Ten days later, Captain Hina's Marine fleet anchored in Alubarna, the capital city of Arabasta. We might have made it in three days, but Smoker was partially responsible for the mess at Nanohana, and I'd insisted on having his mess cleaned up. I even made Usopp help with reconstruction.
The swirling sands of my mental hourglass labeled 'Anti-Crocodile Insurgency' trickled down steadily, but I wasn't alone. Luffy's group needed time to gather the desert resistance fighters from scattered villages. Sanji and Beth needed time for contacting Kohza. Like a shy desert flower, my plans needed time to bloom. Time. Time. Time.
It grated against my soul. I was home. I wanted to take out the trash, but I couldn't. I needed to wait, and endure the smell of rotten Crocodile for days on end.
Not being in control was a stressful and unpleasant experience. None of the Marines in this unit knew the Rokushiki, so I could only speak with my people in Nanohana, an attempt to reduce Crocodile's influence, an attempt to help.
While they appreciated the rebuilding, my people weren't impressed with me. "Where were you these past few years?" was the most common question, and I couldn't answer it well. A failure which deeply cut at me.
Still, when we'd left Nanohana, some of my people's worship of Crocodile had been replaced with respect for my father's rule. The Shichibukai and his Baroque Works hadn't helped rebuild their city. Princess Vivi, daughter of King Cobra, had.
As we pulled into Alubarna, I anticipated the unfolding of my own plans - the rendezvous with Luffy's army of interested desert men, Kohza waiting with Sanji, complete with Marine support. Rainbase would fall, after we received father's blessing in a touching reunion. I could see Pell and Igaram, and everyone I'd missed.
My plans were in shambles. The reality was far different than my hopes.
"What do you mean you've already lost against Crocodile? The entire point of the plan was to keep a low profile! I even warned you about his abilities… How are you still alive?" I said more. I ranted. I raved. I paused for breath.
"Ah, it's funny. My fists went right through him, and then he sucked all the moisture out of my body. Chopper brought me back by pouring water on me. It's a cure for any illness. I'll kick his ass for sure next time!" Luffy pumped his fist, imaging his victory.
Luffy's group had driven two nests of bandits out of two desert towns, and had made excellent time. Nami picked up how to sail a sand ship extremely quickly, visiting every settlement I'd had marked. The will of my people out in the desert could be summed up succinctly with the phrase "What has the House of Nefertari done for us?" They weren't interested.
This attitude also applied with Crocodile, but I'd have no support from Arabasta's desert people. Maybe if I'd led a different life, that of proper Princess instead of a royal warrior, I'd have known my people better.
Taking this turn of events in stride, I made more plans. I snuck everyone inside the royal palace, and found the royal offices wide open.
"Vivi?" King Cobra exclaimed, as I knocked on his extravagant wooden office desk, focusing his attention upon me. "Why are you here? You were supposed to save yourself, follow you own path of freedom." My dear father had aged 30 years in the short time I'd been gone, his haired grayed and tangled, the lines of his face deeper and more numerous.
"I'm here for my country. It is my will that my home will be freed from the occupation of Crocodile, that my family and its reputation be revered once more by the people we have served for untold generations." When I said those words with my entire conviction, the man I'd looked up at my entire life only looked small and sad.
My father explained everything, the Dance Powder, the attempted usurpations, the other attacks on his reputation. I filled in the gaps from my time working as an Executive Agent. I introduced my new friends.
"Imma gonna kick Crocodile's ass!" Yelled Luffy. My father looked skeptical.
"How rich are you?" Asked Nami with dollar signs in her eyes at the mere gold and platinum decorations around the royal office. My father looked at her like he looked at our finance minister - a distasteful bug crawling over the royal dinner table.
Zoro grunted. My father nodded respectfully at him. The best reaction of any of the crew of Going Merry.
Chopper hid behind me the entire time. Usopp started a grandiose story of him leading a million man army that Luffy cut off in the middle by mentioning "Our cabin boy is a liar." Sanji and Beth were ignoring everything and staring lustfully into each other's eyes. In general, the introduction went poorly, and my father changed the subject back to how terrible his week had been.
