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The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 95: "The Birds"

by dragonfphoenix


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

Inkashi didn’t kick nearly as much as I expected her to, and she handled the transition a lot better than Lazuli had. After the initial shock of being in the astral plane, she clutched my arm and huddled next to me as I led her through the vastness. She ignored Tamiyat, who was getting closer and growing more detailed, but she did see her. What she thought of the primordial, she didn’t say.

I found egress near the crest of the mountain pass and pulled Inkashi out after me. Although I’d thought she had handled herself well, when we exited she started shivering and gave the sky a harried glance.

“What was that place?” she whispered.

“The astral realm.” I gripped her shoulder to keep her from pitching over. She looked really unstable on her feet.

Shaking her head, she slid to the ground. “And Marudak goes through that every time he traverses a portal? Gods help us.”

“He likely doesn’t.” I tugged at the mountain magic, questing to see if I could open a portal now that I was in mostly uncontested territory. The ley of the land resisted like sticky syrup, but at least it wasn’t combative. I ripped open a rend with some effort. “You’ve never traveled through a portal before?”

“Marudak has his own,” she said, eyeing mine with distrust. “When the gods need to move, he opens the common way and carries us through. But we rarely leave the divine land, unless he grants us leave to perform our duties throughout Paedea.”

I scowled. If Marudak had private pathways that weren’t in the astral plane, he may have discovered, or built, a separate transcendent realm. More complications we didn’t need.

Inkashi waved a limp hand towards the sparking opening. “Is that where I go to die?”

“What? No.” I wiped my face, taking the scowl with the wet sheen that had built from the natural rain. “This is my maas. Inside is a fountain with healing waters, so feel free to clean yourself up. I’ll be back.”

She stayed seated on the ground. “It’s a prison.”

“It’s a temporary shelter to keep you safe.” I frowned down at her. “If you can’t walk, I can carry you in there. Or you can sit here and hope the derketo don’t find you. Either way, I’m leaving.”

Lips pursed, she looked at our surroundings, eyes boring into the trees. Finally, she said, “Carry me. But I can’t look like I’m going willingly.”

I tried to be as gentle as I could but, when she said she couldn’t look cooperative, she meant she was going to kick and thrash worse than a hooked fish. By the time I got her through the portal, I was pretty sure I’d added another half-dozen bruises to her limbs. As soon as the portal snapped shut, she went limp in my arms.

“Sorry,” she gasped around ragged breaths. “I didn’t know if Marudak’s birds were in the trees.”

I grunted and set her down next to the fountain. “Wash up. It should help you feel better.”

“It’s not poisoned?”

Rolling my eyes, I scooped up a handful and downed the water. “It hasn’t killed me yet.”

With a relieved sigh, Inkashi dunked her head in the fountain and let her face soak. Her hair, fanned out like a painter’s brush, stained the water wine red. She stayed under long enough that I started to question if she could still breath, but with a gasp she pulled out and collapsed against the bricks. Although her lips and eye were still puffy, they were less swollen than before, and her bruises had lightened considerably.

“I need to get one of these.” Eyes closed, she rested her head against the masonry and rapped the stone with her knuckles. “Where did you get it?”

“I found it here, a long time ago. It’s why I built my maas around it.” Shaking my arms, I prepped to reopen the portal. “Wait here. I’ll be back after this mess is cleaned up.”

She cracked her good eye open. “Is ‘she’ really back?”

I paused. “You saw her in the astral plane, right?”

“Yes, but…” Frowning, she waved a hand. “That could have been an illusion, or a dream, or a vision.”

I grunted. “How many illusions have you seen conjuring armies of eldritch monsters?”

“Fair.” She dropped her gaze, running a finger along the flagstones. “That…mortal of yours. You care about him?”

“Of course.”

“Keep him away from Marudak.” Her face was hard. “If he finds out you’ve raised a new god-killer, he will tear the heavens apart trying to destroy him. Our lord is”—she rolled her hand, looking for the right word—“very strong. Titanic? You call your old ones titans, yes?”

