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The glass platform started cracking under his feet from the woman's scream.
The soldier closest to him had already grabbed his arm before his feet even got wet, but it wasn't until they were back to shore that Roth fully regained consciousness.
"Commander, sir! Are you alright?"
"Yes... yes, I'm fine. More importantly... how about the ship with the intruders? And Roland?"
"It... disappeared. Should we... go after it?"
"No... not yet," Roth said with a sigh. "We are returning to base, and we're going to figure out exactly how this could happen..."
"Don't we need to find Roland as soon as we can?"
"As much as I would love to get him back... we simply do not have the manpower or the ships to spare to chase after a small vessel we don't even know where it is heading. Especially not after last month's disappearances. Rather than chase them... we are going to figure out who they are, so they can be found, no matter where they go... Aruk!"
"Notify all West Blue Marine outfits that Roland's back in the wild, and see to it that there's an immediate second run of Flint's poster!"
"Start taking statements from every soldier that was on the island today, find out whatever we can from the citizens, and examine every single second of surveillance footage from tonight."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"And the rest of you... make sure that the rest of the island's citizens are unhurt, and provide assistance if needed."
Roth spent the rest of the trip back to W4 in silence, wondering how it could all have gone so wrong in one night. The capture of Roland was the crowning moment of his career, it should have guaranteed his promotion to Rear Admiral all on its own... and if it didn't, taking in this new one, the twenty-five million Flint, should have clinched it. But instead, they had both slipped through his fingers, all because of two women who had somehow managed to get into his base, in spite of all the security protocols that should have been enforced.
Not getting them back was not an option.
Roth's mood had not improved any by the time he woke up the next morning. The tied-up Cid had been discovered before they came back to the base, and had been given a good chewing out as well as three month's worth of cleaning duty along with the guard who had allowed the two women entry before having them checked. Roland's guards had been taken to the infirmary, and while Roth was going to give them some punishment, he had to admit that getting into the high security level through the sewers by way of a set of stolen keys was a new one, and one that Roth was going to make sure could never happen again. Taking statements from the soldiers had continued far into the night, and while Roth had eventually allowed his men to get some sleep and pick up the investigation in the morning, rest wasn't going to be plentiful at W4 in the near future.
Despite the late night, Roth got out of bed at exactly five-thirty. He was, after all, a man of strict routine. He straightened out his bed covers and got out of his nightclothes, placing them on the bed before entering the bathroom. He started with a quick cold shower, after which he combed his hair, moustache, and beard, and then brushed his teeth before hanging up his towel and putting on his uniform and glasses, leaving his bedroom and sitting down at his desk. He started looking over today's schedule, until there was a knock on the door at exactly six.
"Your breakfast, sir," the person on the other side of the door said.
The door opened, and a male soldier with black hair wearing the standard Marine uniform walked into the office and set Roth's breakfast tray down on the desk, before taking a few steps back and standing at attention. While Roth always wanted his breakfast served at a precise time, he did leave the exact composition of it up to the cooks—as long as it contained one cup of black coffee with half a spoon of sugar, a glass of orange juice, and at least one type of egg. This morning, that was fulfilled by a hard-boiled egg in a cup, served together with a bowl of oatmeal and a toasted fish sandwich. Roth took a sip of his coffee, then looked up at the soldier.
"Name and rank, soldier?"
"Zak Harvey, Seaman First Class, sir."
"Do you have the morning report?"
"Yes, sir," Zak said and took a notebook out of his chest pocket.
"Very good. Well then, proceed."
Whichever soldier that was tasked with bringing Roth his breakfast would also serve as his orderly for the day. Most base commanders would have a dedicated orderly or secretary in their employ, but Roth preferred it this way, to give all his soldiers a better idea of what running a base such as this actually entails. While it was technically set up as a rotation, the number of soldiers at the base meant it could be a long time before someone got to do it again, but like any other daily chore, it was subject to being traded between soldiers, and even though it did not come with any increase in pay, many soldiers considered it an easy chore. Serving as Roth's orderly was also considered a bit of a rite of passage at W4, as soldiers who had served at W4 for less than three months were not eligible for it. If not sent away on some other task, the orderly would accompany Roth around the base when out of his office, and otherwise stand ready outside of it.
"The soldiers who had their uniforms stolen by the infiltrators yesterday have been found. They were attacked while under the impression they were going to help a citizen, and were on the first day of a two-day leave."
"Two days of docked pay, and two weeks of confinement to the base."
"In addition to that, two days of confinement for every soldier on base below the rank of Ensign, starting today."
"Yes, sir," Zak replied and made a note.
"What is the status from the infirmary?"
"Twenty-six soldiers with moderate to severe injuries, and a little over forty with minor."
