…. Oh well this chapter is late.... Really, very late actually. I apologize from the bottom of my heart for making you all wait so long for this!!! I have excuses, but I'm much too lazy to list them all, besides, who really wants a long author's note? Anywho, I'd like to thank all those that have review, story alerted, favorited etc. They make me bubble with happiness. And yes, this is the final chapter of Haunted Isle. I still can't believe that this whole thing started out as a oneshot, amazing what plot bunnies do to my muse isn't it? And I have a poll for my next story out, and I'd like for you all to vote to see what you would like me to write. You don't get many choices, and I actually made the poll a while ago.... Shows you how lazy I am huh? But I have good news! I can log in on FF now! Yay! I'm debating on whether or not I still want to do a reviewer's reply. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the final chapter of Haunted Isle! And please excuse my grammar and spelling mistakes. (Oh, and there's a scene at the very end that was inspired by Treestar's Coral Reef. I wonder how many people will recognize it?)
Lectori Salutem: Yes you are correct, it was the plague! I'm glad you liked the chapter, we'll see if you still feel the same way once you read this one.
Su-chan: Ah, Su-chan, it's always good to hear from you! Thank you! I'm happy you got scared (even if that sounds horribly wrong) that was a goal of mine.
Kira-chan: Do you mind if I call you that? And here's the next chapter! I guess you'll have to see if they get eaten now ne?
Sho-A0Y Cupid: Oh my, you have no idea how happy I am that you reviewed my story Cupid-san! You're quite the good author yourself! I'm sorry I gave you a nightmare, but I'll try to work on making my characters easier to visualize in future chapters.
Strawhat-alchemist: You're like me when Luffy is threatened! Ah, the meaning of the universe and life is forty-two.
Mistress D. Gray-Freak: Thank you! I'm glad you think it's freaky, I've always wanted such a reaction.
Saiyura: Wow, I was just about ready to post this when I got your review. Guess you didn't have to wait too long then ne? I hope you like it!
White bone glittered in the moonlight, the decaying brown skin stretched taunt over the scalp as the thing slowly rose above ground. Luffy stared at it, transfixed. Its eye sockets were black—resembling the darkness of nothing. The only color in the eerie depths was a crimson dot suspended in the middle of the socket. The face had almost no skin, just a thin layer of tissue that had turned leathery from being buried underneath the ground for centuries. The mouth was open, and as worm encrusted soil fell out of the gap, Luffy caught a look at the rotten yellow teeth and bruise colored gums.
A low, guttural moan sounded from the mouth, and a wrinkled tongue rolled around each tooth the monster had. All three of them. Another hand shot from the surface of the clearing, steadying the body as it began to heave itself out of the soil. Luffy grimaced, the sight not very becoming, and promptly power kicked the head clear across the clearing—a noise that could have been a surprised cry echoing in the night—and the hollow thump the skull made as it crashed into a gravestone proved just how empty the undead thing's head was. It stayed there for a moment, juices from the neck providing a large amount suction, before gravity won out and it fell to the ground with a loud squelch.
Meanwhile, the rest of the body had continued to pull itself out of the grave, and was now standing upright, boney hands feeling the stump of the neck where its head use to be. The thing blundered about for a few seconds, before the head let out a surprisingly high-pitched yell and the body moved toward the noise, continually hitting tombstones along the way. Luffy watched it stumble away, gazing at it in wonder.
"What the hell?!" Zoro exclaimed. He too was staring at the body as it tripped over a root and collapsed to the ground, before grasping onto nearby tombstones and pulling itself up and continuing on its quest to find the missing head.
"Ah," Rowan sighed, shaking his head in depression, "They're not very smart. It's a pity really, because I rarely have good company, and the dead just don't carry a conversation well. The only good thing is that they can't die and they do exactly what I say." Rowan paused eying the body as it tripped again, landing only a few feet away from the decapitated head, "I'll have to work on their clumsiness soon."
"What is it?" Luffy questioned.
Rowan gave him a dry look, "I do believe I've already told you what that is."
The monster gave a long suffering sigh, "I'll tell you once more. It is my faithful undead minion."
Undead? The hell does the freak mean by that? Zoro denied the fact that the thing could quite possibly be a zombie. But a part of his mind reminded him that nothing was impossible when Luffy was around. Zoro glanced at his captain, seeing the slightly confused expression on his face. Rowan must have noticed as well, for he gave his captain a smile that seemed reserved just for dealing with idiots. "I think you call them zombies."
"EH?!" Luffy cried, eyes wide with disbelief.
Rowan ignored the outburst and said, "You do know that I have more than one minion, correct?"
As he spoke, the soil in front of the surrounding headstones started to move and crumble. More zombies arose from their graves, each one as equally as disgusting as the one before it. With a combined moan, they flowed towards the pair. Zoro and Luffy glanced around them, noticing that they were encircled. Zoro undid his bandana from his arm and quickly wrapped it around his head. Luffy cracked his knuckles and held out his fists. The two stood back-to-back, observing the mass around them.
"Ne, Zoro?" Luffy spoke, never taking his eyes off of the undead bodies surrounding them.
Zoro grunted in acknowledgment, setting Wado in his mouth and unsheathing Kitetsu and Yuubarashi.
"Is it possible to kill a zombie?"
Zoro grinned around the handle of Wado, "Don't know. I guess we'll have to find out, eh captain?"
