Asteria Nightmare

Part eighteen of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Note: Hey guess what guys! I have to do it. You know I have to. It's a universal anime law. My hit count? Ovar 9,000! (Love you all!)

Music Box: I dunno why. I always think of this instrumental piece:
www (dot) youtube (dot) com (slash) watch?v=_1T5_R89yzc
I guess because it's epic in a less terrifyingly creepy way?

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.

"There is evil. And evil is powerful. Sometimes more powerful than good. It's there. It has to be recognized—and fought. Otherwise we go down to darkness."
~The Pale Horse, Agatha Christie

Feeling a little more successful a lot and more hopeful than before, Nami led the way to the next part of the battle, Zoro and Chopper following.

The swordsman and doctor were on either side of her, escorting her forward like some sort of fancy honor guard from old fantasy stories. Chopper was already well practiced at Nightmare-killing, and tossed the creatures aside with ease with his horns, or charged into them quickly to send them flying into smoke. Zoro needed a little more work to be effective—unlike Chopper and Nami, he hadn't had a chance to practice killing Nightmare scouts, nor was he familiar with the creatures' weaknesses. They had quickly discovered that his white katana was still as effective against the creatures as before, but his years of training as a swordsman made the slices so controlled and fine they rarely killed the Nightmares unless he went for a direct, fatal shot. That explained why he'd been able to slice off the tail, leg, and mandibles of the first Nightmare they'd seen without killing it in one hit, the way the blunt force attacks of Franky or Sanji-kun did. Once they caught on Zoro altered his targets, always slashing at the creatures' heads or chests, and even weakened from the dreamless state his kill ratio went up considerably. And, Nami observed, it probably helped that he was outright pissed, really and genuinely angry, a state that happened for him almost as rarely as it did for Luffy. That fury appeared to be thankfully fueling his combat abilities and offsetting the exhaustion of the nightmare illness. Hopefully that would last throughout the battle.

And now that she could afford to shift her focus, with Chopper and Zoro guarding her and the Dreamshards in her tight grip, Nami realized just how badly the fight was going for everyone else. In her brief moment of success with recovering the Dreamshards and restoring Zoro she had almost felt like the entire battle was going in their favor, but she couldn't be more wrong.

The Harvesters ahead of them remained somewhat stunned by Brook's echoing music, which was the most that could be said for the advantages the Straw Hats carried. Even then it was a haphazard stun, with the way the music echoed and bounced around the room, intermingled with wild Nightmare screams. The crew had been separated again. Usopp and Brook were closest to Nami's group, with Robin still bound tightly via harness to the sniper's back, while Franky and his vulnerable burden had been swept some distance from the rest of them, towards the back end of the room. None of them looked very well off. It was all Franky could do to keep the enraged Nightmares off of him, especially so far from the effects of Brook's music, and he was swinging his plank wildly to defend his captain. Usopp and Brook fared slightly better, the latter stunning Nightmares at close range while the former sniped them down with his Sunny nail projectiles, but from the terrified, anxious look on Usopp's face Nami suspected he was almost out of ammo.

Worst of all was the Queen of the Night, which looked no worse for wear despite Sanji-kun's constant attacks. The creature possessed a number of wide, smoking burn scars where the cook's dream-enhanced kicks had hit it, but they were easily comparable to cigarette burns on a human being's skin: sharp and painful, but not nearly big enough or damaging enough to cause fatal injuries or death. Some of the older scars looked like they were even already starting to heal, the torn, rough edges knitting themselves together slowly and transforming once more to the viscous material the abomination was made of. The Queen was enraged, and bucked angrily every time she was hit, but for all that Sanji-kun was barely an annoying housefly to the creature. And the cook himself wasn't doing well. His Diable Jambe had long since fizzled out, making his dream-based attacks even less potent than before without the added boost, and he was favoring his right leg heavily as he leapt back and forth across the bloated creature's back, dodging attacks while trying to hand out his own.

Still, Sanji-kun had hit upon one useful technique. As the Queen of the Night extended a new limb to try and smash Franky, this one weirdly elongated and shaped like a many-fingered hand, the cook darted across the evil creature's back. Dodging another unnatural limb that looked strangely like a wrecking ball mounted on the end of a thick, muscular tail, he hurled himself at the newest limb and kicked it at the elbow right as it was stretched to its fullest. The Queen of the Night gave a horrific, pain-filled shriek from its thousands of invisible mouths, and the limb fractured, slicing cleanly in two at the joint. The end still attached to its body retracted immediately back into the creature with a viscous gurgle, while the arm and hand that had been sliced off seemed to lose shape, melding back into the same oozing, thick semi-liquid that the rest of the creature seemed to be made of. It splashed heavily to the ground—Franky just barely managed to dodge—and frothed and bubbled where it lay amidst the bones, but did not move again.

The move clearly cost Sanji-kun, however. Nami could see him grimacing in pain as he hit, and he barely managed to catch onto a new limb as he fell in midair after his attack. He clawed his way back up the creature's side, and when he reached its back again she could see he was limping even more heavily than before.

"He ain't gonna hold long," Zoro growled from beside her, even as he cleanly sliced apart another advancing Shepherd with his two sheathed swords. "Whatever you got planned, you better make it fast."

"I think his leg might be broken," Chopper added, a trembling whimper in his voice as he watched the battle.

