CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Pirate Festival

The crew all gather where Luffy dropped, looking out at the giant breech in the wall. Luffy lies on the ground thoroughly satisfied with knocking Long into the sea. Sheng and the other loyalists join them to celebrate their victory.

"I can't believe that this day has come," Sheng says, "we owe you all a great dept..."

Usopp looks out at the near leveled city and ruptured wall and thinks otherwise.

"Free or not, that fight caused a lot of damage. I feel pretty bad about putting people out of their homes." Usopp says.

Nami whacks Usopp in the back of the head, jerking it down. Nami corrects him, "The dragon did the damage, so he should pay for it, not us."

Usopp rubs his new swollen head lump. Sheng smiles and puts his hands up to ease their concerns.

"Don't worry my friends, no one blames you for the damage. Homes can be rebuilt, all that matters is that everyone is alive and we can have a fresh start."

A voice from behind agrees with Sheng, "Truer words were never spoken commander."

They turn to find what appears to be a simple farmer, he wears a plain white shirt and pants, covered in dirt, and tops it all off by carrying a hoe with him. Sheng has a look of shock on his face and quickly drops to one knee, lowering his head.

"Emperor Yao, I'm not worthy of your praise my lord." Sheng replies humbly.

The emperor seemed to be in his thirties, long black hair, tied into a braid at the base of his neck. He seemed to keep his eyes closed a lot, either that or he has very thin eyes, either way he wears a sensible pair of glasses over them. He seemed like a simple, honest man, not the kind of person you'd expect to be ruling a country.

"As humble as always I see, please get up, I'm just a simple farmer now." Yao jokes. He turns to Luffy and his crew and greets them casually, "So you are the young adventurers that save my people," he grabs Luffy's hand and shakes it, "you all have my eternal gratitude. Please, if it isn't too much trouble, stay for a few days and then we will be able to properly thank you."

Luffy laughs, "shishishi, sure, we haven't eaten yet after all."

Yao returns the smile and turns to Sheng, "Please find the young heroes some suitable lodging. Now that my little vacation is over, I need to start organizing our rebuilding plans."

"Right away my lord." Sheng says.

Sanji looks out at the sea, thinking about Long's fate, and then turns to Yao, "Excuse me, sir? What do you plan on doing with that dragon bastard? I wouldn't blame you if you just let him drown."

Yao holds his chin, thinking, "That's a good question, I'd prefer he faced a more appropriate punishment, but how could we contain him even if we brought him up?"

Nami butts in, "As long as you keep him in the sea water he shouldn't be able to use his ability, so maybe you could fill a cell with seawater or something."

"Is that so?" Sheng says, "So there are lots of people out there with 'Devil Fruit' powers? It truly is an amazing world out there..."

Yao nods in agreement at Nami's suggestion, "Well then, it's settled, Commander, have Long brought up, resuscitated and then placed in a cell of sea water. Make sure he has some kind of flotation device too."

Sheng nods, "Right away, my lord." he turns to one of his men who runs off to handle the dirty work. "Anyway, let me take you all to some of our finest remaining lodgings."

Yao heads off into the city to get back to work, while Sheng leads the crew off to get some well deserved rest.

The following day, the soldiers continued clearing away debris and making preparation for the rebuilding effort. Most of Longs soldiers have sworn loyalty back to the emperor, but the elite guard and the master ninja, Tetsunosuke, were all imprisoned. It seems few were truly loyal to the fake Dragon God. Inside the somehow still standing palace, Robin sits comfortably on top of a mound of books that had fallen during the fight. It seems the imperial library survived the battle, and now Robin has made it her temporary home. Next to Robin, is an organized stack of books, most of which are regarding history and architecture. Robin is quietly reading when Sanji enters, bringing some tea and small sandwiches. They seem to be smoked salmon, with an avocado spread, with chopped tomatoes, and diced basil served on toasted sourdough bread. Sanji hands her a plate and a cup of tea.

"Are you sure it's safe to be in here Robin-chan?" Sanji asks.

Robin takes a sip of tea, "It should be fine, the rubble on the top floor has been cleared already thanks to Mr. Swordsman."

Sanji scowls, having been out done by Zoro, "That damn moss head, showing off like that."

Robin goes off into a tangent for a moment, "The architecture on this island is really quite amazing, for such a tall building to withstand the collapse of its top five floors like that. I found a fascinating book about when this palace was built..."

Sanji sits down and takes a drink of tea, "So did you find what you were looking for yet?" He asks.

