Geela tossed one last longing look over her shoulder at the showdown going outside, before turning her head back to Noire. In both arenas, they were massively outmatched. Berta, though a Patron, was nothing compared to Celeste. That said, she was still ancient and vastly empowered by the completion of her prophecy a year or so back. She just needed to buy Geela time. The pony Goddess was absurdly powerful, but a bit out of touch with the affairs of mortals, and hadn’t realized yet that Geela had been behind the stealing of her church. When she did, well, she would most certainly turn to Geela. And Berta had promised that she’d send Celeste her way if the fighting ever got too dicey.
It was what Geela could expect. Berta wasn’t going to die for Geela here. But because that fight would only end with Celeste beating Berta, it meant Berta would be tied up in the fight and couldn’t wield the wand against Noire. The noble thing here would be to have Berta out Geela as the real church thief, let Celeste wipe her out, and then have Celeste handle Noire. But Geela wasn't noble, she was self serving, and she wasn’t going to sacrifice herself here.
Not when she was sure she could find another way. She just needed time.
Her eyes fell back to Noire, who stood in the middle of the hall. It didn’t move, nor did it speak. The only thing that had changed about it was the humming shield that now enveloped its body. Around it, the air shimmered, barely noticeably, but Geela felt her stomach turn over.
So that was its game now. Whittle away at the congregation while protecting itself. They could flee, but what good would that do? Noire needed to die here. If they let it get away, there would be no place on the planet they could run to escape it.
“What do we do? Are you going to hit it with the wand?”
Geela looked to her left to see Sonatad hurrying over to the great throne Geela stood by. The boy had gone through a bit of a growth spurt in the past two years and now was almost as tall as she was. His eyes had stayed the same, though, still that ever trusting, slavishly faithful look. Now, though, Geela had to earn it.
But how did she do that without telling him about her limitations?
This time, the voice came from her right, and both Geela and Sonatad turned to see Renby holding the wand, eyebrows pinched as he stared down at the weapon.
“I… I messed it up while creating it.” His voice was stricken. “It’s a very delicate balance of magics. Light, alchemy, enchanting, even some darkness to account for her domains. It was too ambitious a project for me, and I messed it up!” Renby’s eyes swam with tears as his voice rose. He looked to Noire, helplessly. “That’s why she had to call on the aid of another Patron. I got the quantities of darkness and light wrong, so instead of syncing perfectly with a Patron of both, the magics in the wand won’t activate for an entity of either.”
As he spoke, Sonatad’s lips had parted, and with each sentence, his round face grew paler. “You’ve doomed us all.” It was, perhaps, the most damning sentence that had ever come from Sonatad’s lips. “Needlessly so. I don’t know who you are or why you were entrusted to this. You’re not one of Geela’s followers. We never should have let you—” He cut off, clapping a hand to his ear and wincing. When he pulled the hand away, it had drops of blood on it. “We’re all going to die.”
Renby’s face contorted in something akin to guilt and anger as his fingers curled around the wand in disgust, and Geela had to remind herself that the boy was simply acting. He hadn’t messed up the wand at all, but naturally he had an excuse as to why Geela couldn’t use it. One that pinned the blame on a damned blood mage instead of their holy, beloved, flawless God.
“We should have left this important work to someone within the church.” Sonatad’s voice continued to rise in panic, and people were starting to look.
“Darkos,” Geela said, waving him to her side.
“This isn’t good,” he said, keeping his voice low as Sonatad continued to lambast Renby. “I don’t think that fight with Celeste is going to go well, and if she kills Berta, we have no one to use the—”
Geela held out a hand. “Shh. The wand is broken. It can’t bind to me because of the frequencies of light and dark magic in it.”
“But I thought—”
“Frequencies. Of. Light. And. Dark. Magic.”
Darkos’s lips formed an O, and then he mimed locking his lips. “Honestly, though? I don’t think they’d hear you.”
Geela sighed and looked back at where the two were now actively fighting. Both were experiencing the effects of Noire’s spell, though Renby looked worse for the wear, given the bloodletting he’d done earlier. He’d also gotten fed up with Sonatad’s barrage.
“There are no other enchanters half as talented or powerful as I am, save the professor herself!” Geela’s heart warmed at the old epithet, even as it sank at the reminder of how much time they were losing. “No one here was even close to having the requisite power, and I’m the only alchemist so I was the natural decision.”
“Then you didn’t do your research.” Sonatad’s eyes spilled with tears, the teenager being the more emotionally unhinged of the two. He was only fourteen after all. “Why did you even try to sync the magic with Geela’s magic types? She’s a Goddess. The rules are all different. You built that thing like it was for a mortal and now we’re all going to die from your folly. My people. I brought them here.”
