Chapter 61. Rude Awakening
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Bragge Archomilea the Third

“He is heading into the Forest,” one of his whispers murmured into his ear.

“Is he now? Just walking in, all alone? How daring.” He didn’t even bother to move as he permitted the multitude of hands to comb his hair and massage his body.

The whisper shook her head. “He has a company nearby.”

A low rumbling laugh emerged from his chest. “Are you surprised?”

“No, my Lord. It is as you have predicted.”

“Because I know his kind. Thinkers? Bah!” he scoffed. “They plot and plan in the safety of their homes, thinking themselves to be the chatrang masters of life. Do you know what they really are?”

“Foolish, my Lord?”

“Worse — they are cowards.” He moved a piece on a nearby board. “And in their cowardice, they become predictable. Every piece they move is protected by another piece, every ‘sacrifice’ they make is but a fake one. There is no steel within their hearts — no courage to stand in front of the raging storm and receive it with their chest, broad with pride. A single event that goes awry and they either hole up in their estates or scatter away like a flock of frightened birds.”

He swiped his paw, scattering the pieces on the floor. “And that is why I kick the board away from them and laugh as they whimper on the floor. I mock them when they scramble to put the pieces back in place, not realising that they are grovelling at my feet while doing so.”

Bragge summoned a heap of scrolls from a nearby shelf and thrust them into his whisper’s hands. “Proceed as you were. Open them when instructed and follow to the letter.”

She gripped them tightly with a nod and immediately vanished as soon as he let go. With a rumbling groan of satisfaction, Bragge relaxed once again on his large bed and let his servants continue with their task.

His claws touched the artefact on his neck. He had spent quite a number of expeditions to acquire it but the benefit was well worth the price.

“Not even a heurisk will keep you safe, boy.”

XXX

I was brought awake by a set of hands deftly working on my belt. An action that once made me wake up with a smile on my face now filled me with anger and sadness. I felt the ire that someone was brazen enough to take advantage of me after a night of drinking and revelry, incorrectly assuming that I would permit myself to remain tipsy through the night. And I was equally morose that the sensation that once made me wake up with a brilliant smile on my face now made me contemplate on how I should catch the would-be-rapist in the act.

It felt like I’d lost some innocence I never knew I had.

My planning was cut short by a blade touching my neck. The assailant noticed my alertness.

“Keep your mouth shut,” she whispered into my ear, “and don’t mo-”

My kick wrenched her away from my body and smashed her into a nearby wall. Whatever she wanted to say got interrupted by wheezing gasps and wet coughs. I felt a blade glance against my scales and rolled away from another cloaked figure while desperately trying to grab the kattar that was no longer present on my belt.

Curses.

“Intruders!” I bellowed through the barrack, dodging and blocking the blows raining down on me.

The hooded figure proved to be rather tricky to handle and — if not for my skinsuit — outright deadly. They danced around my fists and made sure to avoid any grabs, swipes, and tackles I was throwing their way, even if it meant stopping their next attack mid-swing. Rather than a wer trying to get close and personal, confident in their strength, or a wermage augmenting their hits with Flow tricks, my opponent relied on their martial skill while assuming to be the weakest between us. Unfortunately for me, that assumption correctly predicted my fighting style.

I gritted my teeth as my fingers grabbed the empty air once again. I knew at least one group of murks that trained to assault wer and wermages, knowing well in advance that they could never overpower them head-on.

Collectors.

I heard the noises of rousing soldiers, but their drunken sluggishness made it feel like they were barely moving. At the same time, the other Collector grew suspiciously silent.

Grunting loudly, I threw myself at my opponent again and again, forcing them to quickly exhaust themselves. There was plenty of stamina in my body and one mistake was all I needed. We were fighting in the scant light of the starry sky and, while I had no trouble seeing in the dark, I had no desire to showcase my skinsuit to everyone around. Especially while fighting two Collectors at the same time.

