He ran to her side, not entirely surprised she lost power. Soltana was in the process of saying something when she fell. He scooped her up, with the others circling around in concern.
“She is alright, it’s her power,” L’yophin explained quickly.
He chittered a sigh, at not only seeing her well, but seeing her new form.
Her adamantite shell glinted off of the glowshrooms light, unmoving. She appeared as nothing more than a simple automata doll.
Soltana. What are you?
He pondered her identity. Everything about her was unlike anyone he had ever met before. Someone who could remember and rebuild, even after a complete loss.
L’yophin glanced to Ruth, seeing her unsteady on her feet. His hearts trembled upon seeing her human form.
Ruth’s brow shot up, spotting his obvious look. She blushed in knowing, looking away. She brushed her hair forward, obscuring her face from him. He looked downcast for a brief moment, understanding his past prejudices igniting to life again, hurting Ruth subtly.
We will speak later on this. She said she was once human. She is as much a victim as I. Maybe moreso. I cannot judge.
He gathered up the surface triggers and compiled them back into his mind for later.
“My Dekapillars!” L’yophin shouted as he skittered towards the large pile of interconnected cocoons.
He sighed in relief, finding no damage.
Diniel gathered the fallen lance and necklace.
“Barthin’s Throne… Did that demon leave it?”
“He was… unconvinced,” L’yophin stated with a shrug.
Diniel nodded at that, his flame dancing subtly.
“L’yophin. I sense no other angelic or demonic presence. Let us check on the others,” Diniel stated. The flame above his head flickered in thought as he turned to gesture at the hollow stone pyramid.
He clutched Soltana close as he followed the larger angel with Ruth trailing unsteadily behind.
Diniel touched the stone pyramid as he spoke, L’yophin could hear him casting his strange magic. The pyramid of stone retreated, revealing the occupants.
L’yophin skittered closed, his face going blank at what he saw.
Even in the worst of times goblins are still loafers. He thought humorously.
There on the ground was a large pigpile of sleeping goblins.
“Ah, it appears all is well,” Diniel stated quietly.
He gently gathered up the pile in his arms and wings, the flame above his head flickered as if nodding in confirmation.
“L’yophin, will you lead the way?” Diniel asked.
He didn’t so much ask as suggest.
Whatever, I am too tired to care either way. Gather everyone and then rest.
He grunted an affirmative as he skittered back to the estate. He realized one more person he missed.
Diniel cocked his head as L’yophin began to skitter off towards the large stables on the horizon.
Ruth let out a squeak as she fell to her knees, bracing to one side. He paused, looking back at her.
He skittered in close, seeing her obvious distress. She looked away, scrunching her face in an attempt to keep it together.
Diniel stayed still, watching them interact, his limbs filled with the collected goblin pigpile.
“Ruth,” L’yophin began.
She turned to address him, her eyes viewing the ground. His limb gently grasped her chin, directing her eyes to his.
“Ruth, everything will be alright. I… I did not expect to see a human in so long. Please forgive my weary glance; I know what it is like. Seen it too often during my travel.”
Tears flowed freely as she sniffed.
She gave a weak smile as she rubbed her eyes.
“You should find the others, I’ll follow when I can-”
L’yophin handed Soltana to Ruth, who collected her with wide eyes.
“Keep her company,” L’yophin stated with a nod.
She smiled at that, then squeaked in sudden shock as L’yophin picked up her small form, carrying her.
“To Phela,” He announced.
Diniel stared impassively, the only tell was his flame dancing with satisfaction at the interaction.
L’yophin, who carried Ruth, who also carried Soltana, skittered along the mossy plains with Diniel, who carried all of the sleepy goblins as they made their way to the stables.
L’yophin glanced down at Ruth, eyeing her, the long golden blond hair covering most of her face.
He saw the slight tilt of her head in response.
“Are you alright?”
Her soft voice was quiet, a mouse-like whisper that seemed out of character compared to what L’yophin saw her transform into.
He glanced at the stables as they slowly rolled into view.
He grunted, going quiet as he skittered along.
She spoke after a time, adding to the soothing glowshroom’s song.
“I never imagined I would meet him again. To meet the one who did this to me.”
“And yet he protected me in his own way. He protected us.”
“Except, all he did was he protect his child. And that is all I am to him. A shell for his offspring.”
L’yophin darted his eyes, keeping quiet.
“What will he do once she arrives?”
“Use me again? Discard me? Eliminate all of you?”
“He was testing all of us. Seeing our resolve. Will any abandon my child?”
L’yophin felt a shiver in his thorax upon hearing her perfect mimicry of his disquieting voice.
“Right now I’m not sure which is safest. Running far away from me or keeping as close as possible.”
“Being in the eye of the storm or anywhere else.”
L’yophin nodded at what she was implying.
