Ecdysis - Chapter 84

Published at 30th of November 2023 10:59:14 AM

Chapter 84

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Muramat Kamshad Nishad

“What did our rat see?”

“He spent the night within Azhar Mesud’s maniple,” Siavash said as he continued to dress him in armour. For today, Muramat chose to wear the proper Kamshad plates — the hint of depletion told him that today wouldn’t be a light-skirmish day. “A small celebration among the spears for him curing one of theirs — likely concocted by his wermage friend to help his tarred name. Are you sure you don’t want me to keep a closer eye?”

“No. Stay out of this for now.” His sister’s most recent revelations, done in extreme privacy and with utmost safety, were concerning at the very least. While… Their or near-Their… patronage was by many leagues more believable than a miraculous murk daimon, Muramat still couldn’t figure out why that murk would be important to the being that called itself “Azhar Mesud”. What he did know were the strict rules issued by his sister not to intervene personally in any capacity. Muramat was not a dimwit to disagree with that — if he was indeed… one of Them… or someone of Their entourage, it was hidden from others. Revealing that secret, let alone telling him of Muramat’s current knowledge might cause Kamshad to enter into dire straits! “As you are well aware, an agreement was made with Azhar Mesud — he got the rank of Manipular and would not interfere with the matters concerning Anaise Hilal. Do you wish to give him a reason to intervene and attach himself to her like a tick?”

Muramat was certain that Azhar Mesud never stopped being involved, but this was not a Secret his personal Companion was allowed to know. He tried not to think about it too much himself, especially in certain words, let alone speak aloud about it.

Siavash glanced at the heavily runed plates on his chest — blued into a dark-Arksite colour, well oiled, and painted with vibrant colours. “You’ve changed your mind about her.”

“Who am I to disagree with my mother’s orders?” Muramat answered with sarcasm, but it didn’t last longer than a heartbeat. “You saw that fire thunder spell of hers. I admit she is growing into quite a powerful mage, but she is still of the Kiymetl blood. That spell in the oar of a proper Kamshad fire mage could shatter entire armies.”

Then there were other possible reasons to ponder. Just because the Kiymetl rarely produced warriors at the level of Kamshad, that didn’t mean they couldn’t produce them at all. Or that Anaise Hilal wasn’t one. Then there were… other explanations for her sudden growth. It might not be the green of Enoch shining in her eyes; it might be… the Arksite of someone else, mixed with the Kiymetl’s amber. The secret she carefully hid until her Entrance Feast. Or maybe she didn’t even know it herself! The possibilities were quite numerous and most of them made Anaise Hilal quite a match for the son of the Kamshad Matriarch.

The murk was going to remain an issue no matter what, but now there was a tangible benefit to letting her take him even as the second husband. Who knows, with the potency of his seed, he might not remain one for too long. Especially if the murk’s current powers were given to him through her grace and affection. Companion or not, Muramat was learning how to satisfy women in bed when the murk was still suckling on his mother’s tit.

Siavash brought up another plate and deftly started to tie it to Muramat’s hip. “She might be too stubborn to share her secrets that easily.”

He shook his head. “Perhaps. But that is not what sadaq-at are for — they join Manors, not wermages. Personal affections aside, she isn’t stupid to leave her children half-taught. And it would be much easier for me to arrange a marriage between her son and a proper Kamshad Lady of the House if I were her husband. Or his father. Perhaps even one of my future nieces if her offspring shows exceptional talent. She and her Manor would benefit greatly by marrying into the future Kamshad Matriarch’s sadaq, even if she were to become a Matriarch herself by that time. While my House would gain strong blood and powerful spells. And Emanai would prosper as a result.”

Muramat did not know the true will of Azhar Mesud, but he knew the will of the Goddess. As long as the Accords remained unbroken, he would not need to fear the Divine wrath. Even if Anaise Hilal was the daughter of the Goddess herself. He might be chastised and told to back away for his actions against her pet murk, but neither he nor his House would be punished for acting to the benefit of Emanai as a whole.

Something flashed in the eyes of his Companion — a hint of envy, perhaps — but he quickly finished tying the last knot and stood back with a look of satisfaction. “I am sure your children will be quite splendid. Make sure you have them soon, however — I would like to watch them grow.”

He ruffled his hair and started to change. “You are still young, Siavash. It might take time, even years, but she will come around. A decade or two won’t matter much.”

