Chapter 5 - Resolve
The murmurs of distant voices that echoed down the hallway were keeping Zoro on edge. He was holding the torch out in front of them like he would a sword, staring forward into the black void before them. His other hand was resting on his swords, thumb pressing against the hand guard of Wado, ready to draw at any moment.
If these people were hostile, then it would be a fight. A fight that they weren't sure they would win. They couldn't use their full strength in here without the whole temple coming down and they had no idea how many enemies there were.
"I don't think they know about this hallway, so it must be hidden or something." Sanji started, his voice low enough to almost cancel out all echo. Zoro turned to the cook who gestured to the floor with his cigarette. "There's no footprints here, just dust. If these people are hostile, we'll have plenty of time to figure out a plan."
Zoro glanced down at the floor, the crumbling stone was indeed covered in dust and multiple roots that snaked over the surface. Zoro's shoulders eased and his thumb left the hand guard. Sanji was right. In the privacy of his own head, Zoro had to admit that Sanji usually was. When it came to things like this at least.
"Take care not to lose the book." Zoro looked at the worn and battered journal tucked under Sanji's arm. " It's like it's alive or something; that thing gets lost all the time. "
Sanji grinned, placing a hand on Zoro's shoulder. "Alright, I'll hold on tightly."
"I don't get lost!" Zoro huffed, blush crawling up his face. "I was talking about the book, curly-brow!" Zoro shrugged Sanji's hand off his shoulder, cheeks burning as the blond laughed at him. Sanji's happy expression was so genuine Zoro's chest tightened as they walked side by side, their shoulders brushing together.
"Are you going to continue fluttering around Nami and Robin like some sort of idiot?" Zoro didn't look at Sanji as he asked, trying to get rid of the heat in his cheeks.
"Any reason I shouldn't?" Sanji asked with a teasing smirk. Zoro could feel his shoulders bump into his deliberately.
"It... annoys me." Zoro mumbled, before tonight he hadn't understood why the cook's constant fawning over women got on his nerves as badly as it did.
"Are you jealous, Marimo?" Sanji leered, wrapping an arm around Zoro's shoulders and nudging him teasingly. Zoro's face flushed from his cheeks all the way up to his green hair.
"I'm not jealous!" Zoro hissed as loudly as he could without causing an echo. "If you started treating me like you treat them, I'd kill you!"
"That's not what I mean..." Sanji smiled, finger brushing against Zoro's chin. "They are lovely delicate flowers who deserve to be pampered after having been treated badly in their pasts. You're a big tough brute that's determined to lose as much blood as possible in every battle he gets into. "
"I don't TRY to lose blood." Zoro grumbled, "And you can keep acting like an idiot for all I care. I'm not jealous. Perverted cook."
"ohhh... is that so?" Sanji mused, sly grin on his face as he withdrew. Zoro was about to argue that yes, in fact, that was so, when they saw a faint light at the end of the hallway. Sadly it couldn't be daylight, since it was probably still just after midnight.
He gestured towards the light with the torch, arching a brow as he placed a hand on his swords again. "Should I put out the torch?" Zoro whispered, the low rumble barely bouncing of the wall.
Sanji nodded once, raising his hand and holding up a long pale finger, he tapped his cigarette and then nodded silently to the end of the hallway.
"Not just yet, when I finish this cigarette." The blond muttered under his breath, voice soft as they both walked as soundlessly as possible to the end of the hallway.
The opening of the hallway was more like a window in a giant wall. The floor simply ended, the hallway had probably led to a chamber, but said chamber crumbled away ages ago, taking the floors below with them.
The chamber was at least ten Sunny-Go's high; walls surrounded with debris and ledges that had once connected each layer of the chamber with a staircase.
There was a large fire in the center of the temple, smoke snaking out and funneling out through tunnels above their own.
"We can't climb up here." Sanji pointed to the ceiling, their voices no longer echoing now that they were in the main chamber, "The ceiling is full of smoke, even if we somehow manage to climb up there, we'd die."
"Then we have to find out how these people got here." Zoro gestured to the distant outlines of humans, at least two floors below them.
Sanji crouched, leaning over the edge to inspect the people that trudged back and forth from tunnel to tunnel dragging something behind them.
"Then we need to get down." The blond pulled his shirt sleeves up slightly, tucking the book inside his shirt before grabbing hold of the edge and jumping down to a small broken ledge. "If we stick to the ones closest to the wall, it might hold."
"I don't even trust the walls to hold." Zoro mumbled under his breath, making his way down the crumbling ledges. The cook was lighter than him, so he couldn't trust the same spots to hold. Slowly the two men made their way down, shushing each other and pausing occasionally to hold their breath when a part of the ledges they stood on crumbled.
"How far down do you think we are?" Sanji eventually whispered, climbing down a few roots.
Zoro grimaced as he thought about it. They'd fallen quite a distance before, now they had climbed a few ship-heights down and the ground was just a jump away.
"Hard to tell. Not too terribly deep; we were climbing a temple on a hill, remember?" Zoro dropped down, landing crouched and grabbing his swords to prevent them from clattering.
