Chapter 23. Riemann, Bolyai, and Lobachevskiy walk through the bar. Minkowski is late.
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Thank you everyone for hitting the 100k views and, more importantly, hitting the average of 100 likes per chapter!

I know I do not intentionally ask for likes but this is why these are even more special to me. They were done out of your volition and not because of some obligation.

 

“Mother, I need to…”

I glanced around while laying on the couch to see Anaise walking into the room. She visibly baulked upon seeing me, but sighed and entered the room proper.

It looked like the party with her friends didn’t end as expected.

“Is something wrong?” I started but quickly backtracked, “I mean, I can leave if you want me to.”

“No,” She sighed, her ears downcast, “You can listen too, I was just surprised to see you here. I shouldn’t have — you are a common visitor in these rooms.”

“You’ve done something.” Aikerim interrupted her rambling, “What is it?”

Anaise cringed, “I’ve used the new type of spell. It managed to work even on the table runed against Flow. Now the Lady of Kamshad Manor is very interested. Her Matriarch’s attention would follow soon, most likely.”

The sofa groaned under the fingers of the werfox Domina.

But that didn’t stop my sudden curiosity, sparked ablaze by the new morsel of information, “Were the runes similar to these I’d read in the codex?”

“Perhaps?” Anaise tilted her head in confusion, “Kamshad is an old House, and their knowledge of runes is equally extensive. But they likely work in a similar manner of taking the Flow and dispersing it away.”

“Unless your Flow is moving in a completely different plane,” I leaned forward, trying to remember the book of runes that Aikerim lent me quite some time ago. Magic was an interesting yet obscure concept to me but I was forced to put it aside for now due to pressing issues. I did understand runes at least partially, however.

My knowledge was nowhere close to the expert level, despite memorizing the book and all its patterns inside. I still didn’t know ‘why’ they worked, but I did know that certain patterns had specific and consistent effects. The effects that I successfully mixed into a runic radar. The very same that pointed out Irje’s aptitude for magic.

Likewise, I didn’t know how the two most common runes actually worked, but I knew that one ‘fed the energies into the object and made it strong’ while the other ‘caught the wermage power, directed at the object, and spread it away’. Both of them were the staple motifs that found themselves across everyday wermage life.

And for a good reason too — it took me and Anaise only a few minutes to trash my bathhouse. Because the interior wasn’t runed properly. Magically-powered bodies found everyday objects rather crumbly and fragile. Wermages had to choose one of the two options to live without excessive collateral damage in their everyday life: to work on their self-control or to strengthen everything around them.

They mostly chose the latter.

“You think so?” Her tail swished as she eagerly clutched to my idea, “The runes did slow down the process. Instead of instantly crushing it into a pulp, the spell took some time folding the table like a scroll.”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “I might be speaking out of my ass right now as it is all pure conjecture, but let us look at the two approaches to Flow. Originally, Flow was seen as patterns on a flat surface. The ‘non-Euclidean’ Flow, if that is what it really is, is made out of similar patterns but on a different, curved, surface. Right?”

Noticing her nod along with my words, I continued, “Well let us make an assumption, then. Let us assume that usual spells are like a sheet of parchment, flat and straight. While the other type looks like a ball or a horse saddle.”

“Why a horse saddle of all things?” Aikerim butted in, frowning.

“These are the two most notable examples of curved surfaces. A ball is an example of a surface that curves away at any point in both cardinal directions. Whether you look right-left or up-down, that is. The parallel lines on that surface will naturally move toward each other, and triangles within would have a greater sum of all angles. Exactly like that tricky question that Flow teacher gave to Anaise.”

“A question that was designed to teach humility of all things,” Aikerim smirked, “Go on.”

“That would be considered an elliptical geometry. The saddle is a part of another type — the hyperbolic geometry. In it, the curves are opposite to each other: while one direction might curve away from you, the other will curve toward. Parallel lines would gradually move away from each other there, while triangles drawn on such a surface would have the sum of angles that was less than half rotation.”

On a completely unrelated topic, I needed to introduce degrees to them too. It was much easier to say one-eighty.

“In fact, you can have a triangle there where the sum of angles adds up to nothing.” I dipped a finger into my cup of wine and drew a shape on a nearby table. Something that looked more like a three-rayed star than a triangle, its previously straight lines curving inward to form pointy tips at the end.

