A final bolt of lightning hit the blob of flesh that had taken the place of Vektul. With it came perhaps the loudest sound that Eva had ever heard. A constant roar of thunder for several seconds until it finally faded to a faint buzzing.
Rather than merely vanishing into aether as normal lightning bolts did, this one persisted. It burned brighter and brighter. Eva wasn’t quite willing to glance away. Vektul’s mass appeared to have fallen into some sort of torpor, but Eva wouldn’t count on it staying that way.
To keep her eyes from burning out of her skull, Eva stretched a few thin layers of blood over her eyes. The black blood acted somewhat like sunglasses. Which really didn’t do much while staring at something that was as bright as the sun. A few more layers darkened the surrounding ritual circle to the point where Eva could barely see anything at all.
But she could still see. Especially all the light from the lightning.
And the lightning just wasn’t stopping.
Prior to the lightning, Vektul’s flesh had been what one expected of flesh. By appearance, it had a leathery texture and brownish color. But as the lightning continued, bright purple veins started to bulge out around the massive tumor.
Eva wasn’t sure what it was with all the glowing. First all the beams of light from the ritual circle. Then Void’s skeletal fiery light glowing from within his smoky body. And now this blob of flesh that was likely Life itself—or a hair on Life’s head, to use the avatar of Void’s example. That wasn’t even going into all the other glowing things, such as demon eyes.
Life and Void were the things most glowing in the local area. Aside from the ritual circle itself, that was. Eva did not want to be between the two of them. The very second the ritual circle’s light died off, she fully intended to blink to the edges of the circle.
So long as she wasn’t stuck in place once again. If that happened…
But still, she had yet to feel any inclination to bow despite Life being a being of presumably equal power to Void. In fact, she found her temper heating up as she stared at the mass of flesh that had once been Vektul. It didn’t even have arms or legs anymore. Just a series of writhing tentacles—most of which Eva had pruned off. Had it not been attacking Void, so much could have been avoided. Not only would Arachne not have had a Power shoved into her carapace, but Juliana and Shalise probably would never have been stuck in Hell. Zagan only dropped them in there because he had been trying to figure out what had been going on.
Which was Life’s fault.
It felt weird, being an enemy of Life. She was sure that if she said as much out loud, everyone would look at her funny.
Eva clenched her fists.
Frankly, she doubted that she would care at this point. What a world she lived in when Life was the villain and demons were the good guys. Probably. So long as Void actually gave Arachne back.
Otherwise she might consider looking into ritual circles to summon another Power to punch the lights out of Void if she couldn’t manage it herself.
Eva’s musing came to an end along with the light from the final bolt of lightning. Its brightness waned to a barely visible level. With a light popping noise, it vanished from existence. The faint buzzing that had been constant for who knew how long disappeared along with it, leaving the ritual circle in absolute silence once again.
She waited. When the first ritual had finished, this had been the moment when Arachne’s smoky body had taken on its fiery countenance. However, Vektul was already glowing bright purple. His tentacles, those Eva hadn’t sliced off and tossed into the great inferno raging overhead, lay flat on the ground. They weren’t even twitching.
Something had to happen soon. The air was thick with tension. And also the unpleasant scent of burned flesh, but that probably wasn’t part of the ritual so much as it had to do with the flames and the lightning. Eva felt safe in ignoring it with little more than a wrinkle of her nose.
But even waiting a few moments, the blob hadn’t made a move. The ritual circle was still glowing and the eye overhead was still staring down through the violet-hued portals. So perhaps it wasn’t quite over yet. But Eva expected something to happen.
Another buzzing started up. Low buzzing. The sound was low and loud enough that Eva could actually feel the vibrations inside her chest. It took a moment to realize that the noise was growling. And it was coming from behind her.
Glancing over her shoulder at the avatar of Void, Eva watched for a moment as it cut off the breath of lightning and fire with a slight cough. It waited as well without stopping the low hum. For a few moments, it did nothing more than stare up at the portals, locking eyes with the sole eye.
