Chapter 22. Pieces of Kaleidoscope
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I added a small glossary with the character names in case it gets too confusing.

 

 

Anaise Kiymetl Hilal

“Anaise, you are unusually quiet today. Especially after skipping the last few meetings.” A voice to the side jostled her alert.

Thinking quickly, she put a tired but welcome smile on her face and gestured to a servant to fill her cup once again, “Forgive me, Lita’af. The preparations for the Divine Ritual are extensive, and I also have my own Entrance Feast to worry about. The last few tendays have been especially challenging.”

The girl in question grunted as her grey, wolfish tail slapped the sofa, “Indeed, the elders of my Manor are abuzz as well. I can’t even train my Flow in peace as some slave is already there, with yet another kaftan from my father. Relaying the urges for me to think about my appearance on such an important date.”

This was one of the once common tasks that Anaise had neglected in recent days: the lavish parties and dinners between young adults of the Manors, especially the Pillar ones. It was a time away from Rhetors and trainers, filled with laughter and extravagance.

Despite her previous enjoyment, she had found her mind wandering away. The conversations about who learnt a new spell and which Manor produced another child with a bright Spark once felt so extremely important and absolutely crucial to her. Now, they felt like just another way to spend time while gossiping. The issues and concerns, that Anaise had spent days obsessing about before, felt like minor inconveniences against the backdrop of everything else going on in her life.

Did it matter that Mushaf had managed to master her family craft and made the roasted pheasant run around the table? A few tendays ago Anaise would’ve felt envy. Now, under the tutelage of Virnan Shah himself and with a few tricks around her brea… up her sleeve, she merely acknowledged the progress of her peer.

A wermage across from them scoffed, “You need to blame the fox for that. Her mother waited until very late with the new bolts of cloth. Now every Manor is busy making sure their dresses are either better or of equal quality.”

“I assure you, we opened our coffers as soon as we heard about the Ritual.” Anaise waved her tail, “With reasonable prices, too.”

“And sizeable amounts. You were stockpiling goods, waiting for a perfect time to pounce.”

She hid her smirk. From what Anaise had heard from her mother, there was barely any stock at all. What they did have were new looms that made consistent product fast enough. Additionally, the use of new ‘bleaching agents’ made them look like the snowy peaks of the Sefid mountains. It was no wonder they were in great demand right before the Divine Ritual.

And Erf was already mumbling about some new dyes and harvesting silk from spiders. She was curious about the first and a little bit unnerved by the second. That tree of his was already quite creepy. If he were to infest it with spiders, she would probably avoid going to that room altogether.

And make him wash after his visits to the greenhouse too. Just in case.

“Are you trying to accuse us of being prudent?” Anaise raised her eyebrow, “Or that we somehow knew the Divine Will well before others?”

A set of giggles spread around the room as Mushaf’s verbal jab at her went nowhere.

She no longer had a reason to deflect or deny the accusations. Not only did it put her in a more legitimate position, but the new looms were still a secret of Aikerim and Anaise had no intention to undermine her mother just to brag a little bit. Somehow, she found herself uncaring of the usual grandstanding across their group. All for the sake of some internal rank.

“Well, you need to have something, if you are lacking in other areas.” Mushaf pushed her floppy ear away with an air of dismissal, “Some have the shine of gold. Others — shine elsewhere.”

The bones of a recently eaten bird jumped from a plate and formed the skeletal arusak. It picked up a nearby fruit and hurriedly offered the treat to its mistress, jumped into a refuse jar and broke into separate bones once again.

“Some, however, have both.” The dog wermage smirked.

Anaise grit her teeth. Kishava Manors clashed with Kiymetl quite often. Both Houses revolved around trade and there was always some friction between their domains. Contrary to Kiymetl dealing with peaceful trade, Kishava Manors provided logistical support to Emanai arms. They also were the ones who brought back and sold the spoils of war.

Including the slave trade that Kishava held firmly in its grasp. No other Manor could move slaves around unless given direct permission. Even their Manor could only purchase slaves from within the city.

Anaise wasn’t sure if Albin had such permission when he set off to purchase Erf’s family. Not that it mattered compared to his use of that Sphere.

Obviously, all of their Manors were luxuriously rich, even after spending a significant portion of their wealth to maintain Emanai arms. Not only that, but they also hailed from the old Manor of War. The first House of Emanai. The one that grew so big and large that Gods themselves had to intervene and split it into three.

And old families meant vast knowledge of Flow. Like the control of arusakan constructs. Anaise could move bones independently as any other object, but she was nowhere capable of holding tens of them in place and having them act as if they were alive. That was something that gnawed at her for the last few years, forcing her to seek ways to improve her strength and skill.