Two wermages stared at the shape in silence. With a flick of a wrist, an apple jumped into Aikerim’s hand. Picking up a knife, she skillfully carved a shape that looked like a saddle. A reminder that Aikerim had served and fought before — saddles were rather rare in the heart of Emanai.

The knife drew a few lines on the surface and Domina smirked, noticing the resemblance to the one I’d drawn on the table. A grin of a predator.

I coughed, “So that is why I mentioned both as examples. As you can imagine you can’t just put either of these on a flat surface without…”

An intensely bright flash of light emerged from the apple, making both wermages yelp in pain and rub their eyes. The carved apple was gone, but a fine mist on my face and the distinct smell in the air told me the fate of the fruit in question.

“Are you both okay?”

“Better now,” Aikerim grumbled, rubbing her eyes, “I can already see shapes.”

Anaise grunted in agreement, likewise occupied.

I let them recover, unsure what to offer.

“You look completely unaffected, however. Were you looking away or did you not see the flash of light?”

“Oh I saw it just as well, but I am a Navigator.” I pointed at my eyes, “If I can stare at the sun and the stars, I can withstand a simple flash.”

“Ah, the silver eyes.” Aikerim turned to her daughter, “Don’t try to replicate this at least for now. Know that it works but it will require additional protection and extreme diligence. I felt the heat quite vividly: I don’t want you to burn the Manor or worse — yourself.”

“Was that the Flow of the saddle?” Anaise asked. Receiving an affirmative nod she sighed, “Just another Erf thing, I guess.”

“Indeed,” Domina glanced at us imperiously, “Once again. This is the personal knowledge of my Manor. Do not talk about or share this with anyone outside. Especially with how dangerous it is.”

Her tail swished, “I recall you were making an example for something else entirely, Erf.”

“I was,” I scratched my nose, trying to organise my thoughts back into order after the previous display. “As you can imagine, neither of these is compatible with a flat surface.”

My finger tapped the drawing on the table, “You can convert from one to another, but the lines will get warped and likely lose the desired effect. However, your results confirm that all three are possible and can coexist and interact, as Anaise confirmed with that runed table.”

“Yes, as all spells should. What is so significant about this case?”

“A surface is two-dimensional,” I swirled the wine in my cup, “No matter if it is curved or not. Yet, these two, if they are actually represented as surfaces inside Flow, can both coexist despite the non-compatible dimensions between them. Mind you — this is speculation but there is a very famous tactic in physics and mathematics to fit two incompatible models together.”

I drank my wine and looked at them. “You increase the number of dimensions. You can’t ‘flatten’ a saddle into a sheet of parchment, but you can place it on top. One can assume Flow as having at least three dimensions, like this very room. Suddenly, ‘flat’, ‘sphere’, or ‘saddle’ spells can all exist inside a Flow ‘room’ without any issue.”

“A room that Flows,” Aikerim massaged her temples, “My head hurts just thinking about it. And you came up with this just because the runes didn’t affect the spell?”

“Well, let us take a look at a hypothetical rune design,” I drew another shape on the table, eager to keep cracking the puzzle in front of me, “A circle is a perfect boundary on a surface. You can’t get in or out without crossing the line.

“Think of this circle as the protective runes,” My finger slid across the table and touched the circle, “Once your Flow tries to go from ‘outside’ into ‘inside’, the border will sap your energy and cancel the effect. But what if you do this?”

In the silent room, I lifted my finger and placed it inside without touching the circle.

“What I just did was a simple movement, if you look at it from a three-dimensional perspective. But if we were that rune, my finger just somehow vanished from existence and bypassed all defences by teleporting inside.”

“That…hmm” Domina rose on her sofa, as she kept staring at my hand.

“Or,” I pinched a leaf from nearby fruit, “What if this was the spell of Anaise?”

I folded the leaf slightly and placed it like an arch over the drawn line.

“See? In three dimensions both can exist as separate entities, and it can also explain why the spell had no issue bypassing the ‘flat’ defensive rune.”

“Marvellous,” Aikerim murmured, “You know, if this is indeed true, I would have given you my daughter even if she was against it herself. Now, tell me. How likely is it that someone else would discover this?”

