Geela didn’t like falling. It was like flying—which Geela was already not a big fan of—but without the style. Or the assurance of survival. There were a lot of valid reasons to dislike falling. Her stomach always flopped in a disconcerting way, a sensation that had led her to avoid the much beloved attractions at the traveling fairs her peers adored. All told, there was a lot more to be worrying about than falling, but it was top on her list of things to handle right now because she’d been contemplating school festivals and their merits for about twenty or thirty seconds and she was still falling. Also there was the whole part about not being able to see, not knowing if Darkos was close by, not knowing how close the ground was, and, of course, Noire.
She was disappointed in herself for not coming up with a better plan to handle Noire. Or any plan. Losing Darkos after killing Terha, well, that had forced her to act and act fast, and that wasn’t Geela’s strength. As she’d fumbled through the Void Realm, trying to find Darkos, her thoughts had been largely preoccupied on immediate issues. Now she was face to face, in a manner of speaking, with a nightmare incarnate, and she was going in blind.
Then, with a jerk less pleasant even than the stomach drop feeling, she flipped upside down and landed in a heap. Graceless, breathless, and sightless, maybe, but alive and with working limbs, so this was perfectly acceptable.
A hand found hers and for a moment, her heart skipped as she tried to identify the owner. It wasn’t the rugged but well manicured grip of Hari and it was too warm and weathered to be the pompous VoidCrusherXX’s, so it must be Darkos.
She squeezed it back.
“Geela? Are you okay?” Darkos whispered, probably in a futile attempt to prevent Noire from hearing him speak. “That was crazy. I’ve never fallen from that high before.”
Geela nodded. “Me neither.” She rubbed her eyes. “I don’t like this.”
“Same I can use the darkness to feel out the room and, not gonna lie, it’s pretty bad.” His grasp on her hand tightened as his arm came across her chest just slightly, a protective gesture that made her smile through her nerves.
Noire heard them certainly. It knew their moves, what they were doing, knew they were planning, knew Geela was dramatically handicapped. But it also wasn’t stopping them, so Geela may as well gather info.
“What do your void eyes see?” she asked.
“Big room. Hari’s here and so are your pet things.” Darkos was quiet for a moment, but Geela could feel him shifting, as if grasping around for more information. “Okay, yeah, so Hari is standing in the center and there’s a… oh.”
Darkos’s quiet little ‘oh’ sent a whole new host of shivers down Geela’s spine.
“Alright,” she said. “Help me up.” It was time to start this show.
The two shuffled to their feet, leaning on each other as they tried to get stable footing. The ground was mushy beneath Geela soles, as if a thin skin of floor covered a sea of something thick and viscous.
“What direction is Noire?” she asked. “I want to actually face it.”
“Okay, uh, where’s your face?” Darkos’s hands fumbled around Geela’s shoulders and hair for a bit until she planted them solidly on her head. “Ah, okay. So turn like this.”
He rotated her awkwardly until finally she was looking in a direction that he swore Noire was in.
“So I’m facing the right way?” she asked, voice still a hiss.
Just as she was starting to feel confident that Darkos had, in fact, pointed her at her nemesis, the darkness dulled so that she could actually see. There was no real introduction of light, but the darkness was just less powerful.
“Ah. Dammit.” Geela’s eyes could now take in the massive chamber they stood in. In every surface of the room were embedded large, organ-like masses that twisted and throbbed off-beat with each other. Between the growths, pits that looked like sores oozed a runny, black and purple mottled puss that stuck to Geela’s shoes. Running from sores to organs were bulging veins, many of which had burst and leaked more of the black fluid. The ones that remained intact, however, wound their way to the middle of the hall, where they disappeared into a presence.
Presence was the only way to describe the hellish entity that dominated the central space. It could not be defined by words since it existed in a plane that did not know speech. All Geela could say with certainty was that when she looked at it, she could feel her very life essence being pulled forth from her, and she could hear the eternal screams cried forth by millions of years worth of victims.
With that sense of scope, Geela couldn’t help but feel a little impressed with herself for being the being that gave Noire the last bit of power it needed to bring Malevo out. Just a little though.
