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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 94: "The Tuzshu"

by dragonfphoenix


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

Atop Inkashi, I watched until Jade and Hasda were out of sight. A few of the Carthians who recovered faster stumbled after them, their swords glued to their hands from sheer exhaustion. Those who still suffered from the lingering effects of Inkashi’s influence lay moaning on the ground.

The strange rain sizzled around us, their surfaces disrupted by bubbles and steam. Dark smoke clouded their cores as something agitated the interior. Ocher tentacles burst through the film, taloned hands clawing out after. The derketo that emerged were rawer than the ones we’d faced in Aenea. But while they were more primordial, they were less fashioned, too, some missing limbs or portions of their faces and tentacles. Perhaps Tamiyat’s influence wasn’t quite strong enough to birth them fully.

What spawn she could conceive, however, were threat enough. The first few to emerge fell on the fallen Carthians, devouring them.

I yanked Inkashi up, belatedly realizing I’d grabbed her injured arm. “Can you run?”

“If I need to,” she said through gritted teeth.

I released her arm. As I gave up trying to open a portal, I drew my Sword and slashed a half-formed derketo that lurched at us. While I could normally fashion a portal from even the most hostile magic, the power of this land was being pulled in several different directions, and it would’ve taken all my focus to open a rend. With the derketo invading, I had more pressing matters to attend to like kidnapping a foreign goddess.

Inkashi, for her part, didn’t resist. Maybe because her swords were now lost to her, buried under a swarm of burgeoning derketo, or maybe because she was taking the easy way out I offered, but at least I didn’t have to drag her. Before we fled the clearing, I snatched the rising souls of the fallen Carthians. Their bodies, I had to leave to the creatures.

Rain battered us as we raced after Hasda. Well, I ran. Inkashi half-skipped, half-limped along beside me. She kept pace, at least, but she struggled more to resist the hampering weight of the egg-droplets. As the downpour increased, I switched to my Spear. Popping the droplets before they hit the ground seemed to reduce the amount of derketo hatching, but I could only stop the ones directly in our path. Soon, a seething swarm had spawned behind us, their susurrous hissing chasing our heels.

“So, your tuzshu,” Inkashi gasped between breaths.

“You mean Hasda.” I stabbed a melon-sized raindrop before it splashed onto the ground.

“He’s really not a god-killer?”

“No.” I gave her a sideways look. “Is that what the djinn is turning him into? Some kind of divine assassin?”

“He will be.” Her face was hard. “Marudak destroyed them all, ages ago. He said they were extinct.”

I scowled. That windy ass blast. Hasda himself would never turn on us. If the djinn could puppet him, however, then that rat bastard could use ‘defending Hasda’ as a loophole to attack us. I wasn’t sure I could patch that gap at this point, but I would certainly be pinning the djinn down after we got out of this mess.

For now, we had to reach the pass so I could get us to Nebesa. Either Synnefo was engaged elsewhere or he’d lost the fight with Tamiyat, because the rain suddenly picked up, blinding sheets of regular-sized drops blanketing the barrage of derketo-bearing ones. While the increase slowed us considerably, the quality of the squid monsters likewise plummeted. Most barely formed functional creatures, devolving into splayed limbs and tangles of tentacles. The ones that did grow into combatants quickly fell to my Spear, but there were still dozens of them and only one of me.

The detritus of failed derketo did serve a purpose, though. They bogged the path and clung, even in lifelessness, to our ankles. With Inkashi’s injuries, she struggled to keep moving against the grasping body parts, finally sagging against me. Her added weight limited my range of motion, which made it harder to keep the gurgling derketo at bay. We stumbled into a depression beneath a tree, Inkashi falling against its trunk while I kept the squidfolk back with broad sweeps.

We hadn’t reached the fallen Paedens I’d seen on the way into their camp, and with the storm it was hard to judge how far we had left to go. Malia should have finished off the paltry force that had initially resisted, so either–

A sharp pain spiked in my chest as our bond flared. Power sloshed across, the excess of what she was burning through with abandon. So she was fighting Tamiyat, or perhaps Marudak. Regardless, she wouldn’t be coming this way anytime soon.

