The sky burst into flames.
Catherine couldn’t help herself. Despite the mild danger of being stuck in an almost hypnotic trance should she stare at the massive eye overhead, she looked up.
Burning meteors raced towards the eye from the edges of the shimmering portals. One impacted one of the molten teardrops. Rather than be forced down towards Earth, it continued straight towards the eye, neither stopped or slowed. Everywhere one of the meteors hit, the eye caved inwards. Like a giant bed sheet with bowling balls dropping on top of it.
Plumes of flames burst forth from the impacts.
Less than a minute after Eva disappeared and it already looked as if the world truly was ending.
Though, Catherine didn’t find herself all that concerned. This had been the plan. Probably. Had it occurred when she wasn’t expecting something to happen, Catherine might have worried a little. But Eva said that something would happen and something had happened.
So she turned on her heel. Srey stood there, still staring at the spot where Eva and the avatar had vanished. Unlike Eva, Catherine had a feeling that she knew what had shaken the other demon so.
It was all she could do to pretend nothing had changed.
During Eva’s initial ritual to corrupt the Avatar of Life with the Avatar of Void, she had gone been between the two avatars. And that had not left her unscathed.
Unscathed was probably the wrong word to use. It implied that something bad had happened to Eva. By all appearances, Eva hadn’t been distressed in the slightest. No. She had changed. In a few short minutes, she had gone from feeling like a miniature Zagan to eclipsing him so completely and thoroughly that Catherine had thought she had witnessed the birth of a new Power. For a moment. Further thought revealed the truth.
Obviously Eva hadn’t become a new power. She had only absorbed a sliver of a sliver of a Power. Just because Catherine had trouble distinguishing the feeling between Eva and the Avatar of Void before it had vanished did not mean that Eva had become such a thing.
Of course not.
And yet, Catherine couldn’t help but wish that she had been the one to propose that plan. If she had just been the one to suggest that she stand between them while Eva performed a standard treatment from outside the circle… Catherine shivered just thinking about it.
The ritual circle was well and truly ruined. The hunter hadn’t cared about destroying it in the slightest. Neither had Eva or anyone else for that matter. It would be completely unusable should anyone try. Worse than merely fail, it would probably explode. Violently at that. Catherine did not want to be on this continent when that happened.
But it was unlikely that anyone would be able to gather up six humans and six demons and try to start it anytime soon. Zoe had mentioned wanting to destroy it and all records of how to construct it once they had finished.
Not a bad plan. It would certainly keep those humans who liked to meddle in things they shouldn’t from setting off another apocalypse.
Catherine had a feeling that she wouldn’t be deleting her copy from her phone. It was far too valuable. Perhaps not this century, perhaps not even the next, but one day, Catherine would redo this ritual. Not the whole thing. She had no desire to summon up Life. Just the Avatar of Void.
Of course, the ritual would need to undergo some changes. When the avatar had first formed fully, it had gone around to sniff at each and every participant in the ritual. Never before had Catherine felt such a sensation of impending doom.
Yet nothing had happened.
Unless she made some changes, she had a feeling that such would not be the case in any future rituals of the same type. What she needed was an inert avatar, much like it had become after the ritual had been interrupted. Perhaps after running one or two such rituals of that type, she would feel hearty enough to try with an avatar that was not inert.
Catherine shuddered again. Maybe after one or two hundred inert avatar treatment rituals.
Yes. That was a good plan. The century or two she planned to wait just to ensure that everyone save for Eva and the other demons were dead might actually be mandatory given how many modifications she would need to make. Everything in the ritual circle to do with Life could be safely stripped out. Then she needed either a way to turn the avatar inert without it being a fluke or a modification to summon only inert essence.
Much much to do. But she had time. All the time in the world, in fact.
For the moment, she had another ritual circle to go inspect.
Catherine just about teleported herself when she hesitated. “Srey,” she said, glancing to the stunned demon, “remain here. Ensure no one attempts to interfere with this ritual circle unless they mean to demolish it.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she drew on her magic forcing him to look at her. Such a simple thing would have been impossible on another demon not so long ago. What would she be capable of in a few centuries?
“Yes,” he said immediately. “Sorry. I just… with that thing staring at me.” He tremor ran through his whole body before he shook his head. “And was that demon really the same demon we’ve been helping for the past several months?”
