Ace gave a muffled shout as the departing customer slammed the front door closed, catching his hand in the process.
“Son of a-!”
He could hear his brother laughing in the background, the little shit found this funny.
“Oi Luffy you better not be slacking back there! You know what Gramps would do to you if he saw you weren’t working.”
Luffy’s squeak was loud enough that Ace couldn’t help but laugh in sarcastic delight, it was always entertaining whenever Ace got the chance to use the Will-of-Gramps on his chibi of a brother.
“No fair Ace! You’re the one who just ran out a customer.” Luffy pouted as he went back to polishing the brass and silver telescopes that lined the shelves behind the counter.
“Well he was being unreasonable.” Ace embarrassingly scratched his shaggy black head, making an even bigger mess of his shoulder length hair. He knew that he needed a haircut before it grew too long but he just didn’t care, besides it was one more thing that pissed his grandfather off so he didn’t mind the length.
Ace ignored his brother’s eye roll because while Ace knew he had a bit of a temper he knew he was in the right this time around.
The customer had been unreasonable, from the get-go.
Ace’s family, which consisted of himself, his younger brother and their grandfather, owned a small store front in a fairly large town. Ace could barely remember a time that they hadn’t been living and working in the store. Maybe when Luffy was a baby they’d lived somewhere else but those memories were hazy at best.
Their store was small but well known to the locals so they had a fair customer base, even with the bigger and more modernized businesses that were peppered around town fighting over the right of sells.
They mostly catered to sailors…or well travelers in general, if Ace wanted to be honest. Their Gramps, Garp to everyone else, had once been a sailor in his younger years, a navy officer. Although both Ace and Luffy suspected that he’d been a pirate at one point or another. Their finance situation was…better than some store owners out there that relied on their income from selling wares.
Their modest shop sold maps of the surrounding sea that enclosed the north side of the town as well as maps of the nearby wilderness that covered the east and south sides. Then there was the west which was filled with open fields and roads that went towards the Capital, which was this country’s capital and easily ten times bigger than their small port town.
The Capital wasn’t actually the cities named, but Ace hadn’t ever heard what its true name was and everyone else liked to just call it the Capital since that was where this country’s King and military resided, not to mention it was the largest city in the country. It was less than a day’s ride away, if you were running the horse ragged the whole way and didn’t take any breaks.
Ace had never been there but he’d heard about it from a few of his neighborhood friends who had visited. Apparently it was completely modernized and changed rapidly to include any new inventions that were created or discoveries that were found. It never stayed the same for more than a year. Buildings changed as well as transportation, clothing, food, etc.
Ace looked around their tiny store and snorted at the emptiness of the shop. The store “ D’s ” hadn’t changed even once in Ace’s memory, at least nothing major, they had to replace a chair or some shelves a few times. Mostly because Ace and Luffy had broken it in one of their brotherly scuffles but that was all. There was nothing modern in their shop and Ace found that it was what gave their little shop its charm.
Modernization…that had actually been what Ace and that customer had been arguing over.
They apparently failed to carry the latest in teno-bables that the customer just had to have. All the equipment they sold worked of course and were reliable…they were just older then Ace was.
So the uppity customer who clearly had more money than brains demanded to speak to the manager about their horrendous hoard of crap.
Ace…hadn’t taken that very well, he was proud of that hoard of crap thank you very much.
Not to mention that Gramps would have eaten this guy for breakfast. If there was anyone who was more defensive of the shop then Ace or Luffy it was their Gramps.
Ace decided to save everyone the amount of bloodshed that would have to be mopped up by tell the not-customer as politely as he could through clenched teeth that Garp was out and if the not-customer had any grievances to please address them to Ace.
The not-customer had spittle flying from his face as he began to complain loudly and with slurred wording about his displeasure of “ D’s ”. Ace had been…cautioned many a time by his Grandfather to control his temper. He’d ran out more than a few not locals from the shop before for this very reason. Not to mention the amount of bar fights and brawls he liked to indulge in ever since he’d entered puberty. The property damage alone tend to run a little high.
Even higher when Luffy decided to tag along and join in on the fun.
So Ace decided to practice not beating the stupid people today, he would remain calm and collected throughout this idiot’s trash talk. He blocked it out as he stood still in front of not-customer, barely listening in. As long as he ignored the insults he wouldn’t lose his temper.
When not-customer had gotten to the point about trash talking Luffy, who had been dozing on the counter top with a snot bubble floating around his face Ace decided he’d had enough.
Ace had then preceded to trash the guy. Physically of course, when Ace got mad he tend to leave the witty remarks behind. That was only reserved for true enemies anyway. Bantering with this fool would be a waste of his time and breath.
The noise had awoken Luffy of course, who took a few moments to blink and stretch the kinks out of his neck and arms.
“Oi Ace! Gramps won’t be happy with you if he sees you fighting in the shop again!”
That had stopped Ace cold, with his fist raised above him he looked down at the bloody face of not-customer.
“Whoops.” Ace let him go and pulled him up to his feet. “Well it’s not all bad, I’m pretty sure that nose can be set to right if you see a doctor in the next few hours. Terribly sorry we don’t carry your do-hicky but I’m sure you can find it in the Capitol. Have a good day then.” Ace had then precede to push the man towards the door, when at the last second the guy seemed to finally wake from his fear induced trance and slam the door behind him. It was just Ace’s luck that his hand had been on the door frame and was caught in the slam.
After Luffy’s giggling fit, in which Ace then preceded to noggle him until sparks began to fly from the friction, things calmed down.
“Ace, when is Gramps coming home?” Luffy asked. He was leaning against the counter while tilting the stool he was sitting on backwards. Ace had watched him do that many a time and many a time Luffy had fallen with his face planted on the ground.
Endlessly amusing and endlessly stupid.
That was kind of his brother for him, Luffy was sweet and had a heart of a golden lion but in the brains department…well let’s put it this way.
A few years ago when a young girl, who had been new to the neighborhood and could then be excused for not knowing about the D brothers beforehand, had found it in her tiny head to try to get Luffy to court her things had…gone slightly out of hand.
The girl, who no one can remember the name of, had come to the shop every day for a week to talk, or hopelessly flirt, with Luffy.
It had been fairly innocent at the beginning, the girl hadn’t really noticed that Luffy didn’t flirt back and barely gave her any attention when he learned that she wasn’t going to buy anything in the shop. She wasn’t very interesting either, being kind of flighty and liked to whine about other people. Although even Ace could admit that she would grow into quite the looker when she grew up.
Then- it had happened. Some would say that it was inevitable. Ace just groaned and buried his head in his hands to hide from the shame whenever the subject was brought up.
It was a hot afternoon on a sunny day and both of the D brothers had been on their lunch break, which had consisted of several good pieces of meat and bread. Ace of course was the only one to really enjoy the rich, fluffy baked goodie as Luffy devoured the stack of meat in true D style.
Messily and wholly.
Flirty girl had walked in at that time, ignoring the ‘at lunch will be back when done’ sign on the door. Ace had no idea what had been going through the girl’s mind when she saw them, but whatever it had been it probably hadn’t been nice because as soon as she invaded the sacred space, i.e. behind the counter, she had then preceded to yank the piece of meat from Luffy’s hand all the while screaming about “manners” and “decor” and “no husband of hers was going to disgrace her” and blah blah blah.
Luffy hadn’t taken having his meat stolen very well, and by that Ace meant that his little brother had gone bat shit crazy.
Only a selected few were allowed to fight over meat with Luffy and even then both parties got a little bloody by the end. Ace and their Gramps were two such people, and then there was Luffy’s best friend Usopp. They were the only ones who had tried and sometimes succeed in taking meat out of Luffy’s reach and living to tell the tale afterwards.
This girl was not on that list, she wasn’t even a friend of the family or anything. Just some annoyance that gave the occasional lark whenever Ace saw her try and fail to win Luffy’s affection.
Now it took all of Ace’s strength to hold Luffy back from tearing a new one in the girl, who still didn’t realize the danger she was in as she waved the meat around in her hand and continued to rant about stupid and unimportant things. Ace was half tempted to let his brother go but he really didn’t want to deal with the law suit that would be sure to follow.
As luck would have it their grandfather finally showed up from who knows where and took the situation into his own hands. By knocking Luffy out and picking up the girl and throwing her out all the while bellowing about restraining orders.
Ace got to eat all the meat that day, since Luffy was out like a light and Grap decided to ghost off again.
So in conclusion…Ace’s little brother’s love for meat was as true as any fairy tale pairing.
“Gramps should be home sometime today pipsqueak.” Ace smirked, ignoring Luffy’s annoyed whine at the nickname.
Luffy huffed and looked at the clock on the wall, it was old and missing more than a few numbers on it but it worked enough for them to get a good idea of what time it was at least.
“Hey Ace! It’s 2 o’clock already, can I go see Usopp and the others?”
Ace sighed, “Luffy you’ve only been working for four hours today.” He looked around the shop and noticed how dead it was. The not-customer had been the only one to come in today and yesterday they hadn’t had anyone at all. It was kind of suspicious since even on slow days there tend to be a few regulars who would come in to gossip and check on the boys since their Gramps liked to disappear at odd times for days on end.
Shrugging and mind made up on the matter Ace turned back to Luffy.
“If I let you get off early today will you promise to go straight to Usopp? No diddle dallying, not today. I’ve got a bad feeling and I’d rather not have to save your scrawny butt when Usopp can save it for me. Also don’t tell Gramps I let you go early.”
Ignoring his brother’s cheers and half-hearted promises Ace walked around the shop to make sure everything was closed up tightly and locked up.
Making sure his shirt wasn’t inside out and his suspenders were clipped on correctly he walked out of the shop, letting Luffy squeeze by him, his straw hat planted firmly on his head and his red vest flapping open as was Luffy’s custom. Sometimes Ace wanted to put Luffy in his own suspenders and a proper shirt, then he thought of the consequences of such actions and shuddered in only half fake horror.
“Remember Luffy! Straight to Usopp!” Ace called out after his brother who was already halfway down the street.
“Yea promise!” Luffy called back and headed towards his hideout were his friends were sure to be waiting for him.
Ace smiled after Luffy, his brother was young but Ace doubted his personality or energy would change the older he got. At only fourteen years of age Luffy was the same ball of energy that he’d been at age five.
Ace exhaled deeply as he tilted his head back and stared up at the blue sky, unfortunately Ace couldn’t say the same about himself. Ace had once been as energetic as Luffy but as time passed and certain events happened…Ace found he lost the fire that had once made him who he’d been.