Luffy's grin matched Zoro's—one ready and eager for a fight, and one that made his heart beat fast. "Yosh!" There was a brief moment of silence, and then they leaped simultaneously into the group of zombies. "Onigiri!" The swordsman quickly slashed bodies in half, separating them at the waistline. He engaged another batch of the undead, listening to Luffy's cries of 'Gomu Gomu no Pistol!' and 'Gomu Gomu no Gatling Gun!'. For some reason the loud bellows were strangely comforting. They let Zoro know that Luffy was still alive. As he prepared for another Onigiri, something grabbed his ankle. Looking down, the swordsman saw that the upper half of one of the bodies he cut. Apparently, they were still able to move even after being sliced in two. Zoro redirected his attack and cut off the arms of the half torso, before continuing to slash his way through his opponents.
"Gomu Gomu no Pistol!" Luffy was having the time of his life! The zombies were fun to fight, each one a little harder to defeat than the one before. He cried out as something bit his leg. Luffy kicked out reflexively and saw another head flying through the air. But the damn things just wouldn't stay down! The rest of the severed body parts on the ground deemed it time to try and bite and gnaw at Luffy, each wanting a taste of young, fresh flesh. Luffy winced as he felt another pair of teeth sink into his calf muscle. Shaking his leg, the captain tried to get the stupid zombie head off, but it was impossible to do so. They just stuck to him like glue, the few but sharp teeth holding on like a clamp.
"Zoro!" Luffy shouted, as a surge of arms and legs tackled him, teeth clamping down on skin and clutching to the bone in his arm. He quickly initiated another attack, but they wouldn't let go!
"Luffy!" Zoro responded, glancing over to see his captain being mauled under a pile of zombies. Worry and anger mixing within his chest, a growl escaped his throat and he rushed over, knocking the bodies back with yet another Onigiri. He heard Luffy cry out in pain and saw a decapitated head biting into his shoulder. The swordsman slashed the skull in half. Luffy grinned at him, "Thanks Zoro!" And then turned his attention back to the fight, anger making his attacks all the more powerful. Zoro decided to stay next to the rubber man, not wanting to let any other bastard zombies take a chomp out of his Luffy.
His? The swordsman almost blinked in surprise. Since when was Luffy 'his'? Sure, he loved-
Zoro stopped thinking, the word resounding in his mind. Love. Love. Love. It knocked back and forth against his skull, and he twisted the word around in his head. Examining it, analyzing what the four letter word meant, and if he was being honest in his opinion about it. Yet the swordsman came to the same conclusion for every situation he could think of: He loved Luffy. And suddenly the significance of such a bold statement hit Zoro full blast. He loved Luffy! The swordsman quickly hid the stupid grin stretching across his features. His chest exploded with the feeling. And he felt lighter than he had in years. Rapidly coming to a decision Zoro promised himself—before his will wavered—he would tell Luffy he loved him as soon as they got back to the ship. This revelation caused a few other things to click into place as well. It explained the shyness Luffy had exhibited this morning, and all of the stares Zoro caught his captain giving him recently. There was a chance that Luffy might reciprocate his feelings.
Pain flooded his system, and Zoro was yanked back to the fight as a zombie latched itself to his back. Quickly ripping the thing off his skin, Zoro stumbled, narrowly avoiding another undead body. He mentally slapped himself. Zoro could not afford to be distracted; it would cost him everything in a fight. And this fight happened to be particularly important. There was no time to be thinking of his soon-to-be boyfriend (hopefully). Concentrate on the fight. Concentrate on protecting Luffy. Zoro's mind supplied, and he repeated the phrase over and over again like a mantra, and soon all else faded away. The noise of the fight, the zombies constantly chewing his skin off, and the feeling of euphoria at realizing he loved the rubber man vanished. It was replaced with the need to fight off every single fucking zombie and make sure Luffy didn't get hurt. And every fiber of his being came alive with the thrill of the fight.
Zoro's swords slashed and hacked through hordes of bodies at an astonishing rate. Limbs flew in all directions. Age old blood and festered human fluids splattered the air like rain drops, reflecting the moonlight and shining with deadly intent. And the zombies that had once overpowered the pair were now rapidly diminished in numbers. The volatile tide was finally turning in their favor.
Rowan frowned to himself as he took in the scene before him. The fight was lasting longer than he had expected, and the midnight hour was soon approaching. Blood red eyes settled on the green haired swordsman. He was fighting particularly hard, and Rowan could clearly see the muscles bulging and straining against the white shirt. The swordsman was quite annoying, constantly interfering with his plans. First, he had saved the boy from his mind eating magic, and the resurrected the boy's faith in his friends. Then he protected him from being mutilated by the zombies and now he was forcing his minions back. Annoying, but relatively entertaining. It was rare that something amused him so much, but the swordsman's body was toned. The sight of it was enough to make his mouth water, as such a fighter would have to have a delicious flesh and meat. Rowan couldn't wait to taste it. And savor it he would, no matter what.
Rowan's eyes surveyed the battlefield again, looking for some sort of weakness from the two boys or something that he could use to regain the advantage in the battle. His gaze landed on the statue of the samurai holding his sword high in victory. A rather nasty grin erupted on his face. Rowan closed his eyes, and breathed deeply through his nose. Mizuki Haibito, I call you forth from the grave. Do my bidding, be my slave. Your quest is simple, but take precaution. Kill the marimo, now rise from your coffin! He watched as the long dead warrior returned to life as his minion as the others had, easily pulling itself out of the ground. The crimson dots looked around, before settling on the green haired swordsman. The samurai started towards the man, katana already drawn. Grinning, Rowan quickly encroached his will upon the zombies, Slaves! Leave the swordsman alone and concentrate on the rubber man.
