Chapter 68. Tooth and Nail
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Aikerim Kiymetl Adal

“Attention!” Yeva clapped her hands. “Every servant here has to leave the room. Wait outside until you are allowed back in.”

“You are concerned about them seeing how it starts?” Aikerim glanced at Yeva and then at Shahin Esca.

The room that Erf named ‘the room of power’ was filled with mechanisms and contraptions, though most of them were quite familiar. The waterwheel was squeaking to the side and an array of belts, gears, and axles sent that rotation to nearby buildings and kept her looms and carding machines running.

The new addition to the room was both impressive and underwhelming. A significant amount of steel was used to construct it. Good steel, that Samat smiths would’ve paid hefty pouches of gold to acquire. Only for Yeva to casually mention that the bulk of this machine was nothing more but an enormous steel oven to boil water.

“Who is going to shovel coal?” Isra Haleh scratched her horn. “I mean, I am eager to see it working, but…”

Aikerim trusted Yeva enough to not be concerned about the machine being useless, but her mother was returning to Samat to assist with the current events and she needed more leverage. Enough to ensure that Aikerim would not need to disclose her Flow secrets. Especially since the Matriarch only recently left Samat after the Divine Ritual and would undoubtedly arrive in a rather cranky mood.

Yeva shook her head. “I am not concerned about them seeing something they shouldn’t. I am concerned about their safety should something go wrong when we start it for the first time. This isn’t just some squeaky watermill that might crush a murk’s hand if it’s stuck where it doesn’t belong, this is a prison for a jinn that yearns to be free. If it can be held inside — it will work for you, but if it finds a single weakness, a tiny crack in its cage — it will break free in a most violent manner.”

Shahin tilted her head. “What kind of jinn are we talking about?”

“She isn’t talking about a real jinn, but steam,” Isra mumbled as she sent a stream of coal into the fire maw of the ‘boiler’. “You are talking about steam, right? You didn’t imprison a jinn inside while I wasn’t looking?”

“Yes, I was talking about steam. But, with how much energy it will possess, you might as well treat it like an angry jinn.”

“How much power are we talking about?” Aikerim asked. The Enoch were rather sturdy in general and Isra Haleh wasn’t exactly a weak wermage either, so she wasn’t concerned about her being close. Nevertheless, Yeva did liken it to a mighty jinn.

Yeva pressed her lips thin. “A hundred horses at the very least. As far as I can tell there is no spell to conjure wool out of thin air, so the textile branch of your Manor will be limited by shipments available to you. At least for a year if not even longer. In the meantime, Wrena Khayrat and Isra Haleh can use the rest of the power for their new machines without using too much coal to keep this engine running. If they don’t — I will.”

Isra glanced at Yeva. “Are you saying that there will be a force as strong as a hundred horses inside?”

“No. A hundred horses is the share that we will get out of it. The boiler will have to hold a lot more than that as the process is quite inefficient.”

Wrena took a small step back without saying anything.

Isra stood still as her eyes slowly panned toward the warming boiler then back to Yeva. “It is safe, right?”

Yeva nodded. “Safer than a domesticated horse. But even the most placid horse can kick from time to time, especially if it is not treated right. That is why we used so much steel and rivets when we built it. This is also why I plan to send all those horses into a full gallop now; if something is going to break, it will happen now and not later. Once everything is working properly, two, maybe three kiln servants that know how to keep the fire steady would be more than enough for it to run all day. With proper maintenance and lubrication, this engine can last decades.”

Aikerim could hear the fire crackling in the boiler as everyone considered Yeva’s words.

Tarhunna, who had been silently standing beside her all this time, touched her shoulder. “You should consider acquiring some coal mines before other land purchases, my dear. We are already purchasing more firewood and charcoal than your northern aunts do in the middle of their coldest winters and it will get harder to purchase more when other Manors start to heat their buildings. Or worse — others will recognise your new demand and keep you beholden to their shipments.”

