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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 31: "The Jewel"

by dragonfphoenix


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

The landscapes of the maas passed by with increasing frequency as we made our way south to Aenea. Deserts, savannas, forests, salt-encrusted ocean beaches—everything blurred together after our fourth transfer, and I couldn’t be bothered to try recalling all their names. We spend the mad dash hashing out all the potential scenarios we could encounter in Aenea. Most involved some variation of an all-out brawl between Carthia and Paedaea, courtesy of Malia’s bloodthirsty tunnel vision.

What was more concerning than her bellicose desire for bloodshed was the telepathic silence from the region. With both Thane and Azoria presumably in Aenea, we should have been able to make contact and get at least their bare bones assessment of what was happening, but none of us could penetrate the murky psychic fog covering the continent.

And this haze was different from that which covered most lands outside our control. Unlike the passive mist that hid distant, undiscovered lands from our vision unless we pried, this fog actively resisted our efforts and exuded an aura of antagonism and malice whenever we pushed too much. Even Malia, who was usually so good at circumventing privacy wards, couldn’t make a dent in its obfuscation.

The worst part was we had to skip the exits in several maas to come out behind Karnak, the chief upriver Carthian city. Though the city was situated far inland, the Barca River flowed opposite every other river, south to north instead of vice versa. Effectively, it spilled upside down into the Great Sea and made navigational terms confusing for those unacquainted with its normally charming oddity. As it was, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the entire circumstance. Karnak had been built at the furthest traversable point of the river, seated in the shadow of thunderous falls that defied all attempts at scaling and sailing.

However, the source of our troubles lay in the river delta, and since we couldn’t teleport via the maas we’d have to either sail down the river or travel on foot, grappling with the lush vegetation on the banks. Malia could theoretically fly ahead, but with two other gods vanished and unresponsive in the masking mist, we voted against splitting the party. The muggy air of the current maas blended seamlessly with the humid heat baking Karnak, and I almost didn’t notice our transition back into the mortal plane.

Karnak sparkled like a jewel carelessly discarded by the cascading cataracts. Sandy-bricked buildings ringed the city’s central temple, a massive marble affair with pillars coated in hieroglyphs depicting Aenean deities. Rows of sphinxes flanked the brick piers, stretching away from the limestone pylon that towered over the road that led from the docks to the city proper. Monsters of all kinds had been etched into the gate’s square sides, ranging from the more modern pegasi and hydras to the formless, primal creatures that once terrorized the Aeneans. The architecture of Karnak mimicked the integrated mythos of the pylon, blending Aenean and Carthian designs in a way that contrasted the softer desert curves with the harsher forest lines without putting the two at odds.

But the countenances of the dust-streaked people bore only hard edges as they milled about the markets. If any god had thought to claim frowns as their domain, they would have found worshippers aplenty on the streets of Karnak. The mishmash of dress styles displayed no signs of foreign influence, no striking colors or clothes amiss to betray any outsiders, Paedens or otherwise. Passerby traveled with heavy shoulders and bent necks, barely grumbling greetings to each other as they made their way about their errands. While I would never have described the city as jovial, it had succumbed to a somber atmosphere that seemed baked into the earth by the oppressive heat.

Seppo, Malia, and I descended just outside the pylon, enshrouding ourselves beneath our Veils as we passed beneath the stone archway. Unseen, we passed through the crowd—sometimes quite literally—as we made our way towards the temple. It had been dedicated to Resef for the fertile floods the Barca provided every spring, and hopefully his Oracle would have some answers for why she’d been silent and the people were so downcast. But an aura of foreboding settled over us as we approached and found the temple fires unlit, the altars empty of sacrifice and the air free of incense.

No priests greeted us as we ascended the steps of the temple. Although we were Veiled, they would have sensed us, if they’d been around to feel our presence. But as we passed into the shadow of the roof, we found the temple bare of acolytes and clergy alike. Our footsteps rebounded with hollow echoes as we walked through the empty temple. I could feel a chill grip the small of my back as we went further in, a premonition that thoroughly unnerved me.

