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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 5: "The Gorgon"

by dragonfphoenix


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

The portal opened onto a marbled plaza, the stone mellowed to a warm golden hue from age. Thick columns ringed the plaza, stretching high into the heavens. In the center burbled a fountain, its pipes hidden within a bronze statue of a trio of dryad sisters. The youngest lay on the feet of the others, staring up with a longing expression. The middle dryad, hugging the oldest, reached for her sister’s raised hand, a wordless plea frozen on her face. And the oldest, eternally watching the water spill from the palm of her hand, had a look of pure ecstasy carved onto her features.

The Grove of Life, symbolizing the passing of time and the current that bound us all. Malia and I had first met under that fountain, and we’d spent many a decade planning our war efforts seated on its bowl. Where we had...had a thing, so to speak, and the Fates had taunted us. The damned harpies were flaunting their station again, because our reunion occurred in the shadow of the fountain as well.

She stood with her back to us, her dark wings a canopy shading her serpent hair from the crimson sun of Nebesa. Across her back was a quiver of divine arrows, the War Bow unstrung and seated next to the shafts. Absent from her waist were the other divine weapons, the signs of her station: the girdle, the dagger, and the sword. Her hands were empty of the spear as well. Maybe the old gorgon was being modest, and maybe she had some other scheme nested among the snakes writhing on her head. I’d bet my temple on the latter.

At her side stood a thin, pale man dressed all in black. Ropes, died even darker than his robes, served as a belt, the scythe of the God of Death wedged almost flippantly above his hip. Though Malia was by no means tall, my old apprentice still barely reached her shoulder, his lack of height accentuated by his constant half-bow. This position let him see under her wings, and he smiled and whispered something to Malia when he saw us.

I grumbled and approached the pair, and then paused when I saw Hasda gawking. His mouth mimicked the portal in miniature, his head tilted so far back I had to grab his shoulder to keep him from toppling. He snapped his jaw shut with a clack and gave me a sheepish grin. “Thanks.”

“It’s not really that impressive,” I said, half-dragging him towards the waiting gods. “They’re almost identical to the pillars of my temple.”

“Yes, but they’re so tall!”

“They can be shrunk.”

“Really?” His eyes popped.

I sighed as I hitched my robes out from under my feet. No need to send myself sprawling. “That was a joke, Hasda.”

“Oh.”

Wings fluttering, Malia spun on her tail and smiled as we approached. Her light green skin, which matched her scales, showed no signs of wrinkles, although the pale yellow of her underbelly had encroached on her throat. The snake heads, mostly dark green adders with a few black coral snakes, flicked their tongues at me as I smiled.

“Charax,” Malia said. Her silky voice sent shivers down my spine, the bones jittering like an old dog asked to perform its favorite trick. Her golden eyes were as pleasant as her smile, and I’ll be damned but my treacherous heart was glad to see her again.

I nodded. “Malia.”

“It’s good to see you again,” she said.

“And you, for as short as my visit will be.”

“You’re not staying?” Her eyebrows rose, and a shade of a frown tugged at the corners of her lips.

I shook my head. “No. I’m merely here to return your gift, given as a child but a child no more, with my full blessing.” Folding my staff in the crook of my arm, I shrugged. “Plus, I’ve no Seat among these Halls. And I’ve a mind to get back to my retirement, which you so rudely interrupted twenty—”

“Thirty,” she interjected.

“—thirty-two years ago.” I glanced at Hasda, who was ogling Thane’s scythe despite having supposedly seen it before, and tried to keep the sadness from my voice. “Raising him was good for me, and I thank you for it, but it’s time for me to return to my peace.”

“If you must.” She shook her head, and her serpents swiveled, keeping their heads locked in place and their gazes firmly on me. “At least have a drink before you go?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “No ambrosia. I haven’t touched it since I left and I’ve no plans to start today.”

“Of course.” Her eyes sparkled. “Thane! Be a dear and fetch us some refreshments, if you would.”

“At once, milady.” He bowed low, his reedy voice at odds with his grim attire.

She fluttered her hand at him. “And remember, no ambrosia for your once-master.”

He dipped his head, his chin nearly sinking into his chest, and scurried around the fountain, disappearing in a puff of black smoke.

When he vanished, it seemed to snap Hasda out of his haze. He shook himself and had his wits all collected, and then he laid eyes on Malia. His jaw dropped, and my hands itched to poke his eyes to keep them from falling out. “Wow.”

