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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 34: "The Marketplace"

by dragonfphoenix


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

I beat Seppo around the corner and burst into the room next door to find Malia blinking in shock. The corpse had exploded beneath her, messy streamers of flesh trailing from the new hole in its chest. Bits of calamari and salt had peppered Malia’s face, brown flesh and white clumps drizzled with swampy green blood. Malia gave me a disgusted look as she wiped the gore off her face.

Seppo stumbled in after me, puffing from his exoskeleton and the sudden exertion. “Is everything okay?”

“Quite.” Malia frowned as she flicked the salted guts off her hands.

“What happened?” I asked as I picked my way around the goo-coated scales splattered on the floor.

Malia huffed. “I was dredging its mind for any useful information when the bastard exploded. Startled me, but nothing more.”

“Well I’m glad you’re okay.”

Seppo gasped as he slipped on a scale he hadn’t seen and flailed his arms as he tried to catch his balance. When the steam finally settled, he was on his hands and knees, coughing and wiping at some ooze that’d gotten on his face. Scowling, he picked himself up. “Wretched creature,” he said. “Did you find out anything about it?”

She nodded. “It’s a derketo, although the Paedens call them atargas. Conceptually, it’s a cross between a merfolk and a vampire, with a bit of elder abomination thrown in for good measure.” Her eyebrows arched as she frowned. “Not too smart on the Paedens’ part, meddling with the powers of the pantheon that preceded them.”

I scowled. That didn’t make much sense. Although most pantheons typically had predecessors that either fell out of favor or, as was the case with ours, were overthrown to give rise to the next generation, Paedaea was one of the few regions with a host of gods so old they were thought to be the native deities. If they’d had forerunners, those gods must have been ancient.

“Are you sure the Paedens had a former pantheon?” Seppo asked. “Not even my mother knew of—”

“The derketo didn’t even know it.” Malia waved her hand dismissively and turned to the mutilated corpse. “I found that in its genetics.” Her snakes hissed at the body as she scowled. “Which is what caused the explosion. I didn’t find much in its mind, just an instinctual direction for its nest, so when I went looking for structural weaknesses and things we could exploit in its design, it must have triggered a failsafe.”

“A nest, you say?” Seppo wiped the last of the scale goo on his pants. “It wouldn’t happen to be up north, in the heart of where our vision is darkest, would it?”

Malia nodded, her frown dour. “The very same.”

At our feet, the derketo corpse hissed and steamed as the broken body began to disintegrate.

I grunted and sidestepped away from the collapsing corpse. “Any idea how many derketo are in the nest?”

Malia shook her head, her snakes chittering in complaint as they bounced into each other. “A lot. Not exact numbers, because the derketo’s sense of scale was lacking in specifics, but enough that they could rightly be construed as an invading army.”

I nodded slowly. “Coupled with the one we found inside one of our temples…”

“I think it’s time we showed the people our presence.” Malia’s fangs glistened as her smile broadened.

“You coming with?” I asked Seppo as Malia exited the room.

He shook his head. “I’ll start work on the girl’s...headdress? Circlet?” Brow scrunched, he shrugged. “I’ll find a good name for it when it’s finished.”

“You sure you’re good to be alone? Want me to head back and get someone to watch your back?”

“No, no.” He waved the suggestion away. “I’d prefer to work on my own. Besides, if I can’t protect myself, what good am I as head of our pantheon?”

“Fair enough.”

As I left the room, in the corner of my eye I saw him crouch down and rummage through the ribcage of the disintegrating body. Shivers danced along my spine. Whatever he thought useful enough to merit pulling out of that corpse, I didn’t want to know.

Malia had made her way all the way to the thoroughfare outside the temple by the time I left the temple. She’d dropped her Veil and was slithering through the parting crowd like a peacock on full display. Wings flared, fangs out, she looked on the verge of turning the already petrified commoners to stone. I jogged to catch up to her.

Jogged. Huh. Haven’t done that in a while.

“Hey. Don’t go wasting our own folks.” I settled into step beside her.

She kept her gaze firmly ahead. “I just found out there’s a nest of chimeral beings that resemble my kind enough to be affronting, and they’ve been feasting, unchecked, on people. In my territory.”

