. "We've got to wait for the other players first."

Almost as soon as he said the words, there was a flapping of wings shooting overhead, and a man in heavy armour clanked to the ground. Enel's grin widened.

"So Gan Fall…" The god muttered. "Are you finally ready to face me?"

The ex-god stared at Enel coldly. His eyes were dark as Gan Fall raised his lance. "This ends here," Gan Fall threatened coldly. Behind him, Pierre, in horse hybrid form, snorted angrily.

"Oh no," Enel laughed. "This is just the beginning."

There was an explosion from the trees. In a blur, Gedatsu shot through the sky and crashed into clearing. The priest was missing teeth, and stammering almost incoherently. Marcus, Enel and Gan Fall just watched with mild surprise.

Gedatsu pulled himself up to stare at Enel with wide eyes. He didn't even notice the dark shadow walking up from behind. "Oh God!" The priest begged desperately. "I'm so sorr–"

There was a dull thud as Wiper slammed his bazooka down on Gedatsu from behind. The priest collapsed. The raider grunted as he heaved the weapon upwards, wiping Gedatsu's blood of the nozzle.

"I've wanted to do that for years," Wiper growled, turning to stare at Enel as he readied the God-Slayer. "Now it's your turn!"

The raider looked injured, with a deep cut across his chest that had been hastily treated. Still, Wiper's eyes glowed with fury.

A few seconds later, Luffy burst out of the trees on the other side, looking at Wiper, Enel, Marcus and Gan Fall in surprise. "Whoa…" He muttered. "Is there a meeting happening here?"

No one said a word. They all stared at each other, one by one. Enel turned to face the other side of the clearing, just as a large billow of smoke shot through the trees. Smoker instantly materialised, casting a dark glance at Luffy and Enel as he clutched his revolver.

"Hmph…!" The captain snorted, judging the situation quickly. Everything was tense.

After a few speechless seconds, Marcus broke the silence with a burst of laughter. "Well, this makes things easy!" The Devil fruit hunter exclaimed happily. "I love it when everyone crowds around me to die!"

Enel chuckled, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Well then, we've got the mercenary hunting my power…" He pointed towards Marcus, who waved at everyone. "… The old soldier fighting for his country…" Enel motioned at Gan Fall, who clutched his lance tighter. "… The warrior fighting to reclaim his homeland…" Wiper cast a murderous look at the god. "…The captain fighting for law and order…" Smoker cocked his revolver. "…And the pirate fighting for his companions…" Luffy looked around the group, slowly clenching his fists. He could feel the fight coming.

Everyone was staring at Enel with hatred.

Enel's smile was happier than it had been in years. This looked like it might actually be fun, the god mused. It had been years since Enel had had fun. "…And, of course, there's me. The God."

He slowly pulled his golden staff forward. "It looks like the semi-finalists are all here! So I suppose the question is…"

"…Who wants to go first?!"

Usopp vs Berrit and Isaac

A shrill scream broke through Usopp's lips as he charged forward, swinging his hammer blindly. He barely managed to duck under a right hook from Berrit, just as Isaac shot a bullet into the cliff face behind him.

"Will you just stomp the bastard already!" Isaac shouted with annoyance. His eyes were pulsing blue, but Usopp was very carefully avoiding his gaze. The skinny man was already suffering a major migraine from using his powers for so long.

"I'm goddamn trying!" Berrit shouted, nearly tripping over his feet as Usopp darted around him. Berrit sounded almost embarrassed. "He's a goddamn squirmy little bastard!"

Usopp couldn't spare the concentration for a snappy retort. It was taking everything he had just to avoid Berrit's attacks. He twisted around the large man as he lunged with a heavy fist, before slamming into Berrit with his shoulder and pushing Berrit into Isaac. In the moment of confusion, Usopp took the opportunity to slam his hammer down over Berrit's head.

It felt like hitting a brick wall with a toothpick. Usopp's wrist jarred. The hammer was a heavy mallet with a wooden handle, more suited to carpentry than battle but still quite heavy. Berrit just brushed the blow off like a insect bite. Usopp had to dive to avoid a furious kick.

Berrit charged after him furiously. Usopp rolled across the ground desperately, just as a boot slammed inches away from his face. Berrit was big, incredibly strong and surprisingly fast, while Isaac was an unnervingly good shot. Only by staying close to Berrit, dancing around his attacks by staying close and using his body to avoid Isaac's line of sight had Usopp managed to survive, but he was already talking injuries.

His bones felt like they had shattered from Berrit's repeated blows, and he had already been shot in the arm and shoulder by Isaac. Still, the adrenaline was pounding through his body so furiously he couldn't even feel the pain. There was no time for weakness here. If Usopp missed a step, he would die quickly.

I'm facing two guys who are stronger, faster, tougher and, hell, probably smarter than me, Usopp thought desperately, spinning around just as Berrit tried to tackle him to the ground. They've both got dangerous powers, and they are very angry with me.

Yes, well, that's alright because I've got… umm… I have… He was still trying to work out where his advantage was.

Berrit swung a furious elbow. Usopp tried to dodge, but he was milliseconds too late. The blow hit him in his stomach firmly, and then suddenly Berrit grabbed him by the collar and heaved his whole body off the ground.

"I've goddamn got you now!" Berrit roared triumphantly, holding Usopp up high with one arm. Usopp's head spun.

Oh hell, Usopp thought desperately, I've never had that much dignity anyways

Usopp's whole body shuddered. Berrit's eyes widened in shock, and then the next second Usopp was gagging just as he puked everywhere. It wasn't hard; he had already been hit in the stomach enough times. The sick sprayed outwards just as Berrit dropped him in disgust.

"You fucking goddamn bastard!" Berrit roared furiously. The sick covered his face and shoulders. Berrit was still staring with horror and revulsion, just as Usopp slammed his hammer down on head. Usopp honestly didn't care if it was clean or fair. He just couldn't afford to lose.

Thank god no one else saw that, Usopp thought desperately, but if it works

Isaac stared at him incredulously, raising his gun. Usopp lashed out with the first thing he grabbed; which happened to be an elastic band left in his pocket, flicking in it blindly. The little rubber band flicked against Isaac's eye, and the man winced in surprise as he tripped over.

Usopp was left momentarily speechless. You mean that after all this time… He thought in shock, that 'Usopp Rubber Band' actually works?!

Berrit was already pulling himself up, staring at Usopp with fury as he tried to wipe his face. Isaac was recovering quickly. Usopp made a snap decision. I've got to separate them, he thought finally, I could maybe beat one of them, but not both together.

He cast a worried glance towards the unconscious Chopper, Vivi and Carue. One stray bullet could be fatal. And I've got to move the fight away from them...

"Come on!" Usopp taunted, already running down the path. "If you want me, come and get me!"

Berrit screamed and gave chase. The large man looked murderous. Isaac hesitated and followed a second later.

"Berrit!" Isaac warned. "Don't let him infuriate you!"

"That's easy for you to say when you don't have goddamn sick on your goddamn face!" Berrit retorted, sprinting down the pathway and catching up to Usopp in an instant. Usopp ducked and dodged to the side, while Isaac tried to take aim from behind. The path was too narrow and Berrit was blocking the way.

Usopp danced around Berrit blows, walking backwards as Berrit launched forward. They were approaching the Devil fruit hunter's ship, moored on the side of the Milky Road. Usopp's heart was pounding like a drum. The ground is stony and slippery, and he's angry, Usopp thought suddenly, big boots have a disadvantage here. I've just got to trip him off the side

Suddenly, Isaac darted behind Berrit, and for one frantic second Usopp made eye contact. He shut his eyes quckly, but it was enough to mess up his pace. Berrit's face slammed into his shoulder, and suddenly Usopp felt a force stomp him to the ground.

"Got you!" Berrit roared.

By pure force of will, Usopp managed to pull himself up, but he had lost the flow of the battle. Berrit's fist slammed against his chest, followed by a boot in his stomach. The impacts caused his head to spin, but he somehow managed to stay standing.

Isaac got his shot and a bullet pierced into Usopp's shoulder. The pain felt cold. Berrit grabbed Usopp from the throat, punching him repeatedly with his other hand, before finally stomping him into the ground. His hammer dropped over the cliff. Usopp could barely feel his heartbeat anymore.

I'm not going to win here, Usopp realised suddenly. His body was too numb to feel any pain, but he knew he was going to die if he kept on fighting.

With a wheezy breath, Usopp still stood up again. There were tears in his eyes. He had no weapon, so he raised his fists in a crude boxing stance.

Berrit just stared at him incredulously. "Won't you just stay down already?!"

Usopp forced a grin. "Never."

If I'm going to die, then I'm going to hold these guys back as long as possible, Usopp vowed. He wondered briefly how much longer his body would last. He was a bit surprised it had lasted this long.

A hulking fist slammed into his face. Usopp's nose cracked again. He tried to respond with an uppercut of his own, but it felt like punching a solid brick wall. With a desperate scream, Usopp launched himself at Berrit, trying frantically to tackle the man off the side.

Berrit scoffed as he simply sent Usopp flying with a powerful backhanded swipe.

The world blurred around him as Usopp twisted through the air. Usopp landed roughly on wooden planks, crashing on to the Devil fruit hunter's skipper. It was so hard to breathe.

"Just kill him!" Isaac ordered, raising his gun to shoot at Usopp. With energy that he never realised he had left, Usopp dived for cover into the hold of their ship. They were both already sprinting after him.

Usopp's strength failed him. He had to crawl through the hold of the skipper, down a narrow alley surround on either side by cupboards filled with crates. His legs weren't responding anymore. Two long shadows loomed over him.

There was a sound of a gun being cocked. Usopp turned to see Isaac readying his flintlock. Berrit stood behind Isaac, washing his face with a towel.

"Let's finish this…" Isaac sighed, aiming his flintlock at Usopp's forehead. At this range, he wasn't going to miss. His voice was almost sympathetic. "You fought hard, sure, but you were never going to win against us. Just let it go already."

Usopp tried to squirm. He grabbed the cupboard and tried to pull himself upwards, but he never had the strength left. He couldn't even stand up. The nozzle of Isaac's gun touched gently against his head.

Finally, Usopp stopped struggling. Isaac's finger was on the trigger. "Any last words?" The man asked, slowly pulling the trigger in.

Usopp grinned, a light chuckle bursting from his throats. Tears were flowing freely down his cheeks.

There were no lies left.

"Yes…" Usopp stammered. "…I am a brave warrior…!"

Isaac pulled the trigger.

Suddenly, Usopp found the very last reserves of his strength. He dropped to the ground just as the bullet skimmed through his hair, but Usopp's hand was still holding on the cupboard next to him. With a huge creak, the cupboard toppled, causing the huge crates to crash onto Isaac.

The chaos was enough time for Usopp to drag himself backwards. The crates were smashing down around him. One of the crates burst open and spilled its contents over the ground. Usopp's eyes bulged. This was a Devil fruit hunters' ship, after all. Suddenly, he was laughing again, more furious than ever.

"Oh screw it!" Usopp shouted loudly, his hand wrapping around green Devil fruit shaped like a plum. Isaac's eyes bulged in shock. "Everyone else has one…!"

He slammed the fruit into his mouth. It tasted as foul as swamp water, but Usopp swallowed it whole anyways. He almost gagged, but then his outline wavered like water and started to shift.

"Whoa…" Usopp muttered in shock, staring at his hand while his body changed shape. His skin rippled and started to change colour and texture. Everything around him looked like it was getting smaller. Or perhaps he was growing bigger. Much bigger.

Berrit and Isaac stared with speechless shock. Isaac took a step back nervously. "Umm… Berrit…?" He asked in a hushed quiet voice. Usopp was still growing, and becoming broader. Isaac could see the muscles taking shape. "Which fruit did he just eat…?"

Berrit blinked, sniffing the air hesitantly. Usopp was a hulking shape now, covered in dark shadows while his new body continued to take form. "Umm… It's definitely Zoan… Very pungent… smells like…"

His eyes bugled. "OH GODDAMN…!"

Round 2:

Berrit and Isaac vs Monster Usopp

Chapter Text

Usopp's body rippled as his bones shifted and muscles sagged. He tried to gasp, but he couldn't breath as his lungs collapsed. It felt like his whole body was being transformed, piece by piece, but somehow it didn't hurt. There was just a numb sensation as his body grew and reshaped.

His vision was hit the worst. Between his size growing, his pupils dilating, and his eyes moving further apart, Ussop's head was sent spinning by the surreal experience. It might have lasted a few seconds, but it felt like longer as his whole body reformed and he was hit by new sights, sounds and sensations that he had never before. Slowly, he managed to focus on his hand, only to realise that his skin had turned brown and warty, and he now had four, long fingers. His hand was rough and dry.

"Whoa…" Usopp muttered in surprise, but voice was different. It was louder, more throaty, almost like a croak.

The wooden planks he was standing on were groaning under his weight; he was larger, heavier and much, much fatter. His every perception had changed; he could now see more than 270 degrees around his body from bulbous eyes on the side of his head, easily picking up every slight motion through elongated pupils.

Isaac and Berrit were staring at him with shock. The look of absolute disbelief on their faces brought a long grin across Usopp's wide face and gaping mouth. It was only when he felt the length of his tongue in his mouth that he made the connection.

"Holy shit, I'm a toad," Usopp muttered slowly, and there was a phrase that he had never thought he would say.

He was in the body of a hulking toad so large that he pressed against the ceiling, at least seven foot tall even as he crouched, but he was broad and fat that he dominated that entire room. Flaps of dry, warty skin covered his body, while his head was wide and flat with a bony ridge over his bulbous, round eyes. His hind legs felt large and muscular, curled up behind him, ready to leap. Usopp was still wearing his grey overalls, but they had grown with his body while his boots had been torn off to reveal large, webbed feet. His slingshot in his pocket was now so small he could barely use it. His mouth felt so large he could swallow a man whole, as he ran his tongue over five rows of peg-like teeth.

"The Toad Toad fruit, Cane Toad Model…" Berrit murmured darkly, cracking his knuckles. Suddenly, Berrit didn't look so big. In terms of height, Berrit was still slightly larger, yet Usopp's toad form dominated the man in terms of mass. Isaac glared at him furiously, clutching his gun tightly.

Ok… Usopp thought, the panic rising in him, I'm a Cane Toad now. You can freak out about that later. I'm in full toad form right now, so how do I change to hybrid…?

"You bastard!" Isaac shouted angrily, his flintlock shooting upwards. "Do you have any idea how much that fruit was worth?"

Usopp moved on instinct, and apparently he had a whole new set of instincts. His mouth burst open and a long, spotty and slimy tongue whipped out of his mouth fifteen feet towards Isaac, wrapping around his head in the blink of an eye. The man screamed in shock as Usopp's muscled tongue slammed him against the wall, causing more crates to crash to the ground.

The tongue shot back inside his mouth. Usopp raised a toad hand to his throat, eyes bulging in amazement. "Holy shit…!" Usopp gasped. It was taking a lot for him not to freak out.

