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Ecdysis - Chapter 43

Published at 18th of November 2022 12:19:05 PM


Chapter 43

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Announcement As some of you noticed, there is a daylight saving time that shifted the posting schedule if you aren't in NA. Since some have asked, I will make it into a poll

 

 

“You do realise that this will raise quite a few eyebrows, right?” Yeva asked me as she prodded the recently hatched larva.

“Yes, but I don’t have a lot of options when it comes to battlefield medicine. Sharing nanites is out of the question, especially for something so trite as a stab or an infection. The immediate results will sway many, however, as people are prone to seek cures from the most unorthodox sources as long as they promise relief. I did read some of the books on Emanai medicine. Some of the ‘cures’ they mention implicitly brag about questionable ingredients to highlight their potency, some of them even include the dried-up flesh and bones of a Creature.”

Yeva hummed, “Creatures that look rather similar to insects from what you’ve told me. Just like your creations.”

I shrugged, “It is probably due to the exoskeleton. They might be alien to me, but Creatures appear to have physical bodies which they use to interact with the physical world, despite their magic. It is not surprising that they evolved solutions similar to terrestrial life — Flow or not, wedges and levers always work.”

“Perhaps you are right, but what about you?” She pointed at the second womb that was getting ready to expel its strikingly insectoid contents. “What made your people choose these forms rather than something…more pleasing to the eye?”

I chuckled. “You know, originally that was the exact purpose. When we first started developing living-tech we only tinkered with plant life. It was simple, predictable, and easy to handle. Most importantly — it was easy to look at the plant and see it as a biochemical factory, with encoded responses to outside stimuli. An individual plant’s life is too distant for us to care about. We walk on the grass without bothering to think about the uncountable ‘lives’ we crush with our feet. We rip out their reproductive organs and gift them to people we fancy so that they can enjoy the scent.”

Yeva snorted and smacked my head.

“We enjoyed tremendous success with our endeavours,” I continued with a smile. “And we wanted to do more. Things that didn’t just sit and produce seeds, fruits, or even specific organic compounds and materials like the silk that this bio-printer provides. We wanted tools that move, tools that could solve complex tasks and do them independently. We wanted to build robots with our new knowledge.”

“Wait.” Yeva frowned. “These things are actually plants?”

I wiggled my hand in a so-so gesture. “They were initially, yes, but that was a long time ago. They have so many genes and proteins borrowed from other kingdoms or even specifically engineered alternatives that they belong to their own kingdom rather than being plants or animals.

“As you can imagine, our first attempts to create biological robots drew a lot of discussions and debates. You build a basic android out of metal and plastic and no one bats an eye unless you start dabbling in giving it an AI. You build a warm, breathing doll out of flesh that could barely mimic a few human gestures and people start to get uncomfortable really quick.

“A similar fate befell other prototypes that were designed to look ‘cute’ or ‘pleasant’. People were quick to see them as pets and weren’t ready to witness them perform repetitive tasks like machines. Likewise, being cute wasn’t particularly effective at performing those tasks. Stitching together different appendages also didn’t look too welcoming. So a certain style was chosen — different enough not to evoke unnecessary attachments, and variable enough that no configuration would look like a Frankenstein's monster. Insects, with their immense diversity, were an easy pick.”

Yeva shook her head. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“I mean, it eventually backfired on us, but that was the original plan.”

“Backfired? How?”

“Humans are quick to normalise things. After a few generations people were born into a society where living-tech was a normal part of life, whether it had bark or a carapace. Previous worries were forgotten, but new world views emerged. Just as we stopped fearing wolves and started adoring dogs, the style of living-tech affected us in turn. While I am aware that bio-printers create programmable technology rather than living beings despite their looks, they are still shaped by old traditions.”

I reached out and stretched the iridescent wings of a newly born flyer, while Harald connected to its brain. “Besides, if one design already performs as it should — why bother making something new? Most of these aren’t made for aesthetics.”

The dragonfly chirped in acknowledgement and disappeared through the open window.

“And what does that do?”

“General surveillance, mostly. It is small, efficient, and can feed itself on any terrestrial biomass, but it can’t really do much apart from looking.”

“A spy, then?”

