Over the following days, Mirise showed James the ins and outs of Avasine. At least on the surface - to show every little facet would take months. Since he wasn't planning on staying for too long, there were a lot of things he didn't even need to know. But for a visitor, he got the best guide and most complete introduction to Avasine that anyone could wish for. It was far from the first time Mirise had acted as such a guide to the city, but the way they had met was unique - in most other cases she had showed someone around, it had started with a question directed at her about where to find something particular because she happened to be close by, and ended with a four-hour trip around the city.
Mirise saw something in James, something she wasn't entirely able to put her finger on. But he had helped her, risking to get hurt himself in the process - so it was the least she could do for him. It helped that James appeared to be genuinely interested whenever Mirise started going off on some tangent about Avasine's history, structure or people, even though it was of no importance to him. Despite that he was in the middle of traveling and was planning on leaving soon, and had said that Avasine was just a place for him to gear up for the journey, he was more than ready to spend time with Mirise even when they didn't do anything that involved any travel preparations.
James always made sure to catch Rink's shows at the hotel. The mysterious singer intrigued him, and he had attempted to speak to her, but never managed to get her attention. Speaking to the hotel manager didn't amount to anything either - even if James wasn't one of her obsessed fans, she had a strict policy against having the manager bring people to her, he explained. She'd always take the first contact - there'd be no end to the people asking about her if it was any other way.
James and Mirise would meet up every morning. More specifically, James would leave the hotel after breakfast, and within twenty minutes Mirise would have found him, no matter which way he went. James wasn't entirely sure how she did it, and when asked, her answers didn't actually give him any new information.
It had been five days since he arrived. The two of them had spent the morning in usual fashion, and were now sitting down at the Dockside Café, waiting for their lunch.
"So, I mean," James said, "it has to be people I can trust too, so I don't just want to hire someone..."
"And you're not finding anyone?" Mirise asked.
"It's hard, you know?" James replied. "I don't know where to look at this point, people in the docks are all already on some crew, and-"
"Hey!" someone shouted from the street, interrupting James. Everyone in the vicinity turned their heads to find the source - but James and Mirise were the only ones who recognized them. "It's those two!"
Two men, one with a bandaged nose, holding an iron pipe over his shoulder. The other one had his fists clenched, with chains wrapped around his hands. Indeed, it was the two men that had harassed Mirise, the two they had beaten up a few days ago.
"You're the one who stole my dagger!" the guy with the chains shouted, pointing at James.
"Now, now..." James started, but was interrupted by the other guy.
"And don't think I've forgotten what you did to me," he said and pointed with the pipe at Mirise. Around them, people were talking, whispering, stepping backwards, but nobody seemed to be ready to step in to help. Mostly unarmed and drunk, they had been one thing, but now they seemed pretty intent on getting their revenge, and with those weapons they could do a lot of damage.
"Ah, crap," James said and turned to Mirise. "Should we run, or..."
"If we run, we might drag other people into it," Mirise said and picked up a knife from the table. "I guess we started this, after all."
"You're gonna fight with that?" James asked as they both stood up. "I left the knife... well, dagger at the hotel..."
"Yes and no," Mirise replied as the two men approached them. James held his hands up and thought he heard a dripping sound from the other side of the table, but didn't get any time to think about that before a cup came flying through the air.
"Look out!" the man with chains on his hands said.
"Huh?" was all the other one managed to express before the cup struck the right side of his head, the still hot contents mostly splashing over him. He dropped the pipe and brought his hands up to his head. "Ow ow ow!"
Almost everyone who had seen what happened looked around to find the source of the cup. A few tables from where James and Mirise had been sitting, a woman was standing up with her right arm still in a post-throw position. A woman with reddish-brown hair, an eyepatch over her right eye, thin pipe in her left hand and a devious smile on her face.
"You really want to do this?" she said before jumping over the railing that fenced in the outside area of the café and faced the duo. "You want to cause trouble here?"
"What's it to you?" the man who she hadn't hit asked.
"It's her!" James exclaimed and looked at Mirise.
"Who?" Mirise asked in response.
"The singer!" James replied before stepping over the railing himself, and Mirise soon did the same. The people around them had started noticing that not only Mirise but also Rink, two of the more popular people in Avasine, were involved and had started closing in, surrounding the scene. The man who had been hit by the cup raised his head and looked around.
"This isn't your business! And... why is everyone..."
"I felt like making it my business," Rink replied and flashed a smile. "And, you know, I'm kinda famous around here," she said while approaching, several people now walking behind her.
"Dude..." the other man said and put his hand on the other's arm. "Maybe it's time to..."
"Arrrgh!" the bandaged man exclaimed. "This isn't fair!" he shouted before the two of them started running the other way.
