Betaread by The Patient One.


Chapter 33. Giant Hearts


Sabo heaved himself one last time, finally stepping on top of the dinosaur's head. When he looked up, he got treated with a blinding, smug grin. His eyebrow twitched. Not that it was hard to scale the dinosaur—it took him barely a couple of minutes—but Luffy did it in mere seconds!

Jumping to his feet, Sabo caught his little brother in a headlock and ruffled his hair, eliciting a surprised yelp. "Your Devil Fruit's a cheat," he grumbled.

"S-Sabo!" Luffy spluttered and then, with a twist, slipped from his brother's grasp. Shooting the latter an indignant glare, he fixed his straw hat.

"I still remember when you used to punch yourself. It was always a sight to see!"

Luffy stuck his tongue out at him, and Sabo laughed.

The dinosaur suddenly moved its head down, reaching for treetops. The two brothers wobbled, but couldn't keep their balance and fell onto their butts. Gathering a full mouth of leaves in the next few minutes, the dinosaur straightened its neck again and began to chew on its food.

"Hmm, I wonder if it's really safe to stay here for long," Sabo mused out loud, not in a hurry to stand up just yet in case the dinosaur moved again.

On the contrary, Luffy seemed entirely at ease. "She doesn't seem to mind," he said then, petting the dinosaur below him with a small smile. "As long as we don't hurt or disturb her while she eats."

Sabo trusted Luffy's instincts and Observation Haki, which he had already judged was way above his own abilities. Shifting in his sitting position, he crossed his legs and made himself more comfortable before finally casting his eyes on their surroundings.

The island was bigger than Sabo had initially thought. More long-necked dinosaurs were wandering around, their bodies hidden below the trees. Two white cavernous mountains on both sides dwarfed everything else in this mostly dense jungle-covered land. Multiple volcanoes dotted the landscape in the distance, with a lake shimmering at their base. Everything was framed by the brilliant blue sky with white clouds floating by.

"Wow," Sabo breathed. "I was right. The view from here is breathtaking."

"Shishishishi," Luffy chuckled, swinging his backpack in front of him to rummage through. After a moment, he pulled the lunchboxes. "Here, Sabo."

"Oh, thanks." The blond gratefully received the lunchbox. Sweeping his gaze across the island, he frowned. "I can't see any signs of civilization."

"Me neither," Luffy slurred around a mouthful of meat from his own lunchbox.

For some time, neither spoke again, eating their food in comfortable silence. When the food in Luffy's box was almost gone, Sabo decided it was a good time to talk. "Luffy?"

Luffy let out an incomprehensible noise to indicate that he was listening.

"You said you want to see more of a princess who can bow her head to save someone else," Sabo paused, glancing at his brother to gauge his reaction. Luffy frowned but didn't tell him to stop. "But you're not even trying to give Vivi a chance."

"I do," Luffy muttered, his frown morphing into a scowl.

Sabo felt like a jerk. But they needed to talk about this, so he pushed.

"You purposefully leave the room if she happens to come in. You skipped dinner because that one time Vivi came to eat with us. You never talked with her. Heck, you never even looked at her."

Absentmindedly, Luffy nibbled on a piece of carrot that Sanji snuck into his lunchbox and, for a long moment, stared into the distance, saying nothing

Sabo sighed as he realized Luffy most likely wanted to avoid discussing the princess. His heart stung a little at the thought that his baby brother didn't trust him enough to open up, but he smothered it up. "Luffy, I just—"

Luffy dropped the carrot back into the lunchbox and put it to the side despite it not being completely empty. "There was… her. His daughter."

His voice held an unfamiliar edge that brought goosebumps across Sabo's arms.

"She really liked to be called 'princess'. Forced us to call her that. In any way she could think of." Luffy's lips pulled up into a sneer. "I didn't like how it made her happy, so I refused. Over and over again. Never gave in."

The hatred vanished, and his expression twisted. His mouth cracked open in a wry smile that seemed more weary than anything else, yet his eyes glimmered with sadness.

"I guess I was lucky that I was one of her daddy's favorites. It didn't feel that way back then."