The temple had an air of recent abandonment to it. While no god would ignore such a catastrophe, Resef was busy with Vrixia and would be for some time. Together they would ensure the Carthian lands received proper rainfall to sustain their crops, and though Aenea was an important Carthian holding, it wasn’t the only one. Plus, the couple had lost ground to make up in, uh, more personal domains with their recent reunion. With Seppo already here investigating, it made sense Resef hadn’t joined us, but it was still confusing that he hadn’t mentioned anything before.

I shrugged to myself. Maybe I’d missed the part where he’d brought it up, since Malia and the others already seemed to know about the problem with the Oracles. And Azoria had been doing her own investigation as well, not to mention any other divine efforts I was ignorant of due to my retirement. I sighed. Playing catch-up got old fast, and only made me feel all the older. My thoughts were interrupted by Malia’s gasp as we reached the inner temple chamber.

Passed out on the floor by the central altar was a short, emaciated servant girl. Her thin brown robes clung to her as if she’d spent days running in the rain, although the floor around her was dry. Crimson stains soiled the wrinkles of her hood from twin punctures in her neck, and more blood streaked the altar, not from sacrifices, but from ragged wounds on her left wrist, which lay closest to the altar. She was deathly pale, if not from the injuries then the blood loss.

We all went alert simultaneously, and the sudden bursts of power as we quested for hidden assailants were like thunderclaps on my ribs. Malia surged towards the girl as Seppo went left and I went right. Every nerve taut, I scanned each pillar, looking for some telltale sign of who had done this. With the sun reaching its zenith, few shadows remained to hide enemies, but nothing looked amiss around any of the carved columns. No scratch marks, no bites, no out of place chips or cracks. Whatever paranoia had been festering in the back of my mind exploded a hundred fold as my thoughts raced to find some trace of god or monster with such attack patterns.

The girl had been ambushed. Bite marks on the neck, most likely fangs, some kind of bloodsucker. Ghouls rarely attacked the living in such a way. If it had been a naga, there wouldn’t be a body at all. Some kind of vampiric spirit, then, but what creature left its victim so drenched? Unless that was Resef’s doing, but then how would his protective wardings allow such an attack in the first place? And that still didn’t explain the gashes on her wrist…

My mind stumbled over that last part as I rounded on the altar. Flecks of blood tainted a ceremonial dagger that lay on the backside of the dias, more streaks of the girl’s blood smeared across the altar, only much more intentional than the slash on the front.

Oh.

If the Oracles had been silent for months, then it was possible that Resef’s passive wards had run low, or completely out, without a priestess to maintain them. That would allow a malevolent power to invade his sacred place unobstructed. And this foolhardy girl, likely too lowborn to have much training, thought to fulfill the duties of an anointed Oracle herself and found them too much. Or maybe she succeeded, miming rituals she’d seen day in and day out, but had been interrupted by the fell intruder. That would explain the water, and why the girl wasn’t completely gone.

And she wasn’t. As Malia hovered over her, massaging her shoulders and thumping her back, the girl began to cough and wheeze. Her whole body jerked in Malia’s arms, shivers wracking her body and threatening to pitch her onto the ground. Malia gritted her teeth and held on, careful to keep the girl’s head from smacking into her. Gods knew the last thing the poor girl needed was a severed tongue.

When the girl’s eyes fluttered open, she gave a pitiful shriek that lacked strength. She flinched away and tried to push away from Malia but crumpled as soon as she put any weight on her injured arms. She whimpered something about a “derketo” before collapsing into unconsciousness. Malia gave me a bewildered look and Seppo shrugged.

Well, if they didn’t know I certainly wouldn’t. Derketo wasn’t something that drew up any spectral memories, but whatever it was, it didn’t sound pleasant. Malia gathered the withered girl in her arms, and we followed her down to the bedchambers beneath the temple. It’d take a bit of forced healing to get the girl recovered enough to provide us with the information we needed, but we had to be careful not to overdo it, lest we tax the girl’s system into total failure.

