The hall was a whole hullabaloo. Darkos was taking a bit of extra time to come to and the hectic buzz of noise around him wasn’t helping. In fact, at first Darkos wasn’t altogether convinced he hadn’t died. After all, wasn’t death supposed to be preceded by one’s entire life flashing before their eyes?
That certainly seemed to be happening here. Jane was here, Geela’s old apprentices were here, Sal was here, there were even some priests from his old hometown. A young woman was issuing orders to a bunch of old Sunnyville citizens he knew, and it took him a long moment to recognize her as the emaciated priest who’d helped him destroy the cultists. A few years had passed and she’d gone from thin and haunted to confident and healthy. The sight made him grin. He’d done some real good there. She was now a leader.
Then he frowned. A leader of what?
“Are you going to lie there all day, or are you going to help me?” Geela’s voice pierced his foggy brain, and he sat up very suddenly.
“I’m awake, I’m awake.” Darkos rubbed his eyes, looking at where she crouched besides him. “Geela, what’s going on here?”
“Long story.” She had a look halfway between a weary grin and a grimace on her face. It was close to his mom’s expression when he used to make her breakfast in bed as a child. ‘That’s so sweet! I’m looking forward to cleaning up the mess you made.’ “In short, from what I’ve gathered, we haven’t been very good at cleaning up our messes and that might have resulted in me being worshipped by enough individuals to elevate my status a bit above that of a mortal’s.”
Darkos gaped. “Like, to Patron level? You, like, graduated from mortal to God?”
Her eyes darted around at the bustling crowd. “There might be a few undocumented steps between that, but for all intents and purposes, you’re on the right track. It’s just not something I have time to worry about because that—” she pointed at Hari’s body, which was twitching “—is about to come alive and consume us.”
Darkos scrambled away from it as if it were a gross spider or house centipede or something. “Ew. Can we stop it? Can you? What’s it going to do? Can it even kill you now?”
Geela laughed. “Your faith in my newfound position is touching, it really is. But Noire could kill a full fledged God. I might have been able to destroy the Void Realm, but I can’t destroy it. Not in a one on one duel.”
Darkos’s body sagged at this. He’d so hoped that this would be Geela’s hidden ace, stored up her sleeve, but now it seemed she was, though powerful by mortal standards, still enough levels behind Noire for it to not count. “Oh. So we’re all dead?”
She squinted at him. “Traveling so long with Hari really has dulled your wits. Since when have I ever fought someone one on one? That isn’t how I handle things, dear. I play dirty.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a few rings, which she slipped on her fingers. “Time to put on a show. Alright,” she said, pitching her voice to a tone he recognized, the same one she’d used when converting the Church of Celeste. Many of the parishioners fell to their knees as she rose to her feet. “We have much to accomplish here and little time to do it. In fact, we have a matter of minutes until this foul entity wakes, so we need to buy ourselves some time.”
“It’s bound to that form, right?” Darkos asked. “Hari’s body? Or can it just astrally project once the body’s awake and boom, we lose it?” He fidgeted a bit, waiting for Geela’s response.
“Oh, it’s bound here alright. The greatest weakness of Void Fiends is that they’re rather sulky in light.” Geela’s eyes swept over the hall, at the end of which were three giant windows, opened wide to let in the warm air. “Especially sunlight. The body will protect it and this body alone is strong enough to host it.” Her eyes then jumped, almost too fast for him to catch, from the congregation to Darkos and back. He swallowed. Could Noire inhabit his body?
“So we don’t have to worry about it just flying out a window and fleeing?” The question had been ventured forth by Saleman, and Darkos’s worries flew out of his head as his eyes landed on the big burly pirate who he’d gotten to be friends with aboard The Scilatia. Sally was as broad-chested as always, decked out in some weird cowl vest hybrid with a tricorn hat on his head and, weirdly, a bell around his neck. “We just gotta keep it in the castle.”