Nowadays Ace was mostly subdued, the only time he showed even a little bit of fire was when someone insulted Luffy or Ace got drunk enough to get into a brawl at the local pubs, and even then it was because someone said something rude about his family or shop. Shaking his head to dislodge his depressing thoughts and the unwanted memories that tried to creep up on him Ace looked around as he walked down the cobblestoned street. Noticing that no one was out and about, when usually the streets were filled with people at this time, it was a work day after all. Or maybe it was a holiday and Ace simply forgot?
It didn’t take Ace very long to notice the faint sounds of cheering and shouting coming from the higher class district several blocks away.
Deciding to investigate, since that was the whole reason he decided to take off work and face his grandfather’s wrath if he ever found out, Ace hurried along towards the noise.
A loud uproar startled him and Ace looked up, noticing a fair sized metal airplane zoom by above him, flying a little too low to be safe. Several others followed behind that one and Ace finally took note of the banners that streaked behind the tail end.
They looked to be the colors of the capital Capitol’s royal family…seriously what holiday was this?
Ace turned a corner and suddenly he was swarmed amongst bodies. A large crowd of people lined the streets dressed in their best holiday clothes. They were all staring at the wide street in front of them were a parade was passing by.
Ace turned to a gentleman next to him dressed similarly as the people around him, pale pastel colors and frilly lace. Ace tried to keep the disgust from his face as he tried to get the man’s attention.
“Excuse me but what’s going on?” Ace asked as politely as he could. He wanted answers and the aggravating the person wouldn’t help him get them.
It took the man a moment’s pause to realize he was being addressed and turned to Ace and didn’t even bother to try to hide his disgust, as Ace politely had. Point for Ace, zero for asshole snob.
“Are you stupid? This is the royal parade that the King requested for the departing soldiers and military force. Even members of the Court are attending.”
Ace ignored the man’s unpleasant tone and face as he hummed in contemplation. A parade as big as this would explain why the shop and surrounding streets were empty.
“If this is a royal parade why isn’t it being held at the Capitol? I would think that our town would be beneath their notice.”
“Now see here!” The man shouted, gaining more than a few curious and annoyed glances from nearby bystanders who wanted to enjoy the event in peace. “Our town has offered the most soldiers for this most glorious war in the name of the King! Of course they would shower their gratitude to us by-“
“By showering us with glitter and confetti, not to mention they do this on a work day so all us hard working folk have to close shop to watch a bunch of people dressed like clowns walk down the street. I get it, we send people to potentially die and they dazzle us by sparkles.”
The man looked like he was about to start foaming at the mouth as his face turned an interesting shade of purple.
Ace dismissed him and turned to another person standing nearby.
“What war is he talking about?”
This time an older lady answered, although judging by the look in her eye she was close to dismissing him entirely, this was why Ace hated to come to the higher districts, snot-nose people the lot of them.
“The war between us and the neighboring country of Goa. Where have you been living these past few months?”
“Apparently underneath a rock.” Ace mumbled, while trying to remember if he’d heard anything about this war. He could vaguely remember a few customers talking amongst themselves and to their Gramps about some missing royal from another country but he hadn’t paid too much attention to it…although now that he thought about it he’d noticed that several of the boys from the neighborhood had gone missing…had they been recruited for this war?
“Yes well, apparently some prince of Goa went missing when he got sent here as an embassy or some other such nonsense. If you want my option this war is the best thing to happen to us. Goa deserves to be taken down a peg or two.”
“Well no one asked you.” Ace sneered at her and ignored her irate huff as he turned back around to look over the parade. He could see now that a few of the marching soldiers looked familiar, no one he really knew personally but young men he’d seen on the streets or the shops around town.
“Why aren’t you over there?” It seemed the man Ace had previously talked to had decided to add his two cents in, still miffed about Ace’s comments. “You’re of age, you should be honored to serve your kingdom.”
Ace didn’t bother turning around to address him, “If I didn’t even know there was a war going on how the hell would I have become a soldier in it?”
He turned back around, deciding he’d seen enough and walked away, pushing through the crowd to go back the way he came, ignoring the shouts of the offended man.
Ace disregarded the man’s cursing and finally found himself out of the jumble of bodies to an empty side street.
As he walked down the shadowed and narrow alleyway he lifted his hand to push his bangs away from his eyes.
Why hadn’t he been recruited? He was of legal age, Twenty was definitely old enough to serve as a soldier, not that Ace wasn’t grateful that he’d managed to avoid such a scenario. He didn’t like the idea of war and even if he didn’t have the full scale of information about it this war seemed kind of false.
Why would Goa be at war with them? Sure they had a prince missing but why did they think that Ace’s country had something to do with it? Aren’t princes fully escorted from one place to another? If he got lost then that’s Goa’s fault for not giving him a better detail of soldiers and escorts.
There must be some other reason to go to war, no one was that stupid and careless with lives, or at least Ace desperately hoped not, to have someone that callous in charge of all the citizens of this country was bone chilling.
Ace was so deep in thought he failed to notice he was being followed until his wrist was suddenly grabbed from behind.
“Wha-?!” Ace shouted before he was impolitely hushed.
“Shhh, I’m sorry about this but this alleyway isn’t safe right now. I’m afraid I’ve got to escort you out.”
Whoever had spoken had done so with his mouth to Ace’s ear, leaving it to tingle and overheat at the warmth brush of breath.
Ace would have pulled back and cold cocked the bastard but fortunately for the mysterious stranger Ace caught a glimpse of why this alleyway was unsafe.
Monsters. The alleyway had somehow become filled with monsters.
Ace swore and let the stranger drag him for a second before his legs got steady below him and he was matching the stranger step for step.
“Who the fuck-?” Ace whispered furiously as their pursuers chased after them. Ace hadn’t gotten too good a look at them but from what he could see they looked like demented puppets, malformed and with wide cracked smiles and no eyes. Very creepy and would no doubt be staring in Ace’s nightmares for a while.
“No time for questions or answers, just run.”
Ace took two seconds to scowl at the man, because now that his mind wasn’t solely focused on the creatures behind him he could finally take stock at the stranger, who most definitely was a man.
A beautiful…no…a gorgeous man. Wild black hair framed a wide exotic face with eyes that were bluer then the sea. He was wearing some kind of exotic wear, big bellowing pants and a sash wrapped around his waist and His coat flowed behind him in the wind that their escape created, open and showing off a very nice pair of abs.
Ace gaped in shock and almost slowed down but one glare from the man had him sprinting faster.
“We can’t lose them like this!” Ace called out, he was getting a terrible stitch in his side not to mention that the alleyway could end at any minute and their choices were either a street filled with innocent people or a dead end. Neither of those things were something that Ace could live with, literally.
“Teh.” The man tsked then reached out and firmly grabbed around Ace’s waist securing him firmly against himself.
“Oi oi! Hands!”
“Shut it kid!” And suddenly they were lifted upwards. Ace shouted wordlessly as they flew up and over the roof tops, leaving the creepy dolls behind to bunch up into a mass of ugly.
“Oh you did not!” Ace shouted in his ear, anger filling his belly and making him feel hotter than he had in a long time. It was like a fire had been lit inside of him and all he really wanted right now was to get in a really good fight, be it either with fists or words.
The man just grunted and gripped harder, it was only then that it really hit Ace that he was being held up by a single guy as the flew through the air.
“Oh fuck!” Ace whimpered and reached around so his hands were clutching the stranger’s jacket.
“Finally realized huh?” Came the lazy reply and Ace didn’t even have the will to glare as he was too afraid to open his eyes. “Hey now it’s okay. Look open your eyes.”
“Yeaaa…no.” Ace grunted out.
“No really, everything’s okay.” The man’s voice had gotten softer, gentler and Ace couldn’t help but respond to the tone. Slowly he began to open his eyes until he could fully appreciate the sights around him.
“Oh.” Ace breathe the word out quietly.
The man chuckled, “Yes, oh.”
Ace didn’t even have it in him to be offended since he was too busy staring at the horizon around them.
They were high up the air, even farther up then the buildings. Ace looked down and gulped, the people on the ground looked small, like ant-ish small.
Still…he looked around and calmed down. Truthfully Ace felt weightless, like he’d been flying his whole life and gravity had no meaning for him. It was strange but the feeling was nice enough.
Slowly he lessened the death grip he had on the guy’s clothing.
“That’s good, now stretch out your legs like me and walk.” The man smiled and Ace noted absently that it was a nice smile, kind of empty but still nice.
Ace slowly lowered his legs which had been curled up under him, he hadn’t even noticed he’d down that. Now slightly embarrassed and annoyed he stretched them out fully and began to move them and even though he felt silly he did as the man directed and pretended to walk as if there were solid ground underneath them.
Ace smirked as he quickly got a handle on the air walking trick, he would have gloated but the man began to talk just then.
“So now I’ll escort you to where you were headed. I’ve got matters to attend too and I shouldn’t dilly any longer.”
Ace turned his head around and scowled, the feeling of giddiness faded at the man’s dismissal tone. The guy’s head was facing forward and any feeling of gentleness or kindness that he had shown seemed to have fled. Only coldness and emptiness was seen now.
“Well excuse me for interrupting your business sir, but in case it passed your noticed those…things…hadn’t been after me but you.”
The man seemed to have taken offensive if the way his nose wrinkled up and his mouth turned down harshly was in any way an indication.
“Well if you hadn’t been in that alleyway then I wouldn’t have had to go out of my way no would I?”
Okay then if that’s how he wants to do this then Ace would happy respond in kind.
Ace felt himself puff up in fury, it was different than the fire from before. This time he wasn’t annoyed or anything small like that.
He was pissed the fuck off and really wanted to kick his ass.
“Let me down now.” Ace growled out. “I can find my own way home.”
The man shook his head dismissingly. “There’s a chance that we might have been followed so leaving you without protection would be stupid.”
“Oh? More stupid then leading them to my home!?” Ace snarled and the man frowned before he hesitantly agreed. Ace smiled but it was a brittle smile with no victory too it.
Floating down to the ground the man let go a lot more softly then Ace would have thought, almost lingeringly even but Ace dismissed this thought before it could grow, he was reading into something that wasn’t really there and would only humiliate himself if he addressed it.
Ace looked around and after a second recognized where they had landed. Surprisingly they weren’t that far from the shop, two streets away in fact.
“I’ll take my leave then.” Said the man and before Ace could say anything, not that he knew what he’d say in the first place, the man vanished into thin air.
Ace gasped and reached out, in case the man hadn’t just vanished and instead turned invisible…
Ace paused as his hand touched nothing but air, this was a strange day if thoughts such as vanishing and invisibility felt normal, not to mention scary, shadowy puppet monsters.
“I think I need a nap.” Ace mumbled and began to walk away. He was glad he had gotten away unhurt and all but he still felt…cheated that the man hadn’t stayed any longer, maybe even offer up an explanation as to what had happened back there.