Words failed Sabo when he saw that hollow look on Luffy's face. His mind could barely process the meaning of what he just heard. Refusing the Celestial Dragon might as well be a death sentence. What kind of price had his little brother paid not to be killed every time he refused? He dreaded to even think about it.

Sabo instinctively reached out to soothe and comfort, but just as he was about to touch Luffy, he snatched his hand away. The boy never noticed. All this time, his eyes stayed on the faraway horizon.

This place was perfect to talk about it, Sabo thought. An open space with nothing but sky stretching in all directions. No walls or roofs and no feeling of being caged. No better place for such a topic.

"I—" Sabo gritted his teeth. He knew he might be setting himself up for rejection, but he wanted to help his brother. Luffy's current attitude wasn't good for anyone. Not for him, not for his crew, and not for different kinds of people he might meet in the future.

"I was also born a noble," he blurted out before he could change his mind.

Luffy's head whipped around to peer at Sabo through narrowed eyes. "But you ran away," he said sternly, turning back to glower in the distance. "And besides, you're my brother."

The corner of the blond's lips curled up at Luffy's familiar 'are-you-an-idiot?' tone. He shelved the warmth that acceptance brought deep inside his chest before continuing.

"What if… I wasn't your brother?" he continued. "What if I never could run away from home, and so I'd never met Ace, and we never became friends? Never met you, and we never exchanged cups of brotherhood?"

Luffy was staring at him again, brow furrowed and lips thinned. He looked slightly angry now. Sabo pushed forward regardless.

"And then, we met right at this moment anyway?" He let that question hang between them for a few moments. "I don't know what kind of person I'd be if I hadn't become brothers with—"

"A good one," Luffy interrupted sharply and with finality. It made Sabo's heart hurt, but in a good way this time.

"But I'd still be a noble. I still am a noble, no matter how that fact makes me sick. And you wouldn't like me purely because of that," Sabo stated. He paused to let it sink before cautiously proceeding, "Perhaps Vivi isn't a noble like those you know."

Luffy's tight expression twitched at the mention of those nobles. He had a deathly grip on his emotions, so that was his only outward reaction. After a moment, the tension of his shoulders bled out, and he whispered, "She isn't."

"She might not be a bad person either."

"Maybe," Luffy allowed. Then his attention shifted again to something in the distance. "The strong one is coming."

And that marked the end of this conversation. Sabo wasn't disappointed. Luffy opened up about his past, even if just as little as he felt safe, and he accepted Sabo's attempt to help him sort out his bottled-up emotions.

Looking to where his little brother indicated someone approaching, Sabo saw a giant human figure approaching them. His eyes widened. Before he could say anything, multiple roars shook the air, the head they were sitting on jerked, and they found themselves soaring through the sky.

Sabo grabbed his hat that was about to fly off and glanced down at the vast jungle below. They were pretty high up. The landing would be rough.

Luffy's rubbery arm latched to Sabo's overcoat. The boy pulled himself to him and tackled him in a hug koala-style, cackling like a madman.

And then an enormous palm appeared right below them. With Luffy still wrapped around him and giggling into his chest, Sabo stuck the landing. "Whoa," he breathed out as he wobbled before finding his balance yet again. The hand wasn't quite as hard as the ground after all.

"Gegyagyagyagya!"

Sabo and Luffy blinked at the giant bearded face grinning down at them.

"Aren't you two courageous little humans!" the giant boomed. "Picnicking atop a longneck's head!"

"It had a great view!" Luffy replied cheerfully, jumping to stand on his own feet. "But you scared the dinosaurs away, and we were thrown off!" he complained, though he never stopped grinning.

"I see! I interrupted you!"

"Yeah, you did! You better apologize!"

"Gegyagyagyagya! My apologies!"

"Shishishishi! That's okay!"

"I'm Elbaf's strongest warrior, Dorry!"

"I'm the one who will become the Pirate King, Monkey D. Luffy!"

They both laughed again.

Sabo watched the exchange in amusement. How come these two immediately hit it off with each other?

"Ah." Luffy paused, remembering something. He pointed at Sabo. "This is my brother, Sabo!"

Sabo smiled. "Nice to meet you, Dorry-san."

