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16+ Language

The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 131: "The Bargain"

by dragonfphoenix


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

Although it didn’t take long to get all the men on their feet, it wasn’t a fast pace they could maintain. The afternoon was already flirting with evening, and Hasda had until nightfall to make it as far as he could into the forest. But Gunarra had said that the rat king claimed everything this side of the river as his, which meant that even if Hasda made it to the Stitcher today, it wouldn’t be far enough.

And his men were flagging far too quickly. If the rats struck, it would be on Hasda and Gunarra to turn them. Already the sickliest of Hasda’s men was slumping, barely lifting his feet as they marched. Well, Hasda marched. His men stumbled along, half dead.

Gunarra yelped in intervals as we went along, coordinating her jackals. We’d gone several lengths before the first answered, and by the time evening fell we had three or four in attendance. They kept out of sight, perhaps a good bowshot away, but they kept our slow pace easily.

Evening bled across the sky in lush orange hues before being chased away by the dull gray of night. Stars spread out like scattered sand. A lone cricket made its presence known, the only sound of night life.

And then the rats attacked.

Our first warning of their approach was a startled yip from the jackal tailing us, a cry that turned quickly to angry snarls before being abruptly cut. Gunarra snarled and yowled sharp orders to her remaining jackals, who lost no time in flocking to us. Golden brown bodies, turned gray in the moonlight, broke through the underbrush to circle our small group.

Only three. So few canines, though Hasda barely had a man beyond that.

The rats, however, didn’t extend the courtesy of fielding similar numbers. In the moonlight, they surged like a swelled creek. Hasda’s djinn fire, which enveloped him in a protective glow, flashed off bared teeth, extended claws, and hungry eyes. Swords rang as the men drew their blades, but one of the men fell before the rats even swarmed them. Gunarra’s jackals spread out as their mistress took front against the approaching rats.

Although she remained stuck in human form, she fought as if she’d returned to jackal. Her claws cut through the rats as they sprang at her face. Soft orange light reflected in her eyes and glowed dimly beneath her collar as she dove into the rats, spitting chunks of fur as she bit the rodents her claws missed. Kicking and slashing, she snarled as the rats targeted the soft tissue inside her elbows and on her ankles.

Hasda cut sweeping arcs with his fiery sword, splitting the crashing tide. The rodents found almost no purchase on him, giving way to both sword and body as the heat of the flames pursued them. But the djinn fire only protected Hasda, and the rats found an easier target in the jackals and his men. As fast as their blades were, the rats were faster, and soon only one of the four remained standing. The jackals went under even quicker.

With a roar, Hasda shot a pulse of fire outwards, nearly extinguishing his flames in the process. The blast scattered the rats and scalded his men, but it pushed the rats away enough for Hasda to carve a ring of fire with the tip of his sword. A thin wall of violet flames erupted in the wake of his strike, daring the rats to dive through.

Gunarra and her jackals ended up on the outside of that ring, but it was already too late for the dogs. Speckled with cuts and bite marks, the half human stood as the lone survivor of her pack. Her jackals lay unmoving, their throats torn out by rodents Gunarra had been too slow to crush.

The remaining rats regrouped, eyes intent on Gunarra. But Hasda was having none of it. Screaming a war cry, he threw himself through the djinn fire and threw flaming arcs indiscriminately at the crouching rats. Flesh sizzled as fur vaporized.

Squealing, the rats retreated.

As they retreated, the ring of fire guttered out. Hasda’s flames winked out not long after, revealing my exhausted but unharmed boy. I couldn’t say the same for his men, though.

Although they survived the rats, they were extremely worse for wear. Arms, faces, and legs bled from bites and claw marks, and many of the blackened spots had been shredded or completely torn off. One of the men clutched his eye, fluid that was more than blood leaking past his fingers. Overall, they’d lived, which was more than Gunarra’s jackals could say.

Keening, the sukalla gathered her fallen animals in her arms and laid them together. When she reached the third, however, her breath hitched her cries, and she carefully adjusted how it lay. Its chest rose and fell, not far, but enough. So one of the four had made it through.

Gunarra cursed and punched the earth.

I walked over and stood behind her. “How bad?”

“Were it not for this form, perhaps I could have pulled her back.” She sneered, tears creeping down her cheeks. “But she will be gone before I can shift again, and none of her fellows can heal these wounds.”

Frowning, I knelt down. The jackal’s breathing was labored, its snout scored with a dozen pocks of missing fur. Her ribcage was no better, a wicked curve of flesh peeled off, the bones showing. How the rats had managed to bend her hind leg in that angle, I hadn’t a clue. But she’d kept her eyes intact.

“My magic is closer to field dressing than healing proper, but I could try it.” I gave her a grim look. “But it’s likely to do nothing or kill her, if it has any effect. Unless there’s any way I could help you shift faster?”

“No.” She shook her head, and then bared her teeth and glared daggers in the direction the rats had retreated. “Those bastards have stolen enough from me. If you would help, bring me his head.”

Sighing, I pushed to my feet. “That’s not an option, unfortunately. I’ll give you a moment alone while I check on Hasda, but we’ll need to move soon before the rats regroup.”

“Wait.” Kneeling next to the jackal, she prostrated herself. “For the sake of my little one, please exert yourself, Excellence.”

I frowned. “Don’t do that. Get up.”

From by his men, Hasda laughed.

