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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 87: "The Frontier"

by dragonfphoenix


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

When we returned to the village, we found Hasda conversing with the Tingin elder I’d encountered on my first visit to the region since my retirement. The wrinkly old man stood in Hasda’s shadow, his face reflecting the purple glow of the lad’s armor. While the djinn hadn’t revealed himself, that aura could only be his doing. It seemed to make the elder uncomfortable, although he had nothing but smiles for Hasda himself.

As for Hasda, he had something on his mind as well. He kept stealing glances towards the mine and frowning, his grin reappearing whenever he turned back to the senior villager. When he saw us, his face lit up, and he shuffled along with the elder to meet us at the head of the path.

“It is always an honor to have the gods walk among us again,” the aged man said. His sleeves, a pine green that complimented the earthy brown of his robes, billowed as he bowed. “The honorable shaman informed me of the Dark One’s new form, and of his mother’s recent injuries. If the goddess desires, we have wine which has been matured for many summers, as well as calming herbal tea which I’ve found particularly comforting for my aching joints.”

Malia stretched her wings as she gave him a cool look. “Your concern is appreciated but unwarranted. Those without divine healing tend to…exaggerate the effects of our injuries.” Her tail twitched back and forth. “I’m much better now, but I might accept the hospitality of that tea while we hold assembly.”

The man dipped his head. “If I may, our men are eager to join yours in the village defense.” Cautiously, he extended his hand towards the Carthian patrol. “Your protection is admirable, and we are grateful for it, but this is our home. At least permit us the small pride of defending ourselves.”

“You’ll get such a chance soon,” Kydon said. “Whether we drive the Paedens from the border or your doorsteps, we expect to confront them soon. Your warriors should be ready.”

“And we will go with you into battle.” The old man’s face wrinkled with his smile.

“With all due respect, honored one, your men will need to remain to defend the village.” Kydon looked as unhappy saying it as the elder did hearing it. “If the Paedens cross the mountains, then we will gladly bear arms together, but if we have to chase them beyond the pass, we can’t leave the town totally unguarded.”

“Peace, Kydon.” I unfolded my arms with a grunt. “How many men battle in a unit?”

“Our best work in groups of four,” the elder said.

I nodded. “Then send me your best unit. If we go over the mountains, they’ll accompany us. I’ll leave a squad of hand-picked soldiers to serve in their stead if we leave.”

Sleeves flopping, the old man clasped his hands together and bowed. “Such kindness from the Dark One. With your leave, I will inform the men at once.” With another bobbing bow, he retreated to the village.

When he was out of sight, Malia snapped her wings. “Well, Hasda, I’m dying to know why you keep ogling the mines. Do you see something we don’t?”

“I’m not sure what it is,” he said, casting another uncomfortable glance its way. “It’s like the tiger’s aura but scattered, like an army of ants, and it feels…sour.”

She pursed her lips. “Has it been getting worse?”

“While you were gone, yes, but it stopped before you returned.”

“I’ll take a look later.” She folded her arms and gave me a look. “What?”

“We will investigate together.” I shook my head. “But before that, I’d like to know what you have planned for tonight. Before it happens.”

Kydon frowned, his bulky arms twitching. “Moving before they refuse to return Jade is a breach of etiquette that gives them enough moral high ground to get a foothold against us.”

“I only gave them until evening, and the afternoon is half gone as it is.” Scowling, she glared at the clouds darkening overhead. “Rain might complicate some avenues, though.”

“Hope you didn’t start without me.” Seppo stumped up, his face streaked with brown stripes that matched the warpaint the tribesmen had worn.

Malia flashed him a sharp smile. “We would never.”

Smiling, Seppo clapped Hasda’s shoulder as he settled in next to the lad. “So, did you find Jade yet?”

“While your optimism is appreciated,” I said, half-smiling myself, “we don’t work that fast. Malia believes the Paedens won’t return her, so we’re planning accordingly.”

“Naturally.” Seppo jerked a nod, shooting a vent of steam from the braces on his neck. “Frontal assault?”

