One Piece, it's characters and settings, belongs to Oda Eiichirou and Shonen Jump, and are being used here without permission. Rated PG-13 for language and violence, nothing more than One Piece usually has. C&C welcomed and greatly appreciated.

I know it's been a long time since I updated this fic, and I apologize. I just recently got back into Once Piece with the new arc, and now I'm determined to finish this. Part of this chapter was written before my break and part after, so sorry if it feels a little off. I've had to change a few things, hopefully for the best. I'm going to update more faithfully this time—you can hold me to that!

To anyone coming back to this fic after so long, my sincerest thanks. I hope you enjoy it.


Chapter 9

Usopp clamped a hand over his mouth to muffle the sound of his harsh breath. He had made his way back to the shore, diving into the relative cover of some low bushes only to find that Lieutenant Hashiko and her men had been right behind him all along. They thankfully moved past without spotting him, but now he was caught in a worse dilemma: Sanji and Nami were cornered in the water. The marines were taking the ship.

"What do I do?" Usopp whispered to himself as he watched his comrades being coaxed to their feet. Sanji was leaning heavily on Nami's arm for support, somehow wounded. "Should I try another smoke bomb? But if they're hurt they won't be able to run, and they have guns, and the demon granny is missing, and…I could go for Luffy but they could just kill them…!"

His hands were shaking. He should have been able to think of something—their lives were on the line. With a gulp he reached into his satchel.

Before he could act, his eye caught on a shift of movement against the black of Lieutenant Hashiko's uniform. A pair of slender woman's hands sprouted, followed by arms and elbows, and with a swift movement Hashiko was captured around the neck and her head jerked back. All at once the other Marines were similarly captured, some falling over in their struggles against the sudden, bizarre attack.

"Robin…" Usopp stood, watching in amazement as the crowd was swiftly immobilized. As they twisted and tumbled to the ground a figure dashed out from the line of trees further down on Usopp's left, a blur of barely recognizable green. By then Nami was already sloshing out of the water with Sanji dragged behind, and as they met up with the speeding Snowrunner both helped the injured chef up the beach, retreating towards the woods.

"H-Hey!" Usopp jerked another smoke bomb free from his bag and let it fly, setting off a fresh cloud within the center of the officers to mask their escape. Quickly he charged through the underbrush and met the trio just within the tree line, along with Robin. "Robin—Snowrunner! Where's Luffy?"

"Don't worry about that now—just keep going," Robin instructed. She stepped aside as Sanji and his two helpers passed.

"But Chopper," Usopp tried to explain, spinning about as if he would be able to spot their missing crewmember.

"Usopp, come on," Nami shouted back at him, and he gulped, following reluctantly after.

They didn't go very far—as soon as they were out of sight of the beach Robin drew them abruptly to a halt. "Up in the trees," she told them, indicating the broad-limbed sakura trees—each were so large, and their canopy so thick, that they would be easily hidden among the branches and petals. Snowrunner and Usopp wasted no time scampering up one, and Robin helped boost Nami up into a second. When Sanji eyed the tree doubtfully Robin pushed him roughly up against the trunk, and a dozen hands sprouted out of the bark to help pass him up, injured limb and all. His eyes widened but he managed to stay quiet as Nami helped pull him into the branches, and Robin quickly followed.

As soon as they were all hidden, the crew fell silent. Usopp's hands shook around a nearby branch as he scanned the area below, just waiting for the marines to burst through the trees. He licked his lips, and after several moments of silence called, "Robin…? Did you…let them go?"

"Yes," she replied quietly, peering through the trees just as intently. "They're free."

Another few moments of tense silence followed, and though everyone ducked further when voices drifted towards them they soon passed. Whatever the marines were up to, they weren't coming any closer. Usopp sighed, finally relaxing a little. "I guess…they gave up?"

"Maybe they just wanted the ship…?" Snowrunner suggested.

"It's a trap," Sanji grunted from the next tree, trying to fit himself into a semi comfortable position. "They know we'll come back for it."

