"Up and out, unless you have booked passage to Korthos Island," came the strident voice.
Faith jerked awake and swayed in her hammock. Her head felt like it was going to explode. She was still on the Sojourn but it was time to get off. She rolled herself out of the hammock and hit the floor with a thump. "Ow!" she yelped and that hurt her head even more. What a terrible way to start her first day in Stormreach.
She staggered up to the main deck, across the gangplank and onto the dock. It was still dark; she could still see two moons in the pale grey sky that was starting to lighten over the eastern horizon.
"Gotta go, let's move!" first mate Valeria Sinderwind was hustling the remaining stragglers off the ship. "Good luck and all that. Off the ship now!"
Is'kel dragged herself across the gangplank, last to leave. She barely had both feet on the dock when the gangplank was lifted and the last rope was cast off. The two of them watched as the ship floated away from the dock, raised its sails and made for the Thunder Sea.
"I feel horrible," Is'kel said, one hand holding her forehead, the other clutching her bag of holding that she had not managed to get onto her back yet.
"Me too. Can you make it up the steps? Maybe food will help."
The two of them struggled up the seemingly endless sets of steps leading to the Leaky Dingy, narrowly avoiding a plunge off to either side as the steps had no railing. They felt quite a sense of achievement when they reached the top and entered the tavern. Kal and Malut were already there, seated at a table and eating heartily.
"Good morning, sunshine," boomed Kalvenor and both girls clapped their hands to their ears.
"Don't do that," begged Faith. "It hurts."
"You'll be fine, you just need the hair of the dog," Kal was amused. He turned to the barmaid who had approached to see if they needed anything. "Two pints of ale for my friends here!"
"No, no," they both said.
"Just cornmeal porridge for me," Faith told the girl. "And some apple cider, please."
Is'kel nodded. "Same for me."
Kal opened up a newspaper after the barmaid delivered the girls' food and took away his empty dishes. He read intently for a while and Faith was relieved. She couldn't take much more of his booming voice. Malut was scrounging around in his red bag again and took a small vial out. He reached over and poured a little of the contents over Faith's cornmeal, then looked questioningly at Is'kel.
"What is it?"
"Woodblossom nectar. Will help your head."
"Thank you," she nodded and he poured a few drops of the thin syrup into her bowl.
The nectar was light and sweet and Faith did actually start to feel better once she was finished. Her head still ached, but it was not pounding as hard.
"Thank you Malut, you are the best. How do you know this stuff?"
Malut gave her one of his rare toothy smiles and she smiled back. "Mother is a druid," he explained. "Nature and herbs and healing and all that."
Kalvenor folded up his newspaper and set it on the table with a whack.
"I've got people to see. I'm off."
And without further explanation, Kalvenor left. The door slammed behind him and both Faith and Is'kel jumped a little. Is'kel rubbed her forehead. Faith picked up the paper he had left behind and tucked it into her bag to read later. They were all finished eating.
"So, what do we do now?"
Malut shrugged and Is'kel looked lost and miserable.
"Isn't there supposed to be a Union board in here?" They all looked around but no one saw the black board that listed available jobs.
"I bet it's there, normally," Faith pointed to an empty spot on the wall. "We'll have to get our Union runes updated to see it."
"Let's go find the trainers," suggested Is'kel and they all got up and headed out the door.
The sun was creeping over the horizon now and the Harbor was bustling. The magical crane was working as it had all through the night but now there was a line of people taking away and bringing crates and barrels to be loaded or unloaded onto carts and ships. A steady stream of foot traffic was going up and down the long, steep ramps on the cliff side. The three young adventurers made their way down the rickety steps from the Leaky Dingy. At the base of the steps, a perky blond human woman was standing and she called out to them as they approached.
"Are you new adventurers?" she asked brightly.
Faith kinda wanted to punch her for being so happy and perky and loud. She mentally chided herself for her unkind instincts.
"Yes, we came in on the Sojourn last night," Faith answered quietly.
"Oh, wonderful! I thought you might be new, I know just about everyone here in Stormreach. I'm so glad I caught you. I'm Mari Mosshand and I am the Adventurer's Union representative. Now first, let me give you your bags."
She handed each of them a red bag and a blue bag.
"You can put those in your backpack and they will help you to organize your things. The red one will hold collectibles like ore, plants and small blades that you might find and the blue one is for gems."
Her eyes opened wide and her eyebrows raised in exaggerated excitement at the word "gems".
"They are magic of course, so if you put anything into your backpack that can fit into one of those, they will just go right into the correct bag. Isn't that great?"