"Gegyagyagyagya! What a joyous occasion! I haven't had guests in years," Dorry said with a wide grin. "Let me invite you two to my place! We have to celebrate!"

"I'd love to!" Luffy shot back instantly, but then his expression turned more serious. "But I can't. We have an injured person onboard our ship and need to find a doctor."

Dorry's lips twitched down in a concerned frown. "That's a problem, indeed, because there are no humans and so no doctors on this island."

"No humans at all?" Sabo asked.

"None. Just me and my friend, Brogy," the giant said. "Most humans who come here end up dying before their Log sets. Some are eaten by dinosaurs, some give in to heat or starvation, and others try to attack us…" He shook his head. "A single year on this island is just too much for you, little humans."

"A year?" Sabo repeated. After a moment, a surprise flitted across his features. "Does the Log take one full year to set here?"

"That's right," Dorry grinned. "So, let's get to know each other better!"

Sabo hummed in thought.

Luffy put his straw hat back on. "We can't stay here for a whole year! We're in a hurry! Not to mention, it'd be boring," he whined. "Can't you do anything about it, Big-ossan?"

"Gegyagyagyagya!" Dorry bellowed with laughter. "Even I can't do anything about the Log Pose. There's only one Eternal Pose on this island, and it points toward my home, Elbaf." His eyes glinted, and he had a challenging look as he asked, "You want to try your luck and steal it from us?"

Luffy dismissed it with an impassive, "Nah. We're not trying to go to Elbaf."

"Gegyagyagyagya! That's true!"

"Wait, Dorry-san," Sabo spoke, and the giant focused on him with a curious 'hm?' "You said most people who come here die before their Log sets, right?" When the giant nodded, Sabo wondered, "Maybe you know where we can find some of their remains?"

Luffy tilted his head in confusion. While he had no idea what Sabo had in mind, he trusted his brother to know what he was doing.

Dorry rubbed his bear, thinking for a few moments. "I see where you're going with this. That's smart and worth a try." His mouth once again stretched into a giant grin. "Actually, Brogy and I've been gathering some remains in our camps. Doesn't sit well with leaving those who fought valiantly before succumbing to their deaths in the jungle."

Sabo brightened up. "That's perfect! Can you please lead the way?"

"Sure, little human. Hop on," Dorry said, shifting his hand to his shoulder so that Sabo and Luffy could resettle there for the trip. Once they were on, he strode straight towards one of the cavernous mountains.


There was a loud snap somewhere in the jungle. A flock of screeching birds took off into the sky.

Zoro and Sanji froze amid insulting each other, and both turned toward the jungle with matching expressions of seriousness. The other three people and the duck were startled by their unexplained behavior.

There was a huge shadow looming beyond the tree line.

Zoro gripped the handle of his katana. Sanji shifted his weight from one foot to another.

"Guys, what are you—"

Usopp never finished his question because right then, a pair of giant hands clasped the closest trees and parted them. Bent beyond their limits, the thick trunks cracked and broke, revealing a row of teeth. Giant teeth.

"Gyaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" Nami and Usopp screamed in unison, accompanied by a loud thump when Carue fell over, foaming from his mouth.

"Th-that's a giant!" Vivi stuttered out.

"A giant?!" the pirates repeated in unison.

It was indeed a giant man with a neatly trimmed beard framing his toothy grin. "I have a question, little humans," he boomed, peering at them from high above.

Eyes narrowed, Zoro flicked his katana out.

Sanji ground his cigarette with his teeth in a nervous gesture. "Yeah?" he asked, bending his knees and ready to jump into action any second.

The giant's grin stretched even wider. "Do you have any beer?"

Nami and Usopp sniffled, unable to squeeze a single word out. Vivi gaped at the giant, frozen in spot. Zoro's shoulders relaxed a little, and he clicked his sword back into the sheath.

Sanji also straightened up, letting the tension seep out, and replied, "We do."

"Oh! So you've got some!" the giant exclaimed, features lighting up in anticipation. "How fortunate!"

"Who are you?" Zoro demanded.

"I'm Elbaf's strongest warrior, Brogy!"

"Elbaf?" Sanji asked. "Is that an island?"

