Chapter 1: Arc: Broad Bluff: I
Her head was in someone’s lap. Fingers caressed her hair as a soft voice hummed a tune above her. She was completely relaxed and yet she felt tears on her cheeks. After a moment she realized they weren’t hers. She lifted a hand towards the voice and it stopped humming. “You’ll be okay my darling.” The voice cooed. “My precious treasure.”
The scene shifted suddenly and she felt the hands and the voice being wrenched away, inky darkness seeping in quickly to overtake her. A new voice sliced through the black, and pain blossomed in her skull, this one painful in comparison to the peace she’d just felt: “TELL ME. TELL ME NOW.” She put her hands against her ears and begged it to stop, just go away, just stop, please please, I can’t, I don’t know, I CAN’T-
“Stop!” Odelle shouted as she woke up, sitting bolt upright so fast that she hit her head on the bunk above her. “Ahhhhh come on…” She pressed a palm to the already forming bump, noticing as she did so the cold sweat that covered her skin. When she pulled her hand away from her forehead it was shaking slightly and it took her a few moments to steady her breathing.
“Just a dream.” She reassured herself as she flipped her legs over the side of the uncomfortable bed and felt her feet hit the wooden floor. The crew quarters were silent in answer and it was then that she realized she was alone in the room. That’s for the best probably, don’t need to start my morning accidentally waking up Bunker. A memory of the last time she’d interrupted the giant’s beauty sleep made her shudder a little.
Something cold bumped against her foot and she looked down, moving her feet back so the loose cannonball could carry on it’s merry rolling down the floor. Footsteps above her head and the creak of the ship made her pause as well. “I thought we would have been home by now.” Another shifting of the ship made her stumble a little as she made her way around empty hammocks and storage crates, more due to the fact that she’d just woken up than clumsiness.
She could hear crying coming from deeper in the ship when she reached the stairway that led either up or down. That was one thing she’d never gotten used to. The crying always made her feel sick. With that same familiar twist in her stomach, she turned away and went up the stairs instead until all she could hear was the waves and the calls of the crew to each other as they sailed closer to their final destination.
“Pet!” The second voice from her dream called from behind her and stopped her in her tracks.
She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. Mostly a dream. Heavy steps sounded behind her but she didn’t have time to turn before a hand with long fingers and sharp nails landed on her shoulder. She smiled up at the imposing figure that now towered over her. “Good Morning Master.”
Soran Zul smiled back, almost genuinely. He seemed out of place in the daylight, like a shadow that lost its way. Dark and creepy. “I’m surprised you slept through the storm last night.”
Luckily enough for her, Odelle had mastered the art of not physically shuddering whenever he spoke to her or touched her. “Is that why we aren’t home? I was surprised we haven't landed yet.”
“It did delay us slightly… and it seems to be following us back to Broad Bluff.” He replied as he pointed towards the back of the ship.
She followed his finger and took note of the dark clouds on the horizon, as well as the choppy waves underneath them. They looked dangerous. Perhaps tonight.
Zul brought his hand back, lifting her chin as he did so and making her meet his eyes. “My pet must be hungry. I don’t remember if I fed you last night. Too much good wine after too much good hunting.”
With a smile whose warmth she didn’t truly feel, Odelle shook her head up at him, “I have everything I deserve.” Her response was practiced, the same response he expected from everyone who served him, but the way she said it always made it sound more real. He was always the happiest when she said it.
The shadow smiled, holding out a long hand for her to take. He led her up to the quarterdeck where a table had been brought up and spread with some of last night's dinner.
Bunker was at the helm, his giant hands moving the impressive wheel with ease. He grinned ear to ear when he saw his Captain approaching, leading Odelle. “Eesheesheesh, you missed a pretty good show last night little bird! It was a party to remember! Eesheesheesh.”
“How would you know? You drank all our best booze and passed out.” Rose Lady reminded him as she lounged at the table, popping a grape into her mouth. She ignored the enraged sputtering of Bunker as he tried to deny it, just fixing her eyes on the two newest additions to the table. “Perhaps our little pet should go without breakfast too, for ditching you all night Lord Zul.”
Odelle swallowed as Zul pulled her onto his lap, really hoping her master wasn’t in a suggestible mood today. She had trained her stomach not to growl, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t feel how empty it was right now.
Reaching for a truffle tart and breaking off a piece, Zul held it up to her lips between thumb and forefinger and she obediently opened her mouth and took it from him. She was only allowed to eat something if it was fed to her by his own hand, and so she chewed it slowly, savoring it. Meal times were never a clear thing. He might go days forgetting to feed her or insist on giving her twenty small meals a day. It all depended on his mood, and she knew better than to ask.
Lady sneered at her from across the table. “Isn’t that precious.”
“Did you send word on ahead of our arrival?” Zul asked, ignoring her stares as he fed another morsel to the redhead on his lap.
The first mate stopped her glaring and went back to her normal, emotionless gaze. “Of course my Lord. I’m sure everyone is preparing as we speak. We should be there within the hour. It will take longer than normal to unload the cargo since we had such a good haul, but I’m optimistic that it won’t take more than a few hours to get every last product inventoried.”
I wonder how much brain power it takes her to not say the word slave or human when she talks about them like that. Odelle wondered as Zul’s fingers nudged her chin and she looked at him, realizing that he wanted her to take the next bite from a bit of sweet bread he had between his lips. Accepting food in this way may have been second nature after nine years, but it didn’t mean it felt comfortable at all when his lips touched hers as she took it. Her stomach twisted again. From hunger or disgust? Who knew anymore.
Zul fed her a few more bites of an assortment of dishes before standing and having her sit in the chair by herself while he went to make sure preparations to unload all of the new slaves were going okay. If he was a kinder person, she would have given him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean to make her sit here in front of food she couldn’t have when she was all but starving. However, he wasn’t and he never did anything without a good reason. He’d left her here on purpose.
Always testing me . She thought to herself as she looked across the table calmly. Lady was making a rather big show of how good the food was. The first mate’s enjoyment of her torture was second only to her masters. If she left her seat, she’d be punished. If she ate anything she’d be punished as well.
A pleasant smile crossed her face as she looked up at the giant steering the ship, doing her best to ignore the food as well as Lady. “Bunker, do you have any new stories to tell me? I do love them so and then it won't seem so long until we get home.”
“Eesheesheesh! I’m so glad you’re interested in the exciting life I’ve lived, little bird!” He barked out a laugh that shook the table, and made Lady’s hair fly around her face in a way that Odelle knew would annoy her.
Her smile widened.
It didn’t take long for Lady to vacate her place at the table after Bunker had started talking, her face drawn in the sour expression she always had when he talked to loud. His tale of adventure, though far fetched and obviously exaggerated, passed the time nicely and right as he was finishing up, they were drawing near to the entrance of Broad Bluff.
Odelle was twisting in her seat, eager to see over the side of the ship and was about to ask the giant to describe it to her when Zul’s face appeared by the stairs as he ascended them. “Master--?”
“You may leave the table if you wish.” He nodded his approval and she shot out of her seat before the last words even left his mouth.
It took only moments for her to scramble up onto the carved shoulders of their figurehead, a woman wrapped in chains and looking out to sea. This was her favorite spot on the entire ship, but she only ever got to sit there when they were coming into port at their home island. In all of the nine years that Soran Zul had dragged her around with him, she never tired of seeing Broad Bluff come into view.
Broad Bluff Island was arguably one of the most beautiful islands in the Grand Line, but it wasn’t it’s beauty that made Odelle eager to see it again. I’ll miss the people the most, but they’ll be better off without me around.
As the Iron Maiden turned to make it’s way around the first floating island, another pirate ship caught her eye. It was docked on one of the town reefs, and she found her heart sinking a little.
“Newcomers? I’ve never seen that flag before.” Vis pointed, mimicking Odelle’s thoughts out loud.
Zul turned and made his way over to the side of the ship, his dark eyes following the arm of his sharpshooter. “Something about that flag seems familiar.” He whistled, the shrill sound carrying throughout the massive ship and making the entire crew pause. “Someone fetch me those new bounty posters!”
A mad scramble resulted in an out of breath deck hand careening up to the helm with a handful of pages held above his head, “Lord Zul!” He bowed as his captain removed the posters from his hands.
The Slave King didn’t respond, just flipping through them calmly as if they were the morning paper and the most interesting article was about a new breed of daisies. Then he paused and smiled, “Seems we have quite the infamous little crew on our hands. Transponder snail.” He held out his hand and after another mad scramble, a snail was placed into his waiting palm.
Odelle was still watching the docked pirate ship, feigning disinterest but listening closely to everything her master said behind her. Lady, Bunker, and Vis all had their eyes on their captain.
“Yes Master Zul?”
Odelle recognized the voice of her favorite innkeeper.
Zul smiled, “I’m going to be having a dinner party tomorrow night. Please make sure the Straw Hat crew knows they’re invited.”
“And Meyer, may I remind you how much I do hate being disappointed. If my guests don’t join us for dinner, I’ll hold you personally responsible.”
She swallowed hard, almost able to hear Meyer’s shudder through the receiver.
At this point, the Iron Maiden had already passed the Straw Hat’s small pirate ship. A Caravel… I bet Iceburg would love working on a ship like that, looks like it’s in rough shape.
Her thoughts were once again mirrored by Vis. “I bet they’re on their way to Water 7, that ship looks like hell.”
“All the better for us that they came here first then.” Lady purred.
“I am looking forward to tomorrow.” Zul’s grin when she looked back at him made Odelle flinch a little. His eyes shot to her and his grin widened as he held a hand out for her to come down from her perch. “It should be interesting, don’t you think my pet?”
She allowed him to pull her away from the figurehead and kept her body loose when she felt his fingers tangle in the hair at the back of her head. He wrenched it back so that she was forced to look up at him, her neck straining at the angle.
“Don’t you think?” He asked again, his voice tiptoeing the line between relaxed and dangerous. The slave ship had slipped between two floating islands of Broad Bluff and was now approaching the one in the middle.
“Absolutely, master.” She replied as Zul’s stronghold, Warville Colossal, cast its shadow over the entire ship and the darkness from it’s underground dock swallowed them whole.
Chapter 2: Arc: Broad Bluff: II
In which Odelle pretends some more, and Zoro stops her from doing something stupid.
Molly waggled her serving spoon at the girl sitting across the counter. “You’ve lost weight again.”
A lighthearted laugh shook Odelle’s shoulders, “You say that every time.”
The cook didn’t look amused. “That’s because it’s true every single time.” She tried to push a plate of cappel cream pie towards her, and glared when the other girl pushed it back. “Odie, please, no one is going to tell him, you need to--”
“I’m fine Molly.” Odelle stood and came around the counter, giving the older woman a kiss on the cheek, “I’m not even hungry, you worry too much!” She called back with a chuckle as she left the kitchen with the tea tray she’d come to get for Zul.
