Tell it to the Marines
Soft, steady clicks of low heels are echoing against a freshly mopped corridor.
Peeling off a dirtied glove, Sabo grimaces at the blood splatters that have effectively ruined the once soft grey. He'll have to hope Koloa will forgive him for ruining her thoughtful birthday gift. That and pray she'll be willing to disclose the shop from which she bought them; they're exceptionally comfortable.
Sharp eyes catch sight of every person that passes him by, assessing and sorting. But no, he recognises them all.
Not like the woman he'd found in one of the lower offices off-island yesterday.
That had been a face he, as the chief of staff, didn't recognise. A spy from the marines; he'd got that much out of her when he'd tackled her to the floor.
Of course, Yatrol had worked her over soon after. The man's devil fruit has proven exceptionally useful, capable of compelling a person to listen to his words, to share their secrets. The spy had been susceptible, sharing how she'd found one of the small islands the revolutionaries used as a base, sharing how she'd snuck into their ranks.
But when asked who she'd squawked to, the woman's trap had snapped shut.
Even his own personal touch hadn't encouraged her lips to loosen and now he needs new gloves.
It's not a distasteful part of the job (she represents everything he stands against, the corruption that doesn't protect those in need at all, that allows for slavery and murder and all the rest of it), but it isn't exactly something he's fond of doing either.
Now, back in the main base, Sabo has a report to hand in.
Stalking down the corridor, he offers a gentle tip of his hat as a greeting to Hack, the fishman who will be conducting the search for further spies. Which is clearly something they need. Dragon has been right to not mobilise the vast majority of their resources yet. At least this way it means the Marines have no idea of their true manpower.
Twisting his hat from the top of his head to rest cradled in the crook of his elbow, Sabo runs a hand through his hair. He's going to need a shower too, no doubt there's some of the spy's blood in there in addition to being on his gloves and clothes. Though the latter he can wash. Next time he won't be interrogating a prisoner with his favourite pair of handwear on. Perhaps he should invest in a darker colour next time, similar to Riskua. Her gloves are a muted brown, if he recalls correctly. Though if she's wearing them as often now that she has a new outfit, he's not sure. Luffy and Ace fight far too much with their fists, there's no way either of them would ever entertain the idea of gloves for day to day purposes. Luffy might cave in the face of a winter island, but he's just as likely to wear woollen mittens as fur-lined gloves. More likely, even.
Snorting under his breath, Sabo raps his knuckles against the door, fingertips running against the brim of his hat.
Monkey D. Dragon barely looks up from his paperwork as Sabo slips into the room, holding out a hand for his report as his eyes continue to scan whatever it is that holds his attention so thoroughly.
"I have a task for you."
The leader of their glorious revolution looks up from his papers now, dark eyes heavy as they bore into Sabo's own.
"We're low on funds. While it is possible to… acquire what we need, to do so without money will attract more attention than necessary. Trading on the black-market, as undesirable as such a method is, ensures few people will questions where the money comes from as long as the money is coming."
"So, we need hard cash," Sabo concludes, folding one hand into the crook of his elbow, other hand coming up to cradle his chin after his hat is once again upon his head, "and lots of it."
"Indeed. Are you familiar with the tale of Nolan the Liar?"
"Study it. You have leave for three months to chase down that lead and acquire funding."
"Of course, Dragon-san."
Brain racing with half-recalled facts (an explorer from North Blue, city of gold, a liar), Sabo offers his boss a crisp little bow before turning on heels, heading back out the door. It cannot all be lies if Dragon wishes for him to explore such an old concept, something that borders on myth.
Hell, he wouldn't be surprised if some form of Grand Line weirdness had occurred in that half-remembered tale.
That or the government was trying to cover up another of their mistakes. One of two. Hell, maybe two out of two.
He'll find out; three months is ample time to work with, after all.
"Are you not worried about these Strawhats, Mr. 0?"
