Chapter 010: Stop

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The woman let her arrow fly. It was heading for Mirise, who made a quick jump backwards and flicked the fingers on her left hand upwards.
 
The puddle that had formed from the water that dripped from her hair suddenly gushed upwards, striking the arrow in flight and causing it to change course, no longer posing any danger to anyone.
 
James looked at her. "What was-" he started, but was interrupted as the dark-clad man made an assault towards him with his sword.  He parried the strike with his dagger, but as the blades impacted, the man quickly pulled his sword back and went in for a quick stab. James stepped to the side, and the only damage done to either of them was a small gash in James's shirt. While the next few strikes they traded were ineffectual as well, James found himself getting pushed back, and soon he felt a wall behind him.
 
Mirise, meanwhile, was avoiding everything the woman was sending her way. She somehow moved the puddle of water around as if it was a part of herself, using it to both deflect arrows and to attack. The woman, meanwhile, was moving around at a swift pace, attacking from several angles while picking up arrows she had already fired to use them again. All the while Mirise's hair was still dripping, adding to the already decently-sized puddle she was controlling.
 
James's dagger and the man's sword were again locked against each other, and James had been forced to back up enough that he was now standing with his back towards the wall. Figuring he had to get away from it, he directed a kick towards one of the man's legs. He had avoided using kicks until now to not risk losing his balance, but with his current position, he didn't have many options left. The man swung his sword downwards, but James was the quicker to strike. The man stumbled backwards, giving James an opportunity to lunge at him and aim a punch towards his face, but only managed to hit the cap off of his head.
"Rude."
James started another assault in his direction, but before he had taken even one full step, the woman had placed herself between the two of them and fired an arrow towards James, who managed to strike it with his dagger as he dodged backwards.
"Hey!" he exclaimed.
"I told you," the woman replied. "We fight together."
"Then so do we," Mirise said and lashed out with the water towards the duo. The man snatched up his cap while dashing out of the way, while the woman moved closer to James with another arrow at the ready.
"You expect me to hit a lady?" James asked.
"Who are you calling a lady?" the woman replied and fired her arrow from short range, but James threw his hand out and managed to hit the bow, causing the arrow to go wide.
 
Mirise, meanwhile, was attempting to strike the man with gushes of water. But every time she tried, the man would hit them with his sword, making the water lose shape for long enough that the attack was ineffective, and thus he was starting to close the distance to her. Now Mirise was the one being pushed back, and before she had the time to counter, he took a long stride towards her and made an overhead slash. She attempted to block with the arrow she was holding, and while not enough to completely block the strike, managed to deflect it enough that she could get out of the way by ducking and doing a small roll, dropping the arrow in the process. She looked around, trying to find if there was something around here she could use - and realized there still was, something that all of them had been ignoring. Taking a few quick steps backwards, she stared at the man intensely, but stood still. She didn't even attack with her water. She just waited.
 
The woman had increased the distance between herself and James, but she wasn't attacking with the ferocity she had been doing when she was targeting Mirise. She and James were circling each other, each trying to find an opening. She wouldn't be able to recollect the arrows she had fired as easily from this position, and she didn't have all too many left. Both of them threw the occasional glance over at Mirise and the man as well, as if to confirm that none of them were about to switch targets.
 
The man started running towards Mirise. She flicked her left hand upwards, and out of seemingly nowhere a book jumped up from the ground, carried by her water. She used her other hand to hit the book, sending it flying towards the man who swatted it away with his sword... only to get hit in the face by another book only a moment later, causing him to fall backwards. As he started sitting up, Mirise quickly started approaching him, her rising water following her.
 
"Markus!" the woman yelled out and moved to intercept, but James placed himself in front of her. "Get out of the way!" she demanded.
"Make me!" James replied, pulling his hand back for a punch. That's when a yell was heard from the entrance of the alley.
 
"STOP!"
 
It wasn't a normal yell. It was loud in a strange way, and it even seemed to carry some physical force behind it. James stumbled backwards from what felt like a shock wave and fell on the ground. Mirise stopped moving, causing her water to stop and splash down around her. The man and the woman halted their attacks as well, and all of them looked towards the source of the yell.
 
There, at the entrance of the alley, stood an out of breath Rink. James and Mirise realized that the voice had indeed been identifiable as her, even if it had been... odd.
 
