CH 19: The Crazy Eight

The mind, when locked, trapped within unending stretching darkness, it unfurls. Breaks. Goes mad.

It went on forever. The never ending swirl of darkness. Oil and water. Oil and water. Pitch black, spinning and twirling with the faintest tease of a white light. The nauseating torture had gone on for hours, months, decades. Millennium.

Maddening. Oil and water. Spinning and whirling, the never-ending insanity. The portal was poisoned after all. But even this was what he'd been ready for. He clenched his jaws and meditated. Pulling together, fighting desperately to hold onto the pieces of his splintering sanity.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

"You. Have. Condemned him?!" Othello's fury unleashed in a broken roar.

The burst of uncontrolled energy radiated from the Shion, it ripped through the room making the walls shake and the windows shatter. The audience jumped and cowered at the surge of the young warrior's rage. Manic silver began to wash over his blue eyes.

"We--we have not condemned anyone, good Prince." one of the bearded men begged.

Othello shot a look of death to the one that had dared answer him. The sheer force of his aura sent the figure slamming against the wall.

"You have taken away his only gateway, and therefore have sentenced him for death!" He whirled, facing the silent figure seated on the high throne. "Father!" the madness of his voice broke into a devastating shrill. "I trusted you! How could you betray MiHawk like this?!" The silver of his eyes intensified as darkness began eating into the edges. He had long past the boundaries of control, the court fell back, trembling against the walls.

"The Shion Stone has energy enough for one more portal rip. I will enter the Second Sacred Island to challenge and claim the new portals from the immortals there."

At that, his mother jumped to her feet, "Othello, have you completely lost your mind?!" she said in a breathless wheeze.

Othello glared the room with murderous rage. He set his fearsome eyes straight onto his mother and shouted, "It is not I, but this cowardly council that has lost their minds!!"

A deafening boom split the air.

"My Lord, no!" Lady Faranon screamed, dropping to her husband's feet.

The young Shion had crashed through three granite columns before crumpling against the fourth. Syn stumbled and tripped on her long robes, sobbing as she ran to his side. Othello shook off Syn's trembling hands and tried to get to his feet. Chunks of the demolished building dusted from his hair and shoulder.

The hand that he'd used to thrash his son remained in air. The seated King glared the rising figure. "You will know your tone when you address the Lady Queen." he said calmly, despite his dark, thundering eyes.

With the back of his hand Othello wiped the stream of blood dripping from his lips. Harsh breathing, he scowled fiercely. For a long second the room stilled in frozen fear as the father and son stood-off. It took everything in his body and will to regard his father and not pounce upon the treacherous elders, who, now, had retreated to the furthest corner.

"Yes, Father. Forgive me, Mother." Forcing his flashing eyes down, he gave a abrupt bow to the King and Queen before storming out the meeting hall.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

They leave.

Everybody leaves.

It was very natural, the state of being alone.. of being abandoned.

The thing. A father, was just a word, nothing more.

The being. A mother, was just a hope, nothing more.

The friend. A giant, was just the moment, nothing more.

The lover. A swordsman, was just a dream, nothing.. nothing..

...

Alone. Alone. Alone.

She sat in solitude on the pearly shores of Pandora, staring ahead with blank eyes. The brilliant sun, the cobalt sea, the shimmering sand. The beauty and tranquility of this place, so sharply in contrast to the devastation that tore her soul--it seemed to mock her.

With her arms hugged tightly around her folded knees, Robin buried her face. In one hand she tightly clutched the small cross. She clamped down hard on the wooden sheath, making the dull corners dig into her palm. She tried to numb the pain burning her heart, but soundless tears continued to race down her cheeks.

Things were wrong. Horribly so. When she had awoke, it was the middle of the second night. She had torn through the castle looking for him, calling for him. Her voice was shouted till hoarse and reduced to raspy gasps. Feria and Ceria followed her at heel, straining with tears in their eyes, begging for her to calm down.

When she began stumbling towards the dark jungle, the twins burst into full sobs. She felt her world fall apart as they blubbered out what had happened during her forced slumber.

The entire devastating story came, starting from moment when Syn had caught the councilman's servant boy returning from the forest with the Shion Stone. The very stone MiHawk was supposed to have taken with him. This, followed by Othello's warlike confrontation to the treacherous court, who had acted without the discretion of the King. After the terrible encounter, Othello had stormed out of the castle like a madman, tearing up the jungle as he did so, leaving behind a sobbing, disheveled, Syn.

