Chapter 16: The Great Gaol

Impel Down Arc


...


Being out at sea for such an extended period of time was a fairly novel experience for Lina. She'd taken boats down rivers before, and even a few trips to islands near the coast, but those had been overnight ventures at the longest. There was also their ill-conceived journey that had landed them in the Outer World, but so much of that had been spent in a hunger-induced daze that Lina didn't actually remember much of it at all.

Lina looked at the seven tick marks she had etched onto the main mast and sighed. For one, after a certain amount of time, the days had started to blend together. She'd initially tried to record the passage of time, but she had missed one after the first week and lost track from there. By her best guess, they'd been out for at least another week after that.

Lina leaned back against the cabin, then sat up when she felt a tug on her makeshift fishing rod, enchanted with a spell of her own creation. She flicked the end up, giving a small cheer when a silver-scaled trout landed on the deck. Perfect for an afternoon snack.

Glancing around to make sure Gourry wasn't going to steal it, Lina flash-roasted the fish with a conjured flame, then wolfed it down within a few bites. Picking off the last morsels of meat to use as bait for next time, she tossed the bones back overboard. Out on the ocean, they could never be sure whether they'd be able to spot land and stock up on supplies at the end of the day. She reckoned the last time they'd stopped was about three or four days ago, and she'd been pleasantly surprised then when the merchants had sold to her without complaint, even when that damnable bounty poster was in plain sight.

Lina had nothing else to do at the moment, so she scooted up to watch as Luke stepped out onto the deck, trying again to discern the identity of his Devil Fruit. She gave a snort of laughter when she saw him hocking up a wad of saliva which he spat into the sea, probably hoping for something else to come along with it. Some things never changed, such as the long periods of inactivity punctuated by short bursts of excitement when they were caught within storms or attacked by sea monsters. She needed to take her entertainment when she could get it.

"When you get that desperate, it's probably time to give up, don't you think?" Lina called out. "I wouldn't want Milina to see me doing that if I were you."

"Mind your own business!" Luke snapped back. "Those secret agent guys told us it would take a while didn't they? I still have some things that I wanna try."

Lina rolled her eyes. "Yeah, don't tell me. I don't really wanna know what those are."

She could tell that the confidence was all but gone from his voice. The poor guy had been trying everything, on-and-off for the entirety of their trip. And she was pretty sure that "a little while" didn't refer to two weeks.

"I could offer a way." Xellos said from behind, causing Lina to jump slightly in her seat. He walked past her, stopping once he stood next to Luke, who returned Lina's puzzled expression with one of his own.

"There is a method that will confirm for sure whether Luke has received the power of a Devil Fruit." Xellos said, placing a hand on Luke's shoulder. "Although it would be best to stop the ship before we try it."

Xellos steered Luke toward the railing while the rest of the crew did as bade, folding up the sails and waiting for the ship to cruise to a halt. Then with everyone watching expectantly, Xellos swept out his staff, knocking one of Luke's legs out from under him and sending him tumbling into the water.

"What the- what the hell is wrong with you?!" Luke said as soon as his head had bobbed back up.

Lina's eyes widened fractionally when she realized the implications, and she glanced around at her crewmates to make sure they were seeing the same thing.

"Hey, aren't Devil Fruit users supposed to sink in water?" She asked the others, watching their expressions shift as the realization hit them. They had all been there when the mammoth guy nearly drowned in just a swimming pool, and some of them had had their own encounters with other fruit users and water. There had been no exceptions.

"Well, whatever about that, just help me up." Luke said, but Lina could tell from his petulant expression that he wasn't happy with the result. He levitated out of the water, and Lina leaned down, grabbing one of his hands while Gourry took the other. Together, the two of them hoisted him over the railing and back onto the deck.

Lina shook the water from her gloves before fixing Xellos with an incredulous look. "There are easier ways to do this you know."

"Perhaps, but a direct demonstration makes things much easier to understand." Xellos replied, smiling.

"Whatever." Lina said. "So I guess that proves that Luke didn't get an ability from the thing after all. But when I was holding that fruit, I definitely felt some sort of power coming from it."

"CP9 also said that one person would get a ability even if the fruit was eaten by several people." Zelgadis added.

"Yeah, and Luke ate that whole thing." Lina said. "So what gives?"

"Maybe it was just a fake. A really realistic fake." Luke grumbled, wringing some of the water out of his sodden clothing. "That thing tasted like a ogre's armpit. What kinda fruit tastes like that anyway?"

The image of Luke collapsing onto his side brought a peal of laughter to Lina's lips. Well, whatever. No use worrying about something that was already decided.

