I need healing!
Darkos, who’d been honing in on Noire, ready for another super risky attack, faltered in his step at Geela’s call.
She needed a healer?
Was that directed at me? he asked.
No, sorry, that was for the other healer I’m psychically linked to. Disregard. But Darkos knew this was sarcasm. He’d learned well enough. Besides, as she’d pointed out, she wasn’t linked to another healer.
Alright, behind the throne, right? He turned, firing a sonar beam at the throne. To his surprise, he picked up a small figure scurrying away from it. Is that you leaving? I’m using my sonar emitter, so I can’t see but I’m picking up too much hair and general robes for that figure to be Renby.
Well spotted. I’m leaving the throne to get another shot, but I need healing for Renby while I line this up, and then I need you by my side. Make it snappy! Geela’s last order had enough fire to almost knock him off kilter, and he had to remind himself that, no matter how loud she was, Noire still couldn’t hear his thoughts.
Right give me three minutes.
You have two.
Always so generous, Geela. Darkos rolled his eyes before hurrying back to the throne. As he ran, he could feel Noire’s spell tick up a notch, and black spots flooded his eyes, even amid the dazzling light. All this did was put a little extra pep in his step, though, because if it was messing Darkos up, Renby must be—
Geela had been pretty adamant about the timer he was on, but she’d also spared the resources to keep the young man alive, so she couldn’t be too angry at Darkos using a bit of time and some res magic here. His stores were getting a bit low, though, and as the magic fled his body into that of Geela’s beloved apprentice, Darkos staggered a bit.
Renby inhaled sharply then, eyes fluttering open. They darted around for a half second before landing on Darkos, who waved wearily.
“You look… bad.” The boy was one to talk, covered in blood as he was from essentially everywhere that could bleed. “Tired. Here.” Renby pressed a hand to Darkos’s face, and for a moment, Darkos could smell blood magic, even as he desperately tried not to inhale the scent. Whatever Renby had done worked, however, as suddenly Darkos felt stronger than he had all day.
“Haven’t done blood magic in a bit,” Renby whispered. “But if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s transfusions.”
Darkos scooped the man up like he was nothing. “I’m getting you over to the healers.” He poked his head around the throne to take in the room with another sonar blast. Geela was crawling carefully over the rubble, managing to stay miraculously quiet. She’d need his help to line up a shot though. “Good work on repairing the wand,” he said as he started to run. “You should have used the blood magic transfer on yourself, though.”
Renby’s fingers clutched at Darkos’s cuirass a bit harder than was probably necessary. “Doesn’t work that way. I can’t derive power from my own blood. Doesn’t even really make sense if you think about it. Any rational person should understand that. Almost blindingly obvious.”
Okay, that was harsh. Darkos didn’t know much about blood magic, and personally, he liked it that way.
He made it to the healers under the light shield just as his ears started buzzing again. The group was a sight for sore eyes, but they were alive. At least, those he could see, and he wasn’t going to bum himself out by looking around for casualties.
“Imimi,” he said to the closest healer, one of Geela’s High Priests. “He needs tending. I resurrected him, but, well, you can see he’s worse for the wear.”
The young woman’s brow puckered. “Yes, I see. I’ll do what I can.” This was a rather underwhelming vote of self confidence, but before Darkos could ask for a little more reassurance, a pulse went through the air, and the light shields shimmered and flickered.
“Good. I gotta go.” He all but dropped Renby in her thin arms before hoofing it across the hall, grateful for the energy transfusion. With the constant heal he was running on himself, just to stay alive, and the energy exerted from running while sonaring, he was more than a little beat by the time he reached Geela. “You’re not looking so great either. Here, I got you,” he said, as he ran a heal over her and scooped her up, ignoring her squawk of protest. “You can kill Noire if I can get you in position for a shot, right?” He began moving, keeping his sensor running to find a good angle to hit Noire at.
“Rude, thank you, and not quite.” Her voice was also not as reassuring as he’d hoped. He had to remind himself they were well into what was hopefully the final battle with Noire. The Void Fiend would do everything to protect itself.
“What’s the catch?” The two came to a stop beside a still-upright column. “The wand’s fixed, right?”
Behind the column, Darkos could see Geela’s face a bit better. Enough to know that the wand was probably not fixed.
“What’s wrong with it?”
Her fingers curled around the handle as her scowl deepened. “He didn’t have the time to fully fix it. Or maybe he didn’t have the energy. You saw how bad he was, right?”
