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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 30: "The Proposition"

by dragonfphoenix


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

The next day, Malia and I followed Seppo into his cloud-floored chamber to discuss whatever Azoria was investigating. Despite Malia’s reluctance, we left Hasda and Jade to themselves. Hasda had mentioned something about visiting the recovering tiger, and they’d disappeared together from the feast in the early hours of the morning. Seppo had concluded the feast later that morning with vague promises of another when the time came to announce the Second Trial, and then asked Malia and I to accompany him back to his throne room.

He now paced in front of his throne, kicking up tufts of clouds as he clanked back and forth. His frown from last night had returned, but deeper than before. Malia stood with her arms crossed, tracing his circuits with her eyes. Her flicking tail betrayed her annoyance more than the set of her mouth, but she wouldn’t say anything about being kept waiting.

I would, though. “All right, Seppo. We’ve given you plenty of time to get your thoughts in order. At this rate, your gears are going to rust shut before you get on with it.”

He grunted and waved his hand as he passed in front of his throne. “It’s a lot more complicated than you think.”

“I don’t know enough to have any thoughts on the matter.” I shrugged. “You haven’t even told us exactly what the matter is.”

He scowled as he retraced his steps. “Azoria is taking the measure of our opposition.”

“We knew that,” Malia said, frowning at the cotton ball clouds stirred up with each pass. One floated into her face and she blew it away. “The Ghorins finally established a pantheon?”

“Much worse,” Seppo said, his neck pistons hissing as he shook his head. “Much, much worse than that.”

I scrunched my eyebrows together. Why would that be a bad thing? Malia had been eyeing those elven druids for centuries, trying to finagle them under our influence for decades. If they had gods we could interact with, we could forge alliances, but with their shamanism and worship of primordial forces, it was hard to connect our cultures for coalitions without dominating them into subservience. Not that Malia would balk at that, but without gods they’d be harder to control.

“So it’s not the Ghorins?” Malia said. “I thought…”

“No, we have far greater concerns than some nature-loving druids in loincloths.” It would have been funny if Seppo didn’t look so deadly serious.

I sighed. “All right, give us a list of prioritized threats.”

He paused at the end of one of his passes, hands on his hips as he scowled at the tufts of cloud disintegrating in the steam jets venting from his exoskeleton. “Well...I’m going to succumb to bias and go with the one that affects me personally the most.”

We both waited for a moment, but when Seppo said nothing Malia rolled her eyes and threw her hands up. “Just spit it out, you rusty old automaton.”

With his back to her, she couldn’t see the pained expression that flitted across his face, but I did. He mastered himself as he turned around, though, and she was none the wiser. “I’ve been given a marriage proposition.”

Malia blinked, and I felt my jaw fall open. We both stared at him dumbly.

“A...a what?” Malia finally managed.

“A proposal.”

“By who?”

“Jade. Well, that’s what they implied, anyways.” His frown deepened, and he resumed his pacing. “But she wasn’t the one who propositioned. The Paedens sent one of their sages, an Apkalla, to deliver the message.” He shrugged. “He didn’t mention Jade by name, but he said their pantheon had ‘serious grievances’ with ours over some miscellaneous slights, and they were willing to overlook them if we were to join together through a union of some sorts. He suggested that I was already familiar with the minor deity they had in mind.”

I scratched the corner of my jaw. “Surely Jade wouldn’t agree to that, assuming she even responds to their attempt at exerting their authority over her.”

“Not to mention that such an alliance would make our pantheon pay homage to theirs,” Malia said. She narrowed her eyes. “But that’s not everything, is it? I’m noticing a distinct lack of reference to our Oracles’ auguries.”

Seppo shook his head. “You’re right. They’re completely blind to the Paedens. Motives, movements, what have you, they can’t get a single reading. Synnefo said Zephyrus thinks the Paeden Seers, priests similar to our Oracles, are interfering.”

“How is that possible?” I massaged my temples. The situation wasn’t even that complicated yet, by Malia’s standards anyways, but the lines were already blurring together and my head decided it wanted to act its age again.

