The door to the room was old, but strong. She ran her hand across it as lantern light flickered against her cheek. It had always been the grandest work of art she had ever seen, and certainly remained so, even in her old age. Layers of dust now rested in crevices and along each cut in the wood, telling of its undisturbed past. She remembered how grand the door had once been. Carvings of intricate detail spread across its enormous visage, each cut, painstakingly laid by the hands of the truest master builder in history. Each carving, through incredible detail, depicted the exploits of the greatest pirate crew to ever sail. It stood, she knew, over 5 meters high, but somehow had always seemed bigger to her. In her dreams it was never smaller than the largest of creatures in the sea.
The cavern that preceded the elaborately sculpted door was vast and damp. With the minimal light available to them; the small group was hard pressed to make it down to their final destination. Her escort was trying their best to ease the difficulty of the trip, but it had still been very wearisome, slow progress. It was not their fault. She had known that the decent would be a hard one. The stairs that had once been carved in the stone walls had begun to erode under the eternal battering of salt water as it seeped through the natural stone ceiling. Steep climbs that had always been treacherous were now hardly climbs at all, but shoots and slides that were near impossible to walk upon. Hand holds crumbled and rough surfaces seemed almost as ice under their feet. It didn't help that she had grown so old, either. She could remember a time when that path had been almost fun to traverse. Now, every step was simple agony. The damp in the caves made her bones ache and creak, and her ankles were swollen from the strain of just staying upright for so long. Most of the way she had needed help, and at one point she even had to be carried. It was humiliating, and it made her sad to know that she could never make this trip again. She was keeping her promise though, one that she had made a long time ago to her friends, and to 'him'.
It had been a great relief when they had reached the bottom of the cave. As the ground flattened, she had felt her strength returning as a new kind of determination overtook her. They made their way slowly in the dark. Even as the ground leveled, the debris below their feet was perilous. Loose stone littered the cavern floor, waiting for some unsuspecting traveler to carelessly slip and injure themselves against the many stalagmite formations that protruded from the ground all around them. There was an echo of feet and dripping water in the vast darkness, which indicated the existence of walls somewhere outside of their field of vision. She recalled the feeling of insignificance that this place had given her the first time that she had entered it. Even with friends it had caused her fear. Only 'he' had not been afraid. Each time he would smile and yell his name for the pleasure of the echoes. They carried only a few lanterns, and the meager glow that cast over them was but the smallest of stars in the galaxy when compared with the great expanse of the chasm around them. She led the way, driven only by memory and some unknown force that compelled her forward. Upon reaching the door, she became lost to her thoughts, tears forming in the wrinkled corners of her weary eyes. Her companions' sounds of awe lost to her as she gazed into her past, carved more beautifully than any work of art the world had ever known.
The carvings themselves depicted the story of friendships and love that had long since left the world. Battles both great and small, feasts and celebrations, enemies, allies, and friends more precious than gold; all frozen in time within the Adam wood's strong embrace. She could remember it all like no time had passed. Buggy the Clown with his bright red nose and hot temper, who had started an enemy but ended as one of their dearest friends. Fleet Admiral Smoker, the most decorated and honored Marine in history, who had helped to rebuild the once corrupt World Government as an organization of justice and respect. Even Blackbeard stood among them scowling, his missing teeth adding to the anger on his face, darkness rising up behind him. They circled and danced, forever motionless and forever in motion; and in the center stood a small group of friends who looked happier than anyone had ever been in history. These were her memories. They were her demons and her saviors. They were ghosts that haunted her in her every moment. When she slept she dreamt of them. When she woke they shifted in and out of her mind like a flame, flickering in the open air. Sometimes she would catch a glimpse of someone she had known long ago out of the corner of her eye, but they would never remain when she turned. They were in her mind, and there they would stay until her last days, when she would look back on what she had done in this world and be at peace.
