Chapter 65. The Matter of Pee and Arr
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There was another way to describe Sophia’s character. Significantly less courteous.

She hated losing.

It wasn’t just Albin’s character traits that spurred her into action. Our first confrontation was caused by Virnan Shah besting her with the math that I had taught him. But I dared not rub my observations in her face too much. Yes, I was unlikely to have my head chopped off from her anger but I wasn’t particularly interested in getting whipped daily just to soothe her bruised pride either. At the same time, while her rank of General was just as temporary as my rank of grunt, her rank as the Censor was quite permanent.

She was also his sister. It meant that I couldn’t use my powers, influence, and knowledge to subjugate her as decisively as Aikerim and I had dealt with Shahin in the past. Not without losing Albin as my confidant. Or worse — have him use my secrets against me.

Our friendship aside, his Orb of Negation, an artefact and a Gift from the goddess herself, was shielding the wreck of my shuttle from prying eyes. Despite his shenanigans, he was one of the Seven Speakers and an invaluable ally among the Emanai political elite.

All that added together meant Sophia and I would continue this dance until one of us conceded defeat and backed off. Considering how stubborn she was and how unwilling I was to become her full-time plaything — this was going to last for a long time. Until she learned the meaning behind the word ‘no’, just as her brother wanted.

My trinkets helped. Judging by her glare, she planned to milk me for more concessions using my recovered sword, but the looking glass and compasses couldn’t be that easily dismissed.

The sword slid into my sheath without a sound and I frowned; the familiar click of the blade being locked in place was missing. I pulled it out and inspected it once again — someone shortened my blade. They did a decent job mimicking the original curve and edge but now that I was paying attention it was impossible to miss. No amount of skill could match Isra with extremely flat anvils, expanded metallurgical knowledge, and the vast selection of sanding equipment, unheard of in Emanai.

“It appears that a smith was involved,” I said out loud and glanced at Sophia. “The sword was shortened by a finger.”

She didn’t respond. The Censor was too busy glaring at the looking glass itself or glaring through it at the arm outside. The arusak stood high above the ground and the view from its windows was quite spectacular.

“You are complaining about the General’s justice!?” one of the werwolves scoffed. “She brought back the sword that you lost and even punished the thief who stole it for you. Show proper gratitude for her actions and keep your mouth shut, slave!”

“I’ve warned you,” the First Spear hissed to the side.

I suppressed a groan. The Emanai justice system wasn’t very conducive toward investigative practices. Lacking a robust system to collect and process evidence, they relied more on the social standing of accusers, defenders, and anyone else who could vouch for them. The word of an upstanding citizen meant a lot more than the word of a criminal or a slave. And the word of a Pillar Manor meant even more. In fact, a poor free wer couldn’t even bring forth a grievance into the court unless they had someone to vouch for them. Someone sufficiently important.

There were some limitations in place to prevent the unquestionable tyranny of the elite, but those were designed for extreme cases. For things like one House repeatedly strong-arming everyone beneath them with their status alone. This situation was nowhere close to that level. And I was nowhere close to being important enough in the eyes of the Kiannika officers. Even the Enoch smith, who was curious about my armour and weapons, shook his head.

Irfan wasn’t exactly lying when he said that I was spoiled. Just by having someone wise like Aikerim as my patron, and having her recognise my worth extremely early, I instantly shoot up in status without even realising it myself. Because I spent most of my time inside the manor. The Gestr on my neck made me untouchable on the streets of Samat in the eyes of the Emanai law. If I managed to break it somehow, not only did I have Aikerim to vouch for me — she was expected to answer for my transgressions herself as my mistress. To the extent the Pillar Domina needed to answer anyway.

This wasn’t Samat anymore. This was Kiannika with its own social ladders. And while I could earn the respect of my tent-mates by showing sufficient physical aptitude, I couldn’t un-murk myself in the eyes of the higher ranks. If Anaise was by my side, the question would’ve been better received, exactly due to her status. But she wasn’t here. And that was intentional.

I glanced around, paying close attention to everyone near Lita’af. Someone important was at the centre of this and they didn’t want some murk to sniff too deep into this matter. Or, despite Lita’af assurances, this was perpetrated by the Kamshad and now they wanted to bury the incident as quickly as possible.