Unknowest to Ace someone was watching from the shadows and had been since the alleyway. Someone who very much wanted to meet the brat that had seemed to have caught the attention of Wizard Phoenix.
Ace heaved a sigh of relief as he locked the door behind him, glad that no one had followed him home. Walking soft footed through the store he could hear his brother’s loud voice on the other side of the wall where they all lived, he could also hear another voice…his grandfather’s.
Knowing that dragging his feet was only extending the enviable Ace walked to a door along the back wall and slowly opened it, hoping that they wouldn’t hear him and he could sneak into his room without being noticed.
Ace flinched and backpedaled but it was already too late. A large hand reached out and gripped tightly to his shirt and pulled him forward into the room.
What was with everyone mishandling him today?!
Ace ‘eep’ed’ as he tried to duck his grandfather’s other fist as it swung towards his head. Peeling out of his shirt by lifting his arms he ducked down and scuttled around his enraged relative.
He could hear Luffy snickering in the background, when Ace got out of this he was so going to beat that little shit upside the head.
“Sit still and take the fist of love from me Ace!” Garp bellowed and caught Ace’s ankle.
“Ack!” Ace cried out, knowing that he was already doomed and yet continued to try to wiggle out of Garp’s grasp.
A fist slammed hard against his head causing black spots to dance in front of his eyes. Shaking his head Ace used his other foot to kick out, hoping to knee cap the old man or something. Just enough that he could make a break for it.
“Ah miss!” Garp laughed before lifting Ace by his ankle and throwing him across the room.
Ace may have screamed as he slammed into Luffy who hadn’t dogged fast enough.
“Fuuuck.” Ace moaned as he rolled over ignoring Luffy’s affronted cries of lost dignity.
“Ace, you ingrate! Why was the shop closed early today?” Garp grumbled before walking past his grandsons to the table were plates of food were already laid out. He sat down with a huff and lifted a juicy piece of meat up to his mouth and devoured it…bone and all.
Ace automatically glared at Luffy. “You talked.”
“Noooo” Luffy whined, “Gramps found me at the dock with Usopp and the others.”
“Luffy you know you’re not allowed near the docks!” Ace snapped. “You can’t swim dickhead.”
Luffy waved away his concern making Ace scowl. “Its fine, Usopp would save me.”
Ace scoff at the notion. “Yea because you’ve brow beaten him so much he’s conditioned to you.”
Luffy just laughed and for a second everything was fine…
“ACE…” A low growl came from the direction of the table. “Stop ignoring my question.”
“Ah.” Ace could feel sweat begin to gather along his hair line. “Well you see…there was an event in town and everybody seemed to be at it so…it wasn’t like staying open would have made a difference if there weren’t any customers anyway.”
Ace stared at the silence, getting progressively more creeped out by the second.
Luffy, the little idiot, hadn’t seemed to realize the tension in the room because he’d sat down and was stuffing his face full of food.
Ace began to once again try to back out, but Garp’s boiling point had finally reached its peak.
“That’s the shittist excuse I’ve ever heard!” Garp roared and before Ace knew it he was once again getting acquainted with the wall via his head through the wood. Ace groaned in pain and checked to see if he was bleeding, as luck would have it he didn’t have any open wounds but a lovely lump was beginning to grow amongst his hair.
“I think I’ve been too lax on you boys.” Garp growled and cracked his knuckles. “It’s been three months since I’ve given you any proper training, you’ve gotten all soft on me.” Garp glared a stern eye to his grandsons. “Yes…it’s been too long since I’ve tested your resolve.”
“Our resolve to live is just fine!” Ace snapped, he was getting annoyed now. It had been two weeks since Garp had made an appearance in the shop and both Ace and Luffy had devoted much of their time running it. Although more Ace then Luffy but he wasn’t really bothered by that. Luffy was still young and Ace knew that Luffy was destined for more than their little shop. Not like Ace who had long ago accepted his fate of being the oldest and so would then take over the shop and run it till he was old and grey.
Garp laughed, a malicious thing that sent chills up both brothers’ backs. “If that were so then you would have known better than to come home tonight knowing that I as coming!”
“Maybe I just wanted to see you shitty old man!” Ace snapped back. He turned to Luffy hoping for support in this but… “Fuck Luffy’s abandoned ship.”
Garp turned around as well and groaned. The table had been wiped clean of any edible food and a trail of crumbs leading to the bedrooms showed just were Luffy had decided to flee too.
Garp huffed but his anger had finally seemed to simmer down, although Ace knew from previous experience that that could change at a moment’s notice.
“I expect both of you to be ready in the morning, we are all going on a small trip.”
Ace frowned, “On such short notice? But what about the shop?”
“Ha! Now it seems you care whether or not it is open for customers.”
“I told you shitty gramps that there weren’t any customers today. Not any good ones anyway.”
Garp waved his hand, dismissing what Ace said. “I don’t care what stupid excuses you have. We are leaving in the morning, I’ve already informed Luffy earlier, pack light, we’ll be on the move and the less we have to carry the better.”
“Oi, what’s going on?” Ace asked, suspicion filling his voice, he was use too going on small trips with his family, usually somewhere in the wilds so that their gramps could drill them into the ground with his ‘fists of love’ crap and throwing them into dangerous situations that would have likely killed most people.
Ace was just lucky that he and his brother were very hard to kill.
“Nothing you have to worry about.”
“…Is this about the war?”
Garp frowned heavily and glared at Ace. “How’d you hear about that?”
“Apparently that’s what the event was about, some parade about sending soldiers off to a war with a neighboring country.”
Garp snorted. “Stupid and pompous, but you can’t expect more from the Capitol.”
“What’s really going on old man?” Ace asked, he could feel himself getting worried now. With what had happened today and the feeling that something bad was going to happen soon he wasn’t in the mood to dance around the issue.
Garp’s face twisted in thought, he was clearing thinking about his options, if he should either wave Ace’s concern away- which would totally prompt Ace to try to kick the old man’s ass, or tell the truth- which might cause Ace to become paranoid but at least he’d be grateful to be treated like the young adult he was.
Ace knew what was stalling his grandfather, despite Garp’s heavy handed treatments he loved his grandsons and had raised them since they were children. He was the only parent that Ace and Luffy had known and viewed them as the smart-ass kids they had once been…and kind of still were at times.
“I’m twenty years old Gramps. I’m old enough and I’d like to think I deserve some sort of explanation.”
Garp sighed and waved to a couple of chairs. “Sit and I’ll explain a little. I won’t tell you everything, you may be twenty Ace but you are still a child under my care and most of what I know doesn’t concern you anyway.”
Ace huffed, annoyed beyond reason but decided to accept Garp’s piss poor excuses for now.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about what this war is about.”
“Yea some stupid prince got lost and now we’re getting blamed.” Ace leaned back against the chair and stretched, his muscles felt cramped, most likely from all that running earlier.
“That’s only half of it.” Garp groaned, “Apparently one of the Royal Family’s little court wizards predicted that Goa will use this war to take over territory, not to mention that Goa has several very strong Witches and Wizards in their service, some are even rumored to be our own, double dealing traitors. Apparently their the Capitol’s head wizard tried to dispel his colleagues warnings but our King is paranoid to a very high degree and decided to believe the lower stationed wizard rather than his higher ranking one. Stupid brat.”
Ace didn’t really care about politics and he could care less about some prince from another country but decided to listen anyway, less likely to get hit that way.
“There’s also a rumor that a powerful Wizard is playing double agent to the enemy, we don’t know who yet but we have a list of suspects, too many of our supplies have gotten sabotage for there not to be a traitor. The only positive information we’ve gotten is that Goa’s having similar problems with their own supplies.”
“Sounds less like a traitor and more like someone who just hates this fucking war.”
Ace got smacked hard by an enraged Garp. “Shut up brat! It’s obvious that this person is being paid on both sides to mess with things.”
“Then why is he or she just messing with supplies? I’d think assassination or something like that would be more lucrative.” Ace sassed back, nursing the small bump on his head.
“Silence! You know nothing of the evils of this world yet. You’re still such a child.” Garp taunted and made another swap at him, luckily this time Ace managed to dodge it.
“Whatever old man. Listen I don’t really care about this. It has nothing to do with me so let’s just forget it. I’ve already figured out that you were ordered to bring me and Luffy in right? Considering who we are…”
“You are my goddamn grandchildren and anyone who says differently can eat my fist of love!” Garp roared and slammed his fists down on the table, like he was imagining it being someone’s head.
Ace smirked, “That’s why we’re leaving right? Because of some order you got. You know what will happen to you once the war’s over and we come back right? You’d be lucky to only go to prison. Not to mention what would happen to Luffy and me.”
“I’m no longer an officer of the Capitol, they have no cause to give me orders, no matter what they think I’m retired now and I’m only a humble shop owner living with his two grandsons. Humbly.”
“…Right. Anyway I’m sure that the prince will be found sooner or later and this war will stop once that happens so let’s not dwell on it, especially if we’re going to fucking flee like kicked dogs. I’m guessing we’re going to sea…well that’s okay. Luffy will enjoy a nice fishing trip.”
Garp nodded in agreement, if there was one hobby other than eating that Luffy enjoyed it was fishing. He and his friend Usopp liked to get into competitions about who could catch the larger fish. Sadly neither of them had any talent for it and they usually came home empty handed, that didn’t mean that the boys didn’t have fun though which was what Ace and Garp liked to see.
“Everything will be fine, as long as we don’t call attention to ourselves everything should go smoothly. Besides they don’t know what they think they know. Only speculations and I’ll be damned if they found any proof.”
“True.” Ace nodded. “By the way since we’re talking about calling attention to ourselves…I may have.”
Garp’s face turned thunderous again. “What did you do brat?”
“I may have-well it’s kind of complicated but I-” Ace stumbled his way through his explanation. He hadn’t planned on telling anyone about what had happened today but with his grandfather so obviously worried about things it just seemed to come out. Not that it was a problem or anything. Ace would never again meet that mysterious man or those creepy things in the alleyway. That was stuff that happened to princes and wizards and magical folk. People with a purpose or something. Ace wasn’t any of those things.
“Spit it out.”
“Right sorry, umm while I was headed home after seeing that parade I may have taken one of the alleyway short cuts that connect the upper district and here. While I was walking I may have stumbled in between some kind of argument between Wizards because there were these creepy doll things but I guess I was kind of rescued because this guy pulled me away and literally flow us away. I mean that literally we walked on air. Anyway I didn’t get his name or anything but he was dressed very nicely, almost like some noble now that I think about it. He kind of had that air about him you know? All self-important and hedostic.”
Garp stayed quiet throughout Ace’s rant, his face had gone all still like and he didn’t make any move even after Ace’s voice had tampered off. It was unnerving and Ace really wished Garp would do something.