"Gababababababa!" Brogy roared in laughter. "Elbaf is—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

"Gyaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" As the giant screamed, Nami and Usopp screamed as well.

Brogy looked over his shoulder. There was a big, lizard-like creature biting his rear.

"Is that a dinosaur?!" Vivi yelled in shock. "This must be a prehistoric island!"

"The Grand Line is truly weird," Sanji commented casually. "First giants and now dinosaurs."

The rotund giant in front of them gripped the axe hanging at his side, turned, and beheaded the bold predator with one swing.

"Oho," Zoro said in appreciation. A lopsided grin was a clear indication of just how much he would have enjoyed pitting himself against this giant warrior.

Brogy picked up the dinosaur's head, still dripping blood, hefted his axe on his shoulder, and turned back to the humans with his usual grin. "I got some meat now to go with your beer," he said. "I welcome you all as my guests! Let's have a feast! Gababababababa!"

"We're grateful for the invitation," Sanji started politely, "but—"

Ahead of the ship, a tree toppled over and fell into the river. The Straw Hats stared, unblinking, as the second giant stepped out of the jungle.

"Oi! Oiiiiii! Guys! We're back!"

They squinted at the tiny figure waving his arms on top of the new giant's helmet. And then those arms suddenly stretched forward and latched onto Merry's railing.

His crew had a bad feeling about it. "Oi, Luffy! Don—"

With laughter trailing after him, Luffy shot toward the ship at the speed of recoiling rubber. And when Zoro realized that he was standing in his captain's trajectory, it was already too late to avoid the collision. His arms instinctively rose to catch the idiot, but it neither stopped nor lessened the impact. They flew across the deck, crashed into the railing, flipped over it, and splashed into the river.

The other pirates sighed. Partially relieved because that wasn't them, and partially resigned because what else could they have expected from Luffy?

"Oh, Dorry!" Brogy cheered, grinning at the other giant. "Are you here for the beer as well?"

"Brogy!" the long-bearded giant greeted with a wide grin, strolling closer. "Little humans have some beer to share? That's great! It's been a while since we had any!

"Gababababababa! That's true!"

When Dorry reached the spot where Going Merry dropped an anchor, he lowered his hand toward it. Sabo jumped from his palm down to the ship. Ignoring the shocked stares, the blond spun around and waved at the giant. "Thank you, Dorry-san!"

"Gegyagyagyagya!"

Meanwhile, Zoro emerged from the river. "You damn idiot," he growled out, hauling himself and his still overexcited captain to the shore.

"Shishishishi," Luffy giggled before springing to his feet. "Second giant! So cool!" he cried out, limbs flailing and stars practically shooting out his eyes. "I'm Monkey D. Luffy, the one who will become the Pirate King! Nice to meetcha, Round-ossan!"

"Gababababababa! What a funny little human!"

"So, what about that beer?" Dorry questioned.

Luffy blinked in confusion. "Eh? Beer?"

"They," Brogy pointed at the people on the ship, "promised me some beer."

"Sure!" Luffy grinned. "Sanji, give them some!"

"Aye, Captain," the cook gave his affirmative, already walking toward the storage room. He beckoned the sniper to follow him. "Usopp, help me out."

Vivi sidled up to Sabo and inquired, "Did you find anything on the island?"

"I'm sorry, Vivi-san, but there are no humans here." Sabo offered a comforting smile. "We'll have to try our luck on the next island."

Dejected, the princess murmured, "I see…"

While Sanji and Usopp dragged four beer barrels out, Luffy and Zoro climbed back onto the ship.

"What?" Brogy asked the straw-hatted teen after the giants took two barrels each. "The guests won't stay for the feast?"

"Sorry, Round-ossan, but we're in a hurry to reach the next island!"

Brogy's jovial expression faltered. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah! We need to find a doctor as soon as possible. We have an injured person onboard," Luffy explained. He didn't notice Vivi looking at him with genuine surprise. "But I'm glad I had an opportunity to meet you both! Giants are awesome!"

"Gababababababa!"

"Gegyagyagyagya!"

"Shishishishi!"