I snarled as I just barely repulsed another surge of misshapen derketo. While I wasn’t going to tire out anytime soon, I would eventually be overrun. There were too many of them, and I couldn’t kill them all fast enough, even after switching to my Scythe. Their souls melted like morning dew and provided no energy. We would get swarmed unless something changed.

A stray burst of Malia’s gaze knifed the distant edge of the tempest. Not helpful here, but it did give me an idea. If Malia could breach the mortal plane with her astral form, perhaps I could as well. I’d never tried before because when I would have needed to, I didn’t have my projection, and once I did there was no need. Only Malia had done so, as a vanity endeavor during a time of peace.

There was a slight lull in the intensity of the storm as the clouds spread to fill the gap. I threw myself backwards into the astral plane, growling as I pulled my projection on. The plane roiled with its own inclemency, the caustic space gelatinous and blurry. At the edge of my vision, the Sea Mother roared and pushed against the warbled, glassy plane. Shooting stars winged across the vastness, targeting a dark smear on the film that separated the mortal and astral realms. Far too many stars for me to consider cutting off the army at its source.

I scowled. The blot was obviously the shadow of Tamiyat’s storm, cast onto the astral plane. But the celestial realm should have separated the mortal and astral dimensions. Something must have gone terribly wrong for them to be so close.

Time flowed sluggishly around me. My thoughts blurred, not together, but from the speed at which they moved. Inkashi still lay helpless beneath the tree as my avatar waited for my move. I had perhaps two breaths, outside, before the derketo would collapse on us and crush us.

Malia’s shriek shattered my train of thought. Behind me, near the mountain pass, her astral form had thrust through the barrier and now hung by its wings, her head and arms locked in combat with a winged minotaur the size of a mountain. Angry stars bounced around her face as she blasted her opponent with another petrifying gaze, only the bull resisted its effects and strained against her.

Oh.

Scrambling, I grabbed our bond with my astral hands and yanked hard.

With a startled yelp, she tumbled back into the astral plane. She whirled and nearly blasted me with her gaze, but stopped herself at the last moment. “What the hell, Charax?”

“No argue, listen.” I was down to one breath before I had to return, and now I couldn’t even use my solution. But I had to convey that to Malia, and get her help, before time ran out. “Astral projections in the mortal plane weaken the barrier between them. I’m stuck there”—I pointed at the blot—“because I can’t open a portal. Can’t use my astral form because of her.” A finger jab in Tamiyat’s direction.

“Just walk across the astral plane, you big idiot.” Malia’s fangs were out.

“Deformed derketo ambush, and I lost Hasda.” That wasn’t exactly what had happened, but I didn’t have the time to explain giving him a head start so he could escape with Jade while I made sure Inkashi didn’t inflict more crippling cramps on him. “Plus I’m kidnapping their war goddess.”

She pinched the glittering bridge of her nose and sighed. “I’ll find Hasda. Take her through the astral plane if she can handle it and dump her if she can’t. Hopefully Seppo can handle this ‘Bull of Heaven’ bastard.”

I grabbed her hand as she turned away. “No more astral form.”

“I won’t.” She gave me a backhanded wave and dove out of the plane.

With a gasp, I dropped my own projection and fell back into my earthly avatar. A derketo lurched a hand span from my face. I twirled my Scythe in an arc, splitting it in half and catching its fellows behind it. A few more sweeps cleared a small space around us, but not for long.

“Can you handle higher dimensions?” I snarled as I slashed at another wave of derketo.

“Can I what?” Back to the tree trunk, she stared up at me with the weirdest look. The rain had thoroughly drenched both of us by now, although her dress of wine took the wetness better than my robes.

“Astral plane.” I flung another handful of derketo away. The downpour was picking up again.

She pushed strands of wet hair out of her eyes. “I have no idea what that is.”

“Time to learn.” I vanished my Scythe and grabbed her, making sure to take her by her good arm this time, and dragged us both through the boundary.


