Chapter 45. The Razor Slash
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Anaise Kiymetl Hilal

“I do not see any training weapons, Mushaf.” Anaise glanced around with a properly expressed look of surprise.

Group bathing and luxurious dinners weren’t the only ways to spend time and meet your equals in Samat. Especially when it came to the young elites of Emanai society. Manors would also routinely invite each other to witness their training.

While baths were a good place for private talks and dinner parties allowed the host to showcase their wealth, training meets allowed Manors to assess the strengths of each other in an otherwise peaceful city. All three Houses of War hosted them rather consistently, but the Kishava was the most prominent among all hosts. They had something that no other Manor could match: arusak-at.

There were also races and plays, but those were for personal enjoyment. And betting.

Mushaf Kishava Davlat scoffed, “Are you planning to face your enemies while carrying wooden sticks? Since you didn’t ignore my invitation, I assumed you were eager to learn what my Manor knows about battle. And the first rule is that you do not fight with toys.”

There were a few chuckles that followed Mushaf’s verbal jab, but they were sparse and quite restrained. She still had quite a significant entourage of lesser Manors’ ladies, but Anaise’s fame was at the peak of uncertainty. Many heard about her Entrance Feast summoning, but most weren’t sure how much it would affect her future status as well as the status of Kiymetl Manor.

If this were someone from the other two ‘lesser’ Pillars, Mushaf’s actions would elicit nothing but silence and possibly some chastisement. Which was why the Samat had been rather quiet recently. The Enoch, on the other hand, saw its prestige grow since Tarhunna was her father.

But the Houses of War were on another level altogether. A Divine Favour or not, Emanai still had to be protected from her enemies. The newfound prominence of the Kiymetl wasn’t guaranteed to outshine the necessity of the Kamshad and Kishava, or even the Kosenya, despite their limited presence in the south and overall sorry financial affairs.

The less was said about the Shebet — the better. The drakes of Emanai held most of the gold and silver mines in their claws, just as they oversaw the taxation and record-keeping across the manorat.

While governing Manors of larger cities like Samat could support themselves with municipal taxes, most depended on Shebet’s gold distributions.

“The Kiymetl have spells that warp the wood.” Lita’af Kamshad Hikmat clapped her hands, sending a servant boy running. “Perhaps Anaise simply needs appropriate material to display her skills, Mushaf.”

“The battle doesn’t wait until one’s ready.” Mushaf nodded to her uncle. “If you are caught unawares, you only have yourself to blame.”

The older wermage nodded back and stretched his hand, ordering one of his arusak-at to advance.

Anaise felt her lips stretching in a smile at the approaching figure. Kishava arusak-at were famous for their use in battle and training. While the war mages could maintain their spells, their constructs were perfect troops that wouldn’t rout or tire. Many of their Dominas even used Creature carapaces for their most prized models. These weren’t effective against Creatures themselves but they could easily strike fear into barbarians during raids.

Her fingers gripped her sword’s hilt and Anaise launched herself at the armoured arusak. With the same ease as powering her werbow, she lit up the runes and pulled an elongated blade — generously coated in inert oils — from its sheath. Anaise didn’t bother to take any stance or ready her sword before striking. She let the blade sail forward making sure that the edge aimed true.

Her target — the bronze cuirass of the arusak.

The blade kept going.

It was thin but had an impossible, daimonic edge to it. Sharpened to a level where it could cut wermage flesh and hair without effort. The mundane bronze and dry bones of the arusak were nowhere strong enough to impede the passing blade.

Anaise returned her sword to the scabbard as the bisected arusak tumbled over. That sharpness had a cost to it — the main purpose of the reinforcement runes was to stop the air itself from eating the metal away, according to her husband. While the custom scabbard didn’t just hold the blade in place it submerged it into special oils to stop the rust without relying on Flow.

A little bit cumbersome but well worth it.

“My weapons are made for war!” she loudly proclaimed to the silent crowd. “They are made to cut and slash my enemies without mercy. If you wish that I face your arusak-at with them — I will do so, but you will need a few hundred more before their armour could stop my blade.”

