Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
His speech finished, Seppo went to sit back down. Before he’d gotten halfway down, however, Kydon rose and cleared his throat.
“My lord, are you sure this constitutes a valid Trial?” Kydon’s arms bulged as he folded them across his chest. “The boy can speak to animals—all animals—and so stands to enter the Trial with an unfair advantage. Further, he has not yet completed his tasks nor attained a station higher than mortal, and yet this Trial sits uncomfortably close to an act of war. If we truly need this creature for our coming conflict, then would it not be better to send one of the gods?”
“Thank you, Kydon, for spelling out exactly why I chose this Trial.” Seppo held himself out of his seat, his pistons squealing in protest as he glared daggers at the troll. It’d been a good while since Kydon’s last rules-lawyering had gotten this far under Seppo’s skin. The metal sheathing his fingers whined as he clenched the arms of his chair. “If the lad succeeds, then he’s shown himself worthy to be at least counted among us. And if he fails, he’ll have two patrons and the whole damn pantheon behind him to clean up the mess and ensure we get what we need. Clear?”
Kydon worked his jaw. “No. We still have loopholes to close from the previous—”
“What loopholes?” Seppo snapped. “You mean trying to outlaw divine meddling? Good luck with that.”
“But Charax’s interference in the previous Trial,” Kydon persisted. His frown twisted his face like a knotted tree stump. “While it inhibited the boy’s desired goal, it ended up being beneficial on the whole to the events that transpired. Therefore, patrons should be prohibited from interfering in the proceedings, regardless of whether it’s a help or a hindrance.”
“It sounds to me,” I spat out before Seppo could retort, “like you’re trying to insinuate patrons shouldn’t be involved at all.”
“That’s not what I suggested.” Kydon arched his fingers on the table as he leaned forward. “Merely, that patrons be limited as to how much influence patrons should have in the Trials.”
I quirked a brow. “So we shouldn’t be allowed to offer advice?”
“That has always been within the confines of the Trials.” Kydon grunted. “I simply wish to repair a breach in the stipulations.”
I laughed as I reached for my glass. “That patrons never try to keep their champions from succeeding? Why on earth would you need to outlaw that?”
“Because Malia, that’s why,” Kydon growled. “She, and you, played by the rules last time. The rules were shown to be in error. I wish to resolve such issues before the Second Trial commences.”
Thunder crashed across the hall, rattling platters and drinks. In its wake, a turquoise portal flared to life, engulfing the entrance to the hall as it opened. Smatterings of raindrops pelted the tables as Malia slid into the hall, looking every bit like a drowned rat. She smoothed her scales and flicked the water from her fingers as her portal snapped shut.
“Did someone piss in your drink again, Seppo?” She frowned at him. “It’s a feast. Liven up. And, you, Kydon.” Snakes hissing, she glared at the ogre. “Lay off him, or I’ll wax your balls again.”
He paled and sank into his chair. The table lurched as he crossed his legs, nearly upending the spread.
Satisfied, Malia jerked her head as she made her way down my side of the table. She flicked her wings as she settled into her seat, giving me a sideways look as she did. “What’d I miss?”
“You’ve waxed Kydon’s balls?” I couldn’t help myself. I needed to know the story behind that one.
She laughed and had the most self-satisfied expression as she stared at Kydon over her wine. “He was being an ass about some legal issue and I got tired of him. He sometimes sleeps standing up in the middle of a field, did you know that?” Her smile broadened as she finished a sip. “Mm, the most delightful shrieks I’ve ever heard.” Her eyes slid over to Seppo. “Hasda not paying enough attention to him?”
I grunted. “You could say that.”
Jade ducked when Malia looked her way at them. Malia’s eyebrows rose an inch. “Something happen on that front?”
“I, er, caught them in the sauna.”
“Ah.” Malia’s eyes sparkled, and I couldn’t tell if she was satisfied or stalking her next kill.
I nudged her shoulder with my own. “We need to talk after the feast.”
“A lot.” I sighed. “We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Indeed.” She skewered a piece of meat with her fork and swallowed it, barely chewing it. “Seppo, you’ll be pleased to know Tale, that little servant girl wearing your…” She twirled her fork around her head. “Well, she’s still wearing the device and has settled into the role of Oracle in Karnak. We’ll still need a suitable replacement for Palmyra, but communications with Aenea have been reestablished, at least.”
“Thank you, Malia,” Seppo said. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Kydon grumbled something.
Malia shot him a look. “What was that?”
The troll frowned and leaned back. “You can demand my silence and muddy the waters with your side topics all you want, I still won’t consider the matter resolved.”
