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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 74: "The Staff"

by dragonfphoenix


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

Everyone turned as Thane stumbled in. Covered in dirt, leaves, and reddish brown lumps that looked suspiciously like rotting meat, he staggered as if he hadn’t slept in days. His dark robes were filthy, the hem shredded from his trek. Black eyes ringed his face, contrasted by the bright red claw marks that left his arms swollen.

Azoria was at his side in a blink, lowering him onto the cloudy floor. Behind her, the Spartans watched with veiled worry as they pulled the doors shut. Thane collapsed, smiling, into her arms.

“What now?” Another sigh escaped Seppo. “Apologies, Thane, but you’re not even the worst of what’s happened recently.”

He weakly waved the comment away. “Found the staff. Couldn’t get it.”

“Which staff?” Tarrha asked, leaning forward.

I wrinkled my nose. That was definitely the stench of undead on him, and none of ours. But there wasn’t a hint of salt or the sea in the smell, either, so not Paeden. There was only one staff associated with necromancy that was powerful enough to give Thane problems, and that was the one carried by the Ghorin witchdoctor, or whatever they called their shaman these days.

I frowned. Malia had mentioned those islanders in the north had grown, but unless Thane had gone for a chilly swim, that meant the staff was on the mainland. So either they’d expanded, or someone had taken their staff from them. I didn’t have enough information to know which option was worse.

“Let him rest,” Seppo said. Frowning, he quickened his pace and kicked up a few tiny clouds. “Resef is handling the Paedens in Aenea as we speak.” His eyes flicked to mine. “Sorry, Charax. With Malia injured and you gone, he was the best one suited to handling this battle, since it’s within his territory.”

So they weren’t leaving Aenea alone. I shook my head. “Not an issue. What about Tingin?”

“So you heard about that.” Seppo was sighing a lot today. “Azoria?”

“They crossed the mountains two days ago and have taken the mines.” Her arms tightened around Thane. “Jade is missing.”

“Azoria has done well stablishing the temples of the Desert Prophet.” Vrixia separated from the line. “You may wish to collect their worship and strengthen yourself before heading north, but we’re not sure of the severity of the threat.”

What? Oh, right, that nomad persona I’d worn in Aenea. Reassuming it would be a boon in assisting Resef to drive the Paedens back out. But Jade was missing, presumably captured by the Paedens, and with the Sea Mother on the move, we couldn’t trust them to hold the mines against her. True, they’d bound her and her mate before, but that was a long time ago and their empire wasn’t what it once was.

“Charax should go to Tingin immediately,” Phemonoe said. Her voice was confident, but her face had gone ashen.

Synnefo regarded her with a pensive look. “Have you had another vision? Seppo wasn’t exactly clear on the illness that’s befallen you.”

Her face went paler, but she said nothing.

I stepped forward, angling myself between them. “Actually, I did.”

That earned me a few quizzical looks.

“Best way to break the news, I guess.” I met Seppo’s confused look. “I’ve had two separate…visitations is the best way to describe them. Strong enough to rival eldritch deities, although they claim to be a cut above that.”

“Beings greater than titans?” Seppo asked.

I nodded. With a bit of editing, I recounted my experience with the Sybil and the Spinster. The prophecy of the former I kept to myself, but her harassment of forest visions and the proclamation of her sister stayed in. No need to keep that to myself, especially since the Paedens had already attacked the first location and were assaulting the other two while we held court.

Azoria frowned. “And this Spinster, she made her claim before any of the Paeden attacks?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” I shook my head. “I don’t know that she’s a seer, but with the Paedens moving on Tingin and Aenea, and the god we dealt with in Ibithia, I’m forced to presume the Sea Mother is also heading to Tingin.”

Seppo’s hissing exoskeleton failed to hide his sigh. “At the least, we know to expect her this time.”

I nodded. “We’ll need to get Jade back, if the Paedens have her. Tamiyat will target her and try to turn her into a proxy, like she did with Lazuli.”

Seppo grunted. “Speaking of Lazuli, your wife wanted your help with her. Something about them needing to ‘have a chat.’”