Individual pieces of his armour easily shifted with his changing body and soon he was moving through the camp at the speed of a gale wind. His position allowed him some leeway through the camp but that did not mean he could slack off his duties outright and so he had little time to spare for this short venture. The shape of the Beast also enhanced his appearance — he was no ordinary wermage, not even an ordinary Kamshad wermage that couldn’t change at all or, if they did, couldn’t keep it for long. His blood was strong. His Spark was stronger.

His trip was even shorter. “Your sight is in my heart, Anaise Hilal.”

The Kiymetl Lady turned away from her new chariot and glanced at him. “Your name is on my lips, Muramat Nishad. I did not know you were assigned to chariots as well.”

Her words were even but they were in public. And he was planning to use that to his advantage. “While there is no doubt I would enjoy trampling the barbarians from a chariot once again, the General needs me elsewhere. The reason for me being here is quite simple — I was just made aware of your promotion and wished to present you with an appropriate gift for the occasion.”

Anaise raised her eyebrows when he pulled the cloak away. “A Flow oar? While I appreciate your gesture, Muramat Nishad, I have one already.”

The charioteer was busy painting his whips white for some unknown reason, but the Kosenya wermage tilted his head in their direction.

Muramat smiled. “It is an exceptional Flow oar, carved from a single branch of the Forest, but that is not what matters here. It is an empty Flow oar, Anaise. Every single wermage quickly learns that chariots require different sorts of spell-casting than foot oars. You are no longer inside a fist, firing volley after volley of siege spells — you will quickly find yourself in the midst of enemy formations where speed and precision is the key to victory. Rather than trying to adjust your current oar, it is simply better to have another. Imbued with the vigour of the Forest itself, it would grant more power to your spells compared to a simple wooden one.”

Anaise Hilal knew her magic. She also knew how to ride a battle horse and many other things necessary to wage war that every respectable wermage of the seven Pillars ought to know. But this was her first campaign and knowledge of scrolls and tutors wasn’t enough. She lacked the wisdom of sweat and blood. And not just the wisdom of wermages, but the wisdom of the powerful and influential. The ones who could afford multiple oars even for the slightest increase in their strength.

Muramat wasn’t deaf or blind. If his sister could do it — so could he.



Anaise Kiymetl Hilal

Anaise scowled as she held onto the chariot. Her mood was already soured by Muramat’s overtures in the morning and now she looked like a babe shakily standing up for the first time in her life. She’d ridden chariots before but not on open fields and not while holding a Flow oar in her hand. Anaise didn’t fear losing her grip — if the wer charioteer could remain standing while holding the reins, so could she. But she couldn’t do it as gracefully as Hanif Kosenya Firouz, the ward mage that kept the chariot runes ablaze.

She cursed the Censor’s name under her breath. Anaise was hoping that Sophia Chasya had finally let go of her grudge from being unable to claim Erf, only for her to prove otherwise. Why else would the General assign her to the skirmish chariots only to issue a grand march the morning after!? She could feel her gloating in her arusak, sitting leisurely on a soft couch with fruits and wines all around her, while the chariots heaved and jumped in their charge to harass the freshly rested barbarians.

A dark whisper stirred in the corner of her mind, gleefully urging her to get hurt or maimed. Anaise knew that Erf would skin Sophia alive for this, he promised her as much before they parted last night. Not her actual skin, perhaps, but he had other means at his disposal.

She shook those thoughts away — Anaise wouldn’t allow herself to look not just clumsy but outright incompetent. She did not want to become the Anaise of yesteryear. Anaise the mediocre.

Then there was Muramat. Yes, she understood that most of what he said was true and helpful, but not everything he said was pertinent to her and her new spell. Yet all she could do was politely smile and accept his gifts and lectures — lest she reveal the secrets she and Erf had worked so hard to acquire. Right in front of her charioteer and the ward mage.

“The enemy flank is ahead of us,” Hanif Firouz spoke as if hearing her thoughts, ignoring an occasional arrow here and there. The few that hit the chariot failed to penetrate its runed walls anyway. “Be ready to strike — they won’t stay around for you to try again.”

She pushed the unpleasant memory of the morning away and looked around, seeing just as little as she saw back in the maniple. Apart from other chariots, all she could see was the dark line of barbarian cavalry up ahead… and the occasional shine of metal from the maniples marching at her back. The enemy was close but the chariots weren’t charging yet either. The day was young and horses didn’t have wer stamina.

