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The dream that never ends

Chapter Text


There’s a tree.

There’s a flowering tree.

A bright pink flowering cherry tree against a dark backdrop.

Luffy can’t tell whether the clouds had turned black or the sky had simply eaten all the twinkling stars. They better be delicious if they were eaten.

There’s no light source at all and yet the tree is so bright. So bright that it blinds him into blinking his eyes several times until he finally realizes it’s the petals that are actually glowing in this darkness and he should get used to the brightness soon enough.  

The tree branches shake, letting the blossoms flutter in the air until the flowers eventually drop to the ground.

Something strong and electric is pulsing underneath his feet where the roots of the tree have grown into the soil.

The pulse follows his heartbeat trapped inside his chest.

Thud. Thud.

Thud. Thud.

A slow and steady beat.

Luffy looks down at his feet to make sure where he is standing, only seeing that his feet have long been buried under a thick layer of dead petals. Has he been standing this long? Why can he see his legs?

This must be a dream, he decides, a dream about a tree. Luffy can’t remember what it means to dream about a powerful, ancient cherry tree.

Although he may not be as strong as Ace when it comes to sensing unnatural phenomenon, or as naturally-inclined to detect power imbalances as Sabo, Luffy is very sure this is no ordinary cherry tree.

Strong, ancient power flows beneath this soil, through these tree roots, as it lays especially dormant in the center of the tree trunk. Trails of power have found their way up the whole tree, the branches and eventually the leaves and blossoms.

But something about this tree feels different than the ones Luffy is used to tending at the Main House during his training.

Something... off.

Not quite right.

“What are you trying to tell me?” Luffy finds himself talking to the tree. He sees a faint shadow standing right the edges of sight. “Who’s there?” Blinks. And the long shadow is gone. The pink blossoms no longer look pink in the first place. Splashes of red appear now and then, flickering in and out of the corner of his sight. They appear to be blood, but Luffy isn’t too sure.

The tree branches rustle in answer. Was the tree laughing at him?

The winds have picked up in strength, sending petals flying in mini twisters around his body, into his face. He reels back and sputters, coughs. He raises his hands to protect himself from the flurry of petals.

 

 

 

 

When Luffy wakes up, he can’t recall the tail end of his dream.

When he wakes up, his hands are on fire.

Pentagrams appear on the back of his hands.

And never in his life has Luffy ever seen fear in Ace’s eyes before. Not until Luffy has woken up from that strange dream.

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Luffy dreams about the tree, the petals are no longer pink, but drenched in blood.

His blood.

Chapter Text

The air is charged with suppressed, dark energy.

 

He could barely breathe through his nose. His fingers twitch unwillingly as goosebumps continue to crawl along his skin. The ofuda papers burn in his pocket despite being inactive.

 

Law quickly stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jacket, holding the papers for security as he hunches and quickly jogs across the near-empty street to mingle with the night crowd.

 

The sky is cloudless tonight.

 

Nothing could obscure the bright, full moon besides the metropolitan high tech skyscrapers that seemed to become higher and higher with the economy boom the city has found itself in.

 

Tonight would have been like any other night for Law were it not for the blasted full moon. It’s turning red already around the edges.

 

Law would get off from work, wave off co-workers in favor of ordering take-out and head home as soon as possible. Being out in the open too long without the familiar and comforting protection wards of his room has made him jittery, made him all too aware of his position in this lifetime--as Keeper of the burial grounds underneath the everlasting cherry tree.

 

It’s time for that blasted tree again.

 

The longer Law ignores the abomination, the harder it is to get by pretending to be a mundane.

 

The air smells of evil, of sickness. There isn’t a particular scent to describe said air though, not in mundane terms at least, but all of Law’s senses are screaming in high alert.

 

Foul, rotting flesh.

 

 

While big onmyouji clans like Shirohige and Akagami handle the supernatural side of the Light, Law, as the sole Keeper of the burial grounds, sees to the matters the side of the Dark. Or else something more ominous than just vengeful spirits on the loose could happen once the scale of the world is tipped too far.

 

Something like…

 

... like the end of the world. Something worse than the Void.

 

Handling the Dark side of onmyouji means dancing with Death at all times. It also means he is the Hunter of the night with the full Moon as his guardian and only witness.



A black crow zips past the night crowd, cawing loudly to get Law’s attention. Law pauses in his jog and stretches out a hand to the bird. The crow gives one last caw and twists and turns into a wisp of black smoke. The smoke clears to reveal a black ofuda sheet that flutters to Law’s waiting hand.

Well done, Law thinks. The bird had found him a target for the night.  

 

Law changes his pace to a slow and deliberate walk. Backs into the alley to hide himself from the mundane crowd, to become one with the darkness.  

Law’s spiritual senses home onto the target like a beacon.

