The yellow sun blaring down unto the turquoise blue sea of the New World was utterly stifling, and Coby tried to shuffle with as much dignity he had left into the little shadow cast by the main sail onto the aftercastle of his ship. He lifted up the rim of the cap he had hurriedly borrowed for the day, squinting along the horizon. The waters were calm, but alive enough to set the water dancing, meaning that it reflected the sunlight into a million tiny pinpricks that stabbed his eyes.
Coby muttered a curse under his breath, wiping away sweat from his brow and wishing he could ditch the heavy captain's cloak that laid on his shoulders, already soggy and disgusting with sweat.
"Rough day, Captain?" Helmeppo called out from his spot by the steering wheel, keeping an eye on the wind with one eye and on the essential instruments of navigation with the other—a compass that was nearly useless on this side of the globe due to wild magnetic fluctuations, a myriad of charts that were copied from originals in the Navy Archives that were probably hundreds of years old and contained as much speculation as they contained outdated information and bad math, and a barometer that Coby hoped wasn't able to lie to him.
"If you define 'rough' as 'are we making bad time to the Empire'… We might be doing exceedingly well, Meppo, so no." Coby squinted at the horizon again, squinting. "If you define it 'Am I currently feeling exceedingly uncomfortable because I have gained my weight in sweat and can't see shit', then yes, I'm having a rough day."
"Could be worse, Captain," Helmeppo answered cheerfully. "You could be a rich kid that never really saw the sun until he joined the Marines." He lifted up his visor, and the chalk-white outline across his brow framed by a hangdog expression on his completely red face made Coby grin. "Pretty sure I ran out of sunblock a week back."
"The ladies love a tan, Meppo," Coby shot back, leaning against the railing in the shade and grinning. "Hardworking sailors are pretty popular in port, you know."
"Pretty sure the ladies don't like red-white zebras walking on two legs, sir," his first mate retorted gloomily, putting his visor. "And guess who gave me the wheel on Forenoon Watch, and who I then can blame for it?"
"Oh, come on! It's not that bad. You're still pretty handsome, Mister Goldilocks." Coby's grin widened a bit more. "Besides, you'd be surprised! Did you know one of the jailers in Impel Down ate a Zoan Devil Fruit and got stuck as a zebra? He's apparently really shy, but apparently his stamina is, uh… appreciated, I guess?"
"Captain Coby telling dirty jokes," Helmeppo tutted, shaking his head and swallowing a smirk. "Command has changed you for the worse, sir."
"So I've been trying to practice my Color of Observation, and I am surrounded by sailors who are all incredibly dirty-minded. Both the men and women, by the way. So I am stuck hearing things I rather wouldn't know about," Coby muttered, rolling his eyes. He turned around and shaded his eyes, trying to spot something on the horizon, and swore loudly. "Still nothing! What a mess!"
"Well, I guess one thing's nice about being me," Helmeppo sang out gleefully. "I have sun glasses and night goggles wrapped up in one, so I'm not feeling like a barnacle when the sun's out!"
Coby's temper frayed, and he turned around and glowered at his best friend. "Keep talking like that, and you can have the First Watch as well, Commander Helmeppo!"
The prospect of having to get up at midnight to steer the ship for another four hours in the dark made Helmeppo gulp. "Sirnosirshuttingupnowsir."
Coby waved it off. "Ah, whatever. Besides, the sun's been out for three weeks, and we haven't yet seen land! Are you sure we're on the right track?"
Helmeppo lifted up the receiver to the Transponder Snail on the aftercastle. "Been reporting our position, speed, and direction to the flagship every twenty minutes, sir, as ordered. Admiral Fujitora's got the only working Log Pose that leads to the Empire, so we have to rely on him. He says we're getting closer every day and to keep the course."
"Awesome," Coby muttered. "This entire thing seemed so much more like a fun adventure when things were happening." He draped himself over the railing, watching the water churn in the ship's wake. "Ugggh… Seriously, how did he handle all this boredom?"
"Who do you mean, sir?" asked Helmeppo.