The look Crocodile of the Shichibukai gives her is one of irritated exasperation, a warning for her to stop playing with her words.
But things are so very boring right now, there is nothing of importance happening, even if the cogs are turning, setting the final stage.
The guilt she feels is buried deep, lodged somewhere alongside the horrors of Ohara, the things she must ignore to get through another day. It's been like that for so long she's quite forgotten how not to live like that.
"They are rookies fresh onto the Grand Line, they pose no true threat," Crocodile mutters, side eyeing her despite his words.
In response, Robin just offers her favourite smile; its nothing more than a smooth curve of her lips. There's no real emotion behind it, after all. She cannot even remember the last time she allowed herself to smile truly, not really. Still…
Turning her attention away from the boss of Baroque Works, Robin gazes down at the trio of wanted posters before her.
A swordsman, a girl with very interesting eyes, and… a child of D.
There's something important there, another mystery that is perhaps intertwined with the Poneglyphs she so wishes to study. It has been whispered about upon the Grand Line that the road to Raftel is hidden within a set of very specific Poneglyphs, though Robin has never ventured far enough into the world's most dangerous sea to ever confirm this as more than a rumour.
Still, the only man to have ever reached Raftel… he also has that mysterious 'D' within his name.
Tracing the letter upon the page with one long finger, Nico Robin swallows the sigh that wants to escape her lips. She'll continue on this path; for all that Crocodile's methods have her insides simmering in regret, her dream is once again within reach. One stretch away; her fingers straining to brush against the near tangible edges.
With any luck, this will be the last one she needs to find, it'll be the one that leads her to all the others, or if she's lucky enough (she never is) then it'll have a summary of the Void Century upon its surface.
Laying the wanted posters one over the other, Robin pauses to look upon the wide smile of Monkey D. Luffy once more, an insistent frown pulling at the corner of her lips.
She'd known a D. before. Had heard of how Gol D. Roger died. Both with smiles on their faces.
Looking down at the paper before her… she cannot picture this young pirate dying here. Should he come to blows with Crocodile, it'll be a Shichibukai against one who holds the cryptic Will of D.
Despite her knowledge of Crocodile's skills, his powers and abilities… For some reason, her brain just isn't capable of picturing this Strawhat Luffy falling to the Sand Logia. Will everything happen at the right time? She isn't sure.
It's funny, she can almost feel a storm coming.
"Weather's looking good."
Peering out to the horizon, Riskua turns her attention to Nami for professional confirmation.
The ginger haired navigator is sitting upon the deck of the Merry, sewing Ace's Vivre card into the ribbon of Luffy's hat.
Tugging at one of the long tresses of her hair (her hat hardly goes with this outfit and she really doesn't wish to spend an hour or so washing all the sand out of it), Riskua makes her way over to her fellow woman, doing her best to ignore the sheer amount of sand they're going to be facing in a moment.
Oh, she may have had her issues with Drum and all of its cold and ice and snow, but Alabasta is just so… dry.
Scuffing her shoe against the wood of the deck, Riskua squats down to sit beside Nami, resting on the balls of her feet as the navigator ties off the last stitch.
"All done! And you're right, Riskua. Nothing but sun for the rest of the day."
She'd figured as much, what with this being a desert, but it was always nice to have it confirmed.
"What is this thing that Ace gave Luffy, anyway?"
Nami holds out the hat to their captain who eagerly snatches it up to jam back onto of his head. Sweat is already beginning to bead upon Luffy's forehead; he attempts to wipe it off with the back of his forearm, leaving the recent tattoo on his arm glistening.
"It's a Vivre card. If you ever want to find the owner, or know if the owner is in trouble, then just look to the card."
"Oh! So, it's like a paper tracker dog! That's so cool!"
"Don't you dare, I just tucked that away!"