She rounded the corner into the hall and then stopped for a few moments, squeezing her eyes shut with almost painful force. You’re fine. You’re great. She tried to shut them even tighter. Don’t. Cry. Don’t.
After a few deep breaths-- also not super helpful because the smell of the orange scones and tea Molly had made for Zul were almost overwhelming-- Odelle was able to pull herself together enough to continue down the hall. She entered the main dining room just as Zul was discussing the Straw Hat crew with Lady, Bunker, and Vis.
“Their bounties may be high, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry over.” Vis was in the middle of explaining. “The normal plan should work on them. They won’t be expecting it, especially not after all of your normal hospitality.”
Lady looked up as Odelle approached with the tray. “We could be even more hospitable if you thought they’d be interested.” She said, smiling and stretching like a cat in her chair.
Dark eyes followed her gaze to his favorite slave as she set down the tray near his elbow and poured tea for him. “My pet is off limits, as always. They can have their pick of the other girls if they feel so inclined.”
Odelle finished pouring his tea and set it right where she knew it would be the most comfortable for him to reach. Normally she would leave after this, but her stomach was so empty and she felt so faint that the hope he would give some of his scone to her was too enticing. She paused for a moment, only a moment, but it was long enough for Zul to take notice.
“Is there anything you’d like to say, Pet?” He asked, his voice soft… coaxing. “You’ve been a good girl, you can say whatever you like.”
It’s a trick… it’s a test… but… Her eyes fell to the scones for a second before she stopped herself and pulled them away. Even as she looked back up at him her heart sank to her feet. He’d noticed. Of course he had.
Honey. That’s what his voice dripped with when he spoke next, but not good honey. Rotten. “Do you feel like you haven’t been given everything you deserve?”
Lady’s smile made Odelle’s skin crawl. “N-no, Master, that’s not--”
He snapped his fingers and she grunted in pain as her neck was suddenly pulled down to the floor, stopping just above it as her wrists were pulled back, twisting her arms behind her in mid-air. She was on her knees, trying to take deep breaths as her limbs shuddered from the strain of being jerked to such an awkward angle.
Her stomach turned as she felt Zul’s long fingers in her hair, petting her head almost gently. “It hurts me to have to discipline you like this.” The slave king cooed. His hand stopped just above her neck, running his index finger along the gold collar there that was biting into her skin.
“As I was saying,” Vis drew his attention back to the conversation at hand as if nothing was out of the ordinary, “Broad Bluff is known for its hospitality. They won’t be expecting an ambush, especially once they’ve left and gone out to sea.”
Lady crossed her arms, “Who says we should wait until they’re out to sea? I say we go down there now and take them.”
“Are you dense?”
Even in her current state, struggling to breathe, Odelle managed a thin laugh. She couldn’t see Lady’s face, but she knew it was probably twisted in fury.
“What-- HOW DARE YOU--”
“Eesheesheesh! Now now, no need to fight! Vis is correct, we need to take advantage of how damaged their ship is, and they’ll expect it even less once they’ve left! Eesheesheesh!” Bunker bellowed good naturedly.
The quarrelling between Vis and Lady stopped instantly as Zoran Zul banged his fist on the table. An eerie quiet fell over the great hall, broken only by soft gasps from Odelle as her strained muscles started to quiver. “We can’t take these pirates as lightly as we do others. They brought down Crocodile. As far as we know there hasn’t been a single fight they’ve lost since they entered the Grand Line.”
They beat Crocodile? Odelle was having a hard time focusing on anything other than her fingers going numb, but there was no way she wouldn’t hear that. Even Master Zul seems intimidated... maybe they’ll help the others. Her shoulders felt like they were on fire, and she bit back a whimper as the muscles in her arms spasmed painfully.
“We stick to our original plan, but we proceed with the utmost care.” Zul was saying now. “I don’t want this botched up, that crew will make us a fortune.”
His subordinates agreed, though some of them were half-hearted about it. The rest of the conversation was fairly lost on Odelle. She didn’t even notice when the others left and it was only her and Zul in the room. She didn’t notice until he snapped his fingers and the pressure on her wrists and neck released, causing her to collapse in a heap on the floor.
Agony shot through her muscles and joints as the circulation returned to them, and she had to squeeze her eyes shut to keep from crying. He will NOT see me cry. That didn’t stop her from wincing and groaning as her muscles jerked and pinched from being stressed for that long in such an unnatural position.
Zul gave a heavy sigh, acting as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders as he watched her gasp and writhe from his chair. “You know I hate doing that.” He interlocked his fingers and rested his chin on them.
“Y-yes Master.” Odelle pushed herself off the floor, doing her best to smile at him in the hopes that it would appease his temper, “I’m s-sorry I made you punish me, I know it hurts you. You give me everything I deserve.” She crawled joltingly over and rested her head on his knee. “I’m sorry Master.”
If she was looking at his face she was sure he’d have a smile wide enough to make her sick.
“Good girl.” He rested his palm against her cheek and then stood, pulling her up with him despite how unsteady she seemed on her feet. “Now, since you apologized, I will grant you one thing. One thing that you deserve.”
Not food then. That’s too risky. She paused, biting her lower lip as she thought. If it’s too much he’ll use his power on me again. Too little and I’ll get nothing. “Master, if it pleases you, can I be excused from dinner tonight? I would like to rest so that I can properly help entertain your guests tomorrow.” It was always better to make any request seem like a win-win situation. Like it’s entire purpose was to benefit him in the end.
A nod from him made her relax slightly even before he voiced his agreement. “Very well. I’m happy I have a pet that thinks of my needs.” He bent down and kissed her palms. It was not something she was unused to, but it was a gesture that made her nervous all the same. “Now, you may go, I have some things I must attend to.”
She bowed her head to him and forced herself to leave the great hall calmly, but the second the door was closed behind her she took off running, despite her still trembling muscles. He won’t be expecting to see me the rest of the night. This is my chance.
Roronoa Zoro set the two large boulders he’d been using as weights down with a resounding thud. Sweat was dripping down his arms and face, but there was a strong breeze coming from the sea so it wasn’t unbearable. He looked out towards the water. It had gotten dark fast, despite the fact that it wasn’t quite night yet, and he could just make out the choppiness of the waves below. The reef cliff he had picked to train on was one of the taller ones on the island as far as he could tell. It sloped down to the beach town they had docked the Going Merry at, and while he could still make out the lights from the town it was getting more difficult by the minute.
“Guess I better head back.” He shrugged his haramaki back on, as he’d taken it off and set it and his swords aside while training.
As he bent to collect his swords, a slight movement and light in the shadows of the trees caught his eye. Zoro peered after the soft warm glow as it bobbed along towards the furthest point of the cliff. Curious, he crept along after it, coming to a stop in an encasement of bushes and watching as a figure carrying a lantern stepped up to the edge of the reef that plummeted straight down into the sea. A girl?
The soft light of the lantern she was carrying was just enough for the him to make out her features even as the storm clouds rolled in. Red hair whipped around her face as the wind picked up, and he was surprised that it didn’t push her back and towards him with how thin and petite she was. Despite the fact that it did make her tilt back slightly, her footing was firm. Determined.
What the heck is she doing up there, doesn’t she know that’s dangerous? Zoro suddenly thought, half standing up as he stepped forward to warn her. A drop of water hit his cheek and he looked up at the sky. It hadn’t started raining yet, but he knew something wet had hit his skin. He looked back towards the girl and saw her face turned towards him. She was looking past him, more in the direction of the town below and the island in general. She’s crying. Zoro realized in shock. But why--
He saw her lips move, forming a sentence that was blown away by the wind as she set the lantern down and took one more step out towards sea. Over the cliff.
“What the-- WAIT NO!” Zoro shouted, the wind shoving the words back down his throat even as he sprinted forward, his hand outstretched. He rushed to the precipice, just in time to see the dark water below him splash up around the girl who had been standing there only moments before. Without any thought for his clothes or shoes the swordsman dove off the cliff, the wind stinging his face right before the water closed around him.
The sea was dark and the only thing Zoro could do was swim down and reach his hand out as far as it would go, hoping beyond hope that his fingers would connect with cloth or skin. He couldn’t see anything in front of him, just an empty abyss. Right as he started to lose hope and knew he’d have to surface for air his fingers brushed against what felt like fabric and he made one last desperate push downwards, his arms closing around the body of the girl he’d jumped in to save.
An angry current swept him up and into part of the reef that formed the cliff he’d just been on. The force of it made him gasp and he felt ice cold water flooding his throat and lungs. Luckily the current also brought him and his burden up to the surface and he choked as his head breached a wave and he could finally breathe. He tried to get his feet against the cliff as another wave flung them towards it but he got pulled under again, gargling and tightening his grip around the girl’s waist.
His memory flashed to a picture of the beach and town not too far from the cliffs and he swam hard in the direction he thought it would be. As he breached the surface of the water again he threw his head about frantically, trying to get his bearings. While he’d taken them further out to sea, they were now in a position to just let the waves carry them to shore, though he recognized it as the forested shore on the opposite side of the cliff and not the one with his crew. He stopped fighting to swim and allowed the current to bring them to the sand, using all his effort now to keep the girl’s head and his own above the water.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Zoro was dragging the girl up onto the shore. His chest was heaving and his lungs felt like they were burning from inhaling the icy salt water, but he rolled the instigator of the whole mess onto her back to check on her. Even though it was dark he could tell now that this person was probably only a year or so younger than him. The water in his lungs made him cough harshly as he took her wrist, checking for a pulse before starting chest compressions.
She’s not just thin, there’s nothing to her. He had noticed before how light she felt, but now that he was getting a better look at her he was starting to realize that it was more than just that. At first glance there would be nothing amiss, but he’d had his hands on her waist and he’d felt her ribs under her skin. She looks like a ghost. Being half-drowned probably didn’t help.
“Come on, come one…” He hacked as he worked, his ribs and muscles aching. Her skin was deathly pale and cold, and he found himself wishing he wasn’t also drenched so that he could provide some sort of warmth. The wind causing the waves that had tossed them about was biting now that they were out of the water, chilling him to the bone.
The moment he felt he could do it without coughing again he took a deep breath and held the girl’s nose, pressing his mouth against hers and blowing air into her lungs. He’d seen this done only once before, and a long time ago so he wasn’t even sure if it would help but he knew he had to try something.
Chest compressions, breaths.
Chest compressions, breaths.
“Maybe I’m not doing it right…” Zoro grunted as he started another round of chest compressions. “Come on…”
Suddenly the girl writhed and turned to the side, throwing up water and coughing harshly as her body shook from the cold. She stayed leaning to the side for a few moments as she took in deep, shaking breaths and groaned a little, one of her hands going to rub her chest where it was probably bruised from Zoro trying to revive her.