“Eventually? Almost guaranteed.” I spread my arms around, “I admit, the non-Euclidean geometry is a rather advanced topic, but nothing is impossible if you have appropriate knowledge and tools at your disposal. A few centuries of mathematical research and wermages would likely entertain similar ideas even without my help. If not even faster — despite your lasting lifespans that are likely to hinder the progress. Flow is an important aspect of your culture and any hint at something greater would be immediately investigated.”

“Yes, something that my daughter helped to move along just today, it seems.” She glanced at the contrite Anaise, who was busy inspecting her tail. “I wonder what punishment would be the most appropriate for that.”

“Punishment?” I frowned, “What for?”

“Do you remember trying to avoid extra scrutiny to your sadaq? That. Kamshad is one of the War Houses; they will be someone you are likely to depend and rely on during your duty. Having them suddenly interested in our Manor just made this whole thing much more tricky.

“As Domina, it is my responsibility to ensure no one would undermine my Manor. It is yours to do the same with your sadaq.”

“Would punishing her make the problem go away?” Aikerim frowned at my response and I quickly continued, “I understand where you are coming from, Aikerim. Emanai culture is focused on Manors but not the people that fill them. Its family-centric aspect is why we have sadaq-at in the first place: it allows the formation of powerful family blocks even if it means that sons and daughters could be used as trading chips.

“I know it was likely formed as the response to outside threats and a desire for protection. Personal freedoms matter less when Emanai needs to be constantly defended from magical creatures and, occasionally, from other nations. But I am not like that.”

I glanced at Anaise and patted my sofa, “I like your daughter for who she is, not just for what her contribution would likely be to the sadaq. And her worth wouldn’t diminish in my eyes simply because she’d made a blunder. A ‘blunder’ that was in no way intentional.”

Anaise quietly sat near me, her face still with contemplation. My words have likely made her rethink our entire relationship: what I said felt natural to me, but she was a true child of Emanai. For her, my statement didn’t bring relief or gratitude — it brought confusion.

My hand reached out and caressed her thigh, a small gesture of comfort and support. I knew that her heart was in the right place, she was just expressing her emotions in her own wermage way. Anaise already saw herself as part of the sadaq and acted upon it in a way a wermage should. This union wasn’t just about her being a third wife, but for the Lady of the House to strengthen a new sadaq and cover it under her political umbrella.

While suffering public backlash once this becomes common knowledge.

“And that is how you will appear weak.” Domina declared, “Your wives would have to work harder, lest one of them would try to play on your emotions. Or a new one would try to barge in, thinking you an easy prey.”

“A lack of punishment doesn’t mean a lack of consequences. If a mistake is truly heinous, which I don’t even think this one really is, then the one causing it would be responsible to set it right. Yet others would help as well. Do you want strength in the sadaq? It will come with unity instead. Your body doesn’t care if your eyes didn’t see the hot coals when your fingers touch them. Nor does it leave fingers alone to fend for themselves — it uses an arm to yank them out.”

I kinda grasped the situation now. Aikerim was likely going to figuratively slap Anaise on the wrist but seized the moment to gauge my response instead. Which I was ready to provide — for the sake of avoiding future miscommunications.

“And if said eyes are actively hurting you?”

“When they do that your body kills them. It would inflame the tissue and reject the flesh, excising the inner rot. But not before.”

“Can you? I see that you bond strongly with each of your wives. If the time comes to reject one of them — will you be able to make the decision?”

I sighed, “I am trying my best that I would never have to face such a choice at all. Hence my care for each and every one. This is also why I would not seek others into our sadaq. Instead of seeking a powerful wermage to bolster our ranks, the sadaq can strengthen Anaise instead. You know that it is possible. Why would our sadaq care for some Domina, or even Matriarch, if your daughter alone would wield greater power both in magic and wealth? And, with time, political power too.”

The delicate fingers gripped my hand. Anaise definitely appreciated that.

“I don’t neglect others either, even if by accident. Irje has found the power within herself and is actively training with it. Something that I’ve encouraged from the beginning. Likewise, Yeva regained her sight and greater knowledge of math and machinery along with it. The things I teach to Virnan? She can do just as well now.”

Aikerim’s tail slowed its wagging, “You are going to share the secrets of your wife just like that?”

