Chapter 60. Subversions
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Bold claims and outrageous statements did their job — they created engagement. Patriarch Irfan got the perfect opportunity to reveal me as the fraud he thought I was and get rid of me once and for all without too much hassle, rather than keep dismissing me as a spoiled lapdog of a frivolous wermage.

The opportunity he undoubtedly took, while I was entertaining the rest of the thumb by acting like a wilful murk that refused to stop running. While taking a page out of Albin’s playbook was hilarious, I did it all for a reason. Every person had an agenda. They had their wants and needs and they made their impressions on me based on how I fit into, or interfered with, their life.

For the First Spear, I was a chore that she got stuck with by the decisions of her superiors. Not a bad place to be in, since I came in with the attached influence of my status not to be treated with impulsive stupidity. At the same time, she didn’t harbour a particularly positive attitude toward me either. At least, that was what I assumed about her — the First Spear had a plan for me before I even walked in, but wasn’t particularly concerned that this plan would make Irfan antagonistic toward me. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was intentional as well; my arrival ruined her day so she ruined mine by making sure my direct superior would see me as a threat to his position.

At least she didn’t try to add sexual tension into the mix. The last thing I wanted, after leaving Samat to avoid Kamshad barging into my sadaq, was to end up as the target of irrational hate and jealousy from her boyfriends, husbands, or whatever they were.

That would’ve been concerning. Irfan’s current attitude was expected and, objectively speaking, rational. As such, I had a general idea of what he would or wouldn’t do and how I could redirect his actions and avoid unnecessary friction. His concern about the loss of his duties meant that he was less likely to attempt something rash and further jeopardise his position. Likewise, his anger could quickly subside if his concerns were addressed in one way or another. Or if they were shown as insignificant in comparison to something else. In contrast, emotional anger was harder to placate and could easily break through social constraints if one managed to rile themselves up too far.

This was why I stood boldly in front of them. This was also why I mentioned almost a little bit too much about myself. Rather than a hot potato which they could throw aside as soon as they were able to, I was a live grenade with the safety pin pulled out. They needed to be absolutely sure they knew exactly where and how to throw me, lest I shred their guts in turn.

And it worked. It only took me about an hour of running with full gear on my back until Patriarch Irfan approached the commotion and ‘concluded my test’ while looking like the mere act of me moving was an affront to nature. The peanut gallery tried to grumble a bit at the interrupted entertainment, but he quickly sent us off to build target dummies for the next day’s weapon practice.

He was curt and ignored my individual existence, but the rest of the unit took his orders in stride so I could assume that was how he usually acted. So off we went to acquire sticks, straw, and ropes for the afternoon arts and craft club.

Compared to the commander of all ten fingers of the first maniple and her adjutant that oversaw the ‘right’ thumb, the rest of the unit likely had rather basic expectations about me. Based on the quips of dialogue here and there, the general concern was that the decadent murk would add a weakness to their formations. So I tried my best to be… familiar. I wasn’t a Navigator, whom they had no idea about, nor was I a daimon that they couldn’t predict. To them, I was a murk that had some basic training at the courtesy of Aikerim’s Manor and a will to persevere through given challenges. I panted and wheezed throughout my run as an average murk should rather than trying to alienate them with a display of augmented power.

“So, mule boy…” One of the spearmen leaned on his pick nearby. “You and a wermage, eh?”

I glanced at him but kept digging the hole for my dummy post. “Aren’t you a bit young for such conversations? Eyeing a girl you wish to impress with some experience?”

Apart from the sound concern about safety, entertainment was definitely second on their list and the new clown was in town. I was pretty confident that my unfortunately rocky digging area was more than just a coincidence.

Well, kids always wanted to have fun.

“What? You think I’ve never pleased a woman!?” he sputtered. I could understand why — with long curls tied in a bun and a bright smile contrasting with the darker skin, he drew more attention than the rest of the soldiers in the finger. He stood tall and proud, eagerly displaying his height and health to all that could see.

I shrugged as I kept digging. “Well, you are asking.”

He scoffed. “You aren’t special, boy, I-”

“You speak like the free-born murk that you are, Sassan,” another, older, soldier joined in, shaking his hand. “Former slaves don’t ask stupid questions like that.”

“I am not asking about his time with a master or even a mistress! He got a wife!”

“So what?” The gruff man shrugged his shoulders. “Never heard of wermages doing something fancy? You saw how much stamina the kid has.”

