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Chapter LXVIII: New Friends and Old Enemies
Zoro spun around, swords in hand, unleashing a whirlwind of blades that tore through the floor and carried him downward.
Straight to Level Six.
Landing easily on the concrete floor of the dark, eerie prison level, Zoro noted it was nearly empty. Jinbe and Crocodile sat in their cells alone, watching Zoro's arrival with curiosity.
"Where are the rest of the prisoners?" he asked.
"They were freed by Shiryu of the Rain and left with him," Jinbe answered.
Zoro's eyes narrowed, the name bringing back memories that pissed him off. He ignored it for now.
"Whatever. Jinbe, I'm here to free you."
Jinbe tilted his head to the side. "Why?"
"Captain's Orders." He could see that Jinbe was confused by the answer, and added, "My Captain is Ace's brother."
That seemed to wipe away the fishman's doubts. Zoro drew Wado and focused, before lunging forward. In seconds, the bars of the cage were sliced open, along with Jinbe's cuffs.
Crocodile raised an eyebrow as he witnessed the feat. Everything the swordsmen had just cut was made of seastone. He smirked.
"I heard you're planning to invade Marineford," the sandman spoke up, causing Zoro to turn toward him with a disinterested stare.
"Free me too, and I'll help you out. I'm always willing to kill some Marines."
Zoro smirked. "You know, somehow, I don't think we'll need your help."
Crocodile's eye twitched, and Zoro continued on. "But I guess I could help you out. Of course, you probably know we're allied with the Whitebeard Pirates now, and that they'll be at Marineford with us. He wouldn't happen to be your goal, would it?"
Crocodile's eyes narrowed, and Zoro's smirk widened.
"I'll let you go if you promise to only fight the World Government, and not go after the old man."
The former Warlord scoffed. "I refuse," he said, not even pretending to consider.
Zoro shrugged. "Suit yourself. Have fun down here."
He could practically feel Crocodile's irritation as he and Jinbe turned to leave. That wasn't the only thing he could feel though. Directly above them were two auras he hadn't sensed since Alabasta.
Looks like you'll get your wish after all, sand bastard.
Zoro leapt upward through the hole he had made, landing on the floor of Level Five. Jinbe landed next to him a moment later.
Zoro's eyes rested on the two former Baroque Work agents that were now staring at him in shock.
"Hey, long time no see," he said. Daz Bones and Zala got into battle ready stances, both activating their Devil Fruits.
Zoro chuckled. "See ya," he said, before walking away, leaving the two stunned. Jinbe followed behind him.
Having taken the lift, Shiryu arrived at the top floor of the prison, the freed prisoners in tow. The mob of dangerous criminals celebrated their freedom, making their glee known by shouting into the open sky they hadn't seen in years.
Notable among the crowd were Avalo Pizarro, Catarina Devon, Vasco Shot, and the giant Sanjuan Wolf, who had shrunk down to the size of a normal human in order to escape.
"Zehahahahaha! It's good to feel the outside air again!"
And then there was that guy. Not only had Shiryu never seen him or heard of him before, but he was covered head to toe in what should have been lethal injuries. One had to wonder how he had survived being incarcerated in such a state, and what he had done to get into Level Six despite having no former infamy.
"Hey," the man said, turning to Shiryu. "My name is Marshall D. Teach, but you can call me Blackbeard. What would you say to joining my crew? The rest of this bunch can come too!" he said with a wide, unsettling grin.
Shiryu raised an eyebrow. While it was interesting that the man was a D, his offer was hardly compelling under the circumstances.
"I'm the one who freed you, and you're asking me to join you?" he asked. He gestured to the man's missing arm, and numerous fourth degree burns. "Why would I join a cripple who looks like he'll never be able to fight again?"
Blackbeard laughed again. "I may not be in good shape now, but I have a plan to regain what I've lost. I just need a shot at the Whitebeard Pirates! With a little time, I'll be able to sway the winds of change in my favor!"
Shiryu was still skeptical, but he considered the man's—Blackbeard's—words. Before he could come to a decision though, his Observation Haki flared at him in warning.
He turned, gripping his sword, but was too slow.
The entire group of prisoners was scorched by a monumental pillar of flame. Agonized screams filled the air as most of the former inmates were incinerated on the spot.
Along with Shiryu, five of the other prisoners had survived the initial assault. One was Blackbeard, who was on the ground clutching his injuries, but had still clung to life somehow.
Shiryu drew his sword as their assailant landed in front of the prison. The other survivors followed suit, drawing weapons as Sanjuan Wolf grew to his original size.
Ace ignored them all though.
"TEACH!" he roared as he shot straight for his old crewmate who just wouldn't die.