“Quite unfortunate, cousin,” Muramat spoke softly to the werwolf that scoffed at me, “but you can’t expect a lot from his kind. Like any barbarian, they see any sign of honour as a show of weakness and are eager to bite the proffered hand of good will. We can only appreciate the patience of our General in this matter…”

My ear twitched. He was on the opposite side of the room, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t hear him. Or that plenty of other officers nearby couldn’t overhear him either. The gossip chose the perfect time to throw some dirt on me — there was no way that he was so blinded by his prejudice about murks to outright ignore everything he had learned about me so far. Even if Lita’af kept him ignorant about her meeting with me.

I gritted my teeth. The wermages that were subtly eavesdropping on his conversation had little to no idea who I was and were now making their first impressions based on his slander. While I, the foot spear of the arm, couldn’t even intervene. This campaign was already getting worse and we haven’t even entered the Forest.

All I could do is continue listening in and see how I could counteract it later.

“…dares to think himself our equal only because of his corru-”

“Muramat…” Lita’af spoke up.

He coughed. “His ‘association’ with one of Kiymetl Dominas…”

“Muramat, enough.” She said with an edge in her voice.

I glanced over and saw her turning away from me.

Well, at least someone was smart enough to put two and two together and realise that if I can smell things like their proverbial beast, I can hear just as fine. If only they were smart earlier too.

Unfortunately for me, they were slimy rather than wise, and I had to act accordingly.

“I have nothing but reverence for the swift justice of our General,” I scratched my neck, conspicuously pulling out the golden Gestr, “Just as I have nothing but disdain for the shoddy attempt at smithing by the late ‘thief’. Perhaps he found a drunk apprentice to do the work for him.”

“And you think that your allegiance to Kiymetl allows you to speak without being asked?” Muramat’s ‘cousin’ immediately shot back at me.

I tilted my head but said nothing. The gossip about me being uncouth and barbaric was annoying, but I couldn’t allow them to twist my words to make it sound like I was dissatisfied with Sophia’s efforts.

Dumuzid Enoch Sumun tried to say something but Sophia stepped away from the window and turned toward the rest of us.

“No wonder the Esca have been slithering around,” she muttered under her breath, tucking the looking glass into her sash. “And you gave it away for a bunch of children, sick, and decrepit. Speak without lies — will this smith learn any Kiymetl secrets?”

“They might gain some knowledge they didn’t have before.”

“I asked about secrets,” Sophia pressed.

I pursed my lips, giving a glance at the werwolves. I had no intention to speak about my secrets in front of the people who likely tried to steal them in the first place. “No. Despite their attempts, they will continue to fail at their task.”

There was some movement in their group at my goading words, but nothing too obvious. In fact, Sophia’s previous statements made the entire room stir.

“Then it is not a matter of Manors,” she dismissed my argument. “You can afford to get a new sword just as easily, especially when you are giving away navigation tools to the seafaring states beyond Emanai!”

I bowed. “Under the suggestion of your brother, my General. Certain forces were threatening to take me away from my mistress and I, as a loyal slave, had to assist Aikerim Adal in thwarting their plans.”

The ‘certain force’ in front of me gritted her teeth. Despite our private conversation, Sophia didn’t relinquish her plans about me and when she couldn’t use my blade as a leverage, she chose to approach from another angle. But if she wanted to air my laundry in front of others without pausing time, I was willing to throw in a couple of her thongs in response. The real culprits of the theft managed to get away with nothing but a slap on their wrists. Yes, some ‘thief’ was punished according to her words but I wasn’t interested in some grunt they decided to sacrifice. If that was the second Collector in the first place — they could’ve just as easily grabbed someone nearby and proclaimed him as the thief. I had no intention of sliding down the ‘traitor of Emanai’ slope either.

“General!” A wermage burst into the room, panting. “By your urgent orders, I managed to find him among Ulastai Manipulars.”

Everyone including Sophia turned toward the entrance to observe the newcomers. The visibly tired and frustrated Kosenya officer was accompanied by a familiar grin and the now-familiar pair of ears.

