Hi~ I know I've been away for very long! Thanks to a couple of rave reviews, I've finally sat my ass down to finish the last two chapters. Yes, I've decided to add in an epilogue. I initially wanted this to be the epilogue, but well, I felt this deserved a closing chapter of its own! Enjoy!
Chapter 7: Freedom-Part 2
Screams abruptly cut off as the Infiltrants landed in a heap, on the simmering red hot floor of the bridge.
"OW OW OW! Gerroff! The floor burns!" Jozu flailed, which prompted his fellow comrades to jump up and off him, allowing the diamond man to crawl up off the floor from where he lay at the bottom of the human pile.
"Phew!" Brook exhaled, relieved. "Glad we landed on the bridge, yohohohoho!"
"Yeah, but now we are hanging precariously over a vat of boiling blood!" Vista growled.
"Whatever, let's just go!" Zoro snapped impatiently, securing his haramaki.
The air was heated, putrid and suffocating, the scorching heat penetrated their already well insulated suits, uncomfortable, but bearable. The stone ground was red-hot, and one could tell just by looking, that to step on it, would be an indescribable torture. The giant vat of blood bubbled and boiled beneath their feet, the air bubbles being released popped ominously. To them, it was as if they were in a volcano, and the pool of boiling blood was molten lava just waiting to erupt. It was a tad difficult to breathe, but they would not be here for long if they could help it. Distantly, you could hear the screams of prisoners as they hung precariously over the blazing fires prominent throughout the level, and even more pained, tortured souls drowning while being cooked alive in the thick, burning, viscous liquid. What a way to die.
The group had barely stepped off the bridgeS before they were confronted.
"Ara, ara~~ I'm afraid I can't let you pretties mmmmm-!? go into level 5~!"
The woman stood in front of the level 5 entrance, just beyond the bridge, decked out in a pink, revealing leotard-like, devil-themed outfit, and –of all things- a pitchfork clutched in her nailed grip. With her, were animals Haruta had shown them known as the Jailer Beasts. Thatch briefly wondered how she could possibly stand the heat.
Really, couldn't they get a break? Thatch groaned inwardly. He was getting pretty tired of running for his life.
'This must be Sadi, then, the chief guard and the one whom holds dominion over the Jailer Beasts.' Robin frowned.
Looking around, the Archaeologist realized that Davi must have realized that too; and the look on his face spelled trouble.
"Who the fuck are you?"
Jonez canted his head and asked nonchalantly, as if he hadn't just thrown an insult to the woman who looked like she could –and would- impale them in one strike.
That, in retrospect, Sanji thought, was a very Luffy-like move.
However, the offended gasp coming from the woman proved that it had worked.
"What-?! How dare-?! Who the mmmm-!? fuck are you?!"
Davi got right up in her face, even though he was by far shorter than her, his nose scant inches from hers, uncaring of the fact that he was standing on his tippy-toes and mockingly said, "I asked you first!"
"I asked you mmmm-!? second!"
"Oh, spare me the melodrama, you fetish-obsessed devil-cosplay freak of a hag!"
That, was some balls.
"THAT'S IT! YOU WILL NOT INSULT ME LIKE MMMMM-!? THIS! YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS SADI-CHAN!"
With a swipe of her arm, her sturdy pitchfork unravelled into a whip that slammed upon the rocky floor with a sickening crack, right where Davie had stood moments before. This time, he was standing mere inches from the whip, and as soon as the whip bounced off the fractured surface, he pounced.
Davi held the whip tightly in his grip, preventing the Chief Guard from pulling her weapon free. Judging by the look of frustration on her face, he was doing a pretty good job. His muscles bulged as they strained in the mini little game of tug-of-war waging between Guard and Commander.
"OH YEAH?! MORE LIKE S-A-D SAD! YOU ARE A SORE-EYE!" He taunted.
Sadi screamed with rage, an ear-grating cry.
"Davi!" Izo cried out.
"Go! I will stay here and hold her off! Keep going!"
"But-!" Izo's argument caught in his throat.
"Just go! I will be fine! Marco is more important!"
Vista laid a gentle hand on Izo's arm. "Davi is right, Izo. Marco is our priority."
With a silent nod, and a teary eye, Izo turned and hurried past Davi, who was preoccupied with stalling Sadi.
"Dammit, Davi! You had better win!" Izo shouted over his shoulder.
At this, Davi smirked. "But of course, mi querido."
"Ugh! You fiend!" Sadi screeched as she managed to yank her whip away.
By that time, all the Jailer beasts had been taken down and the Infiltrants were proceeding to jump down the entrance.
"You won't get away! Level 5 will be a mmmm-!? nightmare for you! You hear me?!" She shrieked at the top of her lungs, as Izo waited for Jozu to hoist Namur onto his back more securely, before letting the two jump in.
"You will meet your worst challenges in Level 5 and 6 yet! Sabo-chan and Ace-chan will never let you pass! You will be devoured by the wolves of Freezing Hell! The Rear Admirals shall be your undoing! You will never succeed! NEVER!"
"Oh, Shut up you whippy bitch! Pay attention to those around you! Iron Striking palm!"
'Apparently, being exposed to the furnace made you a little loco.' Izo thought dryly, before he jumped.
"Get out of my way, you imbecile! Kofun no Geki: Akamamuchi!"
The last thing that Izo saw, was the bridge that they were previously on, crumbling to bits, the chunks of rock being swallowed by the broiling blood that churned beneath.
They slowly got dressed, pattering around the room in search of their clothes which they had carelessly tossed away a few hours before, whilst engaging in what would be their last night of passion within these walls.
Only the sound of rustling clothes and the jingling of belt buckles could be heard in the dark room for a while.
"Ace, you are wearing my shirt." A soft voice penetrated the silence.
"And that's my belt, Sabo. You would think that after having seen me undressed a dozen times now, you would at least recognize my belt." A smirk graced those freckled cheeks.
"Oh, hush, Ace." A fond smile blossomed upon those thin, pink lips.
They exchanged said items of clothing and continued with their tasks of getting dressed.
"Think they will have Marco with them by the time we get there?" Ace asked aloud as he clasped the buttons on his suit jacket closed.
"Oh, definitely. Maybe in an hour or so. Ace, please remember my coat and our hats yeah? God knows Magellan keeps them in his office; fuck I hate that guy. Also, I propose that we get something to eat first. We will be needing our energy after all." Sabo nodded as he flung his marine coat to drape around his shoulders, securing it snugly, before tugging on his gloves.
At this, Ace nodded excitedly. "Yeah, food!" Then he frowned. "But surely all the available soldiers would be on high alert to deal with the break in, right? How are we gonna get food without attracting any unwanted attention?"
Sabo shook his head, a sly smile upon his face, "Which means, Ace, that the cafeteria would be practically deserted. Also, do you think anyone in their right minds would dare question us?"
Ace chuckled, "Nah, they wouldn't even have the guts."
"Exactly." Sabo placed his Marine cap upon his head, covering his curly blonde locks, as Ace adorned his own cap, the brim shadowing the upper part of his face. Ace took this moment to steal a kiss from his blonde brother, which Sabo deepened before they parted, one last tender moment before they went to engage in a battle that is the be all, end all.
Even as Ace turned the knob and opened their door, Sabo chuckled lowly, a chorus that echoed throughout the room, with a dark grin upon his face as he gripped the brim of his cap between his fingers, pulling it low over his slit-pupiled eyes, shifting shades of blues and purples casting a sinister shadow upon his countenance.
"It's show time."
"I can't believe we are running in the cold, away from the wolf army! I've had just about enough of running!"
Thatch wailed, annoyance peppering his voice.
"Just shut up and move those legs, Thatch! Think of Marco!" Vista countered.
The Wolves bounding after them were indeed demonic, their red eyes and snarling fangs only served to make them appear deranged. Their long tongues hung from their jaws, sickly-yellow saliva dripping from their jaws like they were bestial, vicious hell hounds and Thatch could practically imagine them licking their maws at the thought of human meat for dinner. Their long legs powered them over the ice and snow, and each wolf was large enough to be as tall as a fully grown man, their hulking bodies deceptive, and they were fleet-footed and light on their feet as they chased the group over the tundra plains. Their ghoulish barks and haunted howls ringing eerily, amplified by the glacial acoustics of the level.
