A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: When Usopp gets himself into trouble, his nakama unhesitatingly move to rescue him. But 'rescue' turns out to be a cut-throat fight-to-the-death combat challenge, and there could very well be fatal consequences.
Note: Takes place between the Davy Back Fight and Water 7. Note that it is based off of the manga.
Warnings: Some graphic violence and character death (sort of). There'll be a lot of it. Also some swearing. You've been warned!
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, One Piece or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Eiichiro Oda. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.
"If it weren't for my lawyer, I'd still be in prison. It went a lot faster with two people digging."
"As a member of the Straw Hat Pirates," the old man began solemnly, his voice slow and precise, "you are representative of the faults of your entire crew. I will therefore begin to recite the accusations against the Straw Hats. You are charged with disorderly conduct, disturbance of the peace, assault—"
"Are you kidding?" Usopp interrupted, looking both bewildered and nervous. "I didn't start any of that stuff! They attacked me!"
Looking over the heads and shoulders of the excitable, murmuring crowd, Zoro privately had to agree that their liar was, for once, telling the truth. The men in question—seven smug bastards, sitting on the other side of the raised platform and watching in amusement—looked too burly and generally mean for their cowardly sniper to try and pick a fight with them. Hell, Usopp didn't pick fights in general. That was usually up to Luffy or that irritating love-cook.
"Do not interrupt my announcement," the old man said sharply, "or it will reflect badly on your sentence. To continue: assault, property damage that is roughly estimated to come to..."
Zoro tuned the man out, not particularly interested in the charges that Usopp—and as a result, the rest of them—were being accused of. They were pirates after all, and three of them already had notable bounties. It wasn't like they were saints. Instead, he scanned the crowd, searching for the others. They had to have been drawn by the commotion, and it would be good to see where his allies were at before attacking. Not that he would really need their help. He was pretty sure he could take everybody on that platform and get away with Usopp, chains and all, before they could react.
His searching yielded results. He could see the top of Robin's cowboy hat some distance away in the crowd, and while Nami was a little shorter he was sure the person with a flash of red next to her was probably their navigator. On the other side of the crowd, Chopper towered over the rest of the people in his human form, and the twirl of smoke rising from his other side was probably Sanji. The only one Zoro couldn't find was their captain, but that was unsurprising. Luffy's sense of direction was appalling, and Zoro often wondered if he could find his way out of a barn. He snorted.
The old man was wrapping up his list of offenses now, and turned to Usopp with a calm expression marred only slightly by irritation. "Now, offender," he said cooly, "you may state your side of the story."
"I already told you," Usopp said in agitation, tugging at the chained manacles around his wrists. "I didn't do anything. I was just shopping in the market when those crazy guys attacked me. You should arrest them!"
The old man nodded, but instead of turning to state the other group's own offenses, he merely said, "That is probably true. However, the Scorpion Hunters are licensed on our island as bounty hunters and are permitted to attack any person they feel is dangerous to our society."
"Dangerous? Come on! Those guys are way crazier than I ever could be!"
One of the men in the bounty hunting group strode forward and waved a hand to attract the old man's attention. Once he was permitted to speak, the man smirked and said smugly, "All pirates are dangerous. Are you going to deny you're a pirate?"
Usopp opened his mouth to do just that. Zoro could already see the light in his eyes, that glitter that said he was spinning one of his bizarre tales in his mind and thinking just how to word it. But then, abruptly, he closed his jaws with a snap and said nothing at all.
Zoro grinned. Usopp had his moments, but he was getting better. His pride as a pirate had, for a moment, overcome even his annoyingly strong survival instinct.
The bounty hunter only smirked again at the silence, and nodded. "I thought so. Pirates are especially dangerous, but you even more so. We have reason to believe you stepped off the Straw Hat Pirates' ship and are one of their crew members. You realize that the Straw Hats are collectively worth two-hundred thirty-nine million beri?"
Usopp stuttered, but had no response. The hunter's grin was like a shark as he continued, "We attacked you to make sure you wouldn't harm these civilians. A little damage is hardly comparable to our efforts, don't you think?"
The old man raised his hand, cutting off Usopp's shocked response. "You have said nothing about your assault charges," he noted, "only the property damage ones."
"They were chasing me! All I did was shoot a smoke star so that I could escape!"
"You shot a projectile at one of our licensed bounty hunters," the old man corrected sternly. "No matter your intentions, you still attacked this man. Have you any other defenses?"
"You're not even going to consider that they're in the wrong?"
"They have already been excused," the old man said, a trace of annoyance in his otherwise neutral tone. "If you have nothing else to say, then we will move on to your sentence immediately. Due to the nature of your crimes, as well as the level of danger you as a Straw Hat Pirate represent, we have but two choices: deliver you to the marines, or execute you now."