Besides Noire stood Hari, who had a chained figured by his feet. Geela didn’t look too long or too closely, though. She had to conserve her strength.
“So, little Ja’Eel. You have finally made it to my realm. You have finally come to lend me the last bit of strength I need to assume my ultimate design.”
“This is going to shock you, but that’s actually not why I’m here.” Geela’s voice sounded both too loud in her ears and also as though it had been immediately blown away by a pounding gale. “If anything, I feel like I should be bringing you some medicine. You look terrible. This place is in shambles.” She took a step forward and the watery substance that leaked from the nearest abscess dripped from her foot, emitting a putrid odor. As if to illustrate her point, she wrinkled her nose.
“Your words serve only to fill the empty space with noise. I am not bothered by them. I will consume you. I will consume my errant spawn. I will consume this pathetic mortal who has pledged himself to me. I will go to your Mortal Realm, and I will defile it.”
Geela nodded, looking around. “Well you’re definitely the one for the job.”
“Wait wait!” The gasping splutter sounded almost familiar to Geela, but when she looked for the source, she only found VoidCrusherXX. “Wait. Wait, no, you can’t. I brought her to you. I brought her here, I destroyed her morale, I’ve crushed her. You can’t do this to me. You can’t!”
Why did that sound so familiar?
“Our deal was that you would cripple her. She stands before me, uncrippled.”
“I killed the man she loved. I did. She’s holding back tears, I promise. I know that look on her face, I do!” The worthless welp of a man was getting more and more worked up, and Geela hoped Noire would consume him first, if only so she could watch.
“You’ve inconvenienced her at worst.” This came from Hari, whose voice was near deliriously excited. “You’ve done less to upset her than Sinistrina’s stupid wolfkin or Terha’s bug things. Noirela didn’t give you power just so you could briefly irritate her before she got here. Oh Noirela, let me do it. Oh, do let me.”
“I’ve had half a mind to eviscerate him myself since I first met him,” Geela said, still looking at her nails. “I can’t imagine a creature so pathetic that he manages to piss off you, Noire, me, and Darkos. Did you know Darkos of all people was glad when he thought you’d destroyed him?” She snorted. “I’m only disappointed I don’t get to kill him.”
Hari sighed. “Then congratulations are in order.” There was a sickening crunch, and VoidCrusherXX groaned audibly. “You’ve managed to unite us all in one thing.”
“No, please, you can’t do this. You can’t. You can’t.” His voice had shed any illusion of being that boisterously bravado-soaked tone he usually spoke with. Whatever his original identity was, this must be how he usually sounded.
And why did Geela think it was familiar?
“Please, please, one more chance! Noirela, please, I served you!” Another crunch sounded, this time with a squelch and Geela let a corner of her mouth lift. “Please, Hari. Hari I worked for you. I gave you all the information I could!” Who was he? “Gills. Gills, please. Gills, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry—”
“Barney?” Darkos asked.
Barney! Geela snapped, finally clicking together the pieces in her brain. For this, she would look up, just briefly, to confirm.
The man on the ground, covered in voidic gunk, had reverted to his original form, and yup, it was Barney. In hindsight, a lot of things made sense. An adventurer, seemingly immune to the void, who knew exactly how to press her buttons? Classic ex-husband scheme.
“Gotta say,” Darkos said. “When my ex broke up with me, I just put a sulky letter in her locker.” He raised an eyebrow and exchanged a look with Geela. “I mean, even Geela wasn’t this extra about your breakup, and she’s the dramatic one.”
Geela crossed her arms. “I hope you mean that as a complement,” she said.
“No!” Barney’s voice was a wet gasp. “You came all this way, fought and killed void spawn, just to get your revenge.” He laughed, a soggy, raspy sound. “And you’ll die here. I think I win this one.”
Geela blinked a few times, blankly. Then she looked at Hari. “Did you tell him—”
“No.” Hari ran a few fingers through his hair, a thoroughly annoyed dip to his eyebrows. “In fact, we’ve told him many times that you just really didn’t seem after the whole revenge thing anymore.” Hari gave Barney another kick, and Geela winced as her ex, soon-to-be-late, husband’s veins pulsed purple. Then Hari paused and looked at Geela. “I’m sure you’d rather be doing this?” His gloat lifted in the end, as a question.
