Chapter 20. A Pinch of Shenanigans in the Cauldron of Trouble
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Amanzhan Kiymetl Irada

Her eyes narrowed at the sight of her younger sister. Alone.

“I am concerned, Aikerim.” Amanzhan started once she laid down on a couch nearby, “The city is abuzz with rumours. Of your actions and your recent murk. I have asked for you to bring him here, out of worry mind you, yet you are here alone. Are you back in the rebellious age, oh younger sister of mine?”

“We did arrive together, but our uncle was eager to see him as well. Thinking that we had plenty of time before you would meet us, I let them go into the Pillar.”

Her fingers gripped the silver cup. The visit by Sophia Chasya was unexpected, but she hoped that the two would distract each other in the Pillar for a while. And her unrepentant-looking sister delivered the murk straight to them.

“You are making waves across Samat, sister. And, in the process of doing so, you are undermining our family.”

Aikerim’s tail slapped on the sofa, “You expect me to ignore their attacks? Samat had brazenly tried to steal my property in the middle of the city. They sent Collectors into my Manor! If I demanded nothing in return, our entire House would have been a laughing stock!”

“So you asked for an aqueduct? You need to stem your avaricious desires!”

“You have an aqueduct of your own, sister, don’t be jealous of mine.”

Amanzhan slammed the cup into the table, “I have the right for an aqueduct since I hold the Pillar Manor! There were only seven that were connected to it directly so far — yours is the first out of secondary Manors!”

“Samat had nothing to offer me back, that I cared for.”

A scoff left her lips, “You could have demanded a third husband for yourself, or a first for your daughter. They have nice handles around their heads — easy to hold them in place. Why didn’t you?”

Aikerim rolled her eyes, “Their Matriarch offered some tailings of their blood. Barely worth any notice.”

“And by giving them an olive branch and taking one would have allowed them to preserve their dignity and forge a stronger link between our Houses! Instead, you chose to fleece them for their blunder and rub it into everyone’s noses.”

“Samat will beg me to take any of their sons or daughters within a decade,” Her rash younger sister leaned forward. “If I decide to take one of theirs — I can wait that long.”

“Within a decade you might not have your personal Manor anymore! I am the Speaker of Kiymetl and the second after our mother. If I decide you have brought, or are about to bring, ruin to our House I will question your status as Domina at the next family gathering. And I will strip you from your power.”

“To do that much you have to prove my actions had brought ruin first,” Aikerim sniffed.

“There are consequences already, quite a few of my debtors are using your actions to weasel out of paying back the gold.”

“They would have done so even if I did nothing at all.”

Amanzhan groaned, “Yet you gave them an easy excuse for that. Have you forgotten the history of our Manor? The ridicule? The only reason we are called a Pillar Manor is by the Grace of Gods themselves and no one else!”

“Of course I haven’t, elder sister. That memory burns hot inside my veins.” Aikerim hissed back, “If you hadn’t noticed, I follow the path of an artisan, not just a trader. My Manor doesn’t simply sell and buy, it takes the wool and turns it into fine fabrics. None of them can denounce me for ‘theft’.”

“You were accused of stealing the glass technique,” She pointed at her with the wine cup.

The glossy tail flicked in dismissal, “And the Esca envoy was silenced quick and hard for that accusation. Enough to ask for the Servitude.”

And wasn’t that a surprise for all involved. Yet Amanzhan didn’t find it wholly welcome. Esca would likely send a delegation and would seek their own justice, but her Manor would likely lose their trade no matter what.

The Primary Manor kept the original rights for luxury trading. Precious things like gems, pearls, or spices. Glass wares of Esca. And now they were yanked out of her grasp. Whether Esca Manor would refuse to trade with them in the future, or the rumours of superior glass and mirrors were true and lamuras will be forced to bow to her younger sister.

“How long can you last? I admit, you were fortunate with your slaves and got yourself quite a few skilled weavers. A personal Manor was a well-deserved gift for that. But now you are starting to act above your position. Making decisions that affect the entire House and not just your Manor. Your textiles aren’t making even a tenth of what I deal with.”

The growing strength of their House was always welcome in Amanzhan’s eyes but not when it came with an internal strife. Only one Manor was supposed to stand on top while others would support it from underneath. A house was like a spear to pierce the Forest creatures: a sharp and strong point on the front, supported by a sturdy shaft and the true grip of a warrior.

Even their Matriarch, her mother, had understood this. After giving up the reins of the Primary Manor to her first daughter, Nanaya Kiymetl Ayda moved away from the capital and settled in the city of Amul, where the Shara and Nuur rivers were closest to each other. The location was the only connection for ships sailing in the north that went up the Nuur and their southern counterparts that travelled across Shara into the South sea. It was a crucial trade node and a fast-growing city, but the major trade was still largely grain.