Aikerim smiled at him. She wished that her sons were here as well but they were busy learning how to handle black wood with Ramad. Her Manor had grown significantly in its influence but it was unwise to ignore the martial power either. She had many means to stuff her coffers with gold and she had to make sure she had men strong enough to protect those coffers.

“Yeva, what are your thoughts on this? Do we need a coal mine? Or ten?”

Yeva grimaced without taking her eyes off the boiler. “Your husband speaks true. The demand for coal will likely only grow with time. And not just our demand — I am certain that other Manors will be eager to purchase one of these engines for themselves eventually. To power mills, wine presses, water pumps… Anything that could rely on axles turning. They all will need fuel. Even if you don’t need all that coal yourself, the price of coal will rise with the increased demand and so will the mine profits.”

Aikerim tilted her ear. “You disagree?”

“I disagree with how those mines are run. How many slaves they do consume to operate. Of course there are ways to make them less deadly without sacrificing production, but…” Yeva shook her head vigorously. “No. There is no point in postponing good while waiting for the best. This does mean that another project, or ten, needs to be added to our ever-growing queue of tasks, but Isra Haleh can use those projects to train her workers. Erf can improve it further at a later time. My only suggestion would be to look for mines on the shores of the South Sea or along the Shara River — it would be much easier to bring barges of coal into Samat through the waterways rather than roads.”

“I would advise against the sea shoreline,” Shahin intervened. “While I am certain that Emanai tries to keep its shores safe from pirates, some do sneak by.”

Tarhunna nodded. “And certain Manors might purchase their services to target us specifically. Or send their ships disguised as pirates. The Shara River and its tributaries are our best option.”

A whistle blew suddenly from the machine, spewing steam into the air. Isra twitched and the protective runes on her clothes lit up in response. “Was that expected?”

Yeva nodded and gestured at an arrow climbing through the yellow mark. “Yes. This will be a warning sound for servants to stop in case they ignore the gauge. A warning not to waste fuel.

“Keep the fire burning — our goal is further ahead.”

Aikerim glanced at the red area where the arrow was heading and suddenly realised that the boiler was groaning and creaking like an old bed. She shifted slightly without drawing too much attention to herself and powered her own runes. Just in case.

“And what will happen when it reaches your goal?” she asked.

A loud horn was her answer. Compared to the annoying whistle, this sound was angry.

“Rather than show numbers that most workers might not recognise or even read correctly,” Yeva yelled through the noise, “we made it simple and obvious for anyone to understand. And if they ignore even that, then-”

Something clanked inside the boiler and a billowing plume of steam shot out, hissing like a thousand angry snakes. The arrow plummeted back down and the whistle and the horn quickly ran out of air. Or steam.

Yeva nodded in satisfaction. “Then it will take matters into its own hands and release the pressure within.”

“So far, all it did was hiss, scream, and whistle,” Aikerim grumbled, rubbing her ears. The sound was surprisingly uncomfortable. “It is great that it refuses to break but did you have to make it so annoying? Unless you wish to impress Kamshad with a new war machine.”

Yeva pulled a lever, stopping the plume of steam. “It is made this way so that almost anyone can use it with very little training. Be it a powerful wermage, a learned wer, or a murk from the streets. Not only will it free me, Isra, and Wrena from overseeing this engine in the future, we could build more with relative ease either to increase our power production or to sell them to anyone with a gold cut to spend.”

Aikerim glanced at the politely silent Shahin Esca. “If they are willing.”

The lamura nodded. “I am certain that Yeva still has plenty of surprises to reveal. From what I can see — half of the mechanism had been cold and silent, despite an enormous amount of…”

She gestured at the metallic… something that looked like a small version of the Forest. “…everything attached to it.”

“Yes, that will be the next part.” Yeva checked the rising arrows and turned toward the two artisans in the room. “Wrena Khayrat, Isra Haleh — would you like the honours of starting it for the first time?”

Wrena eyed the mechanism. “I think Isra did a lot more than I. I only carved the cast shapes for her to make metal pieces, after all.”

Isra harrumphed, pumped her chest, and pulled the lever that Yeva was pointing at with her magic.