"Make for Robin first," Nami ordered, dragging them back on track. "After that everyone else can help Sanji-kun while I go for Luffy." They obeyed, slicing and tossing their way forward through the Nightmares—there didn't seem to be as many of them now; had they really killed so many?—growing steadily closer to the next group of their nakama.

"Nami-san! Chopper-san! And Zoro-san, too!" Brook greeted them, as they came within shouting distance. "It's good to see you alive and well!"

"Zoro, you're okay!" Usopp added with very heartfelt relief. "We were worried, after—" but he cut off in mid-sentence, and his eyes widened in horror as he stared upwards, above them. Nami followed his gaze with a sudden feeling of trepidation, and felt her heart drop to her stomach when she spotted what Usopp had seen.

The Queen of the Night had noticed them. A new, skeletal arm was already growing growing from its bulbous body, reaching for them with surprising speed to retrieve the dreams it had stolen and protect its dinner. The arm itself was spindly, but its wide, flat hand would crush her, Chopper, and Zoro easily, and from the ground there was nothing they could do to protect themselves against its weight and momentum.

"Nami-san!" Sanji-kun yelled, frantic, and leapt forward over the creature's back, half-dragging his damaged right leg forward as he tried to reach the new growth in time. But luck wasn't on Sanji-kun's side, this time. With another scream, this time one of sheer agony, he was smashed in the side with another of the Queen's growths, this one shaped oddly like a blunt, rounded shield mounted on a thick arm. Even from the ground Nami could hear the sickening crack as something in Sanji-kun's chest gave, and he was flung from the evil creature's back, smashing to the stone floor and scattered bones of the Temple of Dreams twenty feet below. Before he could so much as move the Harvesters were on him, and for the second time on Asteria she heard the cook's loss-drenched, almighty scream as the All Blue was stolen from him again.

And still the enormous skeletal hand was coming down at her.

"Run!" Zoro yelled at her, and shoved her forward. Chopper darted ahead nimbly in Walk Point, but froze when he realized he was leaving the other two behind, and hesitated in the shadow of that enormous hand. There was no way they would make it, they were going to die—

"Dream Star: Atlas Comet!" Usopp called frantically, and four of his nail projectiles shot upward, aiming for the skeletal arm's elbow joint just as Sanji-kun had done earlier. They converged at the same point, and while one probably would have been all but useless against the Queen of the Night, four simultaneous hits was another matter entirely. They ripped through the joint, severing the creature's newly built limb in a flourish.

The hand and arm fell towards them still, but Usopp's shot had pushed it off course somewhat, and it was already losing its broad shape, returning to its sluggish, liquid-like state. Nami hurled herself forward, and then rather suddenly found herself being roughly picked up. Seconds later she realized she was tucked under one of Chopper's Heavy Point arms, and a protesting Zoro was under the other one, cursing and insisting he didn't actually need the help anymore. The doctor leapt, and they cleared the falling dissolving hand by inches before darting the remaining twenty feet to Usopp and Brook.

"Nice shot," Nami gasped to Usopp, as Chopper deposited her and Zoro on the ground. Already she was digging through the basket again, searching once more by feel for Robin's Dreamshard, and at her gesture Chopper began undoing the harness straps that bound the not-archaeologist to the sniper's back.

"Don't congratulate me too early," Usopp groaned. The Queen of the Night was shrieking in pain, but any second now her focus would come back to the Straw Hats. "I've only got about twelve shots left...less if I have to do that again. Sanji was taking care of that thing before," Nami saw his eyes flicker in Sanji-kun's direction, far on the opposite side of the room. The cook was struggling feebly against the Nightmares, but couldn't stand on his bad leg, and hardly had any strength left with his Dreamshard stolen. She didn't know which of the creatures had taken it, there were so many clustered around him, and as she watched they seized him by his injured leg and began to drag him laboriously towards the massive creature in the middle.

Nami swore, shook her head, and tried to focus. It was very difficult—the situation felt more hopeless than before. They had finally managed to restore Zoro, only to have Sanji-kun taken in wasn't fair!

But they were close, very close now to winning, if only they could hold out for a little longer. She had the Dreamshards they'd been struggling so long to recover. Zoro was back, and Robin would be in a second; she forced herself to focus on the Dreamshards, identify Robin's dream again, and carefully pressed the gleaming gem over Robin's heart as she was laid out on the stones and bones by Chopper. She felt it meld away beneath her palm despite her burns, and the archaeologist gave a soft sigh as the void began to be filled once again. That left Luffy, and the very thought of her captain being restored to normal sent a burst of hope through Nami's heart. If Luffy came back, really came back, maybe they could still salvage the situation, retrieve Sanji-kun's Dreamshard again. Maybe they could even destroy the Queen. Luffy was known for defeating the impossible. As long as he was by their side, they knew he wouldn't let them go down without the most vicious fight he could put up.

They just had to hold out long enough for it to happen.

"I've got it," she said out loud. Barely seconds had passed since Usopp had spoken, and the Straw Hats gathered around her still looked frantic, afraid, exhausted. Brook's bow on the violin seemed to be slowing from defeat, and Usopp was trembling so badly even his normally steady hands were shaking as well. They looked down at her, tired, confused, and she said more insistently, "I've got Luffy's Dreamshard. If I can just get over to him..."