“Well, strictly speaking, Resef is responsible for—”

“I know the technicalities.” Her eyes flashed, and the townsfolk gasped and plastered themselves further against the nearby buildings and decorative walls. Whispers of the ‘war gods’ fluttered like moths among the cowering people. Malia ignored them. “But it’s Carthian territory, and they’re near enough to gorgon to constitute my problem, Resef’s domain or not. So I’m going to deal with them.”

“Mm, so you’re just going to barge in there, no reconnaissance, glare at them, and they’re all going to expose their bellies and declare eternal servitude to you, their new queen.”

“Don’t get testy with me.” She finally broke her angry stare at the ground, turning her furious eyes on me.

“All right, stop.” I put my hands on her shoulders and forced her to slow. She finally relented, giving me a sullen look. “You’re so rattled, I’d think they crushed your brood if I didn’t know better. So what is it? You lose a basket full of schemes down the river?”

She hissed and bared her fangs. “You’re insufferable.”

“And you’re about to waltz into a derketo den with zero preparation because they bear some physiological resemblance to you?” I couldn’t help how high my eyebrows rose. “Azoria and Thane are missing, the nest is in a blindzone, and you’re mad enough to be blindly reckless. This isn’t your first campaign. Relax, take a breath, and let’s go into this together. The smart way.”

She glared at me before jerking forward in a huff. “Fine.” She was silent as she slithered forward, arms folded in a sulky manner. I hurried after her, staying in the shadow of her wings. After a moment, she said, “I knew they’d make a move after what we did to their Apkalla, but I didn’t expect to be anticipated by a full three months.”

“Explain.”

“I am.” She flashed me an angry look before going back to her ten-mile stare. “The Paedens have been growing too strong recently, powerful enough to threaten Carthian trade routes, both in the east and on the seas. This move on Aenea, they’re trying to undercut our holdings that border their territory.”

I frowned. “But that wouldn’t weaken us that much. The Aeneans aren’t a huge source of worship, since they’ve only been under Carthian control since I—”

“Since you retired, yes.” She shook her head. We rounded a corner, and the people milling about the road hastily made way, some hugging the stonework behind them, others prostrating themselves before us. “And I know the Aeneans themselves are only a fraction of the power we glean from here and most is from the actual blood Carthians, but even losing the claim to the land could destabilize potential countermeasures.”

“I still don’t see how that’s justification for how much you’ve slipped control.”

“Because I expected them to retaliate against the Tingins, not stay here and insult me by sending inferior relations.”

I stepped over a bowing plebeian. “The timeline on that doesn’t make sense. How could the Paedens be clawing at Carthian holdings to avenge the Apkalla? If they’ve been here for months, they couldn’t have predicted Oannes’ failure, and they’re haughty enough they certainly wouldn’t have predicted anything but success for themselves.”

Malia sighed. “They’re digging their heels in here, instead of pulling back like I anticipated. Apparently embarrassing and defacing their chief Sage wasn’t enough to draw their ire, so I’m at a loss for what would.”

A slight breeze wafted the aroma of the nearby trees, a smooth, calming scent that seemed to envelop us in its smooth, woody bark. I shivered and shrugged off the strange sensation. “So either they far undervalue their Apkalla, or there’s something else going on here. It’s not like you to tactically blunder this hard.”

“No, it isn’t.” She puffed out a breath in frustration. “I can’t think of a single reason why they’d just abandon the mines after sending an expeditionary force led by such a significant figure.”

The white flagstones beneath us shifted to golden sand as we reached the outskirts of Karnak. Here, outside the city walls, merchants sat beneath colorful carpets that had been draped over tent poles to form an outdoor market. The shopgoers outside had leached a bit of the desert’s irreverence, the Aeneans barely bowing at the waist if they noticed us, and the bronze-skinned Paedens ignoring us entirely. Malia narrowed her eyes at them but made no moves to reprimand them.

I rubbed her shoulder and steered her through the market. “Well, let’s go find the vision barrier and then scout the nest once we’re through. Maybe you’ll find some clues as to what’s going on, so you can weave a new web of schemes and stop being so cranky, and hopefully we’ll discover Thane and Azoria while we’re at it.”

