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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 91: "The Claim"

by dragonfphoenix


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

My chest heaved as I ghosted through the walls of the mine, passing through the stone on the straightest path out. It was disorienting, did a number on my already achy frame, and gave me a splitting headache, but it was the fastest way to leave the mines. I didn’t bother with my Veil, so I startled quite a few miners as I walked through them. But I needed to hurry.

If the Spinster’s word was to be trusted, Tamiyat could move at any time, if she hadn’t already. We’d been counting on her maddening aura warning us of her approach since it seemed a passive effect she had on her environment, like her corruption of the astral plane. But if she had a measure of control over it, then she could cloak her arrival under the guise of her absent influence.

And we didn’t know how aware she was of our movements, or the Paedens’. Perhaps she knew about Jade’s capture and lay in wait for us to clash with the Paedens, to ensnare the lamia during the chaos. There was no telling how many agents the Sea Mother had beyond Lazuli, or whether she’d already infiltrated the Paedens.

I felt the dull throb of power thrumming through the stone around me. A moment’s panic spiked in my chest, but a tug at my bond dispelled it. Malia had returned and, impatient as always, started without me. She must have assumed her astral form for her power to be radiating so deeply inside the mountain. Steeling myself against the groaning protests of my ribs, I hurried on.

When I emerged outside the mountain, I had the most sickening feeling, and not just the nausea from traversing so much stone. The sky overhead was teeming with clouds which blotted out the stars and moonlight. While night had fallen, the luster of Malia’s astral form flashed across the lumpy undersides of the clouds, painting them in muted pinks, greens, and golds. It was hard to tell which was thicker, the humidity or Malia’s aura, but both blended to make the air suffocating and sticky.

But the rain.

I had a really, really bad feeling about the rain. It wasn’t a proper downpour yet, only a trickle here and there. But there was something out of place about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe it was just nerves and being unsettled from another unexpected visit from a Prime. Maybe the Spinster’s touch had sickened me and I needed a good soak in Maas Taeful. And maybe it was the fact that the last time I’d seen clouds like these had been right before…

Right before Lazuli had first appeared in Palmyra.

Halfway up the path, I jerked to a stop. My darting glances found no sign of the Sea Mother, my senses bare of maddening touch. Clouds were just clouds, and nothing strange about them revealed itself to my eyes. Was I being paranoid?

Even if it wasn’t Tamiyat’s rain, precipitation could throw a wrench in the rescue. Wet ground made footing unsure, thunder and the patter of rain again leaves made voices echo and obscured positions. Grips became slick in hands, bowstrings would need replacing, arrows fletched anew. The soldiers with Hasda were well-trained, but not even Carthians were immune to the effects of weather.

Still, there was nothing I could do to shelter Hasda and his crew from the storm without drawing attention to their presence, and if the Sea Mother came, she came. My back itched in the direction of the mines. Despite the Spinster’s promise to keep the ketri contained, I hated having an enemy at my rear. The faster we rescued Jade, the sooner we could go back and purge the creatures. All of us together might be enough to maneuver around the Prime, wishful thinking though it was. But it was the best chance we had of being proactive, instead of waiting for the Spinster to stab us in the back.

The more pressing issue, however, was the rescue at hand. Up the path, the clouds boiled as Malia surged through them, beyond the crest of the pass. Sparkling, her stellar wings scooped the colloids and scattered them around her. The dark void of her astral face, freckled with stars, glared down at the scurrying Paedens in disgust.

She’d already laid waste to the nearest edge of the forest, smoke and shattered stumps attesting to the now-absent trees. Spearmen in conical helmets and drab, tan uniforms scampered into hasty formations, failing to hide the fear on their faces. Scant units of archers filled the spotted clearings, taking aim at my gorgon, only to be consumed by a quick burst of her gaze. At first I wondered at the disorganization permeating the camp, but then I saw the agent administering chaos among them.

Well, that explains where that missing spirit from Peklo went.