Robin looks down into her cup of tea, a bit saddened by the lack of results on that subject.

"No, there doesn't seem to be mention of a ponyglyph being here or anything regarding the blank century. My guess is it has to do with the double edged sword of a closed society. While they were able to develop unaffected by the outside world, a result of this was that they gained absolutely no knowledge of the outside world. So whatever happened during the blank century, didn't effect this island."

Sanji feels bad for bringing it up, so he tries to make her feel better, "That's too bad, but I'm sure you'll find it soon Robin-chan." Sanji says smiling.

"It goes without say," she says softly, "but I was still able to learn about an ancient lost civilization that no other scholar in the world has ever documented, not even the great minds on Ohara..."

Robin's expression turns bittersweet at that though, she puts her tea down and grabs a small sandwich. She takes a bite and smiles at Sanji softly.

"It's very, Mr. Cook. Thank you." She says.

Sanji's heart light on fire, filling him with an unyielding happiness, "I'm glad you like it Robin-chan." he says smoothly, thinking his dreams have finally come true.

"So Mr. Cook," Robin changes the subject, "where's your new admirer?" she smiles devilishly.

Sanji freezes up, it seems he's been found out, "Damn it, I can't get a moment's peace with that girl following me ever where. This is the only place they won't let her enter." Sanji sighs, "Why couldn't she be ten years older?"

Robin laughs quietly at Sanji's so called troubles, then reaches for a new book.

Zoro was the most heavily wounded of the crew, yet here he is, out in the city hauling rubble. Pain has never really been an issue for Zoro, what really hurts is the idea that he received so many injuries due to his own weakness. If he had been stronger, he wouldn't have gotten injured. No time to waste healing, not when there is training to be done. He carries a large piece of rubble from the city to the lot where it's to be crushed and turned back into raw materials for the rebuilding effort. Most of the soldiers cart off small batches or have two or more soldiers carrying one piece, but Zoro single handily carries a giant block of stone debris over his shoulder. The site of this makes most of the workers feel insecure, but not Chopper, who is more concerned about his patient.

"Zoro, you shouldn't be moving around with those injuries, let alone performing any heavy lifting." Chopper scolds.

Zoro scoffs, "I wouldn't have gotten this injured if I had been strong enough. I was too weak, there's no time for relaxing, I have to get stronger."

Chopper continues to pester him the whole time he is training.

Inside the great wall, in one of the docking sections, Usopp helps the engineers fix their mast. They can't replace the mast, but they are able to re-secure it and patch up any holes cause by Long's attack. Usopp is happy the ship is okay, but he's heavily distracted by the mechanics of the wall's gate. He zips around examining the pulley systems it uses and the steam powered mechanism that raises the wall back up. While wandering about asking the engineers for tools and parts he can have, an unexpected guest arrives. All the engineers stop to bow, but Emperor Yao is quick to stop them, favoring a speedy recovery of their country over ceremony.

"Greetings, Sir Usopp." Yao says casually, "I see you're quite taken by our wall, even though its technology is so old."

"Old or not, it's still pretty incredible. I've seen some pretty weird stuff on the Grand Line, but how this giant wall manages to move is still pretty impressive. It's no wonder you've remained protected for so long."

Yao nods and rubs his chin, "Well, protect may be a bit of an exaggeration. In our long history, there have really been few outside invasion attempts. After everything that happened, it seems more like all this wall has done is made us vulnerable to our own ignorance about the world." he walks over to now open wall and looks out at the sea, "I'm thinking of ending our isolation, and turning the part of the wall that was destroyed by Long into an entrance. It would be more practical than rebuilding it. And maybe over time, converting all the gates into simple open passages."

Usopp puts on his backpack, which is now overflowing with tools and supplies and looks out at the sea with the emperor.

"Well that sounds like a good idea I suppose, but it never hurts to be cautious, the world out there is amazing and all, but it's still dangerous, take it from me. I'm a brave pirate captain, yet even I get scared out there some times." Usopp bends the truth a bit.

"That's a good point, Sir Usopp, but I was under the impression Sir Luffy was the captain of your group."

Usopp begins looking away slowly, "Yell, well the thing is, about that....Sorry, I just remembered, I have to get eat my snack soon or I'll die. So see ya later." And with that Usopp retreats, defeated by Yao's common sense.