A glance to the side where the swordsman was leaning back in relief and her eyes widened in panic. The girl reached haphazardly for her boot and scuttled away from Zoro, still coughing as she held something out towards him.
“A pocket knife? What are you, flirting with me?” He shook his head, unconcerned. “I’d think a ‘thank you’ was in order, after I just saved your life and all.” Zoro saw her tipping into unconsciousness and rushed forward to catch her before she could hit the ground. The knife dropped from her hand and made a faint ringing sound as it hit the patch of stone she’d scrambled to when she awoke.
He picked her up with ease, situating her so that she was tight against his chest. “Swords first, then Chopper.” Reef sand swallowed his feet with every step as he made his way off the beach and up to the cliff where he’d left his things, checking the girl’s breathing every few minutes just to make sure she was okay.
The wooden boardwalk that connected all of the buildings in the small island town creaked loudly as Zoro ran over them, his eyes locked on one sign at the very end that read “The Three Legged Fox”. He burst into the inn by kicking the door open-- and almost off the hinges. Every head in the inn turned in his direction but he only cared about one. “Chopper! I need you now!”
A set of tiny antlers swung popped up from where the Straw Hat crew were sitting around a table near the fireplace. The reindeer slid off the chair he’d been perched on and rushed over, turning into his human form so that he could take the unconscious patient from his crewmate easier, “Zoro? Who’s this? What happened?”
“She fell off the cliffs nearby.” He replied breathlessly. “I got her out of the sea and was able to revive her but she went unconscious again.”
The rest of the crew were also out of their seats and only seconds behind Chopper.
Sanji peered around Zoro’s back to get a better look at the girl and his eyes went all glossy. “An angel fell from heaven and I wasn’t there to rescue her?” He cried dramatically then turned a fiery gaze on the swordsman, “YOU JERK! It should have been me!”
“Who cares who it was as long as someone was there to save her, idiot!” Nami whacked the blonde upside the head as Chopper and Robin left the room, taking the girl upstairs so the doctor could look her over.
Zoro’s hand shot out like a bullet to grab the back of Luffy’s collar as the captain shot after them. “Leave them be, don’t smother her.”
The rubber man sighed unhappily, “But this is the most interesting thing to happen all day! I wanna see her!”
“Leave it Luffy.” Nami shook her head at him, but it didn’t make much difference. She let her eyes wander Zoro, “Are you okay? We should have Chopper look at you next.”
“It’s nothing I can’t handle, worry about her first.”
Usopp leaned forward, peering at the swordsman curiously. “Do you know what she was doing so close to the cliffs? That seems dangerous. Does she have a death wish?”
“Luffy stop… She might. I said she fell but the truth is it looked intentional.”
“No.” Luffy suddenly stopped trying to squirm out of Zoro’s grasp. The tone of his voice was steady and firm. “No one wants to die.” His crew looked up at him as he stood there, the light of the from the fireplace playing with shadows on the wall behind him.
Finally releasing his fingers from his Captain’s shirt, Zoro shook his head, “It wasn’t that she wanted to I think. It was more like… she had to. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t like it.”
Luffy’s hands were clenched at his side now, “Then we’re going to figure it out, and when we do, we’ll save her again if we have to, but we’ll do it together this time.”
Chapter 3: Arc: Broad Bluff: III
A tentative knock on the door to her quarters shook Odelle from her concentrated examination of the newest set of whip marks on her back. “Come in.”
The door creaked open only slightly at first, and the face of a fishman came into view, his pure black eyes finding her instantly. His expression matched the pain radiating from her back and he stepped further into the room holding a basin of water and some soft cloths, scuffing his feet as his mouth opened and closed awkwardly.
“It’s not your fault.” She smiled with all the warmth she could muster, holding out a hand for him to come closer. “Don’t you dare feel bad for this. It’s on me, okay?”
He approached her and set the basin down on a table nearby. Then he knelt at her feet and rested his head on her knees. “I’m sorry.” His webbed fingers rested against her legs as his voice broke over the apology she’d just told him not to make. “I’m so sorry Odie.”
“Oh Tej…” Odelle ran her fingers through his hair and bent over, ignoring the sharp pains in her back as she leaned so that her forehead rested on his cheek. Her other hand brushed across the scars on his neck where his gills had been stitched closed long ago. “I’m the one who should be apologizing. I wish I was strong enough to--”
“STOP.” Suddenly he lifted his head, forcing her to straighten with a hiss as it moved torn and angry skin. Tej put his hands on either side of her face and stared deeply into her eyes. “You have been taking the beatings of everyone on this island for years. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met. It’s the rest of us that owe you, not the other way around.”
“I said stop.” His voice became more gentle then, and he let go of her face. “Let us help you.”
Odelle’s eyes rested on the water and linens he’d set down previously. She wanted to warn him away, tell him not to worry like she did every other time. Tell him he’d be in trouble if anyone found out he’d used the nice cloth to clean her wounds. It wasn’t the first time she’d done so, but somehow this was different. She was so tired, she needed help. Last night proved that by a long shot.
His eyes softened and he smiled in gratitude. “Thank you.”
She laid down on her stomach on the bed with Tej’s help, only wincing a few times as she folded her arms under her and rested her head on her hands. Luckily, his skin was always a few degrees cold so when he brushed his fingers over the cuts and welts it was almost pleasant. “I should have come last night, right after it happened.” He chided himself.
Odelle looked up at him through her hair, “I’m glad you didn’t. I wasn’t in a place to listen last night. Or explain.”
“But you are today?”
“I’m letting you fix me up aren’t I?” She teased.
Tej smiled a little at her, then frowned again as he went back to inspecting the damage. “He was so mad when he couldn’t find you. You must have known he’d go ballistic. Where were you?” He asked as he took a cloth and soaked it before wringing the water out.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as he laid the wet fabric over the cuts on her shoulders. “Ahhhh… I didn’t… mmm… I guess I wasn’t thinking.” The redhead turned her face so that it was hidden from her friend. “I just wanted to disappear.”
Even without looking she could feel his whole body stiffen next to her. “What do you mean?” He asked, caution in his voice.
“Did you see all those people they brought back yesterday?” Odelle bit her lip, tears welling up in her eyes. “He used me as a lure again, and I went along with it because…” Her voice broke, “I knew what he was doing, I knew it would mean more slaves on the trip back. More lives ruined because of me but I went along with it anyway. I’m the reason most of those people are here now. I was the reason you were caught and Arissa and Meyer... everyone I love is here because of me. So I…” Sobs shook her body “... I thought that you all would be better off if I wasn’t here anymore.”
“Never.” His tone was firm, but there was a watery quality to it that she hadn’t expected.
She reached a hand out from under herself and she felt webbed fingers intertwined with hers. It was amazing how immediately the gesture calmed her nerves. The tears slowed to sniffles and she turned her head again to look at him.
Tej was silent for a few moments, then asked softly, “What happened?”
“I jumped off the West Cliff, but someone saved me.”
A flash of green caught her eye as she turned back and took the final step off the cliff. Her breath caught in her throat as a hand reached out towards her and she had just enough time to wonder what someone else was doing up here as gravity pulled her down into the sea. Right before she hit the water she might have called to the person but she couldn’t be sure.
She remembered strong arms lifting her to the surface again before another wave had pulled them both under. “I don’t remember most of it, but when I woke up I was at the Three-Legged Fox.”
One-handed, so that he could keep hold of hers with the other, Tej place another damp cloth over her wounds. “Meyer’s place? What were you doing there?” He winced with her as she gasped from his ministrations to her back.
“Uhm…” She faltered, taking another deep breath before she finally responded in full. “It’s where the Straw Hat crew is staying. Their swordsman was the one that saved me. At first I was mad, but now I’m grateful. If he hadn’t, last night would have been much worse for you and the others. I should have known Zul would flip when he couldn’t find me. I’m sorry, it was thoughtless of me.”
“This is going to hurt a little.”
“AHH! Damn it…” Odelle moaned out between grit teeth as Tej cleaned her cuts more thoroughly now. “You’re doing this on purpose.” She accused, raising and eyebrow at him.
“Yep. Stop blaming yourself for literally saving me.” He reprimanded with a smile. “I mean, do give yourself credit for saving me and stop blaming yourself for Zul being the monster he’s always been. He doesn’t need you for that, he’s a cruel all on his own.” The fishman frowned again, “I’ll have to thank that swordsman though, for rescuing you from your own stupidity.”
Odelle pursed her lips. “I am not stupid.”
“You talked yourself into jumping off a cliff when you can’t swim because you thought we, the people you literally save on a daily basis, would be better off without you. That’s stupid.” Tej smiled a bit at her grumbled, unintelligible reply. “So what happened after you woke up at Meyers?”
At first, she didn’t want to say any more about the night before, but eventually, he coaxed the story out of her.
// The previous night \\
When Odelle regained consciousness, the first thing she noticed was how sore she was. Her body felt like it had been trampled by horses and her throat was desert dry and raw to the bone. She tried to sit up but only made it halfway before she started coughing and instantly regretted all of her life decisions up until this point. It seemed as if the skin of her throat had caught fire and the pain was so great her mind went blank for a good few moments.
“You’re up!” A child said from somewhere nearby, “Don’t move, you need to rest.”
She opened her eyes with some effort, but closed them almost immediately against the bright lights above. “Ah… is this… the afterlife?” That’s wrong, there’s too much pain for that.
“Sorry, you did your best, but you didn’t quite make it there.” Another voice spoke from further away, this one deeper.
“Zoro!” The child scolded.
“What? You asked me to be in here.”
“So I could give you a check up, not so you could be rude to my patient.”
Odelle opened her eyes again, this time in stages so they could adjust to the light better. She turned her head towards the voices and at first there were just two blurs, one green and one brown. After a few moments her eyes began to focus and she could see a green haired man sitting in a chair about ten feet away with a small furry animal bandaging his arm.
“A… reindeer?” She murmured, confused. Even her voice sounded foreign with as raspy as it was.
The antlered oddity turned towards her and came hopping over to the side of the bed, checking her over with more care than she’d felt in a long time. “You’ve been unconscious for a few hours, how do you feel?”
“I feel… I’m fine.” The more she glanced around the more she recognized the style of the room they were in. Clean, simple, all pale wood and white paint. “Am I at the Inn?”
“That’s right,” Little hooves rested along the inside of her wrist as if checking her pulse. She couldn’t help but smile a little as his head nodded in satisfaction. “Zoro brought you here after he fished you out of the sea.”
Zoro… that guy? She looked over at the man sitting across the room. “You saved… me?”
He shrugged. “Chopper did most of the work. I just got you to dry land.”
“Why would you…”
“Do you think you’re not worth saving?” It was a rhetorical question, she could tell he wasn’t really expecting an answer. It cut her to the soul but she realized that it was true. She didn’t think she was worth it. Yet this stranger risked his own life…
“I wish you hadn’t.”
