The inside of the Leaky Dingy wasn't as bad as Faith had feared. It was relatively clean and packed full of people. What did worry her a bit was the way it swayed when the wind blew.
"Why is the tavern floating in midair?" Faith asked Kal.
"That is a pretty good story," Kal answered. "But let's settle in first. Head for that table in the back."
As they made their way to the back, it seemed to Faith that everyone in the entire tavern stopped Kal to say hello, clap him on the back or yell a friendly insult at him. A halfling was quick to approach as soon as they sat down.
"Kalvenor Grimseeker himself!" the halfling exclaimed. "My best customer that I had thought gone forever. How about a spin of the wheel, Kal?"
"Seamus, I'm here to eat," Kal waved him off. "I've just recently reincarnated and haven't even been to the bank yet so I've no money for gambling tonight."
"I'd be surprised if you've any left at all," the halfling grinned. "Between the wheel, the bartender and the Gambler's Den, I imagine your bank account is a bit thin these days."
"Don't you worry about me, Seamus Luckypenny. I've got plenty of platinum and gold to spare. But you aren't getting any. Now be off with you."
"That's no way to treat an old friend," sulked Seamus.
"With friends like you, Seamus..."
"I was always there for ya..." Seamus muttered as he crossed back to his wheel.
"Always there to lighten my pockets," Kal said Faith and Malut.
"What you need is more friends like ME!" exclaimed a high-pitched voice. Faith turned to see a gnome wearing a bright green captain's hat with yellow feathers curving over the back. His armor was made of brightly-colored pastel plates in various shades of green, teal and purple and featured a pink bow across his chest.. It was lavishly decorated with gold trim on the sashes and the underskirt. The armor was completed with purple boots, spiked rust-colored shoulder guards and an ornate rust red utility belt. His grayish face looked like that of a small elf, but with all the features sharpened. His eyes were like black marbles.
None of this surprised Faith as gnomes were quite common in Breland and they loved to dress in bright colors. What did surprise her was that this little gnome was on a mount. He was riding a vicious-looking metal dog. The dog had sharp spikes along its back and it looked like the gnome had removed one of them to make room for a small saddle. He was holding on to a couple of knobs on the dog's shoulders.
"Rat... What are you doing here?" Kal didn't look pleased to see the gnome.
"Hey, no homonculus in the tavern," yelled the bartender. "We've got enough grease in here already and last time we had complaints from people who got cut on the spikes."
"Oh, as you command," the little gnome replied grumpily and jumped down from the dog's back. He pushed a few buttons and the dog folded up into a small box. The gnome put the box into his backpack then looked expectantly at Kal.
"Seriously, Rat. What are you doing here?"
"I heard a rumor that you were back and I came to see with my own two eyes," the gnome swept off his hat and bowed deeply. "And here you are!"
"Here I am. And I'm about to eat some dinner." Kal was not very friendly.
"Then I shall provide your sustenance," Rat bowed again. "Be hungry no longer! I will provide for you and your compatriots."
With that he swept away to speak to the bartender.
"Rat, I can get my own food," Kal started to call out but trailed off. "It's no use. He won't listen. He just does whatever he's gonna do."
Malut and Faith gave him questioning looks, but neither said anything.
"It's a long story..." Kal started but then his eyes wandered to the door. "I'll be right back."
Kal made his way over to the door. They could hear him joking and laughing with the other patrons. Soon he was back with an elf girl in tow. It was the bard who had played for them earlier on the boat. She looked extremely uncomfortable.
"C'mon, have a seat with us," Kal encouraged her. "Better than sitting alone."
"Thank you, you are very kind," the elf answered. She had fair skin and blue hair in a ponytail. "I don't know anyone else. I'm Is'kel Qua'dens."
Just then Rat returned to the table. He looked surprised to see another person at the table.
"More food! I must order more food," he cried and hurried back to the bar.
"I'm Faith Fayrehold. I saw you around the island but didn't have a chance to say hello."
"Oh, I know all of you," the elf girl said with eyes wide. "You released the dragon."
"Aw, that was nothing," Kal swaggered. "All in a day's work."
Malut snorted and Faith laughed out loud. Is'kel laughed along with them, a little uncertainly. Rat reappeared and dragged a chair from another table.
"Hey, I was gonna use that," a drunken human man at the table tried to stop him.
"For what? To hold all your empty ale steins? Go home, Vannick. You've had enough!"
The man laid his head back on the table and Rat awkwardly shoved the chair to the corner of the table between Kal and Is'kel. Kal did not move to make room for him, but Is'kel slid over a bit. There was an awkward silence at the table. Rat looked expectantly from one face to the other.
"So? What is our mission?" he finally asked.
"We don't have a mission, Rat. I just got back into town."
"Yes, I know!" Rat said brightly. "And I am here!"
"I still don't know why you are here," Kal groused.
"To assist you in your glorious adventures, oh tall one!"
The others burst out laughing. To a gnome, a dwarf was tall and Kal was tall for a dwarf but still it was funny. Rat looked confused.
"I shall introduce myself for those of you who have not heard of me and my great adventures," Rat said. He stood on his chair, swept off his green hat and outstretched his arms.