“Who knows.” He shrugged. “That’s part of what Azoria is investigating down south.”

“Where, exactly, down south?” Malia asked, narrowing her eyes. “There’s a whole trail of breadcrumbs in this mess, and if you don’t start picking them up I’m going to rub your face in them.”

Seppo whirled at the end of his circuit and double-timed his way through three more paces, puffing furiously. “All right, fine! Paeden warriors have been migrating into Aenea for the past few months. They’ve secured a hold on the river delta and begun taxing the Aeneans on both their fishing and crops. But they’ve made no moves against the Carthians downriver, and our people have seemingly conceded dominance of the region to them.”

Well, wasn’t that a mess. Aenea was a fertile region that stretched along the banks of the Barca river, which snaked its way from some unknown source to the Great Sea that filled the hollow in the middle of the earth. Carthians had conquered almost all habitable territory that abutted this Sea, save for the lands in the east held by the Paedens.

The Aeneans and Paedens had a shared ancestry, and had once served under the Paedens, so the latter’s claim on the region was arguably stronger than ours. But, from the sounds of it, they’d reconquered parts of the territory not by force, but by trade and taxes. And if the Carthians and Aeneans were cooperating with them, that would make it far more difficult to accuse the Paedens of a hostile invasion.

Not that saving face before the Paeden pantheon mattered, but our own acolytes might take less kindly to wanton slaughter and conquest over what they’d perceive as the peaceful reclamation of forefathers’ ancient homelands. Not theirs, of course, but who could fault the Paedens for wanting to return to their roots? And if the cohabitation was mutually beneficial, even more reason to further it. Of course, it would result in loss of land, authority, and prestige for the Carthians, not to mention forfeiting our own claims and established history in the region.

So if the Carthians were acquiescing, either they were short on supplies and stranded from acquiring more, or the Paedens had offered them something they couldn’t possibly resist. And with the Oracles blinded against Paeden activities, we had no way of finding out from afar what the true nature of the situation was. Sending Azoria was a prudent move, since she’d have the foresight to perceive what we needed and return without sparking a war.

But something was off, and I couldn’t quite place what it was.

“You said they’ve been taxing the Carthians for months?” I said.

Seppo nodded.

“How long have the Oracles been silent about Aenea?”

Malia’s eyes flashed. “Longer than that. Phemonoe said her scrying pool was like muddied water a week before the earliest confirmed arrival of the Paedens. At the time, she wasn’t sure which region was obscured, only that somewhere was. We only figured out it was Aenea when they were late on their sacrifices.”

The highest Oracle had a clouded pool? I couldn’t remember a time when Phemonoe hadn’t been able to scry a region, and I had a longer memory than Malia.

“What of the mortal Oracles in Aenea? Rhea and Diona?”

Seppo sighed and shook his head. “Silent, but not as long as that. Diona managed to get a garbled message through, but with the interference, it made no sense.”

“So we just need to expunge whatever blasphemer has inhibited our Oracles,” Malia said, her eyes alight. “I’m sure Azoria will discover them, if they’re in Aenea.”

“And she will not be turning them over to you,” Seppo said, “until Kydon has properly questioned them. That is, assuming they’re not Paedens or under Paeden protection. Abducting foreign sorcerers, even foreign ones interfering in our affairs, could initiate a conflict between us and the Paedens, and I want to be wholly prepared before taking up arms against them.”

The niggling thought burst like a bubble in the back of my mind and brought along an unwelcome friend.

“Seppo, did you send Thane with Azoria?”

He scowled. “Of course not! Why would I be so stupid as to do that? I’d have to be expecting significant death, either of an important figure or sufficient quantity, to—”

“Then where is he?”

“How should I know?” Seppo spluttered. He waved his arms in the air. “I don’t babysit the lot of you. If I tried to supervise each of your movements, I’d be ripping out what little hair I have left.” He flailed a hand towards Malia. “Why don’t you ask her? She probably has him on some secret mission she conveniently forgot to inform all of us about.”