“Ruth. I will stay by you. And Soltana. I will not leave,” He stated firmly.
“And yet what if I was selfish and asked you to leave? What if I simply vanished to try to protect you?”
L’yophin thought hard at those questions for a time. He let out a sigh as the response was difficult.
“Then you would, perhaps, hurt us as much as that demon.”
“You would be telling us that our decision, my agency, is worthless to you.”
He continued in his quiet rebuke.
“That my decision to follow you; to follow S’yliska is bad because of potential results; that we would perish by being with you. That my free will is worth less than bodily safety.”
She was quiet, gazing ahead at the stables.
“And that you would also be saying we could never grow strong enough to protect you.”
“Respect my choice. I will follow you, Soltana, and S’yliska to the end. Dugrum value their independence; their choices.”
“You saw what that emerald monster did to us.”
“And I will be here to help,” He quickly countered.
Whatever it did to her. We must resolve it. Maybe one day with me standing atop its gutted green corpse.
The large stables were well within view, with L’yophin seeing no damage. He skittered through the ajar scrap gate to the stable itself. The feeling of soft moss between digits again was comforting.
He gently placed Ruth down to open the barn door. She got to her shaky feet, leaning against the wall.
She responded quietly as she stood, hair covering most of her face.
“I-I can stand, thank you, L’yophin,”
He peeked inside, his hearts a mixture of regret and wonder.
Phela had hatched and he didn’t get to witness the event.
He skittered inside, with Ruth and Diniel right behind.
His voice was a whisper at seeing his precious hatched dekapillar.
The large rhommoth lay splayed, appearing as a mound of wet beige-white wool. Even the wings themselves looked like soft cotton. The two comb antennas lay stuck to her head, covering her face.
Ruth’s eyes became massive upon seeing the large creature.
He could hear her soft muttering.
“Mm! She’s too cute…”
L’yophin slowly trudged closer, seeing the creatures large black oval eyes underneath the fluff and combs. He stuck out his hand, holding just out of reach. The rhomoth scooted in, gently nibbling his digits with a fluffy mandibled mouth.
He heard Ruth breathing in air suddenly.
He remembered how humanity and anforms lost themselves over things that were apparently cute; a very strange subjective topic for scarabaeidae.
Phela turned, lifting a weighed down limb to her mandibles to clean them. L’yophin spotted all six of her limbs, seeing that they were the same sort of appendages as his, useful for both walking and manipulating. It occurred to him large she was. Her wingspan was well over fifty feet, just shy of filling up the stables. She was ten feet long and undetermined height. L’yophin was happy he made the stables large enough. Not to mention she would be expected to grow.
The wings were weighted down, glistening with cocoon fluids. It would take time for her to dry.
And then fly.
“L’yophin, she’s gorgeous. She’s coming with us? Just say yes.”
L’yophin glanced to Ruth, whose eyes were wide as saucers, her mouth grinning from ear to ear. Her previous trepidation and pain put on a brief hold.
Humans and some anforms did revert to a semi-drone state when viewing things that were considered adorable. A strange occurrence. Some had even had even stared wide-eyed and trembling at him when he was an emissary to humanity so long ago. A stance he mistook for aggression or fear at first glance. Infants of any species were prime targets to this ‘cooing’.
Phela paused her cleaning to nuzzle his limb, emitting a soft chirping noise.
L’yophin turned to the group, nodding in approval over Phela.
“Let us head out, Phela will find us. It will be some time before she’s ready.”
L’yophin left Phela to her cleaning with new ideas and thoughts sprouting inside.
Should we bring her? She would be safer here. The Sigmafly will be a tight fit after a time…
L’yophin turned, waiting for Ruth and Diniel to exit. Ruth limped to the wall and then leaned against it with Soltana cradled in her arms. Diniel continued to easily carry the goblin pile. L’yophin collected Ruth again, who accepted the help without protest.
Diniel interrupted his thoughts as they journeyed back to the estate.
“L’yophin, your rhomoth is truly a gorgeous creature. Once we’re settled I shall bless her.”
“Mm. Thank you,” L’yophin responded, glancing from the angel back to the path ahead.
He felt strangely at odds with the angel. Perhaps its ties to humanity was the cause; similar to how Ancath were to him. Except only one remained and even then she was a shell of her former self.
Ruth brushed back her hair, revealing more of her fair face.
“I can’t use my abilities right now.”
“I can’t change.”
“What happened with you and that… Demon?”
She replied, bitterness creeping into her voice.
“A punishment for weakness. For the pride in thinking I could do anything to him.”
“He showed me how many I had devoured.”
L’yophin was quiet.
He could feel her trembling body, hear the quiet trembling of her voice.
He saw her face contorted into the strange crumpled human smile, all attempts to prevent tears.
“It was- Uh. It was a lot of people I… I destroyed.”
