Chapter 53. Resolving Kinks
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Aikerim Kiymetl Adal

“So this is the so-called carding machine?” Aikerim asked her companion, glancing away from the beast of wood and metal.

Yeva nodded. “Yes. I can start it at any moment if you wish to see it in action.”

Domina felt something weird inside her chest when she looked at the enormous spiky cylinders in front of her. She couldn’t make sense of it no matter how hard she looked. While this wasn’t the first time that Erf or even Yeva had spoken about some ‘daimonic’ lore beyond her understanding, Aikerim was wise enough to know her limitations. She was no smith herself nor did she belong to the Esca so it wasn’t surprising when she required additional explanations when it came to the metal and glass her Manor was making.

This was the first time when she felt uncertain in front of the technology that she considered hers. Aikerim didn’t need Erf’s explanations when she was looking at his loom — her eyes saw what it was much quicker than her ears could hear his words. Alas, this was no longer the case, and Yeva didn’t have Erf’s loose tongue either, preferring to remain quiet unless she thought it was necessary to speak.

It was a praiseworthy way to conduct oneself, but it did leave Aikerim on her back foot in this case.

There was simply too much of everything in front of her. Barrels of different diameters, together with cogwheels and pulleys, formed a convoluted mess that looked like it was designed to either impress or confuse the onlooker.

Aikerim knew that confusion wasn’t the reason for this. They were deep inside the estate where very few were granted free passage in and out. The slaves of the estate were forbidden to leave while the rest of her Manor, including most of the Kiymetl, were denied entry. Other Samat residents were completely out of the question — she had already caught a few rogues trying to sneak inside. Luckily for her, this measure didn’t cause too many issues. Erf’s greenhouses were making her entire Manor astonishingly self-sufficient when it came to food, while his estate mostly required bulk resources like ore and lumber that were easy to work around.

Yeva wasn’t trying to impress her with this display either, judging by her silence. Nor did she have to anymore. No, these gears, belts, and axles were here because the mechanism demanded them.

“Domina?”

“Just thinking about Manor security.” She shrugged off her previous thoughts. “Talk me around this device before you start. Why is it so complex?”

“The complexity is here to minimise worker’s input and maximise the amount of work done on wool in one pass. Currently, your workers are using the spiky combs of teasel plants to untangle lumps of wool into something more uniform. The main task of this machine is identical to that with steel spikes on the drums replacing short-lived teasels. But there are many other, smaller tasks that are included here and all these drums need to move at different speeds to perform them. For example, the two rollers near the entrance move at a set speed, eliminating the need for an experienced worker that knows how quickly wool needs to be fed into the machine.”

Aikerim nodded. “Prudent. And the rest?”

“That is where carding takes place. Wool is untangled and straightened by the teeth or it gets picked up and sent a step back to get carded again.” Yeva pointed at the large drum at the core of the machine. “The process gets repeated a few times as the wool travels along the main drum in order to achieve the best result. Then the finished product is picked off and deposited into a bin. While we don’t have a spinning machine ready yet, it can still be spun manually in the meantime. Or we could collect and store wool rovings until Wrena and Isra are done with their current task.”

“So all this complexity is due to many things crammed into a small area, then? You can start it anytime — I want to see it in action.”

Yeva nodded to a nearby slave. “While the efficient use of space is helpful, timing is what is at stake here. The speed and direction of each drum dictate where fibres stay on one or transfer onto another.”

The slave shifted a large belt, connecting the ceiling axle to this carding machine and letting the aqueduct waterwheel, or turbine as Erf called it, start moving the contraption.

Aikerim stared silently at the machine amongst the loud murmurings of nearby slaves. While she expected it to move, she didn’t anticipate it to move this quickly. Compared to the slow creaking of mills, the drums were spinning at unnerving speeds. She even took a step back, lest one of these drums jumped out.

“Is it intended to be this fast?” Domina asked.