Sanji gave a slight nod, landing on his toes next to Zoro like gravity was none of his concern.
The duo made their way past heaps of dirt and gravel, the flickering light of the large campfire casting long, dark shadows that were convenient to hide in.
The shapes they had seen from above seemed to be perfectly normal humans. They looked tired, though, dragging large carts with slow, slaving movements.
As far as Zoro could see, they were transporting dirt from the tunnels to the center of the chamber. In other words: the people didn't look like a threat at all.
"We can take all of them." Zoro said from their hiding place behind a large statue.
Sanji frowned at him, firm finger on Zoro's mouth to signal him to keep silent. The swordsman kept talking, lips sliding against Sanji's finger as he spoke. "Let's just walk out there and ask them for the way out."
"Did you fuck your moss brain out?" Sanji hissed at Zoro, pinching the swordsman's lips shut. "We are underground, lost, outnumbered, and even if we asked these people we don't know if they would tell us the truth!"
"We can take the-"
"Shh... Zoro." Sanji hissed again, hand flat against the swordsman's mouth as a person dragging a large sack of dirt headed in their direction, "Let's snatch that one. We need information before we run out there."
Zoro grumbled, watching the slavish movements of the unlucky man who was heading their way with his load. "Fine."
He moved to the side, Sanji right beside him as they got closer to the broken wall next to the pile of dirt that was the man's destination.
The man grabbed the bottom of his bag, shaking dirt from it with trembling exhausted hands. He closed his eyes momentarily to protect them from the dust that flew into the air, unable to see the two pairs of hands that reached out for him. Suddenly there were massive hands on his mouth, and his arms were yanked up behind his back.
His feet were swept from under him and he was suspended in the air, staring down at the ground as he was carried behind a giant statue. He tried to scream out in surprise, but was unable to make a single sound. He fell backwards when he was let go, struggling to keep his balance before he fell and looked up at the blond man in front of him.
"Be quiet and he won't have to cut you up." Sanji said gently, falling smoothly into his "good cop" role as he gestured casually to Zoro.
The man's breathing came to an abrupt halt when the Wado's edge grazed his chin. His eyes travelled up the blade, resting on the swordsman who towered over him, looking more like a demon than a man.
Zoro watched as the man let out a terrified whimper and a suffocated squeak of fear, staring up at him wide eyed. Zoro's brow furrowed as he narrowed his eyes, this man looked familiar.
"You are going to tell us, very silently, what exactly is going on here. Understood?" Sanji continued, crouching to get to eyelevel with the man who seemed to be frozen in terror.
He lit himself a cigarette, grabbing the man's chin between his fingers to turn his head to him. "...Understood?"
The man gave a simple nod, eyes darting from Zoro and back as he paled. Zoro was glaring at the man, there was something so familiar about him, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"I... we... were all caught by the spiders." The man began, voice trembling as much as his hands. "I only got here a few hours ago. Apparently we're digging up old treasure in this temple."
"Treasure?" Sanji's head tilted in confusion, glancing around the chamber. "Why would spiders want treasure?"
The man shook his head, giving Zoro another terrified glance before he continued. "It's for the man who controls the spiders." The man slowly raised his hand, pointing unsteadily down a tunnel over Zoro's shoulder. "His throne room is over there."
"Oi... aren't you-" Zoro began, crouching and grabbing the man by the collar, the man struggled slightly, eyes wide in horror as tears gathered in his eyes.
Zoro growled. "You ARE the bastard who stole the book!" Zoro snarled and the man shrieked in fear, struggling to get out of the swordsman's steel grip.
"I'M SORRY. I'M SORRY. I'M SORRY. I'M SOR-" The man started chanting slipping out of his shirt to escape. The man was pale as a ghost and tearing up in fear as he turned on his heel to run away. Sanji casually put out his foot, tripping the now half naked man so he fell flat on his face in the dirt.
"DON'T KILL ME." The man's scream was muffled by the dirt as Sanji sat down on his back, leaning onto his knees and looking up at Zoro. The man struggled slightly, clawing at dirt in a desperate attempt to escape.
"So what do you say, Marimo?" Sanji smirked, playful look in his one visible eye as he flicked the ashes of his cigarette. "Shall we kill him?" The man looked over his shoulder, looking up at Sanji's sadistic expression and over to Zoro.
Zoro grinned back, watching the man's skin crawl with fear. "Unless he can be of some use to us... I suppose we should." For dramatic effect, he drew his second sword.
"I'LL BE USEFUL! I'LL BE USEFUL!" The man begged, struggling and clasping together his hands as tears streamed down his face. "I'LL BE USEFUL! PLEASE DON'T KILL M-" Sanji's hand came down on the man's face with a comical slap, silencing him.
"If you want to be useful, you can start by being quiet." Sanji hissed, the man nodded under his palm and Sanji got up. "And don't even think about running." Sanji added when the man brushed dirt off his bare chest. Zoro tossed him back his shirt, sheathing both his swords before he crossed his arms over his chest.