"Wait, Luffy," Nami suddenly interrupted. "We can't leave just yet." Frowning, she pointed at the Log Pose attached to her wrist. "The Log hasn't set for the next island."

"That's obvious, Nami," Luffy said in a 'well, duh' tone that made the navigator want to punch him. "It takes a year for it to set. We can't wait here for so long."

A second ticked by.

"Whaaaat?! A year?!" Nami shrieked.

Dread landed in Vivi's stomach like a lead weight, and her legs gave out, face dropping into her palms. "Igaram won't survive that long… And who knows what would become of my country during this time… What should I do?" she muttered, voice layered with despair. "Do I really have to stay here for a full year?"

"Ah? Why? You still have something to do here?"

Vivi whipped her head up, meeting Luffy's black eyes. He was looking at her. Not just throwing a passing glance but looking at her without whatever ghosts constantly haunted him pulling at his attention. But she felt too defeated to care about that right now or get angry at his dismissive attitude. "No, b-but—!"

"Oh! Right!" Luffy shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled something out. "We found an intact Log Pose that had already set so we can sail off right away! Shishishishi!"

Nami grabbed his arm and pulled it closer to her face to inspect the Log Pose. "It is pointing to the next island," she finally announced. Narrowing her eyes at Luffy, she asked, "Where did you get it?"

Sabo chimed in, "As we were talking with Dorry-san, he mentioned that most people that come here die before their Log sets. I thought we might find one that has already recorded this island's magnetic field on their remains. And I was right."

"And so," Luffy tossed the Log Pose to Nami, receiving a glare and a huff for his careless action, "let's go to the next island and find us a doctor!"

Vivi lifted her trembling hand to cover her mouth. Her entire body shook as she tried and barely succeeded in keeping her sobs from spilling out, so relieved and so grateful that she didn't quite know how to voice any of it. "Thank you," she whispered, the only thing she managed to squeeze through unbidden tears falling faster than she could wipe them off. "Thank you…"

Nami crouched down. Her gentle hands coaxed the other girl into a hug, rubbing soothing circles onto her back.

Watching the princess try and gather herself in Nami's embrace, Luffy's expression smoothed into something much softer. But then he turned back to the giants who were observing in silence and grinned, all teeth. "So that's that! We'll be taking off now!" he said. "Thanks for everything, Big-ossan! Round-ossan!"

"Busy little humans, aren't you?" Brogy responded.

"It's a shame, but we won't force you to stay," Dorry agreed. "Maybe we'll meet again one day!"

"I'd like that!" Luffy called back.

Zoro pulled the anchor up. Usopp and Sanji unfurled the sails.

"Because you shared your beer with us, we should advise you not to follow this river to exit into the western sea," Dorry warned.

Brogy nodded in agreement. "You should go back through where you came in and take the longer route past the northern peninsula."

"But why?" Nami asked.

"The western sea is a monster's territory. Gegyagyagyagya!"

"Gababababababa! It should have grown quite a bit by now!"

"Alright!" Luffy waved at them. "Thanks for the warning!"

"Turn the ship around! Turn the ship around!" Usopp instructed, sweat dripping down his neck at the mere thought of an unknown monster lurking somewhere under the ocean's surface.

Sabo knitted his eyebrows in thought. "How are we supposed to turn the ship around in this narrow space?"

Everyone froze mid-action. Right. How were they supposed to do that?

Dorry stepped over the river to the other side with a booming laugh, then crouched down and reached to cup Merry's front with his palm. Brogy did the same with her end. With a heap, they lifted Going Merry into the air and swiftly flipped it around, carefully placing her back into the water.

A few seconds of awed silence passed as the pirates processed what happened. And then…

"WHOAAAAAAAA!" they all chorused.

"They lifted Merry up just like that!" Luffy yelled.

"And then turned her around!" Usopp continued.

Both fist-pumped the air and shouted, "GIANTS ARE AWESOME!"

"Gegyagyagyagya!"

"Gababababababa!"

The ground shook, and the hot, tropical air vibrated with a noise that left everyone's ears feeling like they just exploded.

While the humans were gathering their bearings after another shock in a growing chain, both giants straightened up and turned sharply toward the island's northern part. The sky in that direction that was blue just moments before was now filled with black smoke, billowing upward in growing plumes.

