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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 121: "The Unendowed"

by dragonfphoenix

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

Orders given, Malia winged off to do her own preparations. After waiting for my confirmation, Hasda dashed into the village to find his right hand. When I turned back to Kydon, I found him munching on gelled ambrosia covered in grime, hair, and other dark particles I didn’t want to contemplate.

“Nasty pair, those,” he said, spittle dribbling around the lumpy curds. “They weren’t proxied last time?”

“The Serynis?” I shook my head. “They Ascended when we fought them. And the last time I saw them, they’d still been…”

I scowled. Not a month past, they’d been unaligned. Or was it a week? It felt like just yesterday I found them in that strange, underworld-adjacent realm, lost and without a pantheon. So if the Sea Mother had claimed them, it must have been extremely recent. Given that Lazuli was in the area, it wasn’t surprising that Tamiyat had also given away her location.

But “extremely bad” didn’t even begin to cover her sudden arrival. What interest did she have in Curnerein? What use were the Serynis, who likely couldn’t handle a fourth the power that Lazuli could, to her as proxies? And, most importantly, why now?

I winced as fresh flesh knit itself across the gap in his shoulder. “How did Vythar react to our proposal?”

“I would have flogged his arrogance out of him, if he were one of ours.” The half-ogre rolled his good shoulder, then gingerly tested the new muscles on the other. “He demanded that we return the kavak—the girl was barely an afterthought to him—and that we abandon Curnerein to him. He claimed that revenge was his alone, and the land his birthright as Balphar’s only surviving descendent.” He shook his head. “Blinded by rage. I did not hear him mention his mother once. Only his own pain, and the justice he sought.”

“So no help from that front.”

“Ah, an enemy, no less.” He gave me a crooked grin. “The warriors I escorted, he sent back as my escorts. They did not survive the Serynis at the river. Even without knowing this, Vythar has said that there is a spear for my back, if ever it graces his sight again. Once Hasda crosses the river, he’ll have to keep a close eye on his front and his flank.”

I frowned. “Seems foolhardy. How strong is he?”

“Considering his youth, he could become something.” Kydon chewed on the congealed ambrosia a bit. It gave him a distinctly bovine look. “As he is now, it’s a testament to the training of his lancers that the Stitcher hasn’t overrun his meager holding.”

“Did he give any indication of his powers?”

“That’s the thing.” He smacked his lips and sucked off another chunk of ambrosia. “For all his vainglorious puffing, I don’t think he’s much endowed. He may not have even figured out what he can do, or how to control it yet. He’s extremely young.”

“Definitely inexperienced, if he thinks he can fight multiple fronts on his own.” I sighed. “As if there weren’t enough rogue godlings running around already. We have free rein to move against the Serynis now, correct?”

Kydon nodded. “Full proxies or not, they’ve aligned themselves with the eldritch goddess. Vythar walks a fine line between his opposition being against the Trial and against us specifically. As for any other gods, it will depend on their allegiance to the Sea Mother.”

“Let’s hope these are the only ones we have to deal with.”

As the sun kissed the western horizon, Malia descended next to us. “That barrier is still blocking the Stitcher’s domain.”

I frowned. “It still feels like the one in Aenea?”

She gave Kydon a once over, lips pursed. “There’s something about this one that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s almost as if the weave is different.” A small grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “But, this time, we don’t have to keep a low profile. Once Hasda’s through, we’ll see how it holds up against my celestial form.”

“Remember, once he’s across the river, no assisting him.” Kydon met Malia’s gaze with a level look. “That includes providing a diversion by assaulting the Stitcher’s barrier.”

Her snakes flicked their tongues as she tossed her head. “We’re not allowed to observe the Trial?”

“That’s not what I—”

She glared at him. “If we breach the barrier at the same point that Hasda crosses, would that suffice?”

“At the same time, yes.” Kydon slurped the last of the ambrosia down. “If you stagger your entries, it could be construed as distracting the Stitcher from Hasda’s advance. So you’ll need to keep pace with Hasda and take the barrier down as he enters Batavii.”

“How far beyond the river does the barrier begin?” I asked.

“Perhaps a mile from the Fyrisaard.” Malia’s wings twitched as she folded her arms. “The last time I scouted the Strixenvaas, I was able to go much deeper above the forest. Now, the barrier stops no more than a few hundred paces from the edge of the woods.”

“So that’s why you came back so quickly.” I sighed. “How certain are you that a celestial touch can break it? Revealing that one of us can transcend gives away enough already, let alone both of us.”

“The Sea Mother is the only entity who matters, and she already knows about our celestial forms.” She waved a hand dismissively. “Once Hasda finishes with the Stitcher, I’ll clean up whatever remains.”

“While you are free to dispose of the Stitcher once the Staff has been retrieved,” Kydon rumbled, “please refrain from annihilating the local pantheon. This is still a Trial, despite our expanded claim over Frischii. None of our minor deities are ready to assume the full responsibilities of a worshiped god, either, although there are a few promising candidates.”

Malia’s eyes flashed. “Once the Stitcher is gone, the Sleepless will need to be scoured from the earth. I don’t know what kind of failsafes he’s put in them but, given his tenacity thus far, I would be highly wary of a ‘berserk’ mode, should he fall.”

Kydon nodded. “Still, leave someone behind to hold the land once we’re gone. Preferably more than just Vythar.”

I jerked upright. For a moment, I thought I’d seen an orange ball of light floating in the distance, like the ones that had made up the Weeping Queen’s daughter, but as I squinted at the spot I saw nothing. They asked me about it, and I told them of the strange form the missing child had taken.