I frowned as Malia gently laid her on a wrinkled bed. Who knew how much blood the girl had lost? She seemed delirious for the brief moment she’d come awake, which didn’t bode well. And the terror that had gripped her when she saw Malia...it was as if she were still under assault. Hopefully her mind wasn’t damaged as well. Messing with the office of an Oracle, untrained, could take a serious toll. And that was assuming the derketo, if that’s what had attacked her, hadn’t dealt any psionic damage either.

I sighed. So many unknowns. It would be nice to have the Oracle here, to help explain things, but then if she’d been here, we wouldn’t be having these problems.


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Thu Jun 17, 2021 6:50 am
KateHardy wrote a review...



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

Hi! I'm here to leave a quick review!!

First Impression: Ahh...another chapter comes along...and ahhh...this is already 31 chapters...that's amazing!! That aside, looks like another that appears to amplify the problems even more, ahh...hopefully some solution start to appear soon cause the problem just seem to be unable to stop coming. :D...That was definitely quite a mystery to end on there.

Anyway let's get right to it,

The landscapes of the maas passed by with increasing frequency as we made our way south to Aenea. Deserts, savannas, forests, salt-encrusted ocean beaches—everything blurred together after our fourth transfer, and I couldn’t be bothered to try recalling all their names. We spend the mad dash hashing out all the potential scenarios we could encounter in Aenea. Most involved some variation of an all-out brawl between Carthia and Paedaea, courtesy of Malia’s bloodthirsty tunnel vision.


Well, brawls are...time consuming, but also fun so I'm torn between which one of the outcomes I want to wish for there...xD...well let's see what they end up finding here I suppose.

What was more concerning than her bellicose desire for bloodshed was the telepathic silence from the region. With both Thane and Azoria presumably in Aenea, we should have been able to make contact and get at least their bare bones assessment of what was happening, but none of us could penetrate the murky psychic fog covering the continent.

And this haze was different from that which covered most lands outside our control. Unlike the passive mist that hid distant, undiscovered lands from our vision unless we pried, this fog actively resisted our efforts and exuded an aura of antagonism and malice whenever we pushed too much. Even Malia, who was usually so good at circumventing privacy wards, couldn’t make a dent in its obfuscation.


Hmm, well that's going to just confirm the fact that everything is indeed being purposefully blocked there....I wonder if that's even some kind of passive aggressive declaration of war or something along those lines...or are they entitled to configure the physic things however they want and its just going to be a nuisance? Just a bit curious :D

The worst part was we had to skip the exits in several maas to come out behind Karnak, the chief upriver Carthian city. Though the city was situated far inland, the Barca River flowed opposite every other river, south to north instead of vice versa. Effectively, it spilled upside down into the Great Sea and made navigational terms confusing for those unacquainted with its normally charming oddity. As it was, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the entire circumstance. Karnak had been built at the furthest traversable point of the river, seated in the shadow of thunderous falls that defied all attempts at scaling and sailing.


Hmm...well...that does sound a tiny bit annoying...

However, the source of our troubles lay in the river delta, and since we couldn’t teleport via the maas we’d have to either sail down the river or travel on foot, grappling with the lush vegetation on the banks. Malia could theoretically fly ahead, but with two other gods vanished and unresponsive in the masking mist, we voted against splitting the party. The muggy air of the current maas blended seamlessly with the humid heat baking Karnak, and I almost didn’t notice our transition back into the mortal plane.


Oooh, here we go, we're about to see this spot for the first time if I'm not mistaken...you're description of things has been amazing so far not to mention they always seem to tell a story so...let's what this looks like.

Karnak sparkled like a jewel carelessly discarded by the cascading cataracts. Sandy-bricked buildings ringed the city’s central temple, a massive marble affair with pillars coated in hieroglyphs depicting Aenean deities. Rows of sphinxes flanked the brick piers, stretching away from the limestone pylon that towered over the road that led from the docks to the city proper. Monsters of all kinds had been etched into the gate’s square sides, ranging from the more modern pegasi and hydras to the formless, primal creatures that once terrorized the Aeneans. The architecture of Karnak mimicked the integrated mythos of the pylon, blending Aenean and Carthian designs in a way that contrasted the softer desert curves with the harsher forest lines without putting the two at odds.