Zoro didn’t look phased. “Go jump off the cliff again then. If that’s what you really want.”
It wasn’t, and he knew it. The second he saw the expression on her face, a smirk hit his lips. She looked away, not used to having such a casual understanding with anyone she’d just met.
“Zoro!” Chopper, as she figured the reindeer must be named, opened the door and kicked Zoro out into the hallway, “You’re obviously feeling well enough to insult people so go join the others!” He closed the door, then paused and opened it again, calling at the swordsman’s retreating back, “Don’t you dare take those bandages off! And the stairs are in the other direction!”
There was the sound of an annoyed curse and then Zoro passed by the doorway again in a hurry.
Once the door had shut, the reindeer’s bedside manner was back and he approached her again. “Sorry about that.”
She shook her head, “It’s okay.”
Big soft eyes watched her carefully. “You don’t really mean it do you? About wanting to die?”
He’s sooooo cute… Odelle thought to herself. “No, I don’t.”
Chopper’s eyes lit up and his blue nose twitched happily. “I’m so glad! I was worried!” He smiled up at her with such enthusiasm that she could feel herself smiling too. Then he paused, “...But… if you don’t want to die, then why did you jump off the cliff?”
Odelle looked down. “I just…” She thought through her response with some care before she answered “... I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Come with us then.”
Her laugh sounded like music to Chopper, despite the fact that her voice was still rough from her ordeal. “That’s generous, but I can’t do that either.”
It was such a simple question, but suddenly tears welled up in her eyes. “I.. I’ve been so selfish. I can’t leave everyone behind. I wanted to disappear so that Master Zul would never be able to use me to hurt anyone else, but I didn’t even stop to think how much I would hurt them by leaving!” She cried into her hands, “I can’t leave them, not with him, not like this!” She felt emotionally raw, damaged, and she couldn’t stop herself from talking. It was too much, and this little deer was too kind and warm. It was such an easy thing to let it all out.
“Master… Zul…?” Chopper asked. He obviously didn’t know about the islands.
Odelle didn’t get a chance to respond before the door to the room was flung open.
A tall blonde in a dark suit entered first, and when his eyes fell on her his entire face lit up like he’d just been given the best present in the entire world. “An angel is in our midst, what did we do to deserve this blessing?” He cried, raising a hand dramatically and motioning to her with a wave. His other hand was occupied with a mug of something, otherwise she was certain he would have done the same with it as well. “What’s this? Tears? Tell me who made you cry and I will kick them into the ground… it was that damn moss head wasn’t it?” His tone changed so fast it almost gave her whiplash.
Moss… head..? Her eyebrows furrowed until she remembered Zoro’s green hair. Ah… wait, he looked familiar now that I think about it...
“Don’t just come bursting in here unless you have a good reason!” Chopper barked.
“Odelle!” Another figure slipped into the room and the Innkeeper was at her side even quicker than the blonde. “I’m so glad you’re alright!”
“Odelle?” The man with the curled eyebrows looked even happier.
She beamed up at Meyer through watery eyes. “I’m so sorry if I worried you.”
“No more than usual.” The bigger man chuckled through his beard, brushing her hair back from her face tenderly. “What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t, I--”
“If you dare try to apologize…”
“Such a beautiful name for a beautiful young lady!” The blonde was still swooning as he approached the bed, then gently placed the mug down on an end table. “My name is Sanji, but you can call me your faithful servant! I made you a cup of lemon tea with honey! It will help your throat, and then I’ll make you some real food.”
The redhead sighed and sat up with some effort and a lot of help from Chopper and the two men. “Thank you, but I have to go.”
Sanji’s mouth fell open along with Chopper’s but Meyer didn’t look surprised in the least.
“You have to be kidding.” Sanji finally spoke, this time all business. “You’re in no position to leave. Not only did you almost drown, but you’re severely malnourished. I can’t allow that sort of thing when I’m around to prevent it.”
“I’m not.” She replied.
“She’s not.” Meyer sounded disappointed, but resigned.
“As your doctor, I won’t let you!” Chopper shook his head adamantly.
Odelle slid out of the bed, finding her footing after a few moments with only minimal help from the others. “I have to return to Warville Colossal. I’ve been selfish enough as it is.”
Meyer sighed. “You’re allowed to think of yourself sometimes Odie.”
“We’re slaves, Meyer. We don’t get to make that call.”
Sanji froze. “You’re… slaves?”
“Both of you?” Chopper added, looking horrified.
“I… yes, well…” Odelle rubbed the back of her neck with her hand “... damn… we’re not supposed to tell visitors that. If I wasn’t so out of it…” Suddenly she perked up and clapped her hands together. “Visitors! That reminds me, Meyer, I need to find the crew of that caravel that’s docked nearby. The Straw Hat pirates.”
“Ah, right, you see--”
“I know you’re not supposed to help me, and they’re pirates so they probably won’t care, but I need to speak to their captain.”
“I overheard Master Zul talking about the Straw Hats. He’s actually nervous about trying to capture them, can you believe it? I think we might have a chance Meyer, like an actual honesty-to-god chance!” The waterfall of words couldn’t be stopped now that she’d started. Perhaps it was fate that had brought someone to save her from the sea. Either way, she now knew what she had to do. She had to beg the one person she’d seen Zul be intimidated by to save them. She’d make him agree no matter what. “I just have to talk to him. I’ll make him see our side, I’ll give him anything he wants. He has to help. He’s the only one that can.”
Next to her, Sanji chuckled. Even Chopper was grinning ear to ear.
She looked at them curiously, “If you don’t think I’m serious--”
Sanji took her hand, “My dear, I’ve never seen someone so determined. It just so happens that you’ve come to the right place. Let me introduce myself.” He put his other hand to his chest with a flourish. “My name is Blackleg Sanji, and I’m the chef for the Straw Hat Pirates.”
“Tony Tony Chopper.” The reindeer nodded, “I’m their doctor.”
“Nami,” Came a voice from the door. Odelle looked up to see more people blocking the frame. The speaker this time was a girl with orange hair. “I’m Monkey D. Luffy’s navigator.”
“I’m Captain Usopp!” A hand shot up from a long-nosed man with goggles, “Adventurer of the sea and the sniper of the infamous Straw Hat crew!”
A stretchy fist came out from the shadows and knocked him upside the head, “I’M the captain!” A straw hat came around the door frame, a huge grin and bright eyes showing from underneath it. “I’m Monkey. D. Luffy and I’m going to be King of the Pirates!” He stepped forward, “But first, I’m going to save this island and you’re going to join my crew!”
Chapter 4: Arc: Broad Bluff: IV
“Dinner is ready, and the Straw Hat Pirates should be here soon. I saw them borrowing a boat to come across.” Tej poked his head into the dressing room where all the dancing girls were getting ready. “I’ve got to go down to the docks and welcome them. Are you ready?”
Odelle looked up from her mirror as she twisted red hair around her fingers, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“You look good.”
“Thanks.” She smiled at him as best she could given the circumstances. “Good enough to kill?”
Tej frowned a little. “You’re still going through with this? You’re putting everyone at risk.”
One of the other dancers, a beautiful dark haired girl name Keltie turned and stared the fishman down. “We’re putting ourselves at risk, thank you very much.”
Blossom and Fern, the twins, nodded into their mirrors. “This is our best shot.”
“Don’t you want to be free? No matter what it takes?” Odelle asked him, here eyes too sincere for him to not look at her and feel ashamed for what he said. “We’re all taking the risk together. We’re banking everything on a few good people, even if we die, it’s worth it.”
He sighed and hung his head a little, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Odelle stood and went over to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and nestling her face against the scars where his gills used to be. “You don’t have to be sorry.” She whispered, only for him. “I’m scared too. We all are… but we can’t live like this anymore.”
“How do we even know that they’ll be able to make a difference?” Tej asked, wrapping his arms carefully around her waist. The dancing outfit she was wearing looked more like a unique bathing suit than anything else and it did nothing to hide the latest layer of cuts and welts on her back.
“The Straw Hat navigator, Nami, told me that Luffy was the one who beat up Crocodile.”
Tej jumped back from her in surprise, searching her face and becoming even more shocked when he saw the honesty there. “You’re serious?!”
She nodded excitedly. “Don’t you see? If someone like that is willing to help us, we have to let him try. He’s the only one who could take out Zul.”
Tej just nodded his head, still dumbfounded.
“Go, you have to show them up, don’t be late or Master Zul will be angry.” Keltie pushed the fishman towards the door.
“We have a chance.” Tej poked his head around the door again.
“Fins crossed.” Odelle grinned at him and, for the first time, he grinned back.
Warville Colossal was not at all what the crew of the Going Merry expected it to be. From the outside it was an imposing fortress that undoubtedly struck fear into the heart of anyone who saw it. On the inside it looked more like a fancy museum with marble floors, white granite walls, gold accents along all of the trim, and cases upon cases of trophies & priceless art. Usopp, Nami, Chopper, and Luffy couldn’t get enough of peering at everything they came across. Unique sculptures, vintage armor, and jewel-encrusted weapons were displayed on every wall.
“This stuff must be worth a fortune!” Nami gaped.
Their guide nodded, “Master Zul takes great pride in his collection, I believe it’s value was last quoted at three hundred and fifty billion beri.”
“BILLION???” Chopper, Usopp, and Luffy all shouted in unison.
Meanwhile, the navigator’s eyes glossed over, “So… much…”
“Calm down, treasure isn’t what we’re here for.” Sanji said as he took another long drag on his cigarette.
Zoro had admired some swords that he’d seen in the hall, but besides that he was too focused on the plan to gush over the show of wealth. His fingers tapped the hilts of his swords absentmindedly.
“I hope we aren’t too late,” Robin remarked, “It would be a shame to hold up a good meal.”
The fishman motioned them through a door, “Guests are never late.”
They were ushered into a massive arboretum at what must have been the top floor of the fortress, and the whole crew stared in amazement at the exotic plants and trees, fed by fountains and tiny rivers imbedded in the floor.
“Meeaaat…” Luffy groaned, Usopp and Chopper following his glazed eyes to the center of the room.
Sanji also looked impressed, “They must have an amazing cook.”
A large “C” shaped dining table was laid out with plenty of food and drink for all of the people on all of the surrounding islands combined. Roasted meats, fried bread, slivered vegetables, and platters of fresh fruit were arranged in mountains all along the inner edge while other guests were already situated around the outside eating their fill and talking uproariously. At the tip of the curve sat a man who smiled widely at their entrance and raised his hands in greeting, “Ah, you’ve arrived!”
The other guests, about 15 in number, stopped talking and eating and all turned to see who the newcomers were. Despite the elegance of their surroundings, those at the table seemed decidedly too rough for a party like this. A true group of pirates, con men, and slave traders if ever Zoro saw one.
“Well at least we’re not under dressed.” Usopp muttered under his breath.