Rink walked up to where they had been, approaching James and Mirise. "What was with those guys, anyway?"
"We kinda beat them up a few days ago," James replied. "By the way, it's nice to finally get to meet you!"
"Do I know you?" Rink asked, looking at James.
"No, I... I'm staying at the Veranda Hotel. I've been seeing your shows, and I've been interested..."
"Huh," Rink replied and turned her head to look at Mirise. "I've seen you around town... aren't you Theodore's girl?"
"Correct, miss," Mirise replied. "Mirise Lake," she continued and stretched out her hand.
"Rink. Rink Kazai," Rink said and shook her hand.
"And I'm James Conrad," James said and got a handshake as well. "Can I... talk to you?"
"Talk?" Rink asked and bent down to pick up the empty cup she had thrown. "Well, you can buy me a new cup of tea..."
The crowds around them started to return to whatever business they had been attending to before it all, with a few people remaining who seemed to mostly be looking at Rink. The three of them walked back to the table James and Mirise had been sitting at, and Rink pulled up another chair. A waitress was standing next to it, having stopped to witness the events that had just unfolded.
"Oh..." she started saying. "Your... food will be right out."
"Sorry for the mess," Rink said and handed her the empty cup. "Get me another cup of tea, and put it on his bill," she continued and pointed with her thumb at James.
"Certainly, miss Kazai," the waitress said and disappeared into the café.
"They seem to know you," James said and looked back at Rink. She certainly looked less fancy, so to speak, than she did during her performances. Even if she was wearing essentially the same outfit, plus that coat she had over her shoulders... "That's it!" he exclaimed.
Rink raised her eyebrow and took a drag on her pipe. "What now?"
"I saw you when I had just arrived here," James explained. "I went to this café to eat, and I saw you sitting at one of the tables."
"And then you came to stay at the hotel where I work," Rink said. "Small world. But I come here for tea usually twice a week."
"Good tea?" James asked.
"You tell me," Rink said with a shrug. "I don't like tea."
"You don't- then why do you order it?" James said.
"I have my reasons," Rink replied, apparently not interested in shedding any further light on the subject.
It didn't take long for Rink's new cup of tea to be delivered, alongside James and Mirise's food. James received a two-fish sandwich and a small bowl of garlic chips, while Mirise had just ordered a shrimp salad.
"So what was the deal with those guys?" Rink asked James. "They said something about you stealing something?"
"I ran into them my first night here," James explained as he started eating his sandwich. "They were bothering Mirise, so, well, we gave them a beating and one of them had a dagger that I took, I figured they deserved it."
"Sounds fair," Rink replied and grabbed some chips from James's bowl.
"Hey, those are-"
"So, what did you want to talk about?" she asked and started chewing.
"Oh, um... you, I guess," James said. "Your singing, it's... like nothing I've ever heard."
"They say that," Rink replied. "Mister... Conrad, was it? What do you know about the world?"
James sighed. "Less than I'd like to," he said. "I'm... I'm traveling, but I'm just starting. I want to learn more... and that's why I'm asking, I suppose."
"What I do and how I do it is perhaps not normal, but sometimes you start wondering what's normal and what's not," Rink said. "And it's not the strangest thing out there. It's not even the strangest thing in this city."
"So... you're not going to answer, are you?" James asked.
"No," Rink said and started drinking her tea.
"Are you going to answer anything relating to yourself?"
"Maybe," she said. "You're not the usual kind I get."
"They said you used to mingle with the crowd after your shows but don't do that anymore," James said. "Any reason for that?"
"A few," Rink replied. "It was just going on repeat, I guess. You know how when you have everything, even that gets boring. I don't even have to flirt anymore, I can just pick and choose who I want."
"So what about you?" Rink asked and looked at Mirise. "Are you two..."
"No, no, not at all," Mirise said, having finished her salad. "He helped me, and I've just been guiding him around town."
"Makes sense," Rink replied and returned to drinking.
As they had all finished their food and drinks, James went to pay the bill before the three of them left the café. Normally, James and Mirise would continue their trip around the city, but after what had occurred, today would be different.
"Well, my dad's probably heard about what happened here by now, so he'll want to know I'm alright," Mirise said. "I should go home."
"Are we still on for dinner tonight?" James asked.
"Yeah, I'll meet you at half past six," Mirise said before disappearing down the street.
"She's a cutie," Rink said. "Sounds strange, though..."
"What's wrong with her voice?" James asked.
"Not her voice, her... nevermind," Rink replied as she started walking towards the docks, with James following.
"By the way," James said, "who's Theodore?"
"Hm?" Rink said and looked at James with a confused expression. "You... don't know? He's the mayor of Avasine."
James stopped, looked at Rink and blinked a few times. "What?"