“For now, yes.” Yeva walked over to the machine as if it was some rumbling furniture. “The new bearings allow for a smoother movement, but the wooden frame can handle only this much. Once this is remade out of iron and the belts are replaced with chains for better torque, we can think about making it faster. Ifre, please start placing wool on the intake table.”

A nearby slave jerked away from staring fascinatingly at a wooden belt contraption that was slowly moving into the machine. “Mistress? How much should I?”

“Not too much. Just don’t lump it in one place and make sure to cover the entire width.” Yeva replied, unconcerned. “Don’t rush and add more when there is some empty space. That entire basket behind you won’t take that long to finish.”

Aikerim could see why. In the span of a few moments, the now-carded wool started to emerge from the other side, sending even more shrieks of wonder among the slave crowd. They weren’t here just for the show — Domina had brought her carders here so they could familiarise themselves with the new tools. For nought, apparently, since a child murk spreading wool was enough to outperform all of them ten, no, a hundred times over.

How very Erf-like.

“It appears that you have gotten the first batch of slaves sooner than we expected, then,” she murmured.

The slave faces brightened and Domina suppressed a grimace. It appeared that some rumours did spread into her Manor despite the enforced separation.

Both Erf and Yeva were adamant about treating their servants as if they were guests. An extremely naive and shortsighted approach, if it was done by anyone but her daimon murk. They could afford to keep them in luxury because he had machines like this one. They could feed them three times a day because Erf’s greenhouses were making foodstuffs as quickly as his looms were making cloth and his furnaces were making steel. Even if they didn’t produce any grain, the homegrown spices, exotic fruits, and… other things meant that the feasts in her Manor had a mere fraction of previous expenses yet grew in their lavishness.

There was another reason beyond the pity toward fellow murks. There were many who sought to steal her new secrets. Some, like Isra Haleh, earned it honestly; others, like Shahin Esca, had to be encouraged into a proper direction first. There were also those who were eager to take without giving anything in return. While Aikerim could make any slave that revealed her secrets regret it until their last scream, their lives could never pay back the damage caused. All slaves knew that Aikerim’s justice was swift and harsh, especially for something so heinous, but a well-fed and happy slave was harder to subvert than one with a grievance in their heart.

It was no wonder Erf demanded entire families from Esca, including sick, old, and crippled. The knowledge that their dependants were safe under the generous master would earn him unquestionable loyalty and deny potential interlopers an easy way in.

Yet Aikerim felt frustrated nevertheless. Whether it was the carding machine or the happy slaves that were eager to leave her Manor, it felt as if she was losing her status of a Domina within her own Manor.

Yeva frowned and tilted her head. “Domina?”

“Sulla!” Aikerim turned around, ignoring Yeva for a moment.

Her old assistant opened his wax tablet without taking his eyes from her. “Should I prepare the missives?”

Domina paused for a heartbeat and nodded with a sigh. She was already too far, too deep, and it was too late to have a wet tail. Even if she had trouble comprehending the intricacies of this machine, it was the direct result of her previous plans and gave her exactly what she sought. “Yes, craft letters to each of my holdings and inform them to purchase as much quality wool as they can get. Perhaps personal missives to nearby Manors might be useful too, especially the ones with healthy flocks of sheep. I want them to send them all to me without fear that some will be left unshorn.”

She turned back to Yeva. “On the topic of wool quality. From what I can see, this machine cards everything that is given to it, without checking its condition. Does it trade quality for speed?”

Yeva shook her head in a so-so gesture. “It would be beneficial if wool was sorted by quality before it is carded, yes, but this machine is merely one leg of the whole process. Once we build other machines that further refine the product it would be very easy to separate long hairs from the short down and effectively use both.”

Aikerim’s ear twitched. “You want to use lower-quality wool as well?”