She chuckled. “It’s good to be appreciated,” she said, ribbing me.

I grumbled something about tomfool-cats in heat and she laughed.

“Don’t be jealous, you old salt. Just because the lad has eyes.”

“His eyes work perfectly fine,” I said firmly, my hands clenching on my staff. “If you’d be so kind as to stop overloading his mortal senses with your divine aura, I’m sure he’d be up to having a reasoned conversation with us.”

“I forgot how much fun you are at parties,” she pouted. The air shimmered as she withdrew her power, masking it for Hasda’s sake.

The boy—man—blinked, and blinked some more. “Wow,” he repeated, finally finding his voice. “Are we really in Nebesa?”

“Did you miss the portal I rent in the very air to get here, or did you hit your head on the mantle on the way in?” I said.

He flushed and dropped his eyes. “No.”

“So you mean to tell me that when you’ve been sneaking out to meet with Malia, it’s been in my own backyard?” I was more mad that he’d taken up lying and deceit so quickly, rather than his secret meetings with Malia (although I was plenty grumpy about that, too), so I switched tack to make sure the appropriate message was driven home. “How long have you lived with me, and you still haven’t learned not to lie to gods?”

“Be pleasant, Charax,” Malia said, sliding between us. A wingtip grazed my shoulder, and I had to fight to keep from breaking into shivers. Damn woman and her damned touch. She gave me a thin smile. “He is mortal, after all, and he looks slightly faint from his first visit among our Halls. If only he had something to drink.” She glared at the fountain.

A puff of black smoke, and Thane was back among us, a silver platter with four jeweled goblets perched on his hand. “Your refreshments, as requested.”

“Excellent.” She tugged Hasda forward, drowning him in a smile. “Please, help yourself.”

“No ambrosia.” My sharp voice froze his outstretched hand. “He’s still very thoroughly mortal. Raised by me or not, he’d need at least a quest and maybe a campaign under his belt before he could stomach it.”

“We would never.” Thane said, a false smile on his face. Faster than Hasda could see, he flicked the goblet the lad was reaching for, transforming the motion into an offering and placing it against Hasda’s fingers. “For you, fair mortal. A harmless gift from the gods.”

“Which gods?” I asked as Hasda sipped from the goblet.

That was enough for a frown to slip through Thane’s amiable façade. “His hosts and benefactors, myself and Malia.”

I grunted. “And is mine a gift?”

“It could be,” Malia said, a concoction of emotions lacing her voice.

Resting my staff on the ground, I stood tall and shook my head. “Mine will be given as a measure of your hospitality to a peer, and not as a boon.”

“So be it.” Thane plastered his smile back in place and lifted a bronze goblet. I watched his hand carefully as he proffered the drink for any divine sleight of hand he might pull. But he merely handed me the drink and moved on to giving Malia hers, his fingers caressing the stem as he did so.

I sniffed my drink suspiciously all the same. It smelled of grapes and pomegranate, with a hint of apple underneath. No telltale signs of ambrosia, and nothing citrus to mask its smell. If slipping me ambrosia wasn’t how Malia meant to lure me back, what was? I pondered the question as I tasted the juice. Hasda had already finished his, drops of cranberry juice staining the corners of his mouth, and held his goblet out for more.

“So,” Malia said, toying with her own drink, “I hope you’re not planning on wearing that to the feast tonight.”

Ah, so that was her game.


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Mon May 24, 2021 5:51 am
KateHardy wrote a review...



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

Hi! I'm baaack....again I know......this story is definitely turning out to be quite the page turner so far...ahh..well here comes another one of them reviews. :D

First Impression: Oooh...well this place definitely sounds divine indeed...this story really is starting to sound like it will be a lot of fun...well I won't waste too much time on this part.

Anyway let's get right to it,

The portal opened onto a marbled plaza, the stone mellowed to a warm golden hue from age. Thick columns ringed the plaza, stretching high into the heavens. In the center burbled a fountain, its pipes hidden within a bronze statue of a trio of dryad sisters. The youngest lay on the feet of the others, staring up with a longing expression. The middle dryad, hugging the oldest, reached for her sister’s raised hand, a wordless plea frozen on her face. And the oldest, eternally watching the water spill from the palm of her hand, had a look of pure ecstasy carved onto her features.


Okay....nice bit of description there...establishing the scene there..taking your time there a bit...I guess this is an important place then..

