"Where is the Pirate King?"
I didn't respond.
She asked again. "Where is Luffy? It's been over three weeks now, and there's been no word."
I felt angry…and just a little bit guilty. She was right. Luffy had left almost a month ago, promising he would only be gone "a little while." But the days had stretched into weeks, and the Den Den Mushi on the corner table was covered in dust.
"He'll call," I told her, knowing that in my heart I didn't even believe myself. "He always comes through."
"If I recall," she replied, "the Pirate King always counted on his nakama."
"Shut up! He's more powerful than any of us could ever hope to be!"
She was silent for a moment. "That may be true. But no matter how strong one may be...they are always one."
I mulled this over in my mind and realized she was right.
"Oh, you talk too much," was what I said. "Go back to the orchard."
She stalked out of the house as I walked towards the back porch. There was a small clang as my toe struck something metallic.
Looking down, I spied the edge of a gleaming gold object barely protruding from under the small end table; with Luffy gone, I had scarcely had the heart to clean.
I picked up the mystery object and recognized it immediately. The brightly painted hilt, the elegantly carved handle, the sheath that bore the symbol of Whitebeard.
For the first time I noticed that the treasured item was absent from its usual place on the mantlepiece. This is strange, I thought, I must be really out of it. When have I ever not noticed missing treasure??
I replaced the dagger on the mantle, next to the small golden bell.
Then a thought occurred to me.
Desperately trying to deny what I now saw as obvious, I raced outside and stood on the beach, scanning the horizon, hoping and praying that it was all a joke, maybe Luffy had just gone off to visit those stupid giants again, and he was just now sailing toward the shore with a boatload of meat.
But there was no sign of him. All I could see were the children, playing and splashing happily amidts the decaying hulks of Buster Call ships.
The anger boiling through my veins was tempered by fear.
Many would have thought it silly that anyone should worry about Monkey D. Luffy, the world's hero and the King of the Pirates.
But I had been on our seven-year voyage. I had seen things that would strike fear into anyone's heart.
Slamming the back door behind me, I threw myself down on the sofa and grabbed the Den Den Mushi receiver. Dialing the familiar number felt reassuring, but nothing could disquiet the terrifying fear that gnawed at my stomach like a ravenous sea king.
There was only one ring before he picked up.
"What's the password?"
I rolled my eyes, thinking of the unbelievably stupid password our captain had insisted on coming up with. "Meat is fine."
"It's good to hear from you. Just the other day, we–"
"Listen, I...something's wrong."
"There must be, or you wouldn't have called the great, the brave--"
"Yes." I swallowed hard before continuing; my chest felt as if I had swallowed an entire tribe of kung-fu dugongs. "I...I think he's gone after Ace."
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "Are you sure?"
"Yes." I held back tears for a second, then went on. "Usopp-kun, we're going to need help."
"Anything for you, Nami."
There was a click; the line had been disconnected.
Sighing, I went straight to the treasure room. There was much preparing to do.
At the stern of his ship, Captain Usopp, Champion of Elbaf and the Bravest Warrior of the Five Seas (six if you count All Blue), hung up his phone so hard the poor snail squeaked in protest.
A queer-looking, furry little creature with antlers came running up the steps to the captain's look-out. "What is it, Captain Usopp, sir?"
"Chopper, something's wrong with Luffy."
"Oh! Does he need medical help, sir?"
"No! I just spoke to Miss Nami, and…she thinks he's going after Ace."
The silence that passed between them spoke volumes.
"Um..." Chopper spoke first. "Sir, are we...what's our heading?"
Captain Usopp grinned. "Set a course...for the Baratie."