Chapter 124: The Tragedy of Compromise
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Geela sat back on her heels, eyes closed. Gods she was exhausted. How she felt now reminded her of when she’d first defeated one of Noire’s children, at the dissolution of the first Alerion cult. Because she was a God now, she wasn’t as physically drained, but she was so so much more emotionally drained. Worrying about people was hard, almost more so than it was worth. But as her eyes fell across her congregation, their adoration, and spotted among them, the odd person she did really care about, maybe it was worth it.

Unfortunately, this meant she had one more thing to stress about.

“Someone strong,” she said, her weak voice still loud enough to alert the healers, celestials, pirates, volcanoers, and everyone else that she was too tired to think about. “I need you over here to carry him. Also a healer. Someone who can make sure he’s stable. I know you need rest, so just… focus on stabilizing. It would not do to lose the lives of our siblings after defeating our great enemy.”

They all sprang to, jumping to their feet, weary as they were, and hurrying about to keep her flock alive. Sale and Imimi made it to Geela’s side, both High Priests so apparently both now especially empowered.

Sally scooped up Darkos while Imimi laid on hands.

“He’s doing alright,” she said. “He’ll need more energy to avoid a prolonged recovery, but… yes, I think he’ll be okay. Either way, he’ll need a few days of rest.” The girl wiped her brow with her hand, which was covered in blood. It was either a stupid or an unconcious gesture, as all it did was stain her forehead more, but Geela didn’t have the energy to point this out.

Instead, she motioned for the two to follow her as she hobbled to the window.

Outside, a rather tired battle was still occurring. Celeste looked as powerful as ever, but she was unexpectedly restrained. With Illisandra’s effortless mental linking, the blood mages had worked to lock the Goddess down, knowing they couldn’t come close to harming her. The Eight stood in a circle on the ground below, sending up a beacon of energy from each that formed a sphere around the Goddess. Celeste, for her part, chose to instead of breaking the field, rain down sunfire on her captors.

Carlosi swallowed the sunfire with her portals, consuming them with one portal and shooting them back out another one. She was being fueled by Gene, who had let quite a shocking amount of blood to transfuse energy. Berta, with Vera by her side, battled Celeste’s light whelps, little glowing, flying ponies, corrupting their life’s blood and causing them to deteriorate into horrifying, shriveled nightmares. It was gratifying in a way, watching the cute, frolicking horse things dying horribly. Adorable made her skin crawl.

But it would have to end now. Geela would do business with the Goddess.

“Celeste!” Geela’s voice cracked through the air, drawing the attention of all combatants.

Celeste lowered her arms, and with them, her shimmering minions dissolved into a sparkly ash.

“You’ve gotten your Patrons mixed up.” Geela planted her hands on her hips, knowing she was a mess of blood, sweat, and tears. It was hard to look intimidating but she did her best. “While it was, in fact, Berta who stood in your church, it was I who spoke through her. I who swayed your followers to me, as they stood, abandoned by their Goddess. But—” Geela held up a hand to the Goddess who’d been about to speak. To Geela’s giddy pleasure, she closed her mouth. “It was neither of us who put up the cosmic block between you and your followers. That was the spawn of the Void Fiend Noirela.”

Celeste took a moment to register this, given her blank stare. Then her eyes narrowed. “The Void Fiend that put up the block was not with you? I traced its essenced to this place. I will deal with it presently, once I finish with this Blood Witch and once I finish with you, Deity of Light and Darkness.”

Geela shrugged, resisting the urge to wipe her face of the drop trailing down her forehead. “I’ve made it easy for you. It’s already destroyed. I killed it.”

Celeste rose upright, face transforming into a glare. “You dare lie to me? You are but a fledgling Patron with little to call your own. Noirela is an ancient entity, older than myself, older than this Realm. I am no mere fool.”

“Then don’t act like one.” Now Geela’s cool look was entirely genuine. “I’ve eliminated its spawn, destroyed its realm, obliterated its host body, and rallied the consumed souls that fueled it to my side. I have done so on the faith of the people you were forced from for so long. When Noirela—” she didn’t even flinch at the name “—appeared, they did not flee. They stood by my side, and they suffered and fell for it, but they stayed. They stayed and they fought and we won. We won, Celeste, together. The faith of my new church burned through a Void Fiend. How can you ever hope to sway their loyalty back?”

Geela kept her gaze level with Celeste, but she could feel, behind her, the swelling force of her followers gathering. Their faith invigorated her.

Celeste looked out at the congregation. Then she looked down at the Blood Mages. Finally, her eyes fell back to Geela.

“You command with you my followers of light. Yet I see, beneath me, you have joined forces with an evil Patron and her followers.” Her eyes narrowed, but she was clearly more confused than angry this time. “Darkness and light. Order and chaos. Evil and good. This conflict baffles me.”

Well, baffled was better than righteously furious, so Geela was on the right path.

