A/N: OH MY GOD! WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO? I'M….I'M ACTUALLY UPDATING! *earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis across the planet* Gahhhh…so yeah…art school is actually ridiculous. I loooove it so much, but I've got more work than you can ever IMAGINE. But I finally (and I mean finally...jeez) found time to update! Hah. Figures it took me till winter break. So I'll just let you get reading. You people have been waiting long enough.
(Also, a quick special thanks to my friend HopeMoon on deviantART who reminded me to freakin' update this hahaaa. This chapter's for you, Cookie-chwan~!)
"Well, which?" the secretary asked again, still staring at Zoro with uncomfortable pleasure, the light from the colored window above casting strange shadows across her face. "The sun or the sea?"
Zoro felt a bead of sweat trickle down the back of his neck, and he narrowed his eyes at the woman, still not understanding the task before him. It seemed to be merely a simple question, but for some reason, his instincts were telling him to get the hell out of there, and fast.
"Dammit, choose, swordsman! We don't have all day!" Smoker snarled, irritated with Zoro's indecision.
However, said-swordsman ignored the angry commodore, surveying his options for escape. Glancing around at the sprawling lobby, he could see that the two winding staircases looked promising. Although, there were sure to be more Marines at the top and, without his swords, he wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight. Not to mention the offices along the sides of the room were sure to house even more Marine officials.
He supposed he could always go out the way he came. Two simple headbutts and the Marines holding him would go down, and unlike the shit-cook, he had no problem taking out the creepy secretary woman, but that still left that annoying Smoker. It'd be hard to get rid of the smoky bastard.
And come to think of it….where did we come in? Zoro thought with a frown as he scanned the room once more, looking around the ceiling for a familiar-looking door.
Damn, looks like I'm stuck for the time being, he admitted with a sigh.
And so, the only way out was to answer.
"The sea," he stated confidently, turning back to face the two with a smirk.
Smoker's eyes flashed, teeth clenching down hard on his cigars.
Surely, this guy wasn't that stupid. He'd had to have heard of this place before. So why the hell would he be dumb enough to choose-?
"You sure about that, Roronoa?" Smoker growled, glaring at him conspicuously.
But Zoro only shot an almost amused glance at the commodore before muttering, "'Course I'm sure. I'm a pirate, right? I'll always choose the sea."
Staring at the clearly certain swordsman, Smoker huffed out a breath. "You fool….you have no idea what you've just done," he spat out, turning back to the secretary with a sneer.
Zoro shrugged. "You're right, I don't," and, eyeing the agitated commodore, he grinned. "Care to enlighten me or somethin'?"
Smoker clenched his fists, and, for a moment, their escape from Rain Dinners flashed through his mind again….
"Roronoa!...Why did you save me?"
"I was following the captain's orders. Don't think you have to thank me or anything. It was just one of his whims. Forget about it."
He'd let them go. Just that once, he'd let those ever-persistent Straw Hats get away. Clearly, his debt was repaid; they were enemies once more.
And abiding by Zoro's advice, he chose to forget.
"You heard him. The sea," the commodore said with a curt nod.
The secretary nodded as well and began pleasantly typing away at her computer. "I'll send a request to the warden. We weren't scheduled to run another Cleansing for at least a week, but I'm sure we can make an exception for you, Roronoa Zoro," she said, glancing at him with a friendly grin before picking up a nearby Den Den Mushi and speaking into it.
"An escort is needed at the front desk." The transponder snail broadcasted her voice across the lobby from several speakers along the walls, and, within seconds, two new Marines arrived with a salute to replace the pair already holding him.
"Take him to Sector Three of the Cleansing Ward, Cell 396. And once his swords are brought in, have them locked in the cell next to him," the woman instructed, looking up as she finished her typing. A wave of red light danced over her face and she chuckled. "Make sure the area is clear too. We'll be drawing a private bath for him this afternoon…."
And with that, the soldiers nodded and shoved Zoro to the right, taking him by the arms and leading him away from the front desk towards an imposing metal door marked with a large 'Cleansing' sign.
Smoker blew out a breath of smoke as he watched the man disappear through the doors.
Another success story for the great Commodore Smoker. And how easy it had been too. Too easy.
