Chapter 023: Wanted

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Cassandra reached the island of Garlan in the early afternoon of the fourth day after leaving Kurita. It was quite a large island, most of it consisting of the city of Coren. A city built on top of numerous hills, originally having been several smaller villages that had eventually expanded and joined together into one city.
 
And on the northwestern part of the island, towering over Coren, clearly visible to the crew of Cassandra even though they were approaching from the east, was the Marine stronghold W4. It was home to over two hundred Marine soldiers, about half stationed there on the long term. While there were a lot of commodities on the inside of the walls of the base, it was unsurprisingly not uncommon to see Marines on leave all around Coren.
 
There were several docks around the city, so it did not take long for Cassandra to find somewhere to land. Markus was the first to get off the boat and secure it to the dock, before turning towards the city.
 
"Well, here we are," he said. "Looks like a nice place."
"It's certainly different from Kurita," Rink said. "Much brighter."
"Do we have any plans for now?" Mirise asked.
"I have to pick up some medical supplies since I had to leave some stuff at the clinic," Markus replied. "And I guess James wants his crutches as soon as possible. Might as well take a look around right away."
"I'll go with you," Muse said as she disembarked.
"Hold on," Rink said and pointed at Muse. "You might want to leave that piece on the boat."
"What?" she asked.
"Your bow," Rink replied and turned to Markus. "And your swords, too. There's a lot of Marines here, not sure it's a good idea to walk around with weapons at the ready."
"But..." Muse started.
"You're right," Markus said and took his sword holder off and handed it to Rink. "The last thing we want right now is to appear suspicious."
"Fine," Muse said and removed her quiver, the bow neatly folded and placed inside it, and handed it to Rink as well.
"See you in a bit," Markus said as the two of them started walking towards the city.
"I guess we'll meet back up later and figure out dinner," Rink said before they got out of earshot. She stashed their weapons inside the cabin before getting onto solid ground herself. "Well, I want to do some shopping myself... I'm almost out of tobacco, and I'll see what else they have around here."
"Do you want me to come with you?" Mirise asked.
"Nah, it's fine, I don't think I'll be gone that long," Rink replied. "You stay here and keep James company."
"Alright."
"You want anything, James?" Rink half-shouted towards the boat.
"Just something to alleviate my boredom from being stuck here," James replied. "At least get me a newspaper or something."
"Can do," Rink replied before she walked away in her hunt for a smoke shop.
 
She strolled around the city, taking in the sights... such as they were. Rink thought it didn't seem to have been built with much of a plan, it seemed more that a bunch of buildings had been put up and eventually gotten used for something. The citizens didn't seem to have any problems finding their way around, but Rink couldn't make much sense out of the place. She saw Marines walking around almost everywhere she went, and while they would probably be willing to help her find what she was looking for, she felt a bit apprehensive about talking to any kind of law enforcement right now. She enjoyed stretching her legs after all that time at sea, anyway.
 
It didn't take her too long to find what she was looking for. Three hills over from the docks, Rink started seeing more and more smokers, and by simply heading in the direction they were coming from, soon found herself in front of a tobacco store wedged in between a clothing store and a gun shop. She entered the building, coming into what was a fairly simple and not too large of an establishment - shelves lining the walls with a variety of tobacco products and smoking paraphernalia, cigarettes, matches and lighters, prepackaged tobacco and various bulk containers. There were some other customers in there already, one Marine soldier and an elderly couple, and there seemed to be only one person working. She placed herself in the vague approximation of a line, waiting for her turn. The sole shopkeeper had no hair on his head but a bushy black beard and moustache, wearing a red and white checkered shirt, denim pants and suspenders, with a corn pipe in his hand. He was helping the couple find a gift box of expensive cigars, ending up with something at a price Rink didn't even want to think about, and the Marine soldier just picked up a carton of cigarettes before heading out, leaving Rink as the only customer remaining.
 