"You should be thankful that it turned out like this." Zelgadis said as he pulled open the door to the cabin. "One bad decision could leave you with a lifetime of regrets."


...


Early the next morning, Zelgadis sat in the bridge, paging idly through a book he'd found in one of the rooms. Danger could come day or night, so they had to sleep in shifts. Zelgadis didn't need as much sleep to function as the others, so he'd volunteered to take the morning watch. He took a glance at the Eternal Pose, then adjusted the steering wheel slightly to keep them going in the right direction. Ahead, the full moon cast its light on the water below, creating blue and green ripples that danced along the surface.

Zelgadis's eyes narrowed. That was no moon. He could see the moon on their starboard side, and it was a crescent like it'd been the day before. He snatched up his binoculars and pointed them straight ahead, taking a moment to wrap his mind around what he was seeing.

There was a hole in the sky, as if the night were simply a layer of clouds, with a gap allowing daylight to shine through. The dissonance grew even more conspicuous when the sun began to rise, painting the horizon with a soft, orange light. The patch of sky ahead already looked as bright as midday, as if it were frozen in time. Squinting through the lens, Zelgadis could make out an island beneath the abnormality. He glanced at the Eternal Pose, confirming that the needle was pointing directly at the strange island. So that was Enies Lobby.

The sun climbed higher and the morning mist dissolved away, revealing a pair of colossal metal gates built into the air, towering over the back of the facility. The fading fog revealed as well that the main body of land was suspended over a gaping chasm, into which the waters of the ocean flowed like a waterfall.

Zelgadis felt a slight buzz of elation running through his body. At this stage it was still a longshot, but this was probably the closest he'd ever been to finding a cure.

A small part of his mind reminded him that at the time, he'd been willing to live with the change. It had given him power, just like he wanted, and he'd been prepared to make use of it until he discovered Rezo's true intentions. To that man, Zelgadis was just another experiment, to be used and discarded once he was no longer convenient. Rezo was dead, but his legacy was an bitter insult to Zelgadis' very being.

Zelgadis turned his head at the sound of footsteps to see Lina approaching from the cabin door. She pulled up a seat, taking a moment to thumb through her coppery hair for the last bits of white left from her battle in the capitol. Finding none, she made a noise of satisfaction.

"Hey Zel, what's- whoa, do you see that?" She paused to stare at the anomaly in the sky ahead. "I remember them saying something about a daytime island, but looking at that just makes my head hurt."

Zelgadis nodded. "Can't say I was expecting something like that either."

"So Zel, you excited? About finding a cure for your body, I mean." Lina asked.

Zelgadis responded with a noncommittal grunt.

"We'll see." He replied. "I'm not ready to declare this adventure a success just because we reached the first stop."

"But let's say it works out." Lina said. "You got any plans for what you'll do afterwards?"

"We still have to find a way home." Zelgadis said.

"I mean after that."

Zelgadis thought back, trying to remember a time when he wasn't either working for Rezo or searching for a cure. For years, he had poured his resolve and determination into the pursuit, with the consequence being that any thoughts about what came after had been shelved. He didn't answer.


...


Lina stepped out onto the deck and stretched her arms. For as long as she could remember, she had always been in the habit of rising with the sun, wringing the most out of each and every day. Zelgadis was starting to get a little reluctant to talk, so she left him to his thoughts, seating herself on a railing and tossing out her lure. The others gradually filtered out, and by the time Gourry and Luke stumbled out of bed, Lina had already caught and eaten her breakfast.

"Well it's about time you bums got up." Lina said. She motioned in the direction of the ship's bow, where Enies Lobby loomed large over the horizon.

"Look sharp! Time for us to get busy."

The crew gathered on the deck as their vessel cruised past the island, steering well clear of the central waterfall ring. Up close, they could see clusters of buildings on the main landmass, most of which looked to have been demolished by some brutal bombardment. A small fleet of government ships were anchored around the island, several of which called out requests for identification.

Lina ignored them, focusing her attention on their objective, though she couldn't help but feel a spike of irritation when she heard someone yell out her epithet. The Gate of Justice looked even larger up close, a mountain of metal rising from the sea. The waters before it churned violently, forming a field of whirlpools that would've capsized them for sure had they entered.

"It looks like those are being formed because of the currents running against the gate." Zelgadis traced a finger from the waterfall ring to the base of the gate. "I think if we opened the gate and allowed the water to flow, that should be safe to navigate."

"How are we going to do that?" Amelia asked. "I don't think they're going to open it for us."

