Chapter 003: Avasine by night

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The sun had set, but Avasine's streets were lit up by lamps set up outside almost every establishment. Restaurants and food stands could be found everywhere, and people had filled the streets, drinking, dancing, taking in the entertainment that were to be had. Merchants had set up stands in every corner, street performers did what they could to earn some extra beli.
 
James exited the Veranda Hotel into this busy crowd. He figured it was about time to find something for dinner, and to check out what was going on here at night. He strolled down the street in the direction of the marketplace, observing the crowds on the way.
 
Avasine certainly was a gathering spot for all kinds of people. Citizens, travelers, Marines, probably even a number of pirates, all coming together to enjoy the night. James had no goal in mind, he was just planning on seeing where the streets took him for a bit. Or until he got too hungry to continue, whichever came first. Most restaurants seemed pretty crowded, though.
 
At the same time, James wondered how he could best find someone to travel with, someone who could navigate. He had been figuring he'd start looking in the morning, but most people here would most likely be either visitors already in some sort of crew, or citizens without the skills he was looking for. Perhaps he'd have to stay longer than he anticipated and study navigation himself for a bit.
 
Despite his lack of navigation skill, James found Avasine easy to find his way around. Each block had its own characteristics, streets were clearly marked, and there didn't really seem to be anywhere to get yourself lost. James knew it had been built over a period of time, with additions expanding the city outwards, so he was fairly impressed by the coherency of it. Someone had planned well.
 
James reached the market square. While it had been crowded when he walked past it earlier in the day, that had been nothing compared to how busy it was now. Merchants tried to get customers to spend their beli at their stands using every trick in the book, and barely any transaction was made without haggling first. James tried to see what was being sold, but didn't get much of a look through the crowds of people. Going by the shouts of the merchants, though, he picked up on the availability of wine, cheap jewelry, swords, books, treasure maps, fine dresses, and something apparently called a log pose. Not really being enough in the market for anything to want to fight through the crowd, and figuring he should save his cash for stuff he actually needed, James squeezed past the hordes and made his way to a quieter back street. Only a few serving establishments lined this one, and James only spotted people moving towards the market - none away from it. He kept walking, deciding he wanted to see what was at the end of this block.
 
Rounding a corner a few buildings down, he found himself not far from the edge of Avasine. It wasn't the docks, they were on the other side, but he could hear the water. And something else.
 
Voices from an alley just a bit further ahead, and they sounded pretty gruff. Though also one lighter voice, sounding like a young girl... James decided to see what was going on. Peeking into the alley, he saw two larger men, shaggy, unshaven, unkempt clothes, terrible attitude. They were talking to - well, talking down at, really - a smaller girl, with a soft face, a smile on her face, light blue clothes, short blonde hair that turned another colour at the end, surprisingly calm.
 
"We've been out to sea for months, we just want some companionship, hmm?" one of the men said to the girl.
"I assure you, sirs, you're wasting your time," the girl replied without appearing worried at all.
"Oh yeah? Well, who said you had a choice?" the other man responded, moving his hand towards her shoulder. With a swift motion, she slapped it away.
"Oh, that does it!"
"Seriously?" James asked as he stepped into the alley, all six eyes turning to him.
"Who are you, dude?" one of the men asked.
"What are you trying to do with this poor girl?"
"What's it to you?"
"Really, sir, I can handle this," the girl told James, ignoring the men. One of them turned to her and swung his arm in her direction.
"Shut up!"
James took a few long steps into the alley, the other man moving in front of him.
"You better stay out of this if-"
He didn't get to finish his sentence before James planted his fist into the man's cheek, followed by a kick to the stomach. He glanced over towards the girl, who didn't appear to be in any trouble at all - the other man was trying to punch or grab her, but she dodged anything he tried with surprisingly fluid motions. But he didn't have time for a lot of observations, as the one he had assaulted was back on his case.
"Oh, you've done it now," he said and pulled a knife.
"You guys have no manners at all, do you?" James asked. Not that he figured he'd have any troubles - these guys didn't seem to know a lot about fighting besides general brawling, and were clearly somewhat drunk as well. James easily dodged a few swings from the knife, and after an attempted stab, grabbed the man's arm in a tight hold. Giving it a jerk, the man dropped the knife, and James tossed the man to the ground. He heard a splash, and saw the girl crouched, the other man having slipped on something - and as he stumbled downwards, the girl swiftly brought her knee up towards his face, making contact with his nose. He fell backwards, his nose now bloody and probably broken. His head hit the ground, knocking him out.
"Hey!" The man James had brought down was now sitting up again, apparently prepared to continue. James just sighed, took a step towards him and delivered another punch to his face, leaving him out cold as well, before switching his attention back to the girl.
 "You okay?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir," the girl said. "Really, I could have handled them myself. This isn't my first night out."
"This has happened before?"
"Oh, yes," the girl replied. "And always new arrivals, too," she said while inspecting James. "Speaking of which, you don't look like you're from around here."
"No, I arrived earlier today," James said.
"Welcome to Avasine, then," the girl replied and stretched out her hand. "Thank you for the help, anyway. I'm Mirise Lake."
"No problem," James replied and returned the handshake. "James Conrad." Before James had let go, his stomach gave off a small rumble. Mirise giggled.
"Hungry, sir?" she asked.
James chuckled. "Fighting makes me hungry. But I was planning on getting something to eat soon anyway. Know of any good restaurants?"
"I do, but if you just came here, you shouldn't go to a restaurant! If you want to get a good taste of what Avasine has, you should check out the food vendors in the street," Mirise said. "The trick is to get a small portion from a lot of them as you walk around."
"Well, alright then," James replied. "I'll give it a try."
"I can show you around, if you like," Mirise replied. "As thanks for helping out."
"Didn't you say you didn't need my help?" James asked. "But I'll certainly take you up on that offer."
"Let's go, then," Mirise said and grabbed James' hand again.
"Wait a second," James said and bent down, picking up the knife one of the men had dropped. "This isn't a bad knife. I think I'll keep it." He put it in his belt, and then let Mirise guide him back into the nightlife of Avasine.
 
