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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 104: "The Other"

by dragonfphoenix

Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

The first of the guests arrived as noon crept past its zenith. Of the major deities, it seemed only Resef was absent, dealing with the Paedens on the Great Sea. That was probably for the best as Vrixia looked cold and absent, her distance growing as harvest time approached. The pair would dissolve and abandon each other over the winter, then recouple with the advent of spring, Resef showering Vrixia with affection and rain as they had for centuries now.

Thane greeted the deities at the door, his bespotted robes exchanged for clean ones in the same carmine shade as before. Clad in storm gray robes, Synnefo nodded a curt greeting and settled near the end of the table, muttering to himself. Kydon followed after, wearing loose white shorts and a thin garment that barely passed for a shirt. The arbiter gave everyone a toothy grin as he passed, slipping into his seat at the middle of the table.

Surprisingly, Seppo arrived early. His bronze exoskeleton hissed and clanked, but it seemed cleaner than normal, only a few stray lines streaking the alloy. When Tarrha entered, dressed in a partially-shredded drape, she turned all the minor deities’ heads. A few of the side tables had already filled, but with the rumor of this being the final commencement feast, all of the wings would likely end up packed as well. As it was, Tarrha would likely empty a table or two before the celebration was over.

Azoria, clad in white and blue, hung by the entrance until the rest of the pantheon arrived. At first I thought it was to stay near Thane as long as possible, but then I spotted the jeweled brooch pinning her upper garment, a ruby fashioned like a pomegranate, wreathed with emerald leaves. Suddenly Thane’s wardrobe choice made sense, as did the blush on Azoria’s cheeks. Phaeus, who’d deigned to dust his smithing apron as his approximation of finery, must have whispered something to her as he passed, because her face went several shades of red deeper in his wake.

Almost last was Ulti, who danced a sweeping bow to Thane as they entered. Their golden himation hid as much as it exposed, the glittering cloth wrapping down their left shoulder to encircle their right arm while leaving the counterparts bare. Their legs were likewise clothed in tension, their left side all hip, thigh, and calf, their right sequestered deep within the mantle’s folds. Yet the flowing piece did nothing to impede their dance, which was graceful and fluid all the way to their seat.

Murmurs fluttered under the roof of the feasting hall, eyes casting furtive, barely-disguised glances at the two empty seats next to me. Malia had yet to return from fetching Hasda from Frischii. And this was the final feast. Under no circumstances would Malia waste the opportunity to make the most spectacular entrance possible, so it was just a matter of waiting until she thought the proper amount of suspense had built.

There were no doors to slam, but silence descended as if the air had been sucked out by such a disruption anyways. Wings spread, War Bow peaking over her shoulder, Malia swaggered in with not one, but two mortals flanking her. I saw Phemonoe outside, standing in the shadow of the pillar and frowning at Malia’s back, before she turned and disappeared into Nebesa.

Malia paid her, and the slowly bubbling hubbub, no mind as she made her way into the hall. Jerking into action, Thane dashed to the table and made room for a third seat near me. The wildness in his eyes matched the shock on Azoria’s face, confusion and consternation manifesting on the gods’ faces. Seppo hid his mouth behind his hands and gave me a measuring look.

It was hard to know what to think. Hasda I recognized easily, but the comradery from the bulky lad next to him was just as unexpected as the man next to him. Roughly Hasda’s age, or perhaps a few years his elder, he wore a tunic that flaunted the mass of muscles he’d been blessed with. A fist-thick beard of curly black hair adorned his chin, the apparent inspiration for the shadow that peppered Hasda’s face. But what caught my attention was the authentic warmth of his smile, which reached and filled his eyes. Whoever he was, he bore no mask of falsehood. His attention was on Hasda and the winged gorgon before him, and his disregard for the splendor of Nebesa was not arrogance, but a simple contentment at his current circumstances.