The elders were to await trial for their deception and conspiracy. Meanwhile, with heavy heart, Lord Faranon had ordered for the Stone to be locked and guarded to the highest level. Never to be used again.

The Shion Stone had literally became a one-way ticket to hell. Had MiHawk taken it with him, the last of its power would've been his passage back to this world. Instead, it had remained here. Ensuring their safety and sealing his doom.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

From the shimmering sand of the beach, tiny specks of dots became visible. The slight change didn't even registered in her mind as she continued her lost stare. Suddenly, a yellow speck began charging in her direction

"AHH-BIN-CHAAAN!" shouted the sprinting dot.

Hardly daring to believe, she squinted, making out a single human outline. Then, there were seven.

Sanji was violently tackled out of the way as Nami and Chopper trampled over the cook. They hit her like a freight train, the sudden strangulation knocked the breath out her lungs.

"Robin, thank God you're safe!" Nami sniffed, tightening her anaconda hug.

"Bobin!" Chopper stood on Nami's shoulder, capturing her head in a choking hold.

Fresh supply of tears welled in her eyes, soaking the little reindeers fur. "You--you guys." Robin reached out and touched Nami and Chopper with shaking fingers, trying to make herself believe that they were really there.

"Robin."

Carefully, she looked up, her lips trembled with joy.

Luffy's shining smile greeted her. Ussop crossed his arms and beamed joyfully, fighting back a happy sob of his own. Franky lifted his glasses with a finger, looking down at her with a touch of grin on his eyes and mouth. In one of his robotic hands he held the trodden body of the blonde cook, who at the moment, with hearts in his eyes repeatedly tried jumping into her arms, unaware of the cyborg's hold on his collar. Only the green haired swordsman hung at the edge of the group, addressing her with silent, unreadable eyes. A stormy expression occupied his hardened face, only a slight jerk in his jaw shifted the stony features when their eyes met.

"Everyone," she got out a choked whisper. Luffy looked on kindly as tears of joy trailed down her cheek and chin.

The crew took easy rest on the beach. Happy, relishing in the pure joy of being together again. The tearful reunion continued for a long while before they all calmed down enough to exchange stories of the recent event.

"Sounds simple enough." Ussop was the first to speak after Robin's tale. "So we just have to return to this island one year from now, and they'll provide Robin with all the historical information about The Blank Century, right?

"That's good news!" the tonakai's piped up. He stopped short at the fallen look on her face and shifted his hooves nervously. "Aren't you glad, Robin?"

The hiss from the dying match took their attention. "Something is missing," Sanji flicked the ash from his cigarette. "That Shichibukai saves our Robin-chan, but instead of leaving her on his ship so we could find her, he brings her to some magical island, then, leaves on some crazy, secret mission, leaving behind an even crazier request asking her to return to this place a year later?" he expelled a cloud of gray smoke. He drove a frustrated hand through his thick hair, then looked in Robin's direction and said, "Something's not right."

As the Mugiwara's reflected on Sanji's abridgment, they fell quiet, each trying to sort out the mystery.

"Help me."

It came out so soft the crew almost missed the silent sob.

It infuriated her. The want to protect something she loved, yet lacking the power to do so. Mad with grief, she swallowed her pride, her dignity, surrendered her all into the one request. She took to both knees till they were flat on floor. Her back arched forward letting her tears fall into the sand. "Help me." she repeated.

"Robin!" Nami bit her lips.

"Robin chan.." Sanji's cigarette dangled daftly.

Ussop and Chopper stepped closer, unsure of what to say but wanting to give comfort.

"Please." she balled her fist, grinding dirt into her hands. "He's in danger. I know it." she was choking so much it was almost impossible to make out the words. "I know I've been nothing but burden to this crew ever since I've joined. I know I've done nothing but bring misery and misfortune to my friends--but please! Do this last selfish request of mine. I swear, I'll never ask anything from you guys ever again. This will be the last time I ever trouble you. So please," she cried, "help me save him."

There was no question about who he was. The standing members shifted uncomfortably, looking at one another. They swallowed thickly and eyed the small dagger she'd been clutching to her chest ever since they'd found her. She had been holding onto the cross dagger like a child hugging onto her favorite rag doll.

"Why?" It was the green haired swordsmen that spoke.

When he first saw her on the beach, he wanted to run to her, wanted to shake her, shout at her for making him worry. For being in danger, for being away from him. And now, this. The very thing he had feared from the beginning. A thought so painful and unbearable he'd made himself believe that nothing had happened, that nothing had changed. But he saw it now, it was so clear, even Chopper wore the look of shock.

