He recognizes me, but he doesn't trust me. Doesn't matter. The scholars offered him a safe space to work. He's been researching the vines.
The Redvine killed everyone on the frozen side of his island- with a few exceptions. He said there were previously Devil Fruit users there, but that they were gone… he did not elaborate. When we told him about the bodies we had found previously, he seemed surprised- he hadn't seen the vines preserve bodies before. He had seen only died-up husks, like mummies.
That was on Day 5. His calendar matches mine.
The vines work quickly.
He also knew why our fallen scholars had been coughing- he had studied the spores. There are spores that come off the plant. Law has equipment to study them.
We had no idea about the spores. He's going to be useful.
We're helping him load it all up to Weatheria. We're safe here. His research is the most important thing right now.
I really hope they're okay.
Picked up a whole family. They survived on a mountain. Vines were close- Law says they're clear of spores. He worries about us picking up someone infected by them.
We still don't really understand what the spores do, other than, apparently, kill people. Law is worried they may not always kill, but could be carried.
Law didn't want to risk saving the family. Good thing he's not in charge here.
I hope we find them, too.
The woman is named Zifa. She's a botanist and farmer, and very smart. We could use her- we don't grow a sustainable amount of food up here. The scholars used to trade to supplement. We need to convert some weather gardens into food gardens.
Her husband is Ben. He's a playwright. Absolutely useless.
They have two kids: Hayley (14 and obnoxious) & Bee (8 and tolerable).
Law finally came around on our rescue decision when they had more information for us- the doctor lives for more information. Keeping him informed just may be the key to beating this thing. He has a lab set up now.
Zifa told us the people in her village were all asleep. The vines attached themselves to them- they sleep like the dead.
I wonder if Alta and Gerardo were really dead? Maybe the spores don't kill?
Law thinks the vines feed on the sleeping people. I don't know if they're the lucky ones, or if the Husks are. It sends chills up my spine to think of being used by that monster for food.
I hope I don't have to find out first hand, one way or the other.
Nami stared down at the wormy cluster of red before her, knowing what it must mean. She had followed the vine to it's inevitable end, and she had found the reason for its continued existence on the island- it had captured a human, after all. A Sleeper.
Not a corpse. A living person.
It was roughly the size of a man- at least, she thought it was a man. He was so coated in the vines, crossing back and forth over his chest and face, that she couldn't make out much but the shape of him; it was a wonder he was still able to breathe, being so thoroughly covered.
But he was definitely breathing.
Small peaks of the body were visible here and there, showcasing streaks of tan skin and pale blue fabric, the whole mound rising and falling gently with his breathing. He had hair- both on his head and on his face- poking up through the cocoon of red weeds, black and coarse and unkempt.
She was just pulling out her Den Den Mushi to ask what they should do (would Law stubbornly suggest they leave the man? That it was too big of a risk? Or, at this point in his experiments, would he be happy for a test subject?), when she noticed something else sticking up through the protective cluster on the man's face: a nose.
A long nose.
Her heart did a funny little jump in her chest, as if she had been punched and the organ was trying to flip itself around and out of the way. Her blood was pounding in her ears, even as she tried to remind herself that plenty of people had that particular facial feature- it didn't mean… it didn't necessarily signify…
Oh, God- she saw it then, clutched in an exposed fist and largely ignored by the grasping tendrils of the plant as it grew.
The vines could grow at a rate of a kilometer an hour- or at least that's what they had clocked it at. In the oceans, it could grow much, much faster.
After all, it had taken the entire planet in days.
Maybe he had been sleeping when it had overtaken him… or maybe, based on the familiar weapon at hand, he had gone down fighting. The spores paralyzed him, and he had fallen, helpless, watching as the bloody tendrils grew closer and closer… watched as they slipped into his veins and ears and mouth-
No, not helpful.
"Law!" she yelled, a little louder than she meant to, into her device. Her voice was strained and choking on itself, even to her own ears.
"What's wrong?" he asked, too calm. Trust Law to never panic- his calm guidance had gotten her- and a couple others on the Expedition Team- out of tough scrapes before. It paid, when panic and stress was evicting all logic and reason from your brain, to have a clear objective voice on the other end to guide you.
"I- how many Panacea doses have you made?"
"You found people? They're alive?"
