Muse climbed back out of the storage hold, holding a hammer in her hand and some nails in her mouth. "Another tiny leak fixed... that's the fifth in three days," she said and shook her head. "It's not going to get any better and the weather isn't helping."
"That's just great," James replied. He was leaning against the cabin wall, using Galt's cane for support.
The rain had started the prior evening and continued into the current early afternoon. It wasn't a heavy torrent, just a steady trickle being more of an annoyance than anything else. More pressing was the near-complete lack of wind that had come with it, something that had naturally slowed down their journey considerably.
"See anything?" Muse asked Mirise, who was sitting on top of Cassandra's cabin, with a sextant in her hand and a map in her lap.
"I'm pretty sure I know where we are, but I'm more concerned with where we're going to go," she replied. "We have a route, but we're not on it."
"Meaning the situation hasn't improved any since yesterday," Mirise said and jumped down to the deck. "And it would be easier if I could actually see the sun or the stars."
"Anything close by?" James asked.
"Not really, unless we want to go back to Garlan," Mirise replied.
"That sounds like the worst possible idea."
"Exactly. So... here we are." Mirise turned around and entered the cabin, followed by the other two, Muse helping James down.
"Please tell me at least one of you has good news," Rink said as the door closed. She, Markus and Allen were sitting around the table, not doing much.
"I'm afraid that we've only got disappointment," Mirise replied.
"More leaks and no wind," Muse added before sitting down in her corner with some bowls and jars in front of her.
"Uuuugh," Rink groaned and laid her head and arms down over the table.
"It's as miss Muse said," Mirise commented and sat down across from her, next to Allen. "We're not getting anywhere."
"Lemme see that map," Allen said and pointed at Mirise.
"Hm? Oh, sure," Mirise answered and rolled it out on the table.
"So what's the deal?" Allen asked.
"Well, Garlan's right here," Mirise said and pointed to an island on the map, and then traced a path away from it with her finger, leading north. "I'm pretty sure we're here right now. We reached Garlan from the east, coming from Kurita..."
"So why don't we take that route instead?" Allen asked and traced another path, this one leading to the west of Garlan, intersecting a green line on the map. "We'd be on track to reach land in four days."
"At this point I'm not sure we have four days, plus we probably don't want to cross the New Green," Mirise replied.
"Oh, hm, you're right," Allen agreed.
"Green what? And you can navigate?" James asked Allen.
"I was traveling on my own for the better part of fifteen years, dude," Allen replied. "I couldn't always hitch rides with other people."
"The New Green trade route," Mirise said in reply to James's first question. "This is a map of West Blue trade routes, and I've been trying to avoid them since the common routes are where there's the most activity, both Marine and pirate. The Green Route, as it was called, was redrawn a lot because of Avasine... it used to go more directly between Garlan and Kurita, but it branched off to Avasine when that grew, and eventually skipped Kurita entirely. It's no exaggeration to say that Avasine literally redrew West Blue's trade routes... right now, except for local ones that only involve a few islands, the only major West Blue trading routes that don't go through Avasine at all are the Great Western Ring, which goes around the outer edges of West Blue, and the Express Lane, which goes through the middle but only concerns itself with three islands."
"The most attractive targets for pirates are trade ships with lots of cargo, so they concentrate on the trade routes... and in turn, naturally, the Marines focus their efforts there too," Allen explained. "It's not that hard to figure out."
"That explains why we haven't seen a lot of other ships around," James said.
"It's not that common anyway," Allen said. "The ocean is big, and most people don't travel. Especially not these days."
"In either case... we're not completely dead in the water, but we're not really getting anywhere either," Mirise concluded.
"If it wasn't for the food situation..." Markus said.
"Miiiiriiiise..." Rink said in a defeated tone from the other side of the table.
"Make me a cup of teeeea..."
"What do we say?" Mirise replied with a smile.
Rink raised her head to look at Mirise. "Pleeeease?"