He wasn't even a prisoner, yet he couldn't help but feel unsettled.
Normally, big captures like this gave him pride, a sense of accomplishment that gave him reason to believe he'd just made the world a little bit safer. Even his falsely glorified promotion after Crocodile's defeat had left him at ease knowing the sandy son of a bitch was locked up.
"Commodore Smoker," the secretary's voice brought him back.
"Hnn?" he grunted, refocusing his attention on the woman.
"The warden would like to speak with you now," she smiled up at him. "The elevators are behind me at the far end of the lobby. The warden's office is on a specially-marked floor; you can't miss it!"
He blinked at her as her grin faltered. Clearly, he was dismissed. With a nod, he began making his way to the elevators, sending Zoro's previous escorts back to the ship with a mere flick of his hand.
He'd wanted to have a chat with the warden. And he preferred that he do it alone.
Zoro frowned as he was led through a bland, brightly lit hallway, hearing the heavy doors to the lobby clunk shut behind him.
At the end of the short hallway was yet another pair of metal doors.
How original, he thought, scowling at the white concrete walls with distaste.
One of the Marines chuckled as they reached the doors, removing a glove to scan his hand on the security checkpoint.
"You sure picked well, Roronoa. Somethin' tells me you're gonna love it here," he said with a knowing smirk.
Zoro's other escort let out an ominous chuckle as well as the doors slid open, revealing a small, wet room similar to the one through which he'd first entered.
Zoro merely rolled his eyes and stepped forward into the dim room, approaching the entryway on the other end.
Being captured was becoming less and less of the interesting venture he'd hoped and more of a repetitive bore than anything. He let out a sigh as he watched the doors slide open past his face and found himself growing increasingly restless for Luffy and the others to make their grand entrance and liven things up.
However, he furrowed his brow upon seeing that the doors had opened onto another floating dock.
The hell? he thought, the Marines pushing him forward. Didn't we come in this way?
But Smoker's ship was nowhere to be seen. Just the vast ocean spread out before him.
Now were they planning to throw him in? He had chosen the sea after all.
He figured he could still swim even with his hands cuffed. It'd probably be the most exciting thing to happen to him all day too. Maybe he could swim all the way to the Sunny and escape. Wouldn't even need a rescue party to come get him. Plus it would take care of his daily training.
Unless he actually did drown like they were most likely hoping. Then that would just suck.
Suddenly, the water started churning in front of him, interrupting his musings. Zoro was oblivious to the fact that the Marines had pressed several buttons on a raised keypad by the door and he frowned at the familiar looking scene.
Just like before, the ocean seemed to tremble as a gigantic dark shape loomed underneath stretching farther than his eye could see. It got closer and closer to the surface until it finally erupted upward, soaring above him about five or so stories before grinding to a halt at the end of the dock.
Before him loomed yet another huge building, similar in make to the first yet circular and easily three times the size. Another simple door was the only means of entrance into this new building, the dock connecting the building from where they'd just come to the new one.
The Marines gave him a light shove and they began walking him towards the door. As they got closer, Zoro noticed a small sign etched into the façade of the building that read, "Cleansing Ward". Guess he'd finally get to find out what all they hype was about. He also noticed that there were no windows anywhere on the building. Just straight, cold steel.
This place is just getting weirder by the second, he thought, eyeing the structure suspiciously as he stalked up to the door, one of the Marines scanning his badge at a touchpad on the wall, successfully opening the door. He was led into yet another small in-between drainage room (by this time, he was expecting it), the only sound dripping water as they walked across to the other door and scanned their way in.
He heard the doors slide shut heavily behind him, extinguishing the outside light, but it barely registered in his mind when he gazed upon the sight before him.
They were standing on a torch-lit balcony that encircled the entire building, but it was so large that its whole circumference was not visible in the dim light. It had a low ceiling with small pillars attached to the railing, but Zoro could tell that the actual height of the building rose much higher judging by its outside appearance. Despite the weak lighting, he could just make out an impressively large staircase directly across from them on the other side of the balcony that plummeted down into darkness but other than that, there appeared to be no means of getting down.
He smirked when the two Marines started walking him down the balcony hallway, the torches attached to the pillars casting eerie shadows on the walls as they moved.