"Are you serious?" Usopp nearly shrieked. "I didn't even do anything! I'm innocent, I swear I'm innocent!"
"Since you lack a bounty," the old man continued, "it would seem pointless and risky to turn you in to the marines. Therefore, you will be executed here. Sasori, if you would?"
The man who had been speaking earlier stepped forward once again, grinning wickedly. Zoro narrowed his eyes and studied the man more closely, now that he presented an actual threat to his nakama. The man was tall, and thickly built, with heavily toned muscle that suggested a great deal of physical strength. Despite the heat he was dressed mostly in black, with slashes of red along his baggy pants that were stuffed into combat boots. A leather jacket with a curled scorpion tail insignia on one shoulder, and a rag tied casually over a multitude of dreadlocks, completed the man's unusual look. There was a curved scimitar sheathed at one hip, and a curled object that Zoro thought was a whip buckled at his belt.
The man, Sasori, had to be the leader from the way the others deferred to him on stage. He emitted a powerful killing aura, and Zoro knew immediately that this man was dangerous. Clicking his white katana with his thumb ever so slightly to loosen it, the swordsman began shoving through the crowd, towards the platform where a trembling Usopp was unsuccessfully trying to back away from his executioner.
Sasori laughed, snatched the chains, and tugged casually. Usopp yelped as he overbalanced, and crashed to his stomach on the raised platform. The bounty hunter placed his booted foot on the pirate's back to hold him in place and drew his scimitar, testing its edge with a thumb.
"If you're lucky," Zoro was close enough to hear him nearly purr, "this'll only take one stroke. If you're lucky."
Usopp whimpered and struggled frantically, but Sasori's weight was far too heavy for him to dislodge. The sword was going up; and damn it, but Zoro wasn't close enough, and with the crowd this close he didn't even have room for any caliber of Pound Cannon...
But before the downward swing could begin, a voice rose over the crowd, a reassuringly familiar one that had Zoro suddenly grinning. "Hey! Hey Usopp, what're you doing over there?"
"Luffy!" Usopp half-yelled, half-wailed. "Hurry up and help me! He's trying to kill me!"
Zoro's eyes found their captain quickly enough. He was perched on top of one of the town's many buildings surrounding the square, and watching the entire procedure with a puzzled expression on his face. At Usopp's plea, however, he grinned and said cheerfully, "Okay!"
Sasori smirked again—the man really did seem to love doing that—and Zoro could see the greed in his eyes as he recognized Luffy's now-infamous hat and face. Probably thinking about the hundred million their captain was worth, without stopping to think on just how he got to be worth that much to begin with.
Raising the sword once more, he gave Luffy a nasty glare and said, "There's no possible way you could reach your crewmate in time—"
Luffy, however, had other ideas. Still cheerful, he had stretched his arms out to grip the metal supports that held a wide cloth over the platform to shield its occupants from the sun. With an enthusiastic "Gomu Gomu no Rocket!" he catapulted himself forward off of the shop's roof, shot forward, and careened straight into the bewildered Sasori, effectively knocking the man into the rest of his followers and off the platform.
Silence reigned for a moment as the crowd tried to decipher what it had just seen. Zoro was laughing. He thought the others might be too, though he could only see Chopper's towering form now that he had shifted his own position.
The old man recovered first. Waving his hands angrily, he screeched, "This is assault! Young man, I have witnessed it first hand. You, too, are sentenced!"
"Okay," Luffy answered, calmly. "But you can't kill my nakama. I'm not going to let you do that." He was enthusiastically checking the sites from the raised platform's new vantage point, and seemed unconcerned with the spluttering old man or the bounty hunters that were pulling themselves unsteadily to their feet.
"Luffy," Usopp eventually said, after he had also managed to come to a stand despite the chains, "I need the keys or I can't get out—"
"Don't worry about it," Luffy answered cheerfully. "We'll have Zoro cut'em off." Cupping his hands to his mouth, he yelled, "Hey, Zoro! Where are you!"
"Right here, Luffy," Zoro answered. Startled, the people of the crowd parted in front of him hastily as he started forward towards the platform, apparently shocked to find a wanted pirate in their midst.
"Can you get these off Usopp?"
"Sure," Zoro answered, "but you can't blame me if he loses a limb—"
"Zoro, don't even joke about that!" Usopp wailed, attempting to cling possessively to his own manacled wrists despite the chains.
Zoro smirked and opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, Sanji's voice rose over the crowd instead. "Luffy! Watch out!"
Luffy threw himself aside easily as something snaked past him, and spun to face the new danger. Sasori was back on the platform and held his weapon in one hand. But this time, it wasn't the scimitar; the whip cracked angrily as it missed Luffy and recoiled back to its master's hand. Now that it wasn't coiled, Zoro could see an angry metal tip, like a claw, at the whip's end.
