Chapter 46. The Mecha Power
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Roshanak Kamshad Gulnaz

 

She stood in silence on top of her Pillar, ignoring the wind playing with the locks of her hair. Her gaze was cast upon the wealth of Samat and the rolling fields of Emanai around it. Roshanak and her ancestors swore to defend this Divine Gift, to maintain peace and stability.

The Kamshad Matriarch turned her head and glanced at the other six Pillars floating beside hers: the Crown of Five, now Seven, that gave shelter to the first of their kind on these shores. It was her Manor, assisted by the other four, that united the roaming tribes, purged the Forest tendrils, and brought peace to the fertile land-between-mountains.

And now, the Manor of what was once lumberjacks, farmers, and hunters was getting cocky. The Kiymetl Pillar was now adorned by enormous banners of blue cloth with their scales engraved on it in gold. Fake gold at that — she had obtained some of their golden silks and, rather than melt into beads of metal, they simply burned away.

Lies and deceit. It was quite fitting for the Manor that earned gold by tricking others.

Their speculative practices aside, the Kiymetl did come into a new power and a tricky one at that. Daimonas were usually impossible to hide as they tended to scream to everyone about their status. The Kiymetl daimon was akin to their Manor, secretive and full of tricks. Roshanak had heard many rumours, each more outrageous than the last. Some even claimed that the daimon was actually a murk!

She didn’t know whether the daimon was taught these tricks by Kiymetl or was born knowing them. Another possibility that Roshanak could not dismiss was that Aikerim Adal had unparalleled power over the daimon to demand such secrecy and obedience. Unfortunately, none of these possibilities were easy to deal with.

Roshanak needed to know more, which was why Aikerim’s refusal to take Muramat as a husband for Anaise Hilal had galled her so much. The Kiymetl Domina knew how much effort it took to raise a son — she had two herself. Great Sparks were rare and hard to obtain since Heat was infrequent and each child was an ordeal to carry for more than three seasons. Such a male was precious since he could sow his seed into many and could bless the entire Manor with stronger progeny. At the same time, he would be available for every Heat of his wife and ensure that all her children would be a step above others.

That was how Matriarchs were made. That was what Matriarchs were.

Influence and wealth meant little if one’s blood was thin and their children’s Sparks were dim. Unless Amanzhan Irada could produce a daimon of her own or deny Aikerim hers, the next Kiymetl Matriarch was set in stone — Ramad Qasam was decent, but it was the Spark of Tarhunna Wafiq that cemented her future status.

Anaise Hilal, the Lady of Kiymetl House and the first daughter of a most likely future Kiymetl Matriarch, still had none. And refused to take hers.

Despite what she said to Lita’af, Roshanak was sure that the fear of another Manor was not the reason for the rejection. Aikerim was likely betting on Anaise’s continued growth, just as her renown spread across Emanai and beyond. A year or ten and, even if nothing else happened, Samat would witness envoys coming from afar in order to forge new ties or maintain old ones with one of the Pillar Manors.

As one of Emanai generals, Roshanak knew when to act swiftly and decisively. Mushaf Davlat might feel sidelined, but she was still young and not even a Domina herself, let alone a Matriarch. Roshanak had more sons after Muramat — while they were still too young to father children, their Spark was comparable.

A smile graced her lips as another thought came to her.

“Write a personal missive to Kosenya Matriarch,” she told her attendant slave, standing at attention nearby. “Inform her of the new activity in Samat, especially the eager desire of Kiymetl’s rising star to test her mettle.”

The Kamshad offered an enormous boon to the Kiymetl and were rebuffed. Moreover, Aikerim Adal had the confidence and audacity to use Emanai traditions and weasel out without offering a proper compensation. So Roshanak would use the same traditions and remind Aikerim that true power is earned in blood and sweat, not tricks and gold.

The Kiymetl Domina wasn’t the only one who could play the game.

“Write to my dear cousin that new generations grow more decadent decade after decade, content to do their service behind the safety of our hard-won walls. Throwing parties in the port city of Uureg while our Manors have to march through the Forest just so that tribute and vital resources reach our homeland. I say — no more! Offer her my assistance at the border so that we can maintain the quality of our soldiers together.”

