"The mayor," Rink said while staring at Markus. "You want to take out the mayor."
"...yes," Markus replied after a moment of silence. "It's... the only way to end this."
"Isn't that kind of an extreme measure?" James asked.
"Are you from here, mister Flint?" Rink asked.
"No, I'm from North Blue... but... I have a personal stake in it too," Markus said. "Galt... was responsible for the death of my father."
"And it all starts making sense," Rink said and turned to Muse. "So what's your motivation for being a part of this?"
"I'm helping Markus," Muse said. "I owe him everything."
"Okay, so," James said, "is this mayor person strong or something?"
"Not him, no... he's old, a retired Marine commodore..."
"So why do you need our help?" James asked. "Can't you deal with an old man on your own?"
"On his own, he would be no problem," Markus said. "But there's more people in play, and they're more than we can handle."
"Now that you mention it, you did say that Kurita is under 'their' control..." Rink noted.
"So at the top of it all, there's Galt..." Markus explained. "He rarely leaves his mansion, where he's got two bodyguards and a his guard dogs, making it hard to approach. And after that, there's the town guard... especially the guard chief, who's our biggest problem. He's at the beck and call of Galt, and can bring the entire guard with him."
"There's too many for us to deal with at once," Muse said.
"The plan I've been believing the most in is to divide and conquer, but... with only two of us, we can't quite divide them enough that we'd also be able to conquer. But with you..."
"We haven't said that we're in yet, but keep talking," Rink said. "You mentioned a guard chief."
"Galt's most important piece," Markus said. "They call him Atlas. A former pirate captain that he recruited as muscle... the rest of the town guard consists of some of Atlas's and Galt's old crews, and anyone on Kurita who could fight. And those that aren't in Galt's pocket are too scared of Atlas to do anything..."
"So what's he like?" James asked.
"He's the strongest on the island," Markus said. "You must have seen that the town guards carry spears, but he uses an anchor for a weapon. Myself and Muse could maybe deal with him on our own, but probably not with the rest of the guard backing him up, and even if we managed to get out of it alive, there's no way we'd be able to reach Galt afterwards."
"And you think we can help you with that?" Mirise asked.
"We need to keep every player busy at the same time but in different places," Markus said. "We need to get Atlas alone, while the town guard is kept busy, not allow Galt to call on his bodyguards... and that involves being able to enter the mansion. It's... kind of a tall order."
"Well, you've made your point," Rink said. "I see why you need help, and I think it's time for us to make the call. James, Mirise..."
"Yeah... I don't know," James said. "It seems a little... much. I do want to help, but I'm not sure this is a good idea."
"I think we should do it," Rink replied. "I'm no stranger to taking a few risks, and this island seems like it needs a fresh start. Mirise?"
"A mayor..." Mirise started before taking a deep breath. "A mayor is supposed to take care of the people living in his city! Not exploit them. I can't stand by and do nothing on this one. I'm in."
"Two against one," Rink said. "So..."
"Oh, alright, I'll do it," James said. "There's no risk that traveling with the two of you will ever get boring, at least."
"Well then, mister Flint, looks like you've got yourself three more allies," Rink announced. "For now."
"Thank you," Markus replied. "We... cannot offer much in return..."
"Well, there's one thing you can do..." Rink said. James and Mirise looked at her, puzzled.
"Anything within our capabilities," Markus replied.
"...do you have a shower I can borrow?"
"That's what you're after?" James asked with surprise in his voice.
"Come on, I haven't had a proper wash in three days!"
"Neither have I, and I don't complain," James replied.
"Maybe you should," Muse commented.
"What's that supposed to mean?" James asked.
"What do you expect after that fight we had?"
"You smell but she doesn't," Muse said with a nod towards Mirise. "Clearly one of you cares enough to clean up after that."
"...when did you wash off?" James asked Mirise.
"I didn't," Mirise said. "I... don't really sweat. Not much."
"You do that thing with your hair, and you don't sweat," Muse stated. "What even are you?"
"I don't know," Mirise said. "I think we found that the only answer to that is that I'm me."
"Anyway," Markus said, "sure thing. You can use our bath..."
"Thanks," Rink replied and turned towards James as she sat down on one of the beds. "She's right, you know. You should think about your appearance."
"Fine, fine," James replied. "But more importantly right now, how are we going to do this?"
"First of all, I'd like to know more about what you can do," Markus said. "I have a plan, a draft of a plan at least, but the specifics..."
"Ask away," Rink said.
"Most importantly, you... you have a devil fruit power."
"Can you make any kind of sound?"
"As far as I know."
"Sounds that humans can't hear?"
"Like this?" Rink said and took a deep breath. "Mi... mi... mii..." She went higher with each repetition, before opening her mouth fully as if she were screaming, but didn't make any audible sound. From somewhere outside, a muffled bark was heard.
"Not bad. Maybe a stupid question, but... can you sound like a cat?"
