Chapter 008: Suspicious minds

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The trip to Kurita passed by without much incident. James took care of the steering, Mirise the navigating and Rink did most of their cooking. During periods of calm weather, Mirise was already making it a habit to swim alongside the boat for a little while. James spent most of his free time reading, and Rink was more often than not humming to herself or outright singing. Thanks to fortunate weather, they even arrived half a day earlier than Mirise had assumed, and so it was under the stars they parked Cassandra in one of Kurita's docks. James was the first to jump onto ground and tie the ship to the mooring post, looking around to see if he could find someone to tell him what the rules were. As he looked around, a pair of people caught his eye - certainly not dock workers, but there was something about them. A man dressed in dark clothes, with a hat and a trenchcoat, and a long-haired woman who carried something, but James couldn't identify it since she was standing further into the shadows.
 
For a moment, James's eyes met the man's. They looked at each other for a second or so, before the man turned to the woman, said something and then both of them disappeared behind a corner. Something about it unsettled James, but he figured it wasn't worth thinking too much about. It didn't concern them, anyway, Kurita was just one the first of many stops on a journey.
 
"James?" Rink's voice came from the boat.
"Hm? Oh, yeah," he said. "I don't see anyone to ask, I'll go check over there," he said and pointed to a building with light coming from the window.
"Alright, we'll secure the boat," Rink said and made her way to the dock, followed by Mirise.
"So, this is Kurita," Mirise said and looked around. "You know, since Avasine is man-made, this is the first real island I set foot on. That I can remember, anyway."
"Well, there's always a first time," Rink replied as she made sure the ship was securely fastened.
"How many islands have you been to, miss Rink?" Mirise asked.
"Oh, wow, that's quite a question," Rink replied. "I've never left West Blue, but I've been around... if we only count settled islands, and only each island once... probably twenty or thirty or so. Even if I only spent a few hours on some."
"That's a lot," Mirise said. "That ship you were on must have made a real journey."
"Well, I guess," Rink replied.
Shortly thereafter, James came back.
"Okay, so there's no payment to dock here. They keep watch, but don't really guard the ships. And there's no Marine station here."
"Thought I heard snoring from the ships around here," Rink said. "So, what do you think? Do we need to guard the ship?"
"They said there's rarely any thefts, and it's not like we plan on being here that long," James said. "It'll probably be fine, but I think we should at least check back with the ship a few times daily, if we're all away from it."
"It's probably for the best," Mirise said. "So, what now? Go to sleep?"
"I'm not sleepy, honestly," James said. "Getting a bit hungry again, though... supper?"
"Well, I'm not going to start cooking now," Rink said. "There should be somewhere to eat around here. I think I'd rather go for a drink, though."
"I'm not that hungry, but I'll come along," Mirise said. "Do we think Cassandra will be fine?"
"To be perfectly honest," Rink said while looking around, "I don't think Cassandra is at any risk here. No offense to her, but she's not one of the fancier ships around. It's not like we have a lot of valuables. And given how many people seem to be sleeping on the boats around here, any would-be thieves probably wouldn't go for it anyway."
"Alright, then," James said with a shrug before the trio started walking into the actual town.
 
Kurita didn't have much in common with Avasine. Where Avasine had a lot of tall buildings, most of them in some shade of white, Kurita didn't seem to have much taller than two stories and they were all reddish-brown brick structures. At least it had some semblance of a nightlife. Rink broke off into a pub as James and Mirise continued into one of the few still open restaurants and sat down. James ordered a meatball sandwich while Mirise just got a glass of water, which was soon delivered.
 
"So," James said after a few bites, "what do you think of her?"
"Hm?" Mirise replied.
"I mean, Rink."
"What about her?" Mirise asked.
"I mean... she doesn't seem to want to tell us anything about herself," James continued. "You think she's hiding something?"
"I don't know," Mirise replied. "But I trust her. We'll probably find out more about her, and it's not like you and I are revealing everything about ourselves yet either."
"I guess," James said. "I guess I wouldn't have asked her to come with us if I didn't trust her too."
"Plus, she has a lot more experience than us, if what she says about having been at sea is true."
"I don't see why it wouldn't..." James said. "And with the food she's cooking, I'm glad she's with us."
James looked around the restaurant for a bit. He sat facing the door, Mirise having her back towards it. There weren't a lot of customers at this hour. James figured most people out now would have rather followed Rink's example and hit up a bar instead.
 
A few moments later, a man dressed in a black coat and dark grey cap walked through the door. Someone James recognized. He lowered his head a bit and started half-whispering to Mirise.
"Don't look now, but that guy who just came in..."
Mirise tried to avoid looking over her shoulder. "What about him?"
"I saw him when we arrived... something's weird about him," James continued.
"So does that have anything to do with us?" Mirise asked in response.
"Well, no... not really, I suppose, but..." James said.
"But what?"
"Oh, forget it," James replied. "Let's just finish up and go back."
 