"Oh, can't you do something, Namur?! It isn't hot anymore! And they are predators, you are some sort of shark fishman, can't you ask them to stop chasing us?!" Really, Thatch was at his wits' end here.
"Are you nuts?! Have you seen them?! They are animals! Insane, demented, dangerous, instinct-driven! I don't deal with crazy!"
"Oh lordy!" Brook yelped as he felt a set of bone-crushing ivory canines snap particularly close to his neck, making his hairs stand on end, even if he didn't have any hairs, or skin. "Yohohoho! I'm not going to become dog food!" His legs were a blur as they ran. That was a bit too close for comfort. They sped up, running for their lives; Robin briefly hoped that they can escape with at least their sanity intact.
"Where the fuck is that blasted entrance?!" Thatch was beyond frustrated, vexed that they were taking so long to get to Marco; so near and yet, so far. He was almost at the end of his tether, his already-short patience stretching thin, and straining like a rope on its last thread, a weight pulling it down, on the verge of snapping.
"We are never going to find it in all this ice and snow!" Jozu huffed, his bulky frame putting him at a slight disadvantage of being the slower of the group.
All of a sudden, a huge gust of wind blew by, strong enough to blow and carry some of the snow off the floor, revealing the thin layer of ice that they were running towards, which gave way to a gaping hole the second any weight was placed on it.
"WOAH!" Izo gasped, as the ice caved in beneath his feet, and he would have no doubt fallen in, had Jozu not shot out a hand to grab him by the arm, stopping him from plummeting 20 feet to land wrongly on the cold hard ground and possibly break a bone.
"Where did that come from?!" Brook exclaimed, mouth hanging wide open.
"I don't know, Brook. But somehow, it helped us find the entrance, are we really gonna question it?" Zoro raised a brow.
"Let's not waste time and get going! The wolves could be catching up at any minute!" Sanji spared a glance over his shoulder, distant barks and growls sounded in the distance, getting closer by the second.
With a nod, they all took a deep breath, and as one, plunged downwards into Level 6.
The second Marco heard the faint but unmistakable sounds of thuds, he shot up, on alert. He strained to hear, and sure enough, inaudible voices reached his ears, coming nearer and nearer.
Just a little more and-
"-sure he's here?" Thatch!
They made it! They are here!
Without further ado, Marco scrambled off his bed and hurried to the bars of his cell, leaning as close to it as he could, hissing to the dozing strawhat leaning against the wall.
"Psst! Luffy! Psst!"
"Pssst! Wake up! Oi! Wake up-yoi!"
Still dead to the world. Damn, he was awake when you didn't need him to be, and asleep when you actually did!
"Strawhat!" He whisper-yelled, getting desperate and impatient.
With a jolt, Luffy jerked up, craning his neck this way and that, looking for the source of the noise.
"Over here, Luffy!"
"Oh!" Luffy brightened immediately, perking up, all traces of sleepiness gone. "What's up, Pineapple Head?"
"It's Marco-yoi!" He snarled, choosing to let it go for now. "Anyway, I believe my family is here, so if you would be so kind as to pick up that key that Sabo was oh-so-kind to drop, and unlock this door, it would be most appreciated-yoi."
He watched as Luffy's blank owl-like eyes trailed to where his finger pointed; to where the key gleamed in the dim lighting, just laying innocently on the floor.
With that, he quickly made his way over and picked up the key. Marco watched in silent anticipation as Luffy made his way back over and waited for the sweet sound of the key sliding into the lock to signal his release from the dingy cell. He frowned when after a few seconds, no such sounds reached his ears.
"What's taking so long-yoi?"
"I don't wanna touch the seastone lock!" Luffy's hand that clutched the key trembled mere millimeters from the keyhole, apprehensive to push it in.
"Oh, for the love of—Give me that-yoi!"
Marco reached beyond the bars and snatched the key from Luffy's grasp, sliding it unhesitatingly into the lock, and turning it, the audible click that sounded like music to his ears.
He pushed the doors open, the tiny shards of seastone embedded into the bars draining him a little, but not enough to really divest him of his strength, not like the seastone cuffs had. He cared not for the squeak of the hinges that echoed like a gunshot in the silent halls.
He was free.
"Marco? What's going on?"
"Tell you later, Jinbe. Now, we have to get you out of there-yoi."
Marco once again slid the key into the cell door and freed Jinbe, opening the doors wide for him to come through.
"How did you get your hands on a key?" Jinbe asked, confused, even as he slipped past the doors.
"A little blue serpent left a present-yoi." Marco replied with a smirk.
"Hee-haw! As expected of Sabo-boy!" The sudden energetic voice of Ivankov almost startled Marco out of his skin, but he managed to retain his poker face and turned to the revolutionaries.
"Would you kindly free us as well, Marco-san?" Inazuma's smooth voice penetrated the silence.
"Oh, of course." Marco blinked, before making his way over and once more, unlocking a cell door.
The voice was gruff and familiar, and Marco turned with a sigh, casting Crocodile a glance, frowning in uncertainty.
He glanced to his side. "Luffy, do you wanna free Crocodile?"
Luffy blinked, cocking his head to the side as he pinned Crocodile with a wide, unblinking stare. "I can help you get out." An offer to help? From Sir Crocodile? Well, you don't see that every day…
After a while, he blinked once more, before shrugging. "Fine with me."
Well, that just happened…
With a sigh, Marco armed himself with the key and again, freeing yet another prisoner of Level 6, one against his better judgement it seems.
Just as the ex-Shichibukai stepped out of the cell, they rounded the corner, their shadows indicating their arrival.
Oh, finally! Finally! He was so happy, Marco could almost cry! Well, he could, not that he would. Mind the operative word here. Marco whipped around so fast, he almost lost his balance, disoriented from his period of incarceration.
"THATCH!" Marco let his legs carry him, running on autopilot to get to his dearest ship-brother. Well, everyone of his ship siblings were dear to him, but Thatch was especially so. His heart leapt in his chest as he got closer, closer…Thatch running towards him, his arms spread wide, the look of utter relief on his face…a joyous smile threatened to split his cheeks, Marco couldn't contain his laughter.
He crashed into Thatch, hugging him for all he was worth, and Marco wouldn't admit it, but his eyes got a little misty and watery. In that moment, the world around him faded to a dull background –although he did vaguely register a surprised shout of "Jinbe!"- ; and he was only aware of Thatch, whom he had been thinking of every single day, whom he hadn't seen in months, whom was finally here, and well, and here. He missed the pompadour'ed Cook. The thought of Thatch laying comatose in bed was the main driving force behind Marco's pursuit of the Whitebeard Traitor, after all.
"Marco! Oh, you flaming chicken feathers! You are okay!" Thatch voice, despite being strained and tight with emotion, rang in his ears like a melody, and god, Marco missed his voice…Despite the name calling somehow getting worse. That was one he hadn't heard before, wonder where Thatch got the idea to call him that from…
Inhaling deeply, Marco took in the scent that was uniquely Thatch. The scent of bread, sweat, a hint of earth and a dash of spice washed over him in a wave of nostalgia. It reminded him of his family, it reminded him of home. And he was finally about to go home…Back to the Moby Dick…Back to the rest of his brothers…Back to Pops…
Suddenly, Marco was overcome with a deep sense of guilt and regret. It had been his fault, his mistake…and he was the reason that the Whitebeards were currently busting their asses to break through the unbreakable prison…to save his foolish useless butt who couldn't do anything right.
"Stop it." Thatch growled low and husky in his ear, and hearing it made Marco's heart jump, and hammered in his chest.
"I know what you are thinking, Marco, and I'm telling you to stop it." That said, Thatch pulled back and gripped Marco's shoulders. "It isn't your fault…You couldn't help it…If it was anyone's fault, it's that blasted Teach…"
Marco lips twitched into a frown, not swayed and Thatch didn't comment, even as he himself got a little choked.
"God…I've missed you Marco…" He crashed Marco into his chest again, and this time, hugged tighter. "It's good to have you back…With us…With me…" Thatch pulled back once again, but this time, he gripped Marco's chin, staring into his eyes for just a few seconds, his gaze brimming with relief, happiness, and just…that special something between them.