Vetor, three-armed cyclops of a long-forgotten nation, rampaged among the Paedens. Before his death, he’d had a fourth arm, but he lost it wrestling Zephyrus. That had cost him the use of his two-armed shield and ultimately his contest against us, as I was able to take him with ease after his handicap. But even without his shield, he was still a goliath. Twice as big as the tallest Paeden, he towered with his head among the trees, which he uprooted and flailed against his enemies.

All this power as an undead corpse. He had been quite the foe to bring down in his prime but, even after his long stay in our underworld, he demanded the Paedens’ full attention. And with an angry astral gorgon bearing down on them, the Paedens were buckling.

And yet, the Apkalla were nowhere to be seen. Inkashi, too, was noticeably absent. From the feel of the land, Malia had already laid claim to the forest beyond, which ought to have been affront enough to draw Marudak’s avatars out. A rampaging, reanimated demigod who was decimating their soldiers should have forced their hand. Although I hadn’t seen him yet, Seppo would be joining the fray once he realized that Marudak was ignoring Malia. If that didn’t draw them into the battle, I didn’t know what would.

Trees screamed as Vetor snapped their trunks and flung them at the Paedens. Malia added the crackling of a forest fire to the uproar, marching inexorably forward. The Paedens scurried behind what cover survived, shouting for order as their defense gave more and more ground. I moved down the mountain, unseen, watching the chaos unfold as the Paedens were driven back. But still the Apkalla did not show.

When Seppo appeared over the ridge, the copper of his exoskeleton glowing like a spider web spun from a star, a sinking feeling stole into my gut. The warcry of the tribes, the answering wail of despair from the Paedens, presaged the unraveling of our preparations. Despite selling the feint, the Paedens weren’t falling for it.

Pulling my Veil tight, I picked my way through the crumbling woods. That nasty feeling of panic nipped at my heels as I hurried on. We had misevaluated something. Did the Paedens think that the Sea Mother could only open her mate’s crypt with Jade? Unlikely, but they could be so mistaken. Were they hoping Tamiyat would wipe us out? But then why surrender control of the mines to the elder goddess? Even if Jade were the only way in, anyone with half a tactical mind could see the stupidity in that. And that was assuming the Paedens didn’t know about the hive of lakrabua. If they did know, their idiocy must have conquered their intelligence a long time ago.

Tiny points plucked at my Veil as I moved, as if a swarm of children had taken up tugging on its hem. Our claim hadn’t yet taken hold, although it carried enough weight that I might be able to ambush a hostile deity before they noticed the shimmering distortion. Mortal vision, however, would stay blissfully unaware, as evidenced by the oblivious squadrons I waded through.

Thunder pealed as the sounds of battle faded behind me. Entangled with the tribal warriors, the Paedens had slowed in their retreat. But no reinforcements passed me as I made my way deeper into their camp. Dread spiked in my chest as rainfall struck the leaves above me. The growing storm seemed synonymous with the Sea Mother’s approach. With the Apkalla missing, I wanted to find Hasda as soon as possible.

The downpour picked up as I neared the center of the Paedens’ bivouac. Tents leaned in various states of disarray, the smaller ones collapsed from their owners’ hasty exits, while the larger ones yawned against their tentpoles. Shattered arrows, mangled shields, and prone bodies attested to the conflict that had visited the heart of the camp. From the dislodged Carthian armor mingled amongst the Paeden, Hasda’s unit hadn’t gone undetected.

But he wasn’t here, and neither were the Apkalla nor any troops of either side. It was unlikely they’d gone north, which left south, towards Paeden territory, and west, a polar retreat. Signs of skirmishing went in both directions. If the Carthians had found Jade, they wouldn’t need to guess which group had her.

I would have to figure out which way Hasda went on my own.


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Sun Aug 28, 2022 3:30 am
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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..this battle went by kind of quickly, but there is definitely all sorts of signs to indicate this victory is nothing but an empty sham from the kind of evidence that we have to go on for the moment.