"Why you?!" Berrit growled angrily, slamming forward with a heavy uppercut.

Usopp jumped backwards, or at least he tried to. His muscles were completely foreign. As soon as he unleashed his hind legs, his whole body accelerated upwards with breakneck speed. He burst through the roof of the skipper, but he never even felt it. In an instant, he was flying upwards into the sky, watching the whole island stretch out beneath.

The air rushed by him. His heart was pounding like a sledgehammer. He could hardly even feel his previous injuries as strong toad muscles took over. Suddenly, he was laughing with elation as he watched the ship get smaller and smaller.

"Holy shit!" Usopp screamed joyfully, dropping downwards like a stone. "Oh, I can work with this!"

The adrenaline pounded through his body. His muscles were screaming. In an instant, he felt a like a monster. It was brilliant.

"Get that punk!" Isaac roared, staggering out of the ship. His body was coated in saliva. "Rip my Devil fruit out of his stomach!"

Usopp was laughing, with huge croaky chuckles of breath. He landed on the top of the cliff, before bounding downwards in a huge leap. Berrit charged out to meet him, the man's muscles bulging as he slammed both hands outwards.

"Take this!" Berrit bellowed. "Two Ton Stomp!"

The force dropped downwards like a boot falling from the sky. Usopp barely managed to dodge, just as the impact pounded a circular depression into the rocky cliff. Isaac was out on deck, his eyes glowing brightly. Usopp had to clench his eyes shut and jump away, leaping over cliff side with ease.

These guys are still dangerous, Usopp thought with panic, and twice as dangerous when they're fighting together. I need to separate them

An idea came to him, just as Isaac fired a salvo of bullets into the cliff. Usopp leapt away, his strong legs pushing him through the air, dropping towards the skipper. Usopp was still getting used to his new body and ended up overshooting, but grabbed a hold of the skipper's mast and swinging down towards the ground. His huge mass almost caused the ship to capsize as he crashed onto the deck, splitting planks of wood.

"Berrit!" Isaac shouted, twisting towards Usopp, gun flashing furiously. Usopp had to jump backwards, leaping onto the top of the skipper.

"On it!" Berrit shouted, charging at Usopp furiously. He was panting slightly, but still looked ready to brawl.

Usopp grinned, just as his tongue shot down through the hole of the skipper's roof, wrapping around two large crates. "Hey!" Usopp shouted happily, flicking the large boxes up into his hands with his tongue. Toady fingers wrapped around the metal lockboxes tightly, each one containing a Devil fruit. "How much are Devil fruits worth again? A hundred million? Perhaps more?"

Isaac's face contorted in fury. "Put those down! They're mine!"

The grin on his face was predatory. "If you insist..." Usopp murmured drawing his arm back and slinging the crate in to the air. "Go catch!"

Isaac blurred as he leapt for the box. Usopp twisted around and threw the other Devil fruit in the opposite direction. Berrit barely managed to catch it before it fell over the edge. Usopp was already picking up two more. There had been a dozen, but Usopp was going through them quickly.

There's a large fortune in this boat, Usopp realised, and Nami would so kill me if she saw what I'm doing now. Somehow, that only made it more enjoyable.

"Fetch!" Usopp shouted gleefully, launching a third box into the distance. Isaac watch in horror as the crate disappeared into the forest below.

"Stop him!" Isaac roared. "That's our money!"

Berrit charged for him, but Usopp was already hurling the other crate to the side of him. Berrit hesitated for one moment, before changing direction and leaping for the Devil fruit. His fingers brushed against the side of the box in mid-air, just as Usopp's tongue wrapped around his leg and yanked him backwards.

"No!" Isaac cried, watching another hundred million disappear into the forest below. He was too distracted, he never even noticed Usopp's tongue spin Berrit around and tossing the large man towards Isaac. The two men collided in a mess of flailing limbs, just as Usopp leapt towards them with unstoppable momentum.

Isaac staggered upwards and raised his gun, but Usopp shoulder barged him with the force of a steam train. Isaac was sending crashing into the mast of the ship, while Usopp slammed a powerful leg straight into Berrit back.

Every other blow felt like Usopp was pounding a brick wall, but this time Usopp felt the crush of muscle and bone under his foot. Berrit roared in agony, but recovered like a monster, jumping to his feet and slamming heavy blows at Usopp. Despite Usopp's new bulk, he was surprisingly agile as he darted backwards, standing on his hind legs as he dodged Berrit's wide blows.

This guy is too strong in close combat, Usopp thought frantically, but his body was still bursting with energy. Usopp dodged to the side, kicking up a large foot that collided with Berrit's side and knocked him to the ground.

Berrit roared and jumped again, but Usopp responded instinctively by spitting. A huge chunk of ooze burst from his gullet, splattering into Berrit's face and causing the man to crash blindly to the ground

"Cool…" Usopp muttered in satisfaction. His body was brand new. Every muscle was different and Usopp was still trying to work through it. "Toad ooze…"

Through his peripheral vision, Usopp glimpsed Isaac standing upwards, and responded by spitting a glob of ooze with enough to force to send Isaac crashing to the ground.

The skinny man groaned and stared with terror at the slime covering his body. "Damn you!" He cried in despair, clutching at his suit. "This is my favourite suit!"

Usopp chuckled, feeling happier and more powerful than he had ever felt. Suddenly, he knew what it was like to be strong. Berrit staggered to his feet, glaring at Usopp with pure rage.

"I will goddamn stomp you!" Berrit screamed, staggering forward. "I will stomp your goddamn bones into dust.

The toad grinned madly, a slimy tongue licking his lips. Usopp shot his hand out and grabbed a lantern from the ship, smashing through the glass as he ignited the flame. "Let's see you try…!" Usopp croaked, taking a deep breath. There was so much about his new body that he wanted to try out.

His lungs just kept on expanding, his whole body swelling as the air burst inside of him. The realisation hit Berrit too late, but Usopp was bulging like a bomb ready to explode. The large man dived to the ground, but Usopp was already spitting outwards.

"Toad oil!" Usopp shouted, just as the torrent of air and oil hit the open flame and exploded into an inferno, slamming towards Berrit. The fire collided with enough force to send Berrit flying into the prow of the ship, screaming in pain.

"Do you remember all those times you stomped me?" Usopp yelled angrily, jumping into the sky with a powerful leap. Berrit desperately tried to put out the flames, his eyes widening in panic as he saw the gigantic toad crashing onto him like a cannonball. "Thanks for that!"

"Usopp…" The toad shouted loudly, drawing his legs back just before he landed. "STOMP!"

The force caused the skipper to tear apart, splitting the prow cleanly off as it slammed through the Milky Road. Usopp felt Berrit's body crack under his feet, just before he leapt upwards and the large man fell towards the ground with a large chunk of the skipper.

Usopp was panting heavily, but he only felt satisfaction as he saw Berrit disappear into the Milky Road. The whole skipper was drooping, only being held up by the moorings to the cliff side, Usopp took a deep breath, dropping to four legs as he turned around.

There was a click of gun being cocked. Isaac was standing on the ship, clutching his flintlock with both hands as he glared at Usopp. The slender man didn't look so good; he was slouching unable to stand up straight, and his hands were trembling. Isaac's face was pale and his eyes were bloodshot.

"You… you…" Isaac gasped weakly, breathing wheezily. "…you're just a pathetic liar…"

"You don't look that well," Usopp muttered, eyes narrowing. It still surprised him how strong and throaty his voice sounded.

The man looked like he was trying to respond, but could barely breath. His gun was trembling madly.

"Tell me, did you ever go splashing around in swamps when you were a kid?" Usopp muttered, almost conversationally. His eyes were cold. "Did you ever go hunting for frogs and toads?"

Isaac didn't respond. Usopp took a small leap forward. "Well, I did," he continued. "And let me tell you something I learnt…"

Usopp took a deep breath. "Cane toads are toxic."

He raised a toad finger to point at the large parotoid gland on the side of his meaty neck, behind the eyes, still throbbing gently as it secreted toxin over his warty skin.

Wow, that was a weird thought, Usopp thought quietly, somehow maintaining his composure, I am really going to freak about that later

Isaac's eyes bulged with fear. He seemed to be having trouble moving. The memory of Usopp charging into him flashed before his eyes, and all that sweaty skin making contact.

"Bufotoxin. It's actually a neurotoxin, I think," Usopp continued, slowly stepping forward, frowning as he struggled to remember. "Usually it's not fatal to humans, but, well, I don't think anyone's ever tested what a giant, seven-foot tall toad could do. That's a lot of poison. That's enough to be absorbed straight through the skin." He touched his parotoid glands curiously, and the toxic ooze still sweeping out, though it did seem to be slowing down as his heartbeat calmed. His skin felt rough, warty, and sweaty.

Usopp's childhood days of toad hunting were rushing back to him. It had been an adventurous childhood. "It attacks the heart and blood flow. Symptoms include twitching, shallow breathing, vomiting, inflammation, hallucinations, intense pain…"

Isaac was barely standing. The gun dropped out of his trembling hands as he nearly collapsed to the ground. His eyes were bloodshot, staring unfocused upwards, unable to activate his Daze Daze fruit powers.

Usopp was standing above him now, looking down with an unreadable expression. Not that Isaac could see him. "….and blindness," Usopp finished finally.

There was a moment's pause. Slowly, Usopp's tongue snatched the keys for the Seastone handcuffs off Isaac's belt, clutching them tightly in his hands. Isaac stared upwards at Usopp with pure, mute dread. The memory of Isaac holding a gun to Vivi's head, of him shooting Carue, and of him standing next Marcus as the psycho tortured Luffy all flashed before Usopp's eyes. This man tried to murder Usopp's friends for their Devil fruits.

"Do remember how I said I'd let you live if you surrendered?" Usopp said finally.

Isaac nodded with frenzy, still struggling to breathe. Usopp gently placed his hand on Isaac's chest.

"Well…" The toad muttered. "…Apparently, I was lying."

With a gentle push, Usopp shoved the man over the ledge. Isaac didn't even have time to scream before he was swallowed by the Milky Road. Usopp watched for a few seconds, before slowly jumping away.

"If you're going to fight," Hina shouted, as her arms extended into iron bars. "Then you should do it properly!"

The bars slammed into either side of the valley and expanded outwards, forming a cage around Sanji. The chef grunted, leaping over the metal-fence like cage. Behind Hina, the marines watched in awe, but the valley was too narrow for them to take part in the fight.

"Fight?" Sanji replied casually, just as the cage banged together beneath him, nearly catching his fingers as he cartwheeled over the iron bars. He shot Hina a smile. "I'm really more of a lover than fighter."

"That's obvious," she retorted. "You most certainly couldn't be anything less of a fighter."

He grinned as he jumped over her the cage. A couple of Marines were trying to take aim with their rifles, and Sanji charged in response. He spun pass Hina, his feet pounding furiously as the Marines collapsed to the ground. Fullbody tried to attack with a boxer's jab, his iron knuckles glinting in the air, but Sanji avoided the blow and sent a kick into the man's chin that knocked him upwards.

A second later, Hina was on him, sprouting bars from her fingers as she tried to capture him. Still, she couldn't use her full power when Sanji was surrounded by her own men, while in the chaos Sanji was cutting through the marines like a hot knife through butter. The cramped conditions and disorder were terrible for the marines, and the chef took full advantage of that.

An iron bar landed a glancing blow on the pirate's shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Hina was on him in a second, her foot blazing as she slammed blow after blow. Sanji had to twist to avoid, while the marines cheered their captain on and tried to charge.

"Stay back!" Hina ordered, unwilling to let anyone else get in the way. The pirate was doing everything he could to avoid fighting her, and she never wanted to give him any of her men to hide behind. "Hina will take care of him!"

"But captain–" Fullbody shouted in protested.

"Hina said stay back!" Hina snapped, throwing a fierce jab towards Sanji. The chef barely dodged, and her fist ended up punching four iron bolts into the rock cliff face. Still, Sanji grinned.

"I knew you wanted me all for yourself!" He said with a sly smile, backing away slightly.

"You're flirting when you should be fighting," Hina shouted, spinning her fist towards him with lightning speed.

Sanji dodged backwards, chuckling slightly. He launched a sharp kick, but again stopped his foot inches away from her face.

The chef winked cheekily. "Now what's the point in being a pirate if you can't do both?"

Hina simply scoffed, spinning her leg around in roundhouse kick.

Sanji couldn't avoid the blow in time. He blocked with his own leg, only for Hina's to phase straight through him. Her leg transformed into a iron, rippling as it locked around Sanji's ankle. When she pulled away, there was an iron manacle around his right leg, and an iron chain connecting him to Hina's right leg.

Hina smirked, raising her arms. "Let's see you avoid Hina now!"

The first uppercut nearly took Sanji's head off. He barely avoided the blow by leaning backwards, only for Hina to drag his footing away using the chain, and slam his body into the ground with a vicious kick.

Sanji gasped in shock, feeling the rock crack underneath him. "Alright, then," Sanji murmured, struggling to pull himself up. The captain was undeniably strong. "If you want to dance, then lets dance."

He swung his leg around, catching Hina off-guard as he tripped her over. He ducked under a vicious jab, only to pull himself close to her and gently wrap his arms around her body. He felt her gasp in surprise as he placed one hand over her shoulders and the on her hips, as if preparing for slow dance. Sanji's grin stretched from ear to ear.

"Captain Hina!" Fullbody shouted in shock, standing a few meters away.

"What sort of wrestling hold is that?" Jango exclaimed in confusion.

She glared at him, but Sanji never moved. He kept his body close to hers while gingerly touching her. "What are you doing?" She growled darkly.

"I'm dancing," Sanji said softly. "Aren't you going to use your powers to bind me in place like this? Then we could dance forever?"

She glowered at him. No, she couldn't use her powers properly when he was close and holding on to her, otherwise she would end up binding herself, and she couldn't restrain him if he didn't attack.

"Well, Hina could always just do this," she muttered, jamming her knee into his stomach painfully.

The force nearly knocked Sanji to the ground. His teeth clenched, but somehow he managed to keep his position.

"Ow...!" He staggered, before recomposing himself, flashing a smile. "Nope, still worth it. If that is the price of being close to such beauty, then I will take a hundred blows before I let go!"

Hina smiled sweetly. "Challenge accepted," she replied, cracking her knuckles.

The first punch crashed into Sanji's chest. He grimaced, but kept a hold of his pose, gently spinning around as if they were actually dancing. The second uppercut nearly knocked his teeth out, but still he just kept on grinning.

"Do you know how beautiful you look?" He muttered coolly, lighting a cigarette.

"Yes," Hina growled, slamming her fists in again. Their bodies danced across the ground; with Sanji keeping close to her while she lashed with a furious onslaught of attacks.

"I don't believe it," Sanji replied, ducking under a fist. "No one could ever know the beauty that I'm seeing right now…"

A brief smile flashed across her face, followed by a roundhouse kick that sent Sanji skidding across the dirt. He recovered like a champ, jumping up and holding her hands to spin her body around lightly. Hina responded by slamming her leg into his face.

