Chapter 24. Dialogues
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Anaise Kiymetl Hilal

She watched quietly as Irje tried to overpower her werbow, deep in a haze of contemplation. But some mistakes were easy to spot, especially since she had made plenty of the same ones herself. And some mistakes she had no intention to experience at all.

“You are pushing Flow into the bow, you don’t need to do that.”

“Huh?” Irje turned around, wiping the sweat off her forehead.

“The werbows aren’t designed to be stoked by Flow,” Anaise continued her thought. “It would be too slow on the battlefield. They are designed to leach from you to feast off the emanations of your body. Rather than trying to gather the power in your fist, let it flow around you, and the bow will do the rest.”

“Easy for you to say,” the cougar grumbled. “You can actually see it happen.”

“Wermages cannot see the Flow itself, that is the realm of Gods. What we can see is the runes within our mind. When powering runed objects, we rely on our gut feeling just as you should. Just as you already do. Unless you are willing to brag that you are in total control of your toys at every moment.”

Irje flushed and looked away. “That was only once and I’ve attached a string to it.”

“What matters is that you can do that. Werbows are precisely runed to perform a single task: to strengthen and straighten once they are fed with power. You do not need to do anything else but do the things you usually do when the toys are dancing around you.”

The cougar’s ears twitched. “You mean I have to pleasure myself on the field of battle?”

Anaise sighed. “No, but you need to mimic your emotions. Flow isn’t just about sex but, if you wish to get stronger as fast as possible, use what is already working for you.”

It took some time and quite a lot of patience from both of them before Irje managed to start producing some notable results. Using the feeling of shame, surprisingly. Although Irje did confess that anger worked quite well when the Collectors attacked.

Anaise didn’t have any spare Collectors to train her sadaq. But she was sure that Erf had a trick or two to stoke the embarrassment inside Irje’s heart should that be necessary in future training.

Her speed was still abysmal but at least the cougar had visible control over her power now. The string of the bow didn’t strike her unawares, and Irje was even able to send an arrow or two downrange. Judging by the gouged trees around the target — she had plenty of power too.

Anaise smiled at her wife, making Irje’s questioning gaze fill with the jubilation of accomplishment.

“You should take a break,” the werfox advised, patting the nearby bench with her tail. “You don’t look like you suffer from depletion, which means that you are likely to rest in the future. Or meet an unexpected event that would cause you to stop training. It is always preferable to take the former.”

“Thank you, Anaise.” Irje plopped down with a grunt. “Master Siamak would never offer something like that.”

“He trains your body, for now. It doesn’t need to rest.”

“Erf said that rest is important.”

“Oh? And does our wise husband rest himself?”

“Well, no.” Irje scratched her nose. “Not really.”

“Exactly. He has those worms of his, healing the body. We have Flow in our veins that does the same. This is why neither wer nor wermages slack off while training our bodies. This is why our bodies grow strong much faster than the bodies of murks.

“But that is exactly why you have to take breaks while training your magic. There is no other power that would heal you after. Unless you enjoy waking up in your own puke.”

“Yeah, that should be avoided. I do enjoy sleeping in the large bed and that would get me kicked out in an instant. Thank you, Anaise. For the advice and help with training.”

“That is the purpose of sadaq.” She sighed and pulled out a comb for her ponytail. Just because there were no servants nearby to spy on them didn’t mean that her hair should stay unkempt.

“I admit, I came here to ask for advice myself,” Anaise blurted out.

“Oh? If you think I can provide some help, I will try. Especially to a wermage, no offence.”

Anaise chewed on her lip. “It is exactly because I am a wermage. Erf is a murk and so is Yeva. And a recent conversation made me realise that he doesn’t see sadaq exactly as I do. And I do not wish to make mistakes here. He already denied me once.”

And wasn’t that a bitter herb to chew on. Anaise had originally thought that it was enough to join his sadaq rather than demand him to enter her own. Now she knew it was not the case. His previous refusal wasn’t based on their unequal status, he merely used that as a convenient excuse. There were lines within his mind that he would not cross.

And she would have been beyond that line if not for the ‘encouragement’ of Irje and Yeva. These two understood the power of sadaq-at and were willing to welcome another member.

“You, on the other hand, are his first. Moreover, you were raised as neither a wermage nor a murk, yet you are closely familiar with both due to your previous tasks as one of our overseers. If we take everyone here — you are most familiar with Erf. If we take everyone in the sadaq — you are most familiar with me.”

Irje glanced at her. “What do you seek?”

Anaise couldn’t help but shrug her shoulders. “Future. He is like water that I can’t simply grasp and hold tightly. And I refuse to let him go. Perhaps it is the childish fever of mine but I can see how he is starting to attract the gazes of wermages that are many times my elders. And some of them don’t even know about the effect of his knowledge. I refuse to play into their hands by doing something that would turn him away from me again.”

