Early the next day, after partaking of breakfast from a nearby vendor, the three of them headed out to see what Kurita had to offer during the day. Rink had taken inventory of their food stock and made a list of what they had to get before continuing their travels, and as James and Mirise didn't have anything better to do, had enlisted them to carry things as she scoured the local markets - and keep a lookout for anything weird.
Kurita's market district was markedly different from Avasine, in that it was a lot more structured. Whereas Avasine had all sorts of things spread out all over the city, the shops of Kurita seemed more clustered. There was one place to go if you was looking for produce, another place for meat, yet another for drinks. Kurita, quite naturally, also had a lower concentration of people than Avasine. The stands that were open at this time appeared to be almost exclusively dealing in food, so Rink made her way to one of the vegetable stands and started looking over the wares.
"Good morning, ma'am," the shopkeeper said.
"'morning," Rink replied. "Let's see... I'll have two cabbages, four leeks, and a kilo of potatoes."
"Certainly, ma'am," the shopkeeper answered as he started collecting what Rink had asked for into a bag. "That'll be 1600 beli."
"1600?" Rink said in a surprised tone. "That's insane. I'll give you 900."
"It's what it costs, ma'am. But you seem to be new here, so to show my good-will, I'll make it 1450."
"This shouldn't be a beli above 1000, and even that's a stretch. But fine, I can go to 1100."
"If that's how you think it goes here, you won't leave with much. Most of the shops around here aren't as nice as me. 1300, and that's final."
"Fine," Rink grumbled and handed over the money. She was given the bag and immediately held it out towards James. "Here, carry this."
"Sure," James said and grabbed it. "So what was..."
"And he wanted 1600 beli for that! It better be damn good."
James shrugged as they continued their shopping.
Two hours later, they had left their purchases with Cassandra and were sitting down at a café. Mirise was eating a small pastry, Rink only had a cup of tea and James was working on a bowl of thick tomato soup with bread.
"How can you be hungry enough to eat something like that already when we had breakfast like... two hours ago?" Rink asked James. "And you wanted to eat yesterday night when we arrived as well, even though it wasn't long ago we had had dinner. Do you always eat this much?"
"You DID have me carry all the heavy things," James replied. "That makes a guy hungry."
"Among other things," Mirise giggled.
"Any story about that?" Rink asked while sipping on her tea.
"Well, that first time I met James, when he helped me beat up these two guys-"
"They were accosting her," James interrupted.
"Either way, after that, he said fighting made him hungry."
"I have a fast metabolism, okay?" James said. Rink and Mirise laughed.
"Anyway," Rink said, "I assume you haven't seen anything odd?"
"We were following you all morning, but not really," James replied. "You?"
"Only odd thing I've noticed is how expensive everything is around here," Rink replied. "Like, that fish? That shouldn't even have been half that."
"Well, it's not as much of a trading spot as Avasine," Mirise said, having long finished her snack.
"It's not just more expensive than Avasine," Rink answered. "I don't think I've ever seen basic goods at the prices they're asking for here. And whenever I asked why, they avoided the question." She finished her tea in one last swig.
"You think it has something to do with... whatever's going on," James said, "if there actually is anything going on?"
"I don't know," Rink said. "I don't think a bad economy would be enough to feel like that. It's not like we're hurting for money, I still have a lot left from my salary and you said you had a lot of traveling money, but even so. The supply is mostly restocked, at least. With this we'll last a week, easily, but I still have some more things to get."
"Speaking of which," James said as he finished up his soup, "how long are we planning on staying here, and where are we going next?"
"I'm ready to leave, honestly," Rink said. "This island doesn't seem to have much to offer beyond this city, but I'm also not in any rush."
"Let's give it another day or two," Mirise said. "I need to figure out what the best routes away from here are. Avasine's closer than any other island, so it'll be a longer trip this time."
"So, any plans for the rest of the day?" James asked.
"I still have some things to buy, but I'll handle that myself," Rink said. "You can do what you want."
"Guess I'll check out the town, then," James said and turned to Mirise. "What about you?"
"Oh, I have some ideas," she replied.
"You need any money?" Rink asked.
"Don't worry about me," Mirise answered. "I found dad had given me even more travel money than he said he'd done."
"He really does care about you," James said.
"Must've been a good mayor to keep a place such as Avasine under control too," Rink said. "Never heard anyone complain about him."
"He did a good job," Mirise said.
"By the way, I've been meaning to ask..." James started.
"What?" Mirise said.
"Not you, I mean Rink," he explained.
"Yes?" Rink said.
"What's the story with that eyepatch?" he asked and pointed towards her face with his spoon. "You never take it off."
"It's just an eyepatch," Rink said. "I lost that eye, about... ten years ago? Something like that. I used to have to keep it covered to keep dirt out of the... well, the remains, and I've kept it on since most people don't really enjoy seeing the kind of stuff that's underneath."
"So how'd it happen?" James asked.
"It's... not a very pleasant story," Rink said as she drank the last of her tea. "I'd rather not go into that now."