Like befriending a certain murk with a Gestr on his neck.

A choice that turned her life almost upside down, and caused her inordinate amounts of worry, but she didn’t regret it one bit. A sparkling curiosity had led her to true treasure, even if the path was a bit rough.

“I’ve heard that you started studying under Virnan Shah himself.” Her rival continued, “Knowing you, I expected to hear boasts for the fifth time by now, yet you are awfully quiet. Don’t tell me his work was for nothing. Or, even worse…”

“Mushaf. Be nice,” Lita’af gently chided. The Kamshad girl was pleasantly soft-spoken, despite her larger build and well-defined muscles. She wasn’t as tall as Anaise’s father but comparable to Irje. All wermages of the House of Battle were usually ponderous and well-mannered. And extremely vicious on battlefields.

They were the most martial-oriented Manors of Emanai. Their children learnt about war as early as five. Sons would train to do battle while daughters — to lead the arms.

“There is little to show,” Anaise shrugged, as if uncaring, “I have to rely on my own strength and skill, and not on a flashy spell that my family passed down to me. Virnan Shah also has no use for something like that, preferring solid foundations instead. But I can try.”

Anaise knew that she shouldn’t do this. She wanted to keep this secret for a lot longer. But she couldn’t just sit and look at this smirking dog no longer.

With her hand extended for better precision, Anaise thought about that fateful evening in Erf’s alchemy shack. Her mind brought back the vivid memories of his fingers, that were trailing on the curve of her breast. Teasing her as they would slide toward her hard nipples, but never reach the destination. The lines that were not. The hand that followed after…

“You don’t need to struggle so hard, your face is already red,” She heard the mocking voice but paid no attention to it, “If you push even more all that would come out is a fart. Look, even runes on the whole table are glowing: your Flow is leaking everywhere…”

A loud crack interrupted the jeers.

The table at the centre of the room, full of food and alight with runes, rose in the air and folded into itself. Again and again. Every set of eyes gawked at what once was a piece of furniture warping itself into a ball of splinters. It also made an incredibly loud noise in the process, as the wood splintered and groaned from the forces that crumbled it like a piece of parchment or a lump of soft clay.

Anaise had the presence of mind to release the Flow slowly, letting the flakes settle into a pile at the centre of the room and not fly off into all directions. Despite all this — it was a bit unusual. Based on the previous attempts, she expected it to happen instantly. Instead, it took some time to crumble.

The room fell into stunned silence. A handful of servants were shaking in the corners out of fear.

“That…What was that!?” Mushaf shrieked, pointing at the pile of rubble.

“The current spell that I am working at,” Anaise shrugged while trying to act nonchalantly.

“How uncouth.” The dog wermage sniffed.

“Mushaf…”

“What? It was loud and messy! No elegance in spellwork whatsoever.”

“The table was runed against Flow,” Lita’af said while frowning. “She shouldn’t be able to do that at all. Her Flow would simply reinforce it further, not crush it.”

The room descended into loud whispers and murmurings.

Anaise licked her parched lips. That explained why the spell took so long. It also put too much attention on her in the process. More than she wanted. Her plan was to snap the table out of existence, including that pile of bird bones on it, and dazzle them with speed.

“You are saying she overpowered them? You can see her Spark — she is nothing special.”

“I know how my table was runed. She could have the brightest Spark in Emanai and all that would give her is her previous meal on the floor,” Lita’af got up and poked her finger in the pile of wood chips and smatterings of food and metal. All that remained from the dishes and their plates. “Is that a spell from Virnan Shah himself?”

“I can’t discuss this openly, you know?” Anaise let her tail swish as she desperately tried to avoid future scrutiny, “Each family has their own tricks.”

“What about a trade, then?” Came an unexpected response.

The murmur of the crowd grew louder, but one glare from the wolf wermage was enough to keep everyone quiet and, most importantly, away from the discussion. Despite everyone here being somewhat of equal status, there were obvious outliers in the group. Lita’af was one of them, but she usually preferred to observe, letting Mushaf act as an interim leader.

Anaise swallowed. The wolf was on her trail and the previously friendly gaze was replaced by a shrewd and calculating one.

“Lita’af Kamshad Hikmat!” Mushaf hissed, “You can’t offer something like this for a half-crafted spellwork!”

For the first time today, she was grateful to the yapping dog.

“I can and I will,” came an instant reply, “Obviously Dominas would settle on an appropriate price among themselves, but, as the Lady of the House, I can initiate the process.”

