L by Katlyn Spates

The air smelled of saltwater, the sounds of waves crashing into the ship’s sides made frothy fizz form at the water’s surface. The sun hung low in the sky; puffy white clouds floating through the air. Traveling to the mountains east of the village, a sacrifice was brought across the small ocean lake every year around the summer solstice.

“Are you sure you want to go Zoro? I know you survived the last time. But this time could be different.”  The priest looked wearily at the swordsman who was sitting and cautiously surveying his surroundings. 

“He asked for me to come, I am going. I am sure you do not want to piss him off, so take my word, I have no choice.” Zoro huffed impatiently, taking a long swig from the bottle of sake that had been sitting beside him in the small boat. 

By the time the summer solstice had rolled around, the inland village had been through the worst part of the war. The God of the Sea savagely fought with the God of the Forest causing the tides to rise dangerously high. There was now what most people assumed was a temporary ocean-filled lake, that sat between the village and the mountains. Dipping his hand down into the frigid water, Zoro smiled ever so slightly. They drifted slowly closer and closer to the mountain’s summit.  

Previously Nika, who had visited in secret, had told Zoro many stories. Stories that he had never heard about before from any chronicler. Stories that made their God seem a little unhinged; nevertheless, Zoro felt the lapses in sanity added to his God’s character and prestigiousness. Ironically, none of the townspeople knew what Zoro did. 

“Zoro, we are here. Make sure to bring the gifts as well.” The priest pointed to the generously big leather sack filled with tributes that sat heavily in the center of the boat.  

The warmth of the sun gleamed over Zoro as he made the arduous climb up the slick mossy stone stairs that ascended the mountain. A small stream traveled leisurely down the white sandstone steps. The water covered stairs glistened in the summer’s lazy sun as a warm summer breeze drifted through the surrounding forest. Bending down, Zoro filled his half empty waterskin with the cold spring water that was leaking from the mountain’s peak. 

Taking a long drink, he looked around at the forest’s elegantly grown trees and shrubs. Large leaves from tall palm trees shaded the sandstone steps and forest floor. The stairway ended halfway up the mountain and was replaced with a hand laid stone pathway. Mostly covered by overgrown grass and dirt, it was rough on the soles of Zoro’s feet.

“Damn, why does this mountain have to be so freakishly tall.” Zoro fussed, stomping across the long wooden bridge that spanned underneath a crystal-clear waterfall.

 Water seeped from cracks in the peak’s walls, hand carved figures of Nika decorated the mountain’s exposed face. It felt like forever, but Zoro had finally made it to the top, glancing up at the sky painted in a stunning display of oranges and purples mixed with hues of reds as the sun began to set. The temple was covered in golden tapestry that told stories of the god’s strength and battles. Pushing open the heavy temple doors, he was met with a sight only a messenger of God would see. 

There sat in the only window was a boy, black curly hair framed his slumbering face. He wore a golden kimono that had reflections of color similar hues of oranges and reds as the sunset imbedded fabric. Additionally, the hem was rimmed with thread laced with gold. In the sun’s gentle light, it was not hard to miss the scars that littered the boy’s body. Soft gray puffs of steam rolled off his skin as the strawhat that was tied loosely around his neck radiated gold and bright red from its fiery band. 

Making his way over to the boy’s sleeping form, Zoro shook him. A small, rare smile formed on Zoro’s lips as he set the sack down. 

“Luffy, wake up!” Zoro huffed, shaking him once more. He brushed the coal colored hair out of luffys face. As the boy stirred awake he greeted Zoro with a small sleepy smile.

“Zoro, what took you so long?” he looked up at the other man, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“It is time for the summer solstice, Luffy.” Zoro guided him to his feet. Holding onto his arm to balance the god Zoro walked him towards the temple doors.

“This land is wonderful isn’t it, Zoro?” Luffy looked up at him and grinned a big cheesy grin.

