Chloe hated Langust from the moment she set foot in it. It was a pimple of a town, insignificant and yet still somehow more unsightly than its size should have allowed. The bulk of the houses were hidden behind a ten foot stone wall with heavy gates leading out into the patchwork of fields. Chloe felt disgust when she saw those walls; darklings could climb walls almost as fast as they could cover open ground, and they were hardly a deterrent to anyone waging a war, since even a halfway powered illuminator — called glimwardens, this far west — could leap the barrier in a single bound. Walls weren’t good for anything. That made them a sign of weakness. People built walls because they wanted to feel safe and secure, but weren’t capable of accomplishing that.
Langust had only a thousand people in it, all huddled around their singular lantern. They were simple people, but that was no great surprise. A town of a thousand people could support only a limited number of businesses, and a single lantern could only capture a limited amount of resources within its circle of safety. The most obvious sign of Langust’s material deficiency was a lack of proper windows. There was presumably some reason that Langust couldn’t make glass, but the result was that the houses were open to the air, protected from the elements by curtains and shutters. Similarly, there was a distinct lack of color within the town, both in what the people wore and in the decorations that adorned the houses and businesses. Clothes were either brown or white, with only small accents of embroidered thread or poor quality jewelry.
If those had been the warning signs, then Chloe’s internal alarm bell began ringing the moment she spotted the cathedral. It was the tallest building in Langust, built with what must have been a damnable amount of labor, and it stood in stark contrast to everything that surrounded it. The buildings of Langust were like too many teeth in an overcrowded mouth, pushing each other aside and built without regard to straight lines or structural stability. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a surfeit of wood in the structures, considering the clear-cutting that had been visible as Chloe had entered into the town. The cathedral was different though; solid stone rose to ten stories, making it visible from practically anywhere, even beyond the walls. It was designed as a place of power, a symbol of authority, which meant that it was exactly where Chloe wanted to go.
Every westward city ultimately descended from Tor Ellsum. Chloe’s mother had once said that visiting a new town was similar to archeology. Each town bore a mark of its descent in one way or another, reflecting the state that Tor Ellsum had been in when the founding caravans were first loaded up. Tor Ellsum wasn’t the direct progenitor of every city in the vast continent, but it had a hand in founding many of them, enough that it paid to know some history.
None of that really mattered though, not in the grand scheme of things. The only thing of any importance was power and who had it. In Chloe’s experience, the best place to start was with whoever had the largest building.
She adjusted her clothes as she went. She was out of place here, and she didn’t know enough about Langust to convincingly blend in. She would need to steal or buy clothes in order to slip back into comfortable anonymity, if she were forced to be here for any appreciable length of time. She had grown accustomed to sleeping behind buildings and under the shade of a tree, but the problem there was always that people didn’t take kindly to it. Renting a place would involve expenses, which meant that Chloe would have to make money, and there were other problems as well, all of which would slow down her plans considerably. She could tell that Langust wasn’t the town for her. Every day spent here would fray at her nerves.
The front face of the cathedral presented three figures in bas-relief standing above six abstract symbols. That alone was enough to give a good measure of how distant the town of Langust was from Tor Ellsum in terms of time. There had been nine gods, once upon a time, but they had been consolidated in three, only the King, the Chancellor, and the Diplomat. The other six gods hadn’t been removed from the collective consciousness all at once, but here it could be plainly seen that they were vestigial. Chloe vaguely recalled the doctrine as suggesting that the three central gods each had three expressions, such that the Singer and the Watcher were merely expressions of the Diplomat, and so on. It was only important that she know enough to not make some terrible gaffe, and that was as simple as remaining silent.
Chloe stopped to watch the entrance to the cathedral. There was a fair amount of foot traffic going in and out of it, which appeared to indicate that it was open to the public, but on closer examination she realized that all of those coming and going were men. A frown crossed her face as she thought about that. She had passed for a boy before, but the fashions in Langust appeared to demand long hair for women and short hair for men. Chloe had no strong opinions on the length of her hair, nor on her personal appearance in general, but cutting her hair now would commit her to a masquerade — one she would be punished for if she were ever found out. The cathedral, then, would have to wait until nightfall. Unfortunately, there were no other likely buildings to case, aside from the nearby lantern which was too closely guarded. Chloe was forced to fall back on her least favorite activity — waiting.
