Elision: The omission of part of a word, typically a letter, often used to make a verse conform to a metrical pattern, but also sometimes used in prose and when writing certain accents.

A/N: Sorry for the wait. And sorry that I'm not doing my typical personalized author's note responses to reader reviews. It becomes a bit... impractical when I haven't updated in two years. But to all the people who sent well-wishes, thank you very much. Even if I'm not responding individually, I want you all to know how happy it makes me when I see your comments, and how much it means to me that people still read this story. Thank you all very much!

Two people were standing over me. They were blurry, though, barely more than greenish shadows. I couldn't see anything- no eyes, no nose, no ears. Just a pair of fuzzy, dark holes that I had to assume were their mouths. Behind them was a dirty, cracked tile wall; it looked like nothing so much as the set of an old horror video game. And the people moved all jerky and flickery, like ghosts, their shadow mouths like tiny gateways into death.

"What do those lines mean? Is she waking up?"

"Maybe. In most cases they would, but this one is unusual. She's never woken up before. Not even when we've taken blood."

Why were they taking my blood? Where was I? I tried to sit up, to demand who these ghost people were, to run, anything... But I couldn't move a muscle. My entire body felt heavy and weak- I couldn't even blink.

... Beep...

I woke up to the soft-yet-annoying fluttering of wind against heavy canvas. Something ribbed and crunchy pressed against my arms and neck- probably the entirety of my back, but I couldn't feel most of it through my armour. It was like lying on a bed made of crisp lettuce.

Opening my eyes revealed canvas walls close around me, the fabric painted with dark reds and greens. Someone had carried me to a tent while I was unconscious. How long had I been out?

Sitting up was painful- every muscle in my body felt stiff and bruised, like I'd been run over by an elephant. I had to stop for a moment, propped up on my hands, before I could gather my strength to push up onto my feet, and again with my hands on my knees before I could straighten completely. When I finally stood, my head brushed the sloped roof of the tent. It tickled my hair- where was my hat?

There was no one else in the tent, but I could hear voices in the distance. Hobbling stiffly, I made my way to the tent flap and pushed my way out into the jungle.

The light hurt my eyes. I blinked for a bit, gold bursts fading from my vision. There were a few more painted tents set up near the one I'd emerged from- they looked like they belonged to the Shandians. But around me was jungle, not the Shandian village.

Well, not all around me. To my left was a lake made of clouds with an island temple rising from the centre. A couple shark fins cut lazily through the lake's surface. Beyond that, further down the shore, I saw the charred hulk of a ship bobbing in the cloudy waves.

Hold the phone. Was that a ram's head? Was that the Merry?

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit...

"Merry!" My muscles were too stiff to allow me to run, so I hobbled to the shore as fast as my aching legs would allow. Getting closer revealed that the damage wasn't quite as bad as I'd thought- though her timbers with filthy and covered with ash, the Merry was still sound, more or less. That said, the cloth of her wings had been burned away, as had her sails and rigging. The only piece of fabric visible was the Straw Hat flag, still fluttering bravely atop the naked expanse of the mainmast.

I leaned forwards, pressing my forehead against the ash-slick wood. "I'm so sorry, Merry... I was so focused on saving Ace... I haven't been able to do anything for you. You might be in even worse shape than if I hadn't been here..."

Crap... Usopp had been with me the whole time. Had Merry been all alone on that island when Shura and Fuza appeared? What happened when Usopp and I were gone? There wouldn't have been anyone there for her when she appeared. She must've been so lonely...

"S'alright, Jonesie," said a quiet, drawling voice above my head, "I weren't lonely. Coulda done w'out th'fire an' th'fuckin' bird, though."

I froze. Something warm descended around me, forming into a solid shape at my side. Small, the size of a young child, swamped in an oilskin coat two sizes too large. She had curly white hair from which spiralled two immense golden horns, and her eyes had horizontal pupils like a sheep or goat. It made her face unnerving to look at, yet I couldn't help but stare. Despite the bizarre eyes, I could see my crewmates in that face. Luffy's expressive mouth, Nami's nose, Usopp's dark skin, Zoro's ears, Sanji's eyebrows, Lisa's habit of chewing her lip when she got lost in thought, Toma's ginger freckles... And the burn scars were reminiscent of the scars on my own face.

"Merry?" I blurted out, startled. The apparition laughed, hugging tight around my waist.

"Well, ye're a quicker study'n Ghin and Toma, at least," the little Klabautermann mumbled into my armour, "S'Marian, though, not Merry. Me name as a ship ain't th'same as me name as a girl, ye ken?"

I nodded mutely, one hand absently rising to pat Marian's sheep-like head. This... This wasn't right at all. Weren't Klabautermann supposed to be illusive, spiritual apparitions? Did... Did this mean she had more strength than in canon? Or less?

"Oi dunno..." Marian answered my unspoken thoughts with a shrug. "Still don't quite ken whatcha mean when ye say canon loik that. Thought cannon were me big guns?"

. . .

Eh?

"Did you just read my mind?" I asked suspiciously. Marian shrugged and glanced away, her face flushing red.

"Maaaaaaaaaaybeeeeeeeeeeeeee..." Then she scowled. "What of it? Ye're part o'me crew; why wouldn't I be able tae ken what ye're thinkin'?"

"So you know-?"

"E'erythin' any one o'yes know, aye." Marian was still scowling, but her eyes were starting to shine wetly. I paled.

"No... No, no, no... I'm so sorry... I should've worked harder... Should've thought of a way..." All I could see in my mind's eye was the ram figurehead burning, battered wood sinking into the sea. I should've put more thought into this earlier... I thought I'd had more time. But if Merry had manifested now... It really was too late, wasn't it?

Pulling back, Marian rubbed her nose on the hem of her sleeve. "S'alroit, Jonesie. Ye're tryin'... tryin' tae do so much. Oi can't expect ye tae save e'eryone. Ghin an' Toma... They promised already tae bring me with yes... That if Oi sink, they'll bring some part o'me tae the end o'the Grand Loin. So Oi'll still be with yes all..."

I didn't know what to say... Tears burned at the corners of my eyes, blurring my vision. I knew what was going to happen to the Going Merry- why hadn't I come up with a plan? It was a harder nut to crack than saving Ace, but I'd had time...

"Beatin' yerself up o'er it won't help me none," Marian said with a sniffle. Her voice brought me back to my senses. I sighed.

"No... No, it won't." But I could still hope for something, some miracle. This was certainly the world to find miracles in, after all. It might still be possible to save her.

Smiling wetly, Marian reached for my hand. "S'not loik ye tae play th'optimist."

"What can I say? The captain's been rubbing off on me." The ship's hand felt so small in my own, although her skin was rougher and more calloused than mine had ever been. "Speaking of which... Are you planning on showing yourself to him? To any of the others?"

"Already met Ghin'n Toma," Marian pointed out. "An'... Oi don' wanna hoid. Oi wanna meet e'eryone at least once afore... So yes will all remember me."

Someone so young shouldn't have had to think such a thing... I wished Marian hadn't been able to read my mind, if only so she would have been spared the dread. No, bad Jonesie, no dread. We would fix this.

I must've frozen for a moment, because the next thing I knew, Marian was tugging on my hand. "C'mon... We should git."

She frowned as we began making our way though the trees. "How'd ye stop folk broodin'? Not me," she added quickly as I frowned, "Zoro. He ain't happy 'bout how 'is fight went."

Oh dear. I wondered what happened. Marian, feeling my concern, winced and rubbed her back with her free hand. "He won'n all. Just... ain't happy about 'is newest scar."

Ah. Wait... Had Zoro gotten a scar on his back? That was the only reason I could think of for him to be unhappy about one. How?

As we walked, the blades on my feet dug into the cloudy soil- I was still wearing my skates. This made me topple a little bit as I walked, although I was loosening up as I moved. Still a bit achy, though.

Merry seemed to know where we were going, even though I really had no idea. Maybe she was using whatever skill allowed her to read my mind in order to track our crewmates? It seemed so, for soon enough we came upon a large clearing where we found the others. Zoro was indeed brooding, sitting on a log and scowling at the ground as Chopper and Toma looked on with concern. Usopp, Johnny, and Yosaku were going through a pile of Dials, testing them and sorting them by function. Nami was fiddling with her severely damaged Clima-Tact, instruction manual in hand. Ghin sat nearby, petting Ruatha with his remaining hand as Drifter and Geier sat beside him grooming each other. Luffy lay on a log, seemingly asleep. Sanji, Robin, and Lisa, meanwhile, were playing some strange tic-tac-toe-like game by etching shapes into a piece of wood.

Wyper and a couple of his friends were nearby too, cleaning their weapons and shooting the occasional glance at my crew. The others seemed pretty relaxed, but Wyper himself was still suspicious of us.

Ruatha abandoned Ghin's petting as soon as Marian and I came into view, wings flapping hard as he catapulted into my chest. "Monah! Hei los praad!"

I had to drop Marian's hand in order to catch my enthusiastic baby. "Hey buddy! You alright?" Ruatha's scales seemed somewhat singed, but other than that he was acting like himself, so it didn't seem like being hit by lightning had had much in the way of long-term effects. My baby puffed out his chest.

"Zu'u los mul. Reik ni dreh ahraan." Ruatha nuzzled my hair, cooing. I stroked his head with a sigh.

"Oh, how I wish I could figure out how to teach you English instead of trying to puzzle out what you're trying to say."

"Said he's strong and lightning doesn't hurt," Luffy mumbled sleepily, raising his head from the log where he dozed. Then his eyes went wide. Red and gold shot across the clearing, barrelling into not me, but Marian.

"Merry!"

The captain wrapped his arms around the ship multiple times, hugging her tight to his chest. Marian's goat-like eyes went wide; she squeaked. Luffy ignored the sound, rubbing his cheek against Marian's soft hair. The Klabautermann sighed and hugged him back.

"Ye win th'prize fer kennin' fastest," she mumbled into his vest. "E'en Jonesie were fully awake first."

Everyone was staring at Luffy now, albeit for different reasons. Johnny and Yosaku's eyes went impossibly wide; my mouth fell open with a hiss of confusion.

"Since when can you understand Ruatha?" I demanded. Several other voices sounded at the same moment.

"What do you mean Merry?" Johnny and Yosaku asked in unison. Usopp joined them, although he had a bit better understanding.

"Merry? Do you mean our ship?"

"How did you know?" Toma squawked, "We didn't say anything yet!"

Luffy frowned, blinking fully awake. "Merry is Merry is Merry. But yeah, usually she looks different. And I just started to know what Ruatha says. Not sure how it works, but it's cool! I can also understand the big blue snake."

