Wizardquest 2: Chapter 18- Blade to the Heart

The Grand Wizard leans back in his pew and whistles as you finish your tale. The others sit around, staring at you with a mixture of disbelief and incredulity at what you’ve been saying. While speaking they all listened with rapt attention, none of them daring to interrupt the story. It wasn’t until the Grand Wizard made a move that everyone else felt appropriate to also break from their stupor, looking about as if in a daze.

“Man…” Sylphie says, shaking her head. “Chaika is going to be so jealous.”

“Honestly, where is she?” Her father grumbles. “If Harmony was home they’d both be fixed in a jiff and could just fly out here.”

“Dear, that’s not important right now.” Selene says, tapping his shoulder. He rolls his eyes and then sighs as she turns to you. Shoulder straight, she looks you in the eye and says, “It is a strange phenomenia which allows a Wizard to speak with Dollora. To say I am skeptical would be an understatement.”

“I don’t understand it myself.” You say, shrugging. “It’s not the first time I’ve sensed her touch, nor heard her words but I have the same questions… why me? What did I do to deserve the attentions of the Goddess of Monsters? Hells, I didn’t even like Monsters until recently.”

Your companions (sans Alice) look at each other with knowing looks, as if what you said was patently false. Jerks. Tabitha is the first to cough into her hand and say, “Well, that’s certainly changed recently. Perhaps Dollora saw in you something worth helping?”

“Hmm.” Selene says, hands folded in her lap. The way she eyes you makes you feel like a peasant before a Queen. It makes you feel self conscious and your back itch as she dresses you down. Pursing her lips, she says, “What does she mean by your task?”

“Well, originally it was to find you two and then beat- I mean, discuss something with your husband there.” She raises an eyebrow at your slip-up and you continue quickly. “But she keeps saying it so… I’m not really certain. I assume she means now it has to do with the Prophet.”

“That would be the logical conclusion.” Selene says, nodding her head. “But, forgive me for saying this in your Temple Dollora, but Gods are rarely logical in the way we mortals perceive it.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” The Grand Wizard sighs, his mind wandering to something.

“Well, what else could it be?” You say, shrugging. “Well, not that it matters much, it seems to be our goal as it stands.”

“What of your sister?” Sophie asks, crossing her arms. Everyone looks from her to you and you sigh, figuring it would come to this.

“I-We, will need to tackle that once the Pharaoh is gone. To lose the support of the Violet Sands will be too much at the moment.”

“Of course.” Alice begins, taking a bite of some bread Sophie had handed out to people, crumbs dribbling from her chin as she speaks, “They don’t much know how powerful the Pharaoh is, do they?”

Grimacing, you shake your head. “Probably not, so I suppose it is something I should broach with… with Hel’alin.”

“You mean Helene.” Tabitha says, standing up tall. “If you believe she is still in there, you need to call her by her name.”

“I…” You begin before closing your eyes and nodding your head. Opening them again, you flash her a quick smile and say, “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks Tabitha.”

She smirks at you in response. You can’t help but notice the looks at the Grand Wizard and Selene give each other at this, as well as the ones the twins share. Rolling your eyes at them, Tabitha turns as well to see Selene smirking at her. She furrows her brow and then her eyes go wide before she closes them and shakes her head.

Cocking your head, you see the Grand Wizard give you a thumbs up behind them. You glare daggers at him as he gives you a shit eating grin, much the same as the ones Sophie gives. Of course this is where she learned it, of fucking course. Seriously, who let this man be a father?

“Anyway.” You say, trying to move things along. “I think the biggest issue to tackle is how we’re going to get into the Palace and then how we’re going to combat the Pharaoh since she still has the altar.”

Ebe sighs. “Yeah… we know what the Altar is supposed to be but I’m confused, what does all this have to do with Hevensferth? I didn’t think he really… did much.”

Selene nods to Ebe. “For someone not as acquanited with all of the Gods, you seem to understand them well enough.”

Ebe stammers, “W-Well, my Mother thought teaching me about all of the Gods was important! Even if the Twins are the most important…”

Chuckling, Selene reaches out and ruffles Ebe’s hair. She cocks her head at the gesture and Selene pulls back and looks at her hand with disappointment before sighing. “Yes, well, Hevensferth has always been the odd God out beyond Jackor. He was never really interested in the mortal world and as far as we can tell his interactions were more upon the heavens than down to the earth like his brother, Sveth.”

Continuing, she sits up straighter and talks as if lecturing. “While he will, on occasion, grace someone with his presence for their sharp mind, he does not have any Monsters dedicated to him so far as we know and he does not have a form of magic granted to people.”

“So…” Alice asks, chewing on some jerky now. “How did he give his power to the Pharaoh?”

Selene ponders this and then looks up at the ceiling. She frowns and says, “Dear, it was night when we assaulted her, yes?”

The Grand Wizard, trying to mash together two pieces of flatbread around some meat before heating it, looks at his wife and says, “No, it was the middle of the day. We were told not to wait until night, and all things considered, getting in was fairly easy.”

Selene clacks her tongue. “A little too easy all things considered.”

“You slaughtered like, ten of them in half a second!”

“Well. I suppose.” She says, shrugging. “Gods, it feels like a lifetime since I had that much energy. Captivity did me no favors.”

“But dear, look how slim-” He cuts off as his daughters slap hands over his mouth. They give their mother wide grins as she glares at her husband.

“So it was day time and not night?” You ask, looking at her with confusion. “I thought Hevensferth was in charge of the stars and the moon?”

“All heavenly bodies.” Sophie says, holding up a finger. “Even the sun. In fact one of his tasks is to move the sun.”

Rubbing your chin, you think this over and turn to Ebe. “The one who trapped the Apophis into the staff, it was Pharaoh Kissa, right?”

“Yes. She famously rid the sands of their presence by trapping them within her staff. They couldn’t stand before her and were said to have their very essences trapped within the staff.” She shuffles nervously. “It sounds like it was true though, that the Rites of Pah’sen allowed her access to all this stored power but at the cost of releasing that terrible power back into the world.”

“She didn’t have any kind of connection to Hevensferth, right?”

Ebe frowns, “I don’t… think so? It was said she was very intelligent and during her rule literacy increased hand over fist. Some saw her as a beacon of radiance and called her the Sun Pharaoh.”

Eyes going wide, you open your [Backpack] and pull out the [Runic Rubbings] and the [Oculus of Henhotep]. Scanning them again, you look at a specific section of the runes. While the runes described in detail how Pharaoh Kissa destroyed the Apophis without mercy, they also described her with phrases such as, “shining like the sun” or “blinding brilliance.”

Thinking back to the picture glyphs on the pillar, you remember the image of her staff shining like the sun and her driving away the moon and…

“It’s too many coincidences.” You mutter to yourself before standing. “I think her power derives from the sun.”

The Grand Wizard and Selene look at each other before cocking their heads. “Now that you mention it.” He begins. “There is a lot of sun being let into that Palace.”

“But that’s a common theme, especially among Dolloran buildings to allow moonlight in.” Selene says, waving a dismissive hand.

“Yes but the larger windows were facing East.”

She frowns and crosses her arms. “I don’t buy that she is powered by the sun, Hevensferth or not.”

“She might not be.” You say, nodding your head. “But the staff might. Hevensferth does not have a magic of his own, but the power of the sun is impressive, yes? Imagine if he gifted a weapon with that raw power of light to drive away evil spirits?”

“Seems rather convenient.” Sylphie says, frowning. “But how would that trap them into the staff?”

The Grand Wizard snaps his fingers. “Ah! The blessings of the Apophis were magic granted by Dollora, right? If that magic was banished from a body, then it would normally dissipate. What if that staff was an aether battery? Storing up power from those she defeated until it was nigh bursting with power!”

Sylphie nods her head, intrigued. “In that case, it would be simple to use the an aether transformer or even the sun to keep it from dissipating!”

“Wait, wait.” You say, holding up your hand. “Are you saying that the sun itself keeps this staff from losing power?”

The Grand Wizard grunts. “Probably not, even if it is an item touched by the Gods. But it might enhance such power, or at least keep it stable without an aether transformer.”

Groaning, you say, “So, for instance, if it came to morning and the Pharaoh was still alive, she could…”

Sylphie’s eyes go wide, “She could probably leave the Palace and exterminate the Violet Sands with impunity.”

Everyone goes quiet at that. You’re still working under and assumption, but if there was truly such a time limit then things have grown even more dire than before. Thinking on it, it all makes sense, the actions of the Pharaoh’s troops playing mostly defensively, or at least trying to block the Violet Sands in. If not for your arrival, they’d likely have kept them at least contained until morning. As it stands, however, they just need to defend the Palace until then. Gripping your hands, you look out the windows and see the night sky but wonder just how long you may have.

“Shit.” The Grand Wizard says, gripping his robes. “Well, there goes my nap.”

“We don’t have as much time to waste then.” Tabitha says, stretching. “We should ready to move out then. This isn’t the most defensible position in the world and we’re too close to the battlefield.”

Everyone nods and sighs, standing up and readying themselves to go. As they do, you watch their weary movements and battered bodies. This night as been rough on everyone and the times of rest you have are short. They need something… Hells, YOU need something right now or you’ll collapse without anything to show for it all.

Holding up a hand, you say, “Wait.”

Everyone turns to you and you say with purpose. “I think we should all take a bath.”

Everyone goes quiet at that, staring at you with confusion and surprise. As the words process through your mind, you groan and say, “Gods damnit, I didn’t mean it like that.” Sighing, you continue, “Look, we have a moment to rest and recover, we should take it. They offered us a place to bathe ourselves and at least look somewhat presentable before fighting the enemy, we might as well take it.”

Alice raises a hand and you say, “No Alice, we should not do co-ed bathing.” She lowers her hand.

“I don’t see why not.” Selene says, shrugging. “Everyone here has seen naked men and women before, haven’t they?”

“Dear.” The Grand Wizard says. “I’m not bathing with my adult daughters and they aren’t bathing with a man.”

“Honestly, when did you become such a prude?”

“When my eldest daughter got married to an Illusionist.”

“It was a nice wedding.” Sylphie says before gulping and turning away.

“Fine, take turns.” You say, waving your hand. “I’ll go last as I need to follow up on a few things before we go anyway.”

“Need help with that?” Tabitha asks.

 You look to her and shake your head. “No, I don’t think so. It’s some things I should do alone.”

“I see. Well you don’t have to shoulder these burdens all along anymore.” She smiles at you before blinking and then turning away, muttering something that makes Sophie’s ear and corner of her mouth twitch.

“Thanks. I mean it.” You say, nodding your head. Turning to put the [Runic Rubbings] back, you remember something in your pocket and pull out both the [Rashana’s Ring] and [Julyan’s Bracer]. You can’t really use these, not as much as others can. Thinking it over briefly, you nod your head and address Sophie.

“Here, the Priestess found something you might like.” Tossing her the bracer, she catches it with one of her tails and looks it over, cocking her head.

“A bracer? Not exactly my style.”

“It’s enchanted, put it on.”

“Oh, very well.” She says, putting the bracer on. As she does, her eyes go wide and she looks down at it before looking at her hand. Staring at a pew in front of her, she thrusts her tails forward and they slice through it with minimal effort, reducing the object into splinters in moments. Blinking in surprise, she looks at you and says, “Wow.”

“Supposedly it was used by some Eastern Monk. Figured it could enhance your combat abilities.”

“I feel stronger than mother.” Selene eyes her daughter who gives her mother a respectful smile.

“Woaaaah.” Sylphie says, looking over the bracer. “That’s so cool!”

As she looks at her sister’s new item, you look down at the ring in your hand and nod before walking up to Sylphie. Coughing to get her attention, you say, “Sylphie, I have something for you too.”

Sylphie’s eyes go wide at this and she turns to you with barely contained glee. Thinking of something clever, you ask her to hold her hand out, palm side down. She does so and you take the [Rashana’s Ring], sliding it onto her finger. Despite the fur, it’s a rather good fit.

The Cat o’Ninetails looks at the ring, then to you, then back to the ring before her face turns beet red. Everyone else’s eyes also go wide, especially the Grand Wizard’s who practically bug out of his head. Sylphie’s mouth works soundlessly as she stares at the ring, tears forming in her eyes.

Looking at her expression, you feel utterly confused until you notice everyone else looking at you with that shocked expression. What’s most interesting is the surprise and hurt on Tabitha’s face, though you can’t fathom why they’d- oh shit.

“R-Rommel I didn’t know you… I don’t know what to say…” Sylphie squeaks out, shaking. “B-but if you really mean it… then…”

“No no no nonononono!” You say, holding your hands up and waving them furiously. “That’s not what I meant at all, it’s a magic ring! It’s magical!”

“You pat my daughter’s head before me, and then do this? Do you think this is all a sick joke?” The Grand Wizard says, anger on his visage. “You fucking faggot! This is not how you do this sort of thing!”

“Gaaaahh!” You say, throwing up your arms, “I didn’t mean it that way! It’s a ring that makes your magic more efficent! Gods, I didn’t mean to look like a proposal!”

“Oh.” Sylphie whispers, her expression dropping. “I see.”

Gods, she actually thought you were proposing to her and she… liked the idea? Well this is going to be awkward going forward. She rubs her face against her arm and says, “I’m going to bathe.” Before anyone can say anything else she walks out of the room and down the hall, though you don’t thinks he knows where she’s going.

Sophie sighs and says, “I’ll go too.” She shakes her head at you before leaving.

Holding up a hand, you drop it slowly and sigh. Well this time here has been thoroughly awkward. Looking to Ebe, she squeaks and does a flying hop over you before landing and following after the other two.

“Well.” Selene says, folding her hands in her lap. “Next I suspect you’ll go bareback on someone before us?”

“I can’t win here, can I?” You sigh out.

“Nope.” Alice chuckles. “But at least you’re funny. I’ll go guard them.” She gets up and dusts herself off before patting Mr. Ed and walking to guard the others as they bathe before her turn. Tabitha follows her, looking annoyed for some reason which leaves you with the two parents, a horse, and a fox.

“Just so you know.” The Cat o’Ninetails says. “If you did go balls deep into someone before everyone, that would be fine by me.”

“Dear, please.” The Grand Wizard groans.

“I’ll go take care of… that other stuff.” You mutter to yourself before walking out. As you do so, you hear the two whispering to each other about how to get dirty before their bath. You shiver in time with Mr. Ed, who clearly doesn’t care for the thoughts either.

{You like to embarrass yourself, huh?} Erwin sends as you stand in the antechamber of the Inner Sanctum.

“And you, Erwin?” You mumble before sitting down and pulling out [Aliph’s Sigil]. Looking at the device, you press it to your forehead and hear the words spoken by the cultists.

With their victory breaking through the lines of the Royal Guard, they’ve pushed closer to the Palace, but are holding defensive lines. You hear reports from cultists sounding in about their whereabouts, including a group coming to secure the Temple. As you listen in more, the voice of Hel’alin sounds, silencing all the other voices.

“Once the way to the Temple is cleared, I shall arrive myself. We will use the Temple as a staging point to assault the Palace itself. Be vigilant brothers and sisters, for we will rule once this night is through.”