She pointed back at the island, where the navy warships, having received no response, had pulled up anchors and were maneuvering in pursuit.

"Well the controls for the gate should be somewhere on the island." Zelgadis said. "We'll need to anchor somewhere and defend the ship while some of us go look for them."

"Pfft, controls? Who needs 'em? We have everything we need to open that gate right here." Lina said. She raised her talismans to their activation positions, smirking when Amelia and Zelgadis flinched visibly at the sight.

The government warships turned, unleashing a thudding bombardment from their broadside ports, creating fiery explosions where their cannonballs struck the boundary of Amelia's barrier. Lina steadied herself on the deck, chanting the words to the Dragon Slave while the spell's characteristic red aura blazed around her. She briefly wondered whether CP9 had sent them this way on purpose, as an act of spite against the World Government after what it had done to them. It was actually fairly impressive that people with no learnable magic could build something like this. Shame they'd have to destroy it.

"Dragon Slave!" Lina cried, thrusting her hands out. Her power erupted forth on command, slamming into the center of the gate like a crimson sledgehammer. The Gate of Justice buckled as it was enveloped by the flames, its form evaporating in the searing radiance. Blast winds buffeted the sea surface, spawning a tidal wave that washed out from the explosion.

"Now everyone! Brace for impact!" Lina called.

The Marines were less prepared as their ships were tossed by the swell, while Lina directed her crew to unfurl their sails once the wave had passed. A gust of wind sent them hurtling forward through the vapor.

Lina had to grab onto the railing when the ship suddenly lurched toward the side, as it was caught and carried along by the current flowing just beyond the gate. The water was moving quite rapidly, creating a pall of salty sea mist around them.

"Alright guys, keep your eyes peeled." Lina said. "We're looking for another one of those things so we can get out."


...


The assembled Marines watched in stunned silence as the stolen warship vanished into the current, while the remnants of the blast expanded upward, blooming into a great fungal cloud that rose into the sky. The echoes of the shockwave persisted as a dull rumble in the air, vibrating the very pits of their stomachs. Several men fell onto their knees, shuddering at the thought of how close they had come to obliteration.

The commander of the garrison flipped through his bounty posters, stopping at the one labeled with the epithet, "Pink Sorceress". The value posted for her capture was sixty-five million Belis. He would need to make an urgent report to headquarters, if it was still intact at the day's end.


...


It wasn't long before the next gate came into view, and Lina fired off another Dragon Slave to obliterate the structure. Freed from its confines, the water began to rush out from where the gate once was, carrying their vessel with it. As they passed through the blast zone, Lina noticed another ship traveling on the current, but it faded into the distance before she could get a better look.

Lina had to frown when they finally emerged from the fog. Dark shapes swam beneath the surface, serpentine leviathans large enough to swallow their ship whole. Ahead, a section of the prison jutted out from the water, like a walled castle floating on top of the sea. It was a lot bigger than she'd been expecting, dwarfing the battleships that were arranged protectively around it, several of which were already turning toward them. Peering through the binoculars, she could see their crews scurrying about on their decks, scrambling to bring their cannons to bear.

Calling the others to her, Lina had them invoke a Dark Mist together, blanketing the area in thick black fog while their ship sailed straight ahead toward the prison entrance.

What followed were a harrowing few minutes as cannons boomed around them, churning the surrounding waters, splashing their deck and rocking the boat. Gourry jumped and clung to Lina's leg when one landed so close that they could smell the smoke from the igniting powder, and a monstrous head emerged from the water, attracted by the commotion. He closed his eyes tight, clearly trying to ignore the fact that their tiny ship was all that was between himself and a gruesome demise in the jaws of some aquatic predator.

"Get a spine you jellyfish, we're here." Lina said once the bombardment was behind them and the towering form of the great prison came into view. Gourry opened his eyes, noticed an absence of flying ordnance, and breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

The six of them disembarked, tying their ship to the pier. CP9 had told them that the prison was structured like a giant layered cake, with more notorious inmates being held on levels further down. Although they hadn't been given the exact details, a high ranking commander of a revolutionary group was probably going to be near the bottom. They would need to be quick, get in and out while the fog still lingered and kept the fleet from realizing what was happening.

It was clear upon entering the prison that much was amiss. The frame of the main gate was broken, and the floor just past it had been shattered, leaving a hole in the stonework that seemed to lead down to the lower levels. The entire level seemed to be vacant, and looked to be more of an administrative area than the dungeon proper, so Lina lead her party down through the opening to the first underwater level.