The undead bodies obeyed, congregating towards Luffy. Huh? Zoro paused in his attack as all of his opponents suddenly turned from him and attacked his captain instead, completely ignoring his presence. Zoro growled, not at all happy about being tossed aside. Just as he was about to unleash his cannon on the bastard zombies, he heard the unmistakable sound of a sword slicing through the air. He blocked the blade with Kitetsu, stopping the katana mere centimeters from his neck. Zoro grunted, and pushed back, unbalancing the other swordsman momentarily. But the katana wielder used the force to draw back into a defensive stance, ready to intercept a counterattack.
Zoro looked closely at his new opponent. It was odd that this zombie had a weapon while none of the others did. Not to mention the fact that most of them had just ignored him in favor of trying to eat Luffy. The thing in front of him was definitely a zombie though, shown by the rather large hole in his chest—undoubtedly the result of a fatal stab wound. Zoro grimaced when a pink worm covered in specs of dirt wiggled around in the eye socket. This caused him to take note of the look on the zombie's face. It was instantly recognizable, because he had seen it many a time on his travels. It was the ferocious stare of one that loved to fight. And things finally fell into place. The samurai in front of him was the one he had admired in the graveyard, before all this shit had happened. It was the statue—or rather, the warrior the statue was made after.
The monster moaned a zombiefied war cry and attacked him. Zoro blocked, and swiped at him from the side. It jumped, letting out another yowl as the katana slashed down on his head. Zoro stepped to the left, in time to feel the air from the blade as it plunged into the ground. The zombie used its momentum to swing around the blade, kicking Zoro in the chest. Zoro fell backwards a few steps and the samurai quickly freed the katana from the earth and slashed up at the first mate. Zoro saw the attack coming and danced around it, cutting the zombie's arm off with Yuubarashi. Now unarmed, the samurai ducked under the second swing of Kitetsu, rolling along the ground and grabbing the severed arm. The zombie stopped in a crotch, facing Zoro, and reattached his arm to his shoulder with a sickening crack. The green haired swordsman stepped back slightly, reassessing his opponent. The zombie was good. Zoro grinned, he would defeat this undead enemy and climb one more step to becoming the greatest swordsman!
Luffy punched the zombie directly in front of him, before pivoting on his right foot and slamming his heel into another coming at him from behind. Dropping down, Luffy swiped his left leg around and tripped the five zombies that had moved in after he had taken down the first two. He sprung up, shouting, "Gomu Gomu no Gatling Gun!" and proceeded to wipe out the rest of the undead bodies that clogged his landing area. Landing softly on the soil, Luffy ground his teeth in frustration. It seemed like all of these damn zombies were attacking him! Where's Zoro? He was worried about his first mate, not because Zoro couldn't take care of himself—Luffy knew his first mate wouldn't be easily defeated—but if Zoro got hurt then it might be harder for the swordsman to escape with him, and there was no way that Luffy was going to leave him behind. If only he could see the tell-tale green hair belonging to his first mate, but Luffy couldn't see much of anything above all of the fleshy scalps of zombies.
A sudden idea made him grin impishly, jumping up in the air once more, Luffy focused on looking around the sea of undead bodies for Zoro, instead of attacking them. He spotted the swordsman fighting a different zombie. Luffy frowned, it looked like this one was stronger than the rest, not to mention the zombie had a katana! As his body started to succumb to gravity, Luffy spun the lower half of his abdomen, stretching his legs out at the same time. He held the position until he was just about the height of the zombie's heads. Then Luffy released the tension in his stomach, causing his legs to whirl around like helicopter blades, mutilating the zombies within his range. As he landed, Luffy took time to assess the damage. More than half of the undead bodies that had surrounded him were now scattered about in pieces on the ground. They didn't stand up or even twitch.
Luffy grinned, now all he had to do was to get rid of the rest of the zombies and then he could go to Zoro! As he went about this task, Luffy contemplated why he needed to see Zoro, and why it felt like he wanted to be protected by the swordsman. He wanted to be held in those strong arms once more, to feel the sense of security wash over him that only came when Zoro was around. And if the swordsman wasn't in sight, then Luffy would go and find him, just because he felt the need to know Zoro was near and okay. It was strange. Luffy was supposed to be the one protecting everybody, he had to be strong. But Zoro had seen him when he was broken, and the swordsman didn't think Luffy any weaker. In fact, those words Zoro had spoken when they had first escaped the clearing helped him understand that the swordsman would never think of Luffy as weak—even in his most vulnerable moments. Once, he had talked to Robin about the feelings, and she told him that he might be experiencing love.
A slight blush rose to his cheeks thinking about it. Did he really love his first mate? And if he did, would Zoro feel the same way? Questions zoomed through his head, each one holding an insecure thought. But Zoro had protected him, kept him strong. It could mean that the swordsman felt the same, but all of the reasoning was getting confusing. Not to mention his thinking had distracted him and made him almost get bit again. Luffy kneed the zombie in the stomach and stopped all of the annoying questions running through his head. He made up his mind. Luffy was going to listen to his heart, let it guide him like he always had. Emotions that Luffy had ignored bubbled up, the butterflies in his stomach when Zoro was around, the way his body would heat up when Zoro touched him, accidentally or purposely. And all of the dreams he kept having of the two of them together.