I grimaced, “Not quite. You see, the bio-printer that I have isn’t exactly a military-grade one and lacks anything specifically designed for warfare. While I can circumvent that somewhat by producing individual chemicals or specific materials, the living tech library is limited to civilian use. This is just a reconnaissance drone mostly designed for land exploration.

“While I’ve seen the maps of Emanai, those were usually designed to focus on route lengths and availabilities rather than geographical precision. I wish to see what is actually around us. Especially since I will need minerals and ores Emanai doesn’t even know about.” I scratched my chin in thought. “And I reckon it might be useful in combat. Information is king on the battlefield.”

“Just make sure it doesn’t get you beheaded with your choice of tools, love,” Yeva murmured as she looked into the window. “I prefer you to return in one piece.”

“I will consult with Aikerim just in case, but I don’t believe that they would be that eager to offend another Pillar Manor.”

“Perhaps. But it will be yet another worry on my heart while you are gone.”

“And that is why we are here today. Alone.” I pushed the larva away from Yeva and presented to her the third product of the bio-printer. “I want you to have this Harald seed; not only so that you can use the bio-printer and other living tech, but also so we can communicate on a level unreachable to normal speech and it will provide an additional link between us. It won’t be a strong one: communication at a distance is impossible without the framework of a tree-ship. But you will know that I am still alive just as I know that everything is fine here.”

She smiled. “Further proof of our marriage.”

I wrapped her fingers around the seed. “Yes. While Haralds can be mass-produced, only someone very close will be given this level of access to me.”

“Irje will be jealous,” she murmured.

“Irje and Anaise are coming with me while you stay behind. I am simply making sure that our relationship won’t be as distant. And they will get theirs eventually.”

I watched her silently as she dealt with her final worries before swallowing the seed. Yeva had plenty of nanites within herself so I didn’t bother growing it into a whole date as mine was. Despite my willingness to provide nanites to my sadaq, I had no plans to spread this technology further. And I was sure that Yeva shared my opinion.

Speaking of sharing — I’d felt the first handshake protocols reaching out to me and I welcomed them with open heart and mind, guiding Yeva’s feeble attempts into the forum of thoughts and emotions. Especially emotions.

Yeva shuddered. “Is this how you always feel?”

I smiled. “I am very good at voicing my thoughts. With technologies like Harald by our side, we learnt to live brighter. To love stronger. To let go of our insecurities and just…dive in.”

“Without fear of rejection?”

“What is there to fear? They either like you or they don’t. There is no shame in loving someone who doesn’t love you back. It can be heartbreaking but it will pass, for we are ships in the storm of life — a harbour might be the safest place but that is not what we are built for.”

She tugged my collar. “We are built for love, is that what you are trying to say?”

I shrugged. “Why not? We are beings of flesh and, once our immediate concerns are met, we worry about procreation, safety and inclusion into a social structure, and care for offspring. Love is a concept, not an individual feeling or action. It is an agglomeration of thoughts and desires that we decided to put under one umbrella. And these three are definitely in there somewhere.”

“Show me.”

“Hmm?”

Yeva licked her lips. “Show me your kind of love. We are alone and half of the estate is deaf from the constant noise coming from the smithy anyway.”

Her fingers reached under my tunic. “We don’t have much time left.”

“My kind, you say?” I leaned forward, grinning, as my hand reached down. “Oh, you have no idea what you are asking for.”

My fingers touched the flesh. Mine, not hers. The sensation of touch travelled across my spine into the connective junctions of my Harald system. I left myself open to her as her eyes grew wide from a feeling she had never experienced in her life.

“Wha—!?” She glanced down at herself in disbelief.

“It doesn’t just transmit my feelings and emotions, love,” I murmured as I kept stroking myself. My other hand was busy parting my clothes. “It can transmit desire and sensations.”

I pushed an owlishly-looking Yeva to the nearby table and spread her legs apart. Her work kaftan was short and it easily parted open to the pleasure of my eyes. The benefit of a warm climate and lack of specialised clothing.

Yeva jolted with a loud gasp as I gently spanked her slit with my hardening rod, unprepared for the twin sensations that assaulted her body. I grinned and started to rub my tip across her lips — spreading rapidly growing moisture around and stimulating our most sensitive spots at the same time. Against each other.

