“What I’ve done?” Red’s expression was cool. “I’ve sundered the imprisonment of every ‘humanoid’ you had in containment along the path we took to get here.”
Nyx, dumbstruck, moved their lips for a second before any words came out. “WHY?”
“Besides distraction?” He glanced over at the crystalline humanoid, which had nearly slid its way over to the entrance of its cell, crystal growths bursting from the concrete around its feet like ripples in the wake of a boat.
“This is just to distract me? Do you have any idea how dangerous some of these creatures are?”
“I mean,” Alice interjected, “at least two of ‘these creatures’ were perfectly normal humans!”
“As far as you can tell,” Nyx replied, “but Realmic forces can be subtle, changing people into things their old selves wouldn’t recognise.”
Alice looked them up and down, from the three eyes with their flat darkness to the hem of their robes. “Like you, you mean?”
They glared at her, but acceded. “Yes. And your friend here has released everything nearby, free to prey upon the people of this world but for the fact that this place has no natural exits.”
“It’s hardly my fault that you stored a bunch of dangerous supernatural things in such close quarters.” Red retorted.
“This would have been perfectly safe were it not for your interference!”
“How are you surprised when this concentration of extra-Realmic creatures is teetering at the edge of criticality like a nuclear pile! What did you expect, when you stored a bunch of dangerous supernatural things in such close quarters? Look at the architecture here! It’s coiling up on itself!”
Nyx took a step toward them, snarling as they thrust a hand out to the side, snatching their staff out of the air as it coalesced from shadow. They swung it around to point at Alice and the other three, the odd branches at its head bursting into a flickering dark flame that left odd violet after-images burned into her field of vision.
“None of you move, or this is going straight through your brains.”
Red, eyes wide, took a half-step forwards, and Nyx rounded on him, shoving the firey business end of the staff towards his face. He retracted the half-step, raising his hands.
“I said don’t move.”
“So, um, what are you actually threatening us with?” Alice asked. Sash and Tim looked similarly confused, at both the threats and at Red’s rather cowed response to something that — while visually impressive, especially in the dark — wasn’t obviously dangerous.
“Why would I distract myself with an explanation? I’m not a supervillain.”
Despite the tension, Tim nearly laughed. “Now hold on.”
Nyx fixed him with a level, pupil-less stare. “Your friend here knows what this is, and look how he’s reacting.”
Red stood perfectly still with much the air of someone who had just stepped on a landmine. “I don’t know what they call it, but they’re threatening us with logophlogiston.”
“With what?” Alice looked back at the weird black-purple fire. Now she knew its name, it seemed… exactly the same.
“Mindfire. A conflagration that leaves flesh untouched, but that will immolate whatever part of the mind it contacts. That’s why they’re threatening to throw it through our heads.”
Alice looked at the branch of fire that Nyx was brandishing, trying to get a feel for it with her pneuma-senses. She got brief snatches on the pneumatic breeze, something dead and quiet and cold — wait, no. Something deadening and freezing, which quieted everything it touched. A shiver ran up her spine, and she carefully watched the dancing black flames and their eery afterimages.
“Now I’ve got your attention,” said Nyx, shaking their staff with a crackle of fire, “here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to pull any tricks or make any sudden moves until the backup I called for arr—”
Screams echoed down the corridors.
“How’s that going for you?” Red asked, still making no sudden moves.
The situation was kept from escalating by a man wearing odd-looking riot armour, who jogged up out of the darkness and approached them. Emblazoned on the front of the armour’s chestpiece was a symbol of a star with an eye at its centre.
“Apologies, the Drowned, commander,” the man huffed, half-heartedly saluting, “we, uh, got waylaid.” He fiddled nervously with some kind of baton, glancing over at the humanoid crystal-thing and its glacial approach.
Nyx frowned. “Soldier, where’s the rest of your squad?”
“Got separated, commander. Some kind of demon-possessed, I think. We should head back.” He kept looking around, as if he expected something to immediately leap from the darkness. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s got loose, here.”
“When I called for backup,” said Nyx, still pointing their staff at Alice and the rest, “I did say I’d need more than a single person to help me bring these people into custody, and that goes double if everything’s escaped.”
“Uh, the Gone and the Steward insisted that we should bring you back no matter what, the Drowned, commander. They were very emphatic, and I don’t want to wait out here, what with the—” he indicated the crystalline figure, which was still several metres away.
“We do have names, you know,” said Nyx, irritation in their voice giving way to suspicion. They narrowed their eyes. “They’re common knowledge, in fact. Tell me, ‘soldier’, what is my name?”
They glared at the soldier, subtly shifting the grip they had on their staff.
“Uh,” the soldier replied, “they told me you were the Drowned. Was that wrong?”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Well good, th—”
In a sudden flicker of motion, Nyx swung their staff up and round, bringing the flaming end through the soldier’s head — passing through helmet and flesh as if they were air, trailing black fire that flickered in violet in a long arc through the cold air.
“I am called the Drowned,” they said, as the soldier slumped to his knees. “But this place is full of things that can mimic humans, and if you were really sent by Eve and Tarquin, they’d have called me Nyx.”
“Holy Hells,” Alice breathed. “You killed him!”
“Not quite the right verb,” Nyx replied, “and I doubt he was who he claimed to be.” They paused, face unreadable, before turning back to the group, staff still crackling with mind-killing fire. “As for the rest of you, hopefully I’ve made the point that I’m not bluffing, and—”
Interrupting their threats, the soldier’s head exploded.