“Intentionally? Yes. When I am away I want you to know that she is just as important. She is my protégé when it comes to Alchemy, Math and Technology. And she is already capable of continuing my work while I defend the borders of Emanai. You are the mother of my wife and your Manor is now linked with our sadaq. It is for our mutual benefit that you, as Domina, are both capable and willing to protect us. I did also ask for her permission before doing so.”

“And you shall receive it.” Domina declared, “Know that my actions, both in the future and the past, are done for the sake of your safety from the threats that you might not even recognise.”

“I don’t?”

“My mother does not lie,” Anaise confirmed it as well but didn’t elaborate further. Her fingers interlocked with mine as she said so.

“Your knowledge is a threat, Erf.” Aikerim sighed, “Your tools. They are designed with murks in mind. The looms, kilns, and the recent gifts you’ve just proposed to me. Each one of them would greatly aid a murk and would be of a lesser benefit to a wermage, especially a strong one at that. Some Manors have spells that let them see far away, but your looking-glass appears to do just that without any training or the Spark within.

“Just like Shahin felt threatened by your knowledge of glass, there will be wermages threatened by your tools encroaching on their domains. And I have the eye to recognise that you see these tools as mere imitations. This means you know of better tools. Tools that would strengthen murks further.”

The amber eyes looked into mine, “To make them rival wermages.”

“Do you feel threatened?”

She thought for a moment, “Yes.”

I felt Anaise shiver.

“But I also recognise the benefit of doing so.” Aikerim continued, “And I also have you to enlighten me about the geometries of Flow I was not aware of before. Making me stronger in the process. But others cannot say the same.”

She glanced at the blue light in her palm, “While others might feel threatened even by your geometry.”

XXX

“Say, Erf. Have you thought about making bread?”

I glanced at Yeva eating meat from the skewer, “What do you mean?”

We were having a small meal together, Irje was busy somewhere and Anaise excused herself for some time to think. The recent conversation still weighed on her mind.

“You know — add some variety to the diet. I saw what you are growing in the greenhouses. Are you going to make cinnamon rolls with sourdough? Or mix it with flatbread? You know how yeast works — why don’t you teach your cook as well?”

A knife cluttered on the plate, dropped from my fingers. I sat here, bug-eyed, and stared at the oracle of food in front of me. How could I forget about something so important! But then again — Aziz, the cook in my estate, knew his craft. The burly man served Emanai meals and served them well enough that I was content to let him continue as is and concentrate on more important tasks.

“Excuse me,” I mumbled, getting up, “I have something to do, it seems.”

It was the cook’s fault for being so good, I realised. For this heinous atrocity, he will be punished with eldritch culinary knowledge.

A peal of tinkling laughter met my retreating back.

Meila

Humming a melody, she pruned the plant in front of her, making sure that it wouldn’t overgrow. Her job was an easy one: the plants in the greenery were well-behaved and eager to bear fruit. All she had to do was watch over them. Here, all alone, Meila allowed herself to smile. It was known among the slaves that some would find the Forest’s Green when they move on: a place of mirth and peace among the trees, away from Things and Wermaje masters.

Meila knew that she hadn’t moved on, yet. There were still wermajes around. But this place was close.

And she still had a master. The Fae that took the skin of her son.

At least it didn’t demand much from her anymore, and gave her the task of watching after the plants. Plants that bore no ill to anyone. She could do that.

Meila hoped none of these plants bore ill feelings, to be precise. The Black tree, confined in one of the rooms, still terrified her: she would occasionally notice its twisting tendrils as it grew out of that room and around the greenhouse walls, covering them with leaves of its own.

The Gods were merciful: it avoided the crystal windows on the sunny side and Meila could leave it alone.

Other plants were a much more welcoming sight. She knew some of them, although these were blessed with growth and fruits to an astonishing scale. There were also others that she remembered hearing about: spices — fragrant herbs to enhance the flavour. Extremely potent. Tuk did try one of the ‘peppers’, craving to know what a plant that was worth more than gold tasted like.

He spent half a day after bemoaning the fates and drinking water straight from the well.

There were also plants that she had never heard of at all. Or ones that didn’t even look like plants. Like the green water in some crystal jars. Apparently, they were called ‘algae’ and were tiny plants floating in the water. Instead of bearing fruits, they bubbled with noxious fumes. Alchemical ingredients, most likely.

And flowers too. Meila always took her time to make sure they were well-fed and watered. She even moved them to every greenhouse to greet her wherever she went.