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Wed Aug 31, 2022 3:40 am
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HarryHardy 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 well. It seems we've got ourselves a little situation where this Marudak has arrived, the Sea Mother is coming, we've got waves of things falling out the sky just as a distraction...the real fight is beginning properly here.

Anyway let's get right to it,

Atop Inkashi, I watched until Jade and Hasda were out of sight. A few of the Carthians who recovered faster stumbled after them, their swords glued to their hands from sheer exhaustion. Those who still suffered from the lingering effects of Inkashi’s influence lay moaning on the ground.

The strange rain sizzled around us, their surfaces disrupted by bubbles and steam. Dark smoke clouded their cores as something agitated the interior. Ocher tentacles burst through the film, taloned hands clawing out after. The derketo that emerged were rawer than the ones we’d faced in Aenea. But while they were more primordial, they were less fashioned, too, some missing limbs or portions of their faces and tentacles. Perhaps Tamiyat’s influence wasn’t quite strong enough to birth them fully.

What spawn she could conceive, however, were threat enough. The first few to emerge fell on the fallen Carthians, devouring them.

I yanked Inkashi up, belatedly realizing I’d grabbed her injured arm. “Can you run?”

“If I need to,” she said through gritted teeth.


Okay...well this is a nice start to this battle although some of our solider here just being eaten right away is probably not the most auspicious of starts. This is probably going to boil down very fast to just the deities and Hasda before long.

I released her arm. As I gave up trying to open a portal, I drew my Sword and slashed a half-formed derketo that lurched at us. While I could normally fashion a portal from even the most hostile magic, the power of this land was being pulled in several different directions, and it would’ve taken all my focus to open a rend. With the derketo invading, I had more pressing matters to attend to like kidnapping a foreign goddess.

Inkashi, for her part, didn’t resist. Maybe because her swords were now lost to her, buried under a swarm of burgeoning derketo, or maybe because she was taking the easy way out I offered, but at least I didn’t have to drag her. Before we fled the clearing, I snatched the rising souls of the fallen Carthians. Their bodies, I had to leave to the creatures.

Rain battered us as we raced after Hasda. Well, I ran. Inkashi half-skipped, half-limped along beside me. She kept pace, at least, but she struggled more to resist the hampering weight of the egg-droplets. As the downpour increased, I switched to my Spear. Popping the droplets before they hit the ground seemed to reduce the amount of derketo hatching, but I could only stop the ones directly in our path. Soon, a seething swarm had spawned behind us, their susurrous hissing chasing our heels.


Okay..well that seems to be about what you'd expect to go down in this situation. The derketo arriving was a bit of a surprise but otherwise things are proceeding with an almost odd sense of calm here and it all seems to be going exactly as one would expect a situation like this to go.

“So, your tuzshu,” Inkashi gasped between breaths.

“You mean Hasda.” I stabbed a melon-sized raindrop before it splashed onto the ground.

“He’s really not a god-killer?”

“No.” I gave her a sideways look. “Is that what the djinn is turning him into? Some kind of divine assassin?”

“He will be.” Her face was hard. “Marudak destroyed them all, ages ago. He said they were extinct.”

I scowled. That windy ass blast. Hasda himself would never turn on us. If the djinn could puppet him, however, then that rat bastard could use ‘defending Hasda’ as a loophole to attack us. I wasn’t sure I could patch that gap at this point, but I would certainly be pinning the djinn down after we got out of this mess.


Well I guess the djinn was never really fully trusted so that's not exactly a surprise either although now maybe things make a little bit more sense as to why they were freaking out as much as they did and also why this djinn gives Hasda so much power here.

For now, we had to reach the pass so I could get us to Nebesa. Either Synnefo was engaged elsewhere or he’d lost the fight with Tamiyat, because the rain suddenly picked up, blinding sheets of regular-sized drops blanketing the barrage of derketo-bearing ones. While the increase slowed us considerably, the quality of the squid monsters likewise plummeted. Most barely formed functional creatures, devolving into splayed limbs and tangles of tentacles. The ones that did grow into combatants quickly fell to my Spear, but there were still dozens of them and only one of me.