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa...? Okay, I was sure Luffy hadn't been able to do that much with the Voice of All Things this early in the books, but there was no other way I could explain that. I hadn't figured out how to translate Ruatha's squawks and screeches yet- although it did sound familiar. Where had I heard those sounds before?

Usopp flailed, dashing over to the captain only to freeze. He looked like he couldn't decide between grabbing Luffy by the collar and shaking him, or picking Marian up and examining her. "What do you mean, Merry is Merry? What happened to our ship?"

"She's a Klabautermann," Ghin supplied quietly. His voice was grim. Everyone turned towards him.

"What's a Klabautermann?" Sanji asked, lighting a cigarette. Ghin let out a heavy sigh.

"A Klabautermann is the spirit of a ship that's been loved by their crew and loves them in return. The Going Merry is still there; her ship body and her human form are separate, but connected. The thing is... If you can see a Kalbautermann, it means the ship is damaged beyond repair and the spirit is fighting with everything they have to get their crew to a safe place." My big brother sighed again, head in his hand. "And I've never heard of one appearing as clearly as Marian has."

You could see the chill running through every member of our crew. Chopper and Lisa looked like they were about to cry; Usopp looked horrified. Even Robin, who was still trying to distance herself on and off, appeared distinctly worried. Nami, the first to recover her senses, realized that I hadn't been as surprised by that revelation as everyone else.

"Jones... You knew about this."

It wasn't an accusation, just a statement of fact. I bowed my head. "Yes. I haven't been able to figure out how to prevent it... I didn't know what event caused the damage."

"How much longer will she be with us?" Yosaku approached, crouching beside Marian and Luffy to pet the Klabautermann's fluffy head.

"Until Water 7, unless I can pull off a miracle." And based on the erratic rate at which we encountered filler episodes, movies, and other adventures, I couldn't actually say how much longer I had to search for one.

"Unless we can pull off a miracle," Luffy reminded me. "Not alone, Jones. Talk to us."

I smiled. "Sorry captain. Unless we can pull off a miracle."

"We will," was Usopp's determined addition. The gunner clenched his fists, digging his fingernails into his skin as his eyes shone with determined light. "We'll find a way to save Merry. We have to."

Lisa raised a hand hesitantly. "We should probably start by getting her new rigging and sails? So we can sail at all? And I need to repaint everything again..."

Her words were met with unified nodding. Usopp slowly relaxed. "Yeah... We can probably barter with the locals for the rope and cloth- most of them like us." He shot Wyper a stink-eye. "Present company excluded."

The Shandian warrior frowned slightly, barely favouring Usopp with a glance. "I don't dislike you either, Long-Nose. I just don't believe you are gods the way some of the others do."

"Gods?" Robin raised an eyebrow. "This is a story I need to hear."

Usopp and I both flushed with embarrassment; Ruatha hid his head under his wing. "M-Maybe later..." I stammered. Robin's eyebrows rose further.

"I'll hold you to that."

Desperate to shift the attention off myself, I glanced around the nearby jungle. Through the trees I could see a large table made of logs, around which several Shandians and Skypieans stood. They were discussing something; Gan Fall seemed to be acting as some sort of moderator. There was... also a very large group of very large dogs at one end of the table, which made me curious. But I didn't know enough about the inter-tribal politics to be confident getting involved in that.

Closer to home then... Was that Enel and crew I saw by some ruins off to the south? Yep, unconscious sky priests. Wait... Were those...?

"Did someone tie Enel up with rubber bands?" I blurted out.

Not that I needed to ask- it was fairly clear that that was indeed what had happened. The tight rubber dug deep into electric skin, pinching Enel's limbs and causing them to turn red. I was just surprised that it had been done.

Usopp rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Er... Yeah, that was me. After I beat Enel, I figured I should tie him up in case he woke up. Didn't want him flinging lightning around anymore."

"YOU BEAT ENEL?!" My eyes went wide; my jaw dropped. Usopp flushed heavily, rubbing his nose.

"Eh... Yeah? I, uh, hit him in the crotch with a rubber mallet."

Tabarnak... Well, I really wasn't expecting that. And now I was even more embarrassed; Usopp had beaten Enel while I'd gotten my ass handed to me via my weakness to kitties. I deflated quietly.

Drifter looked dubious. The otter held up a sign, shooting a curious glance in Enel's direction. Do you really think the rubber will keep the hoser from using his powers?

Usopp shrugged, looking worried. "I hope so? He hasn't done anything yet."

"They do look rather tight, though," Robin pointed out in a falsely sweet voice- the one she used when wallowing knee-deep in schadenfreude. "Why, it almost looks as if they're cutting off his circulation. If that goes on for too long, the tissues in his extremities may start to die and his hands and feet might need to be amputated."

"Good," Wyper snarled. He poked Enel roughly with the butt of- since when did Wyper use a spear?

Blinking, I put that thought aside. Wyper was a warrior in a very Aztec-like tribe; him carrying a spear around shouldn't be a surprise. Far more pressing was the fact that we didn't know for sure that the rubber bands would keep Enel from using his powers when he regained consciousness. To do that, we needed kairoseki.

Hmmmmm...

Since I didn't expect Wyper to answer me civilly- or necessarily to know the answer to my semi-scientific question- I looked at Laki. She was sitting on a stump, playing a quiet game with colourful string. The huntress looked up when she felt me looking at her.

"Can I help you?"

"The clouds around here are really high in pyrobloin, right?

Laki looked puzzled at that. "I suppose. I'm not sure exactly what pyrobloin is, but I know there's something in island clouds that makes them different from normal ones. Otherwise every cloud would have an island on it. Why?"

Oh. So Laki didn't know any more about this than Wyper would have. Ah, well... I shrugged and scooped up a handful of the clouds that floated pervasively around Skypeia. "On the blue seas there's a substance called seastone that inhibits the powers of people like Enel. It also contains high levels of pyrobloin, even higher than in these clouds."

I began compressing the clouds in my hands, as if I was making gemstones. More and more pressure, more and more clouds... I felt the lump I was holding grow heavier and heavier, hotter and hotter... And then my hands went numb. Pins and needles sang through my fingers, causing them to go limp and fall open. Ragged clumps of semi-hardened cloud fell from my grip to spatter on the ground.

My fingers regained feeling soon after.

Lisa watched the cloud blobs disappear as they hit the ground. "What was that?"

Glancing away, I rubbed my hands together to get rid of the lingering numbness. "I was trying to make seastone. My Devil Fruit said no."

Several of my crewmates shook their heads. Ghin sighed at my actions; I pouted. "We needed a way to make sure Enel can't use his powers when he wakes up, and I don't think the rubber bands will cut it."

"It will be alright."

I jumped at the sound of Gan Fall's voice; I hadn't noticed him and the Shandian chief approaching from where they'd been holding their discussion. Aisa scampered between them... wearing my hat. I squawked indignantly.

"Hey! Give that back!"

Sulking, Aisa removed my headwear and returned it to me. Wyper and Laki both scowled at me.

"You should be kinder to her. She's just a child."

"Don't you dare hurt her, Blue Sea Dweller!"

The Shandian chief held up a hand to prevent his warriors from targeting me. Meanwhile, Gan Fall continued to speak.

"The Shandians possess some relics of a substance called Kairoseki in our oldest texts. It is known in Skypiea that this substance is the concentrated essence of the sea. If this is what you were trying to make in order to subdue Enel, we have a small supply available."

I nodded, slapping my hat back onto my head. That felt much better. "Yeah, that's what I was trying to make. Didn't work, though..."

Gan Fall's face morphed into a knowing expression. "Your powers must come from a similar source to Enel's, I suppose?"

"Yeah..." I averted my gaze, hoping that admission wouldn't set Wyper off again.

The Shandian chief looked thoughtful. "That explains your ability to grab an active bazooka shell... So you're not gods?"

"WHAT?"

Ghin and Luffy both stared at me. My captain looked like he was considering giving me a Fist of Love. "Jones... What did the old geezer just say about you grabbing a bazooka shell?"

"Show some respect!" Wyper snapped at Luffy before I could respond. My captain responded by inflating himself slightly and smacking his fist into his palm with a snort. Before things could escalate further, Nami and Laki grabbed their respective leaders- Luffy by the ear and Wyper by the hair- and yanked them apart.

Aisa's eyes went wide and watery; the little girl looked somewhere between baffled and distraught. "You're... not gods?"

I felt like someone was stabbing me in my guilt complex; based on the colour his face was turning, I think Usopp felt the same. Both of us hung out heads. "No... No, we're not."

"We didn't mean to deceive you," I added weakly.

Lip quivering, Aisa wavered, lost. She wasn't sure what to do; our admission had just shattered her worldview. Letting out a quiet whimper, the little girl bolted off into the trees. Laki took off after her, presumably to make sure she didn't get hurt or lost.

"Aisa! Where are you going?"

Turning to Gan Fall, the Shandian chief inclined his head. "We can continue our discussion tomorrow. I've overheard many of your people planning a great feast to celebrate Enel's defeat, and I'm sure mine are doing the same."

The knight of the sky looked mildly worried at that. "Is it a good idea, allowing them to celebrate so close together? What if a fight breaks out?"

"Do you really think we could stop them?" the Shandian chief asked, amused. "Do not fear; while I'm sure it will take several years for the animosity to die down completely, I think that for tonight, our people will have enough of a common cause that they will be able to avoid breaking into violence."

Then the chief turned to me and Usopp and our crewmates arrayed around us. He bowed slightly. "You Blue Sea dwellers may not be gods... But you are indeed heroes."

-V-

Luffy was still pouting an hour later. Finally unable to hold their curiosity in any longer, Johnny and Yosaku poked him from either side. "What's wrong Big Bro?"

"M'not a hero..." Luffy grumbled.

Robin raised one eyebrow. "And why not? We saved these people, did we not? Isn't that what heroes do?" There was something wistful in her tone, harkening back to a time when she wished someone had played the hero for her.

Kicking the ground, Luffy scowled. "When the big feast comes, heroes share their meat so no one else goes hungry. But I don't wanna share my meat... I want all the meat."

Sanji shook his head and blew a ring of smoke, his bangs momentarily flopping away from his covered eye. "Don't worry, Shitty Rubber. These people've been dreaming of this day a long time; I'm pretty sure this feast'll have enough meat to satisfy even the black hole you call a belly."

"Mrrrph..." Luffy didn't dignify that with an answer, although he did look around hopefully.