Oh boy. Malia must’ve been really incensed about having to recover if she was dredging up her petrified prisoners. But maybe there was something to that. Lazuli had been Tamiyat’s proxy before, so if she could be reasoned with, maybe we could learn a way to preclude Jade ever being taken by the Sea Mother.

I dipped my head. “I’ll see to her on the way out.”

“Before you go,” Thane said. Coughing, he wriggled in Azoria’s arms to a sitting position and held out his arm. His Scythe materialized in his hand, the blade glinting in the false sunlight. “Here.”

Ice water sloshed inside my bones, which felt even worse since I’d resumed my mortal form. I scowled. “This isn’t the time for that.”

“It might very well be,” Tarrha said. Chin resting on the back of her hands, she gave me a coy smile.

Thane jerked a nod, then succumbed to another fit of coughing. The Scythe shivered in the air. “That Stitcher…I can’t beat him.”

“Is it really that bad?” I sighed. “I’m already Seated, so I’d have to resign the Office of War fully to Malia before I could become the God of Death again. And that would leave you without a station. Are you sure you wish to resign your responsibilities?”

“You can hold an Office and a half.” Seppo waved his hand dismissively. “The Offices are changing, and Loutro is willing to separate ‘feasting’ from ‘revelry’ to allow Thane to keep his Seat.”

I kept my arms folded. I wasn’t accepting that transfer just yet. “Does this take precedence over the Tingin situation? Or can it wait?”

“He’s not divine yet.” Another cough interrupted Thane. Wiping his face, he gave Azoria an apologetic smile before shooting me a hard look. “But he’s going to be a problem if we don’t deal with him. He doesn’t need souls to reanimate corpses.”

That could certainly cause issues. “Skeletons or flesh bearers, too?”

“Yes.” His eyes sparkled with frustration and irony. “I think his magic is completely separated from the spiritual realm. The army of souls I raised against him did nothing.”

What a nuisance this Stitcher was turning out to be. I scowled. “Are there no gods who could assume your role? No apprentices or minor gods you’ve had your eye on?”

He rested the butt of the Scythe on the clouds and gave me an apologetic shrug. “I haven’t been comfortable with my duties since you left. You think I was confident enough to train a successor?”

I grunted. “It’s still your responsibility, as uncomfortable as it may be. What if I’d stayed retired? Who would bear your burden then?”

“But you didn’t stay retired, you old fool.” The doors slammed open as Malia made her way in. Quivering priestesses flanked her, trying their best to catch her attention and coax her back to bed, but they shrank away whenever her hair snakes hissed at them. Although she snapped her wings and tried to be dramatic, the burns and bandages plastered across her face ruined the effect. Healing water ran down her face to fall off her chin.

Typical.

“You should be resting,” I said.

“And you should stop being an old grump,” she spat back. Her eyes flashed, but with diminished vigor. While she looked better than before, she still had much to heal. She paused when she saw Phemonoe and tilted her head. “What happened to you, dear?”

“I’ve suffered an illness,” she said, chagrined.

Malia shook her head. “Not that. Something’s happened to you.”

“Not here,” I whispered, perhaps a bit too harsh. The gods behind me frowned, but I ignored them. Straightening, I shook my head at Thane. “I can’t accept that. Not yet, anyways. We need to secure Tingin and potentially rescue Jade before we start worrying about a backwater thorn.”

A thoughtful look settled on her face. “Hmm. We need the staff, yes?” She turned to Thane. “How long before this Stitcher becomes an unmanageable problem?”

He looked at Azoria, who shrugged. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m not sure. How many undead, immune to sorcery, is too many?”

“Perfect.” Whatever idea had spawned behind that smile, I didn’t like it. She grinned at Seppo. “I have two suggestions.”

With a sigh, he waved his hand. “Let’s hear them.”

“You could let Hasda retrieve the staff as his Third Trial.” Her fangs flashed in the fake afternoon sun. “As for now, you could send him to Tingin to lead the Carthian forces.”

“Malia…” I reached for her arm.

“Oh, come now.” She tossed her head and flinched at the pain of reopened wounds. Still, she kept her smile in place. “We’ve barely mustered any troops, those there couldn’t even charitably be called an army, and he’s familiar with the land. It’ll also give him leadership experience.”