“Is it finished?” Eva called out.
Only then did the thing finally break its contact with the eye. It turned its burning gaze onto Eva and stared.
Eva didn’t flinch. She met its eyes and glared back. The thing had taken over Arachne and she wasn’t about to give it any power over her by acting frightened. If anything, the Life avatar was far more intimidating. It had actually tried attacking her.
You still stand despite being in the presence of two of us?
“Is it finished?”
The light between its teeth dimmed. Maybe it was like grinding its teeth together. Did it even have proper emotions like anger? Or annoyance for that matter. Eva hoped not. It might decide that she wasn’t needed for this ritual after all if she kept ordering it around.
But Eva couldn’t help it. She wanted this whole thing done with. To get Arachne back. For everything to go back to normal. It was odd. She had known about Life for a good while now. Yet she hadn’t cared nearly so much until the ritual had actually started. She knew that it was important to see it through properly.
Eva found it difficult to care about Life at the moment. Especially while it wasn’t even attacking her. Maybe later. The big blob of flesh didn’t look too threatening anyway. In that aspect, Void had definitely made Arachne into a much more threatening avatar than Life had done to Vektul. Flesh tended to burn, tear, rip, rend, disintegrate, fall apart, and generally just die when it came into contact with creative enough magic. Smoke didn’t.
Though maybe Zoe could have just whisked her wand and scattered Void to the winds.
Eva’s train of thought screeched to a halt as she shook her head. For some reason, her mind had been scattered. She kept going off on odd tangents entirely unrelated to anything relevant. It had been that way since the ritual began. Which, now that she was thinking about it, seemed suspicious.
Was the ritual itself affecting her mind? Did watching Arachne’s transformation cause some trauma that her mind was trying to gloss over by focusing on the little things? Or was it something else entirely?
With a second shake of her head, Eva clamped down on her thoughts. She was doing it again. Rather than think, she merely glared at the avatar of Void and waited for a response.
It took a while, but it eventually vibrated the air in its strangely elegant speech.
Not quite. Where what you see of me might be likened to a hair on your head, what you see of it might be a segment of your brain.
Eva frowned, glancing back towards the still mass of flesh. Poor Vektul. He had been turned into a brain. Or part of one. With how empty he had felt, Eva had to wonder if Void hadn’t created him specifically to act as the vessel.
“So you lobotomized it?” she said, turning her attention back to the avatar behind her. “Why was it fighting us earlier and not now?”
That may be an apt word for the situation. Lobotomized. Only temporarily, however. We are not yet finished. As for why it was attacking, it was because it recognized an attack. Now that this section has been separated from the main body, it will not stay that way for long. It will rapidly regrow this missing section. This reprieve will not last indefinitely.
“Of course not,” Eva said with only a slight grumble. “So how do we kill it?”
Kill? I do not believe the concept of death holds any meaning to this being.
“Powers can be killed,” Eva said, voice firm. Catherine had complained about the elves often enough for her to have gathered most of the story. With the death of their Power, they lost their unique magics and newly born elves were not immortal. Essentially, their identity as a people had been tied to their Power and they had lost everything with its death. Probably more than that as well.
Ah, but this isn’t just any of us. I know of no way to slaughter this menace, as much as I wish I could. The only being with that knowledge might be Death. And He isn’t telling.
“I hope your plan is a bit more involved than repeatedly summoning a portion of its brain until it decides to give up.”
The avatar laughed. Actually laughed. The very air around Eva chuckled along with it. Eva found the sound unsettling. Like riding a roller coaster—it was the feeling of her stomach dropping out from under her. Repeatedly. And constantly.
Though it did answer the question of whether or not the avatar had feelings. Maybe. Laughter could merely be something it had learned from watching demons and humans. Or it might be its way of expressing despair. Eva couldn’t say anything with any certainty. At least not beyond the growing unease in her chest. That was definitely there.
No, fool. Such a thing would not go over well. We have perhaps two more chances should this fail before summoning portions of its brain becomes only a minor irritation. The disgusting monstrosity that it is will adapt and find a way around the inconvenience of having no brain.
