Prologue: The Beast Below
"Don't look at me like that!" Nami snapped back angrily. "It's not my fault! I'm just predicting the weather! Not causing it!"
"You can create weather though now!" Usopp reminded her. "Can't you make it nice?"
It was just another day of hell in the New World. The Thousand Sunny had looked particularly tired after a string of bad weather over the last two days. At the moment, the Straw Hats were all over the deck, enjoying the warm weather while it last.
"But it is nice now, Usopp-san," Brook called happily from the swing as he swung back and forth and drank his tea. He then looked up and sang out, "Truly, not a cloud in the sky!"
"I meant before!" Usopp retorted sourly, though he had reasons to be a little ill-tempered. Over the last two days, they had to fight off back-to-back cyclones, as well as a sudden deep freeze which caused the whole bottom of the ship to become incased in ice, and they had just escaped a battlefield of icebergs when they were then trapped in a fog. Only now did the weather turn bright and sunny again, though Nami was already predicting more bad weather sometime tonight. They were all of the agreement to try and get to the next island as soon as possible and just wait it out.
"You know me better than that," Nami poked at Usopp in the head. "Stop complaining and get back to work."
Usopp sighed before he went wandering off, muttering bitterly under his breath about what he was really thinking about Nami before he went to join Robin on the upper part of the deck to make sure that the plants survived the sudden freeze.
Nami rolled her eyes before she looked down to make sure that the others were also working. Franky had come up from the lower parts of the ship after he managed to break off the remaining ice that had clung to the ship like a fungus, and was up already repairing the torn sail.
Sanji was inside the kitchen, cooking up something warm for dinner tonight to help take away any remains of a chill that anyone might have had, while Luffy and Chopper were both on the grassy deck and were laughing as Luffy was entertaining him by doing his favorite pastime game by imitating the others. He was just showing Chopper how Usopp looked after he slipped on some ice and banged his head on the deck while Chopper laughed.
"Yeah!" Chopper giggled as Luffy was making faces, "That's just what he looked like!"
Nami sighed at the sight of them acting like they didn't have a care in the world. Well, at least they were keeping out of trouble for the moment.
As for Zoro…
Nami glared up at the front of the ship where it was Zoro's turn at the wheel, sporting a large lump on his head from where Nami had hit him earlier. She shook her head angrily, wondering how on earth the idiot could have slept through all of that chaos? He didn't wake up until they had just left the fog and the weather turned nice again. Which led to her giving him a beating to vent some of her frustration.
"Nami!" Luffy whined as he looked up at her, already bored with imitations. "Are we near the next island yet?"
"Would you relax?" Nami called back with a sigh. "In case you hadn't noticed we just entered the next island's climate zone! It shouldn't take us much longer, so stop your whining!"
"Really? YES!" Luffy cheered as he jumped to his feet and punched the air as Chopper jumped about excitedly. Just then, Brook jumped from the swing and went over to them to start singing a song at how they were going on a new adventure as soon as they saw land. Nami shook her head as she watched them all act like idiots once again. Yet this time, she felt the little smile appear on her mouth as she looked at Luffy's laughing, smiling face.
"It's hard to believe that anything bad ever happened to him with the way that he goes through life," said a voice and she turned around to see Robin there, carrying a new book that she got in the last village. She was smiling as she added, "It makes it all feel like it had all been a bad dream."
Nami didn't need to ask what she was talking about.
"Yeah," Nami said softly as they looked at Luffy together. "Hard to imagine what happened before…"
No one ever spoke about it since then, but a couple weeks back, they landed at an island with a deserted temple on it. None of them, not even Robin, was able to figure out exactly what happened that day, but they had one adventure on that ghost island that none of them was ever likely to forget. Luffy was taken from them by the ghost, if that was truly what he was, of their captain's older brother, Ace. While on that island, the rest of the crew was stuck running around as they tried to hunt down a creature that was hiding in Luffy's memories and able to shape-shift into any form that it wanted, though it seemed to like looking like old enemies. But they spent that whole night running around and viewing Luffy's memories from since he was very young, to what happened after the war two years ago.
They were able to glimpse sides of him that they never knew to exist, but that didn't change who he was to any of them. He was still their stubborn, idiotic captain and they didn't want him any other way. They all remembered what happened that night… yet none of them ever brought it up again since they left. Perhaps they knew that there was no longer any point. Luffy didn't seem to mind if they knew or not, if it bothered him, he didn't say anything.
Nami's smile went a little wider as she watched him playing tag with the others.
"Yeah," she agreed. "I'm glad to know that he's ok. You know, I had more than a few nightmares since we left that ghost island behind us."
"I think we all have," Robin nodded in agreement. "But it'll get easier in time." She then looked over at her and asked, "I noticed that you picked up a few maps of the area from the last town that we were in. Do you already have an idea where we're going to next?"
"Vaguely," Nami admitted. "I haven't had a chance to really look over them since we left that town. Really… what were those idiots thinking?"
It was part of an old game of the more immature members of the crew. They sometimes use alias when going into town for shopping. Nami had supported it at first so that they could avoid unwanted attention… but soon their favorite game to introduce each other with the most ridiculous names imaginable had started to cause certain… problems for the whole crew. She was trying not to think about the trouble that it caused in the last village and somehow they ended up being run out of town… like always.
Honestly, what was she going to do with those boys?
Robin chuckled a little as she reminded her, "But they seemed like they were having such a fun time."
"And that's exactly why we get into so much trouble all the time!" Nami muttered bitterly as she thought more about the maps she had been pouring over before the weather got hectic. "The part of the sea around here has as unpredictable weather as the rest of the New World. But that's all I know. I don't even remember the names of the islands in this area. Maybe I better go upstairs and get another look before…?"
But before she could even finish her train of thought, Zoro had suddenly called from the front.
"Nami! The fog is rolling back in!" he shouted out, getting everyone's attention. He was right. Rolling waves of fog was directly in front of them. Though they weren't anywhere near as dark as the fog of the Florian Triangle, they were still so thick that it would be like trying to see through a sea of cotton candy.
"Awesome!" Luffy cried out excitedly as they continued onwards.
"Ah, Nami-san!" Brook shouted out nervously. He had an understandable fear of fog and wanted to make sure that they should be going in this direction.
"It's alright!" Nami called, looking down at the Log Pose once again to check the needle. "The fog here should be gone by midday! Just keep going forward! The next island should be just beyond it!"
"Oh, really? Thank goodness," Brook sighed in relief as he dabbed his feathered boa at his forehead as if he had been sweating.
"Guys? My Usopp radar is telling me that we really shouldn't go in there!" Usopp began, chills going up his spin as they sailed closer and closer to the thick smoke. "I got this really bad feeling!"