Anyway let's get right to it,

My chest heaved as I ghosted through the walls of the mine, passing through the stone on the straightest path out. It was disorienting, did a number on my already achy frame, and gave me a splitting headache, but it was the fastest way to leave the mines. I didn’t bother with my Veil, so I startled quite a few miners as I walked through them. But I needed to hurry.

If the Spinster’s word was to be trusted, Tamiyat could move at any time, if she hadn’t already. We’d been counting on her maddening aura warning us of her approach since it seemed a passive effect she had on her environment, like her corruption of the astral plane. But if she had a measure of control over it, then she could cloak her arrival under the guise of her absent influence.

And we didn’t know how aware she was of our movements, or the Paedens’. Perhaps she knew about Jade’s capture and lay in wait for us to clash with the Paedens, to ensnare the lamia during the chaos. There was no telling how many agents the Sea Mother had beyond Lazuli, or whether she’d already infiltrated the Paedens.


Well..okay this is good to see. Charax actually taking some of that warning to heart and thinking a little better in terms of the sort of things to come. I have hope that's going to only end up making things better for them, although any fight with the Sea Mother surprise or not is not going to end that easily and without losses.

I felt the dull throb of power thrumming through the stone around me. A moment’s panic spiked in my chest, but a tug at my bond dispelled it. Malia had returned and, impatient as always, started without me. She must have assumed her astral form for her power to be radiating so deeply inside the mountain. Steeling myself against the groaning protests of my ribs, I hurried on.

When I emerged outside the mountain, I had the most sickening feeling, and not just the nausea from traversing so much stone. The sky overhead was teeming with clouds which blotted out the stars and moonlight. While night had fallen, the luster of Malia’s astral form flashed across the lumpy undersides of the clouds, painting them in muted pinks, greens, and golds. It was hard to tell which was thicker, the humidity or Malia’s aura, but both blended to make the air suffocating and sticky.

But the rain.

I had a really, really bad feeling about the rain. It wasn’t a proper downpour yet, only a trickle here and there. But there was something out of place about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe it was just nerves and being unsettled from another unexpected visit from a Prime. Maybe the Spinster’s touch had sickened me and I needed a good soak in Maas Taeful. And maybe it was the fact that the last time I’d seen clouds like these had been right before…


Okay...well that's not good at all. Well it is good to see Malia returning but a sign this big and obvious that's put Charax into such a state can't be anything but a sign of something to come although there is always the possibility that a sign that's quite this big and obvious could also be a red herring for a much less obvious sign that appears later.

Right before Lazuli had first appeared in Palmyra.

Halfway up the path, I jerked to a stop. My darting glances found no sign of the Sea Mother, my senses bare of maddening touch. Clouds were just clouds, and nothing strange about them revealed itself to my eyes. Was I being paranoid?

Even if it wasn’t Tamiyat’s rain, precipitation could throw a wrench in the rescue. Wet ground made footing unsure, thunder and the patter of rain again leaves made voices echo and obscured positions. Grips became slick in hands, bowstrings would need replacing, arrows fletched anew. The soldiers with Hasda were well-trained, but not even Carthians were immune to the effects of weather.

Still, there was nothing I could do to shelter Hasda and his crew from the storm without drawing attention to their presence, and if the Sea Mother came, she came. My back itched in the direction of the mines. Despite the Spinster’s promise to keep the ketri contained, I hated having an enemy at my rear. The faster we rescued Jade, the sooner we could go back and purge the creatures. All of us together might be enough to maneuver around the Prime, wishful thinking though it was. But it was the best chance we had of being proactive, instead of waiting for the Spinster to stab us in the back.


Well...that went as well as I could have expected. I have a feeling this rain is a different sort of sign for something much more subtle that is going to be no less of a problem later on, but for the moment it seems like they are just going to proceed with this plan and hope for the best here.

