Synopsis: After hoodwinking Darkos, a holy priest, into escorting her back to her castle, Dark Enchantress Geela has one item left on her list: revenge on her ex-husband. With a confused Darkos in tow, she sets out. However, Geela isn’t the only one with secrets. And Barney isn’t the only old enemy who’s about to get a visit.
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Geela strode into the antechamber of Professor Elle’s office with a dramatic woosh early the next morning, around nine AM. Fairy jumped as the door banged open.
“Oh! Ms. Bronwyn! I uh, we didn’t expect to have you in!” The small woman pushed a strand of hair back. “Looking for Eve— uh, for Professor Elle?”
Geela eyed the study for a second before lifting her chin. “Yes.”
“Oh, right. So she’s teaching right now, til one.” Fairy stacked some papers a bit nervously but tried a grin. “I can take a message?”
“No.” Geela held out a hand to stop the woman in her tracks. “No, nothing like that. I must speak to her directly, regarding a matter of utmost importance.”
“Ah, I see. Wellll, I can send a memo to her aid. He’s not supposed to join her this period so he might still be up here….” The mousy woman gave Geela another dismayed look. “Can you give me any specifics?”
“It’s regarding an old meeting she had once, long ago, with a couple from the Church of Celeste.”
Fairy just stared blankly. “Oookay. I will be sure to put that into the memo.” She pulled out a quill, scratching on a sheet of parchment. “Can you go down the hall and see if Professor Brown is still in his office.”
Geela arched an incredulous eyebrow. “You want me to do that?”
Fairy’s eyes trailed hopelessly over her stack of paper. Geela had no doubt that she was terribly inconveniencing the woman, but then again, Professor Elle’s absence was inconveniencing Geela, and one of their time was much more important than the others.
“Mmm, ok!” Fairy forced a smile and traipsed over to the door. She poked her head out. “Hey, Bob! You still in your office?”
After a second, Geela heard a voice call back. “What’s up, Faria?”
“You assisting Eve’s ten-thirty?”
“Need you to bring her a memo. Got an, um… prospective student’s family looking for her.” Fairy glanced over her shoulder, a bit nervous, at Geela. “Just business but she says it’s urgent.”
Outside the room, a door slammed and Geela heard someone shuffling up the corridor. A narrow-faced, young man appeared in the doorway.
“Oh! Oh is this the student? Or, uh, the family rather?” He grinned and gave Geela an unreciprocated wave. His smile faltered but Fairy gave him no time to continue souring Geela’s mood.
“Here’s the letter, now off you go.” She shoved him down the hall. “Eve’ll be looking for you any minute. Go go, shoo. I’ve got work to do.” The frazzled woman closed the door in Bob’s face and turned back to Geela. “I swear. Adjunct professors. Somehow more useless than TAs.”
As a one-time adjunct professor, Geela bristled at this but obviously couldn’t say anything.
“So you’re, what then, a professor yourself?” she asked instead.
“Nope. Clerk. I run the department so Elle can ‘run’ the department.” She rolled her eyes and turned to one of the towering bookshelves. “Oh of course she does all the main decision stuff. Meets with the parents, the students, does all the hiring, and she’s a damn good worker at it but I keep her paperwork nice and neat. I arrange her meetings, I admonish her professors for running late.” She dropped her voice, not so quiet that Geela missed it. “I deal with visitors that drop by without scheduling meetings…”
“Excuse me?” Geela asked.
Geela opened her mouth to say something but a thought struck her. “How old is Professor Brown?”
“Bob?” Fairy still had her back to Geela as she climbed up a shelf ladder. “Thirty I think.”
“Hmph.” The man had looked young enough, could’ve been mid-twenties. It would have really stung Geela’s ego if her reputation as one of the youngest adjunct professors in the Celestial Academy’s history was threatened by a Bob Brown.