As she landed on the stone floor and set Gourry down, the first thing Lina noticed were the rows of empty cages, with sets of manacles unlocked and discarded. There were signs of battle all around; broken stonework, burn marks from cannon blasts, and puddles of foul-smelling sludge scattered around the halls - poison, by all appearances. Some contained the unmoving bodies of prisoners, their faces contorted into expressions of agony, while others had been rendered down to mere skeletons. As the crew stepped gingerly past, Lina suppressed the urge to shudder, and noted the barely restrained fury etched across Luke's features.

"C'mon you guys." Lina said, doing her best to avert her eyes. "Somebody got here before us, but we still need to find someone who we can ask about our prisoner."

They proceeded onward, walking through the winding halls for what Lina estimated to be a couple of minutes before emerging into a large chamber. A gaping chasm cutting across the floor was spanned by a wooden drawbridge, with more rows of dungeons occupying the other side.

Lina gagged when she was struck by the sudden, overwhelming stench of blood. She'd seen enough violence on her journeys that she certainly wasn't squeamish, but the odor was so overpowering that she could taste it on her tongue. The stench was rancid but sharp, as if fresh layers of gore had been applied over the rotten remains of past bloodlettings. She could see the others were experiencing similar reactions.

Though they were indoors, Lina could see a forest beneath the bridge, with red pine trees growing over fields of red grass. Bile rose in her throat when she realized why they were red.

The forest below was a forest of blades, with leaves like knives and grass like needles, painted with blood and covered in scraps of torn clothing and ribbons of peeled skin. Her imagination filled in the blanks, and she noticed Amelia covering her face with her hands.

Lina had often espoused that the wicked had no rights, but she usually just tried inflict enough injuries to encourage a swift change of careers for the bandits she attacked. It sickened her that there were people who would put someone through that.

"Intruders!"

Lina's head snapped up to see a trio of guards rounding a corner on the other side, dressed in identical beige and green uniforms and clutching rifles in their hands. Lina raised her hands with a spell on her lips, but was interrupted when Luke made the first move.

"You fucking bastards!" Luke roared, unleashing a blast of wind that disarmed the prison guards. One turned to run, then fell with a thrown knife embedded in his back, and the other two collapsed cowering as Luke advanced on them.

"Whatever you're thinking, don't even try it if you don't want to end up like him." Luke hoisted the nearest one up by his collar. "You're going to tell me everything you know. And if you refuse, I will kill you and ask your friend here."

"Who do you work for?! Who orders you to do this?!" He roared, his eyes smoldering with anger. Lina had no doubts that he would carry out his threats, and a part of her wanted him to stop, but after seeing the cruelty on display, the words just died in her throat.

"I-I'll tell! I'll tell you everything we know!" The guard stammered. "We work for Chief Warden Magellan, and the World Government to keep prisoners here. I-I just follow orders! It's not my fault it's like this!"

Luke gnashed his teeth at the man's unapologetic confession. "So your prisoners volunteered to run through that forest by themselves? And if somebody orders you to do it then it's not your fault? Then I guess if I was ordered to kill you, it's not my fault either right?"

Lina winced slightly as Luke swiftly drew another dagger and plunged it through the jailer's ribs. The man made a wet gurgling noise, a trickle of red flowing from his lips, and he collapsed weakly to the ground when Luke released his grip on his collar.

"That was going too far, Luke." Milina approached him.

"What are you talking about Milina? You see what these guys are doing!" Luke responded. Lina's eyes widened in surprise at his aggressive tone, quite unlike the way he usually spoke to his partner.

"I can't just let these sons-of-bitches-!"

Luke's voice cut off abruptly as Milina placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He shook his head, his face openly displaying his shifting emotions.

"When I see something like this, it just makes me sick of humans." He said, his voice barely audible above a whisper.

"Don't say that Luke. You're a human. So am I."

Luke looked down slightly shamefaced, and nodded.

"So… so what do we do about him?" He glanced at the remaining guard.

Lina heaved a sigh of relief, and took a step toward the guard. "We're here for someone named Emporio Ivankov. If you tell me where he is, then I'll let you go."

The guard's eyes darted to Luke, then back to Lina, and a gulp of nervous saliva inched its way down his throat.

"H-he escaped. The person you're looking for escaped." He sputtered. "T-there was a breakout just before you all got here, and they stole a boat and escaped."

"So where's your warden then?" Luke interrupted. His voice was quiet, but still full of fury, his anger subdued but not totally extinguished.

"He's in the gate control room, around that way." The guard replied, pointing past the corner where he'd come from. "There was an incident in the control room, so the warden went to investigate, and he…"

The man's voice trailed off as his eyelids fluttered, and he slumped over, sound asleep. Lina lowered her hands and Luke raised an inquiring eyebrow at her.