The more pressing issue, however, was the rescue at hand. Up the path, the clouds boiled as Malia surged through them, beyond the crest of the pass. Sparkling, her stellar wings scooped the colloids and scattered them around her. The dark void of her astral face, freckled with stars, glared down at the scurrying Paedens in disgust.

She’d already laid waste to the nearest edge of the forest, smoke and shattered stumps attesting to the now-absent trees. Spearmen in conical helmets and drab, tan uniforms scampered into hasty formations, failing to hide the fear on their faces. Scant units of archers filled the spotted clearings, taking aim at my gorgon, only to be consumed by a quick burst of her gaze. At first I wondered at the disorganization permeating the camp, but then I saw the agent administering chaos among them.

Well, that explains where that missing spirit from Peklo went.

Vetor, three-armed cyclops of a long-forgotten nation, rampaged among the Paedens. Before his death, he’d had a fourth arm, but he lost it wrestling Zephyrus. That had cost him the use of his two-armed shield and ultimately his contest against us, as I was able to take him with ease after his handicap. But even without his shield, he was still a goliath. Twice as big as the tallest Paeden, he towered with his head among the trees, which he uprooted and flailed against his enemies.


Okay well that was not a move I was expecting but I do love to see a callback to a detail like that. Its always quite satisfying. And well it seems this rescue effort is going pretty well given the Paedens seem to be suffering quite heavily for the moment.

All this power as an undead corpse. He had been quite the foe to bring down in his prime but, even after his long stay in our underworld, he demanded the Paedens’ full attention. And with an angry astral gorgon bearing down on them, the Paedens were buckling.

And yet, the Apkalla were nowhere to be seen. Inkashi, too, was noticeably absent. From the feel of the land, Malia had already laid claim to the forest beyond, which ought to have been affront enough to draw Marudak’s avatars out. A rampaging, reanimated demigod who was decimating their soldiers should have forced their hand. Although I hadn’t seen him yet, Seppo would be joining the fray once he realized that Marudak was ignoring Malia. If that didn’t draw them into the battle, I didn’t know what would.

Trees screamed as Vetor snapped their trunks and flung them at the Paedens. Malia added the crackling of a forest fire to the uproar, marching inexorably forward. The Paedens scurried behind what cover survived, shouting for order as their defense gave more and more ground. I moved down the mountain, unseen, watching the chaos unfold as the Paedens were driven back. But still the Apkalla did not show.


Well this is certainly screaming at us to realize that something is painfully wrong there. There is absolutely no chance that the battle is going to end that easily with none of the bigger players from the Paeden side getting involved so quite clearly there's a bigger game in play, either that or they are playing an even more dangerous game of trying to give Charax and the crew a false sense of security.

When Seppo appeared over the ridge, the copper of his exoskeleton glowing like a spider web spun from a star, a sinking feeling stole into my gut. The warcry of the tribes, the answering wail of despair from the Paedens, presaged the unraveling of our preparations. Despite selling the feint, the Paedens weren’t falling for it.

Pulling my Veil tight, I picked my way through the crumbling woods. That nasty feeling of panic nipped at my heels as I hurried on. We had misevaluated something. Did the Paedens think that the Sea Mother could only open her mate’s crypt with Jade? Unlikely, but they could be so mistaken. Were they hoping Tamiyat would wipe us out? But then why surrender control of the mines to the elder goddess? Even if Jade were the only way in, anyone with half a tactical mind could see the stupidity in that. And that was assuming the Paedens didn’t know about the hive of lakrabua. If they did know, their idiocy must have conquered their intelligence a long time ago.

Tiny points plucked at my Veil as I moved, as if a swarm of children had taken up tugging on its hem. Our claim hadn’t yet taken hold, although it carried enough weight that I might be able to ambush a hostile deity before they noticed the shimmering distortion. Mortal vision, however, would stay blissfully unaware, as evidenced by the oblivious squadrons I waded through.