"It's the middle one," Brogy noted.

"Indeed," Dorry agreed.

Fingers curling around the handles of their weapons, the two giants looked at each other. Their usual grins were nowhere to be seen.

Still jumping around from sheer excitement, Luffy and Usopp froze when the mood changed at the drop of a hat.

Luffy sucked in a breath. "It's starting."

"Starting?" Usopp repeated. "What's starting?"

"The duel."

Usopp still couldn't understand. The others also had no clue of what was going on. The giants who were laughing together a few moments ago, now glared at each other as if they were enemies. The change was too sudden.

Sabo decided to shine some light on the current situation. "The giants in their village, Elbaf, have a tradition—those who have an argument and can't settle it alone ask for the judgment of their god. They believe that their god is just and will bestow divine protection on the righteous one," he recounted what Dorry told them earlier. "And so these two have been dueling on this island for the past century. The one on the right will triumph and survive under their god's blessing."

"Century… A hundred years?! Why?!" Vivi exclaimed in equal half of shock and horror. "Why would they waste a hundred years fighting? Do they hate each other? Aren't they friends?!" No one offered her any answers.

Going Merry was slowly making her way back to the sea.

"The beer our friends shared with us will taste especially great today once I win, Brogy!" Dorry declared, putting the booze barrels to the side so they wouldn't get damaged in their fight.

"Indeed! I can't wait to win and see how great the beer will taste in my victory, Dorry!" Brogy countered, doing the same.

Vivi ran to the railing and yelled as loud as she could, "You two can't possibly hate each other so much to actually try to kill each other for over a hundred years! Just what exactly is the reason for this fight?!"

Two identical grins stretched across the giant faces.

"The reason?" Brogy said, winding his axe.

"We forgot!" Dorry finished, brandishing his sword.

With a burst of merry laughter, they brought down their weapons with all their might. Blades clashed, the shockwave of that impact uprooted trees in the near vicinity and bent the ones further away almost to the ground. Misplaced by the force, the river's water rose into a wave chasing after Going Merry, who got blasted down the river by the gust of wind.

Even when the ship sailed far enough not to be affected by the giants' duel, everyone stayed at the back, watching the fight. Even after knocking each other down, Dorry and Brogy stood back on their feet and continued with their battle, their smiles not fading in the slightest.

"I-incredible…" Usopp stammered out. "One mistake, and it'd be a certain death!"

"And those two have been trying to kill each other like this for a hundred years?" Nami wondered, observing the duel skeptically.

"I don't understand," Vivi growled under her breath.

"Quack," Carue echoed her sentiments.

"I thought they were friends! But you can't fight someone for so long and not hate—"

Luffy's breathless, "They don't hate each other," interrupted the princess's rant.

"Then why?!" she rounded on him now. "What could possibly be a reason for them to continue fighting?!"

"Honor," Zoro said.

"Respect," Sabo added.

"Pride," Sanji chimed in.

"Free will," Luffy whispered.

"This is it," Usopp muttered. He couldn't tear his gaze from the two giants. "This is what it means to be the Brave Warrior of the Seas! I want to become a proud and honorable warrior like them one day!"

Luffy pressed his straw hat down on his head, a savage grin growing across his face. Echoes of emotions from the giants were still pulsing through his veins, making his heart race inside his chest. He lived through numerous battles and duels. He had seen a ridiculous number of them. But this was the first time that he felt this way.

These two were free! They fought because they wanted to. Raised their weapons because that was what their opponent expected of them and what they expected from their opponent. Not because they had been forced into this fight for someone's entertainment. Not even because it was an inevitable fight against an enemy.

"Ne, Usopp," Luffy called out. "We should visit Elbaf one day."

"Yeah!" the other teen all but jumped at the prospect. "Absolutely!"

Stewing in her helplessness, Vivi wasn't having any of it. "Do all those reasons make this all okay?!" she demanded. "What will happen when one of them kill the other?!"

"The victor will mourn his friend," Luffy replied.

"This makes no sense!"

"People die," the captain said, "but only the strong ones can choose how they die."