“Ul-lah, brothers!” Irfan yelled loudly and cursed while grabbing a handful of embers from a fire pit and stuffing them into a torch. “To arms!”

The Collector whistled loudly and threw their cloak into my face. A loud crash of window staves and they disappeared into the night.

I threw the cloak aside and reached for my scabbard just as the barrack started to fill up with light and noise.

The scabbard was empty too.

“That fucker!” I hissed at the window in anger. That was my own sword that I was fighting against! I was damn lucky that Albin took the sharp one and I didn’t bother to resharpen the other. My eyes darted to the side where I remembered the first Collector to be.

She was still there. Dead.

“What in the Three Horns happened here!?” Irfan walked closer with a brightly lit torch above his head, his eyes on my body. “A lover’s squabble? Fuck, boy, your eyes glow in the dark!”

His blade was naked and ready for battle, however.

I glanced down at the shredded tunic, barely hanging on my body. The sword blows and rapid deployment of the skinsuit weren’t gentle with it. “We got a Collector’s attack. Lend me your sword, Irfan.”

“A Collector!?” He gripped the sword tighter, only to sigh in relief when he saw the corpse in the corner. “You are damn lucky that you managed to overpower her without a sword. Something that you wouldn’t have to do if you didn’t lose it to begin with!”

“I didn’t. Lose it, that is.” I nodded at the open window and the cloak at my feet. “The other one pulled it out from my scabbard as I slept.”

“Crafty little buggers.” He spat. “I will introduce you to a smith in the morning — she will get you a good blade for a reasonable price.”

I shook my head. “I need a blade now, Irfan. Before it is too late.” The oils covering my blade were both special and unique. They also had a rather faint odour so if I was planning to chase the thief using my sense of smell, I had no time to waste.

“What? Are you going to chase a Collector by yourself?” he asked incredulously.

I nodded. “Yes. That sword is important.”

“You will certainly not!” The First Spear roared as she entered our barrack. Compared to all of us, she was fully dressed in her armour, just her unkempt hair telling me that she was in her bed mere minutes ago. “I will not have my spears lurking through the fort in the middle of the night, looking for Goddess knows what! Or worse — spilling blood at their discretion!”

A gust of wind howled outside as if mocking me and I sighed in resignation. Arguing now would be futile. Even if I could change her mind, it would take too long to do so. If I could do it at all.

She walked over to the body and turned it over, uncovering my kattar underneath. “Who fought with her?”

“The mule boy, it’s his kattar,” someone murmured from the crowd.

The First Spear twitched her ears and threw me a glance. “She stabbed herself. Probably because you folded her in half.”

I shrugged with a sigh. “I woke up with someone crawling under my tunic only to feel my own kattar, turned against me. There was no time to think about it.”

“You hear that, Sassan?” someone snickered behind us. “Don’t go crawling into the mule boy’s hay or he will kick your balls too!”

“Go fuck a spear, Roshan!”

“I am not questioning your response,” The First Spear growled while glaring at the commentators. “You were attacked and you defended yourself. Do you know why they were here?”

I grimaced. “Someone’s jealous, probably? It isn’t the first time I was attacked.” Unfortunately, my baggage grew large enough that I couldn’t even name a specific group that wished me dead this time around. That was a sobering thought.

She shook her head. “You are still alive, so they weren’t after you.”

I gave her a look but she wasn’t impressed. “No one trains Collectors to fail and run away. They would either take you with them or die trying.” The First Spear nodded at the first Collector. “Or they would kill themselves to avoid interrogation.”

I blinked. “My sword.”

Perhaps I should’ve ignored her initial demand to stand down and left to capture the thief instead. I would’ve been whipped for insubordination but that felt like the least of my concerns at this moment. Even if I needed to fake my back being black and bloody for a week or so. “I would need to inform my sadaq about this.”

She frowned. “You think they came here to steal a weapon?”

“They came here to steal a Secret of the Kiymetl. There are only a handful of those swords in existence and many Manors are eager to get their hands on one.”

