Title: Wild Kingdom
Theme: Set #03, #9 Kingdom
Claim: Zoro + Chopper
Warnings: There's a little mild swearing and the desperate author could only produce oddness for this last theme!
Disclaimers: Nothing you recognize in here is mine in any way. All rights belong to Eiichiro Oda and all the multitude of people involved in production of the One Piece manga and anime.
A/N: This is weird, I know, but it's the last one, so humor me...
When the Thousand Sunny had dropped anchor at the small jungle island like so many others they'd come across, it appeared never to have been inhabited. However, upon further exploration, Robin had located ruins.
"Fascinating," the archaeologist mused under her breath. "One would hardly notice these structures unless looking for them, and I don't think it's entirely due to time."
"What do you mean?" Nami asked. "They haven't just been overgrown by the jungle?"
"No. See how parts of the houses have been built into natural spaces in the roots of the largest trees? The stonework has also been coated with a greenish covering. You can make it out beneath the moss in some places."
"Robin-chwan is so wonderfully observant!" Sanji beamed at Robin before turning to glare at Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper, who were currently preparing to start a game of hide and seek throughout the abandoned buildings. "Not like you lot!"
"You want to play too?" Luffy asked, right pinky up his nose.
"No! And don't do that in front of the ladies!"
Chopper turned away from the ensuing scuffle to see Zoro standing apart from everyone else, staring off into the trees.
"Zoro?" Chopper called out as he approached. "Is everything okay?" When he didn't receive an answer, Chopper tugged on his friend's pant leg. "Zoro?"
Zoro's eyes seemed to flash yellow for a moment before he shook his head and blinked. When he turned to Chopper, they looked perfectly normal again, so Chopper was sure he'd imagined it.
"Did you say something, Chopper?"
"Is everything okay?" the doctor repeated.
"I don't know," Zoro muttered. "There's something strange about this place... I feel like I'm supposed to go somewhere or do something, but I don't know what."
Chopper shuddered as he gazed out upon the suddenly more ominous jungle. "Maybe we'd all better stay close together..." He started to walk back toward the others. Zoro didn't seem to be following, and when he looked behind him, the swordsman was gone.
"AHH!" Chopper ran back to the group. "Everyone! Zoro disappeared!"
The group was now standing in a semicircle behind Robin, who was examining an ancient mural on the side of one of the buildings.
"Calm down, Chopper!" Sanji chuckled. "The idiot probably just got lost again!"
"You don't understand! He was right there just a moment ago!" Chopper pointed toward the tree line.
"Zoro always finds his way back," Luffy reassured him with a wide grin. "Eventually!"
"Well, I'm going to go look for him!" Chopper declared.
"Be careful!" Nami cautioned. "We are in a jungle, after all."
Chopper was already almost out of sight.
"How interesting!" Robin drew their attention once more. "Do you notice anything familiar about these figures?" The mural was painted entirely in shades of brown and green, depicting men, women, children, and a variety of animals dancing among the trees. A large dark column sat in the background.
"All the people have green hair like Zoro!" Luffy noted. "Most of the animals are green too."
"That's probably just because the artist was using a limited color palette," Usopp reasoned.
"Perhaps," Robin conceded with a mysterious smile.
"Robin," Nami chided in a teasing tone, "you're not honestly suggesting this is where Zoro's from originally, are you?"
"Not directly, of course; this site has probably been abandoned for centuries. He might, however, be a distant descendent."
"Too bad he's not here to appreciate the artwork of his moss-headed ancestors," Sanji joked.
"Indeed," Robin agreed in all sincerity. "We can learn much about ourselves from those who came before us."
"Zoro!" Chopper called out yet again as he trotted through the undergrowth. There was still no answering call. It was difficult to track Zoro's scent in this environment, but every now and then Chopper would catch enough of a whiff to know he was headed in the right general direction.
After a while, the trees gave way to a clearing. In the middle of the open space sat a huge stone monolith. The black rock almost seemed to pulsate, and Chopper could feel his hackles rising as he stared at it. It wasn't exactly threatening, but it was unsettling.
There was rustling in the bushes behind him, and Chopper whirled around, but saw nothing. He had the distinct feeling that he was being watched.
He was hesitant to move closer to the strange rock, but his observer was in the jungle, so he turned back toward the monolith. As soon as his back was turned, the rustling resumed, and this time when he looked, he saw a green blur rushing toward him and was tackled to the ground.
Chopper? It's me! The voice was familiar somehow. He opened his tightly closed eyes to see a large green tiger staring down at him. I didn't hurt you, did I? I'm not used to being like this... The feline nuzzled him.