Darkos thought better of informing Geela that the young enchanter had died, and just nodded mutely.
“Right. Passed out before he could get it all together, but this is fine.” She didn’t sound like it was fine at all. “Hit it now, we’ll destroy Hari’s body, and Noire will be reduced to a weakened version of itself. We’ll force it back in the new, fledgling Void Realm and put it out of our minds for a few centuries.”
That was it? All of this, just to put Noire in timeout? Just to make it sit in the corner and think about what it’s done?
“That’s all we can do?” he asked, voice more than incredulous. “Just banish it? Will we even be able to find it in the Void Realm again, with it weakened?”
“Probably?” She sounded annoyed, and Darkos couldn’t tell if it was because of the underwhelming result of all their hard work or if it was just because Darkos was questioning her. “We don’t have to find it until it’s a threat again. It might never grow that powerful, though. It might stick to the shadows and send out some minions here and there to cause a bit of mayhem on the Mortal Realm.”
A bit of mayhem? How many deaths did that mean? How many sacrifices to Noire? He remembered Renby’s haunted eyes as the man explained to him how devastating it was to be a sacrifice for a Patron that had malevolent feelings towards you. He thought of Imimi’s narrowly avoided fate. He thought of all his own classmates who had fallen to that, and how they now existed eternally within Noire.
In a place that didn’t know time, so eternity was a given. A place that didn’t know joy, so suffering was a given. A place that didn’t know light or hope or anything other than the pain of being drained cyclically forever. A place that simply was, and the priests were nothing more than fuel.
But then he had to think about reality. What was in front of him. Even with a constantly running heal, he was dying. Geela was dying. The thousands that had come, expecting a wedding, were now dying. Some probably had already.
Geela was right. They didn’t have time for a plan B.
He gently put his fingers around her wrist. “Let me guide your hand. You have a pretty clear shot but you don’t want to miss.”
Her muscles relaxed in his grip, and Darkos knew that she wasn’t very satisfied by the compromise either. They would have the time to be disappointed later.
“I’m good to go?” Geela’s voice shook, but her hand remained steady.
“Yeah,” Darkos said. “Yeah, you’re good.”
The air began to ripple, but this time it wasn’t caused by Noire’s destruction of the particles in the atmosphere. They were ripples of light, pulsing through the air, pulling all the cosmic energy into Geela’s wand, even that from the shields. As the light was sucked into her weapon, Darkos could see again. He could see with startling clarity.
Jane and Adronious the Vast, arms around each other and around three chunky babies, each grasping one of Geela’s void monsters in a death squeeze. One of them idly sucked on Bugsquito’s hands. Another had Snake in a stranglehold. The monsters didn’t look upset. They pressed themselves against the babies, getting as much comfort from the tight hugs as the infants did.
Sally had six injured or dying parishioners over his shoulder, standing in line for the closest healer, patting one on the back. His lips moved, and Darkos could tell from his face that he was providing comfort to the woman. She smiled weakly, but didn’t raise her head.
Doc Chop had set up a series of odd artifacts around a crowded huddle of children. She tweaked the direction of one of them, and Darkos could easily detect the enchanting magic coming off it, protecting the littlest members of Geela’s church. The doctor herself did not sit within the protective field, and rested her head on her fist, unable to keep it up.
Imimi cradled Renby in her arms, looking from his unconscious form to the line of worshippers in need of healing. Darkos knew that feeling well. Abandon one patient to die in the hopes of saving more? Or remain with the one you know needs you, and trust in the other healers.
Then his eyes fell on his parents, the two people who had raised him, the two people who had been faithfully in his corner since before his birth. The two people who had always had his back, traveling across the entire planet in a desperate bid to keep him safe. Dad’s tireless work to keep him on the straight and narrow. Mom’s home cooking that had unknowingly saved him and possibly the entire Realm.
Dad held Mom in his arms. She wasn’t moving. Darkos couldn’t even tell if she was breathing.
How their lives had changed in the past few years. All of theirs.
It was time to end this.
Darkos turned back to Geela, who still held her wand aloft. Only a few seconds had passed since she’d started absorbing the magic from the air around her, and already she had transformed. Her hood had fallen back, her hair had come untucked, her eyes burned with bright white light, while circles of black rippled from the green glowing pupils at the center.
He couldn’t tell if it was enchanting magic or just some kind of godly levitation, but slowly she rose into the air as she pointed her wand down at Noire. Despite not being able to sense void magic, Darkos could see the Void Fiend turn to her and begin concentrating its area attack on another direct blast.