“So your mother has bought you a fulad blade, so what? This isn’t some tale about a heroine of the past — battles aren’t won with a single duel. When you step to the front, even if your blade can cut a thousand men, your silk armour will crumble from the first spear.”

Anaise sighed and unsheathed the sword once more, ignoring the very telling stares at its shape and runework. “Who said that it was only silk?”

Three spear dolls approached her and Anaise kept herself light on her feet, making it difficult for the Kishava wermage to predict where she would move next. While she had trust in her new brigandine, it was prudent not to get too complacent. At the same time, she was still learning how to handle her new sword.

Emanai weapons pierced and stabbed, crushed and burned, and that was what Anaise practised during her exercises long before she started studying Flow. While short swords and kattars could slice and cut, such attacks would be mainly effective against lightly armoured murks and wer. Emanai arms needed to be good at killing anyone who would step in their way, especially deep within the Forest — a place where it was impossible to meet a murk or wer without a wermage to protect them or the Creature to consume them.

A spear struck at her and Anaise stepped aside to let it pass, only to slash at it with her sword.

That didn’t mean she was completely new to the movements. Anaise knew how to cut and slash — she just needed to be extra careful not to lop one of her limbs off in the process. As long as she kept the edge aligned with her swings, her sword would do the rest itself.

Another swing and a second tip fell to the ground, cut apart straight through the metal. Maintaining her momentum and exploiting the confusion she’d managed to cause, Anaise stepped in. The Kishava wermage reacted immediately: arusak-at dropped their mangled spears and brandished their swords.

Anaise didn’t care.

Spears were problematic as they could keep her at a distance, preventing her from unleashing her slashes. She heard a dull thump on her shoulder, barely noticing the cushioned impact, and grinned as her sword found bronze, steel, and bone in turn. Her opponents’ swords, on the other hand, could only scratch the outer layers of her brigandine.

Anaise swung left and right, grinning ear to ear and shredding the constructs into twitching chunks that scattered around.

She was doing it for the crowd while releasing her frustrations at the same time. The last few days had been extremely hectic. Anaise even welcomed her sadaq to her old quarters just so they could avoid the sounds coming from the smithy; while there were runes of silence, Isra would forget about them within moments of starting her work. Moreover, the new type of armour and her new sword, made in the spur of the moment, forced her to put Flow training aside and remember her childhood of sweat, tears, and blood.

Irje would have the opportunity to slowly grow into her new gear. Anaise Kiymetl Hilal, the Lady of the House, could not show even a hint of inexperience or slothfulness to her equals. After all, she would become Domina: the first spear and the first shield of her Manor.

Sheathing her sword once more, Anaise glanced at Mushaf whispering to her uncle, tilting an ear in dismissal. “Shall I continue?”

“I do not think that will be necessary.”

Mushaf turned around. “Lita’af! Are you siding with her? Again!?”

Lita’af Hikmat sighed. “I am not. Your arusak-at are famous across the land but, unless you are willing to send another wermage to power their armour or use your Creature or siege constructs, you can’t expect plain bronze to hold runed steel.

“Any properly trained wermage should be able to stand their ground against a few arusak-at. And Anaise has shown us that she indeed listened to her teachers. The exotic nature of her new sword simply made it happen faster. If you send hordes of arusak-at at her now, you will only showcase your stubbornness, not her lack of skill.”

Anaise smiled sweetly. “It could be worse — I might win.”

“Now, listen here…”

“Anaise,” Lita’af stepped between her and Mushaf, “I noticed you are hiding that sword of yours. Are you planning on bringing a personal smith to care for the sword or is it not made for battle?”

Her tail swayed from amusement. So this was how Erf always felt when others tried to guess his motives. Anaise was simply following strict instructions to keep the edge and avoid accidents. While the steel itself was of the highest quality according to Isra, and ‘basic spring steel’ according to Erf, its shape was rather simple.

A simple conversation between her and Isra Haleh about shaving tools for hair, horns, and hooves quickly grew into the idea of a sword that was sharp enough to shave wermage hair. While many of Erf’s concerns were alleviated by the use of runes, he was still very strict about potential dangers.