By taking charge of the essential yet bulky and not so profitable cargo, their mother became that warrior who held the spear of Kiymetl. By trading luxuries and banking favours, Amanzhan became its sharpest point. Ready to strike at their foes and pierce through any armour.

“My cloths? Not yet, I admit. But I have gained other means of income since the beginning of summer.” Aikerim clapped her hands and a servant brought a tray full of presents. “You have heard of glass and mirrors, and likely tried soaps and lotions yourself.”

“Your glass is still uncertain until the delegation of Esca reaches us,” Amanzhan tried to ignore the small pile of blue trinkets as she reached out to the mirror instead. “Hmm. This looks like well-polished silver. But nothing more.”

The smug smile didn’t disappear, “Silver tarnishes, and this piece had been crafted two tendays ago. Still good as new. And will likely stay like this for years. In the meantime, I will have other pieces made, much larger than this. I think a full body mirror is necessary for my bath. Perhaps even two — I wish to see that my servants braid my hair properly.”

She glared at Aikerim, “And it forced you to expand your Manor, considerably so. Something that you can’t do indefinitely, especially now that you have offended Samat. You are overextending without a care in the world and will fall and burn if you keep at it. All these discoveries of yours will be lost to Kiymetl at best. At worst — you will drag the rest of the House with you.

“Our grandmother was condemned by other Manors for ‘acts of usury’, yet Virnan Shah started talking about compound interests after the first visit by your Alchemist. You said that you remember our trying times, but I can feel his influence on you.”

A grape froze near Aikerim’s lips. A low hiss, “Are you seeking to take what is rightfully mine?”

Amanzhan flicked her ear in dismissal, “I am trying to keep you safe from yourself, younger sister. I know your heart is in a good place, but his words are undoubtedly vile and corrupting. A change of scenery and a stricter hand of a mistress will make him into a perfect asset for the House of Kiymetl.”

“Vile and corrupting?” Aikerim spat, “He was begging me to share my secrets with the rest of Kiymetl. It is me, who should be questioning your overextension, elder sister. You are the Speaker but not our Matriarch, you have no power within my Manor!”

“Our mother is travelling to Samat. She is concerned about this just as I am. After all, I kept her properly informed about the situation in the capital. There will be a gathering soon, albeit a minor one. Not big enough to strip you of your status, but big enough to remove you from his influence.”

Amanzhan leaned back as her fingers slowly braided a new blue tor into her hair, “You are young, Aikerim. Your connections with other Dominas of Kiymetl are still fresh and weak. But you still have a chance. Without any second daughters of your own, you could sway someone else. I believe my second eldest has enough mettle to handle the glass and the envoy.”

Aikerim stood up, her tail still and ears down, “Well, let us wait for Matriarch, then. I couldn’t refuse the visit by a concerned mother, could I?”

She shook her head slightly, “This young brashness again. Do you think that by lashing out you show your strength? You do not — you sink even deeper. That stint of your with Virnan? You probably thought yourself so clever, to deny my request. I am sure that the Censor herself was quite pleased with your actions. She did express her desire to see that murk as well.”

Amanzhan chuckled as Aikerim stormed out of the meeting room. Her hand slid across the kaftan and cupped the pulsing heat between her legs.

“As Domina of Shebet, she offered me much more than mere glass,” She murmured into the empty room.

XXX

“Virnan,” I elbowed the senile old fart beside me. “What is she doing here?”

Bands of finely engraved gold encrusted her horns, accenting the black. Her sash, vibrant and embroided with many titles. Her career was just as prominent as that of Albin. She wasn’t just known for her math and her status as the Censor of Emanai, but as a renowned warmage too.

How peculiar. Master Siamak and Viter did imply that females led Emanai armies while males attacked. Yet the Chasya twins were clearly the opposite. So forces of Emanai were flexible enough to select by skill and not just by gender.

“She is here to understand that she is not the navel of the world when it comes to math!” The silver fox smirked, “Just because she can count faster tha…”

I blinked as Virnan froze in place, mid-speech. Turning sharply I saw the werdrake rising, as her tail absentmindedly cleaned itself from specks of sand.

“Enough of his blabbering,” Sophia purred, “I was already sick and tired from waiting on him to reveal yet another ‘wisdom’. A morsel of knowledge he had obtained from you, no doubt. Now tell me, murk. Who taught you? And don’t hide behind fake names again.”