In a town of a thousand people, waiting was a tricky thing. Stand in one place for too long, and eventually someone would come along to ask her who she was, sometimes politely, and other times with their hand on the hilt of their sword. Moving around helped, as did pretending to be engrossed in deep thoughts, but that was a stopgap measure; if anyone was watching, they would pay attention to the fact that the same girl had passed them by three times. What the act of waiting really asked for was somewhere to lay low, but Chloe had only the vaguest understanding of how the city was laid out, let alone the usual paths that people followed, who owned which corners, and how to respond if someone asked her what she was doing. What she needed to do was to find a place of business where she was allowed entry, but she worried she was still too young to not stick out and invite comment. On top of that, she had no money.
That last problem was solved easily enough by pickpocketing from a passing woman. Chloe held no compunctions about stealing from people, aside from the obvious practical matter of what might happen if she got caught. She was usually more concerned with the attention it would bring to her than the actual consequences of incarceration. She was confident that she could escape from any jail this small town would throw her in, and that aside, wasn’t long for Langust anyway. She matched pace with a woman in a long, flowing gown, and slipped her hand into the woman’s pocket. The hardest part of pickpocketing wasn’t actually the skill needed to execute the techniques, but the sheer fortitude necessary to reach into a stranger’s pockets and pluck something out while looking like you were doing something else. Chloe accomplished this with ease and split off into an alley where she could make sure there was no attention on her.
Her prize, as it turned out, was a handful of small metal coins, all impure silver, if Chloe had to guess. They were imprinted with faces of different men and numbers that gave their values. With those in hand, Chloe strode through the streets of Langust, looking for a likely business that would allow her to loiter until the sun had set.
Actually interacting with people was nerve-wracking. Each city was different in its own subtle ways, but the subtleties were never lost on the inhabitants. When Chloe ordered lunch, was the fact that she didn’t order a drink to go with it unusual enough to draw attention? Which kind of drink was an appropriate pairing? Was she supposed to say please and thank you? Show deference to the waitress, who was hosting Chloe, or receive deference, as Chloe was the customer, or possibly both at the same time? Was she meant to pay after placing her order, after the food arrived, or after she was finished with her meal? Was she supposed to clear her own plate? It was these small details that could get people talking, to the point where they would remember her, if not to the point where they would inform the town guard or possibly the illuminators.
Most of the time, Chloe settled for playing a character. She could pretend to have her head in the clouds, or to be lost in the inner workings of some serious intellectual problem. In Langust, the former seemed more suitable than the latter; she’d seen no women going into the cathedral, which was a bad sign. She’d seen from the street that there were women eating in this place though, and some even eating alone, which provided her with some cover. She placed her order with the waitress without incident, picking a baked pork bun off the chalkboard menu. Then she began to listen.
“Well I don’t understand why he would even say such a thing,” said a petite woman who was eating her lunch with another friend at the next table over. “It does nothing to advance his cause and everything to make him look bad.”
“He wasn’t trying to advance his cause,” replied the other girl, who couldn’t have been much older than Chloe (and was one of the reasons Chloe had decided that this place was probably safe). “You think that the man is only looking out for the one thing that he says he is, but it was more about inflicting lasting harm. Diplomat Farrell cares about inflicting harm more than he cares about his cause.”
“That’s so uncharitable to the man!” cried the first woman with a laugh. “I know you don’t like him, but he truly does care about ensuring peace and stability.”
“I never said that he didn’t care,” replied her friend. “I only said that in this particular case, he cared more about inflicting harm on an opponent than he did about his own success. There was no benefit to him in his remarks, at least so far as his chances go, so we must look for benefits elsewhere.”
Chloe switched her focus to another table, making sure that she still wore the expression of a daydreamer. There was a group of three men having a rather heated discussion about the glimwardens.
“You think it’s not the right of a warden to retire?” one of them asked.