Not that there would be many of these blades in use. Only Erf and Yeva could sharpen blades to this extent and runes could only delay the inevitable, not prevent it altogether. Even if she kept it sheathed, it would be a simple sharp sword by the next morning.

“I do not believe that it will need the attention of a smith that often.” Anaise pulled the sword for the third time and carefully bent it, trying to appear as casual as possible. The sword sprung back straight as soon as she let go, causing even the Kishava trainers to glance at each other.

“Yet you keep the runes lit even now,” Lita’af observed.

She shrugged. “Despite what Mushaf thinks, this isn’t a fulad blade. The smith that made it for me offered to incorporate two things. I chose flexibility and sharpness. The rest I can do myself.”

That wasn’t exactly true but it did make for a great story.

“That smith… was it Isra Haleh?”

Anaise smiled and faced the approaching wermage. “Indeed, Alizeh, your sister is quite skilful.”

Alizeh almost stumbled at the eyes suddenly looking at her.

“This is a work of an Enoch smith?” Lita’af asked, wide-eyed. “Why have I never heard of anything like this before?”

“I, eh… I need to ask Esmat or even my mother.” Alizeh tried to pick her words carefully so as to not offend anyone around. “Isra herself, perhaps. Arm swords aren’t something that I work closely with.”

“Is she a part of your sadaq as well now?” The Kamshad wermage turned back to Anaise.

“No, Lita’af. Isra Haleh only joined my mother’s Manor. While her skill is unquestionable,” Anaise opened one of her clasps to show the armour plates within, “expansion of my sadaq will have to wait until a more opportune time comes.”

Lita’af was no fool and Anaise could see that she understood the message by the twitch of her ears and the irritated sway of her tail. Anaise didn’t come here today just to brag about her new acquisitions. This was also a subtle implication: if one wished to succeed in courting Kiymetl — one should follow the footsteps of Isra Enoch Haleh rather than the Matriarch Roshanak Kamshad Gulnaz.

“Speaking of opportune times, where are you planning to head off to?” The wolf wermage decided to change the topic instead.

“To the north. I wish to take part in the autumn campaigns.”

“Truly?” Mushaf asked. “I was expecting that you would join our fleets; autumn campaigns only last until the first snow, after all.”

It wasn’t exactly a jab, but her surprise was reasonable. A long campaign on the South sea meant that Anaise would be unavailable to ‘expand her sadaq’ for a longer period of time. Something that she should have been aiming for in her quest to avoid the current issue.

Yet, Anaise did not. And, in doing so, she threw everyone’s plans even further astray. Now Kamshad didn’t have the convenient excuse of her extended absence to withdraw their offer. They either had to wait and hope that she would not decide to continue somewhere else, extending this charade for longer, or cut their losses and marry him off to Mushaf, thus marring their reputation as renowned strategists.

They wanted to play with her sadaq and her ‘daimon’? Well, they could try. And fail.

“I do not seek plunder or slaves.” She shrugged. “I feel that it is my moral duty to head where my presence would be most useful for Emanai rather than most profitable for me.”

“Anaise…” Lita’af quietly spoke to her once she had a chance. “I know that my mother can be… decisive in her actions, but I did not expect such vigour from you in turn. Tell me: is there something between you and Muramat that I do not know? Or does this run deeper?”

“You mean apart from my promise to Mushaf that I would not take her husband? While I applaud the actions of my mother, she wasn’t the firstborn daughter nor did she personally speak to the Goddess herself. I was born into a role I need to uphold. Being called a ‘thief’ of Kiymetl is not something that I seek.”

“You seek to keep the daimon.”

Anaise smiled and said nothing else.


“How did it go?”

Anaise grinned as she reached for another grape. “They ate it all and asked for seconds! Especially the sword — I told you it would be more noticeable than the armour.”

“Oh, I knew that it would be noticeable. Did they see the runes?”

