“Arth? Arth, get away from it. Take that you evil fiend!”
A loud metal thwung noise sounded. It sounded a bit like someone getting hit on the head hard by a shovel.
“She hit it with a shovel.” Gene’s report, provided by Amy’s ghost, was the only way anyone in the great hall could see what was going on in the dungeon cell. Neither Geela nor Darkos could even get in there, given Renby’s wards were powerful enough to repel away anything voidic, Void Mistresses and Spawns included. So all they could do was listen.
It was driving Darkos insane, and that in turn drove Geela insane.
“How do we get in there? How do we get them out? Oh this is all my fault. They shouldn’t have come! I never should have returned your engagement ring. They’d never have come this far for Jane’s wedding.” Darkos’s rants didn’t necessarily all land in a sensical way in Geela’s head, but that was because she wasn’t listening. She was scheming.
The issue was that they needed quite a bit of power to get down there and rescue Darkos’s idiot parents, but neither Geela nor Darkos could do that. Carlosi, Vera, and Renby were off bewitching the castle in a staggeringly untimely manner. Illisandra and Gene were both powerful, but the former was a psychic, one of the only Geela could stand, and the latter was…
“Gene, a moment?” Geela crooked a finger at him. Once the man reached her, she dropped her voice. “Vera and Renby said that all the prisoners kept over the past few months have died, right?”
He nodded. “Priestess.” His voice already sounded like he was about to let her down and didn’t want to. “I fear that animating them would be arming our enemy.”
Gene had a point, but Darkos’s morale might tank if his parents were killed in a grisly manner by the enemy they all needed to band together to fight. Maybe some out there would be motivated by the unexpected death of their parents, but Darkos would just be glum about it. The flip side of this was that a morale boost was a poor reason to arm the enemy with hundreds of skeletons.
“Could you even control them long enough to help the fools out of there?” Geela’s eyes jumped to the glowing pendant he held. “Any updates?”
“Yes. To both.” He grimaced. “Void fiend is still weak enough that I could get a good army to escort the couple out. Noire would be able to take out a lot of the constructs, but that’s the nice thing about necromancy. You don’t have to care about casualties so people aren’t offended when you inevitably don’t.”
Geela had missed Gene. “Good. And Darkos’s parents?”
He laughed, a rough bark of a sound so different from the smooth, controlled laugh he’d cultivated at the academy. “Got some mettle. They’ve got it all tied up with ropes and keep bashing it on the head. Won’t last a moment once it’s fully up but they’re doing well for some mortals.”
Geela wasn’t surprised to hear that Darkos’s meddlesome parents had some mettle. And, by the sound of another clang echoing through Amy’s charm, some metal too.
“So we don’t have a lot of time to make the call.” Geela scrunched her eyes shut. She couldn’t do this. Darkos’s parents weren’t enough of a weapon to offset potentially giving Noire the constructs. “Gene, we really can’t--”
“Hey, pst, Geela.”
Geela rounded fast to find Darkos casually wandering over to her. She grit her teeth in a smile. “Darkos. Darling. Sweetheart. Dear.”
His face slipped immediately to suspicious. “Geela.”
“Gene and I are very busy right now,” she said, tossing Gene a ‘give me just one second’ glance.
“Right.” Darkos’s eyes were still narrow though. “Okay sure but.” His eyes narrowed further. “I had a thought. About how you had those nuts, and no one here knew how to cook with them.”
Damn. Boy was right, wasn’t he? Darkos’s mother—the infernal woman had lost her name privileges after Geela had learned about the couple’s ridiculous disguises—was a master chef when it came to cooking with nuts. Darkos had raved about it endlessly. In fact, Geela wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was slipping him nuts since infancy that led to Noire being unable to get a grasp on his soul.
In hindsight, that was obviously it.
It also gave the woman enough tactical value to be worth the skeleton plan. Yes, they’d be giving Noire a weapon but they’d give themselves the resource to combat it. So it was a net neutral, and then you add the bonus of not losing Darkos’s general good mood.
Geela’s tight smile transitioned into something a lot more natural and genuine. “What a wonderful point. And you’ll be delighted to know that we’ve got a way of getting them out of there.” She snapped twice at Gene and pressed a scrystone into his hand. “Our good friend here is about to make use of his brand new skill and save your parents.”
“I’ve been a necromancer for twenty years,” Gene said. “But of course. As you decree.”
Darkos looked horrified as Gene rushed off. “Necromancy?”
Geela rolled her eyes. “We’ve been over this. Briefly but yes, apparently he took up a new hobby since—”
“My parents are dead?!”