Well, she’d certainly chosen an appropriate amount of drama. Bringing the War Bow into the feasting hall, especially during a celebratory event, was about the loudest declaration that we were at war she could’ve made. Even during times of conflict, it was uncommon to bring weapons within the pillars. And then to come accompanied by a mortal who wasn’t the subject of the Trials…that shattered all precedent. Not even the partners of previous champions had been allowed within Nebesa, let alone a commencement feast.

Malia paused at the foot of the table, eyeing each god in turn. When she saw the hungry look on Tarrha’s face, she scowled. “Now is not the time for that. We have more pressing issues.” Snakes hissing, she leaned against the table and spread her wings. “I come bearing news of this Trial’s development. While it has not yet begun, its significance continues to grow. Ghorin coilna have infiltrated the region, bringing confusion about the true origins of the Staff that Hasda is to collect. Rumors of the Serynis Sisters, bound twins that Charax has fought once before, and the Weeping Queen, a former deity of the land, increase in frequency as the days go by. And the shadow of the Sea Mother thickens the air with its stench. I can’t find the source, but she’s close.”

The shards of decorum tinkled in the silence that followed.

Seppo was the first to find his voice. “That is…unfortunate news. But it seems as if this will be a fitting Trial, proving Hasda’s worth beyond all shadow of doubt.”

Kydon nodded. “Have you determined whether the Stitcher has achieved godhood himself?”

Shooing the two men in my direction, she scowled at the arbiter. “My task was simply to retrieve Hasda from his training grounds for this special occasion. It’s a wonder I was able to determine as much as I did before returning.”

Which was coded for she’d tried her best and failed. Granted, we’d still been cloaking our presence, so she likely couldn’t have probed the Stitcher’s divinity without alerting him to our proximity to Frischii, but Malia had her ways, and they usually worked. The Sea Mother’s presence might have interfered somewhat, or the Serynis were doing more than just being rumors. Whatever the case, she’d probably need a good fountainside massage to destress before we left.

Hasda and his companion sat down next to Malia’s empty seat. After going back and forth with Kydon for a bit longer, Malia slid into her place as well. She pointedly avoided looking at me or the humans while she carried on her report. No, the Stitcher hadn’t left Batavii. Yes, the Frischians still feared trading beyond their normal grounds because of the undead. Yes, the fire had worked, but it was more effective at night, when the sun wasn’t drowning out its light. No, they still hadn’t found an effective way to deal with the zombies beyond decapitation.

Tarrha kept trying to start a conversation with the new mortal, and Malia kept flicking her wing in front of his face. Eventually Tarrha gave up and switched to Vrixia, who sat next to her, although the way the beauty goddess kept glancing his way said she hadn’t abandoned the hunt. But when Phaeus poked his arm and launched into a sales pitch for a war hammer, Malia let them be.

Everyone not engaged in conversation with Malia kept glancing between me and the man. There was something I’d clearly missed. Maybe he had a storied history, or had established himself with our pantheon during my absence. Eventually, I had enough of the looks and tugged at Malia’s elbow.

“Yes?” she hissed, not even facing me.

I sat back and folded my arms. “We can do this with an audience, or you can calm down. You’ve already made your scene with your arrival. And put that Bow away.”

Baring her teeth, she folded her wings to block Hasda and the man while vanishing her Bow and Quiver in one smooth motion. Her smile was carved, her eyes devoid of gleam. “It would be best to wait until after the feast.”

“I wouldn’t have said anything, if you weren’t acting like someone stuck a live coal in your cloaca.”

That got an eye twitch out of her. Her smile broadened. “This is Thrax, Hasda’s chief general and foremost bodyguard. Their meeting was my gift to Hasda.”

I frowned. That was far from everything. What wasn’t she saying?

Giving an exasperated sigh, Malia rolled her eyes and leaned in. “This is a champion’s feast.” Straightening, she flashed Seppo a fang-filled smile. “Perhaps we should begin, before the hour grows too late.”

As Seppo rose, it hit me.

Oh. Pek below, no wonder everyone was staring. Malia had brought her champion to Hasda’s feast. 

