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Chapter 9

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“Each Eidolon is unique, and in this lack of uniformity we witness their first true defense against us. They are protean and changeable, while we are creatures of a universe with constants. A weapon that can best one Eidolon is not guaranteed to even scratch another. A weapon that we have long discarded for its lack of power might slay the greatest civilization destroyer before it has even emerged from its portal.”

—Eidolon Paradise: A theoretical extrapolation on the Otherworld, Thel-Velar

The demon or god was still too big to fit through the portal, but it seemed that its patience had run out regardless. It was forcing itself through the gap. The solid red plates of chitin that Sylvas would have guessed were completely indestructible cracked and shattered under the forces that the Crimson King was putting on them, twisting over the invisible form of the dark void inside it and contorting to try and pass through.

It couldn’t do this. It wasn’t fair. Sylvas had stopped the spell. He had pretty much killed himself stopping the spell. But it came on through all the same. The spider-claw hands on the spindly arms pressed down into the stone of the tower until they hooked in something solid enough that the sharpness of the claws didn’t simply part it, then the Crimson King heaved its shattered husk against the portal once more, pulling with all its impossible strength. Inch by creaking inch, it came through.

Whatever spell had been holding back the weather finally failed. The wind whipped by again for what felt like the first time in hours, and everywhere that the Crimson Kinge had touched was swept away in plumes. What Sylvas had mistaken for the thing’s razor sharpness and impossible strength was something else entirely. Everything that it touched turned to dust. Everywhere its spidery hands had brushed over was reduced to a puff on the wind. No wonder it had been in such a hurry to burst the mages that it had managed to seize and drink down their contents, if it hadn’t, they would have crumbled away before its thirst could be slaked.

Its attention swept across the tower top more forcefully than the wind, and now that he was no longer vital to it coming through, the weight of it on Sylvas was crushing. The presence of this thing, the amount of raw will that it was exerting, it was beyond anything he ever could have imagined.

The other mages of the Heralds were dead. Either slaughtered by the approach of the Crimson King, or leaping from the tower as the magic circle containing them all was shattered beyond recognition by the destruction of so much of the tower-top’s surface. Sylvas had been left alive because he was serving the purpose he had always been intended for. He was the beacon that would guide the Crimson King through. 

Now he was not a beacon, he was not a piece in the summoning, he was just himself, small and fragile in the face of this massive monster.

With the circle broken, all of the horrors from outside of the tower could suddenly get in, hellion screeches echoed from all around. Those shadowy shapes that had come pouring in through the lesser rifts now resolved into hideous, monstrous, things almost as terrible as the Crimson King itself.

Eyeless and faceless, with solid plates of chitin where there should have been those features, and with wings like a bat’s ending in hooked claws serving as the only limbs extending out from their slick bodies, a whole chorus of nightmarish cherubs descended on the tower, sweeping in not to attack, but to pick at the carrion that the Crimson King had left behind. So far as Sylvas could see they had no mouths, but they tore at the corpses of the dead all the same, splattering whatever had not turned to dust across the pocked surface of the tower before flitting off again into the night.

Sylvas set the palm of his uninjured hand down on the ground and pushed himself up to his feet. Without even moving from the spot he managed to stumble, his legs felt like rubber. In spite of everything, he could still feel mana inside him. Inside the circle that he’d forged. His head pounded, the words of the great spell seared into his mind, but the other spells that he had learned were still there too, just under the surface. He slipped into his Paradigm and his thoughts cleared once more. The thing coming into his world might have been a terror beyond all imagining. It might even have been the god that the Grand Masters had been tricked into thinking it was, but he was Sylvas Vail. The most powerful mage in all Croesia. He whispered his old mantra to himself, “I can do this.”

Then he looked up.

Above him, the Crimson King filled the sky. His whole world was filled up with the sheer size of it. The striations and whorls that had been pattern on its chitin were now the fault lines where it had shattered itself to drag its way through the portal. It should have given him some comfort to think that it was injured, but instead it filled him with even more dread. Each time that the creature moved, the fragmented shell parted and he could see the deep dark nothingness inside it. Looking up into it was like standing at the edge of the tower and looking down. He could feel his stomach drop every time another little bit of emptiness was revealed.

One of his arms dangled uselessly at his side, scorched and scarred beyond all use, but the other one he raised up to point at the monster. Palm first.

Sylvas magical education had been focused on summoning for so long, that he couldn’t recall the last time that he’d cast something offensive, but that didn’t mean he had forgotten how. Concentrating, he formed his mana into a spell in the blackened palm of his hand. The Arcane Arrow.