“Oh.” That was definitely an interpretation. “No. He’s gonna make an army of skeletons.”
Darkos’s whole body deflated in relief, an amusing response to learning about an army of skeletons.
“The main issue with it is that, well, Noire will probably be able to wrest control of them in short order. So it’ll get an army of minions we’ll have to deal with. Void skeletons.” Geela didn’t like skeletons too much. She’d summoned a few from Berta, from a portal because Geela couldn’t do necromancy, and that had been unpleasant enough. “So hopefully your mother can help us make some kind of anti void peanut potion.”
Darkos snorted. “We had a peanut shortage one year. She managed to slip something nutty in my lunch box every day for a year off a half-pound of peanuts. I have faith.”
Either Darkos was lying, or his mother was a real whiz with a nutcracker.
It had best be the latter.
In the meantime, Geela turned back to her congregation. Her congregation. How wonderful sounding was that?
“My followers, your faith here is paramount.” She pulled out a lightly-modulated voice, one almost close enough to her regular voice to be managed without any magic at all, but just severe enough to command attention. “Our foe is about to hit us on all sides. While we have at our disposal the powers of the dark and light, we risk losing ourselves to an entity far more malevolent than any this world has seen. Our enemy is armed with the constructs of what were once living mortals, now horrible monsters of darkness. To those of you who can fight, lift high your weapons.” About a fifth of the group got very excited at this, but the rest looked somber. That was okay. Geela had a task for them too. “For the rest of you, we are all that stands between the nuance of day and the absolute of black. My power and your faith. So pray. Pray and generate the power we need to snuff this force out and escalate the faith to greatness.”
“Pray to Geela!” Lisit Lynn, the old governor of Haymaker, leapt atop a table. “Pray pray!”
That was enough of that. Geela turned away as the priests began attempting an organized prayer. These rituals tended to form over decades of repeated practice, so it was a bit of a kerfuffle, watching them stumble over words, but awkward or not their faith was true. It burned in Geela’s core.
“Darkos,” she said, motioning for him to join her off to the side. “I need your help for what is quite possibly the most important thing.”
He scuttled to her side in an instant as she pulled him to an antechamber.
“We have Doc Chop and Sonatad gathering light. We have Carlosi and Renby securing wards to keep Noire within. We have Gene rescuing your parents so we can get them to head the nut operation. We have the pirates and a decent number of others to help fight. And the priests are causing a surge in faith based power.” Geela turned to Darkos and placed her bag on the cold, stone floor. “But only you can help me with this very important task.”
Darkos plopped down and peered in. “Okay cool. So the first thing I’m thinking is, it’s gotta be some hybrid of the volcanoers angel, the Alerion getup, the Berta costume, and the pirate thing. Personally, I think the pirate costume is safe to work in because all the others are very light themed and you need to sell the darkness part too.”
Gods, what did she do to deserve him?
They were in the middle of doodling costume sketches, Geela with half her eye on the pile of growing clothing and half an eye on the scrystone, when suddenly the stone whirred to life. She gestured rapidly to her clothes, twirling a hand and releasing a small spurt of energy into the command, before popping open the message.
“Priestess, it’s a mess down here. I’ve gotten the charges out of prison but you’re not going to like the fallout. There are thousands of skeletons chattering their jaws at me. Amy’s keeping them calm while I get the two out but I promise you, it won’t be worth it.”
“What’s he mean, not worth it?” Darkos had craned his neck to peer over Geela’s shoulder. “Those are my parents!”
Geela snapped the stone shut. “He doesn’t have to think they’re worth it. He’s saving them, and that’s what counts.” She waved her hand at the costume pieces, which had been swirling together, and they increased in pace. “We’re on a tight timer so I’m going to get this thing finished up. Meanwhile, I want you to meet Gene at the kitchens with the chefs.”
Darkos’s lip jutted but he rose to his feet with a heavy sigh. “Alright but if he makes nasty comments about my parents, I’m gonna remind him it was his friends who put them in there in the first place.”
With this, and another series of grumbles and mutters, Darkos disappeared down the hallway.
Geela would have liked to go with him and ease the inevitable friction that would arise between the two, but she was too busy making her newest costume. Because all the pieces were already together, she didn’t have to summon anything from scratch. Instead she pulled together the wings of the Volcanic Region costume and the hood and robe of the Celestial City showdown. But while light would emanate from the hood of the costume, black smoke would billow from beneath, similar to the old robes she’d used to intimidate Barney’s first lover. Her cloak dripped with the shadowy cobwebs from her Dread Pirate Ja’Eel outfit, and strapped to her back was the Mace of the Blackheart, which she’d used as Alerion. A weapon that drained void energy might just come in handy here.