"Welcome," the shopkeeper said. "How can I help you?"
"I need shredded tobacco," Rink said. "You have that?"
"Sure do," the shopkeeper replied. "A few different brands."
"You got any Style?" Rink asked.
"None of that left and I don't know when I can get more," the shopkeeper answered. "I've got Seven Treasures."
"I don't like that one," Rink replied. "Not chopped finely enough. I use it in a blend and in a thin pipe, so I need it to be really fine."
"Well, then I only have Black Dandy and Courtesan's Hair."
"Don't know if I've tried those, what are they like?"
"Black Dandy's pretty concentrated, so you don't need a lot of it, got a bit of an oak flavour to it."
"I don't like strong stuff, it's no good for mixing," Rink said. "What about the other one?"
"Courtesan's Hair is very light, almost like cotton candy, got a pretty mild taste."
"Sounds better, can I see it?"
"Sure thing," the shopkeeper said and led Rink over to one of the shelves. He picked up a rectangular package, opened it up slightly at the top and held it out towards Rink, who put her nose to the opening and took a whiff.
"Seems alright," she said and grabbed the package, emptying a little of it into her hand. It was as he had said - the strands of tobacco were thin, and when wadded together, coalesced into something that resembled light brown cotton candy. She put it back into the package and closed it, holding on to it. "Yeah, alright, I'll take two packs of it."
"Very good," the shopkeeper said and brought another package of the tobacco over to the till. "Two packs of Courtesan's Hair, that'll be 1400 beli."
"That much?" Rink asked. "That's almost twice the price of Style!"
"What do you expect? Style's made here in West Blue, this one's imported from the Grand Line," the shopkeeper replied. "At least it's not Moon Princess!"
"Moon... what?" Rink asked as she got her wallet out from one of her coat pockets.
"The most expensive tobacco in the world," the shopkeeper said. "It's produced only on one island, and it's made from five rare ingredients, one from each Blue and one from that island. I've never seen it myself."
"Huh," Rink said as she handed him two thousand-beli notes.
"The only other thing I've found out is that the ingredient from here in the West starts with the bark from a tree that's almost extinct."
"So I don't know if I even want to know, but how much does that cost?"
"I don't even know," the shopkeeper said and handed Rink her change. "I've just heard the stories, it's never been traded outside of the Grand Line."
"Well, I'll just remember that as something I'll never be able to afford trying," Rink said as she picked up her purchase and left the store. She looked down at the packages, at the top the name of the product was written in what Rink thought was an unnecessarily fancy style, and below that a highly stylized depiction of a woman's face, with dark blue makeup around the eyes and dark red lipstick, winking with one eye, and flowing brown hair on a white background. Certainly a lot more artistic than what she normally bought.
 
As she began her journey back to the docks, she took a different route. There was still one thing she was looking for - especially after this latest leg of their journey, Rink thought that going out to have a meal and then sleeping in a real bed was something they deserved. Sleeping in an actual bed was something she hadn't done since they left Avasine, as they had slept on the boat during their time at Kurita. So her second target was an inn, preferably close to the docks. In her search, she took some deliberate detours, and eventually came upon a two-story-tall building with a sign above the door naming it as the Golden Finch Inn. It had a couple of trees growing around it, and from its location and unique construction when compared to the buildings around it, Rink thought it seemed like something that had long ago been put up in an area where there wasn't anything else, but the city expansion had reached it from all directions and it had become part of the city without really wanting to. She smelled food from the inside, and even though the size of the place didn't really instill her with confidence that there'd be any vacancies for them, she went inside. Maybe they could eat there, at least.
 
The interior seemed to lend more credence to her theory, as the majority of the place looked like something that had been built many years ago. Some of the furniture and such was obviously more modern, but everything that was part of the building itself was made out of wood that looked like it had been around for a while. There was a counter in front of her, tables off to the left, and a set of stairs and some doors to the right. The counter wasn't staffed, it would seem, but Rink noted a bell sitting on top of it, so she walked up and rang it.
"I'm a-comin'," she heard a female voice coming from the restaurant side shout. It didn't take long until a woman walked behind the counter from the other side. She was middle-aged, Rink guessed about fifty, with curly brown hair, glasses, and wearing a knitted green jumper. "Alrighty, welcome to th' Golden Finch, what can I do for ya?"
"Ah, yes, I was wondering if you might have any rooms free tonight?" Rink asked.
"Well, I might, I s'pose," the woman replied and opened up a binder. "Just the one of ya?"
"No, we're five," Rink said. "I thought it would be nice with a meal and sleeping in an actual bed."
"Tha's why we have this place."
"Looks like it's been around for a while."
"Been in th' family fer four generations," the innkeeper said. "My ma owned it before me, and her ma before her, and her ma and pa built it with their own hands."
"Right," Rink said. "So, about the..."
"Yeah, we can fit the lot of ya," she replied. "Not all in one room, but we got enough unoccupied beds."
"That'll do nicely," Rink replied.
"Should I book ya?"
"Yeah, sure, reserve five beds, name's Kazai," Rink said. "We'll be over to eat tonight."
"And there," the innkeeper said as she wrote Rink's request down in her papers. "I'll be seein' you later, then."
"Thanks," Rink said and was about to turn around before she remembered something. "Oh, by the way, you wouldn't happen to have a newspaper, would you?"
"Jus' yesterday's."
"That's fine, we've been out to sea for a few days," Rink said.
"Here you go, then," the innkeeper said and handed a folded-up newspaper to Rink.
"How much is that?"
"Eh, jus' take it."
"Much appreciated," Rink said before exiting the inn and turning back towards the docks they had arrived at.
 
