With Filare in tow–and a lubberly vessel he was!–Shayris strode towards the angular tower at this marvelous port’s center. Everywhere she looked she saw wonders she’d never dreamed possible, statues of pure gleaming silver polished mirror-bright, gemstones whirling through the air like flocks of birds, animate sculptures that shifted and moved with stony growls.
Standing stark contrast were the polygonal engines turning atop cylindrical towers which extended far into the roiling deep. Ballista bolts jutted from hollow tubes at the front of each engine, but the strings were woven copper, the bows darkened steel and stretching up and down, not to either side. How could human hands winch such beasts, even with a crank to aid them, or load new bolts when they stuck so far outside their armored housings? Each engine had three mounted side by side; a device like a spyglass jutted above, between the first and second bow.
“I’ll look around,” Filare announced, breaking her reverie. “There must be a fascinating culture around this construct.”
“Inquisitor Bano ordered us to help him,” Shayris said, catching the Firascan’s arm in passing.
“I am a free man,” Filare countered. “And I’m not weak, so I’ll continue my research, and the Inquisitor can grow himself a Cumasi smile!” Shayris flinched. She’d learned long ago not to say anything like that until she knew the local law. Wishing an Inquisitor a slit throat might be all it took to legalize Filare’s execution in this strange place.
“Filare,” she said, “If you make suicidal choices to prove you’re not weak, it’s the very best proof of your weakness.” He snorted and shook his arm loose. Shayris reached to stop him again, then froze. I don’t know the law here. If he throws a fit or accuses me, I don’t know that I’ll be allowed to defend myself. Filare stomped off across the amber-panels.
Shayris looked around the wondrous port for dragging minutes, seeking anything like a greeting room–as in any Kiwodan port worth the name–or anyone with authority. There were many smaller buildings around the tower’s base, and stairwells leading down below the waterline with peculiar, wheel-sealed doors and thick glass portholes to seal them.
She passed swarms of fellow humans pastier than she’d ever seen, even in Ceslon, wearing fine fabrics cut finely and dyed to extravagance. She saw many Ilbaret with their apish faces, vibrant tribal-paint fur, and flowing robes. There were some of the Shield Races, fuzzy Kwuulm on their spindly, bent legs, back-spines flexing anxiously, and a lone oily-winged Sayip fluttering into corners, keening at her curiously with clacks from its bony snout, and moving on.
Seaweed draped many of the port’s buildings, rising far higher than any storm should be able to cast it. Shayris had a thought on that, and dismissed it with a laugh. She passed vast metallic halls filled with yellow-white light from glass fixtures at the ceilings, too steady for any flame, and every one packed to the brim with market stalls. Each merchant-hall had two immense doors set into rounded grooves at top and bottom, with space between to sail ships through. The doors were somber steel at the core, but covered in a dull black something.
When she pressed her hand into it, curious, it yielded slightly beneath her fingers. She passed runes engraved in dark-metal plating around the port’s center tower, and wandered through many cramped doorways into L-shaped halls.
(Next Page to Come) (More from Canno)