Malia raised an eyebrow. “While I appreciate the compliment, your faith in my abilities is misplaced, this time.”

Seppo scowled. “Well, if you don’t know, how am I supposed to?”

Malia opened her mouth to reply, then frowned as she slapped at her neck. Her eyes went wide as she dropped her hand, and she stared at her fingers. Still shocked, she looked up at me.

I nodded. “Yeah, I felt it too.”

“Oh no.”

“What, ‘Oh no?’” Seppo snapped.

When that backstage thought had finally cemented, it’d brought with it an annoying little itch at the base of my skull. A sensation that only happened on the eve of a big battle.

I sighed. “I think you should have kept better track of your God of Death.”


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Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:09 pm
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Hoooo boy. What has Thane gotten up to? That was a perfect place to end the chapter, honestly, even though I really want to read more. It left it on the perfect line, one that leaves readers wanting more but also satisfied with a temporary ending.

I really liked reading this chapter! I think it brought a lot of great explanation into it, and it really furthered the plot. I can see some conflict brewing, and you did a great job of laying it out clearly for the reader. It seems like there's this other group who's claiming more and more territory through diplomacy and sneakiness rather than force, and I feel like the expected course of action would be to find a way to stop them without conflict, but then you destroy that notion because it seems like Thane has decided to take matters into his own hands. Another example of you subverting expectations, and in a really fun and entertaining way! I'm really looking forward to the next part; I'm not sure if I can wait to see what kind of situation Thane is in.

(Also, I love to see Hasda and Jade together, even if we don't really get to see them together. I'm very happy for them.)

One thing I did wonder about was Jade. Prior to this, I had always assumed that she was part of the Carthian pantheon, and she used to be part of the Tingin pantheon. Based on the info you gave us at the first feast, that was what could be surmised. But now you're saying she's part of the Paeden pantheon? I'm not sure how gods work in this world, or if they can be part of more than one pantheon, but I feel like it might be beneficial to clear that up. Like, are the Tingins just one small group of Paedens, or is Jade not actually part of the Carthian pantheon, or is she part of multiple? I'm just a bit confused.

Branching out from that, I feel like your book would be really great with a visual aid like a map. I know that those can be kinda hard to make, and this isn't a suggestion for you to make one, per se, but like... imagine how cool that would be.

Specifics

I sighed. “All right, give us a list of prioritized threats.”


I really loved this line of dialogue. I think my brain must have skipped over it the first time I read this, but the second time around, I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud.

“While I appreciate the compliment, your faith in my abilities is misplaced, this time.”


To me, putting a comma before "this time" just felt a little clunky. It's a bit unnecessary, and when I read it in my head, it feels weird and unnatural to have a pause there that would warrant a comma.

Overall: nice work! I think this chapter definitely feels like the beginning of a new conflict, and I'm very, veeeryyy excited to see how it's gonna play out!! Until next time!






Thanks! Ah, yeah, I'll see if I can make Jade's history a little clearer in the previous chapters during revision. The TL;DR is she used to be a Paeden deity but fled to the Carthian pantheon and is worshipped by the Tingins, a border people who are currently part of the Carthian empire but have exchanged empirical hands lots of times.

I do plan to actually show JadexHasda later, but it's gonna be a few chapters before I get there. Every time I think "I'll get to this next time/x chapters from now," it turns out to be...at least two chapters past where I'd hoped.



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Wed Jun 09, 2021 5:30 am
HarryHardy wrote a review...



Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night(whichever one it is in your part of the world),

Hi! I'm baaack...for another review!!

First Impression: Ooooh...pretty interesting chapter, it sounds like its setting up a ton of fun things to happen very, very soon, and now I can't wait to see what the next chapter hold....well anyway, lots of fangirling below...and some suggestions

Anyway let's get right to it,

The next day, Malia and I followed Seppo into his cloud-floored chamber to discuss whatever Azoria was investigating. Despite Malia’s reluctance, we left Hasda and Jade to themselves. Hasda had mentioned something about visiting the recovering tiger, and they’d disappeared together from the feast in the early hours of the morning. Seppo had concluded the feast later that morning with vague promises of another when the time came to announce the Second Trial, and then asked Malia and I to accompany him back to his throne room.


