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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 38: "The Foreigner"

by dragonfphoenix


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

The transition from sleep to wakefulness left me groggy and disoriented. For a moment, I thought I’d fallen into another vision, one filled with sandy-robed commoners thronging me with expectant eyes0. But as clarity returned, I realized that the people flocking me were indeed real, and I was very much the center of their attention. My first thought was that I’d been crying out in my sleep, but the looks on their faces were ones of wonder, awe, and excitement.

Their conversations died to murmurs as they saw that I’d woken up. Although the vast majority were Paedens, with some Aeneans sprinkled throughout, not a single one looked at me with disgust or contempt, a stark contrast to the previous night. If anything, they all seemed to have that gooey glow of worship slathered across their features. Thank the heavens the alley mouth kept them from crowding around me too closely. Instead of claustrophobia, I felt more like a quaint attraction, despite their undue adoration.

I blinked at them, trying to mentally gather myself. I was still shaken from the vision, had no idea if the dream landscape properly reflected its physical counterpart, and now had an expectant crowd to wrangle. If they thought I was the Prophet, well, I’d play my part, but I wished I’d had some time to collect myself and ponder the seer’s words. I had a sick feeling in my stomach the prophecy involved Hasda, but I had no clue what the “prisoner” could be referencing. Something about me? But what metaphorical prison was I stuck in?

But, of course, the peasants weren’t going to give me time to think.

“Is it true?” one of the men asked. “Are you really Him?”

I tried my best to smile as I scooted to a sitting position. The bricks of the building behind me scraped at my elbows and spine, their texture uneven and unforgiving. “Please bear with me. My body isn’t what it used to be.”

Much understanding mumbling on the part of the commoners. As I rose and made my way out of the alley, I was subjected to much the same kinds of questions as the boy in the fishing village had asked. Was I the Prophet? Where was the Sea Mother? Was she sending her army to save them? And so on and so forth. The prevailing theme centered around salvation from Marudak’s oppression, which sounded strange coming from predominantly Paeden mouths.

With how repetitious their questions were, I mostly tuned them out, murmuring the same vague assurances as we made our way into the city. The square buildings around us had cast off their gloomy auras from the night, their white walls banded in reds and blues and occasionally covered in hieroglyphs that depicted battles between jackals, lions, camels, and creatures from the Barca River. Most of the older pictograms depicted half-crocodile or -fish forms as their river monsters, but the newer murals had strangely shifted to cephalopodan: chimeras with short or long tentacles, strangely fluted heads, and aquatic curves that looked out of place against their piscine and reptilian counterparts. But these images were rare in an already scarce exterior decoration, so I filed it away as an oddity.

Despite the dominance of right angles in the city’s architecture, the buildings and streets twisted and turned. Palm trees sprouted like weeds among them, as if the trees had grown up around the buildings and not the other way around. Off in the distance, I could hear the burble of the river on my left, though the houses blocked it from view. Brown canvas tents fluttered like fallen banners, dirty cousins of the colorful tapestries that hung from the tall marble gates scattered throughout the city. Ox-pulled carts lumbered through the streets, their drivers flicking thin reeds on the beasts’ hindquarters.

The sun had been up only a few hours, and already the day was muggy and the heat unpleasant. By noon, the air would warp from the sweltering sunlight, and the light breeze would do little but tantalize us with the promise of cool. The itchy scent of hay mingled with the humidity as a cart passed close by. If the driver recognized the significance of the procession, he didn’t seem to care.

“—pass judgment on the trial today?”

I stumbled as the stray question pierced the fog of repetition. This whole time, the peasants hadn’t let up about my role in ousting Marudak and the invasive Paeden gods, but this was the first to mention anything about a trial. It caught my attention because of Hasda, but I was certain it had nothing to do with him.

“What was that?” I settled my hands on my staff and looked around, trying to find the questioner.