Their faces lit up in surprise, and she could see the barest flickers of hope in their eyes. Zoro's lips drew back in a determined snarl around the white katana in his mouth, and he growled, "I'll distract the thing, it can't eat the love-cook if it's too busy fighting. Chopper, you get Nami over to Luffy, now."

"Wait, Zoro, you're not—damn it!" Nami yelled, because the swordsman wasn't listening, was already charging straight for the the enormous monster with all three swords at the ready. The creature swiveled laboriously towards him, and a pair of insectoid limbs dragged themselves free from its bloated body, rocketing at the swordsman with terrifying speed, and Zoro was going to be too late to dodge it—

"Ochenta Fleur: Quatro Manos!" came the ragged cry from beside her, and instantly four enormous hands, made of many human-sized ones, sprouted from the Queen of the Night's body right next to the mantis-arms attacking Zoro. But these did not belong to the Queen; unlike the vast Nightmare's shadowy body, these arms were of flesh. Each pair of enormous hands wrapped themselves around the base of the insect-arms and wrenched upwards, dragging the slicing attack safely away from Zoro. Without hesitation he closed the gap between himself and the creature and slashed with all three swords, severing one of the limbs at the base, to the resounding pain-filled screams of the Queen. The enormous hands released it, and it splashed to the ground, bubbling and hissing.

"Robin!" Nami gasped. "Good, it worked...are you okay? How are you feeling? It's so good to see you back!"

"I'm fine, in a manner of speaking," Robin said shortly. Like Zoro, she looked exhausted: there were dark lines under her eyes, and her hands trembled as she crossed them in front of her chest. But just like the swordsman there was a determined, furious look in the archaeologist's eyes, and Nami could tell she was just as angry about the theft of her dream as Zoro was, even if she was more calculating in applying it. "I believe I heard you say you had a way to restore Luffy's dream as well. You should hurry...Usopp and I can aid Swordsman-san."

"My music should protect them from most of the Nightmares," Brook added. His playing had grown more vigorous again, and he sounded determined once more. "There aren't as many left on this side of the room, anyway."

"Right," Nami said slowly. Between Brook and Robin they should hopefully last long enough, and Brook was right: there were far more Nightmares over on the opposite side of the room, where Sanji-kun was on the left, and Franky on the right. She could barely even see Franky anymore, he was so heavily surrounded by the creatures, and with a jolt of horror she realized they would have him soon if she didn't hurry. "Let's go, Chopper!"

He darted over in Walk Point, and she leapt on his back, still clutching the Dreamshard basket to her chest. She dug her free hand into the thick fur at his shoulders as he jumped high, using his superior nimbleness and agility as a full reindeer to leap over the heads and grasping limbs of the Nightmares and towards the last of their scattered nakama.

They were too late. Barely halfway there Franky's sudden anguished scream reached their ears, and Chopper moaned in fear at the realization that another friend's Dreamshard had been stolen. Nami felt despair squeeze at her heart a little further, but clutched the basket nestled against her chest still closer. "Keep going, Chopper!" she said firmly. "If we can still get to Luffy we might have a chance!"

The reindeer nodded beneath her. "I think they're trying to drag Luffy free," he observed after a moment, as he leaped high into the air once again, and Nami had to agree. Oily smoke was rising above where Franky's scream had come from, which meant the Nightmares were trying—and hopefully failing—to get through Luffy's sailcloth sling. "There's still a lot of them though. I'm going to try and use a second Rumble Ball—it won't work as well, but maybe I can clear enough out of the way for you to take care of Luffy. Hold on!"

She did as ordered, digging her fingers still further into the reindeer's thick fur as he shifted to his Heavy Point. A second Rumble Ball was produced, and Nami understood the gamble the reindeer was taking; she knew after the first it was impossible to control his transformations very well. But anything was better than nothing, she decided, as the doctor called loudly, "Rumble!"

Then Nami started screaming as they started dropping at a much faster pace than she had anticipated. Chopper's back had gotten much broader beneath her, and his rack of antlers had reappeared, much larger and spikier than before. "Damn," she heard him yelp, "I didn't want—"

Whatever he was going to say, it was cut off with a furious crash as they slammed into the stone on top of an entirely unfortunate General, which, while immune to non-dream attacks, was still subjected to the laws of physics and was very thoroughly flattened. Chopper staggered to his Horn Point's mismatched feet and yelled, "Hang tight! Roseo Colonnade!"

Nami started shrieking all over again as the the reindeer charged, tossing Nightmares out of his way as if they were bowling pins and shaking the navigator on his back around so badly she was sure the dizzy feeling would never actually go away. Halfway through is attack the reindeer shifted again with a curse, this time to his fluffy Guard Point, sending Nightmares—and Nami—flying aside.

"Sorry!" He helped to her helplessly, as another uncontrolled transformation seized him, this time shifting him back to his Walk Point.

Nami rolled to her feet dazedly, but recovered her wits in record time. "Forget about it!" She shouted back. "Just keep those things off me!"

"Right!" Chopper shouted back, and charged down the smoking Nightmares nearby, driving into the creatures with his sailcloth-wrapped horns and sending them bursting into smoke. Another unexpected transformation took him seconds later, this time shifting him to Arm Point, but he improvised quickly and began killing more of the creatures, beating them away from the unconscious Franky and the cloth-wrapped bundle not too far from his hands.

