Nearly a year after Argo's launch from Fishman Island, the Bluefin Expedition entered West Blue. The trip there had been more meticulous than what the return trip had been planned to be like - they made several stops on the way, exploring more or less uncharted islands and areas, trying to find out new information about anything they could locate. As they had hoped, interaction with humans was kept to a minimum - twice they had encountered human traders who didn't have anything against doing business with fishmen, and on occasion humans had noticed them from a distance but elected not to approach. They had some run-ins with pirates, but when able to had chosen to flee rather than fight, even if they had been forced to defend themselves at times. But however it was, they made it without any lasting damage or injuries. The intent was to stay almost two years in West Blue, followed by a trip back to Fishman Island that was estimated to take a month.
But as amicable traders were few and far between, avoiding humans meant they had to replenish their supplies through other means. With Hel in charge of that bit, they made a number of stops for that very reason.
And two months after reaching West Blue, the Argo found itself anchored outside of a large, forested island...
"It's odd." Somnu, sitting on a floating bubble, looked towards the island.
"What is?" Pluto asked in response.
"This island doesn't appear on my charts."
"You think there's anything to worry about?" Izanami asked.
"How bad could it be?" Hel said as she rolled a barrel out on deck. "Besides, it doesn't look like there's any people living there. We have some things to refill..." she continued before heading back inside the cabins.
"...and that's even the more reason to take a look," Anubi added. "We're here to find new things, after all."
"Right you are," Pluto agreed. "So... Somnu and Anubi stay on the ship for now, the rest of us see what we can find. We'll let you know if you're needed."
"Alright," Anubi said with a nod.
"Then I shall get my equipment," Charon said and went inside, soon coming back out wearing a light brown cloak with a hood, carrying a cloth bag over his shoulder, a scythe on his back and a sickle on his belt. Hel soon followed with an empty sack and a large cauldron. Despite looking like she probably shouldn't be able to, she carried it with ease.
"Haros, you get the barrel!"
"If you say so," Haros replied and grabbed it. He was the first to jump off the ship into the sea, followed by Pluto, Charon, Hel and Izanami. They swam ashore, looking up at the trees in front of them.
"As much growth as there is here, I doubt anyone's been living here for hundreds of years," Hel commented.
"Whoa..." Izanami, standing next to her, uttered in amazement. Next to Hel, she looked even shorter - standing up, she was barely as tall as Hel sitting down, though with Hel being so slender and Izanami being a tad pudgy (as she often opted to stay inside for days on end with her research and wasn't one to take care that she'd eat healthy), the white spotted tetra fishwoman was the heavier of the two.
"It certainly is an impressive sight," Charon said. "It might not be Eve or Excited Mangrove, but that does not make this any less fascinating..."
"So, what exactly are we looking for?" Haros asked and turned to Hel. "I mean, aside from what we're always looking for."
"It's not too much," Hel replied. "I'd like having more fresh water, so a source of that would be good, and just food in general... I've already seen that there's birds here, so we should be able to grab some eggs."
"Not here. We don't need it."
"Perhaps there are some unknown plants I can use here, too..." Charon mused.
"We'll be on the lookout for anything of interest," Pluto commented. "Let's meet up back here in two hours."
"I'll go with you, captain," Izanami said. "Anything interesting to you is probably to me as well, but I don't think we'll find much here."
"I could use some assistance," Hel said and turned to Haros, who was still holding the barrel.
"Alright, sure," he replied to the unspoken question.
"I will join you as well," Charon said. "At least, for the time being."
"There we have it, then," Pluto stated. "Good luck to you."
"You two as well," Hel replied before she, Haros and Charon headed into the forest, while Pluto and Izanami started heading around the outskirts of the island.
While Haros assisted Hel, Charon wandered ahead of them further into the forest. He wasn't looking for anything specific, but there were certain types of plants and herbs that tended to be useful for medical purposes, and perhaps there was something new on an uncharted island. He investigated the trees and bushes he came across, collected some herbs that he was not surprised to find in this kind of environment, and found some tracks on the ground that he chose to not follow. Eventually, he found something peculiar - a bush, with a single fruit growing on it. A dark green fruit, about the size of an apple, hanging low to the ground. Charon did not recognize it, so he plucked it from the thin branch it was hanging from, and using his sickle cut a small piece from the top.