“I mean.” Geela pursed her lips, eyeing Barney. “He’s way over there. I’m way over here. That’s a lot of walking, and the ground is icky.”
“The ground is icky!” Barney asked, his craggy voice breaking in fury. “You won’t walk across the damn floor just to—urk!”
Geela looked down at her shoe, grateful for an excuse to break her gaze from Noire without losing face. “It’s ickier near you too. All that blood and viscera, pouring out. I’ll let Hari do it.”
“Gills!” The name barely ruffled her as he screamed it.
“You pledged yourself to a Void Fiend just to slightly piss off your ex-wife.” Geela chanced one more glance at the dying man, who fixed her with a look of utter desperation. “I’ll never understand the thought process that went into your decision. If I’m being honest?” She shrugged. “I don’t care enough to try. I hated you more as VoidCrusherXX.”
“You bitch!” Barney spat as Hari knelt down beside him and gripped the man’s jaw with his perfectly sculpted nails. “Wait, no. Wait, no Gills, wait.” As Hari’s grip tightened, those purple pulsing veins all under Barney’s skin began to burst, and Geela put her hands over Darkos’s eyes.
“You want to see this?”
“Oh. Uh, no.”
Barney’s dying cry of her name did invigorate her a bit. It echoed through her brain like a happy little massage, giving her a jolt of a good mood. So the man hadn’t been useless in the end, had he?
It was what she needed to get her pep back in her step, and not a moment too soon, as with his death, Noire’s proverbial eye was back on her.
“Now it is your turn, Ja’Eel.”
“You’re not going to get enough power from me to boost yourself to the Mortal Realm,” she said, taking a few steps backward. She could hear Hari’s footsteps squelching towards her. “This place is diseased. It’s dying.”
“It is of little consequence.”
“You know you can’t run from me, Geela!” Hari said. His footsteps grew louder as he approached.
“Move,” Geela said to Darkos. “I don’t want you close to Noire. I still don’t know—”
Geela almost tripped as her brain slammed to a halt trying to decipher Darkos’s response. Maybe he was just swearing on something new? But when she looked at him, he wore a smirk.
“Nuts.” He started laughing and shook his head. “Noire’s allergic, but Mom fed them to me a lot as a baby and so… Here I am.”
Geela didn’t have time to unpack all of that so she just nodded and smiled. It was a very Jane reaction, and she hated herself for it, but she also had to keep moving and keep talking to keep her enemies distracted long enough for her to maybe find a way to get out of this.
“A stupid fluke of luck,” Hari said, sounding annoyed. “One that will plague us no more! I don’t know where you’re going, Geela!” His voice drifted back to the elated lilt it was before. “You can’t run. You can’t hide. You can’t fight. Though I would love to see you try! The void rejects you.” He shot out a tendril of goop at her.
Geela turned fast and caught it with one hand. “The void embraces me, dear.” She threw the tendril to the side, where it melted into the ground. “In the mere weeks I’ve been here, I’ve leapt through the walls, I’ve blinked through the air, I’ve formed the very building blocks of the realm into tools and weapons. I’d say I’m thriving.” She very much didn’t feel like she was thriving, but Hari didn’t have to know.
“You can wall hop?” Darkos asked. Judging from his voice, he was moving, which was good to hear. Gave them a few extra seconds maybe. “Thought you said that wasn’t possible, Hari?”
“It’s not. She’s lying. She does that.” Hari only sounded mildly annoyed though. “It won’t help her here, though. Nothing will.”
“I’m not lying.” Geela ducked another shot from Hari. “Why would I do that? How would I even know that wall hopping is a thing if I couldn’t do it?”
“I dunno,” Darkos said, drawing out the words. “She makes a good point. But I thought the rush of the void in the walls or something was too strong. Or maybe they were just too strong for you, Hari.”
“Oh, enough of that.” With this dismissal of Hari’s, Geela heard a thud. She glanced over her shoulder to see Darkos tumble to the ground.
She dodged a few more attacks and threw up a wall of darkness to give her some time. It didn’t do much, given she was in the void fighting void monsters, but it took Hari about as much time to deal with as it took her to cast, so it was a net neutral.