Nami didn't hesitate. The Dreamshard was thankfully, miraculously, still safe in its basket after all the tossing and tumbling she'd taken, and she darted forward now to the sling and the vaguely human shape inside. With the screaming Nightmares in the area beaten back and destroyed, Nami could hear her captain still ranting, crying out hoarsely about how something had been stolen from him, how he would never see it returned.

That's where you're wrong, Luffy, she said, determined, as she set the basket's bent handle between her teeth again—even with the space cleared out, she still wasn't willing to set it down on the ground for a second—and began peeling back the sailcloth and blanket wrappings. Within moments his pale face and open, unseeing eyes were exposed. She tugged back the cloth and blanket still further, until she could see his red vest as well, and without hesitation plunged her hand into the basket, snatched up his Dreamshard, and slapped it down onto his chest.

For a few terrifying seconds nothing happened, and Nami thought with a horrified twist in her stomach that maybe there was a certain time limit before a person's body would start rejecting their dream. But seconds later the Dreamshard began to melt beneath her fingers, and the sensations of raw, absolute certainty vanished from her mind. It would take a few seconds now for it to settle in, judging by the other three that had also been restored, and she set about unwrapping the rest of the sailcloth sling from Luffy's body so he wouldn't be tied up right away when he woke—

"Nami!" she heard Usopp yelling frantically. "Nami, get out of the way, dodge!"

Startled, Nami whipped around, crouching protectively over Luffy's prone form as she did so. The fight with the Queen of the Night was not going well again. Zoro had managed to somehow clamber up onto the creature's back, where Sanji-kun had been earlier, but he was presently hanging perilously over the side of the enormous, bulging body, scrabbling for purchase. He was sweating profusely, clearly weak from his ordeal, and it was only thanks to several of Robin's quickly generated arms digging into his clothing that he was even hanging on at all. With its main attackers distracted, the Queen had turned on Nami, clearly furious that she had restored yet another Dreamshard to one of its otherwise perfectly prepared meals. An enormous whiplike tail, studded with spikes, was already extending from its bulbous body. Dammit, was there no end to the horrific, disgusting appendages the creature was willing to create?

The tail was drawing up now to strike with even more power. Several little explosions smashed into its side to no effect, and Nami could hear Usopp cursing frantically as he shot still more ineffectual exploding stars at the creature. He must have finally run out of his Sunny ammunition. "Dammit, dammit, dammit! Nami, run, hurry!"

"Nnnngh," Luffy muttered sleepily. "Nami? What's going on?"

Nami whipped her head back to stare down at her captain. She was relieved to see him awake already, but there wasn't much time for that. She grabbed him by the shoulders of his vest and tried to drag him up, saying frantically, "Luffy, we have to get out of here, hurry—"

His eyes widened in confusion and surprise as he saw the spiked tail bearing down on them, but Nami gave her captain credit where it was due: even disoriented after being in a dreamless coma for nearly three days, his battle reflexes were as well honed as ever. With surprising speed one of his rubbery arms wrapped around her waist, and the second shot out over his head, grabbing at a distant part of the wall. He pulled, and they rocketed with literally elastic speed out of the way of the tail just as it crashed down into the bones and rubble. It retracted back into the creature's body a moment later with a thousand-voice scream of frustration.

Nami and Luffy slammed into the wall at breakneck speed, though Luffy was, for once, careful enough to cushion his navigator's body with his own rubbery one to lessen the otherwise extremely painful impact. They bounced to the bone-scattered ground, and Nami groaned as she rolled away from him. That had been far, far too close.

"Nami?" Luffy asked, confused, as he sat up slowly. "What's going on? How come you're hurt all over?" Blinking, he gazed around the room with his usual wide-eyed stare, and added, "What's that big monster? And all the smaller ones? Are we in a fight? I can see Zoro and Robin fighting..." Another blink, and Nami knew exactly when he'd spotted Sanji-kun's and Franky's sprawled, Nightmare-surrounded forms, because his eyes narrowed dangerously and he hissed, "Did those things hurt my nakama? They're going to pay for that!"

He started to stand, to wind up his right arm before a spectacular punch, but Nami grabbed him by his collar before he could. "Wait, Luffy! You don't remember anything?"

His eyes were still narrowed, but at Nami's question he cocked his head thoughtfully and said after a moment, "We were just playing in the leaves a few minutes ago. After that I just remember it being really dark." He frowned for a bit, but then with an ah of sudden discovery he asked, "Did I fall asleep like Ace?"

"Not exactly. Here, wait a second." She forced him to crouch, and unholstered her Clima-Tact quickly, snapping two of the cords free from the Heat and Cool poles. Working quickly, she tied them around Luffy's knuckles, explaining shortly, "You've been unconscious for almost three days, Luffy. Those things are Nightmares. You can only hurt them with dream items—like this cord from the Thousand Sunny—because they don't like our dreams. And—" she hesitated, making sure the cords were securely tied before she said the next part, because after that Luffy would be utterly unpredictable. "—they steal people's ambitions too, Luffy. That's what happened to Sanji-kun and Franky. And what happened to Zoro, and Robin, and...and you, too."

Luffy's eyes flew wide. Those that didn't know him might have mistaken the expression for shock, but Nami, who had known the captain almost longer than any of the other crew mates save Zoro, recognized the look all too well. It was an expression of pure, unbridled rage, the expression reserved for those that attacked his hat or mocked his crew's dreams, the expression that clearly said he was about to visit untold amounts of damage onto some unfortunate but highly deserving individual.