“No,” another replied. “Of course not. They make a pledge to the town, and that pledge is for life, not just until the point when they want to stop earning their keep.”
“Might not their retirement be included in their lifetime earnings?” asked another. “There are employers who give their workers one day of the week off, but you wouldn’t say that on that one day they’re not earning their keep.”
“That’s not it,” the second man replied. “A day of rest provides a chance to relax and recuperate for future work, it’s not a reward for work well done. Retirement, for the wardens, would be a gift given by the people of Langust, in direct contradiction with the doctrine of service.”
Chloe itched to ask questions. How many wardens were there, how powerful were they, where were they stationed? She needed to know whether there was any sort of organized opposition to the monopoly of power in the town, as that was the best predictor of whether there were internal patrols. Unfortunately, everyone around her was discussing the nitty-gritty details of daily life rather than the broad picture of how Langust was actually organized. It wasn’t even clear that the cathedral was the seat of power, as she’d expected it to be; surely it had been constructed at great expense, but it was entirely possible that a coup had occurred which moved power over to some other area of the city.
When the food came, she ate quickly, though not so quickly as to draw attention to herself. She let the conversations wash over her, but they were either about issues she didn’t understand, or about the petty experiences people everywhere had in common. Religion was mentioned once or twice, specifically in regards to the Diplomat and Chancellor, but it was difficult to ascertain anything specific. She listened to their accents, trying pick them apart so she could copy them later. Some of the vowels were flattened, and some of the pronouns were occasionally dropped. It was impossible for Chloe to learn it all, but if she kept her answers short, perhaps it was possible to slip beneath notice.
After she was finished eating, she left her money on the table, as she’d seen others do, and headed out to walk around the city. In a fight, she would be against someone who knew the twists and turns of the disordered streets, but scouting out the pathways allowed her to mitigate some of that disadvantage. She tried her best to keep to where other people were gathered, so as not to stick out. As the sun began to set, she made her way back to the cathedral and found a position behind a business that was closed for the evening.
Chloe felt the warmth in the center of her chest, which she’d been carefully carrying around within her all day. Hiding the bind took a significant amount of skill, but her mother had taught her well. A woman could move through even as small a town as Langust without worrying too much about being thought unusual, but if an illuminator had seen her cloaked in the shadow of the bind, there was no chance that she wouldn’t have been chased down. She relented on the suppression, just a small amount, and opened her mind to allow in the extra sensations. When nothing seemed to change, she allowed more out, not enough to refill her stores but enough to see the altered light. She was just in time to see two men, one lit with an aura of sunset red and the other with an aura of sage green, as they walked together into the cathedral. These were the first illuminators that she had seen. She frowned at them, then sealed the bind back inside herself with a force of will.
When they had gone inside, Chloe sat waiting for them to come back out, which didn’t happen until the sun had set. She casually strolled away from the business she’d been hiding behind and made her way to the cathedral, doing her best to look like she was simply out for a stroll. The cathedral was surrounded by a courtyard, which left little space to hide in. That meant that the only way to hide was to pretend that she belonged. The earlier foot traffic in and out of the cathedral appeared to have stopped, leaving her alone as she walked across the cobblestones. When she got to the base of the cathedral, she took a moment to look around, to make sure that no eyes were on her. In the growing darkness, she would only be a shape, except to those eyes that could see the shadow of the bind.
She felt the warmth in her chest again and this time set it free all at once. The bind came flowing back into her, suffusing her muscles and erasing a day’s worth of fatigue. She scanned the town around her, trying to see the telltale glow of another illuminator, but thankfully there were none. She turned her attention back to the cathedral and looked up toward the roof. This close, she could tell the cathedral was fortified, capable of slamming down metal shutters to provide some token resistance; there were few windows, which were mostly set high up in the face of it, above the massive reliefs that showed the Chancellor, Diplomat, and King. She waited as the bind accumulated within her and prayed that no one would come out to stop her.