“Introducing, the Straw Hat Pirates,” The young man who had led them here bowed to the group at the table. He then turned to the crew of the Merry and motioned to the imposing figure at the head of the table. “My Master.”
The man in question stood slowly from where he’d been lounging on a couch. He was impressively tall, the dinner table that seemed huge compared to the others sitting at it only came up to his knees. Long dark hair fell around his face and though he looked clean cut and there was no tension in his body, when he smiled again they could see his teeth were filed into perfectly slotted points. As he pointed out where they could sit, Zoro noticed his fingernails were sharp and pointed as well.
“Soran Zul, at your service.” The Slave King’s dark eyes lit up as he motioned for them to join the group at the table. “I’m so glad you accepted my invitation.” As they all sat down, he spoke to their guide, “Tej, go bring the musicians and dancers, I want my guests to be entertained.”
The fishman nodded and left so quickly and silently that it was almost as if he’d just simply vanished into thin air.
“Thank you, for inviting us to this feast.” Sanji offered first in the way of conversation, making good on their plan to stay on their host’s good side until the last possible moment.
Luffy had already dug into the food with reckless abandon like always, and Zul smiled again. Nami suppressed a shiver at his smile. It stretched up his face in a way that reminded her of a spider watching its prey. His movements were jerky and distorted, almost like his brain and his body were on two separate tracks. No wonder Odelle was so scared when she talked about him. He’s a monster if ever I’ve seen one.
“It is my pleasure…” Soran spoke again. Even his voice sounded like something you wouldn’t want to hear in a dark alley “...to have the infamous Straw Hat pirates as my guests. It’s not every day I get to entertain such a prestigious crew.” His face turned towards Robin, “What did you think of my collection?”
“You have a good eye for valuable keepsakes.” Robin responded, her voice even. “I doubt anyone else has a collection as grand as this one.”
He smiled again, making the navigator’s skin crawl. “I’m delighted you think so, but you haven’t even seen all of it yet.” Soran motioned to the door as a group of slaves carrying golden instruments entered the room, followed by seven beautiful girls in intricately detailed costumes. “My slaves are worth more than anything I have in my museum.”
Zoro’s eyes immediately fell on a girl in the middle of the group. Odelle. She looked better than when he’d seen her last night, though that was probably in large to the fact that she was dressed up and her skin painted with gold. The parts of her hair that weren’t braided back framed her face in loose waves, highlighting the freckles that dusted her nose, cheeks, and shoulders. Okay, a LOT better than last night.
His captain caught on to his sudden focus and followed his gaze. The rest of the crew followed suit, though they tried to be discreet about it. Luffy on the other hand stopped eating and watched her, remembering why they agreed to this banquet in the first place.
Sanji was sparkling at her and the other dancers the way he always did, but it was obvious that Odelle was the one he was gushing over the most.
There was a flash of recognition in her eyes as well before she saw her master watching her like a hawk and lowered her gaze.
“Lovely, isn’t she?” Zul offered, motioning for Odelle to step out of line and come forward. She did so without hesitation, though a well trained eye could catch the tensing of muscles around her collarbone. “I’ve had her the longest out of all my slaves.”
As she moved closer between the two tables to the middle of the “C” shape where Zul was sitting, it seemed like all eyes were on her. The other guests watched her with almost animalistic appreciation, but the Straw Hat’s watched her with nervousness. Even more so after she had passed them and they were able to see her back. Zoro’s eyes widened and he heard Nami gasp softly. They had all seen her scars yesterday, but those had been older. Her pale skin was now red and angry, covered in cuts and welts that were new since they’d seen her last night. There was gold paint covering some of them, but Chopper knew that meant they might get infected, as new as they were.
Zoro could feel Luffy tensing next to him, and grabbed his wrist under the table. Not yet.
For once, Luffy listened and just kept eating to distract himself.
Soran saw them watching her and he grinned, “I may have had her the longest, but she’s not completely broken in yet. Just the tiniest defiant streak still but it makes things interesting.”
Some of the other men at the table chuckled cruelly at his words, but Nami shuddered inwardly at the idea of what this man might consider ‘interesting’. She instead chose to smile at Odelle.
Odelle was now standing directly in front of the slaver, eyes downcast and palms outstretched like she was waiting for something.
Nami tried to sell the idea that this was the first time any of them had seen her. “What’s your name?”
“Her name is Pet.” Odelle swallowed hard as Zul replied for her. He reached out and faced his hands down to rest on top of hers. “I got her from pirates actually. They sold her to me for a fortune that I was stupid enough to pay.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Luffy around a mouthful of food.
The large man drew her hands towards his mouth and kissed them. Despite what seemed like a tender gesture, Zoro could tell that Odelle instinctively pulled away. Zul’s eyes shot to her face, his expression a warning and she stopped in her tracks as he answered Luffy’s question. “They were going to sell me a devil fruit, but she accidentally ate it. So they sold me her instead. I was more than happy to buy her at the time since I figured I would at least have a slave with whatever power it held. However, she doesn’t have any powers, so she’s not worth what I gave them for her. Pretty enough, but just a trophy.”
Odelle winced slightly and Zoro could almost see her muscles straining from the effort of not pulling her hands away from her masters. When he paid closer attending he could see blood running along the underside of her arm. He froze, watching Zul dig sharp fingernails into her palms as he spoke so calmly with them.
“Master please…” Her voice struck a chord with the swordsman. It was soft and clear and though she was obviously in pain, it didn’t color her tone as much as it could have.
He released her hands and motioned her away, licking his fingers as she went. Nami felt like gagging.
Blue eyes caught Zoro’s, and to his utter disbelief there was a smile in them when she looked at him, though it was gone again once she looked away and went to join the other slave girls dancing for the guests entertainment.
Luffy raised his hand hesitantly, “Um, Mr. Slave Guy?”
Nami knocked him upside the head as Zul looked over at him. “Yes, captain?”
“What do you mean she doesn’t have any powers? If she ate a devil fruit she’d have to have some kind of ability.”
A heavy sigh came from the chest of their host. He almost sounded sad. “It’s true that she can’t swim, but that’s the only indication that she even ate a devil fruit. After she did they locked her up with chains made of sea prism stone because she was such a reckless and defiant child that they were a bit scared of whatever power she would have had. I removed her chains after I bought her and…” He paused “...encouraged her to show me what she could do, but to no avail.”
The whole crew seemed confused so their host spoke again, trying to explain.
“I’ve tried figuring out which devil fruit it was that she ate, but I think it’s probably a dud. Or the human human fruit-” Luffy opened his mouth to remark that Chopper was a reindeer that ate the human human fruit, but was instantly subdued with a quick kick to his shins from Sanji under the table “-which would be useless.” Soran said nonchalantly, lounging back in his chair and watching his slave girls dance. “She doesn’t know either, though I didn’t believe her at first.”
“At first?” Sanji asked. He could feel his blood pressure rising, his heart beating faster. He knew the answer already, but he needed to hear it out loud.
The slaver shrugged and swirled his wine in his glass, “There’s only so many beatings someone can take before they cave in and tell you anything you want to know. There’s only so much mental and physical stress you can apply before someone breaks. It was the first thing I attempted when I bought her. I was so eager to know which power she possessed. I tried my best, but the only thing she ever had to say was that she didn’t know, and no child that young has the strength to resist that much.”
A cracking sound followed his last words and Zul’s chuckling died down so that he could take a good look at his now frozen guests. They had all stopped eating a few moments ago and they weren’t sharing in his mirth. Most people did, even if just out of fear. Odelle and the other girls had stopped dancing and were looking from Zul to Zoro in confusion. The only eyes that mattered to the swordsman however were watching him in concern.
Sorry, I know this wasn’t part of the plan. Zoro looked down at the table where he’d accidentally snapped some of the intricate carving work off the side when he’d clenched his fists. He could feel Luffy shaking slightly next to him. Ah, like always, the plan is screwed.
“How young?” The Straw Hat captain asked, his voice low.
“Pardon?” Zul responded as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“You said she was young. When you bought her. How young?” Luffy clarified as he pulled his hat to cover his eyes a little.
Zul shrugged as he took a long sip of his wine before answering. “She was eight I believe. Rather scrawny though. I remember thinking she was younger.” He eyed her where she stood, her expression tactfully soft and submissive though her body was tense. “At least she’s filled out well, wouldn’t you agree?”
The tiniest tremor in her muscles caught Zoro’s attention and his eyes widened even further. It was taking all of his self control to not just vault over the table and dice up his host right then and there. He knew that Luffy wouldn’t have the same qualms. He could have stopped him, headed off his rage before he did something stupid. As he felt Luffy's arm stretch past him like a bullet though, he felt nothing but satisfaction.
Chapter 5: Arc: Broad Bluff: V
“There are a few things you should know about the people who live in Warville Colossal.” Odelle accepted a plate of scrambled eggs and toast from Sanji with a smile that made him melt, and then turned serious again. “If you want to have any chance at beating them at least.”
“Warville Colossal?” Luffy asked, eyeing the plate of food but resisting the urge to sneak some.
“Soran Zul’s stronghold. On the middle island.” She nodded, “If you go in blind, it won’t be good for any of you.”
Zoro was leaning against the fireplace in the main room of the inn with his arms crossed, “So what do we need to know?”
It seemed like the whole world had come to a stop as Luffy’s fist connected with Soran Zul’s face. He sent the Slave King flying across the room to the dismayed gasps of the slaves and the murderous growls of the other dinner guests. Zul hit the wall with such a crash that it actually caused a crack to rush up the stone & plaster from where he’d connected with it.
Rose Lady and Vis, who had been sitting on either side of their captain, jumped to their feet in unison. Their expressions were murderous and the room was silent for a few moments as both crews squared off before the quiet was broken by deep, booming laughter.
It was Zul, chuckling as he got to his feet and brushed himself off.
“You’re more powerful than I gave you credit for. I had been wondering where a kid like you managed to get such a high bounty. Now…” His tone took a harsh turn as he approached the table once more and loomed over his guests “... would you like to explain why you did that, especially after I’ve been such a benevolent host.”
Luffy looked up from underneath the brim of his straw hat, his face dark. “You talk about people like they’re expendable and like they only matter if they look nice and if they give you what you want. I may not know much but I do know one thing.” His hands became fists at his side as he shouted, “PEOPLE ARE WORTH MORE THAN THAT YOU BASTARD!”
“Wait dammit!” Sanji jumped forward as Luffy prepared to attack once again, but he was too slow and the rubber man shot forward towards a smiling Soran Zul.
The Straw Hat crew was staring at Odelle in shock.
“What do you mean, the log pose won’t reset?” Nami stuttered anxiously.
“Once you get to Broad Bluff, the log pose will only ever point to Warville Colossal. So if you tried to leave, it would just keep pointing to these islands.”
Usopp’s jaw closed with a loud click. “Y-you m-mean… we’re s-stuck h-here? FOREVER?”