“First Spear,” Sophia quietly spoke without looking.

Hajar Kishava flinched. “I was not aware of his previous transgressions until today, General! And would have made sure to deny his entrance, if I knew even the tenth of what I know now.”

“Yes, as I’ve said before — your service has been exemplary. I am certain that you will continue to impress me with your ability to make warriors out of greenhorns. You may return to your fingers. I hope to hear news from you once we are marching again.”

“Of course, General. I will make sure he is up to Kiannika’s standard in no time!” She turned and slapped the back of my head, yanking me toward the door.

“Opportunity to show off in front of my superiors, my ass. I haven’t been humiliated like this in years.”



Albin Emanai Wazara

“Is this yet another prank of yours!?” Sophia thundered through the room. “Not only did you keep interfering every time I manage to corner him, but you knew what he was going to gift Esca, yet you let him do it. Why?”

“To keep you on your toes, sister. You have grown accustomed to a life of leisure in Samat. Your strength is insufficient if you plan on taking the seat by our mother’s side any time soon. The families won’t treat you as kindly as houses do.”

Her hand grabbed his kaftan and smashed him into the sofa on top of the Shebet Pillar. “I am strong!”

He sighed behind her back, “Yes, and that is not enough. Because others are strong as well and care not for your status. How will you deal with them if you can’t deal with a single murk without relying on your magic or your rank?”

Sophia reached out and swiped at the air. “I can do it when I want to.”

He snapped his fingers in front of her face, making her stumble back into the General’s seat on top of the arusak. “Then show me. Prove to me that you can.”

“What? Let him cripple our lands because his pride was hurt? Look into the Flow and tell me how far Emanai would have expanded if he kept his ‘trinkets’ to our houses! We could dominate the seas with our forests. Our ships could sail anywhere, unbeholden by every settlement along the shorelines, and crewed solely with murks. Confident that they could escape into the open sea and return unharmed. If mother finds out-”

“Mother knows.”


“You think the other families would sit idle? Watch us strut around like peacocks through their domains? And do nothing?”

The issue of a new Ministra was an open secret among the families. Most knew but few spoke about it. Everyone was biding their time and watching others like a hawk, waiting for any weakness or mistake.

“What does it have to do with us? Are they going to cry and moan because the houses of Emanai are simply stronger?”

“No. They will do that because of the daimon.”

“You think they are so stupid they wouldn’t recognise he isn’t one of ours?”

“That doesn’t matter. What they would have is an opportunity. An opportunity to claim him as our excessive meddling and… come up with their own ways to interfere. We worked hard to claim these lands and there are plenty of families that are jealous of our success. Especially now when summers are colder and harvests are weaker.”

“Then take him to the palace and be done with it!”

Albin chuckled and pulled a card from the air. The Divine Divorce had long since found its new favourite and refused to let go. “And waste the opportunity myself? His tricks are wondrous and knowledge esoteric, but there are plenty of other secrets that Tana hides from us. What sets him apart is that he is a card between the pieces of chatrang. Instead of being blue or yellow, he is a face. By entering the board, he brings along new rules to the game. New ways to win and triumph and new ways to stumble and lose. Do you think he doesn’t know the value of his trinkets? He knows exactly what they represent and yet he doesn’t care. His sight is set on something even greater, something even I cannot perceive. Aren’t you curious to see what it is? To see what could be so great that a new way of navigating the seas is nothing but a bargaining chip?”

“And if he grows bold enough to set his eyes on Emanai? To see himself worthy to be among the seven or even usurp their power? What if he decided to fully subvert one of the houses?”

“Emanai would grow stronger, once challenged. Even if he manages to succeed — the current seven were five once. And the old five were chosen for their strength, tenacity, and resilience. If they can’t compare to a single murk — they do not deserve their Pillar.”


“Especially now. By the time families start moving, Emanai would be woken up from its slumber after decades of peace, away from real enemies.”

Sophia scoffed and rolled her eyes. “As if. He might not even survive this campaign and you already see him stepping over houses of Emanai?”