"They...did...what?" Luffy snarled, fists clenching so tightly Nami would have been afraid of his fingers breaking if he wasn't made of rubber. He whipped around, glared at the Queen of the Night with no-holds-barred fury, and snarled, "That darkness didn't feel like a good sleep. It was too empty. Because they stole my dream?" Nami nodded almost timidly, and he hissed further, "And the All Blue? And the Sunny? And the World's Greatest Swordsman, and the True History?"

Nami nodded again, silently, and Luffy's head dropped to his chest, his bangs hiding his eyes. His legs were planted firmly, and his arms trembled with barely contained rage, clenching still further until they squished most unnaturally. But he stood stock still, breathing hard, and Nami hoped desperately that the dreamless state hadn't affected him so badly that he couldn't attack for all his fury. He did look far too pale for his own good, and his face had a gaunt look that was emphasized all the further by the dark lines under his eyes. Zoro and Robin were having trouble battling, and Luffy had been down a day longer than them. Maybe it had been foolish to hope that Luffy could save them now.

A sharp cry came across from the battle with the Queen of the Night, and Nami's head jerked up in surprise. Zoro had finally been thrown clear of the Nightmare's back, gasping in pain, trailing blood from his torso; if Nami had to guess she'd say he'd been impaled by one of the Queen's many rapidly appearing-and-disappearing assortment of nightmarish limbs before being thrown. Robin created a net of arms to catch him before he could plummet twenty feet to the ground into the remaining Nightmares, but she was clearly growing tired, and the net vanished halfway. Only Chopper's timely leap managed to save the swordsman from a return to the dreamless state, snapping him out of the air.

They were being slaughtered. They had held out for so long, for hours, but it was all for nothing, and Nami realized with a tired sigh that after all that they were going to die. Sanji-kun and Franky were already down, dreams stolen away, too injured to fight back. Zoro and Robin were up and fighting valiantly, but they were still too weak to contribute for long. Chopper had reached his limit on his Rumble Balls, and Usopp was out of ammunition entirely. Only Brook could still keep going, but for what purpose? It would only delay the inevitable. It had been a good try, but they were done for.

And then beside her Luffy drew in a deep breath, snorted angrily, and drew his fist back. He wound up furiously and let fly with a rapid Gomu Gomu no Pistol, roaring at the top of his lungs, "How dare you steal my nakama's dreams!"

It was slower than usual for Luffy, so Nami could tell he was affected on some level by his three days of dreamlessness. But his rage more than made up for it, seemed to be all the fuel her captain needed to enter the fight, and with a wet smacking sound his rubber fist collided with what Nami was fairly sure was the creature's enormous, bulbous side.

It screamed in pain, a haunting wail that was one and thousands all at the same time, and its agonized cry was far louder than before. Luffy's attack left a smoking scar in its side, and the momentum of his rubbery punch was, unbelievably, enough to send the creature rocking sideways a fraction on its nest.

The Queen of the Night screamed again, this time in frustration, and scrabbled laboriously back in place on its nest. Once again, for a fraction of a second, Nami thought she saw something glinting at its belly, but it dragged itself back in place and began sweeping its nest of bone and dead dreams back into place with several extra arms.

Luffy ignored it for the moment. Instead he stretched his other arm out to one of the broken down third floors that had been hollowed out long ago above them and pulled himself up into the air. There was a look of pure hatred etched on his face as he hung suspended for the briefest of moments, and he snarled loudly, "Don't you ever think of taking their dreams away from them! Gomu Gomu no Gatling!"

The barrage of fists rained down on the bony ground, and the Nightmares still spread all across it, as he began to descend. Nami saw blood flying as, more than once, Luffy's wildly flinging fists shattered bones that splintered into his skin and cut at his knuckles. But more often than not the furious assault hit Nightmares: dozens of them at a time, utterly undiscriminating between Harvesters and Shepherds and even Generals. Nothing survived the attack; each and every Nightmare Luffy struck dissipated into oily smoke without so much as a chance to scream, and within seconds one entire half of the gathering of Nightmares had been destroyed, leaving the bones and stone clear. The unconscious Franky had probably taken a bit of a beating from that attack, Nami thought sympathetically, but he was metal and could probably handle it. Thankfully, the rest of the crew had had the good sense to run out of the way when Luffy unleashed his barrage.

The Queen of the Night lashed out at Luffy furiously now with several bladed tails and hands and who only knew what else, shrieking angrily with its many-yet-one voice. But even as he was falling Luffy snapped his hand across to the other side of the room, grasping at a cracked third floor balcony again, and dragged himself from midair to the massive Nightmare's other side. Once again he unleashed a furious Gomu Gomu no Gatling, pounding the Nightmares here into dust as well, although thankfully he was slightly more careful about the placement of his punches to avoid hitting Sanji-kun. The few Nightmares still attempting to drag the cook off worked faster, desperate to keep their prize, but Luffy landed among them and with furious roars of "Pistol! Bullet! Bazooka!" destroyed the rest of the creatures, clearing the space around his cook as well.

And he wasn't done yet. Nami knew that without a shred of doubt, because even with all the Nightmares that he'd killed the rage was still prevalent on his face, and the navigator knew he wouldn't be satisfied until the Queen of the Night herself was destroyed, or he was dead.

