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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 101: "The Catch-up"

by dragonfphoenix


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.

When the Oracle was gone, Malia rolled on her back and trailed a finger down my chest. “I know you have questions.”

“Plenty. LIke how in the world that even happened.” I gave her a stern look before letting myself fall on the bed. While my body had healed, I still needed to recover my stamina, apparently. And my head was starting to spin from sitting up so long, never mind all of Malia’s fun surprises. Staring at the pale cloth above us, I said, “So we’re going to have a kid?”

Laughing, she slid off me and sidled up under my arm. “Who knows? I don’t even know if it’s fertilized.”

“But you still laid one.”

“Mmhmm.” She purred and snuggled closer. “Large, dimpled, light green with brown speckles.”

I hugged her close. “And how long ago was it?”

“Before Aenea.” Her tail flicked back and forth, messing up the sheets. “I would’ve told you sooner, but with the Sea Mother and Hasda’s Trials, I didn’t want you distracted during combat.”

“You mean worrying about you fighting after potentially giving birth to our child.”

She swatted my side. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

I grunted. “So, when will you know if it’s viable? And where did you hide it?”

“I’m telling you with the understanding that you’re not going to immediately get up and go see it,” she said. Her snakes hissed in agreement. “And I will personally keep an eye on you to make sure you don’t.”

“Fine by me.” Sighing, I rubbed her arm. “Just walking might be beyond me at the moment.”

“Let’s just say I might end up owing Phaeus a favor by the time this is over.” She gave me a pinched smile. “What with the destruction those hydras caused and now him incubating yet another divine egg in the depths of his forge. But at least he still owes me for that deposit of celestial steel I found near Frischii. Which, speaking of the region.”

“That’s where the Stitcher settled?”

She shook her head. “He’s in Batavii. The Frischians have cut ties and stuck to south of the Usull River, but I haven’t been able to determine what’s become of the Sivarians and Elthians. The Frischians are scared to resume trade while the undead roam free.”

“I take it you’ve been conscripting from them.”

“Of course.” She sighed, the tempo of her tail flicks increasing. “I’ve also sent what Carthians I can, but Seppo refuses to deploy his trireme. The portals around Batavii work for now, but they’re unstable. As best I can determine, the Stitcher displaced the spirits and whatever loose coalition of deities previously inhabited the region. But the Frischians have been tight-lipped about whom they used to worship.”

I kissed the top of her head as she scowled. “Have you talked to Azoria about assimilating them? Frischii isn’t quite next to our border, but we’ve traded with them enough that it wouldn’t be too hard to incorporate them.”

She huffed. “I’ve already laid the foundation for our pantheon to welcome them into the fold. It’s the Stitcher who’s being a pain in the ass. He’s gathered a few scattered spirits and started personifying the terrors of the forest.” Her snakes hissed as she shook her head. “I think he’s trying to build his own pantheon. At the very least, he’s established himself in the region’s psyche as a force to be feared, if not worshiped. And I can’t displace him.”

“Have you made any forays into Batavii yet?”

“No.” She huffed again. “I’ve let Hasda mingle with the Frischians, and he’s been a great help getting more of them to our side, but I haven’t let him cross the border yet. It’s been hard enough just keeping the Stitcher’s soulless on the other side of the river.”

My eyebrows rose. “He’s been pushing out of Batavii?”

“Has been for the past few months, now. I’ve made sure he doesn’t know any gods are around or opposing him, but his most recent incursions have felt…frantic. He sent more at once than he had before, almost enough to be called an expeditionary force.”

“What’s the deal with these undead?” I stroked her cheek. “Thane said the spirits he summoned couldn’t harm them. He’s not so incompetent that he couldn’t raise the dead properly, even with how he wanted to switch his Office.”

“I’m not so sure that the Stitcher has the Ghorins’ rod. These soulless he leads, they really have no spiritual connection.” Her eyes looked troubled. “It’s like they’ve been scoured of all life, reduced to the base elements that compose their corpses. Not even mindless things–it’s like they never had minds to begin with.”

“But they can be killed?” I paused. “Or, stopped, at least.”

