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Mirise Lake was looking out over Avasine from her vantage point, on top of the tallest building in the city. She had done this many times before, and had no particular reason to do it. She merely liked the view from this height. She had lived in this city all her life, and as she had come to Avasine as a baby while it was still a construction site where only a few merchants and carpenters lived, had grown up together with it. She knew where every building in the city was, she noticed immediately if a new one had been built or if one had been torn down.
Avasine was not a real island. It consisted entirely of a network of white bridgelike structures a few feet above the waves, on top of which a city had grown. Originally a small trading post, it had quickly become a busy trade center—as there were no inlets or shallow waters to navigate, it made an ideal stop for larger ships. Thus, it had caught the attention of the Marines, who saw the potential of such a location and had on several occasions attempted to acquire the city for themselves. But as the city itself had no record of serious crimes and had never tried to oppose the World Government, the Marines had no reason to use force. But with the repeated attempts of the Marines to gain control of their city, the public opinion of them among the citizens soon became unfavourable. Since a lot of the city thrived on the business resulting from the large amount of people coming through, no matter their affiliation, many were of the opinion that putting it under Marine control would deter many potential visitors. As pirates rarely caused any trouble, the city enjoyed its reputation as a neutral zone—even if any truce, especially with the increasingly unstable state of the world, was an uneasy one.
She was a young woman, having turned 21 but had always looked a few years younger than her actual age. Tanned skin, cerulean eyes, light golden-blond hair fading to a light cyan near the lower fringes. Dressed in an airy blue top and a knee-length, flowing skirt, she always wore a smile on her face. On her feet, she wore nothing.
Looking out over the northern docks, Mirise spotted a small ship clumsily making its way towards Avasine. While ships approaching was nothing special, something about this particular one caught her eye and she observed it for a few moments before setting off again. She ran a few steps forwards and took a leap towards the roof of the next building, safely landing and continuing her dash. Some people looked up towards her, and she waved to them with a smile.
Mirise was well-liked in Avasine. While no one knew much about her, nearly everyone knew of her, as she was the adopted daughter of the mayor of the city. She was like a permanent fixture of the city, a cerulean streak among the buildings of white. Where she went, there could often be found droplets of water trailing her. This was, however, rarely noticed by anyone and no one would be able to guess the true source of them.
She continued jumping onto lower and lower roofs, soon reaching street level. She had made her way to one of the markets, and walked up to a nearby fruit stand.
"Good day to you, Mirise! May I interest you in some fruit?" the merchant asked.
"Certainly, mister Deen," Mirise replied cheerfully. "I'll have some apples."
"Of course." As the merchant wrapped a few apples in a piece of cloth, Mirise picked out a handful of coins from a pouch hanging from her skirt. She handed over the coins and received the package, opening it to start munching on one of the fruits before walking away.
"Your apples are juicy today, mister Deen," she mentioned before disappearing among the various stands in the marketplace.
At the same time, at the northern docks of Avasine, the ship with the name Cassandra had finally made it to port. Her single crewmember stepped onto solid ground for the first time in many days, and as he tied a rope to one of the many mooring posts, was approached by a dock worker.
"Welcome to Avasine, sir," the worker said. "If you wish to keep your ship here, the docking fee is 2500 beli. In advance."
"Oh, ah, sure..." the man said as he reached into his pocket, producing three bills worth a thousand beli each and handed them to the worker. As he got his change back, a deep growling was heard from his stomach.
"Hungry after the trip?"
"I haven't eaten for two days... can you tell me where the closest restaurant is?"
"Well, there's a café with good food just around the corner here," the dock worker said and waved his hand towards a nearby building. "Do you need a place to stay, too?"
"I was thinking I'd sleep on the boat..."
"Truth be told, sir, you don't want to do that. I understand if you might want to guard it, but we have workers around the clock. There is so much going on everywhere all the time here, so you would be lucky to get any significant sleep. It's not the cheapest, but if you just follow the road past the café to the market, then turn right, you'll find the Veranda Hotel. Nice rooms, busy bar, some good entertainment too."
"I'll consider it, thanks. I'll go eat, than get my things off the boat."
"By the way, sir, what name should we note for you and the boat?" the dock worker asked, having opened up a small registry book.
"Oh, the boat's Cassandra. As for me, the name's James Conrad."
"...Conrad. Alright then, mister Conrad, we will take care of your boat for as long as you wish. I hope you enjoy your stay in Avasine."
James shook the worker's hand. "I'm sure I will."