He got his wish two seconds later and really wished that he had kept his wishes to himself.
“YOU STUPID CHILD!” Garp roared and lunged at Ace who had been unprepared for his grandfather to tackle him like that.
“What the heck old man!?” Ace shouted as they scuffled, Ace managing to land a few hits but mostly got them himself.
Ace ignored his grandfather’s rants about how careless he’d been and blah blah blah.
When the hits finally stopped coming, Ace at this point just curled up in a ball and hid his head under his arms, he looked up to see Garp’s worried face staring down at him.
“Do you know what could have happened? If that wizard had been powerful…it could have been the Phoenix for all you know!”
“Who’s that?” Ace asked softly.
“Who’s tha-?! Argh you really need to catch up with the news kid. Wizard Phoenix is a very, very powerful Wizard. I’ve heard he’s even more powerful than the Court Wizard, also there are rumors that he incorporates dark magicks, mostly by stealing the still beating hearts of beautiful maidens and fellas.”
Ace snorted, “I guess I’m safe then, even if he’d been this Phoenix guy if he only goes after good looking people he wouldn’t have tried to take my heart.”
Garp just gaped at his stupid, clueless grandson. He’d known since Ace had been an actual child that his eldest grandson would grow into a handsome young man, he’d been partial right because Ace wasn’t just handsome, he was beautiful in the way that very few were nowadays. His features were delicate and soft enough to be mistaken for a soft and tantalizing, placid mannered gentleman.
Sadly Ace’s personality contracted that, mostly anyway. Ace could at times be very nice and mild mannered if the situation presented itself but more often than not he was a punk ass kid with a smart mouth, but only too people he either really hates or really likes.
“You are a moron.” Garp stated as a fact and punched Ace once more before getting up. “Go to bed, we’ll talk more later about you seducing Wizards when I’ve had some sleep.”
Ace blushed, both in embarrassment and anger. “Shitty old man! There was no s-seducing! Go screw a goat!”
Garp just laughed and left for his own bed. Ace laid there on the ground in a huff, his whole body hurt and he was too hyped up from that little talk that he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep anytime soon.
Deciding what to do he looked at the door that separated their living area to their shop. There was always something he could do out there, whether it was inventory or just dusting it would be mind numbing boring work so that maybe if he did that for an hour or two he’d feel sleepy enough to go to bed.
Cleaning up the mess they had all made took no time at all and before Ace knew it he was out in the shop looking over some of the shop books and trying to figure out if they needed to order more rope or not. He had a single candle lite and it was barely enough light to read by but that may have been because the moon seemed to have hidden in the clouds somewhere, it was completely dark outside and Ace shivered as he looked up and out the window. Complete darkness greeted him…which now that he thought about it was strange, there should have been some street lights lite at least, not to mention the bar down the street would have also had light spilling from its doors, it would have been nosy too since the bar would be at its peak hours right now but Ace couldn’t hear a single thing other than his own breathing.
Ace frowned and before he could move over to the window to look outside he heard a sharp ding, it was the bell that was connected to the front door. It usually signaled customers but considering the hour…
“What?” Ace said and looked towards the…lady? That walked in, closing the door sharply behind her. “I’m sorry miss but we’re closed right now. Its dark out and we close at sunset. I could have sworn that I locked that door earlier. Gramps is going to kill me if he finds out.”
The woman paused in front of the door, a glacial anger about her as she glared at him. After a second though she shook her head, causing the pink feathery coat she wore to move as well, it was truly an ugly coat but Ace tried not to judge. He knew people with more eccentric tastes and still had very awesome personalities.
“I was going to go easy on you, considering how much an unattractive bore you seemed but I’ve changed my mind.”
The voice was deep, much deeper than any girl’s Ace had ever heard before. Ace had the sinking feeling that the lady in front of him wasn’t really a lady, a second later though Ace processed what had been said and got pissed off.
“What the hell? Get the hell out of here! The doors behind you, try not to drop any feathers on the way out.” Ace growled and stalked forward, getting ready to throw out yet another rude customer. Seriously, two in one day. Ace was not up for this kind of crap today.
He failed to notice how the shadows seem to grow unnaturally in the corners. How the flame in the single candle he had wavered in an non-existent wind. Ace also failed to notice the deranged smile that the pink feathered person wore.
“Teh, standing up to the Puppet Master of the Waste…how utterly amusing.”
Ace stop walking as he stared wide eyed at the self-proclaimed Puppeteer. He may not know too much about Wizards, considering his earlier case of ‘who’s Phoenix?’ but even he knew who the so called Master of the Wastes was, mostly because of the huge body count the man had dropped. “The Puppet Master of the…Waste? Shit.” Ace finally took noticed of how dark the room had gotten, hearing something near the door he looked and paled, those puppet monsters were crowding the open doorway. Which had been closed all of two seconds ago, he hadn’t even heard the bell ring. Their smiles were exactly like the Puppeteer before him, deranged and wrathful, completely mad.
Before Ace could respond to the situation, not that he knew what to do- he’d rather not get his family involved, the Puppeteer sprang into action. Floating forward with a speed that rivaled a train he ghosted through Ace’s body.
“Gah!” Ace shouted as the feeling of something sickly sticking to his body, inside and out.
“Best part of this little curse, you won’t be able to talk about it. So going to ask for help will be impossible. Heheh say hello to Phoenix for me little brat.”
Ace barely heard him, he was more concerned with the foul feeling of sludge that covered him.
“Ehh.” Ace grimaced. “Wha-?” He felt…off.
Looking down at his hands it took all of Ace’s self-control to stop himself from screaming out loud.
Ace whimpered as he stared down at the wrinkled, skinny hands, they were almost claw-like with age and neglect.
Frantically he groped his face, it didn’t feel right…it didn’t feel like his face.
“What the hell is going on?!” Ace ran towards a tarnished mirror on the wall, it had belonged to some estate and his grandfather had taken a liking to it. Personally Ace and Luffy thought that the old mirror was butt ugly with its gaudy frame but to each their own.
The person standing before him…wasn’t him, couldn’t be him.
An old man stood in front of the mirror, he was wearing Ace’s clothing, which loosely hung off the old man’s frame and his hair was a light silvery color, not unlike Garp’s but while Ace’s grandfather had gray hair it was a dark steel grey. This old man staring wide-eyed in the mirror had a liquidly silver shade and was the same length as Ace’s, shoulder length. His face was aged and not gracefully either, maybe it could have been once but it was like age literally was sucking out the old man’s body and soul.
Ace moved his head side to side and watched as the old man did the same thing, he tried to smile but it was like the skin on his face was so thick and saggy it looked more like a lopsided grimace.
Ace turned away and began to pace frantically, back and forth he walked along the length of the shop. “This is insane…there’s no way…this is a dream, no nightmare. Yea a nightmare and I’m going to wake up any second because shit like this doesn’t happen. In fact I think this whole day was a terrible dream…” Ace mumbled to himself and turned once more to the mirror, and seeing the old man and not his youthful face with freckles he ran to his room, uncaring of the noise he made or if he woke anyone else.
Because this was all a dream and there is no freaking way this was happening to him.
It was only a few hours later when Ace woke up from a restless sleep. He laid there on his bed and listened to the loud snores of his brother and grandfather echo in the rooms surrounding his.
Slowly he lifted his hands and glared before sighing, they were still old and wrinkly.
“Guess it wasn’t a dream. Shit.” Ace closed his eyes and willed himself not to cry or scream out in frustration. He knew what he needed to do now, he just really didn’t want to do it.
Slowly he crept out of bed dragging his blanket with him, he could feel his joints creek and ache in pain as he moved around his room.
“Shit this sucks, why does it hurt to move? I’m probably the same age as Gramps and he moves with more agility then Luffy.” He huffed and straightened his shirt and fixed the laces that made up his collar which had come undone during his few hours of tossing and turning, picking out a boring set of brown suspenders, at least his clothing matched his age now.
“Damn, my stomach’s all concaved.” He examined his chest and winched as he saw that his beloved four pack set of abs had wasted away leaving thin skin stretched over his almost visible ribs, not to mention the liver spots dotting him like a damn Dalmatian.
Leaving the blanket to drape along his shoulders he packed a small sack with extra clothing and money, along with a loaf of bread he’d left in his room a few nights ago, it was still good if a little hard.
The very last thing he picked up was his red beaded necklace, a present from Luffy on his eighteenth birthday. He never went a day without it and he’d be damned if he left it behind.
He stopped outside his brother’s door, just listening to Luffy breath in his sleep before touching the wood.
“Bye Luffy, I promise to come home as soon as I lift this curse. Be safe.” He whispered and walked away. Determined not to look back, he had a freak in pink feathers to find and beat the crap out of.
The sun was barely rising over the horizon as Ace walked down the street, he decided to head towards the Wastes. Because if that feathered bastard said he was the Master of the Wastes then he better be in the damned Wastes to master over.
He ignored everyone around him as the town slowly woke itself up to get ready for the day. For everyone else it was a normal day, nothing special and for that Ace could almost hate them.
Their shop was close to the north side of town near the sea so he’d have to head in the opposite direction in order to get to the Wastes, luckily the Wastes were huge so even if he veered off direction a bit he’d probably still end up somewhere in the Wastes once he left the town line. At least he knew that if he saw nothing but small hills and flat ground he knew he’d gone west…which is not the direction he wants to go in.
“Shit.” Ace swore as he looked at the main road in front of him that lead to the Capitol…which is not where he wanted to go. “How did I get turned around? I was going south how did I go west? Damn- maybe the morning light turned me around. It’s too early to be up anyway, hehe or maybe I’m losing my mind in my old age.”
Ace smirked at himself before turning back around, he’d been walking for a good eighteen minutes now, and if he wanted to get out of town before Garp woke up and noticed him missing he only had another hour or so.
“Oi, old man.”
Maybe he could ask for directions or something?
Ace froze, shit- had his shitty grandfather found him already?! He frantically looked around but he couldn’t see Garp anywhere.
“Old man are you hard of hearing or something?”
Ace finally noticed the annoying kid in front of him…and that was addressing him.
Oh right, he was the old man.
Ace’s eyebrow twitched. “Who are you calling old you brat?”
“I’m staring at you old man, who do you think I’m talking too?” The kid…who looked familiar now that Ace stared at him more…curly black hair, tanned skin…long nose.
Usopp narrowed his eyes. “Do I know you?”
Ace panicked for a second before calming down, there was no way that Usopp would recognize him as he was right now. Ace was safe as long as he didn’t give himself away.
“Uh noooo…I’ve heard about you from Luffy. I-it was the nose that gave you away.” Ace stammered a bit through the lie, which really wasn’t a lie. Ace meet Usopp when Luffy had dragged the kid home one day, pronouncing the scared kid as his best friend and showing him off like a show pony.
