In the big city it was so crowded with houses and people that few found room for even a small garden and most people had to be content with a flowerpot, but two poor children who lived there managed to have a garden that was a little bigger than a flowerpot. These children were not brother and sister, but they loved each other just as much as if they had been.
A breath caught in Emmy's chest as she re-read that last line. She was sitting in the quietest corner she could find in the room. Given that the house was just one big open space, the best place she could find was a space between Cricket's bookshelf and desk. She sat on the floor and read the book Robin picked out for her while the rest of her nakama drank and feasted with Cricket and the two scavenging apes. The archaeologist, herself, was sitting on the other side of the bookshelf and reading Noland's log book. She was far enough as not to disturb the first mate but also within reach if there were words the first mate had a hard time to recognize. And there were many.
These children…, Emmy thought to herself, They're just like me and Luffy…
"I saw gold...in the skull's right eye."
Emmy blinked and looked over at the archaeologist. Cricket had went to Robin and he peered over the book to deliver his speech in an ominous manner.
Everyone fell silent as Robin lowered her book.
"Gold?" she asked.
Cricket shrugged and turned to the rest of the room. "That tear soaked sentence was the last thing Noland wrote. 'I saw gold in the skull's right eye'. Noland was executed that same day. Even after coming to Jaya, those words make no sense to me at all…'The skull's right eye'...Is it referring to the name of a city that once existed? Or was it an allusion to his own death? There's nothing else he wrote that would explain it."
Cricket raised the bottle of wine he was holding. "That's why we dive! We have a dream! On the seafloor!"
"That's right!" the scavenging brothers cheered as they raised their mugs to toast their ally.
"Shishishi. And we're gonna fly!" Luffy exclaimed as he shoved a kebab into his mouth, stick and all.
"Luffy!" Emmy yelled out in alarm.
"Ow!" Luffy cried as the sharp stick poked him inside his mouth. He pulled it out and he grinned, "Oops."
"Cricket-san," Robin said politely as she set her book down on her lap, "If you don't think the 'skull's right eye' is here in Jaya, how do you know that Jaya is the place to look?"
Cricket pointed at the book in Robin's lap. "'Entry for May 21, 1122. The day I arrived on Jaya,'" he recited, "'Upon landing on the island, we heard strange bird calls and the sound of a very large bell coming from the forest. The sound from that huge gold bell resonated far and wide, almost as if showing off the prosperity of a city long past. We thought we knew everything after living for a few decades...but experiencing the transience of this civilization that flourished for a long on the the wide open sea left us speechless! The sound of the bell had us stopped in our tracks.'"
"Wow...a huge gold bell?!" Nami exclaimed.
Cricket went to a chest on the other side of the room and retrieved three things, each wrapped in a soft green cloth. They were no bigger than a jar. When he pulled off the cloths, three gold bells gleamed under the light.
"Wow. Look at that!" Usopp marvelled and then he tilted his head to the side, "But...I thought Noland said it was a giant bell...How is this giant?"
"These aren't the bell Noland writes about. They're bell shaped ingots," Cricket said, "We found these on the seafloor."
"Ingots?" Chopper asked.
"Oh! So there really is a city of gold!" Luffy said.
"That doesn't prove that," Shojo corrected, "You could find that much gold in any old ruins."
"But it does prove that there was a civilization in this area," Robin said, "Ingots are made to have standardized weights, which means they were used for trade."
"Yes," Cricket said as he brought another bundle from the chest. This one was lumpier than the others and was the size of a foot stool. When he took off the cloth, he revealed a golden statue of a bird.
"Wow! There's more?!" Nami exclaimed, "It's so pretty! And huge!"
"So the old bell and the strange birds...Do you suppose they were the symbols of old Jaya?" Sanji asked.
"Dunno but they were part of some model. This here's called a South Bird and they still exist on this island," Cricket said.
"Oh! And they have a weird call?" Luffy asked.
"Yeah. Just like the book said," Cricket said as he gave the statue a polish with the cloth.
"South Birds are fascinating animals," Mashira said, "Sailors have been using them for decades to-"
He stopped short and exchanged a look of horror with his brother. Sweat beaded down their face as the same thought occured to Cricket.
"Oh crap!" they exclaimed in unison.
"What? What's the matter?" Luffy demanded as everyone go to their feet.
"This is bad," Cricket yelled, "You guys! Go into the forest. The southern forest!"
"Huh? Why? What're you talking about?" Luffy asked.
"Go catch this bird! Right now!" Cricket said as he pointed to the statue, "Listen closely! The Knock-Up stream you're heading for tomorrow is located directly south of this cape. This bird is our only way of getting there. They have an instinctual and accurate draw to magnetic south, which allow them to get their bearings. South Birds will always indicate the direction accurately. WIthout those birds, there's no way we can navigate south to the Knock-Up Stream and if we miss it, you all can't get to Sky Island."