It was too much.

"Why?" he gritted out again. There was so much hurt and anger in his voice, for a moment all the Mugiwaras turned to face Zoro instead. Zoro ignored them and only glared Robin. Confused and shocked, she raised her tear-stricken face.

"Why?!" he was shouting now, "Why are you groveling for his aid? Why are you begging for his safety?! Why are you crying for--?!" The sentence never finished. He would chew off his tongue before saying his name. He clamped his mouth and turned briskly, shoving Ussop aside he stomped into the woods.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x

She hadn't even bothered hiding her presence while she watched the reunion from the shadow of the jungle. It was obvious that she didn't want to intrude on their privacy. She waited expectantly when the green-haired swordsman stomped up to her face.

"Why did he bring her here?!" he all but snarled.

Despite his blatant anger the Shion didn't even blink as she faced him.

"To protect her." The woman's overwhelming beauty didn't even seem to register with Zoro as they squared off.

"Don't be vague." he threatened, his volume escalading by the second.

Syn leveled him with an unshakeable look, "There is something happening on the outside world. In your world, so to speak. He wanted to keep her out of harm's way while he handled the ordeal. Pandora Island is the safest place in the Universe right now. Even as we speak, a terrible judgment has fallen on your world."

The hard look in her eyes softened before she spoke again, "The impact of your reunion may be difficult for whatever reason, but there are matter of dire importance at stake." With a slight tilt, she bowed in the most humble manner. "I know it is utterly preposterous to ask strangers to risk their lives for someone they know not of, but--"

"Come."

Syn shot up in at his word. The man looked like he wanted to disassemble a mountain with his bare hands, but he evened his tone and continued, "Come, say your words to my crew." Moisture immediately flooded her eyes, a wobbly smile touched her lips. She surprised him when she suddenly captured his hand and touched it to her forehead.

"Thank you."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

She had remained folded to the ground when Zoro stormed off the beach. Lost, she blinked weakly at the floor. Shame and hurt flooded her senses, drowning her. Her nakama hadn't said a single word after her proposal. Disheartened and crushed by their silence she kept her tear-blurred sight on the sand, letting despair infect her soul.

Accompanied by a sound of soft rustle, a pair of well-recognizable flip-flops came into view. Bending down, he, who was much shorter than she, picked her up with ease. One hand hugged tightly about her shoulder while the other wrapped protectively around her waist. He cradled her like a child with his strength.

Robin. She was a strong, powerful woman. She was an intellectual, a strategist and a fighter. Starting from childhood she had endured twenty-eight years of loneliness against the unrelenting world, fighting to survive in her private hell of betrayal and hate. Those years of torture had built a near indestructible wall of pride and strength in her character. He knew that the amount of pain she was feeling now was beyond measure to cause such a proud warrior to break.

Still holding her tremoring body, her Captain spoke, "You'd sacrifice yourself without a moments hesitation for our wellbeing. What made you think you'd have to beg us for anything?"

"Battle in magic land, eh?" Franky grinned, "Sounds like a good challenge."

"This place smells of money, just remember we're not going empty-handed after everything's over." Nami announced businesslike.

"How dare that shitty Shichibukai make Robin-chan cry!" Sanji ignited in valiant rage, "We'll save him--then kick his ass!"

"Oi, oi, oi." Ussop waved down.

"Oi, oi, oi." Chopper copied.

Robin looked up with disbelief, "Everyone," her throat made a small sound.

"Ready?" Luffy asked the man who had silently filed behind.

"Ready." Zoro replied, he exchanged a look with the Shion.

"I am Syn Lioré. I am your friend and guide." Syn said with a introductory bow to the group. She paused to smile at Robin's sincere look of gratitude.

"Your first stop is the palace. Please, follow me, I will fill you in on the details as we walk."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

"Lady Syn, please!" For such a well-sized Shion, he was having a hell of a time holding his place in front of a woman half his size. "We cannot allow these beings to enter the royal court!" The guards didn't even acknowledged the Mugiwaras.

"They are Lady Robin's nakama, therefore, my honored guests. The council will hear their say." she shoved pass the guard.

"Milady, please!" he tried to hold back her shoulder. She stopped him with a look.

"Do not touch me, lest you're prepare to face Othello's full wrath." The army of guards flinched and backed.

The mountain of a man shrank visibly. He swallowed thickly, "No, milady."