"Great," said Malut.
"OK! Now we've got that done. Make sure you bind with one of the Silver Flame priests, you know, in case you um... fall. You know what I mean?" She whispered the last part in a loud stage whisper, like talking about dying was to horrible to do out loud. "There's a Silver Flame priest in every tavern here so just talk to one of them, OK? If you need the spirit binders' services, you don't want to find yourself back on Korthos Island, do you?"
They all shook their heads. Faith wanted her to stop talking. Mari's voice clanged in her head like a harsh bell, making her brain ache.
"Is that all?" Faith asked.
"Hmnn, pretty much! Oh, you will need to check in at the Union Hall and get registered before you can take on any work here in Stormreach. You know where that is?"
They all shook their heads.
"OK! Take this ramp to the Upper Harbor, follow the road around til you get to the bridge and on the other side of the bridge is a gate to the Marketplace. Once you go through the gate, you'll want the first building on the right. Most of the trainers should be working there so if you aren't sure where to go, just ask one of them. OK?"
"OK! Bye now!" The ebullient Mari waved, even though they were standing right in front of her. "Off you go! Bye! Have a good day!"
The three of them walked down the pier, trying not to get trampled by the crowds then they started up the big ramp. It was an odd contraption with many platforms to help break up the steep climb. There were no handrails and Faith was still a little wobbly. She almost stepped right off the edge more than once until Malut placed himself on the outside edge of the ramp and let the other two walk closer to the cliff. When they reached the top, Faith took a look around while she paused to catch her breath.
The harbor below them sparkled as the sun rose just high enough to catch all the wavelets blown about by the brisk wind. Beyond all the hustle and bustle of the many ships coming and going, the lighthouse stood, beacon still circling even though it could hardly be seen in the sunlight. Various wooden buildings filled the harbor docks, some on stilts, some built right up next to the ancient stone walls. As she turned towards the upper harbor, the first thing she noticed was a fountain that had eels circling a center figure holding a trident. Faith guessed it was a statue of the Devourer. More wooden buildings circled the fountain, but some of them had a more substantial build of stone. A few of the floating towers hovered overhead as they passed businesses, shops and street vendors offering to trade for various items. All of it was bounded by an enormous and ancient-looking stone wall.
They followed the road as it wound through the business district, passing a bank, armor store and apothecary. The morning air was cool and fresh but was already starting to warm up. The day would be hot. Faith wondered what the skinny, branch-less tress with the feathery green, orange and yellow fronds were called. They dotted the landscape and gave an exotic look to the area.
As they turned a corner, Faith saw an odd contraption that she at first mistook for an elaborate birdhouse. It was a long red laquered rectangle of a box with a pointed base and curved roof, hovering along the side of the road. As they passed it, it made a pleasant chiming sound. People were lined up around the floating box, taking turns opening hinged doors on each of the four sides and removing items and letters. To their left, people were waiting at the base of an airship tower. As they approached, the shadow of an airship blocked the light for a moment as it docked at the tower overhead.
The rickety plank bridge they needed to cross lay ahead of them. The bridge spanned a setback in the cliff that contained the entrance to the under harbor neighborhood of Saltire. It had a great view of the Emperor and his beam of light as well as the lighthouse out in the harbor. A waterfall gushed into the small backwater area of the harbor, fed by the remains of an ancient aqueduct. It was all very picturesque and exciting to Faith. As they crossed, Faith realized looked worse than it was. There were no handrails but a couple of chains attached to a series of lamp poles on either side kept too many people from wandering off the edge. Is'kel nearly fell through a hole in the bridge where a plank had come loose but she caught herself as she pitched forward. Malut walked in front of the two girls, checking the boards and they made it across without any other incidents.
When they reached the far side of the bridge, they turned right and went through an arched doorway framed by an ornate iron gate. Inside was another plaza with a large fountain in the center of it. A curving stone bridge led deeper into the Marketplace, dotted with hovering globes of red light spaced evenly above the walkway. At the far end of the bridge they could see the top of a massive red tent. Guards were drilling on the left side of the plaza and many people seemed to be scattered about the area. Faith watched a human lightly tap a halfling on the back of the neck and realized these must be the trainers. Quite a few people were seated at an open air tavern in the corner and Faith made her way toward them.
"I'm sorry, this tavern is for the exclusive use of Adventurer's Union trainers," said an elf seated at one of the tables, who paused to blow on his tea. "They don't serve the public."
"I'm just looking for the Union Hall," Faith said.
The elf waved a bored hand at the building behind him. "You've found it."