Chapter 8: Recover

"That should just about do it, Torterra!" I called out, and my starter grunted in acknowledgment as he let his grasp over the earth fade away. "Alright, Houndoom, glass it over!"

The canine Pokémon barked happily before exhaling a steady stream of flame into the trench Torterra had just carved into the ground. The Flamethrower washed over the ground like a liquid, covering the entirety of the channel and baking the loose dirt and sand into a glowing mixture of stone and glass.

"Perfect! Now, Torterra, Vaporeon, open it up!" Torterra stomped his foot, the mass of stone and dirt at the start of the trench shattered, and with Vaporeon's help, water started to flow into the newly created canal.

And cheers of euphoria came from every last man, woman, and child watching the spectacle. I couldn't help blushing, even if part of me said that what I had done was definitely worth all of this praise. It was still as hard to adjust to people looking at me adoringly as it was to being called Champion Lucas.

"I know that we've already said it a hundred times, but thank you so much. All of you," Vivi said, smiling tearfully. "All of you have done so much good for our country, and…"

Her voice trailed off as she stared out towards the coast where the river met the sea. There was a wistfulness in her tone that I recognized. It was the same one Barry would use when talking about his father.

"Still thinking about Luffy?" I asked, and Vivi started before giving me a sad smile.

"It's that obvious?" she asked wryly.

"I could see how much you wanted to join them without my glasses," Tashigi deadpanned from my other side, leaning on the shovel she'd been using to help dig out the canal.

The princess looked away, her face red. There had been many tears that night and the nights after, but Vivi had decided to stay with her kingdom in the end. Thankfully, Smoker was willing to let the Straw Hats go this once and had gotten his men to focus on rooting out any agents that Crocodile had left behind so they could escape.

Though, their Mareep-headed ship, the Going Merry, wasn't exactly one person lighter after leaving Alabasta. In fact, you could say that they'd exchanged one guest for another…

~2 Weeks Ago~

What remained of the banquet had been abandoned, and nobody in the building blamed us for losing our appetites.

"Why is everything so obvious now? Crocodile shouldn't have been forewarned about Gardevoir's powers, he didn't use his poison hook against Luffy—"

"He was putting on a show of being cocky every moment we were looking at him. Just so we'd never consider that his whole plan hinged on him losing," Tashigi fumed.

"We can still chase after them," Smoker growled. "I can call the Hound up from Nanohana, and if Vaporeon can give us a boost, then—"

"We don't know where he's gone, is the problem," I replied testily, staring at a map of the seas around us. "Lucario's Aura senses are too time-dependent, and by now, the trail's too old for him to follow. I could send Crobat out to scout for them, but the ocean's a big place, and he's only got so much stamina."

Kohza pounded the table in frustration. "We can't just let him go! He was this close to making us all—"

"ENOUGH!"

The room fell silent at the King's command. His eyes roved over all of us, and I couldn't help but feel even more intimidated than I had facing his doppelganger.

"We have many reasons to be angry. Crocodile ravaged this country for three years, manipulated us into a civil war, ruined countless lives, and now he has outsmarted us at the last moment and gotten away with what he came for."

He looked us all in the eyes, his expression not unkind but firm.

"But we have many reasons to be pleased. You stopped Crocodile's war before it could begin. You saved thousands of lives and neutralized his traps. This is still a victory for Alabasta and a defeat for Crocodile. If he has outmaneuvered us enough to escape this day, then so be it: the Government now knows that he has committed one of the gravest crimes under their law; it is only a matter of time before he is caught for good. Perhaps most importantly, what he managed to take is useless to him. That Poneglyph does, to my knowledge, bear Pluton's location, but he cannot read the ancient script, and I don't know of anyone in the world who can… except for her."

All eyes turned to Miss All Sunday, who slowly raised her head. With a sigh, she lowered it once more.

"I never intended to help Crocodile obtain the weapon. My only goal for 20 years has been finding the Poneglyphs. This one was my last chance… and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I don't know how you saved me, but you would have been better off leaving me to die…"

We saved you because it was the right thing to do.