Nami's hand slams down upon Luffy's hat-topped noggin as he tries to retrieve the paper and Riskua shakes her head, trying not to laugh. It's better to focus on the now, otherwise worry is going to melt her innards.
There's no way she'd have been able to talk Ace out of going after Blackbeard, but get him to accept help? That's much more likely. Marco seems like a sensible guy from what she'd seen of him, he'll know when they're outmatched and bonus, he's a flying Zoan. He'll be able to get himself and Ace away. She can put her trust in the Phoenix of the Whitebeards.
And should worse come to worst, should they both get captured, well she's here and Sabo remembers, so there'll be the Revolutionaries to save them.
She might not even need to worry about that though, Ace knows Haki now, after all. Should he come across Blackbeard, he might win. Hell, with the butterfly effect, he might not even track him down before Whitebeard recalls him. But still-
"-in there? 'Skua!"
Jolting, Riskua snaps her head up to look at Luffy, catching his hand before he can tap it against the side of her skull. He grins, that familiar childish giggle leaving his lips and Riskua smiles right back at him.
"I'm good, Kinglet. Just got lost in my head there."
"Well don't! We're gonna get lost in the desert instead!"
He pulls hard, her hand still wrapped around his wrist and then she's standing again, Luffy grinning even if he has to hunch slightly so they're at eye level.
"I hope Vivi knows enough about her country to not get us lost in the desert. But I suppose as long as Zoro isn't leading us…" she trails off and Luffy snickers, throwing one arm over her shoulders; it's not appreciated in the slightest, the air is warm as hell now that they're approaching the mainland again and Luffy's skin is already slick with sweat.
Riskua puts up with it for a moment, just until Vivi offers her a long desert cloak to cover herself with. Natural tan or not, she's damn well certain every last one of them will walk away with sunburn should they not be correctly prepared. Barring Chopper, but he'd in the most danger out of the lot of them; all the fur means he's probably going to overheat... probably, most likely, almost certainly...
They'll cross that bridge when they get there.
It is only after they have been walking for five minutes that it hits Riskua, that she realises exactly what they are doing.
"Wait, we're going to talk to the rebels?"
Blue hair swinging as she turns, Vivi gives a nod, expression serious.
"I'm going to talk to them, get them to stop." To stop?
"That's absurd. Why would they stop fighting? Their country and the people in it are being threatened. Their friends and their families. Nothing short of that threat's swift death is going to have them laying down their arms." It's something she'd seen on every mission with the Revolutionaries. Towns, islands, whole countries dissatisfied by the way things are going, how their people kept getting hurt and the ones doing the hurting were visibly getting away with it. Such conditions make ample breeding grounds for revolution and whenever they'd visited, the Revolutionaries hadn't hesitated to stir things up. It's why they've managed to liberate as many islands as they have so far.
From the look upon Vivi's face, she doesn't seem to share the sentiment.
"I know! That's why I'm going to tell them what Crocodile is doing! Then they'll have to stop."
Out of the corner of her eye, Riskua can see Luffy's face scrunching up, chin cradled upon his fist. It's his thinking face. If there's one thing her little brother understands with complete clarity, it's fighting. Especially the reason a person fights for.
"And then what? You expect them to sit back and allow Crocodile and his forces to cut through more and more people while you try to sort it out? You could stop the rebel army, but then what? It's a waste of time and probably lives."
"'Skua's right. If this Croco guy's a pirate, he's not gonna stop 'till he gets what he wants. But he's hurting my friend, so I'mma gonna stop him."
Decisively slamming a fist into his open palm, Luffy looks between the two of them with a heavy set to his brows. She's seen that expression before; it was the same one he'd gotten whenever he'd looked at Ace back in the day, back before they were even friends, nevermind brothers.