A new hiss emerged from the machine and the enormous iron wheel slowly started to turn. Pushed by an equally large rod. A myriad of little things sprang up to life, huffing, clanking, and rattling. Streams of steam sprouted here and there as the metal horse, no — the metal heart, slowly woke up from its previous slumber. The wheel took one staggering turn and then another, and then kept spinning faster and faster until all Aikerim could see was one continuous rotation powered by a sleek, well-oiled piston sliding in and out of the machine.

“That is so indecent,” Wrena whispered, rubbing her thighs together.

Aikerim licked her lips. Yes, the movements of the piston were similar to that of a diligent husband — not too weak and not too rushed. Steady, constant thrusts, full of primal vigour. But that wasn’t what made this golden egg so enticing to Domina. The words ‘one hundred horses’ were.

Any decent Manor could purchase a hundred horses. Few could easily afford the space to stable them and enough fodder to feed them daily; Aikerim couldn’t. None of the others could squeeze all of those horses into such a small space and have them work on nothing but coal and water. But Aikerim now could. Kiymetl now could.

She just needed to throw her dice right to make sure that her mother and her other relatives understood that too.

Tarhunna coughed awkwardly.

Aikerim playfully smacked her jealous husband with her tail and turned back to Yeva. “You said that it would be easy to train handlers for this engine. How easy would it be for others to make their own?”

“Can they copy the concept once they see it in action? Yes. Steam toys were well-known even before I was alive. Can they take one apart and make a copy? Isra, as the one who built this one — how long would it take you to make another one? Be generous.”

The Enoch master smith scratched her horn without looking away from the running machine, her cheeks red. “Another two tendays, maybe? We still have forms ready so all that work doesn’t need to be repeated but there is still a lot to do. Especially since you were quite demanding in the precision.”

“Precision is what makes this thing so powerful. A lot of the mechanisms inside only work because they are so snug against each other. That piston wouldn’t move so smoothly if the cylinder around it was just a bit too large. It would also leak steam everywhere. Now, imagine you are your sister, Esmat Fidda, and you just got this engine. How long would it take for her to make a copy with her tools?”

The horn scratching stopped. “You mean without my new lathes and other tools? Without coke to make molten steel? She would need to get proper types of steel too. Didn’t you say that some parts needed to be flexible while others — hard and rigid? I gave them plenty of steel but it was all of the same kind. I wouldn’t even dare to guess — I still rely on the written list to remember every single place I need to oil.”

Yeva looked at Aikerim and silently gestured at Isra. “Let us be very gracious to your sister. She is a renowned smith and has plenty of steel. She suddenly decided to use everything she has, has plenty of workers given to her by Amanzhan’s Manor and possibly Enoch, and has the eye to recognise which parts are absolutely necessary for it to work and which are needed for it to work well. The only things she lacks are your tools and our knowledge — how long would that take her?”

“With magic and great attention to detail… perhaps she would need to forge complex shapes with Flow rather than a hammer. She might get something working within a season or two. Perhaps?” Isra shuddered. “It won’t be pleasant, however.”

“There you have it. Half a year of hard work just to understand how far behind they are. I am not being dismissive of Esmat Fidda here — I know she is an exceptional smith, but this type of work requires an entirely different set of skills. An entirely different set of tools. The tools that we have been building all this time just to be capable of crafting this engine. The two artisans that we have here are now machinists, the machine makers. Crafters of a new breed of golems.”

Scales rustled on the floor.

“They do not even fully comprehend the gift they have received in the process,” Shahin grumbled quietly and turned to Aikerim. “Rather than waiting for your Matriarch, Aikerim Adal, I would suggest summoning your entire House into Samat and enforcing your status with the gifts you have received. Or do not — Esca will welcome your Manor into our clan even if the rest of Emanai were to march against you. Our sands are vast with plenty of space to hide. And plenty of space to build and grow.”

Domina let her smile split into a grin. “The Entrance Feast was quite a recent affair and many Dominas haven’t left my mother’s side after they followed her back to Amul. Some of them are eager to forge better relations with me, while others hope to see me taken down by a notch. My Matriarch won’t come back to Samat alone — all of them will come without me lifting a finger. Even the indifferent few.”