He was laughing as he took the blow. Hina couldn't help but grin as she saw the playfulness in his eyes. She kept on firing blow after blow, faster than ever before, yet Sanji just sidestepped them all. He was panting heavily and bleeding, but the chef was still going as strong as ever. His reflexes were brilliant as he matched her pace perfectly, never missing a step.

She threw a roundhouse punch, only for Sanji to grab her arm and lightly pulled her over, leaning her body backwards. His lips gently touched hers for a fleeting kiss. The moment lasted maybe a second, before Hina grabbed his head and slammed him into the ground.

Around them, the marines were charging forward, led by a furious Jango and Fullbody. "Captain Hina–!" They both cried together.

"I said stay back!" Hina shouted irritably, dropping the third person. Her cheeks were blushing slightly. She thumped her foot into the ground, and a barred cage burst upwards, blocking the path of the marines and leaving Sanji and Hina to fight alone.

He was grinning as she wrestled him against the cliff. She smirked slightly as he twisted the grappling hold around.

Hina thudded her foot in the ground and suddenly the bars of the cage closed, leaving a completely opaque wall that stretched into a cage to enclose the pair. In an instant, the marines were left to stare at the metal box, while the only the sound of movement could be heard from inside. It sounded like a wrestling match.

"Whoa…" Fullbody muttered in amazement. "Captain Hina is fighting so hard."

Jango was standing next to him, looking at the cage with awe. Around them, the other marines were glancing at each other with various degrees of confusion.

There was a shrill scream from inside the cage, followed by low moan. Slowly, the mood turned awkward.

Only Jango and Fullbody seemed completely oblivious. "That must be some fight," Jango agreed, nodding his head. The rest of the men looked at each other, wondering what they were supposed to do now.

Vivi woke up slowly. Her head was sore and foggy, and her eyes flickered unsteadily. Slowly, she gained consciousness just to realise the air was rushing by her, and she opened her eyes just to see the forest crashing into focus.

She screamed. There was no conscious thought involved, but instead she just suddenly screamed as she tried to take stock of her surroundings. She was lying on her side, clutching a rough, dry surface tightly. With a tremendous lurch, she hit the ground and came to a halt with small bounce.

"Hey!" A voice shouted from below. It was a deep, throaty voice, but nevertheless sounded strangely familiar. "Don't scream like that!"

Vivi blinked, her head still spinning madly. It took her a long time to realise that she was lying on the back of a giant brown toad, clutching at its muscular back. "What the–!?" Vivi gasped, unable to finish the exclamation. Her mind was too bewildered and the sight was too weird.

"Alright, it's a bit weird," the croaky voice muttered sheepishly. "But I can explain."

She jumped off the toad's back, stumbling as she landed on the rough ground. It was the largest toad she had ever seen, slowly turning around to face her. It was a toad that was wearing overalls. She stared into a pair of globular eyes with shock, and it was only then that she realised where she recognised the voice.

"Usopp!?" Vivi gasped.

"Hi there," Usopp croaked, raising a four fingered hand awkwardly. He grinned brightly, and there was a disturbing sight. She was suddenly staring into a large, gaping toad grin.


"Let's not freak out about this,"

"You're a frog!"

"I'm a toad, actually," he said helpfully.

Vivi's mouth dropped open. From Usopp's back, there was shifting sound. Dazedly, Chopper scrambled upwards, rubbing his eyes with tiny hooves.

"What happened?" The reindeer muttered.

"Usopp's a frog!"

"I said toad!" Usopp snapped irritably, jumping on the spot.

Chopper frowned, and then glanced downwards. His eyes bulged and his hat flew off as he screamed with pure panic, before scrambling to Vivi's side.

"AHH! Giant toad!" Chopper screamed frantically, hiding behind Vivi's leg.

"See?" Usopp said, motioning at Vivi. "Toad."

Chopper was blinking repeatedly, stammering as he tried to understand what was happening. "What's going on?!" He shrieked at Vivi.

"It's Usopp!"

"What? Where?" Chopper exclaimed, looking around side to side.

"Here!" Usopp waved his hands up and down. It was a strange sight on a toad so large and daunting.

Chopper's eyes nearly burst out of their sockets. "Oh my god!" He shouted in a high pitched voice. "Usopp's been eaten by a toad!"

"Huh? No, Chopper, I am–"

"Don't worry Usopp!" Chopper screamed, transforming into his Heavy point. "We'll get you out of there!"

He raised his fist threateningly, and Vivi had to jump in front of the doctor. "No Chopper!" She soothed. "That is Usopp…"

There was a pause. "I ate a Devil fruit," Usopp murmured finally.

Chopper dropped down to his normal size in stunned silence. Usopp shifted awkwardly.

"Usopp?!" Chopper exclaimed in a stunned voice.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Usopp sighed with despair.

"But you're a toad!"

"Can you please not make a big deal about this?" Usopp begged pleadingly, his eyes wide. "Because I'm trying really hard not to freak out right now, but I'm never going to be able to swim again and I'll be toad for the rest of my life, so could you please just pretend like everything's alright?"

Chopper paused for a few seconds, before exclaiming, "But you're a toad!"

Usopp face-palmed, or snout-palmed as the expression might be. Vivi looked around anxiously, rubbing her wrists. There was still a red mark from the Seastone handcuffs. "Those Devil fruit hunters…" She said finally. "What happened to them?"

"I got rid of them," Usopp answered simply. "They're gone. I had to eat a Devil fruit to do it. Nami's missing and Sanji's holding off Marines, so I figured we needed to get to the Going Merry as soon as possible and then search for everyone from there."

Vivi nodded hesitantly, before pausing. "Where's Carue?" She asked anxiously.

"Right here," Usopp replied, shifting out the way so Vivi could see the large duck. Carue was shivering, weak and barely conscious, and Vivi and Chopper rushed to his side quickly. Usopp had been carrying Carue in his arms while Vivi and Chopper were on his back. "He's been shot, and looks pretty weak. I wrapped up his bandage, but I thought I should get safely to the ship before Chopper sees him."

The doctor nodded, instantly seriously as he inspected Carue's hastily fastened bandage. "That's… not nice," Chopper admitted nervously. "It needs disinfecting and treating. I need my supplies on the ship."

Vivi glanced around. They were making good progress and entering the forest again, but without the high ground it was impossible to see the Going Merry.

Usopp shifted around, gingerly picking up Carue with one hand. His huge bulk was very awkward for small motions, Usopp had realised. "We're not far," he muttered. "Get on my back; it'll be faster that way."

Vivi paused, staring at the warty surface uncertainly. Even Chopper hesitated. Usopp sighed. "It's either on my back or in my mouth," Usopp said in complete seriousness.

That made the decision easier, but Vivi was still nervous as she stepped up over Usopp's hind legs and pushed herself on to the uncomfortable back, feeling his spine dig into her legs. Usopp was so broad that his back was as wide as sofa, and surprisingly rough. Chopper held onto Vivi tightly, while the princess clutched the back of Usopp's overalls.

The toad hesitated. "Also…" Usopp muttered uncomfortably. "Try not to touch the warts so much. I'm trying hard not to poison you."

"What?" Vivi exclaimed in fear, snatching her hands away. "Poison?!"

"Hey, I said I'm trying not to poison you," Usopp muttered defensively, just as his legs unleashed in an immensely powerful jump.

The world blurred as the acceleration forced them into Usopp's back. Vivi and Chopper screamed in terror, clutching each other tightly, and then they reached the peak of the leap gravity seemed to stop. Vivi had to hang on just as the world came tumbling downwards. They landed on the ground with a huge wallop, breaking into another furious jump.

Somehow, each jump was more terrifying than the previous. Vivi could only glimpse the forest rushing by her, yet Usopp managed to blur through the forest with strong, powerful bounds. He needs a saddle, Vivi thought frantically, clutching on for dear life, this would be so much more comfortable with a saddle

Without warning, Usopp skidded to a halt, sliding across the foliage roughly. Chopper's eyes were spinning madly from disorientation, while Vivi felt like she was going to be sick. She had to clutch on tightly while her head rolled.

"I'm going to be sick down your overalls," Vivi belched weakly. "I swear that if you do that again I'm going to be sick down your overalls."

He didn't respond. Despite everything, Usopp's heart was still skipping from his new powers. He hop through the air, moving closer to the figure he glimpsed staggering through the forest.

"Hey Nami!" Usopp shouted happily, waving his hand frantically.

The navigator paused. She was weak, tired and injured, but she was still making good progress while using Ohm's sword as a giant walking stick. Her eyes bulged and her mouth dropped as she saw the giant toad wearing overalls, hopping towards her cheerfully while carrying a duck under its hand.

You know, Nami thought with a weird calm, it says a lot about my life that this isn't the weirdest thing I've ever seen

"Hey Nami," the giant toad croaked excitedly. "Glad we've found you. We've got to get to the Going Merry straight away."

She stared for a long time, slowly recognising the voice. "…Usopp?" She asked disbelieving, taking a step backwards.

"Oh yes," Usopp nodded, the folds of fat wobbling with every movement. "I'm a toad now. A toad, not a frog – A toad. I've ate a Devil fruit, I haven't been eaten by a toad. Everything's fine, don't freak out."

Nami didn't respond for a while. "What the hell happened when I was gone?" Nami muttered weakly, her head spinning. Perhaps it was the blood loss causing her to hallucinate, she thought slowly.

"I'll explain later. We've got to get to ship," Usopp said urgently. "Now get on my back."

"What?" Nami staggered in confusion. "I'm not getting on your back."

Usopp sighed. "Suit yourself," he muttered, just before lashing out with a whip-like tongue. Nami could only scream as the slimy tongue wrapped around her body and lifted her upwards.

"USOPP!" Nami shouted furiously, still thrashing madly. The tongue was surprisingly muscular, and held her in mid-air. "Put me down right now!"

She swore that Usopp was smirking just before he leapt upwards. The air rushed by her and then Nami started screaming madly.

"I'll cut off your tongue!" She screeched. "I'll cut off your tongue right now unless you – oomph!"

Usopp's tongue shook abruptly, taking the air out of her and leaving her so dazed that she couldn't scream. There were rollercoasters that were a more relaxing ride than Usopp.

When they finally stopped, it was at the edge of a lake covered in fog. There was a sound of Vivi finally throwing up over the side, while Chopper was whimpering slightly. Usopp had to squint to see the outline of the Going Merry in the middle of the lake.

Gingerly, Usopp extended a toe into the water, feeling the numbness spread over his foot. He scowled slightly. "I can't swim anymore…" He muttered with a flash of discomfort.

"Put us down already…" Vivi begged weakly. "We'll find a boat."

Usopp's eyes narrowed, feeling a surge of rare confidence flush through him. I'm not a weakling anymore…

"No, I've got this…" Usopp muttered, bracing himself for another jump. His hind legs tensed like springs. "Hold on tightly!"

Nami squirmed madly. "No, Usopp don't do it," she begged. "There are too many Devil fruit users here, we can't risk falling into the wa–"

The scream burst from her lips as suddenly they shot upwards like a rocket. Usopp was laughing madly as they blurred through the air, louder even than the screams of his three passengers. A second later they were dropping downwards, crashing into the deck of the Going Merry with enough force to crack the planks of wood.

Usopp never stopped laughing. The coast was hardly visible in the distance. "Did you see that?" Usopp shouted excitedly, hopping up and down while the others staggered off him. "I'm so awesome! I can jump and spit and my tongue just – Ah! This is brillia…"

His voice trailed off awkwardly as they all turned to stare at the prow of the ship, where a bloody, slender figure rested on a scorched ground. Conis stared at the pirates with shock, struggling to move through all her injuries. There were cuts across all her body as if she had been through a shredder. Her pink dress was in tatters and stained red.

"I protected your ship…" Conis muttered weakly, staring between each member of the group slowly. There were tears swelling in her eyes.

Nobody moved or said a word. Conis gulped, wincing as she tried to stagger upwards. The tears were pouring down her cheeks as stared at them with gut-wrenching guilt. "I'm really sorr–!"

Conis never even had time to finish before suddenly Vivi was on her, wrapping her arms around the angel in a tight hug. A second later Nami was with her, hugging Conis compassionately. All three of the girls were sobbing. Chopper was bawling madly as he leapt in, hugging Conis tightly.

"Don't apologise," Vivi muttered through sobs. Conis stared at them with wide, tearful eyes. "You never have to apologise to us."

Conis gulped in breathless silence. It was Nami who was the first one to pull away. The navigator took a deep breath. "Chopper," she ordered gently, wiping her nose. "Go get your supplies. We've got injuries. Lots of injuries…"

The doctor nodded before scrambling away. Usopp gently placed Carue on the ground, while Nami and Vivi helped Conis to her feet, despite her their own injuries.

"You've lost a lot of blood," Vivi muttered compassionately, gently steering Conis into the ship. "Go see Chopper, it'll be alright."

Just before she disappeared into the meeting room, Nami paused to stare at Usopp. "I'm going to kill you for that little stunt later," Nami promised. Usopp gulped, shifting uncomfortably. Nami hesitated, before conceding unwillingly, "…but thank you for getting us back to the Merry quickly."

Usopp grinned brightly. Suddenly, he was left alone out on the deck, staring at the ship. The Going Merry had taken a beaten. He hopped upwards, examining the scorched prow, the broken wood and the blood-stained floors. Usopp sighed, gently stroking the mast.

"It's alright, Merry," Usopp muttered quietly. The ship seemed to almost shudder in relief. "I'll fix you up…"

Chopper moved in blur, stitching up cuts, disinfecting wounds and bandaging injuries. The normally frantic doctor was completely calm and professional as he patched up his four patients. Usopp spent the time unfurling the sails and readying the Going Merry to sail.

It was nearly half an hour before Vivi staggered out on to the deck again, clutching her fresh bandage tightly. Nami's and Conis' injuries were much more fresh and serious, while Carue had been bandaged and heavily sedated.

Vivi sighed as she stared at Usopp, still in his toad form, as he climbed up the mast and unfurled the sails.

"Hey!" Vivi called. "Why don't you come inside?"

Usopp scratched his head. "I can't fit through the door anymore," he admitted sheepishly.

There was a pause, before Vivi giggled slightly. "Why don't you turn back into a human then?"

"I've been trying!" Usopp protested. "I… I don't know how…"


"Hey, I'm still new to this Zoan thing!"

Vivi thought about. "Have you… I don't know… tried thinking about being human?"

Usopp dropped the deck, still walking slowly on four legs. "I'm pretty sure it's not that easy."

"Well, get Chopper to show you how," Vivi offered. An idea occurred to her. "Maybe you could even use Rumble balls now, too?"

Usopp grinned, but there was a flicker of uncertainty there too. Vivi still remembered how scared she had been trying to use her powers. One bite of a fruit and your life was changed forever.

"You'll get used to it," Vivi promised gently, smiling brightly. "And not being able to swim isn't so bad. I mean, I was terrified at first too, and now I can do stuff like this."

