Each time she entered one of the L-halls, Shayris saw a stone barrier with a slit at eye-height, forcing her to turn left and go around it.
The third time she passed a guard posted on the other side of the slit with a loaded crossbow in his hands, a steel-masked kettle-helm on his head. He wore plate armor fitted better than she’d ever believed possible, each join and gap tapered to his body’s lines. Each piece had a glistening blue-white texture, the blues shifting to darker shades here and there, and purples too.
Shayris let her gaze linger. No smith could temper such colors into plate. She was no armorer, but she knew that much. Yet the guard’s posture and underclothes were plain, a normal man’s. Her confusion increased when she left this L-hall and passed a patrol all fitted in the same armor. Every pattern she saw was unique.
Protected by thousands of gold pieces in master-grade plate, patterned in ways I always thought were impossible, and they don’t seem aware of it. Who are these people?
Shayris passed through an arched hallway lined with bronze engravings of gently-rolling countryside covered in trees. Passersby hefting crates, sacks and fish jostled her with muttered apologies or curses in a language she didn’t know. Here and there within the engravings, grand monuments and soaring roads on buttressed pillars broke up the bronze-lands. From the framed facades of one engraved tower, a brooding thing made from four concave-sided layers each fastened with war engines, Shayris recognized the landscape at last.
“Ulm,” she said to herself. “It’s Ulm.”
“You are not versed on the Age of Splendors, young Shayris,” Morkui Bano said, and her heart fairly cracked her ribcage at his voice.
“WOULD YOU–” Shayris caught herself. “Please, don’t make a habit of this.”
“I make no promises,” Morkui chuckled. He stood ten feet away with his armor glinting unnaturally. “Inquisitors cannot afford to agree to such things. If I were suddenly attacked, I would have to defend myself, and that would be startling, yes?”
“I suppose,” Shayris said. “What is this place, Inquisitor? I see the answer squirming behind your eyes.”
Morkui grinned. “It is an old Ulmish seafort from the Age of Splendors, one of…” he frowned, “…a number around Canno. If you ever tell anyone about it, you will disappear suddenly in the night.”
“I… see…” Shayris said.
“I am sorry for such dire promises,” Morkui said. “The magics here, and works of technology too, are things the Vigil wants reintroduced very carefully. A global armada descending to plunder these things would not be careful.”
“Ah,” Shayris said, absolutely terrified. I’ve stepped off the Happenstance straight into a gale-fable!
“Where is young Filare?” Morkui asked. “He was to stay with you. Your captain did instruct you so?”
“I tried to stop him,” not very hard, came the traitor-mumble in her mind, “but he stormed off shortly after we disembarked. I don’t know where he is.”
Morkui clapped his hands together on his spear-haft. “Excellent!” he said. “Come.”
Shayris didn’t bother asking why it was excellent that Filare disobeyed. That’s why Morkui–the Inquisitor–menaced him aboard the Happenstance. To make him angry and stupid, so he’d “rebel.”
Shayris had to chuckle grimly at the irony. She followed the Inquisitor-Adept deeper into the seafort, away from crashing surf and harried dockworkers, into musty halls. Into danger.