Chapter 64. Familial Bonds
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I am going to take a next week off to catch up. The last few weeks took quite a toll on my writing speed so I want to take a bit more time to organise my thoughts into words without rushing as that tends to slow me down even further. There are also some stuff i need to do IRL that would likely take more of my time. I hope to see you again on 3-4th of May






With her arms crossed, she scowled at the rabble in front of her. Southerners. Despite doing almost nothing since their arrival and gorging themselves on every berry that had been gathered to make sweets and delicious jams, they dared to sulk in their given quarters and continued to do little else.

While Yeva was busy working day and night in her study room! The mistress of the estate!

This was all Erf’s doing. He was probably jealous that Yeva was spending time with her occasionally and even made sweets and candies for her to eat, so he sent this crowd to keep Yeva busy. His mother was no good either — she kept shooing her away from the green houses. Meila even threatened to hit her with a wooden spoon when she caught her last time trying fresh fruits.

Yeva saved her, of course. Only to make her feel worse than being smacked by telling her how disappointed she was.

“How many of you can read and write!?” she demanded. “Step forward.”

“You are?” One of them glanced at a nearby lamura studying a reading codex, then at Viter with his hands full, and finally back at her. “Are you the daughter of the medicine woman?”

Vera glanced around. “Who?”

“The one that calls herself Yeva.”

Vera squirmed. “Maybe?”

“She is one of the slaves of this estate,” the voice of the evil snake crushed her pleasant dream. “But she is acting on Yeva’s behalf in this matter. You will listen to her.”

Vera coughed. “Yeva is more than a mistress. She is special!”

She shifted closer to Shahin and quietly hissed. “Don’t you have some kiln to oversee? Yeva asked me to do this, not you.”

The lamura flipped a page. “Watch your mouth, foolish child. Or it will lead you into the quicksands where even Yeva can not drag you out.”

Vera bit her lip. “She wouldn’t mind.”

“Yes, she seems to be rather fond of you, as you are of her. So tell me this — what would happen if Domina heard you say that? Some slave girl claiming to be the first daughter of Yeva and through her — an entire sadaq that owns this estate. Claiming to have the right to inherit everything around us? This is not a mere ‘lashing until you are bloody’ matter — she will make you disappear.”

Vera glanced fretfully around. “Uhm… Thank you, wise snake Lady. Please don’t tell this to Yeva?”

“How will you bargain for my silence, child? For me to trade Yeva’s gratitude for yours? Hmm?”

She stared down at the ground, gouging dirt with her toes.

“Is she a fairy from Emanai forests?” a mother cradling a babe asked. “To nurse a child back to life when Shaitan brought Fate to the doorstep… I asked around but-”

“Yes!” Vera vehemently nodded her head. “I’ve been saying that all this time — she is a Fairy and one of the good kind, the sweet kind. The ones that lead lost children out of the Forest with a handful of berries rather than trick travellers away from roads!”

She froze for a moment and glanced at the lamura towering nearby. “Uhm…”

Shahin’s tail pushed her toward the crowd. “Watch your tongue, now and always. While Yeva and Erf are generous enough to entertain your acts, others will not be as kind. Worse, they will use you to strike at the very same person you adore. You have a task to complete first, do you not?”

Vera gathered herself and glanced at the ones that did step forward. She pulled a piece of birch bark, carefully scratched out a sentence, and thrust it into the hands of a slave that was closest to her. She was still learning how to write herself but there was one sentence that Vera mastered perfectly.

“Read it.”

He looked at it with a frown. “Vir-ah…likes-”

“What are you reading!” she fumed. “Can’t you see that the tail of that letter turns? It is ‘love’, not ‘like’!”

“It should turn the other way-”

“Give me that!” Vera scowled and snatched the bark, her ears aflame. She didn’t dare to look back at where the tiger wer and the lamura stood. “Your reading is too slow anyway.”

Before he managed to reply, she grabbed the reading codex and pushed it into his hands. Her finger poked at the letters with colourful pictures inside. “This is Virtana. Vir, Tana.” She made sure to stab each letter as she pronounced it. “Since you have no work at this moment, make sure you memorise every letter written in the first half and then test yourself with the sentences and stories written in the second half. Then present yourself in front of Yeva. If she is satisfied with your growth, you will get a small silver cut!”