Syn continued to keep the guards pressed with her authority while discreetly signaling her human companions towards the meeting hall. Lead by their Captain they filed in quickly into the spacious court. Syn hurried after the last of them and closed the great door. Instantaneously, her nerves faltered.

The lines of elders jumped from their seats, their face dark with fury.

"What is the meaning of this!" The elder standing nearest to the throne bellowed out. He approached rapidly and confronted Syn. "How dare you bring those things into the palace!" he pointed an accusing finger to her face, as if she'd dragged rotting garbage into the room.

Sanji stepped in front of the Syn and set the man with a dangerous look.

"We gave word to Sir MiHawk that we'd allow shelter for those things on Pandora. There were no specification that they'd be allowed into the palace." he promptly turned to shout at the nearest guard. "Remove them, now!"

"We don't care to stay in this place, or even on this island for that matter." Luffy said coolly. "Give us the traveling stone and we'll be on our way."

"What did you say, human?" he spat the word as if expelling a horrible disease. "We benevolently allow you--unworthy beings shelter on our island, and yet you further insult us by demanding the Sacred Stone?! Just who do you think you are!"

"I am Luffy," he didn't even blink as he faced the riling crowd of Shions. From across the distance, he locked eyes with the man seated on the highest throne. "I am the man that will become the Pirate King!"

A pin drop could've been heard from anywhere in Pandora. Then, suddenly, the room surged with a vociferous roar. The elder beside Syn looked as if Luffy had spat in his face. Even Syn looked horrified, clasping both hands over her gapping mouth.

"How dare you." he seethed, "I'll have your tongue removed for that! Guards! Seize them!"

Sanji smirked and stepped forward.

Zoro thumbed open his katana.

Franky geared his mechanical arms for battle.

However, even before the first guard stepped from their station, Lord Faranon's roaring laughter stunned the entire court. The guards froze halfway in stance, confused. Still laughing uncontrollably, Lord Faranon signaled the soldiers down.

"My Lord!" the lead elder protested. Wiping his tears, the King waved quiet the outraged court and addressed the Pirates.

"You remind me of an old friend, young human."

"My Lord, surely you're not equating this mortal to that of Sir Gold D. Roger?"

The Captain and the King ignored the intrusion. Luffy grinned back, "Your friend musta been an incredible guy for him to resemble me."

The mumbling sounds of protest died out as the King slammed his fist down onto the chair arm and fell into a second wave of mirth. "Hahaha! Indeed!"

"Your Grace, surely you are not considering to pass them the Sacred Stone!" the elder blurted again, "Why--they should be flayed alive for even suggesting such absurdness!"

The Shion King looked at the man for the first time. "It seems to me our guests have more than a valid point in their standing. On the other hand, you and the respective council are to await judgment for your recreancy." he leaned back on one elbow, "Step down councilman, before you cross the line and your words become irrevocable."

The man's skin paled to match his beard. "Yes, milord." he shrank away.

"Lady Robin, I take it, these are your companions?" he said with a warm smile touching his eyes. Relief immediate washed over her body.

Robin gave a small bow, "Yes, my lord. They are my family and friends."

"Please, pardon the discourteous welcome." he addressed the crew in general. "Some of my people foolishly believe in the false notion that Shions are beings superior to all others." he washed a hand over his face tiredly. "Any companion of Lady Robin is of course, a friend of ours. However, regarding your--" he stopped and looked thoughtful, "request, there is a vow I must honor… I fear I must insist for you and your companions to remain on Pandora for the time being."

Luffy arched a brow, "I don't know what kind of promise you made to Takanome, but that doesn't concern me or my crew in any way. Our business is our own, and we will carry out our decision."

Instead of looking offended or angry, Lord Faranon looked amused. "Be that as it may, but you will not have the Stone. The Stone is guarded within the heart of the palace, protected by Shion's finest warriors. I do not question the strength that lay dormant in you now, but even with your formidable crew at full power, you will not have a prayer against our soldiers. Especially when their strength is further enhanced by the midnight moon." Several of the stationed guards squared their boulder sized shoulders proudly.

The King continued, "I do not want any harm to befall Lady Robin or her friends, so please, by all means, just relax and enjoy yourselves to all the comfort Pandora has to offer." he said with finality.

"Hey, if you think we're going to back down just like--" Sanji grabbed Ussop's shoulder.

"Sounds like a good idea," Sanji ogled back at the Shion females, who were curiously peeking at the Pirate men, "I see plenty of lovely ladies around here to keep me busy."

