Asteria Nightmare

Part two of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, One Piece or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Eiichiro Oda. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.

"Anyone who has spent a few nights in a tent during a storm can tell you: The world doesn't care all that much if you live or die."
~Anthony Doerr

They left the next morning, to Luffy's enthusiastic cheering and Zoro's complaining grumbles that it was too damn early to deal with this shit. They had spent most of the previous evening making sure they were well stocked for the journey. According to Nami's maps, it would only take about three days to get to Asteria Island, but on the Grand Line you never took chances; she had learned that a while ago. Sanji-kun assured her their food stores were more than enough, and there was enough cola to fuel the ship and medicinal supplies for the injuries they would inevitably come across, so they were as ready as they would ever be.

They departed from Adamantina with no fuss, other than a few grudging complaints from her less-than-cooperative crew-mates. The Grand Line posed no problems for them, either; the water was calm all the way, the weather sunny and comfortably warm, and the wind constantly filled their sails. They even saw a pod of dolphins zipping by on the second day, which Nami chose to take as a symbol of good fortune. They always meant good luck in Bellemere's old sailor stories, after all.

Nami was beginning to think all the rumors about Asteria Island were a pack of old wives' tales—or more likely, vicious rumors spread by the jewelers of Adamantina in order to preserve their resource for extremely valuable gems. But just after breakfast on the third day, a crawling sensation that shivered right up her spine caused her to start rethinking those opinions.

She didn't know what caused the unsettling feeling, at first—until, dangerously fast, the storm hit them.

Much to her bewilderment, she hadn't sensed anything at all. She hadn't even known the storm was coming; it was Chopper, not her, that asked her confusedly if the scent he was smelling meant a big gale. There hadn't been any major changes in pressure, shifts in the wind, or tell-tale signs in the clouds, which disturbed Nami more than a little. And the storm came on unnaturally fast, too. It was only with Chopper's warning that they were even able to start preparing for it at all.

Then it hit, a raging mass of fury that they were all but swept into against their will. And it truly was angry. Nami usually didn't bother to attribute emotions to storms; they were frequently given humanistic characteristics in the books, but in real life she knew this wasn't the case. Storms were alive in their own way, but they were inherently natural, and completely emotionless, uncaring of whether or not they saved or destroyed the insignificant ships in their waters. They didn't have the ability to be joyful or angry or anything else. Storms just were.

But this one felt different. The winds whipped at their sails, viciously trying to rip the canvas free from the tight bindings that held it to the masts. The water bucked them furiously, and the enormous waves that crashed against their hull and the decks looked more like claws, trying to close their grasp around the Sunny and capture it, drag it down to the depths. Forked lighting flashed over the water, so fast and so close it was as though the strikes were intentionally trying to blind them. Worst of all, over the roaring thunder and the crash of the waves against the deck, Nami could almost swear she heard a furious screaming, an enraged, hungry shriek that had nothing to do with the whistling of the wind past her ears.

At first, Nami thought she was imagining it all. She had been excited about reaching Asteria for days; her emotions had to just be running high. The thought was reinforced when, while fighting to keep the helm in check with Franky's help, she asked loudly over the sounds of the storm if he could hear the screaming. He'd given her a confused look, and hastily whipped his head around to see if any of the other crew members, scrambling wildly over the deck, had somehow been injured and were yelling for help. No one was, and he'd merely shrugged at her uncomfortably before helping her wrench the ship's course back on target.

But the longer the storm went on—it was unnaturally long, and was wearing on even Luffy's and Zoro's overpowered levels of endurance, exhausting them all—the more she began to realize that she wasn't imagining anything. This wasn't a normal storm. There was something about it, an extra malevolence inserted into its very being, that made it alive in an entirely different sense of the word. Almost, she would have been willing to believe that it was sentient, wanting to destroy them out of rage and hunger.

Or perhaps perform some other duty entirely. It took a lot of effort to keep on the specific course Nami had charted for the trip, but she noticed the storm's heaving waves were dragging them in the general direction of Asteria Island at an almost alarming rate. She didn't know if she ought to be relieved or terrified because of that.