“You see, he implanted… One hundred beings to start, with one of them being S’yliska and Maw- his child.”
“And then I… went mad.”
L’yophin purse his mandibles as he furrowed his brow.
“What happened, Ruth?”
“I devoured thirty-four thousand souls. The city up above. I had wiped it out.”
L’yophin stopped, blinking in a wave at Ruth.
Diniel lowered his head, his flame flickering.
“Many were good friends. And then the church purged what was left.”
“It was all my fault-”
L’yophin silenced her with a gentle digit against her trembling lips.
“No more nonsense. We’re resting now.”
He heard a sighing sob in response as she went quiet.
L’yophin picked up the pace, skittering along to the silk mansion. He diverted, heading towards the Sigmafly. Alongside it stood the Shellshop.
“L’yophin, I will put these little ones to rest in your mansion.”
He grunted at that.
“Doors unlocked. Second floor.”
Diniel trudged away with his goblin pigpile. He was surprised that none had woken.
He skittered to the Sigmafly first. He needed to recharge Soltana.
He was greeted by a goblin and hogboon upon entering. Both were sitting on the floor, resting.
“Cave’in’me’head! You’re all alive! Wha’happened? Who’s the lassie?”
Basil lifted himself up with the aid of Dirk.
“Angels are gone. Demon is gone too. Nothing makes sense.” L’yophin tiredly.
Ruth gave him knowing look.
“Tha’s it, then? The angels and demons jus’ flitted away like a buncha namby’pambies?”
“No. The angels perished.”
Basil’s eyes widened at that as he took off his bowler.
“The demon won, Basil,” Ruth stated as L’yophin lowered her to the ground against a crate.
The hogboon raised a finger, trying to think of anything to say. Ruth stole the initiative.
“It was protecting me and his child. And he succeeded.”
“Ruth? Is’tha’ you?” Basil said, rubbing his eyes to see if Ruth would change.
“Yes, Basil. It’s me. This is my true form.”
“-What about the others?” Dirk interrupted with concern.
“Alive with the other goblins,” L’yophin explained as he gestured for Soltana. Ruth handed her away, like a child giving away a doll.
“Powered down. She fought the demon to a standstill.”
“Diniel have mercy…” Basil muttered as he deflated.
L’yophin tugged a loose power cable free, clipping it around Soltana’s neck. He gently placed her down, sitting her serenely on a crate.
“The demon beat us, Basil.”
“Wha’abou’ Zenner and Onsort?”
His question hung in the air. Basil’s brow furrowed as he topped his hat back on his head.
“Shellshop!” L’yophin barked as he skittered out of the Sigmafly’s hangar.
The others shouted back after him.
“L’yophin, wait for- oh! Me!
Ruth tried to rise, only to fall flat as she was left behind.
He rushed out of the ship skittering across the mossy plains to the Shellshop nearby. There he spotted it.
A light trail of blood leading to the open hangar.
He prowled along cautiously, unsure of another threat. He skulked inside, wishing he was armed. Perhaps the threat had not passed. The trail lead to a body braced near the corridor to the bridge.
“Zenner!” L’yophin shouted as he skittered to the crab Scarabaeidae.
His limbs trembled at the damage in front of him. His thorax churned as his hearts fluttered.
Zenner had lost both claws, his arms stumps hanging loosely with muscle and tendons stretched and torn. He was missing an eye stalk and one other leg, the joint spilling out blood and muscle. Zenner had his limbs ripped off. A pool of light green blood glistened in the poor lightning.
His lone eye stalk snapped open. The eye trembled as it viewed L’yophin. Zenner heaved himself up, gurgling and sputtering. L’yophin felt a sudden sickness.
“L’yo-phin. My baei-”
Zenner vomited up his previous meal, shock evident in his body. He continued as if it was nothing.
“Zenner! Are you alright? We need to get you to medical!”
“Medical? Why I’ve- I’ve-”
A sputter of green blood rose up from his missing stalk, trailing down his carapace.
“Never been-… better!”
Zenner sputtered up green blood, his mandibles worked furiously to clean himself.
“Nonsense! Now… What can ol’ Zenner do for- you?”
He knew right away what this was.
The calm voice snapped his attention. It was digitally distorted. Raspy.
“Onsort…” L’yophin gasped.
The mantis was still adorned in his stealth suit. It had melted to his flesh. He could see his head sagged to one side, the helm had melted through one of his large eyes.
“L’yophin. What can I do for you?”
L’yophin clutched his head, shaking it in disbelief.
He had tested us. He found these two wanting. Zenner… Onsort… Not them!
“Let us trade, good dugrum!” Zenner added, green blood splattering the floor.
“No, you were supposed to come with us. I needed to pay you…”
“Pay us? For what deal?”
“My baeidae… There was no deal! But that-”
Zenner sidled up to Onsort.