Although she kept frowning, I could see a glint in her eyes as her mind started turning over new possibilities. That was a good sign. I needed the calculating Malia, not the ‘carve my name into the landscape with my eyes in a fit of rage’ one. At the very least she wouldn’t level the marketplace for being irreverent.

With a sigh that made her shoulders sag, Malia cast off the last of her rage and centered herself. “Okay. But when we find the derketo, I’m frying the lot of them, and if they have a queen I want her head on a pike.”

Well, maybe not all of her rage. I nodded, and we set off into the desert, headed for the border of our divine vision.


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Wed Jul 07, 2021 7:28 am
KateHardy wrote a review...



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

Hi! I'm back for another review!!

First Impression: Hmm...a tiny bit of information perhaps in this one, at the very least they're moving away from this temple thing to go explore something else out there, so that should make the next chapter pretty fun.

Anyway let's get right to it,

I beat Seppo around the corner and burst into the room next door to find Malia blinking in shock. The corpse had exploded beneath her, messy streamers of flesh trailing from the new hole in its chest. Bits of calamari and salt had peppered Malia’s face, brown flesh and white clumps drizzled with swampy green blood. Malia gave me a disgusted look as she wiped the gore off her face.


That...was definitely one of the messier starts I have for a chapter especially one titled "The Marketplace"...but well, that doesn't appear to be that bad of a situation besides probably some lost information and a lot of cleaning up to do there.

Seppo stumbled in after me, puffing from his exoskeleton and the sudden exertion. “Is everything okay?”

“Quite.” Malia frowned as she flicked the salted guts off her hands.

“What happened?” I asked as I picked my way around the goo-coated scales splattered on the floor.


Hmm, well, at least she wasn't hurt in the explosion...things should be fine then...there's always another way to find more information...maybe now its time for the vampire thing...

Malia huffed. “I was dredging its mind for any useful information when the bastard exploded. Startled me, but nothing more.”

“Well I’m glad you’re okay.”


Well, I don't think I've said this too much recently, but little sweet moments like this are always awesome to run into here and there...

Seppo gasped as he slipped on a scale he hadn’t seen and flailed his arms as he tried to catch his balance. When the steam finally settled, he was on his hands and knees, coughing and wiping at some ooze that’d gotten on his face. Scowling, he picked himself up. “Wretched creature,” he said. “Did you find out anything about it?”


Definitely not a very fun creature to run into...and someone that is desperately in need of lots and lots of perfume that one...

She nodded. “It’s a derketo, although the Paedens call them atargas. Conceptually, it’s a cross between a merfolk and a vampire, with a bit of elder abomination thrown in for good measure.” Her eyebrows arched as she frowned. “Not too smart on the Paedens’ part, meddling with the powers of the pantheon that preceded them.”


Ahh...so that's why that last chapter had that title...I was a little bit confused earlier wondering what that name signified..and well, a merfolk/ vampire hybrid sounds pretty cool, I dunno if you made this up or if its an actual mythical creature but something that's essential and mer vampire of sorts is pretty cool.

I scowled. That didn’t make much sense. Although most pantheons typically had predecessors that either fell out of favor or, as was the case with ours, were overthrown to give rise to the next generation, Paedaea was one of the few regions with a host of gods so old they were thought to be the native deities. If they’d had forerunners, those gods must have been ancient.


Well, that sounds one hand quite interesting to see how the civilizations of gods tend to evolve but also sounds like it can potentially be something quite troubling...cause usually ancient things are considered to be quite powerful from what I've seen before.

“Are you sure the Paedens had a former pantheon?” Seppo asked. “Not even my mother knew of—”

“The derketo didn’t even know it.” Malia waved her hand dismissively and turned to the mutilated corpse. “I found that in its genetics.” Her snakes hissed at the body as she scowled. “Which is what caused the explosion. I didn’t find much in its mind, just an instinctual direction for its nest, so when I went looking for structural weaknesses and things we could exploit in its design, it must have triggered a failsafe.”


Wow, that's a pretty thorough search there, if she can literally read its genetics for information, not to mention she's gotta know a looot of stuff if she can decipher something like that...well...that was definitely a pretty impressive move by her.