From what I could tell, the cook's assessment was right on the mark. All around us, Shandians and Skypieans alike were preparing for the party of the century. There were dozens of cooking stations working in tandem, everything from open fires to camp stoves. In between, hundreds of people were working together to string decorations from the trees and clear vegetation and rubble from the mostly intact remains of a huge ancient structure. It was a massive I-shaped court with steeply sloping walls, several of which showed remnants of brightly painted plaster. Many of the Skypieans, though they were helping to clear the structure, looked just as confused about the building's purpose as my crewmates.

"What's this for?" a Skypiean girl who'd been introduced to me as Sandrah asked. She was a friend of Conis', I think; I couldn't remember seeing her in canon, although I supposed she could have been a background character.

"For ullamaliztli," answered Yotsubane. He pulled a large ball from somewhere in his yellow robes and bounced it.

Pyung!

Wait... Bounced?

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. "Hey... What's that ball made of?"

Yotsubane shot me a look of suspicious confusion. He was a friend of Wyper's- as much as Wyper had friends- and as such, he wasn't too fond of me. Or anyone from the crew, really. "It's olli, Blue Sea Dweller. Sap from the olicuahuitl tree mixed with the juice of moon vines and heated as if to cook a boar."

Tree sap...? I could feel my eyelid twitch as the biologist in me provided other names for the plants he'd mentioned. Those were no One Piece fantasy plants, no; those were native to the real world. Moon vines were a type of morning glory... And olicuahuitl was a traditional name for the Panama rubber tree.

Had I been a native of the One Piece world, my eyes would've flashed red. As it was, my crewmates were the only ones to recognize how absolutely enraged I was becoming. Chopper popped into Heavy Point and grabbed one of my shoulders to hold me back; Zoro held my other. They could not, however, keep me from screeching bloody murder at everyone within earshot.

So, really, the entire island.

"TABARNAK! YOU'VE HAD RUBBER THIS ENTIRE BLOODY TIME?! FORGET BAZOOKAS AND SPEARS- JUST HIT ENEL IN THE FACE WITH A FUCKING SOCCER BALL YOU IGNORANT FUCKING DINGLEBERRIES!"

Every Shandian in sight froze, turned towards me, and placed a hand on their weapon. This was indeed often a bazooka or a spear, although some also had Dial pistols and several carried knives or bows and arrows. Surprisingly, Wyper of all people was the one to deescalate things with a roll of his eyes, thumping his spear against a nearby tree.

"Well excuse me princess. I'm so sorry that it never crossed my mind to try using a toy in battle against the greatest foe I've ever known." The Berserker approached with a sneer. "I can't believe that the thought slipped my mind, given how little I understood the power of fire from the sky."

"You," I informed Wyper through gritted teeth, "are an asshole."

"Like I care what you think."

A tall, pale man who'd been using a monstrously large axe to clear trees from the area laughed. Warashi. He clapped Wyper on the shoulder, earning a disgusted look from the berserker. "Ah, he likes you, Blue Sea Girl. Don't take the assholery personally; he's like this with all his friends."

"I am not," Wyper snarled, shaking off his fellow's touch. Warashi- and the other Shandians nearby- ignored his protests.

"Hey," put in Genbo, wrapping a tangle of vines into a ball and tossing them into the jungle, "Be nice. The Blue Sea Dwellers got rid of Enel for us."

That said, Genbo was still maintaining a healthy distance between himself and Wyper. The berserker scowled at his fellow hunter. Warashi nodded in response to Genbo's words.

"They did indeed. Which makes them friends. That's why we're having this whole celebration, after all. Hmmm... Yotsubane, how do we welcome friends to the tribe again?"

Grinning, Yotsubane bounced the rubber ball again. "Ullamaliztli!"

That was how, about thirty seconds later, I found myself standing at one end of the great I-shaped court with Luffy, Robin, Chopper, Zoro, and Sanji while Wyper, Genbo, Yotsubane, Warashi, Kamakiri, and Braham occupied the other side. Zoro scowled at the field, his eyes roving the perimeter.

Sanji huffed. "It's just a game, Moss-for-Brains. No need to be so tense."

"And what's the object of this game?" Zoro demanded, growling. I snickered, spinning on the ball of one foot.

"You've got to get the ball through the hoop."

Zoro's scowl deepened. "What hoop?"

Raising my foot up to the level of my head, I grabbed my ankle and used my toes to point at the construction high on the wall of the stadium. "That hoop. And you're not allowed to use your hands."

The swordsman, who was used to using his hands for everything, scowled deeper at that. The cook, meanwhile, grinned.

"No sweat."

All around the edges of the playing field, people were gathering. The rest of our crew, Skypeians, Shandians... We had quite the audience. My confidence started to waver with all the eyes watching. And I'd never even played this game before... Ah, well, the battle was over and it was all in good fun.

. . .

At least, I was able to tell myself that until Wyper put the ball into play with an angry kick. Squeaking, Chopper ducked under the mass of rubber as it flew towards our side, leaving me directly in the path of fire. That ball hit hard. I wasn't hurt, thanks to my powers, but it was still discomforting to take the force right in my stomach. Surprised, I bounced it back on reflex, and the game began.

My immediate action, as the Shandians and my crewmates began bouncing the ball around in a wild display, was to quickly run the perimeter of the playing field to get an idea of its size. That also let me estimate the height of the side walls and thus of the hoops. While it wasn't perfect, that gave me a rough value for how much force I'd need to reach the top. When next the ball came my way, passed to me by Sanji, I spun to catch it on my shin as I had when playing soccer as a child- except this time, I launched it with a burst of force. I was uncertain of it- while I had a vague feeling for forces as they moved through my body, I didn't know exact values- but the results were unquestionable. The ball soared up and over in a great arc, passing through the hoop without even touching the rim.

Wyper's eyes blazed. He knew what I'd done. Raising a hand, he stormed over to me. "I saw that! Don't use your Reject Dial powers, Blue Sea Dweller. It's unfair."

"Is it against the rules?" I asked coolly. Wyper seemed taken aback.

"It... Uh..."

"There's no rules about people with powers at all," Kamakiri supplied helpfully, "They're not common up here. But you're not supposed to use Dials."

The game resumed. Genbo passed the ball to Yotsubane, who almost got it through the hoop, bouncing it off the rim. Wyper kept an eye on me as the ball bounced from person to person, pinging off stone walls. I continued to use my powers, although none of my subsequent kicks or hip checks had nearly the accuracy of my first.

A few moments later, having gotten the idea of the game, Robin crossed her arms and... okay that was creepy. I and almost everyone around me watched in morbid fascination as the archaeologist sprouted a stairway of hips up the stone wall, bouncing the ullamaliztli ball from one to the next until it passed through the stone hoop. Each disembodied hip disappeared in a puff of flower petals after it had done its job.

"You!" Wyper snapped once he knew who was the source of the strange phenomenon. "Stop that!"

Robin raised her eyebrows and smiled mysteriously, but no further hips were forthcoming. Seconds later, though, Chopper grew into heavy point in order to send the ball flying through the hoop with a mighty heave of his shoulders. Wyper stopped the game yet again.

"How many of you have strange powers?" he demanded, eyes sparking red.

Luffy, Robin, Chopper, and I all raised our hands. The berserker stamped on the ball. "Stop it. Just stop it. Just because we have no rules against using these powers in the game doesn't make it right."

Robin continued smiling mysteriously. Luffy picked his nose. Chopper shrank back to his usual form sheepishly. I bounced from foot to foot. None of us promised anything.

When the game resumed, the next one to fire the ball through the hoop was Sanji, kicking even more powerfully than I had using my powers. After passing through the hoop, the ball embedded itself deeply in the stone at the end of the court. Wyper's eyes went from sparking to fully red.

"I just said no powers!"

"I don't have any." Sanji shrugged, hands in his pockets.

"Aaaaaaaaaaargh!" Spinning on his heel, Wyper threw up his hands in exasperated defeat.

The game sort of petered out from there. Wyper was simmering with frustration; the other Shandians were in awe of either the various Devil Fruit powers our crew possessed or Sanji's leg strength. One by one, the audience we'd garnered broke up and resumed their previous tasks. Zoro, grumbling, was left as the man trying to remove the ball from where the cook had embedded it in stone.

"Shit Cook... Take a little more care with other people's stuff."

Unsure how to help him, I wandered aimlessly through the ruins. Ruatha leapt onto my shoulders and cooed, his tail wrapped around one of my arms. I stroked his mane as I walked. Whistling, my baby gnawed on the edge of my hat.

My walk eventually brought me back to the place where the priests were being kept prisoner. Enel was somewhat separate from the others. There were guards perching in trees and on ruins nearby, but none of them said a word to me as I approached, merely nodding when I looked at them. I approached one cautiously, a short Shandian woman whose name I didn't know.

"Is... Is there a place for training near here?"

She shot me a look of confusion, but said nothing about my request. Instead, she merely pointed the pistol she was cleaning at a small clump of dead trees not far from where Enel was lying bound.

The lightning logia was awake.

He watched me as I walked past. "You... I'm surprised to see you alive. Walking right into my attack as you did, your soul should be on its way to Fairy Vearth by now."

"Snrk." I turned a hooded eye towards Enel, not giving him the dignity of my full gaze. "Drop it. I know what you are, and I know what you're not. You're not a god; stop acting like you know anything about anyone's soul."

Blue-white lightning danced briefly between the rubber bands, but fizzled without effect. The rubber on his arms and legs prevented Enel from discorporating, apparently. I hadn't really expected it to work. Or maybe it wasn't fully preventing it, but his limbs would be ripped off if he tried, since they couldn't transform with him.

Maybe I'd been spending too much time with Robin.

Enel shrugged, a far cry from the airs he usually put on. His voice dragged a bit. "Soul or not, your survival does surprise me." The logia looked thoughtful. "You ate one too, obviously."

There was no need to ask what he was talking about. "Of course."

"Will it do me any good to ask which one it is?"

It was my turn to shrug. Not like telling him could do any harm. "The Force-Force Fruit. You're lightning; I'm the power that makes the universe function." Dipping my head slightly, I shadowed my face with my hat, wondering if the effect was anywhere near as good in profile as it was head on. "Lighting is just the most powerful form of electrostatic force; you couldn't kill me."

"Prove it."

Two words. Two words that I wasn't quite sure how to react to. So I responded with one.

"Elaborate."

Enel tried and failed to raise his arms in a sweeping gesture. "I can become lightning itself. If you're so powerful, turn into this force you speak of."

"I can't. My Fruit is a paramecia, not a logia like yours. No self-transformation. All I have is control."

A slow, mad grin crept across my face. "In fact, I suppose I should say thank you."

"An odd thing to say to someone who tried to kill you," Enel mused tiredly. "I must've fried your brain whilst we fought."