The detritus of failed derketo did serve a purpose, though. They bogged the path and clung, even in lifelessness, to our ankles. With Inkashi’s injuries, she struggled to keep moving against the grasping body parts, finally sagging against me. Her added weight limited my range of motion, which made it harder to keep the gurgling derketo at bay. We stumbled into a depression beneath a tree, Inkashi falling against its trunk while I kept the squidfolk back with broad sweeps.

We hadn’t reached the fallen Paedens I’d seen on the way into their camp, and with the storm it was hard to judge how far we had left to go. Malia should have finished off the paltry force that had initially resisted, so either–

A sharp pain spiked in my chest as our bond flared. Power sloshed across, the excess of what she was burning through with abandon. So she was fighting Tamiyat, or perhaps Marudak. Regardless, she wouldn’t be coming this way anytime soon.


Okay...well that is perhaps our first sign that something a little bit out of the ordinary is going on although once again that is very much sort of going to plan. I love to see things just sort of falling into place and happening as predicted here. I'm sure there will be a surprise before long, but it seems we're entering the beginning of this climax at long last.

I snarled as I just barely repulsed another surge of misshapen derketo. While I wasn’t going to tire out anytime soon, I would eventually be overrun. There were too many of them, and I couldn’t kill them all fast enough, even after switching to my Scythe. Their souls melted like morning dew and provided no energy. We would get swarmed unless something changed.

A stray burst of Malia’s gaze knifed the distant edge of the tempest. Not helpful here, but it did give me an idea. If Malia could breach the mortal plane with her astral form, perhaps I could as well. I’d never tried before because when I would have needed to, I didn’t have my projection, and once I did there was no need. Only Malia had done so, as a vanity endeavor during a time of peace.

There was a slight lull in the intensity of the storm as the clouds spread to fill the gap. I threw myself backwards into the astral plane, growling as I pulled my projection on. The plane roiled with its own inclemency, the caustic space gelatinous and blurry. At the edge of my vision, the Sea Mother roared and pushed against the warbled, glassy plane. Shooting stars winged across the vastness, targeting a dark smear on the film that separated the mortal and astral realms. Far too many stars for me to consider cutting off the army at its source.


Oooh here we go, things are really starting to get serious since we got that little spike from Mallia. It seems as if things are slowly about to really start to get stirred up, and suddenly I get the feeling Charax is going to have to leave Inkashi behind here which is probably not going to go down terribly well here.

I scowled. The blot was obviously the shadow of Tamiyat’s storm, cast onto the astral plane. But the celestial realm should have separated the mortal and astral dimensions. Something must have gone terribly wrong for them to be so close.

Time flowed sluggishly around me. My thoughts blurred, not together, but from the speed at which they moved. Inkashi still lay helpless beneath the tree as my avatar waited for my move. I had perhaps two breaths, outside, before the derketo would collapse on us and crush us.

Malia’s shriek shattered my train of thought. Behind me, near the mountain pass, her astral form had thrust through the barrier and now hung by its wings, her head and arms locked in combat with a winged minotaur the size of a mountain. Angry stars bounced around her face as she blasted her opponent with another petrifying gaze, only the bull resisted its effects and strained against her.

Oh.


Okay...well that was definitely quite something, a very powerful attack being dealt with so much disdain. Oh dear, I really do hope things work out but naturally it is hard not to be a little worried in the face of what is some genuinely terrifying power here that their enemy possesses at the moment.

Scrambling, I grabbed our bond with my astral hands and yanked hard.

With a startled yelp, she tumbled back into the astral plane. She whirled and nearly blasted me with her gaze, but stopped herself at the last moment. “What the hell, Charax?”

“No argue, listen.” I was down to one breath before I had to return, and now I couldn’t even use my solution. But I had to convey that to Malia, and get her help, before time ran out. “Astral projections in the mortal plane weaken the barrier between them. I’m stuck there”—I pointed at the blot—“because I can’t open a portal. Can’t use my astral form because of her.” A finger jab in Tamiyat’s direction.

