Ecdysis - Chapter 71

Published at 16th of June 2023 01:17:15 PM

Chapter 71

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The meeting began in a mundane fashion with Sophia receiving reports from her officers and issuing her orders while she methodically slaughtered one of her Manipulars in the game of local chess. Chatrang, as Aikerim’s books called it.

The meeting was predominantly about my balloon but, rather than getting excited or dismayed by the new piece of technology as she did with the looking glass, Sophia concentrated on the hiccups in logistics and the arms’ marching speed caused by the sudden appearance of the ‘skyship’. I received a few glances from her as she spoke about the disruptions, but she paid little attention to me otherwise. Especially since other Manipulars thought that this new ship was invented by the Kausar sisters, with Kirana busy answering Sophia’s questions about the balloon’s handling and the magical strain of its continuous operation. Or they assumed it was made by Enoch in collaboration with Kiymetl.

Kirana sent me a quick nod when we entered but the nature of the meeting prevented her from speaking to me directly. Not that she needed to — I gave the twins an extensive explanation even before her first flight so she had no issues in answering questions herself and some of them she knew better than I did.

Based on her replies, the ‘oar attachment’ did help with the magic drain and allowed for a single wermage to keep it afloat for a decent chunk of the day, something that Huare was busy with right this moment. The balloon was a magical tool through and through now, Kirana even called it a Flow ship.

Hajar glanced at me as well and, when she saw that I was content with being left out, quietly sighed in relief.

Eager to avoid attention myself, I spent my time standing behind my reclined commander, observing the multitude of canine and lupine ears in the room as well as the wermages attached to them, and acting like an ale holder.

Most of the wermages were unknown to me. While I could easily identify which Pillar they came from and their rank in Kiannika and Ulastai, I didn’t know their names or their characters. Moreover, as the General of this campaign and the Censor of Emanai, Sophia dominated the meeting with her persona. Individual officers were called by their rank and not their names and spoke little among themselves.

Similarly, if any of them did recognise me from the previous meeting with Sophia, none bothered to show it. Worse, some sent me lecherous gazes in response to me looking at them, especially a rather portly Kosenya wermage in charge of our grain caravan. Thankfully, a subtle adjustment of my belt medallions that marked my very close affiliation with the Kiymetl made them quickly lose their interest. The last thing I wanted was getting whored to some randy quartermaster that had great-grandsons twice my age.

I wasn’t even trying to shape myself into what Emanai considered to be an ideal male form. I was proud of my slave name because it was given to me by my mother, and the same could be said about my face and body. What did set me apart from other murks was how healthy I looked in comparison. My skin was smooth and soft, lacking scars and signs of hard labour while my hair was shiny and pleasant to the touch. Exactly how my wives preferred it. For the hardened cougars of Kiannika, after days of continuous marching, far away from the pleasure districts of Uureg and convenient prostitutes of the Kiannika’s main fort, I was starting to look like a delicate flower of Emanai more decadent south.

I sighed and turned my attention to the game instead. From what I had read about it in Aikerim’s books, and as I was watching it with my own eyes, the rules were identical to neoclassical chess while the figures themselves resembled shogi pieces where each one was represented by a round coin with a carved rank. There were minute differences — instead of the king and queen, they had the matriarch and vizier pieces, for example — but those were too insignificant to affect the actual game. They were also gold and silver rather than white and black but that could be Sophia showing off her wealth.

While the game had been described as an appropriate hobby for all wermages, it attracted more attention within the Houses of War for obvious reasons. Or maybe Aikerim was just really not into it — I wasn’t an expert on the everyday life of other Manors. In contrast, the Manipular appeared to be quite decent. Considering that Emanai had no professional chess scene, her skill was even more remarkable. The Manipular of Kiannika’s third maniple was a wermage and had been playing for at least a century if not longer to achieve her current level of skill, but chess was a game of immense combinations and human genius could only do so much.

This was why there was such a drastic improvement when chess transitioned from the game of kings and generals to the game of everyday people and professionals that earned their living by breathing chess. Subsequent grandmasters soared to new heights but they did so by climbing the ladder built by countless players and researchers trying, failing, and collecting multitudes of openings, strategies, and play styles. This was why chess kept climbing higher when computers joined the challenge as they could do what humans could not — perform an enormous number of simple calculations extremely quickly. Until the advent of artificial intelligence, organic or not, and personal augmentation made the neoclassical rules obsolete.