"We want to get back to the village. Fast." Zoro stated, taking a step closer to the man who stared at him as if the swordsman had just threatened to eat him. "Take us there. You are the reason we are in this place to begin with."
"B-but it's impossible-" The man began, voice high pitched with fear as he pulled his shirt over his head. "The only way out is through the throne room. You can't go there! It's full of spiders!" the man tried to reason, flailing his arms slightly. "That's why we're all stuck down here!"
"No." Zoro snorted grimacing to the man who took a step behind Sanji out of fear. "You're all stuck here because you lack resolve."
"Don't compare everyone to monsters like you!" The man whined, covering his face in horror as Sanji nudged him in front of them.
He reluctantly led them along the walls, hiding in shadows as they snuck to the far end of the chamber.
The man pointed down the tunnel, resolute expression despite his fear. "This is the path. Follow the tracks and you'll end up in the throne room half an hour or so." He added, voice a little brighter with hope. "This is enough, right? I can't run fast, I'll slow you down. I don't have to go with you, right?"
Zoro didn't even dignify that with an answer, hand resting on his swords as he nodded into the tunnel. The man's shoulders slumped as he started walking, muttering something under his breath.
"Liar. You ran fast enough today after you stole that book." Sanji pointed out testily, causing the man to wince and sigh. The blonde walked up to the man's side, scowling at him through the dark. "Why did you steal it anyways? Don't tell me you thought it was safe to steal something from a guy built like a battleship."
Zoro's brow arched at that, catching up to the cook and thief as he listened to the man's fumbling excuses. A lot of people assumed he moved slowly and clumsily, a large percent of those people also regretted underestimating him when their blood was spraying out of their chest in a morbid fountain.
"I heard him talk about legendary treasure down at the docks, I assumed the book had a treasure map." the man hugged himself to fight of the chill. "I dropped it when the spiders snatched me, they carried me through a tunnel underground, and then I fainted."
"That would explain why there weren't any human remains in those tunnels." Zoro pointed out, Sanji shuddered slightly at the thought.
"I'm not going back into that disgusting, shitty hole." Sanji spat out venomously, stomping out his cigarette. "There better be another way out."
"There is: an old lady back in the mines said she was brought in through a big door somewhere on the other side of the throne room." The thief grimaced slightly. "She is half blind and sickly, though, so the door could be anywhere."
"He uses old ladies to dig up treasure!?" Sanji snapped outraged, shaking a fist at something that wasn't there. "That bastard!" Sanji turned around, pointing at Zoro from such a short distance that the swordsman went cross eyed when Sanji's finger graced the tip of his nose. "Zoro! Let's kick this bastard's ass!"
"That was the plan all along, curly-brow." Zoro grumbled, pushing the blonde's hand out of his face. There was no way they would be able to leave all these people here. That wasn't what the Strawhat crew did.
"You think you can do that?" The thief asked in disbelief, pausing his walking to look at the two pirates. His hands clenched into whitening fists as he stared at them. "You have no reason to help us! Why do you even care?" The thief's voice trembled slightly.
"I... I stole from you! I stole something important! This island is small and has nothing special on it except for trees-" The thief was glaring at them, "the marines haven't bothered investigating, even if people have been disappearing for almost half a year! Why would some stupid pirates want to help!?"
The thief panted, tears in his eyes as his shoulders heaved. Zoro hadn't noticed it before, but now that the man was looking at him with something other than fear, he seemed rather young, probably around Luffy's age.
"I managed to stock up on some very hard to find spices and nice meat." Sanji said casually, lighting himself a cigarette. The cook blew smoke into the air, giving the distraught young man a reassuring smirk.
"The booze here is nice." Zoro mused, cracking his neck with a half-yawn. "You have a lot of nice markets too."
"... we only have one market."
"Our captain likes this island's 'great service': sand globes." Sanji interrupted, smiling to the confused swordsman. "If our captain likes this island, it's our job to help out, right?"
"Right." Zoro nodded once. Luffy was the captain after all.
"We don't have a lot of money but you can have the treasure we found if you beat up that Spider-master!"The thief was grinning in anticipation. "I'll go look for that book I stole! I'll get you a new treasure map, I'll get you anything you want!"
"You're being pretty generous for a thief." Sanji pointed out as he tapped the ashes of his cigarette. "Why do you think we'd want your stolen money? We're not going to let you blame us for stealing from this island!"
"No! I- I never steal from the people on this island, only the people who come here to shop!" The thief flailed his arms comically, desperation in his eyes. "I love this island and the people who live here! But I'm no good at fighting, so I can't protect them."
This is my village. I want to protect it. I want to protect everyone. Even if I know I can't.
"You will just do everything you can." Zoro suddenly grinned, patting the fiery young man on the shoulder. "Do your best and leave the rest to us."
The thief was shocked, staring at Zoro with wide, tear-stained dark blue eyes. "Y-yes!" He wiped the tears away, all uncertainty gone as he clenched his trembling fists. "Follow me! We're almost at the throne room!" He started running, determination in each step.