The man is easily recognized among the crowd. Average height. Hair cut neatly. Dressed conservatively like everyone else.

Law’s golden eyes sees more than just an average business man straggling into a bar to drink after a long day at work. His eyes sees the red tendrils of smoke emitting from that man’s body--the sign of rotting flesh to be.

 

He waits atop a nearby dwelling. Nobody could see him. He puts an invisibility spell on himself.

A half hour later his target gets kicked out of the bar, a screaming match ensues between the target and the bouncer of the bar, attracting a crowd. The target screams at the crowd to disperse them all and shouts insults to the sky as he stumbles along the path towards another bar and another.

Law narrows his eyes and quietly follows the man. The target seems to realize something was amiss, stopping a few times to look over his shoulder, to look left and right and breaks into a run.

 

Law chases the man half a block further before finally cornering him in the abandoned park behind an old shrine. Then the begging, crying, yammering starts. Empty promises of wealth and reputation leaves that man's mouth in succession with the pleading. None of them will work to sway Law's duty. Instead the pitiful display is grating on Law's nerves. 

 

"Your time is up." Law says and draws the inverted pentagram in the air by conjuring fire. He makes the basic Zodiac signs with his hands and murmurs the incantations quickly with each breath he expels. 

 

The realization dawns upon the target's face, and he stumbles backwards to escape, opening his mouth for one last scream. His escape gets hindered when a storm of cherry petals wraps around him and cuts his scream off. 

 

Blood splatters across the soil. Across Law’s face. Across the trees and the bushes. 

 

 

 

Somewhere in the city, the everlasting cherry tree rustles in anticipation for an incoming corpse and releases more petals in the wind to welcome the Keeper.  

Chapter Text

/I’m on my way as soon as I’m done here/ was last Sabo’s reply.

 

 

Ace stared at the reply until his eyes were raw and stinging. He blinked a few times, willing Sabo to come home this instant. Better yet, to transport himself through time and space to pop up in front of Ace like a ninja and come up with a solution. Any solution for this problem. Never mind the fact that Sabo was out of town and his phone probably was out of the network range until Sabo was done with whatever mission he was sent off to.

Ace’s fingers trembled whenever he thought about pouring out the truth in his reply, that he had failed Luffy, but then he reeled himself in. Messages about the supernatural will never go well in modern day technology, lest Ace wanted to attract unwanted attention from supernatural forces.

Lest he wanted the hunter’s attention and maybe set off an alarm that might endanger Luffy’s life.

There was a heaviness that settled on Ace’s shoulders.

Ace clenched his hands into fists, still feeling phantom prickles of hostile shocks coursing through his veins when he had tried to get rid Luffy’s curse.

Ace had tried to shake off the numbing backlash, tried to counter curse it with the best of his abilities but then Luffy finally had woken up from his trance and blood had trickled down Ace’s ears and nostrils, leaking out from his brain.  

 

Fearing for a bigger spell backlash, Ace had quickly stopped casting counterspells and focused on adding protection barriers on Luffy, on Luffy’s hands, on Luffy’s room and finally the house.

The severity of their situation eventually settled into his mind. His head was feeling woozy and his body was already drained from spell overuse. But Ace pinched his thigh a few times to keep himself awake.

 

Luffy had become a prey.

His younger brother had become a prey right under his nose.

The hunter had been out when Luffy dropped Sabo off.

And Ace could do nothing about it at all. Some big brother he was.

 

Ace tore his eyes away from his phone and focused on the thick wooden doors that led to Pops office.

 

The moment he was done feeding Luffy, Ace had dragged him kicking and screaming to the Main House, to see Pops. The old man had taken on look at the marks, sent Ace to stand outside.

 

That was hours ago.

Pops can handle this.

Pops can handle anything.

Pops has lived long enough to have witnessed and survived the rise and fall of great onmyouji clans. He was rumored to be practically an immortal. He would know what to do with the mark of a hunter, Ace tried to assure himself. Yeah, Pops has a whole hall filled with meticulously, handwritten records. He may even have ways to dispel curses too.

 

 

The door finally creaked open and Marco was standing right there, his face neutral and his eyes shadowed. Ace was immediately at his side, pushing his phone into the back of his pants. 

“How is he? What’s the verdict?” Ace stood on his tiptoes, looking over Marco’s shoulder to catch sight of his brother.

“Come in, son.” That was Pops.

Marco backed away to let Ace through. 

Luffy was sitting in the center of the room, in the center of a protection circle, looking awfully still, like he’s asleep just standing on both of his feet. He’s in a trance again.

Ace stared. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Except the fact that Pops was no longer sitting down at the desk. If Pops was out of the chair then this was definitely serious business.