“A nest, you say?” Seppo wiped the last of the scale goo on his pants. “It wouldn’t happen to be up north, in the heart of where our vision is darkest, would it?”

Malia nodded, her frown dour. “The very same.”


Well, no one would be even remotely surprised by that...xD...the center of any infestation like that is going to be in the most dangerous and unpredictable part.

At our feet, the derketo corpse hissed and steamed as the broken body began to disintegrate.

I grunted and sidestepped away from the collapsing corpse. “Any idea how many derketo are in the nest?”


Well, that makes it a lot more convenient as far as the actual clean up operation goes there.

Malia shook her head, her snakes chittering in complaint as they bounced into each other. “A lot. Not exact numbers, because the derketo’s sense of scale was lacking in specifics, but enough that they could rightly be construed as an invading army.”

I nodded slowly. “Coupled with the one we found inside one of our temples…”


Soo...I'm guessing this is them trying to see if they can officially declare this is an invasion of some sorts and begin the war? That does seem to be where this is headed at the moment although it is hard to be a hundred percent certain here.

“I think it’s time we showed the people our presence.” Malia’s fangs glistened as her smile broadened.

“You coming with?” I asked Seppo as Malia exited the room.

He shook his head. “I’ll start work on the girl’s...headdress? Circlet?” Brow scrunched, he shrugged. “I’ll find a good name for it when it’s finished.”


I'm guessing that's his vampire dream machine thing....that he's going to sit there and work on while these two go duke it out with whoever...

“You sure you’re good to be alone? Want me to head back and get someone to watch your back?”

“No, no.” He waved the suggestion away. “I’d prefer to work on my own. Besides, if I can’t protect myself, what good am I as head of our pantheon?”


Well, good point there by him at the end...although...I almost get the feeling if that can be a touch of overconfidence and if perhaps something will go wrong for him...its hard to predict and its just a really silly theory at the moment...but yeah...well, let's see.

As I left the room, in the corner of my eye I saw him crouch down and rummage through the ribcage of the disintegrating body. Shivers danced along my spine. Whatever he thought useful enough to merit pulling out of that corpse, I didn’t want to know.


Considering he seemed to have the most extreme reaction to the smell of that thing...its probably something really important or he wouldn't be actually pulling parts out of it...

Malia had made her way all the way to the thoroughfare outside the temple by the time I left the temple. She’d dropped her Veil and was slithering through the parting crowd like a peacock on full display. Wings flared, fangs out, she looked on the verge of turning the already petrified commoners to stone. I jogged to catch up to her.


Well, she's definitely in the mood to make here presence known quite strongly there by the sound of that description...which is about what you expect considering what she's been through in the past few chapters here.

“Hey. Don’t go wasting our own folks.” I settled into step beside her.

She kept her gaze firmly ahead. “I just found out there’s a nest of chimeral beings that resemble my kind enough to be affronting, and they’ve been feasting, unchecked, on people. In my territory.”


Hmm, add more reasons to exactly why Malia should be extremely angry at the moment, although despite all that, wasting their own people is not a good idea under any circumstances at all.

“Well, strictly speaking, Resef is responsible for—”

“I know the technicalities.” Her eyes flashed, and the townsfolk gasped and plastered themselves further against the nearby buildings and decorative walls. Whispers of the ‘war gods’ fluttered like moths among the cowering people. Malia ignored them. “But it’s Carthian territory, and they’re near enough to gorgon to constitute my problem, Resef’s domain or not. So I’m going to deal with them.”


Well, just two guards casually having a conversation about having to take out an invasion of dangerous beings right in front of the actual regular people trying to live their life....

“Mm, so you’re just going to barge in there, no reconnaissance, glare at them, and they’re all going to expose their bellies and declare eternal servitude to you, their new queen.”

“Don’t get testy with me.” She finally broke her angry stare at the ground, turning her furious eyes on me.


Well, he has a point though...Malia...

“All right, stop.” I put my hands on her shoulders and forced her to slow. She finally relented, giving me a sullen look. “You’re so rattled, I’d think they crushed your brood if I didn’t know better. So what is it? You lose a basket full of schemes down the river?”