Geela’s thoughts came to a crashing halt at this. “Bob Brown?” she said, as though the topic had, at some point in the last four seconds, meandered away from the man. “Professor Bob Brown.” Her towering eyebrows cast a shadow over her eyes. “How many are there?”
“How many… years? 30?”
Geela’s glare spat venom. “How many Professor Bob Browns?”
“Oh.” She turned on her ladder to face Geela. “Um. Think he’s the only one. There are other Browns but no other Bob Browns.”
Professor Bob Brown. It was such a boring name, so painfully dull, that Geela knew there was no mistaking it. Hell, even Darkos, slurring on noodles, had managed to remember it.
Professor Bob Brown. The recipient of the Jades’ drug trade.
“Now you’ve been around the academy for some time, haven’t you Fairy?”
“Oh I’d say.” The woman, relieved at Geela’s now relatively normal voice, turned back to her books. “Why do you ask?”
“Does the school have a lot of issues with drugs? Petunia is… very sensitive to… drugs.” Geela straightened her shoulders, reasonably confident that this would be something a parent would worry about.
“As in allergic?”
“Allergic? To every possible kind of drug?” Geela scoffed. “Impossible. No, I simply mean she’s got a very addictive personality.”
“Isn’t she eight?”
Geela bristled. “Eight-year-olds have plenty of time to discover and explore the world and find that they are… susceptible. I think it’s responsible.”
“Yes but how do you even learn that about a child that young—” she cut off hard at Geela’s withering look.
“I think this is a suspiciously strong attempt to avoid answering my question!” Geela crossed her arms, drumming her black nails on her forearms. “Especially considering I happen to know from a very good source that your friend Bob is involved in noodle trade.”
Fairy choked. “Noodle trade?” she asked, mouth open wide. “You think Bob—”
“I know Bob. Or, I don’t. But I know he’s involved in the noodles.” Geela stared at Fairy’s back as if to ask ‘what do you have to say to that?’
Fairy’ with her bak to Geela, missed the look and didn’t have much to stay at all. Instead, she stared petrified at the bookshelf in front of her.
“Well?” Geela asked. “What do you have to say to that?”
Fairy turned around, her cheeks sucked in a tad. “Oh dear. I don’t think it is, but what if… What if it wasn’t just a rumor?”
This wasn’t really much better than just the silence and Geela made an angry noise under her breath.
Fairy, resigned to getting no work done as long as Geela was there, slid down her ladder. “There was… I wouldn’t say a rumor but an accusation by someone in the church of Celeste that the faculty were dealing drugs to their parishioners.” She groaned and flopped into her seat. “I thought it was just another rumor in the long line of slander they’re thrown at us since the blood cultist blew up the school.”
“The church? You think Bob’s dealing to the priests?”
“Oh lord I hope not.” Fairy pulled her knees up onto the chair and propped her chin on them. “Those poor babies. Why do you think it’s Bob?”
Geela sniffed, appreciating how disapprovingly regal it sounded with her new nose. “I happened to encounter an accomplice of his.” It was a show of her hand but if Fairy knew something about this, it could be helpful. And having dirt on the church would be very useful when it came to getting an excuse to sneaking around. Maybe this was part of Lune’s scheme, maybe not, but it absolutely helped. If Lune thought ‘Gale Bronwyn’ was on the scent of noodle dealing, Geela could get her hands on all kinds of church specific things. After all, Gale was just looking to protect her child.
Then an even better idea crossed Geela’s mind. The little high priest who had shown Geela and Darkos around the church would be an ideal candidate to help her snoop all around. How hard would it be to convince a little kid that she was just trying to help keep his church drug free? And if Geela got everything she wanted, then everyone, even the little brat, won. Geela takes out a child of Noire, weakening her enemy and getting her one step closer to taking Noire out. Sonatad and the rest of the Celeste worshippers got a church free of both sparkle noodles and evil void spawns.
Fairy stared intently at Geela’s zoned-out face. “Ma’am?” she asked. “You were saying?”