He sounded so calm, so uncannily peaceful, as if he had no qualms with the cruel fact he delivered. It made Vivi grit her teeth in frustrated anger. "Do those strong ones should also choose how the others die, too?!"

"Should? No. But this world isn't such a fair place. It never was and never will be." Luffy's expression hardened, and his lips twitched in a momentary snarl. "In such an unfair world, the weak don't get to choose how they live or die; the strong ones choose that for them." He pinned Vivi down with only his gaze, and there was more weight in it than she felt should be there.

"It doesn't mean the weak should roll over and give up. They should fight, survive, and live until the day comes when they become strong enough to have control over their lives. Or die trying. At least then, their death would be on their terms."

Instantly, a protest, a retort, a defense formed on the tip of Vivi's tongue, only to quiet into silence, interrupted only by the occasional jungle bird cry and softened by the wind rustling the leaves and water hitting Merry's hull. Luffy's words settled like dust on her body. Slow and light, almost imperceptible, but the more she thought of them, the heavier they felt against her being.

Luffy held her gaze for a moment longer before looking away. And the spell broke.

Vivi's eyes dropped down, a thoughtful frown etched across her features. The others kept stealing concerned glances toward her, but the captain had turned his back to her. Even if she was still looking at him, Vivi couldn't see what emotion lay hidden behind his eyes anymore. However, she knew that it was something fierce. Something unyielding.

They were far enough now that the giants were mere silhouettes against the jungle backdrop. Even at this distance, they could see them knocking each other over in a double knockdown, and soon, the wind carried fragments of their laughter.

Vivi straightened up, excused herself, and retreated into the girls' room to check on Igaram.

Nami sighed and clapped her hands together sharply, the noise reverberating around the ship. "We're about to sail back into the sea, so let's prepare, everyone!"

As one, the crew brightened up. With a chorus of ayes, they sprang into action.


"Ah! There they are! There they are!" Up in the crow's nest, Usopp chanted to himself in glee as his gaze swept the sea through the monocular. "The million giants of Elbaf welcoming me, the Great Warrior Usopp-sama!" He made a full circle and now was spying at Little Garden again. They hadn't sailed far from it yet, but with a favorable tailwind, the island was quickly shrinking into the distance. "I can already hear the songs they'd—hm?"

The ocean between them and the island was rising.

Usopp blinked once.

A huge fin stuck out from the water.

He blinked again.

Two gigantic eyes gleamed just below the surface.

The boy adjusted the lenses and squinted into the monocular.

The surface of the ocean broke, revealing a massive head.

The monocular slipped from Usopp's grip and hit his feet. "W-w-what the hell is that?!"

His panicked scream at the top of his lungs drew everyone's attention whenever they were up on the deck, like Luffy, Zoro, and Nami, or inside the galley, like Sanji and Sabo. Even Vivi had probably heard him down in the girls' room.

Luffy looked up and then turned towards where his sniper was gawking. His eyes widened. "A giant goldfish!" he squealed in utter joy, jumping off the figurehead and running to the back to see it better.

The others weren't far behind. The goldfish was far enough not to threaten them but still close enough to realize how monstrous it was.

"That's the western side of the island," Nami said. "If the giants wouldn't have warned us…" She shuddered at the thought.

Sabo chuckled. "We'd have been eaten again."

"I doubt there's an old man building gates and waterways inside that thing," Zoro muttered.

"We're also lucky to have our amazing Nami-san to guide us away from the island so fast~!" Sanji proclaimed, dancing around with smoke from his cigarette forming hearts.

The goldfish started sinking back into the ocean and didn't seem inclined to chase them. Usopp sighed heavily and leaned to pick up his monocular. He glanced down at the sound of a door opening to see Vivi reemerging onto the deck. Then, something in the open sea caught his attention, and he lifted the monocular to investigate. "A ship off the starboard bow!" he announced.

"Marines?" Luffy asked just as Nami inquired, "Pirates?"

While Usopp was adjusting the lenses, everyone gathered at the center to hear him. The monocular almost slipped from his hands a second time as the writing on the unknown ship's sails came into focus. "It's Baroque Works!"

Vivi paled. "B-Baroque Works?!"