"Alright, I'll make your tea," Mirise said and walked over to the kitchen. "What kind do you want?"
"You know I don't care."
"Yes, yes. Anyone else want a cup? James?"
"I'm fine, thanks," James replied. The rest just shook their heads, except for Markus.
"Something warm would be nice, so I'll take one," he said.
"And I'll have one myself, so that's three," Mirise stated and started making their tea. Allen kept studying the map, but nobody said much. Soon three steaming cups were delivered to the table, and their recipients drank them in silence.
"Aaah," Rink let out as she put her empty cup down.
"Good?" Allen asked.
"Ask someone else," Rink replied.
"I don't like tea so I have no idea."
"You sounded like you really wanted it."
"I wanted to drink it, but... it's complicated, okay?"
"Yep," Rink said and leaned backwards, making her head hang so she faced the ceiling. "Bleh."
"What's the matter with you anyway?" Allen asked.
"I am fantastically bored," Rink said.
"It's not like our previous journeys between islands have been a lot more exciting," James commented.
"Eh, it's the weather," Rink explained and straightened herself back up. "Boring weather always does this to me. I remember a show I played after it had rained for a week straight... that was the weirdest show I ever played."
"Oh, I remember that week," Mirise giggled. "But speaking of shows... why don't you sing something? It might lift our spirits."
"Sing..." Rink repeated.
"Yeah," James said. "Yeah, why don't you? You sang at the start of our trip, but I think I haven't heard you do more than hum since we reached Kurita."
"You know... you know, you're right!" Rink's face lit up at the idea. "I got so used to singing at the hotel, with the piano accompanying me... I didn't do any other singing in Avasine, and with all that's been going on I haven't thought much about... well, just singing for the sake of singing."
"The girl with the Sound Fruit is a singer, too? This should be good," Allen said.
"Hmm... a song about rain..." Rink said, mostly to herself, and listened to the rain hitting the ship for a few moments before she started tapping a rhythm with her fingers on the table. She closed her eye as she started singing...
A raindrop in the sea, that is me, what I'll be
when I join in with them all, and I fall, is my call
I don't know where I'll go, but it's true, what I'll do
is to find my place out there, that I'll share, everywhere
A raindrop in the sky, I will try, I will fly
to the world where I belong, with my song, I'll be strong
I'll land so far away, on my way, I can't stay
when I'm searching for my light, out of sight, shining bright
A raindrop on the ground, that I found, with the sound
of a single dripping tear, falling near, when I'm here
I've seen my peace of mind, staying blind, as I find
that I'm nothing but the rain, but I gain, it's the same...
Rink trailed off into silence and opened her eye again, smiling as the others gave her a short applause.
"That was... short," Allen said. "But good."
"It was," Mirise agreed. "I didn't really understand it, but... it wasn't really about rain, was it?"
"Whaddaya want, I made most of it up while I was singing," Rink replied. "Wasn't really anything to understand."
"Made it up while you were singing? Creative," Markus commented.
"I try to be. So, now what? You want more?"
"Hold on..." Mirise started. "Maybe that song did bring us good luck."
"What do you mean?"
"You're right... the rain has slowed down, and... wind. We've actually got wind."
"We need to hoist the sail!" Mirise exclaimed and stood up. Everybody, except for James and Muse, left the cabin. The rain wasn't completely gone but was showing signs of passing, and enough wind to carry the boat (even if slowly) had picked up. In front of them, however, was another spot of weather that they hadn't particularly asked for.
"Mist," Rink commented. "Lovely."
"It doesn't matter," Mirise replied while she directed Allen and Markus to get the sail up. Rink walked to the front of the ship and looked ahead, squinting a bit.
"Isn't that..." she said.
"What?" Mirise asked.
"Hold on," Rink said and went back into the cabin, seconds later returning outside - now holding James's spyglass. She looked out over the bow through it, holding still until Cassandra started moving. "Mirise."