"Not yet. Three of the soldiers who fell off the tower are, however, still unconscious and in critical condition."
"There's usually no worrying about them, but... Carime and Cagizo?"
"Sir Carime suffered major damage to his left arm, and otherwise has only minor injuries. His arm is expected to heal in time. Lady Cagizo had multiple instances of blunt force trauma to the head, but is already conscious and is expected to make a full recovery within a few days."
"As expected, then. Nothing can keep any of the knights down for long, but Cagizo especially is the most resilient soldier I've ever met... and on that note, contact Cabiru and Cacira and tell them to return here. I need every resource I have."
"How is the investigation going?"
"All available West Blue records have been checked. Sonya Martinson and Morrigan Martinson seem to not exist."
"I could have told you that," Roth replied. "There's no way they would give their real names..."
"The family name of Martinson does exist, however... should we investigate that?"
"We don't have the manpower to go after everyone that happens to have a name that was used as part of a fake identity. There's no guarantees there's any real connection. I'd rather we complete the profiles of them and start there."
"Understood, sir. The soldiers are still being interviewed and the images from the surveillance snails where Roland was held are being reviewed. We expect to have sketches and profiles of the suspects done in the afternoon."
"Bring them to me as soon as they're finished."
"The broken cell door in processing is expected to be replaced within two days, and the delivery from Topton has been delayed by one day due to a damaged ship."
"Very well. If that's all, then bring this back to the kitchen and relay my orders. I will be down to make my morning rounds and confirm things once I have finished some paperwork. Wait for me by the bulletin board."
"Yes, sir," Zak said and collected Roth's now-finished breakfast tray before leaving. Even after a day such as yesterday, there were tasks that had to be done to ensure a smoothly running operation, so Roth started going through the day's mail and took care of some other priority items until the clock struck six forty-five, at which point he got up, put on his coat, and left the office to do the morning inspection.
"Sir?" Zak said as he opened Roth's office door, just shy of ten hours after he had first brought the Commander's breakfast.
"Sir, Captain Layla Wu is here and wants to see you. She says she has the completed profiles of the suspects."
"Ah, excellent! Send her in."
"Yes, sir," Zak said and entered the office, followed by Layla. She had shoulder-length light purple hair, and was wearing the standard suit of a Marine Captain. Carrying some documents under her arm, she walked up to Roth's desk and saluted.
"Captain Layla Wu reporting, sir."
"At ease, Captain. You're done with the profiles?"
"Yes, sir," Layla said and put the two documents down on Roth's desk.
"Excellent. Have a seat while I look through these." Layla sat down as Roth started reading. Each of the profiles had a picture of one of the suspects—composite sketches, put together through a combination of what could be gathered from surveillance pictures of the night before and witness statements from the soldiers (as well as some prisoners that were willing to talk) that had seen either of them—along with any information, as narrowed down as possible, about their physical appearance and abilities and a summary of what they had done.
Alias Sonya Martinson
Female with sound-based devil fruit power. Estimated to be 25-30 years of age, and 175-190 cm tall. Shoulder-length brown or red-brown hair. Tanned skin tone. Was wearing glasses as part of her disguise when entering the base, but was later seen without glasses, wearing an eyepatch over her right eye. Eye colour undetermined. The more vocal and driving of the two. The one who managed to enter the maximum security level and free Roland. Together with Roland, defeated Cagizo of the four knights. Physical prowess appears to be no more than average for one with her build, was first and foremost relying on her devil fruit powers.
Alias Morrigan Martinson
Female wielding a bow with which she is extraordinarily skilled, using arrows that generate fire and electricity. Estimated to be 20-25 years of age, and 165-180 cm tall. Shorter than her partner, if not by much. Long, black hair with a red-coloured streak. Was wearing a red flower and blue feather on her left ear. Tanned skin tone. Brown or amber eyes. The less active of the two, did not protest much when asked by other soldiers to demonstrate her skills with her bow. Has a history with Flint, being the one who made it into processing and freed him. Seriously wounded Carime of the four knights, and attacked Commodore Roth. Physical prowess appears to be somewhat above average for one with her build.
While their cover story and fake names had involved the two of them being sisters, from their appearances and interactions it had so far not been deemed possible to either confirm or dismiss that supposed relation. While Roth suspected that it too was a lie, he knew better than to discount a possibility this early in the investigation. Now it was only a matter of identifying them, and getting any sort of clue as to their whereabouts.
"Yes, this shall do nicely. Good work with the investigation, Captain."
"Thank you, sir. Can I head back now?"
"No, hold on... I've got another task for you. But first... Zak."
"Yes, sir?" Zak said and walked up to the desk.