Luffy pulled himself onto the galley and squinted at the distant ship. "Are they coming to us?" he asked his sniper.

There was a moment of tense silence until Usopp reported, "They were, but now they're turning around."

"Reconnaissance team," Sabo stated. His hand scratched at the back of his neck, face scrunched up in displeasure.

Zoro eyed him wearily. "You okay?"

"Just a bug bite," Sabo replied with a small smile. He tugged his overcoat up. "Baroque Works should have gotten the news from Whiskey Peak by now, so they must have sent a team, or multiple teams, to investigate. Miss All Sunday had seen us protecting Vivi-san and most likely assumed that we'll be picking her up." He hummed in thought. "Even if they hadn't spotted her right now, they'll still be rushing back to report our whereabouts to their boss."

Sanji tsked, angrily flicking the butt of his cigarette into the sea. "Should we try to catch up to them?"

Nami shook her head. "No point. They're too far, and the wind isn't blowing that way." She scowled. "Besides, we don't have time for that."

"Do we have to do anything, Nami? Or can we sail like this for a while?" Zoro asked suddenly.

Nami instinctively glanced down at the Log Pose from Little Garden she had previously attached to her wrist instead of her old one. "Wind seems steady, and we can continue along the current we're riding," she answered. "Why?"

"Isn't it about time we heard her story?" the swordsman pointed out, motioning toward the princess. He pulled his three katanas from his side and into his arms as he moved to sit down on the stairs.

"That's true," Sabo concurred, leaning against the ship's side. "We're already involved, want it or not, but we still know nothing."

"He's right," Nami agreed with a sigh.

With a quiet, "I'll make some tea," Sanji ducked into the galley, leaving the door open to listen.

Vivi clasped her hands together, rubbing at her knuckles. After a moment, she glanced up at Luffy.

Luffy didn't say anything, though didn't object either. He perched on the edge of the galley's roof, throwing his arms back to lean on them. Then he finally spoke.

"So. Who's the boss?"


-somewhere else on the Grand Line-

Mr. Three lifted a cup of tea to his nose and inhaled the citrusy bergamot scent. Taking a sip, he almost moaned at the strong and rich taste. Earl Grey was the best among any teas.

After a few more sips, Mr. Three put the cup down. Staring at the sleeping Den Den Mushi in front of him, he tapped his fingers on the table, thinking of the report he received from Billions several minutes ago.

His target, the pirate crew that defeated the Mr. Five pair and decimated one of the Baroque Works bases, left the next island on their route, Little Garden, and were sailing forward with the missing princess of Alabasta on board. A plan to ambush them on that island was now meaningless.

"Mr. Three," a girl's voice called from outside the little cabin of Mr. Three's personal ship.

Mr. Three ignored his partner and took another sip of his tea, savoring the floral bitterness. His mind always worked better while drinking Earl Grey.

How did those pesky pirates avoid spending a full year on Little Garden? Did they simply lose their minds to despair and decide to take their chances at sailing off without the Log Pose?

"Mr. Three."

Little Garden was known as the place where no one had returned from. People went in but never came out. People with Log Poses of their own. Did the pirates find one of those lost Logs, already set, and use it to travel to the next location?

"Mr. Three," Miss Goldenweek called again. "There's a man standing on the sea."

Mr. Three's eyebrow twitched. "As if a man could stand on the sea!" he snapped before taking a deep breath. "No, no. I can't get distracted," he muttered, lifting his tea for another sip.

Then, pulling a map that was lying on the table closer, he peered at it. Whichever hypothesis was correct, their next destination would be Drum Island.

A corner of Mr. Three's lips quirked up. By the snowy weather outside, they were near Drum Island, and Mr. Zero had ensured he had Eternal Poses of all the islands on this route. It didn't matter where he prepared his ambush; he would teach those pirates what it meant to antagonize an underground criminal organization.

"Mr. Three," Miss Goldenweek once again called from outside. "Another man is eating our ship."

Mr. Three frowned. As if someone could eat—

"Ptui! This is disgusting!" an unfamiliar voice raged, full of contempt. "What is this ship made of? Wax?"

"What?!"


Next Chapter: The Right Kind of Royal