"Oi, Zoro." Sanji huffed, grabbing Zoro's forearm to get his attention as they ran. "What's gotten into you? You were being all weird-"
"It's the same." Zoro grinned, sparing Sanji a glance and a happy smile. "This guy, he keeps saying the same things Usopp did."
"Usopp said things like that?" Sanji frowned in confusion, running up to Zoro's side. "Was this before I joined?"
"Yeah." Zoro grinned, hand resting on his swords to prevent them from clattering. "It's a bit nostalgic really." It seemed so weird that there had been a time when there was only him, Luffy, Nami, Usopp and the Merry Go. Now that he thought about it... there had even been a time before Nami, when it was only him and Luffy.
And before there was Luffy, he was alone.
A sharp pain blossomed through Zoro's chest and a heavy feeling in his lungs almost made him trip. What was this feeling, this cold empty feeling? Was it something he'd also meditated away? Some emotion he'd forgotten what it felt like?
He had felt it before: like his every breath was chilly and his blood was running cold in his veins. A long time ago. When he wandered around as a kid, making up games to take his mind away from how lost he was. When Kuina died. When he'd left the dojo and everything he knew behind to hunt for Mihawk.
He'd completely forgotten how lonely it was. He'd meditated those feelings away soon after he left the dojo. They were unproductive and distracting.
Before Luffy, he'd been lonely. Travelling alone with everyone too scared of him to approach him. Johnny and Yosaku had helped, but they left for their own adventures soon after.
Eating alone. Travelling alone. Seeing new islands and fighting pirates. Alone.
"Zoro?" Sanji's hand on his shoulder startled Zoro from his thoughts. The cook's hand was warm, and he could feel the blonde give him a reassuring squeeze. "You zoned out, you idiot. What is going on in that stupid moss-brain of yours?" Sanji asked as politely as always, slight concern on his face. "You look like you're going to throw up."
"I'm fine." Zoro shook his head. "Just thinking."
"It must be terribly hard for someone as stupid as you." Sanji teased, hand lingering on Zoro's shoulder. "If you throw up that fish I cooked earlier, I'll kill you."
"There it is." The thief pointed, slowing down his running. "The throne room is just through that door down the hallway."
Both pirates caught up with the thief, leaning over to glance through the doorway. The "throne room" had probably been a place of worship a few thousand years ago but now housed nothing but spiders, a pile of bags filled with treasure, and an arrogant looking man sitting on a large, crumbling throne.
"That's the guy who controls the spiders?" Sanji narrowed his eyes at the slightly lanky man who was sorting treasure into two separate sacks. "He's holding some kind of staff."
"He uses that thing to control the spiders." The thief frowned and pressed himself against the wall when a large spider walked past their hiding spot. "I don't know how it works, it might be a weapon too."
"It doesn't matter if it's a weapon or not. I'm going to break it." Sanji crushed his cigarette, grimacing to Zoro. "I'll take care of that asshole, just make sure none of those gross spider bastards gets close to me."
Zoro rolled his eyes, grinning as he placed the Wado between his teeth and drew his two other swords. Zoro liked to make grand entrances, busting through walls or slicing up doors was his idea of proper first impressions. He was here to slice things up after all.
The temple was unstable enough as it was, so Zoro decided that getting straight to the heart of the matter was entrance enough.
After all, he wasn't fighting fellow swordsmen , he was fighting oversized bugs. Those things didn't need to draw their weapons or put up a proper fight.
His blows travelled through the stone floor, slicing deep gashes into stone as the two Strawhats burst into the room. Zoro couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing from the entrance without Luffy's Battle Cry and threats of ass kicking, but they would have to make do with the enemy yelping in terror at the sight of them.
Their enemy didn't look very strong, screaming commands at the spiders and pointing at the approaching duo with his scepter. "GET THEM! HURRY!" The man ran across the room, leaving the treasure behind as the approaching spiders obscured their view.
Zoro could see that the idea of kicking the spiders directly or getting into their reach disgusts and possibly terrifies the blond. It's rather amusing actually, Zoro spared the blond a glance in between his attacks. This might become distracting, he'd have to train this need out of himself during battle.
Sanji had found his own way of dealing with the insects from a distance; breaking or finding large pieces of stone and kicking them into the giant insects like a child would kick a balloon.
Those legs really were something else. Zoro made a mental note of giving them a thorough once over with his fingers the next time he got the blonde's pants off.
The spiders seemed to be completely brainwashed, rushing at them with frantic hissing and spitting their webs at them. The few strings of web that were properly aimed at them and posed any threat were disposed off in mid air, either by a giant boulder kicked by Sanji, or Zoro's flying slashes that split the air and sent the web hurdling back to its owner.
Zoro turned around in confusion at that high pitched shriek, looking at the blond who was glaring daggers at him. Sanji's jaw set in disapproval, his eyes narrowed dangerously.
"That WASN'T me, moss brain." Sanji hissed across the throne room, splattering a spider against the wall with a large broken statue. "I. DON'T. Shriek!"
As if to prove the blonde's point, the shriek sounded again, even more urgent and terrified than before.