A grimace disappeared from his face. “I just have to prove to her that I can read?”

Vera harrumphed with a nod. “Once you get better, yes. She is a generous mistress.”

His hands clutched the reading codex. “And I get to keep this?”

Vera frowned. There were a lot of codices in the estate but she was a smart girl and knew that they were very expensive. Her mistress was simply that rich. “Once you prove that you can write just as well, you will return this codex and get another one. With numbers. In the meantime, your name will be recorded with this codex number. If you dare to damage it, lose it, or even worse sell it — my mistress will know.”

He nodded with a grin. “I will ‘study’ hard. I am certain that our mistress will be impressed with my speed!”

Shahin sighed nearby. Probably because she was reading a similar codex herself. Vera always wanted to sigh and yawn when she had to study it.

Vera shook her head and glanced at the next one. She had a task to complete. “You are?”

The other slave glanced at the first then at Viter, who held a bundle of codices. “Uhm, I think that my skills are somewhat lacking. Can I practise first as well?”

Vera smiled at the display of humility and beckoned Viter closer. “Very well, take another codex and study hard.”

By the time she wrote down the numbers and names that Yeva requested, every slave rushed forward with their eyes set on the now rapidly dwindling heap of codices in Viter’s arms. Both young and old.

“No pushing or punching!” Vera shouted, making sure to stay close to the menacing wertiger. “By Yeva’s orders, only those that are older than five winters will be allowed to receive one!”

“This is what happens when you are lazy,” Shahin spoke from above, indifferent to her frustrations, “and prefer to waste valuable resources, given to you by your mistress, than spend just a little bit more time to figure out who will benefit from one of those codices the most. I wonder why Yeva was so sure to send you on this task at all — what are you going to do when you give out the last codex?”

“Viter will bring more from the storage room.”

The lamura turned toward the slave wertiger. “And that storage room has enough codices for every slave that is present here?”

Viter shrugged. “There are probably enough to give two of them to everyone. I am still learning numbers, honourable Esca, but there are hundreds of them there. Probably even a thousand — Yeva said that other codices will find their use at a later time.”

Someone gasped. “She is that rich!?”

“That she is!” Vera proclaimed. “Now stop clamouring and patiently wait for your turn.”

Shahin rubbed her temples. “This is not a question of wealth — a good scribe would have been able to make no more than two of these since I proposed this deal with Erf. Three, perhaps, but no more. Erf does not have a hundred scribes for something as frivolous as this.”

She sighed. “I need a cup of kava before I talk to Yeva.”

Vera grabbed every codex that Viter still had. “Bring the rest, please!”

She hurried up as much as she could, quickly distributing them to the slaves. Vera even ran twice to the storage room herself just to make it quicker. The lamura didn’t look like she was in a hurry but her final words sent chills down her back.

Shahin was going to talk to Yeva.

Vera wasn’t sure what exactly made her decide to tattle now, but she needed to be first to talk to Yeva. To explain. To apologise.

To do something so that the lamura’s wicked tongue wouldn’t make Yeva throw her away.

The rest of the task passed in a rapid blur and soon Vera found herself sprinting across the estate. Both fearing and hoping to be first.

She wasn’t.

By the time Vera reached the study room, Shahin was already there. They weren’t talking, as the lamura was quietly observing Yeva drawing ships on her blackboard. Something that she was quite busy with the last couple of days.

Both of them turned around at the sound of her intrusion, scaring away every thought that Vera managed to come up with. She stumbled for a quick moment and did the only thing she could think of.

Vera lunged at Yeva and hugged her as hard as she could, unwilling to let go at any cost. Her frantic thoughts gathered up into one single word.

“Mommy,” she whispered as she buried her face deeper into Yeva’s side, craving the comforting warmth of her body. The arms that enveloped her felt like the strongest walls in Emanai. Repelling Creatures, Dominas, and evil snakes just by being here.

“You’ve done well, Vera.”

Those words were like honey to her heart.

“You expected her to fail,” Shahin quipped, “and give out codices to everyone.”