“Don’t get any smart ideas,” Catherine said with a curl of her lips. “The day is not yet over, be vigilant. If there are any surprises, come find help.” She glanced over towards the edge of the circle. “And keep an eye on that nun. If she’s still alive. I don’t know if Eva wants her alive for some reason, so I recommend not killing her without due cause.”
Catherine couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle as she teleported back to the main Brakket Academy building.
Now to find Devon.
— — —
Go take a rest, Eva had said. Take a rest indeed.
How was she supposed to rest when the town was under siege? Every one of those meteors—accompanied by the occasional lightning bolt—spawned another dozen of the enigmas. None of them had hit the ritual circle, so no one there really knew.
Though Genoa had to admit, she had been in far less restful battles. In fact, this might as well be a vacation for her. Juliana was doing a good portion of the work.
Watching her daughter walk down one of the streets of Brakket City while enigmas of varying size, shape, and material—not all of them were fleshy, they had passed one almost entirely made of stone not long ago—turned inside out around her was somewhat disconcerting. Juliana didn’t even have to move a hand. She just looked at them. Boom, inside out enigma.
Disturbing hardly seemed a big enough word. Genoa couldn’t even begin to categorize the feelings running through her as she watched Juliana turn around with a mournful smile.
“So that’s how it is,” Juliana said, a note of finality in her voice. Like she was absolutely certain that she was about to be disowned or something equally ridiculous. She turned away from the most recently inverted enigma with a shudder, looking rather sick.
Genoa couldn’t really blame her. She had never been able to handle such things. It was a wonder she hadn’t fainted outright.
“I can see why you said that you would be fine on your own,” Genoa said as she wrinkled her nose at the last in a long line of twisted monsters. Juliana had insisted that they would do more work saving the town if they split up. Obviously she had been correct. Nothing had sneaked up on Juliana. The one thing that tried ended up just as inverted as everything else. “Can’t you just do that to the entire city at once?”
“Probably. Zagan’s power is finicky though. I don’t want to accidentally kill everyone by messing up.”
“That’s a possibility?”
“Well, yes. Kind of. Zagan listed off a few limitations when he first was showing me how to use his power. One of which was that I cannot directly kill someone. However, turning these enigmas inside out doesn’t directly kill them. They die because they’re inside out.” She paused and scowled at herself. “Or maybe it is directly killing them, but it works on them anyway since enigmas don’t die like normal things. I’ve never actually tried it on a non-enigma.”
“Of course not. But that’s a perfect example of how it could be finicky.”
“But if–” Genoa cut herself off as a few rhythmic beeps came from her pocket. Her cellphone. And the default ring tone as well, meaning it wasn’t Zoe, Eva, or anyone else she had programmed in. “Hello?”
“Is this Genoa?” came the rough yet familiar voice.
“Why does everyone know who I am?”
“We’ve met. I lived at the prison for a few months just a year ago. How could–” Genoa shook her head. “Never mind. Did you need something?”
“You come… highly recommended in the ritual construction industry,” he said, somehow managing to sound extraordinarily sarcastic without changing his gruff tone in the slightest. “I need you back at the Brakket Academy building.”
For the second time in half as many minutes, Genoa cut herself off. This time, it wasn’t because of some minor distraction in her pocket. Nor was it because a horde of enigmas had descended on her and Juliana—her daughter took care of everything that came near without any intervention needed on Genoa’s part—but it was because of the sky.
All the clocks said that it should be night-time. Given how early night came in the winter, it should really be pitch black out. Yet there was this ever-present light around everything. Not strong enough to cast any hard shadows around, yet bright enough that no one needed to worry about seeing. Eerie, but not too unusual given that eye overhead, the light it put off, and how bright the edges of the portal were.
If she had thought it was bright before, it was nothing compared to now. The edges of the portal hurt to look at. They turned a brilliant golden-yellow, though the interior remained much the same. Like a perfect solar eclipse. Though that only lasted for a few moments.
Great meteors, completely unlike those that had been falling as teardrops, streaked across the sky, crashing into the eyeball hard enough that Genoa could actually hear it as distant thunder.
“What is that?” she snapped simultaneously to her daughter and to the man over the phone. One had been keeping secrets from her for a long while and might have a clue. The other called just in time to be too convenient.