The ward mage was coddling her — there was still plenty of time.

Anaise gripped her explosion-water oar, she would show him. “Where we will turn?”

She was not weak. Nor was she just another southern Lady. Her eyes darted back to the glint of steel spears behind them. She would protect her sadaq just as Erf and Irje did.

“Yes, we are here to harass them and turn their strikes away from the arms, we do not have the numbers-”

“I know what we are here for, ward! I ask whether we will turn left or right so that we can move our chariot closer to the enemy compared to the rest of our wing!”

“That eager for glory? You will have plenty of-”

“Do you know why I am here, Hanif Firouz? Why the son of the Kamshad Matriarch is trying to court me?”

The ward mage glanced at the runes of her oar. Anaise knew that he would recognise the general fire currents but little else — oars were designed to assist wermages with their spellcasting, not reveal their secrets to others. Only the barest hints of the explosion runes were carved into the wood, just enough to keep the actual spell fresh in her mind. “I do not question the damage of your spells, but if it lacks range-”

“It is loud, ward. It will shred the flesh and scare off horses. Do you want the barbarians to flee or do you want to scatter our chariots as well? While I might not have spent enough time on chariots, I’ve spent enough time with the horses themselves to know their nature. Even a well-experienced war horse would flinch. The deeper I strike into the ranks of our enemy — the better. The General promised me the most trained chariot and the Kishava ward with the brightest Spark — are you saying that you are unable!?”

Hanif Firouz pressed his lips thin. “Raza! Take us to the right side!”

The wer charioteer gave her a glance but obeyed the order without a question.

She reached out and gripped his shoulder. “Be prepared to steady your horses.”

The enemy horde finally started to move. Arrows whistled and two pincers started to emerge — eager to swallow them if they only got too close. A horn sounded from the leading chariot and cracks of whips and shouts of charioteers joined the song of battle. The shaking got worse, but it was no time to worry about her appearance anymore. The chariot wouldn’t crumble, not with the ward standing in it, and that was all that mattered. Some wermages started to hurl spells from both sides, but she bided her time. Rather her spell wasn’t quick to charge but instant to cast. Anaise was immensely pleased that the charging wasn’t obvious.

Erf’s previous guidance came to her mind. “Do you see anyone dangerous?”

“This is not-”

“Do you!?”

The ward gestured at a certain group of archers shooting at them. “There. Too many flags, too few hooves. By the Divine Horns if yo-”

A loud blast rocked the horde.

In the buzzing silence, Hanif Firouz stared blankly at the flesh flying through the air while Raza desperately hung on his reins to hold their horses steady. This time around, her spell hit a much denser contingent of enemy forces with an even more devastating effect than yesterday.

“-ake us back!”

The sounds returned in force, the cacophony of screams, shrieks, and whinnies. Anaise gritted her teeth but yelled again. “Take us back to the enemy!”

The wer charioteer glanced at her with fear in his eyes.

“To the right Raza!” bellowed Hanif. “You have my runes on you and your horses! Ul-lah! Death to our enemies!”

His hand, skin ablaze with engraved runes, pointed again. “There!”

Another blast. More screams, louder clopping of hooves under the running horses.




Sophia Emanai Aethil


She watched the blasts shake the flank of the Barsashahr army. This sortie alone would erase hundreds of their horse archers, but that wasn’t what she was counting on in the first place. Not when the enemy forces were numbered in the thousands. The shock of those deaths did matter. It wouldn’t cause a retreat, but it would keep them wary of her chariots from now on. And for her, it was just as good as an outright rout.

“The arms are in full march, General,” one the messengers knelt for his report.

“Good.” She dismissed him and turned to another. “I want the central chariot wing to turn around and merge with the rest. Have my right wing move forward but do not engage with the enemy.”

The blasts stopped even before the order to pull back was sounded, Hanif Firouz was picked by her not because he was the strongest ward mage, but because he could read the enemy well enough to become a chariot wing commander himself. He would be after this campaign but that didn’t matter. The horde finally shook off the initial surprise and started to create more distance. Their nimble cavalry wouldn’t let her chariots this close for a while.

Just as she wanted.