"Going Merry…damnit!" Usopp's fists clenched against the branch he was wrapped around. "We…we have to go back. If they get the ship—"

"It'll be dismantled," Robin filled in calmly. "That's normal marine procedure with pirate ships.

Usopp balked. "Dismantled?"

"Where's Luffy?" Nami interrupted. "And Chopper? If we could just regroup, we might be able to go after them." She scowled abruptly. "Stupid Zoro, disappearing at a time like this!"

Robin calmly explained the situation. "Luffy's gone with Master Ohtori to the island interior. We think Zoro must be there, or on his way there, already. There's probably going to be some kind of battle."

She glanced to Usopp then, and he straightened, realizing that everyone else was, too. He felt a familiar burn of shame in his throat. "Chopper…we got separated," he said quietly. "The marines surrounded us in the forest. I tried to hold onto him, but I couldn't! I couldn't see where he went…"

The group fell silent a moment, taking in the grave news and weighing their options. Usopp lowered his head. Though none of his fellows were blaming him for Chopper's disappearance, as he had feared they might, he still felt guilty. If only he'd been able to keep a better grip on him…

Snowrunner shifted next to him, finally breaking the silence. "Do you think the marines have him?"

"He probably would have gone back to the ship," Nami reasoned. "We should have seen him. We might have to assume…he was taken."

Usopp clenched his fist against the branch he was perched in. "Damnit…damnit! We have to go back." He moved as if to climb down from the tree. "How could we have left someone behind? We have—"

A hand sprouted from the branch in front of him, and before he had the chance to get any further he was tugged back to his spot on the tree. "Calm down, Usopp," Robin's smooth voice interrupted him. "The marines will probably sail the ship up the coast to their base. Sanji was right—they'll probably keep it for a while, as bait."

"But we have to get the ship back! If anything happens to it—"

"Usopp!" Nami fixed him with a stern eye. "Calm down, okay? We'll get Going Merry back, but…we have to think this through. Without Zoro or Luffy here…"

She trailed off, her eyes skipping briefly to Sanji. The cook shifted uncomfortably, able to judge her thoughts as easily as Usopp; without Zoro or Luffy, Sanji was their last strong fighter, and if he hadn't been able to beat the twins, their chances of attacking an entire marine base were looking pretty slim.

"I'll go after them," Snowrunner suggested. "I'm fast—I can catch up with Luffy, and Zoro, and bring them back!

Nami shook her head. Gradually the strength returned to her eyes, and she straightened, seemingly taking over. "If they really have Chopper we can't afford to wait that long. That woman made it very clear they kill all pirates without hesitation. If Chopper's in trouble he'll need our help now. And…" She took a deep breath. "It's up to us. It's what Luffy would expect of us."

Those words made Usopp pause, and suddenly his mind was in a whirl. He watched Nami's face, the steely confidence she forced into it when she glanced at her comrades for approval. And though Sanji's face looked pale, and blood was still leaking through his right shoe sole and left pant leg, he nodded with her same seriousness. It was an understanding passed between them, the same trust Luffy had passed through all his comrades.

"I…" Usopp gulped, his fists clenching again as he tried to create that same strength in himself. "I'll go to the base," he blurted out. "I'll find Chopper—I'll get him out. The rest of you can get Going Merry."

Everyone looked to him. "Usopp?" Nami frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"The channel, it runs all the way through the island, right?" Usopp said briskly. Already he was feeling a little light headed. "If Luffy and Zoro are at the center of the island, the channel can take us there. So we need to get to the ship as soon as possible. I'll rescue Chopper."

"Don't be ridiculous," Sanji snorted. "That's an entire marine base. How the hell do expect to even get close?"

"I'll think of something! But we have to go!" Usopp swatted at Robin's hands and began to climb down from the tree again. "Chopper needs us—Going Merry needs us. And Luffy needs us, too! Are we pirates or not?"

Robin dropped out of the next tree, landing directly in front of him. "Don't try to stop me again," Usopp warned. "Because I'm going!"

"I wasn't going to." Robin smiled thinly. "I'm coming with you."


Snowrunner hopped down as well. "What about me? I want to help, too!"