He cast it. The channels inside of him aching now that mana flowed through him again. The bolt of crackling white magic leapt from his palm to strike the Twilight Oracle where it loomed overhead, and to his surprise, it took notice. There was barely a scuff mark on its chitin from his most lethal spell, but the monster lurched back all the same. As if startled that anyone would dare to attack it.

It didn’t retreat back into the portal back to its own world. Sylvas wasn’t even sure that it would be able to, it looked fairly stuck with the central trunk of its body firmly wedged into that hole in the air, but it did rear up, away from him. Its spindle-fingers that had been reaching for him jerked away as though it had touched a candle flame.

If it can hurt, then I’m going to hurt it. Sylvas might have doomed the world, but he could make this thing pay for every inch it crept out of its portal. Easy as it had been back in the target practice hall, he summoned another Arcane Arrow to his palm and launched it.

The element of surprise was gone now. The Crimson King reacted to the assault by twisting to slam all the spread pieces of chitin closest to Sylvas together, shielding its inner darkness from the spark of light that he had tried to launch into it. That flinch told him everything he needed to know. Beneath the chitin, there was weakness. He could hurt it if he struck there.

As he readied his next Arrow, the Crimson King swung for him. Two spider-claws spread wide and coming together to clap him into mulch and dust. Instinct would have made anyone sane try to run from this thing, but with the clarity of mind that the Paradigm brought, Sylvas could see past the animal parts of his brain that wanted to respond like that and actually think. 

He flung himself forwards instead, landing hard on his injured arm and driving a scream out of his lungs, but rolling under the spindle-arms to rise again inside the monster’s reach. He loosed his Arrow, and it should have found its mark, but the rapid motion of something as big as the Crimson King had kicked up another cloud of dust, obscuring everything from sight. Sylvas had no idea if his spell had hit or not.

Relying on his eyes was going to get him killed. The hands came down at him again, hidden by the darkness beyond and the thick dust until he heard their whistling approach. One struck short, tearing apart the solid stone in front of him and shattering everything around it, launching him into the air with the impact. The other clawed hand came into sight as he cleared the top of the dust-cloud. Sweeping across to intercept him. All eight of the god’s other arms were otherwise occupied. Hooked here and there around the edges of the tower, setting the whole building rocking on its foundations as it tried to pull its way through.

In swift succession, Sylvas fired off three Arcane Arrows, each one hitting home into the gap between the plates of chitin. The one that struck the Twilight Oracle’s wrist joint seemed as though it might stop its attack, but despite sending a shudder through the spidery limb, it did nothing to slow the attack. 

The next arrow was deflected almost casually by one of the endless chittering hooked legs that ran up the sides of the King’s trunk. Arrayed not like any human body down the two sides, but instead in twisting spirals stretching from its top down to where its tail end disappeared into the portal. The shell didn’t even show a glow from where the bolt of blue light had flown into it. It was as though all of the work that had gone into perfecting it, all of the targets reduced to smoldering rubble throughout the years, had been a dream, and the spell did nothing at all.

Sylvas final shot soared not towards the demon-god itself, but to the portal’s edge. There was no time to concoct some counter to the summoning spell, and even if he had all the time in the world, without a source of mana as potent as the destroyed crystal, he would never have been able to fuel it. Some degree of cleverness in a casting could amplify the effects he would get when trying to counter magic, but at the end of the day, without the brute force to tear apart the spell-form it would prove pointless.

But just because he could not entirely undo the spell didn’t mean that he couldn’t disrupt it. Every moment that the Crimson King was held in the portal was another that Croesia was safe from its tender disintegrating touch.

Before it could even make contact with the blinding light of the portal, the spell vanished from sight, but it definitely did something. The perfect curvature of the perfect circle that the tear in the sky had become warped on impact. Flickering and twisting, digging into the Oracle’s side. Sylvas didn’t know if the thing could feel pain, but he hoped it did.

Then his time for a heroic last stand was up. The hand that had been swooping towards him through this whole final flurry of magic as he hung above the tower’s ruined surface was there, a breath away from impact.

With a practice born of years of having to deflect thrown balls of paper and worse being flung at him by the mages who would one day come to study under him, Sylvas cast a shield.

Any physical blow or projectile would have been stopped dead by it, but the gargantuan monster was not made of physical matter alone. It was made of impossible things. Mana, and other, stranger forces, the shield stopped it from touching him and rendering him down to dust, but it didn’t stop the power of the blow. Sylvas was launched across the rooftop. Desperately fleeting between the different spells in his arsenal, trying to think of anything that might stop his momentum before it was too late.

Sylvas flew, tumbling end over end, out into the open air beyond the tower’s edge before momentum eased just enough for gravity to remember him and start pulling him down.

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