Virnan wasn’t the only thing frozen in this room. The sand under my feet was stiff as a rock and so was the door behind me. Windows were open, but I had the werdrake between me and them. The one that was very eager to keep me here.

This was dangerous.

“My words were true. Just because you didn’t recognize the name of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi doesn’t make it fake. He had lived quite some time ago, enough for some to forget his name. He popularized these numbers and developed the means of their calculations, giving rise to algorisms and algorithms. He even wrote a book on calculations that was called Al-Jabr, the first book of algebra.” I spoke carefully as my body started gearing up.

Both to protect myself and to attack if necessary. I had a few contingencies to fake my death if it was necessary, but she could be powerful enough to kill me anyway.

“You underestimate my age.” Her rebuttal was weak and there was a huge frown on her face. It changed dramatically as she heard me speak these terms.

Something was telling me that she already knew them.

No wonder she was running circles around the senile statue nearby. Poor sod had to calculate everything in his mind while she could do arithmetics digit by digit. Until I, the Annoyance by her own words, had introduced Virnan to the same techniques.

I gripped the gift for Virnan tighter in my hand, it will probably annoy her even further.

“If he lived that long ago, you had no chance of meeting him. Lest you dare to say you are older than me. Which means you had someone else to tell you about his teachings personally.”

“Or I’ve read a codex or two.” Technically I was right. The nanite container also worked as a medium for information. From a certain point of view, it was a very advanced textbook. The one that also grew your muscles as you read it. A wet dream of geeks in the past.

“And where are they now?” She pressed further.

I silently tapped on my head, “These codices were not designed to be read twice. And I do not know of others.”

“Such an Artefact, yet used so wantonly,” She shook her head. “Do you even realize what you had found? My House would have offered you great riches to purchase it. Enough to live your life in luxury.”

“Wasted?” I raised my eyebrow. “How do you know it was not designed specifically for a murk like me?”

“A Gift of Mreea?”

“A what now?” I was sure that I had not heard that name before. Neither Aikerim nor Anaise had mentioned it in the past.

“Forget about it!” Sophia sharply dismissed my question, “Now. I’ve heard that you are friendly with my brother. I also see that you started to grow your hair. Once you are free, I will purchase you into my Manor.”

“And why would I be for sale?” I couldn’t help but retort back sarcastically.

“Everyone is. It is just a matter of price. And my House can offer much. Much more than Kiymetl ever could.” Sophia took a step forward.

“You can’t afford me.” I took a step back.

“Believe me, I can,” her lips parted in a vicious smile as she kept walking, “Sometimes the price can be more than just riches. Or I could make your Domina sell you to me before you are free. One way or another. The only difference is who gets paid.”

“And sometimes a trapped mouse can bite the cat,” I whispered, “Hurt me or mine and your brother won’t be able to save you.”

“You?” Sophia laughed, “Do you think I am a mere wermage that you can catch unawares? Hope to stab me in my sleep like a Collector? Your blade won’t even pierce my skin.”

“I have no need for a blade.” I patted my sash where I always kept a few vials with me, “I am the Alchemist for a reason.”

Granted, these vials would have been useless against her. I didn’t dare to openly carry potent poisons or something even worse. Just a few chemicals to irritate or disable an aggressor. But my body was already making something much much worse.

Wermages were powerful but they were still a race of humans, not a separate species. I knew that much. They breathed the same air and ate the same food, they could even procreate with humans. That meant our cells were identical enough to merge and successfully divide.

What was deadly for human cells would be likely just as deadly to wermage ones.

I could always raise the dosage if it was necessary. Her Flow would be useless if her body lost the ability to process oxygen altogether.

I might not be a great warrior but, as I’ve told Yeva, killing one or killing everyone was an easy task.

The yellow eyes glanced down at my sash, and Sophia did something even more outrageous than freezing Virnan in place.

She blinked.

Not literally, although she did that too, she actually teleported all the way across the room!

Landing right near the open window, close to fresh air.

I cursed under my breath. I didn’t have any viable means of toxin delivery. Pumping the tower full of poison would kill everyone else first. This was getting trickier.

“You!” Sophia hissed as runic glyphs sprang to life across her body. Some of them even left the clothes completely and floated around her like some magical curtain of power, “To threaten someone like me, do you have any idea what this means?”

Fuck. I didn’t expect that my threat would work so well on her. What kind of a powerful wermage folds so quickly when some murk barks back once! Damn Shebet siblings! Did they have their intuition cranked to eleven or something?

“Only as a last resort,” I tried to deescalate immediately, “As you said, Albin is my friend and I prefer to keep my peace. But I will resort to drastic methods if I see no other option available to me.”