Ascertained that Anaise was far away from the enemy arrows and without anyone chasing after her, she turned her scowl in the direction of Bayan Gol. She could already feel the maelstrom of Fate coming her way.

“Curse you, Third Bragge. You, your trinkets, and the rest of the Archomilea family.”

She knew her brother was behind her before his shoes touched the floor. “He is showing his true skin.”

“Indeed. He is leaving the siege behind and coming for us.”

Sophia blinked. “The siege was never his target?”

Albin shook his head. “No, I don’t believe so. He wanted one of us. Or maybe both. Here. And now he is coming in person.”

“And you let him.”

“Did I? Yesterday, he lost one of his chiefs and got a wounded sheyda. Today, the Chahar were just sluggish enough with their poisoned horses for Erf’s wife to maim yet another sheyda without even knowing it. Bragge is losing his best warriors already and we haven’t clashed with the main forces yet.”

“I don’t like you leveraging everything on Erf. He might be cautious but he doesn’t have the Sight.”

“I am not. He is but another piece on this board, just like you and I.”

“Like that mysterious artefact that Bragge found.”

Albin nodded. “Perhaps. Bragge’s move was reckless and unpredictable… but not without a cost. Without his forces surrounding Bayan Gol, the garrison can act more freely and possibly reinforce us while Bragge tries to break our lines.”

“Tashir? That arm is robust and well-disciplined, but Bragge will eat them alive as soon as they step outside the city walls. Unless you plan to leave my camp and take the role of its General?”

“Nothing so overt for now, sister. But it is yet another option available to us. Another option that Bragge needs to account for.”

She gritted her teeth. “Like he cared for our options anyway. How many of them are gone now because of his one move? How many will be gone by tomorrow if he does something else!? By the time you craft another one, he shatters ten.”

Her brother pulled out a card deck and started shuffling it. “He would’ve shattered them with or without Erf or Anaise Hilal being present here. With or without me making plans. But if we stop making them entirely, he might indeed shatter them all. Steady your resolve, sister — he is simply swinging his kattar around with a blindfold on. Nothing more.”

Sophia clenched her fists. “I hate this.”

“I know. And I am sorry — Samat has spoiled you.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“It was too easy for you. Too simple. You outgrew it a long time ago but the situation between the families was too tense. So you got used to having your plans always succeeding no matter what. Whether due to your Sight or due to the sheer power and influence you have among the Emanai wermages.”

“So you let me fumble the Kamshad affair just so I would end up being the General of this campaign!?”

“No. I let you practice fumbling with Erf until I saw you ready for this campaign.”

Sophia felt her power boil but she pushed it down. Bragge was too close. “So that I could ‘fumble’ this campaign too?”

“So that the unpredictable no longer stuns you. Annoys you, yes, but not cripples your thoughts outright. I still remember you returning from the baths with your mouth gaping open, muttering something about a dastardly Aikerim Adal who refused to sell you a slave. Was that your first blatant refusal in the last decade? He also kept conveniently reminding you to look beyond your Sight as you plan. Another necessary skill that you shouldn’t forget about. Whether you are dealing with tricksty Erfs, artefacted Braggis, or the families themselves. Do you think our mother can See through their negation chambers when she plans? No, and neither would you.”

She glared at him for a bit, as it was appropriate when her brother was around, then turned her gaze to the marching arms below her arusak. “We will keep pressing toward the river. I have no desire to meet his army in the open field nor do I want to fight him at the edge of the Forest. He could throw his forces at my spears until they eat the horses under their saddles. What is your plan if Bragge decides to fight himself?”

“If he fights as a General, he will get his battle. If he comes as the son of Archomilea? Run away and let our mother deal with his family directly. That would be an enormous embarrassment for them and Cait will get quite a lot in return. An access to the Scar of all things, perhaps?”

“It would be an embarrassment only if he comes out empty-handed.”

“Which is why running away would be so important,” her brother chuckled but quickly turned serious. “He has plenty of forces, but he is committing himself more and more with every step he makes, losing the ability to manoeuvre he once had. And I haven’t started tightening the noose yet. His spies are known to me without anyone scrying my actions with magic; simply because there were no actions of mine to scry. His missives — taken. This is why I keep telling you Erf needs to act independently. That maelstrom of Fate in front of us? I do not think that is Bragge’s artefact. That is Bragge himself. His power. Howling, loud. Obvious. Take Erf for yourself, sequester him in the palace, remove his ‘murk’ from the local River of Fate — and you might stir a similar maelstrom yourself. Well, probably not. Erf is a sensible man and won’t encourage harebrained actions for the sake of making the biggest splash.”

“You fear he won’t measure up to that artefact?”

Albin stood silent as he kept looking west. Past the rising dust of marching arms and an equally large dust cloud of shifting cavalry. A crumpled card in his fingers.

“Do not forget why we are here in the first place. Other families have been stirring for a while, expecting the upcoming election of the new Ministra. Plotting plots. Scheming schemes. Unlocking long-forgotten chests with ancient favours and artefacts. Including the Archomilea. I don’t know how long it took them to find this trinket, but I fear it was but the first drop of the upcoming storm. And Bragge is but the first cloud.”


Anaise Kiymetl Hilal

The day passed in a loud haze. There were triumphant cheers as she returned from her first caracole sortie. There were more sorties after that as well, even if none of them were as impactful as the first one. Even if the barbarians didn’t fear her — their horses scattered away as her chariot drew near

But that wasn’t enough, and the chariots kept moving through the day so that the arms could march unopposed. When the horses got tired, maniples shifted into a step-and-wait march where both fists of the maniple would alternate marching and standing guard so that there was always a hedgehog of spears nearby, ready to shield its sister unit from a cavalry attack.

There were some direct skirmishes between spears and barbarians but the sheydayan weren’t as bold as they were yesterday so even when chariots couldn’t reach them quick enough there were little to no casualties. Two sides would meet, exchange arrows and spells and disperse once again.

And when the evening came, there were more celebrations and even a small feast among the chariots. With her in a prominent seat.

With a fourth mug of wine.

Their cheers fell flat as her ears kept hearing the loud buzz of the morning, drowned only by the screams and shrieks. She glanced at the well-roasted meat and felt nauseous as if still suffering through depletion.

Anaise knew it wasn’t. She was simply too cowardly to be a warrior.

Despite her spells and power, she was still weak. In one of the last skirmishes of the day, the enemy wasn’t quick enough and her chariot got close — Anaise closed her eyes as she cast the spell again.

She drank the mug and scowled at it. It wasn’t helping either.

“I heard one of the Kausar sisters talking before I came here. Kirana, I believe. She said that the river is very close,” a nearby wermage shoved his neighbour and vigorously scratched the base of the tail. “Can wash myself soon enough.”

Anaise got up. Water might help, perhaps.

Quickly excusing herself from the feast, she headed to the nearby well. The autumn water was cold but she didn’t mind — the sting on her flesh made everything else silent.

“You are still fighting them.”

Anaise twisted around in surprise. “Muramat Nishad. What are you doing here?”

The Kamshad wermage stepped closer. “The warriors that you’ve killed. You are still fighting them.”

She flinched. “How do yo-”

“It is known. Anaise. And please — call me Muramat. The spirits of the slain are haunting you. Attacking you in your thoughts and dreams. There were great warriors who killed so many that they fought ghosts day and night until they died.”

She could feel a knot growing in her stomach.

“All you have to do is be stronger than them-”

“Please don’t feed bullshit to my wife, Muramat Nishad.” Erf appeared out of nowhere.

Anaise grimaced. She chose to attend the feast exactly so she could stay away from him and Irje until she felt better.

Muramat bristled. “Quite a foul mouth that you have.”

Erf's hand reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “I merely call things as they are. You don’t fight the dead with steel or spell — you fight the death with life. Rather than sinking deeper and deeper into the putrid memories of past battlefields, you remind yourself where you are now. Alive. Besides, what you are speaking about does not come immediately, but at a later time. The immediate effect is nothing but the exhaustion of a great warrior who is tired from killing so many enemies at once.”

His hand kept kneading her muscles, pushing away the tension that she had from clawing the chariot for an entire day.

“How many warriors have you killed, for you to speak in such a manner?”

She heard Erf rustling in his pouch and Muramat choked mid-speech. “Enough.”

Anaise opened her eyes that she just closed, glanced at her husband, and wished that she kept them shut. She didn’t pull her ears this time — if she kept doing so every time Erf did one of his ‘shenanigans’ she would have ears long enough for an ass.

“Did you kill the enemy General while I was gone, Erf?”







Snusmumriken Chapter was edited by: Xeno Morph and UnknownPlunger.

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