"Just one," she answered, still very loud in the dead silence of the empty forest. "Law we're taking him. He's one of- one of mine."
Silence of the thoughtful variety from the other end. It amazed her how clearly she could interpret the intention of his silences, almost as if he were actually speaking. There really was no choice, working closely for so long with the stiff and distant pirate, but to develop some understanding of his quirks.
They understood one another. When she said the Sleeper was 'hers,' he knew what she meant. Nakama. The word meant something to him, too, once upon a time.
'I'm c-cutting him loose."
"No. No I don't think I will-"
"Check your mask again. Put on your gloves so you don't cut yourself and get exposed to the spores. If I have to expend with two doses of Panacea today I will be very unhappy." She nodded, even though she knew he couldn't see her. The routine, run through step-by-step, was helpful to her shocked brain. She was moving on autopilot, trying to control her body against the pumping of adrenaline. It was like seeing a ghost, or being forcibly reminded of some tragic past life.
"Don't pull on any stems that made their way into his body- tell me if any broke skin."
She had to save him. She had to.
She was struggling with her breathing, trying to keep it even as the thought went through her mind over and over again.
This had to work. She had lost him once- not again.
If he died after this- this insane amount of pure luck that bordered on divine intervention-, she would never forgive herself.
"I'll be coming down soon. I can create a room to help move him. Quarantine procedures for all three of us as soon as we're home."
She nodded to no one, again. She knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she should refuse; Law should send one of the other boots down, instead. He was never sent on missions, despite his immense Devil Fruit power. He was too important.
But he was a doctor. He could save her nakama.
"You have your machete? Cut carefully. Again: do NOT cut yourself."
"Yeah, I got it, mom," she mumbled in a half-hearted attempt at being snarky. It came out impossibly weak.
She made sure to stand far enough back, aiming at a point well away from his body, but not so far away that the vines would be too heavy to remove. She placed the tip of the blade inches from where she decided to cut, finding a spot braced against a log so it wouldn't just sink into the moist ground, and let out a deep breath very slowly, fogging her mask a little. She raised her arms high, and with one fell swoop brought her blade down hard.
The blade made a disgusting, wet squelching sound as it buried itself into the vine. Nami was convinced the thing wasn't actually a plant- it had a glossy, quivering surface, and when you cut it it bled, thick and red. Redvine always seemed more viscous than any plant that had any right to exist- which probably added some fuel to Law's nerdy space-monster theory.
She tugged at the machete, pulling it free. She had made it about halfway through and, predictably, the plant was working fast to do two things:
A puff of spores so thick Nami could barely see poured forth from the wound and straight into her face, more like a gentle cloud than a swarm of insects, but inspiring the horror of the latter quite readily. She froze, waiting for the stream to lesson so she could view her target again.
The vine was already repairing itself.
She knew she had to be quick- if she were stronger, she could cut through in one blow. She wondered if she should start carrying an ax or something instead, but her machete was so light and helped a lot when they dropped down on islands with dense foliage. It was versatile, if not the most effective for hacking at the monster that had covered the planet.
The machete could kill a man, too. Versatile.
She shook her head, dispelling that particular memory, and hacked away at the vine through the blinding spore cloud floating about. She couldn't even see if she had succeeded- her feet were sinking too far into the plant-matter, and from her crouched position she was up to her butt in putrefying gunk.
She crawled out of the depression she had made, surveying her work. The main branch of the vine was cut- he was free.
Carefully, she made her way over to the body on the ground, pulling chunks of vine off of his face, first. She was careful around his ears, pulling out a small pair of plant clippers (the ones she used for the flowers) to cut the pieces stuck in there. Thankfully, none of the tangled mass had made its way down his throat- she even opened his mouth, to check, using what little medical knowledge she had gathered regarding the vines and hoping Law would hurry the hell up and follow her footprints to her location. He could move quite fast with his ability, but she imagined it would take a little while for him to gather the supplies he needed.
She stared at his face, clear of debris, brushing at some dirt that had settled under his right eye.
She couldn't fucking believe it. It was Usopp. It was really him, and he was breathing, and soon the red spokes still in his ears would shrivel and fall and he would wake up…
He was only the second Sleeper they had attempted to rescue- the last one (Dion, a fishman they found on the roof of a marine base despite not a being a marine) had had vines running all through him, and Law had had to earn his "Surgeon of Death" moniker, cutting the guy up and removing the mass bit by bit. It was painless, thanks to his powers, but quite gruesome.