Anaise Hilal wanted to entertain herself by dangling her availability in front of Roshanak? She would learn how much Emanai relied on the power of the Kamshad Manor as well as the other two Manors of War. The fox would learn how necessary the Kishava were at providing food and water to the moving arms, how steadfast the Kosenya were in the face of Emanai enemies, and how ruthless the Kamshad were at striking them down!

And when she does — they would speak again.

“…And tell Muramat Nishad that Matriarch wishes to see him. I have an important task that only he can achieve,” Roshanak said to the scribbling slave.

Roshanak was generous: Anaise could change her mind much earlier than that, and the close presence of Muramat could greatly encourage it. Especially if he tried hard enough to change her mind, and the mind of the daimon. This uncertainty might re-awaken Mushaf’s determination too. A marriage between their Manors was expected but Roshanak wasn’t particularly eager to give her children to someone that solely relied on their Manor’s status.

XXX

“I expected you to choose the naval route, especially after all that talk about being a navigator yourself. Your three devices would have given you a decent amount of influence as well,” Aikerim mused as she played with her new sword.

“I know what Emanai does over the seas. I am a navigator, not a raider.” I grimaced as Aikerim tried to test the sharpness with her finger. “Please be careful with it. It is very sharp.”

“Indeed, it is.” She looked in fascination at her now-bleeding thumb. “It makes me wonder, however.”

“Hmm?”

Domina wiped her hand with a silk napkin, revealing the healthy skin, and looked at me. “This blade of yours… I know that all you need is a sword blank — you don’t even need to rely on runes since you can resharpen it at any time. Just this ability alone can see you grow quickly through the ranks. So tell me — what makes someone of your capabilities stay so reluctant about war?”

“This very sword does, Aikerim.” I smiled at her sadly. “You are already imagining how powerful it will become in the hands of Anaise, or you and me. Now imagine if the entire Emanai arm had these.”

“They will win every battle.”

“Wrong. They will slaughter every battle. This isn’t a blade of shock troops, designed to rout their opponents, nor it is a defensive blade, designed to keep them occupied. This is a killing weapon with the sole purpose of turning enemy soldiers into corpses.”

“A few campaigns and everyone would fear us, and no further blood would be spilt.”

“And what if your enemies had these as well?”

Her tail froze. “You wouldn’t…”

“I can’t. Not with Emanai nor with others. It is physically impossible for me to produce and maintain so many. My sadaq will have them if they need them, so will you as Anaise’s mother and a person I trust, but few else. Even if I could — I wouldn’t. Because I know what it is like when both parties have weapons of immense power. Or ten. Or a hundred.

“Battles stop being about who can hold formation longer and become about who can kill more. Remember my speech about killing too many? Same reason. There is no glory anymore when a soldier doesn’t even recognise his death before it is too late. Or a finger of soldiers, palm, fist…entire arm of them. Just imagine an arm marching forward and suddenly they are all gone, wiped out with a precise strike.

“You will need many arms to survive that, many many more than you currently have. And, once you expand your numbers, casualties will grow in turn.”

I leaned back on the couch and put my hands behind my head. “Forgive my bragging, but I know my worth. Wars are unprofitable to me. I can do much more — we can earn much more — here in the workshops and future factories rather than plundering the neighbouring states for things Emanai already has. Because no state around us has mechanics and engineers to capture or special machinery that I need. There might be some with the knack but they are one in a hundred. It is easier and faster to train a hundred and pick fifty that learn quickest, instead.”

“The knack?”

“Yes,” I nodded sagely, “A serious condition with understanding all things mechanical, at the cost of social ineptitude.”

Aikerim snorted, “Like Isra Haleh?”

“Precisely, she is of a rare kind and I am quite grateful to Tarhunna Wafiq for introducing her to me. But I can’t expect to get a constant supply of such people. It is just like gold — nuggets are precious but if you seek a lot of gold you mine ore instead because there is more gold by weight in tiny quartz inclusions.”