It wouldn’t have the time.
Light poured from Geela’s wand like hellfire. It was somehow brighter than even the all encompassing aura emitted by the mages earlier. Darkos’s eyes burned just looking at it as it poured into Hari’s body. He held up a hand to block his eyes, but shot out another sonar ray to feel what was going on.
The sonar almost burned him with the ferocity that returned with it, but Darkos could feel Hari’s body ignite. No healing would protect the body here. If only it could hit Noire itself.
A scream wrenched itself from Hari’s lips, and Darkos was reminded of the sound he’d heard when he’d expelled Noire from his own body. Noire’s damned shriek, drowning out the cries of the souls it had consumed.
Time seemed to freeze, just then, as Darkos’s thoughts raced a thousand thinks per second. His own anger at Noire pulsed through his body as he thought of the lives destroyed. The priests he used to know. Boff, Peg, Sven, Shia, dozens more he’d known. Hundreds, thousands he didn’t.
They deserved revenge. And now Darkos had a plan.
“Geela,” he said. She didn’t turn to look at him, and he could only hope she’d heard him. “Thanks for everything. You’ve been the best friend I could have ever hoped for.”
Without waiting for any response, he took several steps away from her and let his whole body relax. His eyes rolled back in their sockets as his lids slowly rested.
A second later, his soul propelled itself from his body and blasted up in the air. In his astral form, he could see the room so much clearer. Above Hari’s burning body, he could see Noire’s voidic form pulling itself from the celestial flames. Pieces of its very essence decayed and fell off, sloughing into wisps of shadows that evaporated in the brilliant light. It was gratifying, watching it fall apart, but Darkos wasn’t content.
As the last remains of Noire’s entity fled Hari’s glowing form, the body burst into a million sparkling bits of glitter, and the congregation collectively gasped. They didn’t know Noire had escaped. If Darkos and Geela had let it end there, they probably never would.
But Darkos needed the satisfaction of avenging those who deserved it. And a moment later, he got his chance.
Noire, burning in the light that flooded from Geela’s wand, turned to find a path of escape. First it spun frantically in the center of the hall, looking for a shadow, a crevice to disappear into. Then it saw a delicious piece of bait, crumpled next to Geela like a juicy, delectable worm floating freely in the water, attached to a hook and line that Noire would never see coming.
Darkos shuddered, wishing he hadn’t just described his body that way, but before he had a chance to think of a new metaphor, he felt that familiar sucking feeling as Noire leapt back into his body. If it had taken a moment to consider why Darkos had left it in the first place, no doubt it would have sensed the trap. But it had been desperate and dying and greedy to find a new angle of attack instead of just surrendering.
All things Darkos had predicted. If he survived this, Geela would be elated with him. If he didn’t, she’d probably kill him, but on the flip side, he’d already be dead, so potato potato.
With another gut wrenching feeling, Darkos was pulled back into his body, once again sharing it with his cursed soul donor.
Oh Darkos. You simply do not learn. Did you hope to do battle with me in the astral? Did you think that, damaged though I am, I could not still beat you? You have weakened yourself, returning here. You have done nothing but arm me. Noire’s voice was unbearably smug, but Darkos didn’t care.
Darkos had this.
I’m stronger than you’ll ever be, he retorted. He felt his soul swirling around that whirlpool again, getting heavier and heavier as he approached the bottom, where he would be sucked into the eternal void. You have no idea what you’re up against.
Noire let out a wild laugh, one that spilled through to Darkos’s physical mouth. This time, Darkos had a much harder time using his ears, but he could still hear Geela’s scream.
Stronger? You are alone. You have only ever coasted on the strength of my once follower. Now her only recourse is to destroy you. Her selfish nature will not allow her to do this. All you have done is given me a way to escape. Look. Darkos’s arm pointed out the window, where the sun was moments away from vanishing below the horizon. The sun disappears, and with it, the hope of mortal kind. All thanks to you, Darkos. You have abandoned your allies, and you will die separated from them, alone.
Darkos could feel himself spinning faster and faster as he reached the bottom, the end of the road. I’m not alone.
You have brought many allies. Gods and Witches and a multitude of worshippers, but all the powerful allies in the world will not save you here.
Darkos smiled serenely, and the unexpected gesture was enough to show through on his face. Oh silly Noire. I don’t need all the powerful allies in the world. Just a little help from some childhood friends.