"Idiot."

"What did you said?" Sanji growled at the swordsman.

"None of that!" Nami shoved them apart haphazardly. "I'd like a tour of the palace vault, please." she winked.

Chopper looked confused, but added, "I'm kind of hungry."

"So we have an agreement." Lord Faranon curled a palm to his jaw, cradling his chin and hiding his mouth.

Syn frowned, utterly baffled by the event, but kept silent at the secret smile playing on Robin's lips.

"I guess we do." Luffy nodded.

"Daughter of Lioré, will you kindly see to it that our guests are lavishly received?"

"Yes, my lord." Syn complied with a deep bow.

The group exited without more incident. They walked in silent company until Franky spoke up, "Was it just me or did anyone else find that King guy's threat kinda… weird?"

"Heh. That man," Luffy grinned, "he wants us to steal the Stone. Tonight, between sunset and midnight, we're taking that portal."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

They'd spent the day relaxing and charging up for the night's raid. It moved Robin to no end how her nakama lent her their strength and trust with such undying loyalty. Even the swordsman, who refused to speak or even match eyes with her, had given his support.

Following Syn's detailed direction to the location of the shrine was easy. The warning had been real when Lord Faranon spoke of the ample security. Each one of the Shion soldier's possessed the strength of at least ten men. The pirate crew knocked them out without too much hassle but it was quickly becoming obvious that with the power up from the moon, the guards would soon become a much bigger problem. The eight pirates had maneuvered though the palace with the assassin's stealth, proceeding to cripple the security around the target room without raising alarm for a backup.

Zoro knocked out the last of the standing Shion, striking him down with the back of his blade. The other members straightened up and dusted off. Every single opponent had been knocked unconscious but with zero casualty.

"Good thing we finished up quick, it just turned midnight." Nami struggled to catch her breath.

"It's beyond this door," Franky announced and pulled apart the heavy golden doors.

Ussop's jaw almost hit the floor. The entire room was crammed full with Shion guards the size of polar bears. They tightened up and braced for battle when a loud crashing sound stunned them all. The leading soldier whirled around to take inventory of the room, where half his troops had suddenly fallen unconscious to the floor. Flagrant flower pedals rose and vanished from their necks.

Beads of sweat drenched her temple and cheeks as she stepped to the head of the group. The guard turned wide eyed to the approaching woman.

"Lady Robin, please, don't do this." Without a response, she crossed her arms to chest and a second wave of crashes shook the walls as the armored bodies hit the floor. The conjured arms had snapped their necks into strategic slumber. Just the one guard remained in the vast room. "Lady--"

"There are no ladies here tonight--just us Pirates." Robin's blue eye's flashed sharply under the pale moonlight. "Now, move."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

When the last guard had been bound and gagged, all eight members of the Mugiwara crowded around the alter. Laying on the overstuffed velvety cushion, the stone looked insignificant compared to all the trouble they'd gone through to claim it.

They closed around the shrine, ready to take it. A fury of movement hit them like a tornado. Zoro's powerful sword swing was sparked off with incredible force. Sanji's lighting kick was thrown back as if he'd been a child. Lastly, and most shockingly, Luffy's launched fist was captured within the hostile, unyielding grip.

"You dare offend the King's welcome and violate his law?!" a dangerous voice growled.

"Prince Othello." Robin said breathlessly.

"You know this guy, Robin?" Ussop rattled.

His grip tightened around Luffy's fist as he scooped up the Stone with his free hand. "Are you even aware of what you're getting yourselves into?"

"Simple. I'm going to kick your ass, take the Stone. Go to the next island, kick the asses we find there, take their Stones. Get to the last island and kick whosever ass we find there." he summarized. "Oh, and bring back Takanome." he added afterthought.

Othello stared at Luffy as if he had sprouted two more heads. He let go when Luffy jerked back his fist. "You're mad, the immortals of the Chimera Island are far too powerful for your level. You'll be slain." He moved back to gather all of them in one sight. He studied each face of the crew slowly, measuring and sizing them up. He stopped on Robin. "Lady Robin, I cannot let you charge into a hopeless war."

After all the friendship and kindness he'd shown her, it killed her to repay him in such a way. But she had a job to do, and she swore on her life she'd succeed. Biting back a wince, she steadied her voice. "Sir Othello, this is something that I must do. And if it means that I'll have to fight you for the portal--I'll do it."

"And she'll win." Luffy stepped up, grinning proudly. The blue-haired Shion glared at Luffy.

