I gritted my teeth as I struggled to keep her body on my shoulders. Shahin wasn’t just heavy but long as well. Especially her tail as it was too flexible and kept falling down on the ground.
Nevertheless, I kept walking. Despite my views on slavery, she was my responsibility. Shahin still had a pulse — this was a cold stupor or some form of hibernation that her kind was able to achieve. But I also understood the meaning behind the leftovers of a fire and her previous requests about work: despite lamias’ ability to enter such a state, she didn’t appear to be eager to.
And that was more than enough for me.
The question now was how to raise her body temperature fast enough. The lamia still had the Flow shackles on so, if I wanted to use magical means, I would probably need to wake up Aikerim to take them off. The kilns were also not a good solution: I would have to stuff her inside and she definitely wouldn’t fit, and laying her on top would barely help.
Which meant the humongous blasphemy to saunas.
As I expected, it was still warm since I used it with Yeva a few hours ago. It took forever to heat up but equally as long to cool down. Placing the body inside, I checked and stoked the furnace once again — there were plenty of still-smouldering embers and enough firewood on hand so that was not an issue. Now I had to wait.
But wait I did not want. I had no idea how her physiology treated this condition but, for humans, it was considered ‘bad’ and required ‘immediate’ attention.
I sighed and made a short run to the soap warehouse. It stored some of the more secret chemicals that we produced and, most importantly, my loot from the shuttle raid. Ignoring the bags of rusted metal and the faulty lithoscanner, I grabbed one of the nuclear batteries and sprinted back to the sauna.
My skinsuit was a very capable piece of technology with multiple redundancies and modification capabilities. It also could use other means of power generation than the energy reserves of my body. And it could use a lot of power when it was necessary.
With one single caveat — it would generate a lot of heat as well.
The cylinder slid into its place between my shoulder blades, another thing to keep in mind for my steel armour, as the venting gills split open automatically. I didn’t bother to close them, the skinsuit was intended to run hot and venting was only used in a critical situation. The higher temperature of the surface made it easier to radiate the heat away from the body in space or to transfer it to a larger exosuit that had its own cooling system.
I felt the warmth spreading across the inner layers as my hands started to undress the snake. While clothing helped to retain heat, it only worked when the heat was actively generated from within. At the same time, it was a hindrance for the heat transfer in the opposite direction.
Her skin was cold to the touch and pallid to the eyes, it felt more like undressing a doll rather than someone living. I did pay very little attention to her body otherwise. This was more about providing aid and, at this moment, I saw her as nothing more than a patient. Wrapping her body around mine, I made sure she had the maximum skin contact with my skinsuit and set us close to the stones of the roaring furnace.
I kept waiting.
My skinsuit ran idle all this time, intentionally generating heat without any work and keeping the surface well above my body temperature. I even chose to risk it somewhat and crank it up higher — wermages were quite resilient as far as I’ve seen. And the results started to show themselves within minutes.
Small ones at first. Twitches of her muscles slowly grew into the small adjustments of her position. Slowly her tail wrapped tighter around me as her subconscious mind sought out the source of warmth. The air was getting warmer but I was still the hottest piece in the entire room.
And then the pressure started.
I had to admit — I should have spent more time thinking about my safety beforehand: the skinsuit was put on for the purpose of heat and not protection. Nevertheless, I had it on already. So, instead of trying to engage it in close quarters and possibly shredding some of her skin in the process, I had a front row seat to the showcase of the lamia’s muscle strength.
The strength which she had in spades.
It was unknown whether this was some subconscious response to a warm prey in her coils or if it was the individual activity of the local muscle groups, waking up from slumber. Whatever it was, I felt my inner layer stiffen into one solid shell under pressure while my outer scales scraped against hers. It was both bearable and educational — she was definitely stronger than a snake of comparable size but her strength was still believable and did not break the physical laws as I saw them outright.
Based on my current observations, Flow enhanced their strength, not substituted it with some magical component. This wasn’t some metaphysical aura that mimicked the movements of their flesh and applied its own force on the world in a manner similar to my skinsuit. Whatever Flow did — it was done to muscles themselves.
Her eyes fluttered as her upper body reached out to hug me tighter too, still in the haze of her slumber. I stood still, waiting for her to wake up fully. Not only did I not want to disturb her in the moment of weakness but I was also quite literally stuck in my own shell. My skinsuit could withstand a lot of pressure but it lost mobility while doing so. In order to regain it, I would need to provide an equal amount of force from within. And I had no plans on revving up the exoskeleton muscles and possibly ripping out her coils.