It all made sense. Maybe it hadn't before because he never really understood it. But now, fighting, with Zoro just a few yards away, like how it was when they first started their journey, Luffy finally realized what all of his feelings meant. He loved Zoro. A smile lit his face at the thought, and the rubber man felt all light and dreamy and fluffy, like when Sanji made cake. He was going to confess to Zoro as soon as they made it back to the Merry! A zombie moaned near him, and grabbed Luffy by the shoulders. First, though, Luffy needed to get rid of these damn zombies. The captain flipped his attacker over his shoulder and flung it at his other opponents. Practically bursting with the need to get to Zoro, Luffy began fighting faster, stronger, and more accurately, taking the undead down with a single punch of his fist.
Nothing was going to prevent him from getting to his first mate and telling him he loved him. A sudden loud, "ONIGIRI!" exploded across the battlefield. Two pairs of black eyes met, and Zoro smirked, nodding to Luffy, his eyes conveying a silent message that was easy to understand: Nothing would stop him either.
Rowan growled angrily, his slaves were being defeated, and because it was so close to the witching hour, his power was gone, vanished because of his curse on this island. Not only that, but his spell was wearing off. The zombies weren't regenerating anymore, and he couldn't renew it because the stupid curse signified he had to lose all his magical powers during the half-hour before midnight. But to make up for that slight disadvantage, as soon the moon was directly overhead, not only did Rowan regain his powers, they increased ten-fold. Still, this was his time of weakness, and he couldn't afford the chance that the two might escape.
Zoro preformed one last Onigiri and the samurai zombie fell. This time, he didn't get back up. Zoro panted lightly, damn that fight was hard! He had to have grown stronger from this battle. "Grah!" A moan came from behind him as a limbless torso flew past his head and into a gravestone with a sickening splat.
"Zoro!" Luffy pounced on him.
"How come that zombie you were fighting had a sword?" Luffy asked.
Zoro frowned, "I'm not sure. But he was strong."
"But you had fun right?!" Luffy continued to question, grinning at him.
"Yeah, I did." Zoro smiled slightly, "How 'bout you?"
"I had a lot of fun!" Luffy laughed. Zoro's smile widened just the tiniest bit. He was happy that Luffy was totally back to his old self. Quiet Luffy was scary. But he couldn't help feeling something was off. Zoro felt that he was missing some important information. He stared at the wreckage around them, and a sudden thought had him asking, "Luffy, why didn't the zombies get back up this time?"
Luffy tilted his head to the side, contemplating the question. He finally offered: "They were scared?"
Zoro laughed, "I don't-" A burst of a sticky green substance hit him smack-dab in the chest. Zoro fell into Luffy, and Luffy lost his balance and collapsed against a headstone. They stuck to it.
Rowan appeared in front of them, smirking, "Well now, you seem to be in quite the predicament." The monster ignored the fact that the simple Goo Spell had taken up the last of his reserves of power.
Zoro tried moving his hand, but the green glop prevented pretty much any movement at all. He turned his attention to the figure standing before him, "I would've thought you'd be panicking about now." The swordsman taunted the cursed creature.
Rowan blinked, "Now why would I be panicking?"
"Because we just defeated your army of the undead." Zoro said slowly, a foreboding feeling creeping up through his body as Rowan's posture stayed relaxed.
"Oh, that was frustrating, yes. But it would seem that you're stuck, at the mercy of whatever I decide to do with you." Rowan grinned, the gesture containing nothing but malice. Zoro glanced worriedly at Luffy, how was he going to get them out of this?
"So what are you going to do with us?" Luffy asked, oddly calm. His face serious, making him appear mature, and wise. It was kind of scar; rarely was Luffy so solemn. Zoro blinked, Luffy... Luffy looked fucking hot with his serious face on.
"Well, my range of freedom is limited to this island. Unfortunately for you, tonight is the time that I can be released from this lonely place. As long as I have a blood sacrifice that is." The sinister smile that accompanied the statement clashed drastically with the friendly tone with which it was spoken, "You two will be those sacrifices."
"Why both of us?" Zoro asked, snapping out of admiring Luffy and focusing on the task at hand.
Rowan shrugged, "You're both annoying and nuisances. Somehow I got the feeling that if I let one of you go, that person would just come after me with the intention to kill. I would rather that not happen. Besides, I just don't like you."
Luffy simply stared at him. Rowan looked him in the eye, "Are you not afraid?"
"Nope." Luffy answered.
Rowan continued to stare at the rubber man. Truth was evident in his eyes. The boy really wasn't afraid. This agitated him. He should be scared out of his wits, but he looked like he was sailing a boat, relaxing in the sun. The green haired one appeared much the same, except there was a gleam of suspicion and ferocity in his black eyes that told Rowan he wasn't going to give up hope any time soon.
Suddenly, Rowan wanted to crush that hope. Disintegrate it to nothing and watch if fly away like dust in the wind. He wanted to make sure that it never sprung up again. Yes, breaking their spirits would be marvelous. The look of despair and hopelessness in their eyes as he tortured them, devouring one—making the other watch the bones split and crack, and the way the blood would splatter on the wall like a morbid painting would be a nice change of scenery—and then the other. Rowan would relish each and every taste, emotion, expression. And then, after his feast, he would return to the world as a messenger of death. Once again, would he be able to wreck havoc upon humanity, delighting in his ability to scare anyone. It would be superb, fantastic, wonderful! And all Rowan had to do was get rid of these two pesky teenagers. Oh joy, it was perfect!