“But Mushaf is right,” Anaise didn’t waste time exploiting the offered ‘help’, “This spell is raw and incomplete. As a daughter of Kiymetl, I pride myself as a trader. I couldn’t dream of selling an inadequate product.”

Lita’af barely twitched her eyes as she kept staring at Anaise. Thinking in silence about her possible response.

“I’ve heard your Manor is sending a new batch of warriors to the north.” She finally said and Anaise flinched, “Your entourage, no doubt. I will keep a close eye — a field of battle has its risks, but it would be an ideal place to train your Flow. Perhaps we could assist each other there.”

The young daughter of Kiymetl closed her eyes and cursed in her heart.

 

 

Albin Shebet Chasya

“Why are you trying to interfere with my plans!?”

“I am trying to save you from yourself, sister.” He put another card on the table.

While he was quite adept at hiding, it was fruitless to run from his sister for too long. She was the faster one in the family, after all.

“You don’t even have to look her in the face. I’ll just borrow your dick and get her done. And she would bring him over on a platter.”

Albin scrunched his face in distaste, “That is the crux of it. He will fight back.”

“Why would he? Our Manor has everything that Kiymetl does. Moreover, either one of us can give him more than that young fox can. Much, much more.”

He sighed, “Aikerim is already giving him what he wants. Something that you won’t give.”

His fingers traced the line only he could see, while shuffling the deck, setting it alight.

The reinforced sofa groaned when Sophia threw herself into it, “Why does he care so much about freedom? He will still rely on a Manor, which will rely on Heurisks in turn. And if he doesn’t — he will find himself alone, against the rest of the civilized world. And quickly thereafter — dead. All that knowledge, that Mreea blessed him with, would be wasted.”

The light flickered out and time flew once again.

Another card hit the table. The empty tablet. He finally lifted his eyes and looked at the frustrated sister, “Do I need to remind you that I found him first? By the agreement, he is mine.”

Sophia scoffed, “Yours? You don’t even do anything about him!”

“That is the point. He yearns for something more than freedom. Something that Emanai doesn’t have. That knowledge of his is pushing him somewhere, and where exactly is what I wish to find out. The best way to do it is to let him roam free and see where his feet would take him.”

She lay there in silence for a while.

“Mother is coming.”

His hand froze midway to the table. The Divine Choice, once again. “I know.”

“She might take him for herself.”

“She won’t. Too busy.”

They sat in silence once again.

“What if he annoys her too much?”

“I don’t know,” Albin sighed, “Some fates of this world are too gruesome to ponder about…”

 

Irje

She wheezed, trying to catch her breath. Her body, caked in chalk, was leaning on a large shield stuck into the ground. Irje tried to glare at her trainer, but Master Siamak didn’t look like he cared at all. He sat nearby, whistling some tune, as the streams of water and heaps of chalky powder floated around him.

Ready to fly at her at any moment.

And if she was unable to shield her body, the training would continue.

Stupid Erf and his stupid body. Her incredible murk decided to show off in front of the wermage trainer and now she, as his possible Prime, had to surpass his achievements! Irje’s Spark made her strong, resilient, and agile, but it wasn’t as ridiculous as his worms or whatnot.

She didn’t have his stamina, proven many times when he could fuck her tired. A feat she thought impossible until she met him. Irje didn’t have his brain worms either. The ones that made him learn the movements after a single practice. Unlike him, she had to sweat blood and tears to learn.

Perhaps getting her own set of worms wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.

But Irje wouldn’t wait for that to happen. The scar on her shoulder was a great reminder of how weak she truly was. And how much there was at stake.

“Block to the left.”

With a loud grunt, she yanked the shield from the ground, slamming it back in a new location. Mere moments before a stream of water slammed into the wood.

“Intercept right.”

Irje angled the spear out, bracing it on the ground. The tip, somewhat shaky in her tired arms, managed to find its target: a large flying barrel, filled with sand.

The shaft groaned in her arms from the impact but held strong.

Irje sighed with relief, this was her seventh spear this day.

“Good,” Akhtar Kiymetl Siamak was of the same opinion, “Remember these movements. A sharp spear will do you no good if it breaks once a creature lands on it. Your shield work is also adequate for now, you can take a break.”

Her knees buckled as she collapsed to the ground.

“The damn shield is too bulky!” Irje muttered between the gasps, “How do murks fight with it?”

“They don’t. Not while carrying it on the hand,” The werfox spoke from above, “During battles, the shield acts as a moving wall that you can fight and shoot behind. The sword on your belt is sharp but most battles are won by mages raining spellfire, not foot soldiers stabbing someone nearby.”

“Still, I thought I could lift it with Flow, yet it is just as heavy.”