A blink, and then another. The black and yellow eyes had finally focused on me.
“You!” Shahin hissed, pulling away from her coiled tail with me in it. Covering herself with her arms while doing so. “How dare you enter when I slumber!”
“Are you warm enough?” I spoke in a serious tone, trying to diffuse and shift the conversation.
Scales groaned from pressure once again, “I will make you retch your guts this very moment and Domina would not lift a finger in response! You have made your fate by treading on a lamura’s slumber!”
Violence it was. I heard some scales shatter as my arms started to push away from my body — spreading the constricting coils apart. “I have been warming your body for a while and I have felt the grip of your tail all that time. Yet, I lived. You aren’t strong enough to crush me.”
As my arms kept pushing, Shahin’s face shifted from anger to surprise. And then kept moving past into concern. A cry of pain and she fell to the ground, her tail loosening around my body, away from arms that threatened to rip her apart.
“Why do you do this?” She pleaded.
“I saw the leftovers of a fire. Whatever the lamura’s slumber is, you were not seeking it. So I ask again: do you have enough warmth now?”
“For what purpose?” She glanced around, still prone on the floor. “So you can have your way with me? Defile the daughter of a House for your ill-perceived notions of revenge? I heard your wer speak about my body, telling me that I would beg to lie with you. Did you ask your murk to keep me cold so that you could drag me here and strip me of my clothes? Away from others’ eyes?”
She did look enticing on that floor. The lack of a veil and her clothes painted a completely different picture. This was no longer a hawk with piercing eyes but a swan with graceful curves underneath. Shahin’s petite and ruby mouth softened her penetrating gaze while her bountiful breasts and inverted nipples gave her a very non-snake-like shape.
And all that didn’t matter, I already had my fairy, my amazon, and my huntress.
I rolled my eyes and threw her a robe, “Direct skin contact or a large hot bath are preferable to warm air if you need to warm someone fast. And there was not enough hot water available for the second option. While I was aware of the so-called slumber in other living things, I did not know lamuras had it too, and my sadaq knew even less. For this, you have my apologies and a promise to have a heated place to spend your nights from now on. If you have other physiological necessities — inform me and I will make sure to find an appropriate solution.”
“Aware of slumber…” Shahin looked at my scaly exosuit, my tunic was already ripped and the recent tussle had turned it into rags, “So you were from our lands.”
I shook my head, “Do you think that your place is the only one like that? There are more things in space and Tana, Shahin. Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Despite the scales, we are nothing alike. You have your Flow that I don’t have.”
I smirked as my venting gills sucked the air in, “You seek the heat while I need to shed it.”
Shahin jumped as the hot air was expelled from my suit, shedding what it built up over our struggle and raising the temperature of the entire room by a few degrees in mere seconds.
I leaned over the cowed lamia, “And do not think that Irje’s words imply my want. This isn’t about whether you will let me or not — this is about whether I would even entertain your offers. I have the Lady of the House as my wife-to-be, one that would take the reigns of this Manor in the future. The very Manor that now holds the secrets of your glass.”
“And what is it that you want?” Shahin slid away from me, wrapping the robe tightly over her body. “You keep saying that you have no need of me yet you keep me around.”
The tail slid back and wrapped around my body once again, “For all that talk about not caring you have brought me here into a warm room. By yourself. You revealed another secret of yours, the one that likely kept you safe back then, just to give me warmth. No, you want something from me, something that you desperately trying to hide.”
Her hand touched my cheek, Shahin was still slightly cold but nowhere near the previous temperatures anymore. “I just have to learn it.”
I scoffed, ignoring the coils on my body: there was no pressure from them. Most likely seeking heat or trying to fruitlessly unnerve me. I was fine with the former and didn’t care about the latter. “If you think my actions are due to some need then I feel pity for the servants and the slaves of your Manor.”
Her hand jerked back as if slapped away, while I continued, “These actions are of concern. I am your master and you are my responsibility whether I like it or not. It began when Aikerim gave you to me and it will end the moment she takes you back or you are set free. As an envoy, you should know that there are many cultures in the world and beyond. Some would consider this as basic courtesy.”
“Our servants are treated well! After all, we do not let them freeze at night.”
I nodded, ignoring her jab. I wasn’t here to bicker. “Then you should see my current actions as an apology for this lapse, no more.”
Shahin watched me silently for a while, studying my face.
A hard sigh escaped her lips, “How much do you know of our slumber?”
“About lamura’s slumber — nothing specific. But I know how hypothermia affects murks and that there are living beings that do not maintain a constant temperature of their bodies. I can draw conclusions from these. You start to grow clumsy, your speech slurs and drags as your mind falls into a drowsy confusion. And then you succumb to darkness.”
