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Markus and his female companion descended a set of stairs into a basement-like room. It was fairly spacious, but sparsely decorated - a desk filled with papers, a table with chairs, a workbench, two beds and a couple of crates. Markus hung his coat over the chair in front of the desk and sat down, while the woman hung hers along with her quiver on a hook next to the entrance before sitting down on one of the beds.
"Are you SURE this was a good idea?" she asked.
"Yes, Muse, I'm sure," Markus said, pressing his thumb and forefinger to his forehead. "If they're willing to help..."
"If they even show up," the woman called Muse replied. "Or the town guard might show up instead."
"They're not Galt's, Muse," Markus said.
"How are you so sure about that anyway?" Muse asked. "And what if they WERE targeting us?"
"If they were, they wouldn't have just... stopped like that," Markus said. "Definitely not after we mentioned Galt... and that woman with the power didn't fight, or mention anything about us to the guards. She seemed the reasonable type."
"And what if they were from-"
"Then they would have been going after you, not me."
The duo had not left immediately after escaping the fight, but stayed on the other side of the wall and listened to Rink's conversation with the guards and after that her friends. Markus, realizing they most likely weren't their enemies and that they could be of good help if they wanted to cooperate, had written them a message and had Muse deliver it to their boat via her bow. But Muse was still skeptical.
"Both of them seemed pretty ready to kill us if they had gotten the opportunity," Muse, who had started walking around the room, said. "There's no telling what that girl was planning to do with that water... whatever that was."
"You're one to talk," Markus replied. "You were pretty close to hitting with a lot of your arrows."
"Still, I don't trust them," Muse said. "This is on you if it goes south."
"I know, I know," Markus replied. "But you know as well as I do that right now, the two of us alone can't deal with Galt. They could be useful allies."
"And you think they'll just show up and be all like 'sorry for yesterday, let's be friends now'?" Muse asked.
"No, I don't," Markus replied. "We won't let our guard down, but we can't go there with weapons drawn, either."
"Fine," Muse said. "But I'm still not convinced."
"I don't trust them fully either," Markus said. "But we need any help we can get right now."
"If you say so," Muse said and walked back to the bed. "Well, I'm going to sleep." She took off her sandals, shorts and camisole, put on a white t-shirt that was at least two sizes too big and laid down.
"You do that, I'll... stay up a little longer," Markus said, lit a lamp on the desk and started going through some papers.
"Just don't fall asleep at the desk again," Muse said before turning around and closing her eyes.
"So... your hair just... melts?" Rink asked with a confused expression.
"Sort of," Mirise replied. To demonstrate, she was holding a plate next to her head and was collecting the water from her hair on it.
"And... why can you..." Rink said.
"I'm not sure myself," Mirise replied and put the plate on the table. It wasn't a whole lot of water, but Mirise flicked one of her fingers and it splashed upwards.
"Do you control it like that, or..."
"No, it's like... like it's an extra body part," Mirise replied and put her hands behind her back before making it splash again. "But I find it easier to focus and control it if I move my body along with it. Especially if there's much of it."
"So how much water can you make?" Rink asked.
"More than you'd think," Mirise replied and started to make the water in the plate swirl around. "It comes from my hair, but... I can make more water than I have hair."
"So can all your hair do that?" Rink asked.
"No," Mirise replied and held out some of her cyan fringe. "Only this part."
"Well, that's certainly something I can say I've never seen the likes of before," Rink said. "Well, maybe some devil powers, but... and I guess it could explain why..." she continued.
"Explain what?" Mirise asked.
"Remember how I said she sounded weird?" Rink asked James.
"Weird?" Mirise repeated.
"Yeah," James replied with a nod. "What does that have to do with it?"
"Well, like I said... I can feel sounds people don't know even exist, like the sound, or... echo of a body," Rink started explaining. "And every body has a certain sound. Human bodies sound one way, different animals another... bodies with devil fruit powers have a certain quality to them, but it also depends on the power."
"So what's the sound of my body like?" Mirise asked.
"It's... calmer," Rink said. "It resembles a human, but it's... different in certain ways. It's almost like..."
"Like the ocean," Rink replied. "Like that's where you really belong..."
"What, like she's a mermaid or something?" James asked.
"Well, I don't know what mermaids sound like... certainly would like to hear one some day, but... that's all I can say. And I don't know what that means."
"I... don't either," Mirise said, having reformed all of her hair. "I am me."
"Well, nobody's asking you to be anything else," Rink replied and closed her eye. "Even if it makes me wonder about you... you're great as you are."