Sophia glared at me as we both stood still, a room apart. A murk, chock-full of nanites, and a mage, surrounded by a vortex of power. Yet both were threatened by each other.

Brightly glowing yellow to my reflective silver.

I didn’t even know wermages could make their eyes glow like that. I guess I haven’t seen a real warmage in full power mode before.

“You deny my offers while consorting with my brother. Did you think I would ignore such dismissal?”

“Offers? You make demands and nothing more!”

“I am the Censor of Emanai! You should feel honoured that I even deem you worthy of that much!”

“That is the issue. I don’t. I am a simple murk and I am far from your ranks of power. I have no Spark, nor do I wield Flow. And your gods are alien to me. Your kind keeps us safe? That is fine but I also hear that most of Emanai force is filled with murks, not wermages. The food on the table? Murks. The gold on your horns? Murks. The blue in your dress? Murks.

“What you have is individual power. I respect that, there is nothing wrong with being strong. But, when you use that power to demand anything you want, I see nothing but a bully. The respect I give to your brother isn’t because he is a Speaker of Shebet, but due to his actions toward me.”

She scoffed, “A few trinkets at best, and you run to his side, eager to tell another tale.”

So he didn’t even tell his sister that he used the Sphere of Negation. Or that he left it at my crash site. That was no mere trinket, judging by the owlish eyes of Aikerim when she saw it first.

I had no intention of throwing him under the bus either, obviously.

“He didn’t ask for much either, mind you. Nor did Virnan Shah over here. Aikerim Adal wanted more, but a personal estate in my name is a bit more than a trinket. None of them demanded me in entirety, not to my face.”

Another scoff, “Like I want anything else but your math. I can have Aikerim make your trinkets for me if I need them.”

“Then you don’t need me either.” I pressed my line, “You will find that I am way more amenable to lectures for some trifle trinkets. I am already talking to one wermage, what is there for another.”

Granted, I wasn’t very amenable to that either, but there was a reason for her spoiled behaviour. Despite my statements of indifference, the Emanai society was on her side. And if I don’t give her some means to satisfy her curiosity, she would likely use others to achieve her wants.

Like Aikerim’s elder sister.

Sophia grumbled and leaned on the windowsill. Uncaring for the drop behind her back. We were on the top of a floating tower — the window provided not just a beautiful view but at least ten seconds of free fall if you weren’t lucky. Nine, if you decided to visit a nearby roof on your way down.

The floating lines of power vanished from the air around Sophia, as her eyes took a more normal wermage yellow. I let myself sigh openly — the immediate threat seemed to be over.

‘Jasmine’ harrumphed and crossed her arms, “A mere mention that Censor herself listens to your lecture would draw crowds eager to pay. Yet you dare to ask for more?”

“I do not seek to teach others, I am already too busy for that. In fact, I would prefer to stay silent on this topic altogether. I had to choke Virnan Shah once from him bragging to you about me, I don’t think I could repeat that with you.”

Sophia barked a laugh, “You wouldn’t dare, whelp. Fine, I will agree to your demands. You can have some wires or whatnot. In return, you are to keep silent about the lectures and especially — about what has occurred here and now. Do not speak of this to a single soul. Do you hear me, murk?”

Ah. Probably about her being threatened by a murk.

I shrugged, “Fine by me, I have no penchant for bragging. If you don’t believe me — just ask your brother. And I am looking for something other than wires.”

“The words of Albin are the only reason we are even talking now,” She jumped from the sill and walked into the centre of the room — back to where she was when this whole thing started. “For some reason, he is very interested in your future. Interested enough to show his true character. And I am starting to see why.”

I nodded quietly.

“You can be just as slimy and obnoxious as he is,” Sophia finished her speech, “What trinket do you seek, then?”

“I’ve heard that Shebet owns copper mines nearby.” I was planning to ask her brother, but I could use it now.

“A copper mine is not a mere trinket, murk. Do you want your own? Seek it elsewhere yourself, but let me warn you — the dowsing mages know their craft. You will not find copper simply lying on the ground in Emanai, not without someone’s mine on top of it. You can seek it past the borders — you can do anything you want there, but you will need protection and resources for that. My House does neither. Or do you seek copper? Strange, I assumed that your mistress is wealthy enough.”

“I do not think I am ready to be a mine owner, yet. While I do seek copper metal, I am willing to buy it in bulk, so that is not an issue. What I also wish to buy is copper slag. The refuse after the smelting.”

“Slag? What in the ten hells for?”