“Oh.” Usopp seemed to have accepted Ace’s explanation. He crooked his head a little and smirked. “So the reason I tried to get your attention was because I noticed that you were looking a bit lost. Are you new to town?”
Ace coughed and edged away. He really couldn’t afford to tilly-tally for much longer and especially to someone who knew the D family. He needed to find that damn Puppet moron and beat him up before making him turn him back to normal. Ace had been tired and shocked by what had happened earlier in the day so he hadn’t been at his best when that damned witch man had cursed him. He should have kicked his ass before he could use his damn hoodoo on him but Ace was now much calmer and angrier than before. No more panicking, he had a goal and he was going to reach that goal if it killed…everyone else around him.
“Not very, I’m actually hoping to head south from here towards the mountains. So if you can direct me down the right street I can be on my way. I’m sure a…young man such as you has chores or something to do so I won’t take your time.”
“Oi gramps you’re not thinking of heading towards the Wastes right?! That’s witch territory! I heard even the Phoenix and the Puppet Master are living around there! If you head down this road and turn at the first left fork you’ll get there in no time! It’s a death sentence!”
“Really?” Ace smiled, “Great that’s really great. I need to go now before he damn well leaves the area.”
“What?” Usopp’s jaw dropped, “Your looking for them!”
“Well one of them anyway. Thanks Usopp for the help.”
Ace walked away as quickly as his aged body would allow, which wasn’t very fast sadly. He ignored the cries of horror and “Don’t do it! Its suicide!” from Usopp who seemed to have been frozen to the ground as he watched the old man hobble to the Wastes where he no doubt would be killed.
“Insane, I better tell Luffy about this, since that old man said he knew him. Maybe he’s an old friend of Luffy’s gramps who has gone off his rocker or something.” Usopp mumbled to himself before heading to the small shop that his best friend lived and worked with his family. “Something about that old man reminded me of someone…heh he almost looked like Ace. I better not tell him that though, Ace will kick my butt if I said he resembled an old man.”
Ace finally found himself on the edge of the Wastes, he took a moment to find himself a nice sized rock to take a breather.
“Ha ha ha.” He panted as sweat dripped from his face. “I haven’t ha ha even made it ha ha to the bottom of the mountain.” Ace ranked his shaking hand through his sweat damp hair. “Shit this is going to be ha ha ha harder than I thought if I get tired in the beginning of the journey.”
Ace only let himself have five minutes of rest before he forced his body in motion. He needed to get higher up in the Wastes before he could really stop. The higher he was the likelihood he’d be able to spot something in the mists that made up the Wastes. He would need to avoid Wizard Phoenix’s Castle, while that would probably be obvious to see in the rolling hills and mountains Ace wasn’t sure what the Puppet Master dwelled in, he only heard rumors of the man-witch flying through the air or being driven around in a carriage, nothing about his home or anything useful. Only that he dwelled in the mists of the Wastes and liked to terrorize travelers.
“Hopefully he hadn’t left the area, he was in town last night so he should still be around here. The Wastes are vast, I don’t know how to find him if he decided to teleport or something stupid like that. He better not be all the way on the other side of the Wastes…wherever that is.” Ace grouched before walking up the side of the mountain. Luckily there was a beaten path that he could use, although the path looked like it hadn’t been maintained in years with the amount of brush that grew everywhere and the large rocks that blocked his path continuously causing him to go around them which tired him out even more.
Ace walked for what felt like days but was probably no longer than a few hours at most before he had to take another break, not just because he was tired but because…
“Ow ow ow! My back!” Ace whined as his back popped and not in a good way. He almost fell to his knees when he felt something shift in his lower back. The pain was terrible, he thought Garp’s fist of love was painfully…that was really a love tap compared to this. “Old age sucks!”
“I need a stick or something. Well I’d prefer someone carrying me at this point but I doubt that’s going to happen.” Ace looked around himself as he leaned against a large rock on the side of the path. He’d sit down but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to get back up again if he did.
After a few moments of searching the grounds, no damn sticks, his dick was bigger than these tiny twigs! He looked at the large bush across from him, staring at it intently for a second he contemplated the large stick sticking out of the top.
“That’ll do.” He smirked and slowly made his way over and gripped the end. At first he gently pulled, hoping to spare himself any pain but it was clear that the stick was stuck.
“Damn it. Move you stinking stick!” He grunted out as he pulled harder and harder, making his back pop multiple times. “Come on move!”
Ace pushed down on the branch hoping to loosen it up, finally it moved freely. Ace cheered and pulled it upward until it was free of the bush.
Ace let go of the stick and stared. “What the heck!?” It wasn’t a stick at all but a-
Standing on its own too. Ace backed up a few paces. “O-okay then. More witchcraft I see. Well…I’m going to go now. Bye.”
Ace turned face firmly and walked away. There was no way he was getting involved with more nonsense, just no.
Ace at first couldn’t hear it because the wind had gotten stronger and it echoed through the hills but soon enough he could hear a strange squeaking from behind him. He knew who- what it was the moment he heard it but he figured as long as he didn’t turn around and acknowledge it then it would hopefully go away.
But after a while the squeaking began to get on his nerves, finally after more time passed he’d had enough.
Ace turned around and glared at the scarecrow that had been following right behind him for the past hour. “Look here, there’s no need to thank me or whatever you think you’re going to do and if you’re thinking of doing something nefarious I warn you I will chop you up into firewood and warm myself on your burning bark. I’ve had it up to here with curses and magic assholes that curse others and I really don’t want to get involved with yours, got it? Please leave and go stand in some field or something. I’m sure with your ugly veggie head that the ravens and crows won’t crap on you.”
The scarecrow stopped hopping and just seemed to stare at him, it was more than a little unnerving and Ace tried not to fidget visibly, there was no need to show weakness after all. Ace nodded sharply and turned back around to continue his journey. He hadn’t seen a sign of anything around him, scarecrow not included, and he hoped that he would spot some shelter or something before it got dark.
“Or rain.” He whispered as he stared up at the heavy looking clouds above him. They looked like they were one second away from pouring down on him and with this frail body he’d rather not catch a cold, it may just kill him.
Something suddenly fell to the ground next to him, startling him into a small jump. It was a cane, a well-made one at that with some kind of sheep head on top. It was kind of cute looking but better yet it was exactly what he needed.
Ace stared at it and reached out, gripping the head firmly with his knobby hands. He turned to the scarecrow that had dropped it and looked at it properly for the first time.
It definitely was a scarecrow, one post standing with one smaller one across to serve as arms. Serving as clothing was a white shirt, blue pants that fluttered in the wind and a long blue jacket. The scarecrow also had gloves that somehow managed to stay on and a large blue top hat with goggles which sat wobbly on his veggie head. The face on the veggie was simple and yet sad looking. Just a simple smile and two holes to serve as eyes.
“Thanks.” Ace said and tried to come up with something else. “Ummm how about this. Since you’re in a helping mood why don’t you find me some kind of shelter? The rain won’t hold off for long and I doubt you want to get drenched too.”
The scarecrow stood there for a second as if processing Ace’s request before turning around and hopping off. Either to do as Ace asked or to fuck off. Either way Ace didn’t really care, at least that damned squeaking was gone.
It wasn’t too much later that Ace decided to take another break and rethink his plan to find the bastard that did this to him. The day felt like it was almost over already and he could still see the town below him, granted he was far enough that he couldn’t see individual people but to know that he hadn’t gotten very far in the long time he’d been looking was discouraging.
A loud noise startled him out of his thoughts, Ace stared dumbly as a giant castle rose over the hill in front of him, he hadn’t even heard it coming until it was practically on top of him and leading in front of the moving castle was that goddamn scarecrow.
“You stupid-!” Ace spited out as the scarecrow hopped to him and then began to circle him, as if it was waiting for Ace to praise it or something. “That’s a wizard’s castle! Probably the Phoenix’s too! When I asked you to find me shelter this is not what I had in mind!”
The castle just kept on coming, Ace doubted that anyone steering it would have seen him on the ground in front of it. At least he kind of hoped that someone was steering it because if the castle was just wandering on its own…gods magic was a pain in the ass to even think about.
Although now that Ace got a good look at it the castle looked less like a castle and more like a…junk house.
Pieces of wood and metal were all pieced together hazardable in a way that it was obvious that magic held it up together. There were a few things recognizable such as windows and such but mostly it looked like some kind of mix matched child’s artwork.
Like something Luffy made when he was 2 years old and hyped up on sugar cookies.
“Well that’s not going to win any beauty awards.” Ace mumbled and he could see the stupid scarecrow weave on its stick back and forth as if nodding in agreement.
Ace snorted and watched as the ‘castle’ passed over him, with odd chicken like legs the ‘castle’ was easily 10 feet above him passing over him with ease.
He turned and watched it walk away for a moment before noticing that there was a backdoor that was only a few feet above ground. The scarecrow hopped over to it and looked back at Ace, as if encouraging him to get inside already.
A loud rumble of thunder off into the distance decided for him.
“Alright already.” Ace said and began to hobble as fast as he could with his cain as the castle walked further away. “Hey if you’re going to let me in slow down!”
The castle didn’t slow down but that didn’t matter because with a burst of speed Ace made it to the small stone steps that were situated in front of the door, holding onto the frail looking rail he turned back and stared at the scarecrow who was trying to keep up. “I don’t think you’ll fit through the door so if you want to continue onward with me, though I don’t know why you would, you might want to find a good spot to hop on and ride it out until it stops.” Ace said before offering up a small smile, it was after all the scarecrow that had found this place and lead it too him.
Hopefully it wasn’t a trap.
With that grim thought now stuck in his head Ace grimaced and opened the door, slightly surprised to find it unlocked but then who would be dumb enough to break into a Wizard’s home?
Ace closed the door behind him and then as stealthily as he could with this old body of his he crept up some more stairs. Sneaking a peek above ground he made sure that he was the only one in the room before continuing on.
The first thing that really caught his attention was the chair in front of a fire pit, where a small fire was burning.
Ace made his way to the chair and sank down on it the a sigh of relief, his body was aching and he was so tired he felt like he could sleep for a week. Noticing the fire was running really low he looked around for some logs to throw on. Noticing a few to the side he reluctantly got up and threw a few on top of the flame.
Sitting back down Ace lifted his hands to the flame, trying to get more warmth in them. It seemed that his body was so thin that nothing really kept it warm, maybe he should have packed a cloak or something but Ace was so use to being warm since he naturally ran hotter than most that he hadn’t even thought to bring or wear something more warmer when he had set out.
Now that he was in a secure place, more or less for the moment Ace looked around him. The place was a dump, and he didn’t mean that it was kind of messy. He lived in messy and this was certainly not that.