A while later, they were sitting on a bench in a less busy part of the city again, seven packets of food between them. James grabbed a wooden box and opened it up, taking in the smell of steamed noodles and clams. Mirise, on her side, was nibbling on a dried spicy squid. White curry, apple rice, grilled crescent crab, sea salt salad and stir-fried beef was also on their Avasine sampler menu. They passed food back and forth between them, talking, laughing, Mirise answering anything James had to ask about Avasine. Eventually, James swallowed the last bite of crab and leaned backwards.
 
"Man, I'm stuffed," he exclaimed. "That tasted great, thanks for the advice."
"No problem at all," Mirise replied. "I love this kind of food too."
"You had me pay for it all, though," James responded.
"Hey now, if it hadn't been for me we wouldn't have gotten the curry for free," Mirise replied. James laughed.
"Aah, now I'm ready to go to sleep," James said. "But first, maybe you'd like to see my boat?"
"You have your own boat?" Mirise asked.
"Sure do, built her myself," James replied.
"You a shipwright, then?"
"Ahaha, no. It was... the first time I tried," James said before standing up. "Come on, docks aren't far from here, I think."
Mirise stood up as well, following James towards the docks. As they reached it, James concluded that the dockworker had been right - the sounds from the city reached the open docks very well, trying to sleep on the boat would have been an exercise in futility. He soon located his vessel, pointing it out for Mirise.
"There she is. Cassandra."
Mirise let out a little gasp. "It's that one!"
"What?"
"I saw when you arrived," Mirise replied. "A small ship, kinda clumsy..."
"Hey-"
"But now that I see her up close, she's got something," Mirise continued. "It's a nice boat."
"Thanks," James said. "Building her was easier than sailing with her, though..."
"Hm?"
"Turns out, there's more to traveling with a boat than making it point the right way," James said. "Having a map and a compass doesn't mean I can navigate."
Mirise giggled. "I can understand that," she said. "You have to know how the sea flows, too. Which way it wants to go."
"I suppose," James replied. He sat down at the edge of the docks, Mirise did the same. They looked out towards the horizon.
"Do you like the sea, mister Conrad?" Mirise asked.
"Like..." James said, searching for the words. "I don't think I've ever thought of the sea as a thing to like or dislike," he continued. "It's something that's always there."
"I love the sea," Mirise said. "I've always felt a connection to it. I don't know why, though. But sometimes it's like it speaks to me."
"Have you seen much of it?" James asked.
"No," Mirise replied. "I've never left Avasine. The only sea I know is the one I can see from here, but I know there's something else out there. Some day, I want to see more of it." She turned to look at James. "Why do you travel, mister Conrad?"
James sighed. "I had to... get away," he said. "Avasine was my first goal, I figured it would be a good place to prepare for the rest of the journey... I don't have any goal in mind, but I don't feel like being settled anymore." He looked up towards the night sky. "And I guess... I wanted to see the world."
"How long are you staying here?" Mirise asked.
"I don't know," James replied. "I've paid for a week at the hotel, but I'm not leaving until I actually know I can leave. Get supplies, figure out where to go... and how to get there."
"I can tell you're a good man, mister Conrad," Mirise said. "Allow me to be your guide to Avasine while you're here. At least until you've learned the city yourself."
"I'll certainly take you up on that offer," James replied. "Avasine's a nice city, isn't it?"
"I love Avasine," Mirise replied. "There's so many people here. There's always new people to meet, and I know so many of the people living here. I enjoy that."
James nodded and yawned before he started to stand up. "Well, now I really feel like I need to get some sleep," he said. "So, let's meet up tomorrow?"
"That sounds good to me," Mirise said. "Where are you staying?"
"The Veranda Hotel," James replied. "You know of it?"
"I know where it is, but I've never been inside," Mirise replied. "I'll find you tomorrow, then. I think I'll sit here a little longer."
"Alright, see you tomorrow," James said. "And thanks for today."
"Same to you, mister Conrad," Mirise replied before James left. She looked out over the ocean for a little while, then she closed her eyes and leaned backwards. She counted to ten in her head before she shifted her body weight forwards and dived into the sea.
 

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