I frowned. “He’s a good lad, but he’s not ready for that yet. He has at least one more Trial to complete. We don’t even know if this one’s been certified yet.” I glanced at Seppo. “Where is Kydon? He never came to Ibithia.”

Tufts bounced off his feet as he paced. “I sent him ahead to Tingin. With Malia sick and you gone, the legality of our borders fell to him.” Steam venting off his carapice, he slowed. Sagging, he came to a stop. “I will think on your suggestions, Malia. For now, you should probably go with Charax and prepare him for Tingin.”


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Wed Aug 10, 2022 10:24 pm
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: Hmm well it does seem like this is the chapter where things are going to move towards a resolution like I predicted. Even the couple of extra loose ends that were hanging about in the form of Thane and Malia have tied themselves up somewhat as well so things are certainly about to go somewhere judging by this.

Anyway let's get right to it,

Everyone turned as Thane stumbled in. Covered in dirt, leaves, and reddish brown lumps that looked suspiciously like rotting meat, he staggered as if he hadn’t slept in days. His dark robes were filthy, the hem shredded from his trek. Black eyes ringed his face, contrasted by the bright red claw marks that left his arms swollen.

Azoria was at his side in a blink, lowering him onto the cloudy floor. Behind her, the Spartans watched with veiled worry as they pulled the doors shut. Thane collapsed, smiling, into her arms.

“What now?” Another sigh escaped Seppo. “Apologies, Thane, but you’re not even the worst of what’s happened recently.”

He weakly waved the comment away. “Found the staff. Couldn’t get it.”

“Which staff?” Tarrha asked, leaning forward.


Okay...well that does put into perspective just how much stress is there...that is certainly the sort of appearance that should have caused a mass rush to figure out what on Earth had gone down instead its just more like a "well that might as well happen" sort of attitude. On the bright side at least it seems Thane does something to add although I have a feeling this is again more questions than answers really.

I wrinkled my nose. That was definitely the stench of undead on him, and none of ours. But there wasn’t a hint of salt or the sea in the smell, either, so not Paeden. There was only one staff associated with necromancy that was powerful enough to give Thane problems, and that was the one carried by the Ghorin witchdoctor, or whatever they called their shaman these days.

I frowned. Malia had mentioned those islanders in the north had grown, but unless Thane had gone for a chilly swim, that meant the staff was on the mainland. So either they’d expanded, or someone had taken their staff from them. I didn’t have enough information to know which option was worse.

“Let him rest,” Seppo said. Frowning, he quickened his pace and kicked up a few tiny clouds. “Resef is handling the Paedens in Aenea as we speak.” His eyes flicked to mine. “Sorry, Charax. With Malia injured and you gone, he was the best one suited to handling this battle, since it’s within his territory.”


Hmm...well that seems very a grownup decision on everyone's part there. I don't why I keep being surprised by moments like this when this story has consistently done that, but I think there's just too many dumb decisions made over petty things like this in so many stories that when characters act actually responsible its always surprising.

So they weren’t leaving Aenea alone. I shook my head. “Not an issue. What about Tingin?”

“So you heard about that.” Seppo was sighing a lot today. “Azoria?”

“They crossed the mountains two days ago and have taken the mines.” Her arms tightened around Thane. “Jade is missing.”

“Azoria has done well stablishing the temples of the Desert Prophet.” Vrixia separated from the line. “You may wish to collect their worship and strengthen yourself before heading north, but we’re not sure of the severity of the threat.”

What? Oh, right, that nomad persona I’d worn in Aenea. Reassuming it would be a boon in assisting Resef to drive the Paedens back out. But Jade was missing, presumably captured by the Paedens, and with the Sea Mother on the move, we couldn’t trust them to hold the mines against her. True, they’d bound her and her mate before, but that was a long time ago and their empire wasn’t what it once was.


Well I suppose none of that was meant to be an actual surprise more than just an inevitable move they were sort of already planning to respond to. This is certainly going to end up in a lot of things to come...although somehow this seems to have actually bypassed that whole deadly vision situation that seems to be on the backburner for the moment.

“Charax should go to Tingin immediately,” Phemonoe said. Her voice was confident, but her face had gone ashen.