He proved her right seconds later. He crouched next to Sanji-kun (now definitely unconscious on the stone floor and crumbling bones) and slammed his fist into the ground, resting the second one on his knee. Nami could see his legs pumping from even from across the room, and after a moment his skin began to hiss as the sweat on his body started to evaporate, creating a translucent sheen of smoke that differed so much from the oily clouds the Nightmares possessed. "Gear Second," Luffy declared, his voice low and deadly, as the Queen of the Night laboriously turned to face him.

"I won't forgive you," Luffy told it, even as it began sprouting dozens more arms of all kinds: some were machine like, while others were like insects, or whips, or clawed talons, but Luffy didn't seemed fazed by a single one. He dashed to the side as the multitude of appendages began to come towards him, drawing them away from Sanji-kun, and then leapt into the air, his speed enhanced so much by his Gear Second state it was almost impossible for Nami to follow him. "I'll kill you for even thinking you could take my Pirate King promise from me!" Luffy roared in the air. "Gomu Gomu no Jet Pistol!"

The attack slammed into the Queen of the Night with brutal force, and for the first time it really and truly shrieked in all-out agony as it was hit. The attack left a smoking crater in the enormous Nightmare's viscous skin, and it staggered back further than before, when Luffy had hit it with just his regular pistol move.

"I'll kill you for taking Zoro's dream too," Luffy snarled mercilessly, as he drew back his other fist. "You can't have his World's Greatest Swordsman promise!" Another Jet Pistol fired, another smoking crater dug its way into the creature's side, and another pain-filled shriek of one-yet-one-thousand voices ripped through the air as it staggered backward even further.

"You can't have Nami's map, either!" Luffy continued, still falling through the air from his leap as he fired another Jet Pistol, dug another burning scar into the creature's side. "Or Usopp's warrior dream!" The Queen snapped back a fourth time; she had fallen halfway out of her nest now. "Or Sanji's belief in the All Blue!" The creature was starting to bow to the ground under Luffy's furious Jet Pistol assault, its side a smoking mass of holes now, and it had given up on trying to counterattack.

"Chopper's cures. Robin's search. Franky's ship. Brook's promise." Each name was followed by a furious impact. "You can't have any of them! If anyone dares to take my nakama's dreams away, I'll kill them!" Luffy delivered one last furious Twin Jet Pistol and finally landed, crouching over the bones of the dead and forgotten as he glared ahead at his enemy.

The Queen of the Night was still screaming, one long, keening wail of intertwined voices, as it rolled backwards from Luffy's wild attack. Dozens of hands sprouted beneath Franky and dragged him out of the way just in time as the bloated creature crashed onto its side. Its dozens of mismatched, poorly placed legs and tails twitched and waved like an overturned spider's, and its hundreds of eyes blinked and squinted and vanished as it struggled to comprehend its new enemy. Then, slowly, its limbs began to withdraw into its body once more, extending many moments later as newly shaped limbs from what had once been its belly and back. It lifted itself slowly upwards once again, with the burn scars that had once been on its side now oriented on its new back. Being little more than an enormous, amorphous mass, it had been easy for the creature to shift all of its limbs a quarter of the way around its body to reorient itself. Nami shuddered in disgust.

And then she stared in surprise. Luffy had knocked the Queen of the Night off of its nest, and the creature was dragging itself back up onto its perch as fast as it could, sprouting even more limbs to aid with the process. It settled itself back in place quickly and launched a new barrage of dozens of mismatched limbs in Luffy's direction, rearing up slowly as its blobby body took on a slightly more humanoid shape, and the burn scars on its back seemed to grow smaller. But in that brief moment before it had replaced itself on its morbid throne, Nami had seen something glinting underneath: an archway built of crystal, with the same oily smoke that the creatures turned into when they died swirling within it.

With sudden, startling clarity Nami found her memories of the past three days bursting through her head all at once, so fast it was difficult to keep track of them all. Supposedly, Robin had translated, the Queen of the Night was born millennia ago, in the World of Dreams. She was dangerous and beautiful and deadly, and for a human being to see her almost certainly meant their death. But she was trapped in the World of Dreams and could not escape it on her own.

One story mentions 'living nightmares,' creatures that reside in the World of Dreams, but are able to pass between worlds in the dead of night.

The recorder mentions increased visits from the outside world—off of the island, presumably—and adds that only a decade after their arrival, an alarming increase in those 'taken by nightmares' began, and their dream-oracles started seeing more of the creatures.

The records in the temples did not begin to change drastically until these visitors were mentioned, and only then did more Nightmare mythos begin to take shape.

The city, Oneirosa, contains the Temple of Dreams that the fishing village chapel also mentioned, and was reportedly a huge draw for the visitors.

These Nightmares seem heavily tied up in Asteria's mythos, in some way. The city is the most likely place for them to emerge from.

They came from Oneirosa.

Eyes wide, Nami snatched up her Clima-Tact and darted towards the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates, heeled sandals crunching on old bones as she pushed herself for all the speed she could muster. She was suddenly aware of her exhaustion, but furiously refused to let herself feel it, not now, not when this new realization had come to her. She dodged aside as the Queen of the Night stomped one of its multitude of legs down near her, recoiling from yet another attack from Luffy, and slid to a stop near the others, panting.