All attention turned to Gardevoir, who did not so much walk as glide over to the despondent woman.

And as the one responsible, I would prefer to gauge for myself whether or not you deserve to die. The rumors that I have heard of you hardly seem accurate.

The dark-haired woman blinked slowly, her eyes betraying her surprise.

Will you let me see the truth with my own eyes?

"…Mental abilities," she muttered. Her eyes closed and she sighed quietly. "I suppose that I have nothing left to lose."

Taking that as consent, Gardevoir touched one of her hands to Robin's temple, her eyes glowing a bit before closing.

After a few seconds…she began trembling.

"Gardevoir?" I asked tentatively, not having seen anything like that reaction ever since the first time we entered Jubilife after her evolution. The whirlwind of emotions from all the people and Pokémon living in the city had nearly overwhelmed her, and I hadn't been able to let her out of her Pokéball until we'd left a day later. Her training with Lucian should have long since made that irrelevant, though, so for it to resurface now? What was she seeing that was so intense?

She shook her head firmly, insistent on keeping the connection, and I stopped in my tracks.

The room was still for a moment. Then…Vivi walked over to the two of them. I didn't know what I expected, but I couldn't bring myself to object as, without a word and without hesitation, she touched her hand to Gardevoir's.

The reaction was instant; her eyes squeezed shut, and her expression twisted in agony, sweat beginning to form on her brow.

"Princess!"

Vivi shook her head with as much fervor as Gardevoir, even though she was shaking like a novice on the road to Snowpoint. For another agonizing half-minute, the room was still. Then Gardevoir finally removed her hand from Robin's temple…

And immediately, all three women fell to their knees.

"Gardevoir!"

"Vivi!"

I rushed over to Gardevoir's side, only to jerk back in surprise as she lurched towards Robin, pulling the insensate woman into a… hug? "Gardevoir?" My partner shook her head, and I couldn't hold back a small gasp as I realized there were tears running down her cheeks. What had she seen in Nico Robin's memories to affect her this badly?

"She… What we saw, Miss All—Robin, she…" Vivi wasn't in a much better state, having buried herself in her father's arms. She too was openly crying. "I can't… I can't talk about it, I won't, she deserves her privacy, but… I… She's suffered so much…"

The room was silent except for Vivi's hiccupping sobs as she slowly calmed down.

At the same time, Gardevoir kept her embrace of Robin, whose eyes had closed and who was visibly holding back her own tears. She was even returning the hug…some part of my mind noticed that the handcuffs had fallen off.

Finally, an angry scoff from Smoker broke the silence.

"This is exactly what I didn't want to see," he grumbled, drawing hostile attention from pretty much everyone. He was kneading his forehead so he couldn't see it, though.

"You never know what kind of monsters you'll find in this world. It's entirely possible for an eight-year-old child to destroy six battleships if the powers and circumstances are right…and the fact that she's escaped for twenty years shows nothing but competence." He lowered his hand, revealing glaring eyes.

"And at the same time…it's wrong, giving a bounty to a child. Is that what happened, Nico Robin?"

"I can read the Poneglyphs, and I wanted… I wanted to live," Robin answered quietly, her voice breaking on the last word.

There was a pause.

"…That's it?" Luffy asked, tilting his head. Despite the innocence of his tone, there was something… dangerous in the way he said those words.

"That's it," Vivi confirmed, facing us all with her tear-stained face. "I don't know what the Government was thinking."

Gardevoir slowly rose to her feet and looked back at Smoker, her expression blank. Smoker himself sighed and looked Robin in the eyes.

"What has kept you going for this long? What do you really want?"

The silence in the room was palpable.

"…The Rio Poneglyph," she answered at last. "The truth of the history that was lost 800 years ago."

"The Blank Century?" Smoker asked, his eyes widening. I shifted uncomfortably, painfully aware that there was more going on here than I knew. Training under Cynthia meant that I had an above-average knowledge of history, by osmosis if nothing else, and the history of Sinnoh went back thousands of years. But all of it had been remembered, by oral tradition if not in writing, even when Sinnoh had been the not-yet-fully-explored Hisui region. There wasn't an area where history just… wasn't, and there definitely wasn't a period considered illegal enough to declare someone a criminal for learning about it!

"Nothing else has ever mattered to me," she answered quietly but with utter conviction.

Smoker sighed, closing his eyes and clearly undergoing some kind of internal debate. The room was silent for another long moment until he opened them back up. "I can't bring you with us."

Vivi and Tashigi immediately started to protest, but he forestalled them with a raised hand. "I believe in your innocence, Nico Robin," he said, with the faintest traces of apology in his voice. "But in the eyes of the world, it's your word against that of the Government. They won't allow it."

"Gardevoir's abilities—" Tashigi began.

"Gardevoir is still an unknown factor," I cut in reluctantly. I knew where this was going. "Back home, broadcasted testimony from a League-employed Psychic-type would be all the evidence we need, but the government here doesn't have Psychic-types. Even if we did vouch for it, they can't afford to trust a technique they have no knowledge of." It sucked, and I hated it, but that was the logical decision any government would make.

"She can come with us." All eyes turned to Luffy, whose eyes were shadowed under his hat as he gazed at Nico Robin. "The Government is still after her, so she can't stay here," he explained with what I recognized as uncharacteristic seriousness.

King Cobra nodded sadly. "Even the rumor of Miss Nico Robin's presence will be enough for them to send investigators, and then the same issue arises."

"Luffy, are you sure that…" Nami began, only to trail off when she got a closer look at Robin. Something in her face or her body language must have told her something, because she shook her head and didn't continue her protest. None of the other Straw Hats seemed to have the heart to speak up either.

"I wish you luck on your mission," King Cobra stated, his face set in a neutral expression as he looked at Robin directly. "You are not the only one who wishes to know what truly happened in that period. I am glad that you are still alive."

Robin's eyes closed and she looked away, not quite able to hide the tears that came to her eyes from that. My fists clenched. What kind of nightmare has she been through, where she doesn't expect anyone to be happy that she's alive?

"I'm glad you're alive, too," Vivi said, her own eyes red and refusing to dry. "And while I can't forgive you for killing Igaram, I—

"He is not dead."

The two royals froze again as Robin looked back at Vivi. "I have had far too much practice in faking death. He made his way back to Whiskey Peak after you set sail; I anticipate he'll return here in a day or so."

Vivi's eyes went wide and she collapsed back into her chair, and I didn't need Gardevoir's empathy to see the relief coming off of her.

"I see…that is wonderful to hear," King Cobra said, a smile now upon his face. "Then I believe we can fully forgive you for what you've done under Crocodile."

"…That easily?" Robin asked skeptically. And several others in the room were of the same opinion.

"You were in a corner with everyone in the world as your enemy. And you were still trying to minimize the damage whenever you could; it's only because of you that I learned Crocodile was responsible for all of this," Vivi said, shaking her head with a small smile. "We don't condone what you did…but I understand why you did it, more than I thought possible. I'll never forgive Crocodile…but I'm willing to forgive you."

"Make a new beginning now. That is all that we ask," Cobra nodded with a similar smile.

Robin slowly nodded back before turning her attention to Luffy.

"…Please take care of me," she requested quietly.

Luffy smiled, and the other Straw Hats responded with acceptance (none more exuberantly than Sanji, even with the heavy atmosphere) as she walked over to join them.

Then King Cobra turned towards the other traitor agent in the room. Mr. 2 had remained surprisingly silent after hearing of Crocodile's escape, though he did take the chance to change into his own… flamboyant… style of dress, with the same pink, Swanna-themed coat that his body double had worn along over some truly unsettling blue garments. I couldn't really judge too harshly, since I'd seen worse during my own brief (and semi-disastrous) foray into Pokémon Contests at Mom's request, but even the oddest Coordinator would've thought twice about leaving their legs bare like that.

"As for you…what is your real name?"

"Bentham, sire," he answered. Despite the amount of eyes on him, many of them hostile, he held his head high and looked the King in the eyes as he spoke.

"Bentham, you betrayed Crocodile for our sake. It is because of you that I am still alive and that we were able to find every explosive before any damage could be done."

He shook his head, his expression stern.

"However, you are still largely responsible for a sociopathic pirate escaping from this country with an artifact that we have safeguarded for centuries. In light of your crimes, I cannot in good conscience allow you to roam free." The king leaned forward on his throne, hands folded as he leveled Mr. 2 with a long, serious look. "As such, you will work alongside Lucas and Commodore Smoker to bring Crocodile to justice. Do this, and I will consider your debt to this country paid."

The self-proclaimed okama blinked in surprise, but almost immediately bowed at the waist. "Yes, Your Majesty. My crew and I will cooperate as much as we can."

"I knew you were a cool guy, Bon—er, Ben," Luffy said with a smile, one which the flamboyantly dressed man returned.

"That works for me," Smoker huffed, regarding Mr. 2 himself. "With no bounty on your head yet, we should be able to arrange a full pardon if you help us enough.'' He gave me a side-eye, and I could have sworn his lips quirked up in a smile. "I've already picked up one set of strays, another shipful of them won't make a difference."

I grinned back unrepentantly despite how serious the atmosphere was, and turned to offer Mr. 2—no, Bentham now—a hand. "Welcome to the team, Bentham."

~Present~

True to Robin's prediction, Igaram (a tall, stocky blonde man with even more massive hair curlers than his wife) had returned to the palace the next morning, and after Robin had apologized personally to him as well, the Straw Hats had left, vanishing into the night after several tearful goodbyes.

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of mostly true cover stories, newspaper photos, and interviews, along with plenty of brainstorming on more effective ways to help the country recover. Smoker had passed on all the information that he could to his bosses on both Baroque Works and on my situation, and he and Tashigi had both been promoted for driving out a rogue Warlord and preventing a civil war. With no objection to us staying in Alabasta to help out further, we were making the most of the time we had until we got new orders.

The canals had been Kohza's idea, a way of ensuring that any future droughts wouldn't be nearly as severe, and everyone who had been deceived by Crocodile, especially the former rebels, had thrown themselves into the idea.

And here we were, two weeks later. Turns out that if you take almost all of a country's population, a platoon of Marines, and six powerful Pokémon, it's very possible to create a canal network big enough to cover an island half the size of the Sinnoh region in two weeks.

…Maybe I was exaggerating, but not by much.

But today was hardly the first time throughout the process that we caught Vivi staring at the sea.

"Of course I wanted to go with them. I loved being with Luffy's crew…but I love Alabasta more." She sighed wistfully. "It's a hard choice, but it's the right one. Besides, it's the cleanest way to finish things for them and for you guys."

"Heh…Captain—Commodore Smoker would resent every second chasing after the 'ransomed' Princess if he knew you were there willingly," Tashigi said with a small smirk. I laughed a little as Torterra rumbled in agreement beneath us. The man was grumpy enough thanks to the increased attention his promotion had given him from his higher-ups. If Vivi had actually gone with the Straw Hats on that day, he probably would've gone straight after them, and Darkrai take the consequences.

"Though… you could have helped Robin adjust?" I asked tentatively.

Vivi paused…then sighed and shook her head.

"It would have been too strange. I hate Crocodile, and I hated her as his right hand woman and the one who killed Igaram. But Igaram is still alive, and…" She shook her head. "I can't look past everything she did, but it's the same rationalization I had to use for everyone I hurt as Miss Wednesday: I had a goal to reach for the sake of everything and everyone I cared about, and I couldn't let anything get in my way."

She shook her head again firmly, despite the tears in her eyes.

"The Straw Hats are a fresh start for her. With the fact that I forgave her and asked them to help her, she should be able to show who she really is…who she wants to be. It's hard to keep worrying when you're with Luffy…and he'd take on anything for one of his friends."

Houndoom chose this moment to leap over and flop directly into Vivi's lap, startling her out of her thoughts. She laughed briefly, shaking her head in amusement and giving the canine Pokémon the pets and scratches she was asking for. The smile was back on her face, and I chuckled again at my friend's antics.

"I hope you're not trying to sway a couple of law enforcers into piracy, Princess," I teased.

"Oh, perish the thought," Vivi replied, still scratching around the base of Houndoom's horns and giggling a little at the satisfied rumbling she got back. "I'd never deprive Tashigi of the chance to arrest Zoro, for one thing."

"Hey!"

That was when Vapoeron decided he didn't want Houndoom to hog all of Vivi's attention, flowing directly out of the canal and pouncing on her as well. The resulting tangle of limbs and good-natured squabbling between the three of them put an end to any more talk.

-o-

Several hours later, we warped back into existence just outside of Alubarna. We walked the rest of the way through the streets of the capital, letting Vivi greet and speak with any of the civilians who came up to talk to us. I noticed off to the side one of the market stalls had a familiar group of posters on it.

Wanted: Dead or Alive:

"Straw Hat" Monkey D. Luffy

81,000,000 Beri

Wanted: Dead or Alive:

"Sir" Crocodile

324,000,000 Beri

Wanted: Dead or Alive

"Mr. 1" Daz Bonez

100,000,000 Beri

"I'm still surprised by how much your government is willing to pay for bounties," I commented to Tashigi with an awed shake of my head. "And you said there were people worth billions more?"

Tashigi hummed for a bit before replying, "From what the Commodore's said, at some point the bounty's more of a statement of threat than anything else. I don't remember the last time someone's actually turned in anything worth more than around 50 million, let alone what someone like Whitebeard is worth. Any bounty hunters that strong are either headhunted into the Marines or go full pirate."

And of course, if another pirate were to defeat one of those high-level combatants, the Government wouldn't be obligated to pay out the bounty to them, Gardevoir added. Clever.

"I… hadn't thought of it that way," Tashigi admitted, "But it does make sense."

I frowned in mild concern as I met Gardevoir's eyes. She had been making passive-aggressive comments about the World Government a lot since the Straw Hats left, and had already disclosed to me that based on Robin's experiences, she was starting to have serious doubts over just how reliable the people at the top of this world were.

At the same time, that was all she was doing; she still considered it, in her words, 'the height of stupidity' to try fighting against a peacekeeping organization spanning the entire world. It wasn't like the Sinnoh League didn't have its own skeletons, either, especially concerning Team Galactic. And while none of us liked what they did to Robin and her island, none of us could deny that even if they had gone too far, these "Ancient Weapons'' were at least an understandable reason, even if they weren't a valid one. Hopefully, though, that was as ugly as things would get, and we wouldn't have to deal with the government for too long regardless.

"Don't forget, bounties aren't the only way to gain notoriety," Vivi spoke up from behind us. We turned around to see her brandishing several older newspapers, with… Oh, Arceus damn it.

"I think Lucas knows exactly what I mean by that," she grinned, tapping the pictures splashed across the front page of the paper. More specifically, the papers showing my team and I in action, including both instances of me facing off against Crocodile, with Torterra and Gardevoir at my sides respectively.

My palm came up to hit my face with an audible smack. "Do you have to keep bringing those up?" I groaned plaintively as Tashigi started laughing. Gardevoir wasn't any help either because she was giggling at my misfortune like a traitor. "How did they even get those photos?"

"Something I've learned in my time as Princess is to never underestimate the press," Vivi snorted as she rolled the paper back up and stuffed it into her bag. "They always find a way, trust me."