“About an accomplice.”
“Oh. Yes.” Showing her hand, giving them enough truth to want to help. “Two traders I had the misfortune of crossing. They have a whole stash of sparkle noodles in their home, addressed to one Professor Bob Brown.”
“Oh dear.” Fairy craned her neck at the door, as if expecting Bob to come back in. “Oh dear. I can’t tell Eve, it’ll break her heart. She’s always had a soft spot for her adjunct professors.”
Geela shook her head, rather adamantly. “No, absolutely do not.” Tipping off Bob would not be the best call. “It would absolutely destroy poor Professor Elle.” Geela gave a dramatic sigh. “You wouldn’t want her to swear off teaching all together but I’ve heard that a lot of professors, upon learning that their underlings have been acting in corrupt ways, give up teaching as a whole.”
Fairy looked horrified at this concept. “That’s… I hadn’t thought. But you’re right.”
Geela smiled, benevolently. Of course she was right.
“Now.” Geela rose to her feet, sweeping her dark robe around her. “I actually have a lunchtime appointment with the church. Since it seems Professor Elle will be out a good deal longer, I may go take my appointment there now and return when she’s back.”
Fairy just stared forward, a glassy look in her eye. Of course, to someone so accustomed to the petty lifestyle common in clerks and other useless people, learning that a coworker was dealing heavy drugs must be a shock to such a feeble mind.
“It’s alright, dear. I’ll keep your involvement with this out.” Geela turned to the door, nose in the air. “I simply want to ask them some questions.”
Without waiting for a response, she stalked out, mind already tackling this new puzzle piece.
“Oh Miss Bronwyn! Or— Mrs. Bronwyn.” The small high priest nodded his head quickly to the statue of the goddess on his personal alter before jumping up from his little pew. He tripped a bit on his robes but stuck the landing, probably better than Geela would have. “I didn’t expect to see you today.”
“Ms. Bronwyn, please.” Geela looked around his private office, examining the rather simple desk and bookshelves, filled with a mix of ancient texts and far more modern looking tomes. A few books lay open on his desk, splayed upside down to hold their pages. The only ornate part of the room was the altar, decked out in crystals, sun motifs, and little golden horseshoes, signaling an altar to the pony goddess. “Another one of the priests showed me the way to your office. I told her that I had some utmost important things to discuss with you.”
He reached out to his desk, fumbling a bit as his hands searched for his glasses, all while trying to fix Geela with a professional stare. Finally he found them and shoved them up on his nose.
“Utmost importance, you say.” He took a seat behind his desk and folded his hands. “Does this relate to the blood cults?”
Geela blinked blankly for half a second, remembering yet another thing she needed from this place. “Actually, it does not. Though we will get to that. I have many pressing things on my mind.”
He gestured at the seat across from him. “Make yourself comfortable. If this will take a while, I can get an acolyte to bring you some water or juice or coffee or…” he frowned a bit. “Wine or tea? Whatever you like.”
Geela was very tempted to take him up on the offer, since she’d gotten up so early, but knowing that the church had a drug issue did turn her off wanting to accept anything edible from them, and she waved a hand.
“That won’t be necessary. While I must admit, my husband and I were impressed with the state of your church when we visited, I was disquieted by something I learned after.” She stood next to the chair she’d been offered, not sitting, but rather leaning on the back of it. It was important to maintain an air of authority, even when facing down a child. “Your church had a noodle problem.”
Sonatad faced her, eyes glazing over for a moment, before he nodded slowly. “I… don’t understand. I apologize, is this some kind of slang or street talk?” He swallowed and his eyes darted to his bookshelves. The look on his face reminded Geela of oral exams with the acolytes at the Celestial Academy. Their chubby faces would contort, trying to recall a word or phrase, and Geela had long ago learned to tell when the look was real or if they were just trying to pretend they knew the term but had forgotten.
This high priest had no idea what a sparkle noodle was.