After two minutes had passed, Chloe accessed her signature. It was pointing down, as it normally was, but now she yanked it with an act of will, turning it to point up instead. She shot into the air, accompanied by the familiar sensation of falling. She adjusted her signature slightly, weakening the pull, then killed her signature entirely as she drew closer to one of the windows. The arc she traced was imperfect, but a steadying hand on the window frame kept her from stumbling as she landed. Thankfully, the lack of glass in Langust meant that she wouldn’t have to take the risk of shattering anything.
The room she stepped into was empty, with only tarp-covered furniture within it. Chloe was not terribly surprised at that; the room was so high up that it would be a terrible place to live, suited only for extravagant parties whose function was to display wealth and power. The height made it unsuitable for proper storage, except perhaps for those things which needed to be kept away from the public eye. Chloe listened closely for the sound of footsteps, then when she convinced herself that there was no one around, set to snooping.
The cathedral’s upper floors were mostly empty, which only reinforced the idea that they were rarely used. One section had a railing around a circular hole, which looked down forty feet to row upon row of pews. For anyone else, the height might have been dizzying. She kept her ears open and let her bind refill, but every new room held only more furniture and sealed up things that were of no use to her. She was beginning to second-guess herself; the cathedral was the largest building within Langust, but it was so far bearing no fruits, and it didn’t seem like anyone made this place their home. The armor she was looking for would take up quite a bit of space and be difficult to hide. She took a rare moment of self-pity to slump against the wall and think about what she knew.
Women were, in most respects, better at being illuminators. The reasons mostly boiled down to physical size. The bind had many functions, but two of the most important were to enhance the physical strength of the user and to propel the user across the field of battle. The first function was muscle agnostic; a person grew more powerful in relation to how much bind they had, regardless of their physical strength without the bind. For the second function, size was a detriment, because the bind required to move the body around increased with mass. There were benefits to having more physical strength, such as the ability to go without using the bind, and there were benefits to being taller and having a longer reach, but in general, shorter, less muscular people made better illuminators, especially as the amount of bind increased. For that reason, it was quite common for enlightened societies to use only women as their illuminators, and then only short and slender women.
The armor that Chloe was looking for had once belonged to one of those women a long, long time ago. A group of despotic matriarchs had controlled a town with an iron grip, one which they tightened by gorging themselves on hearts and fashioning elaborate runework arms and armor. They had become renowned warriors, with their legends eventually finding their way across the land, until some terrible fate befell their city and doomed the survivors to be scattered to the winds. One of those women had marched west to found a new town of her own, wearing bright red armor which increased her strength a thousand times over. Her name had been Langust.
To be sure, there were reasons not to get too excited. Even if the town of Langust had been founded by the legendary Langust herself, there was no guarantee that it would still be around. It was supposed to be a tall suit of armor, rendered perfectly indestructible and capable of producing force to more than match the wearer’s own, but it was possible that only parts of that tale were true, and if its indestructibility had been overstated, perhaps it would have been dented or rusted away. Lastly, even if Chloe could find it somewhere in Langust, she would still have to pry it from the hands of whoever its current owner was — and that was assuming that the tailored armor would fit any small, slender women.
She waited until the cold, dead stillness of night had fully overtaken the town of Langust. As she continued her explorations, she began to feel despair creeping over her. Had she thought that the armor would be tucked away in a storeroom? That it would be proudly put on display instead of used by the local illuminators? The armor was supposed to be an artifact of immense power, built using complex runework and imbued with hundreds of thousands of hearts. Surely it wouldn’t have been buried away, though … the only illuminators she’d seen were men, and not short ones either. At any rate, the suit was nowhere to be found among the cathedral’s empty upper floors, nor did her brief excursions into the lower floors provide any useful fruit. Chloe sighed and rested her head. Unfortunately, this would take some digging.
Chloe’s first two weeks in Langust passed slowly as she gathered information about the town. She practiced their speech until she could emulate them, stole clothing so she could look like them, and made subtle changes to how she wore her hair. Food and drink were either stolen in the night, or paid for with stolen coin she’d taken from the same businesses that she plundered food and clothing from. Nights were the worst, because she needed a place to sleep without fear of someone finding her. She would have rented a room, but that would raise questions she would be unable to answer, and of course she had no references to give (the same reason she would be incapable of finding a job). In the end, she settled for sneaking into industrial buildings and resting her head on a sack of textiles or a bag of grain, then slipping out before the sun could come up.