“Damn you, Erf!” Yeva gasped, unable to hold her body straight. Assaulted by sensations she never knew, her body was quick to grasp the pattern of pleasure and try to act on it as best as it could. Her hips shifted and jerked, pushing her forward to satisfy a new but pressing need. “What are you doing to me!?”

“Don’t you want to know how I feel when I slide into you?” I murmured as I kept teasing her further and further. “To know precisely how crazy you make me feel? To hear me say I love you, not with my lips but with my heart?”

Grabbing my tunic, she pulled me closer. “Then stop talking and do it!” She was trying to do it herself but her movements were too erratic and I was still holding my dick, denying her the opportunity of simply grabbing it and shoving it in.

So I obliged and slammed into her, feeling the shiver spreading across our bodies as she closed her eyes in bliss.

A tiny smile on her lips.

And a glare in her eyes. “Why did you stop?”

“I am letting you get comfortable first.”

She grabbed my hands and put them on her butt. “If you want me to be comfortable — lift me from this table instead.” Yeva kept me deep inside of her as her mound ground on me with abandon. “And. Do. Not. Stop. Do you hear me?”

“I hear and obey.” I lifted her in the air, and she immediately set a rather vigorous pace. “My, someone is eager today.”

“Shut up, Erf,” She panted without stopping. “Let me feel this.”

I smiled and let her push herself closer and closer to climax. The connection worked both ways and I knew that it wasn’t the twin pleasure that stirred her into such a frenzy. My feelings toward her wrapped around her psyche like a warm and cosy blanket, shielding away insecurities and stray thoughts.

She came silently, only to gasp as her pleasure flooded me and caused me to come as well and smash back into her in a positive feedback loop of ecstasy. Her hands held me tight and close as she shuddered in my arms, slowly recovering from the storm of new emotions.

“That… Thank you…” she murmured, laying her head on my shoulder. “This is the perfect gift for your departure.”

I chuckled. “Now you know why we love hard.”

“It is not that…” She thought for a second. “I thought you could feel what I feel too, no?”

“I share my thoughts, but I can’t request or demand yours — it is something that you will have to learn to do yourself. It will come naturally with time and use — just as it happened with you sharing pleasure.”

“What I am most thankful for is not the pleasure itself,” Yeva hummed, “although it is quite welcome. This connection that we have right now is mine and mine alone. I know that it is likely that Irje and Anaise will experience this eventually, but there won’t be random interlopers. I know how cautious you are about nanites.”

“And Harald is impossible to attach without them present.” I nodded.

“Exactly. This is the type of knowledge that you are actually concerned about, not some baubles, silks, or mirrors.”

With a satisfied sigh, she detached herself from me and slid to the ground. “You know, even after taking the seed, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it; now, I can’t imagine never having it again.”

“The euphoria will pass; it is convenient, not addictive.”

She shook her head. “It is not that. That larva the bio-printer grew — you said it will produce medicine?”

“In its current stage — yes. But it can metamorphose to perform other functions. Reach into the bio-printer — it will tell you.”

Yeva chewed on her lip and slowly extended her arm to the tree. She held her breath and I placed my hand on her shoulder, relaying my confidence and support in more ways than one. A small smile and a nod, and a still-young tentacle emerged from her skin and reached into the bio-printer. Yeva might be still new to this but, just like her body, Harald had a set of instincts that it could rely on. Things like automatic connections to nearby living-tech.

“Can I ask her to make a few for me?” she asked me after a quick but silent communication.

“Her?”

Yeva shrugged. “Well, she has wombs, so it’s a female.”

I shook my head. “It is fine to give them names, but make no mistake: they are machines first and foremost. They aren’t sentient: even though it is happy to be of use and eager to print something new, it would be just as content to stand here idle without care of fire, drought, or cold. Unless you specifically tell it to care. To answer your first question — yes, you have access. Is that related to your change in perception?”

She rolled her eyes. “Try asking Anaise to call her future Flow oar just an oar. She will curse at you. I know it is a tool but you can give names to tools too. Your musings about healing being useful and my new revelations gave me an idea — instead of hiding all this living-tech from your family, I want them to start accepting it instead.”

“Medicine?” I frowned. “Is she sick?”

“No. But we are running multiple kilns non-stop as well as all other machinery in both the estate specifically and the Manor in general. Burns and blisters, sprains and fractures… There is usually someone who might need treatment. Might be a good idea to inoculate murks at well. While wermages and, to a certain degree, wer are sturdy enough to withstand many sicknesses, you know the smell of the Lower city just as I do. Consumption and dysentery aren’t just frequent in Samat — they never leave completely.”