Realization clicked into the pirates' heads and they scrambled for the door.
"Why are you telling us this now?!" Luffy exclaimed as he ran out towards the forest.
"Don't forget these!" Cricket called as he handed Emmy and Robin three poles with nets on their ends, "We're going to get started on your beat-up ship."
"Thank you! We'll be back soon," Emmy said as she gave a quick bow and then scrambled off to catch up with the others.
"Listen! Make sure you catch at least one South Bird before dawn!" Cricket called after them.
"We will!" Emmy replied back.
The moon barely shed any light through the dense forest trees and the long vines that hung from the branches casted webbed shadows along the ground. It was hard to see no matter which direction they looked. Sanji, Zoro, and Luffy each had a net in their hands and they led the way while everyone else lingered behind.
"I ate too much," Chopper admitted as he rubbed his belly, "I don't think I can chase birds."
"Where are those weird birds?" Luffy asked with a frown.
"Let's just catch one quickly so we can get back to drinking," Zoro growled, "Emmy! Aren't you good with animals? Get up in front!"
"Oy!" Sanji snapped, "Don't just stick Emmy-chan out there if we don't know what else lives in this forest!"
"Where are those birds?!" Luffy asked again as he looked over to his nakama.
"If we knew where they were, we wouldn't' be out looking for them!" Zoro yelled.
"All we know is that it has a weird call," Emmy said, "Although, I'll admit that is a vague description. What is a weird call?"
"I guess we'll know it when we hear it," Robin replied with a patient smile.
"Eh?! A weird call!" Chopper and Usopp exclaimed as everyone looked around the canopy to see if they could spot the source.
"Yosh!" Luffy said with a grin.
Zoro smirked. "I guess we have no choice."
"We have three nets so we'll split into three groups and search," Sanji said, "Nami-san, Robin-chan, Emmy-chan with me and-"
"No. Emmy's coming with me," Zoro said and stepped towards the cook, "The bird will no doubt come after Emmy and I'll be able to catch the bird faster than you."
"Huh?! How's that?!" Sanji barked.
Zoro sliced his pole through the air. "This is basically a sword. I'm more equipped to use this than you are. What are you going to do? Kick the bird?"
"Erm...guys…?" Usopp said hesitantly.
Sanji and Zoro glared at the sniper. "What?!"
"Emmy's already gone with Robin," Nami said as she placed her hands on her hips.
"Ugh! What?!" Zoro yelled, "Those idiots don't even have nets!"
"Oy, you okay with Emmy going off with Robin like that?" Usopp asked as he nudged Luffy with his elbow.
A big grin spread across Luffy's face. "She's having fun, isn't she?"
"Sounds like everyone's having fun," Robin giggled as the clusters of screams erupted from different parts of the forest.
Emmy pursed her lips as she put a hand to her heart. They weren't feeling any ounce of happiness or joy between the lot of them but she'd rather not worry the newest crew mate.
They had been strolling through the forest for hours now and though they had attracted quite a few animals, none of which was the type they sought. They walked amongst a herd of wild boars, who bumped into one another in an effort to brush their head against Emmy's palm.
"I hear it," Robin sighed, "But I still don't see it."
"I can't even tell if they're close or far away," Emmy said with a frown, "Their call carries through the trees like the wind. I've never tried to catch a bird before. This is so much harder than hunting for meat back on Mount Colubo."
"Well, to be fair we're not actually hunting," Robin said thoughtfully, "We're merely trying to track one down. Do you think any of the others have caught one yet?"
"I doubt it. They're all either frustrated or freaked out by something," Emmy admitted and then she smiled down at a pig that was nuzzling her hand with his snout, "I can't imagine what though. This forest is filled with wonderful creatures."
Robin put a hand to her chin. "Does your power attract animals?"
Emmy began to pat the pig on the head. "I think so. Chopper says that I have a nice and comforting presence. Maybe that's why they are all here. For comfort…I guess even animals can get lonely."
"Yes…" Robin said and then turned her attention back to the trees.
Emmy stared at the back of the archaeologist and wondered just how long she had been travelling all by herself. Robin liked to be left alone, no doubt about that, but there was such a deep, intense pool of solitude within her that Emmy could not imagine it was there by choice.
"Maybe we should go find the others," Emmy said, "Perhaps we can regroup and figure out a new strategy."
Robin gave her suggestion a thought and then she turned to smile at the first mate. "I agree. Perhaps all their screaming and shouting has lured the South Bird over to them. I've read that there are some birds out there who are mischievous by nature."