Luffy knew precisely what he had to do. He needed to get Zoro and himelf back to the ship safely. Exactly how to go about that, he still had yet to figure out. The sticky, icky, green stuff around them was a major problem, and the fact that Rowan was looking more murderous than Nami when he ate her tangerines without permission did nothing to help the situation. Come on, think. Think! He tried to calculate a way to get out of the green goo, but his mind supplied nothing useful.
"Do you remember the last time I spoke to you?" Rowan said, drawing Luffy's attention back to him. The half-rat,-half human was looking right at him. Luffy nodded hesitantly, "Yeah..."
Rowan came right up to his face, dried skin taunt over his jaw, giving the poor boy a marvelous view of his disgusting face, "You remember what I said, correct?"
"Yeah..." Luffy felt his stomach bunch up, a feeling that usually signified something bad was going to happen.
He caught the malicious smile on Rowan's face before it became expressionless. The blood red eyes glinting in the darkness of the night, "And you know everything I said was true."
Luffy's mind stopped working, the finality in the voice his undoing, "N-No it wasn't!"
"Oh yes it was. All of your friends are using you. They don't care about you, they only want to achieve their own goals. And as soon as they do, they'll toss you aside. Just as they dispose of rotten garbage that stinks up their living space."
It was that horrible vision all over again. Except this time, Zoro could see it happening. If Luffy could hear the tremble in his own voice, caused by the fear he was experiencing, his first mate could definitely pick up on it. Zoro would see Luffy doubt his friends. The swordsman shouldn't be exposed to this side of him. Luffy needed to be strong. He needed to prove to Zoro that he could take anything and rebound, becoming the invincible captain he claimed he was.
"Your friends hate you. You're too annoying, too innocent, too naïve, and on top of all that, you're an idiot. What makes you think they would want to follow you?" But damn this was really hard to take.
"Especially your first mate. He hates you the most." A knife of cold steel plunged into his heart. Luffy knew it wasn't true, knew it deep down. But all of his thoughts, senses, were focused entirely on the evil fiend standing before him and the words flowing out of his mouth drowning out what he knew to be real.
"You really didn't think he liked you did you? He's a smart young man, there's no way he would want a simpleton like you to be his captain."
"You're wrong." Luffy whispered, and Zoro heard it. Rowan smirked, and continued talking to Luffy in hushed tones. His sense of direction may be horrible, but his hearing was in perfect working order. Zoro could understand everything the bastard was saying to Luffy. It made his blood boil, and he wanted to rip Rowan's head off, then take Wado and slash his body to little tiny pieces and feed them to a Sea King. The way Luffy looked, almost hopeless, made his heart ache in a very peculiar way. He wanted to replace that look with a smile, a real, Luffy-like smile. Thus, Zoro made a rash decision he hoped he wouldn't regret.
"I bet this swordsman just wants to-" Rowan stopped abruptly. Luffy gaped up on him. There was a big glob of spit on Rowan's human cheek.
"Why you-!" He growled, turning to Zoro, ready to kill him on the spot. But Zoro cut him off, his voice holding unrestrained anger but also sincerity, "Listen ya freak. You don't know anything about me, Luffy, or our nakama. I'll always follow Luffy. He's my captain. I've known that since the first day I met him." Zoro turned to Luffy, "You may be goofy, but you're a great captain, I wouldn't want to serve under anyone else. Luffy, you give everyone you meet hope. The hope to live, or the hope that something great will happen. That's a gift that comes once in a lifetime." He took a deep breath and looked the rubber man in the eye. Vaguely, Zoro noted that he could become a great person for comfort with the amount of practice he had in the last twenty-four hours, "Luffy, I trust you with my life. And I'll do anything to make your dreams come true."
"Zoro..." Luffy whispered, the truth and honesty in the words ringing throughout his being. Looking into his first mate's eyes as he spoke brought a sense of warmth and comfort to him. And that knife that had slowly dug itself deeper and deeper in his heart with every sentence Rowan said, suddenly disappeared. And all at once, Luffy had an epiphany. Well, not an epiphany per say, but it was an idea that could possibly help them escape.
Rowan stood in shock as Zoro made his speech. He watched as the light in the eyes of the rubber boy that had almost vanished return in strength, shining with trust and something else. Rowan looked closer, investigating the unknown gleam. What was that? ...love? Quickly he glanced at the green haired boy, his black irises holding the splendor of warmth, comfort, admiration, and the undeniable twinkle of love. He blinked, the two teens loved each other?
Oh how wonderful! That would make the pain in their eyes that much greater as he annihilated one then the other. One watching his love writhe in pain before sharing the same fate. He didn't notice the rubber boy inhale deeply. He did notice however, when he shouted, "Gomu Gomu no Balloon!"
The boy's body expanded, making the goo, which had became hard and brittle, weakening as the midnight hour approached, stretch, trying to keeps its captives. But soon the strain became too much and it shattered, letting the two collapse to the ground, neither ready for the sudden drop.
"Ugh..." Zoro rubbed his head, but Luffy grabbed his hand and ran. Rowan stared in shock for a moment, but then gave a low growl and started after the two like a predator would to prey.
Luffy hid behind a wall, with Zoro right next to him, breathing heavily. "Luffy, do you know where to go?"
The bricks just to the right of them exploded outwards, spraying dust and debris into the air. Rowan stood in the hole, eyes narrowed, teeth bared. His sores were oozing, and the maggots in his cheek were being squeezed out in frustration. He turned to the two, and growled again, lunging at them.