Yeva shrugged. “Why make waste? One can be spun into thin and strong threads, perfect for weaving luxurious textiles, while the rest can be turned into yarn for knitting. We can make it warm, stretchy, and sufficiently neat-looking that you can charge a premium price for it. Erf is already reporting chilly winds at night and it will likely get worse as they continue their trip. While they are well-equipped already, I can imagine warm clothing would be well received by the northern population of Emanai.”

“Why make waste, indeed,” Aikerim murmured and turned to Sulla. “You have a new task now. Write that I will take all the wool I can get my hands on.”

She had to give him praise — his tablet barely twitched from her words. Recent changes in her Manor had affected him as well.

“Make it reasonable,” Aikerim continued her words as the thoughts shifted back into a comfortable flow. “Fleeces of lower quality will be given appropriate prices, but frame it as an act of my benevolence. Rather than leaving them with nothing if their sheep aren’t up to par, I am willing to offer them some recompense for their efforts and their wise decision to trade with me.”

“I expect that some would bring discarded wool from previous years,” Sulla murmured as he kept scribing on the wax.

“Tell my farm heads to gently chastise such opportunists, lest they grow accustomed to my generosity, but accept it anyway. As long as it is clean and just a small portion of the good stock. I am buying wool, not dirt and burrs.”

“Money?”

“I will cover the additional expenses during my next scheduled visit, they should have enough until then. Also — inform each head to find a few slaves with the best eye for wool quality. Because those that are used to work wool will be summoned here to this Manor. After witnessing this machine in action, I am quite certain that all my spinners and weavers will be made unnecessary in a very short time. Am I correct?”

Yeva nodded. “By the end of the year.”

“Good. Sulla, you have your orders. Yeva, walk with me.”

With a swish of her tail, Aikerim turned around and left the building.

“You are concerned about something?” Yeva quietly asked her as they stepped further away.

“I am,” Aikerim admitted, “but I will speak further when we have more privacy. Inside the overgrown greenhouse, for example.”

The murk girl glanced sharply at her for a moment but quickly nodded in agreement. Aikerim’s words sounded reasonable but both of them knew that this was not about privacy at all. The carding machine was built inside the domain of Wrena and Isra, away from the glass kilns and living quarters. One of the most guarded areas within her Manor.

What Aikerim sought wasn’t privacy but the location, and the daimonic tree that was growing inside.

“Yeva, tell me honestly,” her fingers brushed against the unnatural bark and jerked away when Aikerim felt the tree move in response, “how long can this continue?”

She tilted her head. “Domina?”

“Call me Aikerim, we are alone. How long can Erf continue to create new machines, ideas, trees? I am not blind to notice the difference between teaching Wrena Khayrat how to build looms and nurturing trees that can be…” Aikerim struggled to describe the writhing thing in front of her, “milked for silk and made pregnant with enormous bugs.”

Based on his explanations, his knowledge was like the Forest: there were individual roots and countless branches, but trunks were merged into one enormous net, cast across the land. Nevertheless, no matter how hard Aikerim tried to look, she couldn’t see those bridges between his gifts.

Yeva slumped with a sigh. “I will be honest, then. Erf hasn’t even started.”

“I was afraid you would say something similar, but I did not expect you to be this blunt about it,” Aikerim grumbled.

“Do you wish for me to lie?” She raised her eyebrow through the blindfold. “Almost everything that he has brought forth, either himself or through me, was either directly or indirectly beneficial to your Manor. Numbers and accounting ideas to assist your finances. Soaps and dyes, mirrors and ceramics for you to sell and glass to make it all happen. Machines to reshape the entire concept of clothes-making with you at the head of it and steel to make it right.”

Her tiny hand reached out and snapped off a large black branch growing from the shifting mass of the tree. “Perturbing trees that gift you the strongest spidersilk and black wood for your spells. You are wise enough to realise that is not a mere coincidence — Erf wasn’t simply gifted with knowledge that was inherently designed for your Manor. He is carefully plucking grapes that you would consider the sweetest, yet there is still an entire orchard behind his back.”