The Grove of Life, symbolizing the passing of time and the current that bound us all. Malia and I had first met under that fountain, and we’d spent many a decade planning our war efforts seated on its bowl. Where we had...had a thing, so to speak, and the Fates had taunted us. The damned harpies were flaunting their station again, because our reunion occurred in the shadow of the fountain as well.


Oh well...that's a lovely little throwback to a time loong past...and well this should certainly be a very interesting meeting...one which we have been waiting to see for quite a while now.

She stood with her back to us, her dark wings a canopy shading her serpent hair from the crimson sun of Nebesa. Across her back was a quiver of divine arrows, the War Bow unstrung and seated next to the shafts. Absent from her waist were the other divine weapons, the signs of her station: the girdle, the dagger, and the sword. Her hands were empty of the spear as well. Maybe the old gorgon was being modest, and maybe she had some other scheme nested among the snakes writhing on her head. I’d bet my temple on the latter.


Well that's another lovely description there to set up Malia here...

At her side stood a thin, pale man dressed all in black. Ropes, died even darker than his robes, served as a belt, the scythe of the God of Death wedged almost flippantly above his hip. Though Malia was by no means tall, my old apprentice still barely reached her shoulder, his lack of height accentuated by his constant half-bow. This position let him see under her wings, and he smiled and whispered something to Malia when he saw us.


Hmm...more great description there...also wow...that's a very unsafe way to handle a scythe but I suppose he is indeed a god there...xD

I grumbled and approached the pair, and then paused when I saw Hasda gawking. His mouth mimicked the portal in miniature, his head tilted so far back I had to grab his shoulder to keep him from toppling. He snapped his jaw shut with a clack and gave me a sheepish grin. “Thanks.”

“It’s not really that impressive,” I said, half-dragging him towards the waiting gods. “They’re almost identical to the pillars of my temple.”


Oh wow...this jealously is just ahh..so much fun to see.

“Yes, but they’re so tall!”

“They can be shrunk.”

“Really?” His eyes popped.

I sighed as I hitched my robes out from under my feet. No need to send myself sprawling. “That was a joke, Hasda.”


Hasda freaking out about celestial things is just an awesome thing to see right now.

Wings fluttering, Malia spun on her tail and smiled as we approached. Her light green skin, which matched her scales, showed no signs of wrinkles, although the pale yellow of her underbelly had encroached on her throat. The snake heads, mostly dark green adders with a few black coral snakes, flicked their tongues at me as I smiled.

“Charax,” Malia said. Her silky voice sent shivers down my spine, the bones jittering like an old dog asked to perform its favorite trick. Her golden eyes were as pleasant as her smile, and I’ll be damned but my treacherous heart was glad to see her again.


Oh well...sometimes you really can't escape those treacherous hearts now can you?

I nodded. “Malia.”

“It’s good to see you again,” she said.

“And you, for as short as my visit will be.”


I love he he specified that.

“You’re not staying?” Her eyebrows rose, and a shade of a frown tugged at the corners of her lips.

I shook my head. “No. I’m merely here to return your gift, given as a child but a child no more, with my full blessing.” Folding my staff in the crook of my arm, I shrugged. “Plus, I’ve no Seat among these Halls. And I’ve a mind to get back to my retirement, which you so rudely interrupted twenty—”

“Thirty,” she interjected.

“—thirty-two years ago.” I glanced at Hasda, who was ogling Thane’s scythe despite having supposedly seen it before, and tried to keep the sadness from my voice. “Raising him was good for me, and I thank you for it, but it’s time for me to return to my peace.”


Well...that's well said there...he managed to keep his composure pretty well and say what he wanted to...let's see how long that one ends up lasting there. He is making quite a bit of logical sense so far at least.

“If you must.” She shook her head, and her serpents swiveled, keeping their heads locked in place and their gazes firmly on me. “At least have a drink before you go?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “No ambrosia. I haven’t touched it since I left and I’ve no plans to start today.”

“Of course.” Her eyes sparkled. “Thane! Be a dear and fetch us some refreshments, if you would.”


Hmm...well these refreshments are most definitely suuuper suspicious at this point...let's see how this ends up going cause I have a feeling some kind of nefarious plan is afoot.

“At once, milady.” He bowed low, his reedy voice at odds with his grim attire.

She fluttered her hand at him. “And remember, no ambrosia for your once-master.”

