Sam tossed the spoon back into Caleb's travel pack, eyeing the renewed aura of protection that glowed softly over her body. Who knew vegan tempura could boost all stats, like that label claimed? She was going to want the recipe after all this was over.
If Caleb was still alive by then.
She shook her head and looked up when Tucker let out a cry of awe, pointing at the air. The two of them watched in wonder as Danny yelled and fired a single sphere of Light-enfused ectoplasm that suddenly became a mini-meteor shower of light that slammed into Nebilim with a vengeance.
"What was that?" the Goth blurted out, "I've never seen him do that before!" Tucker frowned thoughtfully, rubbing his chin before snapping his fingers.
"The Topaz. I bet that's something Danny gets in Topaz Mode to make up for losing his other ghost powers." he told her, "You heard him say 'Phantom Ray', right? Maybe it's bending rules and letting him cast magic too?" Sam looked a little dubious, watching Valerie and Danny both lay into Nebilim with more blasts, red light from the huntress and more of those Phantom Ray bursts from Danny.
"I guess, I mean, it's as good an explanation as any right now." she muttered and sighed, "Not like we can ask Caleb anymore. What are we going to do?"
Phantom Ray was doing a pretty good job of getting Nebilim to stagger. Danny was starting to like the new power, but he still worried that all the hits were damaging Caleb more than hurting the Demon King. It felt like hours had passed since the android had been possessed, and the hope he'd had when Caleb's voice cried out to give Sam a chance to escape was quickly waning.
A tiny space of time where neither Valerie's attacks nor his own were hitting gave Nebilim a chance to escape, flipping hands over heels back from them to gain distance. The redhead stood in place, wilting tiredly as he panted, glaring furiously as Danny shot down to float by the huntress and watch him warily. Nebilim bared his teeth, hissing as he clutched at one shoulder.
"I don't know how you're doing that, Boy, but it's going to end now!" he snarled, and Danny couldn't help but flinch at the words because that was Caleb's face glaring at him with such malice. The Demon King stamped a foot down, the heel of his boot clacking loudly against the glass platform. He swept his arms out, flames tracing out another circle of pictographs, large and intricately designed.
"Looks like he's gearing up for another of his demon powers." Valerie grumbled, hefting up her rifle, "Listen, Spook; Caleb gave himself up so we could take out Nebilim. We're wasting time and Soulfire just taking potshots at him."
"What are you saying?" Danny growled softly, part of his attention on sifting through the mental imagery of another of the Topaz's new abilities, searching for another power that could be used to try kicking Nebilim out of his body.
"Next time you use that weird Ray thing," she returned and aimed her weapon, "hit the Tri-Crystal System. If Caleb's body can't move, neither can Nebilim."
He stiffened, partly in anger and partly in disbelief that she would so easily decide it was best to just kill their guide, his friend, just so they could beat the Demon King. No, that's not how he was going to end this. He was going to save Caleb and give him back his Pin and then he was going to beat the living, hellish stupid out of him for doing this in the first place. Good Lord, how did Wren put up with his dumb ideas back in Symphonian time?
A fuzzy and vague feeling of having smacked himself in the forehead too often rose and Danny took it to be the sleeping soul's answer. Yeah, that seemed about right; and he followed that example by smacking himself once.
"Grr! No! We're not shooting out his systems!" he snapped at Valerie, "Look, we're weakening him a whole lot already; he could barely stand just now!" He threw a hand up to cover himself and the huntress in a shield, flinching at the hellish whirlwind of flames that engulfed them while they'd been standing there. "I know it looks bad now, but we've got to keep whittling him down carefully. Eventually, all the Light we've been hitting him with will kick him out of Caleb's body and then we can burn the Book and get out of here."
"How are we gonna get out? If you haven't noticed, Nebilim's not wearing a shirt or coat!" Valerie bit back, throwing an arm out to gesture at the Demon King, "Caleb didn't have the Pin when he got sucked in by that thing!"
"Yeah, I know." Danny sighed harshly, "He gave it to me." The shield grew dangerously thin and he counted himself lucky that the fiery cyclone faded first. He ignored the look of abject horror he was sure would be on the huntress' face and rolled his eyes. "Look, we both saw what happened when a certain someone else got ahold of it; I'm not doing that, not in a million years. Not after Caleb put his trust in me to just hang on to it for him." Danny griped, "And that's all I'm doing, holding on to it. I'm giving it back as soon as we kick Mr. I'm-So-Pretty out of Caleb, so can we just focus on hitting him with all the Light we've got?"