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1524 Reviews

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Tue Jun 13, 2023 10:49 am
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IcyFlame wrote a review...

Yesss it's feasting time!

I think the intro to this chapter is such a nice way of reminding us about a lot of the characters that have come up in the past and kind of giving a bit of a reintroduction without feeling like an info dump. So much has happened in this novel already that it can be hard to keep track of everyone so I definitely appreciate sections like this where I can be reminded about some of the characters I vaguely remember but need a refresher on (I also haven't read every single chapter so some of this is totally on me xD)

There was a lot of discussion about what they're all wearing, and I'm not sure how much you actually need to include that. I found myself skipping over it a little to get to the main event. Some description of this is nice, but maybe there's a little too much here?

The fact Malia is bringing her own champion was a nice twist to the chapter but certainly a surprise to me! I don't really get how the dynamic between Charax and Malia works. I thought that them being bound for some reason would mean that they both had Hasda as a champion but now she's brought Thrax into the mix too. I didn't realise she could do that, but it looks like she can do whatever she wants! Although the whole room seems to feel similarly to me!

I don't have any nitpicks for this chapter, so all that's left to say is I'm looking forward to seeing some more interaction between Thrax and Hasda - I'm a little sad we missed them reuniting, and I can't wait to see the fall out from all this chaos. Malia definitely chooses drama wherever she can, and I like that Charax is still surprised by the things she does although I can imagine he's going to feel a little hurt. He stands by her almost constantly and then she does things behind his back anyway :(

Until the next chapter!


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Sun Mar 26, 2023 1:46 am
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Plume wrote a review...

Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ah, I always love it when we get the whole pantheon together. You always describe them all so well. It's also nice to have these party scenes now before we get back into the thick of the action. I also enjoy all the little characterization moments you thread in, even with all the minor characters, like Tarrha's outfit and trying to chat up Thrax, and Phaeus' sales pitch for a war hammer. You still managed to have this chapter be more than a simple dinner party, too; that was certainly a twist, having Malia bring her own champion.

I'm most intrigued about how Thrax is going to play into the story! I'm a little confused; I guess I knew that Hasda was Charax's champion, but for some reason, I believed that they were kind of sharing him, in a way? Maybe I'm getting it confused with how they shared their godly offices. Regardless, I think it's interesting that Malia would bring Thrax; the way Charax phrased the realization at the end made it sound like a pretty serious faux pas. Like, it is Hasda's feast, and it feels like Malia is undermining it, especially with her bringing her Warbow too.

I'm also a little wary of Thrax. Charax seems to think he's being genuine, but I'm a little suspicious. Maybe those thoughts will go away when we actually get to interact with him, but even though he's described as very genial, I feel like the way it was written almost conveyed that he was so full of warmth that it's almost too much. Either way, I'm excited to interact with him more.

Also, I am a little sad we didn't get a bigger reunion between Hasda and Charax; they've always had such a cute little parent/child relationship and I would have loved to see a nice moment between them. I do get the fact that they might want to save the tender moments until they're away from the rest of the pantheon, though.


Rumors of the Serynis Sisters, bound twins that Charax has fought once before

Whoa, that's a blast from the past! Those were those two gals who were weirdly in sync, right? If so, I'm very interested to see if they'll make an actual return past this mention and if they're simply another enemy to face off against or if they have some bearing on the current plot. I remember them being pretty cryptic, and I can't remember if their little section was ever truly resolved. I might be due for a reread of this story, honestly. Regardless, I enjoy the fact you're calling back parts of the story—really makes me excited to see what other bits we're getting back.

Overall: nice work! I loved seeing all the gods interact with each other, and the introduction of Malia's champion was a welcome twist as the story continues. I look forward to reading more! Until next time!

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Tue Mar 14, 2023 5:17 am
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Spearmint says...

The shards of decorum tinkled in the silence that followed.

^ I absolutely love this line. xD

dragonfphoenix says...

Lol thanks. That was my "shoot, I already used 'shatter'" solution XD

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee; my heart is at your festival.
— William Shakespeare