Shahin closed her eyes and made a small bow. “And they will come expecting you to ask for their help only to witness how much you have grown in the scant few tendays after their departure. To see an entire Esca delegation by your side, invested in the daimon and, through him, your Manor. As always, you do not waste your opportunities. Should I throw away the rest of my pride and request concubinage before it is too late? Before my own family outlives its purpose?”

Aikerim felt her eyebrows rise. That was a bit sudden even if not entirely unexpected.

“Be wary of the ice beneath your tail, Shahin,” Yeva murmured. “It is awfully thin and there is nothing but cold water underneath.”

“You have nothing to fear from me and everything to gain. My children would only be my own and my status would prevent them from laying claim on his legacy. He would have no obligation to lay with me, while such a union would allow Esca and Kiymetl to… silence certain voices within the Emanai elite. Especially the ones that question the recent slave ‘purchase’ done by this Manor.”

“We both know that the societal expectations of Emanai and Yusuf are lost on Erf. He tolerates them but he does not respect them. There are no ranks between-”

“Then he will have to learn them for his own sake. There is a reason why I merely proposed this question and not stated it outright. Domina?”

Aikerim nodded. “So it allows you to ignore her proposal outright, despite its sudden nature.”

Yeva pressed her lips thin. “Are you that enamoured with the steam engines? I did say that they are designed to be sold. And they will cost less than a concubine lamura. Even the one that tried to kill my husband. Why do you even speak of it?”

Aikerim put her tail in her hands. “I agree. While I was curious to see if you would be impressed by the new machine, I had not anticipated such a reaction either. Yet.”

“The same reason why I always ask you uncomfortable questions, Yeva. So you can learn. Muramat Nishad was a surprise for all, but you managed to postpone that offer. Once Erf becomes a ‘freedmurk’ and other Houses admit his daimonic status, you will be able to refuse husband offers with greater ease. As his fame continues to grow, some might try to offer female wermages, even Ladies, but you already have Anaise Hilal so those offers have no ground to stand upon. Eventually, there will be some that will be desperate enough to send you concubines. Do you have an answer to those? Are you willing to cripple your relations? Imagine if I did offer myself and you refused — what message would that send to the rest of Esca?”

“That our sadaq doesn’t seek to dominate others, Shahin Esca,” Yeva immediately cut her off. “You mentioned throwing away your pride — do you think Erf would accept that? Remember his treatment of you so far — do you think he wants to deprive you further? Ask Isra Haleh if Erf ever demanded her honour or pride.”

The master smith stopped her hushed conversation with Wrena near the working engine and frantically shook her head in denial.

“Remember our conversation when Enoch Matriarch offered the title of Domina to our master smith and you agreed to work alongside me despite the oath of Servitude. That wasn’t some ploy to weather your position until we could conquer you further until there was no Shahin left.

“Neither Erf nor I want to subjugate Esca. We want a strong Esca to stand by our side, to trade with us as equals, not pets to show off our status. We seek strength but not at the expense of others, and before you try to challenge our morals and ‘naive’ ideas — look at the engine once again.”

Aikerim frowned. “There is a vast difference between her and her entire House, Yeva. Just because one of theirs becomes a concubine to your sadaq, even if in name only, does not make the rest of them subservient to you. The needs of one cannot trump over the needs of their family.”

Yeva shook her head. “It sets a precedent, Aikerim Adal. Such a union might seem to benefit them greatly in the short term but it will cripple its growth in the decades to come. The steam engine that you see here isn’t a culmination of our work, but just another step. Another tool to build even greater tools. What would Esca do if they feel that they are falling behind again? Send another concubine?”

The golden-black eyes of the lamura observed Yeva without flinching. Shahin Esca was as still as a statue. “Do you know of any other means that one of ours could join his family without offending Domina, her daughter, or the rest of your sadaq? You speak of high morals and honour but all I see are walls you raise around my clan. Would you consider adopting one of our daughters, instead? You seem to have a gift when it comes to wrenching sick and weakly children from the clutches of their Fate. Perhaps you could do the same for ours? Our blood is strong but Fate can be cruel to anyone.”