"I'm starting to see where this is going," Rink said and let out a few meows. "Well, sounding like a cat isn't really something you need sound powers for..."
"Even so, I'd say you're the key to getting into the mayor's mansion," Markus said. "Which means... do you think you can keep two guards busy?
"What are they like?"
"They're fairly strong, former Marines... I was hoping you could keep them tied up while I deal with Galt. With your powers... how do you use them in a fight?"
"That's where this comes in," Rink said and held up the sack she had brought with her.
"What's that?" James asked.
"My weapon," Rink replied. "I haven't used it in a while, but... it should be fine."
"So you use more than your voice?" Markus asked.
"Sound is a lot more than just voice," Rink said. "And this lets me utilize that better."
"So... what is it?"
"Specially made arm guard," Rink replied and took out a leather sleeve with what looked to be armour plating on one side from the sack. She put the sleeve on her left forearm and pulled some straps on the underside to fasten it before taking out a tuning fork from the sack as well. She tapped the plating lightly with the fork. "Lets me concentrate the sound and control the direction of it better. Kind of hard to control where the sound goes if I just use my voice, so... I found a way to do that."
"Interesting... well, it seems you'll be able to hold your own," Markus said and turned to James. "Then there's you..."
"What about me?"
"You're fairly strong, it seems. Do you have any training?"
"Not much," James replied. "It's mostly from experience."
"Right now, just this dagger," James said and held it up. "I mostly use my fists. And feet."
"Try using your head sometimes too," Muse commented from where she was sitting, without turning around.
"Muse, please," Markus said.
"So, a brawler... close combat."
"Pretty much," James said.
"And Muse specializes in long range..." Markus said, mostly to himself, before finally turning to face Mirise. "And finally we have you with your... water ability."
"If you're looking for explanations, I don't have any," Mirise said.
"From what I could tell from our little struggle, you make good use of that unique ability of yours. You're quite agile, even if lacking in pure physical strength."
"I don't tire easily, but yeah," Mirise said.
"Do you use any weaponry?"
"I use what I can find if I need to," Mirise replied. "I don't like carrying weapons around."
"Anything else useful to know?"
"Well... I can make my water into ice, but I have to stay still for that and it takes a while, so it's not really that useful," Mirise replied.
"Alright," Markus said and clapped his hands together. "I think I know what I need to know... I think I know how to do this. But let me look over it a bit more..."
"I'll go ahead and borrow your bathroom, then," Rink said and looked around, taking off her arm guard and putting it back in its bag. "Uh... where is it?"
"I'll show you," Muse said and stood up. She went up the stairs, Rink following.
"So where'd you pick that one up?" James asked Markus once he believed Muse was out of earshot. "She's kind of a mood killer."
"It's a long story," Markus replied as he sat down at the desk and started flipping through some papers. "She doesn't want to talk much about her past, but I get the feeling she's been through a lot."
"Who hasn't?" James replied.
"Still, she's been a great help and she's amazing with that bow," Markus said. "So how about yourself? Why are the three of you together?"
"I came to Avasine to look for people to travel with and somehow ended up with the two city celebrities," James said. "I'm still not entirely sure how that even happened."
"Avasine, huh... I've stopped by there. There's not a lot of traffic between there and Kurita..."
"I can see why," James said.
"Hopefully, taking down Galt will mean that this island can live again..." Markus said. "Anyway, celebrities?"
"Rink was a popular singer working at a hotel, and Mirise..."
"My dad's the mayor there," Mirise said. "I've lived there all my life, but I felt like there was more for me out there."
"Oh, is that so," Markus said. "Well, I hope we're not ruining your trip too much."
"Eh, it's as Rink said, really," James responded. "It's a dangerous world. Might as well do what we can to help it."
"She seems like quite the character," Markus said.
"I can see that," Markus said and reached into a desk drawer in search of something. "By the way... I think you could make use of this." He pulled out a flintlock pistol and handed it to James.
"Huh?" James said as he accepted it. "Why?"
"Close combat is one thing, but sometimes you need something to keep distance with too," Markus said. "I carry one to back up my swords, if needed. Have you used a pistol before?"
"Yeah, but not recently," James replied.
"Well, just make sure your shots count," Markus said as he tossed another small bag to James. "There's the gunpowder and stuff."
"Alright... thanks," James said and held the pistol out in front of him, as if practicing aiming. "So where'd your friend go, anyway? Is the bathroom that far away?"
"I think she just wanted to step away from us for a little bit," Markus replied. "She's really not much the social type."
"I kind of figured..."
"Aaaah, this is the life," Rink said. She was lying in the almost filled bathtub, resting her feet on one end and her head on the other, holding her kiseru pipe in her right hand hanging over the edge of the tub. Her face was completely uncovered, as the bath or shower were the only places where she didn't wear her eyepatch. Where her right eye would be, there was mostly only scar tissue in the shape of an eye socket left, with a few lonely eyelashes in the middle. "I'm not one to demand luxury, but sometimes you need to relax, you know... thanks for letting me use that oil, too."