“Because it is runed against Flow. Or did you think mere wood could withstand battle spells?” Master Siamak thought for a second then, with a swish of his tail, a bow jumped into his hands, “I confess, I did not expect a slave wermage, but here we are.”

“I didn’t know I was one until recently.” Irje shook her head.

He hummed, “A weak wermage without childhood training? Quite possible. Although as a wermage, you do not need the military service to declare yourself free.”

She shook her head again, “Not doing it just for that. I need to protect my husband too.”

“Unfortunately for you, it would be he, who will protect you in this case. Domina instructed me to teach you archery, now that I know about your status as a wermage, it starts to make sense. Try to grab this bow with your Flow.”

Irje stretched her hand and focused on the weapon. It took her a few futile attempts, but the bow eventually lit up and flew into her palm.

“A bit slow for battle,” Akhtar shook his head, “But that is something you can practice by yourself. This is a werbow — a weapon for those wermages that are otherwise too weak to throw spells effectively. All that it requires is a good aim and the ability to power runes at a moment’s notice. You have to be careful with it: once the runes are active, the Flow will force it straight. It will yank the arrow, and the tips of your fingers if you aren’t ready.”

“But, once you have enough practice, you will be able to shoot heavier arrows further away and punch through heavier armour all at the same time. Take this bow with you and practice activating its runes as fast as you can. In the meantime, target shooting will be added to your training routine.”

“Added?” She felt the shiver going down her back.

“Ai, added. Just because you can use a werbow doesn’t mean you are allowed to slack off in other aspects. Bows need maintenance and can snap on you at the worst possible time. No one is going to wait for you to restring your bow or find a new one.”

Stupid Erf. This is all his fault. She will need a good massage right after this.

He was also curious about Emanai ranged weaponry. Perhaps he could do his ‘navigator’ magic and improve her bow somehow. Armour too. Irje tried a few pieces and immediately understood why Erf was grumbling so much about them.

“Enough rest, get up and let us continue.”

She got up with a groan but without further complaints. The training was harsh but this was the price for a safe future.

And it was a price she will pay readily.

And then make Erf pay it back with his skilful fingers.

XXX

“Judging by the smirk on your face, your trip has been fruitful.” Aikerim observed, “The question is: what kind of fruit, exactly, did you find?”

I scratched my nose, “You were right about Albin — not much can be achieved on that front. I did get a few ideas as we spoke, however.”

Her tail swished.

“Things to impress my family?” She stretched on her sofa, “Go on, don’t leave me waiting for too long.”

“Right,” I nodded, ignoring her teasing, “I realised that I should aim for something that would impress your entire House at once. Something tangible that every Kiymetl Domina would appreciate from a single glance. I do not know their likes or dislikes but I do know that this is the House of Trade. Every one of them is either trading something or assisting someone else in doing so. Both locally and, most importantly, abroad.”

I pulled out a map of Emanai and opened it in front of Aikerim. “I was initially thinking about introducing some new concept or improving map-making calculations. But the first required an audience that was willing to listen, while the latter had to rely on the knowledge of curved lines and similar ideas that you aren’t willing for me to share with others just yet. So those are out.

“Which leaves us with tools. Tools that every merchant should recognise their worth simply by explaining what it does.”

“So you did come up with one?” She hurried me along.

“Oh no,” I grinned as my fingers tapped the map, “I came up with three: a compass, a sextant, and a spyglass. One to tell you your direction even during the densest fogs. One to accurately measure angles between any two objects you can see, and, therefore, know your location. And the last one to see as far as the horizon would allow you to. If you combine all three, not only can your ships map out the seas with greater precision, but you can travel directly across the sea without following the shoreline.”

“And yet, these aren’t artefacts…,” Aikerim shook her head and sighed, “How easy are they to make and reproduce by others once they know about them?”

“We should have at least basic designs ready by the time your family arrives. I chose them exactly because I have the necessary tools to make them now. Replicating them? Quite likely, unfortunately. Some components might be harder to obtain, but a dedicated person could make a compass using a lodestone, or use polished metal for the sextant’s mirror. A spyglass is a bit tricky but still doable, especially if one has an original at hand.”

She drummed her fingers in thought slowly but surely the tail started swishing once again, “That is…good.”

A chuckle escaped her lips, “Honestly, Erf. I ask you to impress my family and you start producing things that could easily have you kidnapped yet another time. Even by my own family. Proceed as you were. Or do you need some additional resources?”

I gave it a quick thought, “Copper. The pure kind. Preferably in wire form, but not a necessity.”

The golden era of electromagnetism was about to dawn on Emanai.

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