A man shouldered his way to the forefront, his face eager. “Lady Nanshe will try the foreign god today. She caught him spying in her holy temple, and will punish him accordingly.”

Oh, shit.

I kept my face impassive. “And which foreign god is that?”

“A black-haired youth who claims the same domain as her,” a middle-aged lady offered. She cracked a smile. “But how could he be a god of the underworld? He looks like he’d drown if you threw him in the water.”

Several people around her laughed.

Gods damn it. Well, at least I knew what happened to Thane now.

“So you’ve seen him?” I kept my tone as neutral as possible.

“Oh, yes,” the man said, trying to regain his spot as the center of attention. His eyes flashed as he pushed his way into the circle of space the throng had created around me as we stopped. “A pale-skinned Carthian lad with nasty, sunken eyes and a mean face. Probably consorts with the ancient devils, along with all his barbarian fellows.”

The people behind him nodded and muttered their agreement.

I chuckled, but not for the reasons they thought. “And, pray tell, how do you know he’s actually a god?”

The man blinked. “Well…”

“All foreigners have been exiled from the city, yes?”

“Not explicitly.” The man scratched the back of his neck. “But many have left, yes.”

“And the wrath of the Sea Mother will soon fall upon the Paeden invaders, yes?”

He jerked a nod. “It is as you say.”

“Then, how would Nanshe, whose pantheon shall soon crumble like a monument of sand in the desert, have captured the god of a people she’s cast from the city?” I smiled at his confusion. “My child, this ‘trial’ is merely for show, to reassure herself that she still holds power and to delude the people of the same. She’s found some poor, unfortunate soul who failed to escape the city in time and made him up to be some bedeviled monstrosity, that you’d all hunger for his blood and bend your knees at her temple.” I shook my head, frowning. “She would take an innocent man’s life to satisfy her own insecurity. But, come.” I patted the man on the shoulder. “Let us go to her temple and put an end to her insolence. May the Sea Mother be praised.”

Many echoed the adulation, and the crowd turned north as we headed towards Nanshe’s temple. I breathed a silent sigh of relief as we marched. That had been a sizable gamble that could have blown my cover entirely. I was banking on them believing me enough to trust my judgment, Thane not exuding any godly auras (if it really was him), and the Sea Mother being perceived as a just avenger. With the barrier blocking my powers, it wasn’t unlikely that Thane was without his under the barricade, but the old gods were notorious for being fickle, self-centered, and highly destructive. Maybe this Lazuli served as a mediator, one who wielded enough influence that she could turn the mad wrath of an ancient goddess away or, if not, at least the people believed she could.

But that left me with a new problem. If Nanshe really had captured Thane and was going to publicly execute or maim him, how was I going to stop her? I had no idea how powerful this underworld goddess was, what other Paeden deities were with her, and how incapacitated Thane was. I wasn’t going to be summoning any armies of stone golems or entering any invincible berserk states, even with the adoration of the followers around me. And they certainly weren’t going to be capable of taking on any goddesses, especially not on land she’d occupied long enough to call her own. That was a problem for when we arrived at the temple, however.

With our destination settled, the crowd settled back into the rhythmic conversation of going over their expectations for the fall of the Paedens. Some wanted the old gods back—the beings depicted in the hieroglyph murals—while others wondered whether the Sea Mother would approve of deities who weren’t her children, even if they remained subservient to her. Most seemed to blame the Paedens for the severe decrease in fishing catches, a decline that began, I gathered, shortly after the Paedens had conquered upper Aenea and had dropped steadily until now.

Ah, yes. Nothing like empty stomachs to turn worshippers against their gods. 


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Sat Aug 07, 2021 1:34 pm
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

This chapter was interesting. I'm really curious what the townspeople saw that made them all of a sudden respect Charax, but at least it helped drive the plot! The way you revealed where Thane was was also very clever too. I'm really curious how the trial is going to go down.