It was coming from behind them. The thief from before was attempting to lead the group of people out of the temple, carrying an old lady on his back. The reason for the shriek was the couple of spiders that had spotted them.
"I'LL TAKE CARE OF IT." Zoro ran off, knowing that he cook could take care of himself for the minute or two it would take to slice up those spiders and get the people to safety.
Sanji didn't object, his face determined and nose wrinkled in disgust as a leg ripped off a spider and it's vile juices splattered over his shoe.
One slash and the spider further away from the group was out of the picture, twitching in pain on the floor like a broken puppet. Zoro had to get closer to take out the one almost upon the group, he didn't want to risk killing any of the people they were trying to save. Needed one good flying slice and those people were safe.
"OI, ZORO! LOOK OUT!"
The moment Zoro released his attack, sticky web caught his forearm and yanked him backwards, throwing off his aim so his attack sliced off three of the spider's front legs and went crashing through the wall. The spider rolled over, gushing it's vile, slimy bodily fluids over itself as it flailed its stubs. The people kept running, carrying their elders and injured as they headed for a hallway Zoro supposed was the exit.
The swordsman cursed under his breath, his arm was almost completely covered in the web, the sticky strands pulling painfully at his skin and body hair. The other end of the web was stuck to a large and important looking pillar reaching all the way up to the ceiling.
He started running along the web, sword raised as he aimed for the pillar. If he'd be able to slice off the part of the pillar hosting the web he might be able to leave it standing for a while longer. He could hear Sanji cursing from the center of the hall, loud and frantically in synch with the crushing of the floor.
The cook was surrounded, spiders creeping up behind him while the blond was trying to keep his distance to the ones spewing their web at him. He couldn't afford to stop running, but he
"COOK!" Zoro snapped, raising his free arm and sending a slash towards the blond.
Sanji knew the sound of Zoro's sword attacks by heart, just like Zoro could hear the pattern of Sanji's kicks before he completed them. Just like Zoro had assumed, the blond jumped into the air, his slash flying under his nimble feet and sweeping the floor of spiders for the moment.
As a team, there wasn't a lot that could withstand them. No one knew this better than Zoro and Sanji themselves, except maybe Luffy. It was almost like the captain knew before they themselves did. Luffy was strange like that.
Before Zoro managed to reach the pillar, something caught his leg, almost tripping him before he regained his balance. It was spider web, a large white glob of spider web sticking to his knee and floor in a big messy pile of glue like strands. Even if he cut the floor under his foot, he wouldn't be able to run properly with a stone slab dangling from his knee.
He could just cut his pants off. Just above the knee might do the trick. Zoro leveled Kitetsu along his knee, feeling it's curse hum through the blade dangerously. It was craving his blood, howling for his life. He'd have to be careful, a single slip and he'd either loose his leg or get his sword tangled in the web.
Just when Zoro was thinking about trading Kitetsu out for Wado just to be sure he wouldn't cut off his leg, a frustrated yelp from the cook caught his attention. His blood ran cold at the sight, while he was unable to watch Sanji's back, one of the spiders had managed to get within melee range.
The cook's shirt tore open at the chest, sharp claw barely breaking skin as the cook jumped backwards. Zoro instinctively struggled, feeling the spider web pull at his skin as he tried to pull himself free to assist the blond.
The book tumbled from Sanji's shirt and hit the ground with a thud of dust, sliding away from Sanji on the broken dusty ground.
"COOK! THE BOOK!" Zoro yelled out, watching in horror as spider legs barely brushed against the fragile pages and sent the book tumbling down the incline and towards a large crack in the floor.
Sanji's head snapped up at Zoro's voice, patting himself down for a second before looking down at the journal on the ground. One anti-manner-kick-course later, the spider was flying over the blonde's head and Sanji was lunging for the book.
Before the cook managed to scoop up the book, the enemy fingers caught it by the spine. The man controlling the spiders yanked it away from Sanji's grip and stared at the blond with determined possessiveness. "This does not belong to you!"
Sanji's jaw slacked in outrage, fury on his face when the man made a run for the exit with the book in his arms. Anger dripped from Sanji's tone as he started following the man, each step more demonically heavy than the first.
"GIVE IT BACK."
Zoro knew the blond would never approve of him using 'shrieked' to describe the utterly livid howl that erupted from the cook's throat. The cook sent the spiders attempting to get at him flying, twirling in place until his foot was glowing red hot and burning with fury.
Sanji's foot came down on the floor like a sledge, cracking up the surface in a fiery burst as the blond kicked up boulders and sent them flying in the direction of the unlucky man. The spiders flocked around him like a living hairy shield, taking the blows and shrieking painfully as they flew across the temple.
"Seal it! SEAL the EXIT!" The man yelled, waving his scepter along the tunnel opening. Spiders flocked towards him, spitting thick stings of web across the doorframe and over the walls. Sealing the exit in a thick sheet of web. It would be precision work to cut around the web and there was no time for precision.
"ZORO! DO SOMETHING. I'M GETTING SWARMED HERE." Sanji hissed, boulders flying across the temple, holding off the spiders but not doing enough damage to crush them. They were growing in numbers, crawling down the wall and surrounding the cook.
