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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 105: "The Thread"

by dragonfphoenix

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

The gods watched me as Seppo waxed eloquent with the opening ceremony, far more interested in my reaction to this revelation than our head’s exuberant gushing over Hasda. Malia had brought a champion—or former, or hopeful, I wasn’t sure which—which she’d selected and trained during my absence. That was all fine, while I was gone, but with my return and our Offices linked, it presented a host of potential problems. Granted, our intermingling created a country’s worth of unexplored territory, but that did nothing to erase precedent.

While the Carthians could have many champions, gods, even pairs, only ever supported one. This, in theory, allowed the budding hero’s patron deities to give their undivided attention to their development, but it also had a practical aspect. Multiple champions divided the adoration of the masses, which made it harder to elevate a storied warrior beyond their mortality. A single hero could rise to minor godhood, but even a second could prevent both from receiving enough devotion to reach demigod status. Not every champion would ascend, of course, but having the possibility was always nice.

During the reign of Seppo’s mother and the titans that came before her, petitioners competed with the champion apparent for titanic blessings. It wasn’t that the titans had limited power to spare, but rather that they enjoyed the intrigues and alliances such contests fostered. But it also bred a certain brutality in them. Tuvidhes, one of the last ‘heroes,’ was notorious for consuming the body parts of hopefuls he slew in combat or quite literally stabbed in the back. I made sure to secure him deep within Peklo after we overthrew Seppo’s mother.

We put our candidates through Trials, true, but we did so more to elevate them and prepare them for their divinely ordained tasks, if not godhood itself. Hasda we intended (or at least Malia did) to lead our armies against the Paedens, and so training him against divine beasts would give him the experience he needed to stand against the enemy pantheon. Having both Gods of War as his patrons set him well down that path. So where, then, did that place this newcomer? And how did he factor into Hasda joining the pantheon?

Malia sat with both arms on the side of her chair closest to me, speaking out of the side of her mouth. “I would’ve told you sooner if I’d planned to bring him.”

“Malia, you’ve known me long enough to know I’m not going to be upset you had champions in my absence.” I filled my plate and toasted with Seppo. “If anything, I’d have been shocked if you didn’t.”

“It’s not that.” The muscles on her jaw worked as she kept her smile firmly in place. “You called me callous. Well, here is a loose thread with his life intact.”

I blinked. Oh. OH.

“You were going to kill—”

She cut me off with a glare. “Not in front of the children. But yes, I was. And for your sake, and now Hasda’s, I refrained.”

I shook my head. “That’s a good thing, though. So why are you so worked up?”

Snakes squirming, she raised an eyebrow at me. “That’s it?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” I shrugged. “Of course I have plenty of questions, like what you were thinking, unveiling him here, and what schemes you still have in store, but why would I be mad that you didn’t, er, retire him?”

Arms folded, she sat back and let her wings shroud her face. “Because his presence detracts from the potential to ascend your chosen?”

I coughed to hide my splutter. “How did you know? I haven’t even tried to find a path for him yet.”

“You’re a terrible liar.” She peaked out from under her wings. “It was written all over your face the moment you thought of it. ‘She will discard him the moment he’s no longer serviceable, so I must find a way to protect him.’ Am I far off?”

“I really haven’t done anything,” I said, ignoring my burning cheeks.

“We’ve been bonded how long?” She laughed. “Even without the paternal defensiveness you’ve been radiating like a too-full hearth, it wasn’t hard to guess, given our history and your not-so-subtle remarks over the centuries.” Sighing, she tucked her wings against her but left her arms folded. “And you’ve done nothing to discourage him from associating with that lamia. You had to have known how that would affect him, ambrosia or not.”

I took a swig from my drink as I considered my response. “So you were worried I would perceive this as you undermining my efforts and knee-capping his progress.”