She watched Langust’s singular lantern and studied the movements of the illuminators. There were nine in total, far more than required to fuel their lantern, and apparently much more regimented than in other towns, given the similarities in their armor and weapons. Once she knew their movements, she was able to avoid them and plan times when she could use her own bind to her advantage.
Her only real options for information, aside from eavesdropping and watching the movements of the people, were to find the local history books and to actually speak to the citizens to see what she could find.
She tried the books first, but she’d always found reading to be fairly boring, and she didn’t really know where she was supposed to be looking. One of the frustrating things about coming into a town under the cover of darkness is that you couldn’t simply say, “Hello, I’m new here, please explain all the basics to me.” The books weren’t written for outsiders either; where she found histories, they went into the arcana of forgotten political disputes and long-past disasters. For being no more than a hundred and fifty years old, Langust appeared to have had its fair share of tragedies and upheavals. Its historians also had a maddening tendency to ignore chronology. Of the early history of Langust, there was only confirmation that Langust, the person, had actually existed, though confusingly they called her a man. There were two references to “the spirit of Langust”, which apparently came out to protect people in times of need, but the descriptions contradicted each other and didn’t make terribly much sense. Chloe assumed that the spirit of Langust referred to the armor Langust wore, rather than some para-magical effect, but the spirit came out only infrequently; that implied that someone wore it when there was great need. The purpose of restricting it to special occasions was lost on Chloe. The books shed no additional light on the matter.
When she had reached the end of what the histories could tell her, she was forced to speak with the citizens, which she was loathe to do. There were so many ways to go wrong when speaking with strangers. A few days of being in Langust and stealing from its citizens was not sufficient to avoid all pitfalls, nor was there a good way to broach the topic that she was interested in. Her mother had always said that when there were no good ways, bad ways would have to do.
“What do you know about the spirit of Langust?” she asked a young man who was walking by himself on one of the side streets.
He stopped and stared at her with his mouth agape. “What?” he asked.
“Sorry to bother you,” said Chloe. She stuck out her hand. “Chloe Lemprose.”
“Oh,” said the young man. He stuck his own hand out. “Joseph Wells. Are you related to Diane Lemprose?”
Chloe nodded. “We’re second cousins, I think.” The Lemprose name had been borrowed for just that purpose; it was common here, enough to muddy the waters. “A friend and I were having a discussion over lunch and I was wondering whether you knew anything about the spirit of Langust,” Chloe said. “Sorry to just stop you, but I need some direction and you seemed like you might be knowledgeable.”
“I’m not, really,” he replied. He scratched the back of his head.
“Well do you know anyone who might?” she asked.
“Sorry Chloe,” he replied. “All I know is that he comes out when things are at their most dire.”
Chloe clucked her tongue. “Alright, I guess I’ll ask around some more.”
It was a useless exchange, but it did give her an idea — two ideas, actually. The first one was manufacture some reason for the spirit to show her — or his — face though, and that seemed like it was slightly more reckless than the situation called for. The second idea was more simple; follow the pathways of power.
If the spirit of Langust was just the name given to a suit of armor which was worn only in times of needs, that implied that someone had control of the suit. Power accumulated. If you had physical strength, you could use that to gain political strength. If you had economic leverage, you could use that to hire physical power. Chloe had seen it dozens of times before. If someone owned the suit, they were almost certain to have some other sort of leverage within the town of Langust. If they were using it rarely, it was because they didn’t need it to maximize their power. Why anyone would retire a powerful artifact, Chloe didn’t know, but that certainly seemed to be the case.
The most powerful man in Langust was Clement Farrell, the Diplomat, an older man with slicked back gray hair. He was an anointed representative of the god whose name his position bore, and he could be seen in the cathedral day after day, speaking quietly with the men who came to visit him. There was some division among the sexes in Langust, but it was clear that here, men were in control. The illuminators were men, the politicians were men, and men owned all of the businesses. It wasn’t so bad as in other places, as women were allowed to walk freely and speak their minds; Chloe was thankful for that, because it gave her cover to go where she wanted and do what she pleased.