Had Charon been more careful, perhaps he could have noticed what it was he had found. But with the fruit's colouration, and everything being bathed in shade from the thick canopy of trees above, he would not spot the distinct spiral pattern on it until the next day, when he got the opportunity to examine what was left of the fruit. Because after smelling it, and not finding anything to be out of the ordinary with it, he placed the slice of the fruit into his mouth, and even though he noted that it tasted quite bad, swallowed it anyway. He was not worried about being poisoned - he always carried a number of general antidotes, and because of his profession, over the course of the years he had built up a higher than average resistance to poisonous substances.
But to a fishman, this was something that meant even more serious consequences than poison. Whether it was due to him being a fishman, or if something else played into it, Charon soon found himself unable to think clearly - and only moments later, he felt as if he was simultaneously unconscious and running through the forest at high speed.
At the same time, Pluto and Izanami had entered the forest. They were moving slowly, carefully investigating anything that looked like it might have any historical value, but they had so far failed to find even a single piece of evidence that this island had ever been settled by anyone. Izanami had sat down against a tree while Pluto examined a rock that turned out to be just a rock, when they heard a sound coming towards them. Izanami stood up and looked into the forest, and before either of them could react to what was happening, an animal came rushing towards them - a boar with black fur, and strangely enough for the people currently seeing it, seemingly wearing some sort of cape.
"What is-" Izanami started saying, but shut herself up as she saw the boar had suddenly decided to rush towards her. She tried jumping out of the way, and Pluto started running towards her, but to no avail - the boar struck her, sending her flying backwards and striking a tree.
"Izanami!" Pluto yelled as he stared at the boar, rage in his eyes. He cast a quick glance at Izanami, who groaned enough that it confirmed she was still alive, even if hurt, before taking a few long steps towards the boar. It had turned its attention to Pluto as well, and was rushing towards him. Pluto, being much sturdier than Izanami, remained standing after clashing with this new foe, the two of them pushing against each other.
"Plu-to..." came a snarling sound from the boar.
"Huh?" Pluto wasn't sure he had heard correctly, and he wasn't about to let the boar go. But soon, two other figures came running towards his location - Hel and Haros had noticed something was amiss.
"Captain!" Haros shouted as he saw Pluto struggling against the boar. Looking at the two of them, he saw what the boar was wearing on its back - and he recognized it. "I didn't want to believe it..."
"What?" Pluto asked.
"That boar... it's wearing Charon's cloak," Haros replied. "Somehow... I think that boar is Charon!"
"What do you mean?"
"We found this next to Charon's bag and tools," Hel replied and held up a dark green fruit with a part cut off.
"A- a devil fruit? Did Charon..."
"I don't know why, but..." Haros started saying.
"If this thing really is Charon, he's clearly gone insane! He attacked Izanami!"
"We have to stop him..." Haros continued.
"I can't hold on like this for much longer..." Pluto said.
"You two get ready to catch him, and then let him go," Hel said and walked a short distance behind Pluto.
"Are you insane? If he hits you..."
"Do as I say," Hel ordered.
"Suit yourself!" Pluto snarled and let go, quickly moving to the side. The boar - Charon - immediately rushed towards Hel, who was holding out her arm with the leaf hanging down like a bullfighter's cape. She gracefully avoided getting hit, and shook her leaves to regain Charon's attention. She kept this up for a few passes, only getting lightly grazed twice, as Pluto and Haros coordinated their approach. One sweeping motion from Hel later, Charon ran past her, and the two strong fishmen leaped at him from opposite sides, their combined strength being enough to hold him down.
"Charon! Can you hear me? It's me, Haros! Your brother, Haros! Charon, stop this!"
"Ha-ros..." Charon grunted and let up his struggle somewhat. His attempts at wriggling free from his captors lessened somewhat, and while Haros attempted to talk to him, he felt himself slipping away again - and as he truly lost conciousness, he reverted to his regular fishman form, the last thing he could hear being Haros shouting his name.
When Charon woke up half an hour later, the first thing he heard was Haros arguing with Pluto.
"...still one of us!"
