Chapter 15: For Strength

Zoro was weak. A statement that any who'd heard of him would scoff at. But Zoro knew it was true. He'd been no match for Mihawk, and he was leagues behind Luffy. He had no idea how Luffy got so strong or how he knew so much, but in the short time they'd been together, he'd learned to trust his captain and follow him. But there in lay the problem. At first, he'd been a bit annoyed to be forced to follow anyone, least of all a scrawny little kid, but it was either dying and giving up on his dream, or just go about it along a different path. Naturally he'd chosen to pledge his blade to Luffy as long as it didn't detract from his ambition, and he'd been pleasantly surprised that all Luffy wanted in return was for him to become the best.

"World's greatest swordsman? Shishishi, Good! If you can't even do that much as the Pirate King's right hand, then it'd be pretty embarrassing for me!"

He'd realized almost instantaneously that Luffy was on another level. And ever since then no matter how hard he trained, how much weight he lifted he kept feeling like he was falling behind. And that was knowing how much stronger he was after Luffy's help and training then he would've been on his own. Hell, he'd probably still be lost somewhere in east blue scrounging up bounties just to eke out a living. Somewhere along the line, things had changed. He couldn't name when or where, but he'd realized that if he couldn't support Luffy, if he couldn't protect his crew, then he would never become the best. Luffy was strong, but he'd said there were even stronger people out there. And no matter how he tried to die or cover it up, they were going to fight them eventually. And so, he had to get stronger, he had to catch up to Luffy.

But Zoro was still too weak. Training helped, but all the training in the world wouldn't be enough. Any swordsmen worth their blade knew the only real way to break their limits was in the heat of battle. It was only there, dancing at the edge of death that strength was found. And so Zoro put his first blade in his mouth, took out the last one and strode forward into the middle of the three men, the Baroque Agent still standing a farther in front of him, Khoza and Chaka on either side.

"Three swords. Three of you. Come," Zoro announced clearly despite the metal in his teeth, pointing his two other blades up.

"You're the pirate hunter with the Straw Hats, Vivi wrote to us, correct? She said you are supporting our country in our hour of greatest need. I am Chaka, captain of the Alabastan guard. We only need to defeat the Baroque Works Agent and that rebel. If you can hold off the Agent, I will deal with the rebel," said Chaka, starting to advance on Khoza.

A sword pointed right at him stopped him in his tracks. "Captain said to make sure any one not Baroque Works remains alive. He never said anything about kicking your ass. I need a warm up, so I'm gonna say it one more time. All of you, come at me," said Zoro.

"Treacherous pirate! What was the princess thinking," growled Chaka, far more deeply than a normal human should be able to as he angled his blade at Zoro again.

"Hmph. Arrogance," scoffed Mr. 1, also known as Daz Bones as he started to walk forward for the first time, they'd all entered the clearing, making Chaka and Khoza tense up even more. "Still I suppose I'll have to leave you for last if I want to take out the weaker ones first," he said, angling himself towards Khoza.

The rebel leader scowled, shifting his pistol towards Daz. "I don't really know who you two freaks are, but if I have to kill you along with Chaka to get to the palace, then so be it," he said, firing his pistol.

The loud bang echoed across the clearing, sending all four men into motion as if the signal for the start of a race. Daz brought up a gleaming arm, the bullet bouncing off him as he slid towards Khoza, steel stilts sprouting under his feet. Chaka and Khoza swung their blades at Zoro in the middle who easily caught them on his own again, before pushing them away, turning to counter attack Chaka, the faster of the two. The captain was no slouch, his swift blade rising and falling to counter each of Zoro's.

Daz closed in on the rebel leader blocking several more shots fired at him as he swung at the man, hands turning into knives. They were met by Zoro's sword who quickly pushed off against Chaka, breaking their duel to block the steel man, the one in his mouth almost catching Khoza off guard at such an unexpected angle, forcing him to block with his own blade.

"That's a nifty ability. But I thought I said you're all fighting ME!" Zoro growled, swinging his third blade at the steel man, only to have him block it with his forearm, sliding off the steel edge of it. He had to quickly duck and jump back to avoid both the kick from Daz and gun shot from Khoza aimed right at his head, only to block Chaka from attacking Khoza with one blade. "That's more like it," he smirked.

He spun on the spot, white blade in his mouth swinging towards Chaka, his cursed blade slamming into Khoza's, pushing him back several feet while his last blade he angled over his shoulder to block the attack on his back from the steel fruit user, before pivoting again to block the rest.