She rolled her eyes. “With the way that they were placed, who wouldn’t? It was quite amusing to see them try to guess how this was achieved — was that your plan all along?” Anaise rolled over and glanced at Isra lying at a nearby table. “You are famous now, by the way. Your elder sister was extremely curious. I wouldn’t be surprised if she or your Matriarch expressed their eagerness to meet you. And a few other Manors, just as well.”

Isra froze with a piece of meat in her hand. “But I wasn’t the one who created the edge.”

The red tail waved in the air. “You made the sword itself. By the oath that you swore, you have no obligation to disclose how it was made. Moreover, Aikerim Adal forbids you to. You will not lie when you acknowledge your involvement, however.”

“Remember the deal that we made.” I looked at Isra pointedly. “Claim it as much as you want: your fame and knowledge are the payment for your service to me. If they get too nosy or you grow tired of them — send them to me instead.”

“But…” Isra glanced at the rest of my sadaq, “you are leaving soon.”

I smiled. “That’s the point. It would be their problem trying to contact us, not yours.”

“But what was that about runes?” Irje asked, curious.

“Our husband can not stop himself from being cautious.” Yeva sighed. “Especially with something as dangerous as monomolecular sharpening.”

“Truly?” Anaise raised her eyebrows. “I was under the impression that it was the runes that kept the blade dangerous. And Erf had been very insistent about not touching it without reason. Runes or not.”

Yeva glanced at me and I grimaced. “It is ideologically dangerous. A sword with glowing runes that cuts anything in its wake is…normal, natural for wermages. Magic is an accepted part of your life. They can get surprised by it, sure. Amazed, even. They might think that it has a divine origin, especially after the meeting with the goddess. What matters is that they accept it. Most will see it as a show of strength from Kiymetl, some — as a show of skill from Enoch. All of them will see it as a wermage blade.

“They will look at it and see the wermage might. And they will accept it wholeheartedly because even if they do not have it themselves, that blade still elevates them. It is another glimpse at what wermages can achieve. They are merely ‘temporarily inconvenienced’ by not achieving it as soon as you have.

“Compare it to a sword without runes that can cut just as well. A sword that is as deadly in the hands of a wermage as it is in the hands of a murk.”

“Yeah, I can see some of the Manors getting uncomfortable about the idea that we can equip Collectors with these,” Anaise conceded.

“Collectors?” I shook my head. “Try farm hands. There are about ten of them living outside of the city for every citizen of Samat, a hundred for each wermage. And Emanai Houses of War are perfectly aware of this ratio. They should be if they consider themselves at least decent at strategy. There are limits on manufacturing, logistics, and movement but they would be aware that a possibility exists now. I don’t mind them awed, humbled, or even jealous of my creations. What I don’t want is them getting fearful. Fear makes us do stupid, irrational things and Shahin was a perfect example of that. And she did it out of fear that I would take the glass monopoly from her clan — imagine what Pillars of Emanai would do to me or even us if they got irrationally concerned.”

“You aren’t planning on doing that. Right?” Anaise asked.

“No. Just like I wasn’t planning to take the glass away from Esca. I needed glass, not them going bankrupt. My goal is for all people, be they wermage, wer, or murk, to live better than wermages live today, not just flip the current system upside down.”

“How?” she asked again. Her tail still with only its tip twitching somewhat — her question was out of genuine interest.

“I mean look at Isra Haleh.” I pointed at the suddenly choking minotaur. “My knowledge made her work better, her steel more consistent. At the same time, it also changed the workload of anyone that would work under her. Isra, can you tell Anaise how a bloom is made into a workable ingot of steel?”

“You hammer it flat and fold it,” she croaked. “Again and again, until you squeeze all the slag out.”

“It takes days, Anaise. Days of heavy sledges swinging up and down to get an ingot large enough. A smith needs to keep the bloom hot and malleable so that they can push solid chunks of slag out and forge weld the metal into one piece. But there is a problem: hot metal rusts so fast that it grows a scale as you strike it, diminishing the final yield. The current process skips almost all of that. Now Isra can make more for a fraction of the effort. Rather than making her apprentices sweat away for each nugget of steel, she can get them to perform other tasks, give them many times their previous pay, and still come out richer than she was before. Everyone profits.”