"Nah, you didn't. But you did teach me some things about what my Fruit can do. And you gave me some ideas."

I called upon the reserves of force my Fruit stored deep within my body. Instead of the percussive burst of impact or the smooth slide of friction, I moulded this into a crackling, jumping, borderline fiery ball before allowing it to run down my arms and through the rest of my body. My heartbeat sped up in response. Far more noticeable, though, was the fact that my skin was suddenly cloaked in thousands of tiny, brilliant blue sparks, constantly leaping from place to place.

They were very difficult to hold onto. Like a wild horse that had never borne a bridle before; I couldn't hold onto them forever. And they itched something fierce. Spinning on the ball of my foot, I slammed my fist into one of the dead trees with a yell, forcing all the electricity in my body into the wood in a sudden burst.

"Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaai!"

The bark exploded off the tree, leaving a charred mess.

It was a pitiful display compared to what Enel could do, to be sure, but the fact that I could do it at all was enough to make me feel smug and accomplished. And cause Enel to raise the part of his forehead where his eyebrows would have been, if he had any.

"Impressive, for a beginner." Enel leaned back against the nearest tree, fixing me with an appraising stare. I sighed, feeling a cliché coming on.

"You're about to start blathering about power, aren't you?"

Enel's bald eyebrows rose further. "Then you've considered it," he said with a smirk. "It's only natural, you know. Those like us, with obviously superior abilities... We deserve to be at the top. I may not understand your abilities, but if they're even half as impressive as you say, you may be the only person deserving to stand beside me. We could be gods in truth, take our rightful place above all other men."

"No."

"No?" Enel appeared baffled by my answer. I fixed him with a flat stare.

"No. I haven't considered it." I spready my arms wide as the lightning logia stared at me in confusion. "Why would I want anything like that?"

"Because it is your right."

"My right as what?" I demanded, arms still spread wide. "A person who just happened to eat a magic Fruit that could have spawned anywhere in the world? It's sheer luck who gains a Devil Fruit power. They don't give us a right to anything."

"Not just having the luck to eat it," Enel elaborated, "I'm aware sheer luck doesn't give you a right to anything. What makes us superior is the amount of work and thought we've put into mastering our powers, learning to use them in ways those commoners would never dream of. That is what gives you a right to stand above them. To take whatever you want and rule over the commoners at my side as a goddess." His nose wrinkled slightly. "Not the most comely goddess, but your power compensates for that."

"You're not exactly the fairest in the land yourself," I shot back. Then I closed my eyes, smiling in spite of myself. "And I already have everything I want, so I'll have to decline."

"Already... have... everything...? But... You're playing quartermaster to a bunch of filthy Blue Sea pirates. Not even their captain- you're just the dogsbody who has to do all the talking and keep track of their supplies."

"And I'm damn good at it, thank you very much." My smile widened. "With the Straw Hats I have freedom, adventure, friends who love me for who I am, cute animals to play with... What more could I possibly want?"

"Wealth? Power? Servants to wait on your every whim? Influence over the very laws by which this world is run- human laws, not natural ones. We already have the latter." Enel shrugged, as if everything he was saying was obvious.

I shrugged in return. "What would I do with any of that? I've got no use for it, and the bit about servants would just make me feel guilty. I prefer to do things myself."

Sighing, Enel turned away from me as much as his bonds would allow. "You... Somehow despite your powers, you manage to be one of the most idiotic beings I've ever encountered."

"Doubtful. You've met my captain."

Enel couldn't really argue with that. He grumbled like a grumpy cat, a far cry from the usual thunderous noise of his anger. My words were not dignified with a verbal response; maybe he could tell that for all my powers were an unstoppable force, he was talking to an immovable object.

I spent the next few minutes practicing my new lightning technique- which I really needed to think of a name for- on the dead trees. It was much more difficult than using friction or impact force or even pressure, and very hard to control. Soon lightning scarred every branch and charred bark was scattered all around. It wasn't long before I could see Enel starting to get annoyed.

Good.

I'd been at it for almost half an hour when a trio of warriors I didn't recognize came to collect Enel. The lightning logia, ever proud, refused to be dragged along, struggling to his feet despite his bindings and hopping along painfully. It didn't really save his dignity, though; actually, all it did was make him look like a Mexican jumping bean trying to escape a giant spider.

Curious, I followed. The warriors led Enel to the clearing I'd seen earlier, where a mixed group of Shandians and Skypeians was working on a treaty or something. I recognized the Shandian chief, Gan Fall, and Pagaya, but not any of the others.

Gan Fall was the first to speak. "Enel, you have committed hundreds of crimes against the people of both Skypeia and Shandora. This is a fact, so you will receive no trial; we all know of your guilt. All that is left is for us to decide what to do with you."

"You worms have no right-!"

I dropped the air pressure around Enel before he could finish whatever he was trying to say, drawing the atmosphere towards myself and leaving him gasping in a pillar of wind. Not enough to make him pass out; just enough that talking would be difficult. The Shandian chief shot me an approving glance.

"Thank you, Blue Sea Dweller. This will go much more quickly if we don't have to try and shout over his insults." He turned to the others at the table. "Have we any suggestions as to Enel's fate?"

"He could be made to work in the community gardens?" Pagaya suggested tentatively. "That way he would be giving something back to the people, and I'm sure the labour would be torture for someone who likes to think himself a god."

A Shandian woman with long, red hair shook her head. "Too risky. It would require allowing him to have his hands free. He might escape and wreak havoc once again."

Another Shandian that I didn't recognize chipped in. "We could imprison him in one of the old pyramids where the Ni-Ni birds roost until their song drives him mad."

Everyone at the table shuddered. "That would be too cruel," Gan Fall admonished gently. "Think of the sanity of whoever had to bring him food each day."

"Oh. Right..."

"We could imprison him and only serve him chicken soup," someone mused, "On plates."

The Shandian chief shook his head. "That would make too much of a mess. He's already left us enough of those to clean up."

"Someone could turn him into a cat," suggested an elderly Skypeian. She was met with the same response from everyone at the table.

"How?"

Somewhat hesitant, I raised my hand. It took a few minutes of various other outlandish suggestions before someone finally noticed. The Shandian chief raised an eyebrow in my direction. "Yes?"

"We could banish him to the moon."

To this day, I have no idea how I said that with a straight face. Even for the One Piece world, my suggestion was... out there. Pretty far out there. The clearing fell deathly silent as everyone stared at me. Even Enel. And yet, some of them were actually taking my proposal seriously.

Gan Fall laced his fingers together, a slow, deliberate motion. His eyes were steady as they met mine. "That is a... rather unusual punishment. How would you propose we accomplish such a... let's call it a monumental feat?"

I grinned. A couple Skypieans I didn't recognize shuddered- whether in revulsion at my scars, or instinctive fear of my particular brand of madness, I couldn't tell. "I'll need as many Impact Dials as people will let me borrow, Pagaya and Wyper's expertise with Dials and artillery, a Southbird, my crewmate Usopp, and someone willing to punch me as hard as they can."

The Shandian chief nodded solemnly, as if he actually had half an idea what I meant to do with those things. "I don't think any of that will be a problem."

-V-

Marian glanced wearily around at her friends- her crew- as they helped the Shandians and Skypieans decorate for the party. The sun was sinking low overhead, turning the sky to an orange and violet watercolour. She was tired... Maintaining a corporeal form for so long wasn't easy. But she wanted to be a part of this so badly...

Something pinged in the back of her mind; the Klabautermann closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling. Oh. A wide grin grew across her face; she turned to where Nami and Luffy were hanging paper lanterns from a tree.

"So..." Marian drawled, "Seein' as I c'n sense what yes are all thinkin'... Who should I tell if Jonesie's about tae do somethin' stupid?"

Everyone froze. Marian could feel mixed emotions from them- dread, curiosity, excitement, confusion. Chopper was the first to speak up, his voice squeaky and uncertain.

"I, uh, I guess that depends what kind of stupid?" The little doctor clung to his medical bag with one hoof and Zoro's pants with the other. "Is she going to need medical attention?"

Marian thought for a moment. "Eh... Unloikly. This be more somethin' dumb but cool that'll actually work. Jonesie'll be a mite tired after, though. Oh, an' she'll need Usopp for a bit."

The gunner shuddered, resignation colouring his countenance. "What for...?"

"Buildin' a goint cannon or rocket or sommat loik that. Wants tae fire Enel tae the moon."

"Is that even possible?" Johnny and Yosaku squeaked in unison. Usopp just went pale. Marian shrugged.

"Jonesie thinks it is, aye. We'll see."

Moments later, as the finishing touches were being put in place for the party, Jones came jogging out of the undergrowth. Marian had to close off her connection to the crew for a moment; the calculations in the quartermaster's head were making her dizzy. Jones grabbed Usopp by the hand, a manic grin on her face. The gunner yelped, both from general surprise and the shock of Jones actually touching anyone.

"Usopp... How good a shot do you think you are?"

"Uh... Pretty good?" The gunner was too surprised to begin one of his typical boasts.

"If I gave you a target three and a half kilometers wide, but it was almost four hundred thousand kilometers away, could you still hit it?" Jones bounced as she spoke. Not drunk... But definitely excited to try out her plan. And anxious- her hands were shaking.

Usopp squeaked. "What- what kind of target- the MOON? Marian was serious?!"

"She told you already? Excellent! Let's go!" Jones dragged the gunner off without further explanation, with Usopp too stunned to protest.

A few seconds of stunned silence followed their departure. Toma was shaking, but he didn't say a word. Marian flinched; she knew how much the idea of something or someone in his head bothered the boy. Even when it was a friend.

"You can read people's minds?" Lisa asked, eyes wide. Marian squirmed.

"Not e'eryone's minds, ye ken. Just me crew's. An' I can turn it off if ye want, if it makes people nervous." She saw Toma nodding out of the corner of her eye, his eyes wide and fearful.

Robin frowned at her words- the first, not the second. "How do you-?"

"Ye're part o'the crew, if tha's what ye're wonderin'. S'based on how ye all think o'each other."

The archaeologist frowned pensively at that. Marian shot her a sympathetic smile, but it was dismissed with a small sigh. The Klabautermann pouted and sighed back.

"Oi, at least ye've met th'rest o'us. Oi've got twa connections as ain't e'en 'ere; fer all Oi ken, Oi ain't ne'er gonnae see 'em."

Her words momentarily confused everyone. "But how can you-? Jones..." Nami facepalmed. "Your abilities are based on how we think of each other and Jones throws that all off. So there's two more people who'll be joining us."