Relaying this to Erwin, the fox considers before speaking. {Well, if you wanted to talk to her, this makes things easier.}

“I suppose. We’ll have to greet her committee first.”

{Might want to let the Priestess know. This is kind of the exact reason they’re locking things up.}

“Right…” You mutter, getting up and walking over the room with the artifacts.

They’re still working at it, locking up items, though a small pile sits next to them, mainly of what looks like junk. As you enter they jump again before sighing in recognition.

“Ah, you’re back so soon.” The Lead Priestess says, nodding her head. “Can I help you?” Telling them what is about to happen, she frowns and says, “The Apophis is coming here? That is dire for our situation. We may needs hide these artifacts sooner than expected. At least the most important ones are locked away.”

“Great nya. I wasn’t looking forward to this nya…” The Catgirl groans and grabs a chest before walking to a side chamber where you see a hole cut into the ground. She sets it down in there before moving to get another one.

“Thank you for the information.” The Lead Priestess says. “Do you require other aid? I have found some other artifacts, though on closer examination they may not be useful unless you like a recipe for a heavenly cake.” She leans forward and whispers, “It’s not divine, but don’t tell your taste buds.”

Looking at the pile of junk, the one thing that sticks out to you is a gauntlet made of steel on the table. The Lamia follows your gaze and says, “Oh, that’s just a leftover from an old armor set. It’s good steel, but otherwise nothing special. We should give it away.”

“Hrm.” You say, thinking about it. Punching things would a gauntlet would be handy but… ah you’ll think it over. Shaking your head, you say something that’s been bugging you.

“Priestess, Dollora spoke about those who presided over the Chasm would hold the way to remove the spirit of an Apophis from the woman it inhabits. Thinking about it, weren’t Lamia those who were there so long ago? Weren’t they the ones who first summoned the Apophis?” Leaning forward, you ask her, “If you know anything on how to help with such a ritual, please tell me.”

The Lead Priestess looks  confused, turning to the Catgirl who shrugs. Tongue flicking nervously from her mouth, she says. “I… do not know of such a ritual. While it is true that Lamia have lived there for ages, I am not related to them, or if I am it is very distantly. I do not think I can help you with what you ask.”

Crestfallen, you say, “Oh. I see.”

“But I’d heard that one of the leaders of the Cult was captured? I assume she’d know the ritual if she yet lives?”

Perking up, you remember the bruised and beaten Lamia from the dungeons. Maybe if you asked she would tell you the steps? But no… she might figure it out and then things would go poorly. Yet if they were coming here…

“Priestess. With the Apophis coming here to use it as a base of operations, I suspect she will bring the Cult leader with her as we freed her from the dungeons earlier. I doubt they’ll harm a Priestess of Dollora but… perhaps if you asked, she might give you secrets of the ritual?”

The Lead Priestess looks pensive. Closing her eyes she says, “I would ask why this matters so much to you, but I cannot deny that Dollora has chosen you for some purpose. Perhaps this is it after all, to remove the abhorrent power of the Apophis.” Sighing, she says, “Very well. I will ask for you if I can.

“Thank you.” You say, holding out your hand to take hers. She looks at you with confusion and a blush on her face before smiling and pulling herself closer.

“Although perhaps if you gave me a little more… convincing I could do more for you…” She leans in very, uncomfortably close and whispers, “What would the semen of a man chosen by Dollora taste like, I wonder?” At these words the Catgirl pokes her head into the room, eyes sparkling.

“Are we talking about sex, nya?”

“Uhhh.” You say, pulling back. “Nope, I’m good, thanks!” Bowing to the Priestess, you make your way from the room amidst giggles and disappointed sighs.

Settling back down at your spot in the antechamber, you find Erwin smirking at you. Grumbling to yourself, you sit down next to him and think about everything going forward until it’s your turn to bathe. It seems no one wants to bathe with you, so it’s just you and Erwin in the surprisingly large baths. The water is easy to warm with your magic and you relax in the waters, feeling some tension melt away before mentally preparing yourself for what’s to come.

When the cultists arrive soon after you get you, your whole force is there to greet them. They seem surprised as you lower your walls, but they recognize you and give you no trouble. Once they’ve deemed the area secure, if confused at all the destruction, you wait for Hel’alin to arrive.

Surrounded by armored guards and Hent-ateh, the Apophis arrives into the Outer Sanctum, giving you an unnatural smile as she approaches. Holding her arms out wide, she says, “Brother! That you would welcome your sister warms my heart!”

You notice out of the corner of your eye the form of Liala, still a little worse for wear despite time and healing magic, slithering into view with more cultists behind her, the San’ha urn held in her grasp. Flicking your gaze back to your sister, you grip your hand on your staff, [Heldoran’s glove] snugly in place.

“Yes… sister, we have much to talk about.”

———————————————–

The procession heads back into the Temple, guards taking up positions all over the Temple like ants. You’re happy to note that they haven’t hurt the Priestesses, both of whom have already finished storing most of the artifacts. The Violet Sands cultists carry away a few of the relics, however they’re the more useless ones that were left out as bait.

Moving back into the already secured Worship Chamber, you make your way to the Altar alongside Hel’alin. Gently tracing her fingers across the surface of the stone altar, she makes a disgusted face and says, “This is not the High Altar.”

“No, the Pharaoh moved it into the Palace before the assault started.”

“Typical of those coniving bitches.” She spits. Incidentally she spits a little bit of venom as well, which sizzles upon the floor where it touches. Both of you look at that and she blushes ever so faintly before leaning toward you and whispering, “I am not quite accustomed to this form yet.”

“Right…” You say, feeling a stab of pain in your heart. If what Dollora had said was true, she would have plenty of time to get used to it however. Looking away from the sizzling floor, you say, “I take it you mean to assault the Palace.”

“Yes, we wish to take advantage of our position. With the Deathbringer expertly dealt with and many of their elite killed, they are likely to be on the backfoot. We can make this last as long as we need to until the Pharaoh is hung up like the wretch she is!”

Dark light twinkles in her eyes and you feel a shiver run down your spine. Looking into her violet visage, you can’t help but cringe a little before controlling your emotions. It’s just… just not how this is supposed to be. Perhaps if you hadn’t seen her before as a human then maybe it would have been easier. Taking in a deep breath, you stand tall and say,

“That may not be the wisest course of action.”

“Oh? Pray tell brother, why would this be?”

Looking around the room, you frown at all the cultists present. They were, for the most part, the most dedicated of the bunch, nigh on fearless. However, you can’t tell if your words will unsettle them and frankly, you’d rather say some of these things alone. Or well, almost alone.

She cocks her head and narrows her eyes. Something malicious looks at you through those eyes and she hisses, “What are you hiding from me?”

“Nothing.” You say, waving it off with some success. “However some of these words would better be in private. I do not believe that your followers would best be served by being privilege to such words.”

“P-Private?” She stutters before a wicked grin appears on her face as she takes your arm. “I see… yes, perhaps some familiar bonding and council would be best, to bring us closer together…”

“Mostly alone.” You quickly say, before wincing at her sudden glare. Holding up a hand, you continue, “I would wish to bring Tabitha with me. As an advisor.”

Hel’alin’s grip intensifies, sharp nails digging into your [Trenchcoat] painfully. “Am I not good enough for you on my own? Have I offended you somehow? Or do you wish me harm, DEAR brother?”

Her eyes stare at you with an almost psychopathic intensity and you feel your spine go rigid. G-Gods this is actually quite terrifying to behold. Who is in control of her right now? Or is it both of them together? Where did this complex even come from anyway, it’s not like she ever really was that fond…

Memories of the past flood to your mind, ones you thought innocent at the time. The way she’d always take baths with you, or never let you out of her sight, or sleep in bed with you and… fucking hells, that was just sibling love, right? Just really, really powerful sibling love, to the point where she would sacrifice herself to save you.

Looking into those eyes again, you convince yourself that this Apophis had taken such a pure love and magnified it into an obsession. With that thought in mind, being alone with her is even more terrifying than it was before. Licking your lips, you say carefully, “While I would appreciate the… sentiments, I believe that time is of the essence and we should keep things professional.” When her stare doesn’t abate, you continue, “Please, feel free to bring an advisior or bodyguard of your own.”

“Hissssss.” She says before letting go of you and pulling herself straight. Sighing, she nods to Hent-ateh and says, “Your Apophis commands you.”

The abomination, who was chewing on pieces of dead plants while smiling somehow, cranes its neck toward Hel’alin and swallows its toys. Walking over to the rest of you, it says, “What do you require? Shall I slaughter more for you?”

“No. You are to… chaperone my interaction with my brother.”

The abomination looks at you with disgust. “How troublesome.”

The Apophis waves her hand with annoyance, “Yes, but you may kill his companion if she so much as raises a hand toward either of us.”

Perking up, the purple eyed creature turns to Tabitha and smiles broadly. She shoots it a glare, not backing down. This only makes it smile even wider, an unnatural tongue sliding from its lips across the unnerving and attractive female face.

“Very well.” Hel’alin says, annoyed. She snaps and two men run up before bowing to her. “Take us somewhere private.”

“Of course!” They say in unison, one leading the way for their leader. She gives you a “come hither” look over her shoulder and slithers out of the room, Hent-ateh behind her.

Turning to the rest of your party, you find them looking at you curiously. Well, except for Sylphie, who sits in the corner on a pew, legs pulled up to her chest while her Mother comforts her. Sighing, you turn to Tabitha and say, “Sorry, but would you mind?”

The Lizardman looks at you with a stone faced expression and places her hand on her sword before saying, “Yeah, that’s fine.” She walks up to you and looks at you before saying, “Well?”

“Ah… yeah.” You say, feeling awkward for some reason. What’s her problem? She couldn’t really be mad about the whole ring thing, right? It’s not like that would upset her, right?

Feeling off about it, you follow the other man on out into the antechamber before turning left. As you walk, you lean toward Tabitha and ask, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” She says, not looking toward you. “Is something wrong?”

“Tabitha, I know something is bothering you, this isn’t like you.”

She shakes her head and says, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Listen, if this is about that ring, I didn’t mean for it to-“

“I said I’m fine.” She says with an air of finality.

Standing up a little straighter, you continue to walk with her down the small hallway toward a room where two cultists are standing guard. You’d passed by here earlier to the washroom, so that would mean it’s the Priestess’s chambers. How lovely to repurpose them without asking. As you approach the man speaks with his companions and you lean over to Tabitha again.

“I’m sorry though. If I get you a ring, will that make it better?”

She shoots you a look of shock- something you never thought you’d see on her face- before she masks it without emotion. She looks ahead and says, “I’m… fine.”

“Uh…huh.” You say, scratching you cheek. Is she really fine? Does she… want a ring? But if you gave her one, that would essentially be admitting you actually DO like her and if she accepted it then… but no, that’s not how Lizardmen work. They duel for these sorts of things, and clearly she hasn’t seem interested in dueling you or anything. So it must be fine, right?

Nodding your head as if coming to some realization, you say, “I understand.”

This, of course, makes her incredibly confused. Opening her mouth to say something, she’s cut off as the door opens and Hel’alin calls, “Come in.”

Looking to each other, both you and Tabitha adopt serious expressions and walk into the room where you find Hela’lin lounging on a bed. Her long, serpentine body lays splayed out on the small bed of the Lead Dolloran Priestess and she leans on one elbow, showing off all her curves in a rather indecent manner. She sighs as she spies Tabitha but waves a hand for the guards to close the door.

“Well, this is as good as it’s going to get.” She says, shrugging. “What information do you have?”

Your eyes drift to Hent-ateh, who stares at the two of you, unblinking. Seriously, this thing is UNNERVING. Coughing into your hand, you say, “Let me cast a spell to stop sounds from leaving this room.”

“Hmm?” Hel’alin says. “You can do that, can you?”

“Wizard.” You say, shrugging. The spell is cast with little effort, which surprises you. Looking at the glove, you forgot it was even present for a moment. Nodding to her, you say, “We’re good.”

“Interesting.” She says, rubbing her chin. Snapping, she says, “Hent-ateh.”

The abomination lets loose a half-laugh, half-scream that makes your bones shake. A nearby vase rumbles on the table and when it ends you feel a little woozy. Hel’alin looks at the door and waits for something. When she sees nothing happen, she looks impressed.

“Well then! Isn’t that handy? You’re full of surprises, dear brother.”

Rubbing your ears, you mutter, “Yeah, I guess. Anyway, to business.”

She gives you a flick of the wrist to continue, and you say, “You know the staff the Pharaoh carries? The one said to have housed the powers of the Apophis?”

“That accursed artifact.” She hisses. “It’s brilliance is an anathema!”

“Yes… we have reason to believe that with the Rites of Pah’sen releasing the power to ah… give you your current… beauty… she has been given nigh unlimited power.”

“Hmph.” She says, sniffing. “We shall see about that.”

“Hel- ugh, sister, please.” You say, holding out a hand. “You don’t understand. She was able to nigh instantly subdue the Grand Wizard and the Monster Lady, two of the most powerful warriors in Deleor. While I don’t contest the power of the Apophis and your followers, it’s folly to believe you can outdo her without a plan.”

Narrowing her eyes, she hisses, “You say you don’t contest my power, and yet you doubt me?”

Tabitha’s voice cuts in. “I have known the Grand Wizard and his wife for years. They had the powers to level cities and yet they were done in so easily. I have clashed with Hent-ateh, and if your plan was to have that thing fight the Pharaoh, I can promise you it will not end well.”

Hent-ateh gives Tabitha an appraising look, which is almost more disturbing than the normal expression. It watches her critically before turning to the Apophis and saying, “I believe they may be correct. While I would love nothing more than to be released from this damnable contract, I do not contest the powers of the Pharaohs. I have faced it before and was sealed away as punishment.”

Frowning, you look at the abomination and ask, “How were you defeated?”

It looks to you and seems about to respond before blinking and smiling. Well, you meant it out of curiosity, but it’s clearly smart enough not to give away such secrets. Hel’alin speaks in the interim.

“So, you say that she is so powerful. Are you trying to keep your dear sister safe from harm?” Her smiling expression turns to malicious suspicion in a fraction of a second as she hisses, “Or are you trying to keep us from fulfilling our sacred goal?”

“Peace.” You say, holding up a hand. “We have learned from a source that this power would naturally have bled away were it not for an aether transformer. We believe this item to be the High Altar of the Twins.”

“So, if we destroy it, we take away her power?”

“Not quite, however it would mean it won’t be infinte any longer.” Sighing, you continue, “Destroying the altar would allow us to eventually overwhelm her, but she still has much of the power and we wouldn’t last long if she hunted us down, which she will.”

“Her forces are holed up in the Palace and along the walls. They don’t seem to want to go anywhere. They’re scared.”

“No, she isn’t.” You say, “She’s smart.”

Hel’alin looks at you with a frown as you turn to Hent-ateh. “Tell me, were you defeated during the day or at night?”

It doesn’t seem like it’s going to answer until the Apophis waves her hand. It sighs and says, “Middle of the day. The staff glowed with a brilliant light, similar to the sun, and she used it to remove the ties to my corporeal form.” The abomination looks at Hel’alin with annoyance, but she merely shrugs.