He turned toward me. “Listen, kid — don’t go around boasting about your status. You might think that their love is eternal but your winter will come sooner than hers. Learn some humility and respect your elders because one day all that will end just as suddenly as it began.”

“The old man is right,” a third man piped in. The same one who previously stood guard near the First Spear’s quarters a few hours ago and was now tying a bundle of hay to his dummy. Apparently, his shift already ended. “Your wife is Three Horns knows where right now but we are here; no one cares who you fuck in the middle of the Forest, so if you think you can strut around like a peacock, then you are a fool.”

His name was Roshan, if I remembered correctly.

He glanced around and shifted a bit closer. “Your wife probably has some cuts…and likely gave some for you, if your boasts about her love are true.” His eyes drifted down to my clothes. “Without a doubt… Think about it, kid. Don’t you want the warriors who will keep you safe within the Forest to appreciate your presence a bit more? Hmmm?”

“You have a specific suggestion in mind?” That wasn’t a bad option, all things considered. If I was going to give gifts to the general, some cuts to smooth things over with ‘the boys’ would be appropriate.

Roshan grinned. “I am sure that a person of your status has little need for the pittance we call soldier’s pay. And the boys would be happy to have a feast before we depart.”

I rolled my eyes. “If you think I would relinquish my pay in perpetuity, then you are wrong. I didn’t get to where I am right now by being stupid. But a feast sounds appropriate.”

“I have no fucking clue what you just said, but,” he threw his arms in the air and turned toward his silent companions, “we are getting drunk, boys!”

“Are you, now?” The First Spear crinkled her eyes at the frozen stiff Roshan. “How come you didn’t invite me to the feast?”

“I, er… I mean…” Roshan rapidly wilted under the eyes of his commander. “Do you want to come?”

“Fool!” She slapped him upside the head. “Get back digging because I will personally check your work tomorrow! If your dummy shifts from a single punch, I will have you digging latrines and eating nothing but barley until we return!”

Her glare left Roshan and panned over the rest of us. “That was meant for all of you!”

I had to give it to her, the First Spear knew how to bark orders. Picks immediately flew into the air and started gouging the ground once again. Neither of us dared to contradict our commander. She huffed and started walking among us, mercilessly critiquing our work.

“What the fuck is this flimsy excuse for a target?” She stopped in front of mine. “Are you training to fight chickens here?”

“Apologies, First Spear. Master Akhtar Kiymetl Siamak was satisfied with my thrusts and instructed me to work on my aim, he-”

“This isn’t Samat and you are not a weapon dancer! You are a spear of the arm now — your task is to hold your shield in front of the palm and hold the spear so that no enemy can reach you… Roshan!”

“First Spear!”

“Since you are so eager to feast at the expense of the rookie — build him a proper target so that he knows what to build next time! We can’t have him think you are ungrateful, can’t we?”

He scowled as the others chuckled but made sure not to show it directly to her. “It better be a good beer, kid.”

I shrugged noncommittally; I wasn’t particularly sure what was considered a good beer in these parts and, most importantly, where to buy it.

“You,” her finger poked my chest, “come with me.”


The seat groaned as the First Spear threw herself in it.

“Beer. Mine. Now,” she commanded the nearby servant.

As he scrambled away to fulfil her order, the light-brown eyes of the wer zeroed back on me. She watched me in silence for a few seconds then sighed.

“What is your name, murk?”


Her eyebrow rose up. “Just Erf? I expected that your Domina would give you a name appropriate for your status… and gear.”

“It was the name given to me by my mother.” I shrugged my shoulders. “If you ask me — that is the best name I could have.”

“A filial son? Good. Traditions and ancestors should be respected. Just as the oaths.”

Now I raised my eyebrow in question.

“Your oath. The one that you swore to this arm and Emanai herself when you joined our ranks.”

“I did swear on the name of the goddess herself. And neither have I broken it previously nor do I intend to break it in the future.”

“Just making sure you remember where your loyalties should lie…” The First Spear paused her speech as the servant walked in with a jar. She let him fill her mug and quickly shooed him away. “Why are you here, Erf? And don’t give me that sob story about your freedom. If your freedom was that precious to you and you were that precious to your Domina, you would have joined some garrison arm along the Babr Mountains that sees the glimpse of a Creature once every ten years.

“Moreover,” her wooden staff reached out and lifted my chin up, exposing my neck, “I have spoken to my kin from the capital. Your Manor is ill-known for treachery and hypocrisy. I suggest you speak truthfully and hide nothing from me just as your oath compels you in the name of the Goddess. Because my oath compels me to enforce proper discipline and order. With proper punishments if necessary.”