"Of course we'd be going down there," he mumbled out loud, chuckling softly as one of the soldiers tightened his grip on his arm in warning.
They passed several other doors standing sentinel along the wall but the Marines paid them no mind. It took them about two minutes to walk all the way to the other side at which point Zoro was finally able to see the entirety of the interior. They were standing at the top of the staircase, its austere industriousness anything but grand.
Peering down it, it became clear that it stretched down another five stories, making, in turn, about half the building under sea level.
Nodding at each other, the Marines began leading Zoro down the staircase into the abyss. As they walked, lights began to come on below, illuminating the lower level.
It was circular, as was the rest of the building, but instead of a balcony surrounding the perimeter, there were cells instead. They lined every inch of the wall, even going behind and underneath the large stairway.
Zoro wasn't surprised by the look of it. Typical prison, that was all. But what had him frowning was the huge circular…..drain in the center of the floor at the foot of the stairs. The holes were easily ten feet wide each, though they were closed over now with some kind of metal.
But why would they need to be open in the first place? Zoro thought, brow creasing. He noticed that there were also large grates on the walls above the cells, some of them slowly dripping water.
Their footsteps echoed on the concrete floor as they stepped down off the staircase. By this time, the entire lower level was dimly lit. They turned to the left, leading Zoro across the cavernous room to the row of cells, stepping carefully over the drain as they crossed. Once there, they continued walking down the line, passing countless barred cells, each looking suspiciously damp and cold.
Finally, the soldiers stopped him in front of one of them, a cell labeled 396 as directed. It was almost completely across the room from the stairway. Zoro scoffed. They must have been taking extra precautions that he wouldn't escape.
That said however, he narrowed his eyes as the Marine on his right reached over with a key to unlock his handcuffs.
"Escaping won't be an issue anymore so we'll just take these back," he heard the man say, his low voice uncomfortably close to Zoro's ear.
The other of his escorts unlocked the door with a set of keys on his belt loop, sliding it open like a cage door before shoving Zoro inside. Sneering as Zoro turned to glare at him, the Marine slid the door shut once more and locked it.
Just then, footsteps were heard running across the room from the stairs and shortly after, another Marine came jogging up to them, carrying Zoro's swords rather haphazardly. With a nod to the other two, he walked over to the cell to the right of Zoro's, unlocking it and throwing them in. Zoro winced upon hearing them clatter to the ground.
"Could you be more careful with those?" he growled, though he knew it was useless at this point. Funny that his swords were being held captive just like their master.
With one last scornful look at the trapped swordsman, the three soldiers turned away, one pulling a Baby Den Den Mushi out of his pocket and speaking into it.
"Prisoner and his katana secure," he heard him say, "Area secure as well. Cleansing can begin whenever you're ready, Warden."
The reply that came was too muffled for him to make it out as they hurriedly left Zoro in the dark. Eventually, he heard the main door from where they'd come clang open and close once more, its noise echoing throughout the vast space, leaving him truly alone.
He sighed. "Another cell, huh?" he muttered, glancing around. It was about the same size as the one on Smoker's ship but the dampness and cold made it significantly more unpleasant.
Sitting down, he leaned against the wall, stretching his arms out and rubbing his wrists where the handcuffs had chafed.
Something else was bothering him as well but he couldn't quite place what it was. And so he sat for a minute in silence, listening to the suspicious dripping of water coming from the ceiling and wincing as a freezing droplet hit him on the back of his head, slowly snaking its way down his neck.
Suddenly, realization dawned on him. It was too silent in this place. He couldn't hear any other prisoners in the surrounding cells. He hadn't heard any calling out when he'd walked in as prisoners usually did, and there were none making noises now.
"So either I'm the only one in here, or everyone else is dead," he mused aloud to himself, looking through the bars but seeing no signs of movement from anywhere.
He frowned. He had been bored with the typical captive experience he'd had so far, but now this was just getting a little creepy. Not to mention he was pissed with the way that damn Marine had treated his swords.
Alright, Luffy. You can show up n-.