"I told you about the plan so you can help them, not so you can attack them!" Syn burst into the room. She immediately stilled at the heavy tension in the room.

"You're insane," he growled, towering over Luffy. He turned to look each of the eight members in their determined eyes. "Every one of you damned fools are mad." he accused, challenging their Captain straight in his eyes. Then, quite suddenly--as if they'd rehearsed it--both lips pulled into a slow grin.

Othello turned to address the full group. He straightened his shoulder and lifted his face. He was smiling.

"Excellent."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x

"Where is your vessel?"

"Thousand Sunny is anchored by the southern beach." Franky replied.

"The portal has enough energy left for one more gateway. I can supply some of the power, but it still isn't enough to transfer all of you. We must go out into the ocean, so I can absorb the full light of the moon."

"You have to hurry," Syn snapped, "the guards are coming around. Soon they'll have backup."

Luffy pulled opened the door, "Let's go."

The group thundered out into the hall, dashing at full speed to escape the palace.

The first guard shouted, "There they are! Stop them!"

"Isn't that Prince Othello?" another shouted back.

"You fool! Why would Prince Othello be with them?! Get them!"

"Here we go!" Luffy shouted, laughing as they stampeded through the rushing guards.

They spilled onto the beach with the army of Shions hot on their trail.

"Syn!"

"On it," she turned around and knelt, touching her fingertips to the earth. Millions of vines, as thick as a man's waist began twisting and dancing through the trees. They looped and coiled through the branches until they'd created a formidable wall of green. The pursuers trapped behind the wall, began hacking savagely at the plant.

Othello signaled the crew to board. "Hurry!" he urged. "They gateway will open from under your ship. Hang onto each other, and no matter what happens--don't separate." While the Mugiwaras hustled aboard, Othello reached to his waist and unsheathed the blue blade. The dagger glowed luminously under the strong moonlight.

"Othello, not too much." Syn begged. She couldn't abandon her post from the wall of foliage, but she twisted to keep him in sight.

Othello, with his thighs braced apart, knelt before the sea. The pale light of the moon washed beautifully over his hair and skin. "I must," he grimaced, holding open the palm with the stone, he placed the dagger point directly over the center. He checked over his shoulder and barked, "Damn it, Syn, don't look!" She whimpered and pressed her forehead against the fortress of green.

The roughly assembled crew stared in collective horror as the Shion Prince raised the knife.

"Othello!" Robin screamed.

Clamping his jaw, he let the blade strike. Syn cried out at Othello's pain-filled grunt. The razor sharp tip sliced clear through the stone, ripping through his palm. Othello paled and gasped as the stone rapidly drained his blood.

Before any of them could jump ship to attend to the Shion, the ship rocked violently. A large shadow had started glowing under the vessel. The shadow began infecting the boat, painting everything with darkness. A blast of cold air rose all around them.

"Don't separate! Not matter what you do! Don't separate!" Othello shouted hoarsely.

"Everyone!" Luffy thundered, "Get together! The crew scrambled to secure their hands in a circle. As the shadow raced to engulf the ship, Robin saw Nami, Franky, Chopper, Ussop, Sanji, Zoro and Luffy linked in arms. Luffy's outstretched hand was less than an inch away.

Robin jumped for his hand, "Grab on, Robin!" Luffy shouted. She felt a strong hand clamp around her wrist, then, the darkness took over.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.

Slim, hard. So different from Luffy's warm, strong fingers. They tightened around her wrist like a chain.

"No!" She meant to shout with fury, but instead, it came out in a shaky scream.

A soft whisper teased her ears, heightening her panic. Beautiful, seductive, cold.

"Now I have you, love."

Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.Xx.

A/N: Hello, everyone! I'm really sorry this post took so long. The twists and turns of life have been demanding one hundred and ten percent of my attention. Fortunately, they've been the good kind of stress so I'm not complaining, but I do sincerely apologize for the incredible delay on update.

Anonymous T: No, no, no, man! (…woman?) I don't mind your reviews at all. In fact, I love everyone that take the time to write one. I appreciate your honesty and feedback. And honestly, I felt so guilty after your's and Shintaro's review, I pounded out this chapter as soon as I had the time.

As for the questions from the readers--they will be answered in the future chapters, so please look forward to it! (Psst.. Anon T. Not his first.)

Also, I've made a rough estimation, and the story should wrap up in the next seven or eight chapters.

Thank you for reading!

Icon Image Guide: Luffy - Stand Up