The game wasn’t solved since by all intents and purposes it was physically impossible to calculate and record every single move, but breakthroughs in computations created the so-called ‘sensible graveyard’ families — groups of board positions where most pieces were either gone, deadlocked by other pieces, or ‘dead’ due to their moves being extremely disadvantageous. The decrease in possible moves meant that some of those positions were solved outright while others had partial solutions that promised eventual victory or significant advantage if an opponent was aware of the trap. The skill of players stuttered, further replaced by the memorisation of inhuman strategies, and chess as a professional sport faded away.

It was possible to draw parallels with Pi calculations. There was a time when renowned mathematicians competed among themselves in their skill to calculate it but, as technology and knowledge progressed further and replaced the need for human acumen, such calculations ended up in schools as mere tests for young students’ proficiency.

Fortunately for the Manipular, Emanai was nowhere close to that fate and she would enjoy the days of glory for years to come.

Unfortunately for the Manipular, she was facing a time manipulator as her current opponent.

I had to give it to Sophia — even if she was using magic, she made it look quite effortless. Or she was actually that skilled in chatrang. Despite her proud character, Sophia wasn’t stupid — her proficiency in math and geometry was unquestionable and the style of time magic I‘d observed from the Chasya twins could only improve her skill at chatrang, not outright replace it.

Besides, this style of play was undeniably Sophia’s. Despite her disinterested look, she was aggressively cornering the Manipular on the board to a degree that she kept leaving gaps in her defences. Nothing disastrous but they could have taken some wind from her sails if her opponent actually spotted them.

Sophia knew her opponent quite well.

“Tell me, Erf,” she suddenly mused, “why do you think I am playing this game?”

I raised my eyebrow and glanced around. The frozen faces told me enough.

“Solidifying your status? Showing your skill? The Manipular is clearly too weak for you to enjoy the challenge, even if you keep leaving your chariot in a weak position.”

She glanced at the board with a scowl. “So you do know chatrang.”

I shrugged. “It is not a hidden knowledge.”

Sophia got up from her couch, without disturbing anything in their places, and walked toward the window. “I play those games so that my Manipulars are confident in me. I show them my worth beyond my titles so that, when the battle comes, they will not falter in following my commands. And the battle will come. Do you know the future?”

I shook my head. “I was merely observing the board and predicting the moves.”

She glanced at me. “Come here.”

I walked up to the window and saw what Chirp had shown me many times before — a long line of soldiers, mules, and carts that was stretching for kilometres in both directions.

“Two arms of Emanai. Twelve thousand warriors marching through the Forest to clash with a horde of barbarians sieging our city. Countless ships are following our path, laden with foodstuffs so that we can march quickly and without hunger. Twelve against twenty-five.”

I felt my hair raise on my back.

“There is another arm within the walls of Bayan Gol but they will be cut off from us when we arrive. The rabid cats of the steppe beyond the mountains are vicious but smart and know that they cannot afford for us to unite our forces nor resupply the city with much-needed food. Winter is approaching and they can’t feed their hordes with mere snow, while we can ship more grain from Uureg. They will know of our arrival and they will build walls and barricades to stop us. Eight and twelve against the entrenched twenty-five. That is my real board — can you predict the outcome of that as well?”

I frowned; I did not like those odds at all. That had the hallmarks of a slugfest and I abhorred those types of battles as they guaranteed multiple casualties on both sides. But I could offer little since my strategies relied on more technologically advanced armies and fleets. It still bothered me that there could be a Creature munching on the end of our procession at this very moment and none of us would know until some horse rider galloped by with the news half an hour later.

“I cannot. You said that there is nowhere for them to forage?”

Sophia kept looking into the distance. “Bayan Gol is located at the edge of the Forest, but most of the nearby land is covered by blood grass that no animal would eat. There are no villages for them to plunder either. We are lucky that they come with what they can bring — there would be three hundred, not twenty-five, otherwise.”

I sighed. Sieging with a smaller number of forces was a suicide. It didn’t sound like Sophia was considering throwing Emanai arms away into the pyre of glory, or I had much bigger problems than I expected. “So there is no need for us to scale at their barricades, then. Assuming that Emanai can resupply us with ships of grain, we can outlast the stalemate. If the opponent is smart, they will recognise that too and meet us in battle while they still hold an advantage in numbers. Would it be wise for me to expect Emanai arms to be much stronger than the ‘barbarian hordes’? Enough to negate the numerical advantage?”

Despite the name-calling, the word barbarian in Emanai didn’t mean technological inferiority, merely a civil one. If that was true at all — some called even lamuras barbarians.