It was a long while before anyone spoke. They knew that her memories were important to her, and they were content to let her be with them. The air was damp and cold, but there seemed to be a certain sort of warmth emanating from the great wooden door. It was as if these influential figures of the past were somehow alive within the grain. Finally, a young man stepped gracefully forward. In the dim light, his face was mostly shadowed under a head of wispy black hair. His thin, wiry frame clad lightly in brown cotton pants and a white shirt, both loose and tattered from past battles, stood casual and relaxed. He placed a hand on her shoulder, and at his touch brought her out of her thoughts and back into the stillness of the cave.
"Baa-san…," he said softly. His voice had always had that strong-yet-gentle quality that his Jii-chan's did. He took after his Jii-chan in a lot of ways. So much so, that in her old age she would sometimes catch herself looking at him and forgetting which one he was. His brother though, had more of her features in him. He was taller, even as he was a year younger. Almost eight centimeters taller in fact, with bright, orange hair and big, brown eyes. He was stockier as well, and he liked to show it in his dark blue, muscle shirt and baggy, black shorts. They were strong, adventurous boys. So it was no surprise to her when they had decided to become pirates. Now that they were grown, and had spent time at sea, it was time for her to pass on to them the legacy that was rightfully theirs.
"I know," she whispered, almost as if to herself. She clutched his hand to her shoulder for a moment, before taking a few steps back, giving enough room for the boys to move to the door. They looked at each other as they leaned forward, placing strong hands against the dusty, aged wood. Their muscles tightened, and they each let out a yell of exertion. Almost immediately, the dust began to shift and pour over them as it fell to the floor. There was a loud, low, creaking sound as the door began to swing slowly inward. She had almost forgotten how thick it was, and how heavy it must have been, even when the hinges had been well oiled.
"Not all the way boys," she said. "The hinges might break. They're very old."
They pushed the door slowly so as not to add extra strain to the timeworn, rusted metal that held it in place. Once it had been removed far enough to allow easy passage, they stepped back and gave themselves a thorough and comical dusting, jumping up and down and spitting. Normally their antics would have made her smile, but it was the door that still held her gaze. It was going on five years since it had been sealed, and she could feel the musty air push its way into the open cavern as if it were desperate for escape. They had locked their memories away, and now she would get to open them one last time. She took a deep breath that almost caught in her throat, but she forced it anyway and began to walk.
"Ace, Raze, enough," she said. "Follow me." A fight had broken out between the two, but at her call they stopped instantly, Ace still holding his younger brother in a headlock as he twisted his nose. They had learned years ago to mind their Obaa-san and they jumped to attention before following behind, still fighting as they walked.
The chalky dust that had covered the door was now swirling violently through the air. She narrowed her eyes and held her breath as she walked into the cyclone of gravel and gritty dirt and made her way through the opening. Once inside, the atmosphere felt still and weighty. It seemed darker in here than out in the cavern, as if all the light had been sucked out of the room along with the sour, stagnant air. The room was dry; as if the cave itself recognized the importance of the items that it held within and now that the way was clear it would drink its fill in an instant. She held out a clammy, wrinkled hand against the wall and traced it along the cold stone. For a moment, she thought it might not be there, but then she found it as her hand touched the slimy liquid she'd been searching for. She turned back to the doorway, where the boys were squeezed together, each fighting to get through first. She reached out and snatched the lantern from Ace's hand, and left them to their antics in the dark.
When she broke the lantern, glass shards sprayed against the wall in a shattered mess. For a moment, she thought it had not worked, but when the last bit of flame fell upon the old, oil-soaked twine, the extraordinary began to take place. Never lingering, the fire shot out along its path. Up, down, left, right, in every diagonal and all around it went, following the path that had been laid for it. It danced, in living heat upon the wall. Designs and pictures came bursting to life, sketched upon the stone with hundreds of meters of twisted rope. People, places, and all sorts of things lit up in a swift motion. It almost seemed as if the fire itself were drawing a great mural, celebrating her return after so long. Ace and Raze looked on in utter wonder as the paintings of red and orange scrawled along the walls and ceiling, all the way around and to the back of the room. At the back wall the flame came to a stop, but only for a moment. Then, very slowly, as if deliberately drawing attention to its work, it moved along. When it finished, and all flames met in the middle, the final piece to the puzzle of fire read: The Strawhat Pirates.