Gunarra lifted her face but remained prone. “What cost would you name for this petition, Most Gracious One?”

“How do you manage to sound both respectful and impertinent with those titles?” I shook my head. “You’re not the only one who values information. Honest answers, in exchange for good faith effort on my part.”

She dipped her head. “If she may be stabilized, sufficient for me to carry her to a safe haven, it is enough for me.”

“Then move.” Grunting, I settled onto the ground by the jackal’s rib cage.

Staying on her knees, she scurried out of the way, eyes intent on the injured animal.

With a sigh, I set to work on the twisted leg. But the angle was so bad, it didn’t matter how gentle I was. The jackal yelped in pain as I bent it back into position and set the bone. I manifested a salve and lathered the split fur. Torn cloth and a pair of stiff sticks went into the splint after.

The wound on the ribcage was another matter entirely. Every touch sent tremors through the jackal, its breath hitching with each prod. Although the pain was understandable, the jerking pulled the flap from my fingers and made it hard to square the slash. But I managed a stitch, albeit a messy one, and applied more salve before wrapping a bandage around the jackal’s body.

When I lifted the jackal to pass the cloth under, my hand pressed a hidden wound that made the jackal cry and thrash out of my hands. With some soothing, I finished the binding and rolled the animal over. Another gash, this one not as deep, cut horizontally across its side. It didn’t require stitching, but I salved it and extended the bandage to cover it as well.

Vanishing the supplies, I nodded to Gunarra and pushed to my feet.

“Your skill rivals your graciousness.” She gave another quick bow.

I coughed. “Do you need a sling?”

“No. I will carry her in my arms.” Her eyes grew sad as she gently collected the jackal. “We are not like the wolves. Our solitude makes the cost of these lives all the greater. I will summon more, but I fear we won’t achieve a pace capable of placating the rats.”

“We will make do.” I glanced over at Hasda, who wore a consternated look as he rummaged through their supplies. “Hasda, how soon will your men be ready to move?”

He lifted a sagging bag and let it drop. “We can make it a dozen yards from the death and carnage before we’ll need to rest for the night. The rats ruined a good portion of the dry foods, so we’ll have to worry about foraging as we go. But that’s tomorrow’s problem.”


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Fri Jun 28, 2024 4:12 am
Moonlily wrote a review...



Hello Hello I hope you dont mind me popping in with a quick review. I will apologize on two fronts here as I have not read any of your past works and thus might get something wrong. Regardless of that, I hope I can at least brighten your day or get you out of the green room. ( With how it's clearing I fear someone might beat me to it while writing this) However, that is here nor there but let's get it shall we?

Overall I must say wow that was quite the introduction to this work as someone who has not backread. It seems like a sweeping fantasy world mixed with classic tales as inspiration or at least The Nutcracker is the first thing I think of hearing the Rat King. I will admit I was kind of ballet-obsessed in my youth that might be why. Anyway getting back on topic I loved both the imagery and just how action-packed it was. Very thrilling indeed.

Her ribcage was no better, a wicked curve of flesh peeled off, the bones showing.


This line really stuck out to me as it's not very gory but paints such a vivid picture. When paired with the other other events it both makes the reader uneasy yet sad in the best way.

Now onto the feedback. Normally I would point out the use of and twice in sentences since it can be clunky at times but works well here. I feel trying to shorten or rephrase the sentence wouldn't hold the same effect so I will leave it at that.

Good job with this chapter have a great day. As always keep writing and drink water! ( Not from the rat kings side of the land I don't think he likes that )




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Mon Jun 24, 2024 10:06 pm
EllieMae wrote a review...



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Hi there, my friend! My name is Ellie and I am here to leave a review for this chapter of your lovely novel :) Let's get right into the review!

Although it didn’t take long to get all the men on their feet, it wasn’t a fast pace they could maintain. The afternoon was already flirting with evening, and Hasda had until nightfall to make it as far as he could into the forest. But Gunarra had said that the rat king claimed everything this side of the river as his, which meant that even if Hasda made it to the Stitcher today, it wouldn’t be far enough.


I really like your writing style here. Some of the phrases that you use really jump out at mer here. For example, saying that "the afternoon was flirting with evening". I love that! Instead of just saying, it was getting late, you write this in such a poetic way. I noticed this throughout your work and I really wanted to compliment you on your ability to make ordinary things extraordinary and beautiful.

These lines also stood out to me:

With a sigh, I set to work on the twisted leg. But the angle was so bad, it didn’t matter how gentle I was. The jackal yelped in pain as I bent it back into position and set the bone. I manifested a salve and lathered the split fur. Torn cloth and a pair of stiff sticks went into the splint after.


I adore your details. You use great sensory details, emphasizing even simple things, like the level of gentleness. Also, noting the details you mention about the torn cloths- I feel like I can almost see the feelings. I don't know if that make sense, but awesome work on this!

He lifted a sagging bag and let it drop. “We can make it a dozen yards from the death and carnage before we’ll need to rest for the night. The rats ruined a good portion of the dry foods, so we’ll have to worry about foraging as we go. But that’s tomorrow’s problem.”


I liked this ending. It doesn't have any huge cliffhanger, but it does hint at tomorrow's problem. It ends subtly and doesn't feel forced. Overall, I found this chapter easy to read and follow along with the plot. Great work on this novel! Keep writing!

Your friend,
Ellie

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I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.
— Flannery O'Connor