In a small house in the rural district, Nami sits down for tea with Mei. The two talk about the crew's past adventures and how Mei met Sheng and other bits of idol conversation. Today Mei is wearing a more common looking robe, yet she seems cuter now then when she was dressed in the expensive clothing. Mei is just glowing, not just because of Long's defeat or because of being reunited with Sheng, but because she finally has her own girl friend. Mei feels like she can tell Nami anything, or ask anything.

"So Miss Nami, is Mr. Luffy your boyfriend?" She says as if it's a perfectly normal question.

Nami spits her tea out across the room, making a small indoor rainbow.

"Eh?" Nami asks with a dumbfounded look, "Were just good friends, Mei. Where would you get such an idea from anyway?"

Mei doesn't think it's odd at all, "Well Mr. Luffy was so willing to do anything to save you, that just seems like something you would only do for a lover."

Nami sighs, but smiles at Mei, she doesn't understand Luffy, it's just how he is. Love doesn't have to be involved to motivate him to help people. Nami decides to change the subject, hoping that no one overheard that conversation. Mei is about to get up to get more tea, but Nami stops her and takes the cups her self, letting Mei relax.

She passes by a window and sees the workers outside, clearing debris and getting ready to rebuild. Nami thinks back to the treasure she found in the palace, it wasn't really Long's treasure, it was the emperors. Yao is going to need that for the restoration. Thief or not, Nami has always made it a point to only steal from other pirates or those that deserve it. She runs her hand through her hair, realizing that this the second time she's decided to leave a bundle of treasure behind for a good cause.

The emperor decides to take a short break from overseeing the relief effort and pay a visit to their honored guests. He enters the guest room they managed to find undamaged on the outskirts of the city. Yao finds Luffy alone, stuffing his face with anything the chief can manage to bring him in time. The chief stops to bow, but Yao holds out his hand and smiles, letting the man return to his work.

"I see our guest has quite the appetite." Yao says to the chief.

The chief wipes his brow, exhausted from cooking so much in so little time, "I don't know where he puts it. I hope all these foreigners don't eat like this..." the chief replies.

Yao puts his hand on the chief's shoulder, "He's had a hard battle, I'm sure that he's just refilling his lost stamina. Still, I hope he still has room for the festival tomorrow."

Luffy turns and sees Yao, he doesn't stop eating, but he holds up his hand to greet him.

"Hey." Luffy says with a mouth full of meat, "The food here is great. Thanks a lot mister."

Yao laughs softly at Luffy's refreshingly casual attitude, "It's no problem Sir Luffy, I'm glad you're enjoying our cuisine. I'm sure it's quite different from what you're used to."

Luffy listens, but doesn't really hear Yao as he continues eating, "So, what's this thing that's happening tomorrow?" he asks.

Yao smiles and waves his index finger up, "It's a surprise. Just make sure you and your friends come to the Summer Square tomorrow afternoon."

With that Yao ends his break and heads back out to continue work on the city, leaving Luffy to eat in peace.

The next afternoon the crew all head out together to the southern city square, also known as the Summer Square. It's the same place Robin had defeated the Stealth Corps, once a dark battle field, now an amazing festival ground. The square is filled with booths and food kiosks and game stands. There are large banners and round paper lanterns, and the whole place is filled with festive music.

Everyone is dressed is light summertime robes, many with colorful floral patterns. Despite half the city being wretched, the towns people are lively and happy, greeting their heroes as they are directed to the large guest of honor seating in the center of the square. The seating is a giant ringed table, with seating along the outside. The inside has another ring in it, but it's not another table, it's a series of grittles and cooks. In the true center is a table of exotic ingredients for the main event. The crew all sit down and the music changes to a heavy rapid drum beat. The cooks begin their elaborate cooking performance, chopping meat and vegetables in the air, twirling knives, throwing bottles of sauce and wines around like circus jugglers, all timed to the exotic drumming. The crew looks on with joy, some even cheering. The cooks finish by literally throwing plates of food at them, somehow making them land perfectly in front of each of them. The now freed maidens serve drinks to the crew, including Mei. Sanji waits patiently for his lovely server, only to get someone who shouldn't be serving alcohol to anyone. The little girl Sanji saved offers to pour him a glass, a look of longing in her eyes. She's dresses in one the china dresses some of the maidens had been wearing, how she got one in her size is unknown.

"Drink, my prince?" she says cutely, "Or do you see something else you want?" she holds her finger to her lips and points her hips at Sanji.