“Take me to the town,” demanded Luffy, “I want to see it.”  Zoro choked on his own spit in shock. Then he quickly looked over at Luffy. 

“Luffy, you’re a god are you sure that is a good idea? They may notice?” Zoro’s brows furrowed,  

but by Luffy’s silly grin, his concerns would go unheard. 

“If that is what you wish then fine, but the lake sits between us and the town. How would we get across?” Zoro gave Luffy a puzzled look. 

“Zoro, I am a god; it will not be that hard to get across.” Luffy pulled Zoro down the stone path grinning ear to ear. 

Luffy’s bare feet splashed through the water trickling down the stairs. To Zoro the sun god seemed more like an adventurous teen or a naughty child. Luffy had a smile that not even the rain could wash away. As Zoro continued to watch Luffy grinning ear to ear like a fool, Zoro thought to himself about how he has changed with time, and he had learned to enjoy the god’s childish behavior. Zoro fondly remembered the stories that he had been told throughout the years about Luffy. 

He recalled according to folklore that Luffy had been known by many names throughout time. Some of the names were not English, and others were a bit goofy. It seemed as if his names fit how people perceived the god. Therefore, Zoro preferred the names that seemed to be made just from children’s stories. The children of the village called him”Joy Boy” and it seemed to fit perfectly.The two had arrived at the small dock at the summit of the mountain, and the priest asked in confusion about the boy beside Zoro who was clothed in rags.

“Rags! He’s not in rags!” Zoro yelled. He was baffled that such elegant clothing could be called rags. However, to his astonishment, Luffy’s outfit had changed to appear as if he wore rags fit only for the poorest of beggars. 

“My name is Luffy,” Luffy informed the priest sagely, “I got lost on the mountain and Zoro….your name is Zoro, right?”  He glanced up at Zoro and grinned slyly.

 Zoro’s mouth hung open as it took him a moment to realize that Luffy had probably pulled this ruse before, and Luffy had learned not to show up as the god of his people. But instead as someone who can walk amongst them.

“Yes, it’s Zoro,” Then addressing the priest, “I found Luffy wandering on the mountain. I think we should take him back to the village. He doesn’t belong here on this mountain.” Zoro sighed a bit, the priest absently nodded, and Zoro helped Luffy aboard the boat. 

“Wow, I didn’t know there was a lake here. Did this happen because of the war, Zoro?” Luffy’s head turned to the side almost like a dog. Which Zoro found rather amusing.

“Hm, Ya the tides rise every week or so, and go back down exposing the land below.” He replied, smiling slightly.

“Oh, hm that’s unfortunate.”  Luffy stuck his hand down into the water and giggled at the feeling.

“Shihih, the water is cold just like at the peak of the mountain.” Luffy smiled and as he laughed it made air blow in-between his teeth making a weird noise.  Zoro found it rather endearing, a laugh he had grown used to its unique quality over time. 

It didn’t take long for them to arrive at the village’s old wooden dock. Luffy took a deep breath and hopped out of the boat causing it to rock back and forth. 

“Be careful! Are you trying to drown us or something?” Zoro shouted at him, and in return Luffy only laughed, which caused Zoro to reluctantly smile. The priest on the other hand did not seem even remotely amused.

 Then the sun god happily pulled Zoro along with him as lanterns lit a cheery greeting along the pathway that they traveled. 

“Wow! This is even prettier than the last time I was here 200 years ago!” Luffy shouted with glee as he bounded down the stone sidewalk, and he continued feasting his eyes on the sight of the village.

 He visually soaked in every detail as he bolted down the path. He loved the merry lights and stunning decorations that lined the pathway. Additionally, little red lanterns and sun-shaped paper cutouts hung beautifully from what seemed to be every house. The festival was never large but in its small aspect appealed to Luffy, and he thought it was wonderful. Zoro thought to himself as he followed at a much slower pace behind his god, “if Luffy enjoyed the festival then he would too.” 

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