I grimaced. “I know. But I don’t have the clout to change the city’s infrastructure. Nor do I have the time to divide my attention.”

“I am not chastising you for inaction, Erf. Nor am I planning to make this living-tech public. Just make your family aware of the good that they bring. The wounds that they heal. A meat melon is a product of luxury for them, not necessity. A larva that could heal an infected wound or a medical instar that could perform basic surgery? They are much more likely to accept it despite the looks.”

“Well, your ideas are better than the lack of mine. That’s for sure.” I sighed and leaned against the wall. “Do injuries happen that often in the estate? I know the working conditions aren’t stellar, but I am trying to keep it moderately safe. Nor do I hear a lot of reports about injuries.”

“Because you are the master, Erf. And you give them a stipend for work performed, rather than just food and lodgings. And you feed them three times per day. Imagine one of them burns his hand — would he come forward and risk being sent back to being a Manor slave or would he quietly bear the pain and maintain his position as a servant of the estate?”

“I am not going to fire someone for getting hurt. I lack skilled manpower as is! Each one of the workers that I have right now is too costly to replace, let alone send away.”

Yeva chuckled. “You know, this is something that Shahin herself of all people reminded me about. You know this — they don’t. They see you as a master and they expect you to act like one. The reason why some of your ideas fall on deaf ears is exactly that they have nothing to compare it with. Just an eccentric master — and eccentricity is scary. An evil master is predictably evil, a benevolent one is usually benevolent. An eccentric one is neither.”

“Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace — prepare for war. If you want to give them freedom, prepare to be a master first.”

“If you want to pull a horse out of the swamp — you need to throw a rope around its neck. Releasing it in the field would come later.”

“Right. So…you are planning on keeping one for salves while growing the other for stitches?”

Yeva looked at me. “I asked around — do you know who has the highest mortality rate in Emanai? Children. Babes, to be precise, and their mothers. Either at birth or within a year or two after. Even wermage ones. Anaise got her first name when she reached the age of one. She got the name Hilal when she reached ten. Exactly for the same reason that you warned me about with the bio-printer — it is easier not to get too attached. Military deaths aren’t even close.”

“If Emanai would accept something like this. A reconnaissance drone is nothing, compared to an obstetrician instar. Both in size and…intrusiveness.”

A smile broke through Yeva’s contemplative mood. “Yeah, it would be rather hard to explain why a large insect thing would need to go there.

“But, once they grasp the benefits and the increase in survival rate, there would be very few who could dare to stand against us.”

 

Lita’af Kamshad Hikmat

 

Slaves closed the door behind Kiymetl’s envoy and she looked at her mother. “So they have chosen war.”

“They did, indeed. Just as the Censor predicted.” Matriarch mused, the angle of her ears told Lita’af that her choice of words was well-received. “How peculiar. They are either too fearful of Kishava — something that every Kiymetl would deny all the way to their pyre — or they consider my child to be beneath them, yet are unwilling to openly state so.”

“They are hiding something?”

“They are stalling for time. Kiymetl isn’t some random Manor but a Pillar one; there is little benefit for them to hide their power unless they are expecting an attack.” Roshanak Gulnaz rapped her fingers on a nearby table in contemplation. “Or if they are planning an attack themselves.”

Lita’af frowned. “Right after meeting with the Goddess?”

“Exactly, so it is unlikely. A possibility, nevertheless. What is more likely is that whatever they have isn’t strong enough but they believe it will grow stronger.”

“The new spells of Anaise Hilal. She was explicit that they were recent.”

“Not just hers.” A murmur made Lita’af look at her mother. “There are rumours from Kiymetl that her mother was blessed by Flow as well. Then, there are their more mundane discoveries, starting from hair lotions that our Manor is buying from them in bulk.”

Lita’af glanced at her beautiful tail of steel and silver, voluminous and shiny like never before. “You think these are related?”

“I know they are. Because there are new silks of gold and Arksite that earned the curiosity of the Goddess. The glass that glass-makers of Esca couldn’t replicate, and possibly more that I do not know about. What I do know is that all this smells like one very specific thing. Or a being.”