Okay...well Seppo cuts an interesting figure there marching into battle. I do love that. It also seems like Charax is really working hard to try and figure out what game the Paedens are playing but we're not getting anywhere her by the looks of it. I have the feeling that could even be the reason, confuse the Carthians into overthinking and attack when they're attack falters a bit from confusion.

Thunder pealed as the sounds of battle faded behind me. Entangled with the tribal warriors, the Paedens had slowed in their retreat. But no reinforcements passed me as I made my way deeper into their camp. Dread spiked in my chest as rainfall struck the leaves above me. The growing storm seemed synonymous with the Sea Mother’s approach. With the Apkalla missing, I wanted to find Hasda as soon as possible.

The downpour picked up as I neared the center of the Paedens’ bivouac. Tents leaned in various states of disarray, the smaller ones collapsed from their owners’ hasty exits, while the larger ones yawned against their tentpoles. Shattered arrows, mangled shields, and prone bodies attested to the conflict that had visited the heart of the camp. From the dislodged Carthian armor mingled amongst the Paeden, Hasda’s unit hadn’t gone undetected.

But he wasn’t here, and neither were the Apkalla nor any troops of either side. It was unlikely they’d gone north, which left south, towards Paeden territory, and west, a polar retreat. Signs of skirmishing went in both directions. If the Carthians had found Jade, they wouldn’t need to guess which group had her.

I would have to figure out which way Hasda went on my own.


Well...that ended I suppose better than it could have at least. It seems maybe the sensed the attack, either that or ordered their troops to retreat just fast enough to give the Carthians a sense of victory but not so fast that they didn't have to escape. Or they genuinely threw the mortals at the Carthians as a diversion and run, I wouldn't be surprised with either result.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, certainly an interesting development in this war, but I have a feeling this is one of those moments where its a bit of a victory but if feels so very much like its actually a loss. I suppose what comes next will help put this in perspective a bit better.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Thu Jul 21, 2022 12:00 am
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ooh, things are starting to pick up! This chapter felt like a swirling tempest. There was definitely a lot of uncertainty which led to some confusion, but I'm assuming that was the goal. It's really got me wanting to read more. It feels like there's something big that will either be revealed or that will happen soon, and I can't wait to find out what it is. I'm guessing it probably has something to do with the Sea Mother.

The way you used the rain as a harbinger was great. There was a super satisfying moment where Charax realized that it was quite similar to the rain he felt before Lazuli made an appearance, which I enjoyed. The rain also was a nice detail in really fleshing out the setting; it was great at adding to the chaos and confusion. Overall, your descriptions of actions were great in this; they did a nice job of showing the action in an engaging way, providing just enough information so that the picture was clear but not too much so that it didn't feel fast-paced anymore. Great job!

Another thing: I can't remember if you're okay with repeating part titles (I've got no idea if they're just for publishing on YWS or you're actually going to use them as chapter titles), but I thought I'd point out that part 50 was also titled "the Claim." When you've got as many as 91 parts, though, it's no surprise that there would be some repeats. I just thought I'd bring it up in case you weren't aware.

Specifics

Before his death, he’d had a fourth arm, but he lost it wrestling Zephyrus.


I just wanted to say that I liked this little detail; it reminded me a lot of Greek mythology, which was neat. There was a moment where I was kind of like "oh, I don't remember that myth!" before realizing it's only a part of this story's mythology, which just goes to show how believable it is.

Overall: I liked this chapter; it very much encapsulates the panic before the storm. I'm looking forward to what happens next. It seems like another encounter with the Sea Mother is on the horizon! Until next time!




dragonfphoenix says...


Thanks! Yeah, I try not to reuse titles but it's bound to happen at some point. I think I had another repeat before this one but I forget which. When I eventually publish, I'm planning on reorganizing these into longer chapters, and I'm not sure if I'm leaving names on those or not.

Haha, nice. I had a moment when writing Vetor that I was like, "this would be a cool spot to indirectly reference a myth" but I couldn't think of one on the spot and then went "wait I can just make one up lol" XD




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