It was literally a dump.
There was dust and large cob webs everywhere as well as large spider nests and a few mouse holes, dirty dishes filled every available spot in the open kitchen area to the side of him. There was a table that had books and scrolls and more dirty dishes on it covering the whole table, and a dusty looking couch that had more crap on it. In fact the only place that hadn’t had something on it was the chair Ace had just sat on.
Ace just snorted in disgust and a bit disbelief. Why would a Wizard want to live in such a place? If Ace had half of the magical prowess that the Phoenix was said to have he would have cleaned up all this in one spell then lived happily and cleanly with his grandpa and Luffy, in a place free from…ugh. Ace gulped, he was sure that the food mold on one of the plates just moved on its own.
“I may not be scared of magic or wizards, one of the perks of old age I guess but this place…gross.” Ace shuddered, only half in jest.
Ace looked back to the fire which was burning merrily now that it had more wood to chow down on. Now that he more relaxed and out of the cold he could see that the fire was…burning a different color.
“Green?” Ace murmured to himself, “What an odd choice of color. I guess I can’t begrudge someone their favorite color but why would you want your fire to burn the color of seaweed?”
“OI. Not seaweed.” A voice called out, sounding annoyed by Ace’s question.
Ace didn’t startle this time, maybe the day had finally caught up to him but he peered tiredly into the fire…no he wasn’t looking into the fire but at the actual fire.
The fire was actually a little person, kind of. More like a blob with a face which was currently set in a scowl as the little fire person stared at him.
“Sorry.” Ace apologized, “I didn’t know what else to categorize your color as.”
“Hmm.” The fire frowned. “You aren’t’ the first to say my coloring is like that of seaweed but I prefer something else.”
“Don’t know yet.”
Ace decided to drop the topic, luckily the fire spirit did it for him. He could feel sleep clawing at him and he was letting it as the long day finally caught up with him.
“I don’t envy you though, that’s a nasty curse you have on you. I’m guessing that self-proclaimed Puppet Master did that to you, huh?”
Ace tried to nod but found he couldn’t move. His voice was taken from him as well.
“Ah so the curse won’t let you speak about it. Yea that’s going to be a dozy to unbreak, you’re in for a rough ride.”
Ace sighed and leaned back, he’d figured that would be the case but he’d been hoping to hear something different.
“So are you this Phoenix character I’ve been hearing about?”
The fire laughed, “No, my name is Zoro. I’m a very powerful fire demon bound to this castle in servitude of Marco.”
Ace tilted his head to the side, “Marco? Who’s that?”
Zoro smirked and let his flame burn a little hotter and brighter to give better effect. “You don’t really thing that the Wizard who lives here is actually named Phoenix do you? One of Marco’s wizardry titles is Phoenix, given to him when he-well let’s just say that he did something really cool.”
Ace tried to keep his awe from showing but judging by Zoro’s smirk he doubted he succeeded.
Ace coughed and cleared his throat, trying to stop his face from blushing. “So if you’re a powerful demon then you can break this curse on me?”
“Maybe, maybe not. But if you want my help kid then you have to do something for me.”
Ace scolded, of course the demon wanted something in return. Nobody would do anything for nothing after all. “Of course.”
“Don’t worry it’s nothing criminal. I just need some help lifting my own spell. You see I’m bound to Marco and so I’m bound to this castle. I want out. This is humiliating for a fire demon such as myself.”
“No really! Marco treats me as his slave! Do you know how hard it is to keep his baths hot! He takes so many and then to keep the rooms all warm and cozy for them. Even the ones they don’t use! Also this big ass metal tin can? It is a pain to drive it, seriously I get a work out every day driving this damn thing and its hard work to even get it moving let alone maneuver it to certain places!”
“Sounds rough.” Ace said absently, he could feel sleep tugging on his eyelids. He wanted to feel annoyed because normally he would never go to bed this early but the day had dragged on and all he wanted to do is sleep.
“Yes it is. Thank you for noticing. Marco certainly never notices and neither does that damn curly-brat.”
Ace nodded. “Well I guess I can try to break your spell but how will I know you’ll try to help me if I succeed?”
Zoro shifted his eyes sideways. “Demons don’t make promises.”
“Well then find someone else who will be suckered into a crappy deal with you.”
“Fine!” Zoro scowled heavily and lifted his small arm. “If you promise to break the spell on me I will do everything in my power to break your curse.”
Ace smirked and leaned forward. “It’s a deal.” And without much thought to it reached out and shook Zoro’s hand, well more like he delicately took his fingers and shook Zoro’s little hand with the tips, his whole hand looked bigger than Zoro at the moment.
Zoro stared at their joint hands for a moment, a weird expression on his face. Ace pulled back and got settled in, now that everyone was happy, or as happy as they can be considering the circumstances Ace decided that now was a good time to konk out.
“Oi are you going to sleep?! We have to plan! Oi wake up grandpa!” Zoro’s voice floated into Ace’s ears as he drifted off to sleep.
Ace woke up to someone knocking on the door, he lifted his head and stared around him, not remembering anything and wondering where he was before his neck and back popped, showing how unhappy they were to have slept in an uncomfortable chair all night.
“Ow.” Ace said before slowly moving his limbs around to make sure none of them stiffened up any worse than they already had. The knocking persisted and Ace was just beginning to wonder if he should go over and open it when the sound of footsteps reached his ears.
Ace turned and saw someone descending from the stairs that were situated along the back wall. Leaning back and closing his eyes Ace pretended to snore as the person walked by.
“Who the hell is this?” A voice asked.
Ace could tell the speaker was male and a young one at that, maybe around his brother’s age.
“Water 7’s door.” Zoro called out. The knocking was still going on and getting louder by the second.
“Yea yea I got it.” The voice moved away and Ace chanced opening his eyes as he stared at a young boy with blond hair move over to the table and pulling out a long cloak from under neither some books, causing them to clash onto the ground. Ace winched at the noise and the careless way the youth left the mess and walked towards the door. He don the cloak and suddenly instead of a young boy an old man with a long grey beard took his place.
“Stand by, Water 7 portal.” The voice was the same if a little deeper, pulling on a lever next to the door, a color wheel above the door changed color from dark purple to light blue.
The kid who was not a kid at the moment opened the door and Ace saw, not the Wastes as he was expecting, but some kind of coastal town, not unlike his own.
“Ah good day mayor.”
“Is Wizard Whitebeard in?” An old man with blue hair and large lips asked, he looked calm but a shifting of his feet showed that he was in a hurry but didn’t want to seem disrespectful.
“My master is not in at the moment but I may speak for him.”
The mayor sighed. “How annoying. Well take this then.” The mayor handed the grey bearded man an official looking envelop. “This is a message from the King, he requests that Whitebeard come to the palace at once, all witches and wizards have to report for duty by the end of the week. We are at war after all and everyone is ordered to do their part by the order of the King.”
“I will give this to him the moment he steps back in.”
With that last sentence the mayor said his goodbyes and left. After the door closed Ace got up and threw a couple more logs onto the fire, Zoro mumbling his appreciation.
The kid pulled off the hood of the cloak, revealing his face. He was just as young as Ace had thought, no older than thirteen at most. His blond hair was combed over his left eye leaving the other one open. Curiously his eyebrow was curved in a spiral, the way it was done left no doubt that it was natural, Ace didn’t care though, Ussop had a larger nose than anyone Ace had ever meet but other than a few village idiots no one cared.
“Now who the hell are you gramps?”
Ace felt his eyebrow twitch. “Who you calling gramps, shrimp?”
The kid got angry and practically spewed fire as he spoke. “Well right now I’m staring at you old man who do you think I’m talking about.”
Ace took a few calming breaths, he couldn’t let this kid get to him. He was the elder after all and he would not lose his cool because some snot nose kid decided to be smart with him.
“I’m Ace, Zoro was kind enough to let me in last night.”
“Oh so it’s the marmino’s fault then, no surprise.”
“I did not! He just wandered in from the Wastes!” Zoro shouted, glaring at them both as if daring them to say differently.
“Wastes?” The kid got defensive real quick, his body tensed up as if getting ready for a fight or flight movement. “How do we know he isn’t some wizard or something?”
“Do you really think I would let some wizard in? I’m not that stupid.”
“Could have fooled me.” The kid smirked and shook his head slowly.
“Oh I don’t tempt me.” Zoro threatened evilly.
Ace, while kind of having fun watching the banter between child and fire demon decided to break it up for now.
“And what’s your name kid?” Ace interrupted.
The kid turned away from Zoro and smirked. “I’m Sanji, Marco’s one and only apprentice.”
“More like one and only annoyance that won’t go away.” Zoro said.
“What did you say moss-heat!?”
Ace sighed as they started once again. He looked around and noticed how it was sunny, then remembered the door.
Before he could ask though more knocking came.
“Teh.” Zoro groused. “Capitol door.”
Sanji just sighed and pulled his hood back up, disguising himself again before walking to the door, once again he pulled the lever and changed the color, this time to a green color.
Opening the door Ace’s jaw dropped, the scenery outside had changed again. Now instead of a port town it was a wide city with large mechanical buildings and such.
A massager stood outside the door, his face set in a grimace.
“Is the Wizard Phoenix here?”
Sanji shook his head. “I’m sorry but my master isn’t home.”
“Give him this.” The massager practically threw the small scroll at Sanji who managed to catch it gracefully. The massager’s rat like face twisted even more. “By royal order all wizards and witches are to report for duty. No exceptions.”
Sanji said a hasty goodbye and closed the door in the rude messenger’s face. Ace who had crept closer to the door smirked at the look of offense on the rat man’s face as the door slammed in his face.
“That door…is it magic?”
Sanji walked past him and put the scroll with the earlier envelope. “Yea but only Marco knows how it works. So don’t bother asking.”
Ace just walked to the door and opened it, he didn’t walk through but stared at the people just walking by, all of them without a clue as to what just happened. Closing the door he pulled the lever and it went back to the purple color. Opening it he saw the Wastes around him, the early morning light giving into mist, it also seemed that the castle had come to a rest since it wasn’t moving.
“Hey close the door! You’re letting in a draft.” Sanji called out, Ace huffed but did as he was told, and it was rather chilly out there after all.
Going back to his chair he saw Sanji moving around the kitchen area. “You hungry?” Ace asked and watched as Sanji picked up a piece of bread and pick at it. Moving over to one of the counters Ace saw a tray filled with uncooked bacon. “Don’t you want some of this?”
Sanji’s face fell. “Yea that would be nice unfortunately Marco’s not in and Zoro won’t let me cook on him.”
Zoro snorted, “Like hell I’m going to be used as a cooking fire. I’m a demon, not a household spark.”
Ace narrowed his eyes. “We’ll see about that.” He lifted the bacon tray and found himself a good frying pan. “Oi Sanji you cook?”