“Why?”

I gave her another look. “Mine was fortunately a murk version. It was merely sharp and strong, possibly rivalling fulad swords of the Hsaca. If not in flexibility but at least in strength. My sadaq holds the runed blades. They are so sharp that they can cut steel and wermage flesh alike as if they were air.”

The First Spear rubbed her temples. “Why did you bring something like this into the arm?”

“A weapon’s place is on a battlefield. It wasn’t a decorative blade.”

“Then you should know that weapons can easily get lost or broken. We are departing toward the Border Wall tomorrow and the arm will not stay idle because you have to look for your weapon. The Manipular will be informed in the morning and she would spread the word to the merchants. So if one of them finds your blade, you will be able to retrieve it. Otherwise, it will be a lesson for you not to bring things you cannot afford to lose. Or you can stay behind — if what you say is true about your sword, it is unlikely to follow the arm into the Forest. Taqi! Bring some straw to soak up the blood!”

I sighed. “It is as you say, First Spear. I would still like to inform my sadaq about the incident. I do not wish for them to remain unaware, especially if the perpetrator might target their swords next.”

The First Spear nodded. “You have between the sunrise and first marching horns. Make sure your tasks are done beforehand.”

XXX

I spent the rest of the night doing stuff. Others quickly returned to sleep — the incident was over and there was a half-day march to the Border Wall in the morning and many more full-day marches for days afterwards. The alcohol also played a role — this was the last day of our stay in civilised lands and arm officers were willing to cut soldiers some slack one last time.

So I let them sleep as I dragged the body to the local mortuary. Technically this was the task fit for the servants of my finger but Collectors were here because of me and I felt obligated to clean up my mess. Not that I had to do much. By Emanai law, this was the body of a murk criminal. There would be no rites offered to her and she would be buried in the earth rather than burned in a pyre like wer and wermages. The only reason she would be offered that much was because people were smart enough to understand that leaving bodies to rot away close to populated areas was a bad thing to do.

The mortuary was deserted in the middle of the night so I left the body on a nearby stone slab, built for this exact reason. There was nothing on her body that could give any hints about her masters. Just a plain, forgettable face and the well-trained body of an assassin. And not much else. I paused for a moment then started to dig through my purse.

There was a belief in Emanai that murks had to go through the underworld and be reborn again and again, living different lives to earn their Spark. Until then, the star fields above were barred for them.

I pulled out a small silver cut and pushed it into her cold hand. What one carried into the underworld dictated their future life. “May your next life be that of a merchant. Away from pangs of hunger and razor steel of politics.”

A superstition and nothing more. I knew it was their way to explain the large discrepancies in murk populations compared to wer and wermage ones, as well as add some primitive cosmology into the mix but my opinion wasn’t important here. While we were on opposite sides, she was just a soldier doing her task and the least I could do is treat her with respect.

The old soldier met me by the barracks. “First time?”

I shook my head and glanced at the sky — the sun was beginning to rise. “Just a matter of honour.”

He sighed and splashed some water on his face. “There will be countless others in the future, kid. You better learn how to let go.”

“That’s what the rituals are for, old Arash. But you are right — I can’t afford to spend my life mourning the past.” I felt my fingers clench. “I just have to craft a future where I simply do not have to.”

“What? You can brew a potion of fate?”

“If life was that easy, old man.” I chuckled. “Where a single concoction, ointment, or pill could solve all our worries.”

“It is called ale, you dolt!”

“Whatever you say. Now, if you will excuse me — I have more tasks to finish before we march.” I slapped his shoulder and walked away.

XXX

Anaise’s status as the Lady of the House mattered little when she was just one of the war mages of our maniple. Granted, they had much better accommodations compared to me. Rather than sharing their living space with eight soldiers and two servants, wermages were organised into groups of four and a personal servant, in addition to a separate group of workers that assisted the entire palm of archers and mages.