Chaka growled at his side, annoyed at the interruption as he let his own fruit slowly take over, going into his hybrid form as he rushed at Khoza again, determined to at least put the miserable rebel leader who'd caused his King so much misery down before dealing with the other two.

Khoza's gun shots were ineffectually dodged by the speedy jackal even as he bore down on him, sword mid swing as he was knocked aside, by a flying Zoro who'd apparently used the force from blocking Mr. 1's attacks to fly at him.

Zoro slashed at Khoza, aiming for the pistol. "This is a sword fight kid," he smirked, slicing it in half, before ducking under the retaliatory strike from his sword, kicking him back just in time to turn around and meet Daz's spiky fingered slashes.

"What the hell are you a walking blender?" he smirked.

"I ate the supa supa no mi, allowing me to turn any part of my body into steel," came Daz's emotionless reply as the man started attacking him with slices and jabs from his hands, and slashes and cuts from his kicks, forcing Zoro on the defensive. He'd distracted him enough that he couldn't react fast enough to Chaka rushing him with his speed boosting powers, slashing at him from the side. He just barely managed to block at the cost of a small cut from Daz, though he was swiftly being backed into corner from the two swinging at him, three swords not quite enough to deal with the fact that Daz whole body was basically a blade combined with the speedy thrusts of the half breed. He smirked forcing himself on, at least until the other two struck at each other, too close and untrusting of one another to work together to attack him much to Zoro's annoyance. Their attacks clashed before they were all split apart from the force of it, jumping back, incidentally just in time to avoid the gun fire of a much farther Khoza aiming down at them with his rifle.

"Just what the hell are you freaks," he muttered to himself, shooting at Daz again, only to have even the higher caliber of the rifle bounce off the man. He groaned in frustration switching back to Chaka only to have the annoying, arrogant pirate step in front and cut his bullets with his sword.

"Hmm, not quite right," muttered Zoro, looking at his blade's edge, only to slice at a few more bullets fired at him. "Damn it, why isn't it working," he growled, slicing at them with muscle memory like usual, but still seemingly unsatisfied, the mental image of Mihawk effortlessly deflecting a bullet away from him. "There is no strength in a sword without grace."

"I don't understand you, pirate, are you here to help or fight me?" Chaka growled, insulted at having Zoro step in front to take the bullets and rushed at him. Daz meanwhile used the chance to rush at Khoza again, still intent on trying to finish off the weakest prey first, making him have to focus his gun fire on the steel man again.

"I'm here to get stronger," smirked Zoro in reply blocking and striking at him simultaneously, forcing the jackal back with twin slashes followed up by a kick as he rushed towards the other two. "And seriously for the last fucking time, you're fight is with me!" he yelled, forcing Daz to turn around to take his ferocious attacks, while the bullets bounced off his steel edged back harmlessly, though Zoro was pushing him to the side, intent on fighting all of them himself, one blade flashing out to try and deflect the bullets again.

"Fine, I will eliminate your arrogance first," said Daz. Zoro was hard pressed to block his attacks, especially as Khoza turned the rifle towards him since it was so ineffectual against the dark-skinned man. Zoro let himself drift into his instincts blocking the blows and still trying to reflect the bullet as gracefully as he'd seen Mihawk do it. He finally managed it at the cost of a fist full of knife fingers slashing his side, angling his blade perfectly, letting the bullet curve off it, straight into Daz face, drawing blood across his cheek and forcing him back from the unexpected angle of attack, cutting his own attack short before it could disembowel Zoro.

"There we go," he smirked, ignoring the pain, only to have to turn and block an attack from Chaka as well. The three highly ranked figures in their respective organizations all attacked him simultaneously then, annoyed at the pirate's arrogance and the smirk that refused to leave his face even as he faced down the blade of a royal guard, a fighter who's every strike was a shredding machine and an expert marksmen's fire.

Zoro took all their attacks happily, blocking and dancing under them as his smirk only grew. "Yes. This is it. This is how I get stronger," he thought, all three swords working in harmony to block the attacks, eyelids falling, not quite closed but enough to unfocus his eyes, falling into a trance, weaving and bobbing and blocking and deflecting and curving the strikes of steel and bullets around him, almost able to see where the attacks would land before they ever did. "Is this it? Is this the color of observation?" he wondered, the glee at the thought destroying the trance, bringing him out of it as his eyes opened wide, instinctive moves suddenly turning desperate as he tried to block the ferocious attacks. "Shit."