As James started walking towards the café he had been informed about, he looked at the buildings around him. Everything was in a shade of white, and a lot of it seemed to glint in the sunlight. No wonder they called this the pristine city. He rounded the corner, spotting a sign with the name Dockside Café on it. Figuring it had to be the place he had been told about, he took a seat at one of the tables on the patio. It wasn't long before a waitress in a blue dress walked up to his table, having spotted the new customer.
"Welcome, sir! Can I take your order?" she asked.
James took a quick glance at the menu. He didn't really care what he'd get, he just needed food. "Ah, sure," he said. "Let's see, I'll have a two-fish sandwich, large garlic pasta, chips with meat sauce and a large dark ale, thank you very much."
The waitress wrote down his order. "That's a lot of food, sure you want all that?"
"Well, I haven't really eaten anything in two days... I need to fill up."
"I understand, sir. Then, I'll be out with your sandwich and drink in just a moment."
"That would be awesome."
The waitress made her way back into the restaurant with the order as James leaned back in his chair and looked around at the other tables. Mostly normal people, but one caught his eye. A few tables over, with her back towards him, sat a dark-haired woman with a black triangular hat and a dark red coat draped over her shoulders. She put the hat on the table and placed some order, but James couldn't hear what, followed by her taking out a long, thin pipe and starting to smoke. The waitress for James's table returned with his first items at the same time the woman received hers, so all James noted was that the only thing she had delivered to her was a single cup. But there was no time for observations now. He grabbed the sandwich from the plate in front of him and took a large bite. Reinvigorated, he had eaten half of it before he even had noticed it himself. Sure, it wasn't the best sandwich ever made—two pieces of bread, some salad, two kinds of fish, some basic dressing and a bit of oil—but to James, it was heaven. This was what he would remember as the most important sandwich he had ever eaten in his life. Starting to drink his ale, he finished the sandwich shortly before the waitress returned with his pasta and chips. For the rest of the meal, James took a little more time to enjoy the dishes, not having any problems finishing it all even though it was, as the waitress had informed him, quite a lot of food. James even figured he could eat some more, and ordered another two-fish sandwich to go before paying. With his lunch all done, James threw a glance towards the table where he had seen the woman earlier, but she was gone. Not thinking more about it, James returned to Cassandra and collected the things he'd need. With a sack slung over his shoulder, he started munching on the sandwich as he started looking for the hotel he had been told about. He wouldn't mind spending some cash for comfort—he had a bit of money saved up, and in a pinch a few somewhat valuable items he could sell off. He wasn't planning on staying in Avasine for too long, but he needed to stock up for the next trip... and seriously reconsider traveling on his own. He soon noticed that the crowd became thicker, and realized he had reached the market. Making a mental note of that he'd have to check it out later, he took a right turn and left the market without much trouble, even if he had to apply his elbows a bit. Looking at the signs, he soon found that he had reached his goal—the Veranda Hotel. From the outside, it looked like a nice place. Entering the building, he came to what seemed to be a combined lobby and bar, with more people sitting around drinking than he'd have expected there to be at this time of day. He found what he could identify as the front desk and rang a small bell sitting upon it.
"Coming, sir," he heard from behind him. Turning around, he saw the bartender rinse his hands and walk up to the desk where James was standing.
"So are you the bartender, or..."
"Bartender, front manager, anything that's needed," he said. "Name's Sam Lamon. You got a room booked?"
"Oh, no, I just arrived. Are there any available?"
"Sure. We have, let's see... we have a bed in a four person room, if you don't mind sharing. Nice people. Bed doubles as a storage chest you can lock, so no worries about anyone stealing anything."
"Sure, that'll do."
"How long are you planning on staying?"
"Not sure. A few nights."
"Well, it's two thousand beli per night, and that includes breakfast. Ten thousand for a week if you pay in advance."
James pondered his situation. While he wasn't really planning on staying very long, he also wasn't in any rush. "Sign me up for a week, then." He flipped through a few bills and handed over the agreed upon price to the manager.
"Very good, sir. Name?"
The manager wrote his name down and handed him two keys. "Here's for the room and your storage. Room 316. And since you're new, let me tell you that you don't want to miss the show this evening. Starts in about five hours, on the lobby scene. You won't believe your ears."
"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
James made it up the stairs to the third floor and found his way to his room. There weren't anyone else currently there, but three of the beds had clearly been used, so he opened up the fourth one, put his sack in the storage space and locked it with the key. Putting the key in his inner shirt pocket and taking off his shoes, he laid down on the bed.
His first experience of Avasine had been mostly positive. He could surely find what he needed here. And more than anything, he needed someone who knew how to navigate, was his final thought before he drifted off into a nap.
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