Sanji got up to see what Ace was up too, leaving the bread behind. “Yea I love cooking, but I can only do it when Marco’s in the house.”
Ace nodded. “Good because I tend to burn things.”
“Oi numb nuts.” Zoro called out. “Didn’t you hear him? Marco’s not in that means I don’t have to listen to anyone and I repeat, I am not a cooking fire.”
“Right now you are.” Ace smirked and slammed the pan down on top of Zoro.
Ace ignored the indignity shouting from Zoro or the laughing mess that was Sanji.
“Just sit there like a good little fire and let me fry up this bacon, if you don’t.” Ace leaned forward and stared into the in-flamed eyes of the fire demon. “I will pour a bucket of cold water on you.”
“You are a fucking evil person.” Zoro mumbled but calmed down when he saw the truth in Ace’s statement, the old bastard would do it too, maybe not a whole bucket but Ace would have no problem dropping some water on him.
“I know.” Ace stated and then turned to the still laughing kid behind him. “Hey Sanji why don’t you get a kennel as well? We can have some tea or coffee.”
Sanji beamed at Ace, who was now his favorite person. “Tea sounds good.”
“Oi no tea!” Zoro growled but was ignored. “Here’s another curse for you, may all your bacon burn.”
Ace smirked, “Maybe if I make it but I’m sure Sanji won’t let that happen.”
“Damn straight.” Sanji said and brought over a kettle filled with water and took over the pan. At first he was cautious, he didn’t doubt that Zoro wanted to burn him and would take the opportunity to do so if given the chance but with one glare from Ace Zoro just sighed and simmered down to a low burn.
“Wow.” Sanji practically sparkled at Ace. “You’re like Marco.”
Before Ace could question him about that the door changed color on its own. They all looked over as it turned to the color black before opening from the outside.
“Ahhh shit.” Ace breathed under his breath. Because of course- of course it was the handsome man that had rescued him before. Glossy black hair flowed down in the man’s face- in Marco’s face as he walked into the castle and closed the door behind him. Ace turned back around and stared into the cooking food, mind thinking fast as he came up with excuses and explanations to explain his presence.
But to know that the man from before had been Wizard Phoenix…Ace found that he felt insulted and slighted.
The wizard hadn’t even tried to steal his heart and instead had let him go…
Was Ace really that undesirable?
Well no he definitely was. Ace looked down at his old hands and closed them into fists, he looked like he was over 70 and his personality wasn’t any better, truly he wasn’t surprised that Phoenix no Marco had passed him up.
“And who is this?” Marco stood right behind Ace causing him to tense up. Marco turned his attention to Zoro.
“Zoro how unexpected of you, are you being obedient today?” Marco teased softly.
Zoro sparked up, causing Sanji to curse and back away, he’d gotten a bit of bacon grease on his hand and went to the sink to wash it with cold water. Ace would have worried but the loud remarks of swearing at Zoro and his parentage dismissed his worry, Sanji was fine, his pride on the other hand was probably a little damaged.
“I am no being obedient!” Zoro growled and turned a deeper green. “This guy bullied me!”
“Really? Not many could do such a thing.” Marco turned his attention back to Ace who tensed up even more before moving slowly to put more bacon on the pan.
Ace took a deep breath to steady himself before committing to his role.
“You can call me grandpa Ace.” Ace turned to Marco with a big smile, he locked all his fears and doubts behind a wall in his mind. He couldn’t give himself away after all and he had no idea how Marco would treat him. “I’m your new cleaning and maintence man, Zoro here hired me last night.”
Marco’s facial expression didn’t change as he stared at him, before Ace could fidget or anything Marco walked forward until he was pressed next to Ace gently pushing him aside. “Allow me.” He took the spatula from Ace’s nerveless fingers and moved the bacon around. “Hand me two more slices of bacon and six eggs.”
Ace turned to the basket that Sanji had put next to Zoro and slowly handed Marco the slices of bacon, once Marco had those on the pan he reached back towards Ace without looking. Ace gave him an egg and watched as Marco cracked the egg with one hand effortlessly and neatly, throwing the shells into Zoro’s waiting mouth.
When Ace saw Marco reach back again he handed him another one until Marco had all six eggs cooking neatly in the pan next to the frying bacon. Zoro was licking his lips, a long tongue flaring out of his mouth as if searching for more shells to devour.
Ace nodded wordlessly back, unable to voice anything for fear of his voice cracking like a pre-teen boy.
“So Zoro hired you hmmm?” Marco asked while not turning his gaze from the food.
Regardless of where the Wizard’s gaze was Ace felt like he was pinned down by his gaze.
“Uh-yea. He’s apparently tired of living in filth.”
“Hmmmm. Sanji get the plates ready.” Marco called out and brought the cooked food, pan and all, to the table.
“Wait a second your all going to eat food I technically cooked while I do all the work!” Zoro raged and grew in size, glaring at all of them. Sanji snickered at the table and stuck his tongue out at the fire demon and for some reason to Ace’s amusement Zoro stuck his own long fire tongue back out in retaliation.
“Come on Ace let’s eat!” Sanji called out as he rubbed some of the plates clean of dust and grit. Marco calmly pushed some books out of the way on the table with one hand, allowing some papers to flutter to the ground uncaringly. Ace grimaced, he had his work cut out for him if he was fully going to commit to his role. Especially if this was the way they treated their stuff.
Marco divided the food evenly between the three of them while Sanji poured the tea. Ace sat down at the table and absently pushed some crumbs to the ground as the others settled down. Sanji was only able to find three relatively clean silverware and gave one to Ace whose mouth twisted some as he tried to polish it with his hands.
“Bread Sanji?” Marco offered as he cut off a single slice from a loaf. Sanji nodded and took it, giving thanks before sipping his tea with a smile. “Ace?”
Ace lifted his eyes upward from his hands. “Oh? Yes thank you.” He said softly and took the offered slice. Marco gave him a tiny smile and sliced up one for himself.
“Wow I don’t remember the last time we had a nice meal.” Sanji said. “This looks really good. I guess even the moss-heat can make something without burning it every once in a while.”
“Hey watch it squirt!” Zoro hollered out from the other side of the room.
“Sanji. Zoro.” Marco’s voice cut through any future argument. Ace just stared and tried not to laugh as both the kid and demon gave the wizard pouting glares. Marco either didn’t see it or just didn’t care. “So my friends, enjoy.”
They didn’t need to be told twice, Sanji dug into the meal with the same fineness as Ace’s brother. Which is to say- no manners whatsoever.
Maybe it was his older age or a lingering tiredness but Ace didn’t feel as hungry as he usually would nor did he dig into the food like he use too like Sanji. Instead he cut up the egg with his spoon and slowly brought it up to his mouth to eat.
“By the way, what do you have in your pocket Ace?”
“Huh?” Ace’s egg dropped back onto his plate and he looked up. Feeling confused he reached into his pocket and felt something. Pulling his hand back out he looked at the red piece of paper in his hand. “What is this?”
“Give it to me.” Marco demanded and Ace seeing no reason to refuse reached and held it out. Marco meet him halfway across the table but before he could touch it the paper smoked and burst into flames.
They all exclaimed in shock except for Marco who was looking at his slightly burnt hand.
Ace drew his hand back and stared at the now burnt table.
“Scorch marks.” Sanji breathed out, his eye had gone wide and a slight quiver of fear filled his voice. “Marco can you read it?”
Marco looked down and smirked. “Its old sorcery but yes I can.”
“It’s from him isn’t it? The Puppet man.” Sanji spat out and turned his face away.
Ace could feel the blood draining from his face, he’d brought that with him? Was it another curse or something much worse?
“He who swallowed a fallen star, oh heartless man who flies on flaming wings. Your heart will soon be mine.” Marco read out loud as he stared at the picture the marks made on the table. “That’s not good for the table.” Reaching out with the same hand that had been burned he slowly moved it left to right, burning the marks away.
Both Ace and Sanji could feel the magic in the air as Marco removed the marks, it was heavy and seemed to pull the air right out from their lungs.
“The mark is gone but the spell is still there.” Marco said before standing curtly. “Enjoy the rest of the meal.” Walking to Zoro he dumped his breakfast into Zoro’s waiting mouth. “Zoro move the castle 45 miles to the north and 60 miles east.”
Zoro grumbled in agreement.
Marco walked to the staircase as the others watched him, before he was out of sight he peeked his head back down. “Also heat up some hot water for my bath.”
“Like moving the castle such a long way isn’t hard enough?!” Zoro complained.
Marco didn’t answer as he was already gone.
Ace and Sanji just sat there for a second before Sanji turned suspicious eyes towards Ace.
“Are you sure you’re not working for the Master of the Wastes?”
Ace’s eyes narrowed. “I would never, never work for that man! He’s the one who-“ Suddenly Ace’s lips sealed shut. He tried to talk around it but it was like someone or something was literally holding his lips closed. He could feel his anger mount, damn that pink bastard for doing this to him and damn him for somehow bringing something not good to this castle as well, using him like that.
“DAMN IT!!” Ace shouted suddenly and brought his hands down, slamming against the table causing half the books and papers on top to fall to the ground, not to mention some of the plates as well. “If I ever see that pink, prissy bastard I will fucking cave his head in!”
Sanji had jumped back from the table with his plate firmly in his hands to save it from damage.
Ace sat back down on the table and dug into his food like a dog. “Sit back down and eat your food Sanji!”
Later, after breakfast had been cleared away Ace began his new job. First by making Sanji help with stacking all the papers and books and other knick-knacks outside, they’d chosen the port town door because there was a nice breeze there and Ace wanted to air out the place as much as possible. What couldn’t be moved out got cleared and covered with towels. After that Sanji had run outside to get away from Ace’s wrath.
“I’ve had enough!” Ace snarled as he waved his broom around, gathering all the dust and other undesirables into a giant pile. “I’m tired of being treated like some useless geezer!” He glared down at the bugs that were crawling away from him. “Better run before I squish you!” He laughed meanly as he continued cleaning and potentially killing all the wildlife that had grown in the house. He also wiped down the furniture and the cupboards and washed the dishes.
Once all the dirt and other trash was out or in bags Ace got buckets of water to splash on the floor to mop and after that he got rags and cleaned the walls.
“Hey Ace! I’m dying over here! Hurry and bring some wood!” Zoro shouted as he hung on to the small branch, the only thing left in his fire pit.
Ace ignored him as he moved things around, he got a huge towel and put it near Zoro, continuing to ignore the death threats and pleads of mercy from the demon.
“Will you hold on, I need to clean up the ashes.” Ace finally explained as he took some tongs and carefully picked up the piece of wood and put it over a bucket.