Sighing, she stretched back and kissed my chin. “Physically, at least. The mortals have found success beheading them or cutting off their limbs, but that’s about it. The soulless have no respect for bodily harm, and they’re just intelligent enough to avoid traps. They’re relentless, though, and once they start moving it’s hard to stop them.”

“Fire?”

She hummed thoughtfully. “Haven’t tried that yet. They’ve only attacked during the day thus far. I’ll put Hasda on it when I return.”

I rubbed her shoulder and grunted. Soulless with no spiritual signature were effectively flesh-covered skeletons. I’d want to test their durability, to see if their muscles atrophied or if the Stitcher was magically maintaining them, before planning too heavily. But they would likely still fall to fire, Malia’s gaze, and hopefully the djinn’s unnatural flame. While the djinn itself was supernatural, it was bounded by the mortal plane and had further devoted itself to augmenting Hasda. But things like floods, plagues, and hunger definitely wouldn’t slow them down.

However, the thought of something unstoppable brought back the memory of what felt like a fever dream. I told Malia about the chamber hidden in the depths of the mines and described the lakrabua to her, both their figure and the feeling of dread they induced. This segued into the return of the Spinster and my unexpected visit with the Stargazer during my healing coma.

Malia lay and listened, her tail thumping a steady beat. When I finished, she sighed and slapped the bed. “What is with these Primes and their obsession with you?”

“To be fair, I don’t think the Stargazer was on purpose.” I hugged her close. “And I’m not sure I could find the chamber again. It felt like the Spinster sealed the passageway behind me, and even if it’s still open, she’s likely moved the lakrabua somewhere else since I tried to destroy them.”

“You know that’s a loose thread I’m not going to leave unchecked.”

I pulled her closer. “Just don’t antagonize Jade if she isn’t helpful. If she’s the one who had to foot the power to break herself out of that prison, it’s highly unlikely she’ll have remembered anything useful after passing through the delirium of that crevice.”

“I’ll send Thane to check, if I can pull him away from Azoria long enough.” She laughed. “The way they’re acting, they’re liable to be the next bonded pair in the pantheon.”

Rubbing her shoulder, I grunted. “And that’s a bad thing?”

“For executing my machinations in a timely fashion, yes.” She sighed and cuddled closer. “Although, with you back, I suppose I don’t have to send him on errands anymore. He’s dreadfully slow about things sometimes.”

“Have they moved into each other’s temples yet?”

Malia snorted. “Thane doesn’t technically have a temple yet, he’s been too busy throwing parties with all the minor deities growing his ‘reputation,’ instead of building a new residence. And while Azoria does her best to be discreet about it, I know for a fact that Thane isn’t at half the feasts he throws and spends those nights with her. She always has this glow on her face the next day, Thane too.”

Ah, right. Because the God of Death’s temple was technically mine now, and the God of Revelry was a new Office without a sanctuary, that left Thane without a house in Nebesa. I hadn’t been back to Nebesa to convert the temple to conform to my new designation, but with how little time I spent in the celestial realm, I didn’t really need it. Thane wasn’t homeless without a temple, since he had his maas and Azoria’s bed, however his former abode was etched with too many gloomy reliefs to be easily transformed into a cheery party parlor.

But that could wait. For now, we had Hasda’s upcoming Trial to plan for, or rather, Malia needed to bring me up to speed on what she’d already prepared. While Hasda was in the region of the Trial, it sounded like the portals were still cooperative enough to bring him back in time for the announcement. That left me some time to recover a bit more before we actually had to depart, which meant Malia and I would finally get some uninterrupted quality time together.

I smiled as I hugged her close. Well, maybe just physical contact for now. But that was enough.


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KateHardy wrote a review...



Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),

Hi! I'm here to leave a quick review!!

First Impression: Well this was quite a revelation there on Malia's front. I think that's going to lead to some very fun moments to come. It's probably bad that I'm looking forward to that more than all the cool fight scenes that are being hinted but I will not care.

Anyway let's get right to it,

When the Oracle was gone, Malia rolled on her back and trailed a finger down my chest. “I know you have questions.”