“Let’s put it in the dungeon!” said Morris, another one of the pirates. “That’ll show it.”
Geela’s eyes fell on him and Darkos could hear her internal groan of why did I spare him again? “Unfortunately, unless the dungeon is specifically configured to trap voidic entities within, it’ll be of little use for us here.”
A hand shot up at this, and both Darkos and Geela turned to find one of Geela’s all time favorite apprentices, patiently waiting his turn to be called on.
Geela’s lips twitched to a smile. “Renby?”
His hand lowered. “What if the prisons were configured to entrap voidic powers? After you and Darkos ventured into the void, we were called to help contain the lingering void problem on the islands.”
“Technically,” a female voice, one belonging to Geela’s other favorite apprentice, interrupted, “we were called here to attend Darkos’s minion’s wedding.”
“Thank you, Vera. Perhaps you missed the part where we’re in a hurry here, but by all means, continue interjecting with meaningless corrections.” Renby cleared his throat. “Anyway. I’ve spent the better part of the last few months creating wards in the prisons to keep even the most powerful of the pirate twins’ supporters locked in. It should be able to keep that thing in for at least a brief period of time, if I concentrate the wards to just one cell. Give us time to better strategize.”
Geela nodded as he spoke, a gleam in her eyes. “Brilliantly done, as always.”
“Should we be worried about the prisoners in there?” Darkos asked. “Seems like we’d be just giving Noire troops if we put it into a fully stocked prison.”
Renby’s lip curled into a smirk Darkos didn’t like at all. “I’m not actually sure what state the prisoners are in right now. Probably a state of decay since we haven’t checked on them since throwing them in there.”
“I have,” Vera said, her eyes dark and unpleasant. “They got hungry. There’s not much left of any of them down there.”
Darkos felt sick, but Geela beamed at Vera as well. “Wonderful to hear. I need someone to carry Noire’s vessel down there, fast, and I need someone to keep an eye on him.”
“I can handle that, priestess.” Carlosi laced two fingers together and a circle appeared under Hari’s still rousing body. Then she pulled her fingers apart and the ground underneath it vanished, causing the body to fall through a hole in the ground. “Gene, can you send Amy down?”
Geela turned sharply at this, eyes jumping to Gene, an older, chiseled bald man who stood beside Carlosi, Vera, Renby, and another exquisitely clad woman. Gene nodded reverently at Geela before cupping his hands in front of his face. The woman Darkos didn’t know, reached up to place a pendant in his palm. He closed his fingers over it, and whispered something into his hands.
Darkos had just remembered Geela telling him, back in the Celestial City, how Amy was Geela’s cultist friend who had died, when suddenly his mouth was overcome by the feeling that it had somehow been filled with something rotting. He gagged, clasping his hands to his mouth, and barely noticed Gene opening his hands, releasing something small and wispy, which soared into the hole after Hari.
“Necromancy?” Geela asked, an eyebrow raised. She couldn’t fight a smile, however. “Really? After all these years. Paladin Gene, the necromancer.”
“We’ve much to catch up on, Priestess,” Gene said.
“Much indeed. But—” Geela looked back up to the crowd, who watched her fervently, “all in due time. Darkos—Darkos, what is it?”
Darkos kept a hand over his mouth but pointed at it sadly with a finger.
She sighed and fished in her bag before retrieving a small bag of breath mints. “This’ll help.” She handed him a mint before popping one in her own mouth. “Any other Mystic Sensors in here? Really, doctor? Aren’t you used to rotting things by now?”
Doc Chop, Darkos’s nemesis aboard The Scilatia, slowly lowered her hand. “I am desensitized to the smell. I do not like the sensation necromancy leaves on me.”
Geela looked like she was about to withhold the mint from the woman when Darkos tugged her sleeve.
“Geela,” he whispered.
“Darkos.” Her lips barely moved as she responded.
