Darkos was a good friend. An actual one. But could Geela really expect him to sit around with her in her fortress for twenty years while she focused on running a church? Would he be happy? Certainly, she could ask, ask if he was ready to settle down. But likely even if he was, he’d settle in a local village at best. Geela could visit here and there, and that’s really what most friendships were. Right?
Maybe Darkos would be content with settling. Maybe it was Geela’s own reluctance to the idea that put her on edge. She’d settled into a domestic lifestyle for decades with Barney, but Darkos had opened her eyes up to a whole new potential for adventure. Maybe what made her almost as sad as losing her traveling companion was losing her traveling privileges. Someday, certainly, she’d be able to influence Sonatad’s impressionable mind enough to worship her as she truly was, a deity of darkness that sought to further her own ego and the chaotic whims of her followers. A hedonistic religion of worship and, if she could swing it, scientific and magical progress. That she could get behind, but it would take time to shift the church’s focus, and no one in the church could be trusted to do it. There was no one who knew her well enough that had the free time, cunning, and desire to realign the church for her.
A groan from Darkos snapped her from her thoughts as the man slowly rolled over, clapping a hand to his eyes.
“Boy do I feel hungover,” he said, lips turned down in a sulk. “Blurgh.”
“Blurgh indeed,” Geela said, perching by his bedside. “How do you feel?”
“Eh.” He managed a shrug, an amusing attempt given his prone position. “I think I’ll live. Are my parents okay?”
Why was that the first thing he asked? Geela waved a hand. “I mean. Yes. I let them in briefly to check on you. So yes. Alive, walking, and irritating as always.”
He nodded. “And Jane?”
Maybe Geela wouldn’t miss him. “Doing well. Her spawn are alive too. I think, regrettably, their close proximity to those void monsters I brought back saved them by absorbing the black magic that had plagued the hall. Anyone else that you inexplicably care about?”
Darkos just laughed and shook his head. “Oh, Geela. You were great out there. Sorry I dove in like a knucklehead. I just wasn’t okay with Noire getting away. I’m not normally a big revenge guy, but it deserved it, and you gotta admit, I looked pretty cool. And I think I was definitely able to play that off as a you thing, which is good cause I’m not looking forward to anyone thinking I went mad with rage and bloodlust or anything like that.”
She blinked a few times, trying to avoid brushing a hand across her eyes. No, she would miss him. She would miss traveling with him a lot.
“I actually had a question for you,” he said, snuggling in deeper to his sheets, and Geela got the feeling his alertness wouldn’t last long. “I don’t think it’s a dumb one, so hear me out.” He took a deep breath. “Noire was a Void Fiend, right?”
“No, Darkos, that is a dumb one.” A laugh made its way up her throat. “A really dumb one. But I’ll play along. Yes, Noire was a Void Fiend.”
“There’s a second half! Geela, let me finish.” But he was laughing too. “Keyword here is a Void Fiend. Not the Void Fiend. What are the others like? Where are they now that the Void Realm is gone?”
Oh Darkos. Always off on the next adventure. She was silly to think he’d be ready to settle. It was also a decent question, so that was two ticks in his favor.
“They’ve probably scattered about the realm,” Geela said. “Lots of places they could have gone. Many won’t be that big of a nuisance, but…”
“Think if we went to fight them we could absorb some of their void powers?” Darkos asked. “Could be a lot to gather. And, and, and this might be a crazy thought, so shoot me down if it is, but you know how there are stars?”
Geela’s lips twisted, but she showed restraint.
“What if some of those stars have planets like ours? Could we, like, get to them? Could be minor Void Fiends there too.” He was going hard with this fantasy, but he might be right. “If we could go into the Void Realm, the fledgling one, and maybe jump through it and leave at a void waypoint on another planet.”
Darkos’s head had officially left his body and was now zooming around in spaceland. The idea was beyond stupid, but Geela couldn’t find any real logical holes in it, and damn did it sound like a fun potential to pull at. Even if it wasn’t possible, just playing cleanup and destroying the Void Fiends would give Geela a chance to physically see more of the world. Destroy things, get power, find new targets, test her abilities. Darkos would know she was mostly doing this for his benefit, so he’d let her get away with setting up some shenanigans.
Converting people to her religion?
It was as nice a fantasy as Darkos’s space explorer dreams. It was, unfortunately, even less plausible.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” she said, squeezing his hand, a lump forming in her throat. “Get some rest, though. I’ll… do some research. See what I can find.”