“Plenty. LIke how in the world that even happened.” I gave her a stern look before letting myself fall on the bed. While my body had healed, I still needed to recover my stamina, apparently. And my head was starting to spin from sitting up so long, never mind all of Malia’s fun surprises. Staring at the pale cloth above us, I said, “So we’re going to have a kid?”

Laughing, she slid off me and sidled up under my arm. “Who knows? I don’t even know if it’s fertilized.”

“But you still laid one.”


Well its good to see that we've got this issue being addressed immediately. That definitely feels like the top priority at the moment, at least as far as situations between the two of them are going to be concerned. Charax's condition though is also an extra concern. He definitely doesn't appear fully fit now or perhaps even soon.

“Mmhmm.” She purred and snuggled closer. “Large, dimpled, light green with brown speckles.”

I hugged her close. “And how long ago was it?”

“Before Aenea.” Her tail flicked back and forth, messing up the sheets. “I would’ve told you sooner, but with the Sea Mother and Hasda’s Trials, I didn’t want you distracted during combat.”

“You mean worrying about you fighting after potentially giving birth to our child.”

She swatted my side. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

I grunted. “So, when will you know if it’s viable? And where did you hide it?”


Well this is certainly quite the revelation. I suppose that does help explain a little bit of mystery here and there too now. I need to read some of these parts again to be certain. At any rate, this is definitely quite exciting there.

“I’m telling you with the understanding that you’re not going to immediately get up and go see it,” she said. Her snakes hissed in agreement. “And I will personally keep an eye on you to make sure you don’t.”

“Fine by me.” Sighing, I rubbed her arm. “Just walking might be beyond me at the moment.”

“Let’s just say I might end up owing Phaeus a favor by the time this is over.” She gave me a pinched smile. “What with the destruction those hydras caused and now him incubating yet another divine egg in the depths of his forge. But at least he still owes me for that deposit of celestial steel I found near Frischii. Which, speaking of the region.”


Ohhh well it does look like at the very least that egg is pretty safe in there. Although if poor Charax is going to be able to see it for a while that means unfortunately we're also not going to be able to see this egg for some time.

“That’s where the Stitcher settled?”

She shook her head. “He’s in Batavii. The Frischians have cut ties and stuck to south of the Usull River, but I haven’t been able to determine what’s become of the Sivarians and Elthians. The Frischians are scared to resume trade while the undead roam free.”

“I take it you’ve been conscripting from them.”

“Of course.” She sighed, the tempo of her tail flicks increasing. “I’ve also sent what Carthians I can, but Seppo refuses to deploy his trireme. The portals around Batavii work for now, but they’re unstable. As best I can determine, the Stitcher displaced the spirits and whatever loose coalition of deities previously inhabited the region. But the Frischians have been tight-lipped about whom they used to worship.”


Well that does feel like its going to end up being some pretty important information there. I suppose we do have to move onto dealing with all of that and can't just keep talking all about that egg the entire day.

I kissed the top of her head as she scowled. “Have you talked to Azoria about assimilating them? Frischii isn’t quite next to our border, but we’ve traded with them enough that it wouldn’t be too hard to incorporate them.”

She huffed. “I’ve already laid the foundation for our pantheon to welcome them into the fold. It’s the Stitcher who’s being a pain in the ass. He’s gathered a few scattered spirits and started personifying the terrors of the forest.” Her snakes hissed as she shook her head. “I think he’s trying to build his own pantheon. At the very least, he’s established himself in the region’s psyche as a force to be feared, if not worshiped. And I can’t displace him.”

“Have you made any forays into Batavii yet?”

“No.” She huffed again. “I’ve let Hasda mingle with the Frischians, and he’s been a great help getting more of them to our side, but I haven’t let him cross the border yet. It’s been hard enough just keeping the Stitcher’s soulless on the other side of the river.”


Well, everyone has been quite busy from the looks of it. So far it also seems like all the characters that are recognizable here have fared well enough and haven't been injured or worse in this ongoing war that we've got here.

My eyebrows rose. “He’s been pushing out of Batavii?”