In a flash, Vivi's body dematerialised into sand as she transformed into a cloud, disappearing through the gaps in the wood. Usopp's mouth dropped in awe.

"Whoa!" Usopp shouted excitedly. He glanced around, before closing his eyes and trying to concentrate. "Um… Human point!" He should, but his toad body never shifted. "Long nose point! Sniper point! Grr… Cowardly point!"

It was a while before they were ready to sail out. Conis limped out on the deck, covered in bandages, while she wrapped a long sash around her like a shawl. The sash had ended up caught on the side of the ship, and there were eight Axe Dials embedded in the sash, while she clutched a ninth tightly.

Nami wore a long white t-shirt, with the cloud sword draped across her back and the Clima-Tact on her belt, along with half a dozen Dials from Pagaya's selection. Usopp paused, still trapped in toad form, before picking out some Dials for himself.

"Ready?" Usopp muttered, dropping the sails down and raising the anchor.

Nami nodded, standing at the rudder. "Let's go," she ordered. "We've got to find the others. Zoro. Robin. Luffy."

Vivi frowned. The Going Merry was sailing in the light breeze, and before lurching as it entered the Milky Road. "Wait a second…" Vivi muttered with concern. "What about Sanji?"

"Crap," Nami cursed, thinking back to the chef that she'd left behind. "I forgot all about him. He must be shattered after finding off all those marines. Come on, let's go pick him up."

They found Sanji casually strolling towards the lake, alongside the Milky Road. He was bare-chested and barefooted, while smoking a cigarette with a small smirk. His hair was a mess. As the ship approached, the chef coolly climbed on board.

"Sanji!" Nami shouted in relief. There weren't any marines in sight. "You did it! You held the marines back."

"Oh, I held the marines back alright," Sanji replied smugly, walking through the group with a self-satisfied smirk. "I held the marines back for two and a half hours."

They were all quiet as he walked towards the bathroom and shut the door behind him, before slowly turning to stare at each other with confusion.

There was a tense silence as the six men stared at each other cautiously. Only Marcus and Enel seemed completely at ease, while slowly the tension started to grow.

"You…" Luffy muttered darkly, clenching his fists as he stared at Marcus.

"Straw hat!" Marcus waved cheerfully, seemingly unconcerned about his scorched skin and clothes and the smoke drifting from his body. With his bright grin, there was something distinctly inhuman about the man. "Wait… you're not 'Straw Hat' Luffy anymore, are you? What should I call you then? Anyways it doesn't matter. I'm just really glad that you're still alive."

Marcus' grin widened even further as he looked at Luffy. "Because I've been really looking forward to killing you myself," Marcus muttered, his eyes glinting with bloodlust.

Luffy didn't respond as the memories of Mock Town flashed before his eyes. His heart was already racing as his body trembled in anticipation.

"Dan Marcus…" Smoker growled, staring at the Devil fruit hunter. "You have no business interfering with Marine matters. Straw Hat is mine."

Luffy glanced at the captain distrustfully. Smoker had his hand on his revolver tightly. Marcus just laughed. "Oh, get over yourself, Smokey," Marcus mocked. "The Marines don't exist up here. But don't worry; you're on my list too. I've wanted to kill you for a long time."

Smoker's eyes narrowed. Enel was looking at them with quiet amusement. Standing between Marcus and Gan Fall, Wiper folded his arms and grunted. "You are all intruding on my battle," the raider growled. "This is between me and Enel. Get the fuck out of here before I kill you too."

Enel held up his hands in mock fear, still sitting cross-legged on the hovering ball of cloud. "Oh, how frightening," the god muttered sarcastically, holding his golden staff tightly.

A vein in Wiper's forehead bulged with rage. His hands were white around the God-Slayer. "Answer me this before I end you," Wiper snarled. "Where is the golden bell?!"

Enel smirked. "That bell? You mean what's left of it?" He said dismissively. Wiper looked ready to explode. "I left the pieces just up the beanstalk on my ship. You're welcome to it if you can get by me."

The raider's eyes were murderous. Luffy looked between Wiper and Enel cautiously. "So you're the god then?" Luffy muttered, staring at Enel. "It looks like I need to beat you up too. The rest of you I don't care about."

"You're not going anyway," Smoker growled. He had six bullets in his gun, and there were five other fighters. It looked like he'd have one spare. "As far I'm concerned, everyone here is under arrest."

"Enough!" Gan Fall snapped, speaking up for the first time. The old man was wearing armour that rattled as he moved, and a heavy backpack almost as big as he was. He stared daggers at Enel, pointing his lance towards the man. "Enel is the threat here. Whatever issues you have with each other must be put inside for the time being. We must take down Enel first."

Wiper scoffed angrily. "You wish, ex-God," Wiper growled venomously. "You're just as bad as he is, and you're going down just as hard."

Gan Fall's frown deepened but he didn't respond. The old man was staring between the fighters, analysing them critically. His eyes lingered on Luffy for a while, his expression unreadable. The tension kicked up another notch.

A short bark of laughter shot from Marcus' throat. "Well, this is interesting!" The Devil fruit hunter giggled. "Looks like everyone hates everyone! Allow me to tell you order in which you're going to die! Firstly, I'll kill the old man, cause he's boring." Marcus cast a dismissive gaze towards Gan Fall. "And then I'll slaughter the angry dude over here." He pointed at Wiper, who just scowled. "And then it's Smokey – that shouldn't really take long." Smoker cast Marcus a dark glare. "After that then I suppose it's formerly-Straw Hat. I want to take my time with you, so I guess I'll just rip your legs off so I can finish you later." He smiled brightly at Luffy, who didn't respond. "And finally, I'll take care of the god bastard here; which might take a while, but it's going to be fun."

Marcus ripped off the scorched remains of his shirt. Wiper suddenly paused, glaring at an object on Marcus' belt. He recognised it instantly.

"That Burn Sword…" Wiper demanded quietly. "Where did you get it?"

Marcus looked down at the Dial weapon with mild confusion. He had completely forgotten about the weapon he taken from the raider who attacked them in the White Sea. "I don't know," Marcus frowned as he struggled to recall. "Wait… oh yeah… there was that guy before…"

"Kamakiri," Wiper growled, a cold fury rising as he stared at Marcus. He could recognise his best friend's prize weapon anywhere. "Was his name Kamakiri?!"

Marcus shrugged dismissively. "How am I meant to remember?" He replied, turning to face Wiper. "Was he a friend of yours or something?"

"Yes," Wiper's voice was trembling with rage. The images of his childhood companion flashed before his eyes. "A close friend."

"Oh," Marcus said simply, before a predatory smile grew on his face. "Your friend died a coward. I tortured him and then murdered him myself."

There was a short pause. In an instant, the tension exploded into a fiery rage. Wiper screamed an animalistic howl, heaving his bazooka around to Marcus. "Then you die first!" Wiper roared in berserk rage, pulling the trigger.

The God-Slayer exploded in a shockwave that took Marcus off his feet, sending the man flying into the trees. Wiper was already charging after him.

Luffy jumped after Marcus, but in an instant there was a cloud of smoke in his path. Luffy could barely gasp as suddenly a hand grabbed his throat and slammed him to the ground.

"I told you…" Smoker growled, the smoke whipping around into a powerful lash. "You're mine!"

The blow slammed Luffy into a tree trunk, causing the tree to collapse in a hail of splinters. Luffy was on his feet in a second, meeting the smoke cloud with an onslaught of punches.

Enel was laughing. Gan Fall glared darkly. "Enel!" The old man ordered, but nobody seemed to pay him much attention. "Focus on Enel!"

"You never change, old man," Enel said derisively. "Still the same useless leader you've always been. What have you ever actually accomplished? It's almost pitiful; the pathetic, hopeless life you've led."

Gan Fall took a deep breath, dropping into a fighting stance as he face Enel alone. "My life is not over yet!" He growled, raising his lance.

Enel smirked. "It might as well be," he said mockingly. "You know, I've felt your presence dart around the island. You've been rescuing your former soldiers all morning. Does it make you proud to now that all of your comrades are safe and sound out of my reach?"

The old man never responded. There's as an edge to Enel's voice. "Well, they're not," he said with a smile. "Right now, all of your old Enforcers are huddled together on the west beach." Enel slowly raised his arm. The air flashed. Gan Fall's eyes bulged. "I can feel them now."

"Don't you dare!" The man roared, but the lightning was already shooting through the sky. From the west coast, there was a flash of light followed by a huge roll of thunder echoing across Upper Yard.

"And now they are all dead," Enel said arrogantly. "Like stepping on ants. How does it feel to know your life's work has just been obliterated with ease?"

For half a second, Gan Fall looked like a crippled old man, tears swelling in his wide eyes. Then his brow furrowed as he glared at Enel with pure rage.

"DAMN YOU!" Gan Fall roared, charging forward with his lance in hand. Enel was laughing furiously, sparks flying through air as Gan Fall's lance stabbed through his body.

A shot of lightning cracked through the air like a huge whip, ringing like a bell while the forest erupted into chaos.

Smoker's blows were relentless. Luffy was sent crashing across the ground while an onslaught of fists materialised from the smoke. Around him, everything was pandemonium. The tree were alight while the lightning arced everywhere, causing the air to crackle with power.

Through the corner of his eye, Luffy glimpsed Marcus absorb a blast from Wiper, before sending the raider flying with a shimmering punch. Then, Smoker was on him and Luffy clenched while the smoke wrapped around him and slammed his body around like a ragdoll.

Luffy recovered instantly, lashing out with a furious salvo of punches that hit nothing but smoke. His heart was pounding madly while Smoker's fist collided with his jaw.

"Give it up now," Smoker growled, kicking Luffy to the ground. "This is the end."

He struck out with a kick that passed useless through Smoker's chest. Luffy's teeth clenched as he threw blow after a blow of lightning fast attacks that hit nothing but smoke.

"You can't touch me!" Smoker shouted, knocking Luffy to the ground angrily.

I've got to hit him, Luffy thought to himself, already staggering upwards, I've got to learn how to hit him…

Luffy charged, phasing straight through Smoker's incorporeal body. Already, Luffy was panting. I need to learn how to him…!

He blurred with speed, his hands and feet launching themselves so quickly that not even Smoker could keep track. Not one of them collided with anything but air. The smoke billowed around him furiously; lashing out with blows so powerful they split the ground.

Luffy took every attack like a monster. He never paused even as the impacts rattled his bones.

I need that power again, Luffy thought with gritted teeth. I need to use Haki

He could feel the strength inside him. He knew it was there he just couldn't pull it out. His heart pounded like a drum and the adrenaline roared through his body like fire. Luffy never understood what the strength was or where it came from, but he could feel it like a blind man groping around in the darkness.

He just hadn't unlocked it yet, not fully. The lock was crumbling, but still strong.

Luffy glared as he focused on Smoker. Whatever determination he had left, he needed to use it all now. He couldn't afford to lose here.

A wordless scream burst from his throat as he charged. His fist blurred as it cracked through stone, throwing up dust everywhere as Luffy lashed out with blow after blow.

Smoker growled, rematerializing as he pulled his revolver out. "I'm sorry, straw hat," the captain muttered quietly, his eyes dark. There was no time for hesitation or doubt. "But I can't afford to let you live anymore."

Luffy glared, panting heavily. "That's strange…" He murmured under his breath. The images of his friends flashed through his mind. Inside, he felt the lock break a little bit more. "Because I can't afford to die anymore…"

"You're friend squealed like pig when I cut him open!" Marcus laughed gleefully, while Wiper flashed between the trees, firing wave after wave of explosions towards him. "He begged like a child as I broke his bones, one by one."

"SHUT UP!" Wiper roared, launching the God-Slayer in a fiery blast. The flames covered everywhere, but a second later Marcus just charged out of the inferno. Wiper swung his bazooka like a club, but it collided against an invisible shield and ended up jarring his shoulder painfully.

In an instant, Marcus' hand grabbed Wiper's arm. There was a crack of bone snapping. The raider screamed in pain.

"And he told me all about you too," Marcus said happily, tightening his grip slightly. "Did you know that your 'friend' sold out the entire tribe just to save his own life?"

"Shut up!" Wiper screamed, kicked upwards and slamming his foot into Marcus' chest. His ankle cracked, but he never even felt the pain.

"He told me absolutely everything about your tribe," Marcus laughed, wrapping his hand around Wiper's throat. "And I didn't even ask any questions!"

Wiper couldn't speak as Marcus' hand tightened over his windpipe. It felt like his skin was being torn to pieces. Marcus' gaze was demonic.

"You're not so tough now, are you?" Marcus mocked.

Wiper glared at him with berserk rage. "How would you know?" He gasped, just before launching himself into Marcus. The shimmering air cut his skin, yet Wiper just roared as he slammed Marcus to the ground. He couldn't feel pain anymore; there was far too much rage.

One arm was broken and the other was holding his bazooka, so Wiper used his teeth as he went for Marcus' throat. He felt the blood swell up in his mouth while his teeth bit straight through flesh. Marcus howled in laughter as he felt the pain flush through him.

Marcus' fist sent Wiper flying off him, and Marcus staggered upwards, clutching at the bite wound on his neck. His gaze was hungry while Wiper stumbled to his feet.

"Come on," Marcus growled ravenously. "Give me more. Make me feel it. Make it fun."

"You want fun?" Wiper spat, heaving the God-Slayer on his shoulder as he charged. "I'll give you fun!"

Marcus' fist nearly broke his neck, yet Wiper pushed on, slamming the nozzle of the God-Slayer into his chest. The shimmering caused the metal to crack and break, yet Wiper didn't care, pulling the trigger.

"Jet Blast!" Wiper roared, just as the gush of air burst from the nozzle. The force crashed into Marcus' chest, leaving an indention on his stomach as the momentum blasted him off the ground and into the distance.

Wiper growled as he saw the mad man disappear as a speck over the trees, but there was no time to confirm the kill. His ankle was broken and his arm was shattered. His earlier wounds were catching up to him and Wiper could feel his concentration fading and his rage bleeding away. His body was falling to pieces.

And, worst of all, the God-Slayer was breaking. The nozzle was cracked while the Dials were overheating. There was too much power, and it was too unstable. He had pushed the weapon too hard and the metal was failing. He had maybe one more blast before it exploded into a cloud of smoke and debris.

Wiper didn't expect to survive the next blast. Still, his teeth were clenched as he limped away, loading the Seastone cannonball into the bazooka. So long as Enel doesn't survive it either, then I don't care, he thought viciously.

The memories of sitting inside the chief's tent, listening to all those stories about his history flooded him. There were tears in his eyes as he limped through the clearing, hoisting the God-Slayer upwards.

Calgara, this is how I honour your memory, he thought with deep breaths, by blasting the false god into oblivion!

He emerged just in time to see Enel knock Gan Fall into the ground. The old man put up a good fight with impressive stamina, but all it took were three bolts of electricity and Gan Fall was scorching in armouring. Enel looked mildly bored as he slammed his golden staff into the old man, sending his body crashing through the trees. Gan Fall was clutching his backpack tightly even as he collapsed.