I didn’t speak accusingly but I could see my words find purchase in her thoughts as her eyes grew narrower with every description. Shahin knew of them herself and she either didn’t like my reminder or the fact that I knew about them. Now that I think about it — her recent expressiveness might have been caused by a frayed mind. Hard to keep yourself together if your thoughts are like slugs.
“You know enough, then.” She looked away, “If you have honour in your heart, we will discuss this properly in the heat of the day.”
“That is fair. You can use this bathhouse for now: there is plenty of firewood stockpiled outside and it is big enough to stay warm through the night. Are you warm enough?”
“Yes. Your assistance, despite the timing, is welcome. This place is warm enough for my needs and proper sleep. If there are no lies in your words — you will have my gratitude, but for now, I would ask you to leave me be.”
“Umm, Shahin Yusuf-ja?”
“Shahin is enough, I am your servant after all. What is it?”
I prodded the muscular coils around my body, “You are still holding me in place.”
Huh, it looked like the lamia was warm enough to blush.
Shahin Esca Yusuf-ja
She sat on the warm stones of this ‘sauna’ as her thoughts refused to settle down. Running through her heart as a throng of stampeding camels.
Every time she thought that she had figured him out — she was wrong. A single word or a gesture made her understanding crumble again and again. She thought him as a murk daimon, a blessed soul of a warrior stuck in a crippled body. He was not. Shahin knew her strength and she could not deny what happened a single pace ago. The shackles were blocking Flow around her but not within: even the wermages of this Manor would not dare to abuse her, lest they suffer by her tail.
And he simply shrugged it off.
She would not even dare to assume he had no Flow at all, not anymore. Perhaps he used all his Spark to grow that strong. Sacrificing one to reach the peak in the other. Whatever it was — it was not a strength of mere murk or wer.
Shahin reached down and picked up a shard of white. Feeling bitter inside.
He was strong and he knew it. This was not a naive arrogance of a whelp, nor was it the false bravado of a lapdog that knew his mistress was nearby. Her early moments had been somewhat hazy, and Shahin was not happy about certain things she had said herself, but his face was hard to forget. There was no fear there, even as her tail wrapped around his body. Merely curiosity.
Aikerim Adal was angry but devious and had plans of her own. His sadaq was angry and made their hate obvious to her. Erf himself was not. Shahin felt a pit within her guts: he wasn’t angry because he did not perceive her as a valid threat. Before she would take it as the inexperience of youth, now Shahin knew better than to assume things to her liking.
The lamura had seen his wit and mind before, and now she felt his strength. Yet, that was not the most striking revelation of this night. His scales were. And his offhanded remark about Anaise Hilal as his wife-to-be.
Her fingers idly turned the fragment of the scale. He did not even notice, but she saw it shatter from pressure. Only to be replaced by a new one in less than a heartbeat. All while being nearly scalding hot to touch. This was not just a wermage bloodline, but a royal one. Shahin remembered seeing a fire lamura once when she was a child — the Royal Lady of the Geuse Manor.
Now, the union with Kiymetl started to make sense. The Lady of the House might be young and impressionable but this was definitely approved by Domina. Aikerim Adal knew something that spurned her to offer her own eldest daughter to him. It was not his craft — she already had that under her control and Erf willingly let her have it. Was it truly his blood? That did not fit Kiymetl Domina, however: he might not sire any viable children that easily. He might pass down his blood but they might end up as murks as well.
It would have been more prudent for her to give him one of her nieces. Or wait until she had a second daughter — it would cause much less ruckus that way. Domina could even have his child and then marry them to her other children so that wermage blood would run just as thick.
No, she was claiming him for all to see. And she was using her daughter to make it stick. Aikerim Adal was doing all that for something even Pillar Houses would be unlikely to challenge…
The scale fell to the floor.
“By the breath of the Sky Dragon…” Shahin murmured as her thoughts sped up once more, frantic as the broken pieces started to fit together. Erf was a daimon, but of a different kind. It was not the royal blood that Domina was after, but a Divine one! That is why he glanced upward every time he spoke of home, or why he spoke of ships so much. It was not the seas that these ships sailed across. A child of a servant? Or even of a concubine? Perhaps cast down for his Spark-less body?
That would explain his desire to stay in the shadows. His blessed glass, and his eagerness to gift this knowledge to Kiymetl — he was sharing it with his future family. Even his strength despite the lack of Spark made sense now.