"You know there was an impostor in the royal palace for a long time. He was a swan-man who could take the form of anyone, and they explained exactly how powerless I was when they let me go four days ago. I don't understand why Crocodile has arranged to place me in this situation. I fear it deals with the ancestral weapons on the House of Nefertari. Before, when you weren't here, I planned on resisting until my last breath, but now, I know if that man captures you and holds you over me, I'll have no choice. I'll tell him everything for your safety."
This took me aback, for not even I knew much of our sacred duty, a secret only passed down when the throne changed hands.
"Oh my daughter, how I wish you stayed away. Let's make what plans we can." My father sounded exhausted.
Between the Straw Hat crew, the desert faction supported by Kohza who also showed up with Sanji and Beth (as Mr. and Mrs. Princess), and myself we invented grandiose calculated plans. I'd like to think they've have worked, but as I mentioned before, I have never seen a plan put together by the Straw Hat Pirates do such a thing - work. It was a lesson I'd learn the hard way through my own country's liberation. Repetition would beat this lesson into my mind, imprinting the fundamental reality on my brain. Eventually, I would make plans and expect them to fail… plan for the plan falling apart as a matter of course, but not now. Not in my homeland when I cared so much and everything kept going wrong.
Our session was broken up with an ambush, courtesy of Baroque Works. Crocodile still had his spies, and couldn't help but overhear my father's agonized statement about total capitulation, should I get captured. It did not end well.
Everyone paired off against someone, even if was only a large amount of the millions with sea stone net like the group who confronted Beth. Usopp faced the mighty Mr. 1, who had eaten the Steel Steel fruit, and did not die. My increasing Usopp's fitness allowed him to pick up Nami and flee in terror while Zoro confronted the top agent of Baroque Works and learned the trick of cutting steel, in hardcore direct combat.
Ah, but I only learned those details, later, second hand. Usopp did take a great blow that cracked his barely-healed ribs again, and the dumbass would keep working through the pain, making his healing rate abysmally slow.
My downfall came as I confronted the main cause of the royal palace ambush, the man who only used his organization as a means of flushing me out. I never imagined Crocodile's true desire did not involve the government of Arabasta, rather he lusted for the legacies of the Nefertari Dynasty. A secret I thought we'd hidden from the world.
We, Luffy and I, met the warlord in the desert outskirts outside the city.
All it took to arrange the confrontation was one of the millions saying, "Boss wants to meet you here," and the passing of a crinkled and dirty map into Luffy's eager, stretched out hand. I didn't like the coercive feeling of such blatant manipulation. We still showed up.
More accurately, I couldn't stop Luffy and went along with the most powerful of the Straw Hat crew. I hadn't seen him lose yet, and our battle at Drum Island engraved on my mind a large amount of respect for his ability. I'd thought a water-filled storm of punches ideal for defeating a warlord.
"Vivi - gurgle - I'm gonna kick Crocodile's ass for sure this time." Promised Luffy as we ignored the raiding party's antics in Alubarna. I winced at the vandalism. This city had once been my home.
My preparations of hatred would protect me. I hated Crocodile so much, that I created an incompatibility, a devil's paradox. Much like I could never absorb Booger Booger man's explosive mucus, I knew in my heart Crocodile's sands would not hurt me, could not touch me. My ability would not allow any part of me to turn into sand. Instead of absorption, there would be rejection. Such was my level of hatred.
Still, from my experience in fighting wind wielders, blocking abilities didn't matter if the elemental attack was previously created. If Crocodile manipulated normal desert sands not part of his body, those sands could still pierce and blind me.
He didn't know that. The Baroque Works understanding of my ability: I could temporarily steal devil abilities, at a great cost to myself. If I remained alive, they would return to the ability user. Crocodile believed this was a strange power usually occurring in the New World, "The Haki of Pyrrhic Avenger", and that if I initiated touch-contact with any logia fruit user, I could essentially strip away the ability, though it would kill me. Thus, he'd kept me as an ace, given me the nickname 'Fireworks Celebration' because it was beautiful in it's destruction, but could only explode once.
Like everyone else in this world, Mr. 0 didn't understand my ability. Not even Igaram knew about the rejection side or my recent shield of humanity from Tony Tony Chopper. He only suspected the seastone's devil breaker power, which I rarely used. That old auctioneer at the Reverie never expected the Mystery Mystery Fruit could be a useful ability. He believed it a deathtrap.
In the coming battle, Crocodile would play a long range game, and not expect me to close with him. My battle strategy was based around exploiting this incorrect assumption. Luffy's battle strategy was "To kick Crocodile's ass!" and filled me with less confidence every time he repeated it on our walk out.