Slowly Enel turned to look at Wiper, panting heavily and struggling to stay conscious. Enel smirked arrogantly.

"So…" The god said lazily. "You're my next challenger then?"

"No," Wiper snarled. "I'm the man who's going to kill you."

"God cannot die," Enel replied, stressing every word as if talking to a child.

Around them, the earth was scorched by lightning and the trees were alight, covering the clearing in flickering flames. Wiper took a deep breath to steady his hand. "Look around you!" He shouted. "What do you see?"

Enel shrugged dismissively. "Nothing important."

Wiper's voice was murderously quiet. "I see earth," he whispered. "I see Shandora. I see something precious that you are defiling with you every step!"

His voice grew into an angry bellow. "I see my homeland!"

Enel was laughing. Wiper couldn't hear it over the sound of his heart pounding in his chest. His finger was on the trigger, while his gaze turned blood red. "You are standing on my property!" Wiper snarled. "Get off!"

He pulled the trigger. The God-Slayer erupted like a volcano, spilling out clouds of blue shrapnel into the air while the shockwave broke the speed of sound. Somehow, Wiper voice was louder than it all, echoing through the air as he bellowed louder than ever.


The whole island rumbled, while a mushroom cloud of dirt rose into the sky.

The ground tremored, causing Robin to straighten as she glared at the explosion erupting from the trees with concern. She could feel the air blast even from here. Robin paused from making notes of the ruins, looking around the forest.

"Luffy…" She muttered under her breath, feeling her stomach tighten.

Quickly, she started walking in the direction of the explosion. She didn't get far before she heard a whimper from the bushes. Robin walked over cautiously, to see a young girl with dark hair weeping into her hands.

"…Wiper..." The girl sniffed, wiping away tears with the back of her hand. At once, Robin's gaze softened.

"Excuse me?" Robin asked gently. The girl jumped. "Are you alright?"

She stared at Robin with wide eyes. "No," she muttered, trembling with dread. "The voices… they're screaming at me…"

Robin frowned. The girl looked terrified. "What's your name?"

"Aisa,"She replied, wiping her face and staring at Robin. "Are you Robin?" She asked after a second. "Luffy told me to find you."

"Luffy?" Robin sat down closer. "Do you know where he is?"

Aisa nodded. "Could you take me to him?" Robin asked carefully.

She shook her head quickly. "No," Aisa muttered quietly. "You don't want to be anywhere near him."

Nami stood at the prow of the ship, watching the beanstalk grow into view. It was huge, and towered over everything, but her attention was focused completely at the base of the beanstalk, where lightning flashed over the treetops. You didn't have to be a navigator to realise how unnatural that weather was.

They were on the Milky Road, sailing west towards the beanstalk. Sanji was at the helm, while toad-Usopp was in the crow's nest, peering into the distance. "There's a battle happening up ahead!" Usopp shouted, struggling to make out the figures.

"Any sign of Luffy?" Vivi asked with concern.

Usopp shook his head, unable to make out any figures between the smoke and lightning. Sanji snorted. "Things are exploding and it sounds like a warzone," the chef muttered. "That's about the biggest sign of Luffy that anyone could expect."

Nami paused. "Sanji?"

Instantly, the chef was all charm. "Yes, my beautiful Nami?"

She didn't even turn around. "Shut up."

"Right away!"

In the meeting room, Chopper was busy treating Zoro. The doctor had smelt the swordsman's blood and Usopp had rushed to fetch him, only to find Zoro unconscious with deep wounds and metal fragments sticking out of him. Chopper had squealed when Zoro had been brought aboard, only to hurry and bandage the swordsman head to toe. A few makeshift blood transplants and a lot of stitching later, and Chopper was still working to stabilise Zoro.

"What are we going to do?" Vivi asked quietly, standing next to Nami, biting her lip.

The navigator paused. "We've got to help Luffy," she decided firmly. "We'll sail in close as we can get, grab Luffy, find Robin, and get out of here."

Vivi nodded. Sitting on the ledge, Conis was staring at the strikes of lightning with wide, fearful eyes. Her face was pale. She recognised the lightning. Angel Island lived in fear of it. "This is God's power…" Conis muttered quietly. "We shouldn't be here. We've got to run…"

Sanji looked at the girl with concern, while Nami and Vivi edged closer to the side, staring at the smoke rising from the forest. There was a good wind behind them and the Milky Road had a strong current; they were approaching the beanstalk quickly.

A sudden boom erupted from the forest. Nami had her sword in hand instantly, while Sanji leapt over the balcony, just as a figure burst out of the foliage and flew across the air towards them. No one even had time to scream as suddenly a man crashed straight into the deck of the Going Merry, cracking the wood as he landed in a shower of splinters.

"That bastard…" A wheezy voice growled, while the man clutched his stomach, staggering upwards.

It took a few seconds for the dust to settle, while all eyes were on the man lying in the middle of the deck.

"You!" Vivi gasped with shock, stepping backwards.

Marcus grinned, glancing around the ship with no fear. His eyes gleamed with pure insanity. "Well, hello there beautiful!"

Behind them, the air exploded into a huge mushroom cloud.

The recoil jammed a large fragment of burning metal into Wiper's shoulder, and he screamed in pain as the he dropped to his knees. The explosion burst the nozzle of the God-Slayer, vaporising the triggering mechanism, and transformed the bazooka into a red hot chunk of metal.

Still, the air around them sparkled almost, a stark contrast to the ground that had been scorched black. Seastone dust covered everything, a very fine powder covering the air. There wasn't much of it, but it was enough to make a Logia vulnerable. The explosion took care of the rest.

Wiper forced a smirk, feeling his mouth swell up with blood. "I got you…" he coughed, glaring into the dust cloud, before dropping to ground.

Suddenly, there was a sound of footsteps. Wiper's blood turned cold.

"Well…" Enel muttered in annoyance. "That was unpleasant…"

No, Wiper thought desperately, that's impossible

Enel was standing above him, yet the man's skin was covered in shiny gold with Seastone fragments piercing the metal. He had his arms folded as he glared at Wiper darkly. Slowly, the golden skin cracked and fell to the ground, revealing Enel looking completely unharmed.

His staff, Wiper realised with shock. He must have moulded his golden staff into armour. So long as the Seastone didn't touch him, then the explosion wouldn't have had any effect.

Enel chuckled. "That is an impressive weapon," he muttered, glancing around at the blackened earth. The Seastone dust covering everything was enough to make his skin tingle. "But I have already learnt today not to give my opponents a free attack. A valiant effort, nonetheless."

Wiper tried to curse. He tried to scream. He tried to fight. He couldn't even move as Enel casually strolled by him. "And now…" Enel muttered, pointing his finger at Wiper. "…Now, you die for that effort."

The bolt of lightning struck Wiper with blinding intensity. The raider couldn't even scream as his whole body thrashed. Enel just walked away without a second glance.

Luffy growled as he tackled Smoker again, hitting nothing but air. The fight was becoming nasty, but Luffy refused to give any ground even under Smoker's relentless assault. The pirate just kept on punching, desperate to land a blow. Not even the huge explosion could deter the battle.

Luffy was panting heavily, sweat dripping from his body. Smoker just looked annoyed. He had his revolver drawn, but Luffy hadn't given him a shot.

"There's only one way this can end," Smoker said finally. "I will kill you and bring your head back to the ocean with me. There's too much at stake here."

"When did you become so bloodthirsty?" Luffy panted, glaring at Smoker as he launched a rapid salvo of kicks.

"Since Tashigi," Smoker replied coldly, trying to level the revolver. Luffy charged through him, not giving him a chance to shoot.

Luffy frowned. "What about Tashigi?"

"You don't know?" Smoker grunted. Luffy didn't respond, too busy trying to dodge Smoker's punches. "No, why would you? What would a pirate care about consequences?"

The captain landed a blow, knocking Luffy into the ground. He tried to aim the revolver, but Luffy was already up and moving. He had heard that the lieutenant was responsible for saving his crew's lives. "What's Tashigi got to do about his?"

"Tashigi helped you in Alabasta. Did you really think that would come without cost?" Smoker growled. "She's being charged with treason, and the only thing that could save her is your head. Do not underestimate my resolve here, Straw Hat. I will kill you to save the life of my friend."

Luffy faltered for half a second, before his expressed became firm. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely, throwing a spinning punch straight through the smoke cloud. "But I'm fighting for my friends too."

There was no talking after that. They both just kept on trading blows, each trying to wear the other down. Luffy had the endurance of juggernaut while Smoker just couldn't be hurt. Luffy danced through the cloud of smoke, while Smoker kept trying to get his shot with the revolver. If he missed a step, he'd be dead.

Luffy's heart was beating so fast that time seemed to slow down, but then he heard a sound that cut through everything else. The sound of screaming echoed through the forest.

"Vivi…!" Luffy gasped, recognising the voice instantly. In an instant, his priorities shifted. She was nearby, and she needed help.

Luffy hesitated, just long enough for Smoker to wrap a coil of smoke around him and slam him up against a tree.

"Got you!" Smoker growled. There was no satisfaction in his eyes as he aimed the revolver at Luffy's head and pulled the trigger.

Time stopped. Luffy remembered seeing the smoke burst from the barrel and the bullet fly towards him. The sound of his friend's screaming resonated through his head. He could feel the blood rushing through his body, and, for a millisecond, he thought he was going to die.

And then, deep inside him, there was a sudden feeling like a lock clicking open.

The bullet flew passed him so close he felt the air brush against his cheek. At that range, he shouldn't have been physically capable of dodging it, but somehow Luffy was moving even before Smoker pulled the trigger.

A moment of breathless silence flew over the pair. Smoker glared at him with shock, before firing the revolver again. And again. And again. And again. Luffy's body moved on autopilot, easily weaving through the bullets on pure instinct. They came so close he could feel them brush by, but at the same time there was a weird certainty that they would never hit.

Smoker never even had time to react as Luffy closed the distance between them and snatched the revolver out of his hands, twisting it around to face Smoker. Six shots, one more bullet left. For a brief moment, Luffy pointed the weapon at Smoker's head, before lowering it and shooting the captain in the leg instead.

It was over in two seconds, max. Luffy blinked and then time resumed its normal speed. Smoker was on the ground, clutching his leg while the Seastone bullet left him nearly paralysed. Luffy's foot collided with the captain's face, and then he collapsed to the ground.

Luffy stared at his hands in shock, and dropping the empty revolver onto the ground. "How did I do that…?" He muttered to himself, still reeling with the surreal experience. There had been no thought or even reaction involved. It has like he just instantly knew what to do.

Vivi's scream kicked him out of his shock quickly. She was in danger, and Luffy started sprinting towards her quickly. Somehow, he unconsciously knew where she was.

The Milky Road ran alongside the trees. Luffy glimpsed the Going Merry sailing on top, while a red aura shimmered on the deck. Luffy's legs pounded as he jumped to a nearby tree branch and leapt upwards towards the ship.

Everything flew by him in a flash. He saw Marcus on the deck, sending Sanji flying backwards with backhanded blow. Vivi was sending wave after wave of sand at Marcus, only for the attacks to be absorbed uselessly by the red shimmering. Nami was pulling Conis out of the way of the splintering floorboards.

Luffy was there in a blur, before anybody could react. His face twisted in pure anger as he slammed his fist straight towards Marcus with unstoppable momentum. This bastard dared to hurt my friends, Luffy thought viciously, just as his knuckles made contact. His wrist stung, but it was worth it.

The Devil fruit hunter shot backwards, flying out of the ship at the force of the blow. Luffy took a deep breath, looking around at his friends to make sure they were safe.

Nami and Vivi stared in amazement as Luffy suddenly appeared on the deck. Sanji sighed in relief, nursing his injured ribs, while Conis looked around confused.

"Luffy!" A giant toad wearing overalls shouted excitedly from above. Nope, I can think about that later, Luffy decided, glaring towards Marcus.

"Get the ship out of here and make sure everyone is safe," Luffy said firmly. "I need to handle this guy."

Sanji was the one that reacted first, lowering the sails fully as the Going Merry lurched forward. Luffy was already jumping off the ship, leaving them all bewildered as he chased after Marcus. I will not let him hurt anyone, Luffy promised firmly, shooting across the forest.

"Ex-Straw Hat!" Marcus laughed, already pulling himself to his feet. "Oh, is it your turn already–"

He never even had time to finish as Luffy's punch cut him off. The blow caused his fist to ache, but Luffy didn't care. He remembered Marcus' abilities well; you couldn't hurt him without doing damage to yourself as well. Any fight with the Devil fruit hunter was a competition to see who could take the largest beating. That was a challenge that Luffy had no intention of losing.

"You made my friends scream," Luffy muttered with cold rage. "Big mistake."

Marcus was giggling like a little girl as he felt the bruise forming on his cheek. The Devil fruit hunter was actually quite badly injured by now. He loved it.

"I was really looking forward to this," Marcus grinned. "It was so much fun beating you up the last time. You have no idea how happy I am that I get to finish the job now."

Luffy glared angrily. This time was different. It had to be. Slowly, there were footsteps from the forest, and a light chuckling. Enel emerged into the stand-off, looking between Luffy and Marcus curiously.

"Well then," Enel chuckled, sounding mildly interested. "It looks like there's three left."

Luffy looked between them. He was facing off against two immensely powerful psychopaths, and he didn't feel even slightly out of place. His heart was pounding, the adrenaline was flowing and his muscles were screaming. He felt like a monster.

"Let's get this over with," Luffy muttered quietly.

"Agreed," Enel said pleasantly, raising both hands and launching a bolt of lightning at both of them. Marcus took the blow with his shield of shimmering air, while Luffy barely had time to dodge behind a large tree. There was a cracking as the tree collapsed to the ground.

At once, the battle exploded. Marcus charged furiously at Enel, glowing so brightly that grass caught alight. Enel disappeared into a blur of electricity, while Luffy slammed into Marcus from behind, kicking the man into the ground. Enel reappeared with another arc of lightning cracking through the air, just as Luffy hid behind Marcus and let the Devil fruit hunter absorb the blast. Marcus was laughing like a maniac as he felt the pain.

Marcus slammed down at Luffy, but the pirate was already dodging and heaving up the fallen tree with a groan of effort, swinging the huge log around like a bat. Marcus could absorb the force, but there was nothing he could do about the momentum as the impact took him off his feet. Enel barely had time to dodge before the Devil fruit hunter was batted towards him like a baseball ball.

Enel recovered instantly, launching an arc of lightning at Luffy that the pirate barely managed to dodge, yet the lightning still knocked him to the ground. Marcus was on Enel in a second, roaring as he tried to get a grip, but Enel was always one step ahead. Luffy staggered to his feet, just as Marcus charged towards like a bull.

The force sent him crashing into a nearby ruin, breaking through the stone. It took Luffy a while to regain his bearings, as he slowly realised that the earth was rumbling. Luffy recognised the rumble.