Synnefo regarded her with a pensive look. “Have you had another vision? Seppo wasn’t exactly clear on the illness that’s befallen you.”

Her face went paler, but she said nothing.

I stepped forward, angling myself between them. “Actually, I did.”

That earned me a few quizzical looks.

“Best way to break the news, I guess.” I met Seppo’s confused look. “I’ve had two separate…visitations is the best way to describe them. Strong enough to rival eldritch deities, although they claim to be a cut above that.”


Okay that was...very unexpected. The good news the vision isn't forgotten just that it seems Charax wants to prevent all the information from getting out unless its in private with just him and Seppo and it seems he's finally going to get some extra opinions on those other dangerous curious moments that happened earlier. At this point at least something being discussed is better than it all being suppressed I suppose.

“Beings greater than titans?” Seppo asked.

I nodded. With a bit of editing, I recounted my experience with the Sybil and the Spinster. The prophecy of the former I kept to myself, but her harassment of forest visions and the proclamation of her sister stayed in. No need to keep that to myself, especially since the Paedens had already attacked the first location and were assaulting the other two while we held court.

Azoria frowned. “And this Spinster, she made her claim before any of the Paeden attacks?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” I shook my head. “I don’t know that she’s a seer, but with the Paedens moving on Tingin and Aenea, and the god we dealt with in Ibithia, I’m forced to presume the Sea Mother is also heading to Tingin.”

Seppo’s hissing exoskeleton failed to hide his sigh. “At the least, we know to expect her this time.”


Well...they took all of that remarkably well..and well I suppose Charax is never going to reveal all of that fully until her understands it enough that he's not going to let it cause confusion and terror among more than just his own mind and Malia. That seems like the best move for the moment.

I nodded. “We’ll need to get Jade back, if the Paedens have her. Tamiyat will target her and try to turn her into a proxy, like she did with Lazuli.”

Seppo grunted. “Speaking of Lazuli, your wife wanted your help with her. Something about them needing to ‘have a chat.’”

Oh boy. Malia must’ve been really incensed about having to recover if she was dredging up her petrified prisoners. But maybe there was something to that. Lazuli had been Tamiyat’s proxy before, so if she could be reasoned with, maybe we could learn a way to preclude Jade ever being taken by the Sea Mother.

I dipped my head. “I’ll see to her on the way out.”


Well I suppose we're finally going to see some movement towards a resolution if these things are going on. Most of the new information here is just sort of digging towards answers to some of the older mysteries we've had as opposed to being newer ones although we do certainly have a couple of those.

“Before you go,” Thane said. Coughing, he wriggled in Azoria’s arms to a sitting position and held out his arm. His Scythe materialized in his hand, the blade glinting in the false sunlight. “Here.”

Ice water sloshed inside my bones, which felt even worse since I’d resumed my mortal form. I scowled. “This isn’t the time for that.”

“It might very well be,” Tarrha said. Chin resting on the back of her hands, she gave me a coy smile.

Thane jerked a nod, then succumbed to another fit of coughing. The Scythe shivered in the air. “That Stitcher…I can’t beat him.”

“Is it really that bad?” I sighed. “I’m already Seated, so I’d have to resign the Office of War fully to Malia before I could become the God of Death again. And that would leave you without a station. Are you sure you wish to resign your responsibilities?”


Well yeah this definitely sounds like the sort of thing you want to with a lot of research, while you're not half beaten to death and when there's the opportunity for takebacks should things go off the rails for some reason.

“You can hold an Office and a half.” Seppo waved his hand dismissively. “The Offices are changing, and Loutro is willing to separate ‘feasting’ from ‘revelry’ to allow Thane to keep his Seat.”

I kept my arms folded. I wasn’t accepting that transfer just yet. “Does this take precedence over the Tingin situation? Or can it wait?”

“He’s not divine yet.” Another cough interrupted Thane. Wiping his face, he gave Azoria an apologetic smile before shooting me a hard look. “But he’s going to be a problem if we don’t deal with him. He doesn’t need souls to reanimate corpses.”

That could certainly cause issues. “Skeletons or flesh bearers, too?”