A bullet hit him right above his sash as he missed deflecting it, Chaka's blade slipping under his to slice at his other side, causing his mouth to loosen unwillingly in a groan of pain, enough for Daz's slashing hands to knock his prized blade out of his mouth and slash him across the chest in the process. All three took the opportunity to attack him, sending Zoro flying with even more wounds, along with his swords as they slipped out of his grasp, back into a building making it crash down on him.

"Hmph, the folly of arrogance," muttered Daz, though even he had to secretly admit it was impressive how long the swordsman had lasted, even as he shifted too attacking Chaka, the speedy jackal pushed back from the unconventional fighting style. Khoza hesitated, not wanting to shoot down the enemy captain when his rifle was unable to harm the devil fruit user. Just as he was about to put it away and rush in with a sword of his own, the rubble of the building that'd crashed on Zoro shifted as the swordsman stumbled out, bleeding and barely standing. The other two stopped their attacks on each other, eyes widening at the man still able to get up despite being covered in blood. He stumbled over to his closest sword, Yubashiri. He gripped it in his hand, facing Khoza.

"Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought. And onto the six mortal senses, good, evil, neutrality. And further onto each, purity and corruption. The 36 earthly desires of the world," he muttered, breathing in deeply, ignoring his aching, bleeding wounds as he brought his sword over his head, his other hand gripping his wrist. "You shouldn't have brought a gun to a sword fight, kid," Zoro said. "Sanjuu Roko Pound Ho!" he yelled, stunning everyone there as Khoza fired at him instinctively, the bullet swallowed up by the blade of wind flying straight at him like a cannon ball. It cut through his rifle before slamming him across the chest, sending him flying and knocking him out with a shallow gash.

Zoro sheathed his sword as he stumbled over to the next one, Sandai Kitetsu, as the other two watched on, still stunned. He picked it up, pointing it at Chaka. The Jackal, growled rushing at him, his animal instincts kicking his fight or flight response into overdrive, and clearly there was no flight here when the pirate could launch flying blade attacks. He struck hard and fast, as if he were a snake man instead of a jackal, but Zoro closed his eyes, flowing through each attack like a piece of leaf blowing about the wind, untouchable.

"A sword without grace has no strength," he repeated as he opened his eyes, easily dodging his attacks as he brought his own blade up, smacking him with the blunt end of the cursed blade to ensure a nonlethal strike. The captain of the Alabastian guards went down as Zoro stepped over him, sheathing his blade as he walked over to the last one, just a few feet from Daz. The man watched him emotionlessly as he picked it up, examining it contemplatively before swiping at a near by tree's leaves to no effect, but slicing a boulder in half not a moment later.

"Everything has a breath. To cut nothing is to know that breath. To cut everything is to know hear that breath. A sword that cannot cut paper but can cut steel. I can hear your steel's breath," whispered Zoro, facing the devil fruit user.

"You wish to cut steel?" asked Daz, finally getting into an attacking position, the vast majority of his limbs turning into blades, from his shoulders down to his fingertips and his feet up to his thighs. Blades sprouted at the bottom of his feet as well, letting him slide faster and faster towards Zoro who sheathed his last blade before taking a wide standing pose across from him

"Ittoryu. Shishi Sonson!" yelled Zoro, slicing across the charging steel man, cutting through his blades and across his chest as easily as a hot knife through butter before sheathing it. Due to the slides on his feet Daz went flying across from Zoro before falling down, bleeding.

"I thank all three of you. I can still become stronger," muttered Zoro, finally collapsing to his knees.

"Will you cut diamonds next?" muttered Daz, smiling even in his defeat.

"Hmph, maybe," replied Zoro before collapsing all the way as well, slowly drifting off as his body tried to handle all the loss of blood.

'I'm still too weak.'

AN: Happy late New Year and New Decade!

Sorry still discontinued, just wanted to get this out since this was the chapter I was looking forward to the most since the Alabasta Arc (was originally supposed to be the second to last chapter too, after the rest of the crew's and before Luffy but oh well.) Also went back and fixed some of the grammar issues though there's bound to be more I didn't catch, and retconned it so Sabo went to Revolutionaries and Gin joined.

Also sorry if you already reviewed this chapter and can't review it again, I got rid of the AN one, rather not have a random AN in between chapters.