Aikerim pouted. “And yet improvements in my Flow control, despite being more than remarkable, still pale in comparison. My spells grow stronger and easier to use with the passing of each day, but it is a continuous growth of self-improvement rather than the explosiveness of revelations.”

“Because that knowledge, while vast, isn’t infinite — Erf isn’t a god, nor is he a daimon. He simply has the knowledge of murks from worlds without Forests, Sparks, and Flow. While it might feel to you that Flow progress trails behind, you are comparing tendays of your growth to the results and discoveries made by thousands of murks over thousands of years. Trying, failing, and trying again. Over and over. The geodesics weren’t meant to improve Flow, they were created to chart the globe. Erf, once again, simply picked the most appropriate grape for you based on his understanding of magic. I am sure there will be more in the future.”

“And if I wish to walk the orchard myself?”

Yeva shrugged her shoulders. “You already are. The lessons we frequently have together are guides to that orchard labyrinth. So that you can walk it yourself and guide us to the places you wish to explore further.”

Aikerim looked down at the professed branch; it was made out of the same black wood that Yeva presented to her in the past.

She took it with a grumble, “I should’ve asked Erf to give me knowledge as he gave it to you and used the Orb of Truth to make sure he was honest.”

“And you would have learned that Erf values your life more than the ability to teach you faster. There is a risk-”

“And how big is that risk!?” Her tail swished in frustration. “There is always a risk! I could be struck down by a Collector at any time yet you do not see me hiding in my chambers day and night. Because the chance of that happening isn’t even worth scoffing at!”

Yeva stepped back but held firm. “Exactly. If Erf knew how big the risk was, he would have acted by now. It is not just your death he is worried about — the process might strip you from your Spark.”

Aikerim froze.

“His knowledge is ignorant of all things magical. Are you willing to take a pill of learning made by it and hope that nothing goes wrong? There are crabs skittering on the beaches that the poor catch and eat, do you think eating the flesh of Creatures would be just as wise?”

Aikerim sighed and leaned on a nearby window sill, looking outside. “All of this is quite vexing.”

“That pause at the carding machine, the questions about progress — you feel as if you are losing control.” Yeva was quick to summarise her actions.

Her ears twitched. “It is my task as a Domina to be in control. While I am not a Goddess to control everything, I will not relinquish what I have.”

“You asked for my honesty and I will give it. You aren’t losing control despite feeling like you are. Because you never had it in the first place.”

Aikerim’s fingers gripped the wood. “You chose a very bad time to gloat, Yeva.”

The murk girl shook her head. “I am neither gloating nor trying to diminish your achievements, Aikerim. You have seen his second skin and felt the sharpness of his blades. Both against flesh and hair. You never held him — he chose to stay instead. Yes, originally Erf made that choice because it was dangerous or inconvenient to be outside of your protection. Until he learned of your nature, Aikerim Adal. Then, he chose to stay here because this Manor is led by Aikerim the Just. You do not control Erf — you have his respect.

“I understand your vexations, Aikerim. Every murk does. The inventions are advancing at such a speed that they are beginning to look arcane to the uninformed mind, just like Flow does for a Spark-less one. It is wise to be concerned about it. Cautious, even, but please do not fear it simply because you do not know it yet. Imagine yourself as Erf — imagine possessing the condensed knowledge of trillions, accumulated over millennia, and being stuck in a place where some country oaf is seen as his better simply because he can make a tiny flame with the snap of his fingers. Do you think that he is afraid of Flow? Hateful towards wermages?”

“Is he?” Aikerim asked. She was rather sure that he wasn’t but wanted to confirm it just in case.

“No. Because he has you by his side. Because he trusts you not to lead him astray when it comes to magic. Are you willing to trust the husband of your daughter when it comes to murk technology?”

“And if he wishes to go where I refuse to tread upon?” She waved the branch in her arms in the direction of the tree. “What if he chooses to turn wermages into something like this?”

