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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 115: "The Priest"

by dragonfphoenix


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

With the pavilion behind me bare, no sign of the Serynis’ priest anywhere, I left the village and crossed the swamps, making my way back to Kirunadh. Neither the coilna nor the Sivariians showed themselves during my egress, which was strange because I was definitely back in the mortal plane. The croaking, clicking, crying swamp animals spoke to that.

As I’d entered Sivarii through the primitive underworld, I hadn’t felt the wet heat, and the lethargy of the people had distracted me from it while I was in their village. With nothing vying for my attention on my return journey, I was left with a heavy reminder by the way my robes sagged against me and the sweat sheathed my skin. Before long, I was wiping beads off my brow to keep from being blinded.

Shadows fell across the amber scum. Something moved in my blind spot, rustling leaves forewarning me. I spun and came face to face with an oglelov’s feline frown. Light green eyes stared at me from a face covered in sunset orange scales instead of fur. Its neck, covered in the same plates, extended several arms’ length from the tree overhead, where its scaly, four-legged body had rooted itself to a branch with knifelike claws.

When it realized its ambush had failed, it flattened its ears and hissed. Its neck bunched in alternating bends as it withdrew, fangs bared. I grunted at its angry yowls and continued on. With how aggressive they were reputed to be, I was surprised that only the one tried an attack before I made it out of the swamp. I saw at least two others, but they hissed and withdrew into the foliage when they saw me.

A sudden chill hit me as the third oglelov retreated. The smell of sea water crept beneath the humidity, trailed by a soft growl of thunder. Then it passed, leaving the full stench of the bog behind. I looked around sharply, but the only movement was the oglelov moving behind the leaves. It was strange, that surprise scent of the Great Sea. I didn’t like how it brought Tamiyat to mind, despite the fact that I couldn’t feel even a hint of her presence.

Worse was the tug on my bond that followed. Malia had engaged some enemy, which meant the threat was large enough to justify revealing herself. I lengthened my strides, speeding through the swamp.

As I broke the treeline, I found Kirunadh nearly overrun by the Sleepless. The Stitcher had fielded so many that the piked trenches had been bridged by impaled corpses, their undead fellows swarming the walls. And while the last troop had been little better than civilians, this legion was kitted for war. Crude clubs and spears met their more sophisticated counterparts, brandished and bashed against the defenders no matter how many times the wood was cleaved. While the Frischiians wore armor, the Sleepless marched naked, covered head to toe in caked mud save for their necks, which were wrapped in ribbed leather gorgets.

The strangest thing was the way these undead ignored the torches and flaming arrows bombarding them. It wasn’t that the clay plastered to their skin dampened the fire enough for them to trust its fireproofing, but rather that they simply didn’t react at all. They charged as if blind, and as I neared their flanks I realized that it wasn’t simply a metaphor—the Sleepless attacking the city stared with empty sockets. Some had had their eyes gouged out, others bore signs of cauterization, but one and all had been stripped of their sight.

Shrieks filled the air, piercing the undead moans and cries of the living. Above the village, Malia seared the sky with her gaze as she chased a kite-winged harpy.

Well, at least she’d found Lazuli.

The avian darted through clouds and around Malia with grace and speed beyond her station. Twisting and diving, she narrowly avoided Malia’s grasp time and again, although my gorgon was closing the gap with each pass. Lazuli wasn’t radiating the Sea Mother’s borrowed aura, although glimpses of it flashed in nauseating waves as she avoided Malia.

Below, Thrax and Hasda fought in loose coordination near the bridge, which had been raised to seal the village. The djinn’s purple fire cloaked Hasda and flickered along his sword, arcs trailing as Hasda carved his way through the Sleepless horde. Thrax was a whirlwind butcher behind him, his celestial steel axe pulverizing the undead. His blows followed inhuman paths, continuing through swings where most would pull up as their joints found their limits. But Thrax’s arms bent unnaturally behind and around him, and every sweep of them left crude dismemberment in their wake.

Most bizarre of all was that Kydon was likewise engaged in battle, and the form of the reanimated he fought. Up to now, both in Malia’s reports and my own observation, the Sleepless had all been human. The amalgamations contesting Kydon’s pike, however, bore witness to what had become of the Bataviian livestock. Sinew bound multiple arms and legs together to form compound limbs, terminating in cloven hooves where hands had failed. Mixed among the human heads were scraggly goats, long-horned bulls, and slobbering pigs. Each monstrosity reached at least the height of our half-troll arbiter, most standing head and shoulders above. And they outnumbered him six-to-one.

Despite being outnumbered, the gnarled arbiter held his own against the mishmashed undead. A quick twist dislodged all but the six-limbed behemoth tangled on the head of his pike. Beating it against the ground, he knocked it half unconscious before swinging it into its compatriots. Two of the beasts charged, hitting the pike at different lengths and splintering it. With a roar, Kydon laid into the brutes with the remaining half of the shaft.