He smiled and blinked sleepily at her before rolling over in bed and falling back asleep. She’d avoided the ugly conversation for now, but even staying by his bedside was hard enough. Geela hated not getting what she wanted. It seemed particularly unfair. After so many years alive, she didn’t really like changing her lifestyle. Not when that change was driven by such uncontrollable outside forces.
Many might lecture her that life was inherently unfair, but Geela had never listened to them. She could change life, change the world. And honestly, there was nothing saying she couldn’t brute force what she wanted here. But if she brute-forced it, then it wouldn’t be what she wanted. If she used all the lies and deceit and honeyed words in the world to force Darkos to stay, it would only pollute what she actually wanted.
She could have her church or she could stay with Darkos. So maybe, for once, the ubiquitous ‘they’ were right.
Life wasn’t fair.
Geela rose from his side and meandered to the other beds. Carlosi, Gene, and Illisandra all seemed to be resting off their work. They’d done well, defending Geela during her battle, and would have a very powerful Blood Witch to thank after this. Hopefully, they were up for handling her, but Geela thought they just might be. Carlosi had, back in the Celestial City, stated that she felt too old for this, but seeing her in action today made Geela think… maybe not so much.
She stopped at Renby’s bed, then, and her heart sank a bit. He was a less optimistic case. Somehow, despite over a year of recovering, he’d looked just as bad as he had newly resurrected. Now Geela worried about his ability to survive, rather less thrive. He’d need rest.
They all needed rest. Geela as much as the others. But she’d need that alone, somewhere she could be vulnerable without the gaze of her followers. Should she just leave now? Find Shaun and return to the Dark Fortress? Should she at least wait for Darkos to wake and tell him? Or should she do the selfish thing and just go, maybe send him a note at some point explaining her decision? He’d be angry but maybe that would help her cope with him leaving. Maybe it would make him less likely to try to sway her decision.
Being a Patron must have messed with Geela’s ability to follow time. It wasn’t that she couldn’t measure it anymore, but when she zoned out, she zoned out hard. Seconds flew by uncounted. What had felt like just a few moments of pondering and subsequent empty brain nonsense had been a few hours. She only realized how much time had passed when Renby’s sudden waking snapped her out of her thoughts.
“Professor,” he said, eyes huge. “I need to speak with you.” He sat up in bed way too fast, and Geela had to catch him before he tumbled over.
“And in such a rush.” She held him upright for another moment before she was sure he wouldn’t topple again. “Slow down a little.”
Renby’s chest rose and fell. “I need to catch you before you leave again. Before you disappear. Again.”
She massaged her temples. “I’m not going anywhere this time. At least, not ‘disappearing.’ I will return to my fortress, but I’ll be open to audiences more or less permanently. I have a church to run. Responsibilities. If I want to maintain my Patron status, I need to manage my followers.”
His chest deflated, a weird response to Geela assuring him that she wasn’t going anywhere. “Oh, okay. So you’ve got the whole church thing handled? No, that’s a good thing. Maybe we can be allies or something. Work together in some capacity.”
Geela sat down on the side of his bed, giving him a once-over. “Renby. Are you looking to…” she dropped her voice to a whisper, so Berta couldn’t hear. “…convert?” A little smile twisted on the corner of her lips.
From the look on his face, Geela had hit the hammer on the head. He tucked a knee up under his chin, his eyes flicking to Berta and back to Geela. “I hate worshipping her. She always looks at me like she’s just waiting for a moment no one else is looking so she can… I don’t know. I know you’ve got your main High Priests, and that’s great. But they’re also why I’d wanted to speak to you before you left. At least, back when I thought you were going to.” His eyes snapped from wary to skeptical in a single flash of his sardonic eyes. “Because no offense, but your church is kind of a mess right now. I mean that with respect, Professor. It’s just a lot of blind leading the blind, trying to retcon whatever you’ve done into something resembling a coherent faith. It’s on the road to disaster.”
An eyebrow had slowly been slinking its way up Geela’s forehead as she listened to his scathing rebuke. None of it was wrong, but it was hardly her fault, and she was doing what she could to fix it.
“Now, my thought,” he continued, “was that you need someone kind of running the show. Someone who knows everything, how each church came to follow you and what each of them believes. What they think they know. Someone with the savvy and wit to tie together all of it in a neat bow and package the new truth in something of a holy text.” Now more awake, Renby fixed Geela with a piercing stare, those baby blue eyes glinting hungrily.
Again, he wasn’t wrong. In fact, he was very right. Geela had just figured that would fall to her. Her various High Priests were too gullible or stupid to take on a real leadership role. Sure they could arrange the people, but they couldn’t be trusted with all her secrets. The only people Geela trusted to keep her secrets were Darkos and the old cult. Darkos would feel too bad lying to people, making things up. He’d push the church to lawful good when Geela wanted chaotic neutral, bordering on evil for those who chose.