“A Blood Witch took the blame for you as you battled a Void Fiend to death. And yet, I see behind you, a battered and bloody people. They stayed by your side, risking their deaths, and you protected them.” Celeste’s voice grew in volume then. “Oh, Geela, God of Light and Darkness, I see you for what you are. A contradiction in nature but not one I will fight. The faith of your people is sure, and your compassion for them is sound. I shall take my leave of this place and pour my energy into the strengthening of my church, rather than pull back the faith of those I have, perhaps justly, lost.”

In some irritatingly casual display of ultimate power, Celeste rotated her fingers, and the sun rose back in the sky, reversing the day’s time by about fifteen minutes. Geela wasn’t entirely sure what that might do to the entire planet, but Celeste probably had it covered. She was out of touch but not chaotic or evil. The sun, now firmly mid sunset, burned bright, and the blood shield around her melted, pouring down gross viscera down on the Eight, who shrieked and covered their heads in dismay.

At Berta’s side, Vera’s face puckered in disgust and maybe a bit of pity for her grandchildren.

“Alright down there?” she asked, wincing as the gore splattered on them.

One tossed her a thumbs up, and she sighed a breath of relief.

Celeste held her arms out and rose back into the sky, ascending into a cloud of golden light. Someday, Geela would be powerful enough that she could actually do stuff like that, instead of hiding in illusions.

Someday.

As the light faded, Geela let herself sink to the ground, inhaling deeply. She looked up, eyes finding Sonatad, who stood at her left hand.

“I need rest after such a battle,” she said. “Ensure my… flock is tended to. Send to my side Berta, Carlosi, Gene, Illisandra, Vera, Renby, Sal, Imimi, Doc Chop, and Darkos.” That should more or less sum up the people she wanted to keep around to ensure their survival. Them and the healer and doctor, to make sure people healed properly. Geela didn’t actually care very much about either woman. “I will retire to my chambers.”

Where were Geela’s chambers? Did she have chambers?

She looked to Sale, as if to say, ‘Well? Take me to my chambers.’

Sally shrugged and, to her slight dismay, picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. Geela could have complained but didn’t. It was nice to not have to walk, and Geela could keep an extra close eye on Darkos, as he was hanging over Saleman’s other shoulder. The burly pirate kept up a steady stream of chatter with Imimi as they walked, and though Geela knew she ought to pay more attention, it was hard to follow along. In fact, the gentle swaying was enough to lull her to a deep sleep before they even got to her rooms.

The chatter that woke her, some time later, instantly annoyed her. Off the bat, she could tell there were voices in here that did not belong to her few favorite people.

“No Mrs. Darkos, you mustn’t touch him. Mistress Geela will be quite upset were she to learn you upset the careful balance of—”

“The doctor said I could hold his hand, so I will. I won’t suffer a halfwit like you telling me what I can or can’t do with my own son. You wouldn’t like it if someone told you that you couldn’t hold your triplets, would you?”

“But I can’t hold my triplets.” Jane’s voice turned sad. “I don’t have enough arms.”

Why were they here? Who had let them in? Geela cracked her eyes to see the room she was in, which was quite nice, was also full. Darkos’s parents hovered by Darkos’s side, while Jane, toting quite a hefty infant, hovered by their sides, trying to scold them away. In her arms, the infant was holding a squished Snake, chubby fist gripping tightly around its middle. Were the rattish in possession of anything resembling bones or organs, it would be dead. Fortunately, the little monster could simply reposition its inners, whatever they were, to either side of the fist. It didn’t even look angry by the assault.

Beyond Jane, Geela could see the other triplets in their father’s arms, one clutching Scout, the other chewing on Bugsquito. The bug chattered animatedly to the baby, who clearly wasn’t picking up a word but giggled quite horribly at the high, squeaky sound. Every now and then, Scout would rumble a response, causing his baby to squeal with joy.

With so many of her sworn enemies alive, awake, and well, Geela looked for someone she did like. Most of them were unconscious, and for a moment, she worried that her only ally might be the doctor, who trudged from bed to bed, eyeing her patients with disdain.

When the closest thing Geela had to an ally was someone she was contractually allowed to vivisect, something had gone wrong.

Fortunately, as she rolled over, she saw Berta lurking in the corner. Thank God.

Geela sat up in bed, holding her head to stave off the oncoming dizziness. It wasn’t as bad as she’d expected though. Godhood perks? Could be.

“Oh my lovely Goddess!” Jane handed the baby off to a disgruntled Doc Chop before falling on her face. Geela winced, hearing the woman’s empty head plonk on the ground, before she all but bounced back up and grasped the baby again. “It is most joyous to see your revival. May I have the honor of introducing Geelos, Darkla, and Janedronious the Tiny.”

Geela lay back down in bed. “No you may not have that honor. Never speak to me again. Sally, how did they get in?”

The burly pirate looked over her way. “Oh, good morning your holiness.” His eyes shifted towards Darkos’s parents and the others. “Well if I’m being honest, and I always would be with you, it’s only been a scant hour. Figured you’d be out longer.”