Sanji can't even respond to that, she's a nice girl and all, and Sanji doesn't want to hurt her feelings, but this is a tough spot to be in for him. Nami looks on from across the table and snickers at Sanji's tragic love life.

Emperor Yao holds up his glass to make a toast, "I just want to say on the behalf of everyone in this country, that we will never forget what you did for us, and to make sure that we don't, I'm officially making today the first annual Pirate Festival. May we all on this day find the same carefree spirit of these young adventurers. Cheers!"

Everyone in the square holds up their drinks and joins in, "CHEERS!"

The crew all slip into their normal behavior at this point. Luffy begins eating an armies worth of food, including food that isn't on his plate. Zoro drinks more then he eats, but still eats his fill. Nami is pouring drinks for Mei, instead of the other way around, whom she has in a light headlock. Mei gets drunk after only two drinks and Nami scolds her for being such a light weight. Usopp tells tall tales of his fictional exploits to anyone who will listen. Sanji is trying his best to flirt with the pretty girls, but finds it impossible with his little admirer getting in the way. Chopper seems to be eating mostly sweets, laughing at the others antics. Robin eats quietly as always, but stops from time to time to laugh at the controlled chaos. The crew, and all of Huang Long laugh and sing and dance the day away till everyone is either drunk, passed out or too full to eat for a week. Just another day in the life of these particular pirates.

The next day the crew is all on board the Going Merry, at the south west Dock, ready to leave. Yao, Sheng, Mei and Sanji's would be little girlfriend are there to see them off. Mei is teary eyed at having to say goodbye to Nami.

"Can't you stay one more night Miss Nami?" she asks.

Nami smiles and shakes her head, "Sorry Mei, but we really have to get back on our journey."

Sheng squeezes Mei close and smiles, "Well please keep the Divining Pose and return here someday, when your journey is finished." he adds.

The little girl is nearly in tears too, she squeezes her stuffed bunny toy, "Oh, my prince, please return when we can be married. I'll wait for you!" she cries.

Sanji forces a smile and waves, thinking, maybe in ten years...

Luffy grins and looks down at Sheng, "Sure, well come back, when I'm the Pirate King."

Yao steps forward, "Farewell, and have a save voyage my friends."

Usopp notices the emperor still isn't wearing the crown that Long had been wearing, "Hey, how come you never wear that crown thing that Long had? Was it a fake or something?"

"Well to be honest we haven't been able to find it, we think it may have been crushed in the palace during the fight. It's of no concern though, a hat is a hat." Yao says modestly.

The ship begins to pull out of the gate, back into the wide sea. Luffy turns back a moment and yells out to Yao and the others.

"Hey, when that old ramen guy gets back, tell him we had a lot of fun! Okay!?"

Yao looks at Sheng, "Ramen guy?" he asks, confused, "Did they actually meet a citizen of ours out at sea?"

Sheng rubs his chin, thinking, "They couldn't have, no one has left the island since the last trading voyage...but they must have gotten the Divining Pose from someone."

No answers come to them, but it doesn't matter now that everything is back to normal again.

Out in the middle of the Grind Line, the old ramen vendor sits back relaxing, waiting for a fish to bite. He smiles to him self, a job well done.

"Well, it seems I still have a good eye for people after all this time." he muses to him self, "Sorry to trouble you youngsters, but I can't get too directly involved, otherwise people won't bother to try and solve their own problems." He sits up and puts rod aside, it seems it's time to go, "Well, I guess I might as well head home..."

The old man disappears, leaving his boat and possessions behind.

The Going Merry locks back on course to the next island, it's navigator a bit more perky than normal. She sits on the main deck in her fold out chair with a nice new golden accessory.

"Hey, isn't that the emperor's crown?" Luffy asks casually.

Nami smile with a clear conscience, "I prefer to think of it as the Vice-roy's crown, and he won't be needing it any more." she sticks out her tongue and winks cutely.

Usopp stares out at the horizon, as he tries to catch some fish on the port side railing. Something odd catches his eye, something he doesn't believe he could have just seen. A glowing golden serpent, with a long silver beard flies up into the sky like a heavenly angel. It ascends into the clouds and disappears from sight. Usopp has a look of utter shock; he turns to tell his shipmates, but realizes that if even he doesn't believe it, why would they believe him (except for maybe Luffy). Usopp sighs and goes back to fishing, nothing to do but ignore what he thought he saw. There's no way it was "that" after all, just no way. The ship sails onward, bringing them all closer to making their dreams become reality.

Island of the Dragon God - END