“I am the Alchemist of Kiymetl not because I wanted a fancy title. We, alchemists, always seek unusual reagents for our craft. For example, the fancy glass mirrors needed a few barrels of urine! Stank quite strongly, it did-”

“Spare me the details,” Sophia interrupted me, scrunching her nose, “You want that slag — go and take it yourself. I will send the missive to the overseer, she will know to let your workers clear up the garbage for her.”

I bowed and looked away, hiding my smirk. The best way to deal with curiosity was to drown it in detail, as unpleasant as possible. The fun part was that I didn’t lie either, that was exactly how I was getting my ammonia back then.

“So. Do we have an accord?”

“Yes, we do. Censor of Emanai.”

“Good. But, mark my words, if anyone hears about what happened here, you will find yourself lucky if I just take you as a slave. Or I might come up with an even better solution, no matter what my brother would say. And I expect your lectures to be worthy of my time, not his. The old fart is easy to entertain.”

“Well, you might have to forgive me for the topic I’ve chosen today. I was not expecting your presence here after all.

She rolled her eyes, “Are you ready?”

“Well…” I pointed at the still-frozen Virnan.

Her fleshy tail slammed into the sand. Before I could say anything else, the crescent of her shark-like tail dragged across the solid sand, gouging a line through a previously drawn runic symbol. When did she…

“…an me, doesn’t mean anything at all!” Virnan had finally finished his speech. His smirk felt almost cartoonish now.

Yeah, no wonder about that. This wasn’t about some shortcuts at all! Sophia could literally pause you at any moment and take her time thinking!

I sighed and suppressed the burning desire to choke him once again, just as a preventative measure. I had no time for that right now. Instead, I started my tale.

“Virnan, you are familiar with the concept of inverse by now, right? Addition and subtraction, multiplication and division.”

“Squaring and the square root.” He nodded along.

“Precisely. During our last time together we had discussed Pascal’s triangle and its properties,” Virnan took that time to smirk at frowning but quiet Sophia, “So, by now, you know that the exponents in math don't need to be just a square or a cube. They can go on forever, be negative, or even a fraction.”

“Well, yes. Although I still find their purpose dubious.”

“We are getting there today. What I am trying to say is that you can take a number and raise it to a specific exponent and get any other number you want.” I didn’t even realize when chalk was in my hand and I started writing on a blackboard. This one was quite similar to the one I had built for Anaise’s classes.

“And you can wear a sandal for a hat,” Sophia butted in, “How are you going to find that exponent first?”

“Why, by calculating the inverse of it — the logarithm!”

“Inventing a name doesn’t help you solve it.” She retorted back.

“Oh, he does that all the time,” Virnan poured some wine inside his cup, “Erf gives them names just to make it easier to talk about it.”

“I will talk more about how to calculate them a bit later. Beforehand I would like to show you one of the examples where a logarithm could prove quite useful.” I drew a few tens raised to different exponents and multiplied them, making sure to highlight the relationship hidden inside, “As you can see any multiplication or division can be written as the sum of exponents. A ten squared and a ten cubed gives us a ten to the power of five.”

My hand reached into the bag, “Which means that if you know the logarithm solutions of any two numbers you can easily multiply them by adding their logarithms together. If you take these numbers and place them on a ruler you will have this.”

“This is a slide rule.” I pulled out the contraption that almost made Wrena cry. And she was lucky that she didn’t have to mark the notches herself. “It is a very basic one, it can only do multiplication and division. But, once you are proficient with it, it would yield results much faster than counting on paper would.”

“Only?” Sophia snatched the slipstick from my hands, “You mean it can do more?”

“Give me that!” Virnan yelled, splattering the wine on the sand.

I shrugged, ignoring the tussle between the mathematicians, “Not this one. But the design can be expanded to count many things. Roots, squares, functions of a triangle.”

I could as easily have been yelling into a well by that point. It took some time to calm them down. I was initially surprised by how obsessed both of them were about it, but then it dawned on me. This was probably the first calculator in their possession that could do multiplication. And they acted like any sane person would, when given such a powerful device for the first time in their lives.

Math theory was put aside so that everything in the room was calculated. Both obvious and obscure.

In the end, Virnan took his loss and plopped on a sofa, nursing the face, slapped by Sophia’s tail. “So how do you calculate these? I don’t think this is all they could do.”

The slipstick froze in the hands of the werdrake as she listened in as well.

“Well, as you can see from the board, logarithms can be used in any base. So we need to find one that is the easiest to count in. The most natural. Remember that e number I was telling you about? The one just like pi? Yeah, let’s use that.”

Virnan choked on his wine.

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