“Yes.” His eyes sparkled with frustration and irony. “I think his magic is completely separated from the spiritual realm. The army of souls I raised against him did nothing.”


Hmm...well yeah see, plenty of excellent reasons why all of this is not something to be rushed although I get the feeling this is kind of actually a reason why this thing should be rushed at the moment.

What a nuisance this Stitcher was turning out to be. I scowled. “Are there no gods who could assume your role? No apprentices or minor gods you’ve had your eye on?”

He rested the butt of the Scythe on the clouds and gave me an apologetic shrug. “I haven’t been comfortable with my duties since you left. You think I was confident enough to train a successor?”

I grunted. “It’s still your responsibility, as uncomfortable as it may be. What if I’d stayed retired? Who would bear your burden then?”

“But you didn’t stay retired, you old fool.” The doors slammed open as Malia made her way in. Quivering priestesses flanked her, trying their best to catch her attention and coax her back to bed, but they shrank away whenever her hair snakes hissed at them. Although she snapped her wings and tried to be dramatic, the burns and bandages plastered across her face ruined the effect. Healing water ran down her face to fall off her chin.


Well that's the kind of entrance you always expect Malia, not gonna lie when we ended on the earlier cliffhanger with the knocking I was fully expecting her to walk in, but I will take this. It's definitely a good moment for her to join the conversation and I get the feeling no one besides Charax here is going to oppose the transfer of responsibilities plan.

Typical.

“You should be resting,” I said.

“And you should stop being an old grump,” she spat back. Her eyes flashed, but with diminished vigor. While she looked better than before, she still had much to heal. She paused when she saw Phemonoe and tilted her head. “What happened to you, dear?”

“I’ve suffered an illness,” she said, chagrined.

Malia shook her head. “Not that. Something’s happened to you.”

“Not here,” I whispered, perhaps a bit too harsh. The gods behind me frowned, but I ignored them. Straightening, I shook my head at Thane. “I can’t accept that. Not yet, anyways. We need to secure Tingin and potentially rescue Jade before we start worrying about a backwater thorn.”


Hmm...well Malia is being particularly perceptive, not that that's exactly a surprise there although well Charax's attempts to keep that whole thing under wraps is just constantly being attacked by various random things here.

A thoughtful look settled on her face. “Hmm. We need the staff, yes?” She turned to Thane. “How long before this Stitcher becomes an unmanageable problem?”

He looked at Azoria, who shrugged. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m not sure. How many undead, immune to sorcery, is too many?”

“Perfect.” Whatever idea had spawned behind that smile, I didn’t like it. She grinned at Seppo. “I have two suggestions.”

With a sigh, he waved his hand. “Let’s hear them.”

“You could let Hasda retrieve the staff as his Third Trial.” Her fangs flashed in the fake afternoon sun. “As for now, you could send him to Tingin to lead the Carthian forces.”

“Malia…” I reached for her arm.


Well...that's a bold one...I don't entirely see exactly why one would want to plan something out in that fashion but given this is Malia there must be something more to this than what immediately meets the eye here.

“Oh, come now.” She tossed her head and flinched at the pain of reopened wounds. Still, she kept her smile in place. “We’ve barely mustered any troops, those there couldn’t even charitably be called an army, and he’s familiar with the land. It’ll also give him leadership experience.”

I frowned. “He’s a good lad, but he’s not ready for that yet. He has at least one more Trial to complete. We don’t even know if this one’s been certified yet.” I glanced at Seppo. “Where is Kydon? He never came to Ibithia.”

Tufts bounced off his feet as he paced. “I sent him ahead to Tingin. With Malia sick and you gone, the legality of our borders fell to him.” Steam venting off his carapice, he slowed. Sagging, he came to a stop. “I will think on your suggestions, Malia. For now, you should probably go with Charax and prepare him for Tingin.”


Well...that was the first sort of almost anticlimactic end that we've seen in a while. The ideas swirling around for this ending seem to have died down a tad and we settled for the predictable one there. It does make sense why they've gone with that though.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, it seems that things are moving forward here, one way or the other. It is good to see all of these little things starting to pull together or at least see the characters try to start pulling it all together. We'll see where this takes us.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Fri Jun 17, 2022 9:17 pm
IcyFlame wrote a review...