“Nothing like that,” Malia said. Shadows passed across her face as more clouds rolled in. “Kydon, will your ward react to us leaving Tingid?”

The ogre rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It’s designed to impede the Paedens, not herald our comings and goings.”

“Could it?” Malia’s eyes sparkled as she said it.

“Your astral form would work just as well as whatever you have in mind,” I said.

“Yes, but you expect me to go with no fanfare?”

Kydon snorted. “It can, theoretically, mimic the effect Inkashi has been using to announce her arrival. But that would alter the efficacy of its hampering intruders. And I can’t revert it were I to make this change because it will relay the foundation of the ward.”

“You won’t need to.” Malia dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. “How quickly can you set a new boundary ward?”

His brow furrowed. “If you’re suggesting what I think you are, the answer is no. We’d need entrenched worshippers to even consider moving our claim further east. I only managed to get as far as the mountain peaks because the Tingins have been under our wings for several decades now and have traded with the roaming peoples beyond.” Sighing, he shook his head. “If they’d established an outpost in the woods that the Paedens are encamped within, then we could make a claim, albeit a flimsy one at best. But as it stands, any declaration we made would be effectively meaningless.”

She glanced sideways at Seppo. “What are the odds some of those traveling traders are among the Paeden conscripted?”

“Not zero.” Seppo frowned. “But hardly enough to be considered a people. Given their wandering ways, I doubt their spirit is invested in the land, and certainly none with blood ties to it.”

“Consider that the third layer of defense,” Malia said dismissively. Her wings twitched as the first droplets of rain fell.

We all pulled our Veils on, Seppo encompassing Hasda in his, to keep the elements away.

I huffed a laugh. “So there’s two layers under, and two layers over, plus your last resort. You kicking the hornets’ nest and taking a piss on it is the second layer. What’s the core?”

“It’s Hasda, of course, dear.” Wings fluttering, Malia radiated pride. “Once night falls, he’ll take his Carthians into the Paeden camp, locate Jade, and get her out. My triggering the boundary ward will be his signal to move.”

“That will draw the Paedens’ attention,” I said. “But I doubt Marudak will fall for simple sword-rattling.”

“He’ll pay attention to a pantheon head moving against him.” Malia’s eyes had that gleam that only ever meant trouble. “Seppo will lead the tribes behind me, and his passage will trigger the ward a second time. Since it will be nightfall, the darkness should conceal the fact that the mortals aren’t individually tripping the barrier.”

“I recruited enough soldiers to be considered an invading force,” Seppo said, his face serious. “What is rescuing a member of our pantheon, to us, could be construed as an act of war by them.”

“Inkashi recognized my claim.” Malia’s tone brooked no room for debate. “Jade is mine, and ours. The fact they simply brushed my demands aside, instead of refuting them, was acknowledgment enough that I have the authority to make good on my threats. Right, Kydon?”

He grumbled under his breath, mulling the arguments over. “Hmm. You, alone, going to retrieve Jade would not be considered a declaration of war. But trailing Seppo and an army in your wake might be.”

“Their head revealed himself before ours did,” Malia countered. “If a border dispute is serious enough to merit his personal attention, how much moreso us recovering one of our own?”

Kydon shrugged. “Your reasoning holds weight with us. It’s the Paedens’ interpretation that determines how they perceive it.”

“We won’t know how they take it until we move,” Seppo said. “It’s a solid plan. I’ll get the tribes ready while you finish the rest of the preparations.” Frame hissing, he gave Hasda a parting pat before sauntering off.

The rain had grown to a drizzle, misting Hasda the moment he was beyond Seppo’s Veil. I spread mine over him before he got too thoroughly drenched.

“The obvious layer beyond,” I said, glancing at Malia, “is a counter-strike in Aenea if the Paedens declare war here. What’s the thread I’m missing?”

Malia gave me a cryptic smile as she slid forward. “Let’s go check that speckled aura Hasda was feeling. Wouldn’t do to have enemies crawling up our backs, now, would it?”