Hmm...so looks like the second trial is going to have some time between it and we're gonna see some other action happen in between this one and that.

He now paced in front of his throne, kicking up tufts of clouds as he clanked back and forth. His frown from last night had returned, but deeper than before. Malia stood with her arms crossed, tracing his circuits with her eyes. Her flicking tail betrayed her annoyance more than the set of her mouth, but she wouldn’t say anything about being kept waiting.


Hmm, well Seppo is either struggling with having to say something tough or judging by the frown, he's trying to organize a bunch of information that he doesn't quite know what to do with.

I would, though. “All right, Seppo. We’ve given you plenty of time to get your thoughts in order. At this rate, your gears are going to rust shut before you get on with it.”

He grunted and waved his hand as he passed in front of his throne. “It’s a lot more complicated than you think.”

“I don’t know enough to have any thoughts on the matter.” I shrugged. “You haven’t even told us exactly what the matter is.”


Hmm, well...I suppose the complicated theory it is then...although yeah, he should probably share that news there, if he wants to sort things out, more heads is always better than just the one.

He scowled as he retraced his steps. “Azoria is taking the measure of our opposition.”

“We knew that,” Malia said, frowning at the cotton ball clouds stirred up with each pass. One floated into her face and she blew it away. “The Ghorins finally established a pantheon?”

“Much worse,” Seppo said, his neck pistons hissing as he shook his head. “Much, much worse than that.”


Duhh...of course its gonna be much worse, otherwise it wouldn't be taken so seriously...but hmm..all this vague commentary is currently useless Seppo, just get to the point already.

I scrunched my eyebrows together. Why would that be a bad thing? Malia had been eyeing those elven druids for centuries, trying to finagle them under our influence for decades. If they had gods we could interact with, we could forge alliances, but with their shamanism and worship of primordial forces, it was hard to connect our cultures for coalitions without dominating them into subservience. Not that Malia would balk at that, but without gods they’d be harder to control.

“So it’s not the Ghorins?” Malia said. “I thought…”

“No, we have far greater concerns than some nature-loving druids in loincloths.” It would have been funny if Seppo didn’t look so deadly serious.


Okay...the loincloths are kind of funny, but okay....I don't quite see how that point is meant to be funny in anyway, but alright, this is really beating around the bush a lot now...just spit it out Seppo.

I sighed. “All right, give us a list of prioritized threats.”

He paused at the end of one of his passes, hands on his hips as he scowled at the tufts of cloud disintegrating in the steam jets venting from his exoskeleton. “Well...I’m going to succumb to bias and go with the one that affects me personally the most.”

We both waited for a moment, but when Seppo said nothing Malia rolled her eyes and threw her hands up. “Just spit it out, you rusty old automaton.”


That's what I've been saying for the past fifteen minutes...oh gosh...although...hmm...personally affects him most...that's an odd choice of phrasing, hmm, is this someone he once knew threatening them or what....well this should be interesting at any rate.

With his back to her, she couldn’t see the pained expression that flitted across his face, but I did. He mastered himself as he turned around, though, and she was none the wiser. “I’ve been given a marriage proposition.”

Malia blinked, and I felt my jaw fall open. We both stared at him dumbly.


Oh dear...this threat is much worse than I could have possible imagined, run for the hills...immediately....or the clouds I guess...

“A...a what?” Malia finally managed.

“A proposal.”

“By who?”

“Jade. Well, that’s what they implied, anyways.” His frown deepened, and he resumed his pacing. “But she wasn’t the one who propositioned. The Paedens sent one of their sages, an Apkalla, to deliver the message.” He shrugged. “He didn’t mention Jade by name, but he said their pantheon had ‘serious grievances’ with ours over some miscellaneous slights, and they were willing to overlook them if we were to join together through a union of some sorts. He suggested that I was already familiar with the minor deity they had in mind.”