She hissed and bared her fangs. “You’re insufferable.”


That last one was way too funny of an image...just a basket full of sticky notes that have all sorts of secret Malia schemes written on it sailing down the river into nobody knows where...

“And you’re about to waltz into a derketo den with zero preparation because they bear some physiological resemblance to you?” I couldn’t help how high my eyebrows rose. “Azoria and Thane are missing, the nest is in a blindzone, and you’re mad enough to be blindly reckless. This isn’t your first campaign. Relax, take a breath, and let’s go into this together. The smart way.”

She glared at me before jerking forward in a huff. “Fine.” She was silent as she slithered forward, arms folded in a sulky manner. I hurried after her, staying in the shadow of her wings. After a moment, she said, “I knew they’d make a move after what we did to their Apkalla, but I didn’t expect to be anticipated by a full three months.”


Okay...that last line is a little troubling there, cause unless I missed a lot of things...three months is a time frame before we where introduced to this whole mess that's currently going down in this world.

“Explain.”

“I am.” She flashed me an angry look before going back to her ten-mile stare. “The Paedens have been growing too strong recently, powerful enough to threaten Carthian trade routes, both in the east and on the seas. This move on Aenea, they’re trying to undercut our holdings that border their territory.”


Okay...well that's a bit of strategy by the looks of things..and it certainly does sound intriguing even though I just don't remember enough things to fully understand what's going on here.

I frowned. “But that wouldn’t weaken us that much. The Aeneans aren’t a huge source of worship, since they’ve only been under Carthian control since I—”

“Since you retired, yes.” She shook her head. We rounded a corner, and the people milling about the road hastily made way, some hugging the stonework behind them, others prostrating themselves before us. “And I know the Aeneans themselves are only a fraction of the power we glean from here and most is from the actual blood Carthians, but even losing the claim to the land could destabilize potential countermeasures.”


Hmm, well I'm guessing...that last line means it would be quite bad to lose the claim to the land...cause I'm assuming that could perhaps limit their ability to anything in those lands if they're no longer the owners of it, cause I'm assuming the land won't just be no man's land but will actually get snapped up by the others.

“I still don’t see how that’s justification for how much you’ve slipped control.”

“Because I expected them to retaliate against the Tingins, not stay here and insult me by sending inferior relations.”

I stepped over a bowing plebeian. “The timeline on that doesn’t make sense. How could the Paedens be clawing at Carthian holdings to avenge the Apkalla? If they’ve been here for months, they couldn’t have predicted Oannes’ failure, and they’re haughty enough they certainly wouldn’t have predicted anything but success for themselves.”


Well, they definitely seem like the type to be overconfident, at least the servants we've seen so far, the actual leaders are probably a bit more cautious than this...

Malia sighed. “They’re digging their heels in here, instead of pulling back like I anticipated. Apparently embarrassing and defacing their chief Sage wasn’t enough to draw their ire, so I’m at a loss for what would.”

A slight breeze wafted the aroma of the nearby trees, a smooth, calming scent that seemed to envelop us in its smooth, woody bark. I shivered and shrugged off the strange sensation. “So either they far undervalue their Apkalla, or there’s something else going on here. It’s not like you to tactically blunder this hard.”


Well...tactical blunders happen to everyone....and Malia may just be having a few bad months....

“No, it isn’t.” She puffed out a breath in frustration. “I can’t think of a single reason why they’d just abandon the mines after sending an expeditionary force led by such a significant figure.”


Well, I think this one is already part of the large pile of mysteries that need answers so we don't have to add that one.

The white flagstones beneath us shifted to golden sand as we reached the outskirts of Karnak. Here, outside the city walls, merchants sat beneath colorful carpets that had been draped over tent poles to form an outdoor market. The shopgoers outside had leached a bit of the desert’s irreverence, the Aeneans barely bowing at the waist if they noticed us, and the bronze-skinned Paedens ignoring us entirely. Malia narrowed her eyes at them but made no moves to reprimand them.

Well you can certainly see the shift in the power balance there...I do love how the visual description is used to bring that across rather than anything else...its so much more effective this way.

