Kurita was just waking up. The sun had started peeking over the horizon when James, Mirise and Rink left Cassandra, heading towards the alley where they less than twelve hours earlier had been involved in a bit of an altercation. Now they were heading back - not only to the same place, but to meet the same people.
"And you keep yourself in line," Rink said with her head turned to James. "If it gets ugly, we run. Nothing else."
"With the three of us I'm pretty sure we could beat them," James said. "I mean, with your powers..."
"You need to choose your battles," Rink replied. "Pick the wrong one, and suddenly you have a hundred people hunting your ass."
"Okay, okay," James said. "But if I have to fight, I won't hold back."
"Were you doing that yesterday?" Mirise added.
"Not really, no," James replied. "I didn't think I was doing too badly."
"You didn't, especially seeing as the other guy had a sword," Mirise said. "Do you have any training?"
"Not exactly," James said. "I had to learn, essentially. That's... been my life. If I hadn't met you, I would have had to learn navigation."
"Maybe that would have done you some good," Rink said.
"Don't get me wrong, I like learning," James said. "But I'm still glad I met Mirise. And you, for that matter."
"I wouldn't get too attached," Rink said. "That... that just leads to..." she trailed off without finishing her sentence.
"What?" James asked.
"All I'm saying is, we don't know for how long we'll stick together, so you might just be putting it off," Rink said with a tone indicating she didn't want to continue the conversation. James took the hint and didn't say anything else, and the silence continued until they approached the alley that was their goal.
"Right, let's be careful," Mirise said as they rounded the corner, being met by nothing at all. James looked around and took a few steps into the alley.
"Well, that's just great," he said. "So much for that."
"Maybe they're late?" Mirise offered and followed him, looking around. There were no evidence of their confrontation from the night before - not even any wet spots on the ground.
"No..." Rink stated as she entered the alley herself. "They're here."
"I should have known there was no hiding from you," a now somewhat familiar voice spoke from behind them. "Not with your powers. Well done."
The duo they had encountered yesterday had entered the alley after them. Rink, James and Mirise turned to face them. None of them were holding their weapons, at any rate, though the woman was wearing her quiver.
"So you could tell I had a power, at least," Rink said. "Mister... Markus, was it?"
"Markus Flint, yes," he replied.
"Rink Kazai," Rink said.
"And I'm Muse," the woman said.
"Just 'Muse'?" Rink asked.
"For now, yes," she replied.
"Now," Rink said, "care to tell us why we're here?"
"Very well," Markus said. "From our little... run-in yesterday, I could tell that your two friends were quite strong... and then there's you, a devil fruit user... I wish to ask if you would be willing to assist us in a little task."
"Like what?" James asked.
"I can't tell you too much right away... you're going to have to decide first. Either you walk away now, and we'll forget we ever met you, and you can finish whatever business you still have on this island..."
"Or you hear us out... and if you do that, you either elect to help us, or it would be best for you to leave Kurita immediately."
"That sounds like it's more than a 'little task'," James said.
"Make your choice... do you want to know more?"
James, Rink and Mirise turned to face each other and started half-whispering.
"You really think we should get involved with this?"
"How bad can it be?"
"We're kind of ready to leave anyway..."
James turned back to the duo. "Come on, you'll have to give us some more information..."
"All I can say right now is that what we're doing is for the good of Kurita," Markus replied. "To right some wrongs."
"So do you need us to answer right now, or..."
"You want to think it over some more," Markus said. "Let's do it like this, then," he said and picked up a notebook and a pen from his pocket.
"Like what?" Rink asked. Markus didn't reply at first, but scribbled something on a page in the notebook before tearing it off and handing it to Rink. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a simple map, with one location clearly marked.
"So the central square is here, and my clinic is if you follow this road," Markus said and pointed at the map. "Think it over... and then come find me."
"Are all of these hoops really necessary? Can't you just tell us what it's about?" James asked.
"Not now," Markus said. "To be honest, it... won't be safe. Keep that in mind... if you haven't shown up in an hour, I will assume you're not in."
"Sounds fair," Rink said and handed the map over to Mirise. "See you later... or goodbye, depending on what we choose."
"Yes... that's how it is," Markus said before turning around and leaving. Muse, who had said nothing during the conversation, cast a final glance at the trio, a look of disapproval on her face, before disappearing around the corner together with Markus.
"I don't think that girl likes us," James said.
"She certainly doesn't seem the trusting type," Rink commented. "But that Markus fellow seems reasonable."
"So what now?" James asked.
"Breakfast," Mirise replied. "And talking it over."
"Sounds about right," Rink said.
They returned to Cassandra to eat after picking up sandwiches from a bakery on the way, as they figured it would be best to have privacy while talking about the matter at hand. Mirise prepared a cup of tea for each of them, and put the map on the middle of the table in the cabin before sitting down.
"Alright, so what do we think?" she asked. "He said it was for the good of the island."