As they turned and backtracked their steps, Robin noticed the bulge in Emmy's apron pocket. "How are you enjoying the story, Little Pirate?"
"It's wonderful," Emmy replied and her hand went down to touch a corner of it, "I only just finished the first chapter about the goblin and the magic mirror. I wonder if the brother and sister will have to defeat the goblin and piece the mirror back together. Although, I don't know how they'd be able to if some of the bits are no bigger than a grain of sand...And I wonder what that has to do with the Snow Queen. Her name is the title, after all. Is she the goblin? Or is she the sister?"
A warmth spread within Robin that made Emmy stop and look at the archaeologist. "That's the beauty of reading," Robin said and although her expression was blank, her eyes were twinkling, "It opens your mind to so many things."
"I can see why you love books so much," Emmy said, "Each story is an adventure."
"Yes...Yes, it is," Robin agreed.
"Ooh! Emmy-chwan! Robin-chwa-AAHHH! What the hell are those things?!"
"EEK! Gross! Get them away from us, Prude!"
Finally, Robin and Emmy spotted something up in the trees but they weren't birds.
"Nami? Sanji? What are you guys doing up there?" Emmy asked at her two nakama, who were clinging onto a branch.
"There's so many bugs here! It's disgusting!" Nami cried.
"There were swarms of them! I couldn't fight them off and protect Nami-san at the same time," Sanji said dejectedly.
"Were there really?" Emmy asked, "We didn't see any bugs...or birds, for that matter. Just these pigs."
"Ugh, I should've gone with you guys. Robin, why didn't you take me too?" Nami moaned as she found the courage to climb down the tree. Maybe their lucky streak would rub off on her and she wouldn't see any more monstrous insects.
"Sorry, navigator-san," Robin said with a smile, "Maybe next time."
"No...no more next time," Nami wailed as she got to the ground, followed soon by Sanji, "I just want to find the bird and get out of here!"
"Same…" came a low growl.
They turned to see Zoro and Usopp coming through the shrubs. Their pants were dirty and there were smudges all along their faces and shirts.
"What happened to you guys?" Nami asked.
"There are so many quagmires in this forest," Zoro seethed, "We saw a bird but then we kept falling into these stupid bogs while chasing after it."
"Actually," Usopp sighed, "We kept falling into the same one. I swear that bird was just going in circles."
"Oh good. There you guys are," Chopper panted as he practically dragged his sweat covered body towards the group with Luffy trailing behind him.
"Why do you look so tired?" Emmy asked.
"We've been running away from bees. There's so many bees here!" Luffy panted as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"Yeesh...Seven people and no bird? Get it together, you guys!" Usopp scolded.
"Hey, that includes you!" Sanji snapped.
This time the call was much closer than Emmy had ever heard it. The bird was perched on the branch right over their heads and she could finally see it. It was a purple and green bird with an oversized beak and its feathers poked out the back of its head in the shape of a fishtail. The way it opened its beak made it look like it was smiling.
"'You really think you can catch us? Idiots!'" Chopper translated.
"Is it mocking us?" Emmy gasped as she watched the bird hop around on the branch, "That's not very nice."
"Oh good," Robin said calmly and she crossed her arms in front of her. Two arms sprouted from the sides of the bird and they wrapped itself around it, pinning its wings down. A third arm appeared out of the branch and tossed the bird down onto the ground. Robin smiled as she looked kindly down at the frazzled bird, "All I needed was to see one."
"Whew! We can finally leave this stupid forest," Nami said as everyone else's shoulder slumped down in relief.
"Yosh!" Luffy shouted as he thrust his hands up in the air, "Let's go back to old diamond-head and continue our feast. Feast! Feast! Feast!"
"Oy! They'll be busy fixing up Merry!" Usopp cried as the captain happily marched off towards the shore.
Emmy held the South Bird in her arms with Robin's arms still binding it down. "I'm sorry, South Bird-san, but we'd really need your help," she said gently while walking behind the group.
"Please don't be frightened or angry," Emmy said, "I promise I'll take good care of you and we'll set you free as soon as we can."
"It'll be fun! I promise!"
By the time they were out of the forest, the bird's calls seemed to be more disgruntled than angered by the situation. He stopped fighting against both Robin and Emmy's hold and instead of glaring at anyone who dared to look in his direction, his eyes were closed.
"Old guy! We caught the bird!" Luffy announced as soon as they saw the roof of old man's house. There was no reply. In fact, there was no sound at all. No tinkering of boards being secured along the Merry. No chatter amongst the scavenging brothers. Nothing.
"Oy! Something's off!" Sanji said, immediately sensing the unusual silence, "Come on!"