“Has been for the past few months, now. I’ve made sure he doesn’t know any gods are around or opposing him, but his most recent incursions have felt…frantic. He sent more at once than he had before, almost enough to be called an expeditionary force.”

“What’s the deal with these undead?” I stroked her cheek. “Thane said the spirits he summoned couldn’t harm them. He’s not so incompetent that he couldn’t raise the dead properly, even with how he wanted to switch his Office.”

“I’m not so sure that the Stitcher has the Ghorins’ rod. These soulless he leads, they really have no spiritual connection.” Her eyes looked troubled. “It’s like they’ve been scoured of all life, reduced to the base elements that compose their corpses. Not even mindless things–it’s like they never had minds to begin with.”


Well that's quite a lot of talk about the undead there. Things have certainly only gotten more and more complicated on that front starting all the way back in I honestly don't even remember that chapter number. It looks like at least this time they have a bit more information to work with.

“But they can be killed?” I paused. “Or, stopped, at least.”

Sighing, she stretched back and kissed my chin. “Physically, at least. The mortals have found success beheading them or cutting off their limbs, but that’s about it. The soulless have no respect for bodily harm, and they’re just intelligent enough to avoid traps. They’re relentless, though, and once they start moving it’s hard to stop them.”

“Fire?”

She hummed thoughtfully. “Haven’t tried that yet. They’ve only attacked during the day thus far. I’ll put Hasda on it when I return.”


OOooh obviously you must try to kill it with fire Malia. This is 101 stuff. At least it does look like these things are capable of being stopped with the current methods so that's a promising plus. A fully unkillable and unstoppable horde would be a bit too much but this is manageable.

I rubbed her shoulder and grunted. Soulless with no spiritual signature were effectively flesh-covered skeletons. I’d want to test their durability, to see if their muscles atrophied or if the Stitcher was magically maintaining them, before planning too heavily. But they would likely still fall to fire, Malia’s gaze, and hopefully the djinn’s unnatural flame. While the djinn itself was supernatural, it was bounded by the mortal plane and had further devoted itself to augmenting Hasda. But things like floods, plagues, and hunger definitely wouldn’t slow them down.

However, the thought of something unstoppable brought back the memory of what felt like a fever dream. I told Malia about the chamber hidden in the depths of the mines and described the lakrabua to her, both their figure and the feeling of dread they induced. This segued into the return of the Spinster and my unexpected visit with the Stargazer during my healing coma.


Well this is good. It seems Charax gets to finally unload a lot of that weight he's been carrying and get a second opinion (and some comfort) regarding all of that. That certainly must be quite a relief there.

Malia lay and listened, her tail thumping a steady beat. When I finished, she sighed and slapped the bed. “What is with these Primes and their obsession with you?”

“To be fair, I don’t think the Stargazer was on purpose.” I hugged her close. “And I’m not sure I could find the chamber again. It felt like the Spinster sealed the passageway behind me, and even if it’s still open, she’s likely moved the lakrabua somewhere else since I tried to destroy them.”

“You know that’s a loose thread I’m not going to leave unchecked.”

I pulled her closer. “Just don’t antagonize Jade if she isn’t helpful. If she’s the one who had to foot the power to break herself out of that prison, it’s highly unlikely she’ll have remembered anything useful after passing through the delirium of that crevice.”


Hmm well Malia has responded to that exactly as I expected her to and I love that. Charax having to mention that she should go easy on Jade just reminded me of all of those connections again so that's a lovely detail. Its all slowly coming back to me.

“I’ll send Thane to check, if I can pull him away from Azoria long enough.” She laughed. “The way they’re acting, they’re liable to be the next bonded pair in the pantheon.”

Rubbing her shoulder, I grunted. “And that’s a bad thing?”

“For executing my machinations in a timely fashion, yes.” She sighed and cuddled closer. “Although, with you back, I suppose I don’t have to send him on errands anymore. He’s dreadfully slow about things sometimes.”

“Have they moved into each other’s temples yet?”


Hmm well this is a nice little acknowledgement to that. As a big fan of random romantic subplots, all of these little relationship moments are a lovely addition and I think you time these little updates for them just perfectly so they don't feel like their distracting from the main plot but it gives us a nice little hint of happiness in between all of these other things.