“Good to know.” Her tail swished in the air. “There might be more of such nuggets in Samat.”

“You don’t need to worry about me getting enticed by battle, Aikerim,” I spoke quietly. “To me, the Kiymetl have the highest potential of all Manors in Emanai. You are the lifeblood of Emanai — one can survive without a fist or a leg, but will perish if fully drained. Some might be blind to your contributions because they are so vast and spread out, but I know. Other Manors might be the parts that move, and the Enoch might be the cogs between them, but the Kiymetl is the grease that keeps it working. The inert oil in your new scabbard — it does nothing during a battle but if you take it away, instead of a blade that can cut everything, you will have a rusted piece of metal.”

Aikerim said nothing as she played with her tail, but she didn’t refute my original statement either.

“But, please, do find those nuggets.” I smiled, dismissing the unspoken weight in the air. “The more — the better. And, please, take care of Yeva for me.”

“How could I not?” She grinned with a glint in her eyes. “With you gone, she is the only one who is capable of sharpening my new blade! I have a suspicion that you planned this all along!”

“Well, of course!” I retorted back, in kind. “Who else but you can appreciate a proper trade agreement? One hand washes the other, after all.”

Aikerim smiled and raised her cup of wine in a silent toast.

“I still have to warn you: Kamshad is unlikely to simply let it go,” she spoke after some time. “Especially since your sadaq chose a northern campaign. A longer, naval trip in the south would make Anaise intentions clear about Muramat, while an absence for a single season is seen more like a challenge. A test to see if their offer was honest.”

“What should we watch out for?”

She shrugged. “Greater scrutiny, at the very least.”

“Collectors?”

“In the arms, they are called Procurers and are often deadlier. But that is very unlikely. The Kamshad is neither that petty nor stupid to attack Anaise directly. They want the connection to the Divinely-touched wermage, not her blood on their hands. But they can seek that connection through other means.”

I frowned. “Well, if this means more work and risk for me — so be it. The potential antagonism of a Pillar Manor is concerning but I have my morals to uphold. I will not simply accept Muramat into my sadaq because his mother might frown her eyebrows, nor would I go raiding for who knows how long.”

“Unless they keep the offer even when you come back.”

I grinned. “If they can afford to, sure. But we won’t be standing in place either; some other solution might present itself, or we could always head off to the next campaign as Albin did. By the way, what do you think of my drone?”

Aikerim smirked. “It is curious that you remembered your bug after mentioning Albin Chasya. It is ugly, Erf. What else do you want me to tell you? I am not going to touch it.”

“Well…just making sure that having it around won’t get me beheaded or something. I mean, Creatures look like bugs too.”

“Creatures have Sparks, Erf. There are some places to the east, further than the nearby tribes, where wermages shape creatures with their Flow. Make them stronger and larger. Not bugs or worms like you’ve done: even they have standards. Many would see you as harebrained, but I don’t think you care as much. Besides, you are the Alchemist of Kiymetl — a certain eccentricity is…expected. Why do you need it with you?”

“It’s my eyes in the air.” I shrugged. “If I want to learn as much as I can about the Emanai, Forest, and everything else, I need to see a lot. The tribes and other places too — while I don’t actually transform one creature into a larger one, their methods sound quite curious. Does Kiymetl trade with them?”

Aikerim grimaced. “Kishava does. They often trade with slaves and rarely if ever part with their beasts.”

“A pity. Well, since the drone’s appearance is merely unpleasant it can also act like a messenger.”

The tail twitched. “Like a pigeon?”

“Yes, but better — it can fly back and forth on demand, rather than just flying back home. I assume you would wish to hear from your daughter on occasion.” I scratched my chin in contemplation. “From what I could tell by looking at your maps, the northern borders are quite far from Samat. Right?”

“It would take you around fifty days on foot and cart to arrive at Uureg, yes. The roads are smooth and straight, but distances are vast.”