"Or more," Marian confirmed with a yawn. So tired... Such trouble keeping her eyes open. But she wanted to remain corporeal as long as she could. "Jonesie don' know e'eryone as joins th'crew 'head o'time, an' noither do Oi. Jus' th'ones as ye call originals."

That was about when the music started playing. Some of Marian's crewmates looked like they wanted to ask her more questions, but after the last few days, partying was more important. Luffy took off like a shot towards the feast, with Usopp, Johnny, and Yosaku following close behind. This still led to another question directed at Marian, but not of the kind people had been thinking of a moment before.

"If you're a ship spirit," Lisa said slowly, "Do you still eat human food? When you're visible like this?"

Marian blinked slowly. "Oi... Oi have no idea."

Lisa smiled and held out her hand. "Wanna find out?"

"Aye, sounds fun." Marian took Lisa's hand and followed the other girl over to the food. They were followed by an aura of morbid curiosity- Sanji. The Klabautermann stifled a snicker.

"Dinnae worry, Cookie. Oi ain' gonnae waste anythin' if'n Oi can' eat people food. 'M sure th'cap'n won' mind me givin' 'im anythin' Oi dinnae want."

"It's not just that." Sanji blew a smoke ring, curly eyebrows creased in confusion. "As the ship's cook, it's my job to know- if you can't eat human food, what do you eat? And how the Hell do I go about preparing it?"

Marian shrugged helplessly. "Not a clue, mate. Klabautermann ain' 'xactly common. Dinnae think anyone knows what all we eat. T'ain' usually a concern."

"Well, no one goes hungry while I'm in the kitchen. So now it's my concern."

-V-

The party was in full swing, the air filled with a strange mix of ocarina, shell trumpet, drums and harp. People were talking and shouting and dancing in the light of a dozen roaring bonfires and a glittering silver moon. Smoke wafted through the jungle, burning wood and sizzling scents of fried foods.

Aisa tucked her chin into her knees and tried very hard to pretend she didn't want any part of it.

"There you are. I've been looking for you for hours."

Laki climbed up into Aisa's tree quick as a cat, perching beside the girl on her pouting branch. Aisa pouted and shuffled to turn her back on the huntress as much as possible.

"Go away."

"What's wrong?" Laki placed a hand on her shoulder. "Were you really that upset to learn the Blue Sea Dwellers aren't gods? Tlazotli... You have to understand... If the gods are real..."

"They are!" Aisa insisted, frowning. How did the others not hear it, not feel it in every leaf and star?

"But who's to say we would ever see them? Why would the gods take the shape of humans when there's so many other ways they could make themselves known?" Laki rubbed circles on Aisa's back.

"Gggggggggh..." Hot tears welled up in her eyes; Aisa fought not to cry. "I know... But... I needed it to be them... I... I need..."

She didn't know how to put it into words. How could she tell Laki how badly she needed to see the sacred presences she felt in the earth and the sky and the sea? How much she needed there to be something more? To be able to reach out and touch the gods, and have the rest of the tribe believe her instead of writing her off as a daydreaming child? Aisa closed her eyes and let out a whimper of defeat.

Laki sat beside her, quiet and comforting. It was several long moments before she spoke. "I think... I think that the gods sent the Blue Sea Dwellers to us."

"To help us fight Enel?"

"Yes." Laki chose her words slowly and carefully. "But also to remind us that we can't continue in ignorance. Remember the story of Noland and the trees; our ancestors were so isolated and ignorant that they didn't know the very thing they worshipped were killing them. Perhaps the gods sent the Blue Sea Dwellers to remind us of how very large the world is beyond our island."

"I... hadn't thought of it that way." Maybe that was what the prophecy stone had meant- not that the gods would come in person, but what forms their messengers would take. Aisa bit her lip. "I... might have overreacted a bit..."

Laki smiled softly. "You didn't harm anyone, so I believe it will be alright."

Aisa looked up at her sheepishly. "Would it be taking things too far if I still wanted to build a new temple? I had a lot of fun picking everything out, and I know exactly what to paint behind the altar..."

"Well... I don't think you should be trying to do something like that alone." Laki ran her fingers through Aisa's hair. "But I think that, as a community effort, it would be a way to commemorate our people returning to our homeland. And perhaps our new relationship with our Skypeian neighbours."

"I'd like that." Aisa smiled, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I'd like that a lot." It wasn't quite the way she'd imagined things, at first, but perhaps this way was better. Although... She glanced up at Laki.

"Do you think any of the Skypeian girls will want to be my friends?"

"There's only one way to find out." Laki glanced meaningfully towards the main body of the party. Aisa hesitated, nervous, before sliding down from the tree with a determined nod. Laki followed behind.

"Thanks, Laki. You always know what to say."

"It comes with experience. Now... Will you race me back to the party?"

"Always!" A giddy bubble rose in Aisa's throat. She tore off through the trees, her favourite caretaker laughing behind her.

-V-

The moon was at its highest point when Usopp, Wyper, Pagaya, and I finished the giant cannon. Reactions were... mixed. Wyper was scowling, as ever, and I was a little afraid to ask him why. Pagaya was mumbling excitedly under his breath and making notes. Usopp was staring at me as if I'd lost my head.

"Are you sure... What makes you think that this is going to work?"

I shrugged. "Science fiction novels." Very well-researched ones, for the time. Thank you, Jules Verne, for showing your work in your stories.

Usopp shifted his doubtful gaze to the Dial-encrusted firearm looming out of the dusk. "I'm afraid to ask... What will happen if it doesn't work?"

That could be and issue, but I was sure we could handle it. "If it doesn't work, we have a lightning pancake that we have to round up and find another way to dispose of."

By now, people were starting to gather around, the party hitting a mutually agreed upon pause button. The Shandian chief approached, eyeing the device we'd assembled warily. "You have very strange ideas, Blue Sea Dweller."

"You're not the first to tell me that." And he wouldn't be the last, either.

With one last doubtful look, the chief turned to Gan Fall. "Could you bring the prisoner, please?"

"Of course." The elderly knight bowed and stepped briefly away. Whispers went up in the crowd, which only intensified when he returned leading a rubber-bound Enel. People scrambled to keep away from the lightning logia, even neutralized as he was. Some of them shot Gan Fall dirty looks for bringing him into the party area.

Both old men looked at me and Usopp expectantly, then only at me when my crewmate glanced in my direction. I fidgeted at the attention, tearing at a hangnail.

"We need to get him into the cannon. Then... Then I provide the power, and Usopp provides a steady hand and eye."

This was the first Enel had heard of his coming fate. His eyes bulged; the false god strained against his bonds, trying and failing to dissipate into lightning. "You... You think to turn me into some circus act? Some cheap entertainment? No! I am the storm made flesh, a god; you should all be trembling at my feet!"

Gan Fall winced, the failed transformations sending sparks dancing over his armour. But the old knight held firm, schooling his expression to hide his discomfort.

"We both know you're neither of those things." I shot Enel a cold look. "We all know you're neither of those things, so cut the crap. And you're not about to be entertainment. You're about to be banished to the moon."

Enel stared, flabbergasted. I could almost see the gears turning in his head as he tried to figure out what was going on. Right, he'd been too busy choking before to hear my idea for punishing him. "Who... Who..."

"It was my idea. Now shut up." To prevent him from saying anything- like, say, revealing that going to the moon had been his plan the whole time- I grabbed Enel by the tattered blue cloth around his waist and bodily heaved him into the cannon, head-first. He yelped muffled protests as I moved into position to fire the cannon.

Usopp stepped alongside me, glancing at Enel's bound, squirming legs. "Uh... So... About sending him to the moon?"

"Yes?" It was a little late to be having doubts now.

"Will he be able to get there? Isn't there, like, no air between here and the moon?"

Ah. A valid point, except... "Enel's a logia made of one of the fundamental forces of the universe. He'll be fine."

"Even if he can't transform because of the rubber bands?"

I shrugged. "The cannon will 99% sure bust all of those off before he exits the atmosphere."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Then Enel's dead." I winced. "Not exactly ideal, but I doubt many people will protest too much."

Usopp looked around at the Skypeians and Shandians gathered nearby. "You're right about that."

A muffled voice from inside the cannon; Enel could hear us. His bound feet kicked fruitlessly at Usopp's words. It was, honestly, one of the most hilarious things I'd ever seen. Almost like half a fish flopping out of a dragon's mouth...

Enough stalling. I went to one knee behind the cannon, arms stretched out, a hand on either side of the breech. Force sang in my bones, building as I tensed and released my muscles. "Whenever you're ready."

Gulping, Usopp began to line the cannon up. It took him a few minutes, double- and triple-checking the angles. I started to feel ill from the forces building up inside. Almost achy… Wyper had been all too happy to contribute to my force reserves. On anyone else, his expression when I'd asked him to punch me would have been called gleeful. Soon I was vibrating, almost about to explode from the buildup. And then...

"Fire!"

Sweet release! I pushed all of the force I'd been building into the cannon- more specifically, into the Reject Dials we'd scrounged up to act as the firing mechanism. This, in turn, set off a series of pre-charged Impact Dials that had been arranged to increase the velocity of the projectile, ideally to about 11.2 kilometers per second. Of course, I had no way to tell if it worked as intended, because the only thing I could perceive for the next few moments was a resounding, deafening...

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

The cannon collapsed as Enel was fired into the sky, the Dials sloughing off. Some of them broke; thankfully not the Reject Dials. I think Wyper would have killed me if those ones had been destroyed. Usopp and I were both blown backwards, tumbling end over end until we came to rest against the legs of stunned partygoers.

Every tree in a hundred meters had the leaves blown clean off of it. High above, a star that was not a star twinkled.

For a moment, there was deafening silence. Or maybe I was just deaf from the explosion. And then... someone clapped. It was just one person at first- I couldn't even see who- but they were soon joined by others, until everyone I could see was clapping and cheering and dancing in the moonlight.

At the edge of my vision, I could see my captain. Luffy's mouth hung open in awe, half of a ham visible inside. His eyes shone like stars.

"That! Was! So! Cool!"

"Eheh… Thanks." Usopp rubbed his nose self-consciously. I smirked.

"You could almost say it was out of this world, eh Captain?"

There was a collective groan from everyone in earshot, including Luffy himself. My smirk broadened into a grin. "Sesehihihihihi!"

All said and done, it wasn't bad for a couple days' work. The Shandians had their homeland back, the Skypeians could live free of fear, Enel had just become the man in the moon… And we got to keep his golden dory.

-V-

Zoro looked around and sighed. He'd looked away for two seconds and suddenly Chopper had gotten lost and the party had moved to a different part of the jungle. Where the heck was everybody? How did they always disappear so quickly?