He dipped his head, his chin nearly sinking into his chest, and scurried around the fountain, disappearing in a puff of black smoke.


Well she drove that point home pretty neatly....she's a professional at knowing how to push people's buttons, that much is very clear.

When he vanished, it seemed to snap Hasda out of his haze. He shook himself and had his wits all collected, and then he laid eyes on Malia. His jaw dropped, and my hands itched to poke his eyes to keep them from falling out. “Wow.”

She chuckled. “It’s good to be appreciated,” she said, ribbing me.

I grumbled something about tomfool-cats in heat and she laughed.


Well...this is also a lovely little interaction between these two...ahh..now...I really want to see the three of them going on this thing here together..

“Don’t be jealous, you old salt. Just because the lad has eyes.”

“His eyes work perfectly fine,” I said firmly, my hands clenching on my staff. “If you’d be so kind as to stop overloading his mortal senses with your divine aura, I’m sure he’d be up to having a reasoned conversation with us.”


Well...that reminds me of someone...

“I forgot how much fun you are at parties,” she pouted. The air shimmered as she withdrew her power, masking it for Hasda’s sake.

The boy—man—blinked, and blinked some more. “Wow,” he repeated, finally finding his voice. “Are we really in Nebesa?”

“Did you miss the portal I rent in the very air to get here, or did you hit your head on the mantle on the way in?” I said.

He flushed and dropped his eyes. “No.”


Ahh..this dialogue...just...yeah...I love it...that's me saying that for probably the tenth time...and it will be mentioned a hundred more times before this day is out.

“So you mean to tell me that when you’ve been sneaking out to meet with Malia, it’s been in my own backyard?” I was more mad that he’d taken up lying and deceit so quickly, rather than his secret meetings with Malia (although I was plenty grumpy about that, too), so I switched tack to make sure the appropriate message was driven home. “How long have you lived with me, and you still haven’t learned not to lie to gods?”


Oh well...that definitely seems like you should've learned but them always meeting in his backyard is also really funny to think about.

“Be pleasant, Charax,” Malia said, sliding between us. A wingtip grazed my shoulder, and I had to fight to keep from breaking into shivers. Damn woman and her damned touch. She gave me a thin smile. “He is mortal, after all, and he looks slightly faint from his first visit among our Halls. If only he had something to drink.” She glared at the fountain.

A puff of black smoke, and Thane was back among us, a silver platter with four jeweled goblets perched on his hand. “Your refreshments, as requested.”


Well that was good timing on his part there...

“Excellent.” She tugged Hasda forward, drowning him in a smile. “Please, help yourself.”

“No ambrosia.” My sharp voice froze his outstretched hand. “He’s still very thoroughly mortal. Raised by me or not, he’d need at least a quest and maybe a campaign under his belt before he could stomach it.”


Well...Charax is at least being properly observant here...good on him there to keep his wits about him there.

“We would never.” Thane said, a false smile on his face. Faster than Hasda could see, he flicked the goblet the lad was reaching for, transforming the motion into an offering and placing it against Hasda’s fingers. “For you, fair mortal. A harmless gift from the gods.”

“Which gods?” I asked as Hasda sipped from the goblet.

That was enough for a frown to slip through Thane’s amiable façade. “His hosts and benefactors, myself and Malia.”


Well...frowns slipping through are never a good sign there...now I wonder what that could possibly be...

I grunted. “And is mine a gift?”

“It could be,” Malia said, a concoction of emotions lacing her voice.

Resting my staff on the ground, I stood tall and shook my head. “Mine will be given as a measure of your hospitality to a peer, and not as a boon.”


That definitely seems like what it should be there.

“So be it.” Thane plastered his smile back in place and lifted a bronze goblet. I watched his hand carefully as he proffered the drink for any divine sleight of hand he might pull. But he merely handed me the drink and moved on to giving Malia hers, his fingers caressing the stem as he did so.

I sniffed my drink suspiciously all the same. It smelled of grapes and pomegranate, with a hint of apple underneath. No telltale signs of ambrosia, and nothing citrus to mask its smell. If slipping me ambrosia wasn’t how Malia meant to lure me back, what was? I pondered the question as I tasted the juice. Hasda had already finished his, drops of cranberry juice staining the corners of his mouth, and held his goblet out for more.


Hmm....well...so his first guess at their plan failed...or maybe he just defeated their first attack attempt...and they're going to potentially try again here.