“You should have started with that from the beginning instead of your usual goading,” Yeva snarked. “Once all of us have our first, yes. I know Erf enough to say that he wouldn’t mind.”

Tarhunna slapped his forehead.

“Yeva!” Domina hissed. “What are you doing!? What does she mean about ‘wrenching children from their Fate’?”

“I am staying true to my morals. Erf morals. What is wrong with helping the weak? I am not going to be biassed against a child for the actions of her kin. And our sadaq will have another wermage growing within it.”

“Indeed,” Shahin purred in satisfaction. “It is the duty of the strong to care for the weak. I knew that I could count on your morals in this matter.”

“You didn’t accept some random lamura — you agreed to adopt Shahin Esca’s future daughter!”

Yeva tilted her head. “You expect your child to be sick? You know that if I can heal her I will do that even without adoption.”

Shahin Esca inspected her tail with a sigh. “Lamuras have somewhat troubling births. And I want the best for my child far beyond her health. I do not wish for her to be known as a child born in Servitude, but as an adopted child of a daimon. I have observed you long enough to know that no harm will befall her with you present. I will also remain around due to my Servitude and, likely, beyond. Long enough for her to grow up in front of my eyes.”

“Aren’t you worried that we will teach her our morals?”

“Worried? I am hoping for it. I am not blind — I have seen your sadaq grow with power beyond mere tools. Are you going to deny that the Yeva standing in front of me today is the same Yeva that I met when I arrived in Samat?”

“This is not the time and place for this!” Domina thundered. Shahin Esca was starting speak of things that she didn’t want to be mentioned in public. “This is not a trivial matter to discuss in a workshop! Nor is it an urgent matter. Just as Yeva said — there won’t be any adoptions until the sadaq has their first children and just that alone might take years. Others need to be informed and their opinions need to be considered. Or are you approaching your Heat and, therefore, desperate?”

Shahin Esca pointed the tip of her tail in the direction of the steam engine. It had been running without pause the whole time. “I have noticed a pattern in Erf’s gifts to you. They all fit you perfectly. They all rely on things you have aplenty and give back things that you need.”

“So you seek the same for yourself?”

“His gifts reflect the current needs. Yours, his. Once he was set to enter Emanai service, swords and armour made an appearance. And then we learned that his sadaq was sent on a large campaign, deep into the Forest.”

Aikerim gritted her teeth. “I have his assurances that no harm will befall them.”

The lamura shook her head. “I am certain of that too. But then you have to consider the medal from the other side — what ‘gifts’ would he create to ensure that safety? I’ve heard that Kosenya already expressed their interest in the brigandine. How would the Houses of War react after witnessing his other ‘gifts’ in action? That is why I broached the topic of concubinage — because he might come back to Samat not just with offers from other would-be husbands but concubines as well. Your Manor needs to be ready.”

Domina glanced at Yeva and she sighed. “If it is necessary. Safety comes first, indeed.”

Shahin nodded, inspected the folds of her dress, and made sure they were as neat as possible. “And, if the sadaq changes their mind, I wish to be first. Yeva’s words are honourable but traditions exist for a reason — they bring structure to the chaos of our lives.”

“Quite illuminating.” Tarhunna pushed a lock of hair past his horn. “I should meet with Zamindar Azrin and make sure that she is not… too eager.”

He ducked immediately and a heavy hammer whizzed past his head.

“I am n-not going to be a c-concubine!” Isra sputtered, beet-red. “I… I have work to do!”

“I was not referring to you. Our Matriarch sent the Kausar twins alongside him. They are… rather spontaneous.”

Isra Haleh gasped. “That pair of tricksters!? No! I should have gone myself!”



Lita’af Kamshad Hikmat

“Why did you claim him as a wermage, sister?”

“I did not claim him as a wermage,” she answered without taking her eyes off the enormous sail that the Kausar twins were stretching on the ground. “I said that he has the strength of a wermage and fights like a wermage child. He is a daimon.”