Odelle shook her head vehemently, red hair swishing around her face. “Soran Zul ate the Magu Magu Devil Fruit. He’s a Magnet Man and he can control the magnetic field of anything he touches. If he wants to trap someone here, he can alter the magnetic fields around the island so their log poses will never reset.” She looked over at Robin. “You know what that means.”
Robin nodded, sighing, “The only way we can leave is if the Slave King allows it or if he’s dead.”
“What’s he able to do in battle? Can he alter magnetic fields for people?” Zoro asked, his mind on the tactical side of things.
Odelle played with her last piece of toast a little as she answered, choosing her words carefully. “Not exactly. He can’t alter the magnetic force of a human, but he can alter the fields of whatever that person is touching like their clothes, jewelry, weapons… you get the idea.”
Sanji took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out a ring of smoke, “So basically, don’t let him touch you. That knocks out pretty much all of us except Usopp and Nami as far as attacks go. The rest of us are too hands-on.”
The two in question paled at the thought.
“I WANNA BE THE ONE TO BEAT HIS ASS.” Luffy shouted, almost angrily.
Luffy was repelled violently into a nearby wall as he punched Zul again. His clothes all seemed to be stuck to the now cracked stone and he struggled against them angrily, shouting Zul’s name the entire time.
Within a few quick movements Zoro had vaulted over the dining table and was making his way towards his captain when he was cut off by a woman who seemed to be the Slave King’s second in command. She smiled at him, licking her lips in a way that repulsed him thoroughly.
“Out of my way!” He drew one of his swords and sent an attack in her direction but was suddenly jerked forward as the cords of a nine tail whip wrapped around his blade and nearly pulled it out of his hand. Almost before he could even process what was happening she send a lightning fast kick to his midsection, knocking the air out of him and forcing him back. He lost grip on his sword in that moment and hit the sturdy dining table with a loud crash and a pained grunt.
“Fire Star!” Zoro heard Usopp shout from behind him. A stream of flames shot towards Rose Lady, and she grimaced as she raised her hands defensively.
“So this Rose Lady person is Slave Guy’s vice captain?” Luffy clarified.
“Yes, and she is almost as formidable as he is, despite the fact that she has no Devil Fruit powers.” Odelle nodded. “I don’t think there’s any type of weapon she’s not proficient at… but her favorite is her whip. If she has it on her, which she will, that’s what she’ll use first.”
Sanji shrugged, “A whip doesn’t seem that bad.”
Odelle’s eyes shot to his face with concern, “Do not underestimate her.” She shuddered a little, “Her whip has nine tails, and it was made with a special cold dipped iron so the tails are pretty much unbreakable. She’s an expert with it as well and I’ve seen her use it in such a way that she seemed to be using each tail separately but at the same time. It’s terrifying. She’s never lost a battle that I’ve seen. None of them have.”
“What if we managed to get the whip away from her?” Usopp asked, his legs shaking.
“Lady is also a master at hand to hand combat. She doesn’t need a weapon to be intimidating.”
“Oh great…” All the color left Usopp’s face.
A string of curses flew out of Sanji’s mouth as an arrow lodged itself into his thigh with a sickening thwack. He shut his eyes for a split second as he put pressure on his leg around the arrow with his hands. “Dammit…”
“Sanji!” Odelle came running up to him and his eyes flew open, his face radiant as she put a hand on his arm and searched the fight to see where the arrow had come from. “This is Vis… where is he-- over there!”
She pointed at the fountain in the middle of the room and Robin went running for it, following her lead with her hands crossed in front of her.
Chopper was suddenly at Sanji’s side and nodded at Odelle. “Do you have anything we can tie around this when we take the arrow out?”
Odelle removed the sash from around her waist, making her outfit even more revealing. Sanji swooned even more, blood coming from his nose now as well as his thigh. “Are you sure we should take it out?” She asked Chopper, handing it to him as she glanced around to make sure none of the other fighters were getting too close.
“Yes, I need to fight, I need to protect you…” Sanji took her hands in his and stared fervently into her eyes, even though he winced in pain as Chopper took hold of the arrow between his hooves “... I can’t do that with an arrow in me.”
“It didn’t go through so there’s only one way blood can escape, and the hole is small enough that if we tie this tight it should be fine.” The reindeer shook his head, “I know better than to try to stop him from an injury like this.”
Sanji cursed again as the arrow was removed, but seemed overjoyed that it was Odelle’s scarf that would act as the bandage. So overjoyed in fact that he barely seemed to notice when Chopper tied it tight around his wound. “I will wear this token like a knight going into battle!” He cried valiantly, then turned around, his tone getting dark and angry, “Now WHERE’S THE BASTARD THAT SHOT ME?”
“Vis will probably be the least of your worries, but he’s still quite strong.”
Nami paused, “Who’s Vis?”
“He’s their sharpshooter. He’s never missed a single shot he’s made, but he’s kinda useless in close quarters.” Odelle remarked. “So get in his space and you should be fine. It’s just getting that close without getting shot that’s the issue.”
“Sounds like my kind of fight.” Robin gave the group a soft smile.
Odelle put her hand up, “The only trouble will be figuring out where he’s at. He’s good at finding a nice hidden vantage point quickly, but I’m pretty familiar with his patterns so I can help.”
“I’ll put my faith in you then, shall I?” The way Robin had looked at her made Odelle feel like she’d known her her whole life.
“--Tempo!” Odelle heard Nami shout just before a spray of lightning came down from the ceiling and electrocuted five of the thugs that had also been dinner guests before the fighting started.
Lightning inside? The redhead’s eyes widened as she watched the Straw Hat Navigator swing a staff-like weapon around, building electricity.
The banquet room was a chaotic mess at the moment. The slaves that had been in the room had all retreated to the outer hall, but were peeking around the door frame every once in a while to see how things were going. Luffy was still stuck in what seemed a fruitless battle between his own pride and Zul’s immense power. Sanji and Robin were in the process of subduing Vis. Lady had her hands full trying to best Zoro while also fending off long range attacks from Usopp, and Chopper and Nami were taking care of the other dinner guests quite nicely.
Suddenly there came a series of pounding thuds, growing ever louder in volume and power that made everyone pause. Odelle swung her head towards the second entrance to the Banquet hall just as Bunker came barreling into the room, shattering the doorframe with his size.
“Eesheesheesh!” He guffawed, his eyes sweeping the room as he took in the battle. “Starting all the fun without me are you? Eesheesheesh!”
Zoro took his eyes off of Lady and Bunker for a moment, seeking out one person in particular. Finally he found what he was looking for, and right as he saw her, he noticed Odelle freezing and getting pale. He followed her gaze back to the giant that had just crashed the party.
“Bunker is going to be out checking in on all the villages, so hopefully he won’t be there right away.” Odelle stared down at her hands, clenching them a little. “Between him and Zul there’s no way we could win.”
“Why?” Zoro raised an eyebrow at the same time as Sanji put a hand over Luffy’s mouth to quiet their captain’s denial that they would ever lose a fight.
She played with her fingers a bit, then squeezed her eyes shut. “Bunker is the only one who’s ever been genuinely kind to me and the other slaves. He’s not a bad person, but he is a loyal one. He’d rather die than disobey an order from Zul or run away from a fight that Zul was also part of,” Odelle shook her head, “But that’s not the point. He’s strong, really strong. There’s no way you can land a hit on him. Bunker ate the Fosu Fosu fruit and he’s made of ‘Force’. He can absorb the impact of any weapon, long ranged or hand to hand, and that force will just keep building until he lets it go. It can be truly devastating. Unless you fight him, and only him, there’s no chance you’ll beat him. You have to take out Zul first, before he arrives.”
Damn it. We weren’t quick enough. Zoro thought as he saw Odelle mouth the word “no”. He turned to look at the giant now lumbering towards him. Then past him. Past all of them.
The swordsman turned in confusion and saw the path that Bunker was taking, straight towards Luffy and Soran Zul. Odelle was running towards them as well, and he saw instantly that her intent was to place herself between the two. The rest of the crew was preoccupied with their own fights, and while they’d all seen the giant arrive, they had to focus on the people they were in combat with still or there would be dire consequences.
Luffy was on the ground and looked like he was struggling to get up, not because of any specific injury, but because the floor itself was holding him down via a magnetic field. Soran was laughing as the Captain of the Going Merry writhed and grunted with effort.
“I need a few minutes, take over for now Usopp!” Zoro shouted, leaving his panicking companion in the dust as he dashed forward, sliding and grabbing the sword Lady had flung away and putting it between his teeth before pulling his other two out of their sheaths.
“What the-- ZOORRROOOOO!” Usopp yelled back before screaming like a little girl as he had to dodge one of Lady’s attacks. “That was too close!”
Zoro sped towards the impending clash between the two Warville Colossal powerhouses and Luffy, ignoring anything that Usopp was shouting at him. He vaulted over one of the small rivers that was imbedded into the floor and propelled himself off of it to get an even faster start. “108 pound… CANNON!” He shouted, his voice muffled by the hilt in his mouth as he sent a burst of sharp compressed air towards Zul.
Zul was caught off guard, having been completely focused on Luffy and not expecting a ranged attack of that strength from behind. The Slave King was shoved into the wall by it, but not surprised enough to keep from bracing himself against it. When the attack finished, he was still standing there, completely at ease. “That tickled.” Zul grinned, showing his teeth maniacally as he motioned to Bunker.
The giant turned and looked over his shoulder at the swordsman, before reaching down and touching Luffy’s shoulder lightly with his index finger.
“Bunker NO!” Odelle reached him and just as she put a hand on his massive arm Luffy was shot out of the room with such force that he smashed through the stone wall completely and went pivoting into the surrounding ocean.
“LUFFY!” Zoro shouted, running towards the open window that led onto the balcony that overlooked the ocean when his feet suddenly stopped moving and he fell face first into the marble floor. His teeth bit down on the hilt in his mouth too quickly and too hard, jarring his jaw and he groaned a little bit as he looked up to footsteps approaching him.
Bunker stood over him menacingly, one hand holding Odelle back as she tried to reach the swordsman or stop the giant. The other hand slowly moved towards Zoro’s head and his eyes widened as one of his huge fingers touched his forehead.
A few seconds later Zoro looked up in confusion. “What’re you waiting for you bas--” The last thing he saw as he was flung forcefully out the window after Luffy was Odelle’s tear streaked face, and the dark shadow he’d sworn to protect her from looming behind her.
Deja vu slapped him in the face as Zoro burst out of the water. I've saved two people from drowning in the last 24 hours. I feel like that two times too many. His captain’s arms were slung around his shoulders as he gasped for air and swam toward the cavernous underground docking system of Warville Colossal. It was slow going at first seeing as he had to keep a hold of Luffy with one of his arms, but finally they reached the dock and climbed up onto one of the wooden platforms. “You good?”