Malia snorted. “Thane doesn’t technically have a temple yet, he’s been too busy throwing parties with all the minor deities growing his ‘reputation,’ instead of building a new residence. And while Azoria does her best to be discreet about it, I know for a fact that Thane isn’t at half the feasts he throws and spends those nights with her. She always has this glow on her face the next day, Thane too.”

Ah, right. Because the God of Death’s temple was technically mine now, and the God of Revelry was a new Office without a sanctuary, that left Thane without a house in Nebesa. I hadn’t been back to Nebesa to convert the temple to conform to my new designation, but with how little time I spent in the celestial realm, I didn’t really need it. Thane wasn’t homeless without a temple, since he had his maas and Azoria’s bed, however his former abode was etched with too many gloomy reliefs to be easily transformed into a cheery party parlor.


Well this is a lovely little side plot there for that. Also hilarious that something as simple as decoration could actually effect something like that. It does make sense of course, but I think that only makes this funnier.

But that could wait. For now, we had Hasda’s upcoming Trial to plan for, or rather, Malia needed to bring me up to speed on what she’d already prepared. While Hasda was in the region of the Trial, it sounded like the portals were still cooperative enough to bring him back in time for the announcement. That left me some time to recover a bit more before we actually had to depart, which meant Malia and I would finally get some uninterrupted quality time together.

I smiled as I hugged her close. Well, maybe just physical contact for now. But that was enough.


Aww. Well this is an awesome little moment to end on. Still very much a cliffhanger in terms of the dangers to come but Charax just hugging Malia is an incredibly soft note to end on here and I love it.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall another lovely addition to this story. Another chapter of mostly catching up I suppose as the name very much suggests and I think it does a pretty solid job of it. Looking forward to seeing where we head to next.

As always remember to take what you think was helpful and forget the rest.

Stay Safe
Kate




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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Well, this catch-up was certainly helpful, both to me and Charax. I enjoyed getting a little more clarity on the whole egg situation, as well as extra info about what's transpired doing the two years he was unconscious. (Getting an update on Thane and Azoria was also much appreciated!)

I liked how you set up future conflicts in this chapter. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Stitcher, especially his plans to potentially form a new pantheon. The army of the Soulless also sounds like a nuisance. I appreciate their eerieness, and I look forward to possibly witnessing a fight between them and Charax. I'm also curious about the next appearances of the Primes—it seems like after the Stargazer, they might be trying to distance themselves from Charax.

The way you conveyed the information through dialogue was also very helpful—it makes it more interactive and attention-grabbing than if it's just in prose. Even though it was full of place names and politics, it was told in an engaging enough way that I found myself still immersed in the story.

Looking forward to getting back in the action and catching up with the other characters, as well!

Specifics

“Thane doesn’t technically have a temple yet, he’s been too busy throwing parties with all the minor deities growing his ‘reputation,’ instead of building a new residence. And while Azoria does her best to be discreet about it, I know for a fact that Thane isn’t at half the feasts he throws and spends those nights with her. She always has this glow on her face the next day, Thane too.”


While I love all the bits of characterization thrown into this one, I felt like the dialogue was a little clunky—specifically the use of commas. I think it could flow better if you interrupted the dialogue with some action, or potentially broke it up simply with periods. The way it flows right now (to me, at least) is quite stilted.

Regardless of the flow, though, I had completely forgotten about the little subplot where Thane wanted to switch his office. I'm excited to see him as the God of Revelry. Given what I know about him, that wouldn't be the first office I would have pegged him for, but who knows? He also seems full of surprises.

I smiled as I hugged her close. Well, maybe just physical contact for now. But that was enough.


This was a super nice and soft way to end the chapter. I really appreciate these calmer, domestic moments with the two of them as a contrast to the high-action moments this book is full of.

Overall: nice work on this one! You incorporated a lot of key information that was great as both a reminder and an update to me, the reader, and Charax, the character. I look forward to seeing Charax explore these topics in real time as the story continues, and meeting up with all of the characters he's not interacted with in a while! Until next time!





Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
— Carl Sandburg