Head tilted, Malia folded her arms. “Strange. I didn’t sense anything, and I have yet to see anything like that anywhere in Curnerein. If this daughter had shown herself before, I’d have known.”

I grunted. “I’m not completely sure of what I saw myself. When I visited Kirunadh, it was a very surreal experience. Not quite Sybil-grade, but certainly pushing the edge of reality.”

“Well, let’s go ascertain the reality of Hasda’s preparations.” Malia slid her arms around mine and tugged me towards the village. “We’ll let you know before we leave. And you should probably determine what you’re going to do about that little scamp you wanted to claim, given how her deity reacted.”

A broad grin split the half-troll’s face. “I think, given how the meeting went, she’ll be inclined to remain with us for a bit. She is perhaps more possessive of her bird than her god, and will be reluctant to part with him, or have him stripped from her. That was the fate Vythar implied would befall her upon her return.”

After we’d gone our separate ways, Malia tugged on my arm. “Do you know what Hasda’s planning?”

“We hadn’t discussed it.”

Malia chewed her lip the way she always did when annoyed. “He’s put Thrax in charge of the primary force, and is sending him across the river northeast, closer to Elthii. He was banking on drawing the Sleepless towards a potential ally while he took a smaller group into the heart of Batavii to extract the Staff while the Stitcher’s eye was elsewhere.”

I frowned. It was a solid plan, given that, normally, the living banded together against the undead. But with the demeanor Vythar had shown, there was enough reason to doubt that Thrax’s company wouldn’t find themselves pincered between lances and lifeless.

But there was another, bigger problem. “Hasda’s attempting a stealth crossing, and we have to light a beacon above his head.”

“Precisely.” Malia’s snakes hissed. “Can you breach the barrier on your own?”

My eyebrows crinkled. “You’re going to cross with Thrax?”

“Unless you have a better idea.” Malia huffed a sigh. “Hasda is using Thrax as a part of his strategy, but Thrax himself isn’t bound by the rules of the Trial. By attacking the barricade together, it salvages as much of his intended diversion as we can without voiding the Trial. And I want to give Vythar one last chance to see reason.”

“You mean show him who he’s snubbing.” I kissed her head. “A more diplomatic approach might serve you better, this time. His ego is already bruised enough without you broadcasting just how unendowed he is.”

She turned her head to kiss me back. “I’ll take it into consideration. Wait with Hasda at the barrier. I’ll signal when it’s time to strike.”

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Thu Jun 20, 2024 12:42 pm
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IcyFlame wrote a review...

I scowled. Not a month past, they’d been unaligned. Or was it a week? It felt like just yesterday I found them in that strange, underworld-adjacent realm, lost and without a pantheon. So if the Sea Mother had claimed them, it must have been extremely recent. Given that Lazuli was in the area, it wasn’t surprising that Tamiyat had also given away her location.

This completely sums up my feelings haha. If Charax himself is having such a tough time remembering what happened when then I feel like there's no hope for me at all. This is likely heavily influenced by my taking breaks between reading, but it's interesting that the character shares the same feeling - it actually makes me feel quite sympathetic towards him because I can completely relate to the feeling.

I frowned. “Seems foolhardy. How strong is he?”

This confused me because I assumed he meant Hasda and surely he knows how strong he is?

From a plot perspective it makes sense that Charax and Malia have a job to do during the trial rather than sitting and watching because that might be less interesting to follow from a reader's viewpoint but I'm a little worried that trying to keep track of everything going on once the trial finally starts is going to be a little overwhelming. This novel truly feels like a balancing act, so I'm interested to see how you're going to bring it all together.

Catch you in the next part.


dragonfphoenix says...

Haha yeah I totally don't have to go back over some future sections because I also forgot details about a certain someone from the previous chapter that needs to be fixed before I post those chapters (if I didn't already) hahaha yeah never >.> Thank goodness I made that a part of his character from the beginning because oh how the mortal years just slip away from the divine

Ah, that "him" is in reference to Vythar. I'll edit that later

Have you ever seen a giant tub of Legos spilled on the floor? Like, maybe 20 gallons worth of Legos. The end is gonna be like that XD

IcyFlame says...

Haha now I'm looking forward to it purely based on that description

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Sat Jun 01, 2024 10:57 pm
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Plume wrote a review...

Hey there! Plume here, with a review! (Sorry if I'm a little rusty; I've not done one of these in a while!)

A lot of good info in this chapter! I like how we're getting closer and closer to Hasda's trial (I can't remember, this is just the second one, right?) and with that, I'm sure several new developments are going to come into play.

The focus on Vythar in this was very interesting, and I like how in this section of the story we're getting into more godly conflicts. I feel like every time Charax and Malia conflict with another deity, there's always the chance that they're going to come back swinging, so I'm curious what role Vythar might play in the future, particularly in Hasda's trial as well as potentially in the larger battle against the Sea Mother. I think the part about this chapter that intrigued me the most was the mention of the Weeping Queen's daughter; I'm hoping that's foreshadowing and she'll be able to perhaps help in some way.

One thing I have mentioned in previous reviews is that for a piece as info and worldbuilding dense as this one, it might be good to have a sort of encyclopedia/guide to characters. I know a part of that might be influenced by me taking big breaks in reading (oops) but I do know that sometimes even when I am reading the chapters, there's so many callbacks and so much to remember that having a little accompanying guide would be useful.

Overall: nice job balancing several plot threads! I look forward to reading more; until next time!

I do all of the training for Walgreen’s cashiers.
— The Devil