Ahh...yes...certainly not disappointed with that description there...it does an awesome job bringing that place and the fact that this is a different culture all to life here. :D

But the countenances of the dust-streaked people bore only hard edges as they milled about the markets. If any god had thought to claim frowns as their domain, they would have found worshippers aplenty on the streets of Karnak. The mishmash of dress styles displayed no signs of foreign influence, no striking colors or clothes amiss to betray any outsiders, Paedens or otherwise. Passerby traveled with heavy shoulders and bent necks, barely grumbling greetings to each other as they made their way about their errands. While I would never have described the city as jovial, it had succumbed to a somber atmosphere that seemed baked into the earth by the oppressive heat.


Ahh, the god of frowns...xD...the humor in this never fails to make me break out in crazy laughter...

Seppo, Malia, and I descended just outside the pylon, enshrouding ourselves beneath our Veils as we passed beneath the stone archway. Unseen, we passed through the crowd—sometimes quite literally—as we made our way towards the temple. It had been dedicated to Resef for the fertile floods the Barca provided every spring, and hopefully his Oracle would have some answers for why she’d been silent and the people were so downcast. But an aura of foreboding settled over us as we approached and found the temple fires unlit, the altars empty of sacrifice and the air free of incense.


Well, if that doesn't tell you there's a chance that the place could be potentially dead, then there's not much else that will..oh dear...certainly not very good signs there.

No priests greeted us as we ascended the steps of the temple. Although we were Veiled, they would have sensed us, if they’d been around to feel our presence. But as we passed into the shadow of the roof, we found the temple bare of acolytes and clergy alike. Our footsteps rebounded with hollow echoes as we walked through the empty temple. I could feel a chill grip the small of my back as we went further in, a premonition that thoroughly unnerved me.


A chill gripping the literal former god of death when entering a place is never a good sign for anyone.

The temple had an air of recent abandonment to it. While no god would ignore such a catastrophe, Resef was busy with Vrixia and would be for some time. Together they would ensure the Carthian lands received proper rainfall to sustain their crops, and though Aenea was an important Carthian holding, it wasn’t the only one. Plus, the couple had lost ground to make up in, uh, more personal domains with their recent reunion. With Seppo already here investigating, it made sense Resef hadn’t joined us, but it was still confusing that he hadn’t mentioned anything before.


Okay...more things to worry about I assume...this is just slowly beginning to pile on now...isn't it?

I shrugged to myself. Maybe I’d missed the part where he’d brought it up, since Malia and the others already seemed to know about the problem with the Oracles. And Azoria had been doing her own investigation as well, not to mention any other divine efforts I was ignorant of due to my retirement. I sighed. Playing catch-up got old fast, and only made me feel all the older. My thoughts were interrupted by Malia’s gasp as we reached the inner temple chamber.


Playing catch up in situations like that can certainly be quite tough...

Passed out on the floor by the central altar was a short, emaciated servant girl. Her thin brown robes clung to her as if she’d spent days running in the rain, although the floor around her was dry. Crimson stains soiled the wrinkles of her hood from twin punctures in her neck, and more blood streaked the altar, not from sacrifices, but from ragged wounds on her left wrist, which lay closest to the altar. She was deathly pale, if not from the injuries then the blood loss.


Oh dear...what on Earth could have possibly happened to that one. It definitely looks like she ran away from something crazy...although what she's doing near the altar is another concerning thing.

We all went alert simultaneously, and the sudden bursts of power as we quested for hidden assailants were like thunderclaps on my ribs. Malia surged towards the girl as Seppo went left and I went right. Every nerve taut, I scanned each pillar, looking for some telltale sign of who had done this. With the sun reaching its zenith, few shadows remained to hide enemies, but nothing looked amiss around any of the carved columns. No scratch marks, no bites, no out of place chips or cracks. Whatever paranoia had been festering in the back of my mind exploded a hundred fold as my thoughts raced to find some trace of god or monster with such attack patterns.


Okay...well...this is sounding like he's about to begin some sort of godly forensic investigation and I am all for it.