She nervously glanced away. In the distance, the seven Pillars floated over the city. Like seven fingers of some God, surrounding the Palm of Judgement. Anaise idly wondered if that was the reason why the Altar of Landing was built that way.

“Especially in the upcoming days.”

“I see. I guess we aren’t that different, after all.” Irje took a glance in the same direction, but quickly turned back. “Let me.”

Anaise looked down at the outstretched hand and allowed herself to smile slightly at the gesture.

Her fingers placed the comb in Irje’s hand.

“You know,” the cougar moved to her back, gathering the hair as she went, “I am pretty sure that Erf has no idea what sadaq-at truly are. He understands it as if he read about it in a codex, but no more.”

The comb went up and down. The pace was soothing as was her voice. “He tries very hard to accept it and work around it, and many ideas of his have merit. Like that schedule. But he relies on something else entirely to make his judgements and to plan forward. Something like a union between two people.

“I remember asking him once about it. He laughed it off as ‘having beautiful flowers all around him’ and quickly forgot about it. But that line stuck with me. Especially after watching his greenhouses and the plants within.”

“You think he sees us as the flowers of his garden?” Anaise raised an eyebrow.

“Not quite. Look at every one of us. Yeva, who got her sight back and with it — knowledge. I am here practising with a werbow, like a young wermage and not some wer slave slightly above the others. And you. A young wermage that is learning new and untrodden magic and the youngest student of Virnan Shah himself. All of that has one source.”

Irje chuckled. “He is cultivating. If not just us but our relationships. He isn’t strengthening the sadaq itself but the people within it. Because that part he understands. And this is why Erf is so resistant to any new additions. For him — they are an additional effort. Another task to maintain. He would prefer to see us grow to greater heights rather than take another to boost the status of the sadaq as a whole.”

“What do you mean — effort?” She frowned. While Anaise greatly appreciated the new discoveries about Flow, she did not enjoy thinking of herself as yet another task for Erf.

“Look at your mother, for example. Or any other wermage with their own sadaq. How much time and attention do they spend on their husbands? And compare it with how Erf acts.”

“My mother loves both her husbands.”

Irje sighed. “I am not saying she does not. But there is a difference in how it is expressed. The main priority to your mother is her Manor, including her sadaq. Her husbands are expected to assist her with that task. Tarhunna Wafiq and Ramad Qasam are often on trips abroad, strengthening your mother’s Manor and spreading its influence. And they do so with their own companion slaves. Because Aikerim is not expected to meet their every need in bed, especially when they are away. Apart from providing said slaves, that is.

“For Erf, the main priority lies with us. Not the sadaq, but each of us individually. Me, Yeva, and now — you. And he expects of himself to meet our needs for men. There are also different types of chores. Some are done out of need, but some are done out of love. Look at yourself — do you really need to conjure ice for our kitchens personally?”

Anaise flushed. It was a good thing that Irje was behind her. “But it is for us.”

“Yes, and we have an unshackled lamura around. You do it personally because you want to. Because you know of Erf’s appetite and are aware of his constant grumbles about storing perishables and the ‘lack of proper refrigeration’. You do it for him, without anyone asking you to. Despite protesting quite vocally just a decade ago, when you were training in Flow yourself.”

“Because I was nauseous all morning of each day! Our skill and power don't just come naturally — we must train for it.”

“Both of these chores have one thing in common,” Irje continued as if not interrupted, still combing her hair. “They both require time. Erf knows that very well. For him, every new member means less time spent with the rest.”

“When Gods created time, they made sure to make plenty of it.”

“A wermage saying, indeed. You have centuries of life.”

Anaise turned around. “Didn’t Erf say that he would live just as long!?”

“He did. But he perceives time differently, I think. Instead of seeing years into the future, he cuts the day into twenty-four chunks he calls ‘hours’. And that is all the time he has each day. Just like Flow, it replenishes daily for him. But just like depletion, he is unable to use more than these twenty-four.”

“That… does make a lot of sense, now that I think about it.” The werfox felt her shoulders straighten. The mention of Flow somehow made her feel like standing on solid ground in terms of everything Erf-related. “But isn’t it strange? For someone like him to think so much about immediate events and leave long-term planning aside?”

“Yes, it doesn’t fit his character nor his wisdom,” Irje agreed. “Most likely he is overwhelmed with the current tasks or knows that any long-term planning right now would be fruitless? A lot of things could change in the near future.”

“Right.” Anaise got up, feeling a newfound fountain of strength and the knowledge on how to use it. “Especially with his upcoming service. You should continue as well — the break is over.”

“Aww, really!?”

 

Isra Enoch Haleh

“Isra!? What are you doing here?”