At least the dogs hadn't wandered off. The dogs... Zoro sat down on a log to do a headcount. Yep, all still here, except Holy. Big pup had probably gone off with Chopper.

Eighty-eight dogs still with him. Eighty-nine in total. Zoro hadn't the faintest clue where they were going to find homes for so many. He'd never seen so many dogs in one place before in his life. At least they were all well-behaved; the world wouldn't have been able to handle that pack running amok, chewing on things and jumping up on people. When Zoro sat, the dogs sat too, crowding around him like children waiting for a story. One, the largest in Holy's absence, settled at his back, creating a warm wall of fur for him to lean against. Another, far more normal in size, rested her head on the swordsman's lap.

Zoro scratched gently behind velvety ears. He'd always liked dogs. So loyal, so much more easily trained than cats or birds... He'd thought, at times, about training one to help with his bounty hunting. A good retriever or scent hound. Now, though... Having a dog aboard the Going Merry would be less than ideal, and it wouldn't be fair to separate one of these sky dogs out from their pack like that. Even if they were split up between different Skypeian and Shandian families, at least they'd all stay on the same island, could still see each other.

The swordsman had been sitting there for several minutes when he heard two sets of footsteps approaching. He glanced up. Oh. Just Johnny and Yosaku. They were swaying a little as they walked; not drunk yet, but not totally sober either. The pair stopped when they saw him.

"There you are!" Yosaku exclaimed. "A bunch of us were starting to worry about you, Big Bro. Big Sis Nami sent us to make sure you hadn't accidentally wandered off the edge of the island."

"I'm not that bad," Zoro snapped. The hunters raised their eyebrows in unison.

"Dude, it's the middle of a party and you're half an island away, sitting on a log surrounded by dogs. If you're not lost, what're you doing out here?"

"I was looking for Chopper. He's the one who's lost."

Johnny and Yosaku exchanged doubtful looks. "Uh-huh..."

"Big Bro, Choppy's at the party. He's got a dog the size of an elephant with him; there's no way you could've missed that."

"Yeah, they're asking everyone about Skypeian pet adoption agencies and whether there's any farms in need of guardian dogs."

Zoro grumbled incoherently, unable to think of anything to say to that. The hunters looked at him with concern.

"Uh, Big Bro..." Yosaku fidgeted nervously with his hitai-ate. "Did something happen during your fight?"

"What makes you ask that?"

"Well, it's just, you've been awfully grumpy today..." Johnny cowered a little, almost hiding behind his partner. "Even for you. You know you can talk to us if something's wrong, right Bro?"

Talk...? On the one hand, Zoro would really rather not, but on the other hand, they had just gone through that whole thing with Jones about talking to people. The swordsman sighed. It would be pretty hypocritical of him to insist on the world witch being open with her plans and needs if he couldn't even speak his own mind to the crewmates he'd known the longest.

"Got a wound on my back," Zoro ground out. He couldn't meet the hunters' eyes. "Not... I wasn't running away. The guy I was fighting, though... He had a sword made of clouds that moved and changed with his will. Snaked around my guard and cut me across the back."

Both hunters winced. "But if you weren't running, there's no shame in it," Yosaku offered, "Right Bro? Nothing much you can do to prevent a sword like that from going where it wants."

"Where its wielder wants," Johnny hissed, elbowing his partner. Then the blue hunter froze. "Where its wielder wants... Moved and changed with his will... Was it a Dial-powered sword, Bro?"

"Yeah." Zoro pulled the offending shell out of his haramaki to show the hunters. Johnny picked it up and started examining it, transitioning quickly from sympathetic to almost bouncing with excitement.

"Oh wow! There's nothing else like this in the stash we've collected. Do you think we could..." Johnny whispered something to Yosaku, still bouncing. Zoro scowled. What exactly was the blue hunter thinking?

Yosaku's eyes went wide at whatever Johnny was suggesting. "Yeah, that might work. We'd have to get Big Bro Usopp in on it, and Choppy to, but it should do awesome."

The hunters looked back at Zoro in unison. "Big Bro, can we have this?"

"Knock yourselves out." It wasn't like Zoro had a use for it.

"Thanks!" Johnny bounced once more before settling down, tucking the Dial into his jacket. Once it was tucked away, he settled down almost as quickly as he'd gotten excited.

"Seriously, though, Bro, don't beat yourself up over this. The crew knows you're no coward; the guy you were fighting was just crazy tricky."

"If you do beat yourself up over it," Yosaku added, "Well, then we might just have to tell Big Bro Luffy. His Fist of Love might knock the melancholy out of you."

Zoro snorted at that. "If it doesn't work on Jones, what makes you think it'll work on me? I have a harder head."

"Maybe." The hunters shrugged in unison. "Pretty sure it'd work, though. It's hard to think of anything for a while after Big Bro Luffy hits you. He can knock a sea king senseless, remember?"

That was true. Sighing, Zoro got to his feet, much to the disappointment of the dog who'd been using his lap as a heard rest. "Fine. I'll try not to think about it."

"And you'll come back to the party with us? And stop brooding so much?"

"Yes." A bottle of rum and some of those weird sky island fruits sounded pretty good, actually. Might take the edge off enough for him to enjoy the rest of the night. Although he still had to figure out what to do with all the dogs...

"Don't tell Jones."

"What?" Johnny and Yosaku blinked in confusion. Zoro gestured around himself.

"About the dogs. She'll want to bring them with us."

Johnny rolled his eyes. "She's not that bad, Big Bro."

"Yeah..." Yosaku snickered. "If Big Sis Jones really tried to recruit every animal we met, we'd have a sea cow, a whale, and a sea cat following the ship."

Hmmmmm... True. There were definitely no sea cows or sea cats following them. Zoro wasn't so sure about the whale, though; they seemed to see spouts fairly frequently. But maybe it was different whales every time.

"Fine. Let's get back to the party." Zoro gestured for the hunters to lead the way as he maneuvered himself to the head of the tangle of dogs.

Grinning, Johnny and Yosaku bounced off through the trees, back towards light and music. At least at first. They got lost pretty quickly, it seemed, leaving Zoro and the dogs once more alone as they walked through the jungle.

How did all the trees on this island keep moving like that?

Zoro had maybe been walking for another half hour when he heard something large fly overhead. He looked up, one hand going to his swords in case it was some sort of giant carnivorous bird or something. But no, it was just Gan Fall the sky knight and his pink, polka-dotted Pegasus. Zoro relaxed.

"Did Nami ask you to look for me too?" Although if they wanted to find him, why didn't they stop moving the party and wait for him to catch up?

"Indeed." Gan Fall dismounted, scratching behind the ears of two dogs who trotted up to greet him. Pierre was much less okay with the situation, prancing away from the curious canines. "I believe her phrasing was that you needed to be found 'Before your feet end up in Alabasta while your head is in Orange Town.' Are those places you've been?"

"Yeah." Zoro snorted. "I don't get lost, though; the yuki-onna was having you on."

Gan Fall raised a bushy eyebrow. "I see... Well then. If not lost, why are you wandering around the jungle in the middle of the night with a pack of dogs."

Zoro felt his ears heat up. He looked away, scowling at the ground. "Trying to find my crewmate. We're supposed to be looking for a new home for the dogs, since their old owner is being imprisoned."

"Old owner?"

"Ohm."

"Ah." Gan Fall nodded thoughtfully and lifted one of the smallest dogs, holding the pup like a baby. "A noble quest, finding homes for such loving creatures. But in these numbers, an endeavour that will take some time. Weeks, even. Were you pirates planning to stay that long?"

"No. No, we're planning to leave in the morning."

"Then perhaps you should be leaving such a task to someone living in the area. I have friends among local farmers and veterinarians; I'm sure they'd be able to assist."

That sounded like a good plan to Zoro, but... "Don't you have a lot to do? I thought you and the old chief had a couple hundred years of politics to work out."

"We do." Gan Fall sighed and stroked the dog in his arms. "There's so much to do... Quite a lot for two old men. By comparison, rehoming a few dogs will be a pleasant vacation."

Zoro wavered. He wasn't sure... He and Chopper had told Holy they'd find homes for him and his family, and the swordsman felt he should see that promise through. But at the same time, Gan Fall was right. Locals would be better able to help the dogs, would know better who needed pets and guardians and farm assistants. Zoro sighed and nodded, patting the nearest dog as his shoulders slumped.

"You're right. Thanks."

Gan Fall stepped closer, resting an armoured hand on the swordsman's shoulder. "Thank you, Blue Sea Dweller. You've done more for our peoples than I think you can know."

Ears reddening further, Zoro shot the sky knight a wry smile. "Thank my captain. He's the one who was so excited to explore an island in the sky."

Chuckling, Gan Fall placed the dog he'd been holding back on the ground and returned to Pierre. "Indeed. I will. Now... Do you plan to return to the party? I'm sure the dogs will be welcome."

"Uh... Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming."

Pierre whickered; it almost sounded like a laugh. The bird-horse pranced in place before clattering off through the trees. At least the pink, polka-dotted creature was easy to follow.

-V-

"We need more rope." Nami rubbed her temples. The Skypeians and Shandians who were helping with the resupply were more than happy to help, but none of them knew a damn thing about sailing vessels. They were all used to their little Dial boats- which were awesome, admittedly, and Nami wished she'd had more chances to try them out, but it made explaining rigging requirements difficult.

One of the Skypeians shot her a sheepish look. "Sorry. We've never seen ships of this kind before. Or this size. No one here builds vessels even half this big."

"Except Enel." Nami almost felt bad for totalling the great golden ship. Almost. As amazing as it would have been to fly that ship, to bring all that gold and copper with them... as wealthy as it would have made them... it was still hard to feel bad about destroying something built by a sociopath with delusions of grandeur.

Still... It had been so much gold.

The navigator shook her head. It was in the past; it couldn't be helped. Sighing, she ran a hand through her hair and brought herself back to the current predicament. Admittedly, the middle of the night, during the tail end of a party, when everyone was inebriated and half asleep... This was not the best time to be resupplying. But if they meant to leave early in the morning, it was a necessity.

"Is something the matter?"

Nami almost jumped out of her skin when the Shandian chief spoke. For an old man, he was extremely quiet when he walked. She supposed it came from a combination of hunting in his youth and years of everyone trying to avoid Enel's notice as much as possible.

She shook her head. "No, everything's fine. Wonderful, even. I'm grateful for the help everyone's giving. There was just a minor miscommunication over the amount of rope needed. It's... not easy to explain rigging to people who've never sailed." Ghin would have been better at it, as the rigger, but Nami didn't want to put that on him so soon after his injury.