“Just realized, Doc Chop is the only person here whose Mystic Sensing doesn’t come from void magic. That means she’s the only one who can sense void stuff.” While this was true, Darkos also just felt bad for the doctor. Yes she’d tried to dissect Darkos multiple times during his time at sea, but necromancy magic really did taste bad. “Might be helpful to have her senses unobstructed.”
Geela sighed. “Fine.” She flipped the mint at Doc Chop. “You’re lucky Darkos is more forgiving. Anyway, now that we’ve bought more time, we need a strategy. Noire’s plan is going to be escaping this castle, and if it does, we lose. The world dies. Everyone dies. Bad times ahead. So we need to lock down the place.”
“If we can get a ward on the walls to sense if anything is trying to come or go,” Carlosi said, “I can attach my portals to it. Have them trigger if anything tries to breach the walls and send it back to the prisons. If Noire breaks the ward or destroys me, the spell will stop working, but it will serve to keep it locked in here temporarily.”
Geela nodded. “Good. Renby, can you and Carlosi work on those wards? Vera, see if you can lend them power from Berta if possible.”
The three nodded and in a flash, Carlosi whisked them away.
“That’ll buy us some time,” Geela said, turning back to the crowd.
‘Some time.’ Of course Darkos knew that Noire couldn’t be contained forever, but all they had were temporary plans.
“How do we actually destroy it?” he asked. “Like that is something we can do, right? It’s got a nut allergy, can we use that?”
The hall, which was already quiet, went quieter at this. Darkos’s face reddened, and for a moment, he questioned whether Hari had been totally lying to him about the whole allergy thing.
“That might cause some damage,” Morris said, stroking his chin. “I actually don’t know how allergies plague Patron tier monsters. I know it’d kill the spawn but—”
“You knew?” Geela rounded on the ex-ex-pirate, who looked both cowed and awe struck by her sudden, pointed fury. “You knew they were allergic to nuts?”
His round eyes fixed her rapturously. “Yes, my Goddess! It’s well known on his ship. That’s why we weren’t allowed coconuts.”
Darkos could see Geela catch herself before getting any angrier and losing her sense of intimidation.
“Do coconuts even count?” she asked, clearly trying very hard to retain composure.
“I don’t think so,” Darkos said. “They just heard ‘nuts’ and freaked out.”
“Would that work though?” he asked, pressing the point. “I mean, it seemed like a pretty serious allergy with Sinistrina. Killed her and everything.”
“I don’t know how allergies work for non-corporeal things,” Geela said. “My instinct says it’ll weaken and hurt it but not destroy it. It’ll also damage any minions it can summon, so if you see any void monsters, arm yourselves.”
“Oh please no. Please!”
Again, the silent hall fell silent as the congregation’s eyes fell on three small, huddled creatures by Geela’s feet.
“Oh look at them,” Jane said from where she stood at the front of the room in a giant white dress next to Adronious the Vast.
Darkos needed the clipnotes of what had happened leading up to this. Why were Jane and Adronious the Vast at the front of a religious ceremony? Why did it look like a wedding? Then he remembered Vera’s comment. ‘Darkos’s minion’s wedding.’ Was Jane getting married? What was Adronious the Vast’s role in all of this? Was he giving Jane away because Darkos hadn’t been there to walk her down the aisle? Couldn’t anyone else have taken that role? Anyone?
Darkos was in the midst of getting all angry on Jane’s behalf when the woman sprinted down the aisle towards them, skirts billowing like a great cloud. She came to a stop at Geela’s feet. For a moment, Darkos thought she was doing so to worship Geela, but then she straightened up, cuddling in her arms the strange bug thing Geela had apparently brought home from the void.
“It’s so wonderful.” Jane held it close to her face. “It will make a darling pet for the triplets.”
“Jane would you—” Geela again had to assume composure, so she shot Darkos a ‘help me out’ look.
Darkos took a deep breath. “Jane what the heck is going on? Why are you wearing that? Why is everyone here? What triplets are you talking about? Are you getting… married?”