"Don't remind me," I grumbled. "Seriously, I'm pretty sure that they're worse here than they are in Sinnoh, and that's saying something!" Ostensibly, the reason any high-profile figures back home had trained Psychics around them was for their own protection, but according to Cynthia, the real reason was to keep the more unscrupulous reporters with Pokémon of their own away. Clearly, this world had no such protections.

"At least they're flattering pictures," Tashigi commented once she got her laughter under control. "You wouldn't believe what kind of nonsense the higher-ups have to use as bounty posters, for one thing."

I shook my head in amusement as we continued on towards the palace, where the rest of my team was waiting. "Well, I hope I never have to find out."

-o-

While my team and I may have been warped an incalculable distance by a colony of overpowered Psychic-types, that was no reason for us to slack on our training. In fact, said training could be considered more important now than ever, especially since aquatic travel would heavily impact our ability to do so. As a result, I'd quickly sourced the most empty courtyard in the Alubarna palace and turned it into my team's training grounds for the past couple of weeks.

When I stepped into the courtyard (Vivi and Tashigi having gone to look for Smoker), the two team members I'd left here were deep in the midst of their own sessions.

Lucario was busy sparring with Bentham and Kohza at the same time, the former Mr. 2 and newly pardoned former rebel doing their best to wear the Aura Pokémon down. Lucario had his eyes closed and fur glistening under the power of Iron Defense, an exercise designed to stretch his concentration to the limit as he did his best to dodge and block everything the two humans could throw at him.

I watched in satisfaction as Lucario weathered a flurry of spinning kicks from Bentham, taking note of what he was blocking and what got through to strike his armored fur. Kohza tried to take advantage of Lucario's distraction to circle around him, but the Aura Pokémon was quick to respond, ducking under a sword swing and darting into Bentham's space to shove him away with a weak Force Palm. Lucario batted away several more of Kohza's attacks (only striking the flat of the blade, I noted approvingly), until Bentham's return saw him give ground and their spar continued.

Above them, two streaks of gray and purple darted back and forth across the sky, occasionally solidifying into Crobat and Pell in the middle of an unorthodox aerial duel. Both fliers had small disks strapped to various points on their bodies, and each combatant was trying to break the other's disks without harming their wearers. This was an exercise that Aaron, the closest thing Sinnoh had to a Flying-type expert, had devised in order to train aerial precision and mobility. Normally, Crobat would have been running this with a different partner, but Pell was serving as an adequate substitute so far, despite his clear lack of experience against other Flying-types.

And as for the rest of my team, I'd gotten as much training as possible out of our humanitarian work. Torterra and Vaporeon were tasked with improving their water and earth control, respectively, with carving out the canals, and I had Houndoom working on keeping up a steady stream of maximum-heat fire whenever possible. Gardevoir had been stressing her telekinesis to the limit in terms of both size and multitasking, and with how much use we got out of it her teleportation was improving in terms of distance and precision.

And with Smoker's help, we had been working hard on training against Logias, too. Gardevoir, Lucario, and Vaporeon had been hard at work trying to decipher the process of flesh, blood, and bone metamorphosing into something else entirely and were starting to get a grasp of the process. And everyone who could learn it was working hard on mastering Shadow Ball… Which meant everyone but Torterra, to his chagrin.

I let out a sharp whistle, and the sounds of battle quickly ceased. Crobat and Pell swooped down to ground level, and I quickly helped them get out of their disk harnesses. More Pell's disks were broken than Crobat's, which I expected, but the difference wasn't quite as bad as I thought. Pell didn't stay long, though, giving us a few quick words before leaving to see the king, and Crobat was returned at his request to avoid the rest of the day's heat.

Lucario, Bentham, and Kohza were resting together, the swordsman having fallen onto his back in exhaustion while Bentham was busy gushing to Lucario about something. "That was great!" I heard the okama exclaim to Lucario as I got closer. "I haven't had a sparring partner this strong in a long time!"

