Darkos tore down the staircase, Geela flung over his shoulder. He’d have to put her upright before they reached the ground, for appearances sake, but there wasn’t time for her to totter down the tower. Noire was up. Noire was up and probably moments from destroying the entire Church of Geela.
As they reached the bottom, they could hear the angry noise of bones grinding, and soon they were whipping around the corner, Darkos plopping Geela to her feet a single bend away from where the pirate guards stood.
Vortex, the water mage, shrieked and whipped around, her dagger half raised before she realized it was Darkos and Geela. “My apologies,” she said, voice a stammer. “I kept ‘em off you. I kept ‘em off you, like you asked.”
Darkos tossed her a quick grin. “Nice work. We need to get to the great hall pronto, though. Bad stuff is gonna happen there.”
The pirates didn’t need any more egging on for them to charge forward, sending bones scattering.
Geela, who had finally reoriented herself, turned to the base of the tower. “Darkos, where did you say you planted the charge again?”
Darkos blinked, brain filtering through every definition of the word ‘charge’ he knew before landing on: “You’re going to blow it up?”
“Yes,” she said, face flat. “I’m going to kill everyone inside. No one will survive to tell the tale.”
Darkos’s face flushed. This made no sense! Their only weapon was in there! Geela’s oldest allies! Her treasured apprentices! He scowled, trying to formulate a response when Geela’s arching eyebrow registered.
“You, uh.” Darkos coughed. “You want to collapse the entrance.” The eyebrow slowed. “Collapse it so no bad guys can get up… Because Carlosi can teleport them all down.” The eyebrow stopped its ascent entirely, before approvingly rejoining its perfectly tweezed companion.
“Not so dulled by the void after all,” Geela said. “Let’s see…” Her fingers flitted over the small device in the stone. “Let’s just take the power down a few notches, make a few edits to the trajectory…” She smiled as the device clicked and began blinking. “Now let’s make like a drum and beat it.”
Darkos’s face lit up. “Geela! You got one right! I don’t think I’ve ever—oh right, run.”
He grabbed Geela’s arm and tore down the hall as the blinking device flashed quicker and quicker behind them, before a significantly explosive boom sounded. Just to be sure, he checked over his shoulder. The doorway to the tower had caved in, but there was no cataclysmic collapsing noise. So the tower was still standing. Good. That would have been a really bad way to lose this fight and the future of humanity.
“Oof.” Geela rotated an ankle that had gotten twisted in the frantic sprint. “Darkos, could you—”
Darkos wasted no time in throwing it a heal. “No time for enchanted hairbows,” he said. “Plus now that we know the secret to resisting Noire was peanut sandwiches, and now that Noire knows exactly where we are, there’s really no need to not heal.”
“I was about to say the exact same thing.” She tested out her newly fixed leg. “Now let’s go stall our old and dear friend.”
“And parent.” Darkos nodded. “Or… soul donor? Is that how this works?” The two started down the corridor towards the great hall. “I mean, it kinda disowned me, so I feel like parent is generous since it won’t recognize me as its son. I don’t owe it the honor of calling it ‘parent.’ It doesn’t deserve that.”
“Sweetie, don’t be upset.” Geela patted his shoulder as they hurried along. “Remember, it killed your brother to possess his body. You lucked out."
This was fair. Noire did kill Hari. Of all the deaths of his siblings, that had to be the worst, right?
“How did Terha die?” Darkos asked Geela as they rounded the corner towards the massive room. The hall leading there was eerily empty of anything beyond a few bodies and a lot of bones.
Geela snorted. “When she thought the Void Slumber had taken out Hari, she denounced Noire. It sapped her powers and she was eaten by fish.”
Okay, maybe Hari had the second worst death. “Noire can sap our powers?” he asked.
“You have innate powers that come from being a void spawn. But if you worship Noire, you can also derive Patron powers from it. Stupid girl was so reliant on having Noire’s powers on tap, she never developed much on her own.” Geela’s grin vanished as they reached the hall. “Can your healing be ranged?”
Darkos peered through the doorway leading in. “Yeah. It’s, ya know, a bit tricky but I can if I know the issue.”
“Good. I’ll set up a psychic link for us to use, so I can tell you what needs fixing.” Her lips twisted. “Do be on top of the ball, won’t you? Noire’ll reduce me to fine red powder if it gets its tendrils in too deep, and I want it focused on me so it doesn’t sneeze my followers out of existence.”