Jane gave Darkos a dewy eyed look. “Yes, Master Darkos. I am in the midst of being married. The congregation has gathered to celebrate the first wedding ceremony in Geela’s name. The triplets are mine and Adronious the Vast’s for it is he I wed.”
Darkos’s heart sank and his stomach felt as though it might tumble to the floor. Jane and Adronious the Vast. He should have guessed. He should have guessed. He’d heard about pitchfork weddings before, but never would have assumed he could have let this happen to his own minion without paying attention. All this time he’d thought Adronious the Vast was just scaring Jane.
Then he saw Jane looking back at the altar, eyes still full of tears.
“If you don’t want to do this,” Darkos started. “We don’t have to. We can figure it out. Help you raise the triplets, help you…” His eyebrows crinkled on his forehead as he tried to think of a way to get Jane out of this. “The first wedding under Geela’s name should be one of love! That’s what she stands for!”
Geela shot Darkos a ‘the hell are you talking about’ look, but Jane turned back to Darkos, a smile on her face.
“Oh Master Darkos, you are so silly.” Her beam strengthened til it looked too big for her narrow face. “Adronious the Vast and I have loved each other since our first chance meeting in his chambers. This is no simple love. Ours is the truest of loves at first sight!”
The congregation let out a long ‘awwwww,’ and Darkos saw many clasped hands and teary eyes.
“Can we please focus on making sure the world doesn’t end?” Geela asked, bringing the conversation to more sobering things. “And— yes, Jane, you can take those three things and go. Just make sure they don’t go anywhere or suck anyone’s life out.”
Jane saluted Geela before sweeping up the rat and frog and hurrying back to Adronious the Vast.
“So,” Geela said. “I think sunlight is going to be our real killing blow here. We’re going to need to concentrate it, which isn’t going to be easy, and then store it, which isn’t going to be easy, and then channel it which—”
“Isn’t going to be easy,” Darkos finished.
Geela gave him a grave nod. “To funnel it into something useful, we’d need a massive… magnifying glass or something. I’m sure we have spy glasses but those are going to be too small. And I don’t think we have a giant telescope just lying around.”
Darkos grinned. “Not to correct you or anything,” he said, trying to hide his excitement at correcting her. “But I think you’ll find we do.”
Her eyebrows popped up. “Do we? I don't have one in my bag, but unless there’s one in the castle, we’re probably out of luck.”
“The castle has an observation tower.” Darkos remembered the massive tower, at the base of which he'd planted an explosive. “Wait, did we ever detonate those charges we planted around the castle?”
Sally shook his head. “We couldn’t. Was too dangerous. We couldn’t move you three and we couldn't run the risk.”
Darkos looked to Geela. “So that should work, then. The telescope in the observation tower?”
She gave him a benevolent smile. “That will work wonderfully.” She snapped twice. “Sonatad, Doc Chop, on that.”
Darkos choked. “Geela, no. Doc Chop will kill him.”
Doc Chop had the nerve to look offended here. “I may be many things, but a killer is not one.”
Geela silenced the woman with a withering glance. “You are absolutely a killer. But not an indiscriminate one. A teenage boy has little to offer her scientifically. She’s peculiar but she’s also the only remaining enchantress here I trust enough to make that telescope into something that can concentrate and trap the sun. Sonatad is a priest of the light, so he’s the best equipped to aid her.”
Sonatad nodded, face glowing with excitement. He shoved his glasses up his nose and looked at the doctor. “We’ll need someone who knows how to get there.”
Geela snapped at a few of the pirates. “Which of you knows this place well enough?”
Morris raised his hand. “I know this place in and out. Up and down.”
“Alright,” Geela said. “You three, off. Next matter of business is to create a concoction with the nuts I have in the kitchen section of my bag. We have a limited supply, so we need someone who knows how to cook with them.”