“I am here because my wishes aren’t absolute. I might be content with a quiet duty somewhere else, but others think otherwise.”

“And who is so ‘wise’ to demand you join Kiannika out of all arms?”

I shook my finger. “Not me — my wife. And my guess is this was all orchestrated by the Kamshad Matriarch. Roshanak Gulnaz is intent on marrying her son to my wife and having both of them serve in the same palm might greatly speed up the process. Or so she thinks. Placing me in the finger was the most appropriate course of action — I am within the same maniple so the Kiymetl can’t chastise her for intentionally splitting our sadaq, yet far and busy enough that I won’t meddle.”

She took the rod off my chin and grabbed her mug of beer. “I will not help you thwart his advances. I am busy enough with my own tasks to meddle with who has the most dicks in her hand back at the capital.”

I raised my hands. “I wouldn’t dare to ask something so brazen of you. Anaise Hilal knows what she wants. She stood tall and proud in front of the goddess herself and she can definitely stand her ground in front of the Kamshad Matriarch and her son.”

The First Spear choked on her beer. “She saw the Goddess herself!?”

“Why do you think the Kamshad Matriarch is so eager?”

She closed her eyes and finished the mug. Her hand grabbed the jar and, after a moment of contemplation, she started drinking straight from it.

I leaned closer. “What is it that you seek, that my presence unnerves you so?”

The earthenware jar smashed into my face, shattering into tiny pieces and splashing me with the leftover beer.

“You are in no position to threaten me here!”

I sighed and plucked the stray shard of pottery from my hair. Surprisingly enough the Emanai beer tasted rather sweet, with a rich herbal tint and lacking hops. “I am not threatening you in any way, shape, or form. You and I are very much alike — both of us were peacefully living our lives until someone decided to meddle into our matters. You are ambitious — content people don’t become First Spears. The question is — how do you think my presence will interfere with your ambition?”

Her fingers gripped the staff. “It will not. The Kiymetl has no say in arm promotions no matter how rich you think you are. And you will not bribe me with drinks just as you tried to do with my men.”

“Do you know what makes a truly great general?”

She blinked at me a few times, her previous thoughts completely derailed by my sudden question. “What?”

“The ability to succeed against all odds. Anyone can win if they have an immeasurable number of arms against a weak opponent. It takes skill and talent to defeat an overwhelming enemy. To take a challenge and turn it into a personal success.”

“Are you going to teach me strategy, now?”

I couldn’t help but smile. Aikerim would skin me alive if I got myself a new student. “No, I am going to give you an opportunity to show off your skills in front of your superiors.”

“Is this how you seduced your wife?”

“This is how I try to speak in general, First Spear.” I pulled out a small knife and started twirling it in my hands. “Those unfamiliar with me often ignore my threats and belittle my expertise. While I can prove them wrong eventually…”

My fingers slowly bent the blade in half.

“I try to avoid the hassle of doing so. There are more opportunities in cooperation than otherwise.” I threw the now-useless chunk of metal on her table.

The First Spear glanced down at it but didn’t react otherwise. My display of strength was either not flashy enough or she expected something like this anyway. “Speak.”

“What do your superiors think of me?”

She started to say something but froze before even a single word left her mouth. A frown of deep thought. A glimpse of understanding…

“They do not think of you at all.” A small grin started appearing on her lips.

“Exactly.” I nodded. “They gave you trash, the scraps off their table; expecting you to obediently throw them outside, away from their sensitive noses. Not find a pearl within.”

“And you are that pearl.”

“I am the oyster that makes pearls, First Spear. And I am willing to share one with you. Just as I am willing to share drinks with your men. The question is — whether you are willing to accept my offer and see where it leads to, or throw the oyster into the garbage pile.”

“And you? What do you want?”

“I want the chance to prove my honour. I want to serve and be judged by my actions. I want to be punished for the mistakes that I make, not because someone’s cousin said so. I want to stand proud with a shield in hand and keep enemies of Emanai at bay without worrying about ones at my back.”

She stood up and walked across the room, tapping her fingers on her staff. “I am not sure whether you are trying to insult me, or offering your talents for something that you would get already. Unless the light banter of my spears is too unbearable to you.”

“I didn’t come here to make demands. I wouldn’t mind a piece of a recently deceased Creature, however.” I heard some rattle behind my back. “Or even a full corpse. There are many alchemical trials I would like to perform.”

I turned around and frowned. “Are you alright?”

“Never have I been better,” she gritted through her teeth as she got up from the floor. “The fuck are you asking, boy?”