"Straw Hat!" The bounty hunter snarled angrily. "You aren't getting away as easily as that!" And with another sharp crack, the whip's tip soared outward once more.
Luffy dodged easily once again, and Zoro dived forward to the platform's edge, beginning to clamber up its side to help against the other hunters. But at Usopp's sharp gasp and Luffy's angry growl he froze, and glanced upwards to take stock of the few seconds of the battle he hadn't been able to witness.
Zoro cursed, and instantly knew why Luffy's eyes had narrowed in such a dangerous fashion. Sasori hadn't been aiming for Luffy at all with the weapon. Its end was wrapped neatly around Usopp's neck, with the metal tip pressed uncomfortably against the skin, just shy of piercing it.
"Don't move, Straw Hat," Sasori ordered, eyes narrowed. "This weapon is a prized possession of mine. It's called the Striking Tail, and just like a scorpion's tail, its tip is coated with poison. One twitch will send that tip into his neck. He'll be dead in minutes."
Luffy appeared absolutely livid, but kept perfectly still. His eyes never left Sasori's face, however, and they spoke volumes of what he planned to do the moment he could attack without threat to his nakama.
"You too, Pirate Hunter Zoro, and anyone else from your crew hiding in the crowd," Sasori drawled, and Zoro, swearing again, came to a halt halfway up the platform's side. It had been too much to hope the bounty hunter hadn't seen him, and in this climbing position he couldn't draw a sword and cut the whip either. Not that he dared to. The recoil would probably send that metal barb straight into Usopp's neck, and they didn't know if the man was bluffing or not.
"Hey, Chopper," Zoro called instead—the man hadn't forbidden talking, after all—"Is this guy faking it? Are there poisons that really do that?"
Zoro couldn't see Chopper at this angle, and didn't dare turn his head, but he could hear the reindeer's answer in his anxiety-tinged voice. "Th-there are some species of reptiles and arachnids that have fast-acting poisons...it only takes a few minutes to break down the body's basic functions..."
Usopp audibly whimpered, and tried to keep as still as possible, afraid even to swallow lest he jiggle the metal tip further.
Well, shit. So they really couldn't risk a charge. Zoro glared at the offending bounty hunter and silently promised to murder him when they got out of this—if Luffy didn't get to him first, that was.
The captain in question was still completely unmoving, but he looked furious. His hands had been fisted when Sasori gave the order, and his clenched fingers now were so full of tension that it was only thanks to his rubber body they hadn't snapped yet. Growling low in his throat, Luffy snarled warningly, "Let Usopp go. Now."
"Let him go. Now!"
"He hasn't done anything to you," Zoro snapped as well, narrowing his eyes further. He was getting tired of holding himself up on the platform, but refused to allow his muscles to loosen even a fraction, lest Sasori take it as a declaration of attack. "Trust me, I know how he thinks. If you want a fight, I'll give it to you."
"But I don't want a fight," the bounty hunter leader sneered. "I want a just sentence carried out for his attack on the innocent civilians of this town. I'm sure you heard all the charges, Pirate Hunter Zoro. This man is a villain."
"He didn't even do any of that!" Zoro said, angry, at the same time that Luffy yelled, "You're lying!"
Sasori opened his mouth to respond, but another voice cut him off: an elderly, but authoritative, voice. "So you directly challenge the charges set against your crew mate, Straw Hat Luffy?"
There was an old woman climbing the stairs to the platform now, but though she was bent nearly double and struggled with the climb, there was an unmistakable gleam of comprehension and authority in her old eyes. The old man who had sentenced Usopp bowed to her and stood aside respectfully.
Luffy didn't move, though his eyes shifted to observe the woman. "Yeah," he answered, his voice dangerous. "I do. So let Usopp go."
"Hrm," the old woman answered instead, and she seemed to be considering. Zoro kept his eyes on Sasori, and was surprised to note that the man looked...angry. Or perhaps uncomfortable. He didn't like the appearance of that woman. Maybe that was a good sign.
"This is difficult," the woman continued, after another moment. "We haven't had a charge fought against in some time. But the law is firm on that regard..."
"The law?" Sasori yelled. "They're pirates! They gave up on the law a long time ago!"
"We are not the marines," the old woman said sharply. "We have our own rules here, and our own laws. Everyone is treated by them in the same fashion, Scorpion Hunter Sasori—or have you forgotten your roots?"
The man looked shocked, as though he'd been slapped. His hands tightened angrily on the whip's handle. Zoro, not liking the movement much, growled, "Watch your hand, you bastard. The moment you poison our sniper, you're a deadman."
Sasori threw him a glare, but notably quit twisting his fingers around the whip's handle. Zoro quietly started breathing again.