Nami frowned as she also sensed a strange chill going down her spine as she frowned down at the Log Pose. No… there was definitely an island through there. They were going the right way.
"Stay sharp everyone!" she called, thinking back to all the icebergs from the last fog they were in. "Anything could be waiting for us! Just keeping going forward and we should be fine!"
"Nami-swan!" Sanji called as he came jumping happily out of the kitchen, a tray in hand as he held a couple fruity drinks. He had come up with dozens of tangerine recipes to appease his sweet Nami and he couldn't wait to see what she thought of his latest creation. He got down on one knee as he held the tray out for her as he told her passionately, "My love for you knows no bounds. But please, let this sweet taste be just a tiny sliver for the emotions that I have tell you how much I care!"
Nami smiled sweetly at him as she took the drink and took a taste. At once, the wonderful taste of tangerine caused her tongue to tingle and she was reminded of home.
"It's delicious, thank you Sanji," she told him, giving him a wink and he swooned, as if she had declared her own love for him.
"Anything for you, Nami!" he gasped out before he looked at Robin was watching the fog come ever closer. "And don't think I left you out my dear Robin!"
And he held the tray out to her for there was a second drink that he had prepared.
"Thank you, Sanji," Robin smiled back. "You're always so good to us."
"Nothing but the best for two of the most beautiful ladies in the world," he sighed lovingly.
"Ohhhhh! I want one!" Luffy yelled from the side of the ship when he realized that Sanji was giving out drinks. "I want one! Sanji! Give me one!"
"Yeah, you jerk!' Usopp yelled, having come running from the upper deck to join them. "Share with us too!"
"Me too!" Chopper cried out, and soon all of them were jumping towards Sanji, not even paying attention to the fog anymore.
"Forget it! I only want to cook for Nami and Robin!" he answered, his love-sick tone disappearing at once. "The rest of you can suck it!"
"BOOOOOOOOO!" the three of them all yelled out, their thumps pointed down, though Chopper couldn't since he didn't have thumbs.
"Ah, guys?" Zoro shouted out once again. "We're going in!"
"Going in what? What are you talking about Moss Head?" Sanji shouted before he finally noticed where they were heading. "What? More fog? Come on! I thought we had enough of that from earlier!"
"Deal with it!" Nami called.
"Whatever you say, Nami-swan," Sanji swooned happily, drooling at the sight of her leaning over the ledge, squinting her eyes to try and see forward though it was no use.
"Don't make me hurt you," she retorted coldly as Franky came jumping down from the top of the mast, having just finished with the repairs.
"Ow! You better watch where you're going!" he shouted out. "If you guys put anymore holes in Sunny, you're gonna have to answer to me!"
"You know… I just realized something. Why are we letting Zoro steer which way we should go?" Usopp suddenly asked and they all looked at each other.
"Ok, I'm taking over!" Franky called heading straight up to the wheel to throw Zoro off. As the two got into an argument, Luffy was jumping until he was on top of the Sunny's head. He put his hand up to shield his eyes as he tried to look forward with excitement already shining on his face.
"I can't see anything at all!" he shouted out. "Nami? You sure there's an island up ahead?!"
"I'm sure of it!" she shouted back as she checked the Log Pose once again. "And I'm also sure that we're close! Just keep going forward!"
"You know, it's not the fog that we should be afraid of," Robin stated calmly as she began to look over her sketchbook and the past pictures she had made. "It's whatever could be lurking inside it that we should be more concerned with."
Usopp, Chopper, and Brook all froze in midstep.
"Why? What do you think inside?" Brook asked timidly as Chopper gulped hard, waiting with his breath held.
"Wait! I don't want to know!" Usopp cried out suddenly and began to shake his hands at her wildly. For he knew that whatever Robin was thinking of couldn't possibly be good.
Robin just gave him an innocent smile that didn't fool him one bit as Zoro finally let Franky have the wheel.
"Seriously," Zoro grumbled. "First you want me to work and now you don't. Make up your minds already!"
"Just shut up and pay attention," Nami scolded as she went to the side of the ship and peered over the edge to get a look at the water. She couldn't see any currents or formations of whirlpools… it seemed to be safe enough. But she knew better than to assume that it would be that easy in the New World.
"Stay sharp guys!" Franky said as they reached the fog, with Luffy still laughing up front.
"This is gonna be so cool!" he called happily and the ship had passed right through the smog.
This was ridiculous. They couldn't see anything in front of them, heck they couldn't even see each other on deck as they were forced to just keep going forward and hope that they wouldn't run into anything.
"Damn! It's as thick as pea soup!" Sanji called out. "This is so stupid!"
"Yeah! I can't even see my own hand in front of me," Chopper's voice called before they heard him scream.
"Chopper? What is it?!" Sanji shouted out, trying to sense any danger around him but not finding anyone other than the crew there.
"Ah… nothing," Chopper called out, sounding embarrassed. "It was… just my hand in front of me."
"Oh, for crying out… don't scare me like that!" Usopp yelled in his direction.
"Shut up all of you!" Zoro called out as he kept his senses sharp and alive. "I don't feel anything that could be a threat around us, but that doesn't mean that we can let our guards down."
He didn't want to admit it, but he kept feeling this odd chill in the air that had nothing to do with the weather. He couldn't put his finger on it, but he didn't like it one bit. He was able to find himself climbing the stairs and up nearer to the front of the ship to where Luffy was.
The whole crew was protective over their rubber-headed, wild captain… but lately they have been more than ever before. Especially after they were given a glimpse of Luffy's past… well, more like seeing all his biggest and most private memories in one big go. Some of the things that they had seen was enough to realize just how far Luffy would go to protect them, and that scared them all more than any monster.
Like when they realized just how close they came to losing him two years ago. It was only with the combined might of several friends and allies, as well as a few enemies, that Luffy was still breathing. Zoro knew that no one wanted to bring any of it up. But he could see the slight changes in everyone's natures since the truth was revealed to them.
Little changes that wouldn't mean much to an outsider, yet he knew his crew well enough to know that what they saw frightened them. As for him, he had been keeping a much closer eye on Luffy ever since that night. Not enough for the rubber-brain to notice of course, but Zoro was sure that everyone felt the same way he did.
The fact was… they didn't want anything else to happen to him like that… especially if they were there to help this time around.
He closed his one good eye and let his Haki spread across the ship, and he was able to 'see' that Luffy had remained where he was on top of Sunny's head. Though his reasoning was telling him that there wasn't anything wrong, he didn't like this bad feeling in the air… it wasn't… normal. Though he wasn't sure what that word meant anything anymore if he had to be honest with himself.