“Are you insane? I’m barely holding on here! I could die.” Zoro whined as he gripped the piece of burnt wood with all his might.
“Just give me a minute.”
Ace began to sweep all the ash into the blanket, it looked like the pit had never been cleared out, ever. Once he had all the ash in the blanket he tied it up and took it outside.
He didn’t hear Zoro give a small shout as the branch broke and he fell into the bucket. Nor did Ace see Marco come into the room and scoop Zoro up and place him back in the pit with a small log. He had to help breath more flame into Zoro since he was barely burning at all at this point.
Ace came back inside and saw Zoro back in his proper place, glaring harshly at Ace and chowing angrily on a piece of wood.
“Oh? How did you get back there?” Ace asked and looked around the room but it was empty.
Zoro didn’t reply, only munched harder on the wood.
Ace just shrugged and went back to work. Deciding that the downstairs was as good as it was going to get at the moment he took his mop and a bucket and moved towards the stairs.
Before he could move up it though Marco came walking down making Ace move backwards as quickly as he could before he could get run over.
Marco paused before passing him and spoke to him a freezing tone of voice. “In the future I would appreciate it if you stop tormenting my friend.”
Ace glared at the man, confused as to what Marco meant.
“He’s talking about me you idiot!” Zoro yelled. “If I die, Marco dies with me. So no leaving me without any wood!”
Ace shrugged his shoulders and gained a slightly sheepish look. He hadn’t meant to cause harm, he truly thought Zoro would be alright for a moment or two while he got rid of all that ash that was cluttering the pit and making the room all dusty.
Before Ace could apologize Marco spoke.
“I’m sure you’re not as stupid as you pretend you are so keep more aware of your surroundings, I won’t be around all the time to bail you out.” Marco deadpanned and walked past him towards the door where Sanji was peering inside with wide eyes.
It took Ace two seconds to process everything that was just said to him.
Then he got angry.
Like, really angry.
“You…” Ace rumbled, a low growl echoing out of his mouth, he felt…warm, it was like the very blood in his veins had been angered and now was heating his whole body up. “You…”
Marco turned around and if Ace wasn’t seeing everything through a red filter he would have seen the wizard’s eyes widen in shock and a little fear as he stared at Ace’s wrathful figure. A haze was gathered over Ace’s body, like a heat mirage.
“How dare you.” Ace bite out and moved forward until he was right in front of Marco. At the moment Ace didn’t care that Marco was a powerful Wizard nor did he care that he was technically his employer. All Ace knew was that Marco had insulted him and with his already insecure feelings it had made Ace’s emotions boil over.
“You’re the one who’s let this whole place become some kind of pig sty. No wait. That’s insulting to pigs.” Ace sneered and pointed his finger towards Marco’s chest almost touching him but not quite. “You’re some powerful wizard or at least those are the rumors and yet you apparently breeze through without taking care of mundane chores like it is beneath you! I’m sorry that I overestimated Zoro, I won’t do that again.” Ace ignored Zoro’s weak protest. He had bigger fish to scold. “I may be new to all this.” Ace waved his other arm around, forgetting he had a dirty rag in his hand and that it narrowly missed hitting Marco in the face, not once but twice. “But I am not to be underestimated nor will I be looked down upon.” Ace glared down at Marco’s chest, staring at his slightly shaking hand as he keep his finger pointed at him. “I have cleaning to do. I’d appreciate it if you go elsewhere while I clean up your mess.”
Ace didn’t know it, didn’t see it but his whole body seemed to de-aged the more he spoke, currently he now looked like he was in his late 50s-early 60s, still old but standing a lot straighter then he had been before. The ire inside of him made his black eyes shine as if hiding a blazing fire, while his face flushed pink with fury, making his freckles which had all but disappeared shine back out against his face.
The haze was barely there and was all but gone by the time he’d finished his lecture on the stunned wizard.
Marco hadn’t moved an inch through Ace’s reprimand, it was as if his body was frozen as he stared down at Ace. Astonishment and something akin to wonder shinning on his face, as did Sanji and Zoro to a lesser degree.
Ace’s breath was coming out in little huffs but as the silence continued Ace could feel his temper cooling off and embarrassment take over.
“Well?” Ace questioned, his blush intensifying the longer Marco stared at him. Ace’s arm was still raised between them and deciding that he’d already done enough damage for Marco to justify turning him into a toad a little more disrespect probably wouldn’t make anything worse.
With a kind of trepidation and adrenaline rushing throughout his body Ace pushed his arm forward and instead of poking Marco in the chest with his bony finger Ace spread his hand until his whole palm was spread against Marco’s firm chest and pushed confidently, something he wasn’t really feeling inside anymore, the anger burning out once he remembered just who it was that he’d been yelling at.
Oh my god…Ace’s mind was racing and yet not a single thought passed.
“Aren’t you leaving?” Ace asked, his voice sounded very far away to his ears but that was probably the adrenaline rush he was only just now getting off. He finally looked up at Marco’s face, too late to see the positive emotions that had just been there, which Marco had quickly wiped away once he noticed Ace turning to look him in the eye.
Marco’s eyes peered down at him, eye lids cast down halfway giving him a bored uninterested expression.
Marco suddenly spun on his heel and walked towards the door bypassing a jaw dropped Sanji and switched the dial to the black one.
Ace couldn’t see where it lead too since it was all dark outside now, like the darkest part of night. His arm was still out stretched as if wanting to call the Wizard back. Once he realized how awkward he looked standing there like that his dropped his arm to his side like it was a hot coal.
“I’ll be back later…try not to burn the house down.” Marco let out one last parting shot before vanishing through the door and slamming it behind him, the dial automatically resetting itself.
“Burn…? Who the hell does he think he is?!” Ace seethed and threw down the rag, which he’d still been holding in his other hand onto the ground with a small bang.
“Sanji!” Ace barked out.
“Yes sir!” Sanji squealed and ran forward until he was standing right in front of him, back straight and hand up in salute.
“What are you…? You know what, I don’t want to know.” Ace huffed. “I’m going to be cleaning the upstairs soon. If you don’t want me to throw anything out when I get to your room make sure you hide it real good or put it someplace secure with a note.”
Sanji squeaked again, something that Zoro didn’t even tease him about since he was too busy himself gasping at the backbone that Ace had been hiding from them.
“No wait! Do my room last!” Sanji yelled out and ran towards his room, leaving a trail of dust behind him and slight scorch marks on the ground in his haste.
“Heh.” Ace smirked. “I think these outbursts of mine are giving me a little energy.” With more spring in his step Ace bounced up the stairs, somewhere he hadn’t been yet.
“…That boy will either be our ruin or our salvation.” Zoro said out loud to an empty room. “Either way…it won’t be boring.”
When Ace got to the second landing he had to stop, his eyes widen at the amount of dirt and trash not to mention the large spiders that called the corridor home.
“This is disgusting.” Ace flinched as a large hairy spider dangled off a single thread of web in front of him.
Shaking his head Ace walked around it and pushed open the first door he saw, it took a moment since the door seemed to be stuck along its frame but with one good push it opened.
“Oh ewwww!” Ace wrinkled his face as his nose was infiltrated by many smells.
It was a bathroom, Ace had hoped that they would at least keep this room tidy but he stood corrected- it was a bathroom that has never been cleaned before in its long life.
The room was small, there was only a large claw foot tub, a small sink and a toilet with one lone window against the wall that was closed.
The tub was filled with dirty water and everywhere Ace looked there was splatters of liquid or slime of many different colors. Turning his head he looked at the toilet and shuddered. Apparently no one in this family knew how to flush a toilet.
He stared at all the vials of different color liquids that lined the rim of the tub and the small cabinet on the wall. He remembered Marco’s parting smirk and resolved to mix things up a bit, he doubted it would be harmful and Marco needed to be taken down a peg or two. Ace smirked, yes…he’d clean Marco’s smelly bathroom but a little prank wouldn’t be remiss.
Squaring is shoulders bravely Ace tracked into the room towards the window, the smell was beginning to give him a headache and some fresh air would do wonders.
It took more than a few shoves to get the window open but once he did he couldn’t help but stick his head out.
“Oh wow.” Ace said, awed at the view in front of him. The castle was moving right now, its large body moving with an ease that was…well- magical.
“Hey Zoro! Zoro!” Ace shouted and sprinted back to the stairs. “Are you the one who’s moving the castle?” He looked over the railing at the sulking fire.
“Of course I am!” Zoro snapped. “It’s not like anyone else does any work around here.” Seeing Ace’s glare he amended quickly. “Except you of course.”
“Well anyway- this is amazing! I didn’t know you could do something like this, you’re a first class fire demon.” Ace winked. “I like your spark.” Then he sprinted back upstairs, hoping to find a better place to see the view.
“…He likes my spark…” Zoro mumbled before smirking widely. “He likes my spark!!” Suddenly he glowed a very pinkish green and the castle picked up his pace, eating off his feeling of happiness and giving the magic a boost in power.
Ace basically sprinted up the stairs, bypassing the smelly bathroom and going up even higher, he moved past another open door and ignored Sanji whose arms were full of stuff and shouting, “Not ready, not ready!” from inside the room.
Moving to another door he opened it and almost shouted in joy, it opened up to a balcony. Ace walked out and leaned against the railing. All around him was beautiful country, rolling hills of green with trees and animals running around below and a clear blue sky with few clouds completed the picture.
Ace turned to look in the direction that the castle was headed and let out a whoosh of stunned air, a large lake in the distance winked at him, its clear water reflected the sun perfectly causing the water to shine like the sun was underneath the water.
Now the picture of complete beauty was complete.
“Pretty isn’t it?” Sanji said, seemingly done hiding his crap and now joined Ace in staring at the surrounding wilderness.
“That’s the Grand Line Lake, we haven’t been there in a while so it’s nice to see it’s as pretty as last time.”
“It’s…awe inspiring.” Ace agreed then paused as an odd sound echoed around. Turning his attention to below the railing and towards the right of the balcony he saw a large stick sticking out of one of the holes that dotted the castle. “Wait…don’t tell me that’s-!”
Ace sighed but moved towards it. “Sanji give me a hand.” Sanji looked confused but helped him pull up the stick which turned out not to be a stick, but Ace already guessed that, but was instead the scarecrow that he’d meet on his first night in the Wastes. The scarecrow just stood there for a second before hopping along the castle until it was standing a little ways away from them and bouncing up and down, as if happy to have Ace find him and rescue him from being upside down, again.
“I swear that this scarecrow is stalking me.” Ace said. “He’s been following me since I entered the Wastes.”
“…Are you sure you’re not a witch of some kind?” Sanji asked confused.
Ace snorted but couldn’t help but tease the kid. “Yea I’m a witch, the horrible kind that attracts oddballs and cleans.”