Marco gazed into Thatch's honey orbs, searching. He didn't know what it was that he was searching for exactly, but was relieved when he saw no blame in Thatch's sincere expression. There was no rejection, no anger, no annoyance, nothing of the sort that said that Thatch felt that Marco was deserving of his imprisonment. What Marco did see however, was relief, joy, sadness, and worry. Marco always found himself lost in Thatch's eyes, which so very often were alight in mischief, delight and contentment. So…very easy…to lose himself in…
The clearing of a throat sounded to his left and Marco blinked, the cacophony of voices came rushing back and he came back to reality once more. He was still in level 6, but right now, he was surrounded by his brothers. Marco quickly pulled back with a sheepish grin, embarrassed to have been caught in a momentary lapse of calm.
Hastily, he wiped at his eyes as discreetly as he could with the back of his hand, trying to regain his cool composure –for he did not cry! There was dust in his eyes, honest!- ; even as Thatch shot him an amused smile, although he did frown slightly, after his keen eyes took inventory of Marco's figure, noting that he not only looked exhausted but also felt a tad too thin. Thatch was worried; when he hugged Marco, he could practically feel the rib bones rubbing against his torso. Gods, did they starve him?! Instantly, Thatch's mind supplied him with all sorts of imagery on the treatment and torture that his dear Marco had suffered at the hands of these Marines.
Angered, Thatch growled, running his hands along Marco's shoulder and back. "Did they even feed you?! Are you hurt? What did they do to you?!"
Marco patted his hands resting upon his shoulders with a soft, but tired smile, shaking his head. "They didn't treat me terribly, Thatch, the ones in charge made sure of that, don't worry-yoi…What you see is from the effects of seastone and the 2 weeks I had spent in Marshall's custody." Here, Marco's eyes fell to the ground, suddenly ashamed to admit that he had lost.
Thatch wasn't having it however…He squeezed Marco's shoulders, "Listen Marco…Like I said, it's not your fault, don't blame yourself, ok? When we get back, after the nurses have you treated and looked, I'm going to personally see to it that you fatten up again, you flaming chicken." This brought a smile and a light chuckle to Marco face, brightening his profile.
"What, are you a witch-cook now, Thatch?" Marco teased.
Thatch smirked, "Oh, don't you know, Marco? The art of cooking is practically witchcraft. Be careful, I might add an eye of Newt into your soup."
They shared a laugh.
There was a clearing of the throat.
"If you are done with your little lovey-dovey reunion, the rest of us want a hug too, you know." Jozu drawled.
Marco at least had the decency to blush, Thatch simply grinned.
As soon as he was released by Thatch, his brothers all crowded around him, giving him their own hugs, and Vista even gave him a light smack over the head.
"That was for leaving without telling us, you feathered face."
Marco cracked a smile, "Nice to see you too-yoi, moustache face." Marco shot back heartily, delighted, for the first time in months.
He was vaguely aware of the strawhats having a reunion of their own, but right now, they had more important matters at hand.
Izo rounded on Marco, his mouth open to launch into a full-blown rant that would put Nami to shame when Marco shot up a hand. Izo paused as Marco uttered, "While I would appreciate a sound tongue-lashing, Izo, I do not think this is the best time-yoi." At this, Izo frowned, glancing about him, before seeming to realise the dire situation they were in, Haruta's warnings rushing back to him, and he nodded, acquiescing.
Marco's visage hardened and he inclined his head, authority lacing his voice once more. "Right. Now, we have to focus on getting back up the surface-yoi."
Thatch frowned, "Marco, you look terrible…Shouldn't you be healing by now?"
Marco shook his head, lifting his hand and drawing attention to the seastone bracelet wrapped around his wrist. "Can't-yoi. I don't have the key. But I'm sure that I will be able to get it off soon."
From the look on Thatch's face, the confidence and surety in his voice did nothing to reassure him.
Well, Marco knew something he didn't, so hah, take that, Thatch.
Marco turned towards the corridor. "Let's go-yoi!" Marco was quickly falling back into his family dynamics and surrounded by his loved ones, settled back into his role as the First Division Commander and First Mate of the Strongest Crew in the world. That was something no one can ever take from him. His place within his family.
With that, the group, now bigger than before –Luffy's grin a bright as the sun-, marched their way back from where they came, discussing on the way. Marco was only just barely limping, really!
"Ok, maybe we haven't thought this through…" Izo groused. "How in Paradise are we gonna go back up through that hole? It's nearly 20 feet high! Also, it's dark! Too dark! I can barely see a thing! It's a wonder how we could even navigate our way to you!"
"Well, maybe you should have brought a torch or something when you were planning the break in?" Marco suggested.
Thatch groaned, "We lost those torches in our haste to get away from those killer levels! I mean, have you seen the levels?! Killer scorpions, beasts, fires?! We had to really up our running game to-" Whatever Thatch intended to rant about was abruptly cut off when something made him pause.
At that moment, fire burst forth from the wall, lighting their way down the dim corridor, and proving a precious source of light, the fire-fly like flames that danced around in the air led them towards a corridor they had not seen before.
"Where do you think it leads?" Namur questioned.
Marco, recognizing the familiar form of power, bit back a grin as he ventured into the lit corridor without hesitation.
"Marco!" Jozu hissed, alarmed. "What are you doing?! You don't know where that leads! It could be a trap!"
Without looking over his shoulder, Marco drawled. "Just trust me-yoi."
Marco smirked as he heard his group rush to catch up with him as they made their way down the corridor, tensed and brimming with anticipation. His sharp ears caught the fading sounds of footsteps that he now associated with only two people. The sure-footed gait and that heavy-booted tread lifting his spirits as he followed the glowing orbs of fire that he knew to be harmless, towards freedom.
Shanks glared fiercely at Garp, engaging in a battle of wills as cannon fire boomed around them, the cries of battle ringing in their ears, but it all went ignored. They only had eyes for the other. The enemy, the one their ire was currently directed to.
"Would you listen to yourself, Garp!" Shanks seethed. "That is your grandson in there! About to face execution, and you do NOTHING?! You dare to call yourself a grandfather?! Rayleigh would be more fitting for that position than you, you doddery old fool!"
A tick mark bulged on Garp's forehead, and Shanks swore he could literally hear his grinding teeth from where he stood at the prow of his ship.
"You know nothing, you bloody brat! It was all your fault! If you didn't influence my grandson, he would have become an outstanding Marine by now! You and your kind wrought this upon yourselves!"
"Me and my kind?!" Shanks growled. "Well, maybe if you weren't such a shitty grandfather, leaving Luffy all alone in Foosha Village when he was barely 6, then he won't be inclined to go against you!"
"Maybe, if the Marine Corps actually tackled the real problems, weeded out corruption, and not preach the absolute justice shit that you close-minded ninnies came up with, the Marines could at least be a respected establishment! Yet, you suck up to those idiotic, selfish, ignorant, wicked World Nobles! The World Government are corrupt and ruthless and do not deserve to be ruling! You call yourselves the military?! YOU ARE NOTHING BUT JOKES!" Years of pent up anger and frustration released in a torrent that was punctuated by the haki that was imbibed in his words and voice.
The enhanced volume washed over the forces, Marine and Pirate alike, momentarily halting the ongoing battle, as everyone took a moment to comprehend the sentence.
At this point, Garp was visibly shaking, the fists that he was so famous for clenched tightly at his sides, and his head was lowered, eyes shadowed. When he looked up, one could clearly see the raging volcano that was pure fury in his eyes, on the brink of eruption.
"SILENCE!" Garp roared. "You do not know anything! You have no right to judge or question me when you yourself have not gone to see my grandson for years after planting that poisonous seed of thought into his brain!"
"I was honouring our promi-!" Shanks' immediate defence was cut off with a snarl from the Marine Hero.
"You are extremely lucky he did not die of boredom! That he at the very least had company! Do you have any idea what you've done?! His heritage was the exact reason I didn't want him to be a pirate! Yet, you goaded and encouraged him! Even giving him Roger's hat, and making him promise you! You know he would never let it go! I wanted him to join the Marines like his brothers did so I can watch over him and protect him! As a pirate, he is out of my reach! That is the only reason he can be prosecuted as Dragon's son today!"
