“Madman!” Filare shouted over the side, once the Inquisitor was well out of earshot. “I’ll–I…” He looked at his doublet, still seamless as its sowing-day. Spray lapping against the passing docks arced over Happenstance’s rails and splattered seawater in his beard.
“What you’ll do,” Shayris said, “is anything it takes to avoid angering that man.” She decided the soggy look, somehow, had improved Filare. Slightly.
“He threatened me!” the Firascan objected.
“If you really mean to continue this–what did you call it?”
“Cultural anthropology,” Filare said, adjusting his doublet and puffing up. “The study of humans through their culture.”
“Well, trying for that, many people are going to threaten you. Culture happens to be a prickly matter in most lands, especially certain parts of it.” Your ridiculous preconceptions will not help, she thought, but give anyone too much cruel truth and they’d discard all of it. Shayris tapped her cheekbone and told him what she hoped he could take. “Filare, you’re weak. I’m sorry to shiv you by speech, but you are. Any tough having a bad day or bigoted chieftain will see this, and take advantage. Threats are part of your life now, as long as you’re at this work.”
“Look,” Filare flushed, “whether that’s right or not, that Inquisitor had no cause to do that! No cause!” Shayris opened her mouth to tell Filare otherwise, and stopped. Inquisitor-Adept Morkui Bano seemed like the type of man who didn’t breath until he was satisfied with the air under his nose. If he terrorized Filare, he must want the scholar to react a certain way. But was he expecting Shayris to explain it somehow?
She decided to dodge the issue. “If he’s a just man, then whatever he did serves just purposes. Only your pride is injured. If he’s unjust–and listen to me very carefully, Filare–he uses magic in ways I’ve never seen without thinking, without pausing. With most mages you can always see their wheels turning. They’re always wondering if casting this spell or that tells you too much about what they can do, that you might start to see the shape of their weaknesses. But this Inquisitor doesn’t care. And his raw power is… well, you saw that much.”
Filare gulped. Shayris took him by the shoulders and leaned in close, giving him nowhere to look but her eyes.
“So if this Inquisitor is unjust, the only thing you, I, or any mortal without the Gift can do is stay well out of his way and keep our heads down.”
The Happenstance wallowed to his berth–Ansethi tradeships were considered male–and Shayris joined the other sailors tying him off, furling the sails, and all the other scrabblings-over to put the ship at ease.
“Alright, my peeling-palmed brood,” Captain Chinwe shouted when they’d finished and the gangplank met the docks, “We’re under hire ’til the Inquisitor finishes his business, whatever crackling business that may be.”
The Captain was a shade or so paler than she, perhaps an inch taller, with an oddly-pinched nose and large oval eyes. Today he wore a Ceslonian-style coat to the knees, colored as stormy seas and fixed by a blackened-leather belt. Combined with his long dreadlocks, it gave him a strong silhouette; Shayris wondered if the look might catch on. Like any Captain with a brain, he wore a short sword he prayed he’d never need. He lacked Shayris’ toning and he’d nursed a bit of a gut, but he never seemed to tire. Shayris approached, pushing Filare along with her.
“We’re to assist him, he said,” she explained.
“That you are,” Chinwe agreed, grimacing. “He told me as much, then said I wasn’t to say it before you. I’m sorry you’ve been sucked in with magespawn, Shayris. There’s nothing I can do, you understand.” Chinwe’s tribe, like others in the more isolated Shards, distrusted magic and anyone using it. Today, Shayris couldn’t blame them.
“I’ll be fine, Captain,” Shayris said, clasping him by the arm. She led Filare off the Happenstance onto the wharf, a long metal walkway whose outer faces were embossed wave-patterns in ocean blue, grey and off-white. Roughly-faceted yet cleanly-transparent amber encased silvery mesh in the center, covering tunnels containing a dizzying array of pipes. Strange constructs indeed, Shayris thought.
Chinwe seemed relieved she’d passed the test; Shayris was not. Inquisitor-Adept Bano had just given her a message.
It said, You, too, are one of my details!