James ate the rest of his sandwich before the two of them left the restaurant. Looking around, they saw a few handfuls of people walking around the streets. Most of them drunk, but some that seemed to belong to some sort of city guard. They decided to look around a little before returning to Cassandra, and soon found themselves on a street lined with shops. Most of them closed for the day, but a few still had their lamps lit. A short distance in front of them, a door opened and someone walked out. James nudged Mirise.
"There he is again!" James half-whispered.
It was indeed the same black-clad man again. He looked in both directions, but not obviously taking any special notice of the two of them, before crossing the street in a half-run and disappearing through an alley.
"Told you. He's shady," James said.
"He does seem strange," Mirise replied.
"Let's see what that place is," James said. They walked up to the door he had came out of. It seemed to be a small establishment, the only sign on the door reading 'Materials', and only a small window which mostly had various papers with things that James didn't recognize on them. He opened the door and walked into a fairly small room, which was additionally cramped by both sides being covered with shelves full of various bottles, boxes and bags. At the end of the room, a bald man with a small white beard and glasses sat at a desk.
"Oh, welcome," he said. "Can I help you find something?"
"Oh, uh, I was just wondering what you're selling here?" James asked. Mirise had started studying the items on the shelves.
"Oh, I have many things," the shopkeeper said. "Paper and ink, glass bottles, chemicals, gunpowder... various trinkets."
"I understand," James replied. "Do many people buy those?"
"Not anymore, I'll admit," the shopkeeper answered. "But we still get a few customers. Now, anything you want?"
"Not today, act-"
"I'll take these," Mirise interrupted. She held up two clear bottles, one filled with a white liquid and the other with a dark red one, and walked up to the shopkeeper.
"Very good," he replied. "That will be four hundred beli."
Mirise opened her pouch and placed the money on the desk. The shopkeeper put her purchase in a small paper bag that he handed to her. "Thank you very much, sir," she said before the two of them left the shop.
"So what'd you buy?" James asked.
"White and red ink," Mirise replied.
"What's that good for?"
"I'm not sure yet, but I haven't seen ink in these colours before."
"Anyway, now I'm sure something's up with that guy," James said. "Chemicals and gunpowder?"
"And ink and paper and a lot of other things," Mirise countered.
"True, but he clearly wasn't acting like he hadn't been up to something shady when he left. I don't know if he saw us, but given how fast he moved there was obviously someone he didn't want to be seen by... those town guards, perhaps?"
Mirise nodded. "I think you're right," she said. "But I don't think there's any use following him now. We should get back to the boat before Rink wonders where we are."
"Eh, she's probably not back herself yet."
 
James and Mirise headed back to Cassandra, but Rink had indeed returned before them. She was sitting on the deck, looking out over the sea.
"What took you so long? Where've you been?" she asked without even turning her head.
"We looked around a bit," James said. "Didn't think you'd be back so soon."
"Oh, I just had two beers," Rink replied and looked at them. "Found anything interesting?"
"Well..." James began.
"Ink," Mirise said.
"Ink?" Rink asked with a puzzled expression on her face.
"Ink!" Mirise exclaimed, taking the bottle of white ink out of her bag. "We found a store."
"Oh, huh," Rink said. "White ink? What's that good for?"
Mirise giggled at the repeat question and stepped onto the deck. "I don't know yet."
James followed her and yawned. "Well, I think I'm going to turn in for the night."
"Sounds good," Rink said and stood up. The three of them entered the cabin, and Rink closed the door after them.
"Okay, now it's just us," she said. "I wonder... have you noticed anything... weird around here?"
James and Mirise looked at each other.
"Well, there's one thing we've seen," James said. "Why?"
"Call it a hunch," Rink said. "I overheard a few things at the pub, and something about this place just rubs me the wrong way... but I'm not sure of anything, really. What's your findings?"
"This one guy who acts strangely," James replied. "I saw him when we landed here, and then we've seen him twice more. He's hiding something, I'm sure of it."
"Could have something to do with it," Rink said. "Well, we have to get some supplies for the next part of the trip, anyway. Maybe we can find something out tomorrow. If it's nothing, then it's nothing. But I have a feeling that there's something going on here..."
"I'm all for looking around," James replied. "What about you, Mirise?"
"Sure, why not?" she answered. "Some mystery solving could be fun, but maybe we shouldn't meddle too much in other people's affairs."
"Agreed," Rink said. "We'll take what we can find. After we've had some sleep."
 

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