“What does this all mean?”

“It means.” You say, shaking your head. “That Hevensferth was the one to grant Pharaoh Kissa that staff. It draws from his power, that of the sun itself. While formidable even under starlight, it’s impossible to win if the sun is up.” Leaning forward, you say,

“Once the sun rises, it’s likely she will personally lead the counter-attack and annihilate the Apophis for all eternity.”

Hel’alin pushes herself up, her snake half towering over you as she glares at you. “You assume much of her. I have a hard time believing such words, brother or not.”

“Fine, don’t believe me.” You say, shrugging. “You can wait until morning, give her the chance to gain her strength, and kill all of you. I’ve lost my sister once, I think I can do it again.”

Her eyes go wide at this and a look of horror appears on her expression. The early malice is replaced with fear and she reaches out a hand before pulling it to her chest, eyes flicking back and forth. Voice coming in a near whisper, she says, “Please… not again.”

Blinking in surprise, you look at her and see not the cold-blooded Monster, but your sister. Remembering Dollora’s words again, you walk over to her and take her hand. She looks up into your eyes as you say, “Then listen to me. Let me HELP you. We can only do this if we work together. Let me return the favor from years ago and save you.”

Her eyes search yours and her lip quivers for a moment. She squeezes your hand tight and is about to speak before she shudders and says in a low voice, “I don’t need help being saved.”

Hopes sinking, you look down and say, “I see. Then perhaps you will need my aid in destroying the Pharaoh, as we did the Deathbringer.”

She looks up at you with cool, red eyes and hisses, “Very well then. I will take this into consideration and let you know my verdict soon.”

Her hand lets yours free and you pull away, looking down at your palm before turning to Tabitha, who frowns. Rubbing your palm, you nod to the Lizardman who walks out of the room with you. You are both escorted back to the Worship Chamber where the others watch with surprise as you arrive, alone. Walking up to them, you catch them up on what happened.

“Great, so we’re stuck to waiting.” The Grand Wizard sighs, shaking his head. “Well, it sounds like we may have been on the right path anyway. Her lack of understanding of that basic magic is interesting to hear though…”

“I thought, uhm, that the spirit of the Apophis would have told her most of these things.” Ebe says, looking confused.

“I don’t think it so much as has the memory of an older Apophis, more than it is the power and hate of such an Apophis. A shade, or perhaps kind of Revenant?” You ask this toward the Grand Wizard who shrugs.

“This is more nebulous than Revenants I know. Maybe it’s been dormant so long that it’s only just awakening. Or perhaps the process of this ritual makes it need to get used to it and…gah.” He rubs at his head and throws up a hand in frustration.

“Well.” Alice says, shrugging. “We’re back to waiting.”

“Not for long, I hope.” You sigh. “Anyway, let’s get prepared and leave if we need to.”

The others nod, though the Grand Wizard and Sophie still give you annoyed looks before going back to preparations. Sighing, you look from them to the doors of the chamber, hoping that maybe the Lead Priestess would have that information for you but… well, such things aren’t easy to come by. In which case, you turn back to the problem at hand… Sylphie.

You really did wrong by her with the ring thing. It’s not right to do that to such a nice girl and now that you have time to consider it further, you feel like garbage. Closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, you walk toward her.

As you approach, Selene looks up at you and frowns, her tails rising on instinct. You hold up a hand in placation and say in a soft voice, “If it’s not too much trouble… could I talk with her alone?”

“I think you hurt her feelings enough.” She says, stroking Sylphie’s hair. “It might be best to-“

“No, Mom.” Sylphie sighs. “Just… can you go for a moment?”

Her mother frowns and looks between her and you before sighing and walking away. Looking down at Sylphie, you see her curled up, tails around her in a ball as she looks down at  the pew. Gulping, you walk over and sit down next to her, quiet for a few moments before saying, “I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s a nice ring.” She says. “I can feel the magic flowing through it. It will be useful coming up.”

“Yeah, it will.” You say slowly. “But Sylphie I… look, I know it might not mean much now, but I’m sorry for how I handled that. I wasn’t thinking and… listen, you’re a wonderful girl and you’re smart, intelligent, and clearly got your beauty from your mother, but…”

“But I took things out of context but you were there for me when my father wasn’t.” Sylphie sighs. “I mean, I know it was a dumb crush, it’s just… it still hurts, you know? I know you have eyes for Tabitha but I sort of kept telling myself that maybe! Ugh.” She shakes her head. “I’m not mad at you, I’m just stupid and upset.”

“That’s… good to hear. It would break my heart to hear that you hated me.”

She looks up at you with puffy eyes, confusion on her expression. Chuckling, you say, “Well, you didn’t really expect me to travel all this way, come through near death experiences, and defy the ruler of a nation with and not come to the like all of you, right?”

“Of course not.” She sniffs and then chuckles. “When you say it like that, this feels even stupider.”

“The stupid one is me.” You say, smirking. Nodding your head, you say, “You want your Mother back?”

“No, she was just making it worse.” She pauses and thinks it over before asking, “Can you send Ebe over?”

“Ebe?” You ask, cocking your head before turning to spot the Ghandharva. Something clicks and you nod your head, chuckling. “Sure. Sure. You’ll be okay for later?”

“Oh, I’ll kick more ass than all of you with only one arm!” She says before wincing and touching her bad arm. “I’m pretty sure Dad is going to find out about this and give me one hells of a tongue lashing.”

“Give you a tongue lashing? You blocked the shot for ME. I’m worried if you mother won’t finish the job.”

Both of you smile at each other and you get up to get Ebe, who hurries over to Sylphie. Looking to the others, you see the parents look at each other before frowning and scrutinizing you. Tabitha nods at you, her expression with a little more levity than before however while Sophie merely sighs and shakes her head.

With that uncomfortable bit of business done with less pain than expected, you continue forward preparing yourselves for what’s to come next.

————————————————-

It feels like it took hours, yet it was less than one before cultists return to make way for the Apophis. She appears in the ruined mezzanine and looks out over the assembled cultists (and you) like a King about to address the commoners. She speak in a slow, yet commanding voice in Ectrian.

[We have deliberated and decided to assault the Palace this evening, before morning. Gather yourselves and your devotion, for we shall overwhelm the defenders of the Palace and tear them down, revealing the beating heart of this Kingdom, the Pharoah.] She holds out a claws hand and makes a fist as if to crush said heart in her hand. [And we shall crush her, ushering in our rightful rule once again!]

The cultists cheer and make preparations as Anubis and cultists in fancier robes gather up the men and lead them toward various tasks, apparently being briefed on what they were to do. As this occurs, you cock your head, wondering how you fit into all of this when Liala slithers forward, the Lead Dolloran Priestess behind her. You notice the urn is nowhere to be seen however.

The Cult Leader nods to you as she approaches and says, “The Apophis has decided your role in this. The cult will use our power to strike at the walls, distracting them while you enter the Palace and open the gates for us to enter.”

“You didn’t think to consult us on this?” Alice asks, looking annoyed.

“Your input is unnecessary.” She hisses. “This was as the Apophis decreed. We could open the gates ourselves, but as they are magically warded such would take time and, as we have been informed, it is off the essence.”

“What happens once the cultists get inside?” You ask, frowning.

“We have soldiers quite capable of removing the guards present  in the Palace.” She gives a wicked smile. “Reaching the Prophet should be no trouble.”

“It is likely.” You say slowly. “That the Pharaoh will be in the chapel, guarding the High Altar.”

“I believe we can make a suitable distraction to allow you to destroy such a device.” She says without hesitation. Sadly, many of the men I fled with her slain trying to kill her, I assume. But we shall return the favor.

The cultists seem determined to do whatever the Apophis says, and yet they didn’t seem keen on sacrificing themselves recently. This plan seems almost suicidal however, so what exactly do they hope to accomplish? Feeling more than a little wary, you say, “Once the altar is destroyed, she will still be powerful.”

“Well, aren’t you the great and mighty Wizard and company? Shouldn’t you be the ones to safeguard the rule of the Apophis? With her so weakened, I believe you will have an equal chance, no?”

The Lead Priestess touches her shoulder and says, “Peace, Liala. They know what they must do.”

“Of course, Priestess.” The Lamia says, nodding her head. “It has been some time since I had the opportunity to speak with a Priestess again. It was invigorating.”

“Indeed. I have learned much myself.” The Lead Priestess says, a mask over her emotions. She nods to your group and says, “May Dollora’s blessings be upon you. You shall need them.”

“I see.” You say, nodding to her. Turning back to Liala, you ask, “When we do assault?”

“We make ready to leave soon, plan to gather our forces at the Eastern walls within the hour. You will know we have begun our attack, we shall send signals with our few Witches.” She chuckles and slithers toward the door before pausing and turning to look at you over her shoulder.

“Oh, and the Apophis would be quite sad if anything were to happen to you… quite sad indeed. Now then, come along, Priestess.”

The Lead Priestess looks to you and turns to go, but as she does you notice something in her hand held behind her back. Taking it from her quietly, she leaves during the commotion on her way outside. Frowning, you look down at the item to find it a piece of paper. When no one is looking, you open it up and find it’s written in Deleorian.

“This is what I could find from her. She was surprisingly free with the knowledge to a Priestess of Dollora. I do not know if it is real, but it is all I could get. May the blessings of the Goddess be upon you, Rommel.”

Your eyes go wide as you look at the hastily written formulae on the bottom, reading it over before a cultist calls, “You! Are you coming?”

Stuffing it into your pocket, you reply, “Yes! We’re coming!” Nodding to the others, you gather yourselves up and make your way into the Outer Sanctum and toward the assault on the Palace. Liala needs you to open the gates but she didn’t specify how. Well, guess that’s up to you.

Cultists move past you in a far more orderly manner than you’d expect. During your brief time since they got here, wagons full of various weapons and other supplies have arrived in the more fortified position of the Temple and the cultists move about them under the gaze of their superiors. While you figured them to be a disorganized rabble, clearly they’ve either understood the need for equipment or merely managed to scrounge up weapons for the troops. Likely they’ve come from the corpses of the fallen guards they just killed.

As you pass, you confirm this as many of the pieces of leather or lighter armor have dents or rents in them. Still, it’s better than nothing, and the cultists seem enthused to have the gear. It still makes you shiver to think about how much they believe in this ideal of the Apophis that they would go so far as to throw their lives away.

Hiding your discomfort, you head toward your tank, which is thankfully unmolested. While many of the cultists trade smiles of worry and eagerness, another group stand to the side, expressions blank, weapons held ready. Frowning, you notice many of them already have arms and armor bearing the insignias of the guard. Were they some elite troops the cultists had? Maybe some vow of silence? Before you can ask anything about it, a voice catches your attention.

“H-hey!” A woman says, pointing at you. “You’re the ones who defeated the Deathbringer! The ones who opened the path here!”

Head turn at those words and the cultists mutter to themselves as they notice you. Feeling nervous, your free hand drifts toward the [Chain] in your pocket as the woman who called attention to you approaches. Despite her torn robes and tussled hair, she has an earnest face and smiles at you with genuine awe. She blushes and looks down, fidgeting as she says,

“I’m sorry, I just saw you and wanted to… say thank you. The Violet Sands would never have survived without you and your help.” She looks up at you and asks, “Are you going to be part of the assault?”

Your hand slackens on the chain and you look out of the corner of your eye at Tabitha who watches the exchange with a worried expression, which is more of a scowl than anything. Turning your gaze back to the woman, you blink in surprise as you realize she’s not very old at all, perhaps even younger than Sophie and Sylphie. And yet, here she is, ready to give her life for some shitty ancient grape colored snake who cared nothing for her.

Though you want to tell her that, you can’t help but notice the expressions of hope on the faces of the cultists around you. Though some have that glint of a mania allowed purchase in this cult, many others have the same, earnest expression as the woman before you. They truly did believe in the cult, in whatever future it would bring. They thought that no matter what, it would be better than what currently is in place.

“Well…” You say, stalling for time as you try to think of your answer. Of course, you’d already made up your mind by this point. Standing up tall, you say, “Yes. We are to open the gates for you.”

“Woah, that’s going to be super dangerous.” She says, eyes widening. Puffing out her chest she says, “Of course, we all must make sacrifices in order to bring an end to the rule of the Pharaohs.”

“Yeah…” You say, feeling a little awkward as everyone looks at you. Grimacing, you make to look for an excuse to get away when Liala’s voice shouts,

“What are you doing?! Return to your stations and prepare to move out!”

The woman yips and then smiles at you before heading out with the rest of the cultists. Watching her go, you notice Tabitha walk up next to you and say, “She seems eager.”

“Mmm.” You mutter before sighing. “Cult’s gotta get people somehow.”

“Indeed.” Sophie says as she and the others toward the tank. “I only hope they don’t regret it.”

Those words in your mind, you head to the tank and load up. Thankfully your reputation (And the crushed Anubis corpse) precede you, and no one has molested the vehicle. While you could walk, this is honestly faster and pushing it around with your magic is rather soothing. Besides, it’s almost like you’re not using magic with this glove on. Thinking about how tired this spell made you before, even without the glove is impressive.

The hatch is left open as you move, allowing you to stand up and feel the night air as you move. Tabitha and Alice sit on the sides again, as they just isn’t much room inside. Though the space isn’t very large, it’s enough for Ebe to stick her head up, wind ruffling her feathers. Chuckling, you manipulate the metal to accommodate her and she sighs in thanks before looking about the streets. In this more affluent district the buildings are far more eccentric than the outer ones, yet they show none of the signs of the battle raging elsewhere due to the presence of the Royal Guard. If it weren’t for the procession of cultists, you’d think nothing had happened here.

“I’m glad you smoothed things over with Sylphie. I thought it might be awkward in here.” She says, chuckling nervously and sharing a glance with Tabtiha.

“Well, I was the idiot, she just suffered for it.” You say, to which Alice giggles.

“Heh, yeah.” She says before looking away. She says nothing for a long time before saying, “So, we’re going to see the Pharaoh.” Ebe says, nervousness on her expression. “Do you think we have a chance?”

“Of course we have a chance.” You say. “We always have a chance.”

“Yeah but…” Ebe trails off before sighing. “I’m scared.”

Eyes flicking to her, you mentally turn the tank away from the rest of the cultists, heading on a different path from the Palace in the distance. Once secured on the road ahead you cast a little privacy barrier and say, “Are you sure you want to come along Ebe?”

“Huh?” She says before looking at the two swordswomen. “Oh. A barrier.” Her expression becomes a little solemn for a moment before she sighs and says, “Yes, of course I am. I won’t quit now, when I had so many chances to before. In truth, I wanted to make sure you were okay with this.”

“Of course I am.” You say, looking at her. “We went over this.”

“Yeah, Dollora and everything, but like, are YOU okay with this?” She looks you in the eyes and asks, “Or are you doing it because of your sister?”

“Does it really matter if that’s the case?” You ask. “Besides, I’ll deal with that once this is over. One way or another, it has to happen at this point.”