Just as I thought: Emanai was more than a thousand kilometres long. The three largest cities in Emanai were located on its two major rivers. Samat sat on top of the Shara River in the south while its counterpart Uureg was located on the Nuur River estuary far in the north. Amul, in the heart of Emanai, linked two rivers together where they were the closest, allowing for a nearly uninterrupted flow of ships from the South sea all the way to the bay of Tir. It wasn’t a world-spanning empire, but neither was it some minor nation stuck in a tiny corner.

I did some calculations in my head. “It should take about half a day to travel from one city to the other. a day and a half to go back and forth — some extra time is needed for rest and food.”

My musings were interrupted by a bronze cup smacking my head.

“Damn it, Erf! Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner!” Aikerim coughed on her wine.

“Honestly? Because I didn’t need this technology previously. While they are nice to have, we were busy with the Feast and other distractions, and I was apprehensive about how something like this would be received both by you and Emanai at large. Something that is not as important now since I am the husband of Anaise Hilal and heading for my military duty.”

“Nice to have, he says…” Aikerim grumbled as she wiped her lips. “How many can you make? And can you make them…prettier at least?”

“I can make quite a few: they are replaceable, but I can’t control many at the same time. While they are independent in flight, someone still has to tell them what to do. That someone is me or Yeva. A drone can carry a scroll for you somewhere, and maybe grab one on its way back, as long as it was told in advance to grab it. But your Matriarch in Amul won’t be able to send one herself whenever she wants to.”

“And their ugliness?”

“I am not making whatever shape I want, unfortunately. And this form was chosen for a reason: not only are they fast but they are also extremely manoeuvrable and can even hover in place if necessary. Good hunters too — as long as there is some small wildlife in their path they can eat on the fly.”

“It doesn’t snatch children, does it?”

“Oh no! Not that large. Rodents and the like; it can eat plants if necessary too but that is usually slower, or it can eat cooked food or specifically prepared nutrient paste on arrival.”

Aikerim sighed and looked at the ceiling. “It is a good thing that you are the way that you are, Erf. The more I learn about your capabilities, the more I question how much someone else would have done in your place.”

“It is impossible to tell unless you can see all possible futures. But, I have a feeling, not that much.”

“Oh?”

“There are two types of games, Aikerim. Well, there are more but I want to concentrate on this specific division. There are finite games, like a game of chance, an argument, or a trade agreement. The players are known and so are the rules — the task is to win once the game ends. Then, there are infinite games. No set players or rules and the game never ends. There is no winning in such games because a win requires the game to complete which it never does.”

I leaned forward. “The only task for an infinite player in an infinite game is not to lose. I am that infinite player.”

“But is the game unending as well?”

“Why do you think I frustrate other Manors so much? They seek to win, yet, for some unknown reason, it keeps slipping away. Because there is no winning condition, just a mirage of one. Slow and steady wins the infinite race, Aikerim. If I showed you my capabilities on the first day of my purchase, you would’ve either killed me just in case, sent me to the goddess, or tried to torture my secrets from me. Or something else, equally unpleasant. Instead, I took my time and here we are: playing the infinite game. Together.”

 

 

Mushaf Kishava Davlat

 

Slaves scattered in all directions as she stomped through her Manor.

“To think that even the Kamshad Matriarch is willing to play her tune,” Mushaf seethed and pointed to a nearby arusak, folding itself into a special basket. “Take this one too: it is coming with me!”

She looked through her rooms, watching the clothes, pieces of armour, and weapons scattered around. Picking. Choosing.

“She thinks that I will sit here and wait while Anaise steals my husband!?” Mushaf roared as she turned to a secluded and heavily runed room.

Flow trickled from her fingers, opening a huge chest, but Mushaf didn’t stop her spell.

A grin appeared on her lips as enormous bones, stashed inside, were lit up by the finely crafted runework. Another push and they shook awake, shaking the accumulated dust on top.

“I will show them. All of them. That my name is Kishava for a reason.”

 

Esmat Enoch Fidda

“Are you saying that Isra crafted a fulad blade less than a season after pledging allegiance to Kiymetl?” Matriarch raised her eyebrow. “Why wasn’t I told that she was this close!”

Alizeh grimaced. “It didn’t look like fulad steel: aside from colour, it wasn’t as flexible but it was sharper.”