He spread his arms, whisking the card back into the deck. “Then there is nothing to worry about, is there? If he is weak and without luck then he will perish in the Forest. If he is strong and capable, his connection to Aikerim Adal will continue to strengthen the Kiymetl and through it — the rest of Emanai. If he or Kiymetl grows too strong and influential, our mother will interfere and break it apart, just as she did with the House of War.”

With a low growl, Sophia formed a runic circle in the air. A deluge of water stormed in, only to be stopped and immediately sent back into the abyss with a punch. Her subsequent roar erased the portal.

“You always have an answer to everything,” she huffed.

Albin shook his head. “And you grow frustrated about inconsequential things. Who are your real adversaries? Murk daimonas and wermage Rhetors, or other heurisk families?”

“Look who’s talking.”

“You think I roam the streets of the Lower City because I see beggars and poor as my adversaries? Or is it because I train my sight by peering daily into the murk of their futures? Hmm?”

“You see their murk as a challenge.”

He reached out and easily ruffled her hair. “Exactly. Do not dismiss the opportunities that even the weakest can present to you. Not in their strength but in their difference. Embrace those challenges, use them to grow stronger. Especially when you have such a unique daimon nearby. And don’t waste your time trying to break him into obedience with questionable results.”

“I will not waste my time trying to appease ‘his highness’.”

“Appease him? Nonsense! You don’t even need to defend him. Put him on the board and watch him move.

“Watch him break the rules of old.”



“Break formation!”

With a grunt, I lifted my spear into an upright position and quickly pulled my pavise out of the ground.

“Wall up!”

The bottom spikes on our door-like shields stabbed the earth, turning our line into a solid wall once more. Each finger was split into two ranks and every soldier knew if he was an ‘in’ or ‘out’. Most of the time, ‘outs’ dropped their shields first, leaving gaps big enough for a trained warrior to easily pass through and small enough that the shields of the ‘in’ rank could fully plug them. It was a useful tactic against fireballs and other splash spells, where even a small gap could let streams of something nasty destroy our formation from within. It was also a necessary tactic, where even the slightest hint of a gap would summon the wrath and ire of our already irate First Spear.

“She’s sure feisty today.” Roshan wiped the sweat from his brow after bracing the spear on his shield in charge position, ready to stab anyone human approaching us on foot.

As an ‘in’, I braced my spear into the ground for the ‘charge for horse, Thing, arusak, anything big’ position and immediately braced my pavise with my body. And only then grunted in response.

“Quicker!” Hajar’s foot slammed into my shield. “Break up! Ranged advance!”

The spear was up, the shield was out and I with the rest of the ‘ins’ stepped through the uncovered gaps and formed a new shield line ahead. Archers and mages would sortie through those gaps and take potshots at approaching enemies from the forward defence line. Despite all our pointy gear, the fingers of our maniple were dedicated to support and defence. And our manoeuvres were created to defend and assist our Sparked core.

Obviously, the said core was missing from this exercise so we had to play make-believe.

A bucketful of liquid shit splashed on our shields. Someone to the left of me swore and started retching.

“Shields tight!” the First Spear bellowed and blew a whistle.

That was our Thing alert.

It was noticeable who was new and who was trained. With a single lunge and devoid of his usual jokes, Roshan appeared right above me — his pavise overhead — and locked his shield with mine. The spikes were ingeniously designed to not only stab the earth or enemy feet during wall advance but also allow two enormous pavises to merge into an even bigger barricade with overhead protection.

This time around, Hajar tested every shield and every spear, mercilessly swearing at every single fault that she should find with grotesque descriptions of what was bound to happen to that hapless warrior if his shield was too crooked or his spear was too loose.

I wasn’t sure how much of that was true and how much was added on top but the local drop bears were notorious for using their weight, their punching power, and their extremely agile tentacles. And their intelligence. Like some cursed crossbreed of a crab and an octopus that was high on Flow juice.

Speaking of Flow.

“Do they use magic?” I whispered to Roshan.

“Some do. The old ones, we call ‘em. Rumour has it, they are twice as large as the biggest Thing you will ever see.”

“Rare to be seen?”

He chuckled. “Rare to survive and tell the tale after seeing one, Mule Boy. Now shut up — our lady comes and if she hears you talk about them she will break her third rod over your back.”