Like a radiant sun, the logia ability of one of the Shichibukai eclipsed everything on my power radar. We met Crocodile in the desert, or perhaps he had no fear of us and picked a convenient location. As the only Princess of Arabasta, I was the target for his plans, though handling me would prove tricky. Whatever motivations my enemy had, the battlefield and time suited us both, though honestly he'd forced the confrontation.
The evening breeze stirred the sand dunes behind Crocodile, and Luffy made squishy noises as he moved up near me. He'd drank nearly 100 gallons of water, and his body was grotesquely distorted. He'd named it his 'Water Form.' While disgusting, vomiting back out stored water could make a difference in this battle.
"Miss Fireworks Celebration, I don't suppose you'd prefer a quiet capture. I assure you, my interest in this country is not what you expect."
I pulled out my peacock slashers, and Luffy promptly let loose a repulsive vomit-fountain of water which soaked us both. In this cool evening, it would take longer before evaporation would dry us. Long enough for the fight to finish. I really did not like this plan.
"So be it." Crocodile's disinterred voice began the combat. He struck first. "Sables!"
The tornado of desert sand swallowed us from underneath, and I lost sight of Luffy, swiftly closing my eyes before sand could blind me. The point of the attack was a moisture absorber, as sand stuck against the damp parts of my body. Carefully, I shielded my damp Peacock Slashers against my body, riding out the attack. Crocodile's logia stood out so starkly against my mysterious senses, I had no need to see him. I knew his position, even as a cloud of scattered sand.
The attacking sand tornado served it's purpose, separating us, and Crocodile allowed the desert twister to dissipate. Orientating my body despite being blind and dizzy was no problem. The Geppo technique allowed me a light landing, and I immediately began spinning my Peacock Slashers, still soaking wet, as shielding them against my body maintained the water coating.
Crocodile was amusing himself watching Luffy's attacks pass through his body. Obviously Luffy had yet to realize the true purpose of the tornado was getting rid of moisture. Then Luffy blew out spitball-like bullet of water, and contemptuously Crocodile blocked with walls of sand.
My chance arrived.
Whirling (much harder to do with a soaked weapon) gracefully, the Peacock String Slash was right on target against Crocodile's back… until the man split himself, allowing the weapon to pass harmlessly through him. My weapon's moisture was absorbed by the desert sand.
"Now Luffy!" As we'd discussed, Luffy ejected a large quantity of water on the sandy ground, re-soaking my extended weapon. "Runback!" I did my best to cut Crocodile in half at his waist.
He blocked most of the momentum with his golden hooked claw, but the vibrating wet chain still shredded his dark clothing and left welts or even cuts against his stomach. Still, the man moved fast. In no time the water along my extended slasher was absorbed by Crocodile's ability, and rather than cutting further, it passed through him.
"I underestimated you two." He said, grabbing 'Water' Luffy with his left hand and sucking all the moisture out of him.
You underestimated us badly, I though to myself, using my almost-Soru to rush in. I concentrated my hatred. Concentrated on the feel of the sea, and used the only one of the Six Arts I'd mastered.
"Devilbreaker Shigan!" My finger pierced the surface of the neck of one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. But before it could pierce deeply, before it could kill him, my own hatred defeated me. The interaction between my own ability and the sand logia pushed my connecting finger back out with unbelievable force. I felt it through the Tekkai in my hand used to create the Finger Gun. It barely held; my finger did not break. My back formed a crater against the side of a sand dune.
"You don't yet hate me enough to sacrifice yourself, Miss Fireworks Celebration." Crocodile stared at Luffy's desicated body. "Miss All-Sunday, make sure her friend will live through this. This kindness comes with ulterior motives you'll understand in due time."
I didn't see Miss All Sunday appear. I couldn't even feel her through my Devil's radar; the sand logia overshadowed and smothered the world. Instead the last thing I saw was a bleeding shallow hole shaped like my extended finger tip in Crocodile's neck. Then the sandstorm asphyxiated me, rendering me unconscious.
In my desperate attempt at saving my kingdom, I faced the mastermind behind everything and soundly lost. The best of the comrades I'd rested my hopes upon fell before me, his ridiculous strategy rendered ineffective. My last thoughts were unkind, but I did not despair.