"RUN!" Luffy yelled, and they ran. Barley avoiding the creature's talons, they sprinted away, only thinking about escaping the horrible creation. The two of them zigzagged, weaved, and threaded themselves through the ruins, stumbling over pieces of severed limbs and fallen gravestones. Rowan was mere feet behind them the whole time, clawing at any loose fiber of clothing and snarling furiously in anger. Had they stopped to think, the pair might've noticed that the burning flare of anger was the only emotion the monster had showed throughout the entire night.
Zoro winced as a talon like fingernail scraped against his neck. Damn those things were sharp. How had he forgotten about them? Luffy turned to look back, wanting to know just how close Rowan was to them, but Zoro stopped him, "Don't," He panted, "look back."
Rowan growled lowly, anger fueling his legs to go faster. He raised his hand and swiped at the pair, smiling in delight when he tore a small piece of cloth from the rubber man's shirt. Midnight was only a few minutes away, he needed to kill them now! If they escaped from the clearing then it would be unnecessarily difficult to find them again. Rowan may know the island like the back of his hand, but the blanket of night draped from one end of the island to the other, covering everything in between in darkness. Besides, he had to kill the two on the alter, and it was going to be rather troublesome to bring them back to the church. The deadweight of two bodies are surprisingly heavy.
"Zoro, look!" Luffy pointed ahead of them. In the distance, Zoro could make out the faint outline of the two foreboding walls that marked the entrance to the clearing. From what he could see, they still looked the same, but instead of keeping something in, the walls were now an escape route—freedom from the accursed ruins. The pirates pumped their legs faster as they neared the walls, each desperate to get away from the thing hunting them down. Rowan kept up with them, spewing every curse word he knew at them. Midnight was only seconds away now.
Zoro and Luffy flew past the small entrance—or rather exit—in between the two tall walls. Luffy turned to look behind them. Rowan flew straight at them, talons outstretched.
Just as a look of triumph swept over Rowan's face, he stopped suddenly in midair, like he slammed into an invisible barrier. His sores oozed and gushed nastiness from the unexpected collision. "Neehee..." Luffy grinned, and stuck his tongue out at Rowan while pulling his eyelid down. Rowan glowered at them, then smiled easily. His power was returning to him, he could feel every pore in his being vibrating with the effort to contain it, to stay in control of such power.
Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted twelve times. Midnight had arrived.
"Luffy..." Zoro's voice broke the silence, the urge to get away remaining unspoken. That evil smirk Rowan was sporting didn't settle right in his stomach. And with the way things had been going lately, he simply couldn't chock the feeling up to being paranoid. Rowan practical glided toward them. As he reached the gap between the walls he slowed, and struggled against an unseen restraint, one that hoped to keep the evil at bay. Alas, it was not meant to be! Rowan broke free of the transparent skeletal hands clinging to him, and smirked slightly as he watched them crumble to dust—must like the ruins themselves. The spell over the walls was getting weaker each time this hour came.
Everything was quiet for a moment. Luffy and Zoro stood shell-shocked while Rowan loomed above them, a smug air about him. He stared at the pair, the lust for human flesh gleaming in his blood red eyes. He stalked forward, almost like a predator. Hell, he was a predator! And nothing would keep him from his delectable prey. With a growl that made every creature on the island scamper away, Rowan leaped at the pirates.
Said pirates snapped out of their shocked trance and ran for their lives once again. Branches screamed past, and leaves of all shapes and sizes were left spiraling despairingly to the ground in the stillness that plagued the island. Rowan howled, an animalistic sound that sent a small spark a fear alight in Zoro's chest. The noise was low and guttural, still holding the capability of laughing, mocking the pair. Rowan called upon his minions in a massive necromancer spell, and they rose against their will, before moving quicker than their snapped and old ligaments would allow. Limbs ripped off, and bodies were trampled as a mad dash toward their creator started.
Zoro gulped air into his burning lungs, eyes racking the thick foliage for anything. Anything at all that would indicate a break in the forest. Vines and branches from weeping willows smacked his face in a violent caress. Tall grass tangled in his legs, and he frequently muttered curses under his breath. And Zoro couldn't help but look back, even as his survival instincts screamed at him to keep running, to concentrate on getting out of the forest, to stay alive.
He instantly regretted ignoring them. Rowan was only yards behind him and Luffy, looking like the reincarnation of the evilest, most vile being on the Grand Line. A look so vicious smeared across his scabbed face that even the devil itself would turn away in shame. Crimson eyes clearly conveyed the unmistakable shimmer of blood lust that practically screamed how Rowan would rip them to pieces before enjoying a feast. Around the monster were zombies, mouths agape, saliva stretching from bruised gum to bruised gum, the red dots in the middle of their dark void eyes were wide and unseeing. They stumbled along with their master, reaching out for the two of them, hideously fascinating. Zoro cringed as one zombie ran directly into a rather large, thick hanging oak branch, the top half of its body flying off—arms flailing—and landed in the path of two other undead beings. They stumbled over the arms, falling to the ground. Their own bodies being torn apart as the others stampeded over them.
The lower half of the zombie was still chasing after Zoro and Luffy, and the swordsman could see the broken spine, vertebrae glistening with coagulated blood. The small intestines were jumping and floating about the corpse, painting the zombies around it with the rank blood.
"Zoro, hurry!" Luffy cried.
The swordsman hadn't realized how much he had slowed down while observing the absolutely revolting scene behind the pair. Now, Zoro picked up the pace, joining Luffy as fear made their legs pump faster than ever before. Moonlight filtered through the tree branches above them, illuminating the pathway in a brilliant white haze.