But in Renby, she might just have an answer to her problems.
“You bring up many valid points,” she said, voice absentmindedly shifting to her old lecture tone. “But have you considered the work that would be?”
“Really?” Renby tilted his head, eyes almost offended at her doubt. “Since when have I been scared of work? I’ve spent every single day since I can remember building up power to take on increasing levels of power. I’ve wanted to run things my whole life.”
“Not your family,” she said.
“Extenuating circumstances. At least—” He hesitated for a fraction of a second. “—you won’t insist I marry some powerful woman and produce heirs or anything.”
Geela laughed, a bit louder than she’d meant to. “I think you have heirs a-plenty. No, I won’t ask that of you. Just your dedication and time and, as you mentioned, savvy and wits.”
“That’s always been yours, Professor.” His doubt fled his face. “Always.”
Heart quickening, Geela rose to her feet. It hadn’t crossed her mind to try to sway any of Berta’s followers away, since she’d wanted their alliance to hold, but she didn’t much think Berta would mind this compromise. She could tease Renby from afar, but as a staunch follower of Geela, he would be safe. Safe and finally in possession of the thing he’d hungered for his short life.
Dizzying amounts of power over people.
“Then this sounds like a plan.” Geela tossed her hair over her shoulder and fixed the boy with a piercing green stare. “I’m going to go into remission for a bit of time. Nothing lengthy, but I need my rest, and I need to be able to do that not under the constant watch of worshippers. I’ll send you a miracle, something dramatic for everyone to see, in the next few days to cement you as my new Highest Priest. Sonatad will understand. He has to run the Celestial Branch, after all.” She began backing away from his bed as he nodded, a smile growing on his face. “You rest for now. I trust you to be able to set up quite a good time for yourself. I… We’ll be in touch.”
With this, she spun and rushed to Darkos’s bed. He was awake when she got there, and his pallor looked much better.
“Heard you laugh,” he said, sitting up in bed groggily. “Find anything good?”
“Very good. I’ll tell you about it when we get some space.” She grabbed his hand, pulling him out of bed, snatching her bag off the ground as she did. “We need to go.”
Geela hesitated, though her grip remained tight. “Well. I do. I need to get away from people for a little bit, rest on my own terms. Of course, you can stay if you’d like. I understand many of your friends are here.”
“Wait, how long do you need to rest? They’ll still be here once you’re feeling better, won’t they? Like we’re coming back, right?” Darkos had paused, half out of bed, half still blinking bewildered.
“Of course we’ll be back,” Geela said. “Mortals move so slowly anyway. I just need space for a few days to clear my head and start some research. If you’d like to stay here instead— ”
“No, no, I want to go with you.” He finally stood up from his bed, grabbing his scabbard that was resting by it. “You do owe me a new sheath before the Void Fiend hunt by the way. You promised.”
Invigorated, Geela continued to drag him across the floor and past her slumbering allies. “We’ll find someplace private in the jungle to set up camp. A nice clearing with a good view of the ocean. Someplace I can just get away from all of this—” she waved a hand “—for a while. Not that I don’t love it. But it’s hard to act all the time.”
“I bet,” Darkos said. “You’ve barely said two words that weren’t using some voice modulator since we got back from the Void Realm.”
He understood her. He really understood her.
“You are leaving?” Doc Chop, who’d stayed mostly quiet, now fixed Geela with a strange, piercing glare.
Geela mirrored the expression. “You’re not off the hook,” she said. “In fact, I still expect you to aid me in calibrating my general… orientation. And I expect your help in the way we previously discussed.” For a moment, her eyes flicked over the doctor, and a feeling of excitement bubbled up in her stomach. There was still so much to learn about the world and the magic within it. She looked to Darkos. “Told you we’d be back. Always something to do. I need to be able to walk more freely and your—” she jabbed a finger at the doctor “—implants are my golden ticket. But it’ll have to wait a week or so. Don’t go anywhere.”
The doctor didn’t respond except to cross her arms.
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t,” Renby said, perking up from his bed. His eyes flashed darkly at the young doctor. “Don’t worry about any of this. I’ll ensure it’s under control.”
Bless him. No, seriously, bless him. She could do that now.
The guilt in her stomach had evaporated into a giddy little butterfly, which fluttered happily as she and Darkos reached the doorway to the hall.
“Renby’s running the church while I’m gone,” Geela said, as they wound their way down the staircase. “Vera’s going to sign on as Berta’s apprentice, so it seemed only fair he get to be a Patron’s as well.”