I nodded. That made sense, based on the abilities other Paedens had attributed to him and how absolutely he ruled his pantheon. For him to hold complete control over the celestial pathways and beat gods into submission, he’d have to be. And it also tracked with the difficulty he’d given Malia.

“He was there when they bound our old ones.” She looked off into the distance, one hand gripping her shoulder. “I think he could bind them again by himself, if they broke free.”

Grunting, I tugged open a portal. “So can Malia.”

I stepped through and left her alone in my maas. She’d be fine, for a little while at least. We, on the other hand, would probably incur a few more bumps and bruises before the day ended. The Sea Mother was approaching fast, her derketo ever increasing, and we still hadn’t driven Marudak away.

When I came out on the mountainside, Seppo and the Heavenly Bull wrestled in the stormy heavens. Seppo had assumed his astral form, augmented by a celestially-enhanced exoskeleton whose pipes glittered and hissed with compressed galaxies. Even taller than the mountains, he was still shorter than Marudak, who might not have been using any projection at all.

The massive minotaur bristled with corded muscle. Bulky shoulders bashed the clouds aside, biceps as broad as seas bulged with the strain of wrangling Seppo. His legs, coated with tight-knit brindle brown fur, shook the ground with each hoofed step, the tallest trees barely tickling his ankles. Long ivory horns curved away from his head, gold caps gilding their points.

And his aura. I shivered, partly because of the rain, but mostly because Marudak radiated raw, unadulterated strength. No wonder he was able to rule his pantheon through sheer force. If he hadn’t transcended the realm of godhood, he was on the cusp. He was a dense nucleus of power, one which not even Seppo could turn. As I watched, several pistons on Seppo’s exoskeleton snapped, leaking gas and stars.

I sensed movement from the trees. Jade and Hasda appeared, this time with Hasda in the lead. Face pale, Jade ran behind him. Although Hasda’s armor glistened in the stormy semi-darkness, it was almost dull without the djinn’s ethereal fire coating it. Perhaps the djinn already knew how serious a threat Marudak was to them and had hidden himself, but whatever the reason, I was glad to see it withdrawn.

They weren’t out of the woods yet, though. While Seppo had repaired the damages to his frame and reengaged Marudak, it was only a matter of time before the Paeden god overwhelmed him. And Jade and Hasda had to pass through a wide, open patch of land to reach the mountain trail, since I couldn’t open a portal down in the contested territory. So I had to hope that Marudak remained distracted enough to get them across, up the mountain, and into Nebesa.

Malia was missing, so she’d likely missed them in her search or stumbled upon another threat. Given how chaotic the land had become, it wouldn’t have surprised me if one of Tamiyat’s cults, like she had in Aenea, had found its way here. Vetor was gone as well, although I had no idea if he was still chasing Paedens through the forest or if he’d been reclaimed.

An explosion in the woods.

That might have been Vetor’s demise. A spirit with that much power wouldn’t go out without a bang. Jade, however, thought it was the perfect distraction to dash out into the open, dragging Hasda behind her.

Unfortunately, Marudak was paying attention. As soon as they cleared the edge of the forest, he turned. Trees crumpled beneath his hooves. Not even Seppo’s straining slowed him.

I tugged on my bond as I raced down the trail. Much as I didn’t want to, I pulled on my astral form. Seppo was still in his, and Malia graced the heavens with hers as she darted above the forest. As soon as we all assumed our avatars, the deluge renewed in earnest, half-formed derketo sprouting underfoot.

We collided with Marudak in a flurry of limbs and wings, Malia hitting his lower back as I hit his shoulders. Seppo had him around the waist, and together we tried to leverage him to the ground away from Jade and Hasda.

Tried. He was one strong son of a bitch.

Huffing, Marudak glared at me and snorted in my face. “So, you finally sent the real gods out to play.”


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Thu Sep 01, 2022 12:45 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: Okay...well it seems we've finally met this bull fellow properly and Inkashi has been safely stashed away until the third act or at the very least until she somehow becomes necessary again. She can at least heal her injuries to some extent so that's something.