“Pray tell,” Malia said, narrowing her eyes, “how you plan to justify outlawing nonsensical behavior.”
“You can’t convince me that there’s no logic to benefitting from negative interference.” Kydon scowled at her. “That would make it an advantageous intercession.”
“Azoria, dear, would you mind repeating what you told me prior to the last Trial?” Malia’s eyes hardened, never leaving Kydon’s.
Azoria shivered, probably from the glacially-cold tension in the room, as she disentangled herself from her awkward conversation with Thane. “According to the annals, a patron deity retains the right to handle the life of their champion as they see fit. This ancient—”
“That passage holds no weight during Trials,” Kydon interjected. He jabbed a finger in the air. “As per the very creed that established the Rite of Trials, all members of the pantheon agree to be bound by the limits established for each Trial, such limitations adjusted as context permits or requires before the commencement of succeeding tasks.”
“Not that sentence.” Her eyes sparkled as she placed her hands on the table, leaning towards the massive brute. “What was the one I asked about specifically, Azoria?”
“Punishment and execution of a champion, be it for disobedience, blasphemy, shame, or the whims of the mortal’s patron deity, shall remain within the discretion of said patron deity, so long as breath remains within their chosen’s lungs.” She slid closer to Thane as she said it, keeping her eyes off Hasda and Jade. Who’d have thought, but the pair had gone quiet, along with everyone else in the hall. Azoria folded her hands in her lap as she continued. “This law supersedes the Rite of Trials.”
“Thank you.” Malia bared her fangs. “Remind me again, Kydon. What station do you hold?”
“Arbiter of Nebesa.” He said flatly.
“Hmm, funny that.” Malia tapped her bottom lip. “Still no ‘legislator’ among your titles.” Wings spread, she gave him a maniacal grin. “So until you’re responsible for writing the laws, kindly uphold them as written.”
His nostrils flared as he sucked in a breath. “You push me, woman, and I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” I said quietly, leaning around Malia’s wing. The temperature of the room fell a couple dozen degrees.
Kydon snorted. “I’m not afraid of you, Charax. The law is the law, and Malia can only twist it so far.”
The air crackled around me so sharply that Malia nearly put her hand on my shoulder. I smiled, and I saw Resef and Vrixia flinch away from the intimidating aura that caught them in the collateral damages. I’d smooth that over later. To Kydon, I said, “Just keep in mind who you’re threatening when you go opening your mouth.”
“And you, yours,” he retorted. “You want Hasda’s Trial invalidated before it even begins?”
Seppo slammed the table so hard it bowed and cracked in the middle, several yards away from us. Plates rocketed into the ceiling, drinks flooding platters and splashing on the floor. “That’s blood well enough!” he roared, halfway out of his seat again. “You,” he snarled, jabbing a finger at Kydon, “can shut your trap, or I’ll have you thrown out on the steps until you learn to mind your tongue. And you two—” he swung towards me and Malia “—I can understand defending your honor, but a pissing match with a toddler? Please.”
“That’s rich, coming from a bedwetter,” Malia said, showing her teeth as she batted her eyes.
Seppo’s pistons chose that moment to vent, emphasizing her point. No one said anything, and only the dripping of a spilled flagon broke the silence. Finally, Seppo burst out laughing.
“All right, point taken.” He shook his head and sat back down. “I’ve already commenced this Trial, Kydon. You had ample time to bring any misgivings you had about the rules to me before this feast, so it’s on your head for waiting until after I’d made my announcement to broach your grievances. If you still feel that way after the conclusion of this Trial, we can address your complaints then. Fair?”
The half-troll nodded but kept his mouth shut.
Malia folded her wings and settled into her chair. I sighed with relief, glad that that was taken care of. For now. Knowing Kydon, he’d enforce the rules of the Second Trial as they now stood in a fair and straightforward manner, but he’d be building his legal arguments the whole time.
I relaxed into my seat and set about recovering my scattered food. Also knowing Malia, she probably had two or three defenses at the ready for whatever Kydon brought against her, most likely prepared with Azoria’s help. But she’d already be scheming, working on tertiary plans to the tertiary plans.
Malia nudged me as she settled into her seat. “Maybe we should have a word with Hasda after.”
Oh, right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hasda and Jade huddled slightly closer together, their conversation hushed and their hands held below the table painfully obvious to everyone but themselves. I grunted. “Maybe you should, since you decided to flaunt our right to off him on a whim in front of the whole pantheon.”
“Point taken.” She wrinkled her nose at me and played with her wine while she mulled over how she was going to spin this to Hasda. Apologizing had never been her strong suit.