"Take these down to communications," Roth said and handed Zak the profiles. "I want copies of them to be distributed around Garlan as soon as possible. It's likely that some citizens saw them prior to their assault. Bring them back here afterwards."
"Understood," Zak replied. "Anything else, sir?"
"No, that's all for now. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir!" Zak said and left the office.
"Hopefully that should give some results. Now, Captain Layla."
"Even with this, there's still something about this whole thing that doesn't sit right with me. With Flint."
"What do you want me to do, sir?"
"Get a team and head to Kurita. I want you to do some more investigating there."
"I thought W2 was in charge of that."
"We have more information now. Just... see what you can figure out beyond what we already know, and what the two infiltrators had to do with it."
"Since there is no combat to be expected, I'm authorizing the use of one scouting vessel and your choice of up to ten soldiers, excepting any that are currently directly involved in the case here."
"Understood. I'll head out tomorrow morning. When do you want me to return?"
"Take your time... contact me when you believe you won't be able to find out anything more. If I need you back before that, I will get in touch. Dismissed."
"Understood, sir," Layla said and left the office to get ready for her new task.
The next morning followed the same routine as all of Roth's mornings. He was out of bed at five-thirty, and looking over the schedule for the day at the time the six o'clock knock on the door was heard.
"Your breakfast, sir."
Entering Roth's office this morning was a female soldier with light brown hair, worn in a ponytail that reached halfway down her back. She set the breakfast tray—coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs and bacon—down on Roth's desk, before standing at attention.
"Name and rank, soldier?
"Keio Brial, Seaman Recruit, sir."
"Do you have the morning report?"
"I do, sir."
"Captain Layla Wu has just left for Kurita with her group."
"The distribution of the profiles of the suspects has been completed."
"Great. What's the status from the infirmary?"
"Most of the soldiers with minor injuries have been dismissed with orders to rest, with only a few remaining for observation. A few of those with moderate injuries have also been dismissed. One of the three in critical condition has regained consciousness."
"And the knights?"
"Sir Carime and Lady Cagizo both have requested to be dismissed, but have been ordered to remain for observation for at least one more day."
"Typical of them. Anything else?"
"The installation of reinforced gates in the sewer is expected to begin tomorrow afternoon."
"Also, the delivery from Topton has been delayed by another day."
"Topton again... I don't know what's with that place. Was that all?"
"At ease, then," Roth said and gestured towards the chair on the other side of the desk. "You may sit down while I finish my breakfast."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Keio said and sat down as Roth continued eating in silence until he had finished his meal.
"Yes!" Keio replied and stood up.
"Take this back to the kitchen, and I will be down to make my morning rounds momentarily. Wait for me by the bulletin board."
"Yes, sir," Keio replied and collected the breakfast tray before leaving.
It was shortly after mid-day when the snailphone on Roth's desk started ringing. It was not a frequently used line, as Roth preferred communicating in person, but sometimes there was more urgency needed. Roth picked up the receiver.
"Sir! I'm calling from the front gates. We have a citizen here who wishes to speak to you. Says she has information on one of the suspects."
"Oh? My orderly will be down to fetch her."
"Yes, sir," the soldier on the other side said and hung up. Roth put the phone down and sent Keio out, waiting for what he hoped would be the piece they needed. Ten minutes passed before Keio returned.
"I have brought the citizen, sir!"
"Thank you. Come in, both of you."
"Yes, sir," Keio replied and entered, followed by the civilian guest—a middle-aged woman with curly brown hair, glasses, and wearing a knitted green jumper.
"Welcome, citizen. May I ask your name and profession?"
"Th' name's Talah, sir," she said and walked up to Roth's desk. "Owner of th' Golden Finch."
"You say you might have information about the suspects?"
"Yes, jus' let me get another look on that picture there..."
"Certainly," Roth said and handed over the two profile documents. Talah looked at them, and pointed to Rink's picture.
"I met this'n."
"I'm guaranteein' ya, tha' one's the lass who came to my inn just three days ago," Talah said. "Booked five beds, never came back."
"Five?" Keio asked.
"It checks out," Roth said. "The two who infiltrated. The new prisoner they came for, from processing. And two on the outside, on that boat, to facilitate their escape."
"What about Roland?"
"Nothing that occurred has indicated they were aware of Roland prior to their entry," Roth replied. "They found Roland, and enlisted his help by breaking him out... anything else you can tell us?"
"Rink Kazai, sh' said 'er name was. Was scarred 'round that eyepatch. Seemed a nice girl."
"Appearances can be deceiving. She's a criminal, no doubt about it. Broke in here, hurt several of my soldiers, and let an even more dangerous criminal out. Thanks for your help... having a name to go with a face is important when trying to get ahold of someone," Roth said. "You will be rewarded once we have confirmed this information."