Meanwhile, Luffy was still laughing the whole time ahead of them with Nami wondering just what he was so happy about.
"Seriously, how does he always seem to enjoy whatever happens?" she couldn't help but ask. "We don't know what this next island's like and he's laughing like this is all a big game."
"Yes," Robin's voice agreed, "He'd probably still be laughing even if we crash into something and sink."
"Robin!" Usopp yelled, having heard her. "What did I just tell you?!"
"Stop whining," Zoro answered in annoyance. "I'm telling you there's nothing around here."
"Not very comforting coming from you, Moss-Head," Sanji spoke up.
"You got a problem with me, Mr. Nosebleed?" Zoro yelled back in his direction, and he was looking in the exact direction that Sanji was in though he couldn't see him. And it was a safe bet that Sanji was doing the same thing as well.
"What was that?!"
"I'm seriously going to just let you two kill each other one of these days," Nami called angrily, "Just so that you don't have to give me any more headaches!"
"Oh, Nami… your voice is as sweet to my ears as water is to a man's parched throat!" Sanji sighed dreamily.
As they argued, Luffy kept his gaze forward, trying to see through the fog when he saw something sparkle just in front of him. He blinked, leaning forward a little to try and get a better look, and he saw it again.
"Hey guys!" he shouted out. "I see something!"
"What is it, Luffy?" Brook called curiously. "Is it an island?!"
"I don't know!" he called. "It's just a light!"
"In that case, perhaps it's a lighthouse," Robin's voice offered reasonably. "We must be close to the island."
"That was quick," Nami said a little suspiciously, no longer able to see the needle from the log pose. Not that it matter for if Luffy could see land, then they could just follow the light.
"Hey guys!" Luffy called with awe in his voice. "You gotta come and see this!"
"See what? I can't even see the stairs with all this haze in front of my eyes!" Brook called. "Ah! Not that I have eyes to see with, Yohohoho! OW!" They heard the sounds of bones hitting the deck and it seemed that Brook must have tripped.
Luffy was leaning dangerously far over Sunny's head, still trying to see what was in front of them. He could see the light continuing to glint in the distance. But as they sailed closer and closer, the light began to glow until it was a solid, bright light. Luffy was just in mind to go rocketing himself up in the sky to see when suddenly…
"Oh WOW!" he cried out, they broke through the thick layer of fog until they were back out in the open air and a massive tower stood in front of them. "LOOK AT IT!"
The other Straw Hats came to the upper part of the deck until they were all standing with Franky and Zoro to see a tower upon a land settled right in the middle of this mist. The water that they were now sailing on was calm and as smooth as glass, and there was a giant wall that made of clouds spinning behind them as they sailed onward. When they looked straight up you could see clear blue skies, and dazzling sunshine that seemed to wave at them like an old friend. But all of this paled in comparison to what was in the very center of this circle of clear air.
A small island… with a tower.
A tower with faded, stone brick looming over the small ship, as they sailed over the calm sea. Though it wasn't like any lighthouse they had ever seen, a strong light emitted from the very upper reaches, a light so strong that it had managed to pierce right through the fog. The tower spiraled into the heavens, rather like an Earthlike landmass challenging the occasionally gentle skyline. Stretching up almost endlessly into the sky, as a wind gently blew around the spiraling structure, ancient glyphs of the ages readily cut into the aged ivory, some potently faded; others in glistening sharply. Thin, with spirals stretching uncharacteristically in the carefully structured building, well-crafted into an almost gothic temple, glistening proudly-rather like that of a medallion that has at last found shore. The only sounds other than the occasional squawk of a seagull were the waves gently hitting the side of the ship.
"Gorgeous!" Nami cried out in amazement as they all stared.
"Now that's impressive," Franky whistled as he moved his sunglasses up to get a better look at the tower.
"It's so big!" Chopper cried out in amazement. "It looks like it could touch the sky!"
"And it looks pretty old too," Robin said, a slight shine in her eyes as she looked at it in great interest. "I must say I would like a closer look at it."
"Well, we got here a lot sooner than I thought," Nami smiled, glad to see that the fog had cleared enough for them as she looked about. "Start looking for a place to anchor when we get to shore! If there's a lighthouse, someone has to be tending it, right? There must be a town here somewhere!"
"I am so struck by the size of it all!" Brook cried out happily. "In fact, it inspires me to write a song!" And he strummed up his guitar as he began, "It was a tower on a distant shore… and about its peak, a piercing light."
But before he could go on, something else happened. Whether it was fate, or just some coincidence, what happened next would lead to an adventure that this crew won't forget any time soon. All that anyone could say was that suddenly the entire ship was shaking…
"W-What's happening?" Chopper cried out, grabbing hold of the Franky's leg to keep himself from slipping off.
"Earthquake!" Brook cried in panic.
"Idiot! How can there be earthquakes on the water?!" Sanji yelled.
"Who cares?! Let's go!" Luffy cried out excitedly. "I wanna go to the top of that lighthouse! I bet you could see everything for miles!"
But while he was thinking of how cool it would be to climb that tower, he didn't notice how the ship began to rock violently back and forth. Not until he heard the roar of a rumble below. His smile faded a little when he looked down at the water below him.
"What the heck?" he asked as he heard the others shouting behind him. Just then they heard a terrible cracking sound, as if the ship was about to crack open… that was what Usopp and Franky were thinking. In fact, the two of them were already running to the hatch to take them below to check on any damage.
But before they could get even that far, a massive whirlpool suddenly appeared directly beneath them.
"What the hell?!" Zoro shouted out, already pulling out his sword, ready to strike. But at that moment, when Luffy looked down at the once calm water, to see that something was looking right back at him. An enormous golden eye was looking up at him from the waves…
Luffy held up his fists, ready to fight back, already calling out a taunting challenge to their attacker… but before he even had a chance to finish shouting, a thick fog seemed to cover his eyes… no wait… not his eyes… inside them…
His mind was suddenly clouded over and he couldn't think straight anymore. Not that he was thinking to begin with…
He felt drowsy, like he was half asleep, his ears becoming deaf so he couldn't hear anything. The last thing that he could remember before he blacked out was that he was falling backwards through the fog and downwards, at least he thought it was down… he couldn't tell which way was which anymore.
He felt so light and comfortable, like he was floating along in a great fluffy cloud and he started to shift in and out until darkness clouded his eyes once again and he fell asleep.
"Luffy?" called a faraway voice.
Luffy could hear someone shouting his name but he didn't want to answer it because he was so tired. He ignored the voice until he could feel someone poking his face. He tried to bat the hand away like he was getting rid of a fly, but the poking was becoming more persistent and it wasn't until a sharp pain poked him in the side did he open his eyes.