A familiar voice made her jump and curse under her breath. Of all people to see her here, it was her sister.

“Esmat,” Isra muttered, quickly hiding the artefact into her pouch. “Your sight is in my heart.”

“And your name is on my lips. You still didn’t answer me.”

“I am here on Manor business.”

“Digging through trash!?” came the incredulous response.

“I am not!” Isra dusted off her work kaftan. They were in the outskirts of the crafting district: a convenient place to drop off the waste of many workshops without carting the heavy loads too far.

Including failed blooms and other unworkable metal.

“Honestly, little Isra. At least learn how to lie properly.”

She didn’t. Lie that is. The work was done by servants that came with her. She was here to make sure they did not pick up unnecessary trash. And to test the Erf artefact.

He made her a strong lodestone. A ‘magnet’ thing that would readily stick to anything iron. Isra was just in the process of testing it for herself, that’s all.

“This attitude of yours got you all the way here. Instead of diligently working with your elders, you refuse to admit your shortcomings and dig yourself further. I advised you many times to stay with the Enoch Manor for at least another century. Learn from your betters first and then seek out your luck.”

“I’ve gotten lucky enough.” Isra pursed her lips.

“You consider this lucky? Did you just ‘happen’ to join Kiymetl? Or was it because I have been named as the Smith of Kiymetl by the Pillar Manor? Look where your stubborn pride has taken you — digging through trash like a beggar.”

“I work with the Alchemist!” Isra hissed. “And my personal smithy is one of the largest in the city. Personally shaped by the earth mages of Samat. I consider that lucky enough. And if he asks for a certain ingredient that I, as a smith, know more about? I am happy to assist, especially if I will be rewarded appropriately.”

“Words are like farts,” Esmat scoffed, crossing her arms. “Anyone can make some if they push hard enough. What I see is a dirty wermage in a pile of refuse. A shame to Enoch, desperately trying to lie her way out of trouble. And believe me, mother will hear about this.”

“Lie, you say?” Isra rummaged through her pouch and pulled out the ‘magnet’. “What do you think this is?”

Green eyes glanced at the piece of metal hanging from the string. “A chunk of iron, no doubt. Do you need a reminder of what iron looks like?”

“Is it?” Isra smirked and let it sway. Just close enough to a piece of bloom nearby.

With the now familiar clink, the ‘magnet’ got stuck.

“A lodestone!?”

“Was it? I thought you said it was a piece of iron before? And it is a strong one too. It can greedily latch on to large pieces rather than attract tiny flecks of metal like its brethren.”

“A toy, no more.”

Isra let herself smile slightly, it was rare to see her elder sister on the defensive like this. “It is a tool. Gifted to me to assist with my search. Just imagine what else I will get once I am done.”

“If you get anything at all. Be careful little Isra — your Alchemist is likely buying you off with trinkets. Or worse: mere promises of such. I tire of this place, and you are unlikely to listen once again. Come find me once the truth has knocked on your door — I will make sure mother doesn’t punish you too severely.”

Isra watched her sister go. Of her own volition. And clenched her fists in triumph.

She had won today.

 

 

Keivan

It was easy to accept his new life. Working for a Manor was a blessing that many desperately sought. Instead of working for daily pay, he was now provided for and even had a decent roof over his head, leagues better than the rental lodgings in the city.

He had a very eccentric young master, but at least Erf was quite benign. And in some cases — quite benevolent.

It was just a bit harder to get used to his antics.

But Keivan would still try his best. He knew by now that the only reason he was taken by Kiymetl was due to a personal request of this Alchemist. Erf was also quite eager to provide him with tools that not even established potters would usually have.

Like the turntable that was not only connected to a nearby waterwheel but was made by a true master carpenter. Without any wobble or shake.

Just that alone was plenty.

And then there were two ‘ball mills’. Twin barrels full of rocks that were rotating all day and all night, crushing whatever was inside to the finest dust he had ever seen. The Alchemist knew his craft: the resultant clay slurry was the finest he had ever worked with.

It was too bad they did not have the proper moulds to cast it with. Even if said moulds would make chamberpots. For now, Keivan was simply happy to produce extremely uniform clay removing water from the slip.

These two devices cut the work required by at least tenfold. He had found himself spending more time turning clay rather than mixing and preparing it. A necessity, he realised, as the new clay was as strong as it was tricky to work with.

That was the benevolent part. Unfortunately, most of the current projects were still left unfired because Erf wanted a brand new kiln to fire the pottery in. And whatever else that was still rolling in that second mill of his.

A secret even for him.

Then there were ‘the requests’. The Alchemist had extremely unusual demands, with an unhealthy obsession with waste disposal. Apart from making unfired jars, pots, and plates, Keivan was also tasked with making clay pipes to channel water in and waste out.