“And what was the purpose of your praise, then?”

“To give you pause, my shortsighted brother. And it was not praise. I lied.”

He growled at the jab. “Explain.”

“He was not as strong as an average wermage. He was stronger. He matched my strength when I was in my battle form and kept growing through the fight. I do not know where his limit lies but I could not afford to continue. Not without attacking to kill. The fact that he broke the arm of that Denag girl was no coincidence nor was it pure skill as you had assumed. All he had to do was squeeze hard enough. Just as he has done to me.”

“That doesn’t explain why you ‘lied’. If you were so intent on praising him to everyone who could hear — why didn’t you?”

“Because he is faking it.”

“His strength?”

She glanced at Muramat. “His weakness. That armour he wears everywhere is for show rather than protection.”

“You are speaking in riddles, sister. The Kosenya Matriarch was very pleased with her gift. Or do you imply the lack of runes?”

“Riddles are good for you, brother. They force you to think ahead. I am sure that his armour is of high quality and likely trumps anything murks and possibly wer wear across the entire Kiannika. But he doesn’t need that protection. You saw our brawl — my punches bent his helmet around his head yet he shrugged that off and kept fighting. My attacks against the chain on his arms only found hardened flesh beneath it. Look at his sleeves — the cloth and steel are ripped and broken but his skin is whole. You can say that he is inexperienced and I would agree with you but he already survived two Collector attacks. Even if he was not aware of his toughness previously — he is not dimwitted enough to miss it by now.

“He is a predator, brother, but of a different kind than us. He is a stalker. He hides in the shadows of his own making and ambushes when he wants to. And like any stalker does — he hates being dragged out into the open. You’ve seen his frustration during the meeting with the General — it was not caused by the missing blade, but by someone trying to learn his secrets. That is why I said what I did — the battle revealed that much already and I saw no reason to threaten him with my revelations.”

“So we just need to drag him out into the open where he is the weakest.”

“To drag him out, you will need to step into the shadows first where he is the strongest.”

“Or lure him out.”

“If you wish to attempt that, you need time, preparation, and knowledge. You lack the last two and you refuse to use the first. This is a daimon of flesh, not Flow. A daimon of the Forest, perhaps.”

“Did he hit you one time too many on the head? What are you talking about?”

“The trick that kept him attached to the ground. He had roots. Look closely as he moves around and you will notice that he has no soles on his shoes. Not anymore. When I hit the ground under his feet during the battle — I hit flesh, not magic. So I thought — magical strength without Spark, roots under his feet, skin as tough as the bark of the white trees — what if he is a Forest daimon?”

“That is preposterous, sister. The Forest has Spark either deep inside the ground or far far away, in the lands where only Gods dare to venture.”

“What if it doesn’t? What if the Forest’s glow is its Spark, spread across its flesh rather than being concentrated at the core? What if Erf also had his Spark dispersed through his flesh? Denying himself the use of magic yet receiving magical flesh instead? His strength is nothing but magical or, to say it better, daimonic.”

His tail swished across the ground in frustration. “This isn’t the time to ponder about the mysteries of life. I heard you last time about treating him as if he was a wermage. How did you manage to turn from a wise elder sister into a scared pup?”

She ignored Muramat as she watched the two Enoch wermages casting fire into the sail, again and again. Initially, Lita’af thought that they were testing how it would fare against the heat and flame, only when the sail started to billow and rise did she realise her mistake.

“They are catching smoke into the sail,” she whispered.


“That sail is for a different type of ship. A sky-ship. They aren’t trying to catch the wind to sail forward — they are catching the smoke from the fire to sail upward.”

Muramat slapped his face. “Your sanity worries me, Lita’af… First Forest daimonas and now sky-ships. What else? Is he going to lift himself into the air by pulling on his sash? Tie his pants tight and fart until Tana throws him away from herself in disgust? This isn’t some child’s fable — stop letting your fear cloud your mind!”

“Then what is it, in your opinion?”