Darkos was, once again, reminded of just how powerful this thing was. He gave Geela a shaky salute. “Sounds good.”
Then her eyes went blank, and for a moment, Darkos thought something really bad had happened.
Darkos, I’m setting up a link between you and Geela. The cool voice that flooded his head wasn’t his own, and Darkos gave Geela a suspicious look.
That’s just Illisandra. Geela sighed. Don’t worry about it. Just listen to my calls.
Darkos wrinkled his nose. I see why you don’t like psychics. This is weird. No offense.
There is no offense you could make that I have not already heard from the Priestess herself. Illisandra’s thought sounded wry but not upset.
Alright, Geela said after a moment. I can take the spell from here, Illy. We don’t have any time left to spare. I’m going in. Darkos, listen to my calls and in the meantime, try to mitigate casualties. Capice? Capice.
Without waiting for a capice from Darkos, Geela flung open the doors to the hall, and instantly a blast of light burst forth from the entryway, momentarily obscuring their forms.
Geela threw her arms to the side, and through the radiant beams, tendrils of purple darkness snaked forth from the corners of the rooms, weaving around the occupants, before reaching her and twining up her fingers. As the light cascaded down to form the flowing gown she’d put on Berta in the Celestial City, the twin snakes of shadow reached her back, where they erupted into wings, which started white at her shoulders but darkened to black at the feathers at the bottom. Coating the exterior of the robe was a grey, filmy, cobwebby lace, which gathered at her massive sleeves, and from beneath the outfit emitted a dark fog. Around her face, a hood formed, from which shone more glittering light, and, of course, her two glinting green eyes.
Finally a huge weapon appeared in her right hand, initially formed of dazzling stars before taking the shape of a heavy mace.
It wasn’t overdone. The outfit fit her petite form perfectly without dwarfing her or at all seeming comically over the top.
The room came to a hushed still as she walked in. Were the skeletons actually taken aback by her appearance? Or were they waiting on something else.
Geela, are the skeletons actually awestruck by you?
Not now, Darkos. I have a speech to give. My guess is, they’re waiting for Noire, so I have to keep this snappy.
“My followers.” Her voice rang through the hall, captivating the crowd. “Today, we defeat the absolute of eternal night. For none shall so threaten the plane that I call my own. Noire, bastard of the void, show yourself.”
On this cue, either because it had been summoned or because Geela had timed it that perfectly, the door opposite her creaked open. A collective gasp of horror slipped from the lips of at least half the congregation as a solitary figure walked through the doorway.
It was amazing how much being murdered and possessed by Noire had changed Hari’s body. Gone was the swagger, the disaffected expression, the high chin, and cocky strut. Noire wore the body as though it were nothing more than a weapon. It didn’t move with the halting jerkiness of Darkos’s old High Priest when the man had been possessed by Noire eldest son, Malevo. No, Noire was entirely in control here; it just didn’t care about presentation. Every step was just one step closer in its goal of utter destruction.
Probably the most disturbing thing about the creature that stood before them was its face. It was entirely dead of any emotion, not rage, not aggression, not glee. It was as though Hari’s face was a mask Noire had pulled over its head and didn’t give a second thought to. The once beautiful lips, brow, cheeks now hung heavy on the face as Noire had no need to provide the energy required to support them.
How long til sundown? Geela asked. I’m not risking looking behind me.
Darkos looked over his shoulder, and held up a few fingers to the horizon, trying to gauge the time.
Maybe twenty minutes? Geela what happens if the wand isn’t enough? I mean, by sunset, it should be the most powerful it can be, but if it doesn’t work, and the sun disappears, won’t Noire get more powerful?
Well-reasoned, she said. Her eyes narrowed as she took on a defensive stance, and the world around them pulsed with heavy magic. It had best be strong enough.
Geela had laid out several traps about the hall, ones that could only be triggered by her. The first sprang to life as soon as Noire crossed the threshold into the room. A shining shield sprang about it. Though it dazzled with light, Darkos didn’t get that familiar sunburst feeling from it, the one that would confirm it as light magic. Instead, it was the whir of enchanting magic, with just a hint of alchemy. Geela must have repurposed some of their nut serum to enhance her shield.