She sat in the upper floors of the cathedral and watched him speak from the balcony there. No one went into the upper floors, so she had made it into a home for herself, albeit one which she couldn’t enter or leave without considerable trouble. She stored food, water, and clothing under one of the wrapped up tables, and occasionally slept up there, leaving before first light so she could wander the town in the middle of the day. She had many of these hidey-holes throughout the town, hidden in out of the way places where they were unlikely to be found. The cathedral was one of the only places where she could spend time without worrying about whether anyone was looking for her, but it was difficult to leave without being seen. Some days, she watched the constant procession of men and tried her best to listen in from dozens of feet away.
The histories told an incomplete story, but at one point there had been a triad of leaders, each taking their title from one of their three gods. The King was the ruler, in charge of directing the productive output of the town. The Chancellor was the adviser to the King, a thinker who steeped himself in the way and means of the world. The Diplomat was a listener, serving as a combination of judge, arbiter, and confession-taker. At some point, the position of King had been retired, leaving only the Diplomat and the Chancellor. Langust’s Chancellor was bed-ridden, and had been for quite some time, leaving the Diplomat as the sole figure at the head of their government, tasked with all responsibilities. So far as Chloe could see, that mostly involved mindless chatter, but she guessed that this was one of those occasions where appearances deceived.
Diplomat Farrell arrived at the cathedral just after the sun rose each day and left just before the sun went down. He had no guards, but people treated him with extreme deference, and not just when he was in the cathedral. He knew everyone in the town; it was quickly apparent that if visiting him once per day wasn’t mandatory, it was at least expected of every healthy adult male. All of the illuminators seemed to report to him as well.
Chloe followed him home one day, from a great distance. She wasn’t surprised to see that he lived in a large house, though the extended family she saw through the windows was surprising. After a brief moment looking in on the house from a safe vantage point, she realized that she was mistaken. The six or seven girls in his house weren’t family members. Her thoughts turned tawdry for a moment before she realized that any one of them would be properly sized for the suit of armor she was seeking.
It took another two days of scouting the house to decide on a method of entry. She eventually settled on breaking in through the third floor, into a room which appeared unoccupied. She waited until deep into the night to do it, both so the town would be as silent as possible, and so that she could regain as much bind as possible. She wasn’t spoiling for a fight, as all she wanted was the armor, but going into an unknown place demanded caution.
She used her signature to fall up towards the window, then immediately pulled back on it until she was drifting upward. She reached out and grabbed onto the shutters to slow herself, which thankfully didn’t make a noise. The shutters were latched by some internal mechanism that Chloe couldn’t see, but she had always been strong with using the bind for telekinesis. The bind suffused her bones and muscles; it clung to her skin to prevent injuries. But skin was just a conceptual limit, and the protective field could be pushed and shaped. As she clung to the shutters, nearly weightless, she pressed a finger where the latch would be and closed her eyes to give special attention to her extrasensory perception. She extended the bind from her finger, pushing it forward and into the crack between the slats, feeling with it until she encountered the latching mechanism. With a mental push, she unlatched it, then swung the shutters open. Chloe swung herself inside before allowing her signature to fade away and leave her standing in what appeared to be a storage room. She looked around carefully, then glanced down the street outside to make sure no alarm had been raised. When she looked back into the dark room and let her eyes adjust, she saw the armor.
It was larger than she’d thought it would be, seven feet tall and splayed open, which only served to make it seem wider than it really was. The exterior was metal, painted red, but the inside of it was gray cloth, some of it clearly stained with blood and sweat. Chloe approached it cautiously.
It made a certain sort of sense to hide the armor; if there was a mythology around it, it was better to bring it out in times of need to claim a mandate from the founder of the town. And if it were to be hidden, it was better to hide it near where those who would use it would have ready access to it. Chloe had no idea who the girls who lived in this house were, but she accepted that they were meant to use this suit. It felt like a moment of undue serendipity to find the armor here.