"I'M STUCK!" Zoro shouted back, the entire temple seemed to shake from their voices. His attack on the wall earlier had probably broken a main support pillar. The entire thing was coming apart. He had to get free of the spider web, he couldn't watch Sanji's back properly like this.
"O-OI! Don't give me that crap! Can't you get free somehow!?" The cook jumped out of reach of an approaching spider, his expression more distressed than before. The spider was hissing at him, getting closer by the second. "So gross! Get away from me!" Sanji kicked a large boulder at the arachnid, sending it flying into the other end of the room with all its hairy legs flailing wildly.
"I'M WORKING ON IT!" Zoro snapped impatiently, with both a his left leg and right arm stuck, he wasn't going to be much help while he was stuck outside of melee range.
Zoro cursed under his breath as he considered his options.
The spider web was too elastic to cut; it gave in to all of his blows and made his swords stick to it. It might be strong as steel but that wasn't the issue; he knew how to cut steel. Flexible sticky steel was not the same thing.
Zoro brought down Kitetsu, cursing the loss of his favorite pants as he cut the fabric around the knee. Those pants had survived almost THREE islands now, he'd just gotten comfortable.
Luckily his boots weren't too covered, he was VERY fond of his boots, it was hard to get comfortable boots on the Grand Line. A small slice of fabric and his leg was free. His arm was still tangled and the web was pulling at his skin. Sanji was rapidly running out of boulders; Zoro didn't have much time until the cook freaked out.
He couldn't cut the web and Chopper would kill him if he cut off his arm. It would also set him back a few years of training and Shusui would still be tangled. Zoro grimaced, looking at the large pillar the other end of the web was stuck to. Robin was going to kill him for this.
Two slashes and the part of the pillar Zoro was tied to was loose. The entire temple trembled as Zoro wrapped the spider web around his arm, yanking the stone slab out of its slot. A loud rumbling creak shook the temple when the top part of the pillar started sinking, taking the roof with it.
Zoro started running, the large stone slab dragging on the floor behind him and twirling up dust as it scraped up the floor.
"COOK! MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!" Zoro called out, heading for the large cluster of spiders. If he timed the attack right, he might be able to take out the majority in a single attack. He waited until he noticed Sanji jumping out of range and Zoro crossed his blades in preparation. "ONI GIRI!"
The weight of the stone slab off set Zoro's aim slightly, and roughly half the spiders hissed in pain and flew to the back of the throne room. The walls trembled at the impact and Zoro cursed under his breath. There wasn't much time, the perpetrator and the book were gone and they were still sealed inside this crumbling deathtrap.
"We don't have much time!" Sanji shouted running to the block of stone stuck to Zoro's arm. "Do we have any oil left?!" A loud slam of Sanji's heel shattered the stone and Zoro pulled the last of the spider web out of the way so it wouldn´t get stuck to any more rubble.
He patted down his pockets, fishing up the bottle of oil that had been so useful on this adventure. There was barely anything left, a small splash at the bottom, barely enough to coat a single sword. He tossed the bottle to Sanji, who cursed when he saw the amount. It wasn't going to be enough.
"Shit, it's not enough, we shouldn't have used it earlier-" Sanji began, running a distressed hand through his hair. Zoro grimaced at that, there was no way he was going to allow the cook to regret what they had done.
"No time for standing around!" Zoro grabbed onto Sanji's arm, pointing towards the cocoon. "We'll use the rest of the oil and cut a hole in the web!" They started running, Sanji kicked off debris falling from the ceiling and Zoro sent slashes through the air to block stands of web aimed for their legs.
The top half of the stone pillar Zoro had slashed collapsed into their path, disrupting Zoro's attention for long enough for a string of web to get past his guard. Zoro braced himself for the sticky web hitting his side, but instead felt the burning sting of Sanji's Diable-Jamble through his Haramaki.
Sanji had kicked him out of the way at the last second, sending him flying a few feet across the room. Zoro scrambled to his feet, his swords scraping against the stone as he clutched his charred side.
Sanji's blazing leg struck the web and Zoro expected the blond to fall over at least, yet the cook seemed to bounce of the web, bending it but not sticking to it. The dust twirled around Sanji's feet as he landed, staring up at Zoro in shock; the web didn't stick to his leg. Sanji gave the web a curious poke with his toe, retracting it cleanly.
"IT'S THE HEAT!" Both men yelled in unison, realizing at the same time that the game was won. Both flashed the other a grin as they ran towards each other.
Zoro yanked the bottle of oil from his pocket and splashed it over as much of his swords as he could before he crossed them. Sanji's burning leg left a scorch mark in the dusty floor as the cook jumped into the air and extended his leg towards Zoro's swords.
Sanji's leg hit Zoro's crossed blades with a loud scrape, heating the oiled and metal in a familiar block that made both men grin madly. "Slice that web open!" Sanji grinned as he did a flip over the swordsman, the heat in his leg dispatching as he ran towards the bags of treasure.
A single burning slash of Zoro's swords split the web like a sheet. Katana really weren't too bad when they were on fire.