It actually worked for longer than Darkos expected. Noire either was in no rush or hadn’t considered the possibility that Geela’s shield could hold it, given her lack of light magic. It walked directly into the field and immediately fell back hard on its rear end.
“Step away from it.” Geela’s order cracked through the room like lightning. “Stay back and pray. On this day, I deliver you.”
Noire planted its hands on the ground and pulled itself to its feet. It placed a hand on the field, which again repulsed it, causing the skin underneath to burn. However, just as quickly as the burns formed, they melted back into unblemished skin. So Noire, unlike most of its children, had learned to heal itself. Darkos probably should have seen that coming, but it did complicate things, as they probably couldn't really hurt it.
Dark light began to ripple from Noire’s hand. As each circle collided with Geela’s shield, it sent a reverberating ripple back, and the light both intensified and cracked.
Need any help? he asked.
Geela didn’t even respond, which was kinda odd given she wasn’t actually putting any of her energy into the shield. Despite it appearing as though the two enemies were pouring power into the strength and destruction of the trap, the force field was created by enchantments, which meant that Geela likely wasn’t actually tweaking it at all. Darkos wanted to ask what she was focusing on, but that might kinda invalidate the concept of focus.
Instead, Darkos turned to find things he could do. Geela did assign him to casualty mitigation after all. And the skeletons were starting to rattle to life again.
“Fighters, set up a barrier around the worshipers!” he shouted. The words almost sounded too loud, given the room had fallen to a hushed murmuring of prayers, punctuated only by the sound of Geela’s shield cracking. “Magic users, I want you on support. I’ll let you know if you should use any spells or whatever to assist your Goddess, but in the meantime, use defensive spells to protect the worshippers.”
They snapped to, which was really a great feeling, and soon the hall was a blur of color and movement as everyone flooded to their stations. Darkos hesitated, considering joining them if only to coordinate their movements better, but he opted to stay close by Geela. His view from here wasn’t great, though, even on the raised dais, but he couldn’t risk physically getting too far from Geela. If she got hurt, and he couldn’t get near her, that could be it.
If only he could change his viewpoint without physically moving...
I’m going ghost, Geela, he said, focusing his mind to project from his body. I’ll be able to heal you astrally I’m pretty sure and if I can’t, I’ll just hop back into my body. I’m not going far, so it won’t take up too much energy.
He didn’t wait for a response—which was smart, given he didn’t get one—and instead closed his eyes and propelled his soul from his body.
It felt good to fly again, and his new vantage point was liberating to say the least. He could project his voice too, so for the next full minute, he zoomed around the hall as a cool sorta ghost thing and shouted orders, provided moral support, and occasionally even blasted the odd energy bolt at an enemy skeleton. Part of him desperately wanted to try to shoot Noire, but that would be best left to Geela. Maybe shooting energy bolts at Void Fiends strengthened them. Who knew?
Geela did, but she wasn’t saying. Her focus was still on whatever it was on, which was making Darkos nervous because Noire was about to—
With a resounding crack, the shield shattered. Darkos barely had the time to register what had happened, though, because before Noire could even emerge triumphant, a tidal wave of bugs fell on it.
At least, they looked like bugs. At first, Darkos thought, definitely bugs, but on closer inspection he noticed they were scorpions. Then he noticed the spiders. Then the snakes. Geela was so smart. She’d summoned her entire collection of venomous pets to sit atop the shield, hidden by illusion magic that Noire would have dismissed as being the illusions necessary to make it look like it was created by light.
Noire could destroy the animals, which it did with absolutely no pity, but because of their sheer numbers, more and more kept swarming it. And because each had a different type of toxin, Noire was kept plenty busy healing its new form. Just because Hari had been killed didn’t mean the body was dead. For it to retain all the powers Hari had developed over his short life, Noire would have to keep it in good repair, which meant it was susceptible to every different poison that now coursed through its blood. The venom wasn’t even close to killing it, but the multitude of symptoms had it doubled over, vomiting and seizing and frothing at the mouth as it flooded its body with healing powers, only to have more bugs bite, sting, and zap it.
Darkos gave Geela an astral thumbs up. If she noticed him, however, she didn’t indicate it. Or rather, he couldn’t see it, given her face was still hidden by her hood.
I need healing.
Darkos hadn’t expected the sudden order, given things seemed to be going so well.