The shark-like tail scraped the wooden floor. “I am not throwing my arms away. We will be victorious. As long as the city stands.”

“As long as Bayan Gol stands. I assume they aren’t trying to capture the city but merely plunder it for tin?” Seeing Sophia nod, I continued, “They might try to sack it and disperse rather than fight us.”

She turned toward me and raised an eyebrow. “It appears that we have to be quick if we are to succeed then, wouldn’t you agree?”

I paused for a second. “Is this about the balloon? It was not my intention to-”

“No, this is about the safety of an entire city. You knew that your flying basket would distract wer and wermages alike — you have built it to impress the Kausar twins and intentionally revealed it to warn and confuse the Kamshad. Did you expect other wermages to ignore it? This isn’t Samat, Erf, and you aren’t surrounded by idle Dominas, ready to be impressed.”

I bristled. “I acted based on the knowledge I possess, Sophia Chasya. Are you telling me the arms of Emanai are so incompetent that an action of one spear could topple the entire campaign?”

“Are you that ‘mere spear’? We both know that is a lie.”

“Yet, I am not here by my will.” I rolled my eyes. “Honestly! It is as if they brought a mule into their sleeping room, only to complain that it smells like a stable. What did you expect?”

Sophia snorted. “Is that why your finger calls you a Mule Boy, and the First Spear grimaces when you are around?”

“They call me that because I can and I do carry a load fit for a mule on my back rather than making others carry my ‘luxuries’ for me. My point still stands.”

Her hand reached out to my chin and pulled me closer to her face. “And this is why I am telling you all of this. Perhaps next time you will think about the needs of our arms before acting out another ploy of yours. Do keep silent about it, however. If anyone, and I mean anyone, hears from you about the upcoming battle — I will chop that head off your shoulders no matter how long Albin would sulk afterwards. This is my word to you as the General.”

I blinked. “What?”

“You heard me, Erf. There is more going on than you can comprehend and arms are marching exactly as they should — neither so slow that we would arrive too late and witness smouldering ruins nor so fast that every murk in Ulastai and Kiannika would be worthless in battle from exhaustion. We will arrive exactly when we need to. I would rather reveal the knowledge that even my Manipulars aren’t privy to than have you ruin everything with ignorance.”

“Aren’t privy to?” I sighed in realisation. “You are telling me because I am a murk? That is why I can’t speak about it — it is too murky while it stays only in my head.”

“A blessing and a curse,” Sophia murmured as her tail lifted her away from me and deposited her on a windowsill. “If you were a wermage, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. Well, we wouldn’t be here in the first place, but that is a tale of another time. You aren’t and we are.”

She looked out of the window. “Play songs with Albin, annoy your commander, but do not hinder my plans and I will leave you alone, for now. I have more important tasks to do. Or, better yet, play songs with your commander and annoy my indolent brother instead. If you think about doing something like this hanging basket again — I better be informed first. Got it? Fail to do so and I will find you a better commander to please.”

I glanced outside at the frozen column. While I maintained my opinions about Sophia Chasya, I couldn’t fault her for acting like an actual general. Even if that was somehow caused by Albin not doing his apparent duties based on her near-silent grumbles. For a moment, I imagined Albin with his sash full of embroideries of his previous campaigns sitting with a bowl of popcorn. Teasing Sophia that in her pursuit of me, she had managed to take on more responsibilities than she was comfortable with and no he was not going to help.

“Don’t even think about it.”

I shook my head, sending silly thoughts away. “I will keep that knowledge with utmost care. Thank you, General, for your confid-”

“I am not confident in you, brat!”

I brushed her rebuke aside. “Your brother asked me to repeat my mock battle with Lita’af Hikmat in a couple of days and I intend to do so. I am also giving medicine to my finger to purify their bodies.”

Information for information. She confided to me about the upcoming battle, something that she undoubtedly learned through her Shebet ‘wind’ magic rather than directly from scouts and Procurer detachments, hence the secrecy, so I felt obligated to open up my cards to her as well, in a manner of speaking. I wasn’t even revealing much. Hajar knew of my inoculation of her spears and my spar with Lita’af would happen soon anyway so I was mostly preventing potential future backlash.

Sophia glowered at me for a few more seconds and then took a more serious tone. “How strong are you really?”

I shrugged. “Tougher than I look. Intentionally so. If someone dares to attack the Alchemist of a Pillar Manor, that is on them. I have never tried to gauge my strength nor do I have the desire to do so — I am not seeking the title of the strongest.”