At this, Shanks did a double take, his mind whirling and going over the old man's words once more, vaguely computing the words "brothers". Luffy had brothers?! Dragon had more sons out there in the world?! Worse still, they were a part of the Marines?! Just what was the old bat thinking?! If word of this ever got out…Shanks shudders to think what would happen…It would give the Marines a chance to prove their superiority and strength…Young, innocent kids…prosecuted and condemned just for being born into this world…Just like 20 years ago, when they had launched a hunt for his captain's child, an innocent babe, hated for his blood…The mere thought that there were others out there, Garp's own grandsons who had to fear for and question their very lives…it made Shanks tremble with rage and sorrow, his mind going back to his Captain's child, the one he had never got the chance to know.
Blinking, Shanks quickly came back to reality with a shake of his head, choosing to focus on the now instead of what ifs and questions.
He raised his sword, declaring loudly, "Garp! You fool! Did you really think they would be safe in the Marines?! You may be a Vice-Admiral, and The Fleet Admiral may be your Old friend, but once it has been found out and decreed by the World Government, not even you or Sengoku can stop the whole forces of the marines under the Admirals' command from hunting down your grandson! Today, the Marines shall suffer crippling damage, I assure you! Be prepared, GARP!"
Once more, they launched their attacks, this time, the two forces met in the middle, haki-coated fist against haki-imbued sword. The resounding clash sending shockwaves that rocked the waters and tore the skies.
In the distance, the fog parted to reveal a black ship, with a dragon figurehead, looming regally and dangerously closer to the fray, slicing through the water like a knife through butter. A horn pierced through the mist, and shouts of alarm cut above the battle, announcing a new party in this war for dominance and superiority.
Dragon the Revolutionary had arrived.
It. Was. Cold.
Marco rubbed his hands against his arms in a futile effort to ward off the biting, numbing, cold.
At this rate, he would surely freeze. Marco had not felt cold or any major temperature fluctuations to this degree in a very long time. He was unused to it and therefore, was more susceptible. He trudged along in the snow and ice, his sandaled feet sinking into the snow –he swear that it was turning blue, he couldn't feel his feet-. He braced his face against the chilling wind, unfortunately leaving his chest exposed to the elements. It was now that Marco had never loathed his choice of style more.
He was lagging behind the group, Thatch, sweet that he is, was supporting him, offering some form of warmth in comfort. The rest had no problem hurrying ahead, their insulated suits providing great cover to the bitter icy tundra plains.
He looked to his side to see Luffy doing no better, in fact, frost and icicles had already coated his limbs and face. His teeth were also chattering together furiously; but despite that, he marched on. Marco really had to admire his tenacity, for it was nothing short of extraordinary.
Jinbe seemed to be doing fine, for he had his thick fishman skin to insulate him from the cold environment. Inazuma and Crocodile also had no problems treading through the snow like walking on sand, neither were they too affected by the cold due to the thick coats they were wearing.
Marco wanted those coats.
As for Ivankov…it was best kept secret what he was doing, but one thing was for sure…it worked.
Marco cast a glance at Thatch, and chattered, "C-couldn't y-you gu-guys have b-b-brought extra c-c-cl-clothes for u-us-yoi?"
Thatch sent him a semi-apologetic, mixed with worry look, replying, "There weren't enough suits, Marco."
They shouldered on for a few more seconds before Thatch offered, "Do you want me to carry you?"
Marco, however, stubbornly shook his head, his hair flying into this eyes. "I-I c-can w-walk mu-mu-muh-myself-yoi."
"You sure?" Thatch's glove clad hand hovered over his shoulder hesitantly and tentatively.
"Yes, I'm sure-yoi!" Marco snapped, ploughing forth, refusing to let a little freezing chill get the best of him.
"Let's hurry, I w-wanna get out of here, and g-get these c-cuffs of m-me on the f-fourth level-yoi."
"How do you know you will get the cuffs off on the fourth level?"
Marco shot Thatch a look, "Because it is where the Chief W-Warden, w-who has the k-key, has his o-office." His voice and tone was dry, and he didn't think it was merely from exasperation.
Did he mention that he was cold? Because he was.
This was when he noticed that the place really was a barren wasteland of white, not a single prisoner in sight.
He turned to Ivankov, wondering. "Didn't you say there were wolves or something? Where are they?"
"SSSSHHHHHHH!" As one, the entire group in front whipped around to shush Marco.
"Marco! Has time in Impel Down fried your head?! Pipe down!" Izo hissed. "You are gonna jinx it!" Here, he looked around warily, his eyes darting from side to side in paranoia. He lowered his voice to an almost inaudible whisper, "Just talking about them is bad."
Marco raised an eyebrow sceptically and looked to Thatch, who shrugged. "They are right, Feathers. Best be careful, you never know what can be lurking in this forsaken wasteland."
Marco frowned, wondering why Thatch, whom he knew to be practically fearless, would even be daunted by mere wolves. He voiced this. "Since when does Thatch the fearless Fourth Division Commander bow down to a few arctic wolves, yoi?"
Thatch rolled his eyes, "It isn't that I'm fearless, you know. It's just that in my time in the Whitebeards, there was nothing that instilled a strong sense of fear in me, at least, not until now, here in Impel Down."
"That or he just didn't know enough to fear." Jozu chuckled deeply at Thatch's indignant squawk to his jest.
This lightened the mood a fair bit and they traversed across the icy planes at a much more relaxed pace, the atmosphere not as tensed.
Perhaps that was what made them lower their guard, perhaps the cold was interfering with their senses somehow, but Marco hadn't been able to sense him, to sense them. Perhaps it was because of what and who they are, that they were able to supress their haki.
One second, they were relatively safe, not a sign of a soul in sight; and the next, they were besieged.
"Well well well, what do we have here?" The Vice Chief Warden, Hannybal, approached from within the blizzard with the wolves by his side, red-eyed and snarling, their jaws dripping with saliva and the furs on their backs raised.
Everyone took a tentative step back, quickly forming a protective circle around their friends whom they had recently saved.
"Guys, we can take care of ourselves." Marco protested, voice hoarse.
Thatch shook his head, "Nope, no can do, birdie. Have you seen the state that you are currently in?"
Thatch raised his swords, Izo his pistols, and the rest too prepared to fight, Luffy adopting a determined and fierce look on his face and he raised his hands, fists poised in a boxing pose as he took on a fighting stance.
Hannybal cackled. "Do you pirates really think you can get out of the strongest prison in the world alive?!" He adjusted his loin cloth and Marco now only noticed that he was in nothing but his underwear.
"Holy shit, he's a stripper!" Thatch exclaimed.
"I AM NOT!" Hannybal yelled. "I just like to do this to test my tolerance to the cold!"
Marco felt jealous. Here he was, freezing his ass off and this Chief Warden could just strut in front of him in nothing but a thin piece of fabric adorning his privates. Oh how he longed for the sweet, familiar embrace of his devil's fruit. He was really starting to hate these seastone cuffs now.
Hannybal sneered, "Even if you did manage to get past me on this frozen wasteland, you still have yet to face the Chief Warden Magellan and the ones in charge of Level 6 and Level 5 themselves! They are formidable, those two, even if they are insubordinate and you will be lucky to even get out past this level with your limbs intact!"
Marco inwardly smirked, and he drawled out loud, "Oh really? I do not see these Heads of Levels anywhere."
"Hah! You foolish pirate!" Hannybal spat. "Those two are Rear Admirals! On Par with Vice Admirals! You would be imbeciles to take them lightly! I tell you, they do not stand for any slights against their authority, much less a futile escape attempt by some pathetic pirate criminals!"
"Oh, Hannybal. What are you doing? You look absolutely ridiculous." The now familiar tenor voice of the blonde Rear Admiral resonated in Marco's ear and he started, turning towards the voice.
There, in the flurry of snow, the Sky Dragon was slowly striding his way over to their little motley, ragtag group. His swirling shades of sapphire glowing, easily visible through the torrent of frost and snow, truly, like a mighty dragon coiled in the snow, camouflaged except for its fierce glowing eyes, ready to pounce. Marco frowned. What was Sabo doing here? Didn't he say that he and Ace would use the opportunity of the havoc instigated by the infiltrating pirates to escape? What was he still doing lingering in Level 5?
"Rear Admiral Sabo!" Marco could hear the thinly-veiled surprise and slight fear disguised under the layers of professional tone. "What are you doing here?"