As he reached the bottom of the whirlpool, his soul condensing into one tasty, bite-sized snack for Noire to add to its collection, Darkos heard, again, the screams of millions.
He also heard, echoing through his memory, Renby’s words from earlier.
The only way to get a Patron to release their hardfought toys is to get them to open their mouth wider.
With the rest of his remaining strength, Darkos flooded Noire’s gullet with every ounce of healing magic he could. The sudden and unexpected torrent of power lodged Noire’s jaw open, and in the next instant, the souls of Noire’s victims poured from its core. Darkos held on tight, staying where he was and dumping more and more magic in until the rush of escaping souls was so much that he was forced out with them.
The screams that erupted into the air now were that of anger, sorrow, and joy, somehow all wrapped up in one cacophony of sound. They flooded from Darkos’s mouth and eyes, filling the air with a source of power so strong that even the least magical mortal present could see the swirling of lights that now danced and spun and whirled around Darkos’s body in a frenzy.
Noire couldn’t catch its breath as Darkos, now thrust out in the open with the rest of the souls, continued to empower them with the last of his healing magic. Somehow, without a single word or order, the healers and light mages on the ground reached their hands up to the ceiling and picked up where Darkos had left off.
The surge grew in power as the last of the souls, the millennia old victims, finally burst forth, and with them, Noire’s inky presence.
Round and round the souls orbited the Void Fiend, faster and faster as they picked up energy from their allies on the ground. They formed a field around the fiend, preventing it from escaping.
Darkos, still floating in the air, turned to look at Geela, who was knelt by his side. Her lips parted, looking upon the spectacle in awe. Then they curled into a smile, and she rose to her feet. The atmosphere took on an electric current as she shaped her fingers into a symbol Darkos thought he might just recognize.
She broke her fingers apart and, from far above the castle, a crash of thunder sounded directly overhead. A bolt of lightning struck through the ceiling and directly into Noire’s soul. All within it, webs of electricity pressed against the orb of its being, and the souls flooded into the hole Geela had formed.
This time, they didn’t need any aid. For a single moment, the world was still. The followers dropped their hands, the lightning faded, the thunder quieted.
Then Noire’s soul exploded.
Darkos was flung through the air by the sudden release of power as Noirela, most powerful of Void Fiends, de facto ruler of the Void Realm, and the only thing Geela ever truly feared, ceased to be.
As he moved, Darkos thought this might just be it. He couldn’t imagine somehow clawing back to his body, with as little strength as he had. In a matter of moments, he would be so far away that he’d never be able to make it back. The bond would break. Still. It was worth it.
Just when he thought that he’d snap out of existence, he felt a jerk somewhere deep in his skull. No, in his mind. Like a foreign rope that had somehow been lodged in his nasal passages without him knowing suddenly grew taut and pulled through his brain in the absolute most unpleasant sensation. The next thing he knew, he was flying through the air, and within a matter of seconds, had landed firmly back in his body.
Gradually, he eased his eyes open, blinking in the fading light as the souls, finally released from their imprisonment, floated away into the sky, off to whatever afterlife they’d been promised by their various Patrons. Darkos hoped, whatever they got, it was welcome relief from the hell they’d endured so long.
His eyes refocused, then, on something closer. Geela’s face, brow damp, lips shaking, water dripping from her eyes. Tears.
“Darkos?” she asked, voice choked.
He grinned and waved weakly. “Geela.”
“I had a plan.”
“It was a good plan.”
She paused, considering this. “It was. Should have told me.”
“Yeah but if I was wrong, you’d have made fun of me.” He winced as he tried to pull himself up.
She pressed him back down, eyes narrowing. “If you were wrong, don’t you think you should have known before jumping in like that?”
Now Darkos paused, considering her words. “Uh. Maybe.”
“So I was right. You’re an idiot.” A smile finally broke the severe frown on her face, though her lips still trembled. “Stay down,” she said, pushing him back again. “You need rest. Once the adrenaline leaves your system, you’ll probably pass out, so may as well stay horizontal.”
Darkos sighed, aching body relaxing as he retained his horizontal position. “Alright. Fair enough. You’ll be here when I wake up?”
“Naturally.” She pushed a sweaty lock of hair over her shoulder, and Darkos could already find his consciousness fading as darkness began to swallow her face. “With all I’ve lost trying to kill Noire, I’m not risking losing you too.”
He smiled as his eyes floated shut, and he started to drift to sleep.
“I’ll make sure you’re okay,” she murmured, voice distant and far. “I don’t think I can handle losing a friend right now.”