Robin had used her Hana-Hana powers to drag the the prone bodies of Sanji-kun and Franky over to the group for safety's sake, although doing so had clearly tired her, and she drooped where she sat. Zoro was half kneeling nearby, using one sheathed sword for support while Chopper fussed anxiously with an apparently deep stab wound to his abdomen (not that this was surprising, considering the source). Usopp was watching the battle with awe, limbs trembling as he used his own kabuto like a walking staff to hold him up, and Brook had finally stopped playing his violin, bony arms hanging limply at his sides.

"Robin," Nami gasped, "The archway—did you see it?"

The archaeologist looked surprised, but shook her head. "From this angle I could see something glittering in the Queen of the Night's nest, but not what it was. I am afraid my recent illness has made it difficult for me to produce enough hands and eyes to provide my usual level of surveillance." She shook her head, a rare sign of frustration that was obviously influenced by her weaker state.

"I could see it better from my angle," Nami admitted. "Look, it had the same smoke swirling around in it that those things turn into when we kill them. Could it be a doorway? To the World of Dreams your translations kept talking about?"

Robin frowned. "It is possible, I suppose. The scripts never mentioned a doorway in a literal sense, but some other translations regarding the religion seemed to treat 'visits to the World of Dreams' as something more literal, and not sleeping, or a trance-state."

Nami took a deep breath, and then said, "What would happen if we broke it?"

Usopp nearly choked at the suggestion, and Chopper stared at her with wide eyes. Even Zoro gave her a quizzical look. The entire chamber seemed to shudder as Luffy smashed into the Queen of the Night with another Gear Second boosted attack, and they all staggered.

"I don't know, Nami," Robin finally said with a sigh. "What little records I managed to find and locate before my Dreamshard was stolen were very inconclusive on the subject. They didn't even suggest a door, much less what might happen if it were closed. And I...dislike...the thought of destroying ancient architecture in an attempt to kill the creature."

Brook hesitated, and then said slowly, "Meaning no disrespect, Robin-san, but I do not believe we have much of a choice."

The others gave the skeleton surprised looks, but Zoro nodded in agreement. His normally grim, stoic expression still looked sickly on his tired, drawn face. "He's right," the swordsman said flatly. "It's been healing itself, as long as it's sitting on that nest. Dartboard's kicks had some effect when he was attacking the thing, but when I got up there later they only looked half as bad as they'd been before."

"And Luffy's going to run out of energy soon," Chopper added, with a bite to his lip. "Gear Second is strong, but it drains him too fast afterwards, and if he can't do any lasting damage..."

Robin sighed, but nodded. "I had noticed this as well," she admitted. "It pains me to say it, but these ruins will be no good to anyone if our bones join the hundreds of others already here. If destroying the doorway is our only other option...then we must try it."

"Then we need to push it off first," Zoro said, and heaved himself to his feet. Chopper squawked in protest, and Zoro growled, "I'm not gonna get near it, don't worry."

"I'll go, too," Nami said, rearranging her Clima-Tact again—two thirds of its dream-based enhancements were gone, but the Cyclone Tempo could push as well as anything. "Usopp, you be ready to break that thing when it's in the open again!"

"Right," Usopp said, flashing a thumbs-up. "The Great Captain Usopp can definitely handle that task. I've got just the thing for it, too." And he started digging through his ammunition bag, muttering to himself.

"Luffy!" Nami called up to their captain loudly. He'd launched himself into the air again to lash out with another jet attack, but she was certain he didn't have too much left in him now, not after being nearly comatose for three days. Anger might be fueling him now, but it would only last so long. He looked down on her, rage still etched on his face, but his expression softened slightly when he saw her, and when he landed next to them he looked more solemn then furious.

"We need to attack all at once, Luffy," she said quickly, insistently. "We have to push that thing off its nest—if we can do that, we can kill it." I hope.

The captain's eyes narrowed. "Push it off?" His eyes swept over Zoro, Nami, and (Nami was surprised to find) Brook, who had also followed them. "Alright," he agreed after a moment. "Let's go!"

Luffy hurled himself forward into the air once more, his enhanced Gear Second state sending him flying higher than even Sanji-kun could reach naturally, or Chopper in Jump Point. Nami was hard pressed to keep up with him, and spun hastily to face the screaming Queen of the Night before them, throwing her Clima-Tact and shouting her attack alongside three others.

"Cyclone Tempo!"

"Gomu Gomu no Jet Bazooka!"

"One Hundred Eight Pound Cannon!"

"Aubade Coup Droit!"

Compressed air slices, one enormous air blast, and one very fast, very angry open-palmed strike shot towards the writhing Queen of the Night on her macabre throne of dead dreams and dead people. The enormous Nightmare screamed a challenge, and sprouted enormous, thick limbs to block the attacks—or try to. At the last moment four enormous flesh-colored hands, hands made of dozens of smaller hands, sprouted in front of the Queen's supporting legs and tugged, sending the creature skittering off balance. It's defending arms flew wide, and the attacks smashed home, rocking the creature backwards, tilting it further, almost—

"It's not enough!" Nami screamed in frustration, but as he descended Luffy threw out one last Jet Pistol with a furious, wordless scream of rage before finally crashing to the ground, energy spent, exhausted and immobile. The attack struck true, and with a final, frantic shriek the Queen of the Night slid off her nest, exposing the crystal archway for all to see.

It tried to right itself frantically, to scrabble back onto it's secret to conceal it once more, desperate to receive healing and protect the one thing that was obviously so vital to it. Nami had wondered, when they first stormed into the Temple, why such creatures that were clearly repulsed by the building would struggle so hard to remain in its confines. Now she understood. It wasn't a matter of preference. It was the only place they could go, chained to their strength and their weakness both, unable to move it or leave it.