"But what if he goes berserk again?"
"We can handle it... he can handle it."
"Brother Haros..." Charon uttered as he looked up. Haros was the only one to approach him, while the other four kept their distance. Hel was tending to Izanami, who had mostly suffered from blunt trauma due to the impact, but Charon's tusk had left a minor but noticeable gash on her shoulder.
"Charon! You're awake!"
"I do not feel... like myself..."
"You... you did change," Haros replied. "That fruit you found... it was..."
"I was careless... I felt like... something else attempted to control me..."
"The important part is that you're fine now," Haros said and put a hand on his little brother's shoulder. "Even if... even if you..."
"What... what did I..."
"Well... you did lose control, and attacked the rest of us," Haros explained. "You... you hurt Izanami pretty badly."
"Let me... look at her wounds..."
"She doesn't want to come near you. You frighten her... and the rest of the crew are on the fence about you too, now."
"I... frighten myself, as I am now..." Charon uttered. "I do not trust myself... I might require some solitary time, to... manage this..."
"What are you talking about?"
"You should sail from here... without me."
"We couldn't do that!"
"Just... just for a short period of time. Until I understand what is happening to me, learn how to... control this..."
"Well... alright. If that's really what you think is best... we'll come back for you in one week, you hear me?"
"I believe that should suffice..."
"We'll leave you some supplies, some food... and I'll convince them that you can figure this out. If anyone can, it's you."
"I will use the time wisely..."
"I know you will, little brother... I know you will."
After some additional persuading from Haros, Pluto and his crew accepted the proposed course of action. After leaving Charon with a few days worth of food (and the expectation that he could stretch it to a week by utilizing anything edible on the island), cooking implements, and a few other items to aid his survival and study of himself, the Argo resumed its journey - this time with only six people on board...
"...and I have been waiting here since."
"I like the style of that Hel woman," Rink commented with a grin.
"So... they just left you here?" James said.
"On my request, yes," Charon replied. "They were to return for me after one week..."
"Wait... you said it had been ten days since you noticed your skin was dying," Markus commented. "They're late, huh?"
"To date, since they sailed from this island... nearly six have passed."
"No... six months."
"...months? And they still haven't shown up?"
"No. I fear... I fear that something has happened to them, and they have been kept from returning..."
"Or they just left you," Allen commented.
"Haros would not have allowed that to happen. Even if the rest of the crew refused... he would have returned for me. That is why I believe that some disaster befell the Bluefin Expedition shortly after they ventured from here... perhaps my remaining here spared me, but I regret not being able to be there for the others if they faced a dire situation."
"Must have been something serious if it managed to take out a crew full of fishmen and mermen," Allen added.
"We were not warriors, even if we were able to protect ourselves... it would be impossible to survive in this world otherwise. Captain Pluto was quite strong, and being a shark, brother Haros was likely the strongest of us all. But even then, we were scholars..."
"Well, if they're still in West Blue... we're on a bit of a round trip..." Rink said.
"Perhaps you could look out for them."
"Maybe... or, rather..." she continued and looked at James, who was still writing in his notebook. Mirise and Markus's eyes turned to him as well.
"So did you-" he said and looked back up. "...why is everybody looking at me?"
"What- oh. Oh. No!"
"We can't just leave him here!"
"We're already out of space as it is!"
"Don't you want to help?"
"What if they come looking for him?"
"They haven't for half a year, they're not going to!" Rink said and turned to Charon. "No offense to your friends."
"What you speak is true, but... I couldn't possibly impose..."
"Impose nothing, this is about not wanting anything worse to happen to you."
"Even... even if that is your intention, I do not know if there is any better place for me... as a fishman..."
"There's weirder than you in the world," Allen noted. "And hey, at least you're not a criminal, like me!" he continued with a chuckle.
"It is true that fishmen have for a long time been considered, well... 'unclean'," Mirise said.
"Humans fear that which is different," Charon commented. "And I am doubly so."
"Either way," Rink interrupted, "being isolated on an island like this, with only those ridiculous lizards as company, isn't something anyone deserves. James, come on."
James sighed. "Alright, alright. Fine. You've learned to control that transformation of yours by now, I suppose?"