I scratched my back. Despite my speed at learning all those movements and formations, Hajar decided to ‘make it faster’ and ‘make it stick’ by using her ‘Board of Education’. Not that it mattered to me due to my skinsuit. All it had managed to do was ruin two perfectly good rods, alleviate her frustrations with myself somewhat, and earn some arm cred with the troops. So I let it slide. The only unfortunate effect was that the name stuck even harder as few likened my apparent resilience to physical discipline to that of a mule.

Hajar passed us by, giving my shield a stronger kick and my spear — a stronger yank, but said nothing. That was a good sign. If even my annoyed commander couldn’t find anything to address in my stance then I was as ready as the rest of the spears to face the Creatures in the Forest. That meant I could concentrate on something else.

My image.

The name wasn’t bothering me that much — I had no plans to stay here long term and soldiers wanted to have some fun — but the fact that certain wermages were actively trying to slander me was a growing concern. The balloon was going to earn me some additional cred.

“Say, Roshan.” I nudged him when she left. “What does it make you if you have more fleas than a Mule Boy?”

“It makes me someone who doesn’t piss off our First Spear,” he mused. “Do you know that the rest of the fingers do not know who is responsible for this training? I can change that.”

“But haven’t you wondered why I don’t scratch myself awake in the morning?”

He shrugged. “You come from a big Manor. Probably had scented oils rubbed into your skin since you were a kid or what have you.”

Someone started to beat the drum. “Advance!”

I lifted my shield without detaching his and slowly started moving forward, carefully making sure that my steps matched the cadence of the beat. “What if I told you that I have a simple cure? A medicine that would scare off all sorts of pesky bloodsuckers from your body?”

The commands were simple and easy for a reason. Each command affected the entire maniple at once and cohesion was crucial. Five fingers, forty men and women, murk and a few wer, marched in step with that drum. And all made identical steps, possibly without even realising it — a result of long travel marches.

“I will ask then — what’s in it for you? This isn’t a combat wound or an illness, and healers tend to ask for a hefty pouch of cuts for such things.”

“You have a tongue longer than your spear, Roshan. As you noticed from my previous questions — I do not know a whole lot about the Great Outside, unfortunately. Fortunately for you — I am curious.”

I paused for a moment as we changed our formation once again. “Besides, I would rather have you stab my enemies than chase crawlies under your gambeson.”

“Why don’t you try it on one of the servants first? Just to show that it works.”

“I offered it to them. They refused.”

I was surprised at their reaction but I didn’t begrudge them for it. In the same way Roshan being suspicious now, they were cognisant about their place in life and therefore extremely risk-averse. They weren’t looking at it from the perspective of someone being down on their luck and having very little to themselves at this moment. Instead they saw their current life as something to be expected in this inherently unfair world. A suspicious offer from an unknown alchemist wasn’t just a gamble with ‘nothing to lose’ from their point of view. My ‘nothing’ was their livelihood in its entirety.

“Talk to Irfan if they don’t listen — he will make them.”

I shook my head. “Roshan, do you even know who you are talking to? If I wanted to test my medicine on you, I could’ve made you eat it with relative ease. I only give medicine to those that want it. If you are concerned about my offer, we can talk cuts instead. Gold, actually. I would say that your weight in gold would be a decently generous price.”

Roshan sputtered. “Now you are just yanking my dick!”

So I had to look for another target for my subversion. Someone who was a bit more secure in life, willing to take risks, and eager to improve their fortune. Technically, as soldiers, every spear fit into this category but Roshan was the optimal choice. The man loved to talk when he was bored. If wermages wanted to talk about me — I would have my own blabbermouth.

“Oh no — it is worth much more, Roshan. Because my concoctions work. And they don’t just work for a day, a tenday, or even a season. They work for life. Just imagine — an entire life devoid of bites and incessant scratching, a life where the annoying buzz of a gnat is just a random noise of the night. You still have to wash, however. Your stink is incurable. Or I can offer it to Arash, the old man has learned a lot to survive this long in the arm. But he is further down the line. I guess I will ask him.”