"Well, I can't say we've faced any human who fights like you do, Bentham," I said with a grin. The way the guy liked to spin and dance around combined with surprisingly quick flurries of attacks made me think of some bizarre mixture of a Kirlia and an Infernape. And that was without what he called his "Prima mode" in which he put his Swanna heads (which were apparently made of steel) on his feet to increase his range and kicking power.

"Oh, Lucas!" Even after talking with the guy over the past couple weeks, I couldn't help but start a little when Bentham twirled over to stand next to me. "Your work on healing the kingdom is completed?"

"Last canal was finished today," I confirmed.

"Good to hear," Kohza said, pulling himself into a sitting position so he could better look us in the eye. "After everything the people have gone through, I'm glad they'll be better off if another drought hits.

"And what about your research?" Bentham asked.

I scowled. "Not quite as productive. Those Escar things were a dead end too." Sometimes it felt like Alabasta's wildlife was deliberately mocking me with how similar some of its wildlife was to various Pokémon. I could have believed that some of them, like the Sandora Catfish, were simply distantly related regional variants of something like a Whiscash, or in the case of the Escar an Omanyte, but they were completely lacking in any other elemental manipulation abilities that a Pokémon would have. And to top it off, Gardevoir had scanned them all, and had found little resembling the brain activity of even the dimmest Slowpoke. The animals weren't dumb per se, the Kung-Fu Dugongs in particular would have run circles around the average Seel or Dewgong, for example, but the "flavor" of mind, as Gardevoir described it, was even more foreign than that of a Bug-type, and those were infamous for being hard to read psychically because of their atypical view of the world.

Bentham frowned too. It didn't look quite right on him, with his preference towards dramatic displays of emotion. "That was the last species you wanted to check, right?"

I nodded morosely. "Guess Alabasta's a bust in terms of leads." It wasn't reassuring, because the Royal Library had some of the oldest texts still existing in this world. And it was another world; that couldn't be denied anymore. Not with all the differences staring us in the face.

"It looks like we'll have to check in with the Government after all." That or go hunt down Nico Robin again and pick her brains for anything she could remember, but that was even less likely to come up with any success. "If anyone knows something, it'll be them."

"I just hope it'll be sooner rather than later," Bentham said. "I'm glad we were able to help with the kingdom's recovery, but I'm ready to get back to work!"

"Well, you won't have to wait long," Smoker announced as he entered the courtyard. "I just got our new marching orders from HQ."

That got everyone's attention really quick.

"The time has come, then?" Kohza asked, forcing himself to his feet to greet Smoker despite his exhaustion. "You will be leaving?"

"Our replacements are arriving tomorrow," Smoker confirmed. "Captain Hina will be finishing up the reconstruction efforts in Alabasta along with whatever's left of Baroque Works around here." Not that there were many of them still around after our combined efforts over the past couple of weeks, but I couldn't argue with the need to make sure.

"Where are we going, then?" Bentham asked. "Whiskey Peak, Little Garden, Vacation Island?"

Smoker shook his head. "We've had no luck at any of the islands you named; the only agents we've found at any of them are the two that the Princess vouched for in Whiskey Peak. Crocodile and everyone else loyal to him are still in the wind."

That was frustrating, but I couldn't really say I was surprised; if Crocodile knew that one of his top agents had betrayed him, he wouldn't trust anywhere that they knew about.

Smoker shook his head. "Anyway, we're not going after Crocodile yet. I've got orders to escort Lucas to a base further down the Line to officially meet someone from the Government."

Oh.

Well, I suppose that was bound to happen sooner or later. Even with the recent setbacks, I couldn't help but grin in sync with the small flicker of hope in my chest. A hand clapped down on my shoulder, and I looked over to see Bentham giving me a thumbs-up and a smile. Smoker gave the two of us an appraising look, before nodding and turning to leave.

"Make sure everyone's ready to go. We sail for G-4 on the next morning's tide."


A shorter breather chapter to transition between Alabasta and the next set of chapters, involving the illustrious (maybe idk there's no wiki info on them) Base G-4! I'll see you in the next one, out on the Grand Line!