Valerie just growled under her breath, lifting her rifle to fire off several more shots while Danny hit upon another of the Topaz's abilities, flitting away from the huntress to get enough room to use it.
"Okay, let's try this on for size! Phantom Lance!" Danny declared, sweeping his hand upwards and letting the Light-enfused ectomana form several glowing green-white swords, one within reach for him to grip. He grabbed it, shooting down towards Nebilim and slashing across the demon king's back. Nebilim shrieked in pain, spinning in place to kick the halfa back.
"You of the land of the living and dead! Why do you bother fighting when you could have just joined me instead?" the redhead growled, hopping back from the teens running up to attack him again. "What reward could you expect from a world that despises you as you fight for them?"
"Because I'm not doing it for a reward!" Danny yelled, flying back to the rest of the swords and hurling them down at the demon king in a frenzy, "I'm doing it because I chose to be a Hero in order to protect my friends and family!" Several of the swords missed but the few that nailed Nebilim sent him stumbling across the battlefield. "Sam, Jazz! He's staggering! Valerie, keep him pinned! Tucker, we're all good so fire the Lens gun at him too!"
"Give him everything we've got!" Sam yelled as she charged the demon king, Wonder Fork in her hands like a baseball bat, "Keep the Tri-Crystal System in one piece, but beat the metal out of everything else!" Jazz ran alongside her, armored hands clenched into fists.
"Yeah! If we deal enough damage to him, Nebilim won't want Caleb's body anymore and we win!" she agreed and leaped into the air, one fist pulled back for a punch. She landed full-force, bringing herself and the demon king to the platform heavily. "Got him! I got him!" Jazz exclaimed with a laugh that quickly became a terrified scream at the explosion of fire that erupted up from him and engulfed her. She scrambled back and away, patting herself out as the redhead took to the air again, snarling as he dodged Sam's swipe with the Wonder Fork.
"That did nothing!" he snapped, lifting his arms to shield himself from Valerie's rapid-fire rifle shots, hovering almost drunkenly before whirling free of the attack. He zeroed in on the huntress, dropping down nearly on top of her with a forceful kick that she dodged by hurling herself away. Valerie tumbled head over heels, her ecto-rifle still tight in her grip, and managed to reorient herself so she could keep it trained on the demon king, squeezing off a few more shots.
They had no effect on Nebilim, who now was dashing over the platform towards Tucker to take him out of battle. "White Quartz down!" Valerie yelled out, opening her rifle and digging out the spare from her pocket, "I'm putting in my last one!"
"Stay away from Tucker!" Sam yelled, running in from another direction and thrusting the giant fork into Nebilim's path. It tore across his left arm, ripping synthetic flesh from the unprotected part of the limb and exposing metal and artificial muscle.
Danny gasped at the sight. The engraved lines and charms in Caleb's body normally glowed a soft blue as mana ran across them. But now they glowed green, streaks of red flowing through with increasing frequency. He winced; that must be ectomana and whatever demons used for life energy running through the runes. Caleb wouldn't last much longer without pure mana. This battle had to end, fast!
Nebilim snarled furiously at the startled Goth, lashing out with his leg to kick her away from himself and sending her tumbling across the platform in pain. Tucker raced to her side, already pulling out the plastic container with a vegan meal to heal her. Jazz and Danny both dove in to provide cover, peppering the field with blasts of Light and ectomana.
"This isn't good! We're taking too long and we don't know how much Soulfire got lost fighting him!" Jazz cried out to her brother in growing panic, "Nebilim's just too strong in Caleb's body! All that power from the Tri-Crystal System is just going to outlast our supply of White Quartz!" Valerie pulled up beside them, firing her own shots as she picked up on the older girl's words.
"I've already had to replace mine. Won't be long before yours breaks too." she grumbled, "How are we supposed to stop a demon-possessed android?" Danny shook his head, firing off another Phantom Ray to hold Nebilim at bay until Tucker could get Sam back on her feet.
"You think I haven't been trying to figure that out?" he demanded in frustration, "Jazz, have you tried using the Peeler function on him?"
"Yes! And it hasn't worked!" Jazz shouted in a harassed tone, "He's copying your ectomana, which is now immune to the Peeler, remember?"
Another blast from Valerie's rifle must have hit something vital, as Nebilim suddenly stopped darting around and just stood there, holding his head and wobbling on his feet. "He's staggered! Nail him again!" the huntress exclaimed, grabbing a few of her throwing discs and sending them zipping through the air towards him. Jazz ran for the redhead as well, leaving Danny to float there and let his mind race through possible ways of stopping Nebilim without harming Caleb.