One thing I really enjoyed in this was your scene setting. I feel like that's not something I talk about a lot, but it's always so easy to come back to your work. You fully immerse the reader right away, and the way you describe things is so enjoyable. I'm usually not one for descriptions, but you always make them so varied and like... just the right amount of detailed, if that makes sense. Like in this one, you description of the palm trees was so minimal but so striking just the same. They all serve to provide a lot of life and believability to your work, so nice job!!

Also, love the bits of indirect characterization of Thane in this. I think the way you had the townspeople describe him provided a nice comedic touch while also furthering the plot.

Specifics

For a moment, I thought I’d fallen into another vision, one filled with sandy-robed commoners thronging me with expectant eyes0.


Pretty sure this is a typo at the end of "eyes." Just thought I'd point it out.

If Nanshe really had captured Thane and was going to publicly execute or maim him, how was I going to stop her? I had no idea how powerful this underworld goddess was, what other Paeden deities were with her, and how incapacitated Thane was.


Looking forward to seeing this play out in the future. That should be entertaining, knowing Thane.

Overall: nice work!! Really looking forward to the trial (or a different kind of trial than we're used to, at least) and seeing Charax interact with Nanshe. Should be exciting! Until next time!!




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Sat Aug 07, 2021 11:36 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: Okay....so...we sort of know what happened to Thane I suppose, although in Charax's own words there's no complete guarantee that it is actually Thane, Charax's improvised lie might well be true there. The plot is moving nicely though, we're finally going to get a bit more into things here.

Anyway let's get right to it,

The transition from sleep to wakefulness left me groggy and disoriented. For a moment, I thought I’d fallen into another vision, one filled with sandy-robed commoners thronging me with expectant eyes. But as clarity returned, I realized that the people flocking me were indeed real, and I was very much the center of their attention. My first thought was that I’d been crying out in my sleep, but the looks on their faces were ones of wonder, awe, and excitement.


Well...that doesn't sound like what was going on just the last night..so, well, its certainly an interesting turn of events here to start with...well, not surprised to run into yet another mystery here although this one is probably going to be solved in the very near future.

Their conversations died to murmurs as they saw that I’d woken up. Although the vast majority were Paedens, with some Aeneans sprinkled throughout, not a single one looked at me with disgust or contempt, a stark contrast to the previous night. If anything, they all seemed to have that gooey glow of worship slathered across their features. Thank the heavens the alley mouth kept them from crowding around me too closely. Instead of claustrophobia, I felt more like a quaint attraction, despite their undue adoration.


Well, at least he's going to be somewhat prepared for running into this situation this time...this happened to him once already...although this might well be something completely different from the village he ran into earlier.

I blinked at them, trying to mentally gather myself. I was still shaken from the vision, had no idea if the dream landscape properly reflected its physical counterpart, and now had an expectant crowd to wrangle. If they thought I was the Prophet, well, I’d play my part, but I wished I’d had some time to collect myself and ponder the seer’s words. I had a sick feeling in my stomach the prophecy involved Hasda, but I had no clue what the “prisoner” could be referencing. Something about me? But what metaphorical prison was I stuck in?


Well, it is very understandable that Charax would still be stuck trying to make sense of that random prophecy that was issued in the previous chapter...hopefully it doesn't distract him from hearing something important here.

But, of course, the peasants weren’t going to give me time to think.

“Is it true?” one of the men asked. “Are you really Him?”

I tried my best to smile as I scooted to a sitting position. The bricks of the building behind me scraped at my elbows and spine, their texture uneven and unforgiving. “Please bear with me. My body isn’t what it used to be.”


Well he's owning up to it right away I see...I do hope that whoever was actually supposed to be coming doesn't randomly decided to show up out of nowhere and then cause some serious confusion for the poor commoners there.

Much understanding mumbling on the part of the commoners. As I rose and made my way out of the alley, I was subjected to much the same kinds of questions as the boy in the fishing village had asked. Was I the Prophet? Where was the Sea Mother? Was she sending her army to save them? And so on and so forth. The prevailing theme centered around salvation from Marudak’s oppression, which sounded strange coming from predominantly Paeden mouths.