“A daimon was born.”

“Precisely. The question is who, where, and when. Daimonas grow extremely quickly — they start to speak in months and write in a year or two as the raging Flow within them brings forth the knowledge of a long-forgotten past or a never-experienced future. I have been looking into Kiymetl’s births in the last ten years, but I have had little luck in finding anything so far.”

“Just ten years?”

“Even ten is generous. No Daimon has lived in secrecy past that age. They are gifted with ambition as much as they are blessed with power and knowledge. If Kiymetl Matriarch had managed to hide a daimon for longer than a decade, it is not the daimon I should be worried about but Nanaya Ayda herself.

Matriarch paused for a moment and tried the honeyed wine that had been standing untouched for the whole meeting beforehand. “And this is where you will come in.”

“Mother?”

“There are two wermages that are connected to the possible daimon: Aikerim Adal and Anaise Hilal. I was curious enough to offer them my son, yet she denied me. In doing so, they split themselves apart. The question is — would the daimon stay with the mother or will they travel with the daughter?”

“I do not believe that Aikerim Adal would be willing to—“

“If Aikerim Kiymetl Adal did everything as expected of her I would’ve known about the daimon five years ago. The thief of Kiymetl is full of tricks and you should expect no less from her first daughter. I want you to start your service early — the necessary inquiries were made and Anaise Hilal will be placed with you in the same maniple. Observe her and anyone that comes with her.”

“It shall be done, mother.”

Her mother glanced at her, the pale blue eyes of Kamshad Matriarch saw more than anyone else did. Her ears heard more than others could. “I know that you consider her your friend. I am not asking you to impede, just to observe. Find out as much as you can and maintain your relationship — it is too early to act. Especially if there is a possibility that the daimon won’t travel with her or that Anaise Hilal would be willing to trade that spell of hers.”

“Thank you, mother. Do I need to worry about Kishava’s interference?”

After all, her brother Muramat was already promised to one of her friends. Something that Mushaf was extremely proud and protective about. Lita’af knew that she was unlikely to receive such news well.

“No. They know.”

XXX

“Ah! My dear, Divine-touched wife!”

“Shut it!” Anaise smacked my head, despite grinning ear to ear.

Now that the decision had been made, Anaise looked even more spirited than before. She had a clear path in front of her and ‘daimonic’ spells and armour to not only succeed but to excel and shine above all others. She had a target she was eager to vent her frustrations upon and frantic preparations were met with eager anticipation rather than worrisome uncertainty.

“How was the training with Irje?”

She gestured in a so-so manner. “It is moving. I don’t know if she could claim an oar for herself, but an archer she will be. There are still hiccups with precision and aiming but no one learns those overnight. Besides, as long as Irje can volley fire in formation, she is good enough.”

Her ear twitched and Anaise grimaced as she pulled them flat. “Why is Isra so loud?”

“It is the anvil and the steel she is working on. Harder steels usually have a much higher ringing sound when you strike them.”

“Might be a good thing that we are leaving so soon.” She scrunched her little nose. “I am no longer sure that placing the smithy this close was prudent.”

“Isra is eager to work. I am sure we can find a compromise once we are back.”

“Most likely, but I am here for a reason.” Anaise looked around and closed the door and all windows with a wave of her hand. “Here. Take a look.”

I glanced at the codex she placed before me. Darkened from use and rather inconspicuous. “Is this?”

“A restricted Spell Codex of Kiymetl, yes. My mother had provided me with a full version since I am preparing for battle, but she allowed me to share with you my previous one. Most of the spells that I know are written here. Tell no one about this.”

I nodded and opened the book. “My lips are sealed.”

My eyes scanned a few pages only for me to stop and look up. “Um, is this how all spells are written?”

“Well, yes? What is wrong? Is the script too unintelligible? It was written a few centuries ago.”

“No, I can read it just fine…” I tried to summarise the source of my growing frustration. “But why poems!?”

“You know of a better way to do it?”

“What about the rune codex? It had a list of runes with in-depth explanations for each one.”

“Erf.” She tilted her head. “How would you draw something that can only exist inside your mind?”

“Why don’t you tell me how ‘a crying willow, yearning for the spring’ makes fire, instead?” I harrumphed.

Stupid wermages.

I was so close, damn it!

 

 

Snusmumriken Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.





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