They all raced towards the house and when they arrived, Emmy almost dropped the bird they spent so long trying to catch. The old man laid splayed out on the grass with blood and bruises covering his entire body. Masira laid several feet away with his face down and a deep gash running across his back while Shojo floated in the water with his mouth agape and his eyes rolled to the back of his head.
Quickly, the pirates sprang into action. Sanji leapt into the water to retrieve Shojo while Chopper went to Mashira. Nami and Usopp went to the house, which was missing the entire back wall, to check for any additional damage or clues to what had happened. Zoro and Luffy went to Cricket.
"Old diamond-head! What happened?!" Luffy demanded to the unconscious body.
Only Emmy and Robin stood still, silently observing and processing the scene. "Robin?," Emmy whispered, "Who would do such a-"
Emmy gasped at the delicate plea from inside her head. She shoved the bird into Robin's hands and ran down the shore towards the ship in a panic. Merry had never sounded so weak...or so scared.
"Merry-san!" Emmy screamed at the sight of their ship.
The bow was completely torn off from the rest of the ship and Merry's head was embedded deep into the ground. The mass hung over the broken ship. It's base detached from its base and the flag at its tip hung in surrender. Emmy flung her arms around the figurehead and cradled Merry in her arms. She pressed her cheek against the cold painted wood and cried. "Merry-san? What happened?" she whimpered, "Who did this?"
"What the hell? Dammit! Who did this?!" Usopp yelled with fury as he raced towards them.
"Merry-san...Tell us who did this. Please...Please tell us," Emmy whispered.
A man...a cruel, laughing man…
"Old guy! You're awake!"
Luffy's shout made Emmy lift her head up but she kept her hands tightly on the ship. "Thank you, Merry-san," Emmy said. Her voice quivered with rage.
"You know who did this?" Usopp asked.
Emmy nodded as she clenched her fists and stormed back to the house with her head lowered. Her hair fell over her face and her tears ran hot and wild down her face, drenching the ends of her hair. When she and the sniper joined the rest of the group, she was still trembling.
"Luffy! The gold, it's gone! Someone must've stolen it," Nami yelled as she ran out of the house.
"Nah, it's alright...Forget about that junk," Cricket coughed as he sat up from his seat.
"What?! Junk?!" Usopp exclaimed, "It took you ten long years of diving into the ocean and torturing your body to find that gold. You can't just-"
"Quiet!" Cricket commanded, "It's alright...That's our problem. The more important thing is that the Saruyama Alliance can fix your ship and still get it ready in time for morning if we start working now. Listen, we will send you into the sky, without fail!"
"Old-timer…" Usopp whispered.
"You...you can fix her?" Emmy asked with her head still down and her fists shaking at her side, "You can fix Merry-san?"
"Ah," Cricket said, "And make her stronger than ever."
"Oy...Emmy-chan...Are you…?" Sanji asked as he cautiously took a step towards the first mate, "Are you alright?"
Emmy lifted her head and to the cook and her nakama's relief, her eyes were still their usual blue and she didn't look like she had lost control again. However, her tears were enough to break Sanji's heart.
"B-Bellamy…" she choked out as she cried directly towards the captain, "Luffy...Bellamy did this."
"What?!" Nami gasped, "How do you know?"
"Merry-san told me," Emmy said, with her attention still on Luffy.
"Ah. Emmy's right," Zoro grunted. He tossed a broken tree branch to the side so they could see the Bellamy Pirate's mark spray painted to the side of the house.
"Bellamy's mark," Nami whispered.
"Want help?" Zoro asked.
Luffy adjusted the hat on his head and he shook his head. "No. Emmy and I will go alone."
"No! Luffy! Don't be stupid! We set sail in only three hours!" Nami protested.
Luffy turned towards Robin, ignoring the navigator. "If I run along the coast, will I reach the town from this afternoon?"
Robin nodded. "Yes."
Cricket tried to get to his feet but he was too weak to stand, which only frustrated him more. "Oy! Kid! Don't be a fool. Do you know who you're dealing-"
The sounds of Luffy cracking his knuckles broke off the old man's protest. "Come on, Emmy," Luffy said as he reached out a hand towards the first mate, who wiped her final tears with her apron and took his hand. She took out the book in her apron pocket and gave it to her nearest nakama, Sanji.
"We'll be back by morning," she promised.
"Oy...Are they really going to be okay? Just the two of them?" Cricket asked as Chopper started to bandage him up.
"He can't be stopped now," Zoro said as he sat down and adjusted his swords.
"Ah. Those idiots committed the ultimate sin for Luffy without even knowing it," Sanji agreed as he lit a cigarette.
Cricket raised an eyebrow. "Ultimate sin?"
Sanji slowly exhaled, savoring the smoke, and nodded. "Ah. Those fools made Emmy-chan cry."