“What did you do to Arachne?“
The thing using her body spun around, whipping out its tail mere inches from Eva’s face.
Eva didn’t flinch. Mostly because of her anger, but partially because she was so used to not moving that doing so actually felt awkward. Instead, Eva kept up her glare while trying to keep her breathing under control. This thing, this being, could probably snap her like a twig and crush her to powder as easily as Eva could step on an ant. Attacking it couldn’t go over well no matter how she thought about it.
In that respect, standing around for the entire ritual without being able to act on her anger had done wonders to calm her down. It let her think without being consumed with hatred.
So she simply put all of that hatred into her glare. The thing thought it could take over Arachne. She might need it now to deal with Life, but that wouldn’t last forever. There had to be some way of destroying it. Perhaps she could ask the demon hunter.
Destroying this form will harm me no more than plucking a hair from your head would harm you.
Eva shuddered as the voice tore through her body. Smooth as silk yet it carried the power of a being she was apparently only seeing a sliver of. It took her a moment to steel herself. Once she did, she resumed her glare. Obviously her thoughts weren’t private before this thing. Though it wasn’t attacking despite her clear intent. So that was good.
The shock of hearing it speak again almost made a small detail slip her mind.
It hadn’t answered her question. The thing invaded her mind and chose to taunt her by letting her know attacking it would be futile. Which was probably why it hadn’t gotten offended and attacked in the first place.
“What happened to Arachne?” Eva said. No. She ordered. “Answer me.”
The thing spun around again, though its tail didn’t snap out this time. Instead, it stopped with its face mere inches from Eva and reared up onto its hind legs. Both sets of arms hung at its sides as if it were ready to claw out and tear off her face with the three-pronged talons at the end of each arm.
You may encounter the spider again.
Eva actually let out a short sigh. That was something of a relief despite the phrasing. It was the kind of thing a storybook villain would say about a loved one. The villain would promise to reunite the hero and the loved one after the hero performed some devious task, only to reveal the loved one already dead as the villain killed the hero.
Given that the concept of death didn’t normally apply to demons in the same way it did to humans, that probably wasn’t the case here.
Still, she would be much happier with different phrasing. Maybe something like, ‘Oh, don’t worry Eva, I will give Arachne her body back. I’m only using it for a few moments while I take care of this whole nasty business with Life.’
Despite mostly believing the being’s words, Eva still couldn’t bring herself to feel entirely relieved.
Eva tried her best to not look intimidated. But with it standing up on its back legs, even slightly hunched, it towered over Eva. Even higher than Nel were she to stand on Ylva’s shoulders. As such, it was near impossible to not be intimidated, let alone look it. Simply leaning backwards to meet its burning eyes was enough to ruin her efforts.
Who she was posturing for, Eva couldn’t say. Herself for the most part. Void for the rest. Most everyone else had their heads to the ground.
Which was another thing that had Eva’s blood simmering. Just who did this thing think it was. Even Ylva didn’t make everyone bow down to her. Just those that came to her asking for help. A little respect was warranted in those situations, in Eva’s opinion. Here? Not so much. It was the being under attack that had been asking them for help. Maybe Eva would give it a nod of her head if it actually succeeded in taking down Life.
And after it returned Arachne.
It swayed to one side, gesturing out with one claw. It waved another hand to the other side.
Each of them has knelt before me. I have not made them kneel. It is merely the natural reaction to beholding my being.
It wasn’t a very impressive being, in Eva’s opinion. Just a bunch of smoke and fire. A bit of height as well. Certainly nothing worthy of bowing down to.
Aren’t you the most curious thing.
Eva shook her head, shaking away the almost sing-song tone on the wind. A rumbling voice deeper than the seas speaking in sing-song simply shouldn’t be allowed to exist. But rather than respond to its statement, Eva waved her own hand around. “Fix them.”
Stretching itself up to its full height, the thing twisted around just under its bottom set of arms, ignoring any semblance of bones or flesh as its upper half faced entirely behind while its legs remained angled towards Eva.
Vektul. It is time.
“I am ready.”
Eva blinked. She hadn’t even realized which way she had ended up facing after watching the thing circle around her a few times. Neither had she noticed that Vektul had risen to his feet. The only one out of everyone around. He moved around the circle, passing right by Eva’s section, and came to a stop where Arachne’s position had been.
As he moved, the creature continued twisting its body around to follow him. It winded up facing Eva once again. Without even untwisting its body, it stalked back into the circle Vektul had just been occupying. It spun around twice like a cat looking for a comfortable spot. Once satisfied, it stared right at Eva.
If you would be so kind.
Unlike the previous times, the words seemed to focus on Eva. They hovered around her in an almost visible manner. She was left with no doubt about for who they were meant.
“What are you–”
We do not have time.