“Perhaps some giant flag that would be visible from afar or something similar. Why should I care?”

“Look at the Kausar twins.” She gestured at the two wermages working near the sail. Their excitement was impossible to miss. “You expect them to act in such a manner because someone gave them an enormous sock to flap around? Look at that wicker basket that is large enough for two Enoch wermages to fit inside, possibly more. And then look at that rope they tied that basket to a tree.”

“I’ve attended the Festival of the Sky, Lita’af. I’ve seen plenty of contestants jumping off the cliffs with their wing contraptions. Apart from the size, this isn’t that special either — many jump with blankets tied to their arms like flying squirrels. Some of them travelled quite far, but all came down.”

“How about a wager, then?”

He grabbed his ears and pulled them down. “Lita’af, you can’t be serious!”

“Have you seen the Censor play a game of chatrang, Muramat? You should try to get into her good graces and watch a game or two. Even play once against her. Quite a fascinating experience — you watch your pieces win confrontation after confrontation only to look at the board at large and see your inevitable doom.”

“Riddles again?”

“Riddles again. If it is a sky-ship — why now? And why the twins?”

Muramat rubbed his beard. “Many reasons to count. Fame, courtship, General’s grace.”

“How about a flanking response to your actions?”

He scoffed.

Lita’af crossed her arms. “Why do you think the sword affair was over so quickly? He was alone during the meeting with no one of status to vouch for him and to press further. He was received like a spear of Kiannika, alongside his superior, and not like the husband of Anaise Kiymetl Hilal, who wasn’t even invited.”

“Of course she was not invited — the meeting was for commanders of the arm and their aides and messengers. The daimon is a messenger of the finger or he wouldn’t be there either.”

“Mushaf Davlat was there.”

“I have spoken to her… She is somewhat distant but that is expected. Mushaf understands the needs of Matriarchs trump ours — she would not act against either you or me purely out of spite.”

Lita’af shook her head. “But she holds no rank.”

“She controls the arusak; stop asking questions that we both know the answers to and say what you intend.”

“And what about two Enoch wermages with a sky-ship? The ones who were already allied to Aikerim Adal’s Manor and have been trying to forge stronger bonds for a while now?”

“You expect Sophia Chasya to climb into that basket!?”

“I expect the General to quickly realise how useful that basket would be inside the Forest… When it is combined with that tiny gift Erf gave her as his ‘thanks’ for retrieving his blade. The looking glass that sees further ahead the higher it is. So many coincidences that seem mildly insignificant until you look at the whole board. Mark my words, brother. If this thing flies — there will be two new faces at the next meeting. Two war mages of Enoch that are already valued for their siege magic. And they will command respect.”

He looked away. “If it flies.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Lita’af murmured, watching the growing ball. Its yearning for the sky was now unmistakable. “Even if this one doesn’t work for them — they will make another one. A bigger one. All they need to do is lift a single person into the sky. Even a child would suffice as long as they can use the looking glass. Knowledge is the Domina of battle, brother, and vision is her favourite daughter.”

“And he gave it away-”

“He gave away nothing! That cloth isn’t wool or linen. Some weave of silk, perhaps, resilient and light. Similar to the cloth of his armour. Name every single Manor that can produce such quantities of this material. Then, once you are done trying to come up with a name other than Aikerim Adal, name every Manor that can make looking glasses. Future Generals will not flock to the Kausar twins to acquire one — they will ask for an audience with the new Kiymetl Matriarch!”

Lita’af gritted her teeth as she saw the basket lift an entire elbow off the ground, unable to go further only due to the multitude of ropes tying it down. “Watch, brother, how the game of chatrang is played in life. How the daimon managed to push back at our Manor both here and in Samat with gifts rather than threats. When you are done watching — rush to our tents and bring me scrolls and ink. I have yet another slew of urgent missives to write to our mother. And, Muramat — rather than blindly charging at the daimon again and again with your ‘probing attacks’, try to act like a man and meet Mushaf more often. It might be more beneficial for our Manor to graciously accept Anaise’s refusal with some token gift than push this further.”






Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.