It can't be alive, she told herself firmly, as she shouted orders for Sanji-kun, Usopp and Brook to secure a few lines on the other side of the ship. Storms aren't alive like that. I'm just imagining things. I'm just tired, that's all. And that screaming is the wind. Just the wind.

The wild shrieking ceased rather abruptly after hours of being tossed about on the storm. It startled Nami so much she actually jerked her head up tiredly in surprise, looking around. She had almost grown accustomed to the unsettling noise, and it was strange to suddenly be confronted with the absence of it. Looking around, she realized the strange fury of the storm was gone, as well. The waves still tossed them about, but they were no longer claws; the wind blew furiously, but didn't seem strangely intent on ripping their ship apart.

"I think we're coming to the end, guys!" she offered encouragingly. "Just a little bit more, we're almost there!" Sanji-kun offered a tired but still heartfelt mellorine, and the rest of the crew grit their teeth with exhausted determination and kept struggling to keep their ship afloat.

And fifteen minutes later, the storm did dissipate, practically vanishing into thin air as though it had never existed. The crew stared in confusion and surprise as the sun once more returned, shining down on them brightly and cheerfully, already beginning to warm the seawater soaked decks.

"That...was weird," Usopp said slowly. He was still holding one of the lines in his hand, as though he'd just been about to perform whatever job Nami had ordered him to do. Several of the others nodded in agreement.

Nami frowned. Even the rest of the crew, lacking her expertise in weather patterns, could tell something about the storm was strange. That probably didn't bode well. But there's nothing wrong, she told herself firmly again. They were just stories. There's nothing wrong!

Franky excused himself quickly to do a once-over of the Thousand Sunny, bringing Usopp with him to help. With a storm that dangerous, he explained, any sort of damage was possible. The rest of the crew sat or flopped down tiredly on the decks, resting their weary bodies for a few moments until they could figure out what to do next. Even the normally energetic Luffy was flopped over one rail, arms hanging and tongue trailing as he whined repeatedly about being tired and, more importantly, hungry.

Franky returned after forty-five minutes, just in time to catch the last of Sanji-kun's quick snacks (they had ridden the storm right through lunch, and the cook had wearily dragged himself off to the galley long enough to provide at least some measure of nourishment, even if it wasn't nearly as elaborate as his usual meals). The look he gave Nami wasn't good, however.

"We've got some hull damage," he reported slowly, looking almost pained. Nami couldn't blame him; it was his dream ship, after all. "It's not too bad, it's just above the water line, but we'll need to be off the open sea for me to repair it. I hope that island of yours is close, sis, 'cause we're gonna be bailing a lot if it isn't. I've never seen a storm vicious enough to puncture Adam Wood before, it's resistant to even cannonballs..." He looked a strange mix of bewildered and angry.

Nami bit her lip. Yet another reason to suspect that storm had been more than just a storm. Still, there was no time to hesitate now. Even if she felt like changing her mind (which was not the case; she still wanted those Dreamshards, and not even a malevolent storm was going to stop her), they now had no choice but to land on Asteria. The closest island besides it was Adamantina, and that was two and a half days away. It would be too risky to try and sail it with hull damage, however small.

She hastily rechecked her charts. It was hard to say how far they had come in the storm, but she still had the direction, and they would just have to make use of it. She gave sharp orders, and the crew, now rested, fed, and at least a little more energetic and determined than before, set to work lowering sails, adjusting the rudder, and securing lines. Franky recruited two others, non-fruit users, to keep an eye on the hull breach and do any bailing if necessary, and slowly but surely they began to limp their way towards where Nami was sure the mysterious island resided.

Half an hour after their return to the course, Usopp (now up in the crow's nest due to having the sharpest eyes) called out about an island in the distance. Nami double-checked its direction with him—she had to make a few minor adjustments, but for the most part her educated guess had been entirely accurate—and, heartened, the crew worked with as much effort as they could to reach the speck of land in the distance quickly.