Sabo paused, just beyond the perimeter of the little besiegement. His lips were drawled back into a menacing grin that was disguised in amiability, less teeth and more fangs.
"Is Level 5 not my jurisdiction? Not under my guard? Must I really give a reason for my purpose here?"
Marco could see that Hannybal relaxed minutely. Let down his guard, if even for a millisecond. Big mistake. Marco could hear the smirk and smugness in Sabo's tenor voice.
"Oh, of course, Rear Admiral Sabo. Then, are you going to arrest these trespassers?"
Marco could also see the moment when the smirk seeped from his voice into his slitted eyes. Shit was going down.
"Is that the Rear Admiral that Haruta warned us about?" Thatch hissed to Izou. What?
"Most definitely. He did say he was in charge of Level 5." Izou murmured back.
"What are you guys talking about-yoi?" Marco interjected. Thatch waved in the general direction of Sabo, gesturing.
"Haruta warned us to avoid the Rear Admirals at all cost, saying that they would be a challenge to tackle. But, we can hardly run while surrounded now can we?"
Marco gave a soft but sharp bark of laughter, his hooded gaze drifting back to where Admiral and Warden were squaring off. "Oh…I wouldn't be too worried-yoi."
"Why? Do you know something we don't?" Izo inquired.
Marco chuckled, "Let's just say…that it was truly eye-opening-yoi."
His family shot him a look of confusion, not knowing what he was on about while those that did simply shared in his amusement. Oh well, they would know soon enough.
Sabo cast his gaze briefly around the area, before he extended an arm and threw it to the side, commanding an order as he did so.
"Wolves! Stand down! Back off!" There was a deep ferocious growl resonating from the back of his throat.
To the surprise of the infiltrators, the wolves, previously surrounding them and snarling, whimpered and actually scooted back. Some sat down, while some even laid down on the snowy ground. The crazed glints in their animalistic eyes had dimmed and one could even associate them with the word tame, very loosely of course.
"What? Rear Admiral, we need these wolves!" Hannybal balked, trying to protest, but try as he might to engage the wolves once more, he simply did not have the same commanding ability that Sabo possessed.
"Oh, no, certainly not, Vice-Warden. They will simply interfere with the objective."
"The objective…" Hannybal spat, "Was to ensure the capture of the infiltrators and to prevent the prisoners from escaping Impel Down!"
Sabo grinned ferally, "Not my objective, it isn't."
Hannybal snarled, "Rear Admiral Sabo! I don't care that you are the grandson of Marine Hero Garp the Fist! I don't care that you and that brat you call your brother are known as the Demon Brothers! You two are insubordinate, stubborn, prideful, and right now, you are interfering with a direct order from the Admiral Sakazuki, who received it from the Fleet Admiral himself!"
Sabo threw his head back and laughed, sounding a little unhinged. "Ehehehehheehe! Excellent! That was my exact intention! You see, Hannybal. This break in, this breach has presented us with the perfect opportunity! Besides, did you really think we would just stand idly by while our precious little brother is being persecuted?"
Hannybal's face screwed up in confusion. "Little Brother?"
Sabo gestured in Luffy's direction, and Marco could see Luffy staring wide-eyed at his brother, signature proud grin upon his lips.
"Correct. Monkey D. Luffy is my brother."
Hannybal's face once again morphed, this time, into an expression of horror.
"B-But-! Monkey D. Luffy is the son of Dragon the Revolutionary! A-and you are his brother, you say?! Then, that means-!"
Sabo shrugged, looking nonchalant for all that he was revealing his past to them. "Well, we are the grandsons of Garp the Fist. Also known as Monkey D. Garp. The one you know to be the son of Dragon the Revolutionary is named, Monkey D. Luffy. Where does that lead to?"
Now, Hannybal's expression had twisted into one of disgust.
"So, you demon spawns have been in the Marines this whole time?! How disgusting it is that the Marines have been tainted and tarnished by devils such as yourselves! How dare you besmirch the good name of the Marines with your poison! You son of the devils! You truly are the Demon Brothers, brats who shouldn't have been born, much less corrupt the Marines, you scum!"
Sabo heaved a sigh, looking for all the world, tired with the situation. He shot a bemused grin at the fuming Vice-Chief Warden, his wide glowing eyes and large grin lending him a slight portrayal of madness. Then again, aren't all D.'s? It simply depended upon which side of the madness scale they leaned towards. Chaotic good, chaotic neutral or chaotic evil.
"Well, then I guess it doesn't really matter since the Marines were already pretty corrupted before we joined, huh? They listen to the World Government and those lumbering bobble heads they call the World Nobles for Blue's sake! Besides…"
Here, Sabo shrugged and tapped his fingers against his thigh, which had already morphed into a claw, coated with blue dragon scales, gleaming iridescent in the reflection of the snow. The smile he shot Hannybal could barely be called one but was more of a feral baring of teeth, belying the apex predator that lurked beneath the human exterior. His eyes were shadowed by his bangs, leaving only two glinting electric blue orbs widened with manic glee and sharp grin pinning the Vice-Warden down, rooted to the spot, even as Hannybal unsheathed his double-bladed naginata poised in a direction to attack.
"You won't be alive to spread that little rumour anyway."
The Azure Dragon coiled like a venomous snake, exposing its fangs and struck.
Rear Admiral Sabo lunged.
The imposing Revolutionary ship bearing the figurehead of a horned dragon with whiskers like those from the myths in certain parts of the East Blue sliced through the churning waters like a hot knife through butter, easily navigating the tight turns and minute shifts to squeeze between surrounding galleons and ships, looming closer every second.
Shanks revelled in the gritting of teeth that he can hear from Garp, as well as the murmured curses of, "That stupid brat, he chooses to show up now of all times."
Shanks smirked, he could almost taste the victory, "You can't keep him away from his sons forever, Garp, and you were an old fool to try."
Shanks really liked to make Garp grit his teeth. He is half hoping that his quips would frustrate, annoy and madden the marine hero to the point where his dentures shattered and chipped. Yes, you heard that right, for he refused to accept that the wrinkled ape would be able to retain such perfect teeth at such an age. Those were dentures, for sure, without a doubt; don't refute him on this one Benn, just admit that you think the same.
They. Were. Dentures.
Shanks snapped out of his reverie when a deep, gruff voice rang out, "All Revolutionaries! Scatter! Prepare to board!"
Shanks chuckled and turned to focus on his own problem, confident that the Army whose main goal was to crush to the World Government could more than handle the lackeys known as the Marine Corps.
The Red-haired Yonko would make sure that Vice-Admiral Garp the Fist would be kept busy.
The blows exchanged kicked up the ice and snow, obscuring their view of the ongoing fight. Luffy had stars in his eyes, awestruck as he watched his older brother battle it out with one of the top executives in Impel Down. The others however, were confused.
"Why is a Rear-Admiral helping us?" Sanji wondered.
"Maybe he doesn't want any competition for when he takes us out later." Robin.
"Yohohohohohho! Oh my! This is curious indeed!" Brook's ribs clacked together as he chortled.
"Didn't you hear him?" Izo quipped. "He said Strawhat was his brother!"
"Is this true, Strawhat?" Jozu turned to the boy.
"Shishishi!" Luffy grinned, excited and proud. "Of course! Ace and Sabo are the best! They are super strong! I've never been able to beat them!"
"EHHH?!" His crew chorused in a tandem of shock. "Then how crazy strong are they?!"
Marco sighed, having quickly become weary of the conversation. "This kid practically idolises them-yoi. He wouldn't stop yapping away about them back in Level 6."
Luffy pouted, "But Mr. PineappleHead-!"
"-You listened!" Luffy whined.
"I had no choice-yoi." Marco huffed, and smacked the guffawing Thatch across the back of his head. "Shut up Thatch!"
"I'm never gonna let you live this down!" He howled, slapping his thigh as he hunched over, tears in his eyes. "Mr. PineappleHead!"
"Shut up now, all of you! Thatch, I will rip out that pompadour!" His ship-brothers snickered.
"No! My hair!" Thatch clutched at his prized pompadour.
Marco rolled his eyes, exasperated with their antics. Then he smiled minutely. He can't believe he missed this, but he did.
There was a sound like a fiery boom that drew their attention back to the ensuing battle only to see a ring of flames being whipped about in the flurry of the storm.