"The beach!" Zoro panted, pointing ahead of them. Between the thick dark green leaves and wild bushes the swordsman could just make out the crystals of pale sand shimmering in the night and he detected the unmistakable smell of salt water in the air. A grin slowly started to turn the corners of his mouth upright. They were almost back to the Merry! Even he would admit missing the others a little—not the crap-cook of course-.
"You won't get away!" Rowan roared behind them, interrupting Zoro's train of thought. The green haired man frowned, glancing around at the area to see exactly how likely it was that they would get caught before the hit the beach. The results of the search were grim: nothing but huge ass trees, leaves, and thick, thorny vines, it would be easy to catch them here. He couldn't really make a trap or something to stall the mass chasing them, there was no time. Zoro and Luffy turned on a path that was surrounded by giant oak, pine, and red trees. Zoro's brow furrowed, Wait a minute. He looked closer at nature's massive trees. A grin lit his face as the first mate experienced something that was extremely rare in occurrence: an epiphany.
Zoro turned his head slightly to shout back at Rowan, "Yes we will ugly-shit!" before unsheathing Wado, eyes raking over each tree before the pair passed them. He could practically feel holes burning in his back from the monster's furious glare. There! As soon as he and Luffy were abroad the tall pine tree, he easily sliced through the dark, flaking bark. Zoro took small satisfaction in the fact that this particular tree had been one of the sticky ones that he had gotten stuck to before this whole fiasco started.
"Timber!" The swordsman's shout reverberated through the air, and the ancient tree creaked and groaned in protest before falling across the pathway behind them with a mighty crash that echoed in the forest several seconds after the tree itself fell. Soon after wards, the crash was accompanied by the sound of hundreds of thuds and an unsettling amount of squelches as the zombies impaled themselves on the sap covered branches sticking out from the tree. The noises continued for a few moments, the undead bodies still trying to chase after the pair.
Another blood-curdling howl erupted amongst all the chaos, and Rowan flew above the blockade, coming at the two men quicker than before. "Dammit." Zoro muttered as he saw the monster clear the wreckage gracefully.
"Faster, Zoro, faster!" Luffy's voice panted in his ear directly next to him. The swordsman didn't dwell on what such a statement could imply, instead focusing on increasing his speed to the maximum limit. Alas, it wasn't enough, because Rowan was gaining on them, trailing behind by mere seconds now. Luffy and Zoro stepped on the soft, shifting grains of sand as Rowan reached out to grab them, claws clinging to the fabric of the pirate's shirts. The monster would have gotten them too, but just as he was retracting his arm to claim his prize, Rowan's entire body was flung away, repelled back an invisible force.
"What?!" Rowan shouted, voice portraying his disbelief. His prey had been so close, oh so close, he had them! What the hell had just happened?! Rowan got up and tried to go after the pair again, but was met with the same result as before. Luffy—who had stopped to look behind him—grinned, "Neehee, guess we're the prey that got away, eh Freak?" He stuck his tongue out, a repeat of what occurred at the graveyard. Zoro grabbed his captain by the back his shirt, dragging him away, "Didn't you learn your lesson Luffy?"
"Na?" the rubber man glanced back, right as Rowan gave another frightening roar and lunged at the two. Luffy jumped, and started running like a mad-man, dragging Zoro, intent on getting back to the Merry. But whatever was guarding them held, and Rowan pounded against it furiously, beating the shield with his bare hands. He snarled, stoic appearance gone. More low, guttural growls, howls and roars escaping Rowan's throat as he watched his meal—and ticket to freedom—disappear. A feeling of despair engulfed him, the sadness overwhelming his dead heart. It seemed like Rowan wasn't going to be free just yet. Blood red eyes closed, and a depressed sigh resounded softly in the atmosphere. Turning around, the monster started back to his prison.
"I don't think this one is going to give away." Zoro commented, the pair already a good deal away from the forest. Luffy paid no attention to him and kept jogging towards the Merry. This time, he didn't look back. The two came to a complete stop in the shadow of the ship, staring up at the wooden figure. They were finally back.
Zoro's obsidian eyes alighted on the silhouette that stood against the railing. He resisted the urge to grin as the figure leaned over the edge and became bathed in moonlight. It was Nami, and while he wasn't looking forward to getting smacked over the head, seeing the navigator meant that this wasn't another one of Rowan's illusions. It was real.
"Luffy! Zoro!" Nami shouted, waving down at the two.
"Hey Nami!" Luffy responded, enthusiastically waving both arms over his head.
"Hold on, I'll lower the ladder!" Nami disappeared and the rope ladder they used to get on and off the ship rolled down the side soon after wards. They climbed up it, and as soon as their feet were safely planted on the familiar deck, Nami punched them both in the back of their heads.
"Ow, dammit woman!"
"Owwww!" Luffy and Zoro cried simultaneously. Zoro glared at the red head. Stupid witch! He didn't need anything else to ache! But one look at her eyes showed exactly how worried she was, the fear prominent in the brown irises, and Zoro decided not to pursue the matter, instead huffing while crossing his arms across his chest and refusing to look at Nami in retaliation.
"You two have no idea how worried we were!'"
"Sorry Nami." Luffy apologized, still holding the bump on his head. Zoro merely grunted—his own special way of saying 'sorry'.... Or that he didn't care one way or the other. More likely it meant the latter. She sighed, "It's alright, we'll talk about it in the morning with the rest of the crew. Go get some sleep."
"Speaking of the crew," Zoro said, "Where is everyone else?"