What a clever sharpshooter he'd been to create such a magnificent thing. She missed him. Her tears returned, once again unbidden, and once again she forced them back. She had not come to reminisce, and she knew that the fire would not last long. Silently and slowly, she began to stride forward. She could hear the boys as they followed, and knew that they were touching everything they passed. She did not care to stop them though, and she knew how tempting these things were. Treasure from more than 30 years at sea was secured, hidden from the world for no other reason than 'his' silly notions of pirates and their buried treasure. Belli, rubies, diamonds, pearls, jewelry of every kind, crowns that had once belonged to kings, clothing of the finest materials and cuts, statues of solid gold with gemstones for eyes, and all of it thrown without a care into this dark, lonely place. She did not falter though. She had not cared about money for many years. The true treasure was further back. The sounds of the boys were falling behind, but she knew that they would catch up if she called, so she contented herself with walking alone through the soft, flickering light. Halfway through the room, which was far longer than she had remembered, the horde of affluence came to a stop. A path about a meter across separated the material wealth from the true treasures of the Strawhats. She breathed deep as she moved closer.
The first and most prominent of these pieces of history were the large stone tablets known as poneglyphs facing her like sentries lined up from wall to wall. Her most trusted female companion, Robin, had once deciphered and read each of them in turn. Then, when they had finished their journey, she had requested that they go back to collect each one and bring them to a single place. It was amazing, how well the stone kept the words. Very few people were alive who could read them, but they would continue on. No matter how many centuries passed, they would be here for the children of history to find. That was Robin's dream. As she passed between the ancient blocks, she felt the tears come again. This time she let them come, as a feeling of happiness mixed with grief overtook her. Behind the sentinel stones, were several tables, each a couple meters long and placed in a circle. Every table had been dedicated to an individual crew member. It was hard, knowing that there were no more faces to go along with all of these treasures. She remembered it had been Brook who had incited this tradition. After living such a long life, mixed with so much emotion from loneliness, to fear, to unadulterated joy, he had chosen to leave the living world and join his nakama in the afterlife. It had been a hard goodbye for all of them. Afterward, they had brought the musician's personal items to this place, and made him a proper memorial.
Brook's table was draped with a cloth of purple and black. Pictures sat around on the table of him as a man and a skeleton. Some were with the crew, some with Laboon, some alone, but all were placed in frames of gold and silver. Various possessions were also placed on the table. The cane-sword he had used was laid across the front, its edge rusted from time. Behind it was his precious violin which brought her memories of laughter, drink, and dancing. Set in a large frame at the back of the table, was Brook's final bounty. This was the layout of all the tables, and she went to each in turn, paying her respects as she went. Franky's table was adorned in blue and red, his shipwright's tools strewn about with pictures of himself, the crew, and his family and friends from Water 7. Robin's table in black and dark blue, held a slew of different books written both by herself and others. Both her and Franky had died of age years ago. The table they had made for Chopper had been the hardest. He was the one they had expected to outlive them all, yet his passing was one of the earliest. His table was pink and purple, and held his hat, a folded pirate flag decorated with cherry blossom leaves, and a few medical items and books.