Nami climbed down next, and with some help from Robin Sanji as well. "All right, Usopp," Nami told him seriously. "We'll get to Going Merry. If Robin can cover us, Sanji and I can get ready to sail while you find Chopper."

"It might still be a good idea to send Snowrunner after Luffy and Zoro," Robin suggested lightly. If we sail up the channel we'll want them to be ready for us. Logue Pose or not it won't be safe to stay on this island any longer."

Snowrunner nodded deftly. "I'll do it," he assured brightly. "I'm really fast—I'll find them in no time. I just have to follow the water, right?"

"Yes. Good luck."

Snowrunner beamed, and with the nods of the rest of them he bowed deeply, then turned to scamper off into the woods. Usopp watched him leave with a slight feeling of awe; for having been with them for so short a time, Snowrunner sure was devoted. He took a deep breath before facing his friends.

"All right. Let's go get Chopper!"

Colonel Ginki was still pulling his marine coat over his shoulders as he approached his personal vessel. He wasn't very fond of his uniform, despite the authority it entitled him to. He much preferred his robes and sandals. But this was official marine business, and he would never be seen as anything less than professional.

"Sir!" The deck marines snapped to attention when he approached. "Your ship is ready to set sail, Sir!"

"Very well. We leave immediately."

"Aye, Sir!"

Ginki gave the pair a nod as they scampered off, and was about to board the ship when he heard someone call out to him. He turned to find his daughter Hashiko hurrying toward him.

"Father!" She gave a quick bow as soon as she was close enough. "You're leaving? I didn't know we'd heard anything yet…"

"This has nothing to do with the Straw Hat Pirates," Ginki assured her. "I'm just following up on a tip. It seems that Ohtori is rallying his swordsmen; something is going on further inland. I want us marines to be there…just in case, of course. It's my duty to keep the peace on this island."

Hashiko nodded, though she looked somewhat unconvinced. "I'm leaving you in charge in my absence," he added, to appease her. "Has the pirates' ship been towed to the marina?"

"Yes," Hashiko replied crisply, her manner perking. "I'll be guarding it myself. If the pirates come back for it we'll be ready."

"Very good. I'm sure you'll know what to do if their captain shows up, also." When she nodded Ginki gave her a fatherly smile. "I trust you to take care of it, Hashiko. I should be back by nightfall."

Hashiko snapped to attention. "Yes, sir!"

The pair offered each other another short bow, and then separated towards their different battles.

Zoro adjusted his swords at his hip. Off to his right, Ghost was tightening the straps that held his shin guards in place. He still had Zoro's third sword—or rather, his own sword—sheathed at his belt, to Zoro's irritation. Though it would be easy enough to claim a third blade once they'd started their attack, Magatou, the man and the blade, were both plenty lethal on their own. He didn't like the idea of them paired together.

Far beyond him was Abuka, also preparing—son of the hated enemy of these fighters. That, too, still spread a strange discomfort through him to think he was helping a man sever his own bloodline. Watching the man's serious expression, he hoped there was some strong reason behind this treachery.

Something tugged on Zoro's haramaki, and he glanced down, a little surprised to see it was Bravis. He looked paler than ever, with his dark eyes round and wide. "Zoro," he said quietly, as if hiding his voice from the others. "Can you…help me?"

Zoro's eyes narrowed on the younger man. "Help you? What are you talking about?"

Bravis licked his lips, his fingers curling tightly around the green material they held. "I need Oyomitou," he whispered. "Just for a moment, before Magatou takes it. Please, Zoro; you're the only one who might help me."

His gaze sharpened as he remembered what Bravis had told him before, in the carriage. "You're using Ghost just as much as he's using you," he murmured. "You knew he'd do this all along."

The subtle gleam of guilt in Bravis's eyes told Zoro all he needed to know before he said the words. "Yes," Bravis confessed. "But I just need to get the sword one more time—to see her, just once more. This is my last chance, Zoro." A shudder went through his thin hands. "Please."

"Her…?" Zoro shifted uncomfortably beneath the boy's heavy and suddenly desperate stare. His thin face, his sickly pallor reminded him of Tobi from Bluebell, and the image sent even more discomfort into his stomach. But he couldn't shake the feeling that what Bravis was asking of him now was a last request, and that alone wore at him. He sighed. "Can you run?"