"Sam's okay!" Tucker called out, circling around to get out of the line of fire again, raising his Lens gun and squeezing off a few shots of his own. The discs sliced across unprotected synthetic flesh, exposing still more of the android's metal body. Bursts from the Lens gun that managed to get through those opened 'wounds' seared the engraved charms and artificial muscles, sparks flying as they were burnt through and torn.
"Hey! Take it easy! We don't want Caleb completely wrecked!" Danny cried out in alarm, cringing at Jazz's flying kick that landed solidly against the possessed android's chest, sending him backwards several feet and crashing against the floor with a few audible cracks.
"Well, we don't want to be wrecked, either!" Sam declared, running up to join him and gripping the Wonder Fork close to her body. She had on a concerned expression however, and tightened her grip a little more. "What are we supposed to do, Danny? It doesn't look like we can bring Nebilim down without destroying Caleb in the process!"
"No... you're not beating me... Not when I'm so close to freedom!" Nebilim growled as he rose from the floor unsteadily, pieces of debris falling from him as he moved. He flared his wing and leaped into the air, a circle of demonic pictographs tracing themselves out in flames below him. The sky darkened and Tucker looked around himself fearfully as he adjusted his aim and shot off a few more bursts of the Lens gun. The rest of the group hesitated in any further attacks at the sight, looking around for some clue as to what kind of spell was coming.
The circle of runes spun beneath the hovering demon king, three smaller circles blooming into view around it. Alarmed, Jazz turned and ran to join Sam and Danny, Valerie and Tucker both darting over as well, all in anticipation of Danny putting up a shield to cover them.
"I'll admit, you caused quite a bit of damage to my beautiful body, but no matter." Nebilim laughed maliciously, lifting a hand to point at them. "It means nothing! Nothing at all! You little fools! Did you really think you stood a chance against me? The ruler of Niflheim? The King of Demons?" he purred, smile wide and sharp as he tilted his head in amusement, "You are but playthings to me, now that I possess this deviously angelic body. Even you, my once coveted vessel. I humored you with this battle, but now playtime's over." Nebilim's expression took on the appearance of a cat gleefully playing with a cornered mouse and about to finish it off. "Time to die, little children!"
Danny lifted his hands hurriedly, already preparing to summon the Ghost Shield to protect them all and buy time to think of another angle of attack. "No!" Caleb's voice yelled again, halting the halfa's movements abruptly as he snapped his head down to look towards the floating demon.
Nebilim seemed to be twisting and writhing in place, jerking about like a puppet on strings being fought over by two bratty toddlers. His eyes were screwed shut, teeth clenched together tightly, but it looked like the redhead was struggling to get his limbs under his control, the massive circles of runes flickering out beneath him.
"Y-you were sup-posed t-to have n-no hope left! How are y-you fighting me?" he growled, trying to pull his arms away from his sides where they'd been forcefully pinned.
"Can't... hold him!" Caleb gasped out after wresting away control of his mouth again, "Last shot...! Take it! Hurry!"
Sam blinked and whipped her head around to stare at the halfa floating above them. "Danny! That Phantom Lance you did!" she cried, "Use it again! Aim for his crystals! He's leaving Nebilim open for it!" Danny gaped at her in shock, shaking his head in disbelief. The Goth pointed emphatically at the writhing demon king. "He has the Tri-Crystal System!" she yelled louder, "But he was built to use only one for his life! The others are for extra power!" Jazz and Tucker both cried out in realization.
"That's right! The other crystals are for casting spells and as backup!" the carrot-top exclaimed with renewed hope, "Danny! Destroy the other two crystals and Nebilim won't be able to do anything in Caleb's body!"
He hesitated; there was no nice way of saying it in his own mind. Danny hesitated to use that attack, eyes wide and body trembling as he watched his newest friend burn through what little mana he had left to make himself vulnerable to a final blow. How could he be asked to do that? For all anyone knew, the fact that the three crystals were intact was what was giving Caleb just enough mana to cling to his own body. If two were destroyed, would that last one be enough to keep his soul anchored?
"Phantom Lance." Danny murmured, sweeping a hand before himself as the Light-infused ectomana shaped itself into a gleaming white-green sword. He grabbed the hilt and swallowed hard, recalling where Kratos had rested the tip of his sword on Caleb's chest so long ago, the angle that would drive it right into the Tri-Crystal System. He was still trembling, fear and doubt creeping into his limbs and making him feel sluggish, heavy, clumsy. It would be so very easy to make a mistake, to pierce all three gems and end all hope of reuniting Caleb and Wren, end all hope of the Heroes of the world being protected.