"OW! That hurt!" he shouted, sitting up and glaring around angrily.
Chopper and Brook were there with him and were leaning over him. It turned out that Brook had been poking him with his cane to try and wake him up, finally resorting to using the very tip of his sword to do so. Not enough to draw blood, but just to give Luffy a reason to wake up.
"Hey! What happened? Where are we?" Luffy asked before he blinked and his memory came back. He began staring wildly at them as he yelled out, "Where is it? Where did it go?"
"Where did what go, Luffy-san?" Brook asked curiously.
"That big eye!" Luffy shouted out, holding out his arms as he tried to show them how big he was talking about. "I saw something really big and the water and…" he suddenly realized that they weren't on the Sunny anymore. Rather they were lying on a beach and they were alone with no signs of the ship anywhere.
"Where…? What happened?" he asked in confusion.
"That's what we were trying to figure out," Chopper told him urgently. "I thought that something bad was happening to Sunny, but then I got so sleepy and I don't know what happened!"
"The same with me," Brook agreed. "I couldn't believe my eyes that I could fall asleep like that, then and there. Not that I have eyes of course, Yohohoho. But when I came to, I was with Chopper-san on the beach about a mile down."
"Really? You guys don't remember either?" Luffy asked as he jumped to his feet and his two crewmates did the same.
"I don't know," Chopper said, sounding upset. "Neither of us remember! We just woke up on the beach! We were looking for the others and we just found you lying here! Luffy? What did you see?"
Luffy stepped around, trying to reach out and find the others with his Haki, but he was still feeling so drowsy that he was having a hard time trying to think of what happened.
"A big eye! And I mean huge! Musta been some really big sea monster!" Luffy said, and he sounded excited at the thought.
"So ah… you think that we were all eaten and we're dead?" Brook asked calmly. "Ah, but I'm already dead." But then he realized what he said and began to scream, "AHHHHHHH! But I didn't want to die again!"
"Really?!" Chopper screamed out in terror at the thought.
"Oh, who cares?!" Luffy cried out happily, his eyes shining as he looked up at the massive tower that was standing upon a cliff. "Let's go and check that place out! I bet that we can see everything on the island!"
"But, Luffy? What about the others?" Chopper croaked out fearfully.
"If we go up there, we'll find them eventually?" Luffy reasoned before he went running off.
"Hey! Wait up!" Chopper cried out as he broke into a run.
"Everyone come back!" Brook called as he went running after them as well.
The three of them left the beach behind and were travelling through a thick forest. Though concerned with their missing friends, Luffy couldn't help but look around like a child going to the store to pick out a treat.
"Ah, Luffy?" Chopper asked suddenly, "I really think that we should be looking for the others?"
"I'm sure they're fine," Luffy said with a smile. "If we all made it here, then I'm sure they did too. They can handle anything."
"Speaking of which, how did we get here?" Brook asked as he thought it over. "I mean… if that was a sea monster and it did swallow our ship, why not eat all of us too?"
"Ehhhh? You think the ship was eaten?" Chopper asked, his eyes wide.
"But then how come we're not eaten?" Luffy asked curiously, folding his arms behind his head as he walked.
"That's what I don't get," Brook confessed. "I mean… we're all Devil Fruit Users so we should've drowned if we were spit out… ah… maybe the sea monster was a vegetarian and doesn't eat meat!" He paused for a moment before he yelled out, "WELL, ISN'T THAT A BIT INCONSIDERATE?!"
"YOU'RE UPSET THAT WE WEREN'T EATEN?!" Chopper cried out with his eyes big.
"It's the thought that counts," he said sadly. "It's true that I may be nothing but bones… but I still like to be included."
"Awww… Brook," Chopper said as he patted his leg.
"Thank you, Chopper-san…" he whimpered, wiping at a few tears. But as he did, he froze for a moment. "Ah… wait…"
"Hmm? What is it Brook?" Luffy asked, up ahead and turning to look back at him.
Brook stood very still as he was listening carefully. One thing about being a musician is that his hearing was incredibly sharp. Though how he was able to hear without ears he didn't know, but he did know that at that moment he could hear the sounds of distant voices.
"Over there!" Brook called, pointing off in one direction through some trees. "I hear something! I believe that there are people nearby."
"Really? Then that must mean that there's a town nearby!" Chopper said in relief. "Let's go!"
"But I wanna go up there!" Luffy pouted, pointing forward to where the tower still loomed.
"Yeah, I know Luffy," Chopper said quickly. "But… but what if there's a town there and that's where the others are? If nothing else, we can at least find some information. I don't think we need to worry about the tower going anywhere, right?"
Luffy continued to pout but then brightened up as he said, "Alright! But when we find them, then we go and check out that place."
Glad that they were able to convince him for the moment, they let Brook led the way through the trees. But as they walked, Brook suddenly noticed something very strange—almost eerie.
"Do you guys hear something?" he asked, looking up at the tree branches, and if he still had a face, he would have been frowning heavily.
The other two listened but didn't hear anything.
"No," Luffy answered.
"I don't hear anything," Chopper added, wondering what the problem was.
"Exactly," Brook said, sounding a little serious. "There's something not right about this place."
There was no sound... No occasional scuttle of some creature or the chirping of birds. The entire forest was silent other than the sounds of their footsteps crashing through the leaves and twigs. That wasn't normal. No wonder he could hear the sounds of other people so clearly.
Luffy didn't pay too much attention, his gaze still drawn to the tower, and it was taking every ounce of willpower he had not to go running off and start exploring.
"Luffy," Chopper said, recognizing that look in his captain's eyes. "I promise that we can go off and explore later, but let's go exploring the village here before we go running off, ok?"
But being told not to go and explore was like trying to leave out some cotton candy with a sign that said 'not for Chopper' out and expect Chopper not to eat it. Still, Luffy seemed to like the idea of 'exploring' the town and agreed as they continued forward.
After a short time of walking, they reached the edge of the forest and onto solid, flat ground… free from trees. It was a giant courtyard of stone and grass, there were the remains of walls and broken pillars scattered every which way. The stone walkway, they were on, was cracked and had broken, grey bricks that looked like they'd been burned by a tremendous fire. There were high-statues made of the same stone, but they looked like a something big has knocked them over… which have been eroded away by the yearly torrential rains over the centuries.
Directly in front of them there was a massive fountain that's shaped perfectly like a dragon. The body was large and the scales sculpted by a true artist, as having the face was so realistic that it looked like its eyes really staring at you. The mouth and teeth were made of a solid silver, the wings were open and it looked like the stone dragon was about to take flight.
"Wow!" Luffy cried out excitedly, running up to get a better look at the dragon. "It's so cool!"