With each table she visited, her legs seemed to get weaker. Tears were flowing down her cheeks, but she would not break down. She had lived too long, and she would see them soon enough. She made her way to the tables on the other side, careful to avoid the two in the middle. She was not ready for that yet. Coming to the next memorial, she placed a hand over her mouth as a sob threatened to escape. In black and gold, the table they had made for the ero-cook was as smooth and cool as he had always tried to be. He had died early, she was sure from his smoking habit, at his home on a tiny island in the "All Blue". A few packs of cigarettes were lying in a small pile, a chef's hat sat upright, and a neck-tie was hanging off the front side. His pictures were of the Baratie and its crew and of his beautiful wife whom he had adored more than any other. Usopp's table was next, with its drape of yellow and brown. His passing had been the most recent; he had passed quietly in his sleep. Lying on the table was his favorite kabuto with several pieces of self-made ammunition. In the center they had placed his goggles, and the pictures that were there showed him with his two best friends, and with Kaya. Zoro's table was the most bare. Only a few pictures of him and his bounty poster were there on a cloth of green and seaweed green. Rested against the front of the table were his three swords: Shusui on the left, Sandai Kitetsu on the right, and in the center, his noble Wado Ichimonji, its cream colored sheath faded yellow from the years, and its hilt torn and tooth-marked. Zoro had died as he lived, in battle as the greatest swordsman in the world, but even he could not fight his age in the end.
In life they had been her greatest friends, and in death her fondest memories. They had sailed the seas together for nearly 50 years before Brook had made his final decision. They had gone through every sea, seen all they had ever wanted to see and more. Now it was only her, and as she approached the last two tables, she smiled. It was somewhat comforting to see the orange and green cloth that marked her table. She thought back to the last time they had been there together, just the two of them standing in the circle of their friends' unforgotten past, her crying in his arms as he held her close. They had come to set Usopp's table, but a painful thought had struck her in that moment as the still cave whispered its secrets in the firelight. When one of them passed, how could the other hope to abide the task of coming here all alone? For that matter, how would the last of them get a table set up when they passed? The thought had sent a shiver of fear and grief through her, but 'he' had remained strong. As he always had. They had come up with the idea to help each other set up their tables while they were still there, and had spent all night reminiscing over old pictures and good sake. 'He' had wanted to decorate his table with meat, but to his chagrin had been convinced that rotting meat wasn't a very respectable thing to have on your memorial. In the end, they had shared a few laughs, and more than a few good memories. It was the last time she had gotten to drink with Zoro, or that 'he' had joked with Usopp and Chopper. They had cried a little as well, but it had been a good night. She laid a hand gently on her clima-tact, her fingers remembering instantly the feeling of cold steel and power. Under her table was a large wooden crate. Stooping rather awkwardly, she pulled it out with some effort, just enough to reach in the top edge and pull out one of her beloved maps. She had never wanted to hide them away like this, but 'he' had been persuasive in his arguments, saying that maps ruined adventure. She had never been able to argue with him when he got that way, so she had relented to leaving them here, tucked away in a cave for no one to see. She turned the rolled-up, stiff parchment in her hand once and placed it back, returning the box as well. She looked over the pictures, and the sketch of her tattoo that they had made before slowly, with bated breath, moving to 'his' table.
Red and gold were the colors they had chosen for this table, but it was different than the others. Aside from the bounty poster, 'he' had wanted nothing there but two things. He had set pictures of everyone from the crew in almost thirty different frames, each member having their own small section dedicated to their memory. She had argued that he needed more of his own things there, but in the end she realized that these were 'his' things. Nothing had ever been as important to 'him' as his nakama. The only other item that was placed on his table, right in the center, was the most precious treasure he'd ever owned: a threadbare, faded, old, straw hat. She touched it lightly with aging fingers, just remembering how he'd looked when he wore that treasure.
"Baa-san…," she heard a voice say tentatively. She turned to see her grandsons standing in the center of the circle. She did not know how long they had been waiting, but the looks of concern on their faces indicated that they had been watching for some time. Gathering herself for the task ahead, she stood up as straight as her weakening bones would let her.
"Come boys, this way." She pointed up a small flight of stairs onto a wooden platform. Hurrying to help her, the young pirates each took one of her arms and guided her up the stairs. As helpless as it made her feel, she was grateful to have them with her. There was no one alive that she could love more than her two grandsons, who were so much like 'him' in almost every way. They moved slowly up the short steps, deliberate in every movement. When they reached the top they were close to the back wall, and she could feel the heat that emanated in beautiful swooping kanji just above their heads.
