Fungal Halo

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What We Both Lost

It was all over. The forces of light victorious. The Dark One banished to wait for another turning of the cycle to clash with another destined Hero generations from now.

Still the Priestess grieved her love, the Hero who gave her life to win this victory.

In the end, none of her healing magic could avert a destined sacrifice.

Worse yet, the other priests and priestesses at the temple were deaf to her pleas that they attempt a resurrection. That was not a type of magic anyone could cast on their own, either.

Except one.

The Dark One’s highest servant, the Disciple, had been able to resurrect the one she served.

And that Disciple still lived, deemed no longer a threat now that the source of her greatest powers was sealed away, beyond reach or resurrection, by the blood of the Hero.

Even if the Priestess weren’t the most powerful wielder of holy magic that her order had produced in living memory, she would still not have been in danger when she visited the tower of her enemy.

The woman there was a broken and sad creature without her deity to call upon.

Weary, swollen eyes and a bloodshot stare greeted the Priestess as she picked her way through the detritus of a life’s ruin.

She cleared the clutter from a seat opposite the other woman and met her stare from the other side of the liquor bottle graveyard the table had become.

The Disciple only laughed in response to her question, incredulous at the idea that she would ever willingly help the two who sealed away the one she loved and was devoted to still.

A bottle shattered across her face cut the Disciple’s laughter short.

A bloodied face twisted into a snarl and an oath spat into her face, but the Priestess’s dispassionate expression showed no reaction at all. The jagged glass of the half-bottle in her grasp simply found itself, without transition, buried in the Disciple’s right eye.

A snap of the fingers, and the Disciple was restored to wholeness, with the Priestess out of her seat and standing over her.

The Dark One’s servant had no time to scramble to her feet again before the heel of a boot came down and shattered her hand, drawing out a scream.

A snap of the fingers, and the bones knit themselves together, good as new.

A kick dislocated her jaw, followed by a snap.

A knife shoved between her ribs, followed by a snap.

Glass shards forced into her mouth and down her throat, followed by a snap.

With no beloved Hero to impress with a pure heart, no friends to judge, no witnesses at all, the healer demonstrated the full extent of her abilities.

All things considered, it took precious little time at all before the Disciple had reconsidered her proposal.

A resurrection was never a trivial thing to attempt, even with the approval of the gods and a temple full of prayer at their disposal.

It was that much more difficult with just two of them, using forbidden magic practiced in the shadows cast by the gods’ sight.

They had one advantage, however. The tower was built with the explicit purpose of performing the resurrection of the Dark One. To repurpose the structure to save the Hero would require far less effort than starting from nothing.

Still, it would be a year or more of labor.

A year of waiting—or a year of working—was nothing to the Priestess for a goal of bringing back her beloved.

But a year of working side-by-side with someone she had to threaten to keep in line? Who would take every opportunity at revenge?

That would prove a challenge.

The Priestess lost count of the number of times she survived getting stabbed in the back by a ritual dagger, strangled in her sleep, or having her meal poisoned.

Likewise she lost count of the ways she retaliated against the Disciple for such offenses.

She kept two rules for herself.

First, she would never break something she could not fix. Given her unparalleled healing prowess, of course, this was not much of a limitation; short of killing the woman, she could inflict nearly as much suffering as she wanted.

The other rule is that she would not inflict the same punishment twice. The first rule was a practical one, but this…was just for her own amusement.

She enjoyed inventing new ways to make her old enemy scream and beg and bleed. Few things made her smile like that anymore.

Still, over time, the two developed a grudging respect for one another. The Priestess was astonished to learn all the things shadow magic could accomplish, particularly when wielded by someone as masterful as the Disciple.

The Disciple, for her part, found herself surprised to learn that the thing she worshipped did not have exclusive claim on the ability to offer unimaginable cruelty to its enemies.

The Priestess began to wonder whether she was being deliberately provoked into retaliation.

The more she found herself taking pleasure in hurting the Disciple, the lower her threshold for what offenses would incite her to do so.

At first, such violence was restricted to refusal to aid in her work or in retaliation for an assassination attempt.

Over time, she came to decide that cutting fingers off was an appropriate response to sneering at the Hero’s name.

Eventually the Priestess found herself carving an ornate lattice of scars into the Disciple for speaking to her with insufficient reverence.

Though the Disciple did become more cooperative over time, she never stopped being disobedient, disruptive, and disrespectful such that her behavior inspired regular punishment.

It suited the Priestess. She never felt quite so alive as when bringing the Disciple to tears.

Nothing did inspire a genuine fury in the Priestess until the time the Disciple grabbed her chest while making a wildly inappropriate advance.

What she thought would come of it, the Priestess couldn’t guess, but it marked the first time she wielded shadow magic herself.

With an indignant growl from the Priestess, inky tendrils burst from the ground, wrapping each of the Disciple’s limbs and pinning her to the wall.

The Priestess was not far behind, lunging forward to grip the helpless woman by the neck, seething.