Brook and Chopper both joined him, admiring the statue, not even noticing the ruins of a town that laid in front of them until they heard a voice speaking up.
"Look, how many times do we have to tell you? We're not here to attack you or anything," said a very familiar voice. "We just want to know if you've seen our friends around here? You can't miss them! Or at the least tell us where the market is around here where we can do some shopping for something cute?"
"Hey, isn't that…?" Luffy began but it was Chopper who pointed just ahead of them. Down a worn-looking road were none other than Nami and Robin, both at the door of one house while Usopp was across the street, knocking at a door and trying get someone's attention.
"Usopp! Nami! Robin!" Chopper cried out happily and all three turned to see them.
"Oh, thank goodness we found someone else!" Nami smiled as Chopper went bounding straight for Usopp in a big hug.
"Glad to see you all made it here without too much trouble," Robin said as she stepped forward to greet with Brook and Luffy.
"What happened to you guys?" Nami demanded, like it was there faults.
"Just what we were going to ask," Brook said happily as Usopp returned Chopper's hug and swung him around in a big circle. "Though I am glad to see that you are all safe. Thank goodness."
"Yeah, looks like you were right Brook!" Luffy said with a bright smile, "There was a village."
"Did you guys wake up here?" Chopper asked as Usopp carried him over.
"Just right outside," Robin answered with a nod. "Me and Nami woke up together and came here to try and find anyone else. That was when we found Usopp screaming when he saw the statue."
"Hey! I just woke up and there was a mouth full of teeth looking down at me!" Usopp cried out as Luffy laughed. "That thing looks freakin' real!"
"Really? We woke up at the shore and found Luffy-san there," Brook informed them as he thought it over. "In any case, it's good to know that everyone here is safe. Now all we gotta do is find our last three members, Yohohoho!"
"Yeah, ain't it great?" Luffy laughed with a smile.
"What? You mean they weren't with you?" Nami asked in surprise before they looked at each other.
"Don't tell me it's just the two of them?" Usopp groaned out, shaking his head at the thought.
"That would be bad," Chopper said worriedly.
*Up the road*
"Look! How many times do I have to tell you?" Zoro demanded, "Get outta my way or I'll cut you down, crap cook!"
"Keep dreaming, Moss-Head!" Sanji roared back. "If I let you take charge then we'll never find Nami or Robin! Now shut up and let me lead!"
"Not on your life!" Zoro yelled back, sparks of anger already flying as they glared at each other.
"We better start looking for them before they accidently kill each other," Usopp sighed.
"That might be easier said than done," Robin said, turning back at the few people who were looking cautiously out their windows and doors at them.
"What's wrong?" Luffy asked, finally noticing the empty expressions on all the people watching them. "What's with these guys?"
"That's the problem, we don't know," Usopp answered. "I've tried talking to a dozen people already but they won't say anything to me."
"The people here just don't want to talk to us," Nami said, sounding a little frustrated. "We tried again and again, but they don't want anything to do with us."
"Truly?" Brook asked before he spotted a teenage girl with two other younger children with her, looking at them from the shadows of a nearby house.
"Hello there!" Brook called happily, even giving them a little wave, before the teen closed the door without even answering back.
Brook suddenly fell to his knees as a dark cloud hung over his head. "That is unkind."
"Man, I've seen friendlier dead people," Usopp said as he gazed around. He looked at how worn and beat up the village was and added out-loud as he thought about it, "Maybe they were attacked in the past. That would explain why they're so scared and why the village looks like this?"
"Most likely. In either case, we can't really blame them for being afraid of us," Robin reasoned. "We are pirates after all." She then looked to a couple young children poking their heads out from behind a door and she gave them a small smile to show that they were friendly.
The children slipped back inside the house without another glance back.
"Look, we need to find the others and then figure out what happened to the Sunny," Nami said firmly.
"Nami!" Luffy whined out as he continued to stare up at the massive tower in front of them. "I wanna go up there!"
"Would you be quiet?" Nami snapped. "I don't like this place. It's giving me the creeps and the sooner we leave the happier I'll be."
"You just arrived and already so eager to leave. Yet you must have had a reason for coming here," spoke up a young voice and the six of them all stopped and turned around to see that they weren't alone.
A little girl cautiously stepped forward, dressed in a simple cream-colored dress and her dark hair tied back into a pair of pig-tails. "Are you pirates?" she asked. She didn't sound afraid, more… mechanical. Like she was devoid of all emotion.
"Ah," Nami said a little awkwardly. "Yeah, I'm afraid we are. But you don't need to worry. We're not going to attack you guys or anything so you don't need to be scared."
The girl gazed up at her with an unusually calm expression.
"So ah…" Chopper asked as he came forward to talk. "What's your name?"
The girl looked over at him with mild surprise. "You are a pirate raccoon dog?"
"I'm a reindeer!" Chopper shouted out as he pointed up to his antlers. "See? Antlers! Raccoon dogs don't have antlers!"
"Now, now, Chopper," Robin said soothingly before she crouched down until she was eye level with the little girl. "Don't mind him. He's a little sensitive. Now then. What is the name of this island? Could you be willing to tell us? And maybe where we can get our shopping done? We don't mean to cause anyone any trouble."
"Yeah," Luffy laughed. "I wanna just go up there!" And he pointed up to the lighthouse.
"Oh," the little girl said, turning her gaze to him. "So you have come here for the treasure after all?"
She had said the magic word.
"Treasure?!" Nami gasped out, her eyes turning to beri marks as an excited beam came to her face. "You mean there's treasure on the island?!"
The girl pointed up to the lighthouse as she said, "The Tower has stood there for hundreds of years. And legend has it that any who is able to climb the tower to the top will find a treasure more valuable than anything out there. That is where the light comes from, or so they say."
"Really?" Usopp gasped out, gazing up at the light that was shining from the very top windows. "So that light is actually from a pile of gold?"
"Wow! That's so awesome!" Luffy and Chopper cried out together, staring up at the top with new eagerness.
"Wait, if it's there, why are you telling us?" Usopp asked suspiciously.
"Rather you take the treasure up there that no one has ever been able to get to before than to attack the village," the girl answered back calmly.
"Hey, we just told you we're not here to…" Usopp began but Robin put up her hand to silence him.
"It's alright. I promise that not a single one of us wants to hurt anyone," she told her. "But we are pirates. Do you know where we can find three other members of our crew? A swordsman with green hair and three swords, a cook dressed in a suit, and a big muscled shipwright who looks more machine than human?"
She had expected the girl to look surprise, or at the leave think that she was pulling her leg. But she frowned when the girl just shook her head like she gets asked that question every day.