"What occurred the first time was an anomaly... after that, I have not once experienced anything like the loss of control I did from the initial change. It took me not even a day to figure out that I could change form at will, while retaining a clear head..."
"Well, okay... you can come with us, at least to the next island..."
"Then I will accept your offer," Charon said and looked at the cast on James's leg. "I do see that you have a wounded leg."
"He's got a stable fracture, we're just waiting for it to heal," Markus explained.
"Perhaps I can assist, let me see..." Charon said and walked over to his bags and started looking through them. Eventually he put something in a small bowl and went over with it to James. "Here... these should be of help."
"What?" James said and grabbed the bowl. Inside it were eight small, round, white pills. "What are these?"
"A medicine to promote bone growth," Charon replied. "Imbibe one of these every half day. It is no immediate cure, but it should serve to hasten your recovery."
"Oh," James said. "I appreciate it."
"With all that your companions have done for me, it is but a small repayment..."
"Well, the sooner I get out of this cast, the better..." James swallowed one of the pills before putting the bowl down and pocketing his notebook. "So, okay - we've had our meal, we've got some meat to use until we reach a better island, and we've done today's good deed... now can we look at Cassandra?"
"Yeah, I don't think there's anything left to take care of here, is there?" Rink said and looked at Markus.
"No, not to my knowledge. So... let's get all this stuff back to the boat, I suppose."
With the seven of them, even with James's injury, transporting everything including Charon's things back to Cassandra only took a single trip. Since James wouldn't be a lot of help with the repairs, Rink enlisted him as assistance in carving out what remained of the meat, as they had to cut it into smaller pieces and salt it to ensure it wouldn't spoil. Muse took charge of the repair job, even if James threw in the occasional comments, with Allen providing muscle when needed. Mirise sat down with her maps (and, after making the necessary calculations, drew in the island they were currently on on her primary West Blue chart) to figure out the best way to continue. Markus and Charon provided whatever assistance they were asked for.
Without the tools to obtain form-fitting planks, they had to make do with what they were able to with the bits of wood they could produce. Both the inside and outside of the hull had started looking a bit like a wooden plaid, and more concerning, Muse noted that some of the small cracks were about to join together into a larger one.
"Did you seriously not bring more tar than this?" she asked James as she coated strategically chosen parts of Cassandra's insides.
"I didn't think I would need that much in one go," he replied. "She wasn't built for the kind of crazy stuff the rest of you keep getting her into, you know."
"Plan for the emergencies," Rink commented.
"I've learned that now, at least."
"Well, I think that's as good as it's going to get," Muse stated as she stood up in the storage hatch, half of her still inside. "Gonna have to keep a close eye on it, though."
"Better than nothing," Rink said and started handing Muse chunks of salted lizard meat wrapped in leaves. "As long as we don't break in half in the middle of the ocean."
"Oh, we won't break in half, we'll just start taking in water and sink without really being able to do anything about it," Muse replied.
"Would you stop it with the doomsday scenarios?" James asked.
"That's what will happen if we don't get it repaired for real," Muse said as she put the last bit of meat into the storage hold. "Could you bring the hide over here?"
"Sure," Rink said and dragged what remained of the cut open lizard to Muse.
"You're seriously keeping that?" James asked.
"I told you, there might be something I can do with it," Muse explained as she climbed up on deck. "Alright... let's get her back in the water and see that there really are no more leaks."
James stayed seated on deck as the other six cooperated to get Cassandra into the ocean - without simultaneously dropping the devil fruit users into it. Muse and Mirise were the first on board, and it wasn't too long until all of them had gotten on. Muse got back down into the storage hold as Allen and Markus pushed the boat away from the shore using oars, while Mirise had climbed up on top of the cabin to read the wind. Soon they were floating away from the island, and Mirise gave the word to unfurl the sails just as Muse returned from her inspection.
"So far, so good," she said. "But it's temporary, so the faster we get to the next island, the better."
"Don't worry," Mirise replied with a huge smile as she jumped down onto the deck. "I've got it all under control, now."
"You seem happier than usual," Rink noted.
"It's not every day you get to add a new island to the map, even if it's not an island you'd recommend people to visit."
"At least we're done with it now," James said. "And please tell me the next one is going to be better."