Renby opened his mouth to retort, but caught Geela’s eye over Sonatad’s shoulder.
She didn’t have a psychic link with him anymore, not with Illisandra busy aiding Berta. Geela and Darkos only still did because Geela’s own psionics had taken over. So with little way to communicate with Renby, she could rely on very little here to learn what she needed.
Instead of speaking, she simply mouthed two words. ‘What rules?’
Renby’s lips twisted, and Geela almost smiled, knowing how much he must hate playing stupid. But in this case, neither of them knew enough about light magic to know what Sonatad was referring to.
“What do you mean, she plays by different rules?” Renby asked. “She’s a God of opposing magical energies, so I had to find a way to—”
“I already told you,” Sonatad said, “because she’s the God of both, diametric opposites don’t impact her! How do you think Celeste ruled both the sunrise and sunset so long? Yes her followers are all about light and celestial magic, but that’s because she rejected the darkness inherent in her domain. Not because it opposes her.”
“Wait, is that right?” Darkos looked from Geela to Sonatad to Renby before looping back to Geela, who he fixed with almost accusatory eyes.
Geela narrowed hers right back. She was new to this whole God thing and would not take guff for her ignorance here. How was she supposed to know Gods could cast opposing magic?
“That’s quite enough of this bickering,” she said. All eyes snapped to her as she stepped to the front of the raised dais. “All this fighting and for what cause? Look around. Look at your neighbors, your brothers and sisters and siblings in my church. The destruction it wreaks on our bodies is devastating, but let us not, in our fight, forget that the destruction of the mind is just as deadly.” This was a load of crock, but it had a decent impact on the morale of her followers, who raised their hands in the air. She had to fight a grimace as she saw the blood streaking out from the nail beds of many of them. “My healers, any who have the means to repair the injured, flock to the sides of your wounded siblings. Darkos—”
“I’m already on it,” he said. “Alright, who here was a priest in the non-aligned villages? I need healers on the elderly. Anyone who can use light magic, put up a shield. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to gather underneath it. It’ll absorb some of the void magic. Move move move!”
He’d grown up right under her eyes. Unfortunately, he was the most grown up of allies she had to deal with right now. Her eyes fell to Renby and Sonatad.
“I believe I may be able to fix the wand,” she said. “Renby?”
Under the accusatory look of Sonatad, Renby walked up to Geela’s outstretched hand, which he pressed the wand in.
She twirled the thing in her fingers a few times, letting her magic passively grow used to it, while muttering a few nonsense words under her breath to pretend she was ‘repairing’ it. She would need a little extra time to sync with the artifact. Before she could actively bind to it, especially given the new magic type, she needed to let her body relax and match its wavelengths.
Geela looked up at Darkos, noticing his orders had quieted. He had, while directing the healers and mages about the hall, been pacing rather imposingly, but now he stood still, watching them go to their places.
“Sonatad,” Geela said, “your service has been noted and appreciated. I need you healing the congregation. Tend to my people.”
Sonatad nodded. He pressed his lips together, as if fighting to say something, but being fourteen, his self control didn’t last very long. “I apologize, oh great one, for sullying your moment of triumph with my petty squabbling. I thank the sheep that I have not offended. I’ll do right by you!” With this, he bowed deeply and hurried off.
Geela frowned, before looking to Renby. “What is it with the sheep thing?’
He rolled his eyes so hard Geela could see how bloodshot the whites of his eyes had gotten. “Blame that stupid powderhead. The one getting married. I’ve lost brain cells since meeting her. She says you always likened her followers to sheep, so now that’s apparently your holy animal.” His lips twisted to a grimace.
“Oh, is that why they keep bleating when I give them orders?” Darkos asked walking over to the throne where Geela stood, spinning the wand idly, like a bored baton waver casually showing off. “Can you change that?”
Geela gave a heavy sigh. “I hope so. Though I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there’s a lot about being a God I don’t know yet.”
Darkos grinned, before reaching out a hand and healing the two of them. “Like how to be immortal? Though you’re holding up better than the mortals. Especially you, Renby.”
Renby, whose face had been a chalky pale moments ago, tinged pink and this, and Geela wanted to groan. She didn’t, because this wasn’t the time or place to tell Darkos that her apprentices had been, and were apparently still, enamored with him. The time and place would likely never come because Geela just didn’t want to ever have that conversation.
“He’s right,” she said. “I expected to find you in better shape since your resurrection, so I’m disappointed in the others for not taking good enough care of you.”
Renby hopped up on the arm of the chair next to her, legs swinging. “Worshipping Berta is… a lot.”
“It never seemed to bother you before.” Geela’s eyes landed back on her wand, which now had started to hum with power. It was so foreign, she almost dropped it, only managing to reclaim her grasp as its thin handle began to slip from her fingers.
