The light of the ritual circle blazed to life as Eva pressed a slight bit of magic into the center of the circle. Around her, back in their spots, everyone knelt with far more nervous faces than they had when they first started out today—if that was possible.
They weren’t kneeling because they were forced to. At least not yet. Despite the glowing violet light of the ritual circle having reached the outer edge, both avatars were still entirely inert. Apparently, when Arachne had first started changing, a few of the others had hit the ground hard enough that they scraped their knees. Zoe had said that it was lucky nobody had cracked their kneecaps. By kneeling in advance, they were hoping to avoid a repeat.
That was, everyone except Catherine and Genoa. Catherine had been able to resist kneeling before and had no inclination to start kneeling now. Genoa… hadn’t said why she was standing. Perhaps because she didn’t believe that either of the avatars were worthy of kneeling to and she wanted to resist. Which Eva could respect.
Eva had no intentions of kneeling to something that had attacked her. Neither would she kowtow to Arachne’s possessor. Not even if she found out Arachne was genuinely alright. It should have found another way. Maybe by sending another empty vessel like Vektul. That might be cruel. Vektul had acted rather like a person. Killing two of them to summon some Powers would have still been better than Arachne. Eva very much believed in protecting those who were close to her first and everyone else later.
Crossing her arms and slowly turning around, Eva watched for anything amiss. The first time they had activated this half of the ritual, lightning had been raining down on them and bringing with it a whole load of monsters. The avatar’s fire had kept it all at bay. This time, if everyone else wound up kneeling permanently, Eva might be the only defense for a while. Though perhaps with Juliana’s help. Eva still didn’t want Juliana directly interacting with the ritual. She was perfectly capable of ejecting anything dangerous from the area.
But nothing dangerous was happening. A lightning bolt struck far off in the distance. The earth rumbled—only a little, barely enough to make Eva need to widen her stance. Still nothing actually touched the ritual circle itself. The avatars stayed dormant and the portals overhead remained stable.
Just as she was about to try to shut down the ritual in order to further confer with Catherine and Zoe, a thin beam of light struck Vektul.
The mass of flesh immediately started stirring. The tiny stubs where Eva had chopped off tentacles twisted around impotently on the body, just reinforcing her decision to remove the limbs. More flesh started growing outwards from the nubs.
Eva hadn’t started the ritual unprepared.
A clap of her hands exploded a small portion of the avatar. Prepared spheres of blood covered its mass of flesh, each primed and ready to go off. It wouldn’t last forever, but maybe long enough to finish the ritual.
Glancing over her shoulder, Eva started scowling. While the Avatar of Life was growing active, the Avatar of Void was not. It remained in its spot where it hadn’t moved since the ritual collapsed. Two legs and two arms propped it up while its head stared straight at its foe, though its eyes were still empty. No light. No life.
A scream tore Eva’s attention back in front of her. One tentacle stretched out across the ritual circle. This one was not aimed at her. She clapped her hands together almost reflexively, detonating a series of her spheres around one tentacle nub. She made it in time to keep the tentacle that had grown from reaching Shalise. But the explosion didn’t stop it completely. The dismembered thing slithered across the ground.
Serena, still dressed in her poofy winter gear, darted across the ritual circle. Her feet didn’t even touch the ground until she crossed half the distance to Shalise. Then, she touched once to keep up her momentum.
Eva wasn’t entirely sure what she should do. She had been somewhat nervous about having Serena close to the ritual. She was an enemy of the Elysium Order and, therefore, likely an ally or agent of Life. The only reason Eva had agreed to her presence was because they were summoning Void. If a Power couldn’t handle one little vampire, they were in dire straights indeed.
Only now, her Power was taking a nap while they needed it.
Attacking Serena didn’t quite sit right with Eva. Serena was one of those few who she would protect first. Not first first. Arachne was first. There were probably several other people between Arachne and Serena. But Serena was definitely not an ‘everyone else.’