“How dare you.” The Priestess leaned forward, pressure eliciting desperate gasps for air from her victim. “She was the only one,” grip tightening, “the only one who could touch me like that!”

She did not offer an opportunity to answer. There was no possible answer.

There was, however, only one possible response to the insult. Commanding more shadow tendrils, she stripped the Disciple bare. Her trachea left partially crushed made every breath a desperate gasp while the Priestess grabbed her tits, roughly squeezing until she heard sobs.

“Is this what you want, you pathetic has-been?” The Priestess sneered with contempt, sending a trickle of healing to repair the other’s throat enough to permit a response.

“Finally,” the Disciple panted. “Almost. Thought you’d. Never. Have the guts to do this.”

A kind of pent-up desperation welled up inside the Priestess. Her long-denied need for touch, for companionship, for release, all screamed inside.

A sound escaped from her—more like an animal howl than anything human—and she threw the other woman to the ground, mounting her.

The two became a messy, feral tangle of limbs. Hungry mouths devoured each other, fingers penetrating with rough, desperate desire or clawing gashes across skin, opening up old scars. Blood and sweat lubricated their grinding bodies, and the two gave in to mutual need.

Afterward, something felt like it changed between the two of them.

No healing magic this time. Not on each other’s bruises. Not for the nail-gouges nor the bite marks. These injuries felt important not to simply erase. They tended each other with alcohol and cloth bandages.

“Maybe I can work with you after all,” the Disciple said, tying off the last of the bandages covering up her handiwork. “You seem like you’re finally here.”

“I wasn’t before?”

The Disciple scoffed. “Hardly. Even your violence felt impersonal.”

The Priestess had to admit she had a point. Everything since her beloved’s death felt like walking through a dream, with only the pleasure of inflicting pain breaking through the fog.

“I don’t plan to stop hurting you; I hope you know that,” she said.

“Gods below, I should hope not!” The Disciple appeared scandalized at the very thought. “Nobody has ever been able to make me sing the way you do.”

“Oh? Is that you begging for more?” Even now, the thought made her heart race with desire.

The Disciple laughed. “I’m happy to move on to a consensual phase of this relationship if you are. I’ve had my fill of trying to keep you from noticing how I’ve been begging for it.”

The Priestess’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, this is going to get a lot more fun, isn’t it?”

The work continued, the violent affection shared between the two no longer distracting them from the sensitive process of preparing the resurrection. A kind of trust bloomed between the once-enemies, and they worked more effectively together than ever before.

Eventually the day came.

All the pieces were in place. Every inch of the tower’s walls were painted in sigils. Catalysts were placed in precisely aligned constellations. Lenses were aligned. The ritual circle at the top was prepared. The moon climbed to its zenith.

“Before we begin,” the Disciple said, interrupting the Priestess’s own rumination, “there is a topic I should broach. I’ve been keeping something from you.”

The healer looked up. “What is it?”

“My beloved master was sealed away by the sacrifice of your beloved Hero. What do you think will happen when we undo that sacrifice?”

The Priestess didn’t hesitate. “Your master’s return.” She met the eyes of her startled partner. “I worked that out myself, yes.”

She continued, “you didn’t think that was going to stop me, did you?” After a moment’s thought, “No. You wouldn’t have mentioned it if you really believed I’d jeopardize its return. You’re wondering what happens after.”

“The Hero cannot be allowed to seal it away again,” the Disciple said.

“Of course not,” the Priestess agreed. “Or we’d find ourselves on opposite sides again, and I might lose out on having you to play with when the mood strikes me.” She grinned at her partner.

“Patently unacceptable,” the healer concluded. “But…you know that’s not the only problem that occurred to me.”

The Dark One’s servant raised an eyebrow, inviting her to continue.

“My beloved is the Hero of Virtue. Do you believe she would accept me the way I am now?”

“Do you believe she wouldn’t?”

The Priestess shook her head. “Perhaps if I never touched shadow magic again. If I quashed my desire to draw blood. If I never indulged the side of me I’ve let flourish this past year and returned to being a meek and gentle support for others.”

The Disciple’s mouth twisted as though tasting something unpleasant. “I find it hard to imagine you as meek and gentle.”

“I will not make myself less than myself,” the Priestess said. “Never again.”

“Then you have your own idea about how to solve this, I take it?”

The Priestess nodded. “We summon them back together.” Lacing the fingers of her hands to illustrate, she elaborated, “both of them in one body. Their strengths combined, and with the Dark One’s mind dragging my beloved’s away from such rigid moral purity.”

The Disciple was stunned silent for a long moment before bursting into laughter. “That was my plan exactly!” She heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh, this is easier than expected. I had been planning this as the best way to prevent your Hero from sealing my master away again.”

“Well,” the Priestess said to her partner, glancing up to check the position of the moon, “let’s not waste any more time, shall we?”

The two held hands in the center of the ritual circle and began the resurrection.

Thunder boomed. The sky ripped itself asunder.

And from a great column of pitch black at the tower’s very top, a Dark Hero stepped forward, crackling with bursts of violet energy.

The two partners greeted the return of their mutual love, and the world trembled.