Anyway let's get right to it,

Inkashi didn’t kick nearly as much as I expected her to, and she handled the transition a lot better than Lazuli had. After the initial shock of being in the astral plane, she clutched my arm and huddled next to me as I led her through the vastness. She ignored Tamiyat, who was getting closer and growing more detailed, but she did see her. What she thought of the primordial, she didn’t say.

I found egress near the crest of the mountain pass and pulled Inkashi out after me. Although I’d thought she had handled herself well, when we exited she started shivering and gave the sky a harried glance.

“What was that place?” she whispered.

“The astral realm.” I gripped her shoulder to keep her from pitching over. She looked really unstable on her feet.

Shaking her head, she slid to the ground. “And Marudak goes through that every time he traverses a portal? Gods help us.”


Well that's certainly making things very interesting there. This other pantheon just seems to be having some very restrictive rules there. Clearly whatever system exists there does work, it just seems to be the sort of thing that's a bit too micromanaged by this Marudak.

“He likely doesn’t.” I tugged at the mountain magic, questing to see if I could open a portal now that I was in mostly uncontested territory. The ley of the land resisted like sticky syrup, but at least it wasn’t combative. I ripped open a rend with some effort. “You’ve never traveled through a portal before?”

“Marudak has his own,” she said, eyeing mine with distrust. “When the gods need to move, he opens the common way and carries us through. But we rarely leave the divine land, unless he grants us leave to perform our duties throughout Paedea.”

I scowled. If Marudak had private pathways that weren’t in the astral plane, he may have discovered, or built, a separate transcendent realm. More complications we didn’t need.

Inkashi waved a limp hand towards the sparking opening. “Is that where I go to die?”


Well that complicates even worse. I didn't even think of the idea of a more private realm for Marudak to operate. That certainly would make things far worse. On the bright side it looks like at the very least Charax's little side mission here is going as well as one could expect it to go.

“What? No.” I wiped my face, taking the scowl with the wet sheen that had built from the natural rain. “This is my maas. Inside is a fountain with healing waters, so feel free to clean yourself up. I’ll be back.”

She stayed seated on the ground. “It’s a prison.”

“It’s a temporary shelter to keep you safe.” I frowned down at her. “If you can’t walk, I can carry you in there. Or you can sit here and hope the derketo don’t find you. Either way, I’m leaving.”

Lips pursed, she looked at our surroundings, eyes boring into the trees. Finally, she said, “Carry me. But I can’t look like I’m going willingly.”

I tried to be as gentle as I could but, when she said she couldn’t look cooperative, she meant she was going to kick and thrash worse than a hooked fish. By the time I got her through the portal, I was pretty sure I’d added another half-dozen bruises to her limbs. As soon as the portal snapped shut, she went limp in my arms.

“Sorry,” she gasped around ragged breaths. “I didn’t know if Marudak’s birds were in the trees.”


Well that's certainly an interesting move there, it does show you just quite how much fear has been spread there and also how much surveillance this Marudak carries out on his own people. At the very least it looks like Inkashi is going to get some of the help that she needs so that's a good place to start here.

I grunted and set her down next to the fountain. “Wash up. It should help you feel better.”

“It’s not poisoned?”

Rolling my eyes, I scooped up a handful and downed the water. “It hasn’t killed me yet.”

With a relieved sigh, Inkashi dunked her head in the fountain and let her face soak. Her hair, fanned out like a painter’s brush, stained the water wine red. She stayed under long enough that I started to question if she could still breath, but with a gasp she pulled out and collapsed against the bricks. Although her lips and eye were still puffy, they were less swollen than before, and her bruises had lightened considerably.

“I need to get one of these.” Eyes closed, she rested her head against the masonry and rapped the stone with her knuckles. “Where did you get it?”

“I found it here, a long time ago. It’s why I built my maas around it.” Shaking my arms, I prepped to reopen the portal. “Wait here. I’ll be back after this mess is cleaned up.”


Ohh well that's about what I expected to see. It seems Inkashi is only really going to matter once we get to the third act of this, we've gotta pop back and finish off this battle at the end of this particular act first it would seem.