The words whirled around her, drawing closer and closer. The moment the wispy fragments touched her, Eva’s body moved. An involuntary jolt carried her a single step backwards. She knelt and pressed her hand to the center of the ritual entirely against her will. Trying to move or blink failed. Just as it had during the actual ritual. It wasn’t the blood holding her in place. Void puppeted her actions.
With her hand pressed against the center, her claws dug into the stone. Thin gouges filled with blood as it ran from her fingers. The small trenches connected the very center of the circle to a few outer lines around her section of the ritual circle.
As soon as the gouges were an inch deep, Eva felt her magic wrenched out from her body. It flooded into the ritual circle.
And the lines started glowing once again.
They weren’t the same lines this time around. The connections her clawing had made sent the magic down different pathways. Circles, lines, paths, and connections all started brightening, starting closest to Eva and spreading outwards. Like before, the light glowed a crimson red. At least, it started red.
As the light spread through parts of the ritual circle that it hadn’t touched before, a blue hue bled into the red. The blue spread far faster than the red. When the blue lines met up with the red, neither overwrote the other. They simply blended in. Before long, the entire ritual circle had turned a vibrant violet.
The moment the light touched the outermost portion of the ritual circle, an earthquake rocked the world. One more violent than any that had been going on over the past few days. The only reason Eva wasn’t thrown to the ground was because she was still kneeling with her hands around the starting node for the ritual. And she still couldn’t move. Not even the earthquake could toss her around.
Everyone else was in much the same state. Still being flat on the ground, the ground shaking back and forth didn’t affect them all that much. Though Eva did hear a few panicked noises coming from Shelby’s section of the circle.
At the thunderous crack of nearby lightning—as if the quake wasn’t enough—Eva momentarily broke the spell keeping her down. She wrenched her head back to stare up at the sky.
The purple shimmers that had been roughly static since they appeared spread across the sky in great jagged edges. Bolts of lightning started crackling everywhere. Some stayed in the sky, jolting between the shimmers and wrenching them open wider. Others cracked down, impacting the ritual circle, the forest beyond, and even further out than that.
Everywhere the lightning struck, things started growing. Wooden, vine-like masses in one case. A more organic blob of flesh cropped up nearby. One pulsating boil exploded, spraying thick yellow goop everywhere around as a thin tendril rose from the crater of the blob. It whipped straight towards Irene.
Only to disintegrate under a combination of flames and lightning from the mouth of what had once been Arachne. Oddly enough, Eva didn’t feel the slightest bit of heat from it despite the flames coursing past just at her side. When the flames died down, there was nothing left of the blob of flesh beyond a scorch mark on the ritual circle. A scorch mark which flaked away and vanished in the increasingly intense wind. Irene, who had been positioned behind the flesh, looked entirely unharmed—not a single singed hair on her head.
Void coughed out another puff of smoke in what might have been nothing more than clearing its throat after spewing that lightning breath. From the smoke, another black bolt of lightning fired out, actually intercepting one of the bolts from the sky in a bright flash that forced Eva to avert her eyes.
So disgusting. So inelegant. These amalgamations of insanity have infested my domain for too long.
It leaned back, pulling back its arms to just behind its shoulders as if to bellow at the sky, and proceeded to spew flames and lightning towards the heavens, burning away every instance of lightning that crossed the sky near the ritual circle. All the while, the shimmers continued to crack open above.
And open was quickly becoming the most apt word for what was happening. As they grew wider, Eva could clearly see inside. A whole other world lay just on the other side of the portals. A planet—or something close enough to one—lay just beyond. A faint violet hue covered the entire thing, though that could have been a side-effect from the portals.
Looking closer, Eva realized that the planet was almost certainly alive. It was… breathing. Or expanding and contracting in a manner resembling breaths, at least. It wasn’t like one small part of it was expanding. Not like an animal’s chest. The entire thing stretched and shrank. Every time it exhaled, Eva spotted what had to be a volcano erupting a cloud of light gray smoke. She couldn’t see what, if anything, it was inhaling.
More and more of the portals connected to each other, granting Eva a wider view of everything beyond. Something was off with the planet. Something she wasn’t seeing.
Until a second, even larger planet eclipsed the first. It slid straight over it at a high speed, but stopped on a dime once the first planet had been entirely eclipsed from view. The second planet stayed for several seconds. All at once, it reversed, moving backwards to reveal the scraped clean surface of the original planet.
It was then that Eva realized exactly what had been off about the planet. They weren’t planets at all. An eye stared down at them through the portal. A massive eye so huge that even the eyeball had its own ecosystem. A now wiped clean ecosystem by the planet-like eyelid. Before the eye blinked, large swaths of the eye had been covered in greenery. A river ran through part of it. And the volcano she had seen protruding from it all. Now it looked like a dry, dusty desert. Smooth and flat.
Though it didn’t stay that way. Even over the few minutes she was staring at it, she could see things regrowing across its surface. Eva didn’t know how much vegetation was required to be visible from, in her perspective, outer space. However, the sandy desert turned green before her very eyes.