"How about we leave him here like this then?" Lina said. Angry as Luke still was, she didn't think he would try to kill someone in their sleep.

"I mean, it looks like we're all decided on who the bad guy is that we need to defeat." She glanced around at a panel of approving faces. "Plus, maybe there'll be some chance that he'll know where our prisoner's gone off to with the breakout and all."

After Luke had pulled out his dagger that was stuck in the guard's back, the crew started off in the indicated direction, turning around the corner and entering a long hallway with a set of wooden doors on the other end. They hadn't taken more than a few steps down the corridor when the double doors exploded into splinters, and a heavily bandaged figure tumbled out. The man struggled to his feet, but a second figure marched through the entrance, seizing him by the throat and lifting him off the ground.

"More intruders in my prison?!" The other man roared when he noticed Lina's party. He was at least three times as tall as she was, dressed in a dark coat with black bat wings attached to his back. Lina wasn't one to judge a book by its cover, the man's look practically oozed evil.

"Your prison? Oh, lemme guess, you must be this 'Warden Magellan' we've been hearing about right?" Lina asked. She took a step to her left and slightly forward, readying herself for a fight. "Now before I get started on you, we're here for someone named Emporio Ivankov. If you tell me where he's gone off to, maybe I'll let you off a little easier."

"Ivan's escaped." It was the prisoner who choked out. "He escaped with Straw Hat to rescue his brother."

That was all Lina needed to hear. She launched a wave of Flare Arrows, and Magellan dropped his victim, raising both arms to protect his face from the fiery detonations. Gourry dashed forward while the warden was distracted, his blonde hair visible as a yellow blur while a rush of air followed in his wake. He grabbed the bandaged prisoner by the leg and vaulted back, depositing him behind their group. Amelia kneeled down, running a glowing palm over the man's body, moving her hand back and forth as part of a diagnostic spell.

"He's poisoned!" She cried. As if in response, the man shuddered and gave a cry of pain.

"Warden and torturer huh? That's quite a record you've got there." Lina said. She kept her eyes fixed on the opponent, but she could hear the sounds of weapons being drawn behind her, along with a bout of bitter laughter coming from Luke.

"Amelia! Give him a Resurrection. It's probably the only one that's gonna work." She said. "And as for the warden, just leave him to us."

"Stalling for time?" Magellan growled. "Not one of you will make it out of this prison. Not one."


...


Marshall D. Teach followed closely behind as Shiliew lead his party through the dungeons. They were dank and dingy, illuminated by just a handful of flickering lights. Eager faces peered out at him from the rows of cells, and Teach stared back, like a cattleman assessing the quality of a line-up at auction. He couldn't imagine a more ignominious fate, to be erased from history, never to see the ocean again.

Shiliew stopped before one cell, and Teach squeezed in behind him. He blinked, and nearly opened his mouth to admonish the former jailer for taking him to the wrong place before he recognized the bandaged, balding man lying on the stone floor within. With his trademark yellow coat replaced by a striped prisoner's uniform and his wild blonde hair almost completely burnt off, only his bladed prosthetics marked the man out as the once formidable Golden Lion. Now he looked every bit like a washed up old man, his glory days long gone.

"Oi Shiki! What a surprise to find you here!" Teach greeted the Flying Pirate. "I've barely even seen you in the papers since you busted out the last time! How've you been all these years, eh? Do ya recognize me?"

Shiki sat up at the mention of his name, his chains clanking against the floor. His eyes scanned over his visitors before meeting Teach's gaze.

"You're one of Whitebeard's? Teach, wasn't it?" He asked, looking over Teach's crew as they filed in behind their captain. "And I see you've been busy! So you got off that old man's boat, and are starting to make a name as a captain aren't ya?"

"Zehahaha, that's right." Teach nodded and grinned, feeling a wave of pride welling up within him at the compliment. "And once I'm done here in a few hours, I'm going to give this world a show like it's never seen before!"

"So you've come here to break me out?" Shiki smiled, sitting up a little straighter. "You've got some sort of plan don't you? You know you and I, we could conquer this world in no time!"

"Ah, that's not it Shiki." Teach shook his head, his voice growing low and conspiratorial. His expression changed subtly, shifting from a warm and friendly smile to a huge grin dripping with malevolent pity.

"The seas are changing you know, and a new age is coming, and I plan to ride at the head of it! But you've gotten old, Shiki. Hell, you couldn't even keep the Marines from capturing you again. There's just no place in the new age for you."