Then she started a cool transition brewing and threw it all back in her bag before rejoining the main hall.
Her worshippers had come together in something a lot more reverent in the past half hour, which soothed her nerves. They were all sitting in complex patterns on the ground, chanting words that might make sense if she listened to them. But she didn’t have time for that because as she started her rounds, Morris rushed into the great hall.
His eyes landed on Geela, and he beelined towards her, throwing himself on the ground.
“Esteemed one,” he said, still panting, “there’s a problem at the Observation Tower.”
Her chest tightened. “How bad,” she asked, pulling him to his feet.
“Not… no danger. Just that, well, Highest Priest Sonatad and the doctor have gotten into a fight.” Morris’s voice evened out as he caught his breath. “A terrible row. Father Sonatad, in his wisdom, assures there’s no problem but Doc Chop is convinced that you won't be able to wield the concentrated light because you’re a being of darkness.” He laughed a bit, but his eyes shifted uncertainly. “You can, right?”
Could she? No. Light and darkness were diametrically opposed. Did she have to though, that was the real question. Did the person who wielded the light have to be her?
She needed to confer with her experts in light magic, void magic, and enchanting. But she was running out of time, according to Amy’s reports.
The castle was too big, so Geela was going to do something she didn’t like very much.
“Morris, bring me Illisandra.”
He nodded and scurried off. Geela watched as he began wandering through the crowd, looking for the short woman, as if her small stature could ever lend her any disguise given her striking appearance. Not that it mattered. Illisandra wasn’t hiding from Morris. She was already at Geela’s side.
“Priestess.” She held up a hand before Geela could admonish her. “I heard my name.”
“I need a link set between a few people.” Geela grit her teeth. “Renby, Sonatad, and Doc Chop.”
Illisandra cocked a dark eyebrow. “An interesting trio. Renby won’t let me in. He despises psychics.”
“Yes, well, we have that in common.” Renby, like Geela, had hated to admit any shortcomings in his magic, so psionics were a sore spot. Geela had managed to spec into preparatory psionics, because speccing into its polar opposite, physical enhancement magic, hadn’t really been an option for Geela for the same reason it hadn’t been an option for Renby. Both were physically inept disasters. “But distaste of psychics aside, you can still break into his mind.”
Illisandra nodded. “Only because I have five decades of magical experience on him. Your little priest will be the easiest. The doctor’s head is full of metal, which is irritating but doable.” With this assessment, Illisandra silver eyes shone bright before fading to a pure white. She blinked once and her eyes flickered the same bright green of Geela’s.
Priestess, Illisandra said. She screwed up her face a bit and blinked again. This time they were the greenish blue eyes of Geela’s enthusiastic high priest.
Welcome, Sonatad, Illisandra projected. Our God has words for you.
This next one took her quite a bit longer. Her eyebrows furrowed as her milky eyes rotated in their sockets. Then she blinked and they were a deceptively ordinary brown. Doc Chop had removed one of her eyes, replacing it with a bronze orb, so it was easy to forget the color of the remaining eye.
Doctor. I apologize for the intrusion, Illisandra said. Geela has need of you.
Make this quick, she projected back. I hate things in my head that I did not put there.
Illisandra rolled her eyes before dipping back to pull Renby in. It took her another few moments, and a few uttered curses, before her eyes flashed a bright, baby blue.
Renby. Illisandra sounded significantly shorter. The Priestess has been looking for you.
My apologies. I hate psionics. What is it, Professor?
I’ve brought you three here, Geela started, keeping her thoughts quick, to draw upon your expertise of artifacts of light and darkness.
Oh is this about the whole ‘Geela can’t use light magic’ nonsense? Sonatad sounded so exasperated that Geela could hear his air quotes. She’s a God. The rules are different.
I tell you, you are wrong with this. I have studied her works. She has limitations, divinity regardless. Doc Chop was so sure of herself, and Geela hated that she was right.
A silence fell at this, and Geela knew this was supposed to be where she assured them that she had it under control, but she didn’t. Her best bet was getting someone else to use the artifact, and she needed to know if that was possible.
Professor. Renby’s projection was so unexpectedly frustrated that Geela felt herself bristle at his tone. Vera and Carlosi want to join the conversation.
Illisandra’s eyebrows shot up. Vera will have to let me in. I’ve never been able to break down her sticky walls.
She says they’re already down. Renby was understandably glum. He hadn’t even had a chance to speak his part, and his rival was already butting in.
Let them in, Geela commanded.
It took significantly less time to add the other two to the conversation.