“Eva’s signal, I presume,” Devon said with a slight grunt, answering before Genoa’s daughter could even open her mouth. His tone hadn’t changed in the slightest. Or, if it had, it sounded bored. “Which means I need you here now. I don’t know if this is a temporary window of opportunity or not.”
Genoa glanced down at her daughter. They were in the very center of the city. Not the farthest possible distance, but Brakket had been built on one edge of the city. A fifteen minute walk, at least. She could blink with her daughter, but that would still take more time than blinking without her.
Her eyes drifted over one of the inverted carcasses and she found herself putting on the same mournful smile that her daughter had on just a few minutes ago.
“I’ll be there in two minutes.”
“Good enough,” Devon said just before the line went dead.
Looking back to her daughter, Genoa put on a confident smile that she didn’t quite feel. “That was a signal from Eva,” she said, pointing a finger overhead.
“I don’t know anything about that. Giant fireballs in the sky were never–”
“No time to talk. I’m heading back to the academy. Can I trust you to stay safe out here?”
“Of course. I told you, I’ll be fine on my own.”
Genoa closed her eyes for just a moment. Juliana was so young and already trying to be independent. Independent with all that demonic magic, at that. When Erich had cut ties with the family, it had been… expected, frankly. The second he graduated, he disappeared. Even before then, he had been distant. Largely Genoa’s fault.
But this wasn’t the same. Juliana wasn’t cutting ties. Independence and abandonment were two entirely separate things.
Genoa would still watch over her. At least until she graduated.
If only to ensure she did not use the demon’s power in the wrong manner.
“Good,” Genoa said, blinking away in an instant before Juliana could respond.
Two minutes, as it turned out, had been an overstatement in the extreme. Genoa finished blinking into the academy’s lobby a mere thirty seconds after she left.
— — —
Devon stared at the ground. The lightshow growing more and more intense over his head did nothing to distract him.
His design had gone from an inconceivable null in his mind before realizing what had happened to plans in his head to a full sketch in less than six hours. In all his life, he couldn’t recall having made a ritual circle in such a short amount of time. From design to construction, his rituals normally took several weeks at minimum while he went over all possible variables.
To say he was mildly nervous about this current construct would be putting it lightly. Not that he would allow a hint of his feelings to show on his face. Even having it looked over by Catherine in the few minutes it took for the earth mage to arrive did little to assuage his concerns.
He merely watched the earth mage work with a critical eye, pointing out every inconsistency no matter how small. From the depth of one line in comparison to another, the shape of a circle that wasn’t quite circular, an ellipse that was too circular, Devon corrected everything. Everything had to be perfect. Every last little thing, every single tiny microscopic little thing had to go according to his plan.
The earth mage grew more and more impatient with every passing correction. For the life of him, Devon couldn’t figure out why. Did she want the Earth to implode thanks to a crooked line?
Devon gave a sad shake of his head as the woman stepped away from the stone platform.
“Adequate,” he said.
“Adequate,” Genoa repeated in a flat tone of voice. “You rush me over here, making me leave my daughter in the middle of a city infested with those enigma things, and you spend ten minutes micromanaging my casting for adequacy.”
“Yes.” Was that truly hard to understand?
Before the woman could shout at him, which she had obviously been about to do, Catherine cleared her throat. “It’s finished. What now?”
“You remain here,” Devon said. “The ritual is simple enough to activate with an influx of magic. I assume you are capable. I’ll send your phone a message when it is time to activate it.” He paused, turning back to the earth mage. “Despite your performance, we have two more to complete.”
“Two more? Two more with you sitting around pointing out minor scratches in the stone?” She gave a most unladylike groan. “Even Eva’s massive ritual circle didn’t have this many minute details that needed correction.”
“Yes,” he said with a deeper than normal scowl, turning towards Catherine at the mention of Eva’s ritual. “And we can see how well that turned out.” He paused for a moment to point a finger at the raging inferno above the planet. “Can’t we?”
Nobody answered, giving Devon cause to smirk. Foolish Eva. And foolish Catherine. In fact, near everyone was a complete and utter fool, but especially those who had been involved in that ritual project.
“Stay here,” Devon repeated to Catherine. He leaned down and dropped a tiny portion of green flames right in the very center of the ritual. A marker for later. “And you,” he said to Genoa, “come with me. I assume you can blink.”
He knew she could. He had seen her appear in the lobby. So, without waiting for her to confirm her abilities, he stepped away. Slowly at first, to ensure that she knew where he was headed. Once they got going in a straight line, he started stepping as easily as walking. She managed to keep up, surprisingly enough.