Still recovering, Blackbeard tried to stop the attack with his one remaining arm, but in his injured and pain state, he was far too slow.
Ace's flaming fist pierced his heart, coming out his back.
As the other prisoners watched, he pulled his fist out, and Blackbeard fell, dead before he hit the ground.
Breaking free from their stunned stuper, the rest of the prisoners converged on Ace and attacked.
"You can't dodge forever, Straw Hat!" Magellan shouted as Luffy continued to evade his Venom Demon. By now his Kinjite poison was everywhere, and the pirate captain was having to watch where he stepped.
Luffy took a deep breath and prepared himself, but before another barrage of poison could make its way towards him, the floor burst open.
Zoro emerged from the level below, landing in front of the hole he'd made with Jinbe right behind him. Magellan, seeing that one of his prisoners escaped, aimed his Venom Demon at the fishman.
Jinbe formed a stance, preparing to defend himself, but Luffy appeared in front of him and held one hand out.
Jinbe could feel the intensity of Luffy's Haki concentrating around his hand, before it burst from his palm in a wave of concussive force. The advanced application of Armament Haki easily repelled the Venom Demon, splashing the deadly poison in a wide radius around Magellan, whose eyes had widened in shock.
Luffy looked down at his fist and smirked. "It's coming back to me."
Without further hesitation, the pirate captain blitzed towards Magellan faster than the Warden's eyes could follow, unfearing of the Kinjite poison that covered his entire body. Steam enveloped his arm as he reared it back to strike. His fist shot forward, only to stop just short of his opponent.
Magellan felt the impact anyway though. Another wave of Haki came forth from his fist, more powerful this time, and a loud crack filled the air.
All of the poison in the immediate vicinity was blown away from the force, and Magellan himself was sent crashing through the far wall. This time, he didn't reemerge.
Luffy turned back towards a stunned Jinbe and a smirking Zoro, grabbed them both in one arm, and shot upwards towards Level Three using Geppo.
When Sabo arrived at the top floor along with Ivankov and the rest of the Okamas, he saw Ace struggling to fend off several escaped prisoners. He immediately joined the fight, with Ivankov following his lead.
As the two went to alleviate the pressure from Ace, Inazuma's hands morphed into giant scissors, and he cut a long strip of stone out from the ground to form a pathway towards the Sunny. Trusting his superiors to hold their own, he began to cross, boarding the Sunny with the rest of the Kamabakka Kingdom.
Crocodile sat along in Level Six, bored out of his mind.
It sure is quiet in here now, he thought. He didn't regret turning down Roronoa's deal, not one bit. He had a score to settle with Whitebeard, and no crewmate of Straw Hat was going to order him around.
That didn't mean he was satisfied with the current turn of events. At least having other prisoners around had made for some mild entertainment. Now it was just him in a cell, with no one in sight, and nothing but his thoughts to keep him company.
Ah, the trials of being stubborn and not having Straw Hat's dumbass luck to fall back on.
At that moment, two figures fell from a hole in the ceiling, one carrying the other, and impacted with the ground, forming a small crater.
Mr. 1 and Miss Doublefinger.
Crocodile felt a savage grin stretch across his face. Perhaps some of that dumbass luck rubbed off on me after all.
Using a key they had pilfered from the guards above, they unlocked his cell along with his cuffs. Sand swirled around his form as he relished in his newfound freedom.
"Good to have you back, boss," Zala said.
Crocodile's unfettered laughter filled the empty prison floor.
"You two are getting a raise," he said. "Operation Utopia never did pan out, did it? I may have lost interest in Alabasta, but I'm sure there are plenty of other pay days to be had. What do you say we take the world by storm again?"
Their eyes gleamed in interest, and Crocodile remembered exactly why the 1 pair had been his favorite.
With all the answer he needed, a sandstorm sprung to life, enveloped the two, and shot upwards towards the hole in the ceiling. Moments later, Level Six of Impel Down was well and truly empty.
Luffy, Zoro, and Jinbe arrived at the entrance to see another battle taking place. Upon seeing Shiryu clashing with Sabo, Zoro's eyes narrowed, and he unsheathed his swords.
He shot forward towards the former inmate, but Shiryu saw him coming and intercepted the strike. This, however, gave Sabo and opening to land a heavy kick to Shiryu's head, staggering him. Zoro took the chance, and Shusui gleamed menacingly before it severed his body in two.
As the two halves of the treacherous warden's body hit the ground, Sabo blinked, surprised by the brutality.
"Did you know that guy?" he asked.
"You could say that," Zoro replied.
With Luffy and Zoro joining the fray, and the strongest fighter amongst the inmates down, the remaining four were soon defeated as well.