Well it looks like Charax is going to be unable to catch any sort of break when it comes to getting away from the now adoring public here...although he's definitely going to have to do something before the villages lose trust in his random nodding.

With how repetitious their questions were, I mostly tuned them out, murmuring the same vague assurances as we made our way into the city. The square buildings around us had cast off their gloomy auras from the night, their white walls banded in reds and blues and occasionally covered in hieroglyphs that depicted battles between jackals, lions, camels, and creatures from the Barca River. Most of the older pictograms depicted half-crocodile or -fish forms as their river monsters, but the newer murals had strangely shifted to cephalopodan: chimeras with short or long tentacles, strangely fluted heads, and aquatic curves that looked out of place against their piscine and reptilian counterparts. But these images were rare in an already scarce exterior decoration, so I filed it away as an oddity.


Well, those are some pretty interesting creatures for sure...it appears that Charax doesn't know as much about this place as he though he did...or at least, there's a lot more going on here than what meets the eye.

The sun had been up only a few hours, and already the day was muggy and the heat unpleasant. By noon, the air would warp from the sweltering sunlight, and the light breeze would do little but tantalize us with the promise of cool. The itchy scent of hay mingled with the humidity as a cart passed close by. If the driver recognized the significance of the procession, he didn’t seem to care.


Well...I do hope he doesn't end up getting marched towards someplace bad here cause he doesn't currently seem to be paying too much attention to where they're going but just looking around the buildings nearby.

“—pass judgment on the trial today?”

I stumbled as the stray question pierced the fog of repetition. This whole time, the peasants hadn’t let up about my role in ousting Marudak and the invasive Paeden gods, but this was the first to mention anything about a trial. It caught my attention because of Hasda, but I was certain it had nothing to do with him.


Okay...well..trials are usually bad and have to do with breaking the law somehow...so I'm guessing there's going to be something pretty bad going down here...at any rate, that's an interesting question to come flying out of seemingly nowhere.

“What was that?” I settled my hands on my staff and looked around, trying to find the questioner.

A man shouldered his way to the forefront, his face eager. “Lady Nanshe will try the foreign god today. She caught him spying in her holy temple, and will punish him accordingly.”

Oh, shit.


Well...I'm guessing that's either Thane or Azoria, and judging by the "him" I'm guessing this is probably Thane...either that or Charax is about to be very, very surprised here...

I kept my face impassive. “And which foreign god is that?”

“A black-haired youth who claims the same domain as her,” a middle-aged lady offered. She cracked a smile. “But how could he be a god of the underworld? He looks like he’d drown if you threw him in the water.”


That's a great burn but also...I highly doubt this is a good thing in anyway...I think its probably time for Charax to now start properly freaking out here.

Several people around her laughed.

Gods damn it. Well, at least I knew what happened to Thane now.

“So you’ve seen him?” I kept my tone as neutral as possible.


Time for Charax to spy now I guess...hopefully the whole thing about Thane being Charax's former lieutenant if I remember correctly isn't going to end up making it hard for Charax to remain neutral in this situation.

“Oh, yes,” the man said, trying to regain his spot as the center of attention. His eyes flashed as he pushed his way into the circle of space the throng had created around me as we stopped. “A pale-skinned Carthian lad with nasty, sunken eyes and a mean face. Probably consorts with the ancient devils, along with all his barbarian fellows.”

The people behind him nodded and muttered their agreement.


Well, I see that whoever captured Thane has done a very good job of making sure the public has been properly told exactly how to insult and hate the poor guy...well, smart tactics on the part of Lady Nanshe.

I chuckled, but not for the reasons they thought. “And, pray tell, how do you know he’s actually a god?”

The man blinked. “Well…”

“All foreigners have been exiled from the city, yes?”