"Zoro? What happened?"
I have no idea! The tiger let out a frustrated huff. I found myself standing in front of that rock over there, and I just had to touch it! When I did, I... changed.
"Would touching it again change you back?"
No, I already tried that. Zoro the tiger sat back on his haunches so Chopper could get back to his feet. I'm glad you're here! You can understand me, and maybe you can help me figure out how to change back...
"Why would I know that?"
You change forms all the time! How do you do it?
"I guess you're right!" Chopper considered it for a moment. "I've never really thought about how my devil's fruit works... I just sort of think about which form I want to be, and I change."
Zoro scrunched his yellow eyes closed and appeared to be thinking hard. Nothing happened. One eye popped open.
Nothing? Damn... This is harder than you make it look!
"Maybe you could try picturing the change more gradually?"
The eye closed again, and there was an expectant pause, but still nothing.
If I go back like this, I'll scare everybody.
"You sure scared me!" Chopper agreed.
Sorry about that! Zoro looked away in an almost embarrassed fashion. Don't take this the wrong way, but you looked kind of tasty.
Don't worry-I have it under control!
"Robin might be able to help," Chopper suggested after an awkward silence. "She's been studying those ruins, and I bet she's learned lots about the people who used to live here!"
I guess it's worth a shot...
"Welcome back, Chopper," Robin addressed the doctor without turning away from the carving she was examining. "I take it you found Zoro? His pelt is lovely..."
"How did you know?" Chopper asked, awed. Zoro reluctantly slunk out from his hiding place. Robin sprouted a hand with a eye in the palm next to Chopper. "Oh yeah..."
Ask her if she knows how I can change back.
"Zoro wants to know-"
"If I know about the transformation?" Robin interrupted. "I'm afraid not." She stood and dusted off the knees of her slacks. "Sadly, it would appear these people relied chiefly upon oral tradition; I haven't found a single trace of writing. I can tell you they left this island in a great hurry-probably because of a natural disaster or a plague of some kind."
Some help she was! Zoro slumped, ears laid back and tail thrashing, the very picture of feline pouting.
Chopper explained what Zoro had told him about the weird rock.
"If I had to guess," Robin told them after a moment of thought, "I'd say the condition should be temporary. Zoro never changed forms before arriving on this island, so he should revert to his usual self once he's outside the influence of the monolith. That is, once we've left the island."
Great, Zoro groused sarcastically. This is going to be fun.
Other than a bit of laughing on Sanji's part, Luffy's initial curiosity was the worst thing Zoro had to endure.
He remained stubbornly stoic while Luffy pulled back his lips to see his fangs, prodded his paws to get a look at his claws, and flicked his whiskers.
"Roar for us, Zoro!" turned out to be the last straw. Zoro skulked off and disappeared somewhere onboard the ship.
No one was sure exactly where until Chopper went into the infirmary to make sure everything was securely stowed for making sail after dinner and spotted a long green tail coming out from under the cot. He hadn't even noticed that the door was open a crack!
"There you are, Zoro! It's almost time for dinner."
I'm not hungry. This statement was followed by growling that did not come from Zoro's mouth. Okay, I am, but I'm not coming out.
"Do you want me to bring you something? Sanji prepared some meat for you."
Really? A nose peeked out from under the sheet.
"Yep. Dinner wouldn't be the same without you, and Luffy promised to keep his hands to himself!"
Why don't I believe that will actually happen? Zoro snorted, which was an odd sound from a cat.
"Now you know what it was like for me when I first joined the crew!" The doctor sighed. "I thought he'd never get tired of the 'awesome transforming reindeer!'"
The rest of us probably could have distracted him more, huh?
"It's okay. At the same time as it was annoying, it was kind of flattering."
Is Luffy disappointed that I won't be a tiger for much longer? Robin had explained her theory when she, Chopper, and tiger Zoro boarded the Sunny earlier.
Chopper giggled. "Not after he found out how much meat he'd have to share!" Chopper lifted up the edge of the sheet so he could look Zoro in the eyes. "Come on, let's go eat!"
The doctor paused with a hoof on the doorknob. "Yes?"
I'm glad it was you who came to find me.
"That doesn't make me happy at all! Jerk!" A beaming Chopper scurried from the infirmary, slamming the door behind him.
Zoro stared at the doorknob, then down at his paws, and back. Resigned to being treated like an overgrown house cat for at least the next few hours, Zoro rolled his eyes and scratched at the door.