"Zoro, we need to go." Sanji hefted a large bag of treasure over his shoulder, kicking another one over to Zoro before he ran towards him. "COME ON! Thanks to YOU this place isn't going to be standing much longer." Sanji urged, pulling on Zoro's shoulder and pointing to the newly opened entrance. "This way, moss-brain."
"I'm not going to get lost!" Zoro grumbled as he sheathed Wado and Kitetsu.
Shusui was still tangled to Zoro's hand. Sanji started running, leading the way down the crumbling hall as Zoro shouldered the loot and followed his shipmate.
The cracks on the floor fanned out at their heels like they were running on thin ice, destruction spreading up the walls and onto the ceiling. The hallway started collapsing, large rocks crushing the floor behind Zoro. Hisses of trapped spiders echoed down the hall as the entire throne room collapsed in on itself, causing a tidal wave of dust and stale air to flood the hallway.
"I SEE THE EXIT!" Sanji yelled out excitedly, picking up speed at the prospect of fresh air and solid ground. The dust blurred their vision and threatened to fill their lungs completely as the rumble of destruction caught up with them.
The entrance collapsed the moment the two Strawhats threw themselves outside, hitting the moist ground with a thump and clatter of treasure. They both sprawled out onto the soft soil, trying to catch their breath before the other as they let the adrenaline seep from their system.
Some of the people they had saved walked towards them hesitantly, surrounding them in a circle of dirty and concerned faces. Two of the held their former captor by the upper arms, holding him securely in place with scowls on their faces.
"We caught this bastard when he ran out of the temple." One of the men said and forced the culprit down on his knees in front of the pirates.
Zoro was still panting as he sat up, glaring at the man that struggled weakly in the other's grasp.
"He had your book-" The thief from before, the one that had stolen the journal before stepped forward, holding it safely in his arms. Sanji's eyes lit up when he saw it, and the blonde's breathing relaxed considerately.
"That is NOT theirs! It's my father's!" The man snarled, attempting to standing up as he glared at the thief. "Those stupid books were his treasure! He would never give them away!"
"That old man gave that book to me," Zoro growled threateningly, raising the tangled Shusui and pointing it at the man's face, "when he left this island."
That struck the man pale, eyes wide at the pirate duo as his mouth went slack. "YOU LIE!" The man screamed, lips brushing against Zoro's blade and cutting a small incision. "Why would he leave?! I got all this treasure so he could live happily!"
"He said he moved to another island to be with his family." Zoro snarled, some of the other people in the crowd mumbled something, some claiming to have helped the old man pack his possessions. The perpetrator paled as he glanced from one face to another, seeing and hearing the truth from every face.
"I just... wanted to give my old man all the treasure he could ever want..." The man mumbled to himself in disbelief, staring at the ground with unseeing eyes. He wasn't even attempting to put up a fight anymore.
"Naturally, treasure doesn't make you happy if you are alone" Sanji huffed from behind them, lighting himself a cigarette as the thief passed him the book.
Zoro watched the blond run his long fingers along the battered cover lovingly. It had all been worth it.
"How can we ever repay you?" A man with a relatively impressive mustache asked as he stepped up to Zoro, eyes wide with respect. "You two saved all of our lives and stopped this madman from taking over our island. You're heroes!" Sanji stood up, flashing Zoro a teasing smile as he tucked the book inside his torn shirt.
"We're not heroes!" Zoro grumbled as he stood up, looking over the group with a sour expression. Some of the people took a step backwards, fear evident on their dirty and tired faces. "We're pirates and we got what we came for." Zoro added, shouldering the sack of treasure. He couldn't leave this behind Nami would probably scream his ears off.
"Just taking us back to the village is thanks enough."The cook said as he blew smoke into the cold night air, grin still lingering on his face as he eyed Zoro. "I have a crew to feed."
After breakfast and a quick explanation of what had happened in the forest, Luffy gave a slow meaningful nod. His hands slammed against the table, rattling dishes as the captain pointed at both Zoro and Sanji with an angry expression.
"How could you have an adventure without us!?" The captain sulked, nostrils flaring as he sat down with a pout. "Zoro! You meanie!"
"Luffy-" Usopp tried to rationalize, patting the rubber-man on the shoulder. "They just got lost! Zoro gets lost all the time right?"
"OI!" Zoro grumbled, reaching out to grab Usopp's shirt in retaliation.
The sharpshooter slinked out of reach, poking Luffy in the face. The captain made a low, uncertain noise at the back of his throat, humming as he frowned at Sanji and Zoro from across the table.
"Yes, Luffy! It doesn't matter! You wanted to get going to the next island as soon as possible, right?~" Nami sang from the other end of the room, where she was practically rolling around in the treasure they had retrieved. "Zoro and Sanji-kun brought back loads of treasure, so who cares if they killed some bugs? Franky, let's set off for the next island while the wind is favorable!"
No response apart from the same uncertain humm from the back of Luffy's throat.