Hmm...I have a feeling Charax is about to use some diplomacy skills here....or something, it actually is hard to say what his plan of action is here, this is a pretty quick response by him to something that has to be quite shocking to run into.

“Not explicitly.” The man scratched the back of his neck. “But many have left, yes.”

“And the wrath of the Sea Mother will soon fall upon the Paeden invaders, yes?”

He jerked a nod. “It is as you say.”


Okay...it is a bit hard to see exactly where he's going with this, but I do have a feeling things are about to get pretty dangerous here for Charax if he says the wrong thing and gets all these people to lose the faith they have in him.

“Then, how would Nanshe, whose pantheon shall soon crumble like a monument of sand in the desert, have captured the god of a people she’s cast from the city?” I smiled at his confusion. “My child, this ‘trial’ is merely for show, to reassure herself that she still holds power and to delude the people of the same. She’s found some poor, unfortunate soul who failed to escape the city in time and made him up to be some bedeviled monstrosity, that you’d all hunger for his blood and bend your knees at her temple.” I shook my head, frowning. “She would take an innocent man’s life to satisfy her own insecurity. But, come.” I patted the man on the shoulder. “Let us go to her temple and put an end to her insolence. May the Sea Mother be praised.”


Okay...well, very bold statement to make, not gonna lie, I did not see him coming up with a move like that, buut, its definitely an interesting one, although it could be a tad awkward if the crowd doesn't end up going along with it there.

Many echoed the adulation, and the crowd turned north as we headed towards Nanshe’s temple. I breathed a silent sigh of relief as we marched. That had been a sizable gamble that could have blown my cover entirely. I was banking on them believing me enough to trust my judgment, Thane not exuding any godly auras (if it really was him), and the Sea Mother being perceived as a just avenger. With the barrier blocking my powers, it wasn’t unlikely that Thane was without his under the barricade, but the old gods were notorious for being fickle, self-centered, and highly destructive. Maybe this Lazuli served as a mediator, one who wielded enough influence that she could turn the mad wrath of an ancient goddess away or, if not, at least the people believed she could.


Hmm, yeah, that is a lot of things to leave up to chance...but I suppose alls well that ends well...or at least it will be if this ends well, there's no telling if the people are simply going along with Charax to feel him for long enough to get him towards the temple with this Nanshe person.

But that left me with a new problem. If Nanshe really had captured Thane and was going to publicly execute or maim him, how was I going to stop her? I had no idea how powerful this underworld goddess was, what other Paeden deities were with her, and how incapacitated Thane was. I wasn’t going to be summoning any armies of stone golems or entering any invincible berserk states, even with the adoration of the followers around me. And they certainly weren’t going to be capable of taking on any goddesses, especially not on land she’d occupied long enough to call her own. That was a problem for when we arrived at the temple, however.


Uhhh...those problems sound like the kind that you want to adress well in advance and not the kind that you uhh...neglect until the very last possible second...sooo....I dunno Charax, that might not be the best move there.

With our destination settled, the crowd settled back into the rhythmic conversation of going over their expectations for the fall of the Paedens. Some wanted the old gods back—the beings depicted in the hieroglyph murals—while others wondered whether the Sea Mother would approve of deities who weren’t her children, even if they remained subservient to her. Most seemed to blame the Paedens for the severe decrease in fishing catches, a decline that began, I gathered, shortly after the Paedens had conquered upper Aenea and had dropped steadily until now.

Ah, yes. Nothing like empty stomachs to turn worshippers against their gods.


Well, that is a lovely note there to end this chapter on...that certainly is an effective strategy to get people to lose faith in their gods there...

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, another awesome chapter here...looks like something is definitely going to happen in that next chapter rather than having more mysteries get added...so that's promising...perhaps we'll see at least a verbal fight sometime soon.

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

Stay Safe
Harry





You can not put the entire Bee Movie in the quote generator.
— alliyah