"The law is very firm," the woman continued. "As the commander, Straw Hat Luffy, you are entitled to contest the charges against your shipmate on his behalf. Should your challenge prove successful, the charges will be dropped, and your shipmate will go free. The rules of the challenge are as follows: first, you—"
"I challenge," Luffy said.
The woman looked surprised. "But you do not know the terms of the challenge. After hearing them, you may decide otherwise. The rules are—"
"I said," Luffy snarled warningly, still unmoving but eyes unhesitatingly focused on Sasori, "forget it. That's my nakama. I won't let him go. We need our sniper. I challenge."
Usopp was sniffling loudly behind Luffy. Zoro couldn't see him very well, but could only imagine the mess he must look like. Too damn emotional, the idiot. Of course Luffy would save him despite the consequences. When had he ever given them the notion that he'd leave them behind if they got themselves in trouble?
"I...I see," the old woman said slowly. "Well. The challenge in your case is a team effort, as well. It would be issued against the Scorpion Hunters—" here she gestured to the men standing behind Sasori, "who total seven in all, and must be equally matched. You may offer the challenge, but your second in command must back your claim, and you will need seven total challengers to match the Scorpion Hunters effectively."
"I'll do it," Zoro answered immediately, still clinging haphazardly to the side of the platform. "I'm his second. I'll back him."
"You don't even know the rules either! How can you possibly—"
"Lady," Zoro said in exasperation, "You really don't know who you're dealing with here, do you. Our friend's life is on the line. You think we give a damn what the rules are? We'll win, anyway."
"You couldn't possibly know that," the old woman said breathlessly. "But...very well. It is your own foolishness that will be the end of you, but very well. Your five other members?"
From the crowd, four shouts rose up. Zoro, his back to them, couldn't see them, but he could all but see their expressions in his mind regardless. The damn love-cook, looking bored but inwardly just as angry, and probably lighting a cigarette right about now. Nami, likely exasperated about the time wasted with a challenge, but willing to contribute to save a friend regardless. Chopper, nervous but still determined to save the sniper he got along with so well. And Robin, all cool exterior to match her cooly determined fighting style. She hadn't been with them long, but despite his suspicion Zoro was beginning to think she really was loyal to Luffy.
"That's only four," Sasori said, eyes glancing over the crowd. He smirked.
"I...I'll fight too, if I can," Usopp said, almost hesitantly.
"You? You're a prisoner. And condemned," Sasori shot back with a dark laugh. The old woman, however, was nodding her head as though satisfied.
"That is fair. Your captain makes the challenge for you, but you are of course permitted to defend yourself in the challenge."
"What? But he—"
"Enough, Sasori," the old woman said sharply. "Everyone must proceed with me immediately. Sasori, please keep the prisoner with you until we arrive at the challenge point. But be aware—should he die before the challenge has begun, you will be directly responsible for a count of murder." Sasori paled slightly, but nodded. He walked over to Usopp very, very carefully, removing the whip from his neck but replacing it quickly with a steel-like grip on one arm and a dagger to the throat.
"Coated in the same stuff," he warned, giving Luffy a look. "Just try something before the challenge starts—I dare you."
Luffy looked furious, but for once in his life did the intelligent thing and did not attack.
"The rest of you may move again," the old woman continued. "Gather on the platform, and I will lead you to the challenge point." Luffy whirled to face Sasori full-on immediately, and Zoro clambered the rest of the way up the platform, coming to stand at his side. The others shoved through the crowd and piled onto the platform as well, an assembly of angry pirates at their most menacing, causing the crowd to murmur fearfully. Even Robin's normally stoic expression was marred by anger in her eyes.
"Very well," the old woman said, once they were all gathered. "Sasori, a challenge of the law has been issued against yourself and the Scorpion Hunters. Do you and your men accept the challenge?"
"Yes," he growled immediately, and the others behind him did the same, giving the Straw Hats angry looks over their leader's shoulders.
"Good," the old woman said briskly. "As the overseer of the law, I hereby declare the challenge made and begun. All of you are to follow me immediately to the point of challenge, where we will once more recite the rules and traditions and begin." And without another word, she turned, clambered down the wooden steps of the platform, and headed down the streets. Sasori followed, dragging Usopp with him and forcing the sniper to stumble forward quickly or risk having his throat sliced, and the other bounty hunters trailed after him. Without the slightest touch of hesitation, Luffy followed, expression resolute. His shipmates followed as well, not knowing what they had willingly entered themselves into, but knowing only that the life of a nakama hung in the balance.
This story is completely finished except for its final chapter, so it will update with some regularity. It's quite long, as a fair warning, but I hope you all enjoy it.
If you leave a review, kindly leave it some substance! Do tell me what you enjoyed about this chapter, and what you think could be improved upon. Constructive reviews are lovely.