Bravis straightened a little, not understanding. "Yes…?"

"Then try to keep up." Zoro peeled Bravis' fingers off him. "I'll get you to the sword first."

He gulped. "Thank you…."

"Save it. I'm…not doing this for you." Again Zoro's features twisted in a frown. The longer he stayed here, the harder it was to remember what he really was doing this for. Ghost had promised a worthy opponent, and maybe even an answer to a question that had burned in the back of his mind longer than he knew it was there. But though Mihawk had tempered his blade on this island it might have been folly to assume there was anything left of that great swordsman here, among these traitors and murderers.

"Let's just get this over with," Zoro muttered under his breath. "And then I'll get back…"

"Hm?" Bravis glanced up at him.

"Never mind." Zoro glanced down the line of men; they seemed to have finished their preparations, and a few were unsheathing their swords. Ghost cast him a quick glance; they were ready to start. He clicked his own swords out a bare inch.

Wherever his crew had ended up, he hoped they'd run into better luck than him.

Usopp kept to the lead as he and the rest of their fractioned crew made their way up the coast and across the channel—using Robin's arms as a bridge. The closer they got to the base, the harder his heart seemed to pound in his chest. He had never attempted anything like this before. Sneaking into Kaya's mansion back home had seemed suitably daring at the time, but that was nothing like taking on an entire marine base. He'd never even seen a marine base, let alone the inside of one, and despite his bold words he was having a few second thoughts.

More than that, he was worried about what he might find in this horrible terrifying marine base they were headed towards. He was doing his best not to look back but he could hear the extra shuffle in the footsteps behind him; Sanji was limping pretty badly, despite his flowery reassurances to the girls. The men that had done that to him—the same men who had killed Wadou, as Usopp now knew—were in the base now. If he ran into them….

"There it is," someone whispered behind him. Usopp jumped a little, but Robin was right—he could see the great white walls of the marine base through the trees. He crouched down, crawling up to a thick sakura trunk to get a closer look.

The Oyomi marine base had been built in the same style of the rest of the island's larger buildings; like an old fortress it rose up from the sheer cliff side, five stories high with sweeping, traditional tiled roofs and thin, square windows. As Usopp had feared the entire front of the base was guarded with tall wooden palisades and beyond them, most likely, training fields full of armed and bloodthirsty, terrifying marines.

Something rustled above him, and Usopp glanced up to find Robin leaning overhead. Her eyes were thin as she scanned the base, looking as serious as he'd ever seen her. After a moment her eyebrow twitched. "There."

Usopp blinked, trying to glance in the direction of her stare, but looked back when he couldn't find what she meant. "There's what?"

A slender hand bloomed out of Usopp's shoulder, and he jumped as it took his jaw, turning his head towards the cliff side. "There," she said again. "There's a small path that runs along the edge of the fence that leads down to the port. There's probably even an entrance up into the base from there, for unloading supplies."

Nami and Sanji stopped just behind her, looking for themselves. "Have you been here before?" Nami asked, shielding her eyes.

Robin smirked faintly. "I'm not unfamiliar with these marines," she admitted.

"If the marines run out of their own port, Going Merry will be down there," Usopp murmured as the hand vanished from his shoulder. "But won't they be expecting us?"

"Undoubtedly. But do you really think you can take the base from the front?" Robin glanced to him. He wasn't sure what to make of the half-teasing expression—she had been taking this seriously a moment ago.

Deciding he would never understand her, Usopp shook his head. "We'll have to take the path, then. If we can make it to the edge of the fence, we might be able to follow it along without being spotted." He lifted his eyes—there was a guard tower just across from them that they would have to pass under. Though one of his smoke bombs would have been plenty to obscure the gaze of the two guards present, it would mean announcing their attack. "If we had some sort of distraction…."

"Just say the word, Vice Captain," Robin offered lightly.

Usopp stared up at her blankly. "Huh?"

"With Luffy gone you're the Vice Captain, aren't you?" Robin said, watching him. "So give me an order."