“Except for you.” Anaise grinned.

I rolled my eyes at the standard wermage jab; I had a feeling both Anaise and Aikerim did it just to get a rise out of me by now. “Isra will be tinkering with new metals for years to ‘pay’ for her ‘debt’ to me.”

The smith in question vigorously nodded her head in agreement.

“I have a feeling that she doesn’t really see it as work.” The foxy wermage continued her teasing.

“Uh-huh. And I have a feeling Irje enjoys licking you, yet you still make her do it.”

“Erf!” A grape flew at me, only to land in my open mouth. “Stop intercepting my grapes — they are for hitting you!”

“Nuh-uh.” I ignored the demands of a blushing fox. “I was raised well: food is for eating.”

She huffed and gave me a look of surprise. “Oh, look! There is a wine stain on your hand. You need to wash yourself.”

I glanced down and saw a floating blob of red vigorously marking my skin.

“Irje, Yeva. Please help me get this uncouth man clean.”




A groan escaped my lips as I relaxed into the pleasantly hot water. My days of luxury were running out but I knew that I would miss my baths the most. Their scenic overlook above the inner gardens, the smell of cedar that lined the pools and areas around them, and six hands that dunk me repeatedly underwater while giggling up a storm.

Eventually, I was proclaimed clean and allowed to sit and relax. Only to get Yeva in my lap almost immediately. Anaise and Irje graciously allowed her to hog my time and body until our departure.

“Sorry about discussing our private life in front of Isra.”

Anaise rolled her eyes and slapped me with her wet tail. “Apologise to Irje if you want to, but…” She glanced at our cougar.

Irje shrugged as she cuddled Anaise in her hands. “You are the Lady of the House, and I am a member of the same sadaq. Everyone expects that.” She grinned and bit a nearby fox ear. “An it ish tru.”

“What I was trying to do…” Anaise tried to pry herself off, her hands sinking into Irje’s voluptuous chest, “is to keep Isra off the other conversation. Talk to her about metals, armour, and swords as much as you want, but things like your future goals and Manoral politics should be kept private! She did swear an oath but she is still a daughter of Enoch.”

I swung to the side, dodging the splash of water that would undoubtedly hit me and Yeva. “Right. While I did want her to hear that I mean no harm, including toward her Manor, I could do it at a later time.”

“Good.” Anaise sighed, either to me or to the grinning cougar that she managed to sit on top of. “Now, your plans?”

She glanced downwards and bit her lip. “Explain it thoroughly.”

I coughed. “As you can see that isn’t what I can achieve by swinging swords around. No matter whether I aim them outside of Emanai or within — what I seek cannot be conquered, only made. Like a garden that hasn’t been built yet — no amount of conquest will get you close to something that simply doesn’t exist. A garden like that needs tools, resources, people… A good place to do it away from jealous gazes: it is getting hard to keep things contained within our estate and we haven’t even started in earnest, yet.

“Then there is the eventual pushback by the wermages in power. Believe me, Anaise, when I tell you that many would oppose my actions out of principle. They enjoy the benefits and perceived stability of the current system and have no intentions of losing their power over the masses. Or they do not trust me to actually improve it.”

“Are you planning to establish an estate outside the city? Like a farming Manor?” Irje looked at me, only for Anaise to pull her back.

“Perhaps. A separate estate would be expected for Anaise’s sadaq and it would allow us to work without opportunists trying to mimic whatever we are doing. I mean there are merchants in the city trying to peddle copper slag already!”

“Mmmh. How dare they…” Anaise agreed.

I knew that this surge of activity was likely caused by either Amanzhan or Esmat continuing their attempts to mimic my purchasing habits. Kiymetl didn’t have hegemony over small-scale pedlars and some of them seemed to notice a certain interest from at least two Pillar Manors and tried to test their luck.