“He won’t, as he places great value in sapience. To him, it is not just immoral but outright wasteful. Even if he somehow changed his mind, it would simply be our task to stop him. There is strength in the unity of thought but there is resilience in its diversity. And Erf is quite aware of it, otherwise he wouldn’t be so eager to share his knowledge. Navigators do not need slaves and sycophants — they either seek friends and companions or keep to themselves.”

Aikerim sighed. “I will think about your words.”

Her concern and frustration had passed, but there were still some lingering feelings to sort and ponder. Aikerim liked the murk pair as a person and appreciated every gift she had received from Erf as a Domina. Yet she had no intention to grow dependant on him in a similar manner to the Esca and Enoch growing more dependant on her Manor.

Yeva nodded. “Thank you, Aikerim. But when you do so, I would like you to consider something.”

“Hmm?”

“Do you remember the first time when Erf made your magic stronger?”

Aikerim couldn’t stop her lips from stretching into a smile. The murk girl was damn good at this. “How could I not? My daughter was tasked with an unsolvable problem yet, instead of learning humility when it came to Flow, she showed her audacity with his help.”

Yeva shook her head. “She did learn humility. The difference was that she told Erf rather than her teacher about the perceived lack of talent. Back when Erf was just her attendant and not her husband, mind you. And Erf did a very Erf-like thing — he took that knowledge of her weakness and, rather than using it against wermages, he empowered her instead.”

“And earned his right to be her husband.” She grinned back at her.

Yeva pursed her lips. “I can assure you — there were no thoughts of marriage in his head at the time. All he heard was the request to help with her studies… and got himself in a lot of trouble for that.”

Aikerim laughed quietly into her tail. Despite her cunning nature, Yeva was easy to rile up. “Are you suggesting that I ask him to help with my studies too? So that I can add him to my sadaq? Or ask him for a child?”

The girl crossed her arms in a huff. “I suspect that Anaise would have a few choice words about it. Just as the rest of his sadaq. And he will listen. Because he is ours. Do not worry about children either — with time, he should be able to empower Anaise just like he empowered me thus making one of your current children stronger than ever. If he can’t, his children won’t be that much different from other murk and wermage unions anyway.

“There is nothing wrong in admitting that you lack something or that you are falling behind. You are a Domina, not a Goddess, Aikerim.” Yeva continued her thought despite the interruption. “Send a missive to Erf or talk to me directly, whichever you prefer. I am sure that we all can figure out a way to solve anything between us like mature adults. Or even better — such discussion might end up as another breakthrough in magic, just like curved lines or the wood in your hands.”

“Perhaps…” Aikerim agreed, letting the magic bend the wood around her hand once again. “Who would’ve thought that the brawl between Ramad and Erf would give us this.”

Yeva chuckled. “I guess you weren’t listening back then. This was Anaise once again. During her lecture to Erf about the magic of the Pillar Manors, Anaise was rather honest about her frustration with the perception of Kiymetl spells among the Emanai elite. Guess what Erf did?”

Her tail twitched in amusement. “He solved her problem.”

“Exactly. Don’t let the pride of a Domina stop you from learning more, Aikerim. From asking more. It would be preferable to all of us if there was no internal strife at the time when other Manors were looking.”

“I wonder sometimes,” Aikerim mused, “who is more concerned about this Manor? Me or you?”

“I have my own fears to battle,” Yeva admitted. “Compared to Erf, there are very few wermages that I trust and all of them reside within this Manor. I would rather see you rule Emanai than have current events repeat themselves again and again until one of the Matriarchs claws her way in.”

Domina watched the girl in front of her in silence. There was a subtle difference in how both Erf and Yeva wielded their power. While Erf wore it like his skin, unconcerned by his status, Yeva wrapped herself in it like armour, hiding the once-blind murk slave underneath just as she hid her eyes with the fake blindfold.