“Are you strong enough to have a mock fight with the daughter of the Kamshad Matriarch or are you strong enough to kill her?”

“She is a wermage and a Kamshad wermage at that. Quite tough to kill or even injure while she is in her battle form and regenerating non-stop. I am not desperate to win either — I would concede defeat before I strike with an intent to kill.”

“Not planning on using your poisons, then?”

“Lita’af Hikmat isn’t trying to kill me or capture me into a life of slavery if I were to lose. Every situation requires an appropriate level of force.”

Sophia raised an eyebrow. “And what is the force you are planning on using?”

I scratched my head. “I am making two whips. They should help me with wermages yanking me around with their magic.”

“Whips?” she leaned closer to me, “like the two main tentacles of a Cancer?”

I did a double-take. She did not say that word in the local language. Sophia said it with an accent but it was impossible not to recognise Latin.

Her eyes narrowed. “As I expected, you recognise that word. Their True Name. How?”

Congratulations, Erf.

“Potesne loqui latine?”

It was her turn to blink. “What?”

So she could not, in fact, speak Latin. “Never mind.”

Granted, I had been using Latin from time to time for a while now, yet no one recognised it as somehow related to Creatures. The Censor had access to some ‘esoteric’ knowledge, most likely.

Her tail scraped on the floor. “Erf,” she growled, “answer my question.”

“It is not a name. It is another language. And a very old one at that. It means a crab. I do not know who, when, and where gave that name to Creatures — I merely know the meaning behind the word. If I had to guess, someone named it by the resemblance to crabs or through association with an old group of diseases that spread across the body and corrupt it until it dies. Some could see similarities with the Forest behaving like one.”

“What do you mean ‘another language’? All of Tana speak the celestial tongue, spread across the land by Gods themselves.”

I shrugged. “Languages live, evolve, and die. As a Censor, you know a lot more than me about gods and their involvement in the language propagation across Tana. I just know that there were more languages in the past.”

“Damn this campaign!” Sophia roared and started pacing back and forth. “Fight the girl. If my brother considers it worthwhile to avoid future issues within Kiannika then you should listen. Report to me before the battle and make sure my time watching it will be well spent. What was that about medicine? Are you making my warriors as strong as you are?”

I shook my head vehemently. I remembered vividly how antagonistic wer were in Samat after seeing me with non-murk ears. “Nothing of the sort. I am merely purifying their bodies so they won’t get sick as they march. They are still murks, they just don’t shit their pants anymore from drinking stale water. This is my gesture of goodwill so that they won’t think about stabbing me in the back for something silly like a handful of cuts from a shady character.”

Sophia harrumphed and threw herself back into her couch. Remembering her previous prank, I quickly returned to my original position as well.

She rolled her eyes and deliberately put her feet on the chessboard. “I heard that Mushaf Davlat is interested in talking with you?”

I had to rub my neck from the whiplash, Sophia was taking me places. “She is… interested in ‘Azhar Mesud’. I am thinking of a polite way to let her down.”

“Don’t. In fact, I expect you to do your best. You seem to be quite resourceful in the most surprising ways and I am interested to see you try.”

“There is a difference between an exchange of information and me actively working against someone I consider my friend. The Kausar sisters taught me something new, so I taught them in turn. You are asking me to plot against Albin and lead on Mushaf Davlat in her quest for lov-”

Sophia scoffed. “Don’t be a naive fool! She has no love for him nor does she want to love him. She wants to fuck him and take his seed. I am not asking you to succeed — she hasn’t earned the right to bear his children anyway — I am asking you to make my brother squirm. For once. It should be good for his character.”


She pulled out a small but heavily engraved coin from her kaftan. “I know what you asked of the Kausar twins for that basket or the gifts that my dear brother gave you. I am also quite certain that Aikerim Adal earned your allegiance with similar offers. Runecarving, perhaps?”

I stayed silent as I considered my options but the Censor wasn’t interested in my denials or explanations. “You seek our magic and now I know why. You use it to compare against your knowledge, your ancient knowledge of times beyond. And through that, you unearth the long-forgotten spells to assist your wives. A commendable task for a husband, especially one that cannot use them himself. Don’t look surprised — my library is vast and holds many records of the past, including the recent ‘Fire Thunder’ spell of Anaise Hilal.”