"You know. Luffy." Coby straightened up, squinting up at the skies. "I mean, causing a ruckus and trouble wherever he sets foot can't be the only thing he does."
"Well, I've only ever gotten to known Roronoa, but I'll bet that the entire crew is an endless bundle of energy," his first mate commented. "I mean, from what I can tell, Strawhat's a piece of work and probably never sleeps. I bet his crewmates have to do everything they can to manage him."
"Well, I'm not Luffy… I guess we will have to deal with it."
"Besides, Captain, it's been smooth sailing so far. I think we should thank our stars for the peace and quiet! All we have to do is go to some unknown regions and chart a course into the unknown from there, braving all the dangers of Paradise we've yet to see. The Empire should be just beyond those!" Helmeppo raised his visor, grinning cheekily at his superior. "Sounds like a breeze to me."
"Yeah, sure," Coby grinned. "Now you only need to say 'Oh, what's the worst that could happen', and we'd have all we need to whistle up Davy Jones from his locker. No more boredom, eh?"
Helmeppo's head tilted slightly, his visor back across his eyes and his attention suddenly on the far horizon. "Speaking of which, Cap'n..." he said quietly. "Far horizon, ten degrees port. Clouds forming, fast."
Coby blinked fast, wiping the sweat out of his eyes with one hand. "What the—"
"Cumulonimbus, by my count," Helmeppo continued quickly. "Those don't look all that healthy, boss."
"Keep the course until belayed, Commander!" Coby ordered, vaulting over the castle's railing and hitting the deck. "I'm going topside!"
"Aye-aye, sir! Watch your grip!"
Coby had already launched himself into the ship's rigging, climbing up with the speed of a trained monkey. Garp had insisted that his two students had enough skill clambering up and down the various sections of a sailing ship and perform its necessary jobs, arguing that a commander should not demand their subordinates perform dangerous tasks they weren't capable of themselves.
Coby had resented him a little bit at the time for his high standards, but he could not deny the thrill of satisfaction as he reached the highest yardam in under half a minute.
He brought out his telescope and snapped it open, searching for the clouds Helmeppo had spotted with his far keener eyes.
In the far distance, Coby saw a riotous clash of colours as clear blue sky was eaten away by boiling white clouds swallowing themselves into grays and dark blacks, feeding itself and growing higher and higher until the turquoise sea turned a deep, menacing blue, flashes of light twisting through it.
"Helmeppo!" he bellowed down to the castle. "Check the barometer, now!"
"…Falling fast, Cap'n! Faster than anything I've ever seen!"
Coby stowed his telescope away, took a deep breath, and with a swing of his legs let go of the rigging, plummeting a few dozen yards down to the deck and badly startling the group of sailors he landed in-between.
"What in th' blazes is th' meaning of this, Cap'n?!" a woman with a large scowl and a lieutenant's epaulets demanded indignantly, tricorn hat askew. "Ye could have hurt someone!"
"Storm's ahead, Lieutenant Bagration!" Coby explained hastily. "Sorry! Biggest one we've seen yet in Paradise! We need to get the ship ready for it!"
"Well, why didn't ye say so, eh?!" Lieutenant Basilea Bagration yelled back, reaching for her neckline and producing a silver whistle. The deafening shrill it produced made all aboard the ship jump and halt in their tracks.
It was nonetheless still quieter than the roar that followed out of the short woman's throat.
"ALL HANDS ON STATION, LADIES, AND FASTEN UP YER LIFELINES! STORM'S A-COMIN', AND NONE OF YEW LOT IS GOING TO MEET THE FISHER KING WITHOUT MY DAMN SAY-SO! JUUUUUMP TO IT!"
The entire deck exploded into movement, ensigns and boatswains calling out orders and blowing into their own whistles, calling all other shifts onto the deck to fasten the lines and check the rigging.
Lieutenant Basilea Bagration, Second Officer aboard this Navy vessel and thirty-year veteran of the Marines, surveyed the controlled chaos around her sternly and then glanced sideways at her captain with a raised eyebrow. "Well, shouldn't yew be captainin' or somethin'? Sir?"