“Me? Why not Erf? Aren’t navigators similar to Dominas for his people?” she asked with genuine curiosity.

“I do not wish such a burden on him. Emanai traditions won’t accept him being in power, nor would he accept the current norms of governance. There will be blood. Plenty of it. Neither of us is so drunk on power to desire something like that.”

“And that leaves either me or Anaise.” Aikerim chuckled again.

Yeva tilted her head. “If she wishes to rule, she can easily and quickly get a personal Manor. The eagerness of the Enoch Manor was quite telling to me.”

“She is too young to be an independent Domina. Zamindar Davlat wasn’t simply trying to elevate Isra Haleh, but gain greater control over her as well.

“No matter!” Aikerim stood straight and stretched her tail in bliss. “Your words have given me sufficient assurance that our goals are still aligned. As long as you keep me informed, you have the freedom to expand as you see fit. As long as the textile machinery is complete and I have plenty of the black wood, however. While I am curious about your next steps, I do not wish to see the current projects suffer because of them.”

“Be at ease in this regard,” Yeva smiled. “I wished to have this conversation not to pursue a specific task but to clear the air between us.”

“You did not?” Aikerim raised her eyebrows. “That is quite a pity. Especially after everything we spoke about. I know we had one discovery today that might restructure the entirety of rural Emanai, but what about the second one?”

“I…er.” Yeva was quite at a loss, seeing Aikerim blink at her in jest. “Wrena and Isra are still working on the steam horse, made from metal-”

“Bo-oring!” Aikerim swished her tail. “You already told me about that!”

Yeva scratched her head. “Well…after it is done and other textile machines are completed, I was planning on making another attachment to that horse out of copper and magnets and generating electricity.”

The fox ears perked up at the unknown word. Something juicy was afoot. “What is that?”

She tried to say something, only to sigh and shrug. “To create lightning?”

“See?” Aikerim grinned. “Be like that. Channel that inner Erf!”

Her tongue licked her lips in anticipation. “And tell me more!”

 

Tarhunna Kiymetl Wafiq

 

His eyes were scanning yet another report as a blob of ink danced on a nearby sheet of paper, leaving behind notes for him to remember. While he preferred to write down notes with his hand for the sake of remembering them better, today was rather special.

Another major project was completed within Anaise’s estate and Aikerim went out to inspect it.

Only a fool couldn’t predict what would happen next, and Tarhunna didn’t see himself as one. Whatever it was, it would significantly change the external policy of this Manor in a way that was fruitless to predict. So he prepared instead. Everything would be sorted and organised in a proper manner so that, when the storm by the name of Aikerim Adal came, Tarhunna would be ready.

“I might be collecting favours from your maternal Manor sooner than I’ve expected, Tar. It appears that I am in need of an additional expansion.”

“Certainly. With the amount of steel gifted, they would be quite eager to…” Tarhunna turned around and froze, “to…”

“What’s wrong, Tar?” Aikerim grinned, her other husband in hand. “Speechless from seeing your wife?”

He stared at the shiny black…skin that was tightly wrapped around her body, revealing her curves in great detail. “What is that!?”

“It is wood, Tar!” Ramad wheezed out. “Some daimonic wood that can stretch without breaking! Don’t worry about me — save yourself!”

He felt the chill in his horns as the ink splashed over the table. Aikerim wasn’t just happy today — she was outright excited.

“It is my new armour,” Aikerim purred as she slowly walked into the room, dragging Ramad with her. “I originally thought that I still lacked sufficient material, but Yeva gave me an idea. She said that this style fits the name of Domina quite literally.”

Her hand, clad in black, caressed her body. “I admit, I already appreciate both the feeling and support it provides, while its strength and flexibility are quite surprising despite this form. But the day was draining, and I have some… frustrations to get over. I hope that both of you will help me with them.”

Her riding heel clacked on the floor like a hoof. “Now, come to your Domina.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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