It was only an hour before dark when they finally reached the island. The sun was low on the horizon, shining a deep gold that made the ocean's surface shimmer like liquid fire. It was so beautiful that it was almost able to make them forget their troubles with the earlier storm, and several of the crew members—especially Luffy, Usopp, and Chopper—broke into enormous grins at the sight of it.

Nami couldn't help but smile as well, but she couldn't shake the memory of that strange screaming over the storm, or the chill that had run up her spine just before it hit them. And, while the enthusiasm of the youngest members of the crew was catching, Nami noticed a few others looked subdued, or wary. Robin's customary quiet smirk was there, but her eyes seemed distant; and Zoro's usual scowl was deepened considerably with what she knew by now was genuine alertness. Whatever it was that had been unnatural about that storm, it seemed that they, too, had noticed it in their own ways.

Shaking her head, Nami returned to the task at hand: finding a place to safely moor the Thousand Sunny for the night. She gave more sharp orders and directions for the movement of the ship, and both she and Usopp kept their eyes peeled for a convenient cove or a safe place void of reefs and sandbars where they could bring the ship to a halt.

They proved luckier than they had even anticipated in that regard, however. Not ten minutes into the search, Usopp enthusiastically pointed out a small cove where several stone docks were built. They were definitely man-made constructions, and though the wooden posts that lanterns were mounted on had long since appeared to have rotted away, the stone docks themselves were still serviceable enough for their purposes. They would not only be able to moor the Sunny here, but it would also be a convenient location for Franky to repair the ship's hull damage.

"Do you think there are people here?" Chopper asked, wide-eyed. "I thought this place was too scary for people!"

But Sanji-kun shook his head, and Robin said, "These docks are in disrepair. No human being has taken care of them for centuries, at the very least. You see, based on the construction there were wooden posts here, but they were never replaced. And some of the stone work is crumbling along the left side as well." She pointed out the time-wrought damages as she explained, while Luffy enthusiastically leapt overboard onto the stone docks and secured the lines that Brook tossed him to a pile of old rubble.

"It's only an hour before dark," Nami said, as the rest of the crew gathered on the docks a few moments later. "We don't really have time to do any exploring over the whole island, but we can at least take a look around this area near our ship before the sun sets."

"We could explore at night!" Luffy offered enthusiastically. Usopp and Chopper shivered, but Luffy, at least, seemed to have already completely forgotten the tales of nightmares here on the island.

"I do not think that would be a good idea, Captain-san," Robin observed quietly. "It might be best to remain on the ship at night and explore during the day."

Luffy looked about to protest, but at Robin's solemn look he abandoned the attempt and merely shrugged instead. "Okay," was all he said, and then, "I'll race you to that village, Usopp!"

"No one can beat the Great Captain Usopp in a foot race," the sniper retorted with a grin that nearly dripped with false overconfidence. "Are you really sure you want to challen—hey, Luffy, wait! You can't start already, that's cheating!"

The two dashed off down the stone docks, and Chopper gave chase in Walk Point, his hooves skidding and slipping on the wet granite as he called after them. Nami shaded her eyes pointedly with one hand to block some of the low-lying sun glare until Sanji-kun enthusiastically stood at her side to offer her his own shade, wiggling delightedly when she didn't complain. That taken care of, the navigator glanced ahead of her captain and crew-mates to see just where they were rushing off to.

It was a village, as Luffy had said. It didn't look like too much; probably a small fishing village, once upon a time. Whatever it had been, that was years ago. Nami could tell without even stepping foot on the little dirt-paved streets that the place hadn't been inhabited in at least a century. The little stone huts were crumbling, and some had collapsed entirely. They had no roofs, since whatever material had been used to make them had long since rotted away. There was no evidence of any carts or wheel ruts or footprints in the packed dusty earth, and the village's structures were so overgrown with weeds, moss, and ivy that it was doubtful anyone had been there in a long time.