The chief chuckled. "I can imagine. It's been a very, very long time since we were visited by anyone from the Blue Sea." Then his face went solemn.

"It is we who should be thanking you, though. Your crew saved our island from Enel when we were unable to protect ourselves. You've saved us all. If there's anything you need, you need only name it. I or Gan Fall will be more than happy to assist."

Nami flushed. "Thanks, but we're pretty much covered already." Then she remembered... So many times where people had to Rocket or leap or swim to shore... "Although, if you know someone who makes small vessels, something we could use as a landing craft, I'm definitely in the market. We're long overdue for a shore boat."

Hesitating a moment, the chief nodded. "There are indeed boats available for purchase. However, they are all Dial-powered and would take months or even years of practice to master the use of."

That... could be a problem. Still... "I'd like to at least have a look, if that's alright."

"Certainly. I'll show you to a reputable Dial technician, if you can spare the time."

Before Nami could answer, Marian phased into being by her side. Which... Hadn't she spent most of the party with Lisa? The Klabautermann smiled and answered before Nami could ask.

"Me real body's the ship, ken? This body... Oi c'n sorta be anywhere Oi need, s'long as one o'me crew's near." A small, rough hand patted Nami's arm. "Dinnae worry; Oi'll look after me own riggin'."

"You can...?"

Marian sniffed, looking offended. "O'course Oi c'n do it! S'long as people bring me 'nough loins'n canvas, who be'er tae rig a ship than th'ship 'erself? Oi ken anything me crew does, after all, an' probably more'n most o'ye about riggin' a ship."

That was a good point. Smiling softly, Nami patted the caravel spirit on her woolly head. "Alright then. I'll leave the resupply in your capable hands."

That earned a winning smile before Marian bounded over to the Going Merry to check on the progress being made. Turning back to the chief, Nami saw his mouth fallen open in awe. She chuckled sheepishly.

"Life on the Blue Sea can be a bit strange." An oversimplification and an understatement, but it was the only explanation Nami could think of to give. The chief raised his eyebrows.

"Clearly."

They made their way through the party, past Usopp telling tall tales to a horde of local children, past Drifter and Geier in a drunken argument with a southbird, past Ghin staring grimly at a small object that glinted golden in his hand... Past Luffy gorging himself into oblivion on fruits that could be found nowhere else in the word, past Toma trying to stop Lisa from sneaking a cup from the adult punch bowl, past Chopper saying a tearful farewell to a dog the size of an elephant... At last, though, the chief led Nami to the area where Jones and Usopp had built their giant Dial cannon. Conis was there, as was her father, part of a group that was tidying up, sorting broken bits of shell from Dials that could still function.

Pagaya was the first to see them approaching. He paused in his work, bowing clumsily. "Hello, Nami, Chief Chani. Did you need something?"

"The pirates are looking to purchase a landing vessel," the Shandian chief informed him. "I was hoping you could give a demonstration of how our vessels work and direct them to someone who has a river boat or waver or some such for sale."

"Purchase?" Pagaya seemed genuinely shocked. He wiped his hands on his apron. "My dear, your crew saved our island. I'm sure if anyone has a boat or waver to spare, they'd be glad to give it to you. But do you know how to use one? Dial-powered boats can be incredibly finicky things."

Nami winced, thinking about how things had gone when they'd taken the crow-headed boat up the cloud river. "Believe me, I know."

"It can take years of practice to master their use." Pagaya bit his lip hesitantly. "But I suppose there's no harm in showing you. Come along."

He led her through the jungle and out to a bay, where a beach of pale sand met the foam-cloud sea. There were a number of small vessels there. Many were similar to the river boat that Johnny and Yosaku had broken, while some were smaller and lighter- delicate, single-person vessels. Nami found herself drawn towards those, even if they were less practical.

"This is my outdoor workshop," Pagaya announced proudly. He waved a hand at the boats, which were in varying stages of construction and repair. "I collect old Dials and boats and bring them here to fix them up. The ones I can actually get going I sell cheap to kids looking for their first boat. I also do repairs for people who can't afford to get their craft looked at by ShellCorp."

Nami glanced at the collection of vessels. "What are the small ones for?"

"Those are wavers." Pagaya fluttered his hand dismissively. "They take even longer to master the use of than a typical Dial vessel; you'd be far better off with something more stable."

"Can we at least try one?"

Nami almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of that creaking voice. She hadn't noticed Jones following them. Or maybe she hadn't been; maybe the worldwalker had just happened to be nearby. That seemed more likely, that Jones had been hiding out here to avoid the main crowd of the party. Black and violet fluttered, barely visible in the night, as the quartermaster jumped down from an overhanging tree branch. Nami almost hit her crewmate on reflex for surprising her like that.

Almost.

"Would it kill you to give people a little more warning?" she asked instead, running a hand through her hair. "You nearly gave me a heart attack."

"Sorry." Jones slipped her hands into her pockets, looking sheepish. Nami shook her head with a smile and a sigh before turning back to Pagaya, who also appeared to have almost been given a heart attack.

"Can we?" the navigator asked. "I know you say they're difficult, and it's true that our crew mates had trouble with the river boat we used to get to Upper Yard, but I promise I'm much more competent with such things than Johnny and Yosaku."

Pagaya wavered, uncertain, before nodding. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt, although I sincerely believe you'd be better off with something else. One moment."

He walked down the row of vessels, examining them. After a moment, he snapped his fingers and smiled. "Ah, here it is. You can test this one out. It's an older model, but it can carry two people and it's sturdier than some of the newer craft."

The waver Pagaya pointed out was wide-bodied and in need of a paint job, but otherwise a solid looking beast. Something about the shape of the hull actually reminded Nami of the Going Merry. She strode over to get a closer look, nodding thoughtfully as she examined the Dial engine that made it run.

"You steer with the handles," Pagaya instructed, "Somewhat like a bicycle. Although the triggers give you more power rather than putting on the breaks. I'd suggest taking it slow; like I said, it can take years to really be confident with Dial craft, and wavers are more difficult because you also need to cultivate excellent balance. I really think you'd prefer-!"

Vwoooooooooooooom!

The waver roared to life like a mechanical beast. It vibrated from the turnover of the Dial engine, and Nami could feel even before she was on the waves why some people might have trouble keeping their balance. But she'd spent almost her whole life at sea, on vessels of every sort in every sort of weather. She'd had to keep her feet under far more challenging conditions.

Nami carefully edged the waver away from shore, her fingers ghosting over the triggers on the handles. Pagaya hadn't been quite right about it being like a bicycle, although she supposed that was perhaps the closest thing she could think of. The engine had two jets, one to either side; it didn't take Nami long to figure out that pressing one trigger harder than the other caused the jet on that side to blow stronger, turning the waver.

This was perfect.

A grin crept across her face. Nami squeezed both handles and shot across the bay, turning tightly and sending up a wave of cloud before racing back, then weaving a figure eight across the surface of the White-White Sea. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Pagaya on the shore, his mouth hanging open in shock at how quickly she'd figured it out. But really, once she knew how the engine worked, this was no harder than any other vessel. Easier than Enel's golden ark. Nami had no idea how Johnny and Yosaku hand managed to blunder so badly on the river boat.

Slowing, Nami brought the waver in closer to shore. Pagaya gulped as she waved at him, his mouth closing slowly.

"Is this one available for sale?"

Pagaya blinked several times in confusion. "I.. Uh... Yes, it was. But like I said, you saved our island. The least we can do is..."

Nami pulled up to the beach and disembarked, interrupting quietly. "I remember, and the offer is very generous. But I couldn't... It wouldn't feel right, accepting something like this for free. Not when you've worked so hard fixing it and others like it. We're from the Blue Sea, so we don't have any Extol, but I'd be glad to find something to trade."

Before Pagaya could try to object, Nami had an idea. "Tangerines. Do tangerines grow up here?"

"What's a tangerine?" Pagaya looked horribly confused, but with how strange most of the plants up here were, Nami wasn't surprised that he'd never head of them.

"It's a kind of Blue Sea fruit that grows on trees. My mother grew them, and I keep a few on the ship with me to remember her by. I can give you a basket of fruit and a couple cuttings so you can try to grow them yourself."

Nami ignored Jones' strangled noise of disbelief as she waited for Pagaya's answer. The Dial technician was momentarily frozen. Finally, life came back into his eyes; he cleared his throat.

"That... Ahem... That's quite a generous offer. But it's really not-!"

"It is absolutely necessary. I'll go get the cuttings in a moment and show you how to take care of them. There's just something I want to do first."

"Oh?"

Nami beamed. "I need to test exactly how fast this waver can go. Jones!"

"Eh?" The worldwalker looked a bit out of it. Nami rolled her eyes.

"Enough with the deer-in-the-headlights look. Even Chopper doesn't do that when he zones out. It's not that unbelievable that I'd offer a tangerine cutting or two to a good home."

Grey eyes blinked slowly, the lights coming back on inside. Although not fully. "Okay... But... What do you need me for?"

"You can fly now, right? And use your Fruit to go pretty damn fast?"

"Yeah..."

Nami smirked. "Well then... Race me around the island and up the river to the lake where Merry is. I want to know exactly how fast this baby can go." The navigator patted the handlebars of the waver lovingly.

Understanding lit up Jones' face; scars stretched and twisted into a cocky grin. "Oh... You're on. Geppo!"

Jones leapt into the air and started bouncing in place as Nami pushed away from shore. Seconds later, they found themselves speaking in unison like Johnny and Yosaku.

"Three!"

"Two!"

"One!"

"Go!"

And then the bay exploded with cloud and wind and the sounds of competitive laughter.

-V-

The night was dark and quiet, even the most stubborn partygoers having finally drunk themselves into a stupor. Robin picked her way carefully between snoring bodies, stifling a yawn. She was tired, and the hour was late, but though she did her best to prevent it showing on her face, she was too excited to sleep. Excited and nervous, because she knew she had to share what she'd found with the captain, but she didn't fully know how.

Luffy was the only member of the crew who hadn't made it back to the ship before collapsing into slumber. Robin found him lying near Pagaya and Conis, a large leaf pulled over himself like a makeshift blanket. She hesitated before waking him. It was a cute scene, the girl and her father curled protectively around a pair of small pots with tree cuttings poking out, with Luffy sprawled out next to them. Although the captain snored and drooled in his sleep, which made things a bit less cute.

Robin sprouted a hand from the ground to shake his shoulder gently. The captain didn't respond at first, except to mumble something about bandits in his sleep. Raising an eyebrow, Robin shook and poked more insistently until the rubber boy woke up. Luffy sat, blinking blearily as his leaf blanket fell away.

"Wassup?"