“I don’t mean actively hunting one, no. But, if an opportunity presents itself, expect to get a virulent poison that will drop a Creature with a single stab of your spear. Think about the glory such a strike could earn you.”

She stared at me, owl-eyed.

“A like for the like.” I smiled. “Respect for respect, a Creature for a Creature. And many other things in-between. I didn’t earn my title as the Alchemist of Kiymetl by cosying up close to the Lady of the House. I earned it by creating the impossible.”

The staff rapped on the door.

“Sif!” she bellowed. “Beer. Mine. Bring another mug!”




“What is this room?” Amir asked with a frown. “A dusty storage place?”

“It once was.” Yeva nodded, ignoring the murmurs of lamuras behind her. At least their bipedal servants were quiet. “But today this is the perfect spot to have our first lesson.”

“A lesson about what? How not to sneeze?” one of the lamuras asked. “Our Manors teach slaves in better conditions.”

Yeva sighed and calmed herself down. “I wasn’t tasked to give you knowledge — Erf asked me to teach you, so teach you I will. Rather than giving you a fish, I will teach you how to fish yourself.”

“Is that not the reason why we came here?” Amir asked as her head snakes hissed others into silence. “To learn how to craft those lenses.”

“That you did. But I am unwilling to teach you just that part.”

Now it was Aikerim’s turn to frown. “Yeva?”

“This knowledge demands respect, my Domina.” She formally bowed to her — they had an audience. “To disclose a mere part of it is akin to betraying what it represents.”

Yeva turned back to Amir. “The knowledge of making lenses is the fish. I will teach you how to catch that knowledge yourself. So that you can return home and keep catching more. Please extinguish the lamps. All of them.”

Servants doused oil lamps one by one. Eventually, the whole room was cast into darkness, apart from a tiny hole in a tightly shut window.

“Are you familiar with such a curiosity?” Yeva asked after some time, letting them get accustomed to the darkness of the room.

Amir glanced at the projected image on the wall, cast by the pinhole. “Yes. Our codices speak of this, but they claim it to be upside down.”

“And this one would’ve been too, if not for the tiny lens at the pinhole.”

“So the lens can correct the wrong, just as it can correct the poor eyesight.”

“A lens does nothing more but focus or disperse light. The extent it does so is dictated by its shape, but we will return to that at a later time. I would like to speak about this room first and what it represents.

“A very long time ago, a wise man by the name of Hasan Ibn al-Haytham…”

Aikerim sucked in the air, her eyes as wide as two plates.

“…had found himself inside a room much like this. My Domina?”

“That name… It reminds me of the other one that Erf mentioned in the past.” She glanced at the Esca delegation.

Yeva smiled and shook her head. “Yes. It was a golden age of learning and culture, giving birth to many wise men. Naturally, some of the names would sound alike.”

“A few tendays ago,” Aikerim picked up her tail and dusted it off, glaring at silent Shahin, “I would have kicked you all out and sent your ships back home, as soon as I heard this name. Make sure you appreciate my generosity.”

“It is a strange name, indeed.” Shahin nodded. “But I am unfamiliar with the context, my apologies.”

“The number system that my Manor uses has the same origin,” Aikerim quipped.

Yeva could feel the sheer smugness emanating from the lamura.

“It appears that I have struck quite a bargain, indeed,” she murmured and glanced at the rest of the group. “If any of you hiss a single sound without being asked to…”

“They will behave, cousin,” Amir agreed, sending her own glare just in case.


Yeva coughed. “He had found himself in a similar dark chamber. The camera obscura. He wasn’t the first to notice it, but his research on light and its behaviour was monumental. His discoveries were numerous and immense — not only due to the extent of time he dedicated to this cause,” she walked to another window and let a small beam of light inside, “or his perceptive mind that could see the beam of truth in the darkness, but the new method of learning he employed.”

She swished her arm to the side, raising the dust into the air. “You’ve asked me how I can teach you the truth about light with a blindfold on my eyes, and I said that the truth doesn’t care about my blindness. I know that there is a beam of light passing through this room and I know its direction due to the time of the day and the position of the Sun in the sky. And, with the dust in the air, you can see how it travels.”

Yeva reached into her pouch and placed a glass prism right in the path of the beam, casting the light to the side. “Al-Haytham used a technique that was later named the scientific method. Rather than just relying on his observations of the world around him and the logic of his mind, he created tools to perform experiments, to ask direct questions to nature itself and then observe and reason the results he obtained.”