"I am Lorban Kilrath, direct descendant of Kirris Sel Shadra, the lost Coin Lord of Stormreach! I am here to reclaim my family's birthright and to prove Zilargo wrong... Xen'drik is not cursed against gnomes."
"Cursed? Is that why I haven't seen any gnomes around?" Faith asked, curious.
"Exactly, my fair lady," Rat gave her a lofty nod. "It is my theory that the current Coin Lords are shams! They have driven gnomes out of Stormreach to preserve their own self-interest, knowing that we gnomes could easily destroy their column of power here in Xen'drik."
"Please, Rat, not the whole conspiracy thing again..." Kal sighed. "This can go on for hours."
"Hmph," Rat gave a haughty sniff. "If YOUR race had been wiped from the continent, I would certainly be more supportive of your mission to find out the truth."
"You know, why don't you go chase some conspiracy theories right now?" Kal suggested.
"Because our feast is served," Rat gave a grand wave of his tiny hand as a barmaid arrived with several platters for their table. Rat placed his hat on the back of his chair and sat down.
The barmaid filled the table with plates of poached sunfish, roast boar shank, ham and bread. She passed around steins and left a pitcher of ale on the table.
"Bring more ale, my fine wench" commanded the gnome. "And do keep it coming. Put all expenses of this feast onto my account. Where are the roasted vegetables I ordered?"
"We've got no veg," the barmaid told him. "Our supplier's been off his deliveries a week or more. But I'll bring ye another pitcher when I get back over this way."
"This is too much food," Faith said. She abhorred waste and with all of the rationing from the Last War in her home country, the amount of food on the table seemed excessive. Rat simply shrugged.
"If it doesn't get eaten by us, I'm sure we can offer it to some of these drunken buffoons. Not to worry!"
Kal and Malut were already filling their plates and their stomachs. After three days of ship food, Faith hadn't realized how good fresh food tasted. While it wasn't fine cooking, it was simple, fresh and hearty and before long there was nothing but dirty dishes left on the table. Malut looked like he would have liked to lick them clean, but he held back.
The barmaid cleared their table as they talked about their experiences on Korthos Island and a little about their pasts. They found out Is'kel was from Aerenal and was a second level bard. Rat listened to everything with rapt attention and asked questions constantly. When the barmaid set the fourth pitcher of ale on the table, the men were getting a little tipsy. Kal started to refill Faith's stein when he realized it was still full.
"Drink up, girl! We are celebrating here. Welcome to Stormreach!"
"Oh, I don't drink," Faith replied uncomfortably. She noticed Is'kel's stein was still full as well.
"Well, now's the time to learn," Kal pushed the stein closer. "A good ale will wake you up, put you to sleep, make your troubles seem distant and make 'em worse. All in this glass here. Try it. You too, Is'kel."
Faith looked at Is'kel across the table and they both lifted their steins and took a drink. It was a strong beverage, the alcohol in it stung her throat and her eyes watered. Faith kept sipping and soon found it wasn't as bad as she initially thought. After a while, she realized the stein was nearly empty. Kal refilled it for her.
"You asked me how the Leaky Dingy came to be floating in midair. Back in the early days of Stormreach, this building was the Wavecrest Tavern. Sigmund Bauerson named it that because the waves sometimes crested right into the walls and during high tides, the water would seep through the floorboards and drinking here was like riding the crest of a wave! Sigmund decided to move his family out to Korthos Island and focus on his brewing after a dispute with the Coin Lords about taxes on alcohol sales and repair costs.
The Coin Lords ordered this building destroyed. The locals were outraged. Where would they gather? The place is beloved by guards and dockworkers alike. They petitioned Harbormaster Zin to save the building.
Zin asked the Coin Lords if he could have the building, as long as it was no longer on the grounds of Stormreach. Told them he'd move it. The Coin Lords agreed, they wanted that eyesore gone and they assumed Zin was saving them fees for the removal of the building.
Zin however, called in a favor with a Wizard he knew in the Twelve and had the building raised up in the air! The Coin Lords, particularly Jonas Wilkes the Harbor Lord, were not too pleased with this turn of events but could not go back on their word. Wilkes was fit to be tied when he realized that he couldn't charge taxes on the establishment either as it was no longer 'on the grounds of Stormreach.' Some of the locals christened the place 'the Leaky Dingy' after a group of dockworkers were cited for having a... ahem... how to put this... urinating contest... off of the roof."
The story ended with laughter all around the table. Faith realized she had finished her second stein of ale just as Malut refilled it.
"So, why are you called Rat?" Faith asked the gnome, as she felt a little bolder.
"Oh that, well, that is Kalvenor's nickname for me because my family name is Kilrath. He has trouble pronouncing words that have more than one syllable," Rat said tartly but Kal leaned back out of Rat's line of sight and made pointy ears with his fingers and stuck out his teeth. The others laughed.
"Yes, I guess it is an amusing moniker."
"How did you two become aquainted?" continued Faith. Kal was shaking his head and holding up his hands to stop her from asking, but it was too late, the words were already out of her mouth.
"Ah, that is a fine story if I may say so!" Rat was enthusiastic. "Full of heroic deeds and near tragedy."
Kal's shoulders slumped. Faith felt a pang of guilt. It seemed his story was going to be told whether he liked it or not.
"Maybe I shouldn't have pressed the ale on you, girl," Kal grumbled."Now you've got him started."