I only realized I’d drawn my Sword when I heard the wet sounds of corpses squishing underfoot. I’d carved a straight path through their flank, angling for Hasda and Thrax. The noise from the fallen Sleepless drew the attention of those immediately around me, and they tried to form a press to stop me. If they had consciousness, I left them little time to contemplate how pathetic their attempt to stop me had been.

And they really were soulless things. I'd made it so far without realizing because the demise of dozens freed not a sliver of spirit. Each collapse held no more weight than that of a felled tree. Though they had the form and function of former humans, now they were simply...things. It was almost too easy to part them with the edge of my blade. Simple sweeps cleared a path, and before long I’d reached Hasda and Thrax.

While they were holding their own quite well, they couldn’t keep the horde from going around them and across the makeshift bridge formed from the fallen Sleepless in the moat. Defenders atop the wall fought on both sides of the breach, but they were being steadily driven back through sheer numbers. I slammed into the river of bodies, stemming the excess flow.

“Thanks, Dad.” Hasda’s eyes were filmed with the same fire that limned his sword, although he was himself beneath that flame. His sword darted, piercing caked mud and splitting the undead.

“How many are inside?” I carved an arc behind us, giving Hasda and Thrax space to fight on surer footing.

Thrax bludgeoned a body back into the throng. “Not many. But enough to cause problems.”

“And the troops?”

“I have squadrons keeping the rear wall safe from more body bridges. Most of the rest are defending from inside the city.” Hasda swiped at a Sleepless. “Why are you fighting? I thought the Sleepless were my responsibility.”

I cleared another swathe in front of us. “Kydon engaged them, which means we're free to get involved as well. And your Trial, which Kydon hasn’t officially begun yet, is between you and the Stitcher.”

Thunder trailed Lazuli and Malia as they shot past us. The Sleepless recoiled at the noise, the nearest collapsing as Hasda and Thrax took the opportunity to put them in the dirt. A touch of the djinn’s fire turned the deanimated corpses to ash.

While Hasda’s sword sang, the alloyed metal vibrating as its diluted celestial steel sought to make its voice heard, Thrax’s axe gave muffled grunts, its divine metal bestial. Already I could feel the change in Hasda’s elevation, his spirit scraping fingertips against demigodhood, but Thrax was a roar of pure mortality. The man was refined human will wielding a deific, feral weapon.

My sidetracked observation was cut short by a concussive blast coming from Kydon’s direction. One of the bloated brutes had collapsed, its limbs splintering and flying in all directions as its agglomerated body exploded. Kydon stood in the wreck of its ribs, his pike driven into the ground. Around him, the other composite undead wavered, then retreated with unsettling wails.

Hearing the sound, the Sleepless around us fell back as well, abandoning the ones that had already scaled the wall. An uncanny silence settled on the retreating undead, their soundless movement punctuated by the bellowing moans of the behemoths. Hasda and Thrax set about clearing the stragglers, while the defenders cleared the battlements, shoving corpses and struggling Sleepless off the wall into the moat.


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Wed Sep 13, 2023 3:30 am
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Oh, this was a chaotic chapter. I have to say, Charax wandering in the midst of the fight was very reminiscent of that one GIF from Community where the guy walks in with pizza and everything is just... chaos. At least Malia found Lazuli again, I guess?

One thing I enjoyed was your description of the Sleepless. It was utterly gruesome, especially the parts about how animals were used too. The fact that their eyes were gouged out too seems significant as well, though I guess it could also just be used for shock value and to add more horror to their appearance. Regardless, I thought you did a nice job describing their forces, and I think I felt genuinely slightly disgusted at some points.

The one thing I would say is that Charax's interactions with the oglelovs at the beginning felt rather pointless. Like sure, they're cool creatures, but it didn't really serve any purpose but to show the shift to when he figures out something is wrong. I feel like the whole "forest creatures dash off" trope could be done just with the noises of the swamp you described at the beginning.

Specifics

The smell of sea water crept beneath the humidity, trailed by a soft growl of thunder. Then it passed, leaving the full stench of the bog behind. I looked around sharply, but the only movement was the oglelov moving behind the leaves.


I liked this moment a lot; I felt like I could picture it super clearly. I also enjoyed the reveal that directly followed it with Charax sensing the bond between him and Malia; it was cool how you implied action, and created suspense based on that.

His blows followed inhuman paths, continuing through swings where most would pull up as their joints found their limits. But Thrax’s arms bent unnaturally behind and around him, and every sweep of them left crude dismemberment in their wake.


I can't tell what I want more for the explanation of this moment to be: either he's divine/monstrous in some way that grants him these abilities (which seems like the more likely answer), or if he's just some normal guy who's just... insanely flexible.

I cleared another swathe in front of us. “Kydon engaged them, which means we're free to get involved as well. And your Trial, which Kydon hasn’t officially begun yet, is between you and the Stitcher.”