The lamura smiled while leaning on the warm stones of the roaring furnace, watching the illumination across the room. It was late but she needed to think about the future discussions. She finally had a glimpse of his motives and his future actions, but she could not act rashly either. The stakes were even higher than before and she would rather miss a perfect opportunity than risk an even worse fate to her House.
Her finger slightly prodded the scale on the floor.
But that did not mean that she would stop trying.
A pout emerged on her lips as she tried to find a more comfortable spot against the source of heat. The stone was pleasantly warm but its rough surface was a bleak alternative to the sleek scales of his.
“How dare he to walk away and ignore my tail,” Shahin murmured petulantly to the furnace.
“When I said that all conversations should happen in this room, I did not mean all of them,” Aikerim massaged her temples, glaring at us, “I refuse to wake up with a headache every morning!”
“Forgive me mother, but this is important,” Anaise bowed.
“Fine,” Domina sighed after throwing a cup of wine into her mouth. The walls lit up as well as her hands — a gesture and the shape she carefully obscured, “What is it about?”
“What do you think? Erf, obviously.” Her tail swatted me in the face as if being me was somehow my fault.
I chomped down on it, disregarding the mouth full of hair — it was her fault anyway.
“He somehow,” Anaise tried to yank her tail free, “isn’t just able to make magic stronger but turn wer into wermages!”
“He does!?” Aikerim leaned forward, sparing another glance at nearby Irje.
“I did?” I asked incredulously. The tail vanished.
“Yes,” Anaise glared at me, trying to clean the slightly gnawed-upon tail, “There is no point hiding it, at least not here, but that lesson on the curved lines somehow made my Flow stronger. And now Irje has flying dildoes.”
“Spare me the details of your bedroom activities. Irje, did he make you into a wermage?”
Irje shrugged, “We do not know. Erf carved the runes in the previous house — to glow and point at nearby mages. And a few days later they just lit up and pointed at me. When I was…er…”
“Yes, dildoes, I got the point.” Domina waved her off, “A child’s magic is often presented during times of strong emotions. Although in their case it is usually anger, guilt, or shame. I have seen these runes. The concept is simple but sound, while runes are…where did you find them?”
“I used Albin’s toy. I assumed these would be more sensitive to Flow, both in glow and movement.”
“That name again,” Aikerim grimaced, “Nevertheless you are correct — these weren’t some basic runes either. I have a feeling that he gave you his personal childhood toy.”
Yeva coughed quietly, beside the beet-red Irje.
Domina was quite commendable at ignoring our byplays, “So, after you found her power, did you teach her too?”
“I tried, but everything that I knew was rather fruitless as she still doesn’t sense Flow, despite being capable of acting on it. It is my belief that there is no clear line between wer and wermages — there are likely a set of abilities that you can have or not and you need a certain amount to be seen as a wermage.”
“How does she move them, then?” Anaise asked.
“Domina is right: I use my emotions.” Irje shrugged again, “I do not see the patterns or whatnot but I know that if I will the toy to ‘die of shame’, to fall into the deepest pit — it will move. That is why it is much easier to do it with a dildo. Does that make sense?”
“No.” Both wermage heads shook. “Yes.” I nodded.
Yeva snickered as the Kiymetl ladies swivelled back to me.
“Explain,” Aikerim demanded.
I groaned and scratched my head, “I do not think this will be an easy task, but I have one idea so far. A crazy idea, but an idea nevertheless. Geodesics, or curved lines, are an important concept in gravity — the force which pulls us toward the ground. The mass of this world curves the spacetime around us, pulling us down as time moves forward. Perhaps Irje is causing a similar effect somehow with her ‘pits’. Compared to the casual disregard of causality by depletion, this would be way more possible.”
Domina looked at me in silence for some time.
“I understood some of these words, yet even they make no sense to me.” She murmured deadpan, “We should return to this topic after the Feast, perhaps by then I will have less headache altogether.”
Aikerim sighed and stretched on her sofa, her tail swishing through the air. “Irje’s new status is…welcome. Yes, it would make the future wedding more palatable if there is another ‘wermage’ in the mix. I will make some arrangements — I think I have a…promising nephew or a niece that is starting their education. You will observe their studies in earnest and report to us on ‘their’ progress. And nothing else: you will not ask any questions from the teacher or the student. No notes either — write it down after the lecture not during it.”
“Thank you, Domina. I will make sure not to squander your gift.” Irje nodded resolutely.
“Make sure you won’t. And try to learn a few basic tricks before the Feast, Anaise can help you with that. Your task is to appear like a wermage by that time. Do it well and I will make sure you will keep learning afterwards.”