My fears about their safety were quickly laid to rest. Because of our sadaq, Irje was allowed to ‘jump ranks’ and stay with Anaise in her ‘mage’ quarters, despite being assigned as an archer. At the same time, the Kausar twins managed to leverage their influence in a way that allowed them to claim the other two spots.

That brightened my day somewhat. I knew that my wives were strong in their own way, and Irje had overpowered Collectors in the past, but I felt that much safer knowing they were together. The Enoch sisters were also invested in my safety and the safety of my sadaq — their balloon was on the line and I made assurances that they would be the first to fly. They just had to wait for Yeva to finish making the material and for Chirp to carry the balloon to us, one ribbon at a time.

I made a mental note to ask Yeva for another drone. This limited the amount of living tech she could maintain back at the estate, but, if I had a drone overlooking the fort during the Collector’s raid, it would’ve been trivial to track the other assailant.

“You should keep Chirp with you,” Anaise grumbled as she paced back and forth, her tail twitching from irritation. “Who knows if they’ll decide to come back.”

“Can we ask the Manipular to reunite our sadaq?” Irje offered. “While Roxanna Inayat’s argument was sound back then, I do not think we have to accept such attacks as something to be expected.”

I shook my head. “It would make us look weaker than we are. Collectors can’t kill me no matter how much they try, and there is nothing in my bags that I am afraid to lose.”

I paused and glanced at a gaping Kirana Kausar. “Oh, don’t worry about my studies. I started to burn even my notes, once I am done pondering for the day. Rather than leaving a trail behind for someone to find, I keep my conclusions safely deep inside my mind.”

“Collectors can’t touch you!?”

“Well, no. They can touch me, alright.” I twitched my shoulders, remembering the incessant stabs. “They can slow me down, or interfere with my tasks. What they can’t do is kill me.”

“Is it because of your alchemistry?” Huare asked as if she was inquiring what I had for breakfast. “Or do you have the Tunic of Darkness as well?”

I was too confused to baulk at her audacity. “The Tunic of Darkness?”

Anaise rolled her eyes and pulled her kaftan apart, revealing the familiar black of her suit under her brigandine. “I think the only reason those two joined our tent was to spy on us.”

“Not at all.” Huare shook her head. “You are also getting constant deliveries all the way from Samat. I can’t even imagine how much silver or even gold we would have to spend to obtain some of those spices locally. And we are still in the fort of Kiannika.”

My werfox huffed and pulled her kaftan tighter as if trying to hide what was underneath amongst Irje’s snickers.

“But that doesn’t mean we will stay quiet.” I decided to ignore the byplay and return to the previous topic. “If the arm cannot maintain safety and order within their ranks — that is on them and they have to resolve it. Make sure they know it. The more pressure they are under — the more likely that any similar attempts will be met with greater scrutiny.”

“Yes…” Anaise nodded, deep in thought. “This isn’t about just my Manor being attacked once again but the reputation of the arm that allowed it to happen in the first place.”

“And we will gain a bit more freedom to act. I am sure that the First Spear wouldn’t even bother with my request to visit you otherwise.” Irje’s hands gently enveloped me from behind. “Hmmm?”

“How are you feeling?” My cougar murmured into my ear. “You have a certain look on your face…”

“I don’t particularly enjoy killing people for stupid reasons, so my mood has been in the sewers since then. Sorry, Irje.”

She said nothing, just pulled me tighter into her embrace and ruffled my hair a bit more. Even Anaise’s tail snuck in, from an angle where the Kausar twins wouldn’t be able to see it.

Huare coughed. “About that Tunic of Darkness…” only to be immediately smacked by Kirana.

I slapped my face. “Talk to Anaise about that, not me.”

“Not you?” She blinked at me with those big deer eyes. “So you are using potions of defence! How much would one cost?”

“An unknown number of wermage corpses and your soul,” I grumbled. “I don’t do mere potions. If you want protection then talk to Anaise about getting a brigandine for yourself.”

“Eeeh?” Huare pouted. “Why do you need souls?”