"Captain." Robin inclined her head. "I... found something I would like you to see."

Luffy stared at her, a grin spreading slowly across his face. Robin flushed and looked away.

"What?"

"You just called me captain without adding funny words in front of it. You're getting better."

"That's not... Just come see."

Luffy obliged and followed, although that grin remained plastered on his face. On anyone else, Robin would have called it smug and found it annoying. However, Luffy didn't seem like the sort who understood that particular emotion, and if she accused him of being smug, he'd likely laugh it off and tell her he wasn't a dog or something.

The grin faded, at least, when Robin brought him to the first of the inscriptions. Luffy stared at it. "Uh... Funny letters? Are those like the Poneblocks you're looking for?"

"Poneglyphs," Robin corrected automatically, although she felt like it was perhaps a lost cause with this particular audience. "Yes, this is the same language. It's all over the place in these ruins. Most of it is graffiti, although I've found a few fragments of value."

She watched the captain out of the corner of her eye as he pondered her words. It was unlikely that he'd spot anything without her pointing it out, but she wanted to see anyway. When no reaction was forthcoming, Robin pointed at another inscription on a broken stele nearby.

"Can you see the difference between these two texts?"

Luffy looked from one to the other, brow creased in confusion. "They're... They look like different hand writing?" he asked uncertainly, "Like two different people wrote them?"

"That's part of it." Robin gestured to the stele. "That one was written a very long time ago. You can see the weathering on the stone, how much has been worn away. But this..." Robin caressed the first inscription, scrawled on a stone that had once been part of the foundation of a house. "This one is fresh. It was written within the last 50 years, possibly even within the last 30."

The captain blinked as she continued. "It was written by Gol D Roger."

"What?!" Luffy's jaw fell to the ground. Robin nodded.

"I was surprised when I saw the first one too. Roger's handwriting is all over these ruins- usually it just says 'Roger was here' and similar, but there are some directions suggesting readers visit a great bell."

"Bell?" Luffy's face lit up. "I remember that! I heard it right after Jones got herself blown up. Nami says she crashed a ship into it."

"I see."

They walked in silence from there- or rather, Robin walked and Luffy bounced along at her side, sometimes getting ahead of her only to double back and hold her hand for a bit. It was endearing, if also a bit strange. Robin couldn't bring herself to say anything about it at the moment, though.

They came to the base of some sort of enormous vine- a beanstalk, maybe? Robin looked around, but could see no sign of a giant bell. Luffy shook his head and pointed up.

"It's up there. There's a bunch of little cloud decks with the bean piercing through."

"I see."

Luffy hesitated a moment, glancing from her to the beanstalk. Then... "Can I rocket you? It'll take too long to climb, otherwise."

Robin paused. She hadn't expected that- in fact, she'd already been bracing herself to be grabbed and launched into the air. The captain rarely asked for consent; in fact, she couldn't remember ever seeing him ask for permission before grabbing a crewmate and rocketing to wherever they were trying to get to. He usually did it even if they were actively protesting.

"I... Yes. Yes, that would be the most efficient way to get there. Thank you."

Beaming, the rubber boy wrapped one of his arms around her. His other stretched high into the air, grabbing something invisible in the dark. And then... wind. That was the primary sensation of being shot into the air by a Gum-Gum Rocket, the sensation of tremendous wind in one's face. Robin closed her eyes tight, lest she get any insects or falling leaves in them; she was certain that would cause great injury, travelling at these speeds.

They landed with a thump on a platform near the top of the beanstalk. Opening her eyes, Robin bit back a gasp. Above them rose a great golden belfry, with a bell the size of a small fishing boat. Every centimeter of both bell and belfry was covered in intricate shapes of vines and trees and serpents, the gold worked with tremendous care and skill. And the whole construction had been built atop a small pyramid, into the side of which was embedded a poneglyph.

While Luffy admired the architecture, lit silver by the light of the moon, Robin approached the ancient stone. Running her fingers over the words as she read them, her heart dropped a little with disappointment. There wasn't much here that she cared for. Most of the text was just a poetic and vague description of the great weapon Poseidon... which was apparently in the care of Fishman Island. Robin sighed, her hand dropping.

Then she saw the annotation. Again it was newer, written in Roger's hand. The Pirate King hadn't added any interpretation of his own to the text, however. No, his annotation consisted of just eleven words chiselled into the golden bricks of the pyramid.

The answers you're looking for are out there. Don't give up.

It was... so absurd. The message almost read like it had been written just for her. But that was impossible; she'd been just a small child when the Pirate King died, who knew if she'd even been born yet when he wrote this.

Robin hadn't realized she was crying until Luffy placed a hand on her shoulder. "Does it say something bad?"

"No..." Robin closed her eyes and sighed, quickly getting herself back under control. "This poneglyph isn't what I'm looking for any more than the one in Alabasta was. But your predecessor left some encouragement here for people like me. He seemed to know exactly what would be needed."

Luffy squinted at Roger's inscription, then grinned. "He sounds smart."

"Indeed." Robin chuckled. "It seems he was."

There was silence for a moment. Then... "What are you going to do?"

"What?" Robin didn't know what to make of that question.

Luffy held her hand gently, staring up at the poneglyph and the bell above it. "I told you in Alabasta, you're one of mine. You'll always have a place with us. Marian knows it too. I think you want it, even though you keep pretending to push us away with funny titles and things. Will you let us help you?"

"You're very persistent," Robin told him flatly. Luffy smiled.

"That wasn't a no."

Robin sighed. She knew when she was beaten, at least for now. "I'll try, cap- Luffy. I cannot make any promises, given my background, but I'll try."

"Good." The rubber boy smiled wider, blinked sleepily, and yawned so hard he almost fell down. "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah... Can we go back to the ship now, though? M'sleepy..."

Right. It had slipped her mind- most of this crew were still children and teenagers. They needed more sleep than she did. "Of course. We have a big day tomorrow, don't we?"

Luffy nodded as they moved to the edge of the platform. Once again, a rubber arm held Robin securely. "Yeah. Gotta get down. And then on to the next adventure."

The captain half-jumped, half-stumbled over the edge, bringing Robin with him. This was followed by a moment of beautiful, terrible free-fall before he inflated himself like a balloon, allowing them to drift slowly down to the ground. His arm unwrapped from around her then, although Luffy continued to hold Robin's hand until they were back on their newly re-rigged ship.

Shaking her head, Robin led her ever-more-sleepy captain down to the men's room, which was already filled with snoring. Only once she had managed to tuck him into his bunk was she successfully able to extricate her hand from clingy rubber fingers.

"G'night Robin..." Eyes closed, Luffy yawned and mumbled into his pillow.

Already almost on the deck, Robin paused with the hatch partway open. "Good night... Luffy."

-V-

Waking up late was a new thing for Wyper. So was waking up with a hangover. He'd never been one for drinking or partying, especially not to excess, but Laki hadn't let him say no. He groaned, teeth scraping against a tongue that felt like it was covered in swamp cloud. His head pounded like he'd been attacked by a giant southbird.

It took a moment for Wyper to even figure out where he was. He didn't want to open his eyes, although he eventually did so with great reluctance. His reward was the morning sun stabbing him in the brain.

"Never again."

Around him were a few dozen other voices muttering similar promises. Wyper ignored them in favour of dragging himself to a tree he could lean on to help himself stand. He needed some water. Badly.

Even the act of dragging himself to his feet left Wyper sweaty and a bit nauseous. His head continued to throb as he staggered to where he thought he remembered the refreshment tables being set up. Excellent, they were still there, and none of the previous night's shenanigans had knocked them over. The war leader picked up a gourd of watered-down juice, holding it in both hands as he drank. The fingers of his right hand felt weak and tingly; he didn't trust them to hold things on their own.

All around him, Shandians and Skypieans alike had similar ideas. Thirst sated- although head still throbbing- Wyper stumbled out of the way to let others get at the tables. He leaned against a tree by the river as he tried to remember the events of the night before. Last thing he could recall, he'd been dancing with Laki and Aisa had climbed onto his shoulders...

Wyper's recollections were interrupted as charred, golden wood sailed past practically in front of his nose. At first, all he could do was dazedly wonder when the trees had learned to dance. As more fluid got to his brain, though, rehydrating his booze-dried head, he realized that that had not, in fact, been a tree.

It was a ship.

Turning slightly, Wyper caught sight of Genbo. The warleader jerked his chin at the retreating ship, although at first he had a hard time putting his thoughts into words. At long last, just as the ship was reaching the open sea, Wyper managed to get a single syllable out past his fuzzy tongue.

"Rude."

Genbo looked about, confused, and hesitantly pointed at himself. "Me?" He was clearly still a bit drunk even after several hours of sleep.

Wyper shook his head and tried again. "No. Them. Pirates. Leaving without saying goodbye. Rude."

His words set everyone nearby into a hungover, half-drunk panic. People stumbled to the shore, some leaning on each other, some running and falling on their faces, some carrying things that Wyper didn't have the energy to look at too closely. His eyes still hurt.

"We didn't get to thank them!" someone squawked. It was followed by others.

"If I'd known they were planning to leave this early, I would've prepared something last night!"

"Don't they want a reward? I thought Sir Gan Fall had said something about giving them gold?"

"No, it was the chief as said that. He was going to ask them if their ship could carry one of those pillars from near the temple of Tlaloc. Apparently gold's worth a lot down on the Blue Sea."

"Really? But then, why wouldn't they take any?"

Wyper sighed as his friends and former enemies continued to make fools of themselves, stumbling and shouting on the shore. The ship was getting further and further away; he doubted the pirates could hear anyone anymore.

"Oi! Pipe down! They're too far; they can't hear you."

Most people didn't hear him for that matter, so Wyper didn't know why he bothered. Only Aisa- who had been a good girl and not gotten drunk, and was therefore not as hungover as the adults- responded to his snapping and grumbling.

"It's... It's not just the gold. The pirates... I didn't see them pick up an octoballoon. I don't sense one on their ship. How do you think they'll get down?"

Wyper grunted and closed his eyes in a futile attempt to protect his aching head from the light. "Their ship had wings, didn't it?"

"Well, yes, but what if they didn't get fixed properly?" Aisa sounded concerned. She reached for his hand and held it tight. "We tried to replace the sails and everything, and Marian gave good directions, but none of us had ever seen a boat like that before. What if we got it wrong?"

Dammit. He really didn't feel like worrying about this right now. What he wanted was to go lie down for a couple more hours and see if the throbbing fog in his head would go away. But Aisa sounded so worried... "I'm sure they'll be fine. Worst case scenario, the human Reject Dial can absorb the impact when they hit the ground."