Both men pretended not to notice, continuing their conversation.
“Things aren’t the same since the sacrifice,” Renby was saying. “It’s not fun being a Patron’s fuel. I never used to get why you were such a stickler about consensual sacrifices, but I get it now. When your soul is the property of something malevolent, something angry at you, it’s eternal torment.”
Geela could feel Darkos’s horror as she tried to focus again on the wand. It felt like one of the little fireworks they used to set off as children, the sticks with sparks flying about the end. Except it was far hotter and vibrated her very spirit.
“I’m surprised you’re doing as well as you are.” Darkos sounded almost as haunted as Renby. “No wonder you don’t like being around her.”
“Vera actually saved me a bit.” He sounded reluctant to even say the words. “She was Berta’s jailer, but she kept Berta talking. Entertained, amused, engaged.” He let out a little breath. “It was pretty much the only thing keeping me from being completely broken. I think Vera’s guiltier about our daughters’ deaths than I am. She saw it as more of a tragedy, but it was necessary. The only way to get a Patron to release their hardfought toys is to get them to open their mouth wider.”
The wand sparked suddenly, silencing the conversation and drawing all eyes to the artifact.
A smile grew across Geela’s face as her heart began to pick up. She’d done that, almost absentmindedly, while listening and letting herself attune to the weapon. In seventy years of enchanting, she’d never connected with something so powerful so fast.
Being a God had its perks apparently.
“Did you just make light magic happen?” Darkos asked, eyes the size of the ornament at the end of the wand. “I felt light magic.”
Geela gripped it and felt the magic burning through her fingers like her bones flowed with lava. She shot out another burst of magic, and this time the sparks flew higher and brighter.
“How limited is my power supply?” she asked Renby.
He shook his head, his lips slowly matching the smile on Geela’s and Darkos’s faces. “It shouldn’t be. At all, really, until the sun goes down. Especially not with Celeste being here. That’s the alchemical part, the power well I added. By looping together the light strings with liquid silver—” He stopped, catching Geela’s expression, leaning in all ready to learn, and Darkos’s sigh of ‘can it wait?’ For once, Darkos was right.
“Another time, dear,” Geela said. With her free hand, she pulled her hood back up, before slowly turning to face Noire. “I have a nemesis to defeat.”
Noire hadn’t moved since Geela had last looked at it. Its magic had intensified, certainly. She was starting to feel the effects more strongly now, as underneath her hood, a trickle of blood ran from her nose, the thin veins collapsing on a molecular level. Her parish must be getting worse by the second. It was time to act.
Geela was a powerful individual. Even more so now that she was a Patron. She could enact miracles, such as the one she was currently powering up in the wand, her fingers blistering from the heat emitted by the magic. But the most taxing thing here wasn’t controlling the wand, nor was it funneling the power or keeping up her illusions or anything of the sort.
No, the hardest part was the sheer amount of restraint she needed to summon to stop herself from saying something witty, devastating, and awe inspiring to Noire. This was her chance, after decades of passive feuding, to obliterate it before the eyes of worshippers. And yet she couldn’t direct Noire’s attention at her in the slightest. She needed surprise here, since this might take a few goes and giving the Void Fiend any extra time to respond could be the difference between a world that worshipped Geela and a world that didn’t exist.
So instead, with no further ado, she pointed the wand at Noire and forced out every ounce of power she’d built up.
The effects were utterly exhilarating. A shower of sparks flooded from the ornament at the end and pounded into Noire’s shield like dragon’s flame. More and more they poured until they began to melt through the very shield itself. Geela could feel the air around her buzz as Noire’s attention turned to her.
“What is this? What magic do you throw at me, little Ja’Eel?”
Its words were all Geela needed to feel a thrill of excitement. She was Ja’Eel again. Noire was afraid of empowering her further. Once again, ‘little Geela’ was a threat.
She took down the barrage of sparks, recomposing herself for a moment. This time, however, she could feel her confidence twining with the faith of her followers. With the power inherent in her core. With every magic honing technique she’d learned since childhood.
Her power and focus twisted tighter and tighter until she focused the threaded, braided together, into the wand. Slowly, it moved through the artifact, imbuing itself with light power and celestial energy as it whirled through the ornate facets of the pendant at the end, growing faster and faster until—
A snake of black lightning shot from the hole in Noire’s shield, directly at Geela.
She aborted her spell, wrenching the energy out of the wand and reforming it as a shield in a split second, moving faster than she knew she could even think.
The golden field sprung to being in front of her, emanating from the wand, but it wasn’t enough. Not fast enough, not big enough, not strong enough.