"You're welcome," Muse replied. She was sitting on the floor outside the bathroom with her back towards the door, having decided Rink's company was preferable at the moment. "How do you stand that guy?"
"James? He's not so bad, really," Rink replied. "Once you get to know him."
"You're not very talkative, are you?" Rink asked and took a drag on her pipe.
"I... don't have much to say," Muse replied.
"You didn't seem to be at a loss for words when you were fighting James and Mirise, from what I heard."
"It's... different when I fight."
"Are you ever happy?"
"Only if I have something to be happy about," Muse replied. "Which I don't."
"There's always something," Rink said. Muse opted to not reply. "But I suppose you have your reasons."
Even with the conversation dead, Muse remained where she was. Rink took the time to finish smoking her pipe and then sank her head entirely into the water for a moment, starting to wash her hair when she emerged. She scrubbed her body and rinsed off before exiting the tub, letting the water out. She dried her face and put her eyepatch back on before starting to dry herself off. As she emerged from the bathroom, she had one towel wrapped around her head and another tied around her waist, otherwise wearing only her underwear and jacket draped over her shoulders as usual, carrying the rest of her clothes in her arms. She only gave a nod towards Muse before they descended into the basement again to join the others.
"That was the greatest," Rink said as she entered the room.
"Sounds ni-" James said before actually noticing her and her current state of dress. He put a hand over his face and looked down. "Do you have to do that?"
"Yes," Rink said with a giggle before removing the towel she had around her hair and threw it at James. "Your turn."
"Oh, for... fine," he replied and stood up, dropping the towel on the floor. "So where's the bathroom?"
"Up the stairs, the other door in the room we went through, then to your left. You can't miss it."
"So then why... whatever," James said and disappeared up the stairs. Rink put her clothes on the bed, picked up the towel she had thrown, shook it off and resumed drying her hair.
"At least you're not like him when it comes to seeing some skin," Rink said with a nod towards Markus.
"I'm a doctor," Markus stated. "I've helped women who were giving birth, I've examined and operated on people with issues that necessitated taking off their clothes. It's all medical to me."
"Makes sense," Rink said as she took off her jacket. "So how's that plan of yours coming along?"
"I think I've got it figured out," Markus said and held up a paper. "But there's always some factors beyond our control..."
"Let me see," Rink said and took the paper out of Markus's hand. She studied it for a few moments before looking up. "Wow."
"So what do you think?"
"I always thought that thing about doctors writing unintelligibly was just a joke."
"Ha ha," Markus said and snatched the paper back from Rink. "But really, any comments?"
"Not really," Rink replied and started putting her shirt back on. "Just... do you really think..."
"You know what, let's cross that when we get to it," she continued and resumed getting dressed. "We should wait until James comes back anyway."
"In the meanwhile..." Markus said and stood up, going over to a storage chest standing against one of the walls. "We should consider our disguises."
"Disguises?" Mirise repeated.
"Yes... I think it's for the best if we conceal our faces, at least," Markus said and opened the chest, containing various masks and hats. "Come and take a look."
"Well, alright," Rink said as she, Mirise and Muse went over to see their options.
"What's that one that looks like a bird?" Mirise asked and pointed at a white mask that mainly seemed to consist of two large, round eye holes and a closed beak with a few holes at the tip.
"It's an old plague mask," Markus said and handed it over to Mirise. "They're supposed to have lenses, but this one didn't have any when I found it."
"I like it," Mirise said as she held it over her face. "It smells kinda weird, though."
"Probably just some residue, doctors used to think disease was carried by smell so they kept herbs in the beak," Markus explained. "You want that one?"
"Yeah, I like birds," Mirise said as she fastened the straps on the back to try wearing it properly.
"You should probably have something more," Markus said.
"As long as I don't cover my hair," Mirise replied.
"You're pretty short, you can borrow my doctor's coat... it should cover most of your body." He turned to Rink, who was pulling something out of the chest. "Find anything you like?"
"I'll take this," Rink said and held up a bronze mask that looked like a human face with a big nose and a moustache, with holes for the eyes and mouth.
"I think that one's meant to be worn with a helmet," Markus said.
"Doesn't matter," Rink said. "I'll put on some hood, I guess."
"We can do that," Markus said and picked up a small mask from the chest, which really only seemed like it'd add a thick black outline to his eyes.
"That doesn't look like much of a disguise," Rink said as she fiddled with her mask.
"It's a start," Markus said.
"I'm done," Muse said. She hadn't spoken up or even looked in the chest much before now, just grabbed and put on an entirely white mask somewhat resembling a demon, with sculpted horns and an angry expression.
"That's the most emotion I've seen on your face today," Rink said as she locked her mask on her face. At the same time, footsteps were heard from the stairs, and James returned to the room.
"Alright, I'm-" he said before looking towards the others, who had all turned to face him. He looked at them and just blinked in confusion a few times, not sure if he even wanted to know.