She cracked her good eye open. “Is ‘she’ really back?”

I paused. “You saw her in the astral plane, right?”

“Yes, but…” Frowning, she waved a hand. “That could have been an illusion, or a dream, or a vision.”

I grunted. “How many illusions have you seen conjuring armies of eldritch monsters?”

“Fair.” She dropped her gaze, running a finger along the flagstones. “That…mortal of yours. You care about him?”

“Of course.”

“Keep him away from Marudak.” Her face was hard. “If he finds out you’ve raised a new god-killer, he will tear the heavens apart trying to destroy him. Our lord is”—she rolled her hand, looking for the right word—“very strong. Titanic? You call your old ones titans, yes?”


Hmm, that at the very least makes a little bit more sense in terms of how much control he seems to exert quite that easily with none of the gods actually doing anything to overthrow him. I can't imagine most gods would just go along with that otherwise given how they are treated. And of course it seem maybe Inkashi is starting to believe the Sea Mother situation a little bit better here.

I nodded. That made sense, based on the abilities other Paedens had attributed to him and how absolutely he ruled his pantheon. For him to hold complete control over the celestial pathways and beat gods into submission, he’d have to be. And it also tracked with the difficulty he’d given Malia.

“He was there when they bound our old ones.” She looked off into the distance, one hand gripping her shoulder. “I think he could bind them again by himself, if they broke free.”

Grunting, I tugged open a portal. “So can Malia.”

I stepped through and left her alone in my maas. She’d be fine, for a little while at least. We, on the other hand, would probably incur a few more bumps and bruises before the day ended. The Sea Mother was approaching fast, her derketo ever increasing, and we still hadn’t driven Marudak away.


Hmm well a few more bumps and bruises would be the absolute best outcome given the sheer magnitude of what it is that Charax is planning to currently go up against. Well let's see where this ends up taking us.

When I came out on the mountainside, Seppo and the Heavenly Bull wrestled in the stormy heavens. Seppo had assumed his astral form, augmented by a celestially-enhanced exoskeleton whose pipes glittered and hissed with compressed galaxies. Even taller than the mountains, he was still shorter than Marudak, who might not have been using any projection at all.

The massive minotaur bristled with corded muscle. Bulky shoulders bashed the clouds aside, biceps as broad as seas bulged with the strain of wrangling Seppo. His legs, coated with tight-knit brindle brown fur, shook the ground with each hoofed step, the tallest trees barely tickling his ankles. Long ivory horns curved away from his head, gold caps gilding their points.

And his aura. I shivered, partly because of the rain, but mostly because Marudak radiated raw, unadulterated strength. No wonder he was able to rule his pantheon through sheer force. If he hadn’t transcended the realm of godhood, he was on the cusp. He was a dense nucleus of power, one which not even Seppo could turn. As I watched, several pistons on Seppo’s exoskeleton snapped, leaking gas and stars.


Well that's a lovely picture there. It definitely paints a very clear picture of exactly what this particular battle is like. I think it does a wonderful job of showcasing the kind of power that this person here possesses and how it measures up to the sort of power Seppo has, which is something we are seeing for the first time so relatively speaking its not quite as clear of a comparison as it could be but you definitely get the idea of two immensely powerful being duking it out with one of them clearly being more powerful.

I sensed movement from the trees. Jade and Hasda appeared, this time with Hasda in the lead. Face pale, Jade ran behind him. Although Hasda’s armor glistened in the stormy semi-darkness, it was almost dull without the djinn’s ethereal fire coating it. Perhaps the djinn already knew how serious a threat Marudak was to them and had hidden himself, but whatever the reason, I was glad to see it withdrawn.

They weren’t out of the woods yet, though. While Seppo had repaired the damages to his frame and reengaged Marudak, it was only a matter of time before the Paeden god overwhelmed him. And Jade and Hasda had to pass through a wide, open patch of land to reach the mountain trail, since I couldn’t open a portal down in the contested territory. So I had to hope that Marudak remained distracted enough to get them across, up the mountain, and into Nebesa.