"I think that sounds like a SUPER idea!" Franky began, standing up from his seat and patting Sanji's shoulder before he left "A man who just wanted to give his father treasure, not realizing he himself was the treasure! Oh! The story of a man's dream! Such SADNESS!"
"Apparently he'll get exiled to the same island that old book geezer lives now; so it's not a bad ending." Zoro pointed out, only to be interrupted by Chopper's little hooves thrusting a stick down his throat.
"No one got injured, so I don't care!" Chopper said as he withdrew the stick with a thoughtful 'hum' and closed his first aid kit. Apparently satisfied, the doctor gave Zoro's web-free and slightly bruised arm a reassuring pat with his little hoof. "Zoro is even less injured than usual! I don't have to use any bandages!"
Both Zoro and Sanji awaited Luffy's decision, the captain's expression was both deep in thought and slightly in pain.
Hopefully Luffy would make up his mind before his brain melted out of his ears. The Sunny's anchor splashed against the surface as it rose and the walls creaked to life as Franky prepared to set off.
"Captain-san, I have an idea," Robin said softly from the back of the kitchen, sipping the coffee she was drinking while she read Captain Belon's journal.
Both Zoro and Sanji winced slightly when the archaeologist spoke. She had not been happy to hear of the near destruction of the temple, but lending her the book to study had seemed to somewhat soothe her anger.
Taking into account Robin's morbid sense of humor: neither of the vandals were excited to hear what she had to say about their punishment.
"If they should be punished, I think it would be fitting that at the next island the guard duty is theirs. How does that sound?"
There was a playful look in Robin's eyes as she looked directly at Zoro. Did she know what happened? Neither him nor the cook had mentioned the... change... in their relationship, so why were Robin's lips slowly easing into a knowing smile?
"I have decided!" Luffy jumped from his seat, his expression comically strict as he unceremoniously pointed from Zoro to Sanji. "You two are going to be on guard duty on the next island! Even if it's REALLY interesting! Okay?"
Zoro and Sanji were about to agree to their "punishment" of spending time alone together when the door to the kitchen flew open. Luffy's strict expression instantly vanished when Brook's giant-afro appeared in the doorway.
"Ah, everyone?" Brook sang cheerfully, pointing outside with a bony finger. "Someone is calling us from the docks. It seems to be important."
Everyone besides Robin headed for the door, Luffy practically bursting out of the kitchen and throwing himself halfway overboard to take a look at the mysterious caller. The thief from before was running along the dock, waving at them and carrying a large, heavy looking bag.
"Hey! Cook-san! Zoro-san! I'm sorry I caused you trouble!" The man was waving, a large smile on his face. "This is for your captain! Thank you for everything!" The man raised the bag over his head with great difficulty, its contents clinking brightly.
"Is it more treasure!?" Nami cheered with a large smile on her face, clapping her hands in delight. "Luffy! Get that bag on board! Hurry!"
Luffy's stretchy hand caught the bag as the thief screamed out in shock and fell over. Luffy's arm withdrew across the surface of the water and safely into Luffy's arms with a clatter. Without as much as a second's hesitation Nami yanked the bag open in Luffy's arms.
"D-don't tell me..." Nami's voice was trembling in disappointment when dozens of clear glass orbs fell out of the overflowing bag. Nami's pleased expression melted away as Luffy's eyes grew wide with childish glee.
"Oh! It's special service sand globes! So many of them!" Luffy yelled out excitedly, ripping various spheres out of the bag and shaking them excitedly. Usopp and Chopper disappeared half way into the bag as they claimed some of them as their own.
Zoro made his way to his favorite tree, reclining back in the grass of the Sunny, enjoying the newly risen sun on his face and listening to the life around him. He pretended to be asleep, enjoying the sound of the crew around him as he settled into what would become one of those quiet days on the Sunny. The kind where the crew sat around and all did their own thing.
"Oi, moss brain." Sanji kicked the bottom of Zoro's foot, the swordsman cracked an eye open, peering through the sun at the handsome blond grinning down at him.
"What do you want crap cook?" Zoro arched a brow, unable to hold back a smirk of his own when he saw the mischief in Sanji's expression.
"Since my suit is already ruined-" Sanji nudged Zoro's foot challengingly with his toes, his voice slightly louder than it had to be for Zoro alone to hear him. "Wanna wrestle?"
"LET'S WRESTLE!" Luffy suddenly screamed out of nowhere as he sprung from the bag of sand-globes like a jack-in-the-box. The fragile spheres flew into the air in a shockwave, leaving Usopp and Chopper flailing in an attempt to catch them.
Zoro grinned. Lazy days on the Sunny were never going to be the same.
PHEW. Strange that this part of my life is over. Despite the delay between finishing this and actually posting it, I haven't been slacking off. no sir! Got another concrete monster coming up soon enough.
What am I getting myself into?
This 'longer chapters less frequent update' thing didn't work out as well as I hoped. Sticking to shorter chapters with greater frequency from now on!
Well, now I know. Experimentation is a key part of getting better after all. Tell me what you think!
Sorry for the wait here, thanks go to A3shFaerie for being the beta for this; even when life got hectic and swamped!
Hope to see you on our next adventure!