“Okay.” She says, looking down. “I wanted to make sure. But you’re right, it ends one way or another. I just hope that we can still be friends at least.” Looking back up to you, she says with a smile, “You can drop the barrier.”

Nodding, you do so, to which Alice says loudly, “What were you two talking about in there?”

“He was saying he thinks your hair is getting in your face.” Ebe says, to which Alice blinks in surprise.

“Ebe! When did you grow a pair of balls?”

“W-what? I don’t have those!”

“Oh, good it’s still you.” Alice says, miming wiping sweat off her brow. “I was afraid we traded you out back there.”

Ebe pouts, but before they can banter further, Tabitha speaks up. “We’re on the right path, yes?”

“Yeah, heading to the northwest side of the Palace.” You say, turning more. “A little north of where we had entered beforehand.”

“The goal is to get over the walls and open the gate when they’re distracted, right?”

“I doubt it will be that easy.” You grunt, looking for signs of danger. Thankfully none of the guard are present, likely having noticed the surge of cultists coming toward them. Looking up at the sky, you see the moon beginning to move toward the horizon. Maybe a few more hours at best until this was over one way or another.

“Of course not.” She says, nodding her head. “However I suspect the strongest of the Handmaidens will be inside. I have my doubts that they’ll be able to really hold up their end of the bargain. I don’t trust Liala.”

“Me either, she’s a snake.” Alice says, much to Tabitha’s annoyance. Ebe smirks though and the swordswoman gives Tabitha a sly smile.

“Yes, yes, hilarious.” You say, waving a hand. “But she’s right. I don’t much trust her either, but we’re useful at the moment. She wouldn’t afford to waste our potential.”

“Fair enough.” Tabitha says. “But what do you think happens after we defeat the Pharaoh?”

“We’ll see once we get there.” You say, shrugging. “But I’m sure our fighting won’t be over so easily. There are still things we need to settle.”

The Lizardman’s eyes narrow and she says slowly, “Settle? Between… you and me?”

Blinking in surprise, you say, “What? I mean… well, we’ll have to talk about going forward but-“

Closing her eyes, she smirks and says, “Is that so? You’ll be ready when the time comes then?”

You give Ebe a pleading look and she shrugs her shoulders in reply. Turning back to Tabitha, you say, “I… guess?” Somehow, you swear she has a sly smile on her face from that response. Uhm… perhaps the two of you are on different pages.

A voice calls down from below and you place an [Audio Tap] with a <vox caster> so you can talk without having to stop driving. “Hello?” You ask down there.

“Are we there yet?” The Grand Wizard asks.

“Do I need to turn this tank around?” You reply, frustrated.

“There, there, he’s just being an idiot.” Selene says, hijacking the conversation.

“How is that different than any other time?”

“You know that he’s my husband, right?”

“My question still stands.”

Selene and her daughters laugh while the Grand Wizard grumbles. She speaks a moment later and says, “I’ve read over that note. This seems to be a fairly standard ritual, all things considered.”

“That’s… is there such thing as a standard ritual?”

“Yes, often they need certain aspects to be correct such as a ritual phrase or certain objects arrayed correctly. This one clearly doesn’t require ritual candles or sacrifices like some of them do. However the hint at area sanctified to Dollora fits with what we knew about this beforehand. She granted this power at first and can be invoked to do so again, though I bet it was a grander affair the first time.”

“I see.” You say, taking that in. “Do you think we can pull it off?”

“Find a vessel and yes, I think so. I don’t think you’re being lied to about this.”

“…Thank you.” You say before concentrating back on the road ahead. “I mean it.”

“Yes, yes. Oh, and by the way.” Her voice grows quieter as she asks, “Are we there yet?”

You cut off the magic as more laughter sounds under you. That entire family is a bunch of loons, aren’t they? Maybe the oldest sibling actually had a head on her shoulders worth a damn, but you’ll probably never get to meet her. Maybe that’s for the best all things considered.

Despite not answering her, you actually are close to being there. The manors around you begin to show some wear and tear from looters looking to get a quick score while the guard were focused on the east side of town. Looking off to the south, you see the Palace in the distance and have Ebe inform the others of your decision. As the tank moves to a position where you have good visibility of the wall, you erect some cover from which to view without being seen.

Selene pushes up from the inside to take Ebe’s place and she casts a small spell to look out toward the wall. Clacking her tongue, she says, “The guards are still present up there.”

“How can you tell?” You ask, cocking your head.

“[Farsight] spell. Easy thing to cast, lets you see long distances.” Sighing, she shakes her head. “Guess the assault hasn’t begun yet.”

“Huh.” You say, looking out in the distance. “Can you teach me that spell?”

“Sure.” She says, showing you the simple Luxmancy used with the spell.

>You learn [Farsight]

>Simple spell which bends light before you, allowing you to see far away objects easier.

Using the spell, you survey the walls and see guards illuminated by torches. A healthy mix of Anubis and humans walk the walls, some of them moving further toward the east. So, something is going to start soon, is it? Well, might as well unload the tank…

Getting everyone out of the stuffy confines, they mill about, waiting for the signal. Erwin sits on your shoulder as you lean back against the tank. Your familiar tells you about a few people watching you from shadows, something that doesn’t escape the notice of the Cat o’Ninetails in your group, but as most run once noted, they don’t bother you much. Looters probably, as anyone connected with the Palace are unlikely to be able to do anything about you to matter much.

“Think they’ll be alright?” Sylphie asks, walking over to you.

“Huh?”

“The cultists. Think they’ll be alright?”

“Oh.” You say, rubbing your chin. “Well… no. Which is why we need to work quickly. I’m sure Hent-ateh will cause significant damage to the enemy, but clearly it’s afraid to get too bogged down by those Anubis or it would have torn up the Palace already.”

“Fair enough.” She says, looking out at the Palace. “I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to say this later, but… thanks for everything.”

“This seems a little awkward after that ring thing.”

“Oh hush, that’s water under the bridge.” She says, waving a hand. “Besides, this is serious. Sophie has the same sentiments. We both know this has been hard on you but again, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We know you don’t care much for Dad but… we’re still glad you helped.” Rubbing at her eyes, she sniffs and stands up tall.

“And when we finish this and the time comes to save your family, we’ll do everything we can to help. I can’t pretend to say I know loss as much as you but if we can help, we will.”

“Indeed, dear sister.” Sophie says, walking up. Her ears twitch as she listens to everything around her, but she still manages a dignified bow before you in that tight black suit of hers, wherever she found it. Looking in your eyes you see a conviction there. “We will finish this and return home together. No matter what happens here, no matter what our parents think of you, all of you are the part of our family.”

“All of us?” You ask, cocking your head.

“You, Ebe, Erwin… even Alice I suppose. All of you have sacrificed so much for us, shed so many tears with us, and fought so hard with us. How could it be any other way.”

A soft smile comes upon her lips. “Of course, as much as my dear sister entertained thoughts of you joining the family in another sense, I’m sure we will not be strangers going forward.”

“I… I don’t know what to say.” You say, a blush coming to your cheeks despite yourself.

“Heh.” Sophie says, that shit eating grin appearing on her face. “Have you said your piece to Tabitha?”

“Uh… what?” You ask, cocking your head. “She… said something about when the time comes something would be settled, but I don’t know what she was talking about.”

The twins look to each other and smile. “Oh.” Sophie says, “Yeah, I think we might be seeing a lot of each other in the future.”

Raising an eyebrow, your expression turns to shock as they both basically tackle you and give you big hugs. Not knowing how to react, you place your hands on their heads and give them gentle headpats. They both smile and pull away, standing resolute. Sylphie raises a finger and says,

“You should ask if anyone wants to share a smoke with you before the battle.”

“Gods, I don’t need to offend Tabitha before going into battle.” You say, though a smoke would be nice you guess…

The two giggle and Erwin sends, {They’re good girls.}

{Yeah. You ready for this buddy?}

{Do you really need to ask?}

{Heh, of course.} You send, nodding your head.

For some reason you feel light hearted after these discussions. You’re about to head into a near suicidal battle and death is likely to be your reward, and yet you feel happy just to be around these people. How odd that these people which drove you crazy before you could feel secure with. You vow to do your best to protect them and they future they want, something which displaces your current worry for your sister and focuses your mind on the battle ahead.

{Hey, hey what’s that?} Erwin sends, nodding upward.

Frowning, you look to the east and use your [Farsight] to see something flying into the sky. A stream of fire hurtling in the night sky, only to explode into dazzling embers. Turning your gaze back to the wall, you see Royal Guard rushing toward the east. The battle has started, and that’s your signal.

“Let’s move!” You say, resolving filling you as you dismantle the tank with your magic for further use later. “We’re ending this!”

———————————————–

Reaching the wall was easy. With the commotion on the other side of the Palace, no one noticed your approach, especially not with Sylphie’s magic making it harder to see you at night. No guards are seen on the walls either and with a simple creation of a wall, you’re up at the top of a large ramp leaping onto the ramparts.

Sophie, Tabitha, and Alice move in first, their weapons before them, but no one bars your path. Off to the east you notice forces fighting and hear the distance sounds of battle. That’s not your fight though, as much as you’d like to help them. You need to open that gate as swiftly as possible!

Moving atop the wall, you notice some guards running down through the courtyards, even spying the place you entered the Palace before as you pass. It seems they found it and collapsed it again, filling it with harder cement-like material which would take longer to tunnel through you suspect. Not that you need to.

Tabitha kicks in the door to a guardhouse on the walls to find a surprised a few men and a surprised Anubis preparing their weapons. Alice charges in and slays the Anubis before she has time to react while Sophie downs the men with her tails, leaping between them and expertly puncturing their armor with the extra power granted by the bracer you gave her.

“There’s bound to be more ahead.” Tabitha says, blade held at her side. “It won’t be this easy going forward.”

“That’s fine.” You say, rocks floating over your hand. “We’ll open that gate no matter what it takes.”

At this, the door on the other side of you bursts open much in the same way as you burst into this room and a Warden by the looks of her pauses in confusion. It lasts only a moment, but it’s enough for Tabitha to slide forward and drive her blade into the Monster’s chest before she can activate her berserker mode. A gasp is heard behind her and you see with alarm a man stagger backward before shouting the alarm.

Dropping the Anubis, Tabitha curses and rushes after the man. You put a [Pebble Gun] into his back but the damage is done. Looking out toward the gate set in the south, you can see Guards from below the wall mobilizing and dashing up the stairs, too far out of range to hit with your magic. Ahead of you is one more guardhouse tower before the gate, but the space between you and is filling with men and Anubis.

“Hmph, they make it too easy.” Sylphie says, striding forward and casting [Ice]. The stone, which normally is a great ally to the guards turns suddenly slick and many trip and fall, some tumbling off the walls toward the ground while others, mostly the Anubis, keep their footing.

Something dark rains from the sky and you cast [Deflect], causing arrows to deviate from their paths and hit the ground around you.

“Ebe! Stay grounded!” You shout, keeping up the magic as you intercept the arrows. “I can’t attack them like this!”

“Right!” Sophie says. “Keep them off us, I’m heading toward the archers!”

“Got it sis!” Sylphie says, creating gusts of wind that push at the men as opposed to the Anubis, who ignore it entirely, leaping off the ice toward all of you. Sophie leaps down from the walls before they reach, and they’re intercepted by Alice and Tabitha, who beat them back. When one of them appears from Tabitha’s side, a sharp tail blade slams into the enemy’s face, dropping her as Selene appears, aiding her daughter while also holding the line.

The Grand Wizard mutters to himself and snaps at the ice, which spikes up under some of the Anubis guards, causing them to scream as their legs are shredded by the spell. The arrows stop falling soon after, and you push forward yourself, lashing out with your chain to get past the defenses of the Anubis, tripping them up and allowing the melee fighters to cut a path.

Sylphie’s ears twitch and she casts another sheet of ice before her as her sister flips over something in the distance before landing on the ice and sliding toward you. Smirking, she says, “Taking care of business.”

“Good job.” You say, looking forward. The guards further down the wall look at you with surprise and retreat, allowing you to push forward. Inside the walls, you see men running down from the stairs toward the get toward the gate itself, a large structure made mostly of ancient wood reinforced with metal. A large crossbeam sits within the wall, likely retracted by a nearby gatehouse. Great… too large to move with your magic, not to mention the spells upon it.

In the center of the mass of guards stands a tall figure in large, heavy armor, spear at the ready. They point toward the Palace and men run in that direction, likely to get reinforcements, which will make things much more difficult on you. Moving closer, you try to affect the armored Guard with your magic, but it ends up being repelled, likely which makes it likely that it’s an Anubis in there.

“Stay up here.” You say to Sylphie and the Grand Wizard. Give us support if we need it.”

“Right.” Sylphie says before nodding to Ebe. “We may need you too.”

Heading down the stairs into the courtyard, you cast [Twister] before you. The raging tempests of winds strikes at the men, throwing them about in chaos, yet the solid figure does not move, spear held at her side as the magic has no effect. Dismissing the spell, you  wade through a pile of broken men and shout, “Out of our way! This gate is opening!”

[I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.] The Anubis says, clad in her armor. [As the Guardian of the Gate and a Handmaiden to the Pharaoh, I will defend this gate with my life.] Slamming her fist against the wall, the door to the gatehouse shuts from inside as she takes positions before it.

“We do not have time for this” You growl, readying your magics. “I’m just going to bury her in lava.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work.” Selene says, frowning. That armor is too thick and her movements are too quick in it. It will only drain your power.”

“So what do we do? Time is running out.”

“Distract her.” She says, looking at the door. “I’ll get that gate open.”

Nodding, you say, “Fine, we’ll do this.”

“Excellent!” She says, then turns to her daughter. “Remember how to pick locks?”

“Of course, Mother.” Sophie says, holding up her tails. “Shall we?”

They both break off as Tabitha and Alice charge the Handmaiden. You break the ground underneath her with your magic, figuring your ice wouldn’t bind her well enough, but she steps aside from the shattered earth without any damage and parries a blow from Alice before slamming the butt of her spear into Tabitha. The two keep each other from being struck, but it leaves you in a curious position.

What did you did before with the poles won’t work due to the armor, but you can’t manipulate it freely, nor can you just [Flame Lance] her due to the magic resistance. Anubis are really annoying to fight sometimes! At least you just need to distract her long enough to get the gate open and-

The Anubis turns after pushing back Alice and moves toward the gatehouse, spear leveled at Sophie. Her Mother brings up her tails and parries the blow, but staggers back from the force of it. The Handmaiden takes advantage of this and sweeps the spear under her, almost catching the weakened Monster Lady to trip her. Selene narrowly dodges it, but in doing so leaves Sophie open to attack.

Casting [Build the Wall], you intercept the blow of the spear, blunting the force severely as it moves toward Sophie. The Handmaiden curses at the interruption and turns her attention back to Tabitha and Alice, who drive her away from the Cat o’Ninetails.

“I need more time!” Sophie shouts, working on the door as fast as her tails can move. She looks worried as the Anubis grabs hold of Alice with a hand and hurls her at Sophie. Tabith cries out and boosts forward with her legs to catch the woman while deflecting her path away from the young Cat o’Ninetails.