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Tue Aug 23, 2022 9:39 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: Okayy...well it seems this is a little bit of a break after that more tense scene there, and judging by the plans laid out, there will be more tension to come quite soon, so this one is about the last breather we're potentially getting before things kick on towards that second climax.

Anyway let's get right to it,

When we returned to the village, we found Hasda conversing with the Tingin elder I’d encountered on my first visit to the region since my retirement. The wrinkly old man stood in Hasda’s shadow, his face reflecting the purple glow of the lad’s armor. While the djinn hadn’t revealed himself, that aura could only be his doing. It seemed to make the elder uncomfortable, although he had nothing but smiles for Hasda himself.

As for Hasda, he had something on his mind as well. He kept stealing glances towards the mine and frowning, his grin reappearing whenever he turned back to the senior villager. When he saw us, his face lit up, and he shuffled along with the elder to meet us at the head of the path.

“It is always an honor to have the gods walk among us again,” the aged man said. His sleeves, a pine green that complimented the earthy brown of his robes, billowed as he bowed. “The honorable shaman informed me of the Dark One’s new form, and of his mother’s recent injuries. If the goddess desires, we have wine which has been matured for many summers, as well as calming herbal tea which I’ve found particularly comforting for my aching joints.”


Okayy..well this is an interesting one. It seems we're taking a break from the tense diplomacy to a slightly more slower paced scene here. At any rate the conversation that we're just starting here seems to indicate that we're headed that way although it is hard to be certain.

Malia stretched her wings as she gave him a cool look. “Your concern is appreciated but unwarranted. Those without divine healing tend to…exaggerate the effects of our injuries.” Her tail twitched back and forth. “I’m much better now, but I might accept the hospitality of that tea while we hold assembly.”

The man dipped his head. “If I may, our men are eager to join yours in the village defense.” Cautiously, he extended his hand towards the Carthian patrol. “Your protection is admirable, and we are grateful for it, but this is our home. At least permit us the small pride of defending ourselves.”

“You’ll get such a chance soon,” Kydon said. “Whether we drive the Paedens from the border or your doorsteps, we expect to confront them soon. Your warriors should be ready.”

“And we will go with you into battle.” The old man’s face wrinkled with his smile.


Okay...well this is certainly heading towards some interesting waters. Its the sort of situation I was not really expecting to see but I didn't realize I would want to see until I am seeing it. Getting a glimpse at how this battle is coordinated with the actual mortals involved besides just Hasda is a good extra detail. This is making me wonder if perhaps we'll get to see some proper combat with them. With the way things were setup in the earlier scenes I was not expecting the actual mortal forces to be mentioned too prominently. Of course its still hard to say, but them being a bit highlighted here suggests there is a possibility.

“With all due respect, honored one, your men will need to remain to defend the village.” Kydon looked as unhappy saying it as the elder did hearing it. “If the Paedens cross the mountains, then we will gladly bear arms together, but if we have to chase them beyond the pass, we can’t leave the town totally unguarded.”

“Peace, Kydon.” I unfolded my arms with a grunt. “How many men battle in a unit?”

“Our best work in groups of four,” the elder said.

I nodded. “Then send me your best unit. If we go over the mountains, they’ll accompany us. I’ll leave a squad of hand-picked soldiers to serve in their stead if we leave.”

Sleeves flopping, the old man clasped his hands together and bowed. “Such kindness from the Dark One. With your leave, I will inform the men at once.” With another bobbing bow, he retreated to the village.

When he was out of sight, Malia snapped her wings. “Well, Hasda, I’m dying to know why you keep ogling the mines. Do you see something we don’t?”


Okay..well I guess that proves something there, it seems we will at the very least get to see a small contingent of more mortal forces battling things out. It certainly adds an extra touch to things and is a nice little gesture there as well. Or course that almost nice moment is immediately soured a bit by what appears to be something to potentially worry about.

“I’m not sure what it is,” he said, casting another uncomfortable glance its way. “It’s like the tiger’s aura but scattered, like an army of ants, and it feels…sour.”

She pursed her lips. “Has it been getting worse?”

“While you were gone, yes, but it stopped before you returned.”