Vera thought about turning around and sticking her tongue out but somehow felt more content just to keep hugging. The evil snake didn’t matter as much as the comforting warmth was.

“I expected her to do the task as she had done it,” Yeva refuted.

“You need to value your time more — Esca can provide you with well-educated slaves faster than you can teach them, even with your daimonic methods of conjuring codices. Especially if you continue to share your knowledge with us.”

“I am aware that your family is eager to trade for more, but it is not the education that I seek, Shahin. This step is but preparation for the future — I need to make sure that all of them can read so I can simply give them codices to learn from at a later time rather than teach them in person.”

“You can order them to study.”

“I could.” Yeva reached into her pouch and pulled out a wrapped lump. “Shahin Esca, would you eat this if I gave you a thousand gold cuts?”

Vera snickered as she saw the evil snake frown at the piece of dirt presented to her.

“What is it?”

“You are uncertain and worried.”

The lamura shrugged. “It does look rather unappetising.”

It looked like Yeva would finally avenge Vera’s humiliation and feed the lump of clay to Shahin.

“Or is it the offer that worries you more? After all, if it was something good, I would be the one asking for gold myself. Since I am offering it instead, your mind makes an assumption that it is you who will incur the cost. Despite this being nothing but a sweet I’ve prepared for Vera.”

Vera twitched.

“You can drag a camel to the oasis, but you can not make it drink,” Shahin mused. “Rather than forcing them to take something as expensive as a personal codex, you made them eager to swindle from a child instead.”

“I am not naive to think that all of them would serve us unquestionably. Especially when we seek intelligent workers and not mere beasts of burden, devoid of all thought. Erf and I need thinkers and problem-solvers. I know such a path isn’t fit for everyone and many of them will remain as manual workers, but I will not squander the possible few by forcing them into obedience.”

Vera knew that they were discussing something important, but she was focused on something else. She slowly reached closer and closer only for Yeva’s fingers to deftly place the sweet straight into her mouth. Vera couldn’t hold a moan from the pleasure such a small lump of clay could cause.

“You are panning for gold,” the lamura sighed. “I am starting to dread what kind of gold you will find.”

She gestured at the ship drawings on the blackboard. “Especially when something like this is already causing me to shed my scales earlier than expected. And you have no intention to stop any time soon if I can judge it by your daimonic speed in making codices.”

Yeva smiled and pulled out another lump of sweetness.





As I expected from the collection of Baba Yagas, the meeting took place in the chicken legs hut that the Kishava Lady of the House brought over from Samat. Considering that the commanders and officers were predominantly female and obviously wermage, I wouldn’t be lying if I called them hags to their faces. Sophia Chasya looked the youngest among the war matrons gathered here yet Virnan Shah, the old wise fox of Kiymetl, had called her old.

It wasn’t just their gender that dominated the command structure. Wermage appearances made it impossible not to notice that almost everyone in charge belonged to one of the three Houses of War. There was some variety in genders and Manors among the ‘assistants’ and ‘messengers’ but otherwise, this was a den of wolves.

There were a few familiar faces too. I noticed Lita’af Hikmat and her brother standing behind a severe-looking werwolf lady with a nasty scar across her face. Our Manipular, if I understood the medallions on her sash correctly. Mushaf Davlat, the owner of this arusak, stood close to them as well. Even the rat wermage, that tried to grope me, somehow got herself assigned as the messenger of the First Bow.

I narrowed my eyes. My wives were absent, and so were the Kausar twins, but that was expected. What surprised me was that a certain pair of bunny ears were missing too. Or draconic horns for that matter.

“Where the fuck is he?” I quietly mumbled to myself.

“Remember where you are and who is in front of you,” the First Spear, my Aunt Yaga, whispered into my ear. “Whatever title you’ve held in Samat matters little here. You are one of the messengers of the first maniple and nothing more.”

I nodded with a small sigh and carefully looked around, trying to learn as much as I could.