Zoro's head snapped around as he felt the building literally shift under him. Without a moment's notice, the walls and everything around him started shaking as if a huge earthquake was raking through. The lights began flickering and it took him a minute to realize that the floor was moving too, giving him the stomach-dropping feeling of an elevator descending at high speed. The building shifted violently once more, causing Zoro to lose balance and fall over, cheek impacting with the vibrating floor.
In disbelief, he pushed himself up to his elbows.
They're moving the building back underwater, he realized incredulously, twitching as more water droplets fell onto him from the ceiling with each creak of the movement.
Finally, after a minute, everything ground to a halt and the cell was plunged into silence once more.
"Damn," Zoro muttered to no one in particular, sitting up and rubbing his sore cheek absently.
His situation just kept getting more and more interesting, didn't it.
"I'm boooored! When are we gonna get there, Nami?" Luffy groaned pitifully as he flopped down onto the deck in front of the navigator's lawn chair.
The whining was cranked up to surround sound as Usopp chimed in from the other side. "Yeah, come on, Nami. We want some excitement."
She scoffed, peering down at them from overtop her magazine. "Oh, that's rich coming from you, Usopp. We'll get there when we get there! We're going as fast as we can, and according to our coordinates, we're getting close. Besides, if you're that bored, maybe you should concentrate on actually getting serious and preparing for battle."
And with that, Usopp leaped up from the deck, heroically jerking his thumb to his chest. "Yoooosh, she's right. After all, the great Captain Usopp-sama is always ready for action!"
"Yeahhhhh!" Luffy echoed, rushing to Usopp's side.
The two then proceeded to throw their arms around each other's shoulders and march around the deck singing a rousing rendition of, "We're gonna rescue Zoro! We're gonna rescue Zoro! We're gonna rescue Zoro's ass! Because he can't do it himself! Yeah!"
Nami merely sighed at the boys' antics. She looked around for someone she could shoot an exasperated eyeroll at, but upon finding herself alone with the two rowdy vocalists, she sat back, rolling her eyes at her magazine instead before going back to reading.
However, not five minutes had passed before she was checking the Log again, making sure the ship was still headed in the direction of the coordinates. It was strange. They should have been getting close, yet the weather had been oddly calm. Usually when approaching an island, anything from a snow shower to a full-blown tsunami was to be expected, especially in this part of the Grand Line, making the stable weather patterns ironically unsettling.
Unable to sit still, Nami set her magazine down and stood up, shaking her head as she walked past Usopp and Luffy (who had moved on to an admittedly catchy chorus along the lines of, "Zoro's an idiot 'cause he got caught.")
Making her way to the front of the ship, Nami climbed the stairs to the upper deck, joining Franky at the wheel.
"Hey, Girlie. We still on course?" Franky asked, smirking as he glanced down at the navigator over his sunglasses.
Nami quirked an eyebrow at the nickname, but decided not to object. "Yeah. We're about a mile away, I'd say. But….I haven't seen an island, have you?"
The cyborg shook his head. "Nope. You sure the Marine girl got the coordinates right? I mean, she's never even been to the place before."
Nami shrugged, but furrowed her brow nonetheless. "For now, we'll just go where she told us. If it's wrong, then we'll figure out what to do when the time comes."
The pair lapsed into silence, eyes fixed on the empty horizon ahead.
Suddenly, Sanji's voice began blaring across the ship from the loud speaker. "Oi, everyone get out here! There's a Marine ship dead ahead!"
Franky and Nami turned to see Sanji hanging out a window of the crow's nest, pointing at the ocean in front of them. He ducked back through the window and soon reappeared climbing down the ladder to the deck below.
Joining Nami and Franky at the helm, he gestured ahead towards the horizon. "See it? Way out there?"
It took a minute of squinting, but eventually the small form of a ship appeared silhouetted against the sky.
By that time, the others had gathered as well, gazing at the still distant sight.
Nami sighed, lips twitching up into a humorless smile. "Well, I guess Tashigi got the coordinates right. That's our destination."
Tashigi nodded, stepping to the front of the group to stand beside the navigator. "And that's Smoker's ship too."
"How can you tell? It's still so far away?" Franky asked, removing his sunglasses to take a closer look.
"She's right. I can smell the smoke," Chopper said from his perch on Usopp's shoulders. "It smells like you did when you first came, Tashigi, so I'm sure of it," he added with a sweatdrop.