Now it was time for the moment of truth. She strode forward to try the armor on. If it fit her, she would run away from Langust that very night, leaving all of her caches behind. If it didn’t fit, she would have to find some other way to steal it; carrying it through the woods while darklings made their attacks didn’t seem like a winning strategy, even if she was able to procure a lantern small enough to carry with her. She slipped off her shoes, unbuttoned her dress and let it fall to the floor, then clambered into the armor.
Armor was normally thin; even full plate was no more thick than padded fabric. Langust’s armor was monstrously thick, enough that it seemed to envelop Chloe as she stepped into it. When her foot was halfway down the boot, it stopped, leaving her feeling as though she were standing on foot-high heels. Her hand snaked its way through the forearm of the armor and found a thin cloth glove which her fingers slipped into, still far from where the gloves of the armor appeared to be. She moved her fingers, experimentally, and saw that the red fingers of the armor moved in sympathy; she was simply controlling them from within the forearm.
The armor did not fit perfectly. It was tight around her calves, and as she sealed it up, she felt it pinch slightly at her hips. The suit was all one piece, though individual parts of it flexed and opened. The only piece that wasn’t connected was the helm, which Chloe put on once she had everything else in place. When she’d put it on, she had a shock; as seen from the inside, the helm was completely transparent. That was impossible with any of the effects runework could produce, and Chloe had no idea how an artisan might have accomplished it. She looked around the room, being careful in her movements so as not to make any noise, then took her first step.
To start with, the armor was light. That couldn’t possibly have been natural, given how thick and layered it was, but the effect could be accomplished through runework, if you were willing to pay the price. That allowed for better mobility than Chloe would have expected for something so bulky. The real boon that the armor provided was how it added to strength. The effect was subtle at first, but as Chloe moved silently through a few martial arts forms, she saw the trick to it. The armor amplified what the wearer did, but it did it unevenly; it added little when moving slowly, but provided a great deal of power when attempting to leverage full force. There were other strange things to get used to, like the slope her feet seemed to be on and the sensation that her fingers weren’t where they were supposed to be, but the armor very nearly fit her and seemed to be in good working order.
Chloe stepped up to the window, whose shutters were half-opened to let in moonlight. She stepped up to the sill, conscious that her feet were in a very different place than they should have been, then turned her signature toward the sky and started falling toward the moon and stars, leaving Diplomat Farrell and his house behind her.
Chloe had passed the city walls of Langust and was loping through the fields when she saw the first darkling. She stopped in her tracks and took a quick gauge of her bind: halfway full. It was one of the smaller ones, dog-like, and it was visible only briefly as it ran between two fields of maize. She waited for it to spring towards her, and grimaced as she realized that she was unarmed. There had been no weapons within the room that held the armor, or else she would have taken something with her. Given that she was encased in the armor though, a small darkling like that would hardly prove a problem.
It took another moment for her mind to catch up with her fighting instinct. She was within a few hundred feet of the town’s walls, well within what should have been its domain. In the two weeks she’d staying in Langust, she had never ventured outside those walls. The large lanterns all tended to be the same size for reasons of efficiency, but it was possible that Langust used a much smaller lantern for some reason, but —
Another two darklings darted through the fields. The maize was tall enough that they could only barely be seen as ripples in their stalks, nearly indistinguishable from the movement of the breeze.
Chloe tugged on her signature and fell up into the sky to get a better view before she could be attacked. She looked toward the town from above, and saw not a single light on in any of the windows. It was the dead of night, but even then there should have been lights on, places where someone had forgotten to turn off a light before bed, or public places that were constantly lit even at night. The whole town was dark and silent. Chloe let herself fall back down to the ground. There was no wailing alarm, no voice calmly projected over speaker asking people to wake up. A quick glance to the wall showed that the early darklings were scaling it with practiced ease.
Chloe swore to herself and dropped back to the ground, allowing her bind and the armor to break her fall. Without much of a thought, she ran back toward Langust, kicking up dust and muttering under her breath as she covered the ground. When she reached the city walls, she leapt over them in a single bound, passing by the darklings and landing on a roof with unsteady, armored feet.
“Wake up!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. “Wake up!”