“Sharper?” their mother repeated after her. “Sharper how?”

Alizeh sighed. “I do not know. But Anaise could cut through armoured arusak-at with no effort at all. Through their weapons too. The blade simply parted everything it touched.”

The green eyes narrowed. “Anything else?”

“Runes, it was full of it. Standard reinforcement runes as if it was a werbow, not a sword. And Anaise kept them lit at all times outside of a custom scabbard, soaked in oil.” She searched through her pouch and produced a tiny vial. “I’ve managed to gather some from the droplets left in the grass.”

Zamindar Enoch Azrin took the proffered bronze flask and Esmat leaned closer as well. Surprisingly there was no smell that usual oils had. Worse — there was no smell at all. Whatever it was, Esmat had never seen this before.

“To hold the edge, no doubt,” Matriarch murmured and Esmat agreed with her mother. “Runes during battle and oil during peace. That means the sharpness and flexibility were imparted by the metal itself. What was she working on, before Tarhunna took her with him?”

“I do not think it is her metal, mother,” Esmat murmured. “Rather I think it is the metal of the Kiymetl daimon.”

“The one that was buying coal and collecting leftover slag? Have you had any success with that?”

Esmat scratched her horn in shame. “I have not. But I have noticed a certain similarity. Coal poisons the bloom, making it similar to the slag that he was trying to take from our refuse piles. Perhaps he knows a method to melt it together into one shape: after all, fulad smiths and glassmakers of Esca are famous for their heat magic.”

“From what I heard,” Matriarch sarcastically replied, “murks are rather mediocre at fire magic. Daimon or not.”

“And they sought Isra Haleh as soon as they snatched Shahin Yusuf-ya. While he is a murk, they have a fire mage under Servitude.”

“Hmm… Perhaps. If that is true, Anaise’s statement about Isra’s involvement takes a whole new light.”

“Well, she is Tarhunna’s daughter. Anaise knows we are of the same blood,” Alizeh suggested. “Perhaps she told her daimon to teach Isra specifically?”

“She didn’t need to take Isra for herself, then,” Esmat grumbled.

“Esmat is right,” Matriarch agreed. “While I appreciate that Isra now shines in a new light, I prefer to see more of that across my Manor. They are leaving on a north campaign, right? Is Isra coming with them?”

Alizeh shook her head.

“Good. Send a letter to their Manor. I would like to see my daughter. It might also be prudent to send someone with them to the north. What do you both think Anaise Hilal prefers in men?”

“This might not be a good idea,” Alizeh spoke up.

Zamindar narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“The reason they are heading to the north is to avoid marriage to Muramat Kamshad Nishad,” her sister cautiously spoke as Esmat goggled in realisation.

“So Anaise currently has two girls and a daimon in her sadaq?” Matriarch thought for a second and nodded. “So she prefers the smarter sex instead and is waiting to grow as much as possible before choosing an appropriate father for her future children. Gather my unmarried daughters and nieces, then.”

“Mother! You are going to give them to him!?” Esmat couldn’t hide her incredulity. “He might be a daimon but he is a murk! His seed is as thin as water!”

“Is it? I’ve heard that both Aikerim Adal and Anaise Hilal have suspiciously grown in power. While their Sparks are the same, their Flow control is unquestionably growing by leaps and bounds. Just two of them, mind you.

“Even if that is not the case, think about Anaise’s future husband. With her current accomplishments, even someone like Albin Chasya will likely be within her reach. He might already be — he was seen in her procession after her Entrance Feast. If Anaise Hilal prefers women, she won’t keep him for herself all that much and would likely share him among her sadaq.”

Zamindar leaned back and rubbed her horns with greed. “I wouldn’t mind having Albin Shebet Chasya as the father of my grandchildren.

“I wouldn’t mind it at all.”

 

Yeva

 

She sat on top of the manor gate and watched the disappearing procession that was taking her Erf away from her. The last few weeks had been rife with activity just as her nights had been full of his embraces.

And it already felt like it wasn’t enough.