Marco did a double-take, did Ace jump into the fight to help?
Then Sabo's voice drifted over on the wind.
"You call those flames?! You call that fire?! I've tasted hellfire way hotter than this! My dragon scales are impenetrable by your pathetic flames!"
"Sky Dragon's Fang Crusher!"
The force behind the attack caused a veritable explosion of gale and snow, whipping up the area, forcing them to shield their faces from the cutting winds. There was a sudden quiet where the flurry created by the disturbed snow began to settle. The spectators lowered their arms and dared a peek.
Marco blinked, barely able to make out a figure in that hazy cloud. Then, as if swept aside by a burst of fresh wind, the snow storm cleared and left in its wake, the results of the battle.
"Sabo!" Luffy threw his hands up in joy and rushed to his brother. Sabo, Marine coat flapping in the wind, had emerged victorious, and the sign of his win was clutched in his hand, tattered, torn and stained.
Sabo threw the loincloth behind him, and the thin fabric fluttered to the snowy ground, forgotten in place of the Captain of the Strawhat Pirates.
With practiced ease, Sabo's arms opened to receive the rubbery hug from his beloved little brother, and squeezed back enthusiastically. The two's voices echoing in the expanse of the forsaken tundra, now seemingly like an untouched winter wonderland once more.
Sabo turned his attention to the gathered group of pirate infiltrators and offered them a toothy smile, now looking warm and inviting instead of sharp and menacing.
The Rear-Admiral gripped the brim of his cap and executed a graceful bow. "Thank you for taking care of my little brother. He may be a little hard to handle at times, but please continue to look after him."
"Ah, no, it's no problem." Luffy's crew waved.
Sabo, Rear-Admiral, second grandson of Garp the Fist, and the older brother of the Super Rookie, Strawhat, grinned. He tipped his hat again in gratitude.
"Marco." The blonde turned to address him. "How are you holding up? It's just one more level until you are free of the seastone."
Marco raised his brows higher than it already was. "And how do you know that?"
Sabo shrugged, "Just a hunch. Anyway, how are you feeling?"
Marco nodded, holding up his hand, the seastone cuff a contrast against his skin. "I'm ok-yoi. Cold, but it's not frostbite. I can handle a little snow." Yup, he sounded tough, is tough and Thatch's cackling had nothing to do with him, yep. Not at all.
Sabo smirked, a knowing look in his sea-blue eyes but thankfully, did not call him out on it.
Marco ignored the questioning look from his family, he didn't want to deal with that right now.
Sabo turned, and walked off in a random direction. Well, it looked random.
The wolves got to their feet, but Sabo ordered a sharp "Stay!" with nary a glance back. The wolves whimpered and laid down again.
"Come, I will lead us out of Level 5. Level 4 will decide it all."
Cryptic words, but with nothing else to do, and no other lead, with Luffy already scampering after his brother, the others were left with little choice. They all shared a look, before collectively shrugging and, throwing caution to the wind, trudged after the two retreating back. They followed along.
One would think, that Level 4 would be more Marco's speed, but in actuality, he felt like ice cream in a bout of summer heat. Oh, how he wished that the blasted cuffs would be off of him at that very instant.
Marco glared at the back of the Marine jacket emblazoned with the word 'Justice'. How could Sabo not be dying in the heat?! He was covered from head to toe for blue's sake! Sabo glanced back and sent Marco a smirk. Oh, the cheeky little devil. Just wait, once Marco gets his powers back, he will wipe that smug grin off his pale scarred cheeks. Just because, how dare he be ok while he was suffering?!
The second they stepped onto the heat cracked floor of Level 4, the heat immediately entering his lungs and Marco started to sweat, finding it a little hard to breathe, they were greeted by the yells and sounds of a vicious brawl, for sure enough, they had arrived in the midst of a violent confrontation between two individuals.
Marco gave a start as he spotted Ace clashing head on with the Chief Warden Magellan. Logia vs Paramecia, an unforeseeable match.
Beside him, Marco heard Thatch's noise of confusion. "Who's that? Wait-is that a Rear Admiral Uniform?!"
Many pairs of eyes shot towards Sabo in disbelief, while he just shrugged noncommittedly and hummed. "Like I said, no one threatens our little brother."
"Holy Shit!" Thatch exclaimed, pointing a finger dramatically at Sabo, then at the battle-focused Ace. "That's the other Rear Admiral! The other Grandson of Garp! Fire Fist!"
Sabo chuckled, "Well, good to know that his name is already heard amongst the pirates. This would make his goal so much easier."
"Huh?" Thatch faltered.
Sabo grinned, "Just watch."
And they did. For every poison-fuelled attack posed by Magellan, Ace countered it expertly with Haki in one hand, and a flaming fist in the other, which he uses to practically melt the poison and render its chemical properties useless.
While Magellan has the advantage of experience and his devil fruit, Ace counters it with his own brand of unpredictability and fire, for in his flame form, Ace is impervious to the poison which affects only solid and physical bodies.
There were several times that Magellan blew gaseous poison in Ace's direction, in which Ace then either shut his eyes or held his breath whilst leaping away from the tear gas, using his observation haki to act as his eyes.
Marco watched on, impressed, but worried. Magellan is the Chief Warden for a reason, and while sure, Ace was doing an admirable job of fending off Magellan, he could only do so for so long before being overpowered or subdued by Magellan's sheer strength or overwhelming devil fruit. Not only that, but fire is incompatible with poison. By all accounts, poison would reign superior due to the very nature of the toxin. Ace, for all his conviction, could not hope to defeat someone who was a veteran compared to his mere three years.
Sabo himself could only defeat Hannybal due to his devil fruit and because Hannybal's attire made him vulnerable to Sabo's strong, piercing claw attack. Dragon claws were strong enough to break steel, he had heard.
It was a bad match-up from the beginning.
Marco looked towards Sabo to see if he was going to help his dear brother in any way, but he was nowhere to be found. Marco blinked. Wasn't the blond standing beside him just a moment ago?
"Dai Enkai: Entei!"
That brought Marco back to the fight and he watched as a literal sun barrelled towards the Warden, managing to push him back enough to crash against the smoking volcanic rock wall of the level.
A slight jingling beside him brought Marco back from the spectacle to look down at his wrist, only to see the key being slid into the lock of his sea stone bracelet by a gloved hand, the cuff coming apart with a click and falling into an outstretched palm. Marco looked up from his freed wrist to meet sapphire orbs sparkling in mirth, even as he felt the familiar all-encompassing warmth rush from his core to envelop his entire being. The healing flames of the phoenix that was before sealed away came roaring forth in all its intensity and Marco embraced it as the phoenix trilled, sliding back into the corner of his mind like a part of him has returned, a long-lost family member come home.
Taking a deep breath in both relief and reprieve, Marco met Sabo's eyes, silently thanking him for letting him finally be free, to feel whole once more. Sabo smirked and nodded, before turning to the fight that lay sprawled before him.
Ace panting for breath from the exertion, and Magellan struggling to his feet. In that brief instant, Sabo's figure blurred, only to re-appear beside the Chief warden, locking a pair of cuffs onto his wrists faster than the untrained eye could follow and slapping on the sea stone bracelet acquired from Marco for an extra measure of precaution.
The group watched as Magellan, previously so dangerous, slumped to the ground, his energy being drained and sapped.
Sabo dusted off his hands, straightening up with a sigh. "There, that's taken care of."
He turned to Ace, who was bracing himself on his knees, and commented, "Excellent distraction, Ace. It worked like a charm."
Ace huffed, "It was your idea. For a moment there, I thought he was gonna gain the upper hand, which would've been really bad, if he had used his secret move. You could've been faster."
Sabo smirked, "Being faster would dictate that I would have had to leave a few precious goods behind, you wouldn't want to leave your precious hat in this dingy place, now would you?"
"You wouldn't dare." Ace glared.
Izo muttered, "It was all part of the plan? A well-timed distraction?"
Then he gasped. "Wait! Where's Davi! We left him here!"
Marco blinked, "You what? He's here? He came with you? Why did you leave him here?!"
As their group looked around frantically, an awkward clearing of the throat was heard from where the two Rear Admirals stood.
As the group turned as one to look at them, one look at Ace's saddened apologetic expression had their heart sinking.