The Queen scrabbled frantically to protect that secret now. But this time, after centuries of jealously guarding it, destroying everything and everyone that set foot on her island and feeding greedily on their despair and sorrow, this time she was finally too late.

"Sunflower Star!" Usopp called triumphantly, as five explosive pellets were launched from his kabuto. They shot passed the enraged, frantic Queen of the Night in a pentagonal flight pattern and smashed with unerring accuracy into the beautiful crystal archway revealed in the center of the evil creature's macabre nest. All five exploded, and with a jarring cracking noise the archway and its swirling contents shivered dangerously, beginning to crumble. Usopp hit it again with the same attack, unrelenting, and the already unstable arch shattered, its hundreds of broken pieces casting shivering spots of light that danced across the walls and floor as they fell. The oily smoke of the archway swirled once more, and then abruptly dissipated, vanishing into thin air.

The screaming began seconds later.

Even at this distance, deep within the Temple of Dreams, with thick crystal walls and piles of stone rubble to cushion them, Nami could hear the Nightmares still locked outside begin to wail in one synchronized voice. She could hear the high-pitched clicking shrieks of the Harvesters, the booming howls of the Shepherds, and the rumbling hisses of the Generals, melded together in a still-rising cacophony of unparalleled agony. Frustration, pain, depression, sorrow—it was all there in each and every creature's voice, and sounded oddly similar to the loss-filled cries she had heard escape each of her nakama as their dreams were stolen. Part of Nami accepted the ironic similarity as a fitting end for the hellish creatures that had made the past three days of their lives miserable. But most of her was concentrated on clamping her hands over her ears as best as she could; the shrieking was so loud it was painful, and she'd dropped her Clima-Tact in favor of wrapping her arms around her head. Poor Chopper was curled up in a ball amongst the bones, hooves clapped wildly over his little reindeer ears, Robin had sprouted extra arms to clap her palms over the unconscious Franky's and Sanji-kun's ears as well, and even Zoro made a concession to the noise and shrugged his head closer to his shoulders.

But the Queen of the Night was by far the worst. The moment the crystal arch broke she, too, began screaming, arching her bulbous body unnaturally in obvious pain. And like before, her voice consisted of thousands, some animal screams, some human cries. But like everything else about the creature, this new, final cry was twisted and warped, almost unfitting for its end; for while its bestial voices cried out in pain, its human voices seemed to be laughing hysterically, weeping joyfully, praising dozens of deities Nami had never before heard of in her life. The Queen of the Night clearly felt despair, the way it was writhing in agony, but its screams were happy. The navigator's stomach churned unpleasantly when she realized those voices may very well have belonged to its victims, made her cringe all the more when she realized just how many the creature had killed.

But it was dying now, and even with her hands clamped over her ears and her eyes tearing up from the pain of the noises and her own injuries and exhaustion Nami could take some satisfaction in that. The creature was rearing back now even further, beginning to smoke heavily as the crystal door—the door to the World of Dreams—closed forever and took the creature with it. In the Queen's last moments, she began to shift rapidly, her viscous skin adapting frantic, terrifying shapes and forms that really would only be found in the deepest nightmares: an enormous spider, a ravaging demon, a fanged cobra, burning flames, leering faces, endless darkness. Worst of all were the images of all of her nakama lying dead, bloodied and beaten, but while that image was terrifying she took comfort in the fact that her real nakama were all around her, and she could see the rest of them doing the same.

At the very end the creature shifted one last time, taking at last the form of a gigantic woman, clothed in bony armor, with skin and hair black as night. She was surprisingly beautiful, in a dark, cold, frightening way, and Nami recalled once more the passage Robin had translated—Queen of the Night was born millennia ago, in the World of Dreams. She was dangerous and beautiful and deadly, and for a human being to see her almost certainly meant their death. The creature glared down at them hatefully, reached with one enormous hand towards Luffy for one last attack...and with a last, agonized yet joy filled shriek from her thousands of voices, disintegrated completely into oily smoke and vanished forever into the air.

Silence filled the room, and seconds later, silence came from outside as well. Nami stared at the empty space where the Queen of the Night had been and abruptly collapsed to her knees as exhaustion finally overtook her, and her body began to tremble alarmingly as the fight finally ended. She could hear the others gasping and collapsing and murmuring around her as well. Brook was yohohoing delightedly while playing a celebratory tune on his violin (Nami would never, ever begrudge him the instrument again after today's events), Zoro had finally allowed himself to collapse tiredly with a grumble about needing a nap, and though Luffy was completely immobile laying against the bones after his overzealous expenditure of energy he was grinning widely now and laughing. And somehow she knew at that moment, despite all they had been through and all the struggles Asteria Island had thrown at them, that they had conquered it at last; the island was empty, the monsters were gone, her captain was back, and Nami knew that they would finally be okay.

Fun Fact: A lot of Queenie's arms in the previous chapter and this one were inspired by former villains or opponents :) They are very, very subtle cameos and the result of Queenie here picking her opponents' minds for things they fear. And others are just creepy limbs that I felt like writing about :D

Same as last'll probably be at the very least a week before I update due to NaNoWriMo, and that'll probably be the last update too :( All good things must end, sadly...