The interior of the siege arusak was surprisingly luxurious. I was expecting a walking siege tower where wermages could rain fireballs on their enemies. Instead, I witnessed the walking throne room where wermages could showcase their superiority to their subordinates dredging in the muck below. Frequent images of three-headed dogs holding Flow oars made it obvious to whom this arusak belonged. The equally numerous scribe feathers of Shebet reminded everyone that, while Kishava owned it, it was Sophia Chasya who was in charge here.

Maybe this arusak was special in this regard. Kiannika had two other siege arusak-at and Ulastai had one; those might have been used as actual siege platforms while Sophia claimed this one as her command tent.

My commander stepped forward slamming her fist into her chest. “Hajar Kishava, First Spear of the first maniple! It is an honour to serve!”

I mimicked her salute but remained silent. My status was too low for such proclamations. Now I knew the name of my superior officer, however.

“Hajar…” Sophia dragged out the name. “I’ve heard of your deeds.”

“My deeds, General?”

“Yes. Your spears have been sharp every time there was a call to battle, while your shields always kept our enemies at bay. Some boast about their feats of valour on the battlefield but few have a record as consistent as yours.”

The First Spear stood even straighter. “Emanai victorious!”

Sophia smiled. “I even heard that you stopped an arrow destined to reach your Manipular. Quite honourable.”

Hajar gaped. “H-how did you hear about that? I thought no one knew!”

The Censor inspected the tips of her tail. “I have my ways. Speaking of things that few should know — I was informed your new messenger managed to lose his sword almost immediately upon his entrance into the fifth arm?”

I kept my face straight among the grins and snickers, observing the crowd in front of me. Lita’af looked constipated, Muramat curious, and Mushaf bored. The rat stared daggers at me. The rest looked mostly amused but kept their attention on Hajar rather than me.

The First Spear coughed. “It appears that he had acquired some enemies before joining our arm, and they followed him here.”

Sophia smiled. “As the Censor of Emanai and the General of this campaign, I bring forth justice with my name. We have caught the thief trying to hide under the kaftan of a noble lady and punished him most severely.”

She pulled out my blade. “Justice was served today.”

I blinked. That…was surprisingly civil when it came to Sophia.

“The fuck?” Hajar muttered as others started to snicker once more. “What is that thing?”

“The sword of your messenger, of course. Does he not recognise it?”

The First Spear groaned and pushed me forward. “I don’t care anymore. Shovel your own shit.”

“That looks like it was made by someone who only made hoes before. This thing is more suited to plough the fields rather than pierce its enemies!” someone in the crowd decided to voice their opinion.

“Hey! Watch your fucking mouth.”

The snickering lady froze and glanced back at the fuming minotaur behind her. “Eh? Did you chip your hoof or something?”

“Do you wish to fix your armour by yourself in the future? I can make that happen.”

“The fuck is your problem, old man?”

He scowled at her one more time then turned toward me. “I spoke to the Kausar twins previously about the recent news from Samat. Was this sword crafted by Isra Enoch Haleh? Just like your armour?”

I nodded. “Her skill is exemplary.”

His eyes returned to the sword. “So the shape has a purpose?”

“Yes. It is not a stabbing blade, but a slashing one.”

He nodded. “If you need to mend your armour or your blade, seek Dumuzid Sumun in the architect maniple. I will work on something that little Isra has created.”

Having said all that, Dumuzid sent another glare at the Kishava officer who quickly took a step back.

“How am I supposed to know that one of the recent Enoch favourites is giving away her swords to murks!? I didn’t even know that this Isra Haleh was a smith until today!”

“That is why you need to watch your mouth!”

The bickering continued. Hajar decided to find her inner zen and mentally checked out of the current conversation. Lita’af looked even more constipated, Muramat finally started to show some signs of concern, and Mushaf grimaced at the sight of her kin getting verbally chastised in this manner.

Other officers eventually joined in with their jokes and jabs, throwing extra kindling into the argument. The first few were careful, with occasional glances at the new General but, when Sophia didn’t react, others quickly followed suit.

Luckily for me, their argument was more about the blade and its maker, rather than its owner.

Sophia ignored them outright. Her eyes were on me all this time, even when she slid her finger across the blade and curved her eyebrow.