Malia was missing, so she’d likely missed them in her search or stumbled upon another threat. Given how chaotic the land had become, it wouldn’t have surprised me if one of Tamiyat’s cults, like she had in Aenea, had found its way here. Vetor was gone as well, although I had no idea if he was still chasing Paedens through the forest or if he’d been reclaimed.

An explosion in the woods.


Well...that's a good little summary, a nice quick picture of just about where everyone happens to be here. I think that's a neat little addition to this moment here, because we're probably getting lost in this fight in a moment, so remembering where everyone else is right before that is a great idea.

That might have been Vetor’s demise. A spirit with that much power wouldn’t go out without a bang. Jade, however, thought it was the perfect distraction to dash out into the open, dragging Hasda behind her.

Unfortunately, Marudak was paying attention. As soon as they cleared the edge of the forest, he turned. Trees crumpled beneath his hooves. Not even Seppo’s straining slowed him.

I tugged on my bond as I raced down the trail. Much as I didn’t want to, I pulled on my astral form. Seppo was still in his, and Malia graced the heavens with hers as she darted above the forest. As soon as we all assumed our avatars, the deluge renewed in earnest, half-formed derketo sprouting underfoot.

We collided with Marudak in a flurry of limbs and wings, Malia hitting his lower back as I hit his shoulders. Seppo had him around the waist, and together we tried to leverage him to the ground away from Jade and Hasda.

Tried. He was one strong son of a bitch.

Huffing, Marudak glared at me and snorted in my face. “So, you finally sent the real gods out to play.”


Well that is quite the line to end on. Definitely works as a cliffhanger but its also very much the kind of stupidity that one expects to see coming out of Marudak's mouth here. Well unfortunately this time it seems its harder dismiss him because he is present and currently being very annoying.

Aaaaand that's it for this one.

Overall: Overall, it seems as if maybe right after this we'll get to see the climax of this fight, or at least sort of the first climax before we get around to the whole Sea Mother side of things because that is no doubt going to be a big part of the situation too.

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

Stay Safe
Harry




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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

We are certainly getting closer and closer to a big face off! I'm for sure looking forward to that. I can only hope that both Malia and Charax (and Hasda too) all make it out unscathed, but knowing everything, I feel like that might be a little too much to ask. Still, I'm manifesting the best!! It looks like next chapter will focus on taking down Marudak, which seems pretty tough, given that it's three against one and I'm still nervous as to how it'll turn out. I eagerly anticipate reading all about it!

I like how you had Inkashi slowly warm to Charax in this chapter. Well, perhaps "warm" isn't the right word, but she definitely seemed more willing to accept his help. Here's to hoping she makes some semblance of a recovery, both from her superficial wounds as well as Marudak's toxicity as a pantheon leader. And she definitely handled the astral plane and going through a portal better than I would have expected. I wonder if she'll eventually become part of the Carthian pantheon, or if this is the last we'll see of her (I hope not—I feel like I've mentioned this maaaaybe one or twice, but I love her character :D). I also thought that bit of lore about Charax's maas was cool; I thought it was more of a godly plane safe space that gods built for themselves and then customized it, but I was surprised to learn that Charax built it around the healing fountain instead of him putting it there (or getting another god to do it.) Was it left over from primordial deities? Or is it just a big ol' mystery?

It's also nice to know that both Hasda and Jade are safe (for now), even though there was a little scare there at the end! Glad to see that Malia and Charax have those sharp parental instincts to protect their kid.

Specifics

"Our lord is”—she rolled her hand, looking for the right word—“very strong. Titanic? You call your old ones titans, yes?”


Not sure why the origin of the word "titanic" didn't click until seeing it right next to the word "titan" but I feel a little dumb now. Thank you for this line though, because it made me realize something pretty obvious.

Overall: nice work!! Again, very excited to read the Big Thing coming up, and I'm still pretty much in the dark as of now as to what it'll be specifically. Until next time!!





Some call me a legacy, others call me a hero. But I assure you, dear admirers, I am only human.
— Persistence