I wasn’t particularly concerned about them finding cobalt — even I had to rely on custom enzymes to bind and separate tiny traces of it from barrels and barrels of finely ground slag suspensions. Even if they did find some, they still lacked the understanding of glass and glaze technologies along with properly constructed kilns to make it useful. But I knew that this level of scrutiny would continue.

There was a possibility that they might steal at least some inventions: wermages weren’t dumb and their reliance on Flow didn’t make them incapable of comprehending physics and mechanics. Wermages in power either knew plenty themselves, or they had knowledgeable people exactly for such things. I could attest to it from my own experience — while Wrena and Isra were sometimes amazed by my designs and solutions, they didn’t see it as something incomprehensible. Often enough, merely looking at the new machine was sufficient for them to guess its general purpose and method of action.

But all of that paled in comparison with their capacity to arrive at the wrong assumptions and subsequently make unexpected decisions that even I couldn’t predict. Steam power wouldn’t surprise them, but what about electricity? As far as I could tell there weren’t any spells that threw lightning bolts so the only obvious electrical phenomena that they observed were lightning storms from the sky. Would I get branded as a heretic for trying to usurp the obviously divine powers because some nosy wermage stole a battery and got zapped? I didn’t want to find out, but I also had no intentions of not using it either.

“An expected estate?” Yeva glanced at Anaise and held back a smile. “Does your mother have other Manors under her command?”

Anaise waved her tail, a true pillar of her body language that told us much even when the werfox was otherwise occupied. “Obviously not as grand… as this Manor, but she has a few. That is where most of our wool and linen comes from… it is either produced there or bought from nearby Manors and cities and carted to Samat. Every Domina has some… no matter what Manor she is from — profits from trade or war can come and go but land always gives year after year.”

“Emanai is an agrarian society, Yeva,” I reminded her. “A very significant portion of wealth is either grown, raised, or mined.”

“Yes! Our land is quite fruitful,” Anaise gasped, without noticing the look between me and Yeva.

The reconnaissance drone already did a few short trips around Samat and nearby areas and was currently off for an extended trip toward Emanai borders, but what it saw was telling enough. Fields were everywhere. There were forested strips here and there, mostly along large roads, but that wasn’t the real forest anymore. These were trees that were left alone to provide firewood and natural barriers to protect the fields from livestock travelling along the roads or wandering from hilly areas that couldn’t be easily farmed.

High from above, I finally understood why Emanai roads were so straight and didn’t bother to curve around natural obstacles. Roads were secondary to the highly organised plots of land, for the ease of taxation most likely. And they all pointed toward Samat.

Enormous swaths of land were delegated for one purpose: to feed and dress a single city. Samat’s location near the estuary of the Shara made it ideal to receive products both by land and by water, allowing farms deeper inland to simply ship their products downriver.

For wermages, this was their utopia. For me — it was a logistical nightmare. An archaic system, polished to perfection just to barely support a few hundred thousand residents of one city. What they had was a fraction of what I needed. Samat wouldn’t even be able to support Isra’s full potential in ore and coal supply. Unfortunately, if she moved her furnaces closer to the mines in the north she would lose access to everything else because Emanai wasn’t designed for it. Including the necessary limestone for slag removal that was present around Emanai’s southern shores.

I needed technology to stand beside the magical Pillars of Emanai. To be someone that they would hear and acknowledge. Not the small stuff like lathes and looms — I needed an industrial complex.

Right now, all I had were shuttle looms and half-assembled lathes. Lathes that would be riveted because I had no capacity to produce screws, nuts, and bolts in sufficient quantities.

Smiling at the cougar and fox byplay near us, I squeezed Yeva tightly in my arms and slid into her in more ways than one.

“I am sorry, love.”

“Don’t be. This is something that both of us want. That many murks will need.”


“You will have a task yourself that is equally important. I feel your thoughts and your worries: we both understand that our knowledge of Emanai is as wide as the walls of Samat. The folly of assuming things without learning. Go forth, my love — see the land, meet its people, learn what you can of what is around us. And then — return to me. Return into my embrace and allow me to build a place worth returning to, the foundation for things to come.”

The warmth of her emotions felt hotter than the water around us.

Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.