Luffy isn't going to give this one up, Riskua can see that much. If he understands that Vivi is panicking, stretching herself too thin and trying to protect too many… Riskua isn't sure. But that's exactly what the princess is trying to do. She's an idealist, but unfortunately, there isn't a way to save every last person in this scenario. There's something niggling at the back of her mind, she's rather certain this goes wrong at some point, but it's been so long that the details, anything not petitioning to Luffy or Sabo or Ace has all just… blurred in her mind.
"Look, if this Crocodile guy is as thorough as he seems, and given that he's trying to take over a country and seems very close to succeeding I'd say he is, then he's probably got a profile on you. Which means he's going to have an idea of what you want to do, and he'll have plans in place to stop it. Dealing with him first would have the better outcome."
Vivi slaps her. Riskua had been expecting it, had turned her face at the sight of her arm swinging up, but the sting of skin meeting skin still bursts across her cheek.
"Ladies! Don't fight, please!"
Sanji's cry goes ignored, Riskua catching Vivi's wrist as she goes for a second slap, Luffy's hands catching both of their arms a second later.
"Hey! This Croc-guy needs stopping and there's lots of us! We can just split up, I can go punch that bastard and Vivi can go talk to her friend! So stop it! Captain's orders!"
There's a fire brimming in Luffy's eyes, burning obsidian and Riskua stills her feet from where they had been sliding into a more defendable position, into a sturdier stance.
"Me and 'Skua and Zoro'll go take Croc and the rest of you can talk to Vivi's friend. Sanji! You're strong, I want you to look after them!"
Tuning out the cook's proclamation of protecting the lovely ladies (and utterly ignoring the existence of Usopp and Chopper), Riskua turns her thoughts inwards, teeth strumming the flesh of her lip back and forth.
She can understand where Vivi is coming from with her talk of stopping the 'senseless violence'. The issue is, this fighting isn't senseless. Not to those involved. As much as she'll have experienced during her time undercover, Vivi's still a princess. She's never have had to worry for the stability of her family and her sense of freedom; she's lead a life where her own freedom could never be questioned, where the only person that could possibly make decisions for her is her doting father. It's admirable how she wishes to protect the people of her country, but the blunt truth of it is that she cannot shield every last body. If such a thing were possible, then there would be no need for the Revolutionaries; there would be a need for only one hero to protect the people from the Tenryūbito. Perhaps Riskua's more of a realist, perhaps she's just being cold and logical. The bare bones of that matter is that they have two different opinions on this and with their outlook on life varying so much, it'd been pretty much destined for them to clash. Because given her time spent with the Revolutionaries, well they'd had no true attachment to the places they'd liberated. To them, deaths and injuries are nothing more than abstract numbers; there's no faces to them, no backstory or names.
Vivi though... the people who die here, Vivi May have passed them in the market, may have spoken a kind word or three to them, may know their names or have played alongside them as children. The two of them were pretty much set to clash over this, and though she can see the other girl's side of things, Riskua stands by her words.
Meeting Vivi's eyes evenly, Riskua does her best to ignore the hurt there in the same way she tries to push down the offence she feels. Vivi's three years her junior and has spent much of her life sheltered, she's optimistic while Riskua is a realist. While she'll hope the princess will be able to stop her people, or at the very least slow the fighting, the redhead will not be holding her breath.
Instead, she meets Zoro's gaze, watches as the swordsman adjusts the curve of his palm to rest more surely atop the hilt of one sword.
"We'll find Croc-guy, beat him into pudding, and then everything'll be okay because no one hurts my friends!" Luffy finishes his shout with his hands fisted, planted against his hips and wide stance proud. He's determined and with what Riskua knows of his abilities against that of the… 'original Luffy', she feels they've got a good chance here.
"Stealth Haki. Hey, are we spies or ninja now?! Ninja-pirates!" Luffy performs an enthusiastically sloppy high kick, hands steady in that classic 'karate chop' pose as he guards his torso.