Hmm....well...those guys are...more horrible than I thought...also I'm assuming by the crazy reactions from the other two as well, this perhaps has a bit more of a threat to them than just Seppo being uncomfortable around situations like that one.

I scratched the corner of my jaw. “Surely Jade wouldn’t agree to that, assuming she even responds to their attempt at exerting their authority over her.”

“Not to mention that such an alliance would make our pantheon pay homage to theirs,” Malia said. She narrowed her eyes. “But that’s not everything, is it? I’m noticing a distinct lack of reference to our Oracles’ auguries.”

Seppo shook his head. “You’re right. They’re completely blind to the Paedens. Motives, movements, what have you, they can’t get a single reading. Synnefo said Zephyrus thinks the Paeden Seers, priests similar to our Oracles, are interfering.”


Well, of course, if they could see into that, that would make things a lot easier, the counterparts from that pantheon working to obscure them makes a lot of sense...and if the oracles there aren't doing something to try and replicate that, now that is what won't make sense.

“How is that possible?” I massaged my temples. The situation wasn’t even that complicated yet, by Malia’s standards anyways, but the lines were already blurring together and my head decided it wanted to act its age again.

“Who knows.” He shrugged. “That’s part of what Azoria is investigating down south.”


So you send one god to track down all of that...gonna say, that was not a great plan, this sounds like a situation where you want a team, or at least send one of those oracles with that one if that is the situation being investigated.

“Where, exactly, down south?” Malia asked, narrowing her eyes. “There’s a whole trail of breadcrumbs in this mess, and if you don’t start picking them up I’m going to rub your face in them.”

Seppo whirled at the end of his circuit and double-timed his way through three more paces, puffing furiously. “All right, fine! Paeden warriors have been migrating into Aenea for the past few months. They’ve secured a hold on the river delta and begun taxing the Aeneans on both their fishing and crops. But they’ve made no moves against the Carthians downriver, and our people have seemingly conceded dominance of the region to them.”


Hmm, and all of this happened without the war gods being even remotely notified...that is sounding a serious mistake on Seppo's part. I doubt that's the sort of thing you just keep from people. Well, at least he's telling them before whatever the problem is gets to a point where they notice on their own.

Well, wasn’t that a mess. Aenea was a fertile region that stretched along the banks of the Barca river, which snaked its way from some unknown source to the Great Sea that filled the hollow in the middle of the earth. Carthians had conquered almost all habitable territory that abutted this Sea, save for the lands in the east held by the Paedens.

The Aeneans and Paedens had a shared ancestry, and had once served under the Paedens, so the latter’s claim on the region was arguably stronger than ours. But, from the sounds of it, they’d reconquered parts of the territory not by force, but by trade and taxes. And if the Carthians and Aeneans were cooperating with them, that would make it far more difficult to accuse the Paedens of a hostile invasion.


Right...the oldest way to try and win a war I see...make it look like you're not the enemy, gotta say that is really smart on the part of the Paeden's part. Its always fun to see a war where moves like that are involved besides just crazy fiery battles.

Not that saving face before the Paeden pantheon mattered, but our own acolytes might take less kindly to wanton slaughter and conquest over what they’d perceive as the peaceful reclamation of forefathers’ ancient homelands. Not theirs, of course, but who could fault the Paedens for wanting to return to their roots? And if the cohabitation was mutually beneficial, even more reason to further it. Of course, it would result in loss of land, authority, and prestige for the Carthians, not to mention forfeiting our own claims and established history in the region.


Well...yeah...spelling that out is somewhat helpful there...useful paragraph this one.

So if the Carthians were acquiescing, either they were short on supplies and stranded from acquiring more, or the Paedens had offered them something they couldn’t possibly resist. And with the Oracles blinded against Paeden activities, we had no way of finding out from afar what the true nature of the situation was. Sending Azoria was a prudent move, since she’d have the foresight to perceive what we needed and return without sparking a war.