A high crack sounded as Geela dove out of the way. The sound wasn’t at all like how Celeste had shattered the windows. It was closer to the sound of a single fracture appearing in a frail wine glass. She didn’t have time to investigate just yet, however, and rolled behind the large throne to hide from any further attacks. Darkos had already ducked there, and Renby was fast on their heels.
“I can draw fire,” Darkos said. “Hop into astral and organize some movement. Noire’s power isn’t fully there yet, we’ve got a few minutes. We just need it to look away and—what?”
He must have finally noticed the frozen look on Geela’s face as she looked at the fragile weapon in her hand.
“Oh shoot.” It didn’t take a genius to see the crack running across the wand’s face, so even Darkos was easily able to realize what was wrong.
“Let me see if I can…” Geela had to be able to fix this. It was just a break. There was nothing voidic polluting it. But as she ran her finger across the crack, it came away with a thin silver liquid.
“The power well.” Renby’s voice was a low hiss. “It’s leaking.”
Geela turned an annoyed look on him. “And I suppose that’s the alchemical part? Really Renby?”
“I can fix it,” he said. “I can. I made it in a few minutes, I can fix it.” But Geela wasn’t sure if she believed him. The way his voice spiked gave her doubt. That said, she didn’t have another choice.
“Darkos,” she said, “I need that diversion. Now that Noire knows we have a weapon, we need to slow it. But no astral projection.”
Darkos, who’d just closed his eyes, suddenly sprang them back open. “No?”
“No. Noire will just possess your body again, and it’s not going to let you play another trick on it.” Geela’s fists tightened. Not only would it be the end of Darkos, it would put Noire right next to Geela. She needed Darkos further away, if only to keep the potential of Noire reaching her at bay.
“Okay,” Darkos said. “ I’m gonna give you both a quick heal and then go.”
As the healing magic flowed over Geela, she regarded him with a serious look. “What are you going to do?”
“Oh don’t you worry. Just trust me.” He gave her a very reassuring wink, before standing up and waving his arms like a mad man. Then he hopped up on the chair and began shouting.
“Oi, Celestials. I need you to brighten this place up. Just, everything you’ve got, super bright!”
Was Dakros insane? She’d long considered him to be mentally deficient, but her opinion had slowly been changing over the last few years. Now, though, she wanted to take it all back. Yes, super brightening the place would disorient Noire, but it would blind Darkos, and when the bulk of Noire’s powers weren’t directed, it just put everyone at additional risk. Noire wouldn’t see, but it didn’t need to.
But, unfortunately, that didn’t stop the Celestial branch of her church from following his orders and giving the place enough light to shame the stars. From where they crouched behind the throne, Geela and Renby’s eyes were spared, but everything in the main center of the hall was completely overrun.
It was quiet enough, though, for Geela to hear footsteps. Big boots clunking and running. Geela hadn’t realized she’d memorized the sound of Darkos’s boots until now, as she heard them bolting through the hall. Every time a footfall came down, she winced, expecting to hear a topple with it, but the topple never came. What did come was the slice of a sword being drawn and the dull thud of it hitting something, followed by a scream.
Darkos had, seemingly, been able to find his way through the destroyed, treacherous floor, overturned columns, blown up tables, to reach Noire, and hit it, all without taking a single spill. It was as if he had a way to navigate entirely blindly that still allowed him to see physical things around him.
Geela frowned. Had they ever removed Darkos’s echolocator from his head? Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t remember.
Snapped from her thoughts, Geela looked back to Renby, and her heart sank.
The young man’s hands were covered in blood, stemming from his fingernails and the scar on his arm that had barely started to heal. He was clearly struggling to hold his head up. The rest of the parish were underneath the light shields, but she and Renby had been relying on Darkos’s constant healing. With him gone, Geela could feel the void pollution in the air strip away at her but it was nothing compared to what that magic could do to a mortal.
She parted her lips, not sure what to say, but he held a hand up.
“I can’t… I don’t have time. I don’t know… it’s not important.” He coughed. “It’ll work. Or… I didn’t have time to fix it all. So I altered it. It’ll destroy the body Noire’s in. With how connected it is, it’ll lose most of its power. Go back to the shadows. Won’t kill it, but it’ll basically be a fledgling void… thing…” He rested his head against the back of the chair.
“Renby?” she whispered, shaking his arm. The boy didn’t respond except to cough violently. They had a matter of minutes here. She didn’t have time to try to wake him. She needed Darkos by her side to get her healed and ready for another blast.
It wasn’t good, the damaged wand, but it was the best she could do. And really, destroying the body and banishing Noire to the fledgling Void Realm would be fine. She could build up power over the years and keep it trapped there indefinitely. It would do. Nemesis defeated, church saved, closed and done.
It would have to do because she really didn’t have another choice.