I appreciate this clarification; I was beginning to wonder what this would mean for the Trial's rules, and thank goodness it seems to be still compliant.

Overall: nice work! I'm looking forward to seeing the aftermath (hopefully Hasda won't be too taxed by this pre-conflict). Until next time!




dragonfphoenix says...


So, thing I'll clean up in the revision, the oglelovs are mortal creatures, so them ambushing Charax is them swinging way above their paygrade. They are going to show up later, although idk exactly how yet.



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Thu Sep 07, 2023 6:34 pm
Ventomology wrote a review...



Eyoo back again.

I actually love the use of Sleepless as a term for the undead. It's a familiar word, so it's easy to say but is unsettling and also seems like it has fun relations to the ways death is described in this novel

Like IvyFlame said already, there's a lot of great action in this scene. The one thing I feel like this action is missing though, is physical indication of struggle. I see tons of sword slashing and axe swinging going on. It feels like the team is really cutting through the hordes, but from the context it sounds like they'd been at it for a while before Charax arrives. That kind of action takes a toll; the other fighters ought to be tired.

For example: when Malia is chasing Lazuli and keeps missing, does she rage in frustration? Is she panting with the effort of keeping up? Are her movements getting sloppy? When Thrax and Kydon are tearing it up on the battlefield, are there moments of tension when they are ganged up on or nearly overtaken? Are they sweating? Are they grunting? What is the physical manifestation of their effort ?

And I don't just raise these questions because they are logical things to think about in extended combat. I raise them because I think the action in this chapter needs the stakes to feel higher and the odds to feel less winnable. Obviously there is a whole novel of plot before this chapter laying out these stakes, but you're going to lose some of the urgency and emotion of the struggle by not having your "good guys" get hurt or falter or face challenges that are actively and continuously difficult.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Hope this helps.

-Vento




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Tue Aug 29, 2023 9:14 am
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IcyFlame wrote a review...



Hey dragonofphoenix :)

I was on my merry way to read part 116 when I realised I hadn't actually read and reviewed this part yet, so here we are! Sorry for the delay!

Let's get straight into it, shall we?

Shadows fell across the amber scum. Something moved in my blind spot, rustling leaves forewarning me. I spun and came face to face with an oglelov’s feline frown. Light green eyes stared at me from a face covered in sunset orange scales instead of fur. Its neck, covered in the same plates, extended several arms’ length from the tree overhead, where its scaly, four-legged body had rooted itself to a branch with knifelike claws.

The tone of narrative voice in the passage isn't very dissimilar from the passive tone in the previous couple of paragraphs where Charax is describing the temperature and the scenery. As such, it took me a moment to realise that there was maybe supposed to be some tension here - it just felt like a continuation of the description.

A sudden chill hit me as the third oglelov retreated.

This was the only hint that something was amiss. Is Charax really so chilled by the whole thing that he doesn't have a reaction up until this point?

Worse was the tug on my bond that followed. Malia had engaged some enemy, which meant the threat was large enough to justify revealing herself. I lengthened my strides, speeding through the swamp.

Now I can actually feel Charax's worry, the tension definitely works a lot better! It does feel a bit like it's come out of nowhere, though that might be a result of him not really reacting when the first oglelov appeared.

I like the holistic view Charax gives us of the battle - it's helpful to see who's involved and who is where at the beginning of him joining the fight because I kind of know who I need to be worried about and who is doing just fine.

This part is a nitpick:
I only realized I’d drawn my Sword when I heard the wet sounds of corpses squishing underfoot. I’d carved a straight path through their flank, angling for Hasda and Thrax.

Why would the sounds make him realise he'd drawn his sword? Wouldn't that just indicate he's moving forwards?

Hearing the sound, the Sleepless around us fell back as well, abandoning the ones that had already scaled the wall. An uncanny silence settled on the retreating undead, their soundless movement punctuated by the bellowing moans of the behemoths. Hasda and Thrax set about clearing the stragglers, while the defenders cleared the battlements, shoving corpses and struggling Sleepless off the wall into the moat.

Well I think we were in need of some action scenes and this has definitely delivered! It's easy to get caught up in all the decorum and customs of the world, so in a bizarre way this kind of serves as a break. It does make me a little worried for how Hasda's going to be in the trial if his energy is being expended fighting the Sleepless, but hopefully he's got plenty of help and will have some time to recover?

Hope this was helpful, see you for part 116!

Icy




dragonfphoenix says...


So, reading through this I can see places where I can add tiny nudges to clarify things during revision. Basically, the oglelovs are mortal creatures, so when they're attacking Charax, they're swinging way above their paygrade. That's why Charax isn't worried about them past their minor inconvenience. As for the sword part, Charax went straight into battle rage, and it wasn't until he was physically stepping on the corpses he was cutting down that he registered that fact. I might leave that part up to inference still, but it's on the potential revision block.




A classic is a book which people praise and don't read.
— Mark Twain