Nami started following the boys at a slower, safer pace on the slick stone dock, along with the rest of the crew (only Franky stayed behind, worriedly beginning to examine his beloved masterpiece once again for sake of repairs). Watching the three youngest crew members hit the first of the village streets, shouting enthusiastically and dancing around each other as they talked, only caused her to frown though. They were kicking up dust. Dust. It shouldn't be that dusty after a storm as monumental as the one they had struggled through. That meant the storm probably hadn't hit this island at all, and Nami wasn't entirely sure what to make of that.

Still, despite the feeling of growing dread in the pit of her stomach, they found nothing especially of interest while poking through the old village. The group spread out and explored each of the huts curiously, but other than a few broken bits of pottery, some old iron tools, and a few carved items that Robin told them were made from old bones, there was nothing particularly noteworthy. Nami didn't see a single tell-tale glint of one of those gorgeous Dreamshards, and there wasn't even any gold or silver to appease her in this little dump of a town. It only seemed to hold interest for their archaeologist, although that was understandable. So when Luffy and his cohorts eventually got bored and decided to move on, the rest of the crew followed, leaving Robin alone in the little village to study in peace and quiet.

Nami was beginning to think they wouldn't find anything of particular interest to keep their captain occupied, but she was soon proven wrong. They exited the village from the right and followed what had to have been a road at one point, though it was so overgrown now it was hard to tell. The former road led away from the cove they'd moored the Sunny in and down to the beach, which ran on for miles and was covered in white sand that felt pleasantly warm in the late afternoon. Nami pulled off her sandals and carried them in one hand (Sanji-kun tried to take them for her, but she was not letting him touch her shoes), and dug her toes into the sand as she kept an eye out for the tell-tale glint of Dreamshards. Luffy, Usopp and Chopper charged ahead, gleefully running up and down the beach while trying to entice Zoro and Brook into a game of tag (Brook accepted; Zoro adamantly refused).

The sun was getting lower now, and Nami was starting to feel a slight chill as darkness came closer. Sanji-kun offered her his suit jacket with the gentle admonishment that she ought not to let herself catch a cold. She accepted it absently and was just about to call out to the boys that they had better start heading back for the night, when she heard them give several enthusiastic cheers and go tearing off towards the interior of the island.

"Where the hell are you going?" she nearly shrieked. "Luffy, get back here! Usopp, Chopper, you ought to know better—no, Brook, not you too!" But they were already off, clambering over the enormous dunes that marked the beach's edge, and within seconds they were out of sight. Zoro was already following, looking exasperated and annoyed, but with his luck he'd probably miss them by mere feet and wander off into the heart of the island without ever realizing he'd passed them, directionally-challenged idiot that he was.

"Dammit...Sanji-kun, could you..." she began, but with a heartfelt yell of 'Right away, Nami-san!' he was already off, charging past Zoro (the swordsman sped up immediately, clearly considering this a challenge) and over the rise of the dunes. In moments they had disappeared as well.

Nami reached them a minute later, and began clambering over them herself. She could hear all the others, so they hadn't gotten far. Luffy was laughing, which in and of itself was not an indicator of safety, but she could hear Chopper's giggles and Usopp's gleeful shouting, which meant the situation was probably under control.

She broke the rise a second later, and couldn't help but drop her jaw in surprise. Due to the enormous dunes she hadn't been able to see what was inland at all, and it had never even crossed her mind to consider what type of season Asteria favored, but now it was all too obvious. It had to be a fall island, and it was beautiful. At the very edge of the beach, where the last grains of white sand transfered into dark soil, a forest began. The trees were all of varying kinds, sizes and shapes, but they all had one thing in common: each and every one of them positively burst with vibrant leaves of red, gold, orange, and yellow, so brilliant that even in the late-afternoon sunlight they almost seemed aflame. The forest went on for ages—Nami could see into it for quite some ways, but eventually the trunks and the ground blended into shadow, hiding its depths completely. And on the ground was a thick carpet of leaves, accumulated from what Nami was sure were years' worth of the trees shedding them over and over, creating enormous, dry crackling piles of color only slightly less vibrant in their dead states.

