Duuri was well traveled, given how easy it was for her. She didn’t hang out with common mortals much but she knew someone living near Jaluxar who could open a portal for her allies. Gods did not travel that much. Jaliehv likely teleported to a place the others couldn’t immediately follow. They had to follow the rules of teleportation, only to places they were familiar with. And gods usually remained in the area named after them.
At the border of Jaluxar, where the weather was not yet too hot for most people, was a town called Ishaeul. It was inhabited mostly by Asterians and Shandari, the Attejs keeping to themselves further inlands. It was a quirky community that loved theater and circuses, games and music. The sides of houses were all decorated with paintings and figurines. At night the streets were lit with colorful chains of light. Duuri really hated the place. But she knew of a mage capable of opening portals here.
“Monique?” Duuri opened the door without ringing the bell. The interior was blindingly colorful.
“Duuri, my old friend!” Monique hugged her before Duuri could even spot her. She was camouflaged pretty well with her rainbow-striped and -polkadotted clothes. Monique was a clown in the local circus. A Shandari that was born here on Nalisatna and grew up in this town. It showed. Her skin was dark blue and her tail and horns an obnoxious pink. She wore a red ball on her nose.
“I need a portal to Amieredetta.”
“You want to leave already?”
“No. I want to bring some people over. There is a war in Jaluxar.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“We’re bringing it there. Jaliehv is trying to become the only god.”
“That does sound like her. What a bummer.”
“Yes. So will you help me?”
“Of course! And I’ll make you a portal too.”
“No, just the portal please. You’re a mortal and a defective one at that.”
Monique was an Aegil, or Detousi-bodied if you wanted to be politically correct about it. Yet she lacked the ability to shapeshift, which would normally remedy the light bones Aegil had to allow them to fly. So Monique was a brittle twig of a person.
“I may not be a deity but I am not that weak anymore. I can survive the attacks of some lousy gods. It is my duty to fight all that makes people frown.” Monique pulled Duuri outside. Indeed, her grip was not as weak as it used to be. Portals were opened in open spaces, so they used the stage in the town plaza. It was only used at night for performances.
The portal spell was the only useful one Monique knew. She wasted her time only learning magic party tricks otherwise. In fact, she only learned portal magic for this tomfoolery too. The stage was filled with a blue glow as a half-opened portal appeared. Monique directed the other end to the Amieredetta portal room and Celeste opened the gate on her end. Lasha, Milala and Celeste stepped through, but they also brought another girl with unnatural white hair and a little Sjetta.
“Who is that?” Duuri pointed at the stranger.
“I’m Chloe. I met Lasha in Red City.”
“She’s a mortal too?” Duuri asked Lasha.
“I don’t know what she is. But she can help. Who’s the clown?”
“I’m Monique! I want to help too!”
“She’s a nuisance. She’s no shapeshifter, so she’ll break right away.” Duuri explained.
“I am not but I have since become a Vampire and Akaname and a Stüpp.”
“Ah, wait, do I know those?” Lasha asked.
“I’m a Stüpp, remember?” Milala said. “We’re the bendy ones.”
“Right, and Akaname were the tonguey ones.”
“They’re pretty new, right?” Milala said. “I’ve not really heard of them.”
“Right, me and my companions brought the Akaname mutation here… this year?” Chloe explained to everyone. “May I ask who you got it from?”
“I was turned by Mordecai. Do you know nem?” Monique asked.
“Yeah, ne is a bit of a weirdo. Is ne still here?”
“No, ne left. Turns out ne is short-sighted, so ne went to get glasses in Tesculia.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know any Vampires. Mind telling me their five things?” Lasha asked.
“Sure. Super hearing and you can make air vibrations to make sounds, like your voice but also music. Long ears you can turn into bat wings. You can detach your head, which makes you almost turn into a bat, hence the name. You can suck the well from people, which you then can use to stop aging. And you can put a weak mind control on people but that’s mean, I won’t do that. I mostly got this mutation for the silly big ears though.”
“Okay, that’s nice.” Duuri said. “Let’s hurry up then.”
“Just give me a second to change. Wouldn’t want to get blood on my costume.” Monique ran off.
Valyra was brought to Jaliehv’s hideout deep inside Jekit-Lafier. Only then did it strike her that her actions had been a little bizarre. She could’ve taken over Madrian, but instead she played it safe and entered Marvyad. For a moment, she had been afraid to die. Jaliehv certainly gave her a disappointed frown.