End the life of a friend he was just getting to know...
Soothing warmth pulsed out from just under his heart, radiating into his arms and legs, relaxing them, calming them, and coaxing Danny into taking a deep, steadying breath, closing his eyes. The Eternal Sword Pin and the tattered green ribbon burned reminders of Caleb's trust into his hip from where they rested in his pocket. The Wonder Chef had faith in him; Caleb had faith in him; his friends had faith in him. He couldn't blow it by letting fear and doubt corrupt his movements now.
Nebilim threw his head back and howled in outrage, straining to free his arms from confinement, a furious blaze erupting around his body to match his rage. The blast of hot wind pushed the teens back, forcing them to lift their arms protectively as they watched the growing inferno that swallowed up the demon king and made it all the harder to see where exactly he hovered in the air.
Danny didn't bother to open his eyes, just took another deep breath, aimed the Phantom Lance... and shot forward, imitating a perfect Sonic Thrust despite having never seen the skill used before.
There was the sound of shattering crystal a split second after Danny Phantom was engulfed in the wildfire surrounding Nebilim, a sound that seemed far louder than the scream of unholy rage coming out of the center of that firestorm.
After that was the familiar snap in the air that signaled the defeat of a monster, the inferno exploding outward like a star gone nova and lighting up the battlefield.
It took only a few moments for everyone's vision to clear, and the first thing the teens saw was the sight of Danny Phantom gripping the Phantom Lance at a strange angle, the blade driven straight through Caleb's chest from the left and extending out from just behind his right shoulder. The android was once again in his normal servant outfit, head hanging down, limbs hanging limply, wing extended but inactive.
He looked very much dead.
Finally, the two of them dropped out of the air, crashing to the glass platform. Danny let go of the sword and it blinked out of existence, the halfa lying in a stunned daze as he stared up at the cloudy red sky, gasping for air. Was it over? Was it all finally over?
"Danny!" Sam blurted out, racing ahead of the other teens to his side, "Are you okay? Why are you holding your nose? Deep breaths; don't gulp down air like that!"
"You did it! I mean, we all fought Nebilim with everything we had, but you dealt the last blow!" Jazz exclaimed excitedly, pulling her little brother up by the hands. Her eyes sparkled with joy. "We beat him, Danny! We can go home now!"
The halfa's mouth moved, forming silent words that neither of the girls quite caught. Valerie hefted her rifle onto her shoulder, hand rising to her forehead as she scanned the platform, expression hidden by her mask. Tucker knelt by Caleb's prone body, PDA out in his hand as he pushed on the android's shoulder, rolling him onto his back.
"Damages are up to about fifty-eight percent. Shouldn't be that bad, but since most of that is physical damage to the Tri-Crystal System..." the techno-geek reported, trailing off as he began prodding around the gaping wound now mostly covered over by Caleb's clothing. He frowned tightly, turning his attention to the glowing green shards of crystal scattered around the android.
"Danny, speak up. I can't hear you. What are you saying?" Sam questioned in concern, noticing the half-ghost repeating words in a soft voice. He moved his hand from pressing against his sinuses to his throat, coughing as ghostly healing focused on the blistering caused by inhaling flames.
"Is... Caleb... alive?" Danny managed to rasp out. Jazz turned to dig out a container of food from the travel pack slung around Tucker's shoulders as Sam blinked in confusion, then uttered a small cry of realization.
"Ah, that's right, you destroyed at least one of the crystals, but we don't know for sure how many you got with Phantom Lance!" she exclaimed. Danny shook his head and she looked confused again. "But..." Sam began.
"I remember... how Kratos pointed..." Danny wheezed, poking himself with a fingertip, just below the center of his chest and tracing up to his sternum, "So I... pointed this way..." And he poked at his left side before tracing to his sternum again, bypassing the center of his chest entirely. "Get it?" He accepted the container of miso stew from Jazz as Sam squinted as his body, piecing together the clues. Her eyes went wide again.
"Ohh~! I get it! Kratos had been aiming to kill, and Caleb was built to be as human-like as possible." the Goth exclaimed, "That means the main crystal that supports his life would be placed where a human heart would be; in the center of the chest! So you just drove the blade into the two crystals that were set off center from his main one!" She paused, frowning thoughtfully as Danny ate slowly. "But... how did you know which side to hit to get both extra crystals? You attacked from his left side; what if the crystals were oriented to his right?"