Yeva still felt him in her heart. His thoughts, his worries. His love. It soothed her feelings and made them stronger at the same time.

A small hand tugged her kaftan.

“Um, Yeva?” Vera kept her fist tightly closed, her lip trembling. “You are too high, please don’t fall.”

She smiled and patted her on the head. “I won’t. I just feel like sitting here.”

“I will hold you anyway,” Vera huffed and grabbed her by the waist. “It is that stupid Erf’s fault! He shouldn’t have left you here alone!”

“He didn’t. I chose this myself. Sometimes, people need to part ways. It hurts, but it will make reunions much more pleasant. By heading out — he ensures that our children will be free. By staying behind — I ensure that he has a safe house to return to. The left and the right hand; separate, yet united.”

“That left hand stole your geetar!” the tiny munchkin grumbled. “How are you going to play now!?”

“Well, I would simply order another one. He needs his songs more than you and I do now.”

“I understand,” she sniffed. “I left my doll with my mum when they buried her. So she won’t feel lonely underground.”

“She is definitely happy, playing with it,” Yeva assured her, as she hopped down from the parapet and lifted Vera into her arms. “Come. I have extracted some very sweet sugar recently and made some candies with it. Now I need someone to tell me if the new sweets are good enough.”

“Ooh! Is it sweet like honey!?”

“Yep! Just a bit different.”

“I like honey, but…” Vera glanced at the faraway city gates that could be seen from the manor walls, “weren’t you watching him?”

“I watch him this very moment, Vera. Not with my eyes but with my heart. It feels everything he feels. The sadness of parting, the anxiety of new things to come…” Yeva thought for a second then grinned at Vera “And the pain in his bum from the shoddy cart he is sitting on!”

Vera giggled in delight. “Serves him right!”

Whistling a small ditty, she carried the distracted child away from the gates. They both would benefit from some sweets right now, although chocolate beans were still fermenting.

And then…

Then Yeva would visit Domina herself.

There were a lot of tasks ahead.

 

XXX

“I should’ve spent less time making armours and more time making leaf springs for carts! This is ridiculous!”

“You have two pillows under your ass, my fragile husband.” Anaise rolled her eyes at my antics to the delight of Irje lying nearby. “This will harden your spirit to the challenges ahead. We might not have a personal cart with a cover when we are in the Forest. Or a cart at all.”

“I don’t mind walking. I don’t even mind running all the way to our destination with full gear on my shoulders. It’s the random shaking that is annoying.”

My werfox looked at me sternly. “Erf, promise me that you won’t pick up a nearby smith and teach her Kiymetl secrets just so you can ride with ease.”

“Of course not.” It was my time to roll my eyes. “A field smith won’t have the necessary tools nor the skill of someone like Isra.”

“I am not sure about that anymore,” Anaise grumbled as she glanced outside through a gap in the canvas.

“What? Why?” I pulled the cloth myself and glanced outside. “What the fuck is that!”

“This is everyone who decided to ‘join’ us for the northern campaign, love.” Anaise sighed. “It appears that half of the Samat elite has suddenly decided to support Emanai military efforts.”

Irje glanced as well and whistled. “I think the only Manor I do not see coming with us is Shebet.

“I don’t care about how many ears, tails, or horns are coming with us and of what kind. What the fuck is that!”

“What?” Anaise glanced in the direction of my finger. “Ah, that is one of Kishava’s siege arusak-at. Didn’t know they had any in Samat itself.”

“A siege arusak-at?” I asked again.

“Yes. I think I told you about them before, no?” Anaise tilted her head as she tried to remember.

“You talked about golem constructs.” I pointed outside. “That. Is not a golem.”

“Well, yes. Only the bottom part is.”

I slid down from the bench and palmed my face. “Can someone explain to me why Kishava have huts on chicken legs, please?”

“They aren’t huts, Erf! They are towers. Wermages can shoot spells and arrows from it as it moves around. They also can carry a lot of heavy gear during marches.”

“Fucking huts on giant chicken legs. I don’t know what Kishava were smoking when they came up with that but I want none of it.”

 

 

Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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