"Sit," she spoke softly, and immediately the boys sat cross-legged facing the back. She stood between them and the fire, her shadow moving as if in some wild, irrational dance across the platform.
"Your parents were never the adventurous type," she began. "Neither was your uncle. They never came to this place; never looked upon the fighting and friendship of their past." She could see the excitement in their eyes, light and shadow playing the colors on their faces until the tension was visible.
"You boys will be the inheritors of a long and great tradition. You will explore a sea that is vast and unforgiving. Your lives will be in danger almost every day, but in your blood is the strength, the intelligence, and the relentless will to overcome any challenge. You will make both friends and enemies, and you will be loved and hated by millions."
She reached into her blouse and removed from an inside pocket, two large fruits covered in a multitude of swirling patterns.
"Your Jii-chan was the greatest pirate to ever live. His strength and determination were unmatched in all of history, but his time… our time, is over. He would be happy to know that his legacy will continue on in you." She held out the first fruit, steady as she had ever been.
"Raze," the younger boy stood at the sound of his name. "Your strength and intelligence are your greatest assets. Do not let arrogance and complacency stand in the way of you attaining your full potential. The Mera-mera no mi will aide you, as it did your Jii-chan, and his brother before him."
Raze reached out and took the fruit without ever looking away from her eyes, and with one swift motion, devoured it whole. She had to stifle a laugh at the face he made after the horrid taste of a devil fruit hit his tongue, but when he returned to his sitting position she continued. She held out the other fruit, this time with both hands, almost not wanting to let it go but knowing she must.
"Ace," she said, and he stood. He looked so much like him. The eyes, the hair, his stature, his smile, even the look he held at that moment was one she had seen from 'him' so many times.
"You have so much of your Jii-chan in you. Never forget that your nakama are more precious than any gold. Protect them with nothing less than everything that you have. Sacrifice your life to them, and they will love you with all their hearts. That is what a captain must be. Never give up, never back down, and never surrender your dreams to anyone; even yourself. I offer you the Gomu gomu no mi, in the hopes that it will inspire you to be everything you need to be." He took the fruit from her and downed it as his brother had. When he had finished, Raze stood to join him.
"You are brothers," she said as she placed a hand on each of their arms. Her smile was warm and loving, and tears of joy filled her eyes. After this, she could rest. After this, his memory, and the memory of everything they had stood for would be safe. "Care for each other. Watch out for one another. You both bear the name of D., and the will that has been passed along with it. One day, you will find out what that means. Until then, know that no one can defeat you as long as you fight for your dreams."
She had not been able to get out of bed for close to three days now. She was tired all the time, she could not see but a few blurry feet in front of her, and she no longer heard anything but 'his' voice. He had been calling her, from somewhere that she couldn't find. The only thing she knew is that he was with her, and she could feel his closeness.
"Nami…" 'He' spoke in a whisper, as if directly in her ear. "It's okay, I'm right here. Shishishi, I've been waiting for you. We're all here. We're going on an adventure, and we need you. I need you. You're my navigator." She could see his smile, fading in from a light that shined so bright it seemed as though he was riding a star.
"Nami, come on. I can't do it without you." She could see his face now; his beautiful eyes and messy black hair. He was young again, and she smiled. He had his hat.
"Nami, take my hand." She could see it now. He reached for her, and behind him, all her friends stood smiling and laughing and waiting for her to join them. She reached out, and could see her own hand. Her skin was smooth and tan, and the pain in her joints was gone, but she could not reach him.
"Nami, don't be scared. I need you to take my hand. I won't leave without you. You have more maps to draw, and more places to explore. I need you, Nami. I love you." His smile was as big as she had ever seen it. She was so happy, and she would not give up. She stretched. She leaned out and surrendered herself, trusting that he would pull her up to him.
"Luffy," she cried as he took her hand. "I love you. Take me with you."
"Ah," he whispered as he pulled her close and placed his hat on her head, still smiling. "Always."