Cursing, you slide yourself across the ground with <Rock Slide> and catch a blow meant for Sophie at the same moment that Selene does, the two of you turning aside the strike. The Handmaiden curses, but Selene takes the opportunity to push the attack, using her tails to grab the Anubis’s spear arm and hold it out of the way while also pinning her legs. She looks down with an imperious face into the visor of the armor, drawing back to strike and…

Looking confused as she realizes that the tail she’s raising is the recently cut one. She had forgotten it was removed. Taking the opportunity, the Anubis shouts and hurls Selene off her, the Cat o’Ninetails landing further away on all fours, looking a mix of furious and afraid. She shouts,

“ROMMEL!”

Suddenly finding yourself before the Handmaiden, you use your staff to block a blow that sends you to your knees from the power. Grunting, you create a spike of earth which shatters on the armor to block another strike. The Anubis catches the nice rock spear and then backhands you, sending you blinking backward. Lifting her spear into the air, she makes to stab it downward onto you when you summon strength within you and make the ground beneath her slide her backward.

The Anubis looks confused, but not overly concerned. Turning back to face you, she hefts her spear and charges against the flow of the earth with mighty footfalls when the loud sound of screeching metal stops her in her tracks. Turning sharply to the gate, she pauses as the large bar keeping it closed moves into the gatehouse, leaving the doors unlocked. Men atop the wall point downward and shout as the gates push open with a cry of invading cultists.

They swarm over her, and though she kills a few, she’s taken down by the weight of bodies, eventually having a knife stuck in through her helm’s visor and killed. The cultists cheer toward you as they swarm out through the courtyard and up the wall to support their friends who were causing the distraction.

As they pass by, you can’t help but feel annoyed and yet satisfied that the cultists had a group waiting so close by for the gate to open. It’s almost like Liala planned for this to occur. Infact, as you watch, she slithers into view, flanked by those emotionless soldiers. She hisses at the other cultists and looks to you, counting everyone up before smiling.

“Well now, that was quite faster than expected.”

“Seems most of the guard were occupied.” You say, shrugging and turning as Sophie exists the gatehouse, wiping at her brow before watching your interaction.

“Indeed. Well, you held up your first part, now let me hold up mine.” Holding her hand up, she says, “March into the Palace! Slaughter everyone and make way to the chapel!”

The soldiers say nothing and you watch them with mounting dread as they march into the Palace. With each passing one you begin to realize that they don’t just LOOK like Royal Guard, they WERE Royal Guard.

Thinking back to what Hel’alin was doing when you first met her, your blood runs cold as these emotionless warriors head into the Palace. Your eyes linger on the Handmaiden leading the formation blockading the Violet Sands and you curse to yourself. So this is how they plan to get into the Palace, by sacrificing these damn slaves to the Apophis.

Guard standing outside the Palace doors are swiftly cut down by their former friends, having lost nothing of their original skill. The inner Palace door is brutally chopped open with axes and the soldiers push forward, hell-bent on slaughtering those in their way. They’ll fight until the last of them, one way or another unless something can free them from this curse. She said a path would be carved for you and here it is, as distasteful as it appears.

Consulting your [Palace Map], you find the chapel in the back of the Palace, to the left of the audience chamber and throne room. One way in, one way out.

As the others join you from the wall amidst the sounds of chaos and battle, Liala turns to you, smiling broadly.

“Well?” Liala says, watching her enslaved slaughter their way forward. “The time has come. For the glory of the Apophis, your dear sister…”

Mutely, you stare at Liala as she slithers away. On one hand, she hasn’t done anything to harm you, and yet you feel deeply distrustful of her. Everything she does seems to be pointing toward something, yet you can’t see the end of this road. Is it betrayal? Supposing it is though, is there anything you can do about it?

Looking up at the sky to find the moon on its way out, you resolve that there’s not much for it. You’ll cross that bridge when you get to it, or you’ll die trying. Guess there’s only one way forward in either case.

“Everyone ready?” You ask, folding up the map.

Your party all nod their heads, grim resolve on their expressions. They know what is asked of them, and despite trying to give them ways out, they want to stay. Hells, out of all them perhaps you have the least reason to be here and yet… something greater pulls at you. This needs to finish or else you’ll never reach some hidden closure from a story you aren’t aware you’re reading.

“What’s the plan?” Alice asks, hand on her sword hilt.

You point at the enthralled guards heading into the Palace. “We follow them to the chapel. It’s probably safest to use them as… as…” Trailing off, you sigh and say, “Well, I doubt there’s much to do in order to return them to their senses. Doing so may break them from what they’ve been doing anyway.”

“Likely.” Selene sighs. “I’ve seen the aftermath of these sorts of things after certain Monsters use similar powers.”

“Might as well not make such sacrifices be in vain.” Tabitha grunts, though you know she doesn’t really mean it. Controlling the actions of another like this is even worse than slavery and it’s quite rare for even Monsters these days to do such things without punishment. But what are you going to do? They’re already like this and you don’t have time to complain.

“Yeah… yeah. Anyway, we’ll follow behind them as we push toward the chapel. Once we locate it, we’ll keep a team down here and myself, Sylphie, and you two-” You point at the Grand Wizard and Selene. “We’ll head to the roof.”

“Why?” The Grand Wizard asks, looking confused. “We’re to drop in from behind?

“Not quite.” You say, shaking your head. “I’ll let you know once we get there. Just make sure your mana reserves are full.”

“Of course.” Selene says, holding up a vial full of white liquid. “I filled up during the bath.”

“Gods damnit…” Sylphie groans, her face turning red. “This is so embarrassing.”

“It could be worse.” Sophie says, patting her shoulder. “Mother could be going down on him at a dignitary dinner at the consulate again.”

“Gooooooods.” Sylphie groans louder.

Flicking a glance at the parents, they both look away, whistling. Rolling your eyes, you say, “Now’s not the time, we need to get going.”

“Of course. We can’t fall into these gags every time we have a pause.” Sophie says, falling in step behind you after her obvious jab. The others nod and head after you across the blood stained courtyard.

By the time you reach the Palace proper, a line of corpses wearing Royal Guard uniforms line the gate. The only way you can tell who was on your side versus who was on the other is by the way they’ve fallen- more casualties for yours than there’s. No one ever said the Royal Guard weren’t tenacious you suppose.

Walking through the ornate, open doorway, you hold up your staff and look about for signs of enemies. Nothing but the sound of battle further down in the Palace greet you. Stepping into the main foyer, you look around and whistle.

The room is massive. Hallways leading off to various other parts of the Palace align from every which way as well as an elevated walkway lining the second story of the circular room. A massive granite statue of a slender woman reaching toward  the heavens sits in the center, her fingers almost brushing the ceiling but not quite making it.

Breaking away from the statue, you look to the marble floors and notice that the white and black stones are now stained with red. Only a few corpses line the floors here, riddled with arrows. Looking up at the walkways, you see a corpse on the floor. Considering the gaping wound, it was likely from one of the enthralled Anubis reaching them and driving them back.

Past the statue a longer, if more narrow, hallway stretches. Red carpeting lined with various paintings in stages of disarray are seen and from it you hear the sounds of battle. Pointing in that direction, you move forward again, vigilant for attackers. You see none, however, until arriving at the end of the hallway to find two paths to the right and left of a wall before you, a massive painting depicting the serene face of a woman with long, black hair and ectrian skin.

Something about it makes you shiver, but your concentration is broken when from a left a cry is heard as an Anubis wearing the colors of the guard slams into the wall. A javelin protrudes from her chest and she gives a feral cry before leaping back into the fray, obviously a warden. The crazed eyes she has however speak of enthrallment.

“Guess we’ve reached the edges of the welcoming party.” You say to the others before nodding to Sylphie. She takes in a deep breath and casts [Trick of the Light], shrouding your group as you huddle close and move toward the battle.

Before you sits a chamber even longer than the hallway, and much wider. Along the walls sit booths and chairs for people to sit and watch those who enter and the point at the end of the room where a dais sits. Upon it sits a large throne carved to look like flowing sand which turns into the faces of the Goddesses. It sits empty, yet undisturbed as Royal Guard fight from atop the dais to drive back their former friends.

“This is going to take awhile.” Alice mutters, looking over the battle. “We can’t get past them this way.”

A cursory glance shows you that she’s correct. The enthralled guards are giving a good showing, but the Royal Guard are fighting for time rather than to win. The ground they give is hard won and you watch as more appear from a side corridor at the right of the room. Sweeping your gaze to the left side of the room, you see a closed chamber. If that’s correct, then that should lead to the chapel.

Gesturing for the others to pull back, you get out of sight of the maelstrom. Once clear, you say, “Chapel is ahead, we need to get in there and destroy that altar.”

“Isn’t that where the Pharaoh is though?” Ebe asks, looking worried. “Shouldn’t we help out and clear this room first?”

“Maybe.” You say watching the battle. You’d hoped you could do a good [Survey], but with all the fighting, there’s no way to get a good reading. Too many vibrations and other interference. “But we can make an even greater entrance.”

Turning to the spell casters, you say, “Alright, it’s time.”

“Time for what?” Selene asks, looking confused.

You hold up a hand, pointing upward. “We’re going to the roof.”

——————————————-

A night wind whips Selene’s hair about into her eyes and she grumbles as she sits upon the stone roof of the chapel. She looks to you and says, “Why are we here again?”

“Because.” You begin, shielding your face from a particularly strong gust. Your other hand anchors you onto the roof with a handhold you made from the stone. “We can’t go in from the bottom at the moment, and this is as good as any for what needs to be done.”

“I’m quite interested in dropping down like a Batgirl and getting her.” The Grand Wizard says, holding up a hand. “Just like my Eastern theatre.”

“Dad, please, only nerds watch that.” Sylphie sighs. She turns to you and asks, “Are you certain I shouldn’t have stayed with the others?

“They’ll be fine, they can look after themselves. Besides, Mr. Ed and Erwin are there with updates.” You say before making a small hole into the roof with your magic. Taking a deep breath, you lower your face and look into it with [Farsight].

The chapel is larger than expected, holding about fifty pews. Statues of the Goddesses line the walls along with plants coiling around the Phallian ones, full of vivid life. At the center is a lectern with a book upon it and behind it sits a large, stone altar. Faces of the Twins are carved into the stone at each end along with various phrases of divinity along the sides.

And there, sitting upon the Altar, eyes staring forward, is a woman you recognize from the painting in the Palace. Tall and with a very feminine build, she radiates femininity, even at this distance. True to form as a Priestess of Dollora, her clothing is sparse and covers only her breasts with a feathered motif while a leotard extends downward to cover her loins. Her long, beautiful legs are wrapped in fresh cloth while her feet are bare.

Various pieces of Ectrian jewelry adorn her form, including a crown made of solid gold inlaid with an emerald and a collar about her neck extending to her shoulders. Strangely, she also has vines with beautiful white flowers weaved through her hair- probably a symbol to Phallia.

Finding yourself momentairly mesmerized by the woman, you watch as she closes her eyes and sighs out, placing a hand to her head and muttering something to herself. Clutching a golden staff with the motif of hooded serpent at the top, she looks up at the closed door and then begins to swing her eyes upward.

Catching one glimpse of those glowing, purple eyes, you pull away, heart thundering in your chest. She didn’t see you right? Right?

“What’s wrong?” Sylphie asks, sounding afraid. “What did you see?”

“I saw the altar and ah… the Pharaoh. She’s there.”

“Did she see you?” Selene asks, hesitant.

“I think we’d be dead if she did.” You mutter. “Anyway, she’s alone. Let’s do this then.”

“Do what? You haven’t told us what we’re doing!” The Grand Wizard says, exasperated.

“Oh, right.” You say, pointing at the roof. “We’re going to turn this whole roof into lava and drop it on her head.”

The three stare at you in shock before turning to each other, frowning, and then turning back. Selene chuckles and shakes her head. “Wow, that’s even crazier than the shit my husband here comes up with.”

“I’d probably make a plan involving literal shit.” He says, nodding his head. “Still, could work, though…” He trails off looking at his wife. She gives him a slight nod as Sylphie cuts in.

“That’s… a lot of stone though.” Sylphie says, looking worried. “Are you sure we can do this?”

“Just us two? No. But with the greatest spellcasters in the world, perhaps!”

Selene and the Grand Wizard roll their eyes but smirk as Sylphie quickly teaches them the spell you two came up with. They pick it up nigh instantly and together you back into a corner. Sparing one glance for the rapidly setting moon, you nod to the others and begin to channel mana.

Without much of a need to manipulate the rock, you focus all your effort on the heating. Within moments the rock turns molten red and nearly explodes into molten lava, dropping to the ground in a wave of liquid stone. It splashes onto the ground, instantly annihilating all the pews and the plant life, destroying the carpeting, and burning the doors leading outside.

Or, that’s what’s supposed to have happened.

As you watch the lava fall from what was the roof, a deep, powerful magic makes you very bones shiver. Staring in wonder, you see the molten rock flow down the sides of the room as it falls, parting as if a river coursing past a stone. It gushes to destroy the plant life still and damage many of the statues and pews, however the center of the room leading to the dais is free of the rapidly cooling stone.

Blinking in confusion, you turn your gaze from your section of the roof to the altar to find it intact. The Pharaoh stands there, looking about the destruction with petulant annoyance before snapping her head to the door as it bursts open, three enthralled Anubis bursting in with weapons raised. They barely have a chance to make a move before she raises her hand and a blast of something begins to tear away their flesh.

Despite their magic resistance, every step they take leads to more and more of their skin being flayed until they collapse to the ground in agony, having only reached halfway to her. She frowns deeper than before and swings her eyes to the roof, eyes going wide as she sees you. Thrusting out a hand, you feel something pull at you and it takes all of your effort to push yourself away with the stone, freeing you of her grasp.

Sylphie lets out a cry however, the hold upon her as well. Thrusting out a hand to grab her, you pull with all your might and create a wall from the leftover roof to block the Pharoah’s sight to her, allowing you to pull the Cat o’Ninetails close to your chest. She breathes heavily and then hugs you fierce before her parents rush in and grab her.

“Gods, that shouldn’t have worked, but I’m glad it did.” Selene says, hugging her daughter as well.

“She must be weaker at night then.” The Grand Wizard says, shaking his head. “It didn’t feel near as powerful, and breaking line of sight shouldn’t have been enough to keep her from getting you.”

“Yeah, I-” You begin, but are cut off as the roof explodes underneath you. A weightless sensation comes to you before gravity drags you downward. Crying out, you manage to cushion your fall with a slope made from the cooled lava, but you still feel the impact as you hit with a solid crunch. Staggering to your feet, you gasp as something grasps you, pulling you forward.

You barely have time to register that you’re being pulled toward the Pharaoh before you’re floating above her, held in her magical grasp. A maniacal look fills her eyes as she asks, “Where did the girl go?!”

“The… the what?”

The pressure tightens on you and panic begins to fill your body. Oh gods, is this it? You came all this way just to die such a pathetic death? No, but… there’s so much more for you to do! If you die then your friends and Deleor will perish. Not to mention your dear, dear sister.