“I put them in jars to glow in the dark.”

“Erf!” Anaise hissed. “Stop answering her questions, even in jest — she will never stop!”

I frowned. Something wasn’t right.

“Erf?”

“You shouldn’t waste your time too much,” another voice spoke from the side. “It is almost time for horns to blow and none of you are ready for the march.”

Lita’af Hikmat approached us. “Erf? What are you doing here? Finger barracks are quite a distance away — is the First Spear aware of your absence?”

“She is.” I disentangled from the embrace and approached the Kamshad wermage, as something stirred inside my chest. “I had to inform my sadaq after a brazen attack by Collectors.”

Her gentle expression was immediately replaced by a piercing gaze. Her palm on the hilt of her sword. “Collectors!? Here? Who was targeted?”

I had to give it to her — the acting was perfect. “Not ‘who’ but ‘what’. They came to collect my sword rather than my life this time. You know which type of sword I am talking about.”

Anaise frowned. “Erf?”

Lita’af frowned as well. “Please watch the tone of your speech. One wrong word and you will accuse me of stealing other Pillar’s secrets. A grave accusation that will force me to defend my honour. Against you, your sadaq, and the Kiymetl at large. If not for your wife, I wouldn’t be this forgiving.”

“That sword was covered in a special oil,” I continued. “But, because the sword was designed for a murk like me rather than a wermage like Anaise Hilal, I used a different type of oil. With a slightly different smell…”

Taking my final step, I leaned in and smelled her kaftan before she managed to step away. “Tell me, Lita’af Kamshad Hikmat, why do you smell like the sword that was stolen from me a mere half a night ago?”

“Erf!” Anaise screamed, lunging at me.

It was too late. With a loud howl, Lita’af stretched her body and I witnessed for the first time how the Kamshad wermages underwent their transformation. The plates of armour bulged forward, pushed by the growing muscle underneath. Her silver hair quickly spread across her body, forming a layer of thick fur everywhere that I could see.

Her arm, no — her paw swiped at my midsection with lightning speed.

I leaned in, pulling my kattar free only to feel myself being yanked backwards. Yet the werwolf lady was quicker. Her claws grabbed my belt and pulled me closer. Close enough that she could smell what was left inside.

I heard a roar behind me and an explosion threw us in different directions.

“You are growing teeth…” Lita’af growled, getting up.

“And you will be losing them if you try this again!” Anaise hissed back, her tail wider than my torso. “He is mine!”

“Anaise don’t,” I placed my hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine.”

“What do you mean ‘it’s fine’, Erf? She attacked you!”

I shook my head. “Not quite, look.”

Lita’af got up and sniffed her kaftan. And immediately sneezed. “This dust is getting in the way.”

“All you had to do was ask.”

She bared her teeth at me but decided to sniff her clothes again, and again. Lita’af huffed and I witnessed the beast shrink back into her human form with an unpleasant frown on her face. “What makes me curious is why a murk can smell something so faint. Unless you knew in advance and merely pretended to know.”

“I never said a murk could smell it. I do, however. And I can recognise the smell of my oil just as you can recognise the whinny of your horse amongst thousands of others.”

“Then we are at an impasse.”

“Or there is someone in your group, who is acting without your knowledge.” Irje walked over and brushed the dust off my hair. “Either to hurt your relationship with Anaise or for selfish reasons.”

“Someone very close,” I murmured.

“Be nice, Erf,” she whispered to me. “Even if you are right, her honour wouldn’t let her admit it. You know this.”

“I do.” I sighed and focused back on Lita’af. “I have been rudely awakened by a kattar on my neck. Forgive me for being too eager to find the perpetrator as soon as possible. I am sure that you will be able to find the fool that dared to act behind your back or the rogue that tried to frame your Manor against me or mine.”

I still felt my heart pumping, eager to send me back into the fight, but Irje was wise to stop me. I now knew more than I did before and it was safer to claim the high moral ground rather than plunge two Pillar Houses into a bitter rivalry over the sword that wasn’t even sharp and a Collector that was already dead.