Coby closed his mouth, nodding numbly. "I suppose I should."
"Better leave ye to it, then. OI!" Bagration swore and stalked off. "Wilcox, ye darn numbskull! Don't cross those lines that way unless ye plan on stranglin' yer mates, in which case I promise I'll do the honours meself so yew can join 'em, ye hear me?!"
Coby turned to look up at Helmeppo, who hung to the rudder and merely shrugged, looking just as bewildered as he felt. "Orders, Captain?"
"Keep the course for now!" Coby turned out and saw a young midshipman off to the side, pointing at him. "Ensign Honsell, front and center!"
The boy saluted, nearly hitting himself in the eye. "Sir?!"
"Gather all the data you can on our weather, position, and speed, and it get down to the comms room! Express communication to the Rear Admiral, now!"
"Siryessir!" the boy squeaked out and ran off, fumbling for pen and paper. For a moment, Coby remembered how young that boy was and how he looked just like him a few months ago, and shrugged it off.
He grabbed his scope again, shook it out, and peered through it at the dark and rolling clouds that were rising up as if they would storm the heavens.
"That storm ain't right…" he muttered. "Shouldn't have asked for excitement around here…"
Smoker stared at his immediate superior, cigars nearly falling out of the corners of his mouth. "You can't be serious."
"Indeed I am, Admiral Smoker," Isshō said calmly, sitting in the middle of the command deck. "We will keep the fleet's current course and heading. It's the correct course. I can feel it in my bones."
"If the reports coming in from the vanguard are true, Admiral, then this is quite possibly the biggest storm I've ever seen," Smoker said slowly. "We are going to lose hundreds of men."
"Get the ships into a closer formation, designate search and rescue elements and appoint ships to tow any damaged stragglers," Isshō instructed, his scarred face betraying no emotion. "But it is imperative that we clear this storm as soon as possible."
"Admiral, this is fooli—"
"Admiral Smoker, we have no time," Isshō interrupted, leaning heavily on his cane. "Unfortunately, there is a reason why the Empire has been cut off from our shores for so long. The storm is the obstacle Nature has decided to put in our way to reach the Empire. We must face it head-on."
"Sir, with all due respect, we still have time to chart a different course that'll take us around this mess!" Smoker snapped, literally fuming. "There must be another path to the Empire!"
"There is one, and none who have attempted it have ever reached the shores of the Capital," Isshō said gently, bowing his head. On the floor before him, a map had been spread out, little pins and needles sticking out of it and pieces of string connecting them.
The Admiral gently touched one, following it into a section of the map that the old cartographer had darkened, the faded red and blue lines designating currents becoming more and more jumbled until they cut off entirely.
The shape of a circle they were hinting at was unmistakable to Smoker's eyes, however.
"That other route will lead us all to our death," Isshō declared, his heart heavy. "We will have to choose certain peril in order to avoid certain destruction."
Smoker bit down hard on his cigars and raised his eyes to the darkening horizon, mind racing. "We might lose some of our ships. If the winds will get as fast as the barometer implies, we won't be able to slow down."
"The New World has claimed many ships before our passage," Isshō agreed, his shoulders sagging. "And it will claim many more after. But we have no choice."
He traced a different strand of string, and Smoker's eyes followed it on their current course towards the picture of a stormy cloud and a miniature depiction of a snarling, seven-headed beast.
"And the storm may just be the least of our concerns…"
Fernandel AN: Soooooo, seems our intrepid Marines will be having a bit of a rough time ahead of them to reach their destination. Stay tuned for what comes next, and leave some feedback! :D
Merry Christmas, Zaru, Teslashark, Juubi-K , and everybody else! :)
Zaru AN: Yeaaaah this took longer than expected. But hey, life happens and Fernandel had a lot of things to take care of. In addition, I have been writing scenes and segments ahead of this chapter actually. So we have more in store... Just gotta bridge in the gaps between the segments. Hope you all enjoyed!
If anyone wants to adopt my other stories as well, don't be afraid to PM me