"For whatever that is worth," James said. "How do we know he told the truth?"
"I think we can trust him," Rink said. "He said we should find him at his clinic, so he's clearly some kind of doctor."
"And that makes you trust him?" James asked.
"He said he wanted to right some wrongs... it really sounded to me like he had the best interests of the island at heart, rather than some other agenda. And doctors... they tend to be like that. They want to help."
"He said it would probably be dangerous, too..." James said.
"Yeah, but what are you expecting?" Rink asked. "That everything you do on this trip would be entirely safe? That's not how the world works, especially not these days."
"I get that, but I don't know," James said.
"Well, I'm all for getting the details about this," Rink said and turned to Mirise. "We could leave right away if it gets to that, right?"
"Yes, but I haven't plotted any course yet," Mirise said. "But I can do that when we're out to sea."
"See, we can just do that. In the worst case, we'll just go back to Avasine and try another route."
"Oh, alright," James said. "We'll listen to what they want to do."
"And if it seems too much..." Mirise started.
"We'll bail," Rink finished before downing the last of her sandwich. "So we're doing this, then."
"Seems like it," James said. "So, do we go right away?"
"Almost," Rink said as she walked over to where they kept their luggage and started digging around in one of her bags. She eventually pulled out a smaller sack, looked inside it and then slung it over her shoulder. "Alright, now I'm ready."
"What's that?" James asked.
"Something I haven't used since before I reached Avasine," Rink replied. "It might come in handy."
"Let's go, then," Mirise said and emptied her teacup before standing up. James attached his dagger to his belt, but let his shirt hang down over it so it wouldn't be too apparent he was walking around with a weapon. They left the boat and started making their way into the city, with Mirise leading the way.
It didn't take her long to find the location - the map, while simple, was clear enough. The place didn't look like much from the outside - it was part of a larger building, and only a small sign on the door identified it as a doctor's clinic. Mirise knocked on the door.
"Come in," a muffled voice spoke from within. Mirise opened the door, and they all entered.
It wasn't very big on the inside either - they came into a room that seemed like it was a waiting area, with three chairs, a small table, and a desk next to an open door into the next room. There were no people in the room currently, but soon Markus walked through the door, looking down at a notebook. He was currently wearing a white doctor's coat, and wasn't wearing his cap - but had glasses on.
"Do you have an- oh, it's you," he said as he saw who the new visitors were. "Come in, quick," he continued as he pointed them into the other room, locking the front door and closing the door into the other room after him. The other room was larger, with a bed and a few benches with cupboards along the walls. Various equipment was lying on top of them. In the corner, there was another doorway.
"No patients today?" Mirise asked.
"Don't get a lot, really," Markus replied. "It's only occasionally I actually have someone come here, I mostly do house visits... but not too many of those either. There's a hospital on the south side of town, but I prefer doing this on my own. Plus..."
"Makes it easier for you to disappear," Rink noted.
"Well... I suppose," Markus replied as he took off his glasses and placed them on the bench. "But since you're here, I assume you want to hear more..."
"So we decided," James said. "But nothing's final yet."
"I understand that," Markus said and put his doctor's coat on the bed. "Follow me." He opened the door in the room, revealing a stairway. He led the way as the four of them descended into the basement, which also was Markus and Muse's living space. Muse was sitting down at the desk, with a bunch of arrows she seemed to be working on in front of her. She looked up as they entered.
"So you came," she said. "I almost thought you wouldn't dare."
"Be nice, Muse," Markus said.
"If we're going to help you, you better drop the attitude, missy," James said with a hint of irritation.
"Be nice, James," Rink said.
"So, um," Mirise spoke up, "what is this all about, now?"
"Alright," Markus said. "You came, so you deserve more of the story."
"It's about time," James said.
"Me and Muse... as I said, what we're doing is for the good of Kurita... say, have you noticed anything... let's say, strange about this island?"
"A little," Rink said. "Something about it bothers me, but I don't know what... and everything's expensive. That got something to do with it?"
"It's part of it, yes," Markus said. "The trading fees are very high here."
"And... that's what you're fighting?" James asked. "Doesn't seem very serious to me..."
"It's just one example," Markus continued. "Any money you earn, any money you spend, there's taxes and fees on everything. Every time money goes through the system, some of it is siphoned off... and it goes right into the pockets of Galt. Kurita's bleeding."
"And nobody's complaining about this?" Rink asked.
"Who are they going to complain to? Kurita's completely under their control. It's not like the Marines are going to step in. The citizens wouldn't dare. If Kurita is ever going to be able to recover... Galt needs to be dealt with."
"So, before we go any further... who is this 'Galt' you keep talking about?" James asked.
"What do you think?" Muse asked. "He's the core of this whole thing. He's the one who collects the taxes, he's the one controlling the town guard."
"You... don't mean..." Mirise started.
"It's what you think," Muse answered before Mirise had finished asking her question. "He's the mayor of Kurita... and our goal is to take him down."