Lita’af Hikmat sighed and dusted her clothes. “The Beast grants me many blessings, including a heightened sense of smell, but it is also quick to anger. I am sure you can understand why it was rather crass with you.”

“A mighty beast, indeed.” I nodded and turned around. “Who pulled me away?”

All four lifted their hands.

I coughed. “You have good friends, Lita’af Hikmat. If it wasn’t for them, the Beast would have likely lost an arm in that exchange.”

Her previously genial smile froze on her face. “I thought you were wise.”

I glanced at my wives. “Let me do this.”

The red tail froze mid-swing. “Do what?”

Without answering, I stepped forward and opened my arms wide. “Why don’t we trade punches, Lita’af Hikmat.”

Anaise slapped her forehead, hard.

A silver ear flicked. “What?”

“A punch for a punch. We are warriors, are we not? Let our fists talk heart to heart. I know that time is pressing but I am sure that you can tell and learn a lot even with a single punch.” I slapped my chest. “What say you?”

“Should we stop him?” one of the Kausar sisters whispered behind my back.

“He should be fine,” Irje replied. “…I think.”

I stood still, my arms wide. Underneath my clothes, my skinsuit whirred with power. Underneath my skin, my muscles coiled with strength.

Underneath the ground, my roots tied me in place.

“I say we speak.” The silver blur smashed into my chest, only to slam into the immovable armour plates with a dull thud. Her punch was powerful, but I could feel the restraint within. It was a punch of a wermage hitting an armoured murk. Something that should force me to lose my lunch but not my guts. Devastating, yet not outright deadly. It fit her character well — a calm persona that expertly constrained the raging beast within.

“Good answer.” I grinned at her surprised expression. “Listen to mine!”

I answered in kind. With a punch of a Navigator, hitting an unprepared wermage. I slowed down my thrust enough not to ruin her armour and angled it upward not to uproot myself in the process. My feet sunk into the ground as I sent Lita’af flying backwards.

Somewhere behind me, Kirana swore.

“Why now, Erf?” Anaise sighed.

“The Collector survived after fighting me,” I quietly answered back. “I am certain that the knowledge of my strength and resilience will spread quickly among the perpetrators. It would be unwise to keep her unaware now, especially if she is intentionally being kept this way.”

“You are the daimon of the Kiymetl.” Lita’af coughed, getting up.

“I have been called by that name, yes. I usually prefer being called Erf.” I gave her my hand.

She took it. “Your punch was slow.”

“Your punch was weak.”

Her hand gripped mine. “You have power. Why do you run away?”

I gripped hers in kind. “I do not. I pursue what isn’t here. I walk a path that is different from others and I wish to do so in peace. Do not confuse my reluctance with fear.”

“You seem to be trying to confuse others, I would say.”

“Something that a warrior could say to a farmer. Staying in one place all year long. Storing their harvest as if trying to get plundered.”

“A barbarian, you mean,” she said, letting go of my hand.

I spread my arms wide again. “You said it. Not me.”

Lita’af huffed. “I will make inquiries. If I find your sword I will return it, and when I find who was responsible I will punish them myself. And if this had nothing to do with me or mine, then I would expect a proper apology from you, personally. Now, if you excuse me — I have a lot more things to do than I previously anticipated.”

“Do you think she is innocent?” I asked Anaise when she left.

She chewed her lip. “I don’t know. Lita’af is honourable, but she is also a filial daughter of her House. And the Kamshad were quite impressed by my sword.”

Horns blared across the fort, making the already noisy rumble of soldiers getting ready even louder.

“You should go,” Irje sighed. “That was the first horn — as the first maniple, we should be ready to march after the second and march through the gates after the third. Hopefully, we can meet and discuss this in detail tonight.”

I nodded, gave both of them a quick kiss and took off. It took me less than a handful of steps before I realised something was wrong.