Luffy, Chopper, and Usopp had leapt into the largest pile of leaves they could find, and were now rolling around, throwing handfuls at each other, and generally having a grand old time of it. Brook was yohoho-ing enthusiastically as he used his great height and his cane to shake more leaves from the nearest tree down onto his companions, and Sanji and Zoro were watching bemusedly from the bottom of the dune, with one leg half-raised and one sword partly-drawn, as if they had abandoned the start of a duel without even realizing it.

"I don't understand," Nami said, bewildered. The breeze was stronger on the top of the dune, and she pulled Sanji-kun's jacket around her a little further absently, scooting down the dune a few more paces to let the mass of sand block the wind for her. "This doesn't make sense. This place is so...pretty. It's hardly a place of nightmares...I haven't seen a single bad thing here yet."

"Don't worry, Nami-san," Sanji-kun said, finally dropping his leg in favor of gravitating to her side once again. "If you do have nightmares you can just come to me, I'd be happy to take care of you!"

There was a soft clink as Zoro sheathed his sword once again, but instead of taking the opportunity to bicker with Sanji-kun he said instead, "Don't drop your guard just because it looks nice. Don't forget that storm."

She grimaced. "As if I could," she said tiredly, but the truth was, it unnerved her far more than she was letting on. She hoped, at any rate.

Now it was really getting dark, with their shadows stretched out quite far to one side, and Nami decided it was definitely time to go back. "Okay, come on, Luffy!" she called out, mild exasperation still in her voice, although she wasn't really mad at him. At least somebody was enjoying themselves, after all. "It's getting really dark. We can come back tomorrow after we look for my Dreamshards, but we shouldn't be out here any more tonight!"

"Awww," came a chorus of four voices, and Luffy gave her such a childlike pout she briefly felt like she was kicking a small puppy.

But it would do no good to back down now, so she growled more sternly, "Today, Luffy. Don't you want dinner? Sanji-kun, tell him we're having lots of meat."

"Yes, Nami-san!" the cook trilled, and then froze as he realized what he'd just been locked into. Well, it was his own fault for always agreeing to everything, anyway.

"Meat?" Luffy asked enthusiastically. "What kind of meat? Will there be a lot of it? How long will it take? Sanji, I'm hungry now." The captain stood up in the leaves, his play momentarily forgotten in lieu of a promising carnivorous meal.

"Beef, yes, and it'll be ready when it's ready, you idiot," Sanji-kun growled back, a little sullenly now. "I'm not even on the ship, so where do you expect me to get dinner here, huh?"

"But I want—"

"Watch your back, Luffy!" Usopp said suddenly, grinning widely, to the surprised gasps of Chopper and Brook. "Usopp's super-secret surprise tackle attack!" And he cannoned into Luffy from behind so hard that the captain's signature straw hat went flying, sending them both bouncing into the leaves with a resounding crackly crash.

It resulted in an all-out wrestling match amongst the four of them, enough to make Nami wince. Brook's bony limbs creaked alarmingly as he entered the fray in the tossing leaves, and Luffy soon became entangled in all of them as his pulled limbs stretched and twisted around Chopper's horns and Usopp's bag. They laughed at the new game, seemingly forgetting the instructions that Nami had just given them, and with a disgusted sigh she ordered Sanji-kun into the fray to knock some sense into them. He complied enthusiastically, and soon there were five in the wrestling match, with the newcomer mercilessly handing out kicks to all parties.

Finally, with only a sliver of sunlight left, the play-fight ground to a halt. Luffy, Usopp, Chopper, and Brook flopped, panting, on their backs in the leaf pile, and Sanji-kun stood over them nonchalantly, casually lighting a cigarette. "It's time to go, you idiots," he growled warningly. "Don't ignore Nami-san's orders, or else!"