I rubbed her shoulder and steered her through the market. “Well, let’s go find the vision barrier and then scout the nest once we’re through. Maybe you’ll find some clues as to what’s going on, so you can weave a new web of schemes and stop being so cranky, and hopefully we’ll discover Thane and Azoria while we’re at it.”


Well, her not being cranky anymore would be good...for everyone involved, or next time a derketo explodes, it probably won't be an accident.

Although she kept frowning, I could see a glint in her eyes as her mind started turning over new possibilities. That was a good sign. I needed the calculating Malia, not the ‘carve my name into the landscape with my eyes in a fit of rage’ one. At the very least she wouldn’t level the marketplace for being irreverent.


That does seem like a solid plan...if you want to keep the mortals out of that....

With a sigh that made her shoulders sag, Malia cast off the last of her rage and centered herself. “Okay. But when we find the derketo, I’m frying the lot of them, and if they have a queen I want her head on a pike.”


I think that's quite justified....maybe...it sounds justified anyway...

Well, maybe not all of her rage. I nodded, and we set off into the desert, headed for the border of our divine vision.


Nothing like a trek towards the unknown to end a chapter....

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, we have ourselves another pretty neat chapter, we learn a bit more in this one than we did for some of the previous ones...aaand it looks like their embarking on a potentially dangerous mission here...so that should be fun.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




dragonfphoenix says...


Thanks! With this story as a whole and the derketo in specific, I've been doing a lot of delving into Mesopotamian and subsequent mythologies. The Sumerians were really big on fish- and bird-human hybrids, and there is one Syrian goddess who was (debatably) a mermaid. Taking the subtheme of primordial pantheons and blending it with fishfolk, I ended up with my derketo, a Lovecraftian-tinged merfolk race. So they're not directly taken from mythology, but they have some roots there.



KateHardy says...


You're Welcome!!

And coooll :D Thanks for the explanation :D



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Tue Jul 06, 2021 1:53 pm
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Given the note the last chapter ended on, I was super excited to dive into this one, and you did not disappoint! I always love reading your writing, and I think this chapter was super strong in solidifying the events and the current focuses of the story.

One thing I enjoyed about this chapter was how you set up the story for the future chapters. As I was reading, that was the one thing that came across very clearly. It almost came across as like... a recap, of sorts. Which was definitely needed and served to inform the reader and summarize all that had happened. I think that's very valuable here, since a lot of stuff has been happening all at once. I thought this gave the story a lot of order and tied together all the events really nicely. As someone who loves organization, that really helped me wrap my head around the story. It also helped solidify the character's goals, too. So nice work with that!

I also really liked the middle section of this bit with Charax and Malia interacting. I think there are just so many layers to their relationship and it takes a very skilled writer like yourself to accurately capture the multitude of facets they have while interacting with each other. Because they're such complex characters, we get to see a lot of different types of interactions between them. I loved how Charax helped Malia calm down and see reason, even though she seemed to be in a more quiet, low-key type of anger/annoyance rather than full-blown, explosive rage. It was also cool to see them work through the events so far together and come to their own conclusions.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I think that since there are so many terms and places to keep track of, you might want to include a glossary/map in some way. I think since you're talking a lot about territory and different groups of people, some of which are within one another, it might be helpful to include some sort of guide. This can also help the readers understand the stakes of what Malia and Charax talk about when they discuss different gods and territories that are under attack/occupied/whatever else territories do.

Specifics

“Well I’m glad you’re okay.”


Since "well" serves as an introductory phrase here, there should be a comma after it. I also think that it might help the dialogue flow a bit better.

Overall: nice work! I think this chapter was really nice to set up future chapters and also was really entertaining to read in its own right! As always, looking forward to the next bit! Until next time!!




dragonfphoenix says...


Thanks!

This might have been the first chapter I wrote after I moved to Beijing, and with how my overall writing has slowed down I wouldn't be surprised if it felt like a recap because it was. I kinda needed to get my mental hooks reset lol

A map would be nice. I have a mapmaker software somewhere, but I'm not very good with it yet. There's a definite reference for where everything is, but I haven't hit a "mapping out the world" point in the story yet. I might add that in at some point during revisions, or it might come up later, I'm not sure yet.




"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland