The Power and The Glory 7.2

Edam quirked her eyebrows.

“Not so fast, friend,” said Edam.

“Not my friend yet, but I suppose you must have some questions,” said Dzhate, “And a friend of Merya’s isn’t a friend of mine but you are interesting enough to be a friend. So ask away.”

Edam looked around the dusty, decrepit household. She had her suspicions already about what was going on here, but she wanted to confirm things.

“You’re in charge of some kind of criminal enterprise, aren’t you?”

“Now, it is not a crime to know things, is it?” 

Edam looked at the book and pursed her lips.

“I think it is actually a crime in this case,” said Edam, “But come now. You don’t just ‘know things.’ You clearly have resources. And my Merya is your errand girl, I take it.”

“A friend,” said Ana. Edam felt a little skeptical of that now, but she accepted the idea. She trusted Ana enough to know that she was being very genuine with that statement.

“And none of that is particularly criminal or immoral,” said Dzhate.

“I may not be perfect with ecclesiastic law,” said Edam, “But I recognize heresy when I see it. It is literally a crime to be reading that. Don’t be coy.”

Dzhate shrugged.

“Fine. It’s a crime,” said Dzhate, “I know things I am not permitted. It’s been a vice of mine since I was very young, and I cannot give it up.”

She spoke in a stilted, strange manner, getting more formal as Edam stared her down. 

“So you’re just learning this for the sake of learning it?”


Edam tried not to squint as she tried to remember a list of notably banned topics under the Church’s eye. Necrosorcery seemed like an outlier, whether it was necromancy or lich-creation or even the finer points of working with human remains in general. It certainly wasn’t a theological heresy. Devil-worship and witchcraft were certainly on the table, particularly with the mention of pornography. The disguise of an occult ritual as a partially or purely sexual arrangement was not the strangest thing that Edam had ever heard of. Some devils even demanded it was a form of tribute, as unsavory and strange as it was. Dzhate breezed by the matter, so she suspected that it wasn’t relevant here. 

The liquifying floor trap was also pretty suspicious, as crafted as it was.

Something else was at play. 

“Merya, where did you get that book?”

“I, well, I stole it while I was breaking you out. It was in the section for banned and heretical books. I don’t know anything else besides it being a grimoire. I’m actually a little curious myself.”

Edam squinted.

“You didn’t look at what was inside it?”

“No,” said Ana.

“You’re getting sloppy.”

“I’m not investigating her. You shouldn’t be either.”

Edam suddenly felt as if she had been shocked back to reality. She had been so focused on getting the truth out of Dzhate that she had started to fall back into the routine she and Ana kept to when they were working a suspect. She shook her head a little and tried to refocus. She still needed some more answers.

“Agreed,” said Dzhate, “No need.”

Edam ignored her. 

“Point taken,” said Edam, “Point taken. I’m just a little concerned that this girl has asked me for a commission right out the gate and yet she’s acquired this highly illegal book that had to be taken out of one of the most secure buildings in the city.”

“Surprisingly, I think they’re understaffed,” said Ana, “Missing at least one member. I expected more security with one of their own having turned coat, but no. I mean, I’ve also had prior experience with that sort of security, but that’s beside the point.”

Ah, thought Edam, That would be my fault. The raid on the barrow.

“But besides, you seem like an excellent young sorcereress but you’ve also been nothing but obtuse when it comes to your motives. I may have recently left my former organization, but I’m not some total rube willing to do anything for anyone. Regardless of where I am.”

Ana nodded.

“I think we’re owed at least a little answer.”

“I could just turn you two in.”

Her intonation here felt odd. She said it like any petty tyrant might, but without the force behind it. Her youth truly hindered her here. Her voice simply didn’t carry the confidence required to pull off that sort of threat. All the same, her expression seemed far more ready to make good on it. 

Ana scowled, and looked at Dzhate like she had been betrayed. 

“You’re my friend Dzhate,” said Ana, “Or at least I thought you wanted me to be.”

Dzhate pursed her lips, seemingly taken aback.

“I- I didn’t mean-”

“You can’t threaten her like that,” Ana continued, “She’s my woman so long as she’ll have me. I broke her out of prison to give her a second chance, and now you’re extorting her? What a petty little tyrant you are! What a terrible friend!”

She put a possessive, protective arm around Edam. Edam accepted it like a shield, letting her face lean into her elbow. Dzhate seemed to crumple in place, unable to speak against Ana. It was a sudden and total reversal – for a moment she had seemed totally confident and in control of the situation, ready to make good on the threat at any time, but the instant Ana attacked her as a friend, she shrunk as if she had been punched in the gut. Ana looked at Edam, and her expressions did a good bit of speech for her. First, a gentle, concerned examination to make sure that she was fine. Then, a sort of meager nod, the kind they’d share in an interrogation when a subject acted oddly or in an unruly way; their personal signal for ‘this one is a handful, aren’t they?’

Dzhate stayed silent for a while before speaking again.

“I’m sorry,” said Dzhate, “I spoke hastily and without thinking of our friendship. I would have little to gain from extorting you, and more to gain from speaking to you on more even terms.”

“Good,” said Ana.

“Are we still friends?” Asked Dzhate, meeting Ana’s gaze.

Ana looked at Edam for approval. Edam nodded. She had confidence that whatever Ana said next would be the right call. She clearly had more experience with this girl.

“We can be,” said Ana, “But I need you to be a woman of your word. Tell me why you would say something like that, and promise me that you won’t say anything of the sort again and you won’t extort us like that.”

Dzhate looked down.

“I don’t like sharing information.”

“Well, if you still want to be friends with me-”

“No,” interrupted Dzhate, “You aren’t understanding. I need to control the information, I need to have command of it, or else what am I? I lose control of the flow of knowledge and I lose everything. I lose this house, I lose what little wealth I have outside of what I know, I lose my power and I risk losing my life. Knowledge is my fulcrum of power.”

“Fulcrum of power?”

Edam scowled. Ana didn’t seem to recognize it, but she did.

The Methods of Lords? You’re citing that?”

“It’s the essential book for a politician,” said Dzhate defensively, “Or anyone that controls power.”

“Like a criminal.”

“They’re surprisingly similar,” said Dzhate, “They’re simply on opposite sides of the law. Sometimes they’re one and the same.”

“Spoken like someone who’s read The Methods of Lords.

The book was a sordid affair. Her uncle made her read it when she was young as a way of giving her a small measure of secular education. It was dry, unassuming, but insidious in its evils; a treatise of politics with no philosophy besides the ways a man could come into power and the ways he could maintain an iron grip upon it. No holds were barred from the competition for dominance except for the ones that would give ground. Assassination, fearmongering, lying, seduction and all manner of legal and illegal actions were considered good sport for a lord by the book, with no regard for how it might affect the general populace. It was a terrible book, and she hated every chapter she read of it. 

“Will you apologize, at least?” Asked Ana.

“I’m sorry,” said Dzhate, “I didn’t mean to- I didn’t want to frighten you, and I became paranoid. Needlessly so. I just want your help with a minor project, mostly unrelated to this old thing.”

She set the book down weightily.

“Transparency,” she said, “Is sometimes needed. I know a man named Yeorel Tshab, and he needs help stealing some valuables out of the house of a rich mark. He needs something that looks like a valuable, antique focus. Critically, it doesn’t need to be functional, but-”

“The very act of making a focus is what makes it function,” said Edam, finishing Dzhate’s thought, “Or at least, it’ll make some sort of function even if it’s very useless.”

Edam felt more than a little guilty about the idea of scamming a person out of their money, but on the other hand this was already sounding both lucrative and interesting as a technical challenge. 

“If I may ask,” she added, “What if it does have some useful function?”

Dzhate shrugged.

“There’s no reason why it can’t do something, I suppose, but it feels like more effort for not a lot of gain.”

“Mmhm,” intoned Edam, “Well, thank you for not extorting it out of me. It’s definitely something to consider. We do need the money.”

Ana nodded alongside her approvingly and squeezed her shoulder a little. 

“Knew it would be a good idea to introduce you two.”
“Give me details,” said Edam, “What am I looking at making?”

Dzhate reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a small missive. 

“A late Monarchist style – oh,  that’s a bit of poor handwriting – I’m fairly certain he wrote stave there. Made from bone; composite of several types, shapes, sizes. In good condition; delicately engraved in Monarchist style. Should have an appearance of a focus that could charm or befuddle the mind; can potentially double as the appearance of a cane or other walking stick. Gilded exterior.”

“Macabre. I assume you haven’t acquired human bone for this.”

“Do you want some?”

Edam squinted again with suspicion.

“I’m just asking,” said Dzhate, “I do have a source.”

“Do you have no respect for the dead?”


Ana grimaced and looked at Edam again. The first look said she was a handful; the second told her that yes, Dzhate tended to act like this often. For her part, Dzhate simply continued to speak. 

“I’d hate to part with my supply, though. I could just as easily procure them from livestock if that’s to your preference.”

“Yes, I would rather not interact with human remains,” said Edam.

Necrosorcery always felt dirty to her. It obviously wasn’t plausible to do large-scale mana storage with mercury alone. Besides the problems of availability, toxicity made large vats of mercury prohibitive to upkeep. Those that worked over them had to do so in short shifts to minimize exposure, and even then they could catch an awful array of diseases. The Church of the Sepulcher sourced their bones from the willing and faithful. Something told her Dzhate was less concerned with the consent of the dead. 

“So, stave,” said Edam, “Gilded bone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any gold on hand.”

“No need. We take some low-quality gold plating and put, I don’t know, copper underneath. We can assume that he knows it by taste, so copper substitutes are out for what’s up front, but beneath…”

Edam nodded, silently calculating in her head. Copper, in Sepulcherite symbology, was an element of change and the principle of inspiration. Gold was for piety. Piety, hiding change, vested in bone – death. An interesting proposal for certain. Even if it ended up totally useless, it seemed like an interesting design to work on. Copper and gold were both pliable enough that they could be worked with minimal heat. Getting the bones bound together into a reasonable whole would be a challenge, though. Simple glue felt like it wouldn’t be enough to be satisfactory; she was already imagining how she might band together the bones with twine, but then she reconsidered. Twine was a very Agoran detail. A Kolet Monarchist would probably use some kind of puzzlebox configuration of hidden trennels, glue and interlocking carving. She had seen a few instances of wands that looked like that in her time in Koletya. It was just a matter of using a different material.

A tough job, imitating that style. But not certainly not impossible, and especially not impossible for a simple counterfeit. She rolled the morality of the prospect around in her head for a while. The idea of scamming someone out of their money bothered her, that was certain. On the other hand, this was a rich man in Koletya buying monarchist antiques. That was enough to severely dampen what fire of empathy she had for the victim of the crime. 

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to,” said Ana, “Really.” 

“I can do it,” said Edam, “For the right price.”

“I can give you the materials and access to a workshop,” said Dzhate, “But that’ll be taken out of your pay. I assume you’d be fine with that. As for the sum, I think I can provide ten rubles up front, and twenty more on the back end. I’m taking my own finder’s few from Mr. Tshab.”

Edam thought for another second.

“I’d like to meet with this Yeorel. He sounds like an interesting fellow. I’ll say the deal is tenatively on. You’re an odd thing, Dzhate.”

Dzhate shrugged.

“I do not think I am exceptional beyond my circumstance. I am… lucky. Thank you, Ms. Safra. I think we will work well together.”

She paused.

“You are really in love with her, aren’t you?”
Ana shifted and blushed, shocked by the sudden shift of tone. 

“What makes you say that?”

“You’ve hardly said a word since she told you to keep quiet except to defend her,” said Dzhate, “And you’ve hardly looked at me the whole time like you normally do. You keep your eyes on her.”

Edam giggled. She had hardly noticed, but now Ana was acting sheepish, looking towards the window as she held her a little closer. She put a hand on Ana’s thigh and gently rubbed it to comfort her. It was a gorgeously exciting thing. Before they had to keep themselves quiet and separate and not show a single hint of their affection for one another. It had been its own little form of torture then; working day in and day out, doing paperwork, helping Tarnye and the priest with their daily tasks and all the while having to hide themselves away. It had been the same with her dalliance as a teenager too. She couldn’t imagine what her uncle would have done with her if he had found out about her affair, but it couldn’t have been anything reasonable. Now she felt tempted to kiss Ana on the spot for the thrill of showing it to another human soul. She resisted the urge and turned back to Dzhate. 

“Well, you’re observant, I’ll give you that.”

“I assumed the whole ‘confession in court’ matter was something of an exaggeration or a partial ruse. I was really expecting you to be a turncoat to Ms. Merya, but no. You two are just… hm.” 

“At any rate, I’ll send Yeorel to find you. I assume you want neutral ground?”

“Hm. Does he know the bathhouse on Olakhi? Edam and I could meet him there two days from now,” said Ana.

Dzhate put up her eyebrows in skepticism and fiddled some more with her dress. 

“I suppose that’d be like you. Good time to celebrate with friends, having just broken your girl out of prison.”

“It’s not like that,” said Ana quietly.

“What’s with the bathhouse?”

“It’s nothing. I have a friend who works there. I mean, you know her, Seonya, she works there.”

“Okay,” said Dzhate, “Whatever works for you two.”

“It’s not like that,” said Ana insistently.

“Like what?”

“Don’t worry. I think Seonya’s job is for her to tell. It’s rather… sensitive, and I wouldn’t want to betray her trust.”

Edam nodded in sympathy. This was clearly some sort of criminal situation, by her reckoning. She had noticed something slightly off about Seonya, how she came and went at odd times of day and night. That pushed her assessment towards her being some sort of professional eavesdropper alongside other duties at the bathhouse. If it was important enough for Dzhate to know about, it might have been some sort of locus of politics or power. She seemed quite fond of Ana, though, and she was very gracious to let the two of them stay, and that kept her solidly good in her books. 