No one volunteered. The chefs all exchanged uneasy looks.
Finally Ru spoke up. “I don’t think many of them know how to do that. We specifically requested chefs who didn’t cook with nuts because of the islands’ bad relationship with them. The islanders and the unaligned sects said that nut chefs were bad luck for a wedding so…” He looked terrified to be bringing the bad news to Geela.
Geela gave him a look that warranted his terrified expression. Superstitions really would be the death of them. “That is going to be a bit of a problem,” she said, voice dropping low and angry. “Because we’re going to need more than just some crushed nuts on bread. We need someone who knows how to extract the oils in them.”
“Any alchemists?” Darkos asked, but he had a bad feeling about that. Renby and Morris had been their main alchemists, but both were gone.
“Not now, Jane.”
“Does anyone have any other ideas?” Geela asked. “I’m relying on the intelligence of my gathered church here to… figure something out.”
“Well,” started a nervous, twitchy looking person that Darkos recognized from their garb as a Volcanoer, “when we, back at home, wanted to spread something, we’d set a massive bonfire and throw it in. The smoke would then spread and we could get it everywhere we needed.”
Geela looked at him, face flat. “That is, quite frankly, a terrible idea. We’re indoors and we can’t just light a huge fire and even then the smoke wouldn’t transfer throughout the building in any meaningful way.”
“Besides,” Darkos said, trying to be more diplomatic. “We don’t know if it’d work. It might just burn the nuts, and then we have nothing.”
“But if it’s our only option…” This was ventured by the priest from Sunnyville, Imimi. “I mean, we were always told not to burn nuts because it could cause a reaction if inhaled? Like as incense. So if no one has any better ideas, it might be our only one.”
Darkos wanted to grin, tell the girl he was proud of how she’d grown from sacrifice fodder to church leader. But now wasn’t the time, and he wasn’t sure he liked what she was saying anyway.
“Burning our best weapon isn’t a good idea,” he said. “It’s not a terrible idea, but it’s too risky.”
Everyone in the hall swiveled to the great windows, in which two figures now stood. One was bent over, gasping for breath. The other, the woman who had spoken, was standing tall, pointing at Darkos and Geela.
“What?” Geela said.
“Mom?” Darkos said.
“Darkos! Arth, he’s there. See him?” From where she stood in the window, Darkos’s mom looked as imposing as ever, even decked out in the ropes she must have used to climb up here.
“Yeah,” Dad panted. “Yeah, hold up.” He grinned, waving at Darkos as he tried to stand up straight. “Sorry, stitch in my side. Old back’s not what it was once. Told ya we wouldn’t miss the wedding, Rak.”
Mom looked suspiciously over the crowd. “Why’s Geela not wearing the wedding dress?”
Darkos laughed. “Oh my gosh, did you think Geela and I were getting married?” The idea was too funny, and he allowed himself a quick chuckle. Then a new idea popped into his head, before he could even think of how to set his parents straight. “Wait wait. Mom. Do you know how to—”
Just then, a circle opened up beneath them, and the two fell into it. Before anyone could say anything, the portal closed right behind them.
“No wait.” Darkos held out a hand. “Stop.” He looked at Geela. “That was Carlosi’s right?”
Geela’s eyes narrowed, upset at the interruption, probably, and also in general by Darkos’s parents, whom she wasn’t a fan of.
Darkos groaned. The spatial mage had gotten her wards and portals set up just in time to teleport everyone who tried to get in and out… into the dungeon.
“Geela,” Darkos said, speaking fast. “I gotta go. Go to the dungeons.”
“That’s the exact last place you need to go,” she said. “Noire’s in there; it’ll kill you. This’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
But Darkos had already started to worry, horrible images swimming in his head. “But Geela, we have to! My parents are down there!”
I'm back! I know I totally vanished for like a week. I was almost entirely off the grid (okay, I only had access to my phone) since last Wednesday, so posting was virtually impossible.