Tishka marvelled at Sovereign, impressed long before the Marianne came in dock at the sky-harbor. Never before had she seen such a grand cluster of buildings, just beginning to sparkle as night fell, lit by orange and blue and white dots of mage-fire and plain yellow oil lamps. Lights blinked on, one by one or sometimes two by two, tracing outlines of streets and houses, the light rolling in a rippling effect in lines across the city that stretched to the horizon. The designs of each building, lit from below or above or behind, changed from street to street, path to path; down one cobbled road the walls were finely sculpted with stone leaves and animal faces; down a dirt path the houses piled atop one another like wooden teeth, rope clothes lines strung from wall to wall. Scattered everywhere in view were plazas and fountains, places where the market stalls were packing up, where groups of women flocked around young girls selling flowers and men stumbled in herds, laughing raucously.
Through the hobbled buildings and past the distracted people moved shining creatures of metal and crystal, each seemingly with its own purpose and skill. They clicked and shone as they tottered and lurched along, ignored by the people they passed. Some of them, the smaller ones, made a high-pitched ringing sound as they moved that made Tishka’s skin tingle and her bones ache.
Mikabwe slapped Tishka on the back, laughing at her amazement as he tied the last of the ropes and hobbled below decks to alert Liessa of their arrival. Music drifted up from somewhere far below- a tune played gaily on a string instrument of some kind- pattered with laughter and gossip. It sounded like the trade-meet festivals, where there was too much cactus-water and even more food, and great bonfires stretching to the desert night sky. It pulled her without warning back home, to the nights of worshipping the blanket of stars with drunken romps in the dark quiet with the men of other tribes. She could almost smell the warm dusty breezes, the sweat on hot flesh, the strangely intoxicating taste of Gogh.
She had been taught, once, how to make Gogh. The Oglasha Trade Master had taken her to find the cactuses, showed her how to dry pieces of them and steep them in water. He’d warned her never to give the mixture to humans- “They go weak, their brains paint for them.” – and he’d laugh, and drink until he passed out.
As she peered down at the city, she wondered if any of the desert folk would be here, enjoying Gogh and music. So large a city would surely have many people from many lands, even the prolific breeders like humans couldn’t fill it all by themselves.
Liessa’s joyful tinkling laughter shook Tishka from her thoughts, raising her spirits to see the girl dancing out from the lower decks, donning her mask over a face of wonder and glee. She stepped lightly and quickly to the rail, leaning far over the edge to gaze grinning at the city below. Her chain belt rapped against the bronze lining, and the breeze kicked up the edges of her robes.
“Oh, gorgeous! Look at it Tish, it’s so beautiful! Look at all the lights!”