I shook my head. If this was one of the other three blades, her fingers would’ve been rolling on the floor by now. “The Collector that stole it was both cowardly and stupid. He wouldn’t dare to approach Anaise Hilal, who holds an actual blade, and went for me instead. And took the sword blank rather than the finished blade.”

Her lips spread into a satisfied smile. “Sounds like you owe me quite a lot for returning the blade.”

I smiled back with similar honesty. “That is why I’ve brought an appropriate gift of gratitude.”

The looking glass was supposed to make my General more favourable toward me, but I would take what I could. Even without my blade going missing and Sophia suspiciously recovering it almost immediately, this gift was unlikely to change her opinion about me.

Her fingers gripped the blade. “You were supposed to stay in Samat!”

I blinked and glanced at the officers of Kiannika, frozen mid-argument. Grinning with glee from some recent joke one of them had said.

Ah, yes. Chasya twins. Can’t forget that.

“I was going to. Then someone encouraged Roshanak Gulnaz to throw her youngest son at my wife. Even Aikerim thinks that the Kamshad Matriarch didn’t act alone in this matter.”

“The Kamshad Matriarch will eat Aikerim alive without her daimon in the capital. Watch your pride when the only one who can protect you in the future is my brother!”

Speaking about wayward brothers. I glanced around the static room, seeking the barest hint of movement.

“Where the fuck is he, anyway?”

“Where the fuck is he, anyway?”

I blinked and turned back at a scowling Sophia, who glanced away in a huff.

“Roshanak Gulnaz will choke on Aikerim.” I decided to ignore our stumble. “The daughter of Kiymetl grows at a pace unheard of before. Every plan that Roshanak makes will be woefully out of date by the time she manages to execute it. Because for every step she takes, Aikerim will take a thousand.”

“The Kamshad Matriarch is leagues ahead of a mere Domina.”

“Not when said Matriarch is chasing after that Domina.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You did something… more than leaving the knowledge of your crafts. You left a piece of yourself… a shard of your power.”

“I did a lot of things, Sophia Chasya. I am not stupid to leave my rear unguarded as I march forward. I do not build upward by stealing bricks from my foundation.”

“Yet, you are walking into the Forest. With me as your General. Here, I am your Domina and your Matriarch. You will do every word I say, exactly how I say it. Was it worth it to struggle so much, yet end up where you belong in the first place?”

I slammed my fist in a salute. “The safest place for ships is in the harbour, but that is not what ships are built for, General. Your power is immense but it is not infinite. You can order me around but you can’t make me reveal the secrets of Kiymetl. No General has that power over Pillar Houses. I will do what I must so that at the end I return to my harbour.”

“If you return at all,” she hissed. “Men more powerful than you have walked into the Forest to never return. I can make you disappear merely by sending you on a scout mission where Can… where Creatures were spotted previously. And neither your Domina nor your wife will be able to stop me.”

“You will find me more resilient than you realise. Besides, something tells me that you aren’t interested in making me disappear at all. You aren’t Amanzhan Irada, threatened by the growth of her youngest sister, nor you are a Samat Domina or a lamura from Yusuf that is eyeing her competition. You do not want me gone,” I tapped my head, “you want what is inside here. And you know that you will get nothing from my corpse. Moreover, I am certain that your brother would be rather… disappointed if you made me disappear.”

She scoffed. “What do you even know about Albin? Nothing! All you ever saw of him is but a mask! You hide behind his khalat like he is your mother without realising that he is using you just like anybody else!”

“I know. Do you think he hasn’t told me? Albin has been pretty upfront about his curiosity from the beginning. Likewise, I have been neither deaf nor stupid to miss his mumblings about things like rivers or fate and the ripples that I or others cause. What makes him different is that he doesn’t play with me like a child plays with a toy. Instead of ordering me to act in a certain way, he argues his position. Not once has he ever tried to take my agency away.”

Her enormous tail slammed into the ground. “Because he doesn’t need to! You are walking along the path he made for you without even knowing it.”

I grinned. “You said it yourself — ‘made for me’. Even in trying to cause a rift between me and your brother, you are proving me right. If I was a key, he didn’t bend me to open the lock, but remade the lock itself to fit my shape. Agency, Sophia Chasya.”