"Jus' tryin' ta help."
"Well then. Keio, please escort madam Talah back out."
"Yes, sir," Keio replied and left the room together with Talah. Roth wrote down the name RINK KAZAI on his copy of the profile document, and sat in thought for a few moments before lifting the receiver on the snailphone.
"This is Roth. Connect me to the announcement speakers."
"Yes, sir," came the operator's voice from the other side, followed by a click.
"This is Roth speaking," Roth said, his message now being heard all throughout W4. "Thanks to a helpful citizen of Coren, we have now received important information regarding the attack on the base two days ago. The name of the suspect that we until now have known only by the alias of Sonya Martinson is believed to be 'Rink Kazai'. If you encounter any information about any individual bearing this name, then report to me immediately. Roth out," he finished and put down the receiver. This was the biggest breakthrough so far, and with a name, it should only be a matter of time. What Roth had, however, not quite expected was that it would only be an hour until Keio next entered. "Yes?"
"Sir! A soldier is here and says he has information about Kazai."
"Oh? Bring him in."
"Yes, sir," Keio replied and entered the office, followed by a soldier with short blonde hair. He walked up to Roth's desk and saluted.
"Seaman Recruit Ted Duani reporting, sir!"
"At ease, soldier. So... you know something about Kazai, do you?"
"Yes, sir. I've seen her before."
"Have you, now? How long ago was this?"
"A few months ago. My unit had an overnight stay while returning to base, and some of us had dinner at a hotel bar... and that woman was there, singing."
"Are you certain?"
"I wasn't entirely sure before, but now that there's the name to go with it, I'm completely convinced, sir," Ted said. "The hair, the eyepatch... and the way she was singing wasn't normal. If she had a devil fruit power, then everything makes sense... and she was introduced as 'Rink'."
"Excellent," Roth replied. "So we can be sure of her real identity now. And... where did you see her?"
Roth at first looked surprised at hearing the name, before changing into a smirk. "Heh heh... Avasine, eh?"
"Seems like some good might come out of this after all... well, I believe that's the best lead we're going to get. Thank you for your assistance, soldier. You will be rewarded. Dismissed."
"Thank you, sir!" Ted said and left the room. Roth took out a stack of official Marine stationery from his desk and started writing. Two discarded drafts later, he signed his name on the finished letter.
"Send this to all other main West Blue bases along with copies of the profiles of the suspects," Roth said as he gave her the letter. "And while you're in communications, tell Lieutenant Commander Aruk to come see me."
"Yes, sir," Keio said and left. Roth took out another document paper from his desk, this one with several empty boxes already printed on it, and started filling it in. When finished, he put it on top of Rink's profile document.
"That should do," he said to himself and waited. It wasn't too long until the knock on the door he was waiting for came. "Yes?"
"Lieutenant Commander Aruk Fiera reporting, sir."
"Yes, sir," Aruk said and entered the office. He was dark-skinned, and had dark red dyed hair made up in dreadlocks.
"I trust that additional prints of Flint and Roland's posters are going out?"
"Yes, sir, it's all been taken care of," Aruk replied.
"Good. In addition to those, we've got one more poster to print now," Roth said and clipped a copy of Rink's picture to the document he had been writing on, handing it over to Aruk. "You know what to do with this. Top priority."
"Yes, sir," he replied and looked through the document, appearing surprised at what he read.
"No, I was just thinking... don't you think that is a bit high for a previously complete unknown?"
"Kazai and her partner infiltrated a secure Marine facility, and set free two prisoners with a combined bounty of nearly seventy million beli. If anything, it might be too low... but until her threat level can be further assessed, even knowing she has a devil fruit power, twelve million will suffice to mark her as a priority target."
"Understood. And what about her partner? The archer girl?"
"This... banshee was clearly the driving force of the two, and furthermore, was the one who made it into Roland's cell and set him free... she and Roland were able to defeat Cagizo, and her devil fruit power caused many of the problems we faced, including nearly drowning myself. Where we find her, we'll find the archer... and where we find the archer, we'll find Flint."
"While I certainly hope so, knowing him, there's no guarantee he'll stick with them even if he freed them. I want the posters distributed together, but for the time being, the search for Flint and Kazai and the search for Roland will be considered separate cases."
"Understood. I will have the master copy of Kazai's poster ready by tomorrow."
"Good. Dismissed," Roth said and stood up.
"Going somewhere, sir?" Aruk asked.
"Yes, I'm heading down to the docks... we need to prepare some ships for deployment. It's time for Avasine to finally come to their senses."