Eva’s hesitation took the choice out of her hands.
Serena sailed straight over the top of Shalise, grabbing hold of the tentacle and stopping it mere centimeters from Shalise’s face. Her feet touched down just on the inside edge of Shalise’s circle. The second her feet hit the stone, she spun around and flung the snake-like tentacle right towards Eva.
Raising one of her bone-shaped wings, Eva caught the tentacle like a pencil might catch a straw. As the tip of her wing passed through the tentacle’s body, she left several deposits of blood. A clap of her hands vaporized the entire thing.
Back near Shalise, Serena collapsed with one arm propping her up and the other curled across her chest. Right where her coat was torn from being tossed into a tree. It looked at first like she had been forced to kneel. Eva quickly spotted the gash in the vampire’s puffy coat sleeve. A fine gray powder leaked out from inside. She didn’t stay down for long. A second or two later, she dashed off, making haste in removing herself from the ritual circle.
Eva found herself grinding her teeth together. That answered that question. Serena was her own person and she would be on their side for the foreseeable future. She had even gotten injured doing so. Some sunlight must have made it through her coat. The dust was ash.
Bradley Twillie’s magizoology classes only covered vampires lightly. Eva hadn’t signed up for more in-depth classes as she chose golemancy and warding as her electives. As such, she wasn’t sure how well Serena could heal from sunlight damage. Hopefully well enough with time and blood. If not, Eva might consider chopping off her own arm and seeing how well it grafted onto a vampire. Just as thanks. As a soon-to-be full demon, a severed arm should only be an inconvenience for a short time.
So long as Eva paid proper attention, Serena shouldn’t need to intervene again. Unfortunately, even as she clapped her hands together to destroy another tentacle, Eva realized that she wouldn’t be able to contain the avatar for long. It was a war of attrition and not one that she could keep up in. Soon enough, her prepared bombs of blood would run out. She could move on to slicing off tentacles with her wings or generate more blood and throw it around the ritual circle. But for how long? How long would the Avatar of Void remain dormant?
Indefinitely, obviously. Realization dawned on her.
They had messed up.
The ritual would never reactivate Void’s avatar. It wasn’t intended to. This ritual was designed to bring the slice of Life’s brain into the mortal realm. The previous ritual had been the one to summon Void. They would have needed to swap the positions of the two avatars and then reset the lines Eva had been forced to claw into the center. Perhaps they would have needed to have gone over the entire thing again from start to finish in order to make sure that no other changes had been made by Void while the avatar had been crawling around the circle. Which was entirely possible.
And entirely too late. They had already restarted. Eva could try skewering the ritual circle again. But she couldn’t remember the exact spots she had hit. If that had even been the actual cause of the ritual shutting down in the first place. Eva still wasn’t so sure. With a ritual circle as large as they had, there were bound to be minor flaws in the stone or elsewhere around the area that Catherine and Zoe hadn’t caught. Catherine had said that none of the spots her spikes had touched should have been interacting with anything else.
Can’t dwell on the past. What could she do about it now?
Void wanted to corrupt Life. How? Eva hadn’t the slightest clue. Likely some enigmatic method known only to the Power.
Would destroying this segment of the brain put Life into dormancy long enough to come up with a better plan?
No. Void had said that Life would simply grow it back. It was possible that the avatar had meant over the course of millions of years, but its statement about how they only had a few chances at this made her think otherwise. Hopefully it hadn’t already grown it back and that was why the earthquakes and lightning had started up. If so, they may all be wasting their time trying this ritual again.
A bolt of lightning struck not far from Eva. The tip of her wing pierced through the expanding mass left behind. She took care not to scratch the surface of the stone as she hoisted the wood-like lump into the air and clapped her hands together.
A second, much thinner beam hit Vektul. Unlike the other lightning bolts, which all came from some abstract point overhead, this beam came straight down from the eye. It didn’t fade away immediately either, but neither did it grow in intensity. Just like before.