"Oh. Um…." Usopp glanced between her and the guard tower, then back to her. "Can you make them not see us move to the fence…?"

Robin smirked, lifting her hands. "Get ready."

Usopp wasn't sure what to expect, but his gaze swung back to the guard tower, just as two long arms bloomed out of the ceiling. He tensed, expecting to see them knocked out and an alarm raised. But when the hands slipped down they merely tipped the marine's hats, covering their eyes.

Nami caught on a little faster than Usopp did, sprinting across the open field while the guards were distracted to press her back up against the fence. Sanji and Robin followed quickly after her, and with a little jump Usopp joined them as well. As soon as they were up against the wood he could hear the marines' voices floating down.

"What the hell was that?"

"What? Um…I don't see anything. But…did you?"

"No. I guess it was my imagination…."

Usopp breathed a quiet sigh of relief as they began to sidle along the wooden fence towards the cliffside path. Taking up the rear he couldn't see much, though the path quickly turned steep and jagged the further they went. Robin was just ahead of him, her steps light, seemingly not quite as affected by the danger of their situation as the others.

Fortunately, though the path was slim, there were some bushes along the edge that provided cover for them as they neared sea level. Nami abruptly halted their procession some twenty meters high off the base, allowing them each a long look at the pier they were headed towards. The marine's private dock was as heavily guarded as Usopp had feared. There were three marine ships docked that he could see, and though they weren't manned the pier itself was crawling with armed officers. As Usopp continued to glance over what they were up against his eye caught on a familiar crow's nest peeking around one of the marine ships.

"Merry!" Usopp hissed excitedly, and was quickly quieted by his friends. He shifted anxiously. "There she is. But geez, there are so many guards…" He perked a little. "Robin, could you…?"

"That's a little much, even for me," Robin admitted. "Not to mention there will be reinforcements from the base itself as soon as we're spotted."

"I can still fight," Sanji assured ahead of them.

"And me, too," Nami added. "There's not…that many of them. And look." She pointed down toward where the dock met shore; a few marines were dragon a cart of barrels toward the cliff wall, where they disappeared into a tunnel through the rock. "That must lead up into the base. Are you still sure you want to do that alone, Usopp…?"

Usopp gulped, but nodded. "Y-Yes. Of course! Chopper must be waiting for us…" Usopp hefted his bag at his side. "Should I use a Smoke Star? If we can distract them for a while—"

Robin interrupted. "I can't use my power if I can't see them. We'll just have to take our chances with a front attack."

"Then…I'll cover you, at least. Until I'm inside…."

He caught Sanji's eye, and was sure that the cook was about to ask again if this was what he wanted. He was a little surprised when no such inquiry came; Sanji only frowned slightly before turning his gaze back to the pier. "Let's get closer, first. Maybe you can snipe a few from here, confuse them before we move in."

"Y-Yes." Usopp fingered one of the Gunpowder Stars in his satchel as they moved further down the narrow path. He could always at least do that much.

They moved ahead a few more meters before the path ran out of cover, forcing them to stop. By now Usopp's hands were slicked with sweat, and he hastily rubbed them against his overalls so that they wouldn't slip from the grip on his slingshot. His three companions crouched down as he straightened, fitting a Gundpowder Star into the sling. "All right…here I go."

The first of the Gunpowder Stars hit a group of marines near the edge of the dock, spilling two into the water from surprise as much as the force of the explosion. Instantly the entire pier as on guard, and Usopp managed to launch a trio of his stars into a different mass of marines before they could track the origin of the attack. As cries of alarm rose Nami sprinted down the remainder of the path, her staff in hand and kimono parting over her legs as she threw herself into the soldiers. Sanji, despite his injured state, plowed through their enemies with his usual fervor. Robin handled the task of disarming those marines with firearms.

Usopp raced down the hill after them, switching to Lead Stars as he took out a pair of marines trying to head up into the base. His heart was pounding as he hit the wooden dock running, ducking past his battling companions. "Chopper," he hissed under his breath, dodging a sword swing as he dashed toward the rocky tunnel. "Chopper, I'm coming!"