"There is not much else on the island that you haven't already seen," she confessed. "If they were not at the shore or the village, then they must be in the jungle up ahead." She then pointed along the road and added, "That way should take you straight up to the tower. I think that will be your best chance to find them."
"And you don't mind if we go to the tower?" Robin asked knowingly.
The girl didn't answer.
"Well, what are we waiting for? I wanna go and climb that thing!" Luffy said in excitement. There really wasn't much else about this island and he was bored already. He wanted to go and check that place out. "Hey, thanks for helping us out," he added to the girl.
The girl didn't answer back.
"What's your name, little one?" Brook asked politely. She turned back to gaze at him and it seemed to take a moment for her to think of an answer.
"Ok, you don't want to tell us," Nami said kindly, but this girl was really starting to creep her out. "About this treasure? You're saying that there's one up there?"
"We have no need of it," she answered back and Nami was now almost drooling at the thought. "If you want it, that is your business."
"So… ah… this treasure," Usopp began, "If there is such a treasure up there, how come no one's ever found it before?"
"Only one other pirate crew has ever come through here," the girl answered. "And that was a long time ago. Over twenty years ago if I remember."
"Twenty years? That's a long time," Brook said thoughtfully.
"Wait, we're the first pirates here in over two decades?!" Nami asked, highly skeptical. "I find that hard to believe."
"Pirates usually avoid this part of the sea," she answered back, turning to look at Nami this time before she pointed in the direction of the shore. "Because of the giant sea creature that guards this island."
"Sea Monster?" Nami repeated, her eyes wide.
"YEAH! I knew it! I knew I saw something!" Luffy cheered.
"It's not a good thing!" Nami shouted at him before she looked back at the girl and asked more urgently, "Excuse me, what kind of sea monster is out there?"
The little girl shrugged as she informed them, "It doesn't appear unless there is a ship that comes into its territory. It must have seen you and let you go. It only attacks if the ones who come here arrive with ill-intent."
"Wait… what?" Usopp asked at once. "You mean, that this monster spared our lives?"
"That's what it does," the girl shrugged. "We do not fear it for it protects the island and the treasure. I think that it let you come here, but it took your ship. I don't know where you can find it, but it's surely on the island somewhere."
"Well, that explains where our ship went, but how did it do what it did to us? I can't remember much else what happened after we first arrived?" Robin asked curiously.
"The creature has always protected us," the girl repeated with a shrug. "So no one really cares what else it does. Like I said, the creature protects this island so there's no need to want to try and take treasure from there. What would we do with it anyway?"
They all looked at each other before the girl went walking away to one of the nearby houses and ducked inside.
"That was… weird," Usopp gulped. That little kid made his skin crawl.
"But what do we do now?" Chopper asked, looking up at the others worriedly. "Zoro, Franky, and Sanji are all still missing along with the Sunny?"
"While I still don't understand what happened," Robin said, looking down kindly at him, "I don't see it as the worst thing possible right now. And I'm sure the boys are on the island somewhere."
"Yeah, I'm sure that we'll find them eventually," Usopp said as he looked around at Luffy and asked, "Hey Luffy why don't we…?"
But when he looked beside him, he saw that Luffy was gone.
"WHERE DID HE GO?!" he yelled out, his eyes popping out.
"Where do you think?" Nami asked with a sigh.
"It doesn't matter," Robin laughed a little. "Let's just head up the road and see if we can find him and the others. Something tells me that we'll find them soon."
"What a boring place," Franky grunted before he looked up at the towering structure above him. "Damn, I can only imagine how long it took to build that thing." He sighed and looked around as he tried to get his memory back to what happened before. "Not that it matters. I need to find the others and Sunny too! What the hell happened?"
He went sulking off, feeling like a piece of himself was missing when he didn't know where his beloved ship was. He was also worried about the rest of the crew and wondered where they had gotten off to. All he could remember was passing out in that fog and waking up in the middle of this jungle all alone. Still, if he made it here, he could only assume that the others all made it here as well.
All he had to do was find them.
He grinded his teeth together as he continued. Stupid fog knocking him out like that. How could he fall asleep at the wheel like that? Jeez what was the matter with him?
He had to find everyone. And he went running off, logically think that they would head to the tower because that's what Luffy would have wanted to go.
Luffy couldn't stand the thought of being forced to wait any longer and went running off before the girl even finished telling them the story. As soon as he heard about treasure up there, Luffy knew that he had to see it. What kind of treasure actually glows like that? It was probably something really awesome! He couldn't wait to find out what it was.
He continued running straight ahead, his eyes focused on the giant spire in front of him, but not so distracted that he didn't hear the sounds of footsteps. He skidded to a stop and turned to look at some bushes.
"Oh, Zoro? Franky? Hey, Sanji? Is that you in there?" he called, jogging in place as he waited for them to come out.
"Hey, it's you," Luffy said, when he saw that it was that same little girl from the village. "Hey! Oh, wow, you're fast! You caught up so easy!"
"I live here," she answered back calmly as she walked towards him. She only came up to about Luffy's waist, but the way she held herself made her seem taller. "Why do you want to go to the tower?"
"Huh?" Luffy asked as he thought it all over. "It looks like it might be a cool place and I wanna go looking at it! I can just smell the adventure!"
The girl's expression didn't change as she observed him.
"I see," she told him. "Then do whatever you want. But know this… once you step inside the tower, you won't be able to get out again until you see this 'adventure' of yours to the end."
"Huh? Alright," Luffy said, wondering just what she was trying to get at. "Well, thanks for the heads up." He gave her a little wave before he went walking passed her.
The girl followed him with those blank eyes before she spoke up, "Treasure isn't worth it."
"What are you talking about?" Luffy asked, who was looking up at the spire in the distance.
"That tower isn't normal," she whispered to him. "Something lives in that structure that feeds upon emotions of those who enter. Once you set foot inside, you will experience things that will break most people."
Luffy tilted his head at her.
"Emotions?" he repeated as the girl sighed.
"I just thought I give you a warning," she told him as she turned around. "The fog that took you all before wants you here and it wants you to go into that tower."
"I'm not afraid of a little smoke," Luffy told her.
"It's not the smoke you need to be afraid of," she told him softly. "Whatever lives in that tower uses the fog just to hide in it. No more than that."
She then turned and walked a little bit away, pausing only just before she reached the shadows of the trees before she turned back. She pointed up the road and answered, "You'll find your other friends just up ahead. I think that they're fighting."
"Really?" Luffy asked with a smile. "Hey, thanks for that."
But the girl shook her head.
"It is best that you leave this place while you still can," she told him. "You aren't supposed to be here."