The second point for the ritual was roughly half the distance between Brakket City and the prison. The center of the distortion overhead should be in the middle between this unconstructed circle and the one in front of Brakket Academy. Flaring a small bit of green flame in his hand, he followed the top of the flame as it leaned one way or the other until his movements brought him to a point where the tip was straight upwards.
“Here,” he said. “The ritual needs to be rotated exactly sixty degrees.” With a wave of his hand, the green flame lashed out in a thin line. “The central layline should align with this flame.”
With that, he stepped back. The woman scowled for a moment, but eventually got to work.
As it turned out, she was faster than last time. She made about as many errors, but fixed them with less complaining. Leaving the same marker of fire in the center of the ritual circle, Devon started blinking off towards the third spot.
While Genoa got to work, he double-checked his calculations. It was one of the things he actually enjoyed about modern technology. The whole reason he had even purchased a cellphone after watching Eva and her friends use them. They were amazing calculation aids for rituals. Catherine had taken it to an art form with how she drew out the rituals on the phones themselves. Devon still stuck with paper for the most part. His fingers weren’t quite so dexterous as the succubus’.
Catherine’s hands made it look much easier than it actually was when he had tried it.
But for now, he merely checked the trigonometry he had already mentally calculated. Perfect. Of course it was. The angles should all be correct. Some of the positioning was guesswork. He didn’t have an exact location for the boundaries of the tear, but he had included a little leeway in his ritual design.
The second Genoa finished the ritual to his standards, Devon turned away. “Stay here. We will be coordinating with Catherine to start all three circles at the same time.” He stepped away, only to return one step later. “You do know how to initiate a ritual circle, do you not?”
“Of course I do,” the increasingly irritable woman snapped at him. She started to say something else, but Devon didn’t really care how much she was annoyed with his attitude, so he stepped away again.
The moment he returned to the second ritual circle, he whipped out his phone and sent off a few short messages. One to each of his helpers. A mere note asking for confirmation of their readiness. In less than ten seconds, he had received a response from each. So he sent out one more message.
Giving them only two seconds to read it, he knelt down and activated his ritual with a burst of magic.
Three beams of violet light crashed into each other in the middle of the air. Two of which came from far enough away that he couldn’t see their sources. Where they met, a three-sided pyramid formed. One made of pure magic. It twisted in the air, aiming a single point downwards, touching each of the three beams with just the tip, and three points outwards.
From each of the three points, a much thicker beam fired off, crashing into the sky. Or rather, the edge of the portal.
The first rotation carried all three beams in a full circle. It took nearly ten minutes.
The second rotation only took a little over nine minutes and forty seconds.
The third rotation went shorter than that.
The pyramid spun around. Each pass went faster and faster. As it completed passes, the portal overhead shrank. It was barely noticeable after the first few, but by the time ten rotations had been completed, it was impossible to not notice.
Trails of smoke accumulated in the air where the portal made contact with the regular sky. It was… probably harmless. Devon wouldn’t want to breathe it, but he didn’t see why anyone else would be worried.
Devon watched as the pyramid spun faster and faster. Until he couldn’t even tell the difference between the three separate beams. They left such a trail of light behind that it looked like a single cone. Eventually, that cone narrowed down to a thin beam of light.
A pulse of magic formed into a ring that exploded across the sky. Clouds, both natural and the smoke left behind from the tear, rippled as it sliced through them.
But that only lasted a moment.
The pyramid between the three ritual circles underwent a rapid unplanned deconstruction, filling the air with motes of violet colored magic. All of which dissipated into nothingness. Plants bent as an invisible shockwave crashed over them. Devon threw himself to the ground as the air cracked over the top of his body.
He remained still for a minute, ensuring that there wouldn’t be any follow-up blasts. None came. With everything settled down, he got back to his feet and looked around. The sky was whole and unbroken once again, clear of any violet shimmering or massive eyeballs. Though it wasn’t exactly clear. A dark cloud of smoke hung overhead.
Devon gave a faint nod of approval to no one in particular. A job well done if he said so himself. He turned away, stepping rapidly back towards the prison. He had some wards of his own to set up. Defenses—for that ritual wouldn’t have eliminated the enigmas still present on Earth—and possibly something to purify the local air.