Marcus was instantly on him, clutching down Luffy's right leg with shimmering hands. "Do you remember when I said I would rip your legs off?" Marcus said gleefully, carefully tightening his grip.

The pain burst through Luffy's leg, but he forced himself to remain focused. The ground was still rumbling, and above them a huge shape loomed into a view. Luffy teeth clenched as he pulled himself up, even while Marcus was still holding onto his right leg.

"Get out of here!" Luffy shouted, spinning his body around in a roundhouse kick. The kick caught Marcus by surprise as he flew backwards, losing his grip on Luffy leg. Luffy growled and was already taking the offensive, leaping into the air and slamming his fist into Marcus' stomach with enough force that he went flying into the air.

And straight into the gaping mouth of the giant python.

Marcus couldn't even scream as he was swallowed whole. The Master of the Sky twisted around, while Luffy limped to his feet. His whole body was in agony, but feeding Marcus to a giant snake was one of the most satisfying things he'd done in years.

Enel was suddenly in front of him, laughing as the python lunged towards him.

"Foolish beast…" Enel muttered irritably, blue lightning arcing from his fingers. The air crackled and the python hissed madly, before crashed to the ground in a smouldering pile. As the snake landed, the whole ground trembled.

Luffy was panting heavily as he pulled himself up to face Enel. Around them, it could hardly be called a forest anymore. The trees were smouldering cinders while the ground was scorched. A large chunk of the forest had taken a hit today, Luffy realised.

The pirate and the god stared at each other for a few seconds. Luffy was struggling for breath, while Enel seemed just about completely unharmed.

"Looks like it's just you and me…" Luffy gasped finally, pulling himself up.

Enel shook his head. "No," he muttered dismissively, raising his hand. "It was only ever just me."

The lightning cracked through the air. Luffy tried to dodge but the arc of light changed direction and chased him down. He didn't scream as he felt the electricity burn through him, but his whole body shuddered. Somehow, he managed to stay standing while every nerve in his body screamed in agony.

"Still standing?" Enel said with mild interest, pointing his fingers again. "You're better than I thought."

The blast of lightning was so powerful that the crack of thunder could be heard even on the White Sea. The electricity took the shape of a dragon as it charged towards Luffy, cutting through his body with thousands of volts. This time, Luffy couldn't even dodge.

A few seconds later, Luffy's smoking body dropped to ground limply. Enel simply scoffed and walked away.

"So then…" The god mused, rubbing his chin. "Who's next?"

Chapter Text

It is hard to describe the effect a bolt of lightning has on a human body.

Firstly, there is the sound. The noise cannot be under exaggerated. Lightning heats the air to a few thousand degrees in a millisecond, causing an extreme pressure change that isn't too different from a bomb exploding. Deafness is instantaneous. The pressure wave is like a jackhammer straight to the brain. It doesn't feel like electricity; it feels more like a backhanded swipe from God himself.

After that, it's either instant paralysis or death. The nervous system is generally the most vulnerable part of the body. The nerve endings are fried in an instant. Numbness is guaranteed; a complete insensitivity to everything, as if your whole body has just been dipped into powerful anaesthesia. Intense seizures are also common as the nerve damage really takes effect.

So long as the lightning doesn't pass through the brain, then death isn't usually instantaneous. Far more commonly, death comes some time later, while the victim lies paralysed, unable to move or scream or feel anything, thrashing involuntarily while their body slowly fails to recover from the blast.

The intense heat and burning is generally the least of the victim's worries. Although lightning is scorching hot, most victims don't even feel the heat. The burns can be severe, but are not normally deadly.

Overall, the human body is a surprisingly good conductor for lightning. At that voltage level, the flesh breaks down almost immediately, and the electricity tears through the body as if it were pure water. This effect has been known to leave a vivid lightning-shaped marking on the skin called Lichtenberg figures, as distinct and as intricate as tattoos.

Muscle damage and organ failure are lasting effects of a lightning strike. The flesh is quite literally torn apart. Few victims even remember the pain, but instead the body just tends to cut out. It can be something of a surreal experience.

Monkey D. Luffy lay on his back on the ground. Around him, the grass had been transformed into cinders, leaving nothing but black earth while the ash floated around him. Luffy was awake, but he just couldn't move. The connection to his body was severed, and he couldn't even feel pain as he stared up towards the sky with unblinking eyes.

Every breath was brief and wheezy. He could hear his heartbeat, but it felt quiet and irregular. He couldn't even think properly – shell-shocked would be an appropriate description.

Moments passed that could have been seconds or years. It was hard to tell the difference. His eyes and ears were hypersensitive, but his brain couldn't process anything. Slowly, he could hear the sound of quiet, casually footsteps walking towards him. The light faded as a shadow loomed over his face.

"Well then." A voice announced calmly. "You look like shit."

Luffy tried to focus. His mind slowly reeled back to reality as he recognised the voice. He tried to speak, but all he could do was gasp weakly. The voice would have sent tremors down his spine if he could still feel anything.


His brother was standing above him, looking down with an amused smile. Ace looked exactly like he remembered; tall, lean and muscular, with a freckled face and a smug smile. He was wearing his trademark orange hat with two blue smileys, one frowning and one smiling, with a string of red beads above the rim, and two long orange side straps hanging down his chest to support a medallion of a bull's skull with orange tassels. His upper body was naked except for red beads dangling around his neck, and he wore black boots, black knee-length shorts with an orange belt, and a large red 'A' on a silver buckle.

"Little brother," Ace greeted coolly, raising his eyebrow as he dropped to the ground next to Luffy. His vertical tattoo 'ASCE', was clearly visible on his upper left bicep. "You haven't changed a bit…"

Ace sighed as he scratched his forehead, casually looking around at the blackened earth. Luffy could do nothing but stare. "So…" Ace muttered after a pause. "How you've been? Doing alright?"

This is impossible, Luffy realised with a flash; Ace couldn't be here. I'm hallucinating

Luffy couldn't even speak to reply. Ace chuckled under his breath. "You've really got yourself messed up this time, little brother," Ace said conversationally. "Seriously, it's quite impressive. After all this time, I thought you would have at least learnt something."

He snorted. "You're exactly the same as you've always been," Ace said with a sigh. "The same wimpy little cry baby running in recklessly…"

Finally, Luffy managed to rediscover his voice box. His tongue was heavy and clumsy, and his words were stiff. "…Shutup…" Luffy gasped weakly.

"Why should I?" Ace retorted. "You're still just getting beat up and losing. I swear, have you ever thought about trying something new?"

Luffy growled quietly, a deep throaty noise. Ace just scoffed. "Weak, little brother," he continued irritably. "What? Is this really the best you can do? Are you so helpless that you need a Devil fruit power just beat the bad guys? That's pathetic."

The paralysed pirate looked like he was trying to move, but his body could only tremor violently. Ace slowly leant down and pointed a finger into the distance. The sails of the Going Merry were barely visible through the corner of Luffy's eye.

"Look over there," Ace said quietly, practically whispering into Luffy's ear, staring at the Going Merry. The sky was still flashing with lightning. "You know that he's going to go after you're friends next, right? Do you know that they're all going to die?"

Luffy's body was shivering now, but he still couldn't move. His eyes were blinking madly, staring at the ship desperately while slowly filling with tears. His body felt numb, as if it was slowly shutting down. It was like there was so much pain and damage he couldn't even feel it anymore.

"They're all going to die while you're just lying here watching," Ace continued coldly. "Maybe you're even going to hear their screams. And you will be helpless to stop it. They're going to die and it will all be your fault."

His breathing was wheezy and frantic. His body was sweating madly. "Shut up…!" Luffy snarled, feeling the tears roll down his cheeks. If anything, that just made Ace even more annoyed.

"Come on!" Ace bellowed loudly with anger, and Luffy could feel his breath on his face. "You know that when we last met in Alabasta I seriously thought that you were going to be alright. I thought you were going to survive. And all that talk about 'I will get stronger' and protecting your friends, but no, turns out we were both just deluding ourselves."

Luffy didn't respond. In the distance, he watched as a flash of lightning struck the Going Merry. Slowly, Luffy's fingers started to twitch.

"You're going to die, Luffy," Ace said, his expression flickering somewhere between disgust and irritation. "Again. Is this really how you want it all to end? Lying on the dirt, on your back, helpless?!"

Slowly, Luffy could feel his heartbeat starting to race, each beat so powerful it shook his body to the core. His breathing became stronger, more furious, while the adrenaline raced through his body. Feebly, his hands clenched into fists.

Ace just shook his head dismissively. "I'm honestly not even surprised," Ace murmured, slowly standing up. "You always were just a little brat. As soon as things don't go your way, you fall down. Still, there's one thing that I've got to ask…"

Luffy was trembling madly, willing his body to respond but it just wouldn't work. Ace's condescending words cut straight through him, vibrating around his soul. The image of Ace sceptical face, raised eyebrow and looking down on Luffy mockingly, burned into his eyeballs.

"…Is this really the most you're capable of?"

Luffy screamed. It was a hoarse shrill cry that gradually became deeper and throatier. The tears were still pouring down his face, but his heart was racing and his body was trembling frantically. His skin felt numb, but Luffy gasped and panted, forcing his limbs to respond by sheer willpower. He could feel the power flowing through him, as he glared at Ace furiously.

"Shut up."

The words were so powerful that air surrounding him pulsed. In an instant, Luffy could suddenly feel his body again. The pain hit him like a steam train. Every nerve, every patch of skin, every bone screamed in utter agony, so intense Luffy could barely breathe. It was an incapacitating torture that nearly caused him to blackout.

Still, the pain felt good. The pain felt like he was coming back to life.

Staggering, Luffy pulled himself up off the ground. His motions were clumsy and heavy, like he was puppet being controlled by strings. His heartbeat was so loud it was deafening. He glimpsed a flash of light hit the Going Merry, followed by the mast collapsing from the bolt of lightning. The ground rumbled with thunder, and every muscle that Luffy had roared in fury.

The only sound he could hear was of his breathing, slow and steady. Luffy cast a dismissive glance towards Ace, before stumbling away without looking back. Every step he took was sluggish, but gradually gaining in momentum and determination.

Ace watched him go, with an amused smirk on his face.

The lightning struck the ship with a thunderous crash. Nami squealed and ran for cover, but suddenly there was a figure standing in the middle of the deck, arms folded, and surrounded by pirates. Somehow he didn't look even remotely concerned.

"Let's see…" Enel mused, looking around the crew disinterestedly. Beneath his feet, the wooden planks were still smouldering red from the heat. Enel slowly moved his finger around and started to count. "We've got one, two, three, four, five, six, and it looks like one unconscious in the hold… hmm… nope, still too many."

Nobody moved. Chopper was trembling in fear. Conis stared at Enel with wide eyes and a pale face, sweating with panic. "God…!" She murmured, shaking with dread.

"None of you are particularly interesting, anyways," Enel said dismissively, casually raising his hand. "You could run, but I doubt it'll make much difference."

Sanji attacked first. The chef blurred with speed as he spun at the god. His polished black shoe simply phased straight through Enel's head, the air crackling with power. Sanji grunted in pain, but still managed to bring his other leg up in a wide arc through Enel's stomach. Enel just looked bored, not even flinching.

Almost casually, Enel flicked his finger towards Sanji. The bolt of lightning was fast and brutal, enough to send the chef flying to the ground.

"Sanji!" Usopp shouted in shock, his voice croaking in fear. His feet pounded against the wood, and he slamming towards Enel in the blink of an eye, with all the momentum of a wrecking ball. Enel looked mildly bored as Usopp phased through the lightning, before Enel kicked him absentmindedly and sent the huge toad barrelling into the Going Merry.

Chopper was there in an instant, swallowing a Rumble ball to transform into a hulking reindeer hybrid with bulging biceps. He never even got close as Enel sent him crashing into the ship with a localised bolt of lightning.

"Boring!" Enel yawned, slowly turning around to face Nami, Vivi and Conis.

He seemed to settle on Conis first. Nami jumped in front of her, wielding her new sword awkwardly. Her hands were shivering and she was sweating. The air was so thick with electricity it made every hair on her body stand on end. Somehow, Enel's mild disinterest was even more terrifying than Marcus' raw insanity.

"Oh, so you defeated Ohm then?" Enel noted. Honestly, he was a bit surprised Ohm fell so easily, but it didn't matter. His priests had all obviously been incompetent. He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. You're all insects to me. I will only allow the last four standing to join me, and that's not you."

"Shut up!" Nami snapped. Carefully, Vivi was taking position next to her, glaring at Enel. "What did you do Luffy?!"

At the other side, Usopp and Sanji were slowly staggering upward. Enel simply scoffed. "Who?"

His disinterest nearly caused Nami to explode, but the fear was holding her back. "Our captain," she growled, risking a glance to the blackened earth dominated by the body of the giant python. The Going Merry was now too far away to see any details. "Dark hair. Lean. Wearing shorts. What did you do him?!"

"That guy," Enel said indifferently, raising his hand. "He's dead."

There was no time to be shocked or even outraged. The lightning arced from his fingers, but Nami was ready for it. She used Ohm's sword like a lightning rod, redirecting the attack, just as Vivi lashed out with three blades of sand so sharp that sheared through the wooden deck with ease. Sanji was already up and moving, screaming in rage as he slammed his foot into Enel.

The god just rolled his eyes. He only needed to glance at Sanji before another bolt of lightning struck him to the ground. Nami was next; she tried to block but it was too much, and the electricity sent her screaming to the ground in a shower of cinders. Vivi phased through the attack, but the lightning still caused the wood to explode and her to fall off her feet.

"Fools," Enel muttered, even as Nami, Vivi and Usopp pulled themselves to their feet in pain. Conis was still too paralysed to move. "I grow tired of humouring you like this. Haven't you realised my divine power yet? I am God. I am on a different level to you mortals. You cannot hurt me. There is nothing you can do to even touch me –"

There was a snap, and something light flickered against with his face, causing Enel to blink and touch his nose with shock. Usopp was standing up, still stuck in pose after flicking his rubber band through his toady fingers.

"Usopp Rubber Band?" He muttered, hopefully.

There was a stunned silence. Enel stared at Usopp incredulously, still rubbing his nose. It took a few seconds for the god to become angry. The air crackled furiously.

Sanji slowly turned to Usopp, while lightning a cigarette and bracing himself. "You just had to do it, didn't you?" The chef said with a sigh. Usopp seemed frozen in place. "You just had to make the homicidal, super powered psychopath angry…"

The sky cracked. Raw power shot downwards, a pure white light so powerful it burnt through the air like a torrent of fire. It crashed straight into the mast and just kept on going, tearing through wood with ease. That was when the screaming started, but it drowned out by the massive roll of thunder.

Vivi clutched Nami and Conis tightly, dragging them off the ship to avoid the falling debris. Sanji was caught in a shower of sparks, while Chopper ran inside with a squeal to treat his patients. The lightning punched a smooth hole almost straight through the Going Merry. The whole ship shuddered.