“Just walk across the astral plane, you big idiot.” Malia’s fangs were out.

“Deformed derketo ambush, and I lost Hasda.” That wasn’t exactly what had happened, but I didn’t have the time to explain giving him a head start so he could escape with Jade while I made sure Inkashi didn’t inflict more crippling cramps on him. “Plus I’m kidnapping their war goddess.”

She pinched the glittering bridge of her nose and sighed. “I’ll find Hasda. Take her through the astral plane if she can handle it and dump her if she can’t. Hopefully Seppo can handle this ‘Bull of Heaven’ bastard.”


Okay...well this is an interesting one. Malia of course having just the plan in any situation. Gotta love that even if those plans can occasionally backfire quite spectacularly. This one at the very least seems to be on the very simple side and I can't see too many things going wrong here.

I grabbed her hand as she turned away. “No more astral form.”

“I won’t.” She gave me a backhanded wave and dove out of the plane.

With a gasp, I dropped my own projection and fell back into my earthly avatar. A derketo lurched a hand span from my face. I twirled my Scythe in an arc, splitting it in half and catching its fellows behind it. A few more sweeps cleared a small space around us, but not for long.

“Can you handle higher dimensions?” I snarled as I slashed at another wave of derketo.

“Can I what?” Back to the tree trunk, she stared up at me with the weirdest look. The rain had thoroughly drenched both of us by now, although her dress of wine took the wetness better than my robes.

“Astral plane.” I flung another handful of derketo away. The downpour was picking up again.

She pushed strands of wet hair out of her eyes. “I have no idea what that is.”

“Time to learn.” I vanished my Scythe and grabbed her, making sure to take her by her good arm this time, and dragged us both through the boundary.


Oh dear....this more I hear about this Paeden pantheon the more I wonder what they're even doing over there. Every detail seems horrifying in some way, shape or form and you have to wander what purpose all of these even serve and how any of this even functions as a result.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall I think you've set up this final confrontation for this part quite nicely, well its been in the setup stage for some time now, this is sort of the end of the setup I suppose. I can't wait to see how this fight pans out...although I get the feeling somehow we might get pushed away from the fight for a little while Charax goes on this little journey.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Mon Aug 22, 2022 12:31 am
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Well, this was an intense chapter! The derketo rain was a very creative obstacle and also built up that connection to the Sea Mother. It seems we've finally entered the meat of the battle, but I'm very curious to know what the big thing that all this has been leading up to is!

I liked the insight we got into Hasda's situation. We still don't know exactly what the djinn wants to do with Hasda, but there is a possible loophole in the deal he made with Charax now, which is... slightly worrying. I'm also interested to see Hasda's transformation into a tuzshu, and I'm wondering if we'll get any more tuzshu lore; from what Inkashi said, it seems like the djinn is turning Hasda into one, and I'm curious if what the djinn is doing is the only way to become a tuzshu, or if there are some that can be born into it. I've also got a clarifying question about it: is it more similar to a creature or a job title? Because Inkashi's use of extinct lends itself to the connotation that one could be born a tuzshu, but given Charax's description of them as "divine assassins" leads me to believe it's more of a job title.

I also love the unlikely duo of Charax and Inkashi. I'm not sure how much longer they'll be together for, given Inkashi's rough state, but I've kinda grown to like her character. She seems like she's had a rough go of it as a Paeden goddess, but I hope she can have a bit of a recovery arc. Even though she's technically on the opposite side, she's just such a quirky character that I hope she can get a happy ending.

Specifics

The strange rain sizzled around us, their surfaces disrupted by bubbles and steam.


I was a little thrown off by the use of "their" there; for ease of comprehension, I feel like it might be better to use the word "raindrops."

With the derketo invading, I had more pressing matters to attend to like kidnapping a foreign goddess.


Just a small nitpicky thing, but I think the flow of this sentence would be improved if you added a comma before "like."

Overall: nice work! Looking forward to seeing how Inkashi's first time in the astral plane will be! Until next time!





There is a difference between being poor and being broke: broke is temporary; poor is eternal.
— Robert Kiyosaki