The girl had been ambushed. Bite marks on the neck, most likely fangs, some kind of bloodsucker. Ghouls rarely attacked the living in such a way. If it had been a naga, there wouldn’t be a body at all. Some kind of vampiric spirit, then, but what creature left its victim so drenched? Unless that was Resef’s doing, but then how would his protective wardings allow such an attack in the first place? And that still didn’t explain the gashes on her wrist…


Yup this is definitely some form of forensic investigation and I am...loving it so far.

My mind stumbled over that last part as I rounded on the altar. Flecks of blood tainted a ceremonial dagger that lay on the backside of the dias, more streaks of the girl’s blood smeared across the altar, only much more intentional than the slash on the front.

Oh.


Well...more evidence I see...although it also looks like Charax may have actually figured out the answer too there.

If the Oracles had been silent for months, then it was possible that Resef’s passive wards had run low, or completely out, without a priestess to maintain them. That would allow a malevolent power to invade his sacred place unobstructed. And this foolhardy girl, likely too lowborn to have much training, thought to fulfill the duties of an anointed Oracle herself and found them too much. Or maybe she succeeded, miming rituals she’d seen day in and day out, but had been interrupted by the fell intruder. That would explain the water, and why the girl wasn’t completely gone.


Well...that was solved a lot faster than I thought it would be, but I do love the way that all the logic does mange to sound like it would completely check out here.

And she wasn’t. As Malia hovered over her, massaging her shoulders and thumping her back, the girl began to cough and wheeze. Her whole body jerked in Malia’s arms, shivers wracking her body and threatening to pitch her onto the ground. Malia gritted her teeth and held on, careful to keep the girl’s head from smacking into her. Gods knew the last thing the poor girl needed was a severed tongue.


A severed tongue would certainly ruin the girl's day even more...

When the girl’s eyes fluttered open, she gave a pitiful shriek that lacked strength. She flinched away and tried to push away from Malia but crumpled as soon as she put any weight on her injured arms. She whimpered something about a “derketo” before collapsing into unconsciousness. Malia gave me a bewildered look and Seppo shrugged.


A what now?

Well, if they didn’t know I certainly wouldn’t. Derketo wasn’t something that drew up any spectral memories, but whatever it was, it didn’t sound pleasant. Malia gathered the withered girl in her arms, and we followed her down to the bedchambers beneath the temple. It’d take a bit of forced healing to get the girl recovered enough to provide us with the information we needed, but we had to be careful not to overdo it, lest we tax the girl’s system into total failure.


Hmm, that moment in a story where you need to grill a person that's gravely injured for information.

I frowned as Malia gently laid her on a wrinkled bed. Who knew how much blood the girl had lost? She seemed delirious for the brief moment she’d come awake, which didn’t bode well. And the terror that had gripped her when she saw Malia...it was as if she were still under assault. Hopefully her mind wasn’t damaged as well. Messing with the office of an Oracle, untrained, could take a serious toll. And that was assuming the derketo, if that’s what had attacked her, hadn’t dealt any psionic damage either.

I sighed. So many unknowns. It would be nice to have the Oracle here, to help explain things, but then if she’d been here, we wouldn’t be having these problems.


Well...psionic is a word that has no business sounding as cool as it does, but that aside, looks like all a lot of valid concerns there...and a very interesting word to take away from it all, well...it appears we must wait patiently to see what other information this girl might provide here.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, another lovely chapter...not too much happened in this one to really talk about...it was just a few more problems appearing, I have whenever this girl wakes up is when more things will happen. Anyway, as always waiting patiently for more. :D

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Wed Jun 16, 2021 7:32 pm
deleted32 wrote a review...



Hiya Ashlyn here for a review!! As always, please keep in mind that this review is not intended to offend you or make your writing look bad!

Most involved some variation of an all-out brawl between Carthia and Paedaea, courtesy of Malia’s bloodthirsty tunnel vision.

What was more concerning than her bellicose desire for bloodshed was the telepathic silence from the region. With both Thane and Azoria presumably in Aenea,

Is there a smoother way you could bring up Carthia, Paedaea, Thane, and Azoria? Something about the way you did it here felt redundant, but then, that's more me then anything ^^
but none of us could penetrate the murky psychic fog covering the continent.