Luffy laughed as he told her, "Yeah, we're pirates so we get that a lot."
Perhaps a shadow of a smile appeared on the girl's face.
"You know… there was one other pirate captain who came here," she told him. "You remind me of him."
She then turned and disappeared into the shadows of the trees. Luffy blinked, a little surprised at that but thought no more of it as he went running off.
*Zoro and Sanji*
"Today's the day!" Sanji snarled, the fire licking his legs as he halted Zoro's bladed. "I'm gonna take you out once and for all!"
"Oh, yeah you can try!" Zoro taunted. "One little nosebleed is enough to take you out!"
"Shut up!" Sanji yelled back and soon the two of them were battling it out, knocking over trees or slicing boulders in half as they fought.
Meanwhile, Luffy was running straight ahead when he heard the sounds of fighting. He was so focused on running ahead that he almost ended up running straight into Franky when he came bursting out through some trees.
"Hey! Franky!" Luffy yelled out happily when they nearly collided. "You're alright!"
"Huh? Oh, Luffy! Good to see you aren't dead!" Franky laughed thumping him on the back and almost knocking him to the ground. "And also good to see that me running off in this random direction wasn't a bad idea after all."
"You going to the tower to?!" Luffy asked brightly. "Did you hear? There's supposed to be some kind of awesome treasure up at the top! I'm gonna go and see! Wanna come?!"
"Wait? Wait, slow down!" Franky asked. "Hey, now that I think of it, have you seen…?"
But before he could finish asking his question, the pair of them heard the fighting and they looked up in time to see the smoke rising just beyond the next patch of trees.
"Three guesses who that is," Franky said as they both went running in the direction of the smoke, already able to hear yelling and it left little to wonder who it was who was behind it. They came bursting into a clearing to see the two fighters. Sanji's legs were aflame as he began kicking at Zoro, who was blocking with one sword and using a second to strike back."
"Hey! Knock it off! What are you guys doing?" Franky called as Luffy cheered them on.
"Huh?" both fighters called and looked up to see who it was. "Oh, it's you two."
"What do you mean by that?" Franky yelled back.
"You guys here too?" Zoro asked, unconcerned.
"Yeah! Now everyone's alright!" Luffy laughed out.
"Everyone? You mean Nami and Robin too?" Sanji cried out happily.
"Yep!" Luffy called back happily as he waved at them. "The others are all in the village down there!"
"Whoa! Nami was worried and came here looking for me!?" Sanji gasped out. "Oh, what a relief! Now that that's off my mind…" He glared at Zoro, fire burning in his eyes as he yelled out, "Now I can kick your ass!"
"Get real… or keep dreaming, one or the other," Zoro taunted. They charged in, ready to get the battle truly underway when suddenly someone stepped forward from the trees.
"STOP YOU IDIOTS!"
Nami's punches came flying out of nowhere and soon both of them were on the ground and bleeding.
"Dude… she is one mean lady," Franky whispered, gulping down in fear.
"You three really are idiots!" Nami hissed as all three of the Monster Trio were nursing their injuries as they went marching together the rest of the way up to the front gate of the tower.
"Why'd you hit me too?" Luffy sulked.
"For running off like that… again," Nami said angrily.
"So ah…" Franky began, having been the only one of the four of them who hadn't received a beating and intended to keep it that way, "What's this about a treasure?"
Nami's eyes lit up with beri marks when she heard her favorite word.
"I dunno," Usopp said with a frown. "I got a bad feeling about this whole thing. I mean, I think that kid was just telling us a story. Who goes around and has an entire tower to hide away treasure?"
"It's not impossible," Robin said calmly. "While I cannot say it's indeed treasure we'll find, but I am willing to bet that there's something hidden up at the top of that tower, and judging from the ruins I was able to examine outside the village, there's something locked away in that tower, and I'm willing to bet that there are some traps in there that are protecting it."
"Isn't it obvious? Treasure! Some really amazing treasure!" Nami said longingly.
"In that case, we can't let her have it," Usopp whispered to Zoro, who nodded in agreement.
"Yohohoho, my I must say that I, too, cannot wait to see it!" Brook said happily. "Just the thought takes my breath away! Not that I can since I'm already dead! Yohohoho!"
"Oh, who cares?" Luffy asked, his pain already forgotten now that he was able to go where he wanted. "I wanna see it!"
"No! I just want to live! I want to say goodbye to this creepy island!" Usopp said loudly.
"You idiot!" Franky yelled out angrily. "How do you intend to do that? What about our ship? Anyone know where the Sunny went?"
"That's right! Our ship!" Usopp said, realizing that he was right. "Ok, so we look and find the Sunny and then we can leave!"
"No problems!" Nami smiled slyly. "If we get a look from the top of the tower, I'm sure that we can see all across the island! It might just be our best chance and it would be easier then trying to search an entire island, right?"
Franky thought that over before he said reasonably, "You know, that makes sense."
"Ok, let's look for some treasure!" Luffy cheered out.
"That's captain's orders!" Nami smiled whole-heartedly.
"Don't you worry, Nami!" Sanji cried out at once. "I vow that I will make you happy! And thus win your heart in the process!"
"I'll hold you to that," Nami smiled.
"Ok! I'm gonna look for some treasure too!" Chopper declared as he took Robin's hand, who was smiling back down at him.
Usopp looked around, wanting to have someone on his side for once, but no one even glanced back as they all headed up the road, the foot of the spire right in front of them. Usopp sighed, leaning forward in depression
It's no use, they've gone into treasure mode…
"This cannot end well," he moaned out before he went running after the others crying out, "Don't leave me behind!"
"Wow! It's even bigger in person!" Chopper cried out, gazing up in wonder. He felt like just a tiny speck compared to how enormous just a single brick of this building. "I don't see how anything other than a giant could've made this!"
"Not a bad guess," Robin smiled as she looked up, her eyes also shining when she pushed her sunglasses up so that she could see the structure better from the light of the setting sun. "But I can tell that it's definitely made by humans, not giants. Though able to build something so vast means that it must have taken hundreds of years at the least."
"Well, if they were going for a world record or something, I think that they succeeded," Zoro said, shielding his one eye as he gazed upwards. "I can't even see the top from this angle."
"Great! Let's go!" Luffy cheered as he and Usopp both went running straight to the front doors, trying to get them to open.
"Hold up, you two!" Sanji shouted in annoyance. But at that moment, something caught his eye. He turned to look at the side of one of two pillars that supported the archway for the front doors. "Hey, Robin!" he called, looking back to the rest of them. "There's something written here!"
That drew everyone's attention as they looked to see where he was pointing.
"Fascinating," Robin said as she strolled forward. "Good eyes, Sanji."