"Well, then," Rink said and stood up, putting a few coins on the table. "That should cover my tea. I guess we'll just split up, I'll probably leave some things with Cassandra and then come back when it's time to sleep, so I'll see you there."
"Sounds good," Mirise said and rose as well after adding her part to the pile of coins. "See you tonight."
Rink and Mirise left the table, going their separate ways, leaving James to actually do the payment.
The following hours weren't particularly eventful. Mirise first sought out the local library, reading up on the weather and streams around Kurita. Rink patronized a few local bars, primarily to try to get some clue about if there really was anything going on, getting a few drinks in as well but making sure to stay functional. James mostly walked around town, visiting a variety of shops and picking up a few trinkets, including a sheath for the dagger he'd picked up that first day in Avasine so he could carry it on his belt. He was keeping a lookout for the man he'd seen yesterday, but had no luck.
The sun had started setting when Mirise started making her way back towards the docks, carrying two books. Not being entirely familiar with the layout of the town, she made her way to the town square first, where she spotted James sitting on a bench with a bottle of beer in his hand.
"Hey!" she exclaimed and walked over to him.
"Oh, Mirise," James said. "How's things?"
"Can't complain," she replied.
"Done anything interesting?" James asked and took a drink from the bottle.
"Mostly reading," she answered and held up the books. "Found some books with old sea charts. You?"
"Looked around, trying to find that guy again," he replied. "No luck yet, but maybe..."
"Maybe what?" Mirise asked.
"See there," James said and pointed towards a building. When Mirise looked at it, she recognized it as the place they had visited yesterday night. "Maybe he'll show up there today too."
"Just because he was there yesterday, it doesn't really mean-" Mirise fell quiet. No sooner had the words escaped her mouth than she was proven wrong, for a figure that was unmistakably the person they - James, at least - was looking for entered the establishment.
"See? SEE?" James said.
"Now what?" Mirise asked.
"We wait for him to come out and see where he goes," James responded.
They didn't have to wait long - only a few minutes later, he came out through the door, carrying something under his arm. He looked around before starting to leave, down the same road James and Mirise had come when they found the place the day before.
"He seems to be going to the docks... you think we should find Rink first?" Mirise asked.
"No, we'll lose him. Come on!" James responded as they kept following the man, keeping enough of a distance to, they assumed, not be noticed. He soon entered an alley, and as they followed, saw him turning a corner into another one. Following after, they found themselves in a dead end. But even though the man had clearly gone in here, he was nowhere to be seen.
"Wha-" James exclaimed. "Where did he go?"
The sound of something landing on the ground was heard from behind them, and they both turned around to see the man they had followed now standing in the entrance of the alley.
As this was the first time they were able to see him clearly, James studied his appearance. One of the first things he noticed was that he looked a lot less threatening now that they could see his face. He had short dark brown hair covered with a dark grey flat cap, and a stubble around his jaw. Underneath his coat, he was wearing a white shirt, and two straps forming an X ran across his torso.
He looked at the two of them, as if sizing them up. "Alright, now you can't run anywhere," he said.
"Run? We-" Mirise began.
"You've been following me ever since you came here," the man said. "I don't know who you are, but I won't let you interfere!" He reached behind his back with his right hand and pulled out a short sword. James and Mirise looked at each other.
"Even if you have a sword, you think you can take us on alone?" James said and nodded towards Mirise. "She's much stronger than she-"
"I'm not alone," the man said. A moment later, an arrow came flying through the air, sailing diagonally in front of James's eyes and landing in front of Mirise's feet. She gave off a small shriek and dropped her books in surprise.
"We've put too much into this," a woman's voice came from above them. James and Mirise soon found its source, standing on the roof to the right of James. She was holding a bow and had another arrow aimed at the duo. Mirise grabbed the arrow that was lying in front of her in her right hand, and positioned her left hand in front of her face.
"So who do you want to deal with?" she asked James without looking at him.
James heard not only her question, but also thought he heard the sound of water dripping coming from her. He glanced down, and saw that he was correct - water had started dripping from the ends of her hair, as if it was melting. Puzzled by this, he didn't reply.
"None of that," the woman said as she let another arrow fly, causing them both to have to dodge. She then jumped down from the roof, holding onto a rope. Now that she was in a more lit up area, James and Mirise could see her better - she looked to be about as old as Mirise, with tanned skin, long, black hair with a single streak coloured dark red, and wearing some kind of ornament consisting of a red flower and blue feather over her left ear. She was wearing a dark grey coat similar to the man's, but shorter, ending slightly below the waist. Underneath it, she was wearing a dark red camisole and black, knee-length shorts. On her feet, she was wearing sandals, and there was a quiver of arrows hanging horizontally across her back, at waist level. She already had another arrow nocked in her somewhat unorthodox-looking bow. "We fight together."
"Well then, two on two it is," James said and pulled his dagger. He cast another glance at Mirise, who appeared more concentrated than he had ever seen her before, yet still with a smile on her face. Only this time, rather than her usual cheerful smile, it seemed to be a bit more mischievous. This made him grin himself. They had wanted some excitement.
And that, it seems, was exactly what they had gotten.
To be continued in Volume 02: The Kurita incident