Honestly, this was probably a good point. Geela hadn’t realized it had barely been an hour. No wonder everyone was still asleep.

“I can remove them if you’d like,” Sale offered.

Geela would like it. “Yes. Get them out.” She snapped twice, and Sally sprang to his feet. He picked up Darkos’s parents, both of whom gave little cries of alarm as he tossed them over his shoulders. Adronious the Vast also stepped in, tossing his wife, still clutching their baby, over his shoulder. Within a few moments, they’d all left, and Geela let her body almost relax. Almost. There would be no recovery from the revelation of Jane’s babies’ names. Poor children would grow up with the intelligence of acorns and follow in their parents’ proud footsteps of being brainless grunts and spineless minions.

Well that was fine with Geela. Her church, at the very least, would need more of that.

With the onlookers gone, Geela rose from her bed again and walked over to where Berta skulked. The witch was overlooking Vera’s sleeping form.

“So,” Geela said.

“So,” Berta responded.

“What do you want?” Geela planted her hands on her hips, trying hard not to let her posture flag with fatigue. Was she going to have to fight another Patron? She wasn’t letting the witch sacrifice Vera. Not after the whole Celestial City showdown.

“It’s not what I want.” Berta smiled, and Geela was pretty sure she saw a bug scutter from her lips into an open sore on her face. “It’s what I was promised.”

“Which was?”

The hair on Geela’s arms stood on end as Berta wrapped five scaly fingers around Vera’s hand. “Oh, your dear one here, of course. She told me you’d expressly forbid I ask for any of your precious circle, so of course I had to. Wanted to test her a bit. First asked for little Renby, which of course she rejected outright. Smart girl, and more or less what I expected. I didn’t even really want her to say yes. Then I asked for one of the others, Illisandra, Carlosi, Gene, and she shot down each one. Brave girl. She knew what was coming.”

Geela’s fingers curled into fists. Berta wasn’t wrong. Vera, though lacking in nobility, was braver than most of the cult. Though the least powerful innately, she stood up for what she wanted and was potentially the most invested in the cult and blood worship. It was this quality that marked her as Berta’s favorite, so Geela was surprised that Berta wanted to take her life again.

“Oh don’t look so dour.” The skittery laughter was back, and Geela grit her teeth. “I’m not going to be slashing her throat and painting my name in the resulting blood.”

“Glad to hear.”

“Oh tut tut.” Berta waved a veiny hand, dismissing Geela’s flat tone. “I wanted to push her. Test her mettle, her devotion. She’s a good one you found. I’m not quite sure how. The others all certainly have their brows set for greatness and the blood to match it, but she’s just a dear little thing, dedicated to the most foul of magics.”

“So you’re letting her go?” There had to be a catch here. Berta was having too much fun dangling Vera around, and Geela hated how much she fell for it.

“Of course not.” Here it was. “I want her on as my personal apprentice. I plan on expanding my reach beyond this little cult. Different sects, similar to what you’ve done, but more secrecy and less fanfare and sheep and ridiculousness. Which means that I need someone to fully devote to me. Not just someone who does some nonsense in their downtime. No offense meant, little Geela, but your heart wasn’t fully in it.” Berta’s fingers tightened around Vera’s limp hand. “But Vera here, she’s obsessed. A fanatic. For almost fifty years she and I sat, locked in bloodrock, her preventing my escape, and we talked. Got to… know each other. She’s managed quite a bit in her short life, and I saw that in her. Old soul. One who is slavishly dedicated to her Patron but also invested in the wellbeing of her friends. I don’t know if you know, but it was only those long conversations that prevented me from chewing the mind of your other dearly sacrificed apprentice into ribbons.”

Geela did know this, actually. But her relief at Berta’s words was enough to relax her whole body, and she didn’t snap back too much.

“You held that secret just long enough to upset people,” Geela said. “Does she even know? That you want her as an apprentice and not a sacrifice?”

Berta’s smirk all but split her face. “Of course not. That would ruin the fun.”

And this was why Geela swore off Patrons. Not that Geela would likely be any better. She just gave Berta a weary nod and turned back to the unconscious group. It was going to be fun, messing with her followers, but it would also be a lot of work. A lot lot. No one in her parish knew the real truth of her nature. Not enough. Not enough of them knew that she’d mostly just pretended to be a God and accidentally gotten enough of a following to make it so. Maybe the pirates did, but then Geela didn’t really want them spilling the truth there. Certainly even they didn’t know that it wasn’t until the wedding that she’d actually ascended.

It would take a lot of sweet talking, lies, and half-truths, a lot of big hand waving and grand gestures, and quite frankly, a lot of time before the truth melded to reality. Maybe in a few decades.

Her eyes fell to Darkos, and her heart sank. Obviously she’d be elated once he woke, and she could verify he’d be alive and good and all that, but then it would be time for the hardest thing she’d have to do. Second hardest, potentially, only to actually defeating Noire itself.

Saying goodbye.

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