Panicked, you struggle against the force as the Pharaoh shouts, “The girl! The one with the nine tails! Where did she go?!”

Your gaze drifts to the roof but the others are nowhere to be seen. Did they abandon you? No… of course not… right?

“I…I…” You say, feeling it hard to breathe under the pressure. Blackness begins to fill your vision and you wonder if you’re about to die when shouts are heard behind you.

The Pharaoh curses and points the staff toward the door, her focus elsewhere. Instinct kicks in and you erect a wall between you and the Pharaoh, dropping both her hold on you and yourself to the floor. Hitting hard, you groan and then scamper backward as the wall you erected shatters outward, revealing a furious Pharaoh behind it. She points her staff at you this time and you erect more walls as you push yourself toward the door, scrambling in panic.

The skeletal remains of enthralled Guard line the carpet here, edges of which are singed by the sea of molten rock. Each wall before you explodes, tossing stone upon the corpses until you reach the doorway, leaping behind more Guards as they rush in, forcing the Pharaoh to turn her attention to them.

As you scramble out of the chapel doorway, you notice the ground is littered with corpses and pockets of fighting, yet more and more enthralled are pouring into the room, seeking to do their duty. Breathing heavily, you place a hand to your chest and feel your heart thundering in your chest. Her power it… it’s too strong! How are you supposed to defeat something like that?

“ROMMEL!” Sylphie shouts, dashing toward you. It takes you a moment to realize it and you shout back,

“STAY AWAY!”

She pauses as the others run toward you, slaying any Guards with enough wit to come after you. Tabitha helps you to your feet and you stutter, “G-Get away from here! We need to regroup!”

“Is she not coming after you?” Alice asks, holding her sword up. “Why isn’t she coming after you?”

“Probably has other things to worry about, but not for long.” You say, trying to calm yourself. Turning your head to Sophie you say, “Both of you, you can’t be here.”

“What? Why not?” Sophie asks, looking hurt.

“Because she wants you. I don’t know why, but she really wants both of you.”

“She’ll get them if we don’t think of something quick.” Alice says while Ebe holds your head to her chest and sings a song to help soothe your anxiety.

Another wave of the enthralled guards runs, leaving decidedly few left, battling the remnants of the Royal Guard stationed here. Where are the other cultists though? Where is Hent-ateh? Still battling outside in the courtyard and within the walls? Damnit, you expected her to be powerful but not like this!

Still, now that you’re not as frazzled you can think this through. The Grand Wizard and Selene have both defined her as not being as powerful as before, and you can block many of her attack with walls. The issue is, she has time on her side and you have a finite amount of magic at your disposal. If she can catch onto whatever you’re doing, she’ll likely block it like with the lava. However, the fact that she couldn’t deal with both you AND the cultists is something else to take into consideration.

“Come on Rommel, we need a plan.” Alice says, nodding to the room.

She’s right, of course. And with the looks everyone is giving you, they know it too. Time to be quick about it too, because once those enthralled guards are dead, it’s likely she’ll be after you too, searching to kill all of you save for the twins, though you’re still not certain why.

Without much time, you give orders as another wave of enthralled Guards run to their deaths. Pointing to Sylphie you say, “Stay here with your sister. The two of you aren’t to go into that room for anything, you hear me? Defend our rear in case more Guards show up.”

“But-” Sylphie begins, but you hold up your hand to forestall her.

“No buts! You’re to follow my commands, right?”

She sets her jaw and nods her head, clearly not happy with the decision, but you have little time to care. Next, you say to Ebe, “Get to the rooftop with the Wizard and Selene. I need you there as a back-up for them and to be out of her line of sight. If I give the signal though, start singing.”

“Sing what?” She asks, looking alarmed.

“Whatever seems appropriate.” Putting a hand on her shoulder to calm her, you look into her eyes. “I trust you.”

Ebe takes in a deep breath and nods before heading off toward the entryway that Sylphie made in the Palace by tunneling in. Rather fast now that you think about it, but it’s not like she could break down the walls, which are magically warded. Guess whomever worked the wards on this place didn’t expect much of a subterranean attack however. Or one from above you suppose, thinking back to the lava.

{Go with her} You send to Erwin. {I might need to channel through you.}

{Right.} He sends without question, jumping onto Ebe’s back and she sighs and jumps into the tunnel. Before he’s gone, you’ve already turned back to the others, but your voice is drowned out as the door behind you blasts off its hinges. The wood crashes into an enthralled human guard, crushing him into paste as it drags him across the floor. In the silence ensuing a voice calls,

“YOU CANNOT HIDE THEM FROM ME!”

Licking your lips, you quickly say, “Okay, so we need to get back in there before she comes after us here.”

“Why hasn’t she though?” Alice asks, confused. “Seriously, is she that afraid of us breaking the altar?”

“Or does she know how much weaker she is at night?” Tabitha grunts.

“I don’t know, but I do know that this is our only chance.” You say, taking in a deep breath. Looking at both the twins and the two swordswomen, you say, “I don’t know if my choices here are correct, or if everyone is going to make it out of this alive, but…”

“Oh shut it.” Sophie says, rapping you on the head. “You’ve lead us well so far, barring a few hiccups here and there. We all trust you so we don’t need you getting cold feet at the moment.”

“I’m not-” You try to say, but are cut off by Tabitha.

“Rommel, we’re all a little out of our league here.” Shrugging, she chuckles, “But we have been almost every time we’ve been fighting and we manage to pull through. This is just another day for everyone, and I’ll be damned if the final fight is going to get the better of me again.” She points down. “What is she going to do, break my legs?”

“Tabitha…” You say before nodding your head, knowing that everything that needs to be said has been said already. Taking a calming breath and gripping your staff, you say to them, “Alright, the name of the game is hit her from every angle. Her concentration is limited so if we can hit her from multiple sides and either draw her away from the Altar or get the staff away from her, then we’ll have won.”

“Cut off her arm, right.” Alice says, smirking. “Ohhh I’m going to enjoy this. You’re not the only one mad at losing in the final battle.”

Rolling your eyes at her behavior, you take your staff in hand and dash into the room after a group of Enthralled guards. Immediately you toss up a wall as the guards meet their fates. Before your wall is obliterated, you create another, and another, throwing them across the room as you dash about, forcing her to destroy them randomly as they focuses on trying to destroy you.

“Why are you playing these games?” The Pharaoh shouts, anger in her voice. “Who are you? Why can’t you just leave things alone?”

The sound of more guards entering the room allow a moment of respite and you’re able to send to Erwin, {Are you on the roof yet?}

{Yeah, we’re watching you. Want Ebe to start singing?}

{Not yet, but the other two, get them to start casting something big.}

{Ehm… well, I’ll try to communicate with them and-} He cuts off before saying. {So the MILF can read thoughts by touching my forehead. Did you know that?}

{MILF? I- You know what, whatever, I don’t care, just make sure they’re on top of it.} You send quickly before creating more walls and dodging as another one is destroyed. Above you, power begins to be channeled and  you hear the Pharaoh say,

“What is this nonsense?”

Another part of the roof explodes and the magic begins to fade away, but you don’t feel any pain from Erwin so… they’re probably fine. This is what you wanted from them anyway. Chancing a look, you crane your head from a wall to see the Pharaoh standing before the Shrine, the fires of candles around her casting her in a low glow. Her eyes glow a soft purple in that light and in her expression you see a look of… fear?

Without looking at you, she makes the wall you’re hiding behind explode. In your hesitation she was able to get the jump on you and you pay for this with shrapnel slicing across your face, even as you holding your hands up. Dazed, you curse and roll over toward another wall when you feel that impossibly powerful force grab at your leg again.

The Pharaoh stares at you with eyes filled with anger and says, “You’re ruining everything! The Goddesses have shown me the path and without me this world will be sent to ruination!”

“What?” You ask, confused and scared.

“Nevermind.” She says, gritting her teeth. “You can’t understand.” Lifting her hand, she makes to crush you. A blade flashes behind her and she gasps, turning about to block a blow with her staff from a glowing sword, Alice’s eyes gleaming in the glow.

“Ruination they say! Bah, everyone always gives that same shit.” The swordswoman says, pushing her advantage upon the Pharaoh who snarls and pushes back with an unseen force. Unfortunately for her, Alice seems to have expected this and leaps away before it can hit, smiling.

“What?” The Prophet says before crying out as Tabitha leaps in, her legs thrusting her forward far faster than her normal legs could have. In a blur, her sword slashes at the Pharaoh’s leg, cutting a gash in it. Crying out, the Pharaoh slams her staff down, causing a bubble of force to push outward and force Tabitha flying toward you. Planting your feet, you grab her as she flies past and twirl with her, allowing your body to cushion her fall.

“Shit.” Tabitha says, hoping off you and dragging you both behind a wall. “Sorry about that.”

“D-Don’t mention it.” You wheeze out.

“That was kind of stupid though.” She says. “I have stabilizers in these legs.”

“I said… don’t mention it.”

Tabitha smirks at you before peering out from the wall as another group of enthralled Guards approach. Managing to do the same yourself, you wince for the wall to explode. Thankfully it doesn’t, and you’re able to watch as the Pharaoh faces the guards which run at her. She looks down upon them with eyes filled with hate and with a gesture they die much like the rest. What’s different this time, is that she winces when finished and only then do you notice the blood trailing down her leg. Of course, as you do, you notice something else- vines.

Small, almost difficult to notice vines snake up through the wound, knitting it back together before your eyes. Both you and Tabitha share a glance, similar thoughts going through your heads. The Pharaoh is infested with plants like those Priestesses? If that’s the case then… is she acting on her own volition?

Unlike the Dolloran Priestesses, she seems quite in control of herself however, especially as she destroys another section of the roof that has yet to be destroyed, stopping another channeling of magic. What exactly are they channeling down there anyway?

“Wow! That’s fucking crazy!” Alice shouts from behind a wall you’d created earlier on the other side of the room. “I didn’t know you were one of the plant bitch’s underlings!”

“I will not suffer you Deleorian swine to insult a Goddess you know nothing about! It is because of your lack of understanding that this world sits upon a knife’s edge!”

As the Pharaoh shouts this she destroys the wall Alice is behind, though not before she can start running, and then the one you’re hiding behind. Both you and Tabitha have done the same, splitting into different directions as you fire off pebbles at her while running toward the new walls you’ve made. The pebbles bounce away from her, as if from an invisible shield and she gives an exasperated sigh.

“If only they didn’t force me to use this accursed power. Releasing the Apophis again, and the voices… these damned never ending voices. You’ve set things so far behind, I don’t know if there’s time to save us anymore.”

“What are you talking about?” You shout at her as she destroys another wall. You watch as Tabitha moves to a good position near the Pharaoh, readying another dual strike with Alice. All they need to do is cut her hand and drop her guard and you’d have her. Which means you need to keep her attention.

Flicking <vox casters> about the room as you run, you send the signal to Erwin for Ebe to start playing, a familiar tune to begins inside the chapel, and you feel your earlier fears begin to diminish as [Bolster Confidence] begins to play. The Prophet looks a little confused as it starts, and you feel a few of your spells being unbound, forcing you to throw out more as she says,

“I said you wouldn’t understand. The power is unleashed now and it is my responsibility to end the Apophis once and for all before turning it upon Deleor. It is the only way.”

“Only way for what? How is enslaving Deleor going to save anything?”

“Enslaving them? You think that is my only goal? The only reason you and yours would be enslaved would be to get you out of the way and punish you for your laxity. The power of the Goddesses is out of balance ever since that damned Wizard changed everything.”

Well, that certainly takes you back. What the hells did she mean by this? You prepare to ask her when the two swordswomen dash out from behind cover again, their movements sharper than before. They almost seem to move in time to the music, something the Pharaoh hasn’t achieved yet. As before, they attack in tandem, forcing the Pharaoh to use her power to push back one before dropping to stop another.

Despite the earlier success, they find it more difficult to strike at her hand than before. She twirls her staff with a mix of magic and martial skill you didn’t think she’d have, deflecting their blows and pushing them back. Seeing her attention fully upon them, you chance a shot with [Pebble Gun] as you feel another surge of power rising from above you. In a lucky twist, two more enthralled Guard enter, their weapons raised as they charge.

Things seem to slow down as everything comes together. The rock fired from your finger travels at a speed the eye can follow while the two swordswomen dash in, blades ready to exploit any weakness. The sounds of Ebe’s playing reverberate slowly and you can almost hear the footfalls of the guards as they rush forward. Then everything returns to normal.

Your pebble hits her the back above the left shoulder, shattering the bone and making her stagger forward. At that instant Tabitha’s blade hammers into the staff while Alice’s sword cuts deep into the flesh of her arm. They both sit there, pushing upon the dazed Pharaoh, their expressions angry as their swords try to free the staff from her grasp. Mere seconds seem like ages in that moment before the Pharaoh’s eyes go wide and she screams before violently repelling both Alice and Tabitha away from her.

They cry out and slam backward into the sides of the room, sending up a cloud of ash from the cooled lava and debris. The wall you’re hiding behind cracks at the blow and you have to hold on not to pushed away. The Anubis Guards charging at her are unaffected however, and they race toward her, weapons leveled as she turns upon them. Not using the same magic as before, she instead side-steps one’s sword and grabs her throat, crushing it before driving her staff through the chest of the other, pinning the poor creature to the ground. The enthralled Anubis tries to pull herself off the staff, but the Pharaoh’s eyes flash and a power surges into the Monster, causing her to arch back in agony before blood gushes out of her mouth and she dies.

Alice staggers to her feet, woozy, and looks at the Prophet before raising her sword. A look of determination comes across her face before she looks down with surprise. The glow around Energieschwert is gone, leaving the sword only the bare steel.

Across the room, Tabitha staggers to her feet as well before slumping back down to the ground, her legs shorting out as the magitek circuits begin to go haywire. Her eyes trace over to the Pharaoh who stands in the center of the room, casually pulling the staff out from the center of the Anubis’s chest, dropping the body to the floor. Behind her, the High Altar of the Twins shudders as if being filled with power and it glows faintly, as does she.

Eyes glowing a deeper purple, she looks down at her ravaged hand and watches as vines re-knit her wounds. With a sickening “pop” the pebble pushes its way from out of her back. Standing straighter, she rolls her shoulders as the flesh re-knits there as well. She takes a deep breath and then turns around to face you, your wall crumbling down around you.

“I don’t know why I was so afraid.” She says, shaking her head. “Of course the voices would grow louder, but did I have much of a choice? Eventually they’d come crawling further through my mind. Hissing at me, whispering my downfall, speaking of the death of my line and the rise of the Apophis.” She places her face in her hand and chuckles in a manner not quite sane before rolling her head to look at you again.

“But the power of the Goddesses is far greater than they are, don’t you see? I don’t need to be afraid anymore. I will return the balance to this world by stopping the cancer your kind unleashed in Galmathoria. I will return Phallia to balance with her sister and make this world right again.”

As she says this a vine curls around her wrist and around the staff, tying them closer together. A tear rolls down her cheek as she whispers, “Even if it means breaking myself with this power. There must be balance.”