Also unfired.

It was a dubious blessing that he had a few empty warehouses. Keivan was afraid that he would fill them up before the kiln was operational.

And it looked like today would be another day of requests.

“Erf,” he bowed.

“Hello, Keivan. I am here to introduce you to Tuk. I want him to paint the jars in the future.”

He nodded at the other murk, but Tuk was rather meek and quiet. Likely not from Samat — it was quite common for rural murks to shy away from wer. The short name was rather telling too, but, with someone like Erf around, Keivan couldn’t assume anymore.

“Paint? You have colours that would survive the fire?”

“Well, not quite — they will change quite drastically. But that won’t matter much if you paint everything with one colour but vary the thickness and intensity.”

“A well-known artist? Forgive me, I do not know your name.”

The murk sputtered as the Alchemist scratched his nose. “About that. I wouldn’t call him well-known. But he has a certain style. And I want to start with basic and simplistic designs first. Once he trains his hand at it, we can talk about more complex ideas.”

Keivan closed his eyes and counted to ten. So his works would be given to someone to practice art on. It was no wonder they weren’t fired yet. That would waste expensive fuel.

“Ah! Don’t think he will start on the final pieces. He will practice first on wax tablets or pieces of scrap — the skill with brush is equally important. And I will get you something to craft basic plates with greater ease.”

He opened his eyes and breathed the air out. The worst was over. “Something like what?”

“Well, think of a bowl that is carved like the bottom of a plate. Put it on a turntable, throw a piece of clay in it, and shape the other side with a stationary blade while the whole thing rotates. You don’t even need to do it yourself. Get one of your assistants and, with a little bit of practice, they could make a thousand plates or bowls in a single day. While you can concentrate on the more delicate work.”

Keivan smiled slightly. “Like toilets.”

Erf sighed. “I would have said yes, but these would be slip-cast. Once again — apprentice work.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we added more detail if you wish for these plates to stand out?”

“Can you do that?”

“I will try my best.” He bowed. It was a touchy subject but, if Keivan had a chance to ask it would be now. Right when he was requested to help train another apprentice of sorts. By his looks — Erf’s relative. “I can grow my skill while Tuk can practice his art.”

“You are always welcome to, if you wish to improve.” Erf shrugged. “You know the things I need and the time-frame we are working with. As long as you are confident to make them on time, the rest of the time is yours. While Tuk…”

He patted the other murk’s shoulder. “I will be honest with you. It won’t matter early on how good you are. The paint will do that for you. But I want you to start in advance so that your expertise will grow as the novelty wears off.”

“That makes it easier.” Tuk breathed a sigh of relief. “When you said you wanted me to paint some flowers, I did not expect it would be this. I am not sure my skills would be good for a craftsman.”

“Your skills are enough, they just need a bit of practice. I don’t need you to make perfect drawings: the main draw of these pieces will be in their simplicity, where a few lines tell the story. Think of the past, uncle. Remember how you used to draw pictures in the dirt as you would relay a tale to the young’uns? I want that style. Can you tell a story on a plate?”

“I can definitely try,” he smiled wistfully.

“My plates are dirt, now?” Keivan raised an eyebrow.

“That is what you get for dismissing my toilets.”

 

 

Amanzhan Kiymetl Irada

“The Alchemist is looking for iron refuse.”

“Is he now?” Amanzhan frowned, there was a pattern here that she couldn’t crack. “How strange.”

Esmat Enoch Fidda shrugged. “There are alchemists that seek the perfect metal.”

“He has also requested the waste from copper mines, or so I was told. The question is — what is he seeking there.”

“So he is looking in the impurities? Trying to find orichalcum in copper and fulad within steel?”

“Do you think he can do that?”

“He can try, many have done so before him. Many will do so after him as well.”

“Many had failed with glass too. Until he did it.” Domina retorted back, making Esmat frown. “If you wish to stay ahead, I advise you to pay close attention to what is going on. Just in case. And think again what the mountain clans in the north have in common with Yusuf.”

“The fire…” the minotaur gasped.

“Indeed. Both are notorious for their fire mages. And my sister is currently busy making furnaces, one bigger than the other. Do you think that is a coincidence?”

Esmat chewed on her lip. “I need to refresh my memory on the flame and fire runes…”

“Do so. Time is not on our side this time. And be sure to procure enough of that refuse. Perhaps it is you who can find what he is seeking. Talk to my attendant if you need a better furnace yourself.”

The minotaur nodded and left, leaving Amanzhan alone.

She clapped her hands. “Ink and parchment!”

There were missives to be written. Especially to her aunts coming from the north coast. They traded heavily with the mountain clans and were the main importers of fulad weapons into Emanai. Just as she once was with glass.

And they would not like this news.

Not one bit.

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