“If you would like to know about a man, the simplest start is to ask,” the Inquisitor said without turning. His voice was whispered yet louder than thunder, emerging all around Shayris without a single echo.
The air tore with a thwupping boom, the Happenstance rocked and creaked beneath them, and instantly he stood over Shayris and Filare both. His black robes, with a faint sheen more of oil than fine fabric, snapped out behind and settled only slowly. The winged spear’s butt clacked against the planks between his black-trimmed-gold sabatons. Shayris noted distantly that the sabatons articulated twice after the ankle. Once at the toes, once–at the balls of the feet? Why there?
His gauntlets were mirror-polished hunter green at the base, the helm’s purplish black at the fingers, and seamless like no ordinary gauntlets. They flexed with a strange high groan. His brow was broad, his lips full, his jaw powerful. His face had everything Shayris thought of as handsome, and yet it combined to something that simply… was. Neither attractive nor ugly. An Inquisitor.
“So,” the Inquisitor said, “do you mean to ask?” Shayris stared blankly at him. “I will tell you anyway!” the Inquisitor laughed suddenly. “I am Inquisitor-Adept Morkui Bano! A pleasure, Shayris, young Filare.” He extended his left hand, shifting the spear to a casual angle in his right armpit. The dark helm hovered up to poise on the Inquisitor’s left shoulder.
“How do you know our names?” Shayris asked, taking his hand with her right at an awkward angle. The gauntlet pressed steadily, like a human hand, but so chill and hard. She realized it felt the same as a vise she once tightened around her hand, so gently, just to see if it was as tight as her father claimed. If the Inquisitor tightened his grip, he would pulp her palms.
“I listened when I boarded, of course,” Morkui said. “Often, if you pay attention, you never have to ask questions at all.”
Filare took the Inquisitor’s hand. “Is it customary to shake with the left among your–where you… er..”
“Only for the left-handed,” Morkui smiled. “My right, however, must hold my spear.” His lips and nose twitched soundlessly. “If you were to jump at me,” the eight-foot spear moaned suddenly downward: its point rasped on Filare’s doublet. Fibers split one-by-one beneath the edge, smooth as parting mist. The crystalline-white blade sang softly. Filare’s beard and mustache spiked towards it when it flicked back up, narrowly missing him. Shayris saw lightning tracing its arc, leaping and jumping in the air. “Well, of course that is only hypothetical!” Morkui laughed, but a glint passed over his eyes with nary a ray reflected from elsewhere on the ship.
Shayris’ skin pricked, and Filare’s cut doublet wove back together.
“I hope you will forgive my theatrics,” Morkui said, releasing Filare’s hand. “I have my reasons, of course.”
“Of course,” Filare gulped, eyeing the spearhead.
“You haven’t said where you spring from,” Shayris ventured.
“Indeed I have not,” Morkui said. He adjusted his robes. They were little adorned, Shayris realized, but hardly simple, cut carefully to magnify the Inquisitor’s body shape. They hinted at a broad, muscular build and strong legs without hugging a single place, and flared beneath the cuirass as if flowing from it.
Shayris began to realize that every action, every word, every tic that seemed accidental obeyed a design only the Inquisitor understood. She felt somehow that she knew less after he’d introduced himself than she had before he’d set foot on the ship. Every new detail contradicted the last.
“Why sail with us?” she asked at last. “I’d guess you have swifter ways to travel, Lord Inquisitor.”
“Please, Inquisitor-Adept,” Morkui said. “I am not a lord.” He said it neutrally, without disdain or humility. He might mean that he was below nobility, or above it.
“As you will,” Shayris said. “My question stands, Inquisitor-Adept.”
“Ah, well, since you ask,” Morkui said, “to reach the interesting trouble ahead.” He stood up, pointing his spear at a tangle of easily a dozen ships looming on the stormy seas ahead, beyond the Inquisitor’s cloud-breach. They were anchored around an ancient grey-metal spire rising from the sea, set with more glass than Shayris had ever believed could exist and armored at its wide points in ocean-blue plates inlaid with murals of gold and copper, brass and bronze. Ancient war-engines, ballistae and stranger weapons, followed their approach from bastions that towered above the waves.
“You didn’t answer why you wished to sail when you could fly,” Shayris pressed.
“Indeed, I have not,” Morkui agreed, “anymore than I have claimed I can fly. We may be here for some time, Shayris. Tell your captain I would like you to assist me. Bring young master Filare.” He grinned, hopped lightly from the deck, and hurtled away from the Happenstance towards the strange island with a percussive boom-and-crack.