“Geela! I’m getting tendriled!”
She looked over her shoulder again and spotted Darkos being pulled to Noire. To make things worse, the cavern was starting to shrink. Fast.
“You can fight my son. You can exploit my realm. You cannot touch me.”
Noire wasn’t wrong. Geela couldn’t even look at it. Just getting closer to it made her vital signs flag like a sinking cargo ship. Anything she threw at it would die in moments.
“I brought them here,” Hari said, his voice faltering just a hair. “Both of them. I lured her here with Darkos. I—”
“You have done well, my child.”
Hari’s whole face lit up, as if Noire had given him a big bear hug right there. He wheeled on Geela then, eyes swirling void pools, and blasted out more tendrils at her.
“Time to die, Geela.”
For a moment, her slowing heart picked up at the sound of her name, and she could picture Darkos making fun of her ego for getting a pick-me-up here.
Then Hari’s snakes hit her from all angles, and her body screamed in protest as they pierced her skin.
“And Darkos had so much to say in your defense,” Hari said, voice breaking with a hysterical laugh. “So much! Oh the people of the Volcanoes worship Geela.” Another blast threw her off her feet. “The Church of Celeste is now the Cult of Geela!” A tentacle snaked around her ankle, and it took all her coordination to blast it off before she could be pulled to Noire. “My old cults, your old islands, they all follow Geela now!”
A dozen more tentacles jumped forward, but these were Noire’s, and Geela could not sever them.
“Darkos?” She looked around the room, trying to find him. He was halfway between her and Noire, and he was struggling. His face was an ashy color and his breath came in pants. “Stay alive. I got this!”
“Ja’Eel, you will die here on this day. Even without your death, I possess the power I need to complete my ultimate plan. I have created, in the form of my youngest son, the perfect vessel to hold my spirit for when I reach the Mortal Plane. Once I sacrifice him, I will venture forth to your world. Life shall cease.”
Geela wrestled to free herself, but she kept getting dragged through the puss in the ground. How was this possible? How could Noire still be so strong?
She looked over her other shoulder to watch Hari as he danced back over to Noire, face total and pure rapture.
“How could you have ever thought you had this?” he asked. “How could you have ever thought you would stand a chance?”
A chill ran down her spine as she saw a pool of ink spread out from the presence in the center. Deep in her core, she knew what it was, and she knew Darkos could not reach it. Noire had no problem sacrificing his son here. It was easily among the worst parents Geela had ever met.
“I’ll never bow to your whim!” Darkos’s cry didn’t make a lot of sense, but he was making a valiant effort, even as he was dragged closer and closer. “My body will reject your evil! You’re not my real parent!”
“You are a deep disappointment. I have long since dismissed you from my plans. You are no son of mine.”
Beneath it, the pool of ink had shifted and started moving faster towards its victim. Geela saw it first.
“Imagine being disowned by a Void Fiend,” Hari said. He swayed, almost as though drunk, laughter piercing Geela’s ears. “Imagine being told—wait.” His smile faltered. “If he isn’t a son of yours… But you said your youngest son—”
Then Hari saw it too, the rush of black liquid flooding towards him. He whirled back to look at Noire, his parent, and his lips parted, perhaps in confusion, perhaps as a plea, perhaps as something else entirely. It didn’t really matter because as his mouth opened, a torrent of void ink flowed into it, stealing his words, his breath, and his life from his body in an instant.
The entire chamber pulsed.
It had gotten quite a bit smaller in here, and Geela was struggling to keep herself afloat. Her head rang with the pulsing beat of Noire’s pustules. It echoed with Darkos’s cries of ‘Geela!’
It echoed with Hari’s taunts.
Geela was worshiped by the Volcanic People. Geela was worshiped by the old cults of Alerion. Geela was such hot stuff.
“That’s not her name.” Darkos’s laughy croak sounded a lot like Barney’s death rattle, and her stomach dropped. “Don’t you know anything? It’s Geela.”
Noire knew her name. Noire also knew she preferred Ja’Eel. It was a strange bit of respect for it to show her here.