“I was worried you would be upset, yes.” She huffed and smacked the table. “And this complicates everything! I knew how to deal with spares. But now there’s an extra strand tangling up the tapestry, and I can’t pluck it without a certain someone pitching a fit.”

I smiled. “And here I thought you’d had a change of heart and done it out of love.”

She stuck her tongue out. “You’re an ass sometimes, you know that? Even a little contrition for all the problems you’ve caused would be appreciated.”

Seppo loudly cleared his throat. “Well, I’m glad we’re not going to see a brawl at the feasting table.”

“No, but there might be one in a maas later,” Malia muttered under her breath.

“With that out of the way, are the terms of the Trial agreeable?” he continued, giving Malia a side-eyed look.

She flashed her fangs. “Kydon, be a dear and repeat them exactly. This is the final Trial, after all, and I want to be absolutely certain of what you forgot to exclude.”

The ogre stood up and grunted. “Hasda is to retrieve the Staff in the Stitcher’s possession and lay the undead to rest. Regardless of whether the Staff is responsible for their resurrection, the necromantic abominations must be dispatched as well for the Trial to be considered concluded successfully. His patrons may not interfere with any deities relating to the Staff or the zombies. Given the instability of the region’s current mythology during this transitionary period, gods may ally themselves with the Stitcher while opposing you. Were that to occur, you would be required to withdraw and leave Hasda to handle them.”

Feathers rustled as Malia flicked her wings. “And the Sea Mother?”

“She has no bearing on Hasda’s Trial. Yes, I am aware of her potential proximity to the region.” Kydon folded his hands in front of him and dipped his head to Seppo. “After careful consideration, our head has advised that the Sea Mother takes precedence over the Stitcher. Should she breach the celestial or mortal realm during Hasda’s Trial, you are free to use whatever tools at your disposal to resist her, and you may withdraw Hasda from his testing without repercussions.”

“And her deities?” Malia rested her chin on her interlaced fingers.

Kydon blinked. “I was not aware that she had added divine beings to her train.”

“She hasn’t, yet.” Eyes sparkling, Malia watched the arbiter squirm. “But she’s been dragging her net wherever her words will carry. It’s no secret that she’s attempted to recruit from our numbers and the Paedens. We know that none have defected from our pantheon, but who’s to say that all the Paedens revile her? And the scattered spirits and divinities in Frischii, bereft of their followers and homeland, might see the allure of sheltering beneath a titan’s wings.”

Seppo hummed into his mug. “Destroy any deity who swears fealty to the elder goddess. She can’t be allowed a foothold beyond the astral plane.”

“Even the Stitcher?” Malia settled atop her own drink, fingers dancing against its side.

“I…” Lost, Seppo looked to Kydon.

The ogre shook his head. “The terms of the Trial are that Hasda retrieve the Staff from the Stitcher and send sleep to the unslumbering. If Hasda is to lead our troops, whether that be against the Paedens or the absconded armies of the Sea Mother, then he must be prepared to face even a god with a titan’s blessing. Even if we keep the Sea Mother at bay, there is a very real possibility that Marudak will field deities empowered by his excess. Better to see how Hasda handles such an encounter now than later, when he could be the crux of battle.” Giving Malia a stern look, he held up his hand preemptively. “But, I will give you this. The qualification is the retrieval of the Staff. Once Hasda has secured that, the Stitcher loses his protection. But Hasda must be the one to secure it in his possession, completely, before you may move against the Stitcher.”

Malia slitted her eyes and stared him down for a bit. Finally, she huffed and sat back. “If you insist. No complai—concerns, Charax?”

“None.” I shook my head, then leaned over and whispered, “You have loopholes already?”

She pursed her lips in an unhappy smile. “Perhaps.”

I frowned. “Why did you bring that up about the Stitcher? You think Tamiyat will get to him?”

“About that.” Her eyes flashed as she unfolded her arms. “I…may have lost Lazuli at the border of Batavii.”

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Mon Apr 10, 2023 11:04 pm
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Plume wrote a review...

Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

It's good we got some explanation about Thrax. I am still a little confused though; not sure if it's just cause I've not been reading it consistently, but the explanation was a little on the implied side, and I'm not sure I caught on completely. From what I'm getting, Malia was going to kill Thrax because he was a "loose thread" in the champions ordeal (in what way, though, I'm still confused about; I feel like the most basic stuff is still unanswered, like where the heck did Thrax come from and why did Malia want to kill him and then why did she decide not to and instead promoted him). I also wasn't sure if the whole "loose thread" metaphor had anything to do with the Stitcher. It's also possible that you meant to leave the answers to those questions in the dark, in which case forgive me. However, another real possibility is that I'm just a little forgetful and bad at reading between the lines, and some explanation would be appreciated.

I also enjoyed getting to know more lore about the Carthian Pantheon, specifically related to how they do the whole champion thing. (And how it was done before their pantheon; glad to say Hasda's experiencing his champion-hood in this era, and not in ones before). I am curious how it will play out, having two champions, and in getting to know Thrax better. I'm less suspicious of him now that I know Malia is the true mastermind behind most of his circumstances, but he still does seem like maybe he posed a problem at some point due to the whole loose thread metaphor. Still, I look forward to learning more about him.

It was also nice to have Hasda's Trial terms laid out. It seems like he's got a pretty fierce task ahead of him. We've come a long way from the Kydonian Tiger, that's for sure. It seems like the rules are a lot stricter too, or at least Malia may be less inclined to try and interfere. Still, it seems almost cruel to let Hasda face any deities allied with the Stitcher as well; hopefully he's trained really well in the past two years.

Also, just to clarify: have we ever met the Stitcher in person? Because I thought we had but upon a quick look back through the chapters the character I thought was the Stitcher was actually the plague god, and I had just confused them, I guess. If we have met the Stitcher, I cannot remember exactly when. The first time I think he was mentioned was sometime around chapter 74, but I couldn't remember if he'd made an appearance before or after that. Just wanted to ask because I am a little confused.


So where, then, did that place this newcomer? And how did he factor into Hasda joining the pantheon?
I coughed to hide my splutter. “How did you know? I haven’t even tried to find a path for him yet.”

I loved this little direct contradiction; even without Malia calling him out on it, this was very funny by itself to literally catch Charax in his lies through his narration.

“About that.” Her eyes flashed as she unfolded her arms. “I…may have lost Lazuli at the border of Batavii.”

Oh, Lazuli. How I've missed Lazuli. Fingers crossed we get a fun couples trip with Charax and Malia hunting her down. Though given all Hasda has to prepare for and then go through, they might be otherwise occupied.

Overall: nice work! I liked how you introduced the trial as well as the other potential problem with Lazuli, and you've also mentioned Hasda's potential (but at this point I guess it's inevitable) ascension to godhood or demigodhood. I look forward to reading more! Until next time!

dragonfphoenix says...

Thrax was Malia's champion from while Charax was retired. Usually, gods only have one champion, and Malia has a history of offing her champions when they're no longer useful or living up to her expectations. So with Charax returning, them merging their Offices, and Hasda's existence, Thrax becomes redundant. Malia is leaving Thrax be for both Charax and Hasda's sakes, but she's not taking it very well because she's used to having "dealt with" these kinds of awkward problems by now. There's a little more explanation in the next chapter of Thrax's current role as well, so hopefully it'll be clearer then.

Up to this point, the Stitcher has only been referenced. The plague god is Paeden, and Malia had a run-in with him again somewhat recently (I forget which chapter, but it's briefly mentioned bc she exacerbated her scarring a little from the last time she tried to eat him).

Plume says...

Ah thank you! That makes more sense! And yes, I read the next chapter after reviewing this one, and a lot has been cleared up. Thanks for your response!

I want to see people turn and writhe; make them feel things they cannot see and sometimes do not know.
— Anna Held