Usopp instinctively jumped backwards, sailing through the air in a massive bound. Enel was there in a flash of sparks before he even hit the ground. Enel's gaze was murderous. Usopp never had time to even scream as the lightning shot towards him.

"Leave him alone!" Vivi roared, slamming her hands as a wall of sand burst from the ground, covering Usopp. The electricity sparked through the sand, carving it into a solid jagged structure protruding from the earth.

Enel reacted instantly, pointing towards Vivi. Before she could even blink, five bolts of lightning shot holes through her head and body, only for sand to regenerate them in less than a second. Enel glared.

"Logia…" He muttered furiously. He was breathing deeply. He was rapidly becoming annoyed. "I grow tired of dealing with all these pretenders. I am the only true God, and all other Devil fruit users are merely mimicking my divine supremacy!"

Vivi didn't respond. Enel was glaring at her angrily. In the last twenty four hours he had encountered more Logia Devil fruit users than he had his whole life. He didn't like it. The very concept that there was anybody even remotely similar to him disturbed Enel to the core.

"All of you heretics that would dare threaten my right must be made to suffer!" Enel declared, pointing towards Vivi. "I shall show you the power of a true God!"

The lightning crackled furiously through the air, forming the shape of a giant falcon, talons outstretched. Vivi reacted by throwing up a wave of sand, yet the lightning just burst through it. She screamed from reflex as electricity burst through her, but it tingled more than it hurt. Her body was already reforming in a large swirl of sand, just as Vivi launched a half a dozen blades of spinning sand. Enel never even seemed to notice them as he threw both hands forward, unleashing a blinding flash of power.

Sand and lightning clashed furiously. Usopp leapt backwards in panic, but he was still hit by a stray bolt that knocked him to the ground. Nami screamed and dived to the ground, feeling the electricity overhead. Around her, the lightning sculpted jagged structures of scorched sand as it returned to earth, like claws jutting out of the ground.

It lasted barely five seconds, but Vivi was already gasping for breath as the exhaustion hit her. She could feel the sand churning under her skin, but no matter how much she released it didn't even seem to faze Enel. The god simply stared at her, like a bug that was proving stubborn to squash.

This man is stronger than me, Vivi realised with a panicked gulp as Enel launched another storm of electricity.

The lightning bolts slammed down from above, a rain of blinding flashes bursting from the sky, each one scorching through the earth. Vivi couldn't dodge and she couldn't block it. She felt the lightning tingle through her, only to transform into a roaring agony bursting through her body. It felt like every single grain of sand of her dematerialised body was being scorched. She screamed in pain, only the sand to resonate through the air like howling sandstorm.

Vivi lasted as long as she could, but then the charge crashed into her and she went skidding to the ground, every nerve screaming in pain as she tried to reform. Enel just walked towards her coldly, stepping across the devastated ground.

"Vivi!" Nami shouted in panic, rushing to the princess' side.

Her heart was pounding furiously. Vivi tried to stand up, but her legs were numb. Her eyes were wide and her face was pale as Enel approached. "Stay back!" Vivi screamed. Nami froze. "Get away from here right now!"

Nami hesitated for half a second, staring between her fallen friend and the seemingly invincible foe. Slowly, Enel turned to glance towards her. "Is this a friend of yours?" He asked simply, moving his arm around to point at Nami. "Then you can watch her die first!"

Vivi shrieked in fear. Nami turned and ran, but not fast enough. The lightning bolted out of Enel's fingertips, forming into a roaring tiger just as it slammed towards Nami. For a split second, Nami's heart stopped.

Suddenly, strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her to the ground. There was a flash of blinding light, followed by a shrill scream. Nami could hardly breathe as she felt the heat and the smell of burning flesh hit her.

There was a quiet pause. It took Nami a few seconds just to focus on the figure standing above her. She stared at Luffy in amazement, but his body was trembling weakly, his eyes unfocused. He was standing in front of her, shielding her from the blast while his back was smoking gently.

"Luffy…!" Nami gasped in part relief and part horror. Her captain looked terrible. He was shaking like a man who was half dead.

"Nami…" Luffy muttered; his voice strangely gentle as he pulled himself up with a wince of pain. "…Could you please go back to the Merry and make sure everyone is alright? I promise I'll be there soon; just one thing I've got to take care of first."

He staggered around to glare at Enel. Nami didn't respond, speechlessly staring at him. Luffy was still trembling slightly. "Please, Nami," Luffy murmured. He turned and forced a small smile. "Go."

It took a while for her brain to start working again, but fortunately Nami's legs took over. She was running towards the smoking wreck of the ship before she even processed what was happening. Enel looked at Luffy curiously, a slight frown on his face.

"Didn't I kill you?" Enel said finally, staring at Luffy critically. "I'm fairly sure I remembered killing you."

Luffy nodded. "I get that a lot," he muttered under his breath, his voice barely audible.

"Hmph…" Enel scoffed, pointing his finger. "Allow me to finish the job."

The bolt of lightning shot out of his hand faster than a bullet. Luffy was already moving. His heart was beating louder than ever, and his feet slammed against the ground. The lightning moved to chase him down, but he just managed to avoid it as the electricity discharged into ground behind him.

Luffy turned and charged towards Enel, bringing his fist back for a heavy blow. He was there in a second, but Enel just rolled his eyes as Luffy's fist phased straight through his head. Luffy screamed as Enel transformed into electricity that shot down his shoulder.

"You can't touch me," Enel said dismissively. His hand shot outwards, catching Luffy's neck as he slammed the pirate into the earth with cloud of dust.

Vivi shouted in concern, but Luffy was already up and moving. His leg blurred in a flurry of spinning kicks, followed by an uppercut and vicious shoulder barge. The attacks were furious and deadly fast, but Enel never even felt them. Luffy phased straight through his body in a haze of sparks, crashing into the dust.

Enel smirked as he levelled his hand at Luffy. The pirate screamed as another bolt of lightning knocked into him, but Luffy recovered instantly. He gritted his teeth, snarling wordless as he launched another round of vicious blows. Luffy's body was sweating and trembling, every tendon as taught as a wire as his muscles bulged.

"You're not a very smart man, are you?" Enel mocked as another fist blurred through his forehead. Watching the mortals fight hopelessly was the privilege of being a god. His hand glowed with sparks as he slammed it into Luffy's chest.

Luffy grunted but didn't stop. He barely felt the pain anymore. There was no banter, no thought other than every fist and every kick. Enel never bothered dodging, but just occasionally threw out an attack that sent Luffy skidding to the ground. He was smirking like a child pulling the wings off a fly slowly just to see how long it would thrash.

Luffy didn't care. He just kept on punching and kicking madly, even as the sparks tore his body apart.

And every attack just kept on getting faster and stronger.

Vivi watched with wordless awe. The pirate was a blur of sparks as he charged with relentless fury, an unyielding cloud of fists, feet, elbows, knees, head and teeth as he thrashed at Enel. Slowly, Enel's smirk turned into a frown.

"This is getting boring now…" The god murmured, as the air crackled. A giant fist of lightning burst out of his body, crashing towards Luffy. The pirate just braced himself and charged, bringing his foot around in a flashing kick that scraped against Enel's cheek. The light was blinding.

"Luffy!" Vivi screamed frantically, tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched the pirate zap into the ground.

He landed face first into the dirt, soot covering his whole body. Luffy closed his eyes for a second as he took a deep breath, and pulled himself up to his feet. His hands weren't trembling anymore.

"Yep…" Luffy muttered finally, staring at Enel. His gaze had a cold determination to it. There was no fire or anger; just a relentless icy fury that blocked out the screaming agony of his body. "Your attacks are definitely getting weaker."

Enel frowned. Vivi stared at Luffy with open-mouthed speechlessness. "Why won't you just die already?" Enel demanded finally. There was just a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes. "Wasting so much time on you is insulting. You are nothing more than a dumb monkey challenging a divine being. Haven't you realised that you are incapable of hurting me?"

Luffy paused, staggering forward slowly. "Is that so?" He murmured, still gasping for breath wheezily. He managed a small smirk. "Then why are you bleeding?"

It took the god a few seconds to recognise the faint dribble of red liquid dropping from his face. Enel caught a drop of blood on his fingertips, staring at it with wide eyed shock. Nobody moved.

"But... but…" Enel stammered, as his cheek continued to bleed. There was blood on the corner of Luffy's sandal. "…But… that's imposs –"

Enel didn't even see the attack coming. Luffy's legs just exploded in a roar of power as the pirate slammed forward, his fist blurring with speed. His heart felt like a sledgehammer, while he roared in determination. Luffy's knuckles collided straight into Enel's stomach.

And deep inside the pirate, he felt a lock shatter as the power exploded through him like fire roaring through his bloodstream.

The blow landed with a crunch of flesh and bone. Enel's eyes nearly burst out of his head as the air was crushed out of his lungs, while his whole body flew backwards. Vivi never even had time to blink, but she felt the whoosh of air knock her to the ground and then suddenly Enel was crashing through stone ruins.

Luffy was on him in a second. Enel barely managed to pull himself up before Luffy's fist zoomed into view. Knuckles slammed against his nose with a sickening crack.

The air pulsed with lightning that struck Luffy to the ground. Enel staggered to his knees, nearly hyperventilating in shock as he clutched his stomach and felt the blood stream from his broken nose. Luffy winced with pain as he staggered upwards, but his muscles were roaring with relentless energy.

"How… how are you doing this?!" Enel screamed, the fear soaking through his voice.

"Not a clue," Luffy replied simply, dropping into a fighting stance, fists raised. "But I'm willing to bet I can keep on doing it."

Enel's eyes were wide with panic. Around him, the air crackled in a furious haze of sparks. "HOW DARE YOU!?" Enel screamed, pushing both hands forward with a tremendous roar of lightning. "I am GOD!"

There was no pause or hesitation. Luffy just charged straight through the lightning, not even caring as the electricity burned through him. That power pulsed from within him. With every spark of pain and every grunt of determination, it just became stronger.

"Not for much longer you're not," Luffy muttered quietly, swinging his arm around for a satisfying collision against Enel's skull.

"Come on!" Vivi shouted, shaking Usopp's body until the huge toad started to stir. Bulbous toad eyes jumped open.

"…Ugh?" Usopp groaned, dazedly pulling himself awake and staring at Vivi. "What happened?"

"We've got go right now," Vivi insisted, trying to drag Usopp up. She might as well have tried to bench press a horse.

Usopp looked confused, before he heard the sound of lightning roaring in the background. He turned, but the electric storm was blinding in intensity. His mouth dropped opened.

The light and fire exploded at the base of the beanstalk, and the lightning burst everywhere. The crackling was a ferocious roar, while the bolts of lightning shot so furiously it was just a solid stream of blue lightning discharging through the air. The storm was so powerful it gouged a hole through the forest, disintegrating everything in two hundred yards. The very sight made Usopp's knees weak. It looked like an act of God.

Then Usopp glimpsed Luffy, a dark shadow flickering through the intense light. Both he and Vivi stared with amazement at the battle so intense and fast that they couldn't even keep track of it.

"Let's get out of here," Usopp muttered with a croak, pulling himself to his feet and hopping away.

Vivi nodded. She turned to stare at the Going Merry, still smoking as it drifted sluggishly down the Milky Road without a mast, before glancing back at the storm of lightning. She bit her bottom lip, before clenching her fists and running towards the fight.

"Just die!" Enel roared as the lightning swirled around him with crackling fury. Luffy dodged the first strike, but the rest took him to the ground. Luffy roared in pain, but just kept pounding forward. He couldn't feel his limbs anymore, but his body didn't stop.

Enel's Mantra was working like never before, predicting every attack and every dodge. He dodged a salvo of lightning fast kicks, replying with a thunder bolt that chased after Luffy even as he rolled to avoid it. He barely managed to spin away just as the lightning discharged into the earth, but it was followed by a stream of furious blasts.

"You will burn before my might!" Enel proclaimed, thrusting both hands forward. Above them, a cluster of electricity crackled in the air, before shooting down in a steady stream of blue light. "Judgement of God!"

Luffy sprinted away quickly, even as he felt the heat burn his back and the lightning torch straight through the earth. There was no time to pause. He was already spinning his fist around in an unstoppable blow, while Enel had to dematerialise into lightning and zap away to avoid the attack.

As soon as he reformed, Luffy was on him in a second. Enel caught a glancing blow on the shoulder, just as a wave of thunder struck him to the ground.

"Die, infidel!" Enel roared, unleashing a crackling bolt. Luffy was already moving, spinning to avoid the blast as he closed the distance between them once again. Enel panicked for half a second before vanishing into a stream of thunder, yet Luffy's fist never stopped. Enel felt the blow collide against his back, knocking him into the ground.

He can hit me even when I'm dematerialised? Enel thought with panic. What sort of power is he using?!

Luffy's barrage of fists burst towards him. Enel reacted on instinct, using Mantra to weave through the blows. His movements were lightning fast as he dodged every attack. Enel could feel his heart pounding, his lungs wheezing for breath, and the blood filling his mouth even as Luffy's knuckles scraped against his skin.

This is impossible, Enel told himself repeatedly, the dread rising in his body. I can move at the speed of lightning. I can predict every attack.

So how come I'm barely keeping up?

A glancing blow knocked Enel to the ground, followed by a kick straight to his chest. Enel took the blow like a champ, before sending a pulse of electricity straight through Luffy's leg. The pirate roared in pain, but didn't stop as he spun his other leg straight into Enel's skull.

Enel was faster and more powerful. He had every advantage and Luffy's body was falling to pieces.

Still, Luffy was relentless. Somehow, his every attack just became stronger and faster than the last.

Enel barely had a chance to breathe before a hooking fist slammed towards him. There was blood pouring from his forehead. God shouldn't bleed.

"DIE!" Enel screamed, as lightning pulsed into the air around him, heating it until it exploded in a huge thunderclap. The shockwave cracked the earth and sent Luffy physically flying into the air. Enel was on the offensive immediately, materialising a giant hand of lightning that snatched Luffy out of the air.

The pirate didn't even have time to gasp for breath as Enel threw him downwards like a ragdoll, crashing through the cloud and straight into the ruins beneath. Luffy slammed into an old stone building, crashing through rock painfully before coming to a halt in a shower of dust.

Luffy's head spun madly. He gasped as he glanced around through unfocused eyes, before he focused on a figure chilling casually against a stone tablet.

"Come on, Luffy," Ace said condescendingly. "You can do better than that."

Luffy didn't respond. His breathing was shallow and his body was numb, but he still managed to claw his way out and charge upwards towards the layer of cloud. Somehow, he knew exactly where Enel was standing, and the god had to jump to avoid Luffy slamming his way from beneath the cloud.

Enel unleashed a hail of lightning bolts. Luffy didn't even think about it. His body moved on its own as he swerved in between the bolts of intense light. Enel's mouth dropped open, and Luffy charged towards him with a powerful fist. Enel dodged, but the blow still ended up crashing against his forehead.

The god crashed to the ground, staring at Luffy in shock and horror. Each punch felt like a sledgehammer. Enel should have dodged that one. He knew exactly where Luffy was aiming at, but then the pirate just moved his hand. Is… is this brat using Mantra too?!

