It was overwhelming and wonderous, terrifying and awesome, all at once. I'd never seen anything quite like it, and wondered if I ever would again.
The limitless sky curved down, taking the shape of a bridge, meeting walls that suddenly rose steeply. Uniform, boring buildings melded together, taking on fantastical shapes. Banners and curtains and awnings added color everywhere, torches and lamps and mage globes lighting the seething mass.
Smoke rose from cooking fires, tankards clattered at ale stands, and animals called from their cages. People moved in constant flux, forming eddies around popular stalls, but inevitably moving through the sprawl.
Tessa shuddered, and took a step back. The market easily covered several miles in each direction, and there had to be a few thousand sentients there. I thought of them as people, and though they wore mostly humanoid shapes, they encompassed most every race from across the multiverse. Orcs, elves, trolls, sylphs, dryads, elementals, goblins, unicorns, and others I couldn't so easily recognize from this distance.
My heart swelled, and I was reminded of home. Not that I understood why; the halls of the Gray Lords were never this discordant or populous. Regardless, I was immediately drawn to the troll market.
I took a step forward, and realized Tessa was still frozen in place. Looking over my shoulder, I extended my hand. "You'll be safe with me."
Tessa edged forward, taking my hand. With those wide eyes, she looked much younger than I first suspected. "Georgie says our kind isn't welcome here."
I sighed, trying to find the words to explain it to her. "In my experience, most races think of humans the same way they think of pets and cattle. They think you're just talking animals."
Her hand grew clammy, and she shuffled her feet, holding back. "Is that what you think?"
I shrugged. "Sometimes. You seem pretty nice, but as an individual. As a race, humans are just mortals. They have their place, and their uses, but I never give them much thought."
"Is that why the trolls eat us?" Tessa was near tears again. Humans are so emotional.
"Them, and the orcs. Something about how tender your flesh is." She broke into a sob, balking, making me stop to stare at her. "But I'm not going to let anyone eat you. I've been to places like this, and I know how to keep you safe." Though, I had no idea what the rules of a troll market was like.
Tessa choked down a sob, her hand now sweating in mine. "What are you? You look human, but not quite."
"I'm Setian," I said easily enough, realizing it for truth. But I hadn't known that until now, and I understood that I'd never known. At least not while I worked for the Gray Lords.
There was something deeper going on that I didn't understand.
Tessa shook her head, casting her gaze down. "I've never heard of a Setian."
"We're an old race," I explained, moving once more toward the troll market. This wasn't knowledge the Gray Lords were feeding me, but I didn't have time to question. "We're lore keepers, and mystics, and we usually keep to ourselves."
"Sounds nice. I wish I were Setian."
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," I said with absolute certainty. We grew silent, and it was time to put my game face on.
Ahead of us was the stone arch that made up the main entrance. People were streaming in and out, most immediately disappearing through dimensional walls. I desperately wanted to learn that power for myself.
I sdtrode confidently forward, keeping Tessa close, stepping into the flow of bodies entering. The human shook at my side, but I ignored her, exusing an air of belonging. I was just another shopper with a mortal in tow.
A heavy hand landed on my right shoulder, halting me. "What business here?" asked a garbled troll voice.