“He can be silly sometimes, Irje.” A new voice interrupted her idyll. Glancing to the side, she saw Yeva and Irje approaching the greenhouse. The giant wer was carrying a barrel of compost by the looks of it.

“How so?” a cougar ear tilted toward the smaller girl.

“You should try mentioning food next time he is around,” Yeva laughed, “Honestly, as if his stomach is always empty. Especially if you mention a sweet, his eyes would go as large as a plate…”

Meila felt the pang in her heart. A distant memory of the past when she had found a beehive near the farm. She got stung a few times but the look on her son’s face, when she gave him that comb, was worth it. The drool at his mouth and these two large eyes, sparkling with delight. The tight embrace that followed right after.

Her fingers gripped the jar of water. It was one of the moments she once had lived for.

“Oh Meila, can you help me out?” the voice interrupted her morose thoughts.

She put a jar aside, “How can I be of assistance?”

The mistress was a murk herself and just as adamant about not being called such. Either Yeva or nothing at all.

“I think the kitchen needs some lemons, but I am needed here at the moment. Can you bring a few over?”

“Of course,” Meila bowed. She knew Yeva’s task and didn’t envy her. She was the only one who was not just allowed to enter the room with the Black tree but was willing to do so. That was where all the new seeds were stored as well.

Picking up two yellow fruits, Meila quickly exited the building, not looking back. With those two inside, her alone time was over anyway. And the cook requests were always a priority — you do not offend the one who fed you.

Especially since Aziz had fed them as if they were masters themselves.

The kitchen was unusually loud and hot for this time of the day. Meila understood why from just a single glance.

“This is the real alchemy,” The Fae thundered among the servants with a piece of bread in his mouth, waving the stick of butter around, “And it uses four elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat. This is the reason why there is no leaden cutlery in this estate — I refuse to cut out a crucial aspect of cooking simply because acid reacts with the lead and, in turn, makes food poisonous.”

Aziz wiped the sweat off his forehead, while his assistants were equally busy kneading dough. By the looks of it — there will be nothing but bread for the next few days. By the smell of it all, someone was drunk on beer of all things.

“I want you to taste each one of them, and notice the differences in each. Especially the loaves that are still rising.”

It noticed her entering the kitchen and quickly pushed the food deeper inside its mouth.

As if afraid that someone will take it away, once he was found.

Just like Erf did every time Meila had caught him sneaking food from somewhere.

“Oh,” he coughed. “Lemons? Great. You there — take them, zest the skin and squeeze the juice. We will be needing both eventually. Mo-…Meila would you like to try some of our experiments?”

“Eh?” She glanced around, only to see the pleading eyes of Aziz. Meila gulped, “…sure.”

“Great!” he beamed and snatched a small loaf cooling on the table, “Try this one!”

Cautiously picking up a very soft and warm bread, she took a small bite. Deeply aware of all the gazes on her.

And lost herself in the taste.

This bread was different. It was puffy and soft but it was also creamy and sweet. This was bread for a wermaje table and their lavish parties, not something she expected to try herself. “…it is delicious?”

“See?” he turned to the cook, “the lady likes it! Wait until she tries the next batch.”

“But master…” Aziz faltered under the glare, “Erf…You can’t expect me to remember all these recipes! They all look alike.”

“I don’t want you to. Once we are done, there will be just a few that you might want to write down. The purpose of others is to understand the effect on food that ingredients cause. The flour we have today might be different from the flour we will purchase next week.”

“Write it down?” The cook murmured in shock, “On a parchment?”

“Well, yeah? A wax tablet won’t last long in the heat of the kitchen. And Keivan is too busy right now to make you clay tablets.”

She shook her head. Wealth and power brought stupidity out of everyone. At least it resulted in some delicious bread in the process. Her brother would greatly enjoy this if he was here.

And would grumble for days if he knew that she could get him some, but didn’t.

“Can I take some more? For Tuk?”

“Oh absolutely!” he beamed at her, gesturing at the nearby table, “take as many as you like. Speaking of Tuk — where is he? I want to talk to him.”

Ah, there it was. He probably heard about him eating the expensive spice. “…is it about the pepper?”

“Pepper?” He tilted his head in confusion, “No, I want him to draw me some flowers.”

Meila sighed with relief, and put the bread back on the table, “How about I bring him here, instead?”

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