I kept my eyes on the object in her hand, unsure if that was the tool she used to learn my secrets or some version of the Orb of Truth. Her revelations were annoying but I wasn’t paranoid for no reason. Even if she made them public, my status as a daimon was already spreading and neither Aikerim nor Anaise would suffer repercussions for teaching magic to ‘some murk’. It might cause Enoch to expect some ‘reparations’ for me bringing shame to their Manor but those should be symbolic at best.

Sophia tilted her head, tapping her werdrake horn on the coin. “Curious? It could be yours. For an appropriate price. Information for information.”

I glanced at her like a hawk. “What does it do?”

Not that I was desperate to learn her magic — I was eager to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what it does. What matters, Erf, is what it is. This is an artefact. Its runes will work even in the hands of a murk. Your hands.”

“That… is an expensive item.”

Her tail swished around. “I have no time nor desire to bother with petty trades. If you aren’t ready for mature deals — go serenade my brother. Perhaps he would give you another of his childhood toys.”

I sighed. “What are your terms?”

She flicked the artefact into my hands. “Make sure that my brother’s life isn’t too dull. Learn everything you can about this artefact and report all your findings to me directly first. Not your wives, not your Domina. Me. This is my artefact and only I have the right to decide who learns about it and who does not. Don’t even think about crossing me or keeping the knowledge to yourself or I will have you banished to the Sky Castle for judgement.”

She glanced down at the chariot piece on the chatrang board. “You will also stand through my meetings as a scribe and record your observations on the matters at hand. Make sure you don’t write something stupid. Impress me with your findings and I will let you keep the artefact and claim it as yours in public. I will even let you share some of that knowledge with your sadaq.”

“Will you pull me from my finger?” I asked while inspecting the glowing curves of the artefact in my hands. Compared to the normal runic lines, the carved grooves on the coin were smoother and more diverse in their depth and shape.

“You want more attention, Mule Boy?”

I sighed and let myself think. Her intent was obvious but it was also reasonable. At least this time around, instead of pressuring me with her status, Sophia treated me in a manner similar to her dealings with Aikerim Adal. She had the goods, she knew I wanted those goods, and she was willing to trade to get what she wanted. The question was — would she keep to her word or milk me for my knowledge and take the artefact back once I ran out of ideas? I haven’t heard of her breaking her word but we weren’t dealing with something trite like gold. Artefacts were Divine Gifts. While Albin used his Orb of Negation to hide my shuttle, at no point in time did he ever suggest that it could be mine. It was his and he was currently using it in a matter that benefited us, nothing more. This stank like a mousetrap.

“This isn’t a Gift.”

She was Albin’s sister.


“I said this isn’t a Gift. Not by the likes of the Orb of Truth that your Domina possesses. This is a minor artefact. Many Manors have them and Pillars have handfuls.”

A very old memory rattled in my head “Like the twelve glowing orbs in the Kiymetl’s Primary Manor?”

I remembered being fascinated by them when I entered the Pillar for the first time. Hours away from meeting Virnan Shah, the wise fox of the Kiymetl. The man who put the golden Gestr on my neck only to sic Sophia Chasya on me with his boasts days after. My uneducated self thought they were magical items as they were the only ones glowing among the sea of inert runes.

“Yes, it is common that Manors perform a worthy service to the Goddess, but not grand enough to deserve an actual Gift. It is my duty as the Censor to offer such artefacts to them in turn.”

A casual abuse of authority, in other terms. How nice. Granted, Emanai had slightly different opinions about corruption than I did, and the service to the Censor was seen as the service to the goddess herself so she was technically in the right.

“What does it do?”

Sophia tut-tutted. “You ask much without offering anything in return. Agree to my terms first and I will tell you. No sooner.”

I wasn’t sure if she figured me out that well or if she was merely offering me a local version of glass beads, but the fact that this was a minor artefact made me even more interested. I was still losing my mind about their magical spell poetry, to even think that I could crack an enigma akin to the Orb of Truth anytime soon was the highest level of arrogance. But something like a glowing orb, when I was already familiar with runes of light and carved a few myself? Yeah, I could bet on those chances.

“Well, I was itching to punch Albin at some point. I could prank him instead. About the rest? As long as I have the right to return the artefact at any time — you have my word.”

“You have one chance. If you fail or if you return it — there won’t be other offers.” She pulled out a book of math riddles that I’d written for her and Virnan as my ‘apology’ for the sudden disappearance from Samat and subsequent halt on my lectures. “No tricks this time.”

My nod made her grin. “Press your palm to its surface.”

I did as I was told and my ears were rewarded with the magically crafted sound of a divine origin.