“Zenner. Onsort. Wake up! We need to get you to medical-”
Onsort took an aggressive step forward, interrupting him.
“You need to leave if you will not trade,” Onsort stated coldly.
He hefted his hydrogen definer.
L’yophin backed up, holding up his hands.
“Onsort, put the gun away.”
“Trade with us, Lyophin!”
“His emerald glory is everlasting.” Onsort added.
He felt a deep fear in his thorax at that comment. These were not the two he traded and flew with. They were two casualties of the fight. The demon had winnowed out the unfit.
He felt the past rushing back. S’yliska on the hive ship Cicatriz. He saw the robed Cardinal do battle with his beloved god and her honor guard. The Cardinal wielded two orange glinting long-needles, threaded to a spool on her hip. He saw them fall. He saw S’yliska bowed low. Her final words rang out.
“L’yophin. Please survive.”
She was bisected to tiny pieces within the blink of a moment.
He skittered from the Shellshop, leaving behind his fallen brethren.
He turned back, seeing the hangar door closing and the ramp retreating. He stood, watching the vessel for a time until it began to rise.
It took off, lazily flowing away into the darkness.
L’yophin crumpled to the mossy ground. The memories of the past mixed with the current events flooded him like a tidal torrent. He couldn’t hold them back anymore. He was overwhelmed. Broken.
A long lone raspy cry into the dark.
A lone hand brought him out of his despair. His eyes opened, seeing Ruth sitting next to him, her knees trembling, her hair brushed back, revealing her face.
“L’yophin, are you well?”
The tables had turned.
He let out a quiet raspy voice, almost drowned out by the mellow glowshroom song.
“Zenner and Onsort?”
“The demon destroyed their minds and bodies. Flayed them. They were empty shells.”
“If only Diniel was here…”
Ruth glanced into the dark before turning back to face him.
“No more nonsense. Now we rest,” she replied with a slight smile, using what L’yophin had said to her.
L’yophin nodded, gazing out into the Underrealm.
“Is S’yliska well?”
“She is. She is aiding me as we speak. The assault was more than physical.”
L’yophin nodded, a slight spider smile forming.
“It was always like her to get to the bottom of an issue,” he stated fondly.
“She says you should mourn for your fallen friends. And then prepare to fly.”
He rubbed at his eyes, letting out a chittering chuckle.
“Always to the point!”
Basil limped down the ship assisted by Dirk.
“L’yophin! Where are the others?” Basil shouted.
“Zenner and Onsort won’t be making it…” Ruth stated, catching L’yophin’s eyes.
I see what she is doing.
“Diniel is at the estate. Go get the stuckle weed, pipes, and ale,” L’yophin urged as he rose to his feet.
“Now you’re talkin’ Dugrum frien’. Come on Dirk, to the estate!”
“But I want to see Soltana!” Dirk whined.
“No’now little one. We’ll catch up later- you’ll see,” Basil replied, gathering the tired looking goblin.
He watched as they limped along, Basil muttering some story to the goblin.
“I’ll meet you at the mansion. I’ll let you wait until Soltana charges so you can both talk.”
She gave him as warm smile as she rose.
She grimaced as she arched her back, L’yophin could her the pop of her hip going back into place. She rolled her neck to the side, a loud crack rang out.
“Ah! There. It’s coming back now,” She stated with newfound energy.
Whatever S’yliska was saying to her, it was working.
Ruth marched off to the mansion, her limp gone.
“Basil! Wait up!”
L’yophin was left alone, comparing back then to now.
“Back then was quiet. Predictable. Dulling. But now…”
He shrugged. He could never go back now. Not with what he knew.
“If I told myself this would happen weeks ago, my ‘old self’ would have probably shot me for trespassing…”
He skittered back inside the Sigmafly. There wasn’t much left to do. Right now, he had important things to achieve.
He sidled up to the crate that Soltana sat upon.
Everyone was exhausted.
What had happened was no small feat. The battle against the angels and demon was unanimous; the angels had lost dearly, with L’yophin and his group coming in a close second. The demon had gotten what it wanted, whatever that was. Nothing disturbed L’yophin more than the feeling that it wasn’t just this Adonai or S’yliska that was watching over them. That emerald demon assisted them in a strange manner. He was equal parts helpful in fighting off the angels and wicked in hurting everyone. Inflicting two immediate casualties in the form of a broken Zenner and Onsort. The total tally of casualties was still ongoing. He also realized he was paralysed by the being’s presence, but not mentally scarred. The god was trying to convince him to join and may have held back, not wanting to break a potential pawn. The demon had lured everyone to this confrontation. For what purpose, he did not know. There was light in the darkness.
They had survived.
“No more heavy thoughts,” L’yophin admonished himself.
He would just rest his eyes for a moment.