“So,” Malia said, toying with her own drink, “I hope you’re not planning on wearing that to the feast tonight.”

Ah, so that was her game.


Ah yup...there's more mind games in store I see...oh well...lemme head over there then. This is starting to get really interesting now.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Well...I can say that Malia is already now my favorite character...definitely gonna end up rooting for her here...xD...and I just loooove the chemistry these two have with each other.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Fri Feb 26, 2021 2:24 am
Spearmint wrote a review...



Ooh the description of the fountain is beautiful! I particularly like this part: “...eternally watching the water spill from the palm of her hand, ... a look of pure ecstasy carved onto her features.” The “eternally” part really emphasizes how this is a place of the gods, immortal and unchanging. “Ecstasy” is also a neat word, so props to you for including it.

One thing I might suggest is to give a brief description of the surrounding areas. Like, right now I’m sort of visualizing the plaza suspended in a void of nothing, and while that would be pretty cool, I’d also like some context about whether this place is like Earth or not. For example, maybe you could weave in something about the sky color somewhere, or mention the mountain range nearby (if there is one), and etc.

His mouth mimicked the portal in miniature

I really like how you used an original comparison here, and managed to tie it in to previous events as well! It’s awesome when authors are able to reference earlier parts of their story and make it like an inside joke they share with their readers.

...my hands itched to poke his eyes to keep them from falling out.

Another unique (and humorous) sentence! It also emphasizes the relationship Charax has with Hasda; the old god may be like a father to him, but that doesn’t mean Charax goes easy on Hasda (no, not at all XD).

Just one last tiny thing, when I read the section about Charax’s drink, I was sorta struggling to imagine the smell of “grapes and pomegranate” with “a hint of apple.” To me it just seems like an unusual combination? That might be your intention, but I think it would be nice to add a couple words about how the scents combined (for example, was it sweet or sour? Did it smell tasty? Could it possibly be a metaphor for Charax’s emotions?)

As usual, your dialogue is impeccable and like Plume mentioned, the relationship between Charax and Malia is really well written. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! :D




dragonfphoenix says...


Nebesa is kind of like an alternate Olympus. I could probably make that a little clearer (added to the revision list).

The specific fruits in the juice were quite literally the ingredients in the last fruit cocktail I drank lol. I can add some smells later XD
Tying in descriptions and events is always super fun.

Glad you've enjoyed the story so far! I should have another chapter up in the next two days or so.



Spearmint says...


Ooh yay another chapter! *obsessively checks yws for the next two days* :P



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Thu Feb 25, 2021 2:44 pm
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ahh, we finally get to meet the infamous Malia! I have to say, you definitely did her justice in this. It would have been such a pivotal moment to mess up, but I think you actually executed it really well. She really has such an impact on this story, but we haven't seen her in person until now. I was almost anxious to meet her, since I was so used to her being this... driving force, in a way, rather than a character, but after meeting her, I can say that she might be one of my favorite characters. You write her with such power that she's very believable. I also wasn't expecting her to be a gorgon, so that kinda messed with my mind a bit, but I think it works really well with your story. It definitely fits with her character, I think.

I also really love the tension between Charax and Malia. I think you display the centuries old, constantly changing relationship between them very well. You revealed more about their past together in this, and I'm really curious to see what else you'll reveal.

One thing I wondered about was the relationship between Thane and Charax. We don't really see much interaction between them in this chapter, which didn't really make sense to me given their past. It really makes me wonder what happened between them, if anything. If they had a relationship kind of like Hasda and Charax, shouldn't they at least show some form of recognition between them? Instead, it seemed like Malia was acting as the sort of communicator between them.

Specifics

“We would never.” Thane said.


That period after the dialogue should be a comma.

Ropes, died even darker than his robes, served as a belt, the scythe of the God of Death wedged almost flippantly above his hip.


"Died" should be "dyed."

Overall: really nice job! I'm excited to see where you take the story next.




dragonfphoenix says...


Charax and Malia have been super fun to write. I've really enjoyed exploring their relationship. As for Thane, I'm not sure exactly when but an explanation of that is coming in future chapters.

Lol, I think I wrote this chapter right after I finished cranking out an ending to a different project, so I was a little words-fatigued by then. I'll add that to the fix-in-editing list, thanks




the world (me) cries out for salvation (snacks)
— creaturefeature