Activity on the mass of flesh tripled in intensity as more and more tentacles started sprouting off the sides. A slab of skin slid down from the top, revealing a massive eyeball with a lopsided pupil. Looking closer, it wasn’t the pupil that was lopsided. Several other smaller eyes bulging out from the large one just made it seem that way.
Was this it? What Void had been talking about? Life might be trying to reconnect with its severed part. Assuming Void had intended to begin corrupting Life right away, then conditions were now ‘perfect‘ to use its word. Or it would be perfect if the avatar was actually active.
Eva glanced back over her shoulder. Just a quick glance at the body of the immobile avatar. She had been holding out just a slight glimmer of hope that it would wake up and fix everything. But it looked like that wasn’t the case.
It would be up to her to figure something out.
Eva blinked as another bolt of lightning hit the ritual circle. This one was too far. Near the edge. Rather than a mass of flesh, this one looked more like a base enigma. It didn’t quite have enough legs and its back was smooth. Eva didn’t get much of a chance to stare at it any further. Blinking again, it had tumbled over on top of the ritual circle, leaking blood. Or rather, its insides weren’t inside anymore. Another blink and it looked like nothing had ever happened.
Which was great news. The only ones Eva could think of who might be able to do such a thing were Juliana and Zagan. If they were keeping people safe along with Serena, Eva could take a moment to think.
Eva dropped her shoulders, letting her wings shift to compensate for another tremble in the ground. Slowly she turned to stare fully at the Avatar of Void, only keeping watch on the Life equivalent through her sense of blood.
Could she draw out a summoning circle in the air, just around the smoking beast? They had needed this massive circle to summon whatever sliver they had managed to pull through, but the body was already there. Surely it could slip through a standard summoning circle and take over what was already here.
So long as she used her blood and kept it off the primary ritual circle, it shouldn’t interfere. So long as she had her ritual circle theory down. Zoe’s class wasn’t really supposed to go in depth into that subject for another year or two. It might have been a good thing to research up on her own prior to starting anything, but it was obviously too late now.
Eva threw out an arm. With it, a stream of blood snapped around the avatar. Inside the perfect circle, Eva drew out a star and several assorted lines and sigils. Constructing it out of blood took mere seconds thanks to her being able to build the entire thing with nothing more than a thought. She didn’t have an enticement to toss in. If the avatar’s body wasn’t enough of an enticement for Void, she didn’t know what would work.
Unable to move closer, Eva left a thin strand of blood stretched between her and the circle. She treated it like an extension of her own arm and forced her magic through it and into the summoning circle.
Another set of glowing lines started up as the floating circle started to rotate in mid-air. It was a strange sensation. Eva could sense her blood being stationary, right where she had left it. Yet she could see it ticking around the circle with her own eyes.
And she could see something stretching out from the circle. Thick tentacles, each tipped with a maw of teeth and lined with eyes.
Definitely not the flaming light that had once inhabited the avatar’s smoky body.
The real question was, did she let the enigma continue to come through in the hopes that Void might slip through sometime, or did she cut it off now.
A lightning bolt passed straight through the intangible Avatar and struck the emerging enigma.
Eva wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen, but she had not expected it to explode. Blood and puss splattered everywhere, spraying out from the summoning circle. But it was only the outer layer. Rather than the organic and bloated mess that accompanied many of Life’s minions, a smooth sphere with legs finished climbing out of the summoning circle. The white shell cracked like an egg as it rushed across the surface of the main ritual circle.
Right towards Eva.
Eva swiped out. Whatever it was, it wasn’t of Hell. It couldn’t be good for her.
But her wings never connected. The thing disappeared with a pop before Eva could even see what had been inside the egg. Off in the distance, a bright violet light washed over the treetops.