I closed my eyes and kept myself from groaning while Sophia burst into a deep, hearty laugh. It was my fault really, as I should have been worried less about Sophia selling me the glass beads and more worried about Chasya doing it. Because I should’ve known better.

Because Chasya offered me a magical ‘fart pillow’.

I raised my eyebrow. “So all this talk about it being an artefact was a lie?”

“You question my words? Its magic will work in your hands when no wermages are nearby.”

“I question its purpose. Or was it a gift from a child god?”

Mature deals, my ass.

Sophia savoured the unimpressed look on my face for a bit longer then waved her tail. “This piece is called ‘the memory of a sound’. Notice the straight line in the middle — if you slide your finger across it, the artefact will remember a new sound nearby. Every time you press it — it will remember it. You can make it speak words or short sentences too. It had been lying in my vaults for quite some time now — ever since my brother ‘gifted’ it to me. The memory has remained unchanged since.”

“A new sound nearby…” I shook my head and wrapped the coin in a small piece of cloth. “Is it washable?”

“It is made of bronze and has reinforcement runes placed within. It will work as long as you don’t smash it with a hammer. Not that you should try — this is an artefact and one that you haven’t earned yet.” She grinned. “Work hard, Erf, and one day you might claim it as yours.”

I idly wondered if that was how Aikerim and others felt around me during some of my revelations.

“Am I allowed to change the recording? Or does it hold sentimental value?”

She scoffed. “I gave you the artefact, not the sound.”

“Thank you. I will cherish it, and I will study it.”

“Oh? You are quick to control yourself.”

I spread my arms. “Childish jokes aside, it is an incredible piece of magical art. Even if this was mere runework that relied on wermage power, the functions it has are phenomenal. Two separate, touch-activated functions that can work independently yet are still interconnected? Even if I manage to uncover how it does all that, I would be satisfied with our trade.”

Sophia nodded imperiously. “I knew you were wise enough to recognise its worth. Remember what you promised to me as the General, Erf, just as what you promised to me as the Censor. Not a word to anyone before me. And we will return to this conversation when I say so.”

I nodded “I have my honour.”

She took her feet off the table. “Good. Now, get back to your place — I have more important things to do than entertain you while holding time in my grasp.”

I wasn’t sure who was entertaining who, especially in the last part of our conversation, but the room shook once again, reminding me that we weren’t standing on solid ground but riding an enormous bipedal walker.

“Hajar Kishava,” Sophia spoke while shifting her chariot into a stronger position. “I was informed that the skyship of Enoch was built with the assistance of your finger. While I did say that I hoped to hear good news from you, I did not expect to hear them so soon. I am impressed.”

“I am unworthy of your praise, General,” The First Spear said in a well-rehearsed tone. “Others have done more and I would not dare to-”

“Humble and honourable,” Sophia ignored the rest of her answer outright. “You will be summoned to my next meeting. Not to report but to attend. And every Manipular meeting thereafter. Are you willing?”

Hajar’s fist slammed her chest. “Of course! It is an honour to serve!”

“A promotion?” one of the Manipulars murmured. “Is it your wish to create a new maniple, or…?”

A few Manipulars shared glances, especially the ones of lower maniples, while the Manipular of the third maniple pondered even harder about her next move.

“Not yet. It will be good practice for her in the meantime.” Sophia lifted her eyes and glanced at Hajar for the first time. “That will be all for today, First Spear.”

Despite Hajar’s attempts to nod and gesture in my direction, Sophia quickly returned her gaze to the chatrang board.

“What the fuck was that?” Hajar murmured as we landed at the feet of the lumbering arusak.

“It looked like the General noticed you and gave you an appropriate position.” I quipped, deep in thought.

“Listen, Erf. If she did that to spite you, this is between you and her…”

“Rest assured, First Spear — I am quite aware. Do you remember our talk back in the fort? I promised you that you will rise by merely being around me.”

“That you did. Perhaps you do know some strategy.” Hajar slapped my shoulder. “Come! I think I have a jar of ale hidden somewhere. It looks like today is indeed a good day for a drink.”

I nodded and started walking alongside her, but my thoughts were elsewhere. Not in my body pouch where the artefact remained hidden, surrounded by my flesh, but somewhere far ahead, where the twenty-five thousand strong army was waiting for us. And I was still receiving evil glares from dark corners for some reason.

“By the way. Who was that Kosenya wermage that stood in the corner and kept glaring at me through the meeting?”

“That’s our First Bow. Did you step on her tail?”

“No idea. I guess I will have to ask Irje.”







Snusmumriken Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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