She could almost hear her name being chanted as the rest of her consciousness faded. She never should have come. She would have been worshipped back at home. Getting a scrap of respect from Noire wasn’t much of a trade for her own death.
No, Noire was not showing her respect. The fact that she had, even for a moment, thought that was ludicrous. No, Noire called her Ja’Eel for the same reason she called it Noire.
Names had power.
Her fingernails dug into the floor of the void, and it tore open as she was dragged forward. Underneath the skin, she could see the fluid, the rushing void energy, being sucked to Noire. The currents should rush away from the nest, but here they were, flowing to the Void Fiend.
So Darkos had been right. Darkos had been right, Noire had been getting stronger. But Geela was also right. The Void Realm was getting weaker.
She pushed herself onto her back so she could see Noire. Standing in front of it, directly centered, Hari’s body had almost entirely been filled with Noire’s essence.
She faced it down, green eyes glinting in its darkness.
“Hail, Geela,” she said under her breath. As if reporting back to her from somewhere close, her soul basked in its echoes.
“You have gotten powerful. Very powerful. Your strength has grown insurmountable to that of any mortal. But I am not mortal, and I am far older than you, little Ja’Eel. You cannot destroy me in the Void Realm.”
“I can’t.” Her voice was a whisper, which was all her body could muster, even as she felt her core grow hot. She looked to Darkos, who had gone limp, but a muscle still twitched in his eye, his lip. His chest still rose and fell. Good boy.
“Accept the closure of the pact you opened many decades ago.”
“I’m not dying here,” she said, voice barely audible to her own ears. The room had gotten so small, its walls were touching her. “I don’t need to beat you here to win.”
“I will lever let you leave the Void Realm.”
“I’m not asking your permission, Noire.” She was being smothered by the room as it closed around her like a fleshy coffin.
“How can you—”
“I’m still speaking.” Noire’s children’s deaths should have weakened it, but they hadn’t. They hadn’t because Noire had shifted its regions to drain strength directly from the void itself. With its children no longer providing it with power, Noire had refused to simply push its plan back further. It didn’t need to. It was close enough that it could pull power directly from the Void Realm’s heart.
“You presume too much.”
For the first time since Geela had met it, it sounded angry.
“I learned from the best.” Her soul felt as though it might explode from within her. “You dragged me into the center of your home, and that just wasn’t very smart of you.” She took in one last gasping breath into her lungs. “I can’t destroy you.” Her nails again dug into the void, but this time, green energy poured forth from her fingers into the slashes in the floor.
A scream sounded from somewhere very far away as the veins that once sent purple voidic energy now bled green.
She closed her eyes as the scream intensified to a howling wind and all sensation crashed down around them.
“But why destroy a paltry Void Fiend when you can destroy the entire Void Realm?”
“And do you, Adronious the Vast, take Jane Arlington, in Geela’s name, before the eyes of Her and Her whole congregation, as your lawfully, spiritually, and eternally bound wife. In sickness and health. For richer, for poorer. Through ups and downs. In light and dark. For all the days of your life until the final sunset of your last breaths, til death do you—”
Sonatad, the Highest Priest of the Church of Geela, Deity of Light and Dark Alike faltered as a ripple flooded from the center of the great hall, wherein he celebrated the first wedding witnessed by the church, before the thousands of masses that followed her.
The ripple came to a halt over the stasised bodies of Captain Hari Bella, Darkos, and Geela herself. Just as the crowds began to break out in gasps and whispers, the light flashed bright and vanished.
A breathless second followed before Geela sat up, clutching her head.
“Oh thank God that worked.” She looked to her side and shook Darkos. He groaned and rolled over. “You’re welcome to you too.”
Then another groan sounded, and everyone looked to Hari, who had begun to stir.
Geela’s lips went tight, and she crawled to her feet. Her eyes took in the congregation that surrounded her.
“I won’t ask, not because I’m not terribly curious, but because we only have a few moments.” She laced her fingers together and stretched, cracking her knuckles in a way that echoed throughout the hall. A smirk crossed her lips. “All who are present, heed what I say. I need you to do everything I say, or the world will end.”
Remember to leave a review on books 1 and 2 if you've been enjoying! We're so so SO close to hitting 25 on book 1, which would be a huge milestone <3