A gust of flame obscured the majority of the portal, breaking Eva’s eye contact. For just a moment, she almost waited until the flames had passed to keep staring at the eye.
Only to realize that doing so might not be in her best interests. Eyes didn’t always have much meaning in magic. Sometimes they did. Serena’s eyes induced some sort of hypnosis in those who looked at her. And if Serena could do it, Eva wouldn’t be too surprised to find a Power capable of such things.
With a shake of her head, she forced her gaze back to the ground. Or tried to. Something else caught Eva’s eye.
While the being wearing Arachne’s skin intercepted most everything falling from above, it did let a few things pass through. A lightning bolt struck down nearby. Eva whipped her head over to find Vektul standing in his spot as before save for a bulge of flesh growing on his body. Despite the smoking sack of flesh, he stood calm and unmoving. It wasn’t like Arachne. While she had been standing in that spot, the light in Arachne’s eyes had died off. Her jaw had been slack. She hadn’t been in her body by all appearances.
Vektul was. He stood on his own. None of the beams of light propped up his body. His eyes were bright red—though slowly being taken over by violet—and he was obviously still aware of his surroundings. When Eva looked to him, he tilted his head to the side in that same manner he had always done.
Just in time for a bolt of lightning to strike him in the neck. Eva pinched her eyes shut again. The lightning wasn’t real lightning. At least, she didn’t think it was. But it was bright and caused another boom of thunder to roll over the ritual circle. When she opened her eyes again, the afterimage of the bolt stuck around.
But she could still see Vektul’s face. Or what was left of it. From his shoulder to the tip of his head, one half of his face had turned into a malignant tumor. His skin bubbled outwards with trails of smoke wisping off from the lightning strike.
Except the smoke wasn’t moving naturally. The thin grey trail bulged outwards, starting at Vektul’s shoulder. A faint membrane formed along the thicker smoke. A few feet above Vektul’s head, the trail solidified into a tentacle covered in eyes. The relatively smooth end split in two to reveal a maw filled with teeth.
It snapped around, biting at the air a few times before clamping down on the same arm that it had sprung from.
Another bolt of lightning forced Eva to look away. When she turned back, the tentacle had stretched out to right in front of her face.
Almost reflexively, a razor-sharp whip of blood lashed out from Eva’s back, slicing off the tentacle before the teeth could get too close. It flopped down on the smooth stone of the ritual circle only to start slithering towards her like some kind of monstrous snake. Three sharp spikes of blood from Eva’s back came down and pierced it, pinning it to the ground.
A follow-up of flames and lightning rendered it nothing more than ash.
Do take care. Your position in this ritual is not merely for show.
Eva grit her teeth and shot a glare at the monster inhabiting Arachne’s body. If it noticed, it didn’t respond. It only met her eyes for a bare instant before turning its gaze skyward to continue intercepting the rain of lightning. She didn’t know if something along the lines of what happened to Vektul and Arachne was going to happen to her. Or if the avatar of Void had merely been concerned about some other esoteric part of the ritual. Whatever the case, Eva had no intentions of winding up eaten by whatever Vektul was becoming.
And whatever he was becoming, it was rapidly going out of control. Eva couldn’t even look at Vektul anymore with all the lightning strikes hitting on or around him. Through her blood sight, she could see him growing tentacles and tumorous masses all over his body.
She had been so distracted with the ritual, Arachne, Vektul, Void, and Life that she hadn’t even realized that she had grown two massive wings on her back until they had struck down Vektul’s tentacle. Though they weren’t proper wings. Perhaps if she stretched a thin membrane of blood between the ‘bones’ then she would be able to fly. Not that now was the time to try anything.
For now, they gave her a much longer reach. Perfect for slicing off more of the tentacles that Vektul was growing. To keep them from slithering towards her, she skewered the severed portions and flung them up into the near constant streams of fire overhead. Eva was slightly worried for Zoe, being the closest to Vektul aside from Eva, but the outer ring of people was significantly farther away from Vektul than Vektul was to Eva. Almost twice the distance, in fact. They probably wouldn’t be attacked. Not right away, at least.
Maybe after Vektul grew more. In fact…
Eva pressed her hand down onto the ground, using it to push herself up.
She could actually stand. And, taking a step forward, she could move. Whatever had been keeping her pressed to the ground had broken. Her small place in the circle had plenty of room to move around. She had a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be able to move outside the ring—or if she could, Void would become quite cross with her—but she didn’t need to move very far.
The blood wings coming off her back could stretch far. And even if they couldn’t quite reach what she needed, they were made from blood. Blood that, near as Eva could tell, she was constantly producing. Extending and retracting them was easy.
As she started tearing apart anything that extended beyond Vektul’s circle, a realization occurred to Eva. At the moment, she was assuming that Vektul was undergoing a similar process as Arachne had just undergone.
Which would leave Eva directly between two avatars of Powers.