"Sleeping. I sent them to bed a while ago." Nami answered. She turned around, ready to head to her cabin, too tired to try and reason with two of the biggest idiots in the world. "Why didn't you go?" Luffy asked suddenly. Nami stopped, and glanced at him over her shoulder, "I was worried." She continued down to the inner workings of the Merry Go, leaving with a, "Oh, and I set the ship's wheel in the direction of the next island. All you have to do is raise the anchor and we'll be off. We've lost too much time already, so we'll sail through the night. You two will take first watch. Wake Sanji for the second." And then she was gone.
The two stood in silence for a moment, before Zoro headed over to the anchor and heaved it up from the sea bed, securing the metal in its place on the side of the hull. He heard Luffy murmur, "She was really worried about us."
"I bet they all were. I'm sure that if Nami hadn't made them go to bed, they would've been up here with her." Zoro told him, resuming his stance next to his captain.
"Yeah...." Came Luffy's response in that same quiet voice. Zoro sighed inaudibly, that tone was far too much like the one Luffy had used when he was talking about his nightmare earlier. Smiling slightly, he reached up and ruffled the teen's hair reassuringly, "You sure know how to pick nakama Captain, they care for you a lot."
Luffy look up at him and smiled that soft smile that made Zoro's heart flutter, making it feel as if it would burst out of his chest. It didn't help that Luffy's eyes glowed with happiness. And it was then—staring down at his captain's remarkable face, his wide, gleaming eyes staring back at him with the soft moonlight gently illuminating his captain's skin —that the swordsman remembered the promise he had made himself in the heat of battle. He found that his mouth wouldn't work and his courage had diminished rapidly. Zoro's mind was blank, filled to the brim with the scent, smell, and sight of Luffy.
Suddenly, that wasn't enough. Zoro wanted to taste the teen, to kiss the full lips shinning like beacons in the night. He wanted to touch Luffy, to wrap his arms around the lithe muscular body. The urge to do so overwhelmed the swordsman, flooding every pore of his being until it reached the point were it started to hurt if Zoro couldn't take Luffy's face in his hands and kiss him, hold him flush against his body. The strength that had roared its assent to the vow was practically gone. As the tide slowly pulled Merry out to sea, Zoro wondered if he really could tell Luffy about the promise. Why was it suddenly so difficult? Zoro was sure he loved Luffy, and he should tell the rubber man, right? Then why did the words die in his throat when he tried to voice them?
Luffy stared at his first mate, sensing the conflict he was going through. He frowned, he liked helping his crew with their problems; it was his job as captain after all. But Zoro had never confided much to him, and Luffy could tell that whatever was affecting the swordsman now was different than anything else Zoro had dealt with. Luffy kept his gaze locked on Zoro's black eyes, noticing the way they darted to and fro in frustration, the downward tilt of his first mate's lips showing his growing displeasure. Luffy stared into Zoro's eyes, and his innocent way of seeing the emotions of his crew showed him something that wouldn't have been apparent if the swordsman's guard had been up. Luffy's heart jumped before making the blood hammer in his ears. He suddenly knew what was bothering the green haired man.
Zoro growled softly to himself at his incompetence. Why the hell was he acting like a fucking woman and not meeting the challenge head on?! Zoro never went back on his word, so what was stopping him now? Rejection. A little voice in the back of his mind whispered, You're afraid to show your emotions. Okay, he could see the reasoning in that. Zoro wasn't one to openly expose himself to anyone, he normally kept his feelings to himself and tucked safely away were they wouldn't cause any headaches. Frowning at the thought, Zoro tried to bring down the mental barrier preventing him from speaking to Luffy. Dammit, how the fuck was he going to-
Zoro felt something warm brush his lips, and all thoughts stopped abruptly. He blinked, looking down at Luffy's straw hat, on account that the rubber man was staring pointedly at his chest. "Luffy-"
"I don't like making my nakama worry." Luffy interrupted him, "Especially the one that loves me most."
Zoro's mind froze, Luffy knew? How the hell had he found out? Then he blinked once more, remembering the feel of something soft caress his lips.... Had Luffy really-?.... Zoro smiled, bringing the hand that had been ruffling the teen's hair down to rub his hand against Luffy's cheek. He brought a calloused thumb over the bridge of his captain's nose before cupping Luffy's chin and raising the straw hat covered head to look him in the eye.
Luffy's heart pounded against his chest at the sight of the soft smile on Zoro's lips. He raised his eyes to meet Zoro's own and his breath hitched, heart skipping beats as he got lost in the warm black depths. A bright blush colored his face as Zoro leaned down and nuzzled his nose against Luffy's, and murmured, "I'm glad.", before moving down to claim Luffy's lips with his own in a gentle kiss.
Luffy smiled as they pulled apart, eyes sparkling in delight, "Me too." The whisper drifted with the wind, and Zoro chuckled lightly, the sound coming from deep in his chest and swooped to meet Luffy's lips in a passionate kiss that the rubber man eagerly responded to, wrapping his arms around his first mate's neck. Zoro brought his tan arms across Luffy's waist, pulling him in to deepen the kiss before slowly pulling back, nipping at the rubber man's bottom lip as he did so. Zoro buried his head in the crook of Luffy's shoulder and breathed in deeply, his captain's scent overwhelming him. Luffy was content to let him stay there, to forget all about what had transpired that day and simply bask in the glow of a new found love.
And as the Merry sailed further and further away from the island where nightmares became reality and fear was the reining emotion, it shimmered and vanished, forever condemned to be forgotten.