For just a moment, Eva wondered if the avatar was still speaking metaphorically. If so, a hair on Void’s head was quite intelligent. Also Void had a head. And hair.
I will corrupt it.
Tangents. Eva thought with a growl, barely managing to avoid slapping her own cheek. The avatar’s words registered a moment after.
Was that a good idea? To corrupt Life itself? Would that affect humans? Demons were alive. What would happen to them? The better question to ask was how much Life affected living things. People, humans and demons, were not enigmas. They didn’t go around mindlessly eating everything in their path. Usually. And when they did, they didn’t take on aspects of what they consumed.
Which meant that it was probably safe.
Eva didn’t get a chance to ponder any further. Behind her, one of the tentacles twitched. She whirled around with her great razor wings spread to their maximum wingspan. A thin beam of light stretched from some indefinite point overhead down to the highest tip of the… brain.
Ah, it’s trying to reconnect with its severed self before trying to regrow the segment. Perfect.
“Perfect,” Eva repeated with a scoff as the tip of her wings struck the tentacle. Without the avatar spewing fire into the air, she didn’t have any way to permanently get rid of the thing. It wasn’t quite active yet, but she doubted it would be long. Instead, she broke off the tips of her wings into the ground, pinning it in place for the time being. With her endless supply of blood, reconstructing her wings wasn’t difficult in the slightest.
Hopefully the spikes of blood wouldn’t hurt the ritual. None were near any glowing lines, so it was probably safe.
Gritting her teeth, Eva severed another tentacle before it could become a problem and pinned it to the ground.
Eva had been about to turn over her shoulder and shout at the avatar to incinerate all the tentacles. She stopped the moment she caught sight of Void.
All the fiery glow had dimmed to barely embers. The mane of flames making up its hair had gone out, leaving just the smoke from the main body. Behind him, Eva could see the light from the ritual circle fading out around the edges. The bright violet grew faint pink before being extinguished entirely.
And it didn’t stop at the edge. The color drained further inwards, starting slow but moving faster and faster. In seconds, the absence of light spread all the way up to Eva’s central position, leaving her with no light save for the evening rays of the sun.
“Was that supposed to happen?” Eva shouted. Maybe she actually had messed something up with the ritual circle.
Behind the hulking form of Void’s avatar, Genoa brought a foot up. Her movements weren’t quite steady. She wobbled a little as she put weight on her foot. Still, she managed to stand on her own two feet. It took a few more moments, but others started standing as well.
Shaking her head, Eva refocused on what had once been Vektul.
But it was no longer moving. The twitches in the tentacles stilled as it lay slumped into its own flesh. The beam of light vanished just as quickly as it had come. Eva watched it for a few moments, waiting to see if it was merely pretending. When stabbing its main mass with her wings elicited no response, Eva finally turned away.
Ignoring the slowly recovering humans and demons around the arena, Eva blinked out of her circle and right in front of Arachne. She was still the three-story-tall smoky Avatar of Void, but the last embers of what had been glowing within her had died down. Nothing but wispy black smog remained behind. Yet it still stood mostly upright on its hind legs, supported by the lower pair of arms. It hadn’t collapsed into a formless pile of smoke.
“Arachne,” she said, voice soft. Though she didn’t really wait for an answer. She had a feeling that she would have been waiting for a rather long time.
Before, Eva had been distracted. Between being locked in place, the ritual, Arachne, Vektul, and the avatars, one thing slipped her mind. She hadn’t actually checked Arachne with her blood sight. Not since the first part of the ritual had finished, at least. Now, closer and with her head not quite as foggy, Eva stared at the avatar.
There was nothing left of her friend. No blood. No brains. Nor any organs. As far as she could tell with her sense of blood, there wasn’t anything in front of her at all.
Stretching out with timid fingers, Eva raked her claws through the smoke and encountered no resistance. Were it not for her eyes, she wouldn’t know that the thing was there at all. It didn’t even have a smell despite its appearance. She supposed that it might have a taste, but she wasn’t about to try licking it.