“I’ll take a look later.” She folded her arms and gave me a look. “What?”

“We will investigate together.” I shook my head. “But before that, I’d like to know what you have planned for tonight. Before it happens.”

Kydon frowned, his bulky arms twitching. “Moving before they refuse to return Jade is a breach of etiquette that gives them enough moral high ground to get a foothold against us.”

“I only gave them until evening, and the afternoon is half gone as it is.” Scowling, she glared at the clouds darkening overhead. “Rain might complicate some avenues, though.”

“Hope you didn’t start without me.” Seppo stumped up, his face streaked with brown stripes that matched the warpaint the tribesmen had worn.

Malia flashed him a sharp smile. “We would never.”

Smiling, Seppo clapped Hasda’s shoulder as he settled in next to the lad. “So, did you find Jade yet?”


Okay...well yeah that particular bit of dialogue does all but cement that we're going to have this be a bit of a precursor to either a showdown or potentially them having their terms regarding Jade met although if that happens I have no doubts there will be some sort of catch waiting for us.

“While your optimism is appreciated,” I said, half-smiling myself, “we don’t work that fast. Malia believes the Paedens won’t return her, so we’re planning accordingly.”

“Naturally.” Seppo jerked a nod, shooting a vent of steam from the braces on his neck. “Frontal assault?”

“Nothing like that,” Malia said. Shadows passed across her face as more clouds rolled in. “Kydon, will your ward react to us leaving Tingid?”

The ogre rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It’s designed to impede the Paedens, not herald our comings and goings.”

“Could it?” Malia’s eyes sparkled as she said it.

“Your astral form would work just as well as whatever you have in mind,” I said.

“Yes, but you expect me to go with no fanfare?”


Okay...well that's an interesting approach although it is quite fitting this particular party of gods, well at least for Malia, I don't doubt that the others will fully be unable to refuse whatever she wants to go with so their preferred approaches are probably going to be irrelevant.

Kydon snorted. “It can, theoretically, mimic the effect Inkashi has been using to announce her arrival. But that would alter the efficacy of its hampering intruders. And I can’t revert it were I to make this change because it will relay the foundation of the ward.”

“You won’t need to.” Malia dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. “How quickly can you set a new boundary ward?”

His brow furrowed. “If you’re suggesting what I think you are, the answer is no. We’d need entrenched worshippers to even consider moving our claim further east. I only managed to get as far as the mountain peaks because the Tingins have been under our wings for several decades now and have traded with the roaming peoples beyond.” Sighing, he shook his head. “If they’d established an outpost in the woods that the Paedens are encamped within, then we could make a claim, albeit a flimsy one at best. But as it stands, any declaration we made would be effectively meaningless.”

She glanced sideways at Seppo. “What are the odds some of those traveling traders are among the Paeden conscripted?”

“Not zero.” Seppo frowned. “But hardly enough to be considered a people. Given their wandering ways, I doubt their spirit is invested in the land, and certainly none with blood ties to it.”


Okay....well Malia has certainly got plans for plans here, and it almost a little comical that everyone else here is acting almost like part of Malia's toolbox to bounce of her ideas and then execute them, even though you would expect them to also have their own plans that they are probably just keeping quiet for the moment.

“Consider that the third layer of defense,” Malia said dismissively. Her wings twitched as the first droplets of rain fell.

We all pulled our Veils on, Seppo encompassing Hasda in his, to keep the elements away.

I huffed a laugh. “So there’s two layers under, and two layers over, plus your last resort. You kicking the hornets’ nest and taking a piss on it is the second layer. What’s the core?”

“It’s Hasda, of course, dear.” Wings fluttering, Malia radiated pride. “Once night falls, he’ll take his Carthians into the Paeden camp, locate Jade, and get her out. My triggering the boundary ward will be his signal to move.”

“That will draw the Paedens’ attention,” I said. “But I doubt Marudak will fall for simple sword-rattling.”

“He’ll pay attention to a pantheon head moving against him.” Malia’s eyes had that gleam that only ever meant trouble. “Seppo will lead the tribes behind me, and his passage will trigger the ward a second time. Since it will be nightfall, the darkness should conceal the fact that the mortals aren’t individually tripping the barrier.”