“Drugs. It’s a drug. You have a drug problem.”
His mouth dropped open and his eyes bugged out for about one to two seconds before he composed himself, taking a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, and releasing slowly.
“These are some serious allegations, Gale,” he said. Geela cringed internally at the use of her ‘first name’. “I had some concerns after your encounter with Lune that, perhaps, you may think her oddities could be—”
“Nothing like that.” Though Geela could absolutely understand why someone might think the batty, former high priestess had been on drugs. “No, she was a strange one, no doubt, but my concerns come from a much different place.”
He nodded and repeated the little breathing ritual. “Pony give me strength,” he whispered, eyes closed. Then he opened them and fixed Geela with an open, if tense, stare. “Would you mind sharing your suspicions?” His voice shook just a tad. Poor thing.
“No, I wouldn’t.” She finally sat down in the chair, now fully in control of the situation. “Mind, that is. I was… interacting with some traders, a couple by the name of the Jades. I learned that they were shipping sparkle noodles, a rather tricky and highly addictive drug, to a professor within the academy. Apparently, there had been a rumor that the academy was shipping drugs to the church.”
He nodded along as she spoke. “Yes, yes, I see.” Hands a little unsteady, he took his glasses off and polished them on his robe before pressing them back to his nose. “This is very troubling. While some substances can bring you closer to a patron or general mental enlightenment, the ones made illegal are often done so for a reason.” He paused. “These noodles are illegal, right?”
“Right, good. Or not good because we take illicit drugs very seriously here.” He drummed his fingers on the desk and bounced his leg. “I’ll be reaching out to—or no. I’ll have to…”
Geela could track the slow realization that he had absolutely no idea who he could trust as it slowly expanded in his eyes.
Then he cleared his throat. “Well. I think this would warrant some personal research on my part. Learn about these noodles and their history and effects. Perhaps find if there are some clear tells that someone is dropping noodles.”
Dropping noodles. This poor child had no idea what he was doing. Geela offered him a small, non-reassuring smile. “I can speak to the Jades at a later time, perhaps this evening or tomorrow. I do genuinely want this place to be safe by the time my daughter transfers.”
“Oh!” His face lit up. “So you’re still thinking about sending her here?”
Geela shrugged one shoulder. “There really doesn’t seem to be any place better. I’m invested in cleaning this place out, both for the welfare of my family and that of the entire Celestial City.” She was laying it on a bit thick but Sonatad’s face broke out in gratitude.
“That would be great. And I can help you in return, get you whatever you need either to help with the drugs or the blood cult. Phew.” He brushed his forehead. “It’s a good thing I’m here.”
“Mmm, truly the church would struggle without such an adept high priest at the helm.”
He nodded, fully and completely unironically. “Well, it’s not a requirement to have a high priest on staff. So if I hadn’t passed the test, we’d be flying blind.”
The boy had already told her this but she nodded all the same.
“Would you mind if I spoke to Lune now?” Geela asked. “I have some things I wanted to discuss with her that I didn’t have the time to do last time.”
He nodded. “Go ahead. I don’t think she’s on drugs, though. She’s always been like this.”
Geela nodded. “I do appreciate it.” She rose from her seat. “I remember the way. I’ll show myself up.”
Sonatad nodded and, rising to his feet, gave her a cordial bow. “Thank you so much for your dedication to helping us keep the church as healthy as possible.” With this, he turned to his bookshelf, fingers hovering over different titles, murmuring under his breath.
Sufficiently satisfied that she had him, and by definition the church, where she needed them, Geela pulled open the door to the hallway and left the room, in search of Lune for some real answers.
The plot thickens! Now the church and school are involved in illegal drug trade. Will Geela be able to use this to her advantage?
How do you all suppose poor Darkos is faring while this is happening?
Find out next week! (or sooner, since chapters 39, 40, and 41 are all available on Patreon!)
More artwork is coming soon too, so keep your eyes open.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments 😀