Danny just smiled, setting the spoon back down in the container. "Haven't you noticed?" he asked with a faint chuckle, "When Caleb casts spells, he uses his left hand to draw out the runes. That's not just because he's holding something in his right hand; I figured it was easier to send mana to his left hand for using magic because the crystal for that is set on the left. And since we all saw the Tri-Crystal System is shaped like a crooked triangle, the backup crystal had to be right across and up from it. Caleb said the biggest of the three crystals was dedicated to keeping him alive, remember? The image he showed us back in Tucker's level; the biggest was at the bottom of the triangle, right where Kratos had put his sword back in my level."
"Why can't you apply that kind of critical thinking to your schoolwork?" Jazz complained, taking the container from him and stuffing it back into the travel bag.
"Well, to answer that first question, yeah." Tucker suddenly interrupted, looking over his friends with a grim expression, "Caleb's still alive, but just barely." He held up the shards of glowing green crystal. "The main crystal is still intact, but if I'm right on what he did, he won't be alive too much longer." he pointed out, "He turned his mana crystals into ectomana crystals; good for Nebilim bait, but suckish for anchoring a soul to a machine."
"Can't we swap crystals then?" Danny demanded, crawling over to brush Caleb's fringe out of his face for a better look at the android. A faintly pained grimace greeted him, dark eyes staring emptily at the sky like the halfa had done just moments earlier. "Why aren't his eyes the right color?"
"All power's being diverted to try keeping his soul in place. His senses are shut off to conserve power." Tucker told him and shook his head, "There's barely enough to keep him alive for maybe ten-fifteen minutes. We can't swap crystals because it's the only one active in his body. If we take it out, there won't be enough residual mana to anchor his soul."
"So... he's dying right now because the main crystal doesn't have enough mana to power all these charms in him?" Jazz questioned in horror, "And if we try to swap out for a pure mana crystal, he'll instantly die?" Tucker nodded. "How horrible... What are we going to do? Can't we just put a crystal in one of the other settings? They're not that badly..."
"You saw the way the sword ran through him." Tucker growled softly, free hand rubbing at his forehead distractedly, "It would have torn right through those settings." Sam turned her attention towards Danny, the halfa's hand going to the pocket where he kept the Pin stashed. That familiar determined glower on his face told her everything he was thinking.
"Do you even know how to use the Eternal Sword Pin?" she asked softly.
"Caleb said he just made wishes on it and it would grant them. He just had to be careful to be specific." Danny replied quietly and slipped his fingers into his pocket, "If I tell it to restore the damaged settings..."
"Hey, people, we beat the crap out of Nebilim and won, right?" Valerie suddenly declared, her voice carrying over the group and pulling all attention to her. She lowered her hand and looked over her shoulder at them, wary confusion surrounding her stance.
"Caleb's back to normal; dying, thanks for your concern, but back to normal. Sooo... yes?" Jazz returned just as warily, "Why ask?"
"Because I don't see an altar for burning the Book with Soulfire." Valerie returned darkly, "Or a teleporter to another level."
For a few brief seconds, everyone froze in place, letting those words sink in and trigger a chain reaction of understanding in the other teens. No altar and no teleporter. According to the Symphonian Cultures textbook, the altar appeared on the final level after defeating Nebilim. If it didn't appear, then it meant Nebilim hadn't been defeated.
Nebilim hadn't been defeated.
Nebilim was still alive.
A scream of agony suddenly ripped out of Caleb's mouth, the android arching in place as the same cloud of malevolent black smoke that had sucked him in at the beginning now flooded out of his body. It soared over the scattering teens, twisting through the air before finally settling down a few yards away, convulsing in place, expanding and shaping itself into something else.
Caleb collapsed once the last of Nebilim's shapeless form escaped him, a soft whimper sounding from him before that, too, was cut off to conserve mana for his life functions. Danny growled as he took to the air as well, hands clenching into fists.
"Tucker, Sam! Stay with Caleb!" he barked out, "Valerie, Jazz, stay with me!" He glared at the murky cloud now solidifying into a pure black shadow, a shadow shaped like a winged serpent rivaling Princess Dorothea's dragon-self in size. "It looks like some jerk hasn't gotten the idea to stay freaking beat the first time!"
The serpent moved its head as though laughing silently, hovering in place as its wings flapped slowly. "Ready for the real battle now, children?" Nebilim purred, "I promise you, by the end of this, you'll regret not letting me kill you while possessing that beautiful angel body!" And the serpent shot forward, straight at the three teens facing off against it.