Sol also seemed like a spy. He was suspiciously well-educated for someone living in Blackwood, and she recalled him bringing up both his medical expertise and brief time as a priest. That combined with his affinity for painting made her feel like he was almost too talented to be believed. On the other hand, she was well-versed in Scripture and sorcery and combat and she was still relatively young, so it might simply be that he had come into his strange set of skills by living a great amount in a very small amount of time. That also seemed like a plausible explanation for his polymathism. 

She turned back to Ana.

“Well, I think we’ve got a tentative deal. As long as you still aren’t turning us in, that is,” said Edam.

She extended her hand to meet Dzhate’s who took it gingerly. She suddenly perked up.

“Oh, and-”

She slowly picked through her pockets again and produced a set of fifteen silver rubles, shining in the early morning sun. 

“You went above and beyond for me with the Grimoire. Consider the extra five a show of my goodwill. An extension of my previous apology.”

Ana took them and nodded.

“Mm. This is good money we’re making. Thank you, Dzhate. Cards later this week?”

“Absolutely. Edam can come as well, if it pleases her.”

“I’ll consider it,” said Edam, “But I might be busy with that project you just assigned me.”

Dzhate nodded. 

“Of course. We can figure out some more details after you’ve met with my associate. Take your leave as you please.”

Edam nodded, and got up to go. Ana followed her closely and put her arm around her again. As they were leaving, Edam spoke up.

“Wow, you’re real protective today.”

“Sorry,” said Ana as she opened the door for Edam.

“Don’t apologize,” said Edam as she let Ana put her arm back around, “It’s very sweet of you to speak up for me like that with Dzhate. Is she always like that?”

“Yes,” said Ana sheepishly, “But I wouldn’t- when she said she was paranoid, she meant she had spies and also her house has some sort of doubling effect as a hearing focus.”

“Oh,” said Edam as they stepped away. She looked back at the peering window-eyes of the house, searching for signs of movement.

“Sorry, if you can hear me. You’re odd, but I don’t think you’re unpleasant.”

There was no response.

They walked away together. Edam felt the hot, bright sun on her skin and smiled widely. Once they were both confident they were out of Dzhate’s long hearing, Ana spoke again.

“Yes, she’s always like that,” said Ana, “But she’s also a teenager. Barely more than a babe. I think a teenager is allowed a few mistakes. I know I made my share.”

Edam nodded. She had made her share as well.

“I don’t think that she intended to make good on the threat, either. Her face was in it, but not her voice and not her heart. You don’t give away good silver rubles as an apology for nothing.”

“No, I don’t suppose so,” said Ana, “I’m glad you like me protecting you, hummingbird. But she’s always very… philosophical. She’s well-read, at least, in a way that reminds me of you. I think you should come to the card game. She needs someone who can keep up with her better than I can.”

Edam grimaced.

“A card game?”

“She likes gambling. I know it’s very odd.”

“Odd? No, Merya, you just introduced me to a lore-mongering, gambling, erratic, sorcery-inclined teenager with access to a team of spies, a house with a floor that turns into quicksand and human remains. She switches between talking like a philosopher and a crime lord on a dime. I don’t think that The Methods of Lords was ever fully translated into Kolet, or if it was it’s a pretty rare book, so I think it’s a fair assessment to say that she probably knows Agoran somehow. She hired and aided you in directly going against the Church of the Sepulcher.”

She pushed Ana playfully.

“Merya, that is fucking bizarre.”

Ana laughed and naturally gravitated back towards Edam as they meandered down the street.

“Alright, alright,” said Ana, “It is very bizarre. But I think, deep down, Dzhate is just a lonely soul. She seems to have somehow come into this big centralization, this-” 


“That’s the word,” said Ana, “A locus of power. A fulcrum?”

“Not really a fulcrum. At least not by the definition Dzhate is using. Don’t make me get into details about Lords. It’s a terrible book.”

“She has a lot of power, is what I’m saying, but few friends and no guidance, and she’s barely more than a child. I kind of pity her in that sense. I was in a similar position myself once, before the Church became my passion. I think it would be good of us, virtuous of us to make sure that her power doesn’t fall in on her.”

Edam felt like she understood a little more now. She might have power, but by virtue of her youth she was definitionally in a weaker position than anyone else in the same place might be. Like the lords she read about, she too could be the victim of the maneuverings of power and politics.

“Alright,” said Edam, “I’ll consider it. But I’d want this project done quickly. The faster we make money, the faster we can get out of the city. In the meantime – I’m handling dinner tonight, right?”

“Right,” said Ana, smiling softly.

And so they walked off, cash jangling in Ana’s pocket. 

One thought on “The Power and The Glory 7.2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s