Haki stretching out to encase the three of them in Concealment, Riskua slinks steadily after her goof of a brother, refusing to acknowledge the irritation that's present on Zoro's face. While it'd be possible to eventually locate Crocodile with Haki, some good old intel gathering cannot possibly hurt. On the positive side, there's three of them to be listening out for things. Well, two of them given that Luffy's still utterly focused on the powers of Concealment.
"Is this really going to work," Zoro drawls, a quick glance for the corner of his eye, a movement like the arch of a blade and just as swift. His shoulders are loose, stance relaxed in a way that suggests he's ready to fight the moment it's required of him. One of the most appealing things about Zoro is that he's as cutting as his choice is weaponry, there's no beating around the bush with him, no big show or playscript to follow along with in order to prise any kind of answers or thoughts from his lips. With Zoro, most of the time, what you see is what you get. She's not sure if there's any hidden depths to him; what could possibly be beneath that well of determination and its steel foundations? In all honesty, Riskua's not willing to start digging, she doesn't need to know anymore about Zoro's past, just knowing his best friend died and he's shouldering her dream is enough for her.
"You tell me, Zoro. Are we going to be able to track down this guy?" Cocking an eyebrow in the swordsman's direction, Riskua pockets one hand, the other snatching up Luffy's wrist as he overbalances and nearly tumbles. "Do you think he'd personally go out to deal with the rebels? If so, then why now, of all times? He's had the manpower and the cause to kill Vivi off for a while, he's been aware of her in his organisation."
"Cat and mouse game," Zoro agrees with a gruff breath, eyes sliding around all the inhabitants of this street, experience seeking experience, former bounty-hunter seeking soon to be retired bounty-hunter. "Not the playful kind either."
"Yeah. If I had to guess, I'd say Croc is a sadist and likes setting Vivi up to fail. No, he's not going to personally go after the rebel army when he's got resources to hand and bigger fish to fry. He's going to keep going forwards with his plan, but for that, he needs a meeting with the upper echelons of his organisation. If he plans to reveal himself to them or not… Well, with the former it'd boost their confidence, a Shichibukai on their side, but the latter would be playing it safer, Croc looking after his own skin, so to speak."
"Guy's a pirate and a Shichibukai," Zoro grunts, one strong hand coming down on Luffy's shoulders and forcibly stilling his excited movements and bundling him into a headlock, "he's not gonna play it safe going after something he wants." She agrees with that assessment; after all, hadn't Uncle ditched his hunt to play with Zoro the second he'd proven himself to be interesting?
"Wha'does that mean?" Luffy jabs a finger into Zoro's ribs, loosen a swear form his lips and Luffy's head from the cradle of his arm.
"It means Croc's probably not too far away, and we just need to figure out where he's going to be setting up his crew meeting, so to speak."
Luffy hums, nodding happily along before his eyes turn serious, a quick snap of rubber and the suddenness of it all rather startling.
They continue walking down the dirt path, sand kicked up by all the pedestrians as they pass by. It scratches as what little skin Riskua has exposed and more than once she sees Zoro blinking his watery eyes with an irritated scowl on his lips. Yeah, someone is unquestionably ready for a fight.
At last, their swordsman's eyes light up with something other than unshed tears, shielding tear-provoking sand from his eyes with the palm of one hand. A thumb is jabbed after one man, tall and wide and wearing a shirt boasting a large '4' on the front. Topping it all off is the baseball bat strapped to his back, it's metal surface gleaming in the harsh desert sun. Foreign state of dress right out in the open, sporting a number that aligns with the codenames of Baroque Works and wielding an unusual weapon?
"It's almost like this asshole want us to find them," Zoro grunts, clearly thinking along the same lines and Riskua gives a low dip of her head in non-verbal agreement. A look shot over her shoulders shows that Luffy's even following along with their discussion now, pinching his lips between forefinger and thumb in an adorable effort to keep quiet.