"I am so sorry, by the time I got here…it was too late. He had defeated Sadi, but had the misfortune of running into Magellan before I was able to arrive. Magellan used Hydra on him. I wasn't able to save him." Ace clenched his fists, "He was brave until the very end. He didn't scream nor beg. Truly, a Whitebeard Commander who deserved his station."
Marco felt his heart give a pang, pain gripping it for the loss of a brother.
Marco swallowed wetly, holding back tears that were threatening to slip through.
"Izo…" Namur's croak brought Marco's attention to Izo, whose shoulders were shaking, his frame trembling, fists clenched as he bit his bottom lip, a muffled sob escaping through clenched teeth.
Tears fell freely as Izo silently cried, having felt the worse of the news of Davi. He had been closest to him.
Unable to wipe his tears behind the protection mask, Izo gritted out in between hiccups, "H-he…broke h-his promise…"
"Izo…" Thatch laid a hand on the cross-dresser's shoulder. Jozu silently opened his arms, and Izo fell into it, finally openly sobbing his sorrow and despair.
The Diamond man embraced him, not saying a word -for what can he say? -only able to act as a pillar of support for their grieving brother.
There was a grave moment of silence in honour of the brother, friend and comrade they had lost.
Then a groan from their right brought their attention to the guards that lay scattered on the floor, some having been knocked unconscious from the backlash of the fights.
Sadi, the Chief Guard, lay prone on the floor, but showed signs of waking.
Robin piped up, "We cannot stay here. We have to get out, and fast."
Izo nodded and sniffled, untangling himself from Jozu's chest. "Y-you are right, there will be time for mourning later. We have to get out first."
The sound of heavy fabric fluttering to the floor brought the group's focus back onto the two Rear Admirals, who had discarded their Marine coats.
Sabo was in the process of putting on his own black coat jacket, while Ace had discarded his trousers for a pair of black knee-length shorts and was shrugging on a yellow flannel shirt. The buckle with the letter remained.
In tandem, Ace and Sabo removed their Marine caps and held it in their hands for a moment, sparing the other a glance. Then, as if by an unspoken cue, they both smirked and flung their caps over their shoulders, an act of rebellion. One cap was flaming, and the other was shredded.
Turning to the other, Sabo handed Ace a black top hat encircled by a pair of goggles over a blue ribbon, whilst he himself clutched a bright orange cowboy hat. Both looked like it had been well-worn.
With a nod from Sabo, Ace held the top hat to his chest and bent at the waist, lowering his head while facing Sabo.
As if granting knighthood, Sabo slowly, gently, reverently placed the orange cowboy hat upon Ace's head, declaring, "From this moment forwards, you, Portgas D. Ace, discard your title as Rear Admiral of the Marines to once more roam freely upon the seas, to prove to yourself and to others, naysayers and supporters alike that you are more than your bloodline, to seek freedom."
As Ace straightened from the bow, Marco could see that the ridiculous looking orange hat somehow suited him.
Then, it was Sabo's turn. Sabo took a rather dramatic bow, sweeping his coat up as he lowered his torso, smirk dancing upon his lips. Ace briefly rolled his eyes before he calmly, assuredly and tenderly plopped the top hat onto the crown of golden blond locks, announcing, "From this point on, you, Noah D. Sabo, shall throw away your Rear Admiral position to take your place amongst liberators out on the open oceans, to free others like how yourself gained freedom."
With that, the brothers were released.
It was like a breath that has been released after being held a moment too long, a sigh in their minds, a calm to their hearts. The sound of freedom once again attained.
Now that the brothers were appropriately dressed, they flanked Luffy and with that, they truly looked, like a trio of demons, their grins diabolical and mischievous, ready to take the world by storm.
Luffy was grinning widely, his joy and excitement palpable as he circled his rubber arms around his brothers in a tight hug.
Once they were released, Sabo turned to the others. "We should get out of here as fast as we can."
Ace nodded with pursed lips, eyeing the entrance hole to the upper level. "It would take too long to go out by the way you came."
Sabo nodded, "Which is why, we shall take the lift. Come on."
As he turned to lead the way, Thatch bemoaned, "There's a lift, we could have taken the lift?"
Ace smirked, "If you wanted to fight Magellan once you got in, then yes, you could've."
Thatch pouted, "Pass…" As he glanced back at Magellan, glaring at their retreating backs. His gaze promised retribution, particularly pinned upon two ex-Rear Admirals.
They made their way into Magellan's office and towards the lift, where they all crowded in. It was a tight squeeze, but they managed. Once in, Ace pressed the button for the ground floor, and they all proceeded to move up.
There was a tangible silence as they ascended, punctured only by the lift music that was…a little questionable.
Brook hummed, "No wonder the Chief Warden is like that, if I had to listen to such music everyday, I would go crazy yohohoho!"
Sabo chuckled, "It does explain a lot."
The lift dinged as it stopped and the lift door slid open, where they all spilled out onto chaos on the ground level.
The floor rumbled as the fight raged outside the large metal doors that still stood strong, façade broken by the large hole beside it where they had entered. Outside, they could see glimpses of the battle being waged.
"That's our way out! Come on!" Thatch rallied, and everyone made a break for the exit.
There was, surprisingly, little resistance along the way. Many were called to fight outside the relative safety of the prison, and yet many more were in the lower levels; someone had to keep the prisoners from rioting. The resistance they met were quickly brushed aside, several weak cadets who could not hold a candle to the Whitebeards and Strawhats combined strength, and others taken by surprise to see the Rear Admirals fighting against them.
The entire group burst from the crack in the defense to behold the sight of Whitebeard and the Moby Dick fighting alongside the Red Force, as well as a large black ship with a dragon figurehead.
Whitebeard himself was defending against the several marine vessels aimed at him and the ship, cracks permeating the space around him and the waves roiling with every rumble while the rest of the Whitebeard Pirates dealt with the scores of marines attempting to board the ship or attack them from afar.
At the forefront, standing proud and strong against Shanks and Dragon the Revolutionary, was Garp the Fist, seething and almost purple with rage. There seemed to be a fierce conversation going on between Shanks and Garp, but they were too far to hear it.
In unison, the D brothers paled, cowering together, "It's gramps!"
"Ace, Sabo, I don't wanna get a Fist of Love!" Luffy actually whimpered.
Ace and Sabo shared a glance as they hugged Luffy tight, gazing worriedly at their grandfather.
The group hasn't yet been noticed, so Marco decided quickly, "Everyone, lets break off into smaller groups, we are sitting ducks here. The Whitebeards, Jinbe, and the Strawhats shall go to the Moby, the revs and Crocodile shall go to Dragon's ship, I'm sure they can drop you off somewhere, Crocodile, and the three of you…" he addressed the brothers, his gaze softening as he looked towards the Marine Vessel with the dog figurehead. "Why don't you settle your grievances once and for all?"
The brothers shared a glance and nodded in assent.
With that, the group broke off, heading in three different directions. As Marco's group had the most members, he will have to divert attention so that they can make it to the ship, and Marco knows just the thing.
Letting flames consume his form, his arms turning into a pair of brilliant yellow and blue wings, Marco leapt into the air, transforming into the Phoenix with a sharp, thrilling war cry that pierced through the din of the battlefield.
Sure enough, as he soared over the marine vessels towards oyaji, the many marine cannons took aim at his moving form and fired, attempting to bring him down. They foolishly directed their attention at him, and he trilled as the projectiles passed through his flame body harmlessly, allowing the marines to be taken down by the Whitebeards and for Thatch and the others to use the marine vessels as steppingstones towards the Moby. Covering their backs as they made their way to the Moby, Marco derived some satisfaction in destroying as many marine vessels and fighting as many marines as they could. Granted, they may not have played a role in what happened to him, but he was a pirate, and well, they got in his way.
He landed next to Thatch on the deck of the Moby to the crescendo triumphant cries of his ship brothers and sisters, all clamouring to welcome him back.
Marco turned towards his father with a wan smile, his eyes growing misty as he fought to hold back tears, a single drop streaking down his dirty cheek belying his emotions.
"Pops…" Marco croaked, voice quivering. His father, the one who first believed in him and treasured him and cared for him. Edward Newgate scooped Marco up and brought him close, his large hand cradling Marco gently in his palm, his sharp eyes previously brimming with rage softening considerably upon sighting his first son. "Marco…Welcome home, son."