Hello again! I'm back for a short review. It's time for part 74! I can't quite believe how many parts of this you've posted. What's your word count so far?

I love the way you introduced Thane in this chapter - it's a big entrance and I was immediately curious to know what was going on! I couldn't work out why he was smiling when he collapsed though, it seemed a bit out of place given the situation.

This was a good section to kind of sum up what's been happening recently. As someone who hasn't read it it's super helpful, but I can also imagine it's very useful for readers who have been reading from the start. 74 parts is a lot with probably a lot of progression, so this feels like a good time to give a bit of a run down. I think it also sets us up for what's going to happen next.

I feel like we're really gearing up for something big here, especially given the involvement of so many of the different characters. I love the teaming up of Charax and Malia, and I'm looking forward to reading the next section to see what havoc they can wreak together!

See you on the next section!

Icy




dragonfphoenix says...


Glad you're enjoying the story. :) I'm up to...147k? But only about 144k of it is out rn.

The thing with Thane's smile (I had to reread a couple times bc I couldn't find it at first XD) was that he and Azoria are kind of a "thing," so that's why.

Lots of havoc gets wreaked many a time ;)



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Tue Mar 22, 2022 1:02 am
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ah, so the noise was Thane! I love the entrance you've given him in this one—it immediately draws the reader in; I know I was certainly curious to find out what exactly had happened. And after learning, all I can say is wow. There were a lot of great developments in this chapter, and I think you've set up a great base point to then go more in depth on the action plan of the gods to address each of these conflicts. Very much looking forward to seeing all of these conflicts in action!!

I liked how we kind of got a review of all the problems Charax and company has been facing in the past stretch of story; it was a very nice way to both recap and put it in perspective. I know at times it can kind of feel like certain plot points aren't resolved/the tone will sometimes shift so dramatically that it almost feels like a different story and a different plotline, but chapters like these are a really useful reminder that it's all occurring in the same story and does a nice job of tying all the conflicts together. I liked the return of the Stitcher, though honestly I'm a bit resentful at the fact that we now have three mysterious figures that are called "the [word starting with s and containing an i]". I'm going to have a fun time keeping those straight in my head, haha.

And it'll definitely be interesting to see Charax settle into his new role as the god of death. Or, well... new old role? I don't know. Regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing him return to that role, especially since we haven't seen him in it yet. My guess is that he'll settle right back into it, partly because I feel like we've already got enough troubles as is, and if Charax struggled too, the story would probably implode, or something. Also, honestly, what a power couple Charax and Malia make. I know that's so obvious and I've known it before now, but having the god of death and the goddess of war together is just so frightening yet so right, so much so that I just had to point it out.

Out of curiosity, I just wanted to ask about where we are in the course of the plot. Is this battle that's coming up going to be the big one, or will it take a few more? I only ask because I feel like it could be, but also like this story would need something more before reaching the ultimate climax.

Specifics

There was only one staff associated with necromancy that was powerful enough to give Thane problems, and that was the one carried by the [name] witchdoctor, or whatever they called their shaman these days.


Just thought I'd point out another brackets here in case you looked over it. I too use placeholders when I write and I sometimes forget to go back and actually replace them, so if that's the case here, then there ya go!

Overall: nice work!! I think the developments in this chapter were really nicely executed, and I'm looking forward to seeing them debrief Hasda about all the happenings (though not looking forward to seeing his reaction to Jade being missing, because every bone in my body tells me it's going to be heartbreaking). Until next time!!




dragonfphoenix says...


Thanks! (I thought I fixed the [name] oopsie before you got to this >.< It's "Ghorin," but I forgot to fix it before live lol)

The Stitcher fitting that pattern was completely unintentional. >.> His name will make a lot of sense when we get to that part, though. Which I totally know when is going to happen

Malia and Charax are a blast together. Next section should be fun lol

As for plot, things are coming to a head, but it's not *the* head yet. I expect the Third Trial to have an arc, and then a 'fulfillment' arc after that (where Hasda actually gets to do the thing), but considering Malia the characters do random and unexpected things like eating foreign gods despite their face being a mess, who knows lol




Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
— Mark Twain