I appreciate you allowing us the grace to speak. As soon as Carlosi’s voice started, Geela let out a breath of relief. Carlosi had a silver tongue and the space to confer with Vera and Renby without Sonatad overhearing. It was of utmost importance that his faith not be shaken here. As someone who knew Geela in her youth, I know well the power she holds. And even then, it has outpaced that of my wildest expectations. As a newly anointed Patron, her powers are limitless in their growth but, forgive me if I speak out of turn, from my understanding of Patron assumption, they have not yet reached their full pinnacle.
A rather diplomatic way of saying ‘nuh uh, she can’t’ without rattling the High Priest too much. Geela was so pleased with the way the awkward situation had been glossed over that she’d almost forgotten the real issue at hand.
So we can’t use the stored light to fight Noire? Sonatad’s dismay cracked through Geela’s mind, and she pressed a knuckle to her forehead.
Does she need to? Illisandra asked. It’s an artifact the light is stored in. Surely another can use it.
It is not bound to her, no, Doc Chop said. The device I created can be wielded by any.
Right, but I’m sure you used a cosmic photon collector to harness the sun’s light without storing any of the ultraviolet rays that might break down the device? Renby’s thoughts took on a tone that only a teacher could love. Because light artifacts are vulnerable to any kind of energy that might break them down on a microscopic level. It’s a built-in defense mechanism because so much dark magic works that way. Cellular deconstruction, maybe even at a smaller level. Of course, once you eliminate that, the concentration of light energy you can store massively increases because you’re not using up all that dead space. Right?
It was a rhetorical question, but Doc Chop responded nonetheless.
Of course. I used a soul mirror to amplify, instead of a purity diamond, because we want this to work as a weapon, not an energy source. The woman sounded smug, and even Geela couldn’t help but nod in appreciation. She couldn’t wait to see this thing, even if she’d never be able to use it.
Even better, Renby said. Or worse, depending on the context. Better because it’s such a massively powerful, destructive tool. Worse because no mortal will be able to even hold it. Right?
This last ‘right?’ was definitely aimed at Geela, and she sighed heavily. He’s correct. It might not be bound to me, but I’m the only person who could even touch it.
And you can’t use it. Illisandra sounded sober, and Geela knew the woman hadn’t read her mind to finish that sentence.
All right, so I’ll ask Berta to. Vera hadn’t spoken since joining, and Geela had forgotten she’d even been there. I’ve been keeping her updated about all of this, and she thinks it’s hilarious. She’s honestly a little offended no one’s asked her to get involved.
Three Patron tier entities? Geela could hear Carlosi’s eyebrows raise. That’s risky.
Fair point. We’ll just all die instead. Vera’s tone was as belligerent as always.
So wait, you want to summon a Blood Witch to use a light artifact to kill a Void Fiend? Sonatad asked. Isn’t that, you know, a terrible idea?
Good point. Death is far preferable to such a terrible plan. Vera’s thoughts grew tighter in irritation.
Stop fighting, Geela ordered. This gets us nowhere. I think this may be our best plan, but there still exists risk. I will not allow the Blood Witch Berta to consume Noire’s soul. If anyone was getting that, it was Geela. But I also know she demands sacrifice, as do all blood Patrons. Geela hadn’t established her faith as one of sacrifice, so it would be really bad to kill a half dozen of her new followers just to give old Bertie some payment. But the only people here that weren’t in Geela’s faith were the cultists, and Geela’s stomach plunged at the idea of killing one of them again.
Maybe Vera or Renby would be willing to give up some of their grandchildren. The Eight would probably consider it an honor. But all of the Eight had children, which meant any sacrifices would leave young ones in the care of their very childfree great-grandparents. That was a bad idea too.
Vera, commune with Berta. Find a stipulation for her summoning that is agreeable. Read: I’m not killing you again, Vera. Reach out when you have concluded.
Of course, Geela. With this, Vera dipped out of the conversation.
The rest of you, continue your work. How have the castle wards come along? Geela asked.
We’re doing well, Carlosi responded. It’s going to be active work on my part. We simply lack the time to automate the portals. It does mean dear Renby is free to assist with any further work you have for him.
Geela smiled. Alright, Renby, what do you want to work on? Brewing peanut spray or building the light artifact.
Is that a joke? he asked. Don’t answer that. I want to work on the light artifact.
Good. Geela shook her head, grounding herself back in reality. “Illisandra, I want you to find Morris and send him to the kitchens. They could use an alchemist down there.”
Illisandra nodded and turned to find the man, who was still desperately searching for her.
This wasn’t great. Getting Berta involved? Never great. But losing access to their only weapon? Far less great. This would have to work.
They could handle Berta’s payment later.