“Do you even know where that path leads to? Do you even know if you will be alive by the end of it?”

I shook my head. “You could unnerve a lesser man with your words, but not me. Because I know myself. I do not fear whatever path he saw for me because I walk my own and his path merely overlaps with mine. Perhaps they will continue to overlap for a long time, even to my final thought. I would then be proud to call your brother a lifelong friend. And if his path should stray from mine, I will bid him a good bye and keep walking by myself.

“If he manages to sway me in a new direction, I wouldn’t mind. I know that I can grow, I know that I can change. And my path in life will reflect on that. I would welcome that change because I know myself.”

I looked down at my hands and clenched them into fists. “Because to live is to change. Because trying to chase what was in the past is to lose sight of the future. Your brother can hail from the Divine Castle itself and even then he wouldn’t be able to turn ‘me’ into ‘not me’.”

I lifted up my eyes and glanced at an uncomfortable-looking Sophia. “Because no being can take ‘me’ from me, but me. Because I know myself. You can walk alongside us, if you wish, oh Censor of Emanai. The goddess knows, your brother — the Speaker of Shebet — doesn’t find me too beneath him. Nor do the other, highly respected members of the Pillar Manors. Or you can stay along with the likes of Roshanak Gulnaz and watch us disappear over the horizon.”

There was a time when I looked at the ‘Jasmine’ in front of me and felt anger. Now I was just tired. Every time we met, her threats grew weaker and weaker as my position grew stronger and stronger. My family was secure and safe from being ‘donated to the Sky Goddess’. Amanzhan had lost a lot of influence in comparison to Aikerim. Roshanak’s gambit fell flat as Anaise left the capital. And now I’d met our General that could technically chop my head off at any moment, yet had her own hands tied from doing so.

“And why do you think I want to?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think, does it? That is your choice to make, your goal to want or want not. But I do think that you do. And it is not because of me either. It is because of your brother.”

She flinched. “You-”

“You respect him.” My words interrupted her retort and I nodded. “There is nothing to be ashamed about — he is an upstanding person. With many traits that few could achieve.”

Sophia harrumphed and crossed her arms. Her tail slowly coiled around her seat. “You don’t even know a tenth of what he is!”

“You are quite correct — there is probably no one else in this world that knows him better than you. But I know enough to appreciate his character.”

She sat still for some time, tapping her finger. “So what?”

“So you get curious about things that interest him. You seek what he has. Including the weird murk that he spends too much time with.”

Sophia harrumphed and crossed her arms even tighter.

“You won’t be like him by taking his ‘toys’ or claiming his wants,” I continued. “If you want to be like him — try acting as he does.”

“If you think that I will lower myself to playing music…” she growled.

“Oh not at all! I am talking about traits that define your brother, not how he spends his leisure time. Your brother doesn’t seek solutions that are quick, dirty, and ‘good enough’. He doesn’t run away from challenges but welcomes them instead. And grows alongside them. Music is actually a good example of it — he liked it but he knew that simply ordering me to drop everything and stay by his side to play wouldn't have worked. So he took the hard route. He learnt to play by himself. Now, not only can no one stop him from listening to the music he likes, but he’s developed his own style of music already! There is literally no kitharist, myself included, across Tana and beyond that could play some of his new songs. Albin would have never achieved that if he somehow strong-armed me into being his bard. Even if I wanted to play for him day in and day out.

“That is probably why he walks alongside me. Because that way he gains more than I could ever give him.”

She sat in silence for a while. Suddenly her tail uncoiled from her seat and slammed hard into the ground, making me flinch from the impact.

“…I will make you apologise to my spear — it was crafted by a renowned artisan!” the sudden sound of an offended werwolf smashed into my ears.

“An artisan of dildoes, more like. Just look how crooked that shaft is!” Someone was quick to reply and immediately laughed at their own joke.

With a single cough, the General sent the entire room into silence.

“An appropriate gift?” Sophia tilted her head.

I blinked. Then blinked again.

Hajar elbowed me from the side. “Your box, you dimwit!”

Cursing the time magic under my breath and ignoring the slight smirk on Sophia’s face, I reached into my kaftan for the box.

Stupid wermages.





Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.