“Yeah… damn it…” Luffy was starting to get fired up again now that he was out of the water and his energy was returning “... I’M GONNA KICK HIS ASS!”
Zoro didn’t respond, just getting to his feet and following as Luffy raced off down the corridor and up the stairs back to the upper floors of the fortress. Everyone else better be okay.
Odelle stiffened as she felt Zul’s fingers petting her hair. She was on her hands and knees, looking over the edge of the crumbling hole in the wall where Bunker had sent Luffy and Zoro flying. Everything felt oddly quiet. The others were still fighting behind her but it all seemed muffled and far away. If they die, it’s my fault. I did this.
She turned her head and watched as Rose Lady got her whip around Usopp, trapping his arms against his body and making his slingshot useless.
I did this. I’m sorry.
“You know, my pet…” Soran started to say as he continued to pet her head.
Sanji was cornered by Vis, his hands up as the archer pointed one of his famous acid arrows at the chef. Robin was on the floor beside him, having been already knocked out by something Vis had grazed her with.
I’m so sorry.
Zul’s voice continued in her ear, soft and falsely soothing “... It’s a shame you had to see all of this. I had thought they would be better guests. Such fools… violence does not come naturally to me, but it is sometimes necessary…”
Bunker was now looming over Chopper and Nami, both of them obviously terrified after seeing how easily he’d gotten rid of their two strongest fighters.
I don’t want this… please… Why am I so weak?
“As a treat, I’ll have them rounded up and gotten rid of somewhere else, so you won’t have to see. Don’t worry, you’ll never have to see them again…”
Odelle’s mind suddenly flashed back to the previous night.
“I thought you didn’t care if I jumped off another cliff?” Odelle asked as she turned and looked at the swordsman behind her.
“I don’t.” He shrugged, “I just needed some fresh air.”
“You’re following me.”
“You just happen to be walking in the direction I wanted to go.”
“It’s about to storm again.”
“I like storms.”
She pursed her lips. “So if I jumped off another cliff you wouldn’t dive in after me again?”
“You won’t.” He replied calmly.
“How do you know?”
He didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to for her to know that he was right.
Odelle stopped walking as rain started to fall, obscuring her view of Warville Colossal even further in the dark. It began as just a few stray drops but turned within seconds into a torrential downpour. She didn’t move to escape it, instead turning her face up to it and allowing the water to drench her clothes and hair.
After a few minutes of this she turned and saw Zoro watching her with an interesting look on his face.
He shrugged and looked away.
Zoro waited a few moments before responding softly, “I think you’re stronger than you realize. You just have to decide what you want to fight for.”
“Don’t. You. Dare.”
Soran Zul stopped running his fingers through her hair and they started to clench. “What did you say?” He asked, his voice low and dangerous.
Odelle twisted fast enough that he didn’t manage to get a firm grip on her hair. She straightened up a good few meters away from him, her face determined. “Don’t you dare hurt them. Or anyone else for that matter.”
The slave king glowered, approaching her slowly. It took everything she had not to step back as he moved forward. “YOU DO NOT TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT DO.” He seethed, his fingers coming up to form a snap.
She was yanked towards the ground, her fingernails scratching along the marble as the magnetic pull of the opposite wall drug her in.
“Odelle!” Sanji called, his face furious as he saw her predicament. He winced as Vis moved closer, the tightly strung arrow now at his throat and touching his skin. The acid dripping off of it bubbled and burned his throat.
“Stop!” Nami shouted as well, her fingers tightening around her clima-tact.
Zul kept approaching Odelle even after she’d hit the wall and had been forced into a standing position by the magnetic pulse it was emitting. “So… you know these people?” He asked, everything about him oozing rage.
“They’re my friends…” Odelle managed through grit teeth as the pulse strengthened and it felt like it was trying to pull her through the stone wall behind her “... and they’re going to kill you, you bastard.”
The others barely had time to register the fact that Zul had unsheathed his sword before he was pointing it at her chest. Her heart raced as her eyes moved from the tip of the blade to his face. He’d never looked at her like that before, like he might actually kill her.
Rose Lady was thrilled at the prospect. “So much for your rescue attempt.” She purred at Usopp, “but I guess we could let you have the corpse at least, as a consolation prize for having guts.”
“Don’t be stupid… Luffy will… Luffy will come back…” Chopper stammered out from behind Nami’s legs.
“You think so?” Zul turned his eyes to the reindeer and Chopper shivered, trying to hide even further. “You think your captain will save you? Save her?” He smiled as he leaned forward and brought some of Odelle’s hair from behind her shoulder. Zul brought it to his nose and took a long whiff, groaning in a way that made Nami want to throw up. “I will miss this smell… there’s not much that can compare…”
Sanji could see Odelle shivering even from where he was across the room and his heart practically broke. “Damn it…” He looked down to where Robin was unconscious on the floor. If he wasn’t so determined to protect her he would’ve knocked Vis away by now and sprinted over to Odelle, but he couldn’t leave Robin in the vulnerable position she was in.
“Don’t make me laugh…” Zul smiled, pressing forward and his grin widening as he heard Odelle gasp in pain when his sword broke her skin and sunk slowly into her side. “Someone like you, against someone like me… futile my darling. I gave you too much credit. I thought you were smart.”
Odelle’s eyes rolled back as she hit her head on the wall behind her, her hands outstretched and trying to push her master away as he thrust the sword clean through her and into the wall. Her moan of agony was long and wet in the middle, as blood pooled in her lungs and throat. “Fuck you.” She whimpered as he altered his grip on the sword, inadvertently making it twist.
“This won’t kill you, I don’t want to kill you…” Zul leaned forward so that his mouth was near her ear. “But you will suffer, and once you’ve had enough you’ll come back to me the same way you always do… my good, obedient little pet.”
“I think you’re stronger than you realize. You just have to decide what you want to fight for.”
“You think… that this means something… to me?” Soran looked up in surprise when Odelle’s hands grabbed the blade in front of her. It had gone completely through her side, more blood gushing from the wound as she pulled herself closer to him, skewering herself on his sword. “Don’t insult me… by acting like this… is all it takes to make me submit. I won’t, not anymore.” Her tone was as strong as iron, but her words came out like whimpers as pain spiderwebbed from her side and her hands. “You think you haven’t made me go through worse than this?” She was shouting now, still pulling herself closer inch by agonizing inch. “You wanted to break me but YOU JUST MADE ME STRONGER!”
Everyone in the room turned to watch in shock. Even Lady, Bunker, and Vis were so caught off guard that they momentarily relaxed from their fighting positions.
“Odelle…” Sanji’s eyes widened.
A pocket knife, the same one she’d once pulled on Zoro, suddenly flipped open between her fingers and with one last tug forward on his sword she slashed it at her former master’s face with all of her might.
A soaking wet Zoro and Luffy came charging back into the room, followed by a mass of slaves all carrying makeshift weapons right as Zul screamed a string of curses. He let go of his sword and brought his hands up to his eyes, blood oozing between his fingers as he covered them, sinking to his knees and crying out, “YOU FUCKING BITCH! I’LL KILL YOU!”
“Oh really? How are you going to do that, when you can’t even see?” Zoro growled, smiling around the hilt in his mouth as he prepared to attack. His tone was almost proud. “Leave this to us now, got it? You’ve done your part.” I thought she had it in her, but, damn… He thought as he saw how far she’d pulled herself onto the sword to get the upper hand.
Luffy had barreled right through Rose Lady, and even Vis was being overpowered by the sheer number of slaves the two had brought with them.
The surge of adrenaline that had kept her going seemed to be seeping out of her wound along with her blood, but Odelle nodded weakly. “Yeah, okay, I’m going to sleep now…”
She faintly heard the voice of the blonde haired cook getting nearer, and then telling her to stay awake as he shouted for their doctor, Chopper. Gentle hands lifted her off the floor, keeping the sword in her side steady as a childlike voice admonished, “Sanji, we can’t remove it yet, she’ll bleed out. Follow me.”
“Sorry beautiful,” The cook sounded like even he was in pain when she felt the sword slide a little and an agonized whimper was forced from her chest. “Just a little longer, hang in there.”
ANGST to the MAX.
But it's sooo nice to see Odelle taking control.
Chapter 7: Concept Art: Broad Bluff: VI
Two different versions of a concept sketch for this past chapter. Drawn by yours truly.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You think… that this means something… to me?” Soran looked up in surprise when Odelle’s hands grabbed the blade in front of her. It had gone completely through her side, more blood gushing from the wound as she pulled herself closer to him, skewering herself on his sword. “Don’t insult me… by acting like this… is all it takes to make me submit. I won’t, not anymore.” Her tone was as strong as iron, but her words came out like whimpers as pain spiderwebbed from her side and her hands. “You think you haven’t made me go through worse than this?” She was shouting now, still pulling herself closer inch by agonizing inch. “You wanted to break me but YOU JUST MADE ME STRONGER!”
Also, I created a tumblr for this story, you can find it at www.warvillecolossal.tumblr.com
Chapter 8: Arc: Broad Bluff: VII
The finale of the Broad Bluff Arc.
When Odelle’s eyes opened, she noticed two very important things right off the bat. Number one: She wasn’t dead. Number two: She was back in one of Meyer’s rooms at the inn. There was a dull, pounding pain in her skull behind her eyes but the room was dim enough that she didn’t have to squint too much as she turned her head to look around.
It feels like a replay of that one night, she thought to herself as she noticed Zoro sitting in a chair by the door, just like he had been before. Though this time he was already bandaged up and not in the process of getting bandaged. He was also fast asleep, legs spread out and his arms crossed, his three swords leaned up next to him on the chair.
He seems fine… that’s good. I hope the others are alright.
There was a little cart with bandages and bottles on it next to the bed, and it seemed as if Chopper had turned the room into his own personal office. It smelled nice though, not clinical like the other hospitals she’d been to. More homey.
That’s when she noticed the flowers. They were everywhere. Wildflowers were in vases along every wall and every shelf, lining the room and making it bright with color and fragrance. Her heart beat faster, sitting up with some effort against the pillows so that she could get a better look. “Amazing…” She breathed reverently, even as she winced in pain trying to move.
Zoro’s eyes opened slightly and he watched her as she took in her surroundings. Her face was open and her expression soft, not at all like someone who had almost died. He paused, staring at her from across the room and only looking away once she noticed he was awake.
“A lot of the villagers came and brought these.” Zoro said as he stood up and stretched, trying to distract from the face that he’d been watching her so closely. “They wanted you to have something beautiful to wake up to… that’s what they said.”
Odelle smiled with such peaceful happiness that it almost took his breath away as he approached the bed. “I love flowers, all kinds… They’re good people.”
He just nodded in silence, not wanting to say anything that might take away that smile. That’s the sort of smile men fight battles for.