Mirise smiled at the compliment. They were all silent for a while, before James spoke up.
"So, to change the topic... are you really going to that thing tomorrow?" he asked and pointed to the letter and arrow lying on the table.
"I was counting on that we all would," Rink replied. "Don't you want to find out what this is all about?"
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" James asked. "What if they don't show up?"
"Then that's not our problem," Rink replied.
"What if it's some kind of trap?"
"Doubtful, and even if it is, I'd hear it coming before it gets us. Literally."
"I'll gladly go with you," Mirise said.
"Besides, it's two against three, if they attack again. I have my sound powers, Mirise has her... hair-water... thingy, and from what I've heard and seen of you, you know a thing or two about handling yourself in a fight."
"Out of necessity," James said and cracked his knuckles. "Yeah, okay, I'll do it."
"We shouldn't go there expecting to fight, though... even if you made a terrible first impression, they seem willing to give us another chance."
"At sunrise..." James said. "That should be, in something like..."
"Six and a half hours, give or take," Mirise said. "We're not far from Avasine, it should be about the same."
"Well, we should get rested, at least," Rink said. "I'll wake you up when it's time."
"And how do you know you'll wake up in time?" James asked. "Don't tell me you can hear when the sun rises too."
"Don't be absurd," Rink replied. "But there's other things to hear that happen when the sun rises, especially when you're in a place like this."
"Doesn't that make sleeping hard for you?" James asked.
"Well, not really," Rink said. "Usually I can filter things out, and usually I sleep where I can't hear it... but if I need it, I sleep with earplugs."
"Do those even help?" James asked. "Didn't you say you could feel sounds, too?"
"They help enough," Rink replied and started taking her shirt off. James quickly turned away, facing the wall, which made Rink giggle. "Still not used to that, are you."
"Just tell me when the two of you are done."
Mirise rolled out two mattresses, her and Rink's sleeping solution. Rink changed into her nightgown, whereas Mirise put on a long-sleeved but airy pyjamas.
"Alright, you can turn around now," Rink said, trying to stifle a laugh.
James said nothing as he stripped down to his underpants and laid down in the hammock. "So, I was wondering..." he then started.
"What?" Rink asked as she pulled a blanket over herself.
"Those powers you two have... are there any drawbacks?" James asked. "I've learned that there's no such thing as a shortcut to strength."
"I can't swim," Rink said. "Devils like me sink like a rock. We can't even struggle, our bodies pretty much lock up. So if I ever fall in or get thrown in the sea, I'm counting on miss master swimmer here," she said and nudged her head in Mirise's direction.
"I'm sure I can handle that," she replied. "But for me... I've never found any real drawbacks to it. But I've never really used it for anything advanced, and it takes a while to get a good amount of it. Why?"
"Just interested, I guess..." James said. "This stuff is still new to me, to be honest. The more I learn about the things that can go on in the world, the less surprises I'll hopefully have on this journey."
"The world is big, mister Conrad," Rink said. "There's always new surprises out there. Who knows, we might be walking into one tomorrow..."
Markus was still sitting at his desk, now with an empty glass and a half-empty bottle of brandy next to him. His desk, which just half an hour earlier had been fairly neat, was now a mess of papers, maps and photos. A lot of the papers had previously written things that had been crossed over, like "draw out Galt - large fight", "wait until sleep", "get Atlas first" and "diversion - arrow through window". Currently, he was writing something that appeared to be a numbered list, but the numbers weren't necessarily in order and arrows indicated that several items were to be placed somewhere else, if at all. On the top of the page was "2 use the dogs", followed by "3 deal with the bodyguards" and "3 go through window". After that was "4 draw attention of Atlas", with an arrow drawn after it pointing to the space between item 2 and the first item 3. He kept writing, arranging and rearranging items, crossing some out, until he had reached the end of the page. The last line he had written only consisted of "18 run", and it was far from the 18th thing on the list. He put down his pen and held the paper up in front of himself.
"This... this could work," he said to himself as he put it down again on top of the rest of the mess and let out a yawn. Muse was long since asleep, and if they were going to meet those other people - if they even showed up - tomorrow, he should get some sleep too. Without bothering to do more than take off his shoes and hat, he laid down on his back in the other bed in the room and looked up at the ceiling. He could never fall asleep right away, he always had to take some time to let his thoughts calm down or he'd never be able to get any rest. Especially after a day like today, when an opportunity had presented itself. Maybe, just maybe, there was finally going to be a solution to everything that was wrong with Kurita.
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