Okay...well that sounds like a plan that is most likely gong to cause plenty of problems even if it goes perfectly, and well it is quite hard to imagine that a plan that's as risky as the one that Malia is proposing is going to be perfectly executed.

“I recruited enough soldiers to be considered an invading force,” Seppo said, his face serious. “What is rescuing a member of our pantheon, to us, could be construed as an act of war by them.”

“Inkashi recognized my claim.” Malia’s tone brooked no room for debate. “Jade is mine, and ours. The fact they simply brushed my demands aside, instead of refuting them, was acknowledgment enough that I have the authority to make good on my threats. Right, Kydon?”

He grumbled under his breath, mulling the arguments over. “Hmm. You, alone, going to retrieve Jade would not be considered a declaration of war. But trailing Seppo and an army in your wake might be.”

“Their head revealed himself before ours did,” Malia countered. “If a border dispute is serious enough to merit his personal attention, how much moreso us recovering one of our own?”


Well I feel like that's not the greatest place for Malia to be getting her reassuring since I assume whatever the equivalent of Kydon on the Paeden side is would have to agree for this to not be war, although I guess her arguments should stand well enough against most gods if Kydon accepts them.

Kydon shrugged. “Your reasoning holds weight with us. It’s the Paedens’ interpretation that determines how they perceive it.”

“We won’t know how they take it until we move,” Seppo said. “It’s a solid plan. I’ll get the tribes ready while you finish the rest of the preparations.” Frame hissing, he gave Hasda a parting pat before sauntering off.

The rain had grown to a drizzle, misting Hasda the moment he was beyond Seppo’s Veil. I spread mine over him before he got too thoroughly drenched.

“The obvious layer beyond,” I said, glancing at Malia, “is a counter-strike in Aenea if the Paedens declare war here. What’s the thread I’m missing?”

Malia gave me a cryptic smile as she slid forward. “Let’s go check that speckled aura Hasda was feeling. Wouldn’t do to have enemies crawling up our backs, now, would it?”


Well...that was an interesting little detour I didn't see coming but I suppose now I know what the next chapter will be. And it seems once again that little hole in Malia's I thought of is something that's already been addressed to some extent. I suppose all we can do at this point is see how badly that can go and what this detour might yield.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, I think this is a good breather to take here to finalize all the battle plans that are in place and just get a feel for how everyone in this side of the camp is feeling about said battle plans. It definitely ups the stakes a little to know a few of the extra details.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Tue Jun 14, 2022 2:43 am
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Well, it was nice to get a window into Malia's plan! All that's left to do now is see if it actually plays out the way she wants it to! Fingers crossed it does; hopefully Jade will be okay. I appreciated the explanation of the intricacies, and, again, I look forward to reading more about it soon and comparing the original plan to the execution. I'm assuming at least one wrench will be thrown into otherwise smooth operations, but who knows?

One thing I liked was how you took the time to reinforce that the Tingins are generally in favor of the Carthian claim to the land; I'd kind of forgotten which side they were on, especially since it's been a while since Charax paid his little visit, and it's nice to know that the cause of the conflict is swayed to our heroes' favor. That one line where the elder referred to Malia as Hasda's mother (I think, at least? I'm a little tired so it's possible I misinterpreted) was really sweet, too.

I'm also intrigued by Hasda's concern about the mines. I take it we're going to find more about that in the next chapter, given how this one ended? I wonder if it'll change the plan in any way depending on what Malia and Charax end up discovering. I've got no theories on what it could be, so I eagerly anticipate finding out what exactly is causing the odd feeling!

Specifics

“Their head revealed himself before ours did,” Malia countered. “If a border dispute is serious enough to merit his personal attention, how much moreso us recovering one of our own?”


I think "moreso" should be two words; I did some digging and it doesn't appear to be acceptable by most English conventions.

Overall: nice work!! I look forward to seeing the plan play out in action, and also investigating more into what exactly is causing the odd aura feeling. Until next time!!





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