Ebe’s music abruptly cuts off through your remaining <vox-caster>, the others having been cut off. Her voice sounds rushed as she shouts, “ROMMEL! GET EVERYONE OUT OF THERE, NOW!”

Blinking in confusion, you only then notice the raging torrent of magical power above you. You can feel a mix of pyromancy and fulgromancy dancing in the air and that can only mean one thing. Licking your lips, you begin to breathe hard before dashing toward Tabitha as fast as you can.

“Shit.” Alice says, dashing for the exit, while the Prophet merely turns her head skyward and watches the two powers come together, not moving.

You drop your staff as soon as you reach Tabitha and quickly put one of her arms over your shoulder. She looks utterly stunned by the events that just transpired and you have to shake her before she looks at you with a stupor as she mutters, “I… I failed again.” Quickly making a board from the cooled rock, you <rock slide> yourself out of the chapel as quickly as possible, shouting at the others to get as far away as they can.

Raw power collides behind you as the fire and lighting combine, forming the signature spell of the preeminent spellcasting duo of Deleor. [Twin Plasma], a spell which could level entire keeps forms behind you in blinding light. You asked them to cast a spell, but you didn’t think it would be this fucking spell! Are they crazy, or do they really not care what will happen with collateral damage? Sure they’re not as strong as they normally are, but Plasma spells have almost never been cast without taking something else out!

Cursing at realizing you’re not going to make it in time, you rip your magic across the floor and create a [Trench] to which you leap into along with the others. As soon as Sylphie leaps last into the pit, you pull Tabitha in close and close the hole, awaiting the inevitable explosion of fiery death to remove you from this world. You sort of expected the Grand Wizard to kill you at the end of this journey, but not exactly like this.

You wait…and wait… and wait before it hits you. You’re not dead. At least you’re pretty sure you’re not dead. Reaching down, you feel Tabitha’s cool skin and then blink in the darkness before pulsing out with your [Survey]. The throne room still feels solid around you, still intact. So…

“What just happened?” Sylphie asks, looking confused. “Wait, where is Mr. Ed?”

The horse neighs next to her and she jumps before sighing and wrapping her arms around him. You do not recall making this trench large enough for a horse, but apparently he managed to fit in… somehow. Licking your lips, you say, “Your parents cast their Plasma spell and… we didn’t die.”

“What?!” Sophie says, incredulous. “That was incredibly reckless of them? Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know, but I feel like we’re kind of running out of air in here.” Alice says nearby. “Care to open up before I pass out?” Carefully moving the rock from above you, you make your way out of the trench to survey the devastation, or rather, the lack thereof.

The room looks as pristine, which is to say utterly ruined, as it was before. Corpses still line the floor at all intervals and the way to the chapel is still cleared yet the chapel itself is in a clear state of collapse. The walls crumble down as the ash from before is plastered up to whatever is left of the ceiling, as if being pushed back from a great wind. Windows unshattered break into pieces and yet at the center of the devastation stands the Pharaoh, staff in hand, the High Altar unscathed.

She whirls the staff before clinking it on the ground and thrusting out her hips, which are exposed now as her silken veil was removed during the last attack somehow. Her eyes scan out across something you can’t see before she locks upon you and the twins. The purple orbs grow larger and she holds out a hand, pulling the two toward her. Crying out, you throw up a wall, arresting the control of the magic, but a moment later the wall breaks and you watch with shock as the Pharaoh appears behind it.

The two slide toward her and she grabs Sylphie by the hair before stamping her bare foot on a few of Sophie’s tails. The free tails from both of them flail at her, causing a few scratches and other wounds, but even those inflicted by Sophie are quickly healed and with a force of magic, she forces Sophie to go limp while she inspects Sylphie.

“I didn’t expect them to do something so devastating. I was surprised in one aspect that I was able to stop it and yet… how could I not? I have a greater purpose than to die here.”

“What the fuck did you do?” You cry, readying your magic to assault her as Alice gets to her feet, weapon ready. With Tabitha in her condition, you hope she’ll be fine in the trench while you… you figure something out.

“The rites of Pah’sen are infinite in power and yet the more I use them, the more the voices tear at me.” Her lip twitches as she shakes her head. “However, that doesn’t mean that I will give in. No, no I’m the descendent of the one who put them in their place. They will bow to ME! NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!”

Her grip tightens on Sylphie’s hair and you do the one thing you can think of in the situation: Try to get the staff with your [Gold Manipulation]. The enchanted gold resists at first and then begins to slide toward you. The Pharaoh blinks as she notices what’s happening before shrugging and allowing the staff to slide out of her hands. Before it can completely clear her grasp however, she quickly grabs the ends and hits you with a bolt of force that slams you back into the trench and makes your vision go black for a moment.

When you come to, you cough violently as all the accumulated pain on your back spasms through you. Oh… oh Gods the PAIN. Eyes swimming, you watch as the Pharaoh turns her eyes back to Sylphie to find the Monster staring daggers at her. “Mr. Ed… do it.”

The Prophet looks up too slowly to react before a hoof the size of dinner plates smash into her face, throwing her flying across the room. She hits the ground and spins twice before coming to a rest, staff clanking down beside her. Her hand instictively shoots out to grab it before she pulls herself up slowly, a massive gash in her face being repaired as all her other wounds.

Sylphie begins to drag her sister back toward you with Alice’s help as the Pharaoh faces off against the new threat. A massive horse stands before her with coat black as night. His mane and tail burn with bright red fire as well as his massive, steel shod hooves. Smoke drifts out from his nostrils and he lets out a neigh that shakes the throne room around you.

“Mr. Ed! Kill her!” Sylphie says as she cradles her sister. “You’re authorized to do anything necessary to KILL THIS BITCH!”

Dire Ed nods his head and scrapes his hoof against the ground before galloping toward the Pharaoh. She stares at the horse and readies her staff to strike him as she did the Anubis before. Unlikely the Anubis however, the horse twists faster than she can react and hits her with his rear hooves again, throwing her up in the air. As she comes down, he grasps her with his teeth and throws her to the ground with a hearty “thwack.”

Raising his hooves high, he makes to crush her skull, but she rolls out of the way as the hooves splinter the ground and throw up shards of marble into the air. Turning to her, he snorts smoke again and charges as she rights herself, face bloody.

“Rommel, are you okay?” Sylphie asks as she looks you over. “Damn, I don’t see an injury but… you don’t look good.”

“I’m… I’m fine.” You say, wheezing. “Just need to… to get my breath back. How is Sophie?”

“She’s breathing.” Sylphie sighs. “But what crazy power! I didn’t expect her to be able to block a [Plasma Blast] like that, but… oh Gods, how are my parents?”

{Erwin.} You send to your familiar, figuring he must be alive since you are uh, alive yourself.

{Ugh… hey Rommel.}

{Thank the Gods. Are you okay? What happened?}

{Well, those two crazy bastards fired off this insane magic and told the bird brain to fly away with me. Next think I know there’s a crazy flash of light, I’m dizzy, and then it’s gone with the two of them on the ground, passed out.}

{Passed… out?} You send, confused. {But they’re alive, right?}

{Yeah, I just checked. How are you?}

{Fine for now, Mr. Ed is kicking her ass.}

{You don’t say? Well, Ebe is fine, so we’ll be making our way out with the two of them.}

{Wait, she’s not in the chapel anymore! Can Ebe destroy the altar?}

{Eh? What do you need Ebe to do that for isn’t-}

Erwin’s voice is drowned out in your mind suddenly as Sylphie shrieks. Her eyes grow wide and she puts her hands to her head before letting out the most terrifying howl you’ve ever heard. Tears leak from her eyes and not even when she was shot did she look to pained or distressed. You shake her but you can see she’s already unconcious. Twisting to the side, you look back at the battle between Dire Ed and the Pharaoh with a look or horror.

Mr. Ed’s transformation has regressed as he slumps to the floor, legs growing weak underneath him. His breathing grows heavy and walking toward him is the Pharaoh, her own breath coming in ragged bursts. She uses the staff to hold herself up as she plods toward the horse, holding out one hand as her wounds heal up again. An oppressive force seems to emanate from her hand and the more Mr. Ed’s breathing grows ragged, the worse off Sylphie becomes.

Eyes growing wide, you turns to the Pharaoh again and snap fire a [Pebble Gun], the shot lodging in her arm and staggering her backward. She turns to you, eyes glowing deep purple and you scream, “YOU’RE KILLING HER!”

Something seems to click then and she cuts off her assault on the horse, who sighs and collapses on his side, taking in shallow breaths. Sylphie slumps in your hands and you back her up into the trench as the Pharaoh walks toward you, staff clicking on the ruined floor. She stops above your trench and regards Alice with a cool impassivity before saying, “Thank you. It wouldn’t do to have her die before her time.”

Clutching Sylphie close to your chest, you say, “What the hells do you even want with the two of them? You have more than enough power to do anything you want! What would sacrificing them mean?”

“Children of those touched by both Dollora and Solos, imbued with powers of Master Witch and Wizard. Their blood courses with more Godly power than any in this world. I was made aware of their birth, did you know? At first I didn’t understand it, but as the years went on the visions grew more intense and my purpose become more clear.”

“What…?” You ask, but she doesn’t seem to hear you as she speaks.

“The Twins… they’ve been so out of balance. Can’t you see it? How wrong things are growing? The strength of the Lady of the Dark threatens to overwhelm her sister and threaten the harmony. Monsterkind was never meant to become what it is in Deleor now.”

“But… Humans and Monsters live peacefully together…”

“Perhaps. But in such a world as yours Monsters will surely win out over men eventually and in doing so, will Dollora’s power push over her sister’s. When that happens, plants will wither and die, and all will turn to dust.”

“I don’t understand.” You say, shaking your head. “That doesn’t sound like the Dollora I know.”

She looks at you as if looking at you for the first time. “And what do you know of Dollora? What divine connection to do share with her that I, the Prophet of the Twins would not?!”

Anger creeps into her voice as she reaches out and grabs you, smacking aside Alice with her power. She pulls you in close to her and hisses, “Say that again.”

“I… I don’t believe Dollora is as cruel as you make her out to be. In fact the more I see, the more I become convinced that something is wrong with Phallia.”

Her hold on you increases as she says, “You DARE insinuate that the visions I’ve had are false? That what I’ve seen of the future, that the benevolent whispers from the Goddess are a lie?!”

“Have… have you spoken to Dollora?”

“INSOLENCE!” She says, throwing you back into the trench. She stands up and looks at you with unbridled rage. “I will not be talked down to by a Wizard of Solos about the ways of Dollora! There is no way you could have spoken with her when I have not in so many years.” She takes a shuddering breath and says, “I am done with you. When you are dead, I will offer their blood and open the nexus point. Perhaps I can make up some lost time with that in hand.”

“The… what?” You ask before she points her staff at you.

“This is the end of your meddling, Wizard. May Nerg be kinder to you than this world.”

You feel the power build up within that staff. With nowhere to go, you turn your head to look upon your companions one last time. Sophie and Sylphie lay in a heap while Alice shouts in disbelief and Tabitha… Tabitha is…

 A horrific crack echoes through the room. The Pharaoh cuts off her spell and turns about, eyes growing wide with horror. In the back of the Chapel, atop the High Altar of the Twins stands Tabitha, her legs twitching and unstable. Her breath comes in ragged gasps and she stares at the Pharaoh with a smug look of satisfaction. Underneath her metallic feet, a crack begins to spread in the altar.

“How?!” The Prophet asks. “I nullified the enchantments!”

“You nullified my power source, yeah.” Tabitha replies, chucklng. “But thing is, the Wizard put in a back-up plan. I can power these with my life force in an emergency.” As she says this the legs become a little more stable and give off a soft hum. She gasps and says, “I’d call breaking this piece of shit an emergency.”

“NOOOO!” The Pharaoh shouts as Tabitha drives an adamantium foot straight down into the Altar, destroying it in an explosion of light and stone. Tabitha drops to the ground as her footing is destroyed and from within the altar you see a series of glass and inscribed formulae now ruined.

The Prophet staggers forward and looks at her staff before dropping to her knees and putting a hand to her head, shaking it. “No, no, no. The voices are receding so… the power, is it leaving too?” She turns to the staff again before it’s forcefully yanked from her hand. This time she’s unable to hold onto it and it flies into your grasp where you drop it to the floor and melt it into a pile of molten gold.

“What… have you done?” She asks, eyes wide.

“Stopped your power, of course.” You say, standing up and brushing dirt off yourself. Picking up Sylphie’s staff, you hold it out before you and prepare a searing [Flame Lance] to end her once and for all.

Her face contorts into a snarl and she says, “You think the staff was the source of my power? It was but a focus! A way to channel it! It-” You fire your [Flame Lance] mid-sentence and it shoots out toward her before hitting something and being deflected out of the way, burning a hole into the ground nearby. Staggering to her feet, the Pharaoh says, “The voices… they’re fading. Oh Twins, the power is leaving!”

Weakened, but not dead, she stares you down as Alice walks up beside you, mostly not worse for wear. All of your other allies, however are either outside or unconcious- neither an immediate help. Though she’s bleeding power and tired, the Pharaoh, Prophet of the Twins, and Ruler of Ectria still glares at you with rage-filled eyes.

“I will end you, and salvage what I can before this night is through.”

So be it.

“Are you certain you wish to do this?” You ask, slowly slipping your hand into your pocket. The top of a bottle filled with [Health Potion] brushes against your fingertips and you curl about it, waiting.

The Pharaoh’s breath comes fast and shallow, though not from injury since she heals too quickly, but anger. Her purple eyes seethe with a rage that can barely be contained, one born of months, perhaps years of torment toward a goal only to see it being torn down. You can perhaps understand this rage a little, if not completely.

“How DARE you ask that.” She growls. “You come here, destroy everything, and you ask if I am CERTAIN I wish to annihilate you?” A little titter escapes her lips, though whether from a spark of madness or anger you can’t say.

A pillar nearby crumbles from the earlier damage, sending a puff of dust behind you. Hand grasping the potion, your options fly through your mind. Clearly, she’s being manipulated here, but is it worth pointing it out? Will she even listen to you? And if she does, does she even deserve to live?

No. The answer comes to you after much deliberation. She doesn’t, not after everything she’s done. Her behavior isn’t new to Ectria from what you’ve come to learn. Even if she was being manipulated, and you’re pretty certain she is, you doubt the aspects of slavery or oppression of her people are fully from outside control. Sad as it is, this is who she is and you doubt your can change it.

Still, your position sucks right now. With your friends and allies scattered, even if you do go forward and fight her, you’ll be in a poor situation if and WHEN the rest of the Violet Sands come around. You need to get them together and ready to get out as soon as possible. The Pharaoh has already failed, and with the altar destroyed she will eventually be overwhelmed by the Violet Sands. Even if you cannot defeat her then you still win by staying alive and-

Your attention focuses as the Pharaoh thrusts a hand out toward you. Invisible force moves and you quickly use [Rock Solid] to block it, shattering the piece of stone into bits. Back flaring up in pain, you push yourself out of the way while shouting to Alice to get the others as you throw up a series of walls. The hand in your pocket pulls out the [Health Potion] and you down it as the wall before you breaks apart.