He glanced to the right and shifted a bit closer, his voice quiet. “Just tell me, what is there for you? I wasn’t born yesterday — even the Samat richest wouldn’t throw gold to hear a spear talk.”

“Don’t I want the warriors who will keep me safe within the Forest to appreciate my presence a bit more?” I repeated the words he said to me a few days ago. “I am heading into the Forest with certain wermages being cranky at me because the murk couldn’t shut up and stay where he belonged. All because of a single sword. Perhaps if you spend less time scratching and more time sleeping, I won’t be the only one fighting off thieves next time they wander in.”

Another formation change interrupted us but soon Roshan was back near my ear. “So… how does it work exactly? Do I tie it to my body and they run away? Rub it into my skin?”

“Such things wouldn’t last.” I paused for a moment, trying to think how I could explain the staged gene insert without making him even more suspicious. It was better to ignore that part altogether. “You just drink it. Within a day you will notice that you still get bitten but bites won’t itch. Five more days and they stop biting, another tenday — and they avoid you completely. It is done slowly so that you don’t notice it working.”

“Huh. Why would you make a medicine that makes you wonder if it’s working?”

I rolled my eyes. “I can concentrate it for you. It would work overnight but you would spend that night with a fever and wake up weak and drenched in sweat. Your choice.”

“Yeah, I’ll take that one. That sounds like real medicine to me.”

“Really? Are you that impatient?”

“That’s how real medicines are supposed to work. They expel the sickness from our bodies. Why do you think Gods let only women birth children? Because their bodies cleanse themselves from the impurities while we have to rely on bloodletting.” He glanced around and leaned in. “Some say that if you drain your blood before laying with your wife, she can bear a wer child. Born with their Spark untainted by the murk. Is that why you have such strength, stamina, and a wermage wife? Because you can cleanse yourself?”

I forced my jaw into a closed position and shook my head. “No, I don’t have the medicine to turn murks into wermages. If I had, I wouldn’t be here to begin with.”

I would probably be dead or whisked away by their blue gods into the castle on the cloud.

“Well, it was worth a try.” He licked his lips. “Fine, I’ll take it. But don’t dilute it. I’m strong, I can handle the real deal. Make it expel every impurity from my body.”

No wonder Irfan changed his stance when he decided that I had an enormous leech as part of my medkit.

“You would shit yourself to death if I did that.” I scratched my chin. “If you really want to ‘cleanse’ yourself, I can give you multiple medicines. One for gnats, one for serious illnesses that can kill you during the march, and one for weak maladies that don’t kill you but make you a shell of your former self. Each one of them will make you bedridden for a whole night. And you will need to wait a few days between each to let your strength recover to the fullest.”

I wasn’t going to intentionally sabotage my drugs, but the procedure didn’t need to be gradual — it was slowed down to accommodate a non-augmented human body and cause minimal to no side effects. Well, some slight modifications wouldn’t hurt too much either for the additional placebo effect. If he wanted a pill so that he could sweat some nasty ichor, he would get it.

“Don’t worry,” he flashed me a grin through the small gap of his helmet, “this will be between us only. As long as it works as you say it will.”

“This is a medicine designed for murks… and I can probably scrounge up enough ingredients for our finger. But my stock is very limited otherwise. I don’t mind improving our arm but I can’t do it for everyone,” I said in return.

Given enough nutrition and time, my larva was more than capable of supplying every murk of both arms with appropriate modifications. But I had no intention of doing so at this time. I needed to improve the lives of enough murks so that I could drastically improve my reputation as a healer, yet keep the number low enough not to incur the envy of wer soldiers. At least until I could use my confirmed new status to run some tests on them.

The choice of modifications was intentional too. Powerful enough to significantly improve murk lives yet in no way overstepping what wermages could already do.

Muramat Kamshad Nishad called me a barbarian. He talked the talk. This medicine would keep him wasting his time, lest my image as an alchemist and healer eclipse his gossip about my origin. While I would use my growing recognition in my finger to finish the damned balloon for the twins. That is, before I started bringing up things I’d left alone for Creatures and similar-level threats. Like Sophia on a warpath.

And then we would see if he could walk the walk.








Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.