Juliana must have teleported it. That was the only explanation that Eva could think of. Unless it had been designed to teleport away. She didn’t know what the point of it charging at her was, if that was so.
Regardless, Eva collapsed the summoning circle immediately. The avatar hadn’t stirred in the slightest and she could already see the tentacles of another enigma worming its way out of Hell. No sense giving Life another opportunity to ruin everything by letting more enigmas through.
That plan had been a failure. What else could she do?
Behind her, the light from the thin beam of violet that was running between the eye overhead and the brain slice was growing brighter. Slowly, yes, but steadily. Eva didn’t know what that meant. It probably wasn’t going to turn everything to flowers and sunshine.
Or maybe it would, but that was the problem. Eva didn’t really want to be a flower. Especially not a tumorous one. She doubted that anyone else in the immediate area felt differently.
So summoning Void was a bust. Maybe if she had more time or a Catherine who wasn’t twenty yards away, she could figure out a better summoning circle to use.
Turning back to Life, she considered Void’s original intention. Corrupting it. Somehow, she doubted that encouraging it to lie or walking up and shaking a tentacle with a few hundred dollar bills in her hand would work.
Could it actually be so simple?
Probably not, but she didn’t have any better ideas at the moment.
Eva whipped out a small circle of blood in front of her and started filling it in. She stared at the circle, ignoring another bolt of lightning and trusting someone else to take care of it. She didn’t know ritual circle modification theory well enough, but this… It might work.
It would be a pretty big might. But she was out of options. The only other thing was killing the entire ritual and hoping that they could try again at another time.
Eva’s arms shot skyward, filling the air around her with blood. Because of the distance between the two avatars, she would need a lot of it. Enough to make this ritual circle large enough to encompass the two of them.
She would be right in the center. Dangerous but necessary. Not only could she not move because of the primary ritual, but she was needed to keep her blood aloft. Were she to move outside of it, she doubted that her range would allow her to manipulate the far end of the circle she was constructing.
Eva plunged a tendril of blood into the mass of flesh. A second tendril dove into the smoke of Void’s avatar, but without a proper body, Eva was left supporting the tendril entirely through magic. Gritting her teeth, she inserted the opposite ends of each tendril into her wrists.
This ritual—This treatment, for as long as Eva had known about it, it had required the passing of blood. With the Avatar of Void not having blood, she might have to act as a stand-in. Just in case that was entirely unnecessary, Eva did connect the two hollow tubes outside of her body as well, allowing for a bypass.
Everything ready, Eva shot a glance towards Catherine. Who, by her wide eyes, had obviously recognized what Eva was about to attempt. She shouted something, but Eva couldn’t hear. The distance and ambient noise drowned her out.
She was probably saying something like, “Good thinking Eva, this will work. I’m absolutely confident about it. Also you haven’t made a single mistake in the small modifications you made to your treatment circle. Everything is perfect!”
With that hopeful message in mind, Eva poured her magic into the treatment circle overhead and got it underway.
Immediately, Eva felt a drain on her body. Not just blood, which certainly was moving through the tube, but a physical drain that had her slumping forwards. Both tubes were filled with essence. The smoke was draining from the avatar. She couldn’t see it with her sense of blood, but she could feel it pass through her and mix with her blood before moving out the other side.
Her wings of blood darted forwards to catch her before she completely hit the ground, leaving her propped up but hanging slightly. A good thing her wings were working. She couldn’t even flex her fingers.
She could stare at nothing but the ground, though her sense of blood still worked.
Like the Avatar of Void, Life’s avatar ceased moving the moment the ritual started. Something Eva had been hoping for. During her treatment, she and Arachne had always fallen asleep. Powers were obviously beings quite a bit different from humans and demons, but it was nice to see that it had worked.
Eva let out a sigh filled with relief. Maybe this wouldn’t work out in the end. Maybe this wouldn’t corrupt it enough. But it was her best plan.
All she could think of at the moment. It would have to work.