Feeling the healing magic soothe the pain in your back, you fire back with a barrage of [Shotgun Pebbles] at near point blank range, forcing the Pharaoh to step backward as she defends against the powerful shot. Following up, you step forward with a mighty swing of your fist and power through with your geoflexing, causing a solid wave of rock to crash into her, pushing her backward. To finish, you build a prison of rocks and then quickly dig in your pocket while reaching out to Erwin.

{Erwin!} You send to your familiar. {Get the Grand Wizard and Selene awake and get into the Chapel to help Tabitha. Everyone needs to be able to get out of here, NOW.}

{Ehm, they’re kind of passed out. Are you alright though?}

{Not really, but just have Ebe sing at them or something, I’m a little busy.} Where is- ah, there it is.

{Oh, right, the singing, yeah. You going to be okay?}

{We’ll see.} You send before snapping to Alice and throwing the remaining three health potions to her. “I’ll hold her off, get them to the chapel and meet with the others.”

Catching the potions, she sets her jaw and begins to say something before shaking her head and sighing. “Yeah… yeah you’re right. What about the horse?”

Mr. Ed’s breathing comes a little less labored than before, but he’s not going anywhere. You’ll have to move him yourself. Grimacing, you tell her just to go and she nods as you turn your attention back to the little prison you’ve made. Watching it begin to come undone, you pull a vial from your pocket and uncork it.

The magic holding the walls together fractures and explodes outward, showering the room in bits of stone and marble. From the dust, the Pharaoh  strides toward you but stops as she notices Alice moving the twins, focusing her attention then upon the swordswoman. Before she can launch an assault however, another column of earth strikes her and she’s forced to turn her attention. Angered, she begins to rapid fire spells at you, but as she does, they’re intercepted by well placed stones, seeming to know exactly where her strikes will come from.

Blinking in confusion, she narrows her eyes and then widens them as another barrage comes at her. Furiously blocking the rocks while trying to cast her own, she shouts, “How are you doing this? What is this?!”

You barely register her sounds as you stride toward her, each step allowing you to push out with Geoflexing, each strike of your fist throwing out pieces of stone to assault her. Breathing slowly, you take a part of your mind and push the earth underneath the horse, sliding him toward the chapel, if not completely into it. The rest of your focus is upon your singular task- to keep the Pharaoh from doing anything but surviving.

“NO!” She shouts, throwing a wave of force toward you. You create a wall before you to catch the spell and then immediately take the destroyed pieces of the wall and thrust them back at her in a wave of your own. The spells flow from you as if they were nothing, your consciousness seeming almost disconnected from your body. Was magic supposed to be this easy? Perhaps you were merely trying too hard before. Either way, you feel a surreal sense of awareness and calm with your magic, allowing you to take full effect upon the Prophet.

“How?” She asks, focusing her power on defense. “What changed?”

“Focus.” You lie, hiding away the empty vial of [The Threefold Path]. “Focus on the goals laid out ahead of me. Focus on the lives I must protect.”

“Focus, as if it were so easy.” She hisses. “There is nothing that-“

“Why do you let Phallia lie to you?” You ask, interrupting her to stall for time. “Can you not hear Dollora?”

“What?” She asks, taking a momentary lapse in your assault to reposition herself. A cloud of dust brushes off her with magical force, though with her clothing ripped and torn showing off an obscene amount of skin, it doesn’t much matter. “Why do you insist on these lies? Is it a form of torture to you?”

“Aren’t you tortured enough already? Those voices clawing at your mind while a Goddess herself puts plants inside your body, twisting you. It must be terrible.”

Gritting her teeth, she launches another offensives at you. This time, she doesn’t telegraph any of her attacks, the assaults coming from different angles, forcing you to spread out your concentration. Had you not been under the influence of this potion, you’re not certain you could keep it all in place. But you have to, and so you do, waiting for a lapse to come in her assault. When it comes, it’s an almost imperceptible falter and you drive forward with a  series of Geoflexing stances.

The shattered earth drives into her and she shouts in frustration as some of the stones strike at her flesh, opening up tears which heal themselves. As you do this, you begin to drag pieces of stone about yourself, preparing for later, though even this doesn’t fully tax your mind on this potion. With your remaining concentration, you agitate her further by saying,

“I can help you, you know.”

“Help? You can do that by dying!”

“No. I meant help remove Phallia’s influence from you. Remove the plants in your mind, in your body. You can’t have known what they would do to you.”

“You assume I didn’t willingly take the blessing of the Goddess.” The Pharaoh says, eyes cold. “I told you that I spoken with her for years, that I am the conduit of the Twin’s will, the keeper of the balance. Her gift is not something which controls me, I control it. However…”

An impassive look comes across her face then as she begins to move toward you. Confused, you assault the ground beneath her but she shifts to the side and pulls something from between her breasts- a vial of white liquid. Flicking the cork off, she drinks it in one gulp and then looks at you with deep scorn. “Perhaps you are right, however. Perhaps the balance within myself is off as well. I had taken Dollora’s gifts for granted.”

Her eyes flash as purple light envelops one of her hands. “You claim to have spoken to Dollora. To have her blessing despite being a Wizard of Solos. Very well then, if she has clad you in her blessing so, then you will survive this.”

{Erwin.} You send, feeling worried for some reason. {Is everyone ready to go?}

{Sylphie and Mr. Ed are still out of it, but Ebe got the others awake. Are we really just leaving?}

{That might be-} You begin to send, but are cut off as an oppressive feeling comes over you. Staggering as if disoriented, you feel the rock you’ve layered upon your body shatter with tremendous force, driving you backward and causing the air in your lungs to be forcefully driving out. A sense of dread fills you and then a moment later you’re picked up as if you were nothing and slammed into the ground. Had you not have the potion on board, you may not have had the forethought to pad yourself with more stone before hitting. As it was, a disgusting sense of pain and disorientation comes to you as you throw up a wall and roll out of the way.

“Do you feel it? Dollora’s power weighs down upon you, judging you. Her strength bears down upon men and drives their will from their bodies.”

Is that what this is? The magic she’s using is clearly dark magic, but are the overwhelming sensations you’re feeling are because of that? Though you know it’s a spell, something drains your will to fight, making it all seem hopeless. Perhaps she really does have the right of it, perhaps she really does understand Dollora better than you. She can wield her magic, after all, which means at some point Dollora gifted her with the ability to do so.

And yet… this oppressive feeling, this sense of hopelessness. This isn’t what you remember of your interactions with Dollora. The Goddess was strong, imposing even, yet beneath it all was a current of something more, something gentle. The power radiating over you has the hallmarks of her strength, but misses the other sensation. Suddenly it all seems so pointless, this manifestation of Dollora’s power. It bleeds from you oil from water as you realize that your perception of Dollora is stronger than The Prophet’s manipulation of this magic. Oh, she could probably kill you with that magic, but you adamantly refuse to allow it to control you.

Perhaps due to your potion, this realization takes but an instant, in which time the wall before you explodes, showering you with more debris. If not for the healing potion you took earlier, your face would likely have a LOT more bloody scratches all over it. As it stands, you’re glad for your goggles.

“Bow and accept your… what?” The Pharaoh trails off as she sees you rising to your feet, reforming your armor from the available stone. A look of utter shock comes to her face as she cries, “How?! How are you still standing?!”

“Because.” You say, taking in a deep breath to steady yourself. “You seem to have forgotten that underneath that strength, Dollora’s power is gentle. You can’t make me bow before something you don’t understand yourself.”

“No!” She shouts, “I refuse to accept this!” The purple glow intensifies around her and you know she’s lost to your words at this point.

“It didn’t have to be this way.” You say, knowing that’s a lie.

“Yes, it does.” She says, knowing you know it’s a lie.

The earth before you shatters in a display of raw power as the Pharaoh assaults you with everything she has. [Deflect] pushes much of it away as you charge forward through the destruction, building more and more ablative shielding from the rubble. She fires a bolt of purple light at it that destroys segments of the armor and pushes more of her oppressive will upon you, but you shrug it off, your trance-like state pushing into a single goal. Something begins to feel a little off within you, as if your mind is starting to wander, but you push it down, narrowing on the singular goal of reaching her.

Waves of powerful force crash upon you, destroying the ground under your feet or crushing the rock you’re throwing in front of you like a battering ram. The closer you get, the more you’re unable to keep all of it from striking you. Bits of rock slice against your face, tear gashes in your trousers, bury into your chest, yet you push on. A bolt of the dark magic singes your arm and you bite down the pain as you seem to run in slow motion toward the avatar of destruction before you.

Your whole body seems to shake within your very core, but you keep yourself steady through sheer determination. Throwing her hands out before her in a final desperate gambit, the Pharaoh throws out a line of force that obliterates your barriers, leaving you bare and at her mercy. A smile of triumph fills her face and she makes to land the killing blow when your foot hits the ground before her. She looks down at the raw determination in your face and you see in those eyes a look of fear.

Good.

The earth resonates with you as you draw your frustration and terror together into a blow of geoflexing that drives the earth up under the Prophet, slamming into her gut. Staggering backward, she’s unable to respond as another blow hits her from the side, then the back, throwing her forward. She grunts as you grab her head and slam your knee into her face, breaking her nose. Blood dribbles as plants try to fix the damage, but you give them no chance, driving your knee into her face again and then again.

Even though you feel tired, the anger and frustration being released sustains you and you use the last motion to geoflex her in an uppercut, throwing her backward in a shower of stone chips and agony. Her body thuds to the ground, multiple wounds being repaired by plant life doing its best to re-knit the host. Mouth working soundlessly, her hand twitches and tries to recover the purple glow, but you step on her hand, crushing it under your boot.

“N-No.” She manages to whisper out, her voice seeming to come sharp and painful to your mind. “It can’t end like this.”

“H-How else was it supposed to end?” You ask, heart pounding loud in your chest. “Someone was going to die to today.”

“You’ve… you’ve damned everyone.”

“No. I don’t doubt this world is in chaos, but you were wrong. I’m not sorry for what I’m about to do but know this: I will not let the ruin you feared come to pass.”

Tears streak from her cheeks as you say this, and she makes a futile effort to swat at you, but you just let her hand strike your coat and slowly wrap her fingers on the clothing. Breath shaky, you move your hand to her forward and gently brush aside a strand of her long, black hair. Though she doesn’t deserve it, you give one, small stroke of your fingers across her scalp. Her eyes go wide at this and the tears comes faster as she whispers, “Will they leave me alone now? The voices?”

“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Nerg.”

“Ah…of course. Just… just don’t let the Apophis hurt my people.” She says, not understanding the irony. At least giving her one last bit of solace, you nod as you place your have above her forehead and cast [Flame Lance].

The vibrant power burrows through her skull, melting the flesh and annihilating her brain. Her body convulses and shudders, hair alighting from the magic, though you quickly put it out. The plants under her skin try to move and repair the damage, but simply can’t and they eventually stop moving themselves, dying along with the host.

Her corpse is disgusting, filled with multiple wounds and a ragged, burned hole in her forehead. But there was no other way to make sure she was dead for good. Despite everything she’d done, all of the suffering she’d caused and would cause, seeing her like that made you feel sick. You brush her hair over the ragged wound and then close her eyes before you realize something is shouting from the back of your mind.

{ROMMEL!} Erwin’s voice comes in. {Rommel we’ve been ready to go! What are you doing?}

{Sorry.} You send, shaking your head. {She wasn’t going to let us go I had… I had to kill her.}

{Holy hells… shit are you alright?}

The adrenaline is still flowing in your system, dulling some of the pain, but you know it won’t last. {Yeah.} You lie. {I’ll be good for now, we need to get out of here and recover before the Violet Sands arrives.}

{Well come on then, everyone is ready to see you.}

{Yeah, yeah.} You send, making to stand up. Instead, you find yourself collapsing to the ground, feeling a little odd as you stare at the floor. That’s weird, you meant to be walking, not laying down. As you struggle to push yourself up, that feeling that was nagging at you from before returns, magnified. You feel as if you whole body is vibrating, trying to separate into multiple directions while coming together at the same time. Bile forms in your mouth as you grow nauseous, the world starting to spin and shake all about.

{Rommel? ROMMEL?!} Erwin sends before cursing in your mind. A few moments later Alice runs into the Throne room and slides next to you, putting a hand under your chest.

“Holy hells, what the fuck happened to you?” She says, helping you up.

Your reply is to vomit all over her, which she looks at in worry. Though you try to mumble something to her, she merely curses and begins dragging you over to the chapel with the others are. Sophie comes to help you as well, but you’re still swimming in the disorienting nausea. Why was this happening? Did you use to much magic? Or… no, it’s the potion. It was said to lead to disorientation when all was said and done.

“What happened to him?” Sophie asks, biting her lip as she looks you over.

“He killed the Gods damned Pharaoh, that’s what he did! But Gods damnit, how are we supposed to get out of here now? We have too many immobile people!”

“Well, we did just help the Violet Sands with their plans…” Sophie says, looking to her unconscious sister. “But you’re correct, this is not a good situation. Father, Mother, do you believe you can transport us out?”

“Perhaps some distance, but this place is going to be crawling with cultists soon.” The Grand Wizard says, grunting. “I don’t think we can get out if Rommel is out of commission.”

You want to tell them you’ll be fine, that you only need a little rest, but you can’t make the words form. Even trying makes bile rise in the back of your throat again and you have to calm down and focus on breathing. As the others talk however, you notice something outside the ruined building, a shape scuttling through the wreckage outside. Mouth fumbling, you fail to make sounds of any worth and instead try to focus on sending something to Erwin.

The fox turns his head toward you, then to the outside. His ears perk up at the same time as Selene and Sophie’s, and they both turn about in unison as two figures drop into the room from the roof. They make almost no sound as they land, rising in unison to look over the group. Masks cover their faces, but you can tell there is a hint of a smile in their eyes as they look over everyone.

“Ako… Sayaka?” Ebe asks as she recognizes them. “W-what are you doing here?”

“Our Master had us watch the confrontation.” Ako says, bowing her head. “Now that it seems to be over, we wished to inform you that subjugation of the wall guard is complete by the Violet Sands. They will begin sweeping the Palace soon.”

“I… thank you for the information?” Sophie says, confused. “But I have a feeling that letting us know about our impending doom isn’t your only reason for talking to us.”

“Indeed.” Sayaka says, nodding her head. “In accordance with our Master’s will, we extend to you an offer to help you escape from here and help recover from your wounds.”

“What’s the catch?” Alice says, gritting her teeth.

Ako replies, “That is up to Ammon. It is your choice, but make it quickly. I do not doubt there is little time remaining.”

“Wait, Ammon?” The Grand Wizard says, looking to Selene, then back to Sophie. “You know Ammon?”

“Yes, he’s the one who got us this far, but… how do you know him?” His daughter asks, confused.

“He’s… the one who helped us as well.” Selene trails off, brow lines furrowing. She looks up at the Kunoichi and says, “What is going on here? What game is Ammon playing at?”

“You must ask him yourself.” Ako says before holding out a hand. “Will you take our offer, or will you face the Apophis alone?”

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