"Yes? You see something?"
"Call me crazy, but... there's an island up ahead."
"What? There's not supposed to be any islands around here..."
"Take a look yourself," Rink said and handed Mirise the spyglass. She started peering at the fog in front of them, lowering and raising the spyglass a few times before heading into the cabin, returning outside with her map, started looking out over the bow again, consulted her map, looked through the spyglass and finally down at the map before turning to the others.
"There's no island on the map..."
"But?" Rink asked.
"But I think you're right, there really is an island over there," Mirise said, slightly defeated.
"It's not that weird," Allen said. "If it's not an inhabited island, there's no reason for it to be on a trade map..."
"There's no island here on any of my maps I've checked," Mirise said. "And the trade one has uninhabited ones, too."
"Either way, an island is an island and we need one right now," Allen stated. "Are we on track for it?"
"Yes, it should be fine," Mirise replied, still looking at her map as Cassandra kept piercing the mist.
It wasn't long until the mystery island became visible even without the spyglass. It was of decent size, the majority of it seemingly consisting of trees, with no signs of any kind of settlements. The shoreline consisted mostly of gravel, so they approached with care - while they wanted to get Cassandra out of the water, they didn't want to risk running her aground with such force that it damaged the hull even more. When they were close enough, Mirise, Muse and Markus waded ashore, using ropes to pull the ship in while Allen and Rink used oars to gauge the depth they were in. Slowly but surely the vessel scraped up onto the island, and eventually the front half of the boat was completely out of the water. Muse tied the end of her rope around the closest tree, just to make sure it wouldn't be easily carried back out into the sea. Rink, Allen and James (being mostly carried by Allen) disembarked as well after handing equipment and weapons to the others, and while the majority of them looked towards the thick forest they had approached, James kept his eyes on his ship.
"Okay, now we can fix her up..." he said, leaning on the cane.
"Well, the ship should be good here for a bit... the food situation is really more pressing," Rink said. "Let's explore and see what we can find."
"She'll be fine, James."
"Should I really be hiking through a forest like this?" he said, pointing at his leg cast.
"Well, maybe..." Markus started.
"Oh, just let me handle it," Allen said and changed into a hyena before walking up next to James. "C'mon," he said and gave a nod towards his own back.
"You mean... wait, you're saying I should ride on you? That's..."
"I can handle it, dude," Allen replied. "I've lifted you in and out of your bed like six times already. You can't weigh more than, what, eighty? Eighty-five?"
"Where did I go wrong..." James whispered to himself as he got on Allen's back. It wasn't the most comfortable of rides, as he had to pull up his legs to not have his feet scrape on the ground, but with the fractured leg of his, was at least better than walking. He still held the cane in one hand, and held on to Allen with the other.
"So... you hear anything?" Muse asked Rink, the two of them looking towards the forest.
"I hear a lot of things," Rink answered. "Hard to distinguish all of it, but there's definitely a bunch of things alive here... and that means..."
"If there's animals, there's food," Allen said as he walked between them with James on his back. "In more than one sense," he added with a smirk.
"It's been a while since I did any real hunting for food, but it should be no issue," Muse said with a nod and unfolded her bow. "Everybody ready?"
"You and Rink should probably be in front," Markus told the two of them.
"Agreed," Allen said. "Let's go." They started walking towards the forest, except for Mirise who stopped and kept looking towards the treetops.
"Are you okay?" Markus asked.
"Yeah, I just... I've never been in a forest before, I've never seen a real one..."
"Oh yeah, it's not like Avasine had any trees..." Rink commented. "You'll be fine."
"Oh, I wasn't really worried," Mirise replied. "Just wanted to... take it all in."
"Alright, come on," Muse said and proceeded into the forest, with Rink after her. Allen with James on his back followed them, with Markus and Mirise right behind. This forest should hold the solution to one of their problems, at the very least.