She kept taking out more and more prisms and lenses as she spoke. Some of them landed into light, but she was mostly laying them on the table for the lamuras to witness. “In doing so, he plucked the fruit of knowledge rather than waiting for it to fall into his hands. But the method doesn’t end there. Others noticed that it could be repeated again and again. They could make an assumption, ask nature about it with an experiment, learn from the response, and then use the new knowledge they had just obtained to make another assumption. They learned that it was possible to take the fruit of knowledge, plant it into fertile soil and grow another tree from it, full of new fruits.”

Yeva spread her arms, gesturing to the multitude of glass trinkets in front of her. “What you see in front of me is but a mere fraction of fishing lures to learn what optics is. To learn how lenses behave with such intimacy that you can predict their effect from the shape alone. Or another way around — so that you can calculate the necessary shape of a lens no matter what task you might need it for. Whether you wish to see the stars or peer into a tiny droplet of water on a leaf.”

“He does it all the time…” Shahin murmured.


“Erf. He kept asking me for batches upon batches of glass, each slightly different from the other, despite often knowing exactly what he wanted.”

“Yes. Because the scientific method is more than just a tool. It is a way of learning, and learning never stops.” Yeva noticed the irritated twitch in Aikerim’s tail and turned toward Amir and others. “Why don’t you familiarise yourself with those trinkets? There are covered oil lamps that can make additional beams of light for you to use. They will make future lessons easier to understand.”

She walked around the crowd and approached the sulking Aikerim. “I do not believe there is cause for concern.”

Domina pulled out a rune of silence and deftly activated it. “You were rather blunt about the significance of this method. Knowing what I know now, you might be even understating it. Just like Erf usually does.”

“Undoubtedly. If they take my lessons to heart, their speed of discovery will increase many times over.”

“Are you hoping that they will appreciate the gesture?”

Yeva smiled. “There will be a lot to cover during these lectures and the material will need to be written down. What do you think about having a codex on optics, as well as a codex on the scientific method added to your collection? Written by Shahin Esca, perhaps. Or some other lamura that is eager to have her name spread across the continents, solidifying it in the annals of Esca. And you can gift your copies to your cousins and aunts. I am sure they are wise enough to understand the significance just as the Esca do.”

“And use the pressing machine to craft hundreds of codices at the same time.” Aikerim chewed on her lip. “Still, you could have asked me to provide you with a scribe for something like this. Are you certain it will be worthwhile?”

“The worth is relative — a tortoise is much faster than a snail. Moreover, with the experimental approach, I wouldn’t need to leverage my position every time I am about to teach a new concept. Nor do I wish to waste my time if they choose to memorise my words rather than comprehend the core of my lessons — if we are to take Esca under our influence, it is preferable for them to be competent at what they do.”

Aikerim hummed. “There is a story about an eagle hunting the tortoise. Just because one of them is faster by nature, it isn’t wise to relax. While you and Erf might be the eagles of mundane knowledge, you are very much snails at the topics of the arcane. And you just made tortoises out of a handful of wermage lamuras.”

“We have two magic eagles, however. And you can make as many Kiymetl tortoises as you wish. Besides,” Yeva couldn’t help but grin, “Erf is still trying to understand Flow using this method. The recent results had been rather… explosive.”

Domina rolled her eyes. “I do not need to know the details about what my daughter does in bed.”

“Oh, I am being literal here. He found a link between the moisture of the air and the intensity of fire spells, cast within it. And if there is enough moisture present, the combustion can turn into deflagration and even detonation. Something that Anaise was quick to remind him about.”


“Yes, Aikerim.”

She waved at the glowing rune in front of her. “Do you realise that you are standing right in front of a handful of fire mages?”

Yeva glanced at the lamuras. “Err, no?”

“Fire mages that are well-known across the seas.”

“Well,” Yeva scratched her head, “it does make sense. Yusuf is a rather dry place according to Shahin. And if they were able to cast fire magic in such an environment, it is quite likely that their spells would be devastating on the open seas…”

“It means that you are lucky I have maintained silence with my magic.”

Yeva grimaced. “My apologies. What does this mean in the long term?”

“It means we either know yet another secret of Esca that they will undoubtedly be willing to kill for. Or we know a key to their strength that they do not realise themselves. Either way, it means that you can proceed and teach them earnestly.”

Domina placed her tail into her arms and gently stroked its hair. Her face was neutral with only a hint of a smile as she watched lamuras and a few of their glass artisans trying out different prisms and lenses.

“After all, I wouldn’t want them to be incompetent.”






Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.