“Little Renby, huh? He’ll do a good job,” Darkos said. “He’s very you. Lies a lot. Tricks people. No morals.”
“I choose to interpret that as a compliment.”
They were, surprisingly, not too far from the entrance to the castle. It only took a minute or two of twisting and snaking through falls before they were hurrying down the main corridor to the exit.
“So he’s got an explanation as to why you left that wasn’t ‘she needs to rest where you can’t all see how tired she got?’ Cause if he leads in with ‘Oh yeah, Geela just needed a break where she could stop pretending to be divine’ that miiiiight be a bad foot to start on.” Darkos wore an innocent little smirk, and she wanted to smack the look off his face.
“Look, this is new territory for me. I need to figure out how being a God works where I’m not judged for every misstep.” She snapped, and the large double doors opened. “And I am divine. Just. Divinity-in-training. The best way to train is a mix of research and field testing. So this little mission to defeat the minor Void Fiends will be the perfect step.”
He grinned. “Thought it might be. That’s why I suggested it.”
Sure. That was why. Nothing to do with being a space explorer at all. But Geela didn’t poke fun because if he was right about the space thing, he’d be right about how cool it all would be. So instead of firing back, she just whistled a high, shrill call that alerted her sometimes-faithful mule.
Shaun trudged up to them, nuzzling the side of Geela’s face, apologetic, for once, at his betrayal.
“Just find us a place we can rest,” she said, patting him twice on the side. “Alone. Darkos, up.”
He didn’t need another word as he hoisted her atop the mule hopped up behind her.
“Alright, Shaun. Git git.” The mule, invigorated by his lengthy vacation, took off at an exhilarating canter. “First step, rest and recuperation. Next step, celebration, obviously. We could even do that back here, once they’d cleaned up.” Might be fun, a huge party after she’d gotten her breath back, and her grunts had fixed up her castle. Then Darkos would really get to say his goodbyes, Geela could debrief Renby, and make her own rounds of farewells. Maybe. “Then we go to the Dark Fortress to scheme. I make you your sheath, do some research, and we’ll be off! Shouldn’t take more than a week or two.”
Behind her, she could hear Darkos snicker over the sound of Shaun’s hooves. “We’re going to need a new boat.”
She tossed him a look over her shoulder, eyes narrowed. “Do be serious. Boats take forever to build, and practically every boat of decent size was destroyed in the naval battle. I’m not interested in wasting the time. We can reach most of the planet by land routes. If we go back to sea, it’ll be lower on our list of priorities, just to nip up any Void Fiends that fled to the island.”
“We’re gonna need one sooner though.”
“And why, pray tell, is that? You don’t even like boats.”
“Yeah but Geela.”
“We need to get to the Dark Fortress.”
“We’re on an island.”
Geela would have smacked her forehead if it weren’t for the death grip on Shaun’s reins. “I hate you,” she said.
Darkos laughed. “No, you don’t.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
He would insist she didn’t again, before either pulling out the puppy eyes or saying something either unexpectedly insightful or unexpectedly stupid. She would then retort with something, and he’d probably laugh at it again, and she’d try so hard to stay angry until finally, a laugh would slip through.
Conversation would follow like that the whole way to their rest point. Quite honestly, it would probably be like that for their entire next journey. And whatever was after that.
Geela wouldn’t have it any other way.
Is anyone else crying? Just me? That's okay. I can't believe we've reached the end.
To everyone who stuck with the story. Your comments and reviews have meant the world to me.
To anyone who subscribed on Patreon, you gave me the means to get all our amazing artwork done and your generosity has rendered me speechless at times (followed by a giddy giggle cause I can't stay silent long).
To the people who have bought the book and, most importantly, to those who have reviewed it. As career launches go, I've been really pleased with how this has ended up, but that's 100% thanks to you. Reaching 25 reviews on book one, inching ever closer to 10 on book two, it's so so so important to me. Reviews really are what will take me from a serial writer to an author.
I am so grateful that, after the last year+, we're still here. I'm going to drop some links in case you want to follow me on social media. I'll be announcing the releases of books 3 and 4 there, as well as posting cover art and other art as well. I'm keeping up my Patreon but I'll adjust the tiers, especially as I move to my next project.
You've all been so wonderful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Buy the books here or leave a review if you can! It would be the absolute best thing for me at this point. Thank you so much.
Subreddit (for short stories, mini serials, and new potential projects): r/TalesByOpheliaCyanide
Email list (for updates on new book releases): Email list
Facebook (more frequent updates, interactive posts, challenges, and quotes): Laura Brisbois - Author
Twitter for most frequent updates: Twitter - Laura Brisbois