Tashigi sweatdropped as well, turning back to face the horizon once more. However, after a second, she frowned.
Smoker's ship was definitely anchored but….at what island?
The rest of the crew soon joined in her confusion as it became clear that the Marine vessel was the only thing disrupting the horizon line. No large green island mass jutting out from the ocean, no rocky reefs, no nothing. Just the imposing form of the ship.
"Tashigiiiii, where's the island?" Luffy whined, hopping onto Sunny's head to peer out towards the obstacle, feet anxiously tapping. He turned around to face her with a pout on his lips. "I can't even smell any meat."
Nami scowled. "That's beside the point, Luffy." She brushed her bangs out of her face in agitation as she too moved forward for a closer look. "Are you positive these were the correct coordinates? Something doesn't feel right about this," she added, fixing a suspicious glance on Tashigi.
But Tashigi looked just as confused as the rest of them, biting her lip anxiously.
"I'm sure these are the coordinates! I know they are, Smoker's told me. But…it doesn't make sense. There's nothing-."
Just then, a splashing sound broke the surface of the water, and the crew turned to see a small submarine vessel emblazoned with the Navy insignia emerging from the depths next to the commodore's ship. It docked beside it, and the top hatch opened to let two Marine grunts out before the hatch closed and the submarine submerged once more.
They all looked on as the Marines climbed a ladder back onto the ship.
The crew stared for a minute until Nami grinned, tapping her fingers together. "Well then, I guess this is the right place. And we know our way of entry too. How convenient! Lay anchor, guys! Now for that treasure…"
Usopp eyed her warily, quickly turning to complain about the situation to Luffy, but groaned upon seeing that the captain was already too far gone, bouncing up and down with excitement and screaming, "Submarine, submarine!"
Tashigi looked worried, however, and the crew's smirking and excitement were not exactly comforting. "But how are we going to get down there? We don't even have a-!"
She stopped mid-sentence upon seeing Franky give her a thumbs up and Robin chuckle.
"Don't worry, Marine-sis! I'll get the Shark ready!"
She furrowed her brow for a moment then with a sigh, she smiled. Oh right. These are the Straw Hats after all.
The building had finally stopped shaking, and Smoker sneered as he eyed the golden plaque on the dark wooden door in front of him.
He had arrived at the warden's office, but they couldn't have waited one damn minute until he had actually gotten there first before lowering the building now could they.
No sooner had he raised his fist to knock then the door opened unexpectedly, a Marine soldier beckoning him to come in.
With a nod, he stepped forward and was immediately overcome by a wall of heat, the room's humidity extremely uncomfortable.
He noted the high, sky-painted ceiling with narrowed eyes, loosening his collar as he walked across the room. Small leafless baobab trees and other grassy plants lined the walls, giving the illusion of an African savanna. At the end opposite the door sat an imposing desk made of bamboo and behind it a large throne-like chair of similar make. Its back was facing him.
"Authentic as ever, Fusa-san. But I suppose the warden of this place can decorate however they want," he growled, beginning to sweat under the staggering heat.
Slowly, the chair swiveled to face him.
The figure sitting in it chuckled, fixing Smoker with intelligent eyes.
"Ah, Commodore Smoker. Good work bringing Roronoa Zoro here. A Supernova, how impressive. And the rest of the Straw Hats following of course. Things are bound to get interesting."
Smoker scoffed. "I'm surprised you remembered my name what with the establishment you run here. Erasing mistakes and brainwashing. How admirable."
Ignoring his comment, the warden leaned forward with a smirk, letting out a trumpeting laugh. "Purupurupuru~~! Silly Smoker…you should know that I never forget anything."
And grinning, Warden Fusa motioned for him to have a seat across from her.
A/N: So what do you think? Am I the worst updater in the history of updaters or what? Hehe on second thought, don't answer that. I seriously will apologize though for neglecting this story, but hopefully everyone understands that my schedule's been kinda crazy. As to when I'll update next? I'm gonna try to get at least one more chapter out while I'm home for break. ^^; So yeah, we'll have to see. Thanks a lot for reading! And Happy Holidays! :D