“What are you doing?” I asked the Enoch wermage that effortlessly kept up with my pace.

“I am walking you to your barracks. To make sure you will make it in a timely manner. And I have another question.”

I rolled my eyes. “I am sure that you do. Huare, right?”

She nodded. “Where does your path lead you?”

“You don’t ask easy questions, do you… Let us take a farmer for example — why does he work in the fields?”

“So he has something to eat by the end of the day.”

“Well, yes. Technically. What I was trying to say is that he knows how to turn ‘less’ into ‘more’. How to turn a handful of seeds into a field full of wheat.”

“Is that what you are doing? Turning less into more? Like your strength?”

“You could say that too, but that is not the endpoint. Let us look at a smith — would you say that he also turns ‘less’ into ‘more’? Like a chunk of steel into a tool?”

“That makes sense, yes.”

“Now — who do you think will make more of that ‘more’? A farmer that needs to rip wheat with their hands or a farmer with a tool from a smith?”

“The second one, obviously.” Huare frowned. “Emanai works like this already.”

“Yes, Emanai has plenty of such chains, which is why you are complaining about the variety of spices and not whether you will have something to eat at all today.”

She coughed and looked away, her cheeks pink.

“What is missing is a chain that you can bend into a loop. A chain where the last ‘more’ is the first ‘less’. A chain that can feed itself again and again and grow with each revolution like a lump of snow grows as it rolls down a snowy hill. My path is through such loops.”

“And Isra Haleh is a piece of such a chain?”

“She is quickly becoming one, yes. A very good one at that.”

Huare hummed to herself. “What makes her that good?”

“A certain level of loyalty is definitely at the top — it is rather tricky to build something so complex so fast and outright impossible if future ‘chain links’ come and go as they please. Our plans coincide — she is eager to further her craft and I need her to know more about it. To have better tools so she can do what she loves even better. Sounds like a loop, does it not?”

“What about construction?”

“What about it?”

“Well, we are good with earth magic, yes? I mean you know that already — Enoch is well-known for it. While Kirana and I aren’t like the Samat with their detailed buildings and walls,” her hand gently brushed her velvet horn, “we have a few tricks ourselves.”

I glanced at her. “Isra Haleh came to me, expecting to craft swords and other items of great value. Right now, she is likely making gears, shafts, and cast iron frames. Things that require little art and a lot of precision and perfection. Our swords and armour were a mere fraction of a fraction of what she makes and the only reason she did it was out of necessity. Do I want earth mages with a desire to erect buildings? Yes, but expect a lot of mundane tasks, especially early on. This is the main reason why I want people who are passionate about what they do — if I were to ask someone to make me a hundred identical gears I want to be sure they won’t hate every moment of it. I don’t demand loyalty — I create-”

“So, we can join, yes?”

I blinked. “I have a feeling that you weren’t listening to me just now.”

“A lot of earth magic is rather mundane, Erf. Move this hill, build that ramp, carve a road. Besides, I am not blind — I can see that you do not need our immediate support from the way you’ve dealt with Lita’af Hikmat. So, rather than struggle to find something to offer right now, it is more worthwhile to work toward the future.” She rubbed her chin. “Especially if we could get something in advance as well.”

“Just…” I sighed and rubbed my temples, “talk to Anaise. Come up with an oath or something and we can send a message back to Samat. And then we can work from there-”

“Hey, mule boy! First Spear was-mmph!”

Huare nodded at the pile of dirt that was once Roshan. “You know him?”

“Yes, please release my tent-mate, Huare.”

“There you are! I believe that I allowed you to send a message to your wives — not fuck them until the first horn!” The First Spear stomped toward us. “You are?”

“Huare Kausar. The earth oar of the right palm. First maniple. I share the tent with his wives.”

She nodded. “Thank you for returning one of my spears. I hope he didn’t cause you too much distress.”

“Not at all — he was too busy trading punches with the future Kamshad Matriarch. It was rather entertaining to watch.”

“He what!!?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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