Luffy, Zoro, Ace, Sabo, and Jinbe then crossed the pathway Inazuma had made.
As the five boarded the Sunny, Ace began taking stock of everyone's locations. "Is everyone alright?" he asked. "Are we missing anyone?"
Luffy's brow furrowed as his eyes scanned the deck. Nami, Usopp, Chopper, Robin, Franky, Brook, Law, and Bonney were all accounted for, but…
There was a splash as said chef jumped out of the ocean and landed on deck. He was followed by a swarm of Sea Kings, which emerged from the water and surrounded the Sunny.
Luffy and Ace wasted no time and subdued them all with the twin blasts of Conqueror's Haki. Frazzled, they dove back into the water.
"Took you long enough to get back," Sanji growled, glaring at Ace. "I had to dive into the sea to stop those shitty Sea Kings from eating the ship."
Ace bowed. "My apologies."
"Quite the daring escape," Iva commented, staring back at the prison. "The World Government will never live this down."
Sanji glowered. "Oh great, it's you."
Iva looked puzzled. "Hmm? Do we know each other?"
Before the chef could answer, Usopp spoke up. "Guys? We've got incoming!" he said, pointing toward the prison.
The others turned and saw what he meant. A sandstorm was floating over the ocean, heading towards the ship.
Luffy made a fist. "Is he serious right now? He knows I'll kick his ass, right?"
"Kick whose ass?" Franky asked. "Who is that?"
"Someone I wished to never see again," Robin replied.
Nami was pale. "Don't tell me…"
The sandstorm reached the Sunny and dispersed to show Crocodile and his two subordinates standing on their ship as if he had every right to be there.
"You!" Nami, Usopp, and Chopper all shouted at once, clinging to each other in fear. Franky and Brook, seeing their reactions, tensed and prepared for a fight.
"Straw Hat," Crocodile greeted. "Hope you don't mind, but I'm hitching a ride with you."
"Hell no you're not!" Luffy shouted. "Get off my ship you damn Croc!"
"As much as I may agree with your sentiments, Luffy-san, we may not have time to argue," Jinbe said. He pointed back to the prison, where a newly a newly awakened Magellan was forming another Venom Demon. The warden's poison engulfed the panicking inmates who were left behind. Those aboard the Sunny cringed at their screams of agony.
Ace sighed. "He's right. We need to leave quickly."
"If you even try going after Pops, I'll kill you myself."
Crocodile didn't respond, merely returning a level stare. His point made, Ace turned away.
As Franky went to prepare Sunny's escape, Crocodile's eyes roamed the Straw Hat crew until his eyes met Robin's.
"Been a while, Crocodile," the archaeologist said.
"Nico Robin," he said with distaste. "How's life with these fools treating you?"
Robin smiled. "Better than prison life, I'd imagine."
Crocodile looked like he was about to burst a vein. Before he could respond, Luffy's voice stopped him.
The former Warlord turned around and pretended not to be unsettled by the look in his old enemy's eyes.
"I will leave you here to drown, and I won't lose sleep over it," Luffy said calmly. "Don't push your luck."
Crocodile wisely kept his silence, and Zala dragged both him and Mr. 1 away from the Straw Hats. It wasn't long before a Coup de Burst propelled them high into the air, and through the Gates of Justice.
"That was...interesting," Law said.
"You sure about him, Straw Hat?" Bonney asked. "Hardly seems like the cooperative type."
"He hates the World Government," Luffy said. "Which might be useful. And if Law's plan works out, we probably won't have to worry about any attempt he might make on Whitebeard's life."
"Bonney nodded. "Point taken."
Fifty thousand Marines were gathered at Marineford when Whitebeard resurfaced in front of the Red Line and launched his first assault. Before he was even within sight, a tsunami already towered over the island, bearing down on the Marines with the threat of a watery grave.
"Aokiji!" Sengoku shouted. The Admiral had acted before the order, leaping into the sky.
And freezing the tsunami whole.
Next came an earthquake that shook the island and shattered the massive ice sculpture that Aokiji had just created.
As colossal chunks of ice fell towards the island, threatening to destroy the city and kill everyone in it, Akainu lifted both arms.
The giant shards of ice evaporated on contact with the barrage of magma.
For a few minutes this continued. The Marines fended off a sequence of earthquakes and tsunamis using the power of the Admirals, with even Issho joining in to defend Marine Headquarters. But it soon grew apparent that Whitebeard wasn't showing up in person.
"Something's wrong," Garp said, expression grim. "He's not coming…"
"It can't be…" Sengoku said, face pale. "He means to sink us all!"
At that moment, the island of Marineford began to tilt.