It wasn't a long trek, only a few minutes of walking brought Rink back to Cassandra. James had, presumably with help from Mirise, moved out from the cabin and was now sitting on the deck holding a cup of coffee, while Mirise sat on the railing eating a banana.
"Welcome back," she said in between bites. "Found what you were looking for?"
"Yeah, no problem," Rink said and spotted more bananas lying at Mirise's feet. "Where'd you get those from?"
"A guy walked by with a fruit cart, so I bought some," Mirise replied and pushed one onto her right foot with her left. "Want one?"
"Sure, why not," Rink said as she stepped onto the deck, followed by Mirise flicking her right leg to send the banana towards Rink, who caught it in her free hand. "Those two aren't back yet?"
"No, it's just been us," James said.
"Well, here's your paper," Rink said and handed the newspaper to James and started peeling her banana. "It's yesterday's. Let me know if it says anything interesting."
"Sure," James said and unfolded the paper.
"By the way, I found an inn for us," Rink said as she started eating the fruit.
"Inn?" James asked.
"Yeah, see, I thought it would be nice to sleep in an actual bed and eat a meal cooked in an actual kitchen for once."
"That would be nice, yeah," James said as he opened up the paper. As he did, a sheet of light brown paper slid out of it, gliding over the deck and landing face down in front of Mirise.
"What's this?" she said as she leaned down to pick it up, turning it around to see the front. "Wha- this is..."
"What?" Rink asked.
"It's mister Flint!" Mirise exclaimed as she turned the paper towards James and Rink. There, in the middle, was a picture that, while obviously not recent, was clearly identifiable as Markus. Above the picture, in large dark brown letters, the word WANTED. Underneath, DEAD OR ALIVE - MARKUS FLINT - Ɓ25,000,000.
 
They stared at the wanted poster for a few moments. This shouldn't have been possible, but there it was... right in front of them. There was only one explanation for what he was wanted for... and this island was...
"Give me that!" Rink suddenly said and ripped the newspaper out of James's hands and started frantically turning the pages. "Here! 'The murder of Galt, the mayor of Kurita, in his home... according to bodyguards, murderer was assisted by an unidentified person... chief of the town guard found dead, no leads there...' huh."
"Sounds like that vice guard captain kept to his word," James added.
"And here. 'While the results of the investigation have not been disclosed to the public, Marines confirm that information left behind by the deceased have identified a primary suspect as Markus Flint, a local doctor who appears to have fled the island following the incident. Should you have any information about Flint or any other sightings that may be of interest to the case, please contact your local Marine station.' Damn."
"How did they even..." James started saying.
"I don't know and I don't care. What's important is-" Rink said before freezing up. "Oh, fuck."
"What?" Mirise asked.
"This is yesterday's paper."
"If that was made public yesterday..." James said.
"With all the Marines here..." Rink continued.
"Mister Flint and miss Muse might be in trouble!" Mirise said and stood up, dropping the wanted poster on the deck.
"Crap, crap, crap," Rink said as she dropped the paper and looked towards the city. "Where'd they go?"
"I don't know!" James exclaimed as Rink and Mirise started getting off the boat.
"You, uh... stay here," Rink said and looked at James. "We'll try to find-"
"I don't think we have to," Mirise said and put a hand on Rink's arm.
"What do you mean?" Rink asked and turned to Mirise, who pointed in the direction Markus and Muse had left.
"She's coming," Mirise replied. Rink looked up, and sure enough, Muse was running towards them with a half panicked, half crying expression on her face.
"Hey, what's-" Rink said as Muse closed in, but she ignored them and jumped onto the ship.
"My bow," she said and turned to Rink. "My bow, where's my bow!"
"In the cabin, but-" Rink said as she got onto the ship herself, but Muse wasn't listening to anything else. She disappeared into the cabin and soon reemerged, holding her bow and quiver.
"I have to go!" she said and started moving towards the docks, but Rink reached out and caught her arm, stopping her in her tracks. "Let me go!"
"Calm down," Rink said and pulled Muse back, turning her so they faced each other. "What happened?"
"They took him," Muse said with tears in her eyes. "They took Markus!"
 

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