The pieces in his ears, the ones that reach into the brain and created some kind of intense hallucination, had fallen out on their own once disconnected from the root. She assumed it would be the same for her nakama. The vines also didn't appear to have pierced his skin- he was really lucky.
Usopp seemed in pretty good shape, comparatively. She had no idea how the plants decided who died (the Husks), and who was kept asleep, but the effect for the Sleepers was not as detrimental as one may think. Even now, years later, Usopp looked like he had just laid down for a nap- his body wasn't much atrophied, his muscletone actually better than the last time she had seen him (or was he perpetually that scrawny boy they picked up on Syrup in her mind, and she was remembering wrong?). He would probably, like Dion, pass a health inspection with flying colors… except of course, for the spore infection.
They would deal with that when Law brought him up to quarantine.
He would also probably be very disoriented for a good long while.
They would deal with that, too.
His facial hair was patchy, betraying his youth, his hair long and greasy under him. As Nami pulled the mass of red off his body she saw a few bruises from the grip of some of the vines. The pale blue color she had spotted earlier was the same pair of swim trunks he had worn around Sabaody all those years ago, before Kuma smacked them all into different time zones. He still had his usual wristband on, but she wasn't sure where his trademark goggles had gone.
Something about that bothered her, and while she waited helplessly for Law, Usopp's body now clear of the Redvine, she began searching the surrounding area. It took several minutes, but eventually she located his bag, flung several feet to the left… it was overcome with the natural greery of the island, hidden after four years of overgrowth. She was fairly certain his goggles were in there. At least, some goggles were in there- she had no idea if they were his latest pair or not.
Her vision grew a little blurry as she peeked into the contents of the bag, tears pooling in her eyes as memories flooded her with the strength of a tsunami.
All of the knee-shaking, profusely sweating moments of pure terror, when Usopp fought his own inherent instincts telling him to run run run and instead stood by his friends. Stood by her against Enel. Stood by Robin against the entire world government. Stood by an injured Zoro against Kuma.
All of the moments yelling at him on the ship, of him laughing at Luffy's stupid impressions and poking fun at her own greed.
The parties where all of them gathered and danced and drank and sang to Brook's songs and oh-
It felt like an eternity ago and it felt like just yesterday and it was too much to believe, too much to hope for that one member of her found family had miraculously been returned to her. Her legs wouldn't support her anymore as she shuffled around Usopp's belongings, each item flooding her with memories.
She had given up so long ago.
"I'll be damned."
She was sitting in the gunk, staring down at Usopp and hugging the moldy old bag to her chest like a precious treasure when Law appeared. He was wearing one of his full hazmat suits, bright yellow with tape connecting his thin medical gloves and oversized boots- at least he was taking extra precautions, coming down to the surface like this for her.
She was sinking into the ground slowly; thankfully, the distributed weight of her nakama's prone form prevented him from falling through the surface of the island, the indentation surrounding him only about half an inch deep.
She gulped, feeling like a child as she looked up, wide-eyed, at the doctor. "It's Usopp. He's alive."
Law crouched, his head completely covered by his biohazard suit, the window for his face large and reflecting the light filtering in through the leaves above. His brows were drawn as he examined his patient, his usual frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Where were the vines?"
"His ears, and covering him. I don't think there's much damage…"
Law nodded, one medical-gloved hand pressing to Usopp's neck to check his pulse, his eyes on a watch on his wrist. He had his medical bag, but he didn't open it- maybe didn't need to, on the field. "We'll get him back to Weatheria. We'll have to burn everything, you know."
He nodded at her without looking, and she knew he was indicating the bag. She felt oddly startled by the pronouncement, even as she acknowledged the logic in it. "Not everything! We can disinfect his Kabuto, and…" she shuffled through his bag, pulling out his sketchbook and frowning. Probably couldn't save that, though it hurt her heart to throw it back in the bag. She pulled out the goggles triumphantly, gripping them a bit hard. "And these. We can keep these." With great regret she placed the bag on the ground beside her, frowning down at it. Better to leave it here, rather than carry it back just to have it incinerated.
Law released a long-suffering sigh, but he appeared to acquiesce. "Alright. Let's get him home."