Uh, sure. What for? He hopped back in his body, hurrying to his feet.
Poison. It’s reflecting back a fraction of what I’ve sent it. Don’t have time for specifics, but if you would just provide some relief before I start seizing or something, that would be great. Gods don’t puke. She sounded annoyed but not particularly sick, and Darkos had to remember these were her thoughts, not her voice.
On it. In a flash, he was by her side, putting a hand on her back and leaching away the vemon. Maybe should’ve gone for the apron and bow look after all, huh?
Darkos, please shut up for now. Her thoughts sounded more amused than angry, so while Darkos did quiet, he couldn’t fight a grin. This seemed to be doing well.
Alright, back down, I’ve got another attack planned, and this one is going to put me in close proximity. She rose into the sky, beating wings creating a gust powerful enough to blast away any dust, dirt, grime, pirates, or skeletons too close. Across the room from her, Noire was getting shakily to its feet, still healing off the remaining twitches and tremors caused by the now dead bug collection.
Before it could collect itself too much, Geela raised her mace high, and dove at it.
Noire saw her coming, and even with part of its energies focused on healing, it managed to summon up a beefy shield of purple glowing energy. The mace Geela wielded was one that particularly sought to consume voidic energy, so Darkos fully expected the weapon to hit Noire’s shield with a resounding smash.
Instead, however, as Geela reached Noire, her weapon phased right through the shield. Then it phased right through Noire, and the next thing Darkos knew, she was entirely behind it, as though the mace had been an illusion all along.
Successfully behind the fiend, Geela whipped around fast, and Darkos saw the illusion of the mace vanish from her right hand, only for the invisible to fade from her left hand, revealing the weapon, glinting wickedly. Noire had no time to turn or summon another defense as Geela slammed her weapon hard into its exposed back.
The force flung them both away from each other. Darkos could see a massive crack running along the bludgeoning head of the mace, but he could also see Noire flat on its stomach, pulling itself to its feet. Geela’s attack hadn’t destroyed it, like it would have one of Noire’s priests, but she had managed to steal some of its energy, and again she wasted no time flying back up into the air.
Darkos, she said, two things. One, I need serious healing because I think Noire’s decided my insides would look better reduced to a red paste. Also I need that vat of peanut liquid placed on top of the broken column, the second one in the row. You see what I mean?
He did, so without another command, he shot three massive heals at Geela, focusing them on returning her insides to well-formed organs instead of whatever hideous thing Noire had been doing to them. Then he raced over to the barrel as fast as his legs could carry him. He hated leaving Geela so far but he couldn’t very well lift things as an astral form. Before lifting the barrel into its position, he scooped out a large bucket and placed it behind a nearby pew, just in case. Then he fidgeted with the barrel til it was positioned just perfectly.
Don’t acknowledge me, she said. I don’t need Noire looking your way.
Darkos, who had been about ready to give her a thumbs up as he positioned the barrel, instead hurried back to Geela’s side, physically, in case she needed more healing.
I need some ice or water mages to create a slide, Geela said. See where that destroyed pew is, about ten feet from Noire? I need an ice slide going from there to the base of the column. Manage that for me, won’t you?
I am so on it. He flipped back, grabbing Vortex, the mage from before, as well as Tim, Lou, and Caranthia, all mages from the Celestial City.
“I need you four to create an ice slide from there,” he pointed to Geela’s aforementioned spot, “to there.” He pointed at the other aforementioned spot. “I’ll provide air support to cover you from skeletons.”
Darkos! I need healing. My feet are going to fall off and that would be a very bad look!
“I’ll provide air support in, like, ten seconds. Just get started!” Darkos gave them his best reassuring, ‘you won’t die in the next ten seconds, promise’ look and whizzed back to Geela.
How’s that? he asked, reattaching the tendons that had apparently given up on her feet.
Much better. It’s fighting me on a more abstract level right now, since I’ve stolen some of its power. That power is doing its best to kill me while I wrestle it into submission. She sounded both smug with her minor victory and annoyed at its inconvenient nature. It could probably kill us all without that, but it probably would like to see me weakened. Not that it’ll ever say, but I think it’s a little surprised at how strong I’ve gotten, and it’s not going to take risks.
Cool, Darkos said. I mean it. That’s cool. I gotta go save some mages.
Have fun and be safe! Geela called as Darkos hopped back to his ice team.