Is the fog psychic or murky? Maybe you could be more clear with that bit of description ^^
I was ignorant of due to my retirement. I sighed. Playing catch-up got old fast, and only made me feel all the older. My thoughts were interrupted by Malia’s gasp as we reached the inner temple chamber.

Passed out on the floor by the central altar was a short, emaciated servant girl. Her thin brown robes clung to her as if she’d spent days running in the rain, although the floor around her was dry. Crimson stains soiled the wrinkles of her hood from twin punctures in her neck, and more blood streaked the altar, not from sacrifices, but from ragged wounds on her left wrist, which lay closest to the altar. She was deathly pale, if not from the injuries then the blood loss.

One of the things I noticed is that there's zero dialogue. Granted dialogue isn't always necessary for a chapter, and honestly this particular piece worked well without verbal interaction, but this is one scene felt like it could have used dialogue. Especially to flesh out the narrators reaction to seeing the girls dead body.
Aaand that concludes this review! I hope you found it helpful <3333
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Wed Jun 16, 2021 1:12 pm
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Hey, uh... I have a question. How is it that even in a chapter with no dialogue, you still manage to make the story so interesting?! I'm serious. Teach me your ways, please.

Anyways. On to a more serious note: I truly was impressed by this chapter. I think that a lot of the time, I get easily bored by long passages of text without dialogue, but something about the way you write general prose is so engaging. I think some of my favorite parts in this were when you were describing the town and its inhabitants. I think the line about how "If any god had thought to claim frowns as their domain, they would have found worshippers aplenty on the streets of Karnak" was very funny and also held a lot of visual value too. The entire paragraph about the buildings and environment in Karnak was also very visually stunning; I like how you mentioned how it was a sort of blend between certain cultures. That also ties in to how good you are at worldbuilding/environment creation. You utilize a lot of real cultural patterns and such in your writing, and it works really well.

I'm also very invested in this new plot! You had me expecting something a lot more gruesome or telling at the end of the last chapter, but then everything seemed to be calm for the most part in this chapter. Well, excluding the ending. I think this is also another example of you subverting expectations in a very good way, though I feel like there might be some foreshadowing at play...? If you made it seem like it was a big thing, like an all-out war, but then it was just a hurt servant girl, I feel like there might be something bigger going on that they actually sensed... You're building up... suspense isn't the right word, but it's the closest word my brain can find right now. You're making the readers anticipate something, and, like I'm doing, try and figure out what comes next before actually reading it. I think that's the mark of a really good story. Nice work!!

Specifics

Passerby traveled with heavy shoulders and bent necks, barely grumbling greetings to each other as they made their way about their errands.


Just a tiny thing: passerby plural is technically passersby. I don't like it, but that's just the way it is. English is weird sometimes.

Flecks of blood tainted a ceremonial dagger that lay on the backside of the dias, more streaks of the girl’s blood smeared across the altar, only much more intentional than the slash on the front.


I might just be a bit tired, but the flow of this sentence feels a little off to me. I think if you separated it into two sentences it might read a bit better. I think what's throwing me off is your usage of the word "smear;" I think it would sound better if you put a "were" in front of it. The way it is now reads a little awkwardly, because it seems like the blood is smearing itself, which is a little strange.

Overall: nice work!! I really loved the flow of action in this chapter, and you really demonstrated prowess when you wrote an entire chapter without dialogue and still made it interesting. As always, I'm so excited to read more!! Until next time!!




dragonfphoenix says...


O.o There wasn't any dialogue? Whoops. XD Like, it's not something I do intentionally. I think the "dialogue free" part needs to be in quotes because Charax's internal monologue sort of functions like dialogue at times, just to himself/the reader.

Haha, thanks. Hmm, maybe 'tension' is the right word? Idk, my brain is fried from work lol. And I'm racing towards the "next big thing" as fast as I can, but I can only make the story go so fast and I keep running into things that eat up entire chapters XD




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