“Is there a way to get that mark off, Pops?” Ace asked. Ace’s hands started shaking with nervous energy. This was bad. This was definitely bad. “Pops. Tell me straight in my face. I can handle it. Can you break the curse?”

“Do you remember your history lessons with Marco when you were still in training, son?”

Ace blinked at Pops and Marco incredulously. “Some of it. Yeah, what’s history got to do with this anyway?”

“Do you remember anything specific about the historical cases with presumed encounters with the Hunter?”

“Not entirely. So, no. I can remember overall cases but not specific details like the date or season or specific people. Look, pops, are you trying to test me on my history lessons? What’s that got to do with any of this?”

“Tell me, Ace, how did the great Sumeragi clan disappear?” Pops continued to ask, in his usual patient voice, as if Ace hadn’t been saying anything at all in the first place.

“Old man-.” Ace’s temper flared up.

“Answer the question, Ace.” Marco said.

Ace shot him a dirty glare before deciding it’s best to go along with this. He inhaled slowly through his nostrils and tried to rearrange his mind to recall facts and trivia from his history lessons. “The clan’s powers died out rapidly during the turn of the meiji era and eventually disappeared from the public eye when the Void happened.”

“And why is that?” Pops asked patiently.

“Who knows.” Ace shrugged. “Power within the clan simply weakened? Genetics? The Void happened?”

Pops hummed, carefully tugged at his long, white beard as he shared a look with Marco.

“What is it? Am I wrong?” Ace shot Marco a glare.

“Not wrong, no.” Marco said.

“Not entirely right either.” Pops said. “But I’ll take responsibility over that. Come, son, let’s sit. Marco, can you release Luffy from his state for me please?” 

Marco unleashed the spell and Ace jumped forward immediately to catch his brother from falling on his face. Marco helped Ace carry Luffy to the nearest love seat in Pop's office and darted around the desk to pull up the chair for Pops.

"Thank you, Marco." Pops sighed in relief when he finally sank into his chair, rubbing his knobby knees as he did so. “The last head of the Sumeragi clan, to this day, was--is considered the strongest onmyouji of all time. The strongest in the whole country. Even stronger than myself and Roger when I was his age. He was made clan head at an early age of 9 or 10 and officially ascended it at the age of 16 as the 13th head.”

“So? What have they got to do with us? Didn’t the whole clan already die out?”

“I’m getting there. Have some patience.”

Marco tapped the back of Ace’s head in admonishment.

“Ow! Hey!”

“The last active Sumeragi head, the 11th, had passed away when the 13th head disappeared. She was by then already too old to train a successor. None of her surviving pupils could take up the mantel.”

“Wait, disappeared? I thought he died. How did he disappear?”

“We never found his body. There are rumors that he was spotted near the ever-blooming cherry tree or wandering off in the suburbs, until he was never seen again. But you have to remember, he lived at the time when the Great war between Heaven and Earth Seals started. There was chaos everywhere, evil energy in the air, electric charges beneath the soil. It was a time for death.” Pops paused to take a sip from a drink Marco had passed him. “Well, never mind that, the real reason I’m bringing the 13th Head up is because there was hearsay about his life a lot. Most of them were probably maliciously spread around out of jealousy and envy by lesser onmyouji clans at the time of unrest, but I remember one particular thing that stuck with me to this day.”

“And that is?”

“He was cursed to die just like Luffy.” Pops looked him dead in the eye.

Ace opened his mouth, no sound came out for a second and then he tried again, “Are you saying that he was done in by the curse? Which is why you’re sure he’s actually dead with no physical body to be found?”

“It’s not uncommon for dark practitioners to cast such spells at that time.”

“So, now what? Should I just sit back and watch the hunter kill Luffy then? Hell no! I’m gonna find that hunter and kill him myself before he gets my brother.”

“Ace.” Marco said warningly.

 

“I thought the hunter disappeared in the war between Heaven and Earth Seals.” Ace slammed his hands on the desk. “I thought you said he died along with everyone else during the Void.”

“We all assumed he perished when no unexplained deaths and disappearances were reported for over a decade. Besides, the Void had taken everyone in the world, including our ancestors. There’s just no escaping that horrific time.”

“Then what changed?” Ace demanded. “Why was the hunter back?”

“That is a question I have no complete answer to, unfortunately.” Pops said despondently. “Nobody knows why the hunter is doing this. We've never come this close in contact to this entity before until now.”

 

“Let's check the records, pops. Maybe there's something in there that would shed some light in the hunter's motives.” Marco offered. “Or something useful.”

“I'll do it! Let me help.” Ace said. 

 

“That's fine. But we'll have to do it tomorrow.” Marco tapped his wristwatch when Ace was about to protest. “It's time for you and Luffy to get some sleep. Stay here for tonight. It's safer this way.” He said softly and patted Ace's head.