Marco clutched at his dad's thumb. "I'm home, Oyaji…" Whitebeard's eyes scanned Marco for any injury, but other than the dirt that clung to him from not showering, he looked better than most, for it could have been worse, if he didn't have Ace and Sabo looking out for him.
Edward Newgate placed Marco back onto the deck, before straightening to his full height. Slamming his bisento on the adam wood flooring, Whitebeard bellowed, "Everyone! Back to the Moby and cast off! Marco is home!"
The cries of victory that rose from the Whitebeards threatened to rend the skies asunder.
As the Moby Dick moved towards the open sea, Marco spared a quick glance towards the Red Force and Garp's ship. He wondered how things were going down on their end.
Shanks was close to screaming in frustration. Just what does it take to get it into Garp's thick skull that taking away the boys' chance of freedom was essentially condemning them?! Can't he see that being chained down as Marines, not able to fulfil their dreams was like taking away their will?! Their strength?! They may be marines, but from what he had heard, it was just as much a prison as it was an escape. A bird that was kept in a large aviary was still caged, no matter how much they can stretch their wings.
By the blues, Shanks felt like taking one of the surgical tools, preferably a drill, and y'know, drill that logic into Garp's brain. Heh, get it, Benn? He wondered if his doctor would allow him to...Probably not...That man was quite protective of his equipment, borderline possessive if Shanks had anything to say about it. Now wasn't the time to be thinking about that though.
Attempting once more, Shanks growled, "Do you intend to bear the consequences should it come to a point where the government demands their lives?! You are claiming responsibility and if it comes down to it, will you be able to put your grandsons above your duty of 'Justice'?! Or will you choose to let them be executed just because you are too much of a fucking Marine to put your family first?!"
Garp seethed, "It is BECAUSE I put my family first that I want them to become Marines so I can look out for them! At least, when they are Marines, I can shield them! I can bear any penalty for their misdeeds! With my position, I can at least lighten their sentence should it come to that! At most, I can ensure that I can bear the punishment in their place!"
Shanks gritted his teeth. This stubborn old geezer…!
"And we appreciate that, Gramps, really! But don't you think that's something for us to decide ourselves?! We are of age after all!"
It was almost comical to see Garp almost fall off figurehead he was perched upon, if he wasn't preoccupied with taking in the sight of three figures landing in front of him. One, he immediately recognised. That strawhat was unmistakable. The other two took a while. The one on the left had a large gaudy orange cowboy hat on, shielding wavy black locks, and a yellow flannel shirt that didn't give credence to his true strength. He could see those muscles bulging from the shift sleeves that hugged his arm, the markings of a tattoo peeking out from beneath it. The third on the right was covered from head to toe, a top hat perched on blonde curls and a large black coat taking up most of his attire. His hands were covered in gloves of all things and he could spot black boots that took up half of his leg. All three wore eerily similar grins, facing against Garp.
At the look of shock that rippled over the old Marine's expression, Shanks could already guess that the two strange teens were the other two of his grandsons.
Shanks felt a great vindication at the fact that perhaps now, the old bat would realise the folly of his ways.
He watched, amused, as Garp's face went through a myriad of colours ranging from pale, to angry red, seething puce, and then raging purple. "YOU-! BRATS! GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!"
Garp was shaking with fury, but one with a keen eye could spy the glint of worry and apprehension in his eyes. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!"
The two older teens chortled, "Gramps! It's exactly what it looks like! Luffy has become a pirate! He's already on his first step towards his dream! Our deal is thus null and void!" The blonde one declared.
The freckled one nodded, "This is a coup, gramps! A coup! We are going to become pirates now! We are going to be FREE!"
Luffy simply laughed.
Garp shook his fist, "YOU FOOLISH BRATS! You will become criminals!"
Freckles crossed his arms, "Then so be it! Better than this shithole!"
Blondie shook his head, "Gramps, your methods are…unorthodox and questionable, but you can't protect us forever! You know that! While it's true that you can give us protection as only you can, it won't and can't last, you can only do so much in your position!"
That's when Luffy piped up, "I would rather be a pirate and live, than be a Marine and not having lived at all!"
Shanks felt his heart skip a beat, such words, bearing such weight, from the mouth of a teen…Shanks grinned proudly.
Garp had to pick his jaw up from off the floor and Shanks was hard pressed to resist a snicker.
The blonde hedged, "You had good intentions, gramps, of that I'm sure, but…it didn't really translate well into actions…"
The freckled one continued, "I made a promise gramps, and the only way to fulfil that is to become a pirate."
Garp was for once, speechless. He glanced between the trio, before his gaze fell on his son who was ushering some people aboard his own ship. Dragon met his gaze briefly before turning back to his task, getting ready to cast off. Off to the side, Shanks could also see the Moby Dick moving off.
He could see Garp watching the trio critically, his demeanour serious. There was a tension in the air that one could slice like a hot knife through butter. The trio were standing tall, strong and proud against their grandfather, not backing down and not cowering no matter how much he could see their hands trembling minutely.
Finally, when the tension felt like a taut guitar string on the verge of snapping, Garp sighed, closing his eyes in resignation.
"I could never cage you, huh…"
With that, he turned around, his marine coat swishing and directed his attention to the fleet that had gathered, picking themselves up from the battle that had wrecked their ships.
"MARINES! STAND DOWN! MARCO THE PHOENIX AND STRAWHAT LUFFY HAVE ESCAPED! THE FIGHT IS OVER!" He boomed, his voice carrying over the waves. Even in his elder years, Garp was still a formidable figure.
With a sigh of relief, Shanks gave the signal to raise anchor.
Turning his back to them was his way of letting them go, diverting attention and pretending not to notice as the Red Force and the black ship melted into the fog.
Shanks smirked, maybe the crazy old bat wasn't so bad after all…
Of course, he still had a reputation to uphold. He can't feign ignorance for long.
After the Red Force was a little ways away, lagging a little behind the Moby Dick and the revolutionary vessel, but joining up. Canon balls came rocketing out of the dense mist to land in the water close to the Red Force. Garp was on the offense again.
Several more canon balls hit the water and created huge waves that rocked the ship, but thankfully, the Red Force stood strong.
Garp's voice travelled through the dense fog. "YOU WON'T GET AWAY THAT EASY YOU DAMN PIRATES!"
Shanks gave a sigh. Knowing Garp, what will come next will be his gigantic cannon ball tied to the chain that is his finishing move.
Shanks rested his hand on his sword, prepared to cleave the cannonball in two.
Sure enough, the cannon ball almost the size of the Red Force burst through the fog arching towards the ship.
Shanks clutched his sword, moving to intercept when two figures blurred in front of him.
Pausing in surprise, Shanks watched as the blonde and freckled teens leapt towards the cannonball, skipping through the air in what he recognised as Geppou. He watched as the freckled teen's arm became coated in the black sheen of haki before bursting into crimson red flames, while the blonde teen's arm morphed into a three toed claw, scales and talons glinting black.
"Flaming Iron Fist!"
"Crushing steel claw!"
To his amazement -but really, should he even be shocked? - , the cannon ball stopped in its tracks once met by those heavy blows.
For a moment, it looked as if the momentum of the cannon ball might overpower the two before a resounding Crack! Was heard. From the point of contact by a burning fist and an adamantine claw, cracks feathered outwards like a spider web, covering the surface of the weapon before, with a final groan, the large cannon ball exploded into pieces, raining down around the ship in a flurry.
As the two landed back on the deck, Shanks was visibly impressed, his smile wide. Luffy though? Luffy's grin was threatening to split his face in half. He was rubber though, so nothing to worry about.
Bracing a leg against the rail of the ship, the freckled teen shouted back into the fog.
"I will become one of the greatest pirates to ever sail the seas and I will surpass him! Everyone will know me for me! Just you watch Gramps!"
Taking a cue from his brother, Blondie too announced, "And I will liberate the seas! I will document all of my adventures so everyone shall know what it's like, to be free! You'll see!"
Luffy laughed, shishishi, threw his arms into the air, and proclaimed, to his grandfather, to the seas and the skies, "Just you wait! I will become…! THE PIRATE KING!"
Stay tuned for the epilogue