“I… I assume that you defeated Soran Zul?” She asked suddenly, her smile turning into a more serious expression. “I doubt I would be here, or that anyone would be bringing me flowers if he wasn’t gone.”
“He’s dead. So is that whip lady and the archer.” Zoro crossed his arms and sat on the edge of the bed, watching her to gauge her reaction.
The swordsman shrugged, “He turned on Zul after the psycho stabbed you. Then Zul went mad and destroyed the entire fortress. The giant is fine though. Chopper patched him up and he’s actually been helping the surrounding towns quite a bit.”
Another smile lit up her face and she clasped her hands in front of her mouth. “I’m so glad… I’m so glad he’s okay. I knew he was good.”
Zoro couldn’t help but smile a little too at her faith. Everything about this girl seemed so open and honest, he hoped she would be in the mood to take Luffy’s planned offer seriously.
“Wait… you said Mas… Zul… destroyed Warville Colossal?” She looked up at him, her eyes wide.
“You blinded him, so when he was changing magnetic fields trying to destroy us, he ended up imploding the entire building and the island it was on. We were able to save the slaves, with the giants help, but there isn’t even an island there anymore. It all sank.” Zoro pursed his lips, “Nami had a heart attack about all the treasure that was in there.”
“But all the slaves and everyone else is okay?”
“Thanks to your friend the giant, yeah.”
Odelle put a hand on his arm, “Thanks to you too.”
Zoro started a little as she touched him, more surprised that he didn’t mind her touching him than because he wasn’t expecting it. He gave her a small smile, but didn’t respond to her remark at all. In truth he felt like he’d done very little. Without her literally “falling on her sword” as it were, and without Tej getting together a group of slaves willing to fight, and without Bunker’s protective nature kicking in, he wasn’t sure how they would have overpowered Zul and won. For being slaves most of their lives, being ground into the dirt by that maniac… these people are so strong and resilient. He looked away and back at his hands as he stood up, and Odelle… she’s the strongest of them all. To smile like that after everything that’s happened.
“I’ll go tell Chopper you’re awake finally.” He nodded at her and retreated as fast as possible even though he could feel that she was still smiling at him the entire time.
Once completely alone again Odelle took the time to readjust herself once more to a more upright position. It took some careful movement and more than a few times she had to pause and take a few deep breaths against the pain, but by the time Chopper opened the door she had finally found a position she liked.
“You’re up! How are you feeling?” The little reindeer asked as he entered the makeshift infirmary.
Odelle smiled warmly at him from where she had situated herself against a pile of pillows. “I’m feeling much better, thank you.”
A blonde head poked itself around the door, “Odie my deeaarrr! You’re looking positively radiant!” Sanji exclaimed as he sauntered into the room, a steaming bowl in his hands. “I thought you might be hungry so I prepared a nutrient rich broth for you! It should help you recover even faster!” He set it down on the table next to the bed.
The way she looked at him made him feel even more on top of the world than he already was. “This is so thoughtful, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it… and it smells delicious!” She took the bowl in her hands and held it up so the steam filled her face before situating it on her lap and taking a spoonful into her mouth. “Amazing! You must be the best cook on the Grand Line!”
Sanji swooned, his eyes full of passion as he got on one knee and put a hand to his chest, “Was that a proposal?!”
“You know it wasn’t!” Chopper barked at him, jumping and knocking him up the side of the head.
Odelle started to laugh merrily, the sound making both of them pause. “Oh my! I’m so glad everyone is so lively! I was so worried about your injury.” She reached a hand out to Sanji, which he gladly took as she looked him up and down. “Your leg is doing well then?”
Sanji’s eyes softened and he bent to kiss her knuckles, “I’m flattered that you would deem me important enough to worry about, especially in your current state. My leg is healing wonderfully.”
Chopper grinned and placed his little hooves up on the bed spread next to his patient. “Everyone is on the mend, thankfully no one was hurt too seriously! Other than you at least. You’ve been unconscious for three days!”
“Th-three days!?” Odelle’s eyes widened.
“It’s good, you needed rest.” Chopper nodded, climbing up onto the bed and taking out his stethoscope. “But now that you’re awake I need to give you a full exam, to make sure nothing else is wrong.”
“Nothing other than the obvious, he means.” Sanji glanced down to the approximate place on her side where the blade would have pierced, despite the fact that she was under the covers and he couldn’t see it anyway. “We need to work on your self preservation instincts my dear.”
“Self preservation? What’s that?” Odelle teased, her eyes sparkling.
“Well you’re feeling good enough to make jokes at least.” Sanji smiled and nodded at the soup, “You should finish that while it’s still hot.”
She took another bite obediently and then suddenly she was eating it so fast it was gone within moments. “Ah… I suppose I didn’t realize I was so hungry…”
“Well you haven’t eaten since you’ve been unconscious.” Sanji took the empty bowl. “I can bring you some more later but you should definitely pace yourself, you don’t want to get sick. Plus you’ll have plenty of time to eat my amazing cooking so don’t worry about that either.” He grinned, ruffling her hair.
Odelle looked up at him curiously, “Plenty of time? What do you mean?”
“Ah,” The cook rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand, “Well, Luffy wants you to join the crew. I mean, we all do.”
She looked down at her hands. “I didn’t think he was serious about that.”
“Luffy doesn’t joke when it comes to his crew.” Chopper interjected. “You will join us won’t you?”
I want to… I just… “I don’t think I can.” Odelle admitted, still looking at her hands. I don’t think I should.
“What? Why not…” The reindeer looked up at her with such doleful eyes that she almost caved right then and there.
She wanted to answer him, she wanted to explain, but somehow it felt like it would be too hard. The Straw Hat crew had only been part of her life for a few days, but it felt like torture already to have to turn them away.
Luckily Sanji noticed her internal battle and motioned to Chopper. “It’s okay, you can take some time to think about it still. We’d love to have you though, just so you know.”
Chopper nodded dejectedly, “You should probably keep resting, I’ll come change your bandages again and check on you later.”
As the two left the room they passed Zoro in the hallway, leaning against the wall out of sight of the door. He followed them downstairs to where the rest of the crew was waiting.
“You heard?” Sanji asked as they descended into the main room of the inn.
Zoro nodded. “Yeah.”
“So?” Their captain called from where he was sitting at a table with the others, “How’s she doing?”
The entire room went quiet at the question, all faces turned towards the trio. Meyer had opened the inn up to everyone after the battle, and right now it seemed like everyone in Broad Bluff was waiting patiently to see Odelle. It’s not as if Sanji or Zoro could blame them. She had a way about her that just drew people in. Call it charisma or whatever you wanted, but she seemed to glow with such a genuine warmth that people couldn’t stay away even if they wanted to.
“She’s awake and talking, and she ate all of the soup Sanji made so that’s good.” Chopper responded authoritatively. “She’s on the mend and everything is healing like it should!”
A cheer went up from the crowd of people before Sanji shouted, “But she still needs her rest you dummies!” The cheer died into hushed affirmations so quickly that it actually shocked Zoro. “Wow, that worked well. If only we had this much control over Luffy sometimes…” Sanji remarked, mirroring Zoro’s own thoughts.
The man in question was smiling so big it seemed his face might split apart. “That’s great! Man I can’t wait until she’s all better and joins our crew!”
“Yeah… you may want to cool it with that.” Zoro said, sitting down between Luffy and Nami.
“What do you mean?”
Usopp understood almost instantly. “She doesn’t want to join our crew.”
“Stop.” Zoro grabbed the collar of Luffy’s vest just in time to keep him from bolting out of his seat. “Just give her a little time.”
“If I may…” Meyer was approaching their table with some more food, which he set down before he continued “... I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t want to join you. She probably feels like she can’t.”
The Straw Hat crew all looked up at him from where they sat. Confusion was a common expression amongst them.
Robin was the first one to get it, followed quickly by Nami.
Meyer spoke again, “Being a slave is all Odelle has ever known. She was born into this life, and this is the first time she will be free from it. I’m sure she’s happy about it, but it must also be pretty scary. She doesn’t know what to expect out of life anymore, or how she fits into it.”
The other freed slaves in the room all hung their heads in agreement.
“Odie spent all of her time protecting us from everything. We care for eachother, but we’re not family. She never even knew her family, but we’re the closest thing she’s got.”
Robin spoke softly. “I’m sure she’s confused. There’s a lot going on in her mind right now.”
“It’s not easy to switch gears on your entire life, on everything you’ve ever known.” Nami nodded. “And I’m sure that pig Soran Zul didn’t try to instill a major amount of self confidence in her either.”
“I don’t care about any of that.” Luffy’s words might have seemed unfeeling, but his tone and his expression spoke otherwise. “It doesn’t matter where she came from or whatever. I want her to join my crew.”
“No you don’t.”
All eyes turned towards the stairs where Odelle had just spoken from. She was leaning heavily against the wall in a dress that Chopper had borrowed from Nami and left in the room for her for later.
“Odie!” Luffy grinned and vaulted over the table to stand in front of her, “You’re up! That’s great!” His expression shifted and his eyebrows came together, “But, yeah, I do want you to join my crew. Why would you say I don’t?”
Odelle looked startled to have him so suddenly in front of her, but she managed to stammer out a reply. “I… you don’t know what you’re asking. I’m only going to be… be a bother. I was only good for… for one thing when I was with Zul, and that was to be a lure so he could capture more people.” She shook her head. “You don’t want me on your crew. You might not know that yet, but it’s true.”
Luffy tilted his head curiously, “Mmmmm no I still want you to join us.”
“I don’t have any special skills, I’ll just hold you back.” Odelle looked down at the ground with misty eyes as she spoke through grit teeth. “I don’t even know what my devil fruit power is and I don’t really have a dream. Not one that I can chase like you guys do. I told myself I would never be a burden on anyone and I refuse to slow you down or keep you from achieving your goals!” She finally made eye contact with Luffy, her hands clenched at her sides.
“Fine then.” The Straw Hat captain replied seriously. “I won’t ask you to join my crew.”
Zoro glanced at him in confusion. He had seemed so sure earlier, so determined like he always was to convince her to come with them.
“Luffy…” Nami voiced her bewilderment.
“JOIN MY FAMILY INSTEAD!” Luffy shouted suddenly, his fist raised as if it was a challenge. “I know you want one, that’s your dream, isn’t it?” He grinned then, his big face-splitting contagious smile, “So join us and we’ll be your family.”
It was obvious that Odelle was caught completely off guard by his exclamation as her eyes got wider and wider, tears starting to spill out of them and running down her cheeks. Her hands came up to hide her face as she started to cry but they could all see the smile that was starting to form behind them. “Really?”
The whole crew was smiling now as well; Zoro from where he leaned back in his chair, Usopp and Chopper at each other, Sanji with hearts in his eyes as he looked at her, and Nami and Robin with the excitement of having another girl around. Luffy was laughing as well as smiling, a big thumbs up pointed in Odelle’s direction, “Of course!”