“I am not too presumptuous in guessing you do not speak Ulmish?” Morkui asked. He tensed his fingers, flicking his spear’s head inward away from the encroaching walls. Passersby were forced to move around the killing point, which Shayris knew Morkui liked even if he made an apologetic expression at them.
“You’d be an idiot to be guess otherwise,” Shayris said.
The seafort’s belly was a tunnel-warren marked by signs scrawled in Ulmish characters, which Shayris could not read, supplemented by symbols she didn’t understand, and filled with devices which made no sense to her. What was the purpose of a glass-encased needle attached to a mess of wheels and pipes? To be sure, she knew anything so ugly in such an ornamented place must have a purpose, and that maddened her more. After all, only the humblest of the seafort’s oddments lacked filigree or trim in semi-precious metals.
More of the strange, wheel-fastened doors lined the halls to either side. Some were open, exposing stairwells or rooms full of humanoid peoples in close-cut wear fiddling with this or that instrument. They passed more guards in the improbable blue armor, bearing crossbows and short swords, and small groups of folk in dayclothes who spun and chattered in their wake like birds behind a swift ship.
They passed through muraled halls and common rooms overrun by many layers of catwalks and ladders, and then through a stout, incredibly thick steel door. The seafort’s construction changed around them, more precise angles and less ornamentation. In this deep place the amber walkway-covers were replaced with a hard, dark blue crystal polished to hundreds of individual facets for each step she took. It seemed oddly familiar, but surely it couldn’t be–it was!
“These panels are blue diamond!” she hissed.
“Correct,” Morkui said.
“Ah, but, my Ansethi cousin, you forget the Crystalline Conclave,” Morkui said, ducking beneath a churning set of black-iron pipes bound in mirror-polished copper.
“Quartz and malachite, carnelian and moonstone!” Shayris protested.
“Ah, a most mystic string of names. I was not aware you were a shaman,” Morkui quipped.
“Are all very common crystals, Inquisitor! It’s not half so mad to see canyons carved of malachite. Blue diamonds? They aren’t common at all!”
“In fact, they are among the rarest natural gemstones,” Morkui agreed. “Your point?”
“There’s no way they mined enough blue diamond to make panels of the fucking stuff!”
“I do not recall saying anything of mining,” Morkui said.
“Magecraft,” Shayris said. “You’re talking of magecraft. But there aren’t enough mages on all Canno to…” Shayris recalled what she’d picked up about history on her voyages. There were many mages in the Age of Splendors; the Loar killed most, for only mages could threaten them in numbers less than a thousand.
She looked at the panels again. A friend once told her that magic and living creatures got on poorly; having the stuff linger in your body did terrible things. It was because a living body was always in flux, always changing its shape. The more stable the vessel, the more consistent it was, and the easier it held or passed on the power. “For example,” Enessui had said, “Diamond has a perfect structure down to the smallest pieces of it. Atoms, that’s the word.”
“These conduits fuel the entire seafort,” she guessed. Now that she thought of it, she realized the diamond-panels gleamed far too much for the sparse white lights overhead, hinting the full color spectrum, and misty light-whorls gamboled in their depths.
“And there is the dangerous mind which forced me to threaten you earlier,” Morkui said. “That threat now becomes a promise, Shayris. You will speak of this place to no one.”
“Are you mad, Inquisitor?” Shayris chuckled, but darkly. “I, a sailor, speaking of a place like this? Only the greatest fools would believe.”
“So you think fools are harmless, young Shayris?” Morkui asked. “All the evil ever done on Canno was done by fools, or at least allowed by them. An intelligent mind is like diamond; it is hard, consistent, cuts through the things too weak to be worthy of it. One may carve the world with its facets. A fool? Few can say what a fool will do.”
Morkui stopped, at last, in a cramped room with an angled cherry-wood booth at its front, plushly carpeted and lit by oil-lamps. A petite, near paper-white redhead in a white shirt and black-trimmed gold pants raised an eyebrow at him and made a remark in Ulmish. Morkui responded in kind. The woman eyed Shayris, pursed her lips, and nodded.
“Come with,” she said, in halting shieldtongue. She strode into a nearby corridor. Morkui motioned for Shayris to go ahead.
The room they led her to was furnished comfortably, but she couldn’t help but notice it had the same wheel-operated door as those further out in the sea-fort. There were dark slits near the top of the room which smelled vaguely of the sea. For bringing air in?
“This is where you will be staying while we’re here,” Morkui said. “Make yourself comfortable. I must move on; please do not try anything irresponsible. The Ulmish leaders have been informed where you are.”
“And where will you be?” Shayris asked acidly, while considering some things irresponsible.
“I must see if I am one of the few,” Morkui said, and left.