"Okay, okay," Usopp said, looking a little put out that their play had come to an abrupt end, but hauling himself to his feet and starting towards the dunes all the same. Chopper and Brook followed under Sanji-kun's watchful eye. Luffy rolled to his feet quickly, heading a little farther towards the forest long enough to retrieve his hat from where it had fallen earlier.

There was a ear-bleeding, high-pitched hissing scream from within the shadowed depths of the brilliant forest. Nami had enough time to vaguely recognize it as similar to whatever she had heard during the storm, and then something enormous came barreling out of the forest's dark confines, straight at them.

Luffy was only a few feet from his hat, but turned with surprising speed as the whatever-it-was rushed straight at him, making a strange clicking noise. Nami couldn't see him very well in the dark, but she thought his eyes might have narrowed in determination, and one hand definitely drew back and curled into a fist as the thing came at him.

Whatever it was, it wasn't intimidated, and it didn't stop charging. Nami couldn't make any details about the creature, as it was moving too fast despite its enormous size. But something about it almost reminded her of the sea train back at Water Seven; the way it kept barreling forward without a care, like it planned to run Luffy over and keep on going, definitely resembled the sea fairing engine. But if it thought it could run Luffy over, then this creature had another thing coming.

They collided with a loud thud that sent the pirate's braced feet skidding back over the leaves and dirt, and Luffy brought his curled fist slamming down onto the thing's back, or maybe its head; it was hard to tell, exactly. It shuddered and went belly-down to the leaves, and its momentum ground to a halt, while the unusual clicking noise seemed to slow. Nami felt the beginnings of a grin on her face. Not even unknown monsters such as this thing could pose a threat to their captain!

But then the creature let out another piercing, hissing shriek. Raising its body once more and clawing its way forward, it somehow seized Luffy in what Nami thought might be jaws and, with a jerk, lifted the pirate into the air.

Luffy acted only mildly puzzled, at first. The thing didn't appear to be hurting him, or at least not terribly badly. Nami didn't see any blood, at any rate, and she'd probably hit their captain harder than the creature was gripping him when he'd done something stupid in the past. His arms were caught in the creature's grasp, but Luffy had proven before that he didn't need his hands to beat something into a senseless pulp, so he was probably okay there, too.

But then, unexpectedly, Luffy twitched. His eyes widened—she could see the whites of them in the last sliver of sunlight, glinting oddly bright through the gloom. His whole body arched, unnaturally far because it was made of rubber, his mouth opened wide—and he screamed.

It was a long shriek, shockingly loud, desperately primal, as if it came from the depths of his very soul, and encased so much sheer pain and utter despair that it was actually terrifying. Nami had never heard a sound like that before, such pure, unchecked agony, in her entire life—and she had seen a lot of horrible things in her time. Worse still, she had never heard—or ever expected to hear—such a sound come from Luffy. It was impossible. It couldn't be real. It just couldn't belong to him.

She found herself going rigid, and beside her Usopp, Chopper, and Brook had frozen as well. Even Sanji-kun, only a few paces from her, looked stunned, his one visible eye widened in sheer shock; and Zoro, some distance away, looked as though somebody had hit him over the head with a steel bar. Repeatedly.

Then the scream died, and underneath it she could hear a low, predatory hissing, originating from the creature that still had had Luffy in its grip. Something flashed brightly, blindingly so in the near-dark of early nightfall, causing spots to dance before Nami's eyes. It broke the stunned spell the scream had seemed to cast over her, and she brought one hand to her eyes, rubbing them hastily to try and clear her vision.

There was a shout, and somebody called loudly, "Luffy!" Nami looked up in time to see their captain flopped like a rag-doll over the creature's head, unmoving and unresponsive to their cries. And then the creature released its grip, and Straw-Hat Luffy dropped to the brilliantly colored leaves with a dull, heavy thud, and did not move again.

Wait...that Luffy guy, he's not important to the story or anything, is he? Oh. Oh, crap. Umm...oops.

As usual, if you leave a review, let me know what you think. What is done well and what isn't? Tell me politely and I am perfectly fine with compliments and constructive concrit both.