“That was a pain in the… everywhere. Especially my knees and my back,” Genoa said, brushing some dirt from her knees with one hand. Her other held tight to her dagger as she eyed the mass of smoke that was the avatar. “What’s happened? Is it done with?”
Eva shook her head before glancing towards Genoa. She had seen the woman coming through her blood sight and hadn’t even blinked an eye at her sudden question. “I don’t think so. I think something went wrong.” Eva pointed a finger up without raising her gaze to meet the eye overhead. “The portals are still there.”
Genoa made to glance up, but Eva waved a hand in front of her face. “Don’t look at it. It creeps me out.”
Nodding her head and licking her lips, Genoa said, “We can’t leave things as they are.”
“I heartedly concur.” Turning, Eva homed in on the one person present who might be able to figure out exactly what had happened. Only for her to realize that none of the demons had moved. Zoe was moving around between the students, ensuring that they were all unharmed. Most of them were looking far more unsteady than Genoa. But the demons, besides having stood up, hadn’t budged in the slightest. All of them had their eyes locked on Eva.
Or the avatar. Probably the avatar. Standing right in front of it, it was a bit hard to tell. There wasn’t any reason for them to be staring at Eva. All of them had seen her plenty of times before. Aside from the blood coating her body and the wings sprouting from her back, Eva was fairly certain that she wasn’t doing anything odd.
Even Lucy, who Eva would have expected to be moving about and most irreverent of them all, was frozen in place.
Cupping her hands to her mouth, Eva called out, “Catherine, come–” She cut herself off with a slight throat-clearing cough. “Come here!”
The succubus burst into motion well before Eva had finished asking her to. None of the others had broken from their reverie, but that really wasn’t Eva’s problem at the moment. Eva just waited, tapping her foot with growing impatience while Catherine hurried over. The succubus wasn’t using her wings for some unfathomable reason despite having been clear across the ritual circle.
But eventually she made it, stopping just in front of Eva with a dazed look in her eyes—not quite looking at anything in particular. She snapped out of it soon enough. Her eyes snapped to the smoky visage of the dormant avatar for almost a full minute until Eva clicked the tips of her fingers against her chitin, spreading the blood away from her hand to do so. Locking eyes with Eva, she said, “Don’t… Just don’t do that again.”
“What, the ritual?”
“No. Just–” She ran her fingers through her hair, sending it swishing over one shoulder. “Your voice. Talk to me normally or don’t talk at all.”
Eva blinked, but slowly nodded her head. “Alright.” She wasn’t quite sure what she had done aside from cuping her mouth and shouting. Catherine looked a bit too unsettled to be concerned over a little yelling. Though with everything going on, Eva wouldn’t blame her for not wanting any more stress piled on. “I’ll try to keep that in mind. For now, what went wrong? It wasn’t those spikes of blood, was it?” she said with a vague gesture back towards Life’s avatar.
“I don’t think…” Catherine turned her head, moving back and forth between Void and Life. “They’re not moving.”
Genoa huffed. “Tell us something we don’t know.” She almost tipped her head upwards before a small shudder wracked her body. “Now that you’ve mentioned it, that thing is absurdly creepy. Figure out whatever, I need to check on Juliana.”
As she walked off, Eva turned back to Catherine. “Astounding observational skills aside, I was hoping for something a little more insightful.”
“I told you this was too soon. I hadn’t finished researching it. Zoe and I barely finished our corrections!” She let out a low growl as her eyes found the ground. “Give me ten minutes,” she said as she walked off, following one of the many lines of the ritual circle.
Eva first glanced to the unmoving Avatar of Life before sneaking a glance upwards. The eye overhead bulged over on one side with an overabundance of some putrid mass. She tore her gaze away before she could get caught staring at it.
One thing was certain, the portal was fully open and it was watching them. If it couldn’t reconnect with its severed chunk of brain, it would probably try regrowing the chunk. When that happened, with the portals opened wide…
“I hope we have ten minutes.”