“Didn’t work out, huh? Well, we have one more chance to get him.” Jaliehv said.
“They will come for us now. If we manage to win this fight, things will be easier for us in the future. But I expect our forces to be about evenly matched.”
Valyra looked around the room, inspecting the allies Jaliehv had gathered.
“Our advantage is that they don’t know about the heart prisons we invented. They have gods on their side, but those gods aren’t experienced in fights and might rely on their immortality too much. We have to use that against them.”
“So, what do we do?” Lumie asked.
“We will separate them into one against one fights. That way, they cannot learn from previous fights and adapt to our inventions. They will be in a hurry as well, so we should be able to get them to split up and not waste time waiting for every fight to be over before moving on. One of you will wait on each level for them. Don’t give them a chance to warn the others.”
“Should I fight as well?” Valyra asked.
“Only if you have to. I think only Lasha will hesitate to kill you. You wait on the lowest floor. Stay away from Celeste. Hopefully we can force her into a fight before she reaches you. They will need two to defeat you.”
Everyone went on their positions. Valyra entered the lowest chamber. This was a very bad time to be under siege. Valyra had begun to experience fear. She really wanted to go back to just following Jaliehv’s orders without being suffocated with experiences. The minds of so many people had touched her own now. Enough that she realized she had one at all. A way to think about things. She had made her own decision independent of Jaliehv earlier. And that was absolutely terrifying.
Duuri went to scout ahead and locate Jaliehv and the others. The others did their best to follow. The sun got hotter the further they went. The rise of temperature wasn’t natural. It was like something intensified the strength of the sunlight here. The presence of a god perhaps. But as semi-immortals it was only irritating and Monique had evolved to deal with these conditions. Lasha remembered that Marvie told her about that. Being capable of being shapeshifters, even Shandari that did not get that ability were still pretty malleable. In their youth, their body would adapt to their surroundings, a process that would take hundreds of generations for humans. They lose this ability at adulthood though, remaining how they are then.
For a moment, Lasha worried that Jaliehv may not have fled to Jaluxar after all but then Duuri came back.
“It appears they’re hiding inside Jekit-Lafier. I only saw Lumie guarding the entrance.”
Cynthia and the others hid behind a dune. It was hard to see under the oppressing light but they overlooked a valley with three stone structures. Large hollow pyramids, one halfway buried under sand.
“How did it go with Valyra in the you-know?” Cynthia asked, avoiding the word for the mortals.
“She possessed Marvie instead and teleported out somehow.” Lasha explained.
“I’m sorry. She will be reluctant to leave her body. Prepare yourself for that.”
“You aren’t suggesting we kill Marvie along with her.”
Cynthia looked at her for a moment. Lasha wasn’t sure how she was to interpret that gaze.
“Valyra likely returned to defend her goddess. It sounds like that sword isn’t the last new trick she got. We should be careful, but not give her too much time either. I expect she has fortified this place.”
Lasha wasn’t sure if she could put up a fight against Lumie. But with the help of gods, it should be okay. Cralvalas and Kekremu changed into human forms. Lasha wondered if they came up with the appearance on the spot. Cralvalas turned into a tall bearded man with purple hair and a wizard’s robe. Kekremu just turned into an average looking woman with no notable features in plain clothes.
“These forms should be more advantageous in a fight.” Cralvalas reasoned.
“It is good that you are here.” Cynthia said. “She didn’t trust Ralek enough to make him a demigod, but I’d expect she has more allies like him, possibly more demigods as well. We also don’t know the full extent of her soul research, so be careful, even if you are a god.”
Cynthia turned into a human as well. She reminded Lasha of her old class teacher.
“Algasath, will you fight with us?”
“I will do my best.”
“We only need to kill Jaliehv and Valyra. Once we’ve elected a new light god, they can take the demigod status off her minions. They shouldn’t be a problem anymore then. Everybody ready?”
“Yeah.” Everyone said, though no one was sure what to expect in there.
Together they marched down the dune. There was no army outside the pyramids but the intense sunlight also made it hard to see.
“Will you be okay, Nelub?” Lasha asked.
“I will. Remember, I was born on a battlefield.”
“You never mentioned you knew how to fight.”
“That remains to be seen. But I’m also glad to have you with us.”
“You look… better than the last time I saw you.”
“I don’t think it’s from fighting.”
“No, but I take it as a good sign you’re up for it.”