"Rink!" Mirise shouted.
"What are you two doing?" Rink said in an exasperated tone.
The woman took a step towards Rink and aimed an arrow in her direction. "Who are you? Another one of Galt's thugs?"
"Who the hell is Galt?" Rink asked. The woman lowered her bow slightly.
"You... don't sound like you're lying..." she said, before taking aim again. "But that doesn't change the fact that these two were stalking Markus!"
"Stalking?" James asked, having gotten up on his feet again. "Well... I guess we were, but..."
"And who the hell is Markus?" Rink asked.
"That would be me," the man who was still sitting on the ground said. "If you don't know... maybe you don't have anything to do with this after all..."
"So how about you tell me just what is going on here?" Rink asked.
"We... followed this guy, and then they cornered us..." James explained.
"And it didn't occur to any of you to stop and ask why you were fighting?" Rink asked.
Mirise and James looked at each other and didn't say anything.
"You two..." Rink sighed, putting her hand over her face before turning around. "Wait... someone's coming."
"The town guard," the man called Markus said and stood up.
"Let's get out of here," the woman said. The two of them climbed up the rope the woman had used to descend from the roof, pulling it up after them. Rink, James and Mirise were thus left in the alley on their own, and not long thereafter, a group of four red-uniformed men carrying spears entered the alley. In front was one who seemed to be in charge, with a thick but short brown beard and moustache. He walked closer to the three of them.
"What is going on here? We heard a scream!" he said.
Rink turned to face them. "I am so sorry, sir," she said. "My friend here had a little too much to drink, and got into an argument with this young lady. It got a little heated, that's all. So I had to break it up."
"Hm..."
"Isn't that right, James?" Rink asked and turned to face James with a scowl.
"Y-yes, I'm sorry," he said.
"Are you alright, miss?" the guard asked and looked at Mirise.
"Yes, I just... he caused me to drop my books in a puddle of water, so I got a bit mad at him," Mirise answered. "But I'm fine now."
"I'll take care of him, he just needs to sleep it off, I promise it won't happen again," Rink told the guard. "We just came here yesterday, we're so, so sorry."
"Well, alright then," the guard replied. "And stay out of these alleys when the sun is down, you never know what kind of people are around."
"Certainly, sir," Rink replied as the town guards left, before she turned to James and Mirise with an angry look on her face. "Just what the hell do the two of you think you're doing? We said we'd try to get some information, not get ourselves arrested or killed!"
"We... that was the guy I had seen, we were just seeing where he was going..." James said.
"Let's... let's just go back to Cassandra," Rink said. "Goddamnit, you two..."
"Sorry," Mirise said. "We should have been more careful..."
"At least nobody got hurt," Rink said. "What's those books?"
"Well, they got pretty wet," Mirise said as she picked up the books she had dropped and looked at them, "but they might be salvageable."
"That's good, at le-" Rink paused herself and looked around at the ground. "Wait, wet? Puddle? It hasn't been raining, how did..."
Mirise sighed. "I'll explain when we get back to the boat."
"I think you have something to explain as well," James said to Rink.
"Okay, okay," Rink replied. "Let's go back before we get into any more trouble."
 
The short return trip to Cassandra was executed in silence. James and Mirise entered the cabin first, and Rink looked around to make sure they hadn't been followed before she closed and locked the door.
"Okay, first of all, I need a drink," Rink said and took a half-empty bottle of rum out of a cupboard. "You want any?"
"I'll have a glass," James replied.
"Nothing for me, thanks," Mirise said.
Rink poured two glasses and put one in front of James before sitting down herself. "So let's take it from the top... why were you two fighting those guys?"
"Well, we..." James started. "That guy in the coat was the guy I told you about yesterday."
"Yeah, you mentioned that."
"We saw him at the same restaurant, and he acted suspicious, so we wanted to see if he was up to something. We thought he didn't notice us..."
"Well, he obviously did," Rink noted.
"We followed him into that alley," Mirise continued, "and he got the drop on us and then that woman ambushed us as well."
"So you just fought without actually knowing why," Rink said.
"Yeah, they... they accused us of interfering," James said. "But I don't know with what."
"At least that confirms that there IS something going on here," Rink said. "But I'm not sure it's worth digging any deeper into it, if this is what it'll lead to."
"That said," James said to Rink, "what is your deal?"
"My deal?" Rink asked.
"That shout. That wasn't normal," James said. "Even if you've trained your voice as a singer... that was more than a scream. You did something."
"So it is," Rink said with a smile. "And none of you suspected what it was until now? Haven't either of you heard of devil fruits?"
"I... know OF them," James said.
"Devil fruits..." Mirise said. "I've read about them, they give some... magic powers, but I didn't know what they were like..."
"Well, that's the truth," Rink said. "I've eaten the Sound Fruit. I'm a sound devil."
"That explains a lot," James said. "'Fractal harmonies', eh?"
Rink laughed. "I still call that particular trick that. But I have control over my voice, I can make and hear - feel, really - sounds that humans aren't normally able to."
"That has to be useful for a singer like you," Mirise said.
"It is, but I was singing long before I ate the fruit," Rink said. "Now, I believe that you also had-"
Rink stopped talking as a thud was heard from the cabin door followed by a small rattle.
"What was that?" she said as she turned towards the door.
 
The three of them stood up. Rink unlocked the door and slowly opened it, peeking outside. But she didn't see anyone in the vicinity, and couldn't hear anyone beyond the expected either. She opened the door further, and found that lying on the deck in front of the door was a blunted arrow with a rolled-up piece of paper tied around it. Rink picked it up and returned to the cabin, closing and locking the door behind her.
"Well, well, well," she said while holding up the arrow for the others to see. "Looks like we got mail."
She removed the paper from the arrow and unrolled it, reading what had been written on it out loud.
 
Wish to talk. Will explain. No fighting.
Will be waiting in alley tomorrow at sunrise.
- Markus
 
She looked up from the paper and smirked. "Okay... maybe it's worth digging a little deeper."
 

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