Hmm, well I still think you should probably send one of those oracles, and maybe like a lawyer or something, I feel like that would be the smartest option in a situation like this....and again....not sending your war gods is great, but I still feel like informing them while at least this was starting to take hold would have been a good idea. Maybe Charax being just reinstated makes sense not to weigh him down, but Malia should've been told something.

But something was off, and I couldn’t quite place what it was.

“You said they’ve been taxing the Carthians for months?” I said.

Seppo nodded.


MONTHS...that's entirely too long to keep something like that silent.

“How long have the Oracles been silent about Aenea?”

Malia’s eyes flashed. “Longer than that. Phemonoe said her scrying pool was like muddied water a week before the earliest confirmed arrival of the Paedens. At the time, she wasn’t sure which region was obscured, only that somewhere was. We only figured out it was Aenea when they were late on their sacrifices.”


So....that's just negligence of the highest order....

The highest Oracle had a clouded pool? I couldn’t remember a time when Phemonoe hadn’t been able to scry a region, and I had a longer memory than Malia.

“What of the mortal Oracles in Aenea? Rhea and Diona?”

Seppo sighed and shook his head. “Silent, but not as long as that. Diona managed to get a garbled message through, but with the interference, it made no sense.”


Hmm, well the situation just plummets further down I suppose, makes sense for that to happen at any rate.

“So we just need to expunge whatever blasphemer has inhibited our Oracles,” Malia said, her eyes alight. “I’m sure Azoria will discover them, if they’re in Aenea.”

“And she will not be turning them over to you,” Seppo said, “until Kydon has properly questioned them. That is, assuming they’re not Paedens or under Paeden protection. Abducting foreign sorcerers, even foreign ones interfering in our affairs, could initiate a conflict between us and the Paedens, and I want to be wholly prepared before taking up arms against them.”


Yeah, the most important part of a delicate situation like this is making sure you're not the party that incites the way, cause despite who wins, a thing like that can be pretty important down the line as far as history is concerned and truces are concerned.

The niggling thought burst like a bubble in the back of my mind and brought along an unwelcome friend.

“Seppo, did you send Thane with Azoria?”


Pretty darn sure he didn't considering he never mentioned his name.

He scowled. “Of course not! Why would I be so stupid as to do that? I’d have to be expecting significant death, either of an important figure or sufficient quantity, to—”

“Then where is he?”

“How should I know?” Seppo spluttered. He waved his arms in the air. “I don’t babysit the lot of you. If I tried to supervise each of your movements, I’d be ripping out what little hair I have left.” He flailed a hand towards Malia. “Why don’t you ask her? She probably has him on some secret mission she conveniently forgot to inform all of us about.”


While that's a good guess, I doubt she knows anything about that either...well chalk up another mystery to add to the situation, why don't you.

Malia raised an eyebrow. “While I appreciate the compliment, your faith in my abilities is misplaced, this time.”

Seppo scowled. “Well, if you don’t know, how am I supposed to?”

Malia opened her mouth to reply, then frowned as she slapped at her neck. Her eyes went wide as she dropped her hand, and she stared at her fingers. Still shocked, she looked up at me.


Okay...I feel like that was not just a divine mosquito bite or something....not good...

I nodded. “Yeah, I felt it too.”

“Oh no.”

“What, ‘Oh no?’” Seppo snapped.

When that backstage thought had finally cemented, it’d brought with it an annoying little itch at the base of my skull. A sensation that only happened on the eve of a big battle.

I sighed. “I think you should have kept better track of your God of Death.”


Translation: A big ol' battle is happening somewhere...at least I hope so...cause I want another battle scene xD...but hmm..god of death, and war god prickling can only mean a giant battle with lots of death. Right? Right???

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, another pretty solid chapter, all thought I am kind of question Seppo's leadership a little in this chapter. Perhaps its just that I don't fully know how things work in this world and you do, but as a reader, I've sorted tried to point out things as I saw it. Feel free to reject those and explain to me why what I said would be a terribly stupid idea. :D Anyways, I patiently await the next chapter. :D

As always remember to take what you think was helpful and forget the rest.

Stay Safe
Harry





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