“I suppose that’s right.”
“We’ll save Marvie.”
Chloe walked next to Lasha. “Hey.” She just said.
“Hey.” Lasha wasn’t sure what to say. She had been angry with Chloe, but wasn’t so much anymore. It wasn’t fair to her. She knew she’d probably get no good answer, but she had to ask anyway. “There was no way to stop the Sykyyr invasion, was there?”
“Not for any of us, I don’t think. I believe it is very hard to undo something that affects two universes at once.”
“For a little while, I blamed you for it.”
“I was afraid so.”
“But just because you knew about it didn’t mean you could’ve done anything.”
“I guess not.”
“Sorry for bringing that up right now. I just had to get that off my chest.”
“Don’t worry. It’s been on my mind ever since anyway.”
They approached the entrance to the middle pyramid. They figured this was where Jaliehv hid because Lumie was guarding it.
“Quite the army.” she said.
Kekremu stepped forward. “Don’t lose any time here. I’ll take care of her.”
“Sure, sure, step in, people. Wouldn’t want to keep my friends waiting.”
Cynthia led the rest into the pyramid. “Follow us when you’re done here.”
Lasha wasn’t sure if splitting up was the best idea, but leaving Jaliehv as little time to prepare as possible had helped them out so far. Kekremu was an immortal god. There was little that could go wrong.
“Did not expect you to get so cocky, Kekremu.” Lumie said.
“What can you do to me? As a fire god, I am immune to heat and fire. And you’ve used up your well in the fight with Duuri.”
“So now I am all out of tricks? Did you think we did not expect to face gods one day?”
“I’m not here to talk.” Kekremu shot a fireball at Lumie. The heat made it easy to produce fire fast. However, Lumie’s appearance was just a mirage.
Beams of light shot down but Kekremu did not bother to get out of their way. Lumie appeared again but it was likely another fake.
“You weren’t lying about the heat resistance. I got tired of that attack anyway.” Lumie pulled up her sleeves and put her hands together, pointing them forward. Another beam of light shot forward and this one Kekremu dodged.
“Unfortunately, hard light travels slower.” Lumie let her sleeves back down, then flailed her arms around. Each motion produced a blade of light, shooting Kekremu’s way. She threw some fireballs Lumie’s way but neither managed to land a hit. As the fight went on, it became clear which of the two was more experienced. Lumie’s attacks became faster and less predictable as she was enraptured with glee. She started to no longer shoot the blades but hold them in her hands to thrust them herself. While she got more excited, Kekremu felt the exact opposite. Following Lumie’s movement became frustrating and bothersome. What an annoyance. Perhaps she should just let herself get hit. As she contemplated this, Lumie sliced away a leg. Might as well roll with it. Lumie cut away her arms, her head, her flesh, shredded her to pieces. Gods felt no pain. They would simply regenerate. The only downside was that it took a minute when regenerating the whole body.
“I bet you’d look smug now.” Lumie grinned and imitated her: “Look, no matter how much you cut me, I’ll always just regrow. You utter fool.” Lumie picked up the piece slowly recovering mass, then pulled out a glass-like capsule. She placed Kekremu inside and clasped it shut.
“It’s called a heart prison. Forged from a soul, like Jaliehv’s blade. No matter what pressure you build up in there, you cannot break out. And your soul cannot affect anything outside it. I don’t even know if you can still hear me in there. Not so high and mighty now, are you?”
Lumie juggled the cage around, to taunt Kekremu. This was indeed bothersome. Kekremu hoped her allies would find this small thing and free her later.
The prison fell to the floor, surprising Lumie. She was sure she had caught it. Instead a hole was melted through her hand. “What? You shouldn’t- You’re heating up the heart prison?”
It was true that Kekremu could no longer interact with the world outside the prison, but she could affect the shell, and the shell the world around it. By now it had been heated to a temperature hotter than the sun and with it the air around it began to boil. The rest of Lumie’s hand spattered on the floor. She tried to move away from the prison but her thin wings had long formed the puddle her legs sunk into. The body of an Attejs was made of a light-adjacent substance that did not burn, but it can melt. Lumie tried to scream but her lungs had already liquefied. The stone beneath the prison got scorched and cracked before finally melting too. Lumie’s remains flooded down into the pool of lava. Kekremu stopped producing heat. It destroyed Lumie’s body but it would require direct magic to force her soul into a death state. For the time being, both of them were stuck in the rock that once again hardened around them.