"I'm so glad you think so, Robin dear…" he sighed lovingly.
"Idiot," Zoro muttered.
"Robin… what does it say?" Chopper asked as he looked up at the strange script.
"Hmm," Robin hummed to herself as she walked up to stand with him as she looked over the ancient writing. "It's quite old. Hard to say for sure how old. But if I had to guess it was left behind as a warning to the inhabitants of this island. Maybe even the villager's ancestors."
"Great, but what does it say?" Zoro said as Robin pulled out her notebook and began to take a few notes as she examined it. She had a curious expression and maybe the hint of a frown as she read it all back to them once she had it translated:
Those of dark, beware the light,
For through these doors, prepare to fight…
Through these doors, a beast of flame and flight.
Beyond here, awaits fire and grief…
Deadly to all but those who accept belief.
Forbidden treasure, beware ye thief…
Danger beyond measure, beware ye slayer…
Enter, now, if you dare…
Enter, now… the dragon's lair!
"D-D-Dragons?!" Usopp choked out loudly, sweat forming on his face at the thought.
"Real dragons? Seriously?" Luffy cried out, who was still trying to force open the massive front doors, but he was looking back with stars shining in his eyes. "Oh, I can't wait!"
"Now you're talking my language!" Zoro grinned evilly, his thumb already flicking out a sword. "I'm glad I came."
"Hey now!" Nami shouted out as she grew very pale, "Wait, time out for a second! What does it mean by dragons? This is a dragon's layer? And what's it mean by 'danger beyond measure'? Oh right…" she whispered as she thought it over.
"Interesting," Robin said as she thought it over.
"What is?" Brook asked her curiously before she turned to look at him.
"You saw it right? The statue of the dragon when we first arrived?" she asked. "I think that there is some merit to the warning. Perhaps the ancestors of this island worshiped that dragon and they built this tower in honor of it."
"But then… wouldn't that mean that the thing is dead?" Brook asked worriedly. "If it was so long ago?"
"So, what you think that they built this thing to worship an overgrown lizard?" Zoro asked with his eyebrows raised. "Weirdos."
"I think that it's a reasonable guess," Robin said before she looked back up at the writing. "And you know… if it's really is a dragon who lives in the tower, then they are known to have legendary treasure hoards."
Nami's eyes shone like gold and she couldn't have looked happier as she cried out, "Luffy?! Hurry up and open that stupid door already!"
"Don't you remember how it warns treasure hunters not to go in there?!" Usopp demanded of her angrily.
"I'm trying! But the stupid thing doesn't wanna move!" Luffy yelled, not finding a giant doorknob or anything. Just two solid stone doors with no way to open it. He stood back, frowning as he tilted his head, half a mind just punching his way through.
"Don't worry," Robin said, having looked over the rest of the ancient writing. "Just wait a few minutes. I think I know a much easier way inside."
"How?" Zoro asked, who was just thinking of cutting right through the doors, but knew that Robin would never approve of it.
"Just trust me," Robin said with a mysterious smile. "I think you'll be quite impressed with this. But we have to wait until the sun almost sets for it to work."
Zoro raised his eyebrows in confusion, highly skeptical, but he didn't say anything as Luffy sat down with his arms folded angrily. "Come on guys, I can go rocketing up to the top!"
"Yes, but then you won't get a chance to go looking around inside," Robin reasoned, who was quite eager to look inside herself.
"Besides, you're bound to break something if we just let you run off without a care in the world," Sanji added as he watched Robin running her hand over the massive door as if looking for something.
"So ah… do you really think that there's a dragon who lives in there?" Chopper asked worriedly.
"Of course not," Usopp said with a bit of a forced laugh. "Well, look at it this way. If there was a dragon here, don't you think that the people who live here would be a little more concerned?"
"Huh, well now that you mention it," Brook said slowly as he thought it over as they walked through the town. "They sure seemed more scared of us than a dragon. But now that I think about it, they just kept talking about a sea monster. Not a dragon."
"Hmmm," Robin said again. "Wait… maybe… that's what it was."
"What, what was?" Franky asked, looking up at the tower. "Come on, you guys! Let's get going!"
"There was a young girl in the village who told us that the reason we were brought here was because of some kind of beast?" Robin informed him. "Maybe that was the dragon that this message is warning us about?"
"WHAT?" most of the crew cried out.
"THAT WAS THE DRAGON?!" Nami screamed out in panic.
"BUT IT HAD TO BE HUGE TO TAKE SUNNY!" Usopp and Chopper both cried out at the same time.
"Dragons traditionally are," Zoro said, his blood racing at the thought of such a confrontation. "Really, I'm hoping that we run into that thing again!"
"In either case, it could be our chance to go," Robin offered. "If the dragon's in the sea, then he's not in the tower, right?"
"Huh?" Usopp said, blinking stupidly for a moment before he started a shaky laugh. "H-Hey! You're right! Well, that's too bad! I personally want a chance to get some payback for the greeting it gave us when we first got here!"
"Well, let's go!" Nami snapped, though still frightened at the thought of coming face-to-face with that thing again, at the moment the idea of finding a treasure hoard was just too good to ever pass up.
"Now…" Robin said as she turned back to look at the setting sun in the distance. And just like that, the light was reflecting shadows across the door and some of the Straw Hats gasped at the sight of seeing the shape of a door within the massive one that Luffy had so much trouble with. It was the glowing outline of a door just wide enough for them, and Robin smiled when she ran her hand over the outline.
"I thought so," she smiled. "This impressive front door here was just decoration. The real door is right here. Which means…" she placed her hand much lower and touched a certain part of the stone as she finished, "Here…"
And just like that, an entrance slowly creaked open to reveal a dark passageway.
"Wow! You're so awesome Robin!" Luffy cheered out.
"I'll say! You're as smart as you are beautiful!" Sanji sighed as Luffy's grin widen and he was the first to go charging in through the door and into the tower. Not aware that from a safe distance away, the form of the little girl they met before was watching them. Still as a statue.
(And that is the prologue for the new story. What do you all think so far? Please let me know what you think. As for the many questions on which story idea won the contest, I think it's more fun for you to guess. It will take a few chapters for you to really figure it out, and while I do think that sequels are never as good as the original, I hope that this new story will live up to it. I can't say when the next chapter will be up, but know that I do try to work on it every day if only for a little bit. I'm going to a college where we get two new classes each month, and they have to fill in an entire semester of that class into only four weeks so it's pretty rough and I don't have much time for writing. At the end of every month we have to do finals, which is never fun. Anyway, I just finished finals and I'm free for the rest of the weekend, so hopefully I'll have some time to write before it gets crazy again. Hope you liked the start, and let me know what you think.)