In a battle between two Mantra users, both of them could predict the other's attacks, and then predict how the other would avoid that attack. The one that would win would simply be the one with the most concentrated Mantra. Enel's hands were shaking as he glared at Luffy. This… this… can't be… Enel thought, breathing heavily. This brat's Mantra can't be more powerful than mine!

Enel screamed. The thunder was so powerful it shook the earth. A solid sphere of blue lightning burst out of him, cutting through everything in its path. Luffy gasped, but there was no way to avoid it. Instead, he just gritted his teeth and charged through. He could feel the air crackling and exploding around him. He could feel the heat scorching his body. He was just moving too fast to care.

The god's eyes bulged as he saw Luffy approach. He reacted quickly, slamming a thunder-infused fist towards Luffy, just as Luffy's knuckles burst towards his chin. They each landed their blows at the same time, and the momentum sent both men flying backwards.

Luffy crashed into the forest, shooting through a pile of brambles. He landed on his hands and feet, groaning as he pulled himself up. Ace was suddenly standing next to him, leaning against a tree with a small smile on his face.

"A bit better," Ace conceded with a smirk, arms folded. "But not enough."

Luffy didn't respond. His hands were shaking furiously as he staggered upwards. His heart was drumming like never before. His whole body wanted to collapse. The only thing that kept him going was that power inside of him. It was like pure, concentrated determination. The type of power that kept him fighting until there was nothing left.

So this is Haki, Luffy thought slowly. It was so intense he could barely control it, but just kept on swirling through his body. He could feel it coating his skin like armour, and he could feel it in his mind, pushing him to go faster and stronger.

Haki. Pure willpower. The power to achieve the impossible. The power to break through boundaries.

Luffy was staggering out of the forest. Somehow, he knew exactly where Enel was. He could feel the man on his skin, and he could feel his presence in the air. It was an unstable, fleeting knowledge that he couldn't explain. He never knew how to use this power, but he just kept on thrashing with it until it worked.

Enel was bleeding and bruised as he stumbled onto the ruins, taking the high ground while Luffy approached across the plain. The air was crackling intensely, so powerful that stray bolts of lightning burst around him.

"You bastard!" Enel screamed loudly. His voice was raw and primal. There was no boredom, no mild disinterest anymore. "I am GOD! How dare you challenge GOD! I will destroy you!"

The bolts of lightning streamed towards him. Luffy's eyes widened in shock as his legs exploded in speed. He had to get up close. He might be able to fight Enel in close combat, but at this range, Enel had every advantage.

Solid streams of electricity burst towards him. Luffy dodged and swerved faster than before, but each bolt arced to chase him down. The clouds exploded in sparks. Luffy managed to close half the distance, before the lightning flashed collided with his body.

The force took him off his feet, but there was already another barrage of bolts streaming towards him. There was no avoiding it. Luffy could only gasp as the power scorched his skin and sent him slamming into the ground.

A second later, the air cracked as a thunderous blast charged towards him. Luffy could barely even move while the intense heat and force crashed into him like a train.

Enel was panting heavily, but he still sneered as Luffy collapsed into the ground. The pirate was trying to stagger upwards, yet Enel's gaze was murderous. "Mine is the divine power!" Enel snarled, firing bolt after bolt of arcing power. "I will burn you to a crisp! I am death! I am God!"

Luffy was gasping for air as he rolled for cover behind a ruined wall, but the lightning still crashed around him, each impact jarring his body. Clouds of dust flew everywhere. Luffy's body was pale as he fought to remain conscious despite his head burning and his body screaming. He couldn't feel the damage anymore, but he knew it was stacking up. It was so hard even to move.

Enel just didn't stop screaming. His eyes were wide and psychotic as he unleashed blasts of blue lightning. The ancient Shandorian building jutting out of the cloud was quickly being transformed into scorched rubble.

"My power is unconquerable! My will is great!" Enel roared, not pausing with the attack. "All who defy me must die! All who challenge me must burn!"

Slowly, he started to walk towards the pinned down pirate. The ruins were disappearing in large chunks, and Luffy was running out of places to hide. The lightning blasted through stone with ease, sending glowing red chunks of rubble into the air. Each blast came with a thunderclap so intense it rocked Luffy down to the bones. It was so hard to breathe with all the smoke and ash in the air.

Enel just smirked as he felt Luffy's presence weaken through Mantra. "I will kill you!" Enel proclaimed. "I will turn you to ash! And then I will bring down heavenly judgement onto all who follow you! I will destroy them all!"

Luffy tried to run for cover, but then a burning chunk of debris launched towards him and crashed into the back of his hot. The force knocked him to the ground. He felt his vision blur and the blood ooze from his head, just as Enel caught him with a vicious lightning bolt. Luffy crashed to the ground in a smouldering pile, gasping weakly for breath.

The god approached him a victorious grin, levelling his hand at Luffy. The pirate was struggling to even breathe. He tried to pull himself up, but his legs were weak. That earlier power was bleeding away quickly.

Still, he managed to glare at Enel darkly. "Say it again," Luffy demanded in a wheezy voice, clenching his knuckles.

Enel scoffed. "What?"

"Say. It. Again." Luffy's voice was gravelly and rough. "I want you to say that last sentence again. I want to hear you say it."

A small, arrogant smile spread across Enel's lips. The air crackled furiously. "I will destroy them all," Enel repeated smugly. "I'm going to kill them. I'm going to burn for the pathetic infidels that they –"

He never saw the attack coming. There was no warning, no hesitation. One second, Luffy was lying on the ground, and then the next, his knuckles were burying themselves into Enel's face.

It wasn't a punch. A 'punch' implies flesh and bone. A 'punch' suggests a finite change in momentum, and a bounded acceleration. A 'punch' infers some sort of recoil. Punches were relatively mundane compared to what hit Enel.

Instead, Luffy's fist gleamed pitch black as it crashed straight into Enel's chin. There were wrecking balls that caused less devastation.

The shockwave burst the sound barrier. Luffy couldn't feel any pain or damage, but instead his knuckles were suddenly covered in an indestructible coating as they collided with unstoppable momentum. There was a crack of bone, and in an instant the air was raining with fragments of Enel's teeth as the god was sent shooting backwards.

Luffy nearly collapsed, but he staggered upwards. He could feel the Haki again, more intense and powerful than ever. Luffy was breathing weakly as he staggered forward, but the determination pumped into his muscles like rocket fuel.

"Thank you," Luffy growled, glaring at Enel. His right fist was pitch black. The black sheen slowly spread upwards his wrist as he focused more Haki. It was willpower so concentrated it took a physical shape. "I really needed to hear you say that."

Enel's was shaking with shock as he pulled himself up. "You bastard!" Enel tried to scream, but his jaw wasn't moving properly and all that came out was an incomprehensible garble. His jaw was in agony and felt broken. Blood was swelling up in his mouth. He had to spit out the shard of his teeth before he choked.

Enel spent a long time staring in horror at the bloody gloop that came from his mouth. He ran his fingers gingerly into his mouth only to realise that most of his front teeth were missing. His hands were trembling in a fear that he had never known before.

God cannot be injured. God is immortal, God is indestructible, and God is divine. This cannot happen to God

Enel was sweating madly. He glared at Luffy with mad, unhinged eyes as the pirate slowly staggered towards him. The god screamed in primal rage as he lashed out with an arc of blindingly intense lightning.

Luffy reacted instantly. He didn't dodge, but he just raised his right hand and caught the stream of electricity in the palm of his hand. The air roared and crackled madly as the lightning fought against the black coating covering Luffy's palm.

Then, a few seconds later, the lightning halted. Luffy's hand looked completely unharmed. Luffy just blinked in surprise as he flexed his fingers curiously, watching how the black coating flexed like unbreakable armour embedded into the skin.

"Oh," Luffy said simply, fiddling his fingers as the black coating slowly disappeared, like ink dripping away.

Enel's eyes were wide and disbelieving as he watched his attack be blocked so easily. His body was shaking. Luffy just grinned, before leaping up into the air and bringing his leg downwards. His foot transformed pitch black just before it made contact. Enel barely avoided in time, but the foot smashed into the cloud with immense force and just kept on going.

The cloud layer tremored and collapsed inwards as the earthquake shook the whole island.

"Luffy!" Vivi shouted, rushing through the forest. Her body was scorched and sore, but she refused to be useless. She was a Logia too; Luffy would need her help.

The towering beanstalk loomed overhead. She burst out of the treeline, just to watch a blinding light display explode in large ruins below. It looked like an ancient city, cradled in a depression in the ground while chunks of Island Cloud littered everywhere and the beanstalk burst out of the ground in the centre. Vivi's gasped as she saw the frenzied battle erupting below, cutting through the ancient ruins.

Enel was obvious. The god was a blinding figure of intense blue as he flickered around the ruins with lightning speed, unleashing storms of electric bolts. Huge rocks and stone were ruins were devastated as he thrashed furiously, screaming madly.

And then there was Luffy. He moved so fast that Vivi could barely keep track. He was relentless, chasing after Enel with superhuman ferocity. His legs and arms blurred a stream of vicious attacks. He smashed through the lightning, go straight for his opponent. Vivi could practically see the terror in Enel's eyes each time he got close, but not even Enel's speed could run from him. Luffy was a darting blur of black, cutting through the waves of electric blue furiously as the pair danced around the ruins.

"Luffy…" Vivi gasped in awe. The scale of the battle took her breath away.

She hesitated slightly, before rushing downwards into the ruins of the city. Stray lightning bolts exploded everywhere, but Vivi transformed into a cloud of sand before materialising into the centre of the city, watching the two men shoot by her.

"Vivi!" Luffy shouted in shock, just as Enel barely avoided a spinning kick. "What are you doing here!?"

Enel launched a furious blast of blue light at Luffy's back, only for it to be absorbed by a sudden wall of sand. The god glared at Vivi with unrestrained rage. The princess just smirked. "I'm here to help!" Vivi replied, looking at Luffy. "Let's take this guy out together!"

Luffy hesitated for half a second, before grinning and resuming his assault. Both fists were as black as ink as crashed towards Enel. The god flickered away on top of building, only for his footing to be destroyed by a sudden wave of sand. The sand phased straight through him, but it was enough of a distraction for Luffy to land a heavy blow on his chest.

Enel groaned, but recovered quickly. He was screaming maniacally as he launched a bolt of lightning towards Vivi, only for her to dematerialise around it instinctively. Vivi was laughing. The sound was enough to drive the god even more insane.

He roared, generating a thunderclap that knocked Luffy away before leaping into the air. He transformed into lightning as he shot upwards, unleashing a furious barrage of swirling lightning blasts. Luffy never had time to dodge, but Vivi quickly generated a shell of sand above him to absorb the attacks, while she phased through the attacks in a swirl of sand.

"Vivi!" Luffy shouted. "Get me close to him!"

She nodded. There was time to ask why, but all she knew was that she trusted her captain completely. Her powers were so much easier to control when Luffy was by her side. For the first time, she actually realised that she was enjoying using the Sand Sand fruit. "Right!"

The ground rippled as Vivi dragged a large bundle of sand out of the earth, transforming it into a giant hand of sand that wrapped around Luffy. He never even had time to gasp as suddenly his whole body accelerated upwards to meet Enel in mid-air.

Enel tried to avoid him. Luffy was faster. His hand clutched a hold of Enel's foot and swung the god towards the ground. The next second, both men were falling towards the earth while Luffy's arms wrapped around the Enel's chest tightly.

"Got you!" Luffy roared triumphantly. Enel tried to thrash, but Luffy's grip was like iron, while preventing him from dematerialising.

Enel growled, before the air sparked and he started to pump out thousands of volts from his whole body. Luffy screamed as he felt the electricity cut through him.

Ok, so holding on to him isn't a good idea, Luffy conceded weakly, but somehow he managed to keep a hold. The electricity was cutting through his body, but his grip was tight. Luffy had one arm around Enel's neck and the other around his chest, squeezing the life out of him as they both crashed to the ground.

Then Vivi attacked with three blades of razor sharp sand cutting through the air. With Luffy's Haki restraining him, Enel couldn't dematerialise around the attack. The swirling blades of sand cut towards him, biting into his chest.

Enel crashed to the ground in a splatter of blood, feeling the pain from the deep gouges in his chest. Vivi caught Luffy in a bed of soft sand as he landed, and the pirate staggered upwards. His eyes were unfocused and his head was spinning, but he still found the strength to keep on going. Luffy's whole body was blistered, burnt and covered in soot, but somehow he just didn't stop.

Enel was screaming as he clutched at his chest, watching the blood ooze from the wound. His eyes were bloodshot and insane as he looked between Vivi and Luffy in terror. Both the pirates were slowly converging on him from different directions.

"Give it up," Luffy ordered, his voice cold. "You've lost."

Somehow, Luffy knew that Enel would never stop. There was insanity in his eyes; a fragile arrogance that covered a terrified core. The man would fight desperately until the bitter end, clinging onto the only truth he was capable of accepting; that 'God' could not lose.

His breathing was wheezy and shallow as he stared between them. Enel had never felt pain like this before. It was a while before he managed to speak.

"Do you care for her?!" Enel's voice was hoarse and croaky as he fought in agony to force the barely distinguishable words out through a broken jaw. He was staring at Luffy with a mixture of anger and panic. "Is she a 'friend' of yours?"

Luffy didn't respond, casting a worried glance towards Vivi. He didn't like the way Enel was focusing on her. The god's eyes were bloodthirsty as he screamed with fury. "Judgement of God!"

The air split and a solid stream of blue electricity burst downwards. Luffy flinched, but then he realised that Enel wasn't aiming at him.

"Vivi!" He screamed, watching the princess be devoured by the crackling light

"I'm fine!" Vivi replied loudly, dissipating into a cloud of sand. "He can't hurt me like this –"

Luffy realised a second too late what Enel was doing. The electricity formed a large, circular stream of power around Vivi. Enel wasn't aiming for her at all; he was aiming at the ground she was standing on.

She never even had time to scream as the lightning cut a smooth hole straight through the earth. After that, physics took over and Vivi was suddenly dropping through the island. And into the Sea Cloud beneath.

Enel's eyes were triumphant. His mouth twisted into an insane grin, revealing a mouth of jagged, broken teeth. "If you care for her…!" He screeched. "Then go catch her!"

There was no hesitation. There was no decision to be made. Luffy didn't think of the fight or his opponent. He didn't even think that neither of them could swim. All Luffy knew was that his friend needed him and that was enough. He dived through the hole without a second thought, splashing straight into the cold, fluffy ocean of cloud.

In the ruins, everything became deathly quiet. Enel stared at the hole with shock, and then, because he was a coward at heart, he used his powers to collapse one of the buildings. A mountain of stone and rubble blocked the hole to ensure that no one could climb back up that way.

Enel paused, still kneeling on the ground as he bled into the dirt. The demolished and ancient city seemed to be mocking him. His