Stalking closer and wrapping the Concealment tighter around their forms, Riskua falls into step with the four-sporting man, taking in everything she possibly can. Sabo was always better at this side of things, at least he was once he'd gotten a hang of Concealment. She's picked up enough from his to notice the key-small details, however. The man's been in the country for a while; the salt of the sea doesn't scent the air around him, his cheeks dappled with the slightest hint of sunburn despite the smears of suncream that aren't quite rubbed in. Not a native, not in the slightest, and clearly he's not been in the country long enough to have worked out the correct ratio of exposure to suncream needed for day-to-day living. This has to be their guy.
Afternoon sun scorching on the back of her neck (had it really only been a few hours ago that Ace had left their company?) Riskua makes her way forwards, circling the target. He doesn't flinch, doesn't even seem to recognise that they're there. Which is great.
Less great is the fact Zoro stands near three feet in front of the guy, staring him down, and while four-sporting man's gaze seems to filter over him for a second, the frown that pulls at those fat lips has hairs rising on the back on Riskua's neck.
Clobbering the green-haired swordsman atop the head, she peels him back and away with her, eyes scanning the crowds for any gazes that're on them. Thankfully, it seems like Concealment is still cloaking them, but as soon as someone recognises that there are Strawhat pirates in the vicinity… It's not going to be good. They'll have to fight their way out and then Croc will realise they've split up. She'd rather have a Croc she can predict than one she cannot.
"You idiot, just because Concealment makes them overlook you doesn't mea-"
"They're meeting at Spidah Caféba."
"Bloody- Damn it, Luffy, what the hell?" Hissing beneath her breath, Riskua pressing one hand to her chest in an attempt to steady her pounding heart, staring at Luffy and his pleased grin. The pleased grin that's half hidden by a leg of meat he has to have stolen from somewhere. Probably from someone.
"Where did you- wait, do you mean Spider Café?"
"Eh? No, the lady with the tree-tie said 'caféba', I'm not deaf," Luffy sniffs, inhaling the last of his meat and licking the bone clean.
Riskua watches him strip off the last strand with a dull sense of irritation. God, Luffy's known her since she was a child, he's known she has that little verbal tick, and yet… he can't seem to comprehend another person may have that tick.
"What time did she say, Kinglet?"
"8 O'clock. That's in five hours, right? So, if there's a meeting for BBQ Works, then we can go and I can kick Croco's ass for making Vivi sad!" Fist pumping in the air (and narrowly missing the recovering Zoro), Luffy allows his signature laugh to escape from between his lips, proud, determined and excited all at once.
"Right," Riskua mutters, running a hand through her hair (it's already slick with sweat, the few short flyaways matted to her overheated brow. Time to get out of the sun for a bit. "Right," Riskua repeats, "we'll find a map, locate this Spider Café-"
"-and head over there. We've got just short of five hours, and I don't know about you, Zoro, but I'd like to know what we're going up against first." Fist thumping into her open palm, Riskua eyes the two boys, lips pressed into a hard, flat line as Luffy all but vibrates with excitement. The expecting, predatory grin on Zoro's face isn't exactly inspiring a lot of confidence in her assurance she'll have one sensible person with her.
"The hot shots of Baroque Works? Heh, sounds like fun."
Maybe she should've pushed for Sanji to come with them instead.
I'm sorry it's been so long. This story is one I write on my laptop and now-a-days whenever my laptop is out, it's to slog through Lesson Plans for school, and by the time I'm done, there's never any energy to so much as open the Marines document, never mind actual do some work on it. But I'm going to try setting some time aside for it (hopefully). This'll never be abandoned, not unless I'm dead that is. (The actual contents of this chapter were like pulling teeth but I got there in the end, even if I'm not 100% with it, it's time to move on and get this ball rolling again